{ Archive for the ‘garden resources’ Category }

Gardener’s bookshelf: The Garden That You Are

Apparently it is still winter.

Bring on the books.

A lovely little volume that I stumbled across several years ago, comprised of garden and gardeners profiles, has continued to be dear to me. The Garden That You Are (Sono Nis Press, 2007) looks at eight different gardens and the people who tend them. It explores how a gardener’s life is intertwined with the land, how our history and relationships play into the daily experiences of the garden. All the gardeners spotlighted in the book have different approaches, different focuses, different ages, different backgrounds — but they all live within a square mile of each other in British Columbia’s beautiful Slocan Valley.

There is much practical knowledge to be taken from these pages: advice, recipes, plant lists. But the reason I keep going back to it is for the inspiration. I don’t mean ideas, necessarily, but that this book gets you thinking about why you yourself garden, what drives your experience.

It is a step back from the ‘to-do’ list and the ‘must-have’ mentality. A thoroughly colourful and enjoyable one.

Gardener’s bookshelf: Worms Eat My Garbage

There is a difference between keeping a compost pile and actually knowing how to compost.

I am a person who was dong the former. Realizing I was going on luck and random tips culled over the years, I took the opportunity to attend a composting class put on by the Calgary Horticultural Society 10 days ago. (As for why it has taken me this long to tell you about it, see previous post re: puppy.)

It was a very informative day, taught by the sharp, funny, Kath Smyth. I learned buckets, but the best part for me was when Kath invited her associate Mike Dorian up to illuminate the world of vermicomposting. Mike runs the Calgary-based company Living Soil Solutions, which provides all things worm, and while I’ve been keeping a worm bin for a few years now, I’ve kind of (don’t tell) been faking my way through it. Mike helped me put my finger on some changes I could make to have more success and enjoyment with my bin.

One of the suggestions he made was to read the book Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof. So, like a good student, I came home and requested it from the library.

Me doing my homework

Though it was written in the early ’80s, Worms Eat My Garbage is still considered a primary resource for vermicomposting. A quick look through it and it’s easy to see why: all the basic principles are explained in plain language and simple illustrations. An overview of how worms fit into the food web establishes the bigger picture. How much to feed and how is discussed. The pros and cons of different types of bedding are debated. All in a relaxed, 80 page read. I’ve seen lots of technical writing and research material on worm composting that might win in the details department, but Mary Appelhof’s book wins hands down in the covering-all-the-bases-while-not putting-you-to-sleep category. Highly recommended to anyone interested in vermicomposting.

Gardener’s bookshelf: help with veggies

I love flowers as much as the next girl, but when it comes to gardening, I got into it for the food. Pretty didn’t matter. I’ve come to see the error of my ways, but no matter how many flowers I now grow, my green heart still really belongs to the edibles. As such, I am always on the look out for new insight on growing better vegetables. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

 

Gardener’s bookshelf: Garden Way publications

Most gardening happening in my world right now is either in my head or on a printed page as I hibernate from winter’s abuse. Over the years, my personal library has acquired a pretty healthy collection of volumes on everything from berries to birdbaths.

And not to suggest that I have every book a gardener could ever want, I thought I’d share some of my favourites with you.

Today, I’d like to draw your attention to a Vermont publishing house that had its heyday back in the seventies, that era of nature-loving, do-it yourself sustainability (which is so much in renaissance currently). Garden Way published all kinds of reference and how-to manuals about gardening, farming, and building that still are incredibly useful. They are exhaustive without being tedious, in-depth but not at all intimidating for the beginner. I’m constantly on the watch for them at garage sales and thrift stores, as most are out of print.

Keeping the Harvest, in particular, doesn’t even reside in my library; it stays right by the stove with my most-used cookbooks. Authors Nancy Chioffi and Gretchen Mead not only detail the preservation of almost any fruit or vegetable you can imagine (by freezing, canning, drying, pickling, cellaring, juicing, or, er, jamming), they give great advice about planting and harvesting for best yield and taste.

If you find a book with the Garden Way name on it, just grab it. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

 

 

Will you be reading The Signature of All Things?

One of the reasons I love fall is that it gives me more time to read. There’s so much to do in the garden over the summer, I don’t think I relaxed in my lounger with a good book more than once! Don’t get me wrong, I still have a LOT to do to put my garden to bed for the winter, but I can now spare a couple of hours here and there to curl up under a blanket with a hot cup of tea and a good book. One of the new books I’ve been looking forward to reading is The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray Love) because the main character is a botanist. You can read a review of it on the Globe and Mail website (I started, but stopped because I felt it was giving too much away), and read a synopsis or purchase on the Indigo website. Does anyone want to read the book and then chat about it in a few weeks?

 

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.

The virtual garden

I have palm trees in my garden.
No, really.
I still live in Alberta, and there’s snow on the ground, but my garden is full of palm trees, and there are NO WEEDS.
Okay, so the garden happens to be on my iPad, but still.
Seeing as how the ground is freezing up and I’m transitioning from real gardening to the imagining of next year, I thought I’d spend a little time in the App Store digging for some gardening gizmos.
One of the first I fiddled with was LawnCAD, a landscape drawing program ($4.99), and along with the other trees and rectangles, you can place palm trees! And pines, and bushes, of course. I’m finding it kind of finicky to work with so far, but that may be because I’m a layman; maybe it’s great for professionals. Point is, I’m visualizing my house surrounded by palm trees. An innocent winter pleasure.

Next week I’ll tell you more about some of the apps I’ve found. In the meantime, tell me about your favourite virtual gardening gadgets. What works? What doesn’t?

Dirt: the book and the movie

At my local library last week I stumbled across a DVD brazenly titled “DIRT!” which I of course immediately picked up, being one of those people who knows I should use the term ‘soil’ but can’t resist the earthy real-ness of the d-word.
It’s a documentary about… well, dirt, and it’s role in farming, civilization, food stability, and the roots of life itself. Before you yawn, I must tell you that this is a funny, engaging movie, as well as being informative a thought-provoking.
There’s cute little animated dirt bits commenting on the scientific stuff, and astonishing news about microbial fuel cells (! I’d never heard of them before either). While it feels slightly soapboxy when it gets into mining and clear cutting, there are wonderful insights into traditional farming in India and digging up concrete playgrounds in NYC.
I found it well worth the watch (as did the people at Sundance) and am now hunting down the book on which it was based, Dirt: the Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, by William Bryant Logan.
Happy Digging!

Paying less than a pretty penny for a pretty garden

Looking back over the season, I’ve added up all I’ve spent on plants, tools, and soil, and it’s a lot more than I expected. I’m not giving you an exact number, because some of you will think it’s a drop in the bucket compared to yours, and the thrifty among you, well, I don’t want to risk any heart attacks.

The point is, it’s a lot for me. For us, our household. What’s a great buy for one person is frivilous for another, and one gardener’s money-saving measure is a time-wasting annoyance for his neighbor. Everyone has different priorities. But I want to be a little smarter about my garden budget in the coming year. Charmian Christie has some good ideas, and here’s a few of mine:

1. Never underestimate the power of a sale. Watch your stores for discounts throughout the season. Buy your mulch, stable fertilizers, etc. in the fall, when many stores would rather sell them off than ship them back to storage. Assuming you have somewhere to store it.

2. Many trees, shrubs, and perennials are happy to be planted in the fall, when many greenhouses and big box stores sell them off for as much as 50-80% off. Just watch out for stress and disease before you buy.

3. My favorite greenhouse has a customer appreciation day the first Thursday of every month. If I can time my visits for these days, I get 15% off.

4. Plan a plant and seed exchange in the spring or fall (or both!). Free plants! The selection might not be what you’d find in retail, but you might be surprised. Bonus: meet fellow gardeners you may not have crossed paths with yet. Or, if you’ve got some hutzpah, put on a sale.

5. This is something new I’m trying this year. Every time I get a little windfall of cash, I’m putting it into a seperate savings account (free from my bank). Fifty bucks here, five bucks there, but by spring, I’ll have a few hundred set aside for the new hoses I need, taking the pressure off our April/May household budget. Wage earners could do the same, transfering a set amount each pay cheque. We do it for retirement and insurance, why not this?

6. Compost.

7. Reuse… all kinds of things. Egg cartons for starting seeds, milk jugs for drip irrigation, mason jars for cloches. Save your money for the tools and gear you really need or love.

8. Think outside the box on hiring help. A neighborhood work party, moving from house to house and spending an hour on each one, can get a lot of spring or fall cleanup done in one Saturday. Is there a landscape designer you know who you could barter services with?

That’s about all I’ve got… how do you keep your gardening passion from draining your pockets?

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