{ Author Archive - Tara Nolan }

Feeding my soil

In the past, without really understanding what my soil needed for my plants to thrive, I would spread a few bags of top soil on my gardens in spring and call it a day. But I’ve been reading about pH levels and the importance of composting and mulch that I don't know where to begin. So I turned to Anne Marie to seek advice on how a budding gardener should prepare her soil.

Here is Anne Marie's advice:

  • For most plants, pH is less of a concern than the type of soil present. Most plants are fine with soil that is slightly alkaline all the way to slightly acidic. It is only when soils are very acidic or very alkaline that some plants will struggle if they're growing in a type of soil that is not suited for them.
  • For example, acid-soil loving rhododendrons growing in very alkaline (limestone based) soils. Most plants are tolerant of a relatively wide range of soil pH values.
  • Test your soil for its pH level if you are curious. Horticultural lime or garden sulphur are the most often recommended products applied to alter the soil acidity level.
  • PH aside, compost is excellent to add to the soil. Make sure it is from a reliable source.
  • Three to five centimetres of compost added each spring is a great soil enrichment program.
  • Then place a layer mulch on top of the compost.
  • An undyed organic mulch is great if only a small layer of compost can be added or if compost is only added every other year. The organic mulch (shredded pine bark, pine needles, cedar mulch, etc.) will break down over time and become part of the soil. Therefore it should be topped up every year.
  • My advice is to leave the existing soil alone and work on adding compost to it each year, with the addition of a mulch topping. This is a much easier task to build a “raised bed” than dealing with clay, for example, and fighting the battle to change the soil composition.

So with this helpful advice, my next step is to apply a layer of compost to my beds.

New blooms to add to my spring shopping list

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a President’s Choice Lawn & Garden event in Toronto’s historic Distillery District. I get my plants and garden products from a wide variety of nurseries and stores each year, but the PC brand is always very convenient because there is a nursery set up at my local grocery store. The plants are also exclusively from Canadian growers, which is an added bonus.

Besides the lovely plant selection, there were patio vignettes set up by interior stylist Janette Ewen showcasing some of the neat pots and solar lights that will also be on sale at Loblaw stores.

Here are some of the plants that will be on my spring shopping list!

Bourbon Clematis: This lovely climber will grow three or four feet and has a brilliant red and fuchsia bloom.

Bourbon Clematis: This lovely climber will grow three or four feet and has brilliant red and fuchsia blooms.

Here's a mouthful--these gorgeous grasses, "Hakonechloa macra Aureola," will become infused with pinks and reds in the fall.

These gorgeous grasses, "Hakonechloa macra Aureola," will become infused with pinks and reds in the fall.

Attract butterflies to your yard with Lo & Behold this mini breed buddleia--or butterfly bush.

Attract butterflies to your yard with Lo & Behold, this mini breed buddleia--or butterfly bush.

10 ways to celebrate Earth Day in the garden

Today the media will be focused on Earth Day and the multitude of events happening across the country to bring awareness to environmental issues. Check out the Earth Day Canada site for a list of events happening in your community.

Now when it comes to your garden, I think every day should be Earth Day. I'm definitely trying to think green throughout my yard. My rain barrel collects lots of useful water, my seeds this year are all heirloom, organic varieties and I don't use toxic chemicals to eliminate pests or weeds.

I know this sounds so cliché, but even small steps can make a big difference. Here are some ways you can go “green” in your yard.

1. Support the ban on cosmetic pesticides. Just in time for Earth Day, Ontario will be the second province to ban more than 250 chemical pesticide products (Quebec was the first). Encourage the decision makers in your province to follow suit!

2. Hook up a rain barrel. This is such an easy way to conserve water and there are lots of nice-looking barrels on the market these days.

3. Explore organic ways to fertilize your garden. Learn how to nurture your garden naturally with this excerpt from Marjorie Harris’ new book, Ecological Gardening.

4. Learn how to make your own compost. This is so cool–you can literally make your own dirt. This is one of my resolutions as my composter currently has nothing but old sod in it.

5. Attract bees to your yard. Bees are essential to the very survival of our plants. Lure them in with bee-friendly flowers and this neat little home.

6. Determine how eco-friendly your garden is. See you're your garden and gardening practices rate on an enviro-friendly scale.

7. Return plastic plant pots. Sadly, most Blue Box programs do not recycle your plant pots. However if you purchase your flowers from a President’s Choice garden centre, they will take back your pots to recycle them. Plus, if you return 25 pots or flats, you will receive a coupon for $5 off a garden purchase of $50 or more.

8. Wean your lawn off chemicals. There are plenty of options on the market now to replace all those lawn chemicals of yore. But wouldn’t it be nice to stop worrying about that elusive, immaculate square of land and fill it with something fun instead?

9. Experiment with native plants. Choose plants that are native to your area that can easily adapt to the conditions of your garden.

10. Replace old garden gear with new eco options. If you’re in the market for some new tools and garden paraphernalia, test drive one of these “green” toys.

A week ago today…

I wish I knew what kind of butterfly this was!

I wish I knew what kind of butterfly this was!

A week ago today I was in Las Vegas and amid all the casinos, glitz, monuments and fountains, I managed to find a botanical garden at the Bellagio.

This cute ladybug was made of carnations! Or were they roses? It was hard to tell...

This cute ladybug was made of carnations! Or were they roses? It was hard to tell...

With “140 horticulturists on staff,” the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens changes its exhibits about five times a year and I have to say their current display was one of the highlights of my trip–and best of all, it was free!

These watering cans were really cool!

These watering cans were really cool!

I had to tear myself away from the butterfly exhibit–they were magnificent and so much bigger than the butterflies you see here in Ontario. My pictures certainly don’t do this imaginative space justice, but I thought I’d share some anyway to give you a peek.

Take a look at the website linked above for more fab photos. You can even see past exhibits.

My first heavy-duty garden purchase of the season

I felt so proud of myself this evening when I purchased two healthy-looking cedar trees for my backyard along with my groceries. You see there may or may not be an enormous second story eventually being built on the house behind us and I need to start planning (and planting!) some extra privacy pronto. Currently there is an old chain link fence separating our yards with some sad, spindly little cedars steadfastly growing around the middle of it. I want to eventually fill in that whole back area and these shapely cedars seemed to be a good start.

However for some reason my garden ambition clouded my judgment and I didn’t realize quite how tall and heavy these cedars would be. A very helpful young air cadet graciously left his money box with a friend and helped me drag the first cedar into the back floor of my little hatchback. After much maneuvering we finally got it in. I thanked him profusely even though he called me ma’am and decided I’d come back with some strong arms for the second tree.

Both are now safely in my backyard awaiting their destiny as a privacy fence. And I am hoping I can lift my arms tomorrow.

Hey, what happened to spring?

crocusblueflowersYesterday was a beautiful and sunny day, so I took a stroll around my yard with my camera to see if anything was growing yet. My irises and tulips are peeking through the leaves in my garden and I snapped this little crocus poking up on my neighbour’s lawn! In the backyard I found these sweet little blue flowers growing against my fence. I started dreaming of finally being able to get outside and preparing my yard for spring.
And then this morning, alas, it was snowing. I knew there had to be at least one more storm before we were allowed to enjoy spring, but things were looking so promising I thought we might escape winter’s last gasp.

daffodil3Luckily, I purchased daffodils last week to support the Canadian Cancer Society, so spring still exists in my kitchen. They were certainly a welcome sight this morning when I woke up to a raging storm!I just hope those little flowers survive this frosty weather.

Starting my seeds

Our seed packets

Our seed packets

My seeds finally arrived and last weekend my sister and I split them up so we can each test our green thumbs and nurture little seedlings into food this season. Today I got around to planting some of the seeds that can be started indoors (and as an experiment, some of the ones that recommend you start them outside–what can I say, I'm impatient!). I'm so excited to see what will decide to grow!

Here's what I have started:

  • Chives
  • Florence Fennel
  • Black Hungarian Hot Pepper
  • `Champion` Collards
  • Cilantro
  • Mesclun Greens
  • Black Calypso Bush Bean

Container planting inspiration at the TBG

The gorgeous set the TBG put together for our video shoot

The gorgeous set the TBG put together for our video shoot

Yesterday morning I headed to the Toronto Botanical Garden with our videographer Ryan Da Silva for a video shoot with the new director of horticulture, Paul Zammit. Paul is known for his stylish containers and showed off his talent to lucky visitors at Canada Blooms last week.

We wanted to capture step by step how Paul puts together his containers. Paul is a natural as a video host, because not only does he explain his design ideas as he puts everything together, he incorporates so many helpful tips into his presentation.

Every year I put together a few pots and a hanging basket. They are pretty enough, but after yesterday, this year I am so inspired to use all the great ideas I learned from Paul and really plan out my containers and spend more time on their arrangement.

Stay tuned for Paul's video, which we'll be publishing online next week! I'm certain you'll be inspired, too!

Seed storage tips winner

After a random draw to determine the winners of the seed storage box, the winners are… Sandy and Corky! Congratulations! Please email me at hgwebeditor@transcontinental.ca with your full name and address and I will mail you your prize.

Shopping for garden treasures at Canada Blooms

The shopping made me leave Canada Blooms–but only because my arms wouldn't let me carry anything else! My first purchase was… jam! I’d tried this delicious Pears & Pansies jam that my mom bought at The Culinarium. The woman who makes these unexpected combinations, like mixing pears with pansies, had a booth, From These Roots. I had to try three more flavours. I bought Apricot HoneySuckle, Black Currant & Wild Violet and Mango Jalapeno.

Next a stunning bunch of violets caught my eye, so I grabbed one in bright crimson.

At Your Creations Hostas and Perennials, I was eyeing the hellebores when I saw these huge hibiscus rhizomes. Hibiscus is one of my favourite flowers, so, despite its tropical provenance, I'm going to try my luck at growing one this summer.

At Tropical Expressions, a bonsai retailer, I saw these small, spiky and hairy sprigs. They were in a basket–no dirt, no water. Called Tillandsia–or air plants–these little specimens are epiphytes, meaning they can be placed on any surface and will grow there without needing soil to take root. All they need is to be misted with water a couple of times a week–or so I was told. My little guy is currently on my kitchen windowsill. I will try really hard to keep him alive with his minimum care requirements.

My last purchase was a little stone cabbage for my garden from this great booth that has a store in the Eglinton Town Centre in Scarborough. I can’t wait to put it outside amongst my plants! With that weighing down my bags along with some of the literature I picked up from various booths and Mark Cullen's new book, The Canadian Garden Primer: An Organic Approach, which I had received after hearing Mark speak at the press event, it was time to head home.

I could have kept going, but this Budding Gardener is on a budget!

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