Trees of the Northern Forests

island - 1

Stepping out into the vast forests of Southern Ontario invokes a sense of the magnificence and resilience of the Northern forest trees. Here, on this island in Algonquin Park, where a fire cleared out all vegetation in the mid 1930’s, towering shapes of White Pine or Pinus strobus, form the most striking feature in the landscape. These trees can grow up to 80′ in height towering over the forest canopy and can live over 300 years.

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Kayaking along the shore of these glacial lakes, one of the most prevalent tree is the Eastern White Cedar or Thuja occidentalis. They favor impossible sites at the water’s edge, practically growing out of huge boulders in all sorts of contorted areal configurations.

White Pine 2 - 1

This example is by no means unusual on lakes all over Ontario.  some trunks extend twenty to thirty feet out to hold their canopies over the water and providing a very unique habitat for fish and other aquatic life who seek out the shade and refuge the massive fronds provide.

hemlock - 1

I spotted this Hemlock or Tsuga canadensis, about fifty feet in height, growing out of this boulder in one of my hikes.  That entire root system covered and area approximately twenty feet around.  The oldest living Hemlock in Algonquin Park has been documented to be 454 years old!

When traveling to these Northern woods I am awed by the power of the natural world.  To see these giant trees surviving against all odds though harsh winters, scalding summers, fending off the onslaught of insect armies and then, providing wildlife with food and shelter!  They are rooted in place like giant sentinels towering over the forest. Then one day, inevitably, they will relinquish their story and riches to start anew upon the forest floor.

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
John Muir



The Deadliest Product in your Shed

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It appears the science is in and in all recent studies the reality of the toxicity of Monsanto’s Roundup Herbicide is coming to light. The results are downright terrifying. If you read the findings of scientists studying its effects, the story that develops is one that belongs in a science fiction plot except it is real and we are uncovering the truth more fully every day.  It is now linked to the majority of chronic modern diseases in Western society.

Glyphosate, developed by Monsanto and billed as a “safe, biodegradable and environmentally friendly” is anything but.  In combination with other additives that Monsanto is not required to disclose, this herbicide becomes systemic in the plants it is sprayed on.  It is now known that it will persist in our soils up to twenty years after the last application. Originally designed to be used with GMO crops, like corn, sugar,soybean and wheat in order to control weeds in the fields, it started getting our of control when the weeds became resistant and farmers applied more and more product to compensate.  It is estimated that in the last couple of decades 2.6 billion pounds of Roundup has been dumped in our fields. As we are finding out, not only does it not biodegrade, but because it is systemic, it is not just in the plant, but also in the fruit the plants produce, in the soil, in our water, and as a result in our bodies now as well.  According to Dr. Stephanie Seneff, research scientist at MIT, glyphosate residues “enhance the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and toxins in the environment to disrupt normal body functions and induce disease.”  She has linked it to diseases like Cancer, Autism, Allergies, Parkinson’s  just to name a few.  I urge you to take the time to read the study and and watch the video “The Horrific Truth about Monsanto’s Roundup” were Dr. Seneff  gives the specifics of how this insidious, poisonous herbicide affects our bodies.

As gardeners we are in close contact with our individual environments.  Every decision we take affects the natural world and our own health and that of our families and pets. Let’s go out and garden in a responsible and natural way. Happy organic gardening!

Related reading:

Widely used herbicide linked to Cancer. Scientific American.

Study finds Monsanto’s glyphosate in 100% of wines tested -even organic ones.

Glyphosate fact sheet

“We have some very suggestive evidence that the use of pesticides and herbicides affects our mental function and brain physiology, including increasing the incidence of Parkinson’s disease up to seven times in those most heavily exposed to them. This is not exactly a surprise when we realize that pesticides are designed to be neurotoxic to the pests.”
Gabriel Cousens M.D., Conscious Parenting: The Holistic Guide to Raising and Nourishing Healthy, Happy Children



Who I Am and Why Am I here

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Many of us ask ourselves this question at different points in our lives. But when, I ask myself, did I become passionate about plants? And at what point did that passion morph into a love affair with Nature and the environment?

I am passionate about plants.  It started as a hobby, planting a few things here and there, keeping more and more house plants and then soon realizing that my happiest moments were outside, gardening. All this as I held a demanding full time  job in retail management.  And all of it in a span of thirty some years. So when I retired, eight years ago, I enrolled in a Master Gardeners program. I felt I wanted more, so I continued and earned a Certification in Horticulture and Landscape Design. I started my blog in April of 2009. I have posted close to ninety six blogs on all different subjects.

As to the Why I am here: The more I garden and write, the more I have come to realize that, as a gardener, I have also a duty, a responsibility to be mindful of the environment and of all the creatures that make this patch of land their home. I come across them all the time, toads and frogs, garter snakes, salamanders under rocks and a myriad of insects and birds that call my garden home.  I have come to realize that my actions in the landscape affect their survival and the future of their progeny.  It has become my mission to create a integrated pest control system in my landscape that nurtures not just the plants, but also all the creatures that are part of that habitat. It is also my duty to share all I have learned with those who are seeking the knowledge.

Patricia Davis

“We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
~Aldo Leopold


Fall and Conservation

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I love the colors in the fall.  Fall is the time for Moms to shine. In the mist of the warm hues of the fallen leaves, Chrysanthemums or Mums, regales us with their impossible abundance of flowers.  In the above photo, my first and earliest Mum, purchased so many years ago, before I became obsessed with plants and varieties, that I lost track of the name of this cultivar, but year after year, it is the brightest, longest and latest bloomer in the entire garden.

Most importantly, fall is a time for restoration and conservation. Trees and shrubs, responding to the shortening of daylight and lower temperatures,  shed their leaves and concentrate in sending their energy and carbohydrates to their roots and go dormant.  Perennials, having fulfilled their season’s life cycle, just discard of all their visible presence so that only their invisible roots remain. In the process, and by design, we are left with a wealth of plant material that in turn is meant to feed and restore the soil around the plants themselves. It is the earth’s recycling process.  Its means of renewal. Replacing what was taken or depleted.  What a marvelous earth we live on!

But this is not all! All the forest and garden creatures that live among us also rely in this fall of riches to eat, as in the case of the acorns that so abundantly blanket our grounds. Or to complete their life cycle like so many Lepidoptera and lightening bugs, and to find refuge from inclement weather in the months to come, like reptiles and small mammals.

So that being said, it is clear to me that armed with this information, it is necessary for us to change the way that we garden and conserve as much of the fallen leaves as possible.  Specially those in the garden beds.  I would like to say just leave them until spring.  Smaller leaves will all but disappear by then. Larger leaves such as oak and maple sp. can be mulched and recycled to put back in the soil as mulch.  I would not leave large leaves on the grass all winter but run them over with a mulching mower and leave them.  They provide nutrients to the grass as well. Find more information on recycling leaves here.

“There is something incredibly nostalgic and significant about the annual cascade of autumn leaves.”
Joe L. Wheeler

Related reading

Great Plant Pairings Series

Brunnera 'Dawson's White and Louisiana Iris 'Red Velvet'

Brunnera ‘Dawson’s White and Louisiana Iris ‘Red Velvet’

This combination stopped me on my tracks a couple of days ago.  They are planted next to a Darmera peltatum, with its gigantic leaves that make quite a statement.

 Darmera peltatum, and Equisetum

Darmera peltatum, and Equisetum

Here is Darnera, or Umbrella Plant, today. An exotic plant on its own, but paired with Equisetum or Horsetail, well, I love the effect.  The photo does not do it justice. I love how Darnera awakens in the spring setting out an elegant sphere that opens into a single compounded flower:

 Darmera peltatum, blooms

Darmera peltatum, blooms

The leaves in the background are not part of this plant.  It is Alchemilla mollis or Lady’s Mantle. Darnera does not put out any foliage until the flower turns into a beautiful bunch of red berries.  This photo was taken May 2.

Both plants are in a fairly wet area of the garden and they have made it through some pretty harsh winters. Deer resistant too, has not been bothered at all since planted  three years ago.

“There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.”
–  Francis Bacon 



The purchase of a couple of small strawberry plants three years ago has paid off like not other investment in my garden. These little plants multiply by runners, are perennials so you have them year after year and are very easy to grow in practically any plot of available ground or container.

There are many reasons to grow strawberries but for me, the most important is that strawberries consistently rate at the top of the “dirty dozen”  list. Loaded with pesticides and fungicides, even strawberries labeled “organic” can’t be trusted because the land they are grown in is generally already contaminated. Home grown strawberries are sweeter and more nutritious because they are picked at the prime of ripeness. They are soft and silky and melt in your mouth.


Cover your patch with fine bird netting to prevent birds and small critters from getting them before you do!  So for the last couple of years, starting on the first of June and continuing the entire month, I have more strawberries that we can eat in a day. That is fine because they freeze well and if you are so inclined make amazing desserts and preserves.

“The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.” 
― Joel SalatinFolks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World

April News… Spring?

Amelanchier canadensis

Amelanchier canadensis

A furry of activity  has been cut short by another spell of cold weather.  Thankfully, we have not experienced a late frost, so around town, Serviceberry, numerous Magnolias, Redbuds and the infamous Bradford Pear (useless, exotic invasive species), are all in bloom.  I love spring (summer and fall) in Pennsylvania!  The succession of blooms starts early in February when our Hellebores and Crocus start pocking out of the snow, and continues right to fall.

I went back to last year’s blog about my spring chores  and realized how late I am in starting my tomatoes this year.  There is always the option of buying transplants from reputable greenhouses.  It saves a lot of the work and space indoors and in the end, you only want one or two of each variety anyway. I do have several varieties of lettuce and many more of assorted greens coming up in my raised beds in the vegetable garden. Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and kiwi are trimmed and got a nice dose of compost last fall, and the cleanup in the flower beds is slowly under way. Most important of all, remember to enjoy it all.  Take some time to take it all in and marvel at the resilience of nature, the gift it bestows upon us each season and to remember to share out habitat (no matter how big or small) with the wild life around us!

Spring is nature’s way of saying,  ‘Let’s Party!’   Robin Williams

Related articles:

More on spring chores

More reading on pruning