30 January 2008

Garden Blogger's Book Club: Dear Friend & Gardener


Whew! I managed to make it under the wire with my thoughts for Garden Blogger's Book Club for Dec-January. Thanks to Carol of May Dreams Gardens for having thought this project up--a perfect way to combine combine a passion for plants, reading and writing.

I was surprised to see that my copy of DFAG, which is the British version published by Frances Lincoln, has now been published for ten years, though I believe I’ve only owned it for about 7 or 8 years now. It lives on a shelf along with other books including Green Thoughts by Eleanor Perenyi (our previous GBBC selection); books that are about gardening, but are not so much “how to garden” as about the pleasures of gardening.

Christopher Lloyd has always been one of my favourite garden writers, with Beth Chatto coming in not far behind. Although I never got to meet ‘Christo’ before his death in January of 2006, I like to think we would have gotten on well. He did not suffer fools, he loved plants of all kinds, wasn’t afraid to push the boundaries—or to speak his mind on things. But he could also be generous and encouraging of others in their gardening adventures, and this is what I hear when I read his books. Always erudite, sometimes sardonic, and a wealth of knowledge…who will be his heir in the garden-writing world, I don’t know.

It’s fun to read a book of letters between old friends. It’s very obvious that Beth and Christo have been friends for many years, and their mutual admiration isn’t just for the benefit of readers. They tease, and show concern for one another, chatting on about challenges with pests, plants, pets and people; they obviously spend whatever time they can together at one another's homes or out touring around. It would have been fun to trail along behind them at a garden show or in a public garden, lurking in the lilacs to hear what they were talking about! Not having that opportunity, this book will have to do.

When I first read Dear Friend & Gardener some years ago, one of the things that most caught my eye was the enthusiasm that the writers have for snowdrops (Galanthus, various species). Around these parts, we tend to see two different offerings: single and double-flowered—unless we find a good speciality bulb supplier. I had no idea of the variety, the covetousness with which gardeners seek out bulbs, nor had I realized the way wild bulbs were rapaciously harvested for sales elsewhere. I assume all copies of this book are indexed; I loved being able to refer to the index to find the exact pages where the correspondents spoke about snowdrops, or euphorbias, or other plants that catch their fancy.

AS the title suggests, this isn’t ‘merely’ a book about gardening. The writers often chat on about music, including concerts they have taken in together, or other topics not necessarily exactly about planting, but still having an effect on such labours. Christo himself observes,
I find it both fun and stimulating to write about life beyond gardening…personally I think we may have a wider approach to garden design if we have been helped to appreciate other form of art; to be aware of basic principles—balance, repetition, harmony and simplicity—which apply to all forms of creativity. To look for these ideas in painting and architecture, or hear them in music, has certainly influenced me as much as knowing whether to put a plant in the shade or in full sun.


I do love the tender way in which Beth and Christo speak of their plants. Here is Beth, talking about her famous Gravel Garden:
In some parts of the Gravel Garden the effect, at this peak of the year, is almost meadow-like. Tanacetum niveum attracts everyone with large mounds of tiny grey leaves completely whitened now with clusters of small, yellow-eyed daisies. It seeds freely, so we met it in some unexpected places…White-flowered love in a mist, Cedric Morris’s rainbow forms of Papaver rhoeas and Ompahlodes linifolia (called the Broderie Anglaise plant by my small daughters many years ago because it looked rather like the lace edging on their cotton petticoats) –all these flowing in drifts, highlighted with self-sown opium poppies, sometimes single, some incredibly double.


There is garden writing, which informs the reader on the passions of gardening, and then there is garden literature, which lifts the soul of the reader while it informs. Dear Friend and Gardener is a happy mixture of both, and one I highly recommend as a book to be kept and read time and again.

29 January 2008

The Ice Queen's visit


Well, Her Cold Majesty the Ice Queen decided it wasn't Within Temptation to leave us alone, and she has paid us one heck of a visit. The temperature has hovered around freezing all day today, so that most of her handiwork has yet to disappear. And that's not necessarily a good thing. I always enjoy a bit of ice on plants, for a few hours or so, but it's now been more than 30 hours since the ice first started to form.


In the Valley, it's all melted. I wish I had taken my camera with me today when we went to the Valley, because you could see about halfway up the side of the mountain where the ice started on the trees. I did go up the road a ways this morning to have a look at the trees, and it's quite evident that there are going to be some very damaged trees come spring. Some of these have already broken off.

In our garden, the evergreens just shrugged their limbs, drooped down as they were with a mantle of ice, but are mostly unphased. The big spruces, especially, have seen far worse. In 1995, we had an ice storm that left the Valley encased in crystal for several days. And then there was the great ice storm of ten years ago, early January of 1998. THAT did a lot of damage, of course, and not just to trees. So it's all relative, isn't it?

My Harry Lauder walking stick (Corylus avellana 'Contorta') seems quite unphased by the ice, probably because his limbs are already twisty and flexible.


It wasn't until I was examining this photo of my 'Diane' hamamelis that I realized inside the ice you can see the starting of flower petals! EEEEPS! She's trying to flower and she's covered in ice?? It's her first winter in the garden, and now I want to go out with an electric blanket and warm her up. Okay, just kidding. But I want the ice OFF her!


Do you ever find that no matter HOW MANY photos you take, there's never the exact one you want? I've poked through hundreds of photos looking for a similar view of this part of the yard in summer. I know some of you will recognize the arbour, of course...


These are the birch trees behind the arbour. They're normally between 20-25 feet high, some maybe a little more. Not right now. Several are broken in the tops, necessitating some surgery or outright removal come spring. All of them are bowed down under the huge weight of ice.


And again, this isn't quite the angle I wanted, but you can see one of the young willows in the centre background. We planted these as little more than branches picked up from a broken willow, about seven years ago, and they're all about 15-20 feet tall now.


Well, they WERE...being willows, they may well spring back, but one is laying down in the horse's paddock, right over the fence (also flat). The other shrubs in the area are fine, the barberries and roses and Acer ginnala and Physocarpus opulifolius, etc are all fine, but the top is broken from a birch nearby too.


Well, let's look on the bright side of things. No one is hurt, there are no flooded roads like in some parts of our region, and as I said the Valley has mostly thawed; we will tomorrow, when the temperature is supposed to go up to 8 C. The power didn't go out, the Internet came back on last night after we got home, and January is nearly over. Which brings us one step closer to spring. And tulips. And other pleasures.

It'll all be okay.

28 January 2008

Wildflowers in Winter, Week 2



Almost forgot to get my post for Wildflowers in Winter, Week 2, posted, even though it's been sitting in the draft folder for several days. How does an ice-encrusted aster sound? I don't remember which one this is, other than it's not the tall white aster, or the heart-leafed species either. But it's an aster, and it's definitely winter here in Nova Scotia.

Now the question is, will I get my Garden Bloggers Book Club post up in time? Stay tuned!

Enough with winter, already!


Well, I don't know about anyone else, but this is definitely been one of those days up here on Sunflower Hill. I woke up to strange noises, and looked out the window--to find I couldn't see out the window. Yup. Ice, ice, baby! Just what I didn't want to see...(or not see). Freezing rain and ice pellets are just not nice weather behaviours at the best of times.

So I staggered downstairs, only to find out we were having, for want of a better term, lasagna weather. First, a few hours of snow. Then some ice pellets, followed by freezing rain. Then a little regular rain, which just stuck to everything and became more ice. Repeat as necessary. Just about everything but frogs and locusts came down out of the sky at one point or another today. There was a glacier on the back step. The vehicles were covered in an inch of ice. The horse was in the barn with his head out the window, and a big horse-pout on his face. The cats who go out, said no thanks, and headed for hte litter box instead. They couldn't watch bird television because of the ice on the windows. Charming.

And I had stacks of work to do, and guess what? No Internet! Try doing research online when you can't GET online...I needed some phone numbers of some agricultural universities in the US, and couldn't even get those.

Bang head on table. Consider going back to bed. Saddle up the Tacoma instead and we slog into town to get the mail, go to the credit union, etc. Meanwhile, lasagna weather continues, glace-ing the garden in finest crystal (Thanks, Yolanda E, the Ice Queen found us rather than you). Came back hopeful that maybe Steve had sorted out the tech woes. Call provider. Too much ice on tower to do the reset work. Maybe tomorrow.

Uhhuh. I have work to do. Invoices to send, even more importantly.

So that's why I'm sitting in a very nice cafe that I've written about for several magazines in the past, drinking Mexican hot chocolate, collecting information, and oh yes, loading up about 47 different pages of blogs in my two web browsers. So while I won't be able to comment on all of them, I'll at least get to read them when I get home (due to having a Mac laptop that I can just put to sleep til I get home).

Thank you all for your well wishes and comments...i'll keep you posted when there's something to report on the book-project. And also thank you all for the wonderful comments on the eagles. The rehabilitated eagle was released successfully yesterday, and it was heart-warming to see him soar away after his comrades.

Now, back to work here...and in the meantime, a little summer colour from last year's garden, to help get us all through. Whatever weather you're having, wherever you are, I hope it's better than here!

27 January 2008

Blooms, birds, blotanical, blogs and books


Sunday is often my day of miscellany, when I catch up on things like email, finding the office floor, and other not-really-work related activities. But not housework. LSS does that, bless him! So I thought I'd do a bit of a miscellany in my blog posting too.
Lest someone think that bloomingwriter has gone to the birds, (which is better than going to the dogs, say the catchildren), I thought I'd bookend this post with a couple of new plants that flung themselves at me this past week, pleading to come home with me.

Leading the way is this lovely house-azalea, as I call the ones that won't survive outdoors. Normally, these plants are about 30 dollars, in 8 inch pots or better, and I just can't buy one only to watch it dwindle away over the coming months. However, the store I was in hand smaller, healthy looking azaleas, smothered in blooms and less than ten bucks, so I said, sure, come along with. Being a digital image of the plant, the colour really isn't accurate: this particular azalea is about the same colour as 'Hansa' rugosa rose, a deep fuchsia, and has deep green, glossy leaves. If it does okay, I'll put it outdoors for the summer, but it's not one to be planted out in this climate.


Some of us here in North America, and elsewhere, decided to take part unofficially in the Big Garden Birdwatch that Shirl told us about the other day. Weather was a little more amenable today to watching and counting birds; yesterday, many of the birds sought shelter in the woods, apparently. Except for the chickadees, which always are around!

Here's what I saw in our yard during my hourlong watch:

3 Gold finches
9 Blue Jays
about seventeen or five dozen blackcapped chickadees (YOU try counting them when they're bopping everywhere)
21 common redpolls
5 dark-eyed juncoes
8 mourning doves
2 purple finches
a number of different sparrows (maybe English and Chipping--sparrows confuse me)
5 crows
Mr. Ringnecked Pheasant (didn't see Missus today but she may have been by earlier or later.



The dear little black-capped chickadees are my favourite birds, bar none--so cheerful looking, very friendly, they follow us around the yard while we're filling feeders, and they're so much fun to watch and listen to.


This is a great year for redpolls, according to Jim from the Blomidon Naturalists Society. Apparently there are several different species around, but these are just the regular common redpolls. Not the clearest photo, because I took it through my office window, which has both screen and glass on it; but I spend a lot of time looking out at the various birds stuffing themselves at the two feeders.


Is this a hairy or a downy woodpecker? I don't know, because I can't tell them apart. I DO know it's not a pileated woodpecker--we do see those in the yard occasionally, but not often. This little fellow, however, is a daily visitor, often hanging out on the suet feeders, but also happy enough to check out trees for something delightful to eat.

On to other topics. It's good to see so many people visiting Blotanical and exploring their way through so many of the blogs from various parts of the world. I've discovered all kinds of blogs that I haven't seen before, and reading some very fine posts. A LOT of very fine posts, actually, but what else is there to do when one has insomina but read something interesting? There's a method to my madness; as some of you know, when we recommend posts or write notes or favourite blogs, we gather points, and the different levels allow us to pick more favourites. I have about four dozen favourite blogs that I read faithfully, and I want to celebrate each of them on my personal Plot at Blotanical, so as soon as I get to 1500 points and can have 48 favourites, I'll be happy. But I don't pick each blog post written each day just to gather points--I only pick ones that I think are worth reading, and certainly there are some out there that aren't as good as others.


Isn't this delicious? This is the first Bromeliad I've ever purchased, the lovely Flaming sword, Vriesea 'Christiane'. It stopped me in my tracks at a shop the other day, I stood looking at it and half a dozen other bromeliads for a few minutes, agonizing over which one I needed. This one thought it had to come home with me, and I'm glad it did; its glossy green foliage is handsome, but the flower spikes are just plain remarkable.

Finally, I may not be participating that much in Blotanical or here or visiting other blogs over the next few weeks, as I'm getting a book proposal ready to submit to a publisher, and that's going to take up some of my free time when I'm not working on other articles. So don't be surprised if I go a bit amongst the missing; I have a few posts stocked up and ready to go, but may not get around to other blogs as much for a little while. Fingers crossed, friends...some of you have been wondering when I'll write another book...the answer is, it's mostly written, but I need to find the right publisher before I go any further. A publisher has expressed interest, so we're in the initial 'dating' stages of discussing publication.

26 January 2008

A garden of eagles


When I got up this morning at 0630 and looked at the thermometer, my heart sank. It was nearly 0 degrees F then, and the wind was blowing, creating a wind chillfactor of about minus a hundred and leventy-three. I figured that the birdwatching wouldn't be all that great in the back yard, but I'd go back to bed for a while and then go check out the eagle situation in Sheffield Mills and Kingsport.


I'm really glad I did. Now, two things about these photos before we go any further. The photos in my previous post aren't mine; one is from US Fish and Wildlife (as noted); the other is just a file in my computer, in one of my graphics/image programs. All the images today, however are mine; BUT! I didn't use the tripod and I didn't get as close as I would have had it not been Eagle-Watching weekend. With so many people around watching them while they fed, I didn't want to either set up the tripod or edge in closer, because then everyone else would have come in closer and disturbed the birds.


One of the poultry farmers was assigned to put out dead stock for the eagles in this particular viewing site three times this morning. Now, I figure eagles must have some sort of ESP (Eagle Supper Perception) because there's one or two...then a few more...and then more. Quite a few more. The most that are in any of these photos is 15 eagles, but there were easily 30 or more feeding at any one time. I just couldn't get them all into my photos!


Quite a few more! Those with brown heads and tail feathers are juveniles, or as I call them, "teenage eagles". They tend to be on the lower end of the pecking order in these feeding sessions.


But there are a lot of arguments about who's gonna get what particular tasty meal. Eagles are opportunistic feeders, meaning they'll eat pretty much whatever they can: fish down at the shore, small animals and other birds, or carrion such as roadkill--or, as in this case, chickens.

If you've never seen eagles on the ground, or doing these take-off and landing routines, you might not know that on the ground, they're rather ungainly. I maintain they have a gait not unlike a drunken sailor, a sort of rolling, comical gait. My husband says when they're coming in to land, they look like they're wearing rubber boots.


They make all kinds of curious noises, from their usual cries when in flight to a host of clicks, screams, chirps, twitters (yes, really). Some of them probably mean, "Back off! Get your own chicken!"

For all I chuckle about their behaviours, they make my heart ache with happiness to watch them. And judging from the faces of the dozens of other bystanders also watching...they make a lot of people happy. And proud that this mighty bird is back from the brink of endangered to a thriving population again.


There are usually some sycophants hanging around; ravens, crows and gulls, who are waiting to clean up whatever the eagles might leave behind. The eagles chase them off, but rather hap-hazardly, depending on just how sated they're feeling.


Some prefer to take their chicken "to go"...


...After which they sit around in the 'eagle trees', preening, grumbling, digesting, and watching the eagle-watchers.


You lookin' at me? You lookin' at ME?

It's supposed to be milder tomorrow, so I'm hoping for better success in my backyard birdwatching; I did check when I came home this afternoon, but the only visitors at the time were my usual collection of chickadees, some redpolls, and the hairy/downy woodpecker. But I figure the eagles more than make up for it!

25 January 2008

Dream plants...only in my dreams.


Mr. McGregor's Daughter posted the other day about her dream garden plants. You know the kind...those wonderful plants we love but might not necessarily ever have, for one reason or another. We all have some of those. Here's a collection of plants I love, but that are very unlikely to ever be seen here on Sunflower Hill.


I have several blue spruces, and am getting another one in the spring, but I don't expect to ever have a weeping blue spruce in our garden. They're expensive, hard to find, expensive, and I only know of a couple in my circle of gardening friends in the province. This one is at a nursery owner friend's display garden, so I visit it every now and again to track its growth.


Take a deep breath before you say this name...it's Paeonia mlokosewitschii, a species peony also known as "Molly the Witch". Everything about this peony thrills me, from those luscious yellow flowers to its glaucous, bluegreen foliage tinged with bronze in spring. But again, it's hard to find unless you want to spend a lot of money, and the blooms only last a few short days. I think if I'm going to make the plunge and spend a lot of money on one peony...it will be...

....an ITOH (Intersectional) peony, preferably this exquisite 'Kopper Kettle'. (I can't remember where I pulled this image from some time ago, apologies). These beauties are a cross between tree peonies and your basic herbaceous variety, and are named after Japanese breeder Toichi Itoh. They're known for their floriferous nature, hardiness, and the exquisite colours like this. I dunno...my friend Alice at Ouestville Perennials in West Pubnico carried this one last year. I resisted..but that was last year.

There are certainly dogwood species I can grow, mostly natives. Cornus kousa, however, isn't for my garden. I have friends with such exquisite dogwoods in other parts of Nova Scotia, where the climate is a little more temperate in winter. Sigh. I can dream, and do.


Daphne hates me. I have had two of the plain variety, and both of them went to sleep, never to wake up again. So there's no way I'm going to try 'Carol Mackie' or any other expensive but finicky plant. I'll just admire it elsewhere.


One of my friends in Yarmouth has the lovely Viburnum plicatum 'Popcorn' and I went into raptures when it flowered during one of my visits last summer. I figured it was going to be too finicky for here, until I talked to my nursery buddy Rob Baldwin (soon to have a website!) earlier this week and guess what? He's ordered some in! And if they'll grow in Windsor...they'll grow here. So this dream plant is going to make it to my garden come May.


This red broom, on the other hand, will have to remain in my dreams. The ordinary broom doesn't do well here--it's that lovely wet heavy clay of ours--so there's no point in torturing myself by bringing home one to watch it dwindle away.

I love the look of eggplant. Beautiful deep purple, shiny plant, a sort of musical sound to it when we tap one. I like to eat it too. But growing it? Hah! Anything that needs a lot of heat units--corn, squash, peppers, eggplants--isn't going to be happy with our fog, cool temperatures and wind in the summer. I can grow tomatoes in the greenhouse, but the other argument against growing eggplant is that my longsuffering spouse doesn't like it...so I'll just buy an eggplant when I feel the need for moussaka.


I'm cold-testing a few seedling Japanese maples up here this winter, young plants that are crosses from Bloodgood, which does do fine here most years. But then there's the ever so glorious Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum', or Full Golden Moon maple....it has such incredible colours in the foliage, and we all know what a fixation I have about foliage. It's supposed to be hardy to zone 5, and it would work in a sheltered location, but here? In the land of much wind? Noooooo.

Meet the glorious yellow ladyslipper, Cypripedium calceolus, a gypsum-soil-loving native of Nova Scotia. It grows round Windsor, near the gypsum quarry----or did, before the ravages on the Avon Peninsula from the expansion of the quarry, and I first saw it in the wild in 1979. My friend Dick Steele of Bayport Plant Farm (the leader of the trek to Labrador in September) grows it from seed he collected years ago, and I might JUST try one from him this year, provided we can dig up enough soil around it to make it move successfully. But probably I'll just visit Dick's each year, admire them intensely, and plant other things that will do well here.
Ahhhh, welll. At least I CAN grow blue poppies...and cheer others on to grow them too!

24 January 2008

Very big birdwatching!



I have birds on the brain this week, moreso than usual, and when Shirl from Shirl's Gardenwatch left a comment about a bird count this weekend, it reminded me that I'd better get a related post up. But first, if you aren't the sort to read the comments left in a post, here's what Shirl asked us about on her own blog:

Just a thought – if any of my visitors outside the UK would like to do their own bird count on the weekend of 26-27 January you could pop a comment on this post with your results and I will add them to my results posting. Alternatively if you would like to do your own post just leave a comment here telling me and I will add a direct link to your posting on my results posting and people from the UK will see what birds you have in your gardens. This could be very interesting indeed to see what birds visit gardens in an hour across other parts of Europe, Canada and America. Please do consider joining me - it could be fun. Mmm thinking about this some more I might just send out some invitations!!

Well, Shirl, I'll do that for sure, and here's one of the birds I'll be watching--not IN my backyard, but for sure flying over it. For 17 years now, the nearby community of Sheffield Mills has been holding an Eagle Watch festival on the last weekend in January and the first weekend in February. Our part of Nova Scotia has been known for twenty years or more as the site of the largest overwintering population of bald eagles in eastern North America.

Kings County is also home to the majority of poultry producers in the province, many of them in Sheffield Mills, and in past years, the farmers used to feed the eagles the mortality from their barns. Most don't do that anymore, thanks to the paranoia about bird flu (another scaremongering situation that I won't rant about today), but the population continues to thrive and flourish--there are something like 500 eagles around the county throughout the winter months, and it's not usual to see dozens of them sitting in trees near a farm...just in case there might be dinner served.

It happens that while some of the bald eagles overwinter in our county then head to Cape Breton and other locales for the breeding months. However, some of them stay here yearround, including a handful that live and nest here in Scotts Bay. There are chicken barns here, and also the mudflats at low water, and plenty of woodlands around; so hardly a day goes by that I don't see at least one eagle. It doesn't matter if I see one a day or a hundred: I never, ever get tired of looking at them. They make my heart glad, whether they're sitting in trees digesting their dinners, playing on the air currents off the Lookoff, or arguing with one another over a tasty morsel in a farm field.

Here's an excerpt from an article I wrote more than a decade ago, that's still online:
We're fortunate to live in a place which eagles have decided is a good place to spend the winter. Being opportunists who would rather eat carrion that is found or provided for them than to hunt for themselves, more than four hundred eagles now frequent eastern Kings county, which is also home to 90 percent of the poultry producers of Nova Scotia.

While this largest of North American raptors has a reputation for being shy and even reclusive, the eagles that populate my neighbourhood give the lie to that tale. Often one can approach them as they perch in one of the large "eagle trees" of the area, as they digest their meal or survey their domain for other offerings or just socialize. On several occasions, while on horseback, I have come within a few metres of them and have been able to watch them and their escort of ravens for some time. This is perhaps because they regard my four-legged friend not as an interloper but merely as another aspect of the food chain.

Interestingly, one of the events this weekend will be the release of an eagle that has been rehabilitated after an injury. I haven't found out anything more about this, or where the eagle was rehabilitated (probably through the Natural Resources people in Kentville). I suspect the release will happen quietly, away from the gaggles of people that will be hanging out around Sheffield Mills, looking up into trees (and sometimes, taking photographs of seagulls or crows, mistaking them for eagles--I'm not joking about this!), but I can't help but wonder what that marvelous bird will feel like when he can once again feel the wind under his wings.


Photo from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Bird Gardening



Robin at A Bumblebee Garden put up a wonderful post about evening grosbeaks making a comeback, which she read about at Project Feederwatch, through the wonderful Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I really enjoyed her post, and reading about Project Feederwatch too, and I'll be posting about something similar in the native plant department (PlantWatch, which goes throughout Canada; are there similar programs in your country?) in weeks to come. But for now, I have birds on the brain (which probably makes me a birdbrain, yes? The catchildren think so....)

Many of us feed birds as a part of our gardening experience. Carol at May Dreams Garden has just revamped her bird cafe after discussion with other enthusiasts about what to feed when and where. I have always loved birds, but have never claimed to know much about them. Not having studied them the way I’ve immersed myself in plants, I’ve always found find trying to tell one type of bird from another overwhelming to sort out. (Well, yes, okay, I can tell a blue jay from a chickadee, or a robin from a goldfinch. But you get the point).We feed the birds yearround here, and provide a wide variety of treats for the feathered visitors. But we can always learn more. That's where a delightful book by Sally Roth comes in. Roth is well known for her books on gardening and birding, with a focus on using natural, organic methods and a variety of native as well as naturalized plants to create lovely yards that teem with bird populations.

In Bird-by-Bird Gardening, Roth teaches us a little more about birds than many of us probably know. She does it, however, with an encouraging, never intimidating, tone, and this lavishly illustrated volume just teems with user-friendly information.Just as with plants, birds are classified into families sharing similar traits, and this is the first book that I find really explains the habits, traits and behaviours of a wide range of bird families.

Following several chapters on the basics of bird needs and some tips on garden design with birds in mind, Roth dedicates her attention to bird families and how we can attract them to our yards. She focuses on 19 families of birds, ranging from woodpeckers (which include flickers and sapsuckers as well as the familiar woodpeckers) to the swallow family to the large and small finch families to even the gallinaceous birds (grouse, pheasants, quail, and other birds that resemble domestic fowl).

In each of these chapters on "birds of a feather" (yes, she uses that pun too), Roth paints a portrait of the general traits and range of the most common or popular species of the family, along with feeding and nesting preferences. She then provides a fine list of plant selections that are useful for attracting members of the family, and she helpfully cross-references what other birds would be attracted by planting a particular species of perennial, tree or shrub. She provides helpful recipes for feeding birds (such as mixtures of fruit, seeds or suet that attract particular species), and sums up each chapter with a list of "Top to-dos" for the chapter’s family.

Roth is another one of those writers who never intimidates or condescends in her writing. She may know a formidable amount about birds, but she brings it down to a level that you and I can understand and enjoy. Her enthusiasm is boundless and reading through the chapters is like sitting down to have a conversation with an old friend over a cup of tea. I’ve used this comparison before with other writers, but to my mind it’s essential to inspire and excite people to try their hand at gardening, or at least birding, and the only way to do that is to be excited and inspirational, and not sound like you’ve answered the question a thousand times before.

The two chapters on finches are a prime example. Roth starts out the Large Finch Family chapter thusly.
"Ay-yi-yi. The Finch family is a mess, as far as backyard birders are concerned. Even taxonomists can’t seem to stop arguing over who belongs where."
She then confesses in the second chapter (on small finches) that scientifically speaking, this group of birds isn’t a family but a selection of species from three finch families. She then writes,
"But, hey, there’s method to my madness: the birds share a similar shape and almost identical eating habits."
This sort of warm, honest tone is endearing but also gives us plenty of information to chew on.

I give this book two wings up. So do the cat-children, who are constantly fascinated by the range of channels on "bird television."

22 January 2008

Wildflowers and Pollinators.



Elizabeth Joy over at Wildflower Morning is hosting a new photo-posting activity for the weeks leading up to spring. The object is to post a photo of a wildflower, with a different theme for each week. I'm just under the wire with this week's favourite wildflower, which is a photo of Campanula rotundifolia, or Scotch harebell. It's not the best photo I've ever taken, but it's special to me because this little plant was growing on the vast rocky expanses of the Tablelands in Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland; some of the most uninviting terrain for plants to be found, because of the toxic heavy metals in so many of the rocks that litter the mars-like landscape; rocks that were heaved up out of the earth's heart nearly a billion years ago. So I think this is a pretty special little plant.

It's no secret that I'm fond of wild flowers and other native plants, both in their natural habitats and in garden settings. I've got natives on my mind a lot lately, in part because I'm concerned about other natives; pollinating insects, some of which are dying off. We all heard the big honeybee scare last year, Colony Collapse Disorder, but the wild, native pollinators are as important to our environments.

I'll be writing more posts about pollinators later, but just wanted to share a happy bit of news for native bumblebees in our area. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has posted articles on its website about native bumblebees in decline, including one that is native to my area, Bombus terricola, the Yellow-banded bumblebee. I went through my photos of bees, because while I couldn't tell one species from another when I was photographing them--I just like bees--I thought the pattern looked familiar.

I sent this photo in to the society, who had their resident entomologist study the image and tell me, yes, this is a yellow-banded bee. You can be sure I'll be watching out for them more this coming gardening season; and if planting more natives (and more Eryngium, which bees adore in our yard) helps, then there will be many more natives going into our garden this year.

And lots of opportunities for wildflower photography. Pop on over to Wildflower Morning and join in the fun. Thanks to Nancy at Soliloquy for letting me know about this great bit of photoblogging, winter-unclogging relief.

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