Sunday, May 31, 2009

The importance of just looking

It's no wonder my garden helpers call me eagle eyes. Last week while looking out the kitchen window, I noticed something strange on a crab apple branch in the distance.

When I checked it out, I found a mass of eastern tent caterpillars that were quite big already. Fortunately, they were still inside the webbing that protects the egg mass, so I was able to grab the entire nest (wearing gloves, of course) and stomp on the critters with my garden boots, (which was satisfying).

So I had another look at all my crab apples trees, and sure enough, I found more caterpillars and was able to get rid of them just as easily. In the weeks before, I had already done the rounds of the trees, and removed at least a half dozen tent caterpillar egg masses.

It's a good thing I noticed the problem early - before the caterpillars were all over the tree branches eating up the leaves. By then it would have been too late to do anything about them. For example, Btk (a natural insecticide), is not effective once the caterpillars are longer than an inch. In fact, the caterpillars I found last week were already quite large and ready to leave their nest. Manual control was the quick and easy solution.

The moral of the story: Noticing things while it's still easy to fix them is the key. (When stuff gets out of hand, fixing it gets harder.) Same thing with weeds, there's nothing more depressing for than a weedy takeover of a flower bed. Maybe this is the reason I'm never relaxed in my own garden: I'm always noticing too many things.

Eastern tent caterpillar Photo by Greg Hume, at Wikipedia.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Friday, May 22, 2009

Today's glorious spring moment

This is how one part of the garden looked this afternoon. We had three nights of serious frosts over the holiday weekend, and the Sugar Tyme crab apple tree above was hit, but thankfully the flowers appear to have weathered the cold better than it appeared at first.

The leaves of some hostas were also damaged, as were new leaves on oak and ash trees and the leaves and flowers of the French lilacs. My favorite Korean lilacs are fine because they were still in bud. What can you do? Mother Nature delivers good and bad.

I'm happy to report that my program of setting garden bootcamp days for early in the week and keeping Thursdays and Fridays for other things is going well so far.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Friday, May 15, 2009

May flowers for bloggers' bloom day

Here's my contribution to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. There are many more things in bloom than I have time to list. We have been fortunate to have a relatively cool spring, so the early bulbs and flowering shrubs are lasting a long time. I love it when we get a prolonged spring.

Lily-flowered tulip Claudia (I think) with bleeding-heart

Brunnera with daffodils and epidmedium in the back

White Angel crab apples in the "orchard"

Eastern Redbud in the shrub border
(This was a tiny seedling given to us by my mother a few years ago)

John's rock garden is in its spring glory right now

My Euphorbia polychroma hedge - these were all self-sown plants moved to the edge of a walkway

To see Bloom Day contributions from many more garden bloggers, head on over to May Dreams Gardens.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Toronto gardening and garden writer's site

A couple of months ago Mark Disero, a rose enthusiast and fellow country gardener, who is practically a neighbor, contacted me about a two web sites that he has been developing.

I've had a chance to get to know Mark a little bit since then. He was the mastermind behind the first show to focus exclusively on Canadian roses. Sponsored by the Hamilton & Burlington Rose Society, the All-Canadian Rose Show took two years to organize, and showcased 125 Canadian cultivars at Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton/Burlington last June. This show was a tribute to the Canadian rose hybridizers and a celebration of the great Canadian-bred roses.

I'm sure that I disappoint Mark by not growing any roses, but we are inundated by Japanese beetles here (irrigated turf at the neighboring golf course really encourages them), and that's one battle I just don't have the energy to fight.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Mark's new sites are now live. One is
"I hope that gardeners can use my site to access great horticultural information specific to their climate. The information in the blogs is updated regularly from writers from across the country.

I hope this is an opportunity for garden writers to promote their writing skills, learn from their peers, (not only exchanging horticultural ideas but also ideas about web design and new technology), increase their website traffic, and most importantly sell their books."
Mark's second site is This one is a website directory for everything gardening within the 416 area code, and includes resources and links of interest to Toronto gardeners.

It's been fun to get to know Mark, and the other day he called with a tempting offer. It was to grab some lunch and then go garden centre hopping. Unfortunately, it was a garden boot camp day, and I had my helpers here, and couldn't leave. But that's exactly what I need once in awhile: a hort buddy to drag me off the farm to get some relief from May's insane do-to list.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Green Thoughts Author Eleanor Perenyi

Eleanor Perenyi, the author of Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden, published in 1981, has died at 91.

Green Thoughts
is the first garden book I ever bought. I don't know what persuaded me to get it because I didn't even have a garden at that point of my life. Of course, I became a gardener, and I have treasured the book since then, and have reread it with great fondness over the years.

Organized alphabetically, the book is made up of 72 essays from Annuals through Longevity, ending at Woman's Place, a discussion of women in the garden - "the tradition of the flower-filled feminine ghetto." Green Thoughts is idiosyncratic: you think there would be a chapter called Spring, but there isn't.

Perenyi used her own Connecticut garden as a window onto the wider world of literature, history and philosophy, and, of course, horticulture. She was certainly ahead of her time on pesticides, declaring: "...natural remedies must be substituted for those man-made ones that are 90 percent toxic in one way or another. As a corollary, nature left alone will strike a tolerable balance among the predators. And we organic gardeners had better be right, because time is running out on the indiscriminate users of chemicals."

In the chapter "Longevity", Perenyi details "gardeners' longevity in impressive defiance of the actuarial tables" from Rome through the Middle Ages to the 20th Century, and anticipates her own ripe old age:
"I like to think of these statistics when I am down on my hands and knees grubbing, while my non-gardening friends are out on the tennis court or jogging past the fence. The athletic tend to look down on gardening - until they try it. Then I am amused to hear their moans and groans: 'My back, I can't believe it.' I can. I go through it every spring, and the cult of fitness has no part in my psychology. I loathe sport in nearly all its forms except horseback riding. But I figure my chances of a long life are at least as good as the average athlete's, and maybe a lot better."
Even though (sadly) it's out of print, you can still buy Green Thoughts at and

For more on Perenyi's fascinating life - she was born Eleanor Spencer Stone in Washington and married an impecunious Hungarian baron at 19, beginning her gardening career on the grounds of his 750-acre estate - read the New York Times obituary.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener