Garden spirit

Gardening thoughts and inspirations

It’s a Marshmallow world in the winter…

 

2017-01-01-08-01-02Happy 2017! We have had quite the winter weather over the last couple of weeks. The snow has really stuck around with the freezing temperatures which makes for some beautiful garden pictures like above – the weeping willow in my garden at home.

A coral bark maple covered in snow…and ice!2017-01-01-08-18-37

Unfortunately , the last snow storm did some serious damage to our cedar hedge. This is what I woke up to…

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That was some pretty heavy wet snow – so there is not much I could do about it. Multi stemmed hedges like cedar don’t stand up too well to snowfalls like this. Part of the problem is that I didn’t prune the whole hedge last year. If you look at the picture , you can see there is less damage to the hedge on the left side of the picture. This is the section I did prune late last summer but I ran out of steam to finish off the rest and I paid the price. Proper, regular pruning can keep your hedge stronger. By pruning the hedge appropriately, you can keep the bottom of your hedge wider then the top – so that it is tapered as it gets taller. This helps to keep the snow from splitting your hedge in half. Although my hedge did bounce back a bit once the snow came off, I will still have to prune that area of the hedge hard – probably 2-3 feet lower in early spring. This should help it bounce back to its original shape. Then I will have to prune it again later in the year to maintain a better shape to ensure this doesn’t happen next winter.

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If you have a pond with fish, it is always important to have a pump running that will keep oxygenating the water during the winter. Also, if it gets cold enough to freeze completely , you must keep an opening in the ice to allow for gas exchange from any decomposing material in the pond. This can be done easily with a small aerator with aeration discs.

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As you can see in the above picture, it got a lot colder! My two openings (from aeration discs) actually froze over completely. Never smash ice on a pond with fish – the sound-waves through the water can actually damage or kill your fish. It is much safer and less disruptive to pour some boiling water over the openings to melt the ice. This is what I did just before taking this picture.

And finally , ice on your pond can be beneficial to some animals….

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My cat enjoyed being able to stroll out to the middle of the pond and drink water from the openings in the ice! Silly cat.

Even though this weather adds a unique beauty to the landscape, I have had enough of it. Is it spring soon?! I read this quote today that I thought was pretty funny…

“I think its time for old man winter to get Mother Nature drunk, and have a little fun making spring…”

Enjoy your garden…!

#winter #gardening #pond #hedge #snow

 

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Cool Waters

IMG_0015THE HEAT IS ON

Its finally summertime and our temperatures are starting to rise over the past few weeks. With warmer temperatures, our ponds need a little extra care and attention to stay healthy and clean. We also need to keep a close eye on our fishy friends who inhabit our ponds.

Are your fish behaving normally? Do they seem stressed out – gasping for air near a waterfall? Warm water carries less oxygen then cold water. In the warmer months, your pond may be the most deficient in oxygen. This is also the time of year when your fish are most active, so oxygen levels can easily become low. This leads to stress on your fish which can lead to diseases and so on…

 

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DON’T LOSE YOUR COOL

There are some preventative measures you can take in order to keep your pond from becoming a warm, unhealthy mess. It all starts with a well-designed water feature. Depth, plant coverage, shade, and circulation should all be considered when building a pond. Here are a few helpful tips:

  1. A well-designed filtration system should bring water back into the pond through a continuously running waterfall for constant aeration.
  2. Add more oxygen to the pond by placing aeration discs into the pond. You can also install a small fountain pump that is continually breaking the surface of the water.
  3. Aquatic plants like water lilies are important for providing shade. Make sure to stock your pond with a variety of plants – a good rule is to cover up to 1/3 of the surface area with plants.
  4. Remember to remove dying leaves and flowers before they start to decay in the warmer water.
  5. Be careful not to overfeed your fish. Decaying fish food in the pond breaks down faster in warmer weather and will quickly create poor water conditions.

If you have a pump continuously re-circulating the water in your pond, you should not have a problem because your water will be constantly filtered and oxygenated. You will have a balanced ecosystem.

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SOAK UP THE SUN

The bottom line is that you need to keep an eye on your pond especially during the warm summer months, and let your fish and plants do the talking – but don’t fret about it!

Don’t forget that ponds are meant to be a relaxing oasis, providing relief from the stresses of the day. Running out and testing a pond every day is not relaxing. Just a few simple tasks is all you need to keep your fish healthy and happy. Enjoy your pond…!

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Personal slice of the rainbow

Happy New Year! Its 2016 and another gardening season begins. Even though its cold outside, even though our gardens are filled with frosty remnants of last season and the trees and shrubs are bare – we can still garden! What? How is that possible?

Winter is the perfect time to dream and plan our gardens for the coming season. On a cold January afternoon, it is possible to gaze out of our windows and imagine the possibilities of the coming season. We can daydream about planting up that empty bed, dividing that overgrown perennial, moving that shrub just a little more to the left and even ripping out that annoying lilac that only ever has one flower! Whether you are just starting out your garden or if you have been gardening for years, you can dream of the beauty you can create this coming season in your own patch of earth.  Gardeners are such an optimistic bunch….

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Usually around this time of year gardening magazines and articles are filled with the next great trends for gardening.  I have even done this myself with my blog last winter: check it out here  Sometimes its nice to get some inspiration from these lists.

This year though,  I am not going to tell you the must do trends or to plant the perfect new heuchera, or hydrangea or ….hellebore or…well whatever the new hot plant is this year. I am going to tell you to focus on what you want to see in your garden this year. This should always be the most important guide for what we do in our gardens. How can we as gardeners create a garden that is filled with plants and features that we actually like?

Sometimes it is easy getting caught up in what a garden is supposed to look like. What such and such a book tells you should be planted; the right colour scheme to follow; the correct arbor to use. We can often end up with a garden that …well, maybe our neighbor might like. We all want to create a garden that is a thing of beauty but our gardens should really say something about each of us. Every garden reflects its owner. The amazing thing about visiting gardens is enjoying the uniqueness that each garden holds.

Of course, we need to follow some basic design guide posts but gardening should be fun right? How can we add that personal touch that makes our garden our own special place?

It helps to start with a few basics:

  1. Know your site – soil conditions, wet and dry areas, zone, exposure etc. – before jumping in to plant anything.
  2. Plant the right types of plants in the right places. No sun lovers in the shade or vice versa.
  3. Think diversity – Use a mixture of annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees and even tropicals. Diversified plantings encourage healthier, wildlife friendly gardens. Diverse plantings also let us be more creative.
  4. Think about form, texture and structure – not just flowers.
  5. Take the time to think about what you want to use your space for – a cozy seating area, a veggie garden, a flower garden and so on.
  6.  Work out a plan, even if it’s a rough sketch. If you can afford a designer, go for it. If not, just do a rough pencil drawing. It is just for you – no one needs to see it. Plus, you can always change it – this isn’t set in stone.
  7. But most importantly, let your passion and creativity guide you!

 

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This photo is one I took in my garden last week. I love it. The beautiful frost covered ornamental grasses and perennials create a natural piece of art. I sometimes like to go out and stare at this spot during winter – it just gets me excited – which may sound weird to some , but I think every gardener feels this about some part of their garden.  I so liked this picture that I wanted to post it on our company facebook page. But my wife said “I don’t know. Are you sure? That picture looks like the garden is half dead… Its all frozen and when I look at it, it makes me want to go inside and wrap a blanket around myself.”

Oh. Well I never thought of it like that. What is a thing of beauty to me, is maybe not so much to others. Now,  I am not trying to prove anyone right or wrong. But it made me realize – we all have our own version of beauty in the garden. When planning our gardens it is essential to make sure that we are following our heart and what we like. (Of course, taking into consideration those that live with us – a garden full of frosty ornamental grasses might be a bit of an overkill!)

This also reminded me of a short passage in a book by Daniel Hinkley (Winter Ornamentals) that always resonated with me. So, I will just quote it here:

“I once walked with a well know British Gardener and author through his magnificent garden in southern England’s county of Kent. He led me to a specimen of spirea gold flame, brightly glad in orange/red foliage…bright blue and pink hyacinths under planted the pyrotechnics. ‘How do you like my combination?’, my host asked…..I admitted that I did not….my host chuckled contentedly, ‘ But I love it!”.     This underscores the need to follow your own sense of proper colour combinations. ….careful observations of colour and textures in the garden will make apparent your own personal slice of the rainbow.”

Keukenhof Gardens Desktop BackgroundKeukenhof Gardens – Located near Lisse in Holland.

Read, visit gardens, look at pictures on pinterest and houzz, visit garden centres and make notes and observations about what gets you excited, about what kinds of combinations you enjoy. Then start planting and make your own beautiful, personal slice of the rainbow!

Enjoy your garden.

Winter Water Features

Water features are a beautiful addition to any garden. During the summer time, you can sit outside in your favourite chair and let the relaxing sights and sounds of the water take your mind away from the daily stresses of life. But during the winter, what should you do with your pond or fountain to protect it from the cold? How can you still enjoy your waterscape during the winter months when it is too cold to sit out in your favourite chair?!  There are a few easy steps to maximize the enjoyment of your water feature throughout winter and some helpful tips to winterize your feature properly …

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POND CARE

If you have a pond you really have 2 choices – leave your pond up and running or close it down for the winter. If you have a waterfall or stream, you can enjoy the beautiful ice formations that form as the frosty temperatures set in. A pump that provides at least 2000gph can be operated throughout the winter without a problem. Always make sure that your stream or waterfall is clear of ice to keep the water moving and all is well. You can shut your system down but it is important to oxygenate the water still. Here are a few helpful winter pond tips:

  • Oxygenate your water – Even if your waterfall is still running it may be necessary to put a small fountain pump in your pond as well to keep an area free from ice. If you are shutting your pond down then it is essential to have a fountain to aerate the water. The hole in the ice is important to let harmful gasses escape and let oxygen in , which is very important for your fish.
  • Add Beneficial Bacteria – Adding cold water bacteria to your pond helps maintain a strong biological balance, providing clean, clear and healthy water conditions. Most winter bacteria can work in temps as low as 0 degrees C. With leaves falling and organic debris blowing in from the wind , you can get quite a build-up of organic matter in your pond. Pond bacteria will go to work quickly by breaking down this debris, reducing ammonia and nitrite and balancing out your system.
  • Stop feeding your fish – Once the temperatures drop to 10 degrees C. you can stop feeding your fish. Goldfish and Koi will end up going to the deepest part of your pond and and stay there. Their metabolism slows down naturally and they go into a form of hibernation. Don’t worry if they are somewhat motionless at the bottom of the pond. They are fine and will be up and raring to go when spring comes.
  • Maintain water levels – It is important to make sure there is enough water for the pump to operate properly. If you have a pump in a skimmer or pump vault make sure to monitor your water levels once ice starts to form. You may need to add some water to compensate for water loss due to ice and even evaporation during winter.
  • Protect your Fish –  During the winter water quality can vastly improve. The crystal clear water is great to check up on your fish. But it is also great for predators to spot your fish too. Without the protection of water plants , it is important to consider covering your pond with a protective netting. It is easy to do, and can give you peace of mind that your fish are safe.

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FOUNTAINSCAPE CARE

If you have a fountain scape – gurgling stone columns or a fountain, there are obviously no fish to worry about. Again, you can leave your fountainscape running through the winter or close it down for the season. As there is usually more splashing from say a gurgling stone column, you will have some amazing ice formations when it gets frosty. Here are some tips to care for your fountainscpape through winter:

  • Maintain water levels – As your fountain or gurgler has more splashing and more ice, you will also see your water level drop faster. Most water resevoirs for a gurgler are smaller , so be sure to check your levels regularly and add some fresh water.
  • Keep the water moving – You may have a fabuous ice sculpture but make sure that water is still able to flow. You may need to chip back some ice from time to time.
  • If shutting your fountain down – Make sure to remove the pump and store in a frost free location in a bucket of water. This prevents the impeller from seizing up once it is stored.

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With some careful planning, you can ensure your water feature can be enjoyed from inside the house as well as outside. This way even when it is too cold to sit outside, you can sit inside and still enjoy the sights of your waterfall, with a cup of coffee in hand!

  • Proper placement – When installing your water feature, location is so important. Not only is it important to direct the waterfalls for the best outdoor viewing, but make sure you can see your pond and waterfall from inside too. Angling a waterfall or gurgling stone towards your living room or kitchen window allows you to enjoy that view in the winter as well.
  • Light it up! – Water lighting is so important. Put a small up light on your waterfall and you can enjoy the light sparkling on the water on a dark winter night. It gets dark out so early in winter too. If you don’t have any lighting on your waterscape, it just disappears at night. But light it up, and you can open up a whole new look to your pond – water at night it just magical!

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With a few maintenance tasks you can enjoy the aesthetic rewards of the winter water feature.  If you decide to shut down the system, a few precautionary measures will be sure to preserve your fish, pump life and extend the life of your system.

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Rich Earth is a Landscaping company providing Garden and Water Feature maintenance, renovations and installations in and around the Fraser Valley of BC. For more info -www.richearthgardenservice.com

Planting Tips and Fall plant picks

It is officially fall now, the temperatures have cooled down and our steady west coast rain is back. Our long drought seems like a distant memory now…except if you are noticing your cedar hedge is slowly dying off!!

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Cedars were hit hard with our long dry period this spring and summer. I have seen lots of new cedars that were planted in the spring that just couldn’t make it through the summer with water restrictions. Even mature, established cedars have struggled.

It seems to be the year of replacing cedars! There is not much to be done but to start over. There are a few instances where I have seen newer cedars that have died that were not planted that well, so this does not help them when the stress of a drought hits them. Improper planting can already put your new hedge at risk.

Here are a few planting tips to make sure you are helping your new cedars or any plant for that matter:

  1. Proper planting depth – Always make sure you are planting at the appropriate depth. Measure root balls as you dig. Place the cedar in the hole – check the depth. Your root ball should be level with the surrounding ground. Don’t plant too high  AND don’t plant too deep. High root balls dry out faster and buried trunks will rot and die.
  2. Proper spacing – Make sure you are giving your new hedge the right amount of space to grow. If plants are planted too close together , they will compete for nutrients and crowd each other out in no time.
  3. Amend the soil – Make sure that you are adding some compost and/or fresh soil to the planting holes. Mix it in with the existing soil and place the root ball in the hole. Back fill with new and existing soil.
  4. Add bone meal for good root development.
  5. Water – Make sure you soak the whole root ball before fully covering with soil. Let the water sit and drain away. Then finish back-filling around the root ball with soil. Water again once you have finished planting and set up a specific watering schedule. Write it down so you don’t forget. Try to stick to it. Plants that have taller trees around them will not get as much water from rain , so need to be watered by hand more often. Always check soil moisture by just putting you fingers into the soil. Get to know your soil, and water accordingly.
  6. Mulching – Add a 2 inch layer of mulch around your new plants after planting. Composted bark mulch is a good option. Don’t bury the trunk but have a nice layer to assist in keeping the soil from drying out. This can really help during dry periods.

…..                                ….                                ….                         ….

Fall is also a great time for planting. Why not think about adding some new plants that can add some fall interest to your garden? Why do spring and summer gardens get all the focus? Why do autumn and winter gardens seem to be more of an afterthought?

Sometimes people feel that fall is the time to “shut down” the garden. Put all the tools away, clean up and say goodbye to the season. Then they don’t look out the window until the bulbs start in the spring….How sad!! There is an abundance of interest in the garden at this time of year that can extend the season into December!

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It is a trans-formative time in the garden with beautiful foliage colours, berries and textures. We are lucky on the west coast to have mostly mild falls and winters. But even gardeners in cooler climates can extend the season as well.

A garden isn’t just interesting because of “flowers”. Don’t get me wrong – blooms are beautiful and are a dynamic part of any garden. Although there are some flowering perennials that can extend the season into the fall , we really need to look at plants that have more then just “flowers”. Fall should be a time to explode your garden with striking fall foliage, beautiful berries and fiery fruit, showy seed heads and bodacious bark!

20151001_100058The trick is to look for perennials , shrubs and trees that offer multi-season interest. Flower, form and foliage – this is a good recipe to follow to extend the interest into fall and winter. Plants that hold this triple threat in their arsenal will be sure to extend the time you can enjoy your garden –  Here are a few of my favourites :

  • Trees – Coral bark maple ; Paperbark maple; Dogwoods

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Paperbark maple – Bark

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Paperbark maple – fall colour

  • Shrubs- Summersweet (Clethra); Berberis; Smokebush( cotinus); Burning Bush; Hydrangeas; Ninebark(physocarpus); Fothergilla; Viburnum; Callicarpa (beauty berry); contoneaster

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Hydrangea Limelight and anenome                           Fothergilla – fall colour

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Fothergilla – spring flowers

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Viburnum ‘Brandywine’                                           Beauty berry and sedum

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Contaneaster

  • Perennials- Echinacea; Fall aster; Black eyed susan (rudbeckia); Sedum; Solidago (goldenrod); Russian sage

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Sedum autumn joy                                                           Fall aster

  • Ornamental grasses – Miscanthus; Little Bluestem; Japanese Blood grass; Carex evergold; Molina

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Miscanthus                                                  Little Bluestem, Rudbeckia, sedum

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Japanese Blood grass, carex evergold

Enjoy playing with plants to bring some 4 season interest to your garden. Have fun and get outside!

Get outside!

I recently attended a Horticultural Trade show. There were a number of workshops offered at the show and I signed up for a full day course focused on landscape design.

One of the speakers was a landscape architect from Vermont, Julie Messervy. She has her own landscape design company that works all over the east coast of the States. She talked about her design process and shared her philosophy for creating dynamic outdoor spaces. Julie also has a motto – ” Get outside!”. She has designed some amazing , interactive children’s gardens and her passion for connecting children with nature was very inspiring.

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Photo courtesy of Julie Messervy Design Studio

At the start of the workshop, she guided us in a small exercise to discuss with each other our most exciting garden experience. It could be a specific place and/or what we felt a garden needed to create a great experience. Each table of about 8 people , (there were about 50 people in total there) got to share these experiences which we then summarized and shared with everyone at the workshop. A few people had specific gardens that they felt ticked all the right boxes for their great garden experience. But many people also had chosen certain aspects of a garden design which they felt would always have to be present for their great garden experience. Here were the main points that were brought up :

  • Water – every single group said that there had to be some form of water in the garden. From a reflective pond to a stream or waterfall.
  • The Senses – there needed to be aspects of the garden that stimulated the senses which included fragrance, texture, dynamic colours, and again the sound of water.
  • Surprises – a great garden experience must include something surprising and unexpected. A garden that suddenly opens up to a spectacular view. Or a hidden, secret garden in someones back yard.
  • Wildlife – A garden that has great bio-diversity that can attract all kinds of wildlife.
  • Sustainability – A garden that is designed and maintained with a thought to sustainable management. The right plant in the right place, water wise plantings, composting debris etc.

These were just a few of the points that kept repeating through all the group discussions. One person at my table said that they remember going to the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden in Vancouver as a little girl. She said that she still remembers the experience and that it was the moment when she knew she wanted to work in the landscaping industry. People also listed  gardens from Europe, the States and also Buchart gardens in Victoria. Some designers had a favourite design they had done.

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But out of the discussions, it became clear that each ‘great experience’ connected with us on a deeper level, something that was hard to articulate. It created a very strong memory in some people. There is a certain check list that a great garden can follow, but in the end if there is not a deeper emotional connection, the experience is missing something. This is obviously very personal for everyone. What would your great garden experience be? A specific place? Or a time of year? What aspects of a garden are necessary for you to have a great experience?

This summer I went on a holiday to Victoria with my family. We ended up going to a place called Government House. This is the office and official home of the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia.  It used to be a private residence that had a vast, estate like property. By the time BC joined Canada in 1871, it turned into the Lieutenant Governors’ residence. The original gardens were designed in 1911 and had large renovations in the sixties and seventies. Due to government cutbacks in the 1980’s,  a staff of 17 gardeners was reduced to one. Today, Government House has a large garden that is open to the public.

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When we were there this August, my family and I had a chance to explore the grounds on a beautiful, late summer evening. When we arrived we found  a classical concert being played on a small stage. An audience was spread out on the lawn on blankets and chairs. These concerts happen throughout the summer. As we walked through the garden , the beautiful music kept drifting in and out of earshot – a mysterious soundtrack that echoed through the garden. We saw some deer in the orchard , munching on some fallen apples. There was also a group of people practicing Tai-Chi on the lawn. In the rose garden there was a university student sketching some of the roses and my children ended up playing tag on one of the lawns too.

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I enjoyed all the amazing plants and mature trees. There are some beautiful perennial borders, rockery plantings, 2 immaculately maintained formal rose gardens, ponds, and some very big old trees that give the garden a sense of history.

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After exploring the garden as the sun was setting, I realized that this place ticked all my boxes for a great garden experience. There were some stunning combinations of drought tolerant perennials and ornamental grasses; ponds and waterfalls; large, mature trees and evergreens; big views; and very little annuals! I also realized that for me, a great garden must be used. There were people strolling around the paths, an outdoor concert being played , and my children laughing and running around the lawns. A garden has to be a place that people can enjoy the space for different activities. It can’t be static, like an old painting.

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I felt the gardens were beautifully maintained and wondered how much staff they had maintaining the grounds today. There was certainly a lot of love and passion that went into these gardens. What made this garden even greater was that I found out that the garden is maintained by volunteers from the community!! Almost 200 people that live nearby in Victoria donate a minimum of 4 hrs a week of their time. They are called “The friends of the Government House Gardens Society”. It was established in the early nineties, to help enhance and maintain the neglected gardens. Obviously, there is some great management of this huge, volunteer workforce as the garden looked amazing. This group continues to maintain the grounds today and also implements updated designs and plantings. There were newer, drought tolerant perennial plantings that were dynamic and exciting. This is not a garden stuck in the past. All the volunteers must enjoy gardening and must love this garden because I really had a sense that I was in a special place. A space that is passionately cared for by this inspiring group of volunteers.

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The Government House gardens are open to the public from dawn till dusk and there is ample free parking. If you are ever in Victoria, please visit the gardens there. It may not become a great garden experience for you but I can promise you that you will not be disappointed.

Algae anyone?

In the wild, where there are beavers , there are most definitely dams and beaver ponds. These beaver ponds can become quite large, they slow down the movement of water and trap a lot of nutrients. In a beaver pond in the summer time , with abundant sunshine and large amounts of excess nutrients there will be huge algae blooms.

For the beaver this is not really a problem. Beavers don’t use algaecides or UV bulbs to get rid of algae in their ponds – they use a moose! Or should I say the moose uses them. Moose actually like algae, in fact you might say they love it.

<p>A moose wading in the beaver ponds of Elk Creek in the Weminuche Wilderness, eating the green algae in the water.</p>A moose eating algae in the beaver ponds of Elk Creek in the Weminuche Wilderness.

A moose will wander into the beaver pond and have some algae for lunch, or anytime he likes. This symbiotic relationship works pretty well. Although, if I offered a “hire a moose” service for algae control , I don’t think I would get a lot of calls!

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The moose would most likely cause a heck of a lot more damage then help in a backyard pond…but don’t despair, there are alternatives that are less destructive then a moose in your back yard!

Pond Filtration

Some algae growth is a natural occurrence in any pond.  So, although not harmful to fish, large algae blooms can cause concern with oxygen depletion, water chemistry swings and most importantly – it stops us from seeing our lovely fish!   Even with a good filtration combination – biological, mechanical and UV sterilization – especially in the summer months, algae can still take over waterfalls, streams and even your entire pond. You can get some help from your fish as koi and goldfish will eat some of the algae inside your pond.(see video below)

UV sterilizers work against suspended plank-tonic algae but also kill the beneficial bacteria that helps to break down excess nutrients in a closed system like a backyard pond. In an unbalanced system, with excessive algae blooms you may have to turn to an algae treatment to work with your filtration system to help you win the battle. Most algaecides can be dangerous to fish, and there are a dizzying array of products designed to reduce, eliminate, and kill algae.

A Miracle Cure?

How does one fight the battle of algae blooms without harming the health of desirable plants or pond dwellers?  Could a key ingredient in beer be the answer? Could it be the miracle cure? Well, maybe not the miracle cure, but there is plenty of data and field testing that tells us that barley straw is an effective natural means of controlling algae – especially string algae.

The use of barley straw as a method to control algae isn’t a modern breakthrough. It’s been used for centuries in Europe for algae control in lakes and large ponds. Over the last 20 years, companies in North America who specialize in lake management have also begun using barley straw and now realize the benefits as an eco-friendly method of reducing algae. Recently, the success of barley straw has carried over to the water gardening industry.

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How It Works

There are some key conditions that have to take place in order for the barley to have an effect on algae. Barley straw, when placed in water, will begin to decompose.

One of the by-products released into the pond during the decomposition process of the barley is a chemical that actually breaks down the cell walls of the algae. These by-products, when combined with sunlight and oxygenated water, form hydrogen peroxide. The fact is that in scientific experiments, peroxide has been shown to effectively break down the cell walls of algae. Studies show that a consistent low level of peroxide will actually reduce the ability of algae to form new cell growth.

A Quick Fix?

Barley straw is not the “quick-fix” when it comes to controlling algae. It can often take anywhere from four to six weeks for the barley straw to begin decomposing and release the algae destroying chemicals. But once the decomposition process has begun, the barley can remain active for around six to eight months. Barley, when used in conjunction with a good filtration system, is a great, natural way to win the algae battle.

  • Start using barley early in the season. This gives the barley a head start in beginning the decomposition process and will ensure better results.
  •  Barley straw is eco-friendly. Studies have shown that the chemicals released into the pond have no negative effect on aquatic plants.
  •  Barley straw has no negative effect/harm on fish or other pond invertebrates.

Options for Backyard Ponds

Barley bales are good for pond owners who have large “retention” style ponds. While this may be an effective way of controlling algae, it won’t be the most aesthetically pleasing method for a smaller backyard pond. Placing a large, bale of barley along the edge of your pond could be …well, a bit of an eyesore!

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Thankfully some pond manufacturing companies have reduced down the barley bales to smaller sizes for pond owners with small, backyard water features.There are now several forms of barley straw products on the market;   barley mats, barley pellets and even a concentrated liquid extract.

strong_style_color_b82220_filter_strong_mat_pool_filter_aquarium_strong_style_color_b82220_filter_strong Barley Filter mats, with organically-grown barley straw woven into them, provide a simple way to introduce this natural method of algae control to your pond. The barley mats are placed between the regular filter mats inside your biological filter. The mats can be added during the pond construction , or while cleaning your filter for the annual spring cleanout.
The advantage of barley mats, unlike the bale method, is that the barley is spread throughout the entire surface of the filter mat, increasing the barley’s contact with the water. Placing the barley in the biological filter allows the highly-oxygenated water to pass across the entire mat. A good biological filter is an essential part to a healthy pond. Adding barley straw provides the extra “boost” the pond might need to help control algae issues.

Barley-Straw-Pellets Barley Pellets can also be an effective method for algae control in smaller ponds. These pellets can be placed in a small mesh bag and placed inside a skimmer filter or a biological filter at the start of a waterfall, or even directly into the pond. As with the barley mats, it is important to place them in the pond earlier in the season, to get that barley going on the decomposition process.

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Barley Liquid Extract is an even simpler way to enjoy the benefits of barley in your pond. Most barley extracts are from pharmaceutical-grade, fermented barley straw, which is very concentrated to work quickly. Some added enzymes and bacteria can sometimes be included in the liquid formulas which also help in breaking down pond sludge and debris.

Improved Water Quality

Barley products,  will provide an effective, natural means of controlling algae and also improve the overall water quality of your pond or water feature. The key is to have a good, functioning biological and mechanical filtration system already in place and use the barley as supplemental algae control. Enjoy your pond!

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Rain, rain gone away…

I can’t believe it has been so long since my last post. We had such a mild spring in the Pacific Northwest this year and then summer started early, so work has just been hopping along since February. Now, I finally feel there is time to catch my breath and post again….

The Alaska Mountain Range and the Chulitna River in the Clear Mid Afternoon

Summer Sizzle

We have had warm summer temps that started in May. Then June was incredibly hot. July started the same and only yesterday did we finally get some rain. To west coast standards the rain we had was pretty pathetic. More of a light drizzle. Plants are suffering, lawns are a burnt brown already and its hard to work in the constant heat.

According to the weather network we usually receive on average about 81 mm of rain from June 1st. This year we are at 7.4 mm since June 1st. Forest fires are being fought all over the province. Last week our sky was a hazy fog of smoke from some forest fires burning in our area. The sun was a spooky orange glow from behind the haze and it was actually hard to breathe outside for some people. Many local municipalities have introduced water restrictions and some have put an all out ban on lawn sprinklers due to the low level of our water reservoirs. There was significantly less snow pack this winter and significantly less rain this spring. Our area is experiencing what some people might call a crisis.

Water wise?

I have a client that I do occasional garden maintenance for. He is an older gentleman , and I help out with things he can’t get to. He is a very nice guy and we usually chat when I am there to garden. Of course, we discuss the weather and on my last visit the drought we are experiencing was a topic. I noticed how his lawn is still green. He told me he is only allowed one day a week to water due to water restrictions.  So he was quite proud of having very little browning with 3 months of little rain. He explained – he gets up at 5am and starts in the front. He has quite a large front lawn and has to move the sprinkler 4 times to “hit all parts” of it. He then moves to the back lawn and has 3 moves…one of his proud weapons in his arsenal is a stainless steel impact sprinkler that can shoot up to 40 ft. Wow! I didn’t know what to say. By 9am he has to switch off and his 4 hour water sprinkling job is done. I wonder how much water he uses in that time? How much of it hits his driveway and runs off quickly to the drain in his cul de sac? A few hundred litres? In 4 hours , I would expect even more.

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This years drought has been worse then usual. Some people blame the El Nino weather pattern, others blame climate change. I am not wishing to argue one way or another, or get into a pointless argument on what is causing it. The fact is our region IS experiencing our worst drought ever. I know that the last 3 summers have had long periods of drought. I feel that this is going to be a regular pattern for us. Many other areas in North America have had and are experiencing similar patterns.

A change will do you good!

I feel that we need to change our attitudes towards water use. We need to start learning how to manage our water resources in a more conscious way. I applaud the municipalities that have introduced an all out ban on lawn sprinkling and others that have put restrictions on when people can water.

The lush green lawn and white picket fence were ingrained into our society in the 20th century. The ideal suburban lifestyle. For some reason the white picket fence fell by the wayside but the perfect , golf green looking lawn is still stuck in our psyche of what a home must have.

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I understand the benefits of lawn. I have children that play soccer, badminton and run around our brown/dry lawn all the time. It will come back once the weather cools down and the rain comes again. A little bag of grass seed and some soil for topdressing will help it bounce back. Its not the end of the world.

Using a sprinkler to water a lawn for 4 hrs twice a week is in my opinion unrealistic.  Lawns don’t require endless watering. In times of drought a lawn will turn brown. In times of extreme drought a lawn will go completely dormant. I would argue that 90% of people don’t use their front lawns in an urban environment anyway. They are just there for looks. Should we waste our valuable water resources on cookie cutter parcels of lawn? Just for aesthetics?

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This photo was taken on July 10th at a clients garden. I have watered it 4 times since May. There are drought tolerant alternatives to lawn that also add more biodiversity.

Every drop helps!

My client is of an older generation. He won’t be convinced of reducing his sprinkling efforts. He must keep his lawn green at all costs. His municipality doesn’t have an all out ban yet and until it does he will continue to get up at 5am and start his 4 hour lawn sprinkling routine. I don’t think any argument will stop him. But we must start educating the next generation to understand that our water is not a never ending supply , especially in times of drought. We have to educate everyone to understand that we all must make a sacrifice and compromise. We must reduce wasteful water consumption.

I think that everyone would agree that it is more important to have a water supply that supplies us with drinking water. We may have a brown lawn for a couple of months. But I feel it is worth it. It is worth it for us now and for our future generations. Do you agree?

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What the fungi!?

Can you spot the fungi in this picture?

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Or this one?

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You probably can’t. It was a trick question. In fact its underground.  Did you know that the world’s largest living organism is a fungus…? It lives beneath the forest floor in Malheur National Forest in eastern Oregon. The forest service there calls it “the humongous fungus”.

Scientists call this fungus – Armillaria ostoyae – although it is commonly known as the “shoe-string” fungus. This grows throughout North Americas forests. But there are several of these large organisms in the Malheur forest, including the humongous one. This is a parasitic fungus that kills and decays the root systems of various conifers, resulting in what forest managers call Armillaria root disease. The really amazing fact is how much of this is underground. Almost the entire fungus is spread out just beneath the forest floor. It is part of the unbelievable amount of micro organisms that live in our soil under our feet. The only visible part of Armillaria is some small honey mushrooms that appear in the fall for a short time.

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Not only is it humongous but scientists also believe the fungi in Oregon to be at least 2000 – 8600 years old and they are estimated to weigh as much as 35,000 tons! Sounds like a creature for a new horror movie!  “Feed me Seymour!”

This fungus can be quite devastating as it slowly spreads underground through a forest infecting and “eating” more trees. While this parasitic fungi does attack healthy trees over many years, there are more beneficial fungi that actually create healthier growing conditions for trees.

Soil is abundant in many different kinds of fungi. There are all kinds of mysterious microorganisms that live and work beneath the soils surface.  There are so many that scientists don’t even have names for all of them. These microorganisms are there for a reason. They live their lives with one goal only – to build healthy soil. And you thought there were just worms under there right…? Microorganisms in soil are important because they affect the structure and fertility of different soils. There are many classifications for the millions of soil microorganisms. Bacteria, fungi, algae, and protozoa are some of the main ones. They all biochemically processes nutrients to improve the soil they inhabit.

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Fungi are important in the soil as they can be a food sources for other, larger organisms, creating a beneficial symbiotic relationship with the trees, ferns and groundcovers around them.  The quality as well as quantity of organic matter in the soil has a direct correlation to the growth of fungi.

Healthy soil = Healthy plants. A good garden has billions of microscopic helpers keeping the soil nutrient rich and guarding against pests and diseases. There are good bacteria and good fungi that are present in your soils that are in an ongoing, some could say an everlasting relationship with the plant life growing there.

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We can help our soil by adding compost, mushroom manure or natural organic fertilizers. But we can also harm our soil with poor gardening practices and lack of care. The natural Eco-system is there underground. We need to respect and work with Mother Nature. We need to garden mindfully, with care and attention to what we are adding or taking away from our soils.

Now, the hope is obviously not to create a ‘humongous fungus’ in our back yards that will eat our trees…but some good fungi and bacteria in our soils is okay. You know what they say, “a little fungi goes a long way”…or, sometimes they say “If I had a fungi for every time I heard that”.…That’s fungi. Okay, I’ll stop now.

Gardening, Nature and the High Line…

“Traditionally, the way plants were organized in parks and gardens reflected a culture that liked to order and discipline nature. Contemporary planting design is not only freer, but also seeks to reflect nature. It also addresses our concerns about how we garden sustainably and in partnership with nature.” – Noel Kingsbury (Planting : A new Perspective 2013)

As we plant and design our gardens in the 21st century , we cannot ignore what is happening around the world in private and public gardens, put to words so eloquently by Noel Kingsbury in the quote above. Sustainability, biodiversity and working with nature are the main guiding lights when we approach gardening today. How can we reduce harmful practices in gardening and also create gardens that become wildlife friendly habitats?

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Our goals are now focused on reducing the amounts of chemical fertilizers used; reducing the amounts of chemical weed control; minimizing the amount of water used; reducing the amount of regularly mown lawns and over trimming of woody plants. The use of long lived perennials and ornamental grasses is a strong step in the right direction for achieving these goals. The convention most used in 20th century garden design is the monocultural block planting. The use of a single shrub, set out and repeated in blocks throughout a garden was mainly to simplify the maintenance costs – especially in public parks. The unfortunate side effect of this kind of planting, is the opposite of biodiversity. These monocultures become more susceptible to frequent outbreaks of pests or diseases. In most cases, this was and is sometimes still dealt with by chemical or pesticide applications. In some cases, annual hard pruning  is done to keep the plants under control. From the 1970’s onward, many ecologically focused garden designers began to promote the use of native species and creating the garden with the idea of biodiversity in mind.

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This gardener (from Australia), looks like he is into natural gardens!

In Germany, many public spaces were designed and developed with a naturalistic, wildlife friendly style. The interest and movement of designing and maintaining gardens this way has grown and evolved through the years. And still continues to evolve.  Some argue that you can’t plant in straight lines if you are favouring a natural style of gardening. But, others will point out that a bird does not mind if a tree is planted in a row or in a group – it will still make its nest in it! The naturalistic planting style continues to grow and evolve as designers and gardeners keep exploring and trying new combinations of plants and finding new ways of working with nature in creating gardens.

Plantings still have to excite people – planting which serves a purpose has to look good too. The new plantings are the opposite of the old tradition of order and tidiness. By designing gardens that are inspired by nature, with wild flowers, ornamental grasses and such, the aesthetic can become quite wild. This is where the fine balance of biodiversity and wild life gardening must also work in conjunction with the gardeners eye for creating something beautiful to look at. This kind of garden is maybe just a little wilder then our grandparents gardens! Homeowners and garden designers alike need to educate themselves and their garden visitors of this. We are creating and planting an ecosystem, a microcosm of nature in our back yard or inside a city park. Finding the balance of this naturalistic planting and a garden pleasing to our eyes  is an exciting challenge.

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Throughout Europe many old industrial sites have been turned into new city parks with this new, bio diverse, naturalistic approach to garden design. This often takes its inspiration from the actual plants that have started to grow wild in these abandoned factories over the years.

This is starting to become a trend in north America too. In 2009 In New York, the designer Piet Oudolf working with an American Landscape architect redeveloped the abandoned High Line Subway. It was an elevated subway line last used in the 1980’s. The planting design took its inspiration from the grasses and wild flowers that had grown spontaneously over the old rail lines. Ornamental grasses are a crucial mix of the naturalistic planting that was designed and installed there. The High Line has been a huge success in bringing nature into the city and has become one of the most visited tourist destinations in New York.

HighLine5_IwanBaan                          “Take a walk on the High Line”, click here to view video

Take a look at this time lapse video,(link above), of a walk on the High Line , it looks like late fall/early winter. But just notice the amount of people there – walking, sitting, taking pictures etc. This garden really proves that people need, love and will use gardens that are inspired by nature. This is a fantastic garden that really creates a distinct natural, atmosphere in a big city. Hopefully the definite success of this project inspires others across North America.