24 December 2008

And So this is Christmas...

Tis the season to be jolly, and while I'm not exactly jolly, I'm grateful that the surgery is over and that the healing is underway. Thank you for all your good wishes; I've been home since Friday but haven't been feeling the best. But painkillers are a wonderful thing, as is ice cream birthday cakes. It just all takes time.

My greatest gift this Christmas to have my family with me over these few days, and hope for a healthy 2009.

So to all of you from my garden, much love and best wishes for a Happy Christmas, a Joyeux Noel, a Happy Chanukah, or whatever else you might be celebrating.

And a little Christmas music to send us out from my favourite musician....

08 December 2008

T-minus one week: Rhapsodie en bleu

I realize I've lapsed back into silence of late, but my reason is a pretty good one. This time next week I'll be about six hours from going into the hospital to have surgery to fix a problem once and for all. (Optimistic to a Fault, that's me!) I won't be in hospital for long, which is a good thing because separating me from my iPhone or Nano full of music will make me even crankier than I usually am. However, when I get home I'll be way limited in what I can do. No lifting, etc. Even my laptop I think is slightly over the five pound limit. Definitely won't be going anywhere for at least a week.

So I have to basically finish up some work for the next three or four weeks plus get ready for Christmas before next Sunday night. Which has me singin' the blues. And I don't mean Blue Christmas, either. But you know what? Whatever doesn't get done, is not that important. We're all adults in my family and we'll be together and if my dearly beloved gets press-ganged into doing all the wrapping of stuff other than what he's getting, well, he's a good and patient man and will handle that with his usual aplomb. Especially since we know Simon, Mungus, and the rest of the crew will be glad to help him with such preparations. I'll lay back in bed or on the couch, read blogs and books, and practice getting healed up quickly. So it will all work out.

I'm working on a project that I hope to be able to tell you more about early in the New Year, but I'm just superstitious enough that I won't say more than that. However, I've been looking through some of the gazillion files on my computer and found a folder full of blue-flowered plants, about which I've waxed rhapsodic in the past. They're so beautiful, I thought I'd share them, especially as we sail into the Christmas season where so much is decorated in green, red and white. All of which I love, but it's well known that my favourite flowers in the garden tend to all be blue. 
When we are down in the dumps, we say we have the blues. I've always found that curious because I find blue to be a most soothing and yet uplifting colour. Of course, many of the flowers we call blue are actually lavender, mauve, purple, violet, or other colour related to but not exactly true blue. 

It would be fun to do an all blue planting in my garden, as we actually have quite a number of blue flowered perennials, annuals and shrubs. They don't, however, all bloom at the same time and the rebel gardener in me would have to plop something brilliant orange or fuchsia into the middle to just set it all off. But it would be fun, because I never met a blue flowered plant I didn't love.

I stand corrected. I don't love this, or even like it. To be honest, my first reaction when I saw these painted poinsettias a few years ago was revulsion. Now I just roll my eyes at them the way I do at the black, pink or tangerine coloured fake Christmas trees that some like. Chacun a son gout, of course, but you won't see a blue poinsettia in my house this Christmas.

Nor in my hospital room. Just sayin'.

26 November 2008

Smiles across the miles, melting snow and Turkey Day

I'm glad to have provided amusement with my little tantrum about our weather-tantrum. I REALLY believe that laughter is the best medicine in most cases, with the possible exception being anything to do with goutweed. Have I mentioned that I really, REALLY don't like goutweed? Yeah, I thougt I might have. 

Further amusement is to be had today, as the temperature shot up well above freezing and a southeast wind came to visit. The prodigious piles of snow are melting dramatically, although it's not going to be all bare ground overnight. 

Lately, I haven't had much time to answer comments, even though I read and cherish each one as much as I do the plants in my garden. But I have to tell you that the comments to my last post tended to crack me up completely, as you ran the gamut from sympathy to envy to sheer astonishment at that much snow to relief that you don't get this much as we do. I'm with Tyra, actually, I love snow within reason and I like a little chaos as much as the next person. However, it never ceases to astonish and somewhat amuse me that people completely forget, from one winter to the next, how to cope with winter in this province. 

Like putting on snowtires. It's a no-brainer in Nova Scotia. We get snow. And ice, and sleet, and slush, and a whole lot of other nasties. All season tires were designed for Florida or California, (no disrespect meant to anyone in either illustrious place) not for the vagaries of a Maritime winter. And driving a four wheel drive vehicle does not guarantee that you won't end up in the ditch either if you drive like an idiot. Being a curmudgeonly sort at times, I tend to want to smile and wave when I see a four-wheel drive SUV or such off the road--especially if they blew past me going far too fast down the road a ways. 

But the thing that cracks me up the absolute MOST is the big run on snow shovels every November. Hello? Snow shovels don't have a best before date. They don't go bad, and they don't generally run away from home. So where are all these people coming from that buy out all the snow shovels in every snow? We didn't get a big inmigration of people from Florida OR California, the last time I checked. Maybe some folks are so caught up in being trendy that they have to buy a new snow shovel every year?  Can't you hear it now? 

"Oh, THAT old thing? That's SOOOOOOO 2007, dahlink. We MUST get the fab new Sno-Pushr 900, it's what everyone in the subdivision is using to clear their doorsteps off with."

Seriously. I bought my snow shovel in 1995. It still has its original handle. AND it doubles as a stall cleaner, too. 

I'm off to the south shore tomorrow to do another session of Writers in the Schools (I was in Halifax on Monday at an awesome school!) and I hope to get a chance to see a friend of mine once my day is done. But I had to share the picture above with you, and leave you all with another little story. 

As other garden bloggers (or bloggers with other interests) will attest, the best part about this activity of ours is the sharing of interests and meeting of others. It's especially that way with gardening, I think, because I've made some genuine friends over the past several years of keeping bloomingwriter going, although I have another interest that has also led to forming some wonderful friendships across the world. My longsuffering spouse brought the mail in to me this morning, and there was this amazing postcard above. It's made of material, serged along the edges and with awesome patchwork applique and embroidery, sent to me by a friend across the miles who wanted to let me know she was thinking about me. I'll be framing it and putting it up on the wall because every time I look at it, I smile. 

And that, as Martha would say, is a Very. Good. Thing. 

To all my American friends, a safe, joyous and delectable Thanksgiving tomorrow. Travel safely, those going to loved ones' homes, and have a wonderful time. I expect to be finding lots of interesting recipes for leftover turkey in the days following. 

23 November 2008

Could I file a complaint, please? And to whom?

Colour me somewhat irked. Mostly tongue in cheek, but irked none-the-less. 
Friday afternoon before my guitar lesson I dashed into New Mindless to pick up a couple of things we were out of. (that's not really its name, but it's the commercial Waste Land of the Valley and you'd have to be crazy to go there some days.) The stores were IN-SANE, and I had no idea why. I mean, it wasn't cheque day for all those on the government dole, I didn't think the next day was Christmas, and I couldn't figure out what was going on. 

My dear guitar teacher enlightened me when I got to his house. "Haven't you seen the weather channel?" he asked. "It's got the Red Screen of Disaster on it." This, for those who don't have cable, is when the screen turns red to warn of a weather event. It's similar to the Blue Screen of Death that you PC users sometimes get. We on satellite feeds don't get it, and i hadn't had the television on that day anyway. So he then proceeded to tell me we were sleighted to get a dump of snow. 

Okay, one thing that often happens in our province is that weather prognosticators often suffer from overhype. I don't consider 4-6 inches a storm. But then I live on the Bay of Fundy where we can amass that much snow in "flurries where winds blow on shore." I did look at the radar and satellite screens when I got back home again, and figured we would, indeed get some snow. The lovely meteorologist on CTV-Atlantic further confirmed that. Okay, fine. I didn't need to go anywhere this weekend. Whatever we got would be manageable, right?

Ummmm. Well, no, not exactly. The snow started here about 2300 Friday evening, or 11 pm for those who think in 12 hour clocks. Next morning, it was still snowing. It stopped in early afternoon for a siesta, though it distributed a few extra flurries where winds blow onshore for us.

Then it started snowing in earnest again sometime last night. And as of now, at 1500/3 pm on Sunday afternoon, it's STILL snowing. 

We probably have between 15-25 inches down. But this being the Fundy shore, the wind doth blow on occasion. (Like any occasion that ends in -day.) So we have snowdrifts around the yard, five feet deep in places. Normally there's a tradeoff that we'll have high drifts in some spots and bare ground in others. There's NO bare ground anywhere. Everything is well and truly buried. 

Longsuffering spouse got his longsuffering son (from previous marriage) to bring the tractor up from the other place to clear the driveway out this afternoon. The plow just got unstuck from down in the community, where it's been for several hours, and went back out. It's still snowing. I'm supposed to go to Halifax in the morning to teach a workshop. IF there's school, that is. And of course, the reality is that  it can be perfectly decent weather elsewhere. Everyone got smacked with the snowstorm, but this afternoon it's apparently sunny in the Valley while we're still getting snow. Yikes. 

Happily, I had my snow tires put on last Monday. It's also supposed to "mild up" as my husband calls it. It's going to take a while for all this to melt, but I'm not really stressed about it, just...bemused. So today's coping mechanism includes adding a healthy dollop of Bailey's to my coffee, cutting a brownie, and cranking up the iTunes. I'll alternate between a little Metallica or Muse (no Starlight tonight, though) with "Avalanche" from David Cook's new album, and a bit about a "Storm" from Lifehouse for good measure. "Enter Sandman" anyone? 

Okay, perhaps Metallica would like to re-write the song to become 'Enter SNOWman?"

21 November 2008

the art of seeds

Despite the fact that the past several days have brought us about six inches of snow, I'm going to pretend that it's not happened. So let's talk about seeds and play a bit of a game with them. 

I am always fascinated by the way the seedheads and fruits show themselves to be such works of artistry. Maybe they don't have the flamboyance of flowers or richly coloured foliage, but in their own way, they are beauty for another season. We leave a lot of them stand well into the winter, or until such time as seeds are depleted and stalks have tumbled.

Seedheads, with or without the seeds still in them, are pleasing by their geometry, and I'm happy watching birds feasting on them-thought I seldom manage to catch a good photo of a birds dining...

I took this photo a few weeks ago, obviously, so the seeds aren't yet ripened; do they look familiar to you?

I've cut stems of this particular perennial in the past and pushed them into Oasis floral foam, fitted into a terra cotta pot along with several other types of seedheads; I like the deep rich colour--do you know this plant?

I think a lot of people never see these seedheads, because they cut the flower stalks off before the plants bloom, seeming to think the flowers detract from the glorious foliage. Well, if you've ever smelled the fragrance of one of the scented cultivars...or watched hummingbirds dipping into the flowers...you'd never cut them off again.

This particular rose is considered invasive in many parts of North America, but I watch hordes of waxwings descent on it and it makes me glad of each plant's purpose around our property.

One of the most interesting perennials in our garden is this relative of bachelor buttons. It boasts huge flowers and remarkable seedheads, and then these golden seeds tumble out with the wind.

Another plant that often people don't see, because they cut the stems back once flowers are spent. Not all of them form such neat pods, but we always keep some around the garden until they collapse in the snow.

The autumn winds have whipped the leaves from many perennials, trees and shrubs here on the hill, but remarkably, this shrub holds not only its seedheads, but still most of its leaves. If you don't recognize it, don't blame yourself--it's nt the best of photos, because I was getting cold...

This particular cultivar covers itself in the delightful, bearded seedheads but soon they will be stripped by the breezes and flung to the cardinal directions. Meanwhile, other cultivars are not only still covered in foliage, but still flowering!

This is one of the best perennials in the garden, blooming for a long time and being a great magnet for butterflies, hummingbirds, honeybirds and other beneficial creatures. We did get a bit of mildew this year, a first for it, but that is a minor flaw in our garden.

I've shown both flowers and seedheads of this plant before, a favourite in this garden for its fragrance; I wish that the plant multiplied more quickly, or that it was even easier to find; nursery operators tell me that it's expensive and difficult for them to get. I haven't tried growing it from seed, because I dont' grow much from seed--something I plan to change in the future.

Some of these have relinquished their seeds, others are holding on; and my favourite was still producing flowers as recently as three weeks ago, until a definite cold snap sent it into seasonal sulking mode. Sort of like me. 

And this is one of those plants that is problematic in other parts of North America, like the rose above; I don't have trouble with it because I keep it pruned and out of trees, using the prunings to make wreaths, and enjoying watching birds snacking on the fruit until winter's advent.

These are a few of the more intriguing seedheads in our garden--how many did YOU recognize? I'm sure you've all got interesting seedheads too, and probably many of you are better at saving seeds than I am. That's a story for another day, though. 

15 November 2008

Mid November Randomness

So I've been amongst the missing again, but with good reason. With surgery day approaching in December, I've been madly working on articles and other projects (you know, the kind of writing that pays the bills) and haven't had much free time for anything else. I DID get all my bulbs planted except for 20 alliums and 12 pink narcissus, and if the rain and fog stops this weekend I'll get those in. So that's about a month and a half earlier than last year. But last year we had snow on Remembrance Day (Nov 11) and then the ground froze hard and stayed that way until Christmas Eve. So definitely a better autumn this year. 

So what do these photos have to do anything? Well, one of my projects this year is through Writers in the Schools, administered by the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia, or Ma Fed as we call her. So I get to go around to a number of schools and give workshops on writing to kids of all ages. Though I have to say, sometimes I'm not sure who learns more, the students or me. They're awesome. Anyway, this week I was at a school in the city, and then for a total juxtaposition, at two rural schools on the Digby Neck islands. You travel on a 3-5 minute ferry ride to each island. First stop is Long Island, which you reach by ferry Petit Princess, seen here on the mainland side preparing to load. Yes, at a rather ungodly hour, at least for this night owl. And did I mention it was a 2 1/2 hour drive to get THIS far? Thank heavens for Tim Hortons coffee and a good stereo system in my car. 

But I had to take two ferries first off, because my first port of call was at Westport School on Brier Island. This was the coolest school, because it holds exactly 16 students in two classes; Primary, 1, and 2 in one class, and grades 3-6 in the other. I hadn't seen a small school like this in many, many years, and I loved it; could have happily stayed there all day. But life on islands can be run by ferry schedules, so once my workshops were done there I was back to the ferry and back to Long Islands to the Consolidated school there. A much larger school with 140 students in grades from Primary to 12. I had a great time at both schools, and apparently, (most of) the kids I was with did too. 

The villages on both islands are based on a fishing and ecotourism economy; during the summer, there are numerous whale watching expeditions, but also hiking, kayaking and other outdoor activities. The fishing is mostly for lobster, but some probably hold scallop and groundfish licenses too. The lobster season starts in less than two weeks, but it's a bit nervewracking this year because prices to fishermen are way, way down, while expenses are up. The stock market quakes in our country and our dear US neighbour have caused havoc in more ways than in mortgages, believe me. (But hey, at least our American friends have an awesome new president-elect, while we got stuck with that loser Harper again after our election. Maybe the Yes-We-Can optimism of the US will flood our way...congratulations, you guys!)

Once I was done at the schools, I worked my way more slowly up Digby Neck, back on the mainland, to do some research for upcoming assignments. I was concerned to see a number of homes for sale both on the Islands and back on the mainland...and some that are not for sale but are simply abandoned to the elements. Sad, troubling and downright scary.

In Sandy Cove, there's an air of anxiety at the wharf, as the fishermen prepare for season's opening, rather than the usual anticipatory excitement that usually surrounds Dumping Day. The only truly happy individual I saw on this wharf was a small beagle-like dog, who came racing across from the baithouses to follow this boat's progress as it came in around the wharf. Maybe the dog's owner was running the boat, or maybe the dog was just a happy mascot for the harbour. 

As you can see, fishing is a huge part of the southwest part of the province. This is a view of just one part of the big harbour at Meteghan, one of the Acadian communities in the municipality of Clare. A big boatbuilding industry is located in this stunningly beautiful community, as well as the fishing fleet. Come the last Monday of November, there will scarcely be a vessel to be seen, at least until the traps are all set.  

My destination was my friend Flora's home, as illness has kept me from visiting since late spring. Now we're into late autumn, but Flora's garden is always a plethora of joyous colour, even after the gales of November have scoured the leaves from trees and turned most perennials to mush. 

I say "MOST" perennials, because there were still some interesting flowers to see, including this defiantly budding and flowering campanula. 

And this Christmas rose decided to come early, maybe aping the merchants and advertisers who want to shove Christmas down our throats as soon as Halloween is (barely) past us. 

One of my favourite clematis (and my friend's too) is Sweet Autumn, here down to its seedheads but still gracefully pretty. 

And the gay foliage of euonymus is always a delight to the eye, but never moreso when there are berries to add an extra element of colour to the shrubs. 

Now, if you want colour...this is a banner, BANNER year for winterberry or Canada Holly (Ilex verticillata). I know I've sung odes of adoration to this particular native shrub before, and I will at every opportunity, because it's such an awesome plant. Like other ilex species, it's dioecious, and it was obviously a banner year for pollination because the female plants all along the Neck and the French shore are absolutely burdened with berries. And big ones too, though my friend tells me it was quite dry at times in her community, despite being on the shore. Had I known, I'd have gladly sent down some of our fog and rain! Anyway, the shot above is from the road outside Meteghan; there are quite literally thousands of acres of undeveloped land along the shores, and they are covered in Canada holly, wild roses, alders, grasses, and other plants, and currently are ablaze with the fiery reds and oranges of the winterberries. This is good news for the birds who overwinter; I saw a large flock of robins in one thicket of female winterberries, stuffing themselves on the fruit, which surprised me a bit as they usually go for worms, etc. 

And finally, on my way back home yesterday, I stopped at one of my favourite beaches in the province, at Mavillette. It was chilly and windy yesterday so I didn't walk on the beach or poke around on the dune, merely smelled the salt air and listened to waves and wind in the grasses. And was happy even on a grey November Day. 

02 November 2008

Blaze of Glory Part the Second

When we left our foliage festival, we were in the courtyard at the KC Irving Centre at Acadia University, admiring the Vaccinium. Let's have a closer look at some of those flamboyant colours, shall we? 

I wasn't over at the Gardens this weekend, but things are looking a little different, I do know that. We've had a lot of wind this past week, and a lot of leaves have blown off; and those that haven't blown off have started to bronze quite dramatically. It IS, after all, NO-vember.. 

However, the berries of Myrtle, or wild bayberry (Myrica pennsylvanica) will stay on their twigs for a long time yet, and they're really interesting to look at. I've never had any bayberry candles, but I'm told they're lovely too. I'll just enjoy the plants as they are, for the time being. I don't have that crafty gene. 

This is one of the most flamboyant plants in my fall garden: a spirea called 'Tor'. During the summer, it's just a polite, tidy shrub that flowers inconsequentially. Come autumn, however, it erupts into some of the most amazing shades. 

This sugar maple is on the street where my guitar teacher lives. It stopped me in my tracks when I saw it and of course I had to walk back to it and take its photo. Sugar maples and red maples are among my favourites, as I noted in Blaze of Glory Part the First. 

I believe the double flowered oakleaf hydrangea I showed in that same post is 'Snowflake'. I too am so tempted to try it. But one hydrangea type that does very well for me is the paniculata 'Grandiflora' types, also known as PeeGees. This one is at a local nursery and is very spectacular this year. 

This is a late-flowering shoot of 'Quick Fire' hydrangea. The rest of the shrug flowered earlier in the year--as in midsummer--but it put on a real spurt of growth on this one shoot and produced flowers, to my astonishment. This cultivar is a star in my books, almost as much as 'LImelight'. 

This is one of my lacecaps, a blue-flowered one, but right now it's the foliage that is appealing to me most of all. 

My deciduous azaleas are doing fun things right now, too. This is 'Golden Lights'. 

I should have gotten out this week to take more photos of this one, which is one of the seedling plants I got from my friends Sharon and Bill. I think this is the one I nicknamed 'Bill.'

One of my favourite perennial species is Euphorbia, and this particular variety is 'Fireglow.' Some of its shoots also put on a second flush of blooms and bracts and they've turned a fabulous rainbow of colour, too. 

i'm not sure which cornus this is, but I'm guessing Cornus alba. The rich wine foliage contrasts marvelously with the snowy white berries. It's not in my garden, but up at the Irving Centre, so I just need to contact one of the staff to get its identification. 

And this glorious plant is the arrowwood viburnum. It also isn't in my garden. Yet. Native viburums, cultivated ones...I love them all. I think they may be habit-forming, don't you? 

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