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?