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K.A. BEATTIE HORTICULTURAL CONSULTANTS

"In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous" Aristotle

Blog

Blog

Start Your Engines

Posted on January 3, 2017 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (7108)

The garden’s neo-natal wards will be popping up all across this country over the next several weeks. Like so many other anxious gardeners, I too am disinfecting, mounting lights to rival I am sure even the most sophisticated “gro-op” and sorting through a rather sizeable container of “got-to-have” seed packs. There really is something inherently common for all gardeners and that is the absolute need to get a head start on things and get our private stash of special plants germinated. Germination and the maintenance thereafter can pose some difficulty for first timers; there are a few tricks of the trade that are well to be observed.

Cleanliness can’t be emphasized enough as lack of sterile or extremely clean conditions has been the cause of many a lost crop. I prefer to use brand new containers that I further wipe down with a germicidal moist wipe that would be used in the home just to ensure a sterile area. If you are re-using seeding containers soak and scrub them in warm, soapy water, rinse with clear water and then dip in a 1:10 solution of household bleach and water or use a moist anti-bacterial wipe for the final touch. The seeding mix itself will be sterile so there is no need to re-cook it. Many older garden references, including a couple of my books, suggest a method of home sterilizing media; I would not attempt this now as seedling mixes are common and easy to find. Take care to select a “seeding mix” as they are quite different from standard potting mixes. Typically they are light, fine textured, almost dust-like and especially formulated for the rigours of the neo-natal plant ward. A very good piece of equipment is a sieve either home made from screening, a culinary variety or one that is designed for the plant lover.

One of the most useful tricks is the method of watering the seeding bed. Before that however, we need to get the germination bed ready. I like to use a pan, which is a plastic container that is squat with a wide mouth, often referred to as a bulb pan. The seeding mix is poured in and tamped down so as to ensure that there are no air pockets. You can use another clean pan to press the media down, this provides a smooth seeding surface. The reason that smooth is important is so that finer seeds can be seen which helps to avoid over-sowing and crowding. Open the seed packet and fold a crease in one end, forming a sort of spout. Aiming your seed packet lightly tap your holding hand, this graduates the seed flow. ALWAYS under sow, never clump and try to fill the container, this will cause no end of problems later on. Now, the cool watering part. Fill a shallow baking pan with warm water and set the seeding pan in slowly. The seedling pan’s dry media will slowly take up the warm water and moisten the entire container without disturbing the newly sown seed. Once convinced that the media is moist, remove from the watering pan and sift a very little bit of dry seeding media over the seeding pan to cover the seeds. The dry media will absorb the perfect amount of moisture from the pan without further work. Most seeds should be covered.

Covering the seeding pan with plastic wrap or a glass sheet is wise, this will keep the humidity at the appropriate level. Warm conditions are best, so if there is room atop an appliance like the refrigerator, set your new seeding pans there until germination occurs. Once the seedlings appear, it’s wise to remove the plastic wrap gradually and move the pan into indirect light. Germinating seeds do not require light until they have emerged. One of the most common errors post germination is stretching because of lower light conditions. If you are planning to place your crop under artificial light, the tubes should only be a few inches from the tops of the plants, and adjustable also.

Fungal problems are common this early in the seedling’s life, so apply a light dusting of cinnamon or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) as a preventative and increase the air circulation around your tender crop. Naturally increased air flow translates to drier media, so watch the watering. I strongly suggest bottom watering as suggested for the first saturation.

Good luck and welcome to almost spring!

 

Edible Landscapes

Posted on January 3, 2017 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (6881)

“You can’t do that…vegetables belong in the vegetable garden not the front yard!” I quote this statement paraphrased for editorial reasons as I have heard it a few times relating to various personal landscapes. Traditionally the vegetable growing component of the garden was relegated to a larger plot, typically in the rear of the home and usually maintained in neat, almost militaristic, precision rows. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach, however, many urban lots are not large enough or perhaps not configured in a way that this approach is reasonable. Societal pressure also plays a role in what is considered acceptable as an urban landscape. I find this interesting to say the least. Let’s consider the genesis of vegetable gardening in Canada. Initially food was grown as a necessity and with many urban dwellers coming from rural backgrounds, it was a no brainer, everyone in town had a veggie plot of potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage and so on. Many new Canadians from various European heritages brought their intrinsic abilities and in some cases, seeds of their favourite crops. During the war years, of course many households were maintained by the women, responsible for raising the family, growing and harvesting the food under very difficult circumstances. Once peace came into being and the men returned home, they noticed a few flowers dotting the predominant vegetable plots basically planted to brighten up the otherwise gloomy scenario of wartime, rationing and hard times. Gradually more and more colourful plants entered into the urban landscape and as times improved, vegetable gardens for the most part shrunk, in size. Societal trends starting shifting as well, with an improving economy and a baby boom in full swing, the days of laboring in large vegetable plots were a distant memory for many; grocery stores were now carrying produce. One could go shopping and purchase peas, carrot, potatoes and most of the otherwise locally grown commodities. During those times I have heard it said, in paraphrase “we don’t have to grow our own vegetables, we can now afford to go to the market and buy them, and only the poor grow their own.” Sad but a reality indeed but thankfully the pendulum has swung completely back and today in the 21st century it’s quite respectable if not “cool” to grow your own food.

Growing incredible edibles within your landscape is not only fun, curious to most, but easy as anything to accomplish. Naturally not every veggie is well suited to be on display as it were, but there many that even the newest green thumb can rely on. Starting with a few basics is always wise. The entire lettuce family requires compost rich, well-watered soil and decent light conditions, definitely not shade. Cruise the produce aisle of the supermarket and take note of the various leaf shapes and colours that are available. I prefer to grow lettuce with Heuchera or Tiarella, both very popular perennials these days. The brilliant foliage lasts well into the season and up to frost. Lettuce varieties require similar growing conditions and can be harvested throughout the season without leaving a gaping hole in the landscape. Similarly, the much larger flowering kale and cabbage have been so popular over the past years. Cabbage kin are the same shape and there are variations in colour as well, so consider them for containers and as punctuation points in the landscape. Carrots, with their feathery foliage, are delightful grown in amongst perennials with coarser foliage and in full sun, Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla) for example. The trick is not to sown to thickly and of course thin so as to allow only a few carrots to develop. For extra fun and interest with younger gardeners plant Paris round or purple carrots, they always receive rave reviews from junior gardeners and foodies.

Climbers of the veggie persuasion are also very useful in the landscape. As an example, take any of the pea varieties, they work beautifully as wind and sun protectors for more tender plants, particularly on a balcony. Should you chose to containerize pea plants, ensure that the media is rich in compost and if you prefer to use fertilizers, apply regularly with ample water. The crop of peas will be practically all season; the foliage and flowers add a new dimension to any garden and kids simply love them. Scarlet runner beans are really not all that edible but they too add a dimension to the balcony garden.

The entire notion here is to simply try placing edibles among your existing “landscape”. Judge for yourselves and use your own artistic abilities to grow an edible landscape, or at least a portion of the yard to munch on.

 

Fall, The Final Chapter

Posted on January 3, 2017 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (7477)

Rather a sad time of the season for many gardeners, then again, rather joyous for others. The bright colours and interesting textures that you have worked so hard on to perfect, the exact placement of that wonderful new perennial and those sultry summer days sniffing the fruits of your labours all ends now. Myself, I tend to support the joyous constituency; the work is (almost) completed, the garden is somewhat put to bed for the next several months of winter and I actually may have some time to plan next year’s adventures. No matter how you approach the gardens’ final curtain call, there are a few important tasks that should be considered, not the least what the overall condition of your estate should be left in. So often I see frenetic garden types snipping, cultivating, ripping and tearing their gardens down to their very roots in order to leave a “tidy” appearance. In my opinion that is the worst thing that a gardener can do! Indeed there are some scruffy perennials that might enjoy a haircut for winter along with some of the overzealous plants that performed better than expected. In general, just leave everything to Mother Nature, she has been at this much longer than you, and does an excellent job. Consider raking the leaves from your yard or mulching them if you have a lawnmower that does such things, and spread the remains all over your perennial gardens. The organic material of course will be sodden as a result of the autumnal rains and then packed down with snow for the entire winter. These are both very positive conditions for not only the plants but the tiny creatures who call your garden home. These wee souls that have worked so diligently all summer long in our gardens and their habitat, helping to make it the best home for themselves and resulting in a very favorable construct for us. The very least that we could do is to provide them with shelter and food for the winter. This simple act of apparent lethargy will house a tremendous population of ladybugs in particular. Ladybugs are extremely beneficial insects in a Canadian garden for the simple facts relating to their diet, aphids. The aphid, as you are most likely aware, have the seeming ability to reproduce almost in front of your eyes; in truth it takes about 14 days from egg to pregnant female. These insects are voracious feeders, sucking the very liquid life from plants in short order. Their massive numbers also produce a considerable amount of waste, referred to delicately as “honey dew”. This sticky, residual waste provides the perfect conditions for many molds and fungi, typically a sooty black powder. Perhaps you park a vehicle under a tree during the summer months and wonder why the windshield is relentlessly spotted with sticky “goo”…thank the aphids above in the overhanging tree. The solution is very simple, provide a home for ladybugs and they will do the cleanup. One ladybug can consume hundreds of aphids in one sitting and as well, the larval stage or teenager, consumes even more, just like human teenagers do.

Consider cleaning up your gardens in the spring when things are coming back to life and the weather is warming. Face it, you are going to be out there anyway, picking, prodding and observing on a regular basis just to see what survived and is poking its nose through. Clean then, compost the already partially decayed material and observe the ladybugs skittering away to find a new spring season home among the new leaves and emerging plants.

Some literature would suggest that pruning is a good task for the late autumn and early winter. To be clear, it is always better to prune when the plants are dormant or inactive. Winter pruning of fruit trees usually happens in late winter and always before the buds break. Pruning too early in the fall can be dangerous in the event that an open fall warms the soil and plants start to be active, pushing out new growth. Naturally this growth will not have time to mature and “harden off” before the onslaught of winter. The result is that this new growth succumbs to winter kill.

Wrapping evergreen shrubs such as Thuja (Cedar) is a common practice in colder regions of the country. Remember this is not a winter coat, but a sunblock. Water these shrubs heavily in the late fall so as to have the soil freeze with lots of moisture for the first thaws in the spring.

Good night gardens, sleep well, I’ll set the alarm for early spring and we can start all over again.

 

 

Pollinator Paradise

Posted on January 3, 2017 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (1870)

There is a lot of buzz around pollinators lately, and with good cause. Populations of many common Canadian pollinators are shrinking at remarkable rates for a number of reasons. As with many global tragedies, the issues seem overwhelming, the predictions austere and for many, I assume a sense of hopelessness prevails. What can be done by the individual Canadian, what possible difference can one household make? The truth of the matter is that each of us with very little effort and expense can make a world of difference, it’s just knowing how.

Developing and maintaining a garden should not be overwhelming, as a matter of fact it should be an exercise in outdoor movement, observation, diligence and of course patience. The first step is to get past the fear or reticence of actually making the garden. You don’t have to have the most expensive, trendiest bits and pieces to have a successful project. Designer this, that, these and those abound with some working others not so. The point is to use clean containers, a prepared media (bagged soiless mix) and good plants or seed stock. Land is not crucial, just a corner of the balcony or patio is sufficient, this is perhaps the biggest mental barrier. Just consider if everyone in your region planted simply one pollinator friendly plant on their balcony, the results would be amazing. Butterflies, hummingbirds and a great many less distinguishable species would have food and shelter even on the 20th floor. One must keep in mind when selecting a location, that a more protected area is far more desirable than a windswept stretch or corner in the blazing hot sun. The recipe for success includes heaping doses of common sense!

A consideration that is often overlooked when focusing on developing a space for pollinators, is that the garden needs to supply benefits for three seasons. Remembering our elementary school science we can likely connect the dots that honey bees collect nectar from flowers and in doing so their fuzzy bodies get covered with pollen. This pollen is then transferred to other flowers and presto cross pollination. Honey bees also mix some of this pollen with the sweet nectar from the flower to form “bee bread” a protein rich substance that they feed to the larvae. Understanding that not everyone would welcome honey bees to their home, garden or balcony, bees are just one excellent example of Canadian pollinators. One in every three bites of food that we eat in Canada is as a result of some sort of pollination.

Butterflies are typically a more acceptable family of pollinators than bees and as well they add great beauty to any garden. The Monarch butterfly has been in the news for some time now as a species that is in peril, with populations reaching very dangerous levels. These migrating butterflies require specific food plants for their larval stage but are not as precise for adult food. Various species of milkweed (Asclepias spp) are the favoured larvae food and as such with this plant labelled as a noxious weed for many years, the Monarch’s habitat has been reduced significantly over time. Only now are regions of Canada allowing this plant to be grown with many conservation charities providing seed and instruction to increase the monarch’s food source. There are many other butterflies and moths that you can attract to your garden such as the Swallowtails, the Admirals, Hairstreaks and of course moths abound as well.

Rather than go on with a step by step process for developing your pollinator garden, I will offer some excellent plant suggestions to entice a variety of butterflies to your garden or balcony space. This selection of plants offers colour for the entire season, nectar as well as pollen. Keep in mind that perennial plants that are grown in containers will most likely require over wintering indoors with the exception of Canada’s mildest climates. Ensure that there is a water source for the butterflies to drink from. A simple clay saucer with few pebbles scattered in will be sufficient. Fresh water daily is important. The Home Depot stores across Canada will be carrying a selection of perennial plants for pollinators suitable for every region accordingly. The Canadian Wildlife Federation endorses these kits with a portion of the proceeds going to the Federation for conservation education programming.

Milkweed

Echinacea

Rough Stemmed Goldenrod

Evening Primrose

Rough Avens

Coreopsis

Autumn Joy Stonecrop

Prairie Blazing Star

Obedient plant

New England Aster

 

The final words are to create, observe and maintain this space with a young person. There is nothing quite like the wonderment and excitement of a child experiencing nature.

 

A Family Affair

Posted on January 3, 2017 at 5:45 PM Comments comments (1883)

There is a great deal more to growing plants and gardening than the obvious soil, pots, water and petunias. It’s a family affair, or certainly could be. Introducing and engaging young ones into the world of green and growing is rife with learning opportunities, lifestyle foundational development and just good old fashioned fun. In today’s busy and scheduled world many young parents rely on peer suggestion and electronic support for parental guidance and concepts for structured play and oddly enough “free time”. Older adults, Grandparents for example, typically have a wealth of experiences to share with young children, none the least the art of cultivating plants. There is an overwhelming amount of observational evidence from health professionals, garden designers and clergy in the area of health benefits as related to being outdoors and to gardening specifically. It shows that gardens with many natural elements, help people feel connected to something greater than themselves, feel safe and shift to a more positive way of life are grounding, consistently inspire and develop patience and relationship skills. Harvard naturalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Edward O. Wilson, believes that Nature holds the key to health due to our built in affinity for it.

We as the adult population are responsible for the positive mentorship of the younger generations, therefore consider gardening or growing plants with the young people in your life. Simply strategies work the best as do simple projects. One such program, tailored for young ones up to six years is called “L’il Green Sprouts”. This “free range – semi structured” program guides the adults through a myriad of growing activities that can be facilitated right at home. Activity sheets, a cute little gardening kit with kid-sized tools, a magnifying glass and paper and pencils make up the hands on component. One could decide to grow a Chia Pet following the step by step activity sheets or perhaps follow up with an activity outside in the snow or in the summer garden, an art project. The key to this program is that the adults are spending quality time with the wee ones, talking, laughing, learning and above all, observing.

These lifestyle skills are crucial to a child’s development and their respect for nature. Once a young person has been introduced to nature, before the age of seven years, they will keep that respect and curiosity for all things in nature for life. Consider starting at home and starting early, what a tremendous gift for your young loved ones, and it keeps on growing throughout their lives.

Knowing where food comes from and participating in the culture of same is an important connection for youth today both physically and nutritionally. A study on a youth gardening program in Detroit reports that after gardening, children have an increased interest in eating fruit and vegetables, possess an appreciation for working with neighborhood adults, and have an increased interest for improvement of neighborhood appearance. In addition, they made new friends, and showed increased knowledge about nutrition, plant ecology, and gardening. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), moderate-intensity level activity for 2.5 hours each week can reduce the risk for obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, depression, colon cancer and premature death. The CDC considers gardening a moderate-intensity level activity, and can help you to achieve that 2.5 hour goal each week. Additionally, those that choose gardening are more likely to exercise 40-50 minutes longer on average than those that choose walking or biking. Starting at home with young children at the kitchen table or in the garden, the connection of food and where it comes from is vitally important, particularly if we are conscious of sustainability and the ability to feed ourselves from our own efforts. There are many examples of trending towards or perhaps back to the 100 mile food source, organically grown produce and ethically sourced food. Understanding that growing some of your own food and the associated physical activity will provide many positive benefits, seems to me to be a good combination.

The connections are pretty obvious from the health benefits to social interaction and intergenerational learning. The youth as well as the adults involved in growing plants and maintaining them learn from each other. In my own personal experience I am convinced that I learn more quite often than the kids do! You might consider an existing program to kick start your initiatives or simply just get involved with the youth in your life through gardening.

 

Newish and Notables For The Garden

Posted on January 3, 2017 at 5:45 PM Comments comments (2213)

Spring is such a difficult time for me. Indeed the weather is improving or so the story goes; the garden is starting to yawn, stretch and open its sleepy eyes… but, there’s so much to get exciting about where does a person start? Specifically what plants should be highlighted, what list presents itself as the absolute “got to have” and what might I be growing this year? Naturally there is a parade of the new and potentially most popular perennials, a bastion of brightly coloured annuals, albeit some looking nothing like their original ancestors. Lest we forget, the hanging containers posseting petunias from every conceivable corner and so cleverly displayed that even the curmudgeonliest gardener can’t resist purchasing at least one.

The information that follows has been assembled purely from a selfish point of view as the highlighted plants are what I want or already have in my wee garden. My actual list is much too long for publication so this select offering is, shall we say, closer to the top.

Bergenia ‘Flirt’ is a handsome yet diminutive selection of the ever hardy and trusted workhorses of its parentage, great for the shadier Canadian garden. Typical of this genus, the foliage ranges from a dark glossy green through stages of red and maroon. Considered to be an evergreen, I have yet to appreciate that aspect, as my plants are under snow cover for the longest time. This wee gem offers the small pocket gardener a wonderful perennial addition with promise of pink flower clusters early in the season as well for those who have just a corner to add a new selection.

Coleus Colour Clouds ‘Spicey’ is one of a great many new introductions in this popular and easily grown genre. For the past number of years Coleus has regained immense popularity and with good reason. New gardeners have little to no difficulty achieving success with Coleus, their range of foliage shape, size and massive range of colourful combination are intriguing and their price point is usually reasonable. A shade tolerant or preferred plant, Coleus can be nipped backed to encourage a bushier habit as well the cuttings root very easily and can be re-installed in your garden or container. Colourful splashes in a darker corner of the garden act as punctuation marks and will liven up even the dankest landscape. A very popular container grown plant for balcony gardeners and those of us who must hang plants as we are short of room in our landscapes.

Heuchera ‘Forever Purple’ provides an exhilarating contrast to the popular lime green foliage of many plants so popular this decade. Heuchera are of my favourite perennials because they are basically worry free and reliable in my zone 2b garden with a decent leaf mold cover for winter. The selection abounds sporting vivid coloured foliage, a vast array of leaf shape and in many cases attractive venation in the leaves. ‘Forever Purple’ will find a home in my front garden in the dappled shade of an American Elm tree with neighbours of Thalictrum, perennial Dianthus and a lovely perennial geranium for texture.

Thalictrum ‘Black Stockings’ plays a critical role in my front, Southeast facing garden. I just love this perennial and will continue to sing its praises at every possible opportunity. She stands tall with her jet black stems supporting a filamentous foliage reminiscent of Columbine. When she blooms, typically later in the season, great clouds of powder puff purple fill her corner on centre stage of the garden. The Winnipeg winds haven’t bothered her yet as she defiantly stands her ground. Totally hardy, massively reliable and above all gorgeous. Gee, do you think I’m fond of this one?

Have fun shopping, studying the new and notables and of course play in your garden, it’s been a long winter indoors.

 

Fall The Final Chapter

Posted on March 25, 2016 at 4:50 PM Comments comments (2887)

Rather a sad time of the season for many gardeners, then again, rather joyous for others. The bright colours and interesting textures that you have worked so hard on to perfect, the exact placement of that wonderful new perennial and those sultry summer days sniffing the fruits of your labours all ends now. Myself, I tend to support the joyous constituency; the work is (almost) completed, the garden is somewhat put to bed for the next several months of winter and I actually may have some time to plan next year’s adventures. No matter how you approach the gardens’ final curtain call, there are a few important tasks that should be considered, not the least what the overall condition of your estate should be left in. So often I see frenetic garden types snipping, cultivating, ripping and tearing their gardens down to their very roots in order to leave a “tidy” appearance. In my opinion that is the worst thing that a gardener can do! Indeed there are some scruffy perennials that might enjoy a haircut for winter along with some of the overzealous plants that performed better than expected. In general, just leave everything to Mother Nature, she has been at this much longer than you, and does an excellent job. Consider raking the leaves from your yard or mulching them if you have a lawnmower that does such things, and spread the remains all over your perennial gardens. The organic material of course will be sodden as a result of the autumnal rains and then packed down with snow for the entire winter. These are both very positive conditions for not only the plants but the tiny creatures who call your garden home. These wee souls that have worked so diligently all summer long in our gardens and their habitat, helping to make it the best home for themselves and resulting in a very favorable construct for us. The very least that we could do is to provide them with shelter and food for the winter. This simple act of apparent lethargy will house a tremendous population of ladybugs in particular. Ladybugs are extremely beneficial insects in a Canadian garden for the simple facts relating to their diet, aphids. The aphid, as you are most likely aware, have the seeming ability to reproduce almost in front of your eyes; in truth it takes about 14 days from egg to pregnant female. These insects are voracious feeders, sucking the very liquid life from plants in short order. Their massive numbers also produce a considerable amount of waste, referred to delicately as “honey dew”. This sticky, residual waste provides the perfect conditions for many molds and fungi, typically a sooty black powder. Perhaps you park a vehicle under a tree during the summer months and wonder why the windshield is relentlessly spotted with sticky “goo”…thank the aphids above in the overhanging tree. The solution is very simple, provide a home for ladybugs and they will do the cleanup. One ladybug can consume hundreds of aphids in one sitting and as well, the larval stage or teenager, consumes even more, just like human teenagers do.

Consider cleaning up your gardens in the spring when things are coming back to life and the weather is warming. Face it, you are going to be out there anyway, picking, prodding and observing on a regular basis just to see what survived and is poking its nose through. Clean then, compost the already partially decayed material and observe the ladybugs skittering away to find a new spring season home among the new leaves and emerging plants.

Some literature would suggest that pruning is a good task for the late autumn and early winter. To be clear, it is always better to prune when the plants are dormant or inactive. Winter pruning of fruit trees usually happens in late winter and always before the buds break. Pruning too early in the fall can be dangerous in the event that an open fall warms the soil and plants start to be active, pushing out new growth. Naturally this growth will not have time to mature and “harden off” before the onslaught of winter. The result is that this new growth succumbs to winter kill.

Wrapping evergreen shrubs such as Thuja (Cedar) is a common practice in colder regions of the country. Remember this is not a winter coat, but a sunblock. Water these shrubs heavily in the late fall so as to have the soil freeze with lots of moisture for the first thaws in the spring.

Good night gardens, sleep well, I’ll set the alarm for early spring and we can start all over again.

 

 

"Division = Multiplication? Increasing Your Perennial Numbers"

Posted on March 25, 2016 at 4:50 PM Comments comments (2466)

 

Gardeners who may be new to the art, science, passion and plague of horticulture must find it overwhelming and laden with rules, do’s and don’ts and ton of folklore. Seasoned gardeners, those of us who spin the tales and folklore, often find tasks such as perennial plant division a bit confusing as well. Like most things in gardening there are of course some technical guidelines surrounding the when and if’s of plant division. Defining what a perennial is may be good as many of my readers are relatively new to gardening. A perennial is a plant that “is supposed to” come back year after year providing flowers and foliage in an improved state each season. I say, should come back because goodness knows, in Saskatchewan as an example, I have had sturdy, guaranteed tough, hardy perennials that last only two years then poof! To the considerable amusement of my family, the “great gardener” himself has lost some of the easiest plants to cultivate (always blame the weather FYI). So fear not newbie gardeners, there are no guarantees expressed or implied, you just take your chances like the rest of us.

 

The notion of division becoming multiplication intrigues my mathematically inclined friends, but it really is true. Perennial plants that are divided actually produce more plants or multiplying, increasing or adding to your collection. Of note, pieces of perennials make excellent currency for gardeners, so not only have you increased your collection but you may now trade for new plants to increase the scope of your assortment. Potential candidate that are high on the exchange currency scale are Hostas, Alchemilla or Lady’s Mantle, Heuchera or Arum Root and of course Rhubarb both decorative and edible forms. Rhubarb you say! One of the great unsung heroes of the Canadian garden is Rhubarb for certain. In many provinces gardeners have a very limited selection of coarse-leafed perennials if at all. Reliable Rhubarb fills that bill beautifully and also provides fresh spring stalks for a variety of recipes. There are many common perennials that make adequate currency for trade however some that should never be offered, at least to friends. Bishop’s Goutweed, Lamium(s) and Forget-me-nots rank very high in the “undesirable” category. Having received these and a few more species, I was cornered into an awkward situation. As gifts to my garden I of course was obligated to plant them; fearing a re-visit from the donor. Naturally I couldn’t make up the excuse that the plants died or didn’t winter well, how would that look? The moral is, be careful and be generous with the appropriate plant currency.

Division itself is very simple and best undertaken in the early morning or dusk, as harsh sun and heat are not favored by newly divided plants. Hosta are easily divided with a very sharp spade that you slide down accurately between obvious growth terminals. Not to worry if you miss and cut off a few leaves, this happens and the plant regains composure in no time.

The new home for the division should be prepared and waiting for the new transplant; I like to fill the hole with water. Re-plant the division at the same height as it was previously and water liberally again. There is no such thing as enough water at this point. Hosta are shade lovers so overexposure to sunlight is not an issue, but do water regularly for the first couple of days and do not feed them. Newly established roots are tender and the chance of burning them off with synthetic feeds is high. Compost and or good well-rotted manure mixed in with the original soil is always a good idea.

Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla) and Arum Root (Heuchera) are somewhat more demanding than Hosta. Look at the base structure of these plants and you will see that they have an almost “rhizome-like” basal stem system. Often times, these runners will have already started to root on their own so only require a clipping and you have a new plant. These plants enjoy filtered to good light so are best moved in the evening, giving them all night and the next morning to settle into their new homes. Follow the same procedure in preparation and soil amendment, consider covering the plants with shade cloth or light fabric until they have perked up. In the event that there are no runners with roots, investigate closely and you will see natural formed crowns, or whorls of leaves, this is where you dig. Try to make your spade cut swift and deep removing as much soil as you can with the new crown.

Rhubarb doesn’t look at all good when it is divided, but it quickly gains strength and lives up to its robust reputation. These roots are very deep and quite large and carrot-like. It is likely that you will break the root(s) off when dividing so be prepared but not disappointed. Preparation and soil amendment is the same as above, with liberal amounts of manure and compost to hold extra moisture. Some gardeners cut the large leaves in half or more to reduce transpiration, adding to an even more unhappy looking division. Oodles of water daily will see your Rhubarb hale and hearty in less than a week.

 

 

Pollinator Paradise

Posted on March 25, 2016 at 4:45 PM Comments comments (2716)

There is a lot of buzz around pollinators lately, and with good cause. Populations of many common Canadian pollinators are shrinking at remarkable rates for a number of reasons. As with many global tragedies, the issues seem overwhelming, the predictions austere and for many, I assume a sense of hopelessness prevails. What can be done by the individual Canadian, what possible difference can one household make? The truth of the matter is that each of us with very little effort and expense can make a world of difference, it’s just knowing how.

Developing and maintaining a garden should not be overwhelming, as a matter of fact it should be an exercise in outdoor movement, observation, diligence and of course patience. The first step is to get past the fear or reticence of actually making the garden. You don’t have to have the most expensive, trendiest bits and pieces to have a successful project. Designer this, that, these and those abound with some working others not so. The point is to use clean containers, a prepared media (bagged soiless mix) and good plants or seed stock. Land is not crucial, just a corner of the balcony or patio is sufficient, this is perhaps the biggest mental barrier. Just consider if everyone in your region planted simply one pollinator friendly plant on their balcony, the results would be amazing. Butterflies, hummingbirds and a great many less distinguishable species would have food and shelter even on the 20th floor. One must keep in mind when selecting a location, that a more protected area is far more desirable than a windswept stretch or corner in the blazing hot sun. The recipe for success includes heaping doses of common sense!

A consideration that is often overlooked when focusing on developing a space for pollinators, is that the garden needs to supply benefits for three seasons. Remembering our elementary school science we can likely connect the dots that honey bees collect nectar from flowers and in doing so their fuzzy bodies get covered with pollen. This pollen is then transferred to other flowers and presto cross pollination. Honey bees also mix some of this pollen with the sweet nectar from the flower to form “bee bread” a protein rich substance that they feed to the larvae. Understanding that not everyone would welcome honey bees to their home, garden or balcony, bees are just one excellent example of Canadian pollinators. One in every three bites of food that we eat in Canada is as a result of some sort of pollination.

Butterflies are typically a more acceptable family of pollinators than bees and as well they add great beauty to any garden. The Monarch butterfly has been in the news for some time now as a species that is in peril, with populations reaching very dangerous levels. These migrating butterflies require specific food plants for their larval stage but are not as precise for adult food. Various species of milkweed (Asclepias spp) are the favoured larvae food and as such with this plant labelled as a noxious weed for many years, the Monarch’s habitat has been reduced significantly over time. Only now are regions of Canada allowing this plant to be grown with many conservation charities providing seed and instruction to increase the monarch’s food source. There are many other butterflies and moths that you can attract to your garden such as the Swallowtails, the Admirals, Hairstreaks and of course moths abound as well.

Rather than go on with a step by step process for developing your pollinator garden, I will offer some excellent plant suggestions to entice a variety of butterflies to your garden or balcony space. This selection of plants offers colour for the entire season, nectar as well as pollen. Keep in mind that perennial plants that are grown in containers will most likely require over wintering indoors with the exception of Canada’s mildest climates. Ensure that there is a water source for the butterflies to drink from. A simple clay saucer with few pebbles scattered in will be sufficient. Fresh water daily is important. The Home Depot stores across Canada will be carrying a selection of perennial plants for pollinators suitable for every region accordingly. The Canadian Wildlife Federation endorses these kits with a portion of the proceeds going to the Federation for conservation education programming.

Milkweed

Echinacea

Rough Stemmed Goldenrod

Evening Primrose

Rough Avens

Coreopsis

Autumn Joy Stonecrop

Prairie Blazing Star

Obedient plant

New England Aster

 

The final words are to create, observe and maintain this space with a young person. There is nothing quite like the wonderment and excitement of a child experiencing nature.

 

Gardening - A Family affair

Posted on March 23, 2016 at 6:05 PM Comments comments (1530)

There is a great deal more to growing plants and gardening than the obvious soil, pots, water and petunias. It’s a family affair, or certainly could be. Introducing and engaging young ones into the world of green and growing is rife with learning opportunities, lifestyle foundational development and just good old fashioned fun. In today’s busy and scheduled world many young parents rely on peer suggestion and electronic support for parental guidance and concepts for structured play and oddly enough “free time”. Older adults, Grandparents for example, typically have a wealth of experiences to share with young children, none the least the art of cultivating plants. There is an overwhelming amount of observational evidence from health professionals, garden designers and clergy in the area of health benefits as related to being outdoors and to gardening specifically. It shows that gardens with many natural elements, help people feel connected to something greater than themselves, feel safe and shift to a more positive way of life are grounding, consistently inspire and develop patience and relationship skills. Harvard naturalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Edward O. Wilson, believes that Nature holds the key to health due to our built in affinity for it.

We as the adult population are responsible for the positive mentorship of the younger generations, therefore consider gardening or growing plants with the young people in your life. Simply strategies work the best as do simple projects. One such program, tailored for young ones up to six years is called “L’il Green Sprouts”. This “free range – semi structured” program guides the adults through a myriad of growing activities that can be facilitated right at home. Activity sheets, a cute little gardening kit with kid-sized tools, a magnifying glass and paper and pencils make up the hands on component. One could decide to grow a Chia Pet following the step by step activity sheets or perhaps follow up with an activity outside in the snow or in the summer garden, an art project. The key to this program is that the adults are spending quality time with the wee ones, talking, laughing, learning and above all, observing.

These lifestyle skills are crucial to a child’s development and their respect for nature. Once a young person has been introduced to nature, before the age of seven years, they will keep that respect and curiosity for all things in nature for life. Consider starting at home and starting early, what a tremendous gift for your young loved ones, and it keeps on growing throughout their lives.

Knowing where food comes from and participating in the culture of same is an important connection for youth today both physically and nutritionally. A study on a youth gardening program in Detroit reports that after gardening, children have an increased interest in eating fruit and vegetables, possess an appreciation for working with neighborhood adults, and have an increased interest for improvement of neighborhood appearance. In addition, they made new friends, and showed increased knowledge about nutrition, plant ecology, and gardening. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), moderate-intensity level activity for 2.5 hours each week can reduce the risk for obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, depression, colon cancer and premature death. The CDC considers gardening a moderate-intensity level activity, and can help you to achieve that 2.5 hour goal each week. Additionally, those that choose gardening are more likely to exercise 40-50 minutes longer on average than those that choose walking or biking. Starting at home with young children at the kitchen table or in the garden, the connection of food and where it comes from is vitally important, particularly if we are conscious of sustainability and the ability to feed ourselves from our own efforts. There are many examples of trending towards or perhaps back to the 100 mile food source, organically grown produce and ethically sourced food. Understanding that growing some of your own food and the associated physical activity will provide many positive benefits, seems to me to be a good combination.

The connections are pretty obvious from the health benefits to social interaction and intergenerational learning. The youth as well as the adults involved in growing plants and maintaining them learn from each other. In my own personal experience I am convinced that I learn more quite often than the kids do! You might consider an existing program to kick start your initiatives or simply just get involved with the youth in your life through gardening.