Rainy-Day Update

Work in the yard has slowed down. Deep rooted weeds grow inches a day in these final days of June, but the months of dry weather has slowed the shallow-rooted villains. Today it’s raining, however. All the weeds I left will force themselves into producing seeds in the next few days. It’s time to bust-out the weed-wacker and get back to work.

I say the work has slowed, but I have managed a few other side projects:

Meyer Lemon:

One of my favourites! This high-yielding citrus is sweeter and more cold tolerant than it’s citrus-lemon parent. I had great joy and success growing a Meyer on my balcony downtown Vancouver. However, a two week trip in Mexico in December led to it’s demise. December is usually cold and wet in Vancouver. Deep freezes are not often likely until the end of the month, and much more common in January or February. My return to Vancouver in mid-December was met with blowing snow and lows of minus 8 celsius! Even my Rosemarys died. But I learned that while plants may be freeze tolerant, if their roots freeze, they are toast. So, this time my lemon will be planted in the ground. And I have the perfect place for it.

I have placed the lemon against a south-facing stucco wall, with a slight overhang, and possibility to install a larger one. There is a small section of concrete missing that was home to an evergreen climbing jasmine that I dug out. (It was home to rats). I dug out all soil, sifted it through a milk crate to remove the small rocks and amended the soil with about a cup of dolomite lime and the same amount of bone meal. I also put an oregano in the extra space.

I will likely train the lemon branches against the wall, or prune to keep it from spreading away from the wall. If, in the calm of the evening, a gentle updraft brings the scent of lemon flower up into the bedroom or onto the balcony it will all be worth it.

Olives:

I have no experience with olives. I bought one for my “Mediterranean” garden, only to discover that two different species are required for cross pollination. So I researched a suitable partner and bought another.

I should mention that I’m a sucker for symmetry….maybe it’s a bit of OCD…. Or maybe just a futile attempt at feeling in control. Regardless, where I had planned to grow two lemons, I will now grow two olives, and leave my single lemon in the spot described above. The olives will be on either side of the steps that join the upper and lower parts of the concrete patio – in perfect symmetry! Amongst the olives are lavender and rosemary, (sadly, also symmetrical). There are some other annuals that are there to help the soil and other plants establish, but it will soon be covered in weed cloth and landscape rock. I will likely train the olive into the classic tree shape which will provide some shade and a beautiful entrance to the garden.

I know symmetry is actually a problem. My dad referred to by garden plan describing it to a friend as looking like “Stalin’s industrial gardens.” While I laughed, that was actually pretty mean. Where the plan to be symmetrical – or at least heavily planned – is truly problematic is how it affects your brain. You end up spending a lot of time thinking and planning and measuring. And when something is off it is frustrating or discouraging. I am no Buddhist, but I appreciate much of the philosophy. And so I often remind myself that Buddhist teach not to love anything because to lose is to experience pain. If you relax at how depressing that sounds you can analyze it as a message: to have and want or to seek control is to set yourself up for loss. It also explains the Zen garden – there is no pattern, no even numbers of anything. There is only flow and an attempt to represent nature in its finest form of chaos. Through this there is a calming affect. You will never think “that plant should actually be a few inches further over”, or “that row is not perpendicular to the path”…and so on. Perhaps when I finally get my yard where I want it, I will tear it all out for a proper Zen garden!

A classic Zen garden

Stalin in victory garden

Mediterranean garden part 1:

I cleaned out the weeds on one side of the patio and began to put some of my drought-tolerant herbs into permanent homes. These plants are in rough shape! I have a sage, thyme, and rosemary, all of which were root-bound and stressed in their pots. So here is a little comment on plant stress, maybe I’ll elaborate in a separate post one day: My rosemary has mite damage…serious mite damage. Now, I know the plant was stressed from being in the pot, but if I didn’t, I might have attempted to treat the mite problem – maybe with beneficial insects. But this is the lesson: bugs attack plants that are already stressed. A plant chronically attacked by pests might actually be diseased, and your attempt to fix the pest problem is futile. Sometimes a soil pest like root weevil is stressing your plant, and so you see spider mite all over it. Treating the spider mite but not the weevil would be an ongoing battle. So always remember, plant health starts with the soil and climate, then root health, then foliage health. Sorry for another tangent!

The second part of the mediterranean garden will take some time to begin as it is a very low priority at the moment. It is currently weeds under cardboard, under rotting 2×8’s or stacked and unsplit firewood.

I also bought two fruit trees this week: a Honeycrisp apple and a Bartlett pear. (I will need to buy one more pear, and a kind that will cross pollinate with the Bartlett.) I have identified where they will go, but it is a big job. Our lower concrete patio ends on both ends with steps down to the yard. In the middle there is the shed, and a railing. On the other side of the railing there is a fig and a Granny Smith Apple and a table grape. Amongst them are weeds. I planed on actually “raising” this entire garden a few inches up, but the amount of double digging and soil I would need to bring in is too daunting. Instead, I will till, as I did the other garden beds. I will remove a few inches of soil and flip it (weeds down first), then put in a box edging to make it similar to my wooden garden boxes and plant a ground cover that will resist the weeds. If I get this done soon, I may plant buck wheat, and successively plant a winter wheat or rye. However, ultimately I imagine Borage, alyssum, marigolds and red poppies. – My ambition scares even me.

I planted these trees before I finished editing the post – so here they are.

The nice thing about the rain today is that it may be enough to soften the soil a bit. I gave up digging in my last garden bed because it was hard even for my mattock to break into it. And it was disappointing seeing half of it blow away as dust (majorly exaggerating here). The rain is also taking some stress off. First off of me – I find it takes almost a half-hour to hand water all my raised beds. But the plants have been stressed too. Even with regular watering, it wasn’t until some days of cloud cover and reduced transpiration (due to high humidity) that the plant growth really accelerated. I was overwatering – a bit – but mostly because I wanted to ensure the spouting of freshly sown seeds. So the carrot, buckwheat and amaranth I recently seeded will be happy today.

I have been putting off preparing the “lawn” below the veggie boxes. I really think this will improve my daughter’s use of the back yard, and my dogs’ wrestling room. Plus, there is a plastic slide and sandbox in the front yard that could go back there, instead of being an eye-sore from the road, and if I can get the baby pool off the concrete patio and surround it by lawn (probably clover), Abby will be less likely to continue to fill it with dirt from my newly planted gardens. So, as it is the Friday of a long weekend, and I am hoping to leave work shortly after this lunch break, I may be able to get a sizeable amount of work done.

So, here is to a not-so-depressing kind of summer rain, a long weekend and a sun at its peak.

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