Gardening Blog

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

Low-maintenance Monday: Astrantia major or masterwort

Astrantia major, commonly called masterwort, is also called Hattie’s pincushion. That’s because the ruby-red flowers look like pincushions. Master gardener and lecturer, Belinda Gallagher of Hooked on Horticulture, chose Astrantia major ‘Ruby Wedding’ as a superior plant choice in Gardening from a Hammock.

Masterwort lasts almost eight weeks in Belinda’s garden. “It is a very cool plant because it feels like a dried flower,” she explains. “When picked it lasts a long time in water.”
 The ‘Ruby Wedding’ variety is a deeper pink than the species, and provides colour in the shade in midsummer. The star-like flowers bloom June to August, and may even re-bloom in the fall. The leaves are interesting as they are dark green and deeply lobed. The starry flowers provide an intense, brilliant, ruby red colour.

Masterwort grows 60 to 70 cm high, with a 45- to 60-cm spread in zones 3 to 9. It has many uses in addition to providing colour in the shade. Try it as a filler anywhere in a sunny or shady garden, or in mixed containers. These long-flowering perennials are ideal when planted in borders or along streams. The cut flowers are outstanding and are easily dried for winter arrangements.

An added bonus is that slugs don't like astrantias, so interplanting them among other shade plants tends to repel the creatures. photo by Heritage Perennials

Astrantia major ‘Ruby Wedding’ is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

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?

 

 

 

 

Low-maintenance Monday: Maidenhair fern

Adiantum pedatum is a name that rolls off the tongue like an ancient song or a musical chant. Yet it will mislead you. It looks dainty because of its delicate, doily-like, finely divided foliage, but maidenhair ferns are some of the toughest plants around.

Botanist, teacher and nursery owner Martin Galloway saw them on Newfoundland’s Table Mountain where the environment is toxic to almost every other plant. “They survive when it is very hot, extremely cold, and where there are no nutrients in the soil because of metals,” he says. “They also grow in deep shade beneath giant trees. Although the ferns look delicate and lacy, they are indestructible.”

Teacher and lecturer Frank Kershaw calls them tough as nails. “Any garden would appreciate a maidenhair fern.” Kershaw adds that it provides richness to the garden.

The maidenhair fern adds bright green foliage as well as texture to the garden. Photo courtesy of Heritage Perennials.

The maidenhair fern grows 30 to 60 cm high and wide. It has a rounded clump of delicate, fan-shaped fronds with light green lacey leaves on purple-back stems. The fern thickens from the root. A thin leaf stalk emerges in spring liked a coiled violin head and contrasts with its fan-like sculpted leaflets.

An interesting fact is that these plants have water-repelling compounds in their foliage so water runs off the leaves. Even when the plant is immersed in water, the leaves remain dry.

For an interesting collection of plants with the same leaf shapes in a variety of sizes, Aldona Satterthwaite, executive director at the Toronto Botanical Garden, suggests planting maidenhair ferns and hellebores under fiveleaf aralia. These have similar leaf shapes, but different textures and sizes. Maidenhair ferns also contrast well with the bold foliage of hostas.

Adiantum pedatum is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

My problem with purslane and my new favourite weeder

While some of my vegetable plants have been looking a little sad in the hot, humid weather we’ve had of late, one plant that seems to be thriving in my garden is purslane. I know, it has more antioxidants than kale, but I’d much rather it grow in orderly rows like the rest of my garden. So instead of eating it, I decided to wage war on it. The problem was, that instead of pulling out big wads of purslane (which is quite easy when the plants get to a certain size), there were little, individual shoots everywhere! I remembered that I had a WeedComb in the shed and dug it out to try.

My WeedComb was the right tool to tackle an overabundance of purslane!

By scraping it across the soil, the WeedComb lifted each individual piece of purslane up and out of the soil by the roots. On a hot, sunny day, it made my job much easier. You need a different type of weeder to conquer dandelions and other deeply rooted weeds, but for annoying weeds that have shallow roots and spread, like creeping Charlie and purslane, I’ll be using my WeedComb.

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.

 

Garden eye spy: Marvellous mushrooms

In the first ‘Garden eye spy‘ photo post, I mentioned how gardens always seemed magical to me as a little girl. So when I happened upon this sweet little mushroom standing bravely by itself on the side of a busy road, that sense of mystery once again came rushing back.

Photo by Laura L. Benn

Thoughts of Alice in Wonderland danced through my head as I set to work photographing this magnificent plant that looks like it grew straight out of a fairytale. Wild mushrooms always appear to be bursting with character and become lovely features in a garden space, don’t you think?

{Laura L. Benn is the Multi-brand Web Content Editor at TC Media.  Follow her writing, photography and other creative ventures on her blog, Acquired Taste or via Twitter.}

Low-maintenance Monday: Butterfly bush

I have almost killed our butterfly bush many times by cutting it back too much and at the wrong time, pruning it improperly and not watering it. Yet it continually forgives and survives my mistreatment, blooming its heart out with striking, bold, blue-purple flowers from mid to late July until the first frost. It fills the garden with butterflies and other busy pollinators. I now leave it alone most of the time, except for admiring it from afar. It’s much safer that way.

Photo © Alan Lagadu, iStock

Master gardener Merle Burston, one of our wonderful gardeners featured in Gardening from a Hammock, raves about the ‘Potter’s Purple’ butterfly bush or Buddleia davidii. She likes it not only for its appealing flower, but also for the fact that it attracts the Monarch butterfly to the garden. Buddleias provide food for the butterfly during its migration.

This shrub grows tall, up to 1.2 metres high and 1 metre wide in zones four to nine. It boasts deep purple flowers. ‘Potter’s Purple’ has a rounded habit and large, dark green leaves. It is doubly appreciated as its blooms arrive just as many other plants in the garden are spent. As well, it is fragrant and provides dramatic cut flowers.

Ideally you would grow it in full sun, but it can handle partial sun, as well. Start it in moist, well-drained soil and the plant will become moderately drought tolerant once established. It is recommended to cut all the old wood back to about 30 cm in the spring to get a more compact plant. Don’t worry, it will grow back quickly by late summer.

‘Potter’s Purple’ butterfly bush is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

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.

 

 

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