{ Archive for August, 2011 }

Mixing and matching edibles with ornamentals in pots

It was Paul Zammit, director of horticulture at the Toronto Botanical Garden, who first inspired me to include herbs among the blooms and foliage I use in my containers. They’re fragrant when you brush past them and useful when you need a few sprigs here and there for a meal. Because space can be an issue here in the city, many gardeners take this concept a step further and mix fruit, vegetables and edible flowers in with their favourite potted blooms.

If you’ve gotten creative mixing edibles and ornamentals in pots, hopefully you’ve captured them in photos. Local website Toronto Balconies Bloom has launched a new contest called 2011 Edible Container Photo Show. The entry criteria is on the website and you don’t have to live in Toronto to enter. There are a number of garden-related prizes to be won. Good luck and come back to let us know if you’re a winner!

Pots on display in the Toronto Botanical Garden booth at Canada Blooms 2010. In the background you can see Paul Zammit's enormous rosemary bush (he overwinters it every year), as well as tomatoes, basil, parsley and what I believe to be nasturtiums among the lovely blooms.

Here are a couple of videos we have of Paul working his magic with pots. Maybe they’ll inspire you to enter the contest:

What to visit in Victoria

I’m home again, but before I return to reality (three weeks can really do a number on a yard, even with the neighbors watering), I must share some of my adventures with you.

Not able to give proper credit to all the beautiful spots, both public and private, we saw, I am focusing here on our visit to Victoria, Canada’s “Garden City.”

The quintessential Victoria garden has to be Butchart, right? I know lots of people who have visited and thought it well worth the price tag. One day, I’ll get there too, but this trip, I was not equipped with the time or the pocketbook to make it happen. Besides, I thought, why not ask around for some of the lesser known spots that are worth a look?

Here’s a short list; feel free to add to it, those who know the area better than I. All of these were recommended more than once.

Hatley Castle, the administrative home of Royal Roads University, has extensive gardens set in the midst of 600-some acres of heritage trees. The pride of the grounds are the Italian, Japanese, and Rose gardens, but really, it all looks pretty impressive with the dramatic backdrop of a real, bona fide Edwardian castle. (Some of the X-Men movies were filmed here, too. I know this because I’m a geek.) There’s a restored 1914 greenhouse, too. Admission is charged; tours are available.

Hatley Park Castle

The castle, a National Historic Site, showing just a hint of the grounds.

Beacon Hill Park, right in downtown Victoria, has 200 acres to explore, so plan to spend all day. It looks great year round. There are water, rock, and alpine gardens; perennial beds and displays of annuals. There’s a petting zoo and a playgrounds for the kids, and lots of ducks, peacocks, and herons. Admission is free; horse-drawn carriage rides are available.

Tucked away on the University of Victoria campus is Finnerty Gardens, a 6.5 acre gem. Highlighted are rhododendrons and azaleas, but a full spectrum of plants are on display, many with identifying signs. We’re told it’s at it’s best in spring, but we thought it was just wonderful in August. No admission; follow the ring road around to the southwest and park at the chapel. While you’re on campus, you may want to wander down into the Mystic Vale, a protected wilderness area to the southeast, full of Big Leaf Maple, firs, and ferns. It’s breathtaking.

gardens in fall

A pond in Finnerty gardens.

The girls enjoying the hydrangeas. I wish I could post them enjoying the bamboo and everything else, but I've already put in too many pictures.

Don’t miss the Government House gardens– I almost did. I heard about them before we left, but saw something online about “tours by appointment only,” so I put it out of my mind as too much trouble for this trip. But we drove right by it while leaving the Craigdarroch Castle (also wonderful, but not much for gardens) and the gates were wide open! We were already late to get to my brother’s house, so Chris dropped me off and I did the five minute walk (gasping, groaning, and drooling as I went). It is open to the public, dawn to dusk, but tours are available, by appointment. See how I got confused? If you get the chance, please visit them properly, for me.

A quick shot of the herb garden, as I hurried by... There's a sunken rose garden right behind me...

My case of the gardening blues

I’ve had a wee case of the gardening blues this past summer. You see, I sold my house at the very end of April and then thought for sure I’d be moving by the summer. Then we did buy a house with a summer closing, but had to make the heart-wrenching decision to walk away after our house inspection went awry. So then when we finally did find another house, it came with an October closing date. I never imagined it would take me six months to get into my new place. I had dreams of working in my new garden, seeing what came up and adding a few little gems before working on a bigger long-term plan.

This has made me feel somewhat disconnected from my own little garden. My summer has consisted of halfheartedly planting some late veggies, dutifully giving my pots and gardens the minimum water requirements to live, and woefully picking weeds out of our new front garden that we converted from lawn (hey, isn’t mulch supposed to suppress the weeds?). I admit it. I have had a really bad attitude about my garden (which is also why I’ve had a hard time blogging), but my heart just hasn’t been in it this summer.

October is still really far away and I don’t want to wish away the rest of this gorgeous summer. So I’ve decided to suck it up and start fresh. It occurred to me the other day that I could still have my fun with this garden while planning a little for the other. First of all, I’ve started taking a garden inventory of all the plants I hope to plant in my new garden. I’ll cover more of this in a future post. Secondly, BULBS! I can order bulbs for the new garden and still safely get them into the ground before the first frost (I hope). I’ve dug out a couple of catalogues to start taking a look.

First on my list, however, whether I like it or not is tackling those darned weeds…

Have you ever suffered from the gardening blues?

There’s something about the forest…

“What would the world be, once bereft of wet and wildness?

Let them be left.

O let them be left, wildness and wet;

long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.”

–Gerard Manley Hopkins

Zone envy

In the last week I’ve seen a lot of gardens, from formal to cottage and pond-scape to desert-scape. We’ve crossed through several planting zones and I’ve seen plants I’ve only read about. It’s been fun, it’s been educational, and it’s been downright stressful–at least the part about choosing which gardens to see and which to miss.

And while I do pine for a magnolia hardy to Zone 3, and must lapse into ignorant silence when the conversation turns to rhododendrons, I’m a little perturbed by some of the innocent comments I’ve heard from warmer zone gardeners. They seem to communicate that it is somehow better to garden in Victoria compared to Calgary, that I, in my winter-wonderland region, am to be… pitied.

No disrespect meant to all you lovely people in Zone 5 and higher, but sometimes I feel like a second class citizen. You Edmontonians, Winnipeggers, Saskatchewanians: I think you know what I mean.

You open the latest issue of Canadian Gardening, and get ALL exCITed about a featured plant, let’s say… hellebores, just for example… the array of attractive colors, the siting options. The gears start turning in your head and you’ve half designed a cozy little space for them, only to have your little heart break when you realize every variety listed is out of your league, based on one factor: the location you chose to set up shop.

There’s a few things going on here. I’ll admit, part of it may be sour grapes–I really do want hellebores.

But also, there are lots of things we can grow in colder climes, for instance, I’ve got very happy Munstead lavender in my front garden, despite many experts (not this one) rating it at Zone 5. There are varieties of many plants that will stand up to lower zones if you select carefully and maybe plan for a little extra protection.

And who says “more plants” is the only Ace in the gardener’s pocket? Can you grow a greater variety of plants on the west coast? Indubitably. But guess what? I’m not fighting ivy. On my home turf, it’s only hope is as a houseplant. I’ve got more limited choices, but don’t need to worry about road salt or moss or most fungal diseases.

So while I am drooling out here on the island, I’m still looking forward to going back home. I don’t believe one spot is better than any other; the gardener’s cupid pricks us all with a different thorn. My own little plot, with all its weeds and clay, is still mine. It’s my classroom, my cathedral, and no way would I trade it in.

But I will thumb my nose and plant some hellebores… just as soon as my windbreak is established.

How to garden with kids: Part 2

Weeds.

Just like death and taxes.

The question is not what to do with them so much as it is how.

I woke up early the other morning and decided to get outside before it got too hot. I couldn’t believe how much I accomplished in one hour! Why? No phone ringing, no appointments to race against, not cleaning soil out of anyone’s mouth, or negotiating settlement in custody suits over the best toys. No sun beating down, either.

It was a wonderful experience, however rare. The daytime routine usually involves doorbells, babies eating dirt, and irate Tonka truck drivers.

But daytime also means I usually have at least a couple of helpers of the smaller size.

Again, the question is not what to do with them (teach them the value of hard work) so much as it is how.

Insistence? Indeed. Bribery? Occasionally.

1. I remember my mom asking us kids, as teenagers, to help in the garden for just 15 minutes, a couple of times a week. I and my siblings often ended up staying a little longer than that, just to finish the row we were on, or to pick a few raspberries for dessert. I tried this with my young kids. Well, they’re no dummies. Get the clock running, then go find your sunhat, then chose a different tool, then deliberate over which vegetable needs your attention… 15 minutes is gone in no time! So while I may go back to the 15-minute strategy when they get older, my kids are now each assigned a bucket. Fill the bucket with weeds, you’re free. It’s a visual, finite goal they can wrap their heads around. Depending on their age and the desperateness of your situation, use ice cream pails or half-gallon honey buckets. Try sharing a big trug, but be warned, you may end up with accusations over who’s working and who isn’t. It didn’t take them long to figure out that if they pull the biggest weeds, the bucket fills faster, which is great, because those are the ones I want gone the most!

2. I expect a certain level of help from my kids, but I do offer to pay a specified rate for full buckets beyond the required one.

3. I have been known to offer “today only” specials for kids wanting to earn a little coin: when the dandelions were about to set seed this spring, I was paying a dime per root. I’ve spent ten bucks on worse things. (Don’t do the math, please.)

4. As much as a slave driver as I can be, I try to make the experience as pleasant as possible. We like to do our veggie gardening in the evening, when it’s cooler, and we like to visit while we work.

5. If you’ve got more than one kid, like me, experiment with working either all together or one on one, taking turns. You can get a lot done together, but it’s easier to teach one on one without distractions and you can give that child some special attention while the others play.

6. I know a woman who told her kids, “Go pick green beans/peas. Each bean/pea you pick earns you one minute at the dam (the go-to beach two minutes from town).” They were set on earning at least an hour.

7. I learned a lesson from six-year-old Avery this week: he was messing around, not helping at all, while we were cleaning up some suckers around mature trees and the grass around some newly planted ones. He said, “I wish I had a forest right here that I could play army in.” I said, “That’s what we’re working on, Avery. These trees will grow up into a forest if we take good care of them.” Darned if he didn’t dive in and get to work.

Garden Walk Buffalo impresses

I was fortunate enough to visit Garden Walk Buffalo last weekend. With more than 350 private gardens on show, the tour is the largest in the U.S. Over two days on the last weekend in July, enthusiastic gardeners open their yards to about 50,000 walkers.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Victorian garden party

I’m headed off on holidays tomorrow, and part of our trek will take us through Victoria. I’m already drooling at the thought of all the gardens I’ll be seeing… as we drive by… *sniff*.
One stop we are making is at Craigdarroch Castle, a real, live, historic castle! (My little girls are thinking princesses, my boy is thinking storming the gate.)
As luck would have it, we will be there August 13th, the day the Castle is holding a special (and free!) Victorian garden party to mark the completion of their restored grounds! I’ll let you read all the details, and maybe I’ll see some of you there!
(That’s more exclamation points than I usually use in a month…)

In which I plant some healthy ideas and reap some better health

This spring I was having some nasty headaches, which seemed to be developing from my constantly tense shoulders. I was climbing into bed aching and exhausted almost every night, but my life was busy with kids and home and garden and community, and I didn’t take the time to get any help other than having Chris rub my back as I washed supper dishes. I got good and fed up with it one night a couple of weeks ago and called my brother, a chiropractor in Calgary. I told him my symptoms, and he asked me a bunch of questions. He told me his over-the-phone diagnosis boiled down to lousy posture. My back went up immediately – in the figurative sense – but then I realized he was I right. I have pretty horrible posture. I’m a sloucher. He ran through a few stretches I could do, and admonished me to see a massage therapist and a real live face to face chiropractor. I thanked him and went to bed.

The next morning, while digging in the garden planting some very, very, very late potatoes (a girl can dream, right?), I realized I was totally hunching into myself over the shovel, giving what I thought was my all my strength into each step. I stopped, tried to recall what my brother had taught me the night before, and corrected my posture, making a conscience effort to roll my shoulders back and down. I immediately felt a difference. I was actually getting more power with each dig, it took less effort, and was not at all uncomfortable. I realized my gardening habits were likely contributing to my miserable body.

Life hasn’t slowed down any, but I’ve been paying much closer attention to my posture, and I’m already reaping the benefits: no more headaches, fewer body aches, more accomplished in the garden (and the house) because I’m not wasting so much energy. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that I’m making my inconsistent yoga practice more consistent, too. I haven’t fit in a visit to the chiropractor or for a massage, but the minute I find one willing to do house calls at 7 a.m. or 10:30 p.m., I’ll book ‘em.

Here’s a few resources to help you in your efforts to stay healthy.
-Maintaining your core muscles will help your whole body, and protect it from injury. Contracting your abdomen before lifting, bending, etc. will protect your lower back.

-Cultivate healthy gardening habits. Remember, your body is a tool as well. It needs care and proper use.

-A wall angel is the first exercise my brother recommended for my tense shoulders and neck. A great stretch to train your shoulders to a healthier position. Focus on bringing your shoulder blades down and together.
-Yoga Journal has lots of great resources, including a list of positions to target different parts of the body, even to target chronic issues.

-If you’re new to yoga, here’s five great simple stretches for gardeners. (the descriptions are to the right of the pictures.)

-Prevention is always better than treating an injury.