Monday, May 27, 2013

Getting Yours.....

Native plants, that is. What did you think I meant?

At all the big box stores right now, including most of the grocery stores, you will find huge displays of plants for sale.

My favourite groc store surprised me with a rack marked 'Ontario Natives'. Naturally I was right there in seconds.... only to find a very disappointing situation. First of all, the plants were all very small. That wouldn't worry me, but they were all in coir pots, and being so small, they needed to be watered several times a day, which, with seasonal part-time staff trained for 15 minutes, just isn't going to happen.  The pots at the back and on the lower shelves were all bone dry. Already dead. Then, the selection was, to say the least, misleading. There were Trilliums, about 3" tall, labeled 'Trillium Luteum'. Never mind that the 'Luteum' should not be capitalized, T. luteum is not an Ontario native. I also found one labeled 'Trillium Recurvata'. The 'recurvata' should be 'recurvatum'. The language of botany may be an odd-ball Latin, but it does follows the rules of the adjectives matching the noun in form. So if the species name is 'Trillium' , ie, an 'um' ending, the adjective should also end in 'um' or one of its forms. Trillium recurvatum, or Trillia recurvata, not a mixture, please. And please, do not give it the marketing name of 'Purple Trillium', or have a picture of a pink (in other words, fading) T. grandiflorum on the label.

And of course T. recurvatum by any name is not an Ontario native either.

 I did buy one which had a little flower and when I got home and could check in my books, found it was  T. catesbaei. Not an Ontario native. The label in it said 'Jack in the Pulpit'.

All the labels carried the marketing blither about native plants needing less maintenance than non-native species. This is balderdash. Peonies are low maintenance. Astro-turf is low maintenance. My Aunt Fannie is low maintenance. OK, I don't have an Aunt Fannie.... I'd better shut up now, this is turning into a rant.

Instead, hie thyself to the Fletcher Wildlife Garden Native Plants Sale this Saturday. There will be all kinds of native plants, a few donated, some offered by independent small nurseries that specialize in native plants, and many more grown by the volunteers at the Fletcher. They will all be correctly labeled, and carefully grown and cared for. Best of all, the volunteers (and the nursery people) will all be eager to answer your questions about any of the plants. Get there early, and bring a box or two to carry your treasures home in.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Viola Surprise

Nothing beats hand-weeding for getting up close and personal with your plants. You can stand back and look at your garden, and enjoy the overall effect, but it is only when you duck under that floppy Japanese Lilac to dig out the clump of grass that has been waving its seedheads at you that you find the six little plants of Viola rostrata, Long-spurred Violet, that you grew from seed last year and tucked in there at the last minute before it snowed.

Truth to tell, I had forgotten about them. V. rostrata is one of our local native violets, but I have never (yet) found it in the wild. When I saw the seed listed in a seed exchange, I sent for some. They germinated as easily as most violets do, and last August I potted them up in little pots. It was so dry at that time that there was no sense in putting them in the ground. Eventually it got to be late October and I vaguely recall sticking some of them under the Lilac. Today when I ducked under the low branches to pull out the grass, I was startled to see these little faces looking back at me!

You can't mistake this one - the spur is very long, and the markings on the petals are distinctive.They are a good size, too, the plants about 6" tall and the flowers over 1" across.

Which of course leaves me in a slight quandary. I can now say I have V. rostrata.... but not from a known local population, so I can't say I have the indigenous form. As a result, I will count them as 'found', but will not plant them in my woods. Garden, yes, woods, no. Still, it is great fun to see them!

I've put a new box on the right-hand sidebar. Click on the link to 'Ottawa Violets' and a Google Drive document will open. You can read it on the screen, or print it. It is open to anyone with the link, but of course you can't edit the stored version. It is a slightly personal look at the Ottawa Valley's violets, so you may not agree with my organization of the different species. I'll be updating it to add V. rostrata and probably another header page describing some of the identification problems. This will take a few days, so please be patient!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Garden Successes

Aren't garden successes wonderful? You feel so good when one happens. And today I have two of them to report!

The first involves a peony plant which has gotten large and bushy over the years, but has never bloomed. It is one of the fern-leaved ones and it was a gift so I don't know it's name or ancestry, but I have been waiting impatiently for it to bloom and it hasn't. Last fall I remembered having read something about peonies not liking more than an inch or two of soil over the resting buds and I carefully brushed away some of the soil around it's stems.

And today I saw that it has many fat red buds! Ah, success!

The other success I discovered today is even more exciting. I've been trying for a long time to get a patch of Fringed Polygala, Polygala paucifolia, established in my woodland garden. I've had seeds which did not germinate.... I've had seeds which germinated and did not become seedlings..... I've had seedlings that did not become plants..... in other words, I was failing with them all along the line. And yet they grow in masses only a mile or two away. Last summer I got some cuttings from a neighbour. I put them in sand and kept them moist and cool (as much as I could in that awful drought summer) and by fall there did seem to be roots on one of them. I planted it in my mini-bog near the marsh, figuring it wouldn't grow anyway and what would I do with it all winter.

Imagine my delight this morning to see a nice tidy plant, with two flower buds! Here it is, on the left. The picture on the right, just to show you what the flower looks like when it is open, was taken near the White Lake Fen, another place where it grows in its numbers.

P. paucifolia is a curious plant, really. It grows in the moss in boggy areas, and in bone-dry conditions under tall white pines. I've seen it in full sun, and in heavy shade.  It spreads underground to make large patches, and is considered a shrub by some authorities. It occasionally has above-ground seeds, which look like a flake of cayenne pepper, but more often has one or two seeds that develop underground right on the stem or rhizome. These underground, or cleistogamous, flowers, never open, but usually self-fertilize and produce seeds. They are pretty hard to find, though, involving crawling along the ground on one's stomach scraping soil (or bog muck) away from the stems.  The whole plant is only about 6" high, and the flowers are most curious. They look a bit like orchids, although some people see a resemblance to small birds or even angels. Whatever, their curious shape and bright colour make them one of my favourite wildflowers.

Is one small plant too soon to claim success? No, I'm feeling optimistic today!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Trail Work

It's amazing how much you can accomplish with a hand saw when you're afraid of chainsaws. I'll admit it, I once again finked out on buying a chainsaw. After Christmas I decided for sure, absolutely, no excuses, I would get myself a small chainsaw, maybe in March. I would learn to run it, sharpen the chain, service the little engine, the whole shcmeer. Come April I finally took a look at them in my local  Hardware Emporium, and not only did the pricesw cause shock and awe, the safety instructions added Fear. So I turned tail and left the store....

Today being breezy and cool, only about 10C, and dry, I figured it was a good day to get started on clearing my main trail.There were lots of blow-downs, proving again the law that if a tree falls in the forest and there is no one to hear it, it will fall across or onto your trail.

The small birch across the trail was no problem. A few minutes with the bow saw and no more climbing over that one. The spruce across the trail was too high up to cut, but chopping off the branches that hung down meant that anyone my height or shorter can now walk right under it. If you're taller than me, just duck. Then I hit the area where a number of long-dead spruces and balsam firs had gone down like dominoes, that is, in all different directions and on top of each other. I thought it would be an awful job, but to my surprise they were crisp and the branches snapped easily when whacked with the axe. Then I sawed through the trunks and piled the debris in long rows beside where I want my trail. This is an interesting little spot, damp, with a rock wall to the north, where a number of species of Grape Ferns grow. Below it there  is a fine stand of Ostrich Fern, Lady Fern, two Silvery Glade Ferns that I planted, and a few Bulblet Ferns ditto. So I wanted to be able to walk through. Other than the fact that the long spruce branches kept whipping me in the face or getting caught in my hair, it really wasn't too bad a job.

The large cedar blow-down was next and had me stumped for a bit. A large clump, seven trunks, crashed last fall. Five of the trunks went one way, two the other. Going around in either direction would have involved either wading or climbing over loose rocks.... not to mention a lot of clearing of small brush. In the end I went through the middle! Now you can walk between the two sets of up-ended roots. It's neat, you can see old blackened wood between the roots, so probably the clump developed as shoots from a tree killed by fire, and you can see the layer of topsoil, then the layer of clay, and then sand. Sort of a geology lesson!

The 10C  temperature did not, unfortunately, deter the blackflies.

But you can walk all the way around again, and only have to duck once, and step over, I think three times. And it was nice and quiet and I didn't have to wear Hearing Protection or Eye Protection, or Steel-toed Boots or bring a gas can or lug a heavy machine.... there's a lot to be said for hand saws.