Winter Garden Tour

Winter Garden Tours

Winter garden tours may seem like a dream unless you live in a warm climate, but today when the sun was out I decided to take a tour of my garden, with camera in hand.  Normally the weather would make this a rather chilly walk, but as the early morning sun and temperatures up to 9 º Celsius had melted the snow on most of my property  while others around were full of snow!

two seasons at once

two seasons at once

 

While this January has not yet seen the record -15º, with the exception of the Hellebore plant in my side garden, I expected everything to be frozen. To my surprise there were so many plants still alive, despite the -4 º temperature nights and warm almost Spring like weather during this unusually warm January in Canada.

 

Who know there would be a lovely green Fever-few (Tanacetum parthenium) plant nodding at me in the wind? In fact, there were parts of the old plant with new growth bursting forth in both the side and back gardens.

 

Feverfew

Feverfew

 

Close to the Feverfew, are the mixed red and green leaves of the Toad lily (Tricyrtis latifolia) which survives being previously buried in many inches of snow.

Toad Lily leaves and Blue Fescue

Toad Lily leaves and Blue Fescue

The snow in the front garden also was inches deep for several weeks, but not long enough or cold enough to kill off the small pink rose bush that bloomed there all summer and was now an inspiring part of my winter garden tour. While there are no flowers, there quite a few dark green leaves and even a rose hip that waved as a reminder of past glory!

P1410078

 

Past the front and through the side gate, leading to the north side yard, revealed even more winter surprises. First my eyes fell on the lovely green crinkled leaves of a Primula, easily recognized despite none of the yellow flowers being evident.

Primula

Primula

Representing the wildflower family, not to be outdone, was one Golden rod.  Bouncing in the wind, its tiny yellow flowers made a statement, despite not displaying their brilliant summer colour. Buried also in the snow, but not down for the count, was a wild weed Geranium (possibly a Dovefoot Geranium).

 

Goldenrod

Goldenrod

P1410093

wild Geranium

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I walked completely around to the rock garden as my winter garden tour continued, under the huge Spruce tree, I found buds forming on the heather plant (Calluna Vulgaris) that in early to mid summer would be filled with lovely, tiny, pink blooms.

 

my Heather in bud

my Heather in bud

Heather in bloom

Heather in bloom

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beside this was a Chrysanthemum plant fiercely growing new green leaves, despite the dried flower bud still attached!

 

 struggling Chrysanthemum

struggling Chrysanthemum

 

Not to be outdone was the lovely evergreen fern Dryopeteris erythrosora (Autumn fern).

 

P1410124

 

 Last, but not least, was a Heuchera key lime pie that didn’t seem to mind the cold at all!

P1410135-001

Today, despite the return of real winter weather and -10 º weather the Hellebore is happily bobbing its head and I am bundled up, remembering my inspiring winter garden tour while dreams of seedlings run through my head.

sunflowerseedlings_1

 

Poison Ivy Spreading on Pelee Island

Poison Ivy spreading on Pelee island came as quite a shock to me! Poison ivy is not new to rural gardeners  and has been the subject of many an information search. This noxious weed has even been  mentioned in a few of my past blogs and  found intermittently in my cottage garden,so it certainly should come as no surprise that I have witnessed first hand that it can indeed spread widely! Still, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that even on vacation I would find it… on an island!

Yes, I have currently visited Pelee Island and there the, rash inducing vine was  just waiting for me!  I was walking along enjoying the beautiful island scenery on a lovely sunny day, unaware of what lay below! Walking between the stones in the older section of the island’s cemetery, I saw one particular head stone had fallen over and a weed sticking out between the pieces. Thinking of respectfully clearing it away, I reached down only to catch myself in time to avoid touching the three leaves!

Point Ivy rest in Peace

 

After recovering from that surprise, I scanned other areas of the cemetery and noticed the Poison Ivy spreading to the point of taking over a family plot. Then of course there was more! Several trees had it climbing up their bark, it was growing in the sand and on the path at Fish Point Park…Canada’s most southerly point and it was on almost every walking trail! 

Poison Ivy spreading on Pelee Island

Now I was careful to walk, as the Buddhists would say, with mindfulness! My eyes were peeled to the ground around me as I walked in sandal-ed feet. Despite this green plaque, I did have a lovely time and would recommend visiting Pelee. On the horticulture front, there was an unusual site…that of some strange disease that left red bumps on the leaves of the poison Ivy. Could this be our salvation?

 

Poison Ivy with disease

 Poison Ivy Spreading on Pelee Island

I have decided that while there are many things that kill the toxic weeds in small patches, killing in large scale requires a great deal of work. What is not apparent with all sprays, blocking and cutting controls methods is the HUGE amount of patience and dedication required by the murderer ( alias the gardener)!

Surely if birds or contaminated soil brought the seeds to this island, how do we stand a chance against Poison Ivy spreading ? In fact, whether here in Ontario or our neighbours to the South, it seems the berries from poison ivy are an attractive food to a wide variety of birds .According  other sites I have read, over 50 species of birds are known to eat the small white round berries.

After further reading, I have come to realize that despite my personal run-ins with poison ivy, the rash, blisters and swelling, it is just another weed that can be controlled with lots of work. The biggest surprise was how interesting the information was on this particular plant is.

Many sites provide good information on how the birds transport the seeds. Stating that the non-digestible seeds are, passed out in to the soil and fertilized by the very birds that ate them, certainly explains the plants spread. I assume then, as Pelee Island and the surrounding area is on a major migratory route and home to vast varieties of birds, finding this Poison Ivy spreaad to an island shouldn’t have been a surprise.

Poison Ivy Friend

 

In fact the extent of this particular poisonous plant is from parts of Mexico in the south, in to the northern parts of Canada. Details provided in my searching say the plants can grow in most types of soil, from pH 6.0 to 7.9 (slightly acidic to slightly basic) and can tolerate moderate shade to full sun. Wow, it certainly is resilient!

One natural factor against the plant is high altitude as provided by the Rocky Mountains. The thinner air above 4000 feet seems to stifle these plants and to provide a physical barrier in both Canada and the U.S.A, with Poison Ivy on the east and poison Sumac in the west. Certainly nature does what it wants and like all perennial weeds, poison Ivy is determined to spread unless we work on controlling it.

Control and elimination are something that plaques many of us, especially if we have suffered with the rash, blisters and pain left by the urushiol from all parts of this plant .Yet, to the Japanese this oily compound is highly valued  as a finish  used  since the 16th century as the finish on their Lacquerware. The process they use is quite fascinating, but the source there is an urushi tree (Rhus vernicifera) which is becoming rare. At least with a tree, other trees would be safe from the clinging vine that eventually can strangle them and walking trails would be safer.

Despite any risk in my hiking on Pelee Island, the views and people there were lovely and I would recommend the ferry ride as well. From the most southern point of Canada, looking across the vast expanse of the sand point and the water beyond, the poison ivy spread  on Pelee Island was forgotten…and inspiration was supreme!

 

Pelee Island Fish Point Park

 

 

Other sources of information:

www.ontariotrees.com

 

www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/weedguide

 

Enhanced Species: Poison Ivy

 

www.stutler.cc/pens/wajima/urushi.html

 

Motivational Inspiration

Motivational inspiration

 

Motivational inspiration varies from person to person, as actions or changes we make in our lives that come from some form of inspiration. Motivational  is the term applied to any  change or new project we might take on as inspiration itself moves us.

Inspiration…now that is a tough thing to define for each person! Of course, as I claimed this is what started my blog, I have been giving this subject a great deal of thought. When the cottage garden flowers and all their colours got me out of the doldrums I had been in, having a green lawn was the furthest thing from my mind. 

 

In fact, my brain was pretty bogged down with a zillion and one worries, not unlike most other people, especially mothers! So what was I hoping for here was to provide help and inspiration.

It seems so far the part that has helped me most was writing the steps to a greener lawn , and although rather dull, it was a form of motivational inspiration!  To some, having a lovely lawn can be inspiring  and certainly it helped me feel better to drive up to my house in the city and see a green lawn where potholes once were. 

Motivational inspiration

Motivational inspiration is seldom an issue for enthusiastic gardeners! For all you gardeners that love your green blades of grass, enjoy! If the colours, sounds and movement of a newly refurbished garden , inspire you to try your hand at water painting, wood carving, scroll sawing, wooden garden art , writing a song, or dancing a jig then the inspiration of nature has helped bring you joy!

 

Joy however is not a word I would use to describe such natural things such as slugs, grubs and other squishy garden pests! Of course they are great snacks for birds, toads and even birds and beetles. 

 

 

Then of course, there is the matter of the Poison Ivy that is found growing along the ground and climbing to new heights through many a country meadow. Norfolk County, where my country cottage is located, is, as one local official stated, the Poison Ivy capital of Canada.

 

These leaves of three, along with those of Poison Oak and Poison Sumac contain an oil called Urushiol that causes an allergic reaction in approximately 85 % of the population. The oil can stay for months to years on articles of clothing etc and is even active in the smoke if you try and burn the poison Ivy. After several encounters with it myself I can tell you it will make deep potholes in your skin, make you swell up and  get very, very itchy.

What remains a mystery to me then is that birds, sheep and goats can eat poison ivy with no reaction…I guess they have strong stomachs! Personally a nice garden salad suits me better, with oil and vinegar dressing please. In fact there is nothing quite as yummy as fresh from your garden greens, tomatoes and other fresh veggies.

 

 

Unfortunately unlike Poison Ivy, garden veggies do not grow well without proper tending and with my time split between city and country (not to mention work), there is no vegetable garden at all this year. Despite motivational inspiration, last year I tried tomatoes in the city and onions in the country but both struggled  and withered with neglect…sob…I killed the poor things!

On a positive note, thanks to some hard work by myself and designated weeders who were corralled in to helping, both locations have something stimulating to see that brightens my days. Of course there are always worries galore that can bog us down and having a beautiful garden can’t take away painful things, but for brief moments a lovely landscape, art form or bloom can make me smile and sometimes gives me a brainwave or insight on a situation that hadn’t been considered…motivational inspiration!

 

Columbine Delight

Consider then that gardens are part of a meditation progress that can help us breath and clear the mind. There are a few techniques used in meditation including The “Conscious Breath” meditation that helps you to become aware of your breathing, without controlling it. I cannot begin to cover the subject of meditation breathing, conscious breathing, breathing for yoga, counted breath nor all the other defined relaxation and healing impacts from good, deep breathing.

 The two sites below are a fraction of those available on line that gives the reader some sense of the need to “take a deep breath” and relax.

 

http://helpguide.org/mental/stress_relief_meditation_yoga_relaxation.htm

 

http://healing.about.com/od/breathwork/a/consciousbreath.htm

  

By using these techniques or even that of mindful watching…of the wind blowing through the trees, bobbing flower heads, lifting birds high in to the sky can teach us many things. We can be reminded that so much is beyond our control and yet there is a newness and energy to life that we can harness if we choose! Let this inspiration motivate you to take a chance and try something new and remember the old saying…Rome wasn’t built in a day!

 

Weeds or Wildflowers: the debate continues

Organic gardening, while great for the health of the planet, certainly takes some good planning and hard work. Just look at the number of hours I have been preoccupied with the green shoots of grass that are sparsely spread across sections of my lawn. But I certainly couldn’t help it when the bald spot is there catching my eye every time I go in or out the back door or drive up to the house. Now of course my house, even though it is in a big city, is really a cottage stuck in a time warp. Now the one thousand square foot bungalow is surrounded by tall pine trees and tall weeds.

Okay the garden weeds can have nice shaped leaves and often even pretty flowers but their odd shapes and height make for one messy looking lawn. Although not a very neat person, this horticultural mish-mash has been driving me crazy! In fact, I learned a thing or two about myself as I followed my own steps in the Save the Lawn Project. From this experience I reinforced my ability to work hard at something I love…being outdoors. What I had not realized was how little patience I have for some repetitious chores. Yes watering the same area over and over, day after day is trying, monotonous and keeps me from the inspirational garden I really want to be working on.

While inspiration for this blog started after staring at the new growth in the cottage garden, not all of the greenery was a plant we value, as a garden treasure. Certainly some weeds almost fool you in to believing they are real plants. Others are just scraggly, spiky things that can make you sneeze or even give you a rash (we won’t even mention the poison ivy).

After a current weeding session at the cottage, which is in farm country, I decided to surf the Internet to try and identify some of the weeds there. Below is a listing related to field and crops that has a lovely WEED photo gallery. Who knew!

http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/IPM/english/weeds-herbicides/gallery/index.html

Of course we all have our very own weeds that we hate and sometimes even ones we love. Certainly Dandelions are cool looking with their lovely yellow bloom and even their dreamy looking white fuzzy seed state. Then there are the dubious weeds like forget-me-nots that have escaped from the garden and other self seeding plants such as the herb lemon balm which spreads everywhere and anywhere. I guess as someone once told me, they believed if it had lovely blossoms it was a wild flower and not a weed.

Pretty lawn weed

 

Dandelion Seeds

 

 

 

 

 

 

Based on this definition, many unwanted growing things are weeds. Another term used to help us decide what may or may not be a weed is: a plant considered undesirable, unattractive, or troublesome, especially one growing where it is not wanted, as in a garden. Just think of how complicated and messy my yard would be if the lawn was full of assorted, unwanted plants and my garden was full of lovely thick lawn grass…how uninspiring would that be!

Certainly as I want to motivate you all to have lovely, organic inspirational areas to play, sit, and dream in, what I described would definitely not be a motivating space. Without a doubt my yard temporarily falls in to this less than desirably category, I am using this blog also to get myself in gear and take simple steps that will give me the meditation space I so need. In fact as I recall the need for peace in my garden and realize how obsessed with weeds and other stray things I have become, I realize everything growing has its place…just not in my sod or my garden.

While things grow everywhere and anywhere, it seems they are literally rooted in ways that often make removal difficult. Take for example the tap root of a dandelion that anchors it firmly and also sends out a new plant if every tiny bit of root is not removed. Then there some like the plantain that has numerous hairy roots that cover a wider range of soil to anchor their base. Creepers, like Creeping Jenny, are also tough as they often have above ground laterally growing roots that also root from stem nodules. No wonder with these and even more means of thriving and spreading, unwanted vegetation can run amuck!

Certainly I am growing a new respect for the tough weeds that grow and flower everywhere and anywhere they choose. In fact, I realized that their fortitude was a good example of how being tough can help with one’s self preservation, especially when taking on new challenges. Who knew such unwanted greenery was a means to self enlightenment. Certainly this sounds like something Buddhist, but maybe after checking the library or the Internet to learn more about them, you will respect them for their stamina as well, even as you yank them out by their hair.

With the memory of pulling out my hair after many a weeding session still fresh in my mind, despite any inspired at those solitary plants that grow in the toughest conditions with poor soil and water levels, I am not starting a weed garden anytime soon…at least not on purpose! Of course maybe it would become a new trend that could start with one single, lovely beach wildflower…or is that a weed…judge for yourself!

 

 

Beach Wildflower

 

 

Growing a healthy lawn

All this week I have been staring out the window at the sad excuse of a side lawn and then looking across the street at all the healthy green lush ones. Of course part of the problem is a huge bald spot on the slope, that is very visible from the street. Adding to that dead area are a multitude of potholes left by some kind of digging animals who feasted on bug snack food before moving on to greener pastures. Now all I needed to fix the mess would be the Jolly Green Giants green thumb !

 

Of course the other piece of the problem came from me, the head gardener, who bit off more than I could chew. Then again last summer’s laziness didn’t help as the exposed area got drier and sadder each passing week. Now, I asked myself if the ninety-two year old neighbour has a lovely lawn what’s wrong with me? Certainly the fact that my organic lawn has every weed imaginable thriving does interfere in the growth of normal grass. But then the environment is healthier because of me and my lawn and it makes the surrounding green spaces along the block, look even better.

Mystery Weed!

 

This is all the more apparent each day as I drive down the street towards my house and now the shame has finally gotten the better of me. Okay my eyes could only look the other way for so long, before even these lazybones knew I had to do something! The craters on the side slope could be tackled…I just needed a some help and a plan.

 

The plan was to get seed and turf..no not surf and turf…and fertilize. To get a good start on this plan, while I was out doing errands , I got the sod. I don’t know if you have been to the lawn seed and fertilizer aisles of a big box store recently, but the choices are overwhelming! I knew I needed seed for shady areas, and that I had a mess in the side yard, but nice grass on the front where it is sunny most of the day.

 

Thankfully there was a fertilizing person at the store filling in his company’s products. Now of course he could have pushed just his products, but he really just explained it would be difficult seeding and sodding a shady area. His suggestion was to use a starter fertilizer as well, which would not only help the sod to take well, but would also perk up the roots of the other struggling grass.

 

Following his advice, back I went to the garden centre. Of course not really being gardeners, but barely out of school young adults, not one had a clue as to the length of a flattened roll of sod. Although the price of $3.20 a roll was good, despite my nagging inner gardening guru’s voice, I bought only two rolls. What was I thinking? Obviously in my mind, the dead zone was not too big, but sadly that was not the case!

 

Rolling out the sod later at home, revealed I needed many more rolls to fill in the crater. Then of course, after my underestimation, I checked on-line and the general consensus is a roll is about 24 inches wide and 5 feet long. I love metric, but if you need a conversion you are on your own, as my long measuring tape is traditional units…so feet it is!

Sod Inspector

 

Whether you actually have a metric or standard yard tape measure, I suggest you get it out, with a pencil and paper. First measure the width and then the length so you can practise your math skills and calculate the total area you want to grow healthy again. If a 2×5 foot roll covers 10 square feet, using some long division should help you come up with a total roll count.

 

So out I go and despite my own suggestions, I use an old semi-reliable set of measuring devices that are never hard to locate… my very own two feet. From actually measuring them on on a small wooden ruler, they are approximately 10 inches or 25 cm in length. Now a few calculations and tada…I need 5 more rolls of lovely grass, so off we go on another trip to a garden centre .

 

Certainly garden centres are lovely, energetic, inspiring places to hang out. The biggest pitfall however, is trying to keep my wallet closed to all but the green rolls of nature’s carpet that I came to buy. Keeping my eyes focused to the aisles and away from those pesky tempting perennials, garden ornaments and my favourite, the garden gnomes, would definitely be a challenge. On my last stop though, only one lovely Hellioborus made it in to the cart and past the checkout. Once planted in its shady home, I was pleased at how lovely it looked between the ferns and the hostas in the side garden. Even the gnomes, who live there all year round, seemed happy with it.

 

But no one is happy with the lunar landscape of the neighbouring slope, and certainly the work is more exhausting , as things are seldom as easy as they sound. First I needed to cut out all the tiny pieces of sod that will cause a problem with the rolls lying flat. Then as the soil underneath seems to have no nutrients or water retention abilities, I will need to put down a layer of black topsoil and some peat moss before going any further. Doesn’t this sound like good solid gardening advice?

 

In fact, taking these suggestions as fact, I checked the multiple bags piles in the backyard and discovered there was good soil and peat moss ready to spruce up any yard or garden. Then off to the garden centre where only five rolls of the sod went in to the trunk without any accompanying plants that would need a home…so my focus was on my soon to be healthy lawn.

 

The next step to good health was to pull any interfering weeds and grass clumps out of the staging zone. Then any big clumps were raked out and some starter fertilizer was spread out over the levelled surface. I was pleased at remembering the flattened soil had to be lower so the top of the rolled out sod would be even with the surrounding lawn. Then after all seven, soggy, lead weight rolls were down in a rather staggered pattern, I back filled the edges and gaps all around.

Lawn Care at work

 

Of course there were lots of gaps and pot holes to fill with good soil all over the place. Wow was it exhausting! But despite my aching muscles, there was still the watering step! After all, how could those little strands of grass and tiny seeds become my fabulous lawn without water! But that led to the official turning on of the hose..a rite of summer! Despite a tiny leak, flooding was minimal and now the watering of the sod takes place each and every day, as I wait for ten more sleeps to see how my hard work turns out!

 

 

 

May Showers

May 1, 2012

 

 

Hello. As I write this entry I am listening to the rain that is taking April and turning it into May, and eavesdropping on the thirsty plants drinking in all that water! Certainly this rain is well needed to help them send out a solid root base for their new growth. Just think of how tall they’ll get!

Of course my lawn is moving on up that way as well. Certainly at this time of year the weeds are highest, followed by many heights of grass. In the front there are patches almost six inches tall. Of course that’s because our lawn mower of last season has died and hand trimming is definitely not an option.

Instead, the choice made this morning was to go mower shopping after work…who knew rain was definitely coming (except of course for the weather people). Despite the rain, the old carbon spewing mower was driven to its grave…a major big box store giving a large discount on “Eco Friendly “mowers. Now a lovely battery operated one sits in its box waiting to be assembled. Welcome to the future where we put up with the uncertainty of results in favour of the planet.

While the planet can’t thank us personally, certainly every little bit helps. Please consider that when you make a new garden tool purchase or pick up herbicides and pesticides. Of course my completely organic lawn means neighbours are less than happy with every weed imaginable living and roaming free. Now if someone could just come up with a way of corralling them or chocking the life out of them in an environmentally friendly way, we could all benefit…of course I meant the weeds should die, not the neighbours!

In the meantime I will try the natural way to rid my lawn of the unruly weeds. So far this spring I have dug up over 100 dandelions, yanked up a yard waste bag or two of creeping wide leaved green things and planned another post rain assault. In the past I have sprayed heated vinegar along sidewalk cracks and on stubborn clumps of weeds, with limited success. Still, as Astro turf is not a natural or affordable option, some good lawn care is really the best plan.

 

Pretty lawn weed

 

Yes, despite the state of my lawn, I do know what should be done, especially now that the warmer weather is coming up. As the lawn has been thoroughly raked and has been aerated, a two part plan is coming up. First I will put down some good soil, especially on the slope where grass is almost gone. Then I will get a good brand of grass seed that can do well in shade or a good mixture that I can spread on the whole lawn. Between better soil, being kept moist and careful attention, by me, the family gardener, the green tufts should be everywhere.

Or there may be a plan B in the works, which is costlier but less work in the long run. After good soil is placed on the slope and in the biggest hollows, then rolling out some sod and firmly packing it down is the next step. Of course keeping it moist is important too and a mild fertilizer would help also. Knowing me, this strategy would probably give more consistent results. After all, since in the past I have not consistently watered the seeds, once germination has really just begun, then the poor strands of grass begin to shrivel up! What a sad tale…the waste of time, effort and water.

With just these basic guidelines, some good fertilizer and lots of manual labour, I hope, to have a lawn to be proud of before long. Of course if nothing else, I have lovely bulbs still in bloom which redeems me somewhat. If I know anything, it is that nobody holds all the answers, except maybe the internet…the best garden guide one can find at your fingertips. Now it’s time to rest my typing digits…and check my eyelids for leaks…Chow Baby.