Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Neighbourhood Magnolia Tour

The magnolias in the neighbourhood are in full bloom. Here are just a few pictures of some of the amazing magnolias I see while walking my little one to school every day.

While the saucer magnolia blooms are impossible to ignore, I actually prefer the smaller star magnolia blossoms. They all might be in for a shock tonight though. The cold has returned with a vengeance and the blooms are likely to be covered in frost tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It's Getting a Little Crowded in Here

When you plant eight tomato seeds in the bottom of a two litre milk carton things eventually get a little crowded. These seedlings were started on March 15th and they haven't looked back. They are part of My Great Canadian Tomato Experiment which is coming along quite nicely. Altogether I have 13 of these Petitebec cherry tomato plants, more than enough for the family and a few extras to share. The plants each put on some vigorous growth after their transplants so far.

While I have great hopes for the tomatoes, I'm even more excited about my single pepper seedling. It's what I have to show after the dismal results of Operation Pepper. Dozens of seeds sown, only one seedling. Even so, it is quite the seedling. If I were shopping at a garden centre, this seedling would definitely look good enough for a purchase. I mean, it looks like the real deal doesn't it? Needless to say, this little plant is getting a liitle extra attention. I'm almost dreading putting it into the ground outside where the nasty squirrels will get their grubby little paws all over it. Note to self: devise some sort of squirrel deterrent. That should be no problem at all.

Everybody has a little more elbow room now and some fresh new soil. They can settle in by the kitchen door for about another month. Next stop for these guys is the potager (I'm calling my veggie patch a potager from now on in hopes of generating some good veggie vibes). If the seedlings are any indication, it's going to get a little crowded in there, and that's a good thing.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Blooms & Buds

On Sunday morning I saw the first of the serviceberry blossoms in full bloom. By late afternoon, the whole tree was bursting with the delicate white flowers. I chose the serviceberry for my garden because it is among the first things to flower in spring. By June, it should be covered in berries and in fall its leaves will turn various shades of bright orange, red, and yellow. I planted it in early summer last year so I was able to enjoy the fall foliage show but this is the first time I'm seeing the blooms. They are a most welcome sight.

Serviceberry blossoms are said to be somewhat short-lived. It's a good thing then that the buds of the newly planted Eastern Redbud are plumping up quite nicely. The outstanding colour was a definite factor in choosing the redbud. Its early bloom time was another. After a dark, dreary winter, one grows impatient for some spectacular colour in the garden. Growing conditions were another factor. Based on my internet research, the redbud is considered an understory tree. It can tolerate the shade cast by taller surrounding trees. This redbud will be growing in the shade cast by a very tall, very imposing maple. It will get morning light and then another blast of sunshine in late afternoon. The redbud, like the serviceberry, is a native tree. I'm trying to plant more and more natives. So far, they look great and the wildlife seem to like it too. I think the birds are looking especially happy this year.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Ecstatic Gardener

Gardening brings me hours upon hours of joy. Whether I'm out in the yard digging and weeding and seeding or here at the computer blogging, the garden is an endless source of fun and entertainment. Over the last few weeks, though, I have felt like a distracted gardener. My brain has been racing with long "to-do" lists, plant and garden design research, seedling transplant schedules, and a vegetable patch layout. As a result, I have been unable to simply appreciate the garden. It's all my own fault, of course. I have way more going on garden-wise this year than ever before. In addition to the full-sun border I've been working on for some ten years or so, I have added a front-yard, dry-shade border and two framed-beds for vegetables. It's a lot of work to say the least.

The bulk of April was spent removing the turf from a front-yard lawn area. I'm glad I was doing this when the earth was moist and the lawn pulled away relatively easily. Even so, it took me days and days and days of tugging and pulling and yanking to get the job done. That's a lot of turf! Then there were the hours spent staring at the blank slate and googling "ontario, native, dry-shade tolerant." There was also a big dose of garden daydreams throw in for good measure. Today, the daydreams gave way to reality. The two serviceberries (Amelanchier Canadensis) and the Eastern Redbud are in the ground. With the backbone of the garden in place, I feel like I can relax and enjoy. The distracted gardener is now the ecstatic gardener.

The ecstatic gardener in me is thrilled that the framed beds turned out just awesome. If there is such a thing as beautiful soil, it found its way into the framed beds. The soil is so rich and so easy to work with. The marigolds went in today. I'm hoping they will help to keep the bugs away. I'm also using them to create smaller work spaces that seem somehow more manageable than the whole bed. Mostly I hope the marigolds (and nasturtiums still to come) elevate this veggie patch into a potager. I planted the first seeds today: snow peas to be grown up a bamboo-pole trellis. Tomorrow, it's time for the leeks.

The ecstatic gardener in me is thrilled to be enjoying all the many, many plants already in the garden. The daffodil above just makes my day. Meanwhile the lungwort could be accused of being an overachiever. Not only is it content with its shady location, but its blooms come in variety of shades of pink and purple depending on the stage of the bloom. Soon its spotted foliage will take centre stage and endure right through to the end of summer. What a garden star. It really does deserve a better name than lungwort.

The ecstatic gardener in me is thrilled to welcome the first ever Hellebore "Ivory Prince" bloom to the garden. I really had my doubts about the survival of the Hellebores after this winter but they made it. There are plenty of buds still to open. The foliage is looking a bit ratty but I'll clean it up once the blooms are done. I thought I might have to move the Hellebores because they weren't getting enough light. Maybe I won't have to move them after all.

The ecstatic gardener in me is thrilled that the backyard serviceberry is about to bloom. I just missed last year's blossoms. I bought and planted the serviceberry about a month or two past peak bloom season. So I have been waiting for the serviceberry to flower for amost a year. Based on the plump buds, it's going to be a great show.

The ecstatic gardener in me is thrilled to see the leaves on the Bloodgood Japanese Maple. Seeing the maple's graceful form and all the buds and blooms in the garden right now is a great reminder of why the hard work that goes into a garden is worth it. The time spent on the garden now will pay me back a hundred-fold in years to come. The ecstatic gardener in me is thrilled to be planting a mini-paradise that, like a fine wine, will only get better with age.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Dazzling Daffodils and More

The daffodils really had a chance to shine this weekend. One or two had opened earlier in the week but the rest waited for the warmest weekend of the year so far to put on their dazzling display. With their bright blooms to cheer me on, and the weather cooperating for the first time in months, garden clean-up this weekend was a breeze. The thatch on the lawn is gone, the remnants of last fall's leaf mulch have been swept away, and the evergreen branches from the winter urns are ready to be carted away to be composted. I have to say, the garden is looking very good! It appears to have come through one of the most brutal winters in recent memory just fine.

Sure, there are a few too many bare patches that need to be filled with bulbs next fall. Some of the soil looks like concrete thanks to the effects of last fall's construction project by the neighbours. Some digging will fix that. In fact, the problems are minor when compared to all the good stuff happening in the garden. The daylilies are coming on strong. The lilac buds are beautiful. The serviceberry is about to bloom. The Chinese Lanterns are poking through the ground. The Japanese Forest Grass is sending forth red shoots from the soil. The Hellebore buds are plump and soaring skyward. The purple coneflowers survived the construction boots. The chives are delicious. One globe thistle has multiplied to at least three. And the tulips are about to give the daffodils a run for their money. Exciting times ahead.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Garden Springs to Life

Non-gardeners might find it funny that a daffodil is enough to make me gasp with excitement, but it does. I was snapping pictures in the yard this afternoon when I spotted the unmistakeable yellow of one of my favourite springtime bulbs. I just love daffodils. I gush over them. I can't get enough. Once I was able to contain my enthusiasm, there was plenty more to see.

The Hellebore "Ivory Prince" survived the winter. All three of the plants are getting ready to send forth their blooms. I may need to move them though. I don't think they are getting enough light.

The calamint is poking through. The leaves are tiny right now. By mid-summer they will be more than a foot high, drenched in tiny white blooms, and fragrant beyond belief.

The Sedum "Autumn Joy" is as plucky as ever. I really should add a few more to my collection of two.

The daylilies are, as ususal, the most prolific of the garden plants. They are already several inches tall. Just like in past years, new lilies have popped up just beyond the garden's edge.

I'm most excited about these two beauties: the foxtail lilies. Last year I had only one. Seeing two bursting through the ground is enough to make me do a little dance. I have had two consecutive years of foxtail lily blooms. I give full credit to plain old good luck. There have been years without any blooms at all. I'm going to do a little research to determine the conditions they like and then provide those conditions as best as I can. The extra effort will be worth it. When the foxtail lilies are in bloom, it's hard to notice anything else.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Major Projects, Nagging Doubts

Now that the better weather is threatening to stick around, I've undertaken two major garden projects. The first involves tearing out the grass along the walkway to the front door and putting in a woodland garden. Tearing out the turf hasn't been as tough as I expected. The soil is nice and moist and the turf is tearing away nicely. There is more of it than I expected though and a persistent cold has slowed me down considerably. Once the turf is gone, a local landscape crew will remove the top few centimeters of dirt and ship in some premium soil. I'm hoping that the expense of really good soil and hours of research into deep-shade lovers will pay off with a lush, green forest floor-like setting come mid-summer.

My husband gets full marks for Major Garden Project #2. Not only did he happily sacrifice a rarely used parking spot in the backyard, he also built the frames for the new raised-bed vegetable garden. I've been talking about it all winter. On Sunday morning, he did something about it. One trip to the lumber store and a few hours later, the frames were done and waiting to get to work. The beds will be filled up with soil at the same time I get my soil shipment for the front-yard.

I'm excited about both projects but I'm also feeling nervous about the front. Nobody but the family will have to look at the vegetable garden. The front garden, however, is out there for everyone to see. Yikes! I worry that my tendency to putter just won't cut it in the public eye. Shouldn't gardening in full view of the neighbours requires some sort of licence? Proof of design ability? Proof of colour wheel knowledge? Proof of a green thumb? I have seen some disasterous efforts at front-yard gardens. I don't want to be next. Perhaps I'm being a bit dramatic but I do feel some pressure to produce something instantly pleasing.

Sitting inside nursing my cold has given my doubts a chance to fester. It's time to get out there and back to work. So what if I don't have a design background? So what if a colour wheel looks like a birthday party decoration to me? So what if it takes a season or two ro three to really perfect the garden? Instant results would be boring anyway. I know one thing for sure: the lawn area has been always been an eyesore. Simply removing the turf and replacing it with fresh soil will in and of itself be an improvement. After that, things will only get better with each plant that goes into the soil and each doubt that fades away.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A Modest Start

This past weekend was the best weekend of the year so far. Sunshine, warm temperatures, and a chance to spend the day outdoors. The garden is still in the midst of its slow awakening. That's why this single crocus peeking through the fresh green chives was such a happy sight. It is a modest start to the growing season to be sure. But there's nothing wrong with a little modesty.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

My Great Canadian Tomato Experiment

My foray into the world of growing vegetables from seed has been a roller coaster ride of emotions with mixed results so far. It all started on February 26th with Operation Pepper. I tore open a pack of seeds, planted ALL of them, and then waited, and waited, and waited. More than a month later, here is what I have to show for it: one baby pepper sprout. Not exactly the kind of return I was looking for on my investment. I count it as a success nevertheless.

Not one to be deterred, I soldiered on. Staring in vain at the dirt of my pepper plantings became more tolerable as I found success with other seeds. The broccoli seemed to sprout almost overnight. The leeks were also robust performers, sprouting quickly and putting on a good show. I love cherry tomatoes, so when a lonely little Sweetie tomato emerged from the soil, I counted myself lucky. But as the days rolled on, the "successes" seemed to flounder a bit. The seedlings flopped over, they drooped, the leaves curled, and some faded from a deep green to a green-yellow. Oh, they're still hanging on, but perhaps dropping the word "robust" from my seedling descriptions is in order.

During a recent visit to Seedy Saturday I became intrigued by a sign inviting gardeners to plant a Canadian tomato this year. The Canadian Tomato Project is an iniative by Seeds of Diversity. It's an invitation to Canadian gardeners to help grow over 100 varieties of Canadian tomatoes from coast to coast. Well how could I pass that up? Being a proud Canuck and a gardener, I felt it was nothing less than my duty.

I planted some Petitebec seeds. To the best of my high-school French knowledge, the name translates as "Little Kiss." There's not much information out there about the tomato, other than it is a small, cherry variety bred by Roger Doucet in Quebec and released in Canada in 1976. Doucet's focus was on breeding a tomato that could tolerate cool spring nights. Well, whatever you did Monsieur Doucet, you did something right. The seedlings have outperformed all my other plantings. There are 13 plants altogether. I have already transplanted once and am ready to transplant again.

I guess there really is something to home-team advantage. Plant a Canadian tomato this year.