Sunday, January 26, 2020

Looking Back Some More

Mind you, not everything went well in 2019. Gardening can sometimes seem like lurching from one disaster to the next: the squirrels eat all the Basil plants you put out yesterday... raccoons dig up and bite apart the 10 large Peonies you planted in a carefully colour-shaded row, leaving you a mixed-up pile of much smaller plants... the puppy romps through the clump of Ladyslippers that is finally blooming... you plant a group of rare dwarf shrubs and it doesn't rain for 8 weeks... you know, the usual stuff that happens in a garden.

Then, there are the gardening mysteries. Two of them in my garden stand out for 2019.

Early in the year I bought a beguiling little plant of Leadplant, Amorpha canescens.  A prairie plant, it has lovely soft grey-green leaves composed of many tiny oval leaflets arranged in a ladder formation, sort of like one of the Jacob's-ladders or a tiny Sumach. Mid-summer it has spikes of soft blue-violet flowers. I saw it growing at Beaux Arbres, where it made small shrubs at the ends of several of the garden beds. Naturally I had to have one, in spite of the fact that I most certainly don't have a prairie.

I planted it, but in the general rush of things, didn't pay it a lot of attention. It didn't have a label, gardening disasters happening in other people's gardens as well, and I was in too much of  a hurry to go and get one.

Come July I was kind of wondering where it was. I looked around for it, no longer quite sure of what it was supposed to look like, and with no clue as to where I might have planted it. I thought I'd run into when weeding, but I didn't. A few weeks later, well into August, I was dumping some weeds on a compost pile far at the back of my Sand Hill garden, and used the garden fork to tidy the pile a bit, and what did I find when I turned over a big forkful of old raspberry canes? Yes, one Leadplant, growing nicely although somewhat contorted due to having had to stick its head up through the prickly canes. What I'd like to know is, how did it get there, given that I had not used that compost pile all summer?

I re-planted it, and this time I make a good mental note of where, and checked on it regularly. Last I saw, before the snow came, it was growing just fine and beginning to recover from its right-angled posture.

The second garden mystery hasn't had such a good ending, at least not yet. Back in September of 2018, I was given a plant of New England Aster, 'September Ruby'. It was incredibly root-bound, and had only one bud, which never opened, but it was a variety I didn't have and I wanted it. I would have purchased it, but the nursery owner kindly gave it to me. I took it home, carefully teased the roots free (as much as I could, anyway), and planted it near a couple of other colour forms of New England Aster. I figured I could keep an eye on it there, and also the colours might be interesting together. 'September Ruby' ought to be darker and redder than the type, if the name is anything to go by. The plant stayed green and appeared healthy into the fall.

In 2019, not a sign of a darker, redder, form anywhere. Now, did it not bloom and the plant is still there? Did it bloom but in the same colour as the other ones? Did I pull it out thinking it was a weed? Should I have checked all the other compost piles? I couldn't believe it, and for days I'd go out there and check every Aster in the garden to see if any had darker flowers than the rest.

I know my garden is rather wild and rather out of control and rather weedy.... but really? Two mysteries in one summer?



Sunday, January 12, 2020

Looking Back

A rare pleasure, only to be indulged in occasionally, is looking back at the gardening-year-that-was. And 2019 had a few good moments...

For example, I feel a smug sense of satisfaction that I planted my bulbs at the right time. Most years I either plant them too early, which means tulips being fooled into sticking their noses above ground in the middle of the mud season, or else I'm out there planting daffodils with an axe. This year I was lucky enough to have a sunny day in November which was warm enough that the ground actually thawed and it only needed a trowel. It had been very cold for several weeks, but I said to myself, 'just wait, there will be a warm day yet' and for once there was.

One thing I'll tell you right now: you don't have enough bulbs. You don't have enough tulips, you don't have enough daffodils, you certainly don't have enough crocuses, and we won't even mention the small Irises, the Pushkinia, the Muscari, the Eranthus... Don't bother arguing, it doesn't matter how many you have, or how small your garden is: you don't have enough bulbs and you know it. None of us do.

Not that my Hillside garden doesn't have a lot of daffodils in it. I planted many different varieties of them about 15 years ago, and they have done very well. They like the clay soil and the good drainage, and every small group of bulbs I planted has now become a substantial clump. From one or two bulbs, they have become clumps of several dozen. But it occurred to me this Spring that it was all too yellow and white! It needed some red to perk things up.

Being, as always, sadly short of shekels, I wasn't able to order all that many but I think what I got will make a fine show next April. I got two tulips: Abba, a short early double red, and Apricot Delight, a medium sized mid-season pinkish/yellowish. Not having a clue as to where the daffodil bulbs were lurking, I just spread small clumps of these two tulips all over the Hillside. It doesn't really matter anyway, because wherever they bloom there will be daffodils nearby and it will all look good.


Abba is short and early and should make a fine contrast with the many Tete-a-Tete daffodils which, by the way, have seeded themselves around most prolifically.

Apricot Delight will, I hope, be delightful a little later when the many larger, and often paler, daffodils bloom. Somehow the main season daffodils don't have the same bright glowing spectrum yellow of the earliest ones, but by then our eyes are searching for more subtle colour anyway.





And crocuses, purple ones. Lots of purple ones! These I  mostly put lower down and nearer the house so I'll see them as the snow goes. The last package of them I put in the  woods at the top of the Rockery. That should be nifty when I take the path to get the newspaper!


Friday, October 25, 2019

African Violets, Oh, My

Some very kind friends just brought me an African Violet plant. They were giving it to me to help me feel better after my first cataract surgery, which went fine, by the way, and it's a very pretty one:



Now, AVs and I have a history.

Many years ago, back when houseplants were the newest and 'in-est' thing, I got one or two at the grocery store and I liked them. They actually grew, which was more than you could say for other houseplants such as, for example, the Diefenbachia which had a new leaf every three years, or the Snakeplant which sat there, month after month, needing dusting but never doing anything that anyone ever noticed.

So I got another African Violet.

And another one.

And another one...

Then I discovered you could make more plants by nipping off a leaf and putting it in water. To my delight, in a few weeks there were baby plants at the bottom of the stem. I separated them and planted them and pretty soon I had several dozen African Violets.

This was fun!

Found out there were white ones.... pink ones! Dark reddish ones, doubles, semi-doubles, ruffly ones, miniatures, giants... I went wild. I joined the African Violet Society and entered AVs into local plant shows (and, yes, won some ribbons).

Soon I needed lights to grow more AVs. We had a house we'd bought partly because it had a large finished 'rec room' in the basement and we thought it would be perfect for our daughter and her friends to play in. Ixnay on that, though, they refused totally to play 'in the basement, yuck'. Apparently there was a rumour of spiders. We allowed tricycles. No good. We installed a ping pong table. Nope. We bought a terrific doll house and dolls. Nope again. Finally it just sat empty. So I took it over and built long shelves and hung lights and before you could say 'African Violet, miniature, dark red, variegated foliage', I had several thousand plants and a serious watering habit.

A few years later we decided to move (for other reasons) and to my surprise and relief the people who bought the house wanted the plants too!

Since then I have not allowed African Violets across the door step.

Until today.

Thank you, Lynda and Gord!

Monday, October 7, 2019

A Walk In The Woods

Ah, a fine Fall morning! What better than an early walk in the woods?

Rosie and I head out into the woods behind the house. It is still a bit foggy, but occasionally the sun comes out. It's not exactly cold, but the air leaves no question in our minds: it is Fall. Leaves fluttering down around us gently underscore that we may not have many more such days before the cold comes, and we should enjoy this one.



Going past the garden I'm amused to see the individual flowers on the New England Asters curled up tight. They do this at night. They bloomed in my garden for years before I realized that they close up at night; sometimes you even see a bee asleep inside. The foggy morning has left drops of dew on the petals.



Something else amusing is the way falling pine needles don't make it down to the ground, instead getting hung up on various twigs such as this Maple twig. White Pines lose one-seventh of their needles every year, and do so mostly in October. So every October the small trees below the Pines are festooned with needles like tiny hats. The ground is covered too, walking is a bit slippery!


The mosses have rebounded since we've had some rain. It's been very very dry again this summer, in fact the trees, especially the Maples,  have all shown serious signs of stress.  Looking up at a large Maple, you expect to see the leaves held horizontally over your head, but when the tree is really stressed they hang vertically. I'm glad to see them being umbrellas again today. Many of the leaves are very red this year, including this one that landed right in front of me on the moss covering a large boulder.


There are a number of large boulders at the back of my place, like this one. I believe they are glacial erratics, that is, rocks that were dragged (pushed?) along by a glacier until they either ran aground or dropped out when the glacier melted. There is one on my neighbour's property which is right in the middle of an open flat area, so it must have been a 'dropper', but here at my place there are a row of about 6 of these huge rocks all right at the edge of the rocky ridge. This one, like the others, is about 7-8 feet high. I tried to get a picture of Rosie on top, but she leapt off before I could catch her.


I think this jawbone must be from one of Rosie's cousins. Either wolf or coyote? It's about 4 inches long, so too small for bear, or am I wrong? There was only one piece, I couldn't find any more although I searched for a while. Also couldn't find any of the other teeth. The bone was still hard, so it probably isn't all that old. One thing for sure: I wouldn't want this jawbone's former owner thinking of me as lunch!


There were quite a few mushrooms. Not nearly as many as last year, but still quite a few. The brown and white one here which I believe is called Honey Fungus, is all along the edge of the Beaver Pond. One book says it kills trees, I certainly hope that's not the case! They grow in clusters and there were hundreds if not thousands.

This one Puffball (no idea which Puffball, there are many) was small and perfect. In spite of the many tiny bumps on its surface, it was incredibly smooth, and as delicately coloured as a baby's cheek.

The Phollotia, on the other hand, looks like it really should shower and put on some new clothes! A bit sticky, a bit ragged, a bit scruffy.

 We got back to the house too soon, as Rosie's expression makes clear!



Sunday, August 4, 2019

A Day Off

I've just come in from a major weeding session. My clothes are soaked with sweat, my hair is stuck to my neck like seaweed on a boot, the knuckles on my right hand are stinging with cactus prickles, several other fingers are suffering from ripped nails, I have deer fly bites everywhere, and my left elbow hurts.

I've been working quite hard the last six weeks or so, first getting ready for a craft show at a slightly distant location, and then getting ready for a Garlic Festival at my local Farmers' Market where I have a permanent booth. Making pottery is time-consuming, so when I need a lot of new stock in a hurry it means all day in the Studio. No time to garden! Today my kiln is cooling and I decided it was a good time to take a day off.  I had to ignore the fact that the Studio is a mess (entirely Rosie the dog's fault for ripping up her cushion and spreading stuffing all over the floor), and to convince myself that there was no point in starting any of the overdue orders... but I needed a break.

I decided to spend the day weeding.

It's been very dry, too, so choosing to work on the Hillside Garden was maybe a strange choice for a Day Off, but there were a few things that badly needed dead-heading if I wasn't going to have about a million seedlings next year, and the Goldenrods that I somehow missed in the Spring were blocking the Phlox and other things that the Hillside is supposed to be about. It was lovely and cool when I started, only about 18C and breezy. Great weeding weather.

The Lady's Mantle was pretty much finished blooming so I cut it to the ground. They'll look bare and shabby for a week or two, then the new growth will appear and they'll look fine again for the rest of the year. My technique is to grab a large handful of stems, and take a big chop with my secateurs. Unfortunately one of the chops took out part of the nail on my middle finger, but it wasn't deep and the bleeding soon stopped.

Lamb's-Ears were due for a cut as well. The leaves are soft and furry, but the flowering stems sure aren't. Three wheelbarrow loads of flower stalks! Had to put gloves on, my hands were both burning from the prickly stalks. Yes, I know, shutting the barn door...

Talking about prickly, the small Cactus patch near the side path really needed attention. Lots of  Yellow Oxalis, most of it nestled right in among the cactus pads. Being a particularly intelligent but sneaky weed, it made sure it wasn't taller than the pads, so I couldn't grab the tops and yank. I've heard of people using forceps to weed cacti. Wish I'd had some. The knuckles on my right hand really wish I'd had some.

By this time it was getting hot. I went in for a quick lunch and the only thing I found in the fridge that required zero prep time was a pair of wieners left over from an attempt to use wieners to get Rosie to take a pill (didn't work, and now she's suspicious of anything wiener-like). Maybe I shouldn't have bought garlic-flavoured wieners... good thing I was  home alone.

Back outside I attacked the Goldenrod next. The plants were a good six feet tall, and were in front of other things only four feet tall. This is one of my gardening specialties - putting tall things in front of short things. Another one is putting cute little conifers in the rock garden and then finding out that they get to be 30' tall, but that's another story. Anyway, Goldenrods. Very hard to pull out when they're growing in dry clay on a hillside! Small stems came out easily enough, but the thicker ones needed a heavy pull and would then pop out unexpectedly, sending me wind-milling wildly to stay upright, without stepping on too many nearby plants. I know perfectly well that the Goldies will be right back (I didn't dig out the roots, just pulled the stalks) but I am very good at fooling myself and anyway it did look better.

A Peony bush was so heavy with seedpods the stems were bowed right down to the ground. I clipped the pods off and the bushes sprang up again! That was fun!

Yellow Foxglove is making a bid for Hillside Domination. We were mano-a-mano for a while, but I think I''m winning. And this year I got to them before the seeds were ripe! If you don't, then when you so much as touch the plant, it explodes it's tiny black seeds all over about a six-foot circle and you're in for it next year. Also, don't put the ripe stalks in the compost as they won't die there and when you use the compost they will all germinate. I know this for a fact. Nice flower, great soft yellow colour, but bad personality.

After that I had to call it a day and go in, hot, sweaty, thirsty, garlic-y, deer-fly bitten and with various minor discomforts as mentioned.

It was a wonderful day.



Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Joy of Weeding

Oddly enough, I love to weed.

First of all, I find it relaxing. That sounds odd in itself, given that when I come in after a couple of hours of weeding, I'm hot, bug-bitten, dirty and aching in more places than a younger me knew I had. But somehow yanking 'nasties' such as Bugleweed, or Dandelions gives me great satisfaction. It's a real pleasure to see a section cleared; it looks tidier and more organized. I guess weeding is a bit like tidying up your desk, it feels good to improve things.

Not that weeding feels all that good, especially not after a few hours. I don't weed, or indeed do any work in my garden, wafting around wearing a pretty dress and a sweet hat... I  tend to do it the way the old English gardeners did, bending in the middle like a hinge and reaching down to pull the weeds up. That way I can place my feet in safe spots and reach a reasonably large area to work in. If I kneel, I can only reach a very small area, besides which, kneeling in a garden as densely planted, or as rocky,  as mine is pretty well impossible anyway.

Now if I had every plant separated from its neighbours by bare ground, I could weed with a hoe, but I don't seem to be able to have that kind of a garden. I let things self-seed, and spread, and mix together, too much.

Secondly, weeding is a great way to really 'see' your garden. You get up close and personal with each and every inhabitant of your demesne. You observe them as you never do when you just stand back and admire the view. There's much to be said for views, of course, but if you're a plant collector as I am, you love to inspect each and every one of them, and hand-weeding is the best way to do it. I learn about my plants when I weed them.

And then, of course, there are the surprises!

I was delighted to discover a plant of Iris setosa, Arctic Iris, in a neglected corner of my rock garden. I thought I had lost it as it had disappeared from where I had planted it, an exuberant white-flowered Geranium having appropriated its space, but here was a nice sized clump about 20' away.
dwarf iris setosa purple flower
 It must have grown from a seed because I sure hadn't planted it there! In fact I haven't planted much of anything there yet, it being one of those 'what can I do with this little corner' kind of a spot. Well, now it has an iris in it.

Iris setosa, by the way, is only about a foot high. It blooms at the same time as the large bearded Irises, but it is fibrous-rooted, more like the Siberian Irises, in fact.






Another lovely surprise was a white  Blue-eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium albidum. This I had planted, at least, I had put some seeds near where I found the plant, some years ago, but I never noticed any plants. That happened because I had gotten a whole lot of seeds from a seed exchange and couldn't manage them all, so in the end I just planted some of them in what seemed like likely spots. I guess in at least one case, it worked!

If I hadn't been weeding in that spot, I'd never have seen it.









And I'd never have seen this tiny Orchid, either. Liparis Loeselii is only about 6" high and green!

It was growing in a mat of Thyme and I was patiently pulling seedling Forget-me-nots out of the mat when I found it. Then I looked around a bit and found three more!

Be sure to admire the tiny leaf-hopper near the top of the plant, he's a bit blurry, but you can see the gleam in his eye!







Nearby, in a spot shady enough to encourage a nice crop of moss among the rocks, a tiny mushroom sparkled up at me. Only a couple of inches high, it was shiny and seemed to have a powdery coating. There were a few, so a small colony. Seems early for mushrooms, but I guess they grow all summer.

I had quite a project going last summer, trying to photograph and document all the fungi I saw around the place. It ran to hundreds of different species, and I eventually had to put the project away until I had more time. Taking the photos was easy enough, sorting, cataloguing and labeling them was another matter. Maybe I'll get to it this winter.





After a good weeding session, you're allowed to wander and just admire your lovely plants, both where you were working and elsewhere. For example, I wondered if the Showy Ladyslippers near the marsh were blooming yet. They were!
orchid flowers ladyslippers showy pink and white
You see why I love weeding!

Friday, June 7, 2019

Of Violets, and Ferns


The last few days in the garden have been so beautiful you just want to walk around and stare at everything. The ferns, especially, are at their most beguiling. They always start a bit later than the rest of the plants, coming into beauty after the Trilliums and the spring bulbs. We've had it very wet and cool this spring, so the early flowers have all been, while late, quite spectacular. The ferns around my little pond are outdoing themselves:


Looking back from the same spot:
This is particularly gratifying because when I started this garden, I dreamed of a woodsy place with  an understory of ferns. I'm thrilled to think it's working!




In among the ferns, and liking the same damp conditions,  Swamp Violet, Viola cucullata (what a name!), raises it's perky flowers.

It has a number of colour forms, at least here it does. Many plants have the plainer mauve/purple blooms, but some are white with a blue eye while others are pale purple or even almost a pinkish mauve. All have the characteristic blue 'eye', as you see here. A very similar violet, Le Comte's Violet, V. affinis, differs by being slightly taller and more slender, and having flowers of a softer mauve, with no 'eye' and a tuft of small hairs on the lowest petal.


 Both are good garden plants, maintaining healthy foliage but quietly 'disappearing' once their day in the sun is over.





 Here's a  Fragile Fern just starting to grow again. This clump is in my Sampler Garden and is a clone of a clump in my woods, which is much larger and lives entirely on top of a large flat boulder. It's been there for many years, and seems to be thriving. So I winkled a tiny piece off and brought it home and planted it on top of a similar chunk of rock in the garden. This is it's third year, and it seems quite happy.

No soil to speak of, a puddle when it rains and then drought when the puddle dries up.

And they call it 'fragile'.


The Interrupted Ferns near the marsh are showing their fertile leaflets. This fern, instead of having its sori on the undersides if the fronds, has them as specialized leaflets partway up the stipes, that is, interrupting the sterile pinnae. This is one of my largest ferns, reaching 6' at maturity.




Viola pubescens has charming yellow flowers. It self-seeds all around my garden and I just leave it alone. Yellow Violet goes dormant in the summer so it doesn't take much real estate!

There are two forms of this violet: one is fairly 'furry' all over, and the other, V. pubescens scabriuscula, is smooth all over. It's particularly obvious on the seed pods.  I only have one plant of the smooth form and it's not spreading.








 Back in the rock garden, the Marginal Wood Ferns are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. A robust fern, it likes rocks, survives drought, tolerates a lot of sun, and stays healthy looking all summer. What's not to like?

Now, feel like a challenge (or two)? Can you identify the three fiddleheads below?
Or these violets?
Both of these little quizzes are quite challenging! Give yourself one point for each one you know, and if you send me a comment with the answers, I'll select one person to win  a framed photo of one of my violets!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go back out to sit and gaze at my ferns some more.