Gardening Blog

Calgary garden show this weekend!

The Calgary Horticultural Society Garden Show is this Saturday and Sunday at Spruce Meadows! It’s always a great event, with lots of great speakers and displays included in the entry fee ($15 at the door, $10 for Society members). I’m particularly looking forward to the talks on budget gardening and planting a food forest.

I’m on the speaker roster again this year, talking about weeds, my area of greatest expertise, having grown so many of them. If you can make it, please come introduce yourself!

Me at the show last year

 

Springtime gift giving

I’m kind of excited about this little surprise I’ve got ready for my sister’s birthday next week, and I thought I’d show it off as maybe you would like to do something similar. Although that pretty much means the end of the surprise. Happy Birthday, Jenni!

Step one: choose a pretty bowl or vase.  I found one with a cable-knit design, because Jenni’s an extraordinary knitter. If you’re thinking Easter, a cute flower bowl such as one of these might do nicely.

Step two: fill it with goodies! I know what you’re thinking: chocolate! But we are gardeners, and of course, we are not swayed by such mundane things as chocolate. Goodies equals seeds!

Be sure to match your seed choices with the right person. Not everyone wants to baby a finicky flower; a seasoned veteran might welcome the challenge. I’ve got a bunch of seed that’s been harvested by myself or friends which I wanted to share with my sister, but you could just as easily use packets of commercial seed. Bonus for that route: instructions included! I’m not worried about Jenni having instructions; a landscape design/arbourculture degree, her, and Google make a pretty good team.

But instructions or no, go for making things pretty. Find some cool paper (keep it lightweight for easy folding),scissors, and some ribbon, stickers, decorative tape, or twine. Fancy pens optional.

I’m recycling my paper from an old printer’s sample book and a desk calendar. If you are packaging saved seed, make sure to fold each side over a few times to keep the seeds from escaping. If you feel like getting right into it, try making decorative envelopes like these – just be sure all edges are sealed. If you’re using prepackaged, all they need is a pretty wrapper.

 

Here's one way to do it -- I folded the long sides in first.

Then tuck all your little packets of goodness into the bowl, with a couple of other little trinkets that suit the season or the recipient: pussy willows, a notebook…

Oh, all right, you might as well throw some really good chocolate in there while you’re at it. If you must.

 

Gardener’s bookshelf: The Garden That You Are

Apparently it is still winter.

Bring on the books.

A lovely little volume that I stumbled across several years ago, comprised of garden and gardeners profiles, has continued to be dear to me. The Garden That You Are (Sono Nis Press, 2007) looks at eight different gardens and the people who tend them. It explores how a gardener’s life is intertwined with the land, how our history and relationships play into the daily experiences of the garden. All the gardeners spotlighted in the book have different approaches, different focuses, different ages, different backgrounds — but they all live within a square mile of each other in British Columbia’s beautiful Slocan Valley.

There is much practical knowledge to be taken from these pages: advice, recipes, plant lists. But the reason I keep going back to it is for the inspiration. I don’t mean ideas, necessarily, but that this book gets you thinking about why you yourself garden, what drives your experience.

It is a step back from the ‘to-do’ list and the ‘must-have’ mentality. A thoroughly colourful and enjoyable one.

What’s your plant personality?

I took this fun quiz from Traditional Medicinals to find out my plant personality. If you have a few minutes to spare, take the quiz here. How did you do? Apparently I’m an intriguing combination of chamomile, fennel and peppermint.

Share your plant personality with the hashtag #herbnerd.

Oh Joy for Target: Garden party essentials

I’m so excited about the collaboration between lifestyle blogger Joy Cho of Oh Joy and Target. The new Oh Joy for Target collection features festive spring party and entertaining supplies in a pretty pastel palette.

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Finding a home for the apple tree

One of my New Year’s resolutions, subcategory: gardening, is to finally put in my apple tree. I chose, quite a long while ago, the Prairie Sensation apple developed at the University of Saskatchewan as the best fit for my location and tastes. Now the big question: where to put it.

It may seem backwards, as many of you would consider a particular spot and then choose something to fit it. I use that approach frequently as well. But I am in that enviable position of having enough land that I can pick a tree first, and ask questions later. Not that I buy plants willy-nilly, or put no thought into their needs; I just have a property large enough that I have several options for any given plant I decide might enjoy my garden.

Any of you small-plot gardeners growing green with envy right now are welcome to come help me mow and weed this summer.

Now. If you would be so kind to offer some opinions, here is a rough drawing of our property, completely not to scale, to give you an idea of my options.

Existing trees in green, crabapple in yellow, fence lines etcetera in grey, you get the idea.

Location A: my original plan. Full sun; little bit of shade late in the day from the house. Well protected from prevailing west winds, somewhat from northerly. Snow collects here to protect the tree from freeze/thaw cycles. Frost tends to pool lower to the east, and there’s the crabapple nearby for cross pollination.  In view from the house and street for optimal blossom enjoyment. Down side: Really close to property line. What if whomever buys the neighbouring lot (it’s for sale now) does not want errant apples?

Location B: There’s lots of room in this back quarter of the property, but no wind protection–at least not until the evergreens and ash get a little more size on them. Full sun, all day, but kind of far from the crab, though if we go with one idea and build up a little orchard back here, that wouldn’t be a problem.

Location C: Another area that could become a little orchard. Kind of far away from the house, though. Again, the wind protection and pollination issues, potentially resolvable, but this is a low spot and I think it would turn out to be a frost pocket.

So really, it’s probably a choice between A: picturesque with the stone walkway, but some shade and potential neighbour nagging; or B: work towards the orchard and grow that windbreak.

Please, help me decide!

 

Join the #UsedParty tomorrow night

I’ll admit it. I can be a bit of a pack rat. I’ll tuck items away for future projects and crafts–sometimes those items even make it into the garden. That is why tomorrow night (Wednesday, March 19), I’m looking forward to joining UsedEverywhere.com’s Twitter chat, aka #UsedParty. The theme of the chat is Upcycling for the Garden. I look forward to sharing a few ideas and hope to gain some crafty inspiration from some of the other panellists: @GatherVictoria@commoncentsmom and @YoungUrbnFarmer. If you leave a comment on UsedEverywhere.com‘s blog, I will be choosing a question to answer and that person will win a one-year subscription to Canadian Gardening magazine. Keep in mind the chat is at 6 p.m. PST, so that makes it 9 p.m. EST here in Southern Ontario. See you on Twitter! (P.S. Our Twitter handle is @CdnGardening.)

Who cares about soil temperature?

The snow is melting, the cows are calving, and the calendar looks right, but for me, I know it’s really spring because I can smell it. I hope you know what I mean: that earthy, damp scent that’s starting to waft around when the sun is bright. So exciting! Time to grow things! Whip out those seed packets and let’s start digging, right?
Unfortunately, no. At least not outside. Not yet.
I had to learn to curb my enthusiasm the hard way: losing more than a few seeds. Some years I was sure it was frost. Other years it was obvious they had been rotted out from too much rain. Or maybe I’d planted some old or bad seed to begin with. But the main culprit went unidentified until I started hanging out with farmers.
When growing things is not just a hobby but your livelihood, you pay extra attention to some details an average gardener may be clueless about. Such as soil temperature.
You may have heard people talking about the soil “warming up,” maybe referring to how raised beds warm up quicker, allowing earlier planting. They aren’t just talking about the dirt “thawing,” as any farmer can tell you: there are ideal temperatures for the germination of different crops, and if the soil is too cool, you end up with uneven growth or damaged seed, and those depressing blank spots in your rows.
When I learned this, I looked back and realized this was why some years I could get away with planting earlier–the mild spring had fast forwarded the soil warming–and some years even mid-May plantings were sluggish in the cool damp.
So as much as you’d like to dig in, don’t be in too much of a rush. This time of year, you’re probably just wasting your time. Better to use your enthusiasm indoors.

Celebrate Plant a Flower Day

Did you know that today is Plant a Flower Day? I’d like to celebrate by sending these pretty plantable gift tags.

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Gardener’s bookshelf: Worms Eat My Garbage

There is a difference between keeping a compost pile and actually knowing how to compost.

I am a person who was dong the former. Realizing I was going on luck and random tips culled over the years, I took the opportunity to attend a composting class put on by the Calgary Horticultural Society 10 days ago. (As for why it has taken me this long to tell you about it, see previous post re: puppy.)

It was a very informative day, taught by the sharp, funny, Kath Smyth. I learned buckets, but the best part for me was when Kath invited her associate Mike Dorian up to illuminate the world of vermicomposting. Mike runs the Calgary-based company Living Soil Solutions, which provides all things worm, and while I’ve been keeping a worm bin for a few years now, I’ve kind of (don’t tell) been faking my way through it. Mike helped me put my finger on some changes I could make to have more success and enjoyment with my bin.

One of the suggestions he made was to read the book Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof. So, like a good student, I came home and requested it from the library.

Me doing my homework

Though it was written in the early ’80s, Worms Eat My Garbage is still considered a primary resource for vermicomposting. A quick look through it and it’s easy to see why: all the basic principles are explained in plain language and simple illustrations. An overview of how worms fit into the food web establishes the bigger picture. How much to feed and how is discussed. The pros and cons of different types of bedding are debated. All in a relaxed, 80 page read. I’ve seen lots of technical writing and research material on worm composting that might win in the details department, but Mary Appelhof’s book wins hands down in the covering-all-the-bases-while-not putting-you-to-sleep category. Highly recommended to anyone interested in vermicomposting.

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