Glow after First Frost

In the wee hours of yesterday morning a wave of frost rolled over the field and gardens closest to the house.  I had, perhaps instinctively, cut and brought in for drying all the sweet and Thai basil the day before so no loss there.  Hardest hit were the Canna Lilies, cantaloupe, zinnias and, sadly,  my overgrown jungle of Amethyst Jewel cherry tomatoes.

Wanna know what happens when you try to pull a cherry tomato plant after frost?

The tomatoes fall.  With the lightest touch, they fall like marble size pieces of purple hail.  And, I discovered, they make a nice ‘pop’ when you happen to step on any that land in the grass on its way to the wheelbarrow and compost pile.

Anyway.

Here is a portion of my frost touched cherry tomato bed, glowing in this morning’s light.

Amethyst Jewel frost hit Oct 17 2017
Glow

Compost Fever!

One of the garden chores I get a lot of satisfaction from is the annual compost screening.  Usually I’ll wade into the compost a few times every month to turn it over, aerate it, help the insects and microbes do their decomposition bit.  This year; however, nature had other plans – I’ve posted previously how pie pumpkin seeds from last year germinated and basically took over.  This indicated two things:  the pile didn’t get hot enough to kill the seeds, and, whatever was happening within that pile of kitchen scraps, leaves and garden clippings had created a really nutritious growing medium!

I harvested the pumpkins a few weeks ago (had to make Thanksgiving pies!) and it was time to see what was there.  I’ve had for many years a compost screen that fits nicely over a wheelbarrow – it’s easy to build with two-by-fours (or should that be written as 2×4’s?) and wire screening from a building supply store.  I shovel three or four scoops from the pile onto the screen then swipe a trowel through it several times, which sends the decomposed material into the wheelbarrow.  What’s left gets dumped onto this year’s pile for further composting.

After a few hour’s work I’m left with an empty slot ready for next year, a growing pile of this year’s raw material being transformed and a nice pile of rough, crumbly compost, ready for top dressing beds or adding to bulb planting holes!

Composter Oct 11 2017 aComposter Oct 11 2017 cComposter Oct 11 2017 dComposter Oct 12 2017 c

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

7 Early Fall Favourites

In this first week of autumn I realize there’s nothing new left to come up in the garden – no new flower buds to open, no new unfurling of leaves, no more sudden growth spurts of stalk and stem.  The final Hollyhock flowers – those at the very tip of six or seven foot spikes – are blooming; Goldenrod is going to seed; Hosta leaves are yellowing and somewhat bedraggled.

Before I start to think and rave about the changing colours in our forest canopies and tree lines (or about raking up fallen leaves!), and before I set about in earnest collecting seeds for next year’s garden, I want to savour the beauty of these early fall favourites.  Thanks to Chloris in England who writes The Blooming Garden for encouraging this regular check-in of favourite flowers!

1 – Turtlehead – Chelone glabra — I’ve struggled but so far failed to get a good picture of this native perennial. Not too sure why, but all the close-ups turn out fuzzy so I can’t show you how bees love to force their way into the purple, snap dragon-like flowers, buzz around for a bit then force their way out again.  I’ve had to move this clump around a few times so it’s not that large;  hoping it’ll be happy in this spot, shaded by variegated Dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’):IMG_3067_edited-1

2 – Garlic Chives – Allium tuberosum – like regular chives but with flat leaves and a more garlicky than oniony flavour.  I love them because the white flowers open late in the year and are often swarmed by bees.  I started this clump from seed – this is its second year, much slower to get going than regular chives – and will collect seed to start more clumps all over:Garlic Chives Sept 20 2017

3 & 4 – Evening Primrose – Oenothera biennis – this is the native species, not the domesticated  variety often sold in garden centres.  They can get very tall or sprawl close to the ground.  A beautiful, vibrant yellow to contrast nicely with New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae).  They spring up all over here because I often let them go to seed – but they’re easy to pull up where not wanted:Evening Primrose & New Englanfd Aster Sept 19 2017 3

5 – Colchicum – this is the ‘The Giant’ variety – I’ve posted before about them – just can’t stop myself.  This time next year the Veronica ‘Whitley’s Speedwell’ (the low growing ground cover on the left) will have spread over the mulch, providing a gorgeous bed for the purple petals:Colchicum Sept 20 2017

 

6 – Sedum spectabile “Autumn Joy” – not a native but bees of all sorts still love ’em!  A staple of my garden with its many very dry areas:Sedum spectbile - morning dew

7 – Reblooming tall bearded Iris – new to me this year thanks to a generous friend — I don’t know the variety of this Iris (does anyone??) but it had a huge show, as expected, in the spring.  It’s been sending up flower stalks again for the past three weeks with enough buds to last another month:reblooming white Iris Sept 20 2017

Tuteur Take Two!

Can you believe it?!

I was doing this and that in the garden yesterday, looked up and spotted this!  My one and only Morning Glory, the most beautiful sky blue shade ever!  Sure hope there’s a few more blooms before the whole structure comes toppling down — it’s leaning quite precariously now, and I’m not sure if the vines are holding it up or pulling it down!

 

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