{ Author Archive - Tara Nolan }

Wear your poppies

In honour of Remembrance Day and the brave soldiers who fought for our freedom, here's a little background of how the red poppy became our way to commemorate this special day.

After John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields was published in 1915, the poppy became a popular symbol for soldiers who died in battle.

McRae was a brigade-surgeon to the First Brigade of the Canadian Forces Artillery in World War I. The day before he wrote his famous poem, one of McCrae’s closest friends was killed in the fighting and buried in a makeshift grave with a simple wooden cross. Wild poppies were already beginning to bloom between the crosses marking the many graves. Unable to help his friend or any of the others who had died, John McCrae gave them a voice through his poem.

The poppy of wartime remembrance is the red corn poppy, Papaver rhoeas. This self-seeding wildflower grows extensively in Europe and flourishes in cultivated, disturbed soil, which is why you see it throughout many a field.

Can you pick veggies after a frost?

As you may have read, I had a real problem with my tomatoes this past season…they were so late! I managed to pick (and eat!) a few juicy, delicious beefsteaks and plums, but there were still some pretty green ones hanging out on the vine.

Then we got a sprinkling of snow and a few days of frost here and there. What to do?

According to Anne Marie, some of the slightly cold-tolerant vegetables can be picked after a frost. Apparently some even taste better (parsnips, rutabaga, kale, chard) if they are harvested after the first light frost (or two). Other cold tolerant veggies include carrots, cabbage, turnip, leeks, spinach, some lettuce, kohlrabi, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

Others, such as tomatoes, cucumbers and summer squash, do not tolerate a frost and should be picked before the freezing temperatures.

When I was out raking this weekend, I grabbed the last of my tomatillos (which still seemed OK) and a promising looking tomato, which I'm happy to say is turning a happy shade of red on my windowsill.

For the rest, I'm going to try my luck at wrapping them in newspaper as Anne Marie suggested to see if they ripen on their own. Hopefully it's not too late!

Swimming in leaves

There is a monster tree next door that loves to wait until the very last minute to drop its leaves. Last year we waited and waited and raked as much as we could and then that last big deluge happened just as we got our first snowfall. I was wondering if this is bad for my grass and gardens or if the leaves make a good mulch.

Definitely no leaves should be left on the lawn, says Anne Marie. They will smother the grass and could contribute to more overwintering diseases. Particularly bad are wet clumps of maple or oak leaves (we've got a maple!).

A layer of leaves (about 7 cm) can be left on the vegetable garden over winter and worked into the soil in the spring. A 5 cm layer of leaves can be left over the soil in the flower garden as long as no perennials are covered. Shredded leaves would be better, if available.

So lesson learned for this year. Even if we need snowsuits, I should still try to get as many leaves up off that grass as possible–and be sure not to drown my perennials.

My toad lily blooms at last

Last summer at a family barbecue, my Uncle Mike was so excited to dig up some of his plants for my garden. He grabbed some empty plastic pots and sent me home with a few perennials. Sadly, a couple of them didn't make it, but this past spring, up bloomed the sweet purple and white faces of my Johnny Jump-Ups.

The other plant I was anxious about was my toad lily. It grew fairly high last summer, but didn't bloom, and I wasn't sure if it would come back. I left the stalk in the ground to mark its place and once spring arrived, a promising little seedling found its way up beside it.

This summer, that little seedling grew so high I had to tie it to a stake so it didn't grow sideways. Until recently, it had yet to bloom. A few weeks ago, these little purple buds started to appear. I was so worried they wouldn't flower–especially after the light flurries we got the other day. But two days later, I headed outside, and there in the warm fall sun were a few dainty spotted blooms. My photo doesn't really do these cute little flowers justice. I can't describe how elated I felt to see them. My uncle passed away this spring, so I feel so happy that these flowers are in my garden to remind me of him and how excited he was to share his plants.

I dedicate this post to my uncle who loved to garden.

My pet monster: My rosebush

I have a little secret. Well it's not really a secret if you step into my backyard because you'll see that my rosebush is like The Hulk. And because of its thick canes and dagger-sharp thorns, it's obvious that I'm rather petrified of it.

Ok, I admit it. I've been a little neglectful. After getting a couple thorns through my garden gloves the first year I was in my house, I have steered clear and focused on other parts of my gardens.

So my question for Anne Marie was whether I can cut back my rosebush this fall without suffering personal injury and without harming the plant.

Here's what she had to say:

The best time is to prune your monster rose is in the spring. This way there's less opportunity for winter damage. When you do prune it, take out the oldest canes, right down to the soil level. This is assuming that there's a good crop of canes to choose from. Only remove one third of the oldest ones this time. Then one third the year after and set up a regular pruning schedule. Removing the older canes will encourage nice healthy, vigorous new canes to form from the base.

With canes that thick, a heavy duty pair of loppers are needed for the four- to five-centimetre diameter canes and you may need a small pruning saw, too. When you get ready to tackle the rose, suit up with a ton of protective clothing. An old jacket, heavy duty leather gloves (preferably ones that go up to your elbow), safety glasses and long pants.

It's very difficult to use pruners with thick leather gloves so try them out first to see if they will work for you. Once you prune a cane from the middle of the plant, use the loppers to grab it and drag it to you for disposal. If you have a choice, prune out the canes from the centre of the rose to allow more light and air circulation to get to the middle.

So alas, I have to let my giant lie dormant for the winter, but I will be sure to tame the beast come spring.

Photo: The blooms pictured above from this past summer on my Hulk junior. It lives right next door.

Gourd the turkey

I just couldn’t resist posting this today! I took this photo a couple of weeks ago when I was working on a videoshoot for the website at Sheridan Nurseries. After a little research I discovered this is called a gooseneck gourd–how appropriate! Some clever person has created a stand with the turkey tail and feet that you see here.

I just wanted to take the opportunity to wish my fellow budding gardeners a safe and Happy Thanksgiving! It’s supposed to be a beautiful weekend, so I intend to spend part of it out in my garden, crossing items off my fall checklist.

Check back soon for that video I mentioned earlier. Custom designer Elene Nouri shows us how to create a terrarium, so you can hone your green thumb throughout the winter.

My sand cherry's a sucker

Ok, I lied. My sand cherry has suckers. Let me explain. I have a sand cherry tree in my front garden. It's very lovely–especially in the springtime, but lately, there is new growth coming up in the form of tiny little trees all around the base. These little guys are very hard to pull out–probably because they're attached to the roots of the existing tree. I turned to Anne Marie to find out how to get rid of my baby trees without harming their mama.

The new growths from the base of your sand cherry are suckers and they are still attached to the roots of the tree. Most sand cherries are shallow rooted and are prone to producing suckers since they naturally have a tendency to grow in dense thickets. They will also sucker, especially if the roots have been damaged from digging around the shrub or tree.

If you want your sand cherry to be a single trunk and not have the suckers, they can be dug up, severed from the mother plant if they have plenty of roots and given away to friends. Or, dig down to where they are attached to the root, grab hold of the sucker, twist and pull. Cutting them off at the soil level or below will not stop them from returning. Like rose suckers, the growing bud must be removed totally by twisting and pulling it out.

While I was on the subject of sand cherries, I thought I'd ask Anne Marie a question a reader had.

“Hello, I planted a sand cherry tree this spring and it's not looking good and has lots of chew holes. What should I do?”

According to Anne Marie, the sand cherry is going through a little transplanting stress and is feeling the effects of either a fungus disease called shot hole or an insect attack by any number of pests; from caterpillars like sawflies to Japanese beetles. Take a look at the leaves and if you don't see any pests on them, this is a good sign and they may have moved on. Also you don't see numerous brown spots on the leaves (the beginning of shot hole disease), Anne Marie recommends focusing on keeping the plant healthy and not worry about what caused the chew holes.

Don't fertilize the tree until it gets a little more settled, but do make sure it has enough water and that drainage is good. Also it should be planted at the same depth as it was growing in the pot, with just a small increase (2.5 cm) for mulch over the root area.

Has your garden had a makeover?

Today we launched an exciting new contest at CanadianGardening.com. If you did a little landscaping magic to your yard this summer or transformed a boring patch of dirt into brilliant blooms, then you can enter your before and after photos to win! And if you focused a little more on the inside, no problem! We'd love to see your renovation pictures, too! First and second prize include a fabulous laundry pair from Maytag.

The entries with the most votes win, so encourage your family, friends and co-workers to vote for your photos.

I look forward to seeing all the inspiring pics from our readers!

When should I divide my perennials?

Yesterday was a gorgeous September day and I found myself out in the garden admiring my perennials–my mums have all of a sudden exploded with colour! Some of my plants, however, have gotten quite dense over the summer. A couple of my hostas are so huge a neighbourhood cat was sleeping under one the other day and I didn't even notice until it crawled out and gave me a sleepy “meow.”

What to do with my crowded beds? I haven't really had to divide anything until now (except my irises), so I wasn't sure when the best time of year is to do it.

I consulted Anne as I think I'd probably better get a move on if I'm going to divide anything before the first frost. Here is her advice:

  • The best time to divide most perennials is in early spring. This will give the plant time to get settled before the summer weather challenges arrive.
  • The second best time to divide most perennials is in early fall, when the soil is still warm and plants can get settled before winter arrives. Divide perennials about 6 weeks before the first frost.
  • Some considerations to think about; often the soil is too wet to dig in the spring when it is the ideal time to divide. Some experts also suggest that spring and summer blooming perennials should be divided in the fall, and fall blooming perennials divided in the spring. This means you are dividing non-blooming plants, which will have a better chance of survival.
  • Exceptions to this rule include bearded iris (August only), columbine (fall only), oriental poppy (early summer after flowering), bleeding heart (early summer after flowering) and peony (late summer).
  • Divide plants on a cloudy day. Water them well the day before the move. And water them well after the move.
  • Cover them if necessary to reduce wilting.
  • Take as much soil as you can lift from around the roots and replant immediately.
  • Use a garden fork or garden spade to loosen the soil and dig out the clump. An old, large kitchen knife, sharp garden spade or two garden forks are handy to divide the clump. Save the most vigorous sections of your clump from the outer edges to replant.

This information will find a place in my gardening journal. I also found this article written by Anne on dividing perennials, which I am going to print, along with the information above, for handy reference.

My first tomatillos = salsa verde

A week or so ago we had a big storm in the night that basically snapped major branches off my poor tomatoes and my tomatillo plant. I went into emergency gathering mode as I picked the tomatillos off the sorry-looking branch that I could not save.

I had quite a few tomatillos that seemed a fairly good size, but they hadn't quite filled out their pod. The good news is that they were bright green, which according to my research is when they're at their best. Anyhow, I had to use them, so I immediately did a search for salsa verde or green salsa so I could use them up right away. One of my favourite dishes at Mexican restaurants is green enchiladas. Until I planted my tomatillo, I was quite ignorant to the fact that the tangy, flavourful salsa smothering my meal was made from tomatillos.

I found a few recipes online, all of them pretty similar. I used this recipe from CanadianLiving.com and instead of the canned variety, I roasted my tomatillos under the broiler for about five minutes per side, let them cool and then squished them up in the blender. I then mixed the remaining ingredients and the result was absolutely delicious on my beef burritos!

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