Developments Since Last Year

last update Jun 2019

General info about me and the nursery from spring 2018 to spring 2019

"Spring 2019"?! Hah! Cold, wet, late; did I mention wet? The native trees and shrubs were about 10 days to 2 weeks late. (Rhododendrons have really enjoyed the past year though). June bugs (the ones that didn't drown before emerging) almost missed their month altogether. My "May ants", which I rely upon to clean the sticky remains of spilled sports drink out of the corners of the kitchen floor, made a brief foray and retired with their job still undone.

There are a few additions to the peony lineup this year, and a deletion, Also a few non-peonies are for sale, but that doesn't mean a general resurgence of the nursery.

An interesting observation: deer have been giving the hostas and rhodos here a miss for the past couple of years, though I know they have been through the yard. This spring a deer merely took some hosta samples and then left (even left some partly-chewed leaves laying about!), where in past years the whole batch would have been cropped to the ground. It then occured to me that the years when the deer were doing their most thorough raiding were those few years when I was spreading around 6-12-12 fertilizer to the plants in general, and specific rhodo fertilizer to the rhodos. When lack of energy and $ kept me from continuing with the chemical fertilizers, deer visits and damage tailed off. Before the fertilizers, deer would tend to lightly browse the hostas, but had left the rhodos alone.Well, this is all pretty unscientific as studies go (though CBC's Marketplace has made a lot more out of a lot less!!), but the implication seems to be that force-feeding or overfeeding plants may inhibit their ability to generate self-protective chemicals or may make them taste better for other reasons. Then again, maybe it's just coincidence, or the deer are finding better 'fixins' elsewhere in the neighborhood or there aren't as many of them or they've become shy or or or. Still, it's an interesting thought.

As for me, there have been some improvements physically over the year, though I've also managed to continue to mis-manage the comeback by episodically overtaxing legs and core. Mind governing body, (pun on 'taxing') and all that that entails. Anyways, the comeback is slower than I'd like, though at least I can mow a whole section of the lawn (40 min) at one go without repercussions so in theory I can do the whole mess in 4 days, which really means 2 weeks (did I mention the rains yet?). But I'm frustratingly time- and effort-limited on the bike. The weather this spring hasn't helped either, as far as allowing a planned and gradual buildup is concerned; too much is lost every time a half-week of rain comes along (usually seems to happen twice per week... but at least it's allowing me to get this update out.) Seems I've got water on my brain.

So for now: that's that for that.

General information about me and the nursery from spring 2014 to spring 2018.

Reasons why the nursery and website have been drastically shrinking year by year.

Despite, or perhaps because of!, maintaining a good activity rate throughout the seasons, in August of 2015 my core muscles decided to go on strike by getting hyper-tense and not recovering properly after activity. With effort from physiotherapist and massage therapist, they were untangled for awhile, but then continued to go on strike at intervals, each one involving a longer more difficult resolution and a shorter interval to the next. Of course the muscles involved were just getting weaker with each cycle, and when the core don't work nothing else does either so the weakness extended more and more to the entire body. Frequent visits to my GP and numerous blood tests revealed no reason for it; a specialist was also stumped. By fall of 2017 it was all I could do to walk 500m; getting out of or rolling over in bed were significant exercises. Finally, by accident, the cause was identified as long-term fallout from having had my gallbladder removed 20 years ago. At the time conventional medical wisdom told me that the only effect of its loss would be difficulty in digesting fats, no problem otherwise. But it turns out there is more to it; Naturopaths and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners are very aware of it-- and have solutions. Treatments take awhile, especially when the body has been without for as long as mine was. In hindsight, I can trace a slowly increasing frequency of muscle troubles over the years, but it was easy to ascribe that to aging until suddenly the curve tilted downwards and the muscles aged an equivalent of 30 years in a mere 3. I'm mentioning all this in the hopes that someone might accidentally read it who has had or is about to have a gallbladder removal, and might learn from my experience. To that person I cannot recommend strongly enough to see a Naturopathic doctor before getting the surgery or as soon as possible afterwards-- in some cases they can treat the cause and save the organ, but at least they can get you started on the right path for long-term health immediately following the surgery.

As for me, we have to a large extent reversed the damage but need to find a "maintenance protocol", and I'm working on restoring muscle strength. Only problem is that I never know that I'm doing too much until the day after so I am forever testing limits by exceeding them; it gets mighty tedious trying to get the lawns mowed at 10 minutes per day! So with rain forecast one tries a second 10 minute go after a few hours and maybe get away with it and maybe end up with a gut full of knots which would rather stay than go. A "full" day still only involves about 2 1/2 hours of activity, tops (up from about 30 minutes...). I'm getting in a lot of reading! and almost no gardening.

It's curious that about 5 years after my gallbladder was stolen I had a subconscious drive to bring a younger partner into the nursery (with disastrous results), and also that when I was planning my long cycling tour in Italy I had in the back of my mind the thought that if I didn't do it that year I wouldn't be able to do so later. My subconscious was exactly right in both cases, but was unable to enlighten me as to why.

General information about me and the nursery from spring 2012 to spring 2014.

The big change this year is that I have dropped all non-peonies from the catalogue and sales. The survivors will be planted around my own landscape (I hope; gradually at any rate). I'll continue to sell peonies although I'm no longer planting many more seeds for the future, as the whole issue of potting and porting of pots is becoming too much for my back. It's time to garden for myself rather than for the nursery! So I will continue to open only by appointment.

Last spring I made no announcement about it but just didn't open because I was off on a bike tour of Italy!, a grand time mostly; journal, for those interested. For obvious reasons I didn't want to announce that the place would be uninhabited for a couple of months. Then a couple of other health issues nicely spaced through the summer kept me from thinking about opening at all during the season.

The coyote drifted off after 2012, and the deer had a marvelous time chomping on Rhododendron leaves here last spring, noticed just before I left for Italy and continuing to denude some shrubs entirely while I was gone. But, Rhodos have a lot of dormant buds under the stem bark, so most of the munched branches put out new leaves eventually, although delayed somewhat while the plant was making the changes necessary to compensate for the missing buds.

General Information about me and the nursery and what has happened during 2011 until spring 2012.

The big change this year is that I will open only by appointment in 2012. (And mail order continues of course.) The reasons for this change are:

Most of last year's sales were through mail-order, and in fact there were only 8 drop-in customers all season. That's not really enough traffic to make it reasonable to be tied down to the area of the driveways. Granted that I can usually find something to do in that area while "between customers", but when it is the one sunny day in a stretch of cold or wet, there are other places I need to be (on the bike, to be exact); and often enough the priority work that I really need to get at is deeper into the woods from where I often can't see or hear people coming in. And I'm turning 60 this year, so my priorities are shifting. The nursery has been struggling along for 20 years now and has yet to put more into my pocket than it has taken out (yes, it's true, my rather small CF half-pension has been subsidizing the price of the plants sold to the public, which is a far cry from the way most retired officers operate: taking on another civil service or consulting to government job while also drawing a full pension, thus continuing to punish the taxpayer for their mediocrity (not that I didn't try, a little bit!)). It's time to let go of the regular hours, irregular as they may have been. Although it may sound like it, the above is not a litany of complaints, it's just a statement of how it is.

I did manage to pot up a few more species of peonies (it'll be a few years before they're saleable), but not much of anything else.

I'm also happy to report a coyote sighting as it wandered through my yard this spring; fairly thrilling, even though we were only looking at each other through a window. Finally some help against the deer!

General Information about me and the nursery and what has happened during 2010 until spring 2011.

A bit of continuing fall-out from the bike crash, I think, as I manage to continue to aggravate my lower back (I have a disc which was herniated years ago, and which makes its weakness known from time to time when I ask a bit too much of it) at intervals. Apart from time lost with physiotherapy and massage thereapy visits there was down time when I really couldn't get at the outdoor work; it even affected my cycling. Still, a bit of progress has been made and some batches of potting-up accomplished, most notably some more species peony seedlings from a nursery bed and a large number of Corydalis solida in the red and the pinkish-lilac forms. I did finally get at some weeding last fall, the first target being the brambles which keep coming up where unwanted. Also last summer a very unusual form of the fern-leaf peony (P. tenuifolia)came into flower, and according to experts hasn't been seen for a few decades. A small frison of excitement in the peony world but it will be years before I have enough to make useful divisions, and there is no other way to propagate it. And about 100 potted garden peony seedlings showed their first blooms. Many have sold, but many are still left. And lots more potted which should flower for the first time this year or next.

General Information about me and the nursery and what has happened during 2009.

In fall of '09 I finally did a two-week bike tour of NS. A great trip except for the crash that I managed (no other traffic involved) just inside the Park by Ingonish Beach. I managed to continue to bike the rest of the way home, not without a lot of decoration in the form of bandages. My right shoulder was pretty badly banged but slowly improved each day, and it wasn't until I got home and saw a physiotherapist that I discovered some ligaments holding the collarbone down were permanently stretched a bit. So the bike trip had fall-out for the nursery, in that I wasn't able to get at potting any more of the remaining plants from the field that fall while recovery progressed. By next fall the field had changed ownership and the remaining plants are probably lost to me unless I go knocking on a stranger's door this summer...

General Information about me and the nursery and what has happened since 2008 until winter 2009.

Had zero luck with hiring students: tried 2, each lasted 2 weeks (1 day per week, just!): about the time it took me to teach them to start to become useful. The last task for each of them was an introduction to shovel and wheelbarrow: maybe the thought of more of that physical labour was the last straw for them.

Good progress was made in bringing peonies in from the out-field, and there are now a lot of potted peonies sitting about in their pot farms eagerly getting ready to bloom (I hope!!). There are still some peonies to get down from the out-field but the important plants are here. A disappointment in the peony department was when a few mlokosewitschii's bloomed and proved themselves not to be mloko. That is, very non-yellow. This i would understand if they were garden-collected seed, but they were from rather more expensive supposedly wild-collected seed, and there is no reasonable explanation for this kind of a result! More positively, my apricot mloko hybrids set some decent amounts of seed in '08, and there was also seed for the first time on the mloko hybrid I have named "Ugly Duckling"; it will be interesting to see what develops from those seed lots.

There are a few additions to the plant list this year! Red forms of Corydalis solida in particular should be of interest; also Arisaema amurense is an obliging green-flowered relative of our Jack-in-the-Pulpit. It was however not the greatest summer in terms of weather and the nice days usually got dedicated to the bike rather than to the potting, at least until September at which time the necessary moving of peonies took over my brain.

After 23 years sharing my space with a dog or two, I am now dogless and expect to remain so. The very good natured little Gershwin developed a tumor on and behind one eye and although he remained fairly active and happy eventually he wasn't able to keep food down so with the end clearly written I decided it was best to avoid any more unpleasantness for him after 13 years of companionship and so had him put to sleep a week before Christmas. I've had better holiday seasons...

General Information about me and the nursery and what has happened since 2007 until winter 2008.

Last year I started getting my head back into plants again, although at the same time spending more time on the bicycle enjoying the open road etc. The main problem with being a cycling gardener is in trying to resolve the conflict that arises in good weather: plants or bike? bike or plants? (fish or cut bait?) So, some weeks more of one, others more of the other; sometimes not much of either... Anyways, it was the end of the summer before I started potting new plants again, concentrating heavily on Peonies. Which means that rumours of the demise of the nursery may have been premature.

Still not sure if I am ready to hire help again or not.

In spring I had discovered that many of the plants in one of the peony fields were not doing as well as expected and rather than progressing to flowering size seemed to have shrunk. I figured maybe it was the weeds and dryness getting to them (the field is quite exposed and unirrigated). For this and other reasons I decided to start transfering them into large pots to hold at the nursery where I could keep a better eye on them, and give some of the species some shade and better moisture as required. When I went up to the field to start digging them, I discovered an interesting thing: the plants that were doing best were the ones surrounded by weeds (enjoying the shade, I guess). But every one of the stunted plants I dug up had a bunch of ant coccoons under the root crown. So I think it was the extra aeration of the soil around the plants, by the ant tunnels, that caused them to be too dry. I think also that the ants may have been trimming the fine feeder roots where they impinged on the tunnels, which will not have helped. Although I had planned to move the peonies into pots with a rootball of dirt, it seemed reasonable in the circumstances to leave the dirt, ants and all, in the field and give the plants a fresh and happier start. Shifting the peonies into pots is going to take a few autumns but a pretty big dent has been made in the field, including most of the ones the had taken up residence with.

Having crossed the psychological potting barrier, I also managed to pot up some more Magnolia sieboldii, Trillium erectum, Helleborus hybrids and Arisaema triphyllum (native Jack-in-the-Pulpit). I expect to get at more of the numerous batches of non-Peony seedlings which have been in need of potting up for more than awhile, come spring. Easy enough to say in January!! At least, more potting of plants to sell is in the plan for next year, broadening the inventory. Also in the plan is to bicycle around the Cabot Trail next fall-- but not just around, also to and back; it will take a bit of getting ready for.

There are not very many additions to my stock of plants this year (due to a couple of years with little potting activity) but I'm happy to finally be just about ready to sell the Golden Peony, Paeonia mlokosewitschii. I hope to have a few come into flower and be saleable this year, and certainly expect to have numbers available next year at the latest, from several seed sources both wild and cultivated. This species was the one which most hated life in the field, even without ants, and in fact the most advanced plants were growing in my yard in 1 gallon pots, despite being 2 years younger than the field plants.

I was surprised last summer by peony seedlings which were being held here in 1 gallon pots coming into bloom while others from the same batch which were planted in the field were still a year or two from that stage (in other words, a lot of wasted effort for no gain!)

There will not be a paper catalogue this year.

Things learned recently (this is from last year but is worth keeping around, I think):
1. Hellebores (at least the orientalis hybrids) are quite happy in full sun here, and more vigorous than in shade. Just have to make sure their soil stays moist.
2. A delightful surprise of an early yellow peony, Paeonia tomentosa, first to bloom of all the P's I'm growing, and adaptable from open sun to woodland shade; I find it almost every bit as good (the foliage is different) as the better-known Golden Peony (P mlokosewitschii, of which I still haven't any big enough to sell) but earlier and with no overlap in bloom. Learned lots about other P's too.
3. An excellent bait for a mousetrap is, believe it or not, margarine (specifically I use the Imperial stuff but I imagine any other vegetable oil type should work too). Six days, six applications, six dead mice (one of the curses of the warm fall I guess); seventh application still waiting for a victim but I am out of mice for now apparently, thank heaven; it was ridiculous for awhile! (joys of country living)

Some strange things have been going on in the world of e-mail the past year or so thanks to the folks who get off on writing software viruses, including servers dumping some valid messages during spam overloads, spam filters filtering out non-spam etc; in short, e-mail transmission has become less than 100% reliable. I will always reply to e-mail!, usually the next day and rarely outside of a few days, so if you e-mail to me and don't see a reply within a week you should assume that something has gone wrong in webspace and please phone or write me by letter mail.

A few years ago I fell in with a cycle touring club from the Valley, the Centennial Cycling Club ("an eating club with a cycling disorder") which has an interesting and varied program of Saturday outings from the mundane to the ridiculous, and have chosen to allow this to continue to affect the nursery's business schedule. Please check the "Location and Contact" page for details.

Good growing,
Leo Smit


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