Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Wishes

Dear Readers,

For Christmas, I give you colour! It is cold and wet and icy out; with dark clouds overhead and fog hanging thick in the trees. Branches drip and rocks are covered with a sheen of ice. At first glance everything seems dark and dreary, but if you look closely there is colour everywhere.

Have a Merry Christmas, and I wish you much joy for 2012!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Where's Winter????

My husband said it this morning: 'Where's winter?' he asked.

Good question. It's the middle of December and it's like early November out there. Practically no snow, no frost. Just drear, drear, dreary wet grey woods, soggy raspberry canes, dripping branches and ferns flat on the ground looking bedraggled. One thing, you can sure see the evergreen ones!

Kip and I went for a walk just now to see if we could see anything worth photographing. After half an hour we both agreed the answer was 'no' and we came back in. Here's Kip looking damp:

Notice his fine eyebrows! When he was a wee pup I chose him because I liked his brown eyebrows.

We did admire some mosses, though. I love those 'moss balls'. These are mosses that have the acrocarpous (upright, clustered) growth form. Here's one:

Here's a moss that has the other growth form, that is, creeping or sprawling, or pleurocarpous:

OK, end of lesson.

We did see a curious fungus. It was only about 3" high and at first glance looked like a patch of scales from a pine cone nibbled apart by a squirrel. Each one is flat, with an outline like a lozenge or tongue, and with the bottom sides of the lozenge curled in to create a sort of tube. I'm sorry the picture isn't clearer, but it really was dark out there!

Tomorrow is supposed to warm..... if this keeps up I'll have to do some garden work!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Trail Making

There's just something about paths! Is anything more satisfying than making a new path.... suddenly new areas are accessible, new plants become visible, new ideas develop in the gardener's mind.

I've been working on my trails the last couple of weeks. There was plenty of other work I should have been doing but I've been itching to work on my trails all summer, and now with the cooler weather I've gotten right into it.  I've been chopping, snipping and clearing like a path maniac. You can now walk all around my property without having to push through thick stands of young Balsam Firs or climb over (or through!) fallen trees. Not that it is a walk in park, mind. I'm a firm believer in following the path of least resistance when it comes to paths through the woods, so my trails are rather twisty and winding, and have the occasional large log to leap over or leaning tree to duck under. Not for the faint of heart perhaps, but good for the walker's fitness!

One small area I found as I was scouting a way through for a cross path is on top of the rock ridge, sloping gently towards the north, and bare except for wonderful mosses, lichens, and small, first-year rosettes of Rock Harlequin, Corydalis sempervirens. This is a biennial, forming the small rosette one year, and growing tall and blooming the next. It likes dry rocky places, and while the flowers are a bit 'meh', the blue-green leaves are gorgeous. Here's a closeup of a couple of plants in the moss:

You can see why I wanted my trail to go near that. It's going to be a very neat spot in the spring! Actually, it's pretty neat already.

I don't want to walk on the mosses and lichens, so I placed small rocks along the left and across the back of the area shown in the picture to remind myself where to walk. Just at the top of the picture you can see one of the huge Pines that went over in the 'not-tornado' of (I think) 1997. The weather people called it a 'micro-burst', but it had a lot in common with a mini-tornado. About 30 huge White Pines were blown over, making one heck of a swath of deadfall. I still can't easily get through there, but Kip just walks down one tree to the next to the next and leaps off when he gets where he wants to go. I think he's tickled that I can't follow him!

Making new trails allows me to see more of what is growing. I found a nice patch of Dewdrop, Dalibarda repens which I'll photograph in the Spring, a fruiting patch of Spinulum annotinum, Bristly Clubmoss, a small Christmas Fern, Polystichum acrostichoides, and a patch of Northern Ground Cedar, Diphasiastrum complanatum. I have acres of it's cousin, D. digitatum, but only (so far) this one patch of this one. I knew it had to be here, but couldn't find it anywhere. Ha, it was there all along, just hiding!

Compare it to D. digitatum:

Given that snow is in the air tonight, I've finished my trails just in time!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Small Cuttings

Chipmunk Tomatoes

I've had a great crop of chipmunk tomatoes this year. They didn't start to ripen until past the middle of August, but once they started, there was no stopping them. I know more ways of serving tomatoes than an Italian restaurant....  What are chipmunk tomatoes? Well, the chippie that lives near the veg patch is a tomato lover, and he takes a bite out of each just when it is ripe to claim it for himself. I've been keeping an eye on the tomatoes, trying to beat him to them, but with no success. Every ripe tomato has a bite taken out. At first I didn't want to eat them, but now I just cut off the chewed bit. Ya do what ya gotta do, sometimes.

Geranium cuttings

I like to keep my geraniums. By now I have a nice little collection of different colours and leaf forms. I mean pelargoniums really, but you know what I mean. Those red things you get at the nursery in the Spring and plant in pots. Ah, but there are also many shades of peach, white, different pinks, dark plum red, bright crimson..... and leaves of all kinds. I have a gorgeous oak-leaved one which gets to about 3' tall in a good summer, and a little one with bright red flowers like perfect miniature roses. Also some scented ones, and one called Mrs. Taylor which has the most beguiling deep scarlet flowers with darker spots.

Late in the Fall, just before frost in fact, I take cuttings and stick them in some pots I made. I just tidy up the cutting, jam it into the soil, water it, and put the pot on the windowsill. All but the pine-scented one always root. To see them, you wouldn't think they were cuttings at all. Most of them even bloom, and by Spring they are nice, if small, rooted geraniums. Then I move them into large pots outside. By July they fill the pots and bloom like maniacs. If I manage to keep them dead-headed they go on until frost.

I took the cuttings yesterday and brought them inside to pot up. I was too tired to do it right away (I'm in the middle of a nasty cold) so I put them in water in a blue pottery bowl. How beautiful they looked!

Burning Bush

Bah, humbug. Until now, I liked that bush. It was planted behind a Mugho Pine and the Christmas colour combination appealed to my sense of humour. Today I looked at them - bright red Burning Bush, bright green Pine. All around them, brown seedheads, bare Sumachs, grey rocks.... that Bush has got to go. It was hideous! Totally out of key.

One Squash

You may recall I planted a single squash plant this Spring and I wondered if I would get squash. Short answer: yes. The vine got huge, leaves 18" across, stems trailing 10', and there were 8 large acorn squash. Unfortunately, they seem to be watery and tasteless. Is this because it was a single plant, or because I watered the plant (it was a very dry summer) or was it a weird seed? Rogue squash?

Potato Fact

I always knew you had to hill your potatoes. When I was a kid my parents made us hoe and hill the potato patch. Naturally, we resisted mightily but I can't say it actually did us any harm and it probably did the family diet some good. Anyway, when I started growing my own potatoes I knew how to plant them, how to hoe them, how to hill them.... and my potatoes were always pretty good.

This summer I ran out of time soon after the first hoeing and never got them properly hilled up. When I harvested them, each plant had one or two large potatoes and that was all. Reading an old gardening book one night, I came upon a scientific reason for hilling potatoes. Seems the tubers grow at the ends of stolons, and stolons only form if the root of the plant is deep enough in the ground. So if you don't hill them (or plant them in a trench and fill in the trench as the plants grow, same thing really), no stolons, and few potatoes.

Why is it that....

Why is it that when you dig a 1-gal. hole to plant a 1-gal. plant, there is never enough soil to fill in around the rootball? I dug a nice hole the size and shape of the rootball of a White Spruce which had gotten much too big for its pot, and put it in, and had to go get a wheelbarrow load of topsoil to fill in around it. This seems to keep happening to me....

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Wm Cody Memorial Fern Glade - Part 2

OK, fast forward to last Sunday. I finally got out there again, planning to work on my new path. I was delighted to see that all the ferns are alive and well, and that the other wildflowers all looked bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as well. No sign of the Clintonia, but then, it goes dormant in September. The Fletcher people had put some dead birch logs along the edge, which looked a lot better than the yellow tape we had there before!  A lot of people walk (and walk their dogs) along the various trails, and the fern area looked empty so without the tape or now logs, people would walk on the plants.

You can see the logs here. The existing path is on the left, the start of the fern area is on the right of the logs. The spot so far is about 40' by 10-15'. You can see the wonderful dappled shade cast by the huge trees which are just, as the film people like to say, 'out of shot'. What you can't see is the ferns - told you they were small!

Here are some pictures of the new path:
I started by clearing where I wanted the path, pulling out Vine, leveling the ground a bit with my drag hoe, moving a couple of small rocks and so on. Then I put down a double layer of permeable (cloth) landscape fabric, the kind the lasts about 3-4 years and then deteriorates to nothing, pinning it down with wire staples every couple of feet. Then I covered the fabric with a few inches of wood chips. Getting the wood chips was almost the hardest part of the job!

The hardest part of the job was talking to all the people who came by and stopped to find out what I was doing. It was fun talking to them all, but I soon found I had to stay alert as some of the questions were hard to answer. Why was I doing this?( Um, well.....)  How long before the Glade would be finished? (Um.... never?) Did squirrels, of which there were two hanging around hoping I had squirrel lunch in my backpack, eat ferns? Why had the Fletcher people mowed down the meadow? (Did you read the sign???) And so on. Quite a few people were out with kids, and they were all very interested. Anytime I felt I had answered enough questions I would ask them, with a smile, if they would like to help. It really worked with adults, who all promptly decided to continue their nature walk, but the kids were all keen to work! They were great at stomping down the wood chips.  One kid patiently picked up about a hundred acorns. Not sure what he was planning with those, but by the time he left his pants were hangin' a bit low.

Anyway, that may be it for work on the Glade this year. The weather is changing and I think snow is not far away. Not really enough warm weather left for ferns to establish before winter, so I think I 'll wait before moving more of them in. Dan (remember Dan) plans to plant a few Spinulose Wood Ferns, Dryopteris carthusiana, and some Marginal Woods, D. marginalis if he has time. Next spring, Christmas Fern, New York Fern, Silvery Glade..... lots more to come! And some more native ground covers (I snuck in some White Trillium plants already) and a concerted effort to get ahead of the Dog-strangler. I plan to approach it like a science experiment. I intend to mark about 20 plants, then each week cut down whatever growth it made that week. If I keep records, I should be able to find out how often it needs to be cut down to eventually exhaust the roots. Even grass will die if you cut it low enough often enough. At the same time I hope to cut the rest of the Vine in the Glade every couple of weeks so at least it won't seed, and to dig it out in small areas as ferns get planted. It's not a huge space, so it would be possible.

What Dan and I really need is some help! Anybody up for a challenging project? We could be the Fern Team.... I'm serious here, guys. If you are in the Ottawa area, willing to work hard for a few hours each week, and would like to join us, get in touch.

Wm Cody Memorial Fern Glade - Part 1

Curious how some projects seem so simple, and then turn out to have all kinds of inherent difficulties. The practical difficulties are nothing compared to the philosophical ones, although in the case of the project I want to talk about, the practical ones are also daunting.

The William Cody Memorial Fern Trail at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden is a case in point. Several months ago  Sandy Garland (chair of the Fletcher committee) asked me if I'd be interested in working on such a thing. I don't really know anything about Mr. W. Cody, except that he worked for Agriculture Canada, wrote a booklet on local Ottawa Valley ferns, and is now deceased. Since the little book is an absolute classic, a 'must-have' for local fern-ers, I loved the idea of a memorial garden. Sandy said she had a spot in mind, and, later, took me down to see it.

Right away I could see a practical problem that will loom large in this project's history. Dog-strangling Vine, or Pale Swallow Wort, Vincetoxicum nigrum; syn. Cynanchum louiseae, is rampant in the area she showed me. It is also a very dry spot, with a number of fine large Maples, a few conifers such as White Pine, and, a little further back from the trail, a large stand of mature Eastern Red Ash. Now the Ash is under threat from the Emerald Ash Borer, so any plans for the Trail should take into account that conditions may change dramatically in a few years. But for now, the Maples and Ashes give good high dappled shade. The area is a bit of a hill-top, so well-drained, but dry. This year in particular it is dry.

Sometime in June, I think it was, Sandy lucked into a couple of volunteers who wanted to work for a day or two, and she put them on to clearing the fern area of DSV. They did a great job, but when I went there a few weeks later to do some work, I saw that instead of clearing a square bounded by the two intersecting trails, they had cleared a rectangle along one of the trails. OK, but it threw my sketched plan out of the water. As well, someone had planted a bunch of Whorled Aster, Oclemena acuminata, right where I had mentally placed ferns.... so, right, Plan B coming right up.

I started by doing a bit of exploring. I found a patch behind the trail with some Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis. The plants were stunted, but alive. Not really a damp spot, but a somewhat damp-er spot. Possibly an area could be made there, suitable for ferns that need more moisture. Another person, Dan, had expressed interest in moving some of his ferns to the Trail, and he had mentioned moisture-lovers like Interrupted Fern, Osmunda claytoniana, and Marsh Fern, Thelypteris palustris. Neither of these would do well in a bone-dry situation under Maples. But perhaps (you see my Dutch problem-solving mind working here), perhaps, one could dig out a depression, line it with old pond liner with a few holes poked, fill it with good humus-y soil, and have a place for ferns that need more moisture to thrive. Further exploring took me back to the existing path which crossed the path the Trail is on. Clearly, a new path, curving around and enclosing the fern area, and joining the two intersecting existing paths, would be the way to go. (pun not intended!)

Then it could be called the Wm. Cody Memorial Fern Glade, no longer being a Trail. I had trouble with the concept of a 'trail' anyway, particularly with the difficulty of maintaining an area which would have no border..... I mean, how would I ever keep the DSV out if there was nothing to stop it from spreading into the fern area? Apparently lawn edging is not allowed, I guess because it isn't exactly natural, but somehow the Vine's stolons have to be stopped. Otherwise it would be a never-ending job to dig it out of the ferns' domain. It's seeds will be bad enough, but at least small seedlings are easily yanked.

Anyway, I then settled down and weeded the area the volunteers had cleared, digging out some more DSV that had come up again, removing a quantity of what I call burr-bush because I don't know its name, but I know it is a pesky weed, trimming the shrubs of overhanging branches and dead wood, and digging spots for the ferns I had brought. The volunteers had planted Clinton's Fern, Dryopteris Clintoniana, in front of Crested Fern, D. cristata, which put the taller one in front of the shorter one, but I figure in a few years we can move the Cresteds. The Whorled Wood Asters got in the way, but I put the Northern Lady Ferns, Athyrium angustum, behind them. It didn't look too bad, although of course all the plants are still very small. There were also a few Blue-bead Lily, Clintonia borealis, a small clump of Bunchberry, Cornus canadensis, and a sad-looking straggle of Foamflower, Tiarella cordifolia. The dry summer hasn't helped them, but at least they were still alive.

I went home feeling encouraged and vowing to be back the next weekend.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Low-maintenance Myth

"A Manager is a person who finds a competent person to do a job, gets their commitment to doing it, and then gets out of their way. A supervisor is someone who assigns some part of a job to somebody, monitors them closely, and ends up doing most of the job herself."

One of the things I was musing on the other day, as I forked bushels of  Pale Swallow Wort roots out of the ground, was the idea, widely circulated in the 1980's, that native plants are low-maintenance. I was at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, working on a Fern Trail project (more about this in a later post), and I was remembering that one of the goals of their Model Backyard Garden was to show suburban gardeners how to use native plants to reduce the garden maintenance they would have to do. There were other goals as well, but that is the one I was thinking of between swatting late mosquitoes and wiping sweat out of my eyes.

One of the players was Landscape Ontario. They were pushing a sod they said was low-maintenance. I forget just what they called it, but the implication was that because the sod used native plants, it would require less work than regular grass. Of course they charged a premium for it. The thing that blew it out of the water, at least for me, was that the natives they were talking about were things like white clover. Probably a lot cheaper to produce than pristine sods of various grasses..... but they were charging a premium. They knew a money-making opportunity when they saw one. Unfortunately for them, most homeowners knew a marketing boondoggle when they saw one, so I don't think it caught on all that well. Anybody can have lawn with clover in it, all you have to do is wait.

If you do little or no maintenance, you will have a low-maintenance lawn. You might not like it, and your neighbours may point and whisper, but you're not spending hours and dollars fertilizing, rolling, raking, cutting and weed-killing your lawn.

The other thing  the 'experts' got onto at about the same time is the idea that native plants require less maintenance.  Reluctant gardeners thought, 'Oh, I'll just plant some wildflowers and I won't have to do any work'. Seed companies, knowing a marketing opportunity when they saw one, got into the act right away. They advertised various 'mixes', supposedly designed for various conditions, like, for example,'Sunny Meadow Mix' which was supposed to work in sunny conditions, or 'Shady Corner Mix' for, right, shady corners.  Every 'mix' was illustrated with large pictures of glorious flowers of all colours waving in the sun. Probably you remember this. Of course this didn't work. What came up and eventually flowered were annuals such as Cornflower or Cosmos. Nice enough plants, but whether in the sunny corner of the yard or the shady one, they were scrawny and soon overpowered by weeds. Gardeners  began to see another marketing boondoggle.

Since I've been talking up native plants every chance I get for years, I caught heck from quite a few disgruntled gardeners who, now not having to do so much garden maintenance, had time to come and yell at me about how native plants were no good. One older fellow, wearing the white belt and shoes of the officially retired, came to the Home Show once where I was fronting a large display of photos of beautiful native plants, and gave me a good blasting, and then demanded his money back! He had purchased a tin of 'mixed wildflowers seeds for the sunny border' from a seed company who shall remain nameless so I don't get sued, and he felt that he deserved his $12.95 back. Had he carefully prepared a weed-free, well-dug spot for his seeds? Of course not. Had he painstakingly removed all the grass and Creeping Charlie that came up? Naturally not. Had he watered in late May after it hadn't rained for three weeks? Nope. Why should he? Wasn't this was supposed to be low-maintenance?

I tried to reason with him, politely explaining the facts about weeds, water and wildflowers, but once he saw that he wasn't getting any $12.95 from me he lost interest and wandered over to listen to a slightly brain-scrambled Person lecturing about how to achieve Serenity and Happiness by growing roses.

The problem is, that when it comes to native plants and low-maintenance, almost everybody misunderstands.

Any plant is low-maintenance if it is happy and you allow it to do it's thing.

The wild Sweet-scented Waterlily, Nymphaea odorata, is low maintenance. Provided, that is, that you have a large enough body of clean water of the right depth, beavers to eat some of the tubers to stop it from crowding itself out of the water, and you are prepared to let it grow where it wants.

Peonies are low-maintenance, if you put them in a good spot and don't hack them down with the lawn mower too often.

Delphiniums are low-maintenance if you don't mind them falling over in June.

On the other hand, Sweet-scented Waterlily will be very high maintenance if you are determined to grow it in that dry sunny spot beside your garage.

Native plants are exactly the same. Put them in the right situation, give them whatever care is critical to their survival, accept them for what they are, and they will be low-maintenance. Put them in the wrong situation, ignore their survival needs, expect them to act like British society matrons, and they will be high maintenance.

Now, go back to the top of this post and re-read my definitions. If you manage your plants, they will be low-maintenance, if you supervise them, they will be high-maintenance.

Same as people.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Garden Renovations

Leaves are starting to show red here and there, especially some of the show-off Sumachs, there is a nip of frost in the air, and the season of garden renovations is in full swing.

There's something about August that exposes all your gardening weaknesses. You see them, but it is too hot to do anything about them. You maybe make an entry in some notebook: must move that daylily...... or you brush by some overgrown thing and give it the 'just wait until I get my secateurs' glare, but you don't actually do anything. It's too hot, the garden is too dry, and that glass of chilled white wine is calling.

But September, ah September. It is cooler. The border revives. Asters bloom. A tomato finally ripens. Birds check out the feeders, notebooks in hand, with an eye to winter patronage. Out come the secateurs, the garden fork, the spade, and, in my garden, the crowbar. To work!

So far, I've done bits in a number of different areas. It would make more sense to do everything in one area and then move on, I know, but I can explain. I started in the Crabapple garden, where I removed a 100-sq-ft patch of Adenophora 'Elizabeth'. Nice flowers, nice leaves, too bad about the garden manners. It was taking over the whole area, and I was not, simply not, moving three large Peonies. I intend to reduce the Japanese anemones too, but will wait until they finish blooming. For some reason they all fell over this year, but then the ends turned up and now the flowers are all facing forward nicely at about the 2' level. Odd, but looks fine.

Then I putzed around in the Rock Garden several afternoons, planting the stuff I never got around to planting in the spring. Doesn't every gardener have pots that sit around for months waiting to be planted? Of course I couldn't just stick them in the ground, I had to dig new places for them, move some rocks, carry buckets of pea gravel over for mulch, you know the drill. It's fun to make new garden! A new plant is the best excuse to indulge! My tiny bog is doing fine and I had to sit on the rock above it and admire it. So far no weeds, and the moss is green. The steps down to the lower part of the rock garden were overgrown with Viola labradorica, the Dog Violet (what a name for a flower!) and I dug those out. Then I got sidetracked a bit and spent a couple of afternoons clearing more trail in the woods. I basically hacked a path through the patch of young maples and hornbeams behind the Rock Garden. Used my trusty secateurs to do it, too. Who needs an axe or a saw if she has secateurs? But I ran into a fallen spruce, spiky branches sticking straight up ready to scratch or poke anyone who tries to climb over it, so I had to back off on that project. October is for things that need axes and saws.

Then I cleared around my Goldenrod and Aster test beds, put down landscape fabric around them, and covered the fabric with pea gravel. Looks like a million bucks and took all of an hour to do. Where the fabric is now will be paths later; these little beds are the pioneers in the rough patch at the far end of the rock garden. I hadn't planned to extend the garden that far, but a certain bulldozer pushed a certain pile of crushed rock too far and .... never mind, it's a great spot for some of the 'wilder' plants.

In between, I've been attacking the Hillside Garden, which needs major work. It's become a difficult area. The soil is clay, and I haven't been able to mulch it the last couple of years. When it is dry, and this summer has been very dry, I can hardly get the fork in, let alone up-end any perennials. It rained a bit last night, and I got some Goldenrods dug out (too many of them) and got a start on removing the Geranium Sanguineum. (Some call it Bloody Cranebill, and that's not an adjective.) Now there's a thug for you. Spreads like the dickens, and roots to China. And always only has a few flowers. One plant, surrounded by rocks and gravel, is a fine thing, but a patch of it is a boring mess.

Of course, that's only one side of renovating. The other is new planting, and that will wait for Spring. I have some ideas......

Oh, and I promised some more pictures of Fringed Gentian, so here they are:

The flowers only open in the sun, but aren't they worth waiting for?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hare-brained Scheme

Some are born to hare-brained schemes, and others have hare-brained schemes thrust upon 'em. I don't know if I fall into the first category, but I definitely suffer from the latter.

My latest one was born of necessity. The gravel walkway beside my Studio, actually between it and a short clay bank, has been impossible to keep weed-free. It is often damp, with runoff from the hill behind, and the clay is heavy and sticky. I've pulled.... I've hoed, I've even resorted to Nasty Chemicals. Nothing worked for very long.

During heavy rains water runs down the walkway on its way across the driveway and then down to the Marsh. I've made a shallow swale along the edge to channel this a bit. Still, I think the rain is washing tons of seeds down with it.

Now Horsetails, Equisetum arvense,  have come up in it.

Frustrated, I thought of landscape fabric. I had a bit, given to me by a friend who moved away, tucked in the shed. There wasn't nearly enough, but I also had a roll of house-wrap, left over from when the house was being built. It was some kind of synthetic, waterproof, sturdy, black.... well, why not, I thought.

Here's the result:

Take that, horsetails!

You can see there's still lots more work to be done: the path up the hill is a mess, the clay bank needs a complete overhaul, I need to put more gravel on the fabric.... but maybe now this area won't be quite so daunting.

And maybe this will be one of my more successful hare-brained schemes.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fringed Gentians

I defy anyone to find a flower more blue, more brilliant, more astonishing, than our native Fringed Gentian.

Fringed Gentian, or Gentianopsis crinita if you want to be formal about it, is one of our showiest natives. It has a large distribution, the entire Eastern side of our continent in fact, but it seems to be one of those flowers that is either present in large numbers or entirely absent.  It is a biennial, forming a very small rosette of rather succulent pale green leaves the first year, and a cluster of flowering stems the second. I have seen it by the acre on the Paden Road alvar, sprinkled like blue stars under the willows and aspens at Limerick Forest, and as a ribbon of blue along a section of the K&R Trail in Lanark County. But do you think I could get it to grow at my place? No. So far, Pine Ridge has been one of those places where it is entirely absent.

And not for lack of me trying. I brought seeds home several times, and tried starting them in pots like I do a lot of seeds. I could never get them to germinate. In a baggie with damp vermiculite in the fridge they did, putting out very tiny white roots, but they didn't survive being moved into a pot. Pots I left outside to germinate over winter remained disappointingly empty.

Two years ago I brought home seeds from the Fringies along the K&R Trail. These were very robust plants, close to three feet tall, and covered with blooms. They grew in the narrow strip between the gravel of the trail and the weedy slope down to the ditch. Not wanting to try them in pots again, I sprinkled most of them in a spot along my driveway that is somewhat alvar-like, having underlying limestone pavement with the resulting sparse plant cover, and being, like an alvar, damp in spring and fall and dry in summer.On my way back to the house, there were a few seeds left in the envelope and  I dumped them out at the end of the
Rock Garden near the Canada Lily. Still along the driveway, but higher up the hill and a rather weedy spot.

Of course, I kept checking my sort-of-alvar for Fringed Gentians, even going so far as to closely inspect the ground for signs of pale green rosettes. Nothing.

Coming back yesterday, I checked again. Still nothing.

But what did I see near the Canada Lily?

Yes! Fringies!!!! A whole patch of them, at least 20 plants, about two feet tall, and with many flowers and buds.

They weren't quite open - the flowers only open in the sun, but the colour! So blue, so perfectly shaded with rose, so delicately touched with green.The calyces are an unusual diamond-shape in cross section, giving the blooms a strong sculptural quality.

I had to check them again today, just to make sure they were real. If it is sunny tomorrow and the flowers open more, I may just have to post more pictures!

Friday, August 26, 2011

World's Smallest Bog

Wandering around in my rock garden, coffee cup to hand, I once again found myself studying a deepish depression in the underlying granite. The garden was made, and is being made, on a large outcropping of pink granite. I have cleared off some of the stone, moving what soil there was into the depressions, and then I've planted into these 'beds'. But this particular depression is different in that it doesn't drain very well. It isn't large, maybe 25 square feet at surface level, but about 3 feet deep and drained only by a not-very-large crack. It is often full of water. Reeds and bullrushes actually sprout in it.

Looking at it, I decided that what I really wanted there, in fact what I absolutely had to have there in order to achieve True Garden Happiness, was a bog. A real bog, and right now.

While it might seem strange to have a bog in the middle of a rock garden, it does make a certain amount of sense when you realize that, in the mountains, you go up to find water. In the lowlands, you go down, but in the mountains you go up. And what's a rock garden if not a pretend mountain side?

I got at it right away. Carried pails of sand up and dumped them in. Scraped up a few loads of old decomposed moss and covered the sand mound with it. This stuff, which I got from the edge of the marsh,  is not quite peat, but well decomposed and 'peaty'. And light to carry!

I still had 3 small Pitcher Plants, Sarracenia purpurea, in pots. I had planted them at the edge of the marsh, in the peaty area, but some critter kept dragging them out and I got tired of re-planting them so put them back in their pots. Amazingly, they have done just fine. One even bloomed this summer. Anyway, I planted them in my new 'bog', added some baby Sundews, Drosera rotundifolia, and some clumps of live Spaghnum. I sprinkled some sand on top to keep the peat from blowing away and voila:

The Sundews are on the mossy log you see on the left. Too small to show up, but they'll grow! Here's a closer look at the Pitcher Plants:

Hopefully the moss will 'take' and spread to cover the whole thing. I'll probably have to add water during dry spells, but hey, that's only sometimes. The rest of the time I can pretend I'm in the mountains!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Garden Oops

Sitting in the garden the other day with a cool drink (just root beer, don't get excited) I distracted myself from the contemplation of all the work that needed doing by looking at some of the 'oopses' around me. For example:

Great colour combo...... not.

Ah, the horizontal shrub gambit, very creative......

'Always plant the taller things at the back and the shorter things at the front.' Very good advice.  I really should follow it.....

Creeping Phlox, P. subulata - lovely sheet of white flowers in May. Can you see those sweet little Alpine Daisies in the lower half of the picture?  Neither can I.

And that was only while sitting in one spot!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Blooms Day

It was dark and dreary here today, but there were plenty of things in bloom. I won't bore you with all the yellow daisies, just this one:

it is Elecampane, Inula helenium. Not a native, it was brought by the early settlers, probably for some medicinal use. The leaves are huge - as much as 3 feet long, and the stems can be 6 feet tall or more. Naturally this latest one has come up in the middle of a bunch of low things! The shaggy daisies have charm, though, and the whole effect is fairly graceful. Just don't try moving them - the root goes down to Texas.

Lots of phlox in bloom:

Some years they mildew badly but not this year. Something to be said about drought conditions, I guess. The phlox pretty much hold the border together this time of year. The darkest one is 'Nicky', and the white one is 'David', but I don't know the names of the others.

The Lobelia cousins are all in bloom: Lobelia cardinalis, L. syphylitica, and L. symphilitica alba. All three make good clumps, and all three seed around a bit. I find that if I want to keep L. cardinalis going in the garden, I have to lift and divide it every spring. It just dwindles if you don't separate the rosettes in early spring. It likes damp feet, but like its cousins, it can manage without. Both are native plants.

Another native, Whorled Aster, Oclemena acuminata, is blooming in the woods. It seems to be the first one of the Asters, although the Heart-leaved, Large-leaved and Lance-leaved ones are also starting. Not very impressive, but when you realize that it grows and prospers in dark dry places under pines and spruces you will have new respect for it.

Goldenrods are blooming too. The roads and fields around here are all edged with Solidago canadensis - an attractive if spready weed. There are three species of native Goldenrod that look very similar and there are two methods of telling them apart. In the first method, you take a number of samples, your hand lens and your calipers, your textbooks and your field guides, and you carefully disect, measure and identify each tiny part. After several hours of hard work, you may feel fairly confident in saying 'this is, most likely, Solidago canadensis.' The other method involves sweeping your eyes over the patch and announcing grandly, 'this is, most likely, Solidago canadensis'. Your chances of being right are about equal.

(This is, most likely, Solidago canadensis.)

Something else in bloom that I'm kind of excited about is my first yellow Clivia from the seeds I got a couple of years ago. I bought 6 seeds of Clivia miniata var. citrina, and 5 produced good plants. The first one bloomed this week:

Wow! Definitely yellow! The edges of the petals are practically white, which gives an over-all pastel effect. Now I can't wait to see the others bloom! The other plants are all smaller, but I think they'll bloom next year,  in time for Blooms Day, August 2012.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lady's Mantle

I do believe I've finally figured out how to handle Lady's Mantle, Alchemilla vulgaris.

This plant looks wonderful in the early spring and Summer, but then you have to cut it right back, leaving you with.... yes, a big hole. And since the Lady looks best when there's lots of it to froth over rocks and paths, you tend to end up with a rather large empty space in your border. It self-seeds for me, maybe a bit too freely, so I have been leaving many seedlings and enjoying it a lot when it blooms. The chartreuse green flowers and the only slightly greener leaves make a wonderful foil for almost any colour of flowers. It sets off white Daisies, blue-violet Geraniums, pink Roses, in fact any pastel colour to perfection. Alas, it only blooms for a couple of weeks, and then it turns really shabby. And it's no good just cutting back the spent flowering stems because the leaves that accompanied them will also turn brown and tired looking and you really need to shear the whole thing to the ground.

It re-grows fairly quickly, but still for a few weeks you have a big gap.

The notion I hit on was to treat it somewhat like a rock garden plant. I mulched all around the plants with some of that lovely pea stone I lucked into last year. The plants spread and covered the gravel and bloomed wonderfully, then today when I cut them right back they went back to looking like small plants surrounded by a large area of beautiful small stones! Perfect!

From this:

To this:

I'm really liking that idea a lot! And the pea gravel makes weeding much easier. The weeds that do come up, are so easy to pull out it's actually fun!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

On the Trail for Ferns

Monday being a national holiday (Emancipation Day, who knew?), I decided to go to Eagles' Nest Lookout and see if I could get spores of Fragrant Fern, Dryopteris fragrans.. This fern is quite rare this far South, occurring only along the rivers and streams branching off the ancient Fossmill Drainage which once drained the enormous Lake Algonquin to the West and North of the Ottawa Valley. It is known to grow on the cliffs of the Barron Canyon, but I have found it on the cliff below the Eagles' Nest Lookout as well.

I grew many small plants of Fragrant Fern two years ago, but only one of them survived the winter of 2009-2010. It is still alive, but very worried. I think I planted all of them in too much shade.

It was a beautiful day for a hike - sunny, not too hot, and a bit of a breeze. The trail I took is called the Manitou Mountain Trail. I don't know if there is a Manitou Mountain, because I've never gone down the trail that far! I get side-tracked by all kinds of interesting things and don't end up going very far. Botanists are people who can spend hours and hours in the woods.... and travel all of 30 feet. Not this time, though. I went as far as the giant dead maple which marks my place to head up into the rockfall area, and once up there, I followed the cliff edge looking for Fragrant Ferns.

And found them this time! I tried a few weeks ago but headed up towards the cliff at the wrong place and wasn't able to reach ferns. The rockfall below the cliff, which consists of boulders the size of small apartment buildings, is impossible for me to cross at one point, and if I don't go up to the cliff beyond that point, then I can't get to the ferns. As you can see, they grow in cracks and crevices in the cliff wall. They are right out in the open, facing pretty well due West. It was while I was looking up at them and thinking this that I realized it was pretty smart to go look for them in the morning because the sun was still over the other side of the cliff and I was nicely in the shade!

The ferns looked reasonably good. I found a few plants that looked the worse for wear, maybe only a couple of small fronds left, but others were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I had a bit of a struggle getting close enough  to a plant to inspect a frond to see if there were any ripe spores, but by dint of digging my toe into a crevice and clinging to a (rather bend-y) cedar, I got up there. Yes, there were ripe spores! I grabbed one frond and fell, not gracefully, back to the path. Success!

After that I sat on one of the huge fallen boulders, feet sticking out over about 200 feet of empty, and ate my lunch.

The way back to the truck was pretty interesting too. First I wandered a bit further up the main trail. The normally swampy bit that had been  under about 3 feet of water in the spring was now so dry I could walk around in it. That was fun. There was absolutely nothing growing there except some Sensitive Ferns and some sedges; I guess the flooding killed off all the other stuff. Going back, the far end of this swampy area narrowed into a bit of a stream bed. Since it seemed to go more or less in the right direction, I stayed in it. Easy walking! Then I saw that there was a long low ridge of quite mossy rock to my left and I climbed up to take a look.

To my delight, I found quite an extensive colony of Maidenhair Spleenwort, Asplenium trichomanes. Here's a close-up of this charmer:

I've seen this before, but a bit further West in a place I can't easily get to on my own, so I am very happy to know there are some at Eagles' Nest. It's  fronds are only about 6 to 8 inches long, each pinnule maybe less than an inch long. The spores are microscopic. I do have it growing well in my garden, from spores from the Black Donald Lake population, but I took a frond with ripe spores anyway. More genetic diversity will be my excuse.

And yes, I did see an eagle.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Allium confusium

I first got to know Allium cernuum, Nodding Wild Onion, in Banff National Park where I would occasionally come across it in the woods at lower elevations. It tended to be solitary, one stem, and rather delicate. The white and pink flowers hovered delicately above the various other woodland plants. A couple of times I found it blooming with the purple Alpine Clematis, a rather good combination. Needless to say, when I started my garden here, I wanted it, so when I saw Allium cernuum in one of the seed exchanges, I asked for some seed. Better yet, I eventually saw A. cernuum f. album listed, and sent for that too.

A. cernuum grew easily and bloomed the next spring. I put it at the base of some large rocks in the rock garden, and it has been happy there. A little light shade, good drainage and reasonably good soil are all this plant needs. It blooms in June and has spread to be a fair-sized clump now. It does set a lot of seed, like all the Alliums, but it's easy enough to remove them.

Then I got seeds of A. cernuum album and grew those. Look at this now:

Very nice, but not A. cernuum! The huge bracts (maybe they have another name, alliums have their own vocabulary, the straight stems and the fact that this is blooming now, nearly a month after A. cernuum tells me it is something different.

So I asked for seeds of A. cernuum album again, and what did I get but this:

Again, very nice, but not A. cernuum, and certainly not anything forma album. This one is probably A. stellatum, Wild Onion, and a good addition to my native plants list, but dang it, I wanted A. cernuum album!

Finally, this bloomed this year:

Allium cernuum forma album, as I live and breath!

Now, will someone please explain why it is much smaller than A. cernuum (look at the leaves and seed head arching in from the right hand side which are from the A. cernuum plant right beside the white one), blooms a month later, and has round flower clusters instead of the 'fireworks' shape of its cousin?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bloom Day

Can anybody play? I gather from blogs I read that every month (even January?) has a Bloom Day and that it is the 15th. Am I right here? Anyway, I thought I'd post some pictures of some good things that are in bloom here right now. Yes, I know I missed the 15th. I've been super busy getting pottery made for Midsummer Herbfest.... which is a plant-related event so I can mention it here. Check out the link - Herbfest is just what it sounds like and lots of fun!

So, what's in bloom at Pine Ridge? Heaps of hot colours: Red-flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus), Spirea (no idea what species), and Lychnis Fulgens against the rail fence. This Lychnis is about 18" high, blooms for several weeks or more just when you need it, and is solidly perennial. It mixes well with daylilies, too.

My pale yarrow is blooming. It has the size and stature of Coronation Gold, but the soft ferny leaves of the gone-native Achillea millefolium. The flowers are a soft yellow. I am convinced it is a cross of the two species, and an improvement on both.

While we are looking at cool colours, the green flowers of Anemone riparia are really quite striking when you see them under the sumachs. They seem to like shade, but don't let them into your garden unless you are prepared to let them run free - they seed themselves around with the usual, er, anemone abandon.

Milkweeds of all kinds are in full bloom: the weedy Ascelpias syriaca in its multitudes (but not in my garden, thank goodness), the Swamp Milkweed, A. incarnata, both pink and white forms, and my favourite, A. tuberosa in its wild orange form. This plant likes, indeed must have, deep sandy soil. It has a deep but brittle tuberous root, so is hard to move, and can take a while to establish. It grows here locally only in one location, that I know of, and that is an area of sand dunes along the Ottawa River. I have it here with ornamental grasses and it is quite happy, thanks.

That Fireweed is another one I wouldn't recommend for the border, but in a wild corner it is quite attractive.One of those plants that you don't really want, but if you don't have it, you need to get it. Gardeners will know what I mean.

All kinds of yellow daisies blooming, of course. Rudbeckia, several species and many colour forms, Coreopsis, Ratibida, Anthemis..... July is certainly the month of yellow daisies. Here are the developing flowers of Grey-headed Coneflower in front of a pale inky-blue Delphinium.

My favourite Delph is always the white one, of course.

There are lots more good things in bloom, and I want to include them all, but my mouse is getting over-heated! I'm not kidding - it is jumping around just like a real mouse that's been in the sun too long.

I can't wait for Bloom Day in August, this was so much fun!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Garden Thoughts

Somebody said gardening is a matter of pushing back the wilderness. I was reminded of this just now when I read a post on one of the lists I read asking if it was alright to make something in the garden which would be good for the plants she wants to grow, but which wouldn't look very 'natural'. Given that the wilderness around her is already well pushed back, I don't see why not!

The idea of 'pushing back the wilderness' really resonates with me, on many levels. For one thing, I really am. My place is smack in the middle of forest which has never been cleared. It is mainly a rocky ridge, with a large marsh on one side and a stream, now beaver pond, on the other. No pioneer was ever dumb enough to try to clear it. It could not have been plowed anyway. Some of the trees were burnt in the great fires of 1860-1890, but that has quite a different long-term result from clearing. Clearing means cultivation, and cultivation changes the soil and the drainage patterns. So my spot is still wilderness.

The bear that came and smashed my bird feeders (again) is at home. I have to remember that.

The sumachs, maples, horsetails and other wild things that keep coming up in my garden want their wilderness back. I get no chance to forget that.

Areas that are in the sun today won't be in a few years when the trees all around them grow tall enough. Another thing to remember.

The driveway keeps getting narrower and narrower - the brambles and shrubs have as their job the task of colonizing new openings to get them ready for the trees to move in. It takes a large bulldozer and huge truckloads of crushed stone to push back simple shrubs. The wilderness is a worthy opponent.

On another level, we humans have a deep need to push back the wilderness. We need to create areas of safety and comfort for ourselves. Even in a City, we make gardens to satisfy our impulse to improve on the wilderness around. A precise bed of hostas and begonias, carefully mulched with purchased bark chips, edged with a metal surround, and needing daily watering, gives us a feeling of security against the wilderness of streets, buildings, cars, jobs, and other people.

The expanses of open front lawns that define the American and Canadian city garden are a visible (but polite!) way of thumbing the collection nose against the wilderness.

Which we need to do, to keep up our courage.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Whew, Survived the Garden Tour!

Saturday, the first day of the Botanic Garden Tour, dawned dark and damp. Scudding clouds and a fine drizzle at 6am. did not bode well. But gardeners and garden lovers are made of stern stuff! Before 10 am a pair of determined tour-ers walked up the driveway. They had decided to park on the main road and walk up because they wanted to see the woods. They told me three more cars were waiting for 10am!

 My signs were up....

The bird feeders were in place....

The ferns were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.....

And there were flowers, here and there.

The big winner was Digitalis grandiflorum, a terrific Foxglove with the happy combination of lovely soft yellow bells and a cast-iron, fully perennial constitution. People asked about it and wanted it and I dug up many little plants to give them. Luckily I hadn't weeded the patch above the Hillside Garden where they were growing in a solid mat! Some advantages to not weeding! Here it is beside the Herb Garden fence:

The weather improved a lot on Sunday, and we even had some actual sunshine. The light coming through the trees above the marsh is always striking. I love the feeling of airiness it gives.

We did lose one party of 3 in the woods. I noticed them starting off down the Marsh Trail but figured with the woods so wet they would soon be back. After 45 minutes I was starting to wonder, but then they came out. They looked happy enough so I stopped worrying about them, but they came over and asked me how far the trail went. I guess they went pretty far! Another pair of visitors brought a sweet white miniature poodle-something (these dogs all have such silly names but they all look alike: poodles with legs too short for their bodies!) and they went down the same trail. When they came back the poor thing was covered with green bits and black muck. He'd apparently stepped off my neighbour's boardwalk, thinking the duckweed on the water was solid! We washed him under the tap and dried him off. Not a happy pup.

It was interesting to see people in my usually empty garden. For a little while, it didn't seem quite as 'mine'. Probably, a little distance will do me good. I get too wrapped up in things and lose perspective.

 On the whole, though, it went very well. The volunteers were great, the visitors said nice things, Kip the Border Collie was A Very Good Dog, it didn't rain too-o-o-o hard, and I survived!