Tuesday, December 14, 2010

First Real Snow

Good thing I finally got those seedling ferns and wildflowers tucked away for the winter! It's been quite cold the last couple of days and today it is snowing. Real snow, the kind that spreads its tailfeathers and stays.

What I did, which worked very well the last couple of years, is put the pots down on the ground between a row of rocks at the base of the Daylily Wall and some large cedar logs. Then I piled all the fallen leaves within rake reach on top.Sort of an above-ground cold frame.

Rooted cuttings such as Trailing Arbutus (Epigea repens) went there too. I've had good success with them, and some other things like Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens) by leaving them in their rooting pots over winter and planting them out once they show new growth in the spring. Planting them in the fall never seemed to work before.

I'm quite enjoying the feeling of the garden being put away for the winter! I'm looking out at my Hillside, where the Yucca leaves are sticking up bright green in front of the brown-gold grasses, looking quite picturesque, and the best part of it is, I don't have to go out there and do anything!

As Harvey here says:
'Tis the Season!

Hope yours is a Merry One!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Fun Continues

Pretty much as expected.

The wheel on my wheelbarrow quit because I put too many rocks in at once. My trusty rubber boots developed a worn-out-boots hole in the heels. I can't find the pry bar anywhere. I have poison ivy rash on both arms, and my chin.And my dog, Kip, rolls his eyes when he sees we are headed for the rock-digging area.

But! I do have a large pile of rocks ready for further building, and two sides of the mini-grotto done. Whoo hoo!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Starting the Mini-Grotto

I'm having so much fun this week!

Last Sunday was a gorgeous cool sunny fall day, just right for starting a project that has been on my mind for a while. I knew the project would involve a good deal of hard digging, heavy lifting, and searching through rocky areas in the woods, all of it in mosquito-happy locations, so I was waiting for just the right time to start it.

When I started my Sampler Garden I didn't know what to do with a spot which was basically a hole. The entire Sampler is not very big, maybe about 60' by 100', in an egg-shape, and it is slightly sloped to the West. It has some large trees (too many large trees) and some smaller ones (which are getting to being large trees, see 'too many' above), an exposed rock ledge along the East side, and this strange Hole. At the time, the hole was about 12' across and about 6' deep in the deepest spot.

My first attempt to deal with the hole was to make an artificial bog in it. I filled in the deepest part by scraping the rather sparse topsoil from the higher bits down into it, then lined the depression with some 6-mil plastic, and filled it with a mixture of peat and sand. I had plenty of sand because I knew where there was a large sand deposit nearby at the edge of the marsh, but I had to buy the peat. Lots of peat! It took many wheelbarrows of mixture to fill the hole. I planted some boggish plants such as Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia purpurea) and Yellow Ladyslippers (Cypripedium parviflorum sp. pubescens) and it looked not too bad. Trouble was, it didn't get enough sun. The weeds, particularly several kinds of reeds, moved in with a vengeance, and the plants I wanted sulked and whined. After a couple of years I gave up on the bog idea, moved the remaining plants to better spots, and tried to ignore the hole. And it was back to being a hole, because the peat in the mixture had all disappeared and the sand had settled.

A year or so later I took a whim and dug a little pond. I had an old pond liner in the garage, never used, and a new spade and away I went. In two hours of easy digging in a sandy spot, ironically just above the Hole, I had a nice pond shape. It was rather too easy, actually. And, except for one problem, which I'll get to, it has been very easy indeed. The pond has stayed clear, I've seldom had to add water, the frogs love it, and it is very nice to sit beside it, look out over the Sampler Garden, and contemplate Life.

But Life did continue to have that Hole in it.

Then, in the winter, looking through an old book, I came upon a garden scene which included a tiny waterfall, just a trickle of water dripping over a flat stone into a tiny, tiny pool. Dreaming over this picture I imagined looking at just such a tiny waterfall. I saw ferns arching gracefully over the stream.... a few Ladyslippers in a sunny spot along it....stepping stones up to the stream edge.... Almost unconsciously I connected the little stream to my little pond. The water would gently overflow the edge of the pond, trickle down a narrow channel, eddy out into a wide but very shallow sunny pool, then seep over a flat rock to drip into a deep black pool below. A deep black pool surrounded by damp and mossy rock walls. The mossy rocks made me think of the Hole....

Which could be a mini-grotto!

 Like all Brilliant Ideas, it seemed perfectly feasible and I could hardly wait for Spring to get started on it. Unfortunately, when Spring came there was so much to do I never got to it except for standing beside the Hole with a bemused expression on my face trying to figure out how to actually do it. The hard part would be digging out the former bog and building the rock walls. The clouds of mosquitoes this summer didn't help, either.

Anyway, long story short, I decided to wait for Fall, and this week I started. My plan is to dig the soil out along one side of the rock-wall-to-be, build a section of wall, backfill with the dug-out soil, and do the next section. I've got an area along my Fern Trail which is actually tricky walking because it goes over a pile of broken rocks, which I figure will be just right for the grotto and using them will improve the path. Not easy to get them out because they are down a steep bit, too steep for me to push the wheelbarrow up with a load of rocks (I tried it, my feet kept slipping out from under me!), but I can carry them a few at a time. All the easy rocks near the garden are already in use, and anyway they are mostly roundish and I want flatish stone for the grotto. I can build up the rock wall on the lower side of the Hole and make a couple of steps down into it, a flat bottom lined with the flat rocks I dug up near the truck's parking spot, and sink the tiny pool for the water to drip into in the corner below the new stream.

In two afternoons so far, I've completed about a quarter of the new mini-grotto's walls, and the project is looking really possible! In fact, when I cajoled Husband into coming and looking at it, he actually looked semi-impressed. The 'what the heck is she up to now' look was almost entirely replaced with a 'this might be cool' look.

The problem with the pond? It got a tiny leak this summer, just a wee rip about half an inch long, and I can't seem to fix it. I went to the Pond Clinic (www.pondclinic.com) and they sold me a circle of pond patching stuff with the instructions to 'peel off the backing and stick it over the hole'. Fine, but it didn't stick. So I went back and this time the instructions included leaving it for 24 hours before re-filling the pond. Worked for one night, then it came unstuck again. The third time I went back they said to clean the liner with rubbing alcohol, let it dry completely, then stick the patch on and wait 24 hours. They seemed to think I should have known this but how could I? I went back and checked my books on ponds but all any of them said was that liners could be patched. I certainly cleaned and dried carefully around the rip before sticking on the patch but didn't think of cleaning it with alcohol. Frankly, I'm not convinced that it will help, but I'll try it. If it doesn't work I'll get new liner for the pond and use the old for the stream I'm planning. I need to get the mini-pool for in the grotto and the pump, too. Any why doesn't the Pond Clinic carry solar systems to power pumps? Should be an easy thing to do. I'll figure it myself, but it seems to me an obvious thing for them to offer. Must be plenty of gardeners who would like a small pond but don't want to get into major electrical work. And I'm convinced ponds don't need constantly moving water so a solar system should be fine.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Goldenrod Research

I've been trying to collect all the locally native Goldenrods. Some are quite easy, such as Solidago graminifolia, the Grass-leaved Goldenrod, but others are totally confusing.

In some cases the plants are so affected by growing conditions that I simply can't tell them apart. Solidago nemorosa, Grey-leaved Goldenrod, is usually quite easy to spot: short, one-sided wand-like flower spikes which nod over to one side, only a few small leaves along the stem, and no rosette of leaves at ground level at the time it blooms. So what the heck came up in the rock garden? The flower stalk was about 20" high, well-branched, with flowers all around each branch, and a healthy rosette of leaves on the ground.The individual flowers matched the description of S. nemorosa in J.C. Semple's Goldenrods of  Ontario, but the form of the flower stalk did not. It was in no way wand-like, much more what I'd call a plume. The rosette leaves matched, but should not have been there at the time the plant bloomed. Then there is a plant I brought back from an alvar I visited, which in fact looked exactly like this one except for being 4" high. It was growing in a huge field of Grey-leaved Goldenrods, all of which looked 'normal'. So is it a dwarf Grey-leaved or is it a regular one that got stepped on or chewed by a deer? Does S. nemorosa, when cut back early in the season, produce a plume instead of a wand?

I have a similar problem with a Goldie from Shaw Woods. When I try to key it out I get lost every time. It's not quite S. hispida, Hairy Goldenrod, yet it's not quite S. nemorosa either. It also bloomed very late so is not likely to be a form of S. juncea, Early Goldenrod, although the rosette leaves look a lot like it.

The answer: try to grow them all together in a test bed, so they all get the same conditions, and see how they do. Put a regular Grey-leaved, the dwarfish one, and the one from the rock garden all together and see if they are still different next year.

 So I dug a couple of beds for a Goldenrod Research Garden. Doesn't that sound grand? There is a spot below my rock garden which I have been planning to incorporate as a sort of transition between the rockery and the start of one of my woods trails and which I hadn't really done anything with yet. Full of weeds of course and I'll have to deal with them next year, but for now I just lifted the top six inches, dug up the six inches below that, added topsoil from the conveniently nearby pile, and called it a flowerbed. I'll put down some dark landscape fabric to make paths for now. One bed is for Goldenrods and the other for Asters. On the left you see the end of the two beds, looking a little like dog graves, and on the right you see the rosettes of some of the unknown Goldies. I've had them in pots for several months, so they should do fine. The smaller rosettes are some that might be Downy Goldenrod, S. puberula, a rare Ontario Goldenrod. They came from Constance Bay, growing on the trail and getting stomped by the horses that people like to ride through there. The two medium sized ones are the possible S. nemorosas, and the large one is goodness-knows-what from a marshy area. It's not S. uliginosa, Bog Goldenrod, but what it is I don't know. It didn't bloom this year but maybe next year. Gardeners are nothing if not hopeful!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Phlox Phacts

One more person says to me 'Oh, no good growing Phlox, they always run out and turn purple' and there might be an explosion!

Someone said that to me again yesterday, as we stood looking at my Hillside which still has quite a few phlox showing a few last flowers. There were white ones, pale pink ones, bluish-mauve ones and a dark almost red pink. Earlier, there had been the almost purple 'Nikki' and a variegated-leaf one with medium pink flowers as well. The Phlox did very well this year - they seemed to like the heat! If she had said only the 'run out' bit, I would have tried to explain about Phlox being hybrids and their seeds not necessarily giving plants like the parent, but once she threw in the other bit about them coming back 'purple' I gave it up as a bad case. One thinking error I can handle, but two are beyond me.

The original Phlox paniculata, what you might call your Natural Phlox, was magenta. Perhaps a washy magenta, but magenta. Not purple! Purple is darker, bluer, much closer to indigo than to red. Campanulas are sometimes purple, as are some grapes and some plums. The hybridizers have done their magic tricks and given us Phlox in a range of colours, all of them charming, but none of them really purple.

Just for fun, here's a picture of a late Harebell, Campanula rotundifolia, in the rain. All pictures lately have been 'in the rain' because I'm convinced it hasn't stopped raining since middle August. Ok, and a picture of Geranium sanguineum just to have a true magenta to look at.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Very Fine Day

Had the most excellent day! Packed my larger backpack with essentials such as camera and lunch, and headed down to Marlborough Forest. This is a huge natural area, something like 45 by 60 kilometres, completely inside the City boundary. It's a mosaic of City-owned, Province-owned and privately-owned properties, more or less administered by the City according to Provincial regulations, with the co-operation of a number of groups like Ducks Unlimited, the Ontario Snowmobile Association, the Rideau Trail Association and others. In practice the deer hunters and the ATV enthusiasts do what they want. This means you stay out during hunting season!

But it's a great place to explore an alvar. The area I went to, off Paden Road near Burritts Rapids, is an enormous alvar. It took a bit of a walk to get in to it, and walking on the chunks of rock they put down to make the trails is no joke, but once I got there it was great fun. Completely flat as far as I could see, with clumps of junipers interspersed with open grassy areas and the occasional low willow or alder clump. What I was looking for was Solidago asteroides, the White Upland Aster or White Goldenrod. It has had a number of names, but the botanists now put it firmly in with the Goldenrods. I have one plant in my garden, grown from seed, but I really wanted to see it growing 'in the wild'.

There were thousands! The picture on the left shows a typical plant, about 16 - 18" high, growing in with the sparse grassy alvar plants.

White Goldenrod, Solidao asteroides

There were also a great many Fringed Gentians, Gentianopsis crinita, Slender Gerardias, Gerardia tenuifolia, Grey Goldenrods, Solidago nemorosa, a tiny purple flower I can't find in my field guide, and few just-opening Nodding Ladies Tresses, Spiranthes cernua.

Fringed Gentians - several colour forms
Slender Gerardia
Nodding Ladies Tresses
An almost white Fringed Gentian
A mystery! The plant is only 4" high.

OK, I'm having trouble arranging these images! But the captions should explain them. If you know what the tiny purple thing with the startling blue stamens is, please tell me!

The pale Fringed Gentian was a real find, too. I didn't get good pictures but enough to prove that I saw it. Most blue flowers have the occasional white clone. I'd love to have this in my garden, but I'm not having any success growing Fringies, so far. I've had the seed germinate but lost the seedlings to damping off, I've have little seedlings which I forgot to check on and which died (I assume) in the first dry week, and seed sprinkled in a wet area down along the driveway has so far not resulted in sheets of blue. Maybe next year? They are biennials so maybe I'm just not seeing the new plants. I searced the Paden alvar area for next year's Fringies, but couldn't find anything that looked like a gentian rosette. Do they only start to grow late in the season?

It was getting late by the time I hobbled back to the truck. And I did hobble. Those miserable rocks on the trail were so hard to walk on my feet were so sore I could hardly get my hiking boots off.
Then, just as I was ready to drive off, I happened to look over my shoulder behind me, and saw something I've been looking for for years. At first glance I wasn't sure it was what I thought it was, but I had to stop and take a look. Yes! A white (almost white, anyway) form of New England Aster!

It was growing on a mound of rubble obviously pushed back by a bulldozer or some such machine, and right beside the trail the dirt bikers had made to get around the 'no vehicles allowed' gate across the trail. I admit it, a small piece of the plant came home with me. A research sample! I potted it up, and so far so good. These asters are really easy to grow so I am hopeful.. It may be a purchased plant discarded there or it may be a lucky accident, but whatever it is, I'm delighted to have it.

What a day!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

An Icy Job

Trimmed 'Iceberg' yesterday.

That is to say, I was the one with the secateurs, and 'Iceberg' was the rose bush that got smaller.

I can't really say I pruned it. The darn thing was sprawled across both of the paths that meet at its corner, lying in wait for any ankles that might be going, or trying to go, by. It is much too big and too sprawly for that spot, but is so healthy, and blooms so exuberantly for nearly a month every summer, that I just can't remove it. I didn't intend to have a monster rose in that corner but there it is, sort of like an Uncle Fred who has to be invited to family events but whose behavior than causes eyes to roll and voices to sharpen. I actually wanted 'Seafoam', but the nursery man told me 'Iceberg' was just the same. Right.

I thought at first maybe I could get in underneath and remove some of the longer canes, but that wasn't possible. It was a tangle of canes, most of them over 6 feet long, and there was no way I could get a hand or arm underneath without serious injury. Iceberg is one of those bushes that has stiff curved thorns, which catch and grab whatever gets close. The many canes all criss-cross into a dense tangle. Reaching in and cutting out canes at ground level is nerve-wracking. You work your hand in very carefully, secateurs at the ready, and a twig springs back and embeds itself in your wrist, you jerk your arm back and three more twigs catch hold. Since you're holding several canes back with your other hand, you now need a third hand to work the first one free....  I had heavy leather gloves on, and a long-sleeved shirt, but even so I got half a dozen long scratches and any number of pokes before I was done. After that I wasn't about to  carefully cut back each spent flower cluster, so just cut everything that extended beyond an imaginary circle about 6 feet across or higher up than about 3 feet. Now it looks like a turned-out pudding, but at least you can get past it without bloodshed. Usually.

I wonder if it was 'Iceberg' that gave someone the idea of the 'pavement rose'? Or is mine the only 'Iceberg' in the world that wants to be a ground cover?

Saturday, July 31, 2010


I've always liked the tall Yarrow called, I think,' Gold Plate'. I grew some from seed and put a group of them in the hillside garden and I've liked them there. They provide a bit of muscle in what could be a flabby setting of Phlox, Shasta Daisies, blue Veronica and such.(There are also a lot of Coneflowers in that border, but they are over to the one end.) The Yarrow's fairly sharp mustard yellow is a bit jarring, but there is such as thing as too much good taste.

A plant of wild Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, wasted no time in joining its cousin. Since it bloomed a very clear crisp white I left it. It's not visible from the front of the border, but when you go around the back, up the rock steps, it's there and fits in well with it's slightly shorter stature, dusty green foliage, and rather open flower clusters. A Yarrow is of course one of the Compositae, so what looks like a flower is really a group of small flowers, called florets, each of which is itself composed of a group of even smaller flowers. Confused? Sorry. The thing we call the Flower, in a Yarrow, is a corymb, and is composed of multiple Heads, each of which is composed of two types of flowers - Ray flowers, and disc flowers. Each one is actually a tiny Daisy. There is no end to the designs, combinations of designs and groupings of combinations of designs in nature.

Just as there is no end to the hanky-panky that goes on behind the scenes.

My yarrows have now produced an intermediate form. It has the shape and size of 'Gold Plate', in fact it might even be a bit taller, the greyish foliage of the Wild Yarrow, and a colour right in between the two. It is a soft but distinct yellow. When I look at the individual heads closely, I see that the disc flowers (the ones in the centres of the flower heads) are pale yellow, while the ray flowers (the 'petals') are white.

I just checked the books. Apparently, 'Gold Plate' is a variety of Achillea filipendulina. Also listed is a plant with pale yellow flowers like my seedling called A. 'Taygetea' which it describes as 'a hybrid of uncertain origin, probably between A. millefolium and A. clypeolata'. Hmmm. I don't have A. clypeolata around, as far as I know, and in any case the leaves on my plant look different from those in the book. The leaves on my plant look exactly like the leaves on 'Gold Plate' only with the colour of the A. millifolium leaves.I can't tell whether the ray flowers of the plant in the book are white like on my plant. In any case, I guess it's safe to say my plant is 'of uncertain origin'.

The Yarrows are coping well with the drought this summer, another reason to like them.

They can be cut right to the ground after they bloom (and they stay in bloom a good 3-4 weeks), or you can cut each flowering stem off at ground level. If you have only a few plants and enough time, you can cut the individual stalks, but if you have lots of plants or little time, you can just give the whole thing a bean shave with the garden shears. My kind of plant!

The pink, red and rust coloured Yarrows, by the way, are of quite different parentage, and behave very differently, at least for me. They are much shorter, need to be divided every year to keep them from running out, and do not do at all well in a drought. I keep one clump going in the Herb Garden just to be able to say I have Yarrow.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Word from the Trowel

Hi Folks,

This is Lis's Trowel speaking. If she's going to leave me out all night with my head stuck in the sand in the Cactus Patch, well, no more Ms. Nice Trowel, I've kept my mouth shut long enough. Who do you think does all the work around here, anyway?And don't tell me not to be bitchy, I'm blunt at one end and sharp at the other so what do you expect?

What's with this Cactus Patch thing, anyway? Doesn't She know that this is zone 4? Cactuses (yes, I know the La-di-das say 'cactii', but that's not us, is it?) are desert plants. They do not grow where snow covers them about half the year. They like to be hot, not cold. This is not a desert, except maybe a cultural desert. Mind you, She does listen to the CBC in the Studio, maybe that counts for something, but given how little classical music is left in their programming, I'm not sure that it's much. It's so bad that in the afternoon She turns the radio off, which leads to Her humming while She works.... not pretty, I assure you. But I digress. My point is, it's not cactuses that want to grow here.

Bugloss wants to grow here. Viper's Bugloss, Echium vulgare. A perfectly good plant with no airs or graces. It has nice blue flowers, too, which you can't say cactuses ever have. Oh, and it's prickly, too. So, why does She insist on pulling it out and leaving those Opuntia fragilis wusses in the ground?

Opuntia fragilis 'Potato'. Sheesh. Who ever heard of a plant called 'Potato'? Except maybe a potato, I guess. A lumpy green thing, that's all it is. Never a flower, nooooo. 

Another thing that wants to grow here is Bladder Campion, Silene cucubalis. Now, there's a name for you. Sounds like another vegetable, doesn't it. Anyway, She keeps trying to get rid of it but it's pretty smart. It has its roots down way deep and they're kind of grippy so it's impossible to pull them up. Hee hee. Even spraying them with a nasty weedkiller doesn't bother them too much. They come right back. I like those guys, tough is the word. Not like that Opuntia polyacantha that She keeps fussing over. It shrinks every winter and looks like s..t in the spring but thanks to all the fussing it does look a little better by about now. It did bloom once, too. For about three minutes early one morning before anybody was out of bed to actually see it.

Crown Vetch, Viccia cracca, wants to grow here too. It gets pretty cosy with Opuntia basilaris var. aurea, which is smart because She can't hardly get it out from between the prickles without pulling out most of the cactus pads. At least that thing blooms. Large yellow flowers, which I think look pretty good with the blue Vetch flowers. Fetching, in fact.

Oh, apparently Crown Vetch, Bladder Campion and Bugloss aren't 'native', whatever that means. Well, excuse me. 

Oh, oh. I hear we're going to weed the Cactus Patch this afternoon. Ow, my poor skin.... ow, my handle, ow....

White Alkanet

Like a lot of collector-gardeners, I like the unusual forms of things. If the plant is normally green, I want the yellow version. If it is normally yellow, of course I want the green version! (And if it comes in seven different colours, I want all of them, but that's a different story.)

So while I like the regular dark blue Alkanet, naturally I like the one with white flowers even better.

Now Alkanet, Anchusa officinalis,  an Herb sometimes used in dyeing, is not a particularly impressive garden plant. The leaves are raspy and mid-green, the stems are lanky, and the flowers are small. Numerous, but small. Still, I like it because the stems weave themselves in with other plants in the border and poke their bright blue flowers out here and there. They look pretty good with Daisies, Shasta or otherwise, or among Lamb's-ears or between stout Peony bushes. This spring, they happened to bloom at the same time as some very late tall white Tulips, and the effect was something to see. They do however seed around badly. I pull the ones I don't want, obviously, but I've been leaving some that bloomed in either paler blue or white. In one area I have white ones pretty much coming true from seed. Heh, heh.

(If anybody would like some seeds of White Alkanet, drop me a line.)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rare Fern

Northern Adder's Tongue Fern, Ophioglossom pusillum, is a very small, 'un-fern-like', fern, which is not often found because it is so hard to see among the grasses and low vegetation it typically grows with. I have been a bit keeping my eyes open for it but never really expected to find it.

Last Sunday I went to one of my favourite natural areas, the Eagle's Nest Trail near Calabogie, and trudged up the trail well past the actual lookout. I was determined not to slow down until I was past the lookout because every other time I've gone up there I've gotten sidetracked by the rock face and the Woodsias and such and never gotten past them. This time I kept going, in spite of the heat, the big and hungry deer flies and the lure of the many small cliffs all along the way. I did side-track a bit, following a small side trail to what is likely a blueberry picking area, but didn't see much there so went back to the main trail. After a couple of hours I was getting a bit bored! The trail is actually somewhat barren because the ATV-ers damage everything in their path, and what they don't destroy they cover with mud, so very few interesting plants survive there. Anyway, by this time I was hungry and decided to stop at the next possibly interesting spot and have my sandwich. I came to a tiny bog and pushed through the undergrowth to get to it. There were some orchids, not in bloom yet, and a nice tree to sit on for lunch. The deer flies were so bad I sprayed my hands and neck (the only exposed parts of me other than my face) again, figuring that if nothing else, they might get their feet stuck in the spray, and unwrapped my sandwich. I took one bite and glanced down at my foot and saw something. 'What did I step on?' I wondered.

I looked more closely and discovered I was in a fairly large patch of Northern Adder's Tongues. What a surprise! What a shock!

The plants were mostly quite small, only about 4" high, but some were taller, and the fertile fronds extended up to about 12" in some cases. There were many plants in about three large patches. I counted to 50 in the first patch and stopped counting. They were growing  in the crevices in rocks which stuck up just above the surface of the tiny bog, and among various grasses, sedges, orchids, Twinflower and other low things. They were indeed hard to see because of being the same colour as the grasses.

I don't remember what my sandwich tasted like.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Slightly Silly Idea

What the heck is this? Good question!

A couple of years ago, a little Eastern Cedar started to grow at the corner of my herb garden. It was kind of cute so I left it. Over the next few summers it got bigger and bushier and by this spring it was crowding the rose bush on the one side and the lungwort on the other... I looked at it for a while and couldn't make up my mind what to do. I didn't want to completely remove it because it did nicely define the corner of the garden, but my rose and other things needed more light and space. In a moment of, perhaps, madness, I trimmed the lower branches right off and sculpted the rest of the bush into a sort of teardrop shape. Not sure if I like it or not, but so far it's kind of growing on me.

It's either a very large and clumsy bonsai, or a very small hedge-on-sticks!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Bracken Fern Attack

I looked at that title above, Bracken Fern Attack, and thought, 'oops, that's ambiguous. Does it mean I attacked the Bracken, or that it attacked me?' Then I decided both were true so I'm leaving it like that!

Part of my Fern Trail through the woods winds along between the edge of the marsh and the steep slope of the ridge. Every summer the Bracken surges up and threatens to engulf the entire trail, the ferns along it, and the trees and such on the slope. The only thing I can do is pull it. One good thing about Bracken, it apparently contains a bit of a natural herbicide. You can throw the pulled-out fronds on the trail and they act as a mulch and growth suppressant. I've done this every year for a decade now and while there is never any less Bracken, at least doing this keeps it from competing too much with the other ferns. It's a bit of a job, and one that needs tough gloves, but it works.

The other attack today was on the poison ivy patch on the new spring hillside garden. Naturally, as soon as I opened the area up by removing a lot of the small maples and such, the Poisonous One moved right in. I sprayed it with the last of my Poison Ivy Killer. Normally I am totally opposed to stuff like that, but I am so allergic to PI that it has put me in the hospital twice and I just can't risk it again. I once lived beside someone who insisted on burning it, and the fumes carried the oil into my lungs and I was sick for a year. My doctor couldn't figure out why my lungs were so inflamed. This was the same neighbour who built a beautiful deck on the back of his house, beautifully stained and finished, and then got out his chainsaw and cut down a huge poplar which fell, you guessed it, across the new deck.

Anyway, the trail is walk-able again and the PI's days are numbered... heh, heh, heh.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Native Plant Sale at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden

This morning I went to the Native Plant Sale at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden to sell some of my baby ferns and wildflowers. The Sale is a fund-raiser for the Garden. You can bring plants and swap for others, or buy from people like me. The Garden itself is behind the Interpretive Centre and features many native plants. You can see how they can be used in a typical home garden. There's a small pond and a winding path..... a woodsy trail, bird houses and so on. I didn't have time to walk around there this morning so I'll have to plan a visit soon. 

The Sale was quite busy, lots of visitors. I talked and talked! Dorothy Dobson from Connaught Nursery gave me a tray of baby Pitcher Plants, Sarracenia purpurea, to sell for her. (Check out their website - they sell bedding plants and vegetables as well as native plants, and have a native plant garden you can visit -  www.connaughtnursery.com) which I picked up at the Carp Farmers' Market this morning. Going out with them I walked by a vendor named David who sells wonderful cut flowers and he looked at the tray and asked me what they were. I said 'baby Pitcher plants, aren't they as cute as puppies?' and he studied them and looked at me and said, 'Well, actually, they're kind of ugly'. This made a great story to tell the people who looked at them at the Sale! Who can resist an ugly puppy?!

It was a lot of fun to catch up with other keen native plant gardeners, some of whom I haven't seen since the Fletcher Sale last year. A great boost to the gardening enthusiasm. I'm thinking we should have some sort of a native plant gardening/photographing/studying network in our area. So if you happen to be in or near the Ottawa, Ontario, area, let me know and we'll figure something out. It ought to be easy in this day of websites and email lists. Not that I know how, but I'm open to suggestions. I know we have naturalists groups here, in fact, I belong to a couple of them, but they do tend to be interested  mostly in 'fauna'. It's not that I'm not interested in birds or insects or whatever, but they seldom have programs of particular interest to us plant fanatics.

Speaking of fauna, I just saw an amazingly beautiful Leopard Frog in the rock garden. Big, and his markings were crisp and clear. Green, brown and a kind of brown-y gold. I ran in and got the camera, but unfortunately, he (she?) had moved on by the time I got back there. Maybe I'll see it again tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bugleweed and Glaze Idiocy

Saying about a plant that at least it stays green all summer may be damning with faint praise, but I'm not sure that Bugleweed, Ajuga reptans in its many guises, deserves even that amount of good press.

Why ever did I plant it in the Herb Garden? Wait, I didn't. It came in on some other plant and I wasn't vigilant enough to spot and uproot it at once. Now I have just spent two hours digging it out from underneath the rue and the wormwood and the Rosa Mundi, that Rose of the World, which has about the largest and fiercest prickles of any rose in the garden. Actually its the understock, I think the Rose of the World has long since moved on to a better World, but it still blooms with amazing deep carmine flowers that look just like those kleenex flowers we used to make to decorate wedding cars with back in our wasted youths. So I leave it there. Besides, it somewhat hides the telephone pole in the corner of the Herb Garden, and that's worth something.

Ajuga, as I prefer to call it, comes in a number of forms and colour phases. You can get it with gnarly twisty leaves, very ugly, with reddish leaves, somewhat less ugly, with variegated green and white leaves, even with plain green leaves. I like the plain green one best because its flowers are the bluest. All the others have flowers which lean heavily towards the mauve/purple part of the spectrum. The plain one is Cambridge Blue. The leaves are shiny and mid-green. There is a white form, but it isn't nearly as vigorous. I have some, but every spring I forget that I like that one and weed it out and then wonder where my white one went. Luckily I usually miss a few and so still have some. 

Ajuga spreads from seeds (and it produces them by the zillions) and by stolons. One plant of Ajuga sends out a dozen or more stolons, radiating around the plant like a starburst, and each one forms a new little plant, which promptly sends out a dozen or so stolons.... by the end of the summer you have a solid mat and Ajugas growing on top of Ajugas. Their roots are strong and pulling them up isn't the easiest thing in the world.

For some strange reason, I did buy two slightly different ones, though. Last summer I got one with tiny leaves. The leaves are shaped like tongue depressors, not like the usual spoons, and are only about 2" long. They are quite an interesting purple/dark green colour mix, too. I stuck it in an impossible spot on top of a small rock ledge and it has made itself completely at home there. No doubt it will soon rampage up or down from its perch and take over real estate meant for more exciting plants, but until then I admire it. It's flowers are alright, not brilliant, but alright. The pink granite sets them off well.

The other one has been around for a couple of years and I am about ready to admit it might not be as much of a thug as the regular Ajuga. It was labelled 'The Giant', and the reason is obvious. Its leaves, instead of the usual 3 to 4 inches long, reach as much as 8 inches, and the flower stalks stand up a good 14 or so. The flowers are dark blue. The leaves are coloured much like the little one and rather nice. So far it has only overpowered a few admittedly unassertive things like some mauve columbines somebody gave me. I note with amusement that it has grown carefully all around a seedling of Cirsium muticum, the Swamp Thistle.

Maybe this business with the Ajugas has affected my brain. One of my two main glazes in the pottery studio has been giving me trouble lately. Over the past three or four months it has gotten darker and shinier. So I tried mixing a completely new batch (I use laundry tubs for my production glazes and mix large batches at a time and keep adding them to the existing glaze in the tub) and tested it. It was too matte and too pale. So I added a measured amount of the old stuff and tested the mixture. That came out of the kiln looking pretty good, so I mixed the old and new glaze batches in the sink. Now suddenly it hard-panned, that is, the glaze particles all sang out 'Dive, dive!' and headed for the bottom. Even while I was stirring it, it settled. The layer on the bottom of the tub the next morning was absolutely solid - no amount of scraping or digging had much effect. I appealed to ClayArt, that wonderful list, for help. Several potters suggested Epsom salts. So I disolved some in water and, in a moment of total idiocy, added a small amount to the glaze batch directly. I should have tested it by drops in a small cup, but instead I just put some right into the tub of glaze. To my horror it turned into cottage cheese. Dark reddish brown cottage cheese.

 Back to ClayArt for more help. What an idiot I felt. John Britt came to the rescue and suggested I add sodium silicate. He also reminded me to try it first in a small amount, and then to add it drop by drop so as not to over-shoot, which I deserved. Just for fun I did try adding too much to my small amount and the result was impressive. The glaze turned into quite solid pudding. But I was more sensible this time with the large batch and only added the amount suggested by the test, and to my relief, the glaze became reasonably liquid again. I dipped a number of pots and they are in the kiln now. Fingers crossed!

If it doesn't work I'll throw the whole mess out (how does one throw out glaze?) and start over and go out in the garden and eat worms, I mean, plant Ajugas.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Real Trilliums

It must be about time for the deer to come by and eat my trilliums. They are in full bloom, although perhaps a bit short. The Spring was so early and so fast this year that the plants hardly had time to get out of the ground before the flowers opened. Usually around this time a deer or two will wander by, munching on a flower here, stepping on a plant there..... I gnash my teeth and have earnest conversations with my supposed-to-be-guard-dog but to no effect. Kip won't chase them, he knows perfectly well that they are much faster than he is. In fact, they know it too because last year when he did try to chase one it stood its ground.

Several of the plants in the Sampler Garden (a shady woodsy area in front of the house where I am trying to have samples of all the interesting native plants on the property) are pale pink. They are pink in the bud, open pale p
ink, and stay pale pink. They don't get quite as dark as the others when they start to fade. T. grandiflorum flowers typically fade to pink. That sounds pretty but actually isn't. They look a bit tired by then so the pink makes it worse, not better.

The rockery has its share of T. gran
ds, too.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The, absolutely, totally, most beautiful flower in the Spring rock garden has got to be Crocus Seiberi, the three-colour crocus.

The very centre of the flower is a brilliant deep yellow, then there is a wide band of pure white, then the petals shade into a sumptuous violet-purple. The large stigma in the centre is a deep orange. At any other time of the year we would think it garish, but in the Spring, with everything around still wet and draggled from Winter, nothing could be more beautiful. It cheers, it revives, the weary Gardener.

The second most beautiful flower in the Spring rock garden has got to be.... but no, there are so many second most beautiful flowers we won't even try that.

Excitement in the Night

I woke up about one o'clock last night with the clear thought in my head that a mouse had walked up my arm.

As I became a little more awake, I thought 'that's silly, I must have been dreaming....' Then I felt, unmistakably, tiny feet walking down my arm. Cold tiny feet! Whatever it was then stopped on the back of my hand and I felt the lightest lightest brush of something soft on my fingers. At this point instinct kicked in and I jerked my hand to get it off.

I went into the living room where my husband was still awake reading and told him 'A mouse just ran up my arm!'

He looked at me over his glasses. 'Don't be silly, you must have been dreaming,' he said.

I went back to the bedroom and turned on the light. There, sitting on my pillow, was a sleek and elegant brown, well, mousy-brown, mouse.

I called to Robert to 'come, quick!'

We watched the mouse, he or she, sitting on my pillow. It sat just like our cat does, with it's two neat front feet together and it's tail wrapped around them. It was mostly mousy brown-grey, with a lighter tummy and white feet. It had large ears, but they weren't round like in the cartoons, they were more like rounded-off squares in shape. It's eyes were like cartoon mouse eyes, though, black, shiny, and round. It looked all around, then went over to investigate the other pillow, sniffing at the corners and standing up against the headboard to see if it could see over....

Robert's big idea was to go and get the cat.

He put Pepper down on the floor near where the mouse had jumped (a three-inch mouse jumped over two feet), and she walked right over to it. I expected violence, but no, she sniffed the mouse, who showed no signs of fear, and turned and left the room! Kip, our Border Collie watched with interest, but he also made it clear he wasn't getting involved.

So I ran to the Studio and got a clear plastic bin I had just bought. When I got back with it the mouse was sitting in the middle of the floor looking around and I just put the bin down over it. Then I found a large piece of stiff paper which I slid under the bin to trap Mouse inside. We admired him (her?) for a while, then took him outside.

Meanwhile, of course, I will go right on complaining about the mice in the garage getting into my papers.... and yes, I changed the sheets before going back to bed!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Good Advice

"Do not put your rock garden under deciduous trees' is good advice, and I should know. I have just spent a long day carefully removing last summer's maple and oak leaves from my rock garden, and I'm not finished.

But sometimes good advice just can't be followed. When I started making my garden here, not only was the spot under these trees the only place where I could put a rock garden, but also a rock garden was the only thing that could go there. It is to the South and East of the house, and is basically a large granite outcropping. On the top there are a number of maples, probably all Red Maple, and one very old but still healthy Red Oak. The area slants down to the driveway and the Sampler Garden. The rock is mostly pink granite, but part-way up there is a long ledge of what I think must be limestone. It very much looks like it was once the edge of a lake or something. Some of the granite has fractured and the pieces have tumbled down, so the rock garden is basically on a large pile of broken rock.

Over the years, the leaves and needles from the trees have built up a bit of soil on top, and a few interesting plants have established themselves. There is a lot of Rock Polypody, Polypodium virginianum. It gets a bit dried out in August, but the rest of the yea
r it is a crisp light green ruffle along the North-facing ledges. One good rain in the fall and it revives completely. What it lives on is hard to understand - there seems no soil at all under the plants. The easiest, in fact almost only, way to move this fern to a new spot is to move an entire rock with it already on it. I've tried transplanting it, and had no luck - I think pulling it off the rock damages so many roots it can't recover. It does grow on the ground in the woods in a few places, though.

Partridge Berry, Mitchella repens, also grows happily on the granite
. In one spot quite a large patch drapes over a rounded boulder, its little dark green leaves a sparkling contrast to the pinkish rock. In the spring it is covered with its tiny white flowers. They aren't large, nor are there a great many, but they have real presence. Then of course the berries which appear in late summer are a spectacular red against the green. It's not hard to grow in a shady spot, wanting only good drainage and not too many smothering leaves lying on it over the winter.

The other thing that has really set itself up for happiness on the rock ledges is some species of raspberry, but since I can't say anything good about it, we'll not talk about them.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

You Can't Get There From Here Day

Ever have one of those 'you can't get there from here' days? I got up early, and went out to the Studio even before the coffee was ready, I was so keen to see what the glaze tests in the kiln were like. Big bleah. Dull and boring blue, no life, too dark.... sigh.

Then I uncovered the bonsai pots I have been trying to make. I had covered them to dry them very slowly as I have been having trouble with the corners not holding. Sure enough, two out of three were cracking again. Guess I'll try them in a different clay, one with some grog in it. The porcelain I am used to for most of my work just does not assemble well as slabs.

In the afternoon two ladies came looking for a mug with yellow tulips on it. After dithering around for over half an hour one of them chose a pansy mug and a sunflower mug. She felt that a sunflower was sufficiently Spring-like! Her friend wanted to see the Studio so I took them in for the 10-cent tour, and Friend looked at my ferns and brightly told me that I was starting my tomatoes early...

Didn't have quite enough Frit 3124 to mix the glaze I needed.... went out to buy groceries and forgot the very thing I went for.... decided to get started on the window cleaning and banged my finger on the corner of the frame.....

Should have stayed in bed!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Trillium Platters

I'm relieved to say that china paints have once again saved my butt. I had promised a platter with a Trillium design to a local Wildlife Festival and had painted a half dozen of them. When they came out of the kiln, however, they were disappointing. The leaves were alright, the platters were fine, but the flowers just hadn't any 'poomf'. I looked at them for a day or two, trying to convince myself they would do, but it wasn't working. So yesterday I got out the china paints, mixed up a tiny bit of black, and added thin black outlines to the flowers. After re-firing to cone 010, they were much improved!

I bought these china paints many years ago. I only have the basic colours, but they are endlessly mixable and keep forever. I just mix a wee bit of the powder with a drop of mineral oil, and they are ready to go. I'm not skilled enough to paint whole pieces in china paints, and anyway that is a very different medium from pottery, but I can fix the odd piece. I once had to paint back in all the soft rose colour that had burned out in a batch of mugs with pink hearts on them - a lot less work than re-making them, and much quicker.

So now I can bring the Wildlife Festival their platters for their Silent Auction this weekend. Not sure why I am doing this, an ego thing, I guess. I also made a very fine bookmark with info about my pottery and garden and had 1000 of them printed so I'll bring some of them as well. Never hurts to advertise!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Flowers!!! Studio Tour!!!

I have flowers! This has to be the earliest there has ever been anything in bloom in my garden. Mid-March only and I have flowers!

They are Snowdrops, which seems appropriate. There
is still a lot of snow, especially in the woods, but these tiny things are blooming happily right beside large drifts of snow. I found several clumps in the Sampler Garden and a largish patch in the Crabapple bed. I was a bit surprised to see some of them in a certain spot in the Sampler, as I totally don't remember planting them there, but I must have. They can't be the other ones seeding around because they seem different. The leaves are wider and the flowers seem to open wider. They are tricky to photograph - easy to over-expose the white flowers and end up with no detail in them. So these pictures aren't the best (must try again today), but worth seeing just because, well, because it's only March and they are really blooming!

One thing about Spring coming, it does make it hard to stay in the Studio and work. I'm trying to get ready for a Studio Tour next weekend and it's a challenge to keep working and not go out into the woods looking for signs of green.

The Maple Run Studio Tour is next weekend, Saturday and Sunday, 10 to 5 both days. There are a variety of stops on the tour, including Fulton's Pancake House. If the weather is nice, it should be a great weekend - interesting stuff to see and maybe purchase, from pottery (three potters!) to blown glass to jewellery..... followed by pancakes with maple syrup. There is a website too: www.maplerun.on.ca. I'm at Stop 7, which is an interesting log house. The owners are log house builders and are on the tour to advertise their building company. I do hope the visitors will take a break from looking at the walls and look at my pots!

Well, to work.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Spring is sprung....

Spring is sprung! OK, maybe not quite sprung, but Kip left muddy paw prints on the kitchen floor! It's supposed to rain over the next couple of days and that will really get rid of the white stuff. It's been a very easy winter, hardly enough snow to bother shovelling, and never very cold. Luckily the snow did stay in the woods and on my garden so I'm not that worried about winter kill.

The snow storm two weeks ago that dumped a foot of wet heavy stuff on us did bring down a lot of branches and weak trees. I've started cleaning up - my paths as usual will need clearing. Maybe tomorrow I'll be able to get the bits of pine branch off the edge of the driveway. The huge pines there dropped a number of branches in that snow st
orm, and several landed on or right beside the driveway. Trouble is, then the oil truck drove right over them, as did my husband when he came home late, and then the broken bits froze into the driveway. For a while the driveway was pretty slippery and I said that at least the broken branches provided some traction!

I started seeds of a couple of dozen of alpine plants in the window in the Studio. Got the seeds from the Alpine Garden Society seed exchange. It's amazing to get free seeds, and of things that aren't in seed catalogues, but I wish they had sent me the seeds I asked for! I got a few of the ones I thought I wanted, but many others I hadn't asked for. I have no idea what they are. The packets come with only a number on them. I looked many of them up and at least found the names, but I haven't had time to research them all and find out what they really are. They may be treasures, or they may be useless. Many probably won't be hardy here. Well, it'll be interesting.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Photography Day

Well, I'm off to a great start, not. Blocked off the whole day to take new pictures of my pots for my new website, cleaned off a table in the Studio to use, got my lights and background ready..... and discovered that I had let my camera battery run down.

So I'm waiting while it recharges.

It's been slow month in the Studio anyway. I won't go into detail, but will say that the family member worried about her job is still and more happily employed, and the seriously ill family member is on the mend. Big 'Whews' from me! Now I can dig through the chores that I've let slide a bit and get back to work on my pottery.

Making some cereal bowls. I'm going to try out several basic shapes, and see which ones sell the best. A cereal (or soup) bowl sounds so simple, but I haven't been able to get it right yet. One of the problems I have with them is, where do I decorate? My flowers don't fit inside, the outside isn't very visible. Then there is the problem that if I spend too much time decorating a small bowl, it becomes too expensive to sell well. I've already tried some ideas, such as making the outside a solid colour to go with the flowers, or leaving it white, or putting a small line of colour around.... but none have hit the spot. I'm not happy with them, and they haven't sold well. I've made lots of cereal bowls to go with dinner sets, and people seem happy with them, but the ones I just put out for sale sit there. I get requests for other sizes, other shapes, other decorations. Cereal bowls seem to be like mugs - you can't please all of the people all of the time, but maybe with work I can please more of the people more of the time!

I'll post some pictures when they're done.

Should my camera battery ever get fully charged....

Friday, January 8, 2010

On Cooking

Somebody I know has just sent me an email about her new cooking website and newsletter. What a great idea!

Normally, I'm not too interested in recipes and the whole cooking schtick. When I was first married, never mind how many years ago, it was a shock to find myself with a partner who thought boxed macaroni and cheese was food. For someone brought up with a more European attitude to food, this was hard to understand. And it got worse. I soon learned that he didn't eat anything that swam.... or anything that wasn't cooked to a porridge.... or anything with a seasoning other than salt in it....

Turns out his Mother, who was a wonderful woman in many ways, but a product of her times as we all are, was one of those who made mac&cheese on Mondays, meatloaf on Tuesdays, tuna casserole on Wednesday, beans on toast on Thursday and so on. Her one and only sauce was Campbell's Mushroom Soup. I never thought to ask her, but now I'd bet that she didn't like daily cooking much more than I do.

Needless to say, my cooking career was not off to a great start.

I've learned, though, to be a fairly good or at least competent, basic cook. Our usual daily fare is simple enough to keep Number 1 Husband happy, and he now likes many many more things than he used to, even appreciating fresh foods and creative preparation. The creative preparation he's had to get used to, because in cooking as in all else, I simply can't do things the same way over and over. He says I've never made the same meal twice, and that's probably true although some of the hamburger dinners must come close.......

But when we have company I like to cook something more ambitious. Not being an avid foodie, I don't have masses of cookbooks (why buy a whole book when you might ever only use one recipe, and why read the whole book to find it), and I don't have a huge repertoire of interesting recipes at my fingertips. I was rather stumped at my Open House just this Christmas for appetisers that weren't greasy and wouldn't need me to stay glued to the kitchen. Help needed, for sure!

Take a look at www.best-party-recipes.com - sounds like fun! I have hopes of appetiser recipes in time for next Christmas's Open House!