Back to Back Issues Page
Dallying In The Dirt, Issue #113 --- Training grapes has taken on huge proportions.
June 19, 2012

Well ! I think I have almost everything planted at last. It’s difficult to spend a lot of time in the garden doing things and also to find time to write about it. The weeds can wait; they’ll get bigger and easier to find as if they weren’t big enough already. It’s also much too hot to be in the garden. I quit being outside at about 9:00 this morning when I couldn’t find any more shade to hide in. Time to get back to “Dallying In The Dirt,” and let you all know what is happening in the garden now and for the next couple of weeks.

This must be the year of the slug. As quickly as I plant some things the slugs show up and destroy them. My big string trellises remain forlorn and empty because the Morning Glories and Pole Beans seem to become green skeletons the day that I plant them or the day that the seeds germinate and poke their, obviously, tender shoots above the ground. I’ve given you two pictures here, to show just how tenacious and adventurous my slugs and snails are. The Colocasia is hanging from a wire in the centre of my waterfall and the wretched snail has somehow found his way out onto the leaves. I have to admire him while cursing him.

My attempt to replace a small section of grass with creeping Thyme is going reasonably well but little did I know, just how much back breaking work was involved. The Thyme plugs were set several centimetres apart and that space in between became prime territory for the ever ready weeds to move in. There appears to be no other technique other than getting down on my knees and hand weeding those spaces between the Thyme plugs. Where I did that early the Thyme is spreading rapidly but I haven’t managed to do it all yet and now the weeds are big enough to out compete the Thyme and slow its progress. As soon as it cools down a bit in the evenings I will try to find the time to weed the Thyme. The small bit I did last year is quite wonderful and right now it is also a carpet of purple as the Thyme blooms profusely.

In the middle of planting season I was “foolish?” enough to agree to some volunteer activities. It seems to be common knowledge that I can do some reasonable floral arrangements. That information seems to have made its way to the people organizing two large church functions that were one week apart. Several large arrangements for the local church opening and a couple of them, plus 60 table centres, for the banquet the following weekend for the Presbyterian Church’s general assembly, seemed to conspire to slow down my planting schedule and speed up the weed growth schedule. I quite enjoy doing them but could they not fit my gardening and writing schedule a bit better?

The strange weather patterns continue to bring many things into bloom well ahead of their normal schedule. I enjoy my Tall Bearded Iris whenever they appear but by arriving two weeks early they play havoc with the competitive gardening schedules. The Iris show this year had no Tall Bearded Iris entered. I scrounged through my garden looking for anything that I might enter but could only find a few final bedraggled blooms. The Roses, on the other hand, were doing very nicely and we entered a few of them. There won’t be much left of them by the late June Rose Show. I had the privilege of judging the large flower show at the Oshawa Peony festival. Over 500 blooms were entered and Gordon and I scrambled to judge them all in the two hours allotted. Peony fanciers are a dedicated lot. They had been picking blooms at the soft bud stage for the past 7+ weeks, then wrapping them in newspaper and storing them in the fridge. It’s amazing to watch these buds as they are unwrapped and exposed to the heat and light of the day. They will go from tightly closed to fully open in a remarkably short time. I watched one large dark red Japanese variety pop open in less than hour. It is not a gradual process, they literally pop open. Quite amazing but then so much of gardening is.

Last year, about this time, Loblaws gave me a couple of their potted, President’s choice, grape vines and I decided to give them a try. I figured that I could spend a few years training them to grow on the west facing fence. Luckily I did get out and put up the wires for them early this spring. Each one was pruned to three pairs of leaders, each one a little higher. The growth this spring has been amazing. Each shoot has grown close to 2 metres and is reaching beyond the ends of the wires that I thought would be plenty long enough. There are several bunches of fruit developing on each vine and I’m hoping to taste the fruits of my labours by mid summer. The local bird population probably has similar thoughts and we will have to see who is the quickest and smartest. The best part of these wonderful vines is that they take up almost no garden space but rather decorate a dull wooden fence. I have had to prune and train them a few times already and am wondering just how much more they are going to grow.

The strange weather has also done some good things. I planted Peas in the middle of March, at least 4 weeks earlier than usual, and we have already had two delicious meals of fresh Peas and there appears to be a third one that will be ready to pick tomorrow. There is an abundance of Pak Choi and some delicious Kohl Rabi overflowing the garden. The Kohl Rabi are reacting to the strange weather. We went for weeks in May with little or no rain and they struggled along, slowly maturing. Then we got rain and then more rain and then more rain and the Kohl Rabi started to grow rapidly and many of the bulbs split into two or three segments. I’ve picked them and cooked them anyway and they are succulent and delicious. The Spinach has already bolted to seed in the early heat but there is an abundance of Lettuce from the seeds that were planted with the Peas in mid March. The Rhubarb has been a disappointment and what little growth there is, is quite chewed up by something. It looks like we have developed a Rhubarb tolerant slug species, something I have never noticed before. It’s always interesting to watch how different plants react to the same conditions. I planted my Melons at the bottom of the garden where they have happily grown up a bit of fencing for the last several years. I planted one climbing Nasturtium with each variety of Melons. It rained etc etc and the soil there was quite sodden. The Melons seemed to have drowned and may not recover but the adjacent Nasturtiums are thriving. Gardening! Always a mystery and always reminding me that I’m not in charge.

Time to answer a few questions. If you have a gardening question just ‘reply’ to this newsletter and send me your query. I try to answer most of the questions and the ones that I answer here are those that I think will have the widest interest. You can also find the latest garden updates on the front page of .

Sharon Asked? About the Himalayan Impatiens last time.

Mary Ellen Answers! Tell Sharon she does not want to find the Impatiens because if she does she will never get rid of it, actually it is on the invasive species list!!!

Pat Asks? We attended one of your lectures through Water for Tomorrow. I was intrigued when you mentioned growing tomatoes up a string to a beam. We prepared our garden do to just that. Question, do you reduce the number of branches per plant, and if so, to how many or does one plant have many string/ropes for each branch.

Ken Answers! I prune my Tomatoes to just one single stalk and then train that around the rope. Check out these details.

Sandy Asks? I would like to know why my peony stopped flowering it is about 8 yrs old, and it used to get a flower or two on it ,but the last 3 yrs. or more it’s had nothing just the nice green leaves.

Ken Answers! Peonies hate being planted too deeply. I suspect yours has produced few flowers and now none because its crown has been slowly covered with soil or mulch as you have been improving your soil. Try removing some of the soil from the top of the Peony.

Debbie Asks? I Love the Beebalm Monarda? But I have trouble keeping it together I tried edging in a circle but it still seems to escape and spread. I'm sure it would make a much nicer display if it was in a clump.

Ken Answers! If you listen quietly in the night, in the garden, you can hear the Monarda singing that old classic,”Don’t Fence Me In,” It will spread no matter what you do. Just be ruthless each spring and rip out all but a tidy circle of it. You could put a bottomless old plant pot in the ground around it, to try and keep it from spreading but it will eventually escape.

Shirley Asks? About a month ago, I noticed something had eaten the blooms of the clematis. I found excrement, but no insect or bug. The blooms also seemed distorted. Just now, I noticed something eating my tall lilies. The eaten underside of the leaves and petals were covered with the same type of large lumps which looked like excrement. I used my secateurs to rub the stuff off and underneath was a pinkish 'slug'. Could you tell me what it is - and how to get rid of it..?

Ken Answers! I’m not sure about the Clematis but your Lilies are being attacked by the Red Lily Beetle a truly voracious and miserable little creature. The link should give you some ideas for control. I also keep hearing about a variety of new recipes for a non chemical spray but have not tried any of them.

111 Trent St. W.
Whitby ON

Back to Back Issues Page