Sunday, July 15, 2018

Drought

Drought. A word to strike fear in any gardener's heart, and especially in the heart of one who has acres of woods and loves ferns.

We haven't had any real rain since early in May. The woods are crisp-dry, which, combined with all the trees down after the wind storm a few weeks ago, brings to mind another word, even scarier than the word 'drought' and that word is 'fire'. Pine Ridge is a rocky ridge, with very little soil, and other than the beaver pond and the marsh, it is very quick to dry out.

The drought in 2012 did a lot of damage, particularly in the soil, and I was just starting to see some signs of recovery. Before 2012 there were Grape Ferns and Mushrooms and Indian Pipe plants... after 2012, there were none of these. The Botrychiums, the Mushrooms and the Indian Pipes all depend on in-soil mycorrhizal fungi, and I believe the drought decimated these. I was hoping they would recover and that new Grape Ferns and such would develop. The fern spores at least would still be around and would grow again. That's why this spring I was happy to see a few new Rattlesnake Ferns, small but coming, and a few of those small red mushrooms.

Sadly, the ferns have withered, and I haven't seen any more mushrooms. Rosie and I just went to a long walk in the woods (actually more a climb over/duck under, push-through-branches kind of a scramble) and we didn't find any. To add insult to injury, the ticks, which are supposed to be busy with other things in July, were out in force. I picked several off my pant legs, and one off my hand where it was scouting for a good drilling site.

 I guess I'm feeling worse about the current dryness because I was hopeful that things were getting back to normal. Isn't that what we gardeners do? We're always convinced: 'next year will be better': next year the wind won't smash down all the Bearded Iris, next year the Roses will bloom for the garden tour, next year the resident Bear won't eat all the strawberries, plants and all, next year it will rain... but sometimes the spirit flags and a feeling of defeat sets in.


On the up-side, I have about 6 Monarch Butterflies wafting around the garden, there seem to be heaps of birds, including a comical family of 4 young Eastern Phoebes which swoop through the Studio and back out making twittering noises the whole time, and there's a small flower bud on one of my hardy cacti.

And it might rain. Maybe.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Canada Day - 37 Degrees in the Shade

It being ridiculously hot, unbelievably humid, and the day of my Canada Day party (later, later), Rosie and I went for a slow wander to find things to appreciate on this festive day.

We admired the Siberian Iris. These very dark purple ones are always a lot later than the other ones, and the colour is amazing. I once parked a small clump of them beside the driveway and they have become a decent sized patch. They like the same conditions as the Wild Lupines which also like this damp spot.

deep purple siberian iris flowers
I really must move some of them into the Hillside garden where they'll give a much-needed jolt to all the yellows there.

listera auriculata orchid



My little orchid has re-appeared this year, still in it's mat of Thyme.

It's probably, at least I think it probably is, Listera loeseli. The flowers are green (the yellow ones are old and past their prime) and tiny.  Loesel's Twayblade isn't uncommon, but I've never seen it except where it came up in my Rockery a few years ago.

 Bad picture, but it's 37 C and the whole plant is all of 6" high.






 Further along, Rosie found a strange rock...

She didn't dare get too close, and watched me until I caught up. When you spot something weird and possibly dangerous, you need The Boss nearby! A nice, rather large Blandings Turtle. She refused to stick her head out, and because I was expecting someone to drive in, I moved her off the gravel into the edge of the woods. We get a lot of turtles coming inland from the marsh to lay eggs. So far this year we've seen about a dozen Painted Turtles, one Snapping, and one Blandings. 

The Wild Geraniums, Geranium maculatum, are in bloom. Some are whishy-washy mauve or pink, others are deeper mauve or a lovely bright white. They are very much a woodland edge plant, always seeding themselves along the line where the woods give way to the fields. In my garden, that means along the fence row. I've moved them back into the Sampler Garden several times, but those never seem to thrive and every year new ones, which do thrive, appear at the edge.



 There are still some Milkweeds near the end of the driveway. There used to be a lot of them, and they used to attract Monarch butterflies, but over time the area has become too shaded and most of the Milkweeds have disappeared. When the house was being built we had two large storage trailers parked there and it was amazing to see the Monarch chrysalises attached to the trailer sides. They were turquoise green and all attached at about 3' above the ground.The few Milkweeds that are left are beautifully budded today, and I love those  strong muscular shadows. I've only seen one Monarch this year, but there may be more later.

asclepias syriaca buds leaves

Milkweeds smell wonderful when in bloom, a smell that always means Summer to me. Soft sweet milkweed scent, buzzing bees, a whiff of freshly cut hay, the drone of small planes  in the distance as they practice their landings and take-offs on the Ottawa River nearby, all these mean Summer to me.

And heat, of course. Which we certainly have today.

Back home, Rosie and I check on our Swallowtail caterpillars. I have seen Yellow Swallowtails here, usually during Lilac time, but no Black Eastern Swallowtails. When a friend announced he would have some Black Swallowtail caterpillars for people to adopt, I asked for one. He probably meant children... but, hey, I'm a child in here somewhere. Of course, one would only give me one butterfly, and establishing a population takes at least two, and the right two, so I was delighted when he gave me a whole bunch of them. The only part I hadn't properly thought through was what to feed them, but I'm thinking now that if they all pupate quickly, I'll have just enough Dill and Parsley to see them through. I have lots of Rue, which the Yellow Swallowtails seem to like, but very little Dill. With luck my remaining Parsley plants will recover enough to feed the ones that will hatch from the eggs the current ones will lay after they turn into butterflies, and maybe I can get some more Dill plants. Otherwise they'll have to eat Rue....
eastern black and yellow swallowtail caterpillars
 The Eastern Black caterpillar, on the left, is much greener than the Yellow one, which makes entirely too much sense but seems to be true. One other thing I found out, neither one will eat greenery that has been picked. I tried to feed them just a leaf of parsley but uh, unh, they would only eat it when I pulled up the whole plant and put it in the box with them. Now two of the caterpillars (Eastern Blacks) have pupated and another one seems about to do so as well. They go through, according to The Butterflies of Canada, four or five 'instars' or stages, from an egg to a butterfly. Here's the pupa stage:

 Odd looking thing. I admire the guy wires! While I was watching it, I saw it give a big wriggle, almost as though the creature inside was re-arranging itself. The guy wires held!

Being Canada Day, I then picked a few red and few white Roses and arranged them in a small bowl.


Happy (Warm) Canada Day!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Tiny Slippers...

Suitable only for the tiniest, lightest and most dainty of fairies... hidden under the dark skirts of Spruce and Cedar in the cool forests of the Canadian Shield, Ram's Head Ladyslipper is a lucky find for a hiker in the woods.

Not common anywhere in its range, Cypripedium arietinum is the smallest of the Ontario Ladyslipper orchids. It occurs in cold woods around bogs and marshes,  usually in well-shaded and damp spots. It's tiny slippers are only 3/4" long, hardly longer than the mosquitoes which are often seen sitting on the fringed edge of the 'shoe'. Plants are mostly less than 12" high.

Growing C. arietinum can be difficult. In some situations it does very well and may even become a sizable clump, but in most gardens it is a reluctant and short-lived visitor.

Rather larger, Yellow Ladyslipper comes in two sub-species. C. parviflorum ssp. 'Makasin' which is  slightly larger,  and C. p. pubescens which is a good deal larger.

This is C. p. 'Makasin', with its tiny slippers held up in the sun in front of some ferns. Each slipper, or 'lip', is barely 1" long. The other petals, three sepals and two petals fused into one structure which looks much like the sepals and curves under the lip, are very red, and wonderfully curled.







C. parviflorum ssp. pubescens is the other sub-species. It is larger in all respects, with the slippers 2" or more in length and plants up to 18" tall.

You may find this one in several different habitats. It is frequent on alvars, in dry sunny banks above lakes or rivers, and in the shade along marsh or bog edges.

Growing the two Yellow Ladyslippers is not too difficult. Neither one is overly demanding, although like all orchids, they do not tolerate crowding or trampling.
Pink Ladyslipper, C. acaule, is the fussy member of the family. It seems to require very specific conditions, particularly the presence of certain soil fauna, in order to thrive. Even then, colonies or groups may persist for some years, then suddenly vanish. They may also suddenly re-appear! When several large Pines blew over in 1997 at Pine Ridge, two years later there were many Pink Ladyslippers in the new clearing. They grew and bloomed there for 18 years, then they disappeared again.
Certainly, this Slipper doesn't like too much shade, and it needs good drainage as well. It it practically impossible to grow in the garden, so enjoy this one in the woods!

The largest of our Ladyslippers is of course the Showy Ladyslipper, C. reginae.

It forms large clumps of its 2' high stems, carrying one or two of its 3" slippers at the top of each one. It likes water at its feet, and it especially likes fresh, moving,  water at its feet. It is found in swamps, bogs and fens. Occasionally it grows in dryer conditions, which is lucky as it means we can grow this one in our gardens. A slightly shady spot with good humus-y soil and adequate moisture in the early summer is all it takes.

 




Now is the time to see C. reginae. It is just coming into bloom now, and will soon be at its peak. A great place to see them is at Purdon Fen, which has quite an interesting history. The site, which is West of Almonte in the Lanark Highlands and is administered by the Mississippi Valley Conservation authority, hosts literally thousands of Showies and comes complete with visitor information and boardwalks. 

Go now!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

A Happy Day Of Weeding

Today I had that most wonderful of luxuries: a whole day to spend in the garden! I had some new Basil, Dill and Parsley plants to plant, so I decided to work in the Herb Garden. We had a bit of rain yesterday and the day before, so weeding conditions were ideal. The mosquitoes thought so too, but I covered up and foiled their evil designs, at least mostly. Once it warmed up they went away anyway.

First order of business was pulling out masses and masses of self-seeded Heart-leaved Asters. Who knew they could spread so quickly! I'd left one clump last summer and apparently it had a Brilliant Career. The clump was right beside my path so you'd think I'd have heard the chortling but I didn't. Anyway, there were two wheelbarrow loads of Aster seedlings and there are still some under the yellow shrub rose. Speaking of Roses, they didn't come through the winter at all well. Of my 23 David Austin roses, maybe only 3 or 4 are showing signs of life. I have never covered them, but this winter  the snow was rather erratic, snow, then a thaw, then ice, then snow, then ice...  fingers crossed some of them recover. I was wondering earlier if I even wanted roses, but my disappointment when I saw how badly they were killed back tells me I do.

And I was sort of counting on the roses to get me through a Studio and Garden Tour next weekend. June 2-3 is not a peak period in my garden but usually the roses and the lavender are in bloom and most people then don't really notice how much else isn't, but not this year.

After all those Aster seedlings I had to have a little break to admire the Iris lacustris in the Rockery.
dwarf purple native iris lacustris
Such purple!

Back to weeding. Creeping Thyme has taken over far too much of the middle of the Herb Garden. It is very difficult to get out, especially with all the rocks that make up the paths. I used the garden fork, much elbow grease and some bad words and got a lot of it out. Not all, but I can attack the rest next time.

After that I needed to cool off so went and checked out the Creeping Phlox. Phloxes? They do seed around a bit but new plants aren't hard to pull out. Had to remove quite a big patch last year, though. A rather blue-ish mauve one had set up housekeeping right around a large clump of White Trilliums. It was fine until the Trilliums turned their usual magenta pink and then it was totally awful. This year the mauve phlox  is well away from the Trilliums.
phlox colours
Near the remaining mauve-ish Phlox some Prairie Crocus have seeded themselves and I was surprised to see their deep reddish colour.
They don't clash with the Phlox, by the way. And I love those soft furry stems.

Back to work, cool drink in hand. The bugs are gone, but now it's hot. Dug over the small bed where I like to put the Basil and planted it. Then, for some reason, I put the Parsley between a large Lemon Balm and a substantial grey-leaved Yarrow. The dark green curly Parsley looks wonderful there! Where to put the Dill seedlings was harder. Several changes of mind later I put them beside the Evening Primroses (large patch as they attract cool moths) and in front of the poor red Clematis which is forever getting stepped on because it is too close to the telephone junction box. One day, should the Clematis ever seem robust enough to survive the experience, I'll move it.

After that spurt of energy I had to go check out the white Violets growing in the wet spot in the rockery. Still not sure if this is Viola Blanda or V. Macloskeyi. The former is supposed to have reddish stems and these don't. But they do have the twisted upper petals and the deep sinuses on the leaves. Whichever they are, they love their spot. It is a hole or dip in the rock and usually stays pretty wet all summer.
white violet flowers viola bland

Nearby is a clump or cluster of Mitella diphylla, Two-leaved Mitella. The flowers are tiny, very delicate small fringed bells. The plant goes completely dormant early on.
flowers fringed tiny white
Bluets were very pretty too, perky and sunny-faced if not exactly blue:

white flowers bluets rock garden

I guess the shadows on the flowers are blue.

The last thing to do in the Herb Garden was to find a nice pot and pot up the new baby Rosemary plant. Last year's plant didn't make it through the winter for the simple reason that I completely forgot to bring it in... and it was getting to be a nice size, too. Some plants need alarms to remind the gardener to bring it in in time.

After all that, time to go in for a glass of wine and supper! A happy day!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Sad, Sad, End of Mr. Mops

It was time. Sad, but true. Mr. Mops had to go.

I bought him 17 years ago as a wee stripling. Over the years, he had gone from a cute little mop of yellowy-green to a fine stout fellow... then to a half-dead, hanging over my path, pathetic old geezer.

Mr. Mops was a Juniper. Actually, he was a Chaemacyparis, but he looked and acted like a juniper. I'm not sure if he was actually labelled C. psisiferis 'Mr. Mops', or just C. p. 'Mops' but in my mind he quickly became Mr. Mops. I planted him in front of the ugly hydro meter beside my side door. The label suggested he wouldn't grow very fast, or very big, but he proved it wrong. In 16 years he went from a tight clump about 4" across to a bush 8' high and at least 10' across.

Unfortunately, I had planted him only about 5' from my path, the path I take a dozen times a day back and forth to my pottery Studio. So I did some trimming (not one of my skill areas) and decided to leave him one-more-year... well, one more became two more... you know the drill. This Spring Mr. Mops looked like this:
You'll have to overlook the dreadful picture, by the way. Rosie refused to either be in the shot, or to get out of it, the wheelbarrow sat there like a well, wheelbarrow, and I never even saw that ugly orange thing in the upper left corner. Sigh. I was too focused on not chickening out to get a good image. But you can see how lop-sided Mr. Mops had become, and how all the new growth was set to take over my path again. It wasn't too bad on nice days, but rainy ones were another matter. And Mr. Mops was in sad shape inside:
This past winter had left a large area browned off and all the green bits were along the path. Since junipers don't re-grow when pruned, there was nothing for it. Mr. Mops had to go.

Here is the result. Sad, but true.
For now, I plan to stage a collection of geraniums (Pelargoniums, really) there to hide the stump. In a year or two it will come out easily or if I decide to plant something else there and feel really motivated it won't be hard to dig out.

Looks pretty dreary, doesn't it? But just so you don't think that maybe this is an 'all dead garden' like the little girl in 'The Secret Garden' worried, here is a picture of some crocii blooming today. This is 'Ruby Giant', which might be 'ruby' but certainly isn't 'giant' but never mind, it's a glorious colour, the squirrels don't seem to eat it, and it blooms very early.
Good-bye Mr. Mops, it was good to know you!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Change

The only constant in any garden is change... changes happen constantly, some planned, some not. And the larger the garden the more changes there will be. So it's not surprising that a 'garden' of 30 acres should have lots of changes.

Last week's windstorm took down, besides numerous branches and old trees in the woods, a huge and healthy White Spruce beside the Studio. I wasn't aware of it until Rosie and I went into the woods part way down the driveway, followed my trail homeward and then couldn't come out! The end of my path near the house was completely blocked, spruce branches up over my head  and much too dense to push through. We had to go around, through the rock garden. When I went back to see the tree I was immensely grateful that it hadn't fallen on the Studio. The stump is only about 20' from the corner of my studio. If it had fallen a few degrees closer to true East it would have been a disaster. As it was, the tree fell across most of the septic bed, the tip landing in the woods on the other side.

This spruce was probably about 80 feet tall. The base was close to 3 feet in diameter.

Given that this was well beyond the capabilities of my trusty pruning saw, I called for help. Here is a shot of Paul, a local tree service operator I've called on before for help with tree problems, cutting the trunk into moveable sections:
chainsawing spruce trunk

That black blob that looks like a huge mitten is his jacket! (You can see the spruce's stump behind it.) He and his helper worked in the rain and got quite hot. They cut up the tree and moved the chunks into the woods where they can quietly rot and become compost... more change.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Spring!

It was the first day of Spring today and it really felt like it. The sun was warm and bright, the air was buoyant, snow was melting, birds were singing... Rosie and I wandered around for a while, but the snow is still too deep in the woods for an actual walk, so we retreated to the Studio for a very spring-like activity.




I grow ferns from spores. Here is a  picture of part of my setup. The dusty white areas are the tops of the fluorescent light fixtures, which are suspended about a foot above the shelves. It's a very simple setup: two shelves with two lights suspended above each one. It's in my pottery Studio, hence the dust. The small plastic boxes contain the spores sown on potting mix.


The label you see is inside the box, pressed in beside the mix so I can see the name when I take the lid off. I used to write the names on the lids... you can guess what eventually happened.

Most of these spores were sown last fall, a few just a couple of weeks ago. The ones from last fall were ready for some transplanting work, so, once I located that darn trowel of mine and some pots and potting mix, I got to work.

Here is what it looks like inside one of the small boxes. The green moss-like stuff in the middle is the germinated spores, which at this stage are small, 1/4" or less, prothalli. They are flat, roughly heart-shaped, and have many reddish hairs (rhizoids) which anchor them to the mix.

Two structures develop under each prothallus, one or several  antheridiums which will produce sperms, and an archegonium which will produce an egg.  The sperms 'swim' to the egg in the thin layer of water under the prothallus. Once fertilized, the egg will begin to grow and divide and soon the baby fern, the sporophyte, appears.

This box is Walking Fern, Asplenium rhizophyllum. You can see many small sporophytes, especially in the upper right-hand corner.

Once the little fernlets get big enough, I will transplant them into small 3" pots.

I didn't do the Walking ferns today, but I did quite a few others.

These are three different ferns, a Dryopteris dilatata, an Asplenium trichomanes, and an Adiantum aleuticum. Cute, eh?




 Here's a whole tray of cuties. I don't usually have a tray of all different species, usually the whole tray will be one kind, but today I had a number of different ones outgrowing their boxes. In every batch of spores, some plants seem to start more quickly, and grow more robustly, than the others in the batch. Later I'll have more of each kind and, being the compulsive sort, I'll no doubt sort them into groups.



I have some plastic mini-greenhouses and they are very good for growing on the little fernlets. Right after they've been transplanted I keep the vents closed so the humidity will stay high and the little ones can recover from the trauma of being potted up.
After a month or so, when they seem to be growing well, I start gradually leaving the lid off so they can get used to normal air. This is another mixed box, but this time it is because some of the 2016-17 crop were just too small to be planted out last fall and I have had to coddle them through the winter.

It was so warm and Spring-ish today that now I'm optimistic they'll make it!