{ Archive for the ‘seasons’ 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.

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.

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

A week ago today…

I wish I knew what kind of butterfly this was!

I wish I knew what kind of butterfly this was!

A week ago today I was in Las Vegas and amid all the casinos, glitz, monuments and fountains, I managed to find a botanical garden at the Bellagio.

This cute ladybug was made of carnations! Or were they roses? It was hard to tell...

This cute ladybug was made of carnations! Or were they roses? It was hard to tell...

With “140 horticulturists on staff,” the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens changes its exhibits about five times a year and I have to say their current display was one of the highlights of my trip–and best of all, it was free!

These watering cans were really cool!

These watering cans were really cool!

I had to tear myself away from the butterfly exhibit–they were magnificent and so much bigger than the butterflies you see here in Ontario. My pictures certainly don’t do this imaginative space justice, but I thought I’d share some anyway to give you a peek.

Take a look at the website linked above for more fab photos. You can even see past exhibits.

Hey, what happened to spring?

crocusblueflowersYesterday was a beautiful and sunny day, so I took a stroll around my yard with my camera to see if anything was growing yet. My irises and tulips are peeking through the leaves in my garden and I snapped this little crocus poking up on my neighbour’s lawn! In the backyard I found these sweet little blue flowers growing against my fence. I started dreaming of finally being able to get outside and preparing my yard for spring.
And then this morning, alas, it was snowing. I knew there had to be at least one more storm before we were allowed to enjoy spring, but things were looking so promising I thought we might escape winter’s last gasp.

daffodil3Luckily, I purchased daffodils last week to support the Canadian Cancer Society, so spring still exists in my kitchen. They were certainly a welcome sight this morning when I woke up to a raging storm!I just hope those little flowers survive this frosty weather.

Searching for signs of spring

img_2654As the song goes, “spring will be a little late this year.” At least that’s how it’s felt to me.

It’s been a dark, cold and snowy and seemingly never-ending winter here in Toronto, but this week we’ve had a few warm, sunny days and brilliant blue skies. It’s a perfect time to walk around the neighbourhood to search for signs of spring. In my garden I can see daffodils poking their way through a mulch of leaves, while the blooms on my ‘Primavera’ witch hazel brighten up the fenceline.img_26552

I walk around the corner in search of crocuses and snowdrops with no success, but notice that buds are fattening up on shrubs and some ground-covering sedum is showing its first signs of life.

img_2664img_26611When the weather is like this, gardeners itch to get out there and start the cleanup. Please resist. It’s much too early to rake off that mulch–winter ain’t done yet and you could give your plants a nasty, cold shock. It’s best to wait until the weather really settles down and warms up to stay.

Next: Adventures in Arizona

What I'm excited to see at Canada Blooms

Last year's gorgeous tulips!

Last year's gorgeous tulips!

This Budding Gardener has never been to Canada Blooms before. I know, I know… what a gardening sin! This is the 13th year of the show and I have to make up for lost time! I was going through the website to plan my day and was overwhelmed with everything there is to see–from the feature gardens to the shopping to the seminars. I will definitely be there on Wednesday shooting some video for CanadianGardening.com and checking out the booths, but I also want to see some of the presentations.

These are some of the reasons I’m excited to visit Canada Blooms:

  • Creating an organic perennial garden of continuous bloom
    (Speaker: Lorraine Roberts)
    Because perennials are my best friends–they come up every year no matter what–and in my quest to be greener, this should be a very helpful seminar.
  • Gardening with Mother Nature the natural way
    (Speaker: Marjorie Mason)
    Because I want my garden to be an eco haven. Marjorie has written a great book called Ecological Gardening: Your Path to a Healthy Garden. It's trade paperback-sized, perfect for the subway, except I also need a pad and pen to take notes while reading!
  • Vertical vegetables
    (Speaker: Kenneth Brown)
    Because I'm planning on planting a square-foot garden and I need all the advice I can get to ensure I actually have something to eat at the end of all my hard work.
  • No more chemicals in the garden
    (Speaker: Jeff Lowefels)
    Because I need to know how to keep my ant population down without grabbing for a can of Raid.
  • Dramatic containers
    (Speaker: Paul Zammit)
    Because I need some fresh ideas for this year's pots. I will be filming a step-by-step video next week of Paul planting his gorgeous containers at the Toronto Botanical Garden! Stay tuned!
  • Since I love to travel, I'm looking forward to checking out the VIA Rail Garden Route and Tourism Ireland's Garden Travel area. Aldona did a portion of the Garden Route out west last fall and it sounds amazing!
  • The City of Toronto's 175th Anniversary Garden — to celebrate my city's birthday.
  • The Heart and Stroke Pulse Garden and the Canadian Cancer Society: Cancer Connections urban gallery for inspiration.
  • Pick Ontario Avenue because I can't resist shopping!

Share your seed storage tips

kitchengardenboxA few years ago I went to PEI and bought a packet of lupin seeds. When I got home, I put them in a “safe” place and couldn't find them for two years. I now try to keep everything gardening-related together in a little desk drawer, but this sweet little box turned up on my desk recently and I just had to share.

The Kitchen Garden Box from Quirk Books is like a recipe organizer, but the “recipe” cards not only hold veggie recipes, there are other helpful seed-planting tips and tricks, as well. There are 10 reusable seed envelopes, but you could also file your own in there and keep everything together in one place.

How do you keep your seeds organized? Post a comment below and you could win a Kitchen Garden Box of your own. I'll randomly pick two winners next week.

Note: Open to all residents of Canada, except those in Quebec. Not open to any Transcontinental Media employees, their families, or any other persons with whom they reside.

My seeds: The chosen ones

My sister and I chose our seeds from the heirloom seed house and plant nursery, The Cottage Gardener in Newtonville, Ontario. It was important to us to choose heirloom and organic varieties.

It would have been easy to go crazy and pick one of everything, but we had to realize that we can't start everything from seed. I simply don't have the space, and as Anne Marie said, not everything does as well from seed. So, I'll be hitting the nurseries, including my usual spots–the heirloom vendors at the Evergreen Brickworks Farmer's Market and Richters–for the seedlings of the veggies I'm not starting early.

But back to my seeds. My choices include cosmos, one of my favourite flowers, and experiments like white-stemmed pak choy and Detroit dark red beet. My sister chose a lot of herbs, which I'm game to try out, as well. Here is a list of what we're planting:

• Dill
• Florence Fennel
• English Thyme
• Black Calypso Beans
• Common Chives
• Roman Chamomile
• Cilantro
• Champion Collards
• Black Hungarian Hot Peppers
• Arugula
• Cosmos
• Detroit Dark Red Beet
• White-Stemmed Pak Choy
• Mesclun mix (a gift from Canadian Gardening writer Lorraine Flanigan)

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