This winter is crazy warm. It’s an El Niño winter and they say it might be one of the strongest on record.

So what does this mean for my garden? It means that on Christmas Day 2015 I counted five robins bouncing on my front lawn.

There were also bunches of calendula’s blooming and thriving… it looked more like Halloween than Christmas.

Spring on Dec 25th

But it also meant this:

Spring on Dec 25th

Spring on Dec 25th

My flowering quince blossom was flowering in December. I’ve since gone back into the yard after a January cold snap and checked on them and all of these beautiful buds have turned to mush.

That’s kinda of upsetting because I had really wanted to see some buds on the bush this spring. They were so lovely last year. I spent most of the spring pruning the bush away from the fence and left three old branches with the intent to keep them for their blossoms and then prune them down in late spring. Now it looks like they won’t bloom at all this year. Who knows but most likely they won’t.

On a less depressing note, although other things were sprouting out of the ground, I’m pretty sure they will do okay and still come up in the spring. This includes the daffodils:

Spring on Dec 25th

Spring on Dec 25th

And one of the hellebores peaking out from under their still vibrant green leaves.

I quickly piled all the extra leaves over them to insulate them and have not touched them since. There has been no snow and although I’m glad I haven’t had to shovel almost at all this year I would like a nice pile over the garden just to keep things snug and protected from the colder periods.


It’s alive!

It’s amazing what a difference a few days makes. It seemed like everything was stuck frozen in time and suddenly everything is growing! It just goes to show how awesome spring flowers are – they are designed to live in cool temperatures (even a snow dusting or two) and survive on the energy the sun provides.

Here’s a look at what’s growing:

The hellebores are doing well. Ivor Prince of course is one of the first bloomers, but since I didn’t go outside during the few cold days I don’t know if the bushy pink variety bloomed first. (I don’t know the variety name of that variety – I just know it grows well.)

Hellebore Ivory Prince Hellebore Pink

I planted a pack of snow drops around the garden, in places I knew I would be able to find them, but promptly forgot where I planted them or what they looked like. I didn’t realize these had such lovely ruffled petals. And speaking of ruffles, the columbine is getting bigger.

Snow drop pretty  Greens

The rhubarb is leafing out… soon there will be enough room for the cat to hide under it.


In the front garden the first of the three types of daffodils popped open.


Now as for things that aren’t growing – I’m pretty upset that it looks like the clematis we’ve had for years, isn’t doing well at all. My grandmother brought this plant into our garden years ago. It used to grow okay but a few years ago I figured out how to prune them correctly and we would have these giant masses of purple blooms in the garden through the summer.

Usually in the spring, after I prune the pussy willows, I spend a few cool evenings pruning back the dead portions of the clematis vine until I hit green live branches. Usually at this point there are small buds and if it’s cold they are small but if it’s warmer they can be quite big, almost a knuckle sized long. I think the old dead vines and leaves protect it. At the end of last summer a big portion of the vine died and turned brown. I cut that portion out and hoped that it would be okay and it seemed to be okay. Unfortunately it seems like the vine is dead. There are no buds and I pruned back most of it and it’s dead and dry. There are a few branches left that aren’t totally dead, but they aren’t totally alive and green either. I let these few vines flop down and tie it up in a few days. I don’t have much hope for it.

Good news, the pussy willow is sending out little green leaves so I didn’t totally kill it.

Pussy Willows

There is story people pass around during Ukrainian Easter, when you get a pussy willow you can put it in the ground and it will start growing. So of course one year when the branches we got were especially green looking, we stuck them into the ground and wouldn’t you know it, it’s not an old wives tale – it grew!

I wouldn’t recommend this to every garden. They grow like that for a reason, they’re aggressive growers. And it grows big. I cut the stalk the first year at eye level – the new growth grew 3-4 feet above that the next summer.

I don’t grow my pussy willow like a bush, I grow it more like a tree. I usually coppice the top of it, meaning that I cut back every branch back to the node on top of the stump. Every year there is a little bit of the branch left over and that’s where the new branches grow from. Actually, at the beginning of the year after I’ve cut everything back, I spend a few weeks holding my breath hoping it comes back. It usually does.

Handful of pussy willowsThe trunk has grown fairly wide now. When I tried to grow a side shoot as a new trunk I’ve usually failed. Unfortunately there was one branch a few years back that died and I didn’t get to it for a year or two and it rotted at the base. That rot spread into the main trunk and now there is a very large centre crevice that is thoroughly rotted. Last year it seemed okay but this spring I started poking at it and handfuls of wood shavings came out of it. It was still half frozen when I first started poking into it, but I’m going to have to look at it further to get a better idea of how it is doing.

This probably explains the lack of pussy willow branches. This year there was not very many branches and not very many blooms on my pussy willow bush. I usually get a handful of four foot long stalks and several handfuls of two or three foot stalks. This year I got one handful of smaller sized stalks. A much more manageable bunch, but I realize that I have to give the tree some serious attention. I usually spend a whole day working on it with a second day to clean up and size/group the branches. This year it only took me one afternoon to do everything.

The weather has been cold and really dreary lately. I haven’t worked outside for a long time and it hasn’t been worth it. We’ve had freak weather lately and it was even snowing. So no need to work in the garden just yet – maybe this weekend.

Spring finally

So this is the first weekend that really feels like spring. Actually the temperatures kinda climbed suddenly and supposedly tomorrow the temperature will hit 20 which means that it feels like summer. But I refuse to get ahead of myself and am cautiously optimistic that temperatures will not go into the negative digits in the next little while.

We had our first thunderstorm of the year on Friday night. It was a cold misty week with a few rain storms coming through. But Friday evening the storms cracked overhead. Actually it was so misty and foggy that I couldn’t see any lightning bolts in the sky – the sky only flashed bright. I set up my camera on the porch (I’ve been practicing time lapsing and wanted to try something at night) and after an hour of being outside I only got one picture. But I’m happy with it.

lightning april 2015 After the rains the temperatures got warmer. It got warm enough that it would be a perfect day to go outside and garden but it’s my Easter this weekend so most of my time has been spent doing all the usual Easter tasks (and eating of course).

Garden wise, I harvested the pussy willows last week for our Palm Sunday. If it wasn’t for the timing I would have left them for this week.

Usually for Easter we harvest horseradish from the garden to add to our Easter basket. Years ago, I assume it was my grandmother, bought a root of it and planted it in the ground. It started taking over that part of the garden ever since. Every Palm Sunday I would go out and look for signs of the early leafs in the messy garden. The early leafs were brown and would easily blend into the muddy dirt. But two years ago there was only one root left. We left it in the ground but unfortunately last year there were none. This year there were none again, not that I was expecting a miraculous comeback. But it’s on of the things I miss and will probably want to plant again. I’m not sure if it will go back to the same location in the garden, but it will definitely go somewhere.

So over the past week the first snow drop opened. I’ve seen snow drops open throughout the neighbourhood, but as usual things in our garden are a few weeks behind. I guess spring finally has sprung!

Easter egg snow drop Happy Ukrainian Easter!

Time to get busy

It was the Easter long weekend and unexpectedly I started to get busy.

The temperatures got warm for Friday then plummeted. On Sunday morning it snowed and the snow stuck to the ground. Yikes!

Snow nutters

So on the one day it was warm I planned to spend it outside. My normal early spring gardening tasks include pruning the pussy willows so that I get fresh branches in the house and clean up the hellebores.

I only intended to prune away the dead hellebore leaves. But there was so much old leaves scattered around I started clearing all of them. I filled an entire garbage bin full of debris. When I got to the hellebores, the new buds were still very close to the ground. Usually they are already a few inches above ground with full heads. This time there were only a few buds coming out of the ground. One of the plants was so full of old leaves, at the base there was still frozen ice puddles. Kinda cool, but I want them to start growing. One of the plants had a big mass of bright green little buds coming out of the ground. Literally there was a giant mass of dead leaves over them and there they were hiding under all of that starting to grow. After clearing it off I piled two or three giant leaves on top, just to protect them from any frost that might come in the next few days.

Green hellebore tips

My strategy for the hellebores is that I let the leaves die down over winter.  I feel that the leaves protect the base of the plant over winter and clip them just as things start warming up so that they have room to grow. It’s worked for me over the years so I don’t want to mess with it. Although there is one type of hellebore that for some reason doesn’t do well in the yard, but I don’t think that’s related to my pruning habits, more likely due to where they are planted.

Here is a before pictures of the hellebores:

Before hellebore pruning

Here is an after picture, the dried stems are from the peonies which I usually just leave if they don’t snap off easily:

After hellebore pruning

After cleaning up the hellebore bed I continued by pulling all the burlap off the roses. The stems looked green at the bottom so I guess it worked. I loosened the dead leaves that were stuffed inside at the base of the roses. I left most of the leaves there because I know the mornings are still going to be cold for a while. I just didn’t want to leave the burlap there where it would trap the moisture.

So I figured that was all I was going to do outside, but the weather was so nice and warm, I only wore a sweater and my lined gardening gloves, so I continued clearing the other side of the garden. I noticed as I poked around that since this was the area where we piled the snow, there was a lot of gritty particles on top of the leaves. I guess this was from shoveling the driveway. I tried to pick up a lot of that grit – I don’t think it was salt – with the leaves and debris I was picking up and tossed into the bin. Like I said, I filled up an entire garbage bin of materials. I didn’t do the entire beds, maybe three quarters worth on each of the south and north sides of the garden. It still really seems early to be cleaning so much, I just got ahead of myself with the good weather.

Under the pussy willow tree, behind my neighbour’s BBQ “hut” there is still a layer of ice. But it’s receeded past the rhubarb and you can see the buds starting to form. Still very early, no leaves visible, but well formed little round buds.

Ice over rhubarb

On Saturday, the weather was cooler, and since it was my Palm Sunday I decided to harvest the pussy willows. They weren’t completely bloomed, they all had half a brown cap on them, but they looked decent in size and I figured it would be nice to have it for Palm Sunday, bring a bunch to my grandmother at the home.The tree was very sparse this year. If it was fuller, I would have left it because the job would have taken me longer and would have been more involved. I got it done in one afternoon, wearing a scarf but still only a sweater. It was easy this year too because I could stand on the ice instead of sinking into the mud! 🙂 I got it cleaned up as much as I could too so that task is all done!

It snowed and the temperatures plummeted so I concentrated on other things.

Still winter here…

So I woke up this morning to minus twenty wind chills and a nearby airport reported a record low temperature.

Spring started a week ago and I’m regretting hiding my heavy winter coat.

On the plus side – I took a brief walk in the garden during the week and the ground is super saturated. Which is nice to see because it means that stuff is actually melting. Although there is still a pile of snow over the rhubarb. (It’s in a shaded area of our yard because of our neighbours bbq “hutch”.)

Last week in the middle of this long winter I went with my Mum to visit Canada Blooms. We went last year and didn’t plan on going two years in a row – but with the way this winter has been dragging we figured it would be nice to get out and look at some greenery.

treble clef

Canada Blooms is co-located with the Home Show and this year they moved it to the older part of the building, where the animals are kept during the Winter Fair. It was really dark there and if I had known it was going to be there I would have brought my better camera and lens. Instead I had my simple camera and cell phone. But that was enough.

The theme was something along the lines of play, and I felt that all of the exhibits really took that to heart. It felt like the gardens each had put a lot more creative thought into the spaces and yet they were still very functional.

Some of the displays were very literal and provided spaces to play in. The flower show had a lot of literal displays.

soccer cleets

Others added a lot of playful hints to their spaces – like the bathtub fountain with a rubber ducky floating in it.

My Mum noted that that there didn’t seem to be a lot of flowers this year. And there weren’t. It was all greener – a lot more green shrubs and evergreens with a few tulips underneath.

giant hanging pots fountain

There were two spaces that I really loved. The first was a garden with an absolutely giant fountain in the back. At the front of it was this set of hanging pots that formed a large fountain. The size of the space was not large but the scale of the pond and the materials used were huge. Only evergreens were used with a few tiny vines and a mass of red tulips. Adding to the texture of the space was the use of lots of large stones creating a life like stone river, decking with large rough wood, give huge stone pots, driftwood screen fans and bright dramatic lighting. It literally took my breath away. Everyone just stood there in awe staring at it. It was wonderful.

river bedThe second space that was my absolute fav featured a large living wall wall clock overlooking a patio with a chess set. When you entered into the space it was very organic, with stone and pebble water falls and wispy shrubs under lit with spot lights. Little fairy sculptures were featured all over this area. You then moved into the formal area which was very structured with right angles and square shapes.

This was the best part. It featured a living wall overlooking a sitting area with a chess set in the middle of it. I saw pictures of this clock online in the few days before getting there, but the size of it was surprising once I saw it in person. And then there was the chess set. My Mum and I really loved that detail because it reminded us of our trip to Germany a few years ago where two hotels we stayed at had them. Again it was a literal application of the Play theme but it worked so well in that space. I could picture making a large living wall in my backyard, with a chess set underneath and myself lounging on a patio lounger with my sunglasses on.

living wall overlooking chess set patio

Although I don’t think it would work unless all the snow melted.

Could it be? Spring?

So March started off being cold. Cold and covered in snow.

I have little hope that it will be a warm spring. Like last year, the lakes are still frozen over so the weather will remain cold this  year for quite a while I suspect.

So much to my surprise EVERYTHING STARTED MELTING!! I think it was only above zero for a week and sunny and that’s all it seems to take.

Last weekend I went into the backyard to investigate how things were growing. The pussy willow buds were starting to swell up. Not too large yet. My first sign of spring is the pussy willows and I’m on pussy willow watch right now. Usually the fuzzy catkins bloom at the end of March. Either the last week, or a week before or later. Depending on how good the spring is. So at the beginning of March I always start thinking and keeping in mind that the first of my garden tasks will start in a few weeks. Which is why I had to take a peak at them.

The entire yard was covered in snow. I could have climbed up the snow shoveling pile to get a closer look at them but the buds were obviously still closed. I walked through the snow to the back corner of the yard to look at the quince blossom tree and it was covered in little tiny buds. I can’t believe how tiny the buds start off as. They take a long time to grow and then at the end of the season the bush is just full of colour. Of course the lilac also has it’s buds growing.

flowering quince bud     lilac bud

This weekend when I walked into the yard almost all of the snow has disappeared! And the grass was very water logged so I had to walk on what little snow was left. Which is good – it means that spring it on its way.

And an even more exciting sign of spring – the first few pussy willow buds are starting to crack open!!

pussy willow bud budding open

Winter 2015 Wrap Up

This past winter was cold. It didn’t feel as brutal as last year, but it was definitely harsher.

It started becoming cold back in December. The snow started falling the day after the construction crew that was replacing the water pipes on our street packed up. I literally had a half day once they left for the dust to stop flying and before the temperature dropped into the negative to repaint the hand railings. That was back in December.

January was cold, below seasonal by a few degrees but it was dry. There was a layer of snow, but it wasn’t that bad of a month.

February was freezing. The city hit a record number of dates below zero, I think it ended up being 34 days? The cold hit minus double digits. And it snowed several times. Not bad snow, I think the totals were below what we averagely get for the winter. So the garden had a good layer of snow covering it all. Snow and ice.

Hopefully that layer of snow helps to insulate the roses. After last year I was worried about them and wrapped them in burlap. Never tried that before. When I bought them I never checked what zones they were hardy to. Mistake. Three of them are not hardy to my area – the Chicago Peace, Flaming Peace, and Charisma. The Charisma does okay, but the Peace roses do not do well at all. I also got two new mini roses during mother’s day. I wrapped them up too hoping they do well through the winter. I didn’t build cages over them – I just wrapped them up loosely. We’ll see if that worked this year.

The last snow fall included ice pellets which put a sheen of ice over a layer of snow. Everything glistened covered in the snow. A beautiful end to a dragging winter.

sunset with sundogs