Sunday, April 19, 2015

Further With the Pond Saga

As some of you know, I have been fussing around with a small pond for some years. Basically, I dug the darn thing in a fit of enthusiasm, and then couldn't get it 'right'. I tried a few things: put in a pump (couldn't solve the extension cord problem), turned it into a bog (the reeds and bulrushes moved in and took over), built it up so it would be deeper (the squirrels kept poking holes in the liner) and finally just ignored it. It looked pretty bad.
Some of the edging rocks slid into the water and the 4-legged varmints made another hole. Why do they do this? You'd think as soon as they poked a hole the water would rush in and flood them, but they keep doing it. (I didn't know who was doing it until I saw one made. I was looking at the pond one day and noticed the liner move. Then I saw a dark spot appear, quickly followed by an inquisitive brown nose and a striped head. Chipmunk. He looked up at me and gulped but the damage was done. I've gotten pretty good at gluing patches on.)

What bothered me the most about the pond, and which I knew no amount of cosmetic effort would cure, was that it stuck up like a sore thumb. It just looked wrong.

I was close to deciding to just fill it in again but for one thing there was a Showy Ladyslipper doing well just at the back of it and I wasn't ready to give up on the dream of a lovely Ladyslipper leaning over the water and for another, do you know how many wheelbarrow loads of soil or sand it would take? The thing is 15' across and about 3' deep.

Then I saw, in an old magazine, a paragraph about using a capillary mat to water a plant near a pond. Eureka, as they say. In a chain of half-formulated and probably illogical thoughts, it gave me the incentive to finally DO SOMETHING.

So yesterday I had a great time reducing the height of the margin, re-laying the stones, packing new soil in around their dry sides, and making a spot for the capillary mat to go to keep the Ladyslipper moist. I wasn't able to retrieve some of the rocks which had slid into the water because most of it was still a solid block of ice but it was great fun walking on the ice and making it move around. It was an ice raft! When I was a kid my brother and I made many rafts. Some of them even kept us out of the water. The log you see sticking up was still frozen into the ice, too. It's not accidental, by the way. It is there to allow bees that fall in to climb out. Also the frogs love it and some days there are a whole row of them sitting there, some facing one way and some the other like spectators at two different sporting events.
It looks much better! Of course none of the plants around it are up yet, but just turn your imagination on: There are Wild Irises (Iris versicolor, both blue and red varieties), Yellow Iris (I. pseudocorous), the Showy Ladyslipper (Cypripedium reginae), some Solomon's Seal, both the giant one rescued from the roadside near an abandoned log building and the native Polygonatum pubescens and, of course, Ferns. You can see the main path on the left and because the sun shines in from that side, all the plants tend to face you as you look at the pond.

You may wonder how well a pond without a pump works. In a way, it doesn't. The water gets murky and in the spring, before I get the leaves out, it gets a mite smelly. But then it clears, thousands of tadpoles appear, dragonflies and frogs swoop and dive and it looks just fine. I sometimes, but not often, have to top it up with the hose. Oh yes, and repair holes...

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Prickly Start

Should you happen, one day, to wake up feeling totally cross-ways with the world, tired, grouchy, dissatisfied, over-burdened, resentful, not liking your breakfast choices and filled with a strong desire to kick the cat, I'll tell you what to do.

Start with a garden walk-about. Start in front of the garage where the snow is only now (finally) melting. Darn it, just look at that flattened Timmie's cup... most annoying. Frown at it. Think a growly thought about Someone Else who left it there. Oh, wait, you did it yourself. You bought a coffee on the way home one snowy day in February and didn't much like it so you didn't finish it and then you couldn't throw it away when you got home so you left it in the truck and of course it froze solid so then you would have had to bring it in to throw it out and you didn't so you just tossed it into the snowbank and now, there it is, squashed flat and looking sordid. As I said, most annoying. You can feel vexed with the person who did it.

If you have a small garden, things like Timmie's artifacts won't be much of a problem. Just like work expands to fill the time available, so a mess will expand to fill the space available. In a small garden, when the snow melts, you might find a used gum wrapper and a 6" piece of red string. In a large garden, you'll need to get a garbage bag and make the rounds. Amazing what appears when the snow goes. One of those slips the oil truck prints and sticks in your door. Several Christmas napkins that must have escaped from the after-Christmas-party cleanup. Wet and squelchy, of course. (Interestingly, the red in the design has run but the green hasn't.) Plastic bags you don't want to look at too closely.... pull-tabs, a clump of orange yarn.... pieces of duct tape... it's no fun picking all these things up and you really don't feel like doing it and it's not your fault and why doesn't Someone Else do it and... grrrrrr.

Now what is this pile of somewhat dried-looking pine needles? Oh yes, it was snowing heavily the day you made the Christmas decorations so you piled the branches you weren't using beside the Studio. Fine, but now you have to carry away a large pile of prickly shedding branches and where to? Better throw them over there beside the driveway where you have been planning a bonfire for more than a year. Very irritating the way there never seems to be the perfect day for a bonfire. Either it's raining or it's windy or else it isn't but you don't feel like it or you're too busy or whatever but obviously it didn't get done and now there is a biggish pile and it looks awful. Dump the pine branches on top and snarl something about procrastinators. A nasty set of people, really should have been brought up better. No excuses...

Oh, look, the top of a dead balsam fir has fallen into one of the crabapple trees. Turns out crabapple trees are prickly. And they fight back and the equally prickly but also sticky balsam fir top is determined to stay in its lofty position. Ah, the rake is just long enough to snag it. Down it comes. Good. Now to get it out of your hair, ouch... Ah. Now to drag it down to the burning pile... preferably without scratching the truck.

You have actually already arranged with a tree service to come and remove the dead firs, but you haven't heard back from them for three weeks now. They agreed to do it before the snow melted, so where are they? Add snappy phone call to tomorrow's to-do list. You hate making those calls. Maybe they'll come tomorrow while you are out and it will be done when you get home. Sure. And pigs fly. No, only the tops of dead firs fly.

Pretty hard to get close to the bonfire pile. In fact, it's pretty hard to get to the bird feeders. The brambles have more or less taken over that whole area. Some of those blackberry canes are 10' long. And nothing is more prickly than a blackberry vine. The secateurs get a real workout and you pick up several nasty spines in your knuckles. Those rubbery gloves are all very well, but they don't work for thorny things. Which blackberry canes are the epitome of. Which is a split infinitive if ever I saw one but cutting vicious spiky things bring them on. Besides, who cares, you're cranky today.

Piling the cut canes on the bonfire heap doesn't work too well. They are very bushy and don't pack down and when you are done the pile is about 15' high. You can see through it, but it is that high. Six feet across and 15' high.

Not that it will burn. No amount of crumpled up newspaper (and you have lots because you forgot the re-cycling pickup last week, again) will start a blaze. An old cardboard box doesn't work either. Use your old trick, an old candle. Heh, heh, that's got it going.

Lots of branches to pick up in the woods garden. Actually you don't hate picking those up, it's sort of soothing and now that you have a good start on a burning pile you have a place to put them.

Look, the snowdrops are out.

Feeling better?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Curmudgeonly Thoughts in March

Kip and I went for our traditional too-early-to-go-into-the-woods spring walk this morning.

The snow was of course frozen solid in some places and thawed just enough to let me crash through in others. I ended up with my boots filled with snow, sore knees and a certain shortness of breath, but felt refreshed, Faithful Pooch had a fine time laughing at me, and I now know that about 6 large trees have fallen across my (former) trail and will have to be dealt with.

Kip in early spring with puddles
Kip wondering why I stopped...
The beavers seem to have had a pretty good winter. Most years they can't get out and run out of food in January, with predictable unpleasant results, but this year they have kept the water open near where the spring flows into the marsh and they have been able to come out and replenish their food supplies. Minus 25C and they were out there plowing through three feet of snow dragging saplings home for lunch. Last summer I saw that they had been doing some digging in that area and wondered why, but now I know. Pretty smart. Unfortunately, now there will be dozens of beavers this summer and no tree with pale bark will be safe.

Puddles are irresistible. Even to old ladies. I will be buying new rubber boots.

Next winter, I really must solve the winter compost problem. It's all very well to decide to use the temporary compost pile behind the Studio, depositing  bags of compost there during the winter and moving them in the spring, but sooner or later the snow will be too deep and you won't be able to get close to the pile and you will just hurl the bags of compost towards the pile and you can imagine how nice this looks when the snow begins to melt.

It isn't spring until the buds on the Maples begin to swell. It isn't spring yet.

forsythia 'Ottawa' flowers
Forsythia is easy to force
You should cut some Forsythia branches today.  Put them in a pail of water in a warm room, and you will have Forsythia flowers for Easter. Get the clippers and go do it. Now.

I stopped feeding the birds two summers ago because a bear kept coming to the feeders, smashing them and scaring me by growling when I went by in the dark. I felt guilty about it, but it did save money and I hoped it would cut down on the squirrel population. This spring I started feeding again because it was so cold and all the posts about birds on Facebook guilted me into it, but this morning as I went to fill up the feeder I saw six small brown squirrels and one huge black one. Obviously not feeding the birds hasn't had much effect on the squirrel population. I only hope it has had an effect on the bear population.

There are no Cleome seeds this years. I've personally checked every seed rack in my travel area, and nada. This is entirely because I threw out the dregs of the packages I had in the crisper, thinking they were too old now and probably wouldn't germinate. It just won't be same without them. Cleomes are prickly and sticky and smell terrible, but you have to have them in the sunny border because they are prickly, sticky and smell terrible.

If you've been nursing tomato seedlings for the last 6 weeks, which are now 4' long, have an average of 3 leaves each and are starting to bloom, throw them out. The time to start tomatoes is next week.

There don't seem to be any Pussy Willows yet, either. I even checked the bush at the edge of the marsh that usually has the first ones and there weren't any. I do have an official Pussy Willow Bush, some species of Salix that is supposed to stay short and have pretty silver catkins in the spring, but it is doing exactly that, staying short, and of course is is under the snow.

Oh well, go in, put on dry socks, make a nice pot of hot soup for supper.... so glad I don't have to eat saplings. Pussy Willows will come, they will, they will.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Fern Thoughts for Spring

You know how every fall the car maintenance people talk about being 'winter-ready'? Well, I am spring-ready. Very. I've had enough snow and enough cold and it can be spring any time now, thanks.

By co-incidence, one of blogs I follow, Ailsa Francis' 'Hortus 2', has news about a new fern nursery in Nova Scotia. And she has an article in today's Ottawa Citizen about it, too. What could be more spring-like than ferns? Those wonderful unfolding croziers:

Those are Cinnamon Fern, Osmundastrum cinnamoneum,  fiddleheads. They are covered with soft white hairs and are very striking in the spring garden. When you see these, you know spring is really here! Did you also know that the fronds, which form very quickly after the fiddles unfurl, and can be up to 4 feet long, have soft downy hairs at the bases of each pinna? You can see them here, little tufts of white hairs:

It is our only native fern that has those, making identification very easy!

Another one that is easy to identify is Evergreen Wood Fern, Dryopteris intermedia. It has tiny glandular hairs all over the stipe, rachis and costae.

You can just see them here - tiny little white dots. If you inspect them with a hand lens you can see that each one is like a wee hat pin, a straight stalk with a little dot on top. You can sometimes feel them if you draw your hand gently along the back of the frond.

Then there is a native fern that has tiny bulblets on the fronds.... another one that has a delightful spicy scent...

Have I got you intrigued? Like to know more about ferns? (What is a stipe anyway?) Do come out to my fern garden and learn more about ferns! I'm planning a Fern Day on June 28, a Sunday. I'm not sure of all the details yet, but we'll definitely tour the garden and see ferns (I have most of the 39 or so native species although not all of them in the gardened area), there will be fern-related items for sale in Crabapple Gallery, there may be a fern-y snack, tea, who knows what else. (Check out the box in the sidebar for details.)

Or come out to the Fletcher Wildlife Garden. Two keen helpers and I have been busy installing ferns in the back of the Backyard Garden. It will be the W. J. Cody Memorial Fern Garden (or Trail or Walk, the name isn't totally decided yet) and will be officially opened some time this summer.  We hope to have all the native Ottawa Valley ferns that can be grown in a garden situation there, properly labelled and set off with native companion plants. Again, check the sidebar for details as they develop.

Ah, spring. A time to dream.... perchance of this:

I can hardly wait! Spring-ready! Yes!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Happy Valentines Day!

I know it's cold and snowy, but it is almost Valentine's Day and love is in the air!

The flowers and plants we love so much often have heart-shapes - leaves, florets, even snow caps can be heart-shaped. And so many of them are in the Heart Day colours, from softest rose to glowing red.

The red rose bud in the middle is for my dear husband, Robert. It is his birthday today, and this is a special Happy Birthday Valentine just for him.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Going South In February

Doing a bit of daydreaming this morning. In my mind's eye I am wandering along a soft sandy beach, with gentle waves lapping at the edge, birds singing, a warm sun soothing away my every care...

Not. Going. To. Happen.

But I can, in my mind's eye, visit the tropics! I can pretend I'm in a dense forest in Central South America, looking at Tillandsia plants. They grow all over the trees and vines around me, right up in the air. Some of them have roots, but the roots are only to attach the plants to their supports. The plants are mostly green, but some are grey with pink or blue flowers. There is a lot of Spanish Moss around and some bright coloured birds flitting about. I blink and now I'm wandering around a bit of a desert... sand, rocks, dry stream bed, very grey coloured Tillandsias tucked into crevices. It's hot. It's bright. A surprising number of birds, busy around various cactus-like plants. Blink again and poof! I'm in a damp shady jungle. It's so wet the humidity drips off my nose. More Tillandsias, now mostly green and shiny. Weird noises, off.

Such is the wild and wonderful world of the Air Plant.

There are about 560 species of Tillandsias, give or take a few. Nobody is really sure as they haven't been studied all that much. They are native to Central and South America and the more southerly States as well as the West Indies. They are epiphytes - growing attached to, but not taking any nourishment from, structures such as trees, rocks, logs or sandy soils. They do have roots, but these are for holding on, not for extracting nutrients. They get what they need from the water that falls on them. Some of the minerals they need are dissolved in the rain that falls on them, and some are dissolved in the water that drips down on them from the canopy above. The leaves are covered with special scales that trap moisture and release it slowly as the plant dries. The plants also use what is called the CAM cycle of growth, that is, their stomata open at night and the plant is active during the cooler damper part of the 24-hour day. During the day the stomata close and the plant stores the energy it develops from photosynthesis, for use during the night.

So in my daydream I'm picking Tillandsias that look new and interesting and carefully packing them to bring home and grow in dark dry snowy Ottawa. Luckily, I'm a potter in my other life and have made some fun holders for them.

tillandsia pots

The one on the left is about 9" high and the bunny is actually a little smaller. I can easily either spritz the plants where they are, or take them to the sink for a good soak. Air Plants need a good soak, followed by a good drying, 2 or 3 times a week. Use regular tap or rain water, not softened water (too much salt) or distilled water (no nutrients). They should also get a bit of fertilizer mixed at 1/4 strength once a month or so.

These pottery holders can be immersed in the sink, and can be scrubbed if fertilizer builds up on them. The plants are glued on with E6000, a clear-drying waterproof glue that won't hurt them.

Hang your Air Plant in an East or West window and make sure it gets bright light but not too much direct sunlight. Do not forget it in the summer! You can take it outside and hang it under a deciduous tree, but then, don't forget it in the fall!

Wherever you put it, look at it regularly, and pretend you are in the tropics, and there is no February.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

January Dormancy

Come January and the kind of weather we've been having - snow, ice fogs, sudden temperature rises to rain immediately followed by chills of -20C accompanied by sharp stinging winds, more snow and so on - I think we gardeners  may be excused if we just go dormant.

I know I have been! For several weeks, not a gardening thought has entered my head. I didn't even crack a seed catalog....

But today I wandered around and admired some seed heads with their comical snow hats and some grasses still looking wonderful, all yellow and green with snow packed into them, and the fine patterns made by the snow on the branches of the balsam firs.

snowy branches

Suddenly I felt alive enough to go and get the camera and take a short walk. Down by the marsh I was rewarded when the sun came out and lit up the shrubs on the far shore, still covered with ice from the last ice fog.

ice-covered shrubs

When I got back I watered all my houseplants and inspected the tiny fern seedlings growing under the lights in the Studio with new interest. Maybe it was the sunshine, maybe the fresh air.... whatever it was, I found myself thinking that after all, spring is really only two months away!