Alberta Snapshot: Rochfort Railway Bridge.


From the archives (if you follow my blog There is a Light, you might recognize this one.  I’m hoping to get all of the images from TIAL moved over within the next few weeks, which means some of the upcoming content on Flowery Prose will not be entirely new to everyone).  This photograph was taken on 24 April of last year.


105 kilometres (65 miles) northwest of Edmonton, Alberta lies the hamlet of Rochfort Bridge. This railway bridge nearby is cited as the longest wooden trestle in North America. It measures 736 metres (2, 414 feet) long and 33.5 metres (110 feet) tall, and was built in 1914.  The Paddle River and Highway 43 pass beneath it.



Finally got out last night and cleaned up all the garbage that had blown into the flowerbeds over the winter and earlier this spring.  Found about a million cigarette butts (I’ve since written a letter to the property manager so she can hopefully put up a notice – with all the dry grass, dead leaves and wood chips, it’s just irresponsible and obnoxious) and part of a broken window.  I’ll be picking glass out of that one area forever….

I haven’t lifted the leaf litter yet because I want the ladybugs hiding in it to feel safe and warm for a few more days yet – there is more snow in the forecast for the end of this week. (Grrrrr…).  It’s a bit early to do a full on clean up just yet, although if I have time tonight I may cut back the dried stalks from some of the perennials (I don’t do that task in the fall so things are looking a bit weird right now).  Lots of little bits of green in the garden now, popping up everywhere, and there are scilla and anemones blooming alongside the crocuses and chionodoxa.  I’m so happy to see them!



Recipe: Sea buckthorn and apple jelly.

I don’t usually reblog posts (my own or otherwise) on Flowery Prose, but sea buckthorn are now ready to harvest here in western Canada and I thought it might be appropriate to share a recipe in which to use them! Have you ever eaten sea buckthorn berries?

Flowery Prose

(Photo credit:  R. Normandeau)

My hubby and I managed to get out this past Saturday morning and gather some sea buckthorn fruit so that I could try my hand at making jelly from it.  If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll recall that I made a sea buckthorn beverage last year – I just love the citrusy taste of the berries and their gorgeous sun-bright colour.

Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) is a fairly common roadside plant here in Calgary – the City planted many of them years ago, mostly for erosion control on slopes.  It’s one of those shrubs you’d be hard-pressed to kill:  it’s tough-as-nails, drought-tolerant, pollution and salt-tolerant (good for our winter roads and all that de-icing salt), and a fairly aggressive spreader.  You don’t find it employed as an ornamental landscape plant very often, but it’s really very pretty, with silvery-green leaf clusters and the brilliant autumn fruit.  (Both male and female…

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Back to nature: Tour of the Ellis Bird Farm.

Last weekend, my hubby and I took the 160 kilometre drive north to the city of Lacombe, Alberta, where we spent the morning picking haskap berries (more about that to come!) and the afternoon touring the wonderful Ellis Bird Farm, a haven of naturescaping just a few clicks out of the city.

Originally from Parkenham, Ontario, the Ellis family came west in 1886, and settled outside of Calgary. Son John Ellis and his new wife Agnes started homesteading in the Lacombe-Joffre area in 1907, and after they passed away in the 1950s, their children Charlie (d. 1990) and Winnie (1905-2004) took over operations of the large farm.  The siblings were both naturalists, and sought ways to make the property more wildlife-friendly.  Charlie was particularly fascinated with birds, especially the mountain bluebird, and he started building nestboxes to attract and protect this native species. His plan worked: according to the Farm’s website, there was a single nesting pair of bluebirds on the Farm in 1956, when Charlie began his efforts, and by the late 1970s, there were 60. Today, the Farm boasts the largest concentration of mountain bluebirds anywhere in Canada. Of course, it can’t hurt that there are over 350 functional bluebird nestboxes on the property and more are being collected from all over the world.

Winnie planted several gardens on the property, designed to attract birds, pollinating insects, and other wildlife. On the day we toured, everything was looking a bit bedraggled due to a severe hailstorm the night before, but there was no denying the beauty and effectiveness of the plantings: birds, bees, and butterflies were flying everywhere around us!

(Credit:  Photos #4,6,7, and 11 by R. Normandeau)


A view near the water garden (not an original installation; it was built in 1995).  At the top right of the photo, you can see one of the structures from the petrochemical plant across the road.  MEGlobal Canada has provided funding to the Ellis Bird Farm since 2004.


Just a few of the bluebird nesting boxes onsite.


Another view of the water garden.  Notice the placement of the dead tree branches – perches for birds to rest or survey their surroundings.


You can see the evidence of the large hailstones that pierced the leaves of the water lilies.


Charlie Ellis and his father John built this private grain elevator in the 1920s.  There aren’t many of these farm elevators left in the country.  It is still fully functional, although not currently in use.  It was partly re-shingled in 1996; you’ll notice some of the new construction.


We saw so many birds at the Farm and I’m pathetic at birding – I had to enlist the assistance of the wonderful forum at Alberta Birds Facebook page to ID this barn swallow.   We did see quite a few purple martins, which was pretty exciting for me – apparently the Farm is participating in a geolocation program with these beauties.  The famous bluebirds are finished nesting for the season and weren’t anywhere to be found.


Where’s Mommy?  More importantly, where’s our food?


Nooks and crannies everywhere for the wildlife….


Winnie’s Butterfly Garden.


Another view of the Butterfly Garden.


Finally, what’s a farm without an adorable little piglet?  😉


If you’re ever in central Alberta during the summer, the Ellis Bird Farm is a must-see!  If you need any further encouragement, there is a tea house….  🙂


What have you done to make your garden more wildlife-friendly?



Larch lark.

While celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday with family in northern Alberta this past weekend, I had a chance to take in the glorious sight of stands of my very favourite tree, all bedecked in autumn splendour.  Larch trees aren’t commonly found in my neck of the woods, but for a few ornamental specimens in yards and in parks – it’s probably too dry out here for them to thrive.  In the Peace Country, however, larch trees abound – and this time of year, they are particularly gorgeous.  Most of the larch growing up north are tamarack larch (Larix laricina), although there are also planted stands of the non-native Siberian larch (Larix siberica), which is often used as a shelterbelt tree.  Another Alberta larch is the alpine Larix lyallii, which is found in the southeastern portion of the Rocky Mountains.   And…there are the highly architectural ornamental European larch, Larix decidua ‘Pendula’, with their deliberately dwarfed, weeping habit.  (I’m not a fan of the shape, but weeping larch can definitely serve their purpose as dramatic specimen plants in a formal bed – they’re certain to capture attention.  You can buy ‘Pendula’ in your local nursery).  Larch are extremely slow-growing  and long-lived trees that love getting their feet wet – much like willows, larch perform best in moist, well-drained soil.  You’ll find tamarack larch in bogs in the far northern part of the province, or they may border wetlands and creeks. 

What is the reason I’m so fond of larch trees, you may ask?  It’s all about the leaves, actually!   In summer, larch trees possess the softest grey-green needles you’ll find on a conifer – they’re like tiny delicate feathers, and I can’t resist touching them every time I go near a tree.  Because of these needles, larch trees aren’t dense and ponderous-looking like some pine trees, or weighty and rigid like many spruce.   And…get this…the needles of larch trees turn blazing, bright yellow in autumn and then drop off, just like the leaves of deciduous trees.  It’s just so…un-conifer-like, and unique in the plant world.  I think it’s simply amazing. 

Enjoy the colours of the season!



Related postsFraxinus fun.  Syringa bling.  Merry merry mountain ash.