Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Thoughts on Landscape Design

When we first saw this property I knew this space had potential.  Lots of sun, clumps of trees, an apple orchard, a gorgeous old house.  The shape of it, is simply a large flat rectangle.  Nothing difficult here like steep hills or boggy low spots.  I should be able to put whatever ideas I have into this yard quite easily.  But I'm not an idea person.  I find that I generally lack the ability to visualize.  So though I knew there was potential here I just wasn't sure how to go about making something happen.  I thought that perhaps I would find a design in a magazine or a book that I could just fit into our land.  None of the pictures I saw fit my space though.  So I perused garden blogs trolling for ideas and hoping that something would strike me.  Plenty of ideas and many beautiful gardens but nothing that felt right yet again.

So I'm going to have to do this the hard way.  Step by step and create a plan.  My inner voice tells me this will be a good exercise despite my initial desire to shortcut the process.

One of the first things you hear when you start talking about landscaping and garden design is that it is imperative to know what you want out of your yard.  For instance, there's no sense in designing a children's play area if you haven't got any children.  So you need to take a look at who you are and what your desires may be.

To that end I've compiled a list of necessary items.  These are the Gotta Have items:

  • A vegetable garden.  There is nothing more satisfying than planting a seed and watching it grow and then being able to eat it.  And nothing tastes as good as fresh out of the garden vegetables.
  • Flowers.  I like pretty things.  I like smells and textures and bright smiley happy flower faces.  This will always draw me out of my house into the great outdoors.
  • Clothes line.  Electricity costs a heap here and the wind blows day and night.  This is just good common sense.
  • Compost bin.  I need to feed all those flowers I want to grow.
  • Rain barrel.  Water is quickly becoming our most precious commodity.  Without it we die.  And so do our plants.
  • Place to park the truck and trailer close to the house as possible.  Must be practical.  It snows a lot here and we need to access both of these at all times of the year.
  • Firewood.  When we moved in we installed a wood boiler to replace the ancient oil boiler.  Now space is needed to split and store all that wood.  Must also be close to the house for access in winter.
  • Garden shed.  Need a place to store all the garden tools and paraphenelia.
  • A space to sit out of doors and barbeque.
Some of these items have already been addressed.  There was a garage already standing on the property that was too far away from the house to be of any use for a vehicle.  So this has become the garden shed.  That was an easy decision.  Deciding where to put the vegetable garden was a little more difficult.  I initially wanted it as close to the house as possible.  However, we intend to do some work to the outside of the house in coming years which will be messy.  So I have decided not to garden near the house in the immediate future.  The front of the house looked promising but didn't seem to get enough sun and the septic system is in that area.  The side of the house was also promising but it's on a slope.  Eventually the space next to the garage was decided on because it would be close to my tools, it got plenty of sun, was completely flat and our neighbour suggested it.  Seriously, David told us a pig barn used to be located there and the ground would be full of manure.  Made the decision much easier.

Then there's the other list.  Things that I wish for and desire but aren't practical.  This is the Dream List:
  • Cutting Garden.  A place for flowers and green stuffs strictly for filling vases.
  • Wisteria Arbor.  Who doesn't dream of being able to walk through an arbor dripping with purple blossoms into a magical garden on the other side?
  • Herb Garden.  I just like the sound of a herb garden.  I think of hot afternoons, gravel paths and scents of lavender on the wind.
  • A shady spot with a hidden bench.  This property is very open.  No matter where you are people can see you from the road or from their houses.  I'd love to have a hiding spot.
  • A fountain.  Maybe located in that shady nook.

Well perhaps the fountain could be on a slightly smaller scale than the one above.

The idea is that your landscape design should be functional.  It should take into account your needs and the attributes of your property.  It should also appeal to your personal sense of style.  When you think of a fountain what do you picture?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Monthly Garden Bouquet

The Monthly Garden Bouquet is a garden blog meme created by Noelle at Ramblings from a Desert Garden.

I just learned about this meme the other day and it appealed to me right away.  The third week of each month you post a bouquet of flowers created from your garden.  I love collecting flowers for the house anyway and this is also a great way to record what was blooming and when for future use.  Since you can enter any time in the third week of the month there's plenty of time to get in your entry, ahem, for some of us not so organized bloggers.

If you've read my posts in the last few days you'll know that I was out collecting daisies while cats were invading my home.  Those daisies were for my very first bouquet collected from our yard.

While I don't have much in cultivated flowers at this point in time there's certainly numerous wildflowers popping up around the yard.  This bouquet consisted mainly of daisies (I'm not sure what kind, probably the invasive bad ones that I shouldn't be supporting but I like them so much.  Did you know that Marguerite is french for daisy?)  I also threw in something I believe is a white Jacob's Ladder.  These are in the overgrown flower bed and likely were planted on purpose.  Wild white yarrow was included.  For greenery I cut off something that appears to be a Spirea of some sort.  It's not blooming yet so we'll have to wait a bit to identify it.  Then Jody came along and insisted on some colour so we put purple Ajuga in and also purple violets.  It's not too fancy but for me there can be nothing nicer than gathering my first bouquet of flowers from my new home.

p.s.  the pink peonies just started blooming today which is why they weren't included in my bouquet.  I'll be making a bouquet of them on Monday to take in to work instead.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Triumphs and Tragedies


n. pl. trag·e·dies

a. A drama or literary work in which the main character is brought to ruin or suffers extreme sorrow, especially as a consequence of a tragic flaw, moral weakness, or inability to cope with unfavorable circumstances.
b. The genre made up of such works.
c. The art or theory of writing or producing these works.

2. A play, film, television program, or other narrative work that portrays or depicts calamitous events and has an unhappy but meaningful ending.
3. A disastrous event, especially one involving distressing loss or injury to life: an expedition that ended in tragedy, with all hands lost at sea.
4. A tragic aspect or element.

A disastrous event occurred this week.  Whilst out in the garden collecting daisies I left the front door to the house open.  That was a bad idea.  When I returned to the house to get a vase who did I spy in the kitchen with a mouth full of Friskies but Mr. Funnyface.  This isn't a good thing.  Mr. Funnyface is a feral cat.  He is an unneutered male feral cat.  And while he ducked inside to steal some food he also marked the house as his territory.  Our house STANK.  and my Gino, who has been fighting with Mr. Funny face for weeks, was even more riled up.  and what do you think he did?  It's a vicious circle.


intr.v. tri·umphed, tri·umph·ing, tri·umphs

1. To be victorious or successful; win.
2. To rejoice over a success or victory; exult.
3. To receive honors upon return from a victory in ancient Rome. Used of a general.

1. The fact of being victorious; victory or conquest. See Synonyms at victory.
2. A noteworthy or spectacular success.
3. Exultation or rejoicing over victory or success.
4. A public celebration in ancient Rome to welcome a returning victorious commander and his army.
5. Obsolete A public celebration or spectacular pageant.

Victory is mine!

The thieving bandit has been caught.  Tomorrow morning he has a date with the Atlantic Veterinary College where his spraying habits will soon be a thing of the past.  And hopefully his attitude will improve some as well.

I'd like to say a BIG Thank You to Cat Action Team.  Mr. Funnyface is the 4th cat they have helped us to get fixed since we moved into this house 8 months ago.  When we purchased this house we discovered that feral cats were part of the sale!  Unfortunately these cats had not been fixed.  We didn't want their numbers to increase so we contacted CAT Action.  They are a volunteer organization on PEI that helps people care for the feral cats in their communities.   CAT Action loans traps, gives advice and support and regularly holds clinics at the AVC for feral cats to be brought in for spaying and neutering.  As well, none of this would work without with the support of the AVC and their veterinary students who provide this service.

Most communities have groups of this sort.  If there are feral cats in your community, please contact a local agency to get them fixed.  The benefits are enormous.  No more female cats yowling in heat, no more male cats spraying and no more kittens, which stops the cycle of cat colonies.  The life of a feral cat isn't a nice one.  They are more likely to get sick, get hit by cars, be injured by other animals, freeze or starve.  The typical lifespan of a feral cat is just 2 to 5 years, compared to the average 15 years pet cats live.  It's simple to get them fixed and it makes a world of difference to both people and cats.

Barnette - Barn cat whose ears froze and had to be clipped.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pe(s)ts in the Garden

There was a time when my garden nemesis looked like this.

Yes, I know.  He's cute and fuzzy and he's staring at you with those big brown eyes.  Nemesis indeed.  But he didn't come alone.  He brought his brother and sister and mom, and then dad, a cousin or two.....  What I learned about deer during that time is twofold.  They will eat everything.  What they won't eat are daffodils. 

There are no deer on PEI.  This makes me very happy.  However, despite my deerless existance, trouble free gardening is not mine to be had.  A new nemesis has come to play.  I could never have imagined that it would be so close to home, my own cats have turned against me.

Who me?
Yes, my sweet, furry, purr monsters.  Even Gino, my garden buddy, who knows to use a litter box and so found a nice large one in the shape of my vegetable beds.  If it was the neighbour's cat I'd be outraged and stamp my feet but they are mine.  So while I'm stamping my feet anyway I must own the problem and find a solution.

I've had to start thinking creatively.  First I tried throwing some branches over the whole thing.  But that didn't stop anybody.

Next I tried breaking up the sticks and planting them vertically in the soil.  Aha!  I think we're onto something.

The next morning I checked and there was a paw print in the dirt but only one.  The intruder was stopped in his tracks.  Score one for me.

The following day I found this.
Score one for the cats.

The sticks in that spot were somewhat small so I have now planted LARGE sticks in this spot with lots of branches and sharp bits.  We'll see who wins this round.

Now I have to give credit where credit is due.  This wasn't an original idea on my part.  I was inspired by Carol at May Dreams.  In her quest to rid the May Dreams Garden of rabbits she decided to Fork her garden.  Or Spoon as the case may be.  Without her experiments in plastic cutlery I would be helpless.  And that is why I love garden blogs.  There is an endless amount of creative energy out there, solving garden problems one at a time.  People sharing what they know and doing it with wit and charm.  Garden bloggers make up an amazing community of people who have a lot to give and do it so willingly.  Thank goodness I found you guys!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On the Inside

I may have mentioned that my ability to grow plants indoors is pretty limited.  Mostly because I forget about them.  Then every once in awhile I walk by and think Oops.  Some plants can survive on pure neglect and they get a thumbs up from me.  Others don't.  I looked in on my window seat this week and here's what I saw.

Spider Plant aka Chlorophytum comosum.
This guy caught my attention.  The last time I looked this plant it was tidily situated in its little green pot.  When I walked by the other day I suddenly noticed that it was invading the aloe.  Neglect can be a good thing.  But now I'm not sure whether to transplant this guy.  I like this pot but those runners will eventually drop and hang down.  A hanging planter might be better or perhaps just a small table that allows the runners to dangle.

Next to him is that purple plant or Tradescantia pallida

I gave this lady a haircut a few months back promising I would take better care of her.  I haven't.  It's still alive, I think, but at this point I don't care.  It's messy and ugly and I have no patience.  To the compost with you.

The Aloe

No big issues here.  Not growing much but not dead either.  A stalemate.

The unknown.
I think I picked this up for $3 at some home renovation store.  A look at my 2850 House And Garden Plantssays it's a Dracaena of some type.  sanderiana? fragrans? deremensis?  Who knows but neglect apparently does not suit him.  Seems to prefer warmer temperatures, probably could use some fertilizer or something.  I suppose I could try a little harder.  He's cute after all.

African violets
I like these little guys.  They're cheap and come in bright cheery colours.  And so far they haven't died.  The pink guy lives in the kitchen so he's a little better kept than my other plants.  I tend to spend more time in the kitchen so I notice him more and he actually gets watered.

A second violet lives in the bay window.  Good news is he's showing signs of revival. (just ignore those dead leaves hanging off the side)
I purchased this plant, again some random hardware store, in February and it was cold.  He 'accidentally' got left in the truck while other errands were run.  Only a couple hours, not much!  Oh, okay, I know, that wasn't a particularly nice thing to do.  He went into shock and I had to shear him.  He's starting to make a come back though.  He has leaves again which is a good start.

So from 6 houseplants we're now down to 5.  Not a terrible average.  I can't be the only one to kill a houseplant or two, can I?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Solstice Greetings

It is the longest day of the year today and the official start to summer.  The evening here has been quite cool after a long hot day and we are getting sprinkled with light showers.  Perfect weather for a few pictures.

Orange hawkweed

Our meadow

African daisies

Shrub roses

Baby apples

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Lost and Found

I do a lot of digging.  Beds for vegetables.  Holes for trees.  Flower beds.  Disposing of mice (okay so maybe I didn't need to mention that last one).

Every time I dig I find stuff. 

Some of it is garbage.

Bits of plastic and burnt things all smooshed together and covered in dirt.  Not too many years ago there was no garbage service in these rural areas.  You either needed to haul it to the dump yourself, or people would burn their garbage.  The charred remains it seems were simply dug into the ground.  How many years do you suppose this has been sitting here?  What was it before?  Why has it not broken down?  There's a lot to ponder here.

Other times I find glass.

Sometimes I find broken dishes.

Some things appear to be very old, like these rusty square nails.

Some things seem to be a little out of place

Some things are easily identifiable, like this belt buckle.

Other things are puzzling.

One man's trash is another man's treasure

Friday, June 18, 2010

Triumphs and Tragedies

  Some weeks are full of apple blossoms and other weeks, well, the apple blossoms all fell off and things have just gone downhill from there.  Where to start?  How about the 80 kilometre an hour winds we received early in the week.  I wondered how the tomatoes would do but it hadn't occurred to me that anything else would be bothered.

2 Poplars, or Aspen if you like, and 1 White Birch all came down with the wind.  All 3 were younger trees that were well on their way to becoming big beautiful trees.  I'm not sure what happened.  Two of them were in close proximity with other trees so maybe it's just a natural thinning.  But one tree had tons of space and appeared to be quite healthy.  This is really frustrating.

In the vegetable garden things weren't looking much better.  The cats tried using the boxes as a litter and necessitated the use of branches spread around to keep them out.  Ugly but so far effective.  It has not, however, kept the crows out.  I don't know what they're doing in there.  All I can think is they're eating bugs which is probably a good thing.  But they're making a bloody mess!!

In the process of digging for bugs they're diggin up onions, they've killed most of my cilantro, and decimated an entire square of chamomile.  And who is it they're looking for?  Is it this guy?

I have no idea who this is but I'm pretty certain he's up to no good.  He's hanging out on a tomato plant looking guilty as hell.  Which reminds me, these poor tomatoes are barely hanging on.  Leaves are getting eaten, yellowing and wilting.  I had to resort to dousing them with fertilizer in the hopes of saving them.  They've greened up a bit but I'm still not sure they'll make it.  These Scotia tomatoes came from the same nursery as Tiny Tim who got the boot last week.  Suspicious.  And then there's the cantelope, again from the same nursery, and look how he's doing.

I suppose there's the possibility something is wrong with my dirt mix but quite frankly I don't think I'm going back to that nursery any time soon.

Well, I think that's enough doom and gloom for one week.  How about we end with a photo of the pretty roses that showed up yesterday.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Wildflower Meadow

Many of you will have seen my previous post on the state of my lawn.  As the season progresses my 'lawn' is progressing as well.  Like the blooms in our gardens the lawn is changing as the seasons pass.  Gone are the dandelions, replaced with Mouse Ear Hawkweed.  Identified thanks to WiseAcre Gardens

Another lovely yellow flower is the buttercups

These little white flowers are now blooming in masses.

I think this is Star Chickweed, Stellaria corei but I could be wrong.  If anyone knows better just holler.

The red and green grasses are reaching proper grass height - high enough to hide a cat!

The grasses are also catching the wind these days.  It's like watching waves roll across the yard.  A beautiful sight.

I should make it clear that if you would like to have a wildflower meadow on your property just letting the grass grow, as we have done here, is not the normal way of doing this.  In fact, if you have a nicely kept lawn full of actual lawn grass the worst thing you can do is let it grow.  Lawn grass is specially picked and bred to have nice wide green leaves.  Softer to walk on and pretty to look at.  But when it is allowed to grow tall it simply flops over, forming little puddles of grass.  The effect is not what most people are looking for.  We have managed to get away with simply letting our grass grow because our lawn didn't consist of lawn grass at all.  It was simply a cleared field and we are allowing it to regenerate itself.  So it was naturally full of wild flowers (or weeds if you prefer) and wild grasses.  Creating a meadow garden is just like planting a regular garden.  You need to remove your lawn grass and replace it with native grasses and wildflowers.  It must also be weeded initially so that your new plants don't get choked out.  Like any garden there's work involved but it's also a wonderful opportunity to use native plants and create an environment that is conducive to birds and insects.  I can't tell you how many bees there are in my yard.  The place is alive with buzzing and it makes me happy every time I walk out there.

If you're thinking of starting a wildflower area in your garden you might want to look at the following books:

Gardening with Grasses       The American Meadow Garden: Creating a Natural Alternative to the Traditional Lawn

I can't vouch for either of these books unfortunately as I haven't had the opportunity to read them yet. However, Carpe Geum has reviewed the American Meadow Garden and it looks promising.

If you don't know where to find native seeds I also managed to dig up this nursery in Ontario which sells native plant seeds.  A bonus - you can search for seeds local to your area!