California poppy

pink watering can

Managing

Compost in progress, last fall's leaves

Nearing the bottom of Bin #2

One of the big garden jobs that actually got done in May was Compost Management. This means: 1) Shovelling out the remaining bit of finished compost from Bin #1 (the smaller one). 2) Building a new heap from all the accumulated stuff in Bin #2 — cut down perennial stalks from last summer, last fall’s leaves, old stalks cut down in fall and spring cleanup, and fresh material from recent tidying jobs. All this is layered and arranged in Bin #1, new material on the bottom, old on top, dampened down, and allowed to mellow until next spring. 3) Meanwhile, new stuff will be deposited into Bin #2, where it will pile up through the rest of the summer, the coming fall, until next spring. Whereupon the job will be repeated.

Compost heap flipped and moved

Bin #1 full, #2 splendidly empty

What happened to the former contents of Bin #1, i.e., last year’s compost? Most of it was distributed around the garden this spring with supplements mixed in to make a “feeding mulch.” Some was used to make soil for potting up tomato plants in May. The last wheelbarrow full is sitting in a neat pile near the shed, until needed for mulching or mixing.

Lost tool found in compost heapAt the weary end of forking and shovelling the half-baked brown stuff (mostly leaves and fern fronds), I discovered a tool I’d been missing — a three-pronged cultivator with a wooden handle. I must have inadvertently dumped it into the heap along with a bucketful of garden debris. It doesn’t show much damage from its year in the heap, only a bit of rust. Painting the handle red might be a good idea to avoid reburial.

Watering anxiety and rain envy begin now. Our very dry May hasn’t had visible effects on plants here, but it has affected the gardener. I’m apprehensive about the next two or three (maybe four) months. If the trends of the past few years continue, we may see almost no rain until late September. Water from the end of a hose is a poor substitute for rain, which has the great advantages of even distribution and no cost.

Ceanothus, California lilac in bloomFor the past month, whenever I exit the front door of my house I’ve been getting a visual treat from the ceanothus or California lilac, its branches almost solid with puffs of tiny flowers of a magical blue. They’re really popular with all kinds of bees.

California poppy rosy pink colourYears ago, I bought a packet of California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) seeds. They were called “Thai Silks” and featured colours  other than the standard bright orange. I recall one plant, long gone now (they’re annuals or short-lived perennials) with double lemon yellow flowers. Even now, some of the unusual colours persist — cream, cream with pink or red flushes, different shades of pink, and extra-dark orange. It’s a surprise every year to see what colours show up.

California poppy red and yellowI don’t know about other gardens, but here plants fall into three categories — those that struggle and eventually die, those that grow ferociously and try to take over, and some that prosper in a quiet, reliable way. Guess which one is predominant. Well, to be fair, the pushy plants attract more attention so it seems there are more of them. But they do need to be managed, i.e., pruned, restrained, or dug up.

The next Big Garden Jobs on the agenda involve pruning. That lovely ceanothus has a habit of growing sideways, which means it ends up overhanging walkways and getting too friendly with people who use them. And the Oregon grape you can see behind the ceanothus is frighteningly vigorous. I wrestle with it every year, trying to keep it shorter than 12 feet and digging up suckers. It’s almost too late, though; I should have tackled it right after it finished blooming in April. Well, there’s always next year…

Allium christophii blooms and Phlomis foliage

Allium christophii and Phlomis fruticosa foliage

When I’m not deadheading, edge-clipping, checking on recently-planted things that might be getting overwhelmed by the incumbents, or lugging cans of water around, I do stop to admire plants that are performing as expected.

Ornamental grass Stipa tenuissima, Penstemon blooms and Lambs' ear stalk

Ornamental grass Stipa tenuissima, Penstemon glaber flowers, a lambs’ ear bloom stalk, and a few remaining forget-me-nots.

 

Clematis "Pink Fantasy" in bloom

Clematis “Pink Fantasy”

 

 

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July in the Garden: Planning and Plant Management

July isn’t a month for starting new garden projects. It’s not a good time to move plants around, too early to plant bulbs, too late to start vegetable or annual seeds (except for winter vegetables, maybe) and too hot for serious digging, sod-stripping and other labours.

Maintenance is the thing now: keeping an eye on everything, making sure water is supplied as needed, lawn mowing, edge clipping, and deadheading. While engaged in all that, the gardener inevitably notices Things That Must Be Done. Just not now. All these tasks and projects are written down in the Garden Notebook.

Garden Notebook

Garden Notebook

 

For example:  Blue irises have crowded out the blue Veronica in the Old Front Bed; and Geranium “Johnson’s Blue” and Limonium latifolium are in too much shade. Must remove some of the irises OR move the Veronica, Limonium and Geranium to sunnier spots. I hesitate to rip out the irises, because they bloomed so well this past spring.

An old lavender in the New Front Bed is on its last legs and scheduled for removal. That will free up a spot suitable for “Johnson’s Blue” as well as some of the Siberian irises now struggling along in deep, dry shade near the driveway. The Veronica can go into a spot a few feet to the west of its present location, currently occupied by a rather pushy Sedum that has taken over more space than it deserves. A small, sunny spot in the New Front Bed near Saponaria “Max Frei” is perfect for the Limonium, or at least can be made perfect by judicious removal of other things, keeping in mind that “Max” is a bit pushy when in full bloom.

Sometimes I think gardening is like running a hotel for the fussy and infirm.

On the other hand, there are plenty of plants that need “managing” rather than cosseting. One that does almost too well here is good old Lychnis coronaria, the Rose Campion. Now that I have time, I have managed to keep up with deadheading my dozens of plants, even though that means snipping off each faded flower individually. It helps that most of them are between knee and waist level, and I can get at most of the plants without acrobatics. But it is a seriously tedious task, one best done in a “Zen” frame of mind.

Rose Campion and deadheading equipment.

Rose Campion and deadheading equipment.

Another reliable plant that seeds prolifically is the California poppy, Eschscholzia californica (had to include that Latin moniker, of course!). Years ago, someone gave me a plant of the basic orange form. Then I bought seeds of a strain called “Thai Silks,” and a few years after that acquired seeds of a white or cream-coloured form. These have mixed and mingled, with bumblebees moving pollen around, so every year there is a different proportion of colours.

June 19, 2016

California poppies in 2010.

California poppies in 2010.

The only problem with these easy-going plants is that by mid to late July they lose their looks — floppy, too many seed pods, not enough flowers. The thing to do at that point is harvest some of the seeds by snipping off almost-ripe pods, and then cut the plants to within an inch or two of the ground. They quickly put out fresh growth and are blooming again in a few weeks, much to the delight of gardener and bumblebees. Oh, about those seed pods — when ready, they split and spew seeds all over the place, so put them in a glass or a jelly jar to contain the explosions.

Pink California Poppy and Lemon Thyme.

Pink California Poppy and Lemon Thyme.

And now, back into maintenance mode…

 

IMG_2034

Tools of garden maintenance (except the rock, of course).

 

New Front Bed in July.

Part of New Front Bed in July.