Archive for July, 2013


Toms River: A story of science and salvation by Dan Fagin. Bantam Books 2013.

For most of its existence, the community of Toms River, in New Jersey, was a sleepy little hamlet set on the banks of its eponymous river. Things began to change in 1949. That’s when a major chemical company, Ciba, purchased a huge 1,350 acre property with one edge bordering the river. The Swiss-owned company hollowed out a 35 acre site in the midst of the dense pine stands that covered the property and set about building the facilities where they planned to produce thousands of pounds of vat dyes every day, around the clock, as cheaply as possible. Ciba had been making vat dyes in Basel since 1907 and in Cincinnati for almost as long before moving to Toms River.

Ciba became a major employer in the depressed area with limited opportunities and, at its peak, had more than a thousand employees. Toms River began to grow rapidly and suburban areas sprang up outside the factory gates. Ciba was a good neighbour, offering well-paying jobs and supporting community undertakings. But Ciba was also a major polluter. The huge amounts of toxic waste that were produced in the dye manufacturing process had to be disposed of. Toxic waste was dumped in the waters of little Toms River, buried in lagoons where it leaked into groundwater, incinerated and released into the air, and pumped through a miles-long pipeline into the Atlantic Ocean. Nor was Ciba the only polluter. Union Carbide was also responsible for the improper storage of waste poisons.

There was plenty of blame to go around for the resulting mess. The town’s water supplier kept problems with water quality secret as it struggled to keep up with burgeoning demand, and government officials at every level turned a blind eye to the pollution. After decades of polluting, Ciba eventually wound up its operations in Toms River, with some of the production work moving to cheaper Asian factories. But not before the town’s water supply was impacted and some people began asking questions about the number of childhood cancers being diagnosed in the area.

After government investigations costing millions of dollars were completed, some 60 families with children with cancer received compensation. The factory dumps and the Union Carbide dump site became Superfund cleanup initiatives.

That’s a very brief accounting of events. In Toms River, Dan Fagin relates the six decades that followed the arrival of the chemical plant in detail. His writing is thorough and unrushed, but never dull. The facts are fleshed out with interesting background information about the chemical industry, the history of cancer research, and the difficulties relating to recognising cancer clusters. Many citizens of Toms River, factory workers, medical workers, state employees, researchers and others are brought to life in the pages of Fagin’s book. Although Toms River is not light reading, it doesn’t drag and there is some feeling of closure in the conclusion. Fagin looks only at human costs of the pollution and does not attempt to address the toll pollution has taken on the natural world.

The book is subtitled A Story of Science and Salvation. Science, maybe, but I don’t know about salvation. Things will never be completely “normal” in Toms River. All those chemicals can never be 100% reclaimed. And as for improved oversight, as recently as 2005, two senior executives working for the town’s water supplier, United Water, faked a safety test and filed a false report rather than take wells offline over concerns of radium contamination.

The thing about Toms River is that although the details are specific to one town, the larger story is told again and again and again, ad nauseam. A quick search with Google turned up the ongoing battle of citizens in Pompton Lakes in northern New Jersey. A report by Ben Horowitz for the Star-Ledger reads:

DuPont manufactured explosives at the 570-acre site from 1902 to 1994 and has been responsible for the cleanup since 1988. Its practices contaminated surface water, soil, sediment and groundwater both on and off site, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s website.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has primary responsibility for investigating and overseeing the cleanup of the former manufacturing facility, while EPA is the lead agency for the cleanup of the nearby Acid Brook Delta, the EPA said.

Lisa Riggiola, executive director of Citizens for a Clean Pompton Lakes, said the groups believe full federal control “will bring true oversight and ensure that a goal will be set for a high-standard residential cleanup.”

Riggiola said Acid Brook, which links the DuPont site to Pompton Lake, was recently found by the EPA to be “recontaminated.”

Christie defended the DEP’s management of the site at a press conference Tuesday, when the groups presented petitions signed by 10,000 people demanding the Superfund designation.

“I would say to the folks in Pompton Lakes, be careful what you wish for,” Christie said. “There are EPA Superfund sites all over the state that have not been remediated under the supervision of the EPA under any administration … I think the DEP has a good plan and they’re moving forward with it.”

Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club’s New Jersey chapter, said the DEP “has mismanaged this site for years, and it has only worsened with toxic chemicals spreading under people’s homes.”

While the chemical dumps involved in these cases were established years ago, there is no sign that things are changing. For an eye-opening look at the trampling of citizens’ rights to clean drinking water, Gasland II is essential viewing. The documentary was shown on HBO recently and is well worth catching. Here’s a link to the Gasland website.

Here in Canada, of course, we have the Alberta tar sands disaster well under way. While governments should be protecting the rights of citizens and ensuring that development only progresses at a pace that allows for adequate oversight and the preservation of water resources, instead governments at every level abdicate their responsibility. A recent report showed that Alberta acts on less than 1% of environmental violations in the tar sands. Citizens of Fort Chipewyan have had an uphill battle looking for help with concerns over cancer.

Even the recent Lac-Megantic disaster can be laid at the feet of government agencies that looked the other way as safety regulations were gutted. Maude Barlow’s article on this topic is linked here. The following is a short excerpt.

Starting back in the 1970s, the US government deregulated rail transport, allowing deep staff reductions, the removal of brakemen from trains and lower safety standards for shipping hazardous materials. Canadian governments followed suit and allowed the railways to self-regulate safety standards and continue to ship oil in the older, accident-prone tanker cars of the kind that crashed into Lac-Mégantic.

Just last year, Transport Canada gave Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railways the green light to run each train with just one engineer, which explains how one man came to be in charge of 72 cars and five locomotives carrying combustible energy through inhabited communities.

For an introduction to environmental cancers you can do no better than Sandra Steingraber’s fine book Living Downstream, also available as a documentary film. Toms River is a worthy addition to the literature of industrial pollution and cancer.

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The first time I encountered Tiger Eyes Sumac at the Montreal Botanical Garden, it was love at first sight. They had two specimens pruned into small trees. Gorgeous! That fall, I purchased several for my own garden. This summer is their second full season here. Sumacs are generally unruly, invasive plants and there are mixed reports on how aggressive Tiger Eyes (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’ Tiger Eyes®) may be. I’m keeping an eye out for any tendency to take over the garden. At the moment, everything is under control and I have derived a lot of pleasure from its presence in the border.


This spring, one of my projects was to develop a red and gold theme (extending to burgundy and yellow) around the sumac. A beautiful backdrop of mature bright yellow hostas, mostly August Moon, was already in place. There is also a little Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’ in this section of the border. Japanese maples are borderline hardy for this zone (Zone 5 Canadian, 4 USDA), so its longterm survival is in some doubt. However, it survived its first winter here, albeit with a bit of dieback.


In front of the hostas, I added a line of small barberry bushes (Berberis thunbergii ‘Gentry’). The dark burgundy leaves contrast nicely with the yellow hostas.


This is the second summer for these Japanese Forest Grass clumps (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) and they are beginning to fill in.


I chose this penstemon (Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’) for its dark burgundy-flushed foliage rather than its stalks of pink flowers, which are an added bonus.


I love this Japanese Blood Grass (Imperatata cylindrica ‘Rubra’). I have some doubt about its hardiness. It is new this year, so this winter will be its first test. Pretty, though, isn’t it?


Here’s Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, also new this year. The flowers are exquisite.


I divided a single clump of the daylily Vesuvian (Hemerocallis ‘Vesuvian’) this spring, and both divisions have bloomed as if they were never disturbed. It’s a gorgeous, velvety deep red daylily that performs well.


This Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’ was a gift from my daughter Fiddlegirl’s garden last summer. It struggled back this spring and has grown moderately. It’s colourful leaves are very striking and I hope it strengthens its toehold in the garden.


I discovered this golden St. John’s Wort variety (Hypericum calycinum ‘Brigadoon’) at a local nursery this spring and was totally wowed by its brilliant foliage, which absolutely glows on a dull day. I got enough plants to try it in several locations in the garden.


One of the most difficult challenges of gardening is estimating how much space to leave individual plants such that everything will fill in nicely as the plants mature. This year, I filled in empty ground with annual red begonias and impatiens. I hope this bed will be fuller next summer. Then maybe I’ll have a year or two before the sumac runs rampant and the shrubs grow twice as big as expected and the perennials need dividing…


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If you are looking for a way to enliven your garden, you can do no better than to invite a House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) to make your yard his home. These vivacious little birds will provide your garden with its own natural soundtrack. Our current wren is pictured above, singing his effervescent babbling-brook song from a treetop at the foot of the garden.

Wrens are not shy birds and readily nest close to human dwellings, a fact that no doubt is reflected in their name. Attracting a wren to your yard is simple. Just provide appropriate nesting boxes. These tiny birds are adaptable, and will check out a range of accommodations, but ideally, a box should be placed about 5 to 8 feet high. A site that receives some sun but is shaded from the hottest part of the day is ideal. It should be out of easy reach for predators such as raccoons, or have a baffle installed. House wrens need an entrance hole of 1 1/4 inches. If you are building your own nest boxes, plenty of plans are available online.


It’s good to have a few boxes placed in a variety of locations around the yard. Male wrens start several nests in the hope of attracting a female. Which nest start becomes home to his chicks is left to his lady friend to decide. This summer, a House Wren pair successfully fledged young from the box on the left, above. A dummy nest was built in the box to the right.

The birds will also appreciate several sources of water. I have 3 bird baths in the garden.


This box also appeals to wrens, but this summer a pair of Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) raised a family here. Their young fledged about the same time as the wren babies.

I have never used pesticides in my garden, making it a bird-friendly territory. Wrens offer a free insect-control program in return for their housing. Bird parents are kept busy all day hunting for insects to feed their rapidly growing youngsters who leave the nest in an incredibly short period, just 15 to 17 days.

Below is a video that I made a few days ago, a 360 degree panorama of the garden. Unfortunately, my little camera is really not up to this task, and you can here it clicking as the focus changes. However, the bubbly song of the wren can still be heard in the background.

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Dun Skipper butterfly (Euphyes vestris) on Flaming Wildfire daylily.

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This cartoon was created to celebrate World Wetlands Day on February 2nd. It marks the date of the adoption of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands on February 2, 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. 2013 is the UN International Year for Water Cooperation.

If you think oil is the most valuable liquid on earth, try living a few days without water. Here in Canada we are fortunate to be able to take clean water for granted. It won’t stay that way if we don’t look after this invaluable, life-sustaining, better-than-gold resource.

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Whose swamp this is I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his swamp…

Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch. But I think of Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening whenever I stop to appreciate this wetland that is bisected by a paved road on my route to Prescott. It evokes the same sense of stillness that Frost’s poem deftly captures.

If time allows, I park my car on the shoulder, turn off the ignition and climb out to gaze over the water. On a hot summer’s day, the heat of the sun envelopes me and a deep, penetrating silence settles into my bones. Soon the abundant life of the wetland becomes apparent, the quiet sounds of birds and frogs, dragonflies zipping back and forth, littles intensely living out their lives.

On the west side of the road, the wetland runs toward swamp, with dead trees and snags punctuating the water surface. To the east, the wetland is more marshy, with cattails and open water. In winter, it is dotted with muskrat houses.


I especially enjoy watching the dragonflies. The cast of characters changes across the season. When I visited early in July, the water surface was alive with bluets, brilliant blue damselflies. (There are a number of bluet species, difficult to differentiate.) Many were curled into copulation wheels, whereby the male transfers a packet of sperm to the female. This can take a few minutes or as long as an hour. Soon after mating, the female will lay her eggs in water or on plant material.


This weekend, Easter Pondhawks (Erythemis simplicicollis) predominated. They’re members of the Skimmer family, Libellulidae.


As I watched, I could see many females skimming the surface, dipping into the water, depositing their eggs.

>Female Eastern Pondhawk

Others were wrapped in copulation wheels, the female in the rear or lower position.

Eastern Pondhawks

I was startled when a heron that I hadn’t even noticed suddenly flew up with an extended loud expression of its annoyance. It flew across the road and settled far along the edge of the east marsh, away from my prying eyes.


When I crossed to the east side of the road, a little flock of Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) kept a close eye on me and let out their distinctive alarm shrieks before whirling away to a more distant mudflat. They were keeping company with some Upland Sandpipers (Bartramia longicauda). You can just see one peeking out to the right of the Killdeer.


The water surface was dotted with little yellow flowers, bladderwort (Ulticularia sp). Can you spot the frog watching me?


I could hear a bird sound coming from the cattails and walked up the road to get a better view. I thought it might be a bittern, and didn’t really expect to see anything. Bitters are very hard to spot in vegetation. I was surprised to find instead this chicken-sized bird strolling along the water’s edge.


A Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)! In spite of the name, moorhens aren’t a very common sight and I was delighted to encounter this one. There was some movement of something dark behind her, but I wasn’t able to make out what it was. Perhaps she had chicks with her. What an exciting find!


I was sorry to leave, but I had errands to run. Miles to go…


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After the Storm

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We had a very rainy early summer, and I was worried that the lack of sun might suppress flower production among the daylilies, but that hasn’t proved to be the case. There is a fine display of brilliant blooms. Walking through the garden during daylily season reminds me of Emerson’s line from Hamatreya, although the context is not the same: Earth laughs in flowers. And I laugh too.

Jerry Hyatt

Jerry Hyatt (Hanson 2004)

Choo Choo Fantasy

Choo Choo Fantasy (Pickles 1995)

Alpha Centauri

Alpha Centauri (Hanson 1992)

Mystical Rainbow

Mystical Rainbow (Stamile 1988)

Raspberry Bouquet

Raspberry Bouquet (Bomar 1994)

Geneva Firetruck

Geneva Firetruck (Hansen 2000)

Tangerine Horses

Tangerine Horses (Kaskel 1996)

Doug's Red Mercedes

Doug’s Red Mercedes (Williams 1996)

Galena Gilt Edge

Galena Gilt Edge (Blocher)

Moonlight Orchid

Moonlight Orchid (Talbott 1986)

Blue Voodoo

Blue Voodoo (Rice 2005)

Coyote Moon

Coyote Moon (Kirchhoff 1994)

Ruby Spider

Ruby Spider (Stamile 1991)

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Flutterbye (Childs 1981)

Here are a few more daylily faces. It’s traditional to show single daylily blooms in photographs so that the intricacies of the flower can be appreciated. Lest you should think that daylilies just bloom one flower at a time, however, I’ve included a few clumps.

I demonstrated great restraint this spring, and didn’t add a single new daylily cultivar to the garden, leaving the hemerocallis count at 140 varieties, so these photos represent just a modest sampling, taken at random according to what looked good to the camera.

Earth Angel

Earth Angel (Stamile 1987)

Rue madeline

Rue Madeline (Carr 1992)

Prague Spring

Prague Spring (Lambert 1989)

Chesapeake Crablegs

Chesepeake Crablegs (Reed 1994)


Asterisk (Lambert 1985)

Slow Burn

Slow Burn (Salter 1996)

Blonde is Beautiful

Blonde is Beautiful (Harris Benz 1985)

Magic Carpet Ride

Magic Carpet Ride (Kirchhoff 1992)

Beautiful Edgings

Beautiful Edgings (Copenhaven 1989)

Electric Man

Electric Man (Culver 2007)

August Morn

August Morn (Carpenter 1995)

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Country Melody

Country Melody (Klehm 1987)

I love the spring season in the garden, when new growth is everywhere. It’s very exciting and inspiring. But for brilliant, happy, boisterous colour, there is nothing like the midsummer daylily season. These easy-care no-fuss perennials come in a wide range of colors and shapes and sizes, and brighten the garden for weeks. As each individual flower blooms for just one day, every morning brings a new bouquet. Here are some of the daylilies blooming right now. Each flower is labeled with its name, hybridizer, and the year the hybrid was registered with the American Hemerocallis Society.

Angelic Grin

Angelic Grin (Joiner 1992)

Giggle Creek

Giggle Creek (Culver 2000)

Ghost of Thunder Road

Ghost of Thunder Road (Hanson 2001)

Cameroons with Chance Encounter

Cameroons (Munson 1984) with Chance Encounter (Stamile 1994)

Serena Dancer

Serena Dancer (Marshall 1986)

New Series

New Series (Carpenter 1982)

Key West

Key West (Trimmer 1999)

Karen's Curls

Karen’s Curls (Reinke 1997)

Big Smile

Big Smile (Apps 1999)

Mata Hari

Mata Hari (Brooks 1981)

Troubled Sleep

Troubled Sleep (Hanson 1998)

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