Raymond Evison Clematis

Raymond Evison is a English gardener and plant breeder who has worked in developing clematis cultivars for over 50 years. 

When I went to West Coast Gardens looking for a balcony-suitable climber I was directed to the “new” Evison clematis’. Apparently they flower in late spring and then again later in the late summer. Mine has been forming buds for the past few weeks and I’ve been excitedly waiting to see what the flowers will look like. Today I was rewarded.  I chose a pink double flower variety called “Empress”, simply because I thought the picture on its accompanying card was pretty. I’m definitely not disappointed.

This clematis has been joyfully growing on my balcony for about a month, climbing noticeably higher on a daily basis. It seems to love the east-facing space where it gets good strong morning sun and avoids the strongest heat of the day.
In the winter I’m directed to cut the upper 1/3 of the plant and leave it outdoors where (as long as it has moderate wind protection) it will be safe until it begins to grow again the following spring.
Here are some photos I’ve taken over the past week. Enjoy!







Building A Simple Raised Bed Planter :)

Every now and again I get called upon to help build something for a friend. I guess it’s because my girlfriends don’t have all the tools I do, or maybe it’s because I have more experience than most in my social circle.

This week a good friend showed me a picture of a Costco raised bed planter she thought she might buy. For $190 she could buy a set of two plastic snap-together beds that would give her 32 square feet of usable garden space. The 4’x4′ planters didn’t ideally suit her needs, as she didn’t really want to give up that much lawn space.

I convinced her that for 1/3 the cost she could have a lovely cedar planter, made to whatever dimensions she liked.

I sent her to the lumber depot with a shopping list:
4x 2x6x10′ cedar boards (for sides)
1x 2x6x8′ cedar board (for ends) cut into 4 two foot lengths

I looked through my things and found:
2 1/2″ zinc wood screws
An old stair rail which I cut into six 2x2x11″ pieces

We met at her place and got started. I’ve built a number of these sort of beds, but I have to say that having someone to help is a real treat.

With her holding each 2×2 in place, I screwed two screws into each board, fastening them to the corner post.


After the first layer was complete, we began the same process with the second level. I like to alternate the overlap of the boards so that the planter looks the same from all angles. It also provides more strength to the joints.

Since this raised bed is ten feet long, we added two more posts halfway along the length to pull the boards together and support them. Easy peasy.

In a half hour we were done with the project; I doubt she could have put the plastic planters from Costco together any quicker. And the custom built cedar planter looks awesome.


Installing Drip Irrigation

This raised bed now has a regular supply of water from a nearby rain barrel
A few years ago my brother bought me a bunch of tubing and connectors to set up a drip irrigation system. The components made it to my garage but I was intimidated by all the little parts and by what appeared to be complicated instructions.
We had a few days of rain this week so I decided that it was time to pull everything out and have a go at designing an irrigation system for my two raised vegetable beds.It turned out I had ample materials for one raised bed, but I needed a few more connectors for the other. I was able to find what I needed at Lee Valley Tools.

I began with 1/2" hose, 1/4" tubing, compression fittings and 1/4" hose connectors
Hoses and connectors
1/4″ connectors: straight, elbow and T
Punching holes
I cut all of the pieces I needed
Then began to connect them all
Basically I began with a compression connector which connects the male end of my regular hose to the 1/2″ irrigation hose. Then once I determined the length of the 1/2″ hose I needed (just short of 5′) I cut it off and applied another compression connector with an end cap.
I punched 10 holes in the 1/2″ hose at 12″ intervals, 5 on each side. Into those holes I inserted a straight barbed connector attached to a 23 1/2″ piece of 1/4″ drip tubing. A the other end of each of these pieces of drip tubing I used additional connectors and several 11 1/2″ pieces of tubing to make a loop system. 
A Y-splitter gives both raised beds access to the rain barrel
Quick connector makes taking the hose off easy
I made my own hooks to secure the tubing
Shepherd’s hooks were fashioned from clothes hanger wire and used to secure the tubing in place in the soil.
I attached a Y-splitter to my rain barrel so that I could water both beds at the same time. I also added some quick connectors to the hoses so that I could disconnect them when they weren’t in use. Because this is system isn’t connected to a potable water source I didn’t install a backflow preventer. 
Because the water pressure is minimal, I didn’t concern myself with a pressure regulator. I would consider at minimum the backflow preventer if I had it attached to my home water supply.
The final outcome is a drip irrigation system that uses rain water and gravity

Winning Garden 2012!

The Edmonton Horticultural Society holds an annual contest to determine the city’s finest gardens in twelve different categories. Anyone who has the entry fee can participate, and this year I threw my tilley hat in the ring in the “vegetable garden” category.

To my surprise and delight, I won first place. My Mom’s first response was to ask, “How many entries were there?” So like my Mom.

In any case, here are a few pictures.

Thinking Outside the Box (Store)

Resist the Swan

Is it just me, or has anybody else noticed that every box store in North America has jumped on the gardening goods bandwagon? You can find everything from seeds to manure at the mall these days. Thank goodness for the independent greenhouses and gardening supply companies or we’d all be producing the same petunias in the same swan planter as our neighbors.

I want to share another creative idea I came up with this week: my chimney flue planters. I bought four of these bad-boys for $30 from a guy on kijiji who had recently renovated his home. I thought they’d be ideal planters, so I dug them into my garden and filled them with soil. Voila. What do you think?

Chimney Flue Planters


Transplanting Tomato Seedlings

36 carefully transplanted tomatoes

Today was transplant day, which means that I carefully moved 36 tomato seedlings to their new pots. This isn’t difficult, but it is tedious. Also known as pricking out, transplanting is an important step in growing plants from seed.

I started by filling three dozen three inch pots with sterile, slightly moist potting soil. Each pot needed a marker to indicate which tomato it held, so I cut 36 tags from a plastic yogurt tub and labeled each one.

After making a deep hole in the soil of the new pots, I carefully lifted each tomato plant from the bottom using an escargot fork (and you thought you didn’t have any use for an escargot fork?). I only touch the seedlings on their cotyledon leaves, as damage to the stem or first set of leaves can stunt the growth of the plant.

It’s really important to plant the tomato seedlings as deep as possible – this allows them to develop strong roots. I’ll have another chance to transplant them to a larger pot in about 3 weeks, and I’ll plant them even deeper at that time.

Upcycling Pots for Seedlings

Toilet Paper Pots

I’m forever looking for ways to reuse things I have around the house when it comes time to sow my spring seeds. I use anything I can get my hands on from yogurt cups to take-out containers.

This year I decided to try making small paper planters from toilet paper rolls.

Each roll can be cut in half to make two planters – tiny little planters suitable for some of the seedlings I’ll sow last, like lettuce and morning glory.

Fold the tp rolls flat then again so that they become square-ish.  Cut them in half then make a 1cm slice along each fold. Fold these slits as you would to close a box. Flip and fill.

Sheet Mulching: Workshop

Finished Bed

The key to a successful workshop is copious amounts of preparation. Or so I hoped.

Claudia Bolli of Wildgreen Garden Consulting was on her way to my place to teach a workshop and I was hoping that as the host of the event I was ready. Ten students were coming on this crisp fall morning to learn about sheet mulching and I had been collecting material for the hands-on portion of the workshop for two months.

Sheet mulching, sometimes referred to as lasagna gardening, is the process of creating a garden space through the layering of compostable materials in a very specific manner. Basically you lay down a cardboard barrier then nitrogen rich greens and carbon rich browns alternating until you have a tall pile of material that slowly decompose into a workable garden plot.

Sheet mulching saves the back-breaking labour of digging out sod and the budget-breaking expense of hauling in soil. A garden can be created right over the grass using clean, chemical-free biodegradable materials found on your own property and/or scrounged from neighbours and friends.

And scrounge I did. I collected grass clippings from my own lawn, but was given additional lawn waste from family members. My critical stipulation was that the clippings couldn’t have any traces of herbicide, as I didn’t want to poison my brand new garden for years to come.

I advertised on the internet and found a woman who offered me bags and bags of her garden waste. With this material I was careful to remove any weed seed heads and avoid anything that might infest my garden. I took nearly twenty bags of material from her yard and with a shredder I reduced it to the equivalent of two.

Leaves were the easiest to find – a drive down my back alley netted a dozen large bags.

I also brought home a dozen bags of washed up partially decomposed reeds from a beach in Manitoba which were rich in carbon and micronutrients.

I had wood shavings from a neighbour’s attic, a pail of chicken manure, a bag of bone meal, two bales of partially rotted straw and a bin of finished compost from my own compost pile to use as an inoculant.

I had shovels, a pitchfork, rakes and a hose ready to be put to work.

Claudia arrived shortly before the seminar was to begin and through the magic of modern technology we managed to project her PowerPoint presentation on my flat screen TV.

She presented a two hour interactive talk which covered everything from permaculture to soil-building. There was so much material to cover, but the participants were anxious to get to the hands-on portion of the course. After a brief break we found ourselves out in my front yard and it was time to find out if I had done enough preparation or if my efforts were to fall short.

Earlier in the week I had dug a swale along the highest point in my front yard. To the north of the swale was where the new bed would be created and the idea was to run water from my roof into the swale allowing it to ultimately reach the plants in the new garden. This eight-inch deep trench would later be filled with bits of old brick and covered with wood chips to create an attractive border for the bed.

After the students had looked over the area to be transformed, we began loosening up the sod with a fork, poking deep holes every six to eight inches. I had watered the area the day before, so the soil was relatively easy to penetrate. We spread an even layer of chicken manure followed by a dusting of bone meal, both high in nitrogen.

Courtesy of Wild Green Garden Consulting

We laid down a single layer of dense cardboard, filling any cracks or holes with several layers of newspaper and overlapping the cardboard by a minimum of six inches to prevent future grass growth.

After watering down the cardboard we added a two inch layer of grass clippings and fresh garden waste, also high in nitrogen. We followed this with a layer of leaves, then alternated layers of greens and browns until we topped off the twelve-inch lasagna with the nutrient-rich reeds I’d hauled back from Manitoba.

With everyone helping out the project took just over an hour, and I had enough material left over to make an admirable compost pile under my spruce tree. A few finishing touches to the border and we were done. Many hands make light work.

By building up instead of digging down, sheet mulching is a great way to develop a new bed without all the sweat and tears. This won’t be my last lasagna project. Mmmm….lasagna.

Product Review: The Plant Nanny

Plant Nanny

I don’t get too excited about products for the garden unless they help me solve a problem. If they help me solve the problem and cost only a few dollars, then I get very excited. The Plant Nanny is one of those products.

I bought four of them from LeeValley this year, planning to use them to solve the difficulty I had encountered when watering my upside down tomato planters. I grow Tumbler tomatoes in my homemade planters, with a tomato plant growing from the bottom and a wave petunia cascading from the top.

Last year I found that when I watered the hanging planters much of the water simply flowed through and out the bottom. The grass grew green and tall directly under my planters.

Over time the planters soil became compacted, and I wasn’t confident that the petunias were getting as much water and fertilize as the tomatoes, or vice versa. Not only that, I had to water them virtually every day, and sometimes morning and evening if the weather was particularly hot.

The Plant Nanny solved this problem flawlessly. This simple clay funnel slowly feeds water to the soil, encouraging the plants to send their roots to wrap around the clay and ensure a constant supply of water.

You fill a pop bottle, any size, with water or water with fertilizer, screw it onto the plastic insert and slide it into the clay funnel. Place the funnel into the soil and you’re good to go. I find that a one litre bottle is perfect for my containers and lasts for about 2-3 days depending on the conditions.

On Fertilizer Fridays I add a tsp of all purpose fertilizer to the water. Fertilizer Fridays is what I call my weekly feeding day – it helps me keep track of when to add fertilizer to my watering schedule.

Kudos to the Plant Nanny for developing a simple solution to an age-old problem.

Death From Above

I’ve heard about people who have to fight off docile deer and those fluffy little bunnies. They come up with all sorts of ideas to frighten, intimidate and punish the cute little wildlife that appear in their garden to have a look around and strike photogenic poses.

Common House Sparrow

Alas, but I wish I had such simple matters to deal with. No, in my garden fear comes from above. Yes, I have the viciously ruthless Common House Sparrow to contend with.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking…what could a tiny beady-eyed house sparrow do to your garden that a swipe with a broom couldn’t deal with?

Well, sparrows tienen los cajones (tiny ones albeit) of steel. They’ll pick away at my pea sprouts while looking me in the eye, then fly away when I rush at them hose in hand. They’ll laugh at me as they snack on my lettuce greens. With two broods a season, they have countless little beaks to feed and they’ll stop at nothing to get at my Swiss chard.

I’ve battled these villainous flying feathered fiends for years, and I’ve finally come up with a tidy solution to keep them away from the goods. I’ve built retaining walls – tiny jails to protect my veggies from the beaks of doom.

For four weeks after I sow my peas I protect them with a metal mesh from one end of my raised bed to the other. After they have reached about four inches in height they seem to no longer have the tasty bird-appeal they once did, and it’s safe to release the peas to grow tall and delicious.

My small planters of early greens are protected from seedling to salad by custom made wire mesh proctors.

I’ll be protecting my head lettuce this year for the entire season with my new lettuce coop. Built from flexible PVC hose and plastic mesh, this fortress of security is impenetrable. See the photo gallery for details.