{ Archive for the ‘container gardening’ Category }

Pretty pots

I generally avoid container gardening. I am far too unpredictable in my habits (and memory) to consistently keep pots watered, fed and happy. And having so much available space, I’ve never felt pressed to plant in containers.

But I succumbed to temptation when I saw these lovely little things at IKEA this spring.

SKURAR Hanging planter IKEA

At $2.99 for the table-top version (4″), and $4.99 for the hanging one (5″), it was easy to justify 6 of the first and two of the second. I know, I know, I could have bought one nice big one for the same money, but would it have pretty lacey cutouts? Would it??

I’ve got a couple of them planted up for teacher gifts, and the rest are living in my front porch. They make me smile every time I see them, and I haven’t forgotten to water them… yet.

For the hanging pot, I tried a 'Blutopia' Bacopa, 'Peter's Gold' Carpet flower (Bidens ferulifolia), and a Silver Licorice vine (Helichrysum petiolare).

'Tycoon blue' Flossflower (Ageratum houstonianum), a not-yet-bloomed 'Mojave Tangerine' Purslane (Portulaca grandiflora) and a dwarf lemon try out my new IKEA pots. The lemon will likely need more space before long, but we'll see how it goes.

 

 

My first holiday urn

A few weeks ago as I was leaving my local nursery, I noticed all their big containers were on sale. I’ve always wanted an iron urn, so I grabbed one before they were gone. It has sat empty and lonely on my porch–until this past weekend. Saturday I went back to that same nursery and grabbed some Fraser fir boughs and magnolia leaves. Then, I took my pruners around the yard and cut some cedar boughs, red berry clusters (I have no idea what the plant is, but it’s thorny like a rosebush) and a little bit of what I think is euonymous. Then I was ready to roll.

Last year I wrote an article about the gorgeous holiday pots Jim McMillen from Landscapes in Bloom puts together for his clients each year. I used his technique of mounding soil in the pot and dampening it a little. The idea is everything will freeze in place (step-by-step instructions can be found here). I added some sticks I had kicking around in the garage in the centre. Then, starting with the Fraser fir boughs all cut to the size I wanted, I started sticking them in the dirt around the edge of the pot, keeping a clock face in mind: 12, 3, 6 and 9. Then I filled in the spaces with the cedar followed by the magnolia leaves. Once I got to the middle, I stuck some branches with red clumps of berries at the end for colour. To fill in the spaces and add some contrast, I added a little euonymous.

I’ve included a couple of photos below. I’m really happy with the results, though because my house sits on a hill, you can’t really see the red berries from the street. But those who venture up to the house can enjoy them up close!

My Christmas urn fits perfectly in a gap beside my front stoop.

Up close you can see the contrast between all the different types of branches. I think I need to turn those magnolia leaves at the front so they're not as bunchy!

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:

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

I’m all about the pansies

I’m not a fan of annuals. Too much work, too much expense year in and year out. I have a few exceptions: cosmos, because it reseeds so readily I don’t have to think about it; calendula, because it’s calendula; and pansies (Viola × wittrockiana cvs.), because they are so early and so pretty.

There’s kind of a dead spot in my garden between the crocuses fading and the daffodils, tulips, and miniature irises blooming. In between, the only color is provided by the first dandelions. While this does mesh with the purple/yellow color scheme I’ve got developing in my front garden, some traditional pansies would perk up the yard in a much less weedy way.

Yesterday, I mentioned this to Chris and he came back from an appointment in town with two flats of pansies–enough to fill my new planters (see below) and tuck in around the still-waking-up plants. (He wasn’t in the doghouse, or anything, he’s just that great.) They’re just the spot of color I was looking for. I have neighbors who are yanking out Johnny-jump-ups constantly (the wild flower, commonly known as heartsease, from which pansies were cultivated), but if I had them volunteering, I don’t think I’d mind at all. I kind of hope these ones go wild and reseed. They make me smile, those little bearded faces, and remind me of a song I learned as a child:

Little purple pansies touched with yellow gold,

Growing in one corner of the garden old;

We are very tiny but must try, try, try,

Just one spot to gladden, you and I.

In whatever corner we may chance to grow,

Whether cold or warm the wind may ever blow,

Dark the day or sunny, we must try, try, try

Just one spot to gladden, you and I.

What can I add to that? Life just seems better with a smile on my face and pansies in the garden.

Let's hope she doesn't drown them with love... bonus points if you can identify the origin of my new planter!

A gorgeous fall container and a pumpkin covered in peanuts

Tuesday afternoon I headed to the TBG to shoot a video with director of horticulture, Paul Zammit. Paul is a natural on-camera, and had shot another video with us about two and a half years ago that still gets viewed every month. So I arranged to have him create a fall-themed pot and set a date with Carrie Shibinsky, the marketing and communications director. When I got there, Paul had chosen a very picturesque focal point outside. Our new media producer extraordinaire Ryan DaSilva, accompanied by Mark the intern from the Hockey News (talk about a change of scenery!), was there to film the unique setting and, of course, Paul’s masterpiece.

When I got there, Paul announced he wasn’t going the traditional orange and red route. I wasn’t worried, but I also wasn’t sure what to expect. Well the final result is quite stunning and unexpected. Paul chose a palette of chartreuse, yellows, greens and silvery blues. Even the pumpkins matched! Not only does Paul have a great eye, but you always learn important tips as he takes you through the steps. You’ll have to watch the video to learn more! And I’ve included a couple of behind-the-scenes shots below. If you’re in the mood to share, post your fall pots on our Facebook fan page!

Mark and Ryan setting up the right angles!

Paul always brings along lots of interesting plant material!

This is the pumpkin I mentioned in the blog title. After the video shoot, Paul took me out back to see it because it looks so interesting - like it's covered in peanuts!

Cool things to plant from PC

This past weekend marked the official launch of the President's Choice Insider's Report (Lawn & Garden edition). And as we head into the long weekend, you may want to check it out and make a list of all the great new flowers, trees, bushes, herbs, fruits and veggies that will be stocked at a Loblaw-owned store near you.

I had a bit of a sneak preview a couple of weeks ago at the annual President's Choice Lawn & Garden event. This year's plant preview took place in Beamsville where we had the opportunity to tour the greenhouses at the family-run Linwell Gardens and Freeman Herbs.

At Freeman Herbs: This particular greenhouse was All basil! I'm sure you can imagine how wonderful it smelled!

At Freeman Herbs: This particular greenhouse was All basil! I'm sure you can imagine how wonderful it smelled!

Here are some of the plants and products that I took an interest in for my own garden or that were too cool not to mention:

Sunpatiens
Impatiens no longer have to be confined to those shady areas of your garden. There's a new hybrid in town that does well in full sun.

Tumbler tomatoes
I had a nice chat at Freeman Herbs with Bob Martin from Martin Farms. I met Bob last year at a Stokes Best and President's Choice tasting event. He was excited about their tumbler tomatoes, tomatoes that were bred for hanging baskets–genius! I remember them being quite delicious. It's really neat to see something go from the test garden to the store. Another tomato that made it into this year's product lineup was red candy. It was one of my favourites from last year and I recently took one home after our magazine editor Erin did a veggie presentation. Also worth trying, the Kapelo peppers.

Starburst surprise petunias
I'm not partial to any one colour in the garden, but my favourite colour in everyday life is pink–pale or fuchsia, it doesn't matter. So I fell in love with these gorgeous, two-toned petunias and was lucky enough to take one of the luxuriant hanging baskets home. Last night as I was buying soil, I grabbed a couple more individual plants to go in my front garden along with some pale yellow beauties.

A pink Starburst surprise!

A pink Starburst surprise!

Starbright Mock Orange
We have a second story going up on the bungalow behind us, which has killed our privacy. My fingers are crossed the owners build a fence, but in the meantime, I'm going to build a living fence. Currently we have cedars (not including the ones I planted last year that died) and a mulberry tree (which is pretty, but messy). This mock orange will fill one of the vacant spots beautifully–the Insider's Report says it will grow to be about 10 feet tall–here's hoping!

They don’t look plastic!
Rather than sell their pots in something generic that you'll have to hide in one of your own pretty pots, PC has these fantastic, decorative planters that you can just plunk right in front of your house without shame.

Can you believe this is only $30!

Can you believe this is only $30!

Check out the PC Garden blog, written by City Gardening writer Lorraine Flanigan. It will give you even more ideas on what to plant from President’s Choice.

p.s. Many apologies for the delay between posts! I've been under the weather for the last two weeks. On the mend!

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)

Autumn inspired planter

I hate to admit it, but it’s feels like autumn is approaching. The days are getting shorter, the temperature is dropping, and my annuals are looking rather weary.

Autumn is actually one of my favourite seasons, and since we didn’t have much of a summer, I’m welcoming fall with open arms. Last night I decided it was time to give my front door planter a makeover, especially since it was looking pretty sad. The bacopa had become stringy, the shasta daisies were spent, and the potato vine was flopping around. After a few minutes the container was transformed to a cheerful fall planter filled with mums, icicle pansies and ornamental kale.

fall-planter1

For more inspiring fall containers, check out these articles:

Fabulous fall containers

Plant a fall container with punch

Perk up a sleepy fall container

A final note

img_30251Happy Canada Day, everyone. While economic times are still uncertain, those of us lucky enough to live in this country have much to celebrate tomorrow.

After I stepped down last January as editor-in-chief of Canadian Gardening, I promised myself a lazy gap year before I returned to the fray of the working world. So the second half of 2009 will be spent–doing whatever I feel like. This means less writing, more reading. Less talking, more listening. Less looking, more seeing. You get the picture. This entry will be the last one before my blog goes on hiatus.

But how can I leave you without showing a few more photos of my garden, and making an observation or two? The large image at the top of the page is a little corner filled with various pots. It looks a bit messy but there’s a reason for it. The winter brought with it a leaking roof underneath an old deck off my bedroom. This meant the deck needed to be demolished and the roof replaced, with everything that had been up there brought down. It was a big expense, so I did it in two stages. Stage one was the installation of a new flat roof last winter. Stage two was the building of a sturdy and handsome new deck a few days ago. Little by little, some of the myriad pots dotted around my garden will make their way up to my roof. But there will be far fewer than normal this year, and no veggies. Oh well, there’s always next year. Gardening is for optimists.

There are many things I’m enjoying about my garden right now (not the least of which is having some time to sit in it). Here in Toronto, it’s been a coolish and wettish early summer, and my garden has made huge amounts of lush, verdant growth. There’s very little weeding to do, because the plants are so densely packed together. So far, I’ve seen very little insect damage. There have been a few snails about, but the giant leaves of my ‘Frances Williams’ hostas are intact. Fingers crossed this may continue.

img_29881The plant shown here is my Chinese flowering dogwood (Cornus kousa chinensis), which is bursting with health and absolutely covered in starry white flowers. Divine. I heartily recommend this small tree for narrow urban Zone 6 gardens like mine, as it truly offers four seasons of beauty. Smooth, grey bark and graceful, compact form in winter, followed by attractive leaves and white flower-like bracts in late spring/early summer. These bracts (“flowers”) persist for many weeks, turning pinkish as they mature. Their berry-like centres go a brilliant red and are relished by squirrels and birds. And the leaves go a lovely burgundy fall colour as well. If the flowers were scented, it would be perfection.

Lastly, a word about containers. Don’t be afraid to combine shrubs, perennials, annuals, grasses and herbs to create the look you want. One of my favourite shrubs for this purpose is the ubiquitous purpleleaf sandcherry (Prunus x cistena), which is overused in the landscape but seldom seen in pots. Cheap as chips, open and spare in habit with showy burgundy leaves, it’s hardy (Zone 4) and easy to plant under because it’s not a space hog. (Whatever shrub you choose for a container, be sure it’s at least two zones more cold-hardy than where you live. Here in Zone 6, this means Zone 4.) Yes, the sandcherry overwinters outdoors in its pot.

img_29911And try growing some of your invasives in pots as well. Seen here is an old galvanized washtub (be sure to add drainage holes in the bottom with a drill) filled with various types of mint. I harvest the leaves to make fresh mint tea: take a generous handful of leaves and stems, rinse them, put them into a teapot and bruise well with a wooden spoon. Cover with boiling water and steep to taste. Pour into cups and float a few mint leaves on top for colour. Sweeten with honey, or not. This makes a lovely clear drink that’s delicate and refreshing. You can do the same thing with lemon verbena, which is another rambunctious plant.

Or use fresh mint leaves in mojitos or as part of the quintessentially British drink of summer: Pimm’s number 7. You can find recipes on the internet.

So that’s it from me for now. Cheers to you and happy gardening. And thanks for reading my blog.

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