Saturday, November 22, 2014

Star-of-Bethlehem: A little can go a long way

Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) looking dainty among some Hosta 'Golden Tiara'
Sometimes you need plant thugs like the disarmingly pretty Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum). A difficult spot (dry, maple-root-filled and shady, perhaps) might thank you for the toughness that brings on these bright spring flowers. Luckily, their enthusiasm has been held in check by the sandy, dry shade in my neighbour M's garden next door. His aren't the ones pictured here.

But beware, or at least aware, that even a few of these bulbs, given hospitable conditions, might insist they own the place; all of it – dangerous if you live near a wooded area where native plants could be throttled by their exuberant growth. Invasive alien plants and ravines make a bad combo.

With other plants, I've certainly made the error of paying less attention to the second half of the mantra, "right plant, right place." Lots of effort has been expended as I've tried to un-plant space invaders like common daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) and lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis).

Perhaps we should coin a new saying to caution the unwary gardener, "Look before you reap."

Star-of-Bethlehem is in the Asparagaceae family, and has quite a few surprising plant cousins – including Asparagus!
Here it is, nudging its starry way through the landscape. Pretty, for sure. Pretty aggressive, too.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Design tip: Photograph the bare spots and ugly bits

This picture shows me where the white tulips are winding down
As garden bloggers, we're often trying to present only the pretty pictures Рmaking the camera show us off to our best advantage. But as gardeners, we really need to look at the "bad side" of our gardens sometimes, using photographs as record-keepers and an aide-m̩moire.

This spring, I went around my garden taking pictures to remind myself what was planted where, and what wasn't planted anywhere. It was a tremendous help when I came back this fall with bags of bulbs to try to fill the gaps or refuel the dying embers. You think you'll remember, but you don't.

Knowing where the bodies er, bulbs were buried allowed me to interplant in the rights spots among the geraniums.
Look for bare spots. That one in the middle is now filled with promise (and new tulips).
It's good to have an "unposed" shot of the big picture, too. With luck, the new bulbs planted this fall will both fill in the gaps and create more cohesive movement through the garden. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Grey birch trees on the Leslie Street Spit

On their dark twigs, the green and yellow leaves of the grey birch (Betula populifolia) look like floating daubs of paint
Some autumn leaves are show-offs. You know who I mean. The big reds and oranges that stand out in a crowd. Now that the early winter storm has blown many of the leaves away, I'd like to look back at some of the shyer guys. Like the quiet yellows you can see on trees in the birch family (Betula spp.).

The trees in the first two pictures (taken just last Saturday on the Spit) made me think of Group of Seven paintings – in the leaves, I could almost feel the texture of the paint. I've tried to enhance that effect in the first photo, but really it could have been left untouched. As the friends I was walking with disappeared into the distance, the birch trees called me to try to capture their likeness.

You can see that the picture of this little grove is a little truer to life
And this brings to mind the names on my parents' paint tubes – burnt umber, raw sienna, cadmium yellow.
Waterlogue is fun to play with on a photo like this. But nothing quite improved on the original.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Wind and snow on winter grasses

More blow than snow on this first snowfall of Winter 2014 (well, technically Fall). An almost-wordless Wednesday tribute.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Making a water trough planter

A welcoming way to break in garden equipment – invite it to a party and put it to work
This wasn't why we bought the trough, but as a happy coincidence it arrived at our house just before a Big Birthday. Post-Prosecco we put it (and another just like it) to work in another way: growing veggies in our driveway to replace our tiny community garden plots. Here's how we did that.

This year's crop included lettuce, beans, cherry tomatoes and loads of basil
We made what's often called a "self-watering" planter. Sadly, it doesn't actually water itself – humans (that's us) need to have a hand in it. How ours worked is that we added a circular water reservoir attached to a vertical tube extending above the soil level. That makes it easy to water, while the large volume of soil retains moisture and gives plenty of room for plants to develop extensive root systems.

Our galvanized water troughs measure 2' x 2' x 4'. We bought ours from The Incredible Country Hardware Store (to find one, check the store locator). With some encouragement, two nested troughs fit into our rented minivan. The online catalog lists them under "Animal & Equine" as "stock tanks." The white plug at the bottom is designed to fit a water hose, but also makes a good drainage hole. We used eight hockey pucks each to raise the troughs off the ground.
Here's a closeup of our finished contraption. Picture a Big O of the covered tubing around the trough base and the vertical watering tube going straight up. Wormscrews hold the pieces together.
Essentially, this is weeping tile – permeable tubing (this one comes pre-covered in a landscape cloth sleeve to keep soil particles from filling the Big O) that acts as a reservoir for water and allows water to infiltrate from the bottom up.
And here's the T-connector used to link the circle of weeping tile and attach the upright watering pipe using the type of flange that adapts two different sizes of tubing. Any plumbing supply place could help you there. Then we filled the troughs with (lots and lots) of soil-less mixture.
Even in part shade we've been able to produce a decent supply of veggies in the troughs.
Last winter, we also grew an excellent crop of snow!