Garden

Pond bench, hostas, with Athyrium niponicum var. pictum (Japanese painted fern) in foreground

May Into June

I looked through the garden photos I took in the past few weeks. These are the ones I liked best.

Blue Siberian irises
Siberian irises. I think they’re purple, but the camera sees them as blue.
Blue Siberian irises closeup
Woolly sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum) with wallflower Erysimum "Bowles Mauve"
Woolly sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum) and wallflower (Erysimum) “Bowles Mauve”
Columbines, yellow and pale red, heuchera "Green Spice" in background
A frolic of columbines; Heuchera “Green Spice” in background
Single columbine, yellow and pale red, long-spurred
Swimming through the green…
Four big pots for tomatoes full of prepared soil

Making Dirt

I grow tomatoes in pots. That’s the only way to succeed with them in my garden. I wrote a series of posts about that last year.

This year, I bought six new, larger pots for tomato plants (which are still ridiculously small, due to our cool spring).

My usual practice is to refresh last year’s soil by dumping each pot (which has been sitting by the garden shed since last fall) into a wheelbarrow. I add bagged manure (which purports to be from cattle, steer, sheep, or mushrooms–haha, that’s a joke; I know mushrooms don’t actually produce it!) and my own compost, along with extras such as lime and fertilizer. Then I stir up the mixture with a spade, and when it’s uniformly mixed, I refill the pots.

The new pots, of course, were empty. And this year I have twelve tomato plants instead of the usual eight or nine. I needed more soil.

Digging up the garden wasn’t an option, so I had to make more dirt.

I used my established technique of enhancing the soil from last year’s tomato pots, but I also rounded up a few extra pots whose occupants had died or been dispatched, and incorporated that soil as well. But, some will ask, what about evil fungi or other toxins that may have killed those plants? Yes, that dirt might harbour such things, but I was going to dilute it with other stuff, so the risk was worth taking.

The “other stuff” was large amounts of compost and several bags of manure. Sheep manure this time. (To be honest, the stuff I dump out of those bags into the wheelbarrow has only a passing resemblance to actual poop expelled by whatever creature is named on the bag. Okay, it’s also labelled “composted” and “deodorized.” I suspect that really means the manure has been mixed with a good deal of other material, such as straw or sawdust. No matter, though, it refreshes and enhances the old soil from the pots.)

Prepping soil for tomatoes, wheelbarrow, compost and sheep manure

Amazingly enough, after filling the six new pots, I still had soil from six of last year’s tomato pots and two sacks of sheep manure, not to mention a good supply of compost. More than enough. The garden gods’ equivalent of loaves and fishes?

Of course the soil is fluffed up in the enhancement process, so I will probably have to top up the pots at planting time.

With luck, by late summer there will be tomatoes!

Perennials in the front garden, notably Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria)

Pull Up, Cut Down, Snip Off: Deadheading

Some plants absolutely must be deadheaded, or there will be way too many of them. What is deadheading? Removal of spent flowers before seeds ripen.

I’m already well into deadheading mode. It starts with hellebores and continues through the summer and into fall. I spent a couple of hours this week pulling up spent bluebell stalks by the armload.

Here is a list, in chronological order, of the plants in my garden for which this treatment is not optional:

  • Hellebores: April and May
  • Bluebells: May
  • Forget-me-nots: May and June
  • *Meconopsis cambrica (Welsh poppy): May until fall
  • Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii: May and June
  • Lychnis coronaria (Rose campion): June until fall
  • Linaria purpurea (Toadflax): June until fall
  • Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s ears): July until fall
  • Campanula persicifolia (Peach-leaved bellflower): July until fall, intermittently
  • Echinops ritro (Globe thistle): August
  • Verbascum olympicum (Olympic mullein): August and September

It’s helpful to know the plants’ seeding habits. Euphorbias, for example, pop their seed pods on hot days, shooting seeds for several feet. That’s why my next door neighbour has a couple of euphorbias, and why I started with one plant but now have half a dozen. Now I know the importance of cutting down the flowering stalks long before the pods pop. Toadflax and rose campion produce billions of tiny seeds, so if I get behind on the deadheading, or miss a few plants, it’s impossible to cut down stalks that carry ripe seeds without peppering the immediate vicinity.

Other plants need deadheading too, not so much to prevent seeding, but to spare them from expending energy on futile seed production. These include tulips, daffodils, irises, delphiniums, lilies, and roses. Civilized plants, in other words. Unlike their tough and seedy companions, deadheading protects them, rather than the gardener’s temper.

And much as I complain about the tough, seedy plants, I rely on them to do well in this garden in which fussier plants struggle. Some of them are short-lived, so it’s just as well that volunteers pop up to replace the ones that fizzle out.

This isn’t my first post about deadheading. I wrote one early in my blogging career, so early that it has languished unread and unliked. Anyone who wants to give the poor thing some attention may find it HERE.

Bluebells

*Update, June 16, 2022: A gardener who lives in Wales pointed out that Meconopsis cambrica is actually the Welsh poppy, not the Cambridge poppy. Duly corrected!

White chairs near bird bath with dog fence and gate

Those Hoses, Those Chairs!

I don’t know if anyone has noticed this, but many of my garden photos include parts of green hoses or white chairs. Like the chairs in the featured image. They’re cheap plastic items we bought 30 years ago. Since then, one has perished, but I inherited another, fancier one from my mom.

Chairs are useful in the garden, for setting down things like tools, watering cans, and balls of string. There’s less chance of those items getting lost if they’re on a chair. And occasionally, the gardener sits on one to rest for a few minutes, until the sight of a weed or leaning plant demands action.

Back garden, spring, bird bath, ugly white chairs

The chairs, although cheap, are adequate for the purposes described. But they become a problem when I take photos of the garden. Not in close-ups of individual plants, but in shots of larger areas, there is often the suspicion of an incongruous white object, which turns out to be a chair leg. White is an uncompromising colour that jumps out from surrounding shades. It contrasts splendidly with green.

In this case, the late Zeke Cat was the star of the show.

Then there are the hoses. Two of them connect rain barrels to the pond, so overflow rainwater can help to top it up, rather than soaking into the ground near the barrels. The hoses run alongside two paths, and want to be in as many pictures as possible.

Part of back garden path showing part of green hose, foliage of Geranium sanguineum and lamb's lettuce in bloom
I took this picture because of the contrast between the dark green foliage of Geranium sanguineum and the light green and white of blooming lamb’s lettuce. But there’s the artificial green of the hose adding its rather incongruous note.

Hoses used to be uniformly this shade of green that is rare or nonexistent in nature. I guess the idea was they would blend in among the greens of the garden. They don’t. Recently, hose makers seem to have realized that and now colour their products so as to be visible. Lime green, blue, turquoise, and even purple hoses are available. Maybe too many of the green ones were blamed for causing people to trip, or were mangled by lawnmowers whose operators failed to see them.

The path behind the pond, with hose.

Some of you may be wondering why I don’t crop out the chair legs from the photos, or fiddle with filters to disguise the hoses. The truth is, I’m too lazy to bother, and even if a hose’s colour were modified, the shape is pretty uncompromising. My garden photo sessions are unplanned. I see something beautiful or interesting and run inside to grab the camera. If I see a piece of chair anatomy edging into the scene, or a hose intruding itself, I reposition myself so as to eliminate the offending item from the field of view. But that isn’t always possible. Later, when I’m reviewing photos for use in blog posts, I avoid the ones with the worst intrusions.

Pacific Coast Iris, white
This Pacific Coast Iris is blooming just like this right now (photo from 2021). And not a hose nor a chair in sight!

Back garden, April 2022

This Garden, this Spring

Every spring is different. Now that I’ve gardened this same patch of ground for nearly 30 years, I think I’ve experienced the full range of variations. Except that with a changing climate, there may be shocks and surprises along the way.

This has been a slow, cool spring, quite different from 2021 (the year of the Heat Dome). Last spring was dry, with April temperatures in the 20s (degrees C; that’s 70s F). This year we’ve had more rain than normal (and that after an extremely wet fall and winter), and below normal temperatures. On April 12, wet snow fell for several hours. Strong winds from all four directions (on different days) battered plants and scattered twigs.

But late April and most of May are the best months in this garden. Spring bulbs are in bloom and there’s lots of fresh foliage. Things are green and juicy. The cool weather means tulips, narcissi, and other flowers have remained in good condition for weeks.

Bluebells, narcissi, ajuga, hellebores in north circle bed April 2022

A few months ago I was unhappy about my hellebores, which seemed to be suffering the effects of excessive autumn wetness followed by severe cold at the end of December. I am happy to report that they shook off the doldrums (assuming hellebores can get doldrums). Most bloomed as usual, and are now approaching the stage where I remove the flower stems to prevent seeding.

Yellow grass Milium effusum "Aureum," hellebores, Brunnera "Looking Glass" in side bed April 2022
Hellebores and companions in the narrow bed to the west of the house.

Inevitably, there are a few disappointments. The pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) that used to bloom together with white candytuft and flowering currant seems to have vanished from the scene. It appeared to be in decline last spring, so I thoughtfully dug it up and reset it in improved soil. Either it didn’t appreciate that treatment, or the June heat wave did it in. For whatever reason, there is no sign of it this spring, which is both sad and annoying.

purple anemone and flowering currant
Blooming well in 2017, now dead.

On the other hand, the gentians (Gentiana acaulis), which sulked last spring, are doing really well. Half a dozen flowers opened this week, with twice as many buds still forming. (I sometimes berate myself for counting buds and blooms, but do it anyway.)

Gentiana acaulis
The bluest of blues.
Gentiana acaulis single flower

This is really the best time to be a gardener here. Cleanup and mulching are done. The miserable business of pruning is finished and the tyranny of the hose and watering can hasn’t yet arrived (although soaker hoses are in place and ready). The hardest job is mowing the grass, which looks deceptively good right now. The gardener strolls around, admiring and self-congratulating. Even common, weedy plants look good.

Lunaria annua, Money plant, Honesty
Money plant, also known as Honesty (Lunaria annua)

Whether because of the excessive heat last June or some other reason, huge numbers of laburnum seedlings have appeared. I must have pulled up hundreds of them by now, and I see more every time I visit certain parts of the garden. Some of Nature’s excesses demand intervention by the gardener. Others are to be invited and celebrated.

Kerria japonica double form
Kerria japonica, like an explosion of sunlight.
Pink and white tulips
Reliable tulips.
Dryopteris filix-mas, Male fern, Fiddleheads
Also reliable is this fern (Dryopteris filix-mas). The clump gets bigger every year and has developed a kind of topknot.

One plant that’s doing better than usual is the Bleeding Heart (now called Lamprocapnos spectabilis by botanists, although I still think of it as Dicentra spectabilis). Mine has always bloomed on disappointingly short stems, but this year it looks more or less as it should. When I see its dangling little heart-shaped flowers, I always think of garden writer Henry Mitchell’s description of them: “Like Valentines hung out to dry.”

Lamprocapnos spectabilis, Dicentra spectabilis, Bleeding Heart
Lamprocapnos spectabilis, Dicentra spectabilis, Bleeding Heart
Lamprocapnos spectabilis, Dicentra spectabilis, Bleeding Heart, single flower
Pink tulip close-up
This one tulip’s colour is the same shade of pink as the bleeding heart. It’s been blooming for weeks.
Hellebores and Pieris japonica new foliage
Hellebores again, this time with the new pink foliage of Pieris japonica.
Primula auricula variety unknown
Primula auricula, variety unknown. Doing well this year in larger pots.
Photinia x fraseri and Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii
Photinia x fraseri with lots of new red leaves following pruning in February, with Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii. Self-sown bluebells nearby.
Yellow grass Milium effusum "Aureum" and bluebells
Bluebells again, this time with yellow ornamental grass Milium effusum “Aureum.”

When I’m feeling grumpy about the look of the garden after hot, dry weeks in August, I should look at this post and tell myself it will be like this again.


Last chance to pre-order my latest novel, She Who Returns. It launches on May 1st!

AMAZON:  US  UK  CA  AU

CMOS, root saw, and Kindle e-reader

The Right Tools for the Job

I’m not much of a consumer, but in the past couple of months, I’ve acquired three items I consider to be tools for specific purposes: a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style (17th edition), a Silky Gomtaro 240 mm root saw, and a Kindle e-reader.

Chicago Manual of Style
Self-publisher’s tool.

As someone who edits her own writing, I finally decided I need a definitive authority on matters of grammar, punctuation, and usage. Working through beta readers’ comments on my WIP, or trawling through the manuscript before moving on to the publishing stage, I kept encountering questions I couldn’t answer. Should “the” in the name of a pub or bar that begins with that word (as in “The Blue Poppy Pub”) be capitalized when it occurs in the middle of a sentence? What is the correct order of punctuation marks when a word is quoted in dialogue just before a question mark? Example: “What do you mean by ‘a problem’?” I asked.

Trying to find answers on the internet yielded a lot of irrelevant stuff (depending on how I worded the search) as well as contradictory answers. It wasn’t usually obvious how authoritative any specific answer was, either. So I shelled out the nearly $100 (in Canadian dollars, and including shipping) for a copy of CMOS.

And those two example questions? According to CMOS 8.45 “An initial the as part of a name is lowercased in running text, except in the rare case of an initial The in the name of a city.” So it’s “I’ll see you at the Blue Poppy.” And the matter of punctuation after a quoted word within a spoken sentence? It’s explained thus in CMOS 13.30: “Exclamation points, like question marks, are placed just within the set of quotation marks ending the element to which such terminal punctuation belongs.” To be honest, that sentence is pretty murky, but the examples had ‘?” rather than ?'”

Silky Gomtaro Root Saw
Cutting tool. Suckers, look out!
Root saw label

I’ve complained before about shrubs that spread by underground suckers. Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) is one of the worst. The little saw intended for cutting sheetrock (gyprock) I’ve been using to cut suckers isn’t up to the job. So I tracked down a saw made for cutting roots. Strangely, Amazon was unable to supply it, but I was able to order one from a farm and garden supplies store in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I still use tools I bought there when I lived in that city more than 30 years ago. I suspect they happened to have one hanging around in old stock, whereas the ‘Zon was affected by “supply chain issues.” I intend to tackle the Oregon grape later this spring, using the new saw judiciously. (It wasn’t cheap, also almost $100 with shipping).

Kindle e-reader
Reading tool.

I’ve resisted for years buying one of these. Until now, I’ve read Kindle ebooks on my tablet, with the Kindle Reader app. But the tablet is fairly heavy and needs frequent recharging. It’s fine for scanning blog posts first thing in the morning, but for reading books, I much prefer my ancient Sony e-reader. It’s light and runs forever on a single charge. But of course it can’t be used for Kindle books. When I realized I was avoiding Kindle books written by fellow indies because my reading instrument was awkward, I caved in and bought a Kindle reader. An hour after it arrived I had activated wi-fi, linked it to my Amazon account, and was reading a book I bought months ago. (But I’m still a bit disturbed by the extent to which Amazon intrudes into my online life. Plus it doesn’t feel as though I own Kindle books the way I own the epubs I buy from the Smashwords store and read on the old Sony reader.)

The right tools for the job do make a difference.

Corsican hellebore, varegated hosta, Dryopteris fern, hardy cyclamen

Friend to Enemy? Or Frenemy? Hardy Cyclamen

I was delighted years ago when ivy-leaved cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) established itself in my garden. It has so many good qualities: blooms in early autumn and produces beautifully marked leaves that last all winter. It’s summer dormant and therefore drought tolerant. It’s essentially a trouble-free plant with no bad qualities.

Hardy cyclamen blooms with ferns and fallen leaves
Drifts of pink flowers in early autumn

Until now…

In the past few years, this cyclamen has become rampant in parts of my garden. From a modest patch, to several modest patches, to total cover in a few areas. I don’t know if it’s because of climate change, or if once there are enough plants in a particular spot they somehow conspire to spread. Maybe there are more ants these days. Ants like the coating on the seeds and lug them to their nests, which helps to spread the seeds around.

The cyclamen plants go dormant by May and are not seen again until the fall, but in late winter their fleshy leaves are at their peak size. In places where they cover the ground solidly, any early sprouting bulbs and perennials are shaded and constricted.

hardy cyclamen foliage
The leaves sprout in October and last until April or May.

The internet tells me this plant is considered invasive in some places, and some gardeners now consider it a “thug.” Last week I got that “something must be done” feeling and went out with a trowel to investigate. I dug up three tubers in a spot where a mat of dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus “Nana”) had almost disappeared under a mass of cyclamen leaves. Two of those tubers were huge–the size of hamburger buns!

Dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus "Nana")
Dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus)
Cyclamen hederifolium tubers and leaves
Cyclamen tubers and leaves
Cyclamen hederifolium tuber with coiled flower stems and seed pods
Cyclamen flower stems with seed pods

Digging up the tubers was relatively easy, but I have no plans to excavate the entire area where cyclamen are taking over. For one thing, I certainly don’t want to get rid of them altogether. For another, there are perennials in those spots that haven’t sprouted out yet and I don’t want to disturb them.

So I’ve thought up a Cyclamen Management Policy:

  • Where the cyclamen are impinging on other plants (the mondo grass, some ferns, and a few others), I will remove the leaves in early March instead of leaving them until they die down naturally. This may weaken some of the cyclamen plants, which may make them less pushy.
  • I will also take care to remove some of the curly flower stems and seed pods before the pods ripen and burst. There are zillions of them, so I won’t be able to get to all of them, but if I take out the ones in spots of concern, surely that will help.
  • I will remind myself why I like this plant, and manage it for optimum effects (geez, that sounds corporate!)

As for those bun-sized tubers, I felt bad about digging them up. They must have been happy there, and were certainly full of life. So I planted them in an outlying corner of the garden. If they take hold there, fine. If not, I’ll never know.

Frenemies. You have to know how to deal with them.

Familiar scene of rustic bench near the pond in autumn (fall) with hardy cyclamen and hostas
Cyclamen definitely have a place in this garden.
Early daffodils February 2022

Early Spring in Bloom

Finally! Some photo-worthy garden sights in this rather drab month. The highlight is a wealth of crocuses that haven’t been eaten by the mysterious garden raider that has decimated the hellebore buds.

Algerian iris Iris unguicularis February 2022
Algerian iris. This is the only flower so far; the first was beaten down by snow and two others were chomped by “something.”
Iris reticulata and skeletonized leaf February 2022
Iris reticulata and a wisp of skeletonized leaf I didn’t think to remove before taking the picture.
Early daffodils February 2022
Reliable small early daffodils.
Photinia after trimming February 2022
Photinia trimmed to an ice cream cone shape (okay, a melting ice cream cone) with the help of my wonderful tripod ladder. Euphorbia wulfenii at its base setting up buds.
Purple crocuses closeup February 2022
Sunlit crocuses.
manuscript and notebook She Who Comes Forth work in progress

Snips and Scraps

I had no planned post this week. Not enough thoughts on any topic for several hundred words. No splendid photograph to feature for “Silent Sunday.” These assorted thoughts will have to do.

In the garden, old familiars are showing their faces, after a fall and winter of extremes (way too much rain and a brief period of intense cold right after Christmas). But there’s trouble in paradise: hellebores formed buds early in the warm, wet fall. They made it through the cold snap, but now they are blooming on ridiculously short stems. I don’t know if the plants will produce normal bloom stalks this spring. Worse, something has been eating the little stems between flowers and stalks, leaving buds and flowers lying on the ground. I don’t know if the culprits are birds, bugs, or rodents. I’ve never caught them in the act.

Hellebore "Ruby Wine"
Hellebores don’t look this good so far this year. (Photo from spring 2021.)

At the writing desk, the WIP is approaching completion. I’ve absorbed the suggestions of beta readers and incorporated some of them. I’m nearly finished what was intended to be a final read-through, but since I’ve made a few significant tweaks, maybe it’s a “pre-final” one. Something I’ve been doing this time around is making use of Word’s text-to-speech feature. After combing through a chapter, I highlight half a page at a time and listen to Word’s robot voice read it back to me. This is a great way to pick up on overused words and sentences that don’t sound right. After adding, deleting, or moving text while editing, I listen to the sentence or paragraph as a final check.

I’ve noticed some things about that robot voice. Odd pronunciations, for example. The abbreviation “Dr.” sometimes becomes “Drive,” even when it’s attached to a medical person or a professor. “Bow” is always pronounced like the act of bending from the waist, even when it’s a weapon. Commas produce a pregnant pause, but em-dashes have a speeding-up effect. Single-word sentences of two- or three-syllable words or names invariably generate a slight suggestive emphasis on the final syllable. In some contexts, that sounds spot-on, but most of the time it’s just weird. On the whole, though, the robot voice is a helpful tool. And no, I haven’t given her a name.

Finally, I’m doing an accidental re-read. In relation to the WIP, I wanted to check a scene I remembered from a novel read long ago, in which a character has a disturbing experience in the New York Public Library. After a bit of thinking, I remembered the book’s author was Peter Straub, and a bit more thinking retrieved the title: Koko.

I found the scene I wanted, but then I got sucked into reading the book again. It’s been years decades since I first read it, so it’s almost like I never have. It’s a long book–more than 500 pages. I read a few pages at the end of the day, so it will take a while. In the meantime, the TBR pile languishes…

One of the reasons Koko is so long is because Straub makes sure the reader gets to know the main characters really well. It’s almost like a real life experience hanging out with them, hearing the way they talk, and getting into their heads (which isn’t always pleasant). Point of view shifts between scenes, and is always excruciatingly close third person.

I first read this book before I started writing fiction. Reading it now, as a writer, I appreciate Straub’s techniques, which adds to the reading experience.

All right, that’s it for now! Back to the WIP and the springtime garden!

Is anyone else feeling overwhelmed these days? Or running out of blog ideas?