Friday, April 17, 2020

Snippets

Some observations from a late Spring over-shadowed by a world pandemic.

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It's still cold and wintery here. In the woods, winter takes a bit longer to arrive, and a lot longer to leave. Other gardens, those in open areas or in the City, already have blooming daffodils; I have snow piles. I did have the idea of getting started on the Spring clearing up one day last week when the sun shone and the air was warm. Didn't last long. The ground was still frozen.

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There seems to be a squirrel family setting up housekeeping in the top of the hydro pole. This miserable pole is in the corner of my Herb Garden, near the house and visible from my office. Given all the rock here, burying the hydro line was pretty well unaffordable, but if I ever win a lottery, I'm getting rid of that pole. Meanwhile, I practice not seeing it. Anyway, all day a squirrel has been running up to the top of the pole with suspiciously fat cheeks, and coming back down clearly cargo-less. Crazy place for a nest. One year a small black bird lived there.  How do I get the top of a pole closed off to wildlife?

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Speaking of wildlife, I've been having a dickens of a time with mice this year. I'm too soft-hearted (or maybe just too squeamish) to kill them, and every time I catch one and remove it to the far end of the driveway, another one moves in. I finally convinced myself they were coming in through the opening around the breaker panel, so I blocked them from leaving the laundry room. Worked, except there must still be one or two loose in the house because I occasionally still find signs. A leaf on my Hoya nibbled... a hole dug around a geranium's roots... mouse spoor in a desk drawer. I'm getting a cat. Just as soon as the humane societies are open again.

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The winter was long, but not particularly cold. I'm very surprised, though, by the amount of lichens on the trees and shrubs. Sumach branches are covered. Every fallen branch I pick up is covered. I have never seen so many lichens before.
                                                                            
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There seems to be a resurgence of interest in vegetable gardening. 3.76M chipmunks are delighted.

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On a short walk along by the marsh yesterday, I was surprised to come across a small patch of False Morels. We had just had a flurry of snow pellets and they collected on the top of the larger one. They're often in or near that spot, but I've never seen them so early.




The next image is a tiny tiny fraction of the millions and millions of Springtails we had in the snowbanks a few weeks ago.

I always figure that lots of Springtails means lots of bugs all summer. So prepare yourself, the mosquitoes and blackflies are going to be fierce this summer.

Unless they aren't.



                                                                              
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Let's look at Snowdrops instead. Why aren't my clumps spreading? Oh well, at least they aren't shrinking.

Now if the air would just warm up a bit, maybe we could get this Spring business on the road.



Sunday, February 16, 2020

Bleah.... February

Half-way through February, which is good, but still 13 days left, which is not so good. February is the nastiest, dullest, most tedious month of the gardening year...so here are some tricks to get you through it.

1. Do some dreaming. Dream of daffodils moving gently in a warm breeze, dream of a tiny brook trickling among the roots of blue irises, dream of the sweet smell of roses early in the morning....

2. Work on your excuses as to why your main perennial border is a dud in August. Write them down because you are going to need them.

3. Sow some fern spores. It's such a tiny job - a tiny pot, a tiny lid, a tiny bit of soil, teensy-tiny spores, but if you do it right it can take half an hour and give you a real sense of achievement. And maybe, eventually, some ferns.

4. You can order seeds. Way too many seeds.

5. You can remind yourself that you are warm, you had a nice dinner, the dog is behaving herself (more or less), and a little bit of snow isn't that much of a problem. I know, doesn't work, but you can try.

6. You can start an argument with a friend about what is a native plant. If you win the argument, start another one with another friend. Just for fun, take different positions with different friends. No two people agree, so this a great February waster, and can get your blood pressure right up.

7. Forget to water your houseplants. You're bored with them, you can't remember when you last watered them, and who wants 18 pink geraniums anyway. Then when they wilt you can feel bad, which makes a change.

8. Make impulsive decisions about the garden, such as deciding to plant carrots and beans in the suddenly-about-to-be-former herb garden. And decide to put some asparagus roots into the fence row garden because that's the only place in your whole garden that gets sun all day and the daylilies are a dead bore anyway.

9. Collect all the garden pictures on Pinterest into a new board called 'Antidote to February'. Look at them a lot. Actually, collecting all the garden pictures might take the rest of the month at that.

10. Dream some more.

Let me know if any of these work for you.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Looking Back Some More

Mind you, not everything went well in 2019. Gardening can sometimes seem like lurching from one disaster to the next: the squirrels eat all the Basil plants you put out yesterday... raccoons dig up and bite apart the 10 large Peonies you planted in a carefully colour-shaded row, leaving you a mixed-up pile of much smaller plants... the puppy romps through the clump of Ladyslippers that is finally blooming... you plant a group of rare dwarf shrubs and it doesn't rain for 8 weeks... you know, the usual stuff that happens in a garden.

Then, there are the gardening mysteries. Two of them in my garden stand out for 2019.

Early in the year I bought a beguiling little plant of Leadplant, Amorpha canescens.  A prairie plant, it has lovely soft grey-green leaves composed of many tiny oval leaflets arranged in a ladder formation, sort of like one of the Jacob's-ladders or a tiny Sumach. Mid-summer it has spikes of soft blue-violet flowers. I saw it growing at Beaux Arbres, where it made small shrubs at the ends of several of the garden beds. Naturally I had to have one, in spite of the fact that I most certainly don't have a prairie.

I planted it, but in the general rush of things, didn't pay it a lot of attention. It didn't have a label, gardening disasters happening in other people's gardens as well, and I was in too much of  a hurry to go and get one.

Come July I was kind of wondering where it was. I looked around for it, no longer quite sure of what it was supposed to look like, and with no clue as to where I might have planted it. I thought I'd run into when weeding, but I didn't. A few weeks later, well into August, I was dumping some weeds on a compost pile far at the back of my Sand Hill garden, and used the garden fork to tidy the pile a bit, and what did I find when I turned over a big forkful of old raspberry canes? Yes, one Leadplant, growing nicely although somewhat contorted due to having had to stick its head up through the prickly canes. What I'd like to know is, how did it get there, given that I had not used that compost pile all summer?

I re-planted it, and this time I make a good mental note of where, and checked on it regularly. Last I saw, before the snow came, it was growing just fine and beginning to recover from its right-angled posture.

The second garden mystery hasn't had such a good ending, at least not yet. Back in September of 2018, I was given a plant of New England Aster, 'September Ruby'. It was incredibly root-bound, and had only one bud, which never opened, but it was a variety I didn't have and I wanted it. I would have purchased it, but the nursery owner kindly gave it to me. I took it home, carefully teased the roots free (as much as I could, anyway), and planted it near a couple of other colour forms of New England Aster. I figured I could keep an eye on it there, and also the colours might be interesting together. 'September Ruby' ought to be darker and redder than the type, if the name is anything to go by. The plant stayed green and appeared healthy into the fall.

In 2019, not a sign of a darker, redder, form anywhere. Now, did it not bloom and the plant is still there? Did it bloom but in the same colour as the other ones? Did I pull it out thinking it was a weed? Should I have checked all the other compost piles? I couldn't believe it, and for days I'd go out there and check every Aster in the garden to see if any had darker flowers than the rest.

I know my garden is rather wild and rather out of control and rather weedy.... but really? Two mysteries in one summer?



Sunday, January 12, 2020

Looking Back

A rare pleasure, only to be indulged in occasionally, is looking back at the gardening-year-that-was. And 2019 had a few good moments...

For example, I feel a smug sense of satisfaction that I planted my bulbs at the right time. Most years I either plant them too early, which means tulips being fooled into sticking their noses above ground in the middle of the mud season, or else I'm out there planting daffodils with an axe. This year I was lucky enough to have a sunny day in November which was warm enough that the ground actually thawed and it only needed a trowel. It had been very cold for several weeks, but I said to myself, 'just wait, there will be a warm day yet' and for once there was.

One thing I'll tell you right now: you don't have enough bulbs. You don't have enough tulips, you don't have enough daffodils, you certainly don't have enough crocuses, and we won't even mention the small Irises, the Pushkinia, the Muscari, the Eranthus... Don't bother arguing, it doesn't matter how many you have, or how small your garden is: you don't have enough bulbs and you know it. None of us do.

Not that my Hillside garden doesn't have a lot of daffodils in it. I planted many different varieties of them about 15 years ago, and they have done very well. They like the clay soil and the good drainage, and every small group of bulbs I planted has now become a substantial clump. From one or two bulbs, they have become clumps of several dozen. But it occurred to me this Spring that it was all too yellow and white! It needed some red to perk things up.

Being, as always, sadly short of shekels, I wasn't able to order all that many but I think what I got will make a fine show next April. I got two tulips: Abba, a short early double red, and Apricot Delight, a medium sized mid-season pinkish/yellowish. Not having a clue as to where the daffodil bulbs were lurking, I just spread small clumps of these two tulips all over the Hillside. It doesn't really matter anyway, because wherever they bloom there will be daffodils nearby and it will all look good.


Abba is short and early and should make a fine contrast with the many Tete-a-Tete daffodils which, by the way, have seeded themselves around most prolifically.

Apricot Delight will, I hope, be delightful a little later when the many larger, and often paler, daffodils bloom. Somehow the main season daffodils don't have the same bright glowing spectrum yellow of the earliest ones, but by then our eyes are searching for more subtle colour anyway.





And crocuses, purple ones. Lots of purple ones! These I  mostly put lower down and nearer the house so I'll see them as the snow goes. The last package of them I put in the  woods at the top of the Rockery. That should be nifty when I take the path to get the newspaper!


Friday, October 25, 2019

African Violets, Oh, My

Some very kind friends just brought me an African Violet plant. They were giving it to me to help me feel better after my first cataract surgery, which went fine, by the way, and it's a very pretty one:



Now, AVs and I have a history.

Many years ago, back when houseplants were the newest and 'in-est' thing, I got one or two at the grocery store and I liked them. They actually grew, which was more than you could say for other houseplants such as, for example, the Diefenbachia which had a new leaf every three years, or the Snakeplant which sat there, month after month, needing dusting but never doing anything that anyone ever noticed.

So I got another African Violet.

And another one.

And another one...

Then I discovered you could make more plants by nipping off a leaf and putting it in water. To my delight, in a few weeks there were baby plants at the bottom of the stem. I separated them and planted them and pretty soon I had several dozen African Violets.

This was fun!

Found out there were white ones.... pink ones! Dark reddish ones, doubles, semi-doubles, ruffly ones, miniatures, giants... I went wild. I joined the African Violet Society and entered AVs into local plant shows (and, yes, won some ribbons).

Soon I needed lights to grow more AVs. We had a house we'd bought partly because it had a large finished 'rec room' in the basement and we thought it would be perfect for our daughter and her friends to play in. Ixnay on that, though, they refused totally to play 'in the basement, yuck'. Apparently there was a rumour of spiders. We allowed tricycles. No good. We installed a ping pong table. Nope. We bought a terrific doll house and dolls. Nope again. Finally it just sat empty. So I took it over and built long shelves and hung lights and before you could say 'African Violet, miniature, dark red, variegated foliage', I had several thousand plants and a serious watering habit.

A few years later we decided to move (for other reasons) and to my surprise and relief the people who bought the house wanted the plants too!

Since then I have not allowed African Violets across the door step.

Until today.

Thank you, Lynda and Gord!

Monday, October 7, 2019

A Walk In The Woods

Ah, a fine Fall morning! What better than an early walk in the woods?

Rosie and I head out into the woods behind the house. It is still a bit foggy, but occasionally the sun comes out. It's not exactly cold, but the air leaves no question in our minds: it is Fall. Leaves fluttering down around us gently underscore that we may not have many more such days before the cold comes, and we should enjoy this one.



Going past the garden I'm amused to see the individual flowers on the New England Asters curled up tight. They do this at night. They bloomed in my garden for years before I realized that they close up at night; sometimes you even see a bee asleep inside. The foggy morning has left drops of dew on the petals.



Something else amusing is the way falling pine needles don't make it down to the ground, instead getting hung up on various twigs such as this Maple twig. White Pines lose one-seventh of their needles every year, and do so mostly in October. So every October the small trees below the Pines are festooned with needles like tiny hats. The ground is covered too, walking is a bit slippery!


The mosses have rebounded since we've had some rain. It's been very very dry again this summer, in fact the trees, especially the Maples,  have all shown serious signs of stress.  Looking up at a large Maple, you expect to see the leaves held horizontally over your head, but when the tree is really stressed they hang vertically. I'm glad to see them being umbrellas again today. Many of the leaves are very red this year, including this one that landed right in front of me on the moss covering a large boulder.


There are a number of large boulders at the back of my place, like this one. I believe they are glacial erratics, that is, rocks that were dragged (pushed?) along by a glacier until they either ran aground or dropped out when the glacier melted. There is one on my neighbour's property which is right in the middle of an open flat area, so it must have been a 'dropper', but here at my place there are a row of about 6 of these huge rocks all right at the edge of the rocky ridge. This one, like the others, is about 7-8 feet high. I tried to get a picture of Rosie on top, but she leapt off before I could catch her.


I think this jawbone must be from one of Rosie's cousins. Either wolf or coyote? It's about 4 inches long, so too small for bear, or am I wrong? There was only one piece, I couldn't find any more although I searched for a while. Also couldn't find any of the other teeth. The bone was still hard, so it probably isn't all that old. One thing for sure: I wouldn't want this jawbone's former owner thinking of me as lunch!


There were quite a few mushrooms. Not nearly as many as last year, but still quite a few. The brown and white one here which I believe is called Honey Fungus, is all along the edge of the Beaver Pond. One book says it kills trees, I certainly hope that's not the case! They grow in clusters and there were hundreds if not thousands.

This one Puffball (no idea which Puffball, there are many) was small and perfect. In spite of the many tiny bumps on its surface, it was incredibly smooth, and as delicately coloured as a baby's cheek.

The Phollotia, on the other hand, looks like it really should shower and put on some new clothes! A bit sticky, a bit ragged, a bit scruffy.

 We got back to the house too soon, as Rosie's expression makes clear!



Sunday, August 4, 2019

A Day Off

I've just come in from a major weeding session. My clothes are soaked with sweat, my hair is stuck to my neck like seaweed on a boot, the knuckles on my right hand are stinging with cactus prickles, several other fingers are suffering from ripped nails, I have deer fly bites everywhere, and my left elbow hurts.

I've been working quite hard the last six weeks or so, first getting ready for a craft show at a slightly distant location, and then getting ready for a Garlic Festival at my local Farmers' Market where I have a permanent booth. Making pottery is time-consuming, so when I need a lot of new stock in a hurry it means all day in the Studio. No time to garden! Today my kiln is cooling and I decided it was a good time to take a day off.  I had to ignore the fact that the Studio is a mess (entirely Rosie the dog's fault for ripping up her cushion and spreading stuffing all over the floor), and to convince myself that there was no point in starting any of the overdue orders... but I needed a break.

I decided to spend the day weeding.

It's been very dry, too, so choosing to work on the Hillside Garden was maybe a strange choice for a Day Off, but there were a few things that badly needed dead-heading if I wasn't going to have about a million seedlings next year, and the Goldenrods that I somehow missed in the Spring were blocking the Phlox and other things that the Hillside is supposed to be about. It was lovely and cool when I started, only about 18C and breezy. Great weeding weather.

The Lady's Mantle was pretty much finished blooming so I cut it to the ground. They'll look bare and shabby for a week or two, then the new growth will appear and they'll look fine again for the rest of the year. My technique is to grab a large handful of stems, and take a big chop with my secateurs. Unfortunately one of the chops took out part of the nail on my middle finger, but it wasn't deep and the bleeding soon stopped.

Lamb's-Ears were due for a cut as well. The leaves are soft and furry, but the flowering stems sure aren't. Three wheelbarrow loads of flower stalks! Had to put gloves on, my hands were both burning from the prickly stalks. Yes, I know, shutting the barn door...

Talking about prickly, the small Cactus patch near the side path really needed attention. Lots of  Yellow Oxalis, most of it nestled right in among the cactus pads. Being a particularly intelligent but sneaky weed, it made sure it wasn't taller than the pads, so I couldn't grab the tops and yank. I've heard of people using forceps to weed cacti. Wish I'd had some. The knuckles on my right hand really wish I'd had some.

By this time it was getting hot. I went in for a quick lunch and the only thing I found in the fridge that required zero prep time was a pair of wieners left over from an attempt to use wieners to get Rosie to take a pill (didn't work, and now she's suspicious of anything wiener-like). Maybe I shouldn't have bought garlic-flavoured wieners... good thing I was  home alone.

Back outside I attacked the Goldenrod next. The plants were a good six feet tall, and were in front of other things only four feet tall. This is one of my gardening specialties - putting tall things in front of short things. Another one is putting cute little conifers in the rock garden and then finding out that they get to be 30' tall, but that's another story. Anyway, Goldenrods. Very hard to pull out when they're growing in dry clay on a hillside! Small stems came out easily enough, but the thicker ones needed a heavy pull and would then pop out unexpectedly, sending me wind-milling wildly to stay upright, without stepping on too many nearby plants. I know perfectly well that the Goldies will be right back (I didn't dig out the roots, just pulled the stalks) but I am very good at fooling myself and anyway it did look better.

A Peony bush was so heavy with seedpods the stems were bowed right down to the ground. I clipped the pods off and the bushes sprang up again! That was fun!

Yellow Foxglove is making a bid for Hillside Domination. We were mano-a-mano for a while, but I think I''m winning. And this year I got to them before the seeds were ripe! If you don't, then when you so much as touch the plant, it explodes it's tiny black seeds all over about a six-foot circle and you're in for it next year. Also, don't put the ripe stalks in the compost as they won't die there and when you use the compost they will all germinate. I know this for a fact. Nice flower, great soft yellow colour, but bad personality.

After that I had to call it a day and go in, hot, sweaty, thirsty, garlic-y, deer-fly bitten and with various minor discomforts as mentioned.

It was a wonderful day.