Sunday, February 7, 2016

Kimberley Forest Vegetation

After looking through my slides to find pictures of the forest types and other vegetation in Kimberley Forest, I am frankly appalled at my own failure to get out there and get more and better pictures!  I'm supposed to have an interest in natural history, and I have lots of pictures of plants from elsewhere, but virtually none from here.  That's the biggest thing I've realized from doing this series of posts so far, so next summer I know what I need to do!  In the meantime, here's a very brief and simple description of the vegetation of the Kimberley Forest area using the pictures I do have available.

The left 2/3 of this picture shows the forest on the slopes of Kimberley Forest, not that bright green forest on the bottom of the valley, or the green hayfields, but the more distant forest running up the slopes.  This is all a large extended area of Sugar Maple Forest, the lighter green patches on the lower slopes areas of more recent natural regeneration.

The Sugar Maple Forest varies in age, but it's certainly never been cleared and regrown, though there's lots of that going on around the edges.  There are some White Ash, Cherry, and other species, but it's mostly Sugar Maple.

Up above the slopes behind that forest is a large wetland area, through which Lower Wodehouse Creek flows, some scattered evergreens on the higher patches.

In part of this area are quite a few huge old White Pine stumps, which certainly make me wonder what this forest was like before the area was cleared for farming.


The other part of the flat upper land is reforested, much of it with White Spruce as you can see here.

There a high ridge of the Banks Moraine right along the top of the slope, which was reforested with European Larch.  It grows fast and will soon be ready for thinning.

The flat land at the bottom of the slope is mostly wet floodplain, though higher areas were once hayfields.  Here the floodplain is dense with Marsh Marigolds in mid-May.

These are probably my best two pictures of vegetation in the entire forest!  Gotta get out there on some nice bright spring days next year.

There's lots of wildlife too, though the main evidence is their tracks in the snow.  But I did run into this Porcupine one time, sitting right on the Bruce Trail eating an apple.

He wasn't about to move either!  He must have known that I wasn't a threat, and stayed there while I shuffled past.  If my dog had been with me on the other hand .....!

This is the only easily available map I've found, and to be honest it's not very good and hard to make out - but it does give you some idea of the trails that exist (coloured lines), and the other two properties owned by the Conservation Authority (where the sinkholes are) and the Bruce Trail Conservancy (where the main spring is).  The brown/grey band across the centre is the Sugar Maple Forest on the slopes, and all the darker green patches are reforested areas.  Open light brown areas are old fields, gradually coming up in young trees.  Another thing I need to do is get a better map for this purpose!

****

I took a break from my walking an hour a day earlier this week, when we had four days of temperatures rising and falling, rain at times, and ice when it froze overnight.  Sometimes the walking was downright unsafe.  But I did average an hour/day for January, and since Thurs. I'm over an hour/day again.  I'm really going to need to use my willpower to keep this up!  But we're supposed to get 4 days of light snowfall now, so hopefully I can get back to some skiing later in the week.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Royal Botanic Garden at Edinburgh

The Royal Botanic Garden at Edinburgh was actually the first Botanic Garden we visited.  At the end of our first trip to England, we drove north and flew home from Scotland.  We visited again in 2010.  This garden has given us some key ideas that we've used in our own garden here at home.

The Botanic Garden in Edinburgh is older than Kew, established here in 1670.  It has a reputation for the research on conservation of biodiversity carried out here.  This is the big Palm House, home for tropical plants.

But it was out in the grounds that we really came to see.  The collection of big old trees is impressive, as it is at many older large gardens.  This is the flower of a Tulip Tree, introduced as an 'exotic tree' from North America in the 1600's!

And this is another exotic tree, the Monkey Puzzle Tree from South America.  It really does look exotic!

My favourite part was the Alpine Garden, a collection this botanic garden is noted for.  They can all stand the cold, collected from alpine habitats in mountains around the world, but they don't all like the rain.  The ones that would usually be protected by a blanket of snow in the winter are kept in the greenhouse here.

The alpine plants are also grown in troughs sitting around on this patio, a way of mimicking the soil conditions they usually grow in.

There's much more to Edinburgh's Botanic Garden than this though, and one of the other best features is the spectacular Rock Garden, built over hummocks and hollows, with numerous varieties of sprawling shrubs. Of course the day we were there it was raining ....

Modern day hunting for plants and garden ideas is epitomized in England by the Flower Shows, so I thought I'd add a few shots of these.  This is the Chelsea Flower Show, right in London, the largest and most prestigious.  As you can see, don't go if you're claustrophobic in crowds!

Half of the show is about new flower varieties.  This is the 'Black' Petunia that was all the rage when we were there in 2010, along with thousands of other flowers!

The other highlight consists of about a dozen invited garden designs, all required to have some sort of shelter with a place to eat lunch, for out in your backyard.  This was the most absurd of these that year, dependent on a huge crane sitting off to one side, to lift your 'lunch shelter' up in the sky.  It's all about publicity for the garden designers!

And it's increasingly commercial.  You could spend thousands of pounds on sculptures for your garden, just at one of the many vendors.  There are lots of ways to make your garden special by spending more money!

We also went to the Hampton Court Garden Show, in 2014.  It tends to have more avant garde garden designs, but don't ask me what the message of this collection of garden shovels and forks is!

On the other hand I thought this garden was well done and quite educational in comparison.  That year was the 100th Anniversary of WWI starting, and this garden illustrated the veggies soldiers would try to grow in the trenches, complete with a soldier to answer your questions.

There's an enormous amount more to English Flower Shows.  It's just such a unique experience to visit one if you're interested in gardening.  This new variety shown at Hampton Court is a type of Helenium, one of my favourite flowers here in our own garden.

Next weekend, more English Gardens.  And in the meantime, here in southern Ontario, we're supposed to get snow which will take us back into winter over the next few days.  Yeah!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Botanical Gardens

This weekend we're going to visit a couple of botanic gardens in England and Scotland, and perhaps go to a Flower Show.  I'll get back to Kimberley Forest after the weekend.  Botanic gardens grew out of early collecting of medicinal plants, in what were called 'Physic' gardens (for healing).  Later, with plant hunters scouring the world, all sorts of exotic plants found their way back to the big botanic gardens.

This first shot is a single picture of Chelsea Physic Gardens, located in Chelsea, right in downtown London beside the Thames.  Established in 1673, it's a carefully grouped and labelled collection of medicinal plants - grouped here not by plant groups, but by the diseases they were used to treat.  Many botanic gardens started like this, but expanded greatly later on; this one has stayed focussed on its original purpose.

The rest of these photos are from Kew Gardens, the largest botanic garden in England, located in the west end of London.  This is the Palm House, built in the 1840's.  The changing technology that enabled wrought iron frames and all the glass to build greenhouses in the 19th century was critical to enable the collection of exotic plants.

And inside one of Kew's greenhouses, one of the most exotic plants found in the Victorian era, the giant water lilies of the Amazon, named after Queen Victoria, the Victoria amazonica.  Supposedly a child can stand on one of these without sinking!

Another important part of Kew are these 'systematic' beds of plants.  Plant hunters sent out around the world found all sorts of new and unusual plants, but that brought with it a need to classify and name these plants systematically.  These beds reflect plants of the same familes, and are a teaching tool for the horticultural school there.

The most interesting greenhouse at Kew to my mind is the Alpine House, a very modern greenhouse designed not to keep plants warm, but to keep them cool.

Filled with plants collected at high elevations in alpine habitats, it is cooled by these vents, bringing air from tubes sunk in the earth below the greenhouse.  They aim never to let the temperature go above 68°F.

And this is the Princess of Wales greenhouse, but I bet you can't guess which Princess of Wales.  It honours Princess Augusta, who established Kew Gardens in the mid-1700's.  She was the wife of Frederick, the son of George II, but unfortunately he died before his father, so you've never heard of King Fred!  But Frederick and Augusta's own son, another George, ruled as George III.  (I do enjoy history!)

At any rate, inside this greenhouse are some fascinating plants, representing different habitats around the world.  This Linear-leaved Sundew is part of a collection of carnivorous plants.  It collects tiny bugs and eats them!  Though it's rare, you can find this in southern Ontario in the right habitat.

There are other buildings at Kew beside the greenhouses.  This is the Chinese Pagoda, built in 1767, one of several interesting ornamental buildings in the gardens, along with a new tree-top walk and other features to attract visiting families.  Notice the plane overhead, on approach to Heathrow.

And these tiny plants that just look like rocks are just that, Lithops, or Living Stones, native to South Africa.  Perhaps the most unusual plant we saw at Kew.

And I'll end with a favourite, a big tree, this one a Sycamore.  There are lots of big trees in botanic gardens, as tree seeds transport quite readily, and they were one of the early targets of plant hunters.

Hope you've enjoyed the tour of Kew; tomorrow we'll go to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Edinburgh.
Today my computer chose to get tired and wouldn't connect in mid-afternoon for 3 hours, but tonight it's ok.  Who knows!








Thursday, February 4, 2016

Old Farms

One of the interesting features of Kimberley Forest is the evidence you come across that this land was once partly farmed.  Though the steep forested slope in the middle was never cleared, both above and below this were several farms, or at least farm fields.

The most common evidence are short straight rows of large old Sugar Maple trees. 

These trees, in at least 3 different spots I've seen, are in such straight lines that they either came up in fencerows, or were planted.

If I were hunting for old homesteads, near these lines of big old trees is where I'd look first.

There's one old set of farm buildings left, though they were sold off as a private residence.  There's the old ruined barn foundation, a jumble of barn boards, and the old silo.  The intact barn behind it is across the road.  The house is just out of sight on the right.

More common are old bits of cedar rail fencing, some in quite good shape, and some fallen down.

It's certainly been a very long time since any cattle grazed in here!  That's Wodehouse Creek running through the upper part of the property.

This fence, in a completely forested area, looks even older to me.  It's a genuine old 'snake' rail fence, built without fence posts.

And there's one old farm lane bounded by lines of trees, though it runs down to a farmhouse that is off the property.

There's also an unused sideroad, though it's one place ATVs access the property.

The fact that this property was expropriated 4-5 decades ago for a public use, and has never been put to that use, does leave some understandable resentment in the local community.  As we try to improve the management and care of this public land, we hope to also honour the memory of the original families who farmed here.

Again tonight my computer worked fine all  day, but got tired by evening, and decided it could not connect to the internet.  Thank goodness for my laptop!  Our unreasonably mild temperatures have gone below freezing again, which is a big improvement, but there's very little snow in the forecast, which means no skiing or snowshoeing for now.  Not a very nice winter at all!

Since it's Thursday, and I have several appropriate pictures, I guess I'll link to

Good  Fences.

If you're just joining us, this series on Kimberley Forest started two days ago.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Kimberley Forest Trails

As I mentioned yesterday, Kimberley Forest is riddled with trails.  On a map they are so complex that you can't follow them.  And one of the main management issues is dealing with the use of these trails particularly on these environmentally sensitive slopes

Perhaps the oldest trail is the Bruce Trail, a hiking trail that's been here 50 years.   This section often gets used for snowshoeing.  Generally, it doesn't conflict with any other trails.

And the newest trails are the Nordic ski trails, entirely up on the relatively flatter land on top of the slopes.  They certainly don't look like this right now though!

The other old trails are the actual road allowance that bends through the area, and a set of cross-country trails that were cut through the forest in the 1970's.  The main snowmobile trail has also been here a long time, but snowmobilers around here are a responsible group, and they don't conflict with other trails either.

Parts of the old ski trails are still used, though not for cross-country skiing. But other sections, including several bridges over little creeks, have been abandoned and are now growing in with young trees.  None of those bridges like this one are safe anymore.

There are two big management challenges.  One is the many springs, like this one, and the other is the steep slopes. The springs reflect the underlying geology, because there is a layer in the slope that groundwater cannot percolate through.  The result is that dozens of springs emerge on the slopes like this and trickle down the slope - all year long except in very dry periods.

When the water trickling downhill meets a trail across the slope used by ATV's, this is what happens.  Not all trails are like this, but a disturbing number are.  And of course that spoils the trails for other users.

A slightly different problem happens on the steeper slopes.  There water trickling downhill tends to follow the trails themselves, and quickly forms a tiny ditch running down the trail. 

Unfortunately, on these step slopes, that ditch gets deeper very quickly, making the trail unsafe for other users, like mountain bikers or horseback riders.  In some places it's no longer even safe for ATV's, and certainly not for snowmobiles.

If this were on gravel soil, the result would be very different, but on these clay soils, on the steep slopes, it doesn't take much of a track for the water to start flowing down it.  This track has only been heavily used like this for the past 2 or 3 years.

Even on the flat river floodplain at the bottom of the slopes, the water pools on top of the clay soil, even though the tracks here are very shallow.  It's going to be a major challenge to bring all these trails back into usable condition!

I should say that ALL user groups using these trails including the local ATV and the local snowmobile clubs, have been members of the small community group working to improve the management of this property.  The organized ATV Club has agreed that these trails are in large part unsuitable for ATV's.  We'll see how well we can manage the situation and keep all the groups happy!

****

A dismal few days here, with temperatures up well above freezing, the snow melting fast, and heavy rain coming and going.  Nearly 10 Celsius here today - unheard of!  It's supposed to be colder tomorrow, but it will take a lot of new snow to make any trails around here skiable again this year!

Again my computer wouldn't connect this evening.  It's as if it gets tired by the end of the day!  Morning seems fine!  This time I transferred pictures, and typed it on my laptop, which has much finer print.  So I think it worked, but I'm still frustrated!