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Jul 27

Gifts from heaven – Bird feeders – New boss – August hours

It happens quite often. A seed gets deposited – from the air, or by a bird or passing chipmunk – in the centre of a pot and a plant starts to grow proudly, looking for all the world as if I had put it there… until it reveals itself to be an imposter and is yanked out and consigned to the compost heap. But while I couldn’t put a name to this particular plant, it wasn’t one of my familiar weeds and it was so perfectly centred and so healthy looking I decided to keep it until I figured out what it was.

A week or so ago, it flowered. A lovely lavender blue, and I recognized it immediately as the Monkey-flower. What excitement! I had seen it on occasion at Tiny Marsh and thought it quite charming. In fact, it charmed its way onto the flyer for the recent Tiny Marsh BioBlitz. The corolla (which is the name for all the petals of a flower) has an upper and lower lip and a yellowish centre that, apparently, looks like a monkey’s face – though I can’t see it. No offence to monkeys, but it’s much prettier than the image that conjures up.

Its genus, Mimulus, used to have 150 species, but DNA-driven reclassification reduced the number to seven, of which two are native to eastern North America, both quite common in wetland areas. The one that magically appeared in my nursery is the Square-stemmed Monkey-flower (M. ringens); the other is the Winged Monkey-flower (M. alatus), which looks very similar. Both have opposite leaves, but the leaves of the winged version have short stalks, whereas those on the square-stemmed one do not. And the winged’s flowers grow close to the central stem, while the square-stemmed’s flowers each have their own little stalk.
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May 25

How to plant a tree

Picture a flattened bowler hat. The young tree is planted in a mound slightly above the level of the ground, surrounded by a saucer-like moat to collect rainwater. That’s the goal.

Let’s back up to the start. A bareroot tree – it’s too late to plant one now, you would have had to have done that a month or so ago – goes in the ground as soon as it arrives. If you’re not ready right away, keep the tree cool, in the shade, and the roots moist, either in a bucket filled with water or well packed in moisture-retaining material like leaf mould or shredded paper. A bareroot tree is dormant – it has no or very minimal leaf growth.

A potted tree, which will by now have foliage, can go in at any time. If your new planting gets overtaken by drought, extra care is needed: a temporary shelter to shield it from the blazing sun, a daily soak, and a daily misting. Now and into June, there should be no problem planting a container tree and while regular care is a good idea, if the planting has been done right (see below, especially the mulching part) and there is reasonable precipitation, the tree should be in good shape to survive if you have to plant and leave.
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May 1

A moving target: the pollinator-friendly plant list

We all love lists. As we click on a promising headline, we anticipate an easily digested scrap of knowledge – not too much information, not burdened with complexity, but knowledge nevertheless - simplified, ordered, finite, authoritative. Armed with a list, the gardener can face up with a measure of confidence to the bewildering array of choices in the seed catalogue or garden centre.

But watch out - not all lists are created equal. In fact, a study published in the journal BioScience in 2014 looked at lists of pollinator-friendly plants in the U.K., Canada and the U.S. and found surprising shortcomings and misinformation, both in the lists, and in plant labels that rely on them. One list, compiled by a government-funded organization called Natural England, was described as looking “very much as if it was put together late one Friday afternoon.”

A list is only as good as the data that has gone into it, the study authors point out, but surprisingly they found the empirical sources on which lists are based are almost never provided. The study found that many good pollinator plants were omitted while poor plants were sometimes recommended. Here’s the link: ‘Listmania: The Strengths and Weaknesses of Lists of Garden Plants to Help Pollinators’ by Mihail Garbuzov and Francis L. W. Ratnieks.
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