31 May 2007

closeup in the garden

Because i'm up to my ears in deadlines (to say nothing of couchgrass and buttercups in the garden), I'm a bit rushed and don't have a lot of time to update my blog. But I thought a few intriguing photos would be worth a thousand words....

I will plant these tulips faithfully every year, because they are a work of complete and wonderful art in themselves. Meet Apricot Parrot....

Ruby Wedding Astrantia: a perennial that deserves to be more popular than it is, as you can see by contemplating the intricacies of its lovely flowers.

One of my favourite trees is the dawn redwood, with the deliciously cumbersome botanical name Metasequoia glyptostroboides. This is a deciduous conifer like larch (Larix laricina) and an ancient, intriguing tree. Thought to be extinct when first described from fossil records in 1941, live specimens were found in China that same year. It's becoming more popular as an ornamental tree. Mine is small, but growing.

Someday, perhaps I'll get to visit Namaqualand, in southeast Africa, during the spring wildflower bloom.
Until such time, I'll celebrate the wonders of African wildflowers by planting some of the hybrids developed from these plants. This is an osteospermum with the well-descriptive name of Pink-Yellow. Or maybe it's Yellow-Pink?

These are the lovely cones of a spruce, Picea glauca Acrocona (Acrocona Norway spurce). I think spruce are another underused and splendid tree, and while I don't have this one--yet--I'm going to go back to Briar Patch to get it. Sooner than later, too.

Another nemesia in the Sunsatio series, this is Sunsatio Lemon. Though it's not as lemon-yellow as all that, but I sure like it!

Viburnums turn my horticultural self on--there are lovely native varieties, such as V. trilobum (Highbush cranberry) but I love this fragrant darling, Birkwood. Did you know you can get a five foot tall shrub into a Yaris? And that the car will smell divine during the drive home from Blomidon Nurseries?

Another unique tree--the Thujopsis, sometimes called False arborvitae. Its foliage has this surreal, almost rubber-like texture. It again doesn't live here--yet--but will shortly.
Back to my deadlines...hopefully I'll get some planter images up over the weekend, but first I'm off to Yarmouth...and assorted nurseries between here and there. Guess the car will be full again....

28 May 2007

A gardener's potpourri

Sunday was another of those ideal gardening days—not too hot, nicely sunny and with a hint of a breeze on the air. We fled the house right after breakfast and stayed outside until muscles simply refused to work further. First on the day’s agenda was a stroll around the property to plantwatch—what’s in bloom? What’s come up today? What’s going to flower? What’s missing in action?

It’s no wonder I’m besotted by blue flowers. Look at Loddon Royalist Anchusa: I could drown in this shade of blue!

A lady at one of my talks told me she gives her husband a tree every year on his birthday. I think that’s a lovely thing to do! Eight years ago, when we first moved here, I gave my dearly beloved a young horse chestnut sapling, about three and a half feet tall. This year, it’s heading for 15 feet, and it’s going to flower, with no less than a dozen definite flowery ‘candles’ (flower spikes) to celebrate its life in Scotts Bay.

One of the best things about garden season is the hummingbirds. As near as we can tell, we have around a dozen of the tiny winged jewels racing around our yard all day every day. The rubythroated hummingbird is the only species that comes to Nova Scotia (and indeed to much of eastern North America, I understand) but that’s okay—these little darlings are a delight to watch. They are voracious for both the three feeders of various types we have around the house AND now for the variety of annuals we’ve put out in part for their benefit. And they’re not a bit shy in coming to ‘tell’ us that the feeders need filling.

Despite the fact that the weeds in the back yard are growing faster the perennials are, my main goal for the day was to plant up some of the containers with a variety of annuals. As many readers know, I’m quite partial to annuals because of the way plant breeders have gone into overdrive creating marvelous colours of foliage and flowers. There’s nothing shy and retiring about my colour sense, either. I always say that in a garden, you can put together combinations that you’d never dream of doing in your home d├ęcor or your clothing wardrobe. Take this gerbera—I adore it, though I’d never wear orange!

Nemesia is one of those underused annuals that people need to know more about. Some are fragrant, some come from seed, others are developed by plant breeders, including this delightful Sunsatia ‘Raspberry’ cultivar. Although it’s not one of the fragrant types, the hummers seem to like it, and I excuse its lack of scent as being made up for by its delectable colour.

Last year I planted what were supposed to be a number of Leucojum bulbs, also known as Summer Snowflake. Whether they were mostly kidnapped by naughty bulbnapping rodents or failed to germinate or else were mixed in with snowdrops, I don’t know, but most of what were supposed to be snowflakes turned out to be snowdrops. Except for this one single solitary stem of lovely bells. I’m hoping they’ll multiply and that I’ll find more bulbs this year—properly labeled.

By the time I finished planting, weeding and puttering, it was too late to photograph some of the containers and plants without using the flash—which always muddies the colours too much for my liking. Today was overcast with some rain, though mild, so you’ll have to wait for fair weather to return before I do a photo essay of why I love annuals.

The gardens are pulsing with life, although a few things are still missing in action. I don’t expect to see Lysimachia Beaujolais come up, as we wondered about its hardiness, but I’m starting to worry a bit about our Amsonia, as they haven’t put in an appearance yet. They’re always late—along with gentians and chameleon plant, they’re the last to yawn and stretch and emerge from the soil, but it seems there should be something showing by now. But I’ll be patient—and plotting what to put in if the blue stars don’t show up. There's always something new to try...

26 May 2007

A perfect day…

The weather gods smiled on Nova Scotia again today and presented us with a hot, sunny day; ideal for heading off to the south shore, to the lovely community of Port Mouton (pronounced Ma-tooon, although it is French for sheep so you’d think it would be Mooton, right? It’s a Nova Scotian thing…). I was giving a talk to the lovely ladies and gentlemen of the south shore district of the Nova Scotia Association of Garden Clubs. The famous south shore hospitality was in full bloom and we had a great day. The meeting was hosted by the Queens County Gardeners, a wonderful group of green thumbs, and held at Coastal Queens Place, the old schoolhouse which is now a public community access site, a small library, and a craft agora, as well as a marvelous hostel! It’s so good to see old schools restored and kept as the heart of a small community.

Before we got there, of course, we landed at a couple of garden centres. First stop was the remarkable Pine View, in Bridgewater. This is a very large and very diverse, full service garden centre, with a huge collection of annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees. I was focused on looking for a few different annuals to include in my talk, and then of course I can’t pass up perennials ever…and found a few that needed to get in the car too. I’ll report on those next posting, but for now, here’s a marvelous lantana (I’ll bring the tags in from the greenhouse in the morning).

Beautiful place, the only fly in the oinment being a very rude staffperson who snapped at my longsuffering spouse, “this area is for employees ONLY!” He was standing off to one side near some building, waiting for me to stop drooling over perennials, apparently near a potting shed or something. Well, this was his first visit to the garden centre, he didn’t know his way around, and he was just STANDING there! So that was a bit offputting, and she’s lucky I didn’t hear her rudeness. Maybe she hadn’t had her coffee yet. The staff I dealt with were marvelous.

Next stop was Ivan Higgin’s in Liverpool, which is called Cosby’s Garden Centre. I’ve mentioned Ivan before: he’s a whiz of a garden centre operator, plus an artist par excellence, sculpting the most amazing figures out of his own special concrete mixture. These are lifesize sculptures, his winter’s project: I call them Cirque du Ivan! His tulips are still in peak conditions; these brilliant beauties caught my eye, even thought they’re not species tulips, I was very well behaved (fiscally, that is) at Ivan's today and only bought one plant. But I’ll be back next week…and have my eye on one of his concrete wind gods…

After we were done in Port Mouton, even though I’m still full of flu or bronchitis or pneumonia or whatever the heck it’s morphing into, my dearly beloved and I did go a bit further down the shore, as I wanted to go to Lavender Hill in Jordan Falls. This is another jewel of a nursery, a family business, and while it was sweltering hot by this time, we enjoyed visiting with Madeline and Alison, the owners, and picking out a few more choice plants. They always have a wide selection of really excellent plants, usually something I’ve never seen before and I took them out to the car to show them some of the interesting oddities I’ve collected along the way. It’s a challenge for smaller nurseries to get a huge variety in, when they have to buy a minimum of say 100 of a nemesia or a portulaca or a lobelia, and what if people aren’t into new things? SO I take it on as goal to encourage people to try new things—and mostly, people just need to see something new put together in containers to get excited and go for their own colour adventures.

After we left Lavender Hill (with a dozen happy lavender seedlings in the back seat along with other great finds), we headed back up the shore. It was really hot, and I sooked that I needed to go walk in the water at Beach Meadows beach near Liverpool—surely one of the most beautiful beaches in our province.

Some adventurous souls further down the pristine beach were in swimming—or at least splashing—but I contented myself with just walking in the water up to my ankles, and admiring the still life portraits of seaweeds. There are at least six different species of seaweed in this photo—a rainbow of colours, from the underwater tapestry so many will never see. These broke loose in the tide and the gales of wind recently, and swept up the beach. While they’re in water they pulse and heave and shimmer; then once beached they dry and become excellent fertilizer for gardens, or just nutrients returned to the sea. That circle of life thing again.

Back home, the gardens seemed to have grown six inches taller today, and things are eagerly waiting to be planted, including the new treasures we brought home today. Now I’m blissfully tired, being serenaded by spring peepers, and ready to sleep—without thunderstorms tonight, please!

25 May 2007

The smell of dirt

The great Canadian writer and thinker Margaret Atwood remarked that "In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt." I’m happy to declare that when I finally slouched my aching bones into the house, I smelled of dirt, sweat, Naturally Nancy’s protective cream, and probably a bit of residual sunscreen. I was also intensely tired but happy.

Every now and again, we have to declare a mental health day. Given events of earlier in the week, and that I have to go away tomorrow to give a talk, today seemed like a good day to do that. As soon as I could, I was outside ready to grub in the dirt. My dearly beloved arrived home with the Tacoma’s box filled with bags of lovely, rich, fragrant mushroom compost from the organic mushroom growers down the Valley. He then proceeded to put a couple near each garden bed for me so that I wouldn’t have to wrestle with them myself. I sort of overdid it yesterday, digging in the manure heap for the well decomposed black muck that the gardens love, then digging up things, moving stuff, hauling around piles of dirt and manure and weeds.

Two days of warmth and the gardens have shaken themselves off and remembered what they’re meant to do. I could almost HEAR things growing; the unfurling leaves of the horse chestnut report that we will have at least 9 blossoms on that dear young tree this year . The mayapples have poked their alien looking noses up out of the soil and in another day will be opening their umbrella like leaves. Which reminds me—I will need to take the axe and the hacksaw to the Darmera peltata, because it desperately needs dividing and is lurching up out of the soil, its thick rhizomes like elephants trunks. I’ll save that for Sunday, perhaps.

Mungus was my able assistant this afternoon, fussing to go out until I relented and put his harness on him. He’s perfectly happen on the harness so long as he can see me—if I get out of his sight, he sits and cries tragically. He contented himself with digging those giant feet in fresh soil, rolling upside down in the grass, and laying flat pretending to be a tiger stalking the hummingbirds. They were too busy arguing over the feeders and the flowers to pay him any mind, supremely confident in their dazzling speed.

I’m not a fan of some common annuals—I like them in other gardens but don’t want them in mine. Impatiens are a case in point—except for New Guinea impatiens, particularly this delicate yellow darling. It and its sister are going into the shade garden where they’ll look quite lovely, I think.

The next photo is a bit of a monumental task, half accomplished already though. This bed was badly weedy with those blasted creeping bluebells (Campanula rapunculoides) and finally I decided the only thing for it was to dig things up, remove the bluebells, and replant. In the progress, I’m also raising the bed about six inches where I don’t have plants that need digging up. First a layer of newspapers, then the old wet hay we used to bank the house through the winter; follow that with a generous helping of well rotted horse manure, and top that off with a couple of inches of soil. I can plant shallow-rooted perennials into it now—well, in a week after some rain and settling—and come fall, it’ll be ready for bulbs too. But it’s slow work and my old aching muscles are well and truly tired! But happy. Long Suffering Spouse doesn’t do bed building/raising although he’d shovel piles of manure for me if I asked. But I can do it. My experience with hiring someone to help turned out rather less happily than I had expected, so whatever I can do is what will get done. He can edge the beds that need edging and I’ll be thrilled with that.

Mungus and I did some moving of plants this evening; I tucked in the tree peony, the Coppertina Ninebark, and the Lime Glow juniper, plus some perennials. I scored a Harvest Moon Echinacea this afternoon over town while in search of annuals for my talk tomorrow, so that will go in with Jade, Green Envy, and another Sunset Echinacea. It would be lovely if they’d all flower at the same time, wouldn’t it? Now I just need a white one again—I find them less hardy than the standard purple coneflowers, but the new Big Sky plants have come back just fine for me.

This little bed has a lot of plants in it, and while most of them are still young, they put on a great show. Stars include Cimicifuga ‘Black Negligee’, Bromus ‘Skinner’s Gold’, Geranium ‘Hocus Pocus’, a variety of pulmonaria, some fall flowering asters, ‘David’ phlox, and ‘El Desperado’ daylily. But there are also blue star (Amsonia), several euphorbia, some pinks of various shapes, a couple of bellflowers, and I expect Raspberry Wine Monarda to put on a great show this summer.

And just a little while ago, we were treated to the first celestial pyrotechnic display of the season. A nice little thundershow, mostly lightning, mostly a few miles off, not enough rain to wash the birdseed off the deck where Long Suffering Spouse spilled it earlier. It’s been a good day. Tomorrow, I wonder what we'll bring home in the trunk? There are always new plants to find....

23 May 2007

RIP Quincy, 26 Sept 1998 -23 May 2007

The gods of irony are infinitely cruel at times. When I wrote about our cat children several days ago, I observed that I didn’t have a good current picture of Quincy, the biggest mackeral tabby who can’t stand his brother, Rowdy. There will be no chance to take a photo of him now, as we buried him a couple of hours ago down in the woods. He was hit by a vehicle at suppertime when he bolted across the road.

This too is bitterly ironic. We keep all the younger cats in the house except for occasional visits out in the back yard for several of them. Mungus goes out on a harness, Spunky has no desire to ever go out, and Nibs gets reminded that he doesn’t have any extra legs to spare since playing chicken with a car several years ago. Tigger and Thistle don’t cross the road, and Rowdy and Quincy have always done the stop, look and listen routine. They would go down into the ditch if they heard a car coming. So what caused Quincy to bolt tonight, we’ll never know.

Lowell went into uberprotective mode when he saw what had happened (we saw cars slow down near the house and he went to see what was going on.) He wouldn’t let me go outside, and he went up to deal with the situation. In the past when we’ve lost a cat, I’ve been the one to deal with it, but this time I simply sat down in my office and cried. The poor man who hit Quincy was also in tears; he tried to stop but it happened too fast. At least it was quick—probably a broken back.

There will be some who will say that we shouldn’t let any of our cats out. That’s why five of them don’t go outdoors except with us—only the four oldest cats in the household went out unsupervised. When Quincy and Rowdy and his four brothers and sisters were born in my closet, we lived in another place, in a farm house that was even further from the road. We let them all go outdoors back then, and when we moved here, it was next to impossible to teach them to stay inside. It’s hard enough to keep Simon, Toby and Mungus from bolting out the door when we open it. I’ve already berated myself with ‘what ifs?’ for the last several hours. But I also know that Quincy had a very good life here, that he was loved and pampered and cared for from the moment he was born, and he’s loved now too. I haven’t decided what I will plant in the memory garden for him—a quince would be appropriate in some ways, but I think it will probably be a native tree, because he loved the pasture and the woodlands around our place so much. There’s a big clump of red trillium growing near where we buried him, and it’s peaceful there. He’ll like that.

When we came back up out of the woods, I put the harness on Mungus and we went out in the back yard; me to grub in the garden and he to eat grass and watch birds. I was busy digging creeping bellflower out of the columbines and beebalm, and watching the birds at the various feeders. The ducks that frequent our pond came in to land, and the redwinged blackbirds were up at the feeder with juncos and finches all competing. The Bay is flat calm tonight and the peepers started at sundown, just after we came back indoors. The cats KNOW something is wrong—they always do, and in their wise feline ways they offer comfort.

I think it’s been four years since we lost Tommy Tiger the Crabby Tabby to the road after a raccoon chased him late one night. The next day, we were sitting on the back deck after we’d buried him, feeling very miserable, with Quincy laying nearby. Rowdy came parading across the meadow and the lawn with a great big field mouse. He came up on the deck, marched across to Quincy, and dropped the mouse in front of him. These two ALWAYS fought and glared at each other. Not this day. Quincy said, “thanks”, scooped up the mouse and went off somewhere with it for supper, and Rowdy climbed up on the picnic table to be admired, purring his low, steady purr. And we smiled through our tears, and rejoiced in the love of cats. So it goes tonight, too.

21 May 2007

Welcome to our water gardens....

…that’s what my longsuffering spouse told me he wanted to put on a sign outside our property, when he got up yesterday morning. I simply didn’t get up yesterday morning, being sick with a relapse of the flu. Small wonder, given the weather and having gotten soaked four times on Saturday.

We have had monsoons of rain. Saturday was one of those drownpour days, and I had to go to Truro to meet my friend Wild Flora, visit Jane of Woodlands and Meadows Perennials, and give a talk at the Truro Tulip Festival. We got good and soaked at the farmers market, then again unloading and loading my car for the talk. Then I was getting sort of dried off as I drove east toward Antigonish and The Willow Garden, but got soaked again at West River Greenhouses in Pictou county.

The wall of water stopped outside of Pictou, and it was just like a wall—one second it was raining, the next second the pavement was DRY. And while it didn’t get really sunny, it was at least pleasant to Antigonish, where I first stopped at Pleasant Valley Nurseries before going on to Bill and Sharon’s wonderful garden a few miles outside the town.

You know, you can get a lot of plants into a small car if you try. I had a 5 foot tall catalpa in the front seat, a yellow azalea and a Kerria shrub in the back seat, assorted perennials filling the trunk and the other part of the back seat…everything from a ‘Chocolate Stars’ corydalis to a fern leaf Peony (Paeonia tenuifolia ‘Rubra Plena’) to wild bergamot (thank you, Flora!) some merrybells (Uvularia), a 'Destined to See' daylily, a ‘Jade’ Echinacea and white Asclepias incarnata. My tastes are nothing if not eclectic!

When did I get wet again? When I got home of course—the heavens opened as I was moving my new treasures to the greenhouse. We were having some weather coming in off the bay, as so often happens (here's what it looks like in our back yard on a clear, if soggy, Monday afternoon.) Already was feeling miserable with fever and aches, so this about finished me off. Hence I decided to stay in bed much of yesterday!

The sun came out today for a while, but as so often happens after a big rain, it was cool again. No matter. I took more cold medicine and sallied off to work on a project for one of my clients, then retired to putter in the greenhouse potting up containers. At least it was semi-warm in there, and no wind either. While the sun was out, I did take a few photos.

I love poppies. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but they are just so delightful, all of them. This is one of the Icelandic poppies (Papaver nudicaule) and while I don’t know its cultivar name, these are winners in my book, blooming their little hearts out well into late summer. I have a few small alpine poppies too, and just got a brilliant yellow Celandine poppy to add to the collection.

The Yellow Bird magnolia isn’t mine; it belongs to Gerry Frail, owner of Gerry’s Nursery in Centreville, another of my favourite places to leave grocery money—whoops, I mean disposable income. I have to content myself with Stellata and Susan (my two magnolias—not Betty as I wrote earlier!) and maybe next year I’ll succumb to the urge for a yellow magnolia too!

Rhodochiton is one of my favourite annual vines, and it overwinters nicely indoors too. It has a more rude name besides purple bell vine, and I bet you can’t guess what it is!

These little anemones are so sweet—I’ve been wanting some for years, and I hope they’ll settle in and stay with us but in the meantime, I’m enjoying their delicate flowers and foliage very much.

And here we have a mystery: I’m not sure if these are species tulips or an allium, because I’ve lost their label after planting them last fall (surprise surprise surprise) and didn’t try smelling them with my stuffy, achy nose. But aren’t they cute?

Despite the wet, things seem to be doing well, although of course we continue to be about two weeks behind the Valley floor—and about on the same level as Antigonish. I noticed tonight my PJM rhododendron is showing colour, and Ramapo is also starting to flirt a bit. And the grass on the lawn is decidedly growing, though the pasture seems slow. But we’ve now had enough rain for a few days—could we PLEASE have some sun and warmth again? Otherwise, we’ll be growing mushrooms everywhere….

18 May 2007

In praise of felines

I sometimes wonder what makes us prefer one animal over another—for those of us who love animals. For those who don’t, well, frankly I’m always deeply suspicious of such people. It's okay to prefer some animals over others--I like some dogs in particular but all cats in general, and heartily dislike goats, monkeys and miniature horses. But I've met people who don't like animals, and i wonder what they do like--and how they treat other people.

I distinctly remember being less than five years old when I discovered I was crazy about horses. Probably my love for cats blossomed at the same time. My grandmother DeLong always had several cats—usually Tabby in colour, and named (according to gender) Babes or Tommy. I was 12 before I convinced my parents that we needed a cat at home, but it wasn’t until I went off to college that my father decided he really liked cats. A lot. (he always pretended to be allergic to them, to not like them, etc etc. Big softy that he was, he adopted a little kitten that showed up at the door one time, and that was the end of the ‘dislike’ of cats.)

Sitting here in the kitchen right now, there are four of our herd hanging out with me. Two have just gone out to take the evening air, but they’ll be back pounding on the back door with their soggy wet paddypaws in about five minutes. Two are asleep upstairs, pretending to supervise my longsuffering spouse (who also loves cats) as he plays on his computer. One is in the basement being a fierce hunting tiger, but when he gets bored he’ll arrive up here to tell me about his brave ventures stalking whatever he was stalking, be it spiders or shadows or actual voles.

I’m ably assisted in my work wherever on the property I am. Outdoors, the four senior cats act as garden consultants, and sometimes, garden rototillers. I could care less about a little disturbed soil or some little parcels in the beds. It all decomposes, after all. Tigger especially loves to assist me by sitting as close as he can as I dig in the garden, his Cummins diesel purr thrumming in pure happiness. Rowdy and Quincy (not currently in the photos as I need a new one) glare at each other territorially, despite the fact that there are hundreds of acres around us including our smallholding for them to roam on. Miss Thistle hurtles around the yard, her taillessness not detracting one iota from her speed. (she was run over by an ambulance as a 3 month old kitten—the paramedics got her fixed up and then called me asking did I know of anyone who could foster a kitten? As if….) The younger catchildren, who aren’t allowed outside without supervision, variously pose in windows editorializing about what I’m doing outdoors, or catching up their beauty sleep.

In the office, there are always helpers. Sometimes it’s Hugh E. Mungus, watching bird television. Most often Spunky Boomerang, who thinks I’m his mama because I rescued him when he and his sister were abandoned on the roadside as tiny kittens, is nearby. His perch of preference is on the desk, either in the corner where he can lay, meatloaf style, and watch for signs that it might be naptime for us, or else behind my computer peeking out at me. Simon Q hurtles in from time to time, attacks the dangerous mat on the floor because it moved—didn’t you see that, Mum?—gets into a rumble with his brother, Toby Soprano, and flashes out of the room at just under the speed of a cheetah.

My grandmother, when she was lost in the fogs of dementia in her last days, brightened up when I mentioned that my love of cats came from her. It was as if a curtain lifted from her eyes. “I was always good to cats, and they was always good to me,” she told me, a stranger to her whereas once I’d been a cherished grandchild, but we shared that connectivity for a moment before the fog descended again.

I should like that to be my epitaph. Because cats are always, always good to me. Even cats whose owners tell me, “he’s not friendly” or “she will bite” or, “he NEVER comes to strangers” appear where I am and sit with me, teaching me their wisdom with their perfect stances and their wise glowing jewellike eyes. And I am a better person for being with cats.

So I’ve added the catchildren of our family to the sidebar of the blog, as does my fellow gardener, blogger and catlover Yolanda Elizabet of Bliss. My blogging buddies are rather like cats, too—I learn so very much from all of them, and am a better gardener—and probably writer, and person too—for their friendships and acquaintances.

16 May 2007

A Flower Fix

Days like today—cold, wet, dreary, with a hint of snow mixed in to the rain—are the days that separate the true gardeners from the newbies, according to one nursery operator I frequent. She grinned when I strolled out of one of her greenhouses today, clutching a variety of annuals that I NEEDED.

Yes, needed. Other hardcore gardeners are smiling and nodding, because we know what that need is like, don’t we? We’re transfixed by the blue of a Loddon Loyalist Anchusa. We see that the yellow tree peony is well developed and has two flower buds forming nicely. We learn that the daylilies are fieldgrown from root divisions, not tissue culture, and that Destined to See is not expensive. We see annuals that we’ve never tried before. Our friendly neighbourhood nursery operator has overwintered the Silver Sand plant that we killed by forgetting to water it for three weeks. And so it goes…we come home with a trunkload of plants. Again.

Well. I was feeling a bit behind the eightball because some of my blogging friends have been putting up glorious photos of their gardens in bloom. Ours has lots of growth happening, (including the appearance of the yellow trillium, YIPPEE!) and some bulbs and early perennial blossoms, but by and large, we’re like the late-blooming cousin—we’re late blooming. So I’m presenting a modest show of flowers that I like, mostly annuals, that are waiting patiently in my living room to be put into container plantings and set out in the greenhouse to harden off. And as a bonus, I’ll explain why this plant attracts me so much.

Gerbera daisies: these are going outdoors as soon as it warms up, but meanwhile, they’ll entertain me here in my office. Their colours are so hard to describe sometimes, and so delicious…it’s hard to pick just one.

Lantana. It smells unpleasant. It’s toxic. And yet its flowers besot butterflies and hummingbirds alike. I love it because it comes in a range of colours, most of which start one colour and fade to another. That’s hard to tell with this yellow one, but I have a gorgeous red that is orange and yellow in the centre. Excellent in containers.

Salvia ‘Black and Blue’. This is a stunner. It really IS this blue—maybe even a little darker, as I had to use the flash indoors to take these photos—and the stems are black. The foliage is glossy, and it’s just a way cool annual.

Calocephaplus ‘Silver Sand’. I first saw this last spring and immediately had to have one. It’s a native of Tasmania and Australia, apparently, and also goes by Button Bush, and has small yellow flowers. I don’t care if it ever flowers—I just love its silver-green foliage. Last year it lived in a terracotta planter with Black Mondo Grass and a white flowered thunbergia, and more people asked if it was real. I’m going to look after it very, very carefully this winter!

Streptocarpus. Den Haan’s nursery in Middleton has a whole raft of these in jeweltones. I stopped dead when I saw them, and said to myself, “You can only have ONE!’ These deep, royal purple was the one that insisted it needed to come with me. Others pleaded, but I was firm.

Agastache: You have to love a plant called Hummingbird Mint, don’t you? I do. I’m especially besotted by the salmonorange-pink cultivar I overwintered (but it isn’t in flower yet) so I content myself with this one. Hummingbirds DO adore it—I have a number of these plants strategically placed around the garden, in planters and planted out. It makes me happy to smell it, too—lightly citrus and mint, sort of reminiscent of bee balm but lighter.

Agyranthemum. Daisies of all sorts delight me, but many of them verge on the ho-hum. Not this beauty. Your eyes do not deceive you—not only is it bicoloured, it’s stripy. Like a candycane. What could I do but pick it up? It’s a bit leggy, but I’ll whack it back after I use it in my talk tomorrow, and let it bush out some more.

Evolvolus. Blue Haze. Isn’t it sweet? Blue, blue flowers, the size of quarters, all summer. It’s a relative of morning glories, and a charmer—I found it two years ago and grow it indoors as well as out. Don’t let it dry out, because it sulks and wilts, but otherwise it’s a steadfast performer, and much beloved in my containers.

Calla. This is my first time growing calla lilies, and I’m going to put them in a container and see how they do. I may also add a ranunculus to the mix, just because I think the juxtaposition of foliage textures and flower complexity will be stunning.

Did I mention I’m going off on a jaunt tomorrow, too? Wonder what I’ll find that has to come home with me….

15 May 2007

The top gardening aids I can’t be without

We all have things we can't possibly live without in our gardens. Here are some of my favourites, although with all the deadlines I have, there's not much time to use them right now....

A ho-mi digger. I wrote last year about my digger, purchased at Lee Valley Tools, and how it came to an unfortunate end when my longsuffering spouse ran over it. Being a good guy, he did succumb to my broad hints and purchased me a new one this spring. We’re going to paint its handle bright fluorescent blue or orange, so that I won’t lose it anywhere again.

Good garden gloves. My favourites were given to me by Wendy Rittenhouse, of the venerable garden supply company, two years ago at Canada Blooms. I still have them—both of them! They’re made by West County, and they’re excellent—still holding together nicely after nearly three garden seasons of hard, hard treatment. I’m going to order their waterproof ones now, as I’m so impressed with the quality.

Footwear. I’m hard on footwear in the garden, and while it’s a bit early and wet at times, my favourite shoes for the garden are my brilliant turquoise blue Crocs. Yup. After having them recommended to me a number of times by fellow gardeners, I tried em…and I love them. In fact, I regularly wash them and wear them out in public as comfortable footwear.

Seedling waterer: Another marvelous offering from the marvelous people at Lee Valley. When I use it in my talks, everyone has the same reaction…. “ooooooooo…gotta get one.” It’s a rubber bulb that holds only 12 ounces of water, and you squeeze gently to put the water out through a brass rose with fine misting abilities. Works beautifully on seedlings, doesn’t knock them down or overwater them. I wish the bulb was a bit bigger, but that’s only because I have a LOT of seedlings now. Excellent, must have tool.

Camper’s Edge: From the brilliant people at Trail Blazer Tools, this could be called the Gardener’s Edge too. It’s a combination of knife and saw, both of which fold politely into the handle. I started using this when I’m dividing perennials, because the saw cuts neatly through roots, and then the knife is perfect for dividing sections of perennials into smaller clumps. Trail Blazer makes a lot of awesome tools, and as I get to know the tools better, I’ll let you know more about the rest of them.

Seaboost. I know I’ve been talking about this for a few years. I’ll keep talking about it, too. It’s an awesome organic fertilizer, either liquid seaweed fertilizer or dried seaweed meal, and I use it ALL the time, indoors and out. The liquid can either be watered in or mixed into a spray bottle and used as a foliar feed. Joe also sells horticultural vinegar, neem oil and diatomaceous earth, all of which are ideal tools in the organic gardener’s problem solving arsenal.

Organic weedkilling brew. I forget where I learned about this, but it’s something I use all the time, especially in walkways or along the edges of gardens (where I want to kill off grass and weeds.) It’s a simple mixture to make, but as with chemical herbicides, bear in mind that it will kill ornamental plants as well as weeds, so be careful where you use it.

The recipe? Mix together one cup of salt into one gallon of vinegar and add a tablespoon of dish detergent or baby shampoo (I guess this acts as an emulsifier, but I’m no chemist). Pour or spray it on offending weeds in walkways, driveways, along edges of gardens, etc. A friend of mine used apple cider vinegar she got from a farmer, and sprayed half her yard with that and half with a glypsosate based weedkiller. The vinegared weeds were dying the next day, where glyphosate takes up to several weeks to do its thing.

Plants. Oh yes, plants. All kinds of them…

And what garden gear can YOU not possibly be without???

13 May 2007

The freelance sailor sails again...

Gosh, I have to be one of the luckiest people around. I really LOVE what I do as a freelance writer. I get to tell stories about some truly interesting people, places, activities, and of course gardening and gardeners are included in that category. Today, however, while I am busy writing out some notes for an assignment, let me regale readers with my further adventures aboard the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Matthew. I arranged earlier in the week to go back aboard Matthew for a whole day, to trail along behind the hydrographers and other staff and the officers and crew, just observing how they go about their merry days, as I have assignment to write about their work. So I got the call first thing yesterday morning, and by 0830 I was at the wharf waiting for my taxi--the Fast Rescue Craft--to arrive and pick me up. The Matthew was waiting near the Split for us (out beyond the dancing water of the riptide, of course), and I was greeted by the chief scientist Mike Lamplugh and the captain Roy Lockyer. (Seen here with the quartermaster who is steering the vessel)

What a great day I had. I'm so fiercely proud of the men and women of both the Coast Guard (the real coast guard, the men and women who crew the ships, not the brass!) and the scientists who work with them; whether habitat biologists from Bedford Institute of Oceanography, or hydrographers from the Canadian Hydrographic Service, or geophysicists and others from the Geological Survey of Canada (Now part of NRCan) Lots of acronyms, of course!

The Matthew runs like a finely tuned machine; her officers and crew conduct this graceful choreography with the scientists conducting their research; the bridge officers hold the ship on a steady course while the multibeam arrays probes the bottom of the upper Bay of Fundy, scoping out the depths and the sea bottom's composition, all to create mindboggingly detailed maps and charts.

The engineers keep the ship, her engines, the launches and the FRC all humming and healthy, the deck crew operate the winches and such to deploy various pieces of way-cool science gear, the cooks feed us all like we're royalty (a good cook is worth his weight in gold on a ship, believe me, and the Matthew's cooks, Stephen & Greg, are outstanding! )

All this makes it possible for the team of researchers to do their thing; using state of the art, multi-million dollar equipment like the multibeam and a bank of computers and networks that would be the envy of most people, and the two launches, the Pipit and the Plover, that go in close to shore to scan the sea floor where Matthew cannot go...

Most of us have absolutely no inkling of an idea what our coast guard does, or what the scientists who explore our oceans do--as one scientist told me several years ago, "the sea floor is not made of concrete". It's alive and pulsating with various types of sand, silt, cobbles, gravel, and bedrock, and accordingly vast and wonderful types of ocean life; each with its own role to play in that 'circle of life'. And there are marvels and mysteries most of us will never see.

So the hydrographers and other scientists on Matthew do their work, and they create stunningly detailed high resolution pictures of the bottom with which they can create maps and charts for mariners and others to use--and to teach us more about the marvels that are the oceans surrounding our country.

I'm always a bit wistful to take my leave from a CCG ship, whether it's from a brief visit aboard the marvelous Matthew or from the incredible Hudson where I've spent weeks, or even after spending more than a week doing fisheries patrol and search and rescue aboard the good ship Cygnus...but as we raced away from the Matthew in the FRC last night, en route back to the wharf, I whispered a quiet "see you later" to the ship and her people...with any luck I'll sail with her again, maybe to the Labrador sometime soon...and then there's my quest to get aboard Sable Island...a story for another day.

Fair winds and following seas, folks...

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