A Garden Divided

There has been a funny little ‘war’ going on in home and public spaces. I hear whispers and murmurs locally and abroad it’s the Veggie People vs the Flower Folk. Conversations overheard go a bit like this:

“I like Vegetables & food security, I like organic home grown food, I want to grow veggies with my kids, for my dad, for the community, for education about organic food, because they are good for me,” etc.
“Flowers are ornamental, require fertilizer, are only for showing off, serve no purpose, cost a lot of money, are old fashioned, are pretty but useless, are high maintenance, don’t teach us anything”

The truth is we really need both flowers and edibles, yup, let me explain why. All those wonderful veggies – or at least 75% of the plant matter that we as humans consume (fruits, seeds, nuts, vegetables) require pollination from a bee, a butterfly, a beetle, bat, a moth, hummingbird or fly. Studies now show that native insects are far more effective than European honey bees at making this happen. That little buzz you hear inside the flower is the bees’ method of shaking pollen onto itself then sharing it with the next flower – a fabulous little buzzy ‘booty shaking’ dance between two species.

Consider that wildflowers co-evolved with pollinators to keep their own and our native insects’ life cycles intact. This interweaving of Flora and Fauna keep crops pollinated and fruiting. Wasps, Ladybugs and company can also act as effective predators for unwanted insects such as aphids, mealybugs etc – that want to eat the crops.

If you’re not quite convinced then consider this; Many flowers that are native are edible, pop ‘em in your salad or float their flowers in a cool summer drink (ahem, Wine and tequila require pollinators) Examples include: Tradescantia/Spiderwort, Evening Primrose/ Oenothera, Wild Rose, Hyssop, Monarda, Nodding Onion. Flowers that aren’t native but are edible (most common varieties): Borage, Chervil, Chives, Calendula, Daylilies, Marigold, Nasturtium, Pansy, Peony, Roses.

And if you think native plants/wildflowers will take over your garden may I suggest some gorgeous and well behaved, pollen rich, drought tolerant and easy care varieties to get you started (the list is long, search online to find more) Liatris, Echinacea/ Coneflowers, Asclepias tuberosa (showy Butterflyweed) Lobelia cardinalis, Anise Hyssop, Prairie Smoke /Geum triflorum, Blue flag Iris/Iris versicolor. Note: not all wildflowers are native IE Dandelion, Chicory, Queen Anne’s Lace, were brought over by European settlers

Need a bit more of a nudge? ‘$15 billion worth of crops are pollinated by bees each year just in the United States alone. Combine extensive threats to our ecological balance via drought, climate change, pesticides, invasive species (in both insects and plants) and it’s no wonder we’re concerned about growing our own food. However, without native plants for native fauna to enjoy we risk losing biodiversity and all our food.

Indulge me as I leave you with a final image of rows of wildflowers intermingling or bordering raised beds of veggies at your home and community garden space. How about a field of Broccoli, Cauliflower or cabbage surrounded by hedgerows of native plants and flowering native shrubs – wouldn’t that be beautiful?

What is a ‘Landscape Designer’?

The inside view on the outside life of a Landscape designer

Baby point stonework

So maybe you’ve never wondered what exactly a ‘Landscape designer’ does? I challenge you to put off any assumptions because there is, literally, a lot of ground to cover.

The perception might be that I swan about swooning over heritage roses (which, I am perfectly able to do on my own time) but mostly, I solve problems with creative reasoning in 3 dimensional spaces. If that sounds aggrandized or overly technical, consider the entire scope of what a garden can be. (Beyond just a honkin’ BBQ, a cooler and plastic deck chairs)

Consider all the parts of what can make up an outdoor space; everything from a dog run, playground, entertainment zone, relaxation hideaway, parking pad, vegetable garden and sometimes all of those things at once. Consider all the planning and construction that comes before the icing on the cake that is flowers.

Courtyard and deck

Education is a huge part of my job, for instance; lighting and irrigation are especially important in larger gardens and for those who want less maintenance. New systems have rain sensors so the system is off when it’s raining. LED lighting is cheaper to run, install and comes in every imaginable variation.

Patios can now be anything from pea gravel to flagstone, rubber matting to permeable pavers. All have their merits and pitfalls – my job is to select and work with you to get the best outcome for each client. (Hint: less and less often it’s grass)

Carpentry, is a trade unto itself, covering garages, arbours, gates, fences, decks – and just one of the tradespeople I coordinate along with stoneworkers, pool people, planting crews, electricians, etc.

Some ‘Exciting’ topics I frequently discuss: concrete, frost heave, foundations, weeping tile, property lines, drainage… You get the idea, it’s limitless. Limitless!

When a garden is well designed it’s welcoming, and works in a seamless way (you can move through the space easily to get from the back door to the BBQ and the table doesn’t block the stairs for instance). Budget is a key consideration for each and every project – a designer coordinates to save things from getting out of control or suggest ways to phase things in over the years. Caution: It can be hard to resist going ‘all in’ once you see the whole picture.

Sometimes a lot of advice (based on years of experience) is all someone needs to find their DIY motivation to do it themselves. It gives me great satisfaction when a client who consults us just for a rough plan, builds it themselves and sends a letter of pride or photos. Having a plan saves every contractor from having to come up with a design – this is no more a contractors’ job than it is the Landscape Designers’ job to install a fence.

A garden is something different to each person and as such, it shouldn’t belong to the designer. Good design is beautiful, pleases the client(s) and complements whatever space was being considered.

Fall Bulb Tips

I’m going to ask you to use the power of Google to search for images of the double tulip ‘Angelique’; follow up with a few ‘species tulip’ searches… and close your browser after ‘parrot tulips.’ Once you’ve seen the incredible diversity available you’ll understand why I say there’s no excuse for the 1970’s style ‘red soldiers’ and ‘yellow sentinels,’ those boring tulips planted en masse all across parks in Canada (when cities had the budget for such extravaganzas). Yes, there was something amazing about the sudden appearance of these long stemmed clones poking up from barren soil but at the same time they did seem artificial and rigid.

So – what do we do now with our home gardens? Mix it up – plant everything you see because what may seem gaudy at the end of a bright colourful summer will be balm to your snow-blasted eyeballs come spring.

Sure, sure, you say – but WHAT ABOUT THE SQUIRRELS???

Well, yes, the squirrels have more time than you do and a much keener sense of smell but we are (usually) smarter so I recommend…

  1. Plant often: more is more, I believe the very best way to stump a squirrel is to plant a few hundred bulbs rather than 10 or 15 (if squirrels eat 5 out of 10 tulips it will be disheartening, if they eat 5 out of 50 or 100 it will not be noticed)
  2. Go deep or stay home – following the instructions on the packaging is nice but not accurate as the bulbs are packaged in Holland which has a milder climate and apparently milder squirrels. I know we all cheat a little just to get the job over with, and just who takes a measuring stick out into the garden anyway? Squirrels will only dig in loose soil and not very deep — so dig in.
  3. Get sneaky & cover your tracks; leaving a trail of papery bulb casings is a map to your buried treasure; combine those with freshly turned soil and it’s a flashing scent-beacon to those fur fiends. Tamp the soil down with your Wellies. (That prevents frost from heaving them up to the surface.) And water afterwards as it also helps to dilute the scent.
  4. Fritillaria, Alliums, Daffodils, Muscari and Eranthis are less appetizing and wonderful bulb choices if you can’t bear the thought of tulips disappearing
  5. Blood, Bone & Hen – it’s fertilizer, not voodoo – a good idea for the health of your soil overall, also rumoured to be somewhat effective at ‘cloaking’ your bulbs. Acti-sol is my favourite organic manure but there are plenty of other options.

The main problem with planting bulbs is that it occurs at a time of year when we are done with the garden and ready to curl up with a good book in front of a fire, or carve pumpkins and drink spiced cider – anything really, except planting something that is completely invisible – BUT – your patience will pay off (with compound interest!) come Spring when each fresh bloom confirms that life will again come to the garden.

Becoming A Laid-Back Gardener

Why it’s better for everyone (except your chiropractor)

Gardens have seen landscape trends move from high, perhaps arrogant, Victorian ideals of dominance over nature to the ‘No Mow’ natural look. However, It can be a little disheartening to expect everyone to rip up their grass, toss the boxwoods and ditch the concept of annuals – I prefer to find a place where both sides can collaborate and move forward while supporting the environment and your back muscles.

Plants have homes, just like people or origins if you prefer – the closer that plant is to home the better it will grow, the less vulnerable to pests and diseases, less maintenance, pruning, watering, it will require. It’s an easy first step to incorporate Coneflowers, and Liatris for sun and Trillium and Bloodroot for shade.  Adding a little wildscaping to the garden is of enduring benefit for the local fauna and of course your own joyous state of mind at seeing the butterflies, hummingbirds or big fuzzy bees.

My two favorite annuals — Sphinx moths and hummingbirds love these — are tall, wonderfully-scented Nicotiana for beds and the stately Canna Lily for  pots (Nicotiana seed is easy to save and sow for dry sunny beds , Cannas can be saved in fall by digging, and throwing into a box in the basement till late spring)

created for the Durand Community Newsletter May 27th 2014

Soil is of the utmost importance – it is an entire ecosystem on it’s own, breaking down leaves and debris so that a shady woodland garden is able to support lush ferns, trilliums and even native orchids. Turning the soil (as many landscape maintenance companies do) is actually detrimental to the complex system as it disturbs the roots of perennials and bulbs, and the highly beneficial nematodes, fungi, and insects. To amend our soil we routinely add manure in the spring or fall then pile as many leaves as possible in the perennial beds. The leaves act as mulch to keep out weeds and add ‘sponginess’; worms and water percolate the nutrients into the soil.

A lawn is the homeowner’s version of a meadow – it’s traditional and goes with a traditional home – setting off the architecture and beds with its velvety visual texture. Many smaller gardens won’t need grass ; good design & some interesting groundcovers will eliminate mowing (possibly rescuing you from the tyranny of fixing, storing, buying, gassing and starting a mower)

Some properties, however, especially larger ones, require a grassy area to keep the place looking cared for and inviting. An innovative and dependable alternative, Eco-lawn  is drought tolerant, requires less fertilizing and can be mown like regular grass or left un-mown for a free-flowing ‘carpet effect’. (More info on their homepage www.wildflowerfarm.com)

If you prefer regular sod, try ‘Grasscycling,’ which was recently featured on CBC radio (search their site for the audio file); it involves mowing a dry lawn to prevent clumps of clippings and only cutting off an inch or so, letting the clippings fall as a more ecological source of nitrogen and a natural mulch to keep out weeds.

So don’t bag and toss your leaves or mow the grass too much, never mind raking out the beds or turning the soil Try even one of the tips listed above and count the benefits of your ‘lacklabour’ rewards towards a more ecological garden.

Cats And Taxes

So, this week – in a continuous effort to avoid doing my taxes – I got a little manic and emptied out… wait for it… “The Junk Drawer.” You know the one; five hundred elastic bands, twist ties, take-out menus, nails, bits of twine, every loose screw I’ve been accused of losing? well anyway, unless you are highly organized (unlike me) you know of what I speak. So, Candy the garden-writer girl, what does that have to do with gardening? Funny you should ask. Believe it or not, there’s an entire afternoon of gardening in that drawer!

  • I have found my secret (from myself) stash of “Jobe’s” plant fertilizer sticks [query: Candy is it a good time to use them? It seems to me that you mentioned fertilizing in the Spring to keep with the plants natural cycles but I’m often wrong and it would be good to be able to say “use them now” if that’s true.]
  • Lots of chopsticks (see previous article on how to keep squirrels at bay with skewers and chopsticks; you will never throw them away again).
  • I’ve found all the bags of cut flower powder that I have saved in the event of receiving flowers that come without… and some tiny orchid “hair clips” and twisty wires for holding up the floppy cut flowers (especially useful for Gerbera daisies and Peonies).
  • Popsicle sticks, sturdy lil’ Popsicle sticks. I use them to label all my seedlings (which I have just started today, due to inspiration – not by flashy seed packets but by a Sharpie and some deep rooted task-avoidance – go figure!).
  • A tiny bell covered in elastic bands which means I’d successfully enlisted the cat into avoiding taxes… until we lost the bell under the couch, much to Fluffy Pants’ annoyance.

So… find inspiration where thou wilt but know there are many generic items that make gardening a lot easier. An old soup spoon is fabulous for planting annuals that come in cell packs (pansies, Nicotiana, Alyssum, Portulaca are among my faves). A twisted fork is perfect for winkling out tiny weeds between flagstones or along the driveway cracks. Wine corks (of which we have many) make a nice space-filler to balance a plastic pot inside an ornamental pot, and of course twist ties & bits of old string are perfect to put an unruly rose into the appropriate bondage position. Voila! Folks will be so impressed by my junk drawer they may even fail to see the stacks of paperwork on my desk.

Indoor Plant Tips

The December solstice is happily behind us and we can now collect daylight minutes that will bring about longer days. (Yay!) As we are possibly stuck indoors for a few more months I thought I would share a few tips for houseplants. Tips I’ve gleaned partially from experience, but mostly from my library of gardening books.

Now, let’s get something straight – I’m no ‘houseplant expert’ — I do have a husband that consistently brings home stray orchids (on sale… no blooms), fragrant exotics (they want full tropical sun), and ‘interesting’ foliage plants, (poisonous, spiny, non-flowering)….

I try not to feel guilty when I kill a plant; I reverently place the hapless victim gently in the compost and silently thank it for trying to survive despite my feeble and sometimes criminal neglect. Needless to say, I really am an ‘outdoor’ plant kind of person — but for the house plants I have had success with (or perhaps they with me) here are the tips:

  1. Pests: Ed Lawrence of CBC recommends this recipe for infestations of Aphids, Whitefly, and Spider Mites: 40 parts water: 1 part liquid soap – usually dish soap. This is messy when spraying or using a soppy washcloth, so it’s recommended to apply the treatment in the bathtub (spray from underneath or wipe leaves), don’t be shy, your victim should be dripping wet. There will be insect eggs so as soon as you see new signs of crawly life — repeat!
    For ‘Scale’ use same recipe but add 8 parts rubbing alcohol (to help break down the waxy shell); leave on for 5–10 minutes. Another trick I learned was to cover the soil tightly with a bag or anything that will hold the soil in the pot, submerge upside down and gently swish – rinse with clean water after you feel every pesky bug has expired.
  2. Fertilizer: Hold off. Plants are in low light conditions and generally going dormant. Fertilizing is more appropriate in March as light increases which is also generally a better time to increase watering. (A plant in a south-facing window will only receive 10% of the light that it would get outside.) When in doubt – err on the side of under-watering because once roots have rotted… well, a plant rarely comes back from the brink.
  3. Houseplant Appearance: no need for ugliness! That crusty dusty soil in pots drives me crazy. If you haven’t re-potted in ages or never plan to then add an inch of fresh black potting soil to regenerate, then cover with Sphagnum moss — or use pine needles or tiny pine cones to make a pretty ‘mulch’ — use pebble & shell collections around the stems of any plant, even marbles or glass beads (and all of these suggestions have the added benefit of discouraging pets from using it as a toilet or naughty guests using the pots as an ashtray.) Thrift stores have a selection of individual and ornate saucers and plates — there is no excuse for yogurt container lids to catch water overflow. Glass microwave trays (also available in thrift shops) have little nubbly ‘feet’ to keep a larger pot lifted off the floor preventing stains or mould from building up between a porous terra cotta or ceramic pot and hardwood floors/carpeting (also the clear glass makes it nearly invisible and lifting it off direct floor contact looks classy).

I do realize there are a few seasonally pertinent tips I’ve not addressed such as getting a reluctant Christmas Cactus to bloom, asking an Amaryllis for more flowers or making a post-holiday Poinsettia look like a living creature… I refer you back to my earlier comment about being a ‘houseplant expert’. All these things seem like a lot of work for dubious results — recycle, re-gift, compost, and if you must persist in these endeavors — look online. Much has been written, many steps are required and I will be saving my hopes and energy for Spring.

P.S. Keep an eye out here http://hcgn.ca/seedy/ for ‘Seedy Sunday’ (usually in February) — last year was a fabulous success with free seeds, seminars, and professionals to chat with, plus a number of interesting accessories to purchase.