Thursday, January 14, 2010

Garden Thursday

No, I haven't forgotten about my Plan To Dominate the garden podcast world, with neither podcast nor audience, but I did have a terribly busy day today, so it's had to wait until now. Oh, and before I forget, don't forget to click on the Musical Interludes. They are interactive!

Fortunately a lot of today's busyness also involved a rather good thrift store out of town, what with Max and his Very Busy Life (and my role as his chauffeur) and the twins and their insistence that they have some fun too: I had at least 10 minutes of used garden book perusaling (if that isn't a verb then I'm making it one) in between checking for second hand Lego with Dominic and then listening to that very same Dominic (aka Mr Impatient) ask me over and over again why I look at the garden section every single time we go in there. He knows why he goes in; obviously he thinks I have more cryptic reasons. Even with him next to me, sighing heavily, I managed to pick up two positively antediluvian intriguing looking garden magazines: one has a gripping feature on apple trees while the other promises to tell me all about lilacs (I wait with baited breath). We also found another copy of the Lord of the Rings for FDPG to read, mine being so ancient and crumbling it is unlikely to survive her, err, reading habits (late, in bed, flashlight, big pillow). This very same thrift store is where I found a version of this puppy for only $3, as well as an 800 page Reader's Digest compendium for only $4, so I am compelled to haunt the aisles. Compelled. Just in case. You never know, right? Hopefully I won't have my deeply sighing sidekick with me each and every time.

Anyhow, we took our purchases to the front to pay for them and the lady glowered at the 49¢ sticker on one of the garden magazines, glowered at me, glowered at her crony (who looked at me as if I was a hardened criminal) and said, very pointedly, "That's not OUR tag." She then punched 49¢ into the cash register twice with what I thought was rather unnecessary vigour. Obviously she thought I was pulling a Fast One. Yes, my name is Sheila and I buy really old gardening magazines from thrift stores for a fraction of what they are really worth. Shameful, aren't I? One of those magazines was older than my teenager, too.

I am not advocating you get yourself off to thrift stores to search out old gardening magazines, mind you, but some of the articles occasionally show no signs of old age, like the article on apples in the one I got today. Some things don't change much.

Musical Interlude.

Interesting Or Very Necessary Projects

We left our cold and clear weather well behind last week, and now we're back to the usual rain. Rain, rain, rain. It's rather boring, all that rain, mostly because I hate the way it makes the mud cake to my stylin' new red paisley gumboots, but it has led me to my latest Big Garden Project so I won't feel too resentful: a paver-laid path for the side of the house. I would like to get from front to back with the wheelbarrow with a little less smoke and mirrors (or tire boards for the stairs) than I currently employ. Right now it is a little on the difficult side, and has occasionally led to bouts of Extreme Swearing and Painful Bruising, which is why I need to do something before I pass all my colourful vocabulary on to my children (it's always useful to keep something up one's sleeve). This is the side of the house previously known as The Really Boring Side of the House With the Crap Concrete Sidewalk My Wheelbarrow Hates.

I hope you can see the obvious reason for that nickname.

Anyhow, I bought some 1"X 2" cedar strips and some shims to outline the path, then found myself unexpectedly digging a ditch for all the water coming down from the top of the yard, where it meets the yard. Where there is no road-side storm ditch or drain to cope with all that water (sheila says pointedly). If it looks rather crooked it's because of the Hopefully Soon To Be No More chestnut tree and its unruly root system thwarting me. Laying a path like this is not hard, but you should follow a couple of rules that are only in place to ensure that you don't end up redoing it the following year (like I sometimes do).

First, level your project space as much as possible. Use a metal rake or one of those claw-like things. If you are going to put a drainage pipe underneath your path this is the time to do it. What I'll do here is this: measure the diameter of my drain pipe, then dig out enough space to lay a 2" layer of gravel, the pipe, then another 2" layer of gravel. In other places around the garden I've wrapped it all in a layer of landscape fabric, but here I don't think I need to, mostly because the ground will never have grass on it (grass roots get into things). Landscape fabric isn't a fail safe measure, mind you, but it is good for keeping the rocks and pipe in one place, particularly if you are going to have grass growing merrily above the area. Once I've got my pipe properly settled in, I'll shift the soil so it's all level. Then, and this is why I have those cedar strips along the side, I'm going to put down some sand or loamy soil. Tamp that down, then get some large concrete pavers and lay them on top, like a sandwich. I hope it will all be in an attractive and horribly aesthetic fashion, too. I might even have a Reveal (if all goes well).

Plants That Do Interesting Things This Time of Year

There actually are a few things that can add some scent or colour to the Pacific Northwest garden right about now. One of them is Sweet Box. I planted two in the front of the house when we moved here two years ago. They bloomed a little bit (you can see the thin white flowers in my fuzzy photo) but nothing too impressive. Then this year - Yegods! Do they smell good. I was working around the corner on The Really Boring Side of the House With the Crap Concrete Sidewalk My Wheelbarrow Hates yesterday and the scent of them ambled over and smacked me in the face. It was so wildly fabulous I felt slightly dizzy. I realized then and there why they are such a perennial favourite this time of year in the garden centres. Just make sure you don't mistake Box (Buxus) for Sweet Box (Sarcococca ruscifolia). One is a great topiary subject and the other smells really good.

Witch Hazel is another great garden addition. I was in the garden centre the other day and noticed an especially gorgeous red witch hazel nestled among some dark green leafy viburnums. It looked so tempting I had to leave the store before I bought one (It's worrying but I've noticed that I'm a bit too conducive to suggestion). They come in gold, white, and yellow and some are more scented than others. I don't have any in my garden, sadly. Every so often I think "It's only a matter of time" but then my Second Thoughts sneak in with a "Who are you kidding? You don't have any room for another bloody tree!"

The usual plant in the magazines this time of year is Hellebore. Martha has an article on them in her magazine this month (which, fortunately, someone gave me as a gift subscription so I am not reduced to stealing IT from thrift stores as well). What I like about our hellebore, other than the fact that a good friend of mine gave it to me, is how their blooming period always coincides with Christmas, so I can read The Christmas Rose to the kids and then point it out to them in the back yard afterwards, in one of those cool coincidences of magic us parents love so much.

Then there are all the deciduous shrubs fascinating solely for their interesting branch structure (Harry Lauder's Walking Stick) or gorgeous bark colour (dogwoods, coral bark maple see photo). The leaves of this coral bark maple are lime green when they first unfurl in spring. It's a mesmerizing combination.

Finally, resist the urge to prune away all those dead seed heads and bits of plant. The birds use this stuff as supplementary food. I also see a lot of ladybugs crawling around in them on sunny days - I don't know if they overwinter in them or not (we have them overwintering in the house at the moment). Besides, it looks so atmospheric, don't you think?

And even more finally, don't ignore the importance of a good sunrise as a backdrop to your garden. Suddenly all those leaning compost bins, bug-infested trees, and rickety chicken wire fencing structures look poetic, instead of merely prosaic.

 Tune in next week, when we explore the importance of a good watering system.


Anonymous said...

Oh Sheila, too funny! So you don't travel the thrift stores with your own lower priced stickers? I mean, that must have been what she thought. Hilarious!

Love seeing the step by step progress. You definitely must give us a reveal. Please include a shot of the red paisley gumboots. Please!

Oh my gosh! Last night, I totally had a dream that I met you! I can't remember what we were doing, but I totally remember what you looked like. Or what 'dream Sheila' looked like. Weird! I think I gave you my scarf though. :-)

sheila said...

You dreamt you met me? How wild! Was I nice? Which scarf did you give me? Was it one you really like or one you've been trying to get rid of for ages? Will it go with my bright orange hair? Was I some sad cold former gardener down on my scarves?

Crazy about the price tags eh? Honestly. Some of those old ladies have way too much attitude.

Anonymous said...

You were so nice! The scarf I gave you was the loooooong blue one I usually wear (in dreams as well it seems), but Dream Sheila does not have bright, orange hair, Dream Sheila has just above the shoulder light blonde hair and the scarf looked lovely. I do believe Dream Sheila was shorter then me as well (I'm 5'6) Dream Sheila was dressed up as we were meeting with a big group to do something, but I'm not sure what. Sometimes my dreams sort of blur together. I also met Dream Matt Damon last night - it was a busy night for me!

I wish you would have taped the exchange at the thrift store. That would have been hilarious!

sheila said...

I was NICE? Well, then, it couldn't have been me. I have it on good authority that I am extremely rude (plus, I steal).

You've talked to Shelly, haven't you! Ha! You don't fool me. Yes, you got me right: blonde and short, that's me. I hope Matt was winding the scarf around my neck for me, solicitously. I like a solicitous scarf-winder. You have such ACTIVE dreams! I think we need to dream that we're both in Hawaii with Heather tonight, don't you? It's raining here like you would NOT believe. I might have to build an ark this afternoon, well, after I've stolen some plans from the local thrift store....

Anonymous said...

Wow, I must have some sort of dream power! I don't think Shelly has ever told me you were short - no definitely not, but maybe she might have mentioned you were blonde or I saw it in a photo or something. I'm not certain, but I think I might have already known that. However, Reality Samantha always pictured you as really tall - maybe 5'10ish? And Dream Sheila wasn't swearing or stealing or trying to rip off old ladies at the thrift store ;-)

I DO have crazy active dreams, so a lot of mornings I wake up not rested because they are so active. It sort of sucks, but at the same time, lets me have a lot of experiences that I wouldn't have otherwise. Although that isn't always good either. I have at least one dream a night, but usually a lot more. I've been known to talk and walk in my sleep too -creepy, eh?!

And sorry, Matt was a different dream then the one you were in. I'll try to send him to your dreams tonight though. ;-)

Rebecca said...

"Dream Sheila was dressed up as we were meeting with a big group to do something, but I'm not sure what."

Oh, I know what it was! It was when you come to Victoria, Samantha, and we get together for Belinis. We are larger than life -- personality-wise, not hip-wise -- and can certainly fill a room -- personality-wise, not hip-wise. If Shelly finds her way out here at the same time, then we will be able to claim a slightly larger group.

So, hurry up with those travel plans!