Monday, June 30, 2008

Taking Stock

Summer officially began about ten days ago, but it started in earnest day before yesterday, when the thermometer hit a tropical 36 degrees (that 96.8 to you Farenheit folks). Yesterday was a shade warmer, and today we are promised 37 with a humidex reading of 39, which will make it feel as if it is 102 point something or other. We had a five minute thunderstorm about midnight last night, with a spatter of rain, which turned up the humidity level.

And naturally, while we've been busy tying our hair on before opening the door until day before yesterday, now the weeping willow hang as lank as greasy hair. It's like being in a vacuum. But there is nothing to be done about the weather, other than complain. Thank goodness we have that modern wonder, air conditioning. Long summer afternoons are perfect for reading, naps and taking stock.

At this point one looks at the garden to assess what has, and has not, proven successful. Things are beginning to fill in. The thymes and mints have done wonderfully. They are fragrant and spill out of the bed in their enthusiasm to please. The various types of thyme have different habits (some are upright, some prostrate, some are wooly, some are smooth-leaved.) The colours of the blooms vary as well, so I have white, pink, lavender and rose coloured thyme blossoms, all the size of a pinhead. Tiny stars against the deep green. I can't resist drawing the branches through my fingers. The fragrance is heavenly in the evening, and oddly enough, strongest across the street!

The dead nettles and coral bells are doing very well. The dead nettles have lavender flowers and the coral bell has about a dozen tall spikes with teeny bell-shaped flowers on them. Those flowers were lime-colured to begin with, but turned white with time. Some have faded but more spikes are forming.

The coleuses aren't huge but are colorful and luxurious. The lavender is blooming modestly and is another one I can't resist touching. The fragrance reminds me of the soap my Dad used when I was small. The rosemary has tripled in size and while the ornamental kales are not large they are colorful and have very interesting foliage. The kinnekinick has sent out runners and is loaded with berries. The tri-colour sage plants have maybe tripled in size, but the pebbled texture of the leaves and the red, white and green colours make up for any lack in height.

The hellebore is past its prime, but is now hidden behind the toad lily which *finally* woke up and started growing after six weeks of pouting. It has a faint checkerboard pattern on its leaves. I'm hard-pressed to know whether this is "normal", a mutation, or the result of a virus. It's supposed to reach five feet but it certainly will be no more than two feet tall unless it gets a sudden growth spurt. It doesn't have even the shadow of a bud yet, but it's not supposed to bloom until fall.

The Elijah blue grass is spiky and has grown significantly. I see that I put the two plants too close together. I may move one in the spring, and give them more space, so the lovely ball-shaped form is more apparent. If I can find some more I'll plant a few more of these as well.

The "rupture-wort" or "Creeping Charlie" club moss I scrounged from neighbours (who see it as a weed) has proven to be a real winner. Looking closely it's apparent that there are three different types of club moss. One type is covered in bright yellow flowers right now, each flower a tiny perfect star. These are planted between the stepping stones and in the garden bed itself, up on the Buddha mound.

My next door neighbour had lovely peonies last week. They didn't last long but I got a good picture while they were at their height.

All the "hen and chicks" plants are busy making "chicks". I was surprised to see that each type has a different method of "chicking". Some expand by growing chicks at their outside edges, others send up stalks topped by a chick. When the spike falls over the chick roots. Some must send runners underground as the chicks come up a few inches away from the hen. Two are blooming, something I've not seen before. The hen sent up a thick stalk, topped with what looked like tiny chicks. I expected this construction to fall over, but each of the "chicks" turned out to be a bud which formed a compound flower head. The flowers are quite lovely. Can't wait to see what happens next. Will they make seeds?

In the back the tomatoes are nearly four feet high and are covered with tiny green tomatoes and blossoms. The squash has the most beautiful blossoms in the garden, and the shortest-lived. By afternoon the morning's blossoms have shriveled. The tiny squashes are like huge golden beads. Alas, so far they have all gotten an inch across and then fallen off. It has been too wet and cold and the plants suffered. But now they have perked right up. I may have squash yet.

I planted scarlet runner beans in a planter box to the side of Sal's outdoor room, and they have crawled up the side and are now exploring the roof. I noted the first blossom today, so won't be long before we can pick beans from those. Even without the beans the plants are so pretty, with their big sturdy leaves and twining vines.

On the other side of the equation, it's hard to say if the heathers I planted have grown or not. The spring blooming one's branches flopped over and have spread out like a ground cover. The other two are sitting all scrunched up, and not doing much. The mums are a mixed bag, one has grown, the other two are struggling. The black ipeoma are spectacular in colour but have grown only modestly. They have an interesting bell-shaped flower which lasts for a single day, but it's a rather lurid pinky-purple which doesn't appeal to me at all. I might put some of these in hanging baskets nest year, as a foil for lighter coloured foliage, but don't think I'll plant them in the garden.

Speaking of baskets, mine have been something of a disaster. I shouldn't have put pansies in them, as pansies curl up and wither at the first sign of heat. Next year I'll go back to my tried and true petunias, which are hardy as weeds and last all summer. The basket of white lobelias I bought either caught a virus or decided life was too much. The plants just packed up and died all at once.

There's no way to put a price on the gift of a garden. If I don't feel up to working in it I can just look at it, which I do a lot of. And plan... what will I move? What will I add next year? How will I solve this problem? The moments I spend weeding, watering, mulching, feeding, are times of peace and pure pleasure.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ahhhh, Warm At Last!

And loving it! We had two warm days in May and the rest of May and June have been cool, even cold. Who'd have guessed the furnace would be kicking in during the second week of June?

But enough with the complaints. Even the garden has quit sulking and is making up for lost time. Flowers are bursting from every basket, tin can and window box, as well as the flower beds. You can go out hungry and come back full, just from looking at the flowers in our neighbour's gardens. This is a wonderful place to spend time outside. You can walk the circuit of the park, walk along the lake, sit on the beach and watch the waves, boats and birds, or sit in your own garden and watch the sun play hide and seek with the leaves.

We had a potluck on Father's Day, on the lawn under the trees. The day was sunny and warm, perfectly beautiful, the food was delicious and the company was in high spirits. What more could one ask for?

As always the birds are a preoccupation. The pair of robins who nested in the tree in front have now abandoned their screaming, demanding, teenaged children to their own devices. The kids are doing fine, except that they are very trusting, to the point that you can walk right up to them, intentionally or not. This may be because Mama robin was almost tame enough to perch on your hand. She will sit 18 inches away in the tree at eye level and hold a conversation. The youngsters must think this is normal, and I am trying to convince them that it isn't. Not that any of us would hurt them, but they are not afraid of cats either.

Yesterday Sal and I walked right up on one of them accidentally, much to Sal's delight. Good thing I had a firm grip on his leash and he was right at my side. The dumb birdlet continued to grub worms from the grass, totally unconcerned that a 22-lb cat was two feet away and shaking with excitement. It said a few words of greeting then turned its back to us and went back to worming. A single pounce away. I clapped my hands and yelled, "Shoo!! which irritated Sal and puzzled the bird.

I note that the robin youngsters are hanging out with the rusty blackbirds, who have a family of four or five noisy half-grown chicks. They make quite a crowd, sweeping the lawn for worms and bugs. I noted that the robins like ants, which half made me want to bring one in the kitchen, as we still have formic tourists. They certainly inspire me to keep a clean kitchen. A single drop of juice, a scrap of fruit, a grain of sugar, and our desirability as a destination for ants increases exponentially.

Sal was quite the clever boy yesterday, managing to escape not once but twice. He pushed the screen door open as I took out the recycling. My hands were full and I didn't put the Sal-proof latch on - a two foot long bungee cord which holds the door firmly closed. He ran right past me and scooted under the neighbour's trailer. It took a half hour to lure him out again.

Later, as Tony was closing the door in the evening, Sal must have slipped out unnoticed. It was only about 11:00 pm that we missed him. Luckily he was sitting right outside on the storage box. Lucky too that "Bird Jr." was tucked away in a tree for the night.

We weren't sure if he'd gotten out the door, or if he'd managed to get out of his outside "room". So we closed the door to the room, and he had to stay inside all night, which didn't please him much. He whined and pawed at me until at 5:00 am I got up, put him in the living room and closed the bedroom door. After a through check this morning we were certain he'd gotten out the screen door in the 10 seconds it was open, so he was allowed access to his room again.

Today we have been very vigilant any time the door is opened, and he is most disappointed. I took him out for a walk this morning, but we didn't get very far. Bird Jr. was in the garden and had every intention of staying. Sal sat and birdwatched. We share this little hobby - but when he birdwatches he needs a bib.