Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Garden Resolutions 2009

With the lights about to dim on another year, I find myself pumped for the 2009 garden season. Sure there are almost three full months of cold, hard winter ahead, including dreaded February. What better time to plot and plan for the best garden yet. It all begins tonight with my garden resolutions.

Garden Exercise
Gardening can be tough work. I will regret sitting around on my behind for the next three months come the first garden clean-up day in spring. I don't mind a few good aches following an afternoon of digging in the dirt. Too often, however, my aches come with audible groans. No more. I'm going to keep fit over the next few months with a walking and snow shoveling regime. I'll start that right after all the Christmas chocolate runs out, right around Valentine's Day.

Mulch. Mulch. Mulch Some More.
Is it possible to fall in love with mulch? For the last two years I have made my own mulch from fallen leaves which I then mow into smaller pieces. It looks so nice around the plants as winter prepares its onslaught. Come spring, the leaves are one with the soil and the soil seems so much healthier and happier. While I have made lots of mulch, I have also collected bags and bags of leaves to be carted to the city compost heap. No more. This year those leaves are mine. I'll make more mulch than ever before. My plants will thank me with a profusion of blooms the likes of which have never been seen before.

Divide. Divide. And Divide Again.
2008 was an exceptional garden year thanks in large part to an abundance of rain. Lush does not begin to describe the wonder of this year's garden. Some gardeners might interpret my definition of "lush" to mean "overcrowded." That's okay. I like things a little wild but some plants are starting to suffer. Last spring, I noticed the astilbe were looking a little bare in the centre but I chose to ignore their plight. No more. They will be first up for division. The daylilies, iris, purple coneflower and lesser calamint could all use dividing. That's going to be a lot of work. I'd better get in shape to handle the job.

Bye-Bye Lawn
It's been ten years coming but I think I'm finally ready. By the end of summer my front lawn will be no more. I'm installing a front-yard garden. I went for a little test drive last spring, tearing out a small section of lawn and installing a woodland walk. It needs some fine-tuning. For the most part, though, I am deliriously happy with the result which was well-received by neighbours too. The new garden is a larger space than I have ever worked with. That's a bit intimidating but the lawn has to go and so it will. Good thing I've got months to sit around surfing the web, looking for plant choices and compiling plant lists.

More Native Plants
A new garden will mean more room for native plants. Natives became somewhat of an obsession since the woodland walk installation. They are beautiful in their own right and essential to preserving our natural heritage. But I really, really, really like them because they are very different from anything my neighbours grow. There are lots of beautiful gardens out there but how many of them feature a seersucker sedge? Or wood poppy? Or white snakeroot? I didn't set out to be different. It just ended up that way and I'm absolutely thrilled. Now I want more natives, the more unusual and difficult to acquire, the better.

The Impulse Buy
I've been a dedicated gardener for more than ten years now. That's long enough to know that the garden centre impulse buy is a bad idea. You know what I'm talking about. We all do it. A plant catches our eye across the garden centre aisle. It calls out to us. We have to have it even though it clashes with our colour scheme. We have to have it even though it requires full shade and all we have is full sun. We have to have it even though there is nowhere left to shoe-horn in another plant. So the days of the impulse plant purchase will be no more in 2009. Instead all potential purchases will be carefully researched. Height, soil and light requirements will all be carefully taken into consideration before any money is handed over to the cashier.

Okay...who am I kidding with this last one? There's no way that's ever going to happen. The tradition of the impulse buy will carry on. Fortunately, new year's resolutions are meant to be broken so I'm off to a good start. Here's wishing you the best garden yet in 2009.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wishing You...

...sunny skies, plentiful rain, abundant harvests, bountiful blooms, and an always greener thumb. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Holiday Garden

I don't know exactly when the holiday garden decorating bug struck but it was sometime in the last five years. It started innocently enough: I stuck some evergreen branches in some dirt and it looked nice all winter long. Ever since, the holiday garden has been getting more and more elaborate.

This is one of two big urns sitting on the back porch. Our kitchen has lots of windows facing the deck and yard so it's nice to see these every time I look outside. I have to confess: I had these urns done up for me by a pro. I have always felt that my urn and window box designs, while nice, were somehow lacking. Something was missing. I'm beginning to realize that my perceived design shortcomings could easily be remedied with just a little extra material. Next year, I'm doing it all on my own. I love the way the urns (and the window box below) look but I'm really looking forward to the chance to put my personal stamp on them.

The window box at the front of the house looks great at this time of year. So lush and green in our grey, grey winters. During the summer months, this window box is inevitably a bust. If the squirrels don't destroy what's planted there, the drought will. This is not an easy window box to water. It's not easy to reach and it's altogether too easy to forget about. Perhaps fake plants for the summer will do the trick. Who would know? Or would that disqualify me as a legitimate gardener?

The woodland garden has provided a benefit I didn't anticipate: now I can decorate the two serviceberry shrubs and the eastern redbud for the Christmas season. The woodland walk looks especially pretty in the early morning sun when the ornaments sparkle.

The holiday garden will stay in place until about March, right about the time I start wondering how much longer the cruel, cruel winter can last (regardless of what the calendar says, winter weather can persist well into April 'round these parts.) Until then I'll enjoy the greenery, faux fruit and designer berries. After all, it just wouldn't feel like the holiday season without my holiday garden.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Colour-Starved Gardener Needs Tree I.D.

Just a short walk from my home there grows a tree that simply takes my breath away. Its branches are loaded with hundreds upon hundreds of red berries that stand out even from a block away. I never noticed this tree in the summer. Now that the cold has set in, there is no missing this beauty. I can't get enough. I have even taken detours on my neighbourhood walks for the chance to gaze upon it one more time.

When I first started gardening, I was happy to see colourful blooms from May through August (as a beginning gardener sometimes even that was difficult.) Now I crave colour all year long. This tree would certainly go a long way in making the grey months ahead more bearable. Imagine looking out the window to see those berries while a howling wind whistles down the street and a blizzard dumps five feet of snow on you. It would be a "zen" moment for sure. The problem is I have no idea what this tree is. I have searched the internet looking for a match but no plant profile fits perfectly. The closest has been a ilex decidua (or deciduous holly or possumhaw holly) but I haven't found an image yet that's an identical match.

So if you have any idea what this tree might be, please take pity on this colour-starved gardener and fill me in. I'm also open to any and all suggestions for awesome, jaw-droppingly beautiful trees that stand out during those months where cracking a seed catalogue is as close as one can get to gardening. After all, spring is just four months away and plans must be made to plant some of the best winter-interest trees ever.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Bring on the Winter

The first snow last week ended almost all delusions of working in the garden for much longer. Fortunately, I was ahead of the game this year completing the fall clean up and some spring preparations well before the arrival of the snow. The berries pictured above are from a Bittersweet Nightshade that grows wild at the back of the yard, clambering up our laneway gate.

All the vegetables from the potager have been harvested. The last was an impressive row of leeks that were quickly consumed in leek potato soup and leek and mushroom suppertime pancakes. The parsley is still going strong. I'm going to leave it to see what happens next year. Six 15K bags of manure were added to the dirt in preparation for spring. The potager was a big success this year. Next year's goal is to use the space more efficiently and to extend the growing season.

The garlic has already claimed its spot in the potager. It's the first time I'm growing garlic and I'm very excited. While volunteering at a children's teaching garden this summer, the aroma of the garlic harvest convinced me I had to go for it in my own garden. Fingers crossed for an amazing crop.

The garlic appeared to be the end of the road for this year's gardening season. That is until the nightmare renovation project from next door reared its ugly head once again. It's a long, long, long, looong story and my garden has taken the brunt of this ill-conceived and poorly executed project. Yet here we are again...flooding in the neighbours' basement (including the brand new addition they put on just last year) means they will be digging up part of my garden one more time. (Is it just me or wouldn't it have made more sense to deal with the flooding of the existing home before adding on a new section? Look up "ineptitude" in the dictionary and you will find a picture of this house and everyone associated with it thus far. Okay, deep breath, cleansing breath, ah that's better.)

News that the garden would be under attack yet again meant a emergency mission to save my Jerusalem Artichokes. I've grown them for years because their enormous height blocks out unsightly views and because their September blooms make my day. It made sense to transplant them to the potager where they will hide the neighbours' monster block garage while existing happily amongst other edibles. I have always treated Jerusalem Artichoke as a flower but having dug up all the tubers, the time was right to shift my thinking. I saved a few to eat and guess what...I liked them! I had them raw and loved their crunch. (Thanks to Soilman for encouraging me to take the plunge into this new food adventure.)

It's hard to believe but everything is done (a first for me in the garden) Everything is planted. Everything is manured. Everything is mulched. Even the garden furniture has been put away! Like the perfect Christmas present, the nightmare reno redo should be done right around the holidays leaving my garden in peace once and for all. There's nothing left to say except "Bring on the winter."

P.S. Winter may soon be here but that doesn't mean the garden blogging has to stop. Heck, isn't blogging a big part of what gets us gardeners through the winter? Stay tuned for posts on my woodland garden holiday decorations, holiday urns and window boxes, and indoor plants that even I can't kill. I'll even share my most embarrassing garden secret. That's right, a secret so horrible and humiliating that it will send shudders down your spine (unless it causes you to go into spasms of laughter first....interestingly enough my secret has had both effects on me depending on what kind of day I'm having.) So stay tuned and keep blogging (I'll want to hear your secrets too!!!). It's going to be a long winter (let's face it, it always is.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Cardinal Comes to Call

There is nothing quite like the thrill of seeing a cardinal. Sure I've seen them on occasion but sightings here in the city are few and far between. So when I caught a glimpse of a brilliant red cardinal perched on the serviceberry first thing this morning, it took my breath away (and not only because of my personal-best, record-breaking sprint to get the camera.)

My garden visitor paused for a drink at the bird bath. He then flitted across the yard to compare his colorful plumage to the bright red berries of the burning bush. I could have watched for hours but he had only a few moments to spare before moving on. Moments like this, brief as they may be, make me feel like my garden is a success and leave me hoping for many more returns from my cardinal friend.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Making Mulch

When life gives you a towering Maple tree in your neighbour's yard...

...there's no need to moan about the fall clean-up.

Instead, break out the mower and start mowing.

In no time at all, your huge piles of leaves will be cut down to size.

Tuck the shredded leaves around your plants (in this case a wild geranium) and consider your perennials tucked in for winter.

Unlike whole maple leaves, the shredded variety won't form a dense, choking mat that can kill you garden favourites. Besides there's nothing wrong with helping Mother Nature along. Shredding will speed up decomposition and come spring there will be hardly any clean-up at all. Winter and the worms will have taken care of returning all that organic matter back into your soil.

I used to hate cleaning up the maple's fallen leaves for weeks on end every fall. After making leaf mulch for the first time last year as an experiment I realized what I was missing. Making mulch is a great work-out (especially for me and my push mower). It does my soil and my perennials a huge favour. And, after dropping some big change on new plants during the summer, it feels pretty good to improve the garden without spending a cent. That's right, home-made leaf mulch is free and I find it hard to say no to a freebie.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Is it Spring Yet?

After a couple of busy days in the garden, I'm all ready for spring. For the last week or so I have been gardening in hour here, 15 minutes there, by moonlight when neeeded. Now my work is done (not really, but I'll enjoy the moment for now). The bulbs are out of their bags and in the soil and the garden is weed free (when will I be able to say that again?)

Here's what went in: 16 Pink Daffodil Blend bulbs made up of "Pink Pride" and "Pink Charm." While I'm not a huge fan of pink, I do love two-tone daffodils so I'm willing to give these a try.

Here are some "Carlton" and "King Alfred" Daffodil bulbs combined in one trench. The "King Alfreds," a gift from my mother, are monster size! Interestingly enough, they are most likely not the real deal. It seems that there are very few true "King Alfred" bulbs to go around. But the name has stuck and won't go away. So I don't know what I'll get other than that the flowers will be big and yellow. Altogether, 30 "Carlton" and 10 "King Alfred" made it into the ground.

I have real doubts about the "Irene Copeland" bulbs. They were wee compared to the other daffodils. And the flower looks a little too busy for my taste. My little sprout picked these (how could I say no?). She actually has a pretty good track record when it comes to picking garden winners. Maybe these daffodils will dazzle me despite my doubts. Only five bulbs planted.

I'm most excited about the 10 "Barrett Browning" Daffodils. They just look so pretty. Wish I had planted more.

I suspect my 20 snowdrops planted in two groups of 10 might seem insignificant in the garden as a whole. I suspect I should have planted around one thousand of them, but I was already way over my bulb budget.

30 Camassia esculenta will keep my gargoyle Phil company.

Phil is a constant in my garden. All year round he sits under the two burning bush shrubs, chin on hands, enjoying his surroundings. I think he'll look nice surrounded by a small field of purple.

I did some transplanting too. I moved a miscanthus, a russian sage, and three blue fescue grasses into the garden. They all spent the summer in two giant patio urns. I also planted a tovara which a neighbour shared with me after my repeated "oohs" and "ahhs" over the tiny red blooms. Of course, there's still more to do. I have to find a spot for a spiderwort I received from a fellow gardener. I need to move the garden furniture inside. And I have to clean out the shed (another big job!)

The garden looks as lovely as ever. Next week, I'll start mowing the fallen leaves from the enormous Norway Maple next door. They make a great (and free!) mulch. It's a good feeling to leave the garden looking great before it's tucked in for winter. With so much new stuff going on in the soil I can barely wait to see what it all looks like and that begs the question "Is it spring yet?"

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Red Rules!

There is very little red in my garden during the summer months. My preferences lean to the purple side of the plant world. But come autumn, red rules!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Army of Invaders

The brussel sprouts spent much of the summer looking great, even "architectural," in the potager. But upon closer inspection...(WARNING: sensitive readers may wish to avert their eyes)...

Mealy aphids! An army of them! I don't generally get squeamish at the sight of bugs, but this infestation struck me as really GROSS.

Such a shame really. The sprouts were coming along so nicely. Now they're headed for the city compost heap. I would grow brussel sprouts again mainly because they are really cool looking plants. Next time (if there is a next time!) I'll go in with a better companion planting plan. Or better yet, I'll get my sprouts at the grocery store.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Awesomeness of Autumn

The fall colours are especially outstanding this year. The trees are more than just colourful; they're almost glowing. These are a few pictures from in and around the Flamborough, Ontario area.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Community Garden Bulb Blitz

The Community Garden has been weeded! I dropped off invitations to a garden clean-up day to all of the original community gardeners involved with the plot. While I was doing some preliminary work, I also extended invitations to anyone who walked by and expressed even a slight interest in gardening. In the end, the garden clean-up day was attended by one person: me. So pardon the boasting: I'm taking full credit for the weeding job (and believe me it was a big one! I even got a nasty skin rash -- poison ivy, poison oak, I don't know -- to prove it.)

Once the weeds were cleared away, I found some nasturtiums that had obviously been struggling to bloom. Just a few days after the weeding though, even with temperatures dropping, they were looking much happier. The whole purpose of the weeding was to clear the way for some spring bulbs.

Armed with an actual planting plan (!), I set off to plant more than one hundred daffodil and tulip bulbs. I planted the bulbs in groups of five to eight all along the front of the border. I'm hoping for a colourful spring display but there's no way of knowing. The soil in the community garden barely qualifies as soil. I amended it with compost from my garden so I hope that helps. I also added a sprinkling of hen manure pellets to each hole. While I was determined to plant mostly pest-resistant daffodils, I planted just as many tulips. I was careful to plant deeply and to pack down the dirt firmly all around in hopes that the squirrels don't discover them. But squirrels are always a wild card.

So here's what's been planted in the community garden. 30 Narcissus "Carlton"

                             30 Narcissus "Ice Follies"

                                30 "Pretty Woman" Tulips

                       16 "Princess Irene" Tulips

                               16 "Negrita" Tulips

I carefully marked each group of bulbs with a labeled popsicle stick (I should really follow my own example and do this is my own garden.) The sticks are the only things that will be sprouting for a while. My afternoon in the "community garden of one" was most enjoyable. I'll try to kick-start neighbourhood involvement again with a mini-bulb blitz or leaf-mulching day later in the month. In the meantime, I'm shifting into clean-up mode in my own garden and getting ready to do the bulb blitz all over again.