Long ago, as an undergraduate, I spent a summer living out of a small tent in the southern Canadian Rocky Mountains. I was the field assistant to a woman who was working on her Masters degree in geology. She was working on one particular mountain, its strata folded over to form an “anticline”. It was a simple existence for me, enjoyable in every way except for a vague fear of grizzly bears. You’d think that the presence of two humans would scare off the animals in the area, but deer or mountain sheep tended to wander by the tent in the early hours, we’d spy an occasional marmot, and there were plenty of ground squirrels. One day we had to take a wide berth around a wolverine. And late in the summer I learned that an elk bugling not far from your tent will really rattle your bones. Luckily the grizzly bears at least were sensible, and did not come anywhere near us (as far as we knew!).
Each day up the mountain we would go, climbing ever higher and higher, one of us taking measurements all the way. I don’t remember doing much work at all. I hammered away at the limestone to dig out fossils. I became fascinated by the wildflowers that grew in abundance around our tent and up the mountain. I knew nothing about flowers or gardening at the time, but I was amazed at the sheer variety of plants that grew in the alpine meadows and in the rock crevices. Now I recognize that many of the plants were variations of plants that we grow in our gardens today, such as pentsemon, saxifrage, yarrow, and phlox. My favourite wildflower was, and still is, Indian paintbrush Castilleja miniata. Near our mountain this flower took on a beautiful purplish hue, instead of the bright red I’ve seen elsewhere (perhaps it was a different species). I considered the idea of becoming a botanist. And I learned that I loved the alpine.
Since that time I’ve spent a lot of time in the mountains in BC and the Yukon, and have never lost my interest in alpine flowers and plants, and their amazing ability to adapt to high altitude and harsh conditions.
I think the most extreme example of plant adaptation I've ever seen was on Maui at the Haleakala Volcano. The ahinahina plant, or silversword, is an endangered plant that grows only at high altitude on volcanic "soil" in Hawaii. A gorgeous plant, its silver foliage stands out strikingly against the dull volcanic landscape. Somehow this plant survives the relentless beating of the sun and has worked out a way to get nutrients and water from its harsh environment.
That first summer in the alpine of the Rocky Mountains was a life changer for me. I developed a true love of plants and realized that they are happiest in a place to which they are well-adapted. After that I worked three more summers in the mountains. During one of these summers, in the Cassiar Mountains, I met my husband. He's always been more interested in the rocks than the flowers, but they go together well.
* This post is in response to #GrowWriteGuild prompt #6 "Landscapes".
Hellebores make quite a splash in the shade during spring. A few years ago my Mom and I attended the "Hellebore Hurrah" at Phoenix Perennials (www.phoenixperennials.com, @PhoenixPer) and between us we bought three for my garden (thanks Mom!). Two of my hellebores are currently blooming. They have an amazingly long bloom time, starting at the end of January and still going strong at the end of April. Apricot Blush is a medium-sized plant with nodding blooms. This plant is a prolific self-seeder; last year it produced masses of shiny black seeds, which planted themselves around their parent.
My other hellebore ("Double Queen mix") puts on a spectacular show during the dreary rainy days here. It's a bushy plant that produces striking pure white nodding flowers that fade to a yellowish/greenish/pinkish tone.
Living on the West coast, it is fantastically easy to grow ferns in the garden. I planted a Maidenhair fern the first year we lived in our current house. It has been moved around a couple of times, but has found its permanent home along a north facing fence. It tends to spread in a rather crowded garden bed, but doesn't mind getting trimmed back a bit in midsummer.
My Japanese Tassel fern grows in a difficult spot in the garden beside a row of cedar hedging. Talk about low maintenance! This fern gets mulched in the spring, gets plenty of rain for 3/4 of the year, and seems to not have a care in the world.
As far as shade plants go, heucheras are all the rage here. I'm not really a fan, but I do grow three different varieties (imagine if I was a fan?!). My favourite is "Green Spice".
Green Spice is truly one of my favourite garden plants. Who could resist those amazing purple, green and silver leaves? As an experiment (and because I really wanted to buy another one), I have a second Green Spice planted in a mostly sunny area in my front yard. The colours fade in the sun, but it gets its flowers just a little bit earlier than its alter ego in the shade. Unlike some heucheras, the flowers on this plant really add nothing to its beauty; they are a nondescript and spindly.
These are the plants I'm enjoying in the shady parts of my garden right now. The corydalis will be blooming next, followed by hardy fuschia.
One of my favourite garden bloggers and authors, Gayla Trail (yougrowgirl.com, @yougrowgirl) recently launched a new concept on her website, the “Grow Write Guild”. The purpose of the guild is to provide some inspiration for garden bloggers (let’s face it, there are a few of us out there). On first glance, the initial prompt seemed straightforward enough: to write about your first plant. Not too difficult, right? Somehow, though, it seemed to get all messy and complicated….should I write about my first house plant? first garden? first rose bush? etc etc. You get the picture. That went nowhere and everywhere all at once. I moved on to Gayla’s second prompt, to write about a fantasy or dream garden. This was an interesting topic for me. I don’t usually think about gardening in these terms. I have wonderful days in the garden, and days when I anguish over it, but I don’t really think of it as existing in an ideal state (it’s a bit like motherhood that way!). That’s not to say my garden couldn’t be improved. It’s a tiny garden, more urban than suburban in scope. In the end, my ideas for a dream garden boiled down to three wishes:
Wish #1: My current compost pile is not so much a pile as a plastic bin. And while the plastic bin makes quite beautiful compost, it just doesn’t make that much. Wish number 1 would be to have a real compost pile. I recently saw a picture of Martha Stewart’s compost pile, which was huge. Yes, I actually felt compost pile envy.
Wish #2: Wish number 2 would be to have a garden shed (with a window!). To have a space to hang out, plant seeds, dream about the garden….truly that would be garden heaven. Of course there would be a climbing rose growing up the side.
Wish #3: I love plants and I love trailing through my favourite garden centres. Roses, perennials, edibles - there are always new ones I want to try. But where to put them? Wish number 3 would be to magically have room for the new plants that capture my attention. A lilac tree? Plenty of room! A few squash plants? No problem! A peony? I’ve got just the spot! You see how this is going.
These are the things that would add up to a dream garden for me. So, if there are any magic genies out there, with a bit of spare time, you know where to find me…..
My tiny backyard garden was peaceful yesterday. No lawnmowers roaring, no powerwashers blaring. Only the sound of birds, chickadees mainly, going about their Spring business. I had planned a day to work in the garden, thwarted initially by a torrential downpour. Luckily for me the sun came out in the early afternoon. Life seems to have been too hectic lately…I haven’t had much chance to take stock of the garden. As usual, I’m behind on rose pruning, and there are a million tiny weeds to contend with. I saw plenty of earthworms as I worked on the weeds. I (mostly) finished up the rose pruning. With the exception of one or two of my roses, I’m not someone who worries about how to prune. They’re plants! They’ll grow back if something goes awry during the pruning process. I have found that roses take to pruning in unique ways. The floribunda Floral Fairy Tale resents a hard pruning. I pruned this rose quite lightly a few weeks ago, and now it is the first rose to have a bud.
One of the perks of rose gardening in Spring is new foliage. One of my very favourite roses, Simply Marvelous!, has wonderful dark new foliage, which shines like a mirror in the sunshine. Why don't more people grow this rose?
The new foliage on Work of Art has a red cast to it.
I haven’t had time to shovel compost onto the garden or fertilize yet. Ever vigorous, Hot Cocoa is one of the first roses in the garden this year to show signs of a new basal break.
I'm looking forward to more stunning blooms from Hot Cocoa this year. The foliage stays very healthy in my no spray garden.
Blanc Double de Coubert is already suckering along the edge of my driveway. These suckers are growing about 7 feet from the rose! It's a bit of a battle every year, but this rose is worth it for its scent alone.
Well, still lots more work to be done! Happy Spring Gardening.
Sunshine is a rare thing here in January. Yesterday was a lovely warm sunny day, with the added gift of a spectacular winter sunset. We took a walk to Garry Point to enjoy the view, sharing it with a flock of overwintering snowgeese.
It was the last Sunday in October. The day started unusually. After weeks of steady rain interrupted only by bouts of torrential downpour, the sun was shining. We decided to head out to the Westham Island Herb Farm. Our plan? We wanted to say hello to the animals, a collection of friendly domesticated types, and I wanted to buy some fall vegetables. During a visit to the Herb Farm last October I had bought some fingerling potatoes and a bunch of vivid purple carrots; I was hoping for more of the same this year. Topmost on our list however, were pumpkins, at least 3, hopefully one white.
We had a surprise when we arrived at the Herb Farm. The number of cars parked at the farm was at least ten times more than expected. The normally quiet rural road had turned into a parking lot, with only one lane down the centre. Avoiding pedestrians, including numerous excited toddlers, was a challenge. It turned out that the Herb Farm also had a pumpkin patch. My daughter, long past the age of wanting to troop around a muddy field in search of the perfect pumpkin, headed straight for the animals. We admired the donkeys, the highland steer, the goats, the chickens, and the bunnies at some length.
Heading back to the vegetables, it transpired that there was only one place to pay for both veggies and pumpkins. The line-up stretched for miles to the west. We marvelled at the gourds, then decided to abandon.
On the way home we stopped at Country Farms, which also has a pumpkin patch, produce for sale, and a small number of animals. After briefly admiring the chickens, we were able to choose some pumpkins at the farm stand without having to deal with the enthusiasm of the pumpkin patch crowd. Though no fingerling potatoes were to be found, we did buy some colourful “Indian Red” carrots and a bunch of purple kale. We were unable to buy a white pumpkin, which was a little disappointing, as last year we had one which looked just a little more gruesome than the standard orange pumpkins. We took some photos of colourful peppers and headed home.
Later in the day the pumpkins were carved, and the kale and carrots were cooked. A good way to wrap up the last weekend in October.
Imperfect gardener, learning everything the hard way.