Paddle cactus are some of my favourite plants. Hmmmm… Perhaps that phrase does not carry much weight anymore since I seem to say it quite a lot really. However, I love the way they develop and morph into fascinating, anthropomorphic shapes. Their flowers are beautiful and their fruit (cactus pear or “tuna” in Mexico) are delicious although a little bit seedy. I gorge myself on them every October when they come into season.
The best way to eat the fruit is to cut it in half and scoop out the insides. You can make it into a drink or sorbet too but that’s too much work. Just watch those teeny loose hairs (called ‘glochids’). The big spines are easy to see and avoid but no matter how careful and precise I am when handling the plant or fruit I always find myself with one or two microscopic hairs embedded into my hand or a finger. And they are relentless; aggravating and impossible to extract without a magnifying glass and a pair of precision tweezers.
While in Cuba, I picked a small fruit from another plant nearby, placing it in my room’s mini-fridge with the hope of tasting it later. I thought I had been careful but of course there was a hair and no pair of tweezers with which to extract it. I never did find a knife or utensil to cut the fruit open and it froze in the fridge anyways.
Found growing on the beach outside Santiago de Cuba. Sunburn relief is conveniently located within arm’s reach!
I took this photo back in October (Is it really very nearly the end of the year already?) on our trip to the Montreal Botanical Gardens. Unfortunately, I can not recall which plant this is. I might have known what it was when I took the photo having more of the plant for context. And there is always the possibility that I might have known it based on a photo of the flowers rather than the seed pods. I have never been very good about keeping track of the plants I take photos of, relying on what I always think is a good memory only to realize later that I have no idea what the heck this thing is.
I’m excited about a plan to add a regular photo feature to the site in the New Year as a way for me to actually use some of the countless plant and garden photos I take during the growing season. I am especially excited about showing more of my film photography because that is actually where my heart is. It is a big part of my life (and my gardening life) but has never really felt like it had a home here. I’ve got to do a separate design for it since I want to be able to post those photos larger than 450 pixels wide hence the wait until after the New Year.
While out on the Leslie Street Spit this past holiday weekend, I noticed that most of the tansy flower heads were turning black. I don’t grow tansy in any of my gardens and have never observed this detail while out walking the railroad tracks in my area where tansy grows wild and abundantly. In the past I’d swear they aged towards a warmer, less haggard shade of brown as the season wrapped up. But maybe I’m wrong and what I really need to do is get myself started on a daily regimen of Ginkgo biloba supplements and craploads of omega-3 fatty acids, stat!
Tansy is known for being distinctly disease and pest resistant, a feature that makes it a great herbal pest spray when brewed into a tea. I have been unable to find any information about possible tansy diseases and am chalking this up to the drought and humidity we experienced in late august when the plants were in full bloom. But of course tansy is also known for being incredibly drought tolerant and I think their survival in the wasteland along the railroad tracks is good evidence of that. So maybe circular logic is bringing me back to my original conclusion which is that I have simply stumbled upon an observation that I either failed to make in the past or one that was previously made but forgotten.
In conclusion: I smart.
Regardless, I really liked the look of fields dotted with thin clusters of blackened tansies poking through wild grass and aging goldenrod.
I took this photo of a field of Gaillardia growing on a hillside on the Leslie Spit back in July before The Worst Drought in Fifty Years took a hold and sent lots of plants into hiatus on a short term or permanent basis. On a return visit in late August I found only a few blanket flowers blooming and many of the plants looking half baked. Gaillardia are an excellent drought tolerant flower but even the heavy hitters have their limit.
We went back to this spot yesterday afternoon on what is reported to be the warmest Canadian Thanksgiving on record reaching over 30 degrees C here in Toronto. In fact we’ve had an amazing Fall overall with plenty of sunshine, warm temperatures, and enough rain to bring our gardens out of the late summer’s drought-induced coma. Evidence of this turnaround is everywhere. The Gaillardia, among other flowers at The Leslie Street Spit have made a turnaround with a second coming of colourful blooms and lots of fresh new growth.
I’ve still got basil and other tender plants in-ground and producing new growth in both my community garden plot and out on the roof. Amazingly, I haven’t even brought my citrus trees indoors to overwinter and they are both still producing tiny fruit.
While I am enjoying a delay in putting my summer gear away I have to admit that I do find the warm temperatures a little bit disturbing since it is a continuation of a trend we saw last year with winter staying mild and rather un-winter-like until well into January. From another vantage point I am fascinated by the way the plants are adapting (or not) to a warmer Fall — instead of going dormant as many of them would at this time of year, plenty of plants just keep keeping on. And some, like the tomatoes and curcubits have either prematurely succumbed to poor conditions early on or are experiencing a second wind after a short break. The sole surviving zucchini plant living in a pot on my rooftop deck has started making flowers again. I have never had a zucchini plant shut down for a while and then come back with a brand new set of leaves and another harvest! As bad as this warm weather may be for the long term, I am learning a lot from really getting first-hand experience of how an extended growing season works in warmer climates. While I have done my homework and know what to expect and I have even experienced second harvests from some early-producing plants in the past, this whole experience is quite different and has been really educational.
This shifting nature of… well… nature is one of those things that makes gardening so interesting and challenging — no matter how much you know you can never know everything. And just when you think you’ve working things out and have got the perfect system in place, nature throws in a curveball or two. Gardening from year-to-year is never, ever the same. As intimidating as that can be, knowing perfection is unattainable is also very freeing and the unpredictability is certainly never boring.