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.