{ Archive for the ‘seeds’ Category }

Transitioning from late spring to early summer

It’s with a certain sadness that I bid adieu to the last daffodils to bloom in my garden. Known botanically as Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus (Zone 4), they bear flowers with small, red-rimmed golden cups (or coronas) that are surrounded by pure white recurved petals (known as perianth segments). Native to Switzerland and commonly called “old pheasant’s eye”, their blossoms are deliciously fragrant, and a perfect example of a genus going out with a bang rather than a whimper.

Apart from Switzerland, one of the best places to see old pheasant’s eye growing wild is in northern England, up to the Scottish Borders where—in a climate not unlike that of their homeland—they have naturalised over hundreds of years, and now cover entire hillsides. All you have to do is follow your nose, as you’re likely to smell their sweet scent before actually clapping eyes on their breathtaking flowers en masse. They’ll naturalise in Canada too (albeit more slowly), providing you let them set seed and allow their leaves to mature.

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Spring fling

Spring is bustin’ out all over” …to mangle the Rodgers and Hammerstein song title ever so slightly. And after about a week of “normal” temperatures, everything seems to be popping out of the ground at the same time.

As if to prove it, a clump of our gorgeous native pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens, Zone 3)—native from Ontario to Yukon—is blooming at the same time as some neighbouring (squirrel-planted) broad-leaved grape hyacinths (Muscari latifolium, Zone 4) which are usually busy producing seed by the time the pasque flowers bloom.


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The first perennials to flower in spring

It’s always a neck-and-neck contest to see whether it will be the small spring bulbs (snowdrops, snow crocuses and winter aconites) or hellebores (Helleborus spp. and cvs.) that win the race to produce the first flowers of the new gardening season once the witchhazels have finished.

In my garden, the snowdrops won the cup this year, but when the white stuff finally melted, it revealed hellebore blossoms that had already partially opened under a thin, insulating layer of snow.

We often get mail at this time of year asking whether gardeners should remove the leathery overwintering leaves of hellebores, or leave them in place to die down naturally (as with daffodils and tulips). The answer is that it’s really a matter of personal taste. Some gardeners feel that the old foliage offers protection against spring frosts, while others say that the previous season’s leaves detract from the plant’s overall appearance.

You be the judge, here’s the “before snipping” picture of two separate clumps:

And here’s the hellebore on the right, several days later:


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Join Canadian Gardening at the 2014 Toronto Flower Market!

The Toronto Flower Market returns to the city this Saturday, May 10. Debuting at its new location in the heart of Queen West (1056 Queen St. W. between Ossington and Dovercourt), this outdoor flower and plant market brings stalls of bright blooms to the city just in time for Mother’s Day.

{Illustration by Courtney Wotherspoon}

To help celebrate the start of its 2014 season, Canadian Gardening will be participating in the festivities and we’re inviting you to join, too!
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Springtime gift giving

I’m kind of excited about this little surprise I’ve got ready for my sister’s birthday next week, and I thought I’d show it off as maybe you would like to do something similar. Although that pretty much means the end of the surprise. Happy Birthday, Jenni!

Step one: choose a pretty bowl or vase.  I found one with a cable-knit design, because Jenni’s an extraordinary knitter. If you’re thinking Easter, a cute flower bowl such as one of these might do nicely.

Step two: fill it with goodies! I know what you’re thinking: chocolate! But we are gardeners, and of course, we are not swayed by such mundane things as chocolate. Goodies equals seeds!

Be sure to match your seed choices with the right person. Not everyone wants to baby a finicky flower; a seasoned veteran might welcome the challenge. I’ve got a bunch of seed that’s been harvested by myself or friends which I wanted to share with my sister, but you could just as easily use packets of commercial seed. Bonus for that route: instructions included! I’m not worried about Jenni having instructions; a landscape design/arbourculture degree, her, and Google make a pretty good team.

But instructions or no, go for making things pretty. Find some cool paper (keep it lightweight for easy folding),scissors, and some ribbon, stickers, decorative tape, or twine. Fancy pens optional.

I’m recycling my paper from an old printer’s sample book and a desk calendar. If you are packaging saved seed, make sure to fold each side over a few times to keep the seeds from escaping. If you feel like getting right into it, try making decorative envelopes like these – just be sure all edges are sealed. If you’re using prepackaged, all they need is a pretty wrapper.

 

Here's one way to do it -- I folded the long sides in first.

Then tuck all your little packets of goodness into the bowl, with a couple of other little trinkets that suit the season or the recipient: pussy willows, a notebook…

Oh, all right, you might as well throw some really good chocolate in there while you’re at it. If you must.

 

Who cares about soil temperature?

The snow is melting, the cows are calving, and the calendar looks right, but for me, I know it’s really spring because I can smell it. I hope you know what I mean: that earthy, damp scent that’s starting to waft around when the sun is bright. So exciting! Time to grow things! Whip out those seed packets and let’s start digging, right?
Unfortunately, no. At least not outside. Not yet.
I had to learn to curb my enthusiasm the hard way: losing more than a few seeds. Some years I was sure it was frost. Other years it was obvious they had been rotted out from too much rain. Or maybe I’d planted some old or bad seed to begin with. But the main culprit went unidentified until I started hanging out with farmers.
When growing things is not just a hobby but your livelihood, you pay extra attention to some details an average gardener may be clueless about. Such as soil temperature.
You may have heard people talking about the soil “warming up,” maybe referring to how raised beds warm up quicker, allowing earlier planting. They aren’t just talking about the dirt “thawing,” as any farmer can tell you: there are ideal temperatures for the germination of different crops, and if the soil is too cool, you end up with uneven growth or damaged seed, and those depressing blank spots in your rows.
When I learned this, I looked back and realized this was why some years I could get away with planting earlier–the mild spring had fast forwarded the soil warming–and some years even mid-May plantings were sluggish in the cool damp.
So as much as you’d like to dig in, don’t be in too much of a rush. This time of year, you’re probably just wasting your time. Better to use your enthusiasm indoors.

Celebrate Plant a Flower Day

Did you know that today is Plant a Flower Day? I’d like to celebrate by sending these pretty plantable gift tags.

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‘Tis the season for Seedy Saturdays

This past weekend, I headed to St. Catharines with my husband to attend Niagara Seedy Saturday. The event was bustling. I could barely get near some of the seed tables at certain points, the seminar I attended about composting was standing room only, and the fresh roast beef lunch and pie served by the church where the event was held was evidently really popular. Read the rest of this entry »

Wintermission withdrawal

We are buried, once again, in several inches of snow today (Ontario and the Maritimes also, I hear) and I’ve got the blues.

It’s Canada, and it’s winter. There will be snow and cold. I get that. But during the last few weeks, we have had a good share of pleasant weather in Southwestern Alberta, what we like to call a ‘wintermission’. The kids were walking around without coats, let alone gloves, and the pussy willow catkins have come out. That last is a little disturbing, I know, but you take the lack of mittens and the abundance of fuzzy-tipped twigs, and add seed catalogue season to the mix, and you have a recipe for spring fever. Read the rest of this entry »

Fall seeding in the sandbox

Late this summer, my friend Halli led me through her fading garden collecting flower seeds for me to bring back from my visit. Many of the plants she showed me were planted by her grandmother, self seeding annuals that have thrived for years outside the family home. There were nasturtiums, poppies, blanket flowers, sweet peas, and bellflowers. Some were familiar, some were new, and all got me excited about adding them to my own garden.

 

Then I got home and life took over.

I took the seeds out of the plastic I brought them home in, but the plate where I spread them to dry got knocked over, and the little slip of paper where I had noted the description and identity of each seed went missing. I moved the seeds to a safer location, and forgot all about them.

Now, here we are, the beginning of November, and I’m feeling guilty. I can’t waste this gift, but we’ve already had a couple of snow falls. The ground is starting to freeze. Should I hang on to them until next year, and hope they are still viable? Shall I give them an artificial winter in the fridge?

To the rescue: what I call my “sandbox” (an idea I think I gleaned from Marjorie Harris)–a little spot of ground specifically left empty for playing, experimenting, and housing the random plants that jump into your hands at the greenhouse. Mine is in a little corner of the front flower bed, out of immediate view, but close enough to where the action is that it doesn’t get forgotten. I think it will make the perfect way station for Halli’s seeds. Loosely sown on the soil surface, scratched in just a little, they should ride out the winter in the way they were meant to, and in the spring (hopefully) I will have a riot of new faces to sort through.

Replacing the leaves that naturally gather in this corner will add some winter protection.

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