asparagus spears

Asparagus fresh from the garden

When we moved to the country, the first crop we planted was asparagus, and it was a great success.

Soon our garden grew so large and intensive that spring became a blur of busyness. The asparagus was a savior all season when it came to the daily question of “what’s for dinner?”

Fortunately, I have a spouse who never complained about having asparagus day in and day out when it’s in season. (I have a tendency to be very seasonal in my kitchen. When it’s strawberry time, we eat strawberries, and the rest of the year — when they’re out of season — we don’t touch them.)

Back to asparagus: Starting your own crop is a commitment, but if you love asparagus, it’s definitely worth it. But you should know right off the bat that it will be at least three years before you can harvest from your new patch.

Asparagus plants need two growing seasons to get established. Those first tempting spears have to open up into ferny leaves that produce the food the plants need to get their strength up and running. This is tough if you’re impatient, but this crop is worth the wait!

To harvest, follow this general rule: to begin with in the third season, pick for two weeks, then four weeks the next year, and eight weeks the following seasons. Your plants should last you for 15 or so years of harvesting. You can take all spears that come up during the harvest period, but that allow the rest to leaf out.

Plant asparagus in mid spring when the soil has warmed up to about 50ºF (10ºC) at either the east or north side of the garden so other plants won’t get shaded out, as asparagus grows quite tall when it leafs out. About 15 or 16 plants are enough for a small family. (It was certainly enough for the two of us.)

Don’t buy seed; get one-year-old crowns of all-male varieties such as Jersey Giant, Jersey Prince or Jersey Knight. (Female plants expend energy to produce the seeds, which means you don’t get as many delicious spears to harvest.)

More asparagus planting how-to information is here at my website.

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Frozen lakes

This image from NASA shows the extent of the freezing during the 2013/14 winter

The ice coverage on the Great Lakes is nearing record levels. As of March 6, 92.2% of the Great Lakes were covered, which is the most coverage we have seen since the 70’s.

According to the Weather Network, the record for ice coverage was set back in 1979, when the Great Lakes were 94.7 percent frozen solid. Scientists are predicting that this record will could be broken this week. With bitterly cold temperatures and polar vortex winds dominating the winter, most of us are fed up.

RBG Bulb Room

Eastern redbud, hyacinths and daffodils at RBG in the bulb room as you head into the Mediterranean Garden

Besides escaping south, as thousands are doing as this year’s March Break gets under way, there are a few places to get respite. If you’re desperate for some warmth and color, locally there is the bulb room and the Mediterranean Garden at Royal Botanical Gardens, as well as the Spring Tide Bulb Show Gage Park Greenhouses March 7-16 in Hamilton.

RBG bulb room

Flowering quince with daffodils, hyacinths and more at RBG

In Toronto, Allan Gardens Conservatory has a terrific show of spring flowers. So if the weather has got you feeling blue and you can’t get away, you owe it to yourself to visit one of these places. And remember: Canada Blooms, the big gardening show in Toronto is on from March 14-23.

And you might enjoy this musical selection from Martha and the Muffins, a Toronto band that had its heyday in the ’80s. Here’s their song, “This is the Ice Age.” I owned that LP (perhaps I still do) and loved it.

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Panicum North Wind

Panicum virgatum ‘North Wind’ with Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium)
and tufted hair-grass in front

Panicum virgatum

Panicum virgatum ‘North Wind’
coloring up in early fall

The Perennial Plant of the Year for 2014 is Panicum virgatum ‘North Wind’. I’m glad to see that the Perennial Plant Association has once again chosen an ornamental grass as the top pick. Another favorite plant, Karl Foerster’s Feather Reed grass, was chosen as plant of the year in 2001. (That was the first time an ornamental grass received the nod).

Some garden bloggers scoff at best-of-the-year plant awards, but I’m always interested to see what the top picks are. One welcome side-effect is that this terrific grass should be easier to find at garden centers this spring — it’s been rather hard to get hold of unless you went to a specialist nursery or ordered it online.

Panicum virgatum ‘North Wind’ is an outstanding upright growing switch grass cultivar. In late summer attractive narrow flower plumes appear within the foliage, instead of arching over the top, as with most grasses.

In fall, the leaves and flowers turn gold and the plant persists beautifully through the cold months. It makes a great vertical accent in the garden and tends to stay upright, even in dead of winter. Read more about growing Panicum virgatum ‘North Wind’ (link goes to my flower gardening website).

 Panicum virgatum 'North Wind'

The upright growing habit of Panicum virgatum ‘North Wind’

This blog post by a self-confessed obsessive gardener also praises this lovely ornamental grass.

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My favorite part of our country garden days was the meadow we planted with the help of Wildflower Farm. Local skeptics scoffed openly: “Oh yeah, city couple moves to the country, plants a meadow — it will never work.” Well, it was splendid, and still is.

I’m working on an AV show, adding music to still photos from the wildflower meadow. I’ll link to it when it’s finished and up on YouTube. In the meantime, enjoy the view here:

Meadow morning

My all-time favorite capture: The sun coming up at 6:30 on July 26, 2010. An image that would have been impossible before we cut down a row of evergreens

Meadow morning

A Mid-August with liatris, rudbeckia and prairie coneflower dominating

Liatris with monarch

This plant — meadow blazing star (Liatris ligulistylis) is a butterfly magnet

Meadow coneflower

The photographer’s challenge is to find focal points in all the rich chaos of flowers

Meadow grass

The meadow consists of a mixture of flowers and grasses; Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) here

Meadow view

The view from the road. I once asked the neighbor who scoffed about the meadow what he thought 10 years later: “Too much yellow” was his answer

Meadow with echinacea

Not all yellow: Echinacea at the meadow’s edge at the beginning of August

Read more here about the establishment of our wildflower meadow.

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Signs of spring

by Yvonne on February 21, 2014 · 0 comments

in Weather, Winter

After a winter in which we all unfortunately became familiar with the term “polar vortex” we are at last seeing signs of spring.

Polar vortex

Why we had such a “big chill” this winter — the polar vortex as pictured by NASA

This week I heard more bird song in my neighborhood. And the house cats are out and about again. There is now a well trodden feline path through our backyard. On Rosemary Lane (isn’t that just the best street name?), we regularly meet a charming black and white cat who greets us during our walks as though it were a dog.

At the Royal Botanical Gardens, the Auxiliary volunteers are in full swing getting ready for their famous plant sale. They’re busy Tuesday and Thursday mornings, potting up bare root perennials, re-potting perennials from last year and seeding annuals and striking geranium cuttings.

RBG plant sale

RBG Auxiliary volunteers getting plants growing for the big plant sale in May

At the RBG Centre in the bulb display room, spring shrubs have been forced into bloom; they’re underplanted with all manner of flowering bulbs. It’s a great place to visit if you need cheering up.

Narcissus 'Tête-à-tête'

Narcissus ‘Tête-à-tête’ in the RBG’s bulb room

My hort-buddy Kathy Purdy over at Cold Climate Gardening proclaims “the thaw is coming.” I can’t wait. And my surest sign of spring, I’ve done my first blog post of the season. Sorry to have been AWOL for months, but I’ve found it to be a rather enervating winter.

PS: In spite of everything, we did make Seville Orange Marmalade as usual in February.

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Is pruning just a matter of taste?

by Yvonne on November 7, 2013 · 0 comments

in Plants, Shrubs

My daily walks through our neighborhood often turn into landscape critiques. As the colors have turned, I’ve been noticing the many burning bushes and how they’re pruned or not.

burning bush

A burning bush (Euonymus alatus) pruned into a big ball to keep it in bounds

I dislike the look of the one above, but I do understand why it’s being pruned: to keep it contained and out of the neighboring driveway. But couldn’t it have been pruned more naturally and still have met that objective?

burning bush

A very open version of the same plant

burning bush

This burning bush hasn’t been pruned recently

The one above is growing in a really open habit and has been allowed to spread naturally. It doesn’t look like anyone has pruned it at all. To me, it’s much more pleasing in form, although some judicious pruning could take its size down a little and encourage it to fill in more.

I suspect that the shrub on our property (picture right) might have been pruned into a ball at one time, but it hasn’t been pruned over the past couple of seasons. It’s growing in a rounded, mounded shape, but one that I feel is much more pleasing and natural than the one at the top.

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Purple-leaf shamrock: my garden mainstay

August 22, 2013

I first got to know purple leafed shamrock (Oxalis triangularis) about 15 years ago when hort-buddy Dave Cummins, the Rusty Rake Gardener, gave me a single pot. Since then it has multiplied, and I now have legions that I use in container plantings and as edgers in the garden. Apparently, this native of Brazil only […]

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Back garden makeover, part 2: before & after

August 6, 2013

Here are before and after pictures of our back garden. I described the garden in this previous post. Conditions: sandy soil and part shade; by mid-afternoon the lawn has dappled shade cast by three mature oaks. It is very comfortable on hot days. A large Norway maple was cut down by the owner last year. […]

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Spring events at Royal Botanical Gardens

April 11, 2013

If you are a gardener in the Hamilton, Burlington to Oakville area, and you are not a member of the Royal Botanical Gardens, you’re missing out on some great opportunities. Here’s what’s coming up for gardeners at RBG in the next few weeks. To become a member online, go to www.rbg.ca/memberships. Get mulch (almost) for […]

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Backyard garden makeover – Part 1

April 8, 2013

Let me give you a quick tour of the backyard at our rental house*. It measures 75′ x 75′ (23 x 23 m), and even though it’s basically a square, when looking at the yard from the house, it feels rectangular. At both sides, the yard is bordered by privet hedging; at the back there […]

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