Saturday, April 24th, 2010

Solomon’s Seal: A Key Player in Your Woodland Garden

I’ve been branching out (sorry) to explore some new territory in the woodland garden, these days.  I’m not quite sure why this sudden interest in shade-loving plants.  Over 98% of my current garden grows in full sun. Barely a nook of dappled shade to be found.  Another example of a human foolishly yearning after the opposite of what she has.

Yup, that’s me.  The brunette wishing she were blonde.

Anyway, Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum hybridum) isn’t exactly an exotic or rare shade plant, but for some reason we’ve only just recently become acquainted.  Here’s what I love about it:

What I love about Solomon’s Seal

It’s really easy to grow. Once established, it’s also easy to divide into more plants.

It has whimsical little flowers. They hang like strings of beautiful little oval-shaped pearls, blooming in spring through to early summer.

It has interesting foliage. The lush green foliage arches on tall stems that add some nice height over lower growing woodland plants. It grows up to 3 feet tall.

It’s a key player in shade. It makes a wonderful planting companion for other popular woodland perennials such as Dicentra spectabilis (bleeding heart), Aquilegia (columbine), and blue leafed hostas.  It’s also a great plant for growing under trees in a place that gets both sun and partial shade.

Because I have no shade, my Solomon’s seal is planted in a huge wine barrel which sits under the eave in my carport, along with a maidenhair fern, sweet woodruff and a large hosta.  It’s thriving and is currently rewarding me with those lovely, delicate, little white flowers.

I can’t believe I waited this long to get one.

What do you like to see growing in the shade?  Is Solomon’s seal part of your woodland garden?  Do you have a favourite shade plant that you absolutely can’t live without?

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Calamity on Blueberry Hill

We’ve had some incredibly high winds here on the south coast lately.  Mother Earth flexing her muscles.

My house sits on a slight hill on a 20 acre blueberry farm just outside of Langley, B.C.  Because of this subtle elevation, it always feels windy, even when the surrounding treetops are still.  And so, when the wind really pipes up, its effects are doubly felt on my little plot.

Calamity struck while I was away.  Returning late, in darkness, from a visit to Vancouver Island, (lucky to get home with BC Ferry cancellations due to high winds), I didn’t see the damage until the following morning.

The Damage

One third of the tree has fallen to the right.  The second third has fallen to the left.  The remaining third is still upright.

I’m not even sure what kind of tree it is.  Nor am I a tree surgeon.

Thank goodness for the experts…….

Buddy:  ”It looks bad.  Real bad.”

Freddy:  ”Nah! Just a minor flesh wound.  Fuhgettabout it.”

While I don’t own the property, and the surrounding trees are my landlord’s responsibility, I feel a gardener’s compulsion to come to the aid of all sick or dying plants.  Call me “Saint Francis of Assisi”, I just hate looking out my window and seeing this poor tree in distress.  My landlord has inspected it several times, circling the tree solemnly in his black rubber boots.  But the limbs remain, hanging like dislocated arms, crying out for a compassionate amputation.

It’s all I can do to refrain from calling out my window, “Gangrene, dear sir!  We must stop the gangrene!”

Happy Earth Day, everyone.

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Green Porno

Thanks to a little visit to yesterday, I discovered a post by Garden Brae which included a link to “Green Porno” a series of films all written by and starring Isabella Rossellini.  Produced for the Sundance Channel, each short is approximately one minute long and dramatizes the life-cycle of a featured garden insect. They are intended to be educational and entertaining and admittedly, a little shocking.

“Green Porno” is definitely wacky, but a lot of fun.  Take a look.  Let your inner child laugh out loud, but don’t be surprised if the prude in you is dumb-founded.

Green Porno: “If I Were an Earthworm”

So?  What do you think?  Inspired film-making or gratuitous drivel?

Why don’t you check out another one to help you decide…

Green Porno:  ”If I Were a Bee”

What do you think?  Bizarre?  Hilarious?  Offensive?  Or just plain stupid?

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

After all these years living on the west coast, I’ve never experienced The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in Washington State.  Until, that is, last weekend.

Spurred on by Stevie’s magnificent montage of photos on her blog, Garden Therapy, I packed a picnic lunch, charged up my Nikon battery, and spent a warm spring day tiptoeing through the tulips.

Fun Tulip Facts

Tulips did not originally come from Holland.  They were introduced to western Europe from Turkey, by the Ottoman Empire.

The Dutch Royal Family sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa in 1945. The gift was to say thank you for sheltering Princess Juliana and her daughters during Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

Tulips belong to the Liliaceae family. They share this family with onions, garlic, asparagus, Amaryllis and lilies.

The tulip is the official symbol of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. A Dutch horticulturalist named a tulip in honour of Dr. James Parkinson and his work on the disease.  The Foundation adopted the tulip as its symbol in 1980.

Tulips are edible. You can add the petals to salads.  At the end of WWII, many Dutch were forced to eat tulip bulbs out of hunger.  They roasted the bulbs in the oven, (first removing the centre of the bulb which is poisonous), and ground the bulb into a meal-like flour to make into loaves of bread.  A Dutch man who was interviewed on CBC radio likens the taste to ‘wet sawdust’.  Hmm, think I’ll stick to onions and garlic.

One More Fun Tulip Fact

Tulipmania, the craze that hit Holland in the mid-1600’s, was caused by a virus in the tulip bulb. The virus, known as a mosaic virus, caused the tulips to grow in vibrant colours with unique lines and flames in the petals.

The infected bulbs sold for astronomical prices, but the the bulbs weren’t stable and didn’t produce the same effects the following year, and so the market crashed.

Canadian Tulip Festival

We Canadians have our own tulip festival in Ottawa, Ontario.  The Canadian Tulip Festival runs from May 7 to 24, and claims to be the largest tulip festival in the world.

With more than one million tulips, the displays stretch from Commissioner’s Park at Dow’s Lake to Parliament Hill, and then across the Ottawa River to Gatineau Park, Quebec.

As for me, I’ve never stood in fields of colour like this before.  It feels like a sacred communion with Mother Earth, even though I know the fields are planted by farmers and cultivated for market.  The expanse, the scale of it, is impressive, and also strangely comforting.

Clearly, the visit left its mark.  The next day, home from the fields, I wrote this poem (and trust me, writing poetry is a very new thing for me!):

When I open my mouth to speak

A mist of butterflies

Flutter like wishes

- delicate and fragile – up from my belly

and across my tongue,

On wings

of riotous colour,

returning to the air.

If you live on the west coast, The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is truly not to be missed.  The fields are nearly finished for this year, but I strongly urge you to mark your calendars for next year.  The festival runs annually during the month of April.

And for anyone who calls Ontario home, get on over to the Canadian Tulip Festival!  The photos on their website look amazing.