How to Tell a Balsam Fir from a Red Spruce Tree

Seven Ways to Tell a Balsam Fir from a Red Spruce Tree

New England and Atlantic Canada forests are full of balsam fir and spruce trees; the red spruce is the most wide spread.  Here are few simple ways to tell the difference:
Balsam Fir vs Red Spruce

1. Fir needles are soft (like fur)

2. Spruce needles are Sharp

3. Fir needles have two white lines on the underside (so do Canada Hemlock, but their needles and cones are much smaller)

4. Fir needles are Flat

Note the two white stripes on the underside of the needles.
Note the two white stripes on the underside of the needles.

5. You can roll a spruce needle between your fingers because it is square in cross section (the flat fir needles won’t roll)

6. Balsam Fir trees are aromatic and smell like a Christmas tree

7. The cones of Balsam Fir trees are much larger and usually fall apart when they fall to the ground.

Hooked on Hellebores

Hooked on Hellebores



Calling out from among last autumn’s leaves in our shade garden, the Hellebores flowers tell us that spring has arrived. These are among the earliest bloomers, but their colorful sepals remain long after the petals have wilted, giving the appearance of a long lasting bloom. They also retain their evergreen leaves throughout the year, adding interest to your winter garden. The species has avid collectors, known to purchase any cultivar they can find. They are tough to beat given their deer, shade, and drought resistance. Don’t worry about missing the blooms this year as their colorful sepals will fool your guests into thinking they are still flowering.

Bloom Time: December to April
Available Colors: Green, white, burgundy, purple, pink
Zones: 4-9
Where to Plant: Part shade, well-drained soil
Propagation Method: Division in June or September after 2 years

For more information on Hellebores:

Boston’s Christmas Tree: A Gifted Tradition from Nova Scotia

Christmas tree
Balsam Fir

The Province of Nova Scotia has gifted an enormous Christmas tree to the city of Boston.  2013 marks the 42nd consecutive year of this tradition, which has served as an ongoing thank you for the aid Boston provided following a ship explosion in Halifax Harbor known as the Halifax Explosion. The explosion devastated the buildings and people within the vicinity of Halifax Harbor.

The Halifax Explosion

A French ammunition ship caught fire after it collided with a second war ship coming through the narrows of the Harbor channel in December of 1917. The fire then piqued the interest of Haligonians who made their way to the shoreline for a better vantage. Unfortunately, the fire triggered a massive explosion that resulted in a few thousand fatalities and several thousand injuries from projectile debris and the collapse of buildings. Many were left homeless, and a blizzard the following day made matters worse, but did not thwart the rescue efforts of the Bostonian (i.e. doctors and nurses).

Boston’s Nova Scotian Christmas Tree

This year’s tree is a 47-foot white spruce, estimated to be 40 years old. Red spruce and balsam fir have also been selected in times past for Boston’s Christmas beacon. The original tree had been delivered for Christmas in 1918. The annual tradition then began in 1971 when the Christmas tree offering was reinstated by the Province of Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia arguably has the best Christmas trees, and accounts for a large percentage of trees found in New Englanders’ homes during the holiday. Our very own balsam fir is a Nova Scotian export!

Bela Lugosi Daylily: A Fine Tribute to a Film Legend

Bela Lugosi – a clever or meaningful name can really help sell a daylily. I enjoy classic horror movies, and Bela Lugosi’s performance as Count Dracula in the 1931 Universal Studios film [Dracula] is an all-time favorite. This daylily tribute to the silverscreen legend is fitting being that the (slightly ruffled) flower is a phantom-dark purple with a contrasting creamy-gold throat.

I came across the ‘Bela Lugosi’ name on a spreadsheet at a daylily farm, and made a beeline to the referenced garden bed to pique my interest. It was serendipitous that this daylily was the dark purple I was hoping to find that day.

This flower is one of my favorites of all the (30+) daylily cultivars I have in my gardens, and is positioned at a focal point from my main entryway. Fortunately, this daylily has a good bud count and the 6-inch flowers are supported on sturdy stalks. Unlike dracula, the dark-purple color does not succumb to sunlight that easily. Bela Lugosi is approximately 33″, blooms during mid season, and has semi-evergreen foliage. This daylily is highly recommended for any garden, and the moderate difficulty in acquiring it is worth the effort. I have not seen this daylily for sale at local nurseries, but it is available from daylily specialists. Check out your local daylily farm or display garden.

I would like to start a Universal Monsters-theme garden, and I have the following cultivars on my watch list: Wolfman, Frankenstein’s Monster; Dracula’s Mistress; Dracula’s Smile. The open registration for naming daylily cultivars has made such theme-type gardens possible from the thousands of named cultivars on record. Look out for the upcoming Star Wars series! According to the American Hemerocallis Society Online Dayliliy Database, Star Wars character names (e.g. Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, etc.) have been reserved until 2016. You can search for daylily cultivars here

Go Tall with the Autumn Minaret Daylily

The autumn minaret daylily is one to consider in a tight spot that has some vertical real estate. We had such a place in a foundation garden where the casement windows (at our sunroom) stood a perfect 6’ above ground level. We placed one clump purchased at Collamore Field Gardens (Scituate, MA), one of the 300+ American Hemerocallis Society Display Gardens throughout the United States and Canada.

The autumn minaret flower is yellow/gold with the tepals streaked lengthwise in a burnt-orange color (or “colour” for Canadians). Their star-shape blossoms are approximately 4” in diameter, and they gently sway on thin stalks at a towering 66”+ height. You may have to use a step ladder to get cuttings from this one! This cultivar is a classic that was registered back in 1951, and can be commonly found at garden centers.

This plant did not disappoint for us, and several neighbors commented on its impressive height. The flower itself isn’t too showy, but will be one of the few in bloom during late August into September. The single clump we purchased was divided next season, and the plants bloom heavily on very rigid stalks that support themselves. The flowers just peak above our interior window sills, and run the length of the daybed situated against the wall of our sunroom. This flower is highly recommended for any daylily enthusiast, or anyone else that wants a bulletproof plant that can start up a conversation.

Blanding’s Turtle

Nova Scotia’s Endangered Blanding’s Turtle:

A Natural Treasure in Kejimkujik

blandings turtle

The majestic blanding’s turtle (Emys blandingii or Emydoidea blandingii) of Nova Scotia may be unfamiliar to those living outside of Queens and Annapolis counties, where a disjunct population is protected under the Endagnered Species Act.  Unfortunately, the population in (and around) Kejimkujik National Park (hereinafter referred to as “Keji” to sound more like a local) is declining.  However, concentrated efforts made by dedicated volunteers have helped protect nesting sites, and have successfully reared hatchlings in head-start programs.  Continued conservation efforts will hopefully re-establish a self-sustaining population in Keji for this species.  Massachusetts has made similar efforts to protect their endangered red-bellied cooter of Plymouth County (click here to read about our experiences with head-starting this species).  Head-start programs also exist in Massachusetts for the blanding’s turtle.

Continue reading Blanding’s Turtle

Oak Trees of Eastern North America, New England, and the Canadian Maritimes/Atlantic Canada

Oak Trees of Eastern North America, New England, and

the Canadian Maritimes/Atlantic Canada

New England and Atlantic Canada is home to various beautiful oak tree species.  With a little effort, one can learn to identify the difference among these by the leaf shapes.

Continue reading Oak Trees of Eastern North America, New England, and the Canadian Maritimes/Atlantic Canada

Garden Paths We Love

Garden Paths We Love

1. Wood Chips with a Metal Edge:  This metal landscape edging is exponentially classier than the oversized, rounded plastic edging more commonly seen.  It lends an industrial-type rustic charm (if that makes sense), and serves as a very clean and distinct divider between the contrasting wood chips and dark soil of this narrow garden path.  This path can be enjoyed at the Heritage Museum and Gardens located in Sandwich, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Garden Path Wood Chips Metal Edge

Seven Daylilies That Bloom in Late June and Early July



For all of you Hemerocallis fans out there, here are seven daylilies that will be sure to impress your guests at your 4th of July or Canada Day (July 1st) party.  All of these pictures were taken on June 29th at the Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  The best part about these daylilies is that you will enjoy them year after year with very little maintenance.  They will readily multiply on their own each year, making them the perfect parting favor for your summer party guests . Continue reading Seven Daylilies That Bloom in Late June and Early July

Biodiversity Exposed