So, we’re looking at our gardens, as the tender new shoots of perennials emerge and grow at rapid fire pace…..love this time of the year! But, today I am watering everything, except the lawn. The planting beds are DRY, and it is WARM, so it’s time to give everyone a drink. As I look around at my gardens, some are very deep shade, some are morning sun, some are a mix, and some are full sun all day. Planting always requires some trial and error, but sometimes the areas that cause grief are those with full exposure. And added heat.
I decided to include a short list of some perennials that grow well in these conditions, and are hardy to our northern zone 1 to 3 climates. Oddly, even with 5 months of winter, we have areas in this land that see almost desert like conditions. I spent several years living in such an area, and there are vast differences in the plants that will or will not grow in extreme heat. I know it is hard for some people to visualize anywhere in Canada reaching temperatures in the high 30’s (Celsius) but trust me….we get them! And landscaping stops above 35 degrees!!!
Here is my short list, hardy to heat and to drought…..next time, shade!
We had a lovely rain yesterday, very welcome as it was needed! Not that we have a lot of choice in weather, but there are times when we seem to appreciate the weather that comes our way more so….
It hasn’t been overly warm these past 2 days, however. That seems quite typical of this weekend, Victoria Day long weekend in Canada. We can start out warm and end up in snow….but it always spells the first ‘official’ weekend for campers to get mobile and find a place to head off to and enjoy some RnR. Our little hamlet heralds in the weekend with a big celebration, inclusive of a parade, show and shine car rally, children’s activities, and this year we added a family dance and fireworks! It was a busy day, but enjoyable, despite the rain!
Today we are slowing it down a bit….enjoying the middle day of the long weekend….we need to slow down. I uncovered my plants this morning, and spent some time outdoors, puttering around. As I was walking about, I noticed that the rhubarb seems to have grown overnight! It is so wonderfully good in the early harvests. Tender stalks of red…I love it! It has a nice warm home, with a bit of a micro-climate that encourages growth, so it is very nice to find the bounty on a cool morning!
I decided this would be a good day to harvest and enjoy some of the early stalks, so I thinned out the plant, leaving plenty to shelter the little ones. I will need to check in on it often, as it seems to grow so fast right now.
When I was a child, we had plenty of rhubarb plants, and my memories are both good and not. I loved the crisps that Mom would cook, and also enjoyed freshly stewed rhubarb, still warm, with a bit of fresh cream from our small dairy production. As with all good things, however, there can be too much at times. I cannot say I was overly fond of canned rhubarb….or perhaps the quantity of it we consumed. I also was not fond of rhubarb cake….but I am not overly fond of any cake, so that is not a surprise.
I have experimented a bit in my own cooking with rhubarb, making juice from steeped fresh rhubarb (many recipe varieties for this) and have made the occasional pie, but not a fave again. I usually freeze the fruit after I have cleaned and chopped it, to use throughout the year. I like freshly stewed warm rhubarb, so this is a mainstay for us. I also like it in muffins. One dilemma I have at times is sweetening it. I don’t cook with white sugar or white flour, and my main sweetener is honey. If I want something not so liquidy, I turn to stevia, but that is tricky in baking…..I do an awful lot of trial and error when I am substituting in recipes. Generally, we get some delightful dishes, though, as I have been cooking this way most of my adult life.
Today saw a rhubarb crisp come forward….really, I don’t think anyone can go wrong making any kind of a crisp. They are not terribly difficult, and fresh fruit is a gift to use in these delicious desserts! Hubby likes them warm with ice cream. I don’t like ice cream, so I usually turn to yogurt. I sweeten with a mix of honey and stevia, after I have tossed the fruit in a bit of flour. I also add cinnamon, which is another main ingredient in my crisps!
I also made some muffins, which we sampled fresh from the oven!! (Why not?) Muffins of any flavor can be found in this house at any given time, so it was fun to use the fresh harvest for these ones!!
And, I just need to give a quick glimpse of what our little feathered friends have been up to! The robins have been hopping around all over the place, so I should have known they would find a nesting spot! While on my garden trek, I came upon a mess on the ground level deck; straw, string, roots….I wondered what the heck Hubby had been up to…..until I noticed a long strand of grass flopping in the wind off of our upper deck! As I looked up, there on the beam are 2 robin nests…..side by side! We usually get one in this spot……not sure about 2. Hubby says they are sisters who want to raise their children close to each other! Maybe he’s right.
So Hubby and I have decided to work on a landscaping project…..not for ourselves this time, but for a friend. Last fall, our friend decided to move off the farm, and purchased a home in the small village close by. She is not what I would consider ‘old’ but she wants to change up the yard to make it both pretty and low maintenance. The previous owners did quite a lot of work, but, as usual, it is not to her taste. I say ‘as usual’ because I have yet to see a yard that one moves into that is completely to the buyers taste…..something always needs tweaking. This yard, although quite neat, has some odd, odd items…..like the grey and red brick patio, with a brown one beside it…..did they run out of grey? Or do we like multi-colored hardscape? I dunno…..not my taste….but then, I am a bit fussy!
We are not in the landscaping business any longer, but we still have all of the equipment that we once used, so, hopefully as a final hurrah to landscaping for others, we are re-doing our friends yard. She is able to snag some of her perennials from the farm, but not a lot, so, I have been looking at my own supply and am ready to divide up any that she would like to take. And that’s the beauty of perennials!!! Most are so share-able, and are ever present, ready to please! I am a perennial nut….not so much with annuals. I like annuals, don’t get me wrong, but good grief! They are so much fuss….every year we buy them, and fuss with them until they are established. We cover them up at night until the danger of frost is past….we pot them and move them….and all because….well, because we really do love them….but they are a lot of work. I have been covering some of my plants now for about 4 nights (since I planted them) and will until after this weekend, when, hopefully, the frost danger is past. But, as a true Canadian, I will check the weather forecast daily to see the night temperature, and make the decision accordingly. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why my linen closet is full…..extra sheets and towels are a necessary evil in spring!!
Back to the garden…..I have been looking at my perennials and ripping back some of the winter kill, enjoying some of the early bloomers….and thinking about what can cover some of the bare patches on the hill we have, where the children’s play area is. It is a naturalized play area….Large rocks, a balance beam, slide embedded in the hill….and I have tried to incorporate some ‘trample friendly’ ground covers! Currently, I have some of my mint, thyme, ajuga (bugle weed), lamium and red sedum…..none of these ground covers will bat an eye as they are stomped on, whacked around, and generally beaten by the kids. In fact, they seem to thrive on such treatment. My mint has gone a little crazy, to the point that I actually have started to mow it….I have a couple of types of mint growing right beside the slide, which is a wonderful aromatic experience, but it’s a crazy plant.
And so, lets talk about these crazy plants. Invasive is probably a better word. I am not at all opposed to planting and growing these, but it is ‘planter beware’. You really need to know the growth habit of certain species, and within that, certain varieties. Invasive simply means that the plant will spread into the territory of other plants, invading their space. Some invaders have a very thick and difficult root system, and can take over the area, killing out it’s neighbors. Some are less nasty, and can be controlled by digging back regularly. The important thing is to KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GETTING before you plant it. The most invasive plant I have seen in my experience of ‘fixing’ someone’s garden while landscaping was Aegopodium podagraria, AKA Goutweed. Why do I use the botanical name here? I don’t want to confuse the identity of the plant. While this ground cover plant is adorable to look at, with it’s lovely variegated leaves, and full growth, it is CRAZY!!!! It has uses, of course, and is an excellent plant to fill a space that needs covered quickly, where not a lot will grow, and this space is located separate from other beds ie: under a tree, surrounded by lawn. Goutweed will kill any plants in it’s path….We were asked to assist a couple with a garden reno….creating some planting beds for veggies. The problem was the previous owner had planted Goutweed in several places, with no separation and the plant just spread every where. We dug is out, we tilled, we dug more, we covered it with fabric, and (although I hate to admit this) we finally tried to use a herbicide……nothing was effective. We did manage to scale it back, but warned the home owner that this was going to be their forever task. My recommendation for this plant is to carefully think through where to locate it….I have seen beautiful beds full of it that line a driveway or walk way, and may have a large boulder within. They are quite gorgeous and the planting works….but use caution.
I’m not picking on this particular plant….however, all too often people will purchase a ‘cute’ plant, and not really understand the growth habit. If in doubt, just go to ask.com and ask the question ‘what is the growth habit of …?’ Not necessarily the most reliable research, but everyone does not have a library of horticulture books at their disposal. (yes, I do)
So, what are some of my favorite ground covers? I’m glad you asked! I have so many, but I will only cover a few.
Sedums come in many, many varieties. I have several in my yard, always have. They, too spread quickly, but are easily controlled. Some spread by seeding, but most by root. The nice thing about sedum is the versatility of where they will grow. They are a lover of poor soil conditions, but do equally well in good growing conditions. I have sedum in the full sun, full shade, dry beds and those with more moisture. Performance is different in different locations, but they grow. They are easily managed because they have shallow roots that are easily pulled or dug up. I usually just give a tug, but will dig out bits when I want to pot them for sharing.
Snow in Summer or Cerastium tomentosum is another of my faves. It has gorgeous silver/grey foliage that stands alone nicely, and is such a great compliment to the green. In spring, cerastium graces the landscape with a mass of white flowers, hence it’s nick name of snow in summer. It is low growing, spreading, cascades over rocks or walls. It will spread, and is also easily controlled by cutting back, digging out bits to share.
Ajuga or Bugleweed is also one I love. It can be a bit invasive, so beware, but I find it very easy to control. I like it because of the coloration of the foliage: burgundy and green, low growth. Again, it will grow in a range of soil conditions and is easily moved or shared.
Campanula carpatica or Campanula glomerta aka bellflowers, love them! Small blue flowers, some varieties have white. The carpet bellflower spreads as a ground cover and so so pretty!!!!
Lamium can be invasive, but is a great plant. I am careful about where I plant it, usually in a rock bed, and I regularly rip out portions. It can take a lot of abuse and just keeps on growing. In fact, we planted some here before we built, and move it to a bed later….the original plant is in the lawn now, and we just mow it with the rest! It grows regardless.
Bergenia is not officially a ground cover, but I love it, and it is an evergreen, meaning the leaves don’t need cut off, they are green all year and it flowers early in the spring with pink spires. It is grown for the foliage; my sister calls it the tobacco plant, but I prefer it’s Latin name!
Heuchera varieties: excellant choice! Although we think of the green foliage with coral spires of flowers (coral bells), Heuchera foliage is available in burgundy, copper, lime, and all shades in between! Grow it for the foliage. It will spread its leaves over the soil in an amazing show!!
Rock phlox, Phlox douglasii is another wonderful cover, flowers in the spring, cascades over the rocks or walls, and is a great ground cover. Another heat lover that thrives in sun, and poorer conditions. Pay attention to the foliage. It can be pokey on the skin!
I will end with this one: not really a ground cover, but mine tends to cover the ground! I love this plant. It is a shade lover, and blooms only in the spring, but Pulmonaria longifolia, or Lungwort is such a great plant! A lot of people ask what to grow in shade….this is a great choice, along with some of the usual suspects like Astilbe and Hosta. You will not be disappointed with this. I have split mine a few times, which is easily done. This plant is not invasive at all….well behaved with gorgeous foliage.
Okay, today I promised myself I would get back to the business of garden blogging rather than travel blogging, but…..just one more and I promise to get back to the
garden. Truthfully, I have seen many posts lately on Facebook about tulips in swaths, and have read some blogs about spring gardens, so, I really couldn’t resist! I am also lamenting the fact that my love of tulips has been sadly stifled by my 4 legged friends who also have a love of tulips…..and the bulbs. We have attempted tulips a few times, having grown some amazing colors and varieties prior, but we learned after the first 3 seasons in this location that the deer are more persistent than the humans (in this case). We have an amazingly successful deer fence up (following a lot of research on the topic: repellants are only slightly successful in deterring my little friends) but alas, I am not yet brave enough to give the tulips a go yet. Maybe in the fall I will change my mind. I think we need at least 2 summers of no chomp before I can feel confident. And, only those who have lost entire crops of fruit and/or veg and/or lilies and/or roses……will fully appreciate my hesitancy. There is a fine line between enjoying these beautiful creatures, and keeping them happily away from my plants….right now we all co-exist and it’s good….and they enjoy some tasty morsels on the other side of the barrier!!!
Back to travel…..located within Lake Constance, also known as the Bodensee, is a beautiful flowering island, accessible by ferry from either Germany or Switzerland. The island has an interesting history, having long been owned (and managed) by Swedish lineage linking back to royalty. We have been to the flowering island twice, both in May, and it is a relaxing, easy place to see, despite the crowds of people. As it is a strolling island, with a LOT of garden to stroll, it is easy to not notice that you are amongst so many others strolling!
The location within Lake Constance gives a semi-tropical climate, and an amazing array of themes and blooms. Additionally, garden artwork abounds, making this a treat for any eye. Of course, one cannot discount the area surrounding, on the shores of the lake. Both sides have not-so-small, and yet, somehow quaint towns built beside the lake, where you can also enjoy lush plants, little coffee shops, and the ever so amazing European architecture that is old and new, lovely!
Walking into the park requires passing through the entrance, where maps and information is housed. Take a map!! This is at least a half day tour, if you actual want to see things (Palm House, Butterfly House, Orchid house, rose gardens, tulip show, farmyard, Arboretum, Castle….)…..take a light lunch and water bottle as well…..and good walking shoes. After that, it is impossible not to step past the entrance and find yourself stopping, slowing, and simply taking in the amazing beauty. This tour is so, so good for the cortisol level!!
Today will be a shorter post than usual, and I am diverting from our spring here in sometimes cool, sometimes warm central Alberta, to take you on a trip with me to another garden that is very close to my heart. Why, you ask? Well, my husband & I have shared a loss this week, as an important and loved member of our family left this earth. He left us with so many wonderful thoughts and memories, but, of course, it is still difficult. Hence, both of us have spent the better part of the week outdoors, puttering and getting our hands dirty, and utilizing the best garden therapy of all. I have also scrolled back through some of my garden favs to find some garden travel pics, which is also therapeutic for me…..
Normally at this time of the year, we board a plane to head oversees…for some reason this year we did not. Regardless of that, I am still transported to Europe in my mind, often, each spring. I have been thinking of this particular water garden for some time, and was not actually sure where the digital pictures were. I have the printed ones…..yes, I print all of my vacations….but, as luck would have it, I found them on Hubby’s computer one fine morning, so I will share with you today.
Interestingly, we did not intentionally set out to find this garden, it somehow found us. We had traveled to Germany, then through the Netherlands and into Belgium, in late May. Our friend in Germany had provided information on some open garden tours of private homes and estates, in the Netherlands, so as we ventured off, we planned the first stage of our trip around these (will share another time). We ended up in Bruge, enjoying this amazing Belgian City, then wound our way through some historic areas, ending in a farming picturesque country villa….amazing really!!!!
With no plan for 3 days, we set our GPS to a ‘spot’ on the map, and off we went! That, I tell you, is amazing! Off the beaten path, nowhere we could speak the language, and just seeing some of the most amazing countryside and towns….just wow! And, as we traveled, we saw a sign for this Jardin, of course, we stopped.
It turns out that this garden is/was built in the style of Italian water gardens, and uses no pumps, electricity or anything other than gravity to create it’s water features! That was what impressed me the most. And the fact that it is over 200 years old! We wandered through the very quiet place (it really was off the beaten path) and strolled up hills to find streams flowing out from the earth, and we followed along a very calm, lovely, zen-like walk. It was amazing.
So, I give a few photos for your enjoyment. It brings me peace to revisit and realize that some things are just fine without our modern touches; nature truly is magnificent.
Let me just tell you that I was so excited when Hubby and friend decided that it was time to take a trip to the farm for some wonderfully composted manure! I suppose this is one of the benefits of living rural: we know our neighbors, we watch out for each other, and we are all interwoven somehow within a community. The farm is owned by the sister of the neighbor, who is also our County Councilor, and is part of a community planning group that I facilitate…. they own cattle, and the farm has been in place for a LONG time, so there are lovely piles of manure….which, as they sit, decompose and become wonderfully healthy garden amendments.
So, 2 days ago, Hubby attaches the dump trailer to our truck, and off they go….3 hours later, after loading up, stopping for a bevvy, and a chat, they return.
Our ‘alley’ is not so much an alley, but a pathway that sometimes we can drive on. It was put in place by the gas company when lines were run for natural gas, and we
use it as an alley, but we also have reclaimed it is a part of our yard, as have all the neighbors on this side of the street. We are very rural as a hamlet, and the lots behind us are not serviced, likely never to be built upon….so we’re good. There is nothing much on these lots, except for some compost, manure, and bird feeders! We’re good.
Hubby and friend unload half of the trailer here, and half on friend’s garden! Meanwhile, I have started turning the soil in some beds in preparation for this lovely amendment. Thankfully, we still own a small Bob Cat loader that can fit between our garden boxes, so after 2 hand shoveled wheelbarrows and one hurting Mama, Hubby comes to the rescue….YAY!!! I could have gotten the Bob Cat myself, but he is a much better operator than I, so I was pleased.
He also has been working on the ‘list’ of spring chores, and has completed my ‘step beds’ within the terraced beds, and one of the trellises. As I write, he is working on the other trellis…..no, you can’t marry him….he’s mine!
So why manure? And what are the pitfalls?
First of all, garden soil is the basis of good gardening, as we all know. Soil is composed of mineral (clay/silt/sand), organic matter, air and water. Most soils are about 50% matter and 50% pore space, which is where the air and/or the water reside. Organic matter is the decomposed remains of plants, animals and micro-organisms. It acts as a temporary storehouse for nutrients that the plants require, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, etc. The little micro-organisms within the soil aid in breaking down the organic matter and releasing the nutrients for plant uptake.
Another function of organic matter is improving the soil structure, as it aids in holding together sand/silt/clay particles, and also creates necessary pore space, and good tilth. This is true of any organic matter, such as household compost, or purchased compost/manure. Ensuring good soil health will ensure good plant health.
There are, of course pitfalls to utilizing manure from a farm. Often, purchased manure has been heated to kill weed seeds, making it less likely to provide that extra work following application. When purchasing, it’s a good idea to see if the product tells you the ratio of manure/compost to soil, as many purchased amendments are not 100% organic matter….manure from the farm is USUALLY full of weed seeds. Why? Because cows eat plants, plants have seeds, seeds don’t necessarily break down in the gut, in fact some need to be consumed by an animal and released out to make them viable (true story!). Also, piles of manure sit in nature, where the wind blows, and the seeds fly, and…..so, literally, we take our chances with this stuff, and we know we will have to weed.
I like to get manure from a farm that I know the farming practices of: do they use
hormones with their cattle, what type of feed is given, and from what source? How much pesticide is used in their cropping (if any), and what type? Are they careful with managing weeds and quack grass (my fav!!) around the farm yard…..you may not be able to get these answers, but they are good to know.
A different pitfall of using farm manure may is it’s age. It needs to be well rotted/composted manure. 2 things happen if this is not the case: it can burn plants because it is too strong, and/or it can capture and trap the available nitrogen in the soil, because organic matter needs nitrogen to break down, thus creating a nitrogen deficiency in plants.
Also, it is necessary to take care when applying, and to blend the manure well with the soil….the idea is to plant in amended soil…not in manure. Generally, it is safe to add up to 3 to 4 inches of well rotted manure or compost to a bed, and work it into the soil.
All in all, using organic matter is a benefit. Follow common sense practices, making sure anything ‘looks’ like soil, not like the original product, and be prepared to follow up with a bit of weeding, but it is definitely worth the effort!