Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Stroll Along Burlington Beach

Burlington Ontario sits on the western edge of Lake Ontario looking southwards to the Niagara area (both Canadian and American). The waters edge has in places sandy beaches and naturally the city had in times past promoted this area for visitors and locals. Burlington Beach is only about a seven minute drive from my home and for the past year or so I have been taking walks with a friend along the path or on the sandy beach itself. However, until recently the beach was not enjoyed as fully as it could have been due to the pollution in the lake.

Part of the pollution in our area comes from the steel mills that were the backbone of industry for the city of Hamilton.Constant infilling and channel dredging damaged fresh water streams and hurt the wildlife they supported, disrupting the ecological land balance. Chemical, industrial and thermal pollution continued to damage the environment particularly after 1890. Asian carp were also a concern.
Government has been working at cleaning up the lake for many years now and is succeeding.

The parking lot views. I don't know why I am showing you this but I guess it gives a sense of the place.
Ever since I have lived here you would hear at some point in late spring or early summer that the beach  is closed due to pollution levels and no swimming was permitted. This year was the first year I am aware of that this did not happen. And you could certainly see it with your own eyes as the beach was crowded all summer long with swimmers, picnickers, walkers, and sun worshipers.

At this time of year it is the devoted walker that is seen at the beach, sometimes in pairs or groups or on their own.

There are many openings from the paved path to the beach.

I don't know why the city, or whoever, decided to place the hydro towers along the beach. What made them think that this was a good idea? Obviously they were not thinking about beach attraction.

Looking at Burlington

Viburnum trilobum or Cranberry bush growing wild

 The is the Burlington Canal lift bridge (in orange with green towers) and the Skyway Bridge. While the Skyway is a nice bridge, and most people use it to cross the canal, the lift bridge is much more interesting. It takes cars and pedestrians and emits a fog horn sound when the bridge is going to rise up to accommodate any large boat, ship or tanker. If you like bridges, here is a link to the government site which has a nice article on the history of the Burlington Lift Bridge.

That is it for a cool day in December by the beach. You might want to sit here awhile and enjoy the view.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fallen Colour


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Mums - the colour of fall

Every year at this time the nurseries and grocery stores and convenience stores are setting out pots of colourful chrysanthemums to sell. They are always eye catching and the colours are strong and vibrant and a reminder that fall is upon us.

I think like the recurring seasons I am a creature of habit in some ways.
I always buy a pair to set on the stairs, in the same place. This year it is a deep bright red.

First cultivated in China as a herb, they are believed to have the power of life.

The earliest illustrations of mums show them as small, yellow daisy-like flowers.

Chrysanthemums get their name from the Greek prefix “chrys-“ meaning golden (its original color) and “-anthemion,” meaning flower.

The mum appeared in Japan around 8 A.D.  So taken by the flower, they adopted a single flowered chrysanthemum as the crest and official seal of the Emperor.

A symbol of the sun, the Japanese consider the orderly unfolding of the chrysanthemum’s petals to represent perfection.
In many countries in Europe the chrysanthemum is used in bouquets at funerals and is considered the death flower.
At my house it is a reminder of Fall, with their glorious shades and hues of orange, yellow and red and everything in between.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Work in Progress (part 2)

It seems now all will be at a standstill for at least a month concerning the back yard revitalization. Not much progress has been made due to rain almost every day for the past week. So I bring you up to date on what has been accomplished and what some of the plans are for the spring.

 The patio is in the form of an ellipse. Not just any ellipse. Hubby chose to create it using Maxwell's Method which involved some stakes at certain foci and string and then drawing out the circumference. However, he  arranged it so that the shortest distance of the ellipse faced north/south and the longest faced east/west. What can I say, engineers do these things.

 Then the stone for the patio and the paths arrived. A very cool crane, operated by a remote control, picked the stone bundles off the truck and onto the ground by the street. They were later moved to the back by bobcat.

At this point the sod was laid and our fantastic crew had finished their part of the work. We had not really thought through how we were going to cover the bare ground and toyed with the idea of laying grass seed. Sod was quick though not the ideal choice. The yard gets a fair amount of shade and the grass may not do well in time. We expect to do some over seeding with shade-friendly fescues at some point.

Some of the stone (Credit Valley Limestone) was brown and hubby decided to place it in the form of an ellipse in the center of the patio.

This is as far as work progressed. The rain has kept us away from going any further. As well, hubby starts a new work contract away from home for the next month or so.

If you look to the north of the patio you see a small eyebrow shaped bed partly covered in leftover sod to protect the soil. This will be the only flower bed in the garden as it receives the most sunshine. Plants that exist along the borders of the garden will be moved into this spot in the spring. Planted in the middle is a dwarf pine called Bergman's Variegated Eastern White Pine. It has yellow needles amongst the green and was impossible to resist. I have long wanted a native pine but most are too big or need more sun than I can give them. A dwarf was a great compromise at only 5 feet by 3 feet at 10 years maturity. 
Between the house and the patio (the first of these two photos) I will plant 5 or 6 hydrangeas. This will soften things up and feel more comfortable when sitting out back.

Along the north side of the garden I will add more rhododendrons to the existing ones as they seem to do well there. We will also add a couple of small trees. I am still uncertain which but am considering a Japanese maple and a flowering dogwood - the dogwood being a 'Stellar' hybrid due to the possibility of anthracnose disease in this area.

Unexpectedly, a little garden turned up between the maple and the boulder along the side of the house. I am thinking to fill in with some low maintenance Annabelle hydrangeas as I will also be placing a number of them between the house and the patio. Most probably one of the new pink varieties that bloom through  the fall.The shed will sit to the left of the boulder.
And that is all I can show and tell for now. I hope it was of some interest. If you have any comments or plant suggestions I welcome hearing from you.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Work in Progress (part 1)

I think it must be five years that we have been wanting to renovate our yard behind the house. That area was an eyesore (at least to me) with never ending Forget-me -nots, weeds galore, poor grass or really almost non existent grass (see weeds galore), and big dips in the ground where some old poplar stumps were left to rot. There was also some issue with drainage which caused erosion along one side of the property. 
But I had a vision.
In mid September, a wonderful work crew of two plus one, and a husband, turned the backyard into a mud field and a reality.

I have come to realize that I do not have many 'before' photos of the yard. So I am presenting some photos with bits left out. 
Below:  First a side view of the house looking back. Not much to see but it may help with perspective later. To the right of the window will be a new shed. A flagstone path will link the shed to the door and window on the side. Notice the stone below the tree, it is part of the steps to the side door. You are on the south side facing east.

 A decent if not chaotic look at the yard. Hubby was removing a dead apricot tree at the time. Along the north side of the garden are some rhododendrons. You are on the south side facing due north.

A winter picture to fill it in a bit. You can see the left over stump of the apricot to the left of the photo. Again, you are on the south side facing north.

A view you may remember, and the most important one for me; the large green bush is a forsythia that sits on the crest of the slope to the next yard. The slope was muddy in spring and not much grew around it.  I wanted a true grade change between the two yards. This photo is facing east.

Now for the fun part.
Below: remember the side window of the house ? that corner square area on the right is where the shed will be. The oval is going to be the patio. The grading has been completed at this point. Notice the forsythia is gone. You can still see part of a cedar trellis hubby made for me on the very left side. It is also in the previous photo behind the golden mock orange (also now gone).

This is the left side of the yard. Gone is the apricot stump, but the rhodos at the back are kind of still visible. The outline of the patio is just beginning to take place in this picture.

Facing west and the back of the house. The grade is dramatic now between the two yards. No more sloping yard. The stone at the fore of the photo is left over Credit Valley limestone that made up the original front porch, now long gone. It includes 4 large steps treds which will be used in this project. We have been hoarding this stone for years. Now hubby will turn what we have into wall and stairs. More stone is on the way as what we have is only a fraction of what is needed.

Here is hubby at the start of the wall creation. We are on the south side looking northeast, the house in behind us and to the left. He has made the corner of the wall here.

And then before you know it the wall is complete!

What a piece of work is a man. Thank you hubby!

Yes, other stuff happened in between, but I wanted to give us all a sense of satisfaction for making it to the end of the post.  Next time you will see the finished sod work, what the garden will be like and a glimpse of the patio in progress. I am not sure how much more will get finished this year. The paths to the house and shed may wait until next spring, and the shed too perhaps. Hubby starts a new work contract very soon and the timing of this job worked out perfectly when he was in between contracts. He is working on the patio as I write - I am not allowed near it. Not allowed to move a stone or open my mouth. 
Until next.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A 'Small' Crop of Garlic

Garlic. I love garlic, hubby loves garlic. I purchased Canadian garlic two years ago and have now had two crops. Two crops of disappointing garlic. At first I wondered, is it me or is it them. Well that's a no brainer, it is me. Well not me specifically but rather where I planted the bulbs and the conditions under which they have thrived.

The property on which we live is large and yet only has pockets of sunshine through out the day. Most of it is in varying levels of shade, and that is of course problem number one - not enough sun. Where there is sun is where I have been planting my sun loving plants and so that relegated the garlic to the less than premium location. The soil in that location is pretty good and it is fairly quick draining as the tiny vegetable plot is in a raised bed. I harvested the bulbs (all 6 of them) in mid August as the leaves were yellowing and I think that was the right thing to do. So, I think the lack of required sunshine may be the main reason the bulbs I carefully removed from the ground are so small. 

This fall I will shift their location to improve the sun deficiency and we shall find out next year if that helps. The photos that follow will show you their growth and eventual harvest.

Looks are deceiving. The largest bulb is only 2 inches across and the smallest 1 1/4 inches with only two cloves. Oh well. I will plant the larger cloves for next year and the rest will end up on some garlic toast along with a glass of wine. Bon appetit.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Short History of the Agave - for Bom

Agave tequilana
The agave has been around for 60 millions years. The native range of these sun loving plants is in Southern Mexico and Northern South America. They are used to hot deserts and the arid conditions of sun drenched mountain slopes. Agaves have been consumed in one way or another for nine thousand years and continue to be used primarily for commercial purposes.
Agaves have been used as medicinal plants for the relief of inflammation, however, some such as A. bovicornuta cause dermatitis and some other species are so toxic that they have been used to poison the tips of arrows.

One tribe of New Mexican Apache Indians had many uses for the agave. They ate the mescal agave and turned its fibres into rope, cords, sandals and baskets. It was used as fuel and also as 'quids' in firearms.It could also be used to sew with: when the needle-sharp tip of the agave is snapped off it comes away with a string of vascular tissue that serves as thread.

The fibres are durable and sunlight resistant and those from A. sisalana are made into handwoven sisal rugs and more recently into cords and ropes that will hold up your clematis, tie that mattress tightly onto the roof of your car, or hold cargo in its place on transport ships. In the 1400's when Mexico was at the height of its power, the fibres of A. pacifica were used in clothing. Today sisal is grown in Kenya, Tanzania and Brazil and plays a significant economic role for these countries.

A century later when the Aztec civilization was in decline they traded their knowledge of the agave with the Spanish who gave them the technology of the still. The process of distilling grains into liquor was yet unknown to the Mexicans at this time. Naturally they looked to the agave as a possibility and soon were distilling a variety of intoxicating spirits. Pulque is made by fermenting the 'honey water' that is collected in the hollowed-out stems of the agave. Mescal is made from mashed mescal heads, or cabeza, made from the maguey plant (a form of agave, Agave americana). Mescal is double distilled and is aged in the bottle for four years. By the 1620's the Mexicans found if they cooked the fleshy leaf base of A. tequilana they could convert the natural starches into sugars. When pulped and fermented, the sugars became the drink the most famous for Mexico, the tequila.


This post is entered into Bom's birthday prize give away. Happy Birthday Bom.
The information on the agave comes from Bill Law's book Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History.