Gardening Blog

Moody hues in my fall container

This past weekend, I cleaned out my summer containers, sending half-dead annuals to the compost (I felt a bit guilty about this since there were still a couple of tenacious blooms). I wasn’t ready to sacrifice my lemongrass, so I stuck it in the vegetable garden to use in my fall curries. Then, I headed to the nursery–or rather, a couple of nurseries–to buy some plants for my fall-themed containers. I wavered between the traditional, warm colours of autumn–reds, oranges and yellows–and what I’ve started calling the moody hues–deep purples, blues and cool greens. I went for the moody palette. When I got home and started putting things together, I had a couple of spaces to fill, so I dug one of my Vates blue kale from my vegetable garden to pair with the purple ornamental one, and dug up some stubborn ajuga that had found its way into a random patch of grass.

Here is my first container. It’s the main focal point of my front entrance. Starting clockwise from the purple and “blue” kale, you will see I included some hot pink mums. They’re not particularly moody, but I like that they’re an unexpected colour for fall. And they went with the rest of my palette. That brownish-purple-tinged foliage you can kind of see underneath everything in the middle is the errant ajuga. Then, an ornamental black pepper plant. At least I think they’re ornamental. I won’t be tasting them. But I saw these funky, almost-black plants used as an accent in some gardens in Quebec and thought they’d be perfect for fall. To the left of that is a heuchera. I love love love the veiny purple and green pattern on the leaves, but check out the underside of the one leaf. It’s a rich purple that complements the mums really well.

For my main container, I focused on filling it as full as possible, adding soil into the empty holes.

My next container is in a smaller pot, so I kept things simple:

Clockwise from the top, is another black pepper, an ajuga (I actually paid for this one, though it's prettier than the "weeds" I dug up), an ornamental cabbage and way to the left, ajuga weeds.

And my last pot, which I placed between two Muskoka chairs I have out front, is even simpler.

One big ornamental cabbage hogging the pot.

Here’s a shot where you can see two of my pots in the same frame. I think it will look nice if I can find some of those cool grey pumpkins to perhaps place around them and complete the look!

Waiting to be accessorized!

Propagating rosemary… and Christmas cheer

I love rosemary. It’s an easy plant to love: fragrant, edible, medicinal, good looking. It is not, however, easy to keep alive in our neck of the woods. While it might be evergreen at a lower latitude, mine has to come inside and struggle through the winter as a houseplant–often unsuccessfully. It gets woody and lethargic and I often end up buying a new pot from the greenhouse in the spring.

I tried growing it from seed once; I got tired of waiting for it to sprout and gave up thinking I’d done something wrong. Then, a passing comment from a friend several weeks ago turned a light on in my head: why was I not propagating rosemary by cuttings?

I started to do a little research, and guess what that little packet of rosemary seed forgot to mention? It can take up to three months to germinate! Also, the best way to propagate rosemary is from cuttings.

When all else fails, April, read the instructions.

Anyhow, I’ve rooted lots of things in water (and you can root rosemary in water too), but I bought myself a little bottle of rooting hormone to try putting the cuttings right into the soil.

Start with a 3-4 inch length of stem. Use a sharp blade -not scissors- to avoid crushing the stem, and make an angled cut. Take the soft bits at the tips rather than the older, woodier stems; they will root much more easily.

Strip the leaves off the stem. The little nodules where they grew are the primary rooting points, so make sure there are lots. You only need a few leaves left on top. Quick, go take something out of the freezer that you can use all those stripped leaves with for dinner.

Dip the stem in the rooting powder and shake off any excess. I've heard you can use honey, but I've never tried it. You can skip this step, but rooting will take longer.

Poke a hole in your potting soil, place the stem in it, and firm the soil gently. Ta da! Now, keep it moist and be patient.

As I was gathering my supplies to do this, I remembered seeing a little rosemary topiary of a Christmas tree once. Then it hit me: why not do lots of cuttings (especially if my current plants are destined for their end pretty soon anyway) and give away tiny rosemary ‘trees’ to neighbours and friends this Christmas? Way better than circulating more sugar.

Maybe I’ll do some lavender as well.

I can’t believe I thought of this soon enough to actually (possibly) pull it off! I should get a prize…

My baby rosemary forest!

 

 

 

A rose of Sharon cautionary tale

I inherited four rose of Sharon trees with my current house. They had all been meticulously pruned by the previous owner, when we moved in a couple of years ago, so I really didn’t need to do anything to them for awhile—or so I thought.

The first fall, I’m guessing the owner snipped all the seed pods before we moved in in mid October. But last fall, these lovely little pods appeared. With the branches still looking all neat and compact, I figured no pruning required and forgot about them altogether. Big mistake. This past spring, hundreds of mini rose of Sharons sprouted up around each tree like eager little weeds. If I had a greenhouse, I could start a rose of Sharon nursery and make money. Instead, I’ve tried to painstakingly pull each one out. But I’ve got a long way to go until they’re gone completely.

So, this fall, any seed pod that I happen to see will immediately be snipped into a yard bag and disposed of.

They're quite pretty and innocent-looking when they're in bloom...

...but watch out! If you don't nip those seed pods in the bud, this will happen!

Quick seed-saving tip

I’m really, really trying to get into saving my own seeds but with all there is to do in the garden (let alone life!) my timing is sometimes off. Either I’m over eager and lop off the seed heads before they have fully matured, or find them too late, after their seeds have already dropped.

I don’t remember who taught me this little trick to avoid disappointment, but it’s a good one.

Get your hands on a bunch of little mesh gift or favour bags. Dollar stores are a good bet, or attend a lot of fancy weddings and beg them from everyone who has finished their candy. When you notice the seeds forming on plants, pop a bag over the head and tighten the ties snuggly around the stem. The bag will keep the seeds contained until you get around to harvesting them, and allow air and light to circulate in the meantime. They also dry very quickly if they get wet.

I got my parsley all bundled up. Works great for many types of flowers and vegetables.

Ever heard of a huckleberry?

Other than the famous Finn, I had never heard of a huckleberry until I moved to southern Alberta. Apparently it’s an appellation given to many small fruits, Solanum melanocerasum (garden huckleberry) being one of the more common (a cousin to tomatoes and potatoes). However, if you hear ‘huckleberry’ around these parts, chances are it’s not the nightshade that’s being referred to, but one of the Vaccinium species which grow wild here.

I had not so much as even tasted a huckleberry when my friend Tina invited me to come picking with her at the Castle Mountain Huckleberry Festival. Yes, an entire festival for huckleberries. I had no idea.

They look a lot like blueberries, but taste more like a saskatoon. (And you need to know what those are too.)

It’s held at the local ski hill, with music, food, the whole deal. They even sell lift tickets so you can pick from the top of the mountain all the way down.

Say hi Tina! The reddish foliage you can see are the huckleberry bushes.

Part of our haul. We baked them up in a fruit crisp, which disappeared too quickly for me to take pictures.

We heard from other more seasoned pickers that the crop was not as plentiful this year as most, but we still had a good time. It’s got me thinking about growing some Solanum melanocerasum to see how they compare, and so I could have them right here without the trip and the hike. But at the same time, isn’t the hunt part of the fun?

 

 

A proud potato moment

This past spring, I purchased a little bag of French fingerling seed potatoes from Urban Harvest at Canada Blooms. I couldn’t wait to get them in the ground. I didn’t plant the whole bag, because I don’t think I realized how much space each plant needs, so I plunked two potatoes in a wooden, rectangular container box and two in one of my raised beds. It didn’t take long for these wee little plants to poke through the soil. I mounded the plants when they got to the appropriate size, as per the package directions, but then the plants grew like crazy and I was never sure if I’d mounded them enough. The package didn’t tell me when my potatoes would be ready, so I Googled when to harvest and found this helpful video by Ken Salvail. Ken says he has always been told to wait a couple of weeks after the plants have started blooming. I waited a little longer because three out of the four plants never bloomed. Then I got impatient and once I dug up one plant, I dug up all the rest.

There were some rather big potatoes–way bigger than what I would call a fingerling–a few fingerling-sized ‘taters and babies that clearly had some more growing left to do. I’m wondering if maybe I should have left them in longer. I ate some of the bigger ones two nights in a row and then had to leave the rest behind to cure when I left on vacation.

I look forward to planting even more potatoes next year. I need more space for my edibles! My biggest tip is to use a fork, which any potato article will recommend. I only had my trusty spade, so that’s what I used, but I did slice a few potatoes in half. Those ones went into a soup broth that I made and froze for future meals.

Here are a couple of pics of my beauts!

Some of the potatoes were attached to the main root. But it was like a treasure hunt sifting through the soil for the rest of them!

 

My obligatory, proud "styled" shot of my potato harvest dirt and all!

 

Hat happiness

I hate sunscreen. I know I’m not alone. It is a necessary nuisance of the summer, especially with Chris’ history of melanoma, and I know it’s important, but I avoid it when humanly possible. For instance, I try to garden in the earlier morning and late afternoon and evening. I wear longer shorts, and loose fitting long sleeves. I work in the shade.

And I try to wear a hat.

I say try, because I have the hardest time finding good gardening hats. They’re either too tight, don’t have a decent brim, are too heavy for summer, or so loose they blow off in a decent breeze (which is ever present around here).

Monday last was our fifteenth wedding anniversary (yay us!) and so Chris and I went out for the day, had dinner and did some very romantic house paint shopping. I know, we’re party animals. Anyhow, Chris spotted some hats at Winners and called me over to try one on. Nice wide brim, breathable weave… nice colours… I popped it on my head and–miracle of miracles–it fit! I didn’t have to jam it down, and it didn’t shift uselessly every time I turned.

It may seem silly to act so blissful over something as basic as a hat, but I am oh so much more comfortable working outside. I really am. Plus it’s Ralph Lauren for eighteen bucks. Smiles all around.

 

Greenhouses, re-thought

My friend Jennifer sent me a link this week all about something I’d never seen before: underground greenhouses. Known as a walipini, these dugouts with plastic roofs were first built in the mountain regions of South America to allow people to grow crops almost year round. Jennifer wanted to know my opinion about building one here in Alberta.

First of all, thank you, Jen, for holding my opinion in such high esteem. Second, I really don’t know. The idea intrigues me; it’s almost like a walk-in cold frame, and you know how I love cold frames. Walipinis take it to the next level though, using the natural warmth of the earth to heat the space, not just the sun. While they would require a lot of labour to dig, and a lot of space to accommodate, the materials could be lower in cost than a traditional greenhouse set up. Also, I have many neighbours who have had ‘kit’ type greenhouses blown into Saskatchewan or smashed by hail. Digging into the earth seems like a logical way to avoid our gales.

As long as you could build a roof to withstand those winds, as well as the heavy, wet snow we can get. A really solid roof would be absolutely necessary. Could we do it?

A quick trip around the internet revealed several variations of dug greenhouses, the “earth sheltered” variety being fairly common. Everyone seems to have their own special considerations to the design, but the consensus seems quite positive that it is entirely possible, even here.

Luckily for me, Jennifer has a willing relation with a backhoe, a lot full of lawn she wants to transform, and a husband who’s thinking through the roofing questions.

I get to watch and learn.

Better late than never

I never got around to planting any kale this year. I intended to, but didn’t — I’m blaming the wet spring.

Thinking about my lack of kale today led my mind back to some of the things I’ve learned from Nikki Jabbour and Kevin Kossowan about using more of the year for growing. I realized there was nothing stopping me from planting a new crop other than an “August” state of mind. So I pretended it was March and got out my seeds.

In my stash: 'Winterbor', 'Dwarf Green Curled', and 'Red Winter'.

 

The ‘Red Winter’ kale indicates 50 days needed for maturity. Fifty days from now is September 25–just beyond our probable first frost date. And considering kale actually likes a little frost, this little idea is gaining traction in my mind. I need to consult Nikki’s book again, but regardless, I’m thinking I’m going to do it. Never know until you try! Plus, there’s always the cold frame.

Comfrey: garden superhero

I was given a big hunk of comfrey a couple of years ago by a friend who is an encyclopedia of medicinal plant knowledge. I never used it for the compresses or tea she recommended (sorry, Connie) and, as it is a rather bulky thing, I was tempted to get rid of it. I’d heard people complain about it spreading too, and wondered if I was better off without it.

That is, until I learned about some of its other uses, and its reputation as a nurse plant:

 

*Comfrey has an incredibly long tap root, and as such, gets down deep to all the nutrients int he soil that other plants simply can’t reach. It stores all this nutrition in its proliferous leaves. The wise gardener need only “chop and drop” the comfrey a few times a season, spreading the cut stems and leaves around the base of any and all plants as an all-in-one mulch/fertilizer.

*Comfrey draws beneficial bacteria and earthworms to its root.

*Comfrey is great to plant under fruit trees as it does not compete with the trees roots, but competes with other plants that would; it also draws pollinators.

*Cuttings of comfrey are excellent for kickstarting your compost.

*It can also be used for animal fodder.

As far as the issue of spreading, it seems the worst danger comes from cutting the roots, so no tilling for me. On the whole, I have the space and it’s earning its keep, so the comfrey is staying.

 

 

 

 

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