Here are two things I know for sure: there are no perfect gardening years and no two years are the same.
This is a roundup of my own gardening hits, strikes, and misses from this year. Some things far exceeded my expectations (hits), others (like a lightning strike!) and the world’s slowest tomato harvest (misses), had me wondering if there will ever be a “normal” gardening year again.
Here we go.
Back To The Beginning
I always like to refer back to this image. This was my garden in the spring of 2011. As I’ve written about previously, I was overwhelmed by the choices a blank slate provides, and, not knowing where to begin, I finally just started digging and planting.
I was new to the gardening zone (upgrading from 5 to 6), I was new to the soil (pure sand instead of hard clay), and I was overwhelmed by so much bare space going from approximately 1/14 acre to 1/2 acre of workable space (city to country, essentially).
My decision to basically just start planting things and see how they do has been a good, fast way to figure things out, but, as you’ll see, it has also left me with a bit of unexpected work to do. But that’s getting ahead of the story. First, let’s see what spring brought this year.
Signs It’s Time To Plant
Apple blossoms! I have been growing apple trees for several years but there have never been such perfect blossoms as we had this year. The beauty! The fragrance! Delightful. And, as you’ll see, it was a stellar year for the fruit as well. Unlike last year where a late frost killed so many crops across our area, this year was apple-perfect.
There are two natural signals I use for knowing when it’s time to plant the cold-loving veggies in spring (peas and salad greens are two favourites):
- Daffodils in bloom
- Mottled goldfinches (the picture above shows the transition of feather colours)
Unless there’s some freakishly early warm spell, the daffodils don’t open until the ground is warm enough for peas and salad greens to sprout nicely.
Also around this time the goldfinches lose their dull winter colours and the bright yellow feathers start to dominate, dressing them up in time to attract new mates for the spring.
It is impossible not to feel deliriously in love with this time of year. All of the critters emerge from their secret winter sleeping spots. Masses of bird migrations pass through our garden, from huge flocks of Blue jays to uncountable numbers of hummingbirds. And the old snow and dull skies are replaced by light and greenery.
In my garden it was a fabulous year for bees of all sorts though I am aware of many beekeepers and gardeners reporting serious declines. If anything, I noticed higher numbers including a few enthusiastic ones out and about on warmer January days!
As you probably know, the monarch population was really low this year: I saw perhaps a dozen all summer where I would normally see hundreds or more. Lets hope both declines are a mere blip and not a trend.
Veggie Garden Offerings
I know I say this so often you want to cover your ears and run, but while I do grow vegetables all year round, there is nothing comparable to the taste of salad greens and fresh peas in the cold spring months. That’s why I’m always watching for the right time to plant. If I could only plant food crops once a year, this would be my first choice. Simply delicious.
I grow a whole bunch of other veggies (and perennials from seed) and everything did okay this year except the tomatoes. It wasn’t that they didn’t thrive, it’s just that they were so incredibly slow to ripen. The same was true for their cousins the peppers, though that’s not quite as tragic in the gastronomic sphere. We just didn’t have much hot weather after a brief heat wave in July and this delayed everything. More on this in a moment.
May Brings Lush Green
I have been know to declare whatever the current season is to be my secret favourite, but looking at these photos of the green-green May garden and early spring blooms, I think May just might be The One. For all my love of flowers, the simplicity of so many greens plus occasional pops of colourful blooms really pleases me most. Love it.
Early Attention Grabbers
Starved for colour after the long winter, is there anything more breathtaking than a brilliant red poppy? I mean, come on! And the indulgent colours of the irises, popping out and demanding attention amid so much greenery?
The alliums scream like giant puffballs, calling all sleeping bees to wake up and come gather nectar. The red clematis is like a loyal friend who, unlike the other fickle flowering plants, delivers the same brilliance every single year. There’s an understatedness there that really appeals to me. I have a handy dandy easy clematis care graphic here.
By July everything is different and this is where my Plant-Now-Think-Later approach is already biting me in the butt. There’s a riot of colour everywhere which is fine, but it’s not colour combinations I love. Some pockets are right and a few just downright bother me.
This is the same way I planted my old garden (cottage garden style which is really a euphemism for creative chaos) and somehow there was harmony. Here? I obviously wasn’t paying enough attention because we’ve got a case of the uglies going on! Of course I don’t have photos of the specific areas to show you: I was probably too traumatized to click the camera shutter.
I intended to do some major changes like shifting most plants around this summer but a whole bunch of life events kept me from ever getting the shovel in the ground beyond some basic veggie gardening and new transplants.
In early July I had a very close call with lightning. I was actually indoors at the time and glanced out the window to look at a rain storm when BAM! FLASH! : lightning struck nearby. I was thrown back from the window into the room, and my hearing was dull for the next few hours. In the following days I started discovering all the places in the garden where the lightning actually hit. One casualty was my garden art dragonfly, which was split down the wooden body. You can read the whole story here.
Two Lucky Garden Feet
I’m slowly getting the hang of gardening in sand. On the plus side, you can dig almost all year round and it’s effortless. On the minus side, it’s sand: devoid of many nutrients for plants and unable to provide a strong grip on plant roots. One heavy rain storm and everything is tipping over!
With all the digging I have done so far, I have never found anything buried in the ground —not a stone, not a rock—but twice I have found porcelain doll feet! And both times they were left feet. How odd is that?
Encountering this Hyalophora Cecropia Moth Caterpillar was quite a treat. I had never seen one before in-person and they are crazy looking creatures. I quickly grabbed the camera, got some shots, and then relocated it to a safer spot at the back of the garden. They have tons of predators who want to eat them, but perhaps a giant moth will appear in the spring if this guy is lucky. Read more about their unusual traits here. The adult moths have no digestive systems!
Pond Renovations On Hold
Besides wanting to relocate just about every perennial in the garden, my other big plan for the summer was to rebuild the pond. I intended to relocate the fish, pull the whole thing apart, and give it a new, bigger configuration. And that entire plan was halted by the unexpected hatching of 10,000 tadpoles.
There is a very magical event that happens in this area every June: the great frog mating night. On the chosen night, as soon as it’s dark, the frogs start vocalizing to attract mates. You can hear thousands of them throughout the neighbourhood. It is impossibly loud. Apparently they do this all at once to make themselves less vulnerable to predators: basically the owls can’t decide who to catch when there are so many choices!
We knew there was a very loud male near our pond that night and, sure enough, about a week later, the pond was filled with tadpoles. There was no way I was going to disturb the pond with all this action going on, so I put my renovation plans aside. You know you’re doing things right in the garden when the critters want to mate and set up a homestead there!
In the end, I never did see a frog (though they could be there), but we did enjoy watching the the morphing of the tadpoles.
Food Growing Hits And Misses
I mentioned it was a fabulous year for apples and, wowsers, was it ever. My one dwarf apple tree, just a few years old, was loaded with big apples.
The plum tree had its first fruiting year, and, while the squirrels and chipmunk stole much of it, what I managed to pick was plum perfection.
As hinted, the tomatoes had their oddest year ever. I grow approximately 80 plants (up to 30 varieties) in large pots throughout the garden. I like this method because I can provide really rich organic soil and I’ve never had a problem with pests. Knock wood. And I’ve always had massive crops. But this year they just could not get their mojo going with all the cool weather. Where I normally harvest everything by September, this year I had only a small percentage of ripe fruit by mid October when the frosts begin. I found myself Googling green tomato recipes, preserving, and storage ideas. I can only hope next year will be different.
Waning Days Of Blooms
This year’s weather also made for a very odd blooms. Daisies have always been so reliable, staying in full bloom for up to two months long. This year? Two weeks and they were done. This was the same for many of the flowering plants. We had some intense heat in July and then things cooled off. It was as if the plants used up all their energy during the heat wave, and then they gave up. It was quite sad, really.
The fall garden (above) shows a few peeps from the late bloomers like the black-eyed susans, but by mid-August it was looking rather dull and by September it was winding down for the big sleep until spring.
Winter Provides Its Own Garden Art
As I write this we’re headed toward winter solstice with dark, shorter days but a lot of beautiful, shimmering snow. With so many other things going on, and the weather changes, I feel like I missed a lot this year, though compensation was offered with the sweet cold-weather veggies, apples, plums, and visits from some stellar wild things.
But Wait! There’s More!…
There are visual tours of my gardens here.