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Garden journal - all of 2011

 

cobra lilykins
February 05, 2011. It's been a pretty miserable start to the year, weather-wise: throughout January and the start to February, we've had snow, sleet, or freezing rain about once every three days or so. Only one whopper storm, but enough to keep the kids out of school for more days than any previous year. There have been plenty of pretty views out the back window - snow-covered and ice-lined trees always look stunning - but not much incentive to actually venture out into the garden.
So, like every year, most of the action has been down in the basement, where the seed-starting operations are in full swing. I've been getting better at deciding the timing of which seeds to start when, so I have no reports yet of seedlings that have unexpectedly sprung into bloom at this early stage - but there are plenty of cute and/or voluptuous seedlings, like the Arisaema candidissima pictured here. Part of the lack of blooms may be my late start to this year's operations: I didn't engage in my regular Autumn seed trading, and wasn't quite as motivated to start shuffling seeds and baggies as in years gone by. Until I got the NARGS seed exchange shipment last week, and several generous trades this week. Now I'm up to my ears in seeds, with a big backlog of varieties to start, but I'm smiling over several new-to-me varieties that have already germinated. Garden 2011 is well underway!

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can you spot 'm?
February 19, 2011. Behold the mighty saguaro cactus! Last year, I tended to a friend's gloxinias while he was on assignment in Arizona for a few months. As a thank-you upon returning, he gave me a grow-your-own-saguaro kit, so that I could grow the majestic Carnegiea gigantea for myself. That was late spring, and I didn't get around to starting them until recently. The kit came with a little terracotta pot and some gritty soil mix, along with a good number of seeds. I followed the instructions, and waited for a few weeks to see if anything would happen. Just when I was about to give up, there they were! I can't wait to be the first one on my block to grow the king of the desert flora in my front yard - wouldn't it look grand, poking up through the snow in the middle of winter? One can dream, anyway.

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February 27, 2011. We had some warmer days the past couple of weeks - as a result, the heavy pack of snow that had accumulated in late January is just about gone. The rock garden is all exposed now. Even though as a whole it looks pretty barren, a slightly closer look reveals all kinds of evergreen plants. In most cases "evergreen" doesn't mean attractive, since the plants are looking quite bedraggled by now, but at least the color confirms their readiness to push out and thrive as soon as spring arrives. And in a few cases, the color is in fact attractive even now, such as this Sedum angelina. Her regular-season color is a bright chartreuse, but during the cold season, she takes on a coppery cast. The fact that I'm even looking at the garden means it's nice outside, and spring is right around the corner!
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March 19, 2011. It's a bunny UFO! Well, actually, it's a seedling of Bergeranthus jamesii, at its first-true-leaf stage. The ice plant relative hails from South Africa, and with a hardiness rating of zone 7, its survival in our garden is rather questionable - so I'm going to try to pay attention to the seedlings in their first year, in case they don't return for a second.
Meanwhile, the garden is starting to show some color - all the usual suspects (crocuses, rock irises, snowdrops, and hellebores), so I've not bothered to take any pictures - but with the significantly warmer temperatures we had the last few days, I expect to see some other (perhaps even new-to-me) flowers come into action pretty soon.

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March 21, 2011. It's time for the new growth installment of the journal. Every early spring, there are a few new plants whose newly emerging foliage suddenly strikes me – sometimes the plants are new to the garden, but often it's just that I've never paid particularly close attention. With this Valeriana officinalis, it's a bit of both: the plant has lived in our garden only a couple of years, and maybe the burgundy-contrasted-with-pale-green look doesn't show until the plant is mature. In any case, that's the kind of thing that makes the garden worth wandering around this time of year, even though temperatures haven't been venturing much above 40°F recently...
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So cute – they even have little spines
March 27, 2011. A quick update on those saguaros – they are starting to look like cacti now. And look, I have enough to make a cactus hedge all along the front yard! Once they reach majestic status, of course...
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April 08, 2011. I went on a bit of a hellebore inventory tour around the garden one evening this week. It was cold all week – this must be the latest year ever for me to get seedlings outside to harden off – but I had to get out and around the garden at least once. Snapped photos of the various lenten roses. Somehow, even though I grow ones from seed that's labeled with enticing names such as "white picotee" and "spotted forms", most of the results are squarely in the mottled purple corner. That's fine, I like 'm that way, but I'm still hoping for a surprise one of these years. The one pictured here has been growing in our side garden for a good number of years now, and is in fine form this year.
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not much of a meal
April 09, 2011. As far as I'm concerned, today was this year's first real day of gardening. Sure, I'd been out before in previous weeks - but that was because I had to (so many dead stalks to chop down and shred!), not because the goddess of the garden was singing her irresistable song. But today, I heard her first few notes, and heeded her call to go outside in the sunny weather and commune with the dirt (sticky dirt for sure, after several more days of drenching rain this past week). And sure enough, I came across a few unexpected displays by early risers in the garden. There were the cute fuzzy-flat-folded new leaves of Asarum canadense, which somehow had escaped my attention in years past; and the miniature asparus shoots of Asparagus schoberioides – tinier and earlier than those of its big cousin, common asparagus. I may not have accomplished much of note today, but at least it feels like the season is now officially underway!
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Just a few pots lined up so far
April 14, 2011. Well, I finally made up my mind – I will have a plant sale this year, on May 7th, but it will be a smaller affair than recent years, given the havoc wrought on our garden's plants by last summer's drought and the limited time to prepare between scouting, soccer, baseball, and softball. It feels good to have made the decision – I can be off on my usual spring routine of puttering around the garden, pulling weeds as I identify volunteer plants to pull up, others to divide, and just generally reconnecting with the flora at Lush Gardens. To celebrate, I took the afternoon off (it was a nice day in between the spring storms that have been visiting us so regularly this season) to get a start on things. I got a few old favorites potted up, mostly from our sale plot (which holds plants of which I had a surplus in last year's sale). So I got to clear my plants for sale list, to make room for this year's offerings. I'm looking at a few very busy weeks!
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April 17, 2011. Looking back through notes from previous years, I see that by this time in April I was setting out seedlings into the nursery areas of the garden, having previously harvested all of last year's plants that survived the winter in those areas. Well, let's just say that I'm not nearly to that point yet this year. I've just started the harvesting process, with hands getting numb after some time of handling the cold soil. This weekend was another mixture of heavy rainfall (Saturday) and bone-chilling wind (Sunday). But then, Sunday afternoon, the sun briefly peeked out, and I abandoned my potting-up chores for a walk around the garden. For the first time, I noticed the aftermath of our parrot tree flowering (I missed the actual show); not a horticultural high, but still worth a photo for the record. The rock garden proved more photogenic, with lots of the succulents changing from their winter into their spring colors. And the fortuitous combination in the photo shown here, with the subtly different shades of blue-green from Allium senescens subsp. montanum var. glaucum and Helianthemum nummularium combining brightly.
I did return to my plant-sale prep duties eventually – up to 93 varieties to include in the sale, which isn't too shabby, everything considered...
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April 22, 2011. This website has been going for a little over 7 years by now. Every season, I routinely venture outside armed with my camera to take pictures of whatever catches my interest around the garden. So you'd think that I would have captured the showy moments of just about all our long-time garden denizens, wouldn't you? Well, it doesn't always work out that way. I was recently surprised to find that I was lacking a photo of our weeping cherry in bloom: I had pictures of its summer stature, its fall foliage, and its stark winter structure, all showing worthwhile aspects of this tree. But the feature that makes people want to grow this tree, its abundance of pink flowers in early spring, somehow was never captured on camera. There's a reason for that, of course: the flowers are overhead and not easy to photograph when I'm walking through the side garden where it's planted, and its location in our garden doesn't lend itself to a photo that captures its full flowering glory. But still, I resolved to rectify the gap in my plant pages, and finally got a few pictures to show on my weeping cherry page.
Meanwhile, there is more action in the garden, so I'm working on a backlog of other pictures to upload. As usual this time of year, the rock garden holds great promise; it is already looking pretty cool with the different shapes and sizes of the succulents tucked into nooks and cascading down cracks, and soon flowers will be joining the show.

Also this week, I received a plea from the Rodale Institute, who are looking for volunteers to help out around the experimental farm and research center in rural Berks County. You can read more about volunteering on this page.
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April 23, 2011. We purchased our Magnolia 'Elizabeth' to celebrate the birth of our daughter Lily, now nearly eight years old. The tree was grafted, but the nurseryman couldn't quite remember what rootstock he had used – he thought it might have been M. kobus. When I noticed a sucker at the base a year or two later, I decided to grow it on to see what it would turn out to be. So for the past six or so years, we've had a magnolia tree growing in our vegetable garden, getting quite tall (it's at least 10 feet high now), but not producing any flowers. Until this year, it finally showed its true color: white, as it turns out. Which means that M. kobus may indeed be the correct species. In any case, it's not nearly as nice as the standard M. stellata in our front yard, which has similar flowers produced with better form and in greater abundance. I guess there's a reason this specimen is used as a rootstock rather than the main show. So the magnolia will be coming down this year. The asparagus will be thankful: their tall neighbor was starting to cast a good bit of shade in their direction.
It's always fun to experiment in the garden – even when in the end, you wind up trashing the results.

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April 26, 2011. A couple of warm days in a row and all of the second-line flowering trees come in with a big splash! The apricot and star magnolia have finished by now, but their places in the blossom procession are ably taken up by (left to right) the redbud (just starting to show its haze of color), a bradford pear in full white regalia, the younger of our kwanzan cherries by the big pond patio, and 'Elizabeth' magnolia in creamy yellow.
Elsewhere in the garden, several flowering quinces, the sour cherry, and the European bird cherry are doing their thing. In all, a good time of the year – wish I had more time to relax and enjoy it...
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a katsura skeleton
April 30, 2011. Spent the whole day outside. I got up early to get a head start on all the things that needed doing (mostly getting the seedlings out to the nursery beds, right around now). We've reached the point where almost everything that is going to come up or leaf out has done so. A wonderful time of the year, when it's hard to walk around the garden without smiling about this or that and the whole kit & kaboodle. It's also when you notice the things that are conspicuously not springing back to life. This year, there are more of those, no doubt due to last summer's drought exerting its toll belatedly. Any year, an awful lot of the previous year's seedlings have gone AWOL. I've come to accept that as an unavoidable consequence of my attempts to grow plants that are marginally hardy, require better drainage than our garden can provide, or are otherwise a less than perfect fit for our climate and cultural conditions. But this year, some longer-term residents of the garden have left us. First off, the katsura tree shown in the photo here – it had graced our "lane" garden since we first built it, had played host to a bald hornet's nest one year, and was just generally a dependable, charming but not flashy contributor to the scene. No more...
Other woody characters that have departed include the 'New Dawn' rose and our 'Snow' false cypress. Many more herbaceous perennials have joined them, leaving holes in borders just about everywhere. Luckily, this time of year holes represent opportunities as much as challenges. I foresee a few visits to favorite nurseries in the near future!
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Kenilworth ivy close-up
May 08, 2011. Phew! That was several days of hard work. The days leading up to the plant sale are always crazy, with lots of moving plants around, finding and making photo signs for them, last-minute potting up of plants that I somehow forgot to include in the assortment. Then the sale day itself starts off busy as can be, with most of the action occurring in the first hour of the sale. After 9 o'clock, I can take a breather. I made the mistake of saying I wouldn't have as many plants this year in the message I sent out to my email list; as a result, I think fewer gardeners showed up. Since I in fact had almost as many plants as previous years, that meant I had a good few left over. But they are going to find good homes: I already set many of them aside to donate to the HPS/MAG plant sale next week, put a bunch of others in the sale plot, and designated the rest for filling in holes in our own garden (there are many of those, thanks to last summer's drought). The aftermath took the rest of the weekend (interrupted by Ben's baseball game on Saturday, and playing coach at Max's soccer match on Sunday), so I'm enjoying some downtime now, Sunday evening. Poor Amy didn't get much Mother's Day attention...
As crazy as things get, I try not to lose sight of the unfolding scenes in the garden. I'm much enchanted this year by the show put on by the Kenilworth ivy, which migrated from a different part of the garden (which it apparently didn't much care for) to just next to our patio door steps. Which means we get to enjoy it every time we step out the back door.

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May 21, 2011. Wonderful day for gardening: a warm sunny Saturday on the heels of a rainy week. The kind of day that the hours in the garden just seem to run together – on my way to set out some annual seedlings in a garden area, I notice something that needs to be done elsewhere and get diverted for a while. Then a plant catches my attention for one reason or another – it might be the first time I see it bloom, or I've never before quite noticed its new growth habit, or its developing seedheads. Eventually I return to the original task, only to be waylaid again on my return trip to the seedling stash.
Besides setting out tiny perennial seedlings in the nursery area, and annual seedlings elsewhere in the garden, I just flitted about. A few highlights: I did battle with bindweed in several areas of the garden – skirmishes in a war I wage annually, and will never win, but cannot ever withdraw from (the aftermath would be dreadful). The magnolia in the vegetable garden I wrote about a few weeks ago finally came down (it looks very empty there now). The leek seedlings have now found their way into the vegetable garden, which is starting to take shape for the year. And the assault on algae in the big pond has commenced, with new tactics to hopefully conquer the green stuff more effectively this year. Along the way, I was charmed by the Viola bertolonii coming into bloom (just a few months after sprouting from seed), the light-blue-flowing stems of Campanula moesiaca, the fluffy seedheads of Antennaria plantaginifolia, and the blue combo at the street end of the driveway bed – an area that has been difficult to populate with reliable performers in years past, looking particularly cheerful right now with baptisia, Siberian iris, and penstemon in blue and lavender shades.
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and where do you think you're going?
May 22, 2011. I thought it was cool how these Bupleurum griffithii volunteers lined up perfectly along the fence, almost as if they were a blue-green riot police unit daring any upstart to break their line. This annual returns in our garden in great numbers every year. I pull it up in most places, but leave some in borders where their cool color and habit adds interest.
Cooler today, with a bit of rain in the evening. Which made it a good day for distributing mushroom soil to various borders. When stirred up, the black stuff is still plenty odoriferous – which I take to mean it's got lots of goodness wrapped up inside.
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May 24, 2011. When my smoke tree (Cotinus 'Grace') didn't show any signs of returning a little earlier this spring, I figured that it too had bit the dust, joining a few other woody denizens of our garden in a demise caused by the one-two punch of a dry summer and a cold winter. The state of 'Grace' was difficult to ascertain, as a gaggle of Digitalis lutea were growing through and around its base. So I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed, a few days ago, that a few branches had survived, their purple leaves contrasting marvellously with the bright green of the digitalis. I'm hoping for Grace's full recovery...

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May 30, 2011. Usually I get a few garden projects done in early spring (looking back at last year, for example, I created the curve garden, redid a good portion of the side garden, and overhauled the rock garden). This year, not so much – between the rainy spring, the late-decision plant sale, and kid sports commitments, there wasn't enough time to tackle any such projects. But I'm happy to report that at long last, I managed to get one in – a modest upgrade to our back yard, connecting the existing "firewood border" and "rose border", along a stretch of split-rail fence where weeds and grass had gotten used to growing tall, out of reach of the lawn mower. The new area covered is rather small, but the project included installing brick edging along both the new section and the borders it linked with, as well as improving the soil with copious amounts of mushroom soil. So I hope it will grow into a bountiful border in a few years – in any case, it already looks much better than the previous state of the area. Oh, and that messy wood assemblage in the background: that's the makeshift fort my kids built earlier this spring. It's gotta go (I already gave the eviction notice) – a new area for a better-planned playhouse/fort has already been scoped out.

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simple but effective
June 18, 2011. That kids' fort in the background of the firewood border in the previous post? It was due to come down today, but when I started in on the demolition job, I noticed that some of the wood (which came from a neighbor's remodeling project) was just about the right size for a different project. Not a gardening project, exactly – but since my garage is the staging area for both my plant sale and gardening duties in general, I figure it's close enough to warrant an entry in this journal. The problem: a proliferation of bicycles. We're a family of five, plus I have three bicycles to feed my road biking habit as well as my tendency to commute to work on two wheels – so that makes seven bicycles to store in an already-messy garage space. The two-by-four and two-by-ten lumber I extracted from the fort was just right to rig up a rudimentary bike rack (with one slot to spare, for future expansion). For now, at least, the bike situation is under control (although they still take up lots of space - see the fully filled rack).

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June 19, 2011. We were relaxing around a pond-side patio campfire this evening, dusk rapidly closing in shortly after 9 o'clock, when my eyes wandered around the garden and fixed on something bright. It took me a second to realize that the color was coming from the Oenothera glazioviana at the front of our curve garden. That front position is a bit of a mistake, since the large plants overwhelm smaller front-of-border plants nearby, and the coarse leaves aren't particularly pretty. But right at that moment, I was glad to have it up front and center, so that it could beam all its radiant pale-yellowness in unfettered fashion. I haven't actually caught the oenothera (which came to us as seeds of 'Tina James Magic') in its spiral unfurling act, but I was happy to catch a shot of its night-time allure, with a little help from my tripod.
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June 21, 2011. Oenothera 'Tina James Magic', continued. After witnessing the plant in its fully beaming state, I was determined to catch the individual flowers in their famous act of spirally unfurling. So I set up my camera on a tripod around 8:30pm yesterday, focused the lens on a promising bud, and proceeded to do some weeding around the general area (I'm not usually known to linger much in one area of the garden, but I wanted to be there for the show), snapping a photo every few minutes to catch the rather subtle early changes. The real show didn't start until it got a good bit darker, around 8:45pm. I called Lily, who recently turned eight, out into the garden because I knew she'd be intrigued by the flowers too, and together we watched as one by one, the flowers burst open, each taking maybe half a minute to proceed from mostly-furled to fully-unfurled. The photos on this page are a selection of the full series shown on the page linked above; the last several shots in that series were taken as fast as the camera would go (a few seconds apart, in the low light levels we had). I'm happy that fifteen years in, the garden still throws neat new surprises my way.
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August 13, 2011. The mid-summer journal slump has gone for longer than usual. Since the last post, we had a little garden tour come through, which was a nice opportunity to tidy up and appreciate the garden. Shortly thereafter, we entered into a long period of hot dry conditions, an early repeat of last year's disheartening drought, which kept me out of the garden (besides moving sprinklers around) for the most part. Then came the kitchen renovation project, and Cub Scout Day Camp (which Amy runs, turning our family life upside down for a week), and all of a sudden we're into mid-August! Luckily, we had some good rainstorms since July came to a close, the lawn has started to green up again, and things are looking decidedly lush (aside from a few bare spots where more recently planted horticultural assets did not survive). As usual, a month of neglect has taken its toll on tidiness; this means lots of overgrowth, but also creates some interesting garden combinations where neighbors flop into each other. This morning, I ventured out into the garden with my camera for the first time in weeks, and happened upon this little scene in the side garden, lit up by a few stray rays of the still-low sun. A patch of volunteer phlox stands proudly next to Hydrangea 'Limelight', with a view of St. Francis serenely communing with the animals in the background. I'm looking forward to spending more time in the garden from here on out. After all, seeds need harvesting, weeds need pulling, and the late-season flowers are begging to be admired!
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Maddy inspects the damage
August 31, 2011. Look what Irene did! Somehow, it took us a few days to notice that our beloved Bradford pear (planted toward the back of our yard, behind the big pond and the back-yard island) had been badly bullied by the hurricane that blew through on Sunday. Lots of rain, some high winds, but overall the damage was modest around our area. Unfortunately, the soggy soil combined with high winds and a healthy leafy canopy conspired to topple the tree right over, smack onto our shed. Amy was heartbroken, since it was the first tree we planted together, back before we got married – so my mission was to attempt to salvage part of the tree. I don't think I was too successful – even after sawing off the majority of the major branches and uprights, the trunk didn't want to turn back upright. I guess the roots that remained intact reconfigured themselves underneath the soil, resisting a return to a skyward orientation. I may prop the trunk up at an angle, with a pile of rocks supporting its lean, and see what happens. In any case, the tree will never return to its former glory, and it's conspicuously absent from our view across the back yard.

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September 26, 2011. And the rain, it kept on coming – after Irene came Lee, a mere tropical storm but just about as wet. So what with the July drought followed by record rainfall in late summer, I've just not kept up with things. Not that the garden ever looks in tip-top shape around this time of year: this is when I enjoy the haphazard combinations of late-summer flowers in all their floppy glory. The photo here shows the view into our Lane garden: it's what you see when you look to the left coming out of our front door, and it greatly concerns Amy, who sees tripping hazards and places for uncouth individuals to hide and stage an attack on our home. She's right, of course. And I'll hack it all down soon enough – but for now, I'm enjoying the view. Especially since this is just about the only part of the garden not overrun by bindweed (see what happens when you slack off for a month or two!)

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October 14, 2011. Sometimes (admittedly not very often), neglecting your weeding can yield a pleasing surprise. No, I'm not talking about the areas of our garden strangled by bindweed, or the thistle patches that spread tall and wide when not attended to. And certainly not the mugwort-infested asparagus patch that has confounded me for years. But this little bit of the new firewood border escaped my attention for long enough that a sprawling species of smartweed (I think it's different from the one that usually infests our garden) exploded into a handsome mat of elegant leaves topped with purple spike flowers. Of course I yanked it right after I took the picture, because I sure don't want to contend with thousands of baby smartweeds next year. But still, I enjoyed the sight while it lasted.
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Bracing Bradford
October 20, 2011. Nearly two months after Irene toppled Bradford (see a few posts ago), Brad's remainder has sprouted quite a few new leaves along its stumpy limbs. I guess the tree is optimistic about its survival. For now, I've braced it to hold it at least somewhat upright using a two-by-four and our shed. Hopefully, by next spring the tree will find a new balance and grow new roots to support its leaning mass.

In other news, our garden has a new resident! Some time ago, I lamented to a friend at work how our suburban plots are devoid of snakes. Last weekend, he called to announce he had caught a garter snake at his woodpile, and would I like it? Of course I said yes, and by Monday I had a snake (dubbed "Skippy" by my friend's son, who had taken a liking to him), temporarily housed in an aquarium. My kids and I captured a nice big cricket for him, which also went to live in the aquarium – but Skippy gave up on catching it after a few half-hearted attempts, and even after he ate half an earthworm, we were growing concerned about his state of nutrition. So this evening it was time for Skippy to go out into the wilds of our back yard island (a little off to the right of the photo here). He seemed quite happy to do so; I hope the garden will prove to be a good home, even if it doesn't supply other-gender serpentine companionship (I write about Skippy as a "he" above, but really I have no clue). Somehow, in all of this I flat forgot to snap a picture of Skippy. I wonder if I'll ever run into our little snake again...

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