29 February 2016

An interlude: Taking my camera for drives

Early last year, I decided it was time to challenge myself in new directions. I decided to learn to be a better photographer, learning my camera and lenses and settings, learning to use Lightroom and Photoshop for image storage, organization, and editing. To learn to go beyond taking photos of only plants (and occasionally cats) and to expand my areas of interest. 

I will never be a professional photographer the way some of my heroes are--Freeman Patterson, Ernest Cadegan, John Sylvester, among others--but I learn from each of them from studying their work. I have learned to see in a different way than I once did. And I find the joy not in exotic locales, but around me. I derive enormous pleasure out of exploring my local world. Just shunpiking my way down back roads in Kings County, where I live, or other counties in the province, has yielded me much in the way of photographic delights, adventures and learning. 

What makes a great photo? It's the photographer's eye, to begin with, not the tools. I took the above photo on a cold, blustery day about a month ago--with my iPhone. From my car window. I shared it on Facebook to rave reviews from friends, who loved the mood of it. Which is what I was going for, not technical perfection. 

 This, on the other hand, was taken with tripod, my Canon 70D, ND filter, etc...it also captures a mood. I had just as much fun making one as the other.
What I tell people is this; the camera is like the oven, the photographer is the cook. You create the image, and the camera captures it. Don't think you need a dozen lenses and an expensive camera to have fun and make beautiful pictures.

 There are certain things in my world that I have a deep and abiding love for. Living in Canada's Ocean Playground, on the mighty Bay of Fundy, I am part water creature, and love being near the shore. I adore lighthouses. All lighthouses. This one is at Cape St. Mary's, Digby county, with a little fog playing with the atmospherics.

 I am very fond of crows and ravens, which are extremely clever birds. I caught this one sitting on the fencepost leading to the French Cross in Grand-Pré, and just had to preserve the moment. The crow graciously stayed put for me to get a few pictures before soaring off on important crow duties.

We have a group of artists in Kings County who every year throughout the summer do an outdoor  show around the county called Uncommon Common Art. Every piece is different, in different media, from fibre to metal to found objects and more. This is part of a recent installation, also in Grand-Pré, which is left standing over winter. Can't wait to see what goes up this year.

Naturally, being a gardener, I am very fond of trees, and I find them moody and rewarding subjects any time of the year. During a recent autumn storm, the surf was rocking and rolling along the shore by Halls Harbour, and I loved the steadfast trees, unphased by the weather. 

Another day took me further down the shore into Annapolis County, on a summer day of torrential rainfalls and thunderstorms, resulting in streams full to overflowing and cascading off the rocky cliffs like some sort of a tropical other-worldly place. 

Taking photos of people doesn't really interest me because I'm not good at it and people puzzle me rather a lot. But things that people MAKE is quite another story. Specifically, buildings. Old buildings. Abandoned or otherwise falling-down buildings. I have a huge affection for them, whether it be a seemingly nice, but very much abandoned house like this one, or some of the huge barns that are found all around the province (and elsewhere, but most of my building capturing has been in Nova Scotia. Some in Newfoundland last summer and a little in Iles de la Madeleine, but we'll get to those in due course.)

So, because this is my blog and I can post what I want, some images of life in my part of the world. I'll do this from time to time, and hope you'll enjoy--and more importantly, that you'll be encouraged to take your camera for a walk, or a drive, and see what you can find that makes your heart glad.

22 February 2016

A Post-Valentine Chocolate Treat

 First, a weather report. Last year this time we were buried in snow, and we remained that way for the better part of two months. Today--there is only snow in the plowed piles, in ditches and woods and places like that. The back yard is bare. The birds are singing like crazy. The cats are starting to shed--and they're indoor cats so I am a little surprised. We know full well we're not out of the woods yet, weather wise, but we'll take this little hiatus and be happy with it.

Now, on to the weekly gathering of Fleur photos. Last week was preempted by posting about the orchid show so we're doing the Valentine's post the same way some people buy chocolate and flowers--after the event. But these aren't plants from the half-price bin. Not at all.

Because I love chocolate, and because I love unusually-coloured flowers, I am naturally drawn to have a collection of chocolate-coloured perennials. I don't have Akebia, the chocolate vine, but I have a number of plants that are either chocolate-y in colour, or include the word in their name, or both. We'll start with the photo at the top of this post, Digitalis 'Milk Chocolate'. I haven't had this plant since moving to Wolfville, but a friend has told me of a mutual acquaintance who will happily share seedlings with me. Happy day!

There are a number of daylilies that include chocolate in their name, but I don't have any of them. So the closest I can offer from my personal collection is 'Black Arrowhead', which I quite love. A friend has 'Teddy Bear's Picnic', which is described as having light chocolate flowers with a deeper colour. I'll stick with mine, floriferous and easy going as it is. It looks great with the orange Asclepias, too. 

I love the ease of baptisas: they are deer resistant, for those troubled by Bambi, they don't get aphids the way their relatives the lupins do, and they make a shrub-like plant with glossy foliage and great seedheads. This variety is called 'Decadence Dutch Chocolate' and I had to have it when I found it last year. You probably will, too. Just be patient with it--Baptisias can take a couple years to settle in unless you buy 2nd- or 3rd-year plants.

This hellebore is one of the so-called 'black' ones, and it is just gorgeous. I believe this is 'Onyx Odyssey' but there are at least several others that are equally dark and delightful. My hellebores are all sleeping quietly beneath some evergreen boughs, but I did notice buds forming before I mulched them. Something to look forward to!

You're no doubt wondering why this white-flowered perennial is part of the mix. It's 'Chocolate' boneset (Eupatorium), so called because its foliage is a bronzy-chocolate-green shade. It's a late, late bloomer, often the last perennial to flower in my garden. Late pollinators love it, too.

The chocolate cosmos is a delightful thing that actually does smell of chocolate! It's an interesting annual that forms tubers in the soil, and can be overwintered and planted the following year. It blooms and blooms and blooms, especially if you remember to deadhead the spent flower stems. And yes, the scent is lovely.

Despite its gorgeous deep chocolate colour, Salpiglossis 'Chocolate Royale' does not have any fragrance. But we'll forgive it because of that striking colour (and it loks so great with the kangaroo paw planted beside it). 

 The name of this sunflower wasn't attached to the photo when I went searching through my files, but it is either 'Chocolate Cherry' or else just 'Chocolate'. I don't have it anymore, and haven't seen seeds locally, but since I never met a sunflower of any colour that I didn't adore, it's okay. I haven't looked too hard for seeds since I am so busy there's not a lot of time for planting seeds!

With last week's post about orchids, I put up a photo of Oncidium 'Sharry Baby' orchid, and mentioned that it is definitely chocolate scented. Several friends have been here while it's been blooming and now can attest for themselves the divine fragrance of the plant. 

That's all for this week, as we're really busy getting the next issue of Saltscapes magazine ready to go to print. Also, we're only two months away from the 12th annual Saltscapes East Coast Expo, so there's lots going on. Before we know it, it really WILL be spring. 

14 February 2016

In Lieu of Herald Column: Orchids for the Midwinter Blahs

A note to my readers: Normally, I write a gardening column for the provincial paper of record, the Halifax Chronicle Herald. I've been doing this for probably 12-15 years (I can't honestly remember when I started). However, though I choose to be a freelancer rather than an employee, I am also electing not to file my column to the paper while the regular journalists, including editors and photographers, that work at the paper are out on strike, due to a draconian and poorly-thought-out attack by the owners and management of the paper. So I'm posting my column here, instead.

I will never been an expert in or specialist about any particular type of plants. There are far, far too many that fascinate me, both outdoors and as houseplants, native and exotic. Especially, I will never be an expert on orchids. But I do love them in their myriad forms, colours, shapes, species, hybrids...I love the native and hardy varieties that we can grow outdoors in our gardens, like Cypripedium lady slippers and Bletilla hyacinth orchids.  

(yellow lady slipper, native to NS) While this is gorgeous, it is not suited to every garden, and it's recommended that you consult a good greenhouse before trying one in your own garden. 

 But I do profess to be rather besotted with the exotic orchids that we grow in our homes, or sigh over in other people's homes. And I can tell you, they are worse than potato chips, because you really, really cannot have just one. 

Like many others, I used to think I couldn't grow orchids--that they were highly demanding, requiring just the right amount of heat and light and special growing media and pots and if you looked at them sideways they would die. Okay, there are certainly some that are particular, but there are many that are quite happy, or at least tolerant, of most home growing conditions. 

I'll always be grateful to the acquaintance who was an orchid expert--a judge, breeder, and seller of these glorious plants--and who gave me a small, tough, and interesting orchid. This was about the time that moth orchids, (Phalaenopsis), became widely available and dropped in price accordingly. Suddenly, they were worth trying because they were no more expensive than other flowering plants and if they throve, fabulous. If they went to sleep, I could deal with that, too. Turned out they liked my growing conditions and they did rather marvellously. I was hooked. 

Getting braver, I consulted with another orchid enthusiast and bought my first Paphiopedilum, one of the non-native genera also given the common name of ladyslipper orchid. I nurtured it with care and when it flowered for me the next winter, I was so proud of myself. And got a little more daring as a result. 

Now I also have a couple of Oncidiums, also known as 'dancing lady' orchids. This is the chocolate-scented 'Sharry Baby', which is a delightful plant both for all its flowers and for that fragrance. 

One of the most important things when growing orchids is to make sure to use filtered water from the tap, or rainwater. Filtering tap water is important because some natural sources of drinking water can be alkaline, which affects the available nitrogen orchids need for healthy growth. Don't use bottled water, which can have high levels of salt, definitely not good for orchids! And don't overwater your orchids, which will kill them quite quickly. I give mine a drink, then let the water drain away from the pot, so that standing water doesn't cause root rot. 

My fondness for green flowers is well known, so it's no surprise that I would have green orchids--both a moth orchid, and this fabulous Cymbidium. At one time I had a green-flowered lady slipper orchid, but it succumbed during the transition from one place to another til I finally landed here in Wolfville. Oh well. Plants come and go, as a wise gardener once told me.

 It is important to match your home's light and heat conditions with the right type of orchids. Many enthusiasts have an attached greenhouse, solarium, or a special room dedicated to growing the more tropical types that require higher temperatures and humidity than the average home can offer. If you can find a local enthusiast and ask questions, these folks are very generous with advice, tips and suggestions. They often have plants for sale as well, which is an added plus! You can buy moth orchids at department and grocery stores as well as at florist shops, but finding more unusual species may be a little more challenging.

Ask orchid enthusiasts about what they grow their plants in, and you'll get a variety of opinions on the best medium. Orchids in stores are often potted up in sphagnum moss, which can stay soggy and cause root rot, or dry out and be hard to rewet. Either way, it's only good for about a year before it has broken down completely. If you're going to use bark, order or purchase bark that is FOR orchids, not bark out of the mulch in your hard. Some growers are now using coir fibre (coconut husk fibre) but before transplanting their orchids into this medium, they treat it with epsom salts and calcium nitrate to remove naturally-found salts that can cause root burn. I have no experience with this product, but I bought a bag of bark sold by a reputable potting medium company which I have just used to pot up a couple of my plants. We'll see how they do before I mention the name. 

 If you want some inspiration and to be able to pick the brains of experienced orchid growers, do check out the Orchid show at the KC Irving Environmental Science on Saturday, February 20, 1030am-4 pm. This annual show includes some breathtakingly gorgeous plants, and hopefully there will be vendors this year after a hiatus last year. This show is a photographer's dream and the perfect antidote to the winter blahs.

07 February 2016

The green, green fleurs of home

I've been trying to remember when my fascination with green flowers began. It's a very polarizing colour, in that people either love it in flowers, or they don't. Some don't think there is enough contrast between the green of the flowers and that of the foliage. To which I say: there are myriad different greens, and enough of these varieties have contrasting colours in them to make them even more striking. But each to their own. 

The above is a Cymbidium orchid at the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens, part of the KC Irving Science Centre at Acadia University in Wolfville. This is a reminder that the annual orchid show will be held on Saturday, February 20, 1030am-4 pm at the Centre. You should visit. 

Some flowers listed as green will have white, pink, or other hue in them as well. This is an Acanthus (Bear's Britches), with a lot of green in the flowers as they begin. Gradually they flush with more rose to them, but the green remains, at least in the plant I trialed last year. I'm hopeful it will overwinter, as the man I purchased it from said it's more reliably hardy here than others. We'll see! 

This tall phlox is called 'Jade', although it might more accurately be named Jade Tips. I really like it and keep it in my garden, along with 'Sherbet Cocktail', which has pink, green and white in its flowers, because both bloom very well for me and have shown no signs of reversion. 

Amaryllis. I love them in any colour, including the so-called 'common' orange, white and red varieties. But this is 'Papillon' and really, really rocks my world with its striking green-and-red flowers. Anyone who has grown this variety tends to cherish and keep it indefinitely. 

I know I've waxed on about Astrantia in the past but if you've not begun growing this perennial, we need to have a talk. It's been one of my top ten perennial choices since I first discovered it, and continues to stay there. Masterwort, as it is commonly called, is related to sea holly and carrots (same family, Apiaceae, aka the dill family). Flowers feature a ruffled, papery bract around them which holds its colour for a long time. Florists apparently love to use masterworts, but my main reason for loving them is their irresistible nature--pollinators adore them. My friend Lloyd Mapplebeck of Hillendale Perennials loves this perennial too, and carries several varieties. Most of them come in shades of red or pink, but there are several that are white, and have enough green in their flowers to be included in this post. 

 Another of my top ten perennials is Eryngium, or sea holly. Most of them have highly showy cones of petite flowers surrounded by a spiky, ruffled bract, and most are blue; but many of them start out green and flush to blue as the flowers get mature. This variety, Miss Wilmott's Ghost, has very large flowerheads, and the flowers gradually turn silvery green to silver before fading to tan shades once it has finished blooming. Oh, how I love it! 
One of the absolute greenest of green flowers is 'Francesca' primula, which I finally got my eager hands on several years ago. The sunny yellow centres of the flowers just causes the green to look even fresher and more delicious, and I have mine planted near pulmonaria and brunnera, so the lacy blue flowers and silvery foliage makes an extra effective backdrop. I have another green primula, an auricula variety called 'Green Meadow', which I bought from Wrightmans Alpines last year when they were at the Rare and Unusual Plant Sale in Annapolis Royal, and which I absolutely adore. Primulas could become an obsession for me...

Primula 'Green Meadow'. Isn't it a dandy?

My fondness for coneflowers is also very well known, and I was so very pleased when the first green cone varieties, 'Jade' and 'Green Envy' appeared on the scene. Both of those pale, however, in comparison to 'Green Jewel' which is a more compact variety than some but so very, very green. Those dazzling centre cones hold their colour for a very long time, and the flowers are also fragrant, so the pollinators also adore it. 

When I moved to a smaller place several years ago, I knew I'd have to scale down the garden and thus also the number and size of shrubs I added. So I was very, very happy when 'Little Lime' hydrangea appeared on the scene. It's a smaller version of my beloved 'Limelight', which gets quite large, and its flowers are delicately green, flushing to a bit of rose and then tan as they age. Happily, I cut down an annoying poplar last summer so I've decided I CAN also have 'Limelight', as it will grow quickly quite large and provide some shade for a part of the garden that is missing shade in the heat of the afternoons. 

I don't focus much on annuals in this post although there are a few great green-flowered varieties, like Bells of Ireland, and some of the petunia cultivars that are green-and-fuchsia/pink. But my favourite annual with green blooms is Nicotiana langsdorfii, which has many sprays of petite green trumpet-shaped flowers and is quietly showy--if that makes sense. 

The snow melted so much this past week that my hellebores emerged from hiding and were showing buds--so I quickly mulched them with evergreen boughs to lull them back to sleep. This hellebore variety, 'Silver Lace', has green flowers with silvery-green foliage, and is very attractive. 

And to conclude this ode to green flowers, a green cymbidium similar to the one I showed at the beginning of this post. That one, however, belonged to someone else. This one is MINE, all mine. 

So, where do you fall in the green flower fan club? Adore or abhor?  

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