Monday, December 24, 2012

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cold, wet, snowy.....

It's cold, wet, and snowy.

Kip and I went for a short walk in the woods, hoping to find at least some uplifting sights, but they seemed to be in short supply. Kip kept looking up, wondering where those fat white blobs were coming from.....

His warm feet made very clear Kip tracks!

Near the road we saw lots of Raven tracks. They must have held a dance last night.

 Spruce and Balsam Firs were dripping:

Bracken fronds, leaning over and hanging down were a beautiful, but wet, reddish brown:

Other than that, it was as I said, cold, wet and snowy. We gave up and went home. On the way I stopped at the plant shed and found a happy surprise, a first flower open on a Cattleya seedling:

 The first flowers on orchid seedlings are often not quite as impressive as the flowers will be later when the plant is more mature, but this one is lovely.

Maybe I'll just stay in the plant shed until spring.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bugs, yuck

If you ever hear I've been taken away by little men in white coats, you'll know that it was scale insects that did it.

I have a dozen or so orchid plants. They're a mixed bag but mostly Cattleya types. I got them about 5 years ago at an Orchid Show when they were small and affordable. Since then I've waged war against these miserable scale creatures. I'm not sure what kind they are - there appear to be many different sorts - but likely one of the soft-scale species.

We go through the same pattern every year, it seems. In the Spring I put the plants outside and they seem nice and clean and healthy. They stay that way all summer, getting bigger, putting out new roots, setting buds. All well in Orchid World, I think. Then it starts to get cold outside so I bring them into the plant shed. Two weeks later the darn plants are covered with scale.

Then I wipe them off, laboriously and not-very-patiently. I have tried some insecticides but not only did they not seem to have any effect (probably because the scale beasties are protected by their waxy domes) but also now we can't buy insecticides in my area and I have none left. So the only option is to use rubbing alcohol and a tiny piece of paper towel on the end of a thin stick to wipe off every scale I can see. And that, of course, is the problem. They hide under the papery covers of the pseudo-bulbs, and probably also on the tops of the roots near where they emerge from the bulbs, and as soon as they get into the warmth after a cool period they all lay eggs. Many eggs, it would appear. And of course they all hatch. The hatchlings are called crawlers and that is what they do. They crawl to a nice juicy spot on a leaf and dig in to feed and build themselves a waxy dome house. Luckily, I don't think they can crawl far enough to spread to other plants. I make sure plants don't touch and hopefully the crawlers can't make it down their home pot, across the wooden slat bench and up into another pot. They are less than 1 mm long, so that trip would like us walking about 1000 miles.... with no food or water.

This winter I'm going to be really vigilant and have one more try at winning this war. It'll be worth it as the orchids are all starting to bloom and last year several of them were quite stunning. Five or six plants are already showing bloom spikes, several with fat buds. One plant, which I think also bloomed last year, has a number of spikes, each with one bud. They look like they are going to be large flowers. Good incentive to get me into the shed to water.... and try to get rid of those rotten bugs.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Stump Life

Quick, before the snow comes, take a look at this stump:

I'm not sure how old it is, maybe somewhere in the 20-year range, but it is almost completely covered in various mosses, lichens, fungi and liverworts. A great many different things are growing on it:

I particularly like the miniature moss-ball. Some mosses, like the blue one at the top, grow by spreading sideways, others by growing from a fixed centre. Yet others, like the one on the bottom, seem to head off for parts unknown like tiny explorers.

Looking even closer, I am amazed at some of the  wonderful patterns that appear:

Too bad I don't have my microscope with me!

Friday, October 19, 2012


Every year about this time I go nuts on leaves. Coloured leaves, that is. Here is a collage of some:

And here is a shot of one of the perks of Autumn - something that re-blooms late, giving an unexpected bonus of colour: 

This is Campanula rotundifolia, Harebell. The background, although it is hard to tell from the picture, is an outcropping of pink granite. Harebells seed themselves all over, usually in better places than the gardener might have thought of. This particular plant has come through several nights of frost and is still going strong.

OK, there's a metaphor there and I get it.

The autumn colours have been spectacular this year.... there have been all kinds of surprise re-blooms (coneflowers in October???)..... I'm mulling over a whole range of changes for next year. Hard to do anything now, for one thing I can't see where anything is because of the fallen  leaves and the fact that some plants are completely dormant; for another, I don't want to spear too many daffodil bulbs. But, come Spring, there'll be a hot time in the ol' town....

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

United Colours of Autumn

The foliage colours this year are just amazing! These are the trees at the entrance to my Sampler garden. The Maples just glow against the background of still-green birches and oaks.

At the base of the Rock Garden one Maple is particularly red:

I always like the fall colours best when there is still a lot of green to set off the yellows and reds. I did quite a bit of driving around today, doing chores, and everywhere the trees were magnificent. This is still a farming area, so the country is a patchwork of corn and soybean fields, pastures and woods. Many of the trees are still green, making the yellow, orange and red ones really stand out.

 It occurred to me, looking across a rust-red soybean field to a line of yellow and orange maples, that this is the true Canadian Mosaic!

Monday, July 16, 2012


As you may have noticed, I have not been posting lately.

We have been, and still are, in the grip of the worst drought ever recorded in my area.

I am simply too sad about the effects on my woods and garden to go out and look at them, let alone talk about them. Of course, I know my concerns are not as serious as those of people whose income crops are lost, but that doesn't make it any less painful for me. As someone said, 'you love your rose according to how many hours you have wasted on it', and I have wasted years on this rose.

This has been my third or fourth major gardening effort.

As soon as it rains again, I will begin the fifth one.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hooker's Orchid

No, not a corsage ornament for a lady with a questionable job choice!

But an actual orchid,  Platanthera Hookeri, or Hooker's Orchid. It is a not-uncommon find in the woods in our area, although there are rarely very many plants. Most 'colonies' consist of one to a few plants, but luckily they tend to be long-lived.  Like many of our native orchids, it does not deal well with competition, so you will normally find it in bare and shady spots under such trees as Eastern White Cedar or White Spruce. On occasion you may find it under deciduous trees as well. 

This shows the plant in my woods in a very typical situation - under some pines, in a bare spot, well-drained, but shady and cool, and accompanied by such typical companions as Violets, Wild Lily-of-the-Valley, Solomon's Seal and Wild Sarsaparilla.  The two large leaves immediately tell us it is one of the 'pad' orchids, which are in the Platanthera gang, and the green flowers tell us it is P. Hookeri. By the way, when a botanical name is a person's name, you may give it a capital letter or not, as you please. I like the capital, it reminds me that the plant was named after a real person.

There are two other 'pad' orchids in our area: P. macrophylla and P. orbiculata. Neither of these have green flowers. Both have larger leaves, and the leaves of P. orbiculata are, as the name implies, quite round.

 Here you can see the long spur, typical for the Platantheras, and the 'hooked' shape of the lip. I don't think John Lindley, another prominent early botanist who named the plant, intended the pun!

These are not orchids to grow in your garden. If you happen to find one, photograph it, admire it, salute Sir Hooker, and move on. Who was he?

Sir William Jackson Hooker was a botanist, botanical illustrator, lecturer and organizer who was active in England during the mid 19th. century. He put much effort into amassing an enormous herbarium, one that became very well-known in his time. He is credited with having helped to revive Kew Gardens, and it is noted that his son, who succeeded him at Kew, was as popular and successful as he was.

My reference makes no mention of the state of  his morals.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


It's a purple purple, Purely purple, Purple Day Today!

Went for a short walkabout in the garden this morning (after a night of very welcome rain) and was surprised at how many purple things were in bloom. I remembered going through a purple phase many years ago, and with a smile and pang for my youthful self, realized that I still like purple.

A pale pale purple Veronica.

A soft slate-purple Amsonia.    

Perky purple Fairy Bells poking up around the Irises.

A Clematis echoing the colour of the Fairy Bells.
Irises (how did I end up with so many Irises?),


Lupines, all in shades of bluish purple.
The astonishing flowers of Alkanet, tiny but feisty.

Anemone lesseri. How can you not love this little face?

A tall Erodium,

The pinwheel flowers of a white Centaurea montana,
The simple perfection of a tiny Johnny-jump-up.
A speckled 'fall' on a Japanese Roof Iris, with an, ahem, pollinator.

And the final word in purple, the very definition of the colour purple, a Siberian Iris petal.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Work on the Fern Garden

There was a nice surprise waiting for me at the Fern Garden.  I hadn't been there for a couple of weeks (too much work at home) and only got back there two weeks ago. To my surprise, I found a lot of good wildflowers growing there!

I am surmising that they were planted but I don't know by whom.

Flowers past: Viola pubescens, Trillium erectum, Asarum canadense, Trillium grandiflorum, Caulophyllum thalictroides, Sanguinaria canadensis.

 I was there to cut down the emerging shoots of Dog-strangling Vine. Most of these were about 4" to 6" tall and I used a sharp hoe to chop them off at ground level. My idea is to do this repeatedly and even if it doesn't kill the plants, it will allow the other things in the Fern Garden to grow while we get around to digging them out. It's not a huge space, but 6,000 sq. feet is still more than one or two people can dig over in a few spare hours. As it was, it took me almost 3 hours to chop down the visible shoots. Mind you, I spent a bit of time moving piles of old branches and such to make it easier to get my hoe in. It's hard to chop something off short if it is growing up through a foot of loose brush!

That was two weeks ago. This week I was delighted to find more good things blooming.

Flowers present: Podophyllum peltatum, Actaea pachypoda, Arisaema triphyllum, Tiarella cordifolia, Viola cucullata, Mitella diphylla.

I chopped down Vine shoots again.... only took an hour and a half this time.... but I was disappointed to see quite a few taller shoots in among the Jack-in-the-pulpits and the Ostrich Fern. I must have missed them before. I had to pull these by hand as I couldn't work with a hoe in among these good plants but that did give me a chance to look closely and inspect the ground under them.

Certain Vine plants that I had marked the week before were all only a couple of inches high, so my hacking effort has at least slowed them down.

There were also a surprising number of Garlic Mustard seedlings, and my hoe came in very handy on them. That darn thing is a biennial so will be coming up from seed for years... of course, so will the Vine. We are going to have to cut down any that reach flowering size in a wide margin all around the Fern Garden to slow down on them seeding back in. As they say, "One year's seeding means seven year's weeding".

Seeing all the wildflowers that are already there made me decide to change the plan about where to put the Holman bogs a little. I had planned to put two fairly large ones more or less in the centre, but there are good plants there, so now I think a number of smaller ones closer to the new path will be better. Easier, too! It's not hard to dig these things, especially not in the sandy soil there, but it is hard to find a bare spot to put the soil while you dig the hole and get the liner in! Nearer the path we can spread a tarp and put the soil there.

There were lots of other native plants as well, some of which were still small such as Trout Lily, Clintonia, and Bunchberry, and others that will bloom later such as Zig-Zag Goldenrod and White Snakeroot. All in all, I listed 30 different wildflowers already established among our ferns!

Hopefully, next week we can dig one or two of the bogs and then D.F. can transplant his ferns.... he has large plants of things that need damp, such as Cinnamon Fern and Interrupted Fern, and these bogs are an attempt to provide that in a dry area. His Marginal Wood Fern has survived it's move last year and is showing many of it's charming scale-covered fiddleheads. Most of the small ferns I planted last year have also survived, with the exception of some Maidenhairs which have not appeared, at least not yet.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dandelion Doings

I'm taking a new approach to the Dandelion problem.

When we first moved in here there were very few Dandelions. But within a year or two they were starting to appear along the driveway, then around the house, then in the garden..... Darn things spread like, well, like Dandelions.

Every Spring I tried to get ahead of them by weeding like mad but it hasn't worked. Full forward assault doesn't work if the enemy outnumbers you 1000 to 1. I couldn't dig them fast enough - by the time I had part of the garden cleared the others had all gone to seed.

I tried a flank attack using that vinegar/soap/salt spray but that was too hard,  too slow, and too expensive.

A rear-guard attack by digging them out later in the season didn't do much good either because they had already spread their seeds far and wide.

So I'm going aerial.

I just spent a couple of hours pulling all the flowers and buds off all the Dandies around the house and garden and up the driveway a piece. Hah. Now they can't go to seed and I'll have all summer to dig out the plants. I know there will be more flowers in a day or two, but I'll fly over again nipping them off too. I tried to get as many buds as I could but the really small ones were too short to grab and I didn't want to pull the whole plant. If you do that the flowers still ripen seeds and you have a big pile of stuff you can't compost. This way, with the flowers pulled off short, no seeds will form.

So if I can't be faster than a Dandelion, or meaner than a Dandelion, or tougher than a Dandelion, maybe I can be smarter than a Dandelion!


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Warmer Weather

Of course gardeners always say the weather has been weird. But this time it really has! It's been so cold the mosquitoes have been wearing earmuffs....

But now it's finally more Spring-like and I took a good long walk-about. Never mind the various things that have probably departed southwards, there were lots of good things to cheer me up.

There was a small plant of Hepatica americana blooming late in the fern bed. Most of the Hepaticas bloomed (and froze) earlier, so it was a delight to come across this one. I'll move it to a better spot once it gets big enough to travel.

After a lengthy search, I did find a few of the Saxifraga virginiana a friend had given me as small plants last year. Then, as so often happens, I found the others very quickly. It has to do with the idea of 'search image'. Once your brain has a 'search image' to work with, it quickly spots matches. That is why you can look and look for something and not find it, and then, once you have seen one, you find others with no effort. I've had that experience with wildflowers that I had not seen before. Seeing pictures in books is never the same as seeing it in 'real'. Once you have a good search image, then you find them.

Anyway, the plants have all made it, and the squirrels missed the flowers on several of them. The ones I had planted in the woods were larger, but every flower had been nipped off. This one is in my rock garden. I really hope it produces seeds so I can sprinkle them along my Ridge Trail, where I think they'll do well.

This plant is only a few inches high, but Early Saxifrage can be a bit taller.

Down by the marsh the double Marsh Marigolds were blooming. I also have one (one measly) plant of the regular Caltha palustris but it seems to be struggling. Maybe not enough sun..... must move it to a sunnier spot after it finishes blooming this year. Usually I'm not too zipped on double flowers, but the double Marshies are charming. The plants are low and tend to sprawl but in a good year they are covered with flowers which, like most doubles, last a lot longer than the singles.

My neighbour has an acre of Marsh Marigold, why do I have so much trouble growing it???

On slightly higher ground Viola adunca, Hooked Violet, was blooming nicely. This is one of the tribe of stemless blues - but easy to identify because of the long, slightly 'hooked' spur on the flowers. It is also one of the first to bloom. V. labradorica (Dog Violet, silly name) blooms at the same time, but it's flowers are a soft pinkish lavender, and it invariably grows in the open. V. adunca likes deciduous woods and snuggles among the fallen leaves of the previous summer.

Northern Violet, V. macloskeyi, was in bloom everywhere. It seems to follow the marsh edge or the beaver pond edge, but grows in sun or shade, down by the water or up on the drier banks. The leaves are round to heart-shaped, bright green, shiny, and neatly scalloped. The flowers are tiny but numerous.

You could easily confuse this one with V. renifolia, the Kidney-leaved Violet (who named these things?) but the leaves and where it chooses to grow are very different. In V. renifolia the leaves are kidney-shaped, thick, a greyer green, and covered with fairly long hairs.

Back at the house I was surprised and delighted to see a pot of Viola Selkirkii in full bloom. I got some seeds from one of the seed exchanges last year and they germinated nicely and grew into good little plants..... but the leaves were grey and green variegated and I didn't think they could be V. Selkirkii. I planted them here and there (where, I now wonder?) in the rock garden. Then during the winter I did some searching on the web and discovered there is a variegated form of V. Selkirkii in cultivation. So I figured that was what I had. Nice, but not the native plant. So I was a bit surprised to find these:

Where I got them I do not know. But they are definitely Selkirk's Violet and I'm glad to have them.

The big winner of the day was a single stem of Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginiana. About ten years ago I had some seeds from Gardens North and, not having a pot handy to sow them in, scratched them into the ground in my Sampler Garden. I checked the spot a number of times, but never saw any signs of Beauty, in Spring or otherwise.

So it was a big and happy surprise to find this one. It isn't much of a picture, but you can see the sprawly growth form and the narrow leaves (the lower ones belong to the Spring Beauty). Sometimes the flowers are a bit pink, but this one was quite white. I moved leaves aside and hunted around a bit and was pleased to find more plants.

Maybe I'll get my patch of Beauty yet!

Friday, April 6, 2012

It Must Be Spring, and Yet....

(to the tune of Stella by Starlight)......

It must be Spring, and yet......

Buds on the Fly-Honeysuckle bushes

Still snow behind the house.

It must be Spring, and yet....

Flowers on the Red Maples
Ice in the marsh.

It must be Spring, and yet....

Cornus mas ready with its dusty blooms

Leaves whirling down the wind,

It must be Spring, and now....

Scilla bifolia in its pink form
The song begins,

the rush arrives, the birds announce their plans,

the sun is warm again.

It must be spring, it must be spring.

Crocus 'Ruby Giant'

Oh yes, it must be Spring.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Trowel Talk

Howdy, folks.

The reason you haven't heard from me lately is that I've been lost. I knew where I was, but She didn't. Not that She would admit it. She just had this vague thing that I'd turn up somewhere, sooner or later.

Well, today She was poking around in the back of the Plant Shed. Don't know why - maybe the yucky weather outside had something to do with it, anyway, you'd think she'd hear my hollering, but no. After awhile, when I was down to just the occasional weak whimper, she decided to get some dried moss for something or other, and voila, there I was.But did I get a hearty welcome? Oh, no, all I got was, 'Oh, there you are.'

Then, would you believe it, she held me up to the light (the Light! I haven't seen light, to speak of, for almost 4 months) and squinted at me.

'This trowel is getting kind of short', she says. 'the whole tip is worn down to half  what it used to be'.

Well, what does she expect? Go jabbing me into rocky soil, using me to dig up rocks (actually, I'm pretty proud of my rock-prying ability....) and I'm not going to wear down? She's not so young and pointy herself, you know. Time (and rocks of course) wears us all down.

 'Guess I'll have to get a new one.' she says.

What!!! Get a NEW ONE???

Wait, maybe she's serious. I could be replaced here.

Oh, no!!! Now what do I do??????

Maybe I'll have to get 'nice'...........

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Winter Walk in the Shaw Woods

Now that Winter is back, I'd like to tell you about a little snowshoeing excursion I went on last week. Funny how our minds work. Several warm days with the snow melting and all I could think about was Spring, then a good snowfall and a couple of cold nights and I'm back in Winter mode. Anyway, I went along on a short snowshoeing tour of the Shaw Woods.

The tour was a preliminary to a workshop on trail-making. I won't go into the specifics of the trail designing exercise, except to say that it is a protocol to help a group of people with diverse interests reach consensus on some of the aspects of a nature trail. It's a new and proprietary protocol developed by, among others, the Friends of Bonnechere Parks. It is called Footprints in Time, or FIT which is a wonderful name given their goals of encouraging fitness while respecting local history. I have to say the procedure seemed to work very well. At the end of the morning's work, we had a pretty good starting list of points to be made on the interpretative signage along a future FIT trail in the Shaw Woods.

But back to the snowshoeing. Here's a shot of us heading into the Woods:

The trail was pretty well packed down at the start, so we carried our snowshoes! I used the opportunity to sneak looks at people's snowshoes and the various bindings they had. My snowshoes are fine, but the bindings leave a lot to be desired. They are attached using rubber straps that just don't stay done up. The straps are too short, for one thing. I saw one system that involved a flat rubber sheet with a keyhole cut out for the boot and two long rubber arms used to tie it to the snowshoe that looked really good. Now all I have to do is find some suitable rubber.....

As you can see, it was sunny and warm . I loved the way the sun lit up the understory in the Beech/Hemlock forest. Young American Beech, Fagus grandifolia, hang on to their leaves all winter -  kind of a shabby effect when there are only a few trees, but looks perfectly reasonable in a Beech woods. I wonder why the leaves don't drop. Young Oaks do this too. Does this mean they don't go dormant the same as the more mature trees? Is it that young Beeches, like young Humans, don't want to go to bed? Some of the Beeches in this grove must be quite old as they are a good 2' diameter at the base. Large Eastern Hemlocks, Tsuga canadensis, are interspersed with the Beeches, and you can really see them in the Winter. In the summer, you don't notice them so much.

My favourite spot is the Hemlock grove. Hemlocks tower over the trail here. Stop, close your eyes, listen to the wind,  feel the cool moist air on your face. With a little imagination you are in a dense coniferous forest, a forest of 'hushed coniferous giants'.

 It works best on misty days, but you can practice.

My Hemlock Grove at home consists of one tree 10' tall and one seedling about 2' tall. There are 4 or 5 fairly large trees on my neighbour's side of the fence, but they don't look that healthy. The beaver pond must flood them most years. At least my two are higher up and safe from that. But they have a long way to go before they are a Grove!

Fallen Hemlock twig