26 February 2009

Cheery Red for Indoor Colour

Although you might not think so to see the indoor plants at our house these days, I very much love houseplants. There are incredible and fascinating choices out there in some areas, depending on how good your local nursery, flower shop, garden centre or even department store is at sourcing and caring for plants. Sometimes, the plants at these places resemble mine (and a call to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Houseplants might be in order) but other facilities know plants and know how to take care of them.
Here's a lovely example of a plant that is normally fairly tough...but they resent being left unwatered for weeks on end, or being put outside in a pot without drainage during a rainy rainy summer. Yes, I'm hanging my head. Cathy of Outside In will likely be scandalized by my poor house plant-caring skills. 

It didn't used to be like that. When I was at Ag. college, my room on campus was home to anywhere up to 100 plants. No, not that kind of plant. Ordinary flowering plants, foliage plants, cacti, succulents, from lithops (living stones) to Monstera and ficus--but never did I see a ficus as pretty as this one until recent years. 

Back in the autumn I visited a nursery to find photos for a story I was doing about indoor gardening with plants, and I saw some I'd never seen before--and may not see again. This is called Dipladenia, Crimson Parasol plant. It's apparently related to Mandevilla, and I was quite taken by it, but didn't bring one home. I like to know more about plants before I bring them into the house, on account of the cat children.

I do not know what this is at all. I seem to have seen something like it on someone's blog recently, and I want to call it a red clerodendron (I had a blue one one time) but I'd be fibbing if I said I even know what genus it is. Fascinating and I should definitely have succumbed to the urge to buy it. 

And this? Its colourful flower/bracts are awesome enough, but the foliage? Ohhhh, I looked long and hard at this bougainvillea, never having seen one with variegated foliage before, but I guess they're quite common where they're easy to find. Too pricy for me, with my talent for causing houseplants to go to sleep. 

One of my favourite, if curious, plants has always been the crown of thorns (Euphorbia milii). It used to come in two flower colours, red and white, but now you see pink and yellow and probably others as well. Again, it depends on where you live. I had a yellow one, but it seemed more spleeny than the more common red varieties. 

Here's a glorious foliage plant that some regions can grow nicely outdoors at least in the warm months, longer if they live in civilized climates without so many snowflakes as I have. Caladium don't need to flower, with foliage like this, do they? Marvelous plants, but fussy indoors if you don't give them adequate moisture/humidity.

And then there's hibsicus. Some day, I'll get to visit Hawaii and see plants like this blooming in their native habitat. They do well for me usually for a few years, but leaving them out one night too long during autumn in my climate is a very, very bad plan. "And that's all I have to say about that!"

I know they're ubiquitous these days, almost as much so as geraniums. I do not care. Gerberas have this appeal to them that causes me to stop and stare and force myself to bring one home. Or maybe two. Or more. They have lovely tidy blooms, brilliant colours, not-totally-nondescript foliage, and I just plain like them. Sometimes they even do well outside as container plants (I'm speaking from my experience--they may well do much, much better for others. ) It won't surprise anyone that one leaped into my wagon at the grocery store in Liverpool yesterday. It wanted to take up residence on my office desk. Could I refuse? No. Is it red? No, brilliant yellow, in honour of the spring that I do assume will find us one of these days. 

25 February 2009

The Artist-Gardener of Liverpool

Despite the best attempts of Mother Nature to bury this family of her Nova Scotian children in 78,000,0000,876,907,352,086 snowflakes artfully arranged (as James Alexander-Sinclair so sympathetically counted observed), we felt definitely hints of spring in the air today. Of course, that may be because I fled to the balmy south--shore, that is, of Nova Scotia. To Liverpool, to be exact. Not THAT Liverpool. No Beatles here. Maybe a few aging beatniks, but nary a sign of a Paul or a Ringo.

I love Liverpool. Not only is it a whole zone balmier than our wildness (as a rule, though they've had their share of winter this year), but it's also a lovely historic town. It's also home to one of the most interesting of garden centre operators/plantsmen, Ivan Higgins. Ivan runs Cosby's Garden Centre here in town, and it's appropriate that I mention him because it was he I bought my Hamamelis 'Diane' from several years ago.

Ivan is an artist in every sense of the word, not only with plants, but with cement, pencil, pen and ink too. He is known for his lifesize (and beyond) concrete sculptures, which are all around the Garden Centre. They are imaginative, whimsical, hilarious, magical, and they make Cosby's a destination even if you're not as besotted with plants as some of us are.
I popped in a couple of weeks ago to say hello, and Ivan proudly showed me a drawing he has been working on for many hours this winter. It encapsulates his life as a nursery operator and artist beautifully, although you'd have to visit and see the drawing AND the nursery in order to appreciate all its details and nuances for yourself. 

The front of the garden centre is all windows/glasshouse panels, and on a sunny day it's just as nice a place to visit as you could possibly hope to imagine. 

I looked longingly at this handsome aeonium, as mine is feeling very hard-done-by back home, with insufficient sunlight and naughty kitties causing it some distress. 

There weren't a huge number of plants for sale at the nursery the day I visited, it being just before Valentine's Day and still plenty early to be carrying too much other than houseplants. A few flats of rooted cuttings were happy to soak up the sun, however. 

And the big tropicals that stay outside during the summer months are whiling away their winter in the garden centre quite contentedly. Ivan likes to push the zones so he's got a Gunnera (nicknamed Gramma) buried outside under straw and snow, and it's done just fine the past several years. But these plants are far less forgiving so they come indoors until spring remenbers where we are. 

I'll have more to say about Liverpool and surrounding areas in coming weeks, as a project I'm involved with has me visiting here every week. And that's not a bad thing at all. 

24 February 2009

Sign of the Times...

I used this photo last week in the February issue of The Canning Gazette, (which is why it's in black and white). Looking outside this morning, regarding the shovelling and plowing efforts of my long suffering spouse One. More. Time!, I thought of this photo and decided it would be worth sharing with everyone. Meanwhile, the snowdrifts just get higher and higher and higher...

22 February 2009

Ominously ongoing observations of....

...winter, of course! You were expecting crocuses, or veggie seedlings? Not here. Not any time soon. I remember when things did look like the photo above. And they will again. But permit me a little more amused grumbling about the weather, please. You'll be amused, and your heart will be warmed too. (click photos for larger image in most cases)

I came home Friday night from the south shore in a gale of wind and 'flurries', which continued on yesterday. Winds out of the west, off the water, made more flurries and sculpted the drifts in the yard higher and higher.

I had thought I'd wallow out through some of the snow and take some photos, but in studying the yard from windows and from the few spots outside where I can walk without floundering, I decided I didn't want to scale 4 and 5 foot snowdrifts with my camera in hand, just to try to get some sense of what it's like for you all. So instead, I took photos where I could safely do so. Like from my office window, where the snow-tsunami is threatening to engulf my weeping Chamaecyparis.

From the back window, you can (sort of) see how the snow sculpts itself around structures, trees, etc. Hubby managed to clear a sort-of path to the pasture to let Leggo and Jenny out, as they've been indoors for several days. The snow was up to Jenny Lumpy-donk's belly even with the horse breaking the trail through first.

I cheated. I went through the barn and out the back barn door to take this photo, startling my snow bunting friends into flight.

They landed in their tree and sat chittering and twittering and waiting for me to disappear, which I did by getting into the car, rolling down the window, propping up my camera, and waiting.

They land on the house, sidle over to the edge of the roof, and discuss amongst themselves whether or not they should drop down to the feeding area. A few of them elect to go first.

As they snatch up bits of corn and other seeds, they tell their friends to come down and join the buffet...

And pretty soon everyone is down there with them. I just sit quietly in the car, snapping photos and grinning a lot, because I know that any second now...
They'll all take off again, and do some aerial acrobatics around the house before returning to the roof of the barn or house to do it all again. 

Days like this, when it's mild and calm and the snow buntings and other birds are having fun (or are giving me great joy because they seem to be having fun) are what get us through the bleak days. Like the storm that is due to come in tomorrow. 

I'll hang out with the cats, the plants, my computer and some hot chocolate tomorrow, and let the weather bring what it may. It's gonna do that anyway, so it's best to just acquiesce and put a good face on it all. That's my usual philosophy, and it helps get us through Yet Another Fundy Winter Weather Tantrum.

At least there's no goutweed at this time of year....

20 February 2009

More Signs of Not Quite Spring

The Bay called me the other day before I went to the other shore for a couple of days, so I took my camera and went down to the wharf to see if there were any signs of spring lurking around. 

There's less snow down along the shore here than up on the hill where 'flurries happen where winds blow onshore.' Up on the hill, we catch all the flurries; down ON the shore, they aren't nearly so prevalent. 

There's only one lobster boat still fishing out of the Bay, with the vessel on the left. Both boats are slumbering, waiting for spring to come, even though Todd Suzanne is 'retired'. 

Do you see the waterline on the rocks across the cove? That's the highwater line, where the water will be at high tide. When this picture was taken, it was about half-tide. The waterline is about ten feet from where the water now is. See what we mean about tides? I keep trying to get down there at low water, but haven't managed lately. 

When my better half was the harbourmaster, this wharf was kept in excellent shape. He gave that position up a few years back, several years after he actually stopped fishing, and the neglect of the current harbour authority is obvious. There is sadly a bit of a 'dog in the manger' attitude; the one boat still fishing here doesn't want to fix up the wharf because someone else might come and use it. I used to drive my car out to the end of the wharf, right where this hole is. Not now. 

The rocks along the Bay shore include a lot of what is called columnar basalt. There are seams through some of these rocks, where you can find agate, amethyst, and other semi precious stones. Do you see the rock out in the water, far right, halfway up the photo? That's called the Shoe Bridge, and is submerged at high water and for a while before and after, exposed at low water, and a definite navigation hazard to those not in the know. Especially when the weather is throwing waves in the air ten or twenty or more feet high. Today--this being several days ago--the water is what my better half calls 'flat ass calm'. 

Back at the house, the only waves are made of snow, out under my spruces and across parts of the garden. And we've had more snow since this photo was taken. Surprise, surprise, surprise. 

But it's okay. The days are getting longer. There's heat in the sun. We can deal with it. (repeat as necessary.)

19 February 2009

Signs of Spring, Nova Scotia Style

With all the celebratory postings and pictures of spring coming from some of my gardening friends around the Northern Hemisphere, I thought i'd walk around the yard and show you what is growing on in our yard. Here's a look at the clematis, blue poppies, magnolia and assorted other things. What, you can't see them in the five foot deep snowbank around the arbour? Tsk tsk. Let's go a little further. 

Oh, here we have another lovely wave of snow, prettily needlepointed with a thousand thousand bird tracks. It was too nice a day for the snow buntings to visit, and I saw them down by the shore, flying in jubilant waves. 

The mostly-buried rose is the aptly named Snow Pavement, or Schneekopf. It won't be blooming for a while yet. The snow here is between 2-3 feet deep, rather deeper off to the right where the big drift is. 

Ah well, it's a beautiful day even if the plants are a bit shy about showing themselves. Even the wild plants are a bit reluctant to burst forth yet, but they're still showing seedheads in lots of cases. I believe this is a Hypericum, or St. John's wort, but I could be mistaken. 

This, on the other hand, is knapweed, a relative of the various Centaureas many of us grow in our gardens. It's a great bee plant and birds like its seeds, so I think it's a Good Thing. 

And one of my favourite wild plants is Queen Anne's Lace, or wild carrot. It just pleases me by its structurally interesting blooms at all times of year. 

Finally, a visit to the Hellebore 'Ivory Prince' and Hamamelis 'Diane.'. Well, I couldn't give them a closeup because there was a big drift in the way...and they were well and truly buried too. As in completely. I expect 'Diane' will emerge first but alas, Frances my friend, (who taught me how to get my hellebores through winter and whose garden I dream of visiting) I can't celebrate my blooms yet, so I'll just enjoy yours. And those of others fortunate enough to have spring in midwinter. 

Did I mention we have another storm due today? 

17 February 2009

Jodi’s Gotta-have plants: Winterberry.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that in one facet of my life, I'm enmeshed in a book project, a collection of essays about gardening in our neck of the woods. As part of that project, I'm doing a series of plant profiles, a dozen or so plants that I just gotta-have in my garden. I thought I'd post modified excerpts from my manuscript here because my readers are among the best commenters around, and I know you'll give me productive feedback. 

So we'll kick off with my winter-favourite, the winterberry. 

My instant-smile plant for the dark days of winter glows with brilliant scarlet, orange or red berries on an artistic sculpture of branches scoured bare of leaf. Whether you call it winterberry, Canada holly, coralberry , or by the curiously unrelated name of black alder, Ilex verticillata is a terrific plant for generating winter interest in the Atlantic gardenscape. This deciduous shrub is native to eastern North American and can often be found growing in large thickets, which are particularly noticeable once the winds of autumn have stripped away the leaves so that the berries can be seen.

First Nations people often referred to winterberry as feverbush, because they used a solution made with the plant’s bark as a potion for reducing fever, as well as for an anticeptic solution in cleaning wounds and injuries. Plants for a Future reports that a herbal tea can be made from dried leaves, but the berries are not rated as being desirable as an edible for human consumption.

Winterberry is naturally found in moist areas where the soil is rich in organic matter, and because the plants will sucker, they’re great for creating a mass planting along a pond or other suitable location. The shrubs tend to be slow growing for a few years until well established, and normally will reach an average size of 6-10 feet in height. If you keep suckers pruned you can limit the spread of your plants, but I am waiting patiently for mine to form thickets such as those that delight residents and visitors to the south-western parts of Nova Scotia’s shoreline. If you’re a bird or wildlife gardener, you’ll plant these shrubs to draw in fruit-eating songbirds such as waxwings.

Like other hollies, winterberry is dioecious so you need both male and female plants in order to get the big display of berries through fall and winter. Cultivars and natural variations will see berries that range from orange through scarlet to deep crimson, and even rarely will sport to yellow, although I've yet to see a yellow-berried one in the wild with my own eyes. But winterberry isn't just about the fruit. To my winter-wary mind, always on the watch for plants that show great winter interest, the male plants are as attractive during the winter months as the female plants, with their distinctive branch structure.

If you’re thinking about adding Canada holly to your garden, look for a site that will be at least damp, or even wet; the shrubs will languish in soil that gets too dry in the warmth of summer, but will happily grow along ponds, ditches, or in soggy clay soil such as we contend with in our North Mountain garden. They are best suited to soils that are acid, which is a condition most Atlantic gardeners also find a common experience. Alkaline soils will cause leaves to yellow and often to drop off. If you have a damp area where you want to secure the soil, such as a slope leading into a wetland or ditch or raingarden runoff, consider planting Canada holly, because it works brilliantly to reduce erosion in such situations. 

16 February 2009

Farewell to a Friend

It does not make me at all happy to open the newspaper, be working my way through it, and discover the passing of a person who was a light in so many people's lives. 

Dr. Hilary Thompson taught in the English Department at Acadia University when I was there. If people have a colour around them, Hilary's was all colours of the rainbow. She reflected joy--she emanated joy, a zest for living, a kindness to all, a delectable sense of humour. 

She wasn't one of my professors in that I didn't take a course from her. But she was one of my teachers in that her constant positive attitude in the department was a joy to behold and to absorb. Occasionally we had tea together, or joined the department secretary (aptly named Joy) for that particular break, shared stories about cats and plants, laughed and chattered like friends do. I remember Hilary showing huge compassion to students, including to me when I was coping with being a master's student and a single parent. It used to delight us to see her coming off the elevator from teaching a class, carrying puppets or masks or other trappings that she used in her course on children's literature. Her office was festooned with these colourful, happy reflections of Hilary's passion for writing, reading, and teaching. 

I learned of Hilary's illness only a couple of weeks ago, when I met her and her beloved husband Ray in the radiology department of the hospital. Preoccupied with the book I was reading and not so quick to focus when I look up, I didn't recognize her initially, until she spoke and smiled at me from her wheelchair. I was shocked when she told me of the brain tumour, but she faced it with far more grace and courage than many would. Including me, I'm sure.

It's somewhat ironic, somewhat apt, that I wasn't able to go to her memorial service on Saturday--because I was teaching a weekly workshop class in writing to a group of adults who want to develop their passion for writing. 

Hilary, your light may be gone from the world, but the love of the word that you kindled in so many students over the years will blaze brightly on. Rest easy, dear teacher. 

(photo from flickr, with thanks)

12 February 2009

Oh, Winter. I wish I could just quit you...

Okay, is there such a thing as winter rage? I'm sure there is. I am sure I don't have it, either, but really this winter is starting to get on my nerves. We've gone from bonechilling cold to that milder weather that was promised. In the form of freezing rain, and then rain, fog, and drizzle. The driveway/dooryard is a skating rink. Up the road, trees are festooned in crystal, but here they shook it off in the fog. The birds are still out and about, and that's very cheery-making, but really, we need a break. 

Some sunlight would be nice to go along with the milder temperatures. Oh, I know. Flowers! They always help. A nice bouquet of winter flowers helps to drive the drearies away. For some inscrutable reason, I really like green button mums. I don't know if they're dyed or natural. I like em anyway. 

This is the coolest houseplant. I got it last fall and it's doing very well. It's called Ixora, and I'd never seen it before, but it spoke to me and you know how it is when plants call our names. We must not refuse. 

That was my excuse today, when I went into a store to buy batteries and a couple of other items. And there was a big load of these indoor roses in pots, wanting to be bought and given to beloveds for Valentine's day. So I got one and told LongSuffering Spouse that he bought it for me. 

These roses never have a name when you find them in stores, but while it didn't have the most roses on it, I wanted it because it reminded me of Morden Sunrise, a lovely Parkland/Morden rose from Manitoba. There really wasn't enough light to take a great photo without flash, but next sunny day I'll take its picture again so you can appreciate the subtle play of yellow, apricot and pink in the flowers. 

Now THIS was a surprise when I went into the living room to water the succulents and cacti and others that live in there over the winter. This yellow-flowered Christmas cactus flowered at Christmas, but apparently felt it should throw a few extra flowers as a midwinter treat for me. It's a bit early for Bloom Day, but Carol won't mind. 

Oh, and this was the other temptation that hit me today as part of my rebellion against winter. There was a whole pallet of Phalaenopsis orchids in the store I went into, nice plants with lots of blooms, buds and leaves, and in handsome clay pots to boot. So I bought IT too, and told Longsuffering spouse he gave me THAT as well. He agreed that was an excellent pre-Valentine's gift. I don't need anything else, but I'll make a nice supper for him on V-Day as a reward. 

Oh, winter, I wish I could just quit you...but I will never quit plants, that's for sure. Especially flowering ones that help us get through winter!

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