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County Gardener’s 2011 notebook

First important butterfly of the season was a Mourning Cloak like this magnificent specimen which landed on the garden walkway last week. Likely born in August 2010 it wintered over in the garden. Donald McClure photo

Wasn’t going to do as much this year
planned to cut back and
save the wear and tear
but when I stood beside the bed
something happened to my head
there’s room for another Rudbeckia
over here —
Oh dear!

Primula Priaxia puts on a beautiful display of pendulous yellow and white blooms bringing the early vitality to the garden. Donald McClure photo

It returns each spring like an old friend, the  “first rose”  of spring perennials,  the wonderful, exotic  primrose or  Primula vulgarisi . Normally arrives with more bloom then it left behind the season before.   Its one of the sure signs of spring.  It is also a plant that requires little attention other than to keep it thinned out from time to time.  There are over 450 types of primulas — enough to satisfy any gardener’s interest or climatic requirements.

Was a longtime member of the American Primrose Society ( which includes organized Canadian Chapters in its umbrella).  It’ s quarterly magazine is guaranteed to give you goosebumps of anticipation.  You might get some real excitement also going in early spring flower shows with this plant.  In Canada contact:  British Columbia Group: Maedythe Martin, president,  951 Joan Crescent Victoria, BC, V8S 3L3 Canada <martin951@shaw.ca>

Victorious male oriole chased a young rival from the garden at Foxglove, but still has to contend with three other rivals this summer. Donald McClure photo

I had a feeling something unfortunate was about to happen when two male Baltimore Orioles started dive-bombing each other in  territorial  dispute. One of the oriole’s vulnerable sides is it’ s  vigourous  defense of its nesting grounds and this dispute seemed to involve an open fight between an immature male and an old hand.

Over the years we have had a many as four different colonies in the area that somehow sorted out their prerogatives.  Last year one male practically drove himself to exhaustion trying to scare off his on reflection in  the side mirrors of our car.  This year it took a deadlier turn,
Trimming around one of the big maples out front the afternoon after the heated encounter I found the orange and black form of a young male crumpled in the grass against the trunk.  It would appear that in his frantic haste to escape his tormentor, he had barrelled into the maple at warp speed and succumbed.  An hour after the the older male was back on the nectar feeder once more with his female companion.
Another bird visitor that  flew the tortuous route back from the deep South to my neighbour’s garden in Bloomfield recently before fatally colliding with a window, was an unfortunate ovenbird warbler.   Cannot say that I had ever identified one in the wild — but after photographing the delicate, pristine olive brown body, striped breast, white eye ring, black stripe near the eye and a striped orange tinged crest with dark stripes the characteristics are now indelibly in my mental rolodex.  In its frozen position its tail titled tilted upward like that of a wren.
Why is it called “ovenbird”.   Seems that’s the shape of its domed ground-built nest crafted out of grass and sticks which reminded folks of an early oven.   In any event it everyone’s loss when such a beautiful creature which traveled from as far away as Mexico is share the summer with us is lost.
Butterflies and dragonflies were fairly scarce in our area last summer. Hope this problem is reversed in 2011. First butterfly of the season was a white cabbage variety motoring along on  the cool afternoon of May 5th.  First larger visitor was a beautiful Mourning Cloak Nymphalis antiopa, which landed on the garden walkway May 9th.   This two-brood beauty (with second brooders in August) likely wintered over in the garden and emerged again in early spring.  First Eastern Tiger Swallowtail floated across the lot May 24th.
Anyone contemplating using a bird bath in their garden should realize that with its use goes the responsibility of keeping it clean.  Birds are not the most pristine of creatures — in fact some of them can be down right disgusting.  It’s practical to inspect the your baths frequently and keep a utility brush handy to give them a clean up.  Always use clean untreated water if possible.  Keeping them happy and healthy  pays dividends.
Garlic mustard is once again sneaking into our gardens. This persistent and destructive import  (also described as the “purple loosestrife of woodlands and hedgerows”) is again taking over the territory of many of our native plants and wildflowers; sapping the nutrients, light, moisture and growing space needed by many of our more desirable native wildflowers .  It is already getting late in the season but hunt out these distinctive white flowers and pull them out before they start shedding their buckets of seeds.

The notorious intruder garlic mustard is staking its overpowering claim to County gardens and woodlands this season and should be eradicated to preserve room and nutrients for native species of wildflowers. Donald McClure photo

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About the Author: He can tickle your funny bone or tug at your heart strings. County people may know him as a chronicler of everything that happens (or should happen) in the garden, but his interests stretch across the natural world. His unique sense of observation takes in a wide expanse of living and may even point out some truths about our own condition as managers of the world around us. With Loyalist antecedents in his family tree his roots go deep into the Ontario countryside.

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  1. Donald says:

    Dear Laurie: I cannot tell you how great its was to receive your message and find a kindred spirit on board. Looking forward to further chats down the line. Sincerest best wishes! Donald

  2. Donald says:

    One thing about having your knee replaced Donna, is that it does make you slow down and it causes you to think how much we take the wonder of mobility for granted. When you realize how what a struggle it can be to get from one part of the house to another, and contrast it with how joyful it is to dance and walk through tall grasses and scamper up rocks and wade in cool lake water– you realize that our gifts of the senses are incredibly precious and most worthy of protection and preservation. Happily we note a modicum of improvement each day. Best regards Donald

  3. Donald says:

    Appreciate your kind remarks Sarah. Hardly a day goes by during the growing season that one of nature’s secrets is not revealed in the garden. A garden is a private laboratory which anyone can possess or share. Took a course with photographer Freeman Patterson a few years ago built around the art of seeing. Part of his success is in being able to look carefully at a small segment of the natural environment and uncovering hidden streams of life at work which
    most people miss — simply by not looking deeply enough. Best wishes Donald

  4. Donald says:

    Thank you Louisa. There is something about the mystique of a garden that is very persuasive in the human psyche. I think once you get involved in the wonder and surprises of what a garden can produce in your life the feeling persists — and never leaves you. Best wishes Donald

  5. Laurie Clark says:

    Lovely stuff!

  6. Donna McClure says:

    Ever the wondrous storyteller, and photographer have come through with yet, again,magnificent pics and tales of our flora and fauna! I guess, while convalescing from knee surgery, you just hang out at the window, and flash away at all the exciting birds in your garden. Hope you are doing very well, Don,and keep that whip handy when Judy doesn’t obey!

  7. Shelley McKay says:

    I’m a friend of Kelly’s and saw her FB repost of your blog. Lovely blog about gardening and PEC! Now, if only I could move there and garden! (Living in downtown TO in a townhouse, I have no garden to speak of, and am very much missing it.) At least I live a block away from Lee Valley – I can pretend to garden with all of their lovely things.

    Please keep blogging and we’ll (vicariously) enjoy gardening through your adventures.

  8. sarah says:

    What a fantastic article Donald! My sister is a huge fan and now so am I! I too lost a warbler to my living room window – so very sad!

    Thanks so much for all of the amazing knowledge you share!

  9. Louisa says:

    A nice little gardening journal entry, Don. The oriole in the car mirror reminds me of watching a cardinal sitting on top of my side mirror, swinging down over and over to view itself and understand who it was seeing. I watched it for about 15 minutes at it and had to go sit down, it wore me out!.

    Love the little poem – that’s so me. When we downsized and moved to a mobile park with a nice little yard, I even went so far as to explain to a neighbour that I wasn’t going to do any more gardening, and the next thing he saw me doing was kneeling on the ground surrounded by bags of soil and pots of plants. You just can’t keep a gardener down, right?!?!

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