Thursday, April 27, 2006

Your hortiscope

Here's your plant horoscope - your hortiscope as it were. Kinda cute and so OK - it's kinda accurate when it gets to me. Kinda. But not exactly. Well, sorta. I'll get back to you.

Here's the edge of my veg garden with a clear sheet of plastic laid down. This is the future home of my tomato patch. I'm heating up the area under the poly so the soil will be good and warm when I plant my tomato plants.

Good warm soil will get those roots growing well and the yields will be higher for this little trick. After the poly comes off, I'll mulch the plants with some straw or black poly to keep the weeds down. The only reason I wouldn't use straw is that I'm no sure where I can find some locally yet. But that's my first choice. I'd like to have my entire veg garden mulched with it but we'll see what happens later in the summer.

I did write an ebook telling you how to improve your tomato crop and solve common problems and this plastic trick is just one of the ways I'll be making sure I have enough tomatoes for my toasted tomato/garlic sandwiches. Summer is coming!

You gotta make it level

Went for a morning walk to talk to myself (I get the answers I want that way) and thought about the pathway through a bit of bush on the property.

A previous gardener had laid a rock path through a low-lying damp area and had even gone to the trouble of planting sedums between some of the rocks.

Now, it doesn't really matter that some of the rocks are flattish and some are not. It doesn't matter that some are really chunks of concrete (although they are really ugly).

What matters to me is the path is almost unusable. The rocks are not level. They are not stable but wiggle when you step on them. The rocks are of different thicknesses and are laid flat on the ground so that not only are the individual rocks not level but thin rocks are laid next to fat rocks.

The overall effect is that you have to watch each and every step and where you put your feet. This morning after the rains the area was damp and almost every rock was moving in the soft soil underneath. It was treacherous walking.

For safety's sake, each rock will have to be lifted and a foundation of gravel laid down. Once this gravel settles and gives a firm and level base, then and only then could I relay the rocks. Frankly this isn't going to happen.

I've ordered a full load of gravel (comes after the half-load restrictions are lifted on the roads) and while I'll pull up those rocks and lay down a gravel bed, I'm not going to the trouble of making a nice flat level walkway of rocks through the bush.

The other pathways closer to the house will also be tamped gravel (4-6 inches of gravel - soaked and tamped down to make them firm and weed resistant) to give good footing during rains and prevent the mud that is currently occupying my back porch from appearing again.

So in this case, all that work by a previous gardener is going to be undone - not because its ugly but because it's unsafe.

And if you read this - know that your foundation work (the underpinnings of your garden) is the most important part of beginning a good garden. Those things you can't see - the 6-inches of rock dust perfectly levelled before you install the paving stones, the layers of rock rubble tamped down underneath garden ornaments so they don't shift, the amazing work of preparing tree holes properly so when you plant, the tree grows for the long haul, installing proper filters and skimmers in ponds - - you don't see this stuff but if you don't do this right you pay for it in the long run with poor garden performance.

And then you ask guys like me how to fix your garden. :-)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

That's done

So I went out in the pouring rain the other day - jumped up and down on one of the rocks to settle it a little bit more than the others.

I got wet but the water feature got levelled. I used the water in the container as its own level.

It isn't perfect but then again, neither am I. So we compromised at almost perfect (as I am) :-) and given it is plastic, I think it is as close as its going to be.

Moral of story. Sometimes not quite perfect is really good enough.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


Very good friend, "I read your blog"

Me, "yeah" (with some suspicion)

Very good friend, "Nice levelling job. Did you really use a carpenter's level? You might get a new carpenter."

Me, "expletive deleted"

Very good friend, (encouragingly) "It will make an good water bowl for the dog."

Turns out that between the teeming rain, and some settling from the water weight, my newly levelled tub-pond had settled off kilter. And with that - so did my reputation.

So the only thing to do next week will be to dump out the water, jump up and down on the rocks to settle them again. Relevel. Jump up and down again.

And then find a new level. Stupid tool.

And no- I'm not going out in the pouring rain to take a picture of this.

Moral of story. A garden is *never* finished. Even when you think you have.
Real moral of story. Do it right the first time.

Friday, April 21, 2006

First water feature in new garden

Put in the first water feature of this new garden. It is a big old plastic tub (normally I hate plastic but I can't afford a metal lye tub) that I rather like. You can see it's sitting on some flat rocks (I have lots of these) and I spent a good length of time getting it level and flat so the water will be level. I even used a proper carpenter's level to get it to set straight.

Put the original casting on her own flat rock. The plantings will surround this and will eventually cover it. I'll likely use some containers around this small water feature as well to add instant plantings.

Inside it I'll use some small fish such as guppies or rosy barbs to control mosquitoes although why I'll do this when I'm surrounded by water is beyond me.

I'll be adding some oxygenators to keep the water clear (1 clump of plants for every 3 square feet of open space) and I intend at this time to find a dwarf blue tropical lily to grace this space. I rather like those but I'll have to see what the plant budget looks like in another month after I've filled my containers.

But you can see the garden is slowly taking shape.

No Grass Here

In order to get rid of some grass in an area I'm not going to plant this year, I laid multiple layers of newspapers down - laying them like a brick wall. Overlapping in multiple layers with no direct pathway the grass can take. I then laid 4 inches of wood chip mulch down over top of the newspaper to hold it down and add another layer of material the grass will have trouble penetrating.

This is a ton better for the environment than spraying anything. It gets rid of some paper (it decomposes slowly over a few years) and it uses up some wood chips.

This should get rid of the grass this year and next year when I want to plant in this area, it should be good soil down there with no surviving grass.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

End of a long week

Well, it seems like a long week. If you've been thinking of moving perennials, shrubs or roses ?? Now's the time. So I did. Spent an afternoon digging up the perennial collection from J & E's and moving it to the new garden. 8 hours of digging and planting later, the roots are installed.

Now, it won't make much sense in the way of design. I can tell roots apart (a daylily from a hosta for example) but I can't tell the different varieties of these plants apart. So they're in the ground but who knows what they'll look like this summer. And who cares!

Gardening is supposed to be fun.

And I confess the last two days of hard work have left me tired but happy. The best part of doing your own garden (and not getting paid for it) is that you can stop when you want a break. Take a cup of coffee - I'm drinking one as I write - and relax. If you get it done - fine. If not, it's not the end of the world.

Hint: with perennials you don't get planted. Simply put them in the shade and water them well. If bareroot - throw some dirt over the roots to hold the moisture. They'll be fine for up to a few days as long as they're dampish.

But when you're doing it for a living - the fun leaves around the second day of digging. Or earlier.

But this was fun and now that I've got the big overwintered roots in - the next thing is to find the holes and install the other seed grown plants from this spring. But that will wait until the middle of May when the last frost has moved through. And after that - I'll put in the annuals to give me colour this year while I wait for all the perennials to grow up.

Next I'll be planting the roses and pulling the container roses out of storage. Stay tuned for pictures of that.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying bulb blooms.

Monday, April 17, 2006

I've got a lens

You're probably wondering what a lens is ??

Me too.

Turns out it can be anything I want it to be and it's a kinda funky web content system. It's half way between a blog and a website. But I'm playing with it and adding short bits of articles that don't fit anywhere else (like daffodil stories)

It will change as much as this blog will change. Who really knows (did you know there's a new blog starting up fresh every minute of every day?).

Check it out for curiousity's sake.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Thought for an Easter Sunday

I was reminded today of something very important in the garden. On morning walks to the shore, I passed by an area and there seems to be a garden planting emerging. The area is a small circle bounded by flat rocks (everything in this place is bounded by flat rocks) approximately 4 feet across.

My immediate reaction was what a waste of time this was. The garden is several hundred feet from the house and the plants would, if you could see them, be a mere speck in the window.

But then I reconsidered and thought about the person who planted them here. It took some work and effort to haul the rocks from the shore to place them in a circle. The digging of the sod was a labour of love and planting these bulbs and perennials was a statement of hope for the future. This small bed likely took at least a day to dig and plant.

I could only begin to share in the hopes and dreams for this small garden and imagine what those might have been like for the person who planted this area.

This small, out of the way planting was a statement of this person's involvement with this place. It might not be as involved (or large) in a gardening sense as mine is but is has to be considered equally valuable. This was this person's way of connecting to this place, this bit of ground.

And that's the story here. Every person has their own way of connecting to the small bit of ground they occupy. The person who planted thses bulbs is no longer on this property and I may or may not find out about them. It's a bit of a mystery at the moment. And just as I'm here now when I'm gone from this garden, I'll leave something behind me to tell future gardeners that I too wrote a mystery story in my garden. They'll never fully understand how I connect to this place.

But large or small, they are both important to us as individuals.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Have I got a deal for you

What you see to the right are a few of the treasures that have appeared as I've been digging my new herb garden. I can give you a serious deal on a

**rubber preserving jar ring. Slightly dirty at the moment but I'm sure it will clean up.

**a lugnut with chrome more or less intact

**a nail pre-bent so you don't have to bend it over if you're trying to use too long a nail to join two bits of board that are too thin. This could be a major timesaver if you're a nail-bender-over type of carpenter.

**a used beer bottle top - nothing else need be said

**a horseshoe, slightly used but perfectly capable of being installed pointed ends up so the luck stays inside.

**a bbq brush/cleaner tool. I note this is somewhat rusty but the scraper part is quite useable with a bit of cleaning

**a used battery that you could refill and recharge

**and finally the end from a length of pvc pipe that may or may not have been chewed by something

How these things get into the soil around a house foundation is a subject for much speculation.

Do drop me a note to make an offer on one of these items. They won't last long!

Friday, April 14, 2006

The shape of things to come

I've always believed the land will determine and tell you the style of the garden if you spend the time to listen.

I was tilling this morning and then spent some time with a shovel prying out rocks. A second chore involved starting to excavate pathways so that I can fill them with crushed gravel. This will improve the drainage and give us dry footing across what is now slightly soggy (or very soggy depending on the weather) lawns.

The problem comes in when I have to decide about the shapes of these pathways - the width and the direction they'll take coming to and fro. The width is easy - it has to be wide enough for two people to walk comfortably side by side.

The direction is another matter. You might say - the straightest line between two points is the best for a walkway but...

A straight line focusses your attention on the end goal - the door. You tend to ignore what's surrounding you on the way to your goal. Life can be like that sometimes. We get too focussed on the goal and forget that life is about the journey - it's not about getting somewhere.

To make a long thought much shorter - my pathway is going to be a slightly bent one. You won't be fully able to walk directly to the door from the parking area - you'll have to take in some other views along the way. And it is these views that I'll be emphasizing in the sculpture of the place over the years.

And that makes me feel pretty good. I listened and the magic of this place started to talk to me - don't make the lines straight on this garden.

So circular the gardens will become.

Buried Treasure

I picked up the new belt yesterday - installed it this morning and let 'er go. Now that's how a tiller is supposed to work. Tightened up the clutch a tad and the old tractor and I took a full bite of the soil - worked it up pretty well.

And then I found buried treasure.

I had already dug up half of an old walkway of largish flat stones. Most of them were slightly buried and when I started digging and prying, the 6-inches showing turned out to be 24-inches of buried rock.

I didn't see any more rocks and assumed (wrongly as it turns out) that the rest had been moved or disposed of by previous owners/tenants. No so.

The new and improved tiller action bounced rather wildly (throwing me and the tractor several feet) when it ran over rocks in what is going to be a garden area.

Now I know where the rocks are and a half hour of digging and prying left me with this rather motley assemblage of rocks of the pathway persuasion. They'll go into the pile for future consideration and building projects.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Interesting free download of RHS material

If you're into taxonomy and finding out about specific plants from one of the leading horticultural institutions in the world (including new award winning plants) then visit the Royal Horticulatural Society's website at

to download some of the pdf formatted reports.

Pretty cool stuff (and free).

Darn but I like free.

Arghhh- new belt needed

There I was - out on my 16-hp tractor - pretending I was back on the farm out a-workin' ma fields. In reality, I'm running a tiller behind this great old workhorse of a machine when ... the tiller belt broke.

I just found out nobody stocks these items any more - they're too expensive (! - gasp) and have to be ordered in special.

How expensive you ask? The long drive belt for the tiller is about to set me back over C$100 by the time I add in the taxes.

That's a lot of tilling to do I can tell you to pay for this drive-belt. I'm not overly impressed.

The pic to the left is the side garden facing the garage - the garden goes equal distance from there but there's still a long way to go to get to the real soil under the compacted turf.

The Sweetest Smell

You know the sweetest smell in the garden right now - is on my porch. I just pruned the rosemary and the entire house smells of this very fragrant shrub. I really whacked it back (and it will recover quite nicely thank you) and collected a goodly number of stems for drying.

The nice thing is that the new growth coming on after this pruning will be produced in higher sunlight levels and will be shorter and stockier. Heavy pruning produces a nicer plant.

But I do love the fragrance. I confess I often squeeze the leaves/branches quite hard when I pass by the plant to get the oils on my hands.

It's the little things that make gardening so much fun.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

You gotta be kidding me

I went to a garden shop last night to pick up some stuff for repelling deer (they didn't have any) and while I was there, I heard a lady ask the sales staff for some tree fertilizer. The sales staff said that he didn't have any of that kind in stock and it was the wrong time of the year to fertilize trees anyway. He wanted them to wait until the tree leafed out.

That probably wasn't the right thing to say...

The best time to fertilize a tree is in the fall right after the leaves have fallen off. The roots are still active and they'll suck up the feed, storing it for the spring.

The second best time is early in the spring before the tree has leafed out. The roots are active with the warming soil and will suck up the nutrients then as well. They then send this energy up to the tops of the tree (sap folks - that's what sap is - tree energy)

Roots require these nutrients to feed the leaves. If they don't have enough in the early spring (hence the fall and early feeding) they can't send as much up to the leaves and the tree won't grow as much.

The leaf/root relationship is an interesting one. The leaf buds have enough carbohydrates stored in them to open up a small leaf and get photosynthesis started. Once this process starts, the rising sugars from the roots feed the leaves some more energy and the leaf starts to grow. The larger leaf is more efficient and starts sending energy back down the tree to feed the roots. It's one big cycle.

But it starts with feeding the roots in the fall and early spring. If you wait for the tree to leaf out before you feed it, you won't see as much new growth.

Hint: If you really want to see a tree grow - feed it in the fall. Don't bother when it has leaves on it.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Go big or go home

As I build this new garden, I'm faced with some garden bed edgings from previous gardeners. Now, I know that all gardeners have their own thing and the right to enjoy the garden the way they want but...

Go big or go home.

I can't figure out why anybody would use small baseball sized rocks to edge a garden other than the fact that they've dug them out of the garden and they're free. They don't stop the grass from encroaching, you can't mow over top of them (means you have to pick out the weeds and grass by hand - a lot of work) and only serve as a minor speedbump for marauding problems such as slugs.

If you want to use rocks - use big ones. Pick 'em so you can hardly lift them. That's a rock. That's an edging. The rest are simply my current pain as I have to pick them all up and toss them into the fill pile.

Use edging that's in scale and size for your garden. In my case, I'm creating an English cottage garden and the tiny flat rocks belong at some seaside resort for small children. I'm going to be using wood - something that fits into the rural setting of my garden. I'll save the rocks for the waterfront designs and maybe the bigger ones for creating a sitting / deck area.

But little stuff has to go.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Deer 1 - Doug 0

The first deer of the season hit my tulip patch last night. Totally ignored the tulips further out in the garden but came in and snacked on the ones right beside the house (two feet from the front door).

So the battle has been joined. This new garden is totally defenseless at the moment but by tomorrow night, there will be some changes. (mind you, by then the rest of the tulips might be gone as well)

There will be liquid "deer fence" on the shelf and spread around the tulips. Some "iris spring" soap will be hung and shavings spread. The blood meal will be everywhere. And an electronic scarecrow will be ordered or purchased if my favourite garden shop has one. No questions asked.

Stay tuned. My island is full of hungry deer and we're about to do battle. I think the deer are likely to win until I get install fencing (did I mention I'm going to install electric fencing as well?)

I'll let you know how it goes...

Friday, April 07, 2006

First dumb mistake of 06


In my 30 years of nursery work, I've sown literally hundreds of thousands of seeds. Way more than the average bear ever had to handle. I've done it automatically, I've done it by hand using more "systems" than you can believe exist.

And every one of those seed flats was labelled. They have to be in order to tell what's there.

This past week, I put my tomatoes, cole crops and peppers into a flat of Jiffy pellets. All mixed up in there but all properly labelled.

Normally, I use a pencil on a small plastic tag - sometimes I use a nursery marker pen. I grabbed a pen from the table I was working on and carefully labelled each strip this past week as normal. But when I went there yesterday to check on the seeds, I found I had used a water soluble pen - NOT my normal nursery pen.

So all the writing has disappeared. I'll be able to tell the peppers from the tomatoes but won't have a clue about the cabbage from the broccoli until they start growing a bit in the garden. I won't be able to tell the varieties of tomatoes apart until they start fruiting. All I have to say is that it was a really dumb thing to do but it will make the surprises in the garden this summer all the more exciting.

Moral of the story - even pro's make dumb mistakes every now and then.

And always use pencil or check to see the pen is a permanent nursery marker.

Opening Lines

So what's with the blog?

I have websites and newsletters at where I write articles (literally thousands are posted) about specific topics. I answer questions in the newsletters.

But my blog lets me write about the day to day "stuff" that goes on in the garden that interests me.

I could rant about the deer - I could sing (well, you wouldn't want that for sure) praises about a specific plant.

I can post pics that don't relate to any article.

I can do darn near anything I want. And that's the beauty of a blog. :-)

So - that's what this is. And it's just for the heck of it. Reason enough I say.