29 December 2011

Bloominganswers: A present for fellow gardeners

You know you're pretty busy when nearly a week past Christmas you still haven't had time to write a Merry Christmas card to family, friends, fellow gardeners. It's been that kind of a crazy year, though, all the way around. So belated but still heartfelt wishes to everyone, and I hope that Christmas was a kind, happy, and peaceful time for you and your families.

At our house, it was a lovely Christmas, made more entertaining than usual because of the five kittens of various sizes that have taken up living here since the summer. They are unable to knock the tree down, it being fastened securely to two walls as well as being in a durable stand. But they've enjoyed removing unbreakable ornaments from the bottom of it, batting at garland, climbing into bags and boxes, and otherwise being quite charmingly cute.
 This has been a curious year for me, blogging-wise. Because of the publication of my book, Plants for Atlantic Gardens, earlier in the year, I was really busy with book promotion work, touring, signings, garden talks, research for articles and potentially other books, and so on. Then there was my brainwave to have an open garden fundraiser for the Captain Dick Steele memorial scholarship at my alma mater, the NSAC. Then there was the arrival of the itty bitty kitty committee, which grew from 3 to five very quickly, and seemed to octuple the amount of work to be done around here. Then of course I had my knees scoped, and although they're still sore and limiting me somewhat, they're improving, thanks, and the first one will be replaced next year.

So not only did I not blog nearly as much as I normally do, I didn't visit blogs as often as I should. But I answered an awful lot of email, many of them asking questions that could be answered somewhere as a collecting site, so I wouldn't have to answer them over and over again, right? Hmmmm....

I decided to start a new website, instead.

It's called bloominganswers.com and it's written for gardeners, by gardeners. It's all about gardening. There are no posts to like, no popularity contests to play with--it's a forum, a garden table, where people can share their experiences, their wisdom, their challenges and their solutions on all things pertaining to gardening. And while it's based here in Atlantic Canada, it doesn't matter where you live--you're welcome to join.

Bloominganswers is free to join. I bought the domain and signed up with a company for a paid service, and there will be advertisers coming on board in the coming days and weeks. For now, there are some Google adsense ads, but if you use an adblocking service you won't even see those.

This is, of course, a work in progress. I'm chattering about it on Twitter, on Facebook, and anywhere else I can think of. It's early days yet, but we're throwing open the door to all comers. The wallpaper isn't all hung, the curtains aren't all up, but we're here, and we hope you'll find this site useful.

Here's wishing everyone a very Happy, Blooming New Year!

14 December 2011

Decking them halls...

It's that time of year again, somehow! I've sort of lost the past few weeks as far as much productivity is concerned, because I had knee surgery and it slowed me way, way down. The good news is I'll be getting new knees; the bad news is, not sure when, but hopefully starting next year.

The other good news is, even if you're challenged by mobility, time or other issues, you can still do some effective and wonderful Christmas decorating without a huge amount of effort.
Amaryllis make spectacular decor when they're in bloom, but even when they're just preparing to bloom they can be highly effective simply by adding a couple of sprigs of greenery, real or synthetic, or a decorative seasonal pick. (those ready-made, corsage like clusters of flowers, foliage, accents, wrapped and wired to a wooden stick).

13 November 2011

Nothing Subtle about November in Nova Scotia!

Today was one of those weather-perfect days that are rare gems in my province during the month of NO-vember. Regular readers of my writings know that I regard this month with about as much enthusiasm as I do filing my taxes or cleaning out the cats' litterboxes, because it can be such a dreary month, full of storms and grey drabness.
This November has been a month of bombast. We've had several wicked wind and rain storms, and when it hasn't been raining, it's still been blowing gales of wind. Enough wind happened this weekend that it knocked down my blue pergola (since repaired and uprighted by Longsuffering spouse), flattened some perennials not already flattened, and just generally created garden mayhem. But it's getting to be that time of the season, when things are truly winding down.

09 November 2011

Not so Wordless Wednesday: Hibiscus for Curing Winter Blahs

It comes as no surprise to readers of this blog that I am not a fan of NO-vember, surely the worst month of the year in the really Northern Hemisphere. Between the cold winds, the grey bleak landscapes, the lack of sun, the lack of daylight, the fading gardens...it's just not a happy time for those of us who like long mild bright days of the gardening season.

Happily, I've long found that a relief for the NO-vember blahs is to surround myself with colourful tropical plants. One of my all-time favourites is the hibiscus, which makes a great patio plant in the warm months, and is well suited for a bright indoor location in many homes.

20 October 2011

The closing down of planting season...almost!

Hard to believe we're into the latter part of October already, isn't it? The days are so much shorter now, and of course windy, often rainy, and sometimes even cold-ish. When it's not raining, blowing, or cold, there's plenty to do in the garden. My planting bench may be finally cleared of things to actually plant (except for bulbs, which I haven't started yet)...
But there's still a surprising amount of bloom in the garden. This fall monkshood variety is aptly called 'Cloudy', and although it's late to bloom, I think it's my favourite aconitum.
There are also all kinds of interesting seed heads to admire, if you're into seed heads like I am. Here we have telekia in the foreground (something similar to Inula), with the teasels and Miscanthus 'Malepartus' towering in the background. I leave most seed head stalks stand for bird food and for winter interest, or interest-as-long-as-they-stand-the-wind.
Still have several varieties of tricyrtis (toad lilies) in bloom in our garden, though the foliage is definitely looking moth-eaten (actually, probably leaf-cutter bee eaten, plus wind whipped.). This one, I think, is 'Empress'.
This is a great time of year for the warm-season grasses that flower in late summer and autumn. Many of the pennesetums aren't hardy here, but I think this one is. 'Hameln' and 'Karley Rose' certainly are, and hopefully 'Red Head'. This, I think is a species, unnamed.
Lots of bright red berries festooning shrubs around our garden now, even though much foliage is still holding on as well. The common burning bush is a cheery plant, and while it's invasive in some areas, I've never seen so much as a seedling from mine.
The same with its relative, the amur cork tree, which has even more interesting seed heads.
This common green barberry becomes electric with foliage colour as fall progresses, but for now it's extremely heavy-laden with fruit. Birds eat the berries on the outer branches, but they don't try to get too deeply into the shrub.
Meteorologist Cindy Day remarked on CTV Atlantic the other night that heavily-laden mountain ash trees means a hard winter in weather folklore. I don't know whether that pertains to high bush cranberry but this tree is well-laden with fruit for now--til the birds clean it off. The mountain ashes ARE really laden with berries too, but I don't have any right in the garden, just in the wilder areas of the property.
I planted a grapevine maybe 7-8 years ago, long enough ago that I don't know what variety it is. I don't tend it other than to prune it some in the spring, and string some support for it. This year it has a lot of grapes, enough that I'm tempted to make jelly out of them. If the birds don't get them before it stops raining around here.
The berries of Hypericum 'Albury Purple' start out red and turn to purple-black as they ripen. These sorts of berries are often popular in flower arrangements, although not this hypericum in particular as it's low-growing with short twigs. It's going to be carefully mulched as cold weather comes on, because it's a bit marginal for our garden. I'm getting buddleias (butterfly bush) to come through the winter now, though, so I love a challenge.
The native witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is in bloom in woods and gardens now. Mine has lost many of its leaves in the gales of wind, which makes those dainty, spidery flowers easier to see. Often you can smell witch hazels before you can notice them, because the blossoms have a light, pleasantly spicy scent.
Also native, winterberry or Canada Holly (Ilex verticillata) needs both males and female plants in order to produce berries. It took me a couple of years to sort out which of my shrubs were male and which female, and then I had to plant another male and a female so as to have good berry production in different parts of the garden.
More blooms still coming on the 'Purple Bowl' ironweed (Vernonia crinata). This is a beautiful variety, with flower heads that do cluster in a bowl-like shape. The bees certainly appreciate it, and so do I.
Many people have problems with Physostegia, the so called obedient plant, being disobedient. It's actually called by that common name because you can move the florets around on the flower spike and they will stay put, but the plant itself often has roaming tendencies. I have the variegated form, and it's never been disobedient, growing quietly in its part of the garden, its clean green and white foliage nicely attractive. Then in September, it starts producing flowers, and keeps on flowering for another couple of weeks yet.

Next week calls for fairer weather, so I should be able to get some weeding, thinning, and cleanup done in the garden before I start with bulbs. What about you--are you finished planting for this year, or just getting into the next phase of 4-season gardening?

05 October 2011

How we got the Itty Bitty Kitteh Committee!

So, back in mid-July, we discussed getting a couple of kittens, as a friend of mine was breaking up housekeeping due to personal reasons, and had a number of young cats and kittens that she wanted good homes for. My son and I went to see them, with intent to bring home two of them, both males.
However, when we got there, we found a third kitten that I felt very sorry for. He was older than the 8 week old kittens, about 6 months, and he was sad because his brother had been adopted without him. So, we came home with three little cats, all males. Or so we thought. You know where this is going, don't you?

02 October 2011

Finding my way home to the October Country

Well, it's been six WEEKS since I've updated here, but in my defence, life has been crazily busy, mores than usual. Between adopting three kittens that became five kittens, travelling around to various events, working on some interesting projects for clients, and trying to do some home and yard improvements, there hasn't been much spare time for writing blog posts. And now suddenly, it's October, and that happened very quickly. Unfortunately, it's been a rainy October so far, as two large weather systems dump a drenching on the province. It's good for the gardens, but a little hard to get anything done.
There is still a gratifyingly large number of plants in bloom in my garden, partly because I do manage to sneak time to deadhead, and partly because I've planted with fallscaping beauty in mind. The 'Sungold' buddleia in the top photo is in its second year of life here, highly unusual for butterfly bushes of any colour but especially of the delightful golden-yellow cultivar. My Japanese anemones have settled in very well here, being planted where they have decent drainage, and they continue to bloom like crazy.

21 August 2011

Lotsa August Colour & Heading to New Brunswick

What a wonderful few days I had on the road, talking gardens with fellow enthusiasts, photographing plants, cheering on fellow gardeners...thanks to my gracious hosts for their many kindnesses and generosity of spirit. We had great attendance at the talks and seminars, and as always, I think I learned as much as or more than those who came to the events. Tuesday I head out to New Brunswick, and I'll have more to say about that shortly.

My mantra in these dog days of August, as many people know, is that we CAN have plenty of colour as we go through late summer and into autumn. The photos in this blog post were all taken today, in my gardens. Above is part of the coneflower garden, but all of the garden is looking pretty enthusiastic. Perhaps there are a few weeds, but we'll declare those pollinator plants and carry on.
Astrantia 'Lola' is in the background of this photo, and I did cut back all the dried flowers, the better to encourage more bloom and show off the richly coloured 'Beaujolais Bonnets' scabiosa and 'Jade Frost' eryngium. 

So Tuesday morning I head out first thing to catch the Digby-Saint John Ferry, which is always a great trip.  I love taking the ferry every chance possible; the ship is lovely, the crew knowledgable and pleasant (I've been up on the bridge on one crossing, and had a great time). After landing in Saint John, I will hustle off to Fredericton, or more accurately, Lincoln, to visit Scott's Nursery, which I profiled in the most recent issue of Saltscapes magazine. I'll be at Scott's from 130-330, and hope to see some of my New Brunswick gardening friends there. Plus of course we ALL know there will be plants I can't live without, won't there? I'd better sell some books so I can afford plants without dipping into the grocery fund. Tee hee. 

15 August 2011

When Yellow isn't, and On the Road Again (soon)

Once again I am madly charging along trying to catch up with the rest of the blogosphere, and have been absent without leave. Or is that without Leaf? In truth, between plenty of work, some family matters, mostly quite pleasant but time consuming, new kittens, and other entertainments, it's just a very full time of year. There's way more social media to follow now than there was even two years ago, and there's no way I can keep up with all of it, so I don't even try. I do read blogs but don't comment too much because I often read them at night in bed on my iPad, and I dislike typing on that. I don't have those 20-year old flexible thumbs...

The next two weeks are busy, and I do mean busy, as I combine book sales with garden talks and article research. This week, Thursday sees me doing a morning Talk, Tea, and Walk at the Carmichael Stewart Museum in New Glasgow, 11 am-130 pm. I'm looking forward to this especially because it's a fundraiser for the Museum, so I hope we have a good turnout.

After I leave New Glasgow, I'm off to the Other Island, Cape Breton Island. Hugely looking forward to that as well, because I'll be doing two events at The Bayside Garden Centre and Farmer's Market in beautiful Whycocomagh. (If you don't know how to say that name, you should come visit and we'll teach you). Friday, I'll be at the Farmers Market with several other authors, and we'll all be reading from (or talking from, in my case) our books and doing sales and signings to coincide with the grand opening of the Market. Saturday, I'm scheduled to do one or two seminars on "Never too late to plant!" and hopefully doing more book sales and signings.
Next week, I'm going to be in New Brunswick from Tuesday-Friday, doing assorted events at several of my favourite nurseries. I'll be at Scotts Nursery in Fredericton on Tuesday; Kingsbrae Garden on Thursday, and Corn Hill Nursery near Petitcodiac on Friday. I'll have more to say about these this coming weekend.

So, now what's all this about when yellow isn't? Well, we all know what yellow looks like, right? It's not a colour that's easily mistaken for another colour. That soft yellow rose in the top photo is definitely yellow, whereas you might find it more challenging to describe the Rudbeckia in the photo above. (It's called 'Cherry Brandy', by the way, but that doesn't help you to determine the shade it is.)
Sometimes flowers are named with a description. This hemerocallis (daylily) is called 'Sweet Hot Chocolate', and despite the challenge in photographing some daylily colours, I think it's pretty well named. It doesn't smell of chocolate the way chocolate cosmos does, but oh well.
This spider daylily is as yet unnamed, and is described as being green. Even with the wonky colour of one of my monitors, I don't see anything green about it. However, this is also its first year to bloom so who knows what it will look like in a year or two.
There are several varieties of true lilies in this photo, including 'Golden Splendour' trumpet lily, one of my favourites, and 'Tom Pouce' oriental, which is sort of yellow and has a yellow throat. Pretty much as advertised.
Now, I have no idea who this fragrant, splendid oriental lily is, but I can assure you it is NOT Yelloween, which is what I bought it to be. Neither are any of the other bulbs that I planted as Yelloween. Now that's not the end of the world, because I never met a fragrant lily I didn't love, but still...I believe sometimes I'm cursed when it comes to yellow.
This is a yellow tiger lily that was here when we moved here. It has multiplied over the years and is a very pretty yellow shade. Again, it's pretty hard to mistake yellow for any other colour.

Now, if you've been a reader of Bloomingwriter for a couple of years or so, you know there are certain things that thwart me. One of them of course is goutweed, which we should just all say no to. The other is my inability to get yellow hollyhocks in my garden. The only way so far I've succeeded is to plant a metal sculpture of one. Even that isn't quite yellow.

People take pity on me, send me seeds, give me plants. Last year, my friend Lee Dickie at Briar Patch Nursery in Berwick took pity on me and gave me two plants, one supposed to be yellow, the other red. She had them labeled, and I planted them carefully, marked where I planted them, and waited for this year to arrive. I anticipated finally, FINALLY having a yellow flowered hollyhock in the garden.

This spring, one of them had succumbed to the weather. The label said it was the red one. I was okay with that. The other was healthy and vigourous. I started to hope. Until today, when I went out and discovered THIS...
This is not yellow.

Not even close.

I know when I'm defeated. I'd better not see ONE yellow hollyhock on my travels over the next two weeks. Not one. :-)

31 July 2011

No time for my blog, I am too busy planting!

Hello, friends, fellow gardeners, and other visitors. Did you think I had run off to far away lands? Not exactly...it's been a busy busy month, this July, which of course kicked off with the Open Garden weekend. My voice finally came back completely after about two weeks, which was surely a record for laryngitis. Highly entertaining when one makes a living asking questions of others.
I don't know how YOUR garden is going, but ours has exploded into a rhapsody of lushness. Shrubs are covered in blooms, daylilies are filled with scapes and packed with high bud counts, grasses are growing taller and taller..in fact, pretty much everything is growing taller and taller.
Naturally, I can't resist bringing home new or new-to-me plants, and there have been more of those than ever, this year. They range from tiny saxifrage alpines to fascinating perennials like this yellow stokesia...
To the not-hardy but definitely delectable chocolate cosmos, which really does smell of chocolate. I have to remember to dig and store the tuber of this plant this year!
Long ago, when I was a student at NSAC, the greenhouse lab technician wrote a poem for me. Ken and I were always bantering back and forth, playing little tricks on each other, and as I was going into exam time I spent even more time in the greenhouses, either playing with plants or actually studying. The last couple of lines of the poem, which I still have somewhere, went thusly:

"As she runs to the greenhouse we still hear her chanting,
No time for degree, I am too busy planting!"

Some might think "I'm not finished planting yet!" will be my epitaph. They're probably correct. But you know what? This is the perfect time of year to do planting, at least in our climate. Warm days, cool (ish) nights, adequate rainfall...all these things are highly welcoming to new plants whether they be annual transplants that you just had to save, or container grown trees and shrubs!

There is LOTS of colour in our gardens these days, but as far as I am concerned, there always is. There are the big showy annual poppies with their brilliant colours, countless lilies and roses, astilbes and hostas, cranesbills and filipendula...
But there's also a feast of foliage here. When I look out one office window (the other is obscured by the ever-joyous 'Limelight' hydrangea), I see a feast for the senses--lots of flowers, yes, but also rich foliage from golden tansy to copper beech to purple barberry to blue oat grass. It all makes me happy.
I spend a LOT of time when not actually gardening, staring through my camera's various lens at plants and their visitors. What I love about macro photography is that the camera's lens 'sees' things I can't with my naked, aging eyes, like the hairs on this bumblebee's legs.
If you aren't growing astrantia (masterwort), I'd like to know why! It's a fantastic plant, very floriferous, attractive to a huge number of pollinators, makes a nice clump, and some varieties self-seed, though I haven't had that pleasure yet. There are about half a dozen varieties in our gardens, from white 'Star of Heaven' seen here to deep red flowered varieties, to pink varieties, to 'Sunningdale Variegated', which has gold and green leaves.
Summer is also a time for family, and I've been very happy to have my son home visiting. He is a film and camera buff, creative like his mother but more into making films to tell stories than into writing. He has been teaching me more about my camera, too.

And the happiest of things I can share? I am back riding my horse after more than two years of not riding! This is pretty important to me, especially as I'm going to be getting new knees within the next year, which will make all things easier to do. After losing a number of cherished friends in recent months, I decided that what I'm dealing with is only pain, and no matter what I do I hurt. So I might as well do what I love, and to heck with the pain. Leggo, my faithful Morgan horse, seems to approve too.

I'll try to post more regularly in coming weeks, but if not, you'll know why...I'm still too busy planting!

06 July 2011

Heartfelt thanks to EVERYONE who came out (well, almost)

I'm back! Amazingly, after the assorted cold, wet weather we had in May and June, I didn't expect we'd have three fantastic days for our Open Garden event. But we did! The sun shone, it was warm (and at times, downright HOT) from  the time we started on Friday until the last car left late Sunday afternoon.

There was plenty to see, from the drifts of perennials like 'Lola' astrantia,
The roses all popped on cue, providing colour and fragrance (this photo was taken in the fog on Monday evening!).

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