Need a Shade Loving Climber? Meet Willy.

I want to create a pocket garden in our backyard. A small oasis I can slip inside of like a green envelope. I want to walk through a narrow opening and enter a space where I can sit in a chair or lay on the grass and cloud gaze, while being completely hidden from view.

The area I have chosen is against the north side of the house, so I am attempting to grow tall things that love shade, grow fast and are hardy to zone 3. I know. It’s going to take a minute.

Last year I started a border on the east side of this future pocket garden. So far I have a goatsbeard (potential to reach 6 feet), a rodgersia (4 foot potential), a bleeding heart (3 feet) and an astilbe (3 feet). Of course none of them will reach anywhere near that height for awhile. These things take time.

On the other side of the future pocket garden are some Hostas and several Lily of the Valley which look (and smell) really nice but, at knee height, do little to screen the garden. There are some hostas, such as Empress Wu that grow to dizzying heights, but the ones I have top out at around two feet.

So to make my pocket garden work, I set up a trellis and went shopping for a shade loving climber.

Imagine my delight when I found a Willy Clematis at Dunvegan Gardens with the following tag around his neck…

Not part sun, not part shade but FULL SHADE. Or full sun. What an adaptable clematis! I rushed home and planted Willy straight away.

Here is Willy on his new trellis. As you can see things are far from private right now, but I have vision. Unfortunately, so do the neighbours.

Please ignore the dandelions. This obviously isn’t a magazine garden. Check out What are Dandelions Good For? Absolutely Everything! if you too sometimes feel a need to apologize for the yellow beauties dotting your lawn.

I have high hopes for Willy, but I am starting to wonder if some mislabelling occurred. None of my online searches for Willy Clematis have backed up the “full shade” claim. All the info I found recommend full sun. Oh well, he’s in the ground now, so we will just have to wait and see.

Grow Willy Grow! I’m rooting for you.

Turning up the Heat

Summer truly arrived yesterday. I knew this for sure when I was driving home from the grocery store and trying to figure out what was wrong with the car. The heater wasn’t on, the seat warmer wasn’t on, but it was strangely warm. I looked down at the outside temperature gauge and was shocked to read 19 Celsius!

I had to laugh. It’s been almost eight months since I have even thought the words air conditioner. I was out of practice in assuming a warm car could actually mean it was warm outside. I didn’t turn the ac on though. I just rolled down the window and smiled.

Later, I zipped down to Canadian Tire to pick up some garden supplies. I walked out back and summer had arrived there as well. Just a couple days ago all they had in their outdoor garden centre were pallets of soil and mulch. Today it was full of trees and plants. It was like stepping into a slice of heaven.

The potted fruit trees were in full blossom and loaded with bumble bees. I wondered if they came with the trees or if they had simply lucked out and spotted them below as they flew through the city. I suspect the latter, since they were in such a happy frenzy. They looked like I felt.

Nature is so miraculous and gardeners get a front row seat. How lucky are we?

Not White Rain but Snow with a Capital S

Yesterday I mowed our lawn for the very first time this year. After building numerous garden beds, I have very little lawn left and it would be better environmentally if I had none at all, but I still like a few patches of green.

Our little electric mower sprang to life after a winter in the shed, without so much as a hiccup. When that first waft of fresh cut grass hit me, I almost teared up. I paused and breathed in the scent like a person hovering their nose over a caramel cappuccino. 

That was yesterday.

This morning we woke up to this…

This is NOT white rain. I repeat, NOT white rain. What a difference a day makes. Just to the left of the first plant pot is where I stood breathing in the scent of freshly cut grass less than 24 hours ago.

There is another way to look at it though. As disconcerting as the sight might be, for gardeners it is like someone gifted their yard with a huge dump of free organic nitrogen in the night, just in time for the growing season. How magical is that?

All moisture collects nitrogen as it falls through the atmosphere, but nothing gifts the earth as much as snow on thawed ground. Winter snow tends to run off the frozen earth come spring, taking its nitrogen with it. Light rain collects negligible amounts of nitrogen. Heavy rain, on the other hand, can pick up as much nitrogen as snow, but will usually come down so hard it runs off before any amount has a chance to sink in. An early fall or late spring snow is the best gift of all for growers.

Lightening also packs a load of nitrogen, but has to actually hit your garden in order to deposit it. You might get some nitrogen, but a soft covering of snow is a far less traumatic way to receive some free nutrients.

I admit when I pulled up the blinds this morning my first reaction wasn’t, “Wow! Free nitrogen. Thank you Universe!” and I did feel a tad traumatized. However, once I calmed down, I realized it couldn’t have come at a better time. Next week we are moving consistently into the double digits and out of the freezing zone at nights. Thanks to this snowfall, the garden will be primed and ready for seeding.

So yes, thank you Universe for your timely gift and please accept my sincere apologies for the things I might have said to you this morning.

Peas are going into the ground next week. Can’t wait to get seeding.


The Rhubarb

Yesterday was the day! The snow has been gone from the front yard for awhile now, but in the back, stubbornly hunkered against the north side of the house, was a huge persistent chunk of snow that resembled an iceberg. Its melt rate has been painfully slow. Finally only a few shards remained and yesterday morning they were gone.

Insert happy spring dance here.

Oodles of crocuses have been blooming and daffodils are spearing their way skyward as well. Several perennials have even leafed out, including The Rhubarb.

I bought The Rhubarb the first spring we were in our new apartment. Strangely enough, of all the plants I had left behind in our country garden, it was the rhubarb unfurling in the spring that I missed most of all. I felt bad putting such an earthy plant into a pot, but it didn’t seem to mind. I thought maybe if I tucked it into a sheltered corner on the balcony come winter and surrounded it with other pots, the rhubarb might survive and I could look forward to its annual unfurling once again.

Instead there were some issues with my balcony garden and the strata complained, I overreacted, and banished the lot to our yard at the store. Come fall the pots were emptied and put away, but the pot with the rhubarb was tucked in a corner along the fence and forgotten.

We were well into the next spring, when Darcy discovered the rhubarb in full leaf. By this time I had rented four beds at the Community Garden, so I took the rhubarb there where it hung out in its pot, at the end of one of my beds. I left it there come winter, and the next spring up it came in its pot once again. The following spring we moved into our house and the rhubarb was brought from the community garden to our backyard, released from its pot and for the first time in its rhubarb life, allowed to discover what it was like to wiggle its roots deep into the earth.

And now, here it is, coming up once again, but this time sans pot.

The really weird thing about all of this? I don’t even like rhubarb. As a kid my mom would send me outside with a bowl of sugar and I would pull up a rhubarb stalk, laze out in a lawn chair and basically use the rhubarb to spoon up the sugar.

Darcy is even more ambivalent about rhubarb than I am. Even sugared up rhubarb pies or cobblers fail to impress him much. Our sons were a different story. Not only did they love rhubarb, they ate it raw without any sugar at all, causing us to worry they were deficient in some kind of vitamin or mineral or something.

I will always grow rhubarb simply for its early rise in the spring, its majestic leaves, its gorgeous ruby stalks and the plumes of cream that froth its tops later in the season (though if growing for production you usually snap the stalks off before they flower). If left to bloom, it is a worthy stand in for other ornamentals such as rodgersia. My whole goal for the front yard is to create a space that is equally edible and pretty. Another bonus for using rhubarb out front is that deer leave it alone.

A rhubarb in bloom against that big Peace Country sky!

The Rhubarb, however, was planted in the backyard. Of course it was. I feel guilty to be moving the poor thing once again after it has been so brave, for so long, but hopefully this move will be its last. And not because the move kills it. Given its years of tenacity I am sure it will make the move without mishap. It would be pretty ironic if this is what ends up doing it in though.

And who knows? Maybe our tastes have changed. Once The Rhubarb is established, I think I will try out a few rhubarb recipes again just to find out. That’s a wonderful thing about life. Things are always changing and you just never know.

Spring Temptations

Spring is being generous with our town this year. She showed up soft and slow, giving the city some time to sort out the sewer drains before hitting double digits this week.

I went for a walk along one of our many paved trails. The snow had melted into a small river running alongside the walkway, the sun shone warm and the pavement beneath my feet was bare and dry for the first time in months. I turned my face up to the sun, closed my eyes for a second and was suddenly struck with an overwhelming urge to lay down on the warm pathway and soak up the heat like a cat.

Only two things stopped me.

One, the pathway is frequented by dogs who make generous daily deposits. While there was no actual evidence of this in the stretch of pathway in front of me, I knew the residue was there.

Two, at my age, laying down on a public walkway would end in chaos and ambulances. Well, I suppose at any age it would cause a bit of eyebrow raising, but with me the assumption would be stroke or heart attack related for sure. How to explain I was just experiencing a bout of spring madness?

And so I carried on walking, keeping my reckless ideas safely in my head and up off the pavement for the sake of all things sanity and sanitary. But oh how warm that pavement looked after weeks of crazy cold.

People have already started shovelling the snow off their lawns and into the streets. Last year, our first spring in a house in town, I was bemused by the practice. I figured it was just a case of some home owners being anxious for spring and desperate to start mowing their lawns.

Why bother I thought to myself. Another couple weeks and everyone would have a bare lawn one way or the other. Plus all that snow could have been soaking in and watering their front yard instead of the street. It seemed a terrible waste of both time and moisture.

This year I know better.

It’s the gravel on top of the snow, tossed there during the necessity of winter maintenance, that makes returning the snow to the street such a savvy move. It is much easier to shovel snow, gravel and all, back to the street for the sweeper to reclaim than it is to rake it out of your lawn when the snow is gone.

Right now the big bank of snow along our curb is still a few feet tall, but lowering fast. I am eyeing the shrinkage and waiting for the opportune moment to start shovelling.

Things are moving faster closer to the house. Look at this!

I call it the great receding snow line. There is no sweeter sight than a flower bed emerging from the snow. This is my first spring in five years that I can step into a garden and see what has returned from all the mad planting I did the year before.

Am I excited? You bet. I could just roll around on the ground kind of excited. But I won’t. At least I am pretty sure I won’t.

I’m a Christmas Tree Genius! Than Again, Maybe Not.

This morning I realized the house we bought in April and have been madly in love with ever since, was, in fact, a terrible mistake.

Simply put, there is no room for the Christmas tree.

Back in April all I could think of was the garden. Where the Christmas tree would go was the furthest thing from my mind.

But now, standing in the living room in late November, with the partially assembled tree swelling up like an inflatable elephant in a mouse house, it was clear there was only one viable solution.

Put the house back on the market and find another place to live. Preferably within a week, so as not to lose too much decorating time.

And breathe.

I sat down to consider other options, trying to ignore the fact that when I pulled the leg rest out on the couch, my toes were in the tree.

There was only one spot the tree could go and it simply didn’t fit.

I then landed on a second solution.

We would close in the deck, knock out the wall of the living room and voila! There would now be space for the tree in all its glory.

Again, we would have to build this new addition within a week so as not to slow down my decorating schedule.

If only the tree were half as wide, it would have fit perfectly.

And then I had a third idea, only this time it was a really good one.

I would simply leave off the branches on one half of the tree and smoosh it against the wall.

Not only did this solution work, it looks fabulous. You would never guess the entire tree wasn’t there. Only the bottom four rows needed to be halved. Once I got to the top I was able to fit the branches all the way around. This configuration also made the tree far easier to string the lights and garland on.

I figured I had landed on a solution of genius proportions. Well, maybe not genius exactly, but moderately inventive and game changing.

A quick google proved otherwise. Turns out “my” idea has been done plenty of times before. What is that old saying? Necessity is the mother of all inventions. In fact, you can even buy trees already halved.

While I’m a little disappointed my idea wasn’t unique, I am beyond relieved that we don’t have to move or build an addition. So is Darcy.

 

 

 

24 Scented Flowers for Spring, Summer and Fall

Lily of the Valley

SPRING

  1. Apple Blossoms (tree)
  2. Daphne odora (perennial)
  3. Grape Hyacinth Muscari armeniacum (perennial bulb)
  4. Lilac (shrub)
  5. Lily of the Valley (perennial)
  6. Primrose (choose white or yellow as blues and reds have little to no scent) (perennial)
  7. Wallflowers (short-lived perennials often grown as annuals)
  8. Violets Sweet Violet Viola odorata (perennial)

 

Sweet William offers up a wonderful clove-like scent

SUMMER

  1. Honeysuckle (vine)
  2. Jasmine (vine)
  3. Lilies (perennial)
  4. Lavender (perennial in warmer climates; annual in colder gardens)
  5. Mock Orange (shrub)
  6. Nicotiana (annual)
  7. Roses (perennial)
  8. Stocks Evening Scented (annual)
  9. Sweet Alyssum (annual)
  10. Sweet Peas (traditionally an annual though a few perennial varieties do exist)
  11. Sweet William (biannual)
  12. Valerian (perennial and can be somewhat invasive)

 

Chrysanthemums

FALL

  1. Chrysanthemum (perennial)
  2. Hymalayan Balsam (annual)
  3. Katsura (tree) Cercidiphyllum japonicum
  4. Phlox (annuals and perennials)

Always check tags and packages to ensure you are choosing a fragrant variety. Many formerly dependable scented flowers, such as Sweet Peas (annual) and roses (perennial) have been bred up for eye appeal, losing much in the way of scent. A quick check of the label should tell you if you are, indeed, choosing a scented variety.

While we have included in brackets whether the plant is an annual, perennial, biannual, shrub or tree always check the garden zone to be sure how the plant will perform in your particular growing area.