Friday, May 31, 2013


I can't let the month of May go by without paying homage to the unfolding leaves that create the world around us, completely changing the landscape we live in each year as they turn the earth to green.  Walking the woods in May I'm always enchanted with the delicate life unfolding in each leaf, everyone of them different, but all contributing to the bright fresh yellow-green of spring.

These are a patch of ostrich fern I caught in the woods on the farm west of us, growing at the edge of a wet patch, with the sun shining through in early morning.  Ferns have long been one of my favourite plants in the woods, especially in spring as they initially unfold their fronds in a characteristic fiddlehead shape..

Beech leaves, which unfold from long slender reddish-brown buds into brilliant green leaves all in the space of a week, the leaves marked by strong parallel veins reaching out to the side of the leaf.

And of course maple leaves.  The sugar maple is probably the most common hardwood tree in all the forests of Grey County, if not much of southern Ontario. And they are one of the first trees to gain their leaves in mid-May, contributing a lot to turning the landscape green.

And finally, these are ash leaves in our own backyard just a few evenings ago, when the evening sun was shining through them like a cloud of large bright yellow-green confetti.  The ash (mostly white ash) are the last among the trees to unfold their leaves, often standing mostly bare still while other leaves are already green.  And may of our small ash seedlings and saplings suffered heavy damage in the unseasonally late frost last week, their first leaves all frozen and dead.  I'll be watching to see how readily they regrow.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Spruce Flowers?

When we first bought our place, one of the first things I did was start planting trees.  In the first year or two I planted about 75 little white spruce, all starting out life as an 8" high seedling.  Most of the first ones are higher than my head now, and one in particular, is nearly double that.  The bright green of the new shoots when they burst through the brown scales and start to expand is one of the marks of late May, contrasting with the older dark green of the rest of the tree.

But when I walked by one tree I noticed something different.  It's not one of the biggest among the trees, but about 8' tall.  It had the green shoots bursting out, but it also had small brown cones and small purple cones (below).  I guess I was a little slow, but it took me awhile to work out what I was seeing.

The brown 'cones', not real cones at all, but softer light brown pollen cases, were the male flowers, while the purple cones waiting to be fertilized were the female flowers.  It will be interesting to see if any pollen from the brown flowers reach the purple cones and they mature into actual spruce cones.  The pollen cases will dry up and disappear, while fertilized cones will grown into the woody cones we're all familiar with.  You don't usually see this difference at all, because it happens high up in mature treees, but this is unfolding right before my eyes.

Monday, May 27, 2013


Believe it or not I was actually up for a sunrise a few days ago.  I forget why, but the sun rises pretty early by late May, so there must have been some special reason.  Maybe that was the day the chipmunk got in the house.  Anyway, it was quite beautiful, with clouds swirling in the east giving an interesting red glow under the blue-gray clouds higher up.  It's almost enough to make me want to get up early occasionally.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


Another beautiful late spring day, cool but sunny and great for a little more work in the garden.  But the flowers are passing so quickly that you only see them with their best blooms for 3-4 days at a time, then they're gone.  I can hardly keep track of what I'm seeing the garden changes so fast at this time of year.


These irises were in their best condition nearly a week ago, before the storm that brought so much rain and then the colder temperatures.  They're already pretty well gone now.  But I love the flowers, especially the tiny 'beard' that runs down the middle of the lower petals.  And they come in an amazing variety of colours.

I think I like the dark purple ones best, though these deep brownish-red ones are nice too.  We also have some white and yellow ones - though nothing beats the royal blue of the tiny early spring iris (see April 13th).

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Shooting Stars

May and early June is the time for gardening.  You could be out in the garden all day every day and not keep up with everything we want to do.  We're still expanding the garden, bringing in triple mix, manure and compost to build up an otherwise largely useless clay soil.  And for the veggie garden at least, we're building raised beds.  And we use tons of mulch, either the free leaves from across the road in October, or I buy it by the trailer load.  It works!  We're left with a largely weed-free garden as long as we load it up with mulch.

This year we have several new plants, after expanding the garden last year.  In fact every year we just can't seem to resist buying more new plants.  But this is my favourite among them - shooting stars.  It's an ephemeral spring flower that blooms now; the one we have is brilliant pink.  About a foot tall, it has numerous blooms at the top of two or three stems, over a basal rosette of leaves.  A close-up of the individual flowers, below, shows how colourful they are.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Fern Leaf Peony

The fern leaf peony is supposed to be hard to grow, but ours is flourishing.  It's one of the first plants up in the spring in the garden, spreading it's very frilly leaves above the dirt as soon as any even slightly warmish weather gets here.  It grows fast, ahead of all the other peonies, until it's a mound of light green foliage nearly 3 feet wide and high.

 Then the blooms come out, brilliant red with yellow stamens buried deep in the flower.  For a few days anyway, the plant is just covered with the bright blossoms, making it look like a huge lantern in the garden.  Unfortunately this year the heavy rain the last two days has done it in quickly, but it's been a sign of colour to come over the summer.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Storm Rolls In

Yesterday's storm rolled in very dark and fast when it finally arrived.  I'd been working in the garden while the thunder rumbled away in the distance for nearly an hour, slowly getting louder and louder.  Suddenly I felt a shadow over my shoulder and looked up to see what was there.  What was there were the dark stormy clouds below, rolling in to darken the sky in a matter of minutes.

The clouds were boiling away above me for awhile before the rain began and I was able to get in a few very quick shots, though it meant running for a tripod to have enough light.  Then the rain began and I had to run for the door.

The shot below would have been an immediate 'delete' for me, but I shared these with my wife, who sees photos in terms of patterns much more than I.  She thought it was a great picture, because the blur shows the wind, which is indeed what it was.  So here it is.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Marsh Marigolds

For nearly the past two weeks the ditches and low spots have been filled with the bright yellow blooms of the marsh marigolds.  These ones I found on a road east of Old Baldy when I was heading for a hike to look at wildflowers.  They always seem to brighten up the roadside in wet spots so much, sometimes following the course of a tiny stream like a yellow ribbon across the lowlands.

A little tricky to get pictures of though, 'cause they're usually growing in a few inches of water.  I didn't get wet taking these, but the tripod did.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Cherry Blossoms

It's the time of year for flowering trees as well as wildflowers.  The cherries, serviceberries and of course the apples are all in bloom.  Driving around the countryside you spot the odd tree here and there along the road or along fencerows or the forest edge, covered in white blossoms.  These are some bright white blossoms I passed on the 7th Line south of Meaford last week.

I stopped along the road and got out to take some closer pictures and figure out what tree it was. It turned out to be a pin cherry, with amazing white blooms against the bright blue sky.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Spring Wildflowers

There is just nothing like the first 3 weeks of May, when the woods turns green and the spring wildflowers come out.  Growing fast to get their blooming in before the leaves of the trees come out and shade the forest floor, numerous wildflowers bloom in a remarkably short period of time.  We all know the trilliums, featured below before last week's snowstorm.  Here are three more of some 25 we saw on a Bruce Trail walk last weekend.

This beautiful red trillium is outlined by the sun shining through the petals, brightening the dark red colour.

This dog-toothed violet, or trout lily, conveniently grew in front of a stump where I could get a clear picture.

Foamflower, one of the lacy white flowers of the deep woods, seen on the Mac Kirk side trail on top of Old Baldy.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Magic Pansies

Nothing illustrates how early spring flowers are adapted to cold temperatures and maybe the occasional snowfall like our magic pansies.  Over 42 hours they went from blooming in the sun to being buried under snow to blooming in the sun again. 

7.30 Sunday - we arrive home to find the pansies completely covered in snow.

4 p.m. Monday - the snow has almost melted, and the pansies are showing their colours again.

1 p.m. Tuesday - all traces of snow are gone again and it looks like the pansies never noticed.

Self-seeded in scree, these pansies put on a great show, withstand the cold (and snow apparently), and last forever outside our kitchen window.  Magic pansies!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Snow on Mother's Day!

We don't quite believe it, like a lot of others I expect!  Woke this morning to cold temperatures and blowing snow.  It was melting on contact when we left, and we were away a good part of the day.  We returned to 3-4 inches of white stuff - in the middle of May!  Absolutely absurd weather.  Yesterday I was out photographing wildflowers, and today they'll be buried in a carpet of white.

Yesterday I was picking this rhubarb for a delicious rhubarb crisp; today it's covered in snow.

Yesterday I was struggling to get a picture of this fritillaria, with it's flowers hanging straight down; today you can actually see the flower 'cause the plant is bent over by the weight of the snow.

And in the old meadow next door this apple tree (and all the others) is covered in a layer of white.  Sorry these pictures are a little grey; they were taken at 7.30 in the evening.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Tree Frogs

Walked out to the garden the other day and spotted this dirty grey splotch of something on the arm of the grey chair (the kind made of plastic that weighs a ton, but can stay outside all year).  Took a closer look, and it was a tree frog!  

It just sat still on the arm of the chair while I said hello (and got a picture).  We see one someplace around most years, but you never know where.  And later I heard one calling, it's unusual loud barking trill always making me think it's a strange bird at first.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Spring Wildflower Season

It was Tuesday morning, a beautiful sunny day and spring was bursting out all over.  We headed into the woods on a quiet trail, came to an old fencerow marked by huge old maple trees and some remnants of a line of stones, and turned off where our trusty leader took us.  A few moments later we were looking at a carpet of trilliums.

It's actually rather hard to give a photographic impression of a carpet of trilliums in the woods.  The human eye can keep it all in focus, and appreciate the bigger view, the details of individual flowers or trees and the light filtering through. But a camera won't do all of that at the same time easily.  But I was determined to try, so I had brought my tripod, intent on using some longer exposures to create a greater depth of field, and keep all the flowers in focus.

I think it actually did a pretty good job.  I've just discovered the advantages of longer exposures on a tripod for pictures, shooting in manual mode to control the exposure - more work and lugging a tripod, but better pictures in the end.

Meantime, the next two weeks are the most beautiful of the year in the woods, so I'll be out with my camera as much as I can!  Enjoy it while the flowers last!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sugar Maple Flowers

In just a few short days of warm May weather, brilliant yellow-green has coated the sides of the valley as hundreds of sugar maple come into bloom.  That first shine of bright green replacing the brown of early spring you may think are the leaves unfurling and starting to grow, and you're right - in part.  But the bulk of that yellow-green colour is actually the flowers of the sugar maples.

Generally inconspicuous, tree flowers aren't often noticeable, and they certainly aren't the bright colours of other wildflowers.  But we all know that sugar maples have keys in the fall, and those seeds have to come originally from the flowers.  Below is the spreading green canopy of maples, sweeping up the west side of the Beaver Valley, here just north of the ski club.

Depending on circumstances, individual trees stand out as if they are lit up, with a very pale yellow-green colour.  Usually the flowers are only in the canopy, and it's hard to get a picture.  But trees along the forest edge or in fencerows provide a chance to see the flowers close-up.

The lower branches of this big old maple, near Lake Eugenia, gave me the chance to get the close- up shown at the top.