Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Snips and Snippets

The first day of Spring seems an appropriate one for getting this blog back on the rails! It's been a while - no big reason not to write, but no big reason to write, either, so I've let it go for almost three months. Now I'm thinking Spring and it has revived me enormously.

I'm getting a chuckle out of some Lupine seeds I planted. I've had about 50 seeds of Lupinus perennis kicking around the Studio for two or three years. I'd find them, move them out of the way, lose them, find them again, move them again, etc. and never got around to doing anything with them. Lupine seeds are hard-shelled and not always easy to germinate. I meant to plant them in a pot and put the pot outside over winter, but it just didn't happen. So when I found them again a week or so ago, at first I thought I'd throw them out ('they're too old, they'll never germinate'), then I thought 'what the heck, might as well plant them, maybe a few will grow' and dumped the lot into a 4" pot.

Two days later they all germinated.

 I quickly moved 25 of them into small pots and put them in the Studio window. Now they're starting their first true leaves, and they make me smile.

wild lupine flowers pink and purple

Rosie is really anxious for Spring to get here. The snow has been so deep since mid-January that she couldn't go anywhere. She'd leap into it, disappear, snort her way to the top and leap again... the only place she could walk, other than the path to the Studio, was the driveway. She was more or less confined to a long narrow yard, a yard a quarter of a mile long, but only ten feet wide. Often we walked out to get the paper, which only took us about 5 minutes, and then walked back and forth a few more times just to get some exercise, but it wasn't much fun for an energetic young dog. I've promised her that the woods will be back soon.

Pepper, the feline component of the pet population at Pine Ridge is happy too. She hasn't been very well this winter (she's an old lady), and she likes the warmth in the Spring sunshine. She's enjoying it while lying in it on my desk, which makes a change from walking on my keyboard.

Several squirrels have popped out of their winter hiding places and are chasing each other across the snow and up and down trees. We know what they have in mind.

Bluejays swept in and inspected my crabapple  trees and then made their opinions of their lack of edible fruits known, loudly. I said 'same to you, but, sorry, guys'. I've had to stop feeding the birds. The availability of bird seed led to far too many squirrels and chipmunks and ended up attracting a black bear. This was fine until one day I was walking from the Studio to the house, at dusk, and he growled at me. So no more bird feeding. I miss it and I feel a bit guilty, but some people say it upsets the balance of nature to feed birds, so maybe that is right.

Tomorrow I'll buy some new plant trays and get my seed collection out of the vegetable drawer in the fridge... it's Spring!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

A Quick Look Back at 2018

I'm sitting in my office, staring out the window at fat white flakes drifting down and musing about the Year That Was.

In many ways, not a good year. Without even touching on all the awful world news, things have been a bit difficult at Pine Ridge as well. I know this does not compare with the various situations in the wider world, but I live in my own small corner, it is my refuge, and it's what I talk about here.

We started the summer with a major wind storm at the end of April, and ended it with tornados in September.  While nearby, the tornadoes didn't actually affect Pine Ridge, but  the storm in April was bad. It took down many many trees, mostly larger ones, and even more particularly many of the large old White Pines. I used to have trails in the woods, now I have acres where I simply cannot walk. Fallen trunks lie criss-crossed, many of them not fully down on the ground, thrown down at all angles and in every direction. Trying to walk at the back of the property is a matter of climbing, ducking and twisting your way through. Nearer the house we lost several large Pines, a number of Cedars, and a huge Spruce. One of the smaller Pines which has long been the corner of the Hillside garden is now an ugly exposed root ball:
white pine roots
double white sanguinarea canadensis flowerIt doesn't look all that bad in the image, but that is deceptive. That root ball is all of 7' high, and the tree (you can see the start of the trunk at the extreme right) must be close to 100' long. It used to be 100' tall, now it's 100' long. It would take my tree-cutter-man several hours to cut it up with his biggest chainsaw and I have no idea how I could get rid of the roots. So I left it and I'll hopefully have a bright idea this spring.

On the up-side, the spring ephemerals were amazing. Late, due to the cold spring, but amazing. My double Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, plants finally bloomed well. The flowers lasted so much longer than the singles, too.

The White Trilliums outdid themselves! All along the driveway, on the slope of the Rockery, and in the Sampler Garden, masses of sparkling white blooms bloomed for a good two weeks. This patch was part of the Rockery.

trillium grandiflorum flowers patch

Most of May was very cool and the spring flowers lasted longer than usual. Daffodils and Tulips were a good three weeks. Not that that helped with my Garden Tour, though, because everything was finished a week before the Tour, and the Roses and Lavender that I usually count on in June were late and bloomed a week after the Tour. Bad planning on somebody's fault!

After that, things got nasty. We didn't have a drop of rain from the beginning of May until the end of June. It was impossible to garden; just watering a few things in the ground as well as the numerous pots took all my available time and energy. Just as I was deciding to definitely set up some kind of pumping system to move water from the marsh (which never got seriously low), it rained. Then of course it rained some more, and rained some more, and rained some more...

The ones I think of the September Flowers, the Goldenrods, Asters, late Roses, Autumn Clematis, all the tribe of summer-is-almost-over flowers, did very well. They started a bit early, and bloomed on and on. The damp suited them surprisingly well. Bees, wasps and butterflies were very happy.

pine Symphiotrichum novae-angliae wasp

There was about a week later on that it didn't rain... I ran around like a mad fiend and hastily planted all kinds of stuff, without making notes or taking photographs or even thinking much about where I put things. It might be interesting here in the spring!

Snow arrived mid-November and hasn't left. That is, what arrived promptly melted and then it snowed again, and melted again and snowed again... We've had Winter Wonderland so many times this fall I've gotten bored with it! It's quite beautiful outside right now, the first day of 2019, but I just can't go out there and photograph another small tree, lovely or not, covered with new snow!

I'll let Rosie-goof have the last word:
snow border collie

Sunday, October 28, 2018

First Snow

We woke up this morning to a white, or at least white-ish world. There wasn't quite enough snow to really give that 'winter wonderland' feeling, but there was enough to make the woods and garden look new and interesting.

Rosie and I went for a short ramble through the woods. Everything was dripping and wet. She loved it, racing back and forth up and down the trail. Me, I put my hood up and looked for things to photograph. The snow made it all look exciting again, such as these fronds of Common Polypody Fern. They stay green all winter, but of course we won't see them once the snow covers them. They really stand out against the browns and oranges of the fallen Maple and Hornbeam leaves.

common polypody fern fronds in snow

The trail took us into the 'cedar hell', along the upper end of the Beaver Pond. The trees looked a bit grim...
new snow on cedar trunks
Two rather surprising red Maple leaves cheered things up again, though; how often do two red leaves fall together like that?

new snow and red maple leaves
After the rather chilly Cedar bush, we came out to near the road where some old logs were dumped years ago which have developed beautiful patches of lichens and mosses. One of the lichens is the one I've always call Red Soldiers. There's not a lot of it on this log, but I love the contrast with the Reindeer and other mosses.
snow lichens old log

On the way home I admired the leaves on a Glossy Buckthorn. It never loses its leaves until after all the other leaves are down. The Oaks don't either.
yellow leaves on glossy buckthorn in snow

The Crabapples in the garden back at the house are spectacular right now. They are very small crabbies which the birds love. Usually they strip the trees pretty quickly but this year they have so far only eaten one tree's worth.  Some Robins a week or so ago swooped in, ate all the apples on one of the trees and then left. I was reminded of the old joke about the Jewish Mother who gave her son two shirts for his birthday. He was very pleased and went upstairs and came back down wearing the blue shirt. His Mother took one look at him and said, "And what's wrong with the red one?"
snow on small red crabapples
Something wrong with the crabapples on the other three trees?

After all that, there was only one thing to do: go in and put on dry socks and make some hot chocolate.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Essential Questions

Sunday, and a glorious Summer day: blue sky, dry air, soft breeze, birds singing...  I made myself a mug of coffee, said 'C'mon' to Faithful Dog and wandered out. Everything in the garden looked fresh after the rain we had on Friday. It's been an awful hot dry summer and it hasn't been much of a pleasure to inspect things lately so it was a very welcome change.

The first part of the garden I went into was the Sampler Garden where I inspected the ferns and my little (and new) bog garden. The little bog was looking pretty good: the Blue Vervain was strong and healthy, the Foamflowers seemed to have taken hold nicely and were even spreading a bit, the Barren Strawberries were much bigger than they had been in the pot, and the Western Holly Fern, Polystichum lonchitis, had several new fronds! That one is not easy to grow in our humid climate and the spores I carefully nurtured all winter ended up as just one plant.

Why is it that no matter how many seeds or spores I sow, I so often end up with only one or maybe two, plants? I have a hunch that if I could answer this essential question my gardening would improve enormously.

I left the Sampler Garden through the back exit, climbing over the big pile of wood chips that are still waiting to be spread on the paths. I've done this so often lately that the pile now has an actual path across it. Works fine, easy enough walking, just a bit uphill and then downhill... hmmm, no. I really will move those chips soon.

Turning back up the driveway towards the Rock Garden I paused to inspect the Gaillardia. It's supposed to be a perennial but with me it mostly seeds itself around and makes new plants every year. The native form is yellow but mine seem to be red and yellow so of course I like the pure yellow ones best. They're a wonderfully cheerful flower and great in a vase, easy to grow and bloom for weeks, but why oh why must they always grow in the driveway? What is it about gravel that attracts them so much?

 Another one that refuses to live in a flower bed and grows and blooms magnificently in the driveway is Mexican Hat flower, Ratibida columnifera. I like the way the 'cones' stick up boldly above the drooping petals. They all point the same way, like sunflowers.

I've seeded both in several other spots, but the ones that persist are in the driveway. Maybe I should plant them where I want them, and then drive on them.

After this, I decided to go on a mushroom hunt. I'm going to a workshop called Fabulous Fall Fungi in late September and it's made me more aware of the mushrooms and other fungi here at Pine Ridge. The serious drought in 2012 had an awful effect on the mushies - for several years I hardly saw any, but luckily this year there seem to be more of them again. Granted, most of them so far have been near the Marsh or the Beaver Pond, areas that stay damp longer in dry spells, but still, seeing more fungi is definitely a good sign.

We found tiny red 'Toadstools', shiny yellow buttons that reminded me of rain-wet plastic slickers, fat soft brown ones the squirrels collect and store by hanging them up in the branches of trees and quite a few more. That rain on Friday really brought them out, I think.

Dog and I followed my trail along the Marsh; that is, I followed the trail and she waded in the mud and then raced to catch up with me, until we came to the area at the back of the property where the wind storm in May knocked down so many trees. At that point we were forced to climb over and under half-down pines and between and over and sideways through a tangle of flattened birch, and through a Prickly Ash thicket and up over rocks... all in an effort to get to the back where I wanted to see if there were any fungi under the huge old Maples. I didn't find too many, but did note that a Groundhog had set up operations right at the fence line. Rosie was most interested and I had to restrain her from initiating an immediate large scale excavation project. Then the prospect of pushing our way back through the tangle was too daunting and I searched for a way around it. Following the path of least resistance, I soon found myself in a patch of huge cedars and alders.

Oops, where were we?

It's interesting how the most essential of life's questions sneak up on you like that.

Sunday, July 15, 2018


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!