Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dreaming of Summer

On a dark and chilly Yukon morning, I'm inspired by thoughts of summer blooms.

Click on the image to see this lovely nasturtium in full detail. This bloom is a bit different from the traditional yellow, orange and red variety. It is from the whirlybird series that do not have the usual spur. They come in delicious colours ranging from creamy buttermilk to peach in semi-double flowers. Whirlybird blossoms hold themselves high above thick green foilage. An added bonus is that the young leaves and blossom petals provide a delightful summer salad garnish, offering a very peppery taste.

Here are a couple of sources for the seeds:

You might also check out Vesey's for a really interesting color combination called Strawberry Cream.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mother Nature’s Garden

Long-leafed Arnica (Arnica lonchophylla)      Blue Monkshood (Aconitum delphinifolium) Prickly Rose (Rosa acicularis)
Fireweed (Epilobium latifolia) Frigid Shooting Star (Dodecatheon frigidum) Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolia)
Northern Goldenrod (Solidago multiradiata) Roseroot (Sedum rosea) Hawksbeard (Crepis capillaries)

This garden needs no human hands. 

My contribution to ‘Wordless Wednesday’.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Photographing Red Flowers

I was reading some posts in the Blotanical Forum on photographing flowers where SueInMilan was expressing frustration with trying to capture the color red with her digital camera.  Despite all her efforts she was unable to produce an image that properly rendered the true color.

As Izyjo explained in a response to Sue’s post, it’s one of the problems with digital photography.  The camera sensor doesn’t seem to capture reds particularly well, especially on the automatic setting.

Of course, a proper exposure (the perfect combination of shutter speed and lens opening for the ISO speed being used) is helpful.  Also, photos of flowers (of any color – but especially red) should never be taken in direct sunlight.  If you want to photograph the flowers in your garden wait for an overcast day.  If you’re in another location and want to take the photo when the sun is shining on it, try to shade the flower with your body, or have someone hold something above it for shade.

Even then, the results aren’t always satisfactory, as you can see in the photo below.  The color isn’t too bad, but if you click on the image to enlarge it, you’ll see some of the annoying magenta colors that creep into where shades of red should be.


I adjusted the colors and the tonal range of the photo on my computer using Picasa, a free photo management program.  In the editing mode, using Basic Fixes, you can click on “I’m Feeling Lucky” – a quick fix for lighting and color.  If you don’t like the results, you can ‘undo’ the adjustment and click on the ‘Tuning’ tab.  There you can adjust the amount of ‘shadow’ to help darken the reds.  Then in the ‘Effects’ tab, you can sharpen the image a bit, and get the following result.


Some may argue that the adjusted image is a bit too saturated with the red, but I think it is an improvement.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What’s in a name ?

I was reading up on botanical taxonomy (an academic, if not snobby, way of saying the naming of plants) and, of course, spent a bit of time researching the life of Carolus Linnaeus, the 18th century Swedish botanist who was responsible for developing the system for naming plants.

Here’s a picture of Linnaeus, copied from the Wikipedia writeup:

OK, so apart from the obvious question of whether he actually went to bed with hair curlers to get this look when he posed for his portrait the next morning, how come the signature in the top right of the painting is Linne, instead of Linnaeus?

Well, it’s a bit of irony, I think, that for someone who became such a fusspot about the accurate naming of plants, he had trouble deciding what his own name should be.

From what I can gather, he was born Carl Linnaeus.  His father had been the first in the family to adopt the surname ‘Linnaeus’, because of his fondness for the Linden tree (one I share with him, by the way). Prior to that the Swedes had been using the ‘patronymic’ system of surnames.

When Linnaeus attended the University of Lund he was enrolled as Carolus Linnaeus, presumably because of the preoccupation with giving everything and everyone a latinized name – something Linnaeus himself practiced diligently with his system of plant taxonomy.

For much of his published work, he used the name Carolus Linnaeus, or the genitive version Caroli Linnaei.  In 1757 the Swedish king granted Linnaeus nobility, as a reward for his remarkable work. After this, Linnaeus adopted the surname ‘von Linne’ – frequently using a shortened version when signing his works, ‘Carl Linne’.  I’m guessing he got tired of all the latin – an experience I can relate to when I took latin in high school.

So, despite the apparent dithering on his own identity, Linnaeus went down in history as a genius (which we know he was) for creating a system of naming all plants with scientific precision.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Capturing Birds in Flight

Our gardens would not be complete without visits from our ‘feathered friends’.  The sounds of birds singing and twittering is the music of the garden.  Many of us look forward to the seasonal visits of certain bird species – among them, the arrivals of the redpolls in February, and the pine siskins in August.
Both the redpolls and the pine siskins are small birds that are really fast in their flights between trees and bird feeder.  So, it’s tricky to photograph them in flight.  Always up for a challenge, however, I’ve been known to spend a few hours getting the shots I want.  Here’s what I find works:
I use a Canon 40D single lens reflex digital camera.  One of its features is that it can shoot an amazing 6.5 images per second – just the thing you need to capture these fast birds in flight.
Fitting the camera up with a telephoto zoom lens helps to isolate the birds and bring them in closer, but it makes it even more difficult to follow them in the view finder.  The key is to find a mid-range in the zoom so you can follow the flight as you hold the shutter down and let the camera do its thing. You can always crop the photo later to frame them a bit better.
The shutter speed, of course, needs to be fast enough to ‘freeze’ the action – over 1/500th of a second.
Focusing is the next challenge.  Fortunately the 40D has a nine point focusing feature which pretty much means that if the bird is anywhere in the view finder, it’s going to be in focus.  That usually works unless there are tree branches or other things that get in the way.
Just the same, with patience and perseverance, you can get some good shots.  Here are a few examples:
redpoll “Flaps Down”
pinesiskins2”The battle over the feeder” 
 redpollinflight“Coming in for a landing”

So get the camera out and give it a try.  It’s great fun!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Roses in the Yukon

In the late 1970’s when we were living in Winnipeg, Manitoba (zone 3), one of our neighbours expressed no end of frustration with his efforts to grow roses. Every year the severe winters would kill off the rose bushes, despite heavy layers of mulch. My impression was (and his, as well) that it was hopeless to grow roses in a climate where winter temperatures can dip down to –40 degrees (where Fahrenheit and Celsius meet).

What I’ve realized since is that our neighbour was trying to grow hybrid tea roses, such as Chicago Peace, Mr. Lincoln, and Chrysler Imperial – ones that he had grown up with in southern Ontario. Pity he hadn’t discovered the vast array of hardy Canadian roses that can handle the harshest of northern winters with little more than snow cover for protection.

We have the Canadian government to thank for two varieties of hardy roses – the Explorer and Parkland series. Between 1939 and 1945 Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada (AAFC), at its Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa, Ontario, was hybridizing roses under the leadership of Isabella Preston. Some 21 varieties were developed during this time. Beginning in 1968, Dr. Felicitas Svejda began work on hybridizing roses that would withstand –30 C. winters. She named the first 13 cultivars after Canadian Explorers, presumably because they reflected the hardiness of people like John Franklin, Henry Baffin, and Martin Frobisher whose travels were in Canada’s harshest regions. The Explorer series of roses now includes some 25 hybrids in a variety of colours and sizes.

The AAFC had also been operating, since 1915, an agricultural research station at Morden, Manitoba in the Canadian prairies. Although the Morden Research Station was primarily involved in food crop research and development, it also began a program of hybridizing roses. They were considered hardier than the Explorer series developed in Ottawa – many were hardy to zone 2 – and were the beginnings of the Parkland series of roses. Over time Morden also continued the work of the Ottawa farm hybridizing the Explorer roses, which explains why some of the Explorer roses are said to originate at the Morden Research Station rather than the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa.

OK, enough with the background and history of these roses. If you’re interested in reading more about them, here are some helpful web sites:

Hortico's Hardy Canadian Explorer Roses – Hortico is a major retail distributor of roses, especially the hardy Canadian roses.

Canadian Hybrid Roses – This ‘Help Me Find’ link provides a comprehensive history of the Canadian roses.

Explorer Rose Garden – This is a wonderful web site created by the ‘Friends of the Central Experimental Farm’ in Ottawa and features the garden specifically dedicated to the Explorer series of roses.

Canadian Hardy Roses – The Canadian Rose Society provides a great inventory and description of hardy Canadian roses.

Here are a few photos of these roses from our garden:

Morden Sunrise


Prairie Joy

J.P. Connell

Despite the growing zone rating of these roses, there is still a trick to overwintering them in Yukon gardens. Here’s what we do:
  • Put them in raised beds – an absolute must – to raise ambient soil temperatures during the growing season; and where you can control the drainage and soil composition. And don’t plant them too close to the edges where severe frost can come in from the sides.
  • Feed them well in the spring and early summer, but stop feeding in mid-summer or after their bloom to allow them to go dormant when cold temperatures arrive.
  • Prune them back to 12” to 14” before covering them for the winter.
  • Cover them with a generous mound of light potting soil. This year we used a mixture of potting soil, peat moss, and coco peat.
  • Don’t remove the covering in the spring until the native trees leaf out. This is to prevent the roses being affected by the freeze-thaw cycles after the snow cover melts.
Remember, hardy Canadian roses are not just for severe northern climates. They are a wonderful addition to any garden in zones 3 to 9. Go ahead, plant some and enjoy them.

Addendum - Jan 19:  I appreciate all the comments on this post.  And it seems the J.P. Connell rose comes up as the most popular.  Here's another photo of it:

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Winter visitor

I was admiring the photos posted on Carol’s blog (flowerhill farm), one of which included a pine grosbeak.  It reminded me to post a photo or two of the pine grosbeaks that visit our garden in the winter – a very welcome call, adding color and life to the backyard landscape during these dreary winter days.


Here’s a photo of the male.  He’s nipping away at the spruce buds.


And here’s the female.  Unusual, that she isn’t just a paler version of the male – as we frequently see with birds.  She’s adorned with this beautiful gold head.  Too bad I didn’t get a shot of them side by side so we could see the red and gold together.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Ordering Seeds – Making Good Choices

It’s usually in mid-January that we pour through the catalogues and pick the seeds we want to start this year. 

Having such a variety to choose from is both a blessing and a curse.  Well, maybe that’s a little strong – perhaps a ‘blight’, to use a gardening term.  But, invariably, we order way more than we need.  Not just because we have a limited capacity for starting  seeds, but also because we simply don’t have enough room in our garden.

Of course, we rationalize ordering more seeds by reminding ourselves of the trays of plants we share with family members, friends, the church flower beds, and so on.  A few years back, Susan told our nephew in British Columbia that she had transplanted 2,700 seedlings.  He was curious about why so many.  “Well,” she said, “they’re for our garden, and for our daughter’s garden, and her friend’s garden, and we have a few friends we share with, and then there’s the church grounds …”  And his response was, “So, what will you do with the other 2,000 plants?”

It’s hard to limit our choices.  We’re seduced by the beautiful colored photos in the seed catalogues, and the appeal of the new introductions.  And, of course, it’s always fun to experiment with something we haven’t tried before.

The other factor is that we can’t always predict what the germination rate will be.  Should we order an extra packet of the red petunias, just in case?

One year we had asters and gypsophila coming out of our ears.  And the digitalis came up like the hair on a dog’s back.  Unbelievable!  That’s when we learned it makes no sense to transplant ALL the seedlings that emerged from the seeds.  It does require some planning and making informed choices.  As painful as it is, sometimes it’s necessary to throw out perfectly healthy and vigorous seedlings.

So this year, we’ll be guided by our resolve to order only what we absolutely need; limiting the variety of annuals to those we know will work well for us; and resisting the temptation to experiment with all those interesting new varieties. 

AS IF!!  Guaranteed that when the seed order goes in we’ll realize that most of the resolve will have melted away.  Oh well, it’s all part of the fun.

Oh, and by the way.  Going through the online seed sources, I came across a page on the McKenzie Seed web site with a wonderful list of gardening tips – some are quite ingenious.  Here’s the link:

McKenzie Seeds - Fun and Rewarding Tips

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Pansies - the perfect New Year, New Decade plant

We've turned a corner, I think, with this year 2010.  A new decade seems to bring some kind of renewed energy or even a fresh perspective.

Which is what makes me turn my mind to how the garden should develop over the next ten years.  Sure, we'll continue our experiments with perennials - pushing the envelope for hardiness to see if we can overwinter such zone 4 plants as astilbe, iris, phlox, and hydrangea.

But the really exciting challenge is how we can 'paint' the beds with drifts of color combinations that are going provide the real 'wow' factor.  The natural choice, it seems to me, is to do it with pansies. 

In 2007, Susan and I visited the Keukenhof gardens near Amsterdam, Holland.  Of course, I have a bias since I was born in Holland, but the Dutch know a thing or two about flower gardens and arranging color combinations.  Case in point:

We were impressed!  The summer before last we planted pansies in alternating blue and yellow ribbons.  And it would have worked had it not been for a really wet and dreary summer.  So last year we planted the bed full of disco series marigolds instead.

But with this new year, and new decade, it's time to give it another go.

And here's another thing - did you know that colors can be tied to the notes on the musical scale?  I'm reading a book by Jeff and Marilyn Cox entitled 'The Perennial Garden - Color harmonies through the seasons'.  In it they devote a chapter to the meaning of color.  They introduce Klein's Color-Music Scale which is quite fascinating for those of us who have an involvement with music.

In the 1930's A.B. Klein assigned the following colors to the notes on the musical scale:

C - Dark Red, C# - Red, D - Red-Orange, D# - Orange, E - Yellow, F - Yellow-Green, F# - Green, G - Blue-Green, G# - Blue, A - Blue-Violet, A# - Violet, B - Dark Violet.

So, as a for instance described in the book, the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth (da-da-da-DUM) rendered as E-E-E-C, would be Yellow-Yellow-Yellow-Dark Red; the dark red being the perfect color to punctuate the yellow.

I'm thinking a C major chord, done in pansies, might also work: C (Dark Red), E (Yellow), G (Blue).

Mr. Klein isn't the only one to develop such a system of color and music.  The book also includes similar systems by Isaac Newton, A. Wallace Remington, Taylor and Scriabin.

Pansies are really versatile.  You can use them as feature plants, like the ones at Keukenhof.  Or as edging for a garden bed, or in a planter. Our favorite pansy variety for pots and planters is the 'Chalon' pansy.  We were introduced to this variety by my sister who discovered it when she was gardening for the town of Faro in the central Yukon.

 In a word, it's awesome!  The first thing you notice is the unique frilled edges to the petals.  Then, it's the striking color and size of the blossoms.  And an added bonus is that it's highly fragrant. 

This pot of chalon pansies was grown the summer before last.  Unfortunately, we ordered the seeds from a different source last year and they were less than satisfactory - less frill, and we suspect some of the seeds were Swiss Giant mix.  We'll try again with the original source.

But, pansies it is!  Definitely the feature flower of 2010 for our garden.  What will yours be?