Friday, May 30, 2008

Before and After: Marking 10 years here

A decade ago - before the makeover

Ten years ago today we moved here to a very unkempt 10 acres with no gardens to speak of. A silo marked the location where a barn used to be. Foundation rocks and rusted metal bits were strewn at its foot and hidden by tall grass and thistles.

These pictures show before and after scenes of just that one area, which we now call the orchard because of the crab apple trees we planted there.

I remember well sowing the grass seed with a broadcast spreader meant for fertilizer. It was in the fall after the bulldozer man had done his work. Like so many of the seasons over the past decade, it was a drought year, and the seed didn't germinate until it finally rained in December. Then the snow came. I despaired about ever seeing the grass come up.

Earlier this spring before the crabapple bloom

Last week, with the trees in their full glory

It's really gratifying to see the lawn I planted flourishing and those crab apple trees getting more lovely by the year. They were just four or five-feet tall and bare root when we planted them.

These days I marvel at the energy and imagination we had to create a garden like this. (We were kind of crazy in our enthusiasm. Our energy certainly isn't what it was 10 years ago.) Oh, the irony: the trees are getting more handsome as they age. But my husband and I? Well, we just look 10 years older. But, as my 80-year-old mother would say: Oh, stop it. You're still young.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Starbucks now five minutes away

How "country" are you when there's a Starbucks a mile away? Yes, it's true we're getting brand-new Starbucks just a five-minute drive from our house.

I don't think this is going to change my coffee habits too much. My garden helpers rave about my coffee. I always grind the beans fresh for our mid-morning coffee break. The two gals who help me part-time both love coffee, so this break is much appreciated.

The reason we have Starbucks (and Wal-Mart, Canadian Tire and the Future Shop) so close by is that we're located at the line where the city ends and the country begins.

This land used to be ripe for speculators, but it's now part of "The Greenbelt" (click on map to see larger), an area stretching from Niagara, through Hamilton and Toronto and past Oshawa.

This is an area that is not supposed to be developed. I have no idea whether this is a good thing for our property value or not. But, then we had no choice: our land was simply slotted into the "greenbelt" without any personal notice to us because in Canada we don't have such a thing as property rights.*

The good thing about being in this no-development zone is that the 50 or so trees we planted on our 10 acres have a good chance of growing to maturity unmolested. The tree farm behind us and the golf course across from us can't be developed either, and that means good dog walking for a long time to come. My personal nightmare would be having a subdivision built around us.

That could happen one day in the future - governments can uncreate greenbelts as well as create them, but by that time I'm sure we'll not be around to care.

*By that I mean although we have a Charter Rights and Freedoms, property rights are not specifically included.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Cool weather = long spring bloom

Our magnificent 'Donald Wyman' crab apple trees

There is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that the spring flowers, especially the bulbs and flowering trees and shrubs, which are usually over and done with too quickly, are lasting and lasting.

We have a cool period to thank for that, although, to tell the truth, over the past week it was so cold that I huddled in front of the computer most days and could barely coax myself out into the garden, except to mow the lawn, and I had to bundle up to do that.

It's going to warm up a bit now, but temperatures are expected to stay below normal for the next two weeks. What has me concerned is the lack of rain. Already, we have experienced weeks of dryness beginning in mid-April. The first two weeks of May brought welcome rain, but since then we have not had any significant precipitation.

South of the border readers: tempertures are in Celcius
White line shows normal average temperatures

And as you can see, from this 14-day extended forecast from the Weather Network, we might have to wait until June for a decent rain. When there are showers forecast, as they are in the coming week - we tend to get just a few dribbles.

I certainly don't want a rerun of last season. Nothing takes the joy out of gardening like drought. However, I'll have an easier time of it this season, and fewer hoses to drag around. Last fall we added an irrigation system for our shade garden, (the link takes you to a page about my shade garden on my web site), which is under evergreen trees and therefore gets very dry, and the four-square garden.

Let's keep our fingers crossed for rain, and that frost stays away on Wednesday night. And you know what? If it's going to be dry, it will be a blessing if temperatures stay on the cool side.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Monday, May 19, 2008

Vegetable gardening is "in" - but not here

There's a lot of news about vegetable gardening enjoying a big jump in popularity. Garden bloggers are writing about it, and my brother who owns a garden centre in London, Ontario, reports a big increase in sales of vegetable seeds and gardening supplies.

But I'm bucking the trend: last fall we sodded over what was left of our vegetable garden. We're still enjoying our home-grown asparagus. It's succulent, sweet and easy to pick, but it's all we grow to eat, aside from a couple of tomato plants, a single Swiss chard and some kitchen herbs.

It wasn't always that way: when we started out here a decade ago, veggie gardening was a big thing for me.

I was way more Martha Stewartish then: I grew many varieties of tomatoes, string beans, peas, even onions and shallots from seed. Our vegetable garden was 50 by 100 feet times two, beautifully laid out with straw-mulched paths and edged with parsley and orange gem marigolds. One of the patches would be filled with pumpkins and squash. And then there were two smaller patches closer to the house with yet more veggies and cutting flowers.

So what happened? Well, I'm 52, not 42, there's still just two of us to feed, and it simply was an unsustainable amount of work. We grassed in the giant veggie gardens about four years ago, and that area is now planted with a grid of 12 White Angel crab apple trees.

I kept the two smaller veggie patches (two times 8 by 16 feet) until we sodded them over last fall (pictured left).

All that remains is the asparagus patch, which was one of first things I planted when we moved here a decade ago.

Have I given up on farm-fresh, wholesomely grown vegetables? Not at all. Instead of growing our own, we now buy a share from a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) farm called Plan B. (The family that runs it lived several blocks away from us when we still lived in the city, and while hunting for a country property we actually looked at the farm they eventually bought. Small world!)

Also down our road, as of last year there's a new market garden full of good things. The bottom line for me: as much great, affordable, fresh, organic, locally-grown food as we could possibly want, minus all the work. Been there, done that, had enough.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Thursday, May 15, 2008

In bloom today: from the rock garden

There is so much in bloom here right now that I thought I would concentrate on my husband John's rock garden, which is looking very pretty indeed.

These tulips, which I believe are Tulipa batalinii 'Bronze Charm' are just stunning.

This most stunning, unearthly blue is Gentiana acaulis; behind it, Erigeron compositus. I swear I did nothing to the saturation in Photoshop. These plants have the most amazing color.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Glaucidium palmatum (Japanese Wood Poppy)

Now, isn't this plant just the cat's meow? I discovered it in my shade garden last spring, and said, Wow! This spring our Japanese Wood Poppy is back, and has grown bigger.

First off, I didn't plant it, and had no idea it was there until it came into bloom. My husband brought it home as a gift from friends who are serious connoisseur plant collectors. (This is a category of gardener that I don't aspire to myself, as I tend to limit myself to what works in the rough and tumble of my wind-swept country garden.)

These friends have an amazing woodland and rock garden far north of here, near Thunder Bay, Ont., and I would love to share pictures of their awe-inspiring woodland plantings and alpine garden, but they prefer to keep their garden private, so I'd better not.

Here's a rundown on this rare and desirable woodland perennial, courtesy of Tony Avant at Plant Delights Nursery:
Glaucidium palmatum is one of the most highly prized plants in horticulture...and one that we can't grow in our climate. I am shamelessly envious of those of you north of Zone 7b or on the West Coast who can grow it. For those in the colder zones, we offer this hard-to-find hellebore relative which makes large 2-foot wide clumps of rich, green, anemone-like foliage. In very early spring, the clumps are adorned with large, pink, peony-like flowers. This is such an exceptional beauty that any gardener who has a woodland garden and can grow this gem simply must have this as part of the garden.
Alas, if you're looking for this gem, Plant Delights is sold out. You could try for it next season, or go to Hillside Nursery, which lists it as available in the fall. In Ontario, Lost Horizons lists 'Album', a white selection. In BC, you could try The Natural Gardener; they featured Glaucidium palmatum as their April plant of the month. They say:
It prefers part to full shade in moist, humus rich soil and will reach a height of 30 inches. This is such an exceptional beauty that any gardener who has a woodland garden simply must have this as part of their garden.
I'm amazed that Glaucidium palmatum has done so well in my shade garden, which is under evergreens and isn't naturally moist. I've added lots of mulch and woodsy humus, and I do water it religiously.

In fact, after the misery of last season's drought, we added a partial irrigation system and this is one of two beds that will get regular automatic watering this summer.

For more about my shade garden, see my web site.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Our yellow period

There seems to be a whole lot of yellow in the spring garden now. Here's Aurinia saxatilis, or basket-of-gold (used to be called Alyssum saxatile). These plants were all grown from seed by my husband for his rock garden, but he had many leftovers and they work well in the rockery around our patio.

I must put some blue with them. We just dug out a bunch of grape hyacinth bulbs and I think this would be a good place to put them.

Here are the grape hyacinths with cushion spurge (which I always call Euphorbia polychroma). Apparently E. epithymoides is correct. According to my favorite perennial expert Allan Armitage:
The proper botanical name of this species is constantly in doubt. E. polychroma, named by an Austrain, Anton Josef Kerner in 1875, was superseded by E. epithymoides, given by Linnaeus, in 1770. Normallly the first name takes precedence, and thus E. epithymoides should be the correct name. However, that name had been given to another species. Because of this confusion, cushion spurge will be listed by both names for many years to come; choose the one you like and stay with it.
Of course, most gardeners don't give a hoot, and go with cushion spurge. These plants too were grown from seed by my husband a few years ago, in his Euphorbia period.

I was surprised to see another blogger refer this plant as a thug and vicious spreader. Wow: I'm really fond of it, and don't find it a problem. But then, we do weed religiously around here. Yes, cushion spurge self-seeds a good deal, but it's easy weed out where you don't want it. We tend to move self-seeded ones into spots where we do want them.

Tracy DiSabato-Aust, whose book The Well-Tended Perennial Garden is a must-have, suggests shearing the plants back by one-third after flowering but before the seeds mature. Not only does the shearing take care of unwanted self-seeded babies, but it helps maintain a nicely shaped rounded plant that's less likely to open up in the centre. She suggests wearing gloves when you're shearing because the plant's milky sap can cause skin irritation for many people.

I have more information about this plant, and what to grow it with at my web site.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Friday, May 09, 2008

Spring's fleeting beauty, continued

Star magnolia still in bloom - shrugged off the frost

Serviceberry shrubs

Weeping Higan cherry tree

Chanticleer pear tree

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Spring's fleeting beauty

Naturalized daffodils

A star magnolia blossom before the frost

Cushion spurge (Euphorbia polychoma)

Myrtle euphorbia or donkeytail spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites)

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Oh, happy day! Plenty of rain

Here's what we got today: one and a quarter inches of rain. Put that together with the half inch we had early in the week, and it totals one and three quarter inches for the week. What a blessing after our hot and dry start to the season in April!

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Rainy Saturday and I couldn't be happier

Finally, we are getting a much-needed gentle, all-day spring rain. It's mild again, the rain gauge is measuring an inch, and it's still raining lightly. You can just see and feel the landscape come alive. I'm thrilled and relieved: it was high time for a rainy day!

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Friday, May 02, 2008

Planting day in the rock garden

My husband, John, is a no-nonsense gardener. I took this picture of him last Sunday as he got ready to spruce up his rock garden. This annual job, which involves a lot of replanting, is necessary because many fussy alpines don't make it through the winter in our climate.

Notice the table and organized set-up: he's ready to plant the entire works in a day. Leisurely pottering in the garden isn't what John is about. His job as a doctor in a teaching hospital keeps him very busy, and he changes hobbies with dizzying frequency.

A couple of years ago, he swapped rock gardening and stone carving for violin lessons. (Stone carving might come back when he retires.) As with anything John does, music — which includes violin lessons, concert-going and daily practicing — has taken over, and now his garden plays second fiddle. However, he's still growing plants from seed for it, and wants it to look its best.

To make John's life easier, we asked our garden helper tidy it up from winter, so he could spend a day planting, and that's what he did from sun-up to sun-down. Done in a day: my garden beds take weeks!

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Spring got frostbitten

'Royal Star' magnolia before frost

The middle of April brought us two weeks of summer warmth - and it was actually hot and dry, which was a bit ominous, given that last year's drought summer started early too. Over the past three weeks, we've only had half an inch of rain.

Then, temperatures plummeted and we have just come through three nights of frost: two of them quite severe, down to minus 5 degrees C (23 degrees F).

Too bad we didn't have this in reverse: cold followed by warm. The crocuses and snowdrops were over far too quickly, and the flowering trees came on too soon.

Magnolia 'Betty' frost damage

My star magnolia ('Royal Star') started blooming during the warm weeks and was almost finished by the time frost turned its blossoms brown.

But my two 'Betty' magnolias had just begun to bloom when the frost hit. These trees are still small, so I covered them with a sheet, which helped the first night when the frost was mild, but couldn't prevent damage from the more severe frosts.

On a brighter weather note, it looks like there is real rain in the forecast for the next three days. Bring it on, I say.

The frosty weather didn't deter plant-hungry gardeners at Royal Botanical Gardens this morning. They were in full force for the RBG Auxiliary's annual plant sale. The sale is on again on Saturday morning.

At the RBG plant sale

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener