Tuesday, 18 December 2012

White Christmas – almost

We woke up to snow this morning. Not very much and it's a week too early for Christmas, but it's probably the only snow we'll see before the end of the year.

 Temperatures are forecast to rise slightly tomorrow and we'll be back to the familiar clouds and showers for the rest of the week.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Brave plants

 By the tail-end of November there's little in the garden to admire, and the relentless rain we've endured during the past week has challenged both the remaining few fall bloomers and the newly emerging winter flowers.
One of the hardiest plants has been a surprise to me because it looks so fragile and brittle. It's Bouteloua gracilis, called mosquito grass because of its odd little flowers that look like a cloud of the familiar insects. The species is a dark grey, which enhances the comparison, but mine is a new (to me at least) cultivar called 'Blonde'. It was one of those plants that you fall for and buy without having any idea of where it might look well in your garden. I tried it first near my front steps, but down below eye-level, it just didn't shine. So I moved it into my heavy cast-iron urn in the back garden, where it makes a lovely airy fountain.

It's a challenge to photograph because that airiness confuses the camera, which has difficulty focusing on it. This is the best I could manage, but I think it provides enough clarity to show how lovely this grass can look. When some rare sunshine makes all those fine stems gleam, it is truly a pretty sight.

Persicaria 'Fire Dance' is just beginning to disintegrate, but still has a few pink-chenille flowers floating above its parrakeet-green leaves. A month ago the Corylopsis behind it was furnishing a golden-yellow background, but now those leaves have fallen and the Persicaria has to rely on its own bright foliage for contrast.

Fortunately some winter flowers are starting to bloom. A few of my double primulas have big buds, while the first blooms on Hellebore 'Jacob' are already open. 'Jacob' was given to me last winter by my friend Pat who is an amazing gardener. "You'll love this plant," she told me. And I do, not least because it's blooming now, way ahead of its relatives. The only drawback I can see is that it's so low to the ground that rain splashes it with particles of dirt that are hard to remove without damaging the petals. I think I need to surround it with a bed of moss or gravel.

While I wait for more hellebores to open, there are still a few foliage effects to enjoy. Hydrangea 'Waterfall', whose coarse foliage has been slightly disappointing, is compensating with some great colour...

...almost bright enough to compete with the stems of rainbow chard in the vegetable garden.

And one of my favourite Heuchera, 'Green Spice', is showing how good a survivor it is when some of its fellows are cringing in our nasty weather.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

My new book

The big event for November has been the launch of my book A Year at Killara Farm.

 More information about it is on Harbour Publishing's website here.
Thanks to the friends and supporters who made the evening a success. I set out to record our life on a small farm and the making of my garden there. I wanted to write the kind of book I like to read; now I just have to hope that other people like that kind of book too.

October flowers

We were away from mid-October to November, but before we left I took a couple of photos of plants that were still blooming well. The dry, sunny start to the month helped a lot to keep perennials going longer than usual.

Lobelia cardinalis 'Queen Victoria' has a brilliant red flower and contrasting purple foliage. I grow it with Salvia 'Black and Blue', whose broad green leaves and black stems are a good complement. The cobalt-blue flowers of the Salvia, not visible in the photo make a stunning combination.

The small blue flower in the background belongs to Clematis x durandii, sprawling among the leaves of a dwarf oakleaf hydrangea. Here's a better look at it, trailing over a hardy geranium:

Friday, 28 September 2012

Blue bed -Black bed

Since we moved in, I've been planning to repaint my old bed, now in our guest room, in a colour more suitable to our current decor. This is a bed I've had since I came to Canada 40 years ago. When I bought it at a Sally Ann store (for $10 if I recall correctly), it was an institutional dark brown. I painted it red, and detailed the decorative flower basket on the headboard in yellow, blue, white and green. In the '80's it got a coat of beige, and in the '90's became blue, which it has remained until now.

This time, it got a coat of black with bronze flecks,

and I picked out the headboard detail in gold.

As my tastes have changed over the decades, so has this venerable old bed.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Another room renovated

One of our tasks this summer was redoing the main floor bathroom. This is what it looked like when we moved in: simulated black marble plastic tiles with pink trim.


We had to act right away on the peeling back wall, so installed a not-very-expensive wraparound tub wall. It will remain for now, though at some future date I'd like to replace it. 

Two years later, after attending to more important alterations, we carried out the old vanity (a difficult job as it was heavy, constructed of very solid plywood), and stripped the plastic tiles from the drywall behind (an easy job as they practically fell off at a touch.)

Michael detached the toilet, which we moved temporarily to the back porch, then removed the linoleum tiles on the floor, the plywood beneath them and finally the fir boards below that to get down to the subfloor. 

He replaced the plywood, laid heating cable over it, 

poured self-levelling cement (the worst part of the job as it didn't self-level willingly), set the new terracotta tiles and finished with a dark-coloured grout. I put two coats of sealer on the grout.

Then I repainted the walls, we installed beadboard wainscotting, which I had already painted out in the backyard, and replaced the toilet. Our new vanity including sink and faucet was acquired from Craigslist, and suited both our colour scheme and the rustic look we were aiming for.

Our old oval mirror that we've had for many years turned out to be a good match for the vanity. We added a new curved shower rod and a half-curtain to the window in colours that matched the walls.

An inexpensive print on the wall and a bamboo etagere to hold towels completed the room.

Cooler weather in the last week gave us an opportunity to test the floor heat and find it is working well. All in all, we're pleased with the transformation.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Old is Good

Grandview Heritage Group has launched a program to celebrate houses that are 100 years old with appropriate signs. We got our sign over a month ago, but it's taken this long for me to post a photo of our proud old birthday girl.

The Group intends to make this an annual project. Perhaps it will teach more people to appreciate the value of what is already there rather than tearing it down to build a new house out of cheaper materials. Our house was such an ugly duckling when we bought it, and yet now so many passers-by comment on how attractive it is.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

August observations

We are three weeks into August already and 'Betty Corning' on the back fence is only just losing its flowers.

I took this photo two weeks ago, amazed that it was still blooming since it's been going strong for almost three months. It's not easy to photograph the whole vine as my automatic camera tends to focus anywhere but on the right spot. However, it's great for a close-up:

 This is a fragrant clematis which is one reason I chose it for a location by the back steps where we are always coming and going. I had not, however, expected it to have such a long flowering season.
 On the other side of the steps are two blueberry bushes and, on the right, the flowering currant I recently moved from lower in the garden to this prominent position, where I hope it will be more visible to any passing hummingbird.

Since the photo, the currant has objected to the midsummer move by turning brown, but I didn't want to move it in winter when it is preparing to flower. It's a tough plant and will survive.
The fence behind the bushes is host to another clematis, 'Huldine', which is just coming into flower as 'Betty' fades:

There are only two of these exquisite pearly-white flowers so far, but many buds yet to open.
 Two non-clinging species clematis have also been adding to the garden:

Clematis integrifolia


                                                                  Clematis recta

The former sprawls around the feet of 'Huldine', while the latter decorates one pillar of the back porch with a little discreet help from garden twine.
All of these clematis are herbaceous and can be tidied up at the end of the year by cutting down to a foot or so of hardly noticeable twigs.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Success with vegetables

Our new vegetable patch has begun to be productive, with green onions, peas, beans and broccoli all demanding to be harvested.

The raised beds are proving very successful.

 You can almost see that patch of corn at the back getting taller every day.

In fact, since I took these photos the beans have sprung up the fence and are waving above the top rail, and the lettuce-leaf basil has finally decided that it is hot enough to begin to grow. Only our second crop of lettuce has stalled in the heat and may have to be replanted when the temperature drops back to our normal cool.

The view from my desk into the back garden has changed in two years from this

to this:

Of course, there's still a lot to do. That patch of grass on the left has to be turned into more garden beds, and there is still quite a bit of brown earth elsewhere waiting for the right plants to cover it. However, brown earth itself is a great improvement over buttercups and other weeds that were providing much of the green in the early photo.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

More plants

It's hydrangea time. I'm becoming more addicted to hydrangeas since I discovered how many alternatives to coarse-leaved mopheads there are in the family. I have a young H. serrata hybrid called 'Waterfall' that has put out one bloom this year.

As it ages, the greenish-white petals are slowly becoming suffused with ice-blue. The leaves are rather coarse but they are a good sharp green that sets off the flowers very nicely. If it blooms more profusely next year, I think it will earn its place.

A close relative of 'Waterfall' is still in a pot, but it too has produced one flower. I'm not sure I like the colour...

because it's too lush a pink, especially for a plant called 'Purple Tiers'. I think I'll move it to a larger pot, add some aluminum sulphate to push it towards blue tones, and see what happens next year before giving it garden space.

My tree hydrangea that I hope will eventually dominate the northeast garden bed is, however, living up to expectations. I love the crisp look of the flowerheads...

 ...and the big velvet-textured leaves.

None of these new additions has supplanted 'Beni-gaku' as my favourite, and that's not surprising when its combination of beautiful foliage and delicate flowers is so exquisite.

Elsewhere, a couple of thistle relatives are looking dramatic in the dry part of the front garden. One is Eryngium giganteum aka Miss Wilmott's Ghost.

Miss Wilmott, a rich, eccentric Englishwoman, so liked this plant that she used to secretly scatter seed in other people's gardens. Its mysterious arrival following a visit from her led to its unusual nickname.

On the other side of the front path competition comes from Echinops ritro 'Taplow Blue'. Both plants have a metallic sheen that makes them almost pulsate in the summer sunshine.

What they both need is more companions to cover the bare earth at their feet. I'm still contemplating candidates for that job.
Meanwhile my lavender hedge in front of them has become a reality. I've just clipped off the dead flowers and, with the exception of a couple of plants under the canopy of the street maple, they've now grown together, just as I had hoped, to form a continuous line along the sidewalk.

 Slowly I am making progress.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Poppies and their Partners

In spring I scattered poppy seeds in various bare patches to fill in the beds while I went about selecting more permanent plants. They have come up in a variety of doubles and singles, all of them attractive.
Although I didn't plan it that way, all the poppies sown among my scarlet peonies that flowered last month are also red.

Not far away, another group has all opened baby pink.

And there are also some lovely dark raspberry singles.

I get contrasting colour from low-growing Geranium 'Rozanne' next to the red poppies,

...and am just waiting for two pale yellow partners to open: Anthemis 'Sauce Hollandaise' and a species hollyhock.

Meanwhile on the fence Schizophragma hydrangeoides continues to impress me with the colour of its leaves.

Another impressive sight is a single Allium giganteum as tall as I am. The bulbs are rather expensive, but I think I'll have to indulge in a few more to accompany this one next year.

Beyond the flower garden, the vegetable plots are filling up.

In the foreground arugula is already flowering, but we're leaving it so that we can collect some seed for another crop. Soon we will have peas and beans climbing that back fence and screening the unattractive lane behind.