Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Mrs. F.G.'s Winter Obsession

I suppose it was inevitable that gardening outdoors would eventually move Mrs. F.G. toward collecting house plants during the winter months.  Perhaps I'm exaggerating to call it an obsession, but we now have a very interesting collection of plants in our den and elsewhere.  She's added a love of indoor plants to her love of gardening in the summer.

Here's one corner of our den, with a dozen or more plants in front of our north-facing window.  I'm sorry but I don't know the names of all these but I will seek her help in filling out the information correctly.  I just enjoy the greenery!

Another dozen on top of the bookshelf in front of the window.

And a brand new shelf in front of a high horizontal window to the west now lined with smaller plants.  Put together it does really change the feel of the room.  If you can't get outside into nature, bring nature inside!.

The main plants of interest to Mrs. F.G. are the various snake plants, along with different varieties of Aloes and succulents.

Here's a shorter one with fat leaves.

There are of course plants elsewhere in the house.  Here are the two historic ones.  In the foreground is an Aspedistra, brought over from Italy in 1956 by her mother, and kept ever since.  We discovered that it flourished by being put outside during the warmer months, growing a lot of new leaves.  The Hoya vine behind it is from my own mother, and seems simply indestructible, sending out new long shoots frequently.

Another smaller Hoya vine that sits beside me while I enjoy my coffee and read the news each morning.

And an unusual leaf on a Peromia plant that I look down at while doing my weight-lifting each day.

Finally, just to prove she is great at keeping plants alive, here is our Christmas Poinsettia, still flourishing after nearly three months!  Mrs. F.G. has discovered that there are numerous YouTube videos on growing house plants, as well as new opportunities for on-line ordering and shipping, much of it apparently brought on by the pandemic.

Thailand seems to have become the centre for introduction of new varieties, with those varieties initially bringing in thousands of dollars per plant from serious (and rich) collectors.  Once they've been cloned and are available more widely, the price drops dramatically.  So don't expect to the be the first on your block to get the new plant!

Sunday, January 29, 2023

I think We've Seen the Georgian Bay Monster!

You may recall a few posts back, in the middle of our first tour of Scotland, I mentioned the Loch Ness monster.  Well it must have been on my mind, for when we stopped at the shoreline the other day we saw a swirl in the water that convinced us there was a Georgian Bay monster lurking in our neighbourhood!  And I'm serious!

Even in this shot of the beautiful blue bay you can see the swirl in the water out there.  (Sorry about the reflection, shot through the car window).

At times it really looked like something was cresting the water surface.

And then we saw another swirl off to the left, a little closer to shore.  I'm sure you can come up with rational explanations, but I prefer to think it's evidence of a Georgian Bay monster, to add to all the other myths and legends associated with the '6th Great Lake'.

And let me assure you, if you check out the actual sightings of the Loch Ness monster, this is all you will find!

Friday, January 27, 2023

The Tree

The other day I was at the kitchen sink doing the breakfast dishes when I looked out the window.  We'd had a small fresh snowfall and the view was pretty.  I was struck by this tree.  I had to crank myself up a little to get the shot, but got a photo I thought was worth a post for itself.

Take care.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

A Late Winter

 Let's take a break from Scotland, I think I can find topics for a few mid-winter posts right here at home.  The big story is our crazy weather, an extremely mild January, slowly finding its way back to normal winter.  I know we did have two big storms, in mid-November and on Christmas Eve, but they faded away quite quickly, leaving us back with green grass.

The snow we did have continued to slowly disappear right up until Jan. 19th, leaving a view that looked more like April.  Yes, those are green plants in the garden.

Finally, on Jan. 20th we got a very light dusting overnight, not enough to turn the grass white, but at least a little.  And the colder temperatures at least meant the ski clubs could make snow.

And yesterday we had a coule of inches, just enough to turn the world white again.  Our weather is still a little bit 'normal'.

Meanwhile our trusty weather recording crane has gone from this ...

to this in three days, just nibbling at the snow.

But this morning, just before we left for physio, the clouds broke open and gave us a short preview of spring.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Scotland V

You'll be glad to know this is the last post from our first big trip to Scotland;   Only about a dozen after that to get us through our second bigger adventure to Scotland 10 years later!  I hope you won't get bored or tired of Scotland!

Finding accommodation in Edinburgh in August, when the Edinburgh Festival is on, is pretty well impossible, so we stayed in a B&B west of town near Linlithgow, and commuted in by train, an easy short ride.  It was our most luxurious B&B and we loved it!

The first of these photos is Linlithgow Palace, designed to be a more luxurious place than Edinburgh Castle, rebuilt initially by James I in the early 1400s.  Both James V and Mary, Queen of Scots were later born there.  This photo shows St. Michael's Parish church, built earlier than the palace, with its striking modern spire on the top, replacing a stone spire that collapsed.  The palace is through the gate; you can see the spire in the top photo of the palace as well.

The highlight of the visit was of course a trip into the historic high street of Edinburgh, with the Edinburgh Tattoo in the evening.  It took place in the open quadrangle in front of Edinburgh Castle, and cemented our love of Scottish bagpipe music (which I can hear playing in the distance as I write this.  Some months later after I was approached for permission, this photo was published in a Scottish tourist brochure!  I guess I got the evening lighting just right.

Of course we also had to walk down the hill to visit Greyfriar's Bobby, a Skye Terrier who was said to have slept at his master's grave in the Greyfriars churchyard for 14 years.

Eventually we headed east again along the south side of the Firth of Forth to Tantallon Castle, with its enormous red sandstone curtain wall closing off the headland, protected by cliffs on the other three sides, overlooking the North Sea.  Lots of brutal medieval history here!

In the southeast corner of Scotland are the ruins of four enormous Border Abbeys, all built under the patronage King David I during the 1100s.  They met their end during the Reformation 400 years later, but their ruins are popular tourist attractions today.  It's amazing this much of the ancient building has  survived for 900+/- years!

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), perhaps the greatest, certainly the most popular Scottish author lived near Dryburgh Abbey and it was here that he chose to have his tomb, a rather unique arrangement!

We then faced a long cross-country drive to return to Glasgow for the flight home, but along the way we spotted large areas of the landscape that looked like this.  This is moorland managed for grouse hunting by burning in patches, aimed at keeping heather habitat of different ages to keep the grouse happy!  And of course no trees in sight.

We also  drove some of those famed one-lane Scottish roads with their pull-off spaces and their sheep of course.  The trick, while driving on the wrong side of the road, was to use the pull-off spaces in such a way that you barely had to slow down for oncoming traffic while swerving in and out of the pull-off.

It was an awesome trip lasting about two weeks and all four adults were still talking when we got home!

For those who have asked, we did this trip in July as I recall, and stayed in B&Bs the whole way, which we reserved in advance.  Breakfast in the B&Bs, dinner at a restaurant (often it was a pub meal), and for lunch we'd pick up sandwiches in those little grocery outlets that are all over Britain.  We took comfortable clothes and stopped to do laundry once, in Inverness.  Of course you have to be prepared to drive on the left hand side of the road and the right hand side of the car which I found came naturally.  You also have to be prepared for cool weather and horizontal rain; umbrellas are a necessity!  We picked up and dropped off our rental car right at Glasgow airport.  Any other questions, feel free!  

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Scotland IV

After we stopped at Balmoral we drove down the highway to find our B&B which was on a farm this time.  We were greeted by quite a herd of curious cattle outside the gate. 

Much of the Highlands is given over to forestry and game management, but as you get close to the North Sea on the east coast there is more and more active farmland.

Crathes Castle is another stop for Mrs. F.G. for this castle has a huge walled garden, though the castle itself is also very interesting.  Several rooms in the old part of the castle have original Jacobean painted ceilings and carved wooden beams.  The yew hedge dates from 1702.

The view from the tower shows about half the walled garden, a large area divided into 8 themed 'rooms'.  The large 300 year-old Yew topiaries are famous in their own right, and are now under renovation.

Our two travelling teenagers in a colourful section of the garden.

And the only 'gold' room we've ever encountered in a garden.

We avoided Aberdeen and headed down the cost to the southwest, back toward Edinburgh, with a stop at this 'bothy' as our B&B for the night, the only one we were not entirely satisfied with.

The girls went for a long walk on the beach beside the North Sea while we sat on the dunes.

After turning at Dundee we headed out through Fife to St. Andrews, stopping to see the ruined cathedral.  Said to be the largest church in medieval Scotland, built starting in 1158, it was destroyed by a Protestant mob incited by the preaching of John Knox during the Protestant Reformation in 1559, and fell into ruin.  It was used as a quarry by locals, leaving very little of the building left.

The tall square tower is actually the remnant of a separate church built even earlier to house relics of St. Andrew brought from Greece in 345 A.D. by St. Regulus (or St. Rule).  The tall tower was intended as a landmark for pilgrims finding their way to St. Andrews.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Scotland III

Next day we headed further north, leaving Skye and driving up a series of mostly one-lane roads, sticking as close to the coast as possible through Torridon and on to the nature reserve at Beinn Eighe.  This is one of the only places where you can see a sizeable remnant of the original Scots Pine forest of Scotland - the rest having been overgrazed by deer or grouse, or planted to Sitka Spruce for timber.

We took the short trail here, but I did persuade the others to come on the short hike with me, and we did see some very tall straight Scots Pine..  We ended the day at our B&B in Gairloch and had Sticky Toffee Pudding, one of the best deserts I've ever had!

The next stop was for Mrs. F.G. the gardener, for we arrived at Inverewe, one of the most northerly gardens in Britain.  The huge semi-circular walled garden was built originally to provide shelter from the relentless winds, and today is spectacular in summer.

That's me, standing underneath the enormous leaves of a Gunnera, like giant's rhubarb!.

The North Atlantic current that moves up the west coast of Scotland enables the growth of many plants that rarely grow this far north, like Palm trees!

Leaving Inverewe behind we drove down to the shores of Loch Ness to see Urquhart Castle,   We scanned carefully for signs of Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, but had no luck!

You might even recognize this castle, Balmoral Castle, said to be Queen Elizabeth's favourite residence.  After we left Inverness in our dust and drove up and over the east side of the Cairngorms, we stopped to visit.

The Queen and Prince Phillip were due to arrive within days for their annual holiday (this was about 20 years ago) so you couldn't visit much of the castle, but this is the Queen Mother's Rose Garden, just outside the door.

We stopped at the working gardens on our way out and I was fascinated.  Back at home I was the worker been for our own garden, so the special purpose of these gardens jumped right out at me.  The flowers were all due to bloom and the veggies were all going to be ready for harvest during the Queen's time in residence.  The flowers were all planted in beds for cutting to decorate the castle, not to look at in the garden.  And I think they must eat a lot of cabbage!

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Scotland II

After we got back on the mainland, we headed north.  The first stop was in Glencoe, site of the infamous Glencoe Massacre in 1692 (this trip was quite a mixture of geography and history)!  With a stop at the 'most photographed castle in Scotland', Castle Eilean Dolan, we ended up on the Isle of Skye for a few days.

The Glencoe Massacre was embedded in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when James VII of England was kicked out for being Catholic in a country that had been Protestant since the rule of King Henry VIII.  William of Orange, then de facto ruler of The Netherlands and a staunch Protestant, was invited to become the King of England.  He brought the added advantage of being married to Mary, sister of James VII, thus ensuring a continued line of succession.

The massacre itself occurred when a garrison of Campbells being billeted with the local community of MacDonalds, fell on their hosts and slaughtered them - under the shadow of these mountains.

Castle Eilean Dolan has been in the hands of the McRae family since its purchase in 1911.  Over 20 years it was reconstructed and improved for visitor access.  It is now one of the most popular, and picturesque tourist sites in the Highlands.

Following a further drive, with three sleepyheads in the car, we reached the Isle of Skye.  Our first stop was climbing up the rugged trail to the Old Man of Storr, high on the hill behind me.  It's part of the Trotternish Peninsula, which features a 30 mile long landslip, including these cliffs.

What a landscape!

Eventually we found our B&B, with a view like this down over Loch Snizort and out to the Waternish Peninsula.

Over the next two days we explored the island, and I came face-to-face with the historical evidence of the clearances.   By the late 1700s the profit from raising sheep began to outweigh the meagre rents tenants paid on large highland estates, so landlords began to simply evict people whose families had lived there for centuries.  They went to the slums of Glasgow, and they came to North America, with large numbers of Scots settling in what is now Ontario, and North Carolina.  The evidence of abandoned homes is there to see in the rocks of the old foundations.

The story of the clan system, the culture and the Gaelic language that typified the Highlands before the clearances is a long and complex one.  At the other end of the social scale from the evicted tenants was the clan chief, in this case the chief of Clan Macleod, who resided in Dunvegan Castle, with its 42,000 acre estate.  Clan members owed their loyalty to their chief, and were prepared to follow him into battle if called upon.

Although I do have Scottish ancestors (my grandparents were immigrants to Canada), and I have a consuming interest in Scottish history, we were also just tourists enjoying the spectacular scenery of Scotland, and the white coral beaches and blue waters of Skye are indeed beautiful!