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County Gardener’s summer notebook – peonies, butterflys and butternut

This lavish grouping of tree peonies emerged early in the season in our garden, opening up 10-inch gossamer white blossoms with mouth-watering centres of colour. Judy McClure photo

No garden  is too small
to hold a peony
Had I but four square feet of soil
I would plant a peony in the centre
and proceed to worship.
Alice Harding
I couldn’t say it any better than Alice. She says it all. And now that the peonies have mostly bloomed and blown away for another season, the memory of their delicate colour, fascinating aroma and infinite variety still linger over the garden, like ghostly images of another season.
If there is any strike against peonies it is their transient nature.  That such beauty can only be enjoyed for such a short time is unfortunate.  But knowing this perhaps it makes us even more aware of our upcoming loss and we love them deeply in spite of themselves.  To come alive with such promise – then shortly fade away in the sun and wind seems such a tragic loss.  It’s knowing that they will return again next season that keeps us interested.
This year brought a shorter season than in any time in my memory. Circumstances had me in surgery right at the beginning of the blooming period and out of action breaking in a new titanium knee at the peak of the garden’s abundance. Luckily, with Judy’s help, we captured a few images of this year’s super stars, which will have to sustain and inspire us.  The beauty, the design, the texture all survive as digital images — it is enough to press on.

White Admiral has some unexpected colour detail when examined closely - like the terra cotta spots on the wings. Donald McClure photo

A few years ago I wrote a piece about what flower I would choose it I could only grow one.  Sort of a silly question for sure but I came to the conclusion all things considered it would be the peony.  Today, I would still likely come up with this answer (although there is a lingering notion that I could also survive on dahlias, roses and echineceas.)

Speaking of a beautiful natural design it is hard to get your mind around anything more gorgeous than the butterfly. One of our summer favourite butterflies in the Foxglove garden is the pristine so-called White Admiral Limenitis arthemis which can be seen fluttering across all of Canada north to the treeline — but it is

Even more surprising is the multicoloured patterns of blues, purples and oranges displayed in proper lights on the undersides of the wings. Donald McClure photo

said to be scarce in southern BC.

To the budding photographer who wants to do justice to this species (and its allied varieties) it may be a surprise to discover its distinctive red spots on the underside — and the dazzling display of colour on the outside of its wings (including iridescent blue).
And have a look at this amazing Court Noxon

Another look at amazing and exquisite natural design was spotted by Court Noxon in this picture he took of a dead Eastern Swallowtail recently. Court Noxon photo

photo of a dead Eastern Swallowtail found near Morrison Point Road.  His conclusion:  “nature has a reason for almost anything — but this pattern on the underside would seem to be purely artistic indulgence.”

Looking for some new ideas to bring home to your own garden?  One place you are certain to come away with a bundle of good inspirations is the annual The Artful Garden display at the studios of Jon and Suzann Partridge in Bracebridge this summer.   Running from July 23d to August 14th this will be the 14th Annual event of its kind,  I didn’t get to see all of them, but I visited enough to give this event a high priority on our summer schedule.   This year the garden will feature the work of over 40 artists who have been creatively inspired by gardens.  Check out the web page: for travel details.

County naturalist Peter Mulloy was kind enough to supply me with some new Butternut seedlings to start this summer at Foxglove. Donald McClure photo

Thanks to naturalist  Peter Mulloy for coming to my rescue this week after some sharp rabbit teeth gnawed off  two little specimens of Butternut trees planted last season.  He has developed his stock from a local source and although these are not the easiest trees to grow, I hope to get them established on our Bloomfield property. Ontario pioneer craftsmen utilized the tree’s yellow, amber wood effectively in furniture and decorative design.

Filed Under: Donald McClureUncategorized

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:

    Sorry Sarah for not answering you sooner. And thanks for your kind comments. Is there a book in sight. Yes. I have four on the go at the moment. Will keep you informed. Regards Donald

  2. sarah says:

    Donald you bring such remarkable insight into a part of our world so many of us take for granted or simply don’t see!

    Any chance there is a book in the making?


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