Over the ground lies a mantle of white….

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Well, it is said that snow is a good insulator!  My garlic, chives and oregano plants are definitely “winter-protected!”

My beds are the ones directly left of the tall accessible bed (with the trellis) that isn’t completely buried under the snow at the centre right of the photo.  (It’s really hard to tell the difference between the regular raised beds and the big snow lumps!).  You can just make out the decorative metal framework of the child’s bench that is at the foot of one of my beds.  And it looks like a bunny or some other small critter walked over the edge of the box…the gate to the garden is wide open and frozen in place so that wouldn’t surprise me.  Good thing we checked all the guards on the trees before the snow fell!

We have 35 beds in our community garden, plus we have all the perimeter space along the fence which contains a huge variety of perennials and annuals, as well as food plants such as rhubarb, raspberries, strawberries, haskap and herbs such as lovage, oregano, thyme, lavender, chives, and parsley.   The gardeners can also grow large, sprawling plants such as pumpkins and zucchini in a section of the perimeter.  The trees are all very young (the garden hasn’t even celebrated its fifth anniversary yet), but the apples and crabapples sported a good crop of fruit last year.  I really ought to post a photo from the summer when the garden is in full GREEN – it’s very pretty!

Looking at the plants snoozing out there in that beautiful warm sunshine is giving me some ideas of my own – I know I have a ton of stuff to do yet in preparation for the holidays, but I think a little nap might just be in order….   😉

I hope you have a relaxing, fun weekend!  What are your plans?

Warm thoughts.

Wow, it’s cold here!  I read one time that it is a typically Canadian characteristic to express the temperature while taking into consideration the windchill factor –  I guess we sound even hardier and dare I say heroic if we say it’s minus 36 degrees Celsius with the windchill instead of a “mere” minus 29 without.  (That’s minus 33 and minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively).  The wind is something you definitely have to factor in, especially when you have get somewhere on foot or wait for a bus – it makes sense to give it its due.  The crazy thing about all of this, it’s even colder the further south and north you go in the province.  I saw a snippet on one of the local news broadcaster’s Facebook page this morning that said of the 15 coldest places in the world right now, 5 of them are here in Alberta.  (Should we be proud of that or what?).  By comparison, we’re actually downright balmy here in Calgary.

Unfortunately, a tropical escape is not in the works for me right now (I have all that holiday baking to do – I simply can’t leave now!).  😉  In lieu of a white sand beach and non-stop sunshine, and with the pressing need to get organized before the new year, I’ve been going through my photos from the summer, including the ones I took at the conservatory at the Devonian Botanic Gardens.  Located in Devon, Alberta, about 300 kilometres (186 miles) north of Calgary,  the 190 acre Gardens are run by the University of Alberta.   My hubby and I hadn’t been there in years and to say we were impressed would be an understatement.

One of the plants in the greenhouse that stands out for me as I browse through the photos this morning is Jacobinia carnea (formerly Justicia, Flamingo flower, Brazilian plume), a South American native with spectacular firework-like blooms.  I made a mental note in July to do some research about this beauty – it turns out there are about 400 species of Jacobinia but only two are used in horticulture, J. carnea and J. pauciflora.  (The latter is apparently considerably less common).  In zones 8 to 11, Jacobinia is an evergreen shrub, and can actually reach a height of 215 cm (7 feet), with a spread of 90 cm (3 feet).  I read that it’s easily espaliered and is often grown that way as a backdrop for other perennials.  Here, of course, it can be a successful houseplant if given low light conditions and plenty of humidity.  If kept in a container, it supposedly gets a bit leggy after flowering, so it is advised to cut it back after the blooms have faded.  Temperature is a concern – Jacobinia does not tolerate the cold and will not perform if kept in a room hovering below 12 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit).

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The flowers come in various shades of red, yellow, orange, white and this incredible pink.  J. carnea is definitely a plant to remember if I ever get a sunroom to put one in.  Sigh…SUNroom….

Are you familiar with Jacobinia?  Do you grow any houseplants?  What are your favourites?

Robin’s pincushion.

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At first glance, I thought it was some sort of strange fluffy pod, presumably left here by cute furry space aliens.

Of course, I have a very vivid imagination.

To my great disappointment, it’s a mossy rose gall.  And the funniest thing about it is that I didn’t even know a rose was growing there.  I’ve literally* walked by this particular spot on my way to work nearly every day for five years…surely you’d think I’d notice the five-and-a-half foot tall rose bush.  In my defense, it’s jammed in with a whole bunch of other grasses and shrubs, seeds randomly blown in years ago and taken hold in the midst of a dense planting of junipers that the landscapers put in nearly three decades earlier.  No one has ever pruned or removed any of the odd plantings because you can’t access them – the junipers have made an impenetrable thicket around them.   I certainly didn’t notice that the rose had bloomed this summer, but it’s chockfull of hips right now, flashes of brilliant red that catch my eye every time now that I know they’re there.   There’s a lesson here about being more observant, I can tell….

Anyway, because my knowledge is a little fuzzy (groan!) about mossy rose galls, I did some reading.  If there are any rosarians out there who can offer some more insight, please chime in – I’d love to hear from you!  Mossy rose galls are caused by a tiny wasp called Diplolepis rosae (or Diplolepis spinosa), which lay their eggs in the leaf buds of the rose in the spring.  The plant reacts to the invasion by producing a gall, which grows all summer and eventually ends up as winter protection for the wasp larvae (clever wasps, using their host like that).  The following year, up to 40 adult wasps can emerge from a single gall.  I found contradictory reports on how the galls affect the health of the rose – some say the rose is not harmed at all, while others say that the galls draw nutrients away from the rose and that if there are enough galls, the rose will die.  The only way to get rid of the galls is to prune them off in autumn, and this article points out that they can be placed in cut flower arrangements for extra interest.  (With the larvae still inside?  I’m not terribly keen on that.  Granted, the writer did make a mention that the larvae are often parasitized by other insects…but isn’t that just swapping one bug for another?  I’m not sure I want that particular kind of decoration in the house).   Mossy rose galls are most often found on wild roses (such as Rosa acicularis, which I believe is the specimen I found), and frequently rugosas.  The wasps that create them don’t go after plants other than roses.

The most interesting part of all of this is that another name for mossy rose gall is “Robin’s pincushion.”  Isn’t that an absolutely lovely term to describe a winter housing complex for tiny slimy wasp-babies?

*You may have read that the word “literally” has been officially granted an additional definition, which contradicts the old one but supposedly has validity because of the rampant abuse – I mean, informal usage – of the true meaning over the years.   I’d like to say that I’m literally giddy about how the English language is evolving, but I know I’ve literally misused the word a million times over the years.   😉

Have your roses ever literally (I can’t help myself) been plagued with mossy rose galls or crown galls?

UPDATE (as of September 19, 2013) – There is a great article on Wikipedia about mossy rose galls – it’s well worth checking it out to find out more information about the wasps that cause them.  There are also some very interesting medicinal uses (a cure for baldness, anyone?) and historical tidbits listed…plus, some excellent photos.  Please link here.

Redleaf rose.

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While walking home from minding my plot at the community garden a couple of days ago, I came across this redleaf rose (Rosa rubrifolia, syn. R. glauca) growing in a nearby schoolyard. It reminded me of when we used to bring roses into the garden centre – we’d always order a few redleaf roses alongside all of the showier Mordens and Explorers and rugosas, but the customers were never thrilled about the “wild”-looking redleaf rose flowers. I tried to sell everyone on the foliage instead, but few people bit. I love them BECAUSE they look a little like our wild roses (Rosa acicularis and R. woodsii – see photos here).  If I owned a house and had the room to actually plant full size (read: large and slightly rambling) roses, a redleaf or two would definitely have a place.

What do you think of redleaf roses? Are you a fan, or are they not really your cup of tea?

Have a super-enjoyable weekend!  What are your plans – gardening or otherwise?  I’ve already done a pile of weeding this morning, but there’s still a frightening amount yet to tackle, and more rain in the forecast…. 

Pines in the Normand Boucher Community Arboretum.

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Isn’t the foliage of this whitebark pine simply LUXURIOUS?

This Pinus albicaulis specimen is part of a collection of 170 trees and shrubs in the Normand Boucher Community Arboretum, located in the town of Peace River, in northern Alberta.  Named for the founder of a local family-owned sawmill, the Arboretum was established in 1990 to honour the town’s designation as the provincial  “Forest Capital.”  A revitalization project six years later doubled the size of the Arboretum and allowed for the planting of many more trees. My hubby and I were delighted to attend our niece’s wedding at the Arboretum last July…and of course, I couldn’t help but take a bit of a tour while we were in town.

Of all the trees in the Arboretum, the pines captivated me the most.  I’m partial to conifers, anyway – growing up in northern Alberta will do that to a person.  I love living on the Prairies, but we don’t have nearly enough trees here!  🙂

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Limber pine (Pinus flexilis)

What are your favourite trees (in your garden or otherwise)?  What do you love most about them?