Ann's Yard Blog

February 17, 2014: Blooming Trees

My sinuses tell me it's spring. Yes, I know, we've had a series of snow storms and the snow is still 2 feet deep, but look up. The trees are blooming! The maple trees have tiny red blossoms that are just beginning to open. If you use binoculars to look up into the mature trees you will see hundreds of the delicate blossoms. The pollen is blown by the wind, so my sinuses tell me. I think this year I will participate in Project Bud Burst Project Bud Burst is a free citizen science project that is tracking the yearly cycle of trees, i.e. first bloom, first seeds, first leaves. This is baseline data for finding out if climate change is changing the timing of biological cycles, the study of phenology  Through citizen science projects such as this we already know that many plants are becoming out of sync with the emergence of their pollinators and that the pollinators are emerging out of sync as food sources for baby birds. I encourage you to go to the project Bud Burst web site and sign up to participate. It only takes 10 minutes to sign up and only about 15 minutes of your time to occasionally fill out a report. As they say on their web site "every plant tells a story" …"If you would like to make a meaningful contribution to understanding environmental change … [they] are looking forward to the stories your plants can tell."

December 2, 2013: Bay Wise Certification

My yard has been certified as a Bay Wise Demonstration Landscape by Howard County Master Gardeners. The instructions as to how to have your yard certified as Bay Wise are posted on the Master Gardener website at

There is a checklist of things that you need to do in order to have your yard certified as Bay Wise. The list is extensive, but points are awarded for each thing you do, and you do what you can until you achieve a minimum number of points.  The Yardstick addresses such things as water conservation, use of some native plants, appropriate minimal application of fertilizers, etc. My yard was certified as a demonstration garden, beyond Bay Wise, because I am a Master Gardener.

Why would you want to do this? To name a few reasons: Habitat restoration and reduction of habitat fragmentation for our native pollinators; increased pollinators for our food crop; more host plants for insect larvae, which means more food for birds. Douglas Tallamy's research indicates that a single Chickadee fledgling eats over 20,000 caterpillars before it fledges. 

August 1, 2013: Midsummer

I just got back from a month’s vacation and the first thing I did was check my rain garden.  Look, the red cardinal flowers are blooming now and the mood and appearance of the garden has changed.

Look who has come to feast on nectar!

June 26, 2013: Installing the Rain Garden

 I’m so excited. We are getting a rain garden!  This is a cost share program with the Columbia Association and Howard County. They pay ¾ of the cost and we pay ¼.

All of the plants are Maryland Natives with high pollinator attraction. That was one of my pre-requisites. Here’s an interesting discussion with the landscaper, Linda Luke of Village Gardeners. I asked for all Maryland Natives, no cultivars. She passed this information on to her grower.

When the plants arrived, upon checking the containers, I saw that some of them had names, such as Stokesia l. 'Peachie's Pick'. This suggested to me, that they were cultivars. Linda assured me that these plants were not cultivars, but rather ‘chosen’ for their attractiveness. I needed to be content with this, as I had no alternatives to plant. My plan then became to watch the plants and let the pollinators tell me if they found them attractive.

The first picture shows the yard before the rain garden was installed. Note the accumulation of water during a rainstorm.

The second through sixth pictures show the installation of the rain garden. They were a great team.

The 5th picture shows the trench connecting our downspouts directly to the rain garden. This connection prevents the rainwater from flowing, whoosh, across the shallow-rooted lawn and into the storm drains, to rush directly into the streams and creeks, causing major erosion issues.

Look at an aerial picture of the Chesapeake Bay after a rainstorm. You will see miles of brown sediment that has washed off of suburban lawns and is silting in the bay, killing the Bay Grasses and the wildlife dependent on them.  Instead, my roof water will be collected in the rain garden, where it will be slowly absorbed into the soil and by the plants.
No Whoosh runoff. (My storm water mitigation fees will be lower because I have less runoff.)

Isn’t it pretty?

May 15, 2013: The Maple Log

Look how the log has become covered with ground covers :)

I think there are birds, maybe chickadees, nesting in the hollow of the tree.

April 22, 2013: Old Maple Tree

I'm not Dead Yet

Hello World, Happy Earth Day!

One of the trees in my yard is small ornamental maple tree, planted by the builders or early owners of our home around 35 years ago. It has always been a favorite tree for the family, as it was small enough for the children to climb and is beautiful red in the autumn. When I went back to professional work my yard was sadly neglected. The tree’s limbs cracked in storms and what should have been pruned to protect the tree was left in place. Those wounds attracted insects, which in turn attracted the birds who ate the insects, widened the holes and nested happily. We rather liked watching the baby birds grow and fledge, so we left the aging tree alone. Visitors and neighbors were told, “Yes, we know that tree is old and broken, but we like it and the birds like it. It’s in a location where nothing can be damaged if branches fall, so its ok.” Over the winter, during one of the storms, a major branch fell. Amazingly it fell into one of my perennial beds and looked so natural that I decided to leave it. It adds interest to the flowerbed. I’m eager to watch the critters and fungi develop as this bit of native landscaping goes through its cycle of enriching the earth.

In the meantime, I have planted a tiny native Elm tree next to my old Maple and am eager to watch it grow up as the Maple comes down.

January 1, 2013: Bird Diversity

Cooper's hawk eating small bird
I entered my weekly data for the Project Feeder Watch today and had time to reflect on the changes in the bird population since I have begun the transition of my yard to Ecosystem Landscaping. When I began participating in Project Feeder Watch several years ago we had about a dozen bird species coming to our yard.  The usual visitors were robins, chickadees, house finches etc. Today I turned in data including a red-breasted nuthatch, a Cooper’s Hawk and Carolina Wrens. Some weeks I have had over 20 species of feathered friends visit my yard. As I have increased native plantings, and the insects they host, I have also increased the birds that love to feast on these insects. Even on a winter’s day, I see the wrens and chickadees searching the azaleas for tasty insect treats. The Cooper’s Hawk is a real treat for me as it completes the avian food web. I have watched it consume doves, juncos and one day it carried off a squirrel. While I begrudge the raptor its feast on my dove and junco friends, it is heartening to know that in the suburbs we can support a full ecosystem, including a top predator. One day as I was filling the backyard feeder, the hawk swooped around the corner of the house in a surprise feeder attack and swooshed within inches of me before veering off to a tree. I can still feel the power of his wings as he changed direction. It’s a visceral reminder that I have truly invited nature back to my yard, and a thrill as I experience its return.