garden photos

Crocuses along front walk

Spring Again

My garden to-do list for February and March

  • Finish winter pruning and haul brush pile to curb for collection
  • Clean up beds, cut down dead stalks, etc.
  • Uproot or cut suckers of lilac, snowberry, and Oregon grape from spots where they’re not wanted
  • Dig up or at least cut down plants of invasive Italian arum (aka Arum italicum or lords-and-ladies)
  • Pull up maple and laburnum seedlings, shotweed, and other weeds
  • Lay out soaker hoses. (They won’t be needed until June, but it’s much easier to wrestle them into place when plants are small)
  • Edge the beds that adjoin lawns
  • Acquire materials for mulching mix: bagged manure, lime, slow-release fertilizer, kelp meal, bone meal, alfalfa pellets
  • Mix above materials with compost to make Alfa-Omega* mix for mulching, and distribute among the beds
  • Repot potted delphiniums and hostas to larger pots; ditto the rose “Fragrant Cloud,” which was grown from a cutting and therefore is on its own rather feeble roots, rather than grafted onto a vigorous rootstock
  • Seed tomatoes
  • Execute the colchicum-clematis move as per plan.

*Alfalfa plus the “end product,” i.e., manure.

I’ve already done some of these things; others are in progress. Pruning was easier this spring due to the acquisition last fall of a ladder designed for use in gardens, as opposed to home maintenance.

Three-legged ladder and Photinia
This ladder is way more stable than the four-legged type, and can be adjusted for uneven terrain. Pruning the Photinia was much easier this year! (Photo taken Feb. 27/21)

While racing around doing the tasks on the to-do list, it’s nice to stop and admire something that looks wonderful.

Iris reticulata
Iris reticulata (Photo taken Feb. 19/21)
Hellebore "Pirouette"
Hellebore “Pirouette” in its new pot (repotted last September)
Hellebore "Pirouette"
Hellebore "Pirouette" flower closeup

Hellebore photos taken Mar. 6/21

Front arches and cotoneaster with snow February 2021

First (and Last?) Blast of Winter

Until last week, the winter of 2020-2021 was a mild one here on the west coast of Canada. That’s the way it should be, right? A couple of weeks ago, I was anticipating spring.

But this is a La Niña winter. You know La Niña–she’s El Niño’s evil twin sister. Her style is to hold back until spring is just around the corner, and then to descend on the unsuspecting saps who’ve been busy sending photos of stuff blooming in their gardens to folks in places that always get real winters.

miniature daffodils
Early daffodils in 2019. This year they didn’t quite get to this stage before the snow.

Last week, temperatures as low as -9C (16F) were forecast. I raced around the garden, lugging pots into the basement and moving other pots into what I hoped would be sufficiently sheltered spots to withstand the predicted northeast winds that were supposed to produce a wind chill well into the minus degrees. Then I covered up plants that couldn’t be moved with odds and ends of pruned twigs and things like old bath mats and car seat covers that I keep in the shed for these weather eventualities.

Snow on front garden shrubs February 2021

I kept hoping it wouldn’t be as bad as predicted, and it wasn’t, but a low of -4.5C (24F) is pretty cold, especially with a wind gusting to 70 km/hr (35 mph). Having done what I could for plants, I worried about how birds were faring. I made sure the two hummingbird feeders went out first thing in the morning. On Friday, February 12th there were three Anna’s hummingbirds tanking up at the same time at one feeder, a sight I haven’t seen before, since each feeder is usually hogged by one aggressive dude who chases any others away.

Hummingbird at feeder February 2021
Anna’s hummingbird tanking up.
Hummingbird in cotoneaster February 2021
Keeping watch on his (or maybe her?) feeder.

On Friday night, snow began and fell steadily until after noon on Saturday. Total was 30 cm (1 foot). Fortunately, the wind diminished and the temperature rose to an almost tolerable -1C (30F). Rain is predicted for next week, and a return to normal temperatures, meaning lows of 2C (36F) and highs of 8C (46F).

Bird bath and snow February 2021

Returning to plants, I would have been happier if this wintry blast had turned up in December or January, before plants were starting to sprout and even bloom. Now the hellebores, which were in bloom, have gone limp. I know they’ll rebound once it warms up, but it’s still depressing to see them lying on the ground. Buds of Clematis armandii, the evergreen clematis that’s the first to bloom, may have been blasted to the point of no bloom at all by that cold northeast wind. Some of those potted plants may have suffered as well.

Snow on front steps February 2021
Pots near front steps. You can see limp hellebores hanging over the edges of the pots on the left.

While distressing, this sort of snow and cold event is by no means unheard of here. We get one every couple of years. I just wish La Niña had better timing.

Snow on front walk February 2021
Snowdrops (Galanthus) January 9, 2021

First Signs of…

Someone I worked with used to declare, as we all returned to the office after the Christmas break, “Okay, now it’s spring!” The rest of us would beg to differ, because rain, cold, and even snow are possible until March or even April.

But my coworker had a point. If you know where to look, even early in January, you can see plants budding or even blooming.

Corsican hellebore (Helleborus argutifolius) January 9 2021
Corsican Hellebore (Helleborus argutifolius)
Hellebore "Ruby Wine" January 9, 2021
Hellebore “Ruby Wine”
Hellebore "Ruby Wine" January 9, 2021
“Ruby Wine” close-up
Algerian iris (Iris unguicularis) January 9, 2021
Algerian Iris (Iris unguicularis)

Best of all, as far as I’m concerned, the Chinese witch hazel, which hardly ever blooms, has managed a respectable show, due to extra watering last summer. OK, this is a pretty substandard photo, but if you look carefully, you can see the threadlike yellow flowers in the upper third of the picture. If you look even more carefully, you might spot a dark-eyed junco (bird) perched on a branch. These juncos are frequent visitors to the bird feeder all winter.

Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis) in bloom January 9, 2021
Chinese Witch Hazel (Hamamelis mollis) in bloom, with visiting Dark-eyed Junco
Chinese witch hazel, Hamamelis species
Chinese Witch Hazel flowers close-up

All photos taken January 9, 2021, except the last one, which is from January 2015

Asters "Pink Cloud" and "Monch" with a few last flowers of Rose Campion

Autumn Asters and Fall Fungi

I heard something recently about the two words used for this time of year (in the northern hemisphere). It’s the only season with two words to describe it. “Fall” is most commonly used in North America and “autumn” in Britain.

“Fall” is a one-syllable word that does the job of indicating the time of year when a lot of leaves hit the ground. Okay, there’s the additonal implication of failure and downgoing, as in the Fall of the Roman Empire. But think of “fall fair”–prize vegetables, flowers, and livestock. Deep-fried things to eat. Bales of hay. Fiddle music. Fall is fine.

“Autumn” sounds poetic and nostalgic. It actually works better in written form, at least in North America. People from the Old World, with suitable accents, can get away with using it in conversation, but for most of us it sounds hoity-toity and uber-refined. And of course it has that silent “n,” which adds a certain mystique.

I generally say “fall,” but sometimes I write “autumn.”

However you describe it, October is THE month. It’s not really cold, days have not yet been cut brutally short by the return to Standard Time (for which the mnemonic is “Fall back”), and the leaves are in a state of glory before they (yes, sadly) fall.

maple leaves, orange leaves, yellow leaves
Aster frikartii "Monch"
Asters are the thing to see in the garden right now. This is Aster frikartii “Monch”
Late-blooming purple aster (variety unknown)
These asters (variety unknown) don’t start blooming until October, and are sometimes flattened by early wind and rain storms.
Boletus mushroom October 2020
Mushrooms sprouted when warm days followed a week of rain. This is some sort of Boletus, probably edible. I didn’t nibble it, but something else did.
Amanita muscaria button
Amanita muscaria button. Cute, but definitely not edible.
Amanita muscaria mushroom
A week later, it’s all grown up, looking a bit out of place among hardy cyclamen flowers.
Allium christophii seed head
Another Covid-19 lookalike, otherwise known as a seed head of Allium christiophii
Fallen maple leaves and Geranium "Anne Folkard" October 2011
More beauty in decline–flowers of Geranium “Ann Folkard,” fading foliage, and fallen leaves.
Yellow rose; photo taken from living room window
What may be the last rose of the year; photo taken from a window.
Orb-weaver spider and web
Orb-weaver spider. They’re still with us…

I hope everyone is having a fabulous fall. Or an amazing autumn.

And a splendid spring to those in the southern hemisphere!

Spider webs by Japanese quince September 2020

Spidery Sunday

September was spider month. I couldn’t walk around the garden without crashing through webs or strands.

Spider web September 2020

On damp days, there was a veritable bonanza of webs, rendered visible by the drops of water clinging to them.

Spider web and hydrangea foliage

I think the spiders responsible for these creations are of the orb-weaver type. They’re yellow-brown, with stripy legs. Most of the time they hang out in the middle of their webs, waiting for victims.

Hanging out
Web of Orb-Weaver Spider in Japanese Quince September 2020

Sometimes, the “victim” is me, in which case no one is happy.


Otherwise, the garden has taken on its autumn wardrobe.

Light purple asters
Aster, variety unknown. It showed up here years ago and has made itself at home.
The usual autumn scene of the bench near the pond with Chinese witch hazel and hostas
I take a photo of this scene every year and never tire of it. Hostas and hellebores in pots near the bench made of a cedar stump, and the Chinese witch hazel taking on its fall colours.

Photos taken on September 17th, 2020, except for the rather out of focus spider close-up, which is from 2011