Friday, December 26, 2003

Warm winter?

Here it is, December 26, and I'm sitting on the back deck in my jeans, a t-shirt, and a fleece pull-over. The thermometer is reading 8 degrees.

It's so warm that one of our indoor cats, Jimmy, decided to escape, and ran out the back door while I was bringing bags of birdseed back indoors after filling the feeders. I got him back inside, but only after he heard a neighbour's voice, which frightened him, and after I grabbed him and suffered two tooth puncture wounds to my left hand, a scratch on my chin, and another scratch on my right ear (I bled like a stuck pig, and am not happy about the scratches, because we're hosting a dinner party tomorrow night).

Returning the cat indoors was a good thing. The birds need to feed in the few daylight hours we get. They will need the calories tonight that they can gather from the suet, sunflower, safflower, and niger seeds -- the temperature's supposed to drop to -5 overnight. But then it will warm up: tomorrow night's low will be above freezing, and ddaytime high for Sunday is expected to be around 10 Celsius.

What does this mean for my garden? Well, the chives, which I had cut down almost to ground level a month ago, are now about 8 cm high; there are fresh new leaves on the parsley, and we've still got a few live purple sage leaves.

Even the buddleia, which I transplanted late in the season, continues to put forth new clusters of leaves.

Rose leaves, on the other hand, while still green on the canes, are crisp to the touch. There will be no more rose buds until spring.

Everything else in the backyard looks dead for the rest of winter; most deciduous woody plants have lost their leaves, except for the Pee-Gee hydrangea, which is holding tight to them, even though the leaves hang straight down on either side of the central vein.

I may yet get a soil sample this next week that I can analyse: we'll see how the weather unfolds. Right now, the prediction for Sunday is a mix of sun and clouds, and a high of 9.

What does all this teach me? You can't always plan everything according to some averaged schedule of when events should occur... sometimes you've just got to play it by ear, and work the occasional green Christmas into the plans.


Monday, December 08, 2003

Baby, it's cold outside

This past week, just before the big freeze was due to hit, I went out in the garden and collected some soil to do some soil tests.
The pH test results were fast... within an hour. All I had to do was dump a clump of soil in the bottom of the container, add a capsule of reactant, and fill with water to the fill line. Result: Slightly acid soil (6.5).

Now, for the other three tests, I had to take a larger clump of soil, put it in a jar with five times the amount of water as soil, and shake it up really well. I waited for the soil to settle out (hmm, lots of clay... about 1/3) and ... oops, forgot about it for another day an a half. So it sat for about 3.5 days before I did anything with it. Well, potassium and phosphates looked reasonable, but the nitrogen reading came out as... *there's no nitrogen in this soil!!!*
I suspect that maybe that's because I left it too long.

I went out this weekend to get some more soil... the rain gauge, which had been filled with water, was now filled with ice.

The ground was hard.

It's supposed to warm up this week, so I'll try later in the week to get a fresh sample.

Only other news: Ash put collars around all the rose bushes and filled them with a combination of peat moss, soil, and compost this weekend. I hope that will reduce the risk of damage due to freeze/thaw cycles.

That's it for today. Take care, and I'll let you know what the results are of the soil tests, if I can take them this year.


Wednesday, November 26, 2003

First touch of winter

I woke several times during the night on Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, we had two to three centimeters (about an inch) of snow on the ground. It has all melted now, but it took a day. Last evening I still saw snow on the back yard, atop the cedar mulch I laid on the weekend.

Ash has bagged the leaves; they'll go to the city composting site on Friday.

Meanwhile, I investigate ponds and plants for next year :-)


Sunday, November 23, 2003

Put to bed

Today was another warm day, but overcast. I used the weather to get all the leaves up from the other two flower beds in the back yard, put mulch down on them, and raked all the leaves up into two piles (Ash will bag them -- or rent a weed whacker and chop them to bite-sized bits so they'll decompose nicely in our little composter).

Although it is certainly the end of the growing season, some of my herbs are still doing well -- notably the oregano, chives, purple sage, parsley (can anything kill parsley?) and bloody dock, which I must confess, I haven't actually used, but just enjoy for its colors.

The lavender looks well and truly done for the year, though. I trimmed it back. And the marjoram looks like it gave up the ghost. I never did see much of the two basils I planted this year... I may have been a bit early.

Well, on to dream of next year's gardens. I've been researching some larger molded ponds: I've found a manufacturer who creates one in a size and shape I like, but it's located in England. I hope they have an Ontario-based retailer.

I've started on a vector-based drawing (which will probably end up in Flash) to design the back yard. I'll post a link when it's at a stage where it makes sense.

Oh yeah -- Sympatico messed up, forgot (!) to send me a modem, so I'm on dial-up for at least another 3 days. Sigh.


Friday, November 21, 2003

Bulb time!

The weather forecast was for a mix of sun and cloud, with a high of about 12C.

I'm sitting outside right now... it's 15, and the few tiny puffs of cloud barely count. I took the day off work. Who knows if or when we'll get another beautiful day this year?

I got out the bulbs I bought about a month ago...hmm, maybe under the powder room sink isn't the best place to store them. Some of the bulbs (the blue bells especially) are a bit soft. I expected the blue bells to feel more like pearl onions.

I spread them out in the garden bed (still in their bags) and moved them here and there until I was happy with the arrangement of height and color. I've already got some King Alfred bulbs in the garden from about 5years ago... they've naturalized well. After the color arrangement worked, I removed them from their bags and positioned the individual bulbs, then went around and planted.

Most of the tulips I planted with the Alfreds have finished their lifespan - and those that strive valiantly each year to bloom almost inevitably get decapitated by squirrels.

I hope I have outfoxed the squirrels this year... I constrained my purchases to alliums and daffodils. This year, I planted

  • Narcissus double Tahiti - 16" high, yellow with orange frond-like petals (sepals?)at the center

  • Narcissus Barrett Browning - 16", white with a bright orange cup

  • Narcissus Chromacolor - 14-16", white with peach cup

  • Narcissus Tazetta Geranium - 16", white with smaller ruffled orange cup

  • Narcissus double Flower drift - 16", double white petals with yellow-to-orange inner petals

  • Narcissus Tazetta Tripartite - 16", three lemon-yellow flowers on each stem

  • Allium nigrum... 28" tall, white balls of flowerets with green centers

  • Bluebells - Hyacinthoides non-scripta - 8" high, delicate blue-striped flowers... I've run 30 of them in a little rivulet in the flower bed, and I hope they naturalize well.

  • So...a dig of the bulb planter, a tbsp of blood and bone meal, replace the soil, and they are in the ground.

Then I spread more blood and bone meal around, in the perhaps-feeble hope that the squirrels will leave them alone, and I topped it off with two inches of cedar mulch (the leaves from the cottonwood don't mulch nicely... They are very heavy and don't break down well, so I feel I have to remove them).

Final comments? That lovely new bulb planter wasn't worth the money. The soil was quite heavy from the November rains, and it stuck inside the planter very well... I had to poke numerous times with a bamboo stake to remove it from the cylinder. Someone should make a bulb planter with a "flush" mechanism on it that releases all the dirt. And the handle (bent over chromed metal into a triangle) wasn't sturdy. I over-bent it on the second bulb I was planting (hit a little stone). I think I spent as much time bobbing up and down as I did with my little green bulb planter that's only seven inches high, so I'll probably stick to using that in the future. Truly, this was a lovely looking planter, but not very efficient.

All that remains to be planted is the purple alliums in the bed in the front garden where the Japanese anemones have taken over. This will be an interesting challenge, and one I wasn't quite up to today.

I'm still stuck on dial-up. Until at least next Wednesday. May the top three echelons of workers at Bell Sympatico develop foot fungus. Blech.



Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Studying Soils

My high speed modem crashed, and now I'm reduced to dial-up *sob *. Until Sympatico sends me a new modem and installs a new line-card.
Sand > Silt > Clay

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Oh, I should have planted today

It was a beautiful morning, and even though it was heavily overcast this afternoon, I believe the temperature remained above 10C.

I should have taken the day off work.

I've shut my computer off, and am blogging on my Palm. Heavy thunderstorms are passing through right now... I'm seeing almost constant flashes in my peripheral vision, and hearing crashes (and sometimes, very heavy downpours).

At some point overnight, the wind will shift until it's coming from the north, wind speed will pick up to about 60kmh with gusts much higher, and the temperature will drop.

Tomorrow night, it will be around freezing, and... the possibility of snow flurries.

And my bulbs aren't in the ground yet.

Weather, and change of seasons, truly does inform the Canadian psyche. Where would we be without it?

All I can say is, the power better not fail while West Wing is on tonight.

OK, the storm is over; I can upload from my Palm and then from my Mac.

Good night!


Saturday, November 08, 2003

That's chilly

Short one today. Went down to about -3 last night.

It's 4 degrees out right now, and it feels cold.

I inspected the backyard to see how my transplants are faring. All of the columbines look in good shape (heck, they look like they're enjoying the weather), and the buddleia is healthy. One of the delphiniums is still green; the other two have blackened leaves. I should have checked yesterday, before the cold weather. I don't know if they've got transplant shock or just frostbite.

An inspection of the front garden reveals not too much change from yesterday, except the lovely lavender-colored Japanese anemone flowers have turned beige from the cold, and the zinnias are all black.

Now I have to find out if it's too late to rescue the zinnias.

Still hoping to plant bulbs tomorrow. We'll see what the weather brings.


Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Last warm day of autumn

The temperature first thing this morning was 16C... And it's.supposed to drop down to about 3 tonight.
Possibility of snow flurries tomorrow and Friday. Ugh!

I think I'm going to have to put the bulbs in the ground this weekend.

I bought a nice bulb planter from Humber Nurseries... Instead of my current bulb planter (squat-dig-plant-stand-move...repeat 120 times) I'll be able to use it like a spade. That should save some back-and-thigh ache.

Last weekend I took a few digital shots from the roof at the back of the house. I'm going to correct the perspective on the best one and convert it to a drawing to use to develop a plan for what to plant where.

At this point, pretty much anything I've bought in the way of bulbs can go anywhere, except for the purple alliums, which will be interplanted wlth the Japanese anemones.

On to designing!


Thursday, October 23, 2003

Got my course materials!

On Tuesday, Ash called me at work -- two hefty boxes arrived from Canada Post from The University of Guelph for me.

So here it is, Thursday noon, and I haven't opened them yet. I will tonight: Tuesday night I was dealing with the ticking clock of a one-week subscription to the Toronto Star archives running out; last night we had a late dinner, I called my sister to wish her a happy birthday, and West Wing was on :-)

I'll finish this blog after I unpack the boxes and see what I've let myself in for.

Two boxes. Unpacked, a total of three big binders.

I watched the video, and read the first two chapters. Hmm.

As I gaze into the crystal ball, I see a fair amount of memorizing in my future!


Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Indian Summer

Weather forecasts for the Thanksgiving weekend in Toronto were looking good, so I took a couple of days off work to stretch the holiday out.
One day of rest and.relaxation (a day trip to Elora Gorge for photography), followed by 3 partial days of gardening in 20 degree weather.

To gardening. First things first, I donned my new elbow-length gardening gloves, and tore out the rest of the lamium...funny, though, I didn't find any more ants. Maybe the previous episode of hacking and hewing was enough for them to decide to move along. If not, just to ensure their departure, I used THE GARDEN CLAW (sfx: thundering reverb) to break up all the soil, to a depth of about 10 cm.

I'm glad I got rid of the had twined itself all through and around both my bleeding heart and astilbe, which were one or two feet away from the lamium when it first got planted, in Spring '02.

They are against the south fence in my back yard, the shadiest spot in what is rapidly turning into a shade garden (amazing how the trees in surrounding yards keep growing,and are choking out our patch of sunshine).

Next to go was the myrtle (periwinkle), Yes, I like the ever-greenness when I uncover the garden from fall leaves in April, and the small blue flowers in the spring are charming, but, like with the lamium, it's a maintenance issue.

We've got a small Japanese maple desparately trying to survive, and I don't think the competition's doing it any favors. Plus, myrtle everywhere makes planting spring bulbs such a bitch.

With all of the myrtle gone, I was able to stand back and look at the perennials without distraction.

The roses --Othello and Bro. Cadfael, two David Austin's--are healthy and fine where they are. As are the clematis that grow over the arch with Bro. Cadfael.

I'm not convinced I want to keep the weigela: it has nice greenery, grows vigorously (there's that word again) but it hasn't flowered in two years (garden keeps getting shadier). Plus, it's crowding the pee-gee hydrangia, which I do like. But I'll leave it for now -- I can make that decision another time.

So... what about the three west-coast giant delphiniums plonked in the middle of the north bed, the buddleia poked out in never-never-land and the row of columbines, planted at the back to help hide the car (which we decided not to park there, but erected a hammock instead)?


I made sure the edge of the spade was sharp, then dug around the perimeter of each plant.

The delphiniums are now in a tight grouping against the north fence, which will give them the most light available for the next few years; the buddleia (after a big haircut) has been placed between the delphiniums and the hydrangea, and the columbines are in a very thin space at the foot of the hammock: likewise against the north fence.

Now I have an empty canvas upon which I may design at will for next year and beyond.

The remaining tasks for this year are to protect the roses for winter, plant the spring bulbs I bought, and mulch, to try to thwart the squirrels.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Autumn blahs

Ugh. I sure hope it warms up a bit. Today's high is 10C. The temperature at night has been dropping to around 5C. No frost yet, fortunately, but it doesn't feel like it's far off.

Ash chose to bring the fish indoors last weekend (our little ponds aren't deep enough for them to survive outdoors over the winter). So we now have 6 goldfish, some reeds, and a papyrus plant in a tub upstairs until (probably) late April.

I bought some spring bulbs last weekend: Alliums, as promised, and many different types of daffodils. No tulips -- I didn't see any that really appealed to me. I think I was in more of a daffy mind set.

The weather is supposed to improve throughout this week, and be very nice by Thursday. I might take a couple of days off to finish the gardening tasks for the year... remove the rest of the lamium (yes, I finally bought some gardening gloves so I don't have to worry about the ants), move the delphiniums, uproot the periwinkle, divide the columbines and take a couple in to work.

Tuesday night there's a Toronto Master Gardeners' meeting. I think I'll get Ash to drive me there.


Wednesday, September 24, 2003

The cheque's in the mail

I've committed myself now: payment is in the mail for three horticulture courses at the University of Guelph. I'm looking forward to this -- it should be a great deal of fun.

The weather has taken a decidedly autumnal turn this week. Rain (about twice as much as we got from Isabel) and cooler temperatures. I haven't tackled the rest of the lamium, yet. I've just sat out back and looked sullenly at it. I keep forgetting to buy garden gloves at lunchtime. Web searching has turned up some very toxic ways to get rid of fire ants. Ugh. What else might I poison by accident? I think I might just try stirring them up on a daily basis until they leave.

The tuberose flowers keep opening. Here's another photo of it.

Not much else to report. It's getting dark before 7pm, which really doesn't leave much time for gardening in the evening.

I ordered spring bulbs for the rooftop garden at work; if I remember to bring the catalogue home, I'll order some for here, too. One big difference between the office garden and here: the office garden doesn't usually get squirrels chomping crocus heads off. I'm tempted to get some lovely globular tall alliums to plant in with the Japanese anemones, since those don't even start growing seriously until late July. A row of upright, tall, soldierly flowers will look pleasing at the back of the garden. And deep purple will contrast nicely with the green and white of the porch.


Saturday, September 20, 2003


Got up, had a coffee and read the paper, went out for brunch, and then decided it was time to do some things in the garden. it was perfect weather for it today: a mix of sun and cloud, a little cool, no wind, and low humidity. Great day for bustling around and doing things.

First thing, Ash and I went to the local garden center and bought some icicle pansies, as I threatened to do yesterday. So now there are icicle pansies in the two urns at the foot of the front stairs, in the window box, and in some little trails through the rose garden in the front yard. They'll help provide good color after the roses pack it in, although I'm still expecting more blooms this fall.

After planting, I decided to check out the back yard for damage from the storm yesterday. Ash had already been out there, so the garden furniture and potted plants were all back in their proper places (the wind really hadn't been all that bad). Not much damage to report: a few twigs with leaves from the male cottonwood tree two yards over; a broken hibiscus flower, a bent rose blossom, and some Michaelmas daisies and obedience plants that need restaking.

The tuberose came through it unscathed. I managed to get a good shot of it today. Notice to photographers: I had to close it 1.5 stops to stop the flower from blowing out.
Have a look!

Photography over and done with, it was time to do some fall clean-up. I pulled some weeds, cut back the bergamot, gave the weigela a trimming, and then took a look at the lamium. Lamium maculatum is an attractive ground cover, with green and white leaves and little pink flowers. It does well in the shade, which is where I've got it planted. I should have read up on it before I bought it, however: "in ideal situations may be quite vigorous." It sure is.

I decided it was time to rip out a few sections of it before it took over and killed everything else in the garden (especially my bleeding heart plant, which just went in this spring). Grab, pull, and use the secaturs to snip at an appropriate place along the length of it.

Suddenly my left hand (that which was holding the plant bits, roots, and dirt) was stinging.

I have fire ants.

I've always hated wearing gloves while gardening (unless I was pruning roses, and even then, I took the gloves off as soon as I could). I think I need to buy a good pair of gardening gloves that come up to about my elbow, and seal around the arm, so I can finish removing the Lamium.

Any one know how to kill fire ants? The way they were moving around, I think I must have disturbed a nest when I uprooted some strands.


Friday, September 19, 2003

Weather forecast: sunny and mild

OK, the remainders of Hurricane Isabel have gone through: the air outside is calm and cool, and the rain has stopped, thank goodness. I didn't want to have to deal with a flooded basement this weekend.

Of course, it is thoroughly dark outside now, so I can't check everything, but (while it was still raining at 6:00) it seemed that everything had made it through the storm without any problems. Some of the roses that are getting long-of-cane got whipped around a bit, but I don't think anything broke.

I did take a few precautions:

  • All garden furniture was moved to the deck, stacked, and laid on the deck so it wouldn't blow over.
  • All potted plants were moved up against a wall, and away from steps and precipices.
  • The pot of tuberoses has been moved to a nice sheltered area so it won't fall over and have the flower stalk broken

There is still only one flower on the tuberose open, but the next two going up the stem are ready to open. I tried taking a picture of it two evenings ago, but the dimness of light lead me to overexpose, so I need to take another iimage, and this time -- compensate for the fact that I'm trying to take a picture of a white flower by dropping the exposure by half or a whole stop. If I take it in the morning with some indirect light, that might work. Then you'll be able to see it. I wish I could electronically transmit the smell of it: it really is wondrously fragrant.

More gardening to be done tomorrow. I'm looking forward to it. Maybe I should get some little icicle pansies to replace some woeful petunias, as Kathy Renwald recommended in her article in the Globe and Mail this week.


Thursday, September 18, 2003

hooray. i have been accepted as a trainee to the Master Gardener program in Toronto. Now I have to successfully complete three courses (Horticulture 1, 2 and 3) at the University of Guelph by correspondence. I think I can do that :-D

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Intimations of things to come

I made the little fence for the Japanese anemones yesterday. I didn't verdigris it after all -- I read the instructions and cautions on the bottle of the verdigris solution, and wondered what the heck I was thinking when I bought it. Toxic! Watch out for splashes! Warning! I decided not to use a toxic solution to green the metal, since rain would wash the remnants of the solution into the soil, and possibly into the goldfish pond.

I brushed about a cup of vinegar on it to get it started -- nature will have to do the rest.

Didn't spend too much time outside today; had some indoor chores that needed to be done (like modifying and putting up a fireplace mantel).

I did go out and inspect things, however; and the tuberose is getting very close to opening its buds. I smelled it -- Ash smelled it. We agreed. It smelled, even in its bud state, like the gardenia we used to have.

It was a wonderful little gardenia -- we brought it indoors every winter, took it out again in late spring. Not winter hardy way up here, of course. It had very nicely glossy leaves, and white flowers, about the size of a toonie, that could provide fragrance for the whole back deck on a muggy summer night. Something made it unhappy last winter, and it died back from its roots on up. I'll have to see if I can get another one to replace it. We had it for about five years.

Well, time to do some research for fall bulbs, and to find out how to treat the tuberose over winter!

Saturday, September 13, 2003

OK, I've been interviewed. The interviewing process continues until Monday night, and Tuesday morning they will mail out acceptances and rejections. With any luck, I should hear from them, one way or another, by the end of the week.

On the way home, Ash and I stopped at the brick yard, on Bayview Road. Some lovely wildflowers are in bloom, as are a couple of water lilies here and there.

Now that I'm home, it's time to do some work. I have some left-over 1/2 inch copper pipe from a trellis I made, so I'm going to make a little fence around the Japanese anemones in the front garden to keep them from falling over. I think the fence will be more attractive than tieing them up, which is what we usually do. Copper pipe, a T joint, two elbows, a pipe cutter, copper epoxy... and maybe I'll verdigris it before I put it up. Yes, that should be quite attractive with the dark green foliage and light purple flowers, I think :-D
Gardening at this time of year consists mostly of making sure the plants are watered, the weeds are pulled, and sitting back and enjoying. Some of my clematis are in bloom again, and the Brother Cadfael roses growing over the arbour in the back yard are doing much better than they were earlier in the season, when we had a heat wave. The poor things would get about half open, and then give up and shrivel, without dropping any petals. Mushy balled-up tissues is what they looked like. But that was back in July. Now they are beautiful, and getting very high on canes that are reaching 8 feet.

I planted pennyroyal between the slates on the back walkway this year. I tried doing it last year, too, but it all died. It may have been our unusually hard winter, which, once it was over, returned, double-shocking plants that had begun to grow, but the pennyroyal all died. So, never heeding a lesson, I bought more this spring, and replanted it with high hopes. Unlike last year, where it stayed close to the ground, it has grown vertically, to a height of about 4 inches, and how has small purple flowerets. It smells wonderful when walked on, releasing the most wonderful minty smells. I'll have to see in the spring if it survived, or if I need to switch to hardier plants, like some of the creeping thymes. I've got some lovely moss growing between the stones now, so if that continues, the combination of plantings and moss will look quite attractive.

Another purchase this year was some tuberose bulbs. Planted around May 20th, moved outside in June, two of the plants got fairly munched by either squirrels or raccoons. One survived intact, and now has a flower stalk forming. It's about 4 feet high. I'm looking forward to seeing (and smelling) it.

One task I must do within the next week is order spring bulbs so I can get them in the ground next month. I have left it, in the past, until late November or early December before I've planted, but that really doesn't give the bulbs a chance to develop any roots before frost hits hard. There are some types of bulbs that are just not going to get planted in my yard, however: no crocuses, even though I love them. Why? Because the darn squirrels love them, too! As fast as the flowers open, the squirrels come, spot them, think to themselves "ooooh, look! a crocus! I think I like the taste of crocus flowers!" and then they bite the flower head off, change their minds, and spit them out. Carnage, total carnage. They do the same with a tulip flower or two, but usually don't go after them with the same fervour as crocus.

Today I'm off to Edward's Gardens (The Toronto Botanical Gardens, it's called now). I've got an interview to become a master-gardener-in-training, which would then entail 3 courses from the University of Guelph. Wish me luck!