Monday, August 11, 2014

An August Mixture - of Weirdness

I'm back. I hope. Too much 'life' going on the past couple of weeks: I'm really hoping I can now go back to my admittedly self-centered quiet life. I worked hard to make pottery for our local Market's Garlic Festival (biggest and best Garlic Fest in Eastern Ontario, really and truly) and it went well. I sold lots of garlic pots, told quite a few people that no, they could not buy my garlic-design pillows, gave away many many garlic-themed bookmarks.... lots of fun, lots of really nice people who stopped to chat, but boy, was I tired yesterday! In bed by 9pm!

Next thing is this Saturday - my local arts group is putting on an outdoor arts festival (yes, everything's a festival these days) and I'm kind of in charge of the layout, the setting up and so on. It's in a large fenced field which is normally the Large Horse Ring for the Carp Fair. After having had thousands of cars parked on it for Garlic Fest, it'll be interesting to see what state the grass is in. Only a gardener would think of that, I guess.

Meanwhile, I'm finding it an unusual year for a number of things. I tend to get kind of irritated when people proclaim it a 'weird' year for this or that, you know, as in 'this is such a year for weird weather' because when I go back and check, no it isn't. Weather is weird every year. So I hesitate to say it, but really, this is a weird year in a couple of ways. One is the bugs.

Oh, the bugs. I have never suffered so many mosquito bites. Usually we have a crop of the darn things in May and another one in August. The May ones are large and make loud zoomy noises and you hardly notice their bites until they start to itch. The August ones, however, are tiny, silent, and must have blunt stingers because their bites really hurt. They don't itch afterwards, but maybe that's because I feel the bite in time to smack them and so they don't get to load me up with mosquito poison. Anyway, they hatched in July and late July and early August and now mid-August..... hard to paint pots when you have to whap yourself on the leg or whatever every few minutes. Can't keep them out of the Studio because I refuse to keep the door closed. I like the airiness of the open door too much. Apparently there are about 40 species of mosquitoes here, and I'd say they are all doing very well this year. (How can you tell a Canadian in the summer? He's the one hitting himself every couple of minutes.)

Another thing I can't keep out of the Studio is the snake. Oh, the snakes this year! This is a Northern Water Snake, about 3' long but fat and dark and cranky. He seems to figure we are partners. I provide the mice, and he eats them. So far so good, but does he have to come in to the Studio in the afternoon when I'm trying to be peaceful and paint bees on my pots? Then I can't get him out. I've gotten to the point that I just pull my feet up to the top rung of my stool and wait for him to circle the room, sniffing all over in his snaky way, and then slither out again. If I try to persuade him to leave he gets quite aggressive, curling up, shaking his tail (in his daydreams he's a rattler) and darting his head at me. Being as brave as I am, I immediately shriek and run. Sometimes I see him near the pond, no doubt hoping for a frog to eat. Yuck.

And speaking of mice.... this morning early I looked out the kitchen window while the coffee brewed and watched first an Eastern Phoebe pecking bugs off the driveway, hopping around and then flying off with a juicy grasshopper, and then a fat brown mouse darting along in and out of the juniper branches hanging over the path. Funny how they scurry, sort of hunched up to be smaller, in little bursts. Wonder what their wee shiny eyes actually see. Most years I see a few mice, this year I find them while weeding. And they're all fat  and sleepy. Must be lots of seeds and berries. My cat, by the way, considers them in the nature of remote-control toys and chases but never catches them.

Nor does she catch chipmunks, of which we have a zillion this year. I thought for a few days that I might get an actual tomato from one of my 6 plants, but now I see it has been nipped off and is lying on the ground, yellow on one side, with a large bite taken out on the other. Sigh.

And weeds. I'm arranging for someone with machinery and know-how to come and cut the stuff that's taking over my driveway and he said he's never seen such a year for weeds. He's right. The drought in 2012 led to enormous seed-set in 2013 which has now led to a bumper weed crop in 2014. Wonder what 2015 will bring.

Whatever it is, it'll be weird!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Visit to "Beyond the Edge: Artists' Gardens"

I finally had a chance to go and take a look at "Beyond the Edge: Artists' Gardens", an 'Agri-art' installation arranged by Canadensis, the Canadian Botanical Garden Society. I went Thursday afternoon and it was a lovely cool breezy day, perfect for a walk around a field.

I wasn't quite sure just where it was, but expected to find some sort of large sign. Unfortunately there wasn't one and I turned off Prince of Wales Drive into a lane that leads down to one of the Rideau Locks. Coming back out I spotted a sign about Beyond the Edge and pulled over. The large wire gate was closed and the fence was well peppered with 'No Parking' signs but I decided to risk it anyway. This is what I saw in front of me:

Going closer, I read the blurb about the project and inspected the map. I read it mostly to get my bearings, missing the significance of the large green rectangle in the middle of the map....  I headed off to the right along the mown 'gosh, this must be a path' strip.

I admired a number of picnic tables (very typical of the genre, all of them) and several huge bright blue garbage cans (statements about our modern culture, perhaps?) and eventually arrived at a small garden-like plot with a number of stick teepees.

This was "From Seeds to Soup: Meet the Cucurbita Family", by Deborah Margo. Having met them before, I moved on.

Far off on the horizon I spotted colour and headed over. I came to "Mood Clusters", by Glynis and Deirdre Logue.

This turned out to be a collection of 5-sided boxes with various colourful plants growing in them. I had to read the sign to learn that these are 'psychoactive' plants....hmmm. But they looked nice, the plants were healthy and the colours were agreeable. The layout apparently relates to the shape of a molecule that occurs in our brains and helps us feel happiness.

I would have felt more of that happiness if the grass and such around the bases of the planters had been trimmed.

The sign encouraged the visitor to 'take a seat to gently touch the leaves for scent'. Where, I don't know, because there were no seats, and many of the plants did not have aromatic leaves.

Onwards. I couldn't seem to pick up the mown path again, but headed over towards the Red Barn.

On my way there, I discovered the second part of the display called "From Seeds to Soup".

I was on the path again, but had clearly gotten a bit muddled. I altered course and made it to a little picket fence-edged garden stuck in the hay field called "Our Lady of Complete Protein" by cj fleury. At first glance, I thought it was a garden of corn and sunflowers, but closer inspection showed that the tall leaves

in certain of the beds inside the fence were not corn. I had to read the sign to learn that they were millet. I also learned that the garden was a reference to the book "Diet for a Small Planet" by Frances Moore Lappe. The large metal sculpture rising above the plot represents "Mother Earth's Fecundity". I stepped back and took the photo above.... . being so far separated from the other displays, the surrounding landscape necessarily became part of the art piece, but  perhaps not with quite the message the artist intended.

The next piece was Karl Ciesluk's "Mechanical Spiral" which I approached from the side away from its information sign:
Having just had the word 'Protein' planted in my forebrain, the hay bale put me in mind of another type of protein. Nothing in the piece itself made me dream that this was in any way a comment on the realities of farming, either 'over 175 years ago' or today.

I also couldn't see it very well. Being only 5 1/2feet tall, I couldn't look down on it, and as you can see above, the grasses and such pretty much hid the spiral. Perhaps if the grass strips had been narrower and the mown strips wider, it would have been clearer.

The last installation was "Red Oak Labyrinth":

Under a beautiful Red Oak, Barbara Brown had installed a walking labyrinth based on an ancient and mystical design using short pieces of split ash wood to delineate the path. At the centre there was a nice cool bench, with notebooks where you could leave a comment:

I sat there for a while and read some of the comments. Not being a labyrinth-ite, I couldn't really enter into the feelings expressed in some of the comments, but I was happy that some people seemed to find meaning in the project. I also enjoyed the cool breeze, the lack of mosquitoes, and the chance to sit for a bit.

It is very difficult to know what to say about "Beyond the Edge". Perhaps I should just mention some hopes for the future and leave it at that.

I hope they will move the intrusive and distracting garbage cans and water containers to where they won't be so visible. The picnic tables, also, could be grouped near the road or back near the Red Barn.

I hope next time they arrange the displays much closer together. Spreading them all around the edge of such a large expanse leaves them all lost in what is essentially a neglected field. I did go back and read the sign to check up on the significance of the green rectangle in the middle of the field, but there was little information beyond the fact that it was an Ag Canada research project; in other words, that the organizers couldn't get the use of the whole field. Given that situation, it would have been much better to place all the displays in the area near the road and around the Red Oak where the labyrinth was.

I hope they invest in some small signs with directional arrows so that those of us who come when the paths haven't been cut for a while won't get lost.

I hope that the OBG group will soon spend some money and make an actual entrance, with a large sign, at least some parking, and information about the group.  If they are serious about having a Botanical Garden, it is high time they started to act as if they are.

But more than anything else, I hope that next year they will invite area gardening groups, gardeners, and artists, to propose displays. Proposals should be carefully evaluated, both as to their intellectual content, and as to their visual (or aural or sensual) content. Intellectual content alone is not enough. Art that depends on a written explanation is only a written explanation.... a picture may be worth 1000 words, but 100 words are only 100 words.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

July in the Garden of Delight

In many ways, July is a difficult month in the garden. The weather is of course one factor: if it isn't a drought, it is a monsoon. This year we've been lucky enough to escape both, at least so far, but we've still had some torrential rains.

But of course what is hard on one plant is good for another. The roses are totally bedraggled after yesterday's heavy rain, but the red Monarda are looking fine. I have some growing in front of the huge leaves of Ligularia dentata 'Desdemona' (which, by the way, is exactly the same as L. dentata 'Othello', hmmmm, did someone get their Shakespeare confused?) and the two harmonize wonderfully. Luckily, the Monarda is finished blooming long before the Ligularia throws up its harshly yellow-orange ragged daisies which clash dreadfully with the red-purple leaves. You can always cut them off, of course.

Both plants like damp soil, so in dry years they struggle.

A painted turtle seems to like the grouping too. She's been hanging around for a few days now. Probably laying eggs, but the darn chipmunks usually find those. I waited and she obligingly came out of the flowerbed and onto the gravel of the driveway, but I couldn't convince her to put out her front feet. Not sure what that is all about! Were her feet tired from digging?

She's pretty tame, comes out to see what I'm doing it seems. Turtles apparently like lettuce so I'm going to try her with a leaf or two.

Another plant that is pretty happy with all the rain we've had is Spigelia marilandica, or Indian Pink. I wasn't too sure it would be hardy here, but my plant has come through two winters so far and seems to be getting larger. It's not native here in the Ottawa area, but is south of us. The plant is about 18" tall. The flowers do have a very, well let's say, odd, shape. The bunched anthers could be a moon rocket....

Right near the Indian Pink are two plants that have me in a bit of a quandary. One, the Stephenandra, is a very determined, light-green-leaved, arching-stems shrub. It forms low but dense prickly mounds. In the right place it makes a useful green blob. The rose, Dortmund, was a tiny seedling, on its own roots, and was planted several feet away. Naturally the two are now hopelessly intertwined. My quandary? Every time I see the Stephenandra I remember the kind friend who gave it to me.... and every time I see the rose I remember the nasty person I bought it from. For no reason, this lady felt the need to criticize me for growing roses that were not on their own roots.... it left a bad taste and over time I've quite taken against poor Dortmund. In my previous garden it was a favourite as it climbed happily all over a cedar fence. Can I like a rose that keeps bad friends?

Speaking of friends, another one gave me this sedum and I love the way it has seeded itself in among the rocks in the rockery. It does need restraining sometimes, but then, Cecilia is a pretty high-energy person so it fits!

So many of July's flowers are yellow. I wonder how people who refuse to have yellow flowers in their gardens manage July? Or August?

These orange lilies, while not yellow, look great in with the grasses. I love the way the grasses sway in the wind, now hiding, now revealing, the sturdy lilies.

These lilies were a gift too, but not from a friend. They were a prize I won for something or other once and since I'm not that fond of lilies, I stuck them in the sandy area behind the Studio. They've done magnificently there! Fully 4' tall, and a dozen blooms per stem. The original three bulbs are now at least six, too. Maybe I need to like lilies better!

There are some orange lilies in the Crabapple garden, too, but they are redder, have dots on the inside of the petals, and are quite short. For the life of me I can't remember where they came from. I must have planted them, but the mind is blank....
As it is about this plant:

It came up in the middle of a patch of Hyssop. If you know what it is, please let me know! I should know, it looks familiar, but the name escapes me.

Last, but not least, I'm enjoying the Gaillardias and the Anthemises. Both self-seed and come up all over the place, but the variations in their colours are endlessly fascinating.

If your garden needs a smile, get some Gaillardias!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Garden Discipline

Maybe I'm not disciplined enough to ever be a good gardener. I started this afternoon with a quick walkabout, making careful mental notes of the work that had to be done. It was obvious that the Herb Garden was in bad shape, overgrown, full of non-herbs, with a whole bed of chives that had finished blooming never-mind-how-many days ago.... a mess, in fact. I made a neat list of the (many) garden jobs that need to be done and put and put Fix Herb Garden right at the top.

I started by cutting the chives right down to the ground. You might as well, the old stems will turn yellow and fade away anyway. Cutting them right back leaves a bare space for a bit, but they soon put up new fresh stems and will look alright for the rest of the summer. I have the usual magenta chives, but I also, thanks to some kind friends, have some pale pink and some white ones. And I grew some really tiny ones from some seed exchange seed, only about 5 or 6 inches tall, with flowers the size of small marbles. But they all need to be cut right back or they'll seed everywhere. Having done that, and remembering that they had already established an outpost in the Rockery, I went to cut those back as well.

Three hours later I was ready for a shower, having had a fine time weeding a corner of the Rockery.

 Now tomorrow, for sure, I'm going to tidy up the Herb Garden. That is, if I don't spend hours mooning over the Roses, which are opening and looking gorgeous even though the bushes are very short after the cold winter and which certainly need to be photographed.

Or admiring the Digitalis grandiflora 'gloves':

Or the wild hairdo flowers of the Honeysuckle that has climbed to the top of the birch tree:

 Or getting into any of the other fine activities that distract me from my careful to-do lists. Oh well, the great thing is to have an up-to-date to-do list. How else would you know what job you weren't getting done?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Gardeners Bloom Day

Having been fully occupied with a couple of Serious Projects lately, I have hardly had time to even look around my place. This morning I thought I'd take a quick gallop around just to see what was in bloom, having once again missed the 15th of the month, which is supposed to be Blooms Day in the world of garden blogs.

 Well, plenty of things in bloom. A few dandilions still, not many,
but a few. Lots of fleabanes, standing up above the low plants they are shading out, looking soft and pink and innocent as usual. Plenty of what I call the stretchy weed - don't know its real name, but it stretches itself along the ground under better things and when you pull on it, it seems to stretch. Its flowers are tiny but that's deceptive. Each tiny bloom will become a hundred thousand (or so) seeds, and they will all germinate next time it rains.

Lemon Balm has as usual reared its ugly head in sundry spots. By the way, never plant more than one Lemon Balm. If you do, you will decide dead-heading looks like a lot of hard work, you'll put it off and eventually forget about it completely, and it will shoot its little prickly seeds all over your property. They will all grow, and each little plant will have roots into the next township. Sort of like ajugas, only taller.

Daisies are doing well, I see. And they seem to have made some sort of alliance with that hot magenta Geranium that seeds around. Pretty enough, but I'll have to toughen myself and yank them as they are both much more aggressive than any of the 'real' flowers.

Moving briskly now (coffee cup nearly empty) I see that the Lamiums have outdone themselves. I have Lamiums where other people have grass... or rugs or pavement... all shades of white, pink and almost-red. The leaves vary a lot too. None of which excuse its tendency to take the inch and then grab the yard.

Hawkweeds, three kinds, doing quite fine, so glad you asked. This one likes the gravel, but then, what doesn't. I think the real way to start seeds is not to get little pots or flats, good soil, water carefully yada yada, but just to toss them somewhere on the driveway. Everything vegetable grows in the driveway.

Chamomile certainly does. And it refuses to grow in the Herb Garden.

Sedum 'Angelina', guaranteed not to set seed or spread in the garden, is now everywhere and blooming nicely, thank you.

I see the dear chipmunks have established another outpost, this time under a cedar near my path in the Sampler Garden. These things happen when the gardener isn't around to blast the dear things with the hose.

The fence appears to have met with a slight mishap. The resident Hound doesn't like a certain Black Squirrel and I guess it visited, ran up the large Cedar on the corner and taunted him. A certain amount of Leaping Up and Barking must have ensued, leading (sigh) to a certain amount of Fence Rebuilding. It'll have to wait, I'm busy.

A quick jog down the hill to the Marsh trail to check on my one Meconopsis bud. It was starting to fatten before I got involved in other things, and, as it happened, before the monsoon rains we had last week. The plant was crashed over, the flower was lying on the ground and I see the slugs had a fine feast.

But I did have a flower on my Meconopsis! The most success I've had in years of trying! I got 20 seedlings from 3 packets of free seeds, planted out 15, 12 survived the winter (and it was a cold one) and one put up a tall stem with one bud on it. I know you are supposed to cut off the first flowers so the plant is more likely to bulk up and become a perennial, but I left it as I may never have another one.

Sad, but what a beautiful blue!

And guess what, I did have something nice in bloom! The Showy Ladyslipper nearby had two flowers. It's only a small plant, having had a slight setback when a beaver (muskrat, squirrel, dog???) dug it up two summers ago.

Happy Belated Blooms Day!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Ladyslippers and Others

Pink Ladyslipper leaf
Yesterday's rain has revived both the garden and the gardener! It was getting pretty dry around here, and the heat the last few days didn't help. The garden was starting to look more than a bit wilted, and the gardener, being something wilted herself, was starting to think more about cool glasses of wine than about weeding. But today we are both full of enthusiasm again.

The Pink Ladyslippers, Cypripedium acaule, are gorgeous this year. Last year's good growing and the cold winter seem to have done them good. I have clumps of Pink Ladies in several places here - beside the Beaver Pond on one side of the ridge, in a hollow right on the ridge, and along the Marsh on the other side of the ridge. The ones beside the Marsh are the easiest to get to, being quite close to the house and on a trail hardly obstructed at all by blow-downs (only one tree, and it easy to step over). It started about 6 years ago as this one leaf. I'm surprised I even saw it, it looks so much like the Wild Lily-of-the-Valley leaves all around.

Earlier this month I saw that the clump now had six lovely buds, all held demurely above the foliage.

(That's another blow-down behind them. A large Balsam Fir went down several years ago. Following my policy of ignoring all path obstructions whenever possible, I have left it alone. It is now getting pretty punky, in fact when I stood on it it squooshed a bit. Another year or two and it will be compost.) 

The flowers are still not quite at their peak, but have turned pink and are starting to straighten up. In a day or two they'll be world-class.

As are the mosquitoes, but we won't whine about them. Not today.

Cypripedium arietinum
The Yellow Ladyslippers are also doing well, or maybe I should say, are doing better. I have been puzzled as to why my plants didn't seem to be doing all that well and finally realized they were suffering from fungus problems. I'm not a scientist so cannot be certain, but the leaves didn't look healthy and the plants were getting smaller..... then I read somewhere that some plants that like acidic soil can be badly attacked by fungal diseases in neutral or basic soils, and a little 'aha' went off. I mulched with lots of pine needles and planted the 2 new plants I got nearer the Marsh where the soil is very acid. And it is working! The Marsh ones are looking vigourous (no flowers this year, but several stems and good big leaves) and the ones in the Sampler Gardener have at least one flower each. Whew.

My one plant of Cypripedium arietinum, Ram's-head Ladyslipper, is blooming as well. Tiny, only about 8" high, but cute! And notice the healthy leaves.

The Showy Ladyslippers, Cypripedium reginae, are still only shoots. Tall shoots, but still just shoots. They'll take another couple of weeks to bloom.

Elsewhere in the garden, the old Heirloom Irises are open. I rather like them. The flowers are much smaller than the big showy Beardeds available to us nowadays, but they have their own charm, and indeed they fit into a border or bed rather better than the prima donnas do. They look good from a slight distance for a week or more. The more modern Irises are better admired closer up, and they need the faded blooms removed before you do so. I don't know the names of any of these, but here's a sample of the flowers to enjoy.

 Anybody want to swap some? Leave a comment, and I'll let you know when I divide mine, probably in late July. Apparently there is an attractive white one.... well, apparently my Gardener's Greed has revived too!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Garden Walkabout

One of the pleasures of a garden is the morning walk-about. It's best done as an hour stolen from the morning before starting work, with a mug of good coffee and a faithful following hound. If the walk-about were an event in itself, you would have to think about the jobs you see that need doing, or the problems you note that need to be solved, but since the hour is being borrowed from the work day, you aren't on duty and can't be expected to think about those things.

Shall we walk?

Let's start beside the house, where the crabapple trees are having their 15 minutes of glory. The red peony under the middle tree is finally beginning to bloom - it has been in the garden for years and only now is it blooming. It started as one stem, about two inches high, so I guess it needed to grow up.

The dwarf bearded irises along the path to the Hillside are gorgeous. How did someone who decided not to have any bearded irises end up with so many? My excuse is that I had decided not to have tall bearded iris, and these are not tall. I keep finding them in pots at the nurseries (and stores) in the spring and fall for the colours, the satiny texture of the petals, the amazing form of the beards. I counted the different ones, and, well, never mind.
The path takes me around the Studio and into the Rockery. A friend gave me a piece of a Bloodroot she discovered which has yellow leaves. The flowers are the usual white, but the leaves are spectacular. The Forget-me-nots put themselves here, with their usual unerring instinct for where they suit. Forget-me-nots, like some lucky people, have Style. Thank you, Lee!

Another plant with good instincts is an ornamental strawberry, called, I think, 'Pink Panda'. A dumb name, but a nice, if stubborn, little plant. The flowers are quite large, and there are a few all summer long. It does however, insist on growing where it wants to grow, not necessarily where you might want it. I planted it at the top of a small wall, and it moved to the bottom. I put a piece in the front of a small bed of pale yellow daffodils, and it moved to the back.... fine, I'll just enjoy it wherever I find it.

Continuing on my way around, I stopped for a minute to give one of the little self-seeded White Spruces a (metaphorical) pat on the head. They are headed to brief (but brilliant) careers as Christmas Trees, and I'm happy to see how bushy they are getting. The new growth is bright green and a bit droopy.

 You'd be droopy too, if you had to grow 6 inches in about 3 days.

Everywhere, the ferns are springing up. They tend to rise later than many of the spring flowers, so sometimes I get a bit nervous and poke around carefully at the bases of last year's stalks to make sure there are tightly coiled green fiddleheads  waiting there. The new growth is unbearably green, so tender, so hopeful. The whole Sampler Garden, like the woods around it, is bursting with new growth.

I can even find something good to say about Ajugas - when they bloom, they do set off the new ferns beautifully .

Well, our hour is up; I'm back at the Studio. My coffee mug is empty, but my heart is full.