Saturday, November 26, 2011

An End to Fall and a Start to Christmas

My apologies to my blogging friends as I have been terribly neglectful lately reading others posts.  I had thought that fall would bring some respite but my schedule is busier than ever.  Even the garden still has chores that need doing.  We have been deluged with apples to the point that even today at the end of November I found myself working in the orchard picking up fallen fruit.

Even as the leaves yellow and fall there
are still apples to be cleaned up
While some of you may have started your Christmas shopping on Black Friday we are trying to finish up our shopping.  Living on the opposite site of the country from family and friends means that gifts must be shipped out early to reach their intended destination before the big date.

We've been hitting up craft fairs and stores for several weeks now and many presents are on their way west.  Normally I wouldn't decorate our house this early but I have pulled out a few bits and pieces as I wrapped presents to get me in the mood.

Speaking of decorating, the old Canoe Cove Schoolhouse has been dressed up in its finest this past week for the Canoe Cove Christmas House Tour which will take place this Friday, December 2, 2011 from 6:30 - 9 pm.  Four homes will be opened up for viewing as well as the School House which will feature an assortment of Christmas treats, apple cider and a door prize.  Any locals looking for tickets to this event can contact myself or visit the Canoe Cove website.

No time to rest after the House Tour as it is followed the following weekend by a Live Nativity.  Every year Jenkins farm puts up a fantastic display of christmas lights and this year they decided to expand and include actors, a choir and animals including cows, horses, donkeys and llamas.  Yours truly will be singing in the choir so I've been exercising my rusty pipes in preparation.  More details can be found here.

And if that isn't enough the annual Canoe Cove Christmas Concert will be held December 17 at the Old School House.

It's a full schedule of events here on the Corner, I just hope I have energy enough to keep up with it all.  Perhaps the nanaimo bars cooling in the refrigerator will help give me an added sugar boost?


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

November Bouquet

This might look like a re-post but it isn't.  I just liked last November's bouquet so much that I decided to recreate it this November.  I picked these dried flower heads just in time as today we had our first legitimate dump of snow this season.  15 - 20 centimeters of the white stuff (that's 6 or 7 inches for those using Imperial) is now coating the garden.

Same vase as last year.  This is one of my favourites as it catches the light wonderfully and is very heavy so it won't fall over.

Many of the same plants were used such as yarrow, sedum, ligularia and hydrangea

And a few new ones too, like these rudbeckia seed pods

And dried astilbe

This dried arrangement keeps all winter long in our house ensuring I have a reminder of the garden for months to come.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Landscaping Inspiration

I've been very focused on landscaping and designing beds this season.  The process has come about in different ways.

I began by considering what kind of garden I prefer.  I like a cottage look with lots of flowering perennials packed in together.  But I also like the straight lines and clean shapes of a more formal area.   There are so many styles I like and for different areas and different reasons.  I found it impossible to resign myself to just one.

I tried considering the gardens based solely on planting conditions.  Where there is full sun I made lists of sun loving plants.  I considered planting trees in full sun to create some shade so I could have shady plants that I love.  From experience I know you can't fight your location so this factor was important.  In my previous shady garden all I wanted was flowers flowers flowers.  I tried, and failed - many times - to plant bright vibrant flowers.  It just wasn't working and I was frustrated.  Working with the shade brought about a garden I could be happy with so it's important I put plants where they will thrive.

It would have been near impossible to
grow these dahlias in a shady location
In the back garden I was inspired by a single plant.  I bought a Plume Poppy last year not knowing what it was.  When I discovered it wasn't a poppy at all but a large spreading perennial I needed to create a space specifically for it and I began to create a garden in colours and textures that would support it.

Plume Poppy
The large leaves of hollyhocks and hosta echo those of the poppy and the maroon flowers of Geranium Samobor complement the purple/blue leaves.  Thus far this strategy has worked well.  You can see the bed filling out below.

The entrance bed ran a completely different course.  This bed was constructed specifically to create a divide between the house entrance and the orchard.  As this bed is located at the front of the house for all to see I felt it should be in keeping with the tone of the house.  We live in a century old farmhouse and rather than a stiff formal garden I felt it needed a more romantic feel.  A cottage garden was decided on.  Loaded with perennials that I remember from my childhood.  It's funny, as I look around I see that in some ways I have recreated my mother's garden.  The size of the bed was important as well.  It's a large house and a large property.  A small bed would have looked insignificant in this setting.  Only a large bed would do.  A bed large enough to hold several trees, numerous flowering shrubs as well as loads of perennials.

The house won't dwarf this bed, it might be the other way around!
What design inspirations do you use?  Do you start with a drawing? Are you moved by a specific plant or object?  Is there an aesthetic you strive to achieve?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Collecting Gaillardia Seed

Earlier this year I received some unknown seed from my mother-in-law.  Her labels were somewhat vague - yellow flower - red flower - but I decided to plant those seeds in the ground and see what surprises were in store for me.

This bag of fluffy seeds below was planted indoors under grow lights and to my delight, they grew with ease.

Once the weather grew warm I planted them in a container in the front garden and waited.  In a few months they looked like this and much fun was had guessing what they might be.

By the end of August it became clear as the plants expanded and flowers appeared - these are Gaillardia or Blanket Flower.

Aren't they pretty?  and long lasting too.  We've had some great fall weather here this year and these lovely flowers are still producing blooms out in the front yard.  Gaillardia come in perennial and annual varieties and I'm not sure which I have.  In fact, it appears that I actually have two different varieties all together as the petals are very different on these flowers.

Instead of petals there are individual flowers ringing the disk of this bloom
Regardless of the variety these pretty plants are producing seed and I have been collecting this over the last month so that next year I'll continue to have more of these beauties.

As the flowers begin to fade the petals start to fall off leaving just the disk behind

At first the disk retains its' colour but that eventually begins to fade as the seeds are formed.

You can see the fresh dark coloured disk in
the background and the drying disk up front
Eventually the disk dries to the point that it looks grey and the seeds begin to loosen.

I wasn't around in time to catch this flower before the seeds blew away in the wind.  Once they have dried you must be quick to catch them before they drop and scatter.  If you find a seedhead that looks dry a quick rub will tell you whether it is ready or not.  Seeds that fall away from the plant are ready for you to take inside for storage.  If they stick, they need a little time yet to dry.  

Monday, November 14, 2011

PEI Sky Shots

I've been sifting through photographs the last couple weeks.  Ever since I started blogging it seems the number of photographs I take has exploded.  Literally thousands of images clutter my hard drive and so it is time to do a little clean up.  But as I sort and delete I've been finding some great gems that I haven't yet shared.  This particular series is for Joy who often shares her love of beautiful skies at her blog CanadianGardenJoy and has encouraged me to take some sky photos of my own.

Photographing the sky is a tricky thing.  There are times when I'm gardening and I look up and see the light playing in the clouds in a particularly interesting way but I rarely have a camera in hand at the moment.  In this case it was later evening and I was busy photographing the garden at last light when I caught these images.

Another evening shot, approximately a month ago, I was lucky enough to have camera in hand as the honking of geese captured my attention.  Just small dots across the horizon they were gathering to fly south for the winter.

On a really rare occasion I capture a sunrise.  I'm not a morning person and if I'm awake I'm generally rushing around, feeding cats, feeding myself, packing my bag.  The sky needs to be pretty spectacular for me to grab a camera.  This violet hued morning was one of those.

Or this photo of the morning sun streaming across the snow last winter.

More often I will find myself with a camera late in the evening.  Catching the sun going down as we stroll across the beach.

Or, more likely, from our front porch as I race indoors after a day spent in the yard.

Friday, November 11, 2011

2011 Vegetable Garden Tragedies

Although there were hits in the garden this year there were a lot of misses. 

The spring started off with a whimper.  While I wanted to be digging new beds and working on the soil the weather just would not cooperate.  It was cold and rained continuously allowing little time to be outdoors.  Even when the weather warmed up enough to start planting it wasn't regularly warm enough to properly germinate the seeds I put in the ground.  I planted several veggies over and over again with no result.  Beautiful purple kale, the light tasting greens of claytonia, and beets just would not germinate this year no matter how many times I tried.  Some seeds sprouted only to be attacked by slugs and decimated in short order.  I planted an entire raised bed full of carrot seed expecting it would need to be thinned later.  There was no thinning necessary as only a quarter of the seeds sprouted.

What should have been a box packed with carrots was very slim pickings
Instead I found myself reseeding carrots repeatedly.  Three or four times in fact before I finally got enough seeds to sprout.

To add to my frustration I found myself battling cats once again.

Priscilla wandering through the veggies
I love my pets but they love the soft dirt of my raised beds and it resulted in conflict once again.  As you can see in the photo of the carrots I put sticks throughout my beds to try and keep the cats away but it's a hard fought battle.  Priscilla particularly has the skills of a trapeze artist and is able to maneuver through my fortress of sticks and dig around in the dirt.  Numerous seedlings were lost due to her activities.  We are considering erecting a snow fence around the boxes next spring to try and keep her out.

The biggest tragedy of all this year was the tomatoes.  I worked hard to get 20 tomato plants started from seed indoors and I had dreams about the bounty of tomatoes I would have this fall.  Things started off well enough.  All the tomatoes transplanted into the garden survived and due to a extra bag of manure in one bed some of the plants sprouted to great heights. 

Tomatoes on the left received more nitrogen and
were twice the size of those on the right
Flowers formed and by the start of August I had loads of green tomatoes hanging on vines but green they stayed.

My Clear Pink heirloom tomatoes were decidedly green all summer long
The cool wet weather of spring hung on right through summer and it wasn't having the right effect on my fruit.  I anxiously waited for the tomatoes to begin to turn red and finally in mid-August we started to see some hot weather.  Finally!  But what's this?

I didn't know it at the time but the wilted leaves at far left were the start of blight
Yellowing leaves seemed quite odd.  Too much water I wondered?  And then to make matters worse along came Hurricane Irene.

Irene flattened the lot sending vines sprawling all over the grass.
Picking through the vines in the aftermath of the hurricane I finally found a few ripening tomatoes.  Hurrah!  and then disappointment.....

A quick look revealed tomatoes in one of my raised beds had blossom end rot.  This condition is due to a lack of calcium in the soil.  I was frustrated but I still had other beds of tomatoes so not all was lost, right?

Wrong again.  As other tomatoes began to turn red the effects of blight became clear.  Suddenly there was rotting fruit everywhere and vines began to turn black.  At that point there was nothing that could be saved.  I tried picking some fruit that didn't appear infected, separating it out and washing it, hoping but it didn't work.  Every last tomato went to the garbage.  Bags of plants had to be cut down and hauled to the garbage, tools and gloves sanitized in bleach.  A lot of work and no reward at all.  Sadly we will be purchasing tomato sauce at the grocers this winter.

It's times like that when I am thankful that vegetable gardening is done anew each year.  There's always the possibility that next year will be different and the issues that arose this year will be long forgotten the next.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

2011 Vegetable Garden Triumphs

Vegetable gardens never fail to amaze me.  What works so well one year is a complete mess the next.  So I am trying to keep a record of what happens each year and hopefully I'll learn a few things along the way.

Last season I tried the Square Foot Gardening method which encourages really tight planting but discovered it didn't work for me at all.  Lettuce particularly became very cramped and turned into wet mounds of leaves becoming a delightful abode for slugs and earwigs.  This year I was diligent with  spacing and was rewarded with beautiful and tasty greens all summer long.  Drunken woman, Simpson Elite, Plato Romaine, and Butterhead all graced our table along with the spicy leaves of Nasturtiums. 

The nasturtiums were a pleasant surprise as I've never grown them before.  They were planted next to the lettuce and did exceedingly well.  The peppery taste of the leaves was highly anticipated in salads although I shied away from trying the flowers.  The butterflies enjoyed them enough for everyone.

Last year cilantro did exceedingly well and this year was no different.  Except this year not only did the seeds I plant spring into action I also had plants spring up out of the compost.  It seems last years cilantro reseeded itself in my compost pile and I've had cilantro popping out of every nook and cranny.  Luckily I like my herbs and I like the flowers on these plants as well.  They provided a little extra greenery in the flower beds but next year I'll be more careful to space out the volunteer seedlings so they don't completely take over.

All my herbs, in fact, did well this year.  Basil, oregano, dill, lemon balm, mint, parsley.  I've read that herbs thrive on neglect.  Perhaps this is telling a little something about my gardening style?

Everybody got to enjoy the plentiful herbs this summer
I tried a pepper plant for the first time ever this season and apparently neglect suited it fine too.  Although one industrious earwig dug a hole and made a home I was still grateful to find myself with four peppers at the end of the season.  Unfortunately the peppers didn't ripen quite as much as I would have liked but considering our very wet and cool summer I'm just pleased I was able to produce a pepper at all.

My crowning achievement though had to be the carrots.  I'm not sure how but I seem to have some knack with carrots.  Last year I produced a good haul of orange tubers and this year was no exception.  In addition, this year I grew the biggest carrot I have ever grown.

On the right is a one litre, or 32 ounce water bottle.  That bottle stands just over 8 inches high.  On the left is one exceptionally large carrot.  I used it for Thanksgiving dinner and it was the only carrot I cut up.  There were leftovers.  I still can't get over how big that darn carrot was.

And then there was the other side of the coin.....

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Entrance Garden

The final leg of my garden tour ends at the Entrance Garden.  I worked on this bed all summer and, somewhat shamefully, never completed it.

The initial bed when the sod was removed (as seen through dirty window screen)
This garden has been a lesson - do only one task at a time.  Pick a spot, complete it and then move on to the next area.  I didn't do that.  I removed the sod and then wandered away to do other things.  Weeks later I put down compost and then wandered away again.  While I was gone the compost sprouted.   Tomatoes, cilantro and squash took over.  Instead of pulling them out I let them be... why not?  Ummm because they will take over the entire space leaving no room for the plants that I bought!

In the end even the volunteer squash was outdone by the weeds
The result was that by the time August rolled around the weeds were taller than I was and I had lost complete control.  Perennials were languishing in pots and I had a mountain of work ahead of me.

Perennials waiting for planting in the shade of an apple tree

The weeds had begun to take over by August
I confess that I have deliberately waited to finish my virtual garden tour so I could get those weeds in check.  Things look much better now as the weeds have been brought mostly under control and the new plants are all in the ground.

With some of the weeds out of the way the bed is beginning to take shape
Even so there are plenty of chores left me for to do come next spring.  More weeding, compost to be added, edging to be completed, more rocks to be moved, mulch.  Sadly even plants that were just recently put in the ground will need to be moved.  In my haste to be done with them I wasn't too careful about placement.

Good grief, all those chores left to do makes it sound like nothing got done at all!!

Well there is good news (you know I can find some triumph in this fiasco).

Little Lamb hydrangea loved the move from the meadow where it had languished last summer and in it's new home it bloomed all summer long.

My new Rhododendron 'Catawbiense Album' has survived well and even produced some fat flower buds and many new leaf buds for next year.

In fact, many of my new plants have done well.  Sea holly that was barely alive and rescued from the plant sale has bloomed all summer.  Jacob's ladder pulled from the weedy knot garden has flourished.  A very shabby looking red elderberry moved from the base of a maple tree has grown by leaps and bounds.

Flowers growing in my new bed
Despite some floral success there are a number of stragglers as well.  Siberian Iris seems to greatly dislike me and I think I have killed 90% of the plants that I purchased.  Asters were ripped out of the ground during Hurricane Irene.  My Emilia Plater Clematis refused to grow any more than one foot high.  I confess I pulled all the phlox and threw it away when it became coated in powdery mildew.  Rusty hollyhocks may meet the same fate if they don't behave themselves next spring.

Overall this bed has been a huge amount of work but I am excited that it finally took shape.  There's obviously a bit more work to be done but I'm looking forward to seeing it next year when it should be chock full of flowers from tulips and lilacs in spring to hydrangeas and coneflowers in fall.