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Tiny screech owl makes presence known

Night caller — The Eastern screech owl’s call is more noticeable in spring and fall. © iStock

Night caller — The Eastern screech owl’s call is more noticeable in spring and fall. © iStock

A familiar voice returned to my landscape a couple of weeks ago after nearly a decade away. It’s a voice that I first heard here nearly 20 years ago.

The vocal Eastern screech owl (Megascops asio) is a tiny thing, only six to 10 inches tall and weighing four to eight ounces. Its colors range from brownish-gray to reddish-brown. It’s one of the few birds that have several color variations within the same range and brood. Their coloration resembles the bark of trees so the variation may be a camouflage. There’s no marked coloration difference between males and females, but females may be slightly larger.

The nocturnal screech owl is not endangered, probably because it has a widespread habitat throughout the Eastern United States and southern Canada. It also has a diverse diet, which includes small rodents, insects, spiders, crawfish and songbirds. They store or cache their kill to eat later.

This owl tends to be in Indiana year ‘round but seems to be more vocal in spring and fall. Courtship begins in winter and these owls usually mate for life, frequently tending the same nest for several seasons. They have three to five eggs.

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Indiana’s Natural Heritage series returns to public television

Natural site — Black-eyed Susans and grasses returned to The Nature Conservancy’s Spinn Prairie, a 29-acre remnant preserved near Reynolds, Ind., in White County, after years of use in agriculture. © The Nature Conservancy/Indiana

Natural site — Black-eyed Susans and grasses returned to The Nature Conservancy’s Spinn Prairie, a 29-acre remnant preserved near Reynolds, Ind., in White County, after years of use in agriculture. © The Nature Conservancy/Indiana

After a year on hiatus, the Natural Heritage of Indiana returns to the small screen on Sept. 21, with the first of a four-part series on WFYI-TV, Channel 20.

The first episode, The Indiana That Was, aired about a year ago. Since then, award-winning, freelance producer-photographer Sam Orr has been developing three new episodes.

The series is based on the book The Natural Heritage of Indiana , edited by Marion Jackson, a retired ecology professor from Indiana State University. Originally published about 11 years ago, the book was reissued earlier this year by Indiana University Press.

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Nation’s first quilt garden tour abloom in Elkhart County

Floral cover - The Log Cabin pattern quilt at Das Dutchman Essenhaus, Middlebury, has more than 7,000 annuals, including begonias, marigolds and salvia. (Photo courtesy Elkhart County Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Floral cover - The Log Cabin pattern quilt at Das Dutchman Essenhaus, Middlebury, has more than 7,000 annuals, including begonias, marigolds and salvia. (Photo courtesy Elkhart County Convention & Visitors Bureau)

With gas at a premium, chances are we’ll stick closer to home for our vacation adventures this year.

Gardeners and quilters only have to travel to Elkhart County for a self-paced tour that features 12 juried, large-scale, quilt-patterned gardens and 11 hand-painted outdoor murals.

These creations can be found throughout the county in Bristol, Elkhart, Goshen, Middlebury, Nappanee, Shipshewana and Wakarusa. The exclusive gardens and murals are viewable free of charge from late spring until first frost.

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Betony worthy of spot in sunny garden

Bet on this — Well-behaved betony ‘Hummelo’ blooms for several weeks in mid- to late summer. © Photo Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Bet on this — Well-behaved betony ‘Hummelo’ blooms for several weeks in mid- to late summer. © Photo Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A couple of weeks ago, a colleague asked me to help identify a perennial in her garden. It had square stems, low-growing leaves and several 12-inch stalks topped with dense, pink-lavender flowers.

It looked a lot like a sage (Salvia) and I scoured resources to confirm, but couldn’t find anything like it. Quite by accident, I came across the right plant, Stachys monieri ‘Hummelo,’ also called betony. You may also find it listed as S. officinalis and S. densiflora.

Stachys also is the scientific name for lamb’s ear, S. byzantina. Lamb’s ear is a silvery gray fuzzy leafed perennial that spreads rapidly. ‘Hummelo’ has crinkled, fresh-green leaves and grows in a clump.

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Old-fashion geraniums earn high marks

Summer cooler - Vining geraniums, such as Pink Blizzard, thrive in hanging baskets. (Photo courtesy Fischer USA)

Summer cooler - Vining geraniums, such as 'Pink Blizzard,' thrive in hanging baskets. (Photo courtesy Fischer USA)

Sometimes I think we’re plant snobs.

Geraniums (Pelargonium) seem to be at the bottom of the wish list for many gardeners because, well, they are geraniums — ordinary, old fashion, boring. Throw in reliable, easy and rewarding and you wonder why they are shunned.

For the common geranium, sometimes called zonal, you can buy plants grown from seed or made from cuttings. I opt for the more expensive cutting geraniums because they are so much showier that their seed-grown siblings. Seed geranium flowers are loose and a bit spindly, but work well in a mass planting.

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