Welcome to The Tranquil Garden

I hope you will enjoy the journey I'm starting today. I welcome all your comments and questions on my blog posts and hope you will find my observations about my garden interesting and possibly helpful. I am not an expert (far from it!), so this will be a learning experience all round. I'm planning to do research when questions come up that I can't answer. Frankly, the only reason I feel qualified to write a blog is because anyone can do it! The reason I chose to blog about gardening is because I love it, and I think it's therapeutic to get one's hands (or gardening gloves) dirty by planting things that with luck, educated guesses and a bit of sun and rain, will grow!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

This Blog has moved!

Feel free to click on my title and check out my new Tranquil Garden website!  All my old posts are there and lots of  new stuff as well.  Enjoy!

Monday, September 27, 2010

New Garden Bed!

I haven't done a whole lot of serious gardening this week or so, but one of those glorious days we had last weekend found me enjoying every minute of it, digging a new garden bed. Without having any overall garden plan, I do have a rough idea of what I'd like to aim towards in the Tranquil Garden. One thing I'd like to do is gradually phase out more and more lawn areas and create more flower beds in their place. When it comes to gardening, it helps to be realistic about how you function. If you are a high-energy person with lots of enthusiasm and a lot of free time, feel free to go wild! Plan and dig out a pond, for instance, or decide that this is the year you're going to take out all the lawn and make your yard into a mini botanical garden. Knowing myself as a fairly low-energy person who can easily get overwhelmed by large projects, however, I have done all my gardening gradually, every year a little more flower bed, a little less grass in the yard. I like to look at the shape of the beds and think about what pleases my eye and what doesn't and where the next bed would like to be.
If you have beds in the usual backyard way, i.e. all around the perimeter, leaving a large, easy square or rectangle in the middle to mow and for the kids and dog to play in, then digging holes in the middle might not work for you. One day, however, when the kids are grown up and the dog dies, (or better still, you've trained him not to go through your flowers!) you may feel inspired to do something different with your garden. If you wonder how to make a start, try this: fall in love with a large plant at a garden centre that you absolutely have no place for in your present set-up. That's when you'll feel compelled to dig a new spot for it in the middle of your lawn and then the fun and creativity begins! Once you've dug one such bed, it's easy to make it a little bigger so you can group a few plants together, perhaps dividing a couple of perennials you already have that are getting too big and cosying them up to your new plant.

I have tried a couple of methods for 'reclaiming lawn' for the garden, both of which work well. For an area that's not too big (for example, mine last week was about two feet by four feet), start by outlining the area you want to dig with a hose or piece of rope. Then take an edger or sharp spade and dig along the outline. Then you can continue with the spade to divide the sod inside your outline into manageable chunks that you can lift without hurting yourself. Shake off the excess soil from each chunk of sod as you lift it out of your new bed, carefully saving all the earthworms you see and returning them to the soil. Keep doing that until you've removed all the grass including as much of the root system as you possibly can. The pieces of sod can be planted elsewhere if you have a place for them, or composted, or put out with the garden waste pick-up or (last resort) put in the garbage. I wouldn't put them into a regular backyard composter, except maybe after they dry out and die and then only a portion at a time, or the chemical balance needed for breakdown in your composter might go out of whack. Before you plant anything in your new bed, amend the soil with some compost, composted manure or shredded leaf mould and perhaps a bit of topsoil, sand or peat moss, depending on what your soil seems to need.
The other method is best performed in early autumn. Have on hand the following:
lots of newspaper
compost or manure (several bags)
blood meal
cedar mulch (several bags)
garden hose
-Decide on the shape you want your bed to be by outlining as above with a hose or rope. Mow the area. Lay down the newspaper all over the outlined area, one or two sheets at a time, hosing down the paper between layers. You should lay eight to ten layers of newspaper.
-Spread compost or manure mixed with topsoil in three-inch layer all over the newspaper, sprinkle blood meal liberally all over the compost layer.
-Spread mulch in a layer at least another 3 inches thick all over the bed.
-Water very well and continue to water well- unless there's plenty of rain- until the snow flies. -Leave undisturbed for the winter and well into the next spring or summer. Don't rush, as you're waiting for the grass and newspaper mixture to break down. When you feel you can't wait any longer, start planting things by digging a hole through the layers, including the paper (which should be soggy and shapeless by now) and sticking the plant into the hole and planting in the usual way. The advantages to this method are that you don't have to find a way to dispose of the sod, or even dig it out in the first place, and you're actually using the grass to feed the soil, instead. The disadvantage is having to wait quite awhile before planting.
I'm including a picture of the new bed (pre-planting) that I dug recently. Only one plant has made it so far, an upright type of clematis. I may plant some tulip bulbs and perhaps some silver thyme and perennial creeping phlox as well. Who knows?

P.S. I made a few changes to the blog, check them out!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fall Transplanting and Planting

Today I divided an ornamental grass plant that had become too large and dense and was threatening to take over. I gave one third to my best gardening pal, Linda, and moved another third to a spot beside the deck on her advice, leaving the last part in its original position. The early spring and fall are generally considered the best times of year to divide perennials; in the fall they've done most of their growing for the season and their blooms have withered and gone, but there is still time for their roots to take hold before the ground freezes.

In general, if you've got a large bed of perennials such as black-eyed susans or echinecea, it's easy to simply take a spade, dig out part of it and move it somewhere else without much fuss. Dig around the roots enough so they've got earth still packed around them. You can cut cleanly through the roots with the spade and dig up as much as you want. That kind of perennial that sends out new shoots from their underground root system can sprawl incredibly in a few seasons so it's a good idea to keep them in check before they crowd out all the other plants.

Here's how to transplant, divide and replant a clump-like plant that's grown too big:
1) Water the plant to be divided (or a new plant about to be transplanted from a pot) very well, preferably earlier in the day or the day before. If you forget to do this, make sure you water it well anyway, and wait at least a few minutes or as long as you can.
2) When transplanting (or planting a new plant) to a new site, dig a hole a few inches deeper and wider than the root ball (for shrubs and larger plants, a good 6-12 inches deeper), amend the soil with a shovelful of compost or well-composted manure or leaf mould and some bone meal (which encourages root growth); mix these in the bottom of the hole with some of the soil and wet it with some diluted fish fertilizer if you have any. Prepare the new hole before you dig out the plant destined for division. The less time the plant spends out of its hole, the better.
3) Now, dig out the whole plant (this is what I did today with the grass plant, and it wasn't too bad since the roots weren't deep). Starting a few inches away from the base of the plant and up to 12 inches for a larger plant, dig with a sharp spade and deep enough to get most of the roots. The roots you can't dig out should be cut with a sharp pair of clippers, rather than just yanked and torn, which does more damage to the plant.
4) With the plant on the ground in front of you, take two pitch forks (or try it with one if you don't have two) and try to ease the plant apart at the point you've marked for division. If the root system is too dense (such was the case with my ornamental grass plant) use pruners to cut the roots. At the same time, cut out any dead or sickly looking branches to thin out the whole plant.
5) Place the root ball in the hole so that the base of the plant is slightly lower than the ground around it so that water will flow towards the plant and not away from it.
6) Fill the space around the plant with the remaining soil, tamp down and water very well. This is an important step because the water will help the soil fill in any air pockets around the roots as well as encouraging new growth. Keep watering more often than usual for a couple of weeks until the plant is well established.

That is a basic method for planting/replanting that works very well. If you're in a hurry or just plain lazy, you can usually dig out parts of plants without pulling out the whole thing, but a lot of plants benefit from the process above. Another point to remember is that plants have different soil and light needs and it's a good idea to check into their individual requirements before you plant. Here is a partial list of plants that can be transplanted right now or in the next couple of weeks:

Irises: dig out the whole plant using a pitch fork or spade, cut between the bulbous parts (the rhizomes) from which the leaves are springing, then replant the parts, leaving most of the bulbous parts showing but burying the long stringy roots, not forgetting the compost and bone meal, water in as usual.
Peonies: they're a bit finicky to transplant and may not flower much for a year or so, but if you're putting them in a better spot (sun vs. shade for instance), they'll thank you for it with wonderful growth and flowers sooner or later.
Black-eyed susans
Herbs like oregano, thyme, mint, lavender
Shrubs and trees: the instructions are basically the same as for regular perennials but the hole is bigger! Check for specific instructions for individual specimens and make sure you plan ahead to find a spot that fits the mature plant, some shrubs grow much larger than you imagine!

Once you've finished your hard work, make yourself a cocktail such as the "White Lady" shown in my photo, and relax, you've earned it!

P.S. This is also the time of year to plant your spring-flowering bulbs! I will post something about that next time. I hope this answers your question, AJ! Thanks for posting!

Saturday, September 18, 2010


This was one of those amazing fall days that you just want to exploit for all it's worth. I woke up and thought, maybe I'll go for a run...no, I'll ride my bike...no, I'll work in the garden...no I'll go for a long walk on the mountain... I couldn't pin down what I wanted to do, but it had to be outside! In the end I did a tiny bit of most of the above and was just enthralled with the perfection of the weather. When I finally ended up in the garden at five o'clock, I couldn't get over how wonderful the flowers looked. They were like those aging movie stars who refuse to get work done; instead they age in that sensuous way that some people with good bones and lots of dignity seem to do. You can't stop staring at those people, right? Well, I couldn't stop staring at my fading blooms, either.

However, there are some blooms that are just coming into their prime at this time of year and they include...asters! I remember looking at asters years ago and thinking they were a drab little flower. When they start blooming in the tranquil garden in September however, they are anything but drab. I was probably looking at those small, light blue, unexciting wild asters you see on the side of the road. These ones are the ones you buy to brighten up the deck or yard when your planters are well past their best and you want to toss them and put something else on display. Whatever you do, don't throw out your asters after they have brightened up your deck for a month! Plant them in your garden and they will give you pleasure year after year. The same goes for some of the mums you can buy right now. I have one mum in the garden that has buds all over it. I can't wait to see what colour it is.
Asters and mums are saving my garden and giving it the last excitement before the end of the growing season. I love them!
A note about the colour of these asters. The blue one is actually bright purple in my garden and the pink one is really deep magenta. Not being a photographer, I don't quite know why the photos are coming out the wrong colour. I probably need to adjust something on my camera but I don't know how. I will try to figure it out with some help from my friends and get it right for future posts. At least they're still pretty!