Month: October 2012

More Autumn Colours, in advance of a storm

More Autumn Colours, in advance of a storm

Sedum in autumn colours

As friends along the USA’s eastern seaboard are battening down the hatches, gardeners in Nova Scotia are still enjoying beautiful fall days but keeping a weather eye out for the possibility that Hurricane Sandy may veer our way.  Although the forecast is for nothing more than several days of rain in our area, the weather has already begun to change. In fact, since I took photos for this post, about an hour ago, the sunny day has turned cloudy in advance of what is predicted to be our brush with the edge of the storm.

Rain or shine, at this time of year, many gardeners rely on chrysanthemums to brighten up their gardens, but many other plants provide a lovely palette as well.  Most of the pale yellow leaves of birches have fallen but red maples, scarlet oaks and the crimson leaves of burning bushes can be seen throughout the area. Even low-growing sedums have their place in the overall scheme of things autumnal.

Japanese maple leaves catch the afternoon sun

Some plants show fascinating variations of colour as their individual leaves progress through the biochemical changes that produce the beautiful autumn shades.  The Acer palmatum (Japanese maple) above exhibits clear brilliant red foliage, whereas the Cotinus coggygria (Smoke bush) below has many leaves of different shades and some with lovely patterns where the veins stand out as striations on the main leaf.

Colour variations of foliage on a smoke bush

Followers of this blog may notice that one of the menus at the top has changed. The new heading Current Activities is what is termed a “static page” but it will not be static for long. We hope to be changing the information on that page whenever monthly meetings or other activities are on the horizon.  This week the page has a poster advertising the Club’s November 19th meeting, with information as to the speaker and time. That gathering will also include the Annual General Meeting, at which members receive reports from the officers and committee chairs of the Club. All members are encouraged to attend. 

Fountain grass tossed by the breeze in advance of a storm cloud
Preparing Your Garden for Winter

Preparing Your Garden for Winter

A tumble of pumpkins

October’s pumpkins and coloured leaves mean that Chester gardeners, however reluctantly, must say farewell to summer and begin to prepare their gardens for winter’s onslaught, especially for our region’s common freeze and thaw cycles.  At a recent meeting of the Chester Garden Club, Rosmarie Lohnes passed on some tips to help local gardeners maintain healthy gardens through the off-season.

Her first tip included the benefit of  dividing perennials at this time of year because, when many leaves have fallen, it is easier to see the bones of the  garden and plan any changes in the placement of plants.

Woodland colours
Sedum “Autumn Joy”

Weeding in the fall also provides a good
opportunity to get down close to the ground and examine plants for disease or damage that may need remedial action.

Rosmarie recommended natural plant-based fertilizers like diluted manure  or seaweed tea for fall feeding, especially for plants that have been divided and moved. She noted that synthetic fertilizers and fish emulsions should not to be used at this time of year because they would stimulate above-ground growth rather than feed the roots.

Rosmarie Lohnes of Helping Nature Heal

 Mulching is an important part of winter preparation because climate changes in recent years have resulted in a lack of snow cover that used to provide a good layer of insulation.   Along the south shore of Nova Scotia, winter now brings repeated cycles of freezing and thawing and, in the winter, the lower angle of the sun means that its rays can hit the ground under what would have been summer’s leafy barrier.  This constant changing of ground temperature can result in a plant’s being heaved up out of the ground.  Despite the chilly air that retards a plant’s growth, its roots remain active (absorbing water and nutrients) until the temperature falls below about 7 ° C, so if any roots have been heaved out of the ground by the freeze-thaw cycle they are vulnerable to dying off.  A thick layer of mulch, such as hay or leaves anchored with brush (evergreen cuttings), provides good protection against this damaging cycle.

October is also a good time to prune both shrubs and any dead stalks on perennials. Woody stalks should be cut back only to the rosette.  One simple rule of thumb Rosmarie passed on was that any plant that will be “mushy” in the spring can be cut back now.  Ever the keen recycler, Rosmarie suggested that all old stalks and leaves be chopped up and sprinkled on garden beds,  where they will disintegrate over the winter, gradually being absorbed as nourishment for the soil, or that they be added to a compost. Some old stalks can be left to provide seeds for the birds or just simple eye appeal to the garden.

Fluffy seed heads of fountain grass wave in the breeze

As for shrubs, another rule of thumb for fall pruning is not to prune any branch that is larger than your finger. If the plant is not dormant, it is advisable to wait until spring to prune any branch larger than your wrist in order to prevent “bleeding” from the cuts.

Despite the advent of cooler weather, some plants continue to defy Mother Nature and are still producing blooms. The next two shots from Myra’s garden illustrate the hardiness of some of the Gaillardias.  Although the fall blooms lack the lushness of those in the  warmer months, they are still an attractive asset to her garden.

Gaillardia grandiflorum Goblin in July 2012
The same Gaillardia plants on October 15

In contrast to the survival of those Gaillardias, tender annuals like New Guinea Impatiens and  nasturtiums have been touched by a light frost in some areas. The main  colour in many gardens is found in yellowing foliage, ripened apples, and crimson berries like those on these cotoneasters.

Cotoneaster berries
Fall Foliage, Pretty in Pumpkin, and a Sumac Surprise

Fall Foliage, Pretty in Pumpkin, and a Sumac Surprise

Canada’s Thanksgiving weekend has arrived a little earlier than usual this year so the autumn colours in our area are still rather muted.  Much of the landscape is still very green but the leaves of  some hardwoods like birch have begun to turn into soft shades of lemon and apricot, which are beautifully set off against dark green evergreens.   Splashes of stronger colour, like the sharp crimsons of the maple trees, add to the intricate tapestry  of the  scene.    

Some smaller shrubs, like the Sumac on the left,  which are on the verge of making the change from  summer green to autumn red, provide a nice kaleidoscope of colour to a corner of a Chester garden.

oak leaves in autumn
Crimson maple leaves against a clear blue sky
autumn leaves
A virtual tapestry of soft colours
yellow birch leaves
White birch and golden leaves


Marmalade colours on a maple tree

Last week, a hike on a wooded trail in a local provincial park provided only slightly more fall colour when we came upon view of a cranberry bog in a secluded cove at one end of a large lake. 

Wild cranberries thrive in a bog at the end of Card Lake

Although the cranberries were a little out of reach for all but the deer, with the help of our experienced guide, we were able to sample other natural forest delicacies. One bit of vegetation we left untouched was the curious “mushroom” in the next photo. 

Unidentified fungus

A photo combining foliage and pumpkins as per the heading on this post…

pumpkins on display

… as  a nod to the seasonal “Harvest Home” …

fall flowers and pumpkins…is an acknowledgement of a Thanksgiving theme. The next photos show a different sort of development in the garden world – a Sumac surprise!  

Sumac aphid galls
Having found several fleshy gourd-like growths hanging from under the leaves of a Sumac bush in a Chester garden, and having never seen such a growth there before, the owner of the garden was curious as to what was happening. First, taking a scientific approach, she dissected one growth, revealing hundreds of tiny winged “flies”.

Sumac gall disected revealing aphids

Next, she consulted with another gardener. When neither could find a satisfactory explanation, an e-mail went out to the Museum of Natural History in Halifax,  and within a few days the gardeners had the answer to their question.

Aphids emerging from gall on sumac

A zoologist at the museum identified the growths as Sumac Leaf Aphid Galls, and assured the gardeners that these insects would do no lasting damage to the plants.  For more information, the staffer also referred the gardeners to a website maintained by the State of Maine’s Department of Conservation. If you are interested, go to:

And we’ll close this post with a photo taken on October 6, showing that Chester, Nova Scotia, is still green and enjoying a mild climate despite it’s being Thanksgiving weekend.

The final word is a reminder that the next meeting of Chester Garden Club will be held on Monday, October 15, at St. Stephen’s Parish Community Centre.  The guest speaker will be Rosmarie Lohnes, well-known horticulturist and owner of Helping Nature Heal, and her topic will be Preparing your Garden for Winter.

Garden Club meetings can be fun!