{ Archive for the ‘container gardening’ Category }

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!

Arizona update

A quick hello from Arizona, but no photo this time as I haven’t quite figured out how to upload them onto my little notebook. However, there will be plenty to show you when I do–the flora here is so interesting, and so new to me. I have bought a couple of books to help me identify some of the cacti and other plants I’ve come across on my travels, and I’ll share this information with you as well.

Yesterday, I spent most of the day at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum off highway 60 just west of Superior–I was enroute from Scottsdale to Globe–a little town in the copper mining district east of Phoenix in the Tonto National Forest, where I spent the night. I’ll be posting a separate entry on this arboretum as it covered everything from sonoran desert to riparian landscape, and is well worth a visit if you’re out this way.

I’m off to look at Indian ruins and more canyons today. There’s breathtaking scenery all around me. And it feels so good to feel the warm sun and see the big, blue sky. So stay tuned and there’ll be more from me soon…

Forcing branches and other ways to start spring now!

Elaine working her magic

Elaine working her magic

Sunday morning it was almost as though Mother Nature was mocking me by throwing snowflakes every which way as I headed into the Distillery District in downtown Toronto. How dare I think about spring! But despite the wintry day, spring awaited me inside Tappo Wine Bar & Restaurant. I was there to attend “A Cabin Fever Breakaway: A festival for gardeners longing for spring.” I was invited by Elaine Martin, owner of Vintage Gardener and the organizer of the event.

Brilliant yellow forsythia branches and daffodils, multicoloured primula, deep purple hyacinth and candy-coloured tulips surrounded a table filled with the amazing vintage pots and vases that Elaine sells in her store. I was feeling inspired already!

So what were forsythia branches, one of the first signs of spring, doing inside when it's clearly still winter? That's what Elaine focused on for the first part of her talk—how to force branches (forsythia and magnolia work best) into thinking it's spring. This is something I'm definitely going to try—I have two forsythia bushes in the backyard. And it seems so easy!

With this planter, Elaine explained how to gently bend the pussy willow branches to create a handle!

With this planter, Elaine explained how to gently bend the pussy willow branches to create a handle!

According to Elaine, all you have to do is wait for a sunny day when the temperature goes up by 10 degrees. Cut some branches—longer than you need—and bring them indoors. Once inside, trim about six inches from the bottom and then take a hammer and crush the bottom or make cuts up the stem. Then place them in room temperature water and wait for the magic!

Make sure your branches are in indirect light. Elaine says it can take anywhere from three days to two weeks for blooms to appear.

The next part of Elaine's presentation involved creating planters with the rainbow of flowers she had brought. I took some pics because they were so beautiful and definitely the perfect way to bring spring inside your home during the last days of winter.

Elaine has lots of great workshops coming up in her store. Stay tuned to our events page for details!

Family fun on the Plains of Abraham

Once the site of the eponymous 1759 battle between the French and the British, the Plains of Abraham are transformed during Quebec City’s Winter Carnival into a centre of family-friendly activities. A widely sold $10 pass will let you in on all the action, both there and at other Carnival venues.

The bolder among you might want to have a go at snow rafting and zip-lining. Good luck with that. Timid Tillie that I am, I confess I was content to simply walk around and take in various displays, such as the international ice sculpture competition, and observe people having fun. Other attractions that might tempt you (though not necessarily me) include snow slides, demonstrations of dog agility, a sugar shack, sleigh rides and various competitions such as tugs-of-war, giant soccer and skijoring, which teams cross-country skiiers with dogs.

Later that afternoon, my new pal Mary (one of the journalists on our girlfriend getaway) and I walked down into town and tried poutine at a fast food place called Chez Ashton. This was my first taste of Quebec’s famous comfort dish–french fries with gravy and cheese curds–and it was delicious (the cheese curds were so fresh, they squeaked). Okay, I know it’s not exactly health food, but it is mighty satisfying on a cold winter’s day (the restaurant is also famous for its winter promotion based on the outdoor temperature. It was -19 degrees Celsius, so we saved 19 per cent).

The 55th edition of the Quebec Winter Carnival ends this Sunday. Yet another great experience to cross off my “100 things to do before you die” list. Joyeux carnaval!
Tomorrow: The ice hotel and a nordic spa

Quebec Winter Carnival–part two

I don’t ski, I’m a lousy skater and truth be told, I hate winter. Not only because I love gardening, but also because I really, really, really hate feeling cold. But I loved my visit to the Quebec Winter Carnival as part of a Girlfriend Getaway courtesy of Quebec Tourism, and surprised myself by spending several days outdoors with great enjoyment.

Of course, I came prepared, and ventured forth swaddled in umpteen layers of clothes, thermal underwear, socks and gloves, really good warm boots and a sheepskin hat. In my book, this is basic winter equipment. Properly kitted out, I got completely caught up in the infectious spirit of the world’s biggest winter celebration.

One of the highlights was the dogsledding race, the Grand Viree. What could be more quintessentially Canadian? As a light snow fell, crowds lined the specially prepared course near the Chateau Frontenac and good-naturedly cheered on their favourite teams. Being used to Toronto’s mostly sombre, monochromatic winter coat uniform of black, brown or sludge, it did my eyes good to see so many colourful parkas and hats, and the smiling, red-cheeked faces of happy revellers.

Although the Grand Viree is over, you can still catch the qualifying rounds for the St.-Hubert Derby on February 14, and the finals on February 15. And the second festive night parade will wind its way through the streets on Valentine’s Day eve as well. Quebec City’s winter carnival continues through February 15 (to check out what’s on, visit www.carnaval.qc.ca).

Tomorrow: family fun on the Plains of Abraham.

Palm trees and snow

There’s something very cheering about looking at a miniature palm tree against the background of deep snow in the garden. This little beauty sits on the table in my breakfast nook, snuggled into my vintage iron planter. It’s an elephant foot palm (Beaucarnea guatemalensis), and I picked it up at Ikea last fall for $11.99.

Judging by its name, my little palm is likely more used to the tropical climes of Central America. But it seems quite happy in its new, colder setting–I simply give it lots of admiration and a good, long drink of lukewarm water once a week in the sink, letting the water drain out of the bottom of its pot. I’ve placed moss around the top to add a finishing touch and help keep in moisture.

I have many indoor plants. And as I’m hoping to do a lot of travelling this winter, I’m slowly training them to get used to waiting longer between waterings. It’s working. In fact, many people overwater houseplants–literally killing them with kindness. Mine seem to respond to a certain amount of benign neglect.

And speaking of travelling and palmy days if not palms, I’m off this morning to Quebec City, courtesy of Quebec tourism, to experience the Quebec Winter Carnival and other delights both there and in the Eastern Townships near Montreal. Yippee! I’m as excited about it as a little kid. I’ve packed good thermal underwear and socks and, of course, my camera and notebook. Never fear, your trusty correspondent will reveal all on my next blog posts. Meanwhile, stay warm and keep smiling.

Cheer-you-up exotics

With winter at its height, many of us long for warm sunshine, turquoise seas and long drinks with colourful little umbrellas in them. Sadly, it’s not always possible to take off when you want to, though. So how about doing the next best thing and bringing a touch of the tropics to your home to chase away the winter blues? I’m talking about buying an orchid or two.

It used to be orchids were considered luxury plants, slightly mysterious and a bit daunting to grow. These days, all kinds of mom-and-pop corner stores and big-box behemoths carry them, so with a bit of luck, you can pick up a nice plant for under $20. And guess what? Many of them bloom for ages and ages and are an absolute cinch to take care of. Take the beauty shown here: it’s a Phalaenopsis cultivar I scooped up for $16.99. It’s already been blooming for several weeks, and shows no signs of slowing down. I trimmed down the edge of its clear plastic pot, plopped it into an old grassy-looking Ikea container and dressed it up with a bit of moss to hide the edges.

Here’s a tip: When you’re shopping for an orchid, try to find one with lots of buds and not just open flowers; also, look for a plant with several flowering stems and not just one. I rootled around until I spotted this shy little beauty toward the back of a welter of lesser-quality plants.

As for care, I give mine a good long drink of lukewarm water under the tap, being careful not to wet the base of the leaves or let water sit in between them (this promotes rot and, according to some people, may even retard future blooms). Once the water runs out of the bottom of the pot, I slip it back into its container.

I let the plant dry out a bit between waterings–though not completely dry–generally it gets watered every five days or so, but it all depends on the conditions of your home. My phalaenopsis thrives in indirect light on the stone peninsula in my kitchen, and I keep my house fairly cool. You can feed your orchid and do extra stuff if you want, but I’m pretty lazy. And by the way, I have several orchids that have rebloomed for me with no fuss on my part–I don’t trim down the stems after they finish flowering (except for any truly dead, dry, brown bits) and the new flowers have set on the old stems.

If you want to know more about different types of orchids–including fragrant types–and their care, check out my colleague Stephen Westcott-Gratton’s excellent article on this website at canadiangardening.com/plants/indoor-plants/growing-orchids-indoors/a/2474.

How to become a citizen-scientist

Winter is tough on gardeners, who itch to be outside, getting their hands into the soil. It’s still a bit early to start seeds, and houseplants and catalogues can only take you so far. Sigh.

But it’s a grand time to learn more about your passion, if you’re so inclined. When it’s cold and snowy, you can sit through a day of lectures with equanimity.

Last weekend, for example, I attended the Toronto Master Gardeners technical update, which was a day-long symposium dedicated to The Global Gardener: Gardening in a Changing Climate held at Toronto Botanical Garden. I trotted along to several seminars (on bio-intensive gardening and backyard greenhouses), hobnobbed with more than 200 fellow gardeners from around Ontario, ate a delicious lunch, then listened to a fact-filled and thought-provoking keynote address given by Natalie Iwanycki and Alex Henderson of Royal Botanical Gardens.

One of the things Natalie and Alex touched on was Plant Watch, a volunteer monitoring program designed to help identify changes that might be affecting our environment. The way it works is gardeners across the country help record flowering times for selected plant species in their area, in effect becoming citizen-scientists. The program is a joint venture between the Canadian Nature Federation and Environment Canada’s Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network Coordinating Office (EMANCO). Check it out at www.plantwatch.ca–you can get your kids involved as well.

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