Year in review: part 1

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

It is a beautiful fall day as I’m writing this blog, blue sky and temperature around 20 degrees. I have just finished the last jobs before putting my garden to bed for the winter. The last of my 30 or so bags of leaves have been mulched and put onto the gardens, apple trees have all been wrapped to prevent rabbits and squirrels from eating the bark off of them, and I have emptied the rain barrels onto the trees, shrubs and fruit bushes.

Time for both a well earned rest and for me to put together my garden review list for this year. All season long I jot down notes of anything that is working, not working or something that I need to concentrate on or remember for next year and then I compile it into one list. This year I’m going to share my list in this blog, although the list is a little long for just 1 blog so I’ll split it in 2 parts.

I don’t plant many annuals in my garden–a couple of urns out front with 2 hanging baskets, and some large pots at the back. I love the colour that annuals provide all season, but they typically need more watering than I like to do, and I find them expensive. Last year I overwintered some cuttings I took from both my coleus and sweet potato vines as well as overwintering the purple fountain grass. All the cuttings worked great, and in the spring after hardening off I was able to plant them into my pots and urns; they grew really lush and full. The green potato vine was much stronger and more robust all season than either the purple or copper plants, however the purple fountain grass grew back very slowly never really getting the vibrant purple colour back. This year I’ve taken even more cuttings from my coleus along with the green and purple sweet potato vine. However, I decided that I would rather spend the money on new fountain plants each spring.

Urn in author’s garden

I have 2 large compost piles that I use all year, filling to the top with leaves and then burying food scraps the rest of the year. This year I religiously turned the one pile every couple of weeks starting as early as I could and was rewarded with compost all gardening season. In the second pile though, a couple of errant zucchini plants started growing producing lush growth and lots of flowers and I thought ‘why not leave them?’. I’m sure you can guess the rest, not a single zucchini and I was not able to use any of the compost all season. Note to myself if anything accidentally grows out of the compost next year, turn it back in.

For the first time this season I grew Sicilian zucchini, now I didn’t actually realize I had bought this variety until it started growing up the espaliered tree fence and growing 2-3 foot long zucchinis. I’m definitely going to grow them again next year, although in a different location. When the frost finally killed off the plants and we pulled them off the fence, the wires were no longer taut and needed some tightening. Another point to note is that the zucchinis were consistently eaten throughout August and September when they were barely an inch or two longer. I’m not sure why that only happened later in the summer, maybe the squirrel or rabbit population doubled when I wasn’t looking. I’m thinking of placing bags over the fruit as it is growing, hoping by the time it gets to a foot or more it won’t be quite so attractive to predators.

I tend to leave my perennials to self seed as I love growing plants from seed; it is probably one of my favourite things to do in the garden. I have set aside a nursery plot and any seedlings I find in the garden I move into the nursery. Unfortunately this year I noticed a definite increase in the number of swamp milkweed, verbascum and New England asters seedlings. Now I love these plants, but they are taking over both my garden and my garden paths. I grow Verbascum nigrum which is a beautiful stately plant with either yellow or white flowers. It tends to be a short lived perennial but as it grows profusely from seed, I always have a few plants in my garden. Swamp milkweed is a host for the monarch butterfly; in my garden I have both pink and white flowering plants. They prefer moist to wet soil and because my soil is dry, they are also short-lived. Not so the New England aster; this is a native aster which grows 4 to 5 foot with beautiful purple blue flowers, however it can get very large in just a couple of years. Next year I have to dead head these plants, leaving only a couple to go to seed, which I can then harvest and plant in a specific area of the nursery.

Verbascum in author’s garden; this one plant bloomed all summer.

On the positive side, I was surprised by an abundance of aquilegia (commonly known as columbine) in my front garden that I was not expecting. I had left the seedlings thinking from a distance they were meadow rue, only to be surprised by this showing:

Aquilegia in author’s front garden

Aquilegia are one of my favourite plants, but I tend not to grow them as I find in my garden they are eaten by slugs. One day I have a beautiful plant in full flower, and the next day just a few stems still standing. I’ve slowly been replacing them by meadow rue, which for me has a similar lacy look, which I like when paired with hostas and brunnera. Slugs don’t seem to like meadow rue, but for some unknown reason this year, they also left the aquilegia alone. Based on this I have since ordered some seeds from the native aquilegia, Aquilegia Canadensis, which has beautiful red and yellow flowers and also likes sun to part-shade.

And finally the dreaded creeping charlie in my lawn. I have a small lawn which I have been overseeding with clover in my attempt to make the lawn healthier and more low maintenance. Clover has a lot of great benefits in a law including growing in poor soils. Clover is a nitrogen fixing legume, so it will improve the health of the soil and the surrounding grass, needs less watering and mowing, attracts beneficial insects, and crowds out weeds. Unfortunately though it does not crowd out the creeping charlie and actually seems to co-exist with it harmoniously. The recommended solution in a lawn is to hand pull the creeping charlie and because it grows by rhizomes which then root into the soil, removing all parts of the plant can be very time consuming. I have heard that it is easier if you soak the ground first or weed after it has rained. Note to myself, recruit an army to help me after each rainfall in the spring, either that or learn to love it!

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