May 23, 2011
Spring has been good at the home garden. The Siberian squill (Scilla sibirica) and marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) have done their bit for the year, and the daffodils are fading. Golden Spurge (Euphorbia polychoroma) and Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) are now the highlight of the gardens. Globeflower (Trollius sp.) are brightening the pond border, filling in where the marsh marigolds have left off. In dappled shade the hosta spears are beginning to open, but in the full shade of our back garden spruce, the spear-tips are just starting to show. Our humble group of trilliums (Trillium grandiflorum), now reduced to two, have a single flower developing. Lording over all, the apple tree is in full bloom, making the east-facing patio a particularly pleasurable place to sit in the early morning light.
My major chores this year are on two fronts: complete renovation of the kitchen garden, and a reworking of the front west-facing garden.
IN 1994 our kitchen garden was first developed with raised beds–beds retained with scaffolding planks that I had scavenged. Over the years these have slowly begun to rot, and slumping soil and has forced me to tear the beds apart and to begin afresh. I am abandoning the concept of retained raised beds and going back to the simpler unrestrained Chinese (or French?) style of kitchen garden. After years of amending the soil and composting turf we now actually have an excess of soil, and I am using this soil, amended with our compost, to refresh areas of the front garden.
So what needs to be ‘refreshed’ in front garden? We have no lawn there–it is composed of two large beds on either side of the walk way to our house. They are mixed beds, with a blend of trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses and perennials. Over the years, walking through the beds to do garden clean-up and to plant new specimens has led to compacted soil. Not only that, but my Shasta daisies were behaving more like weeds than the upright citizens of the garden they are meant to be. Frustrated with their smell, and their tatty appearance after bloom, have decided to rid the garden of them completely. I also had to remove one large specimen of golden knapweed (Centaurea macrocephala), which is now listed as a noxious weed. The gaps left by these plants, and the areas that have been compacted, can now be refreshed by spading them over and mixing in the soil/compost mix from the kitchen garden. Once they are replanted, I will add mulch and we will be ready for the season ahead.
April 10, 2011
Farewell to Winter
We are in-between seasons now – a lot of snow is still hanging around, the ground is frozen and pond-size puddles abound.
However, Spring is in the air. We are itching to get outside and do something – anything – that will rid us of the last of the winter cobwebs and allow us to get up to our elbows in Nature.
So what’s a gardener to do in April in Zone 3b?
What are you doing this month?
April 7, 2010
Just a brief update on the garden’s goings-on…
I have finished most of my pruning for the spring. the apple is now lower and the shrubs have been thinned or cut-back completely. Cutting back all the branches on a shrub to within an inch or two of ground level will encourage new growth and can resuscitate a shrub that has become too leggy or too tangled to deal with. Dogwoods (Cornus sp.) and the small spireas can all benefit from this every year or two. The dogwoods (varieties of C. alba, C. sericia and C. racemosa) in particular will respond with bright new red or yellow growth. Pruning them back today will pay off in the following winter when you will have bright new stems to look at. If cutting back the shrub fills you with dread, you can resort to cutting back just a few of the oldest stems, so that there will always be a succession of new growth coming in.
The pond is ‘active’ again, meaning that the pump has been started and the water is flowing. I have scooped some of the leaves that fell in the previous autumn, but I will leave some to feed the microorganisms and shelter the life that survive from the previous year. They will form the basis of the food web that I hope will develop, so that I can add a selection of water bugs and other invertebrates to populate the pond. No fish this year — I want the pond to sustain a diverse population of life so I have a source of critters to practice my photomacrography on! Mosquitoes are always foremost in mind when I leave the goldfish out of the pond, but keeping the water circulating and having a wide variety of organisms seems to keep that problem in check.
I will also need to replace the bamboo that houses the copper pipe that directs the water to our tsukubai. It has become very cracked and brittle over the years and no longer looks like it can actually support a flow of water without dripping and dribbling .
I have begun the task of renovating our vegetable garden. Two old compost bins have been removed and the paving stones that formed the pathway have been lifted. The corner where the bins where will serve as an area to stockpile soil until I have completed replacing the wood from my raised beds with something more durable. I am planning to keep an area open so that we can still plant our beloved tomatoes, but I think that chaos will generally reign in this area for most of this season and the next.
The Reign of Chaos…our garden in a nutshell.
March 14, 2010
With the snow melting fast and rivulets running from our field-in-view, the winter-numbed mind begins to turn to thoughts of gardening. Others must be thinking similar thoughts because visits to this blog are increasing without any input on my part for over three weeks.
What lies ahead?
Our spring is a couple of weeks early this year, and this would be the time to be pruning woody plants. I will avoid tramping about on the sun-warmed, south-wall areas where the soil may have thawed because I don’t wish to compact the moist soil. Most trees and shrubs will still be rooted in frozen earth and I can begin pruning and thinning those. In the front garden, an Amur maple leans to the south-west due to competition from the large spruce which used to fill the north part of the garden. The new paper birch which replaces it is still small at about 4m (12 ft.) in height, so I will reduce the maple so that it does not over-power that corner of the garden.
In the back-garden I will be pruning the apple, reducing its height so that the fruit remains reasonably within reach. I will not reduce the spread very much, because the branches give shade and the sight of apple-blossoms over our pergola is a joy to behold. Most of the shrubs will need just the odd branch cut back here and there–the offending eye-pokers and fence-heavers cut well back and then damaged and sickly parts removed. I will rejuvenate the dogwood this year to encourage new bright red growth, and the path-side elder will also be cut back to the base. ‘No worries’, as the Home Bug Gardener would say: it will return to its 2m(6 ft.) height and spread by July.
The Under-spruth Path...July 2004
This spring we are having the roof of the house and garage done. Our back-garden spruce will need to have some branches that are now in contact with the garage roof cut-back so that the workers can do their job. This tree, already a bit worn-looking from the need to raise the branches and thin for light penetration will not look better for it. Besides providing a good role as a canopy to the entrance of the garden, it was (and probably still is) the favoured (but sticky) climbing tree for our 14 year-old daughter, so I cannot bare to remove it just yet. It also brings in the birds and it houses a large nesting box well over the height of the house. But like many urban trees of its generation, it was planted too close to the building and without any consideration made for the size it could become, and I will have to face removing it at some point.
What is planned for the garden in 2010? The same as the last two years: a study studio for my daughter in the far back of the garden, which requires compressing the vegetable garden to compensate; then the re-building of a small seating area in the front. Let’s see if I organize my time better this year…
June 16, 2009
A cubic yard of garden mulch
Mulching began this last weekend, important considering the extended dry period we have been having. All the perennials are now visible. In the shade of the back garden spruce the last spikes of the hostas are showing, but not all the leaves have unfurled yet. One of our tallest perennials, the Joe Pye Weed (of old, Eupatorium purpureum) which is in part shade, is finally showing its shoots through the leaf mold. It is one of the last plants in our garden to show itself but an outstanding feature once it begins flowering later in the season. With all plants visible; all planting, transplanting and dividing done and the compost top-dressing complete it is a good time to protect the exposed soil with mulch. I use a fine grade of chipped bark which is sold as ‘Garden Mulch’ at our local landscape supply
Mulch around the hostas
lot. Another cheaper option would be wood chips, which you may be able purchase through an arborist. The wood chips are initially bright and obtrusive, but they will begin to fade to a more acceptable gray over time. The chip size should average about 20 – 30mm wide and about twice that long. Avoid shredded mulch and large bark chunks, which are difficult for perennials to grow through and harder to handle and to spread.
For maximum benefit as a weed suppressor, moisture retainer and seed barrier, the mulch should be about 75 – 100 mm deep. To avoid damage to plant stems and to allow for expansion of plant, keep the mulch thinner near the plant base. Don’t be tempted to use weed fabric if you desire more weed protection, just place several layers of newspaper down first before applying the mulch.