Saturday, January 28, 2012

My Aloe Vera is a YouTube Star!

Well, maybe it's not the star of the video but it caught my eye!  and yes, that stereo is pretty nifty too.  Plants are generally my priority but interior design is another hot topic in this house so I thought I would share hubby's latest creation.  Hifi is on display this weekend at the Interior Design Show in Toronto. If you're in the area you can check out this latest design in person or you can visit Jody's website at Modern Revision

Flooding in the Garden

The weather over the last few months has been difficult to predict to say the least.  From 10 degrees below freezing to ten degrees above, we've had snow, frost, ice pellets, rain, sunshine and wind wind wind.  Throughout all this I've been watching the garden with some curiosity.  How will the plants fare in spring?  Will they be wind burnt?  Will they be broken?  Will they survive at all?  The latest round of strange weather really has me worried.  We had a bit of a snow blow in and everything was nicely covered when the temperature climbed back up again and the rain began.  I wasn't able to take a picture  at the height of the problem but this is what I was looking at the following day.

It had frozen over at this point but you can clearly see the water collecting
In my newly created entrance bed, right in the middle there is a low spot.  And that area has turned into a wet mess.  It was seriously flooded the morning of the rain and this picture was taken the following day.  The water still hadn't drained but rather had frozen into pools of ice.

I have been working the past month on a new plan for this very bed.  I rush planted most of the perennials in late summer and had intended to move most of them come spring.  I had just put the finishing touches on this new planting scheme and I was quite proud of myself when the rain began.  Now looking at the pools of water I'm realizing a new plan will need to be put in place.

My first thought was I should try and fill that low spot in.  I had considered this when building the bed but I ran out of compost and decided to leave it was it was.  I should have realized what that would mean.  Now I'm wondering how much it would cost to bring in a load of soil and try and even this out.  The thing is I don't know enough about drainage and water movement to really understand how best to fix this.  I suspect that even if I add soil to this area the water won't necessarily disappear.  I would need to raise the level of the entire bed, which is substantial, and then the water will simply run into the grass around it.  I had intended to put a walkway in this area as well so allowing water to run off into the grass isn't ideal either.  In fact, as I look around the yard I see a number of low spots in our yard that are accumulating water.  Our clay soil doesn't drain easily so this is an issue I believe will continue to crop up.

Another solution is to just work with it.  It will mean changing my planting scheme since some of the plants won't be able to handle wet feet but I think it's a possibility.

The worst flooding is in the centre of the bed but you can see pools of water in other low spots.
Rather than place the red berried elder in the middle of the bed perhaps I could try the High Bush Cranberry which is more tolerant of wet soil and clay.  I also have numerous hostas in this bed which I believe can handle wet toes so maybe they could be moved as a group to some of the wetter spots.

Has anyone else had this problem?  What solution would you use in this situation?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Architecture in Plants

The ground is covered in a white coat today with not a stitch of greenery to be seen so I am turning inward and gazing at the houseplants.  I tend to ignore these poor things for the better part of the year in favour of the outdoor garden but recently I've noticed just how amazing some of them are.  The aloe vera is really the star of the show right now.

Originally purchased in the winter of 2010 when it was only a couple inches high it has burst forth and now requires ample room to to wave its many thick stalks.  Gazing from above the pattern it creates is star shaped.

There is an architecture to this plant that fascinates me.  I've spent more than a small amount of time gazing at how the branches are piled one on top of another.

And observing how the light plays across the spines.

I bought this plant for its medicinal value, it's always nice to have on hand for sunburns and skin irritations, but now I'm not sure I could sacrifice even a single branch.  It would disturb the intricate balance nature has created and that would be a shame.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Voles in the Garden

Before moving to Prince Edward Island I had zero experience with voles.  So I was rather shocked this past spring when I discovered that a large majority of the trees and shrubs I had planted the previous season were attacked by these creatures.  While most of the trees went on to make a full recovery I realized I needed to know more about these animals so that further plantings wouldn't be ruined.

When dealing with a pest the best idea, I think, is to learn more about the animal itself.  While we had a good idea who was to blame for the destruction in our yard it wasn't until late spring that we got a good look at the culprit.  This little guy was actually hiding out in our basement.

And he was surprisingly easy to catch.  Not very bright it seems and rather slow so I was able to slip a yogurt container over his head with relative ease.  A look at him from the side reveals a very short tail, a somewhat pointed face and rather large back feet.  A distinctly brown coat with perhaps some lighter fur on his chest and belly.

I used these markers to cross check the Macphail Woods info sheet on mice and voles.  There are a number of different types of rodents on this island and I wasn't sure which one we were dealing with so this fact sheet was extremely helpful.  Although I can't be certain I think this specimen is a common vole.  They live in colonies in grassy areas (the remnants of which we found after the snow melted) and strip bark off trees in winter for food (which we also discovered) and they are the perfect prey for a number of animals such as coyotes, foxes and owls.

It might not sound like a lot of information but it explained a lot.  The bulk of the damage was in the meadow area and next to the hedgerow.  Obviously the voles were living in these grassy areas and any trees or shrubs planted in those areas were more likely to get damaged.

The meadow provides the perfect habitat for voles
Letting the meadow grow up has provided just the right habitat for these critters and in a way, we've created our own problem.  The question was what would we do to fix the problem?

I researched a bit on the internet and this paper from the Ontario Government was extremely helpful laying out the various solutions to dealing with voles.  The first suggestion of repellants or poisons really didn't suit me.  I want a garden that works with nature, not against it, so poisons are out of the question.  I've tried deer repellants in the past and they are expensive, a lot of work and of little value.  Anything you put on a plant will wash off easily and it is difficult at best in winter for us to reach some of our trees so keeping up with repellants would be back breaking.

A second suggestion is to provide an alternative food source to tree bark.  Not a bad idea really but somehow the idea of feeding the vole population their favourite foods so they'll leave my trees alone just seems slightly kooky.  How much would I have to spend on sunflower seed to keep the critters away?  and how often would I have to spread seed?  it also seems a bit cruel, luring them to the surface to eat seeds would make easy pickings for our feral cats.

I think the obvious solution is to mow down the meadow.  With no grassy areas to live in and no grass seeds to feast off of the vole population will simply die down.  But wasn't that the purpose of the meadow to start with?  The lawn was so sterile, nothing lived there, no insects, no animals.  Just a vast emptiness.  Despite the fact that the meadow has brought a pest with it I can see how it's bringing life back to this area.  Voles are natures creatures too, and we need to figure out a natural way to live with them.

In fact, when I think about the natural cycle I realize that predators are something that is missing.  That is until this fall when we've suddenly noticed an influx of red furry critters making themselves at home.

Mouse catcher in the lower garden
While I've been thinking about what to do with the voles nature stepped in and has begun solving the problem for me.

Although I would like to trust the foxes to guard my trees I think a back up form of protection is advisable.  Ultimately we decided to use tree guards this year.  Essentially these are plastic tubes that fit around the tree's trunk.  The plastic keeps the voles away from the bark so they can't nibble.  We searched round town and found these plastic white twirly guards for sale.  They were easy to place around different sized trunks and allow light and air in.

We attempted to bury them slightly in the soil so the voles could not scoot up from the bottom and feast.  In addition we tried a different type of guard, we bought black plastic plumbing tubes.

These were quite stiff and difficult to maneuver but I liked how they covered multiple stems with one pipe.  We could also cut them to whatever height we wanted since the tubes came in lengths 10 feet long.  That was handy to bury the bottom of the pipe and make sure it still was high enough to reach a high snow line.

Now we just have to wait for spring and see who fared better, the trees or the voles?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Who Me?!

I received this Liebster award just before Christmas and with all the hurry of the holidays almost forgot to post about it.  Better too late than never.  The first thing I would like to say is a big thank you to The Witch for her kind words and thoughtfulness.  The Witch is a fellow islander (can I say that?  I'm not a legitimate Prince Edward Islander, I'm From Away, but I've spent a number of years on other islands) and a gardener and a lover of all things Halloween.  If you've ever wanted to build your own gazebo you should visit this lady's blog.  It even has it's own unique weathervane.

Next up is The Liebster Rules:

1.  Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave the award to you.
2.  Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3.  Copy and paste the award on your blog.
4.  Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.
5.  And most of all have fun!

Naming my top 5 blogs that I frequent proved to be a difficult task.  I read a lot of blogs, mostly about gardening, and I found it almost impossible to choose.  I wandered around in blog land for awhile trying to decide and then I thought, why not nominate 5 blogs that are new to me.  I have noticed some new readers to my blog lately and this was a good chance for me to go check out their blogs.  So here are my top 5 picks:

1.  Is It Done Yet?  Gardening and cooking.  I spend a lot of time doing both of those so my interest was peaked immediately.  The first recipe I spotted talked about cornbread (yes please!) and shredded chicken with a side of chow chow.  It just so happens I have a bottle of homemade chow in the fridge.  I'm drooling already.

2.  Simply Susans Place  Bright tropical colours and flowers in bloom.  Where have I landed?  Florida.  And she has a post dedicated to yellow flowers.  Be still my heart.

3.  Kentish Keg Meg  A look at life on the other side of the Atlantic.  Topics include cooking, gardening and books.  Books may be my second love to gardening, particularly in the cold winter season, so I'm always interested in finding out what's good to read.  There is a handy list of books this lady has read in the last year that is chock full of ideas of what book I should pick up next.

4.  Guildwood Gardens  This blog is worth a peak just to see the handmade wreaths.  My favourite is the one made of mountain ash berries.  I've never seen anything quite like it.

5.  Lea's Menagerie  After perusing this blog I think I need to visit Mississippi simply to see for myself some of the spectacular sunrises featured here.  Lea shows off her considerable photography skills in several meme's but my favourite is the Scavenger Hunt.  I haven't heard of this one before.  A list of words is posted for bloggers and they 'scavenge' photographs in response that suit the words.  Very clever and some remarkable photos to boot.

I guess that brings me to #4 in the Rules.  Have faith that your blog readers will spread the love.  Well I know that garden bloggers are a loving group of people so I have no trouble believing this fun award will continue to be passed on and more fantastic blogs will be revealed for others to enjoy.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Summer Photos

Here we are at the final batch of photos from 2011.  These shots start in mid-summer and carry through to fall, starting with this pink MeadowSweet.  I actually like this stage of bloom the best with the tight pink balls, right before the small buds pop open into a frizzy mess of cotton candy petals.

Lettuce can be so pretty.  I love the rows of coloured greens.  In the photo below the green leaves touched with red blush in the foreground are drunken woman leaf lettuce.  This is followed by bright green Simpson Elite and a red oak leaf lettuce.  The dark green plato romaine is perfect contrast in the farthest row. 

Chamomile attracted loads of insects and my camera throughout the summer with it's simple blooms.

Hot pink zinnias showed up well against a yellow and green background of dill.

I planted Polka Dot Bachelor Buttons this spring and enjoyed blooms from early summer straight through till frost.

A major difference I noted in the garden this year was sound.  In late summer every time I stepped out the door I heard the chirping of grasshoppers.  Last year the former lawn was just beginning to grow out into a meadow and not a grasshopper was seen or heard.  This year they were so abundant they stopped and posed for photographs.

Other critters are starting to make themselves at home too.  One evening I was shocked to here a 'PLOP' on the window in front of my computer and see this tree frog grab a moth for his dinner.

There's no water source on our property so I'm not sure how exactly he ended up here but it made me start thinking about creating a small pond for these wonderful frogs.

Another new resident are the foxes.  I'm not sure if it's the same one every time but this face is becoming a regular fixture, hunting for mice, around our house.

I'm very excited to see wildlife returning to this property.  It makes me feel like I'm doing something right.

The last days of summer wouldn't be complete without the dark yellow tones of Rubbeckia in the garden.

The sun begins to change direction as the days wear on.  This photo shows it setting from within the apple orchard.

Finally fall began to set in, changing the birch leaves to yellow.

And oak leaves to red

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Spring Photos

I'm still working through cleaning up my photo collection.  The following photos didn't belong to a specific category and there were so many of them I decided to do a double post and divide them into Spring and Summer.  Starting with the first blush of spring the willows growing in the ditches captured my attention.

I tried to capture a wide shot of apple trees in bloom but had difficulties showing the flowering trees to their best advantage.  The flowers always seem to disappear in the distance.  My best photos were close ups of the blooms but I did like this photo below as I caught the house through the blooming apple tree.

Lots of new plants made their way into the garden this season, including this Solomon's Seal.

Every spring the show is in the front of the house.  The masses of bleeding hearts dangle their pink flowers one after another.

I had never really thought of bleeding hearts as a flower for pollinators but each year I witness bees climbing all over and inside these blooms.

Credit where it's due, this amazing photo of baby spiders nestled in a web was taken by my husband.  He's obviously the better photographer in this duo.

In late June the rose bushes push out hundreds of fragrant blooms.  A little experimenting with the camera managed to frame this bloom nicely in front of our house.

More new plants to show off.  The Lady's Mantle blossomed in early summer and was the perfect subject for a photo session.

The Diablo Ninebark showed such promise in spring.  Initially I thought these plants had suffered too much vole damage over the winter and would not survive.  They surprised me and bounced back with lovely blooms.  Sadly though, right after blooming two of the three shrubs died.  I have no idea what the cause was but I'm desperately hoping the third shrub survives as these are gorgeous plants.

What would spring be without peonies?  There are four peonies on this property and three of them are a light pink.  This fourth plant is located on the far side of the house and is a deep pink.  Perhaps this Goldenrod Crab Spider should have chosen the lighter coloured flowers to blend in more?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Black and White

I am continuing to review my photos.  Deleting some, smiling and laughing over others.  This set is all about black and white.  I don't often alter my photos but black and white has an allure for me.

There's something classic about a black and white photograph isn't there?

Of course, the photos don't necessarily need to be black and white.  They can feature black and white, like our visitor here.

Or this visitor

In fact, we seem to have had a lot of black and white visitors this past year

But my favourite black and white subject that I see each day is this lady here