Tuesday, November 28, 2006

More Fun in the Snow : Snow Bear and Snow Angel

It has certainly been a bold and early start to winter, with our foot or so of snow and -10 celsius temperatures (extremely frigid for Vancouver!!) - and it's not even December yet. In the eyes of an adult, there is the delay and peril on the roads, trees broken under the load of snow, power lines knocked out, and disruption of schedules. In the eyes of a child, there are the extra days home from school, and hours of snowmen, snow angels, snow fights, toboganning and pure delight.

I have had the privilege of enjoying both of these: the struggle to clear a walking path across the driveway, sidewalk, walkway and stairs, as well as the fun of building towering snowmen. On Sunday, I was delighted to take our kids over to our neighbours' (Helen & Bill's) yard, to play with their daughter. In addition to doing his share of shovelling and clearing pathways, Bill (he's the Mountie lookalike) worked with me on this handsome snow bear:

Our girls worked on a beautiful (albeit a bit grumpy looking) snow angel, complete with snow wings:
And they had fun toboganning around the yard:

What a great way to enjoy the snow!

Caterpillar Transformation

It happened quite suddenly. The three caterpillars (see The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly : Brown Caterpillar) had stopped eating, and didn't look well at all. When they crawled, they were intent on pushing their way under the foliage I had supplied, and when they touched each other, they recoiled instantly, as if in disgust. I wondered if they objected to something I had given them to eat. They spurned even the parsley which they had previous enjoyed.

That was about 5 days ago. Since then, I had come to accept that they were either dying (in which case, they probably would not have faired any better outside under a foot of snow), or in the process of transformation. Then tonight, it happened. One of the caterpillars has split its brown skin, to reveal a golden chrysalis. Inside, there are visible eyes and legs, and what seems to be white features. It is too early to speculate, but I am pleased with this development.

The second caterpillar seems not far behind, it has been fairly immobile for a couple of days also, and is shrinking in length, as did this first one, before it shed its skin. The third one is still capable of being mobile, although spends its time sleeping, buried under the paper towel I provided.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Fun in the Snow : Snow Mouse

It is exactly one month before Christmas, and we had our first snowfall today. It was significant enough, and of the good compacting variety, to make some snowmen. The big one, made by my son & I, was going to be a snow bunny, but turned out more like a snow mouse. The little one, made by my daughter, is more of a human form. It is still snowing tonight, so we'll see how long this snow keeps up!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Garden Painting Day 17 : Daylilies

Tonight I finally painted the daylilies into my garden painting (based on hemerocallis "Autumn Sun", although perhaps not exactly to scale). Now the garden is starting to feel pretty full. I'm guessing I'm 30% or 40% of the way to completion, considering I need to add flowers to the tree peony and pansies, and the final details (a few birds in the birdbath, bees, butterflies) will likely take a considerable amount of time. So far, I'm pretty pleased with the result.
I think I will tackle the cat next, I am still trying to decide what type and colour of cat to add in.

Garden Photo Website : Maureen & Glen's Gardening on the Prairies

Foxtail BarleyI was researching a plant today, I saw a wonderful photo of it in a gardening book, but haven't seen it in any gardens, that I can recall. Having researched it more, I understand why. It is Hordeum jubatum (see more modest photo right), commonly known as foxtail barley. It has large silky pinkish seedheads, quite stunning visually. It tolerates wetland conditions, which would make it suitable for some of the more "difficult" areas of my garden. However, all references to it include words like "weedy" and "invasive" - not something I should try to introduce into my garden.

During my search, I found an interesting PDF booklet on invasive species of Western Washington (which is a similar climate to our Vancouver Coastal Region), with recommendations for other non-invasive alternatives. I have to say, some of the descriptions of the alternatives were a little too rosy, I wouldn't agree that they are so wonderful in comparison, but if our runaway garden plants are going to wreck havoc in our native forests, we should at least read it and be aware, to try to avoid them in the first place, or prevent their spread.

I also encountered a WONDERFUL gardening site, by Maureen and Glen in Regina, Saskatchewan, and immediately bookmarked it! It is FULL of photos (over 1900, according to the site) of Saskatchewan native plants, grasses, annuals, and my main interest - perennials. The photos of most plants include a closeup (the kind you'd expect from a seed catalog), and then a photo of the whole plant, to see it in the context of the garden, as well a good description of the plant and growing advice. The perennials section includes a Glen's score, from 1 to 10, of how much he likes the plant, and a summary of his favourite perennials.

Each section of the site is available as framed (i.e. a column of links on the left, can click to view the photos & description on the right), or unframed (navigate through links, and hit the "Back" button to return). What a wonderful reference site! The photos are of great documentary quality - please respect their request not to reuse them without permission.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly : Brown Caterpillar

I try to live by the motto "Live and let live". That includes the creatures, great and small, who share my garden with me. I don't believe in using pesticides or chemicals to kill anything. Everything has its purpose, and its place.

When it comes to sharing my garden, though, I am curious which one is Good, Bad or just plain "Ugly". :-) Not that the Bad and Ugly don't have a right to share my garden, I just want to know what they're up to when I encounter them. There are some which are known to be Good : earthworms, spiders, bees, dragonflies, ladybugs. Some whose taste for plants puts them in the Bad category : slugs, snails, aphids, grasshoppers, caterpillars. Others, whose intentions are not so obvious : beetles, sow bugs, wasps, stink bugs.

Reading up on any of these can often (not always!) clarify their eating habits, and impact on our garden. However, nothing, in my opinion, beats observation in the field, or over a period of time in a small cage. I have yet to write about the stink bugs which I accidentally brought into the house this summer, and which ended up in our observation for a number of weeks. They were pretty interesting.
Brown Caterpillar in November
A couple of weeks ago, I was cutting down and bundling my perennial sunflower, to set out for the city compost program, when I found 3 small green caterpillars. It was already late in the year, with frost overnight, and not lots of foliage available. So I decided these little guys would have at least as good, likely better, chance surviving indoors with us, in our plastic terrarium. Today, they are more than double the length, and considerably more bulky. (Interestingly, they changed colour to a grey/brown shortly after bringing them indoors.) They are eating through quite a lot of greens, all collected from the garden.

So far, I have found that they like: parsley, salmonberry leaves, butterfly bush leaves. They don't seem to like: red swiss chard (I thought they would!), peony leaves, tarragon. I am hoping they will eventually transform into a butterfly/moth, so we will find out what species we have. My Google Image searches haven't found a match yet.

Maybe one of the kids will be able to bring them into the class, to share the learning experience with their friends. I'll be sure to post, when we learn more.

In the meantime, I stumbled across a pretty interesting site, for those not too squeamish about bugs. Although the focus of the site is on pest management, I found the pest identification section to be fascinating. People post their photos of strange bugs they encounter, and entomologists and other experts provide identification. Be sure to take a look!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Mushroom Photos

Last week I passed through a park with the kids on the way to my son's soccer team photo shoot, and discovered a few dozen attractive mushrooms. I had my little digital camera along, so took a few photos. I tried to convince myself to go back again after lunch, with our serious camera (Canon EOS with pretty decent 75-100mm lens and 24-85mm lens, and flash attachment). I could have had some nice photos, but it was cold, and I couldn't motivate myself to drive there again.

The mushrooms, from what I can tell by reading, are the Amanita muscaria, a mushroom which is poisonous or hallucinogenic or perhaps both, depending on how it is prepared. Don't know, don't touch, don't experiment. Just take photos and marvel at the beauty.

We used to have 1 or 2 show up in our yard each year at the previous house. It was quite exciting to discover them; they would only be around for a week or two, and then disappear for another year. Enjoy the photos.

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