The thing about both gardening and writing is that when doing them, one isn’t doing other things, like blogging.
Calendar spring has arrived, but the real thing is still peeking around the curtain, trying to decide when to make its appearance. We’ve gone from cold to cool, but haven’t arrived at warm.
And that’s fine with me. No, really! I’ve always found spring to be an anxiety-producing season. So much to do and not enough time in which to do it, never mind savour and observe. Weeds to weed, plants to plant, seeds to seed. And grass to mow.
Last spring — my first as a job-free (i.e., retired) person — came on fast and hot. Right from the start, I felt I had missed the garden bus with no hope of catching up. The weirdness of leaving my years-long work routines, combined with hot (30 C, 86 F) days in May threw me off balance. I found myself shelving ambitious plans for the garden and improvising.
This year is different. I’ve worked through most of my Things to Prune list and made good progress on the Plants to Move one. I’ve seeded half a dozen perennials (inside) and of course the tomatoes. Most of them are starting to sprout. Tomatoes aside, it’s been years since I bothered growing new plants from seed.
Finding literally hundreds of hellebore seedlings around one of my mature plants, I potted up a few dozen. Hellebores do quite well here, so my plan is to make them more of a feature in a couple of beds, replacing plants that are struggling. The parent plant is a rather dark, smoky purple; it will be interesting to see what colours its offspring produce.
These cool, often cloudy days are perfect for doing strenuous stuff in the garden, such as digging up perennials and moving them to new, supposedly better spots. Preparing the new spots, of course, usually involves cutting and removing part of the network of tree roots that lurks just below the surface.
I also have a lot of compost to distribute — shovel into wheelbarrow, shovel out over the ground. (When I think about it, compost is an awful lot of work — rake up the leaves and stuff, pile it up, poke it and turn it, and finally shovel as above, probably returning much of the material — in a decomposed state, of course — pretty much to where it started from. Nature probably laughs at gardeners).
In between all these efforts, it’s good to wander around and see what the plants are up to. That, after all, is the reward.
It seems we’re a bit late this year. Not to whine, but compare February 2013.
After a run of wimpy winters, we are having a real one, with cold temperatures — all the way down to -2C (28F) — and snow. Snow that sticks around for more than a day. And then more snow!
Most years, I think of February as ‘early spring.’ Not this year! After the indecently mild El Nino winter of 2015-2016, this one must have been brought to us by La Nina, El Nino’s mischievous sister.
Fresh snow dresses up the garden and makes it look wonderful. Even drab or ugly scenes take on a new interest, as though the dead stalks were placed there intentionally to support snow.
You hear a lot about rescue dogs these days, but what about rescue plants?
Near my garden shed I have a motley collection of pots containing unintended plants. They might be called rescues. One way or another, they were displaced from their original growing spots and ended up in pots. Some will be planted in new, hopefully appropriate, spots. Others are just marking time, subsisting in their pots until I plant them somewhere or, sadly, decide to dispatch them. (In the garden, one can’t have a 100% “no kill” policy).
Rescue plants arrive in a variety of ways.
Accidental cuttings. Convolvulus sabatius came from a bit broken off the main plant while poking around. It had flower buds so I put it in a vase for a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, it grew roots, so I potted it up. It’s always good to have a spare of this plant, because I nearly lost it a couple of times. The rose “Fragrant Cloud” came as a cut flower someone gave me years ago. I must have been so impressed with the scent and colour that I intentionally rooted it. Then there’s a possibly pink (it’s never bloomed) iris. A chunk of the rhizome was snapped off when a hose snagged it. Once potted, it grew a fan of leaves. I intend to plant it (in a better spot, of course) and see if it is indeed pink. The “Dusty Miller” type plant (don’t ask me for the botanical name) visible in the above picture must be another accident. The main plant is in a big pot near my front door; I have no idea why I rooted another one.
Volunteer seedlings. I grow my tomato plants in pots these days. It’s amazing what else sprouts in those pots, from seeds that come from who knows where. Well, in the case of the peach tree, it was a pit that ended up in the compost and so in the soil for the tomato plant. When the Cornus sericea (red osier dogwood) popped up, I thought it was a Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii), an attractive native tree that has been struggling with disease of late. Then there was the walnut that sprouted at the edge of one of the perennial beds. I know of no walnut trees in the neigbourhood, so a bird or other creature must have brought it some distance before dropping it. I
foolishly dutifully potted up all of these tree seedlings, thinking they deserved a shot at life. Trouble is, I have no room for more trees on this overgrown patch of ground, and the volunteers, now saplings, struggle along in pots, except for the Cornus sericea, which has grown roots through its pot’s drain holes and is now solidly rooted right next to the house foundation. This shrub tends to sucker. Not good.
Experiments. I have a habit of picking up seeds of roadside or trail-side plants that look interesting. A few years ago I saw what proved to be great willow herb, Epilobium hirsutum, in bloom by the bike trail I used regularly. I had never seen this plant before, so made a point of collecting a few of the fluffy seed clusters. Seedlings resulted. By that time I had identified the plant and was aware of its designation as an “alien invasive” and a noxious weed in Washington State. So I’ve kept it a prisoner in a pot and really don’t know what to do with it, because it’s obviously not happy and is no ornament. Lilium columbianum, on the other hand, is a desirable native lily, with elegant small yellow flowers. I managed to sprout three seeds a couple of years ago. The seedlings actually resprouted this spring — one minute leaf apiece. Then they were discovered by tiny slugs. Valiant rescue efforts ensued. The tiny sprouts died down about midsummer. I’m hoping this was normal — summer dormancy, you know. I’m hoping it isn’t permanent.
Gifts. Over the years I’ve been given some brightly-coloured mixed lily bulbs — brassy yellow, screaming orange, deep red. I couldn’t see them blending into my perennial beds, somehow, so popped them into a couple of pots where they bloomed happily for several seasons. Then they started to dwindle. So this year, I turned all the little bulblets out of the original pots and transferred them to different pots with fresh soil, all the while wondering if I was wasting my time.
Intensive care. Another lily, another story. After my potted “Stargazer” lilies bit the dust a few years ago, I bought something called simply “Oriental Lily” that vaguely resembled them, but wasn’t as good. In the way of lilies, it bloomed well for a while, then went downhill. So last week I did pretty much the same thing as with the gift lilies described above. The difference is that in this case, I hope for success. Another salvage project was the hostas in a bed recently invaded by rapacious Norway maple roots, whereupon the hostas went from flourishing to feeble. I rescued a few divisions before they faded out altogether, with the intention of re-establishing them someday. In the meantime, they are quite happy in their pots near the pond.
Spares. Some plants are so useful it’s always good to have a few extras on hand. Lamium maculatum “Pink Pewter” is one of these. When I refurbished the Meconopsis bed a few weeks ago, where “Pink Pewter” was prospering, I saved some for future considerations.
Unrelated (but nifty) recent garden photos.
This is my favourite time of year — the months of September, October and even November. And yes, I usually call it Fall, not Autumn. Apparently this is a bit of a dilemma for us Canadians. As the article says, “autumn,” in conversation anyway, sounds a bit pretentious to my ear. Like so many English words, these came to the language from two sources — “autumn” apparently from Etruscan via Latin, and “fall” from a Germanic source (although in German, the season is “Herbst,” from words relating to “harvest”).
OK, “fall” sounds a bit blunt. “The fall of the year,” however, sounds poetic, elegiac and exactly right for this season of downgoing.
Anyway, now that the days are warm instead of hot, and we’ve had a little rain, and the late-blooming flowers are out in force, I’ve been running around the garden, snapping pictures. They’re the same scenes I’ve delighted in photographing for years, but when I see the witch hazel turning rusty gold, and a haze of purple asters with contrasting pink nerines, I can’t resist doing it again.
In the last few days we’ve transitioned from hot and dry to cool and wet. Rain at last — 15 mm (.6 inch). It might not seem like much, but it has transformed the landscape from parched and rattling to soft and almost green.
However welcome, rain and cool weather can cause tomatoes on the vine to split before they ripen, which usually means they rot before ripening. So I went out and picked any that were turning orange. They can ripen inside while the rest take their chances outside.
Elsewhere in the garden, the change to fall is underway.