Sunday, February 7, 2016

Musing on... February

Random thoughts.

The best kind for a dark snowy day when it is too icy to even go for a walk in the woods. Not that I'm going to say anything about the weather we've been having, except maybe to point out that this is not what I asked for.

I went through some magazines which had piled up on the end table. Why is it that so many of those wonderful plants you see pictured are never available where I live? Will it be any different this spring? I've made a list called 'Plants to Look For' but I might as well call it 'Impossible Dreams'. Oh well, guess that will add zest to the search...

Speaking of which, I'm going to be a vendor at a new event in Almonte. It's called Seedy Saturday, but it sounds like more of a gardening show, seeds being only one part of it. When I said I didn't have any seeds, not having collected any last summer because of course I didn't know this show was coming up, the organizer allowed as how I could sell my photo notecards. So I signed on, and have been busy making more notecards. Just images of my favourite native plants (no, not all of them ferns) glued onto notecards, with envelopes. If nothing else, my table will look wonderful! Hopefully some people will come and look at it and pick up a bookmark enticing them to come to my Plant Sale in May. I've put the Seedy Saturday poster in the sidebar - the first person who emails or comments that they are going and saw it here, gets two free tickets.
orchids fen bog calopogon arethrusa cypripedium

Doing the images for the notecards has been rather fun! I'm going through photos taken on so many wonderful field trips, hikes, visits to natural areas and such. Here are a few orchids taken at the White Lake Fen. I say, 'at', but maybe I should say, 'in'. It's a fen, not a bog, but it's surrounded on three sides by a very boggy swamp. I call it a 'wonderful/awful' place because it is. If you decide to go there, be prepared for exciting plants, especially orchids, and hordes of mosquitoes. Also wet feet, maybe a twisted ankle, maybe a complete soaking.Walking on the fen mat is not really recommended, but if you do, go slowly. If you get the mat moving it will do so in a wave motion, and you may tip over into the dark acidic water, and you may have trouble getting vertical again. I went on a field trip there once and one fellow did just that - he slowly tipped over and landed in the wet and then couldn't get back up. And it wasn't easy to help him as of course any movement towards him made it worse. Eventually he did rise again. What was funny, but not to him, was that he was the best-dressed and cleanest person in the group. Anyway, these are some images from last year's trip to the fen.

And here is a shot of my desk as I work on the notecards:
colourful notecards native plants desk
The bookmarks are for people to take home to remind them to come to my Plant Sale and Fern Day. The green surface with the squares marked on it is my trusty paper cutter. It's getting quite a workout!

The sun came out briefly (remember the sun?) and back-lit a white Hyacinth. I ordered 10 white Hyacinth bulbs in the fall, thinking to force them for a Christmas display, but the timing sure did not work out. According to the catalogue, they should have bloomed in 9 to 12 weeks. Hah, it was more like 20 weeks. But now I'm happy about it because I have some lovely flowers in this dreariest month of the year!
white forced hyacinth flower
They're very strongly scented; I'm not sure I really like it. Same as those Daffodils everybody forces, I think they smell too strong. Plus their scent includes hint of cat... not my favourite odeur!

Ah, February. If you took a tuck in the year and eliminated February, would anybody notice?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Not a Book Review

This is not a book review. A book review requires a careful and thorough reading, followed by an equally careful assessment of the book's goals, organization, the quality of the writing, the illustrations, and so on and so on. I'm going to talk about three books, two of which I acquired recently and one which I've had for a while. Not as book reviews, but as something of a comment on the state of today's garden thinking. There is something about all three books which really bothers me, and no, I'm not in a bad mood!

The books are Plant-Driven Design, by Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden, published in 2008; Planting, A New Perspective, by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury, published in 2013; and, Planting In A Post-Wild World, by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West, published in 2015. All were published by Timber Press and the last two have recieved a lot of attention in the gardening press.

Before I say anything about the books, let me relate two small stories, both true. The first one involves a rather stout lady huffing her way up the stairs at the trailhead to Red Rock Falls in Waterton Provincial Park. I paused on one of the landings to let her go by and she stopped to tell me "It's a heck of a long way to those falls. You'd think if they were going to have waterfalls, they'd put them closer to the parking lot." The second story took place one chilly rainy day in Banff National Park. I'd hiked up to some ochre pools and was on my way back down when I met a group of several women and five or six children. When they saw me they asked me how far it was to the pools and I said about another hour's walk. They looked daunted and decided to turn back. One of the women said to me "I guess we aren't as good at nature as you are."

These incidents have stuck in my mind. What amazes me is the total disconnect between these people and reality. Waterfalls only exist as tourist attractions? 'Nature' is an activity?

All three books make me feel echoes of these incidents.

Take the first one, Plant-Driven Design. Is there another kind? Well, I suppose there is if you try to make a landscape entirely of cement, plastic, wood and so on. But that isn't a landscape, not to me. Of course, yes, you can plan a landscape (garden) with design elements other than plants as your main focus, but once you introduce any planting, you'll find that your design is plant-driven. If it isn't, your plants will die and you won't have a landscape, just a construction. Maybe you could call it a sculpture.

The second title, Planting, A New Perspective, makes me laugh a bit. Only to landscape designers is there anything new about this form of planting. Oudolf and Kingsbury are both champions of using plants to create attractive views and vistas. They use  a lot of grasses, but is that new? Perhaps it is. Landscape designers used to use trees, shrubs, lawns, walls and so on as their design elements. Perennials, which is what all three books mean when they say 'plants' weren't really considered, although beds were marked out for them.

Planting In A Post-Wild World is another dubious title. Who says the world is post-wild? What the heck does 'post-wild' mean? Do the authors really think the 'wild' world is a thing of the past? I wonder if they would put the waterfalls near the parking lot...

However, once you get past the sense of dislocation brought on by the titles, all three books have good points as well as some bad points. The first, Plant-Driven etc. has wonderful photographs of gardens and garden areas designed by the authors. If you study the images you will find many good planting ideas. The area of the United States they work in is very different from Eastern Ontario, but I still find many plant combinations that will work here. Some are quite original and charming, even exciting, and worth translating into our plant choices. Don't read the text, I think Lauren wrote most of it and was in a bad mood that year.

Planting, A New yadda yadda is much like their and Oudolf's other books. Use grasses. See plants as objects, with certain sizes and shapes. Plant zillions of them, all on flat surfaces, and let the groundskeepers do the maintenance. Their installations look wonderful in the pictures, I doubt that any of them will last long without the kind of upkeep the authors insist you don't have to do. Plant 100 tall grasses and don't weed? Might work in downtown Manhattan, sure won't in the Ottawa Valley. And don't keep telling me grasses are low-maintenance. Maybe they are if you have hired help with machinery (incidentally, help with machinery is the only kind that can be hired today, nobody is willing to do any of it by hand anymore), but not for a gardener. A lot of the projects admired in the books are urban parks. Some of their ideas can be translated to gardens, but choose carefully. One small annoyance: quite a few of the plants they recommend are simply not available on our side of the big puddle.

Planting In A Post-Wild and so on is the most confusing of the three books. Reviews I have read all seem to see it as a ground-breaking new approach to landscape design, an original new way of looking at living with plants. I say 'phooey'. And I thought Rainer was better at nature than that. But putting that aside, the book is a good introduction to garden design, and suggests many interesting combinations and juxtapositions. It reads like a textbook, so much so that I find it hard to read more than a few pages before my brain seizes up. The photos are excellent, the basic ideas are sound. I especially like the concept of seeing the ground cover level in a garden as the basic 'ground' with the taller plants as the 'design'. I'm used to forests, every inch of which have the ground covered, so to me this seems logical and sensible. It might not suit small gardens, but will suit larger ones.

I think only to 'landscape architects' is there anything 'new' or exciting in the ideas these books describe. For most gardeners they must be second nature. But then, art schools cannot teach 'art'. They can teach materials, techniques, history, concepts such as balance and composition, but they cannot teach 'art'. Books can teach about plants, about the history of their uses, about ideas such as combining a large number of low-growing plants with a smaller number of focal-point plants, but they can't teach garden design. They can teach the nuts and bolts of designing areas filled with plants suitable for installation around public buildings and such, but they can't teach the kind of detail that gardeners can achieve with their love for the plants they grow. They can't teach 'nature' any more than art schools can teach 'art'.

Buy Lauren Springer's book. Get the other two (and Oudolf and Kingsbury's other books) from the library.


Monday, December 21, 2015

I Was Expecting Winter...

I was expecting Winter, but instead we have had a very long Autumn! Still, Winter seems to finally be here (a dusting of snow on the pines and a crunch underfoot) and now it is time to say:

red felt christmas ornament in pine
I hope you have a Wonderful Christmas!  More soon!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

All the Shades of... Brown

It's late Fall, and everywhere is brown, so lets enjoy brown!

brown tones of autumn collage

Have a Happy Brown Day!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Taking Another Look

Bright sunny days are all very well, but I think you notice things more on a damp and cloudy one. Yesterday I was putting a few last things away in the shed and happened to go by a small shrub that lives under the Japanese Lilac. I don't usually pay much attention to it but this time the yellow leaves caught my eye. Not their bright yellow although that was nice enough, but the 'lines' made by the leaves, especially those at the tops of the stems. I'm not sure what the shrub is - it could be a kind of flowering almond - mostly it's just a short slightly spreading shrub with plain green leaves and small puffs of pink flowers for about fifteen minutes in the Spring.
shrub flowering almond yellow leaves
I liked the curves of the leaves and the way they sprang away from the stems. Repeated as they were on the multiple stems they had a rather nice rhythm to them.

That got me looking at other interesting 'lines' in the garden. How often do we look at the colour of something, or the shape, while not noticing what interesting lines it has? Look at all the lines in this collage of some things you might find in a late Fall garden:
brown leaves stems collage
Graceful curves in the grasses... bold veins on leaves... crisp curled leaves on Goldenrod stems... repeated zigzag edges of Bracken fronds... sinuous curves of the edges of Oak leaves. Even the collapsed stems of a Hosta was interesting when I looked at the lines.

.Of course there are lots of colours too: many, many, browns from palest tan to darkest chesnut, with a an excursion or two into red or yellow. But it was all the different 'lines' that intrigued me and made me look at my garden in a slightly new way.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Fall, Fallen, and Falling

One thing I've often said is that if a tree falls in the forest, and there is nobody around to hear it, it will fall across your trail. Not that it won't do this if you are around to hear it, but the point is, it will fall across your trail.

Or on to your best patch of Trailing Arbutus.

I happen to have three nice patches of Trailing Arbutus, Epigea repens, one of which is right beside one of my trails and is much larger and lusher than the others. Of course the dead Spruce fell right on it. It happened a few weeks ago in one of our wind storms. I inspected the situation, tsk'ed and walked around it.

So today I asked myself, 'self, what would you like to do with this fine cold windy afternoon' and the answer was, 'get that d... spruce off the Trailing Arbutus'. Right. I got out my old shabby green coat, which is warm and can't get any worse no matter what I do to it, my work gloves, my old saw and my trusty axe. I grabbed the biggest and reddest apple out of the fruit bowl, and set off for the woods. There were a few other things to clear along the way: a dead Balsam Fir top blown across the path, a large Cedar bough standing straight up as though it was a tree, and some Maple branches right at hair-snagging height. Once I got to the Arbutus patch I got right at it and hacked all the branches off the Spruce and moved them on to an existing brush pile. That left a long bare log lying on the ground, clear to view. A rather daunting view, given that it was about 15" across at the base, and me with no power saw. I'm scared of those things so I don't have one.Besides, it would be one more thing to store and maintain and anyway I hate power tools.

For no real reason, I jumped on the log near the top end. To my amazement, there was a loud cracking noise, and the log broke into three pieces! I was able to drag all three to the brush pile!

Then I stood quietly under the Maples nearby and enjoyed the yellow leaves planing down around me, mixed with some fat white snowflakes that were starting and finished my apple.

yellow maple leaves falling

Friday, October 9, 2015

October Observations

There's a lot to be said for October. Spring may be a fine sweet song, but in Autumn we can let go and find some peace. We've come through the frenzy of September, when we were assailed at every turn by chores not done, ideas not realized, plans not achieved, and now we are ready to let things be, do a little here and there, and just appreciate what the summer has left with us. Instead of thinking that maybe we can squeeze in a few hours of work tomorrow and get some particular mess tidied up, we are ready to say, well, I'll get to it next year.

The grasses on the Sand Hill have not been cut down. I'll just have to do them in the Spring. Meanwhile the waving seed heads, including one on the Miscanthus which isn't supposed to set seed, look thrilling sprinkled with raindrops and the occasional red Maple leaf.
maple leaf in grass

Along the Marsh edge the Cinnamon and Interrupted Ferns have turned various shades of yellow and, well, cinnamon.
fern fronds coloured in autumn
There are a couple of Royal Ferns which have appeared, tucked in among the Cinnamons, which I really should move. They were very small last year but have gotten a good bit bigger this year. The beavers chewed down a couple of small Maples nearby (you can see part of one trunk lying here) and the added sunlight has given the ferns a real boost. I'm trying to see the good side of beavers, and the way they keep the marsh edge open is probably good. I'll have to move the Royal Ferns, though. Next year.

symphyotrichum ericoides
A few things are very late bloomers. Sometimes it is because they are in too much shade, or in a spot too dry for them, but sometimes they are simply things that bloom late. A native Aster that is always late is Heath Aster, Symphyotrichum ericoides. I've been wanting one ever since I saw a plant at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden. It was huge -  about 3' tall and 6' across - and an absolute magnet for bees and wasps. I kept looking around the Valley, expecting to see some, but I didn't until a few weeks ago when I happened to be driving to Kingston. Near Carleton Place I found a small field, really a meadow, with many Heath Asters. Several were growing right up near the road... and there were ripe seeds on many of them.

Heath Aster is easily recognized, unlike the other Asters, due to its thickly filled flowering wands, tiny florets, and many very small leaves up and down the stems.

I've got seeds in pots, ready for next year.

Something else that often blooms late is Japanese Anemones. All the ones available at nurseries are cultivars, mostly of Anemone japonica. Many were developed in Europe where the summers are longer and warmer, and when they emigrate to Canada they have a hard time blooming before it gets too cold. So we end up with Anemones in October. The basic A. japonica blooms much earlier, July, but many of the varieties seem to be later.  There are white ones, pale pink ones, pink ones, single ones and double ones. It pays to try a few kinds and to move them around until you get what you want.

anemone japonica pink flower buds
But be warned! Japanese Anemones always remind me of  those bold-eyed boys that foolish girls like, dangerous and exciting, but impossible to live with. These plants put down massive roots and can lay claim to entire  gardens. Unless they are in a spot they don't care for...  like the double white one I accidentally put under a Crabapple tree and which can't seem to get its feet under itself. Guess I'll move it. In the Spring.

Last but not least of the things I've been admiring today are a couple of the New England Aster varieties sold in nurseries. Again, they were developed in Europe, Germany in this case, and they bloom too late for us here. By the time 'Andenken an Alma Potsche' and this unamed dark purple one bloom, they are alone in the border.
symphyotricym novae-angliea Andenken an Alma Potsche


dark purple aster flowers
I've already moved bits of Alma (as I call her) to better spots - one in front of the Yuccas on the hillside, and one to a sunnier spot, but I'll move the main plant next year as well. Maybe put it in front of some pale Japanese Anemones, and put the dark purple aster nearby. If they bloom together, they should be a nice spot of colour in the mainly yellow and orange of Autumn.

Next year.