Ponds


A few years back, we lost almost every fish we had in our pond. Whether it was a muskrat or a Heron, we're not sure. We did a lot of research to find some way to protect our fish and it wasn't until we made a visit to a local nursery that we were presented with a very simple solution. A few pieces of plastic weeping tile down at the bottom of the pond provides your fish with a place to hide when danger lurks.

Haven't lost any fish since or at least we haven't lost any in the numbers that we did at the time.

That leads to thoughts of over-wintering your fish outdoors. Here in the Kitchener area, if you plan to over-winter fish outdoors, your pond should be 3 feet deep. Early in our pond experience, in October or November, we would catch all of our fish and bring them into the house where we kept them in several large tanks. Then we would remove most of the water, clean the pond and then refill it. So much work!!!!

Now, I'm thankful that we had the smarts to dig the pond deep enough to keep the fish through the winter without having to bring them indoors. The only other thing you have to do to protect the fish through the winter is to ensure that there is an opening in the ice which allows the methane to escape. We use an agricultural heater that is used by farmers to keep water troughs open for their livestock.
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Pruning clematis


So much for New Year's resolutions ...

The other day, I was cleaning up the garden and the day's project was to prune several Clematis. If you have some of your own, you know that there are three Groups (A - those flowering in early Spring on the previous season's growth, B - those flowering on previous season's growth and then again later in the season on current year's growth, and C - those that produce flowers on current year's growth each year). Some authors even refer to a fourth Group. In any case, each Group is supposed to be pruned differently.

I have found though that if you forget what Group your Clematis belongs to, the plant itself will show you where to prune. I have a C. terniflora that in mid-May begins to produce leaves as high as 6 feet above ground level. That's where I prune. Two others, C. texensis 'Dutchess of Albany' and C. x durandii, usually are leafing out at between 2 and 3 feet above ground level. That's where I prune.

Yes I know, all three Clematis belong to Group C and 30 inches is about where they should be pruned but I prune the terniflora much higher. If you are not sure whether you have a Group B or C Clematis, you will be OK if you prune 30 inches or higher.

Group A can be problematic though as it should be pruned after flowering in the Spring but no later than July as you want it to have enough new growth before Winter to flower again in the Spring. That may be where I went wrong with my C. macropetala and why I no longer have it.
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Winter Projects

I’m often asked what I do in the Winter now that the ground is frozen and can’t get digging in the soil. While there is lots of thinking, planning and reading going on, there is much, much, more.

In addition to the administrative activities of the Horticultural Society and the Master Gardeners, we are in the midst of planning our Seedy Saturday and a Design Seminar and all that goes with these events. The Horticultural Society is planning to host the Ontario Horticultural Association District 19’s Annual General Meeting in Kitchener for April.

On a personal note, I am involved with the Kitchener Horticultural Association and the Kitchener Master Gardeners. At a minimum, there is one meeting a week for each group. For the Horticultural Society I prepare the bi-monthly Newsletter “Growing Thoughts” that takes a minimum of two days every other month. In total, I give each organisation about 250 volunteer hours a year. Included in these totals is about 4.5 hours weekly of Horticultural Therapy programs at Freeport Hospital and Winston Park Nursing and Retirement Home in Kitchener. While I count only 4.5 hours for each of these activities, they take up a half day of my time for each location.

In addition, I have the equivalent of 24 trays of plants under lights in my basement either for the 3 Horticultural Therapy programs or for my summer containers. There are more plants being overwintered in the garage that need watering from time to time and bulbs, tubers and corms in the cold cellar that need checking. Enough already you say, not quite I say. There are still our house plants about 12 orchids (5 varieties) and a number of other houseplants that include 2 thirty five year old Jade plants.

So that’s how I practise my hobby in the winter time.
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New Year's resolution

Have you made any? I wasn’t going to but then again, one of the things I have been beating myself up about is the blog. The writing has been sporadic yet I know that there are some of you that have been following the blog. So here goes. I am going to write a minimum of once a week for the rest of the year. You’ll notice I didn’t say try. My wife says that the word ‘try’ is a cop out. You are either going to do it or not – ‘try’ is the cop out.
The next entry will be the one for the first week of the year. If there is a second this week, consider it a bonus.
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What's in Bloom?


At this time of the year, we are frequently asked "what's in bloom". I think the question really means "What makes your garden interesting at this time of year?"

While there are still some flowers in bloom, they may not be their most attractive at this time. I still have asters, Japanese anemones, bugbane and sedum in flower and if you look closely you can see Johnny-jump-ups sticking their heads up. Behind a pine, there are even some phlox in bloom. Oddly enough, a summer clematis that I had cut back because I thought it had died has now produced some blooms. The obedient plants have the occasional bloom as does the rose mallow and the lamium but most other perennials have stopped blooming.

However, if you've done things well, there are many other plants that have attractive features that provide interest at this time of year. Many of the containers still have annuals with blooms and interesting foliage. One container has a dahlia in full bloom with a purple flowering plectranthus (why the common name is Swedish Ivy I'll never understand) and the light green sweet potato vine. Other containers have some gorgeous foliage annual geraniums that are still in bloom. The leaves of the Summersweet (clethra) are a pretty yellow colour and those of the white edged euonymus are always attractive.

Seed heads on the Clematis texensis are always interesting as are the various evergreens shrubs that have been placed around the yard. This is the time of year when you really appreciate having taken some time to plan the garden for more than just the summer.
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Cichorium intybus (Chicory)

The wild Cichory has many names according to Publication 505 Ontario's Weeds published by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. It has been called Blue daisy, Blue sailors, Coffee-weed, Common chicory, Italian dandelion, Magdeburg, Radichetta, Wild succory and Witloof among others. While I have always liked the flower, I haven't added it to the garden because of the weedy plant that supports it. A colleague suggested though that since there aren't any blue Lilies that we are aware of, I might try cross pollinating a white Lilly with the pollen from the Chicory. Haven't tried it yet.

When the flower started to bloom this summer I was again captivated by the pretty blue colour of the flower. So I decided to look it up.

Did you know that there are varieties of the plant that are widely cultivated in Continental Europe. While used in great part as a coffee substitute or additive and in naturopathic medicinal preparations, the leaves of some varieties are used as greens for salads. The leaves have to be blanched first under inverted flower pots or boxes as is done with endive. Blanching removes the bitterness.

For coffee substitutes or additives, the roots of many are dug up, washed, ground or chopped up, spread on cookie sheets and roasted in a warm oven until coffee brown and we are told that wild Chicory can be processed in the same way. From descriptions of the brew that I have read about in war year publications, I'm not sure that I want to give the brew a shot, but the greens sound interesting. Blanching the leaves though is key.
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Oenothera berlandieri 'Siskiyou' - mistake


I became interested in the yellow Evening Primrose (Oenothera missouriensis), the large yellow one that is often used in rock gardens or at the front of borders. And anyone that knows me knows that when a plant catches my fancy, I look at others in the same family that might look nice in the garden too. Sure enough, there was another that looked interesting - the Mexican Evening Primose (O berlandieri 'Siskiyou').

The description said a whole bunch of things that sounded quite promising - "extremely floriferous - beautiful light rose shade - good potential as a landscaping plant with a long season of bloom - Plants form a low mat". Sound interesting? I thought so. The description said a few other things that I sort of glossed over. There was the adjective "vigorous" and "because of its wandering habit, this should probably be restrained or edged regularly." I can handle that, I said,so I purchased 3 plants and planted them in full sun. In the first year, they filled in the area that I wanted them to fill in. The next year, they continued to expand and I tried to haul them in. It was a lot of work but the effort was worth it. But they continued to expand exponentially. No matter how hard I tried, they just took off.

So I decided to dig them out. It took 5 years before I managed to get the last of the roots out. Since then, I pay much more attention to words like "vigorous" and "wandering habit".
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Garden maintenance

As I work in the garden at this time of year, I'm reminded of all of the things that I need to do in the near future and all of the things that I should have done.

The "need to do" include such things as collecting seeds for Seedy Saturday or to ensure that I don't have to remove a million seedlings in the Spring that I don't really need. It also includes cleaning up around the Irises and making sure that only healthy rhizomes remain. And there are many other "need to do's" that we will talk about in future postings.

The "should have done's" include paying much more attention to descriptions of plants prior to acquiring and planting them. This category could also have been called the "mistakes". A fellow Master Gardener has produced an entire PowerPoint presentation around this category. I'll mention some of the mistakes that I have made over the years and what I have done to either manage the problem or to clean up the garden. "Should have done's" include the care that should have been given to the placement of some plants such as those that are subject to mildew or other controllable infections.
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Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)


My source tells me that this shrub is "native to the eastern seabord" and its "natural habitat is moist woods". We've had the Clethra in a container for at least the last 6 or 7 years and it does very well. I dutifully drag the container after a frost into the garage for the winter where I water it lightly about once a month. I say drag because that is literally what I do. I slide it onto an old plastic toboggan that we have and drag it into the garage. The container is far too heavy to do anything else with it.

The Summersweet is in bloom as I write this and when we go out first thing in the morning, the fragrance fills the air. Some people find the fragrance a little overpowering but not I. I've found it easy to care for. It gets full sun from about noon till sundown and has been in the same container since we purchased it. It is about 5 feet high now with a spread of about 4 feet. The source suggests that it can be subject to mites especially in dry soils but we have yet to experience it.

There are several different varieties of Clethra to consider and from our experience it is well worth it.
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Whistling Gardens Ltd

Every Summer, the Kitchener Master Gardeners go on a 'bus' trip. I say 'bus' trip because the last few years we have been car-pooling. This year we went to the Paris area and one of the places that we stopped at was Whistling Gardens. What an incredible experience. If you haven't been there yet, it is well worth the visit.

Located near Wilsonville, ON the Gardens are open in the Summer, Thursday through Sunday, 9:00 to 5:00, and Wednesdays for tours and construction only. The brochure that I have recommends that you call ahead. They have a website at whistlinggardens.ca and an email contact at info@whistlinggardens.ca. Various parts of the property are under construction at the moment as the proprietor is building an amphitheater, a large gazebo a wedding area and a number of gardens.

We toured a tree garden where they have many rare and unusual trees. They specialise in conifers and feature quite a variety of dwarf trees. The brochure indicates that they have over 1000 varieties of conifers and claim to have the widest selection in Canada and a full line of deciduous trees including several hard to find Carolinean species. They have a Butternut tree in the collection and are sending seeds(I think he said) to the University of Guelph for propagation.

We were very impressed with Whistling Gardens and the knowledge of the proprietor and most of us left with at least one purchase. They sell to John's Nursery locally as well as to many other nurseries.
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