{ Archive for the ‘seasons’ Category }

My royal tulips and a big fall cleanup

I was way behind on my fall to-dos, but luckily Mother Nature gifted us with a fabulous weekend to finish off those last tasks — putting away the patio furniture, overwintering my pots, cleaning up the gardens and raking (and bagging).

But before I started on the big cleanup, I finally planted the bulbs I bought a few weeks ago (this article said I could)! After reading fellow CanadianGardening.com blogger Anja's piece on bulb planting, I purchased a bulb planter from Sheridan Nurseries. Armed with this handy tool, I dug them all into the ground and cross my fingers the squirrels won’t find them.

I chose my bulbs based on the gorgeous pinks and purples in the package photos. I hope my little royal family of `Purple Princes` and `Pink Emperors` doesn't let me down come spring!

Mum-ma mia!

I can't take credit for planting them, but I love the dependable, gorgeous colours my chrysanthemums bring to the yard each fall — white, pink, yellow, orange. Still covered in bees, these are not delicate flowers. The frosty temperatures we had last week didn't harm their little faces at all! I haven’t done it yet this year, but I love to snip a short stem full of blooms and place them in water, low to the vase. It’s like a ready-made, elegant bouquet! Just make sure they aren’t covered in little bugs. I made that mistake last year!

Fabulous fall bouquet and a mystery plant

fall-bouquet-triangle1

What is this interesting-looking thing?

fall-bouquet

My lovely fall bouquet

Today's the first day where it's actually started to feel a little like fall. There's a slight wind here in Toronto and it's overcast and raining. We’ve had a very warm September until now. Even Northern Alberta, Vancouver and Whistler, where I spent the last week, have enjoyed an unusually warm fall. Only a few leaves here and there were beginning to turn various shades of gold in Northern Alberta, but everywhere else still seems fairly green.

My first real glimpse of fall colour is in this lovely `welcome home` bouquet that greeted me when I returned from my trip. Especially interesting are the red and furry, pie-slice-shaped flowers. I have never seen them before. My fiancé said they were called `high fives` until I realized he was pulling my leg. Does anyone know what these are?

(photo taken with a Kodak EasyShare M381 digital camera)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year….

It’s one of the most wonderful times of the year for shopping for your garden that is. Garden centres are reducing their nursery stock, putting perennials on sale, marking down tools and garden gadgets, and clearing out pots and planters. I don’t need much of an excuse to visit a garden centre, but I definitely can’t resist a fall sale.

Within a 10 km driving radius of my house, there are six nurseries and garden centres. I can easily spend a Saturday afternoon driving from one to the other to see what I can find. It’s plant bargain shopping at its finest.

Sometimes I go with a game plan, while other times I just wander around to see what captures my fancy. This year’s shopping list includes ornamental grasses, perennial rudbeckia, tulip bulbs, and maybe a new squirrel-proof bird feeder.

Happy Shopping!

How do I know when to pick things?

In the spring, when I first started planting my seedlings and sowing seeds, I pictured myself under a deluge fresh produce. I haven’t quite yielded the quantities I would have liked, but it’s still so fun when you can even eat that one fresh tomato. My problem currently is I don’t want to pick things too soon, but I ‘m not sure if a couple of things are ready or not. And I don’t want to waste the precious few specimens that I have!

Here are the veggies I’m unsure about:

onionsMy onions:
This is another tricky one. I have what look like green onions sprouting up, but I remember the tag had a small bulb at the end in the picture. I pulled one out a couple of weeks ago and it just looked like a green onion. I’m not quite sure when to go in and yank out the others.

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hot-pepper
My Hungarian hot peppers:
I’m glad I looked this up on The Cottage Gardener site. My peppers are currently a deep purple, but apparently they will be ripening to red.

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green-pepper


My green peppers:
I have three currently, that are about the size of a Delicious apple. I want to pick them before the squirrels catch on that they’re there, but I’m worried they still might have the potential to grow bigger.

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beets|


My beets: I have four. Some of the beets I’ve purchased at the farmer’s market or at the grocery store have these giant leaves. I’m sure mine won’t grow to be that big, but I’m not sure when to determine if they’re ready yet.
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Sure bets if they would just hurry up!

cucumber1* My tomatoes: Ready any time they decide to ripen!
* My cucumbers: Every time one gets to be the size of a really good dill pickle, the squirrels get it!
* My tomatillos: Still flowering! Maybe I should go out and give them a little shake!
* My eggplant (behind the onion): Still hasn’t flowered.

(p.s. I can’t get WordPress to co-operate, so I had to put those extra characters around the pictures to make them line up!)

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.

Texture in the shade

img_2915Many of us who garden on a city plot have to contend with a fair amount of shade. Some gardeners think this means saying buh-bye to colour, but that’s not true. There’s so much you can plant to add oomph to even the darkest, dankest corners. (My front garden is a special challenge, for there I deal with the dreaded dry shade, thanks to a moisture-wicking, nutrient-sucking Schwedler Norway maple, which thrives on a tiny patch of ground.) So out I went with my camera, to give you a few examples of what I mean. The main photo at left shows the emerging lower foliage of a ‘Golden Shadows’ pagoda dogwood, as seen against the dark green of periwinkle, now in bloom.

When it comes to shade, texture is the name of the game. Texture can mean a play on green, as well as an interplay of other colours. The photo just below, far left, is a corner that has several oakleaf hydrangeas (which really need a bit more sun, but oh well. Pee-gee types do better and give me loads of blooms in late summer.). In spring, Leucojeum ‘Gravetye Giant’ adds its tall, snowdrop-like blooms to those of variegated and plain solomon’s seal. This is underplanted with green-and-white-striped sedge (Carex ‘Ice Dance’) and Lamium ‘White Nancy.’ img_29061img_29271Nearby is a healthy clump of the brunnera called ‘Jack Frost,’ whose silvery leaves look fabulous throughout the season. Above all is that trusty standby, an old, shapely redtwig dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’) with its green-and-white variegated leaves. So greens, whites and silvers lighten and brighten up this area.

Two other plants I find most useful in both gardens are various types of heuchera and perennial geranium (near left), especially Geranium macrorrhizum cultivars, which handle the shade with aplomb and reward me with pretty blooms in spring and nice foliage throughout the season.

img_2912img_2910And I can’t praise barrenwort (Epimedium spp., far left) enough. Also known as bishop’s hat, this plant is very happy in my garden. I have the rosy, purply and yellow types. The flowers are dainty but it’s the foliage I really like. Small, delicate and airy, it combines well with other shapes and doesn’t overpower (you really want to avoid the “moundy roundy” look you can get with a surfeit of heucheras and perennial geraniums).

Like many shade gardeners, I’m mad about ferns. Here is ‘Lady in Red’ (near left) in my front garden, where the soil is a constant battle for it really wants to be nothing more than dust, so I have to amend it like mad. The purple leaves growing through it are Lysimachia ‘Firecracker,’ which proved to be horribly invasive in the back but is just fine here, and easy to hoick out if it gets too rambunctious. In fact, I shifted other invasives to the front, including gooseneck loosestrife and lily-of-the-valley. Both are surprisingly well-behaved and haven’t overwhelmed the more polite plants, which just shows how bad the conditions out there really are.

img_29343The Japanese painted fern (far left) is one of my favourites. I have a fine clump of them in the back, near a Japanese maple and a dark-burgundy-leafed ‘Diabolo’ ninebark, and the veins of the ferns echo the deep burgundy. It took a few years for these ferns to get established with any sort of vigour, so don’t lose heart if yours look poopy. They’ll come along. However, they haven’t done well in the front garden, where the fierce roots of the Norway maple make life a real struggle for all but the most determined (and shallow rooted) of plants. Others that don’t do well out in the front include hostas, which need more room for their roots, so they stay small and sulky.

img_2909Another fabulous fern is the maidenhair (near left), with its graceful, black, wiry stems. This clump resides in the back near some hellebores and an arching and very thorny Acanthopanax sieboldianus. The leaf-and-frond shapes complement each other nicely. And I’m working on a green-and-gold corner that’s just starting to knit together. It’s basically a combo of golden Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’), ‘Bowles Golden’ sedge, various green-and-gold hostas, and so forth.

img_29351Note the Japanese forest grass is a slow grower, and takes awhile to become established. But it’s worth the wait. For without help, this area could be dark and miserable. Though still a bit sparse, the golden tones do much to brighten things up. In spring, the creamy yellow, fragrant ‘Elizabeth’ magnolia nearby is underplanted with yellow-flowered barrenwort and daffodils. It does my heart good to see them.

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.

Feeding my soil

In the past, without really understanding what my soil needed for my plants to thrive, I would spread a few bags of top soil on my gardens in spring and call it a day. But I’ve been reading about pH levels and the importance of composting and mulch that I don't know where to begin. So I turned to Anne Marie to seek advice on how a budding gardener should prepare her soil.

Here is Anne Marie's advice:

  • For most plants, pH is less of a concern than the type of soil present. Most plants are fine with soil that is slightly alkaline all the way to slightly acidic. It is only when soils are very acidic or very alkaline that some plants will struggle if they're growing in a type of soil that is not suited for them.
  • For example, acid-soil loving rhododendrons growing in very alkaline (limestone based) soils. Most plants are tolerant of a relatively wide range of soil pH values.
  • Test your soil for its pH level if you are curious. Horticultural lime or garden sulphur are the most often recommended products applied to alter the soil acidity level.
  • PH aside, compost is excellent to add to the soil. Make sure it is from a reliable source.
  • Three to five centimetres of compost added each spring is a great soil enrichment program.
  • Then place a layer mulch on top of the compost.
  • An undyed organic mulch is great if only a small layer of compost can be added or if compost is only added every other year. The organic mulch (shredded pine bark, pine needles, cedar mulch, etc.) will break down over time and become part of the soil. Therefore it should be topped up every year.
  • My advice is to leave the existing soil alone and work on adding compost to it each year, with the addition of a mulch topping. This is a much easier task to build a “raised bed” than dealing with clay, for example, and fighting the battle to change the soil composition.

So with this helpful advice, my next step is to apply a layer of compost to my beds.

New blooms to add to my spring shopping list

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a President’s Choice Lawn & Garden event in Toronto’s historic Distillery District. I get my plants and garden products from a wide variety of nurseries and stores each year, but the PC brand is always very convenient because there is a nursery set up at my local grocery store. The plants are also exclusively from Canadian growers, which is an added bonus.

Besides the lovely plant selection, there were patio vignettes set up by interior stylist Janette Ewen showcasing some of the neat pots and solar lights that will also be on sale at Loblaw stores.

Here are some of the plants that will be on my spring shopping list!

Bourbon Clematis: This lovely climber will grow three or four feet and has a brilliant red and fuchsia bloom.

Bourbon Clematis: This lovely climber will grow three or four feet and has brilliant red and fuchsia blooms.

Here's a mouthful--these gorgeous grasses, "Hakonechloa macra Aureola," will become infused with pinks and reds in the fall.

These gorgeous grasses, "Hakonechloa macra Aureola," will become infused with pinks and reds in the fall.

Attract butterflies to your yard with Lo & Behold this mini breed buddleia--or butterfly bush.

Attract butterflies to your yard with Lo & Behold, this mini breed buddleia--or butterfly bush.

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