Thursday, July 30, 2009

Rudi's Little Garden

A view of the little corner garden Rudi and I built last year. This spot originally had some evergreen groundcover, a small out of control tree, and a creeping vine, and I simply had never maintained it. So two summers ago, I dug it all out, and started from scratch.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Another Shady Story

Spent some time at the cottage, and this is the second season for my Hosta garden that I planted on the north side of the house. This area gets full sun for about two or three hours a day at most, so the only option is shade plants. I grew tired of simply having sparse grass and weeds growing right up to the side of the house, so now I have a neat little collection of Hostas, along with some sparse grass and weeds! Hooray! I am quite amazed at the resiliance of these little plants, as they were only planted last year, and some of them were root cuttings with only a few pathetic leaves that I gave little chance of survival. But here they are, climate zone 3A, as if it were the nicest spot on the planet!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Another View

This is a different view of the Hosta bed at the back fenceline of the property, taken from the East side, rather than the West. Unlike the previous photo two posts previous, this photo also includes many of the lower branches of the White Spruce trees that line the back fence, and gives a better idea of the appearance of the garden. It is also evident here the fact that quite a few of the Hostas are very mature, some having been in location for three or four years, wheras a number of others are in either their first or second season. All in all, I don't think this part of the garden looks half bad. If you are wondering, the white fluffy thing at the extreme left near the back is the back end of buddy the wonder poodle.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Little Bit Of Work

I returned to work on the East side of the garden, which hasn't seen much attention recently. I had started a few years back building up compost, and introducing Day-Lilies against the fence line, and last year planted the Hostas in a staggered row. This year the area got completely overridden by weeds, so I spent a few hours and scraped all the weeds back, rearranged the Hostas and a few Karl Foerster reed grasses I had recently planted, then spread newspaper over all the soil, and placed a thin layer of compost mulch on top. It was amazing what three solid hours of work accomplished, as the area went from a total mess to at least some semblance of order! I am also in the process of installing a 'secret path' through most of the garden beds, and in this particular bed it will comprise log 'stepping stones' placed in a sinuous path. You can see the path in the middle of the photo, with buddy the wonder poodle hunting out his culinary delight - fresh dandelion root! To the right are the Hosta's, and further right the reed grass, and the Day Lilies. In the summer I will build the bed out to the left, probably with Astilbe and Huechera, for an added splash of colour.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The West Side Story

After the North side, the West side of a building probably gets the least amount of direct sun, usually limited to 1 PM and later in the afternoon. The problem with our West side is the fact that there are numerous trees to the South and West which limit direct sunlight to less than an hour, with the rest of the day being in deep shade or dappled shade. When we bought the house, there were three Junipers centred in front of the chimney, a couple of indeterminate dead shrubs, and two small Yews in front of each window, along with a few other plants. With the lack of sunlight, the original inhabitants here were getting quite spindly and pathetic, so three years ago I cut them all down and dug them out. The Rhododendron, the tall blue/green Hostas and the gold/green minis were planted two summers ago, while the new white Hostas went in this year. The small Japanese Maple (a shade loving tree if there ever was one) was originally planted in a part shade spot with full afternoon sun (sun from noon til 5) and was doing quite well, but I decided to relocate it here, as I have another tree planned for its original location. Another Rhododendron will be located in front of the other window, to balance the first. The grass between the garden bed and the driveway is patchy, and I am in the process of transplanting sod from other areas in the back yard to improve the area.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hosta La Vista, Baby! (Part 2)

Well, here's what shade does for you! This bed runs along the fenceline at the back of the property, which has a randomly spaced line of about a dozen White Spruces arranged along it. This was my first experiment in gardening, and I just wanted to get something fairly simple and reasonably pleasing to the eye. There are roughly seventy Hostas in about a dozen different varieties, with a narrow band of standard orange Daylillies close to the fence. I started building this bed seven summers ago by dumping small windrows of compost or compostable materials, then spreading the material out later as it decomposed. The following two summers saw more material added, and spread out to form the rough shape of the bed as it appears now. Four summers ago I planted the first dozen or so Hostas, which were mostly recovered from other areas of the yard. Each year after that I added a few new ones, or split existing ones, until it got to where it is today. My most observant followers will notice that this is the same bed that I have pictured in 'Tree Culling Part 1', 2 posts below this one, just taken at a more oblique angle to the fenceline. What a difference two months make!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tree Culling Part II

Here are before and after photos of a portion of the east side of the property. This side used to be very overcrowded with trees, including a single trunk Manitoba Maple, a couple of badly leaning White Spruce (originally to the right of the picture), as well as a mostly dead Chestnut possibly in the back corner. I am now down to four nice White Spruce, and the Blue Spruce from the front lawn will be relocated here soon.

It is fairly obvious from the photos that the tree I felled wasn't growing particularly well, stuck in between two other impressive White Spruce. The removed tree was roughly 35 feet tall, compared to the 60 to 70 foot height of its neighbors. The taller trees were blocking a lot of the sun it required to grow, and at the same time, it was taking up valuable resources (water, organics, and mineral nutrients) from the soil that its neighbours could be putting to better use. Essentially it wasn't going to grow into a strong tree and it was stealing from other trees, so the decision was made to bring it down. Besides, I needed a good strong log to install as a support brace for the treehouse platform, and a round green log would work much better than a 2x8 or 4x4 post from the lumber yard. The branches were sent off to the town composting depot, a few of the more dead branches were burned for ash, and the balance of the logs cut and stacked for future burning, or donation.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tree Culling Part I

With the maturing age of all the White Spruce in the backyard, it is now evident that a few have lost the race to others. Two small trees in particular are very 'weedy' and are prime candidates for culling. So today I pulled out my trusty Husqvarna 353, set the choke and pulled the starter twice 'til the engine caught, then closed the choke and pulled once again to fire her up! About fifteen minutes later the smallest of the two weedy spruces was on the ground, completely limbed, and cut into two long sections which I will probably use in construction of the treehouse. The photo to the right is a view along the rear fenceline showing the line of spruces in the 'Hosta La Vista' Hosta bed, and the treehouse in the background. The Husky is sitting on the stump of the spruce I just removed. There is sufficient spacing between the two large remaining spruces to the left and right of this little one to accommodate a Japanese Maple of some type, which will add a bit of colour, and block the view of the rusting 40 year old trailer I always have to look at just over the fence!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Tree Lover? Yes - Tree Hugger? Definitely Not

I really love trees. But I love my Husqvarna 353 chainsaw almost as much on a given day. So I really have no qualms about pulling it out and turning a deserving tree into a quarter cord of firewood if necessary. And yes, it is necessary sometimes. There is a school of thought (to which I do not subscribe) that because trees are good and beneficial for the environment, then more of them are better. Ummmmm. No, not at all, actually.

In nature, trees are born, grow, and a lucky few survive and thrive. The rest lose the competition to reach the sky, and they diminish, and die out far before their alotted time. Even those that survive eventually die off, to make way for new trees joining the race to reach the sky.

Occasionally I drive by woodlots, where the 'land manager' has never seen fit to go in and cull the necessary quantity of trees to keep the forest healthy. What ends up (examples can be seen in woodlots of reforested pine) is essentially a forest of standing posts of firewood and tinder, with the majority of these 'trees' on the verge of death, or dead already. Could somebody just get out a chainsaw, do the right thing and selectively cut out a bunch of trees, for the good of the forest, preferably before the lot starts into an irreversible decline? I just can't understand people who think trees are capable of growing to a healthy maturity standing 5 feet apart from one another!

In native forests, there are many natural things that selectively thin out trees: Beaver, deer, elk and other animals remove bark and kill young trees, forest fires allow select species to grow in quickly afterwards, and the natural occurrence of varieties of trees such as birch, which take up room and quickly die off so as to provide nutrients for those trees which continue to live and grow after. So with trees in a garden or a planted woodlot, without any of these constraints, it is necessary to have humans intervene, and select those trees which will live, and those which will be felled and removed for the good of the remaining living trees. If this is not undertaken, the health of all the trees is potentially at risk.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hosta La Vista, Baby! (Part 1)

It has been almost seven years since I decided something had to be done with the gardens at the Field House. Pretty much everwhere I looked, the beds were either not there, not big enough, or not planted quite properly. The only real problem was I had absolutely no clue how to do things properly! I really had no experience gardening, and I couldn't even remember simple plant names, like Hosta or Sedum. Basically, I was a complete idiot!

But I had a shovel, and I knew how to dig, and I was eager to make something nice, and I was willing to ask silly questions of Katherine, my wife: "so Hosta's are for shade, right honey?" I was also interested in reading about plants, so I found a few books, learned a bit, then grabbed my shovel, and set out to work.

My first experimental site was the back of the property against the fence. I wish I had a before picture, because it was pretty pathetic. In the spring and summer of 2002, what little vegetation growing back there I dug under, and then I started heaping absolutely everything organinc that I could find in big piles under the spruce trees. It really didn't matter, but I dumped cones, chopped branches, dirt, compost, leaves, and lawn cuttings, and just let it rot.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Trees, Trees, Trees, And Yes, Even More Trees

The property at the Field House is quite literally surrounded by trees. We have six rather gothic, foreboding Norway Spruce along the front walk, a Colorado Blue Spruce on the lawn behind, a large three trunked Birch near the front corner of the house, a Mountain Ash, Jack Pine, and Black Walnut in various locations in the rear yard, and no less than eighteen White Spruce along the rear and right property lines. These trees remain even after I felled a Linden, a Manitoba Maple, and three poorly located and leaning White Spruces over the last three years. Consequently, the garden has an abundance of shade!

The shade also comes in a number of varieties, including partial shade, dappled shade, and moderate to full shade depending on relative location to the closest trees. Interestingly enough, the property was advertised as having beautiful gardens when we purchased it, and although some of the gardens were nice, for the most part they were not well thought out, and there were numerous examples of plants located inappropriately. Roughly one quarter of the garden area can be considered part to full sun, with the remaining three quarters having some kind of shade as described above. It was funny then to see Hostas in some of the sunny bright patches, and Sedums in the darker shade!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What's In A Name

Sometime last summer, after digging up a mammoth Hosta, heaving it out of the ground and splitting it up, then replanting the resulting 'offspring', I finally stepped back to have a look at my work. Not particularly shabby, thought I, as I looked at the formerly unkempt space at the back of our garden beneath the spruce trees. What several years before was a rather pathetic little collection of plants tucked in among the trunks at the fence line, was now a broad curving expanse of slightly more formal garden, with about sixty separate Hostas, the majority of which were of around six common types, and two or three each of about ten other different varieties.

For some reason I was thinking of an old Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, where Calvin dreams he is a private eye......"Let me introduce you to Mr. Smith, a friend of mine with a place close to my heart... a bit down, and to the left actually." our hero spoke, undoubtedly with a gravelly drawl. I liked the play on words, and in keeping with the subject matter of the cartoon, the expression "shady character" jumped into my head. Well that was it, the garden certainly had more than its fair share of shade, and with the house, property, and trees, its character.