{ Archive for the ‘seasons’ Category }

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)

Taking a deep breath and perusing the seed catalogues

I have never started my seeds indoors before. Sure, I've thrown a few in the ground over the years to see what would come up, but I always worried I didn't have enough space or light to sow them inside. I had varied success with my veggies last year, but my sister and I both realized that the long wait for our peppers and tomatoes had a lot to do with planting them too late in the season. This year we're determined to get a head start.

We decided to order seeds together, but plant in our own respective homes. I'm going to sacrifice the windowsill in my home office and the space around it. My sister's apartment is a virtual greenhouse–her lemongrass is a tree!–and her husband built her these awesome shelves for her seed pots. I figure my odds of fresh herbs and veggies increase with both of us planting the same thing. If one of us fails (most likely me), we have backup.

But where to begin? I find seed catalogues so overwhelming–especially when looking at 10 tomatoes with the same description. Cross-eyed and confused, I turned to Anne Marie for some advice in choosing what to plant.

Here are her helpful tips:

• Look for flowers and vegetables listed as award winners. These are some of the best ones to grow.
• Good plants to start from seeds indoors include tomatoes, marigolds, sunflowers, squash, geraniums, lettuce, sweet peas, cosmos, morning glory and basil.
• Sunflowers, squash, lettuce, sweet peas and morning glory are also good to sow directly outside, too.
• Not all plants are worth starting from seeds. Some are better divided or started by cuttings. (Good call, I'll reign in my list!)
• Buy the size of package you can use in one year.
• If packets contain less than 10 seeds then expect to pay premium prices because they have to be collected by hand, the plant is rare, or the plant only produces a small number of seeds.
• Beware of packets that contain 1,000 seeds for a low price such as $2.49.
• After your seed list is assembled a little time searching on the Internet can give you the specific details about how to sow them–when to sow i.e. days before planting them outside, to cover or not to cover (light vs darkness), ideal temperature for germination, days until germination, etc.

Someone recommended a seed company to my sister, so we both compiled a list and our seeds are in the mail! I just have to buy my little seed starting pots and I'm good to go!

Forcing branches and other ways to start spring now!

Elaine working her magic

Elaine working her magic

Sunday morning it was almost as though Mother Nature was mocking me by throwing snowflakes every which way as I headed into the Distillery District in downtown Toronto. How dare I think about spring! But despite the wintry day, spring awaited me inside Tappo Wine Bar & Restaurant. I was there to attend “A Cabin Fever Breakaway: A festival for gardeners longing for spring.” I was invited by Elaine Martin, owner of Vintage Gardener and the organizer of the event.

Brilliant yellow forsythia branches and daffodils, multicoloured primula, deep purple hyacinth and candy-coloured tulips surrounded a table filled with the amazing vintage pots and vases that Elaine sells in her store. I was feeling inspired already!

So what were forsythia branches, one of the first signs of spring, doing inside when it's clearly still winter? That's what Elaine focused on for the first part of her talk—how to force branches (forsythia and magnolia work best) into thinking it's spring. This is something I'm definitely going to try—I have two forsythia bushes in the backyard. And it seems so easy!

With this planter, Elaine explained how to gently bend the pussy willow branches to create a handle!

With this planter, Elaine explained how to gently bend the pussy willow branches to create a handle!

According to Elaine, all you have to do is wait for a sunny day when the temperature goes up by 10 degrees. Cut some branches—longer than you need—and bring them indoors. Once inside, trim about six inches from the bottom and then take a hammer and crush the bottom or make cuts up the stem. Then place them in room temperature water and wait for the magic!

Make sure your branches are in indirect light. Elaine says it can take anywhere from three days to two weeks for blooms to appear.

The next part of Elaine's presentation involved creating planters with the rainbow of flowers she had brought. I took some pics because they were so beautiful and definitely the perfect way to bring spring inside your home during the last days of winter.

Elaine has lots of great workshops coming up in her store. Stay tuned to our events page for details!

Too many cooks?

Days of being cosseted and pampered in Quebec (if I were a poodle, my name would be Fifi) came to an abrupt end at the luxurious Ripplecove Inn and Spa in the Eastern Townships. As we pulled up to the picture-postcard-pretty site, I felt I was arriving on the set of a charming and wholesome Hollywood movie, such as Father of the Bride. General manager Michel Vauclair showed us to our rooms–mine was #36, with a balcony, a pot-bellied stove and a stunning view of Lake Massawippi. (All the rooms in this much-vaunted and very romantic inn are unique, and you can look on their website to choose the room that best reflects your taste.) As beautiful as Ripplecove Inn is in winter, I’d love to come back in the summer to see its English gardens, which were tough to spot under the mountains of snow.

Once we’d freshened up and changed, we were invited down to the library for a glass of champagne. Then Mr. Vauclair led the way down to the dining room and lowered the boom: we had to work for our supper. Chef’s whites were passed out and donned, and the agenda was laid out. We were to eat dinner at a table specially set up for us in the kitchen, but first, we had to help the chef and his assistant by setting the table, announcing the various courses, serving the meal and bussing dirty plates.

In short, we had become waitresses. But luckily, only for each other.

Of course, my tongue is firmly in cheek as I write this, for it wasn’t an ordeal at all. It was all great informal fun, and involved minimal effort on our part. Sommelier Patrick Jackson joined Mr. Vauclair at our table, and we had a wonderful time sampling various delicious Quebec wines, as well as delectable food from a special menu fit for a rajah. Chef Maxime Theriault tempted our taste buds with locally cured smoked salmon, followed by medallions of rabbit in a port wine sauce with cipollini onions, and a beef filet so tender you really could cut it with a fork. This meat was enrobed in a very thin pastry crust with a side of celeriac puree and wild huckeberry. Dessert consisted of various takes on maple and all thoroughly delicious, somehow made even more so by the fact that we were eating it in the kitchen.

Afterwards, sommelier Jackson led us on a tour of his wine cellar, and showed off his most expensive bottle–a 1957 number that sells for $1000.

It was a memorable evening punctuated by much laughter, and the seven journalists who had started out on this getaway together as strangers had become friends. And so to bed, knowing the next day we would be leaving the Eastern Townships and Quebec and returning home. (www.ripplecove.com)


Next: fabulous gardens and more in surprising central Florida

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