Archive for September, 2013


Autumn Maple

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Japanese Painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum) have become popular in recent years and deservedly so. They flourish on little attention and add a boost of colour to the shady garden with their elegant silver, maroon and green fronds. There was a sad row of Japanese Painted ferns fighting off the weeds and struggling with too much sun when we took over the yard here. Since I divided the plants and resettled them in more appropriate shaded locations, they have done beautifully.


Japanese Painted ferns and other Athyrium ferns are sometimes called lady ferns. I didn’t find an explanation for this appellation. Perhaps they are so called because of their delicate beauty. In spite of their refined appearance, lady ferns are generally tough plants that grow well in the garden, and this summer I decided to add three more lady fern varieties to the shady border.


One of the most interesting is Athyrium filix-femina ‘Victoriae. Its fronds have an unusual criss-cross form. Half of each pinnae ascends at a 45 degree angle, while the other half points downward, resulting in a frond that looks like a series of X’s.


Athyrium filix-femina ‘Frizelliae’
is sometimes called tatting fern. It is a dwarfed form that won’t grow as large as ‘Victoriae’ above.


Its pinnae have been reduced to odd, semi-circular balls that look rather like beads. Presumably, at one time it reminded people of tatting, but the handicraft that its common name memorializes is rarely practised these days.


And finally, here is Athyrium otophorum, or Eared Lady Fern. It is noted for red to maroon stems that are set off by light creamy green fronds that take on a silver overlay as they darken with age. It struggled more than the other new plants and I think it was getting a bit more sun than it preferred. I moved it late in the season and it seems to be happier.


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As we lingered on the shore of Beaver Dam Lake, encountered on the Marble Rock Trail, we noticed strange, alien shapes in the water. They looked a bit like big masses of eggs, but autumn isn’t egg season.

The largest of the blobs was about a foot long or more. The masses seemed to be anchored to branches or debris in the water. A closer look shows that the mass surface was divided into segments with star-like white markings discernable.


That evening, I sought out more information about the blobs. Dr. Fred Schueler of Pinicola kindly came to my aid and quickly identified the mystery mass as Pectinatella magnifica, a freshwater bryozoan. Please visit Pinicola.ca for a wonderful photo of a Pectinatella magnifica mass out of the water, glowing like Einstein’s brain with the sun shining through it (Page 17). It is part of a very useful guide ot freshwater species. About Pectinatella magnifica, this information is offered:

Our conspicupous Bryozoan is the vast jelly colonies of Pectinatella magnifica, filter-feeding colonies, up to two metres in diameter, that disintegrate into floating dot-like statocysts to pass the winter, and germinate into new colonies in the spring. Colonies are always composed of clearly recognizable rosettes of zooids on the surface of the jelly mass. In the water the surface appears white
from the zooids’ lophophores, and brownish when the lophophores collapse when the colony is lifted out of the water. As water temperatures fall below 20°C in the fall the zooids form into statoblasts which are saddle shaped with a single row of flattened barbed spines.


The Encyclopedia of Life offers this information:

Bryozoans, also known as ectoprocts, are a family of small filter feeding invertebrates that live as colonies in aquatic habitats. Of the several thousand species of bryozoans, almost all live in marine environments. A set of exceptions are the 19 species in class Phylactolaemata which are found exclusively in freshwater lakes and resevoirs (Ruppert et al 2004). Pectinatella magnifica, the magnificent bryozoan, is one of these unusual freshwater bryozoan species, conspicuous in that it forms the largest colonies of the fresh water bryozoans (Wilcox 1906).

While most bryozoan colonies form as an encrusting layer on algae, pilings, or other submerged surfaces, a Pectinatella magnifica colony lives on the surface of a gelatinous mass. When starting a colony, an individual animal (called a zoid) hatches from a hard seedlike “statoblast” and buds to form a small number of identical individuals. This founding clump of zoids secrete a watery fluid that hardens to form a firm gelatinous core upon which the colony spreads as the zoids reproduce (first asexually and then sexually as the colony ages ) into visible rosettes of 10-18 individuals across the surface. Before the gelatinous skeleton of a young colony hardens, colonies may fuse their masses together and form mosaic colonies from more than one genotype (Henchman and Davenport 1913). An early study found that young colonies can propel themselves across the slippery surface of their gelatinous substrate by creating water currents with coordinated beating of the ciliated tentacles on their crown-shaped lophophore organ, a specialized filter feeding apparatus common to all bryozoans (Wilcox, 1906; Davenport 1899). Pectinatella magnifica colonies can grow large, more than two feet (60 cm) across, and are found as a somewhat slimy translucent brown mass usually attached to an underwater substrate but sometimes free floating (Van Der Waaij 2009; Wikipedia 2013).


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We haven’t done much hiking this summer. It seemed that it had just rained, was raining, or was about to rain all summer long. But last Friday was a perfect day, too nice to waste on mundane chores, and we headed out to the Marble Rock trail, north of Gananoque, Ontario. This region is part of the Frontenac Arch, an amazing section of the rugged Canadian Shield that dips down through southeastern Ontario and connects the far north bioregions with the Adirondack Mountains in New York state. The Arch marks an entirely different landscape from the surrounding plains. You can learn more about the Frontenac Arch here.


We completed the South Loop, with a side trip to the North Loop Lookout, a total of 4.7 miles (7.5 km). The east side of the South Loop is the most demanding terrain. If you aren’t climbing up a slope, you’re clambering down another, and the rocky ground can be treacherous. But the scenery is gorgeous.


The forest is primarily deciduous, with trees just beginning to take on the hues of autumn. You didn’t have to look up to know that oak trees were well represented in the diversity. The path was littered with acorns for much of its length, a bounty for wildlife.


Oak trees (Quercus spp) can be divided into two groups, red oaks and white oaks. The red oaks have leaves with pointy-tipped lobes, while the white oaks have rounded lobes. Both were represented in the forest.

Red Oak (Pointed tips)

White Oak (rounded tips)

Acorns weren’t the only nuts to be seen. The shagbark hickory trees (Carya ovata) were also offering up a good crop.

Hickory nuts

Check out the shaggy bark on this example.


Junipers are most often encountered as low-growing shrubs on rocky ground, but there was a sprinkling of pretty, upright juniper trees (Eastern juniper or Eastern Redcedar Juniperus virginiana) decorated with their bluish seeds.


Juniper berries

Around open, damp areas, the white berries of dogwood shrubs stood out on their red twigs.


Dogwood berries (Cornus sp)

Still climbing…


I liked the way this millipede, about 2 inches long, blended so well with the colour of an old log.

Flat-backed Millipede (Polydesmida sp)

And here’s a Hickory Tussock Moth (Lophocampa caryae) caterpillar hurrying through the leaves.

Hickory Tussock (Lophocampa caryae)

This tree has been attacked by Phomopsis galls. The galls appear as a cluster of nodules tightly pressed together. When cut open they consist of woody tissue that is a bit disorganized in comparison to the normal wood. Galls of affected trees may develop for several years then die.

Phomopsis galls of hickory

This attractive vine is Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens).

Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens)

The leaves of this clump of sharp-lobed hepatica (Hepatica nobilis acuta) are attractive even without the pretty flowers that will bloom next spring.


This colony of ground pine clubmoss (Lycopodium obscurum) looks like a stand of tiny, 6-inch tall pine trees. Clubmosses are ancient plants that were once 50-foot giants, but now carpet forest floors.

Ground Pine (Lycopodium dendroideum)

Rock Polypody (Polypodium virginianum) seems to grow right out of the rock. Their rhizomes and roots trap leaves and other debris to build up a thin layer of soil.

rock polypody (Polypodium virginianum)

It’s not just ferns that can seem to grow from rock. We came across this very large windfall along the trail.


We were amazed to see that much of the ground that lay under its trunk was rock.


We walked through a little grove of Musclewood, or Blue-Beech trees (Carpinus caroliniana). Their smooth bark has longitudinal ridges that really do seem reminiscent of muscles, making them easy to identify.

Musclewood or Blue-Beech (Carpinus caroliniana)

Finally, we reached the North Loop Lookout and settled down on the rocky ledge to enjoy the view as we ate our well-earned lunch.


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Sunlit Forest

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Tonight, the September full moon, the harvest moon, is lighting the sky. We’ve been enjoying a few days of perfect weather, with cool nights followed by sunny days that still hold the warmth of summer. The cold nights have finally freed us from swarms of mosquitos and flies and the horses, instead of huddling in their shelter all day, trying to avoid the heat and biting insects, have been enjoying life. Enjoying being horses, wandering deep into their field, feeling free. Content.


When I went out to check on my little herd this evening, I found that an evening mist was rising from puddled water as the night air cooled. That’s Diva on the left, then Czarina and the two donkeys, Teddy and Louis. When Teddy first joined us, he was the same size as Louis, but he kept on growing and growing… Now he’s quite a bit bigger. But that hasn’t detracted at all from their deep friendship. They’re always together. Can you see Louis’ ears?


They followed me up the field and into the barn for their evening grain. When they had finished, I opened their stall doors and they hurried back to their field, returning to being wild horses, breathing in the night air under the harvest moon.


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Here’s the phlox ‘Norah Leigh’ shining like a beacon in the morning sun. It’s still going strong, and with many other plants starting to die back around it, it is quite an eye-catcher. It’s variegated leaves really catch the light and the flowers are very cheerful.

There really was a Norah Leigh. She lived from 1884 to 1970 and was a keen gardener from the Cotswold region of England. Her daughter married nurseryman Joe Elliott, son of Clarence Elliott of Six Hills Nursery. It was her son-in-law Joe who propagated this variegated phlox and named it after Norah.


Six Hills Nursery was founded in Hertfordshire, England, in 1907. Clarence Elliott was an alpine specialist, who travelled widely in search of new alpines. His nursery carried a full range of plants, however. One of the most widely known is a catmint, Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’, which I have in my garden. Here it is, blooming in July.


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I found an old wooden stepladder in the barn when we first moved here. I moved it out into the garden and stapled some chicken wire to the front. It makes an interesting support for climbers. For a couple of years, I grew annual vines such as scarlet runner beans up the ladder. Last year, I decided to do something more permanent, and planted a Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis terniflora) at its feet.


In its first year, the vine just made it to the top of the ladder and only flowered modestly. This year, it has settled in and now looks very showy. As its common name suggests, this is a late-blooming clematis, but it is well worth the wait and makes a star attraction in the autumn garden, just when other plants are calling it a year. I had in mind that the vine might swing over the entrance to the larch tree tunnel, twining over the tree branches, and it is making a start. Maybe next year, it will fully embrace the entrance. Or perhaps I should start a second vine on the other side to meet it halfway.


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Diva and Ponygirl

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This spring, I added two red-hot pokers, Kniphofia hirsuta ‘Fire Dance’, to the red and gold border. They were blooming when I purchased them, and I wasn’t expecting anything more from them this year. I was very pleased, therefore, when both plants threw up a few more pokers for the fall season. The flowers of Fire Dance are more traditionally coloured than those of Shining Sceptre, and the scapes are much shorter. While those of Shining Sceptre reached 5 feet, Fire Dance is a good plant for a rock garden or the front of the border, standing only about 20 inches tall.


Across the yard from Fire Dance is Ice Dance, a sedge. Sedges are similar to grasses, forming clumps of foliage. They mostly prefer moist, shady conditions, but will tolerate some sun. About a foot tall, Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’ has attractive green leaf blades trimmed with white and makes a good foil for hostas. It is rated as a slow spreader. I have just a couple of clumps used as specimens, but you can mass Ice Dance to form a tidy ground cover.


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