Garden lore... and more

I’ve been getting lots of questions and comments about gardens this June, prompted by the wet, cool weather we’ve been “enjoying.” Here are some problems and organic solutions that readers and nursery representatives have recommended.

Iris rhizomes

An overgrown patch of iris in my front perennial bed is showing great signs of stress: leaves are blotched and streaked with yellow and brown. I took a sample leaf to Pink’s nursery in Aylmer.

Joanne Harris was very helpful and emphasizes organic controls. She asked me about the iris bed: is the bed in sandy or clay soil, in sun or shade, she asked. The bed is in sandy soil that we’ve been mulching and composting for 9 years, so the soil is friable but very much on the sandy side. And the bed gets full sun for most of the day, save in late afternoon. The next question was whether or not I had thinned the iris... and the answer to that is no. The bed is crowded.

Joanne thinks that my iris are suffering from a fungal infection exacerbated by crowding, though she was surprised that the bed has sandy soil and gets full sun. “The rainfall and cold temperatures have created havoc in everyone’s gardens,” she commented. “Your iris should be fine if they have sand and sun, so the crowding is probably trapping moisture between the rhizomes.”

The remedy? She suggests that I lift all the iris out of the bed. Then, using a sharp, clean, and disinfected knife, she says I should cut off all soft parts of the rhizomes that she’s convinced I will find. “Cut right down to the solid, healthy part of the root,” she said, “and don’t let the exposed cut dry out. Replant them into the same bed immediately.” I’ll let you know if this solution works.

Meanwhile, Joanne also welcomes your questions. Call her at Pink's, 202 Chemin Eardley, Aylmer, Tel: 684-3312, fax 684-0191.


Remember I was concerned about aphids attacking my honeysuckle and mock orange blossom? Well, because of the rain, I expected to have a troublesome year with these sticky pests -- and Joanne at Pink’s nursery confirmed that aphids are particularly prolific this year.

So, all I can say is: “go figure,” because this year (unlike the past several) neither of these plants have aphids. Instead, both are covered with blossoms.

But why? Joanne agreed with my guess: I figure that because of the lack of snow cover and depth of frost (up to a metre) that the overwintering aphid eggs just might have been killed.

However, when my plea went out for help with aphids two weeks ago, Gillian Young came to the rescue. She faxed me a recipe for “Aphid Brew.” This recipe is toxic to humans, because it is made from rhubarb leaves, so please be careful with this recipe.

Note: Gillian was concerned about my publishing the recipe, because of its toxicity. But I think that it’s a good recipe to know about and, if any of you are in need of “aphid help,” you will simply need to ensure that this rhubarb brew is clearly labeled poisonous and keep it away from kids.

Aphid Brew (from Marjorie Harris’s book, Favourite Gardening Tips)

3 lbs. rhubarb leaves, 4 quarts water, 1 oz. laundry soap flakes. Chop leaves & add to water. Simmer for 30 minutes. Cool & strain. Dissolve soap in mixture. Spray on plants. Caution: Rhubarb leaves are poisonous to humans but anathema to aphids.

Gillian also recommends planting nasturtiums next to susceptible plants. “They love the colour yellow and so do ladybugs,” she writes. Thanks, Gill!

Cutworm collars

Pontiac cottager Doug Brandy has been e-mailing me regularly for years, and in June he’s had a running experiment with collars he has fashioned out of birch bark, which he has wrapped around seedling bean plants.

On June 4th he wrote: “This is the second year for our [cottage] vegetable garden. Last summer we had a lot of trouble with grasshoppers eating seedlings, especially beans and carrots. This year we see they're at it again so this past weekend we put down floating row cover from Lee Valley. Cutworms killed a number of recently germinated cucumbers. We use large juice tins, with both ends removed, pushed into the soil around tomato transplants to protect them from cutworms but we had nothing small enough for cucumbers until Lindy thought of birch bark. Most of our cucumbers and squash are now enclosed by bark cylinders. So far both barrier methods of pest control seem to be working but I'll update you in a week or two.”

By June 11, he reported, “So far, the bark collars have done the job. I would not advise stripping bark from live trees but we had a good quantity of white birch firewood. The outer bark is too flimsy and the inner bark too rigid. From some pieces of wood we got middle layers of bark that were just right and also tended to form a circle on their own. Our floating row cover is keeping the grasshoppers away from young plants. Beans left uncovered, however, have disappeared.”

And, on June 25 he wrote to confirm that all’s well.


Please, if you have information to share, do telephone (458-2090), fax (458-2493), or e-mail: Be sure to tell me if you do NOT want your name published. I know some of you don’t, and that’s just fine.


History books: Two history books of Pontiac have just been published by local residents. Mo Laidlaw has published her book entitled “Heritage Highway - the scenic route to the Pontiac” Co-researcher and well-known local historian Armand Ducharme helped take the photos, and the result is a most useful listing of the homes you encounter along Highway 148 and several backroads. Purchase it by contacting the author, for $25 (including GST) from: EU Editions, 1582 Highway 148, Breckenridge, Pontiac, QC J0X 2G0 A black and white copy costs $10 (inc. GST).

Mo has just published some of the book on her website, so check it out at

Secondly, I’m sure you know that this year is Quyon’s 125th anniversary, and that from July 3-9th there are a host of celebrations as part of “Quyon’s Homecoming Week.” To coincide with the activities, and to provide a heritage souvenir for everyone who’s returning to Quyon to visit for the week, Ellen Bronson, Vera Meredith and Robert Bronson have compiled “Souvenir of the Millennium.” At $7.00 this little booklet is a great buy, describing the history not only of the village (founded by lumberman John Egan) but also of area landmarks like the Co-op Creamery, Mountainview Turf Agronomics and farm, and the grist mill on the Quyon River (now M&R Feeds).

I’ll write more on these next week. Meanwhile, get yourself a copy of this Souvenir of the Millennium when you purchase your “Passport to Savings” booklet of tickets for Quyon Homecoming Week. For information, contact Ginger McKenny at 458-2937.

Preserve and celebrate our heritage: it’s a precious, irreplacable part of our Pontiac environment.


Katharine Fletcher is a Quyon-based writer who enjoys Pontiac’s human and natural history.