Archive for June, 2010

Chickadee Bathtime

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Take Time to Smell the Roses

Planted along the walk to the front door of Willow House is a hedge of Dart’s Dash roses. I wrote a bit about these roses a year ago in a post titled A Rose by Any Other Name. Now it is a year later, the roses are once again in bloom, and their scent is as lovely as ever.

The roses are adored by bees. It is funny to stand by the bushes and listen to them. They aren’t content with just settling on the flowers gently. They wiggle and squirm and buzz loudly with their faces shoved deep into the centre of the rose.

RailGuy and I are heading out for a few days of vacation to smell some different roses. We are travelling east, into the Gaspe region of Quebec, and will be stopping at Reford Gardens (Les Jardins des Metis). Elsie Reford began work on her garden in the summer of 1926. The gardens that she created over the next 30 years were opened to the public in 1962. It’s always inspiring to witness someone’s vision and I’m excited about our visit.

While we’re gone, Birdgirl has kindly agreed to look after the animals here. We’ll be back next week. Look for some travel posts in the future!

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Coreopsis "Mayfield Giant"

It’s been raining this morning, a light drizzle after a night of steady rain. The plants sure appreciated it. I appreciate not having to worry about watering some of my smaller newbie plants who can’t make it on their own yet. For the most part, I rarely to never water my garden and just count on a layer of mulch to keep the ground moist. But I’ve planted quite a few new babies this spring and they still require a bit of attention.

Tradescantia "Sweet Kate"

As many of these plants are still in their spindly, adolescent stage, their overall garden impact is limited, but I thought I’d share a few photos that I took as I strolled around the garden this morning when the rain let up, checking on my little charges. The opening photo is of a coreopsis (Tickseed) that I planted last fall. It overwintered well and is putting on a nice display of arching stems with brilliant sun-gold flowers. This variety is “Mayfield Giant”. I also have a the pretty pale yellow coreopsis “Moonbeam” planted here and there amongst bigger perennials. I’m fond of its dainty flowers and ferny foliage.

Above is the tradescantia (Spiderwort) “Sweet Kate”. I brought it with me from my former garden. It needs a better location here, but is doing well. The contrast between the lime green leaves and the dark purple-blue flowers is striking.

Campanula "Purple Sensation"

In gardening books, there are often chapters about how to plan the layout of your garden. I have a general “plan” for my garden, but don’t feel restricted by rational decision-making. I am happy to indulge spur-of-the-moment whims and serendipitous garden centre finds. One of these was the campanula “Purple Sensation”, above (Bellflower). It’s pendulous bell-shaped flowers charmed me. I had to bring this plant home with me and find a space for it in the garden.

Veronica spicata "Purplicious"

This little veronica (Speedwell) is new this year. It has settled in nicely and I’m very pleased with it. So far,I like the shade of its blooms and nice form better than those of my other veronica, “Sightseeing Mix”. Behind the veronica, you can see a fennel plant, which I grow to attract Black Swallowtail butterflies, and the fans of a few new daylilies.

Alchemilla mollis (Lady's Mantle)

I have a few Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle) growing with a nepeta (catmint). The latter is just beginning to fill out, but the Lady’s Mantle is doing well. Later in the season, this plant puts out stems of frothy greeny-yellow flowers, but the leaves themselves are interesting in the way they capture drops of water.

Gaura "Karalee Petite"

This little gaura is another plant that grabbed my attention at a garden centre and came home with me. It’s under a foot tall and covered with pretty pinkish blooms, very charming.

I’ll close with an echinacea. In the last few years, an amazing number of new cultivars of coneflower have arrived on the market. I invested in a half-dozen different varieties to try out. I also have the tried-and-true “Magnus”. A few of the echinacea are just starting to bloom. Below is echinacea purpurea “Virgin”.

Echinacea purpurea "Virgin"

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While I was digging up the sod and getting to know the rose chafers, I also found white grubs. Lots of them, just under the roots of the sod. I don’t like to be critical, but they really are rather unattractive, these future beetles. Around this part of the world, the grubs are generally the larvae of one of three common scarab beetles: June Bugs (Phyllophaga spp), Japanese Beetles (Popillia japonica) or European Chafers (Rhizotrogus majalis). June beetles are native to North America. However, we have ourselves to blame for the Japanese beetles and European Chafers. The Japanese Beetles were introduced to New Jersey in 1916 on imported nursery stock, while the European Chafers were probably accidentally introduced sometime in the 1930s. They were first discovered in Newark, New York in 1940. You can differentiate the species of larvae by a close examination of the pattern of spines on the raster, the greyish area at the rear of the larva. I wasn’t sufficiently interested to study the larvae in such depth.


Japanese Beetles on rose leaves

The larvae feed on the roots of grass, and in doing so, can damage the lawn as the grass is weakened and dies, thus deeply disturbing the emotional well-being of a certain breed of suburbanite that thrives on a perfect green vista in their front yard. In Ontario, there are limited options for waging war on the larvae, as cosmetic pesticides are banned. Most garden gurus suggest maintaining a strong, healthy lawn that can withstand some root damage is the best defense, but a biological control, the introduction of nematodes, is also suggested. A secondary source of lawn damage results from skunks or raccoons digging up the lawn to snack on the apparently quite tasty grubs.

In a recent Garden Rant comment section, a Floridian suggested that a pesticide ban in Ontario is no big deal because pests like cockroaches, fire ants, mosquitoes, silverfish, killer bees, weeds, wasps, rats, termites, mice, beetles, yellow jackets, flies etc. can’t tolerate the cold and do not exist there. LOL! Personally, I can’t imagine spraying poisons in my yard or garden for anything as trivial as a green lawn anyway. Indeed, I can’t imagine wasting the space of a suburban yard on a lawn in the first place. Rip up that grass! There are better things to grow!

Skunk/ Raccoon damage

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On the weekend, RailGuy and I were out in Cornwall, and after finishing our shopping, decided to check out Cooper Marsh Conservation Area. The marsh is located about 18 kilometres east of Cornwall, at the edge of the St. Lawrence river, south of Lancaster. Cooper Marsh is part of a larger wetland, the Charlottenburgh Marsh.

Interestingly, the land wasn’t originally wetland. The marsh was first created in the mid-1800s by navigational water-level control structures, and was further impacted by the Seaway Project in the 1950s. The land was acquired in the 1940s by the Coopers, who worked with the Raisin Region Conservation Authority in the 1970s to protect the marsh. A network of dykes, dams and channels were constructed by Ducks Unlimited and partners to improve the quality of the marsh habitat for wildlife.

There were four different trails to choose from and we decided to take the boardwalk trail. It is an ambitious boardwalk that loops in a long curve through a swampy wet area with plenty of plant life and standing water. The boards were beginning to show their age. In between many of the boards was a dense growth of Cladonia spp lichen.

The shrubby areas were alive with small birds, but it was hard to get a good look at them, let alone a photograph. Most views looked like this glimpse of a Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas), below.

I did get a few better shots. Here is a Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris).

And a Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana).

Of course, there were the usual wetland residents, such as Red-winged Blackbirds, as well. But the highlight of the walk were the Green Herons (Butorides virescens). I’ve seen Green Herons before, but only a brief glimpse as the bird disappeared out of sight into heavy shrubbery. Here they were right out in the open.

At the end of the boardwalk is a blind from which we were able to watch the herons, and also spotted these ducklings.

The ducklings seemed to be on their own. Where was their mother? When I later looked more closely at this photograph of a heron, surprise! There’s Mother Mallard, peaking out from the top left corner.

The boardwalk offered lots to see. We only had time for a quick walk, but look forward to revisiting both the boardwalk and the other park trails on another day.

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This parent Common Grackle made multiple forays to the bird feeder and carried seed and peanuts back to the roof of the house where a fledgling waited to be fed.

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On Monday, Birdgirl and I visited Kiwi Gardens. At the entrance, visitors are greeted by a set of giant rabbits. Hares, in fact. A sign that displays information about the rabbits tells viewers that the hares are inspired by folk art lawn shadow ornaments.

Hares and Squares is intended to express visually the impact of alien species as represented by the giant European Hares (hares were introduced into Ontario in the early 20th century) on native biodiversity. The large squres represent the urban landscape intruding into the natural world.

The sign concludes with a question: How do we recognize when we have travelled too far beyond our boundaries, especially the limits of our place in nature? Hares and Squares asks us to continually explore and consider how human intervention impacts ecological health and ultimately our own well-being.

Certainly, ongoing disasters such as the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the Alberta Tarsands project suggest we have seriously overstepped the limits of reasaonable impact.

Hares and Squares is a project of Fieldwork land art exploration: http://www.fieldworkproject.com.

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This spring, I constructed a set of swallow nest boxes and mounted them in various spots around the pond and in the pasture. They were quite well received. I haven’t checked inside the boxes, but am pretty sure that at least 5 of the 7 boxes are in use. One of the boxes is quite near the barn, and I enjoyed watching the swallow pair that moved in coming and going as they prepared the box for their new family.

Mr. and Mrs. Tree Swallow at home.

Now, every time I walk out to the barn I can hear that their nesting activities have been a success. The voices of the young birds have turned the nesting box into a chatterbox! I don’t like to disturb the birds by looking in the box, even though I would love to get a peek at the young. I am satisfied to know that they are growing strong and will soon fledge. However, over at the Marvelous in Nature, Birdgirl just checked her nestboxes and kindly allowed me to share her tree swallow baby photos here.

Pictured above is one of the younger chicks. It is astounding how quickly baby birds grow. The female incubates the eggs for 13 to 16 days, and then after they hatch it is just another 16 to 24 days, about 3 weeks, before the tiny, naked babies are feathered and ready to leave the nest. When the young leave the nest, they are nearly as big as their parents. I expect “my” babies will be fledging soon, like the chick shown below.

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Teddy and Louis have been sharing their own space together while they got to know each other. Now that Teddy has had a few weeks to settle in, it was time to let Louis and Teddy out with the horses, Mousie and Czarina. When the big day arrived, Czarina led the way out of the barn.

Mousie followed, and then the two donkeys headed outside.

I expected that there would be a certain amount of ‘getting acquainted’ activity when the donkeys joined the horses, but it turned out to be a non-event. The horses had accepted Teddy as one of the herd.

The horses headed out to their favorite grazing area, while the donkeys were content to graze on their own.

Since all was quiet, I left everyone to get on with their day. A few hours later, I went out to see how everyone was doing.

Everyone was out in the field, grazing quietly. One, two, three… all together. What? That’s not right! One, two, three… No! One, two, three…Arg! Where is Louis? Everyone was grazing quietly. Horses are very herd-oriented and if something was wrong, it would usually be obvious by their behaviour. Still…where was Louis??? I walked over to their shelter and looked in.

There he was, all by himself, inside the shelter. The deer and horseflies have been fierce, and Louis apparently decided he’d rather retreat to the shelter where the flies are less aggressive. He was fine. I was relieved. I said hello, and when I left, Louis followed me back to the field and rejoined the others.

I left them all together. One. Two. Three. Four. When I walked out later, the mares were still grazing, but the donkeys had returned to the shelter. Now Teddy was keeping Louis company. Here he is, looking out of the shelter door.

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Blue Sky and Clouds

Sunny Day

Pasture and Clouds

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