Saturday, January 29, 2011

Provincial Post - British Columbia

British Columbia is our most western province lying next to the Pacific Ocean. It is blessed with warm maritime weather and until the last couple of years saw more rain than snow. The winter 2010 Olympics were held in Whistler and for those who watched would have seen the majesty of the mountains, the Canadian Rockies. Gardeners in the Vancouver area of British Columbia are fortunate to enjoy zone 7/8.

British Columbia has chosen two trees (some may consider one a shrub) to represent the province; the floral emblem of B.C. is the Pacific Dogwood and the tree is the Western Red-cedar.

Pacific Dogwood

Photo from Wikipedia

The Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) is also known as Western Flowering Dogwood, Mountain Dogwood. It is a large shrub or small tree found at lower elevations of southwestern B.C. It prefers dry to moist, rich, acidic soils. It is an understory tree and therefore is well adapted to some shade. In full sun the bark is susceptible to sun scald. The dogwood is attractive to birds for the fruit, beavers for fruit and foliage and deer will browse the twigs. It can also be grazed by mule deer and elk.

It grows to a height of 15 m (50 feet) tall. The dogwood flowers in spring and sometimes again in the fall, like its many relatives. There are four to six showy bracts or modified leaves that encircle the actual flower, which are in clusters of 30-40 small green flowers. These flowers will form edible red fruit in the fall. The leaves are dark green, oval with a pointed tip and are held oppositely on the branch. They can be 4-10 cm long and may turn red in the fall. Pacific Dogwoods reproduce both vegetatively and by seed. 

This dogwood is prone to dogwood leaf blotch or Anthracnose a disease that may have been brought over on the Japanese Dogwood (Cornus kousa) in the 1970's. Anthracnose causes dieback and death. It is also known to be susceptible to a native Discula  non -virulent pathogen, which attacks young seedlings and trees in cool, wet weather.

The wood of Pacific Dogwood has been used by the First Nations peoples in the form of various implements, such as, knitting needles, bows, arrows, handles and clothing hooks. It has been used medicinally for stomach ailments, and as a blood purifier. It takes its name from the Sanskrit word dag which means skewers.

Western Red-cedar
Western Red-cedar or Thuja plicata is actually not a true cedar but is an arborvitae (from the Latin 'tree of life') like its cousin Thuja occidentalis. It is an evergreen conifer found predominantly on the Pacific coast and in central and southern B.C. and northwestern U.S.
It often forms pure stands on floodplains and wetlands and can be found with western hemlock, Douglas fir, amabilis fir and spruces. It prefers cool, mild and moist climates and is tolerant of shade. The western red-cedar is very long lived and can live over 1,000 years, with the oldest verified being 1,460 years.

The western redcedar grows to 60 m (200 feet) tall, with drooping branches and a trunk that is fluted and buttressed at the base. The foliage has flat sprays of scale-like leaves that are quite aromatic and can smell of pineapple when crushed. It blooms in spring and produces small brown seed cones when mature. Its pollen cones are tiny, reddish and numerous which shed yellow pollen.
The aboriginal peoples of the Northwest coast have a long history with the western red-cedar and it holds great spiritual significance for them. All parts of the tree were used most notably for dugout canoes, totem poles, house planks and smaller items such as bentwood boxes, masks, paddles and a variety of tools. In fact woodworking tools have been found that date back 5000-8000 years. Red-cedar was used to make dugout canoes, or monoxyla canoes, to take out to sea to hunt whales. Many of these canoes were over 18 m (60 feet) long.
 The aboriginals also harvested the bark from living trees that would be made into rope, clothing, mats and baskets. This could be done without harm to the tree until such point that the tree would be felled for other purposes. The harvesting of the tree was often accompanied by ritual ceremony and was most often harvested by the women, who climbed 10 meters (32 feet) in order to do so.
A ceremonial dugout canoe
Today red-cedar is used in house siding, decking, fencing and outdoor furniture. It is light and very durable and is resistant to insect damage and decay due to Thujaplicin a natural occuring fungicide in the mature wood.

Where is British Columbia ?
B.C. is the orange province on the far left

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Blog Carnival - New Years Garden Resolution

I realize I am late with this entry but if no one sees it I will at least hold myself and my resolution accountable this year.

We have a long back yard and it is divided pretty much into three areas; backyard 1, 2 and 3. Back yard 1 is the one in need of lots of work. Presently it is overrun with forget- me- nots and dandelions in the grass, in fact, the grass is slowly disappearing due to their spread. I have not been adding many plants to this area as the beds need to be reworked, re-sized and rearranged (not in that order :). As well, two years ago we had the house stuccoed and despite the great work and a new clean look, cleaning up after a renovation is still necessary. I have had a plan in mind for quite a few years and I truly hope to make it a reality this summer.

This is the front corner of the house. The terrace has stairs that lead down the side towards the back. Some of the route to the back is gravel and some is grass. At the end of the house is a door with side windows. There are original stone steps down to the door. One small project is to link the stone stairs of the terrace with those of the steps to the back door. I would simply like to put in some flagstone to link these two areas. Then, the idea is to continue the new flagstone path to the back garden where we would put in a flagstone patio.

Side at steps to door. Rose of Sharon in flower.

This is the back of the house.
Here is where you will have to use your imagination.
This yard is surrounded by trees except for one open area that leads down to yard 2. Presently in this space is a concrete table and three benches that will be removed as they are disintegrating, and the remains of an old apricot tree that finally died last spring. We will have to do some regrading of this yard. And with the aggressive forget-me-nots which I will never forget, probably replace the topsoil.
I am considering growing either native hydrangeas or viburnums in front of the windows, in an arch, so that they will provide a backdrop to the new patio. I would like to add a small native tree to the right of the house and am thinking of a dogwood (hopefully the Anthracnose is not in the city).
I can not find any photos that show parts of this garden, however looking at the photo there are 3 rhododendron on the right sitting in front of a cedar hedge. Across from the house is a garden bed that needs to be enlarged and moved closer to the house as it backs onto a variety of trees that continue to grow into the bed. To the left of the house is a garden shed, another future project.  Across from the house and to the left is the opening to the rest of the back yard.

view to yard 2

Project number 2 starts here as I believe the next step is too large to take on as well. That step is to change the slope from yard 1 to yard 2 into stairs or terraced stairs down. The forsythia in front of the black walnut tree would be removed. New plants are needed especially on the right side to help control erosion. But that is for another time.  

Naturally if anyone has some ideas or any kind of input I would love to hear it. Winter is a great time to think about the garden.

Many thanks to My Little Garden in Japan for hosting the blog Carnival. Please visit the site to see what resolutions other gardeners around the world are making.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Winter Wonderland

Just a few snaps of the gardens in the last little while.

Who is this coming from the wall?

It's mouse tracks

Squirrel tracks under the hemlock

Rabbit track

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sustainable Horticulture

As I mentioned in my last post, I was at a master gardener technical update ( a fancy term for a one day conference/seminar) regarding sustainable horticulture. A reader, One from Onenezz, very thoughtfully asked me to elaborate further on the subject and so I will do my best.

"After the establishment of sustainable agriculture in the early 1980s it was some time before the emergence of Sustainable Horticulture (as sustainable production horticulture) at the International Society of Horticultural Science's First International Symposium on Sustainability in Horticulture held at the International Horticultural Congress in Toronto in 2002. This symposium produced "conclusions ... on Sustainability in Horticulture and a Declaration for the 21st Century". 

It is the...
... design, construction, operations and maintenance practices that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs
by attempting to:

...protect, restore and enhance the ability of landscapes to provide ecosystem services that benefit humans and other organisms.   (The Sustainable Sites Initiative)

To the best of my knowledge sustainable horticulture is another way of phrasing various other 'green' terms we have come to hear about over the years. In essence it is a philosophy of how we should be living our lives in harmony with the natural environment. With sustainable horticulture we are looking at gardens and landscape in particular but not exclusively. 

Ever since the creation of cities the majority of populations lived in the rural areas of any country worldwide. Up until the 19 century 80% of the population lived in the country, today that 80 % now lives in the city. Imagine what changes have occurred in the last 200 years. We have gone from living in small separate communities with nature all around  to enormous land grabbing cities, with people living in such close quarters and nature trying to survive in the nooks and crannies that are left to them.
Living in large cities is hard and stressful. Noise, pollution, crime are part of daily life. The worst of the cities are concrete jungles. Neighborhoods exist with little green space, schools have few or small windows and their playgrounds are concrete slabs. How do we expect children to grow up living in a box with no access to anything natural. According to one statistic raised at the conference, 40% of neighborhood crime decreases if children can see a tree outside their window. An amazing figure ! How do we create the access to more natural areas for these children?

Part of the idea of sustainable horticulture is to find ways to allow to allow animals large and small to survive in the cities and the more natural areas left to them. We forget that animals migrate, have territories, build communities. They, like us, need food, shelter, water. We are upset when the raccoons  invade our garbage and our koi ponds, when the mice get into the house, when a hawk scoops up our small dog or cat. There is a need to look more closely at how are cities and communities are built with animals in mind. One idea is the need to create animal corridors in the cities and corridors linking cities and towns. If we want to continue to live with animal life we must provide space for them to move freely and place to live safely. What value to do place on animal life? 

Water. Some places in the world are in constant drought. The ice caps are melting and the arctic north is greening  and not in a good way. Floods are happening frequently elsewhere. While the effects of global warming are difficult for the average person to  alter we can make better choices in our communities. New systems of preventing water runoff to the sewers are just starting to be implemented, the use of rain barrels for the average homeowner is on the rise, downspout runoff can be transformed into small bog gardens or diverted to cisterns for future use. Consider what is in the water that runs off your property into local streams or lakes. How can we clean it before it reaches these areas?

Another part involves plant life. For a decade now we have been on the green bandwagon (and rightly so) and trying to get back to nature or finding ways to make our gardens more natural. The question arises, What is natural? Are gardens planted with native only plants natural? What do we think about all the new plant cultivars or hybrids that are introduced every year? Are they natural? How do we deal with invasive plants in our national parks, city gardens, and our home gardens.
The trend is to encourage native plants in your gardens and I am a firm believer in this. Growing natives makes sense although it is not foolproof. What garden is truly natural? As master gardeners we must be aware and make others aware that planting natives is not foolproof. We must steer away from the holy platitudes that they are tough, need less water, fertilizer etc. While this is partially true, ask yourself, is the soil in your garden untouched from centuries past? Can we expect all native plants to survive easily where the topsoil has been removed, where pesticides and herbicides are used, where the soil has been trampled on and compacted over time? The use of natives is important but there are many wonderful alternatives to suit "the right plant in the right place". 

Following this idea is the importance of invasive species. No matter where you live you are probably putting up a fight with some plant from another country or region of your own country that is taking over your garden. Tighter controls are needed when importing new plants to help avoid this problem. The same applies to the importation of beneficial insects for control of pests.
A lot has been in the news lately about pollinators and beneficial bugs. How can we attract them to our garden? How can we keep them safe ? Again the importance of native plants plays a large part here as they provide the necessities that our local insects, birds, animals need for survival whether it is food or shelter.

I have only touched the surface of this broad subject. It is extremely involved and of course quite complicated as everything in the world is connected somehow. It is because of the recognition of this connection and seeing what we are doing to our planet that conferences on horticulture sustainability are now taking place. I hope that I have raised questions to make you think. Think about what is important to you, how you want to live, how you would like future generations to live.

For more information please visit this website: Canadian Institute for Sustainable Biodiversity

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Back to the Park and other things

Over the holidays while driving past the park I caught sight of a white goose nosing about the park grass. On a hope that it was still there I went back on a brilliant sunny day to capture him/her on camera.

Isn't he lovely !

and friendly !

I spotted some Canada geese out on the water

That's the closest I could get without the camera jumping out of my hand.
And looking toward the west were some geese and mallard and three swans preening themselves.

Nice photo except for the green bottle. That's the reality I guess.

Bye bye from the ducks.

Yesterday morning I was up early to go to the Toronto Master Gardeners Technical Update. The theme of the conference was "Sustainable Horticulture". The conference and its speakers tried to make us think about what sustainable horticulture means, and how do we as master gardeners provide the right advice to the public. We listened to three very good speakers, Dr. David Galbraith of the Royal Botanical Gardens who spoke of Exploring Sustainability and Naturalization of Urban Gardens; Dr. Rebecca Hallett on Are you Bugged? Getting to know the Good Bugs in your Garden; and Sean James who spoke of the everyday loss of water to sewer systems and the need to use more permeable friendly materials. A very good day with a great lunch as usual.
However what we were not prepared for on the way into Toronto was the snow. No snow to speak of in the forecast, and yet by the afternoon we had 15-20 cm of snow on the ground. Terrible to drive through but lovely to look at. So here are a few pictures of what caught my eye in the garden.

Mushrooms in winter?

I have a thing for these cement mushrooms

That's it from snowy Burlington.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Territorial Post - Nunavut

With winter here I got to thinking about the snow or lack thereof in my part of the world. I thought it appropriate to choose one of Canada's northern territories for my provincial/territorial post. Despite being so far north some areas in Nunavut do not appear to get all that much snow in winter. Something more in common with southern Ontario.
Nunavut is Canada 's largest and newest territory found at the Arctic circle. It separated from the Northwest Territories on April 1. 1999. It is populated almost exclusively by its indigenous people the Inuit who are know to have lived there for 4000 years. While it is one of the largest territories geographically it is also one of the least populated with a population of just over 33,000 people.

The climate is considered "modified maritime Arctic"with an annual mean temperature between -9 and -18 Celsius at the northernmost point. Nunavut does not have a summer as we know it. In July it is known to get to 7 C but warmer temperatures are kept in check by the ice-filled polar waters which have a surface temperature of -12C. Precipitation is a scant 50mm annually. About 50-80 % of it falls as snow, however the snow flakes are so small that they do not adhere to the ground leaving it bare all winter.

As Nunavut is mostly above the tree line they do not have a territorial tree. The land is tundra and meadow with little soil and dry difficult conditions upon which to grow and survive. You can expect to see alpine flowers such as cinquefoil, mountain avens, dandelions, winterberry and saxifrage. The flower for the territory is the Saxifrage or saxifraga oppositifolia.

 Saxifraga oppositifolia photo from Wikipedia

Purple mountain saxifrage

Purple saxifrage grows as a matted plant to 3-5 cm high and creeps or trails along the surface. The leaves are small and rounded and scale-like. The flowers are solitary and grow on short woody stalks in colours of purple or lilac. It is one of the earliest to flower and can be found blooming in the snow. Saxifraga oppositifolia is a circumboreal plant and can be found in northern British Columbia and Newfoundland, as well as, Norway and Northern Ireland.

From Wikipedia: The Latin word Saxifraga means literally "stone-breaker", from Latin saxum "rock" or "stone" + frangere "to break". This refers to certain saxifrages' ability to settle in the cracks of rocks, which they may in fact wear down by bioerosion to the point of splitting.

Where is Nunavut?

Nunavut is the teal green at the north.