29 March 2009

Letters Across the Pond: Of Sandals and Snowdrops

Dear Sylvia: What do snowdrops and sandals possibly have in common? I'll tell you in a little bit. First, let me say again how glad I am that you suggested this correspondence. Judging by the response we have been getting to your first note, others are very glad too. 

Yes, that was my sandal-clad foot, stepping cautiously across some melting 'glacier' in our yard. We live in Scotts Bay, Kings County, which is technically part of the Annapolis Valley. However, a valley is formed between several hills or mountains, and ours is no exception; the Valley, the agricultural heartland of Nova Scotia, runs like a plough furrow between the North and South Mountains. The North Mountain runs like a dinosaur's backbone along the western coastline of Nova Scotia from just above Digby to its terminus at Blomidon/Scotts Bay. If you look at a map of my province, about half-way up the western coastline, you'll see a little comma of land curling out into the waters of the upper Bay of Fundy, home to the world's highest tides. Inside that bowl is Scotts Bay; the curve of the comma is Cape Blomidon (picture above), where sleeps the mighty M'kmaq god Glooscap (Kluskap).

Being on the Fundy, we're subject to fog and somewhat moderating temperatures, as with any marine climate. IN the summer, it's a blessing sometimes; the Valley may be sweltering with temperatures in the high 20s and low 30s C (80s-90s F) but we are often much cooler, if the fog is in. In the winter, we often get much more snow than other parts of the province, because we get so many 'flurries where winds blow on shore; we catch them from all directions, being technically an isthmus surrounded by water on three 'sides', and being on a hill to boot. My garden can be as much as three weeks behind those in the Valley. But there are also milder AND colder parts in the province. Our province is darn near an island, connected to the rest of the continent only by the Isthmus of Chignecto and the tidal dykelands which joins us to the neighbouring province of New Brunswick. A few years of global warming and we may well be an island too.  

TS Eliot called April the cruelest month, but for us that period runs from mid March until mid May, when spring usually decides to stay with us in earnest. Until that time, she flirts with gardeners, farmers and others. Today, the temperature has hit an astonishing 16 degrees C (about 62 degrees F) and I had been wandering around inside in my sandals. Longsuffering spouse cajoled me into coming outside and walking around the edge of the yard, but I had to walk on snow in a few places. Somehow, that didn't bother me a bit. 

You can probably see that we get a lot of wind; some spots in our acreage are showing bare ground, while in other places the snow is still several feet deep, the result of having been sculpted into huge drifts five feet deep and more. 

Our land is composed of clay, rock, and springs, all of which conspire together to produce some truly spectacular frost heaving. Here's Longsuffering Spouse inspecting the lawn chairs he built a few years ago. He decided to rope them all together and put them on our little back deck way at the back of the yard, near the pasture. They all stayed put, but the deck looks like it's going to launch into the Bay at any time. It'll flatten out as the frost in the ground subsides and things settle down. 

The past two months have been annoying for my Morgan horse, LeggoMyEggo. He has had to stay indoors when it's been icy, and it's been icy a LOT. He's very happy to be outside with his idiotdonkey, JennyManyLumps, and he was hoping I'd come out into the pasture and play Fierce Wild Horse tag with him. Not in sandals, thank you buddy

We are a long way from celebrating too many blossoms, although in the Valley there are plenty of crocus in bloom where snows have receded. Generally those spots are south-facing yards, of course. However, tippytoeing around the back yard, I did discover a few valiant shoots coming up in one garden that catches a lot of west light. 

And out front, in the garden with the best drainage, this tiny, valiant Galanthus greeted me. Most of the snowdrops are still buried under two feet and more of snow in the lower front garden, but I've been adding more snowdrops every fall, and this bed is now snow-free. 

You can imagine my joy at finding this tiny fellow, barely an inch tall. He was worth the snow in my shoes and the cold feet. And the winter. And the winter yet to come, because it is only late March. But spring blooms in my heart, and I know we'll make it through. 

cheers, jodi
PS (Tuesday morning, 31 March.) March is going out-like-a-Tasmanian-Devil, with a snowstorm/rainstorm/icestorm/yuckstorm swatting most of the province for the past two days. It's never boring, our weather!

28 March 2009

Whoops, I done Gone 'n Dunnit....

Sunlight is such a balm to a winter-weary soul, isn't it? Couple it with springlike temperatures, and you can hear the collective sigh of relief from Maritimers who really needed a wee bit of respite from it all. And sunlight looks so lovely glinting off petals and catching the dustings of pollen, too. Hmmm. Where might this be?  

If you squint just SO, you can pretend that this flowerhead of lavender is outdoors, and not in my office with a medley of rhododendron leaves outdoors making a nice living mosaic in the background.

I swear the darling miniature daffodils are lasting splendidly because my office tends to be quite cool except when the sun is shining through the windows. They're such dear, happy, flowers, and their scent says spring, but not cloyingly so the way some think that other narcissus and hyacinths are. (I love them all, but I do understand that some fragrances can be a bit...overwhelming. 

There have been bunches and bunches of standard yellow daffodils for sale as cut flowers in the past week or two, but I prefer to buy the bulbs, let them grow and flower. I'll plant these outside and if they grow, fine, if not, they can compost. They've already given me huge delight for the few dollars I paid for them. 

The day of the snowstorm, when I went to town muttering and sputtering, this handsome and good-sized succulent ghost plant (Graptopetalum, but not sure of the species: paraguanense, probably) caught my eye and climbed into my cart before I could talk myself out of it. A kalanchoe followed suit, but this plant is just such a glorious crassula, I had to show it to you. It was a rescue mission, after all: it was getting overwatered and under-sunned, and now it's recuperating with the rest of my succulent obsessions. 

Today, I suggested to my dear longsuffering spouse that we go for a drive. I bribed him with brunch in Berwick (at the Union Street Cafe) but told him I wanted to go to a nursery and get this specific plant that y'all talked me into. 

Yup. One of the clivias came home with me. A small one, not nearly as expensive, and flowering nicely. Your advice, wisdom and good sense convinced me that I'd do just fine with it. It's in my office now, catching a little sunlight, and smiling. 

Well, we're both smiling. 

26 March 2009

Letters Across the Pond: Sylvia begins

A couple of weeks ago, everybody's favourite Non-blog-owning blogger Sylvia contacted me with an idea. Inspired by the exchange of letters between Carol of May Dreams Gardens, Dee of Red Dirt Ramblings, and Mary Ann the Idaho Gardener, she thought it would be fun if she and I did something similar, here on bloomingwriter. We have a slightly different angle; we both live on the Atlantic and on basically the same latitude. However, she's 'across the pond' in England, and I'm hanging off the Bay of Fundy (a very large 'inlet' from the Atlantic) in Nova Scotia, Canada, and we have rather different climates, temperatures, growing zones and other challenges. It's a good way to go exploring another part of the world, and hopefully you'll enjoy coming along on the trip.  

For those of you who don't know Sylvia, she does wonderful occasional guest posts at Tulips In the Woods and is a faithful commenter and supportive participant on Blotanical. I'll do my post sometime in the next day or so, as work has me on the road tomorrow, but for now, please give a warm welcome to my fellow horto-epistolary adventurer, Sylvia!

Dear Jodi,

Thank you for hosting our exchange of letters, I think it should be interesting and fun. I am glad that Carol of May Dream Gardens gave us the idea, thank you Carol. Though we live on a similar latitude and get similar day light hours our temperatures are very different, so I will start with telling you a bit about the area I live in and the effect this has on my garden.

Pic 1 coast

I live in west Dorset, which is in the south west of England, if you look at a map of England, we are just to the west of a central point by the sea. I have always lived in West Dorset, though I have lived in different places around the area, rural villages and small towns. I now live in a housing estate on the outskirts of a village. This picture was taken by my son while walking along the cliffs. I can’t see the sea from my house but I can see these cliffs.

The sea has a big effect on our climate, first because Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland. UK includes Northern Ireland) is an island. The sea moderates the temperature, giving us relatively mild winters for our proximity to the North Pole and keeping our summers cool. We also have a complex effect called the Gulf Stream which also moderates our temperatures, particularly in the west of the country. Because I live about 2 miles from the coast, my garden is milder than further inland. The nearer to sea the milder the winters. The sea also bring in mists, particularly in the summer, though these usually burn off by mid morning. The hills around also suffer from fogs, which can make driving fun!

We have a lot of hills around us, not big hills but small ones, separated from each other by valleys. They are usually quiet steep, you know it when you walk up them. As you know all gardens have micro climates and the number and variety of our hills increases this effect. Being in the west of England we get lots of rain, which is great for the garden - if not the gardener! My garden is half way up a hill, looking west wards, this means that the sun is slow to reach the garden in the morning but we get a good amount of sun during the day before it sets behind the hills across the valley from us.

Facing west we are also exposed to the westerly gales that come across the sea, perhaps you are sending them to us! It is interesting that you have had a colder winter then usual and so have we. This is my 11th winter in this garden and 6 months ago I would have said that my lowest winter temperature was -3C but this winter I recorded -9C in the garden. We have had two separate falls of snow that have settled on the ground and more frosts than I have had before in this garden. The picture was taken on 5 March, I was on my way to work, one snowy morning. This was taken through the car windows, while waiting my turn to go down a steep hill. It feels like we have had a proper winter nearer to those I experienced as a child, including the chilblains!

I am glad that for us spring is here. The days are warmer though we can still get frosts up until mid May. Spring is a long season for us, we have had the snowdrops, most of the crocus have finished flowering and now daffodils are everywhere. The magnolias have their white buds ready to open, the last few years we have had frosts in April browning all the magnolia flowers, so we are hoping for a good display this year. I couldn’t resist this picture taken in my garden, last weekend, just 2 weeks after the snow.

We have had a couple of weeks of sunshine and I have been able to do some gardening over the weekends. Now the days are so much longer and our clocks go back next weekend (29 March), I hope to spend an hour in the garden most evenings from next week. I have been sowing seeds for flowers and vegetables (on windowsills) besides developing some new areas of the garden, gradually we are reducing our lawn. I have a new tiny bed for vegetables, which I will tell you more about another time. Compared with yours my garden is small but I understand that things are on a smaller scale here compared to Canada, I am looking forward to reading more about where you live and your garden.

Best wishes


24 March 2009

It's Spring somewhere...

Oh, aren't these lovely? Such a wonderful sample of spring, these teeny tiny daffodils, with their sunny fragrance and happy blossoms. If only they were growing outside. Let's go out and look around, shall we?

Ooops. Well, maybe not. A little storm blew in yesterday although it took til today here in the Valley to get really going. And as always, it has to be ruder, harder, colder and more enthusiastic on the mountain. Maybe 50 feet before this little whiteout session, the pavement was bare. Here, not so much!
Remember we looked at the side garden, still buried in snow but at least showing signs of melt a few days ago? That lower bed is where the hamamelis, the hellebores and the galanthus all live. Somewhere under the six or eight or ten (it's hard to tell) inches of new snow that came down and blew around this morning and early afternoon. 

No, Longsuffering Spouse doesn't have to shovel the entire dooryard. He did, however, have to shovel out the doors of the barn so as to get the plow out. I just sighed deeply and went to town, in search of something springlike. 

They aren't very big, these teeny tiny daffodils. But they're obviously all I'm going to get to experience for spring flowers for a while yet. 

At least I can laugh about it all. Which I do, regularly!

22 March 2009

Sometimes "I want that!" turns into "I just GOT that!"

It's been fun reading the reactions of others who see new plants (whether new to them or new to everyone) and how they deal with that rush of "I WANT that!" Sometimes, we succumb instantly. This time of year, after all, is when the glorious green phalaenopsis spoke to me last year, begging me to take it home. How could I refuse? And see how it's repaid me?

My stroll around den Haan's garden centre in Middleton on Friday gave me a much-needed boost. There's something about the scent of warm soil, green growing plants, and humid air that just makes me feel much better about life in general. There were a lot of plants I could have taken home with me. I love the abutilons, but they were looking a bit spindly after the winter, though still flowering joyously. 

There are certainly a lot of colours that weren't available when I first grew these mumblety-seventeen years ago, at Agricultural College. I always had one or two in my room on campus, though they were prone to sulking in the dry air. 

There were a LOT Of pansy geraniums, also known as Martha Washingtons and Regal geraniums. I happen to love these, both for their scented foliage and their really handsome flowers, and this one came home with me. The photo doesn't do it justice; the flowers are a very, very deep wine, about the colour of a good Wolf Blass Shiraz wine. (why yes, that's my favourite red, why do you ask?) And in fact, this variety is called 'Maiden Burgundy.' 

So bemused was I by the happy blossoms I never thought to check the other regals for their cultivar names. I almost brought this one home too, but was distracted by the lavender instead. 

Aren't they great? I know that magenta isn't to everyone's liking, but at this time of year, nothing brightens a blog post like an outburst of magenta...

Or maybe you prefer this hot pink one with the red accents. I like it but really the burgundy one did the trick for me best. I think this and the magenta cultivar may be among the longest-existing colours, which is probably why I tend to look at them, smile, and move on to the next. Familiarity, and all that. 

And finally, the plant that has caused me a great deal of plant-want-angst this winter, the clivia. Kylee has one, and I know some of our other fellow bloggers have them too, but it's Sunday morning and I can barely find the top of my desk, let alone references to clivia in other blogs. I stood and looked and looked and looked at this plant at the nursery, and almost--I repeat, almost--brought it home. But it's expensive (moreso than the orchids) and I just wasn't sure I could justify it, so you know what happens...I get you guys to talk me into it. After all, I can't buy any outdoor plants yet. So let the convincing begin! 

(and longsuffering spouse, you might listen to them...just sayin'.)

20 March 2009

Spring, Scotts Bay Style

I deliberately have avoided reading any other blogs so far today, in part because I've been really busy with work and in part because I didn't want to hear or see too many paeans to spring before I could post my own exultation on the equinox. Let's have a look around Sunflower Hill, shall we, and see what spring has wrought here. We'll start with the conifer and heath/heather bed. What, you can't see the heaths and heathers? Perhaps because they've been buried since December. 

Around front of the house, you see one of the 'glaciers' I've made reference to time and again. These annoyances come when we have a melt, but not enough of one before it freezes again. I could skate on this if I had skates and still could stand upright on them. Fortunately, the ice is only on the grass here, and I could care less about grass. 

Here's part of the back yard, which you've seen from assorted angles over the past few months. Yes, the snow is still very deep in places, courtesy of those drifts formed by the winds off the Bay of Fundy. The funny thing is, I was standing on bare ground when I took this shot, and then walked across the snowbank to another part of the yard. 

Way out at the back of the garden, beside the conifer and heath/heather bed. You can see how we have patchy melts, patchy glaciers, and of course, patchy snowdrifts still. 

Although it's hard to tell from this photo, some of the deepest snow remains here, covering the chocolate garden, most of the purple beech, and a bed that will be awash in daffodils in a month or so. Theoretically, anyway. 

But you can't fool plants, not really. My mother reports her lilac shrubs have buds swelling, as do my magnolias and this metasequoia.

This is the lower garden, where normally my Hamamelis, hellebore, and the bulk of the snowdrops are. They haven't materialized yet through the depths of snow; partly depth from snowfall and partly from hubby plowing. I will observe, however, there's had to be no plowing for at least three weeks. There is hope, of course. 

I know that one of these days I'll be able to oogle and google and grin and sigh over my darling little double galanthus. But just not anytime real soon. 

I can, however, smile and sigh over this fernleaf lavender that I bought today at den Haan's greenhouse in Middleton after finishing a photo assignment a little further afield. It doesn't have the true lavender fragrance, but more of a lemony-musky scent like an artemesia. But it's cheery and fresh in my office, and a promise of the L. angustifolia that will bloom in summer. 

And if the cats' behaviour is any indication, spring crazies are upon them. Especially Mungus, who apparently misses me when I'm gone and feels obliged to attack my feet whenever possible. Given that HIS feet with their extra toes are almost as big as mine...you know when you've been tackled by a Hugh Mungus. 

18 March 2009

I WANT THAT! Plants that are trying to seduce bloomingwriter...

(Photos from GardenImport or Terra Nova Nurseries)
Ohhhhhhhhh nooooooeeessss. It's that time of year again. I've kept a pretty tight rein on my emotions, but the fact of the matter is, calendar spring, if not real spring, is almost upon us. And in the spring a gardener's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of...

New plants, of course. Luscious, heartwarming, plant-lust-inciting new varieties like Hot Papaya coneflower above, new-to-us varieties like Candy Mountain Digitalis below, old favourites...I simply need new plants. Never mind that my OLD beloved plants (some of which are relatively new plants) are still buried for the most part under the slowly-diminishing glaciers in our yard. Tonight while walking in Bridgewater, I caught the scent of spring on the air, and that tripped me from garden-denial into instant plant-seeking frenzy.

Of course, it's way too early for garden centres to be open or new plants to be beckoning to me from nurseries and greenhouses. Doesn't matter. I saw green shoots of crocus coming up in the garden at the house where I stay in Liverpool, and that did the trick. I started thinking in earnest about what I'd NEED to get this year, and started compiling a list of things that may or may not make it into our garden. Here's a few of them. 

You've seen a few of my latest plant obsessions in recent posts, from the huge collection of gotta-have coneflowers to a green primula (and other greenflowered whimsies). But now, we're going to delve a bit deeper into the wonderful world of new plants. 

Before I go on, a clarification. I grow a LOT of heirloom, heritage and native plants in my garden. It's easy for me to do because I have a LOT of room, and our garden (in my mind) includes the edges of the paddock and pasture, the perimeter of our very wild and grown-in pond, and the boundaries of our acreage. But I do love exploring new plants and resist absolutism in almost everything, including eschewing the 'only native' or 'only heritage' mindset. That's find for those who choose that route, just not my way. My only absolutism is in despising goutweed. And federal conservatives (by which I mean OUR federal cons, not those of other countries. Chacun a son gout!)

Oakleaf Hydrangea 'Little Honey'. Oakleaf hydrangeas have been on my want list for about five years now, ever since I saw one don its fall foliage finery in a garden a little further down the Valley. This goldleafed variety sent me into a tailspin, I was so charmed by it,. Will I go for this one? Probably not this year, even if easily available. What I'll do instead: Try one of the older varieties and see how it fares.

Scabiosa 'Beaujolais'. I love pincushion flowers, which we normally see in blue, white, or a sort of tepid pink. This is none of those colours, is it? Will I go for it? Absolutely, although at the moment I only know of it as available by mailorder; from a reputable company, GardenImport, who I wholeheartedly recommend. My only problem (and it's not the nursery's) as everyone knows, my microclimate here on the high hill means that spring puts in a later appearance here than in much of the province, and then there's the whole 'will it accept my clay?" issue. 

Never met an agastache, or hummingbird mint, that I didn't adore. For the past few years I've been buying several from a greenhouse I like in Waterville, and attempting to overwinter it outdoors without much success. (But to be honest I haven't been trying all that hard.) This new colour variety is 'Summer Glow', and while it might not attract hummingbirds as strongly as red or orange-flowered ones, I bet that the bees and butterflies will also love it. Will I go for it? If I can find it, absolutely. If I can't? The salmon and hot pink varieties will do for now.

Ohhhhhh, this is too pretty for words. Meet Cercis 'Hearts of Gold', a truly well-named redbud cultivar. Those luminous gold leaves make MY heart happy, and of course prompt me to sing Neil Young. Will I go for it? Unlikely at this point. I don't have a redbud and think they're a bit marginal for my hill, though not for other parts of the province. I'll let someone else try this first and report on it.
Hypericum 'Mystical Red Star'. St. John's worts are just awesome plants, whether they are herbaceous or shrubby. I have several different shrubby varieties in the garden now, and they've done well for me, although I sadly abandoned trying to grow 'Brigadoon', a gold-bronze-leaved perennial, because it wouldn't overwinter for me. There are four or five in the 'Star' series of hypericum, and I'd gladly try any of them. So if I see any of them around the nurseries in NS, I'll be dragging them home in the PlantMobile. 

Nigella 'Moody Blues'. I love Nigella, also called 'Love in a Mist.' I've long been a fan of The Moody Blues. Will I plant this? Absolutely, along with every other nigella variety I can find from seed. They tend to self-seed for a few years but last year I had very few, so it's time to cast around some seed again. 

Helleborus 'Jade Tiger'. Oh. My. Goodness! This made my heart quiver with plant-envy. As faithful readers know, I've been not-hugely successful with hellebores, but last year saw success thanks to the wisdom of other gardeners who do hellebores very very well. So far, mine are still buried in snow this winter, but I expect they'll emerge from the glacer one of these days, and then it'll be time to protect them with evergreen boughs til the weather levels out. Will I be seduced by the jade tiger? Probably not, but I've had another hellebore called 'Gold Finch' on my mind since last spring when I saw it at Briar Patch, so maybe, just maybe, I'll succumb to that temptation instead. 

Heucherella 'Sweet Tea'. Heucherellas are interesting plants, crossbreds between Tiarella (foamflowers) and Heucheras (coral-bells, alumroots). Breeders have gotten quite exuberant about hybridizing them in funky new colours, same as with heucheras, and this one is certainly a pretty pretty thing. Will I go for it? Unlikely at this time. The orange/salmon/yellow-leafed heucheras, in my experience, have been the least hardy at overwintering in my abrupt climate, and while I do have several Tiarella/heucherella varieties now, I'm going to wait a year or two on this plant, pretty as its foliage is. 

Or so I say now. Who knows what will happen if I see any of these plants at one of my favourite nurseries. You'll all back me when I tell longsuffering spouse I needed them, won't you? 

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