26 June 2010

Skywatch Friday on Saturday: Mighty Cape Split

Photo courtesy of NS Tourism
The countdown is on for Manuscript Filing Day, and I'm happy to report that things are well in hand. Except for other parts of life unrelated to book, such as blogging/blog reading, garden upkeep, making meals, etc. But just to let you know that all is well here, to participate in Skywatch Friday (even on Saturday) and to give you something to think about, this is an aerial shot I found in some old backup discs when I was looking for something else. This and several other photos were provided to me for use in a story I wrote years ago, and they are the best possible way to explain the mighty tide that races up through our neck of the woods. I know I wrote about this a while back, but beg your forbearance as I do so again.

That long promontory of land you see snaking away into the distance and curving off to the right of the photo is the end of the North Mountain, most specifically the Cape Split/Blomidon peninsula; the community of Scotts Bay is in the bowl of land surrounded by water in the upper righthand corner of the picture. In the foreground are the sea stacks of Cape Split, a very famous and welltravelled hiking trail. The trail terminus, I hasten to add, is on the grassy green field on the main part of the peninsula, NOT on those outer stacks where the tide is racing.

Because yes, that is the tidal pull of the upper Bay of Fundy, screaming around the end of Cape Split in a rip tide that is astonishing, humbling, beautiful and dangerous. This happens several times daily, as the tide rises and falls, creating that 'Voice of the Moon' I described for you before.

Before I leave you to return to editing, we go from the sublime to the ridiculous. I have written in the past of my dislike of petunias, although I acknowledged that Proven Winners 'Pretty Much Picasso' is very cool. It didn't do well for me last year, and I put that down to it not being a fan of the wind, fog, and other meteorological marvels we get up here on this hill overlooking the Bay and the Split. Well, didn't Proven Winners send me another bunch of 'Pretty Much Picasso' with the trial plants this spring! I had a thought, and put several of them in a planter on the greenhouse door, along with another green wonder, 'Avalon Lime' nicotiana. In really rude weather, I just shut the door, protecting the plants, but otherwise, the door is hooked open and they can bask in the sun when we have some. They're doing very well. AnnaFlowerGirl is laughing in "I told you so" glee. I can hear her from here. I'm not a petunia fan, though. Just like this one. Really.

23 June 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Teenage Mutant Ninja...Strawberries?

20 June 2010

Rockin' out: Garden tour with the alpine gardening enthusiasts

No matter how many years we garden, or how old we get, there is always, always something more to learn about plants and gardening. That's one of the appeals for this hobby/ avocation/ vocation/obsession to me. I love learning about plants, being introduced to species I have never seen, developing a new appreciation for a particular genus or variety.

This is one of the reasons I cringe when someone tries to call me an expert gardener. I'm truly not. I'm experienced,sure, but to me experts know a huge amount about a particular subject. I'm a happy generalist, with an interest in most all plants, though definitely there are some I don't like. But I can see myself developing more of an interest in rock or alpine gardening.

Yesterday, I joined other members of the Nova Scotia Rock Gardening club on a tour of a couple of gardens here in the Valley. Each was very different in its own way, and equally stunning. Both gardens aren't exclusively composed of alpines; the owners have a number of plantings, and a few dedicated areas where their delicately lovely alpines are, and some beds that incorporate both standard garden plants and alpines.

This garden belongs to Frank and Jana, and I've never been here at this time of year before. It was extremely hot yesterday so we didn't spend quite as long there as I would have under normal conditions. Plus, with the book deadline looming nearer, I was intent on photographing some plants that are being included in my manuscript, and that I didn't have plenty of real good photos for. Otherwise, I'd probably still be there, asking questions and learning from these enthusiastic, generous gardeners.

With alpine gardening, one of the main components is "location, location, location," as the realtors say. You need to have excellent drainage, and preferably full sun. I remember an enthusiast telling me that part of the lure of rock gardening is that these tough plants will thrive in areas of the garden where most other plants will not.

This same individual told me that the plants thrive on neglect, to a certain extent. I got thinking about this and it makes sense. Thinking of the conditions in an alpine site--short growing season, cold temperatures, and lots of wind--it makes sense that such plants have to be tough, low growing and able to survive a lot of extremes of weather.

Plus, for the person with a small gardening area, you can sure cram a LOT of different species into one garden! This garden is actually fairly large, and I have absolutely NO idea how many species Jana and Frank have included, but it's dozens...probably hundreds. I must ask when I go out again soon--on a cooler day, mind you!

I saw many, many different species and varieties yesterday that generated "I want THAT" response in my gardener's soul. This one generated the biggest reaction, though (partly because gentians weren't blooming yesterday, mind you.) I think it's a sedum.

That sedum or whatever it is affected me so much, I'm going to do the "Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots Big Eyes" look at Jana and see if I can't cajole or buy a little cutting of this because it's gorgeous. Such colours. Such nice textures. Such....want want wantiness!

One of the characteristics that also appeals to me in a rock or alpine garden is that they cause you to slow down, to admire and think and crouch down to look at the various textures and wee blooms and foliage and shapes of the plants. Juxtapose something like the patch of wee ice plants below (Delosperma, I think.) with some of the towering, giant perennials that I wrote about in my Chronicle Herald column today (where they messed up my email by confusing it with my twitter address, sorry to anyone who tried to email me), and you'll see what I mean.

I love big plants, but little carpets of beautiful jewels like this make me equally happy, know what I mean?

Next post, I'll show some snippets from visiting Rosaleen's garden, on the South Mountain across the valley from me.

17 June 2010

Buyer Beware: When a Perennial isn't, and other warnings

It all began with 'Limerock Ruby' coreopsis. Remember when we saw that little charmer, with its reddish-rose flowers, and read it was hardy to zone 5, and we all rushed out and got it, only to have it die?

Now it's listed as zone 8, or a tender perennial. Funny about that. Unfortunately, I still see nurseries around here selling it as a perennial--and charging top price for it.

Plenty of us sent up a cheer when we first saw Lysimachia 'Beaujolais' because it's so gorgeous a goosenecked loosestrife, with its deep wine flowers and blue-green foliage. Only one problem...it's not reliably hardy in Nova Scotia. Yet it's being sold here as a perennial, despite the fact that the most reliable sites I could find have it hardy to USDA zone 6, AND I've had friends in zone 6 have it die on them, too. We don't have to worry about it being a rampant spreader--death over winter takes care of that.

Let me tell you a bit about hardiness zones throughout Atlantic Canada. Most of us are in zone 5a or b; some are even cooler, zone 4 or even zone 3; a few localized areas such as the south shore of Nova Scotia (the banana belt, as it's fondly referred) or some microclimates are zone 6, and even fewer microclimates (as in someone's sheltered back yard) MIGHT stretch to zone 7. Might. Most of us think we're pushing it if we try to grow something labeled as zone 6. I'm zone 5b , with erratic, annoying winters, freeze-thaw cycles, usually-late springs and awesome autumns.

So seeing this euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow' and a similar striking one, 'Tasmanian Tiger', sold in Nova Scotia when they are zone 7 plants didn't make me very happy.

Likewise, this 'Sea Star' stonecrop is given a variety of ratings; MOBOT says it's hardy to zone 5, which would be delightful, but other sites rate it as frost-tender as zone 8.

And what about Sedum 'Salsa Verde'? It's rated as hardy to 6-7 depending on where you read about it, so it might come through a winter here with protection. However, I like it and 'Sea Star' so I've put them both in a trough planter, which I'll bring into the greenhouse for the winter.

Now, let's be clear: I BOUGHT both sedums and both euphorbias at a couple of garden centres, but with the knowledge that they wouldn't be hardy in my garden. Because I had read about them in various sites, and because they were on sale so they actually cost less than a patented annual like the Proven Winners plants. I don't mind paying 3 bucks for a plant and having it not overwinter.

What irritated me, however, was that these plants were not even labeled as to their hardiness.
The little plastic tags that came with them gave no sign of hardiness at the places I bought them (although I did see Ascot Rainbow at another nursery, with its label showing its hardiness zone, and significantly higher priced to boot).

For inexperienced gardeners who either don't recognize that the plant isn't hardy, or can't read a zone rating, they're getting fleeced. Some of these places ought to know better, while others, I put it down to a lack of caring/knowledge. But there can also be legitimate mistakes. Like when I saw some aeoniums and echevarias being displayed in the perennial section of one place, next to the sedums and sempervivums, I quietly told the staff that the plants weren't hardy, and they were moved accordingly. At another nursery, one I know well, they had similar succulents BUT also had signs beside them stressing that they are not hardy in our area.

Then there was a salvia similar to this one, being sold at this one place that isn't exactly reputable--not a bigbox store, I hasten to add, but a 'chain' of related garden centres that uses a relative's name in its different incarnations. Well, I don't care if you're uncle, farmer, or cousin, a zone 8 salvia isn't going to flourish in Nova Scotia and shouldn't be sold as a perennial.

This same place had 3-gallon, overgrown (looking hydroponically force-fed) hostas with enormous leaves. I mean enormous. 'Cathedral Windows' is a nice hosta, with good sized leaves (10 inch long, 9 inch wide) but these were much bigger than that. And the price was equally inflated. Who is going to pay 49 bucks for a force-fed, probably grown-in-the-southern-US hosta they can get elsewhere for at most $20? I took this photo in late May, and one of my hort-spies, who was in that place late last week, reports that the plants are sitting unsold, their leaves turning brown and crispy. They also had heucheras that were equally overpriced and overgrown-looking; granted, one of them was Southern Comfort, which does boast large leaves, but there were also 'Palace Purple' plants with leaves the size of a big maple leaf. These plants, too, were dying. Big surprise, that.

Let me also stress, none of these were being sold at bigbox stores, which I don't frequent except to buy plant containers or occasionally annuals--from the Canadian owned stores, not from WallyWorld or HomeDespot. These plants were all being sold at farm markets, garden centres, and other such places around Nova Scotia, and at more than one of them I have brought the questionable hardiness to the attention of staff, some who have been good about correcting the situation, others of whom apparently don't care.

The thing is, if people like me want to buy plants like these and try to push the zone, that's fine--it is a game for some of us, after all, and some of us are very good at it. And sometimes a plant is rated for zone 5 but it can't deal with our particular winters with our freeze/thaw cycles, and that's fair enough too. We've learned that the 'Meadowbright' coneflowers don't thrive here, despite being bred in Chicago, but the 'Big Sky' series do just fine. I buy lithodora every spring because I can't resist its cobalt blue flowers, treat it like an annual because it's marginal with my zone and winter, and that's also fine. I mostly know what I'm doing, and it's also my job to test out plants and let others know what my experience is.

But if someone who is just starting out buys a few of these either unhardy or overgrown plants, paying high prices for them, and then have them die--that's discouraging for the new gardener. And to my mind, it doesn't build a business's reputation, but gives them a bad one.

In a recent article about garden pests, I suggested that people ought to boycott nurseries that sell goutweed/bishopsweed, knowing full well that it is an invasive, noxious plant but not warning customers of this trait. The particular publication edited out that sentence, probably afraid they might lose advertising dollars even though I didn't name names. But this being my blog, I will still suggest that if you see it offered for sale, you ask the nursery operator to remove it or else you won't buy plants there. I do know that several good nurseries have stopped selling it (and others never did have it) but it's still around.

What about you? Have you encountered much of this sort of thing where you live?

11 June 2010

Skywatch Friday: "O! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth..."

The deadline for my book manuscript gets ever closer, and I'm just about crazy with trying to get it all done. But I will. Apologies to those whose blogs I haven't been able to visit lately--things will return to what passes for normal in my world by mid July. I hope.

Meanwhile, today, June 11, is a bittersweet day for our family; five years ago, my father, a retired Air Force and commercial airline pilot, 'slipped the surly bonds of earth', as John Magee wrote in his poem 'High Flight', after a five-year battle with Alzheimers disease. Naturally, we miss him every day, although we feel his presence around us in different ways, my mother, my sister and I. I feel even a little more elegaic than usual this year because we just said goodbye to his oldest sister with the same damn disease. So I look around at my garden full of forget-me-nots, and plant trees & shrubs in memory of people we've lost, and donate to the Alzheimer's Society, in honour of my father. And of my aunt. And many, many others.

My dad was a gardener too. As was his father, and his mother, and my mother, and her parents. As am I, and my sister. And maybe, one day, my son too. Hence the shot of the sky, one of the places Dad was most happy, and of the forget-me-nots, for this late spring Skywatch Friday. Thank you to all of you already who have left such kind, supportive notes. Your friendship across the miles sweetens even a most bitter sorrow.

04 June 2010

The Return of the Native...Plant!

We have had a blessed, blessed amount of rain in the past few days, including a truly impressive drenching last night with a spectacular thunder and lightning storm. It's almost too wet to work in some parts of the garden, but I did take a little break and go out to pull some couchgrass, plant some heathers and astilbes and look for the right locations for some of the new plants sitting in the dooryard. I came in the house with scratches from roses on my arms, wet feet, bits of spruce buds in my hair, and a serene attitude.

Tomorrow, the annual Friends of the Acadia Forest Region Society Native Plant Sale is being held at the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens at my other alma mater, Acadia University in Wolfville. This will include plants grown by the Friends as well as plants from local nurseries, such as Bunchberry Nurseries in Upper Clements and Baldwin Nurseries in Falmouth.

The owner of Bunchberry Nurseries, Jill Covill, and I went to Agricultural College together back some years ago, and it's always a treat to go visit Bunchberry and catch up with her, which Long Suffering Spouse and I did on Wednesday. Jill was preparing for tomorrow's plant sale and deciding what she should bring, and we got into a discussion about native plants and what parameters we should use in defining natives.

I said for me, it's easy; I decided some time ago that I'm going to follow Allan Armitage's definitions of native, and use North America as my region when considering natives. Of course, not all North American natives are hardy or suitable for a zone 5b maritime climate, but still, there are plenty of options for my garden.

For those who enjoy bird watching or encouraging wildlife in their gardens, the use of native plants can put out a big welcome mat to wild creatures. If you visit a garden that includes natives in its plantings, you’ll find it alive with sound and activity, far different from the “green pavement” of many subdivision gardens.

I'm not an absolute, 'natives only' gardener, and never preach that at others, either. I simply make a case for adding natives to a property because there are so many beautiful, functional, effective plants to choose from. I also stress that they aren't all fool-proof, pest-free, or maintenance-free. No matter what we expect to grow in our gardens, we have to know our soil and climate conditions before we add any plants, native or introduced, heritage or hybrid, to our plantings.

I do find people are often surprised by just how many gorgeous plants ARE native, and how multi-season they can be. The same amelanchier whose flowers enchanted me just a couple of weeks ago will be causing me to oooh and ahhhh this autumn, putting on a display of colour as spectacular as any shrub or tree you could imagine.

So that's my stand on natives. Wonderful plants, many of them--they aren't all perfect--and great for encouraging wildlife and pollinators, providing multi-season colour, and just adding more charm to any garden. I'm glad to see more landscapers--real ones, not the fly-by-nights who think Stella d'oro daylilies and globe cedars and Norway maples make a perfect planting--are also embracing adding natives to their designs. I bet there will be a great turnout of people to tomorrow's sale at Acadia; and if you're there, do have a walk through the native-plant botanical gardens, because they are not to be missed either. I probably won't be there, as LSS tells me I have over 100 things (perennials, annuals, shrubs, trees) that need planting at the moment...

01 June 2010

Remember when Duckies went a-courting?

You may remember that a few weeks ago on Wordless Wednesday, I posted a photo of Mr. and Mrs. Wild Mallard, feeding in the back yard.

LongSuffering Spouse started hollering at me a little while ago, to come quickly. So I unfolded myself from my office chair where I was wrestling with an article, and lurched out into the kitchen to see what he was excited about.

Aha. Mrs. Wild Mallard had brought the children up to have a feed. You can imagine how proud we are, as proxy godparents (feeders of many wild birds around here).

Eleven babies. They're more than a week old, I would say, given their size; this is the first time I've seen her bring them up, and they knew just what to do.

And they also know to obey their mama when she says it's time to go back down to the pond, too.

I shot these pics through the bathroom window, so they're slightly obscured by raindrops (hurray!! for rain!!) and glass. But you get the point. I'm still grinning. So is LSS, who announced while I was downloading the photos that Mrs. Mallard had just put the run to a crow who was coming in for a feed too. She's sassy. I'm glad the courting paid off.

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