Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Alpine Strawberries Take Off: A View of an Old Lasagna Garden

About three years ago, this section on the south side of our house, north side of the fence, was grass. We stripped the grass because it was mostly weeds and lasagna gardened it with newspaper, compost and grass clippings. Unfortunately, we didn't have a 'planting' plan beyond that. It's been a slow process of trying to decide what I wanted in the section, this year, it's finally filling in. 
These day lilies were transplants from a friend that I planted last August. I suspect they will give the strawberries a run for their money. In the foreground, are the alpine strawberries that I planted from seed last year. This carpet of strawberries started with about four seedlings last July! (See more on alpine strawberries in this post.)

The strawberries take over the paving stones and concrete sidewalk!

Some mint that I planted from seed in a pot last year... well it kinda got away! It is now quite nicely filling a metre long section of the garden. The great thing about 'wild' mint is that it is an easy, lovely smelling plant to pull out- useful too, though I must admit that my mojito and mint tea consumption is not keeping up!

There's a 10 foot section of black raspberries, red raspberries and interspersed rhubarb at the end of this section. These two varieties of raspberries are not supposed to be planted together since a disease that the red raspberry carries, but is not harmed by, can do major damage to the black raspberries. Unfortunately, I am running out of space, and don't have anything in the yard that would be that much farther from the other red raspberry patches in the yard... So I take a risk. So far, they've been safe. These black raspberries have canes more like a blackberry in that they are looooong! But they don't sucker and so are quite a contained plant when I tie the canes to the wires fashioned by Mat. The black raspberry variety has a really different flavour and is nice compliment to a mouthful of red.

The red raspberries have been somewhat contained by, what I can only imagine, is a hatred for  potatoes. A few years ago I planted potatoes in this section, just to see how they grew in part shade. Every since, the raspberries have not seemed interested in sprouting in the past potato muck. It was only later that I read in "Carrots Love Tomatoes" that these two plants are NOT companion plants... I know nothing more about it. If you do, please comment!

The beginnings of a high bush cranberry hedge. In five years, I may be annoyed that I planted a hedge (along where the day lilies are planted now) in this narrow section of the garden. It may give our pruning shears a run for their money. But, right now, I want the fruit, the view of the beautiful colour and shape of these leaves from my dining room, and a little privacy from our south side neighbour's deck into our kitchen. I really love these leaves... and how great they look against the delicate strawberry runners.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Covering the Pergola- Transplanting Hops

I love vertical gardens. I like vines, rambling rose bushes, and pillars of flowers. Unfortunately in Alberta there aren't many vines you can depend on to cover a yaght-sized pergola. We have some incredible climbing roses (which I'll feature in a couple weeks when they really get their bloom on!) on two of the pergola's posts, but I can't depend on these to provide shade. The last three years I've experimented with kiwi (too shady) and clematis (aesthetically too like Medusa's hair). Neither successfully grew to cover the top for mid-day shade in the heat of summer.

This year I have, against Mat's better judgement, transplanted hops. Its probably the one plant that Mat remembers from his mom's beautiful, lush, colour filled garden. Even in the zone 2, windy Crowsnest Pass, hops grew to cover a trellis at the entry of their home.  Mat doesn't remember its resiliency or shade or beauty, he remembers it clawing at him as he attempted to enter his home after school. He remembers it scraping up his arms and face as he fought it off the trellis every fall. 

Not the best picture- but the only one I can access from my laptop!
So the plant has some pretty spiny fruit and has the added annoyance of needing to be cut down every fall. It's a damn good climber and pergola cover. Rumours swirl that, in the heat of summer, you can sit back and literally watch it grow, growing two feet in a single day in optimal conditions. Plus, it's the beginnings of really good beer. I also had the additional incentive that my friend had dozens of new seedlings growing as weeds in her back yard. 

The information I read about planting hops was fussy; I ended up being not. I used a spade and hacked at the seedlings, then dropped each one with some knots of roots into a bucket. I then proceeded to forget them in the sun for most of the day. That evening, I hastily dug holes about the yard and planted the roots with some compost and water. Two weeks later, there are signs of life at 4 of the 6 planting sites: two along the pergola, three against the fence, and one in the alley. In fact, one root's already grown two feet of new life. Looking on it in delight, I again reassured Mat that I will "help to" take it down. And in the end, if his memory is right, I'm committed to ripping the darlings out (easier said than done?!)

PS. I will also add, that I love Virginia Creeper. It too would grow like a child on steroids with the added benefit of not needing to be cut down in the fall- and hence having much less 'vertical ground' to cover to reach the top netting every season. I may try this next year if my hops fails to work. My main hesitation is the baffling leaf hoppers: little, literally 'hopping' white insects that lay their eggs on the bottom of the leaf which turn the whole plant prematurely red. My main beef with them is not the early onset of autumn, it is their mob-like quality at your faintest move. You flourish an arm and they all get hopping at once. It's unnerving! On my other creeper, I have found no organic solution. If you have an antidote- please let me know as this plant would be an ideal friend to our pergola... and may save me some big marital tension in the fall. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Reclaiming the Alley from the Weeds: A Lazy Lasagna Garden

In our community there are fairly low expectations as to the state of the alleys. There are attempts by folks to monitor the garbage and weeds, some even call bylaw on major offenders. I must admit that sometimes I'm a major offender. Weeds out there are out of sight and out of mind. Our eco-station garbage has been known to stay 'hidden' "out-back" over months of procrastinating a jaunt to the eco-station. 

I decided the only way to start caring was to do some intentional planting. In the past, I've had poppies and borage growing wild.  And while it's pretty in July when everything flowers, I can't say it generated more enthusiasm for me to weed or de-clutter. 

So last weekend I cleared a small, quack-grass haunted patch by the garbage hutch and did a lasagna garden (for more details on this method check out this post). Be warned, its a lazy one where I decided not to bother with layering each item more than once! 

The square that may finally get me weeding in the alley.
For vertical interest, I'm banking on wild Hops. I transplanted these roots last year and thankfully the vine rises again.

The "Stick" of a bare root hazelnut tree (which I wrote about receiving here). Two weeks after this picture was taken, it is leafing out.

A Calgary Creeping Juniper, I am hoping that this great ground cover will soon choke out (some of) the weeds,  that it will spill out over the box and onto the grass towards the road.  At only a foot high, it can spread 6- 8 feet and has a great blue-green foliage.
I planted the perennials first then laid out thick sections of The Edmonton Journal. This will act to keep the weeds down for at least a couple summers. By then, hopefully, the other plants have established themselves enough to fight the weeds back.

I then soaked the paper thoroughly with water.
I then covered the paper with a couple different composts (sheep and cow), and over that laid a thick layer of grass clippings (not pictured!). Along the border of the bed I transplanted marigolds that self seeded in my square foot gardens. Around the base of the tree, I transplanted golden flax started in April in my garden boxes.

It doesn't look like much now- but I'll be sure to post a picture at the end of season; I promise not to weed it simply for the sake of the picture! I'm committed to a little alleyway aesthetic, just forgive me my eco-station procrastination!