Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Poison Ivy - Thanks to Global Warming

Courtesy of the USDA - we have this bit of research that points out that under increased levels of CO2 - poison ivy will grow much faster (invasive plants with underground storage parts respond dramatically to increased Carbon Dioxide levels) and will become much bigger in leaf suface.

This particular link (click the title) is hard to read in html - I suggest you read the power point presentation if you really want to see the data on other weed problem increases under global warming. (Can you Southern gardeners say Kudzu?)

If you don't want to take the time to read it - weeds love CO2 as much as the next plant (that's the bottom line).

Lessons from Visiting Gardens

I have just returned from visiting gardens out in Vancouver and Victoria B.C. and while I am completely jet-lagged on my return, I think it is important to point out the single most important lesson I relearned on this garden tour.

It does not matter whether you spend a lot of money on design, or a lot of money on plants.

What matters is that you maintain your garden. Pick the weeds. Prune the shrubs. Deadhead the spent blossoms. All the boring stuff that you want to ignore.

Ignore the maintenance and the garden "look" suffers tremendously.

I have literally hundreds of garden shots that I will be posting and sharing but the main lesson in all of them is that weedless gardens win beauty awards.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Welcome to My Garden

I rather like this entrance way to the garden. I'll be encouraging the lilacs to arch over the pathway even more by pruning and training the branches to arch over and intertwine. In the summer, it will be an inviting green archway. Right now, it is a glorious invitation to enter.

How do you invite folks into your garden?

The single most important gardening thing

When you write for magazines, you're supposed to write something provocative and interesting on the first line - the lead - to entice the reader to read the rest of the article. A garden is like that - there's always a first line and the point of the entire garden, like the article, is often found on the bottom line of the garden.

Blogs are filled with glorious pictures of flowers because the flowers are the leads to the garden, they are the stars. But the bottom line is the soil. No matter what flowers or veggies you put into your garden, if that soil isn't right, then you're just wasting your time.

I was really spoiled in my old farm garden because we had a sandier soil that had been gardened before. The vegetable garden had been a garden (and a pig run) so it was pretty decent soil to start with. I had the time to improve flower beds as I planted them and because they were display gardens, I took the time to make some pretty fertile soil.

My last garden - the infamous 20-foot square garden- was a rented property and was charitably called fill sand. I mulched the heck out of it with leaves and it gave me a miserable crop of vegetables and a so-so growth rate of perennials. Mind you, I compost tea'ed the thing twice a month all summer to try to get it biologically active. I suspect this year it will be a ton better.

My new garden soil has pretty good underlying soil but the fill someone has brought in to level and raise some areas is clay. I was fortunate in the first perennial shade garden area that all I had was the underlying soil. The plants were installed and wood chips have been laid down. This soil has good worm populations and after I compost tea it this summer, it will be a productive soil.

The vegetable garden is a curious mix of decent soil underneath and this layer of clay over top.

Like many things, it will take some time to work out this problem. I killed the grass this spring (well, most of it anyway) and did a quick tilling to get the veggies in. I'm not sure I should have bothered. The clay top dries out within a few minutes of watering (almost every day to get those seeds germinating) to put a tough crust on top of the soil. I'm not impressed.

And neither are the seeds. I have really spotty germination and I think it will turn out to be a waste of time to have sown many of those seeds.

So it looks like a ton of work to bring this veggie garden area into full production. Starting in one area that I'm leaving unplanted, I'll be double-digging and creating super soil. The compost tea will come out in full force this summer courtesy of my office worm bin. I'm going to construct raised beds of great soil and make small hoop houses over top of them so I can start gardening earlier and control some pests later. I'll post pictures as I get this done.

The point here - and I expect you're wondering if I was ever going to get there - is that soil is the basis of success or failure in the garden. I'm determined to succeed in this garden, so I'm going to go back to basics and make some super garden soil.

In three years, this note will remind me of where I started.

Friday, May 19, 2006

One of my buddies

One of my garden writing buddies, Yvonne Cunnington, has just started a blog. There are not many enties at the moment but I have a sense that things will not stay this new for very long.

The thing is that I have long admired the way she writes - with a sense of style and design. I plod along doing the plantlover thing and she captures the essence of things in a few short lovely words.
I've also visited her garden and between her husbands energy and her design they make a great team creating a wonderful country garden.

But I should let her tell you her story in her own words.

Everybody has this plant

Everybody has this plant - it's called "lost the tag". How often have you been to a garden and the host will say, "I'm not sure what this is - I lost the tag." So I'm calling this plant Epimedium 'lost the tag'. Sooner or later, I'll remember or look it up but for now, I like 'lost the tag'.

Epimediums are wonderful little ground cover plants for the shade. The flowers will never blow you away with colour or size but they are dainty and refined.

If you water this plant to get it established, it will slowly colonize even fairly dry shade. It does best of course with a decent woodland soil but it will survive (not thrive) in dry shade. And this makes it worth a few lost tags to be sure.

The foliage goes a nice rusty red in the fall so you're getting several shows - green spring leaves and small flowers. Green ground cover all summer and fall foliage colour on a hardy ground cover plant.

And you know - given that I'm not going to be selling this plant or doing anything other than enjoying it -I really don't give a darn what the name is. I like it just the way it is and I don't have to impress anybody else with the name. (although given I'm a garden writer I should want to remember the names of plants in my garden) :-)

Just this once. Epimedium 'lost that tag'.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Second Most Fragrant Spring Plant

The second most fragrant spring plant out on my island is happily growing in the backyard. I note that this morning, with the effects of yesterday's rain and this morning's fog, the garden is looking a lot like Ireland on a still morning. The leaves are all bright and unblemished by summer's heat and the grass (what there is struggling through the creeping charlie) is lush in the soft morning light.

And this old apple tree is refreshingly fragrant with a light floral fragrance that I tend to forget from year to year. I walked out and stood under the tree and breathed in all that air - listened to the hordes of bees that are giving me an apple crop - and just existed.

There's something about apple fragrance that does that for me. I don't know why but when I smell fresh apple blossoms, I'm put most things out of my mind for a few minutes and just soak up the smells. Oh, to be sure the world crashes back in, but for those few moments, life is just too sweet. I do enjoy those few minutes of peace and solitude in a way I can't begin to explain.

I'll be planting more apple trees on my property. Somebody has to feed the deer.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Good Plants for the Rockies

If you live in Colorado or nearby states, you'll want to check out This website focusses on good (and innovative) plants for this area.

There are some very good plantspeople behind this venture.

New Plant Alert

As a full time garden writer, I often get to try new plants and play around with them before they fully get to market. This is one of the big bonus things for writing for a living I note and I do enjoy playing around with all the new stuff.

In this case, these Viva Sunpatiens will be in Home Depot stores already in the U.S. and deserve a look by gardeners.

The deal is simple. This is the first impatiens that will really take the sun. I know that New Guinea impatiens have been advertised as being sun tolerant and some garden shops have told unsuspecting customers they will handle hot sunshine but the reality is that they won't take full sun up here. And if you let them go dry for a nano-second, it looks like somebody took a blow torch to them.

But these are apparently different.

I say apparently because I've never grown them and haven't trialed them before. There are a few on the way to me from the production company and I'm looking forward to giving them a little of the good old Canadian summer heat. And then I'll report back to you about how they perform.

But for now - I'd recommend you get over to the Depot (they have an exclusive on them and they're not available anywhere else) and pick up a few. They're going to be moving faster than my man #20- Tony.

Monday, May 15, 2006

First fragrance of season

It was an overcast day last Sunday but our hosts suggested we go for a walk before drinks and dinner. They even outfitted us with "wellies" so we could plow through the swampy area behind the barns. OK - I'm up for a short walk before drinks on an otherwise yucky day I sayz to myself. We wandered back through scrub and brush to an unused township road (with speed limit signs for snowmobilers but we didn't see any of them).

What started out as a short jaunt through some scrub ended up being a horticultural event I had never before experienced.

The road allowance was flanked on both sides with lilacs. I'm not talking one or two lilacs. I'm talking miles of them. I'm not talking a plant or two deep, I'm talking multiple plants deep. In some cases, the plants stretched 100 feet back from the road in a solid mass of fragrant blooms.

I've never seen anything quite like this. The picture was taken on an overcast day and simply doesn't do it justice.

Given that lilac fragrance is one of the 10 most used scents in the perfume industry, I figure I had a million dollar experience.

And the drinks and dinner (while amazing!) were no match for the show Mother Nature put on. Thanks guys for the walk.

New Family Next Door

There's some times that you just have to smile and wave when somebody moves in next door. And then - later in the season - I'll have to have some words with them as they raid my garden. But for the moment, my gosh they're cute.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Garden photography

For the past 30 years, I've been taking pictures of flowers and gardens amassing a huge collection of slides in the process. I've taken several courses on photography and have enjoyed lugging all my equipment along on various garden jaunts.

But I'm loving my digital camera. I got it toward the end of last summer and started messing about with it. I take far too many pictures but what the heck. I did that when I was using film too - the thought being that film was the cheapest variable I worked with (my time was far more valuable than the film for example) I'm in the process of moving my collection to digital and taking as many digital pictures as possible to get the individual plant collection into the 21st century.

Now when I take my "equipment" - it is a single camera rather than a camera and tons of lenses to go along. Eventually, I'll have to take a laptop for extra storage but for now - I'm good with a monster internal memory chip.

The rules for taking good pictures still hold true though. When I see something I like, I always start with a faraway shot and then increasingly closer and closer until I can't get either my camera or myself any closer to the subject I'm taking. I get some great shots at unexpected distances this way.

My first digital camera - a Canon s1r1 - does not have a macro lens (a close up) but it does have a 32X zoom. I find if I stand back 10 feet and use the zoom, I can get a "reasonable" closeup. But the next camera will definitely have a closeup system to let me get even closer. If you're going to be doing a lot of flower pictures - a "macro" ability is a must.

And that's what I've learned about digital photography this month.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The second bloomer this year

And coming a close second in the bloom sweepstakes this year was a Primula veris cultivar. I believe it is 'Perth Sunrise' but I'll have to wait until its sister blooms in another few days to make sure. These new hybrids are quite hardy and easy to grow. Give them protection from the hot sun, a decent woodland soil and the charm of an English spring can be yours. Remember to propagate them right after they finish blooming. This one gets a year off - I'll let it rest this year given that I've moved it 3 times in the last three years.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Meditation in the Backyard

I'm really pleased that my backyard is large enough to mow out a labyrinth. I use it as a walking meditation - a place to release the tension of working on a computer all day and focus my mind for other things. It is fairly simple to mow once you see it drawn and then connect the lines.

Once you create the paths on a bit of paper - mow the top half (away from the entrance) with the center space and 7 half-rings of mown grass circling it. The trick is to figure out which of the pathways connect. On the right hand side as you're looking at it - 1+2, Center+3, 5+6 and 3+7 will do it. On the left hand side, 2+3, 1+4, 5 to out, 6+7 will do it.

Do the inner circles first before the outer so your turning radius will be large enough to turn your mower. It is far easier with a push mower than a riding mower but all I have is a rider so I get a large labyrinth.

One tip is to set your mower deck to its highest setting. If you make a mistake, you can drop the deck down one notch to erase the mistake.

But do try cutting one of these in your backyard - it's good for what ails you (and it will give the neighbors something to talk about as well) :-)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Free ebook "Gardening in Small Spaces"

Betty Mackey a publisher of fine gardening books has offered my blog readers a copy of her latest ebook 'Gardening in Small Spaces' for FREE.

I have several of the books published by Betty's company and they are superb sources of sound gardening information.

If you're interested in seeing some of her recommendations for small space gardening, go here and download this free e-book.

Betty wrote the e-book and I'm providing the distribution for her.

I'm sure you'll find it an interesting quick read.

First bloomer

The honour for first bloomer in the garden this year goes to Brunnera 'Jack Frost'. I really like the Brunnera with its forget-me-not blue flowers and variegated foliage. Grown in the shade, this early bloomer wakes up the garden and then goes on to give a great foliage show with that variegated foliage. Easy to grow if you give it woodland soil. I hope it likes this first-flower award this year because it's in for serious competition next year from the primula and double bloodroot that are just now being established.

But for now, I'm enjoying this blue flowering plant and the first of my perennials to bloom in the new garden.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Cool tool

I have several new tools I'm playing with right now to test and trial them. I want to emphasize I don't get paid to write a report about new plants, tools or software and I usually only write about the ones I like. In this case, I think that Fiskars has a winner in the kill-dandelion class of tools. I've always used my grandfather's spud but this works just as well. I played around last weekend and within two dandelions had managed to figure out the best ways to line up the dandelion so the jaws would grip it. (it's kindof a sideways swing but you'll figure it out) The best way to stomp the shoe to drive the jaws into the ground (no brainer - just step on it with the ball of your foot) and how much pressure it took to whap a dandelion out of the ground (not much).

The Fiskars Uproot Weeder is made of space-age plastics so it won't break. The design is elegantly effective and easy to use. I didn't use any instruction sheet (mine didn't come with any that I remember) but if you can't figure out how to use this simple tool, you belong on the 19th floor in an apartment building.

Almost as good as my grandfather's spud.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Personal Nuclear Devices

It's spring and there's a ton of gardening ads on the tube now - mostly about creating great lawns by nuking the dandelions or whomping a ton of fertilizer onto the plants to produce huge plants and blooms.

The mindset produced by this kind of advertising sells the product for sure but it also produces a mindset that says all gardeners need is a pnukd (pronounced Pee-Nuke-Dee) for all gardening activities.

Want to get rid of the dandelions? Use this pnukd and you'll never see a dandelion again.
Want to get rid of the aphids on your rose? Use this pnukd and you'll kill every bug in your backyard. Painlessly.

The mindset is that we need a single thing to solve our garden problems - we need to eliminate everything (whether we understand it or not) that doesn't conform to what we think is garden perfection. No bugs, no weeds, only lots of massive flowers. And because most gardeners wouldn't recognize a sow bug from an aphid, any bug is a bad one.

In organic gardening, I think we look for the minimum way we can alter our garden. If I have aphids on my roses (and I will) all I do is blast them off with a jet of water. It takes less time, is far cheaper and works much better. The beetles eat the fallen aphids and the water is used by the plants. No poisons. No pnukd. No pest problems on this plant. The aphids still survive in other parts of the garden I'm sure - otherwise the hummingbirds would stop coming round (insects such as aphids are the main part of hummingbird diets). But my roses are not disfigured by this insect. I get the effect I want with a minimum of effort. But it's pretty hard to make money advertising the use of a spray of water to protect your plants.

My sense of things like the lawn is equally bizarre when it comes to chemical gardening. Corn gluten is a wonderful by-product of corn milling that can be spread on lawns to stop seed germination. I use it to stop dandelion seed/crab grass seed etc but the bonus is that it is 10% nitrogen by weight so it is nature's weed and feed. Totally organic - no side effects - the kids can roll in it -the dog can eat it (the dog is probably already eating it in the dog food) and nobody gets hurt except for a few weed seeds we don't want in our lawns. Again - there's no pnukd involved and a minimum intervention that has no effect other than on my immediate lawn area.

Advertising promotes the use of pnukd's on the garden and comes with massive promises of gardening success. By wiping out the ecology, you can have a successful garden!

Organic gardening is tougher to learn - tougher to stick to - but much more effective in the long run.

And that's the stupid problem. Organic gardening is more effective in the long run but advertising promotes solutions to the short run. And we're an impatient society for sure.

I must need a second cup of coffee this morning.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

You have to be quick

The power of advertising has once more been powerfully proven. A friend went into the house construction business (well, not much of a business) and I was convinced to hang the results.

It only took 5 minutes (if that) and one of my favourite birds (swallows) moved into the house. The happy chirping and swooping in now firmly in place over one part of my garden.

I am however forbidden by privacy laws from showing you the occupants at this time. Their fame (at least in the swallowing world) is significant and I'd be breaking privacy laws. Perhaps in the future.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

It's ugly but it's a great tip

OK , so this is really ugly. In fact, it looks as if the leaves on this rose plant have been hit by a super-fungus problem.

But this is my secret weapon in the garden!

It's an anti-desiccant. A waxy substance you spray on a plant's leaves to stop them from losing moisture. This rose will not lose any moisture from those exposed leaves and I'm about to mess about with the roots in planting it - the rose will survive just fine with no dehydration or water stress.

You can spray just about any plant you want to transplant (spray the leaves) and it will stop the plant from losing moisture (a major cause of planting death)

This white layer will dry clear. And then it will naturally degrade over a few months. New growth will grow right through the thin layer and not be effected at all.

You can find this in most garden shops. If not on the gardening section, ask for some Christmas tree preservative (same thing).

I use it for transplanting anything with a leaf that needs some stress reduction.

Monday, May 01, 2006

You need good garden help

You really need good garden help when you're building a garden. In this case, I needed my Japanese Iris pruned and cleaned and my friend needed some housing assistance. We made a trade. And it has worked out quite nicely. The iris are clean as a whistle and while I had to knock down his determed efforts from on top of my window (twice) he has moved to some other unknown locale successfully.

In any case, the secret to success with Japanese Iris is to use acidic soils - keep them wet/damp in the spring and early summer and then after blooming, run them a little drier. In this case, they sit on the edge of the water pond and then in July, I plant them in the general garden to dry out a bit more. I grow them pretty much in peat moss in the pot.

But you have to find your own worker.