Just enjoying the garden

It’s that time of year. The planting and much of the fertilizing, weeding, and planning is done. Harvest has started in the veggie gardens (my cucumbers are behaving like zucchini this year — lots of them), and the day lilies and roses are blooming. The asiatic lilies are also coming along and will soon be in on the action.

July is a reward month for home gardeners, whether you focus on herbs, edibles, or visual temptations. We get to spend our garden forays harvesting or simply enjoying the displays, with occasional deadheading.

Deadheading is the process of removing flowers that have finished, and for many plants this will keep them flowering longer. It works well with most annuals, and is important if you want to keep hanging baskets and planters looking spiffy. There may be short periods of greenery only, but it is worth it when the second round of bloom shows up. Don’t forget a light fertilizer as well (light meaning not to strong a mix).

A tip or two for extending your lettuce is to plant it in the shade, and to leave the base of the stalk and a leaf or two in the ground when you harvest. It will grow back if you haven’t let it flower/go to seed. The same seems to apply to spinach. I have been able to extend the harvest period for all of my leafy greens this year because of their shady location.

The cherry tomatoes on the deck

The tomatoes are loving this hot weather and are growing gangbusters. I have been plucking ripe cherry tomatoes off the vines on the deck as I head out on walkabouts. The plum and beaf steak tomatoes are fecund (it seems like a fitting description given the number and size of fruit this year).

Everyone who shares a meal with us is benefitting from the herb garden — basil in the quiche, tarragon with the chicken, oregano in the pizza sauce… so many choices. It is a real journey of discovery building the herb bed, with the added benefit of wonderful smells in the air when the cats wander through it (it is close to our deck where we sit under the cherry tree, enjoying the shade.)

The garden cats are thriving, doing a good job as mousers, and leaving the toads and such alone. It’s quite funny watching them chase grasshoppers across the lawn, springing into the air as if launched. For the most part, the grasshoppers escape, although there is an occasional crunch. The birds and chippies have figured out the cats and stay clear, and the squirrels just laugh and call them names from their high up tree perches.

Here are some other July pics from mid-summer.


Yes, we ate the cucumber…

It seems hard to believe that harvest is starting here in Northeastern Ontario, and I’m not talking about the local farmers cutting and baling their hay.

Yesterday I picked the first English cucumber from the vines you have been watching grow. And there is another one ready and waiting in the wings. It was crunchy and tasted perfect in a way that only happens when you grow something yourself. Perhaps it can be classified as a minor miracle, and truthfully I am always a bit in awe when those dry little seeds that went into the pots in March produce beautiful and healthy food.

The English cucumbers – you can see one on the first plant

And it’s not just the cucumbers. We’ve eaten the strawberries (and they are throwing shoots like crazy, so even more strawberries next year), and the green pea pods are puffing up like crazy. My husband had only ever eaten canned peas and was not a fan. Reluctantly he took a fresh pod, was intrigued by opening it (the lovely snap and crispness of a cleanly opened pea pod is unique and rewarding), and after the first tentative taste of a fresh pea, has become a convert. Fresh peas cooked with a little bit of mint are right up there with baby potatoes as a seasonal favourite.

The peas are doing especially well and we should be able to pick in a day or two

The greens are all doing beautifully, and it truly is salad season – actually, we had better get to it as everything is being very prolific. Because the boxes these are planted in get good shade during the heat of the day, the lettuces last longer than if they were planted in the full sun.

All of the tomatoes have started to set fruit, and you can really tell the difference between the varieties. There are five different types of tomatoes in the garden this year: two types of plum tomato (one Amish, one Italian), a beefeater for sandwiches, a heritage for salads, and the cherry tomatoes on the deck for snacking. It’s a daily activity keeping everything watered but well worth it.

This year the squash seem to be doing really well. If you remember, I am trying the “old tire planter” approach. The vines are starting to run, and I am trying a suggestion form an expert pumpkin grower and burying the vines to help with extensive rooting. Fingers crossed that we get good carving pumpkins for Halloween, in addition to the pie pumpkins, the winter squash, and the watermelons.

On the flower front, the zinnia are in bloom, adding bursts of brightness to the pots, and the roses are perfuming the gardens. For perennials, the primroses are going strong, and the campion and SweetIMGP7761 William have emerged. The peonies, poppies, and iris are done, so now we are waiting for the day lilies for the next big burst of colour. This is when foliage becomes important in a garden to keep it interesting.

The cats are doing well; I never know which tree they are going to climb down out of. They are good mousers, and don’t seem to mind coming in at dusk to sleep safely in their room. They even come down to the greenhouse with me when I go to check that nothing is suffering from dryness. It gets up past 100F degrees in there on a sunny day, so watering is important.

Finally, an update on the lilac shoots – they all seem to have rooted and are thriving. We took out the old tree and roots, but left a side growth next tot he kayak rack – I like continuity in a garden so this creates a good compromise solution. I’ll keep it trimmed so it doesn’t get out-of-hand like the parent tree. It will be fun in August finding places for the off-shoots.

Well, I’m off to fertilize as it’s summer and growth is fast – a little epsom salt pick me up should make everyone even happier.

Cheers all!


Passionate Peonies and Other Garden Secrets


I thought I would change things up this week and start with an update on the veggie gardens. Everything seems to be enjoying the 30c degree weather, although it is a bit of a task each morning to get the watering done. I always have the company of both Copper and Amber on these excursions, and frequently Harley, Cowboy, and Indie. The biggest challenge is keeping the dogs from trampling “good plants” as they chase the sprinkler water. I try not to yell “Out of the garden” too loudly as I don’t think the neighbours would appreciate that as a wake up call. I’ll leave that duty to the local roosters.

It is rewarding to see the small tomatoes appearing, and I am sure that soon baby cucumbers, peas, and zuchinni will join in. A friend commented that gardening is a lot of work and dirty. I guess it may be from time to time, (more so when starting out), but mostly its about a slow and steady pace tending everything. I find that relaxing and love discovering new treasures each morning.

Speaking of new treasures, I have to share the gifts of the flower beds with you. For some reason, maybe the mild winter or wet spring, the blooms are fabulous this year. The peonies seemed to be early, and I am glad that I have varieties that bloom at different times (look for early or late on the plant tags and descriptions when you are shopping) as it extends the period of enjoyment. Peonies can be delicate is there is lots of heat, wind, and hard rains. If there is only one type it can be very disappointing to come out after a rainy stormy night to find everything blown down and bedraggled.

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I have to share with you that a wonderful thing is happening in the greenhouse. After four attempts at growing moon flowers, across a number of years, in different locations and yards, finally I see flowers coming on the greenhouse vies. I have never seen these flowers in person, but they are supposed to be very large white flowers that open at dusk and have a lovely fragrance. I’ll keep you posted on their progress.

The last plant I would like to highlight today is the oriental poppy – it is so delicate with its paper flowers and large centres, and the blooms don’t last for very long – but they are so lovely. They range from two to four or 5 five inches across, and come in amazing vibrant colours, some with plan edges, and others with frilled. The plant itself isn’t much to look at and often dies back once flowering is done, but the blooms and seed heads are definitely worth it.

Now I leave you for this week with a final collection of bits from around the yard and wishes of happy gardening adventures, and having time to enjoy.


It’s a wonderful world

As summer draws nearer, gardening becomes less hectic, and the stories become more about enjoying the ephemeral nature of each plant through its season of blossom.

For me the garden is a place to think, whether I am dreaming, philosophizing, or simply practicing mindfulness. I try to be “in moment” when I garden and the reward is that it comes easily. Watching the dragonflies, which sometimes land on my shoulder or my glove in their vigilance against mosquitoes, deer flies, and other pesky garden buzzers is mesmerizing. They wheel and dive, continually outwitting and manoeuvring the cats who watch them with fascination.

The bumble bees and honey bees have moved from apple blossoms and the last to the bleeding hearts to the day lilies, the iris, peonies, and the siren-like valerian flowers. The buzzing is peaceful, sometimes magnified by the shape of the flower the visitor is feeding from.

The garden smells spicy and sweet, especially early in the morning and just as the sun sets. A cup of coffee, or a glass of very cold white wine make the first and final walkabouts of the day even more special, the first stimulating, and the last peaceful.

The garden cats are flourishing, bouncing and leaping in their exploration of so much that is new to them. The birds are wise to the two of them, dive bombing when they get too close to nests or fledglings, and swearing at them from the tree branches until the cats have moved along. They walk with me through the gardens, and come for the morning game of fetch with the three dogs, chasing along without fear. So far, the dogs have managed not to step on them, although how they avoid these crazy dashing cats zooming full speed under their bellies astounds me.

The veggies are doing well, peas climbing, cucumbers growing, tomatoes flowering, sweet potatoes sprouting leaves, white potatoes waiting for their next layer of soil, and strawberries ripening. Even the spinach lettuce and chard have recovered from the bunny attacks and are almost ready for a harvest.

The burgundy wine oriental poppy. This beauty was transplanted when we moved year and has been languishing for four summers. This year, it seems to have decided to get on with it and has four or five flower heads.

Yesterday morning, the first of the oriental poppies  appeared, with a stunning wine red bloom showing against the white of the spiarea bush. And the peonies are getting ready to burst. There are so many things to see and enjoy, it is no wonder that stress levels disappear with a walk through the garden.



Hope you are enjoying yours – I would love to hear about it if you have a moment to send along a message.


Sometimes a marigold is not gold at all

The gifts of the lake include a hollow log which has been converted into a planter. The begonias seem to thieve in this location. Behind you can see another grouping of iris, flanked by day lilies. This ifs the first year the iris have bloomed.

It’s time to change gears in the garden as the season moves from the rush of preparing beds, starting seedlings, planting them carefully into larger pots, and gradually introducing them to either the garden or planters, on to weeding, watering, fertilizing, and enjoying.

The hard work of gardening is in the late spring and early summer, a time of preparation and transition.

The planters are all made, the veggies all in the raised beds, and new beds are stocked andgrowing. Now I can take a breather and look around. I see that the

One of the tulip seed pods needing to be broken off

daffodils and tulips are done, so I have been deadheading these, a practice which allows the energy to go to the bulb rather than to seed production. The bleeding hearts have lasted long but are now showing seed pods (this look like little elongated pea pods).

The tomatoes are looking good, and I have been feeding them epsom salts weekly which they seem to like. The ones on the deck (cherry tomatoes for snacking) are coming in to flower, which I find astounding as it seems so early.

Tomatoes in the raised beds get a full day of sunshine to help them grow.

The pumpkins finally sprouted, as did the summer squash and one zucchini. I am debating whether to put in another zucchini seed, but don’t want to be stuck with tons of the veg. Oh, and the two types of watermelon are in the garden (I don’t know what to do with the spares…?).

The other day I was heading down to weed and looked up to see two lovely rabbits looking at me from the lettuce patches. After shooing them off, I inspected and came to understand why I had been seeing minimal growth on some plants – they were being munched as quickly as they sprouted. The next day became enclosure building day, and we have solved the bunny problem peacefully for all. The good news is lettuce and spinach will grow back as long as the roots weren’t eaten, and have already started to recover. I may have to tuck in a few pea seeds to fill in gaps in that patch. Thankfully, they hadn’t found the carrots yet.

I discovered that marsh marigold, although having great foliage and a pretty yellow flower is too enthusiastic an addition to a garden bed, so I started digging it out before it smothers all of its neighbours. I have a feathered poppy I would like to see flourish after a challenging start to its life. Being overrun by marsh marigold wasn’t helping the cause. Live and learn.

This seems to be a great year for iris and peonies. The first peony showed up this afternoon – a beautiful butter yellow single, it is one of my favourites. Iris which haven’t flowered in four years are blooming already, so I am definitely smiling on the morning walkabout. Also it looks as though some repositioned oriental poppies are doing very well and are throwing up flower pods. All of these plants come in various colours, so it keeps the gardens cheerful.

Finally, I was at the garden centre in North Bay (LaPorte’s on Lakeshore Drive) and spotted a lonely little lime three, that has since been adopted and is not living (happily I hope) in the greenhouse here. I also added a tropical hibiscus, a lily, and a bougainvillia to the collection, so my tropical retreat should be well on its way. I will be in big trouble come fall as far as wintering over, but I’ll figure that out in October.

I hope your gardening is going well, and your sprouts have become healthy plants! Until next time.

Gardens love a spring rain

Finally, it rained. Not the harsh early spring pounding that bashes down new seedlings, rather the warm, soft misting that seems to be a magic elixir to garden life. Stepping out into the garden after a night of warm rain, into an explosion of growth and the perfumes of lilac, balm of Gillead (poplar), tulips, and of course apple and cherry blossom, is healing for the soul. The only sounds are those of birds in the tree canopy, calling happily to each other. On an extra special morning, the geese will fly overhead on their way to daytime hangouts. You can hear the movement of their well feathered wings, along with tier honking.

At this point, almost everything started from seed this spring has been planted out. The tomatoes plants are on their way to passing 6 inches, the potatoes are

well above ground, and most of the veggies are showing through (peas, lettuce, kale, onion, cucumber, swiss chard, carrots). I am hopeful that this morning’s walkabout will reveal pumpkin and squash shoots joining the garden party.

Spring is also the time for starting new beds (OK, I have been known to start them anytime during growing season, but spring is good). New raised beds for the tomatoes give them good sun and fewer weeds to contend with, and are easier on gardener backs. Putting these in left me with a patch of bare earth that had proven over the past four summers to be good for growing but tough to rototill. New raised veggie beds in our lower garden provided some choices for this upper space, so I decided to transform it into a perennial bed.

The new bed has a wavy path through the middle, providing a nice transition through our bedrock outcrops. There is also a good anchor tree to help focus attention. I learnt a few years ago that being aware of growing heights, and line of sight are important aspects of garden planning, so I put in a bean cage for the clematis and moonflowers to climb, and placed the new day lilies in according to size. Most of the plants are perennials with a few annuals tossed into the mix for colour and interest. The other plants include lavender, angel’s trumpet, ranunculus, horehound, soapwort, verbena, millet (for foliage colour and visual interest), and some lovely little carpet thymes. On the other side of the path I threw a crazy mix of sunflower seeds, and many flower seeds including cosmos, baby’s breath, and such. I just remembered I have annual poppy seeds to add in as well – these are great in a garden as they self seed.

There is good news on the azalea bushes – both are throwing out healthy looking leaves in their new location, so I am optimistic that they like their new homes. There is similar positive news for the heather and the lavender bushes which needed to be relocated. I am glad that these plants tolerate being moved; it means that if the first place I dig them in doesn’t work, I can save them.

The other news is that the garden cats are feeling quite comfortable adventuring among

the grass and trees. They are both tree climbers, and despite pitiful meows from above are quite capable of climbing down on their own. This morning they were down in the lower garden with the dogs as we played ball – two cats and three dogs bouncing happily through the grass.

It’s a good life.

Random garden pics coming up…

Just me and a few hundred blackflies

Yes, black-fly season has arrived. But the good news that comes hand-in-hand with those pesky little critters is that it’s blossom time for all of the fruit bearing plants: strawberries, raspberries, Saskatoon berries, blueberries, apples, pears, cherries, and plums. With our late warm weather, the blossom is just starting to emerge and so everything will be in flower at once. The smells will be beautiful, and finally the bees will also have something for food besides the daffodils, tulips, bleeding hearts, and forget-me-nots.

This is a view looking up to the meditation garden from the front walkway. The bed was cleaned out replenished last fall, and is coming along beautifully. I love the line of bleeding hearts that showed up between the edge of this tier and the next one up.

I was passing the shade garden yesterday, and am happy to report that the sweetgrass plants from last year have survived the winter and are actually also coming into flower (little grass flowers). When I have tried to keep sweetgrass other times, the twitch grass overran it. This time I cut the bottom out of a large pot and planted the grass inside the buried pot. Success! Gardening is often a hobby of invention.

Here is the sweetgrass, growing happily.

Today was the day for starting the planters. It started with mixing soil in the riding tractor wagon – one quarter peat, one quarter vermiculite, one quarter compost, and one quarter soil. Once I have some in the containers, I add some bloodmeal (rather than bonemeal as it keeps the critters away form the plant). Many of the starter plants are now in “larger” pots as they adapt and grow. I pulled together a few baskets and display pots, combining angels trumpets, spillanthes and millet, zinnias and spillanthes, geraniums and zinnias, and making another giant vine pot with cathedral bells, passion flower, and moon flowers for the greenhouse.

I was running out of steam, when a parcel arrived with bareroot daylillies (no soil when shipped), so I reverted to my creative gardening motto and planted them all in pots so they can grow happily for a few weeks before i plant them. I did the same thing with the new clematis vines I had picked up on sale at Canadian Tire. Now everything is well set up and it doesn’t matter how quickly I get them planted.

An update on the garden cats – they are happy to be outside cats after all (I can only handle so much crying at the door I guess). They are hilarious running from tree to tree and hiding  under the hedges. They follow me down to the greenhouse and back up to the lake. We aren’t quite ready to let them out on their own yet, as we want to make sure they know where home is. So all is well, and they should soon begin photo bombing garden pics.

The early tomato plants are now on the front deck, planted with basil (both purple and green), and the second set are nearly ready for their raised beds – I guess that’s this weekend’s project.

Happy long weekend everyone and happy gardening.

This is the lakeside garden – not huge, but colourful and containing lots of different perennials. I like my gardens to have something in bloom from spring to fall. The out-of-focus greenery in the foreground are the buds of the new white lilac.