Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Triumphs and Tragedies

The last few weeks have been a bit of a challenge.  Hubby is still in Toronto so I am managing the house alone, which frankly, is a heck of a lot of work.  The blog has suffered and I can't remember the last time I posted a Triumph and Tragedies.  If ever there was a week to do so now is the time.

Many of you know that Hurricane Irene passed through these parts over the weekend.  Much time was spent in preparation, putting away emergency supplies in the house and cleaning up the outdoors.  Patio furniture, BBQ, flower pots and other odds and ends were packed up.  Although Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it arrived in PEI it is always better to be safe than sorry. 

The positives of this post are that myself and the cats are all okay, the house is still standing with roof intact, the shingles are still attached and the large trees are still upright.  I can't ask for anything more.

There were however some casualties.  Like this Hydrangea paniculata 'Little Lamb'.  The beautiful flowers were beheaded, one after another, lying limp or strewn across the yard.

My Plume Poppy which had reached heights of six feet tall this year just cannot handle wind.  I thought it would be safer behind the garage and moved it there in the spring but the wind found it anyway.

Plume poppy is now laying across the bed covering hostas and hollyhocks
The heavy tall plants collapsed and the roots were pulled right out of the ground.
The plant will need to be cut right down at this point.  This is the one time where the invasive nature of the Plume Poppy will come in handy as it should have no trouble regrowing next spring.

In the back bed dahlias full of buds that had not yet opened broke off at the base of the plant.

On and on it goes.  Shrubs with broken branches, perennials falling over, tomatoes collapsed.  It was a hard walk around the garden last night.  The apple orchard was the worst though.  See the small tree in the photo below, loaded with bright apples.  They were several weeks away from ripening.

The photo below is from last night.  Only a couple apples remain in the branches.

All blown away.  Worse, when I inspected the tree I discovered part of the reason.  This tree grows out of an old stump and I suppose the base was not that stable.  Closer inspection revealed this.

The tree is broken at the base.  I haven't had time to deal with it yet but I suspect the entire tree will need to be removed.  Honestly I think the weeds are the only thing holding it up.  This is such a shame because this tree was producing really lovely large apples and the tree itself wasn't too large so it was easy to pick.  It also creates another problem.  I had planned this bed with the idea this tree would create shade for several plants and now I'm going to need to rethink my strategy.

The rest of the orchard did not fare much better.  A step under the tree canopy revealed this.

Those are apples that you see.  Lots and lots and lots of apples.  The ground is covered with them.  Every tree shed about half its load and none of these apples are ripe.  They are all weeks away from being ready and now they are exceedingly bruised too. 

The sight of so many apples on the ground was just downright depressing but I'm also worried about the apples left in the trees.  Being tossed around in the wind, knocking against branches and other apples can cause a lot of damage.  It really hit me last night how farmers must feel.  You work so hard and then lose it all in the single day.  I am not reliant on this orchard for money so my loss is only a personal one.  But I caught a glimpse of what it must be like to be reliant on mother nature and it wasn't pleasant. 

Rather than leave you on that hugely depressing note I'm including a photo of a sunflower.  They suffered a few broken branches but remained standing for the most part (although they have a serious lean on them now).

This pretty face belongs to Ruby Eclipse, a cutting sunflower I purchased from Veseys this spring.  It's pretty hard to not be lifted up by such beauty.

Friday, August 26, 2011

August Bouquet

At the end of an evenings work I looked around the garden to see if there was any other small chore I could cram in.  Just a half hour more of light before I would need to go in.  Instead of finding a chore I realized I hadn't picked any flowers in quite some time.  So here is my late summer bouquet, full of dark rich yellows in the fading evening light.

The double flowered Rudbeckia laciniata 'Golden Glow' cozies up to an unknown Hydrangea.

French marigolds Vanilla and an unknown cultivar are shown in the above photo.  I really love the creamy blossoms of the Vanilla marigold.

Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm' was planted in a far off corner last year and has been ignored ever since.  True to its reputation it has grown wonderfully with no coddling necessary.

This bouquet was kept simple with just yellows and whites, including the vase.

Each month I am inspired by Noelle at Ramblings from a Desert Garden to bring a little sunshine from the garden into my home.  If you would like to participate, send Noelle your virtual bouquet so it can be featured on her blog.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Aiken House and Gardens

A day or two prior to leaving town on vacation I decided to take in my very first garden tour.  Hubby was already in Toronto and I had the afternoon to myself so it was the perfect opportunity.  I have been to plenty of public gardens before but never a private garden so this was a new experience for me.  The thing that jumped out at me right away was how a private garden is so distinctly that of the person who created it.  Aiken House and Gardens is thoroughly the creation of Carolyn Aiken and her romantic flare jumped out at me from every corner.  Baskets full of flowers, statues, water fountains, tables set for tea, Victorian books and linens popped up in unexpected places and set the tone throughout.

I just loved this chicken guarding the table set for tea

If only all scarecrows looked this classy!

charming cherubs

There's a beautiful day bed hidden in this alcove.
Perfect for whiling away a summer's afternoon
Almost as soon as I arrived I chastised myself for not bringing the big camera with me.  Initially I had not wanted to lug it around and be 'that girl' with the ginormous camera but now I'm sorry I didn't capture better photos of the sights I saw that day.  I also managed to run out of memory space on my small camera and that meant finding a spot to sit and transfer photos to a memory card mid-tour.  Luckily that turned out to not be a problem at all as this garden was full of pleasant spots to sit a moment.  I had no trouble finding a quiet place to sit and muck with the camera.

The perfect spot to sit and fiddle with my camera
I sat in this cozy nook, listening to water running from an almost hidden fountain, surrounded by the flowers of Hydrangea and Astrantia.  I could have stayed hidden there all afternoon, it would have been a real pleasure.  Another Carolyn - from Carolyn's Shade Gardens - recently wrote a post about garden seating and how it not only about providing seating but is also for viewing and can evoke feelings in the viewer.  Wandering around that afternoon that post really came to light for me as the seating not only provided a spot to sit but reflected the style of the garden and it's romantic tone.

Tempting to sit but also lovely to gaze at.  The blue highlights drew me in.
Another design feature I really admired was the use of paths leading you through the garden.  I never felt lost at any moment.  I easily walked from the entrance and through each garden, one path leading to the next.

It was as easy as following the path

A small detail, greatly admired, was the use of the same colour in different shades.

In the photo above is royal purple Jackmanii clematis, lavender and white monkshood and a bluish purple hydrangea.

But perhaps my favourite spot in this garden, the one that made me swoon and say I have to Have That! was this grove of Staghorn Sumac.

The lower limbs appear to be pruned creating an inviting spot to hide in the shade.  I couldn't resist.

This native shrub is so exotic looking, and the architecture of the plant so defined.  It's really eye catching on its own but to see so many in this grouping was awe inspiring.

There were so many details swirling in my brain after this tour.  Plants I admired, things I would like to try.  It was a great energy booster and I wanted to run to my own garden afterward and get straight to work. 

I would like to thank Carolyn for opening up her garden to the public that afternoon.  It was a wonderful treat and greatly enjoyed.  Please visit Carolyn at her blog Aiken House & Gardens to see many more wonderful photos of her gardens.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Mission Accomplished

Last year in September I spotted a caterpillar in my carrot patch.  He looked like this.

Such a beautiful insect that I had to look it up to see what it might be.  I found out that it was the larvae of a Black Swallowtail butterfly.  These larvae particularly like to feed on plants in the carrot family, which would explain its presence in my veggies.  The funny thing is I had never seen a black swallowtail butterfly in my garden at all.  I'm not sure where this larvae came from but I intended to do something about it.  This spring, in addition to my vegetable seeds, I added parsley and dill (both in the carrot family) to my seed order.  They have grown quite lush and the dill is probably 3 or 4 feet high now.
Dill - tasty but also ornamental
Today while doing some gardening chores I noticed a very large dark butterfly flitting about the veggie garden.  I dropped what I was doing to look closer at it and was surprised to see this.

An unfortunate photo but the best I got as she just wouldn't slow down
What a beautiful butterfly.  I might not have guessed what it was but it couldn't seem to leave the dill well enough alone and I remembered.  Black Swallowtails lay their eggs on dill!  As I watched, this butterfly stopped on the dill plants again and again, dipping its tail which I assume meant it was laying eggs.  It appears I have succeeded in attracting butterflies to my garden.  I'm elated.  It's a small step but considering this space was barren lawn over a year ago I'm so excited to see insects returning.  As I watched this butterfly dip and fly it did occur to me though, what could it be feeding on?  The larvae will eat the dill but what does the butterfly eat?  Have I planted enough flowers for it to live?  I haven't seen these butterflies before now so I have to assume they're getting food elsewhere.  The next step will be to start planting flowers for feeding butterflies.  Any suggestions?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back from Vacation

We're in the last stretch of summer and so it was time to take a vacation.  Although I love my island home, and even though it is a top tourist destination, a break from the ordinary is always a treat.  For us that meant a trip to the big city of Toronto with all the hustle and bustle that comes with it.  I have no interest to live in the city again but I do like to visit and take part, for a short time, all that it has to offer.  Which meant a different dinner location every night - Mexican, Hungarian, Indian, Japanese, French...  A tour of the world via my plate.  yum.  Followed by theatre, the art gallery and the Royal Ontario Museum.

The Crystal
This was my first chance to see the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal and from the outside I thought the look was quite impressive.  I have to admit though, from inside the museum, I wasn't as enthusiastic.  The angles produced made the museum layout awkward and I was disappointed at the lack of light and openness.  Regardless of the architecture the museum offered many impressive displays and we spent a lot of time in the European Evolution of Style exhibit.  At antique shops and auctions I have often heard of these funny shelves referred to as 'whatnots'.

I thought this was just a cute term for something that didn't otherwise have a name.   I was wrong.

"WhatNot - Standing sets of shelves for displaying ornaments and
souvenirs first appeared in the early 1800's."
We also spent a lot of time simply wandering the streets, admiring shop windows and buildings.  I particularly loved this impressive glass ceiling built over the street between two old buildings.

In addition I also found myself eyeing up homes in Toronto.  So many houses are made of brick in Ontario, a material not used much here in PEI, and it always attracts my attention.

And because I can't help myself, I eyed up all the gardens in the front yards.  So many people made such great use of the space available.  I was impressed at every turn.

Accommodating both a walkway and a driveway but there's still room for flowers!
Public spaces too showed off many wonderful garden ideas.

I particularly liked this raised seating area with just enough space left between the stones to create planting spots.  I imagine the plants will eventually grow large enough to provide screening between seating areas.

Wandering through a park in the city we came across a tree that instantly caught my attention.  I liked the small leaves and their fine appearance.

I have been contemplating for some time the idea of planting Honey Locust trees on our property. Although I have never seen one in person I liked the description of an open tree that allows plenty of light to stream though to plants underneath.  Imagine my surprise then when I saw a plaque on this tree identifying it as Gleditsia triacanthos or Honey Locust.  What a pleasant surprise to be able to view a mature tree.  It is as lovely as I had thought.

But I am still unsure about planting it.  These trees tend to grow rapidly and reproduce via suckers which can be troublesome to a degree.  However, we do have a large property and having wood for harvest in the future would be a positive aspect.  Another issue is that while the tree is native to Ontario it is not native in PEI.  I'm not against having exotic species but trees take so long to grow and take up so much space that having a native plant that will provide for insects and wildlife over the course of many years seems to make more sense.  I will have to think about this for a while yet.  Has anyone else planted Honey Locust in their yards?  What is your experience?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Insects in the Garden

This week at Restoring the Landscape with Native Plants Heather is discussing the insects in our gardens each and every day.  Monday was beetles, Tuesday bees and today it is flies.  Tomorrow will bring wasps, then butterflies...

I wanted to participate in this carnival as insects are such an integral part of the garden but it seems I have some difficulty both photographing and identifying bugs in my garden so I decided instead of doing separate posts on each insect  I would instead take a walk through my very new garden (we're in year 2!) and see what plants were attracting insects.  Not all plants are created equal and some are more beloved of insects than others.  What I discovered was an assortment of insects and just a few favoured plants.

Last year I noted several blogs that mentioned Borage was a favoured plant among pollinators.  Planting Borage will encourage pollinators to visit and also pollinate your vegetables as well.  So in my spring seed order Borage was added to the list and I have not been disappointed.  Over the last month these flowers have been attracting insects of all sorts, from black wing moths to honey bees.

At least I believe this is a honey bee.  and this is the reason why I'm identifying plants instead of insects in this post!

Another favoured plant has been the oregano or marjoram.  I brought home two of these plants from the plant sale this spring and have made several pasta dishes with the tasty fresh leaves.  The plants have gone to flower in the past couple weeks and I'm quite captivated by the pretty pink blooms.

I had no idea they would be so pretty.  And the pollinators think so too as this plant is constantly buzzing with excited insects like this large bumble bee above and the fly below.

A plant that always seems to have a lot of action is my Darwin's Blue Speedwell.  I have two of these plants, purchased last summer, and the tall spikes of tiny purple flowers are a big hit.

Another new to me this year plant is Sea Holly or Eryngium maritimum.  No one wanted these plants at the plant sale.  Can you imagine?  Okay, well they looked a bit depressed at the time, half way dead in fact.  Sea hollies don't like being transplanted but I knew with a little care they would be glorious.  Sure enough they are blooming and buzzing now in August.

A bit of a surprise was the chamomile.  I grew this last year and don't really remember it being a big hit but this year it seems to be the happening spot in town, especially for the lady bugs.

How many lady bugs do you count?
Look closely at that photo.  Amazing, isn't it?  Each flower is absolutely laden with these insects.  Was the chamomile acting as nursery?  Or did it have a bad case of aphids I didn't notice?  Whatever the case these insects are making themselves at home and I'm happy to have them.

Not just the ladybugs enjoyed these flowers
This next plant wasn't planted intentionally.  As I dug up sod for new garden beds I evidently stirred up some dormant seeds.  I've let them grow in places and the bugs are very appreciative.

The stink bugs are back!
Large plants several feet high with tiny pink flowers are attracting bees, flies, stink bugs, moths and grasshoppers.  Weeds have their purpose too!

Monday, August 8, 2011

An Amateur's Guide to Identifying Plants

I'm not a horticulturalist or a landscaper or a designer.  Let me be clear - I am strictly an Amateur gardener.  But I thought it might be helpful, from one amateur to another, to talk about identifying unknown plants. 

It happens to all of us at one time or another.  You purchase a house that already has a garden.  A friend or neighbour gifts you with a plant that you (or they) can't remember the name of.  You take a plant home from a nursery but lose the tag.  Or purchase something at a plant sale without a name.  I think I've had each of these scenarios happen to me at one time or another.

Some people might not be terribly concerned about the name of their plant but many of us like to know what our plant is called so that we can learn how to better care for it.  Does it require full sun or shade?  Should it be given lots of moisture?

This blue grass is a plant sale purchase but the name is unknown
As an amateur gardener how do you discover the identity of your new plant?
1.  Look at other people's gardens.  Take a walk down a street in town and look at your neighbour's gardens. You might see your new plant growing at someone else's home.  If the owner of the home is around, ask them what it is.  If you don't see them, knock on the door.  Yes, I said knock on the door.  Gardeners love their gardens and more often than not they will be complimented that you noticed their yard. Unless you've caught them in the middle of some activity, you will likely be told the name of the plant and possibly even given a tour.  What if no one is home?  or the family's teenage son answers and gives you the incorrect name of the plant?  (yes, this happened to me)
2.  Take a picture.  You brought your camera with you, right?  A picture is worth a thousand words and is very easy to post on the internet.  Pictures can be posted on your blog or on garden forums.  Gardeners worldwide will then be able to see the picture and help you identify your plant.  Try forums such as UBC Botanical Garden, Dave's Garden or GardenWeb.  A word of advice about posting pictures.  Make sure your photo is clear and not blurry.  If people can't see it they can't identify it.  If it's a flowering plant, try and take a close up of the flower.  Also take a separate photo of the leaves.  If it's a large tree or shrub, take a photo that shows the shape of the plant.  If possible, include a description with your photo of any outstanding characteristics such as leaf shape, colour and climate.
3.  Google it.  Think about what makes this plant different and google various search terms.  For example, if you type 'silver fuzzy leaves' into Google or Google Images you will immediately pull up hundreds of images and descriptions of plants that fit, such as Lamb's Ears and Snow in Summer.  You can then browse and possibly find a match to your plant.
4.  Check your Garden Encyclopedia.  It's not a quick and easy solution but by flipping through the pages of a garden book you may come across your unknown plant.  If you know the plant you are trying to identify is a perennial then look at a book of perennials.  If it was something you saw while on vacation in Hawaii then you'll need a book of Hawaian plants.  If you don't have a Garden Encyclopedia, buy one.  Reference books for the garden are indispensible.  A couple of my favourite go-to books when trying to identify a plant include:
                        2850 House And Garden Plants        Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Perennials: 10th Anniversary Revised and Expanded Edition

5.  Walk through a Nursery.  Go to your local nursery and browse the aisles.  You may stumble upon the plant or you can talk to nursery staff who may be able to identify it for you.
6.  Browse Seed Catalogues.  Seed companies put out glossy catalogues each year featuring photos of the plants their seeds will grow into.  These catalogues also contain information on each plant such as sun requirements, height, and bloom time which will also be helpful in identifying the plant you are looking for.
7.  Talk to an Extension Agent or Master Gardener.  In many countries Extension Agents are located at various Universities to help citizens with agricultural issues.  If you're lucky enough to live in an area where there is an agent, give them a call and they may be able to help identify your plant.  For those of us in Canada no extension agents are available but we do have Master Gardeners.  Separate Master Gardener programs run in each province so do an internet search to find the program closest to you and send off your questions.  Master Gardeners often attend at nurseries and gardening events as well so be prepared to ask about your plant when you see them.
8.  Read Garden Blogs.  There are literally thousands of garden blogs on the internet, with writers in countries around the globe.  If your plant came from a specific area you can search for a garden blog in that area and possibly find your plant by reading through their posts or asking the writer personally.  To find a garden blog in a specific area visit Blotanical.  Blotanical is a garden blog directory and meeting place for garden bloggers.  One of it's features is that you can search garden blogs using a google map.  By clicking on the continent of your choice a map will come up with blogs indicated by a flower icon. 
9.  Take a Course.  Many cities and towns offer courses through community centers and botanical gardens.  Take a look at their course lists and you may be surprised to find courses on plant identification, among other things.