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.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Knit for Monarchs?

Have you heard about #knit4monarchs?  Its a David Suzuki campaign to get people knitting a chrysalis to keep monarch caterpillars warm.
(posted on April 1, you should note)

Otherwise, they are serious about planting milkweed, the only plant on which monarchs lay eggs and it is the only food for Monarch caterpillars.  The major threat to monarchs is said to be the destruction of wild stands of milkweed, especially caused by agricultural practices across North America.  The use of Round-up ready crops and therefore, the herbicide "Round-up" to destroy the nearby weeds (including milkweed), has destroyed the home-base of monarch butterflies.  Given this, the Okanagan should really be a heaven for monarchs.  Milkweed grows wild all around here and there are no such thing as Round-up ready grapes or tree fruits.  Milkweed really lives up to its "weed" name, as it actually thrives in neglected spots all over the place.

Our wild milkweed, Asclepias speciosa (Showy Milkweed) is rather coarse looking large plant with large pink ball of pink stars.  They are very drought tolerant, which is demonstrated by the ones growing alongside the cactus in the scrubland across the street from our house.  They survive in zone 3-9 and grow up to 6 feet tall!

Asclepias tuberosa seedlings
I decided to grow milkweed other than the local native one, so I have some seedlings going for the yellow variety of Asclepias tuberosa.  I started the orange variety last year.  I am also growing Asclepias curassavica, the Tropical Milkweed.  I think these other milkweed are a bit more attractive, but are also good for the monarchs.  Milkweed seeds are VERY easy to germinate.  They germinate quickly in warm conditions with no need for a cold period.

Stock tank raised bed

The stock tanks are full to the brim now.  The previous layers of rocks and sand are now covered in potting soil.  Last week, I planted spinach and carrot seeds in this first one.   
Plants in the greenhouse
 My greenhouse is growing plants for the yard and cilantro for regular use in Thai and Indian dishes.  Yum!  I planted potted herbs outside this week too, with the exception of basil, which is too tender. 
Chionodoxa in bloom

Spring is the season for the lovely small bulbs like scilla, crocuses, chionodoxa and more.  Also, if you stay indoors, you can know its spring in the Okanagan because the seniors are now wearing sandals (with socks)!  Yes, despite the freak storm of sleet at lunchtime today, the sun did come out in the afternnon and I got a photo of my Chionodoxa blooming.  I picked up some drumstick primulas and a few more bunches of grape hyacinths to fill in the "rock garden" flower bed.  Once the peony and other perennials get going, it might not look so bare.