Thursday, January 26, 2017

Bah, humbug

Soft fluffy snowflakes gently falling... evergreens transformed by snow piled on every twig... tracks of a solitary fox down my driveway, already quickly filling in...

Bah, humbug.

Enough with the Winter Wonderland! Except for the times when it's been raining, or the times when the wind was whipping the trees around at hurricane levels, I think it's been snowing continuously since before Christmas. Alright, there was probably some sunshine in there somewhere, but I must have been having a nap just then.

It's hard for this gardener to find much entertainment this time of year. Watering my houseplants takes all of about 10 minutes... alright, maybe 15 if you include putting my small collection of Tillandsias in the sink for a good soak. Add another 2 for reminding my geraniums that they will get sunshine next month and to just hang on until then and that's it for Fun With Houseplants. Actually I spent a bit longer then that on them this week if we count a little event that began with a light-bulb shattering, causing a small piece of glass to hit the glass globe that one of the Tillandsias was living in and smashing it, thus knocking a precariously balanced Fuchsia  over on to the desk, and spreading Fuchsia bits and globe bits and pot bits all over my paperwork, desk and floor. Clean up was interesting given how crowded my office is. If anyone ever wants to inspect my expense receipts for 2016, I Can Explain!

I could order seeds. In fact, I did. I ordered vegetable and annual flowers from Vesey's and fern spores from the British Pteridological Society's spore exchange. My spores have already arrived in the mail, and I'm happy that I got almost all the ones I asked for. This is a totally volunteer-run outfit, so I'm very grateful to them to allowing me to get spores of ferns I might otherwise never get close to. I've requested a second batch of Dryopteris campyloptera, Northern Wood Fern, because the last batch gave my only three plants and they look identical to the D. carthusiana I already have. Either I made a goof, the spore donor made a goof, or I can't tell Campy from Spinulose. So a re-try is in order. I'll plant them up just as soon as I get some potting soil, which I'll do as soon as my driveway is cleared...

Last year I did not order my vegetable seeds from a mail-order catalogue and ended up buying them at a big-box store. Little choice, no clues as to whether the varieties offered were any good for freezing or not, and the Green Bush Beans were anything but. I had some green pods, yes, but they were on long skinny sprawly stems that got tangled up with the nearby basil and parsley. Most of the pods were yellow and only two plants could be called bushes. The worst part was, they didn't taste very good either. This is the times we live in. Every store sells everything... sort of. Back when I was a young gardener, you could think of what you wanted, then decide which store was going to have it, go there and buy it. Now you might as well go to any store and see what they have. Don't bother wanting anything specific, they won't have it. You can then go to another store and they won't have it either in exactly the same way. Try to buy warm black socks, for example. Go ahead, try. Every store you go to will have socks, they will all be different, and none of them will combine the obvious characteristics (desirable for socks) of being both warm and black.

So I guess we had better support the few mail-order seed houses we still have.

Another thing a restless plant person can do in January is read.

I thought it would be fun to find some new gardening blogs to follow. Well, I don't know if anybody else has had the same experience as I just had. Several hours of 'surfing' to find gardening blogs has come up empty. I'm amazed at how many of the results of the search, when clicked on, either came up  'page not found' or led to blogs that hadn't posted in years. I'm also amazed and saddened by how many blogs have become little more than paid advertising. Some of these blogs must have large staffs. They promise hourly posts, links to everything in the world (see my views on today's stores above) and everything is 'Easy', or 'Instant' or 'Exciting' or some other breathless adjective. And, you know what? I hate all the re-directs. Click on a title that sounds interesting and then sit there and wait for 5 minutes while your computer visits every country in the world to follow the chain to whatever bit of prose is at the end. Then of course the prose turns out to be yet another paragraph leading you on to another subject without ever touching on the one you went looking for. All headlines, no content. Five million sites telling you to prune your roses (It's easy, it's fun, just follow the directions) and then no directions. I haven't given up, but it's a scary world out there.

Sort of like this endless snow. And it's not even February yet.

Meanwhile, I did read several books I enjoyed. Canadian readers are probably familiar with Des Kennedy, he of the wild red hair and the garden on Denman Island in B.C. I picked up a copy of his 'Heart and Soil' (bad pun, Des) at my local  purveyor of un-rare books. Partway down page 2 I realized I already had a copy, but never mind, I read it again and it was a good read. In this book he looks back over a life working not so much in a garden as about a garden, and he is very thoughtful and philosophical. He mentions having recently had a health scare, and it has made him look back over his life from a new perspective. This is not a new book, it was published in 2014, but obviously still available in bookstores. Deeply personal, thought-provoking, engaging. Worth a spot on your shelf.

After reading that, I went back and re-read his 'The Way of a Gardener'. It's autobiography, and written on a more optimistic day. He has a number of other books, all worth a read, but this one is really his best book Get it if you can.

Well, I had better go shovel my steps now. As I said, bah, humbug.

ps. There must be good blogs out there. If you know of one, send me a comment, I'll add it to my blog roll and we can all enjoy it. And if you'd like a practically new copy of Des Kennedy's 'Heart and Soil', let me know and I'll mail it to you.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Pruning Roses

Today I pruned my roses.

You may reasonably wonder why I should be doing that in January. My garden rejoices in the presence of, I think, 25 rose bushes. Some of these are bush roses, such as Fru Dagmar Hartrup and Harrison's Peach, some are species such as R. glauca, (formerly R. rubrifolia), and R. woodsia the native Smooth Rose, but most of the others are David Austin roses. I find them quite hardy here, although in a winters where the deep cold arrives before the deep snow, they may die back to only a few inches above the graft. Most years they do fine.

This year the roses stayed green and even put up the occasional flower well into December. Some of the later canes reached inspiring heights. Mary Rose went up into the crabapple tree and bloomed between clusters of deep red crabapples. An attractive colour combination, but a somewhat absurd sight nonetheless. Gertrude Jekyll, always an original thinker, headed up into the cedar clump nearby and thrust her pale pink double blooms out from between the green sprays at about the 6' level. For once, I had to reach up to sniff.

Which is one of the fine things about the David Austins - their fragrance. Most smell like the roses of old, that is, sweet and fruity. Very few of the modern tea roses have much in the way of fragrance, and if they do it tends to be a muddle of cheap colognes and aftershaves. The shrub roses rarely have any scent, and most of the so-called Explorer roses, such as John Cabot and Champlain, have no scent at all.

There is one of the Explorers that I like very much. It has clusters of small dark red roses, a very lovely rich colour, and a habit of blooming for weeks. It came labelled Heritage but of course it isn't. It might be Champlain but I have no record of having purchased that.  Seafoam, also not an Austin, has no scent but its small white suffused with pale rose blooms, in graceful clusters, come all summer long. It is one of the last to bloom. In fact, some of the canes I just cut back had (frozen) buds on them. Seafoam, at least the one I have, has a very bad habit of growing horizontally. This leads to lots of bloom, but also seriously scratched ankles. I did cut it back severely a few years ago, but it didn't take kindly to this treatment and sulked for a long time. Only this past summer has it started to forgive me and gone back to its usual rampaging approach to life. For a long time, I thought this rose was Iceberg, but some research has shown me that is wrong too, and it must be Seafoam, which is what I thought before someone convinced me it was really Iceberg. Sigh, and big Note To Self, I really must make good permanent labels for my rose bushes.

Normally, I would have trimmed the roses back in November, but this year it was so warm I was afraid it would encourage them into new growth, so I left them. But they looked fairly silly, not to mention reproachful, sticking up above the deep snow.
rose garden in the snow

Not wanting to fill my boots with snow, I got out on my snowshoes and trimmed them all back to just above the snow. Other than the canes getting caught in my wool coat, it was pretty easy. One cane fell rather far from where I was standing and tumbled over the low fence and I thought, 'darn, now I have to walk all the way around' in true post-holiday laziness, but it turned out to be quite possible to use another long cane to fish it back within reach.

First time I ever trimmed roses on snowshoes.