Opening my flower gardens – and mind – to native plants

Anemone canadensis
Anemone canadensis

Over the past few years I have welcomed native plants into my flower beds, and Mother Nature has rewarded me with lovely contributions of her own ever since. It started when I decided not to pull a big patch of Anemone canadensis growing wild in a shady section of the garden. I didn’t know what it was and someone told me it was a weed, but I thought it was pretty.

From there I experimented with a single Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). Then some ferns. Three years ago I decided to do my part for Monarch Butterflies and planted Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) front and centre. Year two I decided it wasn’t very nice to look at so I banished it to the far end of the garden. Last summer (year three) it became host to several Monarch caterpillars, and was instantly promoted to my garden favourite.

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Last summer I scored a quantity of Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum) that was headed for a compost heap. It’s graceful and gorgeous this spring. I learned that the unattractive tree – the one I valued only as a post to tie my hammock to – is a Black Cherry (Prunus serotina). Black Cherry is the host plant for Tiger Swallowtail caterpillars and the source of that cloud of butterflies I see over the lilac tree every year. I found out that the interesting volunteer growing under a cedar is Bugbane (Actaea rubra), and that the young Elderberry volunteer by the house provides a rich diet for many different bird species. Last spring a lovely white Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) popped up by surprise. This spring I planted Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) among the fancy daylilies.

Ok... what is it? Holding my breath
Ok… what is it? Holding my breath

Now I’m holding my breath over something new that has come up under the hazelnut bushes. I’m sure it’s just wishful thinking but… could it be a Showy Lady Slipper orchid (cypripedium reginae)? Nah…. it couldn’t be. Could it?

Orchid discovery in Eastern Ontario

A species of orchid more commonly found on the Great Prairies, Spiranthes magnicamporum, has been discovered just 45 minutes outside of Canada's capital city of Ottawa, Ontario.

Eastern Ontario has a rich-smelling species of orchid never recognized here until now, the Great Plains ladies’-tresses which, as the name suggests, mostly grows from Manitoba down to Texas.

It's a long way from its nearest neighbour, and and has left botanists scratching their heads about why it lives here.

A likely explanation is that the orchids have been here since soon after the glaciers melted, leaving a scraped, rocky landscape 10,000 years ago. The orchids and dropseed grass may have covered a lot of the land back then, before being choked out as forests took over.

The alvars remained rocky and open, preserving isolated pockets of orchids.

Proof positive that even in 2014, there are new things to discover in the natural world right at our feet.

Source: Ottawa Citizen, “What is this rich fragrance?” Eastern Ontario’s new orchid

New orchid species discovered in volcanic ‘lost world’, very little news silliness follows

For years, there was only one formally recognized species of orchid on the Azores, a cluster of volcanic islands west of Spain, though some claimed there were two species. However, a recent, three-year study to describe these Azorean flowers found that three species of orchids exist on the islands, including two that are newly recognized. (via

I see that in my orchid-blogging absence, new species have continued to pop up. Sadly, this particular one hasn’t inspired much in the way of purple prose, the news articles I’ve read have all been matter-of-fact and somewhat scholarly.

The only snicker to be found is courtesy of The Daily Mail (where else); their article contains a photo of boring grocery-store variety phalaenopsis with the caption, “Each plant could be worth a substantial sum to collectors.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 1.48.20 PM

Many thanks, Daily Mail, for the smile.

Gardening as an extreme sport

Remember the orchid collectors who were kidnapped back in 2000 by Columbian guerillas? One of them, Tom Hart Dyke, is returning to the country where he was held hostage for 9 months.

Tom recalled the day his captors announced that he would be killed,

Tom spent his ‘final day’ designing a dream garden that contained plants he’d collected from across the globe.

His determination to garden against all odds drove his captors crazy:

It was perhaps Tom’s jungle antics that made his captors glad to see the back of him.

“Building gardens in the mountains was much to the annoyance of our kidnappers,” said Tom.

Now if this isn't gardening as an extreme sport, I don't know what is.

Read the article: Orchid hunter Tom Hart Dyke returns to Colombia 14 years after guerrillas kidnapped him in Darien Gap region

The quest for horse manure

Orchids in horse poop… I’ve read about it, and I’ve always wondered if it worked. An entire website is devoted to the glories of growing orchids in horse manure, and I’m sure that I’m not the only fool who has read it and actually been inspired to try.

And so yesterday I was invited to go out on a cart ride with my friend Sylvia and her beautiful Halflinger horse, Albert, after work. Sylvia is a tolerant soul, and when I floated the idea by her she gamely brought along two plastic shopping bags with the full knowledge that she’d be transporting fresh horse poo home in the trunk of her car for me. Such a good sport. Her parents are gardeners so I guess that bizarre botanical enthusiasms don’t alarm her any more; she’s had experience.
The cart ride through through the tranquil Bavarian countryside was unforgettable. We spent over an hour exploring quiet car-free trails through farmer’s fields and coniferous forests. We passed cyclists and joggers in our Roman-style chariot, and watched a deep red sunset and a big fat moonrise over the meadows. Wow. So beautiful. Albert is a gorgeous creature, with a ridiculously long and curling flowing mane and tail, and he seemed to enjoy the trip as much as we did. Halflingers are the equine equivalent of Golden Retrievers; loveable and friendly, and extremely intelligent. Not just a horse, but one of three friends out on an adventure.

After the ride, Sylvia led me to an enormous mound of manure and up along a long wooden board leading to the top of it. We balanced precariously on the narrow plank and giggled while we bent over and filled the plastic bag. No accidents, thankfully. Sylvia dropped me off back at the office where my bike was locked, and I rode home with a steaming warm bag of horse poo in the front basket. A memorable evening.

This morning, the experiment began. I repotted a small cymbidium, one from a bulb that I bought three years ago in Madeira. This has to be the slowest growing plant I’ve ever grown, and I’m so frustrated with its progress I don’t mind if it becomes the victim of a bad idea. If this works, bonus.

Orchid found outside the romance department

A nice article on the discovery of a particularly great specimen of “Ghost Orchid” (Polyrrhiza lindenii) growing wild in Florida.  This is a most unique and unusual find: A journalist who can write sensibly about orchids without getting all hot and bothered.

“That any ghost orchid exists at all anywhere on the planet is improbable. It is the compulsive gambler of the plant kingdom, evolutionarily speaking. ”Every one has gone through a gauntlet of improbabilities,” Owen said.

A ghost orchid seed will likely die if it’s not infected by a particular strain of beneficial fungus. It will likely die if there’s not enough peat to nourish its giant cypress host. It will likely die if there’s not enough water in the slough below to saturate the air and mediate temperature swings. It will likely die if the tree canopy isn’t dense enough to shelter it from the wind and desiccating sun.

Even if the ghost orchid has covered all these very long bets, it can be pollinated only by a giant moth that flies only at night.”

More about Polyrrhiza lindenii


Continue reading “Orchid found outside the romance department”

Entitled, “Return of the Borchid Ripper”

Orchids are amazing things, and at a certain point you have to wonder if they’re evidence of some kind of cosmic sense of humour.

Thanks, National Geographic:

July 17, 2007—It may look enticing, but this “female wasp” (left) is all stalk.

That’s because this temptress is actually a recently discovered hammer
orchid, a flower that has evolved to resemble the body of a female
wasp. Hapless male wasps are lured to land on—and thus pollinate—the

“All stalk”. Bwaa ha ha ha.