Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dutchman’s Breeches

Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) is a delightful woodland wildflower. Both the flowers – about ¾ inch long-- and the grayish green foliage are attractive. Upside down, the flowers look like Dutchman's breeches with their pockets inside out.
Native to the rich moist woods of eastern North America, ranging from North Dakota to Quebec and as far south as Georgia. Dutchman's Breeches make the most of the early spring sunshine, blooming and setting seed before the trees leaf out. In early summer the plant disappears until the next spring.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) – a perennial herb --is one of the earliest plants to flower in East Gwillimbury. The common name coltsfoot refers to the shape of the plant’s leaves, which you can’t see here. But they will soon appear now that the flowers are out.

The botanical name 'Tussilago' comes from the Latin 'tussis', which means cough. Coltsfoot was probably brought to North America by early settlers to cure coughs and other respiratory diseases -- the unopened flowers were used to make herbal teas. In fact, cotsfoot is said to be found in some modern-day cough medicines.
The plant spreads mainly through underground rhizomes but is also fertilized by bees and flies. In summer, the plant stores energy for the following year's spring growth. It thrives on gravelly and sandy soil as long as it’s damp, and it’s often seen along roadsides in sun or part shade.

Red Pine (Norway Pine)

Red pines (Pinus resinosa) are large, bushy, stately trees with long dark green needles, beautiful in white winter landscape. Indigenous to Central Ontario, red pines are common in the area, growing on drier, less fertile sites

During the 1920s and 30s, red pines were planted extensively on abandoned farms -- blowsand areas -- in order to stabilize the soil, protect watersheds, and provide wildlife habitat. The York Regional Forest in one such area. The Region manages the trees, periodically harvested for poles, timbers and lumber.

Sadly, red pine stands are beginning to fade in the York Regional Forest. About 15 years ago, little beasties called the European pine shoot beetle (Tomicus piniperda) immigrated to Ontario, hitchhiking on wooden crates, pallets or logs used to brace loads. The beetle attacks both healthy and stressed trees, often killing them with two years.

Many trees were harvested last winter. These are ready to be loaded onto trucks and hauled away. But there are many trees already cut in the woods lying on the forest floor. I hope they take them out soon as apparently the beetles will soon hatch and multiply, particularly happy to find an abundance of dead trees and bark in which to lay their eggs.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Forming a Posse

Ok, I'm only kidding about the posse. But when we arrived at the forest to take a leisurely, springtime walk, that's what I first though of when I saw these four equestrians talking and looking over the map of the regional forest,

The horsewoman was actually alone, and the three men were riding together, we learned when we saw them split off in two directions. Later walking around the big loop back to the forest entrance, we met the male riders again, still enjoying their ride as much as we were enjoying our stroll. It was a beautiful day.

Riders on horseback are frequently seen in this forest as there are several stables as well as farms in the vicinity. Horses are welcome there. All of them are friendly and most of their riders are too. ;-)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Spring Beauties

Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica) are among the earliest spring bloomers. They look fragile but they are tough, surviving spring frosts and snow flurries. The plant's leaves look like grass; the white or pink petals are striped pink. Each flower, which closes at night and open in the morning light, is only about an inch in diameter.

Spring beauties grow from tubers, which some people call "fairy spuds" because they are edible. But I’d have to be very hungry to want to eat a tuber that produces such a lovely flower!

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Hepatica americana -- this plant found while on a walk in the York Regional Forest – loves rich, humusy soil, and grows best under deciduous trees, especially beech. Yesterday I spotted both pink and white blossoms on hairy 10 to 15 centimetre- (4 to 6 inch-) stems. So far this year I have found no lavender-blue hepaticas. Maybe today!
Any leaves you see on the plant this early in the season are last year’s. New leaves – three lobes that turn dark and leathery -- will appear after the blooms fade. The name Hepatica comes from the same word as the Greek word for liver. (The human liver also has three lobes.) And some people call the plant, you guessed it, liverleaf.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

You say wind vane and I say…

A little crooked, eh? I didn’t do it, honest! It must have been…the wind?

This photo was taken in the hamlet of Zephyr (meaning gentle breeze), so perhaps I should call this one a wind vane, although I’m used to calling such roof toppers weather vanes.

Weather vanes date as far back as the 9th century when the pope decreed that every steeple or church dome should have a rooster, a symbol to remind believers that Jesus said at the Last Supper that the cock would not crow until Peter had denounced him three times. This vane has a rooster but is not atop a church but above a small building next to a church.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Common Blue Violets

This "shrinking" violet is acting shy, trying to hide behind a couple of blades of grass in my sunny side lawn. ;-)

But don't be fooled. This innocent-looking blossom (less than an inch across) is trying to take over! But it's OK, as long as it stays OUT of my gardens!

Common blue violets (Viola papilionacea). are among the first plants to bloom in spring. Now, how could anyone NOT be impressed by that?

As a gardener, I think I’m supposed to hate them because they're invasive. But I don't. After all, blue violets are symbols of love and faithfulness. In fact, florist shops at one time sold tons of violets on Valentines Day. So what is there to hate?

And for you trivia buffs: the blooms you see here are actually sterile.

The problem are the inconspicuous flowers no one notices later in the season, which are self pollinating and open when their tiny, round, black seeds are ready to drop. Violets also multiply through underground rhizomes. So, yes, I do sometimes have to kick a few out my gardens. But that's not a difficult task.
But they can multiply all they want in my lawn. This is a patch in my shady back lawn.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Miniature daffodill

Last year this early miniature Narcissus named ‘Tete a Tete’ -- only six inches (15 centimetres) high – was a forced bulb in a container. I babied it till early May then planted it in one of my gardens. It has already multiplied -- and since it blooms earlier than any other daffodils in my yard -- it’s definitely a keeper!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Farms vs Greenspace

The present Ontario governed has determined that certain areas should remain green spaces, which has angered some farmers who say this devalues their land because it can no longer be sold to devloppers who want to build subdivisions and malls.

This is a sticky problem isn't it?

Friday, April 18, 2008


Sky-blue stars are out and about - finally - in many EG gardens! chionodoxa (glory of the snow) are tiny bulbs, one of the first to put up flowers in spring.

And here they are! Isn't life grand?

Just Following Orders

I was sneaking around one side of a pond trying to snap a photo of these two handsome geese sitting on the water’s edge when I heard two more geese flying low overhead. They sounded like drill sergeants honking orders.

The newcomers not only sounded like they were the bosses, they must have actually been in charge because in a flash, these two flapped their wings and took off in the same direction as their noisy comrades.
For more Sky Watch photos, visit Wigger's World

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Signs of Growth

The southwestern edge of East Gwillimbury is growing, growing, GROWING! This area borders on Newmarket, a burgeoning town overflowing into EG. Until a few years ago, East Gwillimbury was almost totally rural, but this little corner looks like CITY (yes, a four-letter word) to my country-loving eyes.

This shovel is sitting in the unfinished parking lot of a chain hardware store. Chain store? It wasn't THAT long ago that old timers would have laughed at such a ridiculous idea. The times they are a changing!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Green Barns/ Orange Barn/ Grey Day

A colourful farm on a colourless day. But at least the snow is GONE!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Holt School -Today and Yesterday

Remember Carly Simon singing “I know nothing stays the same…”?

This house was once the Holt School, the pride of the farmers who in 1907 finally agreed on a building site on the edge of this field (some wanted the school built on the north side of the main road, others on the south side), hauled bricks by horse and wagon to the spot and paid $2,000 to see the building completed.

How long it remained a school I don't know, but it's only a little more than a mile to Mount Albert, a larger EG community where public school children from Holt go to school today, grades junior kindergarten to grade 8.

Holt was a hamlet then. Holt is a Hamlet now. Ok, some things don’t change, at least not as quickly as others.
I found this old photo in a book called East Gwillimbury in the Nineteenth Century by Gladys Rolling. Hmmmm. Actually, this school was erected in the twentieth century but I guess 1907 was close enough to be included.

I think it’s fun to compare the two photos. I’d have preferred to have taken the new photo from the same spot as the original, but now there’s a fence (chain link, I think) all around and trees and shrubs to give the homeowners privacy, which blocked my view.

As you can see the building has been modified. For instance, the roof has been raised to make room for a second floor, windows have been added or made smaller, and gables have been built on. But the chimney is in the same spot and the house has two front doors, just like the school -- one for girls, one for boys.

Monday, April 14, 2008

House with Stone Façade

Houses faced with stone are rare in East Gwillimbury. Most houses here -– even new ones today -- are faced with brick. But stones are cheap building materials for a farmer clearing his fields of myriad remnants from the last the last Ice Age.

Although the price of the stones was right, it must have been costly time-wise. It would have taken forever to collect enough to face the building, and another forever to embed each one in limestone mortar.
Looking closely, you can see these are NOT cobblestone -- smooth, round stones. Typically, cobblestones were laid in horizontal bands, however these are set in higgledy-piggledy fashion.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Goats are Out!

My husband and I were driving along a country road yesterday when we spotted a herd of goats heading towards the road. Naughty goats. Somehow they'd escaped their enclosed grazing area. I guess they wanted fresh grass (it's barely up yet) and reasoned it might be greener on the other side?

My husband stopped the car so my camera could catch them in the act. The goats' owner had hopped into a vehicle and driven down the driveway to head them off. The first photo shows a few goats playing "peekaboo! You can't see me!"
The second photo shows the game is over -- "OOPS! I guess you can see me after all!"

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Staid and Stodgy?

Can you guess what this sign is advertising?

I've heard this is more common in Europe but North Americans are often way more uptight about such activities. But out the "booniest" part of East Gwillimbury, a secluded area - kind of in the centre where no communities exist - this sign is posted at the end of a very long driveway. Yes, there are fences all around with No Trespassing signs attached. Hmmm. I wonder if planes and helicopters are allowed to fly over.

FYI Tom at Wigger's World: people within the fenced area do NOT wear bubbles.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Blue Skies/ Orange Engine

Don't you think the orange Canadian National engine contrasts nicely with the almost pure blue sky?

This engine has between 100 and 150 cars behind it carrying freight from Western Canada (Prince Rupert, British Columbia on the Pacific Ocean) to Brampton (just northwest of Toronto). Some freight will be offloaded in Ontario but much of the cargo will head southward into the U.S., some of it all the way to New Orleans on the Gulf of Mexico. CN tracks also travel easterly in Canada to Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the Atlantic Ocean.

These are busy tracks, trainloads upon trainloads passing through East Gwillimbury every day.
For more Sky Watch photos, visit Wigger's World HERE.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ready to Grow

A number of growers own greenhouses in East Gwillimbury. Wholesale, not retail. These greenhouses (covered with plastic) are full of perennials that within the next month will begin to be shipped to garden centres in and around Toronto.

One weekend in June, the owner of this operation opens his doors to the public. WHAT FUN! This is when it's great to know the names of plants you'd like to have in your garden because the prices are excellent!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Lots of people think vandalism only happens in cities and the suburbs, but this sign is evidence that it can show up even in a corner of nowhere. This trail follows an abandoned railway track and is close to the northeast corner of EG where practically no one lives (except wildlife) in a spot I would have thought could only be found by people who can read maps. LOL Why even bother vandalize a place that practically no one will ever see?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Girl Talk

The weather was mild and sunny this weekend, perfect for an afternoon outdoors soaking up a little sun. But you wouldn't believe the muck! How these lovely sun worshipers got covered with so much mud is beyond me...but I guess you can't see in the photo how their backs are covered with it.

The minute I arrived with my camera, the whole herd came over to the fence see what I wanted. I guess it has been a lo-o-ng winter with no one else to talk to but themselves. There are four in this picture, but three were too shy to keep their heads up and look straight into the camera. I really wanted to capture their beautiful eyes, but every time I moved the camera they moved too. Ha! Do you think they didn't trust me?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Waste Not, Want Not

It’s sugaring off time! Now that the air is warm enough to melt snow and ice, EG sugar maple trees are waking up -- sap is beginning to flow. When days are above freezing (+2 to +8°C) but nights are below freezing (-2 to -8°C), it’s time to collect sugar maple sap for making syrup and/or sugar.

Numerous owners of maple farms and sugar bushes (groves of sugar maple trees) throughout Ontario and Quebec are holding sugaring off festivals this month to demonstrate how maple syrup is made, but it seems at least one EG family is making their own. Yep, this is one of several sugar maple trees on an EG front lawn, each equipped with two spiles (spouts) and two buckets.
It may take all day to collect half a bucket, which sounds like a lot, but to make a litre of syrup you have to boil down 30 to 40 litres of sap. (To make sugar, it needs to cook even longer!) Since boiling sap into syrup is a steamy process, it's a good idea to cook it outdoors on a barbecue. (At sugaring off festivals, sap is often boiled down over an open fire.)

The season for collecting sap ends when the leaves come out, usually in late April. But maple syrup eating (yum) happens all year! Properly cared for maple syrup will keep 12 months in a fridge and two years in a freezer.

Anyone hungry for waffles?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Paper-Bark Birch

Paper birch, paper-bark birch, white birch, canoe birch – all are common names for the same species: Betula papyrifera. In my neck of the woods (tee hee) this tree is seen fairly often in the wild...and is not the species of birch tree often seen dying on front lawns.

Paper-bark birches are wild yes, but that doesn't diminish the beauty of their chalky white bark or the lovely way the bark peels as it ages. And for the life of me I can't figure out why so many people plant the European version instead of the indigenous one, since the imported variety is so prone to disease.
Here's a closer view of peeling bark. Isn't it a lovely shade of peach?

This is the species of birch that First Nations people used to cover the sides of canoes and teepees. They also used the wood to make snowshoes. What's more, they used birch sap, collected in the same manner as maple syrup, as a medicine to treat colds.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Stump Fence

I've heard people call fence lines marked by tree stumps grotesque, but I disagree. To me, the aging roots and stems are beautiful as they fade to grey.

Plus I like the idea of using what's available locally and of recycling. This kind of fence is a clever way to use stumps pulled out of a farmer's field. Hardwood stumps often rot in about ten years, but those of white pines may last half a century or more.

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East Gwillimbury is a rural town less than an hour north of Toronto, Canada's largest city. My family calls me CameraGirl because I take my camera with me wherever I go.