Every day another Iris opens up in the garden and reminds me why I grow these wonderful flowers. Look at the height of this beauty, named Anne Murray. Why then am I sitting on a train, leaving my garden behind, heading for the delights of Montreal.

In between the Iris I have a few? Peonies growing and they are doing their best to compete for my attention with the Iris. The Canadian Peony Society is having their annual meeting and show at the Montreal Botanical Gardens and I have the nerve wracking position of Judge for this show. Choosing the best from among hundreds of beautiful Peony blooms (this was all one class, 27 blooms, we divided it into two, dark and light coral,) is an interesting pastime and not one that’s guaranteed to make you a lot of friends. I will judge tomorrow morning and then back on the train and return to my garden. A few hours enjoying the delights of the Montreal Botanical Garden will also make the trip worthwhile. The Assistant Gardener gets to stay home and enjoy the Iris and Peonies and make sure none of the many containers goes without water.

My neighbour was ‘complaining’ this morning that my garden is a traffic hazard. There is one Peony, America, that was carefully placed at the very front of the garden where the passing cars tend to pull over to observe it. It is about 1.3 m high and almost as wide and carries at least 35 bright red blooms each about 20 cm across. It may lack the delicacy and varying colour shades of the best Iris but it sure is an attention grabber. Some people who stop want to know what it is and some recognize it as a Peony and want to know what variety. Many ask when I plan to divide it and are disappointed when I point out that Peonies can last in excess of twenty years without being disturbed.

I direct them to the web site of the Peony nursery Peony D’Aoust where I buy many of mine and where I’m visiting this afternoon when I get off this train. A rare treat to see this nursery as it is not usually available for tours and an even greater treat to go when it will be in full bloom. I have purchased new batteries for the camera and will give you a virtual tour in the next week or so. Here is a teaser picture.

The tumbling down wall that I moaned about in the last issue of “Dallying” is still tumbling down; although the natural vegetation is growing up through it and helping to hide that impending job from my sight. All of the vegetables and annual flowers are now planted and my trial of the red plastic mulch for Tomatoes is set up and awaiting results. We can now turn our attention to other somewhat less pressing items on the gardening calendar. Pruning Shrubs such as the Preston Lilacs behind the Peonies, above, is a job that must be attended to at the correct time if you want any flowers on them next year. As I walk past the various plantings of Pole Beans and Morning Glories I bend over to make sure that any of the new vines are finding the strings that they are supposed to climbing. A few moments, a couple of flicks of their leaders and great success is assured for the rest of the season.

The Potatoes are doing very well; the Bok Choi between the Potato rows will have been eaten before the Potatoes need that space. Now it is time to get out the hoe and hill them up. Seasoned gardeners throw out terms like hill them up often leaving novices wondering what that means and often too afraid to ask. Hopefully the many pages of “gardening-enjoyed” will help those novices migrate easily to the seasoned category. If they don’t then please follow the instructions below to ask me any questions that you have. The trial container of Potatoes is growing rapidly and I added more soil to it to mimic the hilling up that will occur in the garden. I picked the first of the Kohl Rabi last night and it got lightly parboiled, along with a bit of Rapini and then marinated in the salad dressing for a while before the rest of the veggies made it to the salad bowl. The Raspberries are starting to fill out their fruit, getting the canes heavier. A few moments making sure that those canes are staying between their support wires will make the picking a much easier task.

My newsletter subscribers get to ask me questions. Just ‘reply’ to the email newsletter. It is always interesting to read the questions; mostly to see if I actually can answer them or if I have to wade into the textbooks to research the answers. If that happens then we all learn something.

Stacy Asks? I keep seeing those expensive bags of Mesclun mix in the produce stores. It looks like it should be easy to grow, is it?

Ken Answers! Absolutely! A shallow container and a package of seed and you can have all the Mesclun mix that you want in just a few weeks.

Shirley Asks? Actually Shirley answers. Last issue we had a question about growing Tomatoes in bags and Shirley offers her experience. I have a hanging bag that I have used for two years now. Cherry tomatoes or small fruited tomatoes work the best. For the last two years I have planted a heritage tomato Mexican Midget, but forgot to start the seed and have bought a Patio Tom. medium size fruit. It is hanging on the n.e. side of my house & gets sun from early morning until about 1:30. When planting I use soil with the gel in it and throw in a handful of pelleted hen manure from Acti-Sol and fertilize throughout the season. It is great to walk out the door and have a bunch of tomatoes hanging just above your head. Enjoy your newsletter!

Ken Answers! Shirley answered beautifully. I love it when readers offer their own experiences. I have one concern. Shirley indicates that she uses a soil mix with gel in it. If you read the bag very carefully you will find that it very carefully leaves out any vegetable recommendations. The gel is a polymer that has not been tested for its effect on human consumption. I have always avoided using it for that reason. It is probably perfectly safe but there is no research that says so.

Elizabeth Asks? I will be leaving for Europe soon and definitely have to have everything mulched so was interested in your comparisons. You mention cedar as being good and cheap . I had understood that exposure to cedar was bad for plants. My vegetable garden is surrounded on 2 sides by a century old cedar hedge (box hedge on the other 2 sides) and I have always been told this must be very bad for the vegetables. So what is the story on cedar and cedar chips?

Ken Answers! Cedars have a dense shallow root system that competes heavily for water and nutrients and that will make it difficult to grow vegetables near them but I know of no actual toxicity problems that should stop you from trying. One of the difficulties with this question is the common name “Cedar” which can be one of several species of evergreen tree depending on where you live.

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