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Frogs, Hosta, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, Miller Compost

Sites for Sore Eyes, Black Thumb Brigade or Sons of Toil Covered in Tons of Soil

by Wes Porter
Sunday, April 23, 2006

Froggy He Would A-Wooing Go

Long before Kermit appeared on the scene, along with his porcine companion, kids were happily chanting about another allegedly amorous amphibian. Now not any more — and we cannot wholly blame urban sprawl.

A half-century ago in April and May, southern Ontario’s every wetlands pond, river and stream resounded to strident calls of mating frogs and toads. Near any natural water, nights were made melodious. Bullfrogs bellowed, spring peepers squeaked.

Then something happened — not rapidly, but over a few decades the amphibian chorus has been drastically curtailed. Scientists are still not in agreement as to the cause, but declining numbers are a fact. Still, there are enough to satisfy the curious as this very visual and vocal site demonstrates.

Frog Calls is hosted by documentary filmmaker David McGowan and concerns itself in the main with Midwestern species. Video interviews with herpetologists, perturbed and otherwise, explain some of the problems facing frolicking frogs and toads, while offering fascinating insights into this oft-hidden world.

Ontario Hosta Society

Founded just over a decade ago, the Ontario Hosta Society was formed with the intention of keeping members up on the latest hosta information. Considering all the activities they are engaged in, most would say they have succeeded in their stated aims admirably.

Meetings, bus trips, picnics, and a hosta auction were all on the calendar last year. Beside a newsletter for members there is a seed exchange and even a hosta adoption program. There is an annual membership book and a list of hosta suppliers. As well, there are opportunities to meet with fellow hosta hobbyists and, perhaps, discover how they discourage browsing slugs and deer.

Membership is $15 annually for Canadian residents, $16 for those in the U.S.A. and $17 for what they list as "foreign." Send a cheque to Box 731, Erin, Ontario NH0L 1A0

Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker

Science historian Jim Endersby of Cambridge University in the U.K. has done a service for curious gardeners by hosting a web site devoted to this fascinating British botanist and traveler. Born in Halesworth, Suffolk in 1817, his life and career covered what was then most exciting century of British plant collecting. Proof that fascination with plants so often leads to a long life is once again proved, as he did not die until 1911.

A close friend of Darwin’s, he embarked on equally extensive collecting expeditions which took him as far afield as New Zealand and the Himalayas. It is Hooker we have to thank for the wealth of rhododendrons from the latter for the continued intense interest in these ericas. But anybody become so enthused as to follow his footsteps might want to research Hooker’s descriptions — especially concerning those ever blood-hungry leeches.

Sir Joseph succeeded his father, Sir William Jackson Hooker (1785-1865) as director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in 1865. Sir William, also a botanist and famed for his autocratic and highly successful managing of Kew and its collections, was memorialized along with his son in the British tome The Hookers of Kew. The book is not always easy to find — nor is it as thorough in all aspects as is Enderby’s presentation. This is a site that can and should be browsed.

Toronto & Region Conservation

A half-century ago, Hurricane Hazel wrought havoc on the bottomlands of Toronto and vicinity. Stories emerge in local media every anniversary. Often hard-to-find plaques bear tribute to those that died rescuing others. What is rarely written about is the reason that never again will hundreds, if not thousands, of residents in those river valleys find themselves homeless and helpless.

That reason is the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, one of a network of such organizations that were formed in the wake of Hurricane Hazel to administer the now verboten flood plains. Although, in Toronto at least, the municipality undertakes much of the legwork with greater or lesser success, the TRCA has a splendid range of activities that will be of interest to, amongst others, gardeners of the region.

Want to known more about the Don Mouth Naturalization and Port Lands Flood Protection Project? How about the Oak Ridges Corridor Park Project? Both have been covered recently at this web site, while the events calendar is regularly updated.

Toronto Labyrinth Community Network

First, to set the record straight, a labyrinth is not a maze. A labyrinth is used for walking meditation, a spiritual pathway, and ancient mystical tool, even a sacred pattern. Sound way too far out on the left field?

Not to many a businessman or businesswoman in downtown Toronto, or to their companion walkers of the path. These may be sick in mind, body or soul, recovering from substance abuse or just looking for a break from the frenzied pace of life in the metropolis.

Tucked away behind the Eaton Centre is Toronto’s Trinity Square Park Labyrinth. Originally created in grass in July 2000, it proved so successful that a more permanent path appeared in pavers last year.

This modest web site explains more, such as the medieval origins of labyrinths — no Minotaurs don’t enter into it — and their increasing use not just in parks but also on the grounds of schools, hospitals and even in prison yards.

Miller Compost

If a gardener may be judged by the size of his of her compost heap, then Miller Compost must be the tops. Located on the Bloomington Road in Richmond Hill, they take organic municipal yard waste and with the help of modern technology turn it into a valuable soil amendment.

Unlike municipal efforts, playthings of politicians, Miller Compost is commercial — if they fail to satisfy, they will be ploughed under — a fate, unfortunately, rare with politicos. But very, very satisfying Miller has proved to be.

You’d never know all the benefits compost can provide until you’ve checked out their list. Breaking up clay soils will appeal to all those unfortunate souls attempting to garden in the northern reaches of Toronto. It improves drought tolerance of plants also, Miller notes, which with such becoming an increasingly common scenario ever summer should delight one and all, to say nothing of their plants. Top dress on the lawn in the old-fashioned way before lawn nutrients came in a bag and watch the thatch decrease and grass flourish.

And these are but a few of the attributes of this marvellous muck. Learn at this site how to make compost tea (burp — pardon), correct application rates and, of course, how to get the stuff.

Wes Porter is a horticultural consultant and writer based in Toronto. He has over 40 years of experience in both temperate and tropical horticulture from three continents.