Friday, October 16, 2009

Fall Planting

Just over a week ago the sun was still shining warmly in my yard & it was time for fall planting & transplanting. This is one of my favourite times of year! To be outside, enjoying the slight chill in the air, smell the autumn changes of rotting leaves & moulding mushrooms & damp earth.

I started with one of the first flower beds I had built 2 years ago on our property. It was - well, is - supposed to be my 'yellow bed' but has become overgrown & rather lost. My Helenium (the yellow 'sneezeweed' which is not one of the plants in the fall that makes one have allergies) dearly needed to be divided & spread to a couple other areas in the yard that needed a hit of fall yellow. I really hope it survives as this bed started out with 2 Helenium & 2 Black-eyed Susan plants just 2 years ago. I'm not sure what happened to the other 3 plants...
I had put in 2 very small Lady's Mantle plants in the back corners to help fill in the bed & somehow columbine was either seeded or transplanted into the corners too. My earlier notes on this process are a bit sketchy...

Last fall I had planted some lovely iris bulbs - again, in the theme of orange & yellow, so I thought while digging up the overbearing plants, I might as well find the bulbs & place them a bit more strategically in the bed. They seem to have gone missing! I did end up with a bunch of bulbs, but judging from their location - right along the front edge - they were mostly daffodils & from the back edge - tiger lilies.

After a few hours, this is what the 'remade' bed looks like. Along the back edge are now 3 smaller Helenium plants with tiger lily bulbs in between. Foxgloves in the back corners & columbine down each side. The lady's mantle is now in the front corners & along the front edge are my calendula plants, which, with a bit of water, should make it long enough to produce seeds & self-seed themselves. In the middle space I replanted bulbs. Since I'm not confident as to the identity of the bulbs, we shall see what happens in the spring. I have the feeling that they will be daffodils - which is perfect - but I really do wonder what happened to those iris bulbs.

A very small amount of plants actually went back into this bed. The rest were divided up & replanted along the front lower edge of my new front flower bed in the hopes of keeping the soil in place & filling in the bed for the first 2 years til I am able to get the proper plants in place. Lady's Mantle, feverfew & Ajuga are the 3 fillers & because they spread so quickly & take over so completely, I know I'll have to rip them out or prune them with a heavy hand starting as early as next spring!

That was last week...this week, it's raining! Finally some wet weather - but that means that I have a bit of a 'crisis' on my hands as I just received my fall plants in the mail!

It was quite a surprise, actually, to open up my small box of peonies & find that I had 10 instead of the 6 I had thought I ordered. Breck's Peony Collection is going to be a wonderful addition to my gardens, but I need a day or two to plan on the extra 4 plants & with the rain coming in sideways, I hope that they will survive a few days in the fridge. I cut holes in the bags & carefully arranged them back in the box.
Thank goodness these dormant bare roots come with planting instructions, as I've never grown peonies before & don't want to be burying my money in holes all over my yard.
Rockwood Gardens sent me 2 dwarf burning bushes, also for my front flower bed & I will probably get these little guys in the ground sooner than the peonies, just because they look a little more alive & have extremely small pots! I'm very excited to see these next year at this time - a blaze of bright red!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Seven Things

One of the blogs that I closely follow, You Grow Girl, has a meme challenge that I've decided to try. Now, I didn't even know what a 'meme' was & had to research that first. Pronounced like cream, this is a concept of sharing cultural information or a practice or even an idea, either verbally or via modern technology like blogs, that shows how culture & ideas evolves. Seems a little hokey, but I'm going to give it a try.

This meme is about seven things about me - today - so, as the sun is still shining here on the west coast & I'm itching to get back outside to play in my garden, it will be about seven plants that I absolutely love.

1. Lavender
I'd never had any exposure to the lavender plant when I was growing up & had always thought of the scent an an 'old lady' scent, but when I moved here & came across a fresh bundle of lavender, I fell in love. A tricky plant to grow as it prefers the Mediterranian climate, meaning a lot more drier than the west coast & I've been told it's near impossible or extremely difficult to grow from seed. Sounds like a challenge to me!

While I currently have many lavender plants of only one type, I am hoping to branch out into different colours - pink & white are now available & some of the many different species that have different blossoms & bloom times.

My favourite part of the summer is when I go out to harvest the blossoms. I can sit in a lavender patch for hours just enjoying the scent of fresh flowers, or run my hands over the plants for additional scent & to feel their soft leaves & listen to the bees flying about. I usually harvest 1/2 the blossoms at a time so as to ensure the continued presence of bees & other insects in the gardens.

It will be interesting to see if my almost 2 dozen lavender plants started from seed this year will survive the winter. I've planted some in the ground & will move the rest into the house into my portable greenhouse.

2. Scented Geraniums
I've just moved my scented geraniums into the house for over-wintering, so they don't look as lush as they did only a few weeks ago. They were covered in tiny white flowers & were about twice as big. I was tempted to take cuttings to start new plants for next year, but I chose instead to do that with just the red geraniums & have 2 dozen cuttings to root up over the next few months.

left to right: 'Pelargonium Fragrans' with soft velvet leaves & an apple-nutmeg scent. This one flowers almost continually & is wonderful to brush by. 'Candy Dancer' which is more like a citronella scent with a bit of fruit. I'm sure it will do much better in a larger pot. 'Lady Plymouth' with verigated leaves & a rose-mint scent.

These are nice to have at entry ways to the house for a hit of scent. I hope they over-winter downstairs in my laundry room where it's cool because I tried them upstairs in my main living space. There was too much sunlight & it's rather dry. The red geraniums will join them in the next day or two once the roots have dried up a bit more. Those will live in an open paperbag on the floor by the freezer.

3. Borage
I have a lot of memories of my mother's gardens from my childhood and one of them is of this huge flower bed beside the house full of orange daylilies & monster borage plants. The combination of sword-like & fuzzy leaves with the large orange & tiny blue flowers is stunning.

It took me a few years to find borage seeds as the seedlings I purchased in the nursery never really survived the trip back to my house (long & arduous involving 1 1/2 hours on a dirt road followed by a breezy trip across the harbour in our boat & then packed into a wheelbarrow up to the house).

This year I grew the borage separate from the daylilies & they were monsters - but way up on my deck where no one could appreciate them. Next year I will plant the seeds I collected this fall in & around my daylilies & see how they do. I know I will have borage sprouting all over my gardens & yard next year as they were flying off the deck for almost 2 weeks before I thought to cut them down & save the seeds for myself.

4. Calendula
My mom introduced me to calendula (pot marigold) when she sent me a shoe box full of mystery seeds. She remembers these from her childhood & I'm very pleased to see they they are wonderful plants to fill in & around my perennials. Treated nicely - deadheading with a vengence - they continue to flower long into the fall season & if I'm really lucky, they flower all the way through the winter! Those particular plants are living in my deck boxes under my front windows & have the advantage of southern winter sunshine & heat. These are very nice to add to salads along with the borage flowers & baby leaves.

5. Mullein (Verbascum)
I've had people ask me about this flower & are surprised to hear that it's Mullein - they are more used to seeing the yellow variety & not this delicate, lacy one. If pruned throughout the summer, it will continue to bloom from June right through October & is an anchor to my purple herb garden when the chives or lavender has been cut back. It spreads quite easily & transplants well & I rather like the ground hugging rosette of leaves that keep the weeds down. The bees love this flower too.

6. Spiderplant
Our new house has a wonderful southern exposure & a huge wall of windows to let in all this sunshine. One step into our house & you can tell I love plants. I can't seem to stop bringing in new ones to the house! My spider plants are by far my babies - and my monsters. I usually keep them very trim & remove the flower shoots & sproutletts very early on as they flowers make a mess on the floor & the baby spiders get caught in everyone's hair. But I want to grow them this winter so that I can use the new plants outside as annual filler plants in my gardens.

I saw a hanging basket with some spider plants in them & they looked fabulous! An easy plant to grow & take care of. Just soak in the sink a few times a month, top up the soil in the spring & fall & that's about all I do. Well, other than talk to them...

I have another variety also with the verigated leaves & they may actually be able to handle the intense sunshine better. I might move them around this winter to see what happens.

7. Snake plant
This plant is a stunner (Sansevieria Trifasciata 'Laurentii'). I have 2 varieties - this one here with the verigated leaves & another monster tall one with just dark leaves (was told it was a 'mother-in-law tongue' & had to have it). The label says to grow it in low light, but I have mine sitting up in the 2nd storey front window - complete southern exposure & full sun year round. It's warm up there & they get watered only a few times a month. They really need to be repotted, but I think if I do that & put them back up there, they might get too big for me to bring down to the sink for watering...

 When I asked my husband what he thought my favourites were this year his list was very different than mind & made me realize I have a greater love for flowers than I thought. He suggested my Oriental lilies, which did very well this year & made the whole garden smell wonderful & chamomile, which grew so prolific that I was dividing it up & spreading it everywhere!

Honourable mention has to also go out to my poppies, another one of my mother's seeds sent to me a few years ago, which has mutated to new colours & can be found blooming all summer long.

And weeds - I'm starting to grow my weeds on purpose because I find them rather attractive & the bees seem to enjoy them. Now, dandelions are the bane of anyone wanting a nice soft yard to walk on in barefeet, but my yard is still recovering from the construction of the house & it will take a few more years to weed most of them out. But they are the first hit of yellow in the spring are are usually the last hit again before winter arrives. The bees enjoy them & I like the colour - if only they weren't so prolific! Golden rod grows nicely amongst the rock piles here too & I've dug some up for one of my new flower beds in the hopes of 'taming' this weed. And I'm classifying feverfew as a weed now. It's a beautiful plant with little white daisy-like flowers that bloom again after being cut back. They smell nice - much nicer than proper daisies - but they have a nasty habit of reseeding itself in all the wrong places. And the plant grows to monster proportions. I have been using feverfew as a filler & a starter for all my new flower beds & after the first full year, I rip as much of it out as I can so that the other plants have a chance to fill in.

A free plant is a free plant - but know when to rip it out & get rid of it!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Great Wet Coast Corn Patch Experiement - Conclusion & Final Thoughts

  Well, harvest day finally arrived, which was actually more weather dependent than anything else. It seemed that while the days were sunny & warm, the nights were cooling off to such a degree, that any warmth during the day wasn't having an effect on the maturing cobs.

So, I grabbed a bucket & started to pick the cobs.

I picked 40 cobs of various size on September 30th & knew that there would be many that weren't ripe or mature. The offical count for the whole patch was 50 cobs - 10 were picked throughout September to check for maturity.

I had noticed that there was no longer any silk showing out the tops of the cobs - which meant that bugs were eating it, so I was a bit concerned that there would be quite a few earwigs & pill bugs munching their way down the cobs. Fortunately that was not the case. The bugs remained pretty much down around the bottom of the cob where it grew out of the stalks. I also looked to see if the bugs had chewed through that connection, thinking that they might have interferred with cob growth that way, but that also was not the case.

This cob was the most mature out of all of them.

Even though I grew up in southern Ontario where there are corn fields aplenty, I never really paid much attention to how corn grows or develops. I received some helpful information from a friend back home. There was this mystery of 'shaking the stalks' that puzzled me all season long. I knew that the tassels at the top had the pollen & after researching growing corn for a small garden, knew that the plants would benefit from being planted in a square versus a long row. But I didn't fully understand the pollination procedure. My neighbour gardeners, who also grew corn, said that nature would take care of the pollination with a bit of wind. What I didn't know was that the each silk thread showing out the tops of the cobs was connected to a single kernel & needed to have pollen on it in order for the kernel to fully mature. Interesting!

I had done a few 'shake the stalk' sessions just to see if there was indeed pollen - so maybe that's why I had even a few mature kernels. My friend suggested putting a wind block around the corn in order to make sure the wind didn't blow the pollen away (upwards & outwards instead of down onto the silk). Makes sense when it's explained!

I also found out that my neighbour gardener purchased corn seedlings to plant & not just corn seeds. That's why they were eating fresh corn in August!

This is my resulting harvest. I was surprised at the number of mini-cobs but these were mostly the #2 cob on the stalk, growing below the first one. The upper row of cobs, while not having very many mature kernels, still gave me a nice quantity of corn for the freezer - I just sliced it off with a knife, cooked it lightly & packaged it up. Will be lovely in soups or stews this winter.

So - was this experiment a success or a failure? Well, a bit of both - but mostly a success in that I was able to grow corn - the stalks were 7 feet tall & I did produce cobs with some mature kernels. The deer didn't mow down the young plants & the bugs didn't infest the cobs.

Next year I will start the seeds indoors early & probably plant them out earlier than May 21st under a plastic insulating cover. I will also do the stalk-shake routine to aid in pollination & I just might surround the patch with plastic in the form of a transportable greenhouse to see if that will help with cob maturity.

This was definately the year for a corn patch experiment as we had very few days of fog (these came in July instead of the whole month of August) & we had lots of heat. Maybe next year I can have that corn roast I've been missing....