Monday, August 8, 2016

making my bed

It's hot, I don't like to sweat, but I feel a burst of energy.  I suddenly want a new bed in my front yard.
I bought this adorable smoke bush, you see, and I need a spot to put it.  After my husband getting mad at me for wanting to put a shrub that grows really big on top of the weeping bed, I decided to plant it elsewhere, but I still wanted that new bed.

So  here is the least strenuous way to make a new bed:

First, decide where the bed should go:  notice how much light the location gets, and that will determine what type of plants you can use.  Don't put sun lovers in a shady spot, or they won't grow to their full potential.

Then, decide on the shape of the bed.  Use rope, hose, or a long electrical cord like I did to rough out the shape.

Then, cut out the sod around the outside of the new bed.  

Instead of the back breaking work of taking off all the sod, just plot out where you want the plants.  With a bed that can be seen from all sides, but the tall plants in the centre, and shorter ones on the outside.  Keep in mind the mature height of the plants, not what they look like right now.

Dig holes for each plant, augmenting some of the soil with well-rotted manure.  Water really well, especially if you are foolish enough to try this in the long hot days of summer.

I was going to buy new plants for this bed, but I had so much growing in my current beds that was getting very crowded.  The purple coneflower and the daylily were growing in the shade, the three hardy hybiscus were hidden by other plants, and the ornamental grasses were divided from current clumps.  The grasses have very small root balls, and were really easy to dig up.

When all the plants are in, cover the area with newspapers to prevent light from reaching the grass. Do this in small sections on a day with no wind, or you will be papering the neighbourhood.  Wet the paper to keep it from blowing away.

I went to the beach (I have a secret spot) with lots of eelgrass drying on the shore, which is a perfect mulch - it adds nutrients to the soil as it slowly breaks down, and it's FREE.

It takes a surprizingly huge amount of seaweed to mulch this bed, but after piling it on top of the newspapers, it looks great, and the bed is done. The mulch will flatten down in time.  The new plantings should be watered every few days to keep them thriving.

catterpiller poop

I bought a scraggly houselplant and gave it some love and attention - repotted it in good soil, fertilized and watered it carefully.  It was doing really well, and the leaves were much bigger and more lush.
Then I found a whole lot of black globs on the table and on the floor under the plant.  Many of the leaves were gone.  When I looked closer, I found this guy:
It was a surprise, but it's kind of neat to see this kind of wildlife in the house.  I really want to see what kind of butterfly it becomes, so I just cleaned up all the frass (aka insect poop), put down newspapers under the plant, and will just wait and see if it develops a cocoon.

That was last week.  Two days ago, I found it at the bottom of the basement stairs.  I put it back where it was, but today, it was in the bathroom.  Then I read more about it in a blog kindly sent to me by Christine Noronha, Entomologist at Agriculture Canada in Charlottetown.  She identified my catterpiller as  Spilosoma virginica, Virginia Tigermoth.  She also sent me a link to this blog:  

The blog describes its habit of "pacing" or frantically looking for a good place to pupate.  I think that is what mine is doing.  I quickly gave up on my idea of waiting for the adult. Looks like it won't emerge until spring.  So I reluctantly took it outside to a shady spot with lots of leaf litter.  It lay curled up for a while, and then explored a tree trunk before vanishing under some dry leaves.  
I'm actually going to miss the little bugger!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

day lily dead heading

The Internet is wonderful.  It answers questions you haven't even asked.  I was just gadding about on line when I came upon a post about making your day lilies bloom longer.  A lady spends an hour a day snapping off the spent flowers on her hundreds of daylily plants, and swears they bloom for a longer time when she does that.  Snapping off the spent blossom means it can't make seeds, and the plant will continue to produce flowers as it strives to reproduce itself.
Don't try this at home, unless you know the difference between a spent flower and a bud that hasn't opened yet.  The spent flower is long and wrinkled.  A new bud is hard, shiny, and pale green.  Snap it off just where the flower is attached to the stem, and it should make a satisfying pop sound.  Try not to take a new bud with it.

So I've been deadheading my daylilies every day for two weeks, and I am not seeing any improvement in bloom time.  But the plants definitely look neater!  I usually cut off the stem close to the ground once the flowers are all done, but this year I will leave them for a while and see if any more appear.

While I'm waiting for that to happen, here's a tour through my daylily collection:

here's my two least favourite ones:

I wish this guy had more colour.  It's a bit washed out.

I don't like double flowers.  The bees have a hard time getting nectar and pollen because of all the petals, and the plants are often hybrids that don't even produce nectar and pollen.

Friday, July 29, 2016

convincing an orchid to rebloom

I bought this orchid 3 years ago, when it was blooming beautifully.  Pale green petals, and a deep pink centre.  It bloomed for months, and when it finally quit, I waited patiently for it to bloom again.  I watered it with a quarter cup of water once a week like the books said - but nothing.  I moved it around the room to new locations it might like - nothing.

Then a maintenance man where I work bragged about his wife's reblooming orchids, and let me know the secret:  Once a week, fill the entire pot with water, wait 20 minutes, and then take out the plant in its inner plastic pot and dump out all the water.  I was willing to try anything.

Within 3 weeks, success!

Notice the difference between the air roots (pale green, blunt end) and the flower shoot (shiny dark green, with tiny buds at the end.)
I was pretty excited, but still looking for just the perfect location for the plant.  It was close to a south-facing window, and the leaves burned.  I moved it away from the window, but the leaves pointing away from the light curled up and the leaves facing the light stretched out.  I took it home and put it in an east window - more burned leaves.  I felt like a bad mother.

Then I found the right spot.  With bright indirect light coming from two sides, under a thriving spider plant, atop a shelf that looks like a waiter's arm.  Success!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

capturing birds with my lens

The bird feeders are staying up all summer for the first time this year.  It is the best way to find out who is in the neighbourhood.  These pics are far from perfect - they were all taken through the window glass, but it is still fun to capture some images.
Purple Finch (right) with friends

All my Goldfinch shots are out of focus - I will keep trying.

Yes, it's just a sparrow, but it's still pretty.

critters of Cape Breton

Cape Breton certainly has its pick of cool critters.  We saw this female moose up close while walking on the Skyline Trail.  We were warned that moose can get cranky and sometimes attack people, but this one really didn't care that a bunch of people were frantically taking pictures of her, but we all were beyond excited to get up close and personal.

We were pretty tired as we walked the last of the 10 km trail, but we perked right up when this grouse sat perfectly still in the middle of the path.  She probably thought she was invisible, and let us walk right past, within 2 feet of her.

This bumble bee posed for Wayne on a purple thistle flower.

When we stopped for gas, these two long-horn beetles checked out their reflections on our car's wind shield.  This European invader species attacks and kills Red Spruce trees that are already under environmental stress.

Monday, July 25, 2016

flowers on Cape Breton Island

For 21 years of living on PEI, we avoided visiting Cape Breton Island Nova Scotia beacause we thought it was too far to drive.  This year, we finally got there, and the trip is really not so bad.  It takes about 6 hours to get to the start of the Cabot Trail.  We drove 1,500 km from PEI to Halifax to Port Hawksbury, around the Cabot Trail, and back home again.

The views are breathtaking - mountains, steep cliffs, and blue blue water.  We stopped over and over again, because every stop is worth photographing.  Although we were gone just 4 nights, we felt as refreshed and relaxed as if we had been away 2 weeks.

This flower bed at the Alexander Graham Bell museum in Baddeck is a lovely combination of leaves of different sizes and colours and textures, with hosta, ornamental grasses, purple smoke bush, Maltese cross, day lilies, and shrub roses.

These short shrubby akders covered with tiny cones grow close to the beaches.
The cones are an important food source for chickadees.

These blueberries need much more time to turn blue.

Harebells (Campenula rotundifolia) growing in a most inhospitable place between rocks on the shore.

Daisies, long grasses, and other beauties made me want to stop a while.

Elderberries will turn black when they ripen.  Birds love them, but we people need to cook them to make them palatable.

Evening Primrose struggles to grow through pebbles.

Pearly Everlasting has grayish foliage, a sure sign of a tough plant that can handle drought.

The Settlers Garden in North Highlands had examples of plants
the first European settlers would have used as food and medicine.

Honeysuckle flowers

Malva comes in white, solid purple, and purple stripes

Kalmia angustifolia was sprinkled all along the Skyline trail in Cape Breton.
It's common name is Sheep Laurel, and it is poisonous to livestock.

Native wild roses are found along the roadsides and close to the shore.

Rosa multiflora, a European escapee, is a beautiful plant
but can be invasive and crowd out native vegetation.

I picked wild strawberries at the shore near Neil's Harbour.

There are more wild flowers growing on the shores and forests of Cape Breton than I have room to show here.  It is worth a trip to find more for yourself!