{ Archive for the ‘garden design’ Category }

Gardener’s bookshelf: Bonnie Trust Dahan

One of the joys of keeping a garden for me is being able to surround myself with the beauty of nature, and not just when I’m out of doors: I love incorporating plants, flowers, and natural objects into my interior decor as well. If I’m in the mood for inspiration minus the pesky details of how, when, and how much, there are two lovely volumes on my shelves from Chronicle Books that fit the bill beautifully: Garden House and Living with the Seasons, both produced by Bonnie Trust Dahan with photography by Shaun (or Sean) Sullivan.

Part of the gardening section of my library… yes, just part...

One of Sean Sullivan's gorgeous photos from Garden House. The flash glare is mine, not his.

Both are over a decade old, but I still find them lovely and worthy of study. There are touches of modernism, country, and Asian design influences, but because everything is focused on the natural plants and objects, the ideas tend to be timeless rather than fit any particular trend. Primarily pictures with minimal commentary, you will find no real ‘how-to’ spreads.  However, each turn of the page offers something to admire or contemplate, even if it’s a simple tableaux of ordinary objects, made beautiful simply by us being reminded to notice them.

Indeed, both these books invite contemplation of the simple sights, smells, and textures that nature offers, and the simple joys these experiences can bring to the everyday. It is a true pleasure to use Dahan’s books as a springboard for my own ideas in enhancing the beauty and joy of my home and garden.

P.S. A third book, Garden Home City, explores the same territory, viewed through the lens of city life.

P.S.S. If you missed the inaugural Gardener’s Bookshelf post, you can read it here.

 

Garden friends come out of the shed

The flowers are slow this spring. It may have something to do with the weekly blizzards all the way through the month of April, but whatever: finally it’s May! And while I can’t be bothered to build a Maypole, I decided to celebrate by pulling some of my garden decorations out of the shed and choosing them new spots for the year.

I’m thinking I’ve got enough little critters (such as the ones below) and it’s time to think about some bigger, permanent art. I’ve got all kinds of projects swimming in my brain, and there’s even more ideas here.  I’d love to have an interesting hunk of architectural salvage in my garden (Garden of Ruins at Guildwood Park Toronto, anyone?) but I’m still a sucker for the cheap resin creations at the garden centre. Especially fairies and dragons.

I found this cute snail at Extra Foods (Loblaws) last year. He has settled down in front of my golden flowering currant.

This little lady actually made it through the winter snuggled up to this Blue Star juniper. Loblaws a few years back.

Some of my best garden art pieces were found at the thrift store. This Asian couple on a raft will be taking up residence in the dry riverbed… as soon as I dig it.

This little guy came home with me for 25 cents. He’s supervising the daffodils that we planted last fall. Ornamental hops coming up in the back.
Joining the family this year: from Greengate Garden Centre in Calgary, the silly whirligig ladybug!

 

Gardening gizmos for the techy-types

As promised, I’ve been experimenting with a bunch of gardening apps on my iPad this week. Here’s the ones I tried, and what I thought of them. All available on the App Store; sorry Androidians, I can’t help you, but comment if you can help each other! Click on the images to see the details and screenshots for each app.

Toolkit HD, Applied Objects, $3.99

This is a slick, easy to use little package, an everything-in-one-place tool for to-do lists, your garden diary, and plant lists. Lots of nice features, like being able to tag your diary entries so you can go back and find your notes about the last time you pruned that apple tree, and making a plant list for your particular garden or gardens (up to four separate ones) with details such as when they were planted and when they will mature/bloom.  It gives advice based on your hardiness zone, but the plant lists (which I found on the limited side anyway) don’t adjust to your zone. You can add custom plants with pictures, along with all their sun/water/soil/temperature info, but they aren’t added to the main (search-able) plant list.  The Glossary is pretty good, a little simplistic maybe, but it links to Wikipedia if you want more info.  This strikes me as a great starting place for a beginning gardener who wants to be more organized, or the more advanced gardener if they’re looking more for record keeping.

 

Eden Garden Designer, Herbaceous Software, $1.99

This is a fun little app that is very visual, whereas Toolkit is very list-oriented. You can choose an imaginary background, or load a picture of your own landscape, and then fill it with plants, rearrange the plants, look at what would be blooming at certain times of year… you can even control the amount of wind and insects! It’s a great little gardening fix mid-winter or mid-city. That said, the plant lists are somewhat simplistic. There’s just “hosta”, no varieties or anything, and the plant choices are limited (you can buy additional groups of plants for $0.99). So as far as using this for designing, it’s great for generating ideas and getting a general idea for how things might look, but it won’t get you anywhere with detailed planning. Still, a fun little program.

 

LawnCAD, Nathan French, $4.99

This is a compact little Computer-Aided Drafting app that will likely appeal to the planners and math brains out there. I’ve never used a CAD program other than this, so I can’t really compare it or speak about its usefulness on a professional level, but as a layman I’m loving the interface, the preciseness, and the itty-bitty power trip that comes from building and erasing entire landscapes in one swipe. Warning: you must love nit-picky details to love this app.

 

Grow Planner, Growing Interactive, $9.99

A little more expensive than most, this app is really a case of you get what you pay for. Provided by the well-respected Mother Earth News, this app does everything but put the seeds in the ground. You draw the size and shape of the beds you want, choose the veggies, herbs, and flowers you want to grow (right down to the variety–it’s linked to all the best known seed catalogues) and it tracks how many plants should fit in that space, when they should be planted, when they should be harvested, and when the bed will be ready for succesion planting. You can choose traditional rows or square foot gardening. If you use it multiple seasons, it tracks what was where what year so you can ensure good crop rotation. Make notes, research varieties, tweak your frost dates, add custom plants. It will even email you planting reminders if you want. If you grow vegetables, you will love this app.

 

 

And now, just for fun:

Plants Vs. Zombies, PopCap, $0.99 (iPad version)

This is a ridiculously addicting game in which your garden plants defend your home from invading zombies. I know, ridiculous, right? But oh so fun.

 

 Happy Little Farmer, GiggleUp Kids Apps and Educational Games, $1.99

This is a gorgeous little game involving planting, caring for, and harvesting crops around the farm. My kids from 3 through 8 love it, and even my twelve year old can’t help watching. The motions are simple and the directions clear, and there are all kinds of cute little hidden surprises. An absolutely stellar game for little people.

Getting great layers

I am still working on the design of my front garden after three years. I intended to have a plan and plant accordingly, but as it turned out, by the time the Bobcat showed up, only the basic foundation plants were firm in my mind. The rest has kind of evolved and morphed over the seasons, which has actually been a lot of fun. I’ve learned a lot about coordinating bloom colors and times, plant heights and spacing, and the impacts of weather patterns for my space.

One of the things I’m still trying to get a handle on is what I call layering: using plants, hardscaping, and decor to create pleasing levels and depth in the garden. This involves the principles of form, texture, proportion, and scale. It’s pretty easy to put tall delphiniums behind shorter roses if you’re looking at the space head on, but what if they are viewed from the side? What if it is a space you intend to walk through, as well as around or beside, with views from many angles?

I was mulling over this particular design challenge when we went for a hike last week in the mountains. Mother Nature tends to inspire consistently, and she didn’t let me down. I came upon this scene and a few things clicked into place. This picture doesn’t do it justice, but I’ll show you anyway.

What you are looking at here is perfect layering. Bearberry and junipers cover the ground, tiny little tendrils reaching out right to the stone walkways and easily navigating slopes, providing a living mulch with texture and color. Behind this layer, and breaking through the rear of it, are the (remnants of) wildflowers, giving more color in their season and adding height. Next are the small shrubs, in this case potentillas, bringing the eye up to the large conifers which anchor the scene and provide shade for the lower plants.

Pretty basic, right? But here’s a couple things a learned from this simple scene:

1. The trees are in the “back” of this picture, but they’re not in the “back” of anything on this mountainside. The position of everything can be described in relationship to each other, but outside the photograph, there is no ultimate, overarching orientation to this scene. It is anchored by the trees, and the path gives it some line, but it is more a circle than anything else. I’ve been thinking too linearly (is that a word?), with my house at the “back” and the street to the “front”. How can I think in circles? What are at the centre of my circles?

2. It pays to take several steps back. I tend to analyze my garden from about five feet away. This scene struck me from at least thirty feet away. What will I see if I pull back and let my eyes  go just a little out of focus, so the shape and colour of things stand out?

3. Light and shadow can play as strong a role as leaf and stone.

4. I really, really, do love bearberry, and I am willing to wait for it to grow.

So that’s my little design lesson from the expert. As you head outside this long weekend, pay attention to what Mother Nature has to teach you. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

 

The kind of mushrooms anyone could love

It’s been a damp spring here, and there are all sorts of mushrooms popping up in corners of our property, including right in the middle of the lawn. I know some people consider fungi sprouting in the middle of their lawns unsightly and annoying, but I consider them part of the natural balance in the ecosystem and generally let them be; eradicating toadstools isn’t near as much fun as playing fairy ring with my little girls. (No taste testing allowed–though I keep thinking I need to learn what’s what in case there are some edible ones around here.)

Even with my mushroom loving heart, I was a little surprised when Chris hauled me outside this week to show me what he’d “found” in the lawn:

 

That biggest one is a good foot tall, and for a tiny moment I thought I was in the Amazon or on Pandora. Then I remembered this was Chris, and realized I was looking at recycled salad bowls, chair legs, and driftwood. Ever the creative genius, he’d put them together over the afternoon, given them a quick coat of stain, and poked them artistically into the grass. He fooled me, I admit it.  He took in a couple of neighbours too, before they got in a little closer and noticed the grain in the wood.

I’m craving some portobellos now… but despite their inedibility, I’m quite pleased with the newest addition to my garden menagerie.

Garden eye spy: New perspectives


The great outdoors has always been a magical place for me personally. Ever since I was a little girl, immersed in storybooks of secret gardens and enchanted forests, I have adored spending time amidst pretty blooms, swaying boughs and luscious, thick grass, discovering a whole new world of tiny creatures and wondrous happenings.

That is why I am beyond thrilled to present today a new column here on the Canadian Gardening blog, entitled ‘Garden Eye Spy.’  Each week we will showcase a new photograph and a new perspective from which to view a garden space, once again capturing that childhood sense of wonder that so often becomes lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

This charming snail fellow caught my eye moseying his way around a flowerbed border, an adorable reminder that gardens are not meant for rushing around in, but rather meandering through with care. Who knew a snail could instill such spring garden inspiration? Have a wonderful long weekend everyone!

{Laura L. Benn is the Multi-brand Web Content Editor at TC Media.  Follow her writing, photography and other creative ventures on her blog, Acquired Taste or via Twitter.}

Three quirky gardening ideas that start with the letter P

I’ve been gathering trends and quirky gardening ideas for a presentation I’m giving at Canada Blooms March 16 and 22 (full schedule is here). This afternoon I realized I had three on the go that start with the letter P and a blog entry was born.

Pallets
One thing I loved about the Toronto Island Garden Tour last summer was how the residents reused so many old objects in their gardens—from bathtubs to chunks of concrete. This brings me to my first P. What better way to use an old pallet, than to turn it into a garden? I saw this idea on Fern Richardson’s Life on the Balcony blog where she provides step-by-step instructions on how to put it all together. I hope to try this in my own garden if I can find an old pallet somewhere!

Potholes
Today, the Calgary Horticultural Society posted a fabulous link on the Canadian Gardening Facebook fan page to pothole garden pictures, like this one. The freshome site profiled Steve Wheen, who has been planting these little gems around East London. Steve writes on his blog, The Pothole Gardener, that the project stemmed from a university course, meant to be part art project and part mission to show how bad the roads are, among others.

Pink tractors
This pink John Deere tractor, posted by Ethel Gloves on Facebook earlier today, isn’t really a trend, but it made me smile. And completed my trio of Ps.

Have a good weekend!

Christmas is coming… but so is spring, right?

It’s puking snow outside right now, I’ve got a community Christmas party to pull off on Friday, and gifts to wrap, and what am I doing?

Throwing around ideas for fresh landscaping on the west side of my house.

There’s something dangerously inspiring about this time of year, when no actual weeding, digging, hauling, or paying is required, and the imagination can run wild. You see, ever since the power company removed the three poplars along the front of the house, my whole perspective has shifted.

This is my blank slate: big line of poplars, with a lilac at the front and open space where the stumps are.

The light is different, the view is different, the possibilities seem endless. That, combined with the hurricane-speed winds southern Alberta has had the past couple of weeks and I’m excited to get started on the windbreak I’ve been wanting to establish.

Here’s where I want to start:

 

My sister even ventured to suggest extending the flower bed in front of the house into a bed around these bushes. That made me remember that I’ve toyed with the idea of turning this whole swath of  blah lawn, between the house and the trees, into a meadow. I’ve got plant lists for it already and everything…

I should be shoveling snow and working on this party. I should be singing carols and crocheting the scarf I started in front of the fire. I should be tucked up in bed with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head, but all I’m seeing are crabapples and baby spruce. And my Christmas wish list? A new crockpot, a capo for my guitar, more quick connects for the hoses, new garden lights, a forsythia, 2/3 of the Lee Valley Tools catalogue, pasqueflower root cuttings…

I don’t usually start living for spring until at least March. Or February.

I better get back in the moment over here or this is going to be one long winter.

Garden Walk Buffalo impresses

I was fortunate enough to visit Garden Walk Buffalo last weekend. With more than 350 private gardens on show, the tour is the largest in the U.S. Over two days on the last weekend in July, enthusiastic gardeners open their yards to about 50,000 walkers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jenni’s tree chair

With my landscaping overhaul two years ago and various articles this spring, I’ve been thinking a lot about garden furniture this year. It’s a major element missing in my yard.

Being of humble means, and not into grabbing the cheapy trend-of-the-moment patio set from the big box store, (translation: picky, but not rich enough to be) I’ve been biding my time until the right pieces come along. This approach to shopping problems has always served me well. (Pair of black dress boots, my size, exactly the style I wanted but couldn’t find, mint condition, for free, at a garage sale. Oh yeah.)

I’ve thought a lot about the style I would like, and I’m leaning towards rustic without being too stereotypically “cottage” style. (See? Picky.)

I think my sister Jenni is right on the money. And this chair suits her, being an arborist. Custom made by her husband, I’m seriously debating commissioning a couple. With my riches, you know.

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