{ Archive for the ‘bulbs’ Category }

New garden, new mission to outsmart the squirrel population

I think my problem with squirrels is pretty well-documented throughout the archives of this blog. They changed me from an optimistic gardener into a hand-waving, cayenne-sprinkling lunatic. I think my green thumb is in for an even ruder awakening. Two weeks ago I moved from my little cottage with its modest yard to a much larger property in the town of Dundas. The yard, with its well-established cedars, peonies, rose of Sharons (roses of Sharon?) and other well-pruned shrubs, is an amazingly blank canvas. Moving in the fall means I have the whole winter to start figuring out what I want to plant, landscape, etc.

In the meantime, I picked up a few bulbs the other day from my new local nursery, the Holland Park Garden Gallery, and planted them on the weekend. As I was digging my holes, one new neighbour stopped on her way by and warned me about the squirrels and chipmunks. She was told that shaking the bulbs in talcum powder helps to remove the human scent. I tucked this bit of advice away, but unfortunately I didn’t have any powder on hand, so I kept digging.

Next, our neighbour on the north side of us gave my husband and I a tour of his garden and his wife warned me that despite buying bulbs squirrels won’t like, I had better lay down some wire mesh to keep them out. Apparently they’ll still dig up the offensive bulbs, but toss them aside and move along. So, I found a roll of some sort of synthetic mesh in the garage (I can’t recall why we would have bought it in the first place, but thought it would do the trick). It’s about a foot wide, so I cut it in strips, laid it over where I planted and secured it in place with old metal tent pegs. I’ve included a photo below.

It's not very pretty, but hopefully it will keep the squirrels away from my daffodil and hyacinth mix!

I also planted some tulips and daffodils in my front garden. They’re in kind of an awkward spot for the “mesh” treatment, so I’m hoping they’ll be okay. (Note: I just glanced outside and there are a couple of freshly dug holes. Drat!)

Well, I’m sure I have plenty of lessons to learn in this new garden of mine besides having to put up with a rampant squirrel population. Did I mention there are also rabbits and deer to contend with?

 

How to repent and overhaul a flower bed

So, some of you may remember the horrid mess I encountered in one of my perennial beds this spring, thanks to my total neglect.

 

I continued my pattern of neglect right through the summer, but this week I decided the time had come to face up to my sins and fix things up. (Actually, I decided this last week, but it rained.)

If you, as I, have a nasty secret in your backyard, here are a few steps you can take to turn your life around.

1. Admit that you are powerless over quackgrass, that it really has become unmanageable.

2. Come to believe that a power greater than a trowel, fork, spade, or tiller is needed. Consider the merits of Roundup.

3. Start digging.

4. Put aside shame and ask for help.

5. Consider the layered newspaper thing. Smack yourself, remembering it is not a match for this particular problem.

6. Keep digging. Remind yourself that you really do need to divide the bulbs and the perennials anyway.

7. Lift all valuable plants. Marvel at the ability of grass roots to penetrate straight through an iris rhizome.

8. Stop for lunch.

9. Dig.

10. Consider Roundup.

11. Vacillate between replanting now, or stashing all the keeper plants in another part of the yard until the grass is really, really, really gone, either by Roundup or newspaper.

12. Remember that grass is never gone; stash plants/bulbs/etcetera in garage and put off decision for tomorrow.

It’s getting to be bulb planting time…

I’m not generally the type to pay a lot of attention to advertising, but I do have an admiration for a clever tagline or whimsical campaign. So when I first saw a Dig.Drop.Done magazine spot, it peaked my curiosity. A brightly colored home, with a vaugely Leave-it-to-Beaver mom at center, precariously icing a zillion-layer cake? And it’s for flower bulbs? I love bulbs. What is this?

I went and had a look at the website. It was started by a group of bulb companies to “promote the joy of bulb gardening and ensure its future in North America.” Much of it is aimed at the beginning gardener as opposed to the seasoned vetran, but some of the pop-up tips from the three “ladies” — mascots of bulb planting — were helpful to me though I’ve been planting bulbs for a good ten years.

Check out their “bulb-pedia” for planting and species info on a very respectable range of flowers; and the ladies’ videos if you’re up for a groan or two…

The wonder of it all

I’m going to stop for a moment from my usual narration of events to draw your attention to the affairs of nature we observe and encourage as gardeners.

Watching seeds sprout and perennial roots send out new shoots, I’ve been thinking – how does this happen? How is it that we take the growth of plants for granted as absolutely normal? Even with the understanding of biology, cell division, photosynthesis, isn’t the the whole process just this side of impossible?

Seeds turning into flower, or food, or tree is simply a part of our lives. We’re surrounded by it. But think for a minute. A tiny 1 millimeter seed. Add water, soil, light, and time, and you’ll end up with a 10 inch carrot. Isn’t that on par with pulling a rabbit out of a hat? Or Scotty beaming us up?

These little packets of cells know entirely what they are doing. They know how to make beautiful, useful somethings out of dang near nothing. And after exposure to cold that would end the life of most respectable living things, many of them come popping up cheerily as if nothing were ever wrong.

I invite you to mentally pack away your spring to do list, your gripes about mud or snow, everything you know about botany and cultivars and fertilizers and landscape design, and go find a crocus or a tree budding. Watch it for a bit. Marvel at the absolute ridiculousness of it all.

And remind yourself–this is reality. And this little bit of reality is a full-on miracle.

My royal (tulip) shame

The day after I left for Amsterdam, my tulips decided to bloom. My husband took some photos for me and we had a good chuckle over the disparity between my sparse, evenly spaced tulips (I was just following the package directions!) and the beautiful clusters that abounded in the gardens of Holland. I've included examples below. This fall, rules be damned, I'm digging a giant hole and pouring a bag of bulbs in it!

My `Purple Princes` and `Pink Emperors`

My `Purple Princes` and `Pink Emperors`

Orange Princes at the Museum Van Loon, part of Amsterdam Tulip Days, a garden tour where 10 canal houses opened their private gardens to the public April 24 and 25.

Orange Princes at the Museum Van Loon, part of Amsterdam Tulip Days, a garden tour where 10 canal houses opened their private gardens to the public April 24 and 25.

One of the many stunning gardens full of tulips at the Keukenhof.

One of the many stunning gardens full of tulips at the Keukenhof.

How do you like your tulips? Freshly picked, or wild and withered?

This morning I headed to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam’s museum district. I wasn’t only interested in the Rembrandt and Vermeer paintings (though they were definitely a highlight), I was curious to see the tulip exhibit featuring rare tulip books from the 1600s. Apparently such books are quite rare as it became common at one point to remove the pages and sell them separately. There are currently two on display. In the one volume, artist Jacob Marrel captured 170 tulips in watercolour. The other book belonged to a rich widow by the name of Agneta Block who often made notes in the margins about the exorbitant prices she paid for her bulbs. Back in the day, tulips were a hot commodity until over-speculation caused the tulip “market” to crash. Along with other colourful tulip images, there are more Marrel pieces on display as well as exquisite ink drawings. What I found interesting was how some of the pieces featured tulips long past their prime. You know how the blooms get when their petals go all wild and crazy before falling off? Apparently artists found the blooms in this state to be much more interesting to paint. Wouldn’t those make for interesting bouquets in the flower market!

The exhibit runs until June 1.

Two tulips a butterfly and a shell (1637-1645) by Jacob Marrel. Photo courtesy of the Rijksmuseum.

Two tulips a butterfly and a shell (1637-1645) by Jacob Marrel. Photo courtesy of the Rijksmuseum.

A floating flower market in Amsterdam

I left two ‘Pink Emperor’ tulips that had just bloomed behind at home to come to the Netherlands, the birthplace of the Western world’s obsession with these spring bloomers. My day started with Van Gogh’s botanically inspired paintings and ended at the famous Bloemenmarkt with a wonderful guide by the name of Paulina. This ‘floating’ flower market on Amsterdam’s Singel canal dates back to 1862 when shipments would arrive by boat. Nowadays the stalls are more permanently secured with endless varieties of bulbs and blooms for sale. Paulina picked up some blue tulip bulbs, which she had never seen before, to plant in her garden. I hope she sends me a photo when they bloom! Here are a few photos I took of the market. Wish I could bring home 50 tulips for six euros!

A view of the Bloemenmarkt from the canal.

A view of the Bloemenmarkt from the canal.

50 tulips were 10 euros at the other end!

50 tulips were 10 euros at the other end!

You could even by dead flowers at the market!

You could even by dead flowers at the market!

My royal tulips and a big fall cleanup

I was way behind on my fall to-dos, but luckily Mother Nature gifted us with a fabulous weekend to finish off those last tasks — putting away the patio furniture, overwintering my pots, cleaning up the gardens and raking (and bagging).

But before I started on the big cleanup, I finally planted the bulbs I bought a few weeks ago (this article said I could)! After reading fellow CanadianGardening.com blogger Anja's piece on bulb planting, I purchased a bulb planter from Sheridan Nurseries. Armed with this handy tool, I dug them all into the ground and cross my fingers the squirrels won’t find them.

I chose my bulbs based on the gorgeous pinks and purples in the package photos. I hope my little royal family of `Purple Princes` and `Pink Emperors` doesn't let me down come spring!

Bulb planting made easy

4-001I finally managed to find some time to play in the garden on the weekend. Although my gardening to-do list wasn’t completed, I did manage to plant all my tulip bulbs. Every fall, I wait till the bulbs are on sale by mid-October they’re normally reduced by 40 to 60% off the regular price. This way I can buy more bulbs, while sticking to my gardening budget.2

When I worked at the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) in Burlington as a student gardener, I had the pleasure of planting tulip bulbs in the Rock Garden. Each year, the Spring Bulb Display showcases over 100,000 bulbs, which are brought in from growers in Holland. After they bloom, the bulbs are dug up and sold at the RBG’s bulb sale. Now consider planting 100,000 bulbs each and every September….now that’s a lot of bulbs.

4Instead of using a trowel to plant the bulbs, we used a bulb planter. Now this handy little tool saves a lot of time. Basically you rotate the handle as you push it into the soil. Once you’ve reached the specific depth, you pull it out. The soil is securely grasped in the cylinder, leaving a perfect hole to plant your bulb. Once you’ve nestled the bulb in its new home, you squeeze the spring-loaded handle, and it releases the soil, tucking the bulb in for the winter. If you’re wondering how far to dig the hole, the cylinder has gradation marks on the side for easy measurements.

5This handy device makes bulb planting a breeze. I spent 20 minutes planting 40 bulbs on the weekend and that included watering the bulbs and cleaning up. Now all I have to do is wait for spring!

Waifs and strays

img_2939Most experienced gardeners know it’s best to invest in a well-grown, top-quality plant. Well tended plants have the vigour and stamina needed to make the successful transition from nursery pot to garden. Once in awhile, though, I’m drawn to a less-than-stellar specimen at an end-of-season sale. Something about it telegraphs, “please give me a chance,” and I do.

Take the tree peony shown here, which was little more than a stick when I scooped it up a couple of years ago for $4. The few leaves it had were healthy and green, so I gave it a little talking to, a bit of TLC and planted it in the ground. This year, it’s powered up into a big, beautiful plant and rewarded me with more than a dozen massive, brilliantly hued blooms.

img_2963Ditto this Japanese maple, which I rescued quite late one fall for $20. A few of its branches had been broken off and it was a bit lopsided, but basically it appeared to be healthy and just needed some gentle pruning. I placed it in the back of the garden where its spindly condition wouldn’t be so noticeable.

Plain old Acer palmatum is the most commonly sold and hardiest of the Japanese maples in our Zone 6 Toronto climate, and I figured it had more of a fighting chance of surviving that first winter than some of the fancier, more finicky, cut-leafed marquee types. I was right. This once-scraggy example is now well on its way to becoming a graceful, shapely small tree.

Of course, I would never buy a plant that is clearly diseased or really needs to go to that great garden in the sky, and neither should you. But it’s fun to adopt a promising mutt and see it grow into a champion.

Another thing I love about gardens is the way mystery plants crop up in unexpected places. These may be gifts from the squirrels or the wind.

img_2931img_2967A lone candelabra or Japanese primula (Primula japonica, far left) appeared in the garden this year. I didn’t plant it, but it seems to have made itself right at home. And columbine (Aquilegia spp., left) in various colours seeds itself hither and yon, including in between the patio pavers.

A couple of doors up, the neighbours have a fine show of Allium giganteum, below. I grow various types of alliums as well, but not this one. However, I now have several of these in my front garden, courtesy of the squirrels (and inadvertently, my neighbour. Luckily I live on a very friendly street).

img_29461Take a look around your garden and see what unexpected gifts you might find out there. And keep your eyes open at the nursery for those orphan plants that deserve a good home and a fighting chance.

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