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.

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 sources were cited as 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.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Spring Ephemerals

Mertensia -- Virginia Bluebells
Just before the leaves of deciduous trees are at their fullest, the spring ephemerals bloom.  This group of woodland plants use the fact that the leaves of the deciduous trees are not shading the forest floor to grow and store food for next winter.  The plants grow quickly and bloom early just as the trees are starting to leaf out.

And then they disappear, leaves and all, sometime before the end of July. So if you're wanting to move or divide your ephemerals, do it before summer. I mark where they are so that I don't accidentally dig into them when I'm playing in the garden later in the season.

Mertensia -- Virginia Bluebells -- is one of the nicest ephemerals.  Have you ever seen a better blue?  Mertensia pops up even when there are morning frosts and bravely grows along with the Trilliums, a bushy, leafy plant making it hard to believe it's going to disappear in just a few weeks.

Two other ephemerals you might like are Dodecatheon and the fall-blooming Colchicums with their large, strap-like leaves.  Dodecatheon blooms just as the eaves are popping.  It's dainty blooms look like tiny badminton birds. Colchicum will put up a clump of strap-like leaves in the spring.  Those leaves will grow and reserve strength for most of the spring and then disappear before July.  The leaves will die down so completely that you'll forget about them and then be surprised in autumn when the flowers pop up -- no leaves, just flowers.
Spring ephemerals  - an early hint of the summer that is to follow.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Whateveritis Has Started

It’s still cold and the garden appears dead – until you look closely.  Some of the tulips have poked their noses out.  Next door the snowdrops are already blooming. 
In the pond the marsh marigolds are beginning to leaf out and in the garden the rose stalks are starting to show green. 
It’s those small things that raise hope in the minds of gardeners – those things that prove that life is beginning despite the cold temperatures.
And, as the picture attests, the Whaterveritis has started. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Buyer Beware

               Most of us concerned about the plight of bees are now conscientiously choosing plants for our gardens that are good for bees.  What we may not be aware of is that the very plants we are purchasing to help bees may have been treated with the same pesticides that have been killing or sickening bees worldwide – neonicotinoids.
               Neonicotinoids or neonics are a group of systemic pesticides that are used on crops to control insects.  When they are used as a seed coating or a drench, the insecticide enters the system of the plant and can be found in all parts of the plant – leaves, stem, flowers, fruit.  Insects feeding on any part of treated plants are affected. 
               The neonicotinoids widely used to prevent insect damage on crops have been recognized as dangerous to bees.  Although bees are not the targets, they are attracted to the flowers of crops that have been treated.  The bees ingest the neonics through nectar and take the pollen of the treated plants back to their hives to feed their young.  Large doses of the pesticide will kill bees outright, but even very small doses of neonics, can cause bees to become disoriented, to experience memory loss or to lose their foraging ability.  Honey bees are often unable to find their way back to the hive.
Those very same neonics that harm bees on crop plants may be present in the ornamental plants we purchase at nurseries and big box stores.  Studies of plant material from a variety of retail sources have revealed the presence of neonics in plants offered for sale.  Some growers use the pesticides on their ornamental stock as a control for insects just as farmers do on crops.  And we purchase those plants for our bee gardens!
To reduce the danger to bees, many countries have banned the use of neonicotinoids, but there is no legislation banning the use of neonics on garden plants in Canada or the USA.  The nurseries and plant producers, the sources of our plants, are free to use neonics on the plants they produce.  Of course, we wouldn’t choose plants for our bee gardens that contained harmful pesticides, but there is no way of knowing whether the plants we purchase have been treated with neonics or not. 
Here’s where you and I come into the picture.  
The Ontario Horticultural Association has acted.  OHA has written a letter to the main large box stores asking them to choose plants for sale that have not been treated with neonics and to label plants that have been treated.
You and I can act, too.  We can ask our plant sources whether neonics have been used on the plants, and we can choose not to buy plants that have been treated with neonics.  We can regulate the use of neonics with our purchasing decisions.  Buy only bee-friendly plants this spring.

Here are some sites you may want to visit for more information:

Monday, January 26, 2015

In the Midst of Death

The sunlit fungus on the log in the picture is proof that the death of a plant gives opportunity for life.  

Sunlit Fungus on Log Fla 2015
Fungi are an interesting family of living things.  As a gardener, I have been most interested in one member of the family, mycorrhizal fungi.  These fungi form partnerships with plants.  The fungi side of the partnership is to increase the effectiveness of the root of the plant. The mycelium of the fungi provides the host plant with minerals and other nutrients from the surrounding soil, and the plant provides the fungus with food in the form of carbohydrates.  While vital to the good health of a plant, mycorrhizal fungi are not usually seen. 

The lovely fungus you can see on the log in the picture is a saprophytic fungi, a member of the largest group of fungi.  Saprophytic fungi feed on dead matter such as fallen trees and dead leaves.  These fungi produce enzymes that will rot (or digest) the cellulose and lignin of the host.  Eventually, through the work of these fungi, the log in the picture will disappear and its components will re-enter the food chain. 

A commonality in all fungi is that they are not green.  Fungi do not have chlorophyll cells and, therefore, cannot photosynthesize sunlight into energy.  They depend on the dead host for the sugars and starches they need to live. 

The fungi enter the body of the host through thread-like, tubular filaments called hyphae.  The tip of a hypha grows or elongates and may branch out to form a mat of hyphae called mycelium.  It is from the mycelium that the fruiting body of the fungus arises.

The fruiting part of the saprophytic fungi is the part we see.  Fruiting bodies come in a variety of shapes from lacy growths like the fungus in the picture to the mushrooms we love to eat.  It is the fruiting bodies that contain the spores by which the fungus multiplies.

The grey fruiting part of the fungus on the log is what attracted me.  In sunlight, it has a beauty that belies the fact that the fungus lives on death.