Orchids and rosemary

Snow on plant

The first snow of 2013 lies lightly on the skeletons of summer’s plants.

It snowed last night — really snowed — for the first time this year. Today the snow lies in fluffy white pillows on the detritus of last year’s garden.   There is a new lightness in the air and in the eyes of the people  you meet.   The suspended time, that dark time between October 31 and snow time, is over. Now, when the sun shines, it will have help from the snow to dazzle our eyes and lift our spirits.  With snow on the ground, we can get on with the business of Christmas and, with that behind us at last, we can look forward to ever-lengthening days until spring.

As lovely and peaceful as winter is, we still need our plant fixes.

Last week I talked about shinrin-yoku, forest bathing, and its wonderful benefits. We can get some of those benefits simply by adding some houseplants to our homes and our offices. I am always surrounded by plants; my bedroom is filled with green, so is the kitchen where a rosemary standard is blocking the sunniest window and an orchid is about to bloom again.

Rosemary and orchids can be daunting plants to nurture indoors, but it gets easier if you know what they need. I have killed both in the past through my misunderstanding. Guilt drives me to take better care of these poor prisoners that have only my careless hand to guarantee their safety through the short days of winter.

rosemary and orchid indoors

Rosemary and orchid. The rosemary is happy, the orchid ready to bloom.

Orchids

The orchid is a very forgiving plant if you understand it, though most are drowned by over solicitous caregivers who translate their vision of “life in the jungle” into the idea that a preference for humidity means these plants need a lot of water. New orchid owners often intuit that because orchids are tropical they also need a lot of heat and sunlight. The truth lies in knowing where the particular plant originates — some do grow in the dessert, some in rain forests. We need to begin by trying to emulate natural conditions.

Most of the orchids we buy here are Dendrobiums or Phalaenopsis. Both types sold here are from forests in Asia; dendrobiums come from as far north as Japan to New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia and phalaenopsis from the tropical regions of Asia. They both send up long, slender stems and put out magnificent sprays of lovely flowers. The phalaenopsis flowers look like small moths to some people and these plants are often called “moth orchids”. The dendrobium flowers look like little butterflies perching on a wire. Both can both bloom for months under the right conditions, but generally bloom six to eight weeks.

You will usually find dendrobiums in very small pots, totally out of proportion to the length of the stems  and the large spray of flowers. Don’t fret — they like it like that, but when the roots start popping out all over, it’s time for a move to larger quarters. This can be complicated and should be the topic of another day.

Contrary to our intuition, orchids need to almost dry out between watering — the potting medium should be dry to the touch at the surface but just a little humid if you explore further.

You can help meet humidity needs, if your house is very dry in winter, by setting the plants on a tray of pebbles filled with water.

Orchids like bright light but not direct sunlight, although a couple of hours of morning sun in an east-facing window will be enjoyed. Dendrobiums like it cool. Temperatures should be kept between 12 C and 15 C at night and 18 C and 24 C during the day. Placing the plant on an east-facing windowsill should do the trick of lowering the temperature overnight as the air will be cooler by the window.

Most growers advise feeding weekly at one-quarter strength (although I never feed mine) and, if  you live in northern climes, don’t feed from late fall until the days lengthen in mid-February. Remember, without enough light plants can’t use the fertilizer anyway and deadly salts can build up in the potting medium.

Orchid roots needs a lot of air, which is why they are sold in slotted pots. Water at the sink and let tepid water run right through and see that they are thoroughly drained.

Phalaenopsis are the most common of the orchids sold here. Their flowers have a more rounded form than the dendrobiums, but otherwise they are superficially very much alike. Their care is very similar to that of dendrobiums, although phalaenopsis can take marginally warmer temperatures to 28 C in the daytime, but out of the sun. Phalaenopsis does not grow from a pseudo bulb or a rhizome as does the dendrobium.

The flower spike emerges from between the leaves and, when blooming is over, you can cut the spike back to just  about a half inch above a node to encourage a branching spike to grow. Phalaenopsis will naturally send out air roots when it’s happy. You can keep it even happier by misting thee roots to hydrate them. Or you can just water the plant in the sink being sure to let it drain well.

These orchids grow on trees in nature and the way we grow them is actually upside down, so they will need staking.

Rosemary

Moving on to the  subject of rosemary, lack of sunlight is the biggest issue for the northern gardener in overwintering these plants. They need five to six hours of very bright light a day. A southern or south east window is best unless you have grow lights.

A rosemary that appears to be drying out and losing its needles towards the end of winter is probably slowly suffocating from lack of sunlight and a subsequent inability to photosynthesize. No amount of watering will cure it.

As for water, less is more, but don’t let rosemary dry out completely. Rosemary is a Mediterranean plant, and it needs good drainage, but it does need water — it rains in winter where they come from. A terra cotta planter is a better choice for them than plastic or ceramic, because terra cotta breathes, and Rosemary are accustomed to light, airy soil. If using terra cotta you do have to be more vigilant when it comes to water. Rosemary also expects it to cool down in winter. It can withstand temperatures as low as 10 C if the plant gets enough light, but a cool location next to a window works well, too.

You can fertilize as the days get longer using a liquid fertilizer according to package directions.

I once kept a rosemary for four seasons and wanted to weep when it died. I had thoughtlessly moved it from its sunny window.

Overwintering people

Much as I love winter, the sunless days can be hard to take. Thankfully, those dreary days are few once you get past December. A way to combat symptoms of SAD, though, is through interaction with plants. The tender care you give those such as orchids and rosemary throughout winter is therapeutic for the person as well as the plant.

Still, I long for the outdoors. There is an aspen wood near my house that calls to me and shinrin-yoku works in all seasons. Being frozen doesn’t stop the trees from sending out health giving chemicals — not that we even know what all the chemicals are. Researchers in Sierra Nevada found 120 chemical compounds in the mountain forest they examined but could only identify 70 of them.

It is only 4:30 in the afternoon as I look out the already darkening window to see the patient blue spruces holding light drifts of snow in their branches which are still turned skyward in a kind of welcome to winter. The scene in the pre-twilight is serene and peaceful. The odd snowflake flutters to the ground.

It beckons. It beckons.

snow on smokebush

The smokebush kept its leaves that offer a platform for the softly falling snow.

Gardening dreams and August harvest

The view through my kitchen window

Dreams of gardens go drifting through my head at night; I am filled with flowers; enlightened by landscapes; swooning from scent. It is the overload of a day spent photographing lovely gardens for my magazines. My frustration is boundless – how can I teach that callous camera to see with my eyes, to capture the gardener’s meaning and give it back to her – or him – as a reward for the exquisite pleasure they have given me? Their gardens make my own efforts seem so puny, but I am glad that they have this power. The beauty they coax from the earth proves so much that is fine about the human race at a time when there are so many pressures for evil.

In my little garden, the annuals around the pool are laughing in the sunlight. Some are past their prime, but they had such a glorious youth that it is hard to blame them for feeling their job is done. The lobelia are very easily tired, the more so if they don’t get enough water, and addicted as they are to garden center fertilizing habits I have a hard time keeping up with their needs. The petunias are hardier, not minding the odd drought and the geraniums seem happy as long as there is plenty of room for their greedy roots and no competition from any other than their own kind.

Today is a lovely day, warm but not blazing and with gentle breezes that keep the mosquitoes at bay. I wish you could hear the music of the garden. When the wind blows, the wind chimes answer with tiny notes that suit the flowers around them. They have many voices, some low and cool, some higher and more delicately warm. They add variety to the whispers of the leaves and the rustlings of the smaller plants. Every now and then, there is a deeper creaking of a tree trunk, forced to speak by the pressure of the moving air. But the apples hang round and silent on their tree, concentrating on getting ripe.

Tomatoes are ripening on the vine

Tomatoes are also working toward that end. I see one or two turning red, but it has been too hot for their colours to develop. Tomatoes will refuse to ripen when the daytime temperatures are above 30 degrees C and the nighttimes, are above 20 C. The heat and, inversely, the cold below 10 C, interfere with the chemical requirements of the pigments carotene and lycopene that are responsible for the red colour in tomatoes.

Fingerling cucumbers will soon be 8 to10 inches long

 

 

 

 

Last week I picked two luscious cucumbers, about ten inches long each – they are the long, thin English type. Now I see two more showing promise at the top of the trellis. I give them a gallon of water to help them along.

My August garden would never win any prizes. The front yard is a disgrace – it is impossible to keep up with the watering so most of the perennials are simply trying to survive and don’t have the energy to bloom. This year the daylilies disappoint – even the weedy orange ones have not been spectacular. Ithas simply been too warm.

It is still some time before the faithful Clara Curtis chrysanthemum will appear in her pinkish-mauve dress, smelling somewhat unpleasantly of cat pee, but beautiful nonetheless. Still, the white David phlox is just coming into bloom and some blue allium are also showing. It is the annuals, however, that provide the colour now. This year, the vibrant oranges and reds and purples and yellows have added joy to every view.

Claire has gone home to Toronto but Ian’s mom is here from Jersey – I have promised to make them dinner, so I must fly away to the store. Glenn is still recovering (badly) from his second last bout with the chemo treatments. He wanted salmon for dinner and I am hoping he will feel well enough to eat it. Poor darling. He is so stoic about it all, but one more round then we hope it will be over and he can recover.

Hot as blazes

The pot with the feather reed grass is the same colour as the pool lining. The grass flowers dance in the sun.

“It’s hot as blazes out,” my grandmother used to say. I think blazes was a euphemism for Hell and today her saying would be right on the mark. The little mercury thermometer on the wall, the last of a disappearing breed as the Big Brains in Ottawa have outlawed mercury use in thermometers, says it is 34 degrees C or 92 on the Fahrenheit side. The water in the pool, (the cool, cool pool, since other Big Brains have condemned our pool heater as being within nine feet — 8.5 feet, actually — of the neighbour’s window — this after 30 years of completely safe operation) . . . anyhow, it is shining invitingly and I am ready for it.

There is the occasional blast of furnace warm air, hotter than a baby’s breath and just as sweet here in my flowery retreat. It whispers through the frothy flowers of the feather reed grass that glows in the big blue pot on the pool diving board. The pot is the same colour as the pool lining and it looks spectacular against the bright orange geraniums and chartreuse creeping Jenny that slide down the side and keep the grasses company.

I love how the sun catches the flowers of the grasses and tosses itself back and forth among them so that the fronds look like they are alive or alight or both.

All the things that love heat are happy. Overnight, two incipient cucumbers grew four inches and at least one ripe tomato is beckoning from among the lush tomato leaf foliage. The tree tomato is six feet tall, peeping its way from between the moonflower leaves; I planted them together, not having high expectations for either – they can share the tripod there, I thought. Now they have jostled each other until they are a jumble of green in their eagerness to reach the top and beyond; both tough and determined. Oh well, they are related, after all, and the best fights happen in families, don’t they?

I can’t wait for the moonflower to bloom; it does come late, just in time for the dusky evenings of August when we get to enjoy light in our gardens. The sun is now setting just after 9 instead of close to 10 as in June.

This morning a little dog came to visit the garden. Claire of the tender heart was quite concerned. “I feel so sorry for the owners,” she said. “I can just imagine how I would feel if Penny was missing.” Penny is Claire’s five-year-old dachshund that rules Claire’s Toronto household. Claire is 10, but she speaks like an adult. She came on CJOB with me this morning and held her own with the two PhDs who joined me to talk about insects. The lost dog made her anxious and her anxiety spread to me. We searched up and down the street and at last found a neighbour who knew the dog – what relief as he was handed off to his household.

Claire bought a pepper today. She hides it under the gargoyle to keep it out of the storm.

Claire and I went shopping for plants we didn’t need today. The greenhouse was intolerably hot, but we persevered and Clair bought a puny pepper that needed love; she has lots to give.

The heat today reminds me of being a child and lying in the grasses listening to the hum of all the insects that busied themselves in the hot prairie sun. I drew energy from the heat and the thrum of the earth as it passed though my body. I can feel it even now through the soles of my feet as I sit here barefooted on my patio.

Claire is inside our cool house, resting, as is Glenn. But I think I will get the old plaid blanket and lay my body against the earth for just a little while.

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The earth was hard and poky. The blanket wasn’t big enough. The grass tickled my arms and the cushion I used was too skinny, but still, I dozed and felt better when I arose. Claire came out and I kept my promise to join her in the pool. We examined drowned casualties from the bug world and deadheaded the flowers that insist on dripping over the poolside. The water masks how hot it is outside and we dream away the temperature, floating on our backs – well, I float and Claire tries.

CBC radio says the temperature is now 35 C, but Claire said the house thermostat has declared it to be 42! That is over 107 F, and it feels every bit as hot as it sounds. I have to believe the house. Its very sophisticated mechanism has never lied before!

But I feel a storm stirring.

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The storm sent hail and pounding rain – but little damage to our garden.

The sky turned black with anger and the wind came up violently – 100 km/h in some areas, we heard. There was thunder and lightening and a little bit of hail, but the most ferocious part passed us by. This morning, there were downed trees, one just a block from us leaning on the roof of its owner. City crews are clearing streets of other tree disasters.

But all was serene in my garden an hour after the storm and we cooked outside in the waning light.

Tender spring, weather tantrums and the scarlet scourge

The pasque flower is much later this year.

Wind rocks the lilac in the background as the squall picks up power.

Now we come to the tender time of spring. All the leaves are still in their infancy, dotting tree branches like confetti and letting the blue sky slip between, painting the leaves with flashes of silver where the sun hasn’t already claimed them for gold. The grass is a newly minted green, each blade bright with expectation. Everywhere is the colour of flowering trees and shrubs: apples and crabs and double flowering plums. The scent of chokecherry blossoms mingles with the perfume of lilac which is heavy on the air; their purple clusters just now bursting open. Last spring, people arriving in Winnipeg said the city smelled of lilac.

A sun shower pelts rain across the pavement, intensifying its colour. A sudden squall blows up. The old cottonwood bows to the wind but it is too strong for the Chinese elm on the corner. The wind rips off weak branches which snap with a shriek like pain, several limbs hurtle to the ground, while another mighty arm is caught in mid fall by the remaining tree, an ugly raw wound where it snapped is exposed to the sky; yet the same wind barely strips leaflets off a neighbouring tree. The wind is sudden and violet like a child’s temper tantrum, then all is over and the world is a sunny place again.

The Siberian elm lost three of its branches to a sudden gust of wind. The moody sky turned sunny right afterwards.

In the garden, the fernleaf peony is already done – it is so dry that this tough little plant barely had the strength to open its blossoms, which were small and tired looking even when they first unfurled. The tulips, however, those that survived the constant pruning by the rabbits and the lack of snow cover all winter, are bright and healthy. They prefer it dry. The daffodils, too, are growing in thick clumps and the lilies are all up, so far unscathed by the scarlet scourge, the red lily leaf beetle, which has been terrorizing lily growers  this spring after a virulent outbreak last summer.

Diligence seems the only cure, whether it’s by handpicking or direct application of noxious substances at every stage of their development. It is a discouraging battle. Each female lays up to 450 eggs a season in ragged rows along the underside ribs of lily leaves, a dozen or so at a time. They are orange and about half the length of a grain of rice. Six days later, they hatch into voracious feeding machines that can strip a plant of its leaves over night, leaving only a barren stem that soon turns brown.  They feed now for 24 days, gradually building up a coating of frass – their own excrement – to discourage predators and protect themselves from the sun.

Then, gorged on your lily, leaves, buds, blossoms and all, they drop to the ground and bury into the top half inch or so, or even just under debris, to pupate for another 20 days, when they emerge as the scarlet winged adults that are so lovely yet so evil to the lilies and begin the cycle all over again. Disturb the soil beneath your plants now to get rid of some of the aestivating grubs.

The lily leaf beetles are tricky little devils, too. They know how to emit a squeaking sound by rubbing body parts together when they are pinched or threatened to startle predators and squeamish gardeners. This is perfectly described as “stridulation”. Their other clever habit is to commit “thanatosis“, commonly known as playing dead. They become still, fold up their legs, wings, and antennae, then they fall to the ground upside down so it is hard to see them. Wiley beetle pickers know this trick and carry a pot of soapy water with them on a beetle hunt, holding it under an affected leaf so that the perpetrator will fall into the water and drown.

Adult beetles can be killed by direct contact with methoxychlor (now banned) and rotenone (being phased out in Canada and the US). Rotenone comes from the roots of certain plants, including jicama and derris root from China. Carbaryl, still sold under the trade name Sevin, and malathion are also toxic to the bugs but both also affect bees.

The beetles come from Europe, North Africa and Asia. They were first discovered in North America in Montreal where they probably arrived via a shipment of lily bulbs.  Their natural enemy is a parasitic wasp that is attracted to the frass that disgusts birds, but this saviour has not yet reached our shores.

Nor is it likely that we will see relief soon. Government web sites call the beetle a “minor” pest.

Hmmm. I wonder what the folks at Neepeawa’s Lily Nook would say to that!

Spring rain

I awoke to the sound of the rain this morning, just a few musical drops at first and then a hearty splash as it rained in earnest – for all of 15 minutes. Now it has stopped.

I worry about all the living things beneath the grass, only a little damp from the fast melted snow. The plants and the animals down there need rain; a good deluge lasting a few hours would soak the ground and clean the dusty trees.

It is very dry. Already this year, there are wildfires sweeping across the prairies and destroying homes and machinery. One man, 72, who lives near the peat bogs of eastern Manitoba, lost his 100-year- old home and outbuildings. He had no insurance because who would insure property beside a burning peat bog? And yet, the farm was fine for a century. Now he is homeless. The land that nurtured him for so long turned against him. It is that kind of year.

I gaze out the window above my desk. Raindrops cling to the window and to the leaf bud tips of the old cottonwood. And now – how lovely – the watery benediction has started again in a nice steady, gentle way, so good for the earth. The grass is flushing green in the dawn light and the earth is black with gratitude.

Teeming with life as it is, the rain must send shivers of delight deep beneath the surface, waking up the dormant bulbs and teasing into action the hair-like feeder roots of the trees and perennials. There are 600 million microorganisms in one gram of soil; what a party must be going on right now. All the tiny voles and moles, the snails and slugs and sleepy beetles, the worms and grubs coming out of their estivation will be stirring with a tingle of excitement, like a small electrical shock waking them from their long rest.

The frog-sicles, the frozen wood and tree frogs, will be thawing and the male frogs will be urgently looking for females.  In Manitoba, a whole list of frogs – the boreal chorus frog, the gray tree, the spring peeper, to name some – overwinter above ground and freeze into these frog-sicles each year.

It is quite an amazing thing: the heart slows, the blood stops flowing, there is no breathing, the eyes turn dead white, little frozen marbles in the frog’s head; 65% of the water in the body becomes ice. They start freezing, thanks to the aid of special ice nucleators – bacteria or blood proteins – before it even reaches 0 degrees C (32 F). This slow freezing gives the metabolism time to adjust. At the same time, high concentrations of sugar alcohol are forming in the cells. It works like antifreeze, creating a syrupy solution in the cells, which, surrounded by a protective layer of ice, do not completely crystallize.

Procreation is their first urge after the big thaw, coming even before food each spring. The urgency of this need has them singing now in ditches and other wet places, a sure sign that spring is here to stay – the frogs seldom get it wrong.

We are doing a television show

This spring, we will be starting a garden television show on our local community access channel. On Saturday, we filmed the first segment of the first show. We went to the garden center of our friend and client, Kevin Twomey of T & T Seeds and explored his seed catalogue operation. We also planted the first few trays of seeds that we will grow in his greenhouses and which will become part of the show.

Both the show and the planting party this weekend were spearheaded by our sales leader, Ian. The camera work this time was done by our manager, Steven. The planting was being done by members of the staff and Steven’s daughter, Kate. Several of our other staff was there for the planting and many of them will be part of working on the show – editing, filming, and setting up venues as we explore some of the city’s loveliest gardens during our 13-week season.

We’ll share some of the segments with you here. We hope we can capture the magic that makes Manitoba such a special place.

Funny “Tomato” call-in question

Doing live radio is always interesting and, as a gardener, you’re always learning new things. Here’s what happened when a listener called in ask about the strange tomatoes her nephew had given her.

Sunday morning in March at 27 degrees C

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sun was an eerie red ball on the horizon as I drove to the studio for my weekly radio show. It was burning a hole in the misty morning as its rays struggled through 100 per cent humidity, its lurid appearance adding to the strangeness of this 18th day of March in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where we are told it will soar to 27 degrees and maybe even higher today.

This is a city just 69 miles north of the 49th parallel, a winter city to rival Moscow and Reykjavik. We would normally be bundled up like polar bears, plugging our cars in at night and wearing warm winter boots. Instead, joggers are in shorts, the golf courses have opened and music from an ice cream truck is piercing the morning air.

People are loving the release from winter, but they are also inwardly troubled by the unseasonal heat. “They are controlling it,” grumbled my checkout clerk at the supermarket. I asked him who “they” were. “The United States and Russia,” he responded. “They have the technology.” I should have asked him the motive for this strange control, given that the current weather is a bit of a gift.

The fat bud of the lilac.

 

It’s true, however, that it has been unnaturally warm all week and it promises to continue that way into the foreseeable future. Grass is greening. Ducks and geese have returned. There are fat buds on the Manitoba maple and on the lilac. The celandine poppy, always eager for an early start, is sending up sweet little green sentinels to test the air. This is all happening a month too soon.

 

 

 

Glenn is recovering and the birds are happy.

It is 10:30 in the morning and already the air is very warm as I sit in my recently dormant garden, listening to the last of the ice crack in the pool. There is a light breeze, nothing uncomfortable, but enough to disturb the small wind chimes scattered around our patio. (Glenn, who is beginning to recover from his surgery, won’t let me hang up the heavy duty ones as he feels they disturb the birds.)

Early this morning, the air was filled with birdsong. Just now, a precocious bug tried to share my tea – much to its great personal expense. Item by item, the sun is coaxing our winter world into an early rising, (although the tulips have sensibly decided to remain hidden) but . . . this is Manitoba and we have had early springs before (although not this heat so early in March) and then reality usually sets in; a cold front suddenly appears and wipes out all the emergent flower buds and even the leaves on trees and shrubs which have to re-manufacture everything again.

Still, the sun is very persuasive, burning my legs through my pants as I sit here absorbing the welcome vitamin D.

 

I think I will bring out my rosemary and parsley to give them a treat.

Spring is knocking at the door

It snowed heavily on March 2 and then throughout the following week.

On Thursday, March 8 the blowing snow stopped traffic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a balmy 14 degrees Celsius today as I pore through the grower’s catalogues and write of what’s new and what’s hot this spring for the next issue of the Gardener magazines. The snow is slipping down city drains and seeping into already unfrozen top soil. What a contrast with just four days ago, when the March wind tore holes in our coats and crept into our bones, causing the snow that had fallen and piled up in pillowy hills all week to drift and sting cheeks and block vision in accident-causing white-outs.

You can see the water melting and dripping from the roof.

And now this double digit, bud-swelling weather! If it freezes hard again, I shudder to think (as my mother used to say) what will become of our poor friends in the garden. The 14-day forecast, though, shows this unusually warm weather continuing.

Perhaps I should go outside to cut some branches of forsythia in case the emerging buds get frozen off. At least that way, I can watch them bloom in a vase of water indoors. Forsythia is chancy here in Manitoba where late frosts can nip the blossoms of many woody plants.

Daylight savings time came to North America last night, at 2 a.m., and startled me to wakefulness at what would normally be five o’clock this morning, even though the clock said six. I rise every Sunday at this hour to prepare for my weekly garden show on CJOB. The lines were largely silent this morning as even the most ardent gardeners ignored the clock and slept until the accustomed hour.

My guest, Carla Hyrcyna, and I had fun just the same. We talked about all the exciting new plants coming on stream this year – well, not new, but exciting in their variations. The growers have been very busy this past few seasons improving on improvements. Now we have double everything, even cosmos, surely the quintessential single flower, a thing of perfection in itself. We have double poppies and double echinacea and double-double cosmos, not to mention double zinnias and double petunias and double impatiens. And now we even have double osteospermum, for heaven’s sake!

To me the beauty of osteospermum was its brilliant, highlighted blue centre. I don’t see the point of doubling that up and making it look like one of those absurd Easter Bonnet type echinaceas (remember when echinaceas were actually called purple coneflower? They are everything but purple now – white, yellow, orange, red, pink, green . . .).

Still, all these variations intrigue me and I will no doubt buy and plant all sorts of these eye-candies this spring. Carla has just come back from Europe, Germany actually, where she saw some exciting things. She was impressed with the use of orange-scarlet blossoms with black florals and with the fluorescent cactus and eye-popping succulents. I’m still trying to get my head around black petunias!

Glenn is home now. They let him out of hospital on Feb. 24 and the first two weeks were pretty rough for him, but he is slowly mending and gathering strength for the battle still to come.

At the office, Ian is filled with spring fever, dying to get into the greenhouse and begin planting seeds. He has visions of hanging baskets filled with edibles such as cucumbers and beans, which he will hang in my garden. We are going to do an access show on Shaw TV this summer – 13 weeks of ideas to fill. I am sure this will be one of them.

March 11, 2012

Hearing Plants growing and other wonders

February 10, 2012

 

The fog has cleared and the temperature has dropped. The sun is still shining through the clear, cold air that is bothered by a brisk wind. It is cheek sparkling weather.

Glenn is still tucked away on the 6th floor of the Health Sciences Centre, beating back a slight infection which appears to be at bay. Shauna has gone home to Toronto and Lori and I are keeping watch. He is in good spirits. We want him home to complete the mending.

Little blooms of good fortune keep popping up both in business and in my other life as an inveterate volunteer board member. I care only if the good fortune extends to Glenn.

Last Sunday, Shauna, Mr. Tomato and I had a good time on my radio show, talking about wondrous things that we have learned while writing 10 Neat Things. Mr. Tomato had a few wonders of his own to tell. He says that in the springtime, on a still June night, he can hear plants growing. He says that if you are very quiet, you will hear the pops and crackles and tiny snaps that herald the emergence of new shoots from the ground and leaves breaking open their waxy covers. He has told me this before and I believe him. Next spring, I plan to test this myself on one of those magic nights near the solstice.

I wonder if hearing plants grow is like the sensation of lying on the earth and “feeling” its magnetic pull on my body, curing any ills inside. I like to fall asleep like this with only a thin blanket between me and the sod. I awake refreshed and renewed. This connection with the earth goes back a long way.

When my sister and I were very young, growing up on the prairie, we were told that the Indians used to lay their ears against the ground so they could hear the thrum of hoof beats from many miles away. We tested this theory for ourselves, but we never did hear the hoof beats. We did hear, though, the approach of distant trains when we laid our heads against warm, steel railroad tracks that crisscrossed the land then.

Carole and I found such mystery in the everyday things of the earth. This delight is with me still. Now Glenn and I watch the pigeons acting out their imperatives on the gabled roof of the old hospital building outside his hospital room window: the puffed up male and his courtship of the female; their brief coming together; their winged celebration when the deal is done as they swoop up into the sky together in an airborne dance of joy.

Glenn remembers when he decided to keep pigeons. “You were supposed to lock them up in the coop for two weeks so they would bond with their new home,” he said. “I did that, then finally I let them out. I waited and waited for them to come back, but there was no sign so I locked up the coop door and went on my way. Later our neighbor said to me, ‘Hey. Glenn. Your pigeons were back trying to get in, but they couldn’t, so they left!’” Glenn laughs his wonderful spontaneous laugh, thinking of the temporarily disillusioned boy he once was and how he was taught a lesson in patience.

Life is beautiful.

Sunshine and fog

February 4, 2012

All is sunshine this morning. It glistens through the thick hoar frost on the Amur maple grove next door and picks diamonds out of the soft white snow.  Glenn, who has been through a difficult surgery this week, is on the mend in the hospital and our daughters are both here with us. The girls and I will spend the day with Glenn and then go out for “dinner” this evening, but more to talk and laugh than eat. We revel in the aura of happiness that surrounds our family when we are together.

This has been a week of fog and mist. It swirled around the streets, collecting under lampposts and coating the trees. It obscured the road ahead and shrouded the world in mystery. It hid the ugliness of melting snow and sand, even in the cruelest part of town. I was thankful for its comforting blanket which muffled threat and unkindness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The weather is strange. We had four straight days of that fog, but the day before the fog moved in, we were visited by sun dogs, which put on a brilliant display on either side of the sun. Maybe the unusual weather has something to do with recent solar activity, although most scientists say that solar storms have a greater effect on communications and technology than on weather.

Nevertheless, NASA predicts that 2012 will be the year of massive sun storms, part of an 11-year cycle, ramping up steadily until next year. Last Sunday, January 29, was one of those nights, when there was a solar flare that hurled billions of tons of plasma toward earth, the strongest such flare since May 2005.

The projected activity on the sun will magnify the chances of seeing the aurora borealis here in Winnipeg this February and March. We often see the lights, sometimes in summer. They illuminate the sky with swirly white rays, that fill the viewer with wonder. It’s just another bonus of living in a northern clime.