Monthly Archives: April 2013

Work and Art

I mentioned a few posts ago (now I can’t find the reference; maybe I dreamt it!) that in the fall after planting the tulip bulbs, I covered each area with a heavy stone to dissuade the squirrels from digging them up.  I promised that I’d let you know how successful that idea was.  I was a little worried about the poor tulips hitting their heads on the stones as they tried to come up but when I took the stones off I found the damage was minimal.  The ones that were well on their way managed to go around the stones and are happily about four inches (10 cm.) high now, while some are just poking their heads through the soil now. Now if only the squirrels don’t eat the buds just before they bloom all will be well.

I’m amazed by the hardiness of some plants.  I planted snowdrops  in the front yard and every year they bloom even before the snow has melted.  Here’s a picture I took a couple of days ago. I love plants that bloom this early in the spring when you’re starved for beauty!  It’s definitely worth planning for!

Snowdrops blooming as they push through the snow

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)

The next subject has nothing to do with gardening. I was listening to a doctor with MSF (Médicins sans Frontieres) on CBC this morning and was humbled by her courage and attitude.  When asked why she kept going back to places like Syria (where she was recently) she said, “I was born in a time and a country where I was free to pursue an education and become a doctor. With that privilege comes responsibility.  I have to try to make the world a little better.” (I’m paraphrasing). I often feel guilty for that very privilege and wonder if I could/should be doing more to help the less fortunate in the world.  Instead, all I do is donate so people like this doctor (whose name I didn’t catch) can make a difference. I know it’s not much, but I’m not sure I have the courage to do more.

With this website I’m glad to be able to point people towards beauty, which makes living in this very flawed world a little easier.  I hope!  Anyway, here’s something sublime for your listening pleasure. Sarah Connolly with the London Symphony singing the first movement of Kindertotenlieder by Mahler.

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Taking a Step Back

This is a playful pond ornament in a garden near Florence.

My husband and I visited this spot last summer. I loved the garden ornament of some mythical creature about to dive into the water.

Yesterday I got ahead of myself and started rhapsodizing about taking walks around the garden.  It made me laugh to read it over and then glance outside at the Tranquil Garden, still mostly covered in snow.  It’s okay to look ahead with new resolutions for the gardening season but there’s still some time before we’ll have the joy and luxury of daily walkabouts in the garden.

So, what can be done as soon as the snow melts or even before?  Well, if I were a stickler I would say, “Get out your garden tools, wipe off the dirt you didn’t wash off last fall and give them a coat of oil!”.  Of course, I know you’ve all done that, so I don’t have to mention it. Okay, now that we’ve taken care of the grunt work, let’s have some fun.

I already talked about buying rhizomes to sprout and if you haven’t done that by now, well, it’s not too late but almost.  You can definitely start reading plant catalogues.  I have ordered plants by mail with varying degrees of success.  The trouble with doing that is the plants generally need to be bunged into the ground as soon as they arrive and of course, something always gets in the way.  However, the nice thing about catalogues (and now they’re all on-line probably) is that you can get  plants you might not get at your local nursery.  Varieties abound and they’re hard to resist.  I have ordered tulip bulbs that way and they work very well, but I have ordered clematises that didn’t make it, very disappointing.  Anyway, it’s fun to look through catalogues and you might get inspired to try to spot the same plants in your local nursery.

Another fun thing you can do in anticipation is make a garden plan.  I hear they’re very good things to have.  I never made one, but that’s just me.  Most people agree that planning out how you want your garden to look in the years to come is a great idea.  It makes sense: you can carefully dig beds in logical spots, plant the right size plants for the right soil, and even plan for future light conditions that will exist when your saplings have grown into large trees. For myself, planning that far ahead is difficult.  My garden plan is there but it’s not written in stone (or on paper). It’s just a few ideas I have that keep coming back.  One is to get rid of all the grass eventually and have only garden beds with paths snaking through.  I’m accomplishing that,  one flower bed at a time. I can’t imagine doing it all at once, because after all,  it’s only me back there!  Another idea that won’t completely go away is putting in a few vegetables some day.  That’s the kind of thing I will probably do at a moment’s notice.  I might just throw in some swiss chard or carrots among the flowers.  Maybe it’ll happen this year! I find I get more accomplished when I let my impulses flow and do things spontaneously.  I may regret it later and have to move a bunch of plants, but that’s how it goes.

While you’re looking at plant catalogues and probably the Lee Valley Catalogue, too, you can listen to this song by Alex Cuba.  We have recently discovered this wonderful artist and his sultry voice.  

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A Garden in Balance

Bee balm, lilies, roses, etc

Bee balm grows up to 5 five feet tall, re-blooms through July and August and attracts bees!

As a gardener a lot of my job is to keep the garden in balance. The soil, the amount of water, the plants and the creatures can all go out of balance. Some plants (often called “invasive” species) can get out of control if they are ignored, and will eventually strangle their neighbours.  They need to be reined in (pruned or divided) regularly to give the plants around them some breathing room.  When you’re looking for new plants at the nursery, always read the fine print to see if there are any cautionary words.  Words like “robust grower”, or “spreading plant” contain a warning you’ll ignore to your chagrin. Always check the maximum measurements that the plant could reach so you’ll know whether to leave it at the store.

If the garden gets too much or too little water there will be a lack of balance.  Some plants (again, check the tags when you buy them!) will not survive even a short drought, particularly when they’re first planted.  You’ll notice on many plant tags the stipulation, “Needs well-drained soil”.  In other words, like us, most plants do not like having wet feet for too long.  If your soil is clay-like it will not drain well, so you may need to break it up with a garden pitchfork and amend it with a mixture of good quality garden loam, sand and compost.

Do you have an excess of nasty creatures in your garden? If you ignore lily beetles, they will very quickly strip your lilies and make a horrid slimy mess in the process.  Going through the garden daily, if possible, armed with gardening gloves, pruners and maybe some insecticidal soap in a spray bottle, you can keep the creatures under control.  Pick off and squash the lily beetles and leaf-cutter caterpillars (they love roses), and spray off the white flies, etc..

It’s during that daily walk that you’ll notice when things are out of balance. Does the bird feeder or bird bath need filling? Is the grass too long to be pleasing to the eye? Is the ornamental garlic or the oregano getting out of control? Do you have an infestation of red lily beetles? You have to be a bit ruthless sometimes to keep the garden in balance, but the results are worth it. In these cases, getting in there promptly will make all the difference. Of course, it’s also a good excuse to enjoy your garden! I can’t wait to start being able to do just that!

I just received my shipment of praying mantis larvae!  I can’t wait to see what will happen with those.  The directions are a little scanty, so I’m not sure what to expect.  I’m to keep them in a resealable, white(!) paper bag in a warm window, misting them daily until they hatch, and then free them into the garden.  They are supposed to feast on all the insects we don’t want.  Probably a few we do want, as well, though.  I hope they don’t eat bees!  

If you want to attract bees, (and who doesn’t?)  you can’t go wrong with bee balm.  I’ve only had it in the garden for a couple of years but I find it a fantastic plant.  It is an “enthusiastic grower” though, so it needs to be kept in check.  If you deadhead the spent blooms it will re-bloom for a couple of months, so it’s really worth checking out.  I have a lovely red one that was a gift from a good friend (thank you, Linda!). I posted a photo of it above.

Please enjoy this wonderful recording of Chopin’s nocturne in C sharp minor.  It is played by W. Szpilman, the inspiration for the movie, “The Pianist”. Dedicated to my friend, Maureen M.

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