{ Archive for the ‘container gardening’ Category }

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.

The plot thickens

img_2889Of all the seasons, my grandmother loved spring the best. I’ve always been an autumn girl myself, but as I grow older I’m growing more partial toward spring as well. It’s a celebration of renewal; nature’s annual affirmation of faith in the future of this planet.

As you can see by this photo of a corner of my back garden taken this morning, everything is growing by leaps and bounds. Later in the season my patch will mostly be in shade, but I’ve learned to embrace this.

So what should you be planting right now? I’ve carefully put in a few more ferns and hostas, but cautious Clara here is keeping a watchful eye on other emerging perennials before I plant more stuff, because it’s oh-so-so easy to be over-hasty and dig up or damage plants that are simply slow to get started.

And personally, I never buy tender annuals until after Victoria Day, which is early this year. This week, Toronto has had some nippy nights with frost warnings, so I’ll likely wait awhile before I go shopping for my favourite tuberous begonias, which are such beautiful plants for shade. Use your judgment and don’t buy too early if it’s cold where you live.

A corner of my front woodland garden.

A corner of my front woodland garden.

But there’s absolutely no need to feel gardening-deprived. Because across much of the country this is the ideal time to put in perennials, shrubs, trees and evergreens; in fact, you really want to shop for those as early as possible for the best selection. One caveat–to optimize sales, perennials in nurseries and garden centres are often forced into full bloom out of their normal cycle. Keep this in mind when shopping. Once established, unless it’s an early spring perennial such as brunnera, it’s unlikely your plant will bloom at this time in your garden. Nor will all your plants bloom at once! It’s best to do a bit of research before you buy so you can plan for a sequence of bloom throughout the season. And once you’re at the nursery, choose perennials that are bushy and compact with strong stems and loads of growing points and buds, as opposed to tall and lanky and in full bloom.

It goes without saying that spring is a very busy time for garden centres. Once there, even super-organized gardeners with itemized lists are likely to be seduced by something fabulous and unexpected, but that’s part of the fun.

Aimg_28661s a master gardener, part of my commitment involves putting in a minimum of 30 volunteer hours a year. And there’s nothing nicer than doing that while being surrounded by top-quality plants. So in the past several weeks I’ve had the pleasure of advising gardeners at Islington Nurseries in the city’s west end, and helping at the Toronto Botanical Garden‘s plant sale, which was held last week. Paul Zammit, the new director of horticulture at the TBG, brought in some dandy plants. Some of the choicest specimens were scooped up by the mad keen plant nerds on Day One, but there was plenty from which to choose on Day Two as well, which is when I put in my shift. One of the biggest bargains there was this magnificent serviceberry clump, which I scooped up for my daughter’s garden. The price? Just $19.99. I should have bought more.

Good Ideas for Small Spaces

Every spring, Loblaw companies generously invites garden journalists from Toronto and southern Ontario to a luncheon and preview of their new President’s Choice plants, garden equipment, accessories and decor (to check where they’re available in your area, go to presidentschoice.ca). There are always some good ideas to take away, not to mention armloads of fabulous plants they give us plant piggies to trial at home.

This year, a couple of things struck me as being great for gardeners with limited space, such as a tiny urban lot or a balcony.

One of these is a President’s Choice clematis that offers two types in one pot. Developed by Britain’s famous Raymond Evison, it’s guaranteed for one year and sells for $24.99; mine combines wine-red Rebecca with periwinkle-blue Cezanne, both hardy to Zone 4. Double the colour punch, but takes up the same space as an ordinary clematis.

Another smart idea is a handsome, square planter of herbs. The one I picked up is ready-planted with sage, rosemary, thyme, parsley and chives–just the thing to pop on the back deck near my kitchen. (Or on your apartment balcony?)

img_2892However, my favourite item, shown here at the side of my house, is this compact, rectangular rain barrel. I bought it yesterday for $74.99 on sale at my local Loblaw store, and will hook it up to my downspout this week. I don’t have enough space for one of those huge round standard-sized rain barrels, but this is just the job, and will help keep rain away from the foundation of my house. The brown colour blends in with the brick of my house, but you could always paint it something else with one of the new paints that adhere to plastic, such as Krylon Fusion.

And of course, there’s nothing better than soft rain water for your plants.

Of miracles and wonder

img_2821The mow, blow and go guys hit our neighbourhood weeks ago now, scraping gardens clean and leaving vulnerable plants naked. Tall brown bags lined the curbs like sentries, filled with leaves, prunings and garden debris. As usual, my garden was the scruffy holdout, because I like to wait until the weather is quite settled before I expose my plants to the unpredictable elements. If you rake with a light hand and judicious eye, little harm is done by waiting, in fact, quite the contrary. So my woodland garden out front remained defiantly covered with leaves until last weekend, when I got out there because around the corner, the neighbourhood’s best bluebell lawn was in full flower (below left). I use that as my fail-safe signal that spring–real spring–has finally arrived.

img_2829Out back, I thinned out the old, silver-edged, redtwig dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’) and the ‘Diabolo’ ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’). It’s much easier to shape these shrubs and remove the wildwood and suckers before they’re covered in leaves. I lightly headed back a few other shrubs, removed old plant stalks and seedheads and spread leaf mould, compost and manure on the beds to add nourishment and texture to my sandy soil. I stashed the leaves I’d raked off the beds in old garbage cans out back, except for some of the ones out front that had been exposed to any salt or chemicals from the sidewalk or road. Some of these leaves will be layered in my composters, while others will become next year’s leaf mould. I have some bags of bark mulch at the ready, but I’ll wait for a bit to allow emerging plants to get more of a toehold and any seedlings and “found” plants to show themselves so I don’t accidentally smother them. Before the mulch is spread, I’ll give the garden a really good weeding and watering, too.

img_2841I also planted up a few spring pots with ranunculus (left), pansies and ivy. The sweetly scented pansies remind me of my grandmother, who planted some every year, too. The Lithuanian name for them is “broliukai,” which means little brothers, and that’s what they look like with their dear little faces.

We gardeners know what the phrase “full of the joys of spring” really means. Every morning yields a new treasure to admire–in my garden, it might be a double bloodroot flower; a bergenia; a checkerboard frittilaria; a species tulip; the signs of life in a dormant clump of ferns. When did that tree peony leaf out? How did the daffodils shoot up and bloom so quickly? And thank goodness the merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora, shown emerging below right) made it through another winter. img_2845

One of the head-turners in the front garden is the gorgeous, intensely blue hepatica (Hepatica nobilis, top), which blooms for weeks and weeks. In the back garden, two fragrant Viburnum carlesii standards are powering up to do their stuff.

I love going for walks to see what’s happening in other gardens as well. The star magnolias and some serviceberries are in full bloom, while the saucer magnolias are just coming into their own. Big-bellied robins strut around, looking very pleased with themselves.

img_2836In his song “The Boy in the Bubble,” the great Paul Simon wrote, “…these are the days of miracle and wonder.” This song is not about spring–in fact, far from it–but to me, these words sum up what happens right around here, right about now.

Next: more reports on spring

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!

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