Sunday, December 30, 2007

What is it about people and trees?

Branches ripped off our spruce trees

I got very upset yesterday as I walked down the road right beside our pond and the neighboring tree farm. A day of so before there were a couple of guys out there in a pick-up truck (hunting maybe?) and, of course, as it's been mild around Christmas and it's just a snow-covered dirt road, they got stuck.

So what did they do to get themselves out? They ripped branches off our spruce trees to put under their wheels to give them traction.

I was livid when I saw the broken, driven-over branches. Too bad we didn't catch them in the act. My husband John tells me that they got stuck very early in the morning, but he didn't see how they got out.

I've also caught women getting out of their cars where our property fronts the road ripping branches off our trees and shrubs for Christmas decorations. What makes them think they have the right to disfigure trees and shrubs that we have planted and that we care about? This sort of behavior drives me around the bend.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Thursday, December 27, 2007

My coolest gardening gift

My favorite Christmas present this year was a pair of Cray print secateurs given to me by my sister-in-law who was visiting from London, England. "Cray" is a famous chintz design by William Morris from 1884.

The pattern comes from a volume of wallpapers now housed in the Arts and Crafts Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. If you want your own pair, here's a link to them.

I haven't blogged much since the upheaval of the fall when we embarked on a renovation of half the house, which included a new kitchen and took two months, plus a month of move-in and recovery.

The picture here taken in the new kitchen shows the triumphant cook, whose locally raised free-range turkey roasted in the new convection oven was the best Christmas turkey ever.

In any case as the new year is almost upon us, I'm now ready to start thinking and writing about gardening again.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Quick end-of-season drought note

The season's unprecendented drought, which I wrote about obsessively all summer - the driest it's been in almost 50 years in southern Ontario - never really broke.

The fall continued to be very dry, and we didn't get a decent rainfall until after US Thanksgiving (Nov. 22). Then - just before the cold weather arrived - we got more than two inches on two rainy days. This weekend, we're in for a winter storm with freezing rain. Not good!

And what's ahead? More cold: Environment Canada predicts that the weather this winter could be the coldest in nearly 15 years. It will be interesting to see how the trees survive the drought followed by serious cold.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Noted: Nice things take effort

Our four-square garden, which takes a lot of effort

Kelvin Browne writes about gardening, architecture in homes section in one of the Toronto papers, the National Post. The following excerpt is from his column today entitled, Nice things take effort:

Regardless of how fancy the house or garden, owners today want them to be low maintenance. Like low taxes, it's assumed to be a right. Just as spoiled children want rewards without work (and, of course, the truly entitled get them), homeowners now require grandeur without lifting a finger.

The most obvious example is summed up by the stupidest phrase in the English language -- "low-maintenance garden." A garden is all about maintenance in varying degrees. It's about nurturing something to become what you envision it should be. There are gardens that require less nurturing than others, but the idea remains. You start somewhere and expect, with dedication or at least periodic attention, to arrive, a few years later, somewhere else. The garden needs you. You're complimented on your stewardship, not your ability to pay for hundreds of perennials. When someone says they like your garden, they like more than your choice of landscape designer; they admire how you worked with him or her to achieve something that matters beyond its ability to increase your home's property value.

The low-maintenance blight has examples indoors, too. Napkins, for instance. You don't expect young people in their first home or with young children to set the dinner table with linen napkins; it's admirable they'd even try to have you over. But after that, paper napkins are lazy. Hosts often let themselves off the hook by saying they're not formal types but you're nonetheless eating in a dining room, having multiple courses and subjected to the husband talking about how good, a.k.a. expensive, the wine is. It says either they're lazy or you're not important enough to bother with. Low maintenance rules.
We've always taken "effort" to heart in garden, but not so much in house. Time to take more care there now that we have renovated. You can read the rest of this excellent column here: Nice things take effort.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Rain update - a good total for the week

Things are looking up: the past week brought us 9/10ths of an inch of rain over two days. It's amazing how quickly the lawn responds and starts looking good again. (Yes, unfashionable is it may be, I care about my lawn too.)

The fall colors are coming on in the trees and shrubs, and they are looking pretty nice, not just brown, as I feared. Still, the general dry trend continues, and next week's predicted daily high temperatures are around the 24-degree Celcius mark. That's 10 degrees above normal. (For you F-folks, that's 75 degrees, and almost 15 degrees warmer than is normal for the first week of October.)

It may be October in a couple of days, but that darned summer just won't quit.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Unbearably hot, but we got a bit of rain

It was bloody hot yesterday, about as hot as it gets here on the worst days in mid-summer, about 90 degrees F. But with the humidity, it felt a lot hotter: just what our trees needed in the face of the long drought of 2007, which still ongoing.

We have many patches of dead lawn now, and we can only guess how much permanent damage there will be to our trees. One bright spot: a thunderstorm last night brought 4/10ths of an inch of rain, and the cold front promises to cool things down a bit beginning today and tomorrow.

Temperatures for the next week will still be above seasonal norms. I long for sweater weather.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Plenty of tomatoes, but no kitchen

Harvested in the nick of time

I mentioned that we have been renovating our house - it's a bungalow and the work includes moving the kitchen from the north side to the south, and redoing a bedroom in between and turning the old kitchen space into a bedroom - which is why I haven't posted much lately.

It's futile to think that life can go on as normal when you're sleeping in the study, cooking in the basement (where the stove is in one room and the sink in another) and making coffee in the laundry room upstairs. Every attempt at a meal means running up and down the stairs a few times because the refrigerator is upstairs in the front hall. And the dishes: do I ever miss the dishwasher.

Then there are the tomatoes from the garden: I've waited for the them to ripen all season, and last night we had our first frost. I had a lot of San Marzano tomatoes on the vine, and, while frost hit low lying areas, it missed the tomato patch. So this afternoon I went out and picked the rest of my tomatoes.

My dilemma: what to do with all them without a proper kitchen? I hate to see them go to waste after a summer of growing them, so my solution is to roast them instead of simmering a sauce. I put a bit of olive oil in a roasting pan along with garlic and onions, and then simply cut the tomotoes in half, seed them (San Marzanos have very few seeds, which makes that part pretty easy), and add them to the pan along with a salt and pepper, and basil, if I have the energy to run up to patio, where I've got some in a planter.

I start the oven at 350F and after 20 or 30 minutes turn it down to 250F and let them slow roast for a couple of hours. This way I don't have to stay in the basement stirring a pot on the stove. And the roasted tomatoes are just delicious. I freeze them in little containers to add zest to sauces in the winter.

Some of the tomatoes I picked are still a bit green, but after a few days in the basement they ripen nicely, and I don't intend to roast them all at once anyway.

As for our contractor, well, he's Italian, and loves the smell of roasting tomatoes. The first day I did this, he came down to the basement to swap tomato sauce secrets.

Due date for the new kitchen: I've got my fingers crossed for finishing around mid-October, in time for my birthday, and we should have the bedrooms back a week before then. Work started just after Labor Day, and so far I'm very impressed with the guys. But living in a house through a kichen reno isn't a whole lot of fun, especially if you're a control freak about food like I am.

The kitchen-to-be, formerly two bedrooms

Saturday, September 15, 2007

One of the best gardens in the country

The central path at Tom Deacon's garden

A couple of years ago in October, I was invited to give a talk about ornamental grasses to a garden club two hour's drive north of Toronto. One of the draws was an opportunity to visit an outstanding garden that a hort buddy of mine had told me about, the garden of furniture designer Tom Deacon, set on a hilltop in a small clearing in 100 acres of woods near the tiny hamlet of Mulmur, Ontario.

It was a rainy October day (my favorite kind of fall day), and I had a chance to spend a couple of hours visiting the garden and to hang out and admire Tom's wonderful house, designed in collaboration with Toronto-based architect Ian MacDonald.

A second path leading to a shaded seating area

The afternoon was an absolute delight: the garden and the house were exquisite, and Tom was a most generous and kind host. The garden is laid out on a central axis that moves from the house into the landscape. Tom has planted a variety of perennials (including huge swathes of lavender), shrubs and ornamental grasses in beds along a central path. The house is an elegant take on sleek, contemporary country style. I fell in love with both.

If you want read more about the garden, pick up the October issue of Gardening Life magazine, and for the house, see the October issue of Canadian House and Home (available only in Canada, I'm afraid).

End-of-season beauty at the Deacon garden

Thursday, September 06, 2007

More of the same: hot and dry continues

It may be September, but the hot, record dry summer continues. It's going to be around 31 degrees C today and tomorrow (that's almost 88 degrees F). We had only one good rain in August (it was the one good rain of the ENTIRE summer). And fall forecasts predict continued dryness.

According to the Toronto Star, Environment Canada's senior climatologist David Phillips is predicting a less than colorful fall leaf display because lack of rain has put many trees in distress. This means that many leaves just turn brown and fall earlier. Those that turn will offer a less than spectacular display of seasonal color.

Rats: fall is my favorite season, and it now looks like the gardening summer from hell just won't let go. The Agriculture Canada drought map above tells the continuing story.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

September = new beginnings

As September arrives and the gardening season begins to wind down, there's beauty in the fading away, such as these prairie coneflowers from our meadow. I belong to a camera club and a few of us got together on Sunday morning to try to photograph monarch butterflies at the meadow. Alas, the butterflies eluded us, but the fading flowers were lovely. This was my favorite picture from that morning.

I haven't posted much lately, as we have started a major house renovation. We are getting a new kitchen (very exciting, as I've never had a great kitchen ever).

The complication is that we are moving the kitchen space to another part of the house and what was the kitchen until now will become a bedroom.

For various reasons - the kitchen move, repairs, updates, space for the fridge - five rooms are involved. We have done a lot of moving in the past few days, and the only livable space right now is the study, where we are sleeping and the living room. I have converted the main floor laundry room into a provisional kitchen, with microwave, kettle and coffee maker.

The old range is going down to the furnace room tomorrow, so I will be able to do more than microwave dinners. There are some nice garden fresh tomatoes begging to be made into sauce.

Wish us luck: by my birthday in mid-October, we should be ready to move into the new kitchen and updated bedroom.

PS: As for rain, we are still in drought mode. There hasn't been a drop since the wonderful rain on Aug. 25. The extended forecast shows dry, dry, dry to past mid-September.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Toby's water fountain

A while back I wrote about the black slate fountain that my husband created. Since it's been running we've been amused to see that our dog Toby has decided that it's his own personal water fountain.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Rain at last - we're cheering

View from patio on our back hill - note brown lawn in background

As many others were contending with record rainfall and flooding, we stayed dry. But today, we finally got a decent rain: 2/10ths of an inch overnight, plus 8/10ths this morning. And as I post this in the early afternoon, it's raining again!

In my neighborhood, we're all thrilled after a gardening season that turned dry in mid-May and stayed parched through the entire summer. As my neighbor Rose put it in her email to me just now: NICE RAIN, SOOOOOOOO HAPPY!!!!!

PS: Total rainfall from Thursday to today, 1 and 8/10ths of an inch (most of it today). This is most rain we've had in a week since April. Even the creek is flowing again.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Crazy rain and flooding - but not here

One of my sisters lives in Algonquin, Illinois, near Chicago. In constrast to our never-ending drought, she reports:
Crazy rain – we are now at 27.5 inches since mid July. We drove through several areas of flooding over the road on our way home from work last night. It took 90 minutes as opposed to the usual 25 to get home. The river in our town is flooding as well. Good thing we don't live near it.
Meanwhile, in Mike Johnston's part of Wisconsin it also keeps raining. As he wrote yesterday:
Damned if it's not going to rain again today, if the gray sky is any indication. I don't mean to complain, because I know a lot of people have gotten far worse in recent days, weeks, and months—in other parts of this country as well as in England—but, man, have we ever gotten hammered lately. It's been raining for six days. We haven't had a chance to get the grass cut in between downpours. Every day I think, well, it can't rain again today. I should stop thinking that.
In the six weeks that my sister has seen more than 27 inches of rainfall, we have just barely cobbled together two inches in dribs and drabs over the course of several disappointing little showers. We could actually use six days of rain in a row, we're so parched.

Here's the result: the Agriculture Canada drought map (click on the picture to see it bigger) updated to Aug. 22 shows record dryness spreading through many regions in the southern part of the province. We are in the record dry red area between London and Toronto.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Luck turning? Early morning thunderstorm

Click on the radar map to view bigger

4:30 a.m.: Wake to thunder and lightning and then finally some rain falling around 5 a.m. I take a cup of tea and sit outside on the front porch bench while it comes down. It feels like balm for the soul. When it's over, the rain gauge shows 3/10ths of an inch. More in the forecast for later this morning, around 11 a.m. We'll see.

10 a.m.: Another small thunderstorm cell passing through. We get maybe half a tenth of an inch more, which doesn't quite take the rain gauge to 4/10ths.

Meanwhile, south of the border, more reports of flooding through many parts of the American mid-west. It's hard to believe that we are still so dry.

My friend from Michigan reports:
There's massive flooding in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio. Some parts of those states have received 14 inches of rain with 5 inches on Tuesday, alone. We are lucky to have been on the outskirts of the storm. it's hard to believe that you - in a rather direct line east of here, have no rain. I'm actually beginning to believe the US weather maps that have only white above
the northern US border. There is no weather in Canada, only hot or cold.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

It sucks the life out of gardens and gardeners

Today I actually thought I was losing it. My impression of the last few days was that I hadn't watered a lot, and so I didn't bother to check the cistern before putting the sprinkler on my shade garden. As a result I almost burned out the pump because I let the water level get down to the dregs. This was the first time all summer I've made that mistake. I guess I'm pretty tired of it all, but I did call the Water Truck for a refill - again.

The picture above from Canada's Weather Network shows our 14-day trend forecast. You'll notice that it indicated rain for today. The day's done, as for the rain, well, you know the story: it didn't materialize. The rest of August looks equally dismal.

The title of this post comes from one of the kind comments I received from a blog reader in Washington. It's so true: drought will do that to you. I was interested to discover that mental health researchers in Australia have actually coined a word, solastalgia, for drought stress as it affects people.

PS: Here's a link to article about solastalgia as a human response to environmental stress by Glenn Albrecht, an Australian researcher in environmental health. It's a bit academic, but fascinating.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Monsoon season? Everywhere but here

Click on picture to view bigger size

I don't live by gardening alone, and so I follow quite a few blogs that have nothing to do with gardening. My favorite is The Online Photographer by Mike Johnston, who writes beautifully on photography and many other topics. Anyway, today he reports:

On the home front, here in Wisconsin it's monsoon season. We don't actually have a monsoon season, or at least not usually, but that hasn't stopped it from raining for three days straight...
Then my friend Sandy from Michigan emailed the following:
It's still dark and misty outside but I think the bulk of the rain is over for now. There were 4.25 inches in the gauge at 4:30. However, there is rain in the forecast for Tuesday as well as 90 degree temperatures by midweek. We were concerned because the sump pump has not engaged even once since the rain started. After checking, we found that the sump crock is still nearly dry! Weather report says the rain is related to the tropical storm (Erin) so maybe there's hope that you'll get a few inches as well.
What I wouldn't give for such a rain! Come on you folks south of the border: Why are you hogging all the rain? Send some up here.

Actually, there was some rain in southern Ontario today around the London area, but it didn't reach up this way. Tomorrow looks to be more of the same: a trace is forecast, but many inches are needed. The map above shows just how little rain there has been over the past 30 days.

So far in August we've had barely half an inch, and that fell within the first week. Since then: nothing.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Lack of acknowledgement of the drought

Precipitation Compared to Historical Distribution (Ontario Region)
Map: Agriculture Canada (See key below)

Featured comment: T Gordon said...

Finally! The drought has made the evening news. Only because it is the worst drought since 1959, so worth reporting. I feel some validation. All summer I have been frustrated by the lack of acknowledgement of the drought. Several times I have mentioned the drought only to have people say, "Oh really?" If it were not for your blog, I might have thought I was imagining it. It helped greatly to have it. Thanks!
I wrote about this very thing in an earlier post: I guess it's just a reflection of how uninvolved most people are with growing things.

Partial Key to Drought Map
Red = Record Dry
Brown = Extremely Low
Orange = Very Low
Yellow = Low

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Hanging in there through dry August

It's record dry, but the beds look as colorful as ever. The picture here is of a bed we call the "well bed" (because that's where the house well sits, not far from the blue spruce at the left). Now, I've been watering this bed every week or two. It's the bed that gets watered from the pond with the firehose.

Past the well bed, there's a dip in the land in which lies the pond. The pond is now quite low, maybe down five feet (1.5 meters), but because it's 12 feet deep (3.65 meters) it still has a lot of water in it.

Beyond that in the distance is a bed that I've given up maintaining. It's full of grasses and native perennials like Rudbeckia subtomentosa, a nice tall black-eyed Susan. This bed now has many weeds creeping in, but all we do is mow around it. (Our ambitions proved unsustainable.)

Amazingly, this bed is full of life and color, record drought not withstanding. Meanwhile, in our two acres of meadow, the plants are quite stunted, about half their usual height due to the extreme dryness. However, they are still blooming, but not staying in bloom as long as usual.

Below is Agriculture Canada's drought map to Aug. 14. As you can see, the red area marking record dry conditions keeps expanding.

Precipitation Compared to Historical Distribution (Ontario)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Grass turns out not to be

We have a gravel driveway, which, as anyone who has one knows, is a great incubator for weeds. So whenever my husband or I spot green stuff in the gravel around the yard, we reflexively bend down to pull it out. Tonight, as I reached down for a bit of errant grass, it jumped away. Ah, ha, not grass, but a grasshopper - a very green one.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Shower today nets 10th of an inch

I start the morning off by taking some pictures of the front garden, which is full of grasses and Russian sage. This picture, I take from the loft of the barn where we have a high window propped open so the barn swallows can fly in and out even when we have the barn doors closed.

As I set up my camera on the tripod, a pair of barn swallows gets the surprise of their lives when they find me at the window. Oooops: abort landing, bank sharply right and head for the open door below. Then, the chatter begins, and continues the entire time I'm up there.

The afternoon brings a shower, but very little rain: only 1/10th of an inch. We were going to get the firehoses out again to water the front garden, but we just didn't get around to it - it's a big and heavy job (now I know why fire fighters need to be so burly) - maybe tomorrow night. It's exhausting, all this watering.

Next chance for rain? The Weather Network predicts "a few showers" for Thursday. Yeah, right...

A closer view of some the front garden plants

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Cool, drizzly, cloudy day - but still no real rain

Today was another showery day, kind of an unexpected bonus, but we only got 1/10th of an inch. Late last night, the Weather Network forecast suggested that we could get as much as an inch, but I didn't get too excited. By morning that forecast was downgraded. No surprise to me: this has been the dominant weather pattern since mid-May.

Note the drought-stricken lawn in the background

At least we had a cool, drizzly, cloudy day instead of a sizzling hot one. At this point, I'm grateful for small blessings!

I'm actually ok, and not too downhearted. I have a lot of projects on the go, and helpers in the garden, so I don't really have too much to complain about.

But if you love plants, you feel for them when they have to suffer without rain. They look so sad. I do what I can to help them with my watering, but I wish could help them all, including the poor old lawn. Alas, my water supply is limited.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

How dry can it get? Evidently, much drier

Yesterday's rainfall amounted to 4/10ths of an inch in total, but it stayed cloudy, cooler and dampish all day, which was a blessed relief.

Here's the Agriculture Canada drought map for southern Ontario again, now updated to Aug. 6. Red means record dry, and brown extremely dry. (We are in the record dry patch under where it says "Toronto" - close to the tip of Lake Ontario.)

We're now in the middle of a heat and humidity wave that looks like it won't break for another five days. After that, the 14-day forecast shows warm and dry to August 22.

I hate to go on and on about drought, but unfortunately this summer it is the issue that dominates my life. I haven't given up fighting back with the hoses. Sure, my garden beds are filled with mostly drought-tolerant perennials and ornamental grasses, but even those plants can't keep going (let alone look good) when it doesn't rain for months. But what's really heartbreaking is what this extreme dryness is doing to all the trees and shrubs that I just can't water.

The bottom line: I can't wait for winter and a good, long break from all this. What a cruel summer for plants and gardeners! Of course, the farmers have it much worse. At least we gardeners don't depend on rain for a living.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Is it raining? Or am I dreaming?

We got almost half an inch of rain today (4/10ths of an inch). Earlier on, the forecast predicted lots more rain tonight coming with thunderstorms. Whether these materialize or not remains to be seen. At the moment - late afternoon - it looks like the potential for overnight showers might already have evaporated.

We weren't as lucky as London, Ontario, where my parents live. They had an inch-and-a-half today. What I wouldn't give to get that kind of rain! At any rate, the landscape is so dry now that any rain at all is a blessing.

The view from the front porch during the shower

Friday, August 03, 2007

Big skies and cool clouds

One of the things that really impressed us when we moved from the city to the country was the big sky. Sure, it's nothing like the big skies of the prairies, but it can be impressive nonetheless.

Usually when I see neat clouds, I'm out on a dog walk and don't have my camera handy or the cloud is gone by the time I get to the camera. But today I was lucky: this was the view from the front porch late this afternoon. To me, it looks like a big steer's - or should I say - bull's head in the sky - a pretty cool cloud for a scorching hot day.

Purslane for lunch

I generally pull weeds, but yesterday for a change I ate weeds, specifically purslane (Portulaca oleracea), which I put into my lunch salad. I wanted to give purslane a try after reading this article at the Nutrition Data blog, where nutrition maven Monica Reinagel writes:
"Purslane is one of the richest vegetable sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

A big part of the reason that the meat from pasture-raised cattle (and wild game) is higher in omega-3 fats is because grazing animals favor these succulent wild greens and will eat them preferentially over other grasses. It makes good grazing for people, too. According to research published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 100 grams of purslane contains 300-400 mg of omega-3 fats (alpha-linolenic acid), along with over half a day's supply of vitamin E, a third of the day's vitamin C, and a quarter of the day's vitamin A. But does it taste good?"
To answer the question: Yes, it tastes fine. Like many salad ingredients, to my mind, it doesn't have a strong taste. Being really into healthy eating, I think I'll collect it when I can. Who knew that it's such a good source of omega 3s?

I'm kind of sorry I ate the purslane before taking a picture of it, and believe it or not, I can't find any more of it at the moment, but there are pictures and more info at

There are some purslane recipes at the Prairieland Community Supported Agriculture site.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

News headline: Scorched earth

I always find it interesting that drought conditions rarely make the news. The radio and TV weather people seem oblivious, continually trumpeting that it's going to be another nice sunny day.

I guess it's just a reflection of how uninvolved most people are with growing things.

The southern Ontario drought situation finally made the local newspaper yesterday. The Hamilton Spectator reports that this summer's dry weather has indeed been record-breaking. We have had the least rainfall since record-keeping began in 1959, only 40% of the normal amount. Outside the city, I believe we had even less than that. The city counted nine days when some rain fell; here, it was only six days.

The Spectator quotes David Phillips, senior climatologist at Environment Canada, saying the rains were "just enough to keep the dust down. They were two-bit rains, not the million-dollar rains conservation authorities and farmers need."

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Not welcome news: prolonged heat wave

If I can say anything good about this record dry summer, it's that the heat and humidity we usually get have mostly stayed away. The nights have been great for sleeping and we didn't have to use the air conditioner very often.

But that has now changed. We're into a heat wave that looks like it will last for at least a week. Hot, hot, hot - just what we needed on top of this endless drought! I may well start whining again, but this weather isn't unexpected. The last week of July and the first week of August are traditionally the hottest of the summer across Canada.

To my sister and my friend with the pool, you're going to see a bit more of me. (Or a bit less: since February, I've lost 15 pounds.) To tell the truth: I've had it with summer. Fall and winter just can't come soon enough for me now.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Drought update: Not whining, still watering

July precipitation report: We had more rain this month than in June: 6/10ths of an inch in the first week (in two showers), the same in week two (three showers), and the same once again in week three (delivered in two showers on one day). But over the past 10 days to the end of the month, we had only one small shower, with 2/10ths of an inch.

The cumulative effect of the extremely low rainfall since mid-May has now put us into "record dry" territory. (See the second dot near Hamilton on the map: that's roughly where we are.) I've never had to garden in a drought like this. It was almost as bad in 1998, the first year we were here, but at that season, we had no gardens yet.

Despite the bad news, I've been in good spirits lately, probably because it's been reasonably cool, especially at night, and at least until now we've been spared the nasty humidity that we normally get. I'm no meterologist, but I suspect that the dip in the jet stream that we've had over southern Ontario more or less all summer long has kept both the humidity and the big thunderstorms at bay. Both have certainly been plentiful south of the border.

Semi-circular perennial bed at the end of July

At this point instead of whining, I simply keep on watering. The end result is that the garden, which I've designed for maximum color and interest for this time year is actually looking pretty good.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Country garden wedding pictures

Today's excitement was a wedding party getting their pictures taken in our garden. There are a lot of wedding receptions held at the golf course near us, and recently we had a request for a bridal party to have their wedding pictures taken here. Today was the day, and it was hot, but perfect for pictures because of high cloud alternating with occasional sunshine.

Diana and Aaron on their special day

We used to get requests from couples to get married in our garden, but I'm reluctant to get into the wedding business (although I would love it if John's daughter chose to get married here).

The lively flower girl in lighthearted moment

The flower girl, who's four-and-a-half, loved the garden with all its flowers and paths to explore, but she wasn't so sure about me taking pictures of her.

Peeking around the flowers

But she was so full of high spirits that I couldn't resist, so it became a bit of game of her running around and me trying to click the shutter.

My dog Toby was in heaven because he adores having visitors.

Diana and Aaron: It was fun having you and your family here today.

All the best to you in love and in life.

PS to any visiting photo buffs: The wedding photographer was shooting film.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Lawn and drought: how to keep the grass alive

Here's some great advice about drought and lawns from Kevin Frank, a turf expert at Michigan State University.
Many homeowners choose not to irrigate their lawn and about now the concern becomes whether or not the lawn might be suffering and possibly approaching death. For Kentucky bluegrass lawns (which are the majority of lawns in Michigan), there is usually no danger that the lawn is going to die unless water is lacking for six to eight weeks. However, there are really no hard fast numbers for predicting whether the turf will die as many other factors will come into play such as high temperatures and traffic.

Even if you are not an irrigator, it might be a good idea to give the turf a little water if the turf hasn’t received any water for a month. Apply about a 0.5 to 1.0 inch of water just to make sure the lawn makes it through this cycle of drought. The goal of this irrigation is not to turn it green, but just to prevent the turf from completely desiccating (severe drying out) and possibly death. If we continue in this dry spell, I would continue to give the turf a drink every three to four weeks.
His other tips:
  • Avoid mowing during the heat of the afternoon, which can result in tire tracks or foot prints on the lawn that may be visiable a long time.
  • Mow during cooler times of the day, early morning or evening, and keep the mowing height high.
I've been following this advice, just putting the sprinkler on the lawn areas near the house and my most important garden beds, and it does help the turf quite a bit. Unfortunately, we have a lot more lawn than that, so a lot of our grass has to weather the drought on its own.

You can find Kevin Frank's full article at the Michigan Landscape Alert: look for Drought stresses turf.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

More pictures: Four-square garden

Here's a photo of my four-square garden taken earlier this month, which shows a panorama of the entire garden just after the boxwoods were freshly clipped.
The background trees are on the neighboring tree farm

This picture makes for quite an interesting contrast to how the boxwoods looked (see picture below) before their first clipping, which took place last summer.

This was a job I didn't dare do myself, but entrusted to Bob May, a former gardener at Hamilton's Royal Botanical Gardens. Bob calls himself the plant sculptor, and no wonder: what a beautiful precision clipping. The hedge is shaping up amazingly now.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Garden pictures - perennial border July

My semi-circular border

I haven't taken as many garden pictures this year, perhaps because I'm a bit demoralized by drought - it's been dry since mid-May. Also first thing in the morning - the best time for photos - is usually the time I'm dragging those hoses around.

That said, the garden proper is looking very nice, thanks to my watering - and, of course, the weeding team's efforts too. The lawn looks poorly, except bordering areas that get watered. My beds are looking very colorful now because I grow a lot of mid-summer bloomers. It was wind-still this morning with a bright overcast sky, making it perfect for a few pictures.

Above, you see part of my semi-circular border (which I've actually watered only twice this summer) with the lovely mauve culvers-root, Veronicastrum virgincum 'Facination', in bloom in the back, along with purple coneflowers, fennel, Joe Pye weed, grasses, globe thistle and the ubiquitous Rudebeckia 'Goldsturm'.

A closer shot of some of the plants in this bed

We call this the semi-circular garden because its shape is a half circle with a path through it. It's set into a small slope backed by evergreen trees that act as a windbreak. The evergreens are far enough away that their root systems don't impinge on the beds. There are deciduous trees in the background too, but they're on the neighboring tree farm.

I grow mostly big, tall perennials and grasses here in a meadow-like profusion, plus a few shrubs, which makes it interesting to walk up and down the path: you don't see what's around the bend until you come to it.

The plants I used here are all pretty drought-tolerant country garden stalwarts that do very well in our rich clay soil. The red you see is Crocosmia 'Lucifer', which thrives here because the slope is well-drained.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

More rain than we've had, but still very dry

We were off on holiday last week, so it was nice not to worry about rain, or lack thereof. It did rain here twice on Thursday for a total of 6/10ths of an inch, the most rain we've had in one day since about mid-May.
The map above (from the Agriculture Canada site) tells the story of the continuing drought. The red areas indicate record dry, and there's red spot close to Hamilton which is showing up where we are located. Brown means extremely low and orange very low.

There's no rain in the forecast for the coming week. If there is a silver lining, it's the relatively cool weather we've been enjoying. In New York City where we had our holiday, it was hot and steamy.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A little rain again

Today's rain was just 2/10ths of an inch. But maybe things will start looking up: at least there are some more showers in the forecast for the coming week.
Here's a recent picture of the four-square garden, which I've been watering faithfully. The lavender is in bloom and its scent is divine. But you can see how dry it is in the tree farm field behind my garden.

I haven't done a post on it yet, but the wonderful limestone sundial base in the picture was actually carved from three blocks of stone by my husband, John. It took him a couple of carving workshops (one in England and one in Vermont) and two years to complete. It is utterly wonderful. I'll write more about it soon.

Friday, July 13, 2007

For Ontario weather geeks only

If you're a weather geek like me, and you live in Ontario, you may be interested in the link below. It takes you to a summary of precipation for June, which saw some northern parts of the province with abnormally high amounts of rain, while the southwest (where we live) got abysmally low amounts.

The following quote is from Environment Canada's Ontario Weather Review - June 2007, where you can find the numbers for the city nearest to you.

Did this June seem a bit warm to you? You're right - it was.

Temperatures across the province were warmer than normal and in some cases two to three degrees above the standard. In general, Northwestern and Central Ontario had the warmest temperatures, but some locations in Southern Ontario were toasty as well.

Unlike June of 2006, the precipitation tended to be wetter than normal in the north. Like last June, though, it was drier than normal in the south. The higher-than-normal precipitation values were largely due to series of thunderstorms that dumped large amounts of rain in short periods of time. Dryden, one of the wettest locations, had four days where the daily rainfall was greater than 20 millimetres, with one of those days exceeding 40 millimetres.
Here's what the site had to say about the amount of rainfall in Hamilton, the city closest to us:

Precipitation in millimetres: 32.6
Normal: 83.9
Difference: -51.3
Driest Since: 1991

By the way, this is generous, as it puts the city at about 1.1 inches of rain. Where we live, west of the city, we had less than an inch all month.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Pathetically grateful for quarter inch of rain

We had another thundershower tonight, and unexpectedly this one gave us some rain. I had invited my neighbor over for dinner, and just as we were going to do a quickie garden walk, the rain started. So we took our wine glasses to the front porch and just watched it come down.

It was a heavy rain, but didn't last very long. Still, after a couple of showers early in the week that left an unmeasurable trace, we were both pathetically grateful for the quarter inch we got today.

Totaling up what has fallen so far in July, I figure we've probably had one inch of rain if you count the couple 1/10th of an inch sprinkles that we got earlier this week with passing thundershowers. The total for the month is now over what we got in June (we had only 7/10ths of an inch the entire month!).

I've never experienced a drought like this. I felt quite depressed and down-hearted this morning, as yet again I began hauling hoses and setting up sprinklers before breakfast. I actually had to tell myself to stop moping and just get on with it. I'm trully sick of watering and worrying about all the trees and shrubs that I can't water because the place is too big.

Since we haven't had a decent rain since mid-May, I have been watering all my major beds using trucked-in water, or watering from the pond with the fire hose. I've even been filling the barn cisterns with water from our well, which I really shouldn't do because our well isn't the most productive. But I let the water dribble in over a day, and the well hasn't run dry yet. Because of these efforts, the garden beds still look nice, although the surrounding lawn is toast. I'll try to post some garden pictures in the next day or so.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Drought watch, continued

This was the quote of the day on my personalized Google page:

The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised.
- George F. Will
Today, again the thunderstorms passed us by. We had about 4 minutes of rain around 4 p.m. and 1/10th of an inch.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Despite my whining about drought

Many gardeners see setbacks such as drought and gypsy moth invasions as part of an environmental disaster caused by the human race. Despite my repeated whining about this summer's drought, I tend not to buy apocalyptic prophesies of environmental doom.

I'm with the sceptics like Brendan O'Neill, Guardian columnist and editor of spiked, who writes:
Forget fundamentalist Christianity or Islam: environmentalism is by far the most influential death cult in existence today. It is inculcating in the masses the idea that the end of the world is nigh; that we shall we punished for our sins; that penance is our earthly duty; and that anyone who says or thinks otherwise is a "heretic" or a "denier" who should be held up to public ridicule.

The extent to which environmentalism echoes old religious values is striking. A key aspect of the monotheistic religions was their belief in an "end of days" scenario in which the world would go kaput and a new messiah would come to judge us harshly.

Many decades ago, this belief system had a deadening impact on people's lives. It encouraged fatalism, a conviction that mankind was not in control of his destiny. Our role was simply to be always on our best behaviour and await our fate at the end of time.

Today, it is environmentalists who make shrill warnings about the end of the world.
You can read the full article here. See also Bjørn Lomborg's article on making the world a better place in the here and now. Lomborg is author of The Skeptical Environmentalist and the forthcoming Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Drought watch: July catching up to June

Could the drought pattern be breaking? Already in July, we've had almost as much rain we got in June. (Mind you, what we got in June was almost nothing.) Yesterday, a steady, soft rain in the morning netted 4/10ths of an inch, and this morning we had a similar kind of rain that brought 2/10ths.

With today's hot and muggy weather, there might even be more later if a thunderstorm actually makes it to us. One small storm cell passed frustratingly close at noon: close, but no cigar.

This adds up to just over half an inch for July, and the month has only just begun. Considering that the total for June was about 7/10ths of an inch, things must be looking up. Right?

I sure hope so. All this hose wrangling and buying of water has got me down.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Garden water feature No.2: bubbling fountain

My husband, John, found the black boulder that he used for this fountain at a local quarry. At first he thought it was granite, but it turns out to be slate.

Basically, he just did a bit of carving to level the top so the water would come out evenly and he polished the surface to a nice shine. Most important, he had a hole for the bubbling water bored down the length of the rock by a guy who has the right tools. (This fellow makes garden lighting for the landscape trade out of carved granite stones that he imports from China, and he has drill press machines that do the job.)

The stone is set on top of a large plastic basin that serves as a water reservior and holds a submersible pump. It's covered with screen and fine pea gravel. It looks simple, but John had a few setbacks. His first plastic basin was too small, and the pump he's bought wasn't powerful enough either. Once those problems were solved, the bubbling fountain worked beautifully. As anyone who has done these kinds of projects knows, putting a fountain like this together is never as easy as the magazine articles make it look.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Shade garden water feature up and running

Last weekend, in the nick of time for our open garden day tomorrow, my husband John finally got his carved granite water feature running. There's a picture in this post of the granite being put into place with a Bobcat machine, a job that got done last fall.

John carved a basin for the water into the big round piece of granite, and was able to custom-order the squared piece of granite - which came from China. He had his supplier bore a hole through its length for the water to come up.

The water now comes out of a piece of copper plumbing tubing. This looks very simple and elegant, but it took many hours to work out all the wrinkles of the pump installation. (Water features are never as easy as the garden magazines make them look.)

This piece is John's take on a Japanese-style fountain. It turned out very well, and has already become a magnet for birds and other garden critters, including our Toby-dog, who treats it as his personal water fountain.

More on water features in my next post: my sweetie has been creative, and very busy, but we now have four water features up and running.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Dormant lawns can't take traffic or mowing

If you're worried about your crispy lawn and drought stress, here's good advice from Pam Charbonneau, a turfgrass expert at the Guelph Turfgrass Institute, University of Guelph:
Just a bit of information about the lack of rain, a lawn requires 2.5 cm a week of water to keep it green and from going dormant and of course we have not had any significant rain for several weeks now. To add to this, many municipalities are starting to impose watering restrictions. There is no real problem in letting turf go dormant. A lawn or turf in general can survive for several weeks without water. It will recover when the rains do finally come. It is just a bit more fragile than a lush green stand of turf. Some general things to keep in mind with drought stressed or dormant turf:

• Try to keep traffic off of dormant turf
• Don't fertilize or mow dormant turf
As I expect at least 150 visitors at our Open Garden day on Sunday, July 1, I have actually been watering the lawn around my most important garden areas. I don't usually do this, but with a drought this severe, the added stress of foot traffic on the grass would probably kill it off - plus the greening-up of the lawn makes the garden beds look better.

And, thank goodness, at least the nasty humidity won't be plaguing us for a few days. The forecast is "mainly sunny." Heck, what else would it be when it never rains???

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Not a drop: June is determined to be driest ever

So that big cold front, the one that prompted severe thunderstorm watches all yesterday afternoon, what did it yield? Nothing, not a drop!

Zero POP in the forecast for the next three days, so this will remain the June in which we got less than an inch of rain.

And at the door, the hot, dry months of July and August. Yikes. I'm not liking this summer at all. I'm already counting the days to September, and sweet relief.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Drought update: watering with the fire-hose

Still horridly dry: the map above tells the story. Yellow means low, orange very low, and brown, extremely low. The full map with legend is at the Agriculture Canada site. I added the dot for Hamilton, Ont., close to where we are in the "extremely dry" territory.

So far this month we've had two rainfalls. Both came with thunderstorms and both were a huge disappointment: the first brought 3/10ths, and the second 4/10ths of an inch. This puts us under an inch of rain for the month. I've never experienced a June as dry as this one.

There is another cold front coming through and there's a 60% probability of precipation, according to the forecast. But the rainfall will be likely be spotty; they say 2-4 mm, which is nothing, when you need at least two inches.

I watered quite a bit during the day today, drawing down the cisterns, so that they can collect rain water if it does indeed come.

Here I am wielding the fire-hose.

This evening we decided to get out the pump and fire-hoses and water a couple of huge beds around the house from our pond. It's a lot of work taking the pump to the pond, priming it, and getting 150 feet of heavy-duty hose set up, so we don't do it until necessary; plus we don't want to draw the pond down too much.

Let me tell you: there's a lot of satisfaction wielding a fire-hose to water the garden: you can just pour it on! On the off-chance that we do get one of those thunderstorms that bring two inchs of rain, the pond will fill back up again. Right now, it's only down a couple of feet, but there's still a long, hot summer ahead. I think we took six inches of water off the pond this evening.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Serviceberries: Delicious with yogurt!

I don't think a lot of gardeners know that serviceberries are edible. It's kind of fun to pick berries from a landscape plant.

Our serviceberry shrubs are still laden with berries as the birds haven't got them all yet, so a couple of nights ago I went out and picked a bowl full. They are small, but nice to pick because you don't have to crouch down like you do with strawberries. They're delicious for breakfast with yogurt or for dessert mixed with strawberries. They also keep a lot longer than strawberries, so I've been eating them for a couple of days now.
I also found out that both my dog, Toby, and my neighbor's dog, Buddy, love them. They saw me picking and eating them after we came back from a walk, and immediately demanded samples.

Both have discovered that they can pick the low-growing berries by themselves. It was very cute to watch. My previous dog, Teddy, used like picking wild raspberries for himself. I guess that like us, dogs are omnivores, and they sure love sweet things.