Category Archives: Websites

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!

Gardening Is Not Cancelled

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Just when Ontario gardeners thought spring was peeking through the piles of snow – with warmer weather and the change to daylight savings time – we’ve been derailed, and not by Mother Nature.

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It’s been a tough few weeks with the increasing spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to North America. People are becoming increasingly alarmed, and in the past few days we have seen measures by our local health authorities and governments to ‘flatten the curve’ of the pandemic by imposing restrictions on travel, movement, and large events. 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.

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Flattening the curve – Proactively instituting protective measures to protect our healthcare system’s capacity to respond.

For Ontario gardeners, the past week has seen the cancellation of two major garden shows, numerous Seedy Sundays (and Saturdays), various Ontario Horticultural Association District meetings, and local meetings (in venues that have closed their doors to external groups). 90116313_3010310689020706_8668654371803758592_oThe biggest shock was the last minute cancellation of Canada Blooms just before its opening (March 13-22) as so much hard work and preparation goes into this event (6 days of building, but also plant-forcing, planning, designing etc.). But all is not lost! Thanks to Paul Gellatly (new Director of Horticulture at the Toronto Botanical Gardens), Sean James (Master Gardener and gardening consultant), and Helen Battersby (Toronto-based writer and garden speaker), we have photos and video of Canada Blooms before it was dismantled so that everyone can appreciate the results, even if we don’t have “smell-o-rama” and can’t see it in person.

Photos of Canada Blooms (thanks Paul Gellatly) Here and here

(note that all the TBG’s plants from Canada Blooms will be on sale at the TBG at 777 Lawrence Ave East on March 14th and 15th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

Video Tour of Canada Blooms (thanks Sean James) Here

More Photos of Canada Blooms (thanks Helen Battersby) Here

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The Peterborough Garden Show is also a huge draw for Ontario Gardeners. This year was to be the 20th Anniversary show – completely community run by volunteers from the Peterborough Horticultural Society, with all profits being reinvested in the community in Peterborough.

In addition, our beloved Peterborough Seedy Sunday this March 15th has been cancelled (along with many others across the province). Organizer Jillian Bishop (of Nourish and Urban Tomato) is encouraging people to visit the website and click on links for the various vendors to support them by buying seeds online.

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What are Gardeners to Do?

Don’t give up hope.

  1. Bring spring inside! Check out my recent blog on bringing dormant spring flowering branches inside and forcing them for early colour and bloom.forsythia-4083551_1920
  2. Plant some seeds! You may not be able to go to Seedy Saturdays/Sundays but you can order seeds from local companies or find them at your local nurseries. A great activity for March Break with kids.
  3. Do some virtual garden tours! Google Arts and Culture has some, or there’s a virtual tour of Prince Charles’ Highgrove Gardens that I just found. I’m sure a quick Google search for “virtual tour” and “gardens” would bring up many more.Highgrove
  4. Plan your 2020 garden. Whether it’s reworking your perennial beds, planning a new garden, or deciding on your vegetables and herbs for this year, best to get your design ideas laid out now before spring arrives. Maybe think about a rain garden or pollinator garden for this year?
  5. Clean your tools. Get in your garage or garden shed and take inventory of what tools need repair or replacing, and what new tools may be helpful this season. Clean your tools now so you are ready for the season.20190713_140635
  6. Get outside. Yes we might still have snow (well some of us do) but that doesn’t stop you wandering around your garden and dreaming does it?
  7. Go wander in nature. Many of the COVID-19 restrictions are stopping our regular activities in our communities. But that is no reason not to enjoy our wonderful environment. Take this opportunity to get out for a hike, see the plants emerging from their winter hibernation, listen to the spring birds singing, and relax in nature. (more on this in our MG Sharleen’s blog on Monday)09_RiverView

These are challenging times, but our gardens and love of gardening will help get us through. If you have other ideas please tweet them out to us or share them on our Facebook page.

 

 

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.

African Violets – Houseplant Extraordinaire!

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

African violets are the plants that immediately come to mind when anyone asks me about houseplants. This plant is an old favourite for good reason. I have two. As the name implies, African violets are native to the cloud forests in the mountains of east Africa. Many of the native plants are threatened or endangered due to habitat loss. African violets are not violets (family Violaceae, genus Viola) but are included in the family Gesneriaceae, genus Saintpaulia.

African violets are classified by size from the “Mini” which are less than 7.6 cm (3 inches) in above-ground diameter to the “Giant” which ranges from 30.5 cm – 40.6 cm(12-16 inches). They are pretty plants even when not in flower which they will do almost continuously under good growing conditions. Their flowers may be single, semi-double or even double. This refers to the rows of petals on the flowers. Flower colours include blue/violet, pink, fuchsia, white and bi-coloured. Their dark, green leaves appear velvety because they have a fleshy texture and are covered with fine hairs. The plants maintain a compact form but do come in a trailing form. Lots of choices!

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African violets prefer soil that has excellent drainage because the plant may rot if water lays on top or the soil stays water logged. You may purchase specific African violet soil to help ensure a porous growing medium that allows water to percolate through.

Water your plant so that the soil stays moist all of the time but pour off the standing water from the saucer under the plant to prevent the soil from becoming water logged. Do not get water on the leaves of this plant because disfiguring rings will appear where the leaf has been damaged. You may also use a system that allows you to water your African violet from the bottom. This can be as simple as filling the saucer under your plant with water then allowing the plant to absorb water from the saucer. Discard any water left in the sauce after about 45 minutes. Remember to check the surface of the soil to make sure that it is moist … if not, then repeat this process. There are also self-watering pots available. Over-watering or under-watering will damage and may eventually kill your plant.

Picture2African violets like bright indirect light. A sunny, warm window is okay in winter but in summer, place your plant in a north or east window or just sit it back from a south or west window so that it does not receive direct sunlight. African violets prefer cooler temperatures at night around18C (60F) and up to 27-29C (80-85F) in the day. Too cool temperatures will stunt their growth.

Like any houseplant, African violets can suffer from some diseases and insect pests including botrytis blight, powdery mildew, mites, mealybug, aphids or thrips. Be sure to purchase your African violet and all of your house plants from a reputable seller to avoid these problems.

With all of the new African violet cultivars and their colourful blooms, why not try one? If you enjoy house plants then the African violet may be the one for you!

Resources

African Violet Society of Canada,  (note that this site is under construction)
African Violet Society of America

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!

Thank goodness the seed catalogues have arrived…

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

“Thank goodness the seed catalogues have arrived… I was about to start cleaning my house!”

It starts with the dream.

There’s no better time than now to  dive into a good seed catalogue and start planning for the upcoming growing season. Seed catalogues can be a great resource for bulbs and unique seeds, and offer a far bigger selection than what you can find in your local garden centre. You’ll find inspiration and will likely discover new plants that you must have in your 2020 garden.

You’ll be the most successful if you pick the seed companies that are closest to where you live, or in the same growing region as you. However, you can still have success ordering from a company farther away, but you’ll have to be careful not to order a plant that isn’t in your growing zone.

Below are some popular seed companies from across Canada, with some that are also in close proximity to the Peterborough, ON, area.

Florabunda Seeds

Whether you are an avid gardener or just beginning to get your hands dirty, Florabunda Seeds in Keene, ON, has a wide variety of heirloom and unusual flower, vegetable and herb seeds. They pride themselves in their untreated, non-GMO, and non-Hybrid offerings. They package generously by measurement and not by seed count.  Download catalogueRequest a catalogue.

OSC Seeds

OSC Seeds from Kitchener, ON, features a selection of high-quality seed packets, perfectly suited for the Canadian climate and ready for planting in your garden. Their full line of products includes 30 herbs, 250 vegetables, 240 annuals and 100 perennials & biennials. Request a free catalogue

William Dam Seeds

William Dam Seeds is a family-run company located just outside of Dundas, Ontario, supplying small farmers and gardeners in Canada with seed for food, flowers and soil building. They are proud to offer a varied catalogue of many different seed varieties that are not chemically treated, and some of the seeds are certified organic as well. You can download their online catalogue, or request a mailed copy via their contact page.

Natural Seed Bank

Natural Seed Bank is an online retailer of garden seeds. They sell various organic and untreated garden seeds. Located in Port Hope, Ontario, Natural Seed Bank is 100 percent Canadian owned and operated. All of their seeds are non-GMO and untreated, and many selections are organic. They’re committed to never selling GMO products.

Richters

Richters is your go-to for everything herbal. Located in Goodwood, Ontario, Richters has been growing and selling herbs since 1969. Check out their online catalogue or request a copy to be mailed out.  Online catalogueRequest a catalogue.

Veseys

Veseys is one of the premier seed, bulb and garden supply sites in North America. Located on Prince Edward Island, Veseys has 75 years of history providing products, services, and advice to gardeners.  Be sure to head over and subscribe for your free catalogue. They put on many fantastic specials, have quality products and outstanding customer service. Request a catalogue.

Resources

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The Christmas Rose: Helleborus niger

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

Nothing warms a home up as much as plants do. At this time of the year there are so many options to choose from: Poinsettias ranging in colour from white to deep reds, Cyclamen, Christmas Cactus, Amaryllis, Rosemary to name a few. There is one, however, that is usually found in garden centres in the spring but which one can occasionally find in a grocery store or florist in the fall, and that is the Christmas Rose. Its botanical name is Helleborus niger and its common name is Hellebore.

Helleborus niger is a hardy perennial in the Raniculaceae or buttercup family. It has dark green evergreen foliage and delicate white flowers resembling a wild rose. They are hardy to zones 3-4. Bloom times vary from November to February/March, depending on the location. They like semi-shade and grow well in sheltered areas in well-draining soils.

If you are fortunate enough to find one in your local store, not only will you have a conversation piece, you will be able to plant it outside in your garden and enjoy it for many years.

Links:

Photo credit: Sue Flinders Adams: After being purchased in a  grocery store in November/December, it was planted at Portage Lakehouse, Haliburton and bloomed under the ice and snow the following spring. Picture taken April, 2017.

‘Tis the Season … for Poinsettias!

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

When I was growing up, my mother always had a big green and red poinsettia sitting in the centre of the dining table during the holiday season. By the middle of January, it had lost all of its leaves so out it went in the trash. Oh yes, we also called it a “pointsetta”.

In Mexico, where it grows wild as a leggy shrub or small tree, the native plant (Euphorbia pulcherrima) has been associated with the Christian Christmas holiday since the 16th century. Thanks to Joel Robert Poinsett, the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, poinsettias were introduced to the United States in 1825. They did not really take off, though, until the California based Ecke family grew plants using a grafting technique discovered by Paul Ecke Sr. in the 1960s.  They began aggressively marketing the holiday season blooming poinsettia as a holiday tradition. In the 1980s, John Dole identified the technique used by the Ecke family to produce their compact poinsettias. This led to many more growers entering the retail market.

Poinsettias are members of the Euphorbia family. The brightly coloured “flowers” are actually bracts (modified leaves). Their bright colour helps to attract pollinators in the wild.poinsettia1

When purchasing poinsettias, look for an erect plant that has dark green leaves down to the soil and fully coloured bracts. The actual flowers, located at the centre of the bract, should be immature and red-tipped or green, not yellow with pollen because these more mature blooms will not last as long as the immature blooms. Plants displayed in plastic sleeves or crowded together may be stressed and deteriorate quickly after purchase. When purchasing any plant, always check for disease or insects. Yellow leaves, wilt or the presence of insects (check the underside of leaves too) always indicate problems and a plant that you do not want.

Poinsettias are not poisonous to humans but may cause pets to experience vomiting and diarrhea if consumed. Like all Euphorbia, damaged poinsettia stems and flowers exude a white sap that may cause skin irritation to susceptible individuals and pets.

There are over 100 varieties of poinsettias. They come in many colours from the traditional red to white, pink, cream and marbled or speckled.

Poinsettias prefer 6 hours of indirect light each day away from heat registers and cold drafts. Water the plant when it is dry but do not overwater because it may wilt and drop its bracts. (I think that is likely what happened with my mother’s poinsettias!) Allow the water to drain into a saucer after watering then discard this water. Do not let your plant sit in water. If you would like to keep your plant past the holiday season, fertilize it once a month with a houseplant fertilizer once the plant has stopped blooming.

Poinsettias may be put outside in the summer after all danger of frost has passed. But if you would like it to rebloom during the following holiday season, bring the plant back indoors before frost. Then, beginning in October, keep it in total darkness for 14 hours each night. The combination of total darkness and warm, bright days should cause the bracts to colour. This might be fun to try but to guarantee that you have a blooming poinsettia during the following holidays, purchase a new one and compost your old plant.

Poinsettias have long been associated with the holiday season. They come in several colours which will help to add holiday cheer to any home decor. Enjoy them while they last!

For more information on poinsettia care and reblooming, please see the links below.

Halloween Gardening

By Christine Freeburn, Master Gardener

What can you do in the garden now, with Hallowe’en just around the corner?

DSCN7053Plant garlic! Yes, this is the time of year to plant garlic for harvesting next summer. You can probably still find garlic bulbs at farmers markets. Buy locally grown garlic, not product of China. Separate the cloves from the bulb and plant at a depth of 3 times the height of the bulb in rows in the garden. Cover two-thirds deep with soil and then top off with straw or mulch. For full details, see this fact sheet on growing garlic.

DSCN5616Plant tulips! Although it may be too late to plant daffodils, you can still pop some tulips into the ground, even up to freeze up. Squirrels do love tulips, but if you plant them deep enough (6 to 8 inches), use hen manure or bone meal, and cover up the bare spot with leaves or mulch, you should deter them. Check this link for more spring bulb information.

Cut some hydrangea blooms! Hydrangeas have been tinged by the frost and many are lovely shades of pink. Bring some into your home and place in an empty vase and they will dry naturally.

Cut back some perennials. Putting your garden to bed in the fall, gives you a head start in spring. It also gets you into the garden to pull any weeds that have sprung up and may be going to seed. Cutting back daylilies, iris and hosta can tidy up the garden, but I recommend not chopping everything down. Cut back any seed heads that you don’t want to reseed. Leave your grasses and sedums standing. They will help to hold the snow in the garden which helps to insulate the frozen ground, which is a good thing.

DSCN4263Don’t rake! Mulch those leaves into your lawn with your lawn mower. It’s easier on your back and is so good for the lawn. Use your leaf blower to mulch into your flower beds too.

Scree Gardening

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

My casual interest in scree gardens became a burning desire to have one (you know the feeling) when I went on my first Peterborough Master Gardener garden tour in 2017. We visited a nursery that had amazing demonstration scree and rock gardens. I was smitten!

A scree garden is found in nature. Small rocks and gravel travel down the side of a mountain because of the freeze-thaw action on the rockface. This material accumulates in crevices, on rock shelves and at the mountain base. It drains well and is home to plants that survive on only rain. Scree gardens are good for areas that are already rocky, sandy or do not have a lot of soil to begin with. However, they can be replicated pretty much anywhere with a raised bed to ensure good drainage. A raised bed is especially important if you have clay soil. Choose a sunny site that is not overshadowed by trees. You don’t want the constant challenge of leaf litter on your garden. As when creating any new garden, make sure all weeds and grass are removed before you start.

Different sources quote different mixes for the actual garden “soil” to use in your raised bed. I used what I had for mine. This consisted of some larger rocks in the bottom, and then a layer of gravel, then mostly sand, and gravel mixed with some garden soil. The sand, gravel, and garden soil mixture was used to fill the spaces in the rocks up to the top of my raised bed. Remember that you are trying to replicate nature so your scree must have excellent drainage and not be overly rich.

I chose plants that I knew could take dryer soils and thrive in my Southern Ontario garden with it’s summer heat and high humidity. There are lots of lists of potential scree and rock garden plants on the internet. Some local nurseries carry plants that will thrive in well drained conditions. Once that you have found plants that will grow, as with any garden, choose plants that will give you the look that you want ie. colour, texture, height and spread.

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Author’s garden

In her book “Pocket Gardening”, gardening writer Marjorie Harris talks about how to maintain the scree and rock gardens. Ms. Harris recommends topdressing the garden with leaf mold and coarse sharp sand or 3/8 inch gravel when plants are dormant which means very early spring or late fall.

Have fun with it and make your garden into what makes you happy!

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Author’s garden

Resources

Anna’s Perennials –  Ontario Rock Garden & Hardy Plant Society –  Rock Wall Gardens