29 February 2008

The Attack of the Dreaded Farch

Carolyn Gail of Sweet Home and Garden Chicago started us off with Garden Bloggers Muse Day a while back, and I"ve been contemplating whether to post today or tomorrow. Since in most years this would be March 1st, I figure today is as good a time as any.

“April,” we are told by the great poet TS Eliot in his epic poem The Waste Land, “is the cruelest month, “breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”

Much as I love Eliot, he’s all wet on this one. That’s because he never endured the interminable attack of the dreaded Farch in Nova Scotia.

Farch, you say? What the heck is a Farch?

Farch is what some people know better as the months of February and March. But because they are interminable, obnoxious, and downright unpleasant, I tend to roll them into one loooonnnnnggggg month and call it Farch. And I like it just about as much as I like goutweed (and people KNOW how much I detest that justly-maligned plant.) This year, of course, Farch is even longer, thanks to today being a Leap Day. Like Carol at May Dreams Garden says, it would be nicer to have that extra day at a nicer time of the year, although those of us in the southern Hemisphere probably think that an extra late-summer day is just fine.

We've had the full meal deal of winter weather tantrums in the past couple of months, that's for sure. I don’t mind the cold or the snow. It’s the grey. Grey skies, grey landscapes, grey pavement and heaps of grey snow, more grey skies. Days the sun is out, no matter if it’s 40 below, I’m okay with it. But I’m starting to get impatient to be grubbing in the dirt, bringing home new ‘groceries for the garden’ in the form of plants and more plants and accents and garden art and mushroom compost...pruning and cleaning up and making new beds and hardening off seedlings and doing all those other wonderful things that we do.

It's still too early to plant most seedlings indoors here, because they can't be transplanted outside until at least May, unless I decide to put something in the greenhouse for supplemental heat. I did sow a bunch of catgrass, to keep the cat-children from chewing on my houseplants. And while I didn't get that azalea I talked about, the orchid show is tomorrow and Sunday, and we do plan to trek into Halifax for a bit of that. So who knows what might get to come home with us?

And despite reading all kinds of other blogs, I'm just beginning to feel really bludgeoned by the weather. I want to see this sight in my own garden.

I'd even welcome seeing this, snow and all:

Of course, I’ve been pushing back the greys by keeping busy with work, reading all kinds of new books, browsing through catalogues and magazines and websites, and tending the plants here in the house. They tell me that spring will come, as they’ve started to wake up from their resting period and put on new growth. And if it weren't for all of you posting about your gardening adventures or plans, and taking part in the Garden Bloggers Geography Project, I'd be even more winter-beaten. Thanks to all of you who have done posts for the project, and I'll be doing a wrapup over the weekend.

Okay, you've talked me out of being gloomy. Maybe we’re only midway through Farch. But just writing about gardening makes me realize that soon it will be time to be outside getting ready for another season’s floral promises and memories. And tomatoes.

26 February 2008

Orchids and Workshops in my neck of the woods

It starts out, as any addiction does, with just one or two.

I can handle this, you tell yourself. It’s only one…or two.

But soon you’re not satisfied with one or two. You need more. And more and more.

Pretty soon, you’re dipping into the grocery money to feed your habit.

And renovating the house so you have a special place to go to while you’re enjoying your habit.

And you’re never satisfied. “Just one more, then I’ll quit,” you tell yourself.

Uh huh. We’ve heard it all before.

You’re an orchid addict.

This is not an intervention. This is an invitation, for those in Nova Scotia, to pop into the Orchid Society of Nova Scotia’s Spring Show on March 1 and 2nd.

The show will take place at Spring Garden Place, 5640 Spring Garden Road, Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Saturday, March 1st from 930-530, and on Sunday from 12 noon til 5 pm.

This spring show is an American Orchid Society judged show, with judging on Saturday; but for most of us, it’s just about visiting the show and seeing the incredible plants that the enthusiasts raise. They’ll have some for sale, too—did I mention I’d be leaving my bank card home? For its own safety, of course.

One of the highlights of the day will be Neville MacKay's demonstration of flower arrangements using orchids, on Saturday afternoon. Neville, for those of you not from around here, is owner of the incredible floral shop My Mother’s Bloomers, and is also a highly entertaining and sought after speaker. He’s a regular on Nova Scotia’s version of Breakfast Television on CTV Atlantic, and he’s just a terrific plant aficionado and personality.

For those of us with orchids on the brain, there’s going to be a second show and sale here in the Valley, on March 15th from 1030-4:00 at the KC Irving Environmental Science Centre at Acadia University. So as you can imagine, I’ll be lurking around there with camera and perhaps some grocery money…just in case an orchid is pleading to be adopted.

March is the month when a lot of us have finally had enough of winter, even though we have weeks of it left to go. Some escape to warmer climates for a few days or weeks; others haunt shows like these orchid events, or perhaps take in workshops.

Speaking of workshops, I get to blow my own horn here a bit: I’m scheduled to do two seminars at Lee Valley’s Halifax store, on March 8. The morning workshop is on butterfly gardening, which will actually take in a bit of information on other pollinating insects too, being as how I’m worried about them. Here’s the writeup from the Lee Valley website:
Butterfly gardening is gaining popularity and it is easy to encourage butterflies, hummingbirds and other delightful garden visitors. Enjoy a visual presentation with Jodi Delong as she helps you learn the secrets to creating a garden that welcomes winged friends all summer. A handout of plants for attracting butterflies will also be provided.

In the afternoon, we’re going to talk about Continuous Colour in the garden:

There’s no need to suffer from midsummer meltdown just because the big showy perennials are spent. Learn some tips and tricks from Jodi Delong for extending your growing season of color, from the beginning of summer right through to frost. Watch a colorful presentation featuring perennials and other great plants throughout the growing season. You will also receive a copy of the book Continuous Bloom to take home.

There are a lot of things I love about Lee Valley, as many readers know. What I like about their seminars is that they charge a reasonable fee for those who attend, which includes refreshments and often supplies, and then donate the proceeds from the fees to the United Way. The book they’re giving to participants of the Colour workshop is by Pam Duthie, and is another of those ‘must have’ volumes!

So if you’re interested in signing up for one of the workshops, or one of the many others that Lee Valley is hosting throughout the spring, just check their website or call the store at 902-450-1221. And I hope to see a few of you there.

25 February 2008

The windy watery gardening world of bloomingwriter

It wouldn’t be very good if the person who thunk up the Garden Bloggers Geography Project didn’t take part too, would it? You have til Friday to get your 'homework' link to me!

Welcome to Nova Scotia—specifically, Kings County, Nova Scotia, part of the Annapolis Valley. You’ll notice just slightly to the right of that green line I drew is Windsor, where fellow blogger Nancy of Soliloquy lives.
Like any Valley, ours is formed in between two mountains, in this case the North and South mountains. The North Mountain protects the Valley from the upper Bay of Fundy, where are found the world’s highest tides, although the Canadian Hydrographic Services tells us that it’s a tidal tie between those in Ungava Bay, way up north, and our Minas Basin.

If you look at the map, you’ll see a little peninsula that sticks out, like an appendix, into the upper Bay—into the Minas Channel, actually. That’s the end of North Mountain, including Cape Blomidon on one side of the peninsula, Cape Split at the terminus, and Scotts Bay in the bowl of the peninsula.

Cape Blomidon is a brooding promontory that plows a furrow out into the Minas Basin, looking across at the Five Islands and the Parrsboro shore. It’s also where the great Mi’k maq god Kluscap, or Glooscap, sleeps. I have my own theory that the mountain’s great positive power comes from the fact that Kluscap is here with us. Incidentally, Kluscap formed the Five Islands by throwing chunks of Blomidon at Beaver, who was bothering him. Or was it Raven?

At the tip of the peninsula is Cape Split, a spectacular set of basaltic sea stacks and the terminus of a very popular hiking trail. The peninsula sticks out into the Minas Channel, and twice daily, there’s a snorting good riptide that goes charging around that, as racing tidal waters come up the bay, spill into the bowl of Scotts Bay, then go screaming out around the Split and up into Minas Basin. There are times when it’s ‘flat-ass calm’ out around the Split…

But twice daily, it’s rather different. Whirlpools, eddies, dancing water…and that’s even without the wind blowing. The devil apparently surfs out there, or so my spouse’s cousins reported when they had a bad day of it out lobstering one fall season a few years back.

I’ve mentioned the wind a time or two…it comes screeching up out of the Bay and hits us quite well on our high hill looking down at the Bay and the Split, but on the other hand, we don’t have many black flies or mosquitos. And plants that do well here are sturdy species, although we have microzones around the house and barn. We're up high enough away from the water--about a mile as the crow flies--that we don't get a lot of salt spray in our yard. But we do get wind.

Down in the Valley, the tides affect life in a different way. There are numerous tidal rivers in the Valley, including the Habitant, Cornwallis, Canard, and Pereaux Rivers just between the mountain and Wolfville, 20 minutes from us. Alongside these rivers you’ll see a series of dykes, holding back the sea and the tidal rivers, and reclaiming thousands of acres of fertile land. Here’s an explanation of the dykes and the aboiteaux created by les Acadiens and later New England planters:

Acadian agriculture
French colonists eagerly settled the shores of the Annapolis Basin in the decades following establishment of the fortified "Habitation" at Port Royal in 1605. They quickly recognized the rich agricultural potential of the large tracts of salt marsh, if only the sea could somehow be held at bay. Some among them were familiar with the dyking techniques used for reclaiming marshland in Europe, and they soon set about building comparable dykes to extend their newly acquired lowlands. The first such dyking was undertaken near Port Royal between 1635 and 1640. These were earthen structures about 1.5 metres high, veneered on both sides with sods of salt grass to hold the soil in place. Water inside could drain out through large wooden pipes ("aboiteaux") extending through the base of the dyke and usually placed in existing creek beds. These were fitted with a simple, ingenious wooden flap valve opening to seaward to allow water to drain out at low tide, but closing tightly as the tide rose, preventing intrusion of seawater. Within a few years, rain and melting snow leached out most of the salt. The thick layers of fertile alluvial soil thus reclaimed were rich in inorganic and organic nutrients. One agricultural engineer termed these dykelands "a reserve of energy in the form of fertility".

Here’s a bit of a demonstration. On the left is the wall of the Wellington Dyke, curving away towards the horizon ; that white expanse is a large field owned by a local farmer.

And this is on the other side of the road—a small, wellbehaved looking river winding through more fields, right?

Not exactly. If it weren’t for the aboiteau under the road--granted, a more sophisticated sluiceway than the wooden ones created by Les Acadiens--and the dykewall, everything would be underwater. This shot is just a 180 degree turn from that one. Granted, we were at about high water when I took this, and we’re having a high run of tides the past few days, but you get the picture—all this would be underwater were it not for the system of dykes between the Valley and the Bay of Fundy. (This one protects over 3000 acres from the sea water). They’ve held, too, since 1869 and the Saxby Gale. Let’s hope they continue to hold—the Dept of Agriculture keeps them well maintained.

Now we’re back up on my mountain, at the Lookoff, which looks down on the Valley. Actually, you can see five counties from here—Cumberland, Colchester, Hants, Kings and Annapolis—and much of what you can see in this photo would be underwater, were it not for the dykes.

As the name suggests, the Annapolis Valley is a prime area for agriculture, especially apples, but also poultry, dairy, mixed vegetables, some grain, and other types of farming. A big employer is Acadia University in Wolfville, one of my two alma maters (alma materae?); another is 14 Wing Greenwood, an air force base where my father was once stationed before I was born. There’s a lot of tourism through here in the summer, including to Scotts Bay to hike to Cape Split. But I just ignore all that and do my thing. We're about twenty minutes from Wolfville, and several other towns, 8 minutes from the village of Canning, ninety minutes from downtown Halifax, and that's plenty close enough for me. I couldn't live in town, in a city, in a subdivision or near nosy, covenant-building 'neighbours' who think up new laws to restrict people every other Wednesday. That's the reclusive writer in me, though.

I figured something out one day not long ago. My longsuffering spouse is a retired lobster fisherman, and the sea is in his blood. He’s always referred to this side of the house as the front, yet it faces away from the road, and out into the back garden, the pasture and woods…and the Bay.

Which really IS our front yard…when LSS gets up in the morning, he goes to one of the upstairs windows that look out on the water, and has a look. Every morning, no matter what the weather. He says, “I have to make eye contact with the water before I can get on with my day.”

And I understand that perfectly.

24 February 2008

Cooling it with white and green

In a perfect world—the one where I win the lottery and get to spend time visiting all the marvelous gardens I want to see—I’ll get to visit the famous white border at Sissinghurst. I’ve seen more modest white gardens done, and done nicely, but while I love them, especially in the evening, they’re not for me. I’ve talked before about the fog up here, and what that does to white and other pastel flowers.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy white flowers, including in our garden, as well as white variegated foliage, and silver foliage too. White shines on a warm summer evening, or in a shady spot of the garden, and cools things down a bit when there might be a bit too much colour going on. Green and white do make me very happy, whether combined in flowers or in foliage, so there is plenty of it around our garden—just not all in one spot.

Achillea ptarmica ‘The Pearl’ begins blooming in our garden in the heat of late July-early August. It’s planted under a white birch, so it echoes nicely off the snowy bark of the tree. It's a bit of a wanderer, but nothing that can't be managed by digging up and dividing it in the spring.

Most of our clematis are in strong colours, but I do have three with white flowers; the purple-foliaged Clematis recta ‘Purpurea’ (thanks, Nan, for supplying the right species and cv); Clematis terniflora ‘Sweet Autumn’, (photo at the top) and this large flowered cultivar (long since suffering from LoLa syndrome). The flowers look like stars in the deep green (or purple-green) foliage.

It’s no secret that I’m dotty about echinaceas, and while I usually am drooling on about green ones or orange or yellow or even purple coneflowers, the pure white ones make me pretty happy too. This is probably ‘White Swan’ and it’s a plant that does well, though not as vigourously as some of the other cultivars.

Polemoniums also make me happy. This white one flowers for weeks and weeks on end, is fragrant, seeds slightly but not obnoxiously, and is a great plant. I also have two with bicolour foliage, ‘Brise d’anjou’, and ‘Stairway to Heaven’; the latter is actually tricolour because it has shades of pink in the foliage, similar to Nishiki willow.

Scabiosa comes in a host of colours; we have a lovely blue one, but isn’t this white blossom great? It’s in a partly shaded part of the garden, and glows nicely against several plants with gold-chartreuse or blue foliage.

Here are two plants that are great whether they’re flowering or not: Lamiastrum ‘Herman’s Pride’ and a generic pulmonaria. We have several lamiastrum that act as ground covers, but Herman’s Pride just forms this lovely, polite clump in the shade garden under our spruce trees. We have a number of pulmonaria, some with red flowers, others with white, others with light or dark blue, all of which are lovely, but it’s the foliage that rocks my socks. Ironically, I have very few photos of them, because (ahem) I lost a pile of images earlier in the year, so I can’t show the different splashes, spangles and spots of silver patterned foliage. Just wait til this spring!

I was a bit of a slow convert to loving hostas, because I had to see them wellgrown, and wellgrown in quantity (like in this garden, which boasts well over 100 different cultivars) before I really got it and started relishing the rich diversity of leaf shapes, colours and colour patterning. Around here I”ve found that too many people don’t let their plants get large enough before they’re busily dividing them—and many cut the flowers off. Ours don’t get divided until they’re crowded, or until someone wants a pieceof one, and the flowers are as important to me as the plants, especially the fragrant ones.

Viburnums are great, and this has to be one of the nicest: V. plicatum tomentosum ‘Mariesii’, the doublefile viburnum, with its horizontally growing branches, deep green foliage and those snowy white flowers. Ours is young yet, but it’s going to have room to grow because I’m ripping out an annoying and boring yellow potentilla near it, and thinning down an ‘Annabelle’-type hydrangea on the other side of it, so its wonderful shape can be seen and enjoyed.

Mayapples cause me great amusement from the time their nose-like shoots begin poking up out of the soil, until their leaves unfurl and expand. I know there are fancy-patterned cultivars available, but I think they’d be marginally hardy here, where this native species does just fine. It also works well beside a host of hostas, a whilte astilbe, and some sweet woodruff, setting up a patch of green and white plants—but not a border, just a little section.

When we were on our plant expedition to Newfoundland and the southern Labrador coast, we saw many arctic-type willows. This particular one is a bit broader leafed than the species I have in my garden, and tends to grow more prostrate—and yes, it’s coming to join our garden come spring, because I love that grey-green foliage.

In my garden, the coolness of our summers means that tall phlox doesn’t get around to flowering until late August—but then it keeps flowering until into October. This is, of course, the blissfully fragrant and mildew-oblivious ‘David’, which is neat because it’s about the only white plant flowering at a time when most everything else is shifting to the fall tones of rusts, orange, gold, and magenta. Yes, magenta! ‘David’ has been a topnotch plant, and I’m gradually spreading it around the garden to offer its cooling crispness to other sites.

Two more offerings, in the green on green category. A native jack in the pulpit shyly flowers in front of a gold and green hosta—I can tell you a great tale of woe about my hostas and how many of them have no names because I don’t know which ones they are—just that I like them, and should have taken photos and matched them all up long ago.

And finally, a euphorbia that I fell in love with when I spied it at another friend’s nursery—this is Euphorbia ‘Lacey’, bicoloured green and white or greenish yellow and green in its foliage and bracts and flowers. It grows near Lime Glow juniper and a gold plumosa Chamaecyparis, setting up another nice little colour echo—more by accident than design.

23 February 2008

Another season's promise

Nancy of Soliloquy posted earlier today about Gifts of the Garden, about the many blessings of plants, which led me to leave a comment quoting a song from Stan Rogers. His song was about planting crops, and he talks about putting "another season's promise in the ground." The funny thing about that is that today I spent a few hours in Nancy's neck of the woods, looking at another season's promise, at a friend's nursery in Falmouth.

My friend Rob is a plant propagator par excellence, and his nursery is one of my favourite places to go spend the grocery money (whoops, that was supposed to read disposable income). While he does bring in some plants, he also grows a lot of his own material from seed and from cuttings. He's expanding and putting up a large new greenhouse, but I went down today partly to see that, partly to get a touch of spring, and partly to help him with some photos for his soon to be launched website.

Some of my photos are a bit foggy looking because Rob's propagating greenhouse is nicely warm, with a mist system for the cuttings bench, and the lens on my camera kept fogging up. One of his passions is for dwarf conifers, which are becoming more popular all the time with gardeners. They're nice because even for a small garden, you can have a few really interesting, different cultivars. With lots of room...it's going to be even more fun for me. I'm a patient gardener, after all, and have the perfect site for coldtesting things for hardiness.

These are some of the Japanese maple seedlings that Rob grew last spring. He gave me a flat of them when they got a little bigger, and I planted them out around my place. We'll see how they fared this spring. Isn't it neat how they come in such a rainbow of different colours?

One of the plants that generates instant plant lust in me. Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Gracilis Aurea' is a choice, gorgeous little plant, and I'm putting one in this year...I have other chamaecyparis, including Filifera aurea, and Plumosa aurea, and 'Heatherbun', and Nootka 'Glauca'...do you suppose it's an addiction?

I wish that Pieris 'Mountain Fire' would hold this fantastic colour all year long, but it does hold it til well into June. And the flowers, well, the flowers are exquisite. I have one that Dick Steele of Bayport gave me several years ago, and it's going to flower this year...can't wait!

One of Rob's interests is native plants; and we collected a LOT of seeds when we were on the great plant collecting festival in Newfoundland and Labrador last September. He's also very partial to rhododendrons and other ericaceous plants, so he has a lot of cuttings of rhodos happily rooting--including a few that are flowering!

Those of you who live or are from down south will recognize this as being a Taxodium, or cypress. I don't know the species--whichever one is hardy to zone 5, I suspect--but one of them will be coming up here to see how it likes my neck of the woods, in time.

Don't these flowers look like tiny daffodils? Maybe daffodils for faeries? No? Well, I thought so...again, I don't know the species, but this is an evergreen barberry...and of course, when I saw it, I said my usual thing. "I want that!" Apparently, it's really, REALLY thorny--but I'm quite dotty about barberries, and hopefully, I'll get to test one of these out, too.

Although it's snowing again this evening, after a not too bad day today, what we discovered while going through hundreds of photos is that it really hasn't been so long since last August, when I took this photo...

...and it won't be very long until the nursery looks like this (maybe minus the thunderstorm that was happening that day...) and another season's promise of new plants will be ready for putting in the ground.

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