Kate's Blog

Jan 12

Start two fabulous natives from seed

As the snow swirls outside, I hear you say, it’s way too early to think about seed. But consider this - there are treasures resting under the snow, awaiting the call of spring. To remind you of what lies ahead, this is a video from the Pollinator Garden at the Jonesville Allotments in Toronto, where I have a friend who labours with others in the front lines of nature recovery. Lovely photography matched with beautiful music.

You can get a head start in readying some of those treasures for spring a touch earlier in the season. There’s nothing more joy-inspiring than little green shoots pushing their way upwards while the snow is swirling outside! And it will become a relationship. Once the true leaves appear (not the first two, which look the same for most seeds) and you follow the seedling’s development close up, you remember. It’s a great way to learn plant identification.

The advantage of growing from seed is that you have access to the harder-to-find plants. The advantage of starting sooner is that you have more mature plants that will have a chance of flowering this year. A perennial isn’t in a hurry in the way an annual is. It has years to mature, flower and set seed. An annual has to get all that done in one season. So a perennial is slow to grow, and some are very slow indeed.
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Dec 11

Kinglets: tiny and fascinating

It was while researching gardening for butterflies and moths recently that I was reminded of the story of the Golden-crowned Kinglet, Regulus (little king) satrapa (governor), an olive-grey bird named for its brightly coloured crest - orange in the male, yellow in the female.

What a fascinating little bird it is!

The first amazing thing about the kinglet is that it’s so tiny, our smallest songbird. It weighs in at 5 grams - not much more than a quarter - and is half the body size of a chickadee. Which leads us to the second amazing thing: it eats only insects, but unlike most insectivorous birds it does not migrate - so how does it live through our punishing winters?

The third amazing thing is that even given an adequate winter insect diet, it seems physically impossible that it would be able to eat enough to carry it through a long winter night. That’s because its very small size means that the ratio of exterior exposure to heat loss versus inner body mass to store heat is higher than that of other birds.
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Nov 10

Henry Kock on native seed collection, planting: a 'nearly sacred act'

A cold grey windy day, marking almost the end of seed-gathering season. I pop out hastily to get the seed of the Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis), which was resolutely unripe a few days ago but has now turned brown and is ready to split open. I’ve been watching the Sky Blue Aster (Symphyotrichum oolentangiense) which had closed damp flowerheads when last visited but now quite a few have opened into a small dandelion-like globes, waiting to be blown off by a puff of wind, or pinched off by me.

The Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa) which had its glorious flowering in September and October now has serried ranks of little seed capsules hanging from its arched stems. They’re still green, I’ll leave them a while longer.

The seed-gathering season is a long one. For me, it starts at the end of June when I collect the drying fruit of the Red Elderberry (Sambucus pubens). I’m not sure whether I should have propagated them immediately. The instructions from Henry Kock indicate that I probably should have: he prescribes 60 days of warm stratification followed by a cold period of 120 days to break dormancy.

Kock is the author of Growing Trees from Seed – a practical guide to growing native trees, vines and shrubs, a bible in the horticultural world. Before his premature death in 2005 at the age of 53, Kock was hugely influential as an interpretive horticulturalist for over two decades at the Guelph Arboretum, where he founded the Elm Recovery Project. (I am proud to say that I received one of those elms from the late Keith Squires, nurseryman extraordinaire, and some 20 years on, it is in full growth.)
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