Saturday, April 29, 2017

Opening Notes

Ah, it begins.

A quiet note sounds in the distance. A light breeze, a hint of song...

Along the edge of the marsh, the deep and dusky notes of catkins on the Alders. The catkins sway in the breeze below the much smaller red cones of the female flowers. Last years cones persist.

Buds are enlarging, ready to sing of leaves.

A thrilling run of deep notes of purple from Iris Reticulata sound. One of the first flowers to bloom and a sustained note  in the cool weather.

A throb of yellow becomes just audible as the Cornus Mas shrub covers itself in its curious small flowers.

Snowdrops appear above the leaves on the forest floor, introducing the opening notes of the garden's theme.

Light high notes, rising briefly, so briefly, above the deeper concerns in the background.

The Iris hands off to the bright blue-purple blooms of Anemone Blanda.

White Trilliums rush to add their voices.

  Bloodroot doubles them along the fence row.

A quiet counterpoint of fiddleheads begins beneath the theme.

Hepaticas, delicate and ephemeral, join in. 

 Trout Lilies nod over their contribution.


In a garden, deep in the woods, Spring begins.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

First Walk-about

Every Spring I go through the same thing: a period when I both want to take a nice long nap, and want to go dashing off in some direction to do something energetic.

Best thing to do is go for a walk, but there is still a lot of snow, very icy snow, in the woods and around my garden. Out in the open, the snow is basically gone, but under the trees winter hangs on for at least a week longer. I was able to walk everywhere in front of my house, but was stopped by a 3' high pile of ice crystals at the back. Maybe that was just as well, as not all the news was good.

I saw that the mice have really chewed on my prostrate junipers. There is a whole swath of them along the front of the house and they do a great job of being a very low foundation planting. I did have to evict a mouse from the house earlier this year - she had moved into my kitchen dresser and started a nice nest in my favourite napkins - and, not knowing what else to do, I had tossed her outside. (It was on one of the warmer days.) Maybe this is her revenge.

 And garbage, garbage, garbage. Where does it come from? I know  Snowblower Man had an unfortunate encounter with a bag of garbage I must have left out (the results were not pretty), but I don't smoke so where do cigarette butts and other stuff like that come from? Is there a Garbage Fairy?

It always surprises me how flat everything gets under the snow. Logically I expect it, but when I see it, it is still a shock. Sort of like when someone you know gets his hair cut. You know what it will look like (usually) but when you see it you still feel jarred. The leaves blown onto the garden are packed flat, stems of perennials I didn't cut down are flat, even the garbage I was talking about is flat.

The small pines in the woods are comically bent over, having been under the snow for months. They look dire, but I know they'll soon straighten up.

Speaking of trees, I looked up and didn't see that the buds on the Maples were much enlarged yet. Only the one Red Maple near the house showed fat buds, and these Lilac bushes.


Daffodils and Peonies are showing their noses above ground.

Down near the marshy bit, Ranunculus ficaria, a thug of the first degree, is growing and ready to burst into bloom. The shiny bright yellow flowers are attractive, but the little bulblets help it to spread like the dickens. There is no such thing as one Lesser Celandine!

Snowdrops! The Snowdrops are out!
These are Nivalis morrowii and they are in a spot where the snow melts early. I noticed that the little knob on the top of the flowers, where the stem attaches, is green in most plants, but yellow in the one in the foreground. I'll have to keep an eye on that and see if it stays that way.

I also see this blog needs a new Spring header. Hmmm.... maybe after I have a short nap.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Pollinator Plants

I'm usually the one who insists that the weather really isn't all that unusual, so I'll just remind you that it is late winter, moving into early spring and we should expect some variation. We are having a perfectly normal winter, and a perfectly normal spring... it's just that we are getting them in alternate weeks. One week highs of +11C and lows above freezing, then a week of highs of -18C and lows so low I shiver to think about them. This is giving even my rationalization skills a severe test.

A few weeks ago I attended the Seedy Saturday event in Almonte. It would have been a fine event except for the weather. Freezing rain the night before meant very slippery roads early in the morning and even though conditions did improve during the day we had very few visitors. Which was a shame as there were lots of great vendors there and lots of interesting seeds to buy or swap for. I was impressed by one seed company, Beaux Arbres, from Bristol, Quebec. They specialize in native plants. Naturally I had to buy some... which I quickly planted in pots and stuck outside under a thick blanket of snow. Just dug a hole, put the pots on the ground, and covered them back up. Should work to stratify the seeds; let's just hope they get long enough in the cold for it to work. Beaux Arbres will be speaking at the Nepean Horticultural Society  meeting this month (March 16) and they do have a website, maybe more of a blog, as well as being on Facebook. Search on the name and you'll find them.

Mostly I got a few different pollinator-friendly plants that I don't have yet. There is a great interest in pollinator plants right now and rightly so. Our pollinating insects are critical to much of agricultural, for which, think 'food'. No bees and no apples. No bees and no strawberries. No milkweeds and no Monarchs. The list goes on. Of course humans are not the only ones needing food, but we need to remember that the lack of food for birds and other small critters reverberates right up the food chain and we all suffer.

Pollinating insects need food sources, and they need them close enough to other food sources to be able to find them. This is tricky to put into words, but just think: how is a bee going to find a patch of New England Aster, say, if it is isolated in the middle of a huge area of, say, houses and pavement? How will a Monarch find your Milkweed patch if it is miles and miles from any other Milkweeds? The answer is corridors - pollinator plant corridors. If enough gardens, fields, road verges and the like contain suitable plants, then the insects can move from one source to another easily and find enough to keep themselves fed. This is encouraging news for any gardener wanting to grow a few pollinator plants to attract them.

I found a good website called The Pollinator Partnership which has a lot of information about this. It includes lists of recommended plants for various regions. There isn't a list specifically for the Ottawa Valley yet, but I am told it will soon be added. The list for the 'Algonquin/Lake Nipissing' ecoregion is pretty close. This site has lots of potential as a teaching tool, too.

The Canadian Wildlife Federation has great info as well, including some really nice coloured handouts. You would have to email them to get copies, but again, they would be a terrific teaching tool. You do have to register and sign up for their newsletter, but it's actually worth reading. And you can always unsubscribe once you've read everything! (They also have an office in Kanata, on Michael Cowpland Drive, where you may be able to pick up the handouts.)

Another site, which includes a lot of information geared to Monarch butterflies, is the Xerces Society. I found a nice list of Monarch-friendly plants on that site. I was pleased to see I have quite a few of them! And with the seeds I got from Beaux Arbres, maybe I will soon have more.

Speaking of soon, we ought to soon see the buds on the Maples swell and burst into bloom.
early spring flowers red maple trees
Flowers on Red Maple
I looked up Red Maple, Acer rubrum in my trees book and was interested to read that the flowers can be pollen flowers or seed flowers, or both. The different types can be found on separate trees, separate branches on the same tree, or together. That's either an example of extreme gender confusion or of extreme gender confidence! I will have to inspect these flowers more closely when they appear. For sure I have already noticed that some trees are much redder than others, and that some bloom earlier than others. There are several large Red Maples right near my house, and for sure the ones in the Rock Garden set lots of seeds. In theory, there might be one with no seeds and I wish I could have that sort in the garden and not the sort that leads to me pulling out hundreds of small seedlings every year.

When I say 'soon', I use the word loosely. Given the current temperature outside and the 2' feet of hard crusty snow covering the ground, 'soon' may be a ways off yet! Lots of time to read up on pollinators and pollinator food sources and list the ones you wan to get this spring. I'll have quite a few at my plant sale on Wildflower Day (by the way, May 21 this year, see the sidebar), and I expect the other wildflower sales this year will as well. And did you know that the Plant of the Year for 23017 is a Milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Bah, humbug

Soft fluffy snowflakes gently falling... evergreens transformed by snow piled on every twig... tracks of a solitary fox down my driveway, already quickly filling in...

Bah, humbug.

Enough with the Winter Wonderland! Except for the times when it's been raining, or the times when the wind was whipping the trees around at hurricane levels, I think it's been snowing continuously since before Christmas. Alright, there was probably some sunshine in there somewhere, but I must have been having a nap just then.

It's hard for this gardener to find much entertainment this time of year. Watering my houseplants takes all of about 10 minutes... alright, maybe 15 if you include putting my small collection of Tillandsias in the sink for a good soak. Add another 2 for reminding my geraniums that they will get sunshine next month and to just hang on until then and that's it for Fun With Houseplants. Actually I spent a bit longer then that on them this week if we count a little event that began with a light-bulb shattering, causing a small piece of glass to hit the glass globe that one of the Tillandsias was living in and smashing it, thus knocking a precariously balanced Fuchsia  over on to the desk, and spreading Fuchsia bits and globe bits and pot bits all over my paperwork, desk and floor. Clean up was interesting given how crowded my office is. If anyone ever wants to inspect my expense receipts for 2016, I Can Explain!

I could order seeds. In fact, I did. I ordered vegetable and annual flowers from Vesey's and fern spores from the British Pteridological Society's spore exchange. My spores have already arrived in the mail, and I'm happy that I got almost all the ones I asked for. This is a totally volunteer-run outfit, so I'm very grateful to them to allowing me to get spores of ferns I might otherwise never get close to. I've requested a second batch of Dryopteris campyloptera, Northern Wood Fern, because the last batch gave my only three plants and they look identical to the D. carthusiana I already have. Either I made a goof, the spore donor made a goof, or I can't tell Campy from Spinulose. So a re-try is in order. I'll plant them up just as soon as I get some potting soil, which I'll do as soon as my driveway is cleared...

Last year I did not order my vegetable seeds from a mail-order catalogue and ended up buying them at a big-box store. Little choice, no clues as to whether the varieties offered were any good for freezing or not, and the Green Bush Beans were anything but. I had some green pods, yes, but they were on long skinny sprawly stems that got tangled up with the nearby basil and parsley. Most of the pods were yellow and only two plants could be called bushes. The worst part was, they didn't taste very good either. This is the times we live in. Every store sells everything... sort of. Back when I was a young gardener, you could think of what you wanted, then decide which store was going to have it, go there and buy it. Now you might as well go to any store and see what they have. Don't bother wanting anything specific, they won't have it. You can then go to another store and they won't have it either in exactly the same way. Try to buy warm black socks, for example. Go ahead, try. Every store you go to will have socks, they will all be different, and none of them will combine the obvious characteristics (desirable for socks) of being both warm and black.

So I guess we had better support the few mail-order seed houses we still have.

Another thing a restless plant person can do in January is read.

I thought it would be fun to find some new gardening blogs to follow. Well, I don't know if anybody else has had the same experience as I just had. Several hours of 'surfing' to find gardening blogs has come up empty. I'm amazed at how many of the results of the search, when clicked on, either came up  'page not found' or led to blogs that hadn't posted in years. I'm also amazed and saddened by how many blogs have become little more than paid advertising. Some of these blogs must have large staffs. They promise hourly posts, links to everything in the world (see my views on today's stores above) and everything is 'Easy', or 'Instant' or 'Exciting' or some other breathless adjective. And, you know what? I hate all the re-directs. Click on a title that sounds interesting and then sit there and wait for 5 minutes while your computer visits every country in the world to follow the chain to whatever bit of prose is at the end. Then of course the prose turns out to be yet another paragraph leading you on to another subject without ever touching on the one you went looking for. All headlines, no content. Five million sites telling you to prune your roses (It's easy, it's fun, just follow the directions) and then no directions. I haven't given up, but it's a scary world out there.

Sort of like this endless snow. And it's not even February yet.

Meanwhile, I did read several books I enjoyed. Canadian readers are probably familiar with Des Kennedy, he of the wild red hair and the garden on Denman Island in B.C. I picked up a copy of his 'Heart and Soil' (bad pun, Des) at my local  purveyor of un-rare books. Partway down page 2 I realized I already had a copy, but never mind, I read it again and it was a good read. In this book he looks back over a life working not so much in a garden as about a garden, and he is very thoughtful and philosophical. He mentions having recently had a health scare, and it has made him look back over his life from a new perspective. This is not a new book, it was published in 2014, but obviously still available in bookstores. Deeply personal, thought-provoking, engaging. Worth a spot on your shelf.

After reading that, I went back and re-read his 'The Way of a Gardener'. It's autobiography, and written on a more optimistic day. He has a number of other books, all worth a read, but this one is really his best book Get it if you can.

Well, I had better go shovel my steps now. As I said, bah, humbug.

ps. There must be good blogs out there. If you know of one, send me a comment, I'll add it to my blog roll and we can all enjoy it. And if you'd like a practically new copy of Des Kennedy's 'Heart and Soil', let me know and I'll mail it to you.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Pruning Roses

Today I pruned my roses.

You may reasonably wonder why I should be doing that in January. My garden rejoices in the presence of, I think, 25 rose bushes. Some of these are bush roses, such as Fru Dagmar Hartrup and Harrison's Peach, some are species such as R. glauca, (formerly R. rubrifolia), and R. woodsia the native Smooth Rose, but most of the others are David Austin roses. I find them quite hardy here, although in a winters where the deep cold arrives before the deep snow, they may die back to only a few inches above the graft. Most years they do fine.

This year the roses stayed green and even put up the occasional flower well into December. Some of the later canes reached inspiring heights. Mary Rose went up into the crabapple tree and bloomed between clusters of deep red crabapples. An attractive colour combination, but a somewhat absurd sight nonetheless. Gertrude Jekyll, always an original thinker, headed up into the cedar clump nearby and thrust her pale pink double blooms out from between the green sprays at about the 6' level. For once, I had to reach up to sniff.

Which is one of the fine things about the David Austins - their fragrance. Most smell like the roses of old, that is, sweet and fruity. Very few of the modern tea roses have much in the way of fragrance, and if they do it tends to be a muddle of cheap colognes and aftershaves. The shrub roses rarely have any scent, and most of the so-called Explorer roses, such as John Cabot and Champlain, have no scent at all.

There is one of the Explorers that I like very much. It has clusters of small dark red roses, a very lovely rich colour, and a habit of blooming for weeks. It came labelled Heritage but of course it isn't. It might be Champlain but I have no record of having purchased that.  Seafoam, also not an Austin, has no scent but its small white suffused with pale rose blooms, in graceful clusters, come all summer long. It is one of the last to bloom. In fact, some of the canes I just cut back had (frozen) buds on them. Seafoam, at least the one I have, has a very bad habit of growing horizontally. This leads to lots of bloom, but also seriously scratched ankles. I did cut it back severely a few years ago, but it didn't take kindly to this treatment and sulked for a long time. Only this past summer has it started to forgive me and gone back to its usual rampaging approach to life. For a long time, I thought this rose was Iceberg, but some research has shown me that is wrong too, and it must be Seafoam, which is what I thought before someone convinced me it was really Iceberg. Sigh, and big Note To Self, I really must make good permanent labels for my rose bushes.

Normally, I would have trimmed the roses back in November, but this year it was so warm I was afraid it would encourage them into new growth, so I left them. But they looked fairly silly, not to mention reproachful, sticking up above the deep snow.
rose garden in the snow

Not wanting to fill my boots with snow, I got out on my snowshoes and trimmed them all back to just above the snow. Other than the canes getting caught in my wool coat, it was pretty easy. One cane fell rather far from where I was standing and tumbled over the low fence and I thought, 'darn, now I have to walk all the way around' in true post-holiday laziness, but it turned out to be quite possible to use another long cane to fish it back within reach.

First time I ever trimmed roses on snowshoes.