Sunday, March 29, 2015

Curmudgeonly Thoughts in March

Kip and I went for our traditional too-early-to-go-into-the-woods spring walk this morning.

The snow was of course frozen solid in some places and thawed just enough to let me crash through in others. I ended up with my boots filled with snow, sore knees and a certain shortness of breath, but felt refreshed, Faithful Pooch had a fine time laughing at me, and I now know that about 6 large trees have fallen across my (former) trail and will have to be dealt with.

Kip in early spring with puddles
Kip wondering why I stopped...
The beavers seem to have had a pretty good winter. Most years they can't get out and run out of food in January, with predictable unpleasant results, but this year they have kept the water open near where the spring flows into the marsh and they have been able to come out and replenish their food supplies. Minus 25C and they were out there plowing through three feet of snow dragging saplings home for lunch. Last summer I saw that they had been doing some digging in that area and wondered why, but now I know. Pretty smart. Unfortunately, now there will be dozens of beavers this summer and no tree with pale bark will be safe.

Puddles are irresistible. Even to old ladies. I will be buying new rubber boots.

Next winter, I really must solve the winter compost problem. It's all very well to decide to use the temporary compost pile behind the Studio, depositing  bags of compost there during the winter and moving them in the spring, but sooner or later the snow will be too deep and you won't be able to get close to the pile and you will just hurl the bags of compost towards the pile and you can imagine how nice this looks when the snow begins to melt.

It isn't spring until the buds on the Maples begin to swell. It isn't spring yet.

forsythia 'Ottawa' flowers
Forsythia is easy to force
You should cut some Forsythia branches today.  Put them in a pail of water in a warm room, and you will have Forsythia flowers for Easter. Get the clippers and go do it. Now.

I stopped feeding the birds two summers ago because a bear kept coming to the feeders, smashing them and scaring me by growling when I went by in the dark. I felt guilty about it, but it did save money and I hoped it would cut down on the squirrel population. This spring I started feeding again because it was so cold and all the posts about birds on Facebook guilted me into it, but this morning as I went to fill up the feeder I saw six small brown squirrels and one huge black one. Obviously not feeding the birds hasn't had much effect on the squirrel population. I only hope it has had an effect on the bear population.

There are no Cleome seeds this years. I've personally checked every seed rack in my travel area, and nada. This is entirely because I threw out the dregs of the packages I had in the crisper, thinking they were too old now and probably wouldn't germinate. It just won't be same without them. Cleomes are prickly and sticky and smell terrible, but you have to have them in the sunny border because they are prickly, sticky and smell terrible.

If you've been nursing tomato seedlings for the last 6 weeks, which are now 4' long, have an average of 3 leaves each and are starting to bloom, throw them out. The time to start tomatoes is next week.

There don't seem to be any Pussy Willows yet, either. I even checked the bush at the edge of the marsh that usually has the first ones and there weren't any. I do have an official Pussy Willow Bush, some species of Salix that is supposed to stay short and have pretty silver catkins in the spring, but it is doing exactly that, staying short, and of course is is under the snow.

Oh well, go in, put on dry socks, make a nice pot of hot soup for supper.... so glad I don't have to eat saplings. Pussy Willows will come, they will, they will.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Fern Thoughts for Spring

You know how every fall the car maintenance people talk about being 'winter-ready'? Well, I am spring-ready. Very. I've had enough snow and enough cold and it can be spring any time now, thanks.

By co-incidence, one of blogs I follow, Ailsa Francis' 'Hortus 2', has news about a new fern nursery in Nova Scotia. And she has an article in today's Ottawa Citizen about it, too. What could be more spring-like than ferns? Those wonderful unfolding croziers:

Those are Cinnamon Fern, Osmundastrum cinnamoneum,  fiddleheads. They are covered with soft white hairs and are very striking in the spring garden. When you see these, you know spring is really here! Did you also know that the fronds, which form very quickly after the fiddles unfurl, and can be up to 4 feet long, have soft downy hairs at the bases of each pinna? You can see them here, little tufts of white hairs:

It is our only native fern that has those, making identification very easy!

Another one that is easy to identify is Evergreen Wood Fern, Dryopteris intermedia. It has tiny glandular hairs all over the stipe, rachis and costae.

You can just see them here - tiny little white dots. If you inspect them with a hand lens you can see that each one is like a wee hat pin, a straight stalk with a little dot on top. You can sometimes feel them if you draw your hand gently along the back of the frond.

Then there is a native fern that has tiny bulblets on the fronds.... another one that has a delightful spicy scent...

Have I got you intrigued? Like to know more about ferns? (What is a stipe anyway?) Do come out to my fern garden and learn more about ferns! I'm planning a Fern Day on June 28, a Sunday. I'm not sure of all the details yet, but we'll definitely tour the garden and see ferns (I have most of the 39 or so native species although not all of them in the gardened area), there will be fern-related items for sale in Crabapple Gallery, there may be a fern-y snack, tea, who knows what else. (Check out the box in the sidebar for details.)

Or come out to the Fletcher Wildlife Garden. Two keen helpers and I have been busy installing ferns in the back of the Backyard Garden. It will be the W. J. Cody Memorial Fern Garden (or Trail or Walk, the name isn't totally decided yet) and will be officially opened some time this summer.  We hope to have all the native Ottawa Valley ferns that can be grown in a garden situation there, properly labelled and set off with native companion plants. Again, check the sidebar for details as they develop.

Ah, spring. A time to dream.... perchance of this:

I can hardly wait! Spring-ready! Yes!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Happy Valentines Day!

I know it's cold and snowy, but it is almost Valentine's Day and love is in the air!

The flowers and plants we love so much often have heart-shapes - leaves, florets, even snow caps can be heart-shaped. And so many of them are in the Heart Day colours, from softest rose to glowing red.

The red rose bud in the middle is for my dear husband, Robert. It is his birthday today, and this is a special Happy Birthday Valentine just for him.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Going South In February

Doing a bit of daydreaming this morning. In my mind's eye I am wandering along a soft sandy beach, with gentle waves lapping at the edge, birds singing, a warm sun soothing away my every care...

Not. Going. To. Happen.

But I can, in my mind's eye, visit the tropics! I can pretend I'm in a dense forest in Central South America, looking at Tillandsia plants. They grow all over the trees and vines around me, right up in the air. Some of them have roots, but the roots are only to attach the plants to their supports. The plants are mostly green, but some are grey with pink or blue flowers. There is a lot of Spanish Moss around and some bright coloured birds flitting about. I blink and now I'm wandering around a bit of a desert... sand, rocks, dry stream bed, very grey coloured Tillandsias tucked into crevices. It's hot. It's bright. A surprising number of birds, busy around various cactus-like plants. Blink again and poof! I'm in a damp shady jungle. It's so wet the humidity drips off my nose. More Tillandsias, now mostly green and shiny. Weird noises, off.

Such is the wild and wonderful world of the Air Plant.

There are about 560 species of Tillandsias, give or take a few. Nobody is really sure as they haven't been studied all that much. They are native to Central and South America and the more southerly States as well as the West Indies. They are epiphytes - growing attached to, but not taking any nourishment from, structures such as trees, rocks, logs or sandy soils. They do have roots, but these are for holding on, not for extracting nutrients. They get what they need from the water that falls on them. Some of the minerals they need are dissolved in the rain that falls on them, and some are dissolved in the water that drips down on them from the canopy above. The leaves are covered with special scales that trap moisture and release it slowly as the plant dries. The plants also use what is called the CAM cycle of growth, that is, their stomata open at night and the plant is active during the cooler damper part of the 24-hour day. During the day the stomata close and the plant stores the energy it develops from photosynthesis, for use during the night.

So in my daydream I'm picking Tillandsias that look new and interesting and carefully packing them to bring home and grow in dark dry snowy Ottawa. Luckily, I'm a potter in my other life and have made some fun holders for them.

tillandsia pots

The one on the left is about 9" high and the bunny is actually a little smaller. I can easily either spritz the plants where they are, or take them to the sink for a good soak. Air Plants need a good soak, followed by a good drying, 2 or 3 times a week. Use regular tap or rain water, not softened water (too much salt) or distilled water (no nutrients). They should also get a bit of fertilizer mixed at 1/4 strength once a month or so.

These pottery holders can be immersed in the sink, and can be scrubbed if fertilizer builds up on them. The plants are glued on with E6000, a clear-drying waterproof glue that won't hurt them.

Hang your Air Plant in an East or West window and make sure it gets bright light but not too much direct sunlight. Do not forget it in the summer! You can take it outside and hang it under a deciduous tree, but then, don't forget it in the fall!

Wherever you put it, look at it regularly, and pretend you are in the tropics, and there is no February.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

January Dormancy

Come January and the kind of weather we've been having - snow, ice fogs, sudden temperature rises to rain immediately followed by chills of -20C accompanied by sharp stinging winds, more snow and so on - I think we gardeners  may be excused if we just go dormant.

I know I have been! For several weeks, not a gardening thought has entered my head. I didn't even crack a seed catalog....

But today I wandered around and admired some seed heads with their comical snow hats and some grasses still looking wonderful, all yellow and green with snow packed into them, and the fine patterns made by the snow on the branches of the balsam firs.

snowy branches

Suddenly I felt alive enough to go and get the camera and take a short walk. Down by the marsh I was rewarded when the sun came out and lit up the shrubs on the far shore, still covered with ice from the last ice fog.

ice-covered shrubs

When I got back I watered all my houseplants and inspected the tiny fern seedlings growing under the lights in the Studio with new interest. Maybe it was the sunshine, maybe the fresh air.... whatever it was, I found myself thinking that after all, spring is really only two months away!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas Wishes from Pine Ridge

For Christmas, here are some of my Best Wishes for you!

1. I wish you the right amount of snow. Enough to keep your garden plants protected all winter, but not so much that you still can't find your Herb Garden in May.

2. I wish you the co-operation of all your favourite garden tools. Not like my trowel, which, by the way, is currently lost again. I hope you can find them, and that the handles aren't broken. Clean would be nice too.

3. I wish you interesting weeds. Something new to pull will make weeding so much more fun.

4. I hope you will visit at least one new plant nursery this summer and that when you do, your car will have some room in the trunk and your passenger won't have to hold three small shrubs in her lap all the way home.

5. I hope that when your dog rushes joyfully to meet you when you get home, he stays on the path.

6. I hope the local bunnies decide they like your neighbour's plants better than yours. (The neighbour who plants red and white and blue things in rows, alternating.)

7. I hope the sun shines when your friends come to visit.

8. I hope that at least one thing in your garden is more beautiful than the same thing in your friend's garden. You don't need to mention it, secret gloating will do.

9. I hope the squirrels leave you a few tulips.

10. Last but not least, I hope the sun shines, the birds sing, the beans grow, and your heart overflows with  all the joy your garden brings you.

All the Best for 2015 from Pine Ridge!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Three Late Bloomers

As expected, the snow did come. It was beautiful, white, fluffy, did its usual sitting-on-top-of-seed-heads-looking-cute thing, looked picturesque on branches and shrubs, generally made the world look like a new place, and so on, but we are going to skip right over all that and take a look at a few plants that flower very late in the season.

You can't of course do anything about them this year, but you can make a big note, and underline it, in your garden notebook, to get them for next year.

My first suggestion is Geranium 'Rozanne'. Whatever its ancestry, it probably does not include the dreaded G. sanguineum, so you don't have to worry about it taking over the world, er, your garden. It sprawls, usually gracefully, draping itself around the legs of taller perennials. It looks wonderful twined in with one of the taller ornamental grasses, or around a clump of Siberian Irises. You do want to place it at the front where you will be able to admire its large flowers.

'Rozanne' starts blooming in June, goes on all July, takes a short break in August, and surges back with a burst of fresh blue flowers in September. It is still in full bloom in November. After a frost its leaves develop attractive yellow and red edges and the flowers, which are, in my opinion, already bluer than the other 'blue' geraniums, are bluer than ever.

She's best in a well-drained spot and fairly lean soil.

My second suggestion for the very late garden is a Bugbane. I am  embarrassed to admit that I've totally lost its label so have no idea what the nursery called it. I just went through a whole box of old labels - labels whose plants have died, duplicate labels, labels I simply didn't want to have to look at in the garden, in other words, labels sans plants of all kinds, hoping to find a clue to this one's name but with no luck.

I was surprised to see how many labels I have called $39.99.

Anyway, this 'Bugbane' is a form of Actaea simplex, and you won't have any trouble recognizing it at the nursery or in a catalogue. The foliage is yellow/green, the plant is fairly short at less than 3', and it blooms late. So late that you will be surprised to see it blooming at all. The frothy bottle brush flowers are held above the foliage and appear just when the glorious red leaves of the Maples are floating to the ground. As I recall, the plant itself sits quietly at the back of the low border all summer, just looking yellowish green and bushy, then in September you will notice spikes of what looked like pale green pearls held above the leaves. You may think they are seedpods at first, but no, they are buds. A week later, well into October, the plant will be furnished with a good number of white spikes.

 My third suggestion is Aconitum Fischeri. It is the only Aconite I know that isn't 'miffy'. It doesn't disappear for no reason.... it doesn't get smaller and smaller every year until you can't find it anymore... it doesn't forget to bloom in years with an August in them....

The fleshy or tuberous roots are easily enough divided, which is a good thing as this plant looks best in a substantial patch. It will take shade, but prefers some sun.

A. Fischeri gets to about 3' tall, and the flowers tend to be in clumps rather than spikes like those of other Aconites. The colour is a pure rich blue, warm, but not purple. The foliage is clean and medium green and looks good all summer.

My three fall bloomers look wonderful together, or associated with good foliage plants like grasses or ferns. All are adaptable and easy-going and make October and November much easier to get through.