Wednesday, 23 March 2011

On something of a setback...

With spring officially having arrived this week, and seemingly all other gardeners in the Blogosphere enjoying rising temperatures, rising sap and thrilling signs of sprouts, buds and even flowers, abounding all around, here on the shores of Lake Ontario, we've had a slight setback today.  Despite our deceptively southerly latitude (Toronto is on a parallel with Cannes), this is the scene that we were greeted with this morning.

Several inches of snow and the forecast through the weekend indicates that we won't see daytime highs rise above zero until well through next week.  Not an entirely untypical climatic event for late March, but highly regrettable seeing as I had only just watched the last of the big winter snowpile in the back yard disappearing last weekend.  Still, on the bright side, and on the condition that my crocuses haven't turned to mush under all this, it does allow just a little more time for planning some new projects for the 2011 growing season in my tiny yard.

A few weeks back, I voraciously watched all six episodes of Carol Klein's "Life in a Cottage Garden", and her infectious enthusiasm, wild hairdo and even wilder antics with the pruning shears (I was quite sure she was going to tumble to her death while clambering a rickety ladder to the top of a sizeable apple tree to remove an overgrown tangle of clematis), provided the impetus to take charge of a situation that has been hampering my gardening efforts for the last few years.

In the front yard, there's a sulking teenager of a locust tree.  It's always the last tree anywhere in the city to get out of bed in the spring and actually put forth it's buds.  When they do finally surface, the leaves are quickly pock marked by dense aphid populations, and incredible mealy bug orgies, which turn  branches and trunk alike a dusty white, much to the delight of passing sparrows, who proceed to gorge themselves silly.

 When the sparrows finish their work, the first flush of growth, tattered and torn from the feeding frenzy, finally can take it no longer, and they give up the good fight and drop off, around mid-July.  Meanwhile, the shade loving perennials (that were planted in said shade) start to complain at the lack thereof.  The ensuing midsummer Toronto combination of high heat and humidity, with little rainfall to moisten the clay, by now cracking and dehydrated, that passes as soil in my garden conspires to further stress the tender ferny fronds, and what hasn't wilted, will then succumb to a bout of powdery mildew.  Around this point of the summer, I will generally vow to chop the tree up for firewood at the earliest opportunity.  However, to add insult to injury, teenage infestations having passed, the locust tree will get a second wind by early August, and burst forth with lush and lovely frondy leaves.  My frustrations will start to melt away, even if those few sun loving plants which were planted when the tree was much smaller and didn't cast quite so much shade, will start to stretch and strain themselves upwards in a futile effort to feel the warming rays of the sun on what have now turned to insipid, pale and unusually stunted flowers.  But the optimist in me will look forward fondly to the promise of the intensely golden autumn tints normally associated with locust trees, when the days start to shorten again, and a nip is in the air.  But lo, a subtle shift from green to dull green is all that is achieved before the tree is denuded in the first storm of the autumn, somewhere about Halloween. And the cycle of frustration and resentment continues.

But that was before Carol's sage words.  She showed little mercy when she had determined that a "plant's time had come" and would as quickly haul away the unwanted carcass as knit a pair of socks at the guillotine.  Spurred on by her decisiveness, and fearful of the fact that the locust still has years of growth ahead and is already endangering the house and the electrical wires above it, I have finally made the call to an arborist, received the quote, and signed the final death warrant.

Now it's time to start thinking about the possibilities once all that lovely space and sunshine returns.....I have in mind a pair of espalier apples, which would add some wonderful architectural interest next time we have a spring snow storm, don't you think?

Something to plan this spring over hot chocolate in front of a roaring log fire.

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