It’s been a bad year for gardening. I’ve done very little other than admire the flowers which survived the harsh winter, both mine and other people’s. I lost several lavender bushes, a favorite purple clematis, two older established John Cabot/David Austen rose bushes, and most of the ever-bearing strawberry plants. Other things came up looking pathetic including my hardy Knock Out Roses which did not seem as lush this year especially the ones facing north, not to mention a half dead birch tree and lilac bush. Blame it on the weird spring, with the temperatures yoyoing up and down so much.
In early May when all the hanging baskets were out for Mother’s Day, it seemed too cold to be buying plants which I would only have to bring in and out of the garage. So I waited until it got warmer. Then it was too hot, then cool again…..by then I had waited too long to buy dipladenia – all the pink ones were sold out. I was busy was other things and then it was too late for anything, although I did scoop up three Red Twig Dogwood bushes for half price to try and replace the privacy hedge the new neighbours had cut down. (Why oh why?) Otherwise my sole flower expenditure this year was a hibiscus plant, plus some lettuce seeds (I couldn’t find seedlings), one beefsteak tomato, and a new rhubarb plant. The plus side of not having any hanging baskets is not having to water, as rain has not been as plentiful either and now in mid-July the lawns are as dry as August, although we did get a glorious rain this morning.
The lawn is littered with leaves from the windstorm last week. The tips of the leaves are starting to change. The sun is still warm but the air feels cooler and the days are getting shorter. Summer is over. I’ve been on a blogging hiatus for the past two months, but thought I would post some garden pictures from the last few months as a last look at the season.
We’ve had so much rain this summer that the vinca outgrew the pots….a bargain that I will definitely be buying again next year.
And the color went nicely with the pink Knock-Out roses.
The dipladenia did well too. Like it’s cousin the mandevilla, it’s a tropical plant which thrived in this year’s sauna-like weather.
Sometimes they looked okay, but sometimes they just had too much rain or not enough sun or something.
The clematis did so well, that for the first time it actually grew over the arch of the arbor.
Sometimes seed packages can be misleading….these look blue and pink to me?
But I got deep purple morning glories and fuchsia zinnias…..
These morning glories turned out pink, but I could have sworn that package was blue too?
My neighbor’s lotus flower was only out for three hours….they have short life-spans….but it was perfection while it bloomed.
A sunny break from all that pink…
More mellow yellow….
The new lavender plants did well, the new rose bushes not so much….
And one last look at the lake…
And also time to plan for next year….
PS. I have no idea why there are two different sizes of font in this post, and some of it showed up as captions? It was all in regular font in the draft version – maybe I’ve been away too long…..
The Secret Garden (goodreads link) is a children’s book by Frances Hodgson Burnett about an orphaned girl who discovers a locked abandoned garden on her uncle’s British estate. First published in 1911, it has been made into a movie numerous times, most recently in 2020 with Colin Firth in a cameo role as the uncle. As I enjoyed re-reading Anne of Green Gablesso much I’m adding this one to my To Read list, and the movie also, as I’ve heard the cinematography is stunning, especially as there won’t be any garden tours again this summer.
After five months in lock-down we are slowly and cautiously reopening, with ten people allowed for an outdoor gathering in stage one, and the rest of the stages contingent on receiving second doses earlier than our scheduled 16 weeks apart. Although they are trying to speed things up, only 17% of the population have received two doses so far, and with the shot being only 30% effective against the Delta variant after one dose, I think my garden will be remaining secret for awhile longer. It’s a shame not to be able to share all the loveliness, so please join me for a tour of what’s new and what grew.
The weather has been weird and wacky all spring, an unseasonable hot spell the first of April, followed by a cold month, then hot and humid again in May, then cold with frost warnings at night, then hot and humid again and despite thunderclouds no rain for two weeks….and all this by mid-June! Most things in the garden bloomed earlier than usual and have already come and gone, (see Wordless Wednesday Peonies) or are past their peak. The roses (see Wordless Wednesday Roses blog) have become blowzy and even with succession planting I’m wondering what there will be left to look now that summer has officially arrived. Wilted hydrangeas perhaps?
Morning glories and zinnias if they survive the heat and the weed-wacker?
My lily of the valley, seen here peeking out from around the Dipladenia plant, was just starting to bloom but after being hit by frost the delicate little flowers turned brown overnight.
The daisies were particularly abundant this year and early as they are usually July flowers.
My regular Common Lilac bushes were duds flower-wise again this year, although they have lots of foliage. I was disappointed in these Bloom Again Lilacs too which I bought two years ago. The flowers are small and the bush spindly, without much greenery. They smell nice but I would not plant these again, as I do not like wimpy bushes. I like things which make a statement!
Prep Work: For me the fun is in the planning and buying, not the watering (I try) and weeding (I don’t). Whereas last year my entire garden expenditure was $8 (two tomato plants and some lettuce), this year I shopped, even if the selection was poor due to the yo-yo spring and the rationing by suppliers, the result of a lack of seasonal migrant workers due to COVID so one nursery owner informed me. I bought (but wisely) as I figured if I’m stuck at home I want pretty…….preferably in pink!
Nice hanging baskets were scarce and expensive so I did my own pots using vinca instead of my usual geraniums and petunias. I’ve never bought vinca before but it’s heat tolerant and looked bright and cheerful. Plus at $4 a pot and two per basket, it’s a cheap alternative if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty. (I’ve found those vinyl pandemic gloves very useful for gardening – just throw them away.)
I put some in my ceramic planter, where I would normally have wave petunias, also in short supply this year.
The navy ceramic planter came with a couple of matching pails which I couldn’t pass up. Winners/Homesense had a whole gardening line of the same pattern but the thing about that discount store is if you see something buy it, as if you go home and think about it it’s always gone when you go back.
Seeing this colorful pot of pink vinca from my kitchen window every morning is a nice way to greet the day.
The Subject was Roses: I had to replace one dead Knock-Out Rose from last year when I couldn’t find any stock and I transplanted three others with too much dead wood, so four pink Double Knock-outs went on my list. At $25 per pot these are worth it as they are repeat bloomers and provide beauty all summer. The double pink can be hard to find although there are always plenty of red ones. The ones I moved are doing poorly from transplant shock as they had been in for ten years so I’m not sure if they will survive. (For more on Knock-outs’ check last years post – link) I wish Knock-outs had a climbing rose, but they don’t and the nurseries were all sold out of climbers. I finally located some “John Davis” ones at a pop-up nursery at $8 per pot so bought three for in front of some bare trellis. They’re small and not quite the color I wanted but the other choice was a clematis and I wasn’t happy with that selection either, although I did buy one “The First Lady” a pale lavender, also $8. One upscale nursery had Clematis for $49 per pot! The prices have really skyrocketed this year, (supply and demand), things sold out early and it’s even hard to find bags of garden soil.
The plant in the blue pot above is an Italian Bugloss, a hardy perennial which can grow to four feet, so I planted it in front of a trellis. It likes sun and attracts butterflies. It appealed to me in the nursery because of it’s bright gentian-blue color (I’m partial to blue – see The Blue Garden) so I overlooked the fact that even at $16 it appeared scraggly and half dead from lack of watering. I try and add something new every year, even if it’s something I’ve never heard of. Later I saw it on a list of easy to grow no-maintenance perennial favorites in a gardening magazine.
I’ve discovered the name of this blue plant from last year which I did not remember buying but might have been from the annual horticultural sale. It’s a Virginia Bluebell and bloomed well this year too. It likes shade and blooms in late spring.
I bought two Lavender plants ($4 each) as you can never have too much lavender, although these were an organic Blue lavender instead of my regular English type. I planted one in front of a hole under the deck hoping the smell might deter the mice and/or other creatures from establishing an empire underneath, the other went in a blue pot until I can figure out where to plant it, probably to replace something which will inevitably die.
I had good luck with Dipladenias two years ago so I bought three pink ones ($7 each) for my pink recycled plastic pots. I’m always up for a bargain especially with annuals. They’re similar to a Mandevilla, are drought resistant and repeat bloomers, and give the the deck that tropical feel, like you might be on vacation somewhere exotic instead of stuck at home. They come in red and white too.
The lavender is blooming already too.
The Russian sage/lavender/pink knock outs make a nice contrasting mix.
Of course one cannot live on flowers alone, so the vegetable garden went in early too and seems to be thriving….four kinds of lettuce, some from seed and some seedlings, carrots, cucumber and pole beans, plus the everbearing strawberry plants if the birds don’t get them first.
And for the first time I planted brussel sprouts as they are supposed to be good for you.
Wish List: for when the end of July nursery sales come on, I’m looking for a rhododendron although they are hard to grow here. I tend to scoop up my perennials on the bargain table.
What I’m Reading: My (virtual) library bookclub is currently reading The Last Garden in England,(link) a three generational story about restoring a historic British garden. A light fluffy read if you’re a garden fan, although the garden was incidental to the story and I don’t think there will be much to discuss.
And last but not least, a study in pink, one of mom’s paintings.
I don’t bother with fall decorating outdoors as my pink Knockout roses (see link) are still going strong, and pink and orange (as in pumpkins etc) are not the best color combination in my opinion. It may be odd to see roses in October, but Knockouts are repeat bloomers and they’re usually in their 3rd bloom cycle in September with roses appearing right up until mid-November if we have mild weather. Although obviously not as abundant as in June, they do well considering that I have long given up all pretense of fertilizing and watering.
Fall is late here in my part of Ontario with no frosts so far and the trees just catching fire. The temperature today was 50 F (10 C) with another nice week ahead, with a few days in the 60’s, although there is already snow out on the prairies. While I would love to prune them now as I do my other roses, the timing is key, and so I wait and then curse in the spring and sometimes in December too as pink does not go well with Christmas decorations either! By then they are definitely the worse for wear especially when the rest of the yard has been tidied up but it’s much too cold too tackle any outdoor work. One year it snowed while they were still blooming, and that was a very strange sight.
I’m presently busy with the art world, with mom’s exhibit opening next week and writing time scarce, so I thought I’d post a few pictures of them, in their final days of fall glory.
They often look scraggly this time of year, shooting off in all directions, but are almost the same height as the deck.
I took these photos on the sheltered side of the house as the colors are more vibrant in the shade.
The bushes at the front are fuller but more blowzy, the wind having knocked many of the petals off.
I have other pinks in the fall – the odd hydrangea, a leftover dinner-plate hibiscus, but they are usually finished by the end of September.
My phlox was especially lovely this year.
This flower in the side yard belongs to my neighbor, but I’m not sure what it is?
The pale pink climbing roses on the front trellis are repeat bloomers too, so I don’t cut them back until they are finished.
A definite sign of fall, this burning bush looks almost pink in the shade.
And that’s it – the last of the pinks until next year!
August has always been the most depressing of months to me. Summer is already half over and the threat of cold weather looms in the distance, heralded by chirping crickets, cooler nights, and heavy morning dew. Those hours of evening lightness are no more – it’s dark at 8 pm, a warning of much worse to come. A bit melodramatic maybe, but hey, it’s Canada, we live for summer here.
It starts with the clouds. You may wake up to a flawless blue sky, but soon those big puffy August clouds come rolling in, spoiling a perfectly nice beach day.
Oh, they’re pretty in a way – it’s best to look at things from Both Sides Now. (Musical interlude – Joni Mitchell wrote this song on an airplane looking down at the clouds, although it was first made famous by Judy Collins. I find the lyrics gloomy, but then it’s become such a strange world, I really don’t know life at all….)
Then you start to see the odd tree branch dipped in paint. There’s a big maple tree on the main street which always starts to turn in early August.
Then there are the back to school ads, a perfect dilemma this pandemic year, although some kids may be looking be looking forward to returning and seeing their friends. Classes don’t resume here until Sept 8 after the Labor Day holiday weekend.
While the stores may beckon with fall clothes, I really can’t justify shopping for anything but essentials when there’s nowhere to wear it, but just being in a store for some hands-off browsing cheered me up immensely.
It hasn’t been the best of summers, with my health issues in May/June (my favorite time of year), the hot humid weather, July’s multiple catch-up appointments and the isolating pandemic solitude. The normal distractions which might bring joy – street festivals, summer theatre, concerts – have all been cancelled.
Plus, August is my birthday month, which is depressing enough, as I’m wondering how I ever got to be that age?
Yes, that age. (BTW, Paul McCartney wrote that song when he was just 16, but it was not recorded until the 1966 Sgt. Pepper’s album, the year his father turned 64. The lyrics reflect his view of old age – gardening, grandchildren, an annual vacation on the Isle of Wight, if it’s not too dear….but even that is out this year.)
I remember my father when he turned 65, saying he wished he was 16 again and looking at him and thinking, you’ve got to be kidding, they’re paying you to stay home! Yes, it’s nice to be retired and collecting the old age pension but it also means you’re old! While I wouldn’t want to be 16 again (too much angst), my stress-filled 30’s are looking pretty good, and someday I may look back and wish to be my current age. I know I should be grateful to be still alive, relatively healthy and COVID-free, when so many are not. (End of whining).
Although it may feel like summer has slipped away without much in the way of enjoyment, there are still a few weeks to relish the rest of the season. Here are a few things to love about this time of year.
A trip to the Farmer’s Market is always fruitful….
Plums, peaches and nectarines.
The glads for sale are a riot of color but the pinks are still my favorite.
It’s melon season.
And tomato season.
And cherry pie season.
And let’s not forget corn on the cob, slathered with butter for those lucky folks who can eat it.
The new ice cream place is doing a booming business, although they don’t have gelato. Does anyone really need all those weird exotic flavors when chocolate reigns supreme?
Note these are mostly food related, but it’s mostly healthy food and food can be enormously cheering! You can walk off the ice cream and cherry pie with a stroll On The Waterfront. (see future blog)
and watch the boats go by.
Having the beach to yourself on an August day can be a reflective type of solitude,
with only the annoying screech of seagulls to interrupt your thoughts.
You can go beach-combing and gather enough shells,
to make a souvenir of summer!
PS. WordPress congratulations me on my third anniversary of blogging (once a week, Wed/Thursdays, 154 posts, 84 new followers give or take a few persistent vitamin sales people). This was posted in the classic editor but I’m wondering why the photo captions are no longer centered? And why I can’t shrink photos? And where is the word count so I don’t ramble on? I couldn’t post video either? It seems like some of the basic functions are gone. Onward and upward to the dreaded block editor, eventually, but for now I’m enjoying these last days of summer.
During a particularly trying time in my life, a summer filled with stress and drama, I bought myself a lemon tree.
They were half price by late July, so I also bought one for my mother. I had read in Oprah magazine that was the thing to do to cheer yourself up, a reminder of the old saying – when life hands you lemons make lemonade. (Oprah was always keen on the visual stuff). Of course, the photo in the magazine showed a smiling model beside a waist-high plant covered with big lovely lemons. Being optimistic, I expected that’s what I would be getting eventually, with some TLC.
I might also have been inspired by one of those posts which circulate from time to time on Facebook, a real estate ad depicting an abandoned Italian castle you could buy for cheap (it might even have been free) if you were willing to spent millions restoring it – an enormous stone monastery-like building which came with it’s own lemon grove. It was the lemon grove which appealed to me – I already owned a building which required extensive renovations.
I’ve never seen a lemon grove, but it must be lovely. I’ve passed orange groves on my way to Disneyland as a child, but never paid much attention. We don’t grow lemons here in Canada, our winters are way too cold to grow any kind of tropical fruit outside of a greenhouse. While my southern readers might be amused at my nativity, I had high expectations of being able to pick my own fruit. I envisioned making lemon cake from scratch using my own homegrown lemons.
My plant did smell heavenly – I placed it outside in a sunny spot, and made sure it got watered and fed regularly, and it rewarded me with fragrant flowers right on schedule. By fall when the nights started to get cooler, I brought it into the garage, and went they got downright chilly, it was brought into the house and placed in a sunny spot by the big front window. With such a prime view it should have been happy. By then it was covered with small green dots, which grew to the size of big green olives which then shriveled and dropped off one by one. My mothers did the same, so I know, it wasn’t anything personal, it just wasn’t able to adapt to the change in conditions. (It’s not like I expected a bumper crop or anything, but could not one or two of them have reached lemon-hood?)
Ah well, the best laid plans sometimes go awry, but I could just as easily buy shriveled-up lemons from the grocery store in the dead of winter if I needed to. If you’re looking for a moral/life lesson instead of food, this has definitely been the year for way laid plans and being adaptable to change, but if you are looking for recipes, I don’t have any to share this week because although I’ve tried multiple lemon recipes, with mixed results, nothing was worth bragging about.
Just-okay blueberry lemon loaf
I could never seem to get the right proportion of lemony flavor no matter how much zest I used, so I don’t bother experimenting anymore as I found an excellent Lemon-Curd Cake at the grocery store which can’t be beat. (sometimes the easy way out is the best….)
It has lemon curd in the middle so it’s in the frozen dessert section, which is a bonus as it keeps well and you can just slice off as much as you want, for company or not. Sometimes I add more lemon curd on top for an extra dollop of lemony goodness.
However, while lazing on the swing recently, reading the June issue of Victoria magazine,
Such a pretty cover….
I noticed a culinary feature on lemon and lavender,
And the lemon and lavender scones looked very tempting. Plus I just bought some creamed honey at the Farmer’s Market. They also sold a lemon-flavored creamed honey which I may get on my next trip.
Lemon and lavender scones drizzled with creamed honey
And then there was this lemon tart – although decorating it with dried roses and sprigs of lavender does seem a bit over the top, my August garden yields plenty of both.
Lemon tart decorated with lavender sprigs and dried roses….
So many lemony-good recipes, so much time to experiment this summer, so yes, my own lemon grove would definitely come in handy. Best to pick up a couple of lottery tickets when I go to the store to get some lemons….
PS. My apologies for the somewhat deceiving title, see the Victoria magazine website for a recipe for lavender-lemonade. (link)
It’s been a bountiful year for lavender. I don’t remember ever seeing so many buds on my plants before – the bees are certainly rejoicing!
Lavender is an easy-care perennial, sun loving but can tolerate some shade, does well in drought and poor soil – exactly my kind of plant. I have about twelve bushes but admit the ones in the shady back yard,
are not as lush as the ones in the sunny facing front.
I’ve grown lavender for years as the fragrant smell has always appealed to me. It’s inexpensive at $5 a pot, and once established, it’s beauty can last for years. I usually plant English lavender as it is the more cold-hardy species. My few attempts at growing French lavender were not successful as it did not survive overwintering here in our Canadian climate. I also prefer the sweeter English lavender smell, whereas the French has a sharper Rosemary-like scent. French lavender has a longer bloom time and a darker purple flower. Someone brought me back some from Provence once and while it was nothing at all like mine, it would still be lovely to see someday.
(Colors of France photo)
These photos from my garden show the progression of color with the season, from the palest shade early on,
gradually darkening to a more vibrant purple.
In certain lights it can take on a blue tone,
but the softer light of early evening really makes the purple color pop.
Usually by the end of July, the buds are dried out but there are always a few spears still growing in September. Cutting them back is supposed to encourage a second flowering – I’ve never tried this but might this year as it is so abundant. While some people like to harvest early for best fragrance and dry their lavender bundles upside down, I prefer to enjoy the beauty of the plant and and strip the dried buds off later.
If you don’t have a garden, a pot of lavender is a nice alternative.
Lavender has long been known for it’s calming fragrance. Add a few drops of lavender oil to the bath water after a stressful day for instant relaxation.
Lavender Pillow Spray
For sleep-inducing properties, use a lavender spray or tuck a lavender sachet under your pillow. I often give sachets away as presents and one year my cute little 5 yr old neighbor insisted on taking one home for her shift-worker dad. Lavender can also be used in cooking, adding a subtle fragrance to baked goods like cakes and cookies. While I’ve never baked with it, I used to drink a brand of lavender flavored Earl Gray tea before I gave up caffeine.
One year I tried to make my own lavender oil, with disastrous results. There were two methods suggested – the first extracting the oil with oil required steeping the leaves and flowers in a crock of olive oil and repeatedly pressing, straining and adding more buds every 24-48 hrs, repeating the process 6 to 8 times. The second method, solvent distillation, which involved extracting the oil with alcohol to make a tincture, sounded much easier. They recommended ethyl alcohol, but if you couldn’t find it, vodka was acceptable (but not rubbing alcohol). For a non-drinker like me this required a trip to the liquor store where I was surprised to find even the smallest bottle of vodka cost $20. The lavender buds were soaked in the alcohol in a jar, in a process called maceration, meaning steep or rest, an old pharmaceutical term I remember from my school days, as in the extraction of a drug by allowing it to stand in contact with a solvent. The jar was placed in a dark cupboard, with instructions to agitate it once a day. I missed a week while I was away unexpectedly, but it just looked darker and murkier. After several weeks (2-6 wks), you drained the liquid off by straining it through a cheesecloth filter and froze it in a suitable container. The lavender oil was supposed to congeal on top of the alcohol, which does not freeze, and could then be scraped off and placed in a glass bottle. I ended up with about 3 ml (half a teaspoon), of a strong lavender-like but somewhat foul smelling brown liquid, not enough to fill even half my dropper bottle, which eventually got thrown out during one of my cleaning binges. My advice – drink the vodka instead and just buy a good quality essential oil. Some products have fake lavender scents, but I’ve found this to be one of the better brands, and at $12 it’s reasonably priced.
Storing a lavender spray in the fridge to spritz on a hot summer day is a refreshing trick.
The calming scent of lavender soap can help you pause and relax while performing that all important frequent hand-washing activity.
It’s nice to scent your drawers with a lavender sachet. Wedding favor bags from the party store are great for this purpose.
I admit the lavender bushes aren’t quite as pretty when the season is over and they’re brown and dried out, but the smell is still lovely, especially after a summer rain.
My lavender is almost ready harvest. With such a bumper crop this year I may have to hire help!
Visiting a lavender farm has long been on my bucket list, preferably one in Provence but even here would do. For those who dream of living such an idyllic life, a memoir of the reality by a New York city writer who moved to Texas with her National Geographic photographer husband to start a lavender farm. I read this when it was first published in 2008 when I was interested in making scented products. As I recall, they lasted about ten years, including time to get the plants established, before they gave up and moved to Mexico. (Rating 3/5 stars.)
Song of the Day: (and Source of Blog Title) Lavender’s Blue
This song is stuck in my brain after watching a Disney movie last week (2015 Kenneth Branagh version). I always liked Lily James as Rose in Downton Abbey and she did a credible job as Cinderella. Okay, I wasn’t really watching it, but it was on TV while I was editing photos. An old English nursery rhyme/folk song from the 17th century, it seems faintly familiar.
And last but not least, one of my mother’s paintings: