My first snapdragon ever.

Tags

, ,

I’m not big on most annuals, especially bright, garish bedding plants, so I never tried growing snapdragons (Antirrhinum cv.) before. Actually, it might be a tender perennial, but I’d need to check up on that. In either case, it’s functionally an annual here. However, earlier this year when I was doing a seed order, there was a snapdragon called ‘Black Prince’ with dark red flowers and very dark foliage, so I thought what the heck.

I didn’t get good germination with the first sowing and there’s only one plant survived from it. I had better luck with a second sowing, but the plant from the first batch flowered several days ago. It’s not dark enough to warrant going on the Black Flowers page, and it never had any pretensions of being a black flower, but it’s still beautiful. Despite also being rather tiny, it still needed to be staked up because of the f**king winds we’ve had this year…and the past four years, it seems.

This one, and eventually the ones from the second sowing, is in a planter box. I usually grow heliotropes in there, but never got around to getting any this year. Some nicotiana ‘Chocolate Smoke’ is popping up in the planter, though, so it will be interesting to see what sort of combination they make. I have a feeling the nicotiana will probably swamp the snapdragons, though.

Snapdragon ‘Black Prince’

However, I did update the Black Flowers page with my new pansy, ‘Black King’. I got the seeds from the same source, and oddly enough, it flowered at around the same time as the snapdragon. I sowed them at the same time, but I guess pansies just take longer to get to that point, despite usually being spring flowers.

The longest day.

Tags

, , ,

Well, this summer solstice I spent four and a half hours in the garden and it was wonderful. I took care of several of the little tasks that keep getting put off, plus a couple major ones.

One of those major tasks was filling and stocking the new large tub pond. We actually had a bit of rain last night; wish it were more, but beggars can’t be choosers. But it was enough to fill a couple of the rainbarrels, so I had enough water to start filling the pond. This in turn meant I could take the plants out of the smaller tub ponds and containers scattered about the place and rehome them.

…I seriously never realised how many water plants I have. I must be crazy.

I got a lovely surprise from one of the tubs, however. Well, actually, it was rather an ugly surprise, but it was nice. This tub had only a miniature water lily (Nymphaea cv.) in it, plus a bit of bladderwort (Utricularia gibba) to control the mosquitoes. It’s only about fourteen inches deep. When I raked my fingers through the muck that had accumulated at the bottom, I got the shock of the day to find a dragonfly larva. I went and got a sieve and ended up finding five larvae (plus one dead). I have no idea what the critters were feeding on – dragonfly larvae are carnivorous and prey on other aquatic insects, crustaceans, tadpoles, and even small fish.

Anyway, I rehoused them in the big tub, and when the water in the smaller tubs settles, I’ll add it as well – it will contain all the pelagic fauna that makes a balanced pond ecosystem and helps control algae, the pondkeeper’s nightmare. When most of the water is out, I’ll have a hunt for more benthic fauna.

I also found NO mosquito larvae. People look skeptical when I tell them that since starting to keep these pond tubs, I actually get bitten by mosquitoes less. The fact is that yes, standing water attracts mosquitoes, but it also attracts dragonflies, especially with vegetation around. A dragonfly can eat over fifty mosquitoes in a day, plus other meals, and dragonflies have an estimated 95% success rate at hunting. This makes them one of the best predators in the world. And happily, at least one dragonfly has claimed my garden as its territory.

I think I’ll get a board or something and balance it on one corner of the big tub (it’s rectangular) and put a few of the carnivorous plants on it. It would help complete the look, as many carnivorous plants are bog species.

So you could say I spent a summer day splashing about in water. How nice.

Late spring blues.

Tags

, ,

Today I finally installed the guide wires (not guywires) to train the grapevine (Vitis ‘Bluebell’). I’m not sure why the cultivar is called ‘Bluebell’; all the pictures I’ve seen of the fruit show grapes that are almost black. Anyway, I should have done this weeks, even months ago…in fact, arguably since last year. Anyway, it’s done now and I can start training it at last.

I say at last because it got held back a year by the local chapter of the minions of hell, a.k.a. the rabbits, who came the first winter it was planted and chewed it down to a stump. So last year it had to start over. Otherwise I could have been looking forward to a bunch of grapes this year.

I’ve never trained a grapevine before and there are many methods to choose from, but I’ve settled on double leaders on a 6-arm Kniffen system. That is, two main stems, with each stem being allowed to produce 3 side branches. All of the branches on a given stem will grow in the same direction, and in the opposite direction to the other stem. I think it’s ambitious for a newbie, but grape plants are vigorous growers and therefore forgiving of pruning mistakes.

‘Bluebell’ is apparently a self-pollinating cultivar, but even self-pollinators set fruit better with another pollinator nearby. I have two other grape plants that I haven’t quite decided what to do with yet. One is a wild grape that keeps showing up in a friend’s garden; he gave it to me last year, but I haven’t gotten around to trying to figure out the species yet. The other is also a wild grape, a native species called the summer grape (Vitis aestivalis) that is supposed to be quite tolerant of hot, dry, sunny areas. I’ve been looking for one for ages and this year I lucked out. The original intent was to put it up against a very hot, sunny brick wall, but now I’m not so sure. I might grow them in containers and train one of them into a standard, like the old Victorian gardeners liked to do.

The other blue concern today is the jay. Or rather the family of blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata) that’s taken up residence in the area. This is a first; normally I don’t see bluejays in the yard before September, when they make their way south. They’ve certainly never settled here for the season in all the time I’ve lived here.

Normally I would be happy with this situation. Blue jays are a native species, and another species of bird in the area is a sign of increased biodiversity, which is good. But although I love birds in general, I don’t like blue jays. They’re loud but don’t sing (at least, they seldom sing nicely), and they’re greedy and aggressive, and often chase away the other birds…such as the ones that do sing nicely. I know I haven’t been hearing the chickadees as much in the past few weeks. Just today, in fact, I saw a jay chasing the local cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), who is an old friend. Not impressed.

Changes.

Tags

,

Just updated the Black Flowers page to include the beautiful Iris chrysographes; I bought the plant last year and the blooms first opened today.

I also added a picture to the Rose page; all the roses are blooming at once (for the second time ever) and I actually got a picture of it this time. Speaking of roses, I  got another one a week ago, a beautiful purple miniature called ‘Diamond Eyes’. No picture yet though.

I splurged last Saturday and bought a pond tub – a purpose-made one, as opposed to an ordinary tub or undrained large container. It got delivered on Tuesday. I’ll admit it was a bit of an impulse buy, but I don’t regret it at all. It’s 51 x 31 x 18 inches, which is deeper than many prefabricated ponds available, and that’s always been one of the main things holding me back from getting one: most of them just aren’t very deep. In fact, I would have liked it to be even deeper, say 6 inches or more.

Good thing I was revamping the container garden anyway, because that’s the only spot left with enough space to hold the pond where it would get enough sun. I’m not burying it, for a few reasons. First, my soil is just too. damn. hard. and. too. damn. stony. to excavate something that size and then deal with the spoil. Second, the entire property is on a slope, so I’d have to get fancy with the levelling (this is actually a minor consideration). Third, although I would love to have an in-ground pond that might even possibly attract a frog or toad or two (I love amphibians, and not just for their wildlife value; I really think they’re ridiculously cute and yes I know I’m weird), the local raccoons would make an absolute wreck of it and everything in it.

So I piled up some stone (and I have a lot of stones in my soil), levelled it off, and sat the pond on top of it. The elevation, plus the height of the tub itself, should make things harder for the nasty little bastards to mess things up. While they could easily jump up, even raccoons would have a hard time balancing on the lip of the tub while digging around inside it, without falling in (which they might decide to do anyway…). As long as I don’t put anything around it, they won’t having anything to sit up on.

Also, having it a few inches off the ground should make it a little easier on the old back. Not getting any younger here. In winter I can drain it and turn it upside down. It will be interesting to see if water evaporates slower or faster from one large container than a bunch of smaller ones. It would be nice to run a little fountain in it, but it’s too far from a power outlet.

It does, however, mean I need to rethink my original idea for what to do with the container garden. And now we need some rain. Last good rain we had was over two weeks ago, and the rain barrels are nearly empty. And therefore, so is the pond.

Anyway. Yay! Pond!

No rest for the wicked.

Tags

, , ,

Why does it feel as if I have so much to do this spring? I didn’t buy and start that many plants, did I?

…oh wait, I did. Right.

I think I’m about two-thirds done with the planting out and potting up. Space is tight this spring. Really tight. I’m revamping part of the container garden, so things have to be done in stages…when actually everything needs to be done yesterday. After my whole life gardening, it’s still a surprise when suddenly everything seems to grow overnight.

Soon I’ll need to cage around the strawberry patch to keep the rabbits and squirrels (hate them all) and birds (like them a lot, but I’d still rather eat the strawberries myself) out. I also had dreams of planting all the brassicas in one spot and fleecing the whole thing over to keep out the accursed demonspawn cabbage white (Pieris rapae) butterflies, but it doesn’t look as if that’s going to happen.

We’ve had a nice, wet spring, and I mean it when I say I’m glad of it. But, and I should have seen this coming, it already means that the roses are starting to show black spot. Not only that, but the rose sawflies (Arge sp.) are out in force. I swear, they get worse every year.

And to top things off, I just got a mandevilla (Mandevilla cv.) dumped on me. It’s actually a rather nice one, but I wish my bloody relatives wouldn’t assume that just because I’m a mad, obsessed gardener, I’m happy to have any old rubbish in my garden.

I wish this whole post didn’t look so negative, because it’s actually been a really great spring in the garden. It just feels that it’s been too busy to enjoy it.

Babblings and ramblings.

That should be the title of most of my posts…

Well, the North American Native Plant Society’s plant sale at the Markham Civic Centre last Saturday was disappointing to say the least. From what I was told, the powers that be (either the Markham Civic Centre or the City of Markham, I’m not clear which) were quite obstructive this year by refusing to provide enough tables, refusing to allow ample setup times, and being unaccommodating in general. The NANPS had to drastically cut back on their offerings this year as a result. I didn’t find even half of the things I was looking for. This was my eighth year in a row going to that sale, so it’s been at that venue for at least that long, and probably more. So much for loyalty from civic officials. Typical.

Anyway, the spring frost date for my area is past now, so I’ve started planting out the hardy plants and hardening off some of the tender ones. The lettuce and arugula seedlings are well on their way now, so it’ll be time to prick them out soon; the onions and peas are well sprouted, and the carrots are just beginning to show.

My beloved next-door neighbours who are downsizing to a smaller house this year were throwing out a large stoneware jar (large as in over two feet tall and nearly as wide), so I raffed it. I almost couldn’t believe it, because I’ve rather envied it for a long time, and I also couldn’t believe that they were getting rid of it instead of taking it with them – they’ll still have a garden at their new house, and it belonged to his parents, after all. Possibly the fact that it had a crack had something to do with it, but a bit of silicone caulking and I now have a new tub pond.

I have to say, this spring has been a really good one in the garden. There’s been lots of rain and although it’s been a bit cool, it hasn’t been cold enough to set anything back. I’ve had a good display of tulips this year too – especially since the accursed rabbits haven’t bitten the flowers off this time. I think we need more hawks around here. And owls. I love owls.

All set for spring.

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

April showers bring May flowers! Or something like that. The last couple years we had Aprils that were relatively dry, but this year we’re finally getting a more typically wet April. I know it sounds odd to “normal” people (i.e. non-gardeners/ non-farmers) to want rain, but spring rains really are a crucial source of groundwater for plants, even well into summer. And climate change isn’t going to improve matters, at least not in these parts where even in the past ten years, summers have become noticeably drier (and possibly hotter).

Anyway, today I planted the onion sets. The peas I planted last week are probably germinating as I type. The lettuce and arugula have already started to sprout. I really need to sow the carrots soon. The brassica (‘Melissa’ Savoy cabbage and ‘Di Sicilia Violetta’ purple cauliflower), tomato (‘San Marzano’, ‘Black Krim’, ‘Black Beauty’ and ‘Hahms Gelbe Topftomate’) and lemon cucumber seedlings are well on their way. In fact, I ran out of room under the grow lights, so I started hardening off the brassica seedlings today – they tolerate cool temperatures better.

The bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) started blooming last week, as did the spicebush (Lindera benzoin). I’ve had the spicebush for three years now, and this is the first time it flowered…possibly because during its first winter here, the accursed demonspawn rabbits chewed it down. So this spring I’ve learned something new about it, which is that it produces masses of tiny yellow flowers first thing in spring, before it produces leaves, and that those flowers have a very pleasant, refreshing fragrance.

Everything else is going apace – the wood poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum) are just starting to bloom, and the yellow tulips will open within a week or two. The honeysuckle (Lonicerum tataricum), which I pruned three weeks ago, is well-leafed out and now starting to produce flower buds. The roses are unwrapped, unmounded and pruned, the hardy gladiolus (Gladiolus palustris) is finally sprouting, the camassias (Camassia quamash) are up, all the irises are well on their way, and I’m nearly done with spring garden cleanup. Right now the only worry is that I don’t see any sign of my Fritillaria persica showing yet.

I know it’s a month until our spring last-chance-of frost date, but right now everything looks set to be glorious.

…I’m not generally an optimistic person, so I’ve probably just jinxed myself.

Tea, anyone?

Tags

Yay! My tea plants (Camellia sinensis) got here today. I originally ordered one, but the guy said he could fit two more similar-sized plants in the same box for the same shipping cost. Twist my arm, I got two (plus another plant for a friend).

These are the ‘Sochi’ variety, which is apparently one of the hardiest tea varieties. They still wouldn’t survive outside here without some serious winter protection, but at least it gives me some leeway when it comes to bringing them inside in autumn.

Because I really need more large houseplants in winter.

Of course, I know it won’t let me stop buying tea to drink (I’m addicted to tea), but growing tea is something I’ve always wanted to try. I’ve tried growing plants from seed several times, but never been able to get past the seedling stage.  I’ve read they don’t do so well as houseplants, but you never know until you try. I imagine the reasons are light and humidity, but my tropicals come through winter just fine in a south-facing bay window and with some humidifying tricks.

Other than that I think the trickiest part for me is the soil. As a species of camellia, I imagine they’d need rich, friable, and acidic soil…right now I’ve got them potted in a mixture of topsoil, vermiculite and worm compost, with a dusting of sulphur. Peat moss is the standard soil acidifier, but I personally don’t think it gets harvested sustainably, so I try not to use it. I know the aluminum sulphate people use on hydrangeas damages rhododendrons and azaleas, so I’ll avoid that. Need to think about this.

Spring is in the air.

Tags

, , , , , ,

Well, the days have begun to warm up, so maybe we’ll have a decent spring this year. It would be slightly early, but not remarkably so. The American robins (Turdus migratorius) are out in force, along with the ubiquitous sparrows (Spizella spp.) and black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus).

My black hellebore (Helleborus ‘Winter Dreams Black’), which was overwintering in the garage, began flowering weeks ago. It’s glorious now. The tulips are sprouting and it will soon be time to start end-of-winter pruning on the honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) and the roses. And the neighbour’s wisteria.

Speaking of pruning, we’ve had a run of mild sunny days, so yesterday I root pruned the bonsai (argh, why are bonsai pots so expensive?). I also potted up one dahlia (‘Karma Chocolate’) crown that had just started to bud out, but left it in the garage, hoping that the lower temperature would slow it down a bit. Now I have to hope the shock won’t kill it…

And today I was wandering through the gardening section of my local predatory department store (the only one left around here now that all the other chains have come and gone). I wasn’t looking FOR anything, mind you, just looking, because I’m a compulsive gardener. They had sticky strips for catching indoor flying houseplant pests – specifically, fungus gnats, aphids, thrips, and whitefly. I don’t have a terrible problem with fungus gnats, haven’t had indoor aphids in a long time, and I’ve never had thrips at all, but the jasmines (Jasminum sambac) always get whitefly in late winter no matter what I do to them.

The butterworts (Pinguicula agnata) do a reasonable job catching whitefly – they’re often covered in whitefly, and I mean that in a good way. But they never catch all, so I decided to try these sticky strips (made in Sweden). They actually work – in just a couple hours they were already catching things. Interestingly, they might not be based on a pheromonal attractant – the box only mentions the bright yellow colour as the attractant. Experimentation might be in order.

Soon be time to start seeds. Leaf out.

Ginger snaps

Tags

I dug up the ginger (Zingiber officinale) today. Edible ginger, not the ornamental sort. It wouldn’t survive winter around here in the ground (it is a tropical plant, after all), so I grow it in a large pot. When the weather starts turning cold (around the middle of October), I bring it in and stop watering it and that sends it into dormancy. Then I just leave it in the pot – that preserves it just as well as, if not better than, any other way, until I’m ready to use or replant it.

People often call it “ginger root”, but of course we don’t use the roots – what we use is actually the rhizome, a creeping underground stem.

I wasn’t desperate for ginger this year, so I never needed to harvest it. However, now is the time I need to think about replanting it for this year. It usually takes up to six weeks to break dormancy, and possibly up to six more weeks for it to actually sprout and grow strongly. If I start that process soon, it should be ready just in time for June, when the weather is reliably warm enough here that ginger can be left outside. I got my original piece years ago from the grocery – I highly doubt that it was organically grown, and I’ve heard that such things are often treated to prevent sprouting. In that case, it might take even longer to grow.

For a starter piece, choose a section that’s firm and has a few small bumps – these are the buds from which new growth will sprout. I like to leave it in a sealed transparent container in a warm place until the buds start turning green (breaking dormancy), then plant it. In the ground it should be planted about four inches deep; in a pot you can get away with planting it two inches deep. Once planted, water well and don’t water again until green leaves appear (or unless the soil dries out completely).

I’m always amazed by how much of a return ginger gives. The piece I planted last year was only a 2-inch section, if that; the piece I dug up measured just about 11 inches – more if you count the bit growing off the side. The rhizome has a strong linear tendency, so as it often does, this piece started distorting the pot when the ends hit the sides. I only use cheap flexible plastic pots for ginger now – I’ve actually had pots crack in the past because of the pressure the growing rhizome exerts. Same thing with ginger’s cousin turmeric (Curcuma longa).

Common sense would therefore suggest growing it in a trough, but it’s not necessarily that simple. As you can see in the picture, the roots need a fair bit of room to grow, so it would need to be a deep trough. Also, if growth is very good, side buds can strike off in their own directions…and hit the sides of the trough. I wouldn’t use a trough unless I can get a big one…which would be a bitch to lift and bring indoors in autumn. Sigh.

It would be nice, though. Leaving the plant undisturbed for a couple seasons could very well result in flowers. Z. officinale flowers aren’t all that spectacular, but it would be nice to do it at least once.

Back to the roots: they were very succulent and fleshy, even though the soil was bone dry. Of course, that’s why I can get away with growing ginger at all – they naturally have a dormancy response to drought. From certain angles, the whole thing looks like some sort of huge spider or centipede or something. The round cracked areas are the scars left from where the leaves grew (the view is from the top).

Ginger

Ginger

Growing ginger is pretty simple if it gets enough sun and warmth. It also likes good, fertile, friable soil and lots of water. If you can give it these things, you just have to sit back and watch it break the pot.