{ Archive for the ‘seasons’ Category }

My first holiday urn

A few weeks ago as I was leaving my local nursery, I noticed all their big containers were on sale. I’ve always wanted an iron urn, so I grabbed one before they were gone. It has sat empty and lonely on my porch–until this past weekend. Saturday I went back to that same nursery and grabbed some Fraser fir boughs and magnolia leaves. Then, I took my pruners around the yard and cut some cedar boughs, red berry clusters (I have no idea what the plant is, but it’s thorny like a rosebush) and a little bit of what I think is euonymous. Then I was ready to roll.

Last year I wrote an article about the gorgeous holiday pots Jim McMillen from Landscapes in Bloom puts together for his clients each year. I used his technique of mounding soil in the pot and dampening it a little. The idea is everything will freeze in place (step-by-step instructions can be found here). I added some sticks I had kicking around in the garage in the centre. Then, starting with the Fraser fir boughs all cut to the size I wanted, I started sticking them in the dirt around the edge of the pot, keeping a clock face in mind: 12, 3, 6 and 9. Then I filled in the spaces with the cedar followed by the magnolia leaves. Once I got to the middle, I stuck some branches with red clumps of berries at the end for colour. To fill in the spaces and add some contrast, I added a little euonymous.

I’ve included a couple of photos below. I’m really happy with the results, though because my house sits on a hill, you can’t really see the red berries from the street. But those who venture up to the house can enjoy them up close!

My Christmas urn fits perfectly in a gap beside my front stoop.

Up close you can see the contrast between all the different types of branches. I think I need to turn those magnolia leaves at the front so they're not as bunchy!

Christmas is coming… but so is spring, right?

It’s puking snow outside right now, I’ve got a community Christmas party to pull off on Friday, and gifts to wrap, and what am I doing?

Throwing around ideas for fresh landscaping on the west side of my house.

There’s something dangerously inspiring about this time of year, when no actual weeding, digging, hauling, or paying is required, and the imagination can run wild. You see, ever since the power company removed the three poplars along the front of the house, my whole perspective has shifted.

This is my blank slate: big line of poplars, with a lilac at the front and open space where the stumps are.

The light is different, the view is different, the possibilities seem endless. That, combined with the hurricane-speed winds southern Alberta has had the past couple of weeks and I’m excited to get started on the windbreak I’ve been wanting to establish.

Here’s where I want to start:

 

My sister even ventured to suggest extending the flower bed in front of the house into a bed around these bushes. That made me remember that I’ve toyed with the idea of turning this whole swath of  blah lawn, between the house and the trees, into a meadow. I’ve got plant lists for it already and everything…

I should be shoveling snow and working on this party. I should be singing carols and crocheting the scarf I started in front of the fire. I should be tucked up in bed with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head, but all I’m seeing are crabapples and baby spruce. And my Christmas wish list? A new crockpot, a capo for my guitar, more quick connects for the hoses, new garden lights, a forsythia, 2/3 of the Lee Valley Tools catalogue, pasqueflower root cuttings…

I don’t usually start living for spring until at least March. Or February.

I better get back in the moment over here or this is going to be one long winter.

Jack Frost comes to town

School is back in, the trees are changing color, and bugs are (attempting) to move inside: fall is unavoidably here. Some of you may still be weeks away from killing frost, but we’ve already had a couple of light ones here in Alberta.

Last winter I geeked out and did a bunch of reading on frost, thinking some theory might help my practical application this year. I had visions of early planting, and harvesting veggies and displaying flowers well into October. Not much of my vision materialized, as I still live in the real world, and I definitely haven’t reached the caliber of Niki Jabbour, but it’s cool to understand more about how weather works. And spreading sheets over the pumpkins with a flashlight after dark last week was totally worth buying them another couple of weeks’ growth.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned this year that may help you predict, and hopefully outwit, Jack Frost, and buy yourselves a little more time in the garden.

First off, find a weather website you like or buy one of those weather stations from the hardware store. The Weather Network actually has a Lawn and Garden forecast, including frost predictions and watering advice. A little info goes a long way.

Next, be prepared for frost. Have some old sheets or lengths of burlap ready to cover plants, as well as something to weigh them down against the wind. Small straw bales, a cold frame, or cloches will also do the insulating job. Have a spot in mind in the shed or garage to move containers of annuals to when you get a frost warning. Do a little research if you’re not sure which of your plants need frost protection. Bronze, hairy, or compact plants, as well as those closely spaced, will be naturally more protected, but don’t count on most annual flowers, squash, tomatoes, peppers, or corn to stand up to frost without being covered overnight. Carrots, beets, and most members of the cabbage family, as well as many other vegetables, don’t mind frost.

If you want to actually predict a frost, the first thing to do is look up. Clear, calm skies are a sign frost make strike, especially if afternoon temperatures start falling fast. Frost is less likely to occur under a cloudy sky, or when there is fog, as the day’s heat is trapped closer to the earth. This is part of why covering plants protects them–it traps some of the heat from the earth close to your plants.

Then assess the wind. If it’s strong, especially if it’s coming from the northwest, cover things up. Movements of large, cold air masses often bring on killing frost. But very still nights allow the coldest air to settle to the ground, also risking the temperature for your plants to hit zero. A light breeze will keep temperatures higher, unless that wind itself is below freezing.

Higher humidity decreases the risk of frost. This has to do with all the high school chemistry you’ve blocked out regarding warmer air being able to hold more water molecules. (See the next bit on dew point.) I’ve known people to water in annuals to protect them when a light frost threatens, though I’ve never tried it myself. The science backs them up: when the air is dry, evaporation sucks warmth out of the soil, making for chilly plants. By attempting to increase the moisture available, these gardeners “insulate” plants from the cooling effect of evaporation. Same goes for the old standby of covering things–it keeps the moisture close to your plants.

So here’s the real nitty-gritty of how frost actually appears–feel free to skip this paragraph if you’re not into scientific explanations. Basically, the dew point is the temperature at which the moisture vapor in the air will condense back into liquid, based on the given factors, most importantly, humidity. If the air temperature drops to the dew point above freezing, you get wet summer grass and diamond-scattered spiderwebs. If the dew point is below zero, and the temperature drops to it, the water vapor is changed directly into solid form–ice–and you see lovely feathery crystals on the edges of everything. Now, if the dew point is below zero, and the air temperature drops below zero but doesn’t reach the dew point, you won’t technically have frost, but tender plants will be damaged by the freezing temperatures. The other thing that can happen is the water vapor condenses at a dew point above zero, leaving dew, but the temperature continues to fall below zero, forming a coat of ice. So if you know the dew point and the overnight low, you can predict a frost.

If you’re really of a mind to change your relationship with frost, you may want think right down to the bones of your garden, your location and its physical features. Ever noticed that your neighbor can get white tipped lawn when you don’t? Higher altitude increases frost risk because the air is thinner and the average air temperature is lower. But low areas in the garden can be more susceptible to freezing because cold air is heavier than warm and tends to sink. Gentle slopes that expose the garden to the sun are more protected, open spaces plagued by wind are not. Houses, fences, and water bodies can be heat sinks and/or wind breaks that protect from cold air. Allowing places in the garden where wind can move, and hence, cold air escape, will also be protective. And that old saw about starting with the soil if you want better plants? It’s true in this case too: Fertile soil holds more moisture and passes it into the air more efficiently compared with sandy or deficient soil. And we know that humidity is good.

There. Don’t you feel smarter?

 

 

 

The pre-autumn slump

I came home from vacation to find more than a bit of a mess in my garden. Three weeks of heat and a temperamental irrigation system meant that things didn’t get watered consistently and all the annuals are dead or flat-lining. I thought I’d gotten the weeds under control, but they were back, seeding their fool heads off. The peas were overripe, the broccoli bolting, the onions flowering. Sigh.

Half of me wants to start a flurry of work and get things ship-shape again (or finally, depending on your perspective), and the other half of me wants (gasp) winter to show up early to hide all my sins, and just start again next spring. (If the “s” word starts falling in the next 48 hours, I guess you can blame it on me.) I’ve spent the week trying to catch back up. Some things have gotten done, but the list is getting longer instead of shorter thanks to the fall chores starting to arrive.

I thought I’d cheer myself up by planting some trees. A neighbor gave us some seedlings he cleaned out of his windbreak: three maples, two ash, and a random crab apple. I got four in the ground, watered and mulched, and then it started raining. While out there, I also realized that four trees at the very back of our property which we were told were baby Manitoba maples when we put them in 6 years ago, aren’t maples at all. They’re ash trees. I’d taken some one’s word and never looked closely again until now.

I feel like an idiot.

And my garden is a mess.

And it’s raining. Okay, that’s actually kind of good, just not what I was hoping for…

Maybe things aren’t that bad. It’s just days like this that make me think I’m a better writer than I am a gardener. At least, I hope I am.

Wow. I’m sure I’ll get out of this funk when fall sets in properly; it’s this in-between that’s getting to me. Anyone want to join me at the greenhouse tomorrow to look at the pretties? Maybe I’ll choose some fall bloomers to disguise the travesties in my front yard. That should get me through until it’s dry enough to work again.

And please forgive me for even mentioning the season coming next.

My case of the gardening blues

I’ve had a wee case of the gardening blues this past summer. You see, I sold my house at the very end of April and then thought for sure I’d be moving by the summer. Then we did buy a house with a summer closing, but had to make the heart-wrenching decision to walk away after our house inspection went awry. So then when we finally did find another house, it came with an October closing date. I never imagined it would take me six months to get into my new place. I had dreams of working in my new garden, seeing what came up and adding a few little gems before working on a bigger long-term plan.

This has made me feel somewhat disconnected from my own little garden. My summer has consisted of halfheartedly planting some late veggies, dutifully giving my pots and gardens the minimum water requirements to live, and woefully picking weeds out of our new front garden that we converted from lawn (hey, isn’t mulch supposed to suppress the weeds?). I admit it. I have had a really bad attitude about my garden (which is also why I’ve had a hard time blogging), but my heart just hasn’t been in it this summer.

October is still really far away and I don’t want to wish away the rest of this gorgeous summer. So I’ve decided to suck it up and start fresh. It occurred to me the other day that I could still have my fun with this garden while planning a little for the other. First of all, I’ve started taking a garden inventory of all the plants I hope to plant in my new garden. I’ll cover more of this in a future post. Secondly, BULBS! I can order bulbs for the new garden and still safely get them into the ground before the first frost (I hope). I’ve dug out a couple of catalogues to start taking a look.

First on my list, however, whether I like it or not is tackling those darned weeds…

Have you ever suffered from the gardening blues?

Summertime, and the livin’ is…

…easy, a little too easy.

It’s tough to get motivated on that weed pulling when there’s picnics and beaches calling. I’ve done more kayaking this week than lawn mowing, and hanging the hammock seems more appealing than hauling hoses. But it must be done, and there’s a part of me, buried deep under the sunscreen, that really does want to do it. So I made myself a ‘summer garden’ playlist to kick-start my work ethic. And being the generous person I am, I’m sharing it with you. Hope you enjoy. If it’s not your taste, make your own and share it.

Summer Gardening Mix

Things to do while it’s raining

Day 1

-Grumble about wishing I had more planted before the weather changed.

-Resolve to be productive anyway.

-Enjoy the smell of spring rain.

-Tidy up the shed.

-Read gardening magazine/books.

Day 2

-Grumble a bit; then think positive.

-Edge a flower bed, careful not to step in the bed.

-Clean some tools that got missed in the fall.

-Measure the rainfall.

-Watch birds.

-Read more.

Day 3

-Sigh.

-Do top-to-bottom organize of shed.

-Repair and prepare hoses (meant to get that done ages ago, three points for me!).

-Watch grass grow in front of my eyes.

-Inventory seeds that could have… I mean, will be planted.

Day 4

-Go to greenhouse for sympathy and support.
-Update garden scrapbook.

-Count worms.
-Tidy up houseplants.

Day 5

-Watch dandelions go to seed.

-Lose boot in mud after attempting to “check on things”.

-Consider collecting stamps with flowers, trees, and vegetables on them.

-Retire to couch with scrapbook and magazines.

-Give up and actually get something done inside the house.

At least I am well prepared with my new boots!

The epic search for puddle boots

My footwear of choice for gardening is a pair of beat up Crocs, but I see rain boots as a stand-by piece of equipment for the dedicated gardener. When you’re digging a big planting hole or fishing something out of a pond, dealing with prickly brush or wrestling with ornery hoses, you want your feet good and protected. My old stand-by black rubber boots got a crack in the heel last fall, so I told Chris I wanted new, fun ones for Mother’s Day. He said, “Great, go ahead and find the ones you want.” Smart man, huh?

So the last couple of times I’ve been in town I’ve looked around a bit (translate: while dashing through the grocery list with the kids I’ve noticed a few), but never took the time to try anything on. But this week I found myself in Edmonton all by myself (!) with a few hours to kill (!!) and decided to find my new puddle boots. Fairly straightforward, right?

Well, let me tell you.

I thought with the old “April showers” saw it would be easy to check a hand full of retailers and be able to peruse a reasonable selection of rain boots for somewhere between $15-$40, depending on the quality. Not so much. Walmart, Old Navy, and Payless had all gotten rid of theirs already: either sold or sent back to the company because the “season is over.”

Excuse me? The runways and window dressers may be switching gears to flip flops, but there’s still plenty of mud at my house. Are we expecting NO rain ALL summer? A lovely lady at the Shoe Company in Calgary sympathized with me: “How come they don’t realize it’s not just about fashion around here, but also nessecity?” She had a great pair of green ones, but they had a fuzzy, winter-minded lining. Pass. The few I did see were either no fun, ill-fitting, or not my size.

I’m kind of picky about my footwear because I have widish feet with high arches (thanks, mom) and fit is tricky, especially with a fairly rigid item like rubber boots. I was against getting anything online for this reason, but since the on-the-shelf retail life for rain boots appears to be 9.3 days, I decided to see what I could find in the web world.

Kamik Janis Plum Rain Boots

Love these, but they're kind of tall and kind of more than I wanted to spend. Also they seem awfully narrow through the ankle = impossible for me to get on.

Gum Drops has a pretty impressive range of choices, but the prices are mostly higher. Sears carries a few, there’s some American retailers, Walmart’s website has nothing but Spiderman…

Sperry Top-Sider® Women's Waterproof 'Nellie' 8'' Fashion Rainboots

These are available from Sears, but I'm not crazy about the colors.

Then I found RainCo — a Ladner, B.C. company that makes their own funky rain boots (and umbrellas!). They have several styles, including a shorter-topped one that seems like it would be more comfy for me, and they have a big tab in the back to help pull them on over my beautiful arches. And they come in my favorite color! After checking the return policy, I think I’m going to splurge on these. I love them, so I’m willing to go a little higher in the price range… anybody want to clue me in on other options?

I think these are the winners.

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.

Building my cold frame

Well, it’s not built, but it’s ready to be built. Do I get an ‘A’ for effort?

After studying up on the basics again, I think I’m ready to begin.

When I revamped my front yard in 2009, I planned this spot (where you see my materials waiting) with a cold frame in mind. It’s a south facing wall, out of the worst wind, with full sun exposure. There’s gravel to walk on, as my yard is known to be a mud hole in the spring. Also, it’s about four feet from a tap for quenching thirsty seedlings.

We’ve had this old window sash hanging around since we bought our house (this is where it pays to have a pack rat around). It’s old and worn and absolutely gorgeous. The glass is all intact, but it does wobble just a wee bit. We will probably reinforce it some so it will stand up to being raised and lowered, not to mention kids trying to sit on it, and cats laying on it to bask…

For the box itself, I bought cedar fence board. It’s rougher than your nicely planed boards sold for decking, but I’m not going for any woodworking prizes here. With bottom line in mind, I paid $3.80 each for 6 six foot lengths, a total of 22.80. The 2″x2″ post for the corners I found with the decking stuff; one eight foot length was $4.28. All the hardware I’ll need is kicking around the garage, so all told I’ll pay just over $27 for this project (plus a little sweat and maybe a few splinters).

Next step: power tools!

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