Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Growing Aphids

It's that time of year where we recoil at the cold temperatures, knowing full well the worst is yet to come. I'm hoping I can grow a nice furry undercoat, like our outdoors-dwelling dog. That, or I'll be drinking more tea.
Shabby Chic is the "in style" for cedar trees this year, featuring burlap coats with nylon rope trim:

Every few days, I go down and check on the herb seedlings and other basements plants kept under fluorescent lights. I like to have some fresh herbs on hand for cooking over the winter time, but that has not been very successful so far.
Herbs under the lights:

I was not too surprised to see some aphids a few weeks ago, as I've been through this many times before. These little green imports came inside with the plants and cuttings brought in this fall. No matter how careful you are, preventing aphids on plants coming indoors is like preventing influenza from coming in through Canadian airports. These little infectious bugs are just too sneaky. I first saw them hanging out on the tips of the orchids and on the parsley and cilantro. They particularly love the herbs, but they leave the strong-smelling perlargonium cuttings alone. I've been squishing them and used up the last my insecticidal soap sprays. Now, I'm using some Sunlight dish soap diluted in water, which I hope will get the tiny ones that I can't see.
My attempt at a winter display at our front door (cedar boughs from BC, red dogwood twigs, and crabapples):

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

La Ronge and Wildlife

Sorry. No plant pictures today, but I'm hoping to get the orchids to do something photographically interesting soon. It's the time of year that I purpose to neglect the orchids until they panic, pushing up stems of blossoms in order to perpetuate themselves in the case of imminent death. That's my approach to forcing orchids to bloom, in a nutshell.

We had snow last week and it's still hanging around. The slight warming over the weekend led to mud on all my pant-legs. I had to stop and take photos of this creature I saw on top the road on the way to work this morning. Apparently, the bald eagles (this one must be young, as most of the head feathers are brown) have not all traveled to warm southern locations yet.
Eagle in downtown La Ronge:

I saw him/her on the light across the street from Kosta's restaurant. The floatplane pilot said that it has been hanging around the area for a few days. (You can click on the picture to see it enlarged.)

Some houses in the Morin's Hill area of Lac La Ronge Indian reserve, here in La Ronge:

The edges of the lake and the bays are starting to freeze up. The trip in the floatplane today started with crunching as we broke through a layer of ice with the floats.

The bridge between Air Ronge (left) and La Ronge (right), with the Montreal River passing under the bridge and into Lac La Ronge:

Sun over Lac La Ronge this morning:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Poppy Seed Buns

This past week, I made some poppy seed rolls from poppies grown in our flower bed. We clearly had eaten much of this roll before I got around to taking a picture of it. It just was that good. I decided to make this recipe because it used the most poppy seeds of the recipes I had found. We still have a few more cups of seeds in the freezer, thanks to resident-lawnmower-man's fastidious poppy-seed-picking in the last few years. P. somniferum makes a generous amount of seeds, and collection is quite easy. I find it interesting that different color flowers make different colors of seeds, all in shades of grey to black. Most of all, the taste of the seeds was fantastic! The other flowers may have the looks, but these ones pack the flavour too!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Latest Flowers - Still Time to Bloom!

The season may be creeping ever so close to the first snow fall, but the flowers are still making an appearance in the perennial garden. Few leaves are left on the trees, and the bare red stems of the Siberian dogwoods are looking fantastic.
Morning sun on the yard:

The fall aster (A. dumosus "Alert") produces many flowers, though I give no thought to this plant in the rest of the year, neglecting it while the spring and summer flowers are putting on a show. Now, I wish I had a whole garden of bright fall asters.
Aster dumosus "Alert":

"Pink beauty" Potentilla still has some fresh blooms too:

I got this tiny primula from a friend, who grew them from seed she obtained in a Rock Garden Society seed exchange. I believe this is Primula scotica, though if you have a better idea, let me know. I know that it is winter hardy here (which rules out many varieties), as this is its second year and it has self-seeded to make several new plants for me. It usually produces flowers in clusters on stems held above the plant, but I can forgive it for hugging close to the ground in this cold.
Pretty little primula with farinose buds and stems:

I cut down my Martha Washington geranium (Pelargonium domesticum) and made this whole tray of cuttings for next year's plants. The original plant is in the pot on the left. I think I'll grow a bunch of these next year. Of course, that will depend on the success of my cuttings! My grandfather moved into a seniors' complex this past year and had to leave behind all his geraniums and and winters spent coddling geranium cuttings under lights. Hopefully I'll have a deck full of these beauties next year and Grandpa can check my blog posts for the pictures! The pot on the right contains cuttings from a pink "tulip geranium", a variety whose flowers look like clusters of tulip buds, as they never open. I dip the cuttings in Wilson's Root Stimulating gel before putting them in the sterile seed-starting mix mixed with additional perlite.
Geranium propagation:

Finally, these delphiniums appear to be a bit out of sync with the season, but possibly will produce a second set of flowers for me before they are dumped on with snow!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Buried the Bulbs

"Burial mound" daffodil planting:

My bulbs came in the mail from Botanus earlier this week. I had picked the tried-and-true varieties, neglecting the fancy and expensive novelty bulbs that are likely to bring disappointment. While most of the bulbs did not appear nor flower this spring (due to terrible cold last winter), I still hold out some hope. I think I see some daffodil and muscari foliage in a few places and hope that they will flower again next year after taking a year's sabbatical. I poured half a bag of steer manure over each of the plantings, hoping it will insulate the underground investments.
Perennials among the colorful fall shrubs:

The shrub on the background left is a compact highbush cranberry (Virburnum trilobum). It took about 4 years to start making some berries. The major purpose of these berries is to look nice in winter, and maybe feed some birds. They certainly aren't very tasty.
Thick fog this morning - dock on Lac La Ronge:

The weather has been fairly warm in the last few days. This may be the reason why the blackflies are making a resurgence. During the two days of bulb planting, I've had several bites on the face, inhaled one, and swallowed several. Even the DEET-rich Muskol didn't help me, but left me with that special eau-de-northern Canada.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Views of the Prairies (aka "down south")

I spent a few days down in Saskatoon this past weekend. While the purpose was mostly work-related, I did manage to pick up a few tulip and daffodil bulbs. Hopefully they fare better than last year's decimated bulb plantings.
Highway just north of Saskatoon:

Northerners do need to get out every once in a while to stock up on new shoes, gloves, and electronics to play with over the long, long winter. Actually, it was warm down in Saskatoon and the comfortable fall weather was appreciated.

My favourite views of the prairie are in the fall. I love the expansive golden fields and have been wanting to take some essential wheat field photos for many years. I had a leisurely drive and some nice weather on the drive back from Saskatoon, with my camera riding in the passenger seat.
Some other people had stopped on the road nearby as I was squatting to take this shot. I can only imagine what they thought I was doing in this field:

This one with the round bales one of the Saskatchewan shots I've had in my mind but needed to get in my camera. These things remind me of those giant cylinders of fiber-rich breakfast cereal we ate when we were kids. I think they were called Muffets. I recall that you couldn't break them up until it had sat in the bowl of milk for a few minutes.

Just in case you're not familiar with Saskatchewan, these are the usual views of the southern part of the province. It's quite a change from the forests on slabs of granite up here in the boreal forest of the north. Hopefully I'll get out and take some photos of the forest's colors soon.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Falling Towards Winter

Yesterday in the skies north of La Ronge:

We had a short period of wind that made our lights flicker wildly for a few minutes today. This was followed with a period of snow. Yeah, that stuff. "Ah, it's northern Saskatchewan", they tell me. I'm hoping someone remembered to pick the rest of the cherry tomatoes and bring them inside to finish their ripening process indoors. You know, the Saskatchewan way of ripening tomatoes! It always seems like we got such a short season of picking them ripe from the plant. At least the carrots will last in the ground for some time yet. I've also found that green onions left alone in the garden for winter will survive until spring, making for some nice little spring onions.

I've been meaning to go out and do one last blast of the glyphosate on the poplar shoots, but alas, work has kept me from the meaningful and important (read: gardening) activities of life. Instead, I took a flight to the small community of Southend, SK. This is their airstrip:

There's little room for pilot errors here. Either you fall off into the lake, or tumble down a little hill into brush and the lake. Most of the terrain north of La Ronge consists of thousands of tiny lakes in the glacier-etched depressions in the rocky shield. Just north-east of this town is Deep Bay, a 13 km wide meteor impact crater now located under Reindeer Lake. Take a look on Google earth, it's the obvious large round part of the lake at 56° N latitude in northeast Saskatchewan. It's quite deep and apparently has tall rocky ledges surrounding it, both of which are uncommon features in this area.
Check it out in the list of the 10 greatest major-impact craters on earth: http://green.yahoo.com/blog/environmentalgraffiti/15/10-greatest-major-impact-craters-on-earth.html

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The leaves are all turned to beautiful shades of yellow an red and we haven't seen any warm days in over a week now. It feels like soup, sweaters, and wool tights weather now. I realized with a sweat at 5:00 am last Thursday that I hadn't made my bulb order yet. I had pushed the thought from my mind until the last minute, not wanting to dwell on the massive bulb failure of this spring. Hopefully this winter's cold and snow sequences will not be as discoordinated as last year's, and my $150 is well-spent. I love ordering from Botanus, a BC company. I mainly stuck to reliable small bulbs like Muscari, Scilla siberica, and crocuses, but threw in a few others as a gamble with nature. This is the risky, living-on-the edge side of gardening. Who needs skydiving anyhow?

The "Blue Lake" long green beans are definitely the best performer in this year's vegetable patch:

They take up such a small footprint of soil and grow tall on the metal support (great Lee Valley purchase). They could probably use an even taller support structure, but this tomato trellis does a decent job and looks nice too.

The raised beds are finally looking full, after a summer of disappointment. The "voids of death" are slowly disappearing as I let seedling perennials go crazy.

I love when the evergreen perennial Bergenia cordifolia starts turning a few leaves red. It's a real eye-catcher:

A few perennials always re-bloom at this time of year. I love these delicate little Saxifraga blooms:

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Succulents and Some Poppy Seeds

I put together a pot of succulents in shades of grey this year. The cuttings came from plants I had growing under fluorescent lights over the winter. I believe these are Escheveria, or some close relative. They are certainly not winter hardy, but you can grow as many plants as you want from tip cuttings or even from a single leaf stuck in some potting soil. Dear resident-lawnmower-man bought me this concrete pot this spring.

The gray plants and gray pot look rather modern and edgy, which is not really my usual garden theme, though it was unique. The only problem is that the pot has no hole in the bottom, so I have to tip it on its side every time it rains. I do keep it next to the house, where it gets little rain, but it still manages to collect some rainwater, which would otherwise drown the plants. Maybe it has a future life as an indoor pot or under the covered deck.

Thalictrum rochebrunianum 'Lavender Mist' (Meadow Rue) is finishing its blooming season. These tall hardy perennials do self-seed quite a bit, so this year I made a point of removing spent blooms. I let some seedlings grow at the back of the beds, but these narrow, 4 to 6-foot-tall plants just look silly at the front of the beds.

The annual poppies (Papaver rhoeas) are still flowering around the edges of the dense thicket of poppies that arose from the generous puddle of seeds left from last year's plants. RLM collected a jar of seeds from these, knowing all the requests we've had from friends and family who would also like to grow them!

On the other hand, the annual breadseed poppies (P. somniferum) are long finished, with their seeds pods just drying up now. I ripped most of them out before this stage, as they turn brown after flowering and don't offer any attractive features in the foliage department. Besides, they do self-seed over-generously. I leave just enough to produce a few plants for next year, and hopefully still get a few lemon-poppy seed loaves.

It seems that some folks in British Columbia like these flowers so much that they grew 3 acres of them in Chilliwack, BC and then got in some hot water with the law this past month. One gets the feeling that these aren't just overly-exuberant garden-bloggers hoping to create a beautiful sea of poppy flowers to admire and photograph. Or perhaps, they were planning on making LOTS of lemon poppy-seed loaves.

However, the part that really made me laugh was the television reporter's comment at the end of the piece, saying that "this operation demonstrates that it is actually possible to grow poppies in Canada", as if that was a feat never before known to any Canadian. It is an annual flower! You could probably even grow two crops a year in southwestern BC (which I suspect, as that crop wasn't even as mature as my own flowers up here in the north). Anyone who can grow a petunia or potted geranium could easily grow a poppy. I would guess this reporter probably hasn't ever owned a houseplant (you know THOSE kind of people...). Only time will tell if large-scale poppy-growing becomes a new craze among Canadians.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Later Summer Perennials

Just like the early back-to-school sales and early displays of winter coats, the late summer's offerings of flowers are here already. Although, I am sure that they are early this year.

Scabiosa caucasica (I have pale blue and these white ones) are in bloom this weekend:

These scabiosa have sprawling plants that sometimes are hard to distinguish from grassy weeds. They also do self-seed a bit. I don't really mind though, as these are in the back of the raised bed, which is by no means a formal flower garden.

I lost my established lupine plants over the past winter, but there were a few seedlings, some of which are making some late-season blooms. I have preserved all of the yellow lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus "Gallery Yellow") seedlings, transplanting them all about, and so hope to have lots of these pretty yellow spires in the garden next year.

A very reliable perennial in this area is Aconitum napellus, or monkshood. It can produce flowers in various shades of purple/blue/white, and all parts of the plant are deadly poisonous. It's a great replacement for the tall blue delphiniums, now that those flowers have gone to seed or been blown to pieces by summer storms.
Aconitum napellus:

In the forest around town, the wild blueberries are in peak season right now. There is nothing better than a generous handful of those berries on your bowl of cereal in the morning!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day Neutral Strawberries and the Lonely Rose

The Papaver rhoeas (Shirley poppies) are looking just fabulous, bringing lots of comments from passers-by. I just bought some seeds for double-flowered Shirley poppies in mix of colors and plan to spread these in other flower beds for next year.

While you may not be impressed by this rose bloom, it is probably one of the few ones in our town or region this year. I haven't heard of any living rose bushes around here after this past winter's severe cold. This rugosa rose was covered in a heavy layer of snow over the winter (shoveled off the driveway and dumped on the rose) and a few branches are still alive this year. I hope it will come back and flourish again next year.

Finally, I ate the first strawberry from the new plants I bought this spring. I later found out the other members of the family were terrified by the disappearance of the ripening berry, thinking the local marauding bear had eaten it. I reassured them that I was the berry eater, and that I heard a rumor that the conservation officers had dealt with the garden-raiding bear. This is a day-neutral strawberry of a variety called "Hecker". I got 6 plants from Dutch Growers in Saskatoon. I sought out this new type of strawberry after reading this Univ. of Saskatchewan article about day-neutral strawberries, which gave me hopes for bigger and better fruits than I have ever grown before. I should add that the strawberry was delicious.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Pushing the Hardiness Boundaries

Staying alive in the north is part luck and skill, though I hope that most of the humans have got this skill mastered by now. This past year, most of our luck ran out as we had a terrible winter with sparse snow cover during the first cold spell (-30 to -40 C). It has been a year where I throw up my hands at the all the spots of bare earth where perennials and shrubs once lived. Thank goodness for other gardeners, whose similar stories of loss remind me that I am not alone. I am determined to have more luck next year, and will be raising a whole pile of annuals as well, just in case things don't turn out well.
You can see a few leaves left on my rose:

People have suggested that I should have covered some of my plants this last winter. However, there is no practical way to cover nearly a half acre of plants, so a loss of plants is inevitable some years. I think this past year was one freak year out of several decades, so I'm replanting some of the same plants I lost. The rose pictured above was covered in at least three feet of snow for most of the winter, since it is next to our driveway and all the snow shoveled off the driveway goes onto this flower bed. Snow is an excellent insulator. I lost a few junipers one winter after Resident-Lawnmower-Man accidentally thought the junipers were part of the driveway and he shoveled them clean.
Delphiniums (terribly hardy perennials) and annual poppies:

My other tips and tricks for keeping perennials alive in a cold climate:
(1) You can't grow perennials in a pot and keep them outside over winter. People in Vancouver can get away with such things, but we cannot. It is said that you subtract two zone numbers from your current hardiness zone to estimate what will survive in a pot over the winter. For example, if you lived in the Okanagan, BC in zone 6, you could grow zone 4 plants in pots. Here in zone 1, you just don't even bother.
(2) Deadhead spent flowers, but don't cut plants down in the fall. Having a few feet of growth left in the garden will insulate the soil and roots. Do your clean-up in the spring.
(3) Evergreen shrubs prone to winterkill/winterburn should be thoroughly watered in the fall and wrapped loosely with burlap to shield them from wind and sun. This applies to my much-maligned globe cedar (Thuja). Honestly, I'd rather not have shrubs that need clothes, but it's too big to move and besides, it's providing a climbing space for my clematis vines.
Fragrant blooms of Clematis mandschurica:

Do you have a psychological need to share your plant losses? Please do tell. It will make both of us feel better!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Fantastic Annuals and Delphinium Season

I usually grow my own bedding plants for the pots, but was unable to this year, so I have a not-so-coordinating collection of potted plants. Here is the colorful bunch at my front door. I've got Thunbergia (Black-eyed susan vine) and blue morning glories climbing up a sphagnum-filled topiary frame, with chartreuse sweet potato vines overflowing around the bottom of the big pot. Sweet potato vines and Dichondra (silver or green kinds) are among my favourites for spilling over the edges of pots.

Here's the blue morning glory flower from that same planter. I love the size of this flower!

The self-seeded somniferum poppies are in bloom right now. This one appears to be expressing a bit of the fringed-edge petal trait, though I've never had those kind in my garden before. I'm planning on planting a great variety of them for next year, though.
Pink Papaver somniferum (color combination courtesy of the bees):

I lost track of this annual's name, since I planted it intentionally several years ago and it has self-seeded and returned ever since. I have since realized that it is Nemophila, likely "Baby Blue Eyes". It grows well in a rather dry and hot flowerbed in full sun, adjacent to the house.

The delphiniums are getting into full bloom this week:

Like all members of the buttercup family (includes Monkshood/Aconitum), all parts of Delphinium plants are poisonous. They contain alkaloids that cause weakness and paralysis. I'd hope this means they are left alone by deer in those places troubled by grazing animals. Our neighbourhood currently has a marauding bear. One neighbour was upset that it ate his long-awaited strawberries!

Papaver somniferum poppies in the foreground (unfortunately not thinned very well):

Saturday, July 03, 2010

First Poppies and Pumpkin Dreams

Both Papaver somniferum (breadseed poppies) and Papaver rhoeas (corn poppies) started to bloom in the last two days. These are both annuals and I love them for their beautiful flowers, yearly re-seeding, and easy growing requirements. Papaver rhoeas looks better over its longer blooming season and has more attractive foliage after blooming, compared with P. somniferum. However, P. somniferum makes a generous crop of seeds that are delicious in buns and loaves! To plant either of these in a cooler/northern zone, simply throw the seeds in your garden in April. No special fertilizer or watering is required.

Unfortunately, I didn't thin the P. somniferum very well this year, so many are quite tiny and crammed together like some kind of field crop. Thus, I am not showing you any pictures of those today. I promise to do better next year!

Papaver rhoeas in a lovely pink shade:

The most common P. rhoeas usually comes in a bright orangey-red, but I grew these from a combination of seeds I shamelessly stole from someone else's garden and a package of Cedric Morris mix from Thompson and Morgan.

Otherwise, I am trying to encourage the pumpkins into producing some baby pumpkins already. Thus far, I have only seen the male flowers, which drop off leaving only a dead-ended bare stem. Baby pumpkins started to appear in late July of 2009, so I suppose these aren't totally hopeless vines. I started these pumpkins indoors in the last week of April, as we have a short season and pumpkins need a bit of an indoor headstart here.
This is a flower bud on the pumpkin vine today:

Oh yes, and here is a new daylily I bought to replace the many that died over this past winter. No, it's not anything exotic (especially since it came from a big box store), but I'm hoping Purple d'Oro is a reliable workhorse like it's ubiquitous yellow relative, Stella.

Finally, here is the Alpine rock garden, looking okay now that I've angrily ripped out and sprayed Roundup on the multitude of poplar suckers appearing in and around this bed. Here's a tip for any gardener contemplating a new flower bed: Don't bother making one anywhere near a poplar tree. You will come to grief.