Gardening Blog

Houseplant for the holidays: Norfolk Island pine

Have you seen them yet?

They show up every year right about now, with glossy bright green foliage that could capture the heart of any gardener entering GSW (Growing Season Withdrawal). Looking for all the world like miniature, limey-er Christmas trees, Norfolk Island pines are often sold in pots in North America, though back home in the South Pacific they grow to be proper, full-on trees. Not a true pine, Araucaria heterophylla has softer ‘needles’ and a somewhat droopy habit reminiscent of cedars or–dare I say it–palm trees. Its unique blend of familiar and exotic elements, combined with its sheer aliveness whilst everything else is going to sleep, make it an easy sell at the Walmart checkout.

I, in my short but illustrious career, have already killed two. One succumbed to either too much water or too little light, the other I’m quite certain disapproved of the cold draft it got every time someone opened the front door. My sister kept one out of drafts, in bright, indirect light, with infrequent watering, and it lived for ages as one of the happiest, loveliest houseplants you could wish for.

I am determined to try again. Third time’s the charm?

 

How I accidentally joined a horticultural society

I was up in Calgary this week with Chris for an eye appointment and to see Neil Young in concert (why yes, it was amazing, thank you for asking) and we found ourselves with a few hours to kill in-between. He wanted to hit the hobby shop, and I wanted to have a tiny snooze before rocking it in the free world. So I parked the car, he went in, and I closed my eyes–but not before spotting the little house tucked beside the parking lot. The little house with the lovely, snow-filled garden and the sign reading “Calgary Horticultural Society“.

I sat there pseudo-sleeping, thinking about popping in to say hello. I had been to their big garden show back in April, but had not signed up for a membership, rationalizing that I live three hours away and wouldn’t be able to attend any events anyway, except maybe the show again in the spring… Anyhow, I was supposed to be napping. Besides, even the term ‘horticultural society’ seems formidable… I feel like donning my rose gauntlets and a British accent as soon as I think the words. Aren’t these kind of societies for the snobbery? Will they test me on my Latin before starting any kind of conversation? I might as well have been back in high school, that’s how awkward I felt.

Well, the bunny got the better of me. Yup, right there in the heart of the city, a little brown bunny nibbling on the elite Horticultural Society ground cover. I got up and in I went.

This is the part where I apologize to Janet and Maryjo for the snobbery comments above, for the lovely ladies I spoke to in the office were anything but snobs. They welcomed me warmly and we had a short chat about upcoming events, their (beautiful and useful) newsletter, bunnies, and raccoons. Before I knew it we were swapping emails and I was promising to buy a membership and check out their online forums.

I feel silly now for being so apprehensive. I know I’m not getting everything I could be out of gardening unless I connect with other people who share my interest.  I love our ownCanadianGardening.com forums for this purpose, but I’m looking forward to the calhort.org ones, because only a Southern Albertan really knows the meaning of a chinook.

So that’s your challenge this week: search out a connection with your gardening community. Whether it’s someone down your street, at your favourite greenhouse, online, or in a club or society, we all need someone with whom we can share, complain, brag, and learn.

Garden eye spy: Photography tip

Last week I gushed about the beauty and promise of morning light and apparently I can’t get enough of it! Here is another garden photo illuminated by a sunny glow and this week I’m going to share a photography tip so you too can capture a beautiful moment like this on camera!
The trick to achieving an image with a soft ethereal glow is to make sure that your light source (the sun, if you’re using natural night) is behind your photo subject. When shooting a flower in particular this ensures that the petals will be illuminated and retain their colour. If you photograph a flower with a strong light source hitting it from the front, the flower will become washed out or very high contrast which ruins the aesthetic of the image.

Once your light source is properly lined up, shoot ‘through’ the flower — not from above, not from below, but directly through it to capture the colours and glow at the same time. If need be use a camera hood or cup your hand above the camera lens to avoid any unwanted flares. Happy photographing!

(Laura L. Benn is the Multi-brand Web Content Editor at TC Media. Follow her writing, photography and other creative ventures on her popular blog LLB {words + photos}  or via Twitter.)

Poppy day

It’s almost Remembrance Day, and I’m slightly annoyed.
Excuse me while I grab my soapbox.
The Halloween sugar rush hadn’t even gotten up to full steam before I started seeing Christmas show up in the decor and on the shelves around town. What’s up with that? Remembrance Day has become the forgotten holiday, the little afterthought on the commercial calendar. I mean, it’s not even two weeks after the candy carnival, and there’s a full six weeks to brough-ha-ha over the mid-winter festival of your choice. Can’t we take a measly eleven days to focus on the lessons of history? To acknowledge the freedom we have to be over the top about pagan and religious observances? Maybe we don’t like to look death and war in the face. It’s not pleasant. But isn’t it important?
Okay, my soapbox is back under the bed. This week, after being inundated with leftover candy and resisting the premature onslaught of tinsel, I attended the pre-Remembrance Day ceremony held at my children’s school. I found myself appreciative of the respect shown there, but left wondering what I could do to more fully recognize the holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I do not want to add Remembrance Day to the list of commercialism casualties. But I wish I had a pot of Papaver rhoeas in my house right now.
They’re an agricultural weed in Europe, which is why they grew so readily on the graves of the dead in Flanders. Some enterprising soul could probably make a go at providing us live plants to go with our fake lapel pins, with the proceeds going to the Legion, or Unesco, or something.
There are many poppies out there, and I enjoy my Iceland poppies (Papaver nudicaule) in the summer. But I’m wishing for a little shot of the red ones right now to offset all the snow and help me remember Poppy Day. Maybe next year I’ll be thinking ahead and time it right to do it myself, but for now, I guess I’ll be content to pay my respects with a replica poppy, and all of my heart.

Gardening gizmos for the techy-types

As promised, I’ve been experimenting with a bunch of gardening apps on my iPad this week. Here’s the ones I tried, and what I thought of them. All available on the App Store; sorry Androidians, I can’t help you, but comment if you can help each other! Click on the images to see the details and screenshots for each app.

Toolkit HD, Applied Objects, $3.99

This is a slick, easy to use little package, an everything-in-one-place tool for to-do lists, your garden diary, and plant lists. Lots of nice features, like being able to tag your diary entries so you can go back and find your notes about the last time you pruned that apple tree, and making a plant list for your particular garden or gardens (up to four separate ones) with details such as when they were planted and when they will mature/bloom.  It gives advice based on your hardiness zone, but the plant lists (which I found on the limited side anyway) don’t adjust to your zone. You can add custom plants with pictures, along with all their sun/water/soil/temperature info, but they aren’t added to the main (search-able) plant list.  The Glossary is pretty good, a little simplistic maybe, but it links to Wikipedia if you want more info.  This strikes me as a great starting place for a beginning gardener who wants to be more organized, or the more advanced gardener if they’re looking more for record keeping.

 

Eden Garden Designer, Herbaceous Software, $1.99

This is a fun little app that is very visual, whereas Toolkit is very list-oriented. You can choose an imaginary background, or load a picture of your own landscape, and then fill it with plants, rearrange the plants, look at what would be blooming at certain times of year… you can even control the amount of wind and insects! It’s a great little gardening fix mid-winter or mid-city. That said, the plant lists are somewhat simplistic. There’s just “hosta”, no varieties or anything, and the plant choices are limited (you can buy additional groups of plants for $0.99). So as far as using this for designing, it’s great for generating ideas and getting a general idea for how things might look, but it won’t get you anywhere with detailed planning. Still, a fun little program.

 

LawnCAD, Nathan French, $4.99

This is a compact little Computer-Aided Drafting app that will likely appeal to the planners and math brains out there. I’ve never used a CAD program other than this, so I can’t really compare it or speak about its usefulness on a professional level, but as a layman I’m loving the interface, the preciseness, and the itty-bitty power trip that comes from building and erasing entire landscapes in one swipe. Warning: you must love nit-picky details to love this app.

 

Grow Planner, Growing Interactive, $9.99

A little more expensive than most, this app is really a case of you get what you pay for. Provided by the well-respected Mother Earth News, this app does everything but put the seeds in the ground. You draw the size and shape of the beds you want, choose the veggies, herbs, and flowers you want to grow (right down to the variety–it’s linked to all the best known seed catalogues) and it tracks how many plants should fit in that space, when they should be planted, when they should be harvested, and when the bed will be ready for succesion planting. You can choose traditional rows or square foot gardening. If you use it multiple seasons, it tracks what was where what year so you can ensure good crop rotation. Make notes, research varieties, tweak your frost dates, add custom plants. It will even email you planting reminders if you want. If you grow vegetables, you will love this app.

 

 

And now, just for fun:

Plants Vs. Zombies, PopCap, $0.99 (iPad version)

This is a ridiculously addicting game in which your garden plants defend your home from invading zombies. I know, ridiculous, right? But oh so fun.

 

 Happy Little Farmer, GiggleUp Kids Apps and Educational Games, $1.99

This is a gorgeous little game involving planting, caring for, and harvesting crops around the farm. My kids from 3 through 8 love it, and even my twelve year old can’t help watching. The motions are simple and the directions clear, and there are all kinds of cute little hidden surprises. An absolutely stellar game for little people.

Garden eye spy: Roses are red

What is it about roses that inspire adoration? For me I think it has something to do with my father’s prized English rose garden struggling to survive the harsh Canadian climate each year, thus making the triumphant fanfare of blossoms all the more impressive when they finally arrived. Or perhaps it is as simple as bold colour being captured within intricately grown petals. Whatever the reason, roses are my favourite floral subject to photograph.
This rose portrait was taken last weekend during a leisurely post-brunch stroll. I love the delicate folds, the soothing colour and the unexpected almost romantic pattern that lingers within this flower. Part of me is tempted to print this image to canvas and hang in my bedroom as a piece of artwork. Do you love roses as much as I do?

(Laura L. Benn is the Multi-brand Web Content Editor at TC Media. Follow her writing, photography and other creative ventures on her popular blog LLB {words + photos}  or via Twitter.)

The virtual garden

I have palm trees in my garden.
No, really.
I still live in Alberta, and there’s snow on the ground, but my garden is full of palm trees, and there are NO WEEDS.
Okay, so the garden happens to be on my iPad, but still.
Seeing as how the ground is freezing up and I’m transitioning from real gardening to the imagining of next year, I thought I’d spend a little time in the App Store digging for some gardening gizmos.
One of the first I fiddled with was LawnCAD, a landscape drawing program ($4.99), and along with the other trees and rectangles, you can place palm trees! And pines, and bushes, of course. I’m finding it kind of finicky to work with so far, but that may be because I’m a layman; maybe it’s great for professionals. Point is, I’m visualizing my house surrounded by palm trees. An innocent winter pleasure.

Next week I’ll tell you more about some of the apps I’ve found. In the meantime, tell me about your favourite virtual gardening gadgets. What works? What doesn’t?

The digging of the potatoes

After plugging them into the ground in early June, my potatoes have lived without the interference of human attention. Unless you count the sprinkler blanketed over the whole garden. My mom is visiting this week and she keeps asking what she can help with (!!). So far, she’s washed every dish as soon as it was dirtied and made some serious headway with the laundry. To spare her from reading the same Dora the Explorer picture book for the tenth time, I suggested we head outside and dig the last of the veggies. My youngest daughter had to get in on the action, of course. She seems way more excited about these potatoes than the ones I have put on her plate before. Think she’ll start eating them now?

Garden eye spy: Morning light

When is your favourite time to be in a garden? The sun-kissed afternoon? The late serene evening? I personally love the very early morning for one special reason; soft light. Everything looks more magical in those few precious hours before the world fully wakes and gives way to its inevitable hustle and bustle. A romantic quality lingers wherever the light touches.
Take this pretty blossom for example. Standing on its own off to the side of a garden path, it is probably overlooked most of the time. But in the gentle glow of morning it becomes illuminated, the centre of attention, the star of the walkway.

(Laura L. Benn is the Multi-brand Web Content Editor at TC Media. Follow her writing, photography and other creative ventures on her popular blog LLB {words + photos}  or via Twitter.)

Quick frost cover-up

Remember the Cubs’ pumpkins?

Since helping the boys start the plants this spring, I have been gently nudging Chris to get his boys to take care of them (or take care of them himself), since it’s really their project, and I’ve got plenty of over things I’m already not on top of.

I “suggested” he’d better cover them up one night a couple of weeks ago, as there was a good chance of frost, but stayed out of it beyond pointing him to the burlap and the extra sheets. Guess what that guy did? Instead of using the flat sheets and weighing down the corners like I would have done, he grabbed fitted sheets and snuggled them right over the plants. The elastic was just right to hold the sheet on the plant without rubbing or breaking leaves.

Genius, right?

And look what they’ve got to show for it:

Ta-da! 'Jack of All Trades' has my endorsement for strong growth and quick fruit. Seeds, flesh, and carving: TBA

 

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