Category Archives: Bees & Pollinators

Becoming the Caretaker of your Garden

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I first heard the term to be ‘caretaker of your garden’ at a permaculture course a few years ago. It has resonated with me ever since and has changed both the way in which I garden and also the way that I perceive my garden. Being the “caretaker of your garden” means that while you own the land that your garden is on, it is only temporary. You are, in fact, simply looking after that piece of land for a relatively short period of time before passing it on.

For me, being the caretaker of my garden makes me consider the longevity of the garden, what takes away from the health of the garden and what gives back to the garden; how to feed not just my family but also the wildlife whilst providing safe habitats; how to make the garden more self-sustainable reducing my time spent pruning, weeding, and imposing my unnatural demands on the garden thus allowing myself more time to simply enjoy the garden. For most of us, we are already doing the groundwork for this change already–it is simply a shift in the way we view ownership of our garden, or more specifically, the plot of land the garden sits on.

The following are some of the practices that I follow:

  • A healthy garden always starts with healthy soil. I amend my soil annually with leaf compost. I have 2 large leaf composters in my back garden which I fill with bags of leaves I collect from neighbours. I also mulch up approximately 20 bags of leaves and spread these liberally over my vegetable and perennial gardens in the fall.

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  • I cut back very little in my garden in the fall mainly just anything that is diseased. In the spring I cut everything up into 1-2 inch pieces and drop them back on the garden. This also acts as a mulch as well as amending the soil.
  • Plants that have multiple uses are important to me. This may be because I have a small garden; multiple functions can include fix nitrogen, use as a fertilizer, be edible or medicinal etc. as well as aesthetically pleasing.
  • Including vegetable plants in the perennial bed. I will often do this if I run out of room in my vegetable beds, however a lot of vegetable plants have amazing foliage and are great to line paths and place in the front of beds.
  • Recently I have made efforts to increase diversity in my small garden, increasing the number of native plants. Native plants are generally hardier, more adapted to our climate and require less maintenance; they also tend to attract more wildlife and pollinators.
  • I try to water as little as possible using rain barrels as much as I can.  I must admit that any plants that do require more water, or in fact more maintenance of any kind, tend to be replaced fairly quickly.ironweed suzanne

For anyone who has not heard of permaculture, it is a set of guidelines, principles and practices for sustainable living and land use. When you narrow down permaculture to your home garden, you are in effect looking at a more sustainable, natural method of gardening mimicking that found in nature to create a cohesive garden, in which all elements benefit, nurture and interconnect with each other. Whilst that does sound like a fairly lofty aspiration, the good news is that just by implementing or adding a couple of permaculture practices can have a significant impact on your garden, but that sounds like a blog for another day.

For me the term ‘being caretaker of your garden’ and the reasoning behind it align with my passion and concern regarding climate change and environmentalism. Whilst the changes I make may only have a small impact these type of changes can add up and often lead to something bigger.

For further information on permaculture:

Pot, eh?

By Mary-Jane Parker, Master Gardener

This past growing season was my first foray ever into growing marijuana. I tried this because I want to attempt to make a salve that I have been purchasing locally for arthritis (which, by the way, seems to work for me!)

marijuana-101796_960_720I started my seeds inside under lights. When I planted the seedlings outside, one went into the ground in my garden and the other went into a 5 gallon bucket with holes drilled in the bottom. The bucket plant went into my little greenhouse.

I did not fertilize either plant regularly – maybe 3 times the whole summer – but I did water the potted plant pretty well daily. I gather from other growers that I should have fertilized a lot more and then held back on the fertilizing later in season to clear chemicals out of the plants.

I thought this would be a good way to test growing techniques – greenhouse as opposed to outdoors but in the end it was not. I had planted 2 varieties that had very different characteristics. One had a beautiful bluish, reddish tinge to it and the other was twice as bushy.

Both plants ended up being well over 5 feet tall with lots of flowers. I cut them down before first frost and hung them in the greenhouse with shade cloth draped overhead.

So now, I am not sure if all the work was worth the effort and I haven’t even made the salve yet. I don’t know how the hippies from the 60’s and 70’s did it. I was told to trim off all the leaves before I hung the plants. That took an incredibly long time. And apparently I will have to trim the dried flowers off in the very near future. The marijuana plants themselves are kind of interesting architecturally but they stink. Birds for the most part avoided them and I don’t think I saw even one bee on them and I have lots of bees here. At any rate, I will make the salve and reserve judgement until then. We have to try new things, right?

Links:

How to grow marijuana outdoors: a beginner’s guide

How to Grow Cannabis in 10 Easy Steps

Master Gardeners of Ontario Information Sheet: How to grow Cannabis

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Adding Diversity to Garden Design

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

In June this year, I was sitting with my son on the deck looking at the backyard. He asked me why I had so much grass in the garden. Now, he is definitely not a gardener, so I was a little confused until I realized he was referring to all of the daylily leaves. I felt it my duty to point out the stunning delphiniums, peonies, irises, and lupins which were all in bloom. I also tried to explain that in another month or so the garden will be a riot of colour when all the daylilies and coneflowers started flowering. Daylilies have always been my favourite plants; they are hardy, drought tolerant, low maintenance and beautiful in bloom. See our blog post from July 22 describing how daylilies are the perfect perennial. I probably have at least fifty different varieties, all of which I bought over from my last garden four years ago. But as I sat there looking at the garden I did wonder if maybe I should add more diversity.

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Author’s garden in late spring

Shortly after, I was watching my new favourite garden show on Netflix, ‘Big Dreams, Small Spaces’ with Monty Don. If you have not heard of him, Monty Don is something close to a hero to most British gardeners. In this episode, he was relaying a gardening principle to the couple that were designing their new backyard.  He mentioned that for simplicity and cohesiveness “no garden needs more than seven different plants”.  I was trying to remember where the back button was on the remote as I wasn’t sure I’d heard correctly, but he did partially redeem himself when he clarified that statement by saying that you do not have to take this too literally, but that a good garden can be made with just seven different plants. My current garden design is more of an English cottage garden, informal with little space between plants and if I was going to add more diversity this summer, I would definitely have more than seven different plants.

I spent this summer with pen and paper in hand walking around the garden, asking myself if I really needed 20 different variations of pink daylily, some of which even I struggled to tell apart or did I need the same daylily variety in four different places in the garden. I also noticed the daylily blooms had very few insects compared to the spectacular activity around the native plants. I made copious notes in my notebook and labelled many plants I wanted to move or give away. Because of a rising concern for environmentalism and climate change, I also wanted this to be reflected more in my garden. To do this I decided I needed to do the following:

  • Plant more native plants. I have collected seed from most of my native plants including swamp milkweed, culver’s root and liatris and will use these to fill in over the next few years.
  • Add more edibles to the perennial garden. I tend to edge with swiss chard, beets or cardoon. I don’t actually eat the cardoon but I love the foliage on the plant.
  • Choose more plants that have multiple functions, i.e. yarrow which attracts insects, is drought tolerant, is a nutrient accumulator bringing nutrients from deep in the soil and storing them in the leaves, has attractive flowers in many colors, and can be used as a manure tea.
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Author’s garden in summer

I’m excited for next year to see the changes I’ve made. I’m hoping that I have still kept the basic structure of the garden design with the emphasis on the summer color whilst adding more variety, especially pollinator and native plants. I learned this summer that a garden design does not have to be static; it can evolve as your values and beliefs evolve.

The design of your garden can be very personal, ever changing, reflecting who you are. For me it is somewhere where I feel at peace with the world–there is nothing I like more than taking a cup of tea out to the garden in the morning and just sitting and looking around.

Comfrey Tea

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I have just finished making a couple of batches of comfrey tea which I will use as a liquid fertilizer on all my pots, vegetables and anything that looks like it needs a pick-me-up. Comfrey is by far my favourite plant to have in a garden, although I should just add that in my garden, my comfrey plant is relegated to an area at the very back behind the leaf composter, as you can see in the following picture:

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Comfrey is a plant that should be in every garden. In my garden I use it strictly for either mulch or as a fertilizer, which is why the location of the plant is not as important. However comfrey has many more uses; it is an amazing multi-functional plant meaning that it can take on many different roles in a garden. It attracts both bees and other beneficial insects with its pink and purple flowers. Traditionally comfrey (once called knitbone) was used for wound healing, with poultices made of mashed leaves being used to heal cuts and scrapes. The long, large tap root can be used to break up hardpan and heavy clay soils. In addition the tap root is very efficient at ‘mining’ the soil for minerals and nutrients, which is then stores in its leaves–this is known as a dynamic accumulator plant. The leaves can be cut and simply laid on the ground as a mulch wherever they are needed or even added to the composter, or they can be used in a tea form.

By cutting down the plant to about 12 inches, this will trigger the plant to regrow. I typically cut mine back 2-3 times per year. In my last garden, I used comfrey in the orchard where I would plant 3-4 plants around each fruit tree. The comfrey attracted pollinators and other insects to the orchard and I cut the comfrey down using the leaves as a mulch around the trees.

The following picture shows my comfrey plant just after I cut it back:

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Making compost tea is easy, however I should add that it does smell really bad, so you just need to be aware of this when choosing a place to let it sit for the 2 weeks or so it requires. All you need to do is cut the plant down and add the leaves and stems to a bucket of water. I put mesh over the top of the bucket to keep away the mosquitoes, and leave it in an area of the garden where it will not be disturbed for approximately 10 days to 2 weeks. After that time, strain all the decomposing material off straight to the composter and you have your undiluted liquid. I use this at about 1 part manure tea to 10 parts water, and mix straight into to a watering can.

The following photo shows the comfrey tea after I have strained out all the leaves:

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There are many videos you can find online showing different ways to make the tea. Here is one that is easy to follow:

I have been using comfrey tea as a fertilizer for roughly 10 years, if not more, and have never had any plants that have had an adverse reaction to it. It is not a miracle grow; it will not double the size of your plants, but it is free, you know exactly what is in it, you have the knowledge that you’ve made it yourself, it is all natural and organic, and for plants in pots, raised beds, or greenhouses you are feeding those plants with nutrients that would normally be present in the soil found in your garden.

My Five Favourite Perennial Plants

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

During the winter months, Ontario gardeners have a number of survival techniques to make it through the “non-green” time of the year (this includes most of Canada, except for those lucky folks on Vancouver Island). We read gardening books, travel elsewhere to see lush green vegetation and flowers, pore over seed catalogues, or surf the web in search of colourful blooms in the Google Image Gallery.

Once spring arrives (still waiting in Central Ontario…) our thoughts turn to getting into our gardens and all the newest plants profiled online, in magazines, and by our favourite garden bloggers. While I love to look at new perennial plants, I thought I would share my five favourite, easy care perennials with all of you, along with the reasons why I love them. I am not a fussy gardener, and I don’t like fussy plants that require a lot of hand holding. To survive in my garden you have to be tough, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be beautiful. I also like my garden to add to the ecological diversity, so I like to plant things that attract pollinators and birds.

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1. Daylilies (Hemerocallis)

Daylilies may be one of the most carefree of all flowering perennials. They grow quickly and live for a long time (looking nice even when not in bloom). They thrive in almost any soil, will grow in sun or shade, and don’t seem to be troubled by insect pests or disease. Known for being tough, they dazzle us with their big, colourful flowers in all shapes and sizes. Blooms begin in midsummer and continue into early fall. The best part? New blooms every day. Daylilies combine well with other perennials like coneflowers (Echinacea), bee balm (Monarda), and summer phlox (Phlox paniculata). For me they are a mainstay in the garden, and I can share with friends, dividing as my clumps get big.

 

2.  Blanket Flower (Gaillardia)

One of those flowers where I actually think the Latin name is prettier than the common name. It’s another summer and fall perennial that blooms right until the first frosts, providing a late season burst of colour in your garden. Part of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) and native to North and South America, blanket flowers come in a range of colours (yellows/reds/oranges), although I find that the tried and true Gaillardia x grandiflora is my favourite. These are not the longest lived perennials, but reproduce well so I have never had an issue with them dying out. They are easily divided, can handle poor soil, and will bloom continuously, although I find deadheading does extend their blooming (something to do while you drink your coffee or tea and wander around your garden in the morning).

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3. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)

I agree with many other that no garden should be without this tough native flowering plant with large, purplish pink flowers. The common name derives from the prominent cones in the center of a single layer of slightly reflexed petals. These plants are wonderful summer bloomers, providing food for butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. I love them in the fall and winter too, as I leave them up in the garden and wonder at the finches that land on them and hungrily eat the seedheads. All parts of the plant have medicinal properties and you often see it in natural cold and flu remedies.

Native Echinacea only comes in purple, pale purple, or yellow, but hybridized echinacea (derived from E. purpurea)  can be red, orange, pink, and green. While there are lots of new hybrids out there now with different colours and shapes I am still partial to the tried and true varieties, although I confess to liking Echinacea ‘Merlot’ with its reddish stems. Read more here about which one to choose (true natives vs hybrids) and why. Coneflowers can propagated by root or clump divisions. This year I am on a search for our native Echinacea pallida, which has thinner reflexed petals and a pale purple hue.

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4. Asters (Astereae)

Aster comes from the old Greek word ‘astér’ which means ‘star’ and refers to the shape of the flower. These lovely delicate daisy-like flowers come in all shades of pink, purple, lavender, and white. Flowering from early summer to fall (depending on variety), they can be started from seeds, but purchasing young plants is the best option. Plant them out in spring for summer blooming that usually extends to fall. Asters do well in full and partial sun conditions but like good soil and drainage for best show. I love the combination of fall asters and goldenrod in the late summer and fall in my garden – so much colour and texture! There are so many asters – you can learn more about this fascinating group of plants here (for Ontario) and also here.

5. Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia)

What can I say? I LOVE the Rudbeckia family of flowers. With lovely bright yellow petals and contrasting centres, these plants demand attention. Rudbeckias in general are perennial, but the smaller Rudbeckia hirta can be grown as an annual if started early enough. In most zones they start flowering from early summer and continue on until fall. The ‘Goldsturm’ black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’) is considered to be among the best perennials of all time (Perennial Plant of the Year in 1999), bringing a bursts of colour from late summer into October. These drought-tolerant plants can grow about two-feet tall and offer the best visual effect when planted en masse. A shorter variety Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Little Goldstar‘ – grows to just knee height if that is more to your liking. Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes’ and ‘Indian Summer’ are also popular.

My two favourites are the butterfly magnet Rudbeckia triloba and Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Hortensia’, commonly called the Outhouse Plant. The first (triloba) is an excellent native addition to naturalized areas, wildflower meadows, prairies, cottage gardens, native plant gardens and borders. Plants form a rosette of green leaves the first year, then the second year they produce bushy, upright stems loaded with thousands of tiny brown-eyed golden daisies from midsummer on. As a self-seeding biennial, it is ideal for naturalizing. The Outhouse Plant is an old heirloom selection – very tall, with many fluffy double chrome-yellow daisies on the top. It’s not a bad idea to pinch these down in June to get them to be bushier, as they tend to flop in the windy summer thunderstorms. Be warned – this one can be a vigorous spreader, so keep on top of it!

 

 

 

Agastache: Herb of the Year 2019

By Christine Freeburn, Master Gardener

agastache-3966329_960_720Agastache (pronounced AG-a-stak-ee) has been chosen as Herb of the Year 2019. This name is actually the plant genus and includes many different species native to North America. All species attract bees and butterflies and deer do not usually eat. The plant we are most familiar with is Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) which has a strong anise or licorice fragrance to its leaves. It is a prairie plant that likes sun and grows 3′- 5′ tall in any type soil as long as it is well drained. Anise Hyssop has average moisture requirements and is a perennial herb zone 4. Bloom time is mid summer and common flower colour is purple, but it can be found in white and pink. The native strains can reseed, but you can find sterile cultivars like Blue Fortune which may need support. Use the leaves in teas, green salads, or fruit salads. The flowers are edible also. You can use as cut flowers or dry the flowers for arrangements.

(Agastache scrophulariifolia is known as Purple Giant Hyssop and is similiar to Anise.

Agastache nepetoides is the native Yellow Giant Hyssop or Catnip Giant Hyssop that grows in forests which blooms yellow in summer and grows 2′ to 8′. It is rare in southern Ontario, being more common in the eastern states.

Other varieties of Agastache are Korean Mint (Agastache rugosa) which is zone 6 and Rose Mint or Mexican (Agastache pallidiflora) which is zone 7.

 

Spring Cleaning Your Gardens

by Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

It is that time of year again…..time to start to prepare your gardens and lawn for the outdoor living season.

It may be too early yet to walk on your lawn, it should be firm not mushy with moisture, or in your gardens, the soil should be crumbly and not stick together. I know that it is still very early but there are a few things that you can do.

I have started to cut back the ornamental perennial grasses. These grasses begin to grow early. They like cool weather so they need to be cut back in preparation for this early growth garden.

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I have also begun to remove some of the debris around the edges of my perennial gardens. I avoid walking in the gardens because they are still quite wet and partially frozen in some cases. We also have a small pond that I have been able to cut back the cattails. I will not get to carried away with this yet because there are some “critters” that live in the garden clutter that I do not want to disturb. For example, ladybugs will still be snoozing. You also do not want to accidentally discard a praying mantis egg case. Both insects are beneficial insects because they are predators and will eat other less beneficial insects in your garden.

My garden shed was opened this weekend. I have started to move out my rain water collection barrels and to put them in place.

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It is a great time to inspect your trees and shrubs before they leaf out. Remove any winter injured growth and any growth that does not keep the plant balanced or where branches rub together. There are some flowering shrubs that, if you prune now, you may remove this year’s flower buds so know what you are dealing with before you prune.

It is also not to late to do some planning. You will soon be able to see what survived the icy Ontario winter and what did not. You can think about what you would like to plant in the place of those that did not survive. Always remember to think about your plant zone, amount of light, moisture requirements and the type of soil when choosing a new plant. Matching a plant to the growing conditions is the best way to grow a plant that has a chance to thrive and overwinter successfully.

There is lots more to do but it is still early spring! Stay focused and finish one task at a time and your garden will be outdoor living ready before you know it.

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The Peterborough Garden Show

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

It’s coming in 25 days.  It can’t come soon enough.  In our city, “The Garden Show” is a true sign of spring.  It’s an occasion that brings together speakers, workshop leaders, vendors, horticultural society members, master gardeners, exhibitors and many others for one reason:  “For the Love of Gardening”.PGS-logo-small

This year marks the 19th fantastic show: 
April 26 – 28, 2019 (Friday 5-9pm, Saturday 10am-5pm & Sunday 10am-4pm).

And there’s great news ! The show has MOVED – to Fleming College’s brand new Trades and Technology Centre on Brealey Drive with lots of FREE parking and a $10, one-price ticket so you can enjoy the show all weekend.

The Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners will have a booth at the show, and will be happy to answer any gardening questions that you may have. Watch for our red aprons!

The theme “Coming Up Roses” is reflected in several of the amazing speakers along with educational and fun workshops and demos.

This award-winning show was honoured in 2017 with both a “Canada 150 Garden Experience”, and “Garden Event of the Year” by the Canadian Garden Council, so come and see what all the fuss is about.

You will find many of your old favourite vendors along with some new ones.

…and don’t forget the popular “Little Green Thumbs” Children’s Garden that is always teaming with liveliness and action! There are learning activities, face painting, crafts and even a take-home project. Their theme this year is “Miniature Gardens for Elves and Fairies”.

All the show profits go back into our community to fund scholarships for post-secondary students studying in horticulture-related fields,various local projects & Community Gardens.  Since 2002, the show has put over $200,000 back into our community.

Please save the date, visit and and learn why “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” in 2019.

Learn more about the incredible speakers, workshops, bus trips, places to stay and tickets here: peterboroughgardenshow.com.

 

Garden Tech for the Green-Finger Inclined

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Gardening is supposed to be natural, right? Many who enjoy the outdoors and gardening downplay screens and technology and also tend to encourage others to put down the devices and experience what’s in front of them. But what if you don’t know anything about what IS in front of you? Your smart phone or tablet can be quite the gardening companion.

Here’s a selection of apps that can be found in the App Store that will help you know when/where/what to plant, and sometimes more importantly, how to find out what’s already growing in your yard or someone else’s that you admire.

LeafSnap: An Electronic Field Guide — Free (iPhone only)

How many times have you been in a public park or garden and fell in love with the trees, but with no one to ask what they are?  Using visual recognition software, Leafsnap can identify trees from a photo of their leaves alone. I can’t tell you how many times I could have used this!

myGardenAnswers Plant Identifier — Free (iPhone/Android)

With Garden Answers Plant Identifier, you can take a picture of a plant that you want to identify and presto — you’ll get its name and all of the information about it. It’s like having an encyclopedia in your pocket. This is easily one of the best free gardening apps in existence, namely because it can automatically recognize more than 20,000 plants. This app also identifies pests and has a robust Q&A section that covers more than 200,000 of the most common gardening queries.

GrowIt!: Garden Socially — Free (iPhone/Android)

GrowIt allows you to join an enthusiastic community of gardeners, helping you to find inspiration, gather information, and share your own gardens with the world. This app is good if you want to find out what plants will grow well in your local area.  As you find plants you love in their extensive database, you can organize them into projects to help you design your own green masterpiece.

BeeSmart Pollinator Gardener — Free (iPhone/Android)

Want to grow a beautiful garden that also helps the environment? BeeSmart is an app created by Pollinator Partners that helps you choose the best plants for bees that can thrive in your specific location. Win-win.

Gardenate — $1.39 (iPhone/Android)

If you’re looking for a simple calendar for planting garden vegetables that comes with an assortment of useful hints and tips, then you should take a look at this app. Gardenate will be your best companion when it comes to keeping your garden in the best condition. There is information about over 90 plants and herbs, and a calendar to know when it’s the best time for these plants to grow.

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Butterfly Gardening – Monarch Waystation #204

by Mary Jane Parker, Master Gardener

Since 2008, my garden has been a monarch waystation.  In the beginning, when we purchased the property, we had to have a new septic system put in.  Because we are in a floodplain and the ground was saturated with water, we had to go up with the weeping tiles.  This meant that we had a berm at the front of the property and that was the beginning of my butterfly garden.

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Since then I have experimented with all kinds of native plants and wildflowers . The scope and layout of the property was such that formal gardens would have been impossible. Not all plants that I have tried have been successful but some have been my perennial favourites.

Monarda has self-sown over the years as has Phlox paniculata of which I probably have every colour available. Many plants have a personal history. Helianthus maximiliani came from Cathy Forget’s garden in Indian River and Glade Mallow (Napaea dioica) came from Mike and Sue Dolbey’s garden in Young’s Point. Many plants have come from gardens visited on horticultural trips near and far. I always leave room for native milkweed to grow. I have tried cultivated varieties of milkweed and unfortunately, they are not hardy here. The creek at the back of the property has an abundance of Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum) growing naturally and I can’t think of anything prettier than when they are in bloom with the different shades of pink dancing in the breeze. I have always left room for Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) which not only attracts monarchs but a variety of interesting bugs. In the spring the Korean Lilac (Syringa meyeri) blooms are always a butterfly magnet.

Being a waystation has been fun. There are over 20,000 registered waystations around the world, most in North America, and although there are guidelines to follow, it does not appear that there are any hard and fast rules. The whole point is simply to provide habitat for monarchs and in doing so, you have a place that also attracts other butterflies, birds, and pollinators. Visit www.monarchwatch.org for more info.

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