25 July 2006

My soul longs for the sea...

This is a non-gardening blog entry, so if you’re not into the sea, come back next time…

Went to a press conference yesterday at Bedford Institute of Oceanography, to hear the report on the most recent science cruise using the Queen of the science fleet, the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Hudson. The Hudson and her officers, crew and scientific staff just got back from two weeks off Nova Scotia’s southeastern coast, where they were using a unique piece of gear called ROPOS , a remote operated submersible vessel,to help them study, sample and photograph creatures thousands of metres beneath the ocean depths.

In a perfect world, I would have been out there with them. In another life, I must have been a sailor, a pirate, or maybe only a seagull, but I love the sea wholeheartedly, and love being out on the wide open ocean on an ocean going vessel, be it a Cape Island lobster boat, a Coast Guard fisheries patrol cutter, or my favourite, the good ship Hudson.

My first trip on the Hudson was three years ago in September, out to Sable’s oil fields, then to the depths of the Laurentian channel, the Stone Fence, and the Gully, where we peered into depths looking for deepwater coral. We also danced a slight dance with a little hurricane named Juan, but we were well out beyond the worst of it, and the Hudson is, in the words of her officers and crew, ‘the best damn sea boat in the Fleet, and likely in the country.” Yup.

Last year, I got to sail with the Coast Guard not once, but twice. First time was on the Hudson again, this time looking at undersea habitat for juvenile haddock. Might sound pretty routine, even dull, but it was anything but. I have held, in my hand, a sea cucumber scooped from off the sea bottom near Sable Island. I have two sand dollars collected from a nearby site, not as deep as some areas of the ocean, but with the brooding, restless shores and shoals of Sable only a few kilometres away. I’ve peered down into depths via computer monitor and unique, marvelous pieces of underwater surveying equipment created by the technical and engineering geniuses at BIO, and seen a universe unlike anything you and I normally can see.

It’s a different world out there, people. We look at the ocean’s gleaming, dancing water with sunlight flashing off the sapphire surface, and we have NO IDEA just how splendid, dramatic, puzzling and wonderful the undersea life and geography is. There are wonders, and there are terrors, and the sea is restless, wild, beautiful...and can kill you just as quick as look at you if you’re not smart. There are dolphins that race along the bows of a steaming ship…

There are flat calm mornings when there’s an oil platform, in this case the Sable Offshore Energy Project’s Thebaud platform, sitting a quarter kilometre away when you wake up and look out your cabin's porthole in the morning...

And there are waves that will scare the blessed heart and soul out of even a hardened, hardy, professional sailor.

This isn't one of those waves, but it was enough to take the dust off the deck...

This was on my second trip last fall, on the coast guard patrol ship Cygnus, doing conservation and protection work and also getting tasked on a Search and Rescue call. This was a totally different, but still fabulous experience…I got to operate the ‘sticks’ that control the good ship’s throttle, went from the Cygnus to a fishing vessel in the ship’s Zodiac or FRC, where I got to climb from the FRC up the side of the fishing boat with the fisheries officers on a routine inspection, and oh yeah, discovered I could actually get seasick, if the sea was rough enough and the ship jumped around enough while running INTO the storm on a SAR call…

There oughta be a tee shirt for those who sail on CCGS Cygnus that say, “I got sick on the Cygnus.” Yup, I think it’s a badge of honour—it happens to durn near everyone, except for hardy fish cops who eat beans for breakfast, chili for lunch, and sausages and sauerkraut for supper.

Never mind that. I’d go again in a flash, on either vessel. Or on the Needler, the Cornwallis, the Alexander, the Matthew, even the Earl Grey…or the Terry Fox, or Big Louis, the two great icebreakers that work out of Halifax up north.

These mighty ships come and go from our major harbours all the time, here on the east coast. There are sister ships on the west coast, in the Great Lakes too, and there are men and women who sail these vessels, doing navigational work, running fisheries patrol, doing science work in hydrography, habitat science, and much, much more…and dropping everything at the sound of mayday, mayday, mayday on the radio, to hie off full away to the aid of someone in peril on the sea.

It’s not all glory, adrenaline and excitement, sailing on a Coast Guard vessel. Sometimes it’s deadly dull routine for the officers, crew and staff. Sometimes it’s damn nauseating out there, and sometimes it’s pretty nerve-wrackingly terrifying too. But the work being done out there on the oceans—those same ocean waters that lap at our shores—is critically important, and so many of us know so little about what is done by the Canadian Coast Guard. We ought to feel the same immense swelling of pride when we see one of these big red and white ships that we do when we see the dress reds of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Or the Bluenose. The Coast Guard is emblematic of all that is Canada, from sea to shining sea.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. And if I get a chance to sail later this year, I’m outa here, like a shot.

Even to the Flemish Cap in November. Provided I’m on the Hudson for that one, however.

17 July 2006

Beauty for a day--the daylily

Well, there’s no such thing as moderation in our weather anymore. We’ve gone from muggy and humid and foggy to just plain hot hot hot! Hot enough to cause little cats to just lay around in puddles of tiredness, too bushed to do anything more than sleep. That includes laying on my desk leaning against the laptop keyboard, when they’re just too tired to move, right Spunky Boomerang?

The hummingbirds and honeybees are still going strong outside, and it’s fun to watch the hummers roaring back and forth between flowers and feeders. Earlier this morning, before it was quite so sweltering, my darling husband pointed out the numbers of honeybees feasting on three sea holly blossoms…(the big blue Eryngium, I forget the species at the moment but it looks like Miss Wilmott’s Ghost except for being blue, not silver.) Not to be confused with E. planum, the smaller flowered seaholly which we have in various spots in the yard.

The heat and sun has helped to dry up plants that were feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the wet, including the roses that were balling their blossoms into soggy tissue wads…right now there are fireworks in the garden, as all the yellow evening primroses are in bloom, as are the brilliant orange Asiatic lilies; a real pretty type, not the common ones but a vibrant orange without speckles or spots of contrasting colour. The red bergamot Jacob Kline is also in bloom, as is the Maltese Cross, a host of annual poppies, the giant Macrocephala knapweed, and there are cooling touches in the hot colour scheme being contributed by monkshood, veronica, and some of the darker foliage like Diablo ninebark and Rosy Glow barberry.

And the daylilies have started to bloom. Of course, the oldfashioned ditch lily, Hemercallis fulva, is the first with its bright orange flowers. It’s common as crabgrass but I still love them because they are tall and elegant and will flower anyway.
But the REAL obsessions with daylilies are all the thousands of gorgeous colour combinations, flower sizes and shapes that can be found in the named hybrids—of which there are over 50,000, and perhaps even over 60,000 by now. There’s a daylily for everyone—or five or six dozen, or five or six hundred—and for every spot in your garden. Take for example, this exquisite Minstrel's Fire...I don't have it--yet. But I will.
I’ve loved daylilies for a long time, but I REALLY got into them after I first visited Wayne Ward and Wayne Storrie’s labour of love, Canning Daylily Gardens right here in our own community. The two Waynes have been into gardening for years, but a few years back they decided to try operating a daylily nursery—and it’s a wild success. They have over 800 cultivars growing in the display gardens, and somewhere between 350-450 cultivars for sale. It’s pretty hard to pick out just a few that you like, which is why I have some five dozen or so now. Some are fragrant, some aren’t. Some flower all season long, others only for a few weeks; they come in every colour but true blue and true black, but daylily breeders are a persistant bunch, and one of these days….

I have bought a number of daylilies from Wayne and Wayne so far this season, including the gorgeous Smuggler’s Gold, the deeply purple Strutter’s Ball, a wonderfully contrasting Edge Ahead, the cute as a bug Bug’s Hug, and the exquisite Malaysian Monarch. Today, the Waynes were cleaning up the display gardens prior to the official opening of their Open House days, from July 20-31, and they were moving a couple of clumps of deep red daylilies, name and breeding unknown. Would I like to have them? Well…it wasn’t long before these two big clumps were in my car, ready to go home and be planted…they may be of unknown name and breeding, but they’re going to be named; the taller of the two will be Big Wayne Storrie, and the shorter one will be Little Wayne Ward, and they’re going in my memory garden for Marilyn; just as the two azaleas I brought home from Bill Wilgenhof and Sharon Bryson’s gorgeous place in Antigonish got named Bill and Sharon. After all, Bill bred the azaleas himself, and what better way to pay tribute to the generosity of fellow plant enthusiasts than to call their plants (at least in my garden) by the name of the breeder?

Speaking of breeders, the daylily world was saddened on Friday at the death of daylily breeder Steve Moldovan at age 68. Wayne and Wayne had the privilege of meeting this giant of the hemerocallis world at the national daylily meetings in Niagara back in the spring, and were charmed by his warmth as well as his vast knowledge of daylilies. The world is a little poorer for his passing—but heaven should be well and truly laden with daylilies.

In the meantime, if you're in the Canning area, drop out to Canning Daylily Gardens, 165 Pereaux Rd, and visit the gardens, which are nearly in full bloom. The two Waynes have daylilies and hostas for sale, but you don't have to buy anything to come and visit--they're always happy to meet new people, and to talk about their passion for daylilies. But I defy anyone to come away without purchasing a daylily...or three...or three dozen....

14 July 2006

Keep on planting!

I was talking yesterday with Tim Amos, a landscape designer, instructor and plantsman par excellence, about the mindset some people have about planting their gardens. They think that if they don't get everything planted by the middle of July, it's too late to do anything and they should just stop and enjoy whatever they got done.

Well, if you want to stop and smell the roses rather than plant them, that's fine, but it isn't the law, that's for sure. I don't know where people get that notion, but gang, just keep right on planting whatever you want to plant! Especially in Nova Scotia, where we so often have crappy springs but lovely autumns. I still have a bunch of plants lined up against the walkway, waiting for me to decide where the perfect spot is for them. They're all perennials and a couple of shrubs too, but I threw some annual flower seeds out into the garden earlier this week, mostly poppies and a few sunflowers, because they will have lots of time yet to do their thing. In fact, they'll come on later than their already planted and blooming kin, and provide some nice bursts of different colours to go with the usual colours of September.

On reflection, I suspect that the rush to plant comes from the cycle of the farming and veggie garden seasons. Farmers plant their crops and then wait to harvest them; a lot of vegetable gardeners get their cool season veggies planted, then after the risk of frost is past plant their warmer crops, and then that's it, they're done, unless they are the keen types that reseed things like salad fixings and beans every couple of weeks rather than have them all come on at once. And in the past, we bought our flats of annuals, planted them out into beds or containers, and had done with them, because they had been all grown from seed and had to be planted on time or the nurseries would miss the market.

But hey, this is the 21st century, and we can do things differently now. I am forever bringing home plants from nurseries until mid September, (when I switch to bulbs). That means I still have two full months to haunt garden centres and nurseries, looking for unique plants or irresistable bargains I can nurse back to health or the perfect plant to fill in a spot in a bed where I moved something else.

And our locally owned and operated garden centres and nurseries ought to be working harder to educate customers that they don't have to do it all at once. They need to capitalize on the fact that by mid July, the bigbox bullies have pretty well killed off or sold all the plants in their socalled garden centres and are getting ready to close up. NOW is the time for the local nurseries to put the push on to attract more customers. Some of them are doing that by making themselves very much into destination type nurseries and garden centres, offering plants but also other things, such as a cafe, garden art and accessories, books, workshops. They can bring in more interesting plants later in the season, (they could have been seeding some annuals themselves to use in containers for late summer and fall, or brigning in plant plugs from the big growers, etc). They could be encouraging the use of shrubs more, and offering really good choices; some of them do, of course, and some of them make excellent display gardens so that customers can see the plants in situ and be inspired to try them for themselves. Some of them have excellent, knowledgeable staff, which is critical to success in today's market.

I want to see all the locally owned and operated centres and nurseries around the province--and around the region--not just survive, but thrive, which is tough when you have the bigbox bullies trying to suck up every spare dollar around.

There are some local nurseries that ARE seasonally operated, of course, and that's fine. But we can all be working to encourage our fellow gardeners to keep on planting all season long, and to support our local nurseries all season long too. I walk around the garden here at home now, and some would say that it's 'finished' being planted for the year. But it's not. I have two new sections built, neither of which I'll get 'finished' this year, but which I am putting interesting new plants into as I find what I want and decide on the right space. In fact, I'm going out shortly to visit Blomidon Nurseries, Gerry's, and of course Wayne and Wayne's, because the daylilies are coming on to peak bloom very shortly and I want to get some more new daylilies--as soon as I see what they look like in flower.

So I'll keep on planting, and hope you will too.

12 July 2006

Good things come to those who wait--and don't spray!

About ten days ago, just before I left for a few days in St. John’s, the rock of my birth, I was driving out to Springvale Nurseries when I spied a big clump of milkweed growing by the side of the road. I’d seen it before; the first time was two years ago when it was in bloom and its sweet fragrance enticed me to pick a few stems to bring home and put in a vase. Last spring, I went to dig some up to have in my garden, but was too early; later in the spring I figured I was too late.
Not this day. I had bags and a shovel in the car with me. I’m sure the people driving by in their cars thought I was nuts; down in the ditch, swatting at blackflies and digging clumps of ‘weeds’ out, stuffing them into bags, and lugging them back to my car.

I proudly brought my treasures home, after stopping at Springvale’s garden centre to water the bags. Once home, I put the plants in the shade to slow their wilting (they WERE, after all, about to bloom and somewhat traumatized by being dug up on a warm summer’s day…studied the garden, looking for the perfect place to tuck these new acquisitions in, and planted them carefully.

“Hold everything!” I can hear some people hollering. “MILKWEED? Milk WEED? That’s a weed, dummy! In some places, it’s classified as a noxious weed! What WERE you doing digging up weeds???”

The answer is real, real simple, dear friends. Milkweed is the host plant of choice for monarch butterflies. Their caterpillars eat the leaves, and grow to impressive size before pupating into those perfect specimens of flying flowers, monarch butterflies. Milkweed is also stunningly beautiful, fragrant as all get out, and I happen to love it. We have rosy milkweed and regular butterflyweed here in our gardens, but I wanted the regular milkweed too. And now, we have it. And behold, look what else we have:

Yup. This is the cherished caterpillar of the monarch, munching his way through the plant’s big lush leaves and flower buds. Eat hearty, amigo.

Because of this fellow—and there are a few of them—I won’t even put down diatomaceous earth around the hostas or heucheras, where slugs have been playing havoc. What’s a few holes in leaves when soon, very soon, there will be monarchs in our garden, to join the other butterflies that have been providing us with great pleasure?

And as for those who think milkweed is a weed—a weed is any plant growing where it is not wanted. Meaning that my magnificent Alchemyst rose would be a weed, were it growing in Bruce Rand’s broccoli fields, or the fabulous orange echinaceas if they were festooning Darryl Steele’s grain fields. In our yard, in our garden, milkweed is welcome.

We’ve had some sunlight and warmth in recent days—mostly, while I was away, naturally—but now we’re back to humidity and fog. Actually, the rain was welcome as the soil is getting a bit dry despite the humidity, but alas, this humidity causes balling in some of the roses; Thomas Lipton, Alchemyst, Polareis, even my perfectly divine Snow Pavement, all are experiencing some balling of flowers, resulting in soggy brown clumps that refuse to open. Not all flowers are going this way, however, and those that do open are so perfectly glorious that we simply cherish each one and ignore the brown Kleenex clumps hanging on some branches.

And this summer, victory has finally come to us. Four years ago, I got a rose called Veilchanblau, the so-called blue rose, from somewhere—I forget what nursery or gardener. For three summers prior to this one, I have waited patiently for flowers. I don’t know whether this is a slow maturing plant, or whether we’ve just had too much cold the past few winters, but til this year, not a flower, not a bud; just lots of green shoots.

This spring, I went out and frowned at the rosebush. I trimmed it a bit, tidied up around it, gave it a dose of Seameal, and threatened it.

“If you don’t flower this year, I’ll replace you with something that will,” I told it.

Well. Whether it took me seriously, or whether it was just a slow bloomer, I don’t know. But voila: we have flowers. Lots and lots of them. They aren’t huge, and they aren’t real blue, but they’re certainly more blue than anything else I’ve seen…and they’re lovely.

I wouldn’t have really replaced the plant, not while it is alive, of course. But we won’t tell it that.

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