Thursday, April 17, 2014


I hope you have snowdrops.

If you do not, get some. They are just about the only thing that will bloom in time to save the gardener's sanity while she waits for the snow to be gone and the ground to be dry enough for actual gardening to begin. Without Snowdrops, the outlook for future normalcy in the gardener would be grim.

In our area, we can grow all three of the main species. There are about 20 more different species, but sadly they are just not available here so I don't know whether they are hardy here.If you ever have a chance to get bulbs, or more likely, seeds, of any of the others, take it, and remember your friends.

Galanthus nivalis

The ones we can get and which I know do well here are Galanthus nivalis, G. elwesii, and G. woronowii.

G. nivalis is the one that causes Snowdrop fever in susceptible gardeners. There are too many varieties to count, there are clubs for the afflicted, there are official registries, competitions, books.... if this sort of obsession appeals to you, a quick on-line search will make you very happy. Not that the search will be quick because of course if you are smitten with Snowdrop Love, you will spend the rest of the day following the many, many links. You'll have a great time, and maybe by the time you are done the snow will be gone.

G. nivalis is also the smallest and daintiest of the three. It is the one that makes us kneel in the wet leaves so that we can get close enough to admire the purity of the outer petals and the brilliant green markings on the inner ones.

G. nivalis has style.

G. elwesii is slightly larger in all ways: the flowers are a bit larger, the leaves are wider and taller, the bulbs are larger too. It is every bit as beguiling as G. nivalis.

All the Snowdrops are of course bulbs. The conventional wisdom about growing them is to move them 'in the green', that is, to move and propagate them by digging them up with a good sod and re-planting them immediately. Sadly, we cannot often do this as we are forced to order the bulbs in the summer and they will arrive, dry, in August. A good source (in fact the only source I know of, not counting little bags of dried-up bulbs sold by big-box stores at strange times) is Botanus. They have a fine on-line catalogue, very suitable for more time-wasting while you wait for the snow to go. Ask for more than a few bulbs as they will not all grow but you will end up with enough. They spread.

Galanthus woronowii

Last, and the opposite of least, is G. woronowii. It has decidedly wide leaves, but the flowers are as delicate as those of G. nivalis.

All the Snowdrops are trouble-free and need no special care. The foliage goes dormant without calling attention to itself and once established, the plants will return every year, just when you really need them.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Getting Involved

Heads Up!

As gardeners, we do have a tendency to keep our heads down. We get so involved with our own gardens, we sometimes forget to look up and see what is going on around us.

Here are a couple of interesting garden-related events happening soon which are worth looking up for. Best of all, I have a nifty give-away for one of them!

The Canadensis Botanic Garden Society is, as I mentioned a post or two ago, bringing Alexander Reford to Ottawa to talk about The International Garden Festival held at the Reford Gardens. This world-renowned garden located near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River was started by his great-grandmother Elsie Reford and is now open to the public in the summer months. It is a most unusual garden, begun as a private garden and now famous both for its scenic beauty and for its impressive stand of the Blue Poppy, Meconopsis betonicifolia. The lecture is being given twice, both on the evening of Thursday, May 1, first at 6:00 pm, and then again starting at 8:00 pm. Sort of like two dinner sittings on a cruise ship!

There is lots of information about this event on their website including details such as the location of the lecture (Cereal Barn, Experimental Farm, Prince of Wales Drive), parking, cost, etc. etc.

Now, I have 2 tickets to the 8:00pm lecture to give away!

All you have to do to win them is.....  leave me a comment or send me an email saying which native plant you would like to see featured next in my Know and Grow box. Next Sunday evening, April 13,  I'll draw one name out of the metaphorical hat from those who have done so, and that person will be the lucky winner! Be sure to include your phone number or email so I'll be able to get in touch and let you know how to collect your tickets after the draw.


The other fun event happening soon is a Creativity Blitz. What is a Creativity Blitz? Well, let me just quote from the press release: "What better way to explore your own creativity than in the natural beauty of the 200-acre High Lonesome Nature Reserve, a property conserved in perpetuity by the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust Conservancy. On Saturday, May 3 and Sunday May 4 from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm young and old alike are invited to participate in the first ever Creativity Blitz at this oasis of tranquility in the Pakenham Hills. Join with others and connect with Nature and explore your creative side!" Being the first one ever, nobody really knows what is a Creativity Blitz! But if you come and join in, you can help make it what it will be.

And have fun while you are at it. I'll be there as a volunteer and possibly will be working on my Fairy Village project..... nope, not telling you any more. It's all free, kids are welcome and the buzz in the air will be from more than the bees.

You can read the rest of the press release, which gives all the details of time, place, contact info and so on, on the Misissippi Madawaska Land Trust Conservancy website.

There are extensive trails and there will be a number of interesting (creative) projects going on to watch, so come and join in!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Milkweed Lore

Having suddenly gotten interested in Milkweeds because of wanting to help Monarch Butterflies, I think I mentioned in an earlier post that I sowed a few Milkweed seeds. These were seeds from a pod which had been sticking up above the snow all winter. I wondered if they would be alive and if they would germinate.

To my delight, one seedling quickly appeared.

Pretty cute, eh?

You can even see the 'furriness' typical of young Milkweed plants, at least on the stem under the second pair of leaves.

But several weeks have now gone by and no more babies have popped up. Wondering what was happening, I did what I should have done in the first place, and checked a couple of books. In one, William Cullina's most excellent Growing and Propagating Wildflowers of the United States and Canada (I think there has been some propagating going on inside that title), I read that "seed germinates without a cold period, but it is slow and sporadic". Oops. Now I can't put the flat outside because of the one seedling so I'll just have to be patient. Oh well, I'm slow and sporadic myself.

 Then I did some more reading, particularly in Milkweed, Monarchs and More by B. Rea, K. Oberhauser and M. A. Quinn. This is nifty little field guide to life in the Milkweed patch and is available from the MonarchWatch website. I learned about the Milkweed's unusual flower structure and its curious pollination mechanism.

 These little sketches are adapted from the pictures in the book. In the upper one you see the typical Asclepias flower - just one, not the whole umbel - with the petals reflexed right back to the flower stem (and the sepals hidden underneath) to expose the business part of the flower to whatever bee, butterfly or beetle may be passing by. The 'hoods', which look like petals to us, hold nectar to entice the passing bee, butterfly et al. Between each pair of hoods is a slit in the central column. Each slit contains a  little body (shown in the lower sketch) called a 'pollinarium'.

Each pollinarium has a sticky pad, a 'corpusculum', which attaches the pollinaria to the column, and from which two 'rotator arms' extend. The pollen is collected in sacs at the ends of the arms. When an insect touches a corpusculum, it sticks to its body, and when the insect leaves, it pulls the pollinarium out of the small slit. The arms are called 'rotator arms' because they rotate when the arms dry in the open air, so as to get the pollinarium into position to get stuck into the next slit the insect visits. Typically, pollinaria get stuck on insects' antennae, and do not easily release until the insect has had time to move to a new flower.

One pollen sac contains enough pollen to fertilize an entire umbel. The pollen grains grow down the column hidden inside the slit, fertilize the ovules, and the distinctive Milkweed pod forms.

Turns out there are about 110 species of Milkweed in North America. There are only 3 in the Ottawa area, the Common Milkweed, Butterfly Weed (A. tuberosa) and Swamp Milkweed (A. incarnata) although there is some thought that a fourth, A. exaltata, may occur not very far south of here. As well, there is a species, A. sullivantii, which is extremely similar to A. syriaca, hybridizes with it, and also may occur in the southernmost parts of the Valley. It differs mainly and most obviously in being smooth, while A. syriaca is usually quite downy.

Common Milkweed is an 'early succession' plant, that is, it is one of the first species to move in and colonize open or disturbed ground. Sometimes it eventually gets crowded out by other species.

Until this year, Milkweed was on the Ontario Noxious Weeds list, which meant that you weren't supposed to encourage it.... luckily for us, and hopefully the Monarchs, this is being changed.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ah, Spring....

Rumour has it that it is the first day of Spring today. Well. Right now it is snowing, large white flakes drifting down and then swirling in an impish wind. Kip and I went out to get the newspaper, and we both kept our fur tightly on.

But actually, when I look around, I do see a few encouraging signs.

The rail fence now has two or three rails showing above the snow. At least in places. That's a big improvement over Monday.

I looked up, far up, at the buds on the Sugar Maple. Usually they are one of the first signs that the warm seasons are approaching. And yes, with a bit of imagination, I think maybe they are a little fatter and redder than a few days ago. Maybe.

Pepper stuck her nose outside for a minute. Then she shook her paw and gave a little cat snort and retreated, but she did look.

There was a Ladybird motoring across my office window a little while ago. Something stirring in its blood.

The Red-stemmed Dogwoods beside the Marsh are a little redder than they were.

The buds on the Balsam Poplars are shiny and sticky.

Ah, Spring....

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Of Sunday and Seeds and Spring and a Stump....

I'm having that spring time feeling, you know, where you don't know whether you want to dash out and do something wild and ambitious and energetic, or go have a nap....

It being Sunday today, with the sun shining warm for the first time in months, I figured I'd do a few chores and then go for a walk in the snow. For us self-employed people, days 'off' are never all that 'off'..... so I unloaded and re-loaded the kiln, trimmed a few syrup jugs and put handles on them, eyed the Aquilegia mugs with a critical eye and admitted that there had not been any overnight miracle, they were still duds, and by then it was lunch time.

After lunch, Kip and I ventured out. The snow was still hard enough under the trees to make snow-shoeing easy and he mostly stayed on the path as well. Like his owner, he's soft from a winter of being stuck inside.

As you can see, he wasn't entirely delighted, but game.

I took the path that leads to the stump I'm going to be following. Here it is. Our Stump. Hmmm. Not too interesting right at the moment.

I studied it for a while and found myself thinking it really ought to have a name. My inner imp immediately offered up 'Sir Stumpie'.... or 'Herr Stumpf', or, no, never mind, you don't need to know the others.

I wonder what life is like under its blanket of snow. Are the mosses growing? Are there insects stirring? Perhaps a small mouse, running along its tunnel around the back? I do know that it isn't dark under the snow, so it must be a strange world of light filtering down through icy crystals.

On the way home I plowed through the snow to a plant of Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) which had some rather ragged seed pods still hanging on. To my delight, one of the pods was unopened and full of seeds. Will seeds that have been frozen like that still germinate? Only one way to find out:

I planted them. What you see above is some seedlings already growing under the lights in the Studio. I had about 20 packages of old seeds in my stash and planted them a few weeks ago. Some were several years old, having been comprehensively forgotten in the rush of other work, but all but a few germinated. They are mostly rock garden plants (what the heck is Elmera racemosa??) but there were also seeds of a few natives. The tall ones you see at the back are Apocynum cannabinum, for example.

There were two packages of Jeffersonia diphylla, and they have not germinated. I've had seeds of that a few times now, and have never yet germinated any. Actually, one set did, but they turned out to be J. dubia. Nice enough, but not our native. If they don't do anything in the next week or two, I'm going to dig a hole in the snow and put them down there and see if that will wake them up. Twinleaf is a neat plant, and I would really like to have it in my garden. The flowers, like those of Bloodroot, last about 15 minutes, but the leaves are interesting. I know where there is a huge clump not far from here, but I have never seen any seedpods on it.

On the right in the upper picture you can see a few of the plastic boxes I am using to germinate some ferns. The green you see is the tiny fern gametophytes, in their zillions. I'll have to do some thinning.

Right after that nap.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Pine Ridge Winter Games

Maybe not as exciting as the Olympics, but hey, we can't all go to Sochi! In between watching Canada collect medals, give the things below a read - they'll make February go away that much faster.

Know and Grow

First, you may notice I've done a little housekeeping on the blog's appearance. Now there will regularly be an entry to the right called 'Know and Grow' which will link to a page (or so) about one of my favourite native plants. Older entries will stay available by clicking on the plant's name under the pages tab on the left.

I'd love for the 'Know and Grow' to become a dialogue so we can all learn more about how to grow these plants. If you disagree with something I say, or have something to add, please leave a comment and we will all be able to see it, and learn from it. Over time, we should end up with a good archive of practical information.

Ottawa Botanical Garden Society

Secondly, the Ottawa Botanical Garden Society, now called simply 'Canadensis', is planning some very exciting activities this summer. They have a Facebook page (click the name above) and you can click on 'like' or 'follow' to get notified whenever they post an update.

The most exciting event is a brand-new outdoor environmental art exhibition called 'Beyond the Edge'. Six artists have been invited to create gardens at the Botanic Garden site on Prince of Wales Drive. The exhibition will run from June 27 to Sept. 27. A grand opening, and artists' talks are planned as well. I may not be first in line when it opens, but I'll be near the front!

Then they are hosting a series of garden talks, the most interesting of which is Alexander Reford giving a lecture about Reford Gardens/Jardins des Metis on Thursday, May 1st. This will be held in the Cereal Barn on the Experimental Farm from 7:00 to 8:30pm.

There's more, but those are the highlights for me.

Garden Design Thinking

I've been doing quite a bit of reading this winter, including some on blogs such as Thomas Rainer's Grounded Design. There seems to be a lot of talk about ideas such as 'intermingling', 'contemporary naturalistic design', and 'the new perennial garden'. Buzz words..... which make your head buzz.... but interesting ideas. I can summarize pretty quick by saying, 'using native plants, grasses and various previously under-valued perennials to make structurally interesting gardens' but really you need to read this stuff yourself to get the full flavour. One comment I will make, though, is that all these ideas are better suited to public gardens, especially large ones, than home gardens. Intermingling, for example, only looks great if you have a large enough area. Intermingling 6 grass plants, 3 perennial plants and a weed or two doesn't cut it! And the biggest 'new' idea I notice in the new perennial gardens is using grasses to set off the flowering plants. I think American gardeners have finally come to grips with the fact that plants that bloom for weeks in Britain do not bloom for weeks in the US....

If you go to Thomas's blog, he has lots of links which will take you on a landscape design tour of the world. Great fun, relaxing, eye-opening, thought-provoking, and you don't have to dig anything up.

A really good book, by the way, about some of this is 'Plant-Driven Design' by Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden. The pictures are inspiring and the ideas are interesting. You do have to be patient as you read, though.  I think they must have been in bad moods when they were writing the text because there is rather too much criticism of other designers, but the pictures are so good it is worth making that allowance.

Tree Following

Some bloggers are having fun 'tree following'. The idea is that you adopt some particular tree and see what it does over the year. I'm adopting a stump, so we will be 'stump following'. Seems appropriate for a garden with so many trees I could never select only one!

Right now my stump is totally buried under the snow.

Perfect for the Pine Ridge Winter Games.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

If You Go Down To The Woods Today....

It's been a stressful week around here, so when I read about the Japanese idea of spending time in the woods as a sort of anti-stress therapy apparently called 'forest bathing', I knew what I wanted to do. So yesterday, off I went to the Shaw Woods intending to just snowshoe around for a while.

Got there, parked, tucked my snowshoes under my arm, and set off for the start of the Snake River Trail. The trails at the Shaw are all well marked, with large signs and distances noted. There are also maps at the trail heads. Very civilized! The Snake River Trail follows the Snake River for a while and then turns up the escarpment where it soon branches, one branch to circle back, via Johnny's Lookout, and the other carrying on as the new Connaught Trail.

I stopped on top of the Hydro dam for a while and leaned over the railing, admiring the ice patterns below the dam, and puzzling a bit over the tracks on the ice above the dam. I could see tracks going to small holes in the ice..... but I couldn't see how anything got out of the holes. Various rather unpleasant scenarios played across my imagination, but I dismissed them and moved on. I was here to 'forest bathe', not worry about thingss falling through the ice.

The trail was well packed and I went on carrying my snowshoes. I soon met a group of four women coming the other way, also carrying their snowshoes. We admired each others' snowshoeing technique, and they warned me about the trail ahead being too steep to snowshoe up. They said they'd pretty much tumbled down. Snowshoes don't ski well.

Carried on. My forest bathing was going nicely. Heard a soft tap-tap-tap. Pileated Woodpecker. I got a great photo of the back 3 inches of his tail....

The Snake River burbled along beside me. The water was open in places, rimmed with wonderful ice patterns, and the shapes of the snow piled high over the dry bulrushes and such were intriguing.

A patch of some unusual dried stalks with leaves drooping down caught my attention but I didn't go close to them. The leaves hung down the way Goldenrod leaves do, but I knew these weren't Goldenrods.

The ladies were quite right, no way could I snowshoe up the last bit of the rock face.  It was only a short bit, no more than 15 feet, but practically vertical. I tossed my snowshoes up ahead of me, made sure my camera was safely inside my backpack, and stomped my way up, kind of making stairs with my stiff-soled boots. It only occurred to me after I had done it that if I had needed to go around, I would have wanted those  snowshoes...

Once up there I was surprised at how cold it was. The sun was gone and the wind was downright nippy. I walked for a while, inspected mosses on tree trunks, sat on my snowshoes and ate my lunch, walked a bit more.... kind of lost interest. Then I went back. Yes, I slid down too.

On the way back along the Snake I looked at those mysterious stalks more closely. The leaves were dry, of course, but when I unrolled them a bit they were fairly oblong but rounded at the stem end. The plants were undoubtedly Dogbanes, Apocynum, but which Dogbane? Those leaves were A. androsaemifolium in shape although maybe a bit more elongated, but the size of the plants, and their location on the shore of a small river were A. cannabinum or even A. sibiricum....  with no flowers or seed pods to look at, I can't tell which. And just to make things even more confusing, there is one more Dogbane, sometimes called A. medium, which may or may not be the hybrid of A. androsaemifolium and A. cannabinum.

The Apocynums are, in other words, variable, and the species appear to intergrade. That's the scientific way of saying they are totally confusing.

Here are a few pictures of A. androsaemifolium. It tends to grow in dryish places such as old fields and woods edges. It likes sun. The plants tend to be about 2' high but can be taller. The flowers are pink, with darker pink stripes inside, and the petals curve back a bit. It has a faint but sweet fragrance and if you pull off a leaf you will see it has a sticky, milky sap. It can form large colonies, from underground stolons, and will if you let it into your garden.

And this is A. cannabinum, or Indian Hemp. Apparently people used to make strong twine from the fibres in the stems.

The flowers are smaller, white or greenish, and do not open as widely as the others. They also stand up above the leaves instead of hanging down below them.

The leaves are longer and narrower than A. androsaemifolium, and the plant is taller, more upright, and much more likely to grow in damp places.

It too forms large colonies.

Both of these Apocynums are fairly common in our area, and both are butterfly food plants. I have not seen A. sibiricum, but it may not grow this far north.

Just to get back to our original subject, forest bathing, here is a shot of Hemlock Cones. There was one large branch hanging over the trail and I took advantage of that, and last year's good cone crop, to get some pictures of Hemlock cones. Usually they are far too high up to photograph.

And the odd holes in the ice above the dam? Turns out they are otter holes. They dig holes where the ice is thin and dive in and look around for fish or crayfish to eat. They have no trouble getting out again.

Now that's bathing!