Monday, April 30, 2007

Spaceship update

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
sugar snap peas and turnips

The spaceship (wooden framed peaked hoophouse thingy) is coming down some time in the next couple weeks so I thought I would give a final update on what's inside. Including what is obvious in the picture, there is also lettuce seedlings, turnip green, resprouting swiss chard, and beets. I've planted carrots and they may have come up but my carrot seedlings are dopplegangers for a weed seedling during the first week so more waiting is required.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Nursery season and impulse buying
Fence plants

It may be true that many a nurseryman or woman knows me, possibly even by name. They may also note my habit of wandering around, reading all the labels then not buying anything.

I can't help going but I do try really hard not to buy anything. Many women have the reputation of being compulsive book shoppers (you thought I was going to name some clothing item didn't you?) but I have a problem with plants. What stops me is that many of the best deals are for plants that I can't in good conscience fork over cash for. A neighbour or gardening friend is bound to have it in abundance. All I need to do is ask.

Either that or it is painfully easy and significantly cheaper to start it by seed. And I am not forgetting about growth medium (sterilize regular dirt or compost in the oven), pots (yoghurt containers), or light (I do have florescent bulbs but my solanums - tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, ground cherries etc... - get priority). Many plants can and prefer to be direct seeded.

Free over the fence

1. ground covers - these include periwinkle, bugleweed, creeping jenny (highly invasive), barren strawberry, mother of thyme etc...
2. hostas - I have been offered these numerous times when I've shown appreciation of their massive plants.
3. any member of the mint family - spearmint, chocolate mint, peppermint, pennyroyal, bergamont/monarda, oregano
4. yarrow (come to my house for some please)
5. iris
6. daylily
7. bell flower, especially the creeping kind
8. violets (plenty out back for all who are interested and I am sure that I can keep up with demand)
9. lilac - suckers will grow faster than you think
10. lamb's ear
11. rhubarb
12. raspberry / blackberry etc...
13. ox-eye daisy - the weed is just as pretty as the cultivated variety, really
14. chinese lantern / physalia
15. many ornamental grasses with spreading rhisomes like ribbon grass
16. lupin - at least in some yards, like mine, there's little stopping it

I could go on, but you get the idea. If it doesn't have some fancy varigation (like that gorgeous green-white-pink varigated jacob's ladder with the clear blue flowers, be still my heart) then it is probably owned in abundance by someone you know.

Not only that but many bushes easily air layer. In my yard this includes:

1. Euonymus
2. Currant - including the alpine currant hedge
3. forthysia
4. culinary thyme

That's not to mention the self-seeding annuals. Probably someone down the block is right now is cursing a flower that you covet because of its over-exhubarant reproduction. They are furiously pulling up hundreds of seedlings which could have been transplanted into your yard to continue the cycle of amazement at the germination rate of just one stray cosmos/black eyed susan/nigella/etc...

If you live a couple fences down from me, feel free to stop by and stare too long at a plant you are interested in. Chances are, I'll give you a piece so you can save your money for a good shovel (or that fantastic varigated jacob's ladder... sigh).

Impulse buying on site:

Sometimes, it is not the plant so much as the new garden bed that you have need to fill. This is one of the most common problems I have. There is a naked spot in the garden and there are rows upon rows of pretty plants giving me that orphaned puppy look. Therefore I have devised a native plant list to take with me. It is surprising what I have discovered that I grow in my garden which is native. Also there are a number of native plants species or cultivars available that the local wildlife would really appreciate.

You may be thinking 'She's not preaching about native plants again! They're soo dull.' But check out the list of plants I either already have that are native or would like to get:

Pearly everylasting
Jewelweed or touch-me-not (cultivar)
Bergamont, red and pink (cultivar)
Bleeding heart
Mexican hat / prairie coneflower
Helen's tears (cultivar)
Geranium (cultivar?)
Common Bellflower
Foamflower (cultivar)
Anemome (cultivar)
False sunflower
Columbine (cultivar)
Sweet Cicely
Evening primrose
switchgrass / panic grass
spotted deadnettle
Wild rose (cultivar)
Buttefly weed
Blue phlox
Obedient Plant
Black-eyed susan
Dutchman's breeches
Bird Cherry
Trout Lily
Coreopsis (cultivar)

I have to thank an early plantcycle event for most of the above plants.. All he said at the time was that they did very well in his garden, were vigorous and very pretty. He was right!

Fletcher's Wildlife Garden has lots of information on native plants they use in their own landscaping. If I see that the plant is on my 'okay' list then I feel better about purchasing it but if not then I remind myself to wait until their annual native plant sale which this year is on June the 2nd.

(They also have lots of good information on how to propogate these plants. I feel it necessary to include that you should always check to make sure that a native plant is not endangered before collecting, that it is best to collect only a small percentage of the seed from a number of plants rather than all from one and if the plant must be propogated vegetatively be careful not to hurt the parent plant. Okay, done, now go turn your backyards into cultivated wilderness!)


Gardening with native plant links
basic plant division

Plant Re-cycling Event from plantcycle

I've been to plenty plant recycling events, organized through plantcycle, but this was my very first time as host. The rules are simple. Bring gardening related things, take gardening related things. No trading is necessary. Of course, unlike all the other ones that I have been to, it was raining! But what gardener lets a little rain keep them away from plants?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Plants all lined up and ready to go.

Besides, don't plants like rain? Especially the nice misty rain we had that day, perfect for planting out perrenials.

They came. They brought plants, a very small sampling of which included:

1. spirea
2. iris
3. tomato
4. purple leafed bugleweed
5. oregeno
6. dahlia tubers
7. sweet cicely
8. daylily
9. hollyhock
10. coleus
11. And much, much more!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Coleus and spider plant

They came. They brought seeds which I could not even give you a cursory list of because it would be so extensive but suffice it to say that it included everything from annuals to vegetables. I picked up alaskan nasturtium, fernleaf fennel, bunching onion and cilantro.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Seeds ans snacks

They came. They brought pots, and plant markers made from cut up mini blinds.

I also learned that there were two other garden bloggers in attendance:

I wet my plants - great name.
--memory failure-- please email me if you read this so I can include you!

Best of all, none of us spent any money at a nursery.

If you live in the Ottawa Area and are interested, join us at plantcycle. We'll have another plant event before you know it.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
My littlest with a pot of dark leafed ajuga.


Interesting plant markers

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Winter sown success

I'll admit it now, I was starting to have my doubts.

My little winter sown seeds in pop bottles were being alternatively frozen and thawed, frozen and thawed in such a way that I thought that the seeds would shatter before they have a chance to sprout.

At least two sets of seeds saw things differently:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Linen flax, collected from a garden plant.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Another angle.

The rose hibiscus has also spouted. What I really hope makes it is the butter and eggs wild snap dragon. I will definitely try this technique next year, though I think I will put the pop bottle homes in my spaceship hoophouse to further speed germination.


A series of little posts to catch up. My other half has been monopolizing the computer because of work or some other similar excuse!

Potatoes have arrived, greensprouting

Eagle Creek Potatoes has shipped me my order.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

They offer foursums which are, as you might guess, packs of four potatoes of a single variety. You can get many of these foursums, four being the initial suggestion, thereby increasing the fun in your potato patch. Other than the russian blues, all the seed potatoes were large enough to cut up if I wanted to but I never do that.

As per the instructions on the helpful information sheet that accompanied my order, I am green sprouting:

Hortiphilia Fact:

Green sprouting potatoes is to leave seed potatoes in a cool (10-15 degrees Celcius) and bright place (such as a sunny window) to develop sprouts. Also known as chitting*.

They then suggest to plant when the soil is about the same temperature as the seed potato. This pre-growing is supposed to increase the strength of the plant and eventual yield. We shall see.

Normally, I just stick whole seed potatoes in the ground, give them a salute, and say, "good luck". I don't fertilize though my soil is frequently ammended with various organic matter, and I rarely manage to hill up as often as I should. However, I have had good luck with potatoes and hope to continue to do so. From the myriad ways that are suggested to grow potatoes, I suspect that they are hardy souls. So if you aren't going for a record in size, earliest maturity, or highest yield, you could probably grow them any which way.

I have only two potato growing tips:

1. Acid soil prevents scab so consider incorporating something acidic like oak leaves into the soil the year before.

2. The colorado potato beetle has a thing for physalias (chinese lanterns) in our garden and doesn't bother anything else. Try it as a trap crop. And let me know if it works for you too.

Okay, three - if you want to cheat and dig up little tasties, mulching is a good idea. Then you don't have to go gingerly digging in the soil, you just have to move back the mulch to search for those delicious new potatoes.

* Chitting? This is a term used to describe any pre-sprouting technique in seeds or tubers except for sweet potatoes where they seem to use the term slip production.


Heritage potato varities
Potatoes under straw
Potatoes in hills - agricultural scale of hilling up potatoes
Potatoes in tires

A series of little posts to catch up. My other half has been monopolizing the computer because of work or some other similar excuse!

Curb side gardening

And by that I mean:


Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Check out my wine barrels. Yes, they were curb side.

But that is not the only way I get gardening stuff for free. I also belong plantcycle, a great group of generous gardeners which recycle anything gardening related, including advice (there is always an endless supply of that).

My recent pick up was three bags of this:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

This group operates on yahoo, but any similar service would do if you want to start one in your neighbourhood. We also hold regular plant events - the next one is at my humble garden - where we talk shop and swap, swap, swap. Actually, I mostly just give away. No trading is necessary.

It's a great way to get together with other enthusiasts (as well as point your thumb way down at 'the system'.)

A series of little posts to catch up. My other half has been monopolizing the computer because of work or some other similar excuse!

My garden helper - kids

Given that I have such a gigantic garden (it is by urban standards), I need a crew of assistants to keep it at its best which is what the smallest member of my team must think she is up to.

You may notice that my helpful daughter is wearing summer clothes when there aren't even any leaves on the hedge behind her. Weather is weird.

She's digging in my recently installed shade garden. Kids are like squirrels... drawn to that which has been cultivated. There must be some reason that patch of ground is interesting, think both rodent and youngster alike.

A series of little posts to catch up. My other half has been monopolizing the computer because of work or some other similar excuse!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Frost burnt tomato
Green thumb sunday II

Didn't enjoy the crocuses in my last post?

Feeling like craning your neck at a disaster?

Check this out:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Oh yes, it's a frost burnt tomato plant. (obviously it was only a little singed or it would be a gonner). I listened to the forcast that called for a mild night and left my babies in their mini greenhouse on the front porch. When I woke up in the morning, I was filled with cold dread as I noticed that my overwintered pepper was wilting. But I watered them last night, I thought. Oh no... frost. It has to be frost. No, wait, perhaps it was just that they were too cold and weren't able to take up water. Phew, at least the tomato plants look okay. I'll just try not to think about it until later on this afternoon. They'll perk up. They will. Won't they?

(several hours later I arrive back home)

It's a miracle! I'm sooo sorry I left you poor little dears in the cold. Never again. Oh wittle babies... you're okay. Wait, what's wrong with the tomato. Damn that frost! At least it's not dead... serves me right. Lesson learned.

Love your tomatoes and they'll love you, or at least give you some tomatoes.


Sun and wind can also cause similar discolouration and leaf drop in a syndrome I like to call 'BPP or bad plant parent.' Always harden off with caution.

Join Green Thumb Sunday

Gardeners, Plant and Nature lovers can join in every Sunday, visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Early Spring Bulbs
Green Thumb Sunday

You aren't really going to show me a picture of crocuses are you?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Crocuses with petals spread like hungry bird mouths in the bright sun.

But I've seen sooo many pictures already and I've moved on to Magnolia...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Small crocuses in cheery trios.

... alium... oriental poppy....

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Crocus interplanted with garlic.

even tulips for crying out loud...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Small grape hyacinth and that blue eyed grass like bulb.

Exactly, how far behind are you?

Show me something remotely interesting for green thumb sunday!

See post II

Join Green Thumb Sunday

Gardeners, Plant and Nature lovers can join in every Sunday, visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Classic Combos - mag spoiler

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Oregeno and Beebalm in my herb garden.

While standing in the checkout line, my eyes could not help but gawk at the gardening magazines titalating as they are with their lurid colours and suggestive titles: Best garden ever, no fail perrenials, all new, all better, all YOURS.

Anyhow, amoung the ever pervasive BUY MORE NOW theme were several with variations on Plant Combinations. So this month's magazine spoiler* will focus on some Classic Combinations.

Hosta and Astible - shady companions

A true classic, these plants do well in a wide range of light but prefer it on the shady side. Keep in mind that Hosta comes in a huge variety of colours. The suggestions are endless. Try a white flowered astible (or the native foamflower) to highlight the white varigation on a hosta. Or a golden hosta with a dark leafed astible.

Clematis and roses and cranesbill - a colourful trio

Common wisdom goes that clematis likes a hot head and cold feet. If you are not going to underplant, then you should mulch. A classic combination is to grow a clematis through a rose, or to combine clematis with a climbing rose. Roses are commonly underplanted with cranesbill.

The cranesbill flowers in late spring followed by the other two in the height of summer. In fall, the rose and the clematis are cut back, and the cranesbill turns a lovely scarlet colour. Sounds nice, doesn't it?

Daffodiles and daylilies - one covers the other

There is nothing more cheery then daffodil season because it means that winter is really, truly gone (in all but exceptional circumstances like this easter snowfall for many of my southern neighbours this year). But of course, all that sunny beauty does fade and then what do you do? One trick is to interplant with daylilies. Their similar foliage hides the dying back of the bulb, producing a succession of blooms.

Purple Coneflower and Black Eyed Susan - perfect partners

Echinacea and Rudbeckia are both tall, strongly shaped plants with daisy like flowers in complementary purple and yellow. They offer a focal point in the late summer perrennial border.

In my garden, they are combined with columbine, german chamomile and monarda to make a mini-meadow much loved by butterflies and other flyers (oh and me too).

Thyme and Sage - as good as they sound

The names of these herbs alone belong together. They also enjoy similar growing conditions in full sun and sharply drained soil. Both also come in a variety of colours from a purplish leaf salvia to a varigated thyme. They flower at roughly the same time in my garden in shades of pink / purple.


More on combining clematis and roses

A good book on the basics of interplanting for effect -Take Two Plants(available at the Ottawa Public Library). There is a lot of info on colour, though there was certainly a reliance on certain plants. For example, lamium (dead nettle) and cotinus (smoke bush - which is fantastic in flower).

*The magazine plot spoiler will become a regular on this blog. I will take a title from a popular gardening magazine and use it as inspiration (no copyright infringement here) for a post. This post will not (unless blind luck intervenes) replicate what would be found in the magazine but you also won't have to fight through advertisement or intentionally confusing indices to find the information. Enjoy!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Seedlings are growing big
Update on Veggie Garden

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Peppers, ground cherries, tomatoes, celeriac, basil, collards and so on are outgrowing their paltry single light so I have been putting them outside on our south facing porch in a 'mini greenhouse' as they call those plastic covered shelves. I am sure if they could talk it would be through chattering teeth and be something like this, "What's going on?!?"

I would respond with tough mother love and say, "It's for your own good. You need sun and it's not below freezing."

Thankfully, our unseasonable cold spell will be lifting and we should be getting temperatures in the mid-teens by the end of the week.

Time to cover the sweet potato, pepper, and melon beds in clear plastic film to heat up the soil.


Growing Short Season Sweet Potatoes by Mother Earth News
More on plastic mulch

Plantcycle at the Earth Day Celebrations

You may have heard me mention plantcycle. It is a friendly online community of people who believe that gardening should not break your bank, or who just really like to share with other gardeners.

Just like with freecycle, you can post what you Want, or what you have to Offer. There is also a fair amount of Q&A and the occasional chit chat. If you would like to find out more about plantcycle, we will be at the Ottawa Eco-Stewardship Fair in Ottawa:

Saturday, April 21, 2007
10.00 am - 4.00 pm
RA Centre on Riverside Drive
Admission: Free

Heck, if you don't really want to learn more about us, but like Earth Day, come check out the event anyhow!


Earth Day Ottawa

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Another attack on the yawn... I mean lawn

If you have been reading my posts about lawn care, you might note that it is a bit harsh. In other words, I like to rip it out, smother it, or overwhelm it with other more interesting plants.

Here is another master plan in action:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
New beds along driveway and path
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Lawn swath soon to be gravel path

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Front Spiral Garden

Are you using your imagination? Can you see it without the magic of stitch fixing software? Beside the spiral garden (far right), will be a gravel and patio stone path, which is now framed with gardens. I am getting some looks from passerbys but very few questions.

They are all afraid of the lawn destroyer!

Emerging from winter slumber
Green Thumb Sunday

Inspired by other posters, here are some of my awakening plants:


Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Jacob's Ladder
(another picture, I just realized, by Black Swamp girl of the same plant, guess it's pretty!):

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Join Green Thumb Sunday

Gardeners, Plant and Nature lovers can join in every Sunday, visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Brassica Babies, Bad Weather and Pop Bottle Cloches

In a good year, frosts are mild by mid to late April, and with minimal protection, my brassicas do just fine. This is not a good year.

Hortiphilia Fact

Buttoning or the formation of a small head in broccoli, cauliflower and other brassicas can be caused by excessively cool temperatures when plants are young. (under 45 F / 7 C)

It is cold right now, going well below freezing at night. But my brassica babies are in need of a little leg room and a lot more light:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Cabbage and broccoli seedlings 6 weeks old

So even though I know that the dreaded 'buttoning' might occur, I have put them out but not without a little protection:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Broccoli seedling inside of pop bottle cloche inside of cold frame.

Meet the pop bottle cloche. Simple to manufacture. To give you instructions would be insulting but just in case you are really not with it right now, here are the bottoms:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Chufa nuts, just sprouted planted in pop bottle bottoms

From that, I imagine, you can deduce the rest.

"Hello in there broccoli."

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
I spy broccoli with my little eye

These pop bottle cloches are inside of a cold frame. This may not preven the dreaded
premature head but it's worth a try. In the meantime, I have started a new batch of broccoli that will not be put out until the magic number 7 (degrees Celcius) is held most of the time.


A random how to grow broccoli page

More buttoning details

Interesting historical pictures of season / climate extension

You Grow Girl was much more creative with her pop bottle cloches - I love the protective ring idea.
Janet's Garden - some good ideas are like rocks in the road, hard not to trip over (the comment was directed at myself). Another great use of the pop bottle cloche
Soda bottle cloche
Playing in the dirt - another convert

I wonder how many other frugal gardeners out there re-invented this weather moderator?

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Overwintering Peppers - the magic trick

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Long, red cayenne fruiting indoors after flowering indoors.


The early spring veggie garden in Ottawa
Green Thumb Sunday

Even though we have had more than our fair share of snow dusting the ground each morning, the ground in my garden is workable. I thank both my sandy soil, and raised beds for that.

As promised, I am trying to make some observational signs for when to plant out certain crops.

Gardening Sign 1 - when crocuses bloom plant:

1. Parsnips
2. Peas
3. Radish
4. Turnips
5. Spinach and other cool season greens

In other words, anything that says 'direct seed as soon as ground can be worked'.

Peas please

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Peas with plastic squirrel wire on top, and small yellow and blue kid's trowel my daugher uses to 'help' me garden. No, I am not that lazy, the garden beds are intentionally covered in grass clippings and fall leaves.

In the spaceship grows greenery seedlings...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Seedlings may include: lettuce, spinach, turnip tops, chicory, and mache. The white at the top left is not snow but 'winter blanket' that I use as my second wrap under the plastic of the hoophouse like structure.

... re-sprouting swiss chard

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Thought for sure this was frozen and dead but look!

There are snow pea sprouts in there too, sorry no picture as beautiful as they were.

Under cover, I've also planted some roots - turnips, carrots and beets, and some brassicas - kholrabi, bok choy and rabbini. It makes me hungry just writing it.


Basic info on sowing early crops
Vesey's Growing Instructions if you were wondering if you should sow whatever it is now.

Join Green Thumb Sunday

Gardeners, Plant and Nature lovers can join in every Sunday, visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

My date with the last frost.

According to many websites (and we know we like to copy one another so sometimes quantity is not quality), May the 6th is the average date of last frost in Ottawa. Seems early doesn't it? Then again, one of my friends always told me that he can't remember the last year that there was a frost in May in Ottawa.

What's interesting is that the traditional date that people plant out their frost tender plants, around these parts, is the long May weekend.

However, if you have been listening to any news media lately then you know that 'the weather's a changin'.

Maybe the wisdom of our elders to wait until near the end of May WAS sound advice but now?

I bank on around the first of May to harden off plants and the middle of May to plant them out, all the while keeping an eagle eye on the teasing longterm forcast.

This month, the weather is giving my overly mature brassica babies a hard time because we are expecting a late snowfall this week so I have to keep them cradled inside until the inclement weather passes lest they bolt or something horrible like that. At the moment they are getting root bound which is probably lowering their growth potential anyhow!

As an insurance, I've planted another crop to be ready for transplanting May 1st or so.

Shifting Frost Date

Many have said it, and let me repeat it, spring's coming earlier in these parts. Winter is also setting in later like our crazy winter this year where we didn't have snow cover until mid-January!!

What does this mean for the planet... sudden change is bad.

What does this mean for the gardener? Maybe grandfather's calender wisdom is outdated. How about planting in terms of other garden signs like plant out carrots when oak leaves are the size of squirrels' ears (made up... by the way). I actually don't know any of these signs but I think I will try and keep track this year to impart my briefdom (couldn't be wisdom as it would be too fresh) to you all for next year.

However if anyone knows any planting rules based on seasonal observations then please share.

Frost date fun facts for Ottawa
According to CRIACC

Average last frost: April 29th (you must be kidding!)
Earliest last frost: April 11th, 1998
Latest last frost: June 9th, 1980

Average frost-free period: 156 days
Shortest frost-free period: 110 in 1980
Longest frost-free period: 182 in 1990

Monday, April 2, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday
The sign of the crocus

I promised pictures from a foriegn garden but my memory card erred while away so all 100 pictures have vanished into digital thin air.

On a more positive note: She's here. Spring that is though I expect a bumpy start by the look's of the longterm forcast. For your amusement, bulb sprout identification 101:


Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket


Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket


Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Join Green Thumb Sunday

Gardeners, Plant and Nature lovers can join in every Sunday, visit As the Garden Grows for more information.