I made a garden!

Shade garden after 1

My new shade garden, featuring hostas and impatiens, after two sweltering days of hard, hard work. I hope it survives!

Did you know that gardening can be a contact sport? No? Well, then you’ve never tried to create a garden north of 7, where fertile soil meets Canadian Shield and the latter generally wins.

A little over a week ago I plunged into a garden project I’d been wanting to tackle for a long time, to wit: turning the southwest corner of the Manse’s fairly expansive yard into a shade garden. (It has to be a shade garden because it’s under two very large evergreen trees that, I am embarrassed to admit, I have yet to identify. Tamaracks? I’ll figure it out one of these days.) This particular plot of land was, when Raymond and I bought the Manse, a repository of some years of compostable junk; the raking involved in my first yard cleanup turned up hundreds and hundreds of evergreen cones, along with assorted other things. Having cleaned out that stuff, I enjoyed seeing what subsequently happened in the shady patch, notably a rhubarb plant emerging.

But this past spring and summer, the shady corner plot turned up less (translation: zero) rhubarb and instead a ton of high-growing weeds. Which I was itching to get at and replace with shade plants, a project I finally got to once my rather demanding year of being a college instructor ended. Here is what that plot looked like just a couple of weeks ago:

Shade garden before 1

My shade garden when it was not a shade garden but a large patch of weeds.

In theory, my gardening project was easy: transplant several of the more-than-enough hosta plants that populate the perennial gardens in front of the Manse; and add in some bargain-priced (because it was late in the plant-selling season) impatiens, everybody’s favourite colourful shade bloom.

In practice: not so much.

What I found when I started digging that corner of land was roots, roots, roots and more roots. That’s pretty much what I find whenever I start digging anywhere around the Manse: this land is old, and the trees on it are too – and thus rooty; and the soil is thin and rocky. It is good for roots. And weeds. And rocks. And maybe rhubarb. Or blueberries. And not much else.

Creating my small shade garden turned out to be a very intensive two-day project, on both days of which I got dirtier and sweatier (the temperature was above 30C throughout, and it was humid) than you can probably imagine. In retrospect, I really wish I’d taken a selfie when I finally came in on one or the other of those days to collapse into the shower; the combination of sweat and soil on my face (not to mention the rest of me) would have done an early settler of our corner of central Hastings County proud. Plus it would have shocked Raymond! (Who wasn’t there at the moment, and is fond of neatness, tidiness, and cleanliness. He would have been horrified.)

What I did manage to do, however, is get a photo that sort of captures the contact-sport thing I was mentioning at the start of this post. Raymond was back by the time I’d showered the second evening, but while the grime and sweat were gone, the marks from the roots and thorns kind of going after me were still quite evident. I am rather proud of my gardening scars, and here are a few of them:

Gardening is a contact sport

You don’t spend two days wrestling with the old roots of Hastings County and come out unscarred. (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

After pulling all the weeds and pulling and/or cutting (with my trusty Fiskars) all the roots that I could find on the surface of my garden-to-be on Day 1, and feeling like I might have got the better of the rootiness, I proceeded on Day 2 to try to dig small holes in which to plant the hostas and impatiens. At which point I learned that there are more old roots in a small patch of north-of-7 land than you or I have ever dreamed of.

And you know, you can’t do everything. At least, not all at once. So as I tried to plant my wee plants and found little but roots as I dug, I made the executive decision to take my chances with planting the impatiens and the hostas among the roots. I mean, there is some soil there; and, given that the weeds had been absolutely flourishing a short time before, maybe the roots would also cut my new shade plants some slack and let them do their thing too.

We shall see. I have since decided that I may need to look into mulch, something I know nothing about but that I understand may help suppress weeds and encourage the plants I am trying to grow. (I hope veteran gardeners will not be laughing at me. Remember, I am new at this.)

Regardless, I am proud of my efforts. Proud enough to show them off to all of you. Here once again are some before-and-after shots.

Before: weediness!

Shade garden before 2

After: a garden! (Rudimentary, but still – a garden.)

Shade garden after 2

Time will tell whether the victor in this project will be the roots, or me and my shade garden. But I am a determined person, and I’ve already put a lot of sweat equity into this project. I’m betting on me. And the hostas.

Death, beauty, nature, gardening: a Queensborough miscellany

tomato plants

I am just delighted about the heirloom tomato plants that Raymond and I put into our garden early this evening. Don’t they look nice beside the soon-to-blossom peonies (a gift from our Montreal friends Johannah and Tracy) and our bright-red oil tank?

It has been another in a string of sunny, hot days here in Queensborough, though today the heat was moderated by a lovely soft wind that had the added bonus of steering the bugs away. As I drove home from work along Queensborough Road late in the afternoon, I was luxuriating in the beauty of the rural countryside.

And then I saw the turtle.

Regular readers will know that Raymond and I are among the many local residents who do everything they can to make sure the various species of turtles that inhabit our region get safely to the other side of the roads that they are bound and determined to cross during the warm months. I’ve told you before (like here and here) about how Raymond in particular has taken on as a mission the business of helping out the turtles. But we both travel with shovels and gloves in our vehicles – the gloves for picking up the smaller turtles, the shovels for moving the big snappers – and I’ve done my share of this turtle crossing-guard work too.

So when I saw a smallish turtle-shaped object at a big curve on Queensborough Road, I of course slowed down – only to realize with horror that the turtle was on its back and probably dead. I pulled over, hoping that the poor thing only needed to be righted after a glancing blow from a vehicle, and that it would be okay. But it was not to be; there was the pool of blood trickling away from the body of that innocent little painted turtle with the gorgeous markings that you can see here:

Dead turtle, Queensborough Road

A sight you don’t want to see: a beautiful painted turtle, killed on the road.

Poor, poor turtle. I only hope that the driver who struck it did so accidentally and without deliberate intent to harm; I am told (though I hate to think it’s true) that some cruel people actually try to hit the turtles when they see them. I personally hope that those people burn in hell, though I suppose that’s not a very Christian thing to say.

I decided that one thing I could do for the little turtle was to get its body to the side of the road so it wouldn’t be struck again and again, and crushed and mangled. What I saw when I turned it over with my shovel wasn’t very pretty, but I gently carried it to the tall marshy grass where it had probably been hoping to lay its eggs, and bid it farewell. And carried on with the rest of my drive back to the Manse, feeling deeply sad.

But you know, there are things to make a person feel better. Like seeing the flower baskets that our friends at the Queensborough Beautification Committee have once again hung all over the village, and that look absolutely splendid:

Queensborough hanging baskets 2016

This past weekend, the volunteers with the Queensborough Beautification Committee once again installed hanging flower baskets on the made-in-Queensborough street signs. They are beautiful!

And then there were the irises that have bloomed in the Manse’s front garden:

Manse irises

And also, the 2016 crop of geraniums in hanging baskets that Raymond had bought this afternoon from our reliable supplier, the garden centre at Madoc Home Hardware, and put up on the front porch:

flower baskets 2016

Two of this year’s geranium baskets (along with a wasp trap to protect Raymond) on the Manse’s front porch.

And the satisfaction of planting (with Raymond’s help) the two heirloom tomato plants – Brandywine and Black Vernissage – and that we’d bought at the Whole Darn Town of Madoc Yard Sale a couple of weekends ago. You can see the results of our planting session in the photo at the top of this post.

Also, there was the interesting surprise, as we prepared the ground for those plantings, of a pair of recently shed snake skins!

snakeskins

Perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Garter Snake whose acquaintance I made a few years ago have not disappeared after all.

And finally, as Raymond and I sat on the front porch post-planting session, admiring our garden and our flowers and pretty little Queensborough generally, came the crowning touch: the first appearance of the year of a hummingbird at our feeder. These tiny things are so lovely, and they seem so friendly. I wish I had a picture of Mr. Hummingbird to show you, but you all know how fast and flitty hummingbirds are.

None of these good and happy and pretty things made me forget the sad end of the turtle; but they all – perhaps especially the snake skins, left behind as the snakes enter a new phase of life – reminded me of the wonder of the cycle of the seasons and of the natural world. Death is just a part of that cycle, isn’t it? But so is renewal, and new growth. And the return of the hummingbirds. Life is good.

But people, please please please be careful about the turtles when you drive!

Take my hostas. Please.

Manse hostas

Isn’t this just the most luxuriant spread of hostas? I know it makes me sound ungrateful (to the people who created this garden at the Manse), but it is a little too luxuriant for me. Time to unload some hostas!

I’ve mentioned many times how appreciative I am of the fact that people from St. Andrew’s United Church, Queensborough, planted and maintained a perennial garden for years before Raymond and I bought this old house. The result of that planting and maintenance being, of course, that we have a garden that looks pretty respectable despite my dire lack of knowledge about horticulture and my equally dire lack of time (this summer, at least) to do weeding and maintenance.

However.

People, I will admit it: I am tired of hostas. I mean, I get how they are great because they will grow and flourish no matter what the weather or sun/shade conditions are, and no matter what you do (or don’t do) to them. I totally get how people (St. Andrew’s church members) who planted a perennial garden at a Manse where the inhabitant (i.e. the minister) might or might not have the wherewithal to deal with it would install things (hello, hostas) that require zero attention.

But hostas do spread, it seems. And while I very much appreciate the green they bring to the northern portion of our perennial garden (where there are several planted, and flourishing), I feel the time has come – well, will have come by the time of next year’s gardening season – to put different things in that garden. Like maybe more phlox, such as I planted this year. And peonies. People, I want peonies!

But the hostas are taking up all the space.

So what do I do with them? I gather real gardeners (that is, people unlike myself) know how to divide and transplant hostas and other such things. I, on the other hand, haven’t got a clue. And on top of that, I don’t actually want to transplant half an existing hosta plant anywhere on the Manse property. I have enough hostas!

So, good gardening friends, please tell me what to do. If any of you who live in the area would like some or all of these hosta plants, you are more than welcome to them. They are very healthy, believe me. And if you don’t – that is, if you yourself have more hostas than you need or want, and I expect that includes pretty much anyone who has a garden – will you give me dispensation to yank them out and toss them?

Or – is that gardening sacrilege?

Oh dear. I have so much to learn about gardening. And also: so many hostas to get out of my life.

When it comes to no-maintenance herbs, I am an awesome gardener.

The herb garden

My growing-like-mad herb garden on the south side of the Manse; I am very proud of it. Note nice new sign! (A gift from Raymond.)

Having yesterday shared with you a gardening tale that may very well have no happy ending – that is, my wish that I could grow lavender here at the Manse – I thought that tonight I would post something about my big gardening success story. It is… my herb garden!

Which, as you can see from the photo above, looks extremely healthy indeed. It’s just what I hoped for when I ruminated long ago about my desire for a flourishing herb garden. And doesn’t its newly acquired sign (a gift from Raymond) just add the finishing touch? (Along with the nice bit of bright-red colour from the adjoining oil tank, of course.)

Yes, my tarragon, sage, marjoram, rosemary, basil and especially Italian parsley and oregano are doing very well indeed. In fact the Italian parsley has, unfortunately, overshadowed, overgrown and kind of killed off my previously happy chervil. And the oregano has gone nuts.

My one issue with the herb garden is one I’d never faced with previous herb gardens. It gets so much sunlight, and the soil seems to be so accommodating, that things are growing a little too well. In addition to the aforementioned Italian parsley and oregano, the curly parsley is showing signs of overgrowing and not being nice anymore. I now think I was supposed to cut back these plants a bit when they started to grow so well, to keep them under control. But since never before have I had a herb garden that grew so prodigiously, I was blissfully unaware of this requirement. It’s a lesson for next year.

Anyway, the best thing about my herb garden is that herbs basically need zero maintenance – aside, I guess, from cutting them back a bit when they get too boisterous. This means that when it comes to herbs, I look like a success as a gardener even when I’ve basically done squat.

Now that is my kind of gardening!

Apparently even I could grow lavender. Or could I?

Doris's lavender

A gorgeous lavender bush in front of the home of our Belleville friend Doris. It got me wildly excited about the possibility of growing lavender at the Manse – excitement that I now strongly suspect was premature.

I haven’t written much about our garden lately, primarily because it is in a shameful state of weediness that I don’t like to think about (or broadcast, though here I am doing exactly that). I find it amusing, though not in a particularly good way, that I seemed to have more time to weed the garden in the two previous summers, when Raymond and I were only able to get to the Manse on the occasional weekend, than this summer when, theoretically at least, we are in full-time residence. The problem is this: we went and planned so much activity (including travel) for this summer that I can’t find any time to experience what I once called the zen of weeding. What I desperately need is one long, sunny, warm-but-not-too-hot-and-not-too-buggy day with nothing else to do, so I can spend it on hands and knees getting those same hands and knees gloriously dirty, pulling out the weeds that are trying to suck the life from our perennials.

But it hasn’t happened yet. Still, even though my garden is weedy, I can continue to dream garden dreams – can’t I?

My latest dream is about having lavender, although I am far from sure that this is a realistic dream.

I was inspired by a recent visit to our friend Doris, who lives in Belleville. Thinking I had discovered something exotic (for southeastern Ontario), I brought Doris a little bouquet of lavender that I discovered for sale at the farmers’ market in Stirling on the way (the long way) to Belleville from our home in Queensborough. I’ve always loved lavender, perhaps partially because of its deep association with beautiful Provence (where Raymond and I spent part of our honeymoon). I am so interested that it is now being successfully grown in some parts of Quebec (notably at the large Bleu Lavande operation in the Eastern Townships) and Ontario – including, obviously, somewhere close enough to Stirling for the product to be sold at the farmers’ market there. It seemed so pleasantly foreign, and so that’s why I picked some up as a little gift for Doris.

So what did Raymond and I see as we pulled into Doris’s driveway? A gloriously healthy lavender bush right there in her front garden!

Of course I felt dopey about bringing something as a gift that she already had in plenty, but I also used the occasion to try to learn something about growing lavender here in our part of the world. Doris told us that the lavender she has success with is the English kind, and she mentioned two varieties, Munstead and Hidcote. When I expressed surprise that they could be grown here, she said it was not a problem at all in Zone 5b. (Do you know about growing zones? Neither do I, particularly, but they are explained here.)

Spot for lavender

I love these big tall bushes of yellow flowers because they happen effortlessly (for me) – but since there is a bit of a surfeit of them, I think some could be removed to make this prominent corner of the Manse’s perennial garden just the spot for lavender. That is, if it’ll grow here.

Okay, so far so good. By the time Raymond and I got back to the Manse we had already decided where we wanted to plant our lavender. I was very excited!

However … it turns out (and I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by this) that Queensborough, in its north-of-Highway 7 location, is not in Zone 5b, as Belleville, on the shore of Lake Ontario, is. According to this map from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, it isn’t even in Zone 5a, the next-colder one that takes over a bit north of Belleville.

No, once one gets just a bit north of 7, one is in Zone 4b, where winters are colder still; and it looks rather doubtful that lavender would survive that.

Maybe it would, though; the entry on Munstead lavender on this gardening-company site says that it is their most hardy version, and while it lists its growing zones as 5a to 11, it also says that is is “cold-tolerant to Zone 4.” It doesn’t look like Hidcote lavender is a possibility; that one is listed as being in only in Zones 5a-5b for hardiness.

So this is the juncture where I would like to ask my Queensborough-area gardening friends (you know who you are): What are my chances of successfully growing lavender in the Manse’s garden?

Once I get the weeds out, that is.

Beautiful irises, and they are ours, all ours!

Manse garden, a spring Saturday with iris

The first iris of the season, on the first morning it bloomed. I took the photo early last Saturday, a stunningly beautiful spring day. I am proud to note that the photo kind of shows off the rest of the garden too. (Not to mention the Tim Horton’s cup on the arm of the Adirondack chair in the background. Did I mention that it was early?)

This evening as I was watering our young maple tree and elm tree, and my recently planted phlox, a neighbour stopped by and complimented me on our flower gardens. And you know, I just beamed with pride. Because I am proud of the Manse’s perennial gardens. I can take no credit whatsoever for them being there; that praise goes to the green-thumbed parishioners of St. Andrew’s United Church who took charge of the gardens back when the Manse still belonged to the church. (That is, before Raymond and I bought it in January 2012.) But now that we live here full-time, I’ve given over as much time as I can find to weeding and looking after the gardens, and they are looking nice, if I do say so myself. (Well, actually, my neighbour said so too. So there.)

And so this evening, because I am feeling chuffed about the gardens, I give you some photos of the irises. Our very own irises! The first one bloomed early last Saturday morning, and you can see it in the photo at the top of this post. But more have come since; here’s a photo I took just this evening of the latest arrivals:

More Manse irises

And of course it’s not just about the irises. Our herb garden is looking very healthy, and those newly planted phlox are coming along nicely. And did I mention that I have plans to plant peonies? Meanwhile, Raymond is busy laying in the bags of black earth and sheep manure to help things along.

This gardening thing kind of grows on you, doesn’t it?

Have you planted your vegetable garden yet?

Corn for planting You know how sometimes you come across some little thing that (figuratively speaking) tosses you straight back to a long-ago era of your life? That happened to me a couple of weekends ago, when Raymond and I were in Stonepath Greenhouses between Madoc and Tweed, looking for bee balm to plant. What was the little thing that sent my mind hurtling back to the past? It was – wait for it – corn kernels.

Seed potatoesThey were in a container by the cash, in a section featuring vegetable-planting materials. Right beside them were containers of seed potatoes, which added to the another-era effect for me. Well do I remember being charged – along with my sister and brothers – with helping plant corn kernels and seed potatoes in the big vegetable garden when we were all young, here at the Manse in Queensborough.

My family grew other things in that garden too, of course: beans and peas and lettuce and tomatoes and radishes and onions and carrots. And I imagine I helped plant all of those. But it is the dry corn kernels and the seed potatoes – those little leftovers from last year’s crop, with all kinds of white sprouty things on them; gross if you’re planning to cook and eat them, but helpful if you want to put them in the ground and turn them into potato plants – that I remember best.

(Actually, I seem to remember that the corn kernels we planted in the Manse’s vegetable garden were a bright – like, garish – pink colour. Is that even possible?)

Anyway, I didn’t buy any of the corn kernels or seed potatoes, not even for old times’ sake. Yes, Raymond and I are living in that same Manse that I grew up in, but we’re not yet ready to start a vegetable garden. That labour-intensive project is for another year (next year?) when we have less on our plates regarding moving from one province to another, selling one house and renovating another one, adapting to a new job, and so on. But it will happen (as I promised myself not long after we bought the Manse). And here is exactly the spot for it:

The site of the vegetable garden

The big indentation that you can see in our verdant back/side yard is where the vegetable garden was back in the days when I was growing up at the Manse. It seems eminently sensible to restore that spot to its proper use as a supplier of fresh corn, potatoes and tomatoes.

But here is my question: is it vegetable-planting time? If you live in our neck of the woods, have you planted your vegetable garden yet? The warm, sunny weather we had over the past few days made it seem like growing season and then some, but as I write this, things have turned quite chilly in Queensborough and area.

When does one plant those corn kernels and seed potatoes, anyway? It’s been a long time since I’ve done it, people. I don’t want to get it wrong.