The late garden.

I wouldn’t call what my garden is doing right now “going strong,” but there are still pockets of colour in my perennial beds, despite (and perhaps because of) numerous frosts.   Here are a few of my favourites:

IMG_8084

Alpine strawberries

IMG_8088

The ubiquitous Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’

IMG_8099

Lungwort – a new acquisition given to me by a co-worker

IMG_8090

Sedum ‘Matrona’

IMG_8095

Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’ – silver and gold now

IMG_8089

Lady’s mantle – love that bronzed look!

IMG_8104

Veronica penduncularis – isn’t that foliage awesome?

The scabiosa I posted about here is still bravely putting up a single bright blossom, and my blue flaxes are just ending their second flush.  The thymes never let up all summer long and are heading into freeze up without a break (that’s never happened before).  The Campanula rotundifolia ‘Olympica’ is on round number two, as is the Silene schafta.  As for the annuals, my snapdragons and calibrachoa can still pass muster, while the wax begonias I received from Proven Winners seem completely unaffected by the cool weather.

I figured that my new liatris would not flower this year (I planted ten corms this spring), but they all sent up a huge amount of foliage over the summer so I will look forward to blooms next fall.  I fall-seeded some perennial asters, sweet Williams and a heirloom larkspur so we’ll see how that little experiment turns out in…oh…eight months or so.

I put in three dozen crocus corms yesterday afternoon, to add to my expanding collection (I suppose it only expands if the squirrels don’t get to them first!).  While digging around, I noticed that the scilla and some of the muscari I planted over the last couple of years are sprouting foliage like mad, completely out of season.  If our confusing and lovely autumn weather continues, I may have spring flowers yet before the snow flies!  😉

Which plants are your favourites in the October garden?  Have you had any surprises?

Happy Thanksgiving to my family and friends here in Canada!  I hope everyone has a wonderful day filled with good company and delicious food! 

Redleaf rose.

IMG_6753

While walking home from minding my plot at the community garden a couple of days ago, I came across this redleaf rose (Rosa rubrifolia, syn. R. glauca) growing in a nearby schoolyard. It reminded me of when we used to bring roses into the garden centre – we’d always order a few redleaf roses alongside all of the showier Mordens and Explorers and rugosas, but the customers were never thrilled about the “wild”-looking redleaf rose flowers. I tried to sell everyone on the foliage instead, but few people bit. I love them BECAUSE they look a little like our wild roses (Rosa acicularis and R. woodsii – see photos here).  If I owned a house and had the room to actually plant full size (read: large and slightly rambling) roses, a redleaf or two would definitely have a place.

What do you think of redleaf roses? Are you a fan, or are they not really your cup of tea?

Have a super-enjoyable weekend!  What are your plans – gardening or otherwise?  I’ve already done a pile of weeding this morning, but there’s still a frightening amount yet to tackle, and more rain in the forecast…. 

Water retaining crystals – yay or nay?

I have a confession to make.

Really, I should be ashamed of myself.  It’s time I got it out in the open, however:

I’m not very good at remembering to water my houseplants.  It’s not that I mean to forget…it just sometimes happens.  I like to pretend it’s because I’m doing everything within my power to prevent mould and other nasty humidity-related issues, but really, it’s just because I’m always on the go and certain things get kind of shuffled to the wayside.

Yep, now I’ve admitted it.  Please don’t judge me too harshly!   😉

It’s a good thing I have mostly African violets, which like to dry out between waterings.  In an attempt to alleviate the pain and suffering of my poor beleaguered plants, I’ve occasionally used water retaining crystals (aka hydrogels) in my potting soil.  For the most part, though, I haven’t really had to significantly change my watering schedule for plants with water retaining crystals in the soil versus those without; the extension of time between waterings seems to be a couple of days, perhaps three or four if I’m lucky.  I’ve never tried out the crystals in my outdoor containers, so I’m not sure if they would make a difference in hanging baskets or planters.  I’ve also never used commercial premixed potting soil that contains hydrogels.

Here’s the thing:  it seems that there is a bit of a controversy regarding water retaining crystals.  Many garden experts do not recommend their use, calling them gimmicks and citing their ineffectiveness.  (Plus, potting mixes containing the crystals are more expensive than those without!).  And, even more damaging:   I came across an article this past week which suggests that the common type of crystals made from polyacrylamide may actually be carcinogenic!  Oh boy, that’s not what I want in the soil for my houseplants…and definitely not in the potting mixes I’m growing food crops in.

There are alternatives to the polyacrylamide crystals (besides actually watering on a regular basis!).   The ones made of starch may actually be better at retaining water, and they are considerably safer.  I’m not certain how many studies have been done about all of this, and there is bound to be some continued debate.

Weigh in!  Have you ever used water retaining crystals – or would you ever use them – in your potting soil? 

Rotating crops in the community garden.

The brassicas in my community garden plot are currently under siege.

While my tatsoi and kale are perfectly edible, they’ve also been completely shot full of holes, due to a flea beetle infestation (thankfully, I’m not combating cabbage moth or cabbage white butterfly!).  Yes, I ought to have put up a floating row cover, but in truth, I’m not particularly bothered.  I’m only growing for my hubby and myself, and my plot is full of a variety of crops so a few nibbles in the cabbagy-plants don’t trouble me much.  Besides, all of the other growers in the community garden have the exact same problem (except for the thoughtful ones, who did actually employ the row covers since the start of the season), so I don’t feel like I ought to have low self-esteem for culturing pocked plants.

I’m actually more worried about the onion maggot, which made an appearance in my shared plot last year.  One of my fellow growers at the garden told me the other day that she just doesn’t “bother with onions anymore.”  So far I haven’t seen any evidence on my plants, but it’s a lingering threat.

Our garden maintains a rigid “no-spray” policy – and I wouldn’t apply chemicals to veggies even if the restriction wasn’t in place.   I try to grow as organically and safely as I can, and one of the tenets of organic farming is crop rotation. There is no crop rotation governance in place at our community garden, and really, even if there was, how could it be done so that the whole garden would remain pest-free?  On a large-scale or commercial level, or even in a home garden, crop rotation may be a workable solution – but how do you effectively employ it in a community garden?  This is my first year with this particular plot, and should I decide to continue gardening at the site, I will be allocated the same plot next year.   And even if I were to ask for a different plot, it’s nearly a guarantee (just by looking at the produce in everyone else’s beds) that pest-susceptible brassicas and other plants are growing there right now – or were last year.  The general rule is that brassica crops should not be planted in the same spot more than once in three growing seasons, so my fellow gardeners and I are pretty much hooped if we really want hole-free collards and cabbage.  And it’s not just used to deal with pests – crop rotation is also often employed to rejuvenate nutrient-depleted soil, as veggie crops have varying nutritional needs.

Hand-in-hand with crop rotation is the employment of green manures – which, again, can’t really be used effectively in a community garden setting.  No gardener is going to pay for the rental of a plot and grow clover or alfalfa or buckwheat on it just to till it over for the next season…unless the Garden Team designates a few plots each year for the purpose and does not rent them out.  Our community garden currently doesn’t do this.  (At home, growing green manures can actually work, and it may be worth giving over different parts of your garden beds over each year to pursue this great source of ready nutrition for future crops).

So, what is a workable solution?  (Besides the floating row covers, which are on my list of “must-haves” for next year).  I guess it all comes down to this:  a happy plant gives you little or no strife, because it’s less susceptible to munching critters and diseases.   If green manures are doable, use them.  And amend, amend, amend.  Make sure your soil is the healthiest it can be.   I know I’m definitely guilty of not adding nearly enough compost to my plot this season, and the soil texture leaves a lot to be desired as well.   Give plants a specific balanced diet of macro- and micro-nutrients.  Keep on top of the watering and weeding.  Plant crops at the right time of year, in the proper location, so that they have their best chance at thriving and producing.  Try to ward off the baddies with intercropping or trap cropping.

And even with all of this, the pests may still come.  It’s just part of gardening!  🙂

What do you think about small-scale crop rotation?  Do you rotate your crops at home (or in your community garden plot)?  Do you grow green manures?   

Ha Ling Peak and roseroot.

In early July, my hubby and I hiked up the south face of Ha Ling Peak, a popular trek in Canmore, Alberta (located about 105 km west of Calgary).  You can climb the peak on the north side, but we’re hardly that intrepid!  🙂  As it was, the elevation gain of 700 m was plenty enough for an utter lazy bones like me to tackle, and the multiple stops for water and to catch my breath afforded me the chance to do some wildflower hunting.  Near the summit, growing in the gravelly scree and heavy rocks at almost 2,407 m, we spotted this gem, Sedum rosea (aka Tolmachevia integrifolia):

According to the resource Wildflowers of the Canadian Rockies by George W. Scotter and Halle Flygare (reprint 2000, Alpine Book Peddlers, Canmore), this perennial is commonly called roseroot – not to be confused with Rhodiola rosea, another roseroot of northern climes that is purported to have all sorts of medicinal benefits.  (Of course, it just so happens the two plants are very closely related, and Sedum rosea is/was also known as Rhodiola integrifolia.  Having fun yet?)    Another common name for Sedum rosea is king’s crown – but it isn’t the same plant as the lovely tropical Justica carnea, which has the same moniker.  Ugh!  Plant names!

Although the plants we saw possessed only clusters of bright red flowers, the male flowers can be either yellow or red, while the females are always red.  Both male and female flowers may be present in each cluster.  The plants are small, befitting their alpine setting – the ones we saw were no taller than 10 cm.  The succulent leaves are apparently tasty in salads when young, although given that Scott and Flygare list the plant as “rare,” I wouldn’t want to dine on them.  (I’m not certain if the plant is rare only in this part of the world, as a site I found out of the States designates them “common”).

And, yes, we did make it to the top of Ha Ling Peak – here are a couple of shots of the incredible view:

Flowery spotlight: Dwarf golden flax.

In the summer of 2005 I purchased a dwarf golden flax (Linum flavum ‘Compactum’) plant in a 10 cm pot from a garden centre.  I was in a blue flax phase (still am, as all the plants I bought then have blithely reseeded themselves everywhere) and I was thrilled by the promise of the bright yellow colour of this new-to-me flax.  I just stuck it in the ground in full sun, up against a wall, near some Salvia x superba and a ‘Confetti Cherry Red’ dianthus.

Fast-forward to summer 2012, and my dwarf golden flax was just LOADED with blooms this year…it’s finally finished now, but the blooming period is long (about six weeks, from mid-June to the end of July/early August).   It’s one of my favourite perennials in the garden, so cheerful and delicate-looking.  It’s a perfect, tidy mound, about 30 cm tall and 45 cm wide.  I never have to do anything with it and yet it performs like a star.  It’s amazingly drought-tolerant (which is great, because I am ghastly at watering regularly).  Dwarf golden flax doesn’t seem to reseed itself in the garden in the mad fashion of blue flax, so I haven’t had any volunteers pop up…to my dismay.  Maybe this year I should finally save some seed!

Are you growing dwarf golden flax? 

Flowery blurbs #14.

Over the past few weeks (months?), I’ve read so many fascinating plant-related articles and posts on the ‘net, I thought I’d collect a few together to share!  Hope you enjoy these Flowery Blurbs!

  • Have you ever thought about growing rhubarb not just for food, but as an ornamental?  Here’s why you should and how to do it!
  • Problems with ants? (Ugh, don’t we all!).  This is an old solution that seems to actually work.
  • Want to make your own potting soil mixesHere are some great recipes!
  • Do you still have a surplus of radishes in your garden?  Why not pickle them?
  • The elders are still blooming here in Calgary so we can still make this recipe for sweet elderflower sugar.   Or maybe elderflower cordial, instead!
  • It’s seed-saving time!  Here’s the proper way to extract, clean, and dry tomato seeds!
  • Bugged by mosquitoes?  (Aren’t they the national insect of Canada?  Okay, perhaps it just seems that way!).  😉  Maybe these plants can help ward them off.
  • Here’s a great post with tips to fend off pesky deer – there are detailed plant lists as well!

  • If you’re interested in growing basil from cuttings, here’s how!  I’m definitely going to try this out!
  • I saw this pest in action this year:  watch out for the columbine sawflyHere’s some information about this highly destructive critter.

  • If you have mint, you have eco-friendly carpet freshener.
  • Here’s a great summary of some wonderful edible flowers you might be growing in your garden!

Please share any other interesting gardening articles, tips and suggestions you’ve read about lately! 🙂