Sunday, May 8, 2016


Sometimes the right-thinking Gardener simply devotes her whole day to wandering about her Kingdom, suitable beverage in hand, exclaiming 'Oooo, aaaaah', at appropriate intervals.

The late and rather chilly Spring this year means a great rush to bloom in the woods and fields.

Bloodroot Sanguinaria canadensis blooms

Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, while not the first flower of Spring, (which is Mayflower or Epigea repens), holds its sparkling white faces up to the morning sun. The leaves are still tightly wrapped around the stems and the stems this year are very short.

Bloodroot flowers must surely be the most ephemeral of the Spring ephemerals - the flowers last only a day or two. The double form is much longer-lasting, sometimes remaining crisp and fresh for a week. I've been trying to get a clump of the double going and not having much luck. Of several plants purchased in the past, only one has survived at all, and both the plant and the flower seem very small. Now I have a bigger clump from Kiwi Nursery in Perth, and I have hopes it will do better.  There are also forms with fewer, wider, petals, and a pale pink form.

Jeffersonia dubia pale pink flowers

Almost as fleeting is Twinleaf. The one here is the Japanese cousin of our native Twinleaf, Jeffersonia diphylla. I've had seeds of the native species several times and have never managed to get any to germinate. The one time I had seedlings I was rather thrilled, right until they bloomed and I realized I had J. dubia, not J. diphylla.

A clump of Twinleaf (Canadian version) blooms year after year, just getting bigger and bigger. You can divide it, just do it after it blooms, and keep it watered until it re-establishes. At least, so I am told...
yellow Trout-lily blooms
The Trout-lilies, Erythronium americanum, are in bloom all through the woods. In places there are so many leaves they form a sheet of green, mottled but green nonetheless. The younger plants tend to have only one leaf, and it small. Trout-lilies grow from corms, which develop at the ends of short underground stolons. Older, larger, corms produce two leaves, with a flower between them. Squirrels and chipmunks dig up and eat all the larger corms, which would completely destroy the species if it weren't for that sly technique of growing many many tiny corms. It probably takes a number of years for a corm to become large enough to bloom, but once it does it will bloom every year, or at least until it gets eaten.

I have a population of Trout-lilies with unmottled, blue-green leaves. I keep hoping to see a bloom and almost hoping it will prove to be E. albidum, but so far no luck. Still, there are some noticeably larger leaves this year...

The Hepaticas seem to have had a bad winter. I notice that the H. acutiloba plants in my woods seem to have no leaves at all, and most have only one or a few flowers. Normally there are at least a few leaves per plant, and enough flowers to polka-dot the forest floor. H. acutiloba leaves are not evergreen, H. americana leaves are.

My H. americana plants, which I have introduced into the garden from my previous garden, are also much reduced and have fewer flowers than usual. The round-leaved Hepatica prefers acidic conditions, while the sharp-lobed prefers more lime-y conditions. This certainly holds true at my place, with no round-leaved ones in my woods at all.

The bright violet (dare I say, 'magenta'?) flower is a small plant I grew from a few seeds surreptitiously collected from a similarly coloured plant never-mind-where. I had to move it last year, and was very afraid I had lost it, so I am very happy to see it this year. Maybe if I promise not to move it again we can have two flowers next year?

The white flowered Hepatica was sold as H. transylvanica, and it probably is. I have had that plant for many years, moved it several times, cajoled and threatened and bullied, but it has never bloomed. This year there is one flower. Not a very exciting flower, but a flower. The leaves still look odd to me, almost diseased, really, but they develop into perfectly normal-looking leaves, split into the three distinct lobes that are typical of H. transylvanica.

viola striata small pale yellow-buff flower

Violets are beginning! For some reason, violets intrigue me - such odd flowers, such a variety of characters. Some are sweet and demure, others are not characters you would want to welcome into a well-ordered life.

This one, Viola striata, came to me from the Fletcher Wildlife Garden annual plant sale. It has taken to life in my garden quite happily, possibly too happily, and has many soft buff-yellow flowers this year. Like many of the Violets, it is stoloniferous and spreads quickly. Some blue Scilla  seeded themselves in among them and for once they bloomed together. Bright electric-blue and buff-yellow, it works!

Daffodils are springing up everywhere, a few Tulips which have escaped the attentions of the bushy-tailed residents are showing colour, the Moss Phloxes are covered in buds, Peonies are waving their red fingers above the Forget-me-nots, White Trilliums (and several of its cousins) are getting ready for their Spring extravaganza... such excitement!

The Gardener needs more tea.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

In Praise of Sloth

Occasionally, only occasionally, sloth pays off. Usually, by this time in April, I have the leaves all or mostly raked off the various garden beds. This year, however, in spite of the warm days we've been having, I have hardly begun to rake. I've cleared the worst of the leaves (and the gravel thrown up by the snowblower doing the driveway) off the Rockery, but everywhere else they still lie thick and heavy. And tonight and tomorrow night, we are supposed to be getting several degrees of frost,  with the possible added excitement of snow flurries. So for once my laziness is paying off!

Not that I'm really being lazy. A gardener cannot afford to be lazy. It just seems that Spring, real Spring, is so slow this year that we might as well still be in March, and one doesn't rake leaves in March.

I would be worried, but if there is one thing I've learned while gardening here it is that the White Trilliums will bloom on May 10th. In an early Spring, they may be three feet tall, but they'll bloom on May 10. In a slow Spring, they may be under six inches of snow... but they'll bloom on May 10. No doubt, this year they will bloom on May 10. They might be only three inches high, but they'll bloom! On May 10th.

Meanwhile, I took a wander around and found a few quite nice things in bloom in spite of the weather.
collage of spring bulbs
The dark purple Crocus at the top is Ruby Giant. Not particularly ruby-coloured, and not all that giant, but a sparkling beauty none the less. I have it in among silver-leaved Lamb's-ears, but Ruby Giant deserves better. Lamb's-ears are very shabby early in the season. I read somewhere that the squirrels don't dig up Ruby Giant, and it might be true because it is the only one that is spreading.

Beside the Crocus are a few of the flower clusters of Cornus mas. This, with me, is a rangy shrub, about 8' high so far, which blooms heavily and for a longish period, usually over a week. The rest of the season I don't even see it, it disappears into the general tree and shrub background.

Snowdrops you know. They haven't been that good this year, perhaps I need to divide them. Or perhaps the deep snow pack discouraged them.

The Muscari is the variety called Valerie Finnis. I love it's soft blue with the darker blue tips. Its flowering stalks are shorter than the other Muscari, but it is seeding itself into a big patch so you don't really notice that. It can seed itself all it likes for me.

The Daff is Tete-a-tete. The name is probably because most, if not all, stems carry two of the small but perfect Daffodil flowers. It too seeds itself around.

That weird red thing, which is really very tiny, only about half an inch across, is the female flower of Beaked Hazelnut. Tiny red stars... sprinkled all over a loose shrub about 6' high, which lead to pairs of hazelnuts encased in bright green 'sleeves' which lead to squirrel joy because they eat every one. The male flowers are tiny braided catkins. The stems of the Hazelnut seem to only live for one or two years, then new stems take over. You have to rake the dead ones out every year, not hard to do, but odd for a shrub.

The last Crocus is Crocus seiberi, the Three-colour Crocus. The squirrels left me a few this year. These flower very early while everything around them is still grey and winter-dreary, but so brightly! A rock garden Crocus, it does need good drainage.

So if it really does snow tonight, I'm going to be smug about not having the leaves raked off my garden, and I'm going to look at the picture of the spring bulbs and not the snow!

Thursday, April 14, 2016


Yesterday, late in the afternoon when the light was yellowing as the sun sank behind the pines, I finally, finally, saw a Crocus blooming in the garden.

I parked my tea mug on the path and hurried to get my camera.

stone path with tea mug

And then I took 47 pictures of the two tiny crocuses blooming under the crabapple tree. This is the one called Cream Beauty, and seems to be one the chipmunks don't eat. It's not spectacular, it is charming.

And it says 'Spring', finally!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Spring Is Sprung

Spring is sprung,
the grass is riz,

No, it ain't. But the snow is disappearing, the sun is warm and I'm detecting at least a small spark of optimism in the air. It's been a fairly normal winter, if an entire winter compressed into about two months can be considered normal. Not that we're homefree yet, it's still cold at night and the buds on the Maples have not yet begun to swell. Only once the buds swell do I know Spring is really almost here.

One wonders where the boidies is...

Well, quite a few of them are at my feeders. Lots of the usual suspects all winter, but now the Red-winged Blackbirds are back. When I go out to fill the feeders in the morning I usually hear the Bluejays - they like to announce to all that the food-lady is coming - but on Thursday I also heard the distinctive rusty hinge Kin-ka-ree of the Blackbirds. I've had a small flock of Turkeys around lately too. They aren't very wild any more. Yesterday and today they crowded around as I was filling the hanging feeders. Seven of them, two of them large Toms. One of the Toms gave me quite a nice show, spread his tail, fluffed his head feathers and strutted around. Hard to strut in soft melting foot-deep snow, but he did his best. I was impressed, couldn't tell if his hens were.

Some say the boid is on the wing,
but that's absoid, for everybody knows,
the wing is on the boid.

Good place for it.

Squirrels and chipmunks are out too. The squirrels race along on top of the snow and chase the smaller birds away from the open bird feeders but the chipmunks act as though they aren't quite awake yet. Perhaps the snow surprises them. I wonder what it would be like to go to sleep in the fall and wake up months later to everything white. Are they stiff from lying curled up so long? Confused by the way everything looks different? Do they remember how to get back into their caves? Must do, there are way too many of them.

I've bought vegetable seeds. Might be an exercise in frustration given all the critters around here that have nothing better to do than watch my veggies closely enough to get them seconds before I do. I have a vague idea that something might be done with floating row cover material... maybe.

Seeds of annual flowers are harder to come by. Seems to me that this year the displays in the big stores all run to many veggies but few flowers. I did find white Cosmos, though, score! Red Zinnias, no hope. White Cleome, ditto. Milkweed seeds, although the instructions on the back said to plant them 'where you want them to grow'. Last year I quite proved to myself that yes, you really do have to stratify Milkweed seeds. If you don't, you might have one or two germinate, but if you do, they all germinate. So no point in starting them indoors as you'll only have to wait anyway. Just plant 'em and stick the pots outside and wait for April or May. One other thing I learned last year, the seedlings have really long taproots. The sketch here is no exaggeration!

Now all I need is a nap in the sun... Yup, it's spring!

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!