Allan Gardens – Christmas 2017

It’s beginning to look a lot like…..peacocks? That’s right. At Toronto’s Allan Gardens, it’s beginning to look a lot like a beautiful peacock feathered with colourful succulents will be ready to strut his stuff well in advance of the Christmas Season.  I was there yesterday and got a sneak peek from gardener Mikkel Schafer, who is the designer of this year’s feature topiary (see my video below)  Made of colourful flowers of Kalanchoe blossfeldiana and various echeverias…..

Allan Gardens-Succulent Peacock-Christmas 2017

…. the big bird is preening himself amongst the alocasias and bananas in the grand Palm House, the glass-domed centre of the five-glasshouse structure.

Allan Gardens-Palm House-banana

Mikkel was still working on the peacock’s neck, which is made from pine cone scales and leaves of silver dollar plant (Xerosicyos danguyi).

Allan Gardens-Succulent Peacock neck-Christmas 2017

I loved the kalanchoe ‘eyes’ in his tailfeathers, below.

Allan Gardens-Succulent Peacock-kalanchoe and echeveria eyes

In the Tropical House, below, the succulent Christmas tree was already finished and standing in its place of honour amidst the bromeliads. It will greet many visitors when this year’s edition of the Allan Gardens Christmas Flower show opens on Sunday December 3rd, with seasonal music from noon to 4 pm. The floral displays will be in place through the holiday season daily from 10 am to 5 pm until January 7, 2018.

Allan Gardens-Succulent Tree-Christmas 2017

Look at the detailed work here…..

Allan Gardens-Succulent Tree-echeveries and kalanchoes

Mikkel posed with his topiary moose in the Temperate House.  Its antlers are encrusted with mosses and lichens.

Mikkel Schafer-Allan Gardens-Topiary Moose

This mossy tree in the Temperate house…..

Allan-Gardens-Mossy-Tree-Ch

….is hung with decorations, like these cool silvery ornaments made from the velvety leaves of lambs’ ears (Stachys byzantina).

Allan Gardens-Lambs Ears Christmas ornament

This one is fashioned from the dark seedheads of blackeyed susans (Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’).

Allan Gardens-Rudbeckia seedhead Christmas ornament

Spiced orange pomander balls deck this topiary tree made from the leaves of red oak (Quercus rubra).

Allan Gardens-Red oak leaf & spiced orange pomander ball topiary tree

The pool in the Temperate House is a favourite destination for many, especially little kids counting the goldfish. It’s edged with azaleas this week.

Allan Gardens-Pool & Fountain

Head down into the Tropical Landscape House where…..

Tropical Lanscape House-Allan Gardens

….. apart from the usual gorgeous blossoms like hibiscus….

Hibiscus-Allan Gardens

….. there is a trio of Cryptanthus-adorned topiary trees under the magnificent cycad.

Allan-Gardens-Tropical

The Arid House will look like a sparkly yuletide desert by early December, when the lights are in place amidst the spectacular collection of succulents and cacti. (This photo is from a previous Christmas).

Allan Gardens-Arid House-Christmastime

I made a short video to whet your appetite for a seasonal visit to Toronto’s wonderful Allan Gardens this holiday season.  Please note, the show runs from December 3 to January 7th.

But rest assured, if you miss seeing all the beautiful Christmas touches, like this lovely wreath in the Tropical House…..

Allan Gardens- Christmas Wreath-2017

…Allan Gardens Conservatory is a cozy, leafy oasis throughout Toronto’s long winter months when a parade of flowering bulbs, tropical blossoms and spring bulb flowers beckons. Do make a date to go!

Allan Gardens-Tropical Array

November Work: Cutting Down the Meadows

Last week, I performed what has become for me a ‘rite of November’: cutting down the meadows at our cottage on Lake Muskoka, a few hours north of Toronto. I have to admit, it isn’t my favourite chore of the year, though I acknowledge I don’t actually have a lot of “chores” up there, given the naturalistic way I garden. But it’s definitely the most labour-intensive – amidst the least pleasant weather conditions of autumn, as it usually turns out. This year it was blowing a gale as I assembled my wardrobe and tools:  hedge shears, rake, cart, bundling cloth and ropes, rubber boots, extra layers under my waterproof jacket and fleece band to keep my ears warm. I started out with the big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), the tallest of my prairie grasses, at 7 feet with its turkey-foot flowers. Considering it’s growing in shallow soil atop the ancient rock of the Canadian Precambrian shield, rather than the deep loam of the tallgrass prairie where its roots can extend far down, I think it’s rather happy at the cottage, and I took a selfie of us together before I chopped off its head!

Janet Davis-Lake Muskoka-Big bluestem in the meadow

Since my meadows and beds likely measure only about 1600 square feet or so, it’s not a lot to hand-cut with the hedge shears. People wonder why I don’t use a string trimmer, but I find that holding the weight of a trimmer just above ground is harder on my back than bending over and chopping the stems manually. I understand you can buy a harness for the trimmer, so that might be an improvement – but there’s something hypnotically satisfying about working with the shears.

Shears-cutting big bluestem-Lake Muskoka

As I work, I rake and pile the stems into windrows near the cart where I’ll eventually pack them up into bundles to carry by hand up the hill behind the cottage to a place out of sight where they can break down.

Cottage meadow-Lake Muskoka-November 15

If I don’t cut the meadows, the heavy snows of winter will soon bend down the grasses and forb stems, but the thatch that accumulates makes it less attractive for self-seeding wildflowers and daffodils emerging in spring. So if I want the scene below in mid-summer, it pays to prepare for it by cutting old growth.

Cottage meadow-Lake Muskoka-July 31st

And if I leave the switch grass (Panicum virgatum) standing after it turns colour in fall….

Switch grass-October-Lake Muskoka-fall colour

…. it will look like this in May.

Switch grass-May 15-Lake Muskoka-uncut

So I remove all the above ground growth in November.

Switch grass-November 15-Lake Muskoka-after cutting

And if I’m travelling during this late autumn window (as we have on a few occasions), the daffodils will still come up in the meadow the following spring, but it’s a bit of a struggle.

May 15-Big bluestem-Lake Muskoka-uncut-daffodils

In short, if I want this…..

Cottage bed & Orienpet Lily-July 31-Lake Muskoka

…I have to do this.

Cottage bed-November 15-Lake Muskoka

And if I want this…..

View of path-Lake Muskoka-July 31

….I have to do this.

View of path-Lake Muskoka-November15

I could hold off on the cutting until late winter or very early spring, when the ground is still frozen (as I do in my city meadow), but timing doesn’t always work that well up here and a fast thaw means I’m cutting on mucky soil. And since most of the seed-eating birds have flown south and those that remain seem adept at picking up seed from the ground, I’m happy to clear out this…..

Path through meadow-Lake Muskoka-November15

…. in order to enjoy this next summer.

Path through meadow-Lake Muskoka-July15

Beyond the chores of this month, I love the varied browns of November. I’ve even blogged about Beguiling Brown in the Garden. And I enjoy inspecting all the seedheads as the plants complete their life cycles. Plants like showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa), its white panicled seedheads shown below alongside the charcoal autumn foliage of false indigo (Baptisia australis). (Incidentally, though these plants flower at the opposite ends of summer, they’re among the best for bumble bee foraging.)

Seedheads-Solidago speciosa & Baptisia australis-November

Here is the candelabra-like seedhead of culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) with the ubiquitous button-like seedheads of wild beebalm (Monarda fistulosa).

Seedheads-Veronicastrum virginicum & Monarda fistulosa-November

Those seedheads above, of course, are proof that the attractive summer flowers, shown below, attracted the pollination services of the appropriate wild bees.

Flowers-Veronicastrum virginicum & Monarda fistulosa-summer

And the late summer-autumn season has also allowed the various grasses to shine, below, including – apart from the big bluestem – Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) and switch grass (Panicum virgatum).

Big Bluestem & Indian grass-Lake Muskoka

November is the perfect time for dormant seeding native wildflowers, so as I’m chopping the stems, I also do some fast sowing into the meadows, using my boot toe to kick little bare spots into the soil, then grinding some of the seeds just below the surface, while leaving others exposed. I do this with New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis), below.

Fall seeding-New York Ironweed-Vernonia-Lake Muskoka

Chopping, raking, piling, carrying. Chopping, raking, piling, carrying. After a good day-and-a-half in blustery wind and intermittent cold rain, I manage to take 8 tied bundles of stems up the back hill to a spot on top of the pile of blast rock that was cleared when we built our home here on this waterbound peninsula 16 years ago. In time, the vegetation will decompose amidst the staghorn sumac pioneers and create a more complex meadow planting here.Compost pile-Lake Muskoka

Finally, as I finish washing out the cart, coiling the garden hoses, cleaning my tools, bringing everything indoors and preparing to drive back to the city in the waning light of the third day, I gather up a handful of the stems I’ve put aside in my cutting. Because apart from enjoying vases filled with summer flowers in July…..

Bouquet-July meadow flowers-Lake Muskoka

….. it feels virtuous, somehow, to accord these plants the same respect in November.

Bouquet-November meadow seedheads-Lake Muskoka

To capture a little of the atmosphere of what it’s like to perform this task in November, I’ve made a short video to enjoy here. (Please excuse the wind – it was impossible to find quiet moments.) The good news? My back and I are still on speaking terms!

 

Hiking With Friends

I’m heading off the beaten path in this blog with a personal memoir, a little gift to good friends – but you can come along too, if you like. A few weeks ago, we hiked at a favourite location, the Torrance Barrens in the Lake Muskoka region. It’s a place I visit regularly and blog about, too – and indeed, it’s a spot my hiking gang has visited a few times before, using our cottage as lodging. What’s significant, for me, is that this year’s walk represented the 25th year my husband and I set aside a weekend in autumn to hike with the group. For it was October 1993 when we were invited “in” and posed, below, near the famous Bruce Trail in Beaver Valley, Ontario – a suitable christening for a pair of novice hikers (I’m in the hat, he’s in the yellow jacket) as we slogged through forest and field in cold, pouring rain.

1993-Beaver Valley-hikers

The Bruce Trail has been our favourite hiking venue, and we’ve slowly bitten off chunks of its 890 kilometre (553 mile) length,

Bruce Trail

… all the way from the spectacular Lion’s Head Provincial Park up on the Bruce Peninsula overlooking Georgian Bay way back in 1994….

1994-Lion's Head Provincial Park

….where we took turns posing on the rugged Amabel dolostone (limestone) cliffs high above the water – capstone that was the bottom of a shallow limestone sea some 420 million years ago…

1994-Lion's Head-limestone cliffs

…..and ate our picnic lunch, as was our custom, on the rocks overlooking the water……

1994-Lions-Head-Lunch

…. to the Niagara Gorge at its south end, in 1995.

1995-The Niagara Gorge

In 1996, we ventured off the Bruce Trail and headed to Pelee Island for the weekend. Later, as Lake Erie waves crashed onto shore, we strolled the sand at Point Pelee, Canada’s most southerly point of land.

1996-Point Pelee-Hiking

1998 saw us head east to ‘the County’, i.e. Prince Edward County and Picton, Ontario – just emerging then as the choice destination it has become since then. There we found a particularly picturesque bed & breakfast called The Apple Basket Inn (sadly no longer there)….

1998-Apple Basket-Inn-Picton

…. and lovely scenery nearby, including actual apple baskets at Hughes’ Orchards!

1998-Hughes' Orchard-Picton

2004 was a special year, when we hiked the tropical hills of Mustique in the Caribbean, courtesy of John & Anne. This is the view of Britannia Bay….

2004-Mustique-Brittania Bay

….. and this is the view of Bryan Adam’s house!  (Honestly, we did hike….)

2004-Mustique-Bryan Adam's House

In 2006, we were back on the Bruce Trail over the forks of the Credit River in Caledon….

2006-Caledon-Forks of the Credit River

…. where the group posed for my camera.

2006-Hiking Group-Forks of Credit

The year 2007 saw us beginning our Saturday hike under a rainbow in Collingwood…..

2007-CollingwoodRainbow

….before hiking the Bruce Trail in the Owen Sound area.  It rained that year, as we slogged our way through a carpet of sugar maple leaves in Sydenham Forest.

2007-Sydenham Forest-hikers-Bruce Trail

The glacial potholes in the Sydenham forest were so fascinating, created from the action of glacial melt-water roughly 12,000 years ago, their damp walls home to maidenhair and provincially rare hart’s tongue ferns.

2007-Glacial Pothole-Sydenham forest-Bruce Trail

The most spectacular sight was Inglis Falls, which was the site of an 1840s grist mill.

2007-Inglis Falls-Bruce Trail

Looking back at our picnic lunch in the rain that day, I recall that we were not going to let the rigors of the hike derail our South Beach diet!

2007-SouthBeachPicnic

In 2008, we again hosted the hikers at Lake Muskoka where I’d asked Orillia naturalist and mycologist Bob Bowles (navy cap) to give us a walking seminar on mushrooms.

2008-Mushroom Lessons-Lake-Muskoka-Bob Bowles

Though the forest floor on our peninsula was laden with maple and beech leaves by that point in October, we were able to key 29 species of mushrooms.

2008-Lake Muskoka-Page's Point-Beech Bracket Fungus

We also hiked the Torrance Barrens that year, where the blueberry bushes were bright red and the paper birch skeletons shimmering white.

2008-Torrance Barrens-beaver pond

We eased into our 2009 hiking weekend in Prince Edward County with a wine-tasting personally conducted by Norman Hardie at his renowned vineyard.

2009-Norman Hardie-Wine-tasting

We all enjoyed a sip — best be prepared ahead of a hiking trip!

2009-Wine-Tasting-Norman Hardie Wines

The next day, when we hiked the soaring dunes of Sandbanks Provincial Park….

2009-Sandbanks Provincial Park

….. where some found time to wade in the waters of Lake Ontario…..

2009-Sandbanks Provincial Park-hikers

… I did a little botanizing, and  was thrilled to see fringed gentians (Gentianopsis crinita) in flower.

2009-Gentianopsis crinita-Fringed gentian-Sandbanks

In 2010, we headed back to Niagara, but this time we walked about 10 kilometres (6 miles) of the Niagara River Parkway…..

2010-Niagara River Parkway

….where the view of the river was spectacular…..

2010-Niagara River

….before getting into our cars (ah, the magic of the pre-parked cars!) and driving to Ravine Vineyard for lunch.

2010-Niagara Ravine Vineyard

In 2012, we hiked near Susan’s beautiful farm…..

2012-Farm

….. where we sat for a group photo (again, of most of us, but not quite all).

2012-Hikers

As with many of our hikes, we enjoyed brilliant fall colour – here of Susan’s gorgeous paper birch…..

2012-Paper Birch-Betula papyrifera-fall colour

In 2014, we bunked in at Anne and Bob’s in Collingwood, and headed out on the Kolapore trail, which Bob helps maintain.

2014-Kolapore sign

Though it sometimes feels like a dark cathedral of trees as we hike amidst thousands of slender trunks of sugar maple, beech and birch….

2014-Kolapore hiking

…. it’s good to look up occasionally, and see fall-coloured leaves fluttering against the autumn sky.

2014-Kolapore-maples

The trail that year was muddy in places – there was the odd little spill…..

2014-John-mud

The vegetation was wonderful: here are hart’s tongue ferns (Asplenium scolapendrium), quite rare in the region.

2014-harts-tongue ferns-Asplenium scolopendrium

Though non-native, it’s always a treat to see watercress (Nasturtium officinale) in a clean, moving stream.

2014-Watercress

In 2015, eight of us decided to pack our bags and head to a different kind of forest for our autumn hike: a rain forest. In Costa Rica!

2015-Beach Trail sign-El Remanso Lodge-Osa Peninsula-Costa Rica

And do you know how mother nature makes a rain forest? That’s right…….

Let’s just say our hiking attire was a little lighter than normal, given the almost total humidity and warm temperatures.

2015-Felix-Long Hike-El Remanso

Five of us did the zip-line through the jungle. I chickened out but served as the documentary photographer.

2015-Ziplining

(I wrote  a special blog about El Remanso Lodge on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, if you want to read a little more.)

In 2016, we hiked the Mad River Side Trail near Glen Huron, Ontario. The colours were spectacular.

2016-Glen-Huron-Fall-Colour

Here’s a video I made of that lovely hike along the Mad River.

When we arrived at the base of the Devil’s Glen Ski Club to have lunch, I made a group shot, (well, most of us and one guest – a few had wandered away) and just managed to get myself back into the frame before the shutter clicked.

2016-Hiking Group-Devils Glen

Heading back to our lodging, we stopped at an apple stand and stocked up on Northern Spy apples, my favourite for pies and crisps.

2016-Spy Apples-Glen Huron

Which brings me to this year, the 25th edition of our hike, when we once again met in Muskoka and walked the beautiful Torrance Barrens.  We marvelled at the fluffy white clouds reflected in Highland Pond….

2017-Highland-Pond-Clouds-Torrance Barrens

…and noted the tamaracks (Larix laricina) at the water’s edge.

2017-Pine-Sumac-Tamarack-Torrance Barrens

Bob pointed out aspects of geology, as in ‘this is gneiss, not pure granite’.

2017-Gneiss

We walked past my favourite paper birch….

2017-Paper birch-Torrance Barrens

…..and saw the fluffy cotton grass (Eriophorum vaginatum) flanking the bog.

2017-Cotton-grass-Eriophorum

The little bridge over the small pond is sinking in the middle and necessitated a ‘one-at-a-time’ rule.

2017-Bridge

It’s always fun to stop and look at the erratic boulder left behind when the ice retreated, and it appears that Alex Tilley, founder of Tilley Hats, agreed. This little interpretive sign was paid for by Tilley, whom I’ve seen hiking the Barrens.

2017-Erratic-Precambrian Shield-Torrance Barrens

With so much rain this summer and autumn, many parts of the path were waterlogged and Bob (the veteran trail groomer) pointed out drier spots to navigate.

2017-Water on trail-Torrance Barrensl

We crossed Southwood Road and finished our hike in the deeper soil of a forest….

2017-Hikers-in-oaks-Torrance Barrens

….featuring bracken ferns and beautiful red oaks.

2017-Red Oak-Torrance Barrens

A tiny red-bellied snake (Storeria occipitomaculata) was on the path (it’s only my lens that makes it look huge) – one of many reptiles I’ve photographed in the Barrens over the years.

2017-Red-bellied snake-Torrance Barrens

And at the end of the trail, we posed for our traditional photo (minus four who couldn’t be with us this year).  Over a quarter-century, we’ve seen our children grow up, marry, change jobs, and have their own kids. We’ve talked about books, theatre, food, health and travel to faraway places. We’ve lost spouses or partners, and felt the comfort of the friends who knew them well. And we’ve welcomed new partners to the group and made them feel welcome and loved. It is a simple thing to do, walking a trail, and it reminds us that we need nature – and the company of friends – to live full lives.

2017-Hiking Group-Torrance Barrens

*****

In memory of Murray, Tim and Jim.