Butterfly Garden Success

Last fall, after much pleading on my part (plan approval is a complicated process), I was granted permission to design and create a butterfly garden at the local hospice I volunteer at.  I have also referred to it as a wildflower garden to differentiate it from the more formal garden beds I have designed and planted there. This is my butterfly garden success story!

Although I posted an update this past spring, with details of the planting methods used, the final verdict on the success of my butterfly/wildflower garden was still out back then. These pictures were taken in early summer when things (not just weeds) finally started to grow…

Zinnias
Red flax
Poppies

This week, (late summer) I am thrilled to report that the experiment was a huge success!  The warm and wet weather (and our hard work of course) has created a riot of colourful blooms in the garden…

Butterflies, Birds, and Bees…oh my!

Although I have been calling this a butterfly garden, the goal is to attract hummingbirds and bees to our new garden as well. The variety of plant shapes and flower colours in this garden is akin to a smorgasbord of delectables to attract all of mother nature’s creatures in droves. This type of garden is also referred to as a pollinator garden for obvious reasons. The stepping stones are to permit strolling through the garden as well as maintenance in the form of weeding and watering.

Hospice Garden Team

There are lots of I’s so far in this post. To clarify and assign credit where it is due in spades, (pun intended) this project (and the landscaping at the hospice in general) would never have reached this level of success without the keenness and diligence of our garden team at Ruddy Shenkman Hospice in Kanata.

These dedicated team members are on-site lots more than I am. For example, we have a watering schedule that ensures all the containers, new gardens, and new additions to older, established garden beds get attended to daily. We also have team members (one wonder woman in particular) designated for lawn cutting. With the extensive RSH property, these are huge, behind-the-scene tasks. As a (semi-retired) professional landscaper, my main role on the team is to design and create new projects (garden beds) and identify chores that need to be done to keep the gardens looking as great as they do. I’m getting good at making lists, although I still love getting my hands dirty in the planting stage.

Successes in Butterfly Garden Planning

I learned lots through the experimental process of this butterfly garden and made a few mistakes but my vision prevailed.  Phew!

The mini greenhouses on my back deck all winter were definitely a success and something I would highly recommend! Those plastic clamshell containers from grocery stores come in handy for this purpose. They make for an inexpensive propagation method to sprout seeds, especially those that require cold stratification to germinate.

Also a huge success was the idea to plant seeds under clear plastic cups. On a whim, I did this in the early spring to fill in the blanks between the transplanted sprouts from the greenhouses. Using seeds of annuals from a big box store (poppies, asters, zinnias, cosmos, cleomes, and more) I simply put four or five seeds under each cup, pushed the cup into the soil to keep it from blowing in the wind, kept the soil wet around the cups, and waited for sprouts. I was amazed!

Mistakes Encountered

Sprinkling mixed seeds last fall was (relatively) a bust. These seeds were collected from plants in my gardens as well as from my clients’ gardens. I had a garden waste bag full of seeds. Although the thought was to provide a random dispersion of plants, the randomness was a little too excessive. Especially frustrating was trying to differentiate the weeds from the desired plants.

I also regret succumbing to the complaints about my “stick garden.” In doing so I removed the stakes that showed our team where the “keepers” (as opposed to weeds) were, making it frustrating for us all.

Convincing the Doubters

I think I also earned the respect of my fellow garden team members and hospice staff that were scratching their heads in disbelief throughout. Especially when the weeds were hard to differentiate from the wildflowers and butterfly attractors. I heard the term “stick garden” mumbled a few times when all that was visible was my stakes where the plants were supposed to be growing.

Conclusion

The good news? Everyone is enthusiastically on-board now. And, the most important critics of all, a few monarch butterflies and lots of bees were spotted enjoying the garden last week!

The beauty of self-seeding annuals is that they do just that, produce flower heads full of seeds that scatter randomly in the fall. Left in place, the seeds get buried in snow and pop up next spring as new plants.

I added butterfly-loving (brightly coloured) perennials, such as coneflowers, milkweed, Russian sage, blanket flowers, and many others to the bed to fill in the blanks between the annuals.

Lasagna Method Ends Garden Season

Turn Your Hobby into a business

This week Gardens4u and the volunteer garden team at Ruddy Shenkman Hospice (RSH) created a wildflower/butterfly garden using the “lasagna method.” This technique is used to smother grass instead of digging it up, saving both our back muscles and the nutrients (nitrogen) within the grass.

What Layers to Use in Lasagna Method

Use large pieces of cardboard, or any other compostable ingredients, ending with a layer of soil. A warning though: be sure to choose items that will not entice rodents to dig up your garden. We did try newspaper too, especially over the cracks/holes in the cardboard. It was so windy though that the lightweight paper was difficult to hold in place. We used small stones (you can see some in the pictures) to hold the layers in place.

If time permits (before the snow flies) we hope to add another compostable layer to the “lasagna” over the seeds in the form of mulched leaves. The leaves will also help hold the seeds and bits of newspaper in place.

Plants of Choice for a Butterfly Garden

After the cardboard and soil were layered over the lawn, we sprinkled seeds over the soil. We used tall, flat and large flowered, butterfly-loving, native perennials and self-sowing annuals. I chose various coneflowers, tall phlox, monarda (AKA beebalm), joe pye weed, globe thistles, black-eyed-susans, filipendula, asters, and many others. All were harvested from my own or clients’ gardens.

In the spring we plan to supplement the seedlings (if necessary) with plant donations (if you live in my area, contact me when dividing your perennials in the spring). We will move some seedlings around for a lush, but informal wildflower look to contrast with the existing formal beds created and tended over the years.

Finishing Touches

Flagstones were added to create a meandering path through the garden. These stepping stones also enable our garden team to access sections of the garden for maintenance such as watering and weeding.

Finishing touches in the spring will also include tidying up the outer edge of the garden for a neater appearance. I may or may not add shorter perennials to the outer edges. I am still undecided about that call as I do not want to ruin the informal, natural look.

Here are some pictures of the lasagna procedure, in chronological order:

That’s me on the phone, ordering more soil from Lancosa Landscaping who delivered two loads of garden soil on short notice. They also generously donated the second load after learning about this volunteer project at the RSH.

Lasagna Method Garden Project Ends Gardens4u Season

Great work team! Many thanks to those of you who donated your time and muscle power, cardboard, newspapers, and seeds.

Stay tuned for a spring update!

photo credit

Pussy Willows and Forsythia for Spring Cheerfulness

Nothing screams spring like pussy willows and forsythia

Spring has sprung! In my world, this is anticipated for months. Nothing screams spring quite like pussy willows and forsythia sprigs. I love both, together, for a colorful, cheerful display at any entrance.

Recently, I spotted some pussy willows at my local grocery store and took them to our local hospice to spruce up the containers at the front door. If you cannot find any at a grocery store in your area, check out the roadsides where you might just find some.

Out with the browned, crispy winter displays and in with a new, cheerful, spring-like look. A few (artificial) forsythia sprigs were added for their spring-like, bright yellow cheeriness. I am not usually a fan of artificial flowers, but unfortunately, forsythias are not quite in bloom yet, at least not here in Ottawa. I found these at my local dollar store; the price was right!

Pussy willows and forsythia just seem to belong together, especially in spring displays…

The red dogwood stems and birch branches were left over from the winter arrangements, left in for their additional colour and texture.

Get your spring on! Find some pussy willows and forsythia branches to create some drama at your front door.

Garden Renovation at Ruddy Shenkman Hospice

gardening business

Recently Gardens4u expanded the front garden at the Ruddy Shenkman Hospice (RSH) in Kanata. I have been volunteering my (gardening) services at RSH for several years now, shortly after it moved to my neighbourhood.

Only the Good Die Young

This project has been a vision in my brain for a while; I just had to wait until all parties were onboard and permission was granted. As a non-profit organization there are always lots of hoops to jump through.

A few existing shrubs were left in place, in particular the burning bush which is gorgeous this time of year. Two large spreading junipers were trimmed and shaped, but will remain in the garden, mainly because they would be much too difficult (for me) to remove. They also provide winter interest as they are evergreen in our climate.

The first step was to mark out the shape of the new garden using a garden hose and black spray paint. My granddaughter was on hand as the inspector for that job…

Next, to save time as well as my back, I enlisted the help of Tim Driscoll of TD Small Loads who scraped the sod and carted it away.

When that chore was complete, we spread the composted manure donated and delivered by Ritchies Feed & Seed on Carp Road in Stittsville.

After the soil amendment came the plants, many of which were donated by other members of the RSH garden team as well as some of my neighbours. The large shrubs were also selected from and donated by Ritchies. I placed the shrubs and perennials strategically in the garden, still in their pots, according to their bloom time and colour, foliage shape as well as their mature size. A few tweaks here and there are always the norm before holes are dug and actual planting takes place.

The final step is to fill any blank spots in with contributions from my own gardens. Then a layer of cedar mulch (also donated and delivered from Ritchies) finishes the garden off…

I can’t wait until this garden matures, it should look beautiful!!

Mulched leaves, great for your garden

Mulched leaves are great for your garden.  They are an inexpensive way to amend your soil and protect tender perennials and shrubs from the wrath of Mother Nature over the winter months.  If your soil is really poor, add a layer of composted manure over top the mulched leaves.  The soil in my Kanata (Ottawa suburb) gardens was predominantly clay, so this fall treatment has really helped over the years.  Your reward will be visible next spring and summer when your gardens look gorgeous.

A previous post described my Toro leaf mulcher and blower. I have since become disenchanted with it as my (old) arthritic wrists cannot handle prying one attachment off to replace with the other to switch from a leaf blower to a leaf mulcher.  This season I purchased a Worx 3-in-1 model of blower, vacuum and mulcher that switches from one action to the other with a simple flick of a dial.  Very easy on the wrists!  No more carrying around a bag of accessories, another awesome feature of this new and improved model.

mulched leaves
3-in-1 action

As with any brand of leaf mulchers, you must wait until the leaves are dry before you attempt to vacuum and mulch them.  Wet leaves will just clog up the motor, resulting in a loud whining noise.  Wet or damp leaves also make for larger pieces of mulched leaves instead of the incredibly fine mulch that is yet another great feature of the Worx model.  Another thing to avoid while vacuuming and mulching is twigs or sticks.  They too will clog the motor, not to mention damage it.

With low overnight temperatures and lots of rain keeping the leaves wet, perfectly mulched leaves was no easy feat these past few weeks.  I found the easiest way around this dilemma was to blow leaves into a single layer in a sunny spot to dry before mulching them.

After discovering how much easier my new Worx model is to use, I donated my old model to the hospice that I volunteer at.  They need it for the blowing function to keep dried leaves from gathering at their main entrance.  If they do decide to switch to mulcher mode, it should not be a problem as the groundskeepers there have stronger wrists than I do.

Buy your new Worx 3-in-1 leaf blower, vacuum and mulcher today, you won’t be disappointed.

Please take a moment to check out my other blog for random thoughts on everything except gardening.

Hospice Care, What is it?

Ruddy Shenkman Hospice

Unfortunately, most people are not aware of what a hospice is until they have the need for one.  If you looked it up in a dictionary, a hospice would be described as a home for the terminally ill.  While hospitals are known for their goals of restoring health,  hospices are geared toward supporting (both psychologically and spiritually) a dying patient and their family.

Years ago I first learned about hospices when my friend was losing her fight with cancer.  A few times per week she attended a day hospice where she met with others in similar situations.  These outings offered her great comfort.  At that time there were no live-in hospices in our community.  Today we are fortunate to have the newly expanded Ruddy Shenkman Hospice that currently has the capacity for ten live-in patients as well as day services.

I volunteer at this hospice on the gardening team.  It gives me great satisfaction to help provide a beautiful setting for patients and their families living and visiting there. The gardens that were planted immediately after the construction were pretty boring, not to mention depressing, with rows of shrubs of which many were dead...

I spent a few days removing the dead sticks and replacing them with recycled perennials, then added mulch.  Much better…

hospice

These beds will look even better in a few weeks when the recycled plants have a chance to get established.

Hospice Gardens Update

It has been a few years now that I have been volunteering my gardening services at our local (RSH) hospice. Thanks to our amazing garden team, the gardens around the extensive property are thriving beautifully. Visit the link in the previous line to see pictures of our most recent finished garden. The story and pictures of a new project, started last fall, can be seen here.