Thursday, April 27, 2006

First Hummingbird of the Season

Hummingbird garden mosaic stepping stone - 1 of series of 4I have a long list of projects I am trying to complete this week, so I promised my husband I would not post today... But then I spotted my first hummingbird of the season, darting around my garden, while I watched from the kitchen window, my hands submerged in hot water and dirty dishes which I am catching up from last night.

Hummingbird garden mosaic stepping stone - 2 of series of 4It paused at a number of shrubs and plants, but did not find any flowers - it is still early yet for many of their favourites. I hope to post on some of the hummingbird favourite flowers from my garden at a later date, such as the shaggy red monarda (bee balm). In the meantime here is a link to a list of flowers and flowering shrubs which are attractive to hummingbirds in the Pacific Northwest.

Hummingbird garden mosaic stepping stone - 3 of series of 4The photos are of the mosaic stepping stones I bought for my garden, only $6.95 at the Canadian Superstore warehouse. I plan to treat them with tile and grout sealer before placing them in the garden. I don't know how they'll hold up to the weather. They seem to be made from concrete (or perhaps a concrete and resin mix), painted, and grouted. The sticker reads "Made in China". They sure wouldn't be $6.95 if made in Canada!

Hummingbird garden mosaic stepping stone - 4 of series of 4I would have liked to pick up more stepping stones to give to each of my gardening friends (really!!), but they were so heavy I had a hard time making it to the car with the 4 of them. We'll see if I get back to that store. I don't visit there often, because of the poor or nonexistent service. To save money, I prefer to buy the specials at stores where I am treated with respect.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

Fields of tulips in Skagit ValleyToday we went with our neighbours to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. The weather was wonderful - sunny, yet very windy (as it always seems to be, in that valley). Here are some photos from our visit.

The festival runs from April 1 - 30 this year. We were happy to finally get good (dry) weather on a weekend, before the festival was done. When it has been raining, the fields can be pretty muddy. Today they were dry, with very few puddles.

We enjoyed our visit afterwards to the town of La Conner, with its unique shops and galleries.

Tractor ride at Tulip Town, Skagit Valley Tulip Festival
Tulips and tractor ride at Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

Tulips at Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, April 2006 Colourful tulip display, Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Bald Eagle Live Web Cam

This is a nice link my friend Helen sent to me, it is a live camera watching in close-up the activities of a pair of nesting bald eagles on Hornby Island, British Columbia (don't try this with dial up!):

Bald Eagle Live Web Cam

The site even includes a forum for discussing the eagles.

The eggs are expected to hatch on approximately April 26 and 30, 2006, so watch for eagle chicks soon! Beware, this eagle watching is addictive! Hint: Double-click the modest eagle web cam image, and you will get it in full-screen! What an awesome screensaver it makes!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Plant Salvage Mission

I am proud to report that yesterday morning I went on a plant salvage mission. That is, saving plants from impending demolition, and finding them a good home.

I've had my eye on this particular house for probably six months now, since the tree protection fencing (orange plastic) and survey stakes went in. Last week, the gas was disconnected, and yesterday when I visited, the hydro meter was removed also. So it could be gone in days, and with it any living thing on that lot. I knew there were raspberries there, and also a peony, perhaps more. It would be a shame if they were all dug under.

I was happy to run into the next door neighbour, and ask her if she thought the owner would mind if I dug up some plants before the house was demolished. She told me that nobody had really lived in that house for 5 years now. The previous owner lived there for about 20 years. I was happy to hear that, since any plants which survived that long without care would definitely be hardy!!

So I dug up and carried whatever I could fit in the trunk. Two peonies, quite a few raspberry canes, strawberry plants, narcissus bulbs, and a few others which I couldn't quite identify, but look pretty promising, since the dried stalks from last year indicated tall and sturdy flower stalks. One looked thistle-like. I mused that the leaves looked almost like the cardoon which I have so painstakingly (I don't enjoy seed-starting) started from seeds, and only now transplanted a small seedling into the garden.

I spent a good part of the day planting these into my garden. I've placed many of them into the very front of my yard, in an area which was too inhospitable (probably too wet) for the hebes which the landscaper had installed, and is home to heather and horsetails. The weather was perfect, threatening to rain, but ending up being only overcast. Since I didn't know how long I would be able to continue (I'm a wimp when it comes to rain), I pushed myself hard, and was sweaty and dirty from head to toe when I was done.

This morning, I was relieved that it was starting to rain lightly, so I wouldn't be tempted to go and dig up more. Instead, I planted in some strawberries and a few more daffodils. By noon, it was raining hard, so I am now inside, catching up on work around the house (okay, and blogging also).

I didn't have any good photos from my mission, and it's too wet to take photos of the plants in their new garden beds, so I've inserted some Microsoft clip art instead. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Tips for New Gardeners

I feel vindicated. When I moved both my espalier apple and espalier asian pear trees at the end of February, nearly everyone told me that I shouldn't, and that I may lose the trees.
espaliered asian pear in blossom
espaliered apple in blossomToday the espalier asian pear tree is in full blossom (photos right), and looks very happy in his new location. The same with the espalier apple tree, which is just starting to blossom (photo left). The key to my success was moving the trees while they were still dormant, while the soil was very moist, and the weather was cool and raining regularly.
asian pear tree blossom
Most new gardeners I speak with, are quite anxious not to make a "mistake" in their garden. There is not too much which they can do wrong. In contrast to human inventions, which are subject to constant failure and breakdown, the plant world is very resilient and can easily survive a wide variety of conditions (soil, sun/shade, watering/drainage), although to achieve the best "look", there is of course an optimal range of conditions. Over time, a gardener learns to anticipate plant preferences and also"read" the responses from the plants, and react to move plants or correct situations which are not favourable. Seeking advice from more experience gardeners is always a great way to learn, and gardeners are generally pretty friendly folk, and very happy to share their knowledge and passion.

The following tips or guidelines are ones which I've learned over the years, and will help to make the gardening experience a more successful and rewarding one.

Plant on Shady Days, Weed on Sunny Days - Moving or planting in a new plant on an overcast day will reduce the shock to the plant. Timing it so that it will rain for the next couple days after the move is optimal. So use the sunny and hot days to pull weeds instead.

Always Water after Planting - Likewise, watering after planting helps to gently settle and compact the soil, and provide the roots with much-needed moisture to reduce the shock.

Water the Soil, not the Foliage - Very few plants benefit from water on their foliage, and it may contribute to burn (if the sun hits it) or mildew or other diseases. The exception is with some insect infestations, such as aphids or spider mites, where a very vigorous ("jet" setting) spraying with water may be an effective pesticide-free method of insect control.

Water in the Shade or in the Cool Part of the Day - This is closer to way plants are watered (rained on) in nature, with the cool water soaking into cool soil. Early morning is ideal, but not always practical. As a reasonable compromise, I often water in the early evening, once the area is in complete shade.

Plant According to Sun & Soil Preferences - Use the plant tag as a rough guideline for where to plant, whether in full sun, partial shade, or deep shade, and also for basic soil (wet / dry) conditions. Or observe where the plant is growing successfully in neighbour's yards. Generally, plants with soft leaves (think lettuce) need good moisture and some shade or will tend to wilt. Plants with silvery foliage (think lavenders), or tough narrow leaves (think grasses or yucca) can withstand drought (sunny/dry) conditions well.

Plant at the Same Depth - When moving a plant, plant it in at the same level as it was previously in the garden or pot. Most plants don't want to be dug in deeper, or higher. If starting from seed, then the plant will establish its own preferred depth.

Picking Flowers is Okay - The flower part of the plant takes lots of energy to support. It is only of reproductive benefit, and not feeding the plant in any way. There is no danger (unless you are waiting for fruit or seeds) to removing flowers at any time, to enjoy indoors or share with friends. Of course, most flowers will persist much longer outdoors, but don't be afraid to pick and enjoy.

Removing Spent Flowers is Great - Unless you are waiting for fruit or seeds, removing the flowers as soon as they are done is good practice. It keeps the garden tidy (reducing places for slugs and other undesirables to hide), and many plants respond by either continuously sending out more flowers, or sending out a second flush of flowers.

Prune for Damaged or Unbalanced Growth - Pruning is a daunting task for a new gardener, but there is never any danger of pruning out or pinching off diseased or damaged branches or leaves, and it is usually beneficial to the plant. Don't compost any of this material, discard it, to reduce the chance of spreading disease or harbouring pests. If you want to know more about pruning, I strongly recommend the book Cass Turnbull's Guide to Pruning (on (or view the same book on It provides a wonderful and humorous description of pruning methods for all sorts of common shrubs and trees in Northwest gardens, and the reasons behind the methods. This new edition offers 40% more new material since the version I read and enjoyed!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Horsetails in Heaven?

Every gardener has a "most hated" weed. The one that just doesn't go away, no matter how hard we try to remove it. For me, it is the horsetails.

I live on a hillside, in an area of former creekbeds. The city has, over time, diverted much of the water, but there is still plenty of underground water, and stories of natural springs in neighbours' back yards. While excavating, we encountered a small underground stream, which now runs through a few tons of gravel, under one corner of the house (deep under our crawlspace), and under our driveway. There is no sign of the water, except that one area of our driveway self-clears of snow and ice.

The soil here is clay, solid and unyielding to the shovel. We brought in some 8 or more truckloads of well-draining garden soil, piling it 6" to 12" deep in most of the garden areas. Into this rich soil, the garden and lawn is planted.

One of the native plants which inhabited this area is the horsetail. It is evident on the North side of our lot (front sidewalk), as well as on the East side (edge of a ravine), and the Southeast corner. Having survived since the time of the dinosaurs, I don't believe it is possible to completely remove it, only to manage it.
Common horsetail shoots in Spring
The horsetail, which I discovered underground a couple of months ago when I moved my espalier trees (along the East fence), and dug as many as I could find, is now poking through the soil. I tackled the front garden bed this morning, digging up about 50 shoots, trying to dig down beyond the shoots into the underlying root network, which is anchored in the clay subsoil. I see that it again showing through all along the East fence, and Southeast corner, so there are a few more days of digging ahead of me.

Last year, I did this same exercise twice in the growing season, each time when the horsetail shoots just cleared the surface of the soil. I believe there were some 200 or more shoots the first time I did this, so my efforts, although they seemed futile at the time, may be having some small effect.

I was musing today about whether there would be horsetails in Heaven. My friend and fellow (more experienced) gardener, Irene, believes that there will be roses in Heaven, but that she will be able to enjoy their beauty without the thorns. In the same way, I believe there will also be horsetails.

Do you remember, as a child, the wonder of gathering the spherical seedheads of dandelions, and launching all those little parachutes into the wind? My kids love to do the same, and I encourage them to blow them where they find them, not carry them home to do so! I also remember, as a child, walking along the edges of horsetail-lined ditches, imagining I was a giant walking through a miniature forest. Or imagining I was flying high above the valley, so high that the trees looked so small.

I believe that in Heaven, there will be a beautiful display of God's creation, as we already experience a glimpse of here on Earth. There will be horsetails, but they will not be seen as competing for garden space with other wonderful plants and flowers. The toiling we experience on Earth will cease. We will no longer toil to produce a beautiful garden, we will accept that all things are beautiful as they were created to be. The horsetails will have their own miniature valleys to inhabit.

Yes, in Heaven, there will be horsetails and dandelions, and we in newly-restored childlike wonder, will love to "fly" over them and blow them into the wind.
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