Garden

Chicory and fennel on boulevard

Beautiful Weeds

Back in June we went for a drive around our region, and returned via a ferry that crosses a local water body. The crossing takes less than half an hour, but we had to wait quite a bit longer than that for the next scheduled sailing. During that wait I took a couple of photos of roadside weeds, because I thought they were beautiful.

Dock plant, maybe Rumex occidentalis near Mill Bay ferry June 2021
Dock plant (maybe Rumex occidentalis?) with Himalayan blackberry and grasses in bloom behind it
Grasses and other roadside weeds near Mill Bay ferry, June 2021
Assorted grasses, Himalayan blackberry, and buttercups

Don’t these scenes look gardenesque? I’ve thought for a long time that an aesthetically pleasing garden may be made of any plants, even weeds. The blackberry is an alien invasive of the worst kind here (never mind that it produces delicious berries). Dock is also a weed, and I suspect those lovely grasses are as well. Buttercups are pretty, but many gardeners labour mightily to weed them from their lawns.

Some of the most dependable plants in my garden are quasi-weeds. I’ve blogged about them many times. Gardeners who welcome weedy plants must learn how to manage them. Diligent deadheading is the key for the ones that seed abundantly. Weedy plants that spread underground by roots or runners are really best avoided.

I actually have a small area that comes close to being a garden of weeds. It’s part of the municipal boulevard. The lawn grass there was pretty pathetic, and deteriorated to the point it was an eyesore. So I introduced a few plants I had admired while biking to work on a trail parallel to a highway–chicory, Queen Anne’s lace, and California poppies. I let the existing grass grow and trimmed it manually when it started to look tired. A couple of plants found elsewhere in the garden ended up there too–a white campion, a bronze fennel, a couple of mulleins, and a small plant of Erysimum “Bowles Mauve.” Sometimes I think the whole project was a mistake, but in the right light, it can look fairly good.

Boulevard Project with Mullein July 2021
The “Boulevard Project” weed garden

I think weed gardens work only if all the plants in them are weeds, equally tough and equally rustic looking. Introducing a few tough plants into regular borders can be effective, but the gardener has to keep a close eye on them. And some weeds have no place in civilized gardens–those blackberries, for example, and any form of bindweed. Horsetails too are wonderfully architectural and different, but I understand they spread relentlessly and are nearly impossible to dig up.

horsetail
Image by Analogicus from Pixabay

All this leads to a conclusion: plants are plants. Some are beautiful. Some are weedy. The gardener observes and selects, makes mistakes and learns (usually in a bent-over position, clutching a spade).

Tomato flowers against brown fence

Growing Tomatoes Part 3

I have heard of gardeners who manage to harvest their first ripe tomato by the Fourth of July. All I can say is these folks must have optimal conditions and superb techniques to achieve this feat. Either that or they’re lying.

I’m happy if any of my plants have visible tomatoes by the beginning of July.

Tomato plants half grown in June

My plants spend most of June just growing to the maximum size their pots allow. I encourage this by making sure they never dry out. I also remove any unwanted side-shoots that appear in the leaf axils. This gets tricky once the plants are a foot or two in height, because the stems inevitably bend a bit. A couple of mine managed to do some sneaky branching.

At some point the plants start blooming.

Tomato flowers close-up

No one grows tomatoes for their flowers, but viewed closely, they are bright and cheery. Their purpose is to turn into tomatoes, however, so I hope they are visited by pollinators. The wait is agonizingly slow, especially if the weather is cool (not a problem this summer!) I’ve even been known to fluff around with a little paintbrush to help things along.

Tomato plants with flowers and small green fruits in July
Small green tomatoes on plants in July

This plant’s flowers have obviously been visited by bees or other insects. Those golf-ball sized tomatoes will expand over the next couple of months and eventually turn into luscious red globes (and salsa!)

Not yet, but eventually!

The only jobs for the gardener now are to keep watering, remove side shoots, and maybe apply some sort of fertilizer. Not a high nitrogen type, however; no need to encourage more leaf growth. I’ve heard that when it rains, it’s a good idea to cover the plants with a tarp or something of the sort to prevent blight. We haven’t had a drop of rain in nearly a month, and none in sight, so I guess I don’t have to worry about blight, either early or late.

Peach-leaved bellflower Campanula persicifolia

Apology to Peach-Leaved Bellflower

Years ago, after spending a couple of hours digging out the running roots of a badly-placed plant of peach-leaved bellflower (Campanula persicifolia), I wrote this blog post, in which I called it a “garden enemy,” and got its name wrong too. It’s “peach-leaved,” not “peach-leaf.” I was quite the opinionated little snark about it too, as shown in my response to one of the comments.

Peach-leaved bellflower Campanula persicifolia

Since then, I’ve made my peace with this campanula, and have come to recognize its value, especially in this garden where dry summers, light soil, and lots of shade make growing fussier plants a challenge. For someone who not only tolerates but encourages quite a few semi-weeds, I really had no business lambasting Campanula persicifolia.

Peach-leaved bellflower Campanula persicifolia

Luckily, plants don’t bear grudges for poor reviews, and peach-leaved bellflower is still with me. It pops up reliably in several spots around the garden, and occasionally surprises me by appearing in new places. And in new colours–different shades of lavender-blue and occasionally white.

White peach-leaved bellflower Campanula persicifolia "Alba"
Peach-leaved bellflower Campanula persicifolia flowers and hellebore foliage
Popping up through hellebore foliage

Find out more about peach-leaved bellflower HERE.

Weird light at sunset. Orange light due to wildfire smoke.

Hot and Hotter

The western part of North America is experiencing record-breaking temperatures, approaching 40C (100+F) on the south coast of Vancouver Island. This is an unprecedented weather situation caused by a blocked ridge of high pressure that is predicted to hang around until Tuesday.

We have become cellar-dwellers, including Nelly the dog. Newfoundlands don’t like it hot.

Nelly the Newfoundland dog

You can imagine what I’m doing when not lurking in the basement to cool off.

oscillating garden sprinkler fan shaped spray watering
Image from Pixabay
pink watering can

If I’m less visible on the usual blogs for a few days, it’s because I’ve wilted.

Perennial bed next to path in back garden, pink delphinium, grey foliage, heuchera "Timeless Orange"

In Bloom

Another garden post! The truth is I can’t think of anything to say about writing that I haven’t said already. So no rule-quibbling, nothing about the WIP, and no buy-my-books message (although you can find out about those via the menu at the top or in the sidebar).

Red-leaf rose (Rosa glauca) in foreground, white climbing rose in background on Norway maples
Roses are in bloom now. Here is a nameless (to me) white climber held up by the Norway maples I’m always complaining about, and (in the foreground) the red-leaf rose (Rosa glauca).
Red-leaf rose (Rosa glauca)
Close-up of red-leaf rose foliage and flower.
Blue delphinium, standard privet (in bloom), foliage of dahlia "Bishop of Llandaff" and pergola
Blue delphinium with standardized privet in bloom behind it and dahlia foliage in front.
Blue delphinium with white bee
Blue delphinium with white “bee” (the bit in the middle of each flower)
Lavender pink delphinium, from volunteer seedling
Lavender-pink delphinium. This was a volunteer seedling I identified and encouraged to grow. I’m quite happy with it.
White Lychnis coronaria, grey foliage, with foliage of hellebore and bergenia
Campion (Lychnis coronaria a.k.a. Silene coronaria). This is a quasi-weed that does well almost everywhere. The white form is quite elegant, especially when it’s just starting to bloom. Hellebore and bergenia foliage in background.
Long-spurred Columbines (Aquilegia)
Long-spurred columbine with hellebore and heuchera foliage in background.

Hopefully I’ll have something worthwhile to say about writing by next week. Suggestions are welcome–from writers, readers, or gardeners!

Coloured foliage of Brunnera "Looking Glass," Pulmonaria, and grass Milium effusum "Aureum"

Green Isn’t the Only Colour

Plants are green. Everyone knows that. But green isn’t a single colour; there are a million shades of green. Throw in texture and an all-green planting is anything but monotone.

But many plants have leaves in colours besides or other than green. Combinations of white and green, for example. Or colours such as orange, red, purple, or even blue. Blue leaves–imagine that!

Here are some plants from my garden with colour variations.

Green and white Hosta
Green and white variegated hosta
Green and white ornamental grass
Green and white grass
Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum
Japanese painted fern
Heuchera "Green Spice"
Heuchera “Green Spice.” Note the similar colours to the fern!
Heuchera "Key Lime Pie"
Heuchera “Key Lime Pie”
Heuchera "Timeless Orange" with grey foliage in the background
Heuchera “Timeless Orange” and grey leaved plants
Brunnera "Looking Glass"
Brunnera “Looking Glass”

The last one is my favourite. Cerinthe “Pride of Gibraltar” starts out with leaves of pale green, but as the flower buds develop, the leaves close to them turn a bronzy purple, and then a pure blue. Some are almost navy blue. The flowers are those little purple tubes sticking out at the ends.

Cerinthe Pride of Gibraltar close-up, blue leaves
Cerinthe "Pride of Gibraltar"
Tomato plants and tomato cages late May

Growing Tomatoes, Part 2

Once frost is out of the question and night temperatures don’t fall much below 10C (50F), it’s safe to put the young tomato plants into their permanent spots. In my case, that’s the biggest plastic pots I can get my hands on–the kind nurseries use for young trees and larger shrubs. This year I have nine pots.

Tomato plants in big pots mid May
Three of the nine

A week or two before transplant day, I prepare a soil mix that consists of the contents of last year’s tomato pots and a generous helping of fresh compost plus bagged manure. I also add lime, because tomatoes prefer a soil with a pH close to neutral, and mine is somewhat acid. Too acid a soil leads to a calcium deficiency which produces blossom end rot.

Tomato plant in big pot mid May

My plants are of the indeterminate type, which means they keep growing indefinitely, unlike the determinate or bush types. The plants were already starting to grow tiny new shoots in the leaf axils when I planted them. I remove those. Left alone, they would turn into additional stems. It makes no sense to let potted tomatoes grow extra stems, but three stems per plant may be manageable in plants grown in the ground.

Tomato plants in big pots mid May

In any case, the plants will need to be supported as they grow, which means cages or stakes. Cages are preferable for my pot-grown tomatoes, since the pots sit on the asphalt driveway. Plants in the ground may be staked–3 or 4 stout stakes per plant with twine wrapped around them. In my experience, mature plants that have set fruit always get unwieldy and need extra supports for their last month or so.

Tomato plants and tomato cages late May

But that’s in the future for these plants. For the next few weeks, all I have to do is supply water, remove those unwanted leaf axil shoots, and wait for the plants to produce flowers.

Tomato plants and tomato cages late May
Tomato plants and tomato cages late May

Laburnum and Erysimum "Bowles Mauve"

Bigger Pictures

My garden photos are often closeups of individual plants or groups of plants. So I thought it was time to post some wider views, in the form of a tour. The garden is at its best right now (early May), when it’s still lush and green.

Laburnum and Erysimum "Bowles Mauve"
A nice conjunction of bloom next to the driveway–laburnum tree and wallflower (Erysimum) “Bowles Mauve”
Front walk, perennial bed, lawn, and magnolia
Up the front walk… Perennials on the left, magnolia on the right
Perennial bed to west of front walk
Perennials on the left (west) side of the walk
Perennial bed on west side of house, looking north
Along the west side of the house. More perennials and the lilac in full bloom
Back garden
The back garden. The part to the right of the path used to be a vegetable patch, but is now a mixture of herbs, refugee plants, and volunteers. The pond area is behind the trellis and the shed is in the right hand corner, hidden by the apple tree.
Garden pond
The pond is at the end of the main path in the back garden
Back garden looking toward shed from pond
Looking east over the pond toward the shed. The ladder is there because of work on the shed’s roof, but I issued a stop-work order because chickadees are nesting in the birdhouse under the eaves.
Back garden, looking west to pond bench
Looking west from the shed to the cedar stump bench by the pond, which is hidden by the ferns
Perennial bed on west side of house, looking south
Leaving via the west side path
Heuchera "Key Lime Pie"
Heuchera “Key Lime Pie” and potted hellebores wave goodbye.

I hope you enjoyed the tour!

Growing Tomatoes, Part 1

I’ve been growing my own tomato plants for nearly 40 years, and for the last couple of decades, I’ve even used my own seeds. I started out with a French heirloom variety called Dona, whose seeds I bought in the 1980s from a producer in Saskatchewan when I lived there. That’s the original packet, on the right in the first image. The vendor made packets from his own repurposed catalogues (blue paper). How thrifty was that?! Those seeds retained viability into the 2000s, but eventually I harvested fresh ones. Knowing how open pollination works, I suspect my most recently harvested seeds, from 2018, are probably not identical to the original Dona strain, but they still produce good tomatoes.

Tomato seeds and seed packages
Start with seeds…
tomato seedlings
…which sprout in a week or so.
Tomato seedlings potted on
Seedlings are potted up when they have 2 sets of true leaves…
Tomato plants April 2021
…and grow bigger and tougher outside on sunny spring days, but still come inside at night.

To be continued…