Category: Wildlife



Robins having a meal in the Pyracantha ( Firethorne)


I have been distracted as I have been gardening this fall. Many of the familiar birds are heading to warmer places and stopping for nourishment along the way and the regular fall and winter residents are gathering in old familiar places.


As I ready the gardens for winter I am leaving the perennial seed heads standing, giving the birds the food they are searching for and me the pleasure of their company.

I am reminded that I can help our plants along by giving them a bit more of what they need to survive; water, nourished soil and the optimum placement .

Watering when it is dry, adding high nutrient compost when they are actively growing and pruning all but spring flowering shrubs during the winter when they are defoliated and dormant are good gardening practices.

Mulch, which can be spread at any time, is particularly timely for fall. The garden expects organic material, just like the forest expects fallen leaves. Leaves and debris settle as mulch during the fall rains and winter snowfalls, helping to retain moisture and inhibit weeds.

Our gardens can then do “What Comes Naturally”


Now, I just need to get back to fall gardening chores and stop being so distracted by the birds.

Spring in Cuba

Spring in Cuba

3 March 31 2108 DSCF4008

Many gardeners take late winter or early spring vacations in countries where weather is warmer. Cuba is one of those  recovering from last falls hurricane. Those who have committed both time and energy deserve congratulations. Resorts were devastated and are now operating as well as completing repairs or reconstruction.

Click on any picture for slide show:


Birds are returning to their usual habitats



The plant life is also showing how nature copes with unexpected changes and challenges.

Congratulations to all of the Caribbean communities who smile as they continue to pick up their lives.


It’s February and our gardens are alive !

It’s February and our gardens are alive !


Our garden plants are still dormant, waiting for spring. But there is life in and around our gardens right now.



Are Your Pruners as Sharp as mine ?
Do you ask yourself:

When do I prune my plants ?  How do I do it ?  What result am I hoping to achieve ?

A general rule of thumb is to prune out dying, diseased, damaged or dead as you see it. The other times, pruning is usually done for training, restricting, balancing or creating a pattern of growth, controlling flower and fruit quality & maintaining plant health and are season and plant dependant. The times chosen are late winter when things are dormant, spring as buds emerge & pruning following spring bloom. There are many books & on line sites/blogs that describe methods for pruning trees and shrubs. Also, closer to home, many garden clubs have members who have horticultural backgrounds or life long experience who are willing to give a little coaching.



Grasses, Perrienels and shrubs with seeds that have been left for the birds can be cut back just before new growth .



In the meantime, while waiting, enjoy the warmth in the February sunshine and have a look at the critters who are reminding us that we can learn a lot from the plants and critters in our gardens. Some are sharp, some are pretty and some are dull. Some have wierd names and all are different in color, shape and size, but they all live in and contribute to the beauty in the same community.


Listen. You will hear the song sparrow soon.

Groaning in the Garden

Groaning in the Garden

Contributed by member: Jocelyn Cameron who says:

“I’ll admit I wrote this”

Sometimes you just have to chill after gardening and think outside the box. Out there, you can tickle your funny bone and watch what happens. Here’s a glimpse:

  1. Any bee can balm.1 Monarda, Bee balm IMGP5675

  2. I sedum before.2 Sedum, Stonecrop 006

  3. I aster but she said no.3 Aster 020

  4. Why don’t trumpet vines make any sound?4 Campsis radicans, Trumpet-ground-cover

  5. Who punched those black-eyed susans?


  6. Why aren’t burning bushes hot?

  7. Globe thistles like to travel. Who knew?7 Echinops, Globe thistle MGP3573

  8. Hollyhocks anything she finds.8 Alcea, Hollyhock 010

  9. Spirea can’t see for looking.9 Spiraea IMGP2521

  10. Why don’t fleece flowers ever get sheared?10 Persicaria affinis, Fleece Flower Jocelyn

  11. Lamb’s ear can’t hear anything.11 Stachys byzantina, Lamb's Ears Jocelyn DSC02329

  12. Ribbon grass never made a bow.12 Phalaris arundinacea, Ribbon Grass

  13. Why is Zebra grass neither black nor white?13 Miscanthus sinensis, ‘Zebrinus Zebra-Grass

  14. Has loosestrife ever caused trouble? (rhetorical question)14 Lysimacha punctata, Yellow Loosestrife

  15. Why doesn’t goutweed affect your feet?15 Aegopodium podagraria, Goutweed 027

  16. Ever see dandelions caged in the zoo?16 Taraxacum, Dandelion IMGP3519

  17. Ever see a weeping willow cry?

    17 Salix babylonica, Weeping Willow

  18. Has crooked willow ever done anything wrong?18 Salix matsudana, Curly Crooked Corkscrew Willow Jocelyn DSC02325

  19. Rosemary won’t answer if you call.19 Rosmarinus officinalis, Rosemary, Hes's

  20. Joe Pie weed makes me hungry.20 Eutrochium, Joe-pye weed IMGP5349

  21. Ever hear a valerian speech at a convocation?

  22. Sit astilbe as you can.22 Astilbe 039

  23. Everyone likes the limelight sometimes.

    23 LadyLimelight

  24. It’s daphne to stop before you finish.24 Daphne 2010 003

  25. He never scratched so much as when he had chives.

  26. Some roses have large hips.26 Rose hips IMGP3992

  27. How can mint hold onto a spear?

    27 Mint

  28. Irises will never open their eyes.28 Irises 035

  29. Hit your head and you’ll be at risk of artemesia.

    29 Artemisia

  30. Take someone hosta and you’ll be in trouble.30 Hosta IMGP3808

  31. Have you heard the Bells of Ireland ringing at weddings?

I know yew can think of more examples, but it’s thyme to quit before we all go daisy!Shasta Daisy

Hope this makes your day a little more holly.Canadian Holly, Ilex vertcillata

Keep sharp!

Thanks to Jocelyn, Jen, Marion & Brenda for pictures.



It’s November and …

It’s November and …

It’s November and, although we have had two heavy frosts and it is cool now, up until a few days ago gardeners have been amazed by the warm temperatures here in the Chester and surrounding area.

The following are few pictures that were taken during the last couple of weeks, some as late as the 10th of November.

Summer pots still showing off.

The last of the fragile produce, only greens left in the vegetable garden.

Winter arrangements in the near future.

11 Nov 2nd IMGP6222

We can now continue preparation for winter in our gardens, enjoy the birds as they make ready for winter and settle in with a good gardening resource for next springs plans. Fall temperatures have arrived.


Thanks to Kay B. and Brenda H. for the photo’s.





Putting Our Gardens to Bed

Putting Our Gardens to Bed

This is a beautiful time of year – leaves falling to the ground in colors of orange, red and yellow. Birds and other little critters running around doing their last minute preparations for winter, our greenhouse doors are closed and life begins to slow down just a little.



Herb Fraser, long time member and experienced gardener in many parts of the world reminded us that each zone and each garden is individually different and requires a plan. When we get our Zone 6a Chester Gardens gardens ready for winter they are prepared for an even more productive spring.



Herb suggested this is a good time to take advantage of sales at local nurseries. The root bound plants can be teased and trimmed, possibly divided, watered well and planted for next seasons show.

We were reminded not to fertilize after mid August or cut back perennials too early as even though plants may appear dormant as fluctuating temperatures may stimulate the below surface activity and plants will produce new growth which will not be winter hardy. It is possible to divide and transplant perennials before the first heavy frost remembering they usually require about 4 to 6 weeks to settle in.

Following a couple of hard frosts, usually late October, early November in the Chester area, ensure that plants are well watered, especially evergreens which provide not only backdrop for our summer show but seasonal distinction and wind protection for our properties.

Thinking about our own gardens, Herb encouraged us to concentrate on clearing debris, checking for pests, damage and disease. It is a good time to weed, pull annuals, to compost any plants without disease, to save seeds such as Marigold, Zinnia, Sweet Peas, Morning Glory, Scarlet runner and to cut back to three or four inches perennials such as Siberian and Bearded Iris, Sweet Peas, Crocosmia, Bee balm. If you don’t cut your plants right to the ground, their stalks will hold new spring growth straighter.

Some gardeners choose plants to add visual interest to their gardens in winter and so leave some standing. Plants, including perennial grasses,ferns and sedems have a neat look, and the seeds of Joe Pye, echinacea and rudbeckia will attract and feed birds all winter.

We were reminded not to cut hardy geraniums or Hellebore.

Plant bulbs like daffodils and garlic now according to directions. The general rule of thumb for planting spring bulbs is to plant two to three times as deep as the bulb is tall.

One thing to always keep in mind is to remember it is all about soil. After the first hard frost, make big efforts to increase soil fertility by providing a fresh layer of mulch. Feeding and amending your soil with organic matter through the use of mulch, compost and other available materials (shredded leaves or seaweed, which is full of micronutrients that enrich the soil and feed the plants. And it’s free!) to increase the availability of the minerals in the soil and create more spaces for air and water will benefit next season’s production & show. Don’t put all those leaves in bags. Instead, run the lawn mower over them and use them as mulch or in your compost and the worms will help them enrich the soil. Also, now is the time to spread lime on lawns and gardens.

What about garden ponds/pools? Herb asked Joan C. to help members understand the winter care needed for garden pools. Joan reminded us that Goldfish and Koi are very hardy and can handle winter water temperatures which means they can survive in the pond during the winter as long as the pond is three feet or more deep, it doesn’t freeze solid and they have adequate water quality and oxygen.

Herb advised us to clean and service our gardening tools so they are in good condition for storage and to begin using next season, especially if we run out of time or the weather becomes challenging.

As a final note, we were encouraged to remember winter brings opportunities to enjoy warmth in front of our wood stoves or fireplaces planning for next gardening season.

Following the presentation and before the regular meeting there was time to view the artistic fall displays, for conversation and a snack.



Little Treasures

Little Treasures

There is much more to those little buzzing creatures than meets the eye and more of them than many realize. Sue Westby, bee specialist and also a member of Chester Garden Club had members and guests complete attention as she discussed how to recognize native species of bees, their role in the environment, and how to keep them content in our own gardens.


There are more than two hundred different species in Nova Scotia which are dependant on plants for their entire livelihood. They are hairy, have two pairs of wings, and elbowed antennae. The main bees discussed were: leafcutter bees, bumblebees, digger bees, mason bees and sweat bees.

Leafcutter bees are solitary bees. They range in size from fly size to honeybee size and nest in holes in wood.

Bumblebees are a large size social bee. Like most native bees, they carry pollen on their legs. Leafcutter bees and mason bees carry pollen on the underside of their abdomens.

Digger bees are a solitary, small to medium sized species that reside in the soil. They are rather specific when choosing plants and can be identified by their unique velvety area between their eyes.

Mason Bees are medium sized bees that don’t sting and are sometimes mistaken for flies. 250 female orchard mason bees can pollinate an acre of apples.

Sweat bees are a small bee, some species are social but most are solitary and live in the soil or soft wood.

Most bees are not picky when choosing which flowers they visit and move from bloom to bloom as the season goes on. Some bees however, are specialists and live exclusively on one plant species.

Reproduction habits vary among species. For example: Bumblebees colonies last all growing season but in the fall, new Queens emerge, mate and find a place to hybernate underground over winter. They are the only ones to survive the winter. When it is warm enough they emerge from their den, find a nest site and begin to gather pollen. They lay a few eggs which develope into workers. Those workers then help feed the young from eggs the Queen continues to lay. These young develop quickly and become more workers for the colony which continues to grow this way until there are just about 100 workers supplying the colony. Towards the end of summer/early fall, males and new Queen develop, emerge and mate with the new, mated Queens overwintering to start the cycle over again.

Leafcutters make brood chambers inside a long tube shaped cavity, fill them with pollen and lay one egg per chamber. Throughout the rest of the year, the young develop in the chambers, until they overwinter as fully formed adults, ready to emerge by chewing their way out the next growing season.

Different bee species emerge at different times during the season. There are early, mid and late bee species from each species that emerge and live 4 to 6 weeks, pollinating flowers in bloom at that time.

Pollination in both natural ecosystems and human managed is critical for food production and human livelihoods, and directly links wild ecosystems with agricultural production systems. The vast majority of flowering plant species only produce seeds if pollinators move pollen from the anthers to the stigmas of their flowers. Without this service, many interconnected species and processes functioning within an ecosystem would collapse.

Current understanding of the pollination process shows that, while interesting specialized relationships exist between plants and their pollinators, healthy pollination services are best ensured by an abundance and diversity of pollinators.

In order to support bees in your garden you need to ensure there are blooms to support them throughout the seasons. There needs to be enough plants and a diversity of flowers within the garden as not all bees can use the same flowers. Also, providing water and nesting sites or commercially or home made homes is helpful.

When planning your garden Sue provided suggestions that encourages us to think like a pollinator:

Go Native-Pollinators are “best” adapted to local, native plants.

Bee friendly-Create pollinator friendly gardens.

Bee aware-observe pollinators and notice which flowers attract.

Bee Bountiful- Plant big patches of each species for better foraging efficiency.

Bee Diverse-Plant a diversity of flowering species. Use single form varieties ( roses, hollyhocks,dahlias)

Bee Showy-Flowers should bloom in your garden throughout the growing season.

Bee homey-Provide hollow twigs, rotten logs with wood boring beetle holes and leave stumps and old rodent burrows and fallen plant material for nesting bees.

Bee a little messy-most of our native bees (70%) nest underground so avoid using weed cloth or heavy mulch.

Bee Sunny-Provide areas with sunny bare soil that’s dry and well drained, preferably with south facing slopes.

Bee Gentle- Most bees will avoid stinging and use that behaviour only in self defence. Males don’t sting.

Bee Patient-It takes time for native plants to grow and for pollinators to find your garden.

And Bee Chemical Free-Pesticides and herbicides kill pollinators.

Let’s keep our native Nova Scotia Bees happy.

Helping Winter and Early Birds

Helping Winter and Early Birds

If your garden appeals to you year round, it probably appeals to your feathered neighbours, too.

8-waxwingsMany of the birds people long to see and also help during the winter and early spring are seed eaters. You know them, you love them; northern cardinals, American Goldfinches, chickadees, blue jays woodpeckers – the list goes on and on.


Happily for gardeners, these birds often prefer the seeds of some of the most common backyard plants. Well known favourites are sunflowers, purple coneflowers, zinnias, coreopsis and black-eyed Susan.

Front yard, backyard, container – it doesn’t matter. To entice birds to your place have feeders, flowers, water and trees and shrubs for shelter. Group them all together and you’ll have a winning combination.

Plant these garden favourites in spring. Sunflowers and many other annuals are easy to start from seed at the beginning of the growing season. For perennials you might spend a little extra money on established plants, but they’ll attract birds all year round.

Many of the plants birds enjoy are native which means they offer more than beauty. Most of them provide nectar for hummingbirds and bees, attract butterflies, have fruit for overwintering species and are low maintenance.

Resist the urge to deadhead the spent flower heads as they dry out in the fall. Leave them up, and before you know it the birds will be swooping in for the seeds, especially during hard and unusual winters.

Even in gardens that are full of bird attracting plants, it’s always a good idea to keep a bird feeder well stocked for those times when the snow is deep or the ground is frozen solid. Black oil sunflower seeds are relished by most species, even insect eaters. Hanging out a suet feeder and a tube feeder with Niger seed will cover all the basics. Be sure to check water sources daily in cold weather since ice forms quickly.

All the effort will say “Welcome” to the birds.

Summer Reflections

Summer Reflections

We all struggled with a very dry summer, many of us saving and recycling water, mulching to conserve moisture in our gardens & setting up water dishes for the birds and other wildlife that were also feeling the stress. We wondered if our wells & rivers would be replenished, and if our gardens would survive.

click on any picture for slide show

In spite of the drought, our gardens, both flower and vegetable produced. Yes, some failures were experienced, some blooms seemed late and some seemed to flower and produce fruit/seed very quickly.

For the last few weeks we have had weather that has been more like late summer. Our gardens have continued to produce. Some plants became confused producing late bloom. Pollinators still roamed the garden, snakes still found warm spots to sun bathe, insects & birds were in their  nitches  and salamanders continued to be visible when areas common to them were uncovered.

Now we must admit it really is fall. We have had beautiful rainbows following welcome rains,  the trees have their fall color, we have had a killing frost and a few snow flakes have been seen. Many gardener’s have been preparing for winter. Some gardener’s fastidiously tidy and mulch in the fall, easing springtime preparation. Others are selective doing fall cleanup, leaving some plant material as cover for wintering critters & seed heads that are a welcome food source for fall and winter birds.

Soon we will be all armchair gardening, planning optimistically for another season. I wonder what challenges await us in the upcoming year ?

The Endangered Atlantic Whitefish

The Endangered Atlantic Whitefish

The Endangered Atlantic Whitefish, Past, Present and Futureb97595864z-120160731150932000gliea12k-11

On Monday, September 19th, Andrew Breen gave a presentation on the history of the Atlantic Whitefish in the Petite Riviere and work currently being conducted by the Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation, Inland Fisheries and DFO Science, (Species at Risk) and the potential demise of the species.

Andrew Breen is a graduate of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Program at Malaspina – College, Nanaimo, B.C. A Chester resident for 14 years, Andy is currently employed by Coastal Action as a Fisheries Technician and Project Coordinator for the Atlantic Whitefish Recovery Project.

I did research for this blog & much of the information is from articles by Zack Metcalfe . I would like to give credit to Zack Metcalfe, freelance environmental journalist, author and writer of Shades of Green. He operates out of Halifax.

The Atlantic whitefish species, a member of the salmon family is so rare they can be found in only four lakes in all the world, three of which adjoin one another in Nova Scotia’s Lunenburg County.These three lakes, all near Hebbville, are the Hebb, Milipsigate and Minamkeak.

Andrew spoke to members and guests of Chester Garden Club telling us that the Atlantic whitefish is a beautiful species at first glance, silver on its sides and underbelly, with a back of either dark blue or green, and in these three lakes they grow to 20-25 centimetres. This was the very first species of fish to become formally “endangered” in Canada back in April 1984 and since then their circumstances haven’t improved much.

There was a time when they occupied two separate watersheds in Nova Scotia — the Petite Rivière, of which the above three lakes are a part, and Tusket River, on the province’s southern tip near Yarmouth. But damming and the introduction of invasive species destroyed the Tusket River population, its last confirmed member hooked in 1982. This left only Petite Rivière, an ecological stronghold of sorts, holding out against the growing threat of extinction.

Andrew told us the smallmouth bass, native to the Great Lakes of southern Ontario, have been in Petite Rivière since at least the late 1990s, likely introduced by anglers hoping to bring their favourite game fish closer to home. Since then these bass have multiplied and imposed their considerable appetites on this fragile ecosystem. Andrew’s cut them open in the past and found as many as 20 young-of-the-year gaspereau in a single bass’ stomach, and in one unfortunate case, the half digested body of an Atlantic Whitefish. These bass aren’t just out-competing whitefish for food and habitat; they’ve added whitefish to the menu.

And then there’s the chain pickerel, introduced sometime around 2010, Andrew guesses. While analyzing their stomach contents he’s discovered such oddities as muskrats, ducks, snakes, newts, frogs and in one famous instance, two baby snapping turtles, still alive when cut free from their fleshy prison. Andrew said a pickerel will eat anything that moves and is more than capable of taking an adult whitefish.

Together these invasive fish have grown like a cancer in Petite Rivière, infecting first Hebb Lake, then moving upstream to Milipsigate, somehow surmounting the dams separating these three water-bodies. Andrew said pickerel have recently reached Minamkeak Lake as well, the final link in the chain. But their spread hasn’t gone unchallenged.

In partnership with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and the provincial government, Andrew and his team have periodically gone electrofishing, sweeping known bass and pickerel habitat so these invaders can be paralyzed and removed en masse. In this way their populations have been controlled, but it’s doubtful they will ever be entirely done away with.

Andrew told us about an  enormous cage installed halfway up the fish way on the Petite Riviere that traps all ascending fish has allowed Andrew and his team to act as a sort of gatekeepers. The fish are netted, weighed and measured , and  all native species are returned. The  invasive species are are weeded out.whitefish2

Atlantic whitefish are fascinating in that some remain landlocked, living and breeding in the confines of freshwater lakes, while the rest spend their time in the coastal ocean, only travelling upstream to spawn.

Petite Rivière once hosted both, but when Hebb Dam and other obstructions were erected through this watershed the ocean dwellers were cut off from their spawning grounds and left to die downstream without giving rise to the next generation. Year after year, any whitefish foolish enough to fall below these dams was removed from the gene pool, until all courage was finally bred out of them.

Many of these obstructions have since been removed from Petite Rivière, but the urge to head seaward has not been rekindled in the Atlantic whitefish. Only 20 have ever been caught in the fishway, all in its first year of operation, but they were likely the result of captive-bred releases downstream. None have been seen since.

We haven’t seen an adult whitefish in two years,” he told us.

No one knows how many there are. The only evidence we have of their continued existence are the infant whitefish found each year in Hebb Lake at the base of Milipsigate Dam, carried over by the current and separated from their spawning parents.

Milipsigate Dam doesn’t have a fishway of its own, but it does have a rotary screwtrap, a bizarre contraption consisting of an empty metal cone held on its side, its open end facing the dam, kept in place by rafts and rope. In this way it funnels the majority of fish falling over the dam into a small holding tank at its base, where again Andrew and his colleagues take stock.

According to Andrew, people often haul boats into this watershed and fish despite regulations against doing so.

Apart from being the last remaining home of the whitefish these lakes are the water supply for Bridgewater, but people don’t often know that.  The people he’s encountered on these waters mean no harm, knowing no better than those who brought bass and pickerel here in the first place.

We learned that Petite Rivière can only support the Atlantic Whitefish as long as their work continues, removing invasive species and chauffeuring whitefish to safer waters.

All they can do is buy the species time.Andrew told us “Unless we do something fast, the (Atlantic whitefish) will become extinct..

The Mersey Biodiversity Facility in Milton, Queens County, was originally built to benefit local salmon but in 2000 it expanded its hatcheries to accommodate the Atlantic whitefish as well.

That year five adults were taken from Petite Rivière and used to spawn a captive breeding population, the first of its kind, so the life cycle of this animal could be better understood.

It was generally agreed the Atlantic whitefish wouldn’t be safe until they had established themselves outside of Petite Rivière, free from the menace of invasive species, and these captive-bred whitefish were just the pioneers for the job.

So from 2005-2008 nearly 12,000 of them were released in Anderson Lake, the fourth and final lake on Earth containing this uniquely Nova Scotian species. This was a trial run of sorts, to see how captive-bred whitefish fared in the wild.

Another 12,000 were released downstream in Petite Rivière between 2007-2009 in hopes of reviving the seafaring population, but it appears not to have worked. The Anderson Lake population persevered, however, with healthy growth observed among introduced whitefish from 2006-2010. There was yet no evidence they were reproducing on their own but these initial results were promising.

But before a final verdict could be obtained from Anderson Lake the whitefish captive breeding program was cancelled in 2012, a result of the Mersey Biodiversity Facility’s forthcoming closure. The few fish remaining in its tanks were dumped into the lake and this promising experiment in relocating the endangered whitefish was abandoned. There has been no monitoring of Anderson Lake since. Anderson Lake will have its pulse taken this fall, for the first time since 2012.

The Atlantic Whitefish is a species under siege in more ways than one.

Will they fall victim to a lack of funding and public awareness, or are the passions of the people and organizations mentioned enough to rescue them? Only time will tell.