Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Nice Surprise

Even in the winter, one can have a gardening surprise!

Rosie and I were out for a 'walk', or should I say, 'slog' the other day, wading through snow that was up over my knees and her head. Poor dog, the only way she could get ahead was by making a series of small leaps. It worked but she got quite tired. Still, it has been very cold and we've been a bit cooped up and we both wanted to be out so we kept going.

Eventually we got to the top of the ridge overlooking the marsh. I stopped for a brief rest and noticed a small branch from a conifer blown down and resting on top of the snow.
red spruce twig and rosie
That's Rosie  photo-bombing my picture of the twig! She was finding it pretty hard going and was following me very closely. The twig interested me because the cones seemed very small. I picked it up and carried it home. Here's a closer look at the twig with the cones:

red spruce cones on twig
 I looked it up in my Trees In Canada (Farrar, 2006), and it turns out to be Red Spruce, Picea rubens. The book describes it as 'uncommon, but present' for my area. Of course it is hard to interpret the distribution map very closely, but I know it's uncommon here because I've never seen such small cones before. I have a lot of White Spruce, Picea glauca, but their cones are always between 2" and 4" long. These are mostly less than 1". Also the needles on White Spruce seem a bit longer, darker green, and less curved. I don't think this can be Black Spruce, Picea mariana because that is mostly found right in swamps or other damp areas, and this tree is growing on a rocky slope quite a bit above the marsh.

The cones are really cute:
cones picea rubens
I'm going to plant some of the seeds and see if I can grow a few Red Spruce trees.

And I'm going to get my snowshoes out!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Winter Wonderland

A light dusting of snow last night meant I woke up to a Winter Wonderland this morning. There was already some snow down, but this last sprinkling made everything sparkle.

The Sampler Garden looked its picturesque best:
The driveway was a new and exciting landscape:
The sun came out briefly and lit up one of the young spruces near the marsh;
Of course Rosie had to stick her head in the snow to investigate something of interest to dogs:

And so, home to make tomorrow's Yule Log and enjoy a lazy day in a warm cosy house. I hope all of you are able to do the same thing, and I wish everyone All the Best For 2018.


Friday, October 20, 2017

Checking In - A Word from the Trowel

I know you haven't heard from me in a while. That's because I've been having a fantastic summer!

First it was pretty nice out, lots of rain, everything growing like anything. She made me do some transplanting and we moved a lot (groan) of small plants into larger pots... but then She had a sort of a sale and people actually came and bought most of them which meant that we didn't have to transplant the rest of them and I got to have a nice rest in a wheelbarrow full of potting soil. Then it rained some more and I heard rumours that some places were getting kind of flooded but it didn't affect us as we are about 20' higher than the marsh here. At least the house is. The marsh got so high it was almost up to the driveway in a couple of places. I was kind of worried because the wheelbarrow I was in was filling up and I couldn't see any way to get out and make for dry land but eventually She came along and tsked and hmmmed and moved me into the old seed-starting shed.

Not that the rain didn't come in there as well, but at least it drained away.

Then darned if She didn't get herself a puppy. So you can imagine how much attention I got. It was raining too much to transplant anything anyway so I got another nice long rest. In this way June, July and most of August went by nicely. Didn't do a lick of work. It was wonderful.

September kind of blew up my nice lazy life. Didn't the sun come out and the air turn warm? What kind of September is that!! Naturally She had an attack of plant moving and away we went. Why does She insist of moving huge root balls using only a wee trowel? Too lazy to get the spade, I guess. But you know how good natured I am. I did my best and got through it with only a minor crick in my neck. A bit of leverage against a rock soon straightened that out. Getting on a bit, you know. This is my seventh (or it eighth) summer.

Then it was, apparently, time to pot up a mess of baby ferns. Yechhh. So fiddly. So precious. OK, we did about 50 of one kind and maybe 30 of another kind. Can't think why. All I got to do was scoop potting soil into little pots, but that beats being used as a crowbar to move huge things like Asters and getting a crick and getting it straightened out against a nasty sharp rock.

Anyway, that was my summer. She says it's going to get more interesting again soon, something about having finished some sort of business of changing rooms around in the house and setting up a new computer and getting various things fixed and sorted and re-organized and somehow there seems to be a second lady around lately. A tall lady but she seems nice and I'm pretty sure she doesn't garden. We'll get along pretty well I'm thinking. Apparently she's going to be staying for a while and that's why we had all this moving around of 'stuff'. The puppy is no problem either, not really, not since she decided I was too hard to chew.

 I'll keep you posted.



Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Comes the Day

Comes the day the Blue Jay calls of Autumn... a mist hangs in the trees in the morning... and the Goldenrods begin to bloom.

Summer is over, we must move on.

No more wandering around the garden, coffee cup in hand, looking to see what new treasure has come into bloom overnight. No more debating the purchase of that irresistible new plant which might look wonderful in a certain corner but is there room for it.  And no more of that lovely luxurious feeling that a whole long summer stretches ahead.

Summer is over, we have work to do.

High on the list of work is the dead-heading of all the things that bloomed in the last few weeks. In my garden, that means masses of Lamb's-ears, Ornamental Salvias, Geraniums, Shasta Daisies and many others. I always have to wait to trim the Lamb's-ears as the bees love them and every stalk has at least one bee on it. Lamb's-ears self-seed something fierce if you wait too long, so once the bees are finished with them it is a race to get them trimmed. Shastas are the same in so far as they ripen their seeds about five minutes after the flowers fade... but the bees don't care for them at all! There were a lot of Salvias in the Herb Garden (self-seeded of course), enough to fill the wheelbarrow twice over. They have a strong rather rancid odour, not my favourite. Usually working in the Herb Garden is a pleasure with the scents of Mint, Sage, Lavender and all the others.

Speaking of scents, I once told someone that Hyssop smelled like a dead cat and she was very puzzled, wondering how I knew what a dead cat smelled like. I never admitted I made it up, but Hyssop does smell nasty. Worse than Salvia. All the Onion tribe smell good to me - Garlic, Chives, Garlic Chives, as well as the many ornamental Alliums. Tarragon needs to be rubbed to give its scent, delightfully licorice-like, and of course Anise Hyssop is a wonderful combination of licorice and lemon. Lemon Balm, which by the way you must dead-head and dead-head early and thoroughly, doesn't smell very good at all. Perhaps it smells better in teas. Lemon Verbena is very sweet, much better. I have one in a pot which is about 30 years old. It is deciduous so drops its leaves all over the Studio counter where it winters and then looks quite dead for the rest of the winter. Visitors wonder why I have a dead plant in my Studio, and if I like them (the visitors), I explain. If I don't, I don't.  A unique gardeners' revenge!

Some plants need dead-stemming rather than dead-heading. Things like Centaurea montana, with its sparkling blue bachelor's-buttons flowers, will die back after its first flush of bloom. If you cut the old stems right to the base, it will put up fresh new ones and likely bloom again. Lady's Mantle and some of the Salvias have the same trick. Others, like Mulleins and Salvia Argentea, need to be cut back so that they don't die off completely. They are really biennials, but you can trick them into behaving like perennials by cutting the old growth right back like that.

Another big job for this time of year is restraining those plants that are taking far more real estate than they are entitled to. Goldenrods are a case in point. I like to let them bloom, then pull out the stalks that are moving into their neighbours' space. Asters, while they can look huge right now, and take over a lot of the air space above the garden bed, are not really a problem as they grow in a fountain shape. Their 'feet' are really quite narrow. Asters need to be restrained in the spring.

Then there is trimming the bushes, planting bulbs, collecting spores and seeds, moving the things that you've planted in quite the wrong place... cleaning the pond, picking the last beans, the list is long.


Yes, summer is over. Time to change gears, get some tidying done, and enjoy the Asters, the Goldenrods, the Lobelias of Autumn.




Sunday, July 9, 2017

May the Fork Be With You

Also your spade, your trowel, your secateurs, your gardening gloves, your cell phone...

What do you carry around with you as you work in the garden? And how do you carry it? I've been gardening for decades and the perfect solution still eludes me.

I've seen, and tried, a number of arrangements for carrying gardening tools around. One is to attach them to a belt. I think this might work very well if you aren't elderly and slightly plump. In my case an actual belt was most uncomfortable, especially when I bent double as I do constantly. Not to mention that doing so made the secateurs slide out of their fancy holder and bang me on the chin.

Attaching things to my waistband didn't work much better. The weight pulled my shorts down and the phone banged into the trowel. I think wearing things at your waist only works if you never bend over. You only work standing or kneeling. Since kneeling only works if you are going to be working in one spot for some time and I tend to have to cover a lot more ground than that, I don't think wearing my tools is going to work.

I've tried keeping them in the wheelbarrow. This works fine, right until you pile weeds or other debris on top, then dump the lot on the compost heap, and only later think, 'hmmm, where is my trowel...'. Not a good solution either.

You can buy charming canvas tool carriers. A pocket for each tool. Space to add accessories such as sharpeners, pens, labels and so on. They're lovely in the catalogue, the shop and the garden shed. In the field they sag, fall over, get wet and muddy and accumulate dead spiders. And putting the tools back in is such a pain that you tend not to do it and the secateurs get lost under the peony bush.

A kind person once gave me an antique wooden tool box which has a nifty wooden carrying handle. Sadly, it is so heavy it pretty much has to go in the wheelbarrow, which sort of negates its usefulness. I like it at Christmas, though, as it looks great filled with greenery and pine cones.

Lately, I've been using a basket my daughter gave me for Mother's Day. The basket wasn't the gift, it was what the gift came in - but the chocolates are eaten, the jam has been spread, the flowers have  wilted and only the basket remains. It's nothing fancy, not even painted, but it has a nice high handle and seems large enough to hold most of the things I need. Putting stuff in is easy - just toss whatever it is on top and don't worry about it. The handle of the trowel sticks up because the basket is just a little bit too small and the secateurs are easy to see because they are red. The phone lurks in the bottom and the sweat-mopping towel lies on top. I can hang it on the wheelbarrow handle or a tree branch, put it down beside my feet, or put it on a rock.

Not waterproof, though. Today it was sunny so Rosie (the new puppy) and I were out pulling grass out of the Goldenrods on the Hillside when a large black cloud suddenly pulled up overhead and drenched us. I took Rosie in and dried her off and then remembered the basket. Oops. Luckily the towel had kept my cell phone more or less dry. Note to self: put the darn phone in something rain-proof.

Nor is it Rosie-proof. Usually she goes after the towel (she likes fabric, hey, she's a girl) but the other day she went after the trowel. She likes the rubber handle, very chewy. Unfortunately she took it away for a good chomping session and it took me three days to find it again.

But other than that, it seems to be working. It holds my trowel, my secateurs, cell phone (now in a nice sturdy case), a ball of string, some labels, a waterproof pen, and a towel. Gardening gloves just have to take their chances - either on my hands or piled on top in the basket. Notebook I've given up on. Proper weeding requires a sort of zen-like state of mind, so I'm not going to worry about important thoughts that need writing down.

Have I just invented the Canadian version of the English 'trug'?

Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Garden Surprise (or Two)

I love that early morning garden walk-about. The air is cool, my coffee tastes good, birds are singing all around, Rosie is full of joy, and sometimes there's a nice surprise.



The first one was a nice plant of Loesel's Twayblade, Liparis loeselii right in the middle of a huge patch of Thyme. It was at the bottom of my Rockery right next to the driveway, shaded by a fast-growing Maple. It does get some sun, but that spot sometimes gets stepped on when people park there, so it's not a good spot for a delicate orchid. Still, there it was, green and perky. It's only about 8" high, but that is actually robust for this small species.

Loesel's Twayblade is unusual in that it's form can vary depending on the growing conditions. In a damp and shady spot the leaves are much narrower and longer. Flowering is apparently much the same, though. I had it  higher up in the Rockery up to last year, but then it disappeared. It was very close to a path so I was afraid I'd stepped on it! I was quite cheered to see it again.




My second happy surprise was a bright orange, almost red, lily leaning out from the Coneflower it was growing through. I planted that Coneflower there last year, and had no idea there was a Lily of any kind lurking in the pot. Or was it? I have no idea where it came from, and I also don't know what species it is.

The leaves are very narrow, dark blue-green, and in whorls (more or less) around the stalk. The stalk would be a good 4', should it stand up straight, but for now it is curved over and around the Coneflower. It would probably be less lanky if it got more sun so I might have to move it. There were two flowers, both on long stalks.

I have a small group of white Martagon lilies nearby. The flowers are similar in shape, but the leaves and the arrangement of the blooms are completely different.


Another surprise, Rosie is a very good digger! Here she is wondering why I'm speaking sharply to her. She dug all around the huge boulder that serves as the doorstep to the Studio. It's about 600 pounds, so I don't think she'll shift it... you can see some of her sticks here too. She collects any stick or branch she can carry and piles them in the doorway. Hmmmm. I need to work on my woods trails next week, maybe she can help.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Happy Anouncement!!

Yes, I am delighted to announce that Elphin Rosie, the world's smartest, cutest, most lovable puppy is home!

She arrived on Monday and has already, in her perfect puppy way, changed life for myself and Pepper, my faithful cat and longest-standing employee.

Her she is sitting and looking bemused by this new and rather wet world:


 In true Border Collie fashion, she soon set out to explore. Notice that she already has 'the stare' down pat. All she needs is some sheep.

Or maybe this juniper can be induced to go somewhere:
Today it was sunny and we did some gardening. Rosie helped by dragging the trowel about 100' down the driveway and then going off with my phone (no, Rosie, bad girl...). We had a lovely time but got pretty tired:
So now we're back inside, I'm typing and she's curled up under my chair sound asleep. Just for a few minutes my toes aren't getting nipped and nobody's barking at the mosquito that's buzzing around. Life is good.

 Welcome home, Rosie!