Month: July 2012

Blue Poppies in Pots? Not!

One of the most common internet searches that leads to hits on my blog is “growing blue poppies  in pots.” Sadly, I think I can now say that it’s not possible to do this well.

I have grown blue poppies (Meconopsis)  in pots and in the ground, and the differences in plant size and vigor are striking.

Three or four years ago I had 12 plants (mostly seedlings of ‘Lingholm’) in gallon-sized pots. A couple of them bloomed in the spring of 2010, but none bloomed well, and all but one perished in subsequent winters. It’s hard to regulate soil drainage in a pot, and I suspect they simply rotted.

Last spring I grew another batch of plants, fifteen of which came through the winter (in 4-inch pots) and sprouted out this spring. I planted eleven of them in a crescent-shaped bed on the north side of a large deciduous magnolia. This spring and summer have been cool and relatively wet, ideal conditions for blue poppies. I watered the plants thoroughly once per week. Now, near the end of July, they look promising, and certainly more robust than any of my pot-grown specimens. The biggest problem has been leaf-stems being snapped as the leaves are whirled around by occasional strong winds. I have planted three plants of Lamium maculatum ‘Pink Pewter’ near some of the blue poppies, hoping that they will act as a kind of windbreak. (I may come to regret this, if the lamium proves too vigorous and swamps the poppies).

Most of them have formed small offsets, and I hope for blooms next spring. Remembering my very first planting of M. betonicifolia in 2000, I am confident that they will winter well, since my sandy soil is well-drained. (It’s too bad I didn’t bother taking pictures of those original blue poppies when they bloomed in 2001. They were doomed, of course, because M. betonicifolia has that monocarpic habit to start with, and these were way too close to a Tree of Heaven. A few sprouted out feebly the following spring, but I could see that they had no future).

If this lot blooms next year, I will definitely take pictures. It remains to be seen how well they tolerate magnolia roots.


The Delicate Art of Reviewing

Elsewhere in this blog I’ve taken a stab at book reviews — both writing a few myself and opining on the reviewing process. I’m returning to the topic today because I’ve recently wrestled with the matter of writing a negative review.

When I became a member of the Smashwords community in 2010, I resolved to contribute a review of every piece of writing I acquired from that source. I also came up with some Rules for Responsible Reviewing, which I think I have adhered to:  1) Always read the entire book before reviewing. 2) Don’t indulge in gratuitous nastiness. 3) Don’t indulge in mindless cheerleading. 4) Hardly ever give five star or one star ratings. Save them for the absolutely wonderful and the truly abysmal.

So what do you do when you get that sinking feeling while reading a book that’s decent but not really good? The best choice might just be — do nothing at all. Stop reading and move on. Otherwise, it’s too easy to point out every fault, creating a torrent of negativity. People do that all the time on Amazon; I actually enjoy reading some of those diatribes. But excessively brutal honesty isn’t very helpful to an author. How would I feel if I read something like that about one of my books?

That’s the difference between reviews written by consumers and those by fellow writers. Because I joined Smashwords in order to publish my own writings, all my reviewing there is done in the spirit of being helpful to other writers, much the same as comments made in a critique group. I belong to several such groups and have witnessed the devastation that can be inflicted by critical comments delivered in an inconsiderate way.

Besides, in this connected world, anything you write may be used against you. Just Google “Greek Seaman.”

The Garden at Midsummer

Technically, I suppose midsummer is actually the second week in August, but to me August feels like late summer.  Mid-July is high summer, when the ornamental garden pauses at a peak (hopefully) before starting a decline into its tired, seedy late summer state. Vegetable gardens, on the other hand, at this stage should be showing a promise of harvest.

Ha (as Henry Mitchell used to write). I no longer have a vegetable garden, and the tomato plants in their pots do not look promising. There aren’t even any little green tomatoes, although the wretched plants have actually started to bloom. This is amazing when you consider that they spent the last few weeks swathed in a set of old lace curtains, looking a bit like wistful brides whose grooms have failed to show up. I resorted to this rather desperate measure after I realized that the neighbourhood buck (or some other visiting deer) has a taste for tomato foliage.

Deer, whether a single one or several, have certainly made their presence felt this summer. I don’t think they come here for their main course, but definitely for dessert or appetizers. Flower buds are a favourite. Lilies were ignored until they formed visible buds, at which point “Golden Splendor” was quite thoroughly disbudded. Granted, it hadn’t been as vigorous as in former years (when it had more than 30 blooms), but an early count promised about 20. Now there are only two buds left, because I swathed them in lace as well. No daylilies will bloom here this summer, or Phygelius either. Hosta buds have been nipped, and even the small, dark red flowers of Potentilla atrosanguinea have been sampled. Ditto alstroemerias. The big blue hardy geraniums, Geranium pratense, bloomed well, but have since lost most of their leaves to the visiting ungulate.

“Bucky” Right at Home

The funny thing is that a casual glance over the garden fails to reveal these losses. Because of the cool, damp spring, things still look pretty lush, and the tough plants, knowing a good season when they feel one in their tough little tissues, are revelling in it. Only the gardener knows for sure that all is not well.

Back Garden Beds

The gardener, these days, is run off her feet doing things only slightly related to gardening, namely painting a new gate, an old gate and a set of refurbished porch steps. The first step, of course is priming, with an oil-based primer that has left leprous-looking spots all over my hands. But while applying this stuff to the new gate, which also includes an arch, I’ve been considering what clematis to plant as an arch-adornment. I’m thinking that Clematis viticella “Julia Correvon” might be the one, or perhaps some other member of the viticella group, because tree roots are a problem in  this spot, and the viticella clematises are reputed to be fairly tough. But I have a few more months to think about this before planting time next spring.

Another recent worthwhile garden project was lifting a set of stepping stones from under accumulated soil. I’m still amazed that I lost sight of them to the point that they had to be dug up and reset. Now that they are visible once more, the path they demarcate looks mysterious and inviting once more.

The Path Behind the Pond

And the weather?  Well, we had a taste of summer for the last week or ten days, with temperatures in the mid-20s (mid 70s in Fahrenheit). But after a doozy of a thunderstorm on Friday night, things reverted to cool and damp — just in time for the painting project. C’est la vie.

Perceptions of Weather

Everyone is interested in weather at some point, but many (most?) gardeners are obsessed with it. I’m no exception. Since I began gardening seriously thirty years ago, I’ve had a max/min thermometer and a rain gauge and kept daily records. I also monitor a selection of weather-related internet sites.

I think I have a pretty good idea of what the weather has been like in any given season, but I notice that many people’s perceptions are quite inaccurate.  Many people equate cloudy with rainy, so after a number of cloudy days they complain about “all this rain we’ve been having,” even though there were only a few showers that didn’t amount to anything. Take this spring, for instance. Even I was sure that both May and June were abnormally cool and wet, but after adding up the rainfall amounts for those two months, I found that my rain gauge recorded only 18.5 mm. (0.73 in.) in May and 35 mm. (1.4 in.) in June. Comparing these numbers to the official averages, I see that May was just about normal (18.7 mm.) but June was somewhat above normal (21.7 mm). I suspect this applies to temperatures as well — May was more or less normal (despite perceptions), while June was undoubtedly cool.

This is why keeping weather records is such a good idea; records provide hard data against which to check one’s perceptions. (They are also useful in weather-related arguments). For example, I have entertained a notion that in recent years, springs and summers have been cooler than normal, and autumns warmer, as though the seasons have shifted in some weird way — possibly the result of climate change? It just so happens that one of my favourite local weather sites ( put up a graph on their Facebook page today, showing temperatures for the past ten years collected at the University of Victoria. This data confirms my impression of recent cool summers, but not necessarily of warmer falls. (Fall, by the way, is often the best season of the year; the only problem with it is shorter days, but even those are a blessing for writers who are also gardeners — more time to write).

Another aspect of perception of weather is the matter of what is considered “good weather.” Here (as in so much else) I differ from most people, or at least those who express their opinions. Most people say they like sunny, hot, dry weather, the hotter the better. Just today I heard someone on Vancouver’s CBC Radio expressing envy for folks in the eastern U.S. who are experiencing temperatures of 38 C (100 F). Well, I’m perfectly happy with our current temperature of 15 C (60 F) here in Victoria, B.C., even though it’s well below normal and it looks like this will be a lousy summer for growing tomatoes. As the late Eleanor Perenyi said in her excellent essay “Partly Cloudy”:  “The majority of Americans crave a sunlit perfection, as if hell itself weren’t a warm, well lighted place.” I can attest that this holds true for Canadians as well.

As for rain, I know I’m almost alone when I declare that I love rain, especially in summer. Living and gardening in a temperate version of a Mediterranean climate where summer rain is relatively rare, I envy gardeners in places that are blessed with it during the growing season. My idea of gardening bliss is not having to drag hoses around, keep track of what days I’m allowed to water, and haul watering cans from pot to pot. This rather cool, damp spring and (so far) summer has been noteworthy in that I haven’t yet had to bring out the hose and sprinker, and my rain barrels are actually full of rainwater. But I see that the long range forecast is for warmer, sunnier days. Unless it becomes what I consider to be Too Hot (30 C (86 F) or more), I won’t grumble. Maybe there’s hope for a few tomatoes yet.