Friday, June 29, 2007

A Dry Sense of Humour

Is it possible to have a sense of humour about a drought? Quick answer: no! The grass is parched, the container plants are wilting, the earth is cracking. Every living thing around me is aching for a drink. Fortunately here in Canada, the solution is just a hose away. Our freshwater lakes are abundant and I can only imagine how much water is stored in all that glacial ice way up north. I turned my sprinkler on yesterday (that's Mount Tiki-Soaki in the picture) and let it run all afternoon long. I doubt that it was enough.

Mount Tiki-Soaki isn't so much a sprinkler as it is a children's toy. It sends out two small steady streams from its "ears" and then erupts in a geiser every ten seconds or so. I never intended to use it as a sprinkler but it simulates rain so well, it's a perfect fit for the garden. The real rain just isn't forthcoming. I can remember only one day of decent rainfall this month. Between the lack of precipitation and backyard sprinkler fun, I got to thinking about some serious water issues.

My husband's uncle is a water engineer in the U.S. He says unless there is some major snowfall in the mountains next year, California will likely run out of water. In Los Angeles alone, that's nearly 10 million people without a drop.

Despite some recently violent weather and floods, Australia is in the middle of its worst drought on record. The country's food bowl is drying up. The government is considering forcing people to drink treated sewage water.

Scientists in Bolivia believe a glacier that provides water to hundreds of thousands of people in and around La Paz could vanish completely within 12 months triggering massive water, food and electricity shortages. This is scary, scary stuff.

I can have a laugh about Mount Tiki-Soaki. The name is cute and it's fun to try and jump over it before the geiser blows. But this sprinkler, silly as it is, is a reminder that drought is no laughing matter. Without water, there is no life. And the consequences for the planet make my concerns about a container plant ot two laughable. Everybody...cross your fingers for rain.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

If I Feed Them, They Will Come

I've decided to embrace my squirrels. It may seem an odd choice, especially since they have caused irreparable damage to some of my plants and picked my serviceberry clean. But as the saying goes, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

On the advice of Karen at 1-2-3 Go Garden, I have started feeding them. In a recent blogger exchange, Karen left me a note saying that she has a big feeder in her garden and the squirrels tend to leave her plants alone. That sounded like an easy solution to me. So I picked up a Squirrel Snacker.

And voila! Here's the scene that greeted me when I got home tonight. A squirrel digging in to a mix of seed and corn. So the "snacker" is working. Whether it will distract the squirrels from the plants remains to be seen. But so far, so good. One thing is for sure though. These squirrels have a huge appetite. If this is going to work, I think I'm going to need a bigger feeder.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Waiting Game

It's that time of year in my garden when I have to sit back and wait. While I'm enjoying the daylilies, cranesbill and veronica, the real stars of my summer garden are getting ready in the wings. The "globes" on my globe thistle are readily apparent. Their purple blooms are among my most favourite. I always think they look like a mini-solar system hovering above the garden. Even more appealing than its appearance is the fact that the globe thistle thrives on neglect. Go ahead: put it in the leanest, poorest soil you can find and forget to water it. The globe thistle won't mind. In fact, it will reward you with plenty of blooms.

I have more purple coneflowers in my garden than any other plant. Like a potato chip, one just won't do. I think I've got seven altogether and next year I'm sure I'll have more. These plants are just so easy to divide. I guess it pays to get plants native to one's area. These coneflowers have taken a liking to the conditions in my yard and are really thriving.

This year, one of the coneflowers had a surprise for me. It bloomed last week far ahead of schedule. Interestingly enough, the first bloom appeared in a relatively shady part of the yard. Unusual for this sun-lover but welcome nevertheless.

Ahhhh, astilbe. Talk about a plant that looks great all the time. Just look at that beautiful foliage. And you'll be tickled pink (my astilbe are pink) by the feathery blooms. Astilbe are a great excuse to start a shade garden. So what are you waiting for?

Have I mentioned any favourite plants yet? If not, then my liatris qualify. They appeal to my preference for purple, spiky plants. Like the globe thistle and purple coneflower, they look great even before they bloom. Unlike the other two, liatris are a bit yucky once they're done. I just cut down the blackend flower stalks. Nothing so drastic is necessary for the thistle and coneflower. They look great right through the winter with a fine dusting of snow. No need to cut them down to the ground until spring.

Well, it won't be long now. And so I wait.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Goodbye Kitty

My mother-in-law called this morning with terrible news. Hello Kitty was no longer with us. Some time between last night and this morning, she was struck by a car and killed. I had a good cry over her passing when I heard. I'm having a good cry as I write this.

Like so many self-respecting cats before her, Hello Kitty chose who she wanted to live with and where, not the other way around. She wandered the countryside around Bancroft, Ontario until she found a little house on a hill that suited her just fine. At just barely older than a kitten, she was wise enough to know that turning on the charm would go a long way toward winning over the humans living inside. They didn't stand a chance. She won over the rest of us just as quickly with her easy-going attitude.

Hello Kitty was the gentlest cat I ever knew. She was an outdoor enthusiast. Before she became acquainted with the couch, she was like a bolt of lightning when racing across a field. I'll always remember the first time I saw her do a flying leap into a tree. Rarely do I gasp in astonishment but that cat was fast. And I'll never forget the burrs that got caught in her fur. Even the unflattering trim that followed wasn't enough to change her cheery disposition. It just made her all the more endearing.

Hello Kitty's time with us was all too brief. I'm sorry I didn't get the chance to give her one last tummy rub. Goodbye Hello Kitty. You'll be missed.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Happy Summer Solstice

Where better to spend the summer solstice than in the garden? The longest day of the year was a beauty here in Toronto. I took some time to bike over to the garden centre and pick up a few extra plants for the community garden. I got two "Bavaria White" and one "Bavaria Blue" Spiral Bellflowers. Talk about cute.

No surprises about my next choice: Salvia "Blue Queen." I simply can't walk away from a purple spiky flower. I also put in a Gaillardia "Oranges and Lemons" and three Alpine Poppies (sadly the photos turned out too blurry to post.)

Even as the days start to get shorter, there's much growing time ahead. The purple coneflowers have yet to appear. The "globes" of the globe thistle are close to flowering. The serviceberries are almost ripe. The daylilies are just starting to bloom. The liatris and astilbe are still a few weeks away from prime time. The catmint, chives, and mountain bluet should all deliver a second set of blooms soon. So much to look forward to.

Happy Summer Solstice everyone and happy gardening ahead.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Delightful Daylilies

I looked out the back door this morning to see my first daylily had bloomed. I have no idea what variety it is. I inherited the daylilies when my husband and I bought our house nine years ago this summer. When we first moved in, there was just a small patch of daylilies. They have been happily multiplying ever since. Nine years later, they own the back of my border.

I distinctly remember disliking daylilies as a child. I thought of them as "old people" flowers. Lavender and marigolds fell into this category as well. Why? Well I'm not sure exactly. But I suspect an especially hideous mid-1970s wallpaper in my parents' first home. It made quite the impression on me. Of course, my parents would have been only in their late thirties (just like me right now) when they picked that wallpaper. But, let's face it, that's ancient to a five year old. Hence, "old people" flowers. Setting aside the subconcious workings of my mind, my opinion of the daylily has changed.

The daylily, quite simply, never disappoints. It's among the first plants to poke through the ground in spring, it multiplies quickly, and provides an abundance of stunning blooms over a long stretch of summer.

But my favourite feature of the daylily is its spent blooms. For weeks on end they give me an excuse to disappear into the garden every night for a few minutes of deadheading. It's a beautiful way to end the day.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Now Blooming

Before I get to what's blooming right now, I'd like to welcome some new additions to the garden. I'm very excited about two new Helenium "Rotgold." These beauties will provide daisy-like flowers in assorted yellow and oranges in late summer. They will produce blooms from July to September if all goes well. I am a sucker for late summer blooms. That's one of the reasons I love purple coneflower so much. Just when I think the summer has fizzled, the coneflowers come alive and keep blooming and blooming and blooming. I'm hoping for the same thing from the Helenium...but no pressure.

I've also added two Salvia "Caradonna." I'm excited about these plants for an altogether different reason. They're supposed to attract hummingbirds. A few weeks back, I had a visit from a hummingbird. I think it's safe to say it was the first ever visit by a hummingbird to my garden. I was standing by the back door and heard the sound of its wings. I looked up, caught a glimpse, and it was gone. Brief but magical. The salvia is my attempt to bring that hummingbird back.

On to the tried and true. First up: lavender. I live smack dab in the middle of the city. But this picture makes me think about the wide open prairie. There's just something about the way the light hits the plant. The stems also lean to the right. I imagine the plant swaying in a prairie breeze. It's amazing to me that pictures can invoke memories of certain fragrances. But I look at this image and I can smell the lavender right now.

Can anybody stand another picture of the veronica? I love this plant. Enough said.

The Nepeta or Catmint has done a fabulous job of hiding the less than attractive base of my foxtail lily. It's starting to flop over though and is due for a trim. I'm hoping for a second set of blooms later this summer. The plant is also crowding one of my sedums. Maybe more than a trim is in order.

This cranesbill has to be the big disappointment of the season so far. After a great display last year, it has barely turned out a handful of blooms. I divided it in spring. That was probably my mistake. It's been struggling ever since. But I'm giving it a little extra TLC and have my fingers crossed for a full recovery. It really is quite an impressive plant.

And last, but certainly not least, the Serbian Bellflower. This one is very easy to miss. I forget about it year after year. It's planted along the edge of a path but hidden under the branches of a winged euonymous. It seems to be doing just fine in this shady, sheltered spot. It's very much worth it to stop along the path and peek under the branches to catch a glimpse of this tough but dainty bloomer.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Havelock Street Community Garden

One of my great gardening joys is always having extra plants to share with others. They pop up all on their own with no coaxing from me. They flourish and thrive and eventually crowd out the rest of my bloomers. So every year a few have to go. I give some away. Others I leave on the front lawn with "free" labels so that people can help themselves. This year I donated a bunch to my daughter's pre-school fundraiser. I thought I was done for the summer.

But then I received a note on my doorstep saying a community garden was being started. My neighbour Silvie was spearheading an operation to transform a sad patch of grass next to the local highschool into an urban paradise. Well my mind started racing. What extras have I got? What would grow well in that location? How soon do we get started? First thing Sunday, I dug up two purple coneflower, a globe thistle, and a lemon balm. I packed up my shovel, watering can, and daughter and we were off.

Upon arriving, the challenges ahead became abundantly clear. We were about to try and garden in soil that had the consistency of hardened cement. That's me all in black and with totally inappropriate footwear digging with Sally. Can you hear me groaning? Or see the sweat on my brow?

But where there is a will there is a way. Silvie was able to get a hold of some compost from the local park. With some help from fellow neighbour gardener Rob, they brought about four carloads of compost to the community garden. By the time it was all dug in, we had something that actually resembled soil.

The garden started taking shape quickly after that. Here's Silvie putting in the Lady's Mantle.

The purple coneflowers looked a bit droopy by the time I got them into the ground. But I'm sure they'll be fine. Same with the thistle. Both love the dry, blazing hot conditions this site has to offer. I still have to get back to the garden and trim the lemon balm. It was growing under a shade tree in my yard and a little leggy as a result. But with a little pinching, it should fill in nicely. I'll have to try and cut the blooms off before they go to seed so lemon balm doesn't start popping up everywhere in the garden. It's delightful that lemon balm is so easy to grow. It's not as delightful to always have to pluck up its many, many seedlings.

Water proved to be another challenge. While Rob offered the use of his hose from across the street, his plumber happened to be working on his water supply leaving us without a drop. My husband and daughter offered to truck a wagonload to us from our house up the street.

They got back just as the plumber finished his work and turned the water back on. Oh well, thanks for the effort.

After a little drink, the garden really perked up. While it's a little late in the season to get started on a garden, I like to think today was all about planting with a vision toward next year. I'm sure that as people find out about this garden, more plants will find their way into the earth and this community garden will grow.

Although this picture was taken as we started our day, I think it's a fitting photo that sums up the days events. There's always a great feeling of satisfaction after working on a garden. Here's to many more days like this one ahead.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Free Compost

To the average person, the picture at left would appear to be a child playing in dirt. But to a gardener, that pile of dirt is a pile of possibility. It's leaf compost and it was absolutely free to anyone with a way to carry it away.

All autumn long, the City of Toronto carts away bags and bags of garden waste. I'm happy to oblige the city with a few dozen or so bags. In addition to whatever I clean up in my garden, there's an enormous maple growing next door that sheds its leaves. I start raking up toward the end of October and keep going right up until December. Those leaves just keep coming and the city just keeps carting them away.

Come spring, those leaves come back to me, transformed into glorious compost. Okay, "glorious" may be a tad dramatic. Certainly, my husband would agree that such descriptions are best left to items other that dirt. Just check out his less than enthusiastic expression. But I digress. Every spring, the local city councillor holds an "Environment Day" in the neighbourhood. Free leaf compost is one of the things on offer. So, bright and early Saturday morning, I loaded my daughter into her wagon and with husband in tow, we went off to collect our black gold.

My mother came over in the afternoon. We used the compost to mulch all around the garden plants. What a difference. The compost really makes all the plants in the garden "pop." We'll do it all again in fall to prepare for the winter ahead. (As an aside, the veronica is my most favourite bloomer in the garden right now and threatening to become an all time favourite. I'm amazed every time I see it.)

I was happy to see lots of people putting bins filled with compost into their cars or loading up their children's wagons with buckets and bags. I tried to guess at what people would be growing. I'm sure I spotted a rose gardener. There was definitely a family that grows peppers and tomatoes. And I'm sure one dad and his kid were just there to get their feet dirty. Regardless of the gardening choices, it's nice to see so many people working to make the community a greener place.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Room With A View

In real estate, the saying goes, it's all about location, location, location. Well if that's the case, this birdhouse has hit the jackpot. It's got a great view of the tallest and most majestic flower in my garden: the foxtail lily. And it's just about the cutest birdhouse I've ever seen. Who wouldn't want to live here?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Viva Italia!

I am happy to report that my strawberry planter recently yielded enough herbs for a delicious Italian meal. I thought I'd share the super simple recipes.

Fetuccine With Fresh Garden Herbs
4 Servings Fettucine Pasta
1/2 Cup Chives
1/2 Cup Oregano
1/2 Cup Parsley
1/2 Cup Basil
1/2 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
6 Cloves of Garlic

Prepare the pasta as directed. Mince garlic. Mince the herbs. Heat oil on low. Add garlic. Stir garlic in oil for about a minute. Add the herbs. Stir for 30 seconds. Toss fettucine with herb mixture.

Sure there's a lot of mincing to do, but as recipes go, it doesn't get much easier than that. A Caprese salad is the perfect side dish and just as easy. My tomatoes have a ways to go before I'll be able to enjoy them in this salad.

Caprese Salad
4 medium tomatoes
4 balls of bocconcini cheese
1 bunch basil torn by hand
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Chop the tomatoes and cheese into discs. You can either overlap them on a plate or just toss everything together. Sprinkle with the basil. Add vinegar and toss (if you've chosen the overlap method, just drizzle the vinegar over the plate). I especially love this salad super chilled. It's a real refresher on a hot summer day.

I rarely cook. I leave that to my husband, take-out joints, and whatever fast-food outlet is convenient. Not healthy, I know. But if every recipe was as easy and delightful as the fettucine and caprese salad, I'd have no excuses.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Garden Update #3

The veronica are in bloom. They are beautiful all on their own but I happen to think the dragonfly adds a nice touch. The colours are just dreamy.

The lavender has arrived just in time to replace the fading chives. I can't decide which of these plants I appreciate more. Both look great, offer a long bloom period and add wonderful fragrance to the garden.

I have yet to blog about my Bloodgood Japanese Maple. So here goes. It's doing great. It was a 2006 Mother's Day gift (my husband knows me so well). Last year, the tips of its leaves turned white, almost as if scorched. I worried that I had chosen a poor location but decided to leave it in place until this spring. Good move on my part. It's really thriving and looks gorgeous. The serated leaf edges are stunning and the colour just blows me away. This plant still has a lot of growing to do (it's only about two-and-a-half feet tall) but I'm already imaging it a decade from now. On the down side, I underplanted it last year with lilyturf (liriope muscari). It was a great match. The lily turf provided great purple blooms and berries in late fall. But this year the lily turf is struggling.

The sedum are coming along nicely, but the real star of this photo is the thyme. I planted it last summer and this spring I've got a thick, woolly carpet of thyme. It smells and feels great, and its wonderful blossoms are still to come. I have great plans for thyme when we finally get around to fixing our gravel parking area. Eventually, I want to lay down some stepping stones for where the car wheels will rest. Four lines of stones to accomodate two cars. Everything in between....thyme. It's tough enough that you can step on it and it will bounce right back. Watch out though. Bees love this rugged beauty too. I got stung last year while working near the thyme. Small price to pay.

The asiatic lilies should come into bloom any day now. They are a new addition from last fall and the first of their kind in my garden. Three of them migrated from the far end of the yard to the shade garden near the deck, a distance of some 30 feet. Squirrels! They dug them up and replanted them! At least they could have asked where I wanted them.

Last, but certainly not least, say hello to my baby tomatoes. I recently made the most awesome Caprese Salad with store bought tomatoes. Today my husband said to me that maybe we could make it again in the fall with our own homegrown tomatoes. Wait a husband noticed my efforts in the kitchen and the garden? I must be doing something right. Like him, I can't wait to enjoy some vine-ripened tomatoes right from the yard.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Looks Can Be Deceiving

Would anybody fork over cash for this sorry looking bunch of plants? I hope so. They are my contribution to my daughter's pre-school Spring Fling fundraiser. Sure, they look a little shabby. After all, they have been languishing in less than ideal conditions in my garden. The purple coneflowers were losing the battle next to some boisterous iris. The globe thistle was doing okay but I've already got enough so I decided to part with this one. Anyone who's ever moved a globe thistle knows just how much this plant resents being disturbed. It flops over pretending to play dead. At least the mountain bluets look okay.

I hope potential customers see past the sad appearance of these plants. They are the toughest in my garden. Globe thistle, despite its drama queen performance, is a survivor. Same for all the others. I've added homemade labels with plant information and instructions to each pot. I'm sure that will help with the sales pitch. But at a buck a pot, I might not need help. I'm sure there are gardeners out there who will recognize a steal when they see it.

And now for something completely different. Ladybugs. My thanks to The Crafty Gardener for the great idea of painting rocks to look like these wonderful insect visitors to the garden.

I'm the first to admit that my ladybugs don't come close to the Crafty Gardener's creations but I'm working with a four-year old. She loved the project. And I have to admit, I think that ladybug face has some character. I'd recommend it as a great garden project for any kid (or kid at heart).