Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Fairy Garden Renovations - New Concrete Patio!

Renovated Fairy Garden with New Concrete Patio
Thanks to the wonders of the internet, not only can you have a Pinterest obsession with fairy gardens and their accessories, but you can do DIY patio projects with concrete.  No, not your building supply concrete, but special fairy garden concrete.  My husband laughed.  Hey, who has the most beautiful fairy garden patio now?

Why did I need to renovate the patio?  Well, the patio furniture was unstable and kept falling over.  I would like to say the children were bothered by this, but that would be a lie.  I'll admit to needing to have an exceptional fairy garden patio that was not a fall-hazard to fairies or miniature polymer clay critters.

I find miniature gardening to be a very fun project.  Ours has stayed entirely indoors, though it probably could move outdoors.  Even being indoors, I've had problems with aphids on the violets, but I was more concerned about things blowing away or being carried off by animals.  Do you see that cute little potted geranium on the table?  It has a separate saucer underneath that could be blown away by a dog's breath. 

The kids had a great time deciding where everything should go in the garden, designating special functions to certain areas and placing polished stones as stepping stones.  I was told that we had too many bird-related accessories, so some of those went into temporarily storage until I am allowed to play with them again.

Many of the accessories came from ebay and other online sources.  I made the red toadstools myself with baked polymer clay (Fimo/Premo) and baked metal wires into their stems so that they could be staked easily in the dirt.  I also make the bird's nest with robin's eggs on a stump.  The pond is a clay pot saucer painted inside with blue acrylic pain and filled with blue flattened glass marbles.  There was a tremendous dispute over the frog needing to sit on a lily pad because "frogs don't float on water", but perhaps fairy garden frogs can defy gravity.

Instructions on Fairy Garden Concrete Patio:

 First, I got a bag of miniature garden concrete mix online.  I used the entire bag for this project.  I also got some sand from the yard as a base and used strips of cut-up black rubber mat for the edging.  I filled the edged area with 1/2" of sand and smoothed it with a spoon.  Then I added 1/2" of concrete mix and leveled that. I used part of a 12x12 panel of sliced pebble tile and pulled the pebbles off of the mesh to which they are glued (use gloves, don't find out the hard way like I did that the mesh is FIBERGLASS).  I leveled the mixes with a wood block and I placed the pebbles on the concrete mix and pushed them down until flush with the surface of the concrete mix.  Then, I brushed concrete mix off the surface of the rocks and into the spaces between them.  This doesn't clean it up entirely, but a few puffs of breath across the rocks cleans it up nicely.  I used a spray bottle of water to wet the concrete mix until there was some pooling of water.  I repeated spraying several times a day for 2 days and then let it dry. 

Brushed concrete mix off stones

Sprayed stones and mix to activate the concrete
The concrete is great!  It is hard and stable and the patio furniture is now stable.  Of course, it took only one day until the kids ask what they are going to do if they want to change it?  Ha!  After that investment, we are only going to buy fairies on sale!  I like the Cicely Mary Barker (28 June 1895 – 16 February 1973) fairy figures.  I adore the children's books and own some framed CMB fairy series prints.  They have the detail of botanical drawings and are beautiful.  I love how she mixes butterfly wings with flower petals and leaves for the fairy outfits and each fairy has a real plant as a theme, from snowdrops and violets to larch and hazelnut.  Did you know that she actually designed these costumes and dressed her sister's kindergarten students up to use a models for her art?  What a scene that would have been!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Surviving the Hot Spell

Allium giganteum blooming June 10
 I love seeing the big alliums, have admired them in garden blogs and in a few gardens.  You don't see them too often, and I don't suppose they are common potted plants at the garden center.  I planted these Allium giganteum bulbs last fall.  They add interesting architectural shapes to the garden, though transiently.  Different Alliums bloom at different times though, so having a variety can extend their blooming season.  Allium "Purple Sensation" bloomed about a month ago (is half as tall as these).  The already dying foliage on blooming alliums is quite noticeable -- this is normal and expected of the alliums.  Eventually, I should surround the alliums with another plant to disguise its foliage. 

We have had hot days this past week, up to 36 degrees C.  Consequently, garden work has been happening at dusk.  I suppose other people would be taking advantage of the beach right now, but our family will settle for running through the orchard sprinklers. 
Agastache aurantiaca
I have been raising perennial seedlings in my sunroom, mostly drought-tolerant ones such as this Agastache aurantiaca.  I purchased a variety of this perennial last year but it died over the winter, so I (more inexpensively) grew quite a few of them from seed and planted them as smaller plants and hope they are more successful.  They are making their first blooms now.  They are a hummingbird-attracting plant, which is great, because we are enjoying the little hummers zipping around the yard.

Strawberries in stock tank raised bed - netting added this week
 I covered the strawberries with netting this week, as the plants have small green berries on them now.  We haven't really had any problems with animals eating anything out of the garden, but I am proactively protecting them so that no animals start a new berry-habit.  In our last house, the squirrels simply lifting up the netting and run under it to raid nearly every berry.  Some squirrels may have met with bullets.

Praying mantis

One of the mini-gardeners discovered the first praying mantis of the year, clinging to the door jam.  It was removed to safety on a potted geranium and given a hearty welcome to our yard.  The kids know that praying mantises are insect royalty in our yard, especially since they KILL BLACK WIDOWS.  That alone makes them my favourite insect, aside from their intelligent alien appearance and rotating head.  

Friday, June 5, 2015


Hummingbird at our feeder June 5, at sunset (light transmitting through red glass onto the bird)
 After a few days of rapidly-moving dark clouds dumping sudden bursts of rain and some smaller showers in between, we are anticipating a long warm dry spell here in the South Okanagan.  The tourists rejoice and children will want to be out of school.  Summerland's Action Festival will have great weather this weekend.

The weeds and the plants are racing to outgrow each other.  I have a mint plant that scared me with its quadrupled size in the last week.  The children are going to grow tired of virgin mojitos with Schwepps ginger ale.  I tried a mint ice cream recipe using fresh mint leaves a few years ago, but its texture was reminiscent of licking velour, so we quickly abandoned that.  Perhaps we used the wrong kind of mint?  This year, we have spearmint...a lot of it.  I do have the plant sunk in the ground within a large container, but it has escaped to the surrounding soil though it will ultimately be restrained by some nearby retaining walls. 
Thornless blackberry blossom, June 5
 My Blanc Double de Coubert rose is already done blooming, but I pulled a bunch of developing rosehips from it to try and get some more flowers.  That rose has a lovely scent, which is a big part of why I bought it, besides its low maintenance needs.  It had flowers for about two weeks.  I think the Red Meidiland shrub rose (pictured) is supposed to have a longer blooming season, but it doesn't have much scent.  The color really stands out though. 
Red Meidiland shrub rose, shaded in evenings and mulched well
 I love planting rock garden plants in crevices, which possibly appeals to my love of miniature things.  I have been stuffing a variety of Sedums and Sempervivums (hens and chicks), Thyme and little buns of Draba in these spots.  The thyme likes a bit more water and shade (they get the water that trickles through the earth from the underground drip-watering system).  The sempervivums are very hardy even in drier spots, and sedums seem at least moderately hardy.  I like the low-growing, carpet-like sedums at the tops of the rocks (Sedum album "Orange Ice" is in bloom right now), where they cascade over the edges.  Thyme blooms early in the summer, but the creeping green mats of thyme still look amazing the rest of the year.  Make sure though to get the lowest and densest varieties of thyme.  "Elfin" is great.  Wooly thyme has a fascinating textural effects.  The edible type thymes would not be suited for this kind of planting. 
Thyme (foreground) and sempervivum in crevice between granite boulders
The vegetable garden (in stock tanks) is growing enough lettuce to feed an army.  Will kids notice it in smoothies?

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Our New Grafted Apple Trees

After a one-day deluge last week, the plants (and weeds) are making great strides in this warm spring Summerland weather.  The tourists are roaming around our Bottleneck drive neighbourhood, with wine tour buses regularly passing our house (should I wave?).  I was too busy to photograph the irises as they bloomed in the last few weeks, but the cheddar pinks (Dianthus gratianapolitanus) are looking great in the perennial beds.  I appreciate their compact shape with a dense show of deep pink flowers over blue-green foliage.  I certainly would love to have more of these.
Cheddar pinks (Dianthus gratianapolitanus) - May blooms
In the realm of edibles, the new apple nursery is now established with 4800 trees.  I believe these are called bench grafts, with the tops (scions) collected from Ambrosia trees early this year and grafted onto specific rootstock by a nursery in Summerland.  They looked like twigs going into the ground, but in the last week, have produced some leaves.  They will eventually be dug up and and moved to their final locations next spring, where they will grow as a high-density orchard.
Newly planted grafted apples

The old-style orchard: Macintosh apples this week

One of our table grapes - planted this spring
 The vegetable garden has produced a tidal wave of spinach, leaving us searching online for spinach recipes and blanching and freezing some for future use.  There will be spanakopita and spinach salad for every meal!  I've even tried playing YouTube Popeye videos for subliminal messages to the children.  I think smaller, spaced out successive plantings would have been better, but the initial garden efforts were a bit enthusiastic.  Next year, we will try for more self-control.
Greens in the stock tank raised beds
So far, the stock tanks are working well as raised beds.  We still have to hand-water them from the top, as not every plant will have deep enough roots to reach down to the damp soil closer to the reservoir on the bottom. I have faith that the tomatoes will eventually reach down and tap into the available water though.  They have big root systems. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Vegetables Already!

We got a good rain overnight, which is the first significant rainfall we have had in months -- not really surprising in this semi-arid desert climate.  This will be good for BC's wildfires, though the lightning is still unwanted.
Spinach and other vegetables in the stock tank raised beds
The stock tank raised beds are offering up some great spinach at the moment.  The only quandary is finding recipes for spinach that children find appetizing.  We will have to do some internet searching or hand it out free to willing friends and neighbours.

I inter-planted the spinach with carrots so that the carrots will continue on when the spinach is done.  Of course, we planted "rainbow" colored carrots, as kids love the novelty of interesting colored vegetables.  I surely hope they EAT THEM too.

Tomato Time!
Corn starting to come up in the "Three Sisters" plot

I transplanted my tomatoes outside this weekend, filling another two stock tanks.  I am trying a variety of heirloom varieties, including Costoluto Genovese, Omar's Lebanese, Black plum, and Black cherry tomato.  I am also growing a hybrid cherry tomato called "Jelly Bean".  Besides its appealing name, it has good disease resistance and bears large clusters of oval-shaped fruits.  They grow very tall, so will be needing support systems.

Scallions and marigolds in raised bed
I was going to put all the tomatoes into the stock tanks, but Gardener-man appeared distressed when I mentioned driving tomato supports into the raised beds.  This is because there is a membrane separating the water reservoir on the bottom from the sand layer in the middle.  Also, all of my tomato plants are indeterminate (vs. determinate), which means that their vertical growth doesn't stop after reaching their genetically-determined height.  They will keep getting taller all season.  We will have to come up with a support system that is compatible with the stock tank raised beds.  However, "Jelly Bean" will go into the ground near the asparagus and have the benefit of underground drip-watering.

Meanwhile, in the Flower Beds...

Shaded border - Cunningham white rhododendron
My Blanc Double de Coubert shrub rose is blooming and already dropping petals!  I was not prepared to have roses so early, but having moved from Saskatchewan makes these events seem astounding.  The rhododendrons around town are looking great and my still-tiny rhodos with white and red blooms are looking good, though barely visible except up-close.  The small-statured Rhododendron "Baden Baden" is in the rock garden and has already finished blooming, while  red "Vulcan" is presently looking great.  The "Cunningham's White" had an intermediate blooming time and is pictured here in this post.  I had a little panic episode this spring when I saw that the closed buds were PINK, but was relieved to see the flowers are indeed white.

Allium "Purple Sensation"
 My Allium "Purple Sensation" is the first bloomer of my ornamental alliums.  It will be finished before A. giganteum "Globemaster" blooms (which I am really excited to see, because it was never hardy in Saskatchewan).     
Table at the Summerland Ornamental Garden Plant Sale, May 9

I thoroughly enjoyed the Summerland Ornamental Gardens plant sale last weekend.  I heard in advance that it was very popular and that one should get there early, which I did, despite a puking child.  However, getting there at the official opening time of 8 am doesn't get mean you get there before the crowds of people.  Gardeners must be early-rising and highly-competitive sorts, because I had to drive down to the far-away overflow parking spots.  I think the keen gardeners before me had lined up in the early morning.  Fortunately, I wasn't after the bedding plants.  I had my eye on some native perennials and a few other unusual plants, like Echium amoenum "Red Feathers", which is now planted in the "desert bed" with a variegated yucca.  Although I don't want to swell the crowds for next year's plant sale, I must say that the prices were quite good and the selection quite nice.  They even were prepared to take interact and credit card! 


Friday, May 8, 2015

Longleaf Phlox - Okanagan Wildflower

Phlox longifolia, Okanagan wildflower among grass and wild sage
I am only now appreciating the local wildflowers, after years of taking them for granted.  Now, I search native plant websites for online seed sales and scour the mountainsides for seedheads.  If you want to be truly water-wise, the plants that grow wild here in the dry Okanagan are a good bet.  They're beautiful too! 

While some may call them weeds, several of the wildflowers are still pretty closely related to the ones in our garden centers.  The phlox family contains several favourites, including the low-growing rock garden Moss/Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata) and the late summer-blooming Garden/Fall Phlox (Phlox paniculata).  August in a great perennial garden is the time to appreciate Phlox paniculata.  I know I fell in love with them when I saw the lovely display at Linden Gardens in nearby Kaleden a few years ago. 

Phlox subulata from my Saskatchewan garden
The delicate sprays of the wild pale pink Longleaf phlox growing on the wild grass and sage-covered hills across the street are about 6-10" inches tall and have fine needle-thin leaves.  These thin leaves are a drought-resistance mechanism, featured commonly on many desert plants.  They have lax stems that lean over and look wind-blown.  The flowers are apparently sweetly-scented but the surrounding cacti make it difficult to check this out thoroughly.

A university of Michigan database includes a history of the use an infusion of this plant by Okanagan native peoples for anemia in children. 

If you want to try to grow the Longleaf Phlox from seed, it needs to be germinated at cool temperatures (7°C and in the dark, according to this research from the Native Plants Journal).  Maybe I need to get the cold storage room doing something other than storing canned fruit. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Season of Yellow Flowers

Certain colors dominant short periods of time in the perennial garden.  Right now, the wild Arrowleaf Balsamroot is flowering in the hills around us and they look so bright and beautiful.  Did you know they are the official flower of Kelowna?   
Arrowleaf Balsamroot in bloom, Summerland, BC
 Meanwhile, we have accumulated some composted manure in a square patch next to the stock tank raised beds and declared it a vegetable garden.  Sticks designate the places where I have planted corn and beans, the start of our traditional "Three Sisters Garden", a beneficial companion planting of traditional South American plants. 

Squash, cucumbers, and zucchini will fill the spaces between staggered stands of corn, which in turn will support bean plants.  The large leaves of the vine plants shades the soil, keeping it moist for the corn and beans.  We didn't make mounds for the corn, since we have a dry climate and the linked article above says that flat ground is better in dry areas.  We haven't had too much rain in April, so we will have to stay dedicated to the sprinkler for the germination period.
Stock tank raised beds - first one is growing spinach
The daffodils are at the end of their season and the Aurinia saxatilis is forming carpets of blooms.  Several neighbours have stunning slopes entirely covered in these yellow flowers.  They are very hardy, require full sun, and can live in poor soils.  They probably seed out a bit, as I see them naturalized in rocky informal settings where they probably were never intentionally planted.  I would like to spread them all over my yard, because they look great and are so easy!  Elsewhere in the yard, the new growth on the Euphorbia polychroma is a similar bright yellow and quite striking next to contrasting purple Heuchera foliage or bright blue or pink spring flowers.
Aurinia saxatilis in my perennial bed
Next in the garden season is...Irises!  Can't wait to see the show. 

I am hoping to go to the Summerland Ornamental Gardens spring plant sale this year.   They promise unusual plants and some interesting varieties of tomatoes, from what I can see on their Facebook page.  Besides being a great place to pick up uncommon plants not seen at garden centers, this is a fundraiser for one of my favourite gardens!  It should make for good Mother's Day shopping too!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Winter Losses and Some Rock Garden Gems

I just realized that it is the peak of the apple blossoms and I didn't photograph them!  Oh well, will try to remember it tomorrow.  However, my greatest enjoyment at the moment is the "rock garden" or so I call it.  The bright colors of the spring bulbs and violets make me happy.  While I did plant most of the spring bulbs in fall, I did cheat on a few of the grape hyacinths and bought a few pots of them at the garden center.  Every time I see these little gems I do want more of them (and the other spring bulbs).   
Grape hyacinths
Kitty stalking nature (a rare stroll outside)
 Yellow colors in the rock garden are from the new growth of the Euphorbia polychroma and the densely planted mass of Narcissus "Tete-a-tete" (mini daffodils).  Both are winter hardy, unlike the hardy ice plants, Delosperma nubigenum, which did a disappearing act over the winter.  This was particularly irritating, as this same plant survived all winters in northern Saskatchewan.  Either it lacked the protection of snow cover, or it resented being damp in a bed covered with bark mulch.  I am testing my theories by planting some of the same ice plants in some sandy soil in a non-irrigated dry part of the yard.     
Hybrid "Sorbet" series violas, which I started from seed
Rock garden, with Tete-a-tete narciccus (yellow bunch) with a background of apple trees
Finally, low-growing, white-flowered hardy perennials.  I hope to see these develop into lovely white mats over time.  I also have another white-flowering rock garden plant, Arenaria montana, which I started from seed and should flower next year.  The Arabis is a bit taller and more loose, while the Iberis looks like it will make a nice dense carpet. 
Iberis "Snowball"

Arabis caucasica next to a Primula auricula
Aside from the ice plants, my forsythia produced only a few feeble blossoms and looks half-dead, my Bay laurels are dead (I just realized they are "zone 8" and therefore not hardy in zone 6), some of the Pieris are suffered significant winter kill, and one Cornus sericea "Kelseyi" did not make it.  I saw more of these same plants being sold at the Canadian Tire, but I don't think it would be rational to plant the same again.  Moving on, trying other things.  How has your garden fared?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Currants and Jostaberries

More edibles are being installed here in orchard-land.  After reading the traditional wisdom that peas are planted on Good Friday, I rushed out there on Sunday and planted 3 varieties in a row (marked with fiberglass poles that look like they could be marking a gas line).  Actually, there is a large gas line pretty close to this area, but that is another topic.  The plan is that some page wire will be held up by the poles as a trellis for the peas.  Will a metal trellis work here?  I have no idea.  I suppose peas aren't going to last until the hot months of July and August anyhow.
Row of peas next to stock tank raised beds

While growing currants doesn't seem like an Okanagan thing to do, I decided to get some anyhow.  I had tried Jostaberries in SK only to have them die of fungal disease.  Having observed the success of wild golden currants already on property, I thought I might give a second try at some other varieties in the Ribes genus.  I planted two Jostaberries (a complex cross of two different gooseberries and a black currant) and two black currant bushes.  I read that Jostaberries can get up to 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide.  I am cringing now, worried that we have crowded them, planting maybe 3.5 feet apart?  Also, these will shade the east end of the vegetable garden.  Something else (not yet planted or planned) will miss its morning sun.  If this continues to eat away at me, I may have to move one or two of them.

I had intended on making a fully-planned, attractive vegetable garden like those lovely European country ones on Pinterest, complete with calendulas, a willow-branch teepee covered in pea vines, and a neat herb hedge.  Instead, we have piles of dirt on a compacted sandy patch of earth and fiberglass poles.  Oh, and I was told two days ago by dear husband that there needs to be an oblique path through the center of the garden for a tractor.  That particular feature is never accounted for in Pinterest gardens.  Oh well.
Jostaberry bush, with apples in background
 If you can't beat them, join them: I took cuttings from the wild golden currants (Ribes aureum) growing without a care on the hill above our house.  If the hybrid berry bushes don't make it, at least I know that the wild ones should be able to thrive on nearly no attention.  Besides, they had really lovely yellow and red flowers last spring.  If my cuttings are successful, the plants would be attractive just dotting the informally-landscaped areas.  Also, we made some pretty good jam out of them last year.   

 To increase my chance of success in cuttings (many failures with rot in the past), I have turned to a thick and mysterious-looking dark purple gel I found on the internet.  The sellers seemed to imply that I could produce a multitude of clones of my "medicinal plants" with this fantastic product.  The picture in the front of the bottle certainly isn't a rose or currant, but I figure that if it is good enough for "medicinal plants", it might work for me.  I pulled off the bottom leaves and dipped the cuttings in the gel and inserted them in clean potting mix which was watered till slightly damp.  Now the waiting...
Golden currant cutting among the seedlings
Ribes sanguineum, flowering currant in Summerland Ornamental Gardens

While we are talking about currants, I spotted a lovely dark-pink flowering shrub at the Summerland Ornamental Gardens this morning.  It was located in the Butterfly Garden area, but without a label.  As far as I can tell, it is a flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum.

It is native to BC, though I don't know if this is some special named variety different than the wild type.  Its dark pink flowers are quite attractive. 

Ribes sanguineum, the flowering currant
The major fun at the butterfly garden (for me) was recommending that the kids put their noses into the Fritillaria imperialis.  They are impressive showy flowers, but definitely quite skunky.  

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Loud Alien Species: Ring-Necked Pheasant

Nearby Naramata has a much-decried marauding peacock problem, with several entertaining letters to the editor last summer.  I'm happy that Summerland doesn't have a similar troupe of screeching, prancing birds (that apparently also scratch cars, according to the Naramata reports).  However, the Okanagan is home to another alien species of colorful birds.  The ring-necked pheasant was introduced from China about 100 years ago, presumably for people who enjoy hunting them.  Not 30 minutes goes by without hearing this bird screech from somewhere nearby.  Sometimes I have to stop my vehicle to let it cross the road.  It doesn't seem adequately scared of vehicles, which might explain why we found a dead one on the road last year.  I have yet to see a female (maybe she's quieter?). 
Ring-necked pheasant in Summerland, BC
The spring bulbs blooming now include the mini daffodil, Narcissus "Tete-a-Tete".  The big daffodils in the sunniest locations are blooming, while the shaded ones are just coming up.  I am excited to see my Fritillaria imperialis are out of the ground and looking good.  Those stinky bulbs are supposed to grow into really stinky but attractive flowers.  The most common advice is to plant these to repel deer, but our fence does a good enough job of that.  We can just appreciate the scent ourselves. 

Narcissus "Tete-a-Tete"

Allium giganteum, with frost on the mulch this morning
Plum tree in blossom

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Wild Summerland Asparagus

The tender early spears of wild asparagus caught me off guard as I walked up our driveway to the road.  Checking past web-posts from the Okanagan, many folks usually find early asparagus spears in early May, but in another week, these particular tips would have opened up and gone tough.  I found these on a warm, sunny bank, but the other plants in the yard (that get a bit of shade) are not up yet.  There are some pretty lush patches of asparagus in the orchard (watered and fertilized), but I'd rather avoid the ones that get sprayed. 

In order to live in sand and get baked by sun all summer, asparagus must be an amazingly drought tolerant plant.  It apparently grows roots up to 3 feet deep.  Last summer, I  started feeding buckets of compost to one wild plant growing near the house.  I hope it rewards me. 

Many locals keep their favourite asparagus-hunting locations secret, like some hidden treasure or elusive fishing spot.  The saying "I'd tell you but I'd have to kill you after" does come up.  If you do like asparagus though, it is fun to discover it growing wild, like the surprise of finding Easter eggs!  Happy Easter everyone.