Tag Archives: gardening

Building a Toad Hotel

In an effort to finally gain the upper hand in dealing with overgrown plants, very bushy bushes, and relentless weeds, we invested in professional help for our garden.

While I cannot speak to the reasons to how or why the garden got to this point, I can only say that the year we took over the house, a walk in our backyard was what I imagine might feel like a walk through a lush rain forest.

It was soothing for the senses to see Mother Nature at work like that, with so much greenery billowing in the breeze.

But the bottom line was that the garden was out of control with plants growing into each other or suffocating each other. It was like plant wars, witnessing the survival of the fittest first hand. Nonetheless, the potential for a really nice garden was definitely there.

Trying to stay on top of the weeds was the impossible dream for us, cautiously putting in an hour here and there, on weekends, weather permitting, when the mosquito count was low, without upsetting the delicate balance of degenerating back conditions. Aging sucks!

It was an incredibly validating exercise to see that it took three young people, a small tractor and two very full days to whip the garden back into shape!

By the time that the crew had completed the work, our gardens were finally a source of pride rather than a source of embarrassment. The curb appeal was returning and we expect it will improve further over time as new growth fills in the spaces vacated by the former plants having near-death experiences. Continue reading

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The Joy of Owning a Wood Chipper

I can’t say that many nick names have stuck with me over the years. The name André doesn’t really shorten all that well.

Some have tried calling me “An” which sounded awkward and too short for a nickname, if that is even possible. “Dré” gained traction with some of my friends and I would still respond to it today, but due to the pandemic, no one has called me that for some time.

But now, if someone decided to call me “Chip”, it would be totally justified, thanks to my favourite new garden tool: our electric wood chipper.

If someone had told me just a few years ago that someday I would own a wood chipper, I would have recommended that they seek medical attention or to review the dosage of their meds.

From my vantage point, there was no way in the world that this city boy would ever own a wood chipper. To me, that was a tool reserved for properties in the deep woods and as props in movies like “Fargo”.

Never say never.

Here we are, living in the country, and I am now the proud owner of a wood chipper. Continue reading

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The Trouble with Walnut Trees

When we moved to our country property, I really had no idea what a non-stop learning experience I would be encountering.

With a fascinating collection of trees growing throughout our little lot, technology became my best friend for identifying and researching each type’s unique characteristics and needs for proper care.

The first time I heard of black walnut trees was when we contacted an expert to examine a couple of trees that looked like they were having near-death experiences. He suggested that the reason for their illness was the black walnut trees that send a poison through their root system to kill off neighbouring trees, thereby hoarding water and nutrients for itself. It’s mean but that is the way that species of tree operates in the spirit of self-preservation.

I have to admit, I was such a novice in the gardening department, I was surprised that our cold weather and relatively short growing season would support any kind of nut tree. I thought that they only grew in warmer climates. You learn something new every day!

The first growing season after we moved in, we experienced a drought that seemed to put all of our trees in survival mode, as we didn’t see much action from the apple trees nor the black walnut trees.

The second year was a completely different story. One of our apple trees was beyond generous, as I described in my posts, My First Apple Tree (Part 1) and (Part 2).

When fall rolled around, it was the black walnut trees’ turn to deliver. And wow, did they deliver! It was a nutty time.

While I could just leave the nuts for the squirrels and chipmunks to stash away as their winter food, or leave the nuts there to decompose, the reality is that there were just so many of them. Plus, I assumed that we likely wanted to avoid having them take root in the lawn and risk killing off other beautiful plants and shrubs. We started moving them to a temporary pile, to gradually incorporate them into the garbage or in preparation for the dump.

I discovered that there was no use in putting them in paper yard waste bags until the day we were ready to dispose of them. Our badass chipmunks completely destroy the bags to get to the nuts. That being the case, I didn’t want to risk putting bags in the garage either for fear of attracting them and causing collateral damage.

At first, the walnuts fell at a pretty manageable rate. I could scoop them up with a great tool I picked up at a local hardware store, without straining my old back. But given the sheer magnitude of the trees, after a few weeks, it became a losing battle as the slightest breeze could knock the nuts out by the dozens.

They were falling so quickly, I tried to keep the cat away from the trees during our supervised walks, but you know what happens when you say no…

As she stood under one of the trees, sniffing away at the raw nuts that smell like a stronger version of Ivory soap, I often found myself sheltering her little head with my hands, to protect her from falling nuts. Next year I may need to invest in a cat crash helmet, just in case.

Given the consistently heavy downpour of nuts, it was time to revert to the wheelbarrow to collect them up and transport them to the temporary pile.

The sad part is that our neighbouring petting zoos aren’t interested in these nuts in the same way that we were able to unload our excess apples to be happily enjoyed by their pigs and goats.

As for human consumption, I checked a few online videos describing the process to take a raw black walnut and to prepare it for cooking and baking. Let’s just say that I did not retire from a full-time job to take on the full-time job of processing and drying nuts.

Unfortunately, when collecting and transferring a heavy bucket of nuts into a garbage bag, I sent my back into a level of distress I haven’t experienced in many years. The backache was not fun, but thankfully it sorted itself out within a couple of weeks with a series of gentle stretching exercises.

As much as I love the beautiful canopy of our black walnut trees, providing wonderful shade on the hottest of summer days, there is a price to pay for these natural beauties.

Keeping up with the avalanche of nuts this year was a lot of work, far more than I envisioned. However, looking on the bright side, I have to count my blessings that this tree operates on a different timeline than our abundant apple trees, offering us a break between both harvests.

Did you enjoy this post? If you did, your likes and shares are most appreciated.
If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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City Boy Discovers Chainsaw

A few years ago, if someone had told me, “Someday you will own a chainsaw”, I would have politely recommended that they seek help from a medical professional, as there was no way that this city boy would ever own a chainsaw.

Never say never.

Here we are… living in the country and I now own a chainsaw… not out of frivolity, but out of necessity.

I have to admit it, I really enjoy using the chainsaw (but just to clarify, not in a horror movie kind of way).

We are most fortunate to be living on a beautiful tree-lined lot, surrounded by many mature trees. However, it doesn’t take a violent storm to generate an assortment of fallen twigs and branches across our lawn. A gentle breeze is all it takes, which is pretty much a daily event.

Last year, I wrote about how living in the country had become a nonstop game of “Pick-up sticks”. Every day, I was outside picking up branches and sticks. It wasn’t a complaint, as I was enjoying the fresh air and sunshine while doing it, it was just an observation. However, it was something that I had never experienced while living in my condo in the city. The most cleanup I ever had to do there was picking up garbage produced by my fellow humans or unscooped doggie waste, but never branches.

Here, in the country, the big question is what to do with the branches, when you don’t own a wood stove or fireplace. Letting them accumulate is not an option, as these make great shelters for rodents who may opt later to move up the property ladder and sneak into the house. Disposing of the branches is the only option, but the sanitation department will not take them as-is. The branches need to be broken down.

With the number of branches we have to process on a regular basis, pruning shears and hand saws just won’t cut it, please forgive the pun. Continue reading

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Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Garden Weeds

In declaring my independence from the city and moving to the country, I felt a sense of renewed freedom that was truly hard to describe.

Regular readers and my inner circle of friends will recall that in the city, I have had more than my fair share of lousy neighbours. Over the years, I have endured blaring music till all hours of the night, my backyard being used as a dog’s toilet and my driveway being used as a visitor’s parking spot, among other not-so-neighbourly infractions.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had exceptionally lovely neighbours as well and I miss them dearly, but the nuisance ones occupied significantly more of my head space than the delightful ones.

The move to a rural property meant less need to compromise and to accommodate the impingements of self-entitled neighbours in the name of “staying on good terms”. With so few neighbours, I had the distance I needed to breathe and to heal.

But in the country, there is a different impingement that has become an almost daily preoccupation: garden weeds.

When we arranged a first visit to see this property, it was mid-February and the 1.4 acre parcel of land was covered by snow. We knew that the place had a garden, as the listing referred to the patio as an “oasis”, but that was the extent of what we knew about the state of the landscaping. Continue reading

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The Wisdom of Flowers

FlowersThis past week I was most excited to come home from work and to be able to snip a few stems of fresh lily of the valley. While I understand that some people might classify these on the same level as invasive weeds, to me they are the ultimate example of why flowers are important and how flowers speak to us.

First, the wonderful fragrance of lily of the valley is a throwback to childhood memories of a simpler time. When it would peak in mid to late May, Mom would bring a bunch into the house, filling the room with that aroma that became synonymous with joy and the messages “end-of-school year” and “summer is almost here”, a Pavlovian trigger that remains with me today.

As an adult, I continue to appreciate its gentle whispers and reminders:

Hope: When we are in a winter that seemingly never ends or a spring that never seems to arrive, flowers are a reminder that at some point, the seasons will indeed change and the crocuses, tulips, lilacs and lily of the valley will be in full bloom. The eager anticipation for the sights and perfumes of flowers in bloom, to me, is synonymous with “good things come to those who wait” and “hope springs eternal”.

Carpe Diem: With lily of the valley, the window of opportunity is perhaps 10 days and takes a concerted effort to keep checking on them to not miss their peak. If you snip them too early, they aren’t fragrant. If you snip them too late, the fragrance starts expiring and then they dry out and die. The expression “stop and smell the roses” is a thoughtful parallel to the transience of life and how the good times are meant to be savoured.Lily of the valley

Adversity: To me, lily of the valley have been a source of fascination. When it came to experiments in my own garden, I tried growing some in rich soil but to poor results: they don’t seem to grow the fragrant bells, only the green stems. But when I plant them in poor quality, sandy soil (one foot away), they thrive and rise like a phoenix. Lesson learned: even in adversity, beauty and abundance is possible.

The cyclical nature of life: The beauty of gardening is when you can have a fun mixture of perennials and annuals reaching their peak of blooms at different times, providing colour and entertainment throughout the growing season. Lily of the valley might bloom early, but it is easy to find plants to backfill for them, and stagger the beauty of the garden throughout summer and fall. To me this is a floral reflection on “not having all of one’s eggs in the same basket” and that “variety is the spice of life”.

Surprises: Every now and then, I have been surprised by plants either blooming longer than expected or coming back for another round of late blooms well into the fall. I live for those serendipitous moments, not only in the garden, but in life as well.

Did you enjoy this post? If you did, please know that there are plenty more where that came from! If you haven’t already, you can check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.net. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox.
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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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My Garden, My Science Project

My garden, spring 2015

My garden, spring 2015

Since I moved in 14 years ago, the little garden area in my backyard has been a perpetual science project.

Located under the staircase leading up to the balcony/deck on the second floor of my house, the area is not really conducive to becoming an outdoor living space or serving any practical purposes. As a new homeowner 14 years ago, I decided to take on the challenge of making it an ornamental space to give my postage stamp sized backyard some kind of visual appeal.

Before I could even start planning on what to plant there, it was clean-up time as previous owners/occupants never really did anything with the space. Waste and debris accumulated there – lots of it – in the form of organic and non-organic waste. I spent two weekends clearing out garbage of all kinds including newspapers, candy wrappers, bottle caps, beer cans, dead branches and leaves, lots of rocks as well as some unidentifiable household items, but fortunately, nothing requiring “CSI” intervention. There was so much junk to be hauled, my muscles could only do so much in one day, but what a great workout! I am sure a “Fitness Boot Camp” program could have been planned around it.

Planting season 2 was an experience in itself. I planted a few easy ones to get things started but they immediately died. The soil was nowhere near being ready to sustain life and the resident insects there were still in party mode. My mission in the second season was to get rid of some of the old soil, add new soil and fertilize it sufficiently to be able to sustain plant life. Along the way, I discovered random wild root systems lurking about a foot down that needed to be pulled out. Unfortunately, while pulling out some very tenacious roots, my lower back made a popping noise (and not in a good way) so I was out for the rest of the season.

In planting season 3, my back had healed well enough and I managed to get the soil conditioned in time to get the season started, only to discover that the neighbourhood squirrels had a voracious appetite for almost everything I planted. I read online that a good way to discourage squirrels naturally was to plant onion bulbs. I woke up one morning to find little bits of onion skins scattered around the postage-stamp sized backyard as the squirrels seemingly feasted on those too.

In planting season 4, I stayed away from any plant source that involved bulbs and discovered what should have been there in the first place: ground cover plants. Given the garden’s placement, it only received partial morning sunlight until 11:00, so the journey began to find virtually indestructible plants that liked shade. Hostas and Japanese spurge took off like crazy and the lily of the valley I planted the year before seemed to survive the squirrels and gave me three stems. I think we finally have a garden!

The years that followed involved much online research and trips to the garden centre, buying a few individual plants to see if they would take. Some did, some didn’t, and some resurrected a year or two later, causing congestion in the little garden. Continue reading

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