Cuban Gardens

Cuban gardens were a new subject for me until I recently traded in our cold Canadian weather for a week of hot Cuban “winter” weather and a plant tour that reminded me of my indoor plants back home in Canada.

Cuban Resort garden

Cuban Resort garden

Not only were the blooms and foliage amazing, but the air itself is full of a scent that is indescribable. While unable to pinpoint any specific scent, upon closer examination  of Cuban gardens, I was able to identify many plants as those “tropicals”,  for sale in garden centres and greenhouses here in Ontario.

Schefflera

This four story plant is one of many Schefflera actinophylla (umbrella tree) plants growing around our resort and seen all over the island. Schefflera actinophylla (umbrella tree). The genus is fast growing in tropical and subtropical areas to the extent it is classified as a weed in these areas. With idea conditions here in Cuba, the actinophylla species has  long, shiny, oval green leaves that droop gracefully from a central stalk and  also produces long red tentacle blooms.

 

Schefflera flower

 

Here in Ontario Canada and other colder climates, where our cold winters prevent idea growth, we grow Schefflera arboricola (sometimes called dwarf schefflera)  which has much smaller leaves, sometimes with creamy variegation and generally doesn’t get the right conditions for blooming. Under ideal conditions it produces creamy coloured berries.

Schefflera_arboricola_

_

 

 

 

 

Cottage Blooms

Cottage Blooms

Cottage blooms are part of the cottage feel…the escape from reality we all look forward too. When the city life is far away. we can relax and enjoy our gardens. Whether part of an organized garden with annuals and perennial plants bought from a local garden centre, or provided by Mother Nature, the beauty they give us is inspiring!

Cottage blooms show below are merely a small sampling of the variety found in the garden and the meadow around my cottage.  Norfolk County, Ontario has a wide variety of Carolinian wildflowers that brighten up the day.

cottage and beach 235

Buttercup wildflower

 

 

cottage and beach 196

 

 

cottage and beach 234

cottage blooms

 

 

 

even more nikon 320

 

 

Roadside garden with Yucca plant

Roadside garden with Yucca plant

Cottage blooms can also break up large expanses of otherwise boring spaces such as along roadsides where local clearance by-laws rule. Small planting of perennials such as this Yucca, combined with wildflower perennials such as the Purple Coneflower and annuals will provide a nice touch of colour while ensuring a garden that will not get too large and out of control.

 

panosonic 251

 

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

wild violet

This lovely yellow violet was found growing in mass between the Red Sycamore plants. Across my 1.8 acres there are many clumps of violets. Despite merely being 2 cm across, the flowers are dainty and delightful!

 

summer 004

Shasta Daisy from garden centre

 

 

summer 041

 

 

summer 059

 

 

summer 267

 

 

Whether planted or part of the randomness of nature, all blooms delight the eye and dazzle the senses. If you do not have a cottage, just take a drive through the countryside on warm ,sunny day and you won’t be disappointed.

Gardening Vacation in Nova Scotia

A gardening vacation in Nova Scotia is not just time to explore a new place , but is a time to get away  and enjoy the gardens of others while  taking some time away from our own gardens. By travelling to other parts of any country you can enjoy the colours and scents of many beautiful gardens. These joys may also remind us of things about our gardens they we have stopped appreciating there.

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

This August after months of  …weeding, watering, weeding and more watering, I decided to take a break and head East. With a chance to see and experience new places and leave chores and all manner of work behind, vacations are always a treat! Besides, with my garden in the capable hands of a family member and a waning appreciation for it, I needed a new perspective.

Years ago my trips to the East coast had led me to many lovely  places and to a wonderful hospitality but I had not specifically been focused on gardens, so I decided to take it all in this trip. With camera in hand, this it was to be a gardening vacationing in Nova Scotia, in search of  gardens as well as the shoreline and all of nature’s beauty.

 

ocean view from Nova Scotia

ocean view from Nova Scotia

 

My Nova scotia visits previously had been restricted to Halifax , where I had seen pretty gardens on the grounds of the Citadel and along the waterfront there and across the bay at Dartmouth. The grounds of many a park there had well manicured brightly coloured flower beds, so I knew the provinces gardeners were hard at work in big cities.

Dartmouth planter

Dartmouth planter

Having spent little time elsewhere in Nova Scotia, this trip was a chance to explore two of my favourite things…beaches and gardens. Having a coastline on both the Bay of Fundy and extensively on the Atlantic Ocean, I knew the shoreline visits wouldn’t disappoint me.

Not until I took my eyes off the waves and the sand did I notice there were even blooms on the beach.

 

lovely beach flowerBeach flower

 

 

 

 

 

Then the gardening vacation of Nova Scotia took full stride. Every harbour, Inn and most houses had lovely gardens everywhere. They used Lupines, marigold, begonias and salvia just like in our gardens. There were window boxes, front gardens and every kind of container imaginable.

P1010340P1030655original planter

 

 

 

 

There were blooms around lighthouses, planted by multitudes of gardeners! I saw ferns and wrought iron works and gazebos that reminded me of my own garden and made me smile. In fact, there were more blue Hydrangeas there that I have even seen here!

P1000860

Gardening in Nova Scotia

 

Blue Hydrangea in  a Shelburne N.S garden

Blue Hydrangea in a Shelburne N.S garden

 

Blue Hydrangea

Blue Hydrangea

 

Summing up my garden vacation to the province of Nova Scotia… I would say it was a multi-coloured masterpiece, full of bright and blooming annuals and perennials. The beaches were fascinating , the people warm and the trip was a great vacation in every way. I went home rested, with a new perspective on life, work and gardening.

Memorial garden Digby

Memorial garden Digby

main street Digby NS

main street Digby NS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Consider your garden from a different view by enjoying the sights, memories, garden hints and photographs of gardens far from home. I would highly recommend next summer you take your own garden vacation of Nova Scotia, explore the province and appreciate its beauty and biodiversity and be inspired!

 

Cape Forchu Lighthouse and garden

Cape Forchu Lighthouse and garden

Summer Blooms

Summer blooms need lots of tender loving care to ensure they are always producing new buds. Certainly as we are in mid July, by now most gardeners have worn out their green thumbs by planting and relocating countless perennials and annuals.Not to be forgotten are the countless seasonal flower sales that often drive gardeners in to a last minute frenzy as the temptation to have just one more summer bloom takes over.

Lily

 

 

Garden Sale points:

1. is there a spot in my garden for it

2. is the plant in good enough shape to survive the transplanting

3. is the price really a “sale”

4.  do I need it.

Certainly summer blooms are tempting, but unless a lovely perennial seems just what you need to fill one last spot in the garden, walk on by. If the plant is sadly not at its best due to bad watering or crunched foliage, is it beyond saving? If the overall plant core seems healthy, and the briken or damaged leaves can easily be removed, then a sale plant certainly deserves to be a someone’s garden.

P1000839-001

 

If you just can’t stop staring at the plant, just buy it! Certainly an extra plant or two can be squeezed in somewhere and the cost most likely will not break the bank. Of course one last thing is the price vs the condition of that plant or shrub. A local garden centre near me recently had it’s 30% sale but as their prices run much higher than anywhere else, the sale wasn’t really great but they did have  a larger variety of plants. If the plant is really sad, but you need it, there is no harm in asking if they will take less, especially as the peak planting season is almost past.

Remember if you will be away on vacation or at the cottage, those plants will need a sitter to keep the summer’s heat from killing your lovely summer blooms. Even apartment dwellers with window boxes and veggies growing in all manner of containers, will need close care in the heat of the summer.

DSCN3013-001

Giant Coleus in Planter Box

 

Summer bloom care list

To ensure you have good blooms all summer remember to follow the basic list

1. good water

Most plants need to be kept from drying out too much so a good water twice a week should eb fine. Daily watering, whether it be the lawn or garden, keeps the plants roots closer to the soil surface and then a severe drought or a forgotten trip can cause the plant to dry up and die quite quicky due to no deep root formation.

2. fertilizing

Regular fertilixzing with organic ferilizers ( preferred) or the slow release type provide basic nutrients ensuring a hartier, healthier plant with showier bloom. Keep in main theat by the end of July and definitely in to August, most applications run the risk of  burning the plant out as its metabolism increases at a time when both the temperature and water condtions are not optimal.

3. deadheading

Deadheading of some plants such as petunias are well known, all plants benefite form thei, as then their energy can be put in to growing , not seed production. Once a bloom is past it’s prime, snip it off . Removing the dying bloom also makes the plant look tidier and obviously well cared for.

4. pest control

Especially in summer’s high heat days, all manner of garden pest seek, food, and shade. They also need the plants sap as a good source of water. On lily plants. removing the dark “poo” like substances on the leaves, removes the beginnings of the lily beetle that loves to consume the leaves . If the bugs are larger, wearing garden gloves, carefully remove them. If they return or you have small bugs such as aphids,  try straying on a mixture of warm water containing some dish soap, small amount of cooking oil and if that doesn’t keep  work, there are slightly more concentrated organic soap solutions that can be bought at more garden centres and greenhouses.

Milkweed and pests

Milkweed and pests

 

 

5. weeding

Weeding not only ensures a tidy garden it also removes the roots of those unwanted plants that would compete with those of the plants you choose to keep. Most weeds and wildflowers have a great tap root or wide root base that ensure they survive in nature to return each year.

 

Of course as you admire your garden you may already be planning changes for new year or just sitting like moss…a bump on a log.

P1000820-001

  For those you of you more adventurous…maybe seeing wildflowers for the water…kayaking across the country…may inspire you to as we live in a wondrous place…enjoy!

 

EARTH, WATER, SKY

EARTH, WATER, SKY

Tune in next month for further information and glorious photos of summer blooms in Nova Scotia

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy is a toxic plant that many campers, cottagers and rural gardeners are familiar with. I myself have been a victim of its rash and blisters and have become quite familiar with those leaflets three and so I do let them be. Only when I began to research Poison Ivy did I realize how little I did know and how far back people have been dealing with the consequences of coming in contact with this plant.

 

History of Poison Ivy

Originally rumored to have come from Europe, Poison Ivy has been in Americas for centuries. In fact, it was even documented as being observed first hand in Bermuda and the Americas by Captain John Smith in his publication Generall Histories of Virginia, New England and the Summer Isles written in 1624. “The poysoned weed is much in shape like our English Ivy, but being but touched, causeth rednesse, itching, and lastly blisters, the which howsoever after a while passe away of themselves without further harme, yet because for the time they are somewhat painfull, it hath got itselfe an ill name, although questionlesse of no ill nature.”

Even in the 1784 First Volume called Memoirs of the American Society of Arts and Science mentioned a plant that “produced inflammations and eruptions”. They then went on to nickname the plant as “poison Ivy”. Since then there have been countless articles, research and trials attempting to control the spread of this toxic plant.

Poison Ivy Plant Classification

Poison Ivy as we know it to be called is really just one of many poisonous plants in the family of Anacardiaceae. In fact the cashew tree whose name forms the basis of this family does have toxic resins in the casing that surrounds the nut itself.

The English word for this family is derived from two Portuguese words which describe how the cashew nut grows… “ana” which means upward and “cardium” which means heart. Originally native to Northern Brazil, the Cashew was taken by the Portuguese to Goa in India around the year 1560-65 and now they are grown in parts of Africa and throughout Southeast Asia.

 

 

Cashew  Apples

Cashew Apples

The cashew nut is really a seed, whose casing, called a cashew apple, contains skin irritating chemicals, one of which is related to the oil;  Urishiol found in poison ivy. In fact, roasting does destroy the compound, but just as with poison ivy, the smoke contains the chemical and inhalation causes severe lung irritations.

Interestingly enough the mango, which is in the same family, has an urushiol oil based allergen that can also cause dermatitis and even anaphylaxis in in some people. The urushiol is present in the mango leaves, stems, skin and sap. Eating unripe, pickled or cooked fruit, the skin of the mango is edible but susceptible people may still get dermatitis of the lips, or the tongue. Generally ripe mangos should be peeled before consumption to avoid the oils. Despite this, further research has provided data stating the during the mango primary ripening season, it is the most common source of plant dermatitis in Hawaii.

Originally Poison Ivy was known as Rhus radicans;  part of a the genus Rhus which contains over 250 species of flowering plants including all varieties of sumacs, poison ivy, and poison oak. Research data has suggested that the Genus be split in to 6, based on redefined plant characteristics. In this case there would be only approximately 35 plants left in the Rhus genus.

Created from further botanical clarification, botanists generally accept the reclassification of Poison Oak, Poison Sumac and Poison Ivy in to the genus Toxicodendron, which is Greek for two words, meaning toxic and tree. All three of these plants contain some version of chemical compounds called pentadecylcatechols or PDC’s. Found in the clear sap of these three plants as well as other members of the Anacardiaceae or Cashew family worldwide, the PDC’s are generally referred to as urushiol.

This term was taken from the Japanese name for a tree there called Toxicodendron  vernicifluum. Despite the toxic chemicals there, the Japanese have used an oxidized form of the tree sap, to produce its famous finish for their lacquer ware.

Poison Ivy Range

This particular toxic plant ranges from Canada to the north down through the United States, areas of Mexico and in to South America. Poison Ivy may be found in these countries up to approximately 1,500 M (4,900 ft) but is extremely common along the edges of wooded areas, in open fields and other undisturbed areas.

While it is recognized as a creeping plant, it also grows bush like. Regardless of the style of growth, poison ivy is considered officially a noxious weed here in Ontario Canada and in the U.S. states of Minnesota and Michigan. Although some varieties  are shade tolerant, all forms of this poison plant prefer sun and in fact Poison Ivy was recently located at my favourite beach!

 

 

Beach-side Poison Ivy warning sign

Beach-side Poison Ivy warning sign

Poison Ivy Forms

Basking in the sun, this shrub form is merely one of the three ways this plant can be found. In fact, the shrub can grow one main stem with side branches, up to over 1 metre (3 ft) tall. Certainly as it is called ivy, given a good support pole, plant or tree, poison Ivy can grow taller than you can imagine. A good example, (Or bad) is the large mass of vines attached to a pine trees at my cottage by hair like brown aerial roots to a height of over 25metres (80 Feet). The last form is as a groundcover of 10-25 cm (4-10inches), as often seen in campgrounds and growing between other native plants along roadsides.

Trillium and poison ivy roadside

Trillium and poison ivy roadside

 

Description

 

Roots

The vine and bush plants have a rhizome root base. This allows the roots and new plants to spread from the subterranean nodes. The aerial roots attach themselves to the plant / object for support and nutrition.

Poison Ivy root runner

Poison Ivy root runner

 

Stems

Poison Ivy stems are woody and grey. On small plants the colour may not be as noticeable, but is definitely seen on bush and trees climbing forms. In fact, the wood on the vines of poison ivy that are climbing up the pine trees at my cottage have a dark grey to reddish tint. Their hair- like roots, which are reddish in colour are also poisonous to humans.

450px-Poison_ivy_vine

 

Leaves

Despite knowing the old saying” leaflets three, let it be”, there are other plants with similar three leaf configuration. Generally there is one leaf and the end and two below that which are side by side. They are normally 10-20 cm (2-4inches) in length, with toothed or lobed edges, although occasionally the edges can be smooth.

Of course when they are small, but still containing urushiol, they begin with two leaves only, so weeding in the front of a rural garden especially can be dangerous if gloves are not worn. In the spring, the new leaves are a reddish green colour, changing to deep green and then yellow, orange and red in the fall before dropping off.

 

 

Flowers

Despite having poison ivy in various locations at my cottage, I had not seen the flowers myself until recently when visiting my favourite beach. In full sun the shrub form had developed 2.5 to 7.5 cm (1-3inch) clusters of the small green flowers. The tiny 5 petal blooms are quite often hidden under the leaves themselves.

 

Poison Ivy flower

Poison Ivy flower

 

Fruit/seeds

Small flowers produce small seeds and these tiny white berries are round, hard and about 0.4 cm (1/8inch) that have ridges in them that make them appear to have segments like a peeled orange. Forming in the fall, the berries contain the seeds of the plant which are spread by the over 50 species of birds that eat them with no ill effects.

 

Poison Ivy Berries/seeds

Poison Ivy Berries/seeds

 

 

Toxicity

It is estimated that 85% of the population is sensitive to the urushiol toxin found in all parts of the poison ivy plant. Skin reactions range from a slight dermatitis called Rhus dermatitis, to blisters. These blisters result from blood vessels somehow developing gaps in response to the chemical in the oil and then fluid leaks through in to the skin.  The blister themselves do not contain the urushiol.  In severe cases these blister cause tissue damage and may need plastic surgery to repair. In extreme situations, anaphylaxis may occur.

If you believe you have bruised the plant and released the oil, wash the affected area immediately with soap and water. Rubbing alcohol will also remove the oil and now specific lotions are available at the drugstore. According to recent testing, there is a compound in crushed Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) that relieve the effects of recent contact with poison ivy in about 85% of people tested. Dermatologists recommend oatmeal baths and baking soda to relieve the itching and there are prescription cortisol based lotions for more severe cases.

Remember that all clothing and even tools need to washed down well in the same way, because the oil remains potent indefinitely and it will re-poison you.  Further risk comes from transfer by other animals and even of burning the plant. Dogs for example have some resistance due to their thick fur and the natural oils there, but can transfer it to their owners’ hands. Smoke from burning any and all parts of this plant contain the oils and can cause serious allergic reactions inside lungs of susceptible people.

Control

Controlling Poison Ivy is a challenge regardless of the affected area, because of its toxic oils. As a result, the number one thing to remember is to wear protective clothing. Cloth or leather gardening gloves are recommended over rubber as according to several sources, the urushiol is soluble in rubber. Even in the garden at the cottage I wear gloves as …surprise…poison ivy alert under the perennials!

 

Poison Ivy in my garden

Poison Ivy in my garden

 

If the poison ivy is a few plants, growing as ground cover, then carefully pulling them out with all the roots works. Then the plant needs to be discarded safely. I have a large plastic pail with a lid, and the smaller pieces go in there to die completely. After a month, once there is no sign of life, I dig a hole about one foot deep and bury them.

When poison ivy is growing on a larger scale, the task of control definitely becomes difficult. One suggestion for large mass plants is covering them over with tarps and soil so no light reaches these and they will die. Of course they need to remain covered for several years before it is safe to assume they are dead.

Shrub forms of poison ivy are very difficult to deal with. If the shrub is not too large, herbicide spray can be used. The newest generation of these sprays interfere in the plants photosynthesis when the leaves are saturated. It is important to wear protective gloves , face shield  and disposable gloves when using these products.

Controlling Poison Ivy is possible, however, even using herbicides that do not leach in to the soil, getting rid of it for good is highly unlikely. In addition, beware of home remedies that are dangerous, such as pouring salt or bleach all over them because the soil is then contaminated and the chemicals can leach in to the water table.

Summary

While contact with poison ivy can have toxic consequences, by wearing gloves in the rural gardens and watching vegetation you are walking through carefully you can minimize your risk. If you live in the country and have dogs, the chances are much higher you may contact it from their coats. In that case, having a knowledge of treatment including rubbing alcohol and lotions would be a good precaution.

 

 

 

Wildflowers in spring

Wildflowers in spring are found blooming everywhere just as our home gardens are trying to adapt to change. Woodlands are full of new shoots struggling to find the sun, petals and buds forming and finally many blooms open and share their glorious colour. In fact, in the cooler days of May, as my seedlings are adapting in the sun porch  the meadows and woodlands of Mother Nature are full of growth and blooms galore!

 

Trillium and poison Ivy

 

As we gradually condition our seedlings to the changes in temperature and light etc, nature has a communication system we are not directly connected to. Certainly when cooler weather hits, the seedlings in nature are already adapted somehow, as if by unspoken communication. Seldom do we see dandelions wither if a colder snap hits at night.

 

happy Dandelion

 

In fact, after centuries of adaptation, even wildflowers that return each year from seed propagation seem to be adapted in ways commercially sold seeds seldom do. Certainly the pampered conditions we give them to promote optimal growth in some way baby’s them, but  with the exception of some heartier seeds and ones that need cold to begin growth, commercial seeds seem to be less hardy.

Whether you are in warmer climates where your new plants are blooming and adapting well, or in cooler areas still waiting for warmer weather, a walk in the wild certainly  shows that wildflowers in spring are an array of amazing plants!

 

Unfurling Fron

 

With the arrival of new plants comes the fungal world as well. One such specimen was growing in plain sight, as if its brain like appearance was waving at me to take notice. In fact, it lead me to one of my previous posts from Oct 15/12 entitled Plant Family Classification. I was then reminded that Fungi is one of 5 Kingdoms that all living things are classified in to. Further investigation led me to a book called Mushrooms of Eastern Canada where I determined the odd living thing was a Yellow Morel.

Yellow Morel

Yellow Morel

 

Springtime in the woods certainly contains lots of other yellow, especially Dandelions ! Despite a dry spring this year, the Dandelion blooms were almost 2 4 cm or 1.5 inches across and the plants were several shoe lengths tall.

 

Dandelion face

 

 

bobbing Dandeions

 

Everywhere I looked they bobbed in the wind and new buds were forming. In fact, they begin their life cycle so early in the spring that many Dandelions had gone to seed stage, just awaiting the wind to carry those seeds.

 

Dandelion ...Wishes

Dandelion …Wishes

 

The woods held many plants I have yet to learn about as shown below. There are single spikey yellow blooms, shrubs with multiple white blooms and more.

 

Mysterious Wildflower     Multiple budded shrub

 

Plants were also discovered along wetland areas and one I had the joy to discover was the Jack-in-the -Pulpit. Hiding in the shadier areas along streams and riverbanks, this stately bloom is wonderful despite the rather sedate colouring.

 

Jack in the Pulpit

Jack in the Pulpit

 

Perhaps one of the loveliest wildflowers in spring , found in forest across Canada,are those of the lovely Trillium. Of course many people recognize the white Trillium as Ontario’s official flower emblem, but the smaller Red Trillium flowers are still lovely to discover.

 

Trillium Ontario's Flower Emblem

Trillium Ontario’s Flower Emblem

 

 

Red Trillium

Red Trillium

 

One such discovery I made gave me several surprises. First, while I was busy photographing a patch below some tall trees, I  had not noticed the plants were happily growing in a large spread of Poison Ivy!

 

Trillium and Poison Ivy

 

Then I thought I had discovered a mutant pink Trillium only to find out later that white blooms turn pinkish -purple when they are close to dying. This would explain the mixture of colours seen in the patch. What a treat to discover!

Thankfully the Poison Ivy did not contact my skin so no oils were transferred and no rashes appeared. Of course springtime in the woods does include Poison Ivy and other toxic and dangerous plants. Further discoveries of the roots were found weaving through the undergrowth as well as high over head in Pine trees.

Poison Ivy unfurling in a Pine tree

Poison Ivy unfurling in a Pine tree

 

Despite the toxic nature of many plants, they do exist and sometimes even are a sight to behold…whether their colour, shade, tenacity or other characteristics fascinate us, wildflowers in the spring are never disappointing and always reminds us of the awe inspiring   universe around us!

 

ben and stuff 368

 

 

 

Poinsettia Plant

 

 At Christmas time here in North America, the Poinsettia plant is a common sight almost everywhere you look. Hardware, department and even corner stores, all carry a wide variety of this brightly coloured plant. Then there are plastic replicas, cards, wrapping paper, brooches, earrings and assorted jewellery . Never have I seen one plant so recognized by gardeners and non gardeners alike.

 

assorted colours

assorted colours

Then, as a gardener, I am embarrassed to say how little I know of this plant except how to care for it. Certainly I know it likes to be evenly moist and likes lots of light, to keep the plant firm and healthy. Then there is the darkening process required to get the lovely colourful flower, which I once successfully did, even if I started so late the pale red petals come out in February, making it a Valentine’s Poinsettia.

 

Right now, there are two different colour specimens of  the  Poinsettia plant, in my living room, and even an all green one that is celebrating its one year anniversary at my workplace. Recently when watering that plant, someone asked me where it came from and of course I replied form the cafeteria, where they tired of it in January.  Then I began to wonder where this plant originated and I realized I had another plant for my inspiration.

 

History of Poinsettia Plants

Poinsettia plants, proper name Euphorbia Pulcherrima, which translates to “most beautiful Euphorbia” and is part of the Spurge Family of plants. Largely composed of herbs, this family contains a wide variety of plants including some shrubs, trees and succulents, in tropical areas.  I was unable to determine who discovered this plant and when that happened but it is known the Aztecs used it in the 14th-16th Century.

 

The plant was throughout their habitat region in Central America and tropical regions of Mexico. Record show the plant was part of their daily lives in addition to being beautiful. The sap from the leaves and stems was used to reduce fever and the red coloured leaves found around the flowers, were used as a dye.

 

Traditional Red Poinsettia

Traditional Red Poinsettia

As the 16th century began to draw to a close, legend and fact become mixed. Certainly it is know that the Poinsettia plant, know there as “Noche Buena”, meaning Christmas Eve, was used in Mexico as part of Christmas tradition . From the 16th century the plant was used in Mexico as part of the Christian Christmas Celebrations and that continued in to the 17th century, with the Spanish Conquest of the area. Then the Franciscan Friars also continued to use it, in celebrations and Spanish botanists began to study it.

 

Further research reveals that between 1825- 1828,  the colourful poinsettia  plant was introduced in to the United States from its native growing areas along the Pacifica Coast of Mexico and Central America, by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the United States Minister to Mexico at the time. He sent these plants to President Andrew Jackson for a Christmas display at the White House, where they were named there in his honour. Since then, the plant’s role in Christmas tradition spread throughout the United States and Canada.  In Mexico and Guatemala the plant is still referred to as “Noche Buena”, meaning Christmas Eve.

 

History records that this brightly coloured plant was shipped to Egypt around 1860 and that it is still cultivated there to this day. In this area of the world the plant is called “Bent El Consul”, “the consul’s daughter”, referring to the U.S. ambassador Joel Poinsett.  Perhaps the strangest part of the history of this plant is the legend that follows it.

 

Poinsettia Legend

Legends told over the years do vary, as word of mouth is not the most reliable of ways to record history, but there are some constants that come through each telling of this plant’s legend. During the 16th century the tale records that two small, children, from a very poor family watched all manner of Christmas celebrations in the village. One of these ceremonies was the setting up of a manger scene in front of the church.

 

After the manger was set up people came with gifts to place before the crèche. With nothing to give, these two children decided to pick plants for along the roadside to decorate the crib for Baby Jesus.  The children placed these weeds at the manger and before long everyone teased them about their gift, but on Christmas morning the weeds had bloomed in to beautiful red star shaped flowers of the Poinsettia Plant.

 

The moral of this story was that giving from the heart is the most important and true way to give. Of course one of the Aztec name for this plant was flor que se marchita translated to the flower that wilts) and gardens know that the  noche buena  or Poinsettia wilts within a few minutes after it is cut, making it unsuitable for bouquets…so if the legend was true, it really was a miracle!

 Anatomy of Poinsettia

This family of flowering plants is composed of approximately 300 genera and 7,500 species of flowering plants.  One  thing this family shares is an unusual flower cluster composed called  cyathium , which is a cuplike group of modified leaves enclosing a female flower and several male flowers.

In fact, what we think of as the Poinsettia flower is really the modified leaves called bracts. These bracts serve several purposes. First, they protect the poinsettia’s true flowers, which are the tiny (4-5 mm) greenish-yellow buds in the centre of the bracts.   Also the bright red colour attracts pollinating insects to the little flowers.

 

flowers

tiny yellow flowers

 

 

In addition to the attraction we have to the bright red colours of this plant, most people are also aware of the misconception that the sap of this plant is poison. While the plant does have a thick milky sap, or latex, that is known to be a skin irritant, studies have shown that their toxicity is greatly exaggerated!

 

Eating or ingesting any part of  a Poinsettia Plant will cause digestive problems of cramps, nausea with diarrhea, especially in serious cases. One article I read said in dogs the sap irritates mouth and stomach. Even poison control centre in the United States determined a small child would have to eat over 500 leaves before it would become toxic.

 

A general precaution, with Poinsettia’s and all plants, is to keep them out of easy reach by pets and children alike.

 

Poinsettia care

Poinsettias require little care to thrive through the Holiday season. Water them when the soil feels dry to the touch, but do not over water or the leaves, both green and red, will turn yellow and fall off.

The plant likes lots of direct sunlight, as they did come from  a tropical area, it makes sense.  If the Poinsettia is part of a scene or display that is not close to a window, then moving it occasionally to a bright window for even a few hours, will help the bracs keep their bright red colour.

Regular house temperatures  are tine for this plant but be aware it is sensitive to cold drafts and being too close to cold windows.

 

After season Care

Many people discard this plant after the Christmas season, however many gardeners keep this plant and hope they can force it to recolour in the fall.

Basically keep watering the plant through the spring and then place in a sunny window. If the plant begins to get scraggy, leave a branch intact for food production and trim the other back.

Once the last frost is past, the poinsettia can be planted in the garden. New growth in both cases will be deep green and the size of the plant may get out of control so cutting back will be required. Regular fertilizing with a good general purpose brand is also a good idea.

One the summer is past and the weather begins to cool, the challenge of forcing the Poinsettia plant bloom and bracs, becomes the challenge. Starting Oct 1, the plant needs total darkness from 5 p.m to 8 a.m ( 12-14 hours in total) and still good light during the day.  This is required for about 10 weeks until the end of November when you should notice buds forming.

Suggestions:

 A black plastic bag works well. Put the plant in the bottom and merely pull the bag up and twist tie it closed over the plant. In the morning drop the bag down around the bottom of the plant.

If you have a deep, dark cupboard that the plant can be moved in to that will also work  but remember any stray light during this resting period can impact forcing the bloom.

lovley plants

Forests in Fall

Forests in Fall are amazing places and recently, I found myself them observing one up close and personal when walking through one of many local conservation areas near my cottage. The air was crisp, the sun quite warm, and there were countless birds chirping and flitting from tree to tree. While most of the forest floor was carpeted with thousands of dry, deciduous tree leaves  the air was frequently filled with the scent of pine from the tall white and red pine overhead.

 

 

Beneath the towering trees, while shuffling my feet through the leaves, I began to notice native plants still thriving despite the mid-November weather. In this area, zoned climate region 5A, with nights recently below -4 ? Celsius and current daytime temperatures this weekend up to 11?, it seems native plants are definitely heartier  than I realized.

Carolinian Forest Native Plants

There are many locations of Carolinian Forests in South Western Ontario. Previously I have written in detail of Point Pelee National Park and Pelee Island (Pelee Island blog August 2012) as l provided information on other locations as well as plants that are native to this eco vegetation area. However, I had no idea of exactly how hardy these plants could be until I witnessed their vigorous state just today.

In fact forests in fall can contain a wide variety of plants still splendid in green. On my recent walk I noticed, a few Golden Rod plants in bloom, dandelions and even a milkweed pod just beginning to burst.

 

 

 

 

Most of the black, pin and giant oak trees as well as the poplar had shed their now brown leaves. The white, red, and scotch pines waved their deep green needles back and forth in the wind, while sending a small cascade of dry needles and pinecones to the ground below.

fallen pine needles

fallen pine needles

 

Also helping these needles and their cones fall to the ground also were a wide variety of aviary creatures…birds of all sizes and colours. In fact, there were many tiny sparrows and chickadees flying from branch to branch with such speed that glances were a treat and photos were almost an impossibility!

Thankfully the native plants below were just waving in the wind, waiting to be noticed. Throughout the mounds of brown crunchy leaves in this primarily oak forest, there were native ferns with deep, rich, healthy green frons. Occasionally there were the tiny, green lobbed leaves of the Hepatica Americana plant, sticking out from the sloped banks above the walking trails that extended many kilometres through this county park.

Native Americana Hepatica

native fern in November

 

 

Nature in Harmony

Nature works in harmony with itself, when man does not interfere, which is evident as see by trees, helping everything for purifying the air to providing homes and food for living things of all sizes.

Hearty plants are aided by natural windbreaks and mulch. Full evergreens change the flow of cool winds that blow through all forests in fall by diverting it around the trunks directly and through the branches and needles as well.  Deciduous tree also diver the strong breezes as some of them in this conservation area where I walked, are up to three meters around.

On the ground, below these trees, the thick leave layer provides insulation to plants there like a multilayered blanket. This layer also provides a moisture barrier for worms and other insects as well, as countless bacteria and fungi that do most of the work in breaking down the organic matter of forests in fall.

Soil microorganisms mineralize or chemically convert organic compounds in to simpler forms, once the fungus family have begun the process of what is known as mineralization. Mineralisation is the biological process in which organic compounds are chemically converted to other simpler organic compounds or inorganic forms, such as carbon, ammonium or phosphate,  which are basic elements required for plant growth.

Mushrooms and toadstools

Regardless of the time of year, woodlands have trees and plant life in various stages of decomposition.  In fact, my walk through the Backus Conservation Area forests in the fall, revealed logs rotting away everywhere. These natural sources of compost eventually break down completely and add to the soil levels of the forest floor.

Before that happens, the breakdown delivers nutrients to local plants through the surrounding soil as well as to the parasitic plant forms that grown on the decaying wood. Many varieties of mushroom and other fungi were thriving well in the in the grown in the damp, shady areas on the forest floor, despite the colder November temperatures. On my walk I found many such life forms whose colour and variety were amazing.

 

 

 

After further investigation, I discovered that toadstools are not an official plant genus or species, but are part of the Kingdom of Fungi. As with all Kingdoms, this one has many Family, Genus and Species, which include mushrooms, mold, yeast, lichen, rust and truffles.

Fungi Kingdom

Forests in the fall contain many fine examples of this Kingdom as I witnessed firsthand on my walk. There were mushrooms that grew directly out of the rotting wood while others had stems. In addition to the interesting shapes the colour range was amazing as I noticed green scaly mushrooms and large almost flowery looking orange ones that looked like some alien flower species.

 

 

These wildly coloured and unusually shaped living things where but the tip of a huge subject that now intrigues me. In fact, off I go to research the fascinating subject of Fungi. After all, Mother nature’s gardens are certainly inspiring…especially forests in fall!

Spring’s bloom

 Springs’s Bloom

Perennial Daffodil

 

Inspiration can come to us from many things with results we may least expect out of the clear blue sky! Who knew this would happen for me recently when my garden’s rising shoots were the beginning of a new plant and a new idea that had never crossed my mind. While gardening guru I am not, certainly I have lots of experience in the field, in weeding lawns, gardens and wondering what that funny coloured bug was. As I type even now the question pops up… what words of wisdom could I share?

Wisdom, learning and sharing garden thoughts, joys and failures, certainly connects us and often makes us see the world from a brighter place. If nothing else it can make us look outside of ourselves, breathe a little deeper and relieve stress even for just a short while!

Spring’s bloom is a time to enjoy nature’s beginning without worry. After all, do plants stress about wearing the season’s latest styles, or if their blooms are big enough? No they just grow and provide pleasure for us and food for assorted bugs and often provide the inspiration needed for us to start our very own growth.

While seeing buds bloom and shoots grow might not be what inspires some to branch out, for some reason it was the muse I needed for a new start. Whether my blog takes off in any way to be as lovely as a flower is yet to be seen, but certainly it is my hope.

 

 

Trillium welcomes Spring

 

So far it may seem like yet another site, but I hope to peak your interest of gardens and nature with pictures, facts, hints and inspirations…all with a sense of fun! Certainly most of us can all use more fun in our stress filled lives and as we dream, plan and work in our lives and gardens. In fact, where would we be without all those parts of our lives…how could we bloom where we are planted, to quote an old saying.

Speaking of blooms, daffodils, hyacinths and tulips are up and ready to burst! Despite the unusual weather…from shorts in March and early April to parkas the next day, the poor defenceless plants and bulbs have survived! In fact, with the last of the snowflakes finally leaving us this week and the sun’s warming rays, there is a glorious crop of spring flowers along city streets and country roads and in awakening fields.

Spring’s bloom in the field of my country estate has tiny violets and other wild flowers coming to life. As I write this looking out over my garden, masses of deep purple and red tulips are just waiting for a bright sunny day or two to open. Okay, 1.8 acres does not an estate make, and the Ottawa Tulip Festival has nothing to worry about, but my tulips are lovely as you can judge for yourself.

Remember, there are flowers everywhere….just keep your eyes open…and enjoy!