Monday, July 30, 2007

The Dog Days of Summer

The dog days of summer are upon us and they've slowed my blogging down to a snail's pace. It has been just over a week since my last post but I feel I've been away a lot longer. The heat combined with a gruelling work schedule and even more gruelling birthday party preparations for my daughter forced blogging onto the backburner for a few days. It's good to be back. While I've been a slouch, the garden has been anything but. Case in point: the hibiscus. It has gone absolutely bloom crazy.

I don't know too much about my calamint plant. But I do know I love it. It was an addition to last year's garden and I couldn't be more pleased with its performance. It has filled in to a signficantly-sized plant with a naturally attractive form. It has cute little white blooms with what appear to be tiny burgundy spots. The spots are placed in such a way that they make the bloom look like a puppy with droopy ears. I especially love the calamint for its fragrance. Here it is paired with an Autumn Joy Sedum, also an addition from last year. It too is doing well. I was never a fan of sedum until I saw their glorious burgundy flower heads in late fall. It's so nice to always have something to look forward to next in the garden.

A new addition to this year's garden is the Sneezeweed or Helenium. So far so good. I'm not sure that the colour is a fit for my garden but I'm willing to give it a season or two. Like the sedum, the helenium is a late bloomer with a fantastic show straight through until fall. And this yellow and brown combo certainly spells fall to me. I can already feel the chill in the air.

From the "I couldn't resist" file: three delphiniums to feed my need for purple flowers on tall spikes. On my bike ride to work the other day, I saw these delphiniums sitting on the sidewalk outside one of Toronto's many mom-and-pop convenience stores. It took everything I had to keep from pulling over and dragging those plants to work with me. Needless to say, I had my eyes peeled for them on the ride home. Sure enough they were there. It was a nice surprise that they were about half-price compared to the local garden centre. Like I said: I couldn't resist.

I've also added five new Japanese Forest Grass plants. While I think they look quite lovely as they are, I have really high hopes for them. I'm trying to duplicate many a garden magazine photo I've seen in which the Forest Grass cascades forward creating an almost waterfall effect. Based on what I've read, this might take a while. Japanese Forest Grass is apparently notoriously slow to grow.

The liatris are going strong. As you can see, many of them have only just begun sprouting from the top and are slowly working their way down the flower stalk. They are always reliable and therefore always a favourite.

Overall, this year's garden gets a big thumbs up from me. It's nice that visitors to the garden have offered the occasional compliment. If I can work up the courage, I might even submit my garden for consideration in next year's Toronto Open Gardens tour. I think I might have a contender.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Workin' For the Weekend

There's an old song by Canadian rockers Loverboy called "Working for the Weekend." All the bees, butterflies, grasshoppers and moths flitting about the garden made me think of it. This bee on my globe thistle is one of literally dozens that made an appearance in the garden this morning.

It was tough to snap a picture of the bees on the liatris. They kept disappearing under the blooms as they worked their way round and round. Bees are a tricky bunch especially with so many of them around. I had to be extra careful as I stepped into the garden. The liatris, by the way, are doing great. They are a personal favourite as their psychedelic mop-tops begin to bloom.

The purple coneflowers are a bee favourite too. Last year, I was foolish enough to carelessly plunge my hand into some foliage while working around some coneflowers. I was promptly stung on the thumb. I know better this year that bees deserve some respect...and some space.

I'm not sure if this is a butterfly or moth. It seemed a little too hairy to be a butterfly but too colourful to be a moth. Whatever it is, it also enjoyed the coneflowers.

I almost sat right down on this guy. I caught myself just in time. He blended in perfectly with the lawn chair cushion. I'm sure he was just taking a break ahead of a busy day.

There was one visitor to the garden this weekend that stood out among the rest. This beautiful monarch stopped by and thoughtfully stopped to pose for a beautiful picture. Okay, I know, it too was working. Busy collecting its nectar. I'm just glad I wasn't working for the weekend so that I could be around to enjoy all the garden creatures.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

First Cherry Tomatoes

The first cherry tomatoes have been plucked from the garden. They were promptly devoured by my almost four-year-old daughter. What a thrill to see her happily eating healthy food without a fuss (she's a picky eating champ!). Her eyes lit up when I invited her to pick the tiny tomatoes right off the vine and she chowed down without hesitation. I think her reaction is a testament to just how wonderful it is to be able to grow your own food. Here's to many happy tomato harvests ahead.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Pretty In Pink

There's a wave of pink gently sweeping across the garden. Among the flowers in finest form: the snapdragons. I have never grown snapdragons before this year. They are part of the planter I put together earlier this spring. Upon seeing their blooms I have to wonder why I've never included them in my garden plans before. I think I've been way too focused on perennials. But this annual really shines. I plan to make room for more of these beauties...lots year.

There's been a coneflower explosion in my yard. Much to my delight, a bee popped by for a visit and stayed still just long enough for me to snap this photo. Actually, the bees are buzzing with activity around the coneflowers. They just love these blooms. Just like me, the bees feel it's a perfect time to think pink.

Friday, July 13, 2007

All-Time-Favourite Garden Combo

I have never been particularly successful at putting together pleasing plant combinations. Inevitably, the colours or heights or textures just don't work together. I'm getting a bit better at it but feel I've got a long way to go. That's why I'm always so pleased at this time of year when the globe thistle and purple coneflowers are blooming in tandem. I'm not sure if this combo is pleasing to everyone, but it's just awesome as far as I'm concerned.

I consider myself a city girl through and through. But something about this combination of blooms makes me want to run off and live on the Prairies. Wide expanses of flat land with a breeze blowing through the fields of wheat and corn. A pick-up truck on a dusty road. A lemonade at the local diner. And nothing but peace and quiet for miles around. I'm sure the reality of country living is different from my dream version. But then if a city garden isn't meant to inspire dreams, what is it good for really?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Mixed Bag of Emotions

More than any other plant in my garden, the Chinese Lantern leaves me with mixed feelings. I don't know whether to celebrate it or lump it into the category of evil invaders. I go from hating to loving this plant and back again many times in any given growing season.

I made an egregious mistake when I put my first tiny pot of Chinese Lanterns into the ground. I assumed it would stay put. Little did I know that its roots travel great distances underground, taking over any bit of available soil for their own selfish purposes. It is not an exaggeration to suggest this plant will take over your border if given even a bit of leeway. Every spring I pull out dozens upon dozens of Chinese Lantern stems. Even a tiny piece of root left behind in the soil will take on a life of its own and blaze a trail toward reproducing itself. That is a situation I created for myself. I'll just have to deal with it. If had to do it over again, I would plant Chinese Lantern with some sort of barrier around them to stop the roots. Maybe even plant it in a sealed planter buried in the garden soil.

While the Chinese Lanterns give me a lot of grief, I can't bring myself to get rid of them altogether. They grow well in shade. Their lovely lantern blooms change from green to a spectacular orange. They bring colour to the garden late in the season when just about everything else has faded. The lanterns make an excellent cut flower. And come Thanksgiving, there is nothing prettier than a Chinese Lantern to decorate a dinner plate. I carefully pull apart the lantern sections to create "petals" that fold away from the orange fruit inside. Spectacular (I'll be sure to post a picture in fall).

I'd say the main problem with this plant is how it makes me feel at the very moment I see the first lantern. Usually my reaction is something along the lines of: "Gasp! Summer can't be over already." But before I break out the parka and boots, perhaps I'll take in the weeks and weeks of blooms still to come in the summer garden.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Astilbe My Heart

This is an exciting time in the garden. So much is happening or about to happen. For example, the astilbe have just about reached their full bloom. As proud as I am of my garden, I'm even prouder of my almost four-year-old daughter who happened to snap these pictures. I don't think I could have captured the light, fluffiness of the blooms in this way even if I tried. She's either really lucky or a genius (I suspect the latter.)

My astilbe have been outstanding performers from day one. They are planted on the south side of my yard, right up against a fence. They sit in shade all morning. Later in the day, they are bathed in late afternoon sunshine. The soil is consistently moist. I guess they find the conditions ideal. I planted the astilbe when I literally did not know what I was doing in the garden. There was a time when I thought all a plant needed was some dirt and some water every once in a while. I've come a long way since then. But on the day I planted the astilbe, luck was on my side. And that little bit of good luck has gone a long way.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Beautiful Blooms for a Beautiful Saturday

Do days get anymore beautiful than today? Sunshine, a slight breeze, no humidity. The garden loved it and offered up some stunning blooms. While I really, really like daylilies, this morning they looked exceptional. It was enough to make me really, really love them.

I thought the cranesbill was going to be a bust this year. It struggled all through spring. It still looks a little leggy but it's starting to bounce back. I divided it earlier this year and fear I did some serious damage to the roots. I'll have to read up on how to better deal with this plant next time around because the blooms really are worth waiting for.

Right around this time of year, my garden colour scheme begins a gradual colour shift from mostly purple to mostly pink. The astilbe lead the charge. Here it is en route to its full feathery glory. Astilbe easily takes the prize for most prolific blooms in return for least amount of effort. These plants are tireless bloomers year after year.

And while we're on the topic of "pretty in pink," the coneflowers are nearing their annual summer extravaganza of blooms. Here's one just starting to blossom. It's an exciting time in the garden. Not much has been happening for the last few weeks. Now the real show is about to begin.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Evil Invader

In my last posting, I appealed for information about a tree I was sure had its roots in the very bowels of hell. Turns out I should have been looking up instead of down. I'm now convinced that I have a Tree of Heaven. Both Jeremy at Paradise in Progress and Iowa Gardening Women at My Iowa Garden suggested I had a Sumac. That sent me down a research path that would deliver only bad news.

Ailanthus altissima, also known as Chinese Sumac, is a native of China that has made itself more than welcome in Canada, and across North America. It is an invasive species that seeds like crazy. Its roots are so powerful that they can cause severe damage to pipes and even building foundations. My assessment of its "unkillability" turned out to be spot on. It's very hard, if not impossible, to get rid of. And despite its dreamy "Tree of Heaven" moniker, it also goes by another, perhaps more appropriate name: the Stink Tree.

I started my online search looking for Sumac. But my husband pointed out that the leaves in all the pictures didn't quite match ours. Most of the sumacs we saw had serated leaf edges while our tree leaves were smooth. I then came upon a Chinese Sumac photo and the leaves were a match. I knew I was getting closer when I saw that Chinese sumac leaves have a "gland" or slight swelling on them. I found swelling after swelling on our leaves. The odour given off by the plant was another giveaway. It smells sort of like nuts. While most of the online info I read described the smell as offensive, I'd say it's rather innocuous. The scar left behind by a snapped-off branch also matched that of Ailanthus altissima. I think we have a winner.

So it is an evil invader after all, despite a lovely name. Perhaps that's part of its success. Who would want to cut down a Tree of Heaven? Oh Time to get hacking.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Out Vile Weed!

There's a saying that goes "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." As far as the tree pictured here today, it is definitely an enemy. I need to know all about it in order to stop its treacherous advances. So I'm asking anyone with information about it to please come forward. I have no idea what this tree is. But I am convinced it is an evil invader that must be destroyed.

Several years ago I had to cut down an old tree and hired a removal crew to do the job. While I had them over I asked them to please remove another tree like the one pictured, only it was slightly larger. It was growing in the exact same spot and, as I recall, had grown to six feet or taller in just a few months. The intrepid crew tied a rope around its base and then used a pick-up truck to wrench it from deep inside the earth (I'm beginning to believe the roots may reach the bowels of hell.) I was certain that was the end of the tree. I was so wrong.

It's back with a vengeance! Its persistence and "un-kill-ability" make me certain this is some sort of tree weed that will be nothing but trouble if I leave it be. And have no doubts, this tree is unkillable. In one of my finer efforts to get rid of it, I poured pounds of salt onto its roots and around its base. The tree said "Can I have some more, please." I see these trees all over the city growing in the most inhospitable environments, usually out of sidewalk cracks and butted up against walls. Interestingly enough, when the branches snap off, they emit a nice aroma. I'm not even sure they are branches. When they are snapped off they leave just a "trunk" that amounts to nothing more that a stick sticking out of the ground.

Perhaps I'm wrong about this mystery tree. But I can't take any chances. Anyone out there with an idea of what it might be and how to deal with it?

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Canada Day Thoughts on the Poppy

In honour of Canada Day I thought a posting about red and white flowers, the colours of our flag, would be appropriate. One small problem though. Aside from a small patch of red coral bells (heuchera) and a handful of white begonias, I have no red or white in my garden. Luckily, my mother's garden has lots of red and white, including these miniature roses. Her flowers make a guest appearance here today.

My mother has a poppy garden that I love. It looks so natural, as if it was achieved effortlessy. Her technique includes throwing down some seeds and then forgetting about them. It works, and year after year I'm amazed at these beautiful flowers. But this Canada Day, the poppy has me thinking about the war in Afghanistan.

The recently released United Nations World Drug Report found 90 per cent of the world's heroin comes from poppies grown in Afghanistan. Poppy yields there are increasing and experts believe this year's crop could set a record. Struggling Afghan farmers are growing poppies either because they're forced to by criminal gangs or because it's the most lucrative crop around. For many, it is literally their only shot at a better life for themselves and their families. Meanwhile the Taliban has its paws all over the drug trade and drug profits flow to Taliban fighters.

It is stunning to me that the same family of flowers growing in a Toronto backyard is financing a vicious war a world away. It's a war that has killed 60 Canadians since 2002. British and American soldiers are dying too as are countless Afghans, most of them civilians. So as I celebrated the red and white and all the great freedoms all of us enjoy, my thoughts turned to those in Afghanistan.

I was vehemently opposed when Canada joined the Afghan war effort after the September 11th attacks. How could attacking an entire country possibly lead us to Osama Bin Laden, I wondered? It hasn't and it probably never will. But since then I've learned a lot about Afghanistan and Osama Bin Laden's hosts, the Taliban. The Taliban kill teachers because they hate education. The Taliban don't think girls should learn to read and write. The Taliban don't allow music and dancing. The Taliban terrorize the people of Afghanistan.

Regardless of how our troops got there or how their mission has changed, I have come to believe they cannot abandon the people of Afghanistan. I have serious concerns about the Prime Minister's motives for keeping Canadian troops in Afghanistan until 2009. At the same time (and here's where I'll get in trouble with family members), I find the demands of NDP leader Jack Layton (bring the troops home now, end the mission now) completely ridiculous and even irresponsible. Can we really turn a blind eye to what is happening there? Can we really abandon the people like lambs to a slaughter? In some ways I feel I don't even have the right to ask those questions or have an opinion. Maybe that should fall only to those soldiers and their families living with the reality of this war every day.

There are no easy answers to Afghanistan. I can only hope that Canadian soldiers are able to come home soon to their families and that the people of Afghanistan can one day enjoy the freedoms and peace we do. And so my search for the red and white this Canada Day had an unexpected result: I don't think I'll ever look at a poppy the same way again.