Buried in snow

tiny tough SnowdropsIt is a northern gardener’s life to be unable to garden outdoors for half the year (or more). Just one of gardening’s many great lessons: patience. That and learning about cycles. Cycles of seasons, light and shadow, decay and rebirth. Of noticing migrating birds when they leave, and when they return again. When the massive queen bumblebees emerge and drowsily look for new dens to start this year’s hive, eliciting alarm as they buzz close by ears and again reacquaint us to the sound of buzzing creatures. And of the tenacious determination of green growing things, pushing through the soil and sometimes even, through snow.

This is what makes me so happy to plant flowering bulbs. I adore spring bulbs because I do it every autumn – almost – and they perk up into a spring-thawing but otherwise brown garden just when I need it most. March! Okay… April, but by March I’ve got some forced mini-bulbs growing indoors and am busy planning a tea party luncheon, but I digress.

Even in those years when autumn rushes right past in the blink of an eye, because Mother Nature was in a hurry and flung us from late summer right into winter with a massive September snowfall (like this past fall), I can rely on spring flowering bulbs to keep coming even if I fail to add to their numbers. If we gardeners select a zone-appropriate bulb that is resistant to grazing (ie: tastes unpleasant to animals) and plant it at the correct depth in the right location (read: if they’re ‘happy’) bulbs will continue blooming and even multiplying year after year with no further assistance from us, except maybe a handful or so of good compost and leaving their leaves alone. And of course to be remembered where they are and not get accidentally dug up!

But their greatest gift to me, as a northern gardener enduring far too many months of frozen lifeless ground, seems to happen to me every year around this time when I am feeling weary from the short daylight hours and not enough time spent outdoors, I find comfort in simply knowing they’re out there. Tiny little bundles of hope buried under the snow and soil… just waiting for the perfect time to brighten the world. My world. My yard.

I celebrate spring blooming bulbs! Tulips (which survive in a corner of our back yard with a high fence, not in the popular-for-grazing front), Chionodoxa ‘Glory-of-the-snow’, Narcissus ‘Daffodils’, Muscari ‘Grape Hyacinth’, tall purple Allium… plus their rhizome-cousins Crocus, Lily and Iris… your very presence brightens my heart. Even unseen, just knowing you’re there and that your bright faces will be blooming soon makes me happy on dreary winter days.

Luckily we can all buy them already blooming in containers to grace our kitchen table or bedside (talk to your florist and try to buy organic). And after having read that planting previously ‘forced’ bulbs in our gardens to be a lost cause, I’ve found that to be untrue. I had mini-daffodils and grape hyacinths forced in containers and once they were done blooming I put them in the garage, forgot about them for a couple of YEARS and then threw the pot contents into a wild corner of our backyard. They actually took root and grew! I now have a little patch of Tete-a-tete daffodils and Muscari that come back every spring. How cool is that? So if you have a patch of ground, throw those spent bulbs in and they may or may not come back, but why throw them in the garbage when, sometimes, they come back? Mind you bulbs hate to be ‘naked’ for long and the dormant ones I mentioned were in a dry pot of soil. I’ve tried this with bulbs I’d had left over in the package for a while without the same success.

Of course I adore all my perennials, shrubs and trees – in my own yards and everywhere – but nothing better beckons the coming of spring than the early-blooming bulbs.

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For Peat’s Sake!

Gardeners! For Peat’s Sake ~ say no to peat.

As a lover of nature and all things ‘bio diverse’, as soon as I learned about the damage that draining and removing peat bogs does to our global environment, I forcefully changed my gardening habit away from using peat.

This requires reading labels of soil mixes carefully and avoiding ones that contain peat. I’ve discovered that making my own mix is easy and cost-effective, and more than anything I use organic compost to enrich regular garden soil.

Lee Valley PotMaker
Lee Valley PotMaker

Avoiding the purchase and use of peat also means releasing that old habit of buying little peat-pots for starting seedlings. Now my washed plastic seedling trays are re-used for years. Another peat-pot replacement idea is coir, a natural by-product of the coconut industry. It’s a renewable resource, unlike peat bogs which take centuries to develop. However it may travel far to reach you so that has to be considered as well. A great idea, if you have access to old newspapers or other waste-paper, is a wide dowel pushed over a couple of squares of paper atop a round plant-pot or other cylindrical shape. This can make a fine temporary (decomposable) home for a tender seedling. (Visit LEE VALLEY link here for more info on their excellent PotMaker)

Why not use peat? 

“Peat moss develops in a peat bog or “peatland,” which is a special type of wetland. Peat bogs are as important and fragile as rainforests… [They] are home to rare wildlife, including untold numbers of highly specialized native plants, many of which may be endangered and found only in the peat bog. They are also Nature’s water purifiers, contributing to healthy watersheds and, in some areas, to safe drinking water. They also provide effective flood prevention. Destroying a bog destroys these benefits. Peat bogs are also ‘global coolers’ helping to fight climate change.” – source: Natural Life Magazine

“Large areas of organic wetland (peat) soils are currently drained for agriculture, forestry, and peat extraction. This process is taking place all over the world. This not only destroys the habitat of many species, but also heavily fuels climate change. As a result of peat drainage, the organic carbon that was built up over thousands of years and is normally under water, is suddenly exposed to the air. It decomposes and turns into carbon dioxide (CO2), which is released into the atmosphere.

Peat deposits are found in many places around the world, including northern Europe, and North America, principally in Canada and the northern United States. Here, too, occur some of the worlds largest peatlands, including The West Siberian Lowland, the Hudson Bay Lowland, and the Mackenzie River Valley. The amount of peat is smaller in the southern hemisphere, partly because there is less land, yet South America has one of the world’s largest wetlands, the vast Magellanic Moorland, with extensive peat dominated landscapes. Peat can be found in New Zealand, Kerguelen, and the Falkland Islands, and Indonesia (Kalimantan and Sumatra). Indonesia has more tropical peat land and mangrove forests than any other nation on earth, but Indonesia is losing wetlands by 100,000 hectares per year.”

Bogs occur where the water at the ground surface is acidic and low in nutrients. In some cases, the water is derived entirely from precipitation, in which case they are termed ombrotrophic (rain-fed). Water flowing out of bogs has a characteristic brown colour, which comes from dissolved peat tannins. In general the low fertility and cool climate results in relatively slow plant growth, but decay is even slower owing to the saturated soil. Hence peat accumulates. Large areas of landscape can be covered many meters deep in peat. Bogs have a distinctive group of plant and animal species, and are of high importance for biodiversity, particularly in landscapes that are otherwise settled and farmed.” ~ source: Wikipedia

Additional Reading:

Tree Hugger: for Peat’s Sake, by Jasmin Malik Chua

Natural Zeolite Products: Peat Moss Replacement

Peat Bogs Should Be Preserved, by Matthew Sparkes, Apr 10, 2007
The National Trust in the UK: protect the countries peat bogs.

Why And How Every Gardener Should Go Peat Free, by Sami Grover
The Chelsea Flower Show may have declared its intentions to go peat free, and peat alternatives for the garden may be increasingly available, but many gardeners continue to use peat despite the fact that peat mining is stripping vital habitats at a far faster rate than they can regenerate.

Emma Cooper at Permaculture Magazine lays out a passionate argument for why and how every gardener should go peat free: “I have also encountered gardeners who justify their peat use by explaining that the amount used in horticulture is minuscule compared to the amount burned in power stations in the countries who still have sizable peat reserves left (we don’t). This smacks of a juvenile, playground response – ‘he started it!’. As rational adults we should take responsibility for our actions, which includes making informed choices.”

Peat Has No Place In Your Eco Garden, by Natural Life Magazine

[Gina’s Note: I first released this ‘For Peat’s Sake’ article as a sub-Page under my Page ‘Gardens’ in 2012]

Benefits of Late Garden Clearing

This female House Finch is certainly thankful for her early spring snack in my tall standing sunflowers from last year!
This female House Finch is certainly thankful for her early spring snack in my tall standing sunflowers from last year!

I enjoy many benefits from cleaning up my garden in springtime, rather than in the autumn. Cutting away dead plant matter just in time to find tips of spring bulbs poking their brave heads through the barely thawed, frozen ground leaves plenty of seed-heads for birds to scavenge through to uncover meals of seeds.

In the early spring months of March and April when the ground around here is still frozen, I’ve seen Chickadees in the winter-dried Goldenrod and Echinacea seed-heads, and House Finches in the Sunflowers.

Plus the late cleanup works well for my personality: leaving the garden alone in autumn when the snows arrive and I’m sad to see the growing season end, and then in spring when I’m feeling recharged and enthused I can cut back the dead plant matter and be rewarded with evidence of new green growth coming.

For me, it’s a no-brainer ~ waiting until spring helps make it not only a more instantly rewarding chore, but the local birds get meals out of the standing seed-heads left from last summer. Also, the plants look great poking out through drifts of snow in mid-winter. There’s definitely a lot to be said for leaving plants standing to offer ‘winter interest’. It works for me, and for my neighbourhood songbirds too!

This female House Finch is enjoying a nutritious snack from these standing sunflowers left standing from last Autumn.
This female House Finch is enjoying a nutritious snack from these standing sunflowers left standing from last autumn.

Sharing the melodious song of a male House Finch, found on YouTube: