When I was very young, my Mother would take my sister and I to the beach. Not a beach at a lake or ocean. But the perfect man-made sandy beach surrounding a constructed swimming hole at Brewer Park in Old Ottawa South, just across from Carleton University.
This was in the 1960s and I was less than 10 years old. I remember the convenience of a parking lot (I’m sure this was more important to my stressed-out mother than to me), as well as a large building that housed changing rooms, washrooms and, most importantly, a snack bar. Pasty white children would scream and splash and swim in the mirky water, which slowly percolated until the levels of bacteria and urine hastened its closure some years later.
Over time, Brewer Pond began to look like this…
….with the once pristine sandy beach gradually being replaced with bull rushes, alder, Manitoba maple, willow, larch, milkweed, wild spirea and others. Not to mention hosts of wildlife including rabbits, birds, foxes, turtles and very active beavers.
But there was a problem. Every spring, snow and ice run-off from up river would rush downstream and flood this section of the park. What resulted was not only damaged and uprooted trees but also a redistribution of river fish and other aquatic creatures into the pond. Sadly, they became prisoners there after the flood subsided. Because the water was stagnant, it became anaerobic (or lacking oxygen) so with time, the relocated fish and other organisms suffocated and eventually expired.
The edge of the Rideau River in this location had once been much more dynamic, but this was before I was born. Channels defined islands which existed apart from the park’s fields and provided paths for the spring waters to follow, preventing serious flooding.
Fast forward to today: in the last 40 years the naturalized area around the swimming hole has once again been buzzing with life, both wild and otherwise. A well traveled foot path circumnavigates the pond making it a popular place for play, peaceful contemplation and socializing amongst people and specifically, their dogs.
In the great tradition of the revitalization of natural spaces, largely paid for with development dollars (one wetland destroyed = another one re-created), overseen by those who know how to achieve it (i.e. the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority) and work carried out by contractors who specialize in large-scale earth moving, habitat protection and species relocation, the project was begun this past fall.
The idea was to re-connect the pond with it’s mother, the Rideau River. Over the last decade, at least, ideas about how to do that were bantered about. I remember being involved in early discussions that involved ECOS, the Environmental Committee of Old Ottawa South (which has now been integrated into OSCA’s general operating principles) and various partners and players (Mike Lascelles, Michael Loewen, Hedrik Wachelka and others). For example, one or possibly two channels could be dug to allow unobstructed water flow through the landmass — a good idea, but this kind of land severing would require a way for people to access the resulting island. I asked about using foot bridges like the elegant rusty steel one at the Dominion Arboretum. “Too expensive,” was the answer, and there was an issue with it being washed away in the spring floods.
So over a period of several years, the ideas for how to achieve a link with the river resulted in the notion of a single culvert on the down-river side of the pond. It would mean water would still rush over the area during the spring thaw but that afterwards, fish and aquatic creatures would no longer be trapped. And more than this, river-bound fish would hopefully choose to re-enter the newly oxygenated pond and use it for spawning. Enter Muskies Canada.
You might not know this but the Rideau River, especially around the Bronson Bridge is a hot-bed for fresh water giants like muskie and pike.
If you’re a duckling, you’re shuddering right about now…but if you’re a fisherman, you’re overjoyed.
So, in October 2014 work began. First, as many creatures living in the pond as could be trapped or caught were collected and re-located (with the exception of the very active beaver family.) Then a low level barrier consisting of landscape fabric and wooden posts was erected around the pond to theoretically keep them from returning.
Then the metal fencing went up and heavy machinery moved in.
Huge metal cylinders were brought in to act as culverts, linking the dredged pond to the river. Once put in place, they will remain completely invisible to all but the creatures who swim through them.
I can’t wait to see what the spring brings…..more to come!
Wunderkind Mark Dallas is the brain and brawn behind Galetta Nurseries, a specialty rose grower and retail supplier located just this side of Arnprior. I say Wunderkind not because he’s a whippersnapper but because he must be young at heart to continue to run an independent plant nursery!
I spoke with Mark the other day about his business and the challenges he faces in 2015. Here is our conversation:
Question: Why the heck do you do it, especially if sales are down and people can buy roses cheaply elsewhere?
I’ve always loved roses, and I continue to do it because I believe that people deserve to have roses that are reliably hardy in our cold climate. The biggest challenge continues to be that most people think roses are difficult to grow. The hardy roses I grow on the farm thrive in the Ottawa area, and I continue to hope that people will stop buying roses that just aren’t suitable for our climate…and that they will start to focus on the plants that thrive here.
From the Canadian Artists Series, 6-9′ tall and 4′ wide (yes, a climber!), Zone 4, mildly fragrant, flowers all summer long, go here for more info
Question: What does the future look like for Galetta Nurseries?
To be blunt, not great. We’re competing with cheap imported roses. Many of these imported roses won’t survive the winter here, but they are cheap, and price seems to be the big driver these days.
We carry a great selection of truly hardy roses at Galetta Nurseries, and we have some very rare and unusual varieties, but we still struggle to convince gardeners that there are reliable roses for our climate.
From the Canadian Parkland Series, 2-3′ tall and wide, Zone 2, heavy bloomer summer and fall, go here for more info
“Please note: Pickering Nurseries will not open for the 2015 season.
The rose growing industry has seen a great many changes in the last 10 years. Unfortunately, the majority of these changes were negative for both the companies involved and their bottom lines. The pesticide ban enacted by Ontario in the mid 2000’s, an increase in hybridizer royalty rates and how they are calculated, a glut of cheap US grown roses coupled with the Canadian government changing both import and export regulations (unable to ship to the US 2013 and additional ongoing issues with our root stock) have left me with no choice but to stop shipping roses for this season. Over the last several years Pickering Nurseries has been exploring alternative propagation techniques and changes to our business model. Both of these things are still a work in progress. We hope to have a small, core selection of rooted cuttings available in the spring of 2016.
It is also with great sadness we announce the passing of Joseph Schraven, my father and founder of Pickering Nurseries, on May 27th.
In closing, I would like to extend thanks to all our long time customers and our colleagues in the industry and we hope to be able to serve you in the future.
Question: This makes me so sad. Who are the other suppliers that have closed?
Enderlein has quit roses to go in to growing marijuana and Adamson’s (in BC) is closing to all but very large growers — they’re the only reliable supplier of own-root. Lemay near Montreal has cut back from 450 to 40 varieties. Finally, another retailer in the Eastern Townships who did only roses has quit…..
From the Canadian Parkland Series, 3′ tall and wide, Zone 3, moderately fragrant, flowers all summer, go here for more info
Question: Are they ones that you have done business with? Do you just have Hortico now?
These were key suppliers of some of my initial stock for growing on. As you note, Hortico is still around, but they don’t appear to do own-root roses.
Question: What is your production routine? Do you grow your roses from seed or cuttings?
They’re all from cuttings: most roses are hybrids, and they don’t come true to seed. So the seeds will develop into roses, they won’t be the same as the original plants.
Question: How do you choose the roses you sell?
Only the ones that will survive here. I consult with other rose growers in similar climates, and I then test each variety for hardiness and disease resistance. If a variety doesn’t survive well over many winters, I drop it. I expect a survival rate of greater than 99% — while most rose varieties sold in the box stores have a survival rate of 50% of less.
Because of this approach, I can guarantee all the roses for a full year.
Question: Do you give advice about growing roses to your customers? Is it foolproof?
Yes: every purchase comes with a full set of instructions, and there’s a detailed web site describing most of the issues that people will have to deal with. I also send out regular email notices to remind people of any special care instructions.
Generally, though, the roses I grow don’t need much care at all. They just need to be planted and watered occasionally, and they don’t need any special winter care — we just leave them alone for the winter and they survive very nicely.
I also send out regular email newsletters outlining the best practices for pruning and care.
From the Parkland Series, 2-3′ wide and 2-4′ tall, Zone 3B, marks the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Red Cross, go here for more info
Go visit Mark at his home and nursery this spring and summer. But in advance of that, visit his website for his 2015 Availability List of roses. I guarantee that you’ll find several roses that you won’t be able to live without!
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/GalettaRoseNurseries
Sorry, Mark’s roses are *not* available by mail order. Pick-up only.
Dates prior to 1581, 3′ wide and 3-4′ tall, Zone 4, fragrant blooms in mid-summer, extremely resistant to black spot, go here for more info
My old plant-loving compatriot, Iain Jack, has opened what else but an online fern nursery at his home in Hubbards, Nova Scotia.
Iain was an awesome member of our team when I owned my garden store, Hortus Urbanus, in Old Ottawa South for ten years between 1997 and 2007. He was with us for a couple of years and when he left, we were all very sorry to see him go. He left to return to Nova Scotia, where he and his partner had purchased a house — and being a Maritimer, he heard the call of the sea.
I did an interview with Iain asking him about his new life making plants and here are his words…
In brief, what is your career history?
Horticulture and social work have been the two major career themes in my life. Some people don’t see a connection (both nurturing professions, I say), but I’ve even been lucky enough to find a few ways to combine my interest in plants and people. For example, community development with community gardening groups, recreational horticulture with persons with dementia, running my own nursery…and botanical ‘retail therapy work’, like at Hortus Urbanus
And your connection with Nova Scotia?
I grew up in the Annapolis Valley an agricultural area in NS. When I was a kid it was all about the apples. Now there’s a lot of vineyards. NS is very international these days ;)
In the 1980’s when I was leaving Halifax for big city Ontario, more than one person said to me before I left “you’ll be back; they always come back.” I guess it was true. We bought our current home in St Margaret’s Bay, just south of Halifax, in 1998 and have loved living by the sea since. Peter’s a big sea kayaker. I like it too, but for me it should be more like being in a hammock!
Isn’t it cold there?
As you might’ve been hearing on the news these days, NS can have some pretty awesome weather. The Atlantic ocean moderates (Z6a here), but it also rages sometimes. As a growing environment, though, I can grow a lot more than I could when I was a gardener in Ottawa. As a producer, I’m able to test the limits of a wider variety of plants to (my) garden situations as well. The limits of tree ferns are still for the folks in SW BC, oh well ;)
Ferns? Are you crazy? Aren’t they boring? (I ask as devil’s advocate…)
I think it might be like other things, once you start to notice the differences and details of something it can become endlessly fascinating. Ferns are that way to me. The shapes of fronds, the different forms, habits and colours, even spores under a microscope – there’s a huge diversity, and so much new stuff to learn. Growing them form spore makes for a good horticultural challenge because of their life cycle – It’s like I discovered penicillin every time a sowing is successful! Yay me! As a gardener, and a lover of woodlands, ferns are essential. They can be formal, perfect vases, relaxed groupings, to downright-unrestrained ground covers. “50 shades of green” doesn’t begin to cover the subtle range in the fern colour palette, not to mention various tones of red, mustard, purple and silver. Fiddleheads are often covered with hairs or scales in silvers, bronze, gold, and black. And then I discovered dry land and alpine ferns. Well, you know how that story goes – mountaineering anyone? Not really, not yet! See? very inspiring ;)
Ferns were very popular in Victorian times and shortly after in more than just horticulture, including art and architecture. The fern crosier was much-loved in art-deco. Really neat imagery and symbology.
I’ll tell you what is boring; having deer browse your entire garden. When I was considering a nursery start-up, one of the main criteria in crop selection was its palatability to deer. No, seriously. I have a strong interest in the native plants of this area, and that took me to ferns. There’s 50+ species in the Acadian forest region alone. Not so much when compered to thousands in tropical parts of the world, but enough to keep me out hiking to see them for quite a long time.
I also had the good fortune to meet the operators of two separate fern specialty nurseries in the Seattle area when I was there a few years ago. Even though NS and Canada is a smaller market, I felt affirmed that ferns could make a great mail order crop and that there could be a greater interest in using them if folks knew more about ferns and could get plants that solved their landscape problem. Hence Fernwood’s mission: “to explore and promote the diversity and landscape value of native and hardy exotic ferns.”
Unlike cloned plants, spore-grown ferns can show a good amount of individual variation. Wholesalers and mass purchasers wouldn’t probably like that kind of variety, but I’m excited by the small differences that can show up in any batch.
What does your day look like being the “Fern Guy”?
It really depends on the season, of course. There’s always some spore sowing on the go. Sowing trays are sealed to hold humidity (then it’s waiting and not a lot of direct intervention) and temperature and lighting is important to regulate.
It’s about this time of year I start getting invitations to talk about ferns to gardener and field naturalist groups. I really like those gigs. Whether it’s natural history or container gardening, folks are usually gung-ho to hear about something that’s not been talked about before.
In the spring I like ‘market fern guy’ day. I work alone quite a bit, so a chance to interact and maybe chat is fun.
Summer fern guy spends a good amount of time looking after watering at the nursery. Small pot sizes mean I don’t use a lot of water for irrigation, which is good, but they dry out more quickly than larger ones, and need more regular attention. Any kind or amount of automation is helpful here, I think.
People probably think of NS as a foggy, mossy place (and it is), but our forests can be rocky, and dry in the summer. So, ferns hardening off outdoors may need supplemental watering as well. The other, more fun thing, I do in the summer is collect spore. It kind-of seems my head is constantly down looking at every fern for “ripe” spores, here in my own collection, or out-and-about anywhere there’s ferns really. Ailsa, I carry a jeweler’s lens around my neck with me now for examining ferns…I’m a real fern nerd, of sure.
What is your Cairn terriers name? Does he/she eat/dig/destroy your garden?
Jock. He and our Sheltie Lucy are out working with me most days, so he’s never by himself, which is when cairn’s take everything upon themselves, I think. Also, we decided early to focus on ‘chase the ball’ as his obsession and were careful to never activate his ‘terroir” gene ;)
Is operating a fern nursery everything you imagined it would be?
And more! Really! Right now I’m a one person operation, so I really do operate ‘everything.’ I like that aspect of running my own nursery. That said, and truth be told, I wouldn’t know how to use my ‘smart phone’ without Peter, my partner and biggest supporter. He’s helped me assess and plan the idea for the nursery. Even though any one task probably wouldn’t satisfy me all day, that hardly ever happens, and I’m usually going happily from task-to-task. You know how many things you have to do just to get ready to mix soil, right? There’ always something to do and if it doesn’t get beyond your comfort, I think that’s great.
What’s the best thing about your life now and what is the worst?
Working with the days and seasons, without a doubt, is the one of the best. I hope it won’t sound too hokey, but I find it way easier to get with schedule imposed by the rhythm of the growing seasons than with one imposed by a clock and calendar. One of the worst things – I’m terrible with any kind of schedule and I work by myself! More seriously, whether it’s business planning, horticultural problem-solving, or collaborative design, I don’t get to enjoy and benefit from working directly with others in the same way I could in other jobs. So I look for those opportunities when I m able.
How many varieties of fern do you sell?
There’s over 50 different species and varieties in my collection right now. Not all those are for sale at any one time though. Each species has it’s own production cycle, which means there’s usually a few different things available each year. I try and make sure there’s always something for each type of situation gardeners might have, from moist or dry soils in shade, to wet or dry areas in sun, and anything in between. Or as I like to say, “there’s a fern for that spot.” I’ve collected my stock plants from jas many sources as possible, including: imports from large US wholesale growers, donations of spores from other growers, membership in fern society spore exchanges, occasional purchases from seed companies when available, and the odd find at a local garden centre.
What is your favourite fern?
Each next one I look at – honestly!
Ok…Maidenhair Spleenwort, Asplenium trichomanes. It’s the cutest little native evergreen fern for moist rock gardens and rock walls in shade to part sun. But so international as well; in the UK, I think (except for it’s gorgeous cultivars) it’s considered “common” for it’s habit of growing in every rocky nook and cranny. Here it’s a much less common treasure, but is equally great for those rocky places that need special detail. Keep it up close to an edge where it can be admired.
Who are your customers?
Nova Scotia gardeners have been great supporters, inviting me to their annual convention twice, traveling to the annual Rare & Unusual Plant Sale held in Annapolis Royal and purchasing some ferns, finding me at farmers markets, or visiting the Fernwood while out on garden tours. Local gardeners seem genuinely excited to know its okay to admire and include ferns in their cultivated spaces. Because of our semi-rural location and small population, Fernwood has always been planned to grow further as an online, mail-order nursery. Speaking as someone who really knows what “gardening on the edges” means, geographically anyway, I’m also excited about the idea of making cool plants available to folks who don’t necessarily live near a large garden centre. So far, I’ve shipped plants to Ontario, Quebec, and NB. and with great feedback, so I feel confident about how well my ferns ship. They are a shade crop after all, so a few days in a box under the right conditions is pretty easy for them.
How do people get their hands on your ferns?
There’s a catalogue on the Fernwood website that describes all the ferns I’m currently growing. There are annual spring and summer availability lists posted there too. The availability lists have an order form that includes pricing and shipping information. I ship plants using Canada Post’s expedited parcel service, at cost. It offers the most economical rates and can easily reach most places in Canada within a week. It’s different for everywhere so people should check the order form. I’m still figuring it out as well, because cost is partly weight and the balance between moisture for the plant and too much weight is important in both respects. Water’s heavy! Anyway, not to be evasive, it probably wouldn’t be too far off to say you could get about a dozen Fernwood plants to the more populated areas of Ontario for under $20 shipping. 12 plants! Not bad, in my experience. Remember, all plants are alive and in active growth. No dormant, bare root material sold.
After this season I’m looking forward to working on the online cataloguing and purchasing component of the website. I keep wanting to get photos up, and that’ll be a great time to incorporate images. For now i’m not really starting anything new until I’m able to convince the city that a 50’ greenhouse isn’t industrial agriculture! and the scourge of rural suburbia …
I ship ferns when they’re well-established in 4” pots. At that stage they’re still small enough to ship economically, and at the best size for success in most applications. Prices are between $7-10, varying by type and depending on challenge and length of time to produce (for example, a few can be ready in 18 months, but others can take 3 years to get to a salable/plantable size). At local sales I often have larger sizes available at different prices.
Is it too early to be talking about container planting? Is it ever?
I don’t think so.
These glorious containers are just about the first thing you see when you venture into the wonderland that is Chanticleer Garden near Philadelphia. The tricks here include: large containers with drainage holes, clustering or grouping those containers, choosing similar or complementary colours and shapes with your containers, and using bold plants. Not simply annuals, but tropicals for scale and oomph, as well as interesting shapes, colours and textures. If you have a spot where your planters will get morning sun and afternoon shade (or filtered light), your options are practically endless.
What is striking about this planting is the juxtaposition of context (i.e. modern galvanized trough planters, pea stone and monochrome background) and raucous display — a riot of bright colour (angel wing begonia), loose grasses (purple fountain grass) and dripping chartreuse edgers (golden creeping jenny).
In contrast, here is a simple but no less striking container planting using foxtail fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Meyersii’) in a classic glazed pot. What I love is the movement in this fern, which aptly looks like sea anemones swaying in the ocean. I found it in the courtyard of the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo.
…and here is a similar tropical container planting on steroids! At Longwood Gardens, everything is big. Asparagus fern plants billow out from a classic terracotta pot while the striking leaves of elephant ears (or giant alocasia/taro known botanically as Macrorrhiza maki) erupt from the centre. This kind of knock your socks off container planting needs lots of water and nutrients to keep it looking lush and green.
More BIG displays at Longwood, which is not surprising since it reflects the wealth and ceremony of the DuPont name. This purple and silvery-blue display uses an antique urn to showcase the deadly century plant (Agave americana) underplanted with everblooming fan flower (Scaevola aemula).
This squat agave, with no less deadly spines, is called Palmer’s century plant (Agave palmeri) and is actually the largest agave found growing in the United States.
Big, bold displays using tropicals and annuals are what’s needed at a home’s entrance. Although this home is facing south, the front door is located on a covered porch so the planters flanking it must be shade tolerant. I used palms for height, decorative leafy begonias for oomph, angel wing begonia for bright colour and some simple english ivy for more trailing effect. The display is so lush you don’t need an attractive container when all is said and done!
Planters that grace public areas on frequented sidewalks have to present a unique face to the world. They have to be lush from the get-go, with plants that intermingle with each other and knit together so yanking any one out is next to impossible. Take that, vandals!
So take a lesson from these planters for this coming spring: plant lush, plant full and plant with a sensitive eye to colour and texture. You can’t lose!
More relationships break up in January than any other month I read. Also more people sign up for gym and dating site memberships. January is tough enough. Let’s try to make it a tiny bit easier.
On my garden tour trip last summer, we visited a charming plant nursery in Hudson, New York, called The Secret Gardener. Behind a vintage wrought iron gate, this nursery is clearly a work of love and attention. Our first view was after closing and we peered in and saw the beautiful pots, colourful vignettes and wood framed building that housed the cash counter and a selection of choice tools and accessories. We made a point of returning the next day before it closed and were delighted to walk around the beautifully curated sales and growing areas, carefully avoiding being drenched by the plumes of water. A boulder dressed in lichen and moss, an rusted iron table with a bright red dump truck planter and everywhere you look, artfully orchestrated plantings. Not simply arrangements in planters, but striking islands of colour and joyful perennials bursting from the ground. Even opportunities for moments of repose. This could be your garden! But here in this nursery, there is always work to be done …propagating… ….watering…. ….deadheading and primping…. If you’re in this neck of the woods, it would be unfortunate if you didn’t visit this unique nursery. Because there aren’t many like it. And you will be deeply and deliciously inspired.
Christmas is near upon us and I tend to revisit memories of my childhood this time of year. This is especially true now because memories are hard to come by in our family right now. Unless they’re distant memories — and by distant I mean before I was born. Let me explain.
(Above) My parents, with Skye photo-bombing, about 10 years ago.
My folks are now both in their ‘twilight’ years and with age has come memory loss.
The way dementia (or Alzheimer’s disease) works is it robs you of your most recent memories — what you had for lunch, how that new-fangled toaster works, that you have something on the stove … What remains are the memories of your youth. As the disease progresses, you may understand that the person who says, “Hi Mom” is your daughter, but you may not recognize them if you pass them in a public place. You may be quite sure that no one has told you that you had a doctor’s appointment and then become irate if you are reminded that you had in fact been told.
There is much to learn about how best to have a conversation with someone who has lost much of their memory.
You proceed tentatively, for you’re not quite sure where the edges are crisp or already blurred.
“Do you remember the teepee we built in the backyard and how we would spend hours pretending to be ‘Indians’, living off the land?”
“Do you remember when you used to take us to look at the autumn colours in Gatineau Park?”
“Do you remember when I was a toddler?”
“Do you remember your wedding day?”
The answers might all be ‘no’ and the absence of these memories tragic, but thankfully, that is not all that matters …