Category Archives: Information

Forbidden Love!

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Ok, I know that peonies may not be the trending plant but I love them! Like many grandmothers, my maternal grandmother grew peonies around her farmhouse… Their fragrance filled the air and they sprawled magnificently after a rain. I found them captivating!

Peonies were first described as medicinal herbs in China around 200 B.C. Traditional Chinese medicine still uses peony extracts to treat various ailments. Peonies were introduced to Europe, and England, in the late 1700’s. English, and French, nursery sales began in the early 1800’s as did hybridization. The public was delighted!

There are many reasons to use peonies in your garden. They are beautiful in bloom and many are wonderfully fragrant. Peonies are excellent when used as a focal point, an accent plant, to hide spent tulip blooms, to shade clematis roots or even as a hedge whose flowers can be used for cutting.

Peony flowers come in various colours including red, rose, lavender, yellow and lots of lovely shades of pink and white. The flowers can be many petaled or have as few as five petals. Peonies are not invasive and are long-lived. Once established, peonies are drought-resistant, easy-care perennials. They are also deer and rabbit resistant probably because the flowers and leaves have a bitter taste.

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Very early herbaceous peony – author’s garden

Herbaceous peonies are the most common of the three common types. Herbaceous peonies grow in zones 2-8. They die back to the ground in the fall and are dormant all winter. They bloom in May to June depending on the cultivar. Woody peonies, often called tree peonies, are small shrubs that lose their leaves in the fall but keep their strong, woody stems all winter. Woody peonies like it a bit warmer growing in zones 4-8. They do not like to be moved once established. Finally, itoh, or intersectional, peonies are fairly new. They are a cross between the woody peony and the herbaceous peony. They too prefer zones 4-8 and die back to the ground in the fall followed by winter dormancy. Itoh peonies have strong stems, often a longer flowering period and large blooms.

In the fall, plant peonies in well drained, rich soil in full sun or full sun/part shade in areas with very hot afternoon sun. Do not plant the peony crown any deeper than a couple of inches. Lightly fertilize your plants annually with composted manure but do not allow the manure to come in direct contact with the plant’s crown. Mulch to help retain moisture. Water if soil is dry in the spring for good bloom production and as needed usually just the first summer after planting. Maintain space around your peonies to encourage good air circulation otherwise, peonies can be prone to fungal diseases. In late fall, remove all peony debris to help prevent disease and pests.

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Herbaceous peony – author’s garden

My peony is not blooming…..why?

Reasons include planted too deep, not enough sun, weather extremes (eg. hard spring freeze may damage flower buds), disease or pests, newly planted (can take up to three years for a young plant to bloom), too old (takes several decades, divide the plant to rejuvenate), too much fertilizer will encourage foliage growth not blooms but not enough can result in undernourished roots that are unable to support blooming. Just a caution, do not remove peony leaves in July or August, their removal can weaken the roots so that they are unable to support blooms.

I love peonies! Their blooms are glorious and their foliage stays lovely and green after the flowers are gone. They are easy care perennials that can add colour, texture, drama and a sumptuous fragrance to your garden. If you grow peonies now, you know already, if not, try them… You will be captivated too!

More Information:

The American Peony Society

Peonies by Allan Rogers, Timber Press Inc., ISBN 0-88192-662-0

The Canadian Peony Society

My Favourite Pruning Book

by Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I have a lot of gardening books and whilst I do search on the internet if I have a quick question, there are a few books that I go to repeatedly and often. One of these is from the UK Royal Horticultural Society Pruning & Training. I am sure you could find a similar book in Canada but as this book was given to me a few years ago by my father-in-law as a present, it has special meaning for me.

I love growing fruit, apples, grapes, currants, blueberries, to name a few and as I have a smaller city garden, this comes with challenges. I have to make use of all available space and prune effectively to fit everything I want into my garden. Hence the reason why this book is so important to me and why I use it so often.

There are chapters on ornamental trees as well as ornamental shrubs and roses and a good introduction describing the parts of a plant as well as the principles of pruning and training. But it is the chapters on tree fruits, soft fruits and climbing plants that I refer to most often. I actually have PostIt® notes on the sections that describe the pruning shapes I have chosen for my apples, currants, gooseberries and grape so I can check I am doing it correctly. I must admit it took a few years to observe the effectiveness of pruning well, I was always hesitant to cut off too much of the plant, much as I still save every perennial seedling that comes up in my garden. In my last house we had a grape for approximately 6 years and whilst we did get some fruit on it, we could have doubled or tripled the harvest with better pruning, but I hated to cut so much off.

For my grape vine I originally had it growing over an arch, but it soon outgrew that support, so we had to build a new support system and then re-prune it into its new system. There are many different systems that can be used for grapes including the rod and spur system in which the grape is grown along 3-4 horizontal wires to the guyot system in which shoots from two horizontal stems are grown vertically.

The chapter on tree fruits starts by showing diagrams of all the different forms or shapes as well as describing basic and pruning techniques. There are lots of photos and diagrams in this book so that you can visually see everything being discussed, which I really like. There is also a section on renovating neglected tree fruits.

I chose to prune my apples trees as espaliers on a four tiered tree, this is my trees fourth year and first year that they have blossoms, so I am hoping to have my first apples. It is fairly time consuming, especially as I didn’t know what I was doing the first couple of years, but I followed the instructions religiously and am now beginning to approach the trees with pruners in hand confidently.

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Espaliered apple tree (Year 4)

My currant and gooseberry bushes were pruned as multiple cordons with three vertical arms. I have this grown both on the same support system that I have for the fruit trees but also on bamboo poles. I find that by growing them in this way as opposed to a bush, I can fit more currant bushes into the same space, I grow red, pink, white and black, and they are easier for me to pick. I still have a high yield of berries and am able to harvest almost all of them.

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Close up of currants
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Redcurrent bushes

There are plenty of videos on the internet showing different pruning techniques, maybe even too many as it is often difficult to choose just one, and then you end up getting side tracked. As I was writing this article and looking up videos, I ended up watching three including one on heucheras. Here’s one you might like from the RHS on renovating fruit trees.

 

 

Garden Myths

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Gardeners have been passing down tips, tricks, and knowledge for generations. Some of this advice is science-based and works, but much of it is a mix of folklore and superstition. While some of it is benign, some of it may actually harm your gardens or have you spending money when you don’t need to.

Here are five of my favourite garden myths – there are hundreds out there – just google ‘garden myths’ and you’ll see what I mean.Picture1

I think social media has intensified the problem – in the past information spread through word of mouth, often handed down through generations. Now anyone with a computer can claim to be an expert, and provide inaccurate information that others will share.

Part of my reason for becoming a Master Gardener was to expand my gardening knowledge and share my passion for growing with others using solid, science-based information. We offer our services to the public in many forms – through presentations, advice clinics, answering email queries, and publishing blogs like this one!

The Master Gardeners of Ontario (MGOI) website shows where all the Master Gardener groups are located – find yours and their website and take advantage of their knowledge and expertise. If they don’t have the answer they will go research it for you.

MGOI also has a great Facebook page where you can post questions to Master Gardeners. And I highly recommend The Garden Professors Facebook page for science-based gardening information.

Make sure to follow the Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners through our
Weekly Blog (by clicking on ‘Follow’ in the left column on the homepage)
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Twitter or reach us at contact@peterboroughmastergardeners.com

Myth: You Should Stake A Newly Planted Tree

Truth: Unless it’s top-heavy or in an especially windy site, your tree does not require staking. Some movement is actually good for young trees. I loved this description “Just as our muscles grow larger with exercise, tree trunks grow thicker and stronger when they’re allowed to move.”

The response of trees and plants to wind is called thigmomorphogenesis (yes that’s a word!). The buffeting from winds releases ethylene gas, a growth mediator that triggers the formation of wood-strengthening lignin.

While staked trees tend to grow taller, their trunks are skinny and weak, so if you decide you must stake, stake as loosely as possible and only for a short time (no longer than six months). Make sure to use something soft against the tree bark to keep from cutting into it. But best to practice tough love – your tree will appreciate it.

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Photo used with permission of The Garden Professors  http://gardenprofessors.com/

Myth: Gravel in The Bottom of Containers Improves Drainage

Truth: This myth will not die. We’ve all been told to place stones or pieces of pot at the bottom of our containers “for drainage”. The reality is that added gravel or rocks to the bottom of your pot will actually accelerate the potential for root rot, rather than preventing it. Water is pulled down through the container by gravity and builds up near the drainage hole. A layer of gravel at the pot’s base serves as the drainage hole and collects water in the same way. So gravel actually moves the pool of water higher up the pot, where it damages your plant.

As long as there is a hole in the bottom of the container, water will find its way out without the need for stones.

Myth: Add Epsom Salts To The Soil Helps Tomatoes Grow

Truth: You would think it was a miracle cure for everything
“It helps seeds germinate”
“It makes plants grow bushier”
“It can prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes” (see bonus information at the bottom of this blog!)
“It can prevent transplant shock”
“It results in more flowers”
“It increases chlorophyll production”
“It deters pests, such as slugs and voles”
“It reduces the total amounts of fertilizers needed”

Magnesium sulfate, or Epsom salt, is a naturally occurring mineral consisting of magnesium and sulfur (MgSO4). Magnesium is a necessary element for plant growth but adding unnecessary salts to your soil will destroy your soil structure over time. You are better to simply add compost or worm castings to the soil. There are decades of research that has documented damage done to both plants and soil with overuse and misuse of magnesium sulfate. Want to read more about it? Check out this peer reviewed study by Washington State University’s Extension Center (click here for more of their excellent science-based studies). The best thing epsom salts can be used for is a nice hot bath after working hard in your garden all day.sphynx-1521190

Myth: You Can’t Grow Anything Near A Black Walnut Tree

Truth: This one is a personal favourite, since I have extensive flower and vegetable gardens in the vicinity of two almost 150-year-old black walnuts. While the roots of black walnut (Juglans nigra) do release an allelopathic chemical known as juglone that inhibits the growth of some plants, the idea that nothing grows under a walnut started gaining traction in the 1920s when a Virginia researcher saw his tomatoes were suffering and just assumed the nearby trees were at fault based on folklore he had heard. Washington State University put out an excellent peer reviewed paper in 2019 explaining the history of walnut allelopathy.

Enjoy your walnut trees! Not only are they robust landscape plants but they provide food and habitat for wildlife and birds. Here’s my lovely perennial garden under my walnut tree (and featured in Linda Chalker-Scott’s paper mentioned above) and my previous blog specifically on this topic.

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(Bonus – information on Blossom End Rot)

Research has shown that calcium deficiency is not the cause of blossom end rot. Egg shells won’t correct it. Epsom salts (which are magnesium sulfate) won’t correct it. Nor will coffee grounds, Tums, calcium sprays, dairy products, or any of the other things that are usually recommended for it. It just corrects itself. It’s not caused by a fungus, bacteria, or virus. It’s not in the soil. It’s an internal condition of the plant. The cause appears to be simply environmental: low temperatures at night, fluctuating temperatures, watering too often, etc. Ammonia fertilizer is linked to it, so some forms of plant food can be a problem. But basically: just pick off the fruit that are affected, water more deeply and don’t allow the plant to get severely drought stressed (daily watering is probably not necessary unless you have unusually fast-draining soil or are growing in a container). The next fruit will probably be fine. It’s usually a problem with the first tomatoes, peppers. and squash that set in the season and the rest come along fine.

Repair or Replace? That is the Question

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

A question about sod that didn’t root came to our contact email account recently. The person asked what to do about an area the size of about a dozen rolls of sod that didn’t take or thrive. Replace it or seed over? Below is a photo of the area in question. Because this is the time of year that we see these problems, I thought the answer to this question would make a good blog.

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Since new sod won’t be available for a few weeks, I suggested to try seeding a small area. If the seed germinates and grows, then go for it! If not, remove the dead sod and replace. If you’re replacing, make sure the new sod is freshly harvested that day. Also, I would add some compost to the soil before laying the new sod. The compost will help the soil retain moisture and provide nutrients.

This time of year is perfect for seeding lawns as usually there is more rain and the weather is cooler, which grass prefers for germinating and growing. Top seeding is usually done on top of existing lawns, so I don’t see why it shouldn’t work on your recent sod.

Rather than topsoil, my suggestion is to use compost. Depending on where you get topsoil, it could be full of weed seeds. You can get compost from most garden/landscape supply places. The City of Peterborough also makes and sells compost which you can buy at Ecology Park or at the Bensfort Road transfer station. Take your own containers. The compost will also help the old sod decompose into the soil.

Before seeding on top of the sod that didn’t take, rake off as much of the loose grass as possible. Put a good layer of compost over that area, 1/2 inch at least. Before seeding, make sure the old sod and the ground are moist underneath. Two and a half centimetres (1”) of rain/water will soak approximately 15 cm (6”) deep.

Then, seed the area with the same variety of grass that is in the sod so that eventually you will have a uniform lawn. Gently cover the lawn seed with a thin layer of mulch by using the back of a garden rake to rake over the area. Water well.

To keep the existing sod healthy, put a thin layer of compost over that as well and rake it in. The compost will help the soil retain moisture and provide all the nutrients your lawn needs without expensive chemicals.

Resources

Green Up Ecology Park Garden Market
Choose Compost Carefully when Topdressing the Lawn
How to spread Compost on the Lawn

All about Compost

By MJ (Mary-Jane) Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Spring is here, but it’s still not great weather outside for gardening. In a few more weeks, once the temperature reaches 10 degrees Celsius on a regular basis, you will have lots to do! But for now, here’s something to think about: compost.

Compost is decomposed organic matter like leaves, grass clippings and kitchen waste, and it’s the ultimate garden fertilizer. It contains virtually all the nutrients a living plant needs and delivers them in a slow-release manner over a period of years. Compost made with a wide variety of ingredients will provide an even more nutritious meal to your growing plants. Compost is free, and you can make your own.

April is a great time to check the compost pile if you already have one. If it’s too wet, stir and add dry (brown) material like dry leaves, then cover. If it’s too dry, stir and add water (or green material), and mix thoroughly. Either way, mix thoroughly!

At the end of the month, when the weather has improved and the garden is dry enough to work in, add a 1-2 inch layer of well composted material (sweet smelling, crumbly and dark brown) to your garden beds, scratching it in lightly or even just laying it on top. When the earthworms wake up, they will pull that material further into the soil, saving you the trouble of digging it in.

If you don’t have a compost bin, spring is a great time to start one! In our area (Peterborough, ON), composters are available at City Hall, 500 George St. N., or at the Household Hazardous Waste Depot, 400 Pido Rd.  GreenUp, Ecology Park, hardware stores and your local municipality likely also carries them. By next spring you could have your own fertilizer ready for the garden, and save a lot of food waste like peelings from going directly to the landfill.

If you don’t have/want a physical composter, a different plan is the trench method of adding compost to the garden. In this method, you dig a series of holes or a trench and lay compost down into it throughout the summer. It’s wise to plan where this trench will be and where this year’s garden will stand. At the end of the summer, cover the trench with one to three inches of soil, and plant your garden next spring in the spot where this year’s trench is. That will get different spots of the soil nourished throughout the years. You can learn more about this type of composting from fellow MG Suzanne Seryck’s article from May 2018.

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If you’re new to composting, here are some pointers:

  • Patience is key. It’ll take six months to a year for compost to be ready to use, so think about investing in a compost pile now as part of your spring garden prep. Your garden will have plenty of natural, nutritious food come next gardening season.
  • Don’t forget the water. If your pile is covered or you are having a dry spell, add moisture. The pile should be always be damp, but not wet.
  • Keep the compost loose and turn every so often. That will keep air in the system and allow for healthy decomposition.
  • Have a balance between wet (green) and dry (brown) compost. Add natural items like grass clippings, leaves, pulled plants, weeds, plant-based food scraps and wood chips.
  • Don’t add meats or fatty foods, dairy, fresh animal droppings, or diseased plants.
  • Never add plants containing seed heads to the compost, or next year that plant will pop up everywhere! I will never look at feverfew kindly again, after this happened to me.
  • The basic rule of thumb is to never add a significant amount of one type of material at the same time. Variety is key.
  • Again, always remember patience. Using compost that is not ready will rob garden plants of nitrogen. You’ll know the compost is ready when it crumbles easily and has a very earthy smell.

Resources:

All about Compost
Composting 101
Everything you need to know about compost:

Gardening is Not Cancelled – Continued…

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Just 3 short weeks ago I shared my thoughts on the impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on our gardening activities, shortly after the World Health Organization declared it to be a pandemic.

So many events have been cancelled – garden shows, seminars, Seedy Saturdays (and Sundays) – that even the cutest cat photos are not making us feel any better. (yes these are my two cuties – Lulu and Roxy).

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Although garden centres and nurseries that grow their own stock are permitted under the conditions of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (as an agricultural activity), many of our favourite nurseries have closed their doors to in-person shopping and resorted to online sales with no-contact pickups at their entrances in order to protect staff and the public.

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Source: http://www.vandermeernursery.com/

Fellow gardeners are panicking. After all, this is the time of year when we finally get outside again, clean up our gardens, start seeds, decide on our plans, and look forward to purchasing our favourite plants at the stores.

However, gardening is not cancelled. This year will definitely be different, and we will have to adjust.

In these chaotic times, let gardening be therapy, providing a place for you to find calm and peace.

Working in the soil, with the sun on your face, can take away your worries, at least temporarily. You are using your hands, digging in the dirt, taking in the fresh air, watching the birds flutter around the yard and – best of all – all the news and social media is in the house! Your garden is an escape!

For families with kids at home, gardening offers the opportunity to get the kids outside and busy, while building their self-esteem and bringing variety to what has suddenly become a lot of time spent together. For those on their own you are never truly alone in a garden – there are always birds, bugs, plants or other living things to observe all around you.

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COVID-19 is forcing us to re-examine how we live, and how we consume goods and services. This has translated into an increased interest in people wanting to grow their own food, taking us back to World War II, when millions of people cultivated Victory Gardens to protect against potential food shortages while boosting patriotism and morale. victory garden

We still don’t know whether we will be able to get starter plants, so many people are ordering seeds. As a result, seed companies are experiencing a deluge of orders, with many stopping new orders until they can catch up. Your local Master Gardener groups and horticultural societies can help you out if you need some advice on how to grow plants from seeds.

  1. Start some seeds. Just seeing something grow out of the soil is a very positive experience. Hopefully you have some seed starter mix around (or can get some) and you can use anything to grow seeds in – from old roasted chicken containers to yogurt cups to folded up newspapers.
  2. Check out social media gardening groups – there are groups out there for every topic under the sun, from seed starting to plant identification to perennials. Since the pandemic began, I have noticed far more people joining these groups, which is wonderful because gardeners just love to share their experiences.
  3. Plan your vegetable garden – figure out which ones you can grow easily from seeds. Learn from others and search Google for ideas.
  4. Stuck inside on a rainy day? Find some online gardening classes or check out YouTube for some good instruction videos on any number of gardening topics.
  5. Get outside for a walk in nature – while maintaining physical distancing, enjoy getting some exercise and seeing all the plants emerging from their winter slumber.
  6. Repot your houseplants. You might just find they reward you with some lovely blooms once we start getting more sunshine.

Hopefully soon we’ll be able to look forward to getting plants at our favourite nurseries (you can be sure they are working very hard to find safe ways to do this). When we do, make sure you support your local nurseries and #buylocal as much as possible.

Until then, find your inner gardening zen, whatever that may be, and enjoy all that spring has to offer. I know I will be sitting by my garden pond, thinking about brighter days ahead.IMG_6524*For best information on the COVID-19 situation contact your local health unit or the Government of Ontario website. Peterborough Public Health, led by Medical Officer of Health Rosana Salvaterra, also has great resources.

 

 

 

Gardening and Our Quality of Life

by Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

There are many different reasons to garden. Some garden to enhance the look of their homes, some love to grow their own vegetables, and many of us garden for colour after a long hard winter. There is another more powerful reason to garden. It can be a medicine and a natural source of therapy. Gardening can relax and invigorate us. The medical profession now recognizes gardening as a means to help heal people.

Being in the outdoors, whether gardening or walking in a wooded area can relax us, rejuvenate us and enliven our senses to what is around us. We can connect with the natural world and be creative and forget for a moment all the everyday worries that we carry with us.

My meditation comes when I’m out digging or planting in the garden and yes, sometimes I will be caught talking to myself. It is my time to be ‘in the moment’ and like many other gardeners the hours will slip away peacefully.

I have a fond memory in Grade 5 of a teacher during a really hot spell in June taking us outside and reading a book to us while we sat on the grass under a mature tree. Why do I remember this? I can’t remember the book but it has something to do with the coolness of the tree, the peaceful surroundings and maybe just the feel of the grass.

Science is now supporting what we have intuitively known for many years. By deepening our relationship with nature, we can reduce stress levels, increase creativity and improve our mood.

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Kawartha Conservation offers Forest Therapy walks that are used to help support healing and wellness. Forest Therapy is inspired by the Japanese practice of shinrin yoku which translates to “forest bathing”. For centuries, poets and philosophers extolled the benefits of a walk in the woods. Florence Williams set out to uncover the science behind nature’s positive effects on the brain in her book, The Nature Fix. She has travelled extensively and investigates cutting-edge research to demonstrate that even small amounts of exposure to the living world can improve our creativity and enhance our mood. Through her research, Williams shows how time in nature is not a luxury but is, in fact, essential to our humanity.

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), founder of the biodynamic approach to agriculture, was a highly trained scientist and respected philosopher in his time who later in his life came to prominence for his spiritual-scientific approach to knowledge called “anthroposophy.” Anthroposophy is a formal educational, therapeutic, and creative system which he established by seeking to use mainly natural means to optimize physical and mental health and well-being.

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In Kent, England there is a unique facility, Blackthorn Trust, which offers specialist therapies and rehabilitation and their work is based on the belief that more than medication is required to effect positive change in people. The work of Rudolf Steiner underpins all their work, and the belief that people should pay more attention to feelings, to the imagination, to the emotions, to the body and space it occupies and to nature and all its rhythms.

Community Gardens can play a large role in helping people feel more connected with the natural world, supply good physical exercise, allow creative juices to flow, supply opportunities for those in small urban settings to participate in an outdoor activity, escape the stresses of everyday life, and improve well-being by creating a reduction in neighbourhood-based fear. Community Gardens have been popular in England for many years and one of the more interesting ones in Oxfordshire is for people with Parkinson’s disease. To learn more about the community gardens in the Peterborough area, visit Nourish.

The Royal Botanical Gardens have realized the benefits of using plants and gardening to enhance emotional, physical and mental well-being. They offer a number of programs from yoga and tai chi, afternoon teas, making mead, kids and family programs as well as lectures and workshops. (Editor’s note – unfortunately due to a recent announcement from Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health regarding COVID-19, the RBG will be closed until April 6, 2020)

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In summary, if you are finding this to be a long winter and you are feeling overwhelmed with everyday stresses, I encourage you to go for a walk in a nearby wooded area, be observant of your surroundings, take a deep breath and enjoy. I guarantee you will return home feeling calmer and rejuvenated!

Where Do I Go but Up?

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I’ve just spent a rather pleasant afternoon looking through one of the many gardening catalogues, occasionally glancing out at my snow covered garden; trying out ideas in my mind to create more space. Having had a one acre garden for over fifteen years I am still trying to get used to a smaller space. No longer can I just go out and build new beds, or purchase trees or shrubs without having a space to plant them. No longer can I try out different pumpkin, squash, zucchini or cucumber plants without some kind of a plan. To create more space for all the vegetables and fruit I want to grow, I am going to have to get creative making use of all my available space.

Vertical vegetable gardening is a great way to grow vegetables when space is tight. Supports such as obelisks, trellises, fences, stakes, even other plants can be used as a support for many vegetables. Ensure that you select ‘vine’ varieties of specific crops instead of the ‘bush’ varieties. Certain vegetables such as beans will produce tendrils allowing them to climb up supports by themselves, others such as squash or zucchini will need a little help and can be tied at regular intervals. Supports do not need to be expensive; you can build many yourself using cheap materials or in my case left over materials I find in my husband’s workshop. If you don’t have the time or inclination, there are many different plant supports in catalogues or stores. Fruit trees can be espaliered to a fence, while fruit bushes can be grown either against a fence or up stakes; pruning to keep them from becoming too wide. I grow my currant and gooseberry bushes as double or triple cordons (a cordon is a single main stem growing vertical), which take up less space than a traditional bush shape and for me are easier to pick.

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My mother loves scarlet runner beans which are vigorous climbers with beautiful clusters of red flowers. Last year I grew them in 2 raised beds side-by-side, creating a tunnel between the two beds using bamboo stakes. I only used up a 4 inch wide strip in both beds and was rewarded with beans for many meals. A lot of people grow beans on a teepee structure which also works well, with a side benefit of being able to use the space under the teepee for planting lettuce. Beans can also grow up other crops such as corn as in the Three Sisters Guild.

Fences and walls are ideal spots to create living walls, especially if located in sun or part-shade. They are ideal for growing leafy vegetables such as lettuce as well as herbs. There are many examples on the internet showing living walls, examples include using wooden pallets, window boxes and gutters. The photo below shows a gutter bed that I had in my last house that I used to grow lettuce and spring onions. The bed worked really well and was both weed free as well as pest free, and if you have difficulty bending down this makes harvesting pain free. The only thing to remember when creating a living wall is to add drainage holes and use a soil that both retains moisture and provides nutrients.

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As you can see from the above photo, tomatoes are growing upside down in hanging baskets. This method worked really well for me, although I have heard many negative stories about growing tomatoes the wrong way up. Tomatoes work really well grown in pots as does asparagus and peppers, you just need to ensure that you are growing the correct variety when growing in a pot. You can also grow salad greens in pots which works really well if located on the patio outside the back door where they are easy to pick. Again you do not need to buy expensive pots, I have been known to grow many vegetables in recycle bins, see picture below or even in an old laundry sink. Again, you just need to ensure you have drainage holes and use a moisture retentive soil combined with compost.

And finally, one last space saving idea that I am planning on trying this year is a pillar of peppers. This idea is from a newsletter that I receive monthly called ‘Dallying in the Dirt‘. Peppers are grown in a pillar made of heavy wire and landscape fabric. The pillar is then filled with soil, holes cut into the fabric at intervals all around the pillar and filled with pepper plants. I’m not sure my pillar is going to be quite as tall as the example shown, but I like to experiment in the garden and this sounds like an interesting method of growing peppers.

 

Facing Climate Change: What Gardeners Need to Know

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

I recently attended a Master Gardener’s Technical Update at the Toronto Botanical Gardens. The subject was Facing Climate Change: What Gardeners Need to Know. The speakers were Dr. Jon Warland, Dr. Steven Hill and Lorraine Johnson. As we sat listening to how our climate is changing and the impacts that this has on current gardening practices, it was not lost to us that we were about to experience an upcoming ice storm at the same time that Australia was dealing with horrific fires. And then on January 17th, Newfoundland is hit with one of the worst winter storms they have ever had!

Some interesting facts I took away with me that day were:

  • Plants that were once borderline hardy are now easily surviving our winters.
  • Severe storm conditions are damaging many of our trees.
  • The Sugar Maple could disappear in this century from the Greenbelt area.
  • Invasive plants are taking hold and pushing out some of our woodland native plants.
  • The average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was about 250 parts per million (ppm) in pre-industrial times. Now it exceeds 400 parts per million (ppm).
  • The peak bloom date for cherry trees in Washington, D.C. has shifted earlier by approximately five days since 1921.
  • The current climate in the Golden Horseshoe area will be in Algonquin Park by the end of the century.

Lorraine Johnson spoke at great length about our perception of what was a ‘nice’ garden. She believes that we need to understand the benefits of growing native plants that will be hardy enough to withstand the unpredictable extremes in climate. She presented several examples of people who had replaced their front lawns with native plants or vegetables and had been instructed by the cities to remove the plants or had received bills when the city moved in and cut it all down only because it was considered ‘messy’ and ‘unappealing’!

What we can do as gardeners:

  • Consider using native plants. You will be rewarded with lots of birds, butterflies and insects to help cultivate a natural ecosystem.
  • Grow as many plants as possible (I won’t have a problem with this one). Gardening is a journey and learning what plants work best in your conditions takes time and patience.
  • Learn to live with some weeds, nibbles in leaves, as well as leaf spots. Focus on cultivating plant health.
  • Stop watering your lawns as it is estimated that nearly one-third of all residential water is lost in the watering of lawns. Your lawns will go dormant in dry periods but will return with the fall rains.
  • Consider a rain garden to minimize surface runoff.
  • Include a diverse mix of plants, shrubs and trees to prepare for the possibility of losing certain plants due to climate change.
  • Leave grass clippings on your lawn to add nutrients
  • Mulch fall leaves and add to your lawn or flower beds to avoid having leaves sent to the landfill where the organic material undergoes anaerobic (without oxygen) decomposition that produces the greenhouse gas methane with is worse than CO2.
  • Grow your own vegetables or buy locally from farmers markets to help reduce greenhouse gases when food travels thousands of kilometres from farm to grocery store.
  • MOST IMPORTANT … Get out in your gardens and be thankful for the beauty that surrounds you!

Resources:

The Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation have put out a good report on Gardening in a Changing Climate.

In 2018, Cornell University produced Gardening in a Warmer World.

Permaculture: Where do I start?

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

So what do gardeners do in the winter? Once we’ve read all our seed magazines and compiled our purchasing lists, or designed new or changes to existing perennial beds, or decided on our vegetable crop rotation for the upcoming season, or read a new gardening book, or watched some gardening videos or TED talks, or found ourselves in the middle of taking a gardening course, what next? Personally, once I’ve exhausted all these possibilities, I tend to reread my favourite gardening books. I have an incredibly bad memory and find it really helps me when I reread the same books over and over; hoping eventually something will sink in. My books to reread this year are both permaculture-related: Toby Hemingway’s “Gaia’s Garden” and Rosemary Morrow’s “Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture”.

When I first became interested in permaculture a number of years ago, I started reading books and watching videos by the two founders, Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. The concept, ethics, and principles resonated with me, but I have to admit that I struggled based on the literature available at that time, to understand how to translate this into my own Canadian garden. It was not until a couple of years later that I attended a couple of local permaculture design courses and read the book by Toby Hemingway who focuses on North American gardens, that I felt confident enough to bring some of those concepts and methods into my home garden

As I mentioned in my last blog, permaculture is a design system, a set of guidelines, principles and practices for sustainable living and land use, working with nature in a continuous cycle that benefits both people and wildlife. As with anything new or overwhelming, it is easy to be deterred by the big picture.  Instead, focus on smaller ideas or concepts. If you start implementing smaller more manageable tasks, it will give you confidence to tackle the larger concepts.

The following are a few easy-to-implement permaculture techniques to get you started:

  1. Sheet mulching. This was actually the first group activity I performed in my first design course.  It can also be called lasagna gardening. Permaculture encompasses a no-dig philosophy focusing on building soil life. Sheet mulching allows you to create new beds whilst eliminating weeds and building up the health of the soil. It is also a lot healthier on your back. You simply lay a heavy layer of newspaper or cardboard over the area and top it with 12 inches or so of organic mulch.
  2. Keyhole garden beds. Keyhole beds are often used in permaculture because they maximize use of space, whilst building soil fertility.  They decrease irrigation needs and are easy to plant, harvest and maintain. The bed can be either raised or not, and is often created in a circular pattern which decreases the space required for paths and increases space for plants. This type of bed is most often used for growing herbs & vegetables and because of the circular design, plants with different growing requirements can be planted together often creating different microclimates. For more information: https://permaculturefoodforest.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/keyhole-gardens/
  3. Creating gardening communities or guilds. In permaculture, a guild can be defined as a grouping of plants, trees, animals and insects that work together protecting their health, habitat and productivity. Probably one of the most familiar guilds is the Three Sisters Guild in which squash, corn and beans are grown together; each one supporting and benefiting the others. The beans grow up the corn and provide nitrogen, whilst the squash mulches and covers the soil. In my last garden, I grew apple tree guilds, surrounding each apple tree with daffodils in the spring (deter predators from chewing bark), comfrey and yarrow, and herbs such as dill & fennel along with chives & onions.
  4. Multiple stories or forest gardens. As an avid gardener and someone who has difficulty saying ‘enough is enough’ when it comes to plants–and also the owner of a small city garden–this technique is one I am especially interested in. The idea is that a garden can have multiple stories or layers; from a low herb or ground cover layer up to perennials, shrubs, small trees and finally the canopy trees. The plants in each layer combine and support each other to create and maintain a healthy ecosystem.
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Vegetable garden incorporating annuals and perennials

Permaculture is much more than the simple examples I have given.  It can encompass everything from designing landscapes and buildings, to water and waste management. The benefits for me include enriching the land, feeding and providing habitat, growing food for my family, and giving me somewhere to unwind and feel good about life. However, I am omitting one very important benefit for myself–by incorporating some permaculture practices into my garden, the garden tends to look after itself much more with less interference and work for me!