Starting Seeds!

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If you live in a northern climate you’re probably starting to hope that spring is just around the corner. In Canada, it’ll fool you. This past weekend I sat outside on our back step in just a tshirt and absorbed the sun into my pasty, pasty skin. But there’s still the threat of frost and so planting season around here begins quite late.

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You can, however, start your seeds inside 6-8 weeks before you plant them outside, and so you start with sturdy little seedlings that are more likely to survive some of the colder spring days.

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Use a potting soil that suits your needs – there are all different kinds.

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Just remember to keep the pots moist (but not dripping) and in a place that gets some decent sun – I’m trying to keep mine all on the same side of the house as where they’ll be planted, in case that helps.

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This mint I bought from the grocery store when I was making the Brazilian Lemonade – it will just root itself in a glass of water after about a week. Mint grows everywhere, and is really hard to kill.

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And when they get bigger I’m putting them in these fancy little holders – the height means that I don’t have to negotiate with my giant belly in order to weed them and I’m hoping it will help to deter the bunnies … WE SHALL SEE!

Look at my garden grow!

You may recall that when we moved into the house the backyard looked a little like this:

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That’s a little depressing. A year into our residence here, things are looking a bit more cheerful. You’ll remember that last fall I built my little “folly” in the back corner to house some of my herbs.

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I also carefully re-seeded the lawn so it was no longer black.

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This year I decided to take it a bit further. The grass has decided to take over the little white stones between the lawn and the patio stones, and I decided I’m going to let that happen. Gren gets very picky about stepping on them and I have to admit that barefoot they’re a mite uncomfortable. And the weeds were trying to take over the spaces between rocks in the spot between the patio stones and the garden bed. Rather than let them win, I decided to take over that spot myself. I had enough weeds to deal with in the garden itself, after all.

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So I dug up all the little white rocks and used them as border material to raise the height of the bed a bit. Then I filled it with soil. This aerial view shows you what I now gave myself to work with.

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I also weeded out the actual bed so that I could be sure that everything growing in there was supposed to be there.

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Then I went to the plant store. I limited myself to just one bag, because I was walking and because I didn’t want to drop hundreds of dollars. But it WAS a giant IKEA bag that I limited myself to. I purchased mostly herbs but I did get a few perennials that I love, like ivy, astilbe, and hens and chickens.

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Then I went at it and planted them all! I tried to be strategic about where things went in terms of how high they got and how much sun they needed, so we’ll see how that works out. Everything is still alive at this point, and I’m quite pleased with the results.

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My garden is finally starting to be the sort of place I like to sit in and gaze at. So it’s getting there. Plus now I have all these great herbs available for cooking. The only problem is that when I send the Pie out to the yard to harvest some he often comes back to tell me he doesn’t know which plant is which.

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So that’s part two of this project: plant markers. I started out with some neon craft paint, fine brushes, and some smooth river rocks.

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Then I started labeling. It was harder than I thought to get the paint to function in tiny text but I did my best. It doesn’t help that my penmanship totally blows.

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Now I have a nice little marker to tell the Pie what’s what, and also to help me remember where things are buried after the winter is over.

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Eventually I got tired of dealing with the paint and I switched to a metallic Sharpie, which worked extremely well.

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Everything in its place! I can’t wait to watch it all grow!

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Waging the Weed War

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This is the first of two posts about my garden this year, so if you’re not into gardening tune back in on Friday when I teach you how to make a frittata in less than five minutes.

If you’re still here, let me tell you now that I am not a natural gardener. I’ve made a few attempts at horticulture, but they rarely work out. That said, if the Pie and I want to take our eventual business of home ownership seriously, we both want an outside space that is a pleasure to visit, so I’ve been practicing my gardening skills in all our rentals up to this point. I might actually be getting somewhere now.

Weed War 2

But gardening isn’t all fun and games (well it’s rarely those things). There’s a lot of grunt work, and most of that involves WEEDING. My issue with weeding is that most of the time I try to plant things from seed and then I end up weeding out that which I planted. Whoops. Then dandelions happen. Whoops again. Don’t get me wrong, though, I do adore dandelions.

Dandelion Forest
Our back yard in St. John’s …

In our current house, we have a weed forest coming through the cracks in our patio stones.

Weed War 1

I spend a chunk of my gardening time hauling the weeds out for compost (I tried to take a picture of the compost bag but Gren decided to get in the way.

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I have this handy crack weeder that I got from Lee Valley (Gren’s nose again), and it’s useful for pulling the weeds out of the cracks, but they always come back.

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I keep hearing, however, that if you boil a kettle with half vinegar and half water …

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… and then sprinkle a little bit of salt in the cracks where the weeds are growing before drizzling boiling hot vinegar water into the cracks …

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… that the weeds die and don’t come back. So I will keep you posted on if this works.

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My Fall Folly

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On some of these lovely sunny autumn afternoons, I’ve begun slowly getting my newbie garden ready for winter. All my herbs pretty much went to seed while I was away and the people who installed my eavestroughing stomped all over all my tomato plants so there really wasn’t much garden left. And with temperatures starting to dip below freezing at night my herb containers were starting to look a bit peaky.

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Eavestrough drain: a necessary evil.

I’ve always wanted to take those stones left over from moving the hostas and build a folly in the backyard. A folly, if you didn’t know, is more or less a purely-for-decoration construction, usually made of rocks. Rich people used to build ruined castles and things on their estates just for fun and they cost a lot of money and were useless – hence, the builder’s folly. My “folly” has a bit of a function as a rock garden for my hardier herbs. These I pulled out of my containers and I hope they’ll last through the winter.

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The now-blank space where all my herb containers lived this summer.

I built a raised bed here because the back part of the yard gets really soggy when it rains. This means the weeds here are very happy and because of the dip in the landscape, it’s really hard to mow them down. I hope that a raised bed will prevent all of that and save me some time with the weedwhacker in future.

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As you can see, it’s been some time since we have mowed our lawn …

Mint and lemon balm are pretty much weeds, anyway, so I know they’ll stick around.

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I already have rogue mint growing amongst my decorative stones (though I *may* have planted it there).

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Did you know that parsley is a biennial? It flowers every TWO years. I’m keeping it around just for that.

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So there was no real science behind this folly, and I’m pretty sure it might fall down at some point, but that’s kind of what I’m going for. It’s just rocks piled on top of each other with dirt in the middle.

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And then plants.

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But it doesn’t interfere with the gate needed for the right-of-way in the backyard, so that’s nice.

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And it contributes to the general plan I have for this garden in year two, now that I’ve figured out all the kinks. Stay tuned!

The Garden Grows

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Check it out.

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The stuff I planted (FROM MUTHA-FLIPPIN’ SEED, YO) is actually growing, amazingly.

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I’m as shocked as you are, given my previous talent for killing all living things.

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But this hosta.  This came with the house.  And it’s enormous.

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It’s blocking the lilies that also came with the house, and the dahlias I recently planted.

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We can’t have that.  Especially as I’m not a huge fan of hostas to begin with.

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And I have that pile of rocks in the front next to the driveway that needs to be dealt with.

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What if … I split the hosta in two and planted it in place of that rock garden? Sounds like a plan. I got up pretty early one hot morning so I could do this before all my pasty white skin burned off.

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First I removed all the rocks in the little bed.

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I left the ones that were under the stairs so they could prevent the soil I was about to add from sliding under the porch.

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In fact, I added back in a few more to make a little wall.

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I knew these rocks were local because so many of them were just STUFFED with fossils, and good ones, too. There used to be an ocean above the Ottawa Valley, and so most of the rocks around town are sandstone with all sorts of little critters petrified inside.

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Now I filled the hole with soil. It took most of one of those awkward 20kg bags.

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Then I wrestled that huge hosta out of the ground in the backyard. There are no photos, because I was covered in mud and sweating like a pig. Turns out I no longer own a shovel, and so had to dig it out with a trowel. And then split it. With a trowel. I felt like a true victor once I had it out of the ground. Once I stuffed it into the bed in the front, I tamped down the soil, fertilized it, and watered it well. The (now plural) hostas took quite a bit of damage during the disinterment and transfer so I want to give them the best chance for survival.

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I don’t want to have to take too much care of these babies, so I took some of the prettier fossil-y rocks and placed them around the hostas to protect the soil from water loss and erosion.

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Because I had so many rocks leftover, I put some in a border around the edge of the wood, just because it looked more interesting.  I still had a ton remaining after this, so they’re currently lining the wall in my garage. I’m sure I’ll come up with something to do with them.

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I’m quite pleased with the result. It’s no feat of professional landscaping or anything, but it’s a sure sight better-looking than what was there before!

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My Busy Weekend: an Update

I did not bake for you this weekend.  Nor did I create some magical crafty confabulation.  Nope.  Sorry.  Instead, the Pie and I ran around town doing errands, then we busied ourselves around the house putting up pictures and knife racks and important stuff like that. We’re exhausted. So is Gren.

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So I’m just gonna give you a wee précis of what I got up to this weekend, which will eventually lead to further posts.  Really, it’s all for the greater good.

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Friday I picked up some gorgeous iris buds from my mother’s house, which then promptly bloomed overnight and gave me these gorgeous blossoms.

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She also gave me several pots of planted herbs, which I added to my meagre collection on the balcony. There’s sage, two kinds of basil, chives, dill, lavender …

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… parsley, garlic chives, thyme …

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… mint, oregano …

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… rosemary, and even a tomato.

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And after carefully watering and keeping the dog at bay, my wee grass seeds are finally starting to sprout!

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Saturday, we hit up the Great Glebe Garage Sale, which is a pretty big deal in town, but ended up being a complete zoo.

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There was an elf, as well as a guy dressed like a cow.

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We didn’t buy anything, though we were tempted by this tea cart. It was overpriced for what it was so we left it alone.

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There were some odd juxtapositions of things, like this ornate knife next to a box of Q-Tips.

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I liked the way this family laid out their clothes for sale.

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And if I had a giant grand front hall I would have put something like this in it.

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Though probably not something like this.

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I caught this from a distance, hence the blur: a flamingo with a wig.

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Suffice to say that our house-related chaos is dying down, as evidenced by the relative organization of our living room. I promise to have something more exciting for you soon!

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Finally … It’s Spring

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Sorry for the cheater post, but we’re moving tomorrow and I have a birthday cake experiment to attend to.

The trees are still bare, and there are some holdout snowbanks scattered around, but Gren no longer comes home from the park in need of an immediate hose-down.

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The local starlings have already started to build their nests in my neighbour’s decrepit roof. Reminds me of the starling family that lived in our bathroom ceiling in St. John’s for three years.

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It’s not very warm — in fact, local horticulturists here are warning gardeners to hold off on spring planting in Ottawa until the beginning of June.  But the grass is starting to turn green, and the bulbs are starting to put forth leaves.

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And in some cases, even flowers.

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And stuff I planted late last fall in a haphazard manner in the middle of a storm is even growing.

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This will be rhubarb soon.  That means pie.  And crumble.  And fool. And beverages.

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And irises in Ontario grow much better than the ones I had in Newfoundland.

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Can we say it’s finally spring?  I think so.  Let’s.

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Final Bounty

A short post for you this Friday morning.

Final Bounty 1

Moving day is drawing near and we are experiencing our final summer here at Elizabeth.  And that means that it’s the final year of my first ever solo garden experiment.  If you’ve been following along, you’ll know it hasn’t exactly gone as planned, but I have reaped some benefits.  My delphiniums, the only plant I have ever successfully grown from seed, have survived the construction crew burying them in tree branches and should be in full bloom by the Pie’s birthday (they are his birth flower after all).  The irises my mother sent me that have been churning out bulbs for almost thirty years are finally blooming, as is the accidental wild rose bush I found out back one year and cut entirely down by mistake (the fact that it only started to bloom after I cut it to the ground tells me I did something right).

Final Bounty 2

And the peonies that I rescued and have been coddling for years are having a bountiful year.  Instead of the usual one or two blooms I now have over a dozen (before you pooh-pooh that, remember this is Newfoundland and my backyard is 100% shade).  So I figured I’d cut some down (before they fell) and haul them inside to enjoy, together with a few of the roses trampled by construction workers, and a sprig or two of the noxious weeds that strangle the rest of my flower beds (may or may not be, or related to, Queen Anne’s Lace — jury is still out and I don’t really care).  I may have packed all my vases, but a travel mug does in a pinch.  Happy summer!

Final Bounty 3

Removing Orchid Fungus

How’s that for an inviting title?

This is my orchid.  Isn’t it lovely?  My neighbour gave it to me for Christmas.

But you see the leaves here?  See that white stuff?  It’s FUNGUS.  Ew.

Not to worry.  It doesn’t do any real damage to your plant.

And it’s easy to remove.

Check this out.  Take an alcohol pad, or a cotton ball with alcohol on it, and just give your leaves a thorough wiping.

Don’t forget the undersides of the leaves either. 

And of course make sure you get all the other leaves.

That’s it, that’s all there is to it.  TADA.

Ottawa Style Loves My Parents’ Garden

My parents’ garden is more famous than I will ever be.  But I’m okay with that.  Now you can see what I have to live up to in terms of DIY.

My parents' garden, as photographed by Ottawa Style Magazine

Unfortunately that’s the largest image I have, so I’ve transcribed it below:

Why:
All the exuberance of spring. Peonies, irises, lupins, and poppies.
Best Time to Visit: Mid-June
What: When Janet and John Bell moved to their grey clapboard house 12 years ago, there was no garden.  But they brought the backbone of a garden with them in plastic bins from their house near the Rockliffe airbase.  Hostas and peonies, irises and lupins, 13 varieties of thyme, clematis, lavender, honeysuckle, and pink poppies now thrive in this garden that wraps around two sides of the house.  “We started from the house and worked outwards toward the road,” says Janet, an artist who works in fine detail in pen and ink.

The garden is a history of their marriage.  The peonies, a colour card of pinks from deep to pale, were all given to the couple by the minister who married them 34 years ago.  There’s also a hosta that came from John’s father and is over 20 years old.  These plants have travelled all over Canada with them as they have moved from coast to coast for John’s work.  Irises are a particular favourite of the couple — there’s a spectacular example of the pink bearded variety ‘Beverly Sills’ — and they have grown several unusual varieties from seed.  In high gardening season, they spend about three days a week keeping up with the exuberant growth, and in fall they fertilize their sandy soil with sheep manure and peat moss.  The secret to this splendour is simple: “If it doesn’t thrive, get rid of it,” says Janet.

The Shining: This garden is a riot of colour in early summer, with peonies, poppies, irises, clematis, and all manner of perennials.  Irises (show to full advantage at right) are a particular favourite of the couple, who, over the years, have dug up and taken their favourite plants with them whenever they moved.

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