Archive for May, 2011


You wouldn’t think that someone with short little doggie legs would love to swim. But Remington loves everything about water. He loves ditches and mud puddles and creeks and ponds.


He loves to paddle around at the edge of the water and he loves to swim out into the deep water.


Best of all, he loves to retrieve a stick. Last weekend when he visited Willow House, he was delighted to take a dip in the big pond. Not surprisingly, his preferred stroke is the dog paddle.


When he returns to shore, he tops off the swim with a good doggy shake.


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Corn Rows

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At this time of year, country nights are not quiet. The air is filled with music, a cacophony of voices celebrating the renewal of life. I braved the mosquitos to record their song just as darkness was falling. You can hear the Peep! Peep! of the Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer); the short, throbbing trills of the Gray Treefrogs (Hyla versicolor); and the longer, extended trills of American Toads (Bufo americanus). The Adopt-a-Pond website offers excellent information about the amphibians of Ontario and you can listen to recordings of each species’ song. Not all frogs sing at the same time of year. The Wood Frogs are the first voices of spring, and then the Spring Peepers. The Bullfrogs are later, singing into summer.

Over the chorus of frogs is a recording of an American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) performing his mating display. Listen for his call, a nasal Peent! … Peent! … Peent! given from a grassy field. At 1:36, he begins his aerial display. Listen for the whirring of his wings as he flys high into the night sky. Three of his outer primary feathers are modified to produce a whistling flight sound. I could hear him as he continues his flight, but unfortunately the sound doesn’t come through on the recording until about 2:20, when the whistling begins to sputter and he gives a series of chirps as his flight ends in a ‘falling leaf’ descent to the ground. What female could fail to be impressed?

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Field of Gold


Dandelion Day

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Gardening books will tell you that tulip hybrids are not a good long-term investment for your garden dollars. You may set their bulbs lovingly in the soil in the autumn and enjoy a beautiful display in the spring, but often that is the beginning and end of the tulip show. In the following year you may or may not get a repeat, and before long, the bulbs will be just a garden memory. Daffodils are made of sterner stuff. An investment in daffodils can be expected to pay dividends year after year, as these sturdy, brilliant wonders robustly increase in number, and unlike tulips, which make quite a tasty snack for a squirrel, daffodil bulbs are poisonous and are left alone by marauders. I do love daffodils and I have a number of different varieties in the garden. You can also grow species tulips, which are more persistent than the hybrid tulips. Still, those hybrids are hard to resist. I try to plant at least a few each year so that I may enjoy their colours, some vibrant, some gentle, on dull spring days…and sunny days too.


Tulips have a fascinating history. The tulip was introduced to Europe in the mid-16th century from Turkey and by the 1630s, an explosion of interest in the bulbs led to speculation and skyrocketing prices. As noted at Wikipedia, At the peak of tulip mania, in February 1637, some single tulip bulbs sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman. It is generally considered the first recorded speculative bubble (or economic bubble). The craze became known as Tulipomania or Tulip Mania. There are a number of books that outline the full history of the bulb. Michael Pollan gives a good summary in The Botany of Desire, which is reviewed here. A great fictional account of Tulipomania is offered by Alexandre Dumas in The Black Tulip. Worth checking out.


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This week, we had Ponygirl’s pup, Remington, stay for an overnight visit while his owner was out of town. The cats take a very dim view of any canine presence in the house and disappear at the first sign of a doggy intruder. Mostly, they hang out in some deep, dark corner of the basement until the house is again dog-free. That is, with the exception of Buddy, who is bold as brass. Very little puts him off. He arrived from we know not where one day and decided to stay. His period of roughing it on his own has left him confident of his ability to handle all comers, even dogs. Indeed, he will even play with the foreigners, so long as they know their place and keep to it.

Remy is about 6 months old and very well behaved. He followed me around on my rounds, and watched while I did some gardening. He tried to be helpful, digging a hole or two, and ripping a plastic pot to shreds, but was discouraged in his efforts by the gardener! He approved of the birdbath that I set out in a patch of hostas. It’s just his height, perfect for someone a foot tall! In fact, I purchased it originally so that raccoons could get a drink in the summer without knocking my taller birdbath over and it has worked well for that purpose.

After Remy left with Ponygirl, and quiet overtook the house, the cats slowly began to reappear and take up their usual places, relieved that life had returned to normal.


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I could really use a clone of myself. If there were two of me, I would be making faster progress with the garden. Or better still, I could be triplets. Then the weeds would really be in trouble! So long as there is just me in the singular, I rely on mulch to help me in my war against weeds. Mulch, and lots of it! My favorite mulch is the bags of cedar bark that you can buy at garden centres. If my garden was about 10 square feet, that’s what I would use. It looks nice and its scent is lovely. However, for larger areas, little bags of mulch aren’t practical. A big garden calls for a mountain of mulch, which is delivered to my driveway by a local tree care company, the neatly chipped and shredded remains of their work.


Last week, as I cleared out an overgrown bed of hostas, I laid down a blanket of mulch to keep the weeds from growing back. I’m generous. On a newly weeded area I add 6 inches or more of chipped wood. To maintain garden beds, a layer of mulch about 4 inches deep is recommended. Four inches is enought to discourage the weeds, but not too much to prevent the soil from warming in the spring.

Beyond keeping the weeds down, mulching has other advantages. In hot summer weather, mulch will help to keep plant roots cool. During dry spells, well-mulched soil is protected from drying out. I do very little watering, and count on mulch to help my plants survive drought conditions.


Like any gardening practice, mulching with wood chips has its supporters and detractors. For more information, I will refer you to an article by Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D. that ran in Master Gardener magazine: Wood Chip Mulch: Landscape Boon or Bane? There are many mulching options, and you can easily learn more about different approaches through a little internet research. One thing’s for sure: mulching is absolutely worthwhile. As Nike would say, just do it!


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For the last couple of weeks, I have enjoyed seeing patches of pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta) along the roadside. Unlike coltsfoot, another early spring wildflower, pussytoes are native to North America and can be found across Canada and the northern states. It is easy to see how they come by their name. Each stem holds a cluster of small fuzzy heads that can readily be envisioned as the digits of felines. Pussytoes are members of the aster family, and each flowerhead is actually a composite of many tiny flowers growing together on mass.


Pussytoes spread by rhizomes, so a clump is composed of clones of the original plant. They are diecious, meaning that female flowers and male flowers grow on separate plants. Thus, a clump of pussytoes contains either all male or all female flowers. The female flowers don’t require male flowers to reproduce and in the absence of nearby male plants, can still produce seed. This process is termed parthenogenesis, a name derived from the Greek for virgin birth.


The male staminate plants can be identified by their orange-brown anthers protruding out above the flowers like an insect’s antennae, presumably the source of the scientific name, Antennaria. As for the species name, neglecta, one source I came across suggested it reflected the fact that the flowers are easily overlooked, or neglected. A more convincing version stated that botanists named the species neglecta because its status as a separate species was overlooked for many years. Not until 1897 was the plant officially described for science by Edward Greene (1843-1915), first professor of botany at the University of California.


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A rainy Monday. Still, there is plenty to see in the garden and after months and months of a blanket of snow, the sight of green growth is a gift to lift the spirit. The photograph above shows the view from the front door. The yellow-flowered bushy plant is Euphorbia polychroma or Cushion Spurge. It would have benefitted from a division this year, but at the time when the plant was an appropriate size, it was raining, raining, raining. Maybe in the fall. Or next year.


Part of the garden is sitting on the porch! I have a selection of plants waiting to be released from their pots. Some I just purchased this weekend while on a grocery shopping trip. It seems every major store from Walmart to Canadian Tire has a tempting selection of plants available right now, and of course, nurseries are also gearing up for their traditionally busiest weekend, the Victoria Day holiday.


Scattered throughout the garden, an assortment of tulips and daffodils are blooming gamely, but the rain is taking a toll on their pretty flowers.


It’s so satisfying to walk through the garden and see plants that were new last year looking strong and healthy. These two geraniums are Geraniium phaeum “Samobor” (right) and Geranium phaeum “Springtime”. They are starting to form buds and will be blooming soon.


The new roses that I wrote about last July have survived the winter and are putting out plenty of new growth.


And here is Persicaria polymorpha, Giant Fleeceflower, off to a good start. I planted it late in the season in 2009. It grew pretty well last year, but only achieved a modest height of about 3 feet. I hope that this summer it will come closer to meeting its potential of 6 to 7 feet tall.


All of the heucheras that I wrote about last year in a post entitled “Little Gems” are doing well. This one is Heuchera “Tiramisu”.


This Astrantia major “Sunningdale Variegated” (Masterwort) was new to the garden last year and is looking very striking this spring, with its splashy leaves. I may have to look into adding a few more of these interesting plants.


Sadly, not everything survived the ravages of winter. These twiggy remains are all there is to be seen of Gaura “Karalee Petite”, which last summer put on a gorgeous display.


I devoted the few sunny days we had last week to cleaning up an overgrown patch of hostas, part of the neglected former garden that I have slowly been working on rejuvenating since arriving at Willow House. I added a path of wood shavings, weeded around the many hosta spikes, and laid down a thick layer of mulch. It looks much better. To the upper right, you can see the “before” version of this woodland patch, still waiting to be attended to. Some of the plants on the porch are shade lovers that will be added to this garden when the weather allows.


In the riverside garden, the ostrich ferns are unfurling their fiddleheads. In the foreground are some heucheras, and to the left, geraniums. The touch of pink behind the ferns is a patch of bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis).


I wrote about bleeding heart last May in an entry titled “Old Fashioned“.


Edging the patch of bleeding heart is a little cluster of primroses (Primula ‘Pacific Giant’). I was delighted with how well they have done this spring. Their colours, pink and purple and yellow are startlingly brilliant on a gloomy day.

I’ll end today’s tour with this view of the Solomon’s Seal, just about to open the dainty little flowers that line its arching stems. Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) is native to Ontario and makes a lovely spring-blooming garden plant. It is appreciated by hummingbirds and they can be seen moving along the row of dangling flowers, visiting each one in turn.


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