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seeds

Yesterday was a quiet day, and I decided I would get my tomato seeds started. I’m not a devoted vegetable gardener, and for the most part, I just direct sow seeds in the garden in the spring, or else purchase started plants at local nurseries. There is usually a good selection available once garden season begins.

Tomatoes are the exception. I like to experiment with unusual or heirloom varieties and therefore start my own tomato seeds. I purchased some at my local Seedy Saturday event, and others I ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I’ve never ordered from Baker Creek before and thought I’d give them a try this year. They put out an impressive catalogue.

My little seedlings do tend to get more leggy than plants you can purchase at a nursery, but I just plant the stems a little deeper, or in a shallow trough, and they’ve always done okay. This year, I have 8 varieties, representing an assortment of colours from purple to green to orange. Here’s my list:

Green Giant
Kellogg’s Breakfast
Nebraska Wedding
Blue Beauty
Captain Lucky
Pink Brandywine
Cherokee Purple
Ozark Sunrise

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During much of the summer, grasses form a backdrop for dazzling flowering plants, but come autumn, it’s their turn to shine. This is a Shenandoah Switchgrass or Panicgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’), a hybrid of a native grass. The seedhead stalks form an airy cloud of fine tracery. When the stems are beaded with morning dew and lit by the sun, panicum is as beautiful as any garden plant.

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Here’s a taller switchgrass, Panicum virgatum ‘Thundercloud’, which reaches about six feet.

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Another native hybrid is Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Prairie Blues’, or Little Bluestem. It forms a low-growing clump about 2 to 3 feet tall.

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The non-native miscanthus varieties, sometimes called Maiden Grass, are among the showiest grasses in the garden with their eye-catching plumes. This is miscanthus sinensis.

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The tallest perennial in the garden is Miscanthus giganteus. It towers over the garden at 10 to 12 feet tall. According to Wikipedia, it is a hybrid of Miscanthus sinensis and Miscanthus sacchariflorus and is currently used in the European Union as a commercial energy crop, as a source of heat and electricity, or converted into biofuel products such as ethanol, being more efficient than corn grown for that purpose.

I am content just to enjoy mine as a garden spectacle. Its tall stalks typically stay upright all winter until I cut them down in the spring.

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I’m especially fond of the pennisetums, or fountain grasses. This is Pennisetum Alopecuroides ‘Moudry’, or Black-flowering Fountain Grass. It was at its best back in September, when I took this photo. As their name implies, the fountain grasses form a gracefully arching clump.

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Finally, here are the distinctive seedheads of sea oats displayed on Chasmanthium latifolium ‘River Mist’, a variegated version of this North American native. River Mist was new to the garden this summer, but I’ve grown the green-leafed variety for some time. This grass is quite tolerant of shade and can make an interesting addition to a gloomy corner.

The plants shown here are all hardy perennials. There are also some very attractive grasses grown as annuals, but I haven’t tried any of them yet. Whether your garden is big or small, grasses can be worthy additions.

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Bottle Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii) is a native perennial that grows in damp meadows and woodlands with filtered light. It blooms late in the summer and into the fall. I took the photograph above late in September. The name ‘bottle’ refers to the odd flowers, which are compared to bottles. I prefer another common name, Closed Gentian, because what look like big fat buds never open. That’s it, what you see is what you get. It’s said that these flowers are pollinated by bumblebees because they’re the only insects strong enough to open the corolla tube.

The Bottle gentians growing in our field get to be about 2 feet tall. The leaves climb the stalk in opposite pairs, with a whorl of up to 7 leaves below the flower cluster. There are also a few Bottle gentians growing in the woods, and they tend to stay close to the ground, just a few inches tall.

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Gentians are a large family, with more than 300 species to be found around the world. They are usually associated with cool summers and often grow in alpine habitats in temperate regions of the globe. The brilliant blue featured by many gentians makes them desirable garden additions.

This summer, I added my first gentian plant to my garden, Gentiana ‘True Blue’. It’s a hybrid from breeder Darrell Probst that was introduced in 2008. Probst is best known for his work on epimedium, but he has been breeding and introducing a variety of new plants from his Massachusetts nursery, Garden Vision, for three decades. His introductions include Monarda ‘Raspberry Wine’ and Physostegia ‘Miss Manners’ and a series of coreopsis called Big Bang.

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Gentiana ‘True Blue’ is reported to grow to 24 inches tall, but in its first year here, it has remained low growing. It settled in well, and I was pleased when I noticed it was preparing to bloom! Next year, it should flower earlier in the season, but it is fun to have these bright blue flowers in October. Unlike its native cousin, True Blue opens its flower so you can fully appreciate them.

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I baked my first Grape Pie more than 35 years ago, when we first moved to our country home in North Halton. I was looking for a way to use up the grapes on the old Concord grape-vine that was well-established there. Grape pie became a family tradition for Thanksgiving, and I often freeze grapes or a pie for Christmas too. When we moved to Willow House, we missed our Concords. Of course, you can buy grapes in the fall, but it’s not the same as picking your own in the back yard. Consequently, we planted Concord vines 3 years ago, and this year there is enough of a crop for at least two pies.

According to Wikipedia, the Concord grape was developed in 1849 by Ephraim Wales Bull in Concord, Massachusetts. Bull planted seeds from wild Vitis labrusca and evaluated over 22,000 seedlings before finding what he considered the perfect grape, the original vine of which still grows at his former home. The new plants we are growing are called Seedless Concords. According to Cornell’s horticulture site, they aren’t really Concords at all, but they look and taste pretty much the same…but without the seeds.

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If you are using seeded grapes to make pie, you need to add a step to remove the seeds. Otherwise, your pie will be tooth-crackingly crunchy! Just pop the middles out of the grape skins and heat the middles in a pan for a few minutes over low heat until the seeds are released by the jelly-like centers. Then use a sieve to remove the seeds. Reunite the seedless middles with the skins.

Grape Pie

4-5 cups Concord grapes
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup flour
dash salt

1 Pie Pastry

For topping, mix 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 cup sugar. Cut in 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon of butter to form a crumb texture.

Stir the pie ingredients together and place in pie shell. Top evenly with crumb topping. Bake at 400 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes, until top is golden brown. Allow to cool before serving…if you can wait! Great with whipped cream.

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As we were hiking through a piney wood near the end of our Marble Rock hike, I noticed a couple of mushrooms tucked into the pine needles. What caught my eye was a glimpse of mauve blue. It seemed odd, on an otherwise unremarkable mushroom, and I stopped to take a closer look. I photographed the fungi for later identification purposes.

When out hiking, we try to follow the old adage “Tread lightly, take only pictures, leave only footprints, kill only time”. I gently lifted the mushroom cap, attempting to see what sort of a stem it had without disturbing it, but the cap popped off and fell upside-down on the forest floor. I was startled to see a blue liquid leaking from the gills and broken stem. Not pale blue, not watery blue, but bright, vivid blue!

It’s distinctive colouring made this mushroom easy to identify when I got home: Indigo Milk Cap, or Lactarius indigo. Lactarius species are called ‘milk mushrooms’ because when they are cut they bleed a latex-like fluid. The colour of the latex, and whether it changes colour as it oxidizes, helps to identify different species. There are a number of lactarius species that are common and widespread. Lactarius indigo is listed as widespread, but not common, in Ontario. It fruits on the ground in woods. Truly, it is the blue-blood of mushrooms!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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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marble

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Juniper berries

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

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Dogwood berries (Cornus sp)

Still climbing…

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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.

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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.

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

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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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norah

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.

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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.

catmint

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sweet2

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.

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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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Sunday Snapshot: Anemones

anemones

Anemones

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