Thursday, August 27, 2015

Late August Walkabout

Finally had a chance to take a good look at the garden. The entire summer seems to have disappeared in a rush of work and other commitments, but now at last I can turn back to one of my favourite activities.

Speaking of summer, it does seem to be over. One of the Maple trees near the house is turning red at the top, the nights have a nip to them, and the sun is down by 8 in the evening. I'm sensing an early fall. The last few years we have had long drawn-out autumns; this year I suspect we won't.

I checked the tiny meadow where I've been trying to establish Fringed Gentian, Gentianopsis crinita. It's a biennial and actually not easy to grow. I know a place where it grows by the acre, mixed with White Goldenrod, Solidago ptarmicoides, various grasses and low shrubs. It seems to like the alvar-like conditions there: dry, thin soil, little competition from other plants. On the other hand, I also know a place where it grows beautifully in a mixed woods with seasonally damp spots. So you would think it would be flexible, but I have found it tricky. I've gotten the seed to germinate, but every time lost the seedlings when I tried to transplant them. They are really tiny! So then I tried sprinkling the seeds in what I hoped might be suitable spots and had slightly better luck. The little meadow I mentioned  had about 30 plants in 2014. This year there is one. I'm not sure quite what this means. There weren't any in 2013, so perhaps I should consider it a 100% increase over the previous blooming year, given that it is biennial, and hope for the best in 2016!

The strip behind the Studio and below the Sand Hill seems to have reverted to swamp. Purple Loosestrife (yikes), the unending Field Horsetails, various reeds and sedges, and several Swamp Beggar Ticks, Bidens connata. The Beggar Ticks are over 8' tall! They reminded me of being a teenager in Northern Ontario. We called them 'Stick-tights'  because the seeds would get into your socks, or your horse's tail. I once spent the better part of an hour combing just a few of the seeds out of my dog's fur. Tootsie sat patiently the whole time, but my orange and pink plastic comb had combed it's last. Poor Tootsie, he was a big and handsome dog, and my brothers and I gave him a big and handsome dog name, but my Mother called him Tootsie and of course that was the name that stuck. She really wasn't safe when it came to naming pets.

Coming back around to the Rockery I saw a Monarch. At least, I'm pretty sure it was a Monarch. It was quite large and flew strongly, unlike the Viceroys which are smaller and fly in fits and starts. It swooped around me and landed nearby a few times, but never opened its wings when it was sitting so I couldn't check the lines on its hind wings. But I'm pretty sure it was a Monarch. The fall migration is supposed to be going through right about now. That's only one this summer, but I guess that's better than zero.

A Hop Vine has seeded itself into the edge of the woods and has scrambled a good 30' up a pine. When I looked up I saw dozens of tiny yellow hop heads hanging down all up and down the vine as it spiraled around the tree trunk. Striking, but it is such a weed. The yellow version has pretty much taken over a bramble patch nearby and I try not to look at it, knowing how hard it will be to remove. The roots are like cables, stretchy rubbery un-cut-able cables. Tarzan could use them.

 The Asters are in full glory. One plant of New England Aster at the front of the Crabapple Garden has been in bloom for a month, very early and a long time, and I wonder if it will do it again next year so I plan to keep it and try pieces of it in other spots. If it is consistently early, it will be a useful 'find'. But it could just be a fluke. I love the aster colours, 'jewel tones' is a phrase made for asters. Most of them are lavender-blue, but a few are amethyst pink and a very few are white or pale mauve.

The other Asters are as confused as ever. I keep trying to identify them, but I think it is hopeless. They cross and re-cross, leaving me with plants that have leaves like one species but flowers like another...

One short white-flowered one, possibly a form of Symphyotrichum (most of the Asters are now Symphyotrichum) novi-belgii, is blooming merrily pretty much in the driveway. Must move it someplace as it looks worth keeping.

There are entirely too many Goldenrods... not enough Closed Gentians... the Pink Turtlehead is gorgeous... Cosmos has filled many gaps, as it does so well... we won't look at the weeds... do I dare order some Tulips?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Ah, July. Ah, Chaos

Every year, the July garden astounds me. There is so much bloom I can hardly imagine what will be left to bloom in August... or September. We've had a very 'grow-ish' summer so far, rain just when we needed it and not too much heat so the flowers are the happiest I've seen for a long time.

One could almost ignore the weeds. Not quite, but almost. Parts of my garden aren't too bad. The Sampler Garden, which is a shady woodland filled with ferns and spring wildflowers, looks fine. A few stray Fleabanes, a small patch of Enchanter's Nightshade, a rambling white-stemmed Rubus that needs to learn to behave itself, but overall it is in good shape. If anyone came to see the garden today, I could take them there and not be embarrassed.
coneflower purple echinacea

Elsewhere, however, it's a different story. Behind the Studio the horsetails and the primroses are engaged in deadly battle and the Baptisia has taken over more real estate than many a small city garden. The Hillside, while spectacular, is dense with seedling Foxgloves, errant Phlox, and Coneflowers. But such Coneflowers!

They all started from one plant of Echinacea purpurea purchased years ago. It promptly seeded and I soon had a whole patch. The patch included some lovely white ones (and I'm a pushover for the white version of anything) which are nicer than the white one usually sold as White Swan. White Swan seems, to me, rather stodgy. The flowers just don't have grace, and a Coneflower is all about grace.

Below the pink flower you see a yellow Coneflower. This is E. paradoxa. I grew it from seed. A whole package of seed exchange seed gave me one plant, but it has become large and energetic. The flowers have unusual drooping curved petals in a shiny clear yellow. They have elegance as well as grace.

Two years ago I got four seeds from one of the heads on E. paradoxa. It either doesn't set seed much, or else the birds beat me to them. Anyway, I planted the four seeds and the following spring three of them germinated and grew into good-sized plants. I planted them out and this spring two of the plants returned. One bloomed, and I was amused to see that the flowers have the gracefully drooping form of E. paradoxa, but the colour, more or less, of E. purpurea. Actually not quite the colour, it is a bit more yellow, almost a peach colour. The plant is also tall, has narrow leaves, and flops. We can tell which block this chip is from!

purple conflower

The nurseries have had great fun with Echinaceas, putting such cultivars as these on the market. I like this soft pink 'fluff butt' one, but I'm not so sure about the reddish one. There are a whole swarm of orange/rust/red Coneflowers, many of them named after hot foods like Cherokee Pepper or Hot Lava, well, I guess that's not a food. I think this one is called something with Paprika in the name. It's attractive, but even harder to fit into a colour scheme than the usual Coneflowers. I'm thinking of moving it next to some yellow Daylilies. Since those are blooming up a storm now too, I can walk around and pick the one that needs a little Paprika in its life.

One good thing about these garden Echinaceas, they have fibrous roots and are easily moved. There are a number of other species, such as E. pallida, E. simulata, E. tennesseensis and others, which are quite hardy here and have seeds which the small birds relish, but they have tap roots and you'd better be very sure of where you want them before you let them get large. I tried to move an E. angustifolia and not only did I have trouble getting it out of the ground, my efforts were rewarded as they so often are and I haven't seen it since.

In addition to the E. paradoxa cross, I also accidentally got a lot of plants which I surmise are crosses of E. purpurea with E. pallida. The latter is very tall, has stunning large flowers with drooping, twisting petals, and very narrow leaves. The patch of Coneflowers which came up beside my Crabapple Garden (I probably left some gone-to-seed stalks there and the seeds tumbled out) is a grand mixture of all different plants!

The top picture is of a plant which has uniformly 'dance-y' flowers. They open flat and stay more or less so, but the petals twist a bit. The plant is fairly short (for this group) and compact.

The next one I like because the flowers are darker than most and the stems are a beguiling dark red.

The bottom picture is of a plant which has soft pink and white blooms.Their petals never droop, it stays with the crisp daisy shape throughout the flowers' lives. This one will look very good with a pale yellow Daylily and some Shasta Daisies, of which I also have about a million. They seed too, but there isn't a lot of variation in the offspring.

Shastas are a large part of the chaos of the July garden. They don't bloom for long and you'd better deadhead them as soon as they turn shabby or you'll never get to the end of them. Looking at the patch of them on the Hillside I see that discipline will be required, not in the flowers, but in the gardener. I'd better get those seedheads off and not get side-tracked into general weeding.

And now, just to relieve all that pinkness, here's a picture of one of the bluest flowers I know. I'm going to call it Willow Gentian because there is no hope of me spelling its botanical name. No matter, it's a wonderful plant, and unlike my Coneflowers, never clashes with anything.
Ah, blue. Ah, July!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Letter From Home

Dear Friend and Reader,

I'm sorry not to have written for so long, but it has been pretty busy around here. Not anything amazing or earth-shaking, just busy.

Spring happened. It took about 10 minutes one sunny day. All my daffodils opened at once. Usually I have a long daffodil season, starting with the super-early Tete-a-tete and continuing to the very late Actaea. This year, Tete-a-tete and Actaea actually overlapped. One morning Tete-a-tete opened and the next Thalia and Actaea joined them. If you don't know these varieties, get them.

I finally piled up the small stones I've been hoarding and disguised my wellhead as a bird bath. That tangle of stems behind it is a Stephanotis, not a good shrub for a small space, but useful on my rocky hillside. It is barely leaved out in this picture, but soon covered itself in its tiny three-pointed leaves and white flowers. The stems arch, and root where they touch the ground. I did fix the birdbath base later, didn't like that obvious hole, but it does the job. Only problem is that a pair of robins have claimed that Japanese Maple, and they dive-bomb any bird that tries to take a bath. Robins seem to be cranky birds.

pottery and rock birdbath
Joan Darby and I got the Fern Garden at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden more or less finished in time for the dedication by the William Cody family. Here it looks pretty bare - just enjoy, as I do, the rare sight of bare earth with no weeds.
The ferns were much further along on the day and it looked fine. I was worried about the weather as it started cool and damp, but by the time the guests were assembled on the grass in front of the (now) William J. (Bill) Cody Fern Trail, the sun came out and it was warm. Big sigh of relief all around!

The Lupines (Lupinus perennis) along the driveway bloomed. Last year I was a little disappointed that so many of the flowers were pink, but this year there were lots of blue and purple ones. I like this two-toned pink one:
wild lupine lupinus perennis
Right about that time, the weeds overwhelmed me, as they do every year. At first, every spring, it all seems quite possible, perfectly do-able, no problem... then the weeds really get going and overnight it becomes more than I can possible handle. I did the only sane thing and took a day off and went to Eagle's Nest trail near Calabogie. Look at the Marginal Wood Fern in the bottom left here, is it any wonder I love ferns? Could you grow in a crevice in a wall of granite?

The upper right is a patch of Walking Fern on a boulder about 20' high. Not a great picture, but you can see the ferns are impressive. They do well, I think because of the constant humidity rising from the marsh and stream below them. Bearberries are interesting too and they really stood out among the Reindeer moss. The berries grow during the winter, under the snow. I read that in a science magazine years ago and it still impresses me.

The peonies bloomed. The rain fell. There are piles of petals under the skirts of the peonies now.
I planted potatoes in the Herb Garden. I haven't been happy with this garden for a while, it just didn't seem to be pulling its weight. It's the highest maintenance in the whole place, and was starting to not seem quite worth it. You don't expect a flower garden to be useful, but you do expect an herb garden to be and what was useful about mine? Not much, once I'd done my once-a-year chives omelet. So when a friend gave me some potatoes, nicely sprouted, I put them in there. Then I planted 6 beans, a dozen or so radish seeds (bread and butter, sliced radishes, a sprinkle of salt, oh yeah) and two tomato plants. I never said I was consistent.

Well, that's all my news for now, dear. Hope all is well with you, and do write when you get a minute.


PS. If you happen to see my Trowel anywhere, could you tell him to call home? He's needed.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Trillium Facts, Myths and Mysteries

The White Trilliums, Trillium grandiflorum, are in full and glorious bloom at Pine Ridge. There are hundreds, all along the driveway, in the woods, and in my garden. They come up in the shady woodland garden, the hillside garden, the rockery and even the herb garden. Clumps, clusters, sweeps and swaths of white all around me.

This coming Sunday is my Trillium Day and I have advertised in the local paper and some other places so I really hope the Trills stay beautiful until then!  The rain and cool weather we are having should work in my favour. Naturally, this means that I have Trilliums on my mind - trillium designs on some of the pottery, trillium pictures, trillium conversations on various blogs and groups and lists. There is a Trillium group on Facebook, too, and since it is Trillium season everywhere, the images are coming in thick and fast, each one more beautiful/interesting/amazing/awful than the previous.

I include 'awful' because I am surprised by some of the ignorance and misconceptions out there. On Saturday at the Carp Farmers' Market I had someone tell me very seriously that it was illegal to pick a trillium... this bit of misinformation simply will not go away. NO, it is not illegal to pick a trillium. Or dig a trillium, or step on a trillium, or whatever - assuming it is YOUR trillium. If it is yours, you can do whatever you want to it. Naturally, I don't think you should but you are totally allowed. On the other hand, if you do not own it, you are not allowed to do anything to it other than look at it and maybe photograph or paint it.

Picking or digging or trampling anything in any park, conservation area, ANSI or other protected area in Canada is illegal. Big fines. Nasty glares from people like me. Do not do it. You know that. And remember that all other spaces are private property. Somebody owns every square inch, even if it is only the government or some developer. The roadsides are also owned, by the property owners next to them, although the roads people have rights-of-way. So please do not pick, dig, trample etc. trilliums along the roads! The plants along the roads belong to all of us.

Another big misconception that gets my shirt in a knot is some people think there are white white trilliums and pink white trilliums. Well, yes, there are pink white trilliums, but what is confusing these folks is that all T. grandiflorum flowers turn pink as they age. The variety (or varieties) of T. grandiflorum that actually are pink are a different shade, start out pink, and open pink, on both the fronts and the backs of the petals. They too turn purplish pink as they go over.
pink trillium grandiflorum

You can see the difference in colour: the pink variety, which occurs naturally and is not that uncommon, is a soft rose while the colour of a fading White Trillium is a more strident, bluer pink. There are varieties, found originally in the US south of us, that are deeper rose than the one here. To my knowledge, it is not available in Canada.

And just to clear up another confusion, there is also a different local species of Trillium, T. erectum, with red or maroon flowers:
flower trillium erectum red maroon
I could hardly believe my ears when I heard it described as 'the pink Trillium'. Pinkish red, maybe, but 'pink'? No, dear overheard person, this is a different species.

There are some 40 accepted species of Trilliums, and a few possible ones. There is much study being done right now so this will likely change in the next few years. In our area we have only 4 native species: T. grandiflorum, the Great White, T. cernuum, the Nodding, T. erectum, the Red, and T. undulatum, the Painted. Quite a few other ones are hardy here. I have T. luteum, T. recurvatum, T. cuneatum, T. viridescens, and T. flexipes and they are doing well.

Much confusion exists around the concept of double flowers in Trillium. Here are four different forms:
And there are others. The one that seems the most common in the nursery trade, called 'Snow Bunting' is like the one in the lower left corner, but a lot more 'ball' shaped. The 4-leaved flower is not really a double. Flowers like this one are more likely the result of bud damage to the growing shoot and will likely not appear the following year. It's fun to find 'quadrillions', but they aren't really rare, and they aren't often attractive. This one is, and the plant has had those flowers for some years now.

Unfortunately, this is not a new and unusual flower form. It is most likely the result of a virus infection. In some patches there may be a number of flowers with green areas, and the infection often seems to spread.
Sometimes the plant or plants will eventually succumb, other times they seem to recover. In any case, these should not be propagated.

Let's end with a picture of some healthy flowers! And if you would like to see lots of them in bloom, come to my Trillium Day on Sunday - details in the sidebar. I'll have some plants for sale as well, and if the weather co-operates, some artist friends will be joining me to show some of their garden-related art. 

Trillium grandiflorum flower plant
Happy Trillium Season!

Friday, May 8, 2015


It is a little bit strange at Pine Ridge today. Every time I look over towards the flower bed with the Crabapple trees in it I feel a little startled. Something has changed, and I am still adjusting.

Basically, some Balsam Firs which had died over the winter have been removed. It really looks much better, but I am still getting used to seeing much further, in fact, having a view!

The adventure started very early in the morning when a large crane truck arrived.

In the next picture you can see the dead trees. The men are setting up the truck, making sure it is level and well supported to the sides.

Here the first of the dead trees, cut out of the Sampler Garden, is being lifted over the large Maple and over to behind the Crabapple Garden. It looks small here, but it's deceptive, that tree was a good 15" at the base.

 I watched as they attached the top of each dead Balsam to the crane, then cut it at the bottom, and then maneuvered it into the pile behind the cedar hedge. The men communicated over their headsets and worked as a perfect team. They got all the dead Balsams down and hidden in no time. Then they moved the truck back up the driveway to work on the more serious dead tree problem. I would have left the Balsams (although I hated the way they looked) but this large dead White Pine was less that 15' from my hydro pole. If it went over and took the pole down, it would be very expensive. Hence the tree service and the crane. Here you can see the dead Pine - it is the front stem of the two. The back one is still healthy. (Hydro, by prior arrangement, had turned the power off.)

 This next image shows you both how big that Pine really is, and how wild and daring the tree cutter is! What you can barely see is his chainsaw - he has it attached to his belt. The chainsaw as belt accessory!
 At the top, he attached the crane to the tree using some sort of cable arrangement. Then he lowered himself down to where he was planning his first cut, basically rappelling down a good 30'. Once where he wanted to be, he found some branches he could stand on, and attached himself to the trunk with a safety belt. Then he cut the trunk, reaching that chainsaw up above his head! The crane lifted the cut top away from him and over to the side where we had agreed to put the wood. You can see the tree top moving here:
 It took three sections to get the whole tree down. Yes, that line at the top of the picture is my hydro line.
 Then he cut the branches off for me because while I can stack them, I can't cut them! Some of the branches are 6" or more in diameter. Now I am known for taking down trees with my secateurs, but that wasn't an option here. And training the resident beavers would take too long.
Thank you, Gardiner Tree Service! You guys were great!

Now I just have to get used to the new 'look' at Pine Ridge.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Spring Returns

Some people want expensive holidays, some people want fine cars, some people want designer clothes... I just want to spend my whole day looking at what is happening in the Spring Garden now that the warm weather is finally here.

rock garden daffodil
I love this miniature Daffodil. It is Rip van Winkle, a very old variety. I like to think he's been sleeping all this time and has just now wakened in my garden! Of course he does do it every year... Rippy is only about 8" high but his flowers last quite a long time. They start off rather green, and get yellower as they age.

dwarf bulbous iris rock garden
Iris reticulata 'Harmony' is always a surprise. I have it in three spots, and it is fun to watch as the first spot comes out from under the snow, the Iris appears, then the second spot is cleared of snow and the Iris appears there, and then, finally, the last spot is snow-free and the last Irises come up. So while each flower only lasts a few days, I have it in bloom for two weeks! There are a dozen or more varieties of this Iris and it's hybrids, I must get some more.
rock garden ground cover
Still in the Rock Garden, the Alpine Alchemilla is starting. The leaves are softly furred and edged with long white hairs. It makes a green carpet, but rarely blooms.

You may be wondering what this is. I bought a tiny prostrate White Spruce some years ago. It was so small my outstretched hand covered it. I tucked it into a sort of a crevice in the rock garden. It was happy there but unfortunately it soon took off across the main path where it kept getting stepped on. Either that or the poor garden visitor would be left trapped, not being able to see where the path went. I also got the strong feeling Mr. Spruce wanted to cascade down a hillside and it was headed for the nearest one. So I decided, reluctantly, to move him. Then of course I couldn't decide where to, so I changed my mind a dozen times last fall and in the end left it. So the other day I got brave and did the deed. Monsieur Spruce is now at the top of the rockfall area, where he'll be able to cascade at least 15'. That's a prostrate Forsythia behind him. The Forsythia may be an expendable crew member - it never blooms. The small rooted bits I moved up the hill all bloom, but not the main plant. Nice even green all summer, but b-o-r-i-n-g.

This is the other garden chore I did the other day. These early days are wonderful for difficult garden jobs like these, cool and no bugs yet. But what a job it was. The 'victim' (except that I feel like I'm the victim) here is Carex Morrowii. I may have the name a bit wrong, but that is the gist of it. Anyway, it is an attractive sedge, but do not be fooled by that sweet little plant in the 4" pot. In no time at all it will be all over your garden. This next picture shows why it spreads so fast, why it is so hard to remove, and why I don't like it:

It has amazing roots - so dense and heavy it resists every effort to remove it. And it puts out new stolons by the bushel, all summer long. I'm not sure it stops in the winter, actually.

The tops of the leaves are usually browned off.

Yes, that is an axe in the first picture. I couldn't lift the clumps and had to hack them apart.

I took out 4 wheelbarrow loads of Carex Morrowii.

Another spreader, but a much nicer one, is Chionodoxa Forbesi 'Pink Giant'. It likes any situation where it gets good summer drainage and some spring sunshine. Glory-of-the-snow also has a white form, and several lovely soft blue ones.
pink early spring rock garden bulb

At the far end of the rock garden I have a small patch of Anemone blanda 'Blue Star'. It started as one corm and is spreading nicely. The colour, in the early morning light, is so clear, so clean, so very totally self-possessed.
blue flowered bulb early spring

Around the corner from the Anemones, the Fragile Fern croziers are just peeking out from under the dry leaves. Fragile Fern does well in a rock garden and can even handle a sunny spot. It may go dormant in a dry spell, but it returns.

fragile fern fiddleheads croziers rock garden
As Spring does, as we gardeners do.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Further With the Pond Saga

As some of you know, I have been fussing around with a small pond for some years. Basically, I dug the darn thing in a fit of enthusiasm, and then couldn't get it 'right'. I tried a few things: put in a pump (couldn't solve the extension cord problem), turned it into a bog (the reeds and bulrushes moved in and took over), built it up so it would be deeper (the squirrels kept poking holes in the liner) and finally just ignored it. It looked pretty bad.
Some of the edging rocks slid into the water and the 4-legged varmints made another hole. Why do they do this? You'd think as soon as they poked a hole the water would rush in and flood them, but they keep doing it. (I didn't know who was doing it until I saw one made. I was looking at the pond one day and noticed the liner move. Then I saw a dark spot appear, quickly followed by an inquisitive brown nose and a striped head. Chipmunk. He looked up at me and gulped but the damage was done. I've gotten pretty good at gluing patches on.)

What bothered me the most about the pond, and which I knew no amount of cosmetic effort would cure, was that it stuck up like a sore thumb. It just looked wrong.

I was close to deciding to just fill it in again but for one thing there was a Showy Ladyslipper doing well just at the back of it and I wasn't ready to give up on the dream of a lovely Ladyslipper leaning over the water and for another, do you know how many wheelbarrow loads of soil or sand it would take? The thing is 15' across and about 3' deep.

Then I saw, in an old magazine, a paragraph about using a capillary mat to water a plant near a pond. Eureka, as they say. In a chain of half-formulated and probably illogical thoughts, it gave me the incentive to finally DO SOMETHING.

So yesterday I had a great time reducing the height of the margin, re-laying the stones, packing new soil in around their dry sides, and making a spot for the capillary mat to go to keep the Ladyslipper moist. I wasn't able to retrieve some of the rocks which had slid into the water because most of it was still a solid block of ice but it was great fun walking on the ice and making it move around. It was an ice raft! When I was a kid my brother and I made many rafts. Some of them even kept us out of the water. The log you see sticking up was still frozen into the ice, too. It's not accidental, by the way. It is there to allow bees that fall in to climb out. Also the frogs love it and some days there are a whole row of them sitting there, some facing one way and some the other like spectators at two different sporting events.
It looks much better! Of course none of the plants around it are up yet, but just turn your imagination on: There are Wild Irises (Iris versicolor, both blue and red varieties), Yellow Iris (I. pseudocorous), the Showy Ladyslipper (Cypripedium reginae), some Solomon's Seal, both the giant one rescued from the roadside near an abandoned log building and the native Polygonatum pubescens and, of course, Ferns. You can see the main path on the left and because the sun shines in from that side, all the plants tend to face you as you look at the pond.

You may wonder how well a pond without a pump works. In a way, it doesn't. The water gets murky and in the spring, before I get the leaves out, it gets a mite smelly. But then it clears, thousands of tadpoles appear, dragonflies and frogs swoop and dive and it looks just fine. I sometimes, but not often, have to top it up with the hose. Oh yes, and repair holes...