Lake life

Manitoba Gardener Magazine - - Contents - By Shan­non Gage

Gar­den­ing brings me great joy; do­ing it at the cot­tage makes it all that more spe­cial, sur­rounded by the great beauty of the lake and all that it brings. This is a joy that is met with its own spe­cial chal­lenges at our lit­tle piece of heaven on Coney Is­land at Lake of the Woods. Two of the big­gest chal­lenges, I find, are grow­ing plants in the sandy, rocky soil con­di­tions in this part of the coun­try, while pro­tect­ing the plants from wildlife– es­pe­cially the deer.

Deal­ing with the Sand

The soil at the lake is unique in that it pri­mar­ily con­sists of sand amidst very rocky ter­rain. Plant­ing in these con­di­tions can be a chal­lenge, es­pe­cially if you’re used to gar­den­ing in the heavy clay soils found in the city. On the pos­i­tive side, sandy, rocky soils pro­vide good drainage and warm up quickly in the spring, giv­ing the plants a head start. On the down­side, the soil dries out quickly, is typ­i­cally low in nu­tri­ents and can be quite acidic in places. Hav­ing a rocky soil can also make it harder for cer­tain plants to take root. To com­bat these neg­a­tive as­pects, amend­ing the soil be­comes nec­es­sary. Good amend­ments in­clude com­post, peat moss, grass clip­pings, ver­mi­culite and ma­nure.

Rocks in the Gar­den

While adding large rocks to a land­scape can be con­sid­ered de­sir­able, they can be­come quite the nui­sance when they are found nat­u­rally just be­low the soil sur­face. I am for­ever find­ing and pulling lit­tle bro­ken bits of slate or shale that have bro­ken off a larger slab. I built a wire mesh sieve with a frame larger than my wheel­bar­row to re­move some of the stones, but this is a very painstak­ing process. I must also be care­ful when dig­ging with a shovel or us­ing a tiller so as not to hurt my­self or dam­age my tools.

It is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that rocks can cre­ate mi­cro­cli­mates that may either help or hin­der plant

growth. It all de­pends on what is be­ing planted. If, for ex­am­ple, veg­eta­bles are the de­sired crop, it might be wise to plant in raised beds or con­tain­ers. How­ever, in my opin­ion, choos­ing plants to suit your lo­ca­tion is the best strat­egy. Tak­ing the above con­di­tions into con­sid­er­a­tion when plan­ning a gar­den at the lake, I chose plants that like acidic sandy soils, like alpine plants that are well suited to rock gar­dens.

Plants for Sandy Soils

There are many types of plants that will grow at Lake of the Woods. I started by col­lect­ing na­tive plants I found grow­ing on the is­land and trans­plant­ing them into my rock gar­den. Next, I started in­tro­duc­ing plants from my gar­den in Winnipeg, al­ways ob­serv­ing what grows well and what the deer won't eat and what will grow in the sandy soil. Some of the plants that I have grow­ing at the cot­tage are: aster, artemisia, bach­e­lor but­tons, black­eyed Su­san, chives, cone­flower, columbine, daisy, daylily, devil’s paint­brush, gi­ant mullein, hens and chicks, lady’s man­tle, lambs’ ears, lamium, laven­der, lupine, monarda, moss phlox, oregano, pe­ony, por­tu­laca, purslane, se­dum, soap­wort, sweet Wil­liam, sage, se­dum, tansy, thyme, tiger lily, Veron­ica, and yarrow.

Deal­ing with Deer in the Gar­den

To dis­cour­age deer from graz­ing on your tasty flo­ral buf­fet, here are a few tips to con­sider. Firstly, deer do not like fuzzy, hairy or prickly fo­liage. If you can feel the small hairs on the leaves, whether soft or bristly, chances are so will the deer, and that makes for a good plant choice for the gar­den. Deer don't like these tex­tures against their tongues. Ex­am­ples of such plants in­clude globe this­tle and sea hol­lies and moss phlox, pul­monaria, lamb's ears and ver­bas­cum. Se­condly, deer tend to avoid plants with leath­ery or fi­brous fo­liage as it is too hard to chew and di­gest. Plants in this group in­clude iris, pe­ony, be­go­nia, berge­nia and some vibur­nums.

Thirdly, heav­ily scented fo­liage will also de­ter the deer, as they are like us and eat with their nose first. If some­thing smells off to them, they move along. Aro­matic fo­liage tends to con­fuse Bambi’s sense of smell and dis­cour­ages them from feed­ing. Many flow­er­ing herbs do well be­cause of their fra­grance. Plants with un­pleas­ant odours such as tansy and ox­eye daisy are also good plant­ing choices; how­ever, care must be taken when plant­ing them close to ar­eas where peo­ple may linger, such as decks or pa­tios.

Fourthly, toxic fo­liage is a must-have for the deer­re­sis­tant gar­den. Plants such as ferns, bleed­ing hearts, daf­fodils, monks­hood, spurges and pop­pies all con­tain com­pounds that up­set a deer’s stom­ach and thereby make them in­tol­er­a­ble. How­ever, use cau­tion with these types of plants as they are also toxic to hu­mans and pets. And lastly, deer much pre­fer to eat flow­ers over grasses and woody shoots. They can't sur­vive on grass alone and will only con­sume young grass as a last re­sort. There­fore, or­na­men­tal grasses are a great choice for deer-proof gar­dens.

Be­sides plant choices, there are also other means to de­ter deer and other an­i­mals, such as bears and racoons, from the cot­tage gar­den. Plant­ing in pots and con­tain-

ers on docks or decks is one such method as deer will not walk on these sur­faces or climb stairs. Fenc­ing can also be ef­fec­tive, pro­vid­ing it is tall enough (at least eight feet) or solid, such as a stock­ade fence that deer can’t see through. Fenc­ing off in­di­vid­ual plants and elec­tric fences can also work.

Next, an­i­mals can be kept out of the gar­den through scare tac­tics. There are var­i­ous prod­ucts on the mar­ket that achieve this, such as de­vices that emit ul­tra­sonic sounds, or mo­tion-ac­ti­vated sprin­klers. Sev­eral cot­tagers on the is­land use these with great suc­cess, as well as the gi­ant scare­crow eye. Many of these so­lar sprin­klers are pow­ered. Lastly, there are re­pel­lents. There are dif­fer­ent prod­ucts avail­able at the lo­cal gar­den cen­tre and nat­u­ral reme­dies that can be found on­line. Some of these are:

Coy­ote urine gran­ules. Sprin­kled on the soil, the smell can keep deer away.

Blood meal. Ap­plied to the soil, this can be a de­ter­rent for an­i­mals and a fer­til­izer for plants. A mix­ture of five parts blood meal to one part cayenne pep­per would be sprin­kled on the soil. Blood meal placed in a stock­ing and tied to a stake and kept moist can also de­ter deer.

Ir­ish Spring soap. The strong scent can re­pel deer if hung from mesh bags near plants or in stock­ings.

Fo­liar sprays. Op­tion one – mix four ounces of pep­per­mint oil with four ounces of laven­der oil and jo­joba oil and 40 ounces of wa­ter. Spray on plants. Op­tion two – mix gar­lic pow­der, red pep­per flakes, eggs and dawn soap and ap­ply to plant leaves. (Please note that it may be nec­es­sary to re-ap­ply af­ter wa­ter­ing or rain­fall.)

What to feed the birds and how to keep the bears away from the gar­den

The town of Kenora and Lake of the Woods have strict by­laws about feed­ing the wildlife. Bird­seed is the only thing rec­om­mended for feed­ing be­cause bears are such a prob­lem. Cot­tagers deal with oc­ca­sional feeder pests, from mice and squir­rels to rac­coons. Bears, on the other hand, are more than just a pest.

A bear’s diet con­sists of plant ma­te­rial, seeds, fruits, and grains, mak­ing bird­seed and feeds ideal for a quick snack. Bears have a very good sense of smell and can de­tect even the small­est amounts of food. Cer­tain pre­cau­tions must be taken to in­sure your safety and theirs. Bears are most at­tracted to suet, there­fore it is not per­mit­ted in the Lake of the Woods area. Ny­jer seed or saf­flower seed is bit­ter-tast­ing and bears do not en­joy these, but the birds do. Adding lib­eral amounts of red pep­per flakes to the bird­seed mix can also dis­cour­age bears. They don't like the hot flavour. Sprin­kling cayenne pep­per over the ground or us­ing vine­gar or am­mo­nia on the area around the feeder can also help de­ter bears. We per­son­ally don’t feed wild song­birds, just the hum­ming­birds.

Choose feed­ers made from solid metal or tube feed­ers sur­rounded by a cage. Al­ways store your seed prop­erly in air­tight se­cure con­tain­ers which bears can­not ac­cess. There are other ways to en­cour­age back­yard bird­ing at the lake, in­clud­ing putting up nest­ing boxes, bird­houses and bird­baths.

Once a bear dis­cov­ers you have a feeder, he will keep re­turn­ing for the de­li­cious buf­fet you are pro­vid­ing him. If you do de­cide to put up feed­ers, they should be over six feet off the ground. Ideally you should use 10 to 12 foot metal poles and these should be se­curely mounted in the ground at least four feet deep so that they can­not be knocked over.

Feed­ers must be kept clean, with seed cloth un­der­neath or trays to catch the seed. If bears be­come a se­ri­ous prob­lem, re­move feed­ers from April till Oc­to­ber. If pos­si­ble, set up cam­eras to mon­i­tor the bear and learn its habits. Au­to­matic sprin­klers at night or lights on mo­tion sen­sors will also help scare them off.

From sparse soil and rocky ground, to hav­ing a cot­tage on an is­land, to the abun­dance of wildlife in the area, the gar­dener faces many chal­lenges when plan­ning a gar­den in Lake of the Woods cot­tage coun­try. How­ever, the re­wards are also great.

With hard work and de­ter­mi­na­tion, it is in­deed pos­si­ble to have a lit­tle piece of heaven in one of the most beau­ti­ful re­gions of Canada.

Tansy can get away from the gar­dener, but it smells heav­enly.

Lupine, which grows wild in the Cana­dian Shield.

Wild aster.

Smooth aster is an­other tough na­tive.

Deer can be a prob­lem, but there are plants they don't par­tic­u­larly care for.

Monks­hood is poi­sonous to deer.

Deer tend to dis­like the tex­ture of lambs' ear.

Deer tend to avoid plants with fi­brous fo­liage like be­go­nias.

Deer typ­i­cally avoid most or­na­men­tal grasses and ferns.

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