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Ground Hog Day Signals Spring?

While I will be glued to the TV set next Wednesday awaiting the weather prognostications of that most famous of all woodchucks, Punxsutawney Phil, my own herd of marmots will have to dig through an additional two feet of snow before they can see the light of day. Chubby Chuck and his kin hang out around the compost pile during the growing season, eating the discarded remnants of such exotic delights as watermelon, bananas, and mangoes, in addition to the usual fare.

They're a tough lot, though. Years ago, Chubby's predecessor grew so ancient that he had cataracts in both eyes but continued to hobble to the apple tree every day, fill his tummy, and carry one or two small apples back to his burrow. Although I was certain he wouldn't make it through the winter, there he was the next spring, ensconced in an above-ground hollow he dug out beneath the propane tank.

Last summer, one unfortunate soul had a run-in with either a car or the neighbor's fox terrier that resulted in a broken leg, but he managed. He left the shelter of the berm only long enough to eat some bugs and weeds in the lawn. Over time, his gait improved and he fattened up enough to survive the winter.

Woodchucks can be pretty ornery and are vicious if cornered (although they'd rather run away) so scan the horizon before letting your dog outside.

Most of my gardening friends are horrified that I provide a safe harbor for an animal that they consider an absolute villain. Ground hogs are interesting animals to watch and, at least at our house, prefer whatever else is growing in the lawn to my flowers. They will also eat grubs, grasshoppers, insects, snails, clover, dandelions, some nuts, berries, twigs and, of course, garden vegetables. The solution is to install a good fence, partly under ground, or to plant "enough." We've maintained this equilibrium for over 30 years now, without the need to hunt or use other methods of control.

Phil and our regional ground hog, Stonewall Jackson, will get all the media attention on February 2nd , but my personal troop will leave footprints in the snow to announce the arrival of spring.

Gardeners, Landscape Design, Environmental, Horticultural Professionals, and Government Execs Land Ethics Symposium Set for February 17, 2011

Gardeners and garden-related professionals, environmental consultants, and government officials won’t want to miss the 11th Annual Land Ethics Symposium, sponsored by Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve (New Hope, PA). The symposium focuses on ways to create economical and ecologically balanced landscapes using native plants and restoration techniques. By combining sustainability and attractiveness, the speakers offer practical solutions to common site problems.

This year, topics include some challenging thoughts on how the horticultural industry can meet its own needs without compromising sustainability, recommendations for landscapes associated with historic buildings, innovative approaches to restoring the ecological functions of floodplains, building biodiversity into landscape management, and making the most of the colors of natural ecosystems.

There’s always at least one speaker who sweeps you back in time and reminds you in a very visceral sense of why you chose a vocation or avocation that connects you to the natural world.

Last day for registration is February 7, 2011. For more information, contact Amy Hoffman at, or call 215-862-2924, ext. 102.

You can learn more about land design ethics and sustainability here .

Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeder Idea

A bird feeder that is really squirrel-proof is something you have to see to believe, especially if you've been disappointed by baffles and other squirrel-proofing ideas that just don't work. And that's exactly what happened to us. We spend every Thanksgiving with my life-long friend who lives in Virginia. The prior year she had received a Duncraft squirrel-proof bird feeder as a Christmas gift, and we watched in amazement as scores of birds flocked to it to feed undisturbed by squirrels.

That same Christmas, in 2009, we got our own Duncraft Squirrel Proof Selective feeder, so we're entering our second winter with it and I can't say enough positive things about it. When we first put it out, the squirrels were all over it, sitting on the top, swinging from the wire cage, jumping onto it sideways from nearby tree branches, etc. We have some pretty determined squirrels here and they were used to getting what they wanted. But eventually, they gave up.

On any given day, we have between three and five of the fuzzy visitors, but now they are content to sit on the ground and eat whatever the birds drop. The feeder holds 1.5 pounds of seed, which lasts us about two days. The feeder tube and perches are mounted inside a wire cage, which also deters Jays and other large birds, although I've seen one Ladder-Back Woodpecker manage to extract sunflower seeds from it with his very long beak.

The tube is filled through a cap that's held in place by two locks that keep prying paws from opening it. A wide metal roof surrounds the tube and overhangs the cage, keeping the seed and birds dry, in addition to foiling the squirrels. Shells and discarded seeds fall through the wire grid bottom.

For more details, click here.

Set 2011 Gardening Resolutions You Can Keep

One pleasant way to stay connected to our gardening hopes and dreams during the dull, gray days of winter, is to start visualizing gardening projects we're happy to complete: Gardening Resolutions.

First, re-examine unfinished, or never-started, projects from the previous year. Try to understand why those projects were not completed – did you simply run out of time, or was the project just not that important to you? We spent most of the 2010 growing season on screening our 300-gallon propane tank from view and learned that two large projects in one season is one too many.

Clear out anything, plant or hardscape, that isn't working and replace it with something that will. Gardening is supposed to be fun, not a struggle.

Next, make a short list of maintenance, clean-up, editing, and hardscape projects that can be started before the growing season gets into full swing. Start with the most urgent tasks, since there is always more work than time to complete it.

Each year, identify at least one project that will have a major impact on how the garden looks, or how you use the space. This year will see an expansion of our deer exclosure, although we have yet to resolve site-specific problems caused by the need for a gate where it crosses the driveway.

Finally, think about what new plants can go where. There are numerous good ways to organize this: By color, plant type, desired habitat, architectural or cultural properties of the plants themselves, period architecture of the house, etc.

We tend to organize by color. In front of the rock, wood, and copper propane tank screen purple climbing heirloom roses and blue or purple clematis will join the lavender, blue wild ryegrass (confined in pots), sea holly, a purple iris, and two blue dwarf junipers.

We're also looking forward to seeing the white crocus, daffodils, and tulips we planted in the white and fern garden last year, as well as mixed pink and purple tulips that will provide color between the bloom time of the daffodils and the lilies.

In some spots, like the mature blue garden, we just have to watch, maintain, and see whether any additional or replacement plants are required.

Others, like the new "courtyard" seating area out front, will make their debut this spring. We'll have to see how closely the hardy ferns we planted last fall come to creating the look we want.

Whether your garden is old or new, gardening resolutions provide a structure for defining what you want your garden to become, as well as a path to take you there.