Archive for June, 2011


As we pass summer solstice and enter high summer, the garden is filling in. Every year it amazes me how we can go from the barrens of January and February to the verdant, lush green of July in such a short time. That’s not to say the garden is at its peak, but that time is just down the road.


Since my last garden post, I have added this chair. I purchased it at a little shop that sells odds and ends of wooden chairs under a sign marked ‘Garden Chairs’. I like its natural self, just as it has ended up from years of use, but it would also look nice painted. Maybe next year. There are so many beautiful baskets available at a very reasonable price, I rarely put together my own, and am content to enjoy someone else’s creation.


I am fond of clematis, but just have this single plant right now. It is climbing over a stump, the last remains of an old tree, and its blooms brighten a shady nook. This clematis is ‘Piilu’ — Little Duckling. Yes, I chose it for its name.


Just down the way from the clematis is Astrantia major ‘Sunningdale Variegated’, AKA masterwort. It’s variegated leaves made a nice splash in the spring garden, and now it is just coming into bloom with its rather interesting little flowers.


A bit farther down the walk is this pretty red lily. It predates me in the Willow House Garden. I haven’t planted lilies because I’m not prepared to do battle with the lily-leaf beetles (Lilioceris lilii). The beetle is native to parts of Europe and Asia. It is thought to have been introduced to North America through the import of plant bulbs around 1945, and I first spotted them in my garden about a decade ago. Their arrival in North America was a sad day for gardeners. Adult lily-leaf beetles are about 3/8 inch or 9 mm in length, with shiny red backs and a black head and underside. Both adults and larvae kill lilies by feeding on the leaves, and then the flowers. You can see the damage that has been inflicted on the foremost lily, although the rear flower is in pretty good shape.


Here’s the little rose called ‘Bubbles’. At first I was disappointed with how pale its flowers are, but on a dull day, they really light up, and I have gotten to like it.


I planted a few new Phlox paniculata this spring, and this one, ‘Swirly Burly’, is the first to bloom. It is only a small plant still, but has put out a lovely head of blooms.


Here is catmint (Nepeta x faassenii ‘Six Hills Giant’) blooming with yellow loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata ‘Golden Alexander’). They make a pleasing combination of colours, and just for good measure, a small pink yarrow has volunteered itself.

Stella d'Oro

The daylily season is just around the corner. There are plenty of flower scapes starting to show around the garden. One of the first to bloom is Stella de Oro, a sturdy and reliable early bloomer that is often used in landscaping.

Below is one of the first of the newer daylilies to bloom this year. It’s Coyote Moon, a soft yellow touched with cinammon that was hybridized by David Kirchhoff and introduced in 1994. The flowers are about 3 1/2 inches across and are held on scapes about 28 inches long. It won’t be long before many more daylilies brighten each day.

Coyote Moon

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Last weekend, I made a trip to the Toronto region to visit relatives. Close to the place where I was staying in suburbia, there is a little plaza that features an A&W and a bank. It was constructed a couple of years ago. Across the front of the property, a landscaped garden separates the parking lot from the sidewalk and street. I think they did quite a nice job. The strip makes an attempt at looking ‘natural’, with tall grasses, coneflowers, rugosa roses, a swath of daylilies and small shrubs. It was planted last summer and is just beginning to fill in and take hold. Not exactly native, but they tried. At the edge of the property, the landscaping abruptly ends. A sign indicates that a zoning change has been requested to expand the parking lot.


The plot just beyond the landscaped area has a dense plant cover, and it is much more raucous than the orderly planted strip. The bare ground left behind by the developers has quickly been taken over by a host of opportunists. No tidy patches of plants here, but a jumbled free-for-all as the invaders jockey for a good position. I took my camera and walked along the edge of the rough territory, recording the occupants closest to the sidewalk. I made no attempt to be all-inclusive, but just photographed what caught my eye. Here’s what I found.


There was a big patch of Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense), also known as creeping thistle. In spite of its name, Canada thistle is not a native plant at all. It arrived from Eurasia in the 1700s. It forms clonal colonies, spreading by deep underground runners until the ground around the first plants is a maze of thistles. All of the plants in a colony are either female or male. One female plant can produce up to 40,000 seeds, and each hardy seed can survive up to 20 years.


The dried seed-heads of Common Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) were poking up, scattered throughout the area, and this year’s crop was underway. Another European import, dried teasel heads were once used in industry to raise the nap on woolen fabrics. Teasel was once cultivated in New York state for use by the fabric industry. Now it is naturalized throughout much of North America.


Check out this fire hydrant! In the event of a fire, I hope the firemen will be able to find it! It has been embraced by Field Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis). You won’t be surprised to learn that Field Bindweed is a member of the morning-glory family, an aggressive black sheep of the family. Its tendrils, which wind tightly around whatever support is available, can complete a 360° twist in a bit more than an hour and a half. It’s spreading roots can reach up to 4 meters, sending out new shoots along their length. Field Bindweed is native to Europe and has naturalized across southern Canada and much of the U.S.


Adding a touch of brilliant colour is Perennial Sweet Pea (Lathyrus latifolius). It’s a native of southern Europe that has escaped from gardens in North America and sometimes moves in with a less cultivated crowd.


Here’s the sunshiny yellow of Bird’s-Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus). It was introduced to North America as a source of fodder for livestock. The name ‘Bird’s-Foot’ was inspired by the seed pods, which fan out like a bird’s claw. ‘Trefoil’ comes from the latin tria foliola for three leaflets, although this variety of trefoil actually has five.


These pretty daisy-like flowers belong to Scentless Chamomile (Tripleurospermum perforata). Its finely divided leaves make it easy to differentiate it from Oxeye Daisy. It is set off here by the purple of Bird Vetch (Vicia cracca). Both Scentless Chamomile and Bird Vetch are native to Eurasia and have now naturalized across much of North America. Tucked in with the Chamomile flowers, you can also see the round pink and white globe of Alsike Clover (Trifolium hybridum). Can you guess where it is native to? That’s right, Eurasia. Like other clovers, it improves poor soil because clover roots have small nodules with bacteria that fix nitrogen in the soil, making the nutrient available to other plants.


You’ve probably heard of the literary character, the Scarlet Pimpernel. He took his name from the flower on the signet ring with which he marked the sealing wax on his letters, the Scarlet Pimpernel. Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) is also known as Poor Man’s Weatherglass, because the flowers only open when the sun is shining, closing on overcast or wet days.


This healthy-looking Common or Lesser Burdock (Arctium minus) was growing at the edge of the pack. There are several types of burdock in North America, all Eurasian imports. Burdock spreads by seed, and its system for having its seed distributed is well-known to anyone who has walked though a patch of the plants and unintentionally picked up the hitch-hiking hooked burrs.


Another tall plant is Curly Dock (Rumex crispus). Reportedly, the new leaves of Curly Dock are edible, and very rich in vitamins, especially vitamins A and C. I haven’t tried them myself. Curly Dock is native to Eurasia and is a common weed around the world, with each plant capable of producing some 60,000 seeds.

Finally, rounding out this little sampling is the beautiful blue of the Chickory flower. Chickory (Cichorium intybus) has been used for food and medicinal purposes for centuries. It’s long tap-root can be dried and roasted to produce a caffeine-free coffee substitute, and young leaves may be included in mesclun salad mixes. This native of Europe is widely distributed across North America.

So there you have it, a quick overview of a dozen opportunists, and not a native North American plant amongst them.


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Gray Treefrog

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While I was working in the garden recently, I heard a ruckus coming from a tree near the river. Grackles were making a big fuss about something. I walked down to the tree to check out what the commotion was about. Smaller birds often mob owls or hawks that invade their territory, so I thought I might have an opportunity to see an owl, but I was wrong. It was a raccoon that had the birds so upset. It was difficult to see the raccoon amongst the branches, high up. I couldn’t tell if it was raiding a nest or not. It seemed to be just resting there. Or at least trying to rest, as the birds made brave attacks on the alien.


Having taken in the situation, I returned to work in the garden. After a while, I noticed that the birds had settled down. I walked back to the tree to see if the raccoon had left. Sure enough, there was no sign of the big raccoon. However, as I circled the tree, three heads popped out between two stems of the tree. A family of little raccoons! Perhaps the bigger raccoon hadn’t set out to rob a nest at all, but was simply looking for a break from her own nest full of half-grown youngsters!


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Last Sunday, these two Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) youngsters got their first view of the big, wide world. They were hatched in the pouch-like nest that their parents had built high in the outermost branches of a tree near the river. A dead branch allowed a pretty clear view of the high nest for we who are earthbound. One chick has moved out onto a branch, while a second is sitting at the edge of the nest. Orioles usually produce a clutch of 4 or 5 eggs, so another chick or two may still be in the nest, or perhaps have already set out.


Like most songbirds, oriole chicks have closed eyes and are hairless when they hatch. Such hatchlings are termed altricial. However, in one of nature’s many miracles, the chicks grow to close to the size of their parents and are fully feathered , ready to leave the nest and fly, in just 12 to 14 days! The parents will continue to feed the youngsters insects for a few days until they master flight and learn to find their own food. In the photo above, you can see the fledgling begging, whirring its wings and chirring to the parent, waiting to be fed.


Many songbirds raise two, or sometimes even 3 broods, or families, each summer and parents must work very hard to provide for their young. Sadly, many songbirds live short lives and die tragic deaths. These youngsters will have to contend with widespread habitat loss, pesticide poisoning, cats, windows, lights, towers, and other disasters-in-waiting ready to take their toll. These challenges are causing a slow but steady decline in songbird populations across the continent. In the last 3 to 4 decades, the songbird population has fallen by a horrifying 20 to 30%. How long will it be before, as Rachel Carson forecast, we face a silent spring? An excellent source of more information is Bridget Stutchbury’s book, Silence of the Songbirds, which I reviewed here. Some ways that you can help to protect songbirds are listed here:

How To Save A Songbird

Buy shade-grown coffee that is both organic and fairly-traded.

Buy organic produce

Avoid non-organic North American crops such as alfalfa, Brussel sprouts,blueberries, celery, corn, cotton, cranberries, potatoes and wheat.

Buy unbleached, recycled paper products

Turn off the lights at night in city buildings and homes during peak migration periods

Keep your cat indoors


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Colewort (Crambe cordifolia) is one of the delights of the early summer garden. Its charm never diminishes. Every year, it is just as amazing to see its cloud of blooms as it was the previous summer. When the first shoots of its big, dark green leaves appear in the spring, they give no hint of what is to come. Indeed, the low-growing mass of rather rugged leaves, resembling a rhubarb plant, borders on ugly. But then something surprising happens. From this unprepossessing beginning, tall, graceful branches spring upward and produce an airy mass of tiny white flowers. The effect has been compared to a giant gypsophilia, Baby’s Breath on steroids!


The flowers are heavily scented and draw a host of pollinators. Each tiny flower has four petals and 6 stamens, identifying the plant as a member of the mustard or cabbage family, Brassicaceae. Its family connection to cabbage is suggested by its common name, cole…think coleslaw…and wort, an Old English word for flower: Cabbage Flower. Colewort is also known as Giant Sea Kale.

The basal leaves don’t require a lot of space, but its tall flower stalks, five feet tall and four feet wide, form an impressive crown. If you have a roomy spot available in your perennial bed, Crambe cordifolia is a worthwhile addition. It is a long-lived plant that you will enjoy year after year.


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It’s official. Summer arrives today, Tuesday June 21st, at 1:16 PM. It’s the day the sun attains its highest point in the sky for the year. The sunrise in the Ottawa area is 5:14 AM. The sun sets at 8:55. It’s a long day, 15 hours, 40 minutes, 28 seconds. Living here in the Northern Hemisphere, I want to drink in every moment, every drop of sun, store up enough light and heat and life to last all winter long. Because the first day of summer, the longest day of the year, marks the year’s zenith, the day we begin the long slide back to winter.

As summer takes hold, all of nature seems caught up in the onslaught of days, the rush to fulfill a year’s worth of living in a few short months. When we visited Purdon Fen, the dragons of summer were on the wing. As the season progresses, the array of odonates, dragonflies and damselflies, changes. The spring fliers give way to summer specialists. The opening photograph captures a Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa), a small dragonfly found at well-vegetated ponds. Below is a Chalk-fronted Corporal (Libellula julia), a stocky gray and black dragonfly of northern ponds. Both belong to the Skimmer Family, Libellulidae, a large group of 105 species found in a wide variety of habitats, but especially ponds and marshes, where they are fierce predators of a variety of insects.


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It’s hard to believe that it has been two years since I first viewed the display of Showy Lady’s Slipper orchids (Cypripedium Reginae) at Purdon Conservation Area, northwest of Perth. This weekend, the weather was beautiful, and we enjoyed a family excursion on Father’s Day to see the orchids, which are just reaching their peak period of bloom.


Thanks to the efforts of Joe Purdon, a pioneer in conservation stewardship, the colony of a few dozen orchids, which he discovered on his property in the 1930s, has grown to 16,000 blooms. It is probably the largest display of Showy Lady’s Slipper orchids (Cypripedium Reginae) in North America. A well-maintained boardwalk allows visitors to stroll through the wetland and enjoy the remarkable display.


Fens are very special places. 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. When movement of water is completely obstructed, the fen becomes more acidic and develops into a bog.


A specialized plant community thrives in a fen. The Pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea) is carnivorous and uses insects for food. Rainwater collects in the hollow leaves of the plant, where an insect-digesting enzyme is mixed with the water. Insects are attracted into the leaves and are unable to escape because of smooth hairs at the opening. In this way, pitcher plants are able to survive in nutrient-poor environments where other plants could not. In early summer, wine and green-coloured flowers are produced on stems separate from the tubular leaves. The photograph above shows a birds-eye view looking down past the wine-coloured flower into the pitchers formed by the leaves.


Slender Cotton Grass (Enophorum viridi-carinatum) is actually a member of the sedge family. The long silky bristles of its fruit clusters give them the appearance of soft cotton. Cotton Grass is found in bogs and fens across boreal North America.


Tufted Loosestrife (Lysimachia thyrsiflora) features yellow globe-shaped flowers. Also known as False Buckwheat, it is found in swamps and fens across temperate North America. Other interesting plants that we observed include the Northern Green Orchid and Twinflowers. Below, Seabrooke (The Marvelous in Nature) captures a view of a Showy Lady’s Slipper.

(Just a note: The highly invasive alien, Purple Loosestrife, isn’t related to native loosestrifes and belongs to a totally different plant family. It should more properly be called Purple Lythrum (Lythrum salicaria))


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Full Moon Rising

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Dianthus is a genus of about 300 species of flowering plants mostly native to Europe and Asia. The name Dianthus is from the Greek words dios (“god”) and anthos (“flower”). Among the best known members of the genus are Carnations and biennial Sweet William. However, it is the low-growing perennial species known as Pinks that interest me. I first encountered Pinks in my grandfather’s garden. His Pinks formed rounded cushions of blue-grey foliage that in summer were topped with pink flowers. I’m not sure what it was about them that so pleased my young self. The novelty of blue-grey foliage where most plants are undeniably green, perhaps, or maybe just the neat and tidy nature of the rounded cushion.

arctic fire

I have a variety of dianthus species edging the garden entrance. They were added to the garden last year and are just hitting their stride now. Pictured above is ‘Arctic Fire’. It is a deltoides species, one of the Maiden Pinks, which form low, spreading mats of foliage.


And here is ‘Brilliant’. What a perfectly named flower! Even the dullest day can’t rob these flowers of their impact. ‘Brilliant’ is also a deltoides species, but so far is more compact than is ‘Arctic Fire’.


‘Little Boy Blue’ belongs to the allwoodii or Border Pink hybrid group. It is a little taller and more gangly than its neighbours. The light green foliage in the background belongs to ‘Moonbeam’, a Threadleaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’).


Here is ‘Snaps in Wine’, a gratianopolitanus species, or Cheddar Pink. There are many varieties of Cheddar Pinks, which have long been garden favorites, with their low cushions of grassy foliage. As you can see, Pinks don’t restrict themselves to pink flowers. A diverse range of interesting patterns is available. Cheddar Pinks are also known as among the most sweetly scented of the Pinks. Their perfume is often compared to the scent of cloves.


New hybrids are introduced every year. ‘Sangria Splash’, shown above with the flowers of a potentilla shrub, was developed by Kevin Hurd, a research horticulturist at Walters Gardens in Zeeland, Michigan, and was introduced in 2008.

‘Fire Star’, below, was developed by John Whetman of H.R. Whetman & Son in Devon, England. Whetman Pinks is a leading breeder of Pinks and you can see what’s new by visiting their website. ‘Fire Star’ has a nice, compact habit and has produced a bounty of eye-catching flowers.

None of these varieties quite matches my memory of my grandfather’s Pinks, which were obviously an old variety. I just purchased ‘Horatio’, which is listed as an heirloom variety and may resemble old-time Pinks more closely than newer hybrids. In any case, I’m sure it will be an enjoyable addition to my dianthus collection.


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