Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Year in Canada

No southern sojourn for us this winter.   Despite what the weather will throw at us, we've decided to spend the entire winter in Canada. For 10 years we've hidden from winter under a Floridian sun; done our duty at Floridian golf courses; and commiserated with non-travelling relatives at the winter predictions from home.  This year is different. For whatever reason -- the drive, the drop of the dollar, the political climate or perhaps some other reason -- we both decided to stay home, to spend the entire winter in Canada.

A year in Canada is not reminiscent of a Year in Tuscany!  In Canada we have the usual seasons: Winter from December 1 to February 28, Spring from March 1 to May 31 and so on, but that's not the whole story.  We also have weather. Weather is capricious and doesn't obey seasonal rules; weather is whimsical and pounces on the countryside with little warning.  Our weather most often comes across the prairies or up from the Southern USA and arrives in Ontario on its way to the East Coast bringing snow from the Rockies and the Great Lakes or rain from the USA South. It's the dip in the Gulf Stream or the storm from across the Pacific or up from Louisiana.

Last night we had weather--cold weather.  February brought a blizzard with snow falling thickly and blowing vertically. The wind and snow lasted all night. This morning roofs were laden with extra snow, and driveways had drifted over. Folks were out with their snowblowers rescuing cars from filled-in driveways. Those who had freed their cars slipped and skidded down unplowed side streets.

Our city makes a good job of plowing our streets, but the timing of plowing can be disheartening.  Shortly after the car has been rescued and the driveway is cleared, the plow races down the streets pushing road snow into freshly cleaned driveways.  Road snow is different from blizzard snow.  Cars have driven over it, and it is hard and often condensed into ice.  Sputtering and emitting expletives, shovellers race out again to the clear the crusty mounds of snow the plow has left at the bottom of their driveways.

In our household we have an agreed upon division of labour.  Mike valiantly keeps the sidewalk and driveway cleared while I cocoon and dream of gardening and Spring. Seems fair to me.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Midnight Marauder

Lily bloom gone!
Sometime between bedtime and get-up, the blooms of some of my choice plants have been disappearing.  Actually not completely disappearing.  Chewed parts of blooms are evident each time the marauder attacks.

The first instance was the white lily blooms – yes, that white lily that pleasantly surprised us last season. One morning we found the stem broken over in the middle and all of the 6 blooms gone.  Strewn across our sitting bench, were bits and pieces of those perfect blooms.  What a cruel thing to do!

A few days (nights) later, the pink lily was broken over at ground level and once again the buds were gone.  Soon to follow was a liatris and just this morning 3 stems of the purple coneflower broken over with, once again, the blooms gone.

A geranium from one of my pots and the eggplant seedling from another pot have also disappeared.  The geranium disappeared in stages.  First went the blooms and then, bit by bit, the whole plant.  The eggplant did not go without a fight. It was dug out by the midnight marauder and replanted by me several times until one morning the plant had completely disappeared. 
It could be the new batch of squirrels (young squirrels are so inquisitive), or it could be the chipmunk family. I’m guessing the dirty deeds were not done the skunk family nor the raccoon family – most of the missing or injured plants are in raised beds or pots at least 2 feet above ground.  And neither of those critters are bloomivores. 

I’m putting my money on the chipmunks because I know for a fact that it was chipmunks that ate the roots of my Bloodroot under the cover of snow last winter.  On the basis of that deduction,  I am declaring outright war on chipmunks.  They are now persona non grata in my garden.  The problem is how to communicate the message.

Monday, May 23, 2016

No Tent Caterpillars!

The flowering crab in bloom
The flowering crab in our front yard has been there for over 30 years.  For the first 20 or so years, tent caterpillars in the tree were a spring event.  There were often two or three nests of the caterpillars.  (Flowering crabs are a favourite food of tent caterpillars.)

We controlled the caterpillars by waiting 'til dusk to ensure that most of the caterpillars were in the nest after their day of foraging, cutting the branch the nest was on, and burning the nest with its load of caterpillars inside. In this way we managed the caterpillars and the damage they did to the tree.

The yearly "cutting of the tents" was part of the annual pruning regimen of the flowering crab.

Then came the chickadees.  They arrived one summer and stayed to nest.  My son-in-law began feeding them so the family soon stayed all winter.  The chickadee family supplemented its diet of black sunflower seeds supplied by my son-in-law with the protein stored in the crabtree in the form of hibernating insects and tent caterpillar egg cases.

During fall, winter and early spring, the unquenchable little chickadees cleaned every branch of its store of insects and insect eggs. They were diligent in their work; no protein source missed their search. 

And so, thanks to the chickadee family (and the nuthatches and the little downy woodpecker, too) there are no tent caterpillar egg cases in the tree come spring.  AND that means no tent caterpillars. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Echo Farms

Opuntia cochinellifera == variegated Prickly Pear

While in Florida this year, Mike and I visited Echo Farms.  This is an organization that researches sustainable farming practices and then teaches small farmers in Africa and Southeast Asia how to be more successful on their small farms by using the ideas the farm has developed.

We saw water conservation sites, hill farming, and many other techniques for the small farmer to use on a small bit of land.  There was even an ethanol-producing device capturing the gas made from compost to use for cooking.

Most of the site was for tropical farmers but the ideas were universal -- an interesting day. You can visit the site and learn more about the organization at this site:

Oh, and one of the tropical plants we saw was the variegated prickly pear cactus pictured above.  Absolutely no prickles.  Leaf and fruit both edible.

Monday, August 24, 2015

One Surprising White Lily

Mysterious white lily in full bloom
There was a time when my garden contained several lilies, gaudy red ones,  merry yellow ones, and subdued pink ones, all the lilies blending in the garden so that some danced together and some were solo acts, each lily with a glory all its own,

Then came the Red Lily Beetles, chewing avariciously on leaf and bud alike, able to reduce a lily plant to rubbish right before my eyes.  I tried for two or three seasons to stay ahead of the beetles by monitoring and picking beetles almost every day but soon realized that the lily beetles where an enemy I couldn't defeat. With a tear I ceded the battleground --  I dug my lilies out, leaving only one particularly fragrant pink trumpet lily.  Surely I could manage the beast on one lonely lily!

I tended the remaining lily for two years and found only four or five beetles each year, numbers that I could control --  but I wanted a bigger victory. "Could I reduce the number of lily beetles more?" I wondered.  Last year, in an attempt to fool the remaining beetles, I moved the pink lily away from its original site to a new location.

This summer the pink one bloomed gloriously in its new location.  AND in the former home of the pink lily, the stock of a new lily appeared. Guessing that I had left part of the pink lily when I moved it,  I let the new lily grow to see if it would produce a flower -- and flower it did.

The new lily was white, pure white --  perhaps a memory of some past ancestor of the pink cultivar.  It was taller that the pink lily, and sported eight flowers all perfectly formed.  The volunteer white lily was just as fragrant as the pink lily, a true companion, flowering at the same time. I let it stay.

Ah, but you're wondering about the Lily Beetles.  I  had one beetle on the white lily and one beetle on the relocated pink one -- all summer.  Have the beetles left my garden or has a predator appeared at last to keep the Lily Beetle in control?  I'll wait one more year and see. If the number of beetles is still down, I may consider planting more lilies.

For now, I'll treasure the serendipity of one surprising white lily.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Clematis Time

My garden is a combination of two worlds: native plants and aliens.  It's a purposeful garden, providing some degree of regional diversity to my little spot on earth.

But not completely purposeful.  There are also, in my garden, some very well-loved plants,  aliens from another part of the world or from some hybridizer's lab, left-overs from of a time when I was a collector of the unique and a connoisseur of trendy cultivars, remnants of my collecting years so well-loved that they continue to have a spot in my garden no matter what my ecological mood of the moment.

Perle d'Azur & Gravetye Beauty
One such group of aliens are the clematis vines.  Not edible either for humans or for bees (although fair game for earwigs), growing along a high fence in my garden, the clematis bloom from mid-June until early August.  First come the big-flowered varieties, the showy clematis that as a rule don't grow so tall.  They're the opening act for the other varieties of clematis with smaller but more profuse flowers that grow several feet before blooming. Usually the flowers of the showy first-bloomers are at a eye-level, big and bold. The smaller varieties like Ville de Lyon and Mme Julie Courevon grow taller and have blooms from low down to heights of 6 to 8 feet.

Pictured above is a favourite combo:  Perle d'Azur, along with its companion, Gravetye Beauty.  Both grow over 8 feet on the fence with smallish but plentiful flowers. Gravetye Beauty is red and Perle d'Azur, a purplish blue.  These two plants bloom and bloom and bloom in July and continue to sport the occasional bloom well into August.  Once upon a few years ago there was a white Summer Snow growing with these two, giving a patriotic tone of red, white and blue to the fence in July.  Summer Snow is gone now; that's another story.

bee on Veronicastrum

The native plants in the garden blend well with the aliens.  Natives plants are not to be sneered at nor called "weeds."  They have their own aesthetic.  Besides being helpful to beneficial invertebrates, they have a  carefree beauty like a group of gypsies settling for a while in my garden.

The native plants I grow are sources of nectar and pollen for the native bees that call my garden home.  Pictured to the side is a bee on Culver's Root, a favourite of bees.   On warm summer days any time between early morning and late afternoon you can find native bees on the Culver's Root, busy collecting pollen and nectar stored in the tiny flowers.  Culver's Root and the flowers of other native plants are there to entice and to feed bees: tiny sweat bees, big hairy bumblebees, and all sizes in between.

My garden displays the duality of my gardening philosophy:  in one space/time, are the natives I have chosen to support the biodiversity of the land I control; in another space, are those aliens I can't live without. I'll never be a native plant purist; some aliens will always have a spot and will continue to grow among the natives. But in one small way, in one small garden, I am securing the native biodiversity of the land that I control and providing sustenance for some of our native bees.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Milkweed Patch

I grow milkweed in a smallish patch at the front of the house, just 5 or 6 stems -- waiting for a Monarch.

The Milkweed Patch in the Front Garden

 The milkweed has been in the front yard for several years now, and each year the original clump endeavors to expand its influence further and further afield. Ditch milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) produces a humongous root system with one goal in mind -- to establish new plants in as many spots as its root system can reach.  Little shoots spring from the main root system all over my yard 10 or 15 feet away from the mother clump -- but they are easy to manage. A slight tug on the shoot will dislodge it from its root segment. In that way I manage the spread of my milkweed, but the roots grow on. 

This year was different. The news from environmentalists about Monarch health was horrible.  Loss of habitat and food source was cited as one of the causes of Monarch decline.  Gardeners were called upon to plant milkweed for local Monarchs, so instead of limiting my patch to 5 or 6 plants in the garden, I allowed most of the pop-up shoots to stand.  I had a forest of milkweed plants in my front yard, a sea of milkweed that would surely be irresistible to Monarchs.

And all the plants grew and bloomed. Ah, the blooms! Milkweeds in full bloom smell divine, so divine in fact, that it's impossible to walk past them in a hurry.  Savoring each step redolent with the aroma of milkweed blossoms is an experience to remember.  And savoring is what the bees and wasps did, too.  The whole patch, the whole front yard, was abuzz with insect life, but no Monarchs.

My son-in-law says there was a Monarch in the garden a while back but I didn't see it.  In fact I didn't see one Monarch in my milkweed yard all season, but I did have the aroma.