{ Archive for the ‘projects and crafts’ Category }

DIY holiday gift idea: Herbal tea

Well before most of my garden had called it quits for the season, I decided to dry a few herbs. I snipped bunches of sage, oregano, French tarragon and spearmint. As I was crumbling my spearmint to save for tea the other day, I though to myself: “Wouldn’t this make a cute Christmas gift?” For my birthday, my friend Brenda gave me one of those ceramic jars from Anthropologie with the chalkboard label on the front, as well as a package of these lovely little drawstring tea bags. This is the perfect packaging if you choose to share some of your herbs. Looseleaf tea bags can be found at most tea shops. I would recommend a teaspoon of dried herbs in each. Or, make it a spice jar and fill it with savoury herbs you’ve dried, like oregano or thyme.

Writing in chalk was the hardest part. I must have erased various wordings (Tara's tea, peppermint, etc.) at least 20 times. I settled on "Tea" because it was short and sweet.

Keeping retired garden hoses busy

One of my tasks for this week is draining and storing all the garden hoses. (Yes, ALL. An acre of land+no sprinkler system=lots of hoses.)

Often there’s one that I finally decide is beyond repair and needs to be put out to pasture. But what to do with these steel, plastic, and rubber aggregates? Many recyclers won’t take them, landfills hate them. The best thing I can think of is to repurpose them.

First option is to turn a leaky hose into a leakier hose: poke some more holes in it and use it as a soaker hose.

If it’s not up to that task, you can cut it into lengths for all kinds of applications:

For cutting through the tough layers of hose, I like to use an old serrated knife.

A simple guard for the blade of our bow saw.

The old rubber handles went the way of the earth long ago; now we use these for grips on the wheelbarrow. Also try slipping them over the wire handles of buckets.

Or if you’re feeling crafty:

Mark Kintzel's old hose repurposed as a doormat (click the pic for how-to)

Jill Fritz's fresh invention (click for the how-to)

And if you just can’t get enough hose-related goodness, have no fear, Pinterest is here.

Greenhouses, re-thought

My friend Jennifer sent me a link this week all about something I’d never seen before: underground greenhouses. Known as a walipini, these dugouts with plastic roofs were first built in the mountain regions of South America to allow people to grow crops almost year round. Jennifer wanted to know my opinion about building one here in Alberta.

First of all, thank you, Jen, for holding my opinion in such high esteem. Second, I really don’t know. The idea intrigues me; it’s almost like a walk-in cold frame, and you know how I love cold frames. Walipinis take it to the next level though, using the natural warmth of the earth to heat the space, not just the sun. While they would require a lot of labour to dig, and a lot of space to accommodate, the materials could be lower in cost than a traditional greenhouse set up. Also, I have many neighbours who have had ‘kit’ type greenhouses blown into Saskatchewan or smashed by hail. Digging into the earth seems like a logical way to avoid our gales.

As long as you could build a roof to withstand those winds, as well as the heavy, wet snow we can get. A really solid roof would be absolutely necessary. Could we do it?

A quick trip around the internet revealed several variations of dug greenhouses, the “earth sheltered” variety being fairly common. Everyone seems to have their own special considerations to the design, but the consensus seems quite positive that it is entirely possible, even here.

Luckily for me, Jennifer has a willing relation with a backhoe, a lot full of lawn she wants to transform, and a husband who’s thinking through the roofing questions.

I get to watch and learn.

A quick and easy bird-feeder post

When I was a kid, the bird feeder, seen from our large kitchen window provided endless entertainment. Chickadees, cardinals, blue jays, nuthatches, doves, juncoes and woodpeckers (to name a few) were all frequent visitors. A number of birdfeeders have come and gone over the years and all of them used to sit on a metal pole with the requisite squirrel guard that did absolutely nothing to deter the acrobatic squirrel population. I love this bird-feeder post (and its squirrel-proof feeder) that my father made last year. I thought I would share it to commemorate National Bird-Feeding Month, established by the National Bird-Feeding Society.

A closeup shot shows off the fancy bracket.

The instructions are quite simple. Add a post bracket to the bottom of an eight-foot-long 4×4 post (paint it first, if you wish) and pound it into the ground. My dad says you could also use sono tube and concrete post holes depending on how soft or firm your ground is. Screw on a bracket (from which you’ll hang your feeder), top with a fence post cap and voilà. An attractive bird-feeder stand.

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.

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!

Gift-wrapping workshop: Pretty packages for botanical gifts

Let’s face it. Anything that doesn’t have hard edges can be a challenge to wrap. Which is probably why gift bags became so popular. But what if you have, for example, a pretty potted plant? You don’t want to risk spilling soil or crushing precious petals by shoving it in a bag. This is where Corinna vanGerwen comes in to save the day. Next Wednesday evening (November 16) from 6 to 9, Corinna will be hosting Paper & Petals – Holiday Flowers Workshop at RE:Style Studio here in Toronto. She will share her ideas on how to pretty up those potted plants or packages of bulbs with fine Japanese paper (an example is shown below). Participants will also get to create a medallion floral pick to take home and add to their own gift–one they wrap using Corinna’s tips, of course.

Speaking of tips, Corinna shares all sorts of fabulous advice and inspiration on her blog Corinna Wraps. She’ll even show you how to pretty up a plain gift bag in a pinch! And, she’s whipping up a little something special for CanadianGardening.com, so stay tuned for a holiday step by step!

photo courtesy of corinnawraps.wordpress.com

Reduce, reuse, re-harvest…

Call me frugal, call me resourceful, heck, you can even call me cheap. I’m a recycler and a Value Village maven (we call it V.V. Boutique around here). I’m the gardener who’s using newspaper for weed suppressant and milk jugs for cloches. That old adage, “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without,” lives on in my household.

I know I’m not alone. There are all kinds of gardeners out there learning and using talents to turn what they have into what they want or need.

But this guy here, he deserves a prize.

Pulling onions from his ready-made raised beds.

This is Allen Campbell, a neighbor of mine. He has put his garden into raised beds this year, but he didn’t build the frames. He has been collecting used packing crates from a wind turbine company that operates in our area. They are the perfect size and height for his veggies, and if he wants a section to be higher, they have metal corner brackets that stack. I don’t know that they’ll hold up like treated lumber, but they are working great. And they were free. And he didn’t have to build anything.

But that’s not all, folks. Oh, no.

He has patiently been collecting discarded bed frames from the dump. With this metal, some cheap-like-borscht white rigid plastic, and some welding, he has built a greenhouse. Yup, the L-shaped rails from discarded bunks are now growing tomatoes and cucumbers.

It's hard to show you in a photo, but Allen welded the rails together in such a way that they also act as shelf brackets: he can lay boards on them when the plants are small, remove them to make room as the plants grow.

An 8′ x 8′ building with double doors and set on cinder blocks to allow some air flow from below, Allen says the most expensive part of this project was the nuts and bolts. Of course, he laid out some time and effort. And exercised some patience to acquire all those bed rails. But we gardeners are practiced at patience, aren’t we?

So there you have it, some inspiration for your inner skinflint. Happy penny pinching!

Summertime, and the livin’ is…

…easy, a little too easy.

It’s tough to get motivated on that weed pulling when there’s picnics and beaches calling. I’ve done more kayaking this week than lawn mowing, and hanging the hammock seems more appealing than hauling hoses. But it must be done, and there’s a part of me, buried deep under the sunscreen, that really does want to do it. So I made myself a ‘summer garden’ playlist to kick-start my work ethic. And being the generous person I am, I’m sharing it with you. Hope you enjoy. If it’s not your taste, make your own and share it.

Summer Gardening Mix

Garden inspiration: Fix up an old bird cage

The other day, one of my writers, Signe Langford, sent me a photo of this gorgeous birdhouse with the following note: “A friend [Joy] did this for me. She found a decrepit Victorian bird cage and fixed it all up.” Does it not make you want to head out to the nearest antique market and find your own to fix up? I still dream about these amazing bird cages I saw in the Albert Cuyp market in Amsterdam. I still regret not bringing one home even though I was not quite sure how I would get it here in one piece.

Anyway, I asked Signe for a little how-to and this is what Joy had to say: I normally work in film doing set dec and art dept. I got the cage from a friend. They had used it as a humane way to catch squirrels. It was in rough shape and they were throwing it out. I knew Signe would like it. I took it home and I had to figure out how to make it look good. I had to repair the top part as the base of it had disintegrated. I ended up finding a piece of bendable wooden filigree that supported the unit and added a nice decorative touch. I decided I wanted to use paint from Restore as I felt better about recycled paint. I wanted a bright color so it would look beautiful in her garden amongst all the green. I found an egg yolk yellow. First I primed and it took 2 coats. Than I painted the yellow. After, I sanded the cage lightly to make it look a little worn, you know that whole antiqued look.

So there you have it, a little garden decor inspiration on this sunny day!

Don't you want to make one yourself?

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