The Garden Worm blog Digging up the best dirt on gardening!

January 28, 2011

Making tracks

Filed under: Creatures,Winter — Judy @ 5:10 pm

One of the delights of the winter garden is discovering, and trying to identify, all the tracks one finds in the snow. Of course, you can easily tell who made these tracks!

Ski tracks

But how about these little ones?

Little tracks

My guess on this is that they were made by a mouse or other small rodent helping themselves to our squash stash in the garage. In researching how to identify various tracks in the snow, I ran across this picture.

animal track chart

Rodents as small as mice or as large as beavers have five toes on their hind feet but only four on the front. On the other hand, the numerous deer that we have in our area leave two-toed prints like these:

Deer track

Seeing these pairs of deer tracks makes me think about them wandering around leisurely in the middle of the night, conversing with each other in their own way.

Wandering deer tracks

And then what about these? Did a predator of some sort scare them so they ran off or were they simply gamboling in the full moon light last week?

Leaping deer

I’ve found lots of these tracks around and it is hard to tell whether there are four or five toes. Animals in the dog and cat families leave tracks with 4 toes, with cats leaving no claw marks. On the other hand, raccoons, opossums, and skunks have five toes, but maybe it’s been too cold for them to be hanging around. I’ve seen the red fox lately and my neighbor swears she has seen a coyote, so possibly they belong to one of those critters. My vote is for the red fox!


We have squirrels in abundance, happily eating the seed underneath the birdfeeder – these tracks, although somewhat blurred by melting belong to them. Squirrels, like mice are four-toed on the front and five-toed on the hind feet. They plant their front feet first and bring their hind feet up and plant them ahead of the front feet.

Squirrel tracks

Bird tracks are also fun, but it’s much harder to identify the particular species unless you see them making the tracks first-hand. For example, I know these are the Carolina wren tracks. Although I took this picture last winter, he has been flitting and bobbing around, entertaining me immensely with his antics.

Carolina wren tracks

A big old crow left these tracks

Crow tracks

after he made a perfect landing with his tail in the snow!

Crow tail landing in the snow

Numerous tracks can be found in our backyard in the “EZPass travel lane” at the edge of our garden fence. Our garden is very large and the critters have to go around to get to the other side. Most of the tracks are the same as can be found elsewhere in the yard, but hoo-boy! there are some biggies here too. Can anyone say, “Bear?” Yes, and it is possible as there have been black bear sightings in our town.

Big tracks, unknown

You can read more on animal tracks in the snow at

January 9, 2011

Pittsburgh! Part 3

Filed under: Decorating,Flowers,Parks,Shows and Tours,Travel,Winter — Judy @ 10:15 am

One of the exceptional parts of this trip was visiting the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Schenley Park in Pittsburgh.

Phipps Conservatory

Phipps Conservatory

It was a gardener’s dream place! Built in the midst of one of Pittsburgh’s largest greenspaces, the historic Lord & Burnham glass and steel greenhouses were originally stocked with tropical plants from the 1893 Colombian Exposition in Chicago. The new entrance building built in 2005 is the first LEED® certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) visitor center in a public garden in the United States. Phipps is both historical and looking to the future!

This soaring, writhing, undulating glass chandelier sculpture by Dale Chihuly greets you in the Welcome Center.

Phipps entrance sculpture

Blown glass chandelier sculpture by Dale Chihuly at Phipps

Other glass sculptures by Chihuly like these can be found scattered throughout the plant exhibits too. I found that the ones with more organic shapes and colors and positioned in semi-believable locations were the ones that were more attractive to me.

More glass sculptures by Chihuly

More glass sculptures by Chihuly

Also at the Phipps were these intriguing glass sculptures by Hans Godo Frabel called “Longfellows.”

Frabel 'Longfellows'

'Longfellows' by Hans Godo Frabel

Frabel is a flame-work glass artist and the art he exhibited here takes the form of whimsical clowns, flower goblets, humanistic vines, reptiles and geometric shapes.

Lest you think that all we were attracted to at the Phipps was the art in the garden, I can assure you that were oohing and aahing over all of the plant exhibits. I had no idea there were so many varieties of my favorite type of fern, the maidenhairs. I gotta get me more!

Maidenhair ferns

Maidenhair ferns

The Cacti House (now called the Desert Room to reflect the variety of plants there) was added in 1902. Although I’m generally not too fond of prickly, stabbing types of plants, the specimens at Phipps were definitely ones to admire.

Desert Room with sculpture

Chihuly sculpture in the Desert Room

The most fun of all was the Winter Flower show there. Poinsettias, paperwhite narcissi, orchids, garlands, swags, huge Christmas trees sparkled and enchanted us in many whimsical vignettes sprinkled throughout the Phipps greenhouses.

Carved bear

Poinsettia Display in the Sunken Garden

Poinsettia Display in the Sunken Garden

And look at this! The display in the East Room was wild – purples, pinks, golds, silvers – and this pod of pink plastic flamingos checking out the melted Frosty the Snowman. And it looks like the koi in the pond were doing the same thing!

Flamingos, Melted Frosties, Koi

Holiday display in the East Room

Finally we are back at the Palm Court, one of the original rooms built in 1893 and where we started our tour of Phipps. It is 65 feet tall, the central focal point of the Conservatory, and where all who enter must pass through.

Snowman Mirror in the Palm Court

Snowman Mirror in the Palm Court

As we reflect on our quick trip to Pittsburgh, there is much to remember, but the best part will always be — Being with Family!


Sisters Cathy and Sallie, and daughter Kelsey

January 8, 2011

Pittsburgh! Part 2

Filed under: Travel,Winter — Judy @ 1:46 pm

After an evening of lots of laughs and warm family time with everyone trying to keep everyone else on task to put dinner on the table, we settled in for a good night’s rest. Aside: my sister and her husband have just about every single bit of wall space in their comfy home taken up with books – a home library to be reckoned with!

The next day was clear and sunny, but cold, and we were off to visit the University of Pittsburgh. The area around the Pitt campus is bordered by Carlow University, Carnegie Mellon University, Montefiore Hospital, Presbyterian Hospital, and a whole host of other educational and cultural venues, plus lots of little shops and eateries (including ones that know what vegetarian means other than a salad of greens!).

Although it was Monday and the university would be starting classes on Wednesday, most of the buildings were still closed for winter break. Our first stop was Wesley W. Posvar Hall (WWPH), the largest academic building on campus.

Posvar Hall

It reminded us of an airport inside and the minute we said that, we noticed the plane hanging from the ceiling. In fact, it is one of the two remaining Langley Aerodromes (the other is on display at the Smithsonian), an umanned tandem-wing flying machine built at the end of the 19th century. No. 6 was launched by a catapult from a houseboat in the Potomac River and flew about 5000 feet! Another interesting tidbit about WWPH is that it was built on the site of the former Forbes Field, that historical ballpark of the Pittsburgh Pirates where Babe Ruth hit his last two home runs. The actual home plate is preserved in the floor of Posvar.

Our next stop, after finding the Hillman Library and the Pitt Union closed, was the Cathedral of Learning.

Cathedral of Learning

This landmark building is the tallest education building in the Western Hemisphere,the second tallest university building in the world, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in the style of late Gothic Revival, the lobby, or Commons Room, reminded us of what we thought Hogwarts from the Harry Potter series would look like!

Cathedral of Learning Commons Room

Also in this impressive building are 27 Nationality Rooms, rooms that were designed and decorated to represent the styles of different nations and ethnic groups. They are functional classrooms and were still all decked out for the holidays when we were there. What fun to take a class in one of these!

German Nationality Room

German Nationality Room

Ukrainian Nationality Room

Ukrainian Nationality Room

The blackboards were behind these doors!

Early American Nationality Room

Early American Nationality Room

Austrian Nationality Room

Austrian Nationality Room

Who wouldn’t want to take a class in this elegant room!

Continuing on our walking tour, we passed by the Log Cabin. Apparently this cute little building from the 1800’s is only a symbol of Pitt’s humble beginnings in 1787 and has little historical significance to the University other than that. It is currently used as a storage shed by the Pitt grounds maintenance crew.

Log Cabin

We also checked out Carnegie Hall, Dippy the diplodocus with her red bow for the holidays, and stopped in the Carnegie Library, before crossing the bridge to Schenley Park and the gorgeous Phipps Conservatory. More on that tomorrow!

January 7, 2011

Pittsburgh! Part 1

Filed under: Parks,Travel,Winter — Judy @ 11:07 pm

Another day, another trip – this time a girls’ only trip to Pittsburgh. We started out with little to no snow on the ground, but hit white-out conditions in the famous lake-effect corridor near Pembroke. We thought we were doomed, but the weather quickly turned and the rest of the trip was clear and sunny. A rest stop in Meadville yielded an amazing sight along the highway in front of the Highway Department there.

Meadville DOT

This picture does not do justice to the incredibleness of this project called “Read Between the Signs,” a collaboration between the Pennsylvania DOT and Allegheny College. Discarded road signs are sculpted into various images and forms depicting the Allegheny Mountains, the French Creek watershed, roads, PennDOT workers, and surrounding farms and forests. More pictures and videos here.

Continuing onward towards Pittsburgh, we arrived at the “Steel City” or “City of Bridges” in the late afternoon.

Entering Pittsburgh

It has been over 40 years since I’ve been there and I remembered the city as being dirty and ugly, truly a “Steel City.” Was I surprised! This city, situated at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers which join to form the Ohio River, has reinvented itself. Its economy now is based on education, technology, healthcare, and financial services and, in 2010, it was listed as the most liveable city in the United States by Forbes and Yahoo.

One of my sisters lives in Pittsburgh and after the long trip, we all got some exercise in nearby Frick Park. Extensive trails wander up and down and around the steep valleys and wooded slopes.

Frick Park

The light at this time of day was magical.

Frick Park

Interesting geological formations,

Frick Park

considerable biodiversity,

Frick Park

and extensive ecological restoration work by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Frick Park

make this largest of all municipal parks in Pittsburgh a wonderful place to visit even on a late cold, snowless evening in January!

Frick Park

More on our trip tomorrow!

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