Deer Gardener: how to tame your wild salal

  • Oct. 4, 2010 5:00 a.m.

Fall colours are my favourite, although they are fleeting. A huge wind eliminated a lot of leaves prematurely in our yard. We are blessed to have some large huckleberry shrubs co-habiting with salal bushes along the driveway, with Masset Inlet directly behind. It’s special, and easy too.I enjoy the native flora and have been attempting to tame some of it, to add charm to the yard. Salal needs to be trimmed back so it will grow twice as thick and the leaves will be fresh and deep green in the spring. The nipping back of the central bud will produce two shoots, the same as with rhododendron and some other plants. This is the horticultural equivalent of an ugly duckling morphing into a lovely swan. Particularly ‘gawky’ shrubs may take several pinching sessions.When you select a plant to domesticate have a careful look at where it chose to grow. Try to provide similar soil and environment for the best results. This makes me think of nurse Jonna who passed away in January. She had a keen interest in local plants.We have an interesting natural plant growing here called Solomon’s Seal (polygonatum). They have quite different leaves. First the flowers, then the berries hang from a gracefully arching stem. Something about it has piqued my interest. It prefers woodsy settings with partial sun. I purchased a relative to it from a friend here, that has a variegated leaf and I hope it will enhance the native version. I found yet another wonderful website. Fraser’s Thimble Farm on Salt Spring Island. They specialize in coastal plants. Oh dear, they have a catalogue.If you have removed the oldest leaves from your primroses through the summer they may be showing a few flowers now to jolly up the garden beds. It doesn’t seem to weaken the plants to bloom again. I notice that the cabbage loopers (green worms) have decided to eat primrose and chard leaves, probably because the cabbages and peas they prefer didn’t happen this year. The leaves that should be healthy and deep green all winter, have peek-a-boo holes everywhere. Rrgghhhh. Gently knocking the leaves about sends the worms looped-de-loop and you can gather them up. I wish I had caught them sooner, now I have green Swiss cheese instead of Swiss chard.The zucchini are still nicely productive. I am picking them very small this year and enjoying them even more. One yellow zucchini to two green plants has been a good ratio. They give a nice colour to stir fry and salads, with very little effort.Clearing out and sifting the compost is back-breaking work. I am moving a load of compost to the garden and a load of gravel back to cover the drainage ditch by our fence. I’m still learning to pace myself and do a bit each day.The nursery area I used last year has been disrupted because the fence was really rotten. My daughter took the fence down for me, and I need to clear it out completely, set it up again, and then protect it from the wicked north wind and bambi for the winter. ‘My’ deer are curious about changes to the yard, has anyone else noticed that? Hoof prints always show up in newly moved soil or freshly raked spots. If they particularly like something they leave a plop of chocolate-covered raisins too.Have a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend. We have so much to be thankful for. deergardener@hgqci.org