Let’s Pretend It’s Spring! (Photo Set 2 of 2)

The galleries below contain the second series of photos I took last week, of signs of spring life that are starting to appear in my gardens.

The first post and a bit about how the photos were taken and processed is here: Let’s Pretend It’s Spring! (Photo Set 1 of 2).

Thanks for looking!


Gallery One: Climbing Hydrangea

Climbing Hydrangea is often seen growing as a showcase flowering vine on large trellises, but mine are in two four-foot tall urns with lattice supports on opposite sides of my courtyard. Planting them in pots was one of my gardening experiments: the plant — while producing only a few flowers — grows wonderfully with a few hours sunlight in the morning and shade in the afternoon. Most of the leaves drop off in the fall after turning bright yellow (see the third image here: Wordless Wednesday: Fall, Fading) but then regenerate from these tiny buds every spring, the buds often starting to appear in late January or early February.


Gallery Two: English Ivy

English Ivy has achieved the distinction of being common, pervasive, and often, invasive. Some people believe that if you take cuttings and throw them on the ground, they’ll grow right where you threw them. While I tried that and it didn’t work, I think it could if the soil was damp and soft; I’ve put a few strands in a jar of water and seen them generate long roots in just a couple of days.

Many of the homes in my neighborhood were built above street level on lots held in place by three-foot retaining walls. As you walk through the neighborhood, it’s very apparent that the same landscaping style was established at about the same time, as the retaining walls were created from similar stone that has aged to nearly identical colors and textures. The front yards, including mine, were planted with English Ivy instead of grass, and the ivy is typically encouraged to cascade over the walls. Near my sidewalk, front porch, and front gardens, I keep the vines at bay with pine bark; trimmed back and bordered by the bark, it’s not hard to keep it from consuming the gardens (and the house!) because the sticky fingers it produces are easily detached from the bark chips.

It grows all year round, though much more slowly during the winter, and isn’t a bit intimidated by frost or freezing temperatures. Once a year, in late February or early March, it puts on a show with a blanket of new leaves in luminous green or yellow-green, similar to the smaller leaves in the last two photos. Then, after about a week, the leaves get larger and the colors blend into a darker green, and rapid spring growth begins for real.


Gallery Three: Catawba Grape Vine

The Catawba Grapevine winters with these tiny, hard, darkly colored nubs that are just starting to show signs of growth. The Catawba was previously featured here on my post Secrets Inside a Grapevine.


Gallery Four: Bluebird Hydrangea

Bluebird Hydrangeas — like many hydrangeas — can always be counted on to over-winter some buds and push out new ones as early as January, even if it’s a little cold. It’s almost hard to believe that from a couple dozen stems like this, a fully leaved five-foot wide blooming shrub will fill one section of my garden. Bluebird Hydrangeas were featured on this blog last year, here: Bluebird Hydrangeas from My Garden.


Gallery Five: Honeysuckle

I have one honeysuckle in my garden, due for replanting from a pot to soil this year, or at least to a larger pot. Honeysuckle produces clumps of multicolored flowers in a variety of complex shapes and sizes; this one opens blooms in orange and light purple — colors similar to the bud in the last photo — that look like tiny trumpets suspended from the branches. At this early stage, the new leaves push out from various points along the plant’s woody stems, starting out as sage or blue-gray in color, then gradually changing to contain more and more green as the leaves mature.


Secrets Inside a Grapevine

Earlier this week, on a hot and sunny morning, I wanted to find out what I would see if I stuck my head and my macro lens into the interior of a Catawba Grapevine, behind the broad leaves and long stems twisted throughout an old iron obelisk trellis in one corner of my garden. The Catawba Grapevine is one of two I planted years ago as an experiment; the other is a Concord Grapevine, growing in a four-foot tall ceramic pot, winding up and through the bars of a fan-shaped trellis. Neither one produces grapes any more, but the Catawba has been returning every year for four years, and the Concord has grown back each spring and summer for eight years. In their first couple of years they both produced grapes, though the grapes never matured beyond the size of a pea: birds loved the tiny grapes and it was common for me to see a flurry of wings and beaks jabbing at the grape clusters until they were picked clean.

Both vines continue to grow and develop new leaves, stems, and tendrils until cooler fall weather sets in, when the leaves turn pale yellow, light orange, then brown as they begin to fall off. I looked for some of the tinier subjects to photograph; the photos below show some of the emerging leaves and the lines and curves of the tendrils as they search for places to attach. Sunlight, while very bright when I took these pictures, was filtered through the leaves, caused some harshness and clipping that I adjusted out of the photos as much as possible. At the same time, the sunlight also created some interesting background shapes and colors. Where you see a lot of white in the new leaves, that’s because they’re white on the bottom and shades of green and yellow on the top side.

The tendrils were a challenge to photograph, as the slightest breeze pushed them out of focus, and I’ll likely make another attempt at similar shots on a calmer day. The white clipping on the last photo was driving me crazy: I kept trying to de-emphasize it but couldn’t get it right without creating distracting artifacts in the image. I ended out emphasizing it instead by blurring and darkening the background, so it looks like a little flame instead of a … flameout.

These tendrils seem delicate but in reality are quite strong. The Catawba attaches itself tightly to the iron bars, and frequently latches onto the branches of Chinese fringe flower bushes that are growing nearby. I always thought it was just wind, coincidence, and a bit of stickiness that prompted the tendrils to attach to something, but I learned while researching this article that the plant follows a chemical and physiological process called thigmotropism to seek out and hook to attachment points. The tendrils can discriminate between the plant itself and other attachment points, favoring external attachments over self-attachment. This process can occur quickly: according to The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird:

“When the tendril … finds a perch, within twenty seconds it starts to curve around the object, and within the hour has wound itself so firmly it is hard to tear away. The tendril then curls itself like a corkscrew and in so doing raises the vine to itself.”

There is a description of this process, and some of the research behind it, at The Guardian, here: Scientists unwind the secrets of climbing plants’ tendrils; and an illustrated guide to the parts of a grapevine here: Grapevine Structure and Function (pdf).

Select any of the images below to begin a slideshow. As always: thanks for reading and taking a look!