Tuesday, March 20, 2018


It was the first day of Spring today and it really felt like it. The sun was warm and bright, the air was buoyant, snow was melting, birds were singing... Rosie and I wandered around for a while, but the snow is still too deep in the woods for an actual walk, so we retreated to the Studio for a very spring-like activity.

I grow ferns from spores. Here is a  picture of part of my setup. The dusty white areas are the tops of the fluorescent light fixtures, which are suspended about a foot above the shelves. It's a very simple setup: two shelves with two lights suspended above each one. It's in my pottery Studio, hence the dust. The small plastic boxes contain the spores sown on potting mix.

The label you see is inside the box, pressed in beside the mix so I can see the name when I take the lid off. I used to write the names on the lids... you can guess what eventually happened.

Most of these spores were sown last fall, a few just a couple of weeks ago. The ones from last fall were ready for some transplanting work, so, once I located that darn trowel of mine and some pots and potting mix, I got to work.

Here is what it looks like inside one of the small boxes. The green moss-like stuff in the middle is the germinated spores, which at this stage are small, 1/4" or less, prothalli. They are flat, roughly heart-shaped, and have many reddish hairs (rhizoids) which anchor them to the mix.

Two structures develop under each prothallus, one or several  antheridiums which will produce sperms, and an archegonium which will produce an egg.  The sperms 'swim' to the egg in the thin layer of water under the prothallus. Once fertilized, the egg will begin to grow and divide and soon the baby fern, the sporophyte, appears.

This box is Walking Fern, Asplenium rhizophyllum. You can see many small sporophytes, especially in the upper right-hand corner.

Once the little fernlets get big enough, I will transplant them into small 3" pots.

I didn't do the Walking ferns today, but I did quite a few others.

These are three different ferns, a Dryopteris dilatata, an Asplenium trichomanes, and an Adiantum aleuticum. Cute, eh?

 Here's a whole tray of cuties. I don't usually have a tray of all different species, usually the whole tray will be one kind, but today I had a number of different ones outgrowing their boxes. In every batch of spores, some plants seem to start more quickly, and grow more robustly, than the others in the batch. Later I'll have more of each kind and, being the compulsive sort, I'll no doubt sort them into groups.

I have some plastic mini-greenhouses and they are very good for growing on the little fernlets. Right after they've been transplanted I keep the vents closed so the humidity will stay high and the little ones can recover from the trauma of being potted up.
After a month or so, when they seem to be growing well, I start gradually leaving the lid off so they can get used to normal air. This is another mixed box, but this time it is because some of the 2016-17 crop were just too small to be planted out last fall and I have had to coddle them through the winter.

It was so warm and Spring-ish today that now I'm optimistic they'll make it!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Les Fleurs d'Hiver

They say April is the cruelest month, but for me, February is. The weather is dreary, the fun of fresh show has worn off (very worn off), the sun don't shine... the month just seems long and dull.

So I do oddball things just to make the month go by faster. Like making weird arrangements to decorate the house.

Now, those who know me will point out that I have no flower arranging ability to speak of, and I'll be the first to agree. Years ago I was at a lecture by an ace arranger, and he ended his talk by describing what he called 'the Dutch Bunch'. 'The Dutch ladies', he said, 'just go out into their gardens and look around. Oh, they say, here's a lovely blue flower, and they cut it and jam it into their left hands. Then they find a yellow thing and cut it and jam it in their left hands. A red rose, a blue Delphinium, a white Daisy, all get jammed into the left hand. When their hand is full, they go in, stick the whole thing in a large jar, and voila, the Dutch Bunch.' Best part of the lecture, for me.

So I grabbed my trusty secateurs (yes, I was able to find them, unlike the trowel which I really need as I'm planning to transplant a bunch of baby ferns, anybody seen it lately?) and ventured forth. It was kind of gloomy out, a bit of drizzle happening, the snow deep all around, but not cold. Just a wander down the driveway and I found all kinds of nice dried weeds.
dried native plants to use in an arrangement
A Spirea bush donated a stiff stalk, much branched, the Motherwort plants that have taken over a patch near the road were a lovely deep brown, there were Queen's Anne's Lace 'nests' a-plenty, Milkweed pods, of course, Ggrasses, Goldenrods, Asters, even a rather goofy Japanese Anemone stalk.

I gathered them up and jammed them into my left hand.

Stuck the whole bunch in a tall vase (a wider one would have been better), and placed it artistically on my hall table. I did cheat a little and added some bulrushes from last summer, but that was the extent of it.
vase of dried weeds
BTW, if you want to have bulrushes for arrangements in the Fall or Winter, try to get the small ones. There are two species and the most obvious difference is that one has much smaller 'wands' than the other. It grows all along our roads, just keep an eye out and you'll see them. Pick them while they are still green and let them dry upright in a cool spot. They won't burst and spew fluff all over the room, and they'll look good in arrangements all winter.

You can of course, also go out and buy a flower or two. Here's another of my 'arrangements' using some purchased Chrysanthemums and a piece of Balsam Fir branch blown down by the wind.

I apologize to those who really do know how to arrange flowers, particularly those who do Ikebana. I admire it, but it isn't in my skill set.

Another fun way to use wild stuff to decorate your burrow in February is to bring back one small twig or branch or stem every time you go for a walk, and stick them individually in a collection of small vases.

I just happen to have a fine new narrow shelf rail in my dining room, and of course, being a potter, I have plenty of small vases to choose from.

And no arranging required!
small vases with dried weeds

Monday, January 29, 2018

Well, That's Seedy.

Seedy Saturdays and Seedy Sundays are popping up all over these days. If you don't know about them, they are events where various seed-savers, seed-sellers, seed-swappers and otherwise seed-ish people get together to swap, sell and so on the seeds they've collected. I'm going to one in Almonte Ontario on February 10. Since I don't have very many seeds (a few species, but not many), I'm bringing my Wildflower note cards and some Herb garden markers.
Well, to be honest, I'm going because it's fun! Last year I was delighted to get seeds of white Cleome and New Jersey Tea and I'm hoping for more great finds this year. Just being in a large room filled with keen gardeners is exciting too. So it's fun!

Seedy Saturday, Feb. 10, Almonte Civitan Hall, 500 Almonte Road, 9am to 3pm. There will be guest speakers, info tables by many gardening groups, seeds galore and, yes, photo note cards. If you come, please stop by my table and say 'Hi'!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Snowy Day

If you go down to the woods today...
woods in snow

You're in for a big surprise...

Actually, no, you're not, but you might find some interesting stuff just the same. Seed heads, mosses, bark... if you look closely you can find all kinds of things.

Maybe even a small dog sitting in the snow looking bemused:

If we gardeners are surprised at how different our gardens look in the snow, think of how it must be for a dog!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Nice Surprise

Even in the winter, one can have a gardening surprise!

Rosie and I were out for a 'walk', or should I say, 'slog' the other day, wading through snow that was up over my knees and her head. Poor dog, the only way she could get ahead was by making a series of small leaps. It worked but she got quite tired. Still, it has been very cold and we've been a bit cooped up and we both wanted to be out so we kept going.

Eventually we got to the top of the ridge overlooking the marsh. I stopped for a brief rest and noticed a small branch from a conifer blown down and resting on top of the snow.
red spruce twig and rosie
That's Rosie  photo-bombing my picture of the twig! She was finding it pretty hard going and was following me very closely. The twig interested me because the cones seemed very small. I picked it up and carried it home. Here's a closer look at the twig with the cones:

red spruce cones on twig
 I looked it up in my Trees In Canada (Farrar, 2006), and it turns out to be Red Spruce, Picea rubens. The book describes it as 'uncommon, but present' for my area. Of course it is hard to interpret the distribution map very closely, but I know it's uncommon here because I've never seen such small cones before. I have a lot of White Spruce, Picea glauca, but their cones are always between 2" and 4" long. These are mostly less than 1". Also the needles on White Spruce seem a bit longer, darker green, and less curved. I don't think this can be Black Spruce, Picea mariana because that is mostly found right in swamps or other damp areas, and this tree is growing on a rocky slope quite a bit above the marsh.

The cones are really cute:
cones picea rubens
I'm going to plant some of the seeds and see if I can grow a few Red Spruce trees.

And I'm going to get my snowshoes out!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Winter Wonderland

A light dusting of snow last night meant I woke up to a Winter Wonderland this morning. There was already some snow down, but this last sprinkling made everything sparkle.

The Sampler Garden looked its picturesque best:
The driveway was a new and exciting landscape:
The sun came out briefly and lit up one of the young spruces near the marsh;
Of course Rosie had to stick her head in the snow to investigate something of interest to dogs:

And so, home to make tomorrow's Yule Log and enjoy a lazy day in a warm cosy house. I hope all of you are able to do the same thing, and I wish everyone All the Best For 2018.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Checking In - A Word from the Trowel

I know you haven't heard from me in a while. That's because I've been having a fantastic summer!

First it was pretty nice out, lots of rain, everything growing like anything. She made me do some transplanting and we moved a lot (groan) of small plants into larger pots... but then She had a sort of a sale and people actually came and bought most of them which meant that we didn't have to transplant the rest of them and I got to have a nice rest in a wheelbarrow full of potting soil. Then it rained some more and I heard rumours that some places were getting kind of flooded but it didn't affect us as we are about 20' higher than the marsh here. At least the house is. The marsh got so high it was almost up to the driveway in a couple of places. I was kind of worried because the wheelbarrow I was in was filling up and I couldn't see any way to get out and make for dry land but eventually She came along and tsked and hmmmed and moved me into the old seed-starting shed.

Not that the rain didn't come in there as well, but at least it drained away.

Then darned if She didn't get herself a puppy. So you can imagine how much attention I got. It was raining too much to transplant anything anyway so I got another nice long rest. In this way June, July and most of August went by nicely. Didn't do a lick of work. It was wonderful.

September kind of blew up my nice lazy life. Didn't the sun come out and the air turn warm? What kind of September is that!! Naturally She had an attack of plant moving and away we went. Why does She insist of moving huge root balls using only a wee trowel? Too lazy to get the spade, I guess. But you know how good natured I am. I did my best and got through it with only a minor crick in my neck. A bit of leverage against a rock soon straightened that out. Getting on a bit, you know. This is my seventh (or it eighth) summer.

Then it was, apparently, time to pot up a mess of baby ferns. Yechhh. So fiddly. So precious. OK, we did about 50 of one kind and maybe 30 of another kind. Can't think why. All I got to do was scoop potting soil into little pots, but that beats being used as a crowbar to move huge things like Asters and getting a crick and getting it straightened out against a nasty sharp rock.

Anyway, that was my summer. She says it's going to get more interesting again soon, something about having finished some sort of business of changing rooms around in the house and setting up a new computer and getting various things fixed and sorted and re-organized and somehow there seems to be a second lady around lately. A tall lady but she seems nice and I'm pretty sure she doesn't garden. We'll get along pretty well I'm thinking. Apparently she's going to be staying for a while and that's why we had all this moving around of 'stuff'. The puppy is no problem either, not really, not since she decided I was too hard to chew.

 I'll keep you posted.