Wednesday, April 27, 2011

All the Pretty Vases

Although spring has arrived I still have no flowers for my vases.  Buds have formed on the squill and muscari but the rain is now holding them back.  Soon, soon I keep telling myself.  In the meantime I'm grateful that flowers aren't necessary to appreciate the beauty of coloured glass.

Or detailed carvings in ceramic

Some of my vases have paintings of flowers rendering real flowers an unnecessary addition.

Collected together they make an interesting focal point.

Or at least that's my reasoning for purchasing more of them.

Along with spring flowers, auction season is now upon us.  I will be at Moe's this Saturday in Cornwall.  Who knows?  Perhaps I'll find a vase or two to bring home.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Triumphs and Tragedies

Welcome to another week of Triumphs and Tragedies.  As seems to be the case a lot recently the weather is playing a big role in the ups and downs of my garden.  The first tragedy occurred Thursday morning.  The last day of the work week before the long weekend and what did I wake up to.

It began snowing Wednesday evening and I had hoped it would melt by the next morning but it did not.  Instead it rained and then froze.

Each branch on this potentilla shrub is completely encased in ice.  Very pretty to look at but not so great for gardening.  Or driving for that matter.  To quote the radio announcer that morning, "we have snow, we have ice, we have freezing rain.  The only thing we don't have is dry pavement".

I came home Thursday night to a pleasant surprise.  This week's triumph comes courtesy of two fellow garden bloggers.  Kate from High Altitude Gardening took a trip to Italy this past February.  More than a trip really, as she spent a month living and working there.  Those of us reading along got to enjoy her travels vicariously which was a treat.  Italian seeds made it back in her luggage and Kate kindly thought of us fellow bloggers and sent them out into the world.  I'm very much looking forward to planting my italian carrots and radichio Kate, thank you!

A second parcel also arrived this Thursday from Sharon Lovejoy of Sunflower House and a Little Green Island.  Sharon recently started the Grimy Hands Girls Club and as a charter member I received a lovely package from Sharon including lettuce seeds and illustrated notepaper.  

So many wonderful gifts came in the mail this week!
So what initially looked like a dreary start to the weekend turned around quite quickly.  Happy holiday wishes and have a lovely weekend.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Earth Day Reading Project

This past week I was invited (twice!) to participate in a meme called the Earth Day Reading Project.  This meme was created by The Sage Butterfly in honor of Earth Day (Friday, April 22).  We are asked to share books that have inspired us to live sustainably or participate in a green act. 

Many things have inspired me to try and garden in a more natural way but of the books I have read these are the ones that stand out.

The Rodale Book of Composting: Easy Methods for Every Gardener
Some years ago we rented a house that came with a compost bin.  Although I fully supported the idea of compost I had no experience in creating or using it.  That black plastic bin was a bit intimidating when I first saw it and I needed to learn what to do with it.  I purchased this book and brought it home only to read it all in one sitting.  This book was an exceptional introduction to composting as it discusses so many different aspects of compost.  It begins by talking about what compost is and how it is produced naturally in forests.  Then it moves on to composting throughout history and discusses the different methods that have been used in agriculture at different times.  From there it talks about composting today.  How to build a compost bin, the materials you can use to create compost, the differences between hot and cold compost, and how to use the finished product.  Since reading this book composting has become one of my most basic tools in gardening.  By understanding this very fundamental process I gained knowledge of the natural world as a whole and the life cycle of plants and insects came together in my mind.

Northwest Coastal Wildflowers (Northwest Wildflower)
There was a provincial park that we visited regularly when we lived in British Columbia and one visit I wandered through the general store and came across this field guide.  It's relatively small as pocket guides are.  Each page contains several pictures of flowers and some basic identification information.  I never paid a lot of attention to wildflowers before but this book contained pretty pictures of flowers and I became interested in trying to see if I could find them on my walks.  Then I realized that some of the flowers in my book were actually in my yard and I began identifying plants within the confines of my garden area.  Suddenly a whole new world opened up.  Plants that I had virtually ignored previously had a name and a purpose.  Once I realized how many weeds were wildflowers the world around me was a whole lot more interesting and native plants became just as beautiful as garden ornamentals.

The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed
I have already written a detailed review of this book here but it deserves another mention as it so thoroughly affected my perception of forests.  It made me consider their place in history.  Large trees that you see today may have been standing when European settlers first touched the shores of North America.  It also made me consider their value.  From economic value through tourism and logging to ecological values of air quality and wildlife habitat.  After reading this book I could no longer see a tree as just a tree.  I was thinking about it's growth, the conditions required to cultivate it, the animals it fed and sheltered, the spiritual significance and beauty it presents to humans and the monetary value it presents to our communities. 

The Rodale Book of Composting: Easy Methods for Every Gardener      Northwest Coastal Wildflowers (Northwest Wildflower)     The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed

I would like to thank Karin at Southern Meadows and Debbie at A Garden of Possibilities who both asked me to participate in this meme.  Bloggers like Karin and Debbie have inspired me and continue to inspire me to consider how my garden affects the world around me. 

I would like to invite the following bloggers to join in this meme and tell us about books that have inspired them this Earth Day.

• Blush and Bees

• My Weeds Are Very Sorry

• Casa Mariposa

Monday, April 18, 2011

Reviving the Hedgerow

When I lived in British Columbia I knew very little about hedgerows.  I had a notion what they were.  It seems to me that I've heard them mentioned in old Victorian novels, men in jaunty hats racing across fields on horseback, jumping hedgerows and chasing after foxes.  But I'd never really thought about what it was and why it was.  I certainly never thought I would own one.

The hedgerow in the fall
Running lengthwise from one end of our property to the other is a hedgerow.  It divides our property from the field beyond.  In summer this row is filled with wild raspberry canes and goldenrod discreetly hiding the garbage that has accumulated there over the years.  In winter the plants die to the ground and there is nothing to mark the property line or hide the garbage.  Last spring I began some of the clean up.  Trash bag in hand I hand picked wrappers and plastic pots, pieces of metal and assorted items.  Some things were too large for the garbage.  A pile of tires.  Several metal burning barrels.  An old window.  The biggest shock was finding the sink.

At one time the kitchen in this house must have been renovated.  A new stainless steel sink installed.  But what to do with the old cast iron sink?

Apparently it was too heavy to carry very far.  Can you believe there's not even a chip in it?  We have left it to sit in the garage while we deliberate our own kitchen renovation.  It is possible this sink will see new life again.

Wandering around in the hedgerow got me wondering what other purposes it might be used for.  Were there types of plants best suited to being planted here?  These questions led me to the MacPhail Woods Ecology Forestry Project.  This is a wonderful group that is working to restore natural forests on PEI through education and research.  Their website provides a cornucopia of information including the use and care of hedgerows.  Years ago hedgerows used to divide farmers fields, providing shelter to livestock grazing in those fields and providing wind protection for crops in the fields and homes.  However most hedgerows were torn out so that large farm machinery could manuevre into the fields or as in the case of our own hedgerow they were simply neglected and the trees and shrubs began to die off.  The loss of a hedgerow means that snow and dirt are easily swept up in winds and blown away.  It also means the loss of wildlife habitat.  Foxes, coyotes and rabbits use these small corridors to provide cover as they move across the land.  It also provides homes and food to rodents and birds.

Once I realized the usefulness of having a hedgerow I began looking at ours with a critical eye.  The perennials that thrive there in summer don't provide any wind break in winter.  There is some shelter for animals in summer but shrubs providing shelter and food all year round would be preferable.

Last week we have finally started work on revitalizing this piece of our land.  From the garage to our neighbours property line there are numerous dead and dying shrubs eeking out a meagre existence in the hedgerow.  I inspected them last spring and found this.

These black sooty balls are called, aptly, Black Knot disease.  It a fungus that attacks plants in the Prunus genus.  Prunus species include cherry, almond and plum trees.  It spreads by spores that catch a ride in the falling rain and on the wind.  This fungus will kill a tree if left for long enough.  That is what has happened here as fully 75% of the trees were dead and the others well on their way.  The only way to be rid of this disease is to burn the offending wood and not plant anything of the Prunus variety in the area.  Two weekends now we have spent clipping, chopping, sawing and then burning.

The row of plum trees to be cut down

Starting work cutting the trees down
Then we walked through hand picking pieces of broken branches off the ground and adding these to the fire.

Half the hedge cut and burning at this point
Next I will be raking the area and bagging the contents for garbage.  It's a large task but thus far it's going along quite well.

All the trees are down with one last pile to burn. 
The final step will be to visit the MacPhail Woods nursery which opens April 28, 2011.  I have plans to purchase various native trees and shrubs so we can get to work rebuilding this hedgerow.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Triumphs and Tragedies

We recently moved our laptop into one of the bay windows which provides a lovely view of the apple trees and front border.  I am truly delighted with this spot as yesterday while I sat working I spotted some of the first spring robins carefully checking over my lawn.

Gazing out the window I sat contemplating what should be done with this border.  It still requires some expansion as the digging was not completed last year.  But more problematic is that it is full of a hodge podge of plant sale finds.  A proper planting scheme must be considered.  As I sat pondering inquiring faces came to the window to see whether I would be joining them soon in the yard.

So with camera in hand I decided to head straight out to the front bed and take a look at what plants were there.  We've had a bit of rain this past week and the snow is now completely removed from our yard.  yah!!  The tragedy is that the weather is still quite chilly, we even had snow on Friday afternoon, so although plants are beginning to emerge from the earth their growth is not fast and furious but just a smidgeon at a time, testing the temperature as they go.  These bleeding hearts are just beginning to poke their noses out of the earth.

It was a rather triumphant day though as I found the evidence of numerous plants that have survived the winter.  In the entrance bed I found the white phlox 'David' pushing its way into the world.

White phlox 'David'
Also found was the Mountain bluet.

Mountain bluet is beginning to push out leaves
A surviving plant tag next to the emerging foliage told me this plant was the Bluet.  Otherwise I would have had some difficulty knowing what was growing there.  Tragically many of the plants don't have tags.  

I was able to identify some, like this lambs ear, simply by sight.

Other plants I was not so fortunate.  I'm fairly certain I planted a ligularia in the front bed but I could have sworn it was in a much different spot.  This could possibly be the golden glow but again, I thought that was in a different spot.  

That presents a bit of a difficulty because I had intended to move the Golden Glow.  I'll have to wait a bit longer and hopefully their identities will become more evident.

Some of the plants I wasn't certain about but luckily I created a master garden list last summer and was able to put some names with faces.  Like this artemesia.

From the entrance bed I moved out into the yard to see if any of my bulbs were ready to appear.  The daylilies have started to push through although it will be some months before they are ready to bloom.

The muscari have only produced the tiniest of leaves but the Siberian squill, despite their diminutive size are producing buds.

From there I wandered over to the vegetable garden.  Last fall's garlic has started to grow and is doing quite well.  

Chives are also sprouting and the Hardy geranium 'Samobor' that I tucked into the raised beds for lack of a better planting space has begun to produce leaves.

The final triumph of the day came as I was wandering around the raised vegetable beds.  Some weeks ago I had commented to hubby that I found it strange that field mice would tunnel into our lawn.  I don't really know if mice are diggers and I'm wondering if all the holes can possibly be attributed to them. Hubby said that they had to live somewhere in the winter and the mice couldn't very well live out in the open.  In fact his comment was something to the effect of  'you don't see them building little teepees out on the lawn so you?'  

Well who's laughing now?

It might not be a teepee but I know a straw hut when I see one.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spring Clean Up

I meant to write a Triumphs and Tragedies post this past weekend but the Triumph was that the weather was so beautiful I got caught up in gardening and didn't have time to write the blog post.  It was a positively glorious weekend and I was thrilled to finally be able to get outside and get my hands dirty.  We even managed to drag out the barbeque and cook some hamburgers to welcome the start of spring.  As is often the case with Triumphs and Tragedies, you can't have one without the other.  I found more vole damage. Three Diablo Ninebarks are in ruins, another white birch decimated, and several perennials appear to have met their demise.  My only consolation is that with the snow gone the cats are now making short work of the wee vermin.  Perhaps more cats should be adopted?

My first task of the weekend was taking a look at my compost.  Unfortunately I discovered that it was frozen solid.  I hadn't thought of that.  The large bins that hold my compost together to keep it warm are also very good at keeping it cold.  All the snow that blew through the wire mesh over the winter has compacted and solidified into a giant block of ice.  Chipping at it with a pickaxe did little to fix the situation and now my arm is quite sore.  It seems I will have to wait for warmer weather and some rain to dissolve the contents.

Since I was getting nowhere with the compost I decided I would do a bit of raking next.  Our large birch trees spray down branches all winter long and in order to mow the grass in the coming months all the branches must be picked up.  It took no time at all to find out how a winter of inactivity can affect one's body.  I was winded almost immediately which was quite disapointing.  So I moved on to another project. 

Suddenly I realized why I never seem to get any one task accomplished in the garden.  I tend to get tired and switch to something else halfway through.  Not quite sure what the remedy is to that.

Well the next task turned out to be more branches but without the raking.  The apple tree branches that were pruned in February had been left to lay where they fell in the snow.  Now with the snow gone it was time to pile the branches in a far corner where they can spend the summer drying out.  In a few months they will be cut up and taken into the basement to be used as firewood for next winter.

Something that struck me this weekend as I puttered about and found I was quite pleased with is that, opposed to last year, I now know where everything is located in my garden.  Last spring I was scared to touch any of the beds for fear I would damage flowers that I didn't know were there.  This year I was able to dig right in and cut back foliage without a care.  The first bed I decided to clean up was the smallest one given my aching muscles.  I started with the tractor tire.  Yes I have a tractor tire sitting in my yard.  It's even painted white to match the house.  This a before photo.

Although it was mainly dominated by weeds last year I discovered there were some pretty pink flowers and a trailing sedum growing there.  When I looked for these plants this weekend the sedum crumbled in my fingers and the stem of the pink flowers was gnawed down to a nub by mice.

Last year this sedum was quite happy but this year it crumbled in my fingers
I left the nub in case the roots decide to push out some growth but the rest of the tire was dug up.  I have some Lavatera seeds that might do quite nicely in this spot.

Cleaned up and ready for planting
After that I still had some energy so I moved onto another nearby 'bed'.  I'm not quite sure if you would call this a bed or not.  It's really just a pile of rocks sitting in an obscure spot that doesn't appear to have any relation to anything around it.

That tuft of weeds is the 'bed'
Masses of lovely purple sedum have been planted here and thrived beautifully last summer despite the masses of weeds.

Last summer's sedum from this bed.
This year I decided to do away with this spot.  It serves no purpose and doesn't work with my landscaping plans.  I began digging up clumps of sedum, moving some to the tractor tire and some to beds alongside the house.  Then I raked up the masses of dead weeds so I could clearly see what I was dealing with.  With the weeds gone you can see it's really just a small pile of rocks.

Weeds removed, there is just a small pile of rocks left.
Hubby suggested the dirt and rocks be used in other beds that are being created which is a fantastic idea.  I'm not ready to move them yet but it will be a relatively easy chore to dig the last of the sedum up and move the plants with the accompanying dirt to a new bed.  Then we will just mow over this spot and it should eventually blend into the lawn.

When I was done enjoying the great outdoors there were still chores to be completed inside.  The Amaranthus seeds have sprouted their first true leaves and were beginning to crowd each other so they were moved to their own individual containers. 

More mystery seeds from MIL were planted and the black currant and Beauty Berry seeds that I had begun cold stratifying in January were brought inside to see if I could revive them.  The red currants unfortunately got knocked over in the wind so I'll have to try those again next year.  My seedling set up seems to have done quite well thus far and my only complaint now is space.  As the seedlings have been potted out to larger containers the table has become more and more crowded  Seedlings have now filled the entire table and many are living in window sills.  And I still have one more month before I can think of planting them outside.  I guess I should have waited a bit longer before getting my seeds started.  We'll be living in a tomato jungle by the end of May.  Perhaps I should think of building a cold frame this summer to accommodate seedlings next spring?

Is anyone else running out of room for their seedlings?  Where do you put them when you're still waiting for warmer weather?