Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Houseplant Problem

Today's photo depicts a jungle that used to be a desk. The transformation of the
desk was a gradual process that was barely perceptible at first. By the time I realized
what was really happening, I had accumulated an alarming number of plants.

"Ha," you may scoff, "this will never happen to me!" Maybe it won't. But just
remember that houseplants make ideal gifts during this colder weather, and you
may receive more than you bargained for.

As you may have guessed, I have a weakness for plants, and houseplants are no
exception. I didn't intend to create a jungle. Some plants were gifts, others were
rescue plants, and, yes I admit it, some were purchases.

Take another look at the photo. You may notice a poinsettia sitting calmly in the
background row. This may not seem odd to you until I mention that the poinsettia
has survived one Christmas already and will probably be around for another. Since
I am a plant-lover, I research the care that each plant species requires, which is why
I have a non-blooming poinsettia in late November.

You may also notice a fancy begonia that is proudly showing off its two leaves.
This is quite an accomplishment, since it first entered the room as a rescue plant
with only one leaf. I liked it so much that I couldn't bear to let the frost get it.

The jungle continued to grow as each new houseplant added its own unique story
to the collection. And now, the desk is hardly visible. So be warned, Readers. Keep
track of your houseplants, otherwise you may end up with a jungle like mine.

What's wrong with a jungle? Nothing, as long as you have the time and inclination
to care for it. You do? Great, then go wild! Houseplant jungles can provide great
substitute gardens for green thumbs over the winter, and they may also improve
indoor air quality by filtering out common toxins. Just remember to keep the
jungle away from children and pets, since many houseplants are poisonous.

All the best. Check back on Monday, 2 December for my next post.

Monday, 18 November 2013

The Craft Fair Experience

Sometimes I think that I'd make a great magpie since I have an eye for
beautiful things and love to collect them. When the holiday season strikes,
my desire to collect is heightened, since I know that soon I'll have an excuse
to 'decorate the nest' as much as I please and no eyebrows will be raised until
the new year.

This weekend I prowled Delbrook Rec Centre's annual Christmas craft fair in
search of the choicest trinkets. I enjoy buying Christmas ornaments, but since
I already have enough ornaments at home to warrant two separate collections
themed by colour, I am very choosy when I consider adding to my decorations.

At the craft fair I bought only one more ornament for myself: a wooden hand-
painted gingerbread man. He's matte brown with shiny white icing and a cheerful
disposition. I admit that I was charmed by Sue Pate's snow folk ornaments. Each
snow person was made of felt, hand-stitched, and wore a tiny knitted scarf. Some
snow folk preferred to hang on the display tree by themselves, but others huddled
with a partner or family group. I bought a snow couple for my thoughtful partner,
but I may buy some for myself in the near future.

A variety of goods were available at the fair. As expected, jewellery and knitwear
were prevalent. This suited me since I needed a new toque and knew that my mother
would appreciate jewellery as a Christmas gift. I was also hoping to buy a beeswax
candle that day, and was not disappointed.

I think that there was something for everyone at the fair. Here's a random list to give
you an idea of what was on offer:

  • ceramic bowls with distinctive glazes
  • soft toy sausage dogs with patterned bodies
  • striped wooden cutting boards
  • greeting cards featuring wildlife photography
  • personalized book marks themed by hobbies or interests
  • candle-holding lanterns decorated with landscape art
  • gift pouches made by African grandmothers

If this list is making you wish that you were there, you may be in luck. Delbrook
Centre is hosting the craft fair again on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
There is an entrance fee of $2. I may see you there if I return for more snow folk!

Thanks for reading. I'll post again on Tuesday, November 26.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Where Have All the Hummingbirds Gone?

Earlier this week, I reluctantly pulled down my hummingbird feeder. It's been up
for a few months, but I've only ever seen a hummingbird use it once. During the
summer, hummingbirds were frequent visitors to my garden, but they only
expressed interest in the flowers, not the feeder. Pictured above is a favourite
hummingbird plant (they love plants with red, tubular flowers). Unfortunately,
after the plants finished blooming, the hummingbirds stopped coming.

Finally I decided that repeatedly filling a feeder with unwanted sugar solution was
pointless. I brought the feeder inside, phoned my avian-enthusiast partner and
sheepishly told him about the failure of my hummingbird winter operations. During
this conversation, I happened to look outside. There in the spot where the feeder
used to be, was a frantic hummingbird. It buzzed up, down, left, right - apparently
searching for a feeder that should have been there.

So I did have a hummingbird visitor after all, it was just very sneaky! My system
reeled from shock and I raced to restore the feeder to its proper location. I am really
glad that the beautiful creature revealed its self to me that day, otherwise I would have
deprived it of a steady winter supply of nectar.

I learned two valuable lessons from that incident:

  1. Just because I can't see nature, doesn't mean it isn't there
  2. Have a little faith
The hummingbird was an Anna's Hummingbird, a species which does not migrate 
extensively. It's probably going to spend the winter here, which is why I must keep 
the feeder up consistently (no more backsliding)!

Interestingly, in the winter Anna's Hummingbirds rely on insects to make up the bulk 
of their diet. A steady supply of nectar will be a welcome energy boost, however, 
and will help hummingbirds to survive the harsh winter months.

It's not much of a commitment to keep a feeder hummingbird-ready. I just clean the 
feeder and change the solution every five to six days (to keep it mould-free). That's it. 
The sugar solution is one part sugar (try Rogers Organic Sugar; avoid anything that 
might be contaminated with pesticides or other poisons) to four parts water (once 
again, the cleaner the better).

If you'd like to put up a feeder over the winter months, I'd suggest taking a trip down 
to Wild Birds Unlimited if you're in North Vancouver. They have some great options. 
Good luck!

Thanks for reading; check back on Monday, November 18th for my next post.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Fort Langley's Heritage Apples

Today's uplifting sunny weather reminded me of a perfect outing that I took
with my partner a short while ago. We decided to revisit Fort Langley since
we had only been to this charming place once before.

Fort Langley had many surprises in store for us during that visit. After admiring
a lovely painting of an apple tree, my partner learned from the owner of the
Birthplace of B. C. Gallery that the ancient apple tree was actually part of a
nearby heritage area in Derby Reach Regional Park.

Nothing makes my partner's eyes light up faster than the promise of unexplored
terrain. We quickly left the gallery (which is the best gallery that I've ever seen)
in search of new adventures.

When we arrived at Derby Reach Regional Park, we parked close to a historic
barn. We soon learned that we were very close to a forest trail called the
Houston Trail, and so we happily ventured into the woods.

The forest was full of really large deciduous trees as well as the usual evergreens.
The path was littered with enormous yellow maple leaves, and many tree limbs
were covered with moss and ferns. The sun filtered through the forest canopy
and turned ordinary yellows into golds. Many rotting logs were decorated with
masses of tiny, pale toadstools.

After leaving the majestic woods, we returned to the heritage area to take in the
ancient apple trees. Some of them were so hollow that we were amazed that they
were still alive. All were gnarled and twisted, and many bore fruit. Signage along
the way told us the ages and varieties of the trees (the oldest was believed to be
from the late 1850s).

The idyllic heritage trail followed the Fraser River. As we ambled along, we
inspected apple trees and even a mysterious lone pear tree (variety unknown).
I particularly liked a rose hedge, which was full of shiny red hips. My partner
was impressed with a nearby farmhouse. As we climbed a rolling hill and
admired the distant farmhouse, we both began to feel as if we had magically
entered Beatrix Potter's Lakeland!

Well Readers, I hope that you've enjoyed reading about my adventure.
Hopefully this will inspire you to enjoy some adventures of your own!

Because of the long weekend, I'll be posting my next topic on Tuesday, November 12th.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Dahlia: To Chuck or Not To Chuck? Questioning the Roles of My Garden Plants

Hello Readers! Those of you who are familiar with my blog may be wondering if this
gorgeous dahlia survived my garden's transition from regular suburban garden into
suburban nature sanctuary.

Before I answer this, let's look at some facts.

Reasons for Keeping the Magnificent Dahlia

  1. It's gorgeous
  2. It's a profuse bloomer with a long blooming period
  3. It's a gift!
  4. I really like it . . . 

Reasons for Discarding the Magnificent Dahlia (Bias? What bias!?!)

  1. It doesn't provide food (pollen & nectar) for local pollinators
  2. It contributes nothing to the local ecosystem (it's a Mexican native)
  3. It uses resources (water, nutrients, etc.) that could otherwise be recycled by the local ecosystem
The reasons for discarding the dahlia are compelling. If the dahlia was a plant 
that was native to Pacific Northwest, then it would contribute nutrients to the local 
food chain. Local insects would be able to obtain nourishment from it and would in turn 
become food for other creatures such as birds. And so, the cycle would continue and the 
nutrients would be passed on.

By the way, Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy is a fantastic book that 
explains how and why gardeners should help nature. 

So the dahlia's in the green waste bin, then?

Well, no (didn't you read point # 4?). Actually it's thriving in a prime sunny spot. 
Suddenly replacing all useless exotics with useful natives would be one solution to 
my nature sanctuary dilemma, but I believe that other, less extreme solutions also exist.

I think that as long as my garden positively contributes to my local ecosystem 
(instead of draining it of resources), then there's no reason why I can't keep some 
of my useless exotics that I'm really attached to.

Because I'm gardening with nature in mind, I made the decision to throw out 
a delphinium and replace it with something pollinator-friendly. I wasn't particularly 
attached to the delphinium, so it was really easy for me to replace it with a hyssop. 
My decision paid off, since the hyssop turned out to be a favourite of the native 
bumblebees during the summer. 

Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed my dahlia's happy ending!

Check back on Monday, November 4th for my next post.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Which Plants Helped Pollinators In My Garden?

Which Bug is This?

The lovely critter featured in the above photo is just one of the many pollinators that my
garden provided nourishment for over the summer. Is it a bee? No, it's actually another
kind of pollinator called a flower fly (hover fly). It has bigger eyes and shorter antennae
(or feelers) than a bee - I learned to spot the difference this summer. Since some flower
fly larvae consume aphids, flower flies are honoured guests in my garden.

Which Plant is This?

The flower pictured above is Echinacea, or coneflower. My garden's bees and flies
liked this plant. Not all plants were as popular with the pollinators, though. I'll tell you
what worked ... and what didn't.

Food Sources for Pollinators in My Garden

When certain plants in my garden bloomed, the pollinators (bees, butterflies, flies, 
hummingbirds and even beetles) feasted on nectar and pollen provided by the flowers. 
Here's are three lists of some plants that enticed pollinators:

  • oregano 
  • sage
  • lavender
  • mint
  • basil
  • chives

Canadian plants
  • prairie onion / Allium stellatum
  • alpine columbine
  • blanket flower / Gaillardia
  • Echinacea
  • Sedum spathulifolium
  • gayfeather / Liatris spicata
  • tickseed / Coreopsis
  • Aster
  • Penstemon

Garden ornamentals
  • Heliotrope
  • Alyssum Frosty Knight
  • pincushion flower / Scabiosa Butterfly Blue
  • hardy fuschia
  • Veronica spicata First Love
  • hyssop / Agastache Blue Fortune
  • silver feather / Centaurea
  • sea holly / Eryngium Blue Hobbit

So now you have an idea of what worked, but unfortunately, some plants failed to
feed my garden's critters. Read on to see what didn't work . . .

Enticing Plants that Didn't Feed Pollinators

Some of my devious garden plants advertised themselves to pollinators with striking 
blooms, but those attractive blooms failed to deliver nectar and pollen to any pollinators 
that came by for a closer look. Here's a list of some plants that didn't feed pollinators: 

  • Pelargoniums, and certain hybridized Geraniums
  • Petunias
  • Gerbera daisies
  • Double dahlias
  • Delphiniums 
  • Snapdragons
  • Impatiens
  • Miniature roses
  • Pansies

Of course, you may find the odd exception in your garden, but I'm sure that my 
observations about what doesn't attract pollinators holds true in most situations. 

Next Steps

The summer was a bit of a turning point for me. After I became more aware of 
pollinators, I found that it was impossible for me to garden without taking 
their needs into account. 

So what did I do? Throw out my favourite double dahlia ('shudder')? Check back 
on Monday to find out . . .

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Why Do I Want to Create a Nature Sanctuary?

Current Issues/ Problems:

As many of you have noticed, the development of urban and suburban landscapes
has been detrimental to many plant and animal populations. Suitable habitat for wildlife
has been replaced with paved areas, townhouses and high-rises.

There is lots of information out there about this topical issue. In short, what's bad for
the environment is bad for us. If you'd like to know more, pick a point and take a look:

Or these articles (courtesy of my informed partner):

Creating a Solution:

You may notice that most of the suggested reading focuses on pollinators (bees,
butterflies, etc.). This is not an arbitrary choice. As a suburban gardener, I believe
that I'm in the perfect position to help pollinators.

One reason why bee populations are in jeopardy is because the average suburban garden
just doesn't provide them with anything to eat! Bees need pollen and nectar, which not all
garden plants provide.

Over the summer I've been observing my garden to see what flowers provide food to
pollinators. Below is a lovely golden-yellow bumble bee that gained sustenance from
my blazing star plant (Liatris genus).

One of my most surprising and spectacular observations was of a swallowtail butterfly
that favoured one type of Dianthus plant (I have four different kinds of pinks).

Over the summer, a swallowtail butterfly visited two more times, and ignored almost
all of my plants except for the favoured Dianthus!

While observing and learning about the pollinators in my garden, I began to tailor my
garden to pollinator needs. I started to buy plants based on their value as pollinator
food sources. I no longer thought of my garden as my personal sanctuary. I began to
see it as a sanctuary for the pollinators of suburbia as well, and it's now a much more
interactive garden.

So, today's post gives you an idea about how and why I turned my small suburban
garden into a nature sanctuary. Thanks for reading this article, and stay tuned.

Next: Which Plants Helped Pollinators In My Garden?