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Archive for July, 2010

New Roses

I’m not a big rose fan, but I have become very fond of the row of Dart’s Dash roses that line the walk. They are carefree, bright, beautifully scented and beloved by bees. They are also quite large shrubs. When I was browsing through garden magazines in the spring, I noticed advertisements for a series of smaller shrub roses called Knockout roses. The one named Rainbow particularly caught my eye. However, I hadn’t seen these roses around here, and had no place to put a rose shrub anyway.

Then, one day when I was wandering through a local nursery, I saw it. They had Knockout Rainbow. I had no place to put a shrub, and it was way too hot to even think about digging a spot for it, so I left it behind, but that rose settled in at the back of my mind and nagged me. Finally, when the worst of the heat seemed to be passing, I decided to expand the garden a bit to include a couple of roses. I laid out a garden hose to help in deciding on a pleasing line, and started digging.

Having made a start, I returned to the nursery and brought home two roses. Knockout Rainbow has pink and yellow blooms that fade to light pink as they mature. I also purchased Morden Sunrise, which has yellow-orange flowers.

I laid out the boundary of the new bed with a garden hose and then removed a strip of sod along the edge of the hose. From there, I made the strip wider, and then started removing the sod in the centre.

Over the last few days I have finished digging the bed. I got the new roses settled in and mulched around them. They’ll have a couple of months to settle in before winter arrives. They have lots of growing space to fill in next year.

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Have Mug Will Travel

Like many Canadian cars, our vehicle has a habit of veering off the road and into the parking lot whenever we pass a Tim’s. Well, not every time. Then you’d never get anywhere. But at appropriately spaced washroom-break intervals. This can add up to quite a few cups of coffee over the course of our travels, and we like to use refillable mugs. The problem is finding just the right travel mug.

It used to be, fifteen, twenty years ago, that travel mugs were simple plastic affairs. I used to carry one with me strung on the strap of my handbag. Not too classy, but convenient. Nowadays, travel mugs are huge. We’ve moved on as a society, it seems to insulated mugs. Heavy duty stainless steel mugs that would withstand a terrorist attack. If you have an accident en route (God forbid!), you may not survive but your travel mug surely will.

I have an assortment of travel mugs in the cupboard. There are a couple of standard-issue Tim’s mugs. I like the Animal Rescue mug I received as a gift a few years ago. It was purchased from TheAnimalRescueSite.com, a cause that I certainly support. And I like this cowboy-themed mug. Yippee-ki-yay! Unfortunately, the ribbon of trim along the base prevents this mug from fitting into a car cup holder.

And how about this gourmet chicken? A very home-style-chic chick.

The trouble is, I don’t want my coffee to stay hot for the duration of my journey. I want it to cool down enough so that I can drink it now, or in the immediately foreseeable future. I don’t want a size XXL refill. Especially when travelling in washroom-challenged regions, a medium or even a small is plenty. And I prefer a thin lip to drink from. I realize this makes me out of step with the rest of the travelling, mug-totting world.

Imagine my delight, then, when we stopped at the little park souvenir store and tuck shop at Parc National de la Gaspésie and I spotted this little gem on the shelf. I snatched it up and raced to the cashier. Four dollars. What a bargain. While it doesn’t fit into the car’s cup holder, it fits perfectly into a little cubbyhole on the dash where it is stable and within easy reach. No insulation. Thin lip. Holds small refill. Finding the perfect travel mug? Priceless!

Finding

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I haven’t walked down to the pond in a while, partly because it has been so hot that I couldn’t find the energy, and partly because the bugs have been so fierce this year, I was afraid I might be carried off by a giant mosquito. As it turned out, when I did take a stroll down there the other day, the mosquitos weren’t bad at all.

Perhaps the tree swallows can take credit for the bug control service. I was surprised to find that there were still nestlings in the boxes. Tree swallows usually just raise one brood a year. It’s possible that a first nest failed, or that the abundance of insects this year has resulted in the swallows raising a second brood. Either way, the parents were still busy collecting insects on the wing over the pond.

As I’ve got to know dragonflies better, one of the things I’ve found interesting is the way the dominant dragonfly species changes over the course of the summer. There are always dragonflies about, but not the same species. Right now, there are a lot of twelve-spotted skimmers (Libellula pulchella) patrolling the pond.

I like these dragonflies because they are large and conspicuous, and easy to identify, with their three black patches on their wings. They have chalky-white abdomens and yellowish side stripes on their thorax. Females are similar, but lack the white patches between the dark patches on their wings, and have a brown abdomen.

Another positive attribute is a penchant for perching, making them highly cooperative photography subjects. The twelve-spotted dragonflies weren’t the only skimmers to be found along the pond. The grasses at the margin of the water were host to many yellow-legged meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum).

They are somewhat smaller than their twelve-spotted cousins. The males are orange-red, but I saw mostly females, which sport a yellow abdomen and clear wings.

There was lots of other life. As I approached the pond, several turtles slipped into the water and disappeared. Certainly, I was not only the watcher but also the watched.

These ants were busy working industriously on a dogwood branch. I assume they were after aphids or some such, but couldn’t actually see what was attracting them.

Several White Admiral butterflies (Limenitis arthemis) were flitting about.

It was hot in the sun, and I didn’t visit for long. I retreated to the shade of the house and left everyone to get on with their busy lives.

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The Canadian Museum of Civilization is located in Gatineau, Quebec, directly across the Ottawa River from the Canadian Parliament buildings. This summer, the museum is featuring a travelling exhibition about horses. We recently spent a day enjoying a visit to the museum, checking out the new exhibit and revisiting the permanent exhibits.

One of the most interesting things about the museum is the building itself. The museum moved to its current home in 1989. Designed by Douglas Cardinal, the building seems to flow in sweeping curves that echo its river setting and the sculpting force of water, wind and glaciers.

We began with the horse exhibit. It was quite well done, but I was a bit disappointed that, for me, it didn’t quite capture the magnetism and grandeur of these animals. Of course, as someone who developed ‘horsefever’ at an early age, and read everything about horses that I could lay my hands on, none of the information was new to me. The exhibit looks at the evolution of the horse, and how the horse has benefitted mankind as a source of power. One of the displays I especially liked was this dramatic presentation of the skeleton of a man and a horse.

I also enjoyed a presentation of sculpture by Joe Fafard. It was an effective way to bring the size and action of horses into the museum without using film media.

After seeing the horse exhibit, we toured the rest of the museum, which includes many excellent and informative displays, mostly dealing with Canadian and First Nations history. There are lots of interesting sights. This giant ‘stamp’ was made of 20,000 postage stamps and commemorates the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City by Samuel de Champlain in 1608.

You can ride a camel!

Over a spiralling staircase is a giant ceiling painting entitled Morning Star. It was painted by Alex Janvier over four months in 1993.

One of the most impressive areas of the museum is the Grand Hall, which celebrates the cultural heritage of the Native peoples of the Northwest Coast. It displays the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles.

I especially enjoyed an exhibition entitled Profit and Ambition: The Canadian Fur Trade, 1779-1821. The relationships between the North West Company, the Hudson Bay Company, and First Peoples are examined along with the role of adventurers who mapped the land. One of the latter was Alexander Mackenzie, for whom the Mackenzie river is named.

Sir Alexander Mackenzie (1764-1820) became the first white man, and probably the first person, to cross North America north of Mexico in 1793, a dozen years before Lewis and Clark. One indication of the fame he enjoyed can be judged by his portrait, which was painted by a premiere English portrait artist of the day, Sir Thomas Lawrence. His portrait was completed about 1800. You may recognize another work by Lawrence, a portrait of a young girl. It has famously been paired with Gainsborough’s earlier painting of “Blue Boy”, and is often referred to as “Pinkie”.

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Purple

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Yellow-collared Scape Moth (Cisseps fulvicollis) and echinacea

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Anne-Evan

Well, the daylily season is beginning to wind down. While there are still lots of blooms, the peak has come and gone and a number of plants are finished blooming for the year. Daylily season was a bit early this year, and compacted, perhaps, by the very hot weather we have experienced. Nevertheless, the flowers were gorgeous, a new treat for the eye to enjoy every morning. Here is a selection of plants that are still blooming.

Asiatic Pheasant

Autumn Wood

Cat Dancer

Country Melody

Give Me Eight

Mystical Rainbow

Nile Plum

Palomino Moon

Purple Storm

Quality of Mercy

Raspberry Bouquet

Roswitha

Tigerling

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If you plant parsley and fennel and dill, there is a good chance you will have the opportunity to see Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) caterpillars. I have a bit of each of these. I used the parsley earlier in the season, but have allowed it to go to seed. The other two, I just plant for the butterflies. In the last few days, I have spotted caterpillars on the plants.

The little guy, above, is about half an inch long. In its early stages, the Black Swallowtail caterpillar is dark and has tiny spikes. On the middle of its back you can see a white saddle patch.

Pictured above is a “middle-stage” caterpillar. As it matures, the caterpillar loses its dark colour and spikes and develops green and black stripes. Usually, the caterpillars are green with black bands and yellow spots, but caterpillars may occasionally remain dark with spots. The caterpillar above is about an inch long, while the one below is close to and inch and a half. Soon it will be ready to find a twig and spin its chrysalis. It will emerge as a beautiful Black Swallowtail. What a miracle!

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After visiting Reford Gardens, we took the road east as it follows the south shore of the St. Lawrence river. Our destination was the village of Cap Chat, where we had reservations for the night. The road meandered up and down and around hills, and as we drew closer to Cap Chat we began to get glimpses of windmills. We would get a tantalizing peek before they disappeared again behind another curve or hill. Finally, at the outskirts of town, we could see the windmills clearly.

This is Le Nordais, the largest wind farm in Canada and one of the biggest in the world. There are 76 750-KW turbines at Cap Chat, and an additional 57 turbines at nearby Matane. The 133 turbines have a total installed capacity of 100 MW of electrical energy. The electricity produced is sold to Hydro-Québec on a long-term contract. You can take a tour of the facility and we followed the road signs to the reception area.

Standing in the parking lot, you can look across the street at the windmills. Awesome! There is something majestic about these structures. Watching the blades swooshing quietly around is mesmerizing. The windmill supports are 55 metres tall from the ground to the hub, and the blades are each about 24 metres long.

As the only English-speaking visitors at the time, we had our own private tour with guide Pierre-Olivier. The young man has been giving tours for 6 summers now during school vacations (he plans a career as a math teacher) and he is very well-informed. He was an excellent guide.

The tour actually focuses on the site’s lone vertical windmill rather than the standard horizontal windmills. It is the tallest vertical-axis wind generator in the world. It was constructed as part of an experimental investigation into the potential of vertical windmills. Vertical windmills are more efficient than horizontal windmills and have the advantage of being able to catch the wind from any direction.

Vertical Windmill

The vertical windmill operated for 6 years. One disadvantage to its design is that the entire upper structure rotates on bearings in the base. After a few years of operation, the bearings began to wear out and needed to be replaced. The costs involved in lifting the huge upper structure to replace the bearings would be substantial and the return anticipated from the sale of electricity does not justify the expenditure, so the vertical windmill has stood idle.

Vertical windmill base

More than $30 million was invested in the development of the vertical windmill. After it was abandoned, horizontal windmills were imported from European countries and now the technology to produce horizontal windmills has been established in Québec. The horizontal windmills cost about $1 million each.

Interior of vertical windmill base

A number of factors influenced the choice of this site for the wind farm. It is not near any known bat caves or major bird migration routes. The wind is reliable. The site is economically accessable. Power lines are located nearby. The area is relatively sparsely populated and rough land that is not under cultivation is available. Landowners are paid a rental fee for the use of land that would otherwise have limited income potential. I believe Pierre mentioned that a wind speed of 5 to 7 kilometres per hour is required to run the windmills and the annual wind speed average at this location is about 25 km/hr.

If you would like to learn more about wind turbines, the Quebec government has produced an informative brochure that can be accessed online at www.mrnf.gouv.qc.ca/english/publications/energy/20024010.pdf

I asked Pierre about the source of the village name, Cap Chat, which translated literally means Cape Cat. What’s not to love about a place called Cape Cat? Disappointingly, Pierre assured me no cats were involved. The name was most likely derived from an early pioneer called Chaste, whose name was abbreviated over time to Chat.

Cap Chat from the beach

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Echinacea purpurea

Coneflowers, or echinaceas, have a lot going for them. They are generally tidy, problem-free, upright plants, native to North America, and they are very attractive to butterflies and pollinators. Pictured above is a typical garden-variety echinacea purpurea, an action shot, with a bee about to land on the cone that gives the flowers their common name.

A few years ago, a new wave of echinacea hybrids began making their way into nurseries. This spring, I found fancy coneflowers in quite a few of the garden centres that I browsed though. Many of these new hybrids are still selling at premium prices, but I picked up some of the less extravagently-priced varieties to try out. Now that we’re into mid-July, most of them are putting out a few blooms, so here is a review of the new plants.

Primadonna

Primadonna, above, has pretty, lavendar-pink petals (actually bracts). The flowerheads are reported to average 5 to 6 inches across with long stems standing above sturdy, full plants. Primadonna has been a bit slow to fill out here. I think the location I have it in may not get as much sun as the plants would like. The weather has been a real test for flowers this year, with high temperatures and humidity alternating with heavy downpours of rain. The petals of the first Primadonna blooms have really drooped, perhaps in response to the heavy rain.

Ruby Star

I planted three small Ruby Stars last autumn and they came up well this spring. The flowers are being enjoyed by bees, above, and butterflies. Below, a Ruby Star flower sports a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta rubria). The flowerheads of Ruby Star are a bit smaller, but otherwise similar to those of Primadonna.

Ruby Star with Red Admiral

I have read that Double Decker typically exhibits single blooms in its first year, while in the second year, a second set of petals create a feathery ‘hat” on top of the cone. The Double Decker I have seems to have settled in well, and has indeed produced single blooms. I’ll keep my fingers crossed in hopes that next year it will live up to its name.

Double Decker

Pink Poodle, like Double Decker, is supposed to produce double blooms. It has been trying a bit harder than Double Decker and there are a few odd petals on some of the flowers. Hopefully, it will put out a full array next year.

Pink Poodle

For a first-year plant, it has bloomed quite well.

Pink Poodles

Echinacea purpurea “Alba” is a standard white coneflower.

Echinacea purpurea "Alba"

Virgin is a newer variety. The white seems a bit brighter, clearer, and the flowerhead is flatter, with less recurving of the petals.

Virgin

I’ve been quite pleased with Meringue, which features cool double greenish-white flowers. It is noticable shorter than all the other echinaceas. While they range between two and three feet tall, Meringue is only about 12 inches.

Meringue

The “Big Sky” series of hybrids offers a number of varieties. I have Sunrise and Sundown. Both have been rather slow to settle in, especially Sundown, which has so far only produced a few small flowers. Sunrise is doing a bit better, and is starting to fill out a bit. The winter may test this pair. When they are fresh, Sundown’s blooms feature an interesting blend of a reddish shades flushed with purple. Sunrise is a very pretty pale yellow.

Sundown

Sunrise

Tomato Soup is proving to be quite an eye-catcher. It has produced a number of blooms and is bee-approved.

Tomato Soup

Tomato Soups with bee

For most interesting colour, the award has to go to Green Jewel. I have been fascinated by how green these flowers really are! I guess some might say “Yes, but why would you want a green flower?” Still, it has intrigued me, and is blooming well. Like Meringue it is a shorter echinacea, just over a foot tall.

Green Jewel

Green Jewels

My overall award for most unusual new echinacea has to go to Hot Papaya. I’ve read that you either love this one, or hate it. I’m with the lovers. I look forward to seeing how each of these garden additions makes it through the winter and fills out next year.

Hot Papaya

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