Dear Helen: I heard someone mention an annual climber called "canary vine" that covers a support with foliage and feathery yellow flowers. Are you familiar with it, and is it commonly available?
Dear V.L.: Yes, and yes. I usually clothe one length of wire fencing with this vine and, every summer, visitors ask what it is. The plant is a fast-growing, climbing nasturtium with bright green, beautifully lobed leaves dotted thickly with bright yellow, feathered blooms.
Like most nasturtiums, the fat seeds are quickly and easily planted. And the plants self-sow. Canary vine seeds are available on some local racks, and most seed catalogues list this annual vine, under either Nasturtium or Climbers.
Dear Helen: For the first time, I have a winter food garden with kale, leeks, endive, winter lettuces, carrots, beets, and winter and overwintering cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.
Now the weather has turned cold, I'm wondering whether the plants should be protected in some way.
Dear W.E.: As temperatures dip in November or early December, I weed and clean these plantings and mulch the soil around them generously with compost.
This helps to insulate plant roots.
I make sure the root tops of beets and carrots are well covered. When their foliage withers, clear it off, mark the four corners of the plantings with stakes, and spread about five centimetres of compost. As you dig roots for use, move the stakes to indicate where to dig next.
Kale and leeks are very tough, but it's wise to have floating row cover fabric or light plastic sheeting to arrange over other winter vegetables should extreme cold threaten. Winter lettuces and endive should be protected in cold frames or under plastic tunneling.
Dear Helen: What is the plant in the attached photo? It appeared in my garden and proceeded to creep along the ground. The leaves are very soft and broadly heart shaped, with gently serrated edges. The pale cream and yellow blooms are a little like snapdragon flowers.
Dear P.A.: Your plant is Asarina procumbens, or "trailing snapdragon." In my opinion, this is a wonderful plant to have. It seems to grow anywhere, but never becomes invasive. Seeds can be saved for more plantings. Seeds are available from J.L. Hudson, Seedsman, in California.
Other species of climbing and trailing "snapdragons" (Asarina) can be bought from Dominion Seed House and Chiltern Seeds.
The lush creeper at left grows in a brick planter at the front of my house, and it has appeared alongside a pathway into the back garden. It overwinters successfully. I love it.
Dear Helen: I was very disappointed with my tomatoes this year. In spite of the warm September, much of the fruit failed to fully ripen. Is there a way to ensure ripe tomatoes?
Dear T.R.: It was an odd tomato year, with June utterly lacking in heat and even July not summer-like. This year, blessed were the gardeners who planted early tomatoes and had dwarf potted cherry tomatoes growing on warm, sunny patios and decks.
They always supply torrents of tasty morsels over a pleasingly long season.
I've grown fond of a reliably early and intensely flavoured tomato called Tiger Stripe from Salt Spring Seeds. The fruits are not large, but they are very lovely in yellow-streaked reddish orange.
A clear plastic cover over tomato plants on cool nights and during rains helps to concentrate a judicious amount of heat on the plants to hasten fruit ripening. Be sure to remove it, though, on hot days.
A gift for gardeners. For an interesting Christmas gift for gardening friends and family members, consider registering them to attend the Victoria Master Gardener Association's second "Mixing it Up in the Urban Garden 2013" conference Jan. 26. This year's conference was highly successful, with excellent speakers and wonderful food. In January, local experts will speak on soils, seeds, insects and fruit trees. Rosalind Creasy will deliver the keynote address on Edible Landscaping. The day-long conference, at a cost of $65, includes lunch, a silent auction and offerings by local vendors.
For details and registration visit www.mgabc.org. Click on "Chapters" and go to the Victoria Chapter. Registration can be made on line or by printing a registration form and mailing it.
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