30 April 2009

Of Magnolias, Milton, and Margaret Marshall Saunders

The unseasonably warm weather of the past few days has really brought some plants along, especially down on the south shore of the province. In Liverpool and surrounding area, the magnolias have burst into fabulous (and sometimes, fragrant) bloom. Meanwhile, back at home, mine are still snuggled in their sweaters, not ready to blossom just yet. 

I took a drive at lunchtime today, and went out past Pine Grove into Milton. This is a small community adjoining Liverpool, and it's hard to tell when the town ends and the smaller village begins. But this is a definite sign of Milton: the falls in the Mersey River at the one-lane bridge spanning the river. No, they're not Niagara; more like a bit of rapids, and I don't know what the riverbed is like or if this is the result of something having been built there (there have been sawmills and other activity around the falls for years).  

On the other side of the bridge, the water streams out into the widening river. On the other shore, there's a little park. Let's go see what it's all about, shall we? 

There are a LOT of magnolias around this area, as I mentioned earlier, and they're rapidly coming into full bloom. The flowers on this particular stellata variety are sweetly fragrant, but it's a subtle fragrance. Very nice. 

They're subtle in colour too; white with a hint of pink tint. I love magnolias, and can grow Stellatas just fine, although as mentioned above, mine in the Bay are still snoozing and swelling in their buds. 

I don't know which variety this is: magnolias are not my strong suit, but they're something I do love and am learning more about. I'll be learning even more about them next week, as Annapolis Royal kicks off with its Magnolia Festival. Annapolis, another of my favourite places in my province, is home to the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens and Bunchberry Nurseries, and I'll be giving a talk at Bunchberry at 2 pm on May 9. But not about magnolias. I leave that to my cherished friend Dick Steele, the night before at the Gardens. 

I leave you now with a bit of "I didn't know that!" information. Most of us wept our way through reading two classics of literature in our youth: Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell, and Beautiful Joe by Margaret Marshall Saunders. Being more of a horse and cat person than a dog person, and more of a modern/contemporary CanLit fan than a Victorian writing enthusiast, I had read the latter years ago and had avoided re-reading it while doing my degrees at Acadia. And I had completely, utterly forgotten that Marshall Saunders had been born in Nova Scotia: in Milton, to be exact. Beautiful Joe was the first Canadian novel to sell more than a million copies, and it's on curriculae at many universities. Marshall Saunders disguised herself as a man and used her middle name as her first name in order to gain acceptance as a writer, (women writers not being that common or acceptable in the Victorian era). I like that she is remembered and honoured with this park by the river, in a lovely part of my province, watched over by magnolias and the ever-talking river. 

28 April 2009

Pinks, Whites and Blues on a warm spring day

Over the weekend, while I was in Halifax having fun at the Saltscapes Expo (and meeting a delightful woman who LOVES goutweed!), my garden was bathed in warm sunlight. Things woke up, yawned and stretched, and got blooming in a hurry. These pink Glory-of-the Snow just keep spreading beautifully every season. 

This is Puschkinia, or striped squill, which I love for its cool blue and white flowers. It too spreads, flowers for a fairly long time, and isn't as common as I think it ought to be. 

The blue Chionodoxa, or Glory-of-the-Snow, are spreading beautifully. I love their china blue flowers, facing the sun and beaming their happy colours for everyone to see. 

Ivory Prince hellebore is putting on a fine display. As many of you know, I've had my hellebore challenges in the past, but this plant has settled in really well and now my confidence is being bolstered, so I AM going to add a variety or two or three...

With this week's surprise onslaught of really warm temperatures, we can almost see and hear things growing. Including the weeds, but we won't dwell on those. There have been a great outburst of daffodils, and yeah, while I know some of you had daffodils weeks ago...I'm very happy to see them.

There's been a race between two perennials in my garden, both striving to be the first non-bulb, non-hellebore plants to get into bloom. It's almost neck and neck, but I'm going to call it for the Hepatica, just because it's such a rare, lovely thing. This plant has flowered faithfully for years, growing slowly into a largish clump.

And the pulmonaria have begun their blooming. Their enthusiasms always delight my heart; some of them are hardly out of the ground before their happy blue, pink, red or white flowers are opening. I really have to do a post on these as one of my 'must-have' plants, although I think we'll wait until more of them are open and you can enjoy the foliage (which I adore) as much as the flowers.

Today, the temperature is supposed to soar into the mid-high twenties. Tomorrow, who knows. We'll take this warm welcome as a way to ease out of April, thanks very much.

25 April 2009

Of Mayflowers and Catnames: Letters Across the Pond

Dear Sylvia:

Doesn't everyone write blog updates and letters at 4 in the morning? Probably not. But when I wake up from a sound sleep in a hotel room, sans cats and LSS, I know there's absolutely no point in going back to sleep any time soon. So since I'm behind in my correspondence with you, as well as with my blog posts, this seemed like a good time to catch my breath and catch you up with life in Nova Scotia. 

This weekend finds me, as I observed in my last post, in Halifax at the 5th annual Saltscapes Expo. This is a unique show for the province, put on by Saltscapes magazine, where I've been a writer for a number of years. Saltscapes is all about Atlantic Canada, and I've been privileged to write about a lot of topics over the years, including, of course, gardening. I'll post photos from the show at some point during the weekend. 

We're experiencing a true spring weekend. After two days of ridiculously prolific wind and rain, the sun pushed through the clouds, quelled the wind somewhat, and put temperatures into the high teens and low 20s celsius, (high 50s and low-mid 60s, for those of us still resisting metric 3o years after the fact). I can HEAR my garden growing from here, but happily, Longsuffering spouse is doing a great job on the basic cleanup. I don't know if I can cajole him into doing any weeding, but he'll edge beds if I ask him nicely. 

In working in the garden myself the other day, I discovered to my sorrow that several of my spring-flowering, fragrant viburnums had a lot of snow damage; broken limbs, some of them right to their main trunks. None of them are particularly large--two were put in last year--but I was very sad to see the damage. Having 5 or 6 feet of snow piled on top of you for weeks on end will do that, alas. I've pruned the breakage, took it inside, and put the twigs into a vase of warm water. Maybe they'll flower. Or not. I may move the two smaller shrubs, and you can be sure I'll protect them next year. The magnolia stellata nearby suffering a couple of small twig breaks, but nothing serious. Nor of course did the curly willow. It's all part of being a gardener, isn't it?

A couple of branches broke off my Pieris shrub too, and those I took inside several weeks ago and put into a vase. They've rewarded me rather nicely.

It's so nice to smell fragrant flowers again! Sure, I've had some cut flowers with lovely scents, like the tulips and lilies I've purchased to help get me through winter, but there's nothing nicer than smelling a sweet fragrance outside in the garden. One of our best spring fragrances, to my mind, is that of our provincial wildflower, the mayflower or trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens.) This ericaceous plant looks nondescript when it's out of bloom, with its leathery, hairy leaves and trailing habit. But then it flowers...

And suddenly, we know for sure that spring really has found our province. These dear plants make me absurdly happy. I can be found sitting on sun-warmed ground in places like my beloved Pine Grove, peering at the flowers, smelling them, taking their photos, and grinning a lot.

I don't pick mayflowers, and while I've been tempted to dig a cluster from the woods near our place, I haven't yet done so. I worry about them the way I do about the ladies slippers, not wanting to disturb them in their natural habitat. But I think this spring I'll wander down to the woodlot below our place, the same site we successfully rescued clumps of red trillium from, and see what I can find. I feel no guilt in rescuing plants from a ravaged woodlot that will likely never see replanting, and besides that, it's almost time to go counting trillium, a ritual of spring that LSS and I faithfully enjoy.

A footnote to today's post is actually directed mostly to your compatriat, James Alexander-Sinclair of Blackpitts. He wondered in his comment on my last post about Spunky Boomerang being saddled with such a name. Despite his questioning of my sanity, I can assure James and other cherished readers that Spunky chose his name himself. He was a wee kitten when we rescued him and his sister from the side of the road where someone had abandoned them, and barely escaped death when he darted across the road in front of a passing vehicle. He got blown into the ditch, and emerged wailing and complaining, went up into my arms and began to purr. And has never expressed a desire to go out-of-doors since. 

We had him and his sister for a few days before he told us his name. They do that, you know. His sister became MangoTango almost immediately, but he was coy for a few days. Then one night I heard LSS talking to someone. I went into his office and he had this little kitten sitting in his hand looking at him. "You're quite the spunky little fellow, aren't you?" he said to the kitten. He put the little fellow down, and he promptly got back up on the desk again. And again. And again. He still does this: climbs up on my desk, and if I put him down, he looks indignant and gets back up. Over and over. He returns...like a boomerang. 

And that's how he told us his name.

That's MY story, anyway. Spunky doesn't mind. He just doesn't like it when I go away. 
Time to wrap this up and get a few more hours of snoozing before I hit the ground running for another busy day of talking gardening with other plant-people. More soonly, and I hope your wonderful garden is savouring every moment of spring. 

cheers, jodi

23 April 2009

Mummy's sad kitty...

This is Spunky Boomerang. He often looks reproachful, especially when he wants attention from me. His favourite trick is to get up on the computer desk and stand in front of the monitor, but sitting on the steps wishing I'd come for a nap works too. 

This is part of the very tidy garden. You (and I) can thank Long Suffering Spouse for this. He knows I'm beyond overworked right now, and he took it upon himself (with a little direction) to clean up the gardens really well (where he could get at them. There's still a lot of wet, but things are coming nicely.

We have even more snowdrops happening now. I believe LSS said somewhere around 150 and still counting.

Not that I've had much time to enjoy them. This weekend, I'll be in Halifax, at the fifth annual Saltscapes Expo. Is that POSSIBLE, that we've been doing these for five years? Guess it must be! Anyway, if you're in the area, drop in; I'll be holding court, so to speak, at the Home and Garden stage most of all three days, talking about Herb gardening, gardening without breaking the budget, and doing some Question and Answer sessions. Hopefully lots of eople with lots of answers will come along...I always have questions.

What? You say I'm the one who is supposed to have the answers?
Move over, Spunky. I'll sit here looking tragic too.

17 April 2009

Bloomingwriter's awesome Mail Call: Gardening friends across the miles

In talking to my long suffering spouse on Wednesday or Thursday evening, I heard something that made my heart leap. "You've got a parcel from the US," he said. I could hardly wait to get home on Friday afternoon. 

First, there was Anna's lovely card and apron, thoughtfully made with the cat-children in mind as well as the gardener. 

Then there were the letters and cards...normally, my snailmail consists of bills, advertorials, and of course the occasional snailmail letter or card, except at Christmas when we get quite a few more cards. 

This felt like Christmas before I even started opening them. 

I'm a wordsmith and plant person. I don't do needlework or paint or draw or scrapbook, lacking the time or creativity in that direction. I deeply, deeply love and admire those abilities in others. 

You know, I've never met any of my gardening blogging friends face to face, and while I had thought I would do in Chicago, it's not to be this year. But when I talk of friends, I refer to friends such as these; people I've yet to meet, or in most cases even talk to on the phone. 

Yet were they to turn up at my door--or I at theirs--there would be no awkward pauses, no hesitations. There would be hugs (and vetting by cats, in many cases), and tea or coffee andfood and much plant talk and swap and even much more laughter and friendship. 

That's what opening these cards and letters was like; 'meeting' friends old and new (because some are longtime correspondents and fellow bloggers, others newer to us) and having conversations across the miles. 

Like Gail wrote last week to so many accolades last week (including mine)...I am so very fortunate--blessed, even! In the people who share my life, who share the love of gardening and plants and writing, in where I live (the snow is GONE, Anna, all of it, except in the woods!) 

So to Anna (FlowergardenGirl), the fabulous organizer of this fun, and to Jen@ Muddy Boot Dreams, Catherine @ A Gardener in Progress, Ann @ Northeast Gardener, Jared @ Pleasant Hill Ramblings, VP @ Veg Plotting, Kathleen @ Kasey's Korner, Phillip @ Gardens of a Golden Afternoon, Peggy @ Organic Growing Pains, Jan @ Thanks for 2Day, and Kylee @ Our Little Acre...much love and gazillions of thanks across the miles to each of you for your creativity and thoughtfulness. 

I will be writing to each of you individually, but...the sun is out, it's not freezing, and the garden is calling my name! 

16 April 2009

Spring in the Giants' playground

I went for a walk last evening in Pine Grove again. This time, the sun was out, it was mild, and everything was touched with a brush of golden light.
This place reminds me of a giant's playground, the way the massive, elegant pines tower skyward, amongst massive boulders that resemble a child's dropped blocks, scattered every which way. 

Imagine my delight when I found bluets awake and blooming in a sheltered bank beside the big pond. Sadly, I had only my iPhone with me AGAIN, (I don't like taking my SLR on long walks) so getting them in focus meant stepping back from them somewhat. 

Bluets have long been a favourite flower, though they're not showy. Many people might not even notice them, tiny and casual as they are. But when I'm not gawking skyward beaming at trees, I'm watching the ground for the wee treasures.

Now, I know a lot of people aren't awfully fond of alders. I rather like them, because they're great for securing the banks of streams, for filtering impurities from water, and their catkins have delighted me since I was a wee child. 

I ask you: who needs a human-built church, temple, or other place of worship and contemplation when there are such marvelous natural places to unwind, think and be glad? 

The Mersey river is quiescent after the rains and melt have subsided. This river does sometimes jump its banks, but isn't as troublesome as some in other parts of the country--and our neighbouring country. That's Liverpool across the river; (Liverpool Nova Scotia, that is!)

Lots more rocks along this shore, and I thought about sitting on one and just 'being' for a little while. But work was calling to me, so I made a promise to return in a few days, and carried on down the trail. 

My friend Captain Dick Steele of Bayport Plant Farm brings many plants to Pine Grove to test them out. The woods are full of his rhododendrons, some azaleas, and other plants. 

Even though the deciduous trees and shrubs aren't yet leafed out, we can really feel, see and smell spring in the air. 

Today, as I write this, there's a shadow of worry over Liverpool and surrounding area. This wonderful place of Pine Grove is owned and maintained by Bowater--yes, of AbitibiBowater, the giant pulp and paper/lumber company that sought bankruptcy protection today. How these things will affect the people who work for Bowater, and the communities around the mill--and these pocket wilderness spaces--we don't know yet. Because I'm an optimist, I'm hoping spring will bring better things to that company as it does to the natural world. 

09 April 2009

A Flotilla of Snowdrops and other pleasures

Last Sunday, Longsuffering spouse gleefully announced we had 99 snowdrops in the garden. Yes, he counted them. He was very glad to see them, popping up in clusters as the snow receded. Last night on the phone, he upped the count to 135.

When I got home this evening, I walked around the yard. Remember all that snow? It's GONE. All of it. The grass and ground are very, very VERY wet, sodden, branches are broken and bent from all the winter's accumulation, but it's left the yard. 
The horse chestnut's buds are sticky with promise of new growth soon to erupt. The black smudge in the tree behind is a redwinged blackbird male, singing his 'Pooo Too Weet?" song to me and to the ladies down by the pond. He's more interested in them than in me, but I'm probably even more glad to see him than the avian ladies are. 

I've missed seeing the colour of the heaths and heathers all winter because they were so buried in snow. They've emerged, with much of their colour still intact. 

This particular heath is flowering like gangbusters, and while I'm very thrilled with that, I love the subtle shading in the foliage too. 

Still, it's awesome to find this nice sized clump so festooned with blossoms. It was too wet to crouch down and check for fragrance, though. 

Some of the snowdrops are not yet opened; these singles are taller than the first ones that so bravely popped up a couple of weeks ago, and they're really lovely once they open. Right now, they look like lovely pearls hanging from green pendants. 

It was late in the day so the crocuses had all furled their floral banners for the evening, but they were still brilliant with colour. 

I didn't get 'Ivory Prince' covered before I left on Monday afternoon, so I'm glad the weather has been moderate. Some snow is forecast for this weekend, however, so I will likely drag the evergreen boughs over to this garden in case of major climate change. Just in case. Not that I don't trust Mother Nature or anything. Not at all. Nope. 

If this isn't a good reason to plant a hamamelis, I don't know what is. Isn't this fabulous? The light on the petals makes me absurdly happy. Maybe I'm easily amused.

Oh, we're back in the lower front, with my double snowdrops that are opening more and more each day. Evening sunlight on them fills me with delight, too. But after all, spring has been a long time coming. And she may not yet hang up her bonnet and stay a while.  

However, a few flowers does make the heart of this eternal optimist bloom with joy. Tomorrow, I get to play in the garden for much of the day. So I'd best get some sleep if I am going to be of any use. Perhaps I'll dream of more snowdrops. May you all have a restful and peaceful gardening holiday weekend, whatever you're celebrating. Pax vobiscum!

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