{ Author Archive - Anja Sonnenberg }

Planning a summer BBQ party

Tis the season to enjoy the backyard and all the work you’ve put into the garden. We’re having a big summer bbq party on Saturday and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn’t rain.

I’ve trid to keep up with my weeding, deadheading, and other garden chores, but it’s amazing what still needs to get done outside in the next few days. The grass needs to be cut, the patio swept, gardens weeded, phlox tied up, apples picked from the lawnwe have a huge apple tree in our yard, which is lovely, but the lawn looks like a minefield of apple bombs that hurt when you step on them.

And then the menu needs to be decided. Luckily local produce is in season at the farmer’s market. I’m sure fresh corn on the cob, beans, tomatoes, and peaches will grace the table.

If you’re looking for some great backyard party tips, check out these great articles at CanadianGardening.com. I know I’ll be reading them in the next day or two!

Tips for planning a backyard potluck picnic

Garden party

hamburger-cupcake

Here is a photo of the hamburger cupcakes I made for my backyard BBQ. They were quite a hit!

Gardeners beware of the black widow spider

The itsy bitsy spider crawled up the water spout

Down came the rain and washed the spider out.

Out came the sun and dried up all the rain

And the itsy bitsy spider crawled up the spout again.

We’re all familiar with the popular nursery ryhme, but nowhere in the original version does it mention anything about the spider biting an innocent gardener. Joan Brunet was weeding her garden in Oakville, Ontario when suddenly she was bitten on the finger by a black widow spider. She panicked and shock the spider off her hand, but by then the venom was already coursing through her veins. As she rushed into the house to call for help, she began to sweat and her vision blurred. By the time the ambulance arrived, Brunet says her body felt like ‘jelly’ and she’d lost control of her extremities. Doctors were stumped and they had to call in an entomologist to determine that it was indeed a black widow spider bite. After a two week hospital stay, Burnet is only just starting to recover feeling in her legs.

Now I’m a firm believer in coexisting peacefully with the creatures and insects in my garden. In fact, spiders are beneficial because they catch all sorts of annoying insects in their webs. But I never thought that a spider living in my backyard could be so dangerous. I had heard about a view black widow sightings in southern Ontario last year, but was shocked to learn of the effects of the venom.

So how do you protect yourself? Apparenetly wearing gloves will help. As well as being observant. The female black widow spider is the only one who bites. She has a small black body with long legs about 5 cm in length. She has red markings along the top of her abdomen and a red marking similar to an hour glass on her lower abdoment.

Grow a Virtual Garden

nintendodsFor all you hip gamers out there, I thought this might interest you. A media company recently announced they are releasing software that will function as a gardening guide for the Nintendo DS. The Royal Horticultural Society has given the ‘Gardening Guide – How to get green fingers’ their offical stamp of approval.

For those of you who don’t know what a Nintendo DS is, let me clairify. It’s the world’s bestselling portable game system. You’ve probably seen kids hanging around with their gaze glued to the small hand held device. The Gardening Guide is designed to be more of a guide then a game. You can plan an existing garden or design a virtual oasis. It has an encyclopedia of over 400 plants, information on pests and disease, as well as tips and advice on growing plants. The guide even comes with a virtual gardener named Paul, who will help you along your virtual gardening journey.

Unfortunately, the Gardening Guide has only just been released in the UK, but hopefully if it’s successful, they’ll soon bring it to North America.

Sucker for succulents

chicks-and-hens2Most people choose plants for their garden because of the showy and colourful flowers, but I love plants with unusual foliage, especially succulent plants with cool foliage. Hens and chicks are one of my personal favourite foliage plants in the garden. chicks-and-hens

One of the reasons why I love hens and chicks (Sempervivum) is because of their fleshy rosettes of leaves. Did you know that their botanical name Sempervivum means ‘always alive’. These hardy little perennials are drought tolerante and love full sun. In my rock garden, I have a dozen or so mature plants and two of them currently have flower spikes thrusting into the air. I’m always amazed at how sturdy they are. The top heavy spikes look like they could fall over at any moment. I love how unusual the flowers are. The cluster of starshaped flowers look like something out of a sci-fi movie.chicks-and-hens-close-up

If you’re looking for more information on how to grow your own hens and chicks in garden, check out some of these great articles at CanadianGardening.com.

Sustainable horticulture

In today’s fast paced society, do we ever stop to smell the roses anymore? We’re so busy working, shopping, driving – most of us have very muddy carbon footprints. Sustainable living is a phrase that’s been used a lot lately. Basically, it refers to a lifestyle choice that encourages people to live in harmony with nature.

A new initiative to promote sustainable living at the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) in Burlington, Ontario is the Canadian Institute for Sustainable Biodiversity (CISB).

The RBG recently announced a multidisciplinary symposium scheduled for February 2010 on sustainability and horticulture, entitled ‘Living Plants, Liveable Communities: Exploring Sustainable Horticulture for the 21st Century.’ This symposium is being designed to teach Canadians how to live with the environment in a sustainable way.

Here are a sustainable living tips that you can use at home in your garden:

  • check your outdoor taps for leaks
  • recycle your garden pots
  • mulch your garden beds to help reduce the amount you need to water
  • if you have to water your lawn, give it a deep soak to allow the roots to absorb the water
  • grow a veggie garden and enjoy home grown produce
  • compost all your organic kitchen waste
  • try xeriscaping in your garden with drought-tolerant plants

Bat house for rent

I've become a frustrated bat house landlord. I feel like I need to put up a flashing sign saying `Vacancies` or maybe put an ad in the local newspaper.anjablog2-400

Bat House for Rent
Located in a great neighborhood, this ready-to-move-in bat house is mounted on the side of a two-story home–providing excellent home-protection against hungry predators. The interior of the home has been furnished with unfinished wood, perfect for gripping and hanging around. Painted a stylish shade of black, the house receives ten hours of direct sunlight a day–you'll never have to pay another heating bill. Local gardens provide a smorgasbord of night-flying insects such as moths, beetles and mosquitoes and the backyard swimming pool is a popular destination for late night drinks.anjablog1-400

It's almost been a year and we still have no bat tenants. My husband, Christopher built the bat house after we kept seeing bats flying around our yard at dusk, so obviously they're in the neighborhood. Christopher spent an evening researching how to build a bat house, so we know it meets their requirements. Maybe we need to lower the rent?

If you're interested in learning more on attracting your own bats, check out `Give bats a home in your backyard` on CanadianGardening.com.

Gardening in a thong?

What do you wear when you garden? Well a gardener in Collingwood, ON was recently given some fashion advice from the OPP after they received reports of a man wearing an ill-fitting thong while gardening. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t imagine gardening in a thong would be very comfortable. But then again, if you’re having fun in your garden and you’re not offending your neighbors, does it really matter what you're wearing? Maybe the thong-wearing gardener should invest in a privacy fence around his backyard–he could even claim the expense under the Home Renovation Tax Credit!

Gotta love the city’s street tree planting program

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Of the 36 trees to choose from, I picked a Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) to be planted in my front yard by the City of Hamilton's Street Tree Planting Program.

Shortly after moving into my house, I called an arborist for a quote on having an old maple tree removed from the corner of my property. It had been dead for sometime and was leaning precariously towards my driveway. The arborist came to look at it and told me it would cost $350 to remove it, but then he mentioned that since the tree was on city property, I should call them to see if they would remove it free of charge. I certainly appreciated his honesty and willingness to save me some money, even if it cost him the job.

After calling the city to enquire about removing the tree, they came out to verify it was on city property and it was! They came back a few weeks later, removed the tree and left behind some brochures on the city's tree planting program. Not only did they remove the tree and stump free of charge, they also offered to plant a new one. I was surprised I had never heard about the tree planting program. Occasionally the city will canvas neighborhoods to plant trees in suitable locations, but otherwise, it seems the program is one of the best-kept secrets in the country.

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The gingko, also known as a Maidenhair tree, has an angular crown and erratic branching pattern. The fan shaped leaves are truly unique.

Whether you live in Kelowna, Simcoe, Kingston, or Charlottetown, most Canadian cities offer a tree planting program. These programs were created to plant trees on city owned street allowances fronting residential properties for free. Homeowner are able to choose from a variety of trees native to North America, imported from Europe and Asia and hybrid varieties. Some cities have taken the program a step further by offering residents subsidized backyard tree planting. LEAF (Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests) is a non-profit group dedicated to improving Toronto's urban forest.

The home renovation tax credit and your garden

Hopefully you've been hanging on to all your garden centre receipts this year because the Home Renovation Tax Credit covers a number of garden related items. This is the perfect excuse to buy more plants! I'm planning on building a pond in the garden next year, so not only am I going to wait until the garden centres have their annual summer clearance sales, I'm also going to use my receipt for the tax credit. Who could ask for anything more?

So what landscaping projects and garden items qualify?
• perennials
• trees and shrubs
• garden rocks
• new sod
• decks
• retaining walls
• irrigation
• garden lighting
• fences
• driveways
• ponds and waterfalls
• garden sheds
• large permanent garden ornaments
• professional landscaping services
• professional landscaping contractor services

For a complete list of eligible expenses, visit Revenue Canada.

The incredible flowering hoya

hoya1

One of my most treasured houseplants is my Hoya carnosa `Snowball` or simply known as a hoya or waxflower. Native to Eastern Asia and Australia, H. carnosa is one of 100 species in the Asclepiadaceae (milkweed) family. This tropical vine has dark, green leathery leaves that leak a milky sap when damaged.

My hoya is probably over thirty years old and has been passed down like a family heirloom. It was originally my grandmother's plant, who gave it to my mom, who in turn gave it to me. hoya2

Like clockwork, it blooms twice a year, once in July and again in January. It has clusters of attractive, star shaped, white blossoms with red centres. It's spectacular when it blooms. Right now, it's covered with dozens of flowering clusters.

hoya3

I've already removed a handful of flowers that have finished blooming. The waxy flowers look fake, but I assure you they are real. Once the blooms opens, they are extremely fragrant, especially at night. I'm not sure why the fragrance increases at night, but the sweet scent easily fills my entire house. I've heard of some people removing the flowers because the fragrance is so strong.

So what's the secret to my hoya's success? Simple–I ignore it. I occasionally water it and rarely fertilize it. I did repot it a few years ago and replaced the soil, but other than that, it just hangs in my dinning room window. The new shoots grow quickly and it isn't until they've grown a few feet that they get leaves. There have been a few occasions where I've discovered new vines that had weaved their way through the strings of the blind, with full-sized leaves stuck in between. Unfortunately, the only way to remove them was to remove the leaves and pull the vines through. A hoya will bloom more frequently if placed in direct sunlight, but they'll also tolerate low light.hoya4

If you're looking for an exotic houseplant to grow, consider bringing a hoya home. Notoriously long-lived and hardy, these trouble-free plants are ideal for beginner and experienced gardeners alike.hoya5

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