Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Wild Nightlife in Huttonville

As we passed the tiny United Church on Friday night, we could here them yipping and howling in the near distance. I turned worriedly to my husband beside me and said, "I've never heard them that close." 

Every evening we take the dogs for a walk just before bedtime. Usually, we take the same route up the hill through the village. Despite increased levels of commuter traffic and farm fields that are slowly giving way to house-lined streets, Huttonville in these quite hours of the late evening retains the atmosphere of a small rural community in the middle of the countryside.

Often on these late night walks, we have encountered small nocturnal creatures; most often rabbits and the occasional skunk, possum or fox. One evening, a raccoon hissed at us from his perch in a tree top. Another time, my son and I came across a beaver- at least we think it was a beaver for he slapped his wide tail on the ground to warn off the dogs. 

Most of these small animals are harmless. It the coyotes who frighten me. Coyotes have been known to attack domestic animals, particularly dogs. Our neighbors can also tell you sad tales of cats lost to these nocturnal scavengers. Recently, in Nova Scotia there have even been several attacks on humans, resulting in at least one death.

Usually, we hear the coyotes calling from the surrounding hills or down by the Credit River, but on last Friday night, they were very close by. The coyotes had in fact worked themselves into frenzy of excitement, singing out to one another. Were they celebrating a prize already brought down or were they on the hunt?

"You head back with the dogs and I'll stand here for a minute to watch and make sure they don't come up from behind us.", Harold replied in urgent hushed tones. 

I didn't like his plan of remaining behind. I opened my mouth to protest, when a dark shadow darted out of the brush just ahead of us. 

I held my breath and watched the shadow cross to our side of the road. Was it a coyote? I squinted harder. No, it was too small and had a long bushy tail. It only a fox running to escape the coyotes, thank goodness! 

Relieved, we turned quickly in the direction of home. As we walked back through the village, we passed the quaint United Church. Built in 1886 and is one of the community's oldest surviving structures. 

Do you see the small belfry in this photograph? It is home to many small sized bats, the other nighttime creature that I want to tell you about in this Halloween post.

If you pass the church at dusk, you can hear the bird-like chirps of the bats in the church belfry as they wake and stretch their wings. And if you are brave enough to stand and watch, you can see them emerge one by one from the darkness of the belfry and take flight. 

These dark little phantoms swoop low and then flutter their wings wildly to rise back up into the day's fading light. They fly so quickly that, as they whoosh past, they seem to be no more than a light breeze on a hot summer night.

Now, in the cold of late fall and later in freezing temperatures of winter they sleep quietly in the comfort of the belfry. Come summer however, the mosquitoes and bugs a plenty in our small riverside village bring them awake to feed each evening.

One night, a couple of summers ago, we headed up to the third floor attic, as we do every evening, to watch some television. It had been a blistering, hot afternoon and we had opened all the windows to cool the house.

When we switched on the light at the top of the attic staircase, much to our surprise, a frightened bat flew from its perch on the attic's barn-like beams and swooped low just over our heads. Startled, we both just barely ducked out of the way, as the terrified bat flew from one end of the room to the other.

"How the heck did a bat get in? " I asked turning my husband. Before he could answer, we again had to dive for cover as the frightened bat took flight again.

"Maybe there is a hole in one of the window screens.", Harold offered.

"Great", I replied "Now what do we do?"

Together, we hatched a plan to remove the screens and open the windows as wide as possible- that way the bat could hopefully find his own way out. 

Bad plan! An hour or so later, the bat was still diving at us from his roost on the beams. 

We had nor idea what to do next, so we knocked on a few of our a neighbors doors desperately looking for fresh ideas. "If you knock it to the ground, they can't take flight again", one neighbor suggested. 

We headed back to the house and Harold mounted the attic stairs, corn broom in hand.

Even more frightened by the appearance of this unknown assailant, the bat took frantic runs back and forth across the length of the room. Fortunately for us, the broom caught one of his wings in mid-flight and he fell to the floor. The neighbor was right- the bat lay stunned on the ground unable to fly! Harold placed a wire wastebasket over him and then scooped him inside. 

A few minutes later, we released the bat unharmed into the summer night. The following morning we checked all the window screens. No holes! How did the bat get in the house then? This is a mystery we have yet to solve and is not the only bat story I have to tell....

Have a spook-tacular Halloween evening everyone!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Abstract Beauty of a Hosta Leaf Touched by Frost

Civic Minded

The signs have been everywhere along the side of the road and on the front lawns of neighbors who don't mind sharing their political convictions- its municipal election time here in Ontario.

It is a miracle that both my husband and I escaped our childhood homes without the slightest interest in all things political. 

On the slightest provocation, my mother was always willing to engage in a dissection of federal politics, with the unbiased opinion of a confirmed liberal. 

Similarly, my in-laws whose political persuasions leaned in a direction diametrically to my mother's, actively participated in federal politics. I remember clearly the nightly pleasure they took in celebrating the latest conservative triumphs and heckling any "liberal" misdeeds reported on late night television newscasts. 

Needless to say, putting our two sets of parents together in one room was definitely a case of oil and water. While my husband's parents were always gracious, the strength of my mothers liberal convictions made her inhospitable, almost to the point of rudeness. 

I know that I should be grateful to live in a country, where I can freely cast a vote and I truly am. 

And I know it is my civic duty to vote, but I have to say that, when it comes to local politics, it is hard to come to a informed decision as to where to cast a vote.

Lets see...I can think back to the self-congratulatory newsletter sent out by the incumbent councillors. Hmm...not much help there.

There has been very few knocks on our front door by politicians offering a fresh alternative to the incumbents.

I have noted a new phenomena this election, the pre-recorded phone message urging me to vote for the person rambling on the other end. These calls always seems to come at the most inopportune time and annoy me rather than impress me.

Perhaps I should consult the signs posted all over the neighborhood....

I have never completely understood the rational behind the roadside vote-for-me sign. 

Local, grassroots politics has limited coverage in mainstream television and radio, leaving politicians desperate to get their name before the voting public. I get that, but I question how these signs are to aid me in coming to a decision as to where to place my X on election day. 

Am I to choose the politician who has the sign with the color or typeface I like best? 

Am I to be swayed by the politician with the biggest sign? 

The more expensive sign that has a snapshot incorporated into the graphics?

In the end, there is very little to discover in a sign, but a last name. What does that name tell me, besides a possible indication of ethnic background? Come election day, I find nothing in this visual clutter at to aid me my decision.

The whole subject of local politics just makes my head hurt and in that, I am sure I am not alone. Is it any wonder that voter turn out is often less than 50%.

And so it was on election day this past Monday, I found myself scrambling to come to a last minute decision.

In Brampton, Mayor Susan Fennell was returned for another term with a comfortable majority. Our local regional councillor and city councillor are likewise unchanged.

For some reason, we tend to think of local politicians as less important than their federal and provincial counterparts, but in reality, the decisions they make can have just as big of an impact on our daily lives.

All the images in this post are of the "Dixie Parkette" and are paid for by the good people in the city of Brampton, who pay one of the highest rates of municipal taxes in the country. Aren't they pretty?

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Celebration of Fall Grasses

Close-up of an Ornamental grass at Rideau Woodland Ramble Nursery near Ottawa, Ontario.

Ornamental grass at Rideau Woodland Ramble Nursery near Ottawa, Ontario.

When I was growing up, the only grass in the average garden was the common green stuff  between the flowers beds. In the last ten years however, Ornamental grasses once popular in Victorian times, have begun to re-appear in suburban gardens.

The popularity of these grasses continues to grow in leaps and bounds and no wonder- they have a great deal to contribute to the fall and winter garden. 

For gardeners like me, who were raised on a steady diet of flowering perennials, Ornamental grasses are the new kids on the block. I find myself impressed with their variety and sightly intimidated by their unknown characteristics.

That generally they need full sun, is easy. As to the rest- well...we are just getting to know one another.

All summer, I have been making mental notes on plantings that strike me as beautiful. The images that follow are examples of gardens that have incorporated Ornamental grasses in ways that are striking.  Enjoy!

Tall Ornamental grasses at the Rideau Woodland Ramble Nursery near Ottawa, Ontario.

Miscanthus sinensis in the background and Blue Oat grass in the foreground. Public Library's garden, Brampton, Ontario.

Close-up Miscanthus sinensis 

Miscanthus sinensis at the Lost Horizon Nursery, Acton, Ontario

Unidentified grass at Edwards Gardens in Toronto

Hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra 'aureloa') in the foreground. Display garden at Lost Horizon Nursery, Acton, Ontario

Egyptian Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus 'Graceful Grasses King Tut') at Edwards Gardens, Toronto

Unidentified Ornamental grass and Obedient plant (physostegia virginiana) blooming in the same flower bed at Edwards Gardens in  Toronto

Hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra 'aureloa') in Edwards Gardens, Toronto

Perennial Fountain Grass illuminated

Perennial Fountain Grass in my own garden.

Annual Fountain Grass at Edwards Gardens, Toronto

The texture of a Miscanthus grass seen up close and personal. The Public Library garden, Brampton, Ontario. 

Japanese Blood Grass, at Edwards Gardens, Toronto, Ontario.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Boys

What are those magic words that any dog loves to hear? "Let's go for a walk." 

I hope you have a great weekend! 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Fall Harvest Worth of Rose Hips, Berries & Fruit

The brilliant orange berries of a Burning Bush in the late day sun.

Flowers are perhaps my greatest passion, but I think that nuts, rose hips, fruit and berries can bring as much interest as flowers to the garden. 

I love, love tangy currant jam on warm buttered toast. 

In my Circle garden, I have patiently been waiting for both black and red currant bushes to mature. Next year I should have a bumper crop. 

Come spring, I will have dig deep to discover that well buried, inner domestic diva and make some homemade currant jam.

I have two Cotoneaster shrubs. Do you have any in your garden? Aren't the bright red berries terrific! (The oldest of my Cotoneasters suffered major damage last winter. This one shown is at a Edwards Gardens.)

I try to be vigilant and remove any spent roses, but the ones I miss form rose hips that I often use to add color to the evergreens that I arrange in containers at Christmas time.

I am not at all a plant snob. Even the blush of peach on the tiny cream colored berries of an oh-so-common euonymus has a delicate beauty I appreciate.

I have this Porcelain Vine in half shade on the fence to my Circle Garden. Turquoise, purple and maroon berries decorate this pretty variegated vine. 

This is the third year I've had it in the garden and it has behaved itself so far. 

This fall however, there is an abundance of berries for the first time. Though it is in an isolated central bed, it has occurred to me that I might have grounds to be worried about what will happen when all those bright colored berries drop to the ground! 

Last week, I looked it up online and notice that it is considered invasive. Yikes! Will the garden be overrun with Porcelain Vine?

What makes me kind of angry is that this is a vine readably available for purchase. Why, why, why do nurseries sell invasive plant varieties???

It is so pretty it will break my heart to rip it all out! What do you think? Should I ripe it out now before it gets a stronger foothold? 

Canada Yew

Another great red "berry". Actually the berry is considered a "false-fruit". This is on an old Yew in the vacant lot behind our home. The fruit kind of reminds me of olives. Can see the dark seed inside the translucent envelope of the fruit?

I have much yet to learn when it comes to evergreens and so I looked this one up online too. The Ministry of Ontario identifies it as a Canada Yew that is "prized by the Pharmaceutical industry" as the resource for important cancer fighting drugs. Ironically, it is highly toxic to humans if consumed. Interesting. You learn something new everyday!

Purple Beautyberry at Edwards Garden (Callicarpa dichotoma 'Early Amethyst' )

I am always on the lookout for new shrubs with berries to add to my garden. I saw this Beautyberry bush at Edwards Gardens and thought that the berries were such an outrageous color that they almost looked fake. It is so unusual, that I think I might want to invite a Beautybush to come home with me on my next nursery visit.

I looked and looked for a plant tag to identify these nuts/berries(?) on a tree that I also saw at Edwards Gardens. I have no idea what they are, but I loved their golden color. By chance, do you know the name of this tree?

Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea)

Ironically, I have tried unsuccessfully for several years to get a "Snowberry" bush to overwinter without any luck. I think I might try the bush above instead, which has similar white berries. I spotted it in the local library's garden. I believe it is a Red Osier Dogwood.