Monday, 17 September 2018

Leafcutter Bee in Action

About a month ago, I was weeding around one of my blueberry bushes and noticed the work of a leafcutter bee on some of the lower leaves. These enterprising little native bees cut neat circles out of leaves to line the nests they create in old wood crevices or in the ground.

Besides blueberries, they seem to favour Epimediums and species roses. They are solitary bees, so without a community to spread the word about other good sources of material, they keep returning to the same source once they've found it. I don't begrudge them their harvest because they are good pollinators in the garden and the plants don't appear to suffer, except perhaps a little in appearance.

While I was there, the bee kept returning for another piece of leaf. I ran for my camera and had a stab at recording it at work. My video is a bit blurry, thanks to my lack of skill, but I'm posting it anyway, at least until I can get a better clip.Watch the top lefthand corner for the bee's appearance. (Note: I'm hearing that, if you get my blog via the RSS feed, the video doesn't load -advice on how to fix this gratefully accepted. However, it loads successfully straight from the site.)

Monday, 10 September 2018

Apple Harvest

It wasn't my intention to harvest the crop from our three espaliered apple trees quite this soon, but a visit from hungry local raccoons - in broad daylight yet! - forced my hand.

The raccoons were happily gambolling along the top of the fence where most of the fruit was within easy reach.
Pomme Gris (aka Swayzie) is a late-fruiting variety and wasn't really ready.  The apples are small and the characteristic brown russeting of the skin has only just begun, so it's not surprising that they taste rather dry.

Last year it suffered badly from salt sprayed by the city in our lane during unusually heavy snowfalls and produced no fruit at all.  I am learning that this is not a highly-productive variety under any conditions and consider us lucky to have around a dozen apples this year, even if they are a disappointment. I have left a few on the tree, covered in netting, and will hope they survive the predators and have a chance to improve over the next few weeks.

Colville Blanc d'Hiver is a two-year-old whip that I didn't expect any fruit from, but it has produced three apples on its first (and only, so far) set of laterals.

 It is not going to win any beauty contests, but it is the apple of choice for the famous French dessert called Tarte Tatin. I'll try making a very small version with my limited supply.

Macoun, the oldest and most prolific tree outdid itself this year and even if they've been picked too early, the apples are quite large and juicy. I should have waited until they developed more of an all-over red colour, but they are going to make good eating, even if not at their best.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Late Summer Survivors

July and August have been so hot and dry that I'm grateful for any plant that has simply shrugged and carried on. You would expect that of a thistle relative.  Globe Thistle, Echinops ritro, climbed to its usual 150 cm (5 ft)  before producing its metallic blue globes, although I think they were paler and faded faster than in previous years.

Another thistle, Eryngium giganteum, better known by the evocative name of Miss Willmott's Ghost, also thrived.

Its silver bracts dry well and make a distinctive indoor arrangement as long as you can place them where they are out of stabbing range.

Clematis 'Huldine', with its roots in the cool, damp soil it loves, was a mass of white satin flowers.

I grow it below our back steps to give this view from the top. The buds have an entirely different appearance and their purple stripes remain on the underside of the petals. From the bottom of the steps, they look like this:

There are echoes of the same colours in low-growing Oregano 'Kent Beauty',

... and the pale grey spires of Lysimachia ephemerum.

This elegant perennial with sage-green foliage is much loved by the bees. Unlike some of its relatives, it is not invasive.

Out in front of the house, Hydrangea aspera ssp. sargentiana enjoys the all-day shade.  Every year it rises higher on its sturdy trunks and has almost reached the level of the porch, allowing us to look across its dinner-plate sized flower heads whenever we enjoy an evening drink there.

Close beneath it, Hydrangea 'Beni-gaku' has been attracting the attention of a swallowtail butterfly that was earlier focusing its attention on the daphne that flanks our front path.

 Just coming into bloom for the first time in the three years I've had it is a pineapple lily, Eucomis 'Sparkling Burgundy'. I think it must have listened last year when I told it "One more chance and then you're outta here."

On the more colourful front, Monarda 'Donnervolke', which means "thundercloud" is harmonizing well with late-blooming aconites.

And all the blooms except one on Hydrangea 'Beni' have completed their miraculous transformation  from pristine white to blood red. 

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

The Attention-Getters

During the East Van Garden Tour this Sunday, thirteen private gardens welcomed
around 300 visitors between 10 am and 4 pm.
Our garden was one of them. 
Early in the morning, we posted a few "before" images on our basement door. 

For most of the day, we had a steady stream of delightful people
carefully making their way from front to back along our narrow paths.

Between us we fielded many questions, not just about plants but also our water feature, pergola, irrigation system (hand-watering!), paving and design. Still, most of the questions were to do with plant ID and, although there was interest in a wide variety, some plants drew more attention.

In the front garden, everyone noticed the scent of the two bushes of Daphne 'Eternal Fragrance' flanking the path ....

.... even the butterflies.

The tree hydrangea (Hydrangea aspera ssp. sargentiana) also attracted interest for its sheer size, despite not being in bloom yet.

At quite the opposite end of the scale, the delicate flowers and richly patterned leaves
of Saxifraga stolonifera drew many eyes down to ground level.

 A number of people were curious about a single remaining Trillium leaf,
 that had turned lime green as the flower went to seed.

In the back garden, the most commented-on plant was Phlomis russeliana. I was surprised that more people didn't recognize this member of the Jerusalem sage family.

I tried to describe its additional virtue of winter structure, without realizing at the time that I could simply have directed them to one of the other gardens on the tour where its seedheads were decorating a shady fence.

Another big hit was Gillenia trifoliata, a not-well-known-but-ought-to-be plant for
shady spaces, where its delicate white petals on their long stems spangle the purples
and soft greens of surrounding foliage.

 Various Astrantia, also brightening the shade, drew a lot of attention ...

... particularly one vigorous seedling that I assume to be a hybrid of 'Shaggy' and 'Ruby Wedding' since it marries the white of one with the crimson of the other.

Two clovers were at their peak, puzzling quite a few visitors who couldn't quite believe
they belonged to the family of the common invader of lawns.

Trifolium rubens
Trifolium ochroleucum
Next to the latter, another Astrantia, pink-flowered 'Roma',
was appealing to a crowd of bees as well as humans. 

This Hydrangea serrata attracted the foliage-lovers. I'm a bit worried that
it's showing its dislike of too much sun, but the effect is certainly unusual.

Finally, the beautiful marking on a Hydrangea relative, Schizophragma hydrangeoides 'Moonlight', in the shade along the side of the house caused a few keen-eyed people to stop and admire.

Monday, 30 April 2018

The Joy of Spring

Spring has been slow to arrive this year, and I realize it's almost two months since I last had anything to report. However, at last the garden has started to leaf out and from March onward the early bloomers have created some sparks of colour among the bare patches of soil. Snowdrops are always among the first, and I find that I've gone from having none to having too many. One of my tasks will be to remove a few of the self-seeded clumps that are now crowding other plants and to thin out many of the remaining ones.

The cluster of purple crocus in the background suffered in rainy March, but whenever the clouds moved off, the little flowers hauled themselves upright and opened to enjoy any brief sunshine.

Corylopsis pauciflora is a regular March delight with its delicate yellow bells dangling like earrings from every twig.

Hellebores, blue Anemone blanda and the little cream stars of species tulip, Tulipa turkestanica are gradually filling in the space beneath.
Anemone blanda is just one of the small wood anemones I have scattered around the garden. The green flower of A. virescens isn't one of the most noticeable, but its ruffled little parasols are charming.

Willows are at their best in these early months when their catkins emerge in various colours. Always the first is black willow (Salix gracilistyla 'Melanostachys) The bamboo curtain behind it contributes to its pared-down oriental  elegance.

As the flowers age, they go from furry black...

... to fuzzy grey. Both stages combine nicely with the red stems, and by the time they are grey the acid green of new leaves adds another complementary colour.
This is a plant I tried to turn into a lollipop by retaining only one long stem and clipping the top into a ball, but it resisted and eventually won the day. Now I let it do what it wants but confine it to a pot in hopes of controlling its spread. I just don't have room for the large specimen it would like to become.

Salix nakamura var. yezoalpina, a creeping willow, is slower to show signs of life. But over the 10 days between April 20 and 30, brown beads on the stems gradually burst open to reveal small cotton buds that then expand quite rapidly into chunky yellow candles surrounded by shiny green leaves.

Among the last to bloom is Salix helvetica, whose sea-green foliage will now make it a feature of the garden until the onset of winter. This is such a neat compact plant that I wonder why it hasn't become more popular. Probably the word "willow" makes people think of a huge weeping tree, which this relative definitely isn't.

 As April comes to an end the sweet scent of Skimmia and Daphne infuse the air. The former is by our back steps, and the latter flanks the front path so that we can inhale their fragrance as we come and go.

Both the Daphne suffered broken twigs in 20016's winter snow and still look ragged. I've been reluctant to tackle re-shaping them as I've read that they don't respond kindly to pruning.

Almost the last  Erythronium to open and to my eye the prettiest is 'White Beauty', looking like a miniature turk's cap lily. Behind it are the milky leaves of a Brunnera, spangled with its tiny blue flowers like forget-me-nots.

Another spring white is Enkianthus perulatus, showing up well against the red background of the house.

Finally, thanks to a few really warm, sunny days, ever-reliable 'Spring Green' tulips have also opened, just as all the foliage in the back garden begins to fill all the bare spaces.