Neighbours talking over the garden gate has long been a tradition. They share gardening tips, complain about the weather and pests yet are ever eager to discuss their gardens. That is what I had in mind when creating this blog. So stop by my garden gate to find out the latest happenings in my garden.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome
"All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child." ~ Madame Marie Curie"

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The New Front and Side Garden Bed

When we moved into our home almost two years ago, the landscaping was in need of attention.  While it looked nice from the road, upon closer inspection the hodge podge of various plantings were ramped with weeds and over growth.  As per our normal method of dealing with ornamental gardens at any new house we waited to see exactly what we wanted to keep, what could be salvaged and what simply had to be removed. 

new side and front garden beds
The side bed runs from the front of the house to the fence enclosing the back yard.  For some reason, it was a stinging nettle mecca!  A rose bush with menacing thorns hid the fence.  It was a danger to ourselves and neighbours when cutting the grass.  A much neglected varigated euonymus grew up behind and in the rose bush then along side the house creating the perfect haven for mice.  The AC unit was camouflaged with stinging nettle that refused to budge even after digging!  Tall vegetation including more stinging nettle and a couple of volunteer straplings covered most of the view from the lower level windows.  The arch enemy though was the large, unkept umbrella tree at the front corner.  While it hid part of the downspout, it was damaging the siding so was one of the first rip outs we did.  In the end we decided to level the entire area to the ground, straighten out the curve in the front bed and start from scratch.

Pictured is the initial result.  We used a no dig edging secured in several spots.  This was an ideal solution for us since we were not planning on a lot of plantings.  We lined the top of the lightly tilled soil with garden cloth then covered with a heavy layer of stone (walnut nugget).  The entire project came in just under $1,000 including the small garden bordering the garage (lattice).  It took 6 T of the stone.  We had hoped to have enough stone to do the garden bed on the other side of the garage (not shown) so that will be another project. 

I'm currently working on the updating the entrance with no plans to add any plantings yet.  There are a few spots on the grass side of the edging that need to be filled and seeded but other than that, I'm pleased with the results so far.  I am planning on less plantings and definitely low maintenance to fit in with our lifestyle.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Snakes in Ontario

Regardless of where you live, you will encounter some type of wildlife.  Unless you garden on a roof top or balcony, there is a very good chance you may run into a snake.  Snakes are either venomous or non-venomous.  Some snakes are more aggressive than others but for the most part if they are left alone, they will not bother you.  In fact, some snakes like the black racer and garter snakes are quite beneficial in the garden and around the house because they prey on mice that would otherwise cause problems in your house. 

We live in beautiful Ontario, Canada which is home to 15 species of snakes.  They are the: Eastern fox, Eastern Massassauga, Northern ring neck, Northern red-bellied, Northern brown, Eastern garter, Eastern ribbon, smooth green, Eastern hognose, milk, Northern water, black rat, queen, Buttler's garter (threatened), and blue racer (found only on Peelee Island).   The only venomous snake is the Mississauga rattlesnake, a norther species we have encountered on several occasions when camping in the Bruce Peninsula area.   In our little corner of Ontario, the most common snakes a home garden would encounter is the garter and milk snake.  If near the water, Northern water snakes are fairly common.  Here is a short video of the snakes in Ontario.

I recently wrote about our encounter with a garter snake. A garter snake is rather harmless . While a garter snake is not usually aggressive, it can be temperamental. Garter snakes feed on mice, toads, insects, earth worms and other snakes. In our particular case, there is a small tract of farmland behind our property that has been a haven for mice so we have had that problem. Excessive rains causing flooding in May and June basically drove the mice closer to our house which is on higher ground. That meant their predator, the garter snake came with them.  The snake population has increased if the decreased sound of crickets is any indication.   A garter snake hanging out around the gardens is not a problem for us but I don't want it in the house.  Seeing where it fled to under the siding of course gave me immediate flashes of the snake getting into the attic or main part of the house.

Snakes can and do get into the house, generally through the very same gaps that let their prey (eg. mice) into the house.  Some snakes like the black rat snake are good climbers and have been known to get into attics via overhanging tree branches.  Snakes are legally protected in Ontario under the Species at Risk Act and Endangered Species Act so cannot be killed, harmed, harassed or captured (removed from the wild and that includes your yard).  They can be removed from your home or outbuildings and released back into the wild.  It is also illegal to destroy a snake's natural habitat but you can remove woodpiles and brush from your property to make it less favourable as a habitat for snakes.  Signs of snakes around or in the house are: actual sightings, scat (usually white), shedded skin and if indoors you may notice a reptile odour.  There are several things you can do to encourage a snake to stay out of your house.
  • Seal all cracks and crevices in your home.  Pay particular attention to points of entry for utility services.  Snakes are nocturnal so if possible seal any hole you suspect a snake is getting into the house at after dark when it is more likely to be out hunting.
  • Secure windows and doors.  Snakes, rodents and other pests can enter the house through opened screened doors and windows.  The snake in question was about 2 feet from our front screen door so had I opened it as it was scurrying away from my husband, it could easily have slipped right past me into the house!  Open patio doors are prime entry points for a variety of pests that can enter the house in a blink of an eye.  Keep screen doors and windows in good repair not only the screening material but also ensure there are no gaps where snakes or their prey could get in.   Replace the weatherstripping to be sure.
  • Deterrents - Powdered sulfur and mothballs have both been shown effective at deterring snakes.  Remove woodpiles or place them as far as possible from the house.  Remove heavy brush.  Keep grass cut and trimmed.  Remove or cut back heavy vegetation growth around the foundation of your house.  Trim tree branches overhanging your house especially if you live in an area with snakes prone to climbing.  Remove any standing water.  Birdbaths should be up off the ground so as to not encourage snakes.  Snakes like wood mulch.  Replace with stone or remove entirely. 
  • Barriers - Some barriers are effective against snakes.  In general, snakes can't climb stairs because of the 90 degree angle so it is less likely a snake will get onto your raised deck or in raised garden beds. Some fences (eg. solid, fine mesh) may keep snakes out. 
  • Introduce a predator - Cats and hawks are both snake predators.  If your neighbours have cats and you have snakes or mice, chances are very good their cats will be frequenting your yard providing they are mousers.  Don't discourage the cats.  They will soon drive away both snakes and mice!  If there are no neighbourhood cats, you can always get a cat.  I recommend a farm cat as there is a higher chance it will be a mouser but no guarantee.  With a bit of effort you can attract birds of prey like a Sharp Shinned Hawk that will frequent your yard if you feed the smaller song birds.  While they are after birds they also prey on mice, voles, baby rabbits and snakes without harming your gardens or becoming pests.  So they can be quite beneficial at pest control.
  • Eliminate it's prey.  Mice will attract snakes.  Discourage mice by removing their food source (eg. bird seed) and habitat (eg. wood piles, brush).  This will encourage mice to move onto greener pastures.  Get rid of mice by using a pest control service, trapping or scatter rodent bait around your property to kill them off. 

Friday, August 02, 2013

Our Urban Low Maintenance Landscaping Plans

One of the reasons we decided to move from our rural location back into an urban setting was the 2010 purchase of our vacation home in Florida.  The first year we spent 8 weeks divided between two trips there so we quickly realized the logistics of owning two properties and spending extended periods of time away from both.  Things like yard maintenance, snow removal, and home security still need to be attended.  Houseplants need to be watered and the house kept an eyes on for pests especially rodents getting in.  While rodents were a given in our rural setting we had hoped it would not be in our urban setting but quickly found out otherwise.  At any rate, our goal when we moved here in September of 2011 was to make our property as low maintenance as possible,  not an easy feat considering we have a pool, fruit trees and small garden area.  We also wanted to make it less attractive to certain pests known to be in the area (eg. rabbits, mice, snakes).

The entire back yard with the exception of about 200 square feet is scheduled to be fully decked, two levels.  A good portion of it is already decked.  We are working on removing the remaining side gardens as well as replacing the fence and building all new decking.  The 200 square feet space will be home to two 4' x 10' raised beds (edibles, herbs) and separating paths that will be either patio stones or cement which will dramatically cut down any possibility of weed issues on the paths.  We are planning on adding a couple of built in planters on the decks and I have a lot of creative container gardening ideas to extend garden possibilities on the decks.  Essentially, the entire backyard will have no grass and no in ground gardens so will be about a low maintenance as we can get.

The front and side yards have gardens along the house and an interweaving brick driveway and sidewalks.  We removed all vegetation from the front and side gardens then put down hard 'no did' edging, landscaping cloth and stone (walnut nugget).  We just finished the stone yesterday!  It really looks nice with no plantings at all.  I'll post pictures of our progress shortly.  We are planning on taking our time deciding whether or not to add any vegetation.  One alternative is a grouping of planted containers as a focal point.  A deciding factor will be how the house looks after the porch and front entry looks when we are finished.  I'm working on that now.  At the moment the only maintenance work in the front and side yards is grass cutting and trimming.  We use an Epic battery powered mower and a Yardworks cordless trimmer/edger for these chores.  Both are eco-friendly alternatives that lower our carbon footprint while eliminating our need for gasoline to fuel either.  An added plus is the mower is very quiet compared to other mowers.  So basically, the front and side yards are now very low maintenance.

That does not mean our yard is without personality or colour.  I have relied heavily on containers this year for adding splashes of colour.  I found this takes a bit more planning but offers a higher degree of flexibility.  This fall I am finally going to start my plan to naturalize crocuses in the front and side yards.  I've seen this done and it is gorgeous giving a blast of late winter, early spring colour with maintenance.  I'll post more on that method in the fall when I do it.  For now though, we are right on track with creating very low maintenance landscaping that is still very much a work in progress but will definitely meet our needs while giving us the edible growing space we want.