Month: April 2012

Volunteer Week: Another Harbinger of Spring

Volunteer Week: Another Harbinger of Spring

From the left, Hon. Gerald Keddy, MP, Maggie Copas, Allen Webber, Warden of Chester Municipality, Denise Peterson-Rafuse, MLA

Volunteer Week in Nova Scotia is a spring-time tradition by which communities honor the many volunteers who give of their time and talent to support a wide variety of causes. From small town Volunteer Fire Departments,  to sports organizations for youth, to artisan groups that teach heritage crafts,  the motivation is:  “Volunteers Make It Happen”.  

Among those recognized for dedicated service by the Municipality of Chester last week was Maggie Copas, nominated by Chester Garden Club. Maggie, age 86, has been an active member of the club for over 50 years, serving for over a decade as correspondence secretary and later as a loyal volunteer for many club activities, including maintenance of the two public gardens in the village, planning and working at the annual flower show, and many other events.  She has also been a keen supporter of the arts and is a long-time member of her church choir. [photo submitted by an anonymous CGC member]

Star magnolia in bloom
Spring also brings a welcome flood of blossoms, such as this Star magnolia pushing its way up between two  houses in the village and, below,  a clump of Primulas after a light rain.  In a curious anomaly, rain has been in short supply this spring; not something expected in a maritime climate. 
Primula blossoms after the rain

The tulips in the bottom  photo add a bright spark of colour, heralding spring in Herb’s garden. [Thanks to Sandy and Herb for the photos.]

In other news this Spring, club members are preparing for their Annual Gardeners Sale, to take place on May 26 (see the menu  bar above for information).  Before that date, however, it’s “all hands on deck” for a weeding and pruning session at the Parade Square garden on April 30, and a second work party at the Cove garden on May 5.  In early June, many members will travel to Wolfville, for the annual convention of the Nova Scotia Association of Garden Clubs (NSAGC). Each member of registered garden clubs will be eligible to receive a rhizome of a Siberian Iris “Ruffled Velvet” (see below) courtesy of the NSAGC. 

Iris Meanwhile, members are busy catching up on spring chores in their own gardens. Unwanted weeds have quickly sprouted as a result of a couple of days of light rain, and winter debris must be cleared away, but  compensation comes in the form of glorious colours of plants currently in bloom –  Daffodils, Scilla, Tulips and Primulas.  Forsythia and Star Magnolias are also in full regalia this week. They are all forerunners of the many delights awaiting Chester gardeners in the coming months.

A Virtual Tour of a Botanical Garden

A Virtual Tour of a Botanical Garden

Drawing on her experience as a seasonal volunteer at the Naples Botanical Garden, Sylvia McNeill, a member of the Chester Garden Club and holder of a certificate as a Master Gardener, gave what amounted to a virtual tour of the Garden at a recent meeting of the CGC. 

Sylvia showed many images of semi-tropical plants during her presentation

 “Gardens with Latitude” –  the slogan used to publicize the Garden – refers to its location between latitude 26 º north and latitude 26° south.  Covering 170 acres, the site contains six cultivated  gardens organized by distinct themes, including one designed especially for children. In addition to the theme gardens, there are about 2.5 miles of walking trails winding around the property, some of which circle a lake that is part of a marshy “river of grass”. The water from this grassy filter is re-cycled through the gardens to help maintain hydration for the many plants.

Naples Botanical Garden children's section

Sylvia’s tour, via a vast number of photos of the various gardens, began in the Children’s Garden with its water features (both to play in and to practise watering plants); its educational features including child-sized garden plots around a tiny cottage; and continued on a path through a mini-ecosystem that includes a hardwood “hammock”, a sandy beach, mangroves, and a waterfall, before a climb back up to the well-loved butterfly house. 

From there she led us on to the  Mosaic wall in Brazilian garden, Naples Botanical GardenBrazilian
garden with its colourful plants that surround a magnificent pool backed by a wall of bold mosaic design;  the Caribbean sector which features native plants and interactive objects to amuse the visitor; and the river of grass that appears stationary but is actually part of a slow-moving filtration system present in a large part of southern Florida.

Sylvia noted that Florida is built on limestone, which is soluble in water so that there are rivers flowing underground and, occasionally, they cause sink holes develop, which give rise to round lakes.  The lakes in the Garden are surrounded by birdlife and home to the occasional alligator. 

The Asian garden contains a lotus-filled  Small pagoda in Asian sector of Naples Botanical Gardenpool, several
small pagoda-like structures,  a representive “ruin” of a Hindu temple, and a Thai pavilion, as well as actual rice paddies and many other interesting plants.

The water garden is bordered by a wide sloping lawn on which concert-goers can spread out their lawn chairs and enjoy a snack, while listening to music performed by visiting musicians who set up their instruments on a bridge stretched across the pond.

During Sylvia’s photo presentation, she also talked about the life-cycle of such semi-tropical plants as Bromeliads, Crotons and Ti plants, horticultural projects that Chester gardeners can only dream about. Those interested in visiting the Garden can check out its website –  – for more information.

Bromeliads and limestone walk in Naples Botanical Garden

Bloom Day North in April

Bloom Day North in April

Dwarf iris The return of warmer weather this month has brought out not only gardeners but also photographers who, as usual, were keen to capture the beauty of new growth in local gardens.  Some members of our club are avid practitioners of each hobby.  A few, including Sandy, even remember to mark Bloom Day North (the 15th of each month) and she has again obliged by sending in several photos of spring blooms she observed in her neighbourhood, such as the brilliant dwarf Iris on the right. 

The photo of the Forsythia shrubs, forming an arbour over a woodland path, is another of her tributes in the Bloom Day tradtition. 

Forsythia forming an arbour

Her next photo is of an early Rhododendron, which, although lovely, cannot be identified because the owner of the property was not available for consultation. 

Rhododendron unknown variety

And to complete the selection for this Bloom Day, we have a large Forsythia that has grown to enormous proportions, crowding out an ornamental cedar, and kept in check only by the even greater mass of two Siberian spruces behind it. 


An Introduction to a Botanical Garden

An Introduction to a Botanical Garden

swelling buds of lilacs
The green buds of a lilac are getting fatter every day

For gardeners in Eastern Canada, the first signs of Spring are just appearing, as buds swell on flowering shrubs and bulbs push up toward the sun. At this time of year, in a sort of anticipation of what’s to come,  they get a vicarious pleasure from viewing colourful plants grown in more southern climes. Chester Garden Club is pleased, therefore, to welcome one of its own as the featured speaker at its April 16th meeting, when Sylvia McNeill will present a personal view of her experience at Naples Botanical Garden. 

Forsythia blossoms
Forsythia shrubs are already in bloom
star magnolia bud about to open
The fuzzy grey coating of a Star Magnolia bud opens for the emerging flower
Our Fickle Spring

Our Fickle Spring

As has been recorded in this blog and elsewhere, the winter just past has been remarkable for the variety of weather conditions it has produced. The spring which followed three weeks ago has already shown a tendency to similar fluctuations. 

Just a day or so ago, as a gardener was busy clearing away bits of winter debris, she noted a clump of Scilla emerging from under a cover of oak leaves. Delighted with the discovery, the gardener also noted that the plants now needed a good dose of moisture to grow to their full potential, but her silent plea was for rain, not snow!

What with Easter and Passover arriving on the same weekend this year, we’d rather hoped that, in the spirit of coming together, Mother Nature would be onside too. Alas, Spring went AWOL as a freak snowstorm blanketed much of Atlantic Canada overnight  Saturday and into Sunday morning. The lovely deep blue flowers of a Dutch iris are struggling to stay above the snow cover in the photo above (thanks, Sylvia). This particular variety, “Eye of the Tiger”, is a deciduous hybrid that flowers early in April and is tolerant of dry soil conditions.

Next we see the pink blooms of a heather that has been almost buried under the recent snow.

Although many parts of Eastern Canada were walloped with snow and high winds, Chester’s gardens received only about 4 cms of the white stuff. Then, in keeping with its fickle nature, Spring reversed the trend. Within 24 hours the ephemeral  snowstorm was history. By Sunday evening, hardly a trace of snow remained.  Unfazed by the fickle weather, Chester gardeners paid homage to the season in the time-honoured tradition of enjoying bouquets of colourful tulips indoors. 

Like a Glass Ceiling

Like a Glass Ceiling

The phrase “glass ceiling” as a term for an unexpected see-through obstruction was coined in the mid-1980s, but recent weather events have provided a physical example to explain its meaning.  Our changeable temperatures this spring have confused flora and fauna alike, but the fish who inhabit a small pond here must indeed have been puzzled by the recent imposition of what might appear to be, from their point of view,  a “glass ceiling”.

As a result of a sudden dip in temperature one night, well below the freezing point, the pond had been covered with a thin coating of ice, about 10 mm in thickness.  In the morning, the ice was as clear as glass, almost invisible to the human eye and apparently to the fish as well.

In their usual fashion, as soon as the vibration of footsteps alerted them to the arrival of breakfast, the fish swarmed to the edge of the pond in anticipation. Alas, instead of enjoying a feast of food pellets, they found themselves bumping up against the “glass ceiling”.  No matter how hard they tried, the pellets were quite out of reach.  Unlike some of the metaphorical ceilings, however, this one was easy to breach.  By gently breaking a hole through the  ice, and sliding the panes of ice aside, we were able to spread some pellets into the water.  Then, having determined that the fish were happy, we glanced around the rest of the pond and noticed that, instead of a smooth glossy surface, the ice on the far side of the pond was etched in lovely patterns.  

Near the edge, where the dead leaves of a pond plant had been caught in the freezing water, nature had painted what looked like a series of fronds in the surface of the ice. The delicate patterns lasted only a few hours,however, before they were broken by the sun’s rays. 

Despite the variable temperatures, Chester-area gardens have been producing new growth. Forsythia buds are almost open and gardeners are enjoying the blooms forced from branches of forsythia and also Siberian peach that were brought inside.  As for the outside plants, Sandy has sent in these photos of flowering Daphne shrubs.

Daphne alba

April may be known as the cruelest month but it can’t be any stranger than the roller-coaster temperatures we’ve had in recent months. Spring appears to have arrived, however, and members of the Chester Garden Club are looking forward to getting to work in their gardens, and to preparing for the club’s annual Gardeners Sale in May.