Dream a Little Dream

One of my favourite gardening activities isn’t actually an activity – it’s just standing (or squatting or sitting) in the midst of it all, day-dreaming about what it will look like next year. Or three years from now. I enjoy this (non) activity so much that when a neighbour had a large spruce cut down this summer and offered me pieces of the trunk I gladly accepted; not for firewood but to create perching stools.

Spruce Stumps to be used as perching stools

spruce Perching Stools waiting to be placed around the garden

These log chunks are now scattered around the property – waiting for me to do some sanding and sealing next year and then to be perched upon.

Although I’ve been known to stand around day-dreaming about the garden at any time of the year, October is possibly about the best time to do it. I do a lot of planting in October and standing for a spell helps relieve my aching back. Also, of course, October is bulb planting month.

As I make my way around the various garden beds, basket of bulbs and planting tools in hand, I like to stop and envision what the bed will look like next spring. How I can enhance one micro garden to complement the whole.

Allium bubs

various Allium bulbs ready to plant

Along bulb planting toolswith a shovel (for digging large holes for the larger bulbs) and my trusty trowel, I have a new favourite bulb planting tool this year. It’s called a Cobrahead, (aka the aptly titled Steel Fingernail) and is marketed as a ‘weeder and cultivator.’ I’ve been using it to plant smaller bulbs – Fritillaria meleagris, Crocus, Chianodoxa – by pulling it through my rocky, clay soil to create a furrow the perfect depth for planting.

One of the micro gardens I’ve been thinking about all year is a small semi-circular area behind a short Caryopteris hedge that screens the side patio from the house. It’s an important area because it’s the first thing you see looking out the dining room window but for the past two years it’s been unimpressive. I scattered Lupin seeds there last fall and they germinated but remained small this year. I planted Snapdragons there last year and this year and although they’re one of my favourite annuals they didn’t make the statement that’s really necessary for this location.

adding bulbs to a Lupin bed

area to be planted with Lupin seedlings..

I decided last spring that Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ would make that statement and planted a few dozen earlier this week – adding Chianodoxa near the top of each planting hole to extend the spring blooming season.

layered lanting hole

Alliums planted — I’ll add a bit of dirt then the smaller Chianodoxa on top for a layered planting.

I wanted to keep the Lupin seedlings that have been slowly growing there so dug them out first and made an interesting discovery:

Lupin have a tap root, just like a dandelion or carrot – long and tapered, with many fine hairs coming off it. So all summer, while producing little growth above ground, extraordinarily long roots have been developing underground.

Lupin roots

LONG Lupin roots!

I replanted the Lupin I had to remove to plant bulbs and hopefully they’ll survive.

Now, when I look out the window, I have an image of blue Chianodoxa followed by purple Allium followed by purple or pink Lupin. I’ll let you know next June if my day-dream becomes reality!

tiny tiny tomatoes….

I was amazed this year when three volunteer tomato seedlings quickly took over a pretty big micro garden.  Last year this area was home to large artichoke plants.  This year I changed it up and planted Canna lilies, a hardy Hibiscus, rhubarb, a few asparagus roots and a row of purple beans in front.

Then up popped these tomatoes – brought in with the compost or by a hungry chipmunk the previous year.  They are a heritage variety of cherry tomato – Amethyst Jewel – which I started from seed and planted in 2016.  The fruit starts out the most beautiful dark purple, almost black, then ripens into a pale orange.

Amethyst Jewel cherry tomato

Amethyst Jewel – looks pretty but not ready to eat!

Amethyst Jewel cherr tomato ripe

Now it’s ready!

To say it’s a vigourous grower is an understatement – the three plants took over the entire area, layer after layer of tomato stems two to three feet deep.  The size and lushness of the vegetation is so out of scale with the size of the fruit you need to get in close before, gradually, spotting the hundreds and hundreds of purple fruit just waiting for a few more warm sunny days to ripen.

And fall to the ground.

And sprout next year.

Amethyst Jewel cherry tomato plant

The whole thing…can you spot the tiny tomatoes?

Scale

In Praise of a Not Very Spectacular Native Shrub

Snowberry.  Doesn’t the name conjures up images of large, juicy, creamy berries produced after pollinators have spent the summer happily buzzing amongst fluttery, multi-petaled white flowers?

Then you add the botanical name, Symphoricarpos albus, and reality sets in.  Latin can really be a buzzkill sometimes.

For me, the Snowberry is a memory pant — a shrub I remember from when I was a kid, lining (along with honeysuckle and blackberry canes) the rural road I walked along to catch the school bus.

There is absolutely nothing spectacular about this deciduous shrub, except perhaps that it’s native to almost all of Canada (and much of the U.S. as well) – that in itself should give it bonus points!  The flowers are so small you need to be within a few inches for them to be noticeable.   The berries are, indeed, white, but they are smallish, inedible for us and even unappetizing to birds.

1 Symphoricarpus albus Snowberry July 22 2017 a (2)

Symphoricarpos albus – Snowberry in July

This last tidbit may be why they stay on the bush into fall and winter, providing some interest when the rest of the landscape is grey or brown.

I like it because it grows well in my limestoney soil with no pampering or watering (even during last year’s prolonged drought, when the leaves drooped a lot but recovered nicely) and in the semi to mostly shade of the tree line (More berries are produced with more sun).  Although they may sucker after a while they’re pretty contained, growing to maybe six feet high and wide.  I can see them being a useful as a hedge or as a low visual barrier if you want to create a hidden patio; also a great shrub to fill in spots amongst trees if you don’t want to worry about grass  or perennials yet want some greenery.  And although it may be the food of last resort for birds, it does provide shelter for wildlife.

If you see this shrub at a garden centre and you have a bare spot in the yard consider Snowberry.  Maybe create some memories of your own.

4 Shileau & Snowberry Sept 19 2017

Shileau steals the spotlight from the Snowberry

Creating a Garden in the Urban Jungle

On a busy street just east of the Don Valley near downtown Toronto there’s a tiny micro garden planted at the base of a 24/7 gas station sign.  I saw a man there once in early spring, hovering over the space as if he was weeding or planting but generally it’s unattended most of if not all summer.

I’m guessing watering is a challenge – I don’t recall much of anything thriving there during last year’s dry summer but this year (although on this last day if August you see mostly Cosmos)  a dozen or so species all happily cohabited this space.  There were perennials like New England Aster, Sedum spectabile , Phlox paniculata and poppies (you can still spot the ripe seed heads) and the show stopper Plume Poppy.

micro garden Datura

IMG_2504

Micro garden tomato

micro garden Sedum and Cosmos

micro garden - Plume Poppy

the show stopper Plume Poppy — Macleaya cordata