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…. 

Flowery blurbs, volume 12.

I’ve been gardening “by the minute” lately…that is, cramming five or ten minutes’ worth of work in before the next bout of rainy, windy, or otherwise highly changeable weather.  Ah, glorious Spring!  Yesterday I managed to get one flowerbed edged and weeded before the thunder and lightning started (thankfully, the storm lasted about five minutes, total, and no hail came out of it).  If you’re having to do the same thing with your gardening work, here are a few little Flowery Blurbs to chow down on while you’re waiting for the sun to come out again….

When I was working in a garden centre, some of the most frequently-asked questions concerned tomatoes.  Actually, it was ONE gigantic question:  how do you grow tomatoes in Calgary?  It really is trickier than most other places – if you’re from here you know what I’m talking about.  We have a short growing season, really cool summer nighttime temperatures, and we’re always looking over the horizon for snow, so a vine-ripened tomato that was grown in a Calgary garden is like a shiny nugget of pure gold.  (Okay, so I exaggerate.  But only slightly).  While I should have posted this article up a few months ago when gardeners were starting their tomato seedlings indoors, the information about hardening off and recommended hardy selections is still very useable, and you can always hang onto these excellent tips for next year.  Check out Stacey McDougall’s post about Growing Resilient Tomatoes from Seed on Big Sky Permaculture’s website.

Are you growing fruit trees or shrubs in your garden?  Do you know how to prune them in order to maximize fruit production?  This article from Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development is a short primer on the reasons why pruning fruiting plants properly will give them that extra oomph! factor.

I love the article, From the Shrubbery, by Noel Kingsbury in Gardening Gone Wild – not only does it have a great title (I’m a Monty Python fan and the word “shrubbery” always gets me giggling, what can I say?), but the premise is fascinating.  Kingsbury argues that shrubs more than deserve a status update, and should no longer languish behind perennials for garden dominance.  Of course, he insists, proper management is key – shrubs only work if you culture them properly.  Do you agree with what he suggests?

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’m interested in vermicomposting, even if I don’t find the worms themselves very appealing.  (By the way, my red wigglers are doing spectacularly; I harvested enough castings to nearly fill a 4 litre ice cream pail about a month ago and worked them into my perennial beds during spring prep).  Although vermiponics has absolutely nothing to do with composting, it does involve worms.  Check out this article that takes the science of aquaponics to a new wriggly level, and removes the fish from the equation.  (Perfect for someone who wants an aquaponics system but can’t keep it up year-round due to the cold weather!).   What do you think of vermiponics – or aquaponics, for that matter?  Would you attempt these systems? 

Finally, from the files of They’re Seriously Serious (I Think):  if the sight of a lawn full of dandelions doesn’t make you hurl curses or gnash your teeth, and you actually have feelings of love and kinship for the sunny yellow flowers, then check out Dandetown‘s Facebook page.  If you’re a creative soul, they’ve got a call for submissions of “your favourite dandelion stories, photos, song lyrics, and recipes.”

On that note, I’m heading out to check on those plants I bought on Sunday and still haven’t put in the ground….  🙂

Related articles

Book review: Tree and shrub gardening for Alberta.

I must be suffering from the wrong kind of fever:  I think I’m still possessed of the malingering “cabin fever” instead of the more desirable “spring fever.”  (I suspect it has something to do with the persistently falling snow outside).   Regardless of the correct diagnosis of my current malaise, I find myself trying to gain solace by reading gardening books, and, recently, while in pursuit of some information about trees that are particularly attractive to birds, I came across a certified gem:  Don Williamson’s Tree and Shrub Gardening for Alberta (2009:  Lone Pine Publishing, Edmonton, AB).  As with all of Lone Pine’s publications, this one is concise, precise, and chockful of great photographs and little sidebar tidbits and handy lists.  (Plus it’s a paperback, inexpensive, and – best of all – portable.  Seriously, take these books along when you’re shopping in nurseries and garden centres.  Plant labels can only give so much information, and that horticultural consultant you would love to speak with may have dozens of clients waiting in line before you.  Trust me, I know).   I get rather gung-ho about interesting plant facts, and Williamson delivers:  fr’instance, did you know that the fruits of sumacs are not only edible, but can be made into a summery little pink lemonade-like drink?  (If anything will cure my cabin fever, it would be sumac lemonade!).  And that we can grow apricots in Alberta, in the province where it is winter 365 days of the year?  (No, I joke…we’re usually snow-free in July and August.  Ahem).   They’re called Manchurian apricots (Prunus mandshurica), and they’re super-cold hardy.   And did you know that when selecting a new birch tree, you may want to look for a black birch (Betula nigra), as they’re more disease and pest resistant than other species?  From A to Z, Williamson covers the gamut of tough, cold- hardy, resilient trees for our tough, cold, and resilient province, and he does so with easy-to-understand and clearly stated instructions regarding planting and culture for each plant.  He also carefully notes the best cultivars for each species, an extremely valuable tool for anyone shopping for trees.

And the thing I like best about this book?  Williamson is not afraid to push the boundaries a little.  My biggest peeve regarding gardening is that too many gardeners don’t experiment:  with their plants, with their hardiness zones, with their microclimates, with their creativity.  Sometimes a little ingenuity and mindfulness is all it takes to make something grow, despite the fact that  the plant label suggests it isn’t possible.  (Of course, there is common sense involved in this – some plants simply cannot survive our climate, and that’s that.  You don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a tree just to have it croak because it’s not suitable for its new location).  Williamson suggests that maybe it’s not such a bad idea to try yew, or cherry prinsepia, or maybe yucca…if you want to.  You just might be able to make it work.  Gardening isn’t a rigid science governed by strict laws that must be adhered to.  I mean, plants are alive…they don’t always act the way we think they should.  Isn’t that element of chance and surprise part of the reason we keep digging in the dirt?

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Oh yes, and I COMPLETELY agree with Williamson:  Euonymous is seriously underrated as a great deciduous shrub for our climate.  Anyone who has seen one ablaze with colour in the autumn knows what I’m talking about.