{ Author Archive - Tara Nolan }

An inspiring trip to Reford Gardens

Last summer, I had the opportunity to travel around Maritime Quebec. My trip was billed as “Glaciers, Flowers and Gourmet Delicacies.” What immediately stood out to me on the itinerary was the Jardin de Métis, also known as Reford Gardens. I’d read a lot about the gardens and couldn’t wait to see them for myself. To get there, we had taken a ferry the night before from Baie-Comeau, where we had spent a day touring around, to Matane. We stayed at Hôtel-Motel Belle-Plage, so I fell asleep and awoke to the gentle waves of the St. Lawrence River. I was disappointed to wake up and discover an overcast and rainy day, however as we neared Reford Gardens, we drove into the sun.

After wandering through the unique, intellectual gardens that make up the International Garden Festival, we met up with Alexander Reford, director of Reford Gardens and great-grandson of the gardens’ founder, Elsie Reford. Alexander has been instrumental in continuing Elsie’s legacy and expanding the gardens in both size and profile. In fact, Alexander won a Canadian Garden Tourism Award for Person of the Year this past March at Canada’s Garden Tourism Conference.

Alexander took my little group of three behind the scenes showing us some future project sites and introducing us to chef Pierre-Olivier Ferry whom we encountered in the kitchen garden.

I took a ton of photos and compiled them into a photo essay, which you will find in our Garden Travel section. I thought I’d share some of the more candid ones here.

Maybe this giant gnome in Matane was lucky and brought the nice weather to Reford Gardens.

This web, part of the Dymaxion Sleep exhibit, suspends visitors over various aromatic herbs. I thought it might be a little stiffer, so I couldn't stop giggling when I fell into it.

Alexander and I at Estevan Lodge Restaurant.

Mixing and matching edibles with ornamentals in pots

It was Paul Zammit, director of horticulture at the Toronto Botanical Garden, who first inspired me to include herbs among the blooms and foliage I use in my containers. They’re fragrant when you brush past them and useful when you need a few sprigs here and there for a meal. Because space can be an issue here in the city, many gardeners take this concept a step further and mix fruit, vegetables and edible flowers in with their favourite potted blooms.

If you’ve gotten creative mixing edibles and ornamentals in pots, hopefully you’ve captured them in photos. Local website Toronto Balconies Bloom has launched a new contest called 2011 Edible Container Photo Show. The entry criteria is on the website and you don’t have to live in Toronto to enter. There are a number of garden-related prizes to be won. Good luck and come back to let us know if you’re a winner!

Pots on display in the Toronto Botanical Garden booth at Canada Blooms 2010. In the background you can see Paul Zammit's enormous rosemary bush (he overwinters it every year), as well as tomatoes, basil, parsley and what I believe to be nasturtiums among the lovely blooms.

Here are a couple of videos we have of Paul working his magic with pots. Maybe they’ll inspire you to enter the contest:

My case of the gardening blues

I’ve had a wee case of the gardening blues this past summer. You see, I sold my house at the very end of April and then thought for sure I’d be moving by the summer. Then we did buy a house with a summer closing, but had to make the heart-wrenching decision to walk away after our house inspection went awry. So then when we finally did find another house, it came with an October closing date. I never imagined it would take me six months to get into my new place. I had dreams of working in my new garden, seeing what came up and adding a few little gems before working on a bigger long-term plan.

This has made me feel somewhat disconnected from my own little garden. My summer has consisted of halfheartedly planting some late veggies, dutifully giving my pots and gardens the minimum water requirements to live, and woefully picking weeds out of our new front garden that we converted from lawn (hey, isn’t mulch supposed to suppress the weeds?). I admit it. I have had a really bad attitude about my garden (which is also why I’ve had a hard time blogging), but my heart just hasn’t been in it this summer.

October is still really far away and I don’t want to wish away the rest of this gorgeous summer. So I’ve decided to suck it up and start fresh. It occurred to me the other day that I could still have my fun with this garden while planning a little for the other. First of all, I’ve started taking a garden inventory of all the plants I hope to plant in my new garden. I’ll cover more of this in a future post. Secondly, BULBS! I can order bulbs for the new garden and still safely get them into the ground before the first frost (I hope). I’ve dug out a couple of catalogues to start taking a look.

First on my list, however, whether I like it or not is tackling those darned weeds…

Have you ever suffered from the gardening blues?

In which I solve the mystery of the yellow water lily without much detective work

At the end of June, I took a little trip to Whistler where I visited various gardens and growers (stay tuned for more articles and blogs). As per usual when I travel west, my eyes popped open at about 5 a.m. as I was still on Toronto time. I remembered that Nita Lake Lodge, where I was staying, offers free bike rentals to guests. So, I headed downstairs, grabbed a bike and took a little jaunt along the Valley Trail before breakfast. I didn’t see much in the way of gardens as I was mostly pedalling through forest, but I did happen along a few of these amazing yellow water lilies (that’s what I called them at the time). I crouched there for awhile, not just to take a picture, but to marvel at how different they were. Each flower was like a little tea light holder with a matching yellow candle in the centre. I didn’t really think about these little gems again until I was flipping through some back issues of Canadian Gardening magazine yesterday. Lo and behold, I was able to ID my flower!

Yellow Pond Lily

I wasn’t far off with the name. According to the June/July 2002 issue, I spotted a Yellow Pond Lily. Here’s what was written about it:

Ponds, marshes, quiet streams and lakes from Newfoundland to the Yukon are home to the yellow pond lily (Nuphar variegata). Blooming between June and September, the four- to 6.5-centimetre, bright yellow blossoms are highly visible. Large, heart-shaped leaves, 38 centimetres in length, are produced from thick rhizomes, which are a favourite food source of moose, muskrat and beavers. Zone 2.

Mystery solved!

Garden inspiration: Fix up an old bird cage

The other day, one of my writers, Signe Langford, sent me a photo of this gorgeous birdhouse with the following note: “A friend [Joy] did this for me. She found a decrepit Victorian bird cage and fixed it all up.” Does it not make you want to head out to the nearest antique market and find your own to fix up? I still dream about these amazing bird cages I saw in the Albert Cuyp market in Amsterdam. I still regret not bringing one home even though I was not quite sure how I would get it here in one piece.

Anyway, I asked Signe for a little how-to and this is what Joy had to say: I normally work in film doing set dec and art dept. I got the cage from a friend. They had used it as a humane way to catch squirrels. It was in rough shape and they were throwing it out. I knew Signe would like it. I took it home and I had to figure out how to make it look good. I had to repair the top part as the base of it had disintegrated. I ended up finding a piece of bendable wooden filigree that supported the unit and added a nice decorative touch. I decided I wanted to use paint from Restore as I felt better about recycled paint. I wanted a bright color so it would look beautiful in her garden amongst all the green. I found an egg yolk yellow. First I primed and it took 2 coats. Than I painted the yellow. After, I sanded the cage lightly to make it look a little worn, you know that whole antiqued look.

So there you have it, a little garden decor inspiration on this sunny day!

Don't you want to make one yourself?

Through the Garden Gate: A peek at Swansea Village gardens

Tuesday morning, I discovered a gorgeous pocket of Toronto: Swansea Village. I’m not originally from the city and I live in the east end, so I wasn’t familiar with the streets that have homes perched above the shores of the Humber River and Grenadier Pond. That’s the beauty of the Toronto Botanical Garden’s annual “Through The Garden Gate” garden tour. You get to discover magical little neighbourhoods in the city and see how people style their yards (or how their gardeners style the yards depending on the home).

A dedicated group of volunteers and the Toronto Master Gardeners, led by co-chairs Carole Bairstow and Eleanor Ward, have worked throughout the past year to make this fundraising event possible. It takes place June 11 and 12.

I got to preview five of the homes that will be on the tour. On the tour bus, the inimitable Sonia Day, who writes a popular column for the Toronto Star, provided some colourful commentary about this quaint area that until 1954 was an independent village—and apparently many of those who live there still fancy it so. Speaking of colourful, Sonia will be displaying some of her paintings of Bloor Street Shops at tour headquarters, which is at Swansea Public School. For $10 you will be able to purchase a poster with some of the proceeds going to the Toronto Botanical Garden. Full details on tickets, prices and everything else you need to know can be found on the Toronto Botanical Garden website. Tickets sell out quickly, so be sure to get them soon if you plan to go.

Here’s a teaser of what you’ll see. But it’s only a small fraction of the gorgeous gardens that await!

Stunning views. Stepping into the backyard of 4 (top) and 19 (bottom) Woodland Heights is like entering cottage country. Both these homes feature gorgeous gardens sloping down toward Grenadier Pond.

Hopefully the peonies will still be as showy for the garden tour! This one is at 19 Woodland Heights.

Interesting art, water features and sculpture. Clockwise from top left: 27 Woodland Heights, 19 Woodland Heights, 4 Woodland Heights and 14 Riverside Crescent.

A view from the deck at 4 Woodland Heights. I loved this boxwood knot garden with the stone bird bath in the centre. If you peek over the hedge, there is an herb garden.

14 Riverside Crescent: This is my dream. A little potting shed tucked away in the corner of my yard.

Sweet salad from my back porch

Last Friday I went to the annual President’s Choice Lawn & Garden event at the Toronto Botanical Garden. I look forward to this event every year because it’s a great way to preview all the exciting new plants that will be at my local Loblaws store. Plus you usually get to meet some of the growers who make the magic happen. Another bonus? You get to take home some of the fabulous new flowers, herbs and veggies that are on preview to try in your own garden. Since I’m moving sometime this summer, this year I was looking for things in containers that I can easily take with me.

The first thing that caught my eye was the Simply Salad Bowl. Filled with the most enticing-looking, fluffy salad greens, these bowls are such a handy concept whether you’re in an apartment building or steps from a backyard garden. You just snip what you need and it keeps growing back (they also need plenty of water). Mine is on my back steps and I’ve already made two huge, delicious salads from it! I predict that they’ll be selling out of these pretty quickly. I got the Alfresco Mix, but also available is a Global Gourmet bowl and a City Garden bowl. Bon appetit!

PC Simply Salad Bowl Alfresco Mix, $9

What did you think of the royal bouquet?

Well, I rolled out of bed at 3 a.m. and curled up on my couch to watch the Royal Wedding. I wasn’t one for listening to the exhausting round of predictions of what Kate might carry down the aisle, but I was still interested in the real deal. I was pleasantly surprised by the bouquet’s subtlety and simplicity. Sure it was a little old-fashioned, but I like that it wasn’t dripping in excess, which suits Kate’s understated style. And the size was perfect because it didn’t take any attention away from that stunning dress.

Earlier I retweeted Frank Ferragine aka Frankie Flowers’ description of what was in the bouquet. Later on he mentioned that a do-it-yourselfer could easily put it together for about $100 to $250. Of course Kate didn’t have the time, but for you crafty DIYers out there who are getting married this summer and want to add an auspicious dash of fairy tale magic, here are the details.

According to the official Royal Wedding website, the bouquet was designed by Shane Connolly. I like that it’s layered with meaning from both sides of the family and the couple:

  • Lily-of-the-valley: Return of happiness
  • Sweet William (cute!): Gallantry
  • Hyacinth: Constancy of love
  • Ivy: Fidelity, marriage, wedded love, friendship and affection
  • Myrtle (stems were used from a myrtle planted by Queen Victoria in 1845): The emblem of marriage and love.

I don't have a close-up shot of the bouquet, but a big thank you to Adrienne Brown at our sister site Homemakers.com who was live-blogging the event as she watched it online (I've included a link below) and captured this image that she shared with me.

What did you think of the bouquet? Share your thoughts below!

Adrienne’s live blog with Royal Wedding highlights at Homemakers.com

A colourful nesting box for bees

After the recent Garden Writers Association luncheon at Canada Blooms, I came home with new books to read, new products to try and new plants and seeds to plant. However one of the items I was most excited about was this:


Except mine is pink and white. The reason I’m excited about it is a few weeks ago I watched a documentary called The Vanishing of the Bees at the Evergreen Brickworks. It was followed by a panel discussion by three bee experts. I had a great chat afterwards with J. Scott MacIvor, a PhD student studying wild bees. He’s set up nest boxes like this one all over the city so that he can monitor wild bees for a research project. Because I’m moving, I couldn’t really commit to being part of the project, but I’m excited to put this little guy in the garden where I end up. The pollen bee nest shown here is available at Armstrong & Blackbury Horticultural Products. The website explains quite thoroughly how to put it in your garden and maintain it.

Garden decor I’ll be checking out at the One of a Kind Show

This Wednesday I’ll be heading down to the One of a Kind Spring Show + Sale in Toronto with my friend and colleague, Heather Camlot. We’ll be checking out all the crafty amazingness for our respective writing gigs, but also because we’re pretty crafty ourselves and always come away feeling inspired. I really enjoy the spring show because there tends to be more outdoorsy stuff. And since I’m in the midst of creating spring gardening content, the show couldn’t come at a better time. There are also lots of other cheerful things you can pick up for spring, like clothing (I’m always on the lookout for cute frocks), jewelry and Easter gifts.

The show starts this Wednesday, March 30 and runs until April 3. Details (ticket prices, directions, hours, etc.) can be found here on the One of a Kind Show website.

Here’s a preview of some of the outdoor furniture and accessories I’ll be checking out:

Peter Trollope has modernized the Muskoka chair with an easy-to-assemble design. The seat is like a puzzle (no nuts and bolts required), which makes for easy storage.

Chad Arney scours his adopted hometown of Muskoka for old junk that he can recycle into some interesting garden sculptures. I love the idea of displaying art alongside your bushes and blooms in the garden. It looks as though you could put tea lights in the lanterns hanging from the little bird on the right.

These colourful chairs by Jardinique remind me of the wooden chairs I used to curl up on as a kid on the deck at the cottage.

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