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.