Monday, April 21, 2008

It was a pussy-cat winter: says forsythia

This spring's forsythia in bloom

After the winter my forsythia looks usually looks like the picture below, that is, with only a bit of bloom at the bottom where there was snow cover.

Well, it must have been an easy, or at least a milder, winter: this spring the entire shrub is blooming for the first time in about five years.

So far it's been unseasonally warm for April - too warm for those of us who like to see the spring bulb flowers linger. And already, dare I say it, it's very dry. I sure hope this summer isn't as depressingly dry as it was last year.

Drought years get me so down that I want to quit gardening. I wonder if other gardeners feel that way. If I was on city water, and could water my garden more easily, would I feel the same way? Perhaps not.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Our barn swallows are back

Our barn swallows are back as of this morning. The swallows interact with us a good deal, mostly telling us in no uncertain terms that they want the barn doors opened each morning. There are holes with perches that they can use, but they would rather fly in, as they have lots of mouths to feed.

Later, when the chicks are about to fledge whenever we walk by or go into the barn, we trigger loud alarm calls and get buzzed. I've felt a whoosh of air many a time as a swallow swoops by my ear.

Having the swallows in residence means we have a flock of summer pets with entertainment value. We are fond of them, but it seems there are people who hate these birds. A blogger south of the border, who describes himself as a country boy (not a cowboy or a farmer or a hayseed or a redneck, though he admits to being bit of all those), hates barn swallows. At the bottom of his list of spring things to do, there is this:
Prepare for annual battle with barn swallows by stocking up on 12-gauge shells (I've tried scarecrows, plastic snakes, sonic barriers, and cussing... and I'm finished screwing around with these birds, it is time for them to die).
Yes, it's true that these birds do make a mess in the barn with their droppings, but shooting them????

Fortunately, our ride-on lawn mower has a sun-shade which keeps the droppings off the seat. Late in the summer when the birds are gone, we clean the floor with a power washer.

Aside from that, the swallows aren't a big problem. They're just fellow residents of our little eco-system, a 10-acre spot with lots of food and water, and we're happy to share. They are voracious insectivores, swooping and diving around the lawn mower as it scares up the insects. Apparently, barn swallows are quite effective at reducing insect pest populations - definitely my kind of bird.

(For more information about barn swallows, see this site by the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.)
© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Friday, April 18, 2008

The BIG ornamental grasses clean-up

Toby sniffs around last year's grasses

This was the week of the big garden spring clean-up. My beds around the house are dominated by ornamental grasses. I like to say that no other plants are as easy to maintain: All you need to do is cut down and clear away the previous year's growth in late winter or early spring.

But this is easier said than done. For the job, we always rent a gas-powered hedge trimmer, and the actual cutting takes half a day. It's clearing last year's growth away that makes it such a huge job. But with three helpers, we managed to do all the rough clean-up in one day. The rest of the week was spent on a more thorough clean-up of all the beds, and we've also begun to work on the edging. After that comes weeding and mulching.

After cutting down the grasses

The landscape looks a bit odd without the ornamental grass foliage. There a few bulbs in between the clumps that will bloom soon to give us some colour before the grasses start to grow again.

Here's how our front garden looks after the grasses have put on their spring flush of growth:

New flush of growth; photo from spring '06

If you're interested in ornamental grasses, I have lots of information about them on my web site.
© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Adventures in hiring gardening help

I recently had a help wanted ad for a gardener at Craigslist, my local paper and Workopolis.

The person who wrote this corporate boilerplate didn't have a hope of getting an interview:

Being hard-working, conscientious, flexible, honest and above all else, results driven. I am able to discern and respond to changing requirements while maintaining team communication and interaction. As a detail oriented self starter and organized professional, I have developed sound multi‑tasking and problem solving strategies and can respond quickly in dynamic setting to establish consistent productivity. I also understand the importance of unconditional customer trust and satisfaction in the cultivation of a loyal client base. I am very interested in ongoing skills development; confident that I would be a positive addition to your organization, and a great team player, the opportunity to further discuss my qualifications and your needs would be very welcome.

Available at your earliest convenience, I look forward to hearing from you.

The gal who wrote this got the job:

This job sounds perfect for me! I have been working on my own property building my garden for the past 8 years and it has become my passion. I would love to work with more extensive gardens as I am out of room. I have worked for the past 14 years in an indoor corporate administrative environment and yearn to be outdoors. I have already got slivers and calluses from raking and transplanting this season. I can deal with weather.

I am in the midst of a career change and have decided to follow my dream and pursue garden design. I think I am perfect for this position as I am driven to perfection and would love to make your garden the best in show.... I have no formal education or experience other then my own garden successes and failures that I have learned from.
© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Hurrah: My book is out again

Available only in Canada
through Chapters/Indigo bookstores

It's had a cover makeover and a name change to Basic Gardening, but the content of my book is identical to the original version, Clueless in the Garden: A Guide for the Horticulturally Helpless, which has been out of print for about a year.

When the book came out five years ago (has it already been that long?), the "Dummies" series was popular. The publisher Key Porter, had the me-too idea of commissioning a number of "Clueless" books on topics like cooking, wine, etc.

When I was approached to be the writer for the gardening book, my initial reaction was: Who needs another book like this? Bookstore shelves are littered with how-to books. But while out planting my annuals and vegetable garden, I got to thinking: Why not do it? It would be neat to have my name on a book, and I've written about all those topics for magazines, so why not give it go?

Doing the book was a good experience, and it gave me the confidence to start my gardening website, which is an on-going project and nice little online business that I work on every winter, when I'm resting up from the garden.

As for the new edition of Basic Gardening, the reprint was done for Chapters and Indigo stores in Canada, and will only be available there. It will also be listed at the website soon, and I'll let you know when it's up. As far as I know, it won't be available in the US.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Mud season here. On deck: Spring

Our creek floods its banks again

Winter's retreat is long and ugly: we have officially entered mud season.

This is my least favorite time of the year, but it's the last hurtle to get over so we can at last enjoy some spring weather.

Most of the snow melted as temperatures are finally went up a bit yesterday and today. Overnight we had rain, which together with the melt run-off brought the inevitable day of flooding. Fortunately, it was very windy, which should help things dry up.

What we really need is some sunshine. Maybe tomorrow...

High water under the crumbling bridge at the road

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener