About jbealy

Gardener. Writer. Photographer. Activist.

Spring 2017: freaking cold

So winter wasn’t too bad this year and, while I know I’ve said we somehow seem to skip spring and go straight to summer here in Halifax, this year I do believe we have spring! I don’t know how to explain it really, maybe I’m just getting used to it. That said, it’s below normal cold. But hey, the garden grows!

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Peas coming up under protection of prayer flags (they keep the birds out).

Beets under the Wire

Beets, slowly but surely, pushing through. Chicken wire keeps the cats out.

Lettuce Seedlings

Lettuce. Chicken wire will stay on until the plants are big enough to take up their space.

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Garlic, planted last fall, off to a good start.

Meanwhile, pain in the ass that it is because they take over the house, tender veggies have been started indoors. I should be able to plant them out in a couple of weeks. Click the pics for captions.

Other than the veggies, I’ve been keeping busy with post-winter cleanup and welcoming the perennials…

So snow shovels are away for another year and gardening tools have been resurrected. Now I’m going to go plant the onions.

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Winter’s over, spring has sprung…the gardener and her extraordinary assistant.

When We Need it Most

Last week a copy of the Whole Seed Catalog arrived in the mail for me. The Whole Seed Catalog is a catalog unlike any other. It is nearly 400 pages of stunning photographs of plants along with guides to growing and harvesting said plants. It includes stories of farmers and seed warriors around the globe. It’s filled with how-to’s on gardening. And of course it has that little white form that allows you to pick and choose and order seeds for yourself.

As if all of that isn’t enough, the whole idea of this catalog holds special resonance for me personally because I was one of a team of people who worked on a project digitizing the real Whole Earth Catalog in the late 1980s. Don’t remember the Whole Earth Catalog? Too young to have even heard of it? Google it. I am feeling transported.

And who amongst us could not use some transporting right about now. I mean every winter, gardeners look forward to thumbing through seed catalogues as we anxiously await spring’s warming soil. But this winter many of our heads are spinning and splitting from the racist, xenophobic, misogynistic coup that is taking place in the united states right now. Our hearts are breaking from the attack on Muslims in Québec City, the ranting of alt-right leaders in Europe. Sometimes you need a flower to soothe your battered soul and when all you have is this…

… it feels wondrous to flip through something like the Whole Seed Catalog. Though don’t get me wrong. I spent close to 20 minutes in below zero weather wandering through my garden of winter detritus. It is still a heart warming event to bear witness to Mother Nature and her always continuing cycles of life and death. There is always something new to see and learn and there is always beauty.

So as we do what we can to bring justice and love into our worlds, let’s also bring refuge. Let’s not forget that Mother Nature is a never-ending sanctuary of life lessons and serenity. Take it wherever you can find it. And pass it on to someone who could use a little peace and love.

Flowers

This is a new daylily, the ‘Niki Jabbour’, named after local gardener, Niki Jabbour. It was grown by Harbour Breezes in Jeddore, Nova Scotia. Shown here are 8 different blooms from 8 different days from July 28-August 12. There appears to still be 2-3 buds to go.

Then there’s the ubiquitous Echinacea purpurea, also known as Purple Coneflower. The bees go crazy for these, sometimes just sleeping in them (or so it seems to me). Butterflies and hummingbirds also love them and they’re a good herb for humans as well.

And speaking of hummingbirds, their favourite actually seems to be the scarlet Bee Balm. At this point, they’re nearly finished but both the bees and the hummers are still visiting.

A bit of a wilder view below… that tall white flower in the back (L) is Yucca and the tall pink flower in the back (R) is filipendula. Monarda, aka bee balm, and some kind of daisy in front.

I’m all about the food growing but what I love about the flowers is not only their beauty but the fact that they’re food for the pollinators. Whatever feeds the pollinators ultimately feeds us.

Top left to right: Iris, ‘Oscar Peterson’ Rose, pink tubular flower (?), a bee hugs a bean, lupins, dahlia, hops.

Introducing…baby veggies

What can I say? We
started late but here they come.
Let’s appreciate.

(It not only rhymes, sort of, but hey, it’s also a haiku.)

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Baby broccoli.

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Baby peppers.

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Baby tomatoes.

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Baby blueberry that seems to be calling for some food of its own.

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Baby squash.

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Baby kiwis.

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Test harvest of the garlic. They’re ready.

So that’s the next big task… harvest the 2 beds of garlic, dry it briefly in the sun, hang it in bunches in the basement until it’s ready to be stored. Meanwhile we continue to harvest all the various greens and herbs as we wait for the babies to grow up.

Spring Came for a Minute and Handed Us Summer

Before moving here, a friend warned me that Halifax really only had 3 seasons. I waited for the punchline but there wasn’t one. She explained that spring basically skipped this part of the country and that one day Haligonians just wake up and it’s all summer humidity and hurricane winds. There is not one part of me that could grasp this at the time. How could you not have spring? How could you just wake up one day and the trees are full of green leaves? How could you miss the budding part? She was just making some point, right? About long winters? Well, yes and no. We do have spring but it’s only about a minute long and you have to work quickly to get your food planted. And it’s all about timing. This year I was late.

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Starting to sow this year’s garden beds and last year’s kale is already going to seed.

I took advantage of the lateness to just go easy and try some new things…

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This is an espalier apple tree that I’m training along our neighbour’s fence. Not just any kind of apple tree… there are 6 different varieties of apple grafted onto the one tree.

The haskap bushes are now 3 years old so I decided it's time to harvest the fruit. First step was to protect them from the birds while the berries were ripening.

The haskap bushes are now 3 years old so I decided it’s time to harvest the fruit. First step was to protect them from the birds while the berries were ripening. I left the male bush (to the left) because the berries were fewer and smaller. One day I looked out and every branch was filled with squawking fluttering starlings swallowing up the little pieces of fruit that I’d left them. 

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Just a handful of the haskap berries harvested. They’re the first of the various berries to ripen and we had them fresh, as vinaigrette, and as jam. We’re also growing currants, raspberries, and blueberries. More on them later.

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The peach tree that I started from a pit 3 years ago is now bearing fruit. This was the first fuzzy little peach bud that showed up.

 

This is that same peach about a month later. There are about 4 or 5 others as well. A neighbour commented that next year the tree would be so laden with fruit, I would have to prop up the branches. He said it like this was a problem.

 

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The not so good new thing this year is that there appears to be way more aphids, earwigs, and ants. Between the ladybugs and insecticidal soap, I may have them sort of under control. Note the scepticism.

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I have never been very good with roses. But this year, for the first time, my lovely partner and I decided to proactively buy and plant a rose bush. And not just any rose. This is an Oscar Peterson Floribunda Rose, part of a Canadian artist series.

 

The In-Between Time

So it doesn’t really feel like winter anymore and yet it is definitely not spring. It’s raining but there’s the odd big-flake snow flurry mixed in with it so I don’t quite trust that snow is done for another year. In fact they’re threatening a Nor-easter for next week. Winter does not let go easy here. But I’ve started thinking about spring anyway and gardening is on my mind.

Sadly, I have to be away for most of May this year. Well, not sadly because the time away will be fun but May is, of course, prime gardening time. I’m nervous about getting everything prepped and planted and wondering if I should just let someone else take over for awhile. But to remind myself not to worry about things and to remember that it is Mother Nature in charge after all, I want to share a story I just read in Thomas King’s book, “The Truth About Stories”. He tells about the grandfather of a good friend that he went to visit when he was travelling through Alberta. They were sitting inside having tea when the old man asked (and now I quote King)…

‘You see those tomatoes out there?’ From the kitchen window you could see his garden. The tomato plants were just beginning to produce fruit. ‘When that last storm came through, I was just getting ready to pick my tomatoes. They were big and red. Real ripe. But the storm beat me to it. First the rain. And then the hail.’ And here the old man stopped and helped himself to more tea. And then he sat back and looked at the table. I tried to be sympathetic. ‘You must have been upset’, I said. ‘Nope’, said the old man, without even the hint of a smile. ‘Always good to have some ketchup.’

I laughed hard reading that and decided there was no way to go but easy, to do our best day by day and then let it go. I’ll be back here when it’s spring. And it will be spring before we know it.

Autumn Light

When the afternoon sun shines on the plants at the front of the house which, I’m embarrassed to admit, I pay very little attention to, it is as though they’re saying they’ve had enough of my neglect. They’re tired of playing second fiddle to the gardens in the back. And they put on a show that stops me in my tracks. It is their last hurrah before winter. I stop and thank them. You are beautiful, I whisper, and the kids on the street playing hockey pay me no mind as they know now I’m just that crazy neighbour who talks to her plants and lets them “steal” snow in the winter for their forts.

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Purple Fountain Grass in leaf mulch.

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Nearly transparent autumn leaves of the Hosta. Probably my favourite season for this plant in particular. It seems rather plain and common in comparison during the other seasons.

Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus), hostas in the back.

Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) I’ve had 2 of these bushes for a few years now and, for some reason, only noticed this year that they have berries.

Yes I do!

I come from the arts side of the corporate world but the corporate world nonetheless. So I understand when some of my friends from those days can’t seem to wrap their heads around the fact that not only did I walk away from a “successful” career but that I appear to now spend most of my time in the garden. And while not exactly true (I still do a bit of freelance work, I volunteer on Boards, etc.), it’s a fact that in the growing season I spend most of my time in the garden. And the reason I do that is because, selfishly, it keeps me sane. Literally. It is my meditation. My medicine. It feeds my other creative endeavors. It gives me food and beauty. It makes me happy. Even in black & white.

self But I don’t only do it for me. I grow food for my family and give excess to friends and neighbours near and far. I do it for the earth and for the generations who follow us who will be left with this mess that too many of us just sit around crying about. I’ve encouraged neighbours to grow their own food and taught them tricks to make the process more rewarding.

IMG_0930I also have an herb garden where I grow oregano, thyme, valerian, and feverfew year round. I plant rosemary and basil annually and throw in poppies and bee balm to round out the bed. We just dried herbs that will take us through the coming year and sent some more to family who, sadly, don’t live nearby.

New for me are flowers. The flowers obviously aren’t food for us but they are for the bees, other insects, and the birds. Plus they’re beautiful. So just as other gardeners have given me plants, I try to pass on as many seedlings as possible. I don’t really know what’s become of them all but I imagine some of them have grown into beautiful plants.

And somehow it’s the end of October already. The garlic is planted and everything else is mulched. And gardening time has slowed down. Until the spring.

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Some of the greens that we’re still eating out of the garden. Except for the parsnips and beets up front. For them, see next photo.

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Underneath this very thick layer of straw mulch are the parsnips and beets we’re hoping to eat all winter.

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Leeks thickly mulched. Hoping to eat at least through December.

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Mustard greens keep on volunteering.

 

Bees Go Balmy

I’ve been doing a lot of clean-up in the garden these days … all of the usual harvesting and weeding and thinking about what beds to mulch for the winter and whether or not I can get one more crop of something or other and, if so, where I should plant it. I spend as much time as I can out there at this time of the year and have noticed lots of bee action. Crazy eccentric bee action.

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I came across these bees on the ground between a bed of leeks and the herb garden. Initially I thought they were just a couple of bees drunk on pollen but no…on closer inspection, they were doing the humpty-dump. The male was injecting sperm into the queen. Right there, rolling around in the garden. But wait, it gets better… As the male flew off and the queen was pulling herself together, I noticed there was another bee on the back of the flying male! I kid you not. It was a 3-way. I’m only sorry I was too stunned to take a picture.

I’ve since done some research and, if my sources are to be believed (which I’m sure they are), these are ground nesting bees. Each female builds her own nest though many will build their nests close to each other. I believe the male dies after fertilizing the female’s eggs.

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A calmer moment than that depicted in the picture above. The bee seemed to be sleeping on the petal of the echinacea flower. If you look closely you can see pollen on its feet and mouth.

September Still My Favourite Month

September is my favourite month for a lot of reasons … the weather is gorgeous, tourists have gone home (nothing against tourists, it’s just quiet again, enough to hear the crickets day and night alike), the garden continues to do its own thing while us gardeners continue to help it along and happily harvest the food it offers up.

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First step of garlic harvest. One bed dug up and laid out for initial drying before move into our basement/barn to hang and dry.

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One bunch of garlic dried and stored. We grew 88 heads this year which should be enough to plant next year’s crop with plenty left to last us through next harvest.

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We planted a bed of corn this year…popcorn! That’s a row of Limnanthes douglasii (poached eggplant) in the middle.

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A barrel of Tom Thumb Popcorn grown from Heritage Harvest Seed out of Manitoba. 2’ plants produce multiple small cobs that average 2-3″ long.

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We’ve had a bumper year of acorn squash, also from fabulous Heritage Harvest Seed. Lost track of how many are growing out there.

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I found it fascinating that every single time the bees entered the squash flowers, they seemed to just lie down and wrap themselves around the pistil.

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This beautiful little guy seemed to like the leaves of the Black Turtle Dry Beans.

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I have no idea what happened here. Part of the life and death cycle all around us.

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More life and death.

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I decided to cut and move all the strawberry plants so they would have their own bed instead of scattered throughout the flower garden as I’ve had them. This way I can cover them, protect the fruit from the birds so we actually have something to harvest.

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Blue Solaise Leek, squash behind them, black-eyed susans to the right.

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And last but not least, COMFREY! A couple of seedlings were given to us by an herbalist friend early this summer and they have grown like crazy. In fact, I’m going out right now to cut some leaves to make a tincture.

Picture Perfect

In the middle of the worst winter in a bazillion years, my partner and I decided we had to partake in an introductory insanely cheap flight to Scotland. Problem is we could only get tickets for July, prime gardening time. But winter will do crazy things to you and we bought the tickets. Now having just returned, the garden overflows and I have done nothing but weed for the past week. Oh, and harvest.

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Broccoli, lettuce, kale, and garlic scapes harvested the first afternoon we were home from our trip.

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Lettuce, beans, and kale, oh my!

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Carrots, parsnips, beets in the front bed; lettuce and beans in the next. There’s a bed of broccoli down there, corn, garlic, sunchokes; onions, leeks, and more garlic over in the top right corner. Click the pic to see better.

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One of the heads of broccoli.

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One of 2 beds of garlic. Scapes have all been harvested, garlic soon to be.

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Never having grown currants before, I’m not sure when I should pick them. At least one robin has been checking them out but hasn’t touched them yet.

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The oregano has gone crazy. Lots of different pollinators appear to love crazy when it comes to the herbs but I think I’ll be cutting it back severely come fall.

And speaking of pollinators, what would a garden be without flowers…

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Rudbeckia. This is always swarming with bees.

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Beebalm. Beloved by both hummingbirds and bees.

IMG_3068 'Jackmanii Superba'

I just planted this Clematis maybe 6 weeks ago, nothing more than a few little twigs. I wasn’t even sure it would bloom this year.

IMG_3116 Filipendula rubra ‘Venusta’

The majestic Filipendula.

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Astilbe, given to me by my friend, Ed. I have another one out front under which wasps built a nest last year. Here’s to them staying away this year.

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Teasel. I’m not crazy about it because it’s so hard to deal with but the bees love it and I’m all about keeping the bees happy.

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And speaking of bees, I’ll let this one, sucking on the comfrey, have the last word.

Covering New Ground

Someone asked me about the process I went through to replace the front lawn with different kinds of ground cover. How did I choose the plants? The truth is the plants really chose me. All I knew was that I wanted something that I wouldn’t have to mow all the time. Suddenly other gardeners started gifting me with plants. I took everything with great excitement and gratitude. Then I started frequenting fundraisers and yard sales and bought plants there. I would come home with plants, hide them in a shady corner somewhere with lots of water while I did some basic research to find out what each plant liked. The most difficult part was digging the holes and preparing the soil since the “soil” was pretty much big rocks, roots from the street-side maple, and dirt. Initially I went for plants that literally hugged the ground or had a reputation for spreading quickly. Bonus if they had flowers.

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Veronica filiformis

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I think this is a variety of fleeceflower.

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Cranesbill geraniums have the most fantastically delightful smell. Touch the leaves for a sensory surprise.

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Dianthus, aka ‘pinks’.

But then I realized there were lots of different kinds of plants that would add height and texture… That’s where the hostas and lilies came in, not to mention irises, teasel, and violas closer to the ground again.

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Day lilies, hostas, burning bush

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Mostly lilies and some irises to shake things up a bit.

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I think this is the blue flag iris. Tends to do well in shade and wet.

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These violas were just planted which is why they look so scraggly. It’s a temporary thing. We planted them up front near the street to honour Viola Desmond.

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I love the delicacy of Columbine.

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Astilbe, prior to flowering, spreading its beautiful leaves. Actually, last year wasps built a nest under this plant which I didn’t realize until one of them stung me, punishment for weeding too close to their home.

IMG_2516 OK, enough for now. I have so much more but I’ll be back later…

New Seedlings in the Rain

So we’ve had some nice weather and we’ve had some unseasonably cool weather this spring. With the growing season already being 3 weeks behind because of the late arrival of a cold and snowy winter, plant life seems just a little tentative in the ‘trust the weather’ department. But lots have sprouted anyway: broccoli, kale, comfrey, chard, mustard, lettuce, garlic, beans, sorrel, chives, ETC. And I’ve sown carrots, parsnips, beets, popcorn (a first for me). Everything just showing except for the corn.

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And now it’s been raining all weekend! I can pretty safely say this: the young plants are happy that it’s raining and I’m happy for them.

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Mustard greens. We’ve been adding them for a couple of weeks now to our salads. Delicious!

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A bumblebee using newly sprouted lettuce as an umbrella. (Actually, I woke her up from somewhere in the layers of straw and she buzzed away, settled in here.)

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Beans to the left, kale to the right. I’m not sure why I planted kale again as we’ve got kale sprouts coming up everywhere from last year. Like the baby mustard, delicious added to salads.

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Hard to see but these are rows of leeks. First time I ever planted leeks from seed. Fingers crossed they make it.

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A bit of a closeup on a couple of the leeks. Hard to imagine them as big leeks.

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Front to back: currant yearling, garlic, rhubarb, leeks and onions, comfrey way in the back. Prayer flags to keep out the birds and give an overall good vibe.

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These are very scraggly looking squash that I just (at the time of this pic) transplanted into a new bed I made last year. Made it sometime in the summer out of compost, soil, sticks, and stones and left it. Seems pretty good so I’m hoping the squash will settle in.

Catching up with myself

When the posts slow down here (or stop altogether), that usually means one of two things: I’m either busy planting or it’s winter and I’m hibernating. In this case, it’s the former. I’ve been too busy planting to document what the heck I’m doing. This is my attempt to try and catch up.

Click to enlarge.

The last time I was here I wrote about the pulmonaria, how I was digging it out from under winter’s mulchy mess and the first few blossoms were slowly showing their shy little selves. If you don’t remember, here’s a quick refresher:

And now to show how Mother Nature ignores the follies of humans and continues creating her magic, here is that same plant today:

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Pulmonaria (lungwort) does best in cool weather and partial shade.

The daffodils have pretty much come and gone, same with the tulips. Still, there are a few hangers-on…

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And now it’s the irises turn…

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Our neighbours gave us these bulbs a couple of years ago telling us, conspiratorially, that they were a rare black variety that they had never seen before.

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The same iris, now open. Obviously not black though there is that wonderful line from the Christopher Smart poem Jubilate Agno, “For black blooms and it is purple”.

And speaking of neighbours, be very careful about what it is you’re accepting to plant in your garden. Last spring a friend gave me a Himalayan Balsam seedling which I eagerly and gratefully planted since I was told bees liked it. And while they do, indeed, seem to like it (though not as much as the bee balm), it is an invasive little bugger. I had one plant last spring and this year there were seedlings everywhere. It is said that the seed head of this plant can eject seeds up to 7 metres away!!

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This is one patch of the balsam where the single seedling stood last year but there is more of this all over the property that we are slowly eliminating.

Back in a bit with the veggies.

Reticent Spring

Though it’s not like the springs we’re used to, spring is here. I’ve decided she’s just a little shy this year. Still, the garlic is up, rhubarb, comfrey, chives and ever so many bulbs are showing themselves as well. We have a long way to go but hey, it’s a start and I’m not complaining! I’ve been cleaning up mulch, freeing plants into the open air, and generally “encouraging” slugs to go elsewhere.

Unfortunately, there were tons of would-be maple trees I had to weed out today. Those winged pods that let loose in the fall dig themselves deep, survive the harshest of winters, and start growing into a forest of little maple trees come spring. I cannot have that.

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The ever ubiquitous Maple. No wonder it’s Canada’s tree.

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The ever ubiquitous Maple. No wonder it’s Canada’s tree.

I even had to pull out a maple that had rooted itself inside the rhubarb that’s starting to unfurl its lovely leaves. Makes it way too tempting for the slugs…

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Rhubarb knows it’s spring.

And finally today I rescued a batch of Pulmonaria (aka lungwort). I suppose I didn’t really rescue it so much as clean off the old leaves. As it turns out, it was doing quite well underneath the mess, albeit too wet for my liking.

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Pulmonaria hidden under winter’s mess.

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Slowly uncovering the flowers.

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