The Joy of Gardening in Southern Ontario

I love gardening in my Zone 5 garden. To many it would not seem like an exciting place to garden. The ground is frozen from December to April and four large Maple Trees shade the West facing back garden all Summer. Dispite this, much magic and joy happens in this small space every year.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

This Summer's Thoughts and Changes

The last two are from my garden, the vegetables were picked in August.

I was asked for more pictures of the Lost Gardens of Helligan. So here are a few more.

This summer has been different, for a variety of reasons, the garden had to look after itself. Funnily enough, it has looked great all summer, the flowers blossomed, the grasses were still blessed with their beautiful feathery seeds. The butterflies continued to enjoy the profusion of flowers and the humming birds still drunk nectar to their fill. Hmm, may be I’m not so important.

Every evening returning from work, the chaotic and joyous site of all the plants in the front garden welcomed me home. I love nature, it’s incredible beauty and deep complexity reaches into my deepest soul and somehow elevates me. It keeps me grounded.

This summer, the urgency of climate change has slowly stolen my priorities, I can’t help thinking, “What are we doing dithering about the most important issue in human history?”. I personally have known about the Greenhouse Effect since the early 70’s. Here we are after 30 years, still dithering, still procrastinating like some reluctant teenager hovering over their homework. The difference is that this procrastination will destroy the lives of our grandchildren, great grandchildren and beyond.

There are many things that we can do in our personal lives to cut our consumption of carbon based fuels but, the most important thing to do is to become active. Take part in our communities. With more than half the population of the world in urban areas, it will be changes in these areas that will make the difference. The way we build our communities now will determine our transport, heating/cooling and food transportation requirements. These are all things that we can effect through local advocacy.

So happy gardening and don’t forget Mother Nature, she needs us more than ever.

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Day in Heaven and a Morning in Eden

I've just returned from a trip to the UK. Whilst I was there I visited The Lost Gardens of Heligan and The Eden Project.

We arrived in Heligan when it opened at 10:00 am and left at 6:00pm when it closed. I won't go into its 250 year history, you should look it up on the web. It's an incredible place that shows the beauty of formal Victorian vegetable gardens juxtaposed against an astonishing jungle area that one would not think was possible in the UK.

The whole garden represents the height of the Victorian Plant Hunters ingenuity and reach. There are plants from all over the world. There are 150 year old Rhododendrons, huge tree ferns, palm trees and thickets of bamboo growing in a sheltered valley that leads down to the sea. There are perfectly straight, 50 metre long, rows of vegetables and wonderful greenhouses and coldframes.

The joy my friends and I felt as we walked around could not be explained. It is a gardener's heaven.

The next day we visited The Eden Project, I had been three years before but it was definitely worth a second visit. The plants had grown and it has settled down into a maturing greenhouse, all be it a gigantic one. It was still delightful to walk through the Mediterranean and Tropical Biodomes, my friends were particularly interested as they have a house in France in a semi-Mediterranean climate.

To be continued...

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Spring, Life and Slugs

It is Sunday morning, it's cold outside, the sun is just starting to heat up the greenhouse and I'm drinking espresso. The woodland out the back is brown and speckled with the snow from recent flurries. In a few weeks time it will explode with the fresh incandescent green of Spring.

Even though there have been snow flurries during the last few days, the primroses and hellebores are growing in their bed beneath the maple trees. The daffodil and tulip bulbs are well into their spring growth in the front garden.

This year I tried not to go mad with buying seeds, however the greenhouse and office seem to be full of tomato, pepper, chili, banana, nicotiana, zinnia, ornamental grasses and all sorts of other seedlings. It's a real joy to see them growing, especially when they take a long time to germinate (I'm very impatient).

I have to be more careful bringing soil into the greenhouse in the Autumn. It is very easy to carry slugs and slug eggs in on the outside soil. In the spring the greenhouse is invaded with slugs and I'm forced to defend the seedlings with saucers of beer and by picking them up and throwing them outside into the snow. I thought, this Autumn I will make sure that I do not bring any surface soil into the greenhouse (I plant some of the larger tropical plants in the soil in the summer and dig them up to bring into the greenhouse).

This year I am planning to increase the size of the compost heap and increase the amount of space that I allocate for vegetables. I would love to have an allotment but, in the Greater Toronto Area there are very few allotments. The other thing I want to do is improve the woodland garden underneath the large Maples that form the border between our garden and the conservation area. There was a great article in the March BBC Gardener's World Magazine about planting a woodland garden and it gave me some new ideas. I'll also do the usual reviewing of last years photos and moving plants around. The grasses looked great last year and I've got some unusual new grasses growing from seed (courtesy of Chiltern Seeds).

But at the moment I'm sitting in the kitchen dreaming and planning. Right next to me at eye level is an orchid flower, it is so beautiful. My wife is much better at growing orchids than me. Her office is full of very healthy and beautiful plants among them, a number of orchids. She looks after her plants with great care, no dead leaves!

I hope spring will bless us with some warmer weather soon, everything is ready. The world is poised ready for the combined trigger of longer days and warmth. Nature holds its breath, how I love these moments in life, the power of life, all the processes ready. Even in the depths of winter, a walk through the conservation area behind us is always blessed with Nature's beauty and grace. The balance created by millions of years of evolution gives us this momentary veneer of calm and beauty. It is such a precious thing, this instant of life and yet we challenge that balance with our greed and lust for convenience.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Brugmansia Question

Someone asked a question about keeping Brugmansia in a cold room through the winter and didn't leave an email address. As long as the cold store stays above 5 degrees Celsius (comfortably above zero) it will be ok. Last winter I kept my three plants in the cold room from October to late March, the room stays just above freezing and is dark. I made sure that the soil was fairly dry and gave it a tiny amount of water so that it didn't completely dry out. Before I put it in the cold store, I pruned it back to a shape that I wanted. Once I bought it out in April I put it near a window to let it start to grow. This also worked well for my Mandeville vines and Geraniums, however, I had a large Farangi Pangi (sorry about spelling) and it was too cold.

They grew very well this year, I have them outside in a semi shade spot, two are planted in the soil and one is still in a large pot. I found that, if I kept them growing through the winter, they were very susceptible to red spider mite. I grew two of the Brugmansia from seed and, after three years one of them flowered for the first time. A beautiful pink fragrant flower.

I realised that I have no photos of them, I'll take some and put on the blog. Unfortunately the fragrance will not come across. They all have the most incredible fragrance that I have ever smelt in a flower.

This summer I have been very busy, little time for blogging but I have had time to share the wonders of the garden with my grand children, the flowers, their fragrance, the frogs, snakes and insects that inhabit the garden. Children seem to be naturally fascinated by nature. My children were/are and my grand children are.

Life is a wonderful thing

Someone asked about Red Spider Mite. These are very determined critters and leaving the plants in a cold room and leafless is a way of stopping them. If you want to keep growing the plant in your house, you have to increase the humidity around the plant. I've fund that spraying with pesticidal soap in a large plastic bag helps but you have to repeat it every 7 to 9 days (breeding cycle)for a few weeks and leave in the bag for a while.

They hate humidity and the soap only kills the ones that it hits at the time of application, eggs hatch and they reinfest, hence the repeated does.

I've never had trouble with red spider mites in my greenhouse for two reasons; one it is very humid and two a wave of ladybirds (bugs) normally hatch around January and probably eat any budding infestations.

If the plant is one of my favourites and I can't get rid of the infestation then I have to admit that I use a "systemic pesticide" - very nasty and toxic. I treat it in the garage and put it in a plastic bag for a few days (or if it's too cold I wait fr a day when it is above zero in there, treat it and seal it in the bag (it is very smelly). Then I bring it into the cld room and leave it there for the couple of days. Once washed off, I bring it in again. This pesticide kills everything so I don't let it near bees etc for a few weeks. Not a good solution but, before I had my winter greenhouse, it was better than loosing a loved Hibiscus.

Good luck

Monday, July 17, 2006

Summer,The Beautiful Serenity of the Garden and People Dieing in War Zones

I wonder around my garden, looking at such immaculate beauty. How is my life full of such joy and others suffer so terribly just because of an accident of birth. I was born in the UK and moved to Southern Ontario; someone else is born in Lebanon and has to flee violence caused by years of hate and over inflated egos battling each other. I sit here writing my blog with a full bodied glass of red wine, the lady in the photo from today’s newspaper is fleeing carnage and destruction with her bed pillows. South Africa’s troubles and Northern Ireland’s troubles are slowly healing because it was agreed that peace and forgiveness was more practical than hate and death.

Enough said, my heart goes out to all the ordinary people in Lebanon, Gaza, Israel, Iraq and all the war zones.

Gardening is such a wonderful thing, we just sow some seeds, plant some plants and wow, step back, nature creates a beauty that cannot be imagined. Poppies, Dahlias, Marigold, Zinna, Cone Flower, Ligularia, Snap Dragons, Night Scented Stock, Lillies, Roses, Campanula. There is an explosion of colour and fecundity all around me. Just walking around my small garden I can see so many flowers, some I nurtured from seed and some self sowed themselves.

After working hard in the spring planting the seedlings, weeding and digging, now the garden is too full to let weeds through. All I have to do is the occasional weeding, moving plants that are smothered by their neighbours and dead heading the spent flowers.

The butterflies and humming birds enjoy the flower nectar, a huge variety of insects fly and crawl around the garden balancing each other out. The snakes and frogs eat their share and the racoons watch indignantly waiting for me to go indoors if I have the cheek to garden too late into the night.

The maples that shade the sun from the west and keep our back garden cool are really a blessing this summer, as the temperatures soar, the back garden remains shaded and cool-ish. Dappled light comes through in the afternoon, dancing across the garden and reminding me that the sun is there. Sometimes the bliss of it all reaches a crescendo, you feel so in the moment and an intimacy with beauty some how fills you.

The Pinot Noir has a great bouquet and tastes find but still part of me cries at the inequity of this world.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Gardening, World Cup and Smelling the Roses

Ummm, it's late spring, so much to do, so many seedlings to tend and plant, so much tidying and the World Cup!

I got through the long list of things that I had to do and still saw a lot of football. It was really cold in the night. Consequently there were no mosquitoes enabling me to garden until it was too dark to see what was a weed and what was a self-set seedling. That enabled me to watch the football and get down the list. Then you realise, "wait, I'm rushing about, the racoon is looking at me from the tree as if to say, what is this idiot doing, I'm not appreciating this incredible miracle that is my garden. The lavender scent is so beautiful, the garden has flowers everywhere. The aquilegia, geranium, peony and iris are in bloom. The flowers of the helebore are still poking their heads through the hosta, the ornamental grasses are pushing higher with everyday and rampant growth is happening everywhere."

You breathe, a smile bursts from inside and the feeling bursts from your heart. The Buddhists call it Loving Kindness. You realise that you are truly blessed.

It is really amazing to see the difference between the mulched and un-mulched flower beds. The mulch really does hold the moisture in the soil. I really have to cover the whole garden.

This year, instead of trying to grow basil in the ground, I started it in large pots and moved them outside when the weather became warm enough, this really seems to have worked well, however it needs a lot of light to avoid becoming too stringy (I think the word is etiolated). The rosemary really survived well in the cold frame, now they are all back in the herb garden.

Starting the tomatoes in March was really advantageous, they are quite mature plants now and are flower.

Under the large maples in out back garden, the hosta, astilbe and fern garden is doing really well this year; they have completely covered the ground and choked off the weeds. The front is starting to fill out but still needs some work. I'm trying to create an English cottage garden on one side, with many flowers of different heights, colour and texture. I'm hoping that it will be airy enough to see all the different flowers. When it's up I will take photos.

I went to a talk today on the urban forest, all the trees in a city. The speaker was from a Toronto organisation called LEAF. He was an excellent speaker who talked about care of the trees in our city, how they need watering and should really be mulched rather than have grass under them. It is amazing how much they cool the city and cut down the need for air conditioning. The three 20metre maple trees in our back garden shelter the house from the hot afternoon sun in the summer and in the winter allow the sun through to warm the house. LEAF help people plant the right native trees in their garden.

Well, there is so much to say but that’s enough.

Happy gardening, hope your garden and the glories of nature fill your heart with Loving Kindness.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Where Does the Energy Come From

My father lives in England and I was talking to him today. His wife was saying that it is getting harder for him to walk (he's 85); I asked how the garden is doing and whether he can still do it. Of course! He's still gardening and the garden looks great! His garden is at least three times larger than mine and only a small portion of it is lawn.

I know that I can garden all day and, at the end of the day, still want to keep going. Somehow the act of gardening energizes us, fills us with joy and hope. When we garden we cherish and revel in the moment but our actions are blessed by more beauty and joy in the future.

Because April was so warm the early May garden is in full Spring mode. All the perennials are pushing through the ground, it's such a joy to see the Hostas, Astilbes, Anenomes, Geraniums, Lupins; the list goes on.

The Primroses and Helebore are in flower and the ferns are starting to unfurl into the warm spring days. Because there has been no frost for weeks, the Magnolia Bush is in glorious flower. It is the first time that it has flowered since we moved into this house in 2001.

I'm slowly hardening off all the seedlings, putting them out in the day and bringing the tender ones back in for the night. At first I only exposed them to a little sun and slowly increased it. The Peppers, Egg Plants and Tomatoes are now about a foot to 18 inches high and looking great. The Penestemon Huskey Red seedlings are growing well which is gratifying as they wouldn't germinate last year.

Today I was weeding and tidying. It's always hard to decide whether to keep all the self set (volunteers) Nicotiania, Night Scented Stock and Calendula. It's amazing, even though they start weeks after the seeds are sown indoors, they always catch up and overtake the indoor ones. I guess Nature is a much better gardener.

The pictures are of Primroses that are flowering in the back garden. The Cow Slip (yellow primrose) reminds me of my childhood in England, they are very common in the English woodlands.