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An ingenious example of guerrilla gardening

guerrillagardening2If you can find them among the ever-growing piles of garbage in Toronto, abandoned newspaper boxes can be an unsightly blight on our street corners. Karina at Canadian Gardening magazine forwarded me a link yesterday afternoon to a local blogger’s attempt to beautify our city. ‘Blade Diary’ actually built wooden flower boxes this past spring that fit perfectly inside some of these abandoned, tagged garbage targets. I guess once some of the owners found out they gave the flower boxes the boot and starting using them again. Too bad…I like the petunias better.

You can find more photos of Blade’s gardening project here. He even shows sketches of his project plans!

Did anyone see these boxes in their urban habitat before they were taken away? Have you seen other great examples of guerrilla gardening where you live?

Welcome to a Gardener’s Playground

I've spent most of life playing in one garden or another. Both my grandmother and mother nurtured my green thumb from an early age. My Oma could make anything grow and she happily shared her gardening secrets with me as we puttered around her garden. I remember spending warm summer afternoons picking red currents for jam or munching on cucumbers freshly picked from the veggie patch. My mom's garden was always brimming with colourful blooms and she was never upset with me when she caught me stomping through her flowerbeds to pick the tulips, peonies, or dahlias. Instead, she gave me my very own garden where she encouraged me to explore and get my hands dirty.

It seemed only natural to study horticulture, landscape design and then publishing. During my summers and school holidays, I worked at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario as a student gardener. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to play in a public garden, where so many experienced gardeners have left their own `gardening fingerprint` by nurturing the vast collection of plants. I also worked at a few local garden centre where I played in the production and retail facilities. I did everything from working as a cashier and customer service rep, to drawing landscaping plans, to hosting seminars, but what I loved most was working in the greenhouse. I never truly appreciated how much time and effort was spent growing the plants behind the scenes. The whole process is very complex, from ordering the plugs, to planting, pinching, watering, fertilizing, replanting and then watching the swarms of gardeners scoop them up on the May long weekend. What an incredibly rewarding experience. Each season brought a new crop to nurture–annuals, mums, poinsettias, hydrangeas, Easter lilies–the list goes on and on.

From my first garden as a child, to an apartment filled with houseplants and a balcony brimming with containers, to a postage-sized townhouse plot, I've continued to play and learn. Today, I garden on a mature 75×175-foot lot an hour west of Toronto, which I share with my husband, daughter, dog, and four cats (much to their dismay, my feline friends are only permitted to admire the garden from indoors). Although it's a work in progress, it truly is my gardening playground! A little fun in the garden is good for your soil!

If you've got a thought or question to share, please post a comment!

Anja Sonnenberg

Canada Blooms finds a new home

This morning it was officially announced that next year, Canada Blooms will take place at the Direct Energy Centre located in Exhibition Place. This is a fabulous choice of venue, most notably because of the accessibility for visitors and vendors alike. I can just picture gorgeous floral displays in the vast, sunny hall. And you won’t feel like you’re descending into a cave when you head into the show.

It was also announced that the theme will focus on passions, whether it be a passion for plants and gardening or a passion for the environment, food, design, etc. I find this a little ambiguous as everyone who attends is quite obviously passionate about gardening and everyone who is involved with creating the gardens is passionate about their craft. It will be interesting to see how this theme is interpreted visually among the exhibits.

Into the wild

Lying about 45 minutes or so equidistant from Tampa and Orlando airports, not far from well-known, man-made attractions such as Disney World, is the “other” Central Florida of Polk County–a place of pretty little towns, rolling hills, myriad lakes, orange groves, astonishing public gardens and mysterious natural habitats that are little known to the casual visitor. And that’s where we’re going on the next few posts of this blog.

Our comfortable hotel, the Holiday Inn Winter Haven, is the jumping-off point for our adventures. Although I’d be a liar if I didn’t tell you there’s the usual share of what our “Gardens and Groves” tour leader Georgia Turner dubbed “Generica” here–that endless permutation of suburban strip mall/big box store/motel-and-fast-food-joint that seems to be found most anywhere you land–it’s well worth looking beyond that to discover what’s special, such as the Circle B Bar Reserve located between Bartow, Lakeland and Winter Haven.

A long allee of live oaks, beautifully festooned with Spanish moss, line the road to the newly opened Polk’s Nature Discovery centre at the edge of the reserve, where we learn more about the area and pick up our two volunteer tour guides, Ray and Herman. Then off we go into the wild.

It’s hard to believe that prior to 2000, the Circle B Bar’s 1267 acres of marsh, cypress swamp and oak hammock were mostly a working cattle ranch. Since that time, wildlife and nature have been allowed to take over and it’s now a haven for some 172 species of birds and numerous plants, many of them unique to this part of the state. Neither the lake nor the land have been stocked in any way, and Herman and Ray explained that wildlife and plants came back on their own after just five years.

A breeze ruffles my hair and the spring sun feels warm on my back. I am in heaven. The silence is broken only by the cries of birds and the rush of their wings. Wild turkeys, bald eagles, palm warblers, moor hens, pie-billed grebes, coots and especially the famous rare white pelicans (seen at the top of the page) are just some of the species to be found around Hancock Lake.

A big green water snake and a couple of alligators glide by. (The big old fella seen here smiled obligingly for my camera–or maybe he was just sizing me up for a snack.)

Next: Hollis Garden

Romantic Quebec City

My brother Pete says, “sometimes, the best view of home is in the rearview mirror.” This is especially true in midwinter, when we flower-starved gardeners need a little gingering up to keep us going through the cold, dark months. What to do?

How about luxury, fine dining and fun in Quebec City, one of the most romantic in North America? Our journalists’ Girlfriend Getaway included plenty of both.

First up was champagne and schnibbies in the Princess Grace suite of the historic Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac hotel. This was followed by a special menu in their restaurant created just for our group, and accompanied by lovely wines. In the photo is my appetizer: lobster salad with milkweed, pan fried scallops, caviar cream and ginger. Yum, yum, yum. Yes, it’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it. (www.fairmont.com)

Our sleepover host was the Hilton, which has a handy location right on the edge of the old city. My comfortable, newly renovated room looked down on Bonhomme Carnaval’s ice palace, with the mighty St. Lawrence river in the distance. (www.hiltonquebec.com)

The city is beautiful–the old part has a very European flair and its centre is very walkable, and around every corner you see lovely architecture and interesting sights. For example, I spotted all kinds of ingenious mini-toboggans, some with little canvas igloos on top, on which well-wrapped-up babies were being pulled around the streets with ease (sure beats trying to push a pram through the snow).

One of the highlights was a visit to the observatory, which is the city’s tallest building, with panoramic, 360 degree views, as shown by the photo at the top of this post. (www.observatoirecapitale.org).

And there are plenty of lively dining establishments to try, some with entertainment. One of these is the Voodoo Grill, which not only has an eclectic menu I’d describe as mediterranean-indo-chino-fusion, but also African art and belly dancers–one of whom shimmied around with a crown of lit candles on her head. (www.voodoogrill.com)

As someone who can barely be trusted to safely carry a lighted candle from point A to point B, I found this pretty impressive.

Tomorrow: off to the Eastern Townships

The Ice Hotel and a Nordic spa

For someone who hates the cold as much as I do, the very idea of an ice hotel sent shivers of horror down my spine. But the reality was quite magical and airy, less an igloo than perhaps what the palace of the Snow Queen in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale might have looked like.

A mere 30-minute drive from Quebec City, the Ice Hotel is redesigned and rebuilt each winter, and it’s quite the project. Some 15,000 tons of snow and 500 tons of ice are used in its construction, and the process takes about a month. There are 36 rooms where you can stay, a chapel (where some 30 weddings are celebrated each year) and a bar. Fun place. This year, the Ice Hotel will be open until March 29. To find out more, visit www.icehotel-canada.com.

Across the way is the station touristique Duchesnay, not only a hub for many area activities, but also a place where you can enjoy good meals and deluxe recreational amenities. Accommodation is available in cabins and lodges and in the Auberge Duchesnay, with its view of Lac St. Joseph, and you can opt for a combined package with the Ice Hotel. www.sepaq.com/duchesnay.

Nearby you’ll find the Tyst TrädgÃ¥rd (which means quiet garden) Nordic spa. There, dressed in bathing suits and terrycloth robes, with sturdy Crocs on our feet and hats on our heads, the Girlfriend Getaway gang, amid shrieks of high hilarity, gingerly made our way across an expanse of snow and ice to a deliciously hot therapeutic pool. A few steps away was a cold pool, and the idea was to alternate between some minutes in the hot water and a quick, bracing dunk in the cold, to rev up the circulation.

No dice, sister. While some intrepid souls complied, I contented myself with wallowing in the warm, merely standing up once in awhile for good form. I did lean into a snowbank to see what it would feel like (verdict: incredibly cold, followed by a ferocious burning sensation when I immersed myself back into the hot water). Next we went into a dry sauna, with an optional walk through a lukewarm waterfall. I actually braved this, and it really was lovely. Mother would be very, very proud.

Finally, swaddled in thick, polar fleece blankets, we relaxed in hammocks by a warm wood stove. Bliss. Tyst Trädgård also offers services such as massages, facials and lymphatic drainage. www.tysttradgard.com

Tomorrow: romantic Quebec City

The hills are alive: Day two

Another beautiful day in paradise. For breakfast, Carol, Shannon and I yum up some delicious spicy sausage rolls from the local bakery, washed down with lattes, then set off to visit four private gardens. They’re very different from one another–one is stuffed full of colourful annuals, another focuses on native plants, a third has charming vignettes and pretty corners galore and the final one is very shady–offering ample proof (as if I needed it) that you can create really lovely spaces even in a place with a really short growing season. Afterwards, we head for the famed Jasper Park Lodge to have a look around its stunning grounds. Talk about picture-postcard perfect.

Many of the lakes up here are jade green or bright, swimming-pool-turquoise in colour. I’m told this is caused by stirred-up sediment in the glacial runoff, which also gives me a clue as to the water’s temperature. Brrr. As someone who doesn’t venture into the water unless I can put my toe in without flinching, you won’t catch me going for a dip anytime soon. Come to think of it, I don’t see anyone else swimming, either.

At lunch, I devour a massive Cobb salad. Where is this appetite coming from? Thank heavens I don’t eat like this at home, for never mind gardener at large–I’d soon be known as the large gardener.

That afternoon, Shannon drives us to an area just beyond town known as the bench, where there are wonderful lookout points and numerous small lakes; even a path that takes us to a little island in the middle of one. Our feet are silent on a soft carpet of pine needles, and the sun-warmed conifers release their resin scent into the air. There are a few other people there, but nobody speaks. Too gobsmacked by beauty, I reckon.

(By the way, Shannon passed along the names of some of the plants that have proven to be elk-proof in her municipal displays. These include snapdragons, marigolds, alyssum, verbenas, salpiglossis [a.k.a. painted tongue], ‘Victoria Blue’ salvia farinacea, bidens, dusty miller, zinnias, gazanias and so far–those gorgeous godetias. Not a bad list for carefree colour.)

Later on, we return to our base and rest up to be ready for that evening’s excitement, courtesy of Jasper Adventure Centre. It’s a wildlife adventure tour, followed by a visit to Miette Hot Springs where we will take the waters–all told, a four-hour excursion by minivan. We see a female elk browsing by the side of the road, a bald eagle high up in a tree, and a little black bear. We don’t see a grizzly, which is another possibility, but that’s fine by me. Nothing scary or dangerous, thank you very much.

At the hot springs, which are sulfurous and smell a bit like rotten eggs, the water temperature is 104 degrees–now THAT’S more my kind of pool. Carol and I gratefully sink into its warmth and have a good, long wallow. It’s a perfect ending to our visit, for tomorrow we head back to Edmonton on the train to catch our red-eye flight home.

Welcome to The Budding Gardener!

Three years ago I bought a cute little bungalow (I like to refer to it as a cottage) with a pretty decent front and backyard–my own little paradise in the city. Since we moved in winter, my first summer was a game of waiting to see what sprouted up–and then trying to figure out if it was plant or weed. What a learning experience it has been–and sometimes an overwhelming one–as I often look around my yard trying to figure out what area needs my TLC first! I've discovered that puttering around in my garden is so calming and a nice retreat from my busy life–when my busy life (and the weather) don't interrupt my plans to garden! Though I wistfully aspire to perfection, I am comfortable with the fact that my gardens are a work in progress–they inspire me to learn more about gardening techniques and plants–and how not to kill them.

This blog will allow me to share my gardening adventures–trial and error, successes and disappointments. And because I am still a newbie, I have enlisted Canadian Gardening's horticultural editor, Anne Marie Van Nest to help me out with my gardening dilemmas from time to time. I hope to inspire other budding gardeners to grab a pair of gloves and start playing in the dirt!

The hills are alive! Day one

The town of Jasper is adorable–a small, sweet, neighbourly sort of place, with just two short main shopping streets that run parallel to each other, set in an immense and unspoiled national park. We disembark at the well-preserved and tasteful old railway station, and look around at the pretty buildings–a number of them lovingly restored–in their soft, natural colour palettes. The town has kept the architecture on the down-low (no highrises, and the very few fast-food joints are discreetly clustered together at one end) in order to let the stunning natural beauty of the setting take centre stage, and does it ever. I half-expect to see a young Julie Andrews whirling down a mountainside, singing “High On the Hill Was a Lonely Goatherd.” So I hum a few bars of it and do a little limbering-up yodel to get into the mountain mood (my travelling mantra, which allows me to great leeway for making a fool of myself, has always been “they’ll never see me again…”).

Carol and I are picked up at the station by Shannon Smith, who works for the Municipality of Jasper and looks after a phenomenal number of plantings around town–displays so lovely, they’ve been Communities in Bloom winners in past years. They’re not entering this year, because they’re short-staffed, so Carol and I especially appreciate the fact Shannon’s giving up a day to show us around–a day she can ill afford, and which will mean putting in extra hours to try to get all the work (and the weeding) done. I only wish we were around longer so we could pitch in and help.

Despite Shannon’s disclaimers, the town’s plantings are over-the-top luxurious and look award-worthy to me. She says another problem is browsing elk that like to come down into town at night looking for a floral feast. I marvel at a particularly effective display of brilliantly coloured godetia, planted en masse in one of the beds, which the elk haven’t yet discovered, and make a mental note to both avoid solitary, night-time walks and watch where I step.

The local merchants have gotten in on the floral act as well, with almost every little shop boasting a humongous hanging basket or overstuffed window box. All this floral splendour is especially impressive when you consider Jasper’s growing season is very short and its planting zones ranges from 2 to 0, depending upon how high up we’re talking. Jack Frost is definitely be making an appearance very soon.

As you might expect, there are lots of various gift shoppes and expedition outfitters in Jasper. And loads of little local restaurants, too (some of them are a tad pricey, but you can find value if you look). I discover that, for a nominal corkage fee, you can buy wine at a local shop and take it into some of these restos. How civilized.

And the air! My city-toughened, oxygen-deprived body gratefully sucks it in, then immediately starts clamouring for food and sleep. Shannon’s friends Kim and Sharon Rands, who offer accommodation in their home for visitors (according to Shannon, some 40 per cent of Jasper’s residents do this), have kindly agreed to put up Carol and me in their pretty, well-equipped and conveniently located home. Our quarters are separate from theirs, and each of our bedrooms has a television, so we can watch a bit of the Olympics, too. Tomorrow we’re off to the Jasper Park Lodge and other beauty spots, but for now it’s lights out and zzzzzzzzzzz.

Rocky mountain high

Heading toward Jasper, the mountains sneak up on us. Flat, flattish, less flat then foothills. The train flashes past deep gorges and gleaming, silvery lakes, my view is intermittently obscured by groves of trees, by hillocks and berms and rusty red freight trains. And then we round another corner and pow! There they are: The Rockies.

Are we almost there yet? Yes!

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