Monday, May 31, 2010

The Big Reveal

Behind the scenes over these last few weeks I've been working on the vegetable garden. You might recall that my proposed space looked like this. Not much there but grass and a bit of junk piled in the hedgerow.

Now it looks like this:

Originally the plan was to build just a couple of garden boxes and try them out for the year to see how I liked them.  But that quickly multiplied to four boxes and then...just one more.. and then ... well it's hard to make out but I've dug a perennial bed on the left hand side of the space for rhubarb and asparagus.
I'm not very good at following direction, even my own.  Months ago I did a drawing of how the vegetable garden was to be layed out.  This looks nothing like it.

I am happy with how this is turning out though.  I wanted a vegetable garden and there it is.  Sure there will be additions and changes but I actually have a dedicated space now that is recognizable for what it is.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Triumphs and Tragedies

It seems that many times lifes highs are directly accompanied with a corresponding low.  So it is this week.


Look at all this lovely Candytuft.  This is a perennial variety which I believe is called Iberis sempervirens.  It's all through the flower bed and blooming it's pretty little heads off.  The dark foliage and bright flowers are gorgeous and it smells like honey.  Really, if you get in there all you can smell is honey.  My encyclopedia tells me Candytuft has a light scent and certainly this isn't overpowering and maybe it's just sheer volume but there's the unmistakable smell of honey.  This little plant has won me over completely.


Look at all that grass coming up, over, around and through the candytuft!  The weeding of this bed is going to be a nightmare.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What Goes in a Gardening Box?

Soil of course!!!

Before I can plant anything my raised boxes need to be filled with some good dirt.  A tip I learned from the All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!book is mixing dirt on a tarp.  What a great way to contain the mess and then drag it to wherever I need it.

Square Foot Gardening also suggested a recipe for mixing dirt but what I discovered is that every manufacturer uses different values to measure their product.  Some are in litres, some square feet, some kilograms.   I came up with a formula of approximately 140 litres of peat moss, 18 litres of vermiculite, and 16 kg each of country blend compost, marine compost and sheep compost.  Obviously measuring is not my strong suit because there were times where the box was short of dirt and other times I had too much.  But the end result was a nice dark mixture that soaked up the water and feels quite light.

I should also note that I tried a couple of alternatives on the underside of the boxes.  Landscaping fabric was suggested as a way to keep the grass and weeds from growing up through the dirt but I have a distinct aversion to this stuff so under the first box I layered wet newspaper instead.

But then I got thinking about how newspaper breaks down and I started worrying that in a year or two the weeds underneath will break through and take over the box.  I also started reading another book called The Vegetable Gardener's Bible (10th Anniversary Edition)which talks about the root structure of vegetable plants and how much room they need.  It made me question whether 6 inches of soil is really enough.  So for my second box I decided to take out the grass.

Once the grass was removed I took a garden fork and simply stuck it in the soil and rocked it back and forth to loosen things up.

But then of course by the third box removing the grass just didn't feel like enough.  So I actually turned the dirt and picked out the rocks and then added a bag of compost.  Obviously my obsessive tendencies are beginning to take over.  It will be interesting though to see how these boxes with their different techniques turn out.  Maybe my first box will be full of grass or maybe it won't make any difference at all?  Time will tell.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fancy Gardening Boxes

After reading the book Square Foot Gardening I decided that I would build raised beds for my new vegetable patch.  Since I failed woodwork in junior high I enlisted the help of my husband in this venture.  Lucky for me I'm married to a woodworker.  Jody normally builds fancy furniture, see here, but he's pretty good at boxes too.  As you can see at left, Gino made the inspection and gave his stamp of approval.

The boxes were intended to be 4 feet by 4 feet and 6 inches high however what I discovered is that apparently an 8 foot board is not necessarily 8 feet long, nor is it 6 inches wide, even though that's what the sign says.  According to Jody, who knows these things, that 8 foot board might be 8 feet and 1 inch and the 6 inch width is likely more 5 and half inches.  I really want a minimum of 6 inches of soil in my boxes so I chose boards that were 8 feet long and 8 inches wide (or is that 7 and a half?).

Rather than getting picky about cutting off an inch here or there all four boxes were built by simply cutting the 8 foot boards in half.  They should be approximately 4 feet along each side and sort of 8 inches high.  Having perfectly square boxes wasn't a priority for me but it's something to take note of for those of you who want things absolutely square. And something to consider if you need a specific planting depth.

All four boxes are now complete.  Aren't they pretty?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mountain Apple Ash

I've been doing a lot of walking around lately.  Watching for new plants pushing up through the ground, checking buds for signs of opening, what plants are alive, which are dead, guessing at the species.  It's a very exciting time.  Most exciting was my discovery of the mountain apple ash.  What a lovely name.  Kinda rolls off your tongue.  Makes me think of dewy mountain meadows and apple blossoms.  Who couldn't love such a tree?

It has lots of branches like a shrub and is quite short

It has beautiful long leaves like this

and soft fuzzy leaves like this

there are flowers

and two trunks

HANG ON.  Just what exactly is a Mountain Apple Ash anyway?

Well it's an oops.  You see I thought I had uncovered a Mountain Ash in a flower bed a month back.  I checked the buds and could see old berry clusters hanging from the branches.  But obviously I didn't look closely enough to notice that there are actually TWO trees growing up in the same spot.  Not until the ash leaves opened did I realize that the branch next to it didn't look anything like it.  And then I looked at the stump which is playing nursemaid to this natural wonder and realized it's an old apple stump from the old orchard.  And it's sprouting two new trees.  One Ash and One Apple.  One on each side of the stump.  I'm not sure where to go from here.  I could sacrifice one to allow the other room to grow.  But they're intermingling so nicely.  What if I cut one down and the other died of heartbreak?  I don't think I want that hanging over my head.  Sometimes nature knows best and for now I'll enjoy my Mountain Apple Ash.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Canoe Cove Perennial Sale

It was a beautiful day on Saturday, the skies were clear and the weather was warm.  A perfect day for a plant sale.

The community newsletter advertised rhubarb and manure and the good news is I got both.  The other good news, depending on how you look at it, is that I bought a lot of plants.  I know I don't have any flower beds to put them in but how was I expected to resist?!  They were selling plants for $1 - $3!  All things considered I think it could have been a lot worse.  So while I'm contemplating where to put these plants I thought I should do a little research into what I purchased.

Some of my purchases were old loves.  When we left BC I had to leave all my plants behind.  There are some plants I simply can't do without and I'm looking forward to establishing colonies of them again in my new home.  One of those is Lady's mantle.  Alchemilla mollis has the softest leaves that I love to pet (some plants have wonderful tactile qualities, not just looks or smell) and they hold raindrops in such a lovely way.

I also purchased dahlias.  Many people at the sale were turned off of these lovely plants because they need to be dug out each year but not me.  I love dahlias.  They come in an amazing array of sizes, colours and shapes.  They bloom late in the season when other plants have closed up shop.  And by digging them out at the end of each year I can move them around easily if I decide I'd like a splash of colour somewhere else.

I also purchased a butternut tree.  I know, ANOTHER tree.  In my defense I was egged on by a neighbour who said "oh you've got TONS of room, you should take it".  I'm thinking it will be used in the back hedgerow which could use a little rejuvenation.

Other plants were impulse purchases.  Now I should know better than to purchase unknown plants on a whim, particularly from a local perennial sale.  Donated plants are usually there for a reason.   The term that comes to mind is 'thugs'.  These are usually plants that are big and rambunctious, throwing their seeds to the wind, sending their roots out to visit with the neighbours and then staying.  Because they're so rampant people usually have a lot to give away.  People like me, overcome with spring fever, can hardly restrain themselves from taking them all home.

That noted, may I introduce this cute little fellow.  Macleaya cordata or Plume Poppy.  Sounds nice doesn't it?

I picked this guy out of the heap because I thought it was a poppy and I loved the foliage.  A gorgeous blue green colour fringed with purple.  How can a gal go wrong?  A look at my go-to plant encyclopedia 2850 House And Garden Plants by Rob Herwig states it grows 6 - 10 feet tall, oh my! Has plumes of pearly-white flowers and is invasive.  Oh my.  They should just put a picture of me in that book and label it sucker.  The people over at Gardening Gone Wild were much kinder in their description of the plume poppy and it made me feel a little better.  I do have a lot of room and maybe I can find an area to accommodate this fellow.  He really does have nice foliage.  And on a property this big I think big plants are really the way to go.  Small plants would be out of proportion with the house and yard so this could work to my advantage.  (work with me here, I'm trying to take a positive out of this situation)

With the proportion theory floating about the next flower looks like I bought it on purpose.  I didn't.  I was standing there looking at the label "Golden Glow" and thinking how nice that sounded when another lady said "oh those are so nice, they get about 5 feet tall and have big yellow blooms like a sunflower".  Big sunny pretty flowers, Sold!  A quick internet check (what in the world did we do before internet?) turns out that this purchase is actually a Rudbeckia laciniata.  See here.  Apparently this is an heirloom type of coneflower sometimes called Outhouse plant.  Likely it would have been planted to obscure an outhouse from view.  If it can obscure an outhouse how big do you think it gets?  Back to my 2850 House and Garden Plants and it tells me Golden Glow gets to be 6 feet tall.  It is also a vigorous spreader.  A polite way of saying it will take over your yard if you turn your back.  But pretty, OH MY.  I love yellow.  I love flowers you can cut for bouquets.  I might regret this but I'm planning on enlarging the flower bed in front of the house and I think this will look amazing with the white birch and lilacs.

Now if someone could remind me next year not to lose my head and purchase plants based solely on a fancy name it would be much appreciated.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Triumphs and Tragedies

Gardens are a lot like life.  There are ups and downs and we learn to take the lumps with the gravy.  I like to think the principals of ying and yang preside.  Where there is darkness there must be an equal amount of light.  No laughter without sorrow.  No roses without weeds.  With those principals in mind I present you with this week's triumphs and tragedies.

I have discovered strawberries on our property.  Free strawberries.  It's like a gift from God.  Jody is over the moon, he could eat nothing but strawberries from morning to night.

There are strawberries EVERYWHERE.  They're in the flower beds, in the hedgerow, the lawn.  They are growing up through plastic and enmeshed in landscaping fabric.  Who knew strawberries could be invasive?

While doing garbage duty for the WI Roadside Cleanup numerous small spruces and birch were discovered in the ditches.  Free Trees!!!  I'm sure you can guess what happened next.

My first plant purchase for our yard was an old fashioned lilac.  I planted him a couple weeks ago and now, sadly, he's showing signs of distress.  No idea what's wrong, just waiting to see how far this thing spreads.  Sometimes you just gotta let it go.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Golden Spruce

The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and GreedWith all the tree love going on in the past week it got me thinking about a book that I adore.  The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant.  I read this book last spring on our trip across Canada.  I started reading when we left British Columbia and I didn't stop until it ended somewhere in Saskatchewan.  Wherever I could, at gas stations, diners and hotel rooms I pulled out this book and crammed in as much reading as I could.  And now I'm reading it again.  This book is just that good.

It has all the elements of a great story - murder (of a horticultural kind), mystery, intrigue and suspense.  Amazingly, it isn't fiction.  The event took place in 1997 in the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia.

One of the things I love about this book is the care with which the setting is described.  The author has written an absolutely captivating description of the West Coast temperate rain forest.  If you have ever been in the rainforest it will be like walking there again.  If you haven't been in the rainforest you may feel compelled to visit it.  The forests in this book have been treated like a character and you get a sense of their beauty, their history, how they feel, the sound and the smell.

The central character is the villain and has committed a crime like no other.  While it is clear what was done and by whom, it is not clear why.  Is he really a villain or is he mad?  There is a case to be made for mental instability.  The other option is that he is making a statement in the boldest way he can to capture people's attention.  But will people understand his statement or will they simply be so caught up in the violence of the act that they miss the point?

Perhaps what I like best about this book is that is made me look at logging in a new light.  Like a lot of resource based jobs logging is a business that is declining.  There are less trees and they are being taken down faster and faster by machines.  Large corporations have taken the place of smaller businesses.  Loggers are finding themselves unemployed.  This book provided a history of the forests and the industry that has built up around them.  It showed me that logging is not just a job but part of a culture.  People often started this career when they were barely youths and they learned it from their fathers and grandfathers.  They have learned skills which are extraordinary but almost useless when they are taken out of the forest.  And with every tree they bring down they are that much closer to losing their jobs and their way of life.  And there is the dichotomy - the forests they love and work in every day are also the forests they are killing. How does this make a person feel?  What would it drive you to do?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

New Additions

Well I finally did it.  It's only taken a month and a half but I have finally added two new pages about our journey to the east coast, our home and our furry cat pals.  So if you've ever wondered what would possess someone to move across Canada or where the name CanoeCorner came from feel free to take a look.  If you too have furry garden accomplices you might enjoy checking out the cats on the corner.  And if you're new to this blog, Welcome, take your shoes off and stay awhile.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Native Trees of PEI

Prior to moving to Prince Edward Island I believed there was only one type of birch.  The options as I knew them were a standard upright form and weeping.  The bark was white and papery, the leaves a light green.  I knew nothing about fall colour.  When we purchased our home I was delighted to find a half dozen of these trees gracing the lawn around the house.

Their white trunks provide a contrast from the other trees.  But I also learned something.  They have great fall colour, a bright yellow orange.  I also learned that they can become quite large.  The trunks of our trees measure from 1 to 2 feet across.  I looked them up and found that they can live to be 150 years old.  They bear long catkins in the spring.  And I also found out that they are not the only birches.

When I searched for trees native to PEI I found a whole wealth of other birches.  Grey birch, bog birch, blue leaf birch and yellow birch.  There is a lot I do not know.  My first real encounter with another birch was while taking a Sunday walk through the woods.  There is a place in King's county we like to visit called the Valleyfield Demonstration Woodlot.  There I spied something I had never seen.  It looked like candy.  Gold coloured candy!  White birches have their attractions but yellow birch stole the show.

Where the bark of a white birch is white, the bark of a yellow birch is yellow.  That's pretty obvious, don't know why I wouldn't have realized that!  But another difference is that the bark doesn't come off in full sheets like that of white birch.  It tends to fray and ruffle like a party dress.  The two photos shown here really reveal that difference.

Also, as pointed out by my husband the woodworker the yellow birch is a denser tree than white birch and the wood is much harder.  I don't want to cut up any trees but it's an interesting bit of information.  You can also see from the photos that the leaf shape is slightly different with the white birch being slightly rounder and the yellow birch more elongated.  By the way this awesome demonstration board comes from the Valleyfield Woodlot.  They have great signs and features there to point out the varieties of trees.

Other trees shown on the board include Pin Cherry, Sugar Maple, Red Maple, Striped Maple, Poplar and Beech.

I know I've seen oak trees in the past but I don't believe I have ever seen a red oak.  This fall photograph demonstrates where the name comes from as the leaves are turning bright shades of orange and red.  Red Oak is the provincial tree of Prince Edward Island but is quite rare here so I felt obligated to purchase one and help continue this species.  It's also just a great tree.  As a kid oak was one of the few trees I could identify due to the unusual shape of it's leaves.  It's a large tree that provides lots of shade and acorns for wildlife.  Although I am unlikely to see it come to maturity somebody will appreciate this tree for years to come.

While we were out driving in King's County another native tree jumped out at me.  The Eastern Larch.  This is one of the few needled trees that is not evergreen.  Isn't this an amazing photo.  I was stunned by the great numbers of larches in the east portion of the province.  Although we had driven through there before I had never noticed these trees.  Throughout the year they look like any other evergreen, the cone shape is the same, the placement of the branches but come fall they turn this lovely colour and shed their needles until spring.

Another gorgeous native tree is the evergreen Eastern Hemlock.  I think I have a soft spot for this tree simply because it reminds me of trees from British Columbia.  It is the tallest tree species in PEI growing up to 70 feet tall. The needles are small and soft and the tree has a feathery appearance to it.

I'm not the only person in my family with a love of trees.  That love is shared with my tree hugging cat Gino.  He has made himself at home in our new birches.  They are much easier to climb than a 100 foot Douglas Fir and provide ample places to lay yourself out and have a snooze on a sunny day.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Spring Clean Up and Perennial Sale

A reminder to all you Islanders out there that Saturday, May 15, 2010 is the annual PEI Women's Institute Roadside Clean Up.  If your local WI is as active as ours then you've likely received a clean up bag in your mailbox already.  Actually, they've put several bags in our mailbox.  Maybe that's a hint our ditches need some extra work!

If you're on the island and you're looking for some perennials next weekend then come to the Annual Canoe Cove Perennial Sale at Inman Park in Canoe Cove on Saturday, May 22, 2010.  I'm not ready to plant a darn thing just yet, my beds are still full of weeds, but I hear they have rhubarb and manure for sale so maybe I'll see you there.  Oh okay, maybe I'll pick up a plant or three.  I'll make room.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tree Planting

I love the pastoral views on PEI, watching tractors go by and cows grazing on a hillside.  The red sand beaches and lighthouses here are amazing to behold.  Despite all this amazing scenery I find myself missing trees.  Oh, there are trees here, but not in the numbers that I'm used to.  Instead of looking out my window and seeing my half dozen birches waving at me I would love to see a forest of them.  Because where there are trees there are also birds and squirrels.  Seasons change and leaves turn colour and fall.  Vistas open up and close again. The view is constantly changing, there is always action and excitement.  Gazing at a hillside of trees I once watched an alder suddenly burst and topple.  Even in death a tree offers so much to see.

Due to my tree love I'm on a mission to change the balance of things on our property to more trees and less lawn.  So early Saturday morning we hooked the trailer up to our truck Betsy Bear and headed out to King's County to buy some trees.  This island is blessed with the presence of MacPhail Woods.  The MacPhail Woods Ecological Forestry Project is an organization funded by the Environmental Coalition of PEI and the Sir Andrew MacPhail Foundation.  They work to promote forest stewardship, watershed protection, provide environmental education and ecological research.  They also run a native plant nursery which sells trees!  Proceeds from the nursery fund many of their educational programs.  One of the amazing side benefits of this great place is that not only can you buy native trees there you can also view mature trees and get a sense of what your purchase will look like in the years to come.  Not sure what to buy?  A visit to their website contains all sorts of information on the various plants, how to plant them, what animals will benefit from them and photos.  From my perspective native trees and plants are ideal as they are suited to the soil and weather conditions so no pampering, or guesswork, is required.  I also know that they will provide shelter and food that local birds and animals will use.  It's a win win situation all around.  

Cedars, Larches and Birches, oh my!
You can see there was lots to choose from at the nursery.  We spent a couple hours picking out trees and shrubs and chatting with staff who helped point out good specimens.  Our plants were then dug out of the ground and wrapped up to take home.  If you're interested in visiting the nursery you can find them in Orwell, PEI. They are open Thursdays through Saturdays from 9am to 5pm through to June 5, 2010.  We choose to buy bareroot plants which are available until May 22, 2010 but potted stock is still available after this date.

Digging out the sod to place this white pine.
Once we got home the race to plant our trees began.  While the nursery did a great job of packing our plants in wet seaweed to keep them moist the roots still need to get into soil as quickly as possible.  I had already started digging some holes which helped but it still took me Saturday evening and all day Sunday to get our new friends into the ground.  As you can see from the photo most of my purchases were quite small.  Buying small trees has both positive and negative attributes.  Unfortunately they take longer to grow to maturity so you have to be very patient and accept that you may never see them in their mature state.  On the plus side a small tree will be easier to handle during transplanting.  It is also less likely to suffer shock as the smaller root structure is easier to dig up and probably won't have as much damage to it.  Small trees also don't require staking.  No fussing with wire and posts or worrying about when is the best time to remove the supports.  A small tree will learn to handle the wind on its own which is a great attribute.  All that blowing in the breeze will thicken it's trunk and force it to grow strong roots.  This is really important to me because here on PEI we have WIND.  All year round it blows and at certain times of year we have the potential for hurricanes.  

This yellow birch will help to screen out the noise and traffic from the road
You might be wondering why it took so long to plant all these little trees.  The truth is - I spent more time wandering around debating on where to place them than anything else.  Three acres is a lot of room and there were more options than you can shake a stick at.  Jody felt they should be placed close to the house so we can see them in all their glory.  Whereas I felt they should be close to the road to provide some screening from the wind, noise and traffic.  In the end a compromise was made.  Approximately half the trees were set out at the perimeter of the property and half came to live up by the house where we can see them regularly.

A tiny white birch will eventually replace the large birch directly behind it.

Even though 15 trees and shrubs were planted by the end of the weekend it feels like we've hardly made a dent. There's still a heck of a lot of lawn out there and tons more room. I'm tempted to run back to the nursery and buy more but alas the money's run out. Until next pay day then.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Spring Cleaning

I finally paid Mr. Snowplow for his services the other day and committed to the fact that it is spring.  It's cold and wet and then alternately hot and windy but it's spring.  The threat of frost is diminishing with each day and the tulips, now standing 6 inches high, are declaring that it's high time I cleaned some of the debris out of the flower beds. 

Spring cleaning my garden is always fun because it's the first time in the new year when I'm really able to get out and garden.  I get to check on my plants progress, see where I have room for more and dream of all the blossoms to come.  This year it's a bit like peaking in somebody else's closet.  I did not make these beds, nor did I place the plants in them.  The voyeur in me dreams up stories of how these plants came to be, the personality and likes and dislikes of their former mistress.

A great favourite appears to be bleeding hearts.

I've counted at least a dozen thus far.  Had I seen this garden when I was 9 years old I would have been ecstatic.  There was no plant more fabulous to a little girl than one than bloomed rows upon rows of dainty pink hearts.  It was a plant fit for a fairy tale princess.  I still love bleeding hearts but the gardener in me wonders how empty these beds will look come August.  Something to think on.

Peonies were also planted in multiples.  Four bushes so far. 

I'm anxious to find out what colours they are but I'm not even sure when they will bloom.  I have, alas, never grown a peony before so I've got a lot to learn.

Something else I've discovered about the former caretakers is their level of lawn care.  I have heard stories that they were very vigilant about mowing their lawn but a quick walk through the yard tells me they weren't so passionate about weeding.  Thank Goodness!!  Otherwise I wouldn't be looking at a yard full of gorgeous purple blooms.

That's ajuga reptans.  Here's a closer look

And what's that beside it?  Looks like the leaves of Achillea to me.  Oh goody. 

And Violets!!

I am most definitely not a lawn afficienado and am hoping to get away with only mowing a tiny fraction of our yard.  Knowing that there's flowers out there is a great relief.  Hopefully it will take on the look of wildflower meadow as opposed to just messy overgrown grass.

Every day there are more great finds.  I'm not sure what these flowers are but I am sure enjoying them.

Here's another flower I would have liked as a child, simply for it's wonderful name, Candytuft.

This shrub has me stumped.  It's only a couple feet high and quite round.  The leaves remind me of an azalea but it's orange.  I don't know of any azalea's with orange leaves but that doesn't mean they don't exist.  We'll just have to wait and see if any flowers appear.

The other great thing about spring is that every day brings new plants and flowers to admire.  Who knows what we might find tomorrow!