Thursday, March 26, 2009

Excitement Builds

Ever have one of those moments in the garden where you spot something out of the corner of your eye, move in for a closer look and then gasp with excitement? Well I've had a few over the last couple of days. I'm growing garlic for the first time. I planted three rows last fall and crossed my fingers. It worked because the garlic has sprouted. A squirrel has done some damage already, destroying one plant. The squirrel will get a reprieve though, simply because I am so pleased to see the garlic.

I can't believe what's going on with the foxtail lilies. I purchased one plant years ago, marveled at its really weird, yellow root system, planted it and forgot about it. It did nothing for years. Now, it appears to be experiencing a growth spurt. Two years ago it produced a flower stalk much to my surprise. Last summer it delivered two towering flower stalks. This year it seems on track to grace the garden with three flower stalks. I don't know what's going on but I'm not complaining.

And check out this bud on the Hellebore "Ivory Prince." It's one of six buds that I counted. Six. SIX! That's more than last year. And as I recall, last year's blooms lasted just about forever. They were easily the longest-lasting blooms in the garden. It'll be a while yet before they bloom. In the meantime, I'll be checking on their progress...DAILY...until one day another gasp of excitement will fill the air in my garden.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wildflower Lane: Inspiration or Lunacy?

The crocus continue to put on their show in the garden. So pretty, don't you think? Unfortunately, there's a whole lot of ugly to go around too. That's where I turned my attention today.

This is the horror that lies beyond the garden gate: a patch of hostile laneway terrain.

This space serves no purpose except as a spot for garbage to collect. Dog owners for some reason are rather attracted to it and often leave a calling card (or at least their pets do.) There is no real soil to speak of and in the heat of the summer, the sun is merciless. Neverthless, there's always something or other growing through the gravel and trash.

For example, a bittersweet nightshade vine popped up quite spontaneously a few years ago. It has since climbed right to the very top of one of the gate posts.

The berries last all winter and look great (don't eat them though). When the leaves reappear the vine adds a nice vertical garden element where I least expected one. At the base of the vine there is a huge stand of goldenrod which also appeared spontaneously (I failed to take a picture last fall even though I was thoroughly impressed by the golden blooms.) I quickly realized that life could indeed exist back here and began playing with the idea of expanding the garden to the lane (after all, any garden expansion is a good garden expansion).

I didn't intend to expand the garden today but you know how it goes. I was almost finished cleaning up the lane when my thoughts turned to all the wildflower seeds I had sitting in the kitchen. Don't wildflowers enjoy a little cold-moist stratification before sprouting? Yes, yes, I believe they do. And aren't my particular wildflower seeds of the tough-as-nails variety? Yes, yes, I believe they are. Suddenly, a clean-up job turned into this... outline for "Wildflower Lane", Toronto's first (?) laneway wildflower garden.

With the project foreman looking on, I scattered the seeds of Tall Ironweed, Sweet Joy Pye Weed, White Snakeroot, Golden Alexanders, and Sneezeweed. These native plants will all be surrounded by a hedge of California poppies. It remains to be seen if my efforts will be viewed as inspired or a result of lunacy (or even if they will work at all). But I'm hoping "Wildflower Lane" becomes a butterfly magnet and maybe even inspires a neighbour or two to take another look at wasted laneway space.

P.S. There's more than enough room left over for the car to get through. I wonder how long before the car gets the boot for yet another garden expansion?

P.P.S. It's cold today and it has just started to rain. "Wildflower Lane" is off to a great start.

Friday, March 20, 2009

First Day of Spring!

This is what the first day of spring looked like in my garden. I'm doing my happy dance. Hope spring blooms find you soon.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

First Blooms

Let the gardening season begin. The first blooms have arrived. This crocus was fastest out of the gate (I think it is the exact same crocus that was first to bloom last spring too. Could that be possible?) There are lots more crocus waiting in the wings. I moved them around last fall so the bulbs would be more closely grouped together. I hope this makes a bigger statement in the garden (as big a statement as two dozen or so crocus can make.)

The snowdrops are new to the garden this year. So far, so good. I'm pretty sure I only planted a handful of these but with a little luck they will go on to multiply happily. There are a few days to go on the calendar until we reach that special date that's so important to gardeners. Right now though, thanks to these small blooms, I'm feeling that spring is finally here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Seed Central

The kitchen is slowly becoming seed central. With forecasters calling for a severe drop in temperature tonight and warning of a major wind storm, it just felt right to seriously kick off seed season.

First up: the Large Musselburg leeks. They did very well last year. I harvested them quite early. Now I realize I could have left them in the ground a lot longer to thicken up. I love leeks. Leek and potato soup is a fall favourite.

Next: the "Red Wing Hybrid" Onions. Last year's experiment with bunching onions was a huge disappointment. The garden produced green onions that could only be described as pitiful. So this year, I'm going big. And since the package says "stores well" I'm hoping to produce enough to store a few through winter. Ultimately this is becoming the goal of the vegetable garden: produce enough to sustain oneself through the cold, dreary months. I've got a ways to go but certainly progress is being made.

On the tomato front, "Petitbec" will be returning for another season. This was easily the most robust plant and prolific producer in the garden last year. It's a huge bonus that the sprout enjoys eating the tomatoes right off the vine. The fruit is slightly larger than a cherry tomato.

I didn't plan to plant any "Green Zebra" tomatoes but while I was shopping I sparked up a conversation with a gentleman who grows dozens of tomato varieties. He raved about "Green Zebra" enough to spark my curiosity. It's supposed to have a slightly tangy flavour. We'll see how it goes.

And speaking of rave reviews, Brandywine fans have lots of glowing things to say about this tomato. I can't wait to taste it and see what all the fuss is about.

Together with potatoes, strawberries were the first edibles I put into the garden. I grew them for years but eventually conceded defeat to the squirrels. Now that I have a sprout in my life the appeal of strawberries is strong again. Like the tomatoes, strawberries are a fun food to be experienced straight off the vine and still warm from the sun. These strawberries are called "Temptation." Doesn't bode well in the battle against the squirrels. I see some nets in my future. For now though, all is safe at seed central.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Springing into Spring

A weather record today. The temperature soared to 17.9 degrees celsius (64.2 F) shattering the previous record of 15.4C (59.7F) set in 1974. Needless to say, there is an extra spring in my step. The video of my little sprout bounding down the street pretty much sums up my own reaction to the day. (The sprout, of course, looks incredibly cute. I, however, don't think I could get away with that, at least not without a few strange looks.)

While we're springing into spring, here's some footwear to herald the changing of the seasons. These boots, modeled by the sprout, are an undeniable sign that spring is en route. No matter what winter throws at us over the next few weeks, it is well on its way out the door and that is a very, very good thing.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

First Day in the Garden

If Phil looks especially content it's because he had some company in the garden today. With temperatures just below the freezing mark and the sun shining bright, I ventured outside to do some cleaning up and poking around.

There was lots going on out there. The daylilies were the first to catch my eye. As usual, they arrived to the party early and brought lots of friends. I'll be dividing these this spring and using the divisions to create a daylily edge at the opposite end of this border.

The tall bearded iris have made it through the winter just fine. Like the daylilies, the irises have grown into a most impressive clump. I need to divide these too but I'll wait until after they bloom. Maybe I'll even wait until fall (that seems to be the best advice of numerous internet postings on dividing iris).

Are those daffodils? They must be daffodils. I love daffodils. Last fall I planted dozens of daffodil bulbs and am especially excited to see them.

Judging by these buds, it's going to be a very good year for the "Ludwig Spaeth" lilac. Lilacs are often criticized for not having much to offer a garden once they are done blooming. I couldn't even begin to imagine a garden without the unbelievable fragrance of lilac.

Yup. I think Phil will have lots to be happy about this year. That's good news because we all know that a happy gargoyle is essential to every garden.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Whole Lotta Sproutin' Goin' On

Less than a week after sowing the first seeds of the year, the garden cress has sprouted. In the morning, the sprouts were just peeking out of the soil. By evening, they were standing tall. In another week, I should be collecting the first harvest of the year. While the garden cress is growing strong, there's still no sign of any sage, thyme, or basil sprouts. Soon enough.

There were a lot of things sprouting at Seedy Saturday. Alongside all the seed, garlic, wildflower, rain barrel and vermi-composting displays, I was able to check out a unique greenhouse. These seedlings are all being grown by a local community food centre. It's more than just a food bank. The organization has a huge community garden. These seedlings will be transplanted there, cared for by volunteers, and eventually harvested to be used in community meals that feed hundreds of people.

The Seedy Saturday crowd was enormous. We were packed shoulder to shoulder and shuffled along at a snail's pace through the vendor area. It was so crowded that I found it difficult to browse the seed selections (bad for me but good for gardening!) I wasn't too disappointed though, knowing that I already had more seeds at home than I could possibly plant.

Even so, it didn't feel right walking away with nothing. When I found the booth for the North American Native Plant Society, I waited patiently and inched ever closer to the seeds. I came away with some sweet joe-pye, helenium, golden alexanders, great blue lobelia, and tall ironweed. I already know where they are going in the garden. A weekend of seeds and sprouts was a great way to bid adieu to February and welcome March.