Island Climates, Microhabitats and Lovely Compost

Yesterday I went over the Malahat to Victoria at the south end of Vancouver Island  and ventured into a different climate zone (OK, not really, but a week or two ahead of Nanaimo with spring growth) to help with a wonderful woodland garden. The sun was out, the Rhododendron grove was coming into flower, shrub buds starting to burst open, and paeonies starting to show their red stems through the soil. Things are heating up. And the compost heap was the loveliest I have seen in many a year: soon there will be two.

I’ll be back late April… and there will not be any snow, hail or black ice travelling the high road between warming Nanaimo and balmy Victoria.

Spring Equinox

The beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere will be on March 20 in 2012, when sunrise and sunset are 12 hours apart. We can then look forward to the next 3 months as daylight hours increasingly exceed those of the night.

Although the weather could be wintry still, the Spring Equinox is a real and significant turning point for life that responds to daylength as a “switch”: Plant flowering, dormancy, growth and so on can all be affected by hours of daylight, and I like to think that gardeners are too.

But beware, that does not mean all purchased plants can be planted out immediately: they may need hardening off – fresh from some supplier’s hothouse and onto a discount store’s sidewalk may not count even for hardy types since the new growth may be “soft” – and tender plants (e.g. Tomatoes) should not be planted out until all risk of frost has passed.

In Nanaimo, I find that the best weather gauge is the top of Mount Benson: once the snow has melted – usually end of May or into June – things are looking good for tender plants to be planted outside. Prior to that, the days may be warm and balmy, but nights can still be cold and rain frigid, and that can kill foliage, chill the soil and check root growth. Harden off plants by putting  them outside during mild days, but provide shelter at night. Best of all, if you have a cool greenhouse to use, then I am happy for you.


On Moss, Ponds and Orcas

Further to my previous post about moss in the garden, I took this photo this morning on a walk at Neck Point, here on the Strait of Georgia: mossy rock with lichens, on a rocky bluff next to the ocean. Quite inspiring for a mossy garden feature, but the lichen is unlikely to succeed in a polluted urban area. My new pond construction moves ahead still, in between cold rain showers and strong winds… risk of thundershowers this afternoon… but buoyed up by the sighting of a baby Orca along with it’s family (pod) of about 6 to 8 individuals in all, prior to taking this photo. Getting me thinking about the wildlife pond and how to prevent the raccoons from trashing it…..

Dandelions in the Lawn

Assuming the tasty leaves (for salad), colourful flowers (for wine), seedheads (for kids to blow) or dried and powdered roots (coffee substitute, but not my favourite) do not convince you of it’s alternative status as Good Thing in the Garden, then what to do about it in the lawn?


Chopping the head off, pouring boiling water or vinegar on it and so on, is very limited since the deep taproot just regrows. That taproot is the reason it does well in your lawn: drawing nutrients from deeper in the soil, it is outcompeting your more shallow-rooted lawngrass if your topsoil is nutrient-poor. Using a long sharp tool is required to dig down deep to remove most of the plant root, and it is necessary to deal quickly with the big round patch of soil that is exposed: carry some grass seed with you as you weed, and sprinkle some in the exposed soil before a new clutch of dandelion seedlings take up residence. The dandelions will return in time, so the long-term approach is also to remove dandelion flowers to prevent seed heads, and also to encourage strong and vigourous grass growth. Allow the grass to shade out the dandelions, so do not cut the grass too low i.e. change the lawn environment to favour taller grass over deep-rooted but low-growing dandelions.

I am very lucky, since my partner says dandelions look pretty.

Moss in the Garden

Our lawn-intensive approach to gardening treats moss as an unwelcome intrusion to be treated, raked out and disposed of as a weed. If you approach a dark moist spot as an opportunity to work with conditions and appreciate what moss can do in a garden, it loses it’s weed status and becomes a fantastic feature. Used extensively in Zen gardens and such, this idea is not new. The photos show naturally occurring mossy trees and rocks in my local park.


Because moss is not hard wearing, consider using stepping stones in a moss law, or encourage it in an appropriate damp niche, such as pond edging, woodland garden glade, or over an old tree stump. Think of the enjoyment to be had from doing less maintenance work and ending up with a special area of the garden. The birds will love it too, as nest building gets underway.

If you do want to tackle moss in the lawn, try pruning to raise the canopy of adjacent trees and shrubs to let more light in, changing your grass variety, and/or an environmentally-friendly dressing.

I see that you can now buy moss “starter kits”. Fortunately I have my own supply of moss, which is being used to edge my new pond. The exposed margin of the pond may feature some nice river rock rising up from a plain of moss… time now to collect the right rock locally, from my neighbour, who is keen that over the next several days I rid him of the river rocks in his vegetable garden.




March Crocus flowers

March is here on Vancouver Island, and it is really chilly outside. In celebration of the first crocus that is in my garden but looks a bit sad, this group was photographed on a sunny spring morning in my old garden in Oxford, UK, so here is to looking forward to warmer days.