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Feb 15

Seed starting for beginners: it’s all about timing

Plant enthusiasts start their own seed for a variety of reasons – to get many plants for the price of a package, to grow rare or unusual varieties and, if you save your own seed, to give your plants the genetic advantage that comes as each generation adapts a little better to the conditions in your garden.

Growing from seed also fosters a more intimate relationship with your plants. You learn to recognize a species or variety immediately, no matter how young the seedling. This can be very helpful when weeding. Not all weeds are undesirable; they may be future prize specimens that happen to be crowding out something else you like – if you recognize them, you can move them to grow on elsewhere.

If you’re a beginner, it’s best to go with the easier plants. These are the ones that need only moisture, warmth and light to germinate and start growing.

Among the natives, two good ones are Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) and Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpureum). The Anise Hysssop starts germinating within a few days, the Purple Coneflower gets going at about the 10-day mark. These are both truly lovely native plants that are also major pollinator pleasers, attractive to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Butterfly Weed (Aesclepias tuberosa) and Bee Balm (various species of Monarda) are also easy starters. Check my seed list for other warm germinators.
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Dec 15

Cottage property is - almost - perfect

I had the privilege of visiting a very special cottage property last fall, on Deer Island off Honey Harbour. The owner, John, had recently purchased the nine-acre site. He told me he wants to enhance the front of the cottage with native plants and do some landscaping to the rear where there is a wetland as well as an area that appears to have served as a dump. He has no background as a cottager, but his family is ready for the experience – and while he doesn’t consider himself a gardener, he does enjoy the work.

I waited for John at the Nautilus Marina on the last Sunday in October, a lovely late fall day – chilly to start with, but warming up quickly as the sun came out. We jumped into his little aluminum motorboat and chugged out to the main channel between Beausoleil Island and Deer Island. There’s a pleasant old-time feel to the cottages – no McMansions here. John’s is a bungalow nestled in the trees, high above the water. Two nearby “bunkies” will accommodate grandchildren and other anklebiters. The previous owner built stone terracing all the way down to the water. It fits in perfectly with the rocks and the trees and the water. A job well done.

We jump off onto a rickety dock. John has planted hostas and bee balm (“rightly or wrongly,” he says deprecatingly). “They’ll have to go,” I said, nodding at the hostas, “they totally don’t belong.” John - surprised to learn that hostas are from northeast Asia, mainly Japan - is agreeably unfazed. His bee balm is native, although it’s a dwarf cultivar, and cultivars don’t always fulfill the original species plant’s ecological functions such as feeding birds and other creatures, or hosting insects and other organisms.
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Sep 30

The summer of Monarch abundance

It was 8 degrees outside yesterday morning, windy and raining. I decided to cocoon. The day before, it was 10 Celsius, sunny and calm. It felt lovely to be outside. The change had come Thursday afternoon. The date was interesting, because September 28 is when our first frost can be expected. Not this year – but still, it went down to 4 last night and it's chilly today - even if it’s due to rise to 25 C by Tuesday.

So, it’s fall. But I’m not over summer, which this year was enhanced by an encouraging abundance of Monarch butterflies. During the warm weather earlier this week, observers along the Lake Ontario shoreline were amazed by the spectacular parade.

Some of us raised Monarch caterpillars this year and became transfixed by the unfolding spectacle of the species' metamorphosis. When last I blogged, I had seven chrysalides, with one final caterpillar hanging in a ‘J’ from the top of its cage. It pupated a few days later.
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