Wednesday, April 19, 2017

George Baker

mother clump of Corydalis solida
It's truly Spring; George Baker is blooming.  My George Baker (Corydalis solida) has been a sign of spring for over 10 years.  Each spring without fail, the little clump has brightened a side garden, a shady side garden, with its lovely salmon pink blooms, the first bit of colour in April. 

George Baker is a Spring ephemeral, blooming in April and gone by July. Its goal is to bloom before the deciduous trees fully leaf out.  Because most ephemerals completely disappear before summer, their location in your garden needs to be marked to avoid disturbing them during summer or fall maintenance.

Two more ephemerals that deck out my garden in early spring are Trilliums and Dodecatheon meadia, Shooting Stars.  The Trilliums are a "borrowed" clump my son-in-law brought me from Kempenfelt Centre south of Barrie many years ago.  The original clump has now been divided to become three clumps of wild Trilliums. The Dodecatheon I bought at a native plant nursery and is another plant I've had for many years.  I've moved it several times and it still keeps blooming, its little badminton bird flowers sprouting bravely above the plant. Spring ephemerals face the April cold and wind with a message that Spring is indeed here.  (See the May 2015 post for more about ephemerals.)

For a long time, George Baker stayed as a neat little clump.  A couple of years ago, the plant decided to multiply. First there was one little pink clump about two feet away, then one more clump but with mauve flowers.  Now little George Bakers dot the garden in an area of about 4 feet around the mother plant,  one or two a fair distance away and some adorning my neighbour's yard along the fence line.  Some are big enough to bloom; others too tiny just yet. Perhaps George Baker will become as invasive as its relative the perennial Corydalis ochroleuca  that pops up all summer over one area of the garden and reseeds itself with abandon.

I'll not worry -- George Baker delights me and only lasts for a few weeks.  Let it bloom where it will.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Staying In Canada

No southern sojourn for us this winter.  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 and friends about the snowy weather predictions from home.  This year is different.  For whatever reason -- the drive, the drop in the dollar, the political climate or perhaps some other subconscious factor -- 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, capricious and fickle weather, disobedient of seasonal rules, pouncing on the countryside with little warning. Weather is shirtsleeves in February and parkas in April.

Our weather most often comes from away, eastward from the prairies, down from the Arctic or up from the Southern USA, bringing rain, or snow or sun to Ontario on its way to the East Coast.  It's the dip in the Gulf Stream, the cyclone in the Pacific, or the hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico pushing temperature changes and precipitation across North America.

Last night we had weather, cold weather, cold enough to freeze fingers and toes, a cold so penetrating that walkers hurried hunched against the freeze to home or work, to warmth.  Along with the cold came a blizzard, an all-night snow blowing horizontally and creating great drifts across the city and down the streets.  This morning the city was laden with new snow, drifted over, reference points disappearing in an all-white landscape, leaving no division for roads or sidewalks. Snowblowers were out in full force as drivers rescued cars from filled-in driveways.  Those drivers who had already found their cars and freed them from their snow-cover were on their way to work, slipping and skidding down unplowed side streets like beetles in soap suds.

Our city does a good job of plowing our streets, but the order of plowing is main streets first and side streets later.  It usually happens that our side street is plowed in mid-morning, after the driveways have been cleared and drivers have left for work. The plow races down the street pushing road snow into mounds at the ends of those freshly-shovelled driveways. When residents return home from work they need to tackle snow again -- road snow.   Road snow is different from blizzard snow, crusty mounds of road snow deposited by the plow, hard packed and turned to ice by traffic, mounds filling the bottom of driveways, mounds almost unmanageable for a snowblower,  mounds that, if not moved, may last until spring.

Keeping the driveway cleared may be the chore that sends most Canadians south, but when you're retired and possess a snowblower, a snowblower that starts in all weathers, a snowblower that moves itself on treads, a snowblower that blows snow well into the next yard, the snow really isn't such a big problem.  The urgency is missing.  Retirees can wait at least until the plow goes by or even longer.  Snow clearing can wait and be done at leisure and in fits and starts.

Those without snowblowers will find a myriad of people who will "do snow" for a price.  My neighbour hires a person who arrives after each snow with a humongous snowblower attached to a tractor.  He can clear her driveway, even the mounds from the plow, in less than five minutes. We haven't taken that option yet, but it's there.

I must mention that I don't do snow anymore, neither making snow angels nor shovelling it.  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 seedlings and Spring.  Seems fair to me.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Midnight Marauder


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

The first instance of evening evil was the missing white lily blooms – yes, that white lily that pleasantly surprised us last season. We found the stem of the lily broken over and all of the six blooms gone.  Strewn across our sitting bench, were bits and pieces, stamens and pistils and fragments of the petals of those perfect blooms.  To my mind, a singularly heinous crime.

A few days (nights) later, the pink lily was broken over at ground level and once again the flower buds were gone.  Soon to follow was the bloom of a liatris,  and just this morning three stems of the purple coneflower, the totally ravaged parts strewn near the plants.

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. 
 
The culprit could be the new batch of squirrels (young squirrels are so inquisitive), or it might be the chipmunk family. I’m guessing the dirty deeds were not done by the skunk nor the raccoons; neither of those two 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.

UPDATE/April 2017:  A rabbit has been spotted in our yard several times by my grandaughter.  This year tulip leaves have been nipped and crocuses dug out.  Our marauder may be a rabbit.  it is a known fact that the Easter Bunny has a taste for buds.

Monday, May 23, 2016

No Tent Caterpillars!

The flowering crab in bloom
The flowering crab in our front yard is one of the favourite foods of tent caterpillars,  We planted that caterpillar magnet in the front yard over 30 years ago.  For the first 20 or so years, tent caterpillar nests in our tree was a spring event.  Always one caterpillar tent, sometimes two and in bad years three or more webbed homes were occupied by a horde of caterpillars ready to defoliate the tree, the tent growing in size as its occupants grew. 

We controlled the caterpillars and the damage they can do by burning the ever-growing nests.   Waiting 'til dusk to ensure that most of the caterpillars had returned to the nest after their day of foraging, we cut off the branch the nest was on, and burned the nest with its load of caterpillars inside. This 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 chickadees supplemented their winter diet of  black sunflower seeds courtesy of my son-in-law with the protein stored in the crab tree in the form of hibernating insects and tent caterpillar egg cases.

Now, during fall, winter and early spring, the unquenchable little chickadees clean every inch of  the tree searching out eggs and egg cases hidden in the bark. They are diligent in their work; no protein source is missed. 

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: http:echonet.org

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. For two seasons, trying to combat the beetles by monitoring and picking, trying to combat them with soap and water concoctions, trying to combat them with horticultural soaps, I concluded that the beetles were 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!

Even though I had only to do away with four or five beetles in the ensuing year, I wanted a bigger victory.  "Could I,"  I wondered, "reduce the number of lily beetles even more?" 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 than 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, the native plants 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. These remnants of my collecting years are 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.