Thursday, April 30, 2015

Spring Returns

Some people want expensive holidays, some people want fine cars, some people want designer clothes... I just want to spend my whole day looking at what is happening in the Spring Garden now that the warm weather is finally here.

rock garden daffodil
I love this miniature Daffodil. It is Rip van Winkle, a very old variety. I like to think he's been sleeping all this time and has just now wakened in my garden! Of course he does do it every year... Rippy is only about 8" high but his flowers last quite a long time. They start off rather green, and get yellower as they age.

dwarf bulbous iris rock garden
Iris reticulata 'Harmony' is always a surprise. I have it in three spots, and it is fun to watch as the first spot comes out from under the snow, the Iris appears, then the second spot is cleared of snow and the Iris appears there, and then, finally, the last spot is snow-free and the last Irises come up. So while each flower only lasts a few days, I have it in bloom for two weeks! There are a dozen or more varieties of this Iris and it's hybrids, I must get some more.
rock garden ground cover
Still in the Rock Garden, the Alpine Alchemilla is starting. The leaves are softly furred and edged with long white hairs. It makes a green carpet, but rarely blooms.

You may be wondering what this is. I bought a tiny prostrate White Spruce some years ago. It was so small my outstretched hand covered it. I tucked it into a sort of a crevice in the rock garden. It was happy there but unfortunately it soon took off across the main path where it kept getting stepped on. Either that or the poor garden visitor would be left trapped, not being able to see where the path went. I also got the strong feeling Mr. Spruce wanted to cascade down a hillside and it was headed for the nearest one. So I decided, reluctantly, to move him. Then of course I couldn't decide where to, so I changed my mind a dozen times last fall and in the end left it. So the other day I got brave and did the deed. Monsieur Spruce is now at the top of the rockfall area, where he'll be able to cascade at least 15'. That's a prostrate Forsythia behind him. The Forsythia may be an expendable crew member - it never blooms. The small rooted bits I moved up the hill all bloom, but not the main plant. Nice even green all summer, but b-o-r-i-n-g.

This is the other garden chore I did the other day. These early days are wonderful for difficult garden jobs like these, cool and no bugs yet. But what a job it was. The 'victim' (except that I feel like I'm the victim) here is Carex Morrowii. I may have the name a bit wrong, but that is the gist of it. Anyway, it is an attractive sedge, but do not be fooled by that sweet little plant in the 4" pot. In no time at all it will be all over your garden. This next picture shows why it spreads so fast, why it is so hard to remove, and why I don't like it:

It has amazing roots - so dense and heavy it resists every effort to remove it. And it puts out new stolons by the bushel, all summer long. I'm not sure it stops in the winter, actually.

The tops of the leaves are usually browned off.

Yes, that is an axe in the first picture. I couldn't lift the clumps and had to hack them apart.

I took out 4 wheelbarrow loads of Carex Morrowii.

Another spreader, but a much nicer one, is Chionodoxa Forbesi 'Pink Giant'. It likes any situation where it gets good summer drainage and some spring sunshine. Glory-of-the-snow also has a white form, and several lovely soft blue ones.
pink early spring rock garden bulb

At the far end of the rock garden I have a small patch of Anemone blanda 'Blue Star'. It started as one corm and is spreading nicely. The colour, in the early morning light, is so clear, so clean, so very totally self-possessed.
blue flowered bulb early spring

Around the corner from the Anemones, the Fragile Fern croziers are just peeking out from under the dry leaves. Fragile Fern does well in a rock garden and can even handle a sunny spot. It may go dormant in a dry spell, but it returns.

fragile fern fiddleheads croziers rock garden
As Spring does, as we gardeners do.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Further With the Pond Saga

As some of you know, I have been fussing around with a small pond for some years. Basically, I dug the darn thing in a fit of enthusiasm, and then couldn't get it 'right'. I tried a few things: put in a pump (couldn't solve the extension cord problem), turned it into a bog (the reeds and bulrushes moved in and took over), built it up so it would be deeper (the squirrels kept poking holes in the liner) and finally just ignored it. It looked pretty bad.
Some of the edging rocks slid into the water and the 4-legged varmints made another hole. Why do they do this? You'd think as soon as they poked a hole the water would rush in and flood them, but they keep doing it. (I didn't know who was doing it until I saw one made. I was looking at the pond one day and noticed the liner move. Then I saw a dark spot appear, quickly followed by an inquisitive brown nose and a striped head. Chipmunk. He looked up at me and gulped but the damage was done. I've gotten pretty good at gluing patches on.)

What bothered me the most about the pond, and which I knew no amount of cosmetic effort would cure, was that it stuck up like a sore thumb. It just looked wrong.

I was close to deciding to just fill it in again but for one thing there was a Showy Ladyslipper doing well just at the back of it and I wasn't ready to give up on the dream of a lovely Ladyslipper leaning over the water and for another, do you know how many wheelbarrow loads of soil or sand it would take? The thing is 15' across and about 3' deep.

Then I saw, in an old magazine, a paragraph about using a capillary mat to water a plant near a pond. Eureka, as they say. In a chain of half-formulated and probably illogical thoughts, it gave me the incentive to finally DO SOMETHING.

So yesterday I had a great time reducing the height of the margin, re-laying the stones, packing new soil in around their dry sides, and making a spot for the capillary mat to go to keep the Ladyslipper moist. I wasn't able to retrieve some of the rocks which had slid into the water because most of it was still a solid block of ice but it was great fun walking on the ice and making it move around. It was an ice raft! When I was a kid my brother and I made many rafts. Some of them even kept us out of the water. The log you see sticking up was still frozen into the ice, too. It's not accidental, by the way. It is there to allow bees that fall in to climb out. Also the frogs love it and some days there are a whole row of them sitting there, some facing one way and some the other like spectators at two different sporting events.
It looks much better! Of course none of the plants around it are up yet, but just turn your imagination on: There are Wild Irises (Iris versicolor, both blue and red varieties), Yellow Iris (I. pseudocorous), the Showy Ladyslipper (Cypripedium reginae), some Solomon's Seal, both the giant one rescued from the roadside near an abandoned log building and the native Polygonatum pubescens and, of course, Ferns. You can see the main path on the left and because the sun shines in from that side, all the plants tend to face you as you look at the pond.

You may wonder how well a pond without a pump works. In a way, it doesn't. The water gets murky and in the spring, before I get the leaves out, it gets a mite smelly. But then it clears, thousands of tadpoles appear, dragonflies and frogs swoop and dive and it looks just fine. I sometimes, but not often, have to top it up with the hose. Oh yes, and repair holes...

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Prickly Start

Should you happen, one day, to wake up feeling totally cross-ways with the world, tired, grouchy, dissatisfied, over-burdened, resentful, not liking your breakfast choices and filled with a strong desire to kick the cat, I'll tell you what to do.

Start with a garden walk-about. Start in front of the garage where the snow is only now (finally) melting. Darn it, just look at that flattened Timmie's cup... most annoying. Frown at it. Think a growly thought about Someone Else who left it there. Oh, wait, you did it yourself. You bought a coffee on the way home one snowy day in February and didn't much like it so you didn't finish it and then you couldn't throw it away when you got home so you left it in the truck and of course it froze solid so then you would have had to bring it in to throw it out and you didn't so you just tossed it into the snowbank and now, there it is, squashed flat and looking sordid. As I said, most annoying. You can feel vexed with the person who did it.

If you have a small garden, things like Timmie's artifacts won't be much of a problem. Just like work expands to fill the time available, so a mess will expand to fill the space available. In a small garden, when the snow melts, you might find a used gum wrapper and a 6" piece of red string. In a large garden, you'll need to get a garbage bag and make the rounds. Amazing what appears when the snow goes. One of those slips the oil truck prints and sticks in your door. Several Christmas napkins that must have escaped from the after-Christmas-party cleanup. Wet and squelchy, of course. (Interestingly, the red in the design has run but the green hasn't.) Plastic bags you don't want to look at too closely.... pull-tabs, a clump of orange yarn.... pieces of duct tape... it's no fun picking all these things up and you really don't feel like doing it and it's not your fault and why doesn't Someone Else do it and... grrrrrr.

Now what is this pile of somewhat dried-looking pine needles? Oh yes, it was snowing heavily the day you made the Christmas decorations so you piled the branches you weren't using beside the Studio. Fine, but now you have to carry away a large pile of prickly shedding branches and where to? Better throw them over there beside the driveway where you have been planning a bonfire for more than a year. Very irritating the way there never seems to be the perfect day for a bonfire. Either it's raining or it's windy or else it isn't but you don't feel like it or you're too busy or whatever but obviously it didn't get done and now there is a biggish pile and it looks awful. Dump the pine branches on top and snarl something about procrastinators. A nasty set of people, really should have been brought up better. No excuses...

Oh, look, the top of a dead balsam fir has fallen into one of the crabapple trees. Turns out crabapple trees are prickly. And they fight back and the equally prickly but also sticky balsam fir top is determined to stay in its lofty position. Ah, the rake is just long enough to snag it. Down it comes. Good. Now to get it out of your hair, ouch... Ah. Now to drag it down to the burning pile... preferably without scratching the truck.

You have actually already arranged with a tree service to come and remove the dead firs, but you haven't heard back from them for three weeks now. They agreed to do it before the snow melted, so where are they? Add snappy phone call to tomorrow's to-do list. You hate making those calls. Maybe they'll come tomorrow while you are out and it will be done when you get home. Sure. And pigs fly. No, only the tops of dead firs fly.

Pretty hard to get close to the bonfire pile. In fact, it's pretty hard to get to the bird feeders. The brambles have more or less taken over that whole area. Some of those blackberry canes are 10' long. And nothing is more prickly than a blackberry vine. The secateurs get a real workout and you pick up several nasty spines in your knuckles. Those rubbery gloves are all very well, but they don't work for thorny things. Which blackberry canes are the epitome of. Which is a split infinitive if ever I saw one but cutting vicious spiky things bring them on. Besides, who cares, you're cranky today.

Piling the cut canes on the bonfire heap doesn't work too well. They are very bushy and don't pack down and when you are done the pile is about 15' high. You can see through it, but it is that high. Six feet across and 15' high.

Not that it will burn. No amount of crumpled up newspaper (and you have lots because you forgot the re-cycling pickup last week, again) will start a blaze. An old cardboard box doesn't work either. Use your old trick, an old candle. Heh, heh, that's got it going.

Lots of branches to pick up in the woods garden. Actually you don't hate picking those up, it's sort of soothing and now that you have a good start on a burning pile you have a place to put them.

Look, the snowdrops are out.

Feeling better?