I guess you could say that we had summer in September this year! It was beautiful, wasn't it? And now this week is suddenly fall, and this week-end will be winter, with snow in the forecast! Typical Calgary.
So, what to get done in a flurried frenzy this week before snow?
Roasted Tomatoes from Rebar Cookbook
Preheat oven to 250oF. Cut about 10 tomatoes in half and arrange cut side up on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with about 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp cracked pepper, and 2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme or rosemary. Roast up to 4 hours. Yum!
So last year I said one of my goals for this year was to get the so-called greenhouse cleaned out so it would be ready to tear down... Here's what it looked like last year (scroll down to the second-last picture). This spring the first step was to get the potting bench moved out onto an otherwise unused spot of patio on the north side of the house:
... kind of cute, don't you think? And the best part is, now that I don't have to step over junk and clutter to get to the potting bench at the back of the greenhouse, I actually used it this year for the first time in 5 years!! Hooray!
But the rest of the "greenhouse cleaning project" is not nearly as fun and is sadly unfinished. The inside is still cluttered with many things that I don't feel like dealing with right now:
If anyone wants some free ceramic pots or wire hanging baskets, please let me know and they're yours!
I'm still hoping that we'll get the greenhouse taken down next year - it is shaded by trees, rotting, and a haven for mice, ants and wasps... and the kids are dying for a play house in this spot!! Hopefully by next spring I'll have enough energy for another go at this.
A regular reader and commenter (thanks, BTW!) of this blog, Paula, sent me some pictures a while ago and I've been meaning to post them. I don't post too many "before and after" of my own garden designs for clients, since I don't usually do the actual planting, just provide a drawing, so there's nothing much to look at. So, here are some pictures that are much prettier to look at than my sketches!
Some of the front/side garden - nice job Paula!
I especially love this one (above). I always tell clients that the line between where the grass ends and the garden begins is one of the most important things in the overall design - because it is the line that your eye sees. So make big, sweeping, smooth curves, not little squiggly ones. The circular shape of this line and how it follows the circle around the base of the tree looks great. I wouldn't necessarily change a thing, but if you wanted to go for even more impact I could see the bed around the tree becoming just a little bigger, and the grass effectively becoming a narrow pathway around the tree. A bench in there somewhere would also be a visual treat and provide a place to sit and enjoy the view. BTW, the repeat of pink flowers and the various foliage colours and textures look great, too!
Paula sent me a couple pictures of her morning glories, after I complained about mine. Paula, I'm still not convinced! Yes, yours are beautiful! Yes, I finally got flowers too this year and yes, they are big and exotic looking, but the quantity of flowers and length of bloom time cannot beat sweet peas - not to mention morning glories don't have any fragrance! I'm definitely planting more sweet peas next year and will probably skip the morning glories...
Here is Paula's greenhouse (I am so jealous!) in the back, surrounded by lots of garden. I love the green picnic table too - as you know I'm all about colour, there's no beige in my garden! She's done an especially great job because here's what it used to look like...
Wow, what a transformation! And don't get me started on what a pain it is to get rid of all that gravel mulch.... Please people, it is not low maintenance, and unless you are planting a desert-style, xeriscape type of garden, it is ugly, ugly, ugly. Paula, we should start an educational campaign about the disadvantages of gravel mulch! The number of clients I've had who've asked me how to get rid of weeds that are growing in their "no maintenance" gravel mulch... well, I could go on but I won't.
Here's some more "before" pictures from Paula. Paula, I sympathize with you on the paint colours and the gravel! As you know, I've had the same issues at my own house. Sometimes you just want to meet the previous owners, shake them, and ask them what the &*^$#! they were thinking, don't you?!!
Anybody else out there want to share like Paula and show us some of your garden pics?
While an outright ban of pesticides may not be reasonable, I do support a strong pesticide by-law which will ban their use for cosmetic purposes, such as lawn-care companies and home owners who apply blanket applications of chemicals that probably ultimately end up in our storm drains and rivers. But targeted applications are also often unnecessary or done inappropriately by people who don't have a clue what they are doing - when they could just get out their dandelion digger, for example! Pesticides should also be banned in playgrounds, picnic areas, and at certain times of year - like right before the monsoons of June, for example. Really, it's time for people to get over the expectation that lawns should look like a perfect, painted blanket of green.
Coalition for a Healthy Calgary is asking us to contact the Aldermen who are currently "sitting on the fence" on this issue and ask them to support a strong pesticide by-law in Calgary. Find more information here.
OMG, is Calgary beautiful in September, or what? I must admit, while I usually try to be optimistic about gardening in Calgary, the horrible June we had this year almost had me wanting to close up shop and move. Then there was that week in August where I had to turn the furnace on every morning and pull out all my fleece clothes... I did want to move then, let me tell ya! But this amazing September we've had more than makes up for all that, don't you think? (actually, a little more rain would have been nice)
I took my bike around the Glenmore reservoir at lunch today and took some non-gardening photos. I added more than half an hour to my ride and I'm going to have to go in early tomorrow to catch up on work, but 34o in late September? It was worth it!
The pictures are in order as I started in North Glenmore Park, went counter-clockwise down through Weaselhead, around past the sailing club and Heritage Park and back.
At this time of year, all the local gardening advice says to prepare to start covering your pots, or move them to a protected place (like a garage) at night, to save them from frost, and for things you can't move, cover them with a sheet. Yes, I can see that if you save things from one or two nights of frost, you may get an extra week or two out of them.
But not me. I'm done. It's getting too dark and cold in the mornings (before the kids wake up, when I usually get my gardening done), I'm busy at my "real job", and I'm winding down for this gardening year. Everything out there can just fend for itself now - except the tomatoes, they would be worth getting an extra week out of!
Caveat: I've said before that I don't do anything fancy with containers. Maybe someday when I don't have major projects to get done in the garden each spring, I can spend a little time being more creative with container plantings, but for now, I must warn you that I am a perennial expert, not a container expert! For the most part, I just plunk in a few tried-and-true annuals. Anyway, for my own records, here's how my pots did this year:
By the garage door I've got a mix of begonias and impatiens in a strawberry pot, and some fabulous variegated thing I picked up at Superstore without a tag. There's also nasturtiums and lavender in the bottom corners of this picture. There's also a petunia in the hanging basket, plus some yellow creeping jenny which I should really pull out now and stick in the ground somewhere as it's a perennial.
This amazing weather we've been having has sure done great things for my tomato crop this year! But inevitably, there will be lots of green tomatoes left at the end of the season. Here's a great article from Hole's Greenhouse about what to do with them (and join their Facebook page to get your own updates):
I rather doubt that gardeners need to be told how to deal with ripe tomatoes any more than they need advice on what to do with a cold beer on a hot day. No, the tricky part about growing tomatoes is knowing what to do with the green ones. More specifically, knowing how to turn them from green to red once they’re off the plant and in the house. Well, wonder no more. Here’s a little 411.
If we are going to start at the top, we may as well start at the top of the tomato plant too—which is exactly where the greenest tomatoes live. Well, my advice for harvesting these little green marbles is this: don’t bother trying. There’s absolutely no cajoling fruit that immature into ripening. The reason is simple. Immature fruit contains immature seed. And immature seed won’t mature once it’s removed from the mother plant. In essence, it’s a genetic dead end. Think about it: a tomato plant wants nothing more than to pass on its genes to future generations. When humans eat tomatoes, we become (theoretically at least) good vehicles for partially digesting and eventually…urm… “distributing” the seed to good growing sites. One of the ways tomato plants encourage us to spread those mature seeds is by tipping the gastronomic scales in favour of ripe fruit. Simply put, we eat what tastes good. And immature fruit loaded with bitter glycoalkaloids is a tomato plant’s way of saying “Don’t eat me!’
Okay, that leaves the green tomatoes on the rest of the plant, the ones I like to think of as “tomatoes in transition.” Now, provided that transitional fruit is not too green, it can be rather easily transformed to red. Here are the three most common techniques.
Some gardeners swear by the old technique of hanging an entire tomato plant (stem, leaves, fruit et al.) upside down in the basement or garage. It works quit well, too. Many of the green fruit make the transformation easily thanks to leaves and stems that continue (at least for a little while) to pump water and nutrients into the fruit. The technique still isn’t sufficient to transform highly immature fruit from green to red, but it works well on the marginal fruit.
A second technique is to pile the tomatoes into a cardboard box, lined and covered with newspaper. Contrary to popular belief, there’s nothing miraculous about the newspaper itself (although it is remarkably good at wicking moisture from the tomato skins, thus reducing the incidence of fruit rot). What is miraculous is the ethylene gas that the tomatoes produce. Not only is the ethylene gas something plants produce naturally, it’s also what’s ultimately responsible for turning the fruit red. Important to note, however, is that the ripening process isn’t necessarily accelerated by “trapping the gases” beneath the newspaper. All the newspaper really does is reduce physical damage to the tomatoes.
The last technique involves placing the tomatoes on a sunny windowsill. The common belief here is that the sun will ripen the fruit, but the ripening process really has more to do with sunny sills being warm, and it’s that increase in temperature that aids the ripening process in this instance.
And that’s all there really is to know about harvesting green tomatoes. In fact, I think the hardest thing to understand and accept is that you’ll always have more green fruit than you can ever use. After you’ve transformed, fried, made into relish, crushed into sauce, eaten fresh out of hand or thrown at a sibling, September will still provide more than its share of inedible fruit. January does the same; it’s just known as “field-grown imported.”
Granted, this is a rather pathetic looking example of a classic fall combination, but here you go! I am excited about this one because every year the hares have eaten all the flower buds off my rudbeckia and it has never bloomed.
This year maybe it has reached a critical mass such that even though some buds were eaten, it still looks decent.
I plunked the liatris bulb in this spring because I had bought a package to fill up some spots in the other (new) side of the front welcome garden. Those ones all had their tops eaten but this one didn't - go figure!
I tried not to go too crazy with bulbs this fall. The back hill garden is so jam-packed with big annuals that I can't get in there to plant bulbs anyway! And other areas I want to make a few changes to the perennials before I plant too many bulbs (otherwise inevitably when I'm moving perennials around I accidentally dig up some bulbs that are hiding somewhere where I've forgotten about them... I've seen some people suggest marking them with sticks, flags, etc., but does anyone actually do that?) I'll try to be more organized next spring and take pictures of where bulbs already are and where I want to add more...
Anyway, I could resist putting just a few things in this year:
What fun it is to have a whole new garden area to plant from scratch! In my large, established yard with mostly garden and little grass left, I don't get this opportunity very often any more! In fact, I think this area may be the last large-ish area I had left to plant!
The area behind the new retaining wall is very shady on the left, and a little more sunny on the right. What were my plant criteria? I wanted to put in some shrubs around the back to prevent the kids from playing back there - anything that produces berries was preferred (BTW that is more difficult to find in shade plants but made the plant selection easier). I definately wanted something evergreen to look at in the winter, and a wide variety of foliage colours and textures from perennials, of course! Here's what I ended up with:
... and closer up:
The plants are:
There. New shade garden finished (for now). Now I really must concentrate on emptying that compost bin that I said was such a high priority! Planting new stuff is way more fun...
Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper) is such a beautiful vine in the right spot! Its fall colour is fantastic if it gets enough sun. Mine, however, was planted on the northeast side of my house, and with the additional shade of surrounding trees, it only got a couple hours of morning sun. It was almost dead when I moved into this house 5 years ago, and I have tried to save it… until now. This past week-end I ruthlessly ripped it out!
This is what it looks like by this time of year – the leaves have turned brown and spotted, and it is hopping with little bugs, literally called 'Virginia creeper leafhopper' (or ‘erythroneura ziczac’, if you want to get technical!) These bugs are notoriously difficult to get rid of and are to blame for making the vine look so ugly by this time of year.
So, out this vine comes. Some possibilities for replacing it? Honeysuckle vines do fairly well in partial shade, but I already have 3 in the backyard, so was looking for something different. I ended up choosing an alpine clematis. This is not one of the large-flowered clematis that bloom in summer and need lots of sun, but a hardy, spring blooming clematis that likes partial shade and never needs cutting back.
The clematis variety that I got, mainly because it was one of the few I could find at the garden centers this time of year,is called clematis alpina ‘Willy’. It has pale pink, nodding flowers, and as I said, blooms in spring and doesn’t need cutting back. I should eventually get 6-8 ft tall and wide, so eventually will cover my chimney again. It is drought tolerant once established and not generally bothered by pests.
Front welcome garden perennials in bloom: daylilies, echinacea, veronica spicata 'Sunny Border Blue', yarrow 'Paprika' and 'Moonshine', catmint 'Walker's Low', liatris spicata, rudbeckia, feather reed grass 'Karl Foerster'; foliage of cushion spurge and tiger eyes sumac are starting to change colour. Annuals: california poppy, painted sage, euphorbia, borage.
Closer to the house perennials in bloom: yarrow, veronica spicata 'Red Fox', monarda (bee balm), monkshood, annabelle hydrangea, purple bugbane; foliage of bleeding heart is starting to change colour. Annuals: painted sage. These areas are struggling along and I'm hoping that they will do better next year after I take out a tree.
In the side garden, there are only perennials blooming: liatris, red yarrow, clematis, globe thistle. I'm thinking I should put some annual cosmos or cleome in here next year - some of my favourite flowers for cutting!
In the butterfly potager perennials: roses, clematis, hyssop, agastache, hollyhocks, daylily, red bee balm, annabelle hydrangea. Annuals: scarlet runner bean, red poppies, petunias, verbena bonariensis, nasturtiums.
In the kids' adventure garden perennials: roses, rudbeckia 'Golden Glow', peachleaf bellflower, russian sage, echinacea, liatris, sedum matrona, monkshood, blue flax, yarrow, lamb's ears, plume poppy, russian sage, deschampsia (tufted hair grass) and helictotrichon (blue oat grass). Annuals: lavatera, nicotiana sylvestris, verbena bonariensis, cosmos, borage, snapdragons, clarkia.
Oh, and don't forget those yummy edibles! These days we're eating lettuce, scarlet runner beans, and tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes from the garden. The tomato season may be short in Calgary, but if you ask me at this time of year I will say it sure is worth it to have taken care of those plants all summer in order to have a glorious few weeks of the most delicious tomatoes you can possible imagine! (Can you tell, I'm on a tomato high right now!)
Can you see the skid marks on the sidewalk in this picture? And the tire tracks going over my garden and across the neighbour's lawn? Heading directly for that 50-year-old lilac shrub that is lying on the ground?
At 2:15 yesterday morning some moron came screeching around the corner of our quiet crescent and smashed into my neighbour's lilac. Here is half of it lying on their lawn, and the other half was dragged halfway down the street.
Am I a bad person to feel thankful/glad/relieved that my garden was spared and the only thing that got run over in my garden was a single daylily? It could have been much worse!!
I hope the neighbour's lilac will regrow.
If you are attaching a trellis directly to a wall, leave a space of about 5 cm behind it to make it easier for the vine to grow around and behind the slats. Here you can see the new trellis in my back shade garden is screwed into some pieces of wood which create the desired space. If a trellis is the kind with "legs" that you poke into the ground, then leave the same amount of space but secure the top with a wire or bracket to give some extra support.
Voila! Here's my new trellis with a little clematis tangutica planted at the bottom. I really like the feeling of being "in" a garden, which means that there are not only plants at your feet, but plants growing up the walls of the garden as well, and closing you in. I hope this trellis and vine will help to achieve that in a few years, in a very shady, dry area of the garden where things had been looking a little bare.
Now if only I could camouflage that electrical meter box! I'm thinking of painting it blue...
It has been another dry summer, even by Calgary standards. Most people assume that large, mature trees don't need any extra water, but that is definitely not the case. Even those big spruce trees that dot the older Calgary landscape appreciate a little extra water now and then. And if you have planted any new trees in the last few years or have fruit trees, you definitely want to baby them with additional water (I'm all about sustainability but if you're growing food, you're going to have to water in Calgary!)
An arborist that I really trust gave me this advice for watering trees:
That means you should be watering your trees this week!
Update, Sept 24 '09: If you don't believe me, here's another article from Nora Bryan.
Here is my September garden to-do list - quite short, don't you think? By this time of year I'm starting to get tired... it's just maintain, maintain, maintain and no new projects left to achieve (the ones I didn't get done this year can wait until next year!)
However, September is a good time for planting - either moving or adding perennials while the changes you want to make are fresh in your mind. Despite this latest heat wave, the shorter days and cooler nights mean the plants don't get quite as stressed when their roots are disturbed, but there's still plenty of time for them to get established before winter. Anyway, here's what I hope to get done this month:
Keep up with weeding, deadheading and watering (except stop deadheading the roses to discourage fresh growth).
Continue to fertilize pots (in my case, annuals and tomatoes) until killing frost.
Empty at least one of the compost bins and spread on the garden and lawn (I was meaning to do this in May and June, and by July I didn't even put it on my to-do list because I knew I wasn't going to get to it, but I can see some of my plants are not appreciating the lack of compost this year and I have vowed to make this more of a priority in the future. Now I am forced to empty at least one bin for sure this month to make room for all the new material I will be putting in the bins in October after the perennials start to die back.)
This is a great time to plant perennials and shrubs – see what you can find on sale! I’m going to be filling up my new retaining wall area soon.
Since I've had some questions about it, here is the macleaya cordata (plume poppy) I started from seed this spring. I ordered the seeds from Florabunda Seeds. As it says on the follow-up comments on this post, I've since heard that this plant is fairly difficult to start from seed. I managed to get one little seedling out of a whole packet! Anyway, that's all I needed.
This seedling spent the summer in a pot until it was big enough (now) to be transplanted into the back of the adventure hill garden in my Calgary backyard. It is in front of a big spruce tree so won't get the moisture it loves, but it is a tough plant and I hope it will do all right here.
Generally I don't start too many perennials from seed (only annuals) because perennials take longer to get to a decent size. But this plant grew quickly and if you look closely you can see it even has a flower bud on it, which not many perennials produce in their first year from seed. But those big, deeply lobed leaves with white undersides are the reason I wanted this plant in my garden.