Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Going Native

I have every intention of expanding my garden next spring. We are surrounded by some spectacular native plants, and I've been waiting until fall when I could gather seed from my favorites. Zak is visiting so today we took a long walk and gathered seeds, as well as cut some willow whips to plant at the back of our site.

My plans are somewhat ambitious and will probably be tempered by my physical limitations, but at the moment I am considering adding a small shallow pond to attract birds, more vegetables in large pots at the sunny back end of the trailer, the addition of several native plants to the garden, a seating area, and some "vertical" gardening.

I started out thinking I'd concoct a shelf-like apparatus at the front end of the trailer and another on the side, so I could put potted plants in those mostly sunny areas. Over a period of several days I have looked at a whole range of vertical gardening ideas and have worked out a plan I think will work. My idea is to plant them with fast-growing food crops, like mesclun, spinach, Chinese greens, plus a variety of herbs and flowers.

My basic plan is to begin with one of two structures; I am not certain which would work best. It may come down to which is easiest to build. Plan number one would be to use sturdy bamboo or plastic reed fencing (standing upright) as the base, secured into the ground with rebar. I would cover the fencing with heavy plastic sheeting. Over the sheeting I'd staple a layer of thick, porous material like inch-thick polyester quilt batting or the furnace filter material you can buy by the roll. What I want is an open cell structure, through which small roots can grow. A second layer of batting would be stapled over the first. I'd cut openings in this layer just large enough to slip a seedling into. The second plan would be to build a frame, secure plastic signboard to it and proceed as above with the porous fabric.

This is basically a hydroponic system. Nutrients will be supplied with each watering cycle. I thought about water reservoirs or drip systems but decided that the simplest thing is just to buy a hose-end sprayer attachment and water that way. If it becomes too difficult to keep up I might install reservoirs or soaker hoses.

The advantage of these vertical walls is that they would take up very little space. I could basically have a living fence. Of course it might not work, but the idea that something might not work hasn't stopped me from trying other hair-brained ideas I've dreamed up over the years. This idea will have to wait until spring. In the meantime I have planted the seeds we gathered yesterday, without a clue as to whether they need stratification or any other special treatment. I plopped them in small compost-filled pots, watered them and set them up against the skirt of the trailer to face winter.

On our walk Zak and I gathered seeds or berries from a variety of shade-loving plants which should grow well in my garden:

Solanum dulcamara which is commonly called climbing nightshade. This is a slender shade-loving vine which has purple flowers in spring and brilliant red berries in the fall. Gorgeous, though some say it is invasive. Perhaps in a milder climate, but it doesn't appear so in our wooly wilds.

Mahonia [Berberis] aquifolium commonly called Oregon Grape. Beautiful evergreen foliage which turns bronze in the fall, loads of yellow flowers in the spring and edible (though sour) blue berries in the late summer and early fall.

Symphoricarpos albus, the Common Snowberry, which is grown for its blue foliage and attractive (though inedible) white berries.

Rosa acicularis, the Prickly Wild Rose. This is a shrub found all over Alberta and BC. It ranges in size from a couple of feet high to big 10-12 foot hillocks of thorny branches. Lovely flowers and attractive bright red seed pods ("hips") which can hang on through the entire winter, if the birds don't eat them all.

Verbascum thapsus, the Great or Common Mullein is an introduced species which is native to Europe. Early European colonists brought it with them, probably due to its value as a medicinal plant, as well as its beauty in the garden. It is a hairy biennial which forms a dense rosette the first year and can easily grow to six feet in its second year. It has small yellow flowers which are densely grouped on the tall stem.

Arctium lappa, the Great Burdock. Seasoned readers will remember that this past spring I puzzled over an attractive rhubarb-like plant found growing along the path near the lake. It had huge ruffled leaves. I recently discovered this was a member of the much dreaded "cockleburr" family of my childhood. The seed pods are covered with barbed spines which are the very devil to get out of your dog's coat, or your clothing. But it's a biennial plant, which only produces flowers (and burrs) the second year. I will grow it in a pot and turn the root out after the first summer. That way I should get the nice big tropical-appearing leaves without spreading burdock around the neighbourhood. Or, if I feel adventurous I might allow it to develop flower stalks, which are eaten as a vegetable. They taste like another member of the thistle family, artichoke.

Sedum integrifolium commonly called Rose Root. This little succulent sedum propagates with runners. We found some growing in loose sand which were easy to pick out. We took half a dozen teeny plants, and I re-sited them in my garden this morning.

Salix lucida, the Pacific willow. These are found along the lakeshore in thickets. With their slender bare trunks and long delicate leaves they resemble bamboo. I thought a few of them might make a nice screen at the back of the site. I stuck them in a big pot for the winter, and if they root I'll transplant them to the garden in spring.

The great thing about gardening is that there's always some new project or plant to keep you buzzing. And the farther away spring is the more grandiose the projects. LOL

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