Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Changing Garden Zones and Unexpected Discoveries

It seems at this time of year I tend to review the goings on of the previous year and ponder how things have changed.  This year I've been thinking a lot about the least year and a half.  The time since we moved to Prince Edward Island from British Columbia. 

We attempted to be cautious when we moved across country.  We made several trips to PEI before we committed to actually moving.  We looked into housing, jobs, weather, community.  But there's only so many questions you think to ask and inevitably things will be missed.  How many people would question the volume of mosquitos a place has before they move there? Let this be a warning, if you're considering moving, ask about bugs.

It also never occurred to me to ask about natural disasters.  British Columbia has wind storms and earthquakes and I thought I was leaving all that behind.  But when we arrived on the east coast we were dumbfounded to find that a hurricane was headed our way.  I never learned about hurricanes in school.  Do you get under your desk and wait for it to stop shaking?  wrong answer.  Perhaps we should have reconsidered dismantling our emergency kit when we left the west coast.

Today when I look out my window I see a very different scene from a 18 months ago.  My view used to be encompassed by trees.

Today, it's sunny and open with a few trees just around the periphery.

I no longer need to search out plants that like the shade.  Instead I'm looking for plants that will create some shade!

The large trees and warmer climate in our former home attracted different birds than what I see today.  A pair of ravens, bald eagles, and turkey vultures were all common sights in my last garden.  Dark eyed juncos paraded around the yard, turning up the bark and needles looking for bugs.

** My apologies!!  Gardeningbren pointed out this isn't a junco at all!  Hubby mentioned the other day that we never see juncos anymore and I thought 'oh yes, I need to find a picture of those'.  Unfortunately I chose the wrong photo.  This photo is actually of a western spotted towhee.  Also not found in PEI!

Juncos can be found in PEI but I haven't yet seen any in our yard (western spotted Towhee)

I dearly miss the sweet Grey Jays but these birds require a mountain environment to live in and alas, Prince Edward Island, is somewhat short on mountains.

Grey jays can be VERY interactive if you have food around
East coasters are familiar with the bright blues and whites of the Blue Jay.  Before moving east I had never seen anything like it except in picture books.  Such a bright bright bird.  Now in the mornings I look for them in our birch trees.  I love seeing those flashes of blue.

The bird I was familiar with in BC was a Stellar's Jay.  We called them blue jays as well but to those who have seen an eastern jay the Stellar's doesn't appear so much blue as black.

I miss these jays.  Even their voices are different.  The Stellar's that used to visit our back porch would call out something reminiscent of 'beer beer beer'.  The eastern jays are much sweeter sounding.

Gardening in a new zone means I've had to change some of my practices. 

Garnet Penstemon survives only to zone 7
The most obvious change is that there are plants I can no longer have in my garden.  My garden in British Columbia was a zone 8b.  I lived in a temperate rain forest where freezing and snow were rare occurrences and plants grew large in warm temperatures and plenty of rain.  In PEI I'm now a zone 5b where freezing temperatures and snow are a commonplace occurrence and my plants need to be much hardier than before. 

Red huckleberries grew wild in our former yard
With all that snow comes preparation.  I've been known to plant fall bulbs in January in other years but if I can find ground this January it'll likely be frozen solid.  So I've had to be vigilant about buying bulbs and planting them in the fall.

Mulch has always been something I've believed was necessary but never more so than now.  While it helps to keep soil moist and plant roots cozy it also helps to regulate the temperature of the soil.  When there are quick freezes and thaws mulch will help keep the soil temperature even and prevent plant roots from being heaved out of the soil.  With that in mind all of my newly planted trees and flowers this year got plenty of mulch to keep them safe.  Something I might have thought about doing in other years but if I didn't get around to it I wouldn't have worried too much.

I think the biggest change I'm noticing over this last year is the definite changing of seasons.  The temperatures shift significantly, the leaves change colour, the snow blankets the ground.  No time for doddling and thinking about chores to be done.  The garden must be cared for before the season shifts again and it becomes entirely impossible to get outside. 

It's not a bad thing though.  When I lived out west I had never in my life seen this before. 

I sometimes miss the west coast but red maple leaves in fall is a sight I now treasure.
Happy New Year everyone.


  1. To travel from one coast to another had to be an amazing journey of discovery. I enjoyed reading about your adjustments and the old delights and the new. Mostly I love to hear about Prince Edward Island.

    One of your yard submissions from PEI made the finals for the yard of the year on the yard art game. You over and join the party and vote for your yard!

  2. Oh Marguerite I have so much to learn and I am so glad to have found your blog!!I am going to have so many questions for you once I'm out east for good...get ready:)

  3. I love how you balance longing for the old with excitement for the new. (I got a kick out of your advice to check out the bugs when moving.. I'll have to remember that.) Like you, my old house was shady and now I am learning to garden in full open sun (but I only moved one town over not 3,000 miles). Your open space is so enticing -- so much space to plant, so many possibilities!

  4. Oh SIGH...now you have made me homesick.(((. What a huge leap from BC to PEI and the environment on the island.

    When I moved here from Salt Spring, I called the blue jays..Stellar Jays..that's what I thought they were)))). I was corrected in short time! As for the junco..you sure that's not a west coast towhee? Junco's are very plain here but...stalwarts of the garden make no mistake...fantastic birds.

    Now, I do think you can find Grey Jays in Keji park here in Nova Scotia..am pretty sure of it. Very hand friendly))).

    Your photos are lovely M...and I really enjoy your writing....on a more personal note..I have never gotten over missing BC.

  5. Love all those bird pics! I've never had a backyard bird eat out of my hand. Amazing photo!

    What a garden-culture shock you've gone through this past year! I sympathize with the tree thing. This is the first house we've ever had that wasn't completely surrounded by trees. We've had to plant some, and they are takin' their sweet time makin' shade. My red maples look like your photo right now. They will soon be leafless, but we are enjoying the show while it lasts. Because we're in Zone 9, we don't get color like this most years.

  6. Having always lived on the east coast it's interesting to hear about what you left behind. I can't even imagine creating a garden in a completely different climate from the one I've been used to for so many years. It's amazing what you've created in such a short amount of time. I've enjoyed following your journey and look forward to eding about your news in the coming year.

  7. I had a good chuckle when I read this post.

    Mosquitoes and hurricanes, indeed. And blizzards (which are really just hurricanes in the winter!).

    The Eastern Jay is a lovely bird - we have a lot at the feeder, along with the doves.

    I think the only thing that 'gets' me here, is the long, cold spring. As you know, spring arrives EARLY on the West Coast. Not so here! I find it goes from Winter to Summer in one fell swoop, and then PEI transmogrifies into one lush, beautiful island. (with mosquitoes, ha ha)

  8. Cheri - Thank you, I've enjoyed meeting you and participating in the game. One of the PEI yards made to finals?! That's awesome, I'm coming right over. I'm running behind on blogging this week, not only was I not well, my laptop bit the biscuit. Worst possible timing of course.

    Jane - I'm happy to answer any questions you might have and I'm sure you'll have lots of fun discovering all sorts of things once you're here. In fact, I might be asking you questions about the west side of the island!

    Laurrie - We have to be careful sometimes. Every so often I find myself saying how I miss BC and I don't want to fall into that rut. I made the decision to leave and it was a good one. I'm trying to find the balance of appreciating my old home and remembering it fondly and enjoying the good things that our new home has to offer.

    Gardeningbren - Oh my gosh you're right!!! Shoot, I'll have to correct that photo immediately! It is a towhee. Duh, no wonder I'm not seeing them in the yard. Obviously my birding skills need some work. LOL. I've heard about Keji, now I'm intrigued. We talked about a trip there with our kayaks. I prefer lakes to sea when on a small boat and Nova Scotia has so many lakes. Regarding BC, I think you'd be crazy not to miss it. Forgetting where you lived and the memories there would be like erasing the past. I like my memories, but as I said to Laurrie, the key to me is not to get too caught up in the nostalgia. I have to work at remembering my past fondly but not longingly and appreciate my new home for the possibilities it's given me.

    FloridaGirl - Those grey jays were in a park we used to frequent. They're in the same family as crows so they are quite smart but also very cute which they use to their advantage. Anyone who showed up in the park with food would be expected to share or defend it diligently. Many people also know these birds by common names such as "Camp Robbers" and "Whiskey Jacks". I remember camping as a kid. My father yelling at these birds as they were stealing bacon right out of the pan.

    Debbie - Thank you so much for your continued visits. I've enjoyed getting to know you and so many readers this past year and your blogs have helped me to bridge the gap when learning about a new garden zone.

    Kim - oh yes, that 'other' season. Mud! I was rather impatient last year waiting for it to be consistently warm enough to plant seeds. and then suddenly it was summer. No more blooms in February, I do miss that. Transmorgrification always reminds me of Calvin & Hobbes. I need a cardboard box so I can transmorgrify all those mosquitos into pretty butterflies.

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  10. Marguerite, It's great to read about how you are adapting to your new home. I have never been to PEI or anywhere east of Alberta. I bet the journey to PEI was amazing. Happy New Year.

  11. It was nice to read about PEI. My husband and I visited there 2 years ago and we had been there about 17 years ago with our daughter. My husband wanted to go back to see the bridge that had been built. Welcome to the east! My Dad hates bluejays - they steal all the birdseed from his feeders. Very pretty birds but quite obnoxious.

  12. Really nice post of your past province to your new province.
    Happy New Year to you and your family.

  13. Marguerite this is a lovely, lovely post. I would like to ask you if you'd be interested in reviewing my new book on your blog? It'll be a huge help to you as a sort of new to this region gardener, but it's pretty much useful for most gardeners, I hope. If you have my email via this comment, please send me an email with your snailmail address and I'll have Nimbus send you a reading copy and the pdf file (for the colour photos).

  14. Marguerite, I really enjoyed getting an insight in to the changes that moving so many zones brings. I think the only way I could experience anything similar in the UK is to move from here to the Orkney Islands! We only typically have to deal with losing or gaining a few weeks of Spring or Autumn. The comment about mosquitoes made me smile, as I love the West Coast of Scotland, with its mountains and sea. I would love to live there, despite the shorter growing season. What will stop me is the mosquitoes, which are plentiful, love me, and I have a terrible reaction to them. I don't want to spend 6 months of the year looking as if I have some terrible skin disease and itching unbearably... Good luck with your adventures finding the plants that will thrive in your lovely new home.

  15. Melanie - I have always wanted to travel across the country and when we moved I got my wish. A wonderful trip that I'll always remember. I highly recommend it if you get the chance.

    Bonnie - Blue jays are in the crow family so they share a lot of characteristics like being quite loud and bullying the little birds! I can understand why your Dad dislikes them but their beauty and intelligence wins me over every time.

    The Witch - Thank you. I've been so lucky to meet such wonderful people in this province who have welcomed here.

    Jodi - I can't wait to read the book, I think it will be a huge help as well. I've sent you an email with particulars.

    Plantaliscious - oh I turn into a big red itchy ball every summer! I have that sweet mosquito blood they seem to love so much. Every place has its downside though and bug bites are a small price to pay for such a lovely home.

  16. How wonderful to have birds eating right out from your palm. I have yet to try that. You seem to have lots of space to plant many trees. Isn't it fun to choose the sort of trees you like to be surrounded with?

  17. Hi Marguerite,

    Thanks for stopping by my books posting and leaving a valued comment. I do that too. Buy books, give them away, and buy them again. I found myself duplicating my favorites in California and buying them for Maine.

    I love your posting and seeing the evolution of both your property and your photography skills.

    I can't believe you had the courage to pick up and move from the great Northwest to PEI (which I am sure is one of the most beautiful spots on earth). You have guts girl!

    Sending good wishes from earthquake, tsunami, forest fire, drought country,

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

  18. This might be hard to believe, but subsitute Armstrong for PEI, and that's what we are going to be going through this year when we move.

    The climate is drier, colder, harsher, and obviously they get so much more snow. 2 years ago, they had over 7 feet accumulated. Hotter in the summer with a minimum amount of rain. There will be no real spring, just a huge jump into heat.

    No real fall, just a jump into winter.

    Things change, life moves on, we adapt. I am so looking forward to seeing this new world.

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

  19. One - you're absolutely right! Although I may not see these trees into maturity I have greatly enjoyed planting each and every one of them.

    Sharon - My book addiction is somewhat of an affliction but glad to hear I share it with others. You must have some tales to tell as well about gardening in different zones. Climates in California and Maine must be drastically different I would think.

    Jen - Armstrong, that's wonderful! When is the move set for? I completely believe you about the change in climate. I have family spread around BC and have travelled there quite a bit. It's amazing the drastic changes in environment across BC from the coastal rainforest to the desert in Okanagan and farmland in the north.