I am not a vegetable gardener but I love eating fresh vegetables so … I am a vegetable gardener. I learned how not to grow vegetables from my wonderful Dad. He liked to grow veggies in rows and hand weed those rows. This meant that my sister and I were tasked with hand weeding those never ending rows. Despite Dad’s best efforts, this was not “fun”.
I first learned about growing vegetables in raised beds from a fellow Master Gardener. Gardens that have few weeds, are up off the ground to help save my back and look neat and orderly and even kind of pretty … what more can you ask for? And the best part, the plants are edible! Since then we have installed several raised beds close to our house for easy access to watering and harvesting. They are made of 2” X 8’ untreated spruce lumber. Some of my beds are 5 years old and the lumber is still going strong. We staple chicken wire around the beds to keep out the rabbits. The beds were filled with a combination of perlite, to minimize soil compaction, peat moss, to help retain water, and soil. Note that peat moss is a non-renewable resource so I would rethink it’s use for the next time. My composters are in the middle of the garden to make it easy to annually add the finished compost to the beds. Soil needs to have organic matter replenished regularly in order to feed your plants.
We use straw in between the beds to keep the weeds down and to create clean walkways. Hay tends to be full of weed seeds. Shredded bark mulch is used to mulch the vegetables although straw would work for this as well.
Grow what you eat but try something new each year too!
Most vegetables prefer full sun – 6-8 hours/day, regular water – 1” of moisture per week and heat. The necessary nutrients are pulled in through water absorbed by the plant’s roots from the soil.
Most years, we grow cucumbers, squash, kale, beets, spinach, lettuce, garlic, parsnips, brussels sprouts and onions. We are usually successful but not always. New to us, this year, is turnips. Sometimes nature throws out a challenge like an unexpected late frost or an insect pest which can quickly destroy or damage your crop. Try to visit your garden each day to stay on top of problems and to harvest those ripe veggies.
For more info on growing veggies in Ontario check here. Also check the Peterborough & Area Master Gardeners resources page here for fact sheets on growing lots of different kinds of vegetables.
I am not a vegetable gardener but I have learned how to grow vegetables because I love to eat them. Have fun and enjoy your vegetables!
When it comes to maintaining a healthy garden, one of the most important elements that you need to consider is landscape edging. Options for edging range from a simple trench to high-end paving stones, and everything in between.
Edging creates clean, crisp lines between beds and other areas. It helps to keep grass from creeping into surrounding garden areas. At the same time, it prevents soil or mulch in garden beds from spilling onto the lawn whenever you water or it rains. It protects your expensive plants from the lawnmower, and your tree trunks from the string trimmer. Landscape edging also controls gravel or mulch pathways; it maintains clearly defined walking areas while keeping the path materials in place.
For me, edging has the critical job of making sure that the grass knows what its limits are, and for the garden to know the same. Once grass makes its way into a garden, it’s “game over, garden”. The grass wins, every single time.
If you’re using permanent edging such as the items described below, it’s a one-time installation for years of service. If you’re using the temporary simple trench, it should be dug/redug several times per season in order to be effective: spring, summer and late fall. I personally use a very short, flat spade and a root knife (reverse curve blade) to do this task — cutting away minimal grass so as to ensure that the garden does not get incrementally bigger each year. Ensure that the mulch, when spread, comes up to the edge of the trench bottom but doesn’t fill it. You don’t want to have any materials at the edge that grasses can grow through because they will be persistent in trying to jump the barrier. For anyone with a Stihl string timmer, I also use a Stihl Bed Edge Redefiner each spring to loosen the soil and redefine the edge on my garden beds.
There are many attractive and more permanent edging choices, if digging is not your thing:
Stone materials including natural fieldstone can be used, and there are some great stone tile options on the market as well.
Repurposed bricks can create a classic look for your landscape.
Plastic is affordable and easy to install due to its flexibility. The least expensive edging does look inexpensive, so invest in the best you can afford. Use the longest spikes you can find to anchor this edging into the soil.
Metal: Similar to the plastic edging, you can purchase flexible aluminum edging strips. They look great but at present these are quite pricey.
Concrete: You can purchase preformed sections of concrete landscape edging that are ready to be set in place, or you can make a simple form and create a custom edge. The downside of using concrete is that it’s pretty permanent!
Wood: Usually more affordable than at present, this material is easy to work with in straight lines, and adds an informal, organic look. Count on wood edging to last about 10 years. Pressure treated wood barriers are not recommended for edging vegetable gardens, and old railway ties are not recommended at all due to the leakage of harmful creosote over time.
Like a lot of other gardeners during this time of COVID, I have taken advantage of the many, many gardening presentations, seminars, talks, and webinars that have all been available online–not to mention catching up on my reading. The two books that I am currently reading are both by Douglas Tallamy and have been recommended numerous times. They are ‘Bringing Nature Home’ and ‘Nature’s Best Hope’. Both are packed full of facts and figures; the first one providing a list of recommended native plants as well as basic information regarding the insects that are eaten by bird and wildlife. The second book, which is one of the main reasons why I like it so much actually has a plan (or approach as the book calls it) for turning our home gardens into wildlife habitats and extending that approach to create corridors preserving our native wildlife.
What I have noticed among the many presentations, seminars, etc. is the focus on native plants, native wildlife preservation, sustainable and organic gardening and environmental gardening. I am definitely all in favour of this shift; in fact I believe that this has been too long coming. We, as a whole, are definitely a little late to the table. Now this is just my personal opinion but I feel that as a nation, as a people, we do seem to be forever running behind a problem trying to come up with solutions only when the situation becomes critical!
I have to admit that I am as much at fault as the next person. My garden is only approximately 40% native plants, the rest being ornamental. Although if you count bulbs and annuals, that figure could drop down to about 30%.
But do not panic just yet, Douglas Tallamy does not recommend that we ‘adopt a slash and burn policy towards the aliens that are now in your garden’, thank goodness for that. What he does suggest is two-fold, if an alien plant dies replace it with a native plant that has the same characteristics, and two, create new beds with native plants if you have space and if not, dig up some of your lawn.
So here is my dilemma, and guilt. I have no more space to expand and only a very narrow patch of lawn in the back garden for my husband, dogs and future grandchildren. So I either have to wait for something to die, which is not happening fast enough to outweigh my guilt, or dig up a plant replacing it with a native. This is not quite as easy as you think. I have walked around my garden a number of times looking for plants to give away to plant sales or neighbours. The problem is the less plants you have the more each plant tends to have its own story, your mother or good friend gave it to you, you’ve inherited it from someone you care about, the plant reminds you of a certain time, the list and stories go on.
Photo of backyard in author’s garden showing on the left the narrow strip of lawn
One of my favourite native plants is culver’s root. It always and consistently has the most insect activity of any plant in the garden. I already have two. But would I want to dig up the rose bush that my mother bought me because coincidentally it has the same name as my grandmother and replace it with a third culver’s root?
What about ironweed? I love this tall, stately plant covered in late summer with purple flowers. Again I already have two, but would I want to dig up the delphinium that a neighbour gave me 15 years ago, that had apparently been growing in her yard for 30 years prior to that and replace with an ironweed?
Picture of Ironweed in author’s backyard
What about all the daylilies I have spent years collecting, each one unique and individual, or the peonies I bought from my last garden, one in each colour? Now, I understand that maybe not all of my ornamentals have the same level of memories, and that, yes, they would be going to good homes. But it is a difficult decision, I want to increase the natives in my garden, I want to do what is right and sustainable, and I want to increase the wildlife in my garden. I have even given talks myself encouraging gardeners to add at least one native plant to their garden each year. But do I really have time to wait; my guilt levels and motivation levels want me to act now, to take a stand, to encourage by action.
As Douglas Tallamy concludes: ‘Our success is up to each one of us individually. We can each make a measurable difference almost immediately by planting a native nearby. As gardeners and stewards of our land, we have never been so empowered – and the ecological stakes have never been so high.’
Gardeners learn as much from their setbacks as from their successes. By now, I should have a prepared cutting garden partially planted with frost hardy annuals. These are plants that prefer cooler growing conditions and can withstand a light frost allowing them to be planted early in the season. The group includes snapdragons, bachelor buttons, foxglove, scabiosa and sweet peas. However, instead of plants on their way to producing beautiful blooms, I have a 40 foot trench in my lawn.
This garden was an end-of-year decision which meant a spring bed preparation, something I rarely do as the weather is not reliable and soil can be too wet to work. Working wet soil destroys the soil structure and porosity as well as wreaking havoc on soil microbial populations.
Not to be deterred, I had the sod removed both to see what I had to deal with (this part of the yard had not been turned since 1964, if then!) and to allow the area to dry more readily when the sun returns. When the soil does become workable, I intend to use a modified version of the “no till” method popularized by Charles Dowding to create the bed. A fork (or broadfork) will be inserted into the bed at close intervals and gently pried up. This will permit some aeration, rock removal and opportunities for soil amendment (compost). The amendments will be folded into the topsoil and the bed topped off with approximately 4 inches of compost. The portion of the bed slated for the hardy annuals may be planted while the remainder can continue to warm until it is time to plant the warm season varieties such as zinnia and dahlia. Lastly, a thin layer (1”) of shredded cedar mulch will protect the bed from incoming weed seed as well as help to keep the soil cool and retain moisture in the heat of the summer.
Ever hopeful, I have started to harden off plants. This is a gradual process over about a week that exposes tender plants to the outdoors and results in a thickening of the cuticle on the leaves. A thicker cuticle allows plants to retain moisture when exposed to the elements and helps to prevent transplant shock. As my seedlings are grown “cold and slow” indoors (at 55 degrees), they seem to hardened off more readily.
T posts will be placed every 8 feet along both sides of the garden and will be used to suspend the flower netting horizontally. The netting is a 6 inch square grid in plastic that will be positioned tautly about 18 inches above the ground keeping long stemmed flowers erect and preventing them from being blown over by wind and rain. Heavy, tall, floriferous plants will require a second layer of netting about 12 inches above the first.
The ranunculus will be planted using 6 inch spacings and Chantilly snapdragons will have 9 inch spacings. The delay in planting will mean limited or no bloom as these plants go dormant with the summer heat. However, the ranunculus corms can be dried and saved for next year and there are 2 other varieties of snapdragons started that tolerate the heat of summer.
Once in the ground, plants will be hooped with temporary PVC hoops so that frost cloth can be used at night in case of frost or wind and to protect the young plants from deer and rabbits.
A wise gardener remembers that Mother Nature always bats last.
“it’s never too late to start anything, except maybe being a ballerina” Wendy Liebman
Cool Flowers, Lisa Mason Ziegler, St. Lyons Press, 2014
Ed: This post was released in error on March 22. Apologies if you’ve already read it — perhaps you can glean something from it upon second reading as well?
There are a pair of Quercus macrocarpa (bur oak) trees in a park near my house in Peterborough and I often look at them in awe. I estimate that these trees are between 100 and 150 years old. What is amazing is that they could live another 150 years. If they receive enough sunlight and moisture and their roots are undisturbed, this lifespan is possible. Sadly, most trees planted in cities are not long-lived due to stresses like heat, drought, road salt, compacted soil and interference by sewer or other utility lines. For these reasons, backyards tend to be the better locations for trees in urban environments. If you are planning to plant a tree on your property this year, Douglas W. Tallamy’s latest book, The Nature of Oaks: the Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees, published by Timber Press, will make you seriously consider an oak tree.
Tallamy, an entomologist who researches the relationships between insects and plants, is well known for his other books that seek to change the way we garden by encouraging us to incorporate more native plants. His latest book honours the oak tree and provides a month-to-month chronicle of the life of one on his property. While small at 200 pages, the book has many interesting and informative anecdotes about the types of insects, birds, mammals, fungi, and micro-organisms that live in, on, and around these trees. Tallamy aims to instill in us an interest in these great trees and to recognize their important role within the food web.
What makes oak trees so special? In addition to moderating the climate, reducing pollution, producing oxygen, and storing carbon from the atmosphere, they have an enormous impact on the lives of other species. Within our ecosystem, oaks support more life than any other North American tree genus (p. 12) and they are considered a “keystone species.” A “keystone species” is one that produces food that supports a broad range of life forms. Over the course of its lifetime, an oak can produce over 3,000,000 acorns. Other trees such as birch, cherry, hickory, pine, maple, and willow are also “keystone” species (p. 39) but they are not as supportive as oaks. In his research, Tallamy measured the degree of this support by counting the number of moth and butterfly species that live, feed, and reproduce on different trees. The Lepidoptera Index places oaks at the top of the list at 532 species of moths and butterflies. One of the reasons as to why they support so many species is because they grow in a wide range of ecological zones (p. 41). Most species near the bottom of the list are non-native trees and shrubs. Most of our native insects and animals have not fully adapted or evolved to non-native plants or are only adapted to a small number of plants—referred to as host plant specialization (p. 37). Certain birds, like the black-capped chickadee need between 6,000 and 9,000 caterpillars to raise one clutch of young. Filling bird feeders with seed can be beneficial for them, but planting trees are necessary as up to 50% of their diet consists of insects (p. 34).
There are a number of unique and fascinating attributes of oaks that are explored in the book. Masting is a survival adaptation that occurs periodically in oaks where they produce many acorns. Since animals cannot eat them all, this allows more trees to grow (p. 18). Masting occurs on different cycles for both white and red oaks and this ensures food is consistently available for animals (p. 120). Many oaks retain their dead leaves through the fall and winter. Marcescence is thought to be a defence mechanism that deters animals from eating the tender buds (pp. 27-28). Concerning acorn production, as an oak tree has both male and female flowers, a few can self-pollinate and grow acorns. However, for optimum production, an oak tree must be planted with another of its own species or be in close proximity to another of its own species for pollination (by wind) to occur (from either the “red oak” or the “white oak” group).
Tallamy also provides us with some tree planting advice and seeks to dispel some of the myths around planting oaks. His first choice would be for us to plant an acorn in the fall but the next best choice would be to plant a bareroot whip in the spring. A bareroot whip is a pruned dormant tree that is only a few feet tall. It should be planted in the spring so it can break its dormancy naturally. Overall, he recommends purchasing the youngest tree available because it will have a better chance of survival than a larger tree. Larger trees often have damaged roots at planting and have a 50% chance of dying in the first few years after transplant. (p. 47)
While some oak species grow to great heights and widths, they do grow relatively slowly, and most people will not live to see their tree at its peak. Some may be concerned about its root system, but they extend deeply into the ground and tend not to interfere with driveways or sidewalks like some other species. Tallamy recommends planting two or three trees spaced 10 feet apart—in a grove. This may seem too close, but it is true to their nature in the wild. The trees’ roots will also bind together and the resulting strength of them will be able to withstand extreme weather and lessen the chances of damaging property.
For those with smaller lots, it may not be practical to plant more than one oak, let alone a larger species like Quercus alba (white oak) or Quercus macrocarpa (bur oak). There are several smaller oak species that may suit. Of these, two are native to the Carolinian zone of Southwestern Ontario: Quercus prinoides (dwarf chinquapin oak) and Quercus ilicifolia (bear oak) and one from the US Northeast: Quercus marilandica (blackJack oak). While the soils of the Carolinian zone are drier and sandier, these trees can be adaptable to other soil conditions. Nutcracker Nursery in Maskinonge, Quebec specializes in growing these hard-to-find oaks and they ship bareroot stock. The stock is grown in cooler zone 4B and in clay-loam soils. Peterborough GreenUp advises that while it is preferable that trees be selected from within their native eco-zone, climate change is making it more possible for us to consider some species from outside. Selecting a site that is shielded from winter winds is recommended.
Since an oak is a shade tree, there may be concerns about what can be grown beneath them but there are many plants that are suitable for the understory. Tallamy makes recommendations that are more suited to US states but I will suggest some possible plants suited to our area: Asarum canadense (wild ginger), Polygonatum biflorum (smooth solomon’s seal), Aquilegia canadensis (eastern red columbine), Ceanothus americanus (New Jersey tea), and Amelanchier alnifolia (Saskatoon serviceberry), just to name a few.
This little book is not only fascinating to read, it is inspiring. When the declining non-native Acer platanoides (Norway maple) is eventually removed from my yard, I am going to see about replacing it with a native oak “keystone species.”
The term “nativar”, while not a scientific term, is being used to describe native plants that have been cultivated by horticulturalists. So, what exactly is a cultivated plant or cultivar? A cultivar is a plant that has been bred for specific characteristics such as improved growth habit, specific leaf colour, flower colour, or disease resistance to list a few examples. Many cultivars are sterile, meaning they do not produce seeds or if they do produce seed, the seed will likely not produce a plant identical to the parent plant.
The way to identify a cultivar of a native plant or “nativar”, is by looking at the plant name. If you check out the photos of plant tags, you will see one for the straight species native plant (not a cultivar) that gives both the common name, False Indigo and the scientific name, Baptisia australis. The other tag is for a Baptisia cultivar named ‘Cherries Jubilee’. ‘Cherries Jubilee’ is the cultivar name. The cultivar name is usually in single quotation marks.
There are a number of very important reasons to plant straight species native plants in our gardens including the support of pollinators. The question is, do native cultivars support pollinators in the same way?
Annie White, a researcher at the University of Vermont has found “that changing flower size, colour or shape changed the availability and/or quality of pollen and nectar offered by the flower which negatively impacted pollinators” and “the more manipulated the cultivars became, the less attractive they became to pollinators”. To read more about Annie’s research and results check out this link. https://pollinatorgardens.org/2013/02/08/my-research/
If you are looking for pollinator-friendly native plants that are not cultivars check out nurseries that specialize in native plants such as Peterborough’s Ecology Park. https://www.greenup.on.ca/ecology-park/
When at the garden centre, you will now know how to distinguish a straight species such as Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower) from an Echinacea cultivar like Echinacea purpurea ‘Razzmatazz’.
I have often heard permaculture referred to as ‘common sense’ gardening and their usage of ‘zones’ as one of their design principles is no exception. However, I have to admit up front that when I designed my previous garden, I had not heard of permaculture and was also unfortunately also lacking in common sense that day! What did I do that would ultimately cause me so much grief over the next 15 years?
We had just over 1 acre and the house was located towards the back of the property, so I decided to place the shed, vegetable garden, herb garden, nursery and greenhouse at the very front of the property. The result was that was pretty well everything that I needed to garden daily was all located as far away from the house as possible.
At the time I thought I had a good reason for this, keeping the children and pets close to the house. But ultimately when I needed the pruners to prune the hedge at the back of the garden, or I needed some herbs for the supper I was in the middle of cooking, or I was harvesting or watering, I ultimately came to regret my poor planning choice. So, a few years later when it came to finding a location for the chickens, by then I had attended a couple of permaculture courses, and I placed them as close to the house as possible. A location that while waking me up in the morning, ultimately made me pat myself on the back every day in the winter just before putting on all my winter gear to take out their food and water.
Zoning is a permaculture design tool that allows you to design your landscape according to usage and attention required. It is not limited to home gardens, and can be used on almost anything from a large farm to a kitchen design. By designing your garden using zones, you take into account the usefulness or frequency of each element in your garden, and place those elements closer to your location, which is your house. So something that you use daily, such as a herb garden, would be placed closest to the house, along with pots of annuals which require frequent watering and dead-heading. Using the same principle, fruit trees or a meadow garden requiring less maintenance would be placed further away from the house.
Zones are numbered from 0 through to 5, where 0 is the location of the house, and will be different in everyone’s garden. They are typically shaped by topography, soil type, placement of the sun, and the homeowner’s requirements. So while they are often shown in diagrams and books as either exact circles or half circles, they are more flexible often merging into one another.
Most permaculture books describe the following zones:
0 – Home 1 – Areas closest to your house that requires the most attention, harvesting, weeding, dead-heading, herb and vegetable garden 2 – Less intensively managed areas 3 – Fruit and nut trees, twice weekly maintenance 4 – Wild foods and timber, weekly maintenance 5 – Natural area
But again, these zones can be changed according to your requirements.
To start designing using zones, you need to look at each element in your garden according to how often you use the element or how often you need to care for the element. Zones are created based on relationships, our relationship to our garden, and how different elements in our garden connect with each other. It is best to start with elements closest to your house and work outward.
As an example, I have perennial flower beds in the front of my house and also in the back. The beds in the front are full to partial shade, heavily composted with leaves and packed with large leaved plants. I get very few weeds in the front beds and also do very little deadheading. The beds in the back meanwhile are full sun, plants are not placed as close together, they typically need more dead heading, and while they are also heavily mulched with leaves, the leaves typically only last until mid June. My front beds are in zone 3 and the beds in my back garden are in zone 2. Zone 1 in my garden is for annuals and vegetables in pots and hanging baskets surrounding the house that have to be watered frequently.
Permaculture zones are a tool that can be used when designing your garden to make your life easier. In the book Gaia’s Garden, A Guide to Home-scale Permaculture by Toby Hemingway, the author includes a quote from Bill Mollison, the co-founder of Permaculture, offering guidance for where to plant a herb garden.
“When you get up in the morning and the dew is on the ground, put on your woolly bathrobe and your fuzzy slippers. Then walk outside to cut some chives and other herbs for your omelet. When you get back inside, if your slippers are wet, your herbs are too far away.”
Exploring gardens around the world makes the winter pass so much faster
By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener
I have the February blahs. Although I am absorbing each minute of our ever increasing daylight (when it’s not cloudy!), I’m craving lush greenery and blooms anywhere I can find them. I spent part of yesterday looking through some trip photos to Florida from 3 years ago where I visited just about every botanical garden and specialty garden I could find – it was heaven!
So..the solution..virtual garden tours! So many wonderful botanical and famous gardens have adapted to not being able to have guests by launching virtual tours or live broadcasts from their locations since the pandemic. Here’s a few of my favourites.
Time to travel around the world from your living room. (additional links at the end).
Keukenhof, The Netherlands
Built in 1641, the Keukenhof Castle (west of Amsterdam in the Netherlands) and estate is more than 200 hectares. In 1949 a group of 20 leading flower bulb growers and exporters decided to use the estate to exhibit spring-flowering bulbs. 2021 will be the 72th edition of Keukenhof, with A World Of Colours as its theme. Check out their virtual tours and the initial invitation by Managing Director Bart Siemerink in March 2020.
Claude Monet’s Garden, Giverny, France
Over 500,000 people visit painter Claude Monet’s famous gardens each year (so glad to be one of them in 2018!). There are two parts to the garden – the Clos Normand flower garden in front of the house and a Japanese inspired water garden on the other side of the road (where he completed his Water Lilies painting series). Enjoy a commentary alongside a video tour of the famous garden, including the wonderful lily pond. More info here.
National Trust’s Hidcote Manor Gardens, England
The National Trust site allows you to take a 360-degree tour around the old garden, plant house and spectacular red borders of these Arts and Crafts-inspired gardens in the rolling Cotswold hills in Gloucestershire.
Scotland’s Garden Scheme
One of my favourites. Established in 1931, it helps garden owners across the country open their private gardens to the public to raise money for charity. The properties range from cottage gardens to stately homes; allotments to therapeutic and physic gardens; and formal gardens to wildlife sanctuaries. There are more than 100 tours to look at here.
Australia’s Blue Mountains, New South Wales
Further afield in Australia’s Blue Mountains just outside Sydney, artist Trisk Oktober’s steep, cool temperate gardens in Katoomba are transformed into a living artwork. I visited the nearby Mount Tomah Botanic Gardens in 2010 and it was magical. It’s also the only botanic garden within a United Nations World Heritage Area.
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, Hawaii
Located on Hawaii’s Big Island, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden includes not only a garden but a nature preserve. If you need to zen out and feel like you are on a tropical island, this is the tour for you. And this one.
Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania, USA
Closer to home across the border is Longwood Gardens, consisting of 1,077 acres of gardens, woodlands, and meadows. It is the living legacy of American entrepreneur and businessman Pierre du Pont, inspiring people through excellence in garden design, horticulture, education, and the arts. The Our Gardens, Your Home initiative is their way of keeping gardeners connected.
There are so many more virtual garden tours going on around the world.
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Richmond, Virginia, USA
On my bucket list when we can travel again, this video gives you some of the highlights to see. The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew has 37 acres of woodland, 14,000 trees and 50,000 different plant species.
Wisley Gardens, Surrey, England
The Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley in Surrey (south of London), is one of five gardens run by the Society, and top of my list of gardens to see. Check out their website, and also they have a great collection of videos on YouTube.
If you’ve found a great virtual garden tour please share it with all of us in the comments! Spring will be here soon!
I wrote the first part of this two-part blog on a beautiful fall day, with a temperature of around 20 degrees and blue skies. Today as I’m writing it is the type of winter day that I love, temperature hovering around zero, snow on the ground and I don’t need 4 or 5 layers of clothes on when I go out for a walk. The first part of my year in review blog that was published back in November described some of the many challenges and learning experiences I faced gardening in 2020, including growing Sicilian zucchinis, handling Creeping Charlie in my lawn, and becoming more selective when deadheading. In this second section I’ll continue on with the challenges, including staking perennials, trying to grow an English cucumber and battling with the wildlife over the grapes, blueberries and currants.
Now I have to admit before I start, that staking is not really my thing; it typically needs planning and thinking ahead. You can stake reactively as I tend to do, but by then it is often too late; the plants still look untidy, flop over adjacent plants and you can see the stakes, which for me personally is an issue. Last spring my iris, lupins and especially peonies grew so tall so quickly that they easily outgrew the old peony cages that surrounded them. My fall asters also fell over as they hadn’t been staked at all and were easily over six feet tall. So this spring I need to be more preventative and stake as early as I can. There are many different types of stakes that you can use such as grow-through supports as in peony cages or tomato cages. These work well if the plants are not too tall, although I do have some of the larger tomato cages in my garden. Grid-type supports also work well for plants that bloom heavily, and for irises I tend to use single stakes that I can just move around the garden as needed. You can also make your own supports using bamboo stakes or tree branches and twine or even chicken wire. Most gardening catalogues, such as Veseys or Lee Valley sell plant supports in many styles. For me however, I tend to find them quite expensive and tend to work with tomato cages or make my own. For more information please see the following article: https://www.bhg.com/gardening/flowers/perennials/staking-and-training-perennials/
English cucumbers, what can I say, I still tend to prefer these over other varieties that definitely grow much better here. English cucumbers tend to be longer, thinner, with an edible skin and in my opinion taste better. They do not however like cold temperatures, so if planting in the garden ensure that all danger of frost has long passed, and in fact, wait a further week or two after that. They also have shallow roots so need more frequent watering. I also find that for me they grow stronger and healthier if I provide some type of shade when it gets really hot. English cucumbers will also grow straighter and longer if the fruit can hang, so growing on a vertical support works really well. However, after saying all that, I still am unable to grow them as well as I would like and they are definitely very labour-intensive. So for this year, I am going to grow a different variety, although in saying that I have not tried growing cucumbers in containers, so that might be an option to try. Greta’s Organic Gardens have some interesting cucumber varieties for seed purchase, including Crystal Apple Cucumber that is shaped like an apple when mature, a Miniature White Cucumber which needs no peeling and is eaten when smaller than 3 inches. Lastly a Spacemaster Picking Cucumber that can be grown in either a container or a hanging basket. This company is one of many Organic seed companies based in Ontario. https://www.seeds-organic.com/pages/contact-us
And last but not least, one of my favourite subjects last year in the garden was the wildlife, namely the dreaded squirrels and rabbits. We have a few different structures that we have built to keep out the animals, including:
Not to mention:
This last picture shows simple plant trays with a mesh bottom lying upside down over new seedlings. I use these both to deter the animals and also to help keep the seedlings shady. However, none of these prevented the squirrels from taking bites out of most of my tomatoes, eating all my grapes, of which we had a bountiful crop, and the birds from eating my blueberries and white currants. The previous year I had put nets over the blueberries and currants which had helped, however since then I have read a few articles stating that the types of netting I was using could damage both birds and other wildlife so I was reluctant to put it on again. I have since done more research but not found anything yet suitable for my needs. However it is only January and will likely get a lot colder, which gives me plenty of time to do more investigation and come up with something suitable.
Last October as I planted the last of my fall bulbs, my thoughts turned to what next??? How to extend my garden experience by stretching the season. I adore flowers in the house and between retirement and lockdowns seem to have the time so why not try a cutting garden?
I have no experience with the subject matter and it made sense to find some resources. A good comprehensive book is “Floret Farms Cut Flower Garden” by Erin Benzakein. It covers the basics of cut flower gardening as well as highlighting tips for commonly grown flowers. How to plan, grow, harvest and even some basics on arranging. This book proved to be a doorway into a plethora of other references and websites on the subject. “YouTube” was also a plentiful source of information.
Site selection is key. Most cutting flowers require full sun and well drained, fertile soil. A site sheltered from the wind is preferable. I decided on an area on the west side of the house where the sunshine is ample and my water source is nearby. Since it will be windy, the support provided to the plants is important and will be discussed in future entries. The final length of a bed will depend on the amount you want to grow. The recommended width is 4 feet. This width allows you to reach the entire bed without stepping into the bed. The type of flowers to grow is personal preference but regardless of the variety, look for plants with long stems and lots of blooms. Try to have plants that bloom in the spring (eg. snapdragons), summer (eg. zinnias) and fall (eg. dahlias). If space is limited, skip the plants that bloom once (like many sunflowers) and concentrate on continual bloomers such as zinnia and dahlias. These are known as “cut and come again varieties” as they provide blooms for long periods if they are cut or deadheaded. You may also wish to grow some plants as fillers such as Dara. Fillers are the backbone of arrangements, lending structure, supporting delicate blooms and filling gaps between focal flowers.
Cut flowers are grown more densely than usual and most commonly are spaced 6,9 or 12 inches apart. References abound on the internet indicating which spacing is best for each variety. The number of seedlings, corms or tubers required is calculated using the area available for that plant and the spacing distance. Once calculated, order your seeds as soon as you can. Goods for the garden seem to sell out quickly in these days of lockdown. Seed vendors have been discussed in a previous blog. In addition to those already cited, many of the cut flower farmers also sell seed.
Once you have selected your seed, you then need to determine when to start them indoors using the last spring frost date for your area (OMAFRA lists Peterborough as May 17). For each variety, check the seed package for timing and work backwards from there. This allows you to make a seed starting schedule. For those seeds you intend to direct seed, you may need to consider time to maturity in order to give the plants time to bloom (work backwards from first frost date in your area). I make a list of seed sowing dates to help keep me organized.
Now all there is to do is wait for the seeds to arrive. I start sowing in February. Please join me through this blog on my horticultural adventure.