Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A November Butterfly?

We left town for a few days this past week, noticing a butterfly sitting on the concrete floor of the partially-heated garage before we left. When we came back three days later, it was still sitting on the floor, though moving only minimally. Puzzled as to why there was a butterfly in our garage while we have a thick layer of snow outside, I decided to feed the butterfly a bit of fruit. It started moving a bit more, enjoying the pears and pineapple. Who knew a Saskatchewan butterfly would enjoy tropical fruit? Last night, I moved it into the kitchen for the kids to watch. My four-year old drew a picture of it, complete with a large smiley face. It now is feasting on Ceres mango juice, lemon, and bananas.

Online searching found that it is a Compton tortoiseshell butterfly and it is known to overwinter as an adult in a protected space. I am wondering what they usually eat over the winter? If it survives past watching our Christmas decorating in the next few days, we'll have to figure out where it can spend the rest of the winter. Perhaps hidden away in the summer shoes on the top shelf of the garage? Hmmm.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Before the Colors are Covered in Snow...

We had snow for a day this past week, followed by a quick melt. The inevitable blanket will be coming soon. We hauled away the outdoor pots of annuals and stored the pots indoors (the cold/moisture is hard on them in winter). There is no need to wrap any shrubs this year, as we did away with the only remaining globe cedar (great decision!). Everything else should hold its own without too much coddling, as it should be.

Resident-lawnmower-man used his leaf sucking power tool to collect the leaves in the yard and produced a nice heap of leaf mulch. I got him to spread the mulch on the areas of the raised beds where the new lily and tulip bulbs are planted. I think that's a reasonable amount of coddling (because I like my flower bulbs a lot). With the addition of some snow, I am hopeful about their survival this winter. I plan to have a great mass of annuals (poppies, cosmos, zinnias) grow in this open space currently planted with bulbs, so that the annuals disguise the dying foliage of the bulb flowers.

Otherwise in outdoor activity, I have been excited about photographing the northern lights. With the aid of this website: http://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast, you can get a day or two of notice about great auroral activity for the northern hemisphere. Outside of the technical photographic elements, there is a challenge of finding a spot without any lights where you can run to safety in the case of wild animals, and staying warm while standing by your tripod. In the case of scary animals, I have made mental plans on how I might use my tripod as a weapon. It's always good to have a plan.
One of my September northern lights photographs, taken near La Ronge:

Someone actually called the police to investigate on the night we took this photo. Apparently showing up at a beach at midnight seems suspicious. The police didn't think a couple of people with tripods and cameras looked suspicious at all, however.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Birds: Dazed and Confused

Or perhaps, I could have titled this "Birds: Drunk and Disorderly." We had a hard frost about 10 days ago and the mountain ash tree's berries have increased their sugars, and are now fermenting. The birds gorge themselves on these tasty (to them, anyhow) berries and fall out of the tree. Several have also flown into our windows, with one fatality and several temporarily dazed individuals. I have asked RLM to get some decals for our large windows, but the larger problem of the week is that the birds are drunk! No drinking and flying, and the skies would be a safer place.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Fall Bulb Weekend!!

My fall order of bulbs/corms/roots arrived today in the mail from Botanus, a mail order company from British Columbia. The post office staff were nice enough to bring the heavy box around to the loading dock, seeing that I probably wouldn't be able to haul it off to my car. That's right, I purchased only a "few" bulbs (though I believe I was not setting any records this year).
One of my favourite perennials: Bergenia's fall colors are starting to show:

I purchased quite a few daffodils, though I've had little success with them since the spring of 2009. I'm hoping the sheer bulk of them will produce at least a few blooms nice months (doesn't that seem like forever?) from now. My order also included some garlic for the herb/vegetable plot, as I found it an excellent deterrent for aphids this year.
Aster dumosus "Alert", a fall-blooming aster:

I am pacing myself with the bulb planting, having planted the minor bulbs today, avoiding the inevitable blistering of the palms thus far. My dear garden friend offered me the use of her electric bulb auger, but I rather enjoyed expending a few calories only to enjoy my supper even more. I used the small handheld bulb planter today, and will probably use the long-handled foot-driven one over the weekend.
Crocuses, Narcissi, Puschkinia, Tulips, and Iris danfordiae go into the flowerbed adjacent the driveway:

A dwarf columbine is reblooming for fall:

I need to take some more cuttings of plants I want to save, and a few lucky others get to move right on into the house. The short-lived herbs (parsley, cilantro) aren't worth bringing in, but I have already got seedlings for new plants started indoors under lights.
The rosemary was brought in for the winter, as it is a long-lived woody herb:

Otherwise, the composting worms got hauled out in the sunlight as I dug the composted product out of the bottom of the plastic bin. The flowerbeds are going to love this. I didn't bother with sorting through the finished compost to save all the worms, since few worms live at the bottom anyhow. They were mostly near the top, where most of the food was located. I have two of these worm bins and they almost have the capacity to hold most of our kitchen's compostable waste over the winter. Excess waste goes to the big pile outside, but I don't use that pile for compost in the garden, as we also throw our weeds in there. I do however get the occasional tomato, pepper, or squash growing out of this worm-compost material.
Worm bin and black composted organic material for the flower beds:

The outer bin collects the compost tea that seeps out of the moist material inside. It's a great liquid fertilizer and I threw most of it around my big rose bush. I highly recommend worm-composting and freely give my worms away to any interested gardener (not that you have to be a gardener, but really, who else would raise a colony of worms in their house?).

Saturday, September 10, 2011

New Perennials and Shrubs

Don't you love shopping for new things in the garden? Even if there aren't some glaring bare spots, it's always great to learn about new plants and just try out new things to keep the variety of plants interesting. In northern zones, the challenge is to find shrubs and perennials that will survive the winter. I was pretty pretty cautious in this year's new additions.

Among the annuals, this is a double-flowered morning glory, which only started blooming two weeks ago:

I had RLM pick up some Viburnum in Saskatoon in the past month, based on previous successes with our existing compact Viburnum trilobum, the highbush cranberry. It forms a nice dense ball of foliage and when it is mature, grows red berries in fall. The berries aren't great for eating, but birds feed on the berries in winter and the red clusters are attractive. I highly recommend this shrub. The fact that Viburnum trilobum is a native shrub in this area should also be a good clue that it is well-adjusted and happy here.
Compact variety of Viburnum trilobum (large shrubs on the left), with a pink-flowered Potentilla at center foreground:

Potentilla are common little shrubs, though the newer colors (pink, apricot, white) are nice and they bloom over a long period of time in the later half of summer. They are low-maintenance, with only minimal trimming needed in spring.

I have high hopes for newly planted Viburnum dentatum "Northern Burgundy":

I also got a Viburnum dentatum "Blue Muffin", which should fill out the back of the raised bed.

I bought my first ever Cimifuga recently, adding the hardy Cimifuga simplex "Brunette" to the large raised bed. It is tiny and hasn't quite developed its full color and the cluster of white flower spikes, but I will wait for that. In the meanwhile, I need to get rid of some of Siberian iris, which is blocking the view of this lovely perennial. However, digging those monster iris clumps out is too much like work!
Cimifuga simplex "Brunette":

My young Cimifuga simplex "Brunette":

I've posted photos of this new mum before, but it so lovely that I will post it again.
The "Morden Fiesta" Chrysanthemum:

As any cold-climate gardener may be aware, many great plants have come out of Morden, Manitoba's agricultural research station. The Morden mums come in a few colors and are said to be hardy to zone 4. We'll see if they survive the winter here. I'm believing they will. (June 2012 Update: One of the three survived, though the two that didn't make it were planted right up against a rock wall and likely had their roots frozen solid.  I am certain that they do well planted in regular ground conditions).

Prompting another garden job, I grew weary of the drooping branches of the mountain ash, looking far too shaggy as it brushed against the perennials below.
Scraggly mountain ash tree:

We pruned the lower branches, which looks far better. It would look even nicer if we cut off some of the protruding upper branches too, but those tools are buried too far away in the shed and I'll leave it for another year. Here's a tip for anyone wanting to plant this tree -- it would be great over a lawn, but any soil or mulch underneath will end up growing hundreds of ash trees from all the fallen berries. It's a nuisance growing over the flower bed.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Fixing Invasion of the Groundcover

I just love strawberry plants. The runners and the new little plants they make seem like such great bonuses! I would love to have a huge patch of them! Mine all lived through the winter this past year, thanks to the snow that insulated them. I'm pinning down a few runners from each plant to make new ones, though I will probably end up moving the new plants to new locations this fall or next spring.
Strawberry plant - day neutral type:

This next photo shows one of the year's most frustrating garden problems. We have a nice bank covered in a creeping sedum. It was invaded with a grass, which spread rapidly underground, moving rapidly over broad areas. Pulling it out by hand became futile and we finally resorted to glyphosate (Roundup), which RLM applied with a hockey stick to the tips of the grasses. This resulted in death to the grass and spared the sedum. I think I will now transplant little islands of sedum back into the dead grass patches, without pulling the dead grass out (which would leave loose soil ready to grow more weeds). Hopefully this will fill in next year.
Bank of sedum:

If Roundup ever becomes unavailable, I think I would need one of those garden-blowtorches, which would seem to be the other option for non-selective killing of a patch of noxious plants. It seems a bit ridiculous, but sometimes a spreading weed can make you lose your patience!
Double-flowered pink morning glory - very showy:

I am trying out a new direct-seeded annual each year, learning about their growth habits and successes in our climate. This next pink flower is a mauve-colored California poppy (which is technically not a poppy), which I direct seeded in some drier soil in a very sunny location. It is doing well. Next year, cosmos and zinnias!
California poppy:

Otherwise in the garden, I broke our only lawn sprinkler. I am contemplating a trip to the city, but the only highway south apparently has a bridge out-of-order due to a crack in a girder. This is a bit of a problem...we shall see.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Raised Bed Renovation

After getting tired at looking at the scruffy, dry and brown remains of the mass of annual poppies in the center raised bed, I spent a significant amount of sweat and energy on transforming the bed this weekend. The poppies were pulled (thank goodness for a semi-rural property, where I literally toss plant matter into the adjacent bushes).
Center raised bed in July 2011, with poppies in place:

Perennials from around the yard were moved into the empty space. Several lilies were moved from their overcrowded and poorly visible locations to more prominent and sunny spots around the raised bed. Several small spireas and large siberian iris divisions were also added to create a nicely symmetrical and hopefully successful perennial bed. I will be adding tulip or daffodil bulbs in September, and maybe direct seeding with cosmos in spring.
Newly renovated bed, planted with divided and moved perennials:

Morden Mum -- a new plant in my center raised bed and part of the plan for more late summer color:

Clematis manschurica, a fragrant, low-climbing white clematis I started from seed:

Martha Washington geranium (Pelargonium) plant, grown from cuttings:

The above geranium produces such lovely flowers, but the Martha Washingtons seem a little less hardy than the common pelargoniums. My plants have been afflicted by some caterpillars that have been munching holes in the leaves and leaving droppings/eggs all over the place. I wonder if I would do better just growing these as houseplants, or in a greenhouse (if I had one).

Gentiana dahurica, a late-summer blooming gentian which has seeded itself to make a large patch of these lovely blue flowers that grow moderately tall but lean over lazily to sprawl around the flower bed:

Hardy geranium, "Rozanne":

In the other raised bed, I have been adding a top layer of peat and removing some volunteer plants, creating the appearance that the gardener is actually doing something around here...

Oriental hybrid lily, "Acapulco" - like all the Oriental lilies, it has a beautiful scent and I breathed deeply while taking the photo:

The alpine bed -- looking green, but that is including several weeds at the moment, as I am frustrated at the poplar shoots and other rapacious weeds:

I have even contemplated installing a large, spreading juniper (like Andorra) and letting it cover the whole thing. I do like the foreground Mugo Pine, though.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Late Summer Flower Color

I did some work in the garden today, only to run inside when the rain started to soak my clothes. While the plants enjoyed the rain, the ever-rising local lake probably didn't need the extra water. All the beaches and low-lying land around here is covered in water and the flooding is likely to last another few weeks!
"Lime Bicolour" petunia I grew from seed this year -- I recall that this was an over-priced annual seed, but it claimed to be an exciting new hybrid, so...

Scabiosa caucasica are blooming now - nice to have the color, though the foliage on these can look a little weedy and messy:

Highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) compact variety shrub now has pretty red berries developing on it. It took about 5 years for this shrub to finally produce the berries:

Aconitum napellus (Monkshood) produces impressive strong stems of blue flowers for August. I really must divide this one next year to spread the color around:

I made my annual tulip order yesterday, only to have the kind people from Botanus email me and ask if I intended to duplicate one of the items I made on an order a few months ago. I pretended not to be going senile and replied that I do need plenty of a particular daffodil. Therefore, yes, there should be a duplicate. It should be a big bulb-planting fall once my boxes of bulbs arrive! I aim for planting as soon as they arrive, by the end of September.
Sweet peas in my hanging basket -- such a sweet scent!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Strawberrries Saved, Rural Roots

Finally, we have started to harvest the strawberries I so carefully planted last year. Up till a few weeks ago, some animal had been spiriting them away in the night, leaving us with nothing despite seeing many pink berries ripening on the plants. I solved the problem with some fine netting from Lee Valley Tools, which conveniently came to us in the mail. I suspect the squirrel, mostly because he stood and yelled squirrel-obscenities from the top of the fence as I covered the strawberries with the netting.
Netted strawberry plants:

Last month, we received a copy of Rural Roots magazine, a glossy publication exploring the lives of rural western Canada, including articles on gardening and nature. I enjoyed learning about all aspects of bison in the last issue, with everything from raising them to marketing them and selling the meat to high end restaurants. It was also of note because it included an educational article on raised beds, with an illustrative picture from my garden! It was funny, because it reminded me of all the reasons that raised beds are so great, including many points I hadn't thought about. Raised beds are great for northern Saskatchewan, where we have almost no soil and need to contain the soil and compost that we bring in.

Rural Roots Magazine:
http://ruralrootsmagazine.ca/ Check out the link. I think my farm-dwelling Saskatchewan in-laws would love this magazine.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Zone 1 Cherry Harvest!

It was a good year for cherries in the north. Tart cherries, that is, and don't call them "sour" either, because the cold-climate cherry enthusiasts think "tart" sounds nicer. We planted our Carmine Jewel cherries about five years ago and this is the first year with a substantial cherry harvest. That being said, we only have 4 trees and the two in the shade of larger trees don't bear very much and one got major damage in the severe winter of 2009. Carmine Jewel is intended to be a zone 2 tree, so any cherries I get here are a bonus.
A nice little tree full of cherries:

Tart cherries are superior to sweet cherries in baked goods and I would certainly try growing these cherries again, even in a warmer climate.
The greater yield came with slightly smaller cherries this year:

Container zucchini is producing a fat one:

Nasturtium "Cobra" - a red-flowered nasturtium with unique purple-tinged leaves:

Have you eaten any nasturtium flowers yet? They make great additions to salads and have a spicy peppery-flavour. They are very simple to start from seed. I start mine indoors and plant out in June.
My mutant "Black Plum" heirloom tomato:

I don't remember where I got this tomato seed, but there has got to be something wrong with my plant. Though the leaves look healthy and it is making flowers, it seems to be determined to stay under 4 inches tall, producing dense curly foliage that looks more like creeping ground-cover than the description of a 6 foot tall indeterminate plant. What is the world is happening here?
Creeping tomato?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Blast of Annuals, Full Out Perennials

I am counting down the plants that have finished blooms, like fireworks finished their show. It's frightening to see that most of them have or are blooming now, with few left to go!
Perennial bed, rock walls:

At this time of year, there is little soil to be seen, with plants pushing up against each other. This keeps weeds down, at the very least.

I grew these container annuals from seed and the color combination worked out better than I had imagined - White osteospermums and "Blue Morn" hybrid petunias:

The sloped bed rock garden is planted with a succession of perennials, with masses of Dianthus deltoides (pink flowers) and common thyme (lilac-colored flowers) forming a haze of color:

The lilies are starting their showy blooms - this one is the Asiatic lily "Lollypop", a nice bicolor bloom:

One of the many variations of color on the biennial Dianthus barbatus (Sweet Williams) that have strewn their progeny around my flower beds:

Winds and rain try to pull the delphiniums down, but they still tower over the perennial beds (and I need to get out there with more stakes):

The show of flower colors and excitement about our recent fantastic feast on swiss chard has led me to impulse purchases of seeds online. Oh no! That's supposed to be a gardener's winter activity. Perhaps I need to go and do more weeding instead...

We had a couple do some of their wedding photos in the yard today. Congratulations to them! It was the best excuse for some frantic lawn-mowing and edge trimming this morning.