Gardening Blog

Garden eye spy: New perspectives


The great outdoors has always been a magical place for me personally. Ever since I was a little girl, immersed in storybooks of secret gardens and enchanted forests, I have adored spending time amidst pretty blooms, swaying boughs and luscious, thick grass, discovering a whole new world of tiny creatures and wondrous happenings.

That is why I am beyond thrilled to present today a new column here on the Canadian Gardening blog, entitled ‘Garden Eye Spy.’  Each week we will showcase a new photograph and a new perspective from which to view a garden space, once again capturing that childhood sense of wonder that so often becomes lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

This charming snail fellow caught my eye moseying his way around a flowerbed border, an adorable reminder that gardens are not meant for rushing around in, but rather meandering through with care. Who knew a snail could instill such spring garden inspiration? Have a wonderful long weekend everyone!

{Laura L. Benn is the Multi-brand Web Content Editor at TC Media.  Follow her writing, photography and other creative ventures on her blog, Acquired Taste or via Twitter.}

Lovage, that loveable herb

I toured the garden this evening after finishing prepping the veggie beds (three points for me!) and ended up doing another hour’s worth of random weed pulling, tidying, and assessing. I discovered, to my dismay, that my sage has all succumbed to public enemy number one (quack grass, for those new to my gardening adventures) and that my parsley has disappeared entirely (rabbits?). Add this to the basil I killed in the windowsill already, the tarragon that was inadvertently dug up last fall, and the savory that called it quits in the shade, and things are looking downright sad in the herb department for me. As in, the chives are alive. I was wallowing in a little black-thumb pity party when I rounded the corner by the garage and met with this sight:

Lovely lovage, in all its bushy glory, happily reminding me I’m not a complete failure. I picked a spring and inhaled the sharp, clean celery scent and a smile returned to my face. I don’t know what I’m making for supper tomorrow, but lovage will be involved. And possibly chives.

Low-maintenance Monday: Epimedium

The Rodney Dangerfield of plants, Epimedium, commonly called barrenwort or bishop’s hat, doesn’t get the respect it deserves. This underused plant is a superhero in the shady garden, providing colour and texture where few plants dare to go. Eight of the 17 expert gardeners interviewed in Gardening from a Hammock selected various forms of barrenwort for the shade garden. Although this perennial looks delicate, it is “tough as nails” says one.

It is a dependable, no-nonsense groundcover says garden lecturer Frank Kershaw. “It takes sun in the rockery and shade in the woodland and keeps its leaves into winter.” He adds that it is tough and flexible enough to flourish in dry shade. Depending on the variety, white, pink or yellow flowers appear from May to June while the heart-shaped leaves emerge bright green with a slight tinge of pink or red and later run a deeper green; by autumn they take on yellow, bronze or red tones.

Not only does this perennial form a lovely carpet of interesting leaves, but the flowers can work with many themes.

Epimedium comes in three colours: red (rubrum), yellow (sulphureum) and white (niveum). Aldona Satterthwaite, executive director of Toronto Botanical Garden, teams the yellow Epimedium with ghost fern, Bowles golden sedge and golden Japanese forest grass for a spectacular combination of colour, texture and interest in the shady garden.

Barrenwort is a lazy gardener’s treasure because it will grow under just about anything, including maple trees. Dugald Cameron, of gardenimport.com, recommends the variety ‘Frohnleiten’ because while the regular species has blossoms that hide under its leaves, this one holds its butter-yellow blossoms above the heart-shaped leaves. The glossy leaves are a bonus as they turn deep red in autumn.

Chalk Lake Nursery owner and teacher Martin Galloway adds that the old foliage of barrenwort crumples and covers the ground in winter through spring, at which time the new leaves rise above the old in company with the flowers. “It is slow growing but consistent, will live forever and is drought tolerant and tough,” he says.

All varieties of barrenwort are hardy, bloom in the shade and are an excellent groundcover or edging. They can brighten up a woodland garden in full or part-shade. Typically barrenwort grows 20-25 cm high with a 15-30 cm spread in zones 4-9.

Sedum spurium ‘John Creech’ is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

Gardener’s toes and a Mother’s Day note

So I was edging the veggie patch this week with some help from my almost-twelve-year-old daughter. I was cutting, she was pulling away the  hunks of sod, and the hunks were raining soil down around our feet, as hunks of sod will sometimes do. And these words came out of my flip-flop sporting offspring:

“Oh, man, there go my summer feet.”

Three things went through my mind in quick succession:

1. This girl has finally turned girly if she’s worrying about her pedicure

2. That’s what you get, child, for your lousy choice of footwear for the occasion

and

3. My definition of summer feet and yours are very, very, different.

This is what I think off when I hear "summer feet." Alas, she, and her feet, are a little bigger now.

Indeed, I looked down at her fancy polished nails, and even flecked with bits of crumbly black they did look rather lovely and fun. I glanced to my own feet, booted for the occasion, and imagined what I would find there at the end of the day. I don’t need to describe it, do I?

As the summer goes on, I know the dirt will keep sneaking in under the nails, the calouses will thicken, and I will so not be ready for my close up without some serious intervention. And my hands? Ditto. Dried up, beat up.

There are lots of good products out there for cleaning and moisturizing geared specifically to gardeners, but I’ll share my favourite homemade trick with you, guaranteed to trade in “gardener’s” summer feet for “fancy” summer feet:  mix a little olive oil with a couple of tablespoons of regular white sugar until you have a nice paste. Massage your feet and/or hands for a few minutes with the mixture. It will moisturize and exfoliate at the same time. (You can add a little essential oil if you like; lavender is nice for relaxation, peppermint for refreshing tired toes.) Rinse with warm water.  Enjoy.

Side note: to all the ladies out there who have borne children, adopted children, loved, taught, scolded, or spoiled children, or intend to do so someday: Happy Mother’s Day! I’ve already gotten one of my gifts: a new compost rake (aka dandelion or thatching rake) I’ve been wanting. But my favourite Mother’s Day gift is when we all go for a little hike behind our town and hunt for wildflowers. That’s what I’ll be doing Sunday afternoon. Do I have it good? Oh yes I do.

Low-maintenance Monday: Sedum ‘John Creech’

I don’t like all the work in maintaining a perfect lawn—mowing, re-seeding, weeding—and watering the lawn just seems wasteful. Our dog also does not help the cause.

In Gardening from a Hammock, the book I wrote with Dan Cooper, we were advised by several gardeners to “ditch the grass.” Teacher, biologist and nursery owner Martin Galloway suggested a sedum lawn instead; using a variety of sedums that would provide colour and texture with little need to water or weed. Although we may not all want to replace our lawns, sedums are most welcome anywhere in the garden. And if we were to choose a favourite, it would be Sedum spurium ‘John Creech.’

Commonly called stonecrop, this plant was named after plant explorer John Creech, a retired horticulturist from the US National Arboretum. On his travels to Siberia, he discovered this plant and obtained the original from the Central Siberian Botanic Garden in 1971. ~ Image courtesy of Northscaping Inc.

Like many sedums, ‘John Creech’ is low growing—only about five to 10 cm—and is a fast-growing groundcover, spreading 25 to 30 cm. It provides a green carpet of tiny, rounded, deep-green leaves with small clusters of pink, star-like flowers in late spring through early summer.

It is a favourite low-maintenance plant because, once established, you can simply forget about it. ‘John Creech’ is a workhorse in all kinds of soil from zones 2 to 9.  Although it is most commonly used as a hardy groundcover, it can be so much more. This modest plant needs a publicist to shout out its attributes. It can be used:

  • As a groundcover that works well on both flat and sloped areas
  • For edging
  • As an accent in a rock garden
  • In containers where it will cascade over the sides.

As well, it is non-invasive, keeps its colour in full sun, is deer resistant, drought tolerant and attracts butterflies. If that is not enough, here is the best part: the leaves are so dense that they choke out the weeds.

Sedum spurium ‘John Creech’ is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

Previewing plants from President’s Choice

The annual President’s Choice Lawn & Garden Insider’s Report luncheon is a hot-ticket event for garden writers, because we get to turn our plots into trial gardens. This year, a room at the Toronto Botanical Garden was turned into a greenhouse so we could preview all the hot new plants that we’ll find at garden centres this spring. And let’s face it, most of us will make it to one of Loblaw’s parking lot nurseries at least once. Who doesn’t love buying a chicken, a Joe Fresh T-shirt and a dahlia or two in one shopping trip? Plus, I have to say their plants are always top-notch and affordable. I was able to chat with some of the growers, as well as listen to them tell the whole group of us about their breeding programs and their latest innovations.

Here are just a few of the plants I’m excited about. I’ll be including others in a “Hot plants for 2012″ piece premiering next week! Also premiering next week is the Lawn & Garden Insider’s Report. Keep an eye out for it in stores!

1. Haskap berries
To be honest, I had never heard of these little gems until Signe Langford wrote about them in her 2012 “new edibles to try” piece. Apparently they taste like a cross between a raspberry and a blueberry. Apparently you need two different varieties to get adequate pollination. I got ‘Indigo Gem’ and ‘Indigo Treat’. Excited to see how they grow–and to taste the berries!

Haskap berries

2. Brunnera Jack Frost
This will be one of my first purchases from the nursery this year. Named “perennial of the year” for 2012, brunneras are deer-resistant and shade-loving. This will be a perfect plant for the back of my lot where the tree canopy casts a giant shadow for most of the day, and where the deer enter the yard if they’re in the neighbourhood!

Brunnera 'Jack Frost'

3. Suncatcher Pink Lemonade Petunias
Last year it was the black petunia. This year, it’s all about pink lemonade. The colour on these blooms is just so unique and pretty, and they’ll contrast nicely with most other hues.

Suncatcher Pink Lemonade Petunia

4. Lanai Verbena Twister Pink
This pretty little number is so unique with its ring of miniature, two-toned blooms around a hollow centre. These will be fantastic for pots. I have a cone-shaped bamboo wall planter that I bought at the Ideal Home & Garden Show in Hamilton. I think one or two are destined to be included in it!

Lanai Verbena Twister Pink

5. PC Vegetables in a Cage
President’s Choice always has great edible plant offerings for both small and large spaces. A couple of years ago it was the upside-down, hanging tomato basket, last year it was the salad bowl garden. This year they’ve introduced vegetables all potted up with a cage around them. All you need to do is add water!

PC Vegetables in a Cage

How to keep the bugs out, noise down, and people moving

Ah, the sounds of spring.

Birds chirping, rain on the rooftops, humming bees. But not so pleasant is the equally seasonal racket of lawnmowers chugging back to life, and, at least at my house, the slamming doors as everyone traipses in and out to enjoy the sunshine.

While there’s not much to be done about the lawnmowers (unless the whole neighbourhood switched to reel mowers), my mother-in-law has a genius idea for dealing with the door slamming. She has hung a bead curtain in her doorway, instead of a screen door. It’s dense enough to hold off most of the flying insects, but heavy enough that it doesn’t fly everywhere in the wind like a regular curtain or one made of ribbon. The dogs and/or kids can go back and forth from house to yard without fiddling with handles, wearing out tired hinges, or catching fingers. Also very handy when you’ve got your own hands full of food destined for the barbecue… but now we’re talking the smells of spring. We’ll leave that for later.

 

Bamboo is a common material for bead curtains. I really like this one. (amazon.com) I also found ones made with fibre optic lights in them!

Here's one made of recycled bottle tops. That sounds like a lot of work...

 

Kind of funky, but not so good in the bug department, I'd bet. shopwildthings.com has lots more; check local specialty shops, thrift stores, or even Walmart.

 

Low-maintenance Monday: Paperbark maples

No matter how fast the pace on my morning walk, I always make a dead stop in front of one house–the one that has three paperbark maples on the front lawn. No matter what the season, there is always something special on these small trees: the bark in winter, the flowers in spring, the shape in the summer and the blazing leaf colour in the fall. 


Acer griseum, or paperbark maple, is a real showstopper. It can be the ornamental focal point of a garden and it provides interest year-round.

This paperbark image was taken at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Most striking–and most obvious–is its dramatic, exfoliating bark. It has shades of cinnamon red and brown throughout the year, peels in thin sheets and also looks smoothly polished in other places. This alone would be enough in a plant to make it a star, but there is much more.

In early spring, small yellow flowers appear. The foliage is green in spring and summer, but then it explodes into brilliant orange and red in the autumn, providing dramatic colour in the garden.

That is still not all that makes it a favourite tree. It is a small maple, so it’s ideal for city lots or as an understory tree. It is slow growing, climbing to seven metres (23 feet), but that could take 20 to 50 years. In the meantime, the paperbark maple requires little pruning and is insect resistant. It also has an upright oval shape, which provides a stately architectural detail. Best of all, it can be planted in full sun to part shade. That makes it ideal for a woodland garden. It also makes an excellent specimen plant, focal point or accent in a garden.

Acer griseum is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

The elusive white asparagus

On a high school trip to France, I spent a few days in Lyon, billeted by a local family. My first night at the dinner table, I was passed a plate of what looked like thick, albino asparagus. I had never seen such a thing! I don’t recall being much of a vegetable eater back then, but I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so I put a couple on my plate. I tentatively tasted a small bite, worried that I’d hate it. But I didn’t. It was delicious, even though it was served cold—and it would be years before I’d get another taste.

Just as we anticipate the green asparagus season here in Ontario, Europeans await the spring window when white asparagus becomes available. My mom and I recently travelled to the south of Holland (to visit Floriade), Brussels and Dusseldorf where white asparagus season was in full swing.

At Floriade, there was a whole exhibit devoted to growing white asparagus (and preparing it)—with samples! My mom and I chatted up the sample lady, who was representing Teboza, a Dutch company that specializes in asparagus cultivation and research. Our little cup of peeled, boiled and buttered white asparagus was so delicious we vowed we’d find a restaurant that served it before our trip was over.

Opportunity knocked at Brasserie du Jaloa in Brussels, where a prix fixe menu offered white asparagus as an appetizer. Sold! I think the waiter thought my mom and I were crazy because we were so excited about it. And we weren’t disappointed. We each got four juicy stalks, covered in fresh herbs and egg salad. I know that sounds a little weird, but it all worked together! It was so incredibly delicious.

I love green asparagus season and I always get my fill of local stalks each spring. White asparagus, however, is like the Polkaroo. Some supermarkets have started to carry it, but it’s still rather elusive. Even the Canadian Food Inspection Agency doesn’t have grade standards for white asparagus. A little Google search turned up a couple of Ontario growers: Mazak Farms in St. Thomas and Janssen Produce & Specialties Inc. in Simcoe. Perhaps a little road trip is in order once the asparagus is ready sometime in May!

Are you able to find white asparagus where you live? And does anyone know why white asparagus is not more popular here in Canada?

White asparagus at Floriade. Apparently the small ones are more tender and considered restaurant-grade.

Success! We finally found white asparagus at Brasserie du Jaloa in Brussels, Belgium.

White asparagus is so popular, they make it in chocolate form, as seen here at a department store in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Giving a little back to the kids

This has been a strange week for me. Not once, but twice, I’ve been asked to help teach about gardening and plants.

Me.

Who has managed to kill all the tomato seedlings I planted this year by leaving them in the chilly porch overnight. Who knows the terms pinnate and palmate, but couldn’t define them accurately to save my life. Who seeds her garden beds in such a haphazard way that surely my grandfather rolls in his grave every spring.

To be sure, the teaching invitations did not come because I’m some kind of superstar with green thumbs; I was an obvious choice by association. One was for my daughter’s grade 4-5 science class, the other the local Cub Scout troupe which just happens to be led by Dear Husband.

But despite the low-key circumstances, I was just a teeny bit nervous. Would I be able to get through my presentations without making any obvious blunders? What if someone asked a question I couldn’t answer? (If you think this is a silly thing to worry about, I’m guessing you don’t hang out with a lot of ten-year-olds.) But more than anything, I wondered and worried whether any of them would even care about anything I had to say. What if they all thought it was lame and B-O-R-I-N-G?

Turns out I worried for nothing. In both cases, the kids were fun, polite, and excited to be there. The Cubs started pumpkins in little pots and helped prepare the garden bed they will use this summer. The 4-5 class helped me dissect a just-bloomed tulip, played name-that-seed-and-why-it-looks-that-way, and got very involved in a discussion of how all life on earth is dependent on plants in one way or another. I answered questions left and right. I got my ego pampered as they admired my “talent” (no one tell them about the tomatoes, okay?).

Most of all, though, it reinforced a truth I’ve always believed in: giving something back to your community, no matter how little you might think it is, pays off for everyone. So I challenge you this week to think about how you might give a little of your garden back: Is there someone you could teach something? Did you plant trees for Earth Day? Can you plant an extra row of veggies to donate to the food bank? Volunteer in a community garden?

While you work on that, I’ll concentrate on keeping the Cub’s pumpkins alive…

 

Pages: Prev 1 2 3 ...13 14 15 16 17 18 19 ...47 48 49 Next

Follow Style At Home Online

Facebook Activity

Contests

Latest Contests

more contests