31 July 2012

Evening lace

Snapped this last night - the sun was just setting and it gave the flower head a lovely glow.

26 July 2012

Dead and alive

 There are so many sad-looking sights as a result of the dry spell that it's hard to choose candidates for this post. This is a bittersweet nightshade, which would normally be green and thriving at this time of year:

Even the sunchokes, usually indestructible, are looking more dead than alive. Usually they're flowering around now, but they aren't showing much sign of doing so at the moment.

This little frog is sitting in what is usually a year-round pond.

The brown cylinder in the lawn on the right of this shot is a sugar maple tree we put in two years ago. Needless to say, it shouldn't be brown! Hope it recovers. Today's generous downpours of rain may have come just in time...

24 July 2012

A spattering...

Last night it looked like we were in for a good downpour. The skies were suitably ominous, it went very dark and there was a fair bit of lightning and thunder.

And then we got some light drizzly rain. For about five minutes. Sigh.

Better than nothing, I suppose, and the plants up at the pumpkin patch did look a bit more perky this morning:

Today is back to hot, sunny and humid. At least the humidity means less transpiration and evaporation. I'm now fixated on Thursday's forecast, which is promising a whole day of rain! 

Our situation seems relatively good when you look at what is going on in more than half of the land area of the United States at the moment - the drought maps make grim viewing and I really feel for the farmers and growers there.

23 July 2012

Non-edible front garden

After complaining about the Drummondville situation the other day, I actually dug some vegetables out of my front garden over the weekend. They were a load of Egyptian walking onions which had been given to me by an ex-neighbour and which had taken over a large proportion of the bed they were in, without being hugely useful as a vegetable and looks-wise, to be honest, they were quite unappealing. Once they were gone, I emptied a layer of my worm composting bin over the area and then had to think about filling the gaps.

The bed is under an overhanging roof of the house and gets full sunshine for most of the day. I needed plants that would tolerate the heat and dryness and wouldn't mind a relatively poor soil. After my trip to Hampton Court earlier in the month I was inspired by the yellow and blue gardens there. I already had a coneflower at one end of the border, so I was happy to have some more pink in there as well.

Garden centres are usually selling perennials off fairly cheaply at this time of year (bonus!) - which of course means that you end up buying more than you meant to. I came back from our local one with the back of the car laden with echinacea, coreopsis and salvia plants. I particularly liked this little Coreopsis rosea, 'American Dream':

Now all I need is some rain to water them in. [Sound of hollow, slightly manic, laughter]

22 July 2012

Fleeting and fragmentary

...and the closest we've got to rain in the last two weeks. But it does mark a change in the weather - and with any luck, one which will result in some relief for the garden and our water supply!

21 July 2012

Disgusted at Drummondville

I've seen a couple of stories along the lines of the one reported by the CBC on Wednesday. A couple living in Drummondville, Quebec, have been told that they have to replace their front-yard vegetable garden with at least 30% lawn or face fines of $100-300 per day. There was a similar story about this time last year about a family in Oak Park, Detroit who also faced fines and possibly jail time over a similar issue. In that case, the charges were dropped after the city was bombarded with negative publicity. I hope the same will be true in Drummondville.

In both cases the vegetable gardens were a credit to their neighbourhoods and had been started with the best of intentions by the families involved. I find these by-laws baffling and anachronistic. I can (sort of) understand them being passed in the 1950s, when the suburban lawn was the height of fashion, but in today's world, where we are more aware that maintaining the monoculture of a lush lawn is a waste of precious water (and not to mention the toxic weedkillers and fertilisers that make their way into those water supplies)?

Out of interest, I went to Google Street View to see if there was a 'before' snapshot of the Drummondville front yard. By some fluke, I landed on the exact spot on my first look. So here is the garden as it looked whenever the Google car went past (if I've got the right property):

And here it is today as recorded by the CBC.

So much more interesting and vibrant, I'd say. Not to mention productive, health-enhancing, environmentally responsible... Sigh.

The Drummondville case is even worse than the Oak Park one, because the city is planning to ban all front yard vegetable gardens in homes built after this Fall. You can probably hear me banging my head on the desk from there.

20 July 2012

Cracking up

The fallen green leaves, brown straggly grass and deep cracks in the soil here probably tell you all you need to know about the current state of our water levels. The poor plants in the pumpkin patch are showing the stress, too:

Every time thunderstorms have been forecast in the last two weeks we've missed out on them. In July so far we've only had one day with any rain - Saturday the 7th, when we got around 5mm. In an average July we should get around 50mm. In the two weeks since that rain we've watched as the grass has turned brown and crispy, the vegetables in the barnyard have slowly been dying and the trees have been shedding their leaves. Trucks carrying drinking water are a regular sight along the roads again as people's wells run dry.

The next chance of rain is on Monday, according to the weather forecast, but even then it is only a 50% chance of thundershowers and those are notoriously fickle and localised. I'm keeping the greenhouse plants going using the rejected water from our domestic system, but if there isn't rain soon I won't be able to keep doing that, as we'll need to recycle that back into the cistern for our own use.

I know I complain about lack of water every summer but this one does seem particularly bad...

19 July 2012

Helen's tears

I posted about a mystery wildflower three years ago - at the time it had finished flowering and its dried up seed heads weren't very helpful in making a firm identification, although one of the commenters at the time did suggest it might be an Inula.

And he was quite right - I've noticed some more of these plants growing in the woods this year and now they are flowering:

It's Inula helenium, not a native wildflower at all, but a naturalised plant from the old world, used for various medicinal purposes and in the production of absinthe, according to Wikipedia. Its common name is Elecampane (also Elf-wort). The 'ele' part and both parts of the Latin name come from an association with Helen of Troy: one story is that the plant grew where her tears fell when she was abducted by Paris.

 I'm really pleased to have found the plant again and to have caught it in full flower this time.

17 July 2012

Climatic zones

The windowsill in the living room is most in demand in the early months of the year, when it is usually full of onions, lettuce and, later on, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Then it's useful because it is too cold outside to grow anything. In the hottest months of the year this space comes in handy again because the opposite is also the case: seeds like lettuce and members of the cabbage family won't germinate when it's too warm.

The large container on the left is holding what I hope will be my Fall crop of cabbages, kale and sprouts. The smaller containers on the right are full of mixed lettuce seeds. I'm hoping these might grow into mini 'cut-and-come-again' gardens that I can sell at the farmer's market later in the summer. I sowed the lettuce seeds on Sunday and they're already germinating.

The plastic cover on the big container isn't needed to keep the seedlings warm - it's there because this windowsill is also home to the cat's sleeping quarters...

...and I don't want her thinking that this tray is some sort of en suite facility.

Out in the greenhouse it might be too hot to germinate seeds but it's perfect for curing garlic and onions (I put a layer of fleece over these to protect them from too much sunlight):

And for ripening eggplants. These are Korean Early Long Black, which seem to be living up to their name.

Today we're heading for a record high temperature (for us) of 34°C/93°F, which will feel closer to 43°C/109°F with the humidity. But we are also under a thunderstorm watch which I'm hoping will bring us some rain - the garden really needs it.

15 July 2012

Garden growth

This eggplant/aubergine was still a flower when I left for my trip to the UK two weeks ago:

The consistently hot and very dry weather here has brought some things on marvellously, although other plants are badly in need of a good soak of rain. We gathered zucchini/courgettes from the pumpkin patch in the hayfield last night and today I pulled the first of the onions:

I also harvested the garlic (now drying out in the greenhouse) and dug up a few of the potatoes:

And, a true sign of summer, the first tomatoes have ripened:

Ratatouille for lunch, I think.

After almost no rain in July it was a relief to see the day cloud over and a sprinkling of rain appear just now: looks like I managed to import some of the UK's weather. More, please!

07 July 2012

Gardeners' delight

I usually try to avoid crowds: part of my motivation for moving to Canada was to escape the hideous crush of people in rush-hour public transport or the traffic jams which are such a normal part of life in getting from one part of England to another.

So for me to willingly attend an event at which thousands of people are expected is a little out of character. But when it worked out that I would be in England at the time of the Hampton Court Flower Show and that my aunt and her friend were willing to take me along with them, I jumped at the chance. I've never spent a day at one of the big flower shows and I thought it would be an experience not to miss, even if it might be a little stressful to be in a big crowd.

Luckily, the show is spread over a large area in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace and although it was very busy, it never felt overwhelming in terms of people. What's more, the show is full of such interesting plants, gardens and merchandise that it's impossible to feel claustrophobic for very long. And everyone attending is a gardener and is enjoying him or herself, so the crowd are good-tempered and happy to amble rather than rush.

The weather could have been better at the beginning of the day...

It was so wet that even the ducks needed boots:

But it did brighten up as the day went on.

The displays in the marquees were amazing and enough to distract my mind from the vaguely panicky feeling of claustrophobia caused by being in a space with so many other people:

The show gardens were inspiring and eye-catching:

Blue and yellow was a popular colour combination in quite a few of the gardens.

This garden was inspired by last year's UK riots. I liked the 'edible bus stop', with its crop of tomatoes and strawberries.

One thing I did enjoy about moving past other people in such a big crowd was the way I heard little snippets of other people's conversations. They are so intriguing: "...gravitating towards the agapanthus..." "...Tom could get those free at the cattle market..." - it's like tuning a radio from one channel to the next.

It was a wonderful day and I'd love to have the chance to do something similar back home in Ontario. There's a garden show in Toronto in March, but I'm not aware of anything quite like the summer RHS shows in Canada. It's a shame, as the weather there is much more likely to be co-operative! But I suppose the smaller population of gardeners wouldn't make it worthwhile to stage such an event. There it's a problem of not enough crowds.