Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Holidays to You

Here's wishing all my blogging garden friends near and far a wonderful, happy holiday season. I have so much fun visiting your gardens online and am so happy to have you visit mine. Here's to a fabulous 2008 both in the garden and on the web. Merry Christmas to you and yours. And may your thumbs always be green.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Winter Garden

It drizzled snow for much of the day. The result in the garden was quite magical. After a couple of trying days at work, all my stress melted away with one look at the garden. Everything looked so pretty I rushed to get my camera and capture the moment. Funny how a fresh layer of snow transforms the dull grays of winter into something quite beautiful. I have always believed that winter would be okay as long as every day got a fresh dusting of snow. Even deepest, darkest February looks pretty great after a storm. Here's the view of the backyard urn display.

All these years I've been cutting away the faded blooms of the astilbe. What was I thinking? They look quite stunning covered in snow. I also love the golden brown of the leaves. They have a warm and fuzzy quality about them despite the snow.

This shot of the Rose of Sharon reminds me of why I love it so much. It's got great form. I love the way it branches out into a nice round shape. The large seed pods covered in snow just add to the impact. It's a good thing this shrub looks as good as it does without leaves. It takes forever to leaf out in spring. It takes so long, it's enough to make me doubt it will ever bloom again. But good, old reliable always does. It's worth the wait for its showy summer blooms. The winter interest is an added bonus.

And finally, the calamint. I really cannot say enough about this plant. It was a tiny little thing when I purchased it. It grew like crazy all summer long, all the while maintaining its pleasing, compact form. It's the pruning-free plant! The fragrance is astounding. Even the slightest brush of the plant sends its sweet aroma into the air. Even the construction workers who did a number on my garden during work at the neighbours went sniffing around in search of something that "smells so good." And now (surprise, surprise) the calamint looks stunning and is holding its own under the weight of the snow. I am tempted to plant an nice long calamint hedge in the spring. Ah, spring...more than three months away. Until then there's plenty to enjoy in the winter garden.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

For Those With a Prickly Disposition

Hot Pink is the colour of the holiday season as far at this Christmas Cactus is concerned. This one grows on a west-facing windowsill where it gets lots of light all day. In the evenings it basks in the glow of flourescent kitchen lighting. It also gets the occasional blast of cold. The kitchen sliding doors open and close at least half a dozen times a day to allow the cat in and out. The Christmas Cactus approves.

The colour of the bloom is simply outrageous. Paired with a pot that is coincidentally a perfect colour match, the Christmas Cactus is an attention grabber. It has a flamboyant and proud quality about it. "Look at me," it says. The Christmas cactus is an easy plant to grow. Its holiday season display is sure to please even those with the prickliest of dispositions.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

'Tis the Season...

...for homemade leaf mulch. When Environment Canada predicted the country was in store for its coldest winter in 15 years, I decided my plants could use a little extra seasonal warmth. Every autumn I send bags and bags and more bags of fallen leaves from my neighbour's front yard merrily on their way to city compost facilities. This year was different. Instead of bagging all the leaves I piled some high and then used my push mower to chop them up (the right side of the photo is pre-mower, the left side is post).

Much like the raking of leaves, I found the mowing of the leaves strangely exhilirating. With every slice of the turning blades I became more and more convinced that this exercise was a recipe for garden success. I envisioned my garden safe and warm tucked under its blanket of shredded leaves. I imagined the brutal winter cracking and crumbling the leaves into dust. I dreamed of the coming spring when the thaw would leach life giving nourishment from the garden's protective layer.

The mulch went a lot further than I imagined and, due to poor planning on my part, not far enough. The entire bed on the north side of the garden got a layer of about 3-4cm deep. I had to be more selective on the south side because I ran out. I kicked myself for not starting the mulching project two weeks earlier. All those leaves shipped off to compost facilities would have come in very handy.

I did have enough to protect the one plant I fell in love with this season. It's also the one plant I can't wait to see again and have the highest hopes for next year: Japanese "All Gold" Forest Grass or hakenochloa. I'm not sure that this is a plant that has the ability to survive a Canadian winter, let alone the coldest Canadian winter in 15 years. But all tucked in in under its blanket of homemade mulch, maybe, just maybe, it stands a chance.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

There Are Worse Things That Could Happen To A Garden...

...but seeing a block garage, concrete walkways, and a brick wall replace views of the open sky and plots of fertile soil is nevertheless pretty bad. Back in September, my neighbours undertook a massive backyard construction project. They built a large house addition and an even bigger garage. Today, whatever bit of their backyard lawn was left disappeared under poured concrete. All of their "improvements" come right up to the property line. The full extent of the impact (ie. devastation) on my garden is now crystal clear.

Because so much work happened on or near the property line, the work crews trampled on just about everything. Just a few months ago the liatris, globe thistle, purple coneflowers, veronica, iris, helenium and foxtail lily thrived here. But there's nothing left to prove it. Everything has been trampled out of existence. I'm sure all the plants are just fine and cozy in the warm earth -- but seeing all evidence of them obliterated makes me nervous nonetheless. Another concern is that the soil has been so compacted by sturdy workboots that it may as well be concrete. I'll have to turn the soil and let winter break it up a bit. But without knowing exactly where some of my favourite plants are, that too makes me nervous.

Here's the new view from the backyard deck. The horror! That has got to change. Anyone have any great suggestions for a hedge that will grow fast and tall? In an effort to stay positive I will say that we will have an unprecedented level of privacy for a city backyard. The tree hides most of the wall but I don't know if the tree will make it. The needles on the bottom branches have almost all turned brown. And I'm beginning to see more and more brown inching its way upward to the top of the tree. Bad things happen when you cut off HALF of a trees root system to make way for an addition. I spent a good part of my afternoon looking at the work that's been done next door. Much of that time was spent shaking my head in disbelief and slapping my forehead in exasperation. How could city planners and engineers allow this?

And then I noticed the astilbe. It brought me to my senses. While I am upset about what has happened, I think I would be more upset if the garden weren't looking so darn beautiful right now. In my last post, I was oohing and ahhing over red. But just look at how golden the astilbe look. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. In the past I cut the flower heads off as soon as they finished blooming. I won't do that again because they look absolutely stunning (click on any of the images for a closer-look). I've never thought of myself as a fan of yellow...that is changing.

I also noticed how the astilbe provides a beautiful backdrop for the Bloodgood Japanese Maple. It's only about three feet tall right now. Looking around the neighbourhood I see mature Japanese Maples and they simply take my breath away. Everything from their form to their colour is quite simply perfection. It will be just a joy to see this tree grow to maturity. The anticipation makes me feel like a kid on Christmas morning.

Even my mushy hosta is looking pretty darn good right now. It really brightens the shady side of the garden. So despite the awfulness of the construction zone next door, it's the beauty of the garden that won me over today. It's the beauty of the garden that convinced me that all of the neighbours' "improvements" can be further improved upon through the careful placement of shrubs, trees, bulbs and perennials. Spring will mean a whole new start in the garden. Perhaps one of the worst things to happen in my garden will turn out to be one of the best.

What's the worst thing that ever happened to your garden?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Seeing Red

The garden is awash in red this month. I enjoy the fringe benefits of this ivy that grows up the side of my neighbour's house. During the summer, it does a fine job of hiding the massive brick facade but this is the climber at its best.

The ivy is lovely and practical but when it comes to the colour red, nothing beats the burning bush. This picture simply doesn't do it justice. I planted two of them years ago without any knowledge of their fiery fall display. What a stroke of garden luck. I couldn't have guessed how much I would come to love them. They have been feeding my desire for more red in the garden for about eight or nine years now.

My passion for red was one of the reasons I chose to add a serviceberry to the garden this year. All the garden magazines and books promised that serviceberries provide a great fall display of yellow, orange and red. I have not been disappointed. I do have one concern about this shrub. During an open gardens tour last month, a gardener told me that he twice tried to plant serviceberries and twice he gave up. The reason: raccoons. He said the raccoons love the berries so much they climb all over the shrubs. The branches break because of the raccoons' weight or through sheer brute force as they tug on the branches to reach the berries. I had more broken branches this summer than I care to remember. I'll have to think of a way to outwit these masked bandits, but that is probably a fool's mission.

I have also added a number of new shrubs to the garden. All of them, including this Silveredge Dogwood, prominently feature the colour red. With the dogwood the branches are the star attraction. This shrub will become the wall of my first ever garden room. I'm tired of restricting my plantings to the outer edges of the yard. So I'm starting to carve deeper into the moddle of the lawn to build garden rooms. Whether I will succeed in creating these secret garden spaces remains to be seen. Also doing their bit to help: an llex "Jack Dandy" with his partner Ilex verticillata "Red Sprite." The berries are astounding. I have also planted a black chokeberry featuring blue berries and, what else, red hot foliage. The best part: I found all the plants listed at 50-75% off. A red-tag sale made for a gardener who loves seeing red.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Apple of My Eye

When I was a kid, one of my most favourite fall activities was getting into the family car and driving out to apple country. We'd load up on about four ten-pound bags and see how many apples we could eat right off the tree before heading home. My parents would always joke that there was a weigh-in on the way out so that we could pay for the apples we consumed. A year without apple picking just never felt complete. To this day I love it. So it was great to get out of the city today and pick apples.

Usually September is prime apple time. But most of September felt a lot like August. So we waited for the cooler temperatures to prevail. Lucky we didn't wait much longer because the orchard we went to, about an hour out of the city, was just about picked clean. There were Red Delicious, Yellow Delicious, Empire and Mutsu apples to choose from. We picked 12-pounds worth making sure we had some of each. A pumpkin and big jar of honey also made it into the trunk of the car.

With so much fresh fruit and other tasty products to choose from, one has to get creative about transportation. I'm happy to report my four-year-old managed just fine. Just look at that technique. She takes after me. She truly is the apple of my eye. I hope she'll look back on days like today with the same fondness I have for them. Here's to a great Ontario tradition.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Fall Inspiration

Fall is always such a bag of mixed emotions for me. I love the changing colours and the relief from the heat. But I dread the oncoming winter and its dark, dreary days. Facing the next six months without my garden makes we want to hibernate. I was about to watch the mums fade, call it a season and accept the cold, hard reality of the coming Canadian winter. Then I went on a garden tour.

Sadly, my camera batteries failed me on this day. So the pictures posted here feature the autumn accents around my home. I wish the camera had worked because these gardens were gorgeous. There were very few blooms to speak of at this time of year. But lots of showy shrubs and foliage. More curves, stepping stones, water features and garden rooms than I have ever seen. I was very inspired. I thought I was running out of room in my garden. Now I realize, I've only just begun. It was also great to talk to real gardeners. Everyone was so happy to answer questions and dish about garden successes and failures.

At the end of the day, I walked away with a list of must-have plants for next year: culver's root, boneset, bittersweet, ironweed, turtlehead, japanese anemone, cornus florida, wood poppy and bloodroot. Many of these are indigenous to Ontario. It was very encouraging to see so many native plants growing in backyards. I'd like to take my own backyard in that direction. And now that I've been inspired, the winter ahead doesn't look so bad after all. I've got some serious research and planning to do. The October garden tour: I highly recommend it.

Friday, September 28, 2007

A Peace Lily for Burma

This week I watched with amazement and awe the courage of the people of Burma. Their struggle for freedom, justice and democracy in the face of a brutal military regime has moved me in ways I never expected. This peace lily is for them. May the Saffron Revolution march on.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Fall Garden Clean-Up Underway

There is something inherently satisfying about cleaning up the garden. My ragged clump of iris caught my attention this weekend and the clean-up bug hit me. This is what it looked like before I started. My iris are interplanted with some run-of-the-mill daylilies. Once the iris are done blooming, the daylilies poke through and tower above the iris foliage. It's a great way to use one space in two different ways with no effort at at all. But at this time of year it adds up to double the clean-up. Not only are the sword-like leaves of the iris all brown, but the entire area is littered with the dry, crunchy daylily leftovers.

Luckily, clean-up is literally a snap. The brown iris leaves snap right off and I only need grab hold of the dead daylilies and pull. Here's the post clean-up picture. Ahhhh, I feel better already. Seeing the immediate results leaves me with such a feeling of accomplishment. I think that's why I really get a thrill out shovelling snow too. Now if only I could get this feeling to translate to housework!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Summer's Last Hurrah

Autumn is officially here and I'm glad for the change. I love this time of year and everything it has to offer: fall fairs, apple picking, roadside stands with fresh corn by the bag, colourful leaves, Thanksgiving, Halloween, and cozy sweaters. But there's one plant in my garden that's reluctant to concede that summer has been shown the door: the Jerusalem artichoke.

Every spring I pull out buckets and buckets of its tubers. The plant is more than happy to multiply. In late summer, I look at its towering coarse stems and rough leaves and wonder why I bother to keep any around. Come fall, I'm so happy to see their sunny faces. The Jerusalem artichoke towers above the rest, reaching seven to eight feet tall. And nothing beats its yellow blooms. Even on a chilly morning, just looking at the flowers warms me right up.

The Jerusalem Artichoke isn't exactly a great fit for my garden. And the plant has some problems. Its leaves are always dusted with something white (mildew perhaps?) making it somewhat less than attractive. Even so, I'm sure that when I'm weeding out all the extras next spring and cursing their prolific multiplication, the Jerusalem Artichoke is one plant I'll probably always have a few of. It says so long to summer unlike any other flower I know.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Tree Karma Is Gonna Get Me

Just last week I was feeling very bitter about suggestions that a local wading pool renovation be put on hold in order to save some trees. This week, I'm trying to save a tree of my own. I've got my fingers crossed that a massive construction project next door doesn't destroy the tall balsam fir in my backyard. The tree is planted about a foot away from the property line. Last summer, in preparation for their project, the neighbours mercilessly hacked back several branches extending over the fence and into their air space. Savages, I tell you. Today, with the construction of a one-storey addition and basement going full steam ahead, a backhoe shredded all the roots growing into their yard. Every cut, slice and dice has been painful to witness. I'm convinced it's payback.

It's almost as if the park trees I am willing to sacrifice for the sake of a new wading pool planned this whole thing. They want me to witness the fir's suffering and perhaps even its slow, agonizing death by construction. Nice try trees! I almost...ALMOST... felt guilty for a half-second. I would hate to lose this tree. I really, really would. The loss of any healthy, mature tree is a minor tragedy. So, I am doing what I can to help the tree de-stress during what is undoubtedly a stressful time in its life. Mainly this involves giving the tree lots of water. If I'm able to ease some of the drought stress on the tree (we've just been through the driest summer in 50 years here in the T-dot), I'm hopeful it will focus its energies on surviving the root damage.

This tree suffered root damage once before thanks to another construction project by the same neighbours. It produced yellow needles on its lower branches for a few years and dropped needles like crazy for a while. But this summer it was back to its usual robust self. I see that as a good sign. The tree fought back once. I hope it will fight back again. In fact, I'm counting on it. But this construction project is big. Massive. Monsterous. I don't know if the tree stands a chance this time around. I'm rooting for it and will be out there nightly with my hose. Maybe, just maybe, with a little human help, this tree and the resilience it has shown in the past, will stand the test of time. Or maybe tree karma really is out to get me.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

My August Garden

As is my custom at this time of year, I've let the garden go a bit. It's a bit of a disaster really. Flowers haven't been deadheaded. Anything taller than two feet has flopped over onto its neighbours. And the weeds and a few surprise grasses have been given the leeway to thrive. I can't help it. The August heat slows me right down.

Thankfully, all is not lost. There are a few gems hidden in the mess that is my garden right now. I've been flip-flopping on whether or not I like the Helenium I planted this year. This morning's blooms did a lot to sway me to to say "Yes! I like the Helenium." Just as I was hoping, the blooms are appearing as everything else is fading. And the colour heralds the arrival of fall and cooler weather.

I rarely give enough attention to shrubs, trees and other plants with less than showy blooms. That changes here. My cotton lavender has been an absolute delight all summer. I especially like the silvery colour. It adds fragrance to the garden too (although some might argue it doesn't smell all that great.) The cotton lavender makes a feeble attempt at producing some tiny yellow button-like blossoms in mid to late summer. They're hardly showstoppers but cute nevertheless.

I've been out of the garden so long I was very surprised to see the first pink blossoms on the Autum Joy Sedum. Now that's a showstopper! This plant proves the old saying "Good things come to those who wait." The Autum Joy spends spring and summer going quietly about its business. Come fall, the sedum becomes the centre of attention. It's sort of like the Rockettes or a Vegas show: a spectacle so big that it's tough to look away.

While August has been a scorcher, the month has also produced some of the best (and only) rains of the summer. Here are some raindrops on the winged euonymous. What a relief. There was so little rain this year that I was very surprised the City didn't impose any water restrictions.

And I'm happy to report that diligent and regular watering in July and August have produced a Purple Beech tree growth spurt. It's bursting with new buds. It looks as though the tree has grown by at least a foot this summer. It's still very young and probably a few years away from producing the significant amount of shade I'm desperate for. But I think it's well on its way to becoming a grand and majestic tree. Any help from real rain is greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I Hate to Brag, But...

I am just thrilled about my bumper crop of cherry tomatoes. They look great and taste even better. Tonight I harvested 16 of them. 16! Okay, perhaps my gushing is a bit much. But tomatoes are the only edibles I'm growing this year. To see them perform so well is just awesome. Note to self: make room in next year's garden for vegetables.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sure Signs of Autumn's Approach

Nothing says fall to me more than the colour orange. So when I first see the orange Chinese Lanterns from the back door, I know that autumn is closing in. The official start of fall is still about six weeks away but I have to admit, I'm looking forward to it. The heat of July and August have worn me down a bit and the drought is a downer.

For all my whining and complaining about how invasive Chinese Lanterns are, I'm sad they didn't do better this year. For the most part, they all look a little grungy. But I have been unkind to them. I yanked most of them and neglected the rest. Now I feel bad.

The lanterns look great on the stem adding a splash of colour to the garden just as most of it is fading. But I like to pick them and open up the lantern to create "petals." A small bowl of these beauties makes a lovely centrepiece for the table and it keeps a long time.

My serviceberry is getting a jump start on fall. It's way to early for leaves to be changing colour, isn't it? But alas, I've got a few red ones on the go. The serviceberry has a bad case of powdery mildew so I suspect that might be part of the problem if not the problem. Putting aside concerns about how the tree is performing, I have to say I'm thrilled about the leaf colour. The more colour in fall the better. Bring it on.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

How Dry I Am

Around 6:30 tonight, I was sure it was going to rain. The sky was dark with clouds, the wind was picking up, and something in the air just made me feel that a storm was coming. Here it is four hours later and not a drop. That about sums up the summer. The rain has threatened to fall but has failed to follow through. The consequences for my garden have been relatively minimal. I've been doing my best to water deeply when I can. When I haven't been able to I've been taking comfort in the fact that my borders are fairly well established and can take a short dry period in stride. The drought has had a far more noticeable impact over at my in-laws. I snapped this photo over at their place yesterday. Looks like a dirt road, right? Wrong!

That is a dried up pond. So dry that the earth on the bottom is cracking. Even though some vegetation is managing to soldier on, all I can say is "Yikes!" Neighbours who've been in the area far longer than my in-laws say it's the first time they've ever seen the pond in such dire straits. Small fish that filled the pond were either plucked out of the shallow waters by birds or dried out on the pond floor only to become snacks for assorted wildlife. All of this strikes me as somewhat of a minor catastrophe in the grand scheme of things. Here's hoping for rain. And soon.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Back in April when I began my adventures in blogging, my first entry revolved around a branch in a Christmas-themed urn that had taken root and was subsequently producing leaves. This is what it looked like way back on April 27th. I proclaimed that I was Crazy For Corkscrew and jumped to the conclusion that I had a corkscrew hazel on my hands.

Well it turns out I was wrong. At the risk of being wrong again, I'm now prepared to announce that I've got a corkscrew willow instead. I suspected I had misidentified the plant for some time now. The leaves on the sprouted tree were too long and narrow to be corkscrew hazel. I kept expecting them to get thicker and denser but that never materialized. Then the other day I saw a reference to corkscrew willow somewhere and had an epiphany. Just because my branch was twisted didn't make it a corkscrew hazel. A Google image search of "corkscrew willow" turned up dozens of pictures that looked just like my little tree.

Now I was happy to have a corkscrew hazel. But I think I'm even happier to have a corkscrew willow. The mature trees I saw on the internet were way more appealing to me than a mature corkscrew hazel. And judging by the growth spurt I've seen this summer, this little tree should be a big tree in no time.