Are you a risk taker?

It occurred to me this past weekend that I am a bit of a risk taker.  At least when we are talking recipes.  Oh, and anything related to gardens or flowers.

I very rarely follow written recipes completely, modifying them with favorite, gluten-free, or on-hand ingredients. For family dinners I usually try out at least one new recipe, and this past (Canadian) Thanksgiving dinner was no exception.

I made the perennially favourite pumpkin pie as well as cherry and butter tarts, but instead of apple pie or crisp,  I tried a strawberry rhubarb crisp.  My brother had commented on Facebook a while back that he was craving strawberry rhubarb pie and no one would make one for him, so as he was hosting dinner this past Sunday I took the bait.  One of my clients donated the rhubarb and I had frozen strawberries on hand.  The recipe called for fresh strawberries, so I just let mine thaw on the counter before using them. I do believe the dessert was a favourite at the table; the bit that was left in the pan was scooped up by my nephew to take home for later.

 

Tired of the popular vegetable dishes this time of year too, I decided to try roasted zucchini as my vegetable contribution.  It too turned out delicious; I will definitely make it again.  I simply sliced 3 yellow and 3 green zucchini lengthwise into about 6 spears each (you could slice them into coins instead) placed them on a greased cookies sheet, drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled them with a parmesan cheese, garlic, oregano and dried basil mixture, and baked then broiled them to perfection.  Yummy!

 

pictures from Pixabay and Pexels (forgot to take some of my own)

 

Someone asked me after I volunteered to make my daughter-in-law’s wedding bouquets if I wasn’t nervous they wouldn’t turn out.  My new daughter-in-law is wonderfully laid back, so I knew if the bouquets weren’t exactly perfect, she would not stress over it, otherwise, I might have been more nervous and (probably) would not have offered my services.  All five were different and definitely unique creations…

 

I consider cooking or baking and gardening to be artistic adventures, and I think most will agree that artists of any kind have to take some risks to be unique.  I guess I do tend to fly by the seat of my pants (as I call it) or like to take (some) risks, but it is (almost) always worth it!

 

 

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Which plants you should prune back in the fall

 

For some reason, the fall season is when many gardeners get the itch to prune back plants in their gardens.  The guidelines are as follows, at least for our zone 4 to 5 gardens here in Ottawa, Ontario:

  • if a shrub blooms early (before June) wait until after flowering to prune.  Some examples of early bloomers that need that old wood to bloom on are lilacs, forsythia, bridal wreath spireas, sand cherries, weigela, ninebarks, rhododendrons, viburnum, cranberry bushes, flowering dogwoods and magnolias.
  • if the shrub blooms after June, it can be pruned back in the fall or in the early spring when new growth is visible.  Examples include Snowball and PeeGee Hydrangeas, spireas (except for bridal wreath), Butterfly bush, smoke tree, hibiscus (rose of Sharon), and red stemmed dogwoods.
  • woody shrubs like boxwoods, junipers and cedars can be trimmed back in the fall too, but also throughout the growing season (spring and summer)
  • some shrubs are best pruned while dormant (late fall to very early spring, late February to early March)  These include barberries, smoke bush, crepe myrtles, spireas (except bridal wreath variety), dogwoods, and cotoneasters.
  • to rejuvenate shrubs that flower poorly, are overgrown or straggly, cut them back to just above the first bud above the soil while the plant is still dormant.  Shrubs that do well with this drastic treatment include spireas, lilacs, ninebarks, forsythias, barberry, weigela, blue mist, forsythia, honeysuckle, and potentilla (cinquefoil).  You may sacrifice the flowers the first season after this rejuvenation, but the plant will be healthier.
  • deciduous (non-evergreen) trees are best pruned when dormant (late winter) as well.  It is much easier to see the structure of the tree before the leaves come out.  Winter pruning also prevents the formation of bacteria and disease in the cuts. The wounds will heal quickly as new growth starts shortly after pruning.
  • dead branches can be cut off any time in the season.
  • after the first frost, remove any leaves from roses and apply mulch to the crowns. This prevents the plants from heaving from the ground during freeze/thaw cycles. You can cut the longs stems of the most tender floribundas, hyrdrid teas and grandifloras back to 20 inches before winter too to prevent them from breaking off under a heavy snowfall.  Another tip for tender roses is to apply a collar around the bush and fill it (loosely) with leaves.  Wait to prune others back until daffodils start to bloom in the spring to ensure the ground temperature is sufficiently warm.  Dead or broken branches can be cut off in the fall or any other time of the season.  Suckers can also be removed in the fall, cutting them out as close to the base of the plant as possible.

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Perennials can be, but do not have to be, deadheaded (remove dead blossoms) and cut back in the fall.  Remove sturdy flower stalks (coneflowers etc) right back to the foliage at the base of the plant.  Some gardeners like to leave these stalks on the plants over the winter for birds and their snow-covered beauty.  On softer plants simply remove the browned and dead looking, limp or soggy foliage (daylilies, peonies, bleeding hearts etc) and cut back their stems to six or eight inches from the ground.  I like to do everything I can in the fall because spring seems to be so short lived these days and I run out of springtime hours in the gardens.  Whenever you clean up your gardens, remember to harvest the seeds for future (freebie) plants as I did for my cottage garden.

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pictures from Pexels and Pixabay

October blooms

I love this fall (summer like) weather we are having here in Ottawa.  Many of the perennials in my own and my clients’ zone 4 to 5 gardens are still in bloom even though the calendar says October…

 

 

I cannot ever remember a clematis reblooming in October as this beautiful pale purple one has…

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If this is fall, I’ll take it, weird or not

Normally fall or autumn is my least favourite season as all the plants in my gardens start to die off in preparation for the winter ahead.  The calendar says September 21st  was the first day of fall or autumn, but Mother Nature is displaying something quite different this year. We have had the most beautiful summer-like weather lately here in Ottawa, more summer-like than June, July, and August.

The gardens I work in are all confused.  Many perennials have rebloomed (roses, clematis, and weigelia)…

 

and others that usually look unsightly around this time of year (peonies and bleeding hearts) are still green and lush.   Coneflowers have been in bloom all summer and continue to look great.  The monarch butterflies are loving the lasting blossoms…

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Is September the new July?  If this is fall, I’ll take it, weird or not!

 

 

 

 

Cottage wildflower garden

We have a large space on our cottage property that acts as a buffer zone between the road (a major highway in those parts) and the cottage.

A 2-foot strip of vegetation along the road is cut by the township each year.   Adjacent to that there is a flat strip, then the land begins to slope downward for an approximate width of five feet before it levels off.   A row of cedar hedges was planted approximately 40 feet from the road many years ago, but the area between the bottom of the slope and the cedars is rarely maintained, left to grow wild.

Last season we planted several evergreen trees (pine and spruce) at the bottom of the slope.  This season we planted more, spaced throughout the flat area to create (eventually) a forest of evergreen trees as a visual and noise barrier between the road and the cottage.

I have always felt this whole area was wasted space,  What does a gardener do with wasted space?  Turns it into a garden of course, in this case, a wildflower garden.  This season I whippersnipped the flat area around the evergreens, avoiding all of the frogs (there were tons), then sprinkled seeds (pink and white coneflowers, Queen Anne’s lace, black-eyed Susans, pink and red beebalm to name a few) along the slope and flat strip close to the road. These plants are not exactly wildflowers, more hardy and tall perennials, but I mixed all the seeds in one large bag as I was collecting them to achieve a wildflower look.

I can’t wait to see what it looks like next season!

 

Favourite and least favourite perennials

With all the gardens I visit in a season, I am bound to have my favorite and least favorite perennials.

Spiderwort, AKA tradescantia or widow’s tears are my least favorite this year.  They spread like crazy throughout gardens, flop over onto other plants and turn yellow and slimy as soon as the weather gets cool.  The only good things about them are their pretty color (purple) and the fact that they will rebloom if cut back after the first bloom…

 

pictures from Pixabay

 

My favourite perennials this season have been coneflowers, especially the newer colors available.  Due to the cool summer we experienced, the coneflowers have been blooming pretty much all summer.  I have peachy orange, red and a few shades of pink coneflowers that are still stunning in my gardens…

 

 

I am still in love with all of the ornamental grasses; there seem to be more beautiful varieties every year.  Blue oat grass is my favourite this year in my zone 4 to 5 gardens.  I love its steel blue coloring and the fact that it is much hardier, larger and sturdier than the blue fescue I have tried previously…

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What are your favourite and least favourite perennials of the season?

Blue and pink and purple hydrangeas

Some of my GARDENS4U  gardens have blue hydrangeas and some have pink hydrangeas.  A garden I was at recently had both…

 

 

and we all know that blue and pink together make purple, so I was not surprised to see a few pale purple blossoms…

 

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So, how do you know if your soil is acidic or alkaline?  Try this simple soil pH test using ingredients from your kitchen:

  • Collect soil from different parts of your garden.  If you have a large garden, you may want to label your containers.  Styrofoam cups work well.
  • put 2 spoonfuls of soil into each of several containers.  (Two containers for each location)
  • Add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the soil in one container.  If it fizzes, you have alkaline soil, with a pH between 7 and 8.
  • If it doesn’t fizz after doing the vinegar test, then add distilled water to the other container taken from the same location until the 2 teaspoons of soil are muddy. Add 1/2 cup baking soda. If it fizzes you have acidic soil, with a pH between 5 and 6.
  • If your soil doesn’t react at all it is neutral with a pH of close to 7.

 

pH-scale-courtesy-of-chesapeakquarterly.net_

 

 

If you prefer your hydrangeas to be pink, make your soil alkaline (pH of 6.0-6.2)  You can do this by adding garden lime to your soil.

If you would rather your hydrangeas to be a blue color lower your soil’s pH to the acidic side (between 5.2 and 5.5).  Acidic soil can be achieved by adding 1/2 cup wettable sulfur powder or other commercial soil acidifiers each spring.  Pine needles or pine bark applied as a mulch also creates acidic soil conducive to blue hydrangeas.  So does compost or composted manure.  Some gardeners have had success using coffee grounds to provide acidic soil around their hydrangeas.

Once you get your soil’s pH figured out, try adding the appropriate soil amendments to just one side of a hydrangea bush to see if you can get both pink and blue blooms on one plant; perhaps you will end up with purple!