Archive for July, 2009


There is an old saying, “No foot, no horse”. No matter how healthy and fit a horse might be, no matter how well-trained, he won’t be of any use to his rider if he’s lame. Sound feet are vital. Thus, the blacksmith, or farrier, plays an important role in the well-being of a horse.


A horse’s feet grow continuously, just like our fingernails. And just like fingernails, they need to be trimmed to keep them in good condition, even and shapely. A horse that is barefoot, not wearing shoes, usually requires a trim every 6 to 8 weeks or so. Excess growth is trimmed off with a farrier’s knife and clippers. Then the outside edge of the hoof may be rasped to tidy up the edge and shape the hoof.


City folk may think that blacksmithing is an old-fashioned trade, something you would only encounter on a visit to a pioneer village exhibit. In fact, farriers are more in demand than ever. Ontario’s horse population was estimated at 380,000 in 2006 (about 28,500 are associated with the racing industry), and $157 million is spent annually on hay, grain and bedding. The total annual economic impact of the horse population is estimated at $577.8 million. Consider that each one of those 380,000 horses has 4 feet that need attention every 6 to 8 weeks.


Young farriers may attend horseshoeing school and apprentice with an experienced farrier. It’s not an easy job. It involves bending over for long hours every day, working in all kinds of weather and dealing with sometimes-temperamental subjects who DON’T WANT their feet trimmed, thank you. A good farrier can trim and shoe a horse to correct for conformation or lameness issues.

Farrier Shane recently visited to give Mousie, Czarina and Louis a trim. These photos show Shane working on Mousie. Mousie says “Thanks for the new feet, Shane!”


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By the middle of July, dayliles are reaching peak bloom. I recently visited Whitehouse Perennials, located between Carleton Place and Almonte, where Bloomfest was underway. The nursery features an American Hemerocallis Society Display Garden, where you can see hundreds of daylilies in a wide range of colours and forms. As the daylily season moves into top gear, the nursery hosts Bloomfest to show off the flowers.


One of the most pleasant ways to learn more about garden plants and design is to visit other gardens. You are sure to pick up an idea or two on plant combinations or new flowers you would like to try or a special feature that catches your eye.


Daylilies star in the Whitehouse beds and borders. But many other lovely perennials also shine.


Red hot pokers (kniphofia) and salvia, daylilies and monarda provide eye-catching displays.


A screen of trees gives way to a walkway along a pond and waterfall.


A shade garden features heuchera, snakeroot (cimicifuga) and hostas. I especially liked this sculptural feature.


After strolling through the garden areas, you can continue to the back of the nursery, where the daylily fields are located. In addition to potted plants, the nursery offered clumps of daylilies, dug from the field while you wait, for sale to garden visitors.

It was a beautiful sunny day, perfect for finding inspiration in the impressive gardens.


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On the road to Kemptville, I was amazed to see a near-life size elephant standing outside an art studio a few weeks ago. I have driven by a few times since, and finally stopped in this weekend. Dave Leonard, owner of Homestead Gallery and an artist himself, introduced me to Gracie. She was even more impressive close-up, with a size and bulk that brought the experience of standing by a real live elephant thrillingly to mind. Gracie is the creation of Spencerville sculptor Rob Turnbull, who works with paper pulp, burlap, mixed media, concrete and plaster.

Homestead Gallery features the work of a number of local artists. The walls of the gallery display an interesting collection of paintings that cover a range of subjects from sailboats and cattle to still lifes and landscapes. Sculptures are displayed along with an array of artisan creations from pottery to jewelry to handbags. You can learn more about the artists and see a selection of works at the Homestead website.

Dave Leonard kindly took a photograph of Gracie and me. As an art object, I felt constrained from touching Gracie, but my hand kept drifting out, wanting to stroke her fine trunk.


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In the late fall of 2008, a little 3-year-old wallaby named Wendell captured the hearts of Ottawa residents after he disappeared from his enclosure at his home at Saunders Country Critters. A fierce storm brought down a tree that crumpled his enclosure fencing. His disappearance began a search that brought out many volunteers, who spent several weeks scouring the area for the wayward wallaby. The story ended sadly when Wendell was found dead in a farmer’s field a few kilometers from his home. His death was reported in the national media.


This past weekend, Saunders Country Critters remembered Wendell and thanked the volunteers who helped search for him. In was also a day to welcome two new wallabies and introduce them to an adoring public. Cohen, pictured in the two photos above, was born at Saunders, just like Wendell. Now about 3 1/2 months old, he is not yet able to get around on is own and will be mobile in a few weeks. He was recently removed from his mother’s pouch because wallabies that are destined to live in captivity live longer, less-stressful lives if they become habituated to human contact at a young age. He has a special bag that mimics his mother’s pouch and is bottle-fed on kangaroo milk, imported from Australia. Once weaned, wallabies eat a diet similar to that of rabbits. His mom’s protective instincts that would come into play when he left her pouch had not yet kicked in, minimizing the trauma of seperation. Cohen showed every sign of being a relaxed and pampered baby.


The star of the day, however, was another baby, an albino cutie named Wendell’s Angel, in remembrance of Wendell. Angel is about 7 months old and is slowly being introduced to the other Saunders wallabies. By late in the afternoon, she had made several public appearances and was content to remain in her wallaby snugglie. She swiveled her head about, taking in the sights and enjoying her many admirers.


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Swampwalker’s Journal: A Wetlands Year by David Carroll. Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

A wetland forms wherever poorly-drained soil collects enough water for the surface to be submerged for all or part of the year. It was once commonly thought that wetlands were wasted ground, best drained to make way for agriculture or other uses. It is now recognized that wetlands are among the most biologically diverse and vibrant of ecosystems. They perform important functions that are vital to the well-being of surrounding areas. In wet seasons, wetlands absorb floodwaters and gradually release the water through times of drought. They filter out sediment and pollutants, cleaning the water we all depend on. Two-thirds of southern Ontario’s wetlands have been lost or severely damaged through drainage, in-filling or pollution, while many of those that remain are threatened.

No one appreciates wetlands more than David Carroll. Much more than a guide, his book is a loving testament to every kind of wetland and a celebration of the many species that inhabit them. To read Swampwalker’s Journal is to walk beside Carroll as he explores a range of wetlands and shares with the reader his abundant knowledge and intense feeling for these special places. The journal begins with the ‘salamander rains’, the spring rain that signals salamanders to begin their annual pilgrimage to the breeding waters of vernal pools. With Carroll, you witness their ‘liebesspiel’, the loveplay of a congress of salamanders come together to mate. After visiting the vernal pool, Carroll leads the reader on to the marsh, the swamp, the pond, river and floodplain, bog and fen.

Swampwalker’s Journal is the last in what Carroll calls his wet-sneaker trilogy that began with The Year of the Turtle and continued with Trout Reflections. Swampwalker’s Journal allows you to visit wetlands without ever getting your sneakers wet, but you’ll want to! At the very least, you’ll be inspired to visit a wetland habitat near you, and with Carroll’s help, you’ll be better able to appreciate the wonders therein.

Wetlands are commonly classed as marsh, swamp, bog, fen, or open water. Many wetland areas include a combination of these.
Here are some wetlands found around here:


A marsh is characterized by emergent plant species: soft-stemmed plants that grow with their roots in water but their stems above water, especially cattails. The water in a marsh can be up to 7 feet deep or may dry up completely in dry periods.


A swamp is a wooded wetland, with 25% or more of its cover comprising woody-stemmed shrubs, such as Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea), and trees that can tolerate wet roots, such as Red maples (Acer rubrum). Swamps may be wet in the spring, but dry by the end of summer.


A fen forms when layers of peat (dead plant matter, such as sphagnum moss) build up to form a mat around the edge of open water. The mat slowly grows as live moss at the surface dies and drifts to the bottom of the water. As the open water is gradually filled in, a peatland is formed. While slow-moving water is still flowing through the fen, it rinses out some of the acidity of the peat. Fens support sedges and grasses and low to medium-height shrub cover along with a sparse covering of trees. Fens may require 5,000 years to form. Pictured above is Purdon Fen, which features a large colony of Showy Lady’s Slipper orchids (Cypripedium Reginae).


As more and more plant matter accumulates in a fen, the flow of water is obstructed and the only source of water is rain. The peatland then becomes very acidic and a specialized plant community develops. Bogs support Black Spruce(Picea mariana) and Tamarack (Larix laricina) trees, and shrubs such as Labrador Tea (Ledum Groenlandicum). Bogs and fens also feature some very specialized plants, such as insect-eating Sundew (Drosera sp) and Pitcher (Sarracenia purpurea) plants (For more on Sundews and Pitcher plants, visit The Marvelous in Nature, as linked). Bogs are very old, requiring over 10,000 years to form. Pictured above is Alfred Bog.

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Summer Day

Summer Day

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Shall I? Shan't I?

The pond featured in an earlier entry, Down by the Pond was manmade, originally dug to provide water for irrigation. It has gradually naturalized and now hosts a range of animal and plant life. You don’t have to turn your yard into a pond to attract wildlife, however. Even a bird bath will be appreciated!

Pictured above is a Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina), checking out the facilities. Chipping Sparrows are named for their chipping call note. They are common summer residents across Ontario. They favour open, grassy areas bordered by woodlands or thickets, including parks and gardens. The Chipping Sparrow was once referred to as the ‘hairbird’ from its practice of lining its nest with horse hair. With the decline of the horse in many neighbourhoods, the trait and the name have disappeared. However, around my house, horse hair is still available and it isn’t uncommon to find a Chipping Sparrow’s cup-like nest in the fall, once the trees lose their leaves, neatly lined with Mousie’s silver or Czarina’s chestnut tail hairs.


I will!

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The beginning of strawberry season coincides with the end of the school year and the beginning of summer vacations. For many years, one of the first things we did when the kids were home on vacation was go strawberry picking. When I think of strawberries, I think of those sunny, hot days. You could kneel down with your basket in the straw between the rows of plants and feel the sun warming your very soul. The best strawberries are the ones plucked, still sun-warmed, out in the field.


My kids have all grown up and gone their separate ways, and it has been a cool, rainy summer. Still, I wanted to fit in at least one trip to pick strawberries. I visited Dentz Orchard and Berry Farm just as the strawberry season was giving way to raspberry picking. The girl who showed me to the field was surprised that I still wanted strawberries, and indeed, I had the field to myself. I thought I might have to hunt for good berries, but such was not the case. There were still lots of ripe strawberries waiting to be picked and I wondered what would happen to them all. Would they be harvested by commercial pickers? In addition to offering pick-your-own, Dentz also sells to commercial markets.

Strawberries are available in supermarkets here pretty much year round, imported from California during the winter months. The berries do have considerable appeal in the dark days of winter, but I find they are disappointing. There’s just not that same sunny ambiance that comes with picking your own. Since I read Eric Schlosser’s discussion of the exploitation of migrant workers in his book Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market, I have passed up winter strawberries. I can’t say I miss them. They’re more of a treat when you buy them locally, in season. I don’t mean to suggest Canada doesn’t exploit Mexican workers too. Most large operations employ such workers to pick fruit, though I know little of their situation. I expect working in Canada is a double-edged sword, the need to make a living balanced against the negatives of a disrupted family life.


The best way to enjoy strawberries is just to wash them and eat them fresh, perhaps with a little milk or cream. Second choice, if you can resist eating them long enough, is to bake a strawberry pie. Here’s my favorite Strawberry Pie recipe:

Prepare 1 single pie crust. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Filling: Wash and cut up 4 cups of strawberries. Mix with 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of flour, and 1 tablespoon of corn starch. Place in pie shell.
Topping: Combine 3/4 cup flour and 3/4 cup sugar and a pinch of nutmeg. Cut in 3/8 cup of butter until mixture is crumbly. Spread over top of filling.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 degrees and continue baking for another 40 minutes.
Allow to cool before cutting. Delicious!


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Traditionalist Tonka, snoozing in the cat bed.

Traditionalist Tonka, snoozing in the cat bed.

Cat sleep anywhere,
Any table, any chair,
Top of piano, window-ledge,
In the middle, on the edge.
Open drawer, empty shoe,
Anybody’s lap will do.
Fitted in a cardboard box,
In the cupboard with your frocks.
Anywhere! They don’t care!
Cats sleep anywhere.

Eleanor Farjeon (1881 – 1965)

Moey, in laundry basket.

Moey, in laundry basket.

Capone, comfy on the back of the chesterfield.

Capone, comfy on the back of the chesterfield.

Arthur, on camp chair.

Arthur, on camp chair.

Momcat, on chair back.

Momcat, on chair back.

Mikey, snoozing on porch rafter.

Mikey, snoozing on porch rafter.

But when you get right down to it, there’s nothing like piling on Mom for sleeping.


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When I went out to see what was blooming in the daylily patch last, someone else was already admiring the flowers. This little garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) prepared to make a swift exit as he kept a wary eye on my approach. I have to admit to having no desire to pick up or otherwise interact with snakes, but I’m glad to have them visit my garden, even if they’re not so eye catching as Kenton and Rebeccas’ corn snakes! Here are some of the blooms the snake and I enjoyed.

Prague Spring (Lambert 1989)

Prague Spring (Lambert 1989)


Chance Encounter (Stamile 1994)

Nile Plum (Munson 1984)

Cameroons (Munson 1984)

Trahlyta (Childs 1982)

Trahlyta (Childs 1982)

Starman's Quest (Burkey 1989)

Starman's Quest (Burkey 1989)

Starman’s Quest is an offspring of Trahlyta. The family resemblance is easy to see, with Starman having a more spidery form. By the time I had visited all the flowers, Little Snake had decided I was no threat and settled down to enjoy the garden in peace.


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