Monday, 25 April 2011

Garden snapshots - April 2011

It stopped raining long enough this weekend for me to finally be able to take a few photos of what's coming up in the garden.

I've been liberally planting bluebells the past couple years, as they remind me of walking through the streets of the Annex area of Toronto--every decent front garden there seems to have bluebells in the spring. Here, they're paired fortuitously with some mini daffodils (I think it was a pot I bought last year to brighten my desk, and then let the foliage mature, and then put the bulbs in the garden in the fall). I don't remember planning to put these together but they match nicely in scale and it's a combination I'd do again!

And here we have a rather purple hellebore (I know it looks more red in the photo), that my neighbour Elizabeth gifted me with a few years ago. It is always the first substantial bloom in the garden. I stumbled on a deal on hellebores on the weekend (Northland Nursery near Hamilton--all of their plants are $5.99) and picked up a white one to put behind this one. This one always blooms like crazy but because it's so dark you really have to look to see it. I think it will stand out nicely against a white version of itself.

This is a white & pink hellebore, with a charming garden cat I won at our last horticultural society penny raffle.

I was very pleased to see that the lone trillium I planted last year came back...and brought a friend!

The peonies are coming up. This one is an Itoh peony that I grew from a small seedling. John Simkins, founder of the Canadian Peony Society, had come out to speak at our horticultural society in 2005, and brought along some seedlings to sell. They were mystery peonies, as he'd been crossing all sorts of peonies, and, as he explained, you never knew what you'd get until it bloomed 3 years or so later. Well, I carefully tended my seedling and yes, 3 years later it bloomed, on my wedding day!  It's a very robust plant, and gets bigger every year. The flowers are large, single, and sort of peach.

Here is another cheery combination of species tulips (sorry, can't remember the variety and that info is out in the potting shed--it's raining and it's dark, and I'm not going out to look), bluebells, and winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis). 

I planted these species tulips (I think they're Tulipa "Turkestanica") several years ago, along the front sidewalk, and they just keep multiplying. They're not a loud tulip, kind of subtle, but as they're the first tulips to bloom (and before the daffodils too) they're very noticeable.

In the vegetable garden it's very exciting to see all the garlic planted in the fall coming up. We have "Hungarian" garlic on the left and "Red Russian" on the right.

And here, we have the cold frame my father put together for me on his latest visit. It's pretty simple construction (as requested) but hopefully it does the trick. Out of desperation, I put two trays of my monster tomato seedlings out there this afternoon. We're not forecast to go below freezing so hopefully they'll acclimatize quickly. It's a bit of baptism by fire (I'm sure it's better to put them out for a few hours at a time and gradually build up to overnight) but hopefully they'll pull through. 

So those are a few highlights of what's coming up in the garden. It's getting pretty exciting out there now (at least from my perspective)!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Seed Starting Update

My little seed-starting experiment is humming along nicely. Maybe a bit too well, actually. I started my first batch of tomatoes ("Mortgage Lifter") on March 12th. Let's just say they've been enthusiastic growers...

Tomato "Mortgage Lifter"

These tomatoes are close to a foot high. Today is April 19th. I don't think I have to wait until the Victoria Day weekend to plant them out, but given the fact that we had snow squalls here on Saturday, it's not going to be any too soon. Thankfully, my father was kind enough to build me a cold frame a couple weeks ago, so I should be able to transfer them out there shortly.

Even though they're pretty huge, all of the tomatoes are healthy looking, and seem to be developing good strong stems. I usually put an oscillating fan on them for an hour or more every day, to help develop strength in the stems (apparently the motion of bending back and forth in the wind stimulates them so that they grow sturdier stalks.)

Here's a shot of my entire operation:

 The reason the light stand is encased in snow fencing?

Pepper aka Plant-eating-cat

Her name is Pepper. She thinks plants of all kinds are delicious.

Snow fencing seemed like a good idea, and so far it's working. A little bit of a pain every night when I water and check in on everything, but at least the plants are all in tact.

I have another variety of tomato growing--Bloody Butcher--which I started on March 19th. They're a little more manageable in size.

Tomato "Bloody Butcher"

My Aunt Mollys' Ground Cherries (or Physalis  pruinosa) is coming along ok. They're supposed to (according to the websites I read) grow like tomatoes, but I'm finding that they're a lot slower growing. I planted them on March 19th, just like the Bloody Butcher tomatoes, and they're so much smaller I haven't even transplanted them up to individual pots yet.

'Physalis pruinosa'  or Ground Cherries

And lastly, I have some Clematis 'Radar Love' going, along with some Turkey Grass.

Clematis 'Radar Love' on the left, Turkey Grasson the right.

I had a bit of excitement the other night when one of the shop lights I had just purchased (to replace one of the original set that my friend gave me with the light stand) started smoking. I quickly unplugged it, check to see that the light tube was in properly, and plugged it in again. This time it started smoking from the other end! So that one's going back to Home Depot (sorry HD, I keep trying your lighting products and I keep having problems--smoke coming out of a fixture freaks me out.) I picked up another shop light at Lowe's the other night and it seems to be doing much better (looks to be built a bit sturdier too.)

I bought new flourescent tubes too, after reading what Ken Brown had to say about which kinds were best (hint: cheap works just fine, thank you). 

The other interesting thing I learned was that playing with tomato plants doesn't agree with my skin. I couldn't figure out why the backs of my hands were so itchy and had little bumps on them, until I did my nightly watering & check-up and figured it out.

It's a small price to pay for the fun of watching things grow (and it's a good thing I have this to play with inside, as someone seems to have forgotten to tell mother nature to knock off the snow!)

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Veggie Gardening Resource

I've been getting a lot of really great questions from my friends about their plans to start a vegetable and/or herb garden this year.

I've had my own vegetable garden since I was old enough to hold a small shovel--my own little plot within my dad's huge garden (thanks dad!) where I'd grow carrots or lettuce and maybe even a tomato plant. Quite a few years later my plot isn't much bigger--not for lack of desire, but more because of the price of land in Toronto, and my need for a lot of perennial and shrub growing space.

So, while I have a pretty good grasp on the basics of vegetable gardening, there's a lot I don't know. I'm always happy to chat about gardening with newbies, but I spend a lot of time asking questions of more experienced gardeners, looking things up on the internet, and reading.

The most useful gardening book I've found concerning vegetables is one called small-plot, high-yield gardening by Sal Gilbertie & Larry Sheehan (Ten Speed Press, 2010). 

I ran across it listed on the Garden Rant blog last year, took it out of the Toronto Public Library, and then liked it so much I put it on my Christmas gift list (and Santa showed up with it!)  It's a really useful and well-organized book, containing the type of practical information that both novice and experienced gardeners will benefit from. In fact, they will often temper their advice on certain topics by saying that your first year of gardening you should do this (e.g. buying your plants already started from a nursery) and then in a few years, once you have the experience, you can move onto this (e.g. starting plants from seed, and this is show you do it) if you wish to.

The authors present several sample garden layouts, to help you maximize your space and sunlight. The book is well organized, with a handy index, and it's not very expensive, considering the wealth of knowledge contained between the covers.

If you're keen to start a veggie garden this year I recommend spending the next month reading small-plot, high-yield gardening. You'll need to wait at least that long (at least in Toronto) before you put your tomatoes out.