Garden lore

The continued low temperatures coupled with overcast skies and frequent rain has made gardening particularly rewarding this year.

Blooms (such as the wild plum and domestic lilac) are lasting a long time. In fact, depending upon where you live in the Pontiac, your lilacs might still be blossoming.

While enjoying the Pontiac Artists’ Studio Tour last weekend, we visited Janis Schock-Pulley’s studio near Otter Lake (well worth the trip). We took a detour and visited Belle Terre Gardens. Started 29 years ago, the gardens are tucked away “in the back of beyond” in the bush. It was here that we saw well-established lilacs, planted on a hillside behind the greenhouses. We were astonished to see them blossoming: in fact, some were still in bud. Their fragrance filled the air, causing us to reflect on the different gardening zones that we experience here in the Pontiac region.

Whatever your zone, judicious placement of gardening beds (whether they be perennial, annual or vegetable) with respect to shelter from wind, sun or shade can help extend seasons. In fact, you can create your own micro-climate to grow more delicate plants.

We have just experimented with a wisteria, for example. Eric dug a new bed above our compost, with a cedar trellis at the rear. This woody climbing vine ought to produce cascading clusters of purple blossoms, though I’ve been told by gardening specialists at Nesbitt’s that I’ll be fortunate to get any flowers at all because I’m pushing the limits of the zone. We’ll see what happens with it.

We chose a south-east exposure for the wisteria, so as to capture as much sunlight as possible. The deep, well-dug bed is a nourishing mix of compost and topsoil dumped by trucks in our back field, when the Steele Line ditching was done a few years ago.

This new bed will also be home for another experiment: a bougainvillea, another vine Eric’s mother gave us when she left her Kinburn home for Victoria. Originally from a nursery in Ste. Anne de Bellevue just west of Montreal, this vine is indigenous to the south-west states, Mexico and Central America.

Which means we’ll have to dig it up and bring it back inside the house before a hint of frost. We’ll have to do this with the several hibiscus we are experimenting with, outside, too.

We’re willing to try it, and if the bougainvillea blossoms this year (as it always has done in Kinburn) it’s brilliant magenta-mauve colour will be striking.

At the southwest corner of the new bed is a trumpet vine, a clipping from a vigorously growing honeysuckle at the front of our home on another cedar trellis. That vine has a full southerly exposure. We find that it is susceptible to aphids, and every year we spray it with Safer’s soap. Perhaps we’re not thorough enough, because during the past few years there have been serious infestations such that the blooms can be stunted.

Another flowering shrub that shares this aphid problem is a mock orange from a friend near Greermount. We planted it in a sheltered location to the west of our house, tucked beside our sprawling mass of lilac bushes. The lilacs are crowding the mock-orange, which rather desperately needs to be rescued, if not moved. The aphids appear to enjoy this plant’s tender buds, too, and this year we hope to get the better of them.

If any of you have a good solution for aphids, let me know and I’ll share it with everyone in a forthcoming column. Natural solutions are what I am interested in.

I cannot leave this topic without talking about lawns and chemicals.

The Walkerton, Ontario tragedy has made everyone extremely aware about pesticides and herbicides, as well as e-coli. And The Ottawa Citizen reported last Sunday that many urban neighbourhoods are having “turf wars” such that people are planting signs in their lawns, declaring them chemical-free, else sporting a sign with a bar through the silhouette of a person, indicating that they have been used.

Use of lawn chemicals -- or not -- directly affects our water supplies. Why use chemicals on our patch of lawn? Of course the answer is that we like to see  green expanse of beautiful, attractive-seeming grass. But, is it worth the risk not only to our health, but also to the health of other creatures?

Here at our farm, we have vast swathes of lawn. It is not a carpet of green. It boasts brilliant dots of gold… those would be the dandelions. As well, purple flowers course through it… that’s heal-all. And, dotted hither and thither are outbursts of magenta… volunteers of dianthus that have self-seeded from the front perennial garden. A fringe of burnt orange later on in the season announces the presence of the orange hawkweed.

Now, this hodge-podge of plants, otherwise known as a “lawn” is not everyone’s cup of tea.

But, when I see the brilliant yellow-and-black American goldfinches perch on dandelion seedpods, munching on seeds, and see the pair of brown thrashers wandering through the lawn, digging for grubs, I feel at ease.

I know I’m not poisoning them.

And this gives me pleasure.

What about you? What can we do to decrease our use of chemicals?


Note: results from Micro-B lab on the mineral content of our water are not yet back. I ought to be able to inform you about this in next week’s column.


Birders. Don’t forget that Tony Beck is offering his Leslie Lake birdwatching tour on Saturday, June 17 at 7:00 a.m. Meet this well-known local birder who will introduce you to warblers, waterfowl and the nearby heronry.

Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer living near Quyon. Contact her at