Saturday, November 27, 2010

Winter Reading - Part 2

My second seed catalogue is Veseys Seeds, based out of Charlottetown, PEI. I'm still one of those people who rather enjoys receiving the catalogue in the mail & then absolutely trashing it over the winter. I carry it around with me everywhere, circle everything that captures my imagination with highlighters & pens, eventually scratching out items when I realize that I can't really grow it here or when I figure out I don't have room to even try. I also love cutting out the pictures & taping them to the fridge to help me make some final decisions... All in all, by the time April comes, the catalogues are quite ready to be recycled & retired.

It's just not the same with on-line catalogues...

 "The love of gardening is a seed that once sown never dies." Gertrude Jekyll

 Ok - these are unusual looking & have intrigued me for a few years. Are they a cross between a pea & asparagus? Or is that just a fun play on words, based on taste... While it says that it's low growing & spreading, I wonder if it can be grown up netting. Add this one to my 'wish list'.

 I fell in love with roasted parsnips last winter but didn't have the room to try them in my gardens this year. I think I will make that room (as well as build 2 more raised beds) & make sure to include them in my Plan. (Which needs to be reviewed at a later time...)

 I was given some scarlet flax seeds (a very small amount, maybe 10 or 20) as a 'free gift' from Canadian Tire a few years ago & didn't recognize them when they flowered - but what a beautiful flower! Not very tall or lush - you definitely need to grow them in compact clusters to get the full effect. I thought they were supposed to be difficult to find (as one of my neighbours told me when she saw them), but now I know better. I like the Charmer Mix too, but knowing my luck, they'd all turn red after a while. I grew Golden Flax this year which has the blue flowers, but think I'd like to get the Scarlet Flax growing as a wild self-seeding annual on my hill side.

 I've been told I need to have sunflowers in my front bed - really tall ones! My colour preferences are red, yellow & white (but have noticed the main colour in the summer is pink...) so sunny sunflowers along the deck railing of my front bed would look pretty stunning. I'm drawn to the darker colours, such as this Velvet Queen, but they might not be tall enough... 5 feet? The really large ones can grow 10 to 12 & even 14 feet tall! I think I'll start off with smaller ones & see how they do. I know the deer has been known to wander through this bed (even though it's a steeply sloped bed) so would hate to have the deer topple the sunflowers.

 I don't know why I didn't invest in row covers this fall. With the wet & cold spring we had, my veggies were pretty much all failures & so I decided to try my hand at some winter gardening in the greenhouse. I could have used this material about 2 months ago to help the lettuce grow a bit. Even though this isn't on my Christmas Wish list (Felco pruners are #1 on my list this year) I'll see what I can do later on towards spring. This might help with growing carrots & early spring greens & also keep the deer out of the raised beds...

 I'm still new at container gardening & think that this product might help a bit with the hanging baskets that swing out in the breeze & dry out even more than containers located closer to the ground. This probably needs a bit more research but might just be another wise investment.

Ok - maybe it's time to graduate from 2 litre pop bottles with their bottoms cut off to this product. The problem with the pop bottles is that they are much smaller & tend to blow off the seedlings very easily. I like that these have that bottome edge that can be buried. They aren't as 'cool' as the French glass cloches, but I'm not really a 'cool' gardener - hey, I barely pass as a successful gardener these days - there's always road for improvement. That's why I do so much winter reading...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Winter Reading - Part 1

Realizing that we are really only half way through Autumn & calling it 'winter' can be misleading, (I personally think that the seasons are changing & there should be a date change to reflect that - because for me, spring also comes early - usually mid-February - more on that later...) But anyway - Winter Reading is an important way for many of us to survive these dreary days.

One of my long anticipated reading materials has arrived: Stokes Seed Catalogue!!

Isn't that cover just delicious!! I would love to have a veggie garden that produced like that - of course, I'd be feeding half my community, but right now it just stirs my blood & makes me see potential in all my endeavours.

I've not yet had the time to delve very deep into it (I have another seed catalogue sitting beside it...) but the first thing that captures my attention are the lettuce varieties.

I had such a great year growing my own lettuces (just a random blend of 20 varieties) and I'm having such a difficult time getting back into store-bought romaine & mixed greens (never, never ice berg!) that I really can't wait to start some more lettuce in the garden.

Actually, I do have some started in the greenhouse that look like they have survived the snow & freezing temps of this week. Can't say the say for my geranium cuttings...

But I'm wondering if these little plants will actually grow or remain this size til things start to warm up in the spring. My greenhouse is not a hot & humid greenhouse (which allows me to grow tomatoes & basil very well) but also keeps things rather cold in the winter. Well, then again, this is the first winter I'm actually using it as a 'greenhouse' versus storage shed, so I should expect some renovations on the horizon. If I built a cover for the small section of lettuce where the plastic was only a foot or 2 above the plants, I wonder if that would keep them warm enough to grow...

The second group of plants that caught my eye immediately are the coleus... I have very little experience with annuals, other than most vegetables, but these have captured my imagination for yet another year.

Dare I try to grow some from seed?? Or should I start with just purchasing a few small plants at the plant sale & see how they do out here. Are they slug bait? Do deer come from miles around just to munch on them? Oh wait - would the Black Dragon (the one I really want!) actually fit into my garden design??

And this is just the first of the seed catalogues to arrive in my mail box.

Where's my highlighter?!!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

First Snow Fall of 2010

A few nights ago, the east side of Vancouver Island recieved lots of snow. They typically have more & it hangs around longer than it does here right on the West Coast. Now, I've been following some weather predictions that say we will have a colder & snowier winter this year (than normal or back to normal?) I wasn't really expecting it this soon - even though I heard there was snow on the road heading out of town.

I quickly took a few photos to share with you - kind of laughable because for us gardeners on the West Coast of the Island, snow is, in general, an oddity...

Nice big, fluffy flakes...
Calendula still in bloom.
More calendula covered in snow.
My spanish lavender trying to remain upright.
Astilbe looks rather pretty all dressed up.
My huge Russian kale crop under some snow - wonder if this cold will kill the bugs that are still munching on it...
Poor petunias!
The veggie & herb beds barely getting covered.
Now, I've seen other garden blogs/sites that show what a good & proper snow fall is like - a wonderful insulating blanket for the gardens, full dormancy of plants & a hard freeze that removes most chances of outdoor gardening for the rest of the winter. Sometimes I wish that were the case out here, but this 'snow' - wimpy that it is, will melt in a short while, uncovering the plants & hopefully allowing me more opportunity through the rest of the winter to get outside & work away at some garden projects.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Even though it's Thursday, these were meant for you yesterday...
There are lots of photos today!!
Borage & Calendula
Chive blossoms
Crazy daisy
Foxglove seedlings
Pretty fushia
Gladiola making an appearance
Gladiola with scented geranium & other herbs
Alyssm with spider
My greenhouse ready for winter - would like to insulate it a bit more...
Hens & chicks with spider plants
Winter herbs on west side of deck (thyme, sage, parsley - rosemary down in gardens as is oregano)
Hollyhocks starting to get chewed up
Lace cap hydrangea rebloomed after being munched by deer
Another blooming of lavender
Lilacs have buds showing already!
Loganberry reblooming
Random poppy that might bloom
Primula - so pretty!!
The lobelia from my hanging baskets 2 years ago have self-seeded through the front flower bed.
Spanish lavender rebloomed after a heavy pruning this summer.
(not so) Dwarf 3-in-1 spirea in flower again after a heavy pruning.
Broad beans & peas sprouting in greenhouse. Am trying this as a green mulch/fertilizer to help soils recover from the tomato plants this summer. Will grow 'maters in here again!
Thyme down in gardens in flower
Winter lettuce in greenhouse - stunted - should build & install a plastic cover to help insulate them.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Another New Member to the Family

California Bay Laurel (Umbellularia californica)-This tree's leaves have a much stronger fragrance than the Mediterranean Laurel (Laurus nobilis). The California Bay, which will grow in sun or shade, can be a shrubby tree 6 ft. high to a 100 ft. tall tree. This intensely fragrant tree would do well in large tubs as a potted plant or in a large garden growing with its associates in the mixed evergreen forest plant community. California Bay is very ornamental and would look good in a formal or informal garden. The leaves can be used in cooking and in potpourri and in wreath-making.

I have tried growing bay (Laurus nobilis) indoors before, but managed to provide only 'savage love' & ended up just harvesting the leaves after a couple years of it sitting in a dried up state in my kitchen window. I hope to be able to figure this variety out - might actually try it in a larger pot outdoors...

But the leaves have an amazing fragrance! Almost menthal-like when I first smelled them, but after researching a bit, the fragrance I'm actually smelling is camphor... Can't wait to try it in a big pot of basmati rice!

Monday, November 15, 2010

"Sunshine is delicious,
Rain is refreshing,
Wind braces us up,
Snow is exhilarating;
There is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather."

John Ruskin (English poet 1819-1900)

 Well, at least it's not snowing...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

New Member of the Family

This weekend I brought home a new member to my houseplant family. A Christmas cactus!! What a perfect time of the year as well. The previous owner, while being a bit heart-sick at having to give up one of her treasured plants, has informed me that the plant should flower sometime soon & then again sometime in February.
 This particular variety should flower in a bright fushia-red colour. She also had a smaller one that flowers in white - which was pretty stunning when I saw it a few weeks ago.

I've put it up on the half wall of the loft - she'll get lots of winter light & will hopefully like the dry conditions up there. I have a snake plant on the other side of the loft that prefers it up there.
As you can tell by the quality of the photos, the lighting conditions outside today are pretty gray. I think I need to take a photography course to figure out how to take proper pictures in these winter conditions...

But the plant is super healthy (even if it's in an ugly pot - which will hopefully change in the spring).

Here's what I've learned (so far) about how to care for my new plant:

These plants are members of the Zygo-cactus family. Most of which are native to Central and South America. Although these plants are called cacti, they are truly different in all aspects from the common desert cactus with which we are all familiar. These plants, called epiphytes are found in the same environments as orchids. They are most often found in the forks of tree limbs where they grow in decayed leaves and other natural debris that accumulates there. Since they are tropical cacti, their cultural requirements are totally different from true cacti.

The key to getting Christmas cactus to flower during the holiday season, is the proper light exposure, correct temperatures and limited watering. So during the fall months, the Christmas cactus should be placed in a spot where it receives indoor indirect bright light during the daylight hours but total darkness at night. (Much the same exposure you would give a poinsettia except a Christmas poinsettia requires warm temperatures whereas the Christmas cactus needs a spot where the temperatures are cool during the fall months.) 

A good procedure to follow is to water the plants thoroughly and then allow about the top inch of soil to dry before watering again. However, during the fall and winter months, the plants should be watered less frequently in order to get them to bloom. 
Christmas cactus require about 50 to 60 percent humidity. So it's a good practice to place a glass, vase or tray of water near the plant. As the water evaporates it will provide the humidity the cactus needs. A humidity tray is another method of providing the humidity the Christmas cactus requires. This is done by filling a waterproof saucer with gravel, then adding water halfway up the gravel. Place the pot on the gravel surface. 

The Christmas cactus should never be placed near a door that opens and closes to the outside. Likewise, keep it away from heating ducts or near the fireplace or drafty areas. 

One of the most frustrating things that can happen to Christmas cactus is after the flower buds have developed they drop off the plant. Bud drop can be caused by anyone of several different conditions. Usually it's because of over-watering, lack of humidity or insufficient light. 

After The Christmas holiday season, the Christmas cactus should be given about a 30 day rest. Again place it in a cool room and provide limited water. Don't worry if it loses a few leaves or joints and appears weak during this rest period. 

This is not the time to pinch, prune or shape a Christmas cactus. The best time is when the new growth begins in March or early April. 

Likewise, the best time for repotting a cactus is in February, March or April. However, keep in mind the plant will flower best if it's kept in a container where it's pot-bound.

Ok - we shall give this a try & see what kind of success I'll have in getting flowers for the holiday season. She seems to fit in quite well with my very messy spider plants & my hoya. I'm sure the husband will just love yet another plant that drops flowers all over the floor....