Garden spirit

Gardening thoughts and inspirations

Tag: outdoors

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

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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

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.

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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