{ Archive for the ‘container gardening’ Category }

Putting together my holiday urn

This morning the sun was shining, it was mild and the birds were singing in my weeping mulberry. I decided it was the perfect time to go outside and put together my holiday urn. The sun promptly disappeared, but I was already in the mood to create, so I didn’t care. My urn is a mix of materials I bought (though I hate paying for stuff I can find in the woods for free) and things I gathered from my yard (and garage).

Here’s a list of what went into the mix:

  • I started by cutting a birch branch I found while on a hike (it was on the ground!) in two and stuck both branches firmly in the soil that was left over from my fall urn. There’s a nice fork in one of the branches, so I’m technically following the rule of threes! I added a bit more soil to anchor them in.
  • Next, I placed my pine boughs around the exterior. This was the only greenery I purchased (I grabbed a small bunch), since I don’t have anything like this on my property.
  • I also bought sticks. But only because I don’t know where I can covertly snip red osier dogwood in these here parts. My house sits up a bit from the road and my urn could look like a big blob of green, so I wanted a pop of colour with the red sticks. I placed these around the birch branches.
  • Then I took a walk around the yard, snipping two types of cedar branches, which I interspersed with the pine boughs.
  • I wanted to add a wee bit of sparkle, so I stuck three silvery stars on sticks around the birch. I had more, but I wanted to keep it subtle.
  • I crowned the centre with three enormous pinecones that I bought at the Toronto Christmas Market last year.

And that’s it! I fiddled a bit with all the branches to make them just so, but I’m happy with the result. Here are some pics:

It took a bit of fiddling to get the branches just so. I like the pine because it drapes nicely over the sides. The one type of cedar I used is a bit more one-dimensional, so it fits nicely in between, while the other type of cedar is fuller, adding depth and a bit of height here and there.

Here you can see the contrasting greenery a little better.

And this closeup shows the silvery stars--they're not that bad, right?--in contrast with the red branches, giant pinecones and birch.

Quick project: barn wood planter

I’ve been enjoying all the great ideas for winter planters, holiday flower arrangements and wreaths that have been popping up lately. When we were down in Kalispell two weeks ago, I noticed cute barn wood planters all over the antique shops, stuffed with juniper branches. Some were long and low, some tapered and carved, but they all had one thing in common: they were ridiculously overpriced. I said to Chris, “I bet we could throw one of those together in less than an hour.”

And this morning we tried. And got two done in less than an hour.

Of course, Chris is a confident woodworker, and we have loads of old fence board just laying around. But it’s still an easy project for anyone to try.

Choose wood that has aged nicely, but be sure it isn’t so aged that it is splitting. Interesting knots or grain are a bonus. For easy building, we used plain old but joints, and made the base the width of our board, and the height the same. For the end pieces, we measured the width of our board and added the thickness of each side piece. Use a coloured pencil to mark your measurements–regular pencil disappears on barn wood.

Cut your board into the lengths you want. A mitre or table saw will give you nice straight cuts, but if you're careful, a jigsaw or circular saw will work as well.

If you want handles, use a wood boring bit (or the largest drill bit you have) to make two parallel holes on the sides.

Once you have your holes, use a jigsaw to cut out the handle shape.

Use good wood glue (carpenter's glue) on each joint. This is what really holds it together.

After you glue the joints, nail them together. We used a brad nailer, but you could use chunky-headed roofing nails to add some detail.

Chris insisted on giving the edges all a quick router. It took longer to change the bit than to do everything else together, but I must admit, it really takes it up a notch.

If you intend to use live plants, you will want to be sure to build your planter to fit your container. I chose to do a dry arrangement, but 3 standard 5 inch pots (or old sour cream containers!) will fit just right when I decide to change it.

First one done! I'll add some of those stick-on felt circles from the hardware store so it doesn't scratch the table or floor.

Here’s what I did with one of mine. I did resort to using some artificial flowers; it’s protected in the porch and I don’t want to assault my junipers or dogwoods until they get a little bigger.

 

‘Tis the season for holiday plants

With Remembrance Day behind us and Halloween firmly in the past, it is time for many of us to get into the full swing of all things Christmas.

I’ve got my poinsettia going, and my baby rosemary plants are putting on new growth. Now it’s time to try something else: forcing bulbs.

I’ve never grown an amaryllis or anything like that, but this year I thought I’d try paperwhites. I’m a die hard daffodil fan, so these cousins (Narcissus papyraceus) aren’t too far outside my comfort zone.

The little gift pack I stumbled across at Walmart for five bucks actually came with a pot and a disk of compressed coir, but many people plant the bulbs in a dish of water topped up with pebbles or marbles for stability. My kit says to plant them six weeks before you want blooms; most people on the Interweb say three weeks, so I’m doing it today and we’ll see.

I decided to ditch the coir and pot that came with the kit and do something prettier.

I put a shallow layer of stones in this (plastic-lined) dish, placed the bulbs, then covered them up to their "shoulders" in more stones and added just enough water to keep their bottoms wet.

I did find an intriguing tip for keeping blooming paperwhites from getting top-heavy –get them ever so slightly drunk. But as to why paperwhites are thought of as a Christmas flower, I couldn’t find any clues other than they bloom in December in warm climates. There doesn’t seem to be any special symbolism.

Poinsettias symbolized purity to the ancient Aztecs, and there’s the usual holly and ivy to represent eternity and resurrection. Evergreen trees fall into the same category. But amaryllis? Christmas Rose (Serissa or Helleborus, depending on who you ask)? Christmas cactus? We just seem to be looking for something alive and lovely in the dark winter months.

Fair enough. We were pretty excited when Chris got a zygocactus (Schlumbergera) blooming again.

Rosemary babies in the background!

At least, he’s the one who rescued the poor little guy. It was languishing in a corner after being relocated during the ever-present renovations, and he moved it to his studio where it gets bright, indirect light. He’s taking full credit for the transformation; I think he accidentally did exactly what it needed. 

But I’m not complaining. It’s pretty exciting to have so many things growing when there’s carols on the radio and four inches of snow.

2-second garden tip: Saving plants from fall containers

Today I am launching the first in what will be a series of “2-second garden tips” here on the blog (and on Pinterest). I’m going to be asking fellow gardeners for quick, informative tips that I can turn into interesting Pinterest graphics like the one below (by the way, check out our Pinterest boards here). My first tip was inspired by my fall container. I purchased a lovely heuchera with grey-green and purplish foliage and a requisite chrysanthemum (along with some annuals and kale). There was no way I was going to send the heuchera or the mums to the compost, so I planted them in my garden (with fingers crossed they’ll survive the winter). Now my pots are ready for pine boughs and birch branches and whatever else I find to stuff in them.

The graphic was designed by our talented design intern, Emily Swift, who is working on all of TC Media’s brands, from Elle Canada to Style at Home. I’m hoping to post a tip a week, so stay tuned. Oh, and if you like the tip, please share it with your Pinterest friends!

Moody hues in my fall container

This past weekend, I cleaned out my summer containers, sending half-dead annuals to the compost (I felt a bit guilty about this since there were still a couple of tenacious blooms). I wasn’t ready to sacrifice my lemongrass, so I stuck it in the vegetable garden to use in my fall curries. Then, I headed to the nursery–or rather, a couple of nurseries–to buy some plants for my fall-themed containers. I wavered between the traditional, warm colours of autumn–reds, oranges and yellows–and what I’ve started calling the moody hues–deep purples, blues and cool greens. I went for the moody palette. When I got home and started putting things together, I had a couple of spaces to fill, so I dug one of my Vates blue kale from my vegetable garden to pair with the purple ornamental one, and dug up some stubborn ajuga that had found its way into a random patch of grass.

Here is my first container. It’s the main focal point of my front entrance. Starting clockwise from the purple and “blue” kale, you will see I included some hot pink mums. They’re not particularly moody, but I like that they’re an unexpected colour for fall. And they went with the rest of my palette. That brownish-purple-tinged foliage you can kind of see underneath everything in the middle is the errant ajuga. Then, an ornamental black pepper plant. At least I think they’re ornamental. I won’t be tasting them. But I saw these funky, almost-black plants used as an accent in some gardens in Quebec and thought they’d be perfect for fall. To the left of that is a heuchera. I love love love the veiny purple and green pattern on the leaves, but check out the underside of the one leaf. It’s a rich purple that complements the mums really well.

For my main container, I focused on filling it as full as possible, adding soil into the empty holes.

My next container is in a smaller pot, so I kept things simple:

Clockwise from the top, is another black pepper, an ajuga (I actually paid for this one, though it's prettier than the "weeds" I dug up), an ornamental cabbage and way to the left, ajuga weeds.

And my last pot, which I placed between two Muskoka chairs I have out front, is even simpler.

One big ornamental cabbage hogging the pot.

Here’s a shot where you can see two of my pots in the same frame. I think it will look nice if I can find some of those cool grey pumpkins to perhaps place around them and complete the look!

Waiting to be accessorized!

Things I never knew would sprout

Here in Alberta, we’re still willing away the last of our snow, and most of my growing (other than daffodils) is happening on the kitchen counter top.

This is my “jungle”–a couple of tomatoes and peppers waiting for summer, a lemon verbena, a poinsettia I am attempting to hold over the season, a spider plant baby sprouting roots in a glass of water, a mossy saxifrage (that may be my new favorite ground cover, picture below), an overgrown pot of philodendron (known lovingly as “Dagobah” a Pulsatilla vulgaris (crocus), some alfalfa and radish sprouts, and that little greenness bottom left is the wonder of the week: Romaine lettuce.

I’ve been sprouting philodendron leaves and spider plant babies for years, and edible sprouts are a staple at my house. And I’ve heard of people trying to sprout avocado seeds or pineapple tops, with mixed results. But I never knew you could get lettuce crowns to sprout year round on your counter top! One of the instructors of the gardening class I am taking showed me how. Instead of tossing the lettuce ends in the compost, place them in water. Change the water daily, and you’ll get more lettuce! (And fast, too: the largest one there is about four days growth.) You can keep them going in water or you can pot them up. I potted mine up today.

This totally makes sense when you think about it; I ‘cut and come again’ my garden lettuce and green onions all the time; I just never thought to do it with my store bought stuff through the winter.

Next on the list of things to try: celery and lemongrass.

Mossy Saxifrage, “Pixie”. Isn’t she lovely?

Pretty in pink with a dash of yellow: My 2012 containers

The weather was so perfect in early May, I got to plant my containers much earlier than in previous years. I had the urn I bought before Christmas to fill, a gorgeous, turquoise, printed pot I got as a birthday present and a couple of rustic, terra cotta pots that I bought from a yard sale. These are the decorative ones. I also filled an old whisky barrel with some herbs.

I thought I’d share the results as I’m quite happy with how things turned out. I went with a pink theme this year out front and reserved a big yellow dahlia for my turquoise pot, which sits atop my new patio table out back.

All of the plants, with the exception of the gerbera daisy, which was an Easter present from my parents, are from President’s Choice. Some I bought on a grocery store outing, some I received at a President’s Choice preview event to try out.

Pot number 1, clockwise from left: Gerbera daisy (you can just see the leaves, but its blooms are pink), 'Cotton Candy' dahlia, lemongrass, 'Wasabi' coleus, Lanai Twister Pink verbena, 'Goldi' creeping Jenny

Pot number 1: This one was really fun to make because I needed lots of plants to make it lush and full. I chose all pink flowers, but I like how the verbena has the white to break it up. I also repeated the contrast foliage of the lime green coleus in the creeping Jenny. The lemongrass I will be able to harvest and eat throughout the summer. I learned that trick (of adding edibles to pots) from Paul Zammit, director of horticulture at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Pot number 2, clockwise from left: Dahlinova Alabama dahlia, spearmint, 'Star Dust' White Sparkle euphorbia

Pot number 2: If anyone asked what I wanted for my birthday this year, I replied: “Pots or anything for the garden.” I got this amazing turquoise pot from my sister, brother-in-law and niece and I knew exactly what colour would look fantastic in it: yellow. I added some spearmint to enjoy as a tea and in summer desserts. And I fell in love with the delicate, barely-there white flowers on a wee euphorbia.

Pot number 3, from left to right: Dahlinova Lisa Dark Pink dahlia, Baby Tut cyperus

Pot number 3: For this pot, I ignored the rule that things look better grouped in odd numbers and simply planted this stunning pink dahlia and the swirly, curly cyperus.

Pot number 4: Hot pink petunias and blue mystery flowers.

Pot number 4: I can’t take credit for this one, it all came planted together in on pot. But it carried on my pink theme, and I wanted to show how effortless container planting can be if you’re not sure what to put together. Sometimes the nursery does all the work for you!

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:

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