30 May 2009

Bright Colours to Chase the Fog

While a significant number of garden bloggers are enjoying themselves in Chicago at the Garden Bloggers Spring Fling, some of us had to stay behind and tend to real life. Like finishing assignments and trying to make head and tail of our gardens. Nature has a sense of humour, however, so she decided to roll the fog in, and it's just too wet for my temperamental bones to be out scrubbing around in the yard. I did, however, take my camera for a little walk and catch some bright colours to cheer myself with.
While I like pastels in other people's gardens, there aren't a whole lot here for a very good reason. The fog washes out such colours and makes them look drab. I like real jewel tones for the most part, and also like to punch things up with colourful foliage. These two cranesbills are Espresso and Springtime; I have to move Espresso because it has a much lower and less-exuberant growth habit than Springtime, which is a Geranium phaeum cultivar.

I'm always gushing about lantanas, and this one is no exception: Landmark Citrus. It's still in my greenhouse because it's planted with some new cultivars that came to me from Proven Winners, and I want them to get well established before I introduce them to Scotts Bay fog. 

Last year, I got my greedy little hands on several new Geum cultivars. I know that often geums are short-lived perennials, at least in my garden, but I had to have these two. This beauty is called 'Mango Lassy', and it's unfortunate that I finished my bottle of mango nectar last night because I have a sudden craving, you know? 

Longsuffering spouse thought it looked a bit like a poppy, but agreed with me that it's a beautiful thing. I just wished they flowered a lot longer than they do. 

The geums and cranesbills are near my fabulous copper beech, still a modest sized sapling but growing well and with gorgeous, gorgeous foliage. 

Snerk. I should have 'David' phlox (one of my favourite plants, even though it's pastel) planted beside this geum and call it my rockstar planting. Because this geum is called 'Cooky'. Heh. 

The double-flowered grape hyacinths are coming out and they look especially striking against the brilliant foliage of 'Aztec Gold' veronica. 

The front garden is forging ahead quite happily, although there's not a huge amount in bloom right now other than the containers I've put outside already. in the right-centre foreground is a new tansy I got last week, 'Isla Gold'. I've bought it just for the foliage, which I think is lovely, and will go well near something with purple foliage like Sambucus 'Black Lace'. 

Many of the containers are still in the greenhouse, but I put these outside last week just to see how they'll do. We're going to track them every week or ten days or so and see how they're growing. 

And I haven't decided where to plant this glorious 'Autumn Brilliance' dryopteris fern yet, but I got very excited when I found it last week at Briar Patch in Berwick. Probably it'll go out in the shade garden, and I'm optimistic that it will do well here. The literature says it keeps changing its colours throughout the season. We'll keep an eye on it and see how it does, but it's definitely a thing of beauty. 

27 May 2009

Interlude: More coneflowers and an award-winning novel

So after work yesterday I went on a run to Lavender Hill Nursery in Jordan Falls, not far from Shelburne. They don't have a website but they are on Lake John Road in Jordan Falls and they are well worth a trip. I went with a friend who was after annuals for her container plantings, but what did my wondering eyes spy but three coveted coneflowers! Above, feast your eyes on the brilliance that is Echinacea 'Mac n Cheese'. Kraft Dinner never looked this good!

I'm really, really keen to see how this one performs and if it's as awesome as its photo. What goes well with Mac n Cheese? Why, 'Tomato Soup', of course. 

(Especially if made with heritage tomatoes, plants of which I ALSO got at Lavender Hill. Yeah, I'm going to try again to get a ripe tomato before October.)

To go with my friend 'Coconut Lime', which I got last year and which is doing just fine this year, I'm adding the joyfulness that is 'Pink Double Delight'. I'm curious to see if this is as vigourous. Something tell me it will be great; the nursery brought these plants in from Terra Nova Nurseries in Oregon, which is an awesome nursery for new releases. I can't wait to see how these three perform. 

And now for something completely different. 
I gave a talk on Monday at the Annapolis Valley Regional Library office, and one of the books I said I loved was Douglas Arthur Brown's 'Quintet'. To my great delight, I learned that he had been awarded the Thomas Raddall award for fiction at the Atlantic Book Awards just in the past week or so. 

I love this book, loved it when I read and reviewed it, love Douglas Arthur Brown...and think everyone should read it. I blithered on to that effect on my Facebook profile this morning and someone asked about posting my review from last year. This seems like the easiest place to do so. So here's my review of Quintet, published in the Halifax Herald a year ago February. 

Quintet by Douglas Arthur Brown Key Porter, 19.95 trade paperback.


Ever since I begain reviewing books some years ago, I’ve worked to maintain a certain demeanour in looking at works of Canadian fiction or nature/gardening non-fiction. It’s hard to be objective in reviewing, because reading is such an intensely personal thing, but I work hard to present a fair and balanced look at anything I review. Normally, that’s the message I hope readers receive. Not too effusive, not too cranky.

            With Douglas Arthur Brown’s new novel, Quintet, I have one firm, probably effusive but heartfelt message for readers. Go buy this book and read it. Or borrow it from a friend. Take it out of the library. Libraries, if you haven’t ordered this book yet, you’d better. Because Brown has penned a brilliant, moving and entertaining work that is as good as any novel or short story collection I’ve read in the past couple of years.

            Quintet is the story of a family as told by identical triplets Rory, Adrian and Cameron. Following the deaths of their parents, the brothers decide to keep a journal, which each will work on for a period of time before sending it on to one of the two others. The three brothers may be identical in looks, but not in how they live their lives, and they’ve grown apart over the years. The novel is told in three very distinct voices, and traces how their lives have found such divergent paths. A fourth brother, Talbot—older than them by a decade, referred to them as “The Big B” and alienated from all of them—is a haunting character who casts a light on each of the triplets by his own isolated, shadowy self.

            Although he doesn’t write in the same style as either Alistair MacLeod or Ami McKay, I’ve had the same visceral, emotional, joyous response to Quintet that I have to MacLeod’s and McKay’s writings. Barely finished the novel, I didn’t want it to end, but was ready to start reading it again. When an author sculpts a story that is compelling, using fresh imagery in phrases and passages that are humourous, harsh and poetic, how can I resist? The brothers, reunited for the first time in years, “had to warm up to each other again, cautiously circling like flies above a picnic table.” Onlookers at a bar, seeing the three brothers, are “dangling their nosiness like fishhooks.”

Here is Adrian, feeling out of sync from others around him, “like a wasp in winter, awakened by the teasing promise of a sunny day, called forth to greet the spring while the chill winds of February temporarily part their drapes of bitter cold. The wasp bastes its wings, and at the moment of virgin flight, the sun sets and February snickers as the eager and premature wasp perishes…”

Brown told me that he received a rejection letter from an editor about an earlier draft of the novel, where the reader told him that “the idea of three brothers sharing a journal and committing to it is far-fetched.” The funny thing is, Douglas and two of his brothers created a journal which they filled and continue to exchange between themselves on a regular basis. So the germ of Quintet has a seed in reality, but under Brown’s tender ministrations it takes on a gorgeous life of its own.

Novels with multiple narrators can work very well, or they can be cluttered. Quintet works wonderfully because while the three brothers have similarities and connections—they would finish each others’ sentences and always wanted to be alike in their youth—each has his own very distinctive personality and voice. Cameron is the hyper carpenter who sings in a choir and who initiates the journal project; Rory, the successful artist who marries a doctor fifteen years his senior; Adrian, the driven chef who finds love and much more in a country not his own.

Brown says his writing has been shaped by a wealth of other authors, ranging from Hans Christian Anderson and Ski to Mavis Gallant and Katherine Mansfield. While he loves Canadian writers—he read more than 2000 short stories and novel excerpts by Canadian writers during his tenure as publisher of Pottersfield Portfolio—he believes that “a writer must reach beyond the Canadian border when reading.” And with writing. Although Nova Scotia figures throughout in this novel, Quintet is not a ‘regional’ novel but a richly cosmopolitan one, hurtling us from Copenhagen to Toronto to Halifax and Cape Breton. In this the novel traces a trajectory which Brown himself has taken, having spent a decade each in Toronto and Denmark before making his way back to his native province. Sometimes, as he observes, an area such as Cape Breton can become a character in a novel, which can distract from the storytelling. His use of landscape is far more subtle, his characters so finely honed that a reader can become attached to secondary characters as easily as to the three brothers.

 Douglas Arthur Brown says he wrote many short stories before attempting a novel, and finds them more difficult to write than the longer story, but that “I couldn’t have progressed to novel writing without the short stories.” His observation is that there is no market in Canada for short stories at present, and he plans to concentrate on novels for the future. He’s currently finishing a young adult novel, and once that is completed, has plans to start his next novel in January of 2009, also an exploration of family dynamics.

I hope by that time we’ll also be able to call him ‘author of the bestselling, award winning novel Quintet.” Because this novel is a winner at all levels.

And I was right. Well done, Douglas. 

Back to our regularly scheduled garden-speak next post, I promise. 

23 May 2009

The galloping spring garden: Letters Across the Pond

Dear Sylvia:

We had an unusually warm spell of weather for a few days this week, and the gardens went from trotting along to a full exuberant gallop. Everything, from the bulbs to the weeds, shot up in growth and maturity. Not everything is awake yet; a few later things like various asclepias are still slumbering, and a couple of later-blooming gentians that are in shade are just starting to yawn and stretch. Likewise with the later-blooming perennial grasses; they're stirring and starting, but for the most part the garden is bustling.

While others around the continent are having their rhododendrons and azaleas wind down (or are long-finished), my first blooming one is 'PJM', a hardy rhodo with small, scented leaves. Like you, I'm a great believer in shrubs and we have a good many of them, incorporated around the garden.

As you can see, there are quite a few things in bloom now. Of course, we have scads of Myosotis, or forget-me-nots; they're the official flower of the Alzheimers Society and my father died of that horrid disease almost four years ago. They look lovely among the primulas and daffodils that are still doing nicely. 

This is an interesting primula I got the other day from Lloyd Mapplebeck, a nursery owner and horticulture professor in Truro, where I went to Agriculture College years ago. Lloyd always has a huge variety of interesting perennials, and more often than not there's a story behind them. This particular primula came to him through another plant enthusiast, and if I have my stories straight, it originated in an elderly woman's garden, growing alongside the common cowslip. I don't know that it has a name, but it's certainly lovely. 

I really do let the forget me nots seed and flower where-they-will. Here they make a nice sea of lacey blue near a Concorde barberry and my Stellata magnolia. And yes, there are a few dandelions in the mix, too. I haven't gotten them gentled down, but I justify them as being good for bees. 

One of my favourite natives is the amelanchier, variously called shadbush, serviceberry, chuckly pear, Indian pear, chuckleberry...I just call it gorgeous. It's one of the first showy flowers of the native woods, along with pin cherries, and its fabulous new foliage is always this glorious bronze colour. Mine is about 10 days to two weeks behind those in much of the province, but that's the mitigating coolness of the Minas basin at work. 

I didn't plant a lot of new tulips last year because I was heading into surgery, but these fringed tulips all came back quite nicely. I like the counterbalance of the blood red tulips with the pure white daffodils. In the background is Orange Emperor tulip, I think. 

Another plant from Lloyd, this one 'Vestal' anemone. What a unique and lovely plant this is, with its gorgeous double centre, so different from most anemones. Lloyd had a story about this plant and how he came to have it, but I didn't write it down, and I want to get it right. So I'll email him for the details again.

These yellow violets are native to many places, including parts of Nova Scotia up around Truro, but I have never seen them in the woods here. So when Lloyd told me he had collected seed and grown these, of course i had to have them. They'll do wonderfully in my woodland garden under the spruce trees.

When we first moved here, I began planting a garden under the big white spruce on the south-east side of the house; this garden is home to a host of natives as well as other plants. Another anemone (this one the enthusiastic A. nemerosa or wood anemone) is taking up a good deal of space in that garden, but there are also some lovely primula, the different trillium, ostrich ferns, astilbe, shooting stars, hosta, and the charmingly bizarre Mayapple, which look so odd when emerging from the ground. 

Around the front of the house is a small triangular bed I call my bright garden. It catches a lot of sun in the morning, and is right by the front door, so I put in lots of colour. Currently there are still bulbs blooming, but also springflowering perennials such as bellis and Arabis. Then there are the black- and gold-foliaged plants, but they're a story for another day. 

Finally, a treat for you; the hummingbirds arrived around May 11 with the scout-males, who bawled my hubby out til he found the feeders and got them filled and out. Now both sexes are here in full numbers, and we'll be filling feeders once or twice a day for most of the summer. We get a LOT of hummers because we do feed faithfully, both nectar and with plants they love. The feeders are in a sheltered  location so that's where the congregations appear and argue, squeak, chitter and whirl. They're quite fearless of me, who I guess they see as their bringer of foods. The other day, however, one got caught in the barn and was frantically trying to get out through the window, to no avail. I caught him and held him in my hands for a few seconds til I could get him outdoors and free. It was like holding a breath of living wind, his tiny heart beating so fast, yet he was quiescent in my hands til I opened them and set him loose in the wide world again. He zoomed to the birch tree for a bit and then joined the others in feasting. And my heart was happy. 

There's much more going on, but that's enough for today's epistle! I hope you're enjoying the warmth of a late spring garden and getting lots of work done. I'm falling behind here, but whatever gets done gets done. The rest, well, I'll hide the sins with mulch, no doubt!

cheers, jodi

17 May 2009

Jodi's Gotta-Have Plants, Part 3.5: The Coneflower Update

It's no secret that I am completely and utterly besotted with coneflowers of all colours, and that I've been collecting and growing them for the past few years. Pollinators love them, which is a main reason for my collecting so many, but also, they're just glorious plants. Now that spring is well underway, the coneflowers are up, (but aren't yet blooming; these are photos from previous years or, in the case of Tiki Torch and Katie Saul, nursery information) and I've been able to match them to their tags (which I anchored well into the ground in the case of some new ones) and I have some thoughts on a few of them. Plus, oh surprise surprise, a few of them have followed me home already.

To begin with, the pride of my collection, 'Green Envy', has sailed through its second winter and is up and looking decidedly vigourous. Last year, it really took hold and bloomed like gangbusters, and that just made me love it all the more. Not everyone is a fan of green flowers, but I certainly am.

So it's not surprising that I eagerly glommed onto Coconut Lime last year, even though it's a double (which isn't to everyone's tastes) and not AS green as 'Green Envy'. It's come through nicely too; it was a great performer last year, its first year in our garden.

I wrote earlier that I had this already, but on going out to inspect the garden and finding the list of coneflowers I did get, I realized that I didn't have 'Twilight.' Well, I do now. A trip to Rob Baldwin's nursery yesterday fixed that. Rob carries a lot of coneflowers, and planted his own dedicated bed of them last year, and we compared notes on growth and vigour. The plants in gallon pots that he wintered over have come back very vigourously, whereas when they came in last spring as tissue cultured babies, some of them were rather spleeny. But Rob is very good at nurturing plants, whether seedlings or cuttings or plugs brought in, and those he still has are doing fine.

However, we found (to his surprise but not mine) that we had the same mortalities. I was full of hope last year when I got 'Mango Meadowbrite' and 'Orange Meadowbrite' from Rob; by the time I got them they were good sized plants and I figured this time, THIS time, they'd come through the winter.

Nope. Neither one of them. But I took a bit of comfort that Rob's didn't either in his display bed, except for one. Unless they're pining for the fjords and just aren't awake yet. Mine, however, are definitely EX-Meadowbrites. And I shan't try them again. No slight on Chicago, where they were bred, but I think they don't have a taste for my cranky climate. Seems strange doesn't it, but that's the third time at least that I've lost both of them. So I surrender, and add the Meadowbrites to the list of plants that just don't love me.

On the other hand, Big Sky 'Sunrise' seems to love it in our garden. And it looks to me like 'Sunset' also sailed through, and 'Harvest Moon' as well. Others have had issues with the Big Sky series, but I think the fact that they're in my 'best drainage bed' has carried them through for me. I love them, so I was glad to see them, and more justified in adding 'Twilight' to the mix.

Heh! I'm not saying where I bought 'Tiki Torch', because there were only two at that particular nursery and the owner was keeping the other one. I know others in the province are carrying this as well, and I hope it's going to be a vigourous one; it comes via Terra Nova, who also were the first to give us (through one of their breeders) 'Coconut Lime', and so I'm optimistic.

Ahem. I did buy this last year, and I can't remember where the heck I planted it. Nor can I find its label. But 'Hope' is a breast cancer plant, so I decided it would be good to get another one just in case. Now, if there was just one to honour brain cancer patients...but I'm putting in a rose called 'My Hero' to honour those who have fought--and lost--to that terrible disease, too.

To round out the new arrivals--so far this year, anyway--here is Big Sky's 'Summer Sky', also known as Katie Saul. This is a two-toned coneflower, fragrant, and has been out for several years, but I finally got around to finding it and bringing it home. Somewhere, I read that partial shade will give it the best colour, which is not a problem because everywhere in my yard has a bit of shade at one point in the day or another. Some more than others.

That's it for now. I've not been out to a lot of nurseries yet, but have made it to some of my favourites: Ouestville Perennials, Bunchberry Nurseries, Baldwin's, Cosby's in Liverpool (no website yet), and Glad Gardens in Waterville (also no website). Hopefully soon we'll have a chance to head towards Truro to see some other favourites, as well as make a trip to those between Liverpool and West Pubnico that I didn't get to yet. And to Bayport. And and and...and NOT to places that sell goutweed! But that's a tantrum for another day.

16 May 2009

Aliens in the gardens

No, this isn't a diatribe against non-native plants. I was just out prowling around the garden last night and was struck by the marvels of plants in our gardens, especially when they're waking up, but also just...because they do what they do. Take the forget-me-nots above. They're mostly all blue...except when they're pink. Or white. 

A year or so back a friend gave me an Ohio Buckeye sapling, and it's leafing out, a few days behind its relatives the horse chestnut and red buckeye. I am totally enamoured with its new leaves which are as pretty as a Japanese maple. 

This is one of the stranger denizens of my garden, and I may need my LongSuffering Spouse's Stihl chainsaw to divide it up. This is Darmera, sometimes called umbrella plant; it flowers first with these stalks of tiny flowers, and then the huge leaves arrive later. The rhizomes are huge, fleshy and would probably NEED the chainsaw. I've never tried to divide it, but instead let it grow where it grows, and it handles the wet there nicely and just behaves itself. 

All ferns (as far as I know) start out life with a fiddlehead, but these are the Ostrich ferns (Matteucia struthiopteris) which produce the delectable, delicious and divine edible fiddleheads. I grow them just because I love the plants, and buy my fiddleheads from a farm market in town. And eat them with lemon and butter and great joy. 

This mottle beauty is my yellow trillium, Trillium luteum, not yet flowering but with such handsome foliage. 

Okay, this little charmer seduced me last year and I had to buy it. This is the delightfully named Birdseye primula, P. frondosa. You can see how big the plant is; that's the lens off my digital SLR main lens. 

And here's the plant a few day s later, with its tiny flowers. I'm lucky that A. This plant survived and B. that it survived in a place where I noticed it. Because I had totally forgotten that I bought and planted it. Oooops. Its label was still there, happily, so it must have gone dormant last year or been caught up in the wave of wild wood anemones, which I'm beating back this year. Sort of. 

I'm liking this corydalis more and more, and yes, it IS fragrant, so we're pretty sure it's Blackberry Wine. With a little turtlehead sprouting in front of it, which I'll move tomorrow, weather permitting. The flowers of all the corydalis are charmers, but this one especially amuses me. 

Sylvia likes that we go trillium counting, which we haven't done yet. Maybe this weekend, though the main accomplishment so far has been getting two more beds cleaned out AND going to see the new Star Trek movie. (which was totally made of win and you should go see it too!) I have the hosta Captain Kirk in this bed, but it's not up much yet. Meanwhile, these trilliums are in the same bed, along with a dozen or so of their siblings. They're native here, and we're glad we rescued them from the clearcut everytime we see them multiply a bit more. Just ignore the burdock growing beside them. He's leaving tomorrow. 

While I love the wine-coloured checkered fritillaries, I find these white ones wonderfully soothing even though their checks are very hard to see. 

Moving into my first love song to annuals now, aliens all; I was delighted to find a variety of Lantanas already this year, and of course I had to get all of them. This is Landmark Citrus, and I can see it's going to be a favourite. Bright coloured flowers are my usual passion...

Although occasionally I kick over the traces and opt for something a little more pastel, like these Opal Innocence Nemesia. This particular form is also fragrant, and is just a lovely plant. 

A lot less pastel, but equally charming, this is a fancy geranium called Graffiti Violet. The digital camera doesn't do it justice, because it doesn't show just HOW hot pink and HOW red-tipped the flowers really all. They're exotic like a bird of paradise, and I may have to go get some more. 

While I love the brilliant flowers of annuals, I also like to include foliage in my container plantings. This is a new to me plant this year, called Sky Flower or Tala Blanco 'Gold Edge'. I know nothing more about it than it's an awesome colour. We'll see how it performs in my containers soon. 

It's well known that I'm not a particular fan of impatiens. Except this one I love though I probably won't let it flower. The leaves are simply glorious sort of like a leucathoe, which I don't grow because they hate the wind. 

It's a well known fact that I'm also not a fan of petunias, though I love them in other people's gardens. But I think that may be about to change. The plant gods are not without a sense of humour. You'll have to wait til next post, but suffice it to say...Picasso would be pleased. And so will Anna Flowergardengirl

13 May 2009

The balm of gardening...

Isn't it amazing how our stress levels drop when we're in the garden? It's really hard to be upset while grounding ourselves in plants and soil and fresh air. At least, that's my experience. Even when there's goutweed to do battle with, or other annoyances, it's still a soothing, safe place to be.

That's especially true on those perfect spring days when the sun is warm, the fog and wind have gone on temporary sabbatical, and all nature is awake and singing a paean of joy to being. Sights like the slowly opening leaves of this Katsura make me instantly happy.

Likewise, the flower buds and gently bronze foliage of this Amelanchier give me great joy. In much of the province, the amelanchier are already in bloom, but we in Scotts Bay are of the 'better late than never' school of spring growth.

We don't mind getting wet knees or a crick in our backs if it's to bend down and enjoy the sweet fragrance of a corydalis such as this, which I believe is 'Blackberry Wine'; although that could be incorrect. I've been wrong before. And I'm okay with that, if someone knows the true species/cultivar.

The pulmonaria are putting on a terrific show, festooning the yard with their blossoms in shades of blue, rose, 'red' and white. Once the flowers are spent, the foliage is just as attractive, especially in shady spots. 

Our daffodils are about at the peak of bloom, except for the late ones such as the Poeticus narcissus, while the species tulips are coming on nicely. Species tulips might not be as big and showy as the hybrid divisions, but they last longer and tend to multiply nicely. 

Many people have Pulsatilla long gone to seed, but in our garden it's just really getting going. This plant has been here for about 8 years now, and I keep planning to add other colours to the area where it's growing, but somehow never seem to get to it. There's a Euphorbia coming up in the midst of this clump, in case you're wondering what else is growing. Oh, and some couchgrass. The bed isn't weeded yet! 

Ah, Led Zeppelin fans should enjoy this plant: Polemonium 'Stairway to Heaven'. I've planned to make a Music-themed garden bed for several years but haven't gotten to it yet, mostly because I was busy with the chocolate and wine garden, and now have to prepare an area for a dedicated perennial grass garden too. Oh, the responsibilities! 

My bloodroot are just opening their graceful flowers now. This is a spring flowering perennial I wish would last for a longer time, because it's so lovely and yet so fleeting. The winds that do whip themselves up will probably take the flowers apart before I have a chance to photograph them completely open. 

Several of you asked which hepatica I have, and where I got it. It's the native one, Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa, the roundleafed variety; I bought it nearly a decade ago from a now-defunct mailorder nursery out west, and it continues to delight me every spring with its lavender-blue flowers. Some years the colour seems better than others, but maybe that's because the yellow primula growing beside it highlights its colours. 

Speaking of blue, here's the lovely Lithodora, which I now treat as an annual because it refuses to overwinter for me. I blame that on the wet clay soil and the coldness we experience sometimes when there's no snow cover; things that are out of my control and so that I simply relax and sigh about a little bit. Nothing can be done except to enjoy, so we do!

I hope the balm of gardening is making your soul light and your heart sing on these fine spring days.

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