Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Not about Plants this time-- Jan Lisiecki Recital

This is worth writing about (and it fits into here better than any of the other blogs I do.)

Last Friday night after a recital (good but not outstanding) in Wolfville by soprano Wendy Nielson I found out by accident that the young (15 now) Calgary pianist Jan Lisiecki was performing there the next night. I'd heard some of his playing and an interview with him on CBC radio last spring and perhaps even earlier and had been impressed by what I heard musically and also the personality aspect. So out on the bike on Saturday I thought about making another quick raid on Wolfville by car(!!) and although I had used the car every day that week (outrageous, I know it) I decided that it was unlikely he would play the Maritimes again in my lifetime since he was certain to be in worldwide demand very soon if he isn't already, so this was really a chance that I couldn't pass up. So I went. And am ever so glad that I did.

At the beginning of each half of the program and at a few points during it, he spoke to the audience about the music and to pass on his gratitude to the organizers. He was well-spoken, had a confident manner, connected well with the audience, and spoke without notes. All to the good.

His program started with a couple of works by Bach, then a piece by the Canadian composer Mozetich, and then a set of Chopin Etudes before the intermission and 6 other Chopin works after it. Bach was spoiled for me in my childhood by being forced to play too much of it for competitions. But I enjoyed it as a program opener. Mozetich: well, maybe I had heard the name on the radio but that was about it. But the piece Jan played was very good and I'm grateful to him for introducing me to this composer, and I think he did the composer justice in his treatment of the piece.

But the Chopin: my God! I can't speak to the technical aspect of his playing; I'm sure there is room for improvement, but there was nothing jarring to this set of ears. Let's just say his fingers were nimble and danced over the keyboard with speed and grace, but also with strength. I very much enjoyed his phrasing of the music with various tempo changes and the full range of volume dynamics from an exquisite featherweight touch to the full force of his body. And he played from his heart, baring his soul and that of the music to the audience. It was fantastic!!

Of the pieces that I knew from recordings, his performance suffered by comparison with none of the artists I've heard. Of the ones that were new to me, it was just magic.

I knew that piano music could make me weep, but when he played the Chopin Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp minor I discovered to my surprise that in the right hands a piano could weep. Cellos, vioins, even horns-- yes, I had heard them weep. But a piano-- I wouldn't have credited it. Now I know better.

Following the oh so moving Nocturne, Jan concluded with a tour de force in the Andante spianato et grand polonaise brillante, E-flat Major, Op. 22 with a verve and intensity and brilliance suitable for the evening's finale. Breathtaking, and I was jumping out of my skin.

For readers of this blog, if you get a chance to go to one of his performances, don't hesitate-- just GO! I don't think you'll regret it unless you truly dislike classical piano as a genre.

There was an amusing incident at the end of the intermission when Jan, acting as his own timekeeper, stepped out onto the stage ready to commence-- but the lighting/electrical tech wasn't as punctual so Jan caught everyone by surprise, speaking into a dead microphone with the houselights still up and the stage spots off. Good for him! I liked that when he was ready he went for it. May he continue to keep stage managers on their toes!

The only disappointment of the evening was in no way the young pianist's fault. It would have been nice if the organizers had put a closed-circuit tv camera on the keyboard for display to the audience on an overhead screen; the piano seems to me to be the only instrument which blocks the view of the performer's hands from about half of the audience, and it would have been nice to see the hands in action as well as hearing the music.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Appropriate Colours

In the prime of bloom just in time for World Cup Sunday, the very late-blooming Azalea "July Jester" vibrant in Oranje. A good choice.

Somewhere around abouts are flowers of yellow and flowers of red but they're not co-located so the "other side" is unrepresented here.

Although really, I'm not particular about who wins the thing just so long as it is a good and interesting game with lots of skills on display, a good pace, and a referee disinterested in blowing his whistle.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Worth the 17 year wait

Okay, first an addendum on the Hen-and-Chicks of 15 June. About a week later our paths converged again! The chicks were about half again as large, and flying by then (sort of)-- short bursts, and not too high, but then again Spruce Grouse are not exactly a tree-top flier anyways. And then about a week after that there they were again. The chicks were now twice the size of the initial encounter, quite a bit more confident and spread out quite a bit over a larger area, and flying quite well. I only saw about a half-dozen, but am not sure if there has been attrition or if I just didn't see all of them (quite likely since they were in thick undergrowth).


In 1993 (give or take a year) I got a pair of tiny Styrax japonica (Japanese Snowbell Tree, or Japanese Silverbell) tissue-culture starts through the Rhododendron Society of NS. They were rated as marginally hardy for NS, but at the price of the tissue culture plants it was worth trying out new things and pushing the envelope regularily. Along with the rest of that year's tissue culture plants they were eventually planted out in a nursery bed back in the woods, where I checked on them from time to time as they continued to grow slowly. One of the pair, meant to be pink-flowered if I recall, was lost one winter after surviving several years, the other just kept growing slowly but didn't flower that I can recall, although I have a vague recollection of a carpet of petals one year when I made a rare visit to that area. Early in June this year I noticed that it was covered with what looked like either buds or fertilized ovaries, I couldn't tell and hadn't been past that way earlier in the spring. Over a few weeks they remained stalled as far as size and apparent development were concerned.

This weekend I remembered to go back and check on the tree (it's now about 20 feet tall, having shot up with the wetter summers and milder winters of the last few years). Surprise, absolutely full of flowers, with an enchanting fragrance easily discernable from 20metres away. Stunning to most of the senses. So here's some photos; they're not great, it's hard to get the level of detail needed to appreciate the more distant views.
Oh yeah, in the first photo it is NOT the foreground grey stick with the pileated woodpecker excavations... but you knew that...

Monday, June 28, 2010

The main show of Garden Peonies

A week and a bit ago the Paeonia lactifloras (the Chinese Peony, or what I call the Garden Peony) started popping into bloom in all their variety of forms and every shade of colour from white to red. How many shades of pink are there anyways?!! Here some views of the groups of potted lactifloras (and some hybrids mainly involving lactiflora parentage) which I've been growing from seed, for sale. Most are blooming this year for the first time, and I have so far photographed and labelled (with a personal number) just over 100 of them, with perhaps 15 or 20 with buds yet to open.

Of course, this being a main peak of the peony season we have been found by heavy rains. First the mini-deluge out of nothing yesterday evening, and today with an extended rainfall of varying weight but large accumulation. So these photos of yesterday's fine upstanding plants have would today feature bedraggled or mushed flowers with some recumbent stems (some of the plants have double or semi-double flower forms, which are notorious for lax stems)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Weather Moment

A strange bike ride today, the closest I've ever come to a triathalon session-- and really, I'm not fond of the genre! Felt more than a bit like Joe Btfsplk (per L'il Abner comic) too.

Following a dreary forenoon and early afternoon, the weather started to clear per the forecast towards 3-ish. A look at the weather radar website around noon showed no new rain advancing within 300 km. So, at closing time I got ready and went out for a 30km ride. Underway about 1630. On the outbound leg, a wee shower barely wetting the road for a few km at about 1645. From the midway turnaround point, an awfully dark band of cloud ahead. 10km from home, started to get wet. Passing shower, thought I. NOT. The rain got heavier and heavier, eventually exceeding the downpour stage and becoming a deluge. My usually very effective sweat band washed my eyes with several days accumulated sweat salts, which had the left eye and sinus still stinging hours later (or maybe a passing car sprayed me with traces of gasoline or oil from the road or it's own leak, since my right eye recovered from the salt quite quickly). Thankfully (?!) it was at least a warm rain, about 17deg C according to my bike computer- okay for 20 minutes but would have become chilling aver a longer distance. And it was "home roads" so not being able to see much of the road didn't matter too much.

By the time I showered (for real, with plumbed water, nice and hot) the sun was breaking through again. Perfect!

Now to the interesting part. I called up the weather radar webpage again and looked at 3 hours of history. No weather returns at 1500, or for awhile afterwards. But then just at 1640 a few light blue spots of "light rain" popped up on the radar over the hills just to the west of me, and quickly bloomed into a large patch about 30km north-south by 50km east-west, with green, yellow and even a bit of red intensity in the central area right over my route!! Just came from nowhere and dumped on ME!!!
So even if I had looked at the weather radar at the last minute before leaving home there would have been no sign of rain anywhere to the west (and that to the east was far away too and going further). Doomed. Just... doomed.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Not your plant of that name, the Sempervirens species.

A couple of mornings ago when headed towards the woods to do some overdue weeding I created a huge upset amongst the local wildlife. Walking by the bark/sawdust pile the morning exploded into a great commotion consisting of a Spruce Grouse hen running noisily across my feet (almost) and about a dozen chicks (I had never seen more than a half dozen in previous years, but then I had never encountered them on open ground before either) going silently the other way and disappearing into the undergrowth. The hen of course did not disappear, but continued with the noisy fake broken-wing flapping thing, along with squawking away at me. When I wouldn't take the bait of following her, she then changed the vocal repertoire to mewing and crying, sounding for all the world like a lost kitten or puppy. Weird. So I allowed myself to be chased out of the area so the family could regather itself and move on; they seem to be fairly mobile and I've never found them in the same place twice in a row-- not that I go looking for them, just that I stumble across them in different places. This lot had been quite a bit deeper in the woods the previous day.

So once they had moved on, I noticed a curious depression about a foot across, in the bark and sawdust, from which all the big chunks of bark and wood scraps had been removed (the picture below). I'm guessing they had been taking a mid-morning nap in the sun. Looking closely, I could see a number of individual smaller depressions in the main one, I suppose where some of the chicks had gone for extra comfort; unfortunately they don't show up all that well in the photo since the sun was close to overhead: but they are there!
A couple of breast feathers got left behind in the rush of departure.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Paeonia peregrina

One of the later species to bloom here, Paeonia peregrina is variably blood red in colour, ranging from quite dark to brilliant. The first photo was taken on a cloudy afternoon, the second two days later in sunshine.

Foliage is distinctly different from any other species. This species doesn't bllom in my shade test patch, and the stems are a bit floppy (or lax, if you will) in my partially shaded bed; so I recommend it for full sun only, in Nova Scotia. A plant in the Annapolis Valley of the same seed batch bloomed a week to two weeks before mine.

Also in bloom here still are a few plants of P veitchii (most are bloomed out), some early obovata's, a few officinalis, some of the lactiflora hybrids; lactiflora's are starting to colour in bud and very close to opening-- a couple more days of sun and they'll pop.

Hmm, World Cup games, the bike on sunny days-- it will be hard to find time to write posts for awhile...

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Seed Surprise

Several years ago I bought some Paeonia tenuifolia seed, hand-pollinated from the double form (but the pollen of course from the single form), from a European botanist. Two flowered last year in the "ordinary" blood-red single form, but this year one of three buds was looking very fat quite early on and surprised me by being this bright pink; and then as if that wasn't enough, a fully double form as well. Gorgeous, and almost the size of my hand. Floppy-stemmed yes, but I can forgive it that. The two photos are 3 days apart.

The other two buds this year will be red, and from the size probably single. And there are about a half-dozen plants that haven't shown their stuff yet. So there is still hope for a double red, but even if the rest are all single I'm not complaining-- this plant alone has been more than worth the purchase and the wait.
No stamens, but a full set of carpels.
Interestingly, the double red form is said to be a couple of weeks later to bloom than the single form, but this double pink is about exactly in synch with my single reds. It's probably no surprise that it is at its best during the concluding and exciting week of this year's Giro d'Italia bike race!
Looking at some of yesterday's photos, and today's, how can anyone wonder that I love growing peonies from seed?!
Unrelated to the above: Rain today, so no further developments in the Ugly
Duckling department.

Variations on the Theme of P. mlokosewitschii

A sampling of some new mloko's from this year; some may be hybrids or they may all be natural variation within the species, I just don't know. There are other variations from previous years that I didn't photograph this time around, for a change. And there were several new "ordinary yellow" ones which do not feature in this post.

Nice pink picotee on the petal edges.

Faded past it's prime here, this one was a bit peachy in colouration, more reddish than the "apricot" types.

An "apricot" variant faded and past it's prime by a day or two. The apricot forms generally have a more spicey but sweet fragrance than the yellows, in my limited experience.

Day one of a new seedling of what I call the "Ugly Duckling" colouration: it buds and opens with a drab dusty rose colour, and then as the days go by becomes more and more yellow except for red veins (which may or may not fade completely on the last day). As it reaches its prime the ugly duckling is revealed to be a lovely swan (per the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale), which I find appropriate for the transformation of the flower too...

...So here it is again 3 and a bit days later. Unfortunately I didn't get there with the camera until almost 8pm, so the flower is closed and the light is dim and the colours subdued and blued, but you can see that a transformation is in progress!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Aaaghhh! Everything's Opening at Once

Peonies, that is.

With the sudden warmth, the garden has been flooded with the fragrance of the Golden Peony, P mlokosewitschii, (no photo today) which is not as sweet as the later lactifloras, different and distinctive but pleasant. P steveniana might be contributing a bit to the overall ambient fragrance of the yard, but it is mostly mloko. And definitely marvelous! I hadn't noticed mloko's fragrance to be so pervasive before-- used to have to get my nose right into it. Maybe all the fresh air from cycling has sharpened my sense of smell. (Or maybe it just takes 20 years to recover from the miasma of fuel, wet paint and dense cigarette smoke which was the atmosphere of HMC Ships back then (I understand they've done away with the ciggies lately, but maybe not))

Paeonia tenuifolia subsp lithophila, a dwarf form of the Fern Leaf Peony. Single flower, and a group of 4 plants.

Two flowers this year on the newly-named Paeonia x steveniana cultivar "Contador's Triple Crown". You can read about it at the link below; but it isn't for sale... Due to the sudden heat wave the highlight rose edging of the petals is overly faded, and a better look is at the linked page. http://plants.chebucto.biz/plants/PeonyContadorsTripleCrown.html

A pale-pink flower on mloko-like foliage. This plant grown from seed labelled as "Paeonia mlokosewitschii/ wittmaniana/ caucasica hybrid"

And a white, or at least dead pale, form of P. steveniana.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

More New Openings in the Peony Department

Paeonia tenuifolia, the Fernleaf Peony, has opened in full sun. The dwarf subspecies in a bed which is a bit shaded in the mornings is not open yet. There are 2 plants in this photo; on the left, a dark red proper species; on the right, the larger plant is probably a hybrid (it has yet to set seed) and has flowers with a more magenta tint.

Paeonia steveniana, Steven's Peony if one must put a common name to it, as open as it will get. A cloudy day today, so the colour is intensified; it is never that intense of a yellow here.

And here it is behind a crowd of Paeonia mascula and some Paeonia caucasica (a subsp of mascula and pretty much identical to my eye.

A few more buds of steveniana, behind a few plants of another mascula close relative, Paeonia kesrouanensis. (More information about this plant, or any other, by looking up earlier posts in the index.)

And unexpectedly, a plant of the Golden Peony, Paeonia mlokosewitschii, a couple of days earlier than expected. And filling the yard with it's fragrance at an intensity I've never noticed before.

Good news for customers, there are about 15 potted plants from seed of this species in bud (will probably open sometime in the next week)-- not all will be yellow-flowered which is why I have to see the flowers before I can sell the plants- at least one looks like it will be magenta (mascula cross), and some may be apricot or very pale yellow, almost white. Can;t wait to see it (but have to!!)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Return of the Natives

It doesn't take long for the pollinated flowers of Red Maple to start showing the little winged fruits. The stems elongate significantly and contribute a lot of colour by staying red for some time while the wings green up a bit earlier. Incidently, the tree whose flowering I photographed earlier has no seed set at all; it was the first nearby red maple tree in flower (maybe because of proximity to the house?) and the flowers were open when we had our last (hopefully) snowfall of the spring, accompanied by over 45 hours of very cold temperatures. I have to guess that killed the open flowers although I couldn't tell at the time, while the ones still in bud survived to open later and produce seed.

Red elderberry, flowers and leaves pretty much fully deployed. A very open shrub, even in full sun which this one isn't. Showy enough, and easy care since I don't even have to plant it.

Speaking of native things, this year's black fly thermometer is out of calibration. Usually they only show up when the temperature is at or above 13C (by my thermometer in shade). But we've been seeing that so seldom that they're starting to buzz around at about 10C. The wind has seldom been still this year so they only manage to bug me during occasional lulls, which is good for me in the garden but a drag (one way) on the bike.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Race for Third

Hard on the heels of P. tomentosa comes P. mascula, the Male Peony. Some years there is no overlap, but this year there is. Which means getting out the paintbrush to pollinate the yellow Woolly one before the bees mess up the genetics. However, down in the shady woodland bed tomentosa rules alone with mascula not even showing colour yet (that is, not yet to the stage of the background bud in this photo). This is a late afternoon photo, with the flower just closing up as clouds move in.

Many others of the round-lobed leaf species are showing colour in their buds and are not too far from bursting forth either.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Variation in the Woolly Peony

A plant of Paeonia tomentosa is showing reddish tinges in foliage and in the petals. The foliage tint was more obvious and very attractive earlier in the spring, but even now is noticeable. The buds showed a bit too, but I was curious to see if that remained once the flowers opened. The second photo shows two plants together, for contrast.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Peony Season Officially Comences here (meanwhile in Edmonton...)

Yesterday afternoon (a gorgeous sunny cycling +23C afternoon!) the buds were still tight and showing no more colour than in the photos of 2 days ago. This morning, P. tomentosa the Woolly Peony was a yellow ball but not yet open, but by mid-afternoon the sun (although cooler than yesterday) had worked its magic and the first flower was open. 10 days ahead of 2006, 21 days ahead of 2007 (that's according to the previous entries in this blog).

In other good news on the tomentosa front, seedlings of this species are up so in a year or two I will once again be selling this species.

Meanwhile, P. mairei also opened after having had nicely coloured buds for several days (20 days ahead of 2007). However, we can see in the photos that these have some frost damage from the last snow day, more from the temperatures than from the snow itself; this probably retarded the opening of the buds by a few days. The frost damage is apparent in asymetrical petal shapes and in the outer rings of dead anthers (more noticable in the semi-open flower). Stigmas are very small too, as can be seen vaguely in comparison with the 2007 photo.

Glaucidium palmatum also opened over the weekend; this is considered by some botanists to be a member of the Peony family, although a different Genus. Horticulturally I find few similarities, but my analysis is only skin deep.

Meanwhile my sister in Edmonton posted photos of yesterday's wet snowfall which looks close to 5" deep... Strangely, if I recall correctly (and there's no guarantee of that!) Edmonton was having about +20C temperatures in sun during the last wintery blast here.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Spring Progresses

Indian Pear, Prunus pennsylvanica, a small native tree which usually paints the roadsides red and white with its' new leafs and flowers for a few weeks starting on the Victoria Day Weekend. But two weeks early this year. Its' flowering also usually marks the beginning of blackfly season, and does so again this year. (But I expect a short and sparse blackfly season again this year.) Can be grown as a shrub; it takes well to pruning (an unintended pun on the Genus...)

Flowers of the Cornelian Cherry, Cornus mas. This is the first time I have seen this shrub flower for me, although it is a bit hidden and I somewhat gave up on it years ago so haven't been looking attentively; for a first flowering it has quite a mass (again a naming pun!!) of flowers on it, most of them out of the frame of th camera. Planted in about 1991 or 2, one of the first tissue culture plants I bought through the Rhododendron Society. It's been a bit of a wait.

Red Barrenwort, Epimedium x rubrum, a fine slow-growing groundcover sub-shrub. Most years there is some old foliage which survives to hide the new growth and flowers a bit, but this year for some reason nothing. Maybe eaten by rabbits or something.

Maire's Peony, Paeonia mairei, the earliest to flower for me, but these are still in small pots near the front of a pot farm so maybe they would be later if they were in the ground. Or maybe not. A fairly small plant, but I no longer attribute that to them being in pots, as they are well-rooted through the drainage holes into the soil beneath.

Woolly Peony, Paeonia tomentosa, buds just starting to show some colour. Before P. mairei showed itself a couple of years ago, this was always the first peony to bloom, with no overlapping species. It's one of the lesser-known yellows from the Caucasus.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

More Snow!?! Yep, Madison Snow

The small-leafed Rhododendron cultivar "Madison Snow", a selection of Rhododendron dauricum forma alba. Always the first Rhodo to flower here. Planted in 1990 as a 2 in or 5 cm tissue culture sprig, it is now about 6 ft or 2 m high and wide. Usually flowers around the beginning of May. And a close-up of the flower.

And here, the second day of flowers on "April Rose", a double-flowered R. dauricum hybrid which usually doesn't open until the first week of May. Smaller than the above, but the same age. She has two sisters around here, a larger-flowered "April Mist" with lavender blooms, and a double white "April Gem".

Monday, April 19, 2010

Spring Reversions

13 April Some peonies are quite far along; these are in the uppermost species bed near the house/walkway. Even the common garden peonies, latest to emerge, are showing their red asparagus-like shoots just about everywhere on the property. The particularily tall plant here (2nd pic) is a Paeonia mascula, nice marble-size buds already showing.

16 April An inch or 3 cm of snow last night, temperature down to -4C. The more precocious shoots (or taller ones if you will) are bent over quite far. Will they recover to full upright?

17 April Sunny and warm (8C-ish) so the snow didn't last long. Question answered, plant seems undeterred.

Last night (18/19April): more of the white stuff, but temperatures just at 0C. At 11a.m. I measured the snow depth at 4 inches or 10 cm with some melting in progress so it might have been an inch or a couple of cm deeper when it fell.

Rhododendron "April Rose", which might actually open in April this year!! Took this pic only because it shows fairly well the amount of snow still hanging around at 11 a.m.

Here, the reason for black or almost black Hellebores! (an orientalis hybrid). The "pitting" in the snow is from clumbs of it falling off the maple tree branches above as it melts.

Red Elderberry, Sambucus pubens, deploying buds seasonally decorated... but most of the decoration has melted off already.

And a collection of species peonies, the next 3 pics. I admit I was expecting to find the tall mascula from above folded flat and was surprised to find that it like most of the less advanced shoots had managed to shed most of the snow and were standing mostly upright. So much for a certain individual's (not me) trite and dysfunctional motto of "No expectations, no disappointments"

Red maple trees still flowering; if the seed set is reduced by these cold snaps the squirrels will be unhappy (and nursery customers less likely to get a free red maple shoot in every potted plant purchase)