{ Archive for the ‘seasons’ Category }

Tips from the pros–part two

As promised, in this post I’ll touch on a few tips for flower arranging and container design given by experts in Canadian Gardening‘s Green Room at the recent Style at Home show.

Elene Nouri and Jennifer Christiani, custom designers at Sheridan Nurseries’ Scarborough store, had some excellent advice on creating winter container arrangements. They securely tape a block of floral foam (such as Oasis) to the top of the soil in a container, which allows them to create a more layered, three-dimensional and fuller arrangement, as they can then insert greens and branches sideways into the foam as well as straight down into the soil. They advise soaking the floral foam in water to which they add a little liquid Sta-Fresh, a preservative, for half an hour before attaching it to the container, as this makes it less brittle and crumbly and easier to work with. After greens are arranged, they spritz their foliage with Sta-Fresh spray to further prevent them from growing yellow and bedraggled-looking. Once temperatures drop, the floral foam will freeze and hold branches securely in place.

Kate Seaver of Kate’s Garden had some great advice for keeping cut roses fresh. When you get your roses home, cut their stems at an angle and put them into lukewarm water with a bit of flower food. An angled (not straight across) cut allows the free circulation of water and nutrients up the stem. Be sure to strip off any foliage that would sit below the water line, as it will start to decay (this holds true for any cut flower). Change the water in the vase every two days, add a bit of flower food and cut the stems a bit each time. Pick off outer rose petals if they look spent.

If your roses’ flower heads suddenly droop, it doesn’t mean they’re dead, it likely means there’s an air bubble in the stem. To cure this, recut stems, lie the roses flat in a sink and add lukewarm water until flowers are covered (if your sink is too small, use the bathtub). Leave roses immersed in water for about 20 minutes, and they should perk right up again.

Swimming in leaves

There is a monster tree next door that loves to wait until the very last minute to drop its leaves. Last year we waited and waited and raked as much as we could and then that last big deluge happened just as we got our first snowfall. I was wondering if this is bad for my grass and gardens or if the leaves make a good mulch.

Definitely no leaves should be left on the lawn, says Anne Marie. They will smother the grass and could contribute to more overwintering diseases. Particularly bad are wet clumps of maple or oak leaves (we've got a maple!).

A layer of leaves (about 7 cm) can be left on the vegetable garden over winter and worked into the soil in the spring. A 5 cm layer of leaves can be left over the soil in the flower garden as long as no perennials are covered. Shredded leaves would be better, if available.

So lesson learned for this year. Even if we need snowsuits, I should still try to get as many leaves up off that grass as possible–and be sure not to drown my perennials.

Tips from the pros–part one

Canadian Gardening‘s Green Room at last weekend’s Style at Home Show was a busy place. The glorious plants in all their autumn glory, lent to us courtesy of Sheridan Nurseries, drew many admirers. And as the organizer of much of the programming and master (mistress?) of ceremonies on Saturday and Sunday, I had the opportunity to listen to some super-knowledgeable speakers. Here are some snippets of good advice they offered. Look for my next post for info on flower arranging and creating winter container displays.

Dugald Cameron (of gardenimport.com) informed us that fall is the best time to plant (or divide) your peonies. The reason? This is the only time of year they show their “eyes”–those little white bud-like affairs seen just below the soil surface when you dig them up. Any divisions must have at least one eye, though several are preferable (Dugald often goes for four). When you plant your peony, make sure its eyes are level and positioned 1 1/2 to 2 inches below the soil. It’s also not too late to plant many spring bulbs. (Of course, this depends on where you garden–here in the Toronto area [mostly Zone 5 and 6] many hard-core, forgetful or procrastinating gardeners don’t even think about planting their tulips or lilies until November.)

Charlie Dobbin demonstrated a lasagna-type layered planting of spring bulbs in a large frostproof container, which then gets buried underground (or stored in a dark root cellar if you happen to have one). Here, you’re forcing the bulbs to come into bloom earlier than they would when planted in the ground, so that in very early spring, you can excavate the pot outdoors, put it in a prominent place in your patio or garden and enjoy waves of spring blooms for six weeks or more (those lucky folks with root cellars need only move their pot up to a bright spot indoors for a grand show). Charlie says, “make sure the container has drainage holes, and use a commercial potting mix. Start with about four inches of soil, then place the largest bulbs at the bottom of the pot and ignore the advice on spacing. Just jam them in, cover with about 4 inches of soil then add another layer of bulbs in the same way until you get near the top, and top it all with four inches of soil. Water, and “plant” into the ground–or store in a dark root cellar.”

Denis Flanagan talked about putting your garden to bed for the winter, and the news is good if you’re a bit lazy. “Basically, don’t do too much,” he advises. Don’t clean up–leave your perennials standing so their seedheads provide food for birds and a place to catch the snow [good advice, too, if you're a novice gardener, as it'll prevent you from inadvertently digging up plants next spring before they show signs of life]. And don’t rake the leaves off your beds, instead, pile more on. Both Dugald and Denis remarked on how handy it was their neighbours put out big bags of leaves for collection by the city–they could go around and help themselves. Water in evergreens well, and use an anti-dessicant spray, such as Wiltproof, on prized broadleafed evergreens–such as euonymus, mahonia and holly–spraying the underside of their leaves only. This is where their pores are, and the spray helps lock in moisture to protect leaves against drying out.

Thanks be

The last few weekends have been spent in good company with dear friends, though I must confess they’ve included rather a lot of festive meals and nice red wine (thank heavens for Lycra). Of course, all this feasting was compounded over Thanksgiving, which here in Toronto was graced by spectacular Indian summer weather and last night, an intensely bright full moon that should have kept me awake, but didn’t.

Yesterday as I waddled around my garden (MUST get back to the gym…soon…), I felt a glow of happiness and well-being and yes, gratitude, which was further enhanced by the warm, sunny day and the beautiful sight of some favourite plants that have just started to don their colourful autumn mantles. Looking good right now are my ‘Lady in Red’ ferns, whose fronds have turned a pale gold that contrasts with their stunning red stems. Some of my barrenwort has also taken on burgundy hues, as has the serviceberry. The neighbours to the north of me planted birches along our property line, and these went buttery yellow almost overnight, to echo the leaves of my climbing hydrangea and certain hostas. The blooms of various paniculata type hydrangeas are a stunning cerise right now, reminding me to harvest some for display indoors, and although the Chinese flowering dogwood hasn’t turned dark red yet, it’s thinking about it, as are the oakleaf hydrangeas. I also have a tender euphorbia known as Caribbean copper plant (Euphorbia cotinifolia ‘Atropurpurea’), whose foliage looks for all the world like purple smokebush (hence its Latin name), growing in a planter. Over the summer, it’s reached an impressive size and the leaves have just turned the most vivid shades imaginable of bronze, orange and red. Wow! Gorgeous, but how will I get it in the house? Speaking of which, with a view to the cooler forecast later in the week, I’ve already brought in the New Zealand flax and will soon bring in the agapanthus. My pots of herbs are still going strong, though, and being a glutton, I’m thankful.

The photo I’ve included this week isn’t from my garden; it’s of an arrangement sent to me a few weeks ago by my friend Erin and created by the floral wizards at Teatro Verde. I keep changing the water and it’s still going strong. The main components are sedum heads, celosia and asters, and if you omit the orchids you could have a bash at recreating it yourself, either from what you have in your garden and planters, or what you can find at the local florist shop or greengrocer. First, pebbles were placed at the bottom of the low bowl, which was then crisscrossed across the top with thin pieces of cellotape to anchor the plants (I checked). Then the arrangement was built up with the flowers mentioned and a few greens.

Finally, I’m off tomorrow morning to the Direct Energy Centre at Exhibition Place, to help designer and landscape architect Shawn Gallaugher start setting up The Green Room, which is Canadian Gardening’s large display area at this weekend’s Style at Home Show, which starts Friday, October 17 and continues through Sunday, October 19. Shawn and I spent last Thursday morning at the Norval farm of Sheridan Nurseries, choosing plant material for the display (the generous folks at Sheridan have lent it to us for the show) and I can promise you it is SPECTACULAR. We have terrific programming scheduled for each day, too, with gardening celebrities including Lorraine Johnson, Gayla Trail, Liz Primeau, Charlie Dobbin and Denis Flanagan, to name just a few, giving talks and doing how-to demos. We’ll also have Master Gardeners on hand to answer all your gardening questions, book signings, and daily Make and Take workshops with Kate Seaver of Kate’s Garden. (To see the full schedule of events, go to styleathomeshow.com and click on schedules). I hope you’ll come down and say hello.

Gourd the turkey

I just couldn’t resist posting this today! I took this photo a couple of weeks ago when I was working on a videoshoot for the website at Sheridan Nurseries. After a little research I discovered this is called a gooseneck gourd–how appropriate! Some clever person has created a stand with the turkey tail and feet that you see here.

I just wanted to take the opportunity to wish my fellow budding gardeners a safe and Happy Thanksgiving! It’s supposed to be a beautiful weekend, so I intend to spend part of it out in my garden, crossing items off my fall checklist.

Check back soon for that video I mentioned earlier. Custom designer Elene Nouri shows us how to create a terrarium, so you can hone your green thumb throughout the winter.

When should I divide my perennials?

Yesterday was a gorgeous September day and I found myself out in the garden admiring my perennials–my mums have all of a sudden exploded with colour! Some of my plants, however, have gotten quite dense over the summer. A couple of my hostas are so huge a neighbourhood cat was sleeping under one the other day and I didn't even notice until it crawled out and gave me a sleepy “meow.”

What to do with my crowded beds? I haven't really had to divide anything until now (except my irises), so I wasn't sure when the best time of year is to do it.

I consulted Anne as I think I'd probably better get a move on if I'm going to divide anything before the first frost. Here is her advice:

  • The best time to divide most perennials is in early spring. This will give the plant time to get settled before the summer weather challenges arrive.
  • The second best time to divide most perennials is in early fall, when the soil is still warm and plants can get settled before winter arrives. Divide perennials about 6 weeks before the first frost.
  • Some considerations to think about; often the soil is too wet to dig in the spring when it is the ideal time to divide. Some experts also suggest that spring and summer blooming perennials should be divided in the fall, and fall blooming perennials divided in the spring. This means you are dividing non-blooming plants, which will have a better chance of survival.
  • Exceptions to this rule include bearded iris (August only), columbine (fall only), oriental poppy (early summer after flowering), bleeding heart (early summer after flowering) and peony (late summer).
  • Divide plants on a cloudy day. Water them well the day before the move. And water them well after the move.
  • Cover them if necessary to reduce wilting.
  • Take as much soil as you can lift from around the roots and replant immediately.
  • Use a garden fork or garden spade to loosen the soil and dig out the clump. An old, large kitchen knife, sharp garden spade or two garden forks are handy to divide the clump. Save the most vigorous sections of your clump from the outer edges to replant.

This information will find a place in my gardening journal. I also found this article written by Anne on dividing perennials, which I am going to print, along with the information above, for handy reference.

Hats off

A helpful friend just reminded me that fall is officially here. Go tell that to my summer containers, which are still blooming their hearts out. No need to go rushing out to pick up pots of mums or asters for the front steps, when my tuberous begonias continue to put on such a glorious show (they’re a lot more sturdy than people give them credit for, by the way).

With the advent of fall, some things do need to be changed, I guess. Take the straw hats on my hallstand, which scream of summer garden parties and a minty, fruit-and-cucumber-filled glass of Pimm’s. Two of them are vintage–my favourite one has strawberries both on and underneath the brim; very Carmen Miranda. Another is covered with pansies and black tulle–definitely not a mucking about in the garden kind of hat but just right for an outdoor soiree.

Underneath the hall stand is a basket filled with the more prosaic fabric hats and gloves I wear in the garden when I’m out there working. (With my fair skin, I’m vigilant about sunscreen and covering up in the sun–the doctor has already sliced a pre-cancerous chunk out of my chin, and it doesn’t look like a cleft).

I suspect, however, that just like my sandals, which also have yet to put away, I’ll drag my feet on stashing the hats. For once they go, it means I need to pull out and display the winter ones, which of course also means acknowledging the beginning of six months of largely grey and often dreary days, few of them spent in the garden.

Journey’s end

Relaxing on the train back to Edmonton, I think back over our journey (and am comfortable now with the train’s rhythm, which, due to the reality of being shunted aside by freight trains from time to time, seems less schedule-driven than destination-based). No matter. I’ve been sitting in the catbird’s seat, leisurely gazing at the beauty that is Canada–by turns rugged, gentle-looking, majestic and surprising, and always, always inspiring; it makes my heart swell with pride.

I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to sample part of the Via Rail Garden Route. It’s been so much fun I decide one day I’ll make the time to travel from Halifax to Vancouver by train–from sea to shining sea–stopping off at various locations to see the gardens, get a sense of the cities/towns, meet the people. I reckon that doing it this way and at a leisurely pace would likely take about a month, but that’s okay–what a fabulous experience. In fact, it’s one I would heartily recommend to any Canadian to add to their “100 things I have to do before I die” list; our own Canuck version of the Grand Tour, by train. One thing for sure: getting there (wherever “there” is) would certainly be half the fun.

Adopt a tree in your neighbourhood


My furry grandsons, Boomer and Lindy, are visiting for a few weeks while my daughter and her partner are in Europe. Both are rescued dogs and what I call Bitsas–bits of this and bits of that. Boomer is mainly Pomeranian, but I swear there's a dash of Jack Russell thrown in just for fun, and he's a little scamp. By contrast, Lindy is Mr. Chill–a lovely, laid back dog, possibly a cross between a Malamute and an Alsatian, with maybe a bit of chow. He has a huge double coat like a mastodon that Amy keeps shaved down, which makes him look like a puppy even though he's 12 or more–we think.

It's a treat having dogs in the house again (it's been several years since Star the wonder dog went to that big doghouse in the sky, and I still miss her). But I like being the grandma–having them over for visits, spoiling them with extra doggy treats, then giving them back. I'm not ready yet for another full-time commitment to a dog and all that entails, though I will be one day.

Having the furries here also means I have a perfect excuse to go for nice long aimless walks again in the morning and evening. These jaunts give me the chance to be nosy and look in people's gardens (and windows) as we go past. It's a great way to get ideas.

Happily for the three of us, there's a pretty park just a few minutes` walk away that has morning and evening off-leash hours. Strolling along this morning, I was admiring the beautiful trees in my neighbourhood. Here in Toronto, and despite all the long-range predictions for very hot weather, so far it's actually been a pretty cool summer with a fair bit of rain–lovely for the garden and for gardening, too. I'm especially pleased for the trees, which look particularly healthy and perky. In past summers, long dry spells made them look dusty, faded and sad; some distressed maples dropped their leaves early. This year, it's so far, so good. (There's an old Lithuanian saying, though, which roughly translated means “don't praise the day before the sun sets”–there's plenty of summer left and we ain't done yet, folks.)

If it's hot and dry in your neck of the woods and no rain in the forecast, please remember to water the trees, especially those that are a couple of years old or less. They need a good deep drink at least once a week just as much as your other plants do. If you see trees that are planted by the city or your municipality that are being neglected, how about adopting one and watering it until it gets well established? Even a bucket of water or two a week would really help. It makes me sad to see poor saplings make a brave start, only to struggle then give up the ghost through ignorance or neglect. Especially since it's so easily prevented.

A big welcome and watering wisdom

This is the first post on my new blog on our brand-new website. A blank slate. An empty page.

Luckily for me, I never suffer from writer's block. Not ever. Quite the reverse. Yee ha, blah blah blah and rein me in! So it should be easy to keep this up. Especially as this will be an off-the-cuff, anything-that-comes-into-my-head type of thing. Sometimes about gardening, and sometimes not. But let's at least start with a bit of gardening.

This morning I was up extra early to water my umpteen containers, some of which are in my shady rear garden and some on my sunny deck. In case you think I do this every day, let me put you wise. When it comes to my plants, I firmly believe in easy does it by getting the upper hand. It's a bit like having a child. Start them off right, treat them well, but establish a routine that suits you. At least that's my theory, and most of the time it does seem to work.

Because I have neither the time nor the inclination to water daily, I start the season by putting my plants in good soil mixes with a moisture-retaining product such as Soil Sponge (there are others), then mulch the pot's surface like mad. Though I create most of my own container designs, I also love to buy a few ready-planted hanging baskets at the supermarket for instant colour and effect. These are transplanted into slightly bigger containers topped up with really good soil and get the mulch treatment, too. I find this helps keep their closely packed, mega-fertilized plants from drying out too quickly, which in my experience the store-bought containers do.

In general, these few extra steps help me keep the (thorough) watering down to a couple of times a week, unless it's brutally hot and dry. Of course this doesn't mean you should let plants suffer and droop–but don't mollycoddle them with nervous little dribbles of water every day either. Instead, give them a good soaking with lukewarm water until it runs out of the bottom of the pot (drainage holes for the pot are an absolute must), then wait a few minutes and do it again. And don't forget to deadhead and add a weak solution of plant food every couple of weeks to keep blooms coming.

If your containers start to look straggly or a rambunctious plant is getting the upper hand, cut it back. I also find certain annuals, such as lobelia, pooch out fairly early in the season and aren't worth rescuing (or really, growing in pots, for that matter, no matter how pretty they may start out). Scaveola gives me a big beautiful jolt of purplish blue, too, and takes an awful lot of punishment without going all pouty and high maintenance–try it.

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