{ Archive for February, 2012 }

Win tickets to the Ideal Home & Garden Show in Hamilton

‘Tis the season for spring garden shows. They always occur at the perfect time of year: those last weeks of winter that seem to drag on the longest, when you can’t wait to get outside and start digging and pruning and clearing. On the roster is the Ideal Home & Garden Show, which takes place this weekend at the Careport Centre in Hamilton. I’ve never been, so I’ll be checking it out since I’m new to the area. Apparently there are over three acres of exhibitors, as well as full-scale displays, like an old shipping container converted into a little cottage living space—I actually dream of plunking one of these in my own garden someday. There is also a lineup of speakers, including Jane Lockhart from W Network’s Colour Confidential, and Lynn Crawford, host of the Food Network’s Pitchin’ In and author of a book by the same name that was published in January.

If you live in Hamilton or the surrounding area, I have two sets of two tickets to give away for the opening night’s Charity Night this Thursday (March 1) from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. There will be live music, a charity auction to raise funds for various community organizations, a stage segment by Reena Nerbas and Boo from Boo’s Bistro, one-on-one advice and a huge door prize. You also will get the opportunity to return to the show over the weekend.

To enter, simply leave a comment below, telling us what gardening inspiration you hope to see at the show. Two responses will be selected at random Wednesday, February 29, 2012.

Contest closes February 29, 2011 at 12pm EST. Open to all residents of Canada, except those in Quebec. Not open to any Transcontinental Media employees, their families, or any other persons with whom they reside.

Good luck!

Three quirky gardening ideas that start with the letter P

I’ve been gathering trends and quirky gardening ideas for a presentation I’m giving at Canada Blooms March 16 and 22 (full schedule is here). This afternoon I realized I had three on the go that start with the letter P and a blog entry was born.

One thing I loved about the Toronto Island Garden Tour last summer was how the residents reused so many old objects in their gardens—from bathtubs to chunks of concrete. This brings me to my first P. What better way to use an old pallet, than to turn it into a garden? I saw this idea on Fern Richardson’s Life on the Balcony blog where she provides step-by-step instructions on how to put it all together. I hope to try this in my own garden if I can find an old pallet somewhere!

Today, the Calgary Horticultural Society posted a fabulous link on the Canadian Gardening Facebook fan page to pothole garden pictures, like this one. The freshome site profiled Steve Wheen, who has been planting these little gems around East London. Steve writes on his blog, The Pothole Gardener, that the project stemmed from a university course, meant to be part art project and part mission to show how bad the roads are, among others.

Pink tractors
This pink John Deere tractor, posted by Ethel Gloves on Facebook earlier today, isn’t really a trend, but it made me smile. And completed my trio of Ps.

Have a good weekend!

For the love of lavender



Lavender fields forever



There’s just something about a field of lavender you have to love.

Is it the intrinsic serenity of a sea of royal purple blooms, with rows upon row of long, thin planting beds undulating like waves? Is it the sweet perfumed aroma that magically mitigates anxiety and insomnia? Maybe it’s just the simple proof that a landscape can, indeed, look as magical as a painting by Monet.




To me, it’s a combination of all of the above. Whether it’s the colour or the aroma or the taste, I’m often infusing aspects of lavender in my day-to-day. Imagine my excitement, then, when a trip to France took me to the heart of lavender country for a lesson in cultivation history and the distillation process at Musée de la Lavande.

Just outside of Saint-Remèze a quaint town in the Ardèche department of south-central France, this lavender museum sits in a small stone building flanked by fields of lavender harvested for essential oils – three types of lavender, in fact: fine, the most fragrant, is used for the essential aromatherapy oil; aspic, also called spike, is more medicinal and works well as an antiseptic; and lavandin, a serendipitous hybrid of fine and aspic lavender brought to us by the bees, very easily grown and often used instead of fine lavender in essential oils.


I can smell the difference. Can you smell the difference?


In this Saint-Remèze museum, you’ll learn the history of harvest (from hand to sickle to machine) and essential oil production (how lavender + water in a copper distiller yields our favourite fragarance) through film, expert guides, hands-on demonstrations and interactive displays, but if just one museum leave you craving more, don’t worry! Just slightly southwest of the Musée de la Lavande lies relaxing the Routes de la Lavande, which both boast a sea of blue in a more-than-130-kilometre route – stop along the way for a breath of fresh (fragrant) air, for photo opps against that blue-purple backdrop and, of course, at museums, distilleries and shops for more information.


Dry lavender ready for distillation


Distillation contraption

The essential oils and lavender water are in the containers at the bottom

Lavender blooms from mid-June to early August, so time your tour accordingly. And, if your schedule permits, hit the Montélimar Lavender festival, Couleur Lavande, on the second weekend of July.

Lavender fields with the ancient palace and city Grignon in the background

Purples and blues and nature, oh my!


Feasting in France

France is for foodies – that just goes without saying. So when you visit a country where “gourmet” simply feels like the standard, and tour a countryside famed for its fresh local fare, you may gain a few pounds, but you’ll surely have eaten like a roi.

In France’s Rhône-Alpes region, the vegetation is verdant. From veggies to lavender to olives to grapes, the tradition of cultivation predates the founding of France itself, dating back to Roman times, so the mastery of these ingredients is all but built into the population’s DNA. And it’s evident in the food they prepare, which is served up like art on a plate.

View of the Ardèche Gorge


Eating my way from Ardèche to Drôme (considered the gateway to the South of France), I enjoyed food fresh from the ocean and from the land, often prepared at Michelin-star restaurants, but my all-time favourite meal in France was tucked in a tiny 18th-century farmhouse-turned-restaurant/guesthouse called Le Mas des Faïsses.

Le Mas des Faïsses courtyard


Using ingredients from their 18 surrounding hectares of gardens, terraces and orchards, Yvette the gardener and Robert the cook create seasonal, original recipes maximizing whatever’s in season, including even edible blooms like daylilies.


Chef Robert telling us about the ingredients


Yvette the gardener is a bit shy

A floral centerpiece that turned out to be a garden-fresh salad, a pudding of pureed fresh veggies, and a selection of young goat cheese (from local goats) were just some of the stages in this five-course luncheon…

Centrepiece or salad?

Salad! (That's me eating, not smelling)


…but most memorable was the beet pancake of the main course. Delicious-looking, no? I had been thinking about it pretty regularly since I returned from France and finally thought to try my luck at obtaining the recipe to share with our gardening readers. And since, in this part of France, they’re as generous as they are gourmet, Robert sent us his recipe and let us all in on the secret to the alchemy of his famous fresh fare.


Main-course magnificence

Beet Steaks

500g grated beet
1 sliced onion
1 egg
110g flour
1 tablespoon tamari sauce
1 teaspoon of Provençal herbs

Mix all ingredients
Pre-cook the steaks in a blini pan
Put aside in an oven-safe tin to use immediately or wrap in plastic film to refrigerate or freeze for further consumption.
Cook in oven at 250F for approx 30 minutes.
Serve with salad and roasted potatoes, fresh pasta or green beans.