watering

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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Summer Rain

Summer rain… Those words are magical for me, because I live and garden in a region where it’s a rare phenomenon. (To be truthful, we on the south coast of Vancouver Island have very little to complain about, climate-wise. But we complain nevertheless).

This summer has been relatively cool, but very dry. We had only one millimeter of rain in July, and the parts of our landscape without artificial watering have taken on shades ranging from brown to golden to bone-white and dead-looking.

My lawns (actually remnant patches of mixed grass and subtle weeds among perennial beds and vegetable patch) retain a bit of green, but have been gradually browning over the past few weeks, like their gardener’s increasingly suntanned skin.

The main gardening activity these days is watering — with sprinklers on designated “watering days” — Wednesdays and Saturdays on my side of the street — and with the trusty watering can almost every day. I have a lot of plants in pots — tomatoes, dahlias, delphiniums, Stargazer lilies (just coming into bloom) and a dozen Meconopsis (blue poppies). I grow all these things in pots because the open ground is too full of wretched tree roots — but that’s another story. The soil in their pots is all these plants have to draw on, so regular watering is vital.

After several weeks, watering becomes a burdensome chore. The gardener grumbles about being a slave to the hose and the watering can. Notes of complaint appear in the daily weather record: Very dry. Still dry. Extremely dry. NO RAIN. People who exclaim about the “beautiful sunny weather” are apt to get a dissenting lecture or at least a non-committal grunt.

But today it’s raining, for the first time in more than a month. The air is soft, moist and full of fragrances. A mist rises from the pavements. The rain barrels are filling up. There are three and a half millimeters in the rain gauge so far and the radar image on Environment Canada’s website indicates more to come.  We might even get a whole five millimeters before it ends and a predicted warming and drying trend takes over.

Five millimeters is the boundary between what I call “psychological rain” and Real Rain. Psychological rain brings a slight relief from the prevailing dryness, but is not a remedy for it. Beyond five millimeters, there is wetting of the soil below the surface. The gardener gets a reprieve from watering for a day or two, because the best thing about rain is that it waters the whole garden, all at once (except the parts overhung by wretched maples — but that’s another complaint).

Not everyone is rejoicing. Golfers and planners of picnics and outdoor weddings are no doubt gnashing their teeth. But I refuse to feel guilty. I didn’t make this summer rain, but I’m glad it’s here.

Rain Barrels

Rain barrels are fashionable these days. If you want credibility as an environmentally responsible gardener, you install a rain barrel or two. For about $100 you can get a purpose-made model (plastic, of course) with various nifty features. Or you can make your own.  I have three home-made barrels — two used to be plastic garbage containers and the third is actually a genuine wooden barrel — very picturesque.

Funky Wooden Barrel

Former Garbage Can

There’s only one problem — it doesn’t rain here in the summer. In April and May my barrels actually fill up with rainwater, and I use it for the small amount of watering I do at the time — newly planted things or pots.

In June, rain becomes scarce and by July nonexistent. My rain barrels would be empty until late August or September if I didn’t fill them with the hose. How ironic is that?

Filling up with the hose does make sense. I do that only to the two plastic former garbage cans, which are open at the top. The funky wooden barrel stays mostly full of rainwater, because I draw from it very sparingly. Empty, it would dry out and crack. But the two plastic barrels are handy water reservoirs for filling my watering can, which gets daily use through the summer. It’s much faster to fill by dipping into the barrel than starting up the hose every time. I get through an entire hand-watering session (a zillion pots plus half a dozen especially water-needy plants in the ground) on one barrel fill-up.

In summer I think I should have been born under the sign of Aquarius.