{ Author Archive - April Demes }

Rescuing garden centre orphans

The height of summer hits and it’s inevitable: heat ravaged, root bound annuals get deeply slashed price tags. And I, being me, can’t help but take a quick gander through the rows of pallets and flats at the local big box.

This year I scored: a few weeks ago two plants from my wish list, wood forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica) and an all-yellow Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicaule ‘Pacino’), were languishing away hidden among the dried-out grasses, begging me to take them home for a buck a piece. How could I refuse?

Back home though, reality set in. How would I keep this poor things from going even further downhill when I added transplant stress and a heat wave to their list of complaints?

Well, they lived for me to tell the tale, so I’ll tell you what I did: after transplanting them I top dressed them with a couple handfuls each of worm compost and watered them in well. Then, for about the first week, in addition to keeping them watered, I covered them with milk crates I have kicking around.

This is a trick taught to me by an old friend, now gone. It keeps the airflow at maximum while keeping the transplants in the shade while they get the feel of their new home, and is heavy enough that it doesn’t blow away like a cardboard box might.

After that first week, I took the crates on and off randomly for a few days to expose the plants gradually to the sun. They’ve been unprotected (but still watered well) now for a good five days and here they are:

 

 

They need a little clean up, but lots of happy growth going on. I’d call this rescue successful… do you think it counteracts the sow thistle I can’t seem to catch up with?

 

Lost and found

I’m forever losing things in the garden. I can spend ten minutes going back and forth the yard trying to locate the trowel that I just had in my hand. And despite owning three good pairs of secateurs, I’m pretty proud of myself when one is where it belongs in my apron.

I’m probably the only one this happens to. Maybe it’s just another symptom of my slightly scatterbrained existence. It’s usually harmless, at most mildly frustrating. I generally find what I’m looking for. Eventually. Even if it’s next spring.

But last week I lost something I don’t want to wait until next spring to find: my wedding band. It slipped off at some point, I’m pretty sure while I was in the garden. I’ve sifted through the piles of pulled weeds; nothing turned up. My usual patience with lost items is gone. I want to find that ring.

Chris has offered to track down a metal detector so we can keep up the hunt. It’s a great idea, but I do wonder what else will be found, once we actually go looking? Our house sits on the same land as the original community school did back in the day, so every once in a while we dig up a little piece of history, like this 1941 Canadian penny that recently turned up in my yard, King George and all. How many horseshoe nails will we find before my ring turns up?

I suppose it’s the unexpected finds–the things you weren’t looking for–that are the most fun, from volunteer plants and unusual wildlife, to coins and bits of farrier miscellany. I could wax philosophical here, about finding pleasure in the unexpected, taking life as it comes, not stressing out about things that don’t go according to your own little plan…

All true. But I really want my ring back.

 

Status report, post-storm

Thank you, hail storm.

Siding: intact.

Windows: intact.

Shingles: not so much.

Car: dented.

Van: dented. No broken glass. <relieved sigh>

Corn: surviving.

Broccoli: untouched!

Pumpkins: assaulted, but redeemable.

Trees: ripped up, leaves strewn over the lawns and streets; carrying on admirably.

Flowers: surprisingly, unsquashed! Floppy comfrey and Rudbeckia, but stems intact.

Nieghbors and friends: many much worse off.

Insurance claims: large.

Local glass companies: in for a busy week.

Gratitude: grown.

Respect for Mother Nature: intact.

Dear deer:

Hello. I don’t know if you remember me; I’m the lady you’ve dodged on the highway numerous times, the one who lives in the big white house you mosey past on your way up into the hills behind town.

It’s been lovely to watch you wander through over the years, and I don’t mind you bedding down in the back pasture from time to time. I have not even begrudged you the chomps taken out of some of the beets last fall. Overall, the unspoken understanding between us has been honoured: I leave you alone, you come and go with a minimum of disruption.

Until this year. I don’t know why you have broken our peaceful truce, but it is clearly over: every single one of my pea plants has had the top neatly munched off. Every developing pod is ending up in someone’s stomach, and it’s not mine.

I haven’t offended you in some way, have I? Is it repercussions from the collision two years ago? Are you against the lilac hedge we put in? Is this a protest?

I know you need to eat. I’m perfectly willing to feed you. There is grass, and buttercups, and lamb’s quarters… heck, have some stork’s bill! It’s abundant, and I have no plans to eat it, as opposed to the peas.

I bear you no ill will, but you must identify the offending Bambi and get him in line or I will be forced to take action. I have netting; don’t make me use it.

Sincerely,

April

How simple gardening is

I have so much to do in the garden right now, but we’re in the middle of a heat wave and I’ve completely lost motivation for weeding, raking, mowing… pretty much everything except sitting, and filling and emptying water glasses. I know things are only getting worse, but I can’t even care right now, between being overwhelmed and being hot.

I did spend some time with my first-grader, going through the marvellous stack of papers he’s brought home from school. (I know, they’ve been waiting for two full weeks. Sue me.) Amongst them I found this, which is now going to live, framed, in my shed, as a sweet reminder not to over-complicate the joy of growing.

It's one of these cut-it-out-and-put-it-in-the-right-order things. As fun as it is to revel in the details, sometimes it just comes down to this, doesn't it?

 

 

 

 

The kind of mushrooms anyone could love

It’s been a damp spring here, and there are all sorts of mushrooms popping up in corners of our property, including right in the middle of the lawn. I know some people consider fungi sprouting in the middle of their lawns unsightly and annoying, but I consider them part of the natural balance in the ecosystem and generally let them be; eradicating toadstools isn’t near as much fun as playing fairy ring with my little girls. (No taste testing allowed–though I keep thinking I need to learn what’s what in case there are some edible ones around here.)

Even with my mushroom loving heart, I was a little surprised when Chris hauled me outside this week to show me what he’d “found” in the lawn:

 

That biggest one is a good foot tall, and for a tiny moment I thought I was in the Amazon or on Pandora. Then I remembered this was Chris, and realized I was looking at recycled salad bowls, chair legs, and driftwood. Ever the creative genius, he’d put them together over the afternoon, given them a quick coat of stain, and poked them artistically into the grass. He fooled me, I admit it.  He took in a couple of neighbours too, before they got in a little closer and noticed the grain in the wood.

I’m craving some portobellos now… but despite their inedibility, I’m quite pleased with the newest addition to my garden menagerie.

Five great gardening picture books to share

Ah, summer. The days are warm, the garden’s up, the hammock and a novel beckons… but as the kids are out of school, I’ll need to make some room in the hammock for them too, and before I get to my novel, there will be some kids books to read. Luckily, I have a soft spot for great picture books, and it will be nothing short of a pleasure to go through a stack of stories to be read aloud. And if they’re about gardens and plants? Who can argue.

Here’s a list of a few favourites of mine on the theme of gardening; there are many, many more out there; check your local library and go find a kid at the family reunion if you don’t have any at home. Sharing a book is a great way to pass on your love of gardening. But really, you can enjoy these wonderful stories yourself, even if you don’t have the excuse of a child at your side.

 

The Curious Garden, by Peter Brown

I am forever grateful to my friend Erika for leading me to this book. It has a slightly mischievous feel to it that I love, as little Liam’s adopted garden starts sneaking out into the big grey city and changing the landscape for the better. An environmental statement perhaps, but told with a light hand and coloured with playful images.

 

The Tiny Seed, by Eric Carle

 

The life cycle of a flowering plant seems like the stuff for science textbooks, but in the hands of the masterful Eric Carle, it becomes a story full of beauty, drama, and insight. If you aren’t familiar with this author/artist, bring home The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Very Busy Spider, and the Mixed-Up Chameleon as well.

The Gardener, by Sarah Stewart, illustrations by David Small

A young girl is sent from her beloved farm to her uncle’s city bakery to help the Depression-struck family stay afloat. She brings with her a bundle of nerves and a suitcase full of flower seeds, and attempts the impossible: getting a smile out of Uncle Jim. An engaging, ‘bloom where you are planted’ story with Caldecott Honor-winning illustrations. Don’t miss it.

 

Growing Vegetable Soup, by Lois Elkhart

 

Lois Elkhart’s signature paper-cut art takes you through the planting, watering, and growing of all the veggies Father and child want in their soup. Bold colours and labeled objects make this a fun talk-about book for the curious set. Try the provided recipe, too!

 

And Then It’s Spring, by Julie Fogliano, illustrations by Erin E. Stead

Okay, so maybe a little off season right now, but the woodcut and pencil illustrations are just gorgeous, and the simple, sparse poetry of the story so inviting when read aloud. (There’s a “greenish hum” coming from the ground! I wish I wrote that.) The anticipation of spring is perfectly captured, and the fun little details in the pictures will have you going through it again and again. And your preschooler compatriots, too.

 

The war on weeds: stork’s bill

I had the unfortunate pleasure of being introduced to a new weed last year, one I had never seen before, but since then, I’ve seen it plenty.

This is the mess my broccoli is trying to survive in. The predominant plant you see at centre, with the divided, pinnate leaves and reddish stems, is known as stork’s bill (Erodium cicutarium). It first showed up in the carrot patch, and maybe because of the similarity of the leaves, I didn’t really notice it until these pretty purple-pink, five-petaled flowers showed up. My smallest girls loved to pick the tiny flowers for fairy stories, and so I was somewhat forgiving of this plant, though it began to pop up beyond the carrots. Cleaning up last fall, I noticed hairy, pointy little seed capsules catching on my cloth gloves. They looked uncannily like… a bird’s bill? Indeed. And they hitched a ride on almost anything they touched. This did not bode well, and sure enough, this spring, the still-anonymous weed had taken over half the veggie patch.

Time for an education.

After a little Google digging and a simultaneous call to my horty sister, we ID’ed this little demon and I’m horrified. “New seedlings emerge very quickly after each tillage operation in the summerfallow. Therefore, it is not unusual to have five or six growths of this weed during the summerfallow year,” says the Saskatchewan government agriculture site. No wonder it’s everywhere. The good news: though it is a prolific germinator, it is an annual, and only reproduces from seed. I was having waking nightmares of bits of left-behind leaves regenerating themselves…  the roots uttering diabolical chuckles and sending out rhizomes to all quarters…

I did find it interesting to read that one of the recommended control measures for this weed is a planting of fall rye. When I got to thinking about it, it’s true: In the north end of the veggie patch, where I planted fall rye the last two years simply for green manure, there is very little stork’s bill. It’s the south end that’s overrun. Looks like I’ll be buying more rye seed this fall. After a whole lot of weed pulling… sorry girls, use the phlox for your fairy flowers. I don’t want any more of those poky seeds in my gloves or the soil.

My flowers are more purple than this drawing shows, but those pointy little seed heads are EXACTLY the same.

 

 

Volunteers

Things in my veggie patch are finally starting to green up after a chilly spring here in Alberta, and I when I went to check on things this is what I saw:

Lovely, healthy pea plant, right? Right. Except this is the corn patch. See it there in the front, all two-to-three inches of it?

Apparently, more pea pods than I realized made it through the winter and got dug under enough to sprout. Someone <ahem> must have also put some ripe sunflower heads in the compost, because they’re all over the place too.

Now here’s the thing. These ‘volunteer’ peas are twice the size of the ones I planted on purpose. I haven’t gotten around to planting any sunflowers yet, and the volunteers are already eight inches up. So are they weeds, to be yanked with the dandelions? Or do I let the peas climb the corn, assuming the corn (‘Speedy Sweet’) catches up to all that robust growth? The sunflowers coming up close to the broccoli might offer just enough shade to keep the brassicas happy through the hotter parts of summer. Or will the volunteers suck all the water and nutrients and compromise the things I intended to grow? I’ve tried companion planting before, with good success, but it was always… you know… on purpose.

I’m still thinking about it. And getting Jefferson Airplane in my head every time I do… but the more I think, the more I’m reminded that my intentions and Mother Nature’s should probably be meeting somewhere in the middle.

Rain: we’re never happy

Three weeks ago, everyone was saying, “We sure could use some rain.” And now that it’s pouring (and hailing, with funnel clouds and all), everyone’s saying, “It’s so wet! What we really need is some heat to get the crops and gardens going!”

Though it feels like a bit of deja vu, here I am talking about the weather again. But I don’t want to complain today. No, despite my nagging compulsion to get outside being thwarted by the unbelievable wet, I am here today to pay homage to the rain. Where would we be without it? Really, think about that for a minute.

So in the spirit of gratitude, here’s some tunes for your rainy day party… or if you’re needing moisture in your neck of the woods, maybe have yourself a little rain dance.

http://8tracks.com/aprildemes/rainy-day

 

 

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