Wednesday, July 14, 2010

8th Street Pocket Park update and volunteer night

Join us Thursday night (7-8 pm) when we continue to landscape the 8th Street Pocket Park (at the corner of 8th and Grant). Learn about native plants, gardening, wildlife gardening and how to do it! Bring your questions, notebooks and cameras. Tasks for volunteers this week include planting grasses and flowers (in the photo below), screening topsoil, installing lawn edging, and some light weeding.
The 8th Street Pocket Park is a small neighborhood park my wife and I have been volunteering on- planning, landscaping, grant writing and maintaining for the last few years (click here for more information). This was an unused right of way (owned by the city) that was not being maintained, cared for, and had just turned into a gathering area for trash and noxious weeds. We transformed 1/2 of it n 2008, using drought tolerant native plants, and incorporated many wildlife features (see above).
In 2009 we received a grant for plants, mulch and other landscaping materials and last summer we began site preparation of phase 2- the next 1/2 of the park (see above, as the site looked in 2009). Funding for materials for this project has come from the Missoula Office of Neighborhoods, UM Natural Areas, and Montana Native Plant Society. Materials were also donated by Home Resource (like recycled lumber, fencing, lawn edging and more), and plants and bird, bat, bee houses and interpretive signs were donated by Butterfly Properties (that is, my wife and me).

This spring, I installed a fence, horseshoe court, trees, and other wildlife features (see photos below), and last Thursday with help from neighborhood volunteers we planted shrubs, and did some weeding.
Below you can see a standing cottonwood snag (dead tree trunk) I planted and a bat box I made.
We hope to see you there. Wear sturdy shoes, bring gloves (always a nice idea but not mandatory) and your favorite planting tool. We'll have tools too. If you want more information, contact Marilyn at

Flicker fledging has begun!

Here are just a couple of pictures and a short video of the fledging progress. Once they fledge, I'll post some more information and pictures, as well as some videos, including some time lapse videos of the fledging. Above is a young male contemplating fledging and below is a female doing the same.
Although we have flickers, nuthatches and chickadees nest in our yard almost every year, the interesting thing this year was the addition of nest box cameras (see photo below).

Click here to watch the nestlings inside of the nest box, if they have already fledged, you can still watch videos of the whole process on Ustream. I captured videos almost every day to document the process.
And here is a not very good quality video I took from inside my house but it shows what is happening outside the box for those that have been watching the flickers online from inside.

Stay tuned for more.

Friday, July 9, 2010

My new favorite garden tool- a time lapse camera

My wife recently surprised me with an early birthday present- a time-lapse, outdoor, waterproof camera for the garden (Brinno Gardenwatch Camera). If you recall, last year she got me another garden camera- a couple of nest box cams. Those have been so much fun and educational, and by the end of this week, our flickers will be fledging so check out the nest camera.

I am totally captivated by this new camera, though. And astounded by all the applications. Suddenly I have so many uses for this one camera that I will have to buy more. I was originally going to write about what garden tools I like and why (I’ve gotten a few questions about that), and I will get to a post about that shortly, but right now, I have to write about this time lapse camera.

This time lapse camera is very easy to use and seems really durable. Right out of the box, it is easy to set up and start taking videos.

At this point, I must digress and reveal that I am in no way benefiting from this review- it is not a paid endorsement, nor did I receive one of these for free to demo or anything- though I do wish someone would contact me about demos, tool reviews or tool trials or something that my other blogging peers seem to get!

Anyway it is really easy to use and I look forward to lots of applications like watching evening primroses, bitterroots (Lewisii rediviva ) flowering, to large long-term changes in our garden, to watching animal heads decompose, to planting and building projects in the garden. I would love to set up one to watch the entire backyard (we have a small yard) for an entire year. The possibilities are endless.

It is easily adjustable and simple to program the camera to take pictures on set intervals from 1 minute on up, and you can even set custom time intervals. You can zoom in to focus in on a single flower or zoom out to look at a landscape. The camera takes remarkably good pictures and has a forgiving depth of field. The camera and housing seem really well built, durable and waterproof, so I suspect I will get many years of use from one. It comes with a 2 GB USB flash drive and I suspect you could plug a much larger one in for huge files or very long term videos. The camera records the videos on the flash drive and you can easily load it to your computer for viewing (without any special software) and editing (with the software provided).

My only complaint or suggestion is that the camera has a photo sensitive shut off so it does not take pictures in the dark, but that is a time I’d like to see what is going on, especially with the evening primroses (see below). It would be great if it came with an infrared camera or option to capture nighttime viewing, like the nest box cameras I have.

At the beginning of the post is a short clip of a white evening primrose (Oenothera cespitosa) (my first video). I recently wrote a post about its cousin and a neighbor in our garden the yellow evening primrose (O. flava). The video would have been better but a neighboring horsemint (Mondara fistulosa) hogged the camera! Nevertheless you can still see the primrose flower's bloom, and the flowers fade, and all that happens with a plant over the course of a couple of days as it tracks the sun across the sky.

Above was my next video, a test, aimed at the flicker nest box (see below for how I mounted it on the side of our house aimed at the flicker box). After I recorded this video I readjusted the camera, zoomed in and changed the record interval from 5 min- 1 minute. When the flickers fledge, I will upload a video with all the action. Now that it is adjusted, it is capturing images of their impending fledging (fledging is scheduled for around July 10).

So exciting. I’ll need to get some more.

Updated July 10:

Here is a better (and shorter) time lapse video of the nest box:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

yarrow is not a four letter word

Yarrow (Achillea spp.) has been coming up a lot lately in garden conversations and I wanted to set the record straight. Is it an annoying invader, or a garden-worthy native? In each case that someone described an annoying invasive yarrow, the plant in question turns out to be not our native white yarrow (A. millefolium) but rather a non-native species or cultivated variety of yarrow.

Yarrow is a native plant that can be used quite well in a variety of garden situations ranging from xeriscape prairies to conventional applications. The native yarrow is an example of a plant that you do not need to use anything but the native. Using a variety bred for showiness or color could get you in trouble (unless you enjoy endless weeding).

Our native yarrow is beautiful, durable, drought tolerant, fragrant and offers year long interest with its beautiful seed heads and adds an important architectural element in the garden if left uncut for the winter. The flowers are also great in cut flower arrangements.

We use yarrow in our own garden landscapes and encourage its use by our clients. It is easy to grow, liked by butterflies (it offers a nice landing pad- see the photo at the beginning of the post), and very versatile. Aesthetically, the native yarrow is the right color for semi-arid western Montana. Its leaves have a beautiful soft and feathery texture and have the silver-grey cast that is common to so many prairie plants. This grayish-blue color is an adaptation to the sunny and dry prairie conditions: it reflects sun.

Over the last couple of weeks people have been surprised that we planted yarrow at the neighborhood park we have been landscaping, at the Home ReSource landscaping project we designed and installed, and a client of ours, wanted to know how to control the “native” yarrow he planted. In the case of the client- the yarrow he thought was native was actually a pink flowered variety, and in other cases, it is always an escaped lawn weed that takes over, giving our native beauty a bad name.

We use yarrow in a a variety of settings in our garden- ranging from naturalistic- in our front yard prairie where there are individual plants scattered (see the white flowers in the photo below ),

and we have grouped several plants together in our backyard to create a wash of colors that compliment the purple clarkia, and fleabanes- see below.Yarrow is a common plant in garden centers and in the landscaping industry, and it represents a great example of why you need to know what you are looking for if you are shopping for native plants. Although we do have a native yarrow, most of what is sold is not native. Yellow flowers, pink flowers, and even white flowers adorn many commercially available yarrow. But most behave much differently than our own, native plant. Many non-native yarrow will turn weedy if watered, and even native yarrow will thrive with water and will spread- so if you don’t want it to spread, apply neglect, and you’ll be rewarded with a prosperous, beautiful, native plant.