{ Author Archive - April Demes }

Wintermission withdrawal

We are buried, once again, in several inches of snow today (Ontario and the Maritimes also, I hear) and I’ve got the blues.

It’s Canada, and it’s winter. There will be snow and cold. I get that. But during the last few weeks, we have had a good share of pleasant weather in Southwestern Alberta, what we like to call a ‘wintermission’. The kids were walking around without coats, let alone gloves, and the pussy willow catkins have come out. That last is a little disturbing, I know, but you take the lack of mittens and the abundance of fuzzy-tipped twigs, and add seed catalogue season to the mix, and you have a recipe for spring fever. Read the rest of this entry »

Gardener’s bookshelf: Bonnie Trust Dahan

One of the joys of keeping a garden for me is being able to surround myself with the beauty of nature, and not just when I’m out of doors: I love incorporating plants, flowers, and natural objects into my interior decor as well. If I’m in the mood for inspiration minus the pesky details of how, when, and how much, there are two lovely volumes on my shelves from Chronicle Books that fit the bill beautifully: Garden House and Living with the Seasons, both produced by Bonnie Trust Dahan with photography by Shaun (or Sean) Sullivan.

Part of the gardening section of my library… yes, just part...

One of Sean Sullivan's gorgeous photos from Garden House. The flash glare is mine, not his.

Both are over a decade old, but I still find them lovely and worthy of study. There are touches of modernism, country, and Asian design influences, but because everything is focused on the natural plants and objects, the ideas tend to be timeless rather than fit any particular trend. Primarily pictures with minimal commentary, you will find no real ‘how-to’ spreads.  However, each turn of the page offers something to admire or contemplate, even if it’s a simple tableaux of ordinary objects, made beautiful simply by us being reminded to notice them.

Indeed, both these books invite contemplation of the simple sights, smells, and textures that nature offers, and the simple joys these experiences can bring to the everyday. It is a true pleasure to use Dahan’s books as a springboard for my own ideas in enhancing the beauty and joy of my home and garden.

P.S. A third book, Garden Home City, explores the same territory, viewed through the lens of city life.

P.S.S. If you missed the inaugural Gardener’s Bookshelf post, you can read it here.

 

Tree candy

I got a little distracted today. I was intending to start my seed catalogue hunt but ended up on a virtual tour of crazy stuff people have done with trees. It’s only January 15th, so the seeds can wait, but be forewarned: if you go on a similar wander you may be gone for some time. Here’s just a sampling of what’s out there. You’re welcome in advance for making you late for wherever you’re supposed to be.

We’ve all probably heard of tree shaping–bonsai, espalier, plain old pruning–but this is truly insane.

By careful training and pruning (and a lot of patience), these Australians create living furniture.

Here’s a good excuse to visit South Africa: a pub located inside the natural hollow of a Baobab tree.

Or if you’re feeling English, how about learning the art of traditional hedgerowing?

 

If you waste a lot of breath telling kids to put away bikes, warn them once and for all.

More cool trees if you click on this picture...

An optical illusion courtesy of Vancouver’s Science World and Rethink Communications  (check out the whole series if you’re into clever advertising).

 I’ve been complaining about the hurricane force winds we’ve had the last few weeks. This shut me up.

And if looking at, growing, and sitting in trees isn’t enough for you, how about living in them? (If you have several hours to waste, google “house in the trees.” Go on. I dare you.)

My sister Jenni, famed tree hugger and cutter, helped me find some of these (and these), so she gets the last picture.

 

 

 

Gardener’s bookshelf: Garden Way publications

Most gardening happening in my world right now is either in my head or on a printed page as I hibernate from winter’s abuse. Over the years, my personal library has acquired a pretty healthy collection of volumes on everything from berries to birdbaths.

And not to suggest that I have every book a gardener could ever want, I thought I’d share some of my favourites with you.

Today, I’d like to draw your attention to a Vermont publishing house that had its heyday back in the seventies, that era of nature-loving, do-it yourself sustainability (which is so much in renaissance currently). Garden Way published all kinds of reference and how-to manuals about gardening, farming, and building that still are incredibly useful. They are exhaustive without being tedious, in-depth but not at all intimidating for the beginner. I’m constantly on the watch for them at garage sales and thrift stores, as most are out of print.

Keeping the Harvest, in particular, doesn’t even reside in my library; it stays right by the stove with my most-used cookbooks. Authors Nancy Chioffi and Gretchen Mead not only detail the preservation of almost any fruit or vegetable you can imagine (by freezing, canning, drying, pickling, cellaring, juicing, or, er, jamming), they give great advice about planting and harvesting for best yield and taste.

If you find a book with the Garden Way name on it, just grab it. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

 

 

Gardening resolutions for 2014

The new year is upon us, and goal setting comes to mind — though for me, what mostly comes to mind is all the past resolutions I’ve made and then abandoned by the following January 6th. As a result of the ensuing guilt, I have actually resolved to reject resolutions of the New Year kind. I tend to set some goals at the beginning of the school year, as that is a fresh start for me more than this time of year, and sometimes my birthday gets me thinking about them.

But I have come up with a list of gardening resolutions for this year. With it being winter and all, and the actual implementation of these goals is safely located in the hazy future, it seems like a good time to commit myself to unlikely outcomes.

So here it goes.

1. I declare serious war on my weeds. Quackgrass? I’m looking at you. I am stockpiling cardboard for smothering and investing in a wholelota black plastic. I realize I’ll never eradicate weeds — they’re a fact of life, especially in my agricultural location — but I’m getting the upper hand this season. You can come and hear all about my strategies at the Calgary Horticultural Society Garden Show this spring.

2. I’m pretty good already at growing what we eat, and eating what we grow. But this year I want to grow a little extra and take it to the local food bank. Most food banks and soup kitchens appreciate this kind of donation; check with one close to you or visit Plant a Row, Grow a Row.

3. I promise to put in an apple tree this spring. I’ve been talking about it for years, I have the spot and the cultivar chosen, I’ve just got to do it. Trees need years to get established, so it’s worth putting money into them early. I know this. I have practised this. But I have been nervous about the apple because of the tricky weather we have–unpredictable frosts, winter thaws, high winds. It’s time to cross my fingers and plant.

4. Finally, I’d like to try growing sweet potatoes this year.

Pretty reasonable list, right? We’ll see how reasonable it feels come, oh, May long weekend. But now that I’ve voiced these goals to the internet world, I’m accountable. No chance to forget these like a well intentioned gym membership.

Happy holidays…

This is as close to gardening as I get today. And I’m okay with that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A happy thought for blustery days

It’s been a stormy December all across Canada, with heavy snowfalls and frigid temperatures, even by our standards. We’ve had close to hurricane-force winds (110 km/h) here in Southern Alberta a few times in the last weeks, with another blizzard due to blow in today and tonight. It’s not easy on us or on the garden either, though the old adage “whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” hopefully applies equally to plants and to people.

Which reminds me of a little poem I heard a while ago, by Douglas Malloch:

Good timber does not grow with ease,
The stronger wind, the stronger trees.
The further sky, the greater length.
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.

Stay warm.

Christmas for the birds

Monday night was our community Christmas party, an annual event involving hayrides, hot chocolate, tree lighting, and an appearance by Santa. It’s a fun night, and the kids come home with a paper bag full of tooth-rotting goodness from the Head Elf.

This year, the candy bags included a handful of peanuts in the shell. I remember enjoying just such surprises as a child (long before the days of rampant nut allergies) and was disappointed when all of my children, as well as many of the others, turned their noses up at the nuts. They were all about the sugar.

Not being one to let anything go to waste, I insisted the peanuts be brought home. “If you don’t want them,” I said, “I know someone who will.”

That got their attention.

So we sorted the candy from the nuts, and I set a little container of them out on the front steps (the feeder is under a snowdrift). Sure enough, Tuesday morning the kids found it, tipped over and surrounded in delicate bird prints. I was expecting blue jays, as they go (ahem) nuts over this special treat, but I haven’t seen any yet: it’s a big fat flicker helping himself as far as we can tell.

It seems fitting to pass on these castoffs to the birds, as many European Christmas traditions mention Saint Nick and his various cultural incarnations giving special attention to animals. There’s the whole animals-talking-on-Christmas-Eve thing, too, and in Lithuania, grain and peas scattered on the barn floor at Christmas time was said to ensure healthy, productive animals in the new year. So I’m kind of thinking Santa would approve.

This is our Playmobil Advent calendar, a forest scene with Santa feeding all the animals. So far we've got deer, badgers, squirrels, mice, and a crow.

 

 

Ruminations on the gardening gift

There’s a whole lot of whispering and sneaking and wrapping going on around here, and I can’t help but hope someone heard my loud hints about getting me some new secateurs. However, there’s a piece of me that hopes they didn’t notice. Why the conflict? I want someone to get them for me, so I don’t have to dither any longer about justifying the expense, but I’d really like to pick them out myself.

I’m horrible. I know. I should just be grateful, no matter what. And I’m pretty good about that when it comes to most things– get me a scarf, or a book, some music, or a fairy for my collection, and I am pretty much guaranteed to be genuinely grateful. But garden tools or garden decor can be such a matter of personal taste and needs. Not everyone wants a grinning resin turtle to cavort among the flowers. You’d better know your recipient pretty well before you go there.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d be pleased to receive many of the gifts on this lovely new list, but I’d be just as happy–maybe more–to get a gift card for my favourite greenhouse. They might carry a hint of cop-out, but in this case, and my case, it would be welcome.

If you’re set on giving a gardening gift, but the person “has everything,” is a little picky (like me), or you’re just plain drawing a blank, there’s always the option of a gift in kind: a donation to Plan Canada or World Vision (among others) can help plant fruit trees, start a quinoa crop, set up a family farm, or establish a schoolyard garden in developing parts of the world.

Anything given with love and thought is a great present, right?

Just don’t buy me any of these.

 

 

 

 

Quick project: barn wood planter

I’ve been enjoying all the great ideas for winter planters, holiday flower arrangements and wreaths that have been popping up lately. When we were down in Kalispell two weeks ago, I noticed cute barn wood planters all over the antique shops, stuffed with juniper branches. Some were long and low, some tapered and carved, but they all had one thing in common: they were ridiculously overpriced. I said to Chris, “I bet we could throw one of those together in less than an hour.”

And this morning we tried. And got two done in less than an hour.

Of course, Chris is a confident woodworker, and we have loads of old fence board just laying around. But it’s still an easy project for anyone to try.

Choose wood that has aged nicely, but be sure it isn’t so aged that it is splitting. Interesting knots or grain are a bonus. For easy building, we used plain old but joints, and made the base the width of our board, and the height the same. For the end pieces, we measured the width of our board and added the thickness of each side piece. Use a coloured pencil to mark your measurements–regular pencil disappears on barn wood.

Cut your board into the lengths you want. A mitre or table saw will give you nice straight cuts, but if you're careful, a jigsaw or circular saw will work as well.

If you want handles, use a wood boring bit (or the largest drill bit you have) to make two parallel holes on the sides.

Once you have your holes, use a jigsaw to cut out the handle shape.

Use good wood glue (carpenter's glue) on each joint. This is what really holds it together.

After you glue the joints, nail them together. We used a brad nailer, but you could use chunky-headed roofing nails to add some detail.

Chris insisted on giving the edges all a quick router. It took longer to change the bit than to do everything else together, but I must admit, it really takes it up a notch.

If you intend to use live plants, you will want to be sure to build your planter to fit your container. I chose to do a dry arrangement, but 3 standard 5 inch pots (or old sour cream containers!) will fit just right when I decide to change it.

First one done! I'll add some of those stick-on felt circles from the hardware store so it doesn't scratch the table or floor.

Here’s what I did with one of mine. I did resort to using some artificial flowers; it’s protected in the porch and I don’t want to assault my junipers or dogwoods until they get a little bigger.

 

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