Archive for September, 2010


For garden colour that spans the seasons from spring to fall, you can’t beat annuals. If you purchase pre-started plantlets, they are often blooming when you plant them and continue unabated until frost ends their year. Cleome, cosmos, and portulaca are all still going strong in my garden. It is the nature of perennials to have a shorter bloom season. Unlike annuals, which have one glorious summer to fulfill their mandate, perennials have several years, sometimes many years, and must direct some of their energy to preparing for the winter ahead.


Nevertheless, the two species of coreopsis represented in my garden came very close to matching the performance of annuals. The winner of this year’s “All Summer Long” bloom award goes to Coreopsis grandiflora “Mayfield Giant”, which put on a marvellous show. Its brilliant golden-yellow flowers have lit up the border all summer and are still blooming as we head into October.


The runner-up prize goes to the closely related Coreopsis verticillata “Moonbeam”. This little sweetheart, with its narrow leaves, has an airy presence and makes an excellent filler plant between larger perennials. Its prolific pale-yellow blooms compliment just about any other plant it is partnered with.


While some of the echinaceas, or coneflowers, have been content with a modest bloom season, some species have out-bloomed both their cousins and my expectations. One of the best has been Echinacea “Green Jewel”. Its interesting green-hued flowers are still going strong.


The roses that I planted midseason have settled in well. I didn’t deadhead them, with the hope of encouraging them to stop blooming and concentrate on rooting. Rosa Radcor ‘Knock Out Rainbow’ wasn’t to be dissuaded, however, and is still blooming nicely.


The butterfly bush, Buddleia hybrid “Honeycomb” hasn’t been too impressive. It struggles in this hardiness zone. Still, I have to give it credit for persistence. It is still blooming and feeding the bees.


In the spring, I planted some very small seedlings of two varieties of agastache (ag-ah-STAK-ee as per Fine Gardening magazine). I was worried that after a long summer of struggling, they wouldn’t survive the winter. However, both have come along in the last few weeks of summer, even putting out some flower stalks, so maybe they’ll make it to next year and come back stronger. Shown above is Agastache barberi ‘Tutti Frutti’ and below is Agastache aurantiaca “Coronado Red”, not really red at all, but a soft orange.


I’ll close with this little sweetheart, Dianthus “Raspberry Swirl”. Like the agastache, it has spent the summer getting settled and is just now putting out a few flowers, way behind its normal blooming time. Worth the wait, though, don’t you think?


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The Chimes Tower and waterfall are located in the southwest of the Longwood grounds. The pond and waterfall have a very natural look, but the hillside and waterfall were constructed in 1929. There is a 90,000-gallon underground reservoir located above the cliff. It supplies the 50-foot waterfall that cascades into a shallow basin and together with the reservoir, the water system holds 675,000 gallons of water and supports the Longwood Fountain Garden. Signs by the pond point visitors in the direction of the Eye of Water.


The Chimes Tower was constructed using stone excavated from the hillside and was inspired by a structure in France. Following the pathway around the pond to the tower, you can climb up stairs in the lower interior and rejoin a path up the hillside. The 61-foot tower houses a 62-bell carillon that plays scheduled concerts. We continued upward in our quest for the Eye of Water.


At the top of the hill, the path borders a quickly flowing stream. As you cross the footbridge, a pavilion stands to your left. You climb a few steps up to the pavilion and there it is, the Eye of Water. It’s situated over the reservoir that feeds the waterfall and water surges out of the centre of the eye. It is at once fascinating, mesmerizing and just a little bit creepy!


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As the last of the warm summer days come to an end, asters become the stars of field and roadside. This is appropriate because aster means star. The autumn is their time to shine. Asters are a prolific group and there are many different, closely-related species. To differentiate the different species requires a close examination of the leaves and stems. The most common aster around here is the purple New England aster (A. novae-angliae).


When I stopped to take a few photographs of asters, I noticed that one of the plants had flowers that were noticeably pinker than its more purplish neighbours. I’m not sure if this represents a different species or just individual variation.


There were also bushy plants of small white asters. These are likely the aptly named Small White Aster (A. vimineus). All of the asters had something in common, regardless of their colour. Bees. Every bush was alive with bumblebees collecting a late-season meal. It was a bit sad to think that both the bumblebees and the flowers were reaching the end of their days. Only the Queen bumblebees will hibernate and survive the winter.


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I see you

I See You

duck duck goose

By Spencerville Mill

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At the Russell Fall Fair, one of the attractions was a reptile show presented by Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo. I have to admit, I have a preference for the warm and fuzzy, but there’s nevertheless something fascinating about these creatures that look like holdovers from the age of dinosaurs.

Dwarf Caeman

The show was presented by Kevin with the help of his assistant handler. The reptiles are kept in opaque containers and brought out one at a time. Kevin gave an interesting talk about each of the reptiles on show. Kevin told us that he’s known as ‘Caiman’ Kevin because of his love for Caimans and the first animal presented was a small Dwarf Caiman (Paleosuchus palpebrosus). The Dwarf Caiman is a crocodilian from northern and central South America. It’s latin name, Paleosuchus, means ‘ancient crocodile’. It generally prefers clean, fast-flowing stretches of river. Although small by crocodile standards, males still grow to be about 4 feet long.

Spectacle caeman

The Spectacled Caiman (Caiman crocodilus) is also found in Central and South America. Very adaptable, it can tolerate salt water, as well as fresh, and these crocodilians can be found in a range of wetland and river habitats, preferring still waters. Its common name comes from a bony ridge between the eyes, which gives the appearance of a pair of spectacles. Males can reach 2 to 2.5 meters, while females are smaller, usually around 1.4 meters. It’s considered a small to medium-sized crocodilian.


The next reptile was a snake, a very large snake. The anaconda (Eunectes murinus) lives in tropical South America. It is non-venomous. Kevin assured us that it only constricts to kill the prey that it eats, not out of fear or aggression, and would be much too sensible to try to crush a human. Anacondas can grow up to 17 feet or so. This one tried to crawl up the handler’s shirt sleeve. Very loveable.

west african dwarf croc

Then we were back to crocs. This West African Dwarf Crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis) was named Jaws. At under 2 metres long, Dwarf Crocodiles are the smallest true crocodiles in the world. They’re found primarily in the swamps and slow-moving freshwaters of west-central African rainforests. These crocs are heavily hunted and the wild population is listed as ‘vulnerable’.


Crackers, the Nile Monitor (Varanus niloticus), was quite a handful. He was more restless than his reptile buddies, and with sharp claws and a powerful body, wasn’t easy to hang on to. Nile Monitors are the largest of the monitor lizards and can get to be 7 feet long. They are mostly aquatic, but are also good climbers and fast runners on land. They feed on a variety of fish, snails, frogs, crocodile eggs and young, snakes, birds, small mammals, and large insects. Nile Monitors live throughout Africa except for desert regions.

Last, but certainly not least, was Crusher, the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), a native of the southeastern United States. Florida and Louisiana currently have the largest population of alligators. Florida has an estimated population of 1 to 1.5 million while Louisiana has an estimated population of 1.5 to 2 million. Males grow much larger than females and can get to be 1000 pounds and 14 feet long, while females range between 200 and 300 pounds and about 9 feet long. The name alligator is derived from the Spanish el lagarto which means “the lizard”. Crusher was quite cooperative. Kevin wrapped his jaws with tape for safety, and then kids could come up and touch Crusher or have their photo taken with him. It was an interesting and enjoyable show.


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Autumn Lament


There’s no denying it. Autumn is officially here. Everywhere, there are signs that summer is over and a change is well underway. The most conspicuous sign of fall, the changing of the leaves to their last show of colour, has begun. Winter certainly has its own charm, a season of deep calm and peace, the hectic growth of summer sleeping under the snow. But it’s hard to let go of summer. Here’s an ode to the changing season by that well-known writer, Anon.


Autumn Lament

The winds have strewn the earth with withered leaves,
The last belated flowers fade and die.
The rain is dripping sadly from the eaves,
And off the shore is heard the seagull’s cry.

Glad songs that tuned the morning now are silent,
Summer is over, summer is over,
Swallow and thrush have sung goodbye.

The fields that show’d so lately gold and green,
Surrender all their hues to frosty nights.
A mist is slowly creeping o’er the scene
That scarce a day ago was bathed in light.

Warm zephyrs now give way to blasts of autumn;
Winter is coming, winter is coming,
Summer has sung her last goodnight.


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The carousel in Congress Park in Saratoga Springs, New York celebrated its 100th year in 2010. The historic carousel was created by master carver Marcus Illions in 1910 and thrilled youngsters for many years before reaching a roadblock in 1983. Kaydeross Amusement Park, where the carousel was most recently situated, was to be sold for development, and the historic carousel would likely be lost to Saratoga Springs.


Saratoga Springs citizens and merchants raised money to purchase the carousel and after their bid of $150,000 was accepted, the carousel was relocated to Congress Park in the middle of town. Repairs were undertaken and the newly renovated ride, with rejuvenated horses replete with horsehair tails, reopened in 2002. The carousel is now beautifully protected by an attractive enclosure that allows visitors to admire the prancing ponies even on their off-season when the horses are still.


After a summer of daily activity, the carousel horses were taking a well-earned rest when we visited. The carousel is one of just 6 remaining Illions machines and the only two-row Illions carousel in existence.


Marcus C. Illions was born in Lithuania in 1871 and began his apprenticeship as a woodcarver at the age of 8. Illions first carved carousel horses in England and then carved for Charles Looff in Brooklyn after he emigrated to America at the end of the 19th century. He formed his own company in 1909. Illions is regarded as one of the greatest artists of the carousel world. His horses are known for their very flamboyant heads and well-decorated bodies.


The work of Illions and others who used a similar approach is called the Coney Island Style. The carved animals were spectacular, and originally featured brilliant decorations of jewels and gold and silver-leaf. Other carousel styles include the Philadelphia style, which featured more naturalistic horses and menagerie animals, and the North Tonawanda style, which featured simpler, country-fair horse.


Illions was admired for his ability to imbue his horses with movement even when they were standing still. With flying manes and tails and flaring nostrils, they gallop on.


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Grape Focaccia


Dough ingredients

On Tuesday, the day dawned grey and cold. My plans for working in the garden, doing some fall cleanup, were dashed. I decided to use some of my unexpected free time to do a little baking. In particular, I thought I’d try the grape focaccia that was featured on North Coast Muse recently. The post caught my eye when it made the Freshly Pressed page at WordPress.com. Muse, in her turn, was inspired by a post at Smitten Kitchen.


Ingredients mixed and kneaded and ready for rising

When I first moved to a rural home, many long years ago, there were Concord grapes growing on the property. You can only eat so many Concord grapes, and in searching for a use for this bounty, I discovered Concord grape pie. Grape pie went on to become a family favorite, and now my three daughters all make their own grape pie. There is also a grape-vine here at Willow House and it produced quite well this year. I don’t know what variety it is, but the grapes are similar to Concords, but a bit smaller and seedless.


Dough after rising, ready to punch down and divide

I subscribe to the KISS school of cooking, and so chose to use a recipe I’ve already tried out for the focaccia. It’s very straightforward. It makes enough dough for two eight inch circles. I topped one with grapes and a touch of sugar (I didn’t have any rosemary on hand) and topped the second with a mix of onions, olives and parmesan cheese.


Dough divided and topped and ready to bake

While the dough was rising and baking, I made potato soup with the new potatoes from the garden and we had soup and focaccia for supper. Here’s the onion-olive focaccia.


Onion-olive focaccia

And here’s the grape focaccia. They were both delicious!


Grape focaccia

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I left our tour of Longwood at the Peirce-du Pont House on my last Longwood post. If you walk around the house to the side, you can enter through the centre conservatory and see the house interior. The first addition was added to the Peirce house by du Pont in 1909 and a mirror image of the original farmhouse, with a library and additional bedrooms, was added in 1914. A 12-minute introductory video can be viewed by visitors in the library.


To the south of the house stands a grove of giants. Huge, beautiful trees. I especially enjoyed seeing the mature London Planetrees (Platanus acerifolia). London Planetrees are thought to be a hybrid of the native American sycamore (P. occidentalis) and P. orientalis. They are near the northern extreme of their range in Ontario and aren’t too common here. I’ve always found their bark fascinating.


The biggest of the trees have cables running up their trunks. Lightning rods!


Close to the house is the Open Air Theatre. Pierre du Pont became interested in the performing arts as a child, and built an outdoor theatre at Longwood between 1913 and 1914. By 1915, he’s had fountains installed in the stage floor. Many theatrical, musical and dance performances were conducted at summer garden parties. In 1926, renovations were made. Change rooms were added and the fountain displays expanded. Today, the fountains “perform’ for visitors and ‘dance’ to the stirring music of John Philip Sousa, a friend of Mr. du Pont.


On the way to the Theatre Garden, you pass under a pagoda covered with angel’s trumpets or brugmansia. It’s hard to think of a more impressive flower than these huge, pendulous blooms.


And here is the Theatre Garden. Surrounded by a low wall, the garden features cactus, succulents and yuccas.


It’s a peaceful spot, with many unusual and interesting plants to study. My favorite feature of the garden wasn’t a cactus, but a tree, a rebar tree. Rebar, or reinforcing bar, is a steel rod commonly used to reinforce concrete structures. In this garden, the rebar has been formed into a graceful structure to support a moonflower, or white morning-glory vine. Surprisingly charming.


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Last week was rainy and cold, cold and raw and autumn-like. So this weekend, when we had a couple of sunny days back-to-back, I decided it was time to bring the potatoes in. We’ve been enjoying fresh potatoes for a few weeks now, but I’ve just been digging them up on a need-to-eat basis!


Some years I grow potatoes and some years I don’t bother. I was inspired to make the (albeit tiny) effort this year by Michael Pollan’s account of the industrialization of potato production in The Botany of Desire. It’s both eye-opening and alarming.

I was quite pleased with the harvest, a nice binful. I planted several different varieties, but they came in a mixed bag, so I don’t know which varieties are which. Except the purple ones. They’re easy to spot. Here’s one cut in half.


How cool is that? I sliced this particular potato into long strips and made oven fries to go with hamburgers. Russian Blues are an heirloom potato. From the little I was able to glean via Google, Russian Blues really were developed in Russia, although they originated, like all potatoes, in South America. Like a lot of things in the horticultural world, their “blue” isn’t very blue. They’re a deep purple. The plants weren’t big producers, but I thought they were well worth including in the garden for their novelty value.


I was a little disappointed that I didn’t experience the raptures that Michael Pollan records while digging my potatoes. I was expecting maybe heavenly choirs. Still, it was a pleasant chore. And I love potatoes. Baked, mashed, fried, potato soup, scalloped potatoes, it’s all good. Next year, I’ll maybe plant beans in this location to refresh the soil and move the potatoes to a new spot.


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