Gardening Blog

There’s something about the forest…

“What would the world be, once bereft of wet and wildness?

Let them be left.

O let them be left, wildness and wet;

long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.”

–Gerard Manley Hopkins

Zone envy

In the last week I’ve seen a lot of gardens, from formal to cottage and pond-scape to desert-scape. We’ve crossed through several planting zones and I’ve seen plants I’ve only read about. It’s been fun, it’s been educational, and it’s been downright stressful–at least the part about choosing which gardens to see and which to miss.

And while I do pine for a magnolia hardy to Zone 3, and must lapse into ignorant silence when the conversation turns to rhododendrons, I’m a little perturbed by some of the innocent comments I’ve heard from warmer zone gardeners. They seem to communicate that it is somehow better to garden in Victoria compared to Calgary, that I, in my winter-wonderland region, am to be… pitied.

No disrespect meant to all you lovely people in Zone 5 and higher, but sometimes I feel like a second class citizen. You Edmontonians, Winnipeggers, Saskatchewanians: I think you know what I mean.

You open the latest issue of Canadian Gardening, and get ALL exCITed about a featured plant, let’s say… hellebores, just for example… the array of attractive colors, the siting options. The gears start turning in your head and you’ve half designed a cozy little space for them, only to have your little heart break when you realize every variety listed is out of your league, based on one factor: the location you chose to set up shop.

There’s a few things going on here. I’ll admit, part of it may be sour grapes–I really do want hellebores.

But also, there are lots of things we can grow in colder climes, for instance, I’ve got very happy Munstead lavender in my front garden, despite many experts (not this one) rating it at Zone 5. There are varieties of many plants that will stand up to lower zones if you select carefully and maybe plan for a little extra protection.

And who says “more plants” is the only Ace in the gardener’s pocket? Can you grow a greater variety of plants on the west coast? Indubitably. But guess what? I’m not fighting ivy. On my home turf, it’s only hope is as a houseplant. I’ve got more limited choices, but don’t need to worry about road salt or moss or most fungal diseases.

So while I am drooling out here on the island, I’m still looking forward to going back home. I don’t believe one spot is better than any other; the gardener’s cupid pricks us all with a different thorn. My own little plot, with all its weeds and clay, is still mine. It’s my classroom, my cathedral, and no way would I trade it in.

But I will thumb my nose and plant some hellebores… just as soon as my windbreak is established.

How to garden with kids: Part 2

Weeds.

Just like death and taxes.

The question is not what to do with them so much as it is how.

I woke up early the other morning and decided to get outside before it got too hot. I couldn’t believe how much I accomplished in one hour! Why? No phone ringing, no appointments to race against, not cleaning soil out of anyone’s mouth, or negotiating settlement in custody suits over the best toys. No sun beating down, either.

It was a wonderful experience, however rare. The daytime routine usually involves doorbells, babies eating dirt, and irate Tonka truck drivers.

But daytime also means I usually have at least a couple of helpers of the smaller size.

Again, the question is not what to do with them (teach them the value of hard work) so much as it is how.

Insistence? Indeed. Bribery? Occasionally.

1. I remember my mom asking us kids, as teenagers, to help in the garden for just 15 minutes, a couple of times a week. I and my siblings often ended up staying a little longer than that, just to finish the row we were on, or to pick a few raspberries for dessert. I tried this with my young kids. Well, they’re no dummies. Get the clock running, then go find your sunhat, then chose a different tool, then deliberate over which vegetable needs your attention… 15 minutes is gone in no time! So while I may go back to the 15-minute strategy when they get older, my kids are now each assigned a bucket. Fill the bucket with weeds, you’re free. It’s a visual, finite goal they can wrap their heads around. Depending on their age and the desperateness of your situation, use ice cream pails or half-gallon honey buckets. Try sharing a big trug, but be warned, you may end up with accusations over who’s working and who isn’t. It didn’t take them long to figure out that if they pull the biggest weeds, the bucket fills faster, which is great, because those are the ones I want gone the most!

2. I expect a certain level of help from my kids, but I do offer to pay a specified rate for full buckets beyond the required one.

3. I have been known to offer “today only” specials for kids wanting to earn a little coin: when the dandelions were about to set seed this spring, I was paying a dime per root. I’ve spent ten bucks on worse things. (Don’t do the math, please.)

4. As much as a slave driver as I can be, I try to make the experience as pleasant as possible. We like to do our veggie gardening in the evening, when it’s cooler, and we like to visit while we work.

5. If you’ve got more than one kid, like me, experiment with working either all together or one on one, taking turns. You can get a lot done together, but it’s easier to teach one on one without distractions and you can give that child some special attention while the others play.

6. I know a woman who told her kids, “Go pick green beans/peas. Each bean/pea you pick earns you one minute at the dam (the go-to beach two minutes from town).” They were set on earning at least an hour.

7. I learned a lesson from six-year-old Avery this week: he was messing around, not helping at all, while we were cleaning up some suckers around mature trees and the grass around some newly planted ones. He said, “I wish I had a forest right here that I could play army in.” I said, “That’s what we’re working on, Avery. These trees will grow up into a forest if we take good care of them.” Darned if he didn’t dive in and get to work.

Garden Walk Buffalo impresses

I was fortunate enough to visit Garden Walk Buffalo last weekend. With more than 350 private gardens on show, the tour is the largest in the U.S. Over two days on the last weekend in July, enthusiastic gardeners open their yards to about 50,000 walkers.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Victorian garden party

I’m headed off on holidays tomorrow, and part of our trek will take us through Victoria. I’m already drooling at the thought of all the gardens I’ll be seeing… as we drive by… *sniff*.
One stop we are making is at Craigdarroch Castle, a real, live, historic castle! (My little girls are thinking princesses, my boy is thinking storming the gate.)
As luck would have it, we will be there August 13th, the day the Castle is holding a special (and free!) Victorian garden party to mark the completion of their restored grounds! I’ll let you read all the details, and maybe I’ll see some of you there!
(That’s more exclamation points than I usually use in a month…)

In which I plant some healthy ideas and reap some better health

This spring I was having some nasty headaches, which seemed to be developing from my constantly tense shoulders. I was climbing into bed aching and exhausted almost every night, but my life was busy with kids and home and garden and community, and I didn’t take the time to get any help other than having Chris rub my back as I washed supper dishes. I got good and fed up with it one night a couple of weeks ago and called my brother, a chiropractor in Calgary. I told him my symptoms, and he asked me a bunch of questions. He told me his over-the-phone diagnosis boiled down to lousy posture. My back went up immediately – in the figurative sense – but then I realized he was I right. I have pretty horrible posture. I’m a sloucher. He ran through a few stretches I could do, and admonished me to see a massage therapist and a real live face to face chiropractor. I thanked him and went to bed.

The next morning, while digging in the garden planting some very, very, very late potatoes (a girl can dream, right?), I realized I was totally hunching into myself over the shovel, giving what I thought was my all my strength into each step. I stopped, tried to recall what my brother had taught me the night before, and corrected my posture, making a conscience effort to roll my shoulders back and down. I immediately felt a difference. I was actually getting more power with each dig, it took less effort, and was not at all uncomfortable. I realized my gardening habits were likely contributing to my miserable body.

Life hasn’t slowed down any, but I’ve been paying much closer attention to my posture, and I’m already reaping the benefits: no more headaches, fewer body aches, more accomplished in the garden (and the house) because I’m not wasting so much energy. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that I’m making my inconsistent yoga practice more consistent, too. I haven’t fit in a visit to the chiropractor or for a massage, but the minute I find one willing to do house calls at 7 a.m. or 10:30 p.m., I’ll book ‘em.

Here’s a few resources to help you in your efforts to stay healthy.
-Maintaining your core muscles will help your whole body, and protect it from injury. Contracting your abdomen before lifting, bending, etc. will protect your lower back.

-Cultivate healthy gardening habits. Remember, your body is a tool as well. It needs care and proper use.

-A wall angel is the first exercise my brother recommended for my tense shoulders and neck. A great stretch to train your shoulders to a healthier position. Focus on bringing your shoulder blades down and together.
-Yoga Journal has lots of great resources, including a list of positions to target different parts of the body, even to target chronic issues.

-If you’re new to yoga, here’s five great simple stretches for gardeners. (the descriptions are to the right of the pictures.)

-Prevention is always better than treating an injury.

Jenni’s tree chair

With my landscaping overhaul two years ago and various articles this spring, I’ve been thinking a lot about garden furniture this year. It’s a major element missing in my yard.

Being of humble means, and not into grabbing the cheapy trend-of-the-moment patio set from the big box store, (translation: picky, but not rich enough to be) I’ve been biding my time until the right pieces come along. This approach to shopping problems has always served me well. (Pair of black dress boots, my size, exactly the style I wanted but couldn’t find, mint condition, for free, at a garage sale. Oh yeah.)

I’ve thought a lot about the style I would like, and I’m leaning towards rustic without being too stereotypically “cottage” style. (See? Picky.)

I think my sister Jenni is right on the money. And this chair suits her, being an arborist. Custom made by her husband, I’m seriously debating commissioning a couple. With my riches, you know.

Accidents really do happen

No happy post today, friends. Sorry.

A family close to us had their not-quite-two-year-old daughter taken from them in a farming accident this past weekend. I hesitate to use the word, but it really is nothing short of a tragedy. I can’t imagine all the “what if I had…” or “why didn’t I…” thoughts going through the minds of her parents this week, but really, there’s nowhere to point a finger. It just happened.

Could it have been prevented? Maybe. But how does that help the family and community that now mourn her? Like most accidents, it was just the wrong blend of totally normal circumstances. I wish there was a way to rewind time and bring her back to her mother, father, and two brothers, and the circle of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins who love her. Not having a time machine or mystical powers, I find myself helpless to help beyond prayers and hugs.

I hope I don’t minimize this family’s loss, or make it uncomfortably public, by sharing it with you. My purpose is to bring your attention to how quickly and easily things like this can occur. It has made me look at my own home and yard with different eyes: where are the accidents waiting to happen? I’m putting my tools away a little more carefully, reassessing the chemicals in the shed, watching my step.

Many who will read this are urban gardeners, and may think this outside their list of worries. But all gardens have sharp tools, things to trip over, and probably some light machinery. I hope all of you will take a few minutes to assess the safety in your own garden, not to the point of paranoia or fear, but with a healthy respect for your mortality and that of those you love.

And give your kids, your spouse, your pets, an extra little hug today, for little Anna.

Reduce, reuse, re-harvest…

Call me frugal, call me resourceful, heck, you can even call me cheap. I’m a recycler and a Value Village maven (we call it V.V. Boutique around here). I’m the gardener who’s using newspaper for weed suppressant and milk jugs for cloches. That old adage, “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without,” lives on in my household.

I know I’m not alone. There are all kinds of gardeners out there learning and using talents to turn what they have into what they want or need.

But this guy here, he deserves a prize.

Pulling onions from his ready-made raised beds.

This is Allen Campbell, a neighbor of mine. He has put his garden into raised beds this year, but he didn’t build the frames. He has been collecting used packing crates from a wind turbine company that operates in our area. They are the perfect size and height for his veggies, and if he wants a section to be higher, they have metal corner brackets that stack. I don’t know that they’ll hold up like treated lumber, but they are working great. And they were free. And he didn’t have to build anything.

But that’s not all, folks. Oh, no.

He has patiently been collecting discarded bed frames from the dump. With this metal, some cheap-like-borscht white rigid plastic, and some welding, he has built a greenhouse. Yup, the L-shaped rails from discarded bunks are now growing tomatoes and cucumbers.

It's hard to show you in a photo, but Allen welded the rails together in such a way that they also act as shelf brackets: he can lay boards on them when the plants are small, remove them to make room as the plants grow.

An 8′ x 8′ building with double doors and set on cinder blocks to allow some air flow from below, Allen says the most expensive part of this project was the nuts and bolts. Of course, he laid out some time and effort. And exercised some patience to acquire all those bed rails. But we gardeners are practiced at patience, aren’t we?

So there you have it, some inspiration for your inner skinflint. Happy penny pinching!

In which I solve the mystery of the yellow water lily without much detective work

At the end of June, I took a little trip to Whistler where I visited various gardens and growers (stay tuned for more articles and blogs). As per usual when I travel west, my eyes popped open at about 5 a.m. as I was still on Toronto time. I remembered that Nita Lake Lodge, where I was staying, offers free bike rentals to guests. So, I headed downstairs, grabbed a bike and took a little jaunt along the Valley Trail before breakfast. I didn’t see much in the way of gardens as I was mostly pedalling through forest, but I did happen along a few of these amazing yellow water lilies (that’s what I called them at the time). I crouched there for awhile, not just to take a picture, but to marvel at how different they were. Each flower was like a little tea light holder with a matching yellow candle in the centre. I didn’t really think about these little gems again until I was flipping through some back issues of Canadian Gardening magazine yesterday. Lo and behold, I was able to ID my flower!

Yellow Pond Lily

I wasn’t far off with the name. According to the June/July 2002 issue, I spotted a Yellow Pond Lily. Here’s what was written about it:

Ponds, marshes, quiet streams and lakes from Newfoundland to the Yukon are home to the yellow pond lily (Nuphar variegata). Blooming between June and September, the four- to 6.5-centimetre, bright yellow blossoms are highly visible. Large, heart-shaped leaves, 38 centimetres in length, are produced from thick rhizomes, which are a favourite food source of moose, muskrat and beavers. Zone 2.

Mystery solved!

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