I spotted bags of Colchicums, a fall-blooming bulb plant that looks a lot like crocus, while perusing the bulb section of my local garden shop a few weeks back. I’ve long admired the delicate alien beauty of ‘Naked Ladies’, aptly named for their stark, bare petals poking up through the soil. But what caught my eye on that day was that the text on bags of individually packaged bulbs advertised setting the bulb on a bare windowsill (no water tray, no spritzing, no nothing) rather than planting in-ground as a unique, but temporary houseplant. I’m always up for an experiment so I bought one large corm to keep out of the ground, at least temporarily, to see what would happen.
While out on the Leslie Street Spit this past holiday weekend, I noticed that most of the tansy flower heads were turning black. I don’t grow tansy in any of my gardens and have never observed this detail while out walking the railroad tracks in my area where tansy grows wild and abundantly. In the past I’d swear they aged towards a warmer, less haggard shade of brown as the season wrapped up. But maybe I’m wrong and what I really need to do is get myself started on a daily regimen of Ginkgo biloba supplements and craploads of omega-3 fatty acids, stat!
Tansy is known for being distinctly disease and pest resistant, a feature that makes it a great herbal pest spray when brewed into a tea. I have been unable to find any information about possible tansy diseases and am chalking this up to the drought and humidity we experienced in late august when the plants were in full bloom. But of course tansy is also known for being incredibly drought tolerant and I think their survival in the wasteland along the railroad tracks is good evidence of that. So maybe circular logic is bringing me back to my original conclusion which is that I have simply stumbled upon an observation that I either failed to make in the past or one that was previously made but forgotten.
In conclusion: I smart.
Regardless, I really liked the look of fields dotted with thin clusters of blackened tansies poking through wild grass and aging goldenrod.
I took this photo of a field of Gaillardia growing on a hillside on the Leslie Spit back in July before The Worst Drought in Fifty Years took a hold and sent lots of plants into hiatus on a short term or permanent basis. On a return visit in late August I found only a few blanket flowers blooming and many of the plants looking half baked. Gaillardia are an excellent drought tolerant flower but even the heavy hitters have their limit.
We went back to this spot yesterday afternoon on what is reported to be the warmest Canadian Thanksgiving on record reaching over 30 degrees C here in Toronto. In fact we’ve had an amazing Fall overall with plenty of sunshine, warm temperatures, and enough rain to bring our gardens out of the late summer’s drought-induced coma. Evidence of this turnaround is everywhere. The Gaillardia, among other flowers at The Leslie Street Spit have made a turnaround with a second coming of colourful blooms and lots of fresh new growth.
I’ve still got basil and other tender plants in-ground and producing new growth in both my community garden plot and out on the roof. Amazingly, I haven’t even brought my citrus trees indoors to overwinter and they are both still producing tiny fruit.
While I am enjoying a delay in putting my summer gear away I have to admit that I do find the warm temperatures a little bit disturbing since it is a continuation of a trend we saw last year with winter staying mild and rather un-winter-like until well into January. From another vantage point I am fascinated by the way the plants are adapting (or not) to a warmer Fall — instead of going dormant as many of them would at this time of year, plenty of plants just keep keeping on. And some, like the tomatoes and curcubits have either prematurely succumbed to poor conditions early on or are experiencing a second wind after a short break. The sole surviving zucchini plant living in a pot on my rooftop deck has started making flowers again. I have never had a zucchini plant shut down for a while and then come back with a brand new set of leaves and another harvest! As bad as this warm weather may be for the long term, I am learning a lot from really getting first-hand experience of how an extended growing season works in warmer climates. While I have done my homework and know what to expect and I have even experienced second harvests from some early-producing plants in the past, this whole experience is quite different and has been really educational.
This shifting nature of… well… nature is one of those things that makes gardening so interesting and challenging — no matter how much you know you can never know everything. And just when you think you’ve working things out and have got the perfect system in place, nature throws in a curveball or two. Gardening from year-to-year is never, ever the same. As intimidating as that can be, knowing perfection is unattainable is also very freeing and the unpredictability is certainly never boring.
I recently became an official card-carrying member of Seeds of Diversity, a move that was a long time coming. Okay, to be honest there is no actual membership card but there really should be — I am a proud nerd who loves the idea of a special membership card to a club of similarly-minded nerds. A button or t-shirt would be nice too. A patch would be great. I might consider wearing a special pair of gardening gloves if they were available. A hat would be pushing it.
Last Friday I received my first official membership email. Inside was an invite to take part in a national garlic-growing project called the Great Canadian Garlic Collection. Here’s how it works: members choose 3 varieties of garlic to grow (one variety called ‘Music’ is the control and everyone must grow that variety). Members grow these varieties for two years documenting their progress by filling out forms and making careful observations. Eventually the data will be collected providing Canadians with information about which varieties grow best under varying conditions so that gardeners can choose the best varieties for their area. The best part — the garlic is FREE!
Free garlic just when I was starting to consider my garlic options for the year AND I get to fill out pseudo-scientific forms AND be a part of a special very important project in a very important special peoples’ club…. I was so all over the idea that I was literally racing to choose my varieties and get the request off via email within minutes of receiving the invite. My heart was racing a mile a minute as I yelled across the room at Davin, “Would you prefer a variety that roasts well or has nice pink stripes? Which should I choose, ‘Persian Star’ or ‘Inchelium Red’? What should I choose? Help!” What if I was too late to take part? What if they ran out of garlic before receiving my request? What if my email was in a long queue behind thousands of other eager participants? What if they don’t want an urban gardener? All week long I’ve been telling friends and anyone who will listen about the project. An email confirming my participation came as a sigh of relief. And then yesterday my garlic arrived in the mail!
And now comes the hard part… something this official requires that I keep track of the varieties, documenting which varieties I grow and where. Some people are hyper garden planners, I am not. I make open-ended decisions about the plants I will grow, the methods I will explore, the changes I will make to each space, and then I throw it all out the window at the last minute and mostly wing it. Some things are set in stone ahead of time but I try to keep those to a minimum so I can be open to something better that comes along last-minute. I hate being locked down into anything and prefer to go with the flow when the season starts. Keeping track of three different garlic varieties that need to be planted NOW means that I’ve got to make some sort of plan for spring. In the past I have planted my garlic crop in the Fall, working with and around that haphazard planting come spring. I often keep my garlic to the perimeter of my community garden plot to make things easier. I do pretty much the same thing with the onions and always have the option of pulling anything out that gets in the way. This has never been an issue because I’m never growing either plant for a project like this and I’ve always got more in the ground than is necessary anyways.
So I’ve got some work ahead of me in the next few days. Some of it is fun and some of it is forcing me to push against my nature in a way that I don’t particularly like. I’d been toying with the idea of separating my plot into more obvious sections next year so I know it will be something along those lines. But I haven’t made definite plans about staking (I try new methods every year) or exactly how to divide those sections beyond working with the perennials that are already in place. Your suggestions are appreciated.
My favourite tool bag at my community garden plot, October 4, 2007. I forgot to bring a harvest bag and had to cram everything into the top of the tool bag. I’m currently harvesting lots of dandelion greens for boiling and herbs for drying but the weather has been so mild even the summer crops like tomatoes, peppers, and ‘Mexican sour gherkins’ are continuing to produce. It was so peaceful and fresh there yesterday evening — for a moment I wished I had a sleeping bag to curl up into.