{ Author Archive - Tara Nolan }

Mum-ma mia!

I can't take credit for planting them, but I love the dependable, gorgeous colours my chrysanthemums bring to the yard each fall — white, pink, yellow, orange. Still covered in bees, these are not delicate flowers. The frosty temperatures we had last week didn't harm their little faces at all! I haven’t done it yet this year, but I love to snip a short stem full of blooms and place them in water, low to the vase. It’s like a ready-made, elegant bouquet! Just make sure they aren’t covered in little bugs. I made that mistake last year!

A bumper crop of teeny tomatillos

The tomatillos that managed to escape my broiler and blender last year reseeded themselves and produced three plants this spring. There could have been more, but I think I inadvertently pulled some out. Anyhow, they are finally ready and survived this frosty week. They are much smaller than last year, but made a delicious salsa verde last night. Last year I mentioned a recipe I found on CanadianLiving.com, but I also really enjoy the variation I’ve created with a recipe from the old Wish magazine site because it calls for honey. A delicious addition to the tacos I made last night… yum!

My garden's report card: the annuals

In a recent column, Canadian Gardening magazine’s editor-at-large, Stephen Westcott-Gratton, wrote up a report card for his garden. The recent change in the weather from mild and pleasant to downright frosty has inspired me to reflect on what worked — and what didn’t — in my own garden.

Now I definitely need to practice my botanical photography, but here are some photos of my favourite plants this year. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to take a photo of some before they started going downhill, so those I’ve just listed at the bottom.

I planted my Picotree Cosmos around the edge of my vegetable garden to create a lovely, tall border behind my veggies. Now I suspect some of the seeds were carried off by the squirrels because I didn't end up with much of a border, but nonetheless, I'm very pleased with the fuchsia and delicate pink blooms that are still gracing my garden.

I planted my Picotree Cosmos around the edge of my vegetable garden to create a lovely, tall border behind my veggies. Now I suspect some of the seeds were carried off by the squirrels because I didn't end up with much of a border, but nonetheless, I'm very pleased with the fuchsia and delicate pink blooms that are still gracing my garden. Grade: A

Lantana from Home Depot

I bought this Lantana (a Lucky Red Hot) from Home Depot on a whim one weekend and it took over! You can see it shading my ornamental grass. But the flowers were lovely and it didn't require much water to survive in my dry, sunny front garden. Grade: A+

Other successes:

  • My herb garden. Most of my herbs came from the President’s Choice Lawn & Garden Centre at my local Loblaws and a PC event I attended. For the first time I used almost all my fresh herbs in my cooking (which is incredibly satisfying)… the only ones I didn’t use were my lemon thyme and my sage. Grade: A+ (I give my cilantro a D because both the plants started from seed and the plants that just appeared in my garden died)
  • My Red Antirrhinum majus Snapdragon. This one flowered on and off throughout the summer and was a little finicky, but well worth it for the gorgeous crimson blooms. Grade: B+
  • Kong Rose Coleus from Pape Garden Centre. This lovely plant drew my attention because of its lime green, fuchsia and purple foliage. I planted it beside an Irish moss I bought at Sheridan Nurseries. The squirrels carried away the moss, but left my lovely Coleus behind. Grade: A+
  • Begonias – I had a peach and a fuschia and both were gorgeous! Grade: A

Will my new pen biodegrade as I’m writing my to-do lists?

papermate-blogDespite working on the web, I'm still a paper person. I keep lists and notes in more than one notebook, I'm forever jotting things on Post-its and I still keep track of my life in my daytimer. Not particularly eco-friendly, I know, but at least my pen now is! A few weeks ago I was sent a Paper Mate Biodegradable — a nifty new pen made of parts that will decompose in soil or compost.

So maybe next spring after all my note taking, my pen will be inkless (though you can buy refills!) and I'll be able to bury it and see how long it takes to biodegrade — right alongside my Cargo PlantLove lipstick case. It will be like a little bioplastic graveyard in my garden!

Trees for Toronto

trees-for-torontoWhile I'm on the subject of Toronto, as I was driving over the Bloor Viaduct on my way to yesterday's event, I was admiring the gorgeous canopy of trees in the Don Valley that are just beginning to turn. Living in the city you sometimes forget just how much green space there is.

Queen's Park is another gorgeous `green` area in the city and last week, William Thorsell, Director & CEO of the ROM along with Toronto Parks and Environment Committee Chair Paula Fletcher unveiled new interpretive panels and tree identification signs as part of Trees for Toronto. The aim of TFT is to renew the urban forest in Queen's Park, which originally opened in 1860. It is home to 47 varieties of trees, including red and white oaks, butternuts, Norway maples, lindens and pines.

Has anyone seen these panels up close yet?

Celebrating 175 years!

Last night The Horticultural Societies of Parkdale and Toronto held a gala reception to celebrate their 175th anniversary. Speakers included Mayor David Miller; The Honourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario; Paul Zammit from the Toronto Botanical Garden and Marjorie Harris, author of my fave gardening book this season, Ecological Gardening.

The event was held at Allan Gardens, this gem in the middle of the city that I didn't know existed! I had to Google-map it before I left. The reception began in the Palm House, (a structure built in 1910 that was modeled after similar buildings from that era in the United States and England). Afterwards, you could stroll through the six greenhouses that play host to different themes and plant life. Right now there are displays of colourful mums for their Chrysanthemum Festival and I was told there are some beautiful holiday blooms around Christmastime.

You can get to the entrance from the south side of Carlton Street between Jarvis and Sherbourne. According to the website, Allan Gardens is open from 10 to 5. If you live in Toronto, I encourage you to check it out! I've heard that it's really neat to go in the dead of winter when you're longing for signs of life and greenery.

Here are some photos I took of the event.

Me and The Honourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. I used to be a guest from time to time on his show, Homepage, when he was still at CityTV and CP24.

Me and The Honourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. I used to be a guest from time to time on his show, Homepage, when he was still at CityTV and CP24.

Walking into the Chrysanthemum Festival greenhouse.

Walking into the Chrysanthemum Festival greenhouse.

100 oil lamps were positioned throughout all the gardens creating a warm ambience.

100 oil lamps were positioned throughout all the gardens creating a warm ambience.

I'm clearly not a botanical photographer, but I loved the rich, buttery yellow of this flower and the curly petals.

I'm clearly not a botanical photographer, but I loved the rich, buttery yellow of this flower and its curly petals.

Fabulous fall bouquet and a mystery plant

fall-bouquet-triangle1

What is this interesting-looking thing?

fall-bouquet

My lovely fall bouquet

Today's the first day where it's actually started to feel a little like fall. There's a slight wind here in Toronto and it's overcast and raining. We’ve had a very warm September until now. Even Northern Alberta, Vancouver and Whistler, where I spent the last week, have enjoyed an unusually warm fall. Only a few leaves here and there were beginning to turn various shades of gold in Northern Alberta, but everywhere else still seems fairly green.

My first real glimpse of fall colour is in this lovely `welcome home` bouquet that greeted me when I returned from my trip. Especially interesting are the red and furry, pie-slice-shaped flowers. I have never seen them before. My fiancé said they were called `high fives` until I realized he was pulling my leg. Does anyone know what these are?

(photo taken with a Kodak EasyShare M381 digital camera)

Athabaskets!

alberta-athabascabasketAfter a morning of fishing in Athabasca on the river (I caught an 8ish-pound pike!), I was treated to a historical tour of the town by my local guide, Nadine Hallett. Besides the rich, fascinating history of the area – the historic Athabasca Landing Trail was an important trading and settlement corridor that included people bound for the Klondike Gold Rush – there were these gorgeous barrels of flowers and baskets hanging all over town. Apparently they are watered and fertilized every day, so the results are these brilliant globes of colour. One proud fact is that in 2005, Athabasca won a Communities in Bloom award for their lovely green thumb efforts throughout the town.

(photo taken with a Kodak EasyShare M381 digital camera)

Touring wild rose country

alberta-wildroseI'm currently in Northern Alberta taking in all the pristine, untouched wilderness this lovely province has to offer.

Kodak lent me one of their new EasyShare M381 digital cameras to capture the gorgeous sites. My old camera had a big docking station you had to plug into the wall and then the computer to upload photos. This one just takes a USB cord and was pretty easy to use out of the box.

alberta-jackpinesI haven't seen any wild roses, but I love the trees pictured here. I'm not sure why, but I call them scrubby pines. They're actually Jack Pines and apparently they are one of the first trees to grow after a forest fire. This is what Wikipedia says about them: “It is fire-adapted to stand-replacing fires, with the cones remaining closed for many years, until a forest fire kills the mature trees and opens the cones, reseeding the burnt ground.”

These would be perfect to line the back of my yard to give us privacy from the giant house going up behind us. The soil in my yard is pretty dry and I wouldn't have to trim as they grow fairly straight. I'm wondering if it's something I could buy at a nursery…

Spending the night in a nest

alberta-thenest

The Nest

My first night in the Lesser Slave Lake region of Northern Alberta was spent at a hostel called The Nest. These accommodations were especially interesting because they are on the grounds of the Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation (BCBC). And hostel is kind of misleading when you compare it to some of the more (ahem) squeaky-clean-challenged places you might have experienced. This was more like a comfy cabin. It sleeps 10 in two separate wings with a common area and kitchen in the middle, complete with a big fireplace. Super cosy!

Tracking the numbers: Because of the great weather conditions Alberta had this summer, they didn't get the same numbers they have in the past as the birds kept right on flying instead of stopping!

Tracking the numbers: Because of the great weather conditions Alberta had this summer, they didn't get the same numbers they have in the past as the birds kept right on flying instead of stopping!

The next morning after a walk to the rocky beach for views of Lesser Slave Lake, I visited the centre for some bird education. Charity and executive director Patti Campsall were very helpful in explaining what the centre is all about as well as the eco-friendly aspects of this LEEDS-certified structure.

Lesser Slave Lake and nearby Marten Mountain act as a natural barrier for migratory birds making their annual voyage. The BCBC has provided a haven for researchers to study the birds` important relationship with the Boreal forest. Of special interest are the neo-tropical birds. Some of these tiny specimens travel for thousands and thousands of miles!

Walking through the exhibit and reading about these amazing bird populations was fascinating. Afterwards we headed down towards the lake again to talk to Richard, who is the head bander for the bird banding program. Richard and his team use special nets to catch birds and gather important data about them (such as their age, sex, measurements and muscle development).

Unfortunately it was a very windy day — not great conditions for the birds, so we weren't able to witness the banding. But the BCBC does host a number of educational programs, including the opportunity to tour the banding station and see Richard in action (when he's a little busier). If you're there in winter, the centre rents out cross country skis and snowshoes for free!

This didn't come out very well, but Richard has photos in his research building identifying the birds that are of most interest for the purposes of his studies.

This didn't come out very well, but Richard has photos in his research building identifying the birds that are of most interest for the purposes of his studies.

So what’s the connection to gardening? We can provide important habitats for them in our own backyard! During my visit, I picked up some great tips on attracting songbirds to your yard. We currently have the one article on the site and I intend to talk to Patty for more helpful advice!

(photo taken with a Kodak EasyShare M381 digital camera)

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