Gardening Blog

Five great gardening picture books to share

Ah, summer. The days are warm, the garden’s up, the hammock and a novel beckons… but as the kids are out of school, I’ll need to make some room in the hammock for them too, and before I get to my novel, there will be some kids books to read. Luckily, I have a soft spot for great picture books, and it will be nothing short of a pleasure to go through a stack of stories to be read aloud. And if they’re about gardens and plants? Who can argue.

Here’s a list of a few favourites of mine on the theme of gardening; there are many, many more out there; check your local library and go find a kid at the family reunion if you don’t have any at home. Sharing a book is a great way to pass on your love of gardening. But really, you can enjoy these wonderful stories yourself, even if you don’t have the excuse of a child at your side.

 

The Curious Garden, by Peter Brown

I am forever grateful to my friend Erika for leading me to this book. It has a slightly mischievous feel to it that I love, as little Liam’s adopted garden starts sneaking out into the big grey city and changing the landscape for the better. An environmental statement perhaps, but told with a light hand and coloured with playful images.

 

The Tiny Seed, by Eric Carle

 

The life cycle of a flowering plant seems like the stuff for science textbooks, but in the hands of the masterful Eric Carle, it becomes a story full of beauty, drama, and insight. If you aren’t familiar with this author/artist, bring home The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Very Busy Spider, and the Mixed-Up Chameleon as well.

The Gardener, by Sarah Stewart, illustrations by David Small

A young girl is sent from her beloved farm to her uncle’s city bakery to help the Depression-struck family stay afloat. She brings with her a bundle of nerves and a suitcase full of flower seeds, and attempts the impossible: getting a smile out of Uncle Jim. An engaging, ‘bloom where you are planted’ story with Caldecott Honor-winning illustrations. Don’t miss it.

 

Growing Vegetable Soup, by Lois Elkhart

 

Lois Elkhart’s signature paper-cut art takes you through the planting, watering, and growing of all the veggies Father and child want in their soup. Bold colours and labeled objects make this a fun talk-about book for the curious set. Try the provided recipe, too!

 

And Then It’s Spring, by Julie Fogliano, illustrations by Erin E. Stead

Okay, so maybe a little off season right now, but the woodcut and pencil illustrations are just gorgeous, and the simple, sparse poetry of the story so inviting when read aloud. (There’s a “greenish hum” coming from the ground! I wish I wrote that.) The anticipation of spring is perfectly captured, and the fun little details in the pictures will have you going through it again and again. And your preschooler compatriots, too.

 

Garden eye spy: Marvellous mushrooms

In the first ‘Garden eye spy‘ photo post, I mentioned how gardens always seemed magical to me as a little girl. So when I happened upon this sweet little mushroom standing bravely by itself on the side of a busy road, that sense of mystery once again came rushing back.

Photo by Laura L. Benn

Thoughts of Alice in Wonderland danced through my head as I set to work photographing this magnificent plant that looks like it grew straight out of a fairytale. Wild mushrooms always appear to be bursting with character and become lovely features in a garden space, don’t you think?

{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.}

Low-maintenance Monday: Butterfly bush

I have almost killed our butterfly bush many times by cutting it back too much and at the wrong time, pruning it improperly and not watering it. Yet it continually forgives and survives my mistreatment, blooming its heart out with striking, bold, blue-purple flowers from mid to late July until the first frost. It fills the garden with butterflies and other busy pollinators. I now leave it alone most of the time, except for admiring it from afar. It’s much safer that way.

Photo © Alan Lagadu, iStock

Master gardener Merle Burston, one of our wonderful gardeners featured in Gardening from a Hammock, raves about the ‘Potter’s Purple’ butterfly bush or Buddleia davidii. She likes it not only for its appealing flower, but also for the fact that it attracts the Monarch butterfly to the garden. Buddleias provide food for the butterfly during its migration.

This shrub grows tall, up to 1.2 metres high and 1 metre wide in zones four to nine. It boasts deep purple flowers. ‘Potter’s Purple’ has a rounded habit and large, dark green leaves. It is doubly appreciated as its blooms arrive just as many other plants in the garden are spent. As well, it is fragrant and provides dramatic cut flowers.

Ideally you would grow it in full sun, but it can handle partial sun, as well. Start it in moist, well-drained soil and the plant will become moderately drought tolerant once established. It is recommended to cut all the old wood back to about 30 cm in the spring to get a more compact plant. Don’t worry, it will grow back quickly by late summer.

‘Potter’s Purple’ butterfly bush 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 war on weeds: stork’s bill

I had the unfortunate pleasure of being introduced to a new weed last year, one I had never seen before, but since then, I’ve seen it plenty.

This is the mess my broccoli is trying to survive in. The predominant plant you see at centre, with the divided, pinnate leaves and reddish stems, is known as stork’s bill (Erodium cicutarium). It first showed up in the carrot patch, and maybe because of the similarity of the leaves, I didn’t really notice it until these pretty purple-pink, five-petaled flowers showed up. My smallest girls loved to pick the tiny flowers for fairy stories, and so I was somewhat forgiving of this plant, though it began to pop up beyond the carrots. Cleaning up last fall, I noticed hairy, pointy little seed capsules catching on my cloth gloves. They looked uncannily like… a bird’s bill? Indeed. And they hitched a ride on almost anything they touched. This did not bode well, and sure enough, this spring, the still-anonymous weed had taken over half the veggie patch.

Time for an education.

After a little Google digging and a simultaneous call to my horty sister, we ID’ed this little demon and I’m horrified. “New seedlings emerge very quickly after each tillage operation in the summerfallow. Therefore, it is not unusual to have five or six growths of this weed during the summerfallow year,” says the Saskatchewan government agriculture site. No wonder it’s everywhere. The good news: though it is a prolific germinator, it is an annual, and only reproduces from seed. I was having waking nightmares of bits of left-behind leaves regenerating themselves…  the roots uttering diabolical chuckles and sending out rhizomes to all quarters…

I did find it interesting to read that one of the recommended control measures for this weed is a planting of fall rye. When I got to thinking about it, it’s true: In the north end of the veggie patch, where I planted fall rye the last two years simply for green manure, there is very little stork’s bill. It’s the south end that’s overrun. Looks like I’ll be buying more rye seed this fall. After a whole lot of weed pulling… sorry girls, use the phlox for your fairy flowers. I don’t want any more of those poky seeds in my gloves or the soil.

My flowers are more purple than this drawing shows, but those pointy little seed heads are EXACTLY the same.

 

 

Pretty in pink with a dash of yellow: My 2012 containers

The weather was so perfect in early May, I got to plant my containers much earlier than in previous years. I had the urn I bought before Christmas to fill, a gorgeous, turquoise, printed pot I got as a birthday present and a couple of rustic, terra cotta pots that I bought from a yard sale. These are the decorative ones. I also filled an old whisky barrel with some herbs.

I thought I’d share the results as I’m quite happy with how things turned out. I went with a pink theme this year out front and reserved a big yellow dahlia for my turquoise pot, which sits atop my new patio table out back.

All of the plants, with the exception of the gerbera daisy, which was an Easter present from my parents, are from President’s Choice. Some I bought on a grocery store outing, some I received at a President’s Choice preview event to try out.

Pot number 1, clockwise from left: Gerbera daisy (you can just see the leaves, but its blooms are pink), 'Cotton Candy' dahlia, lemongrass, 'Wasabi' coleus, Lanai Twister Pink verbena, 'Goldi' creeping Jenny

Pot number 1: This one was really fun to make because I needed lots of plants to make it lush and full. I chose all pink flowers, but I like how the verbena has the white to break it up. I also repeated the contrast foliage of the lime green coleus in the creeping Jenny. The lemongrass I will be able to harvest and eat throughout the summer. I learned that trick (of adding edibles to pots) from Paul Zammit, director of horticulture at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Pot number 2, clockwise from left: Dahlinova Alabama dahlia, spearmint, 'Star Dust' White Sparkle euphorbia

Pot number 2: If anyone asked what I wanted for my birthday this year, I replied: “Pots or anything for the garden.” I got this amazing turquoise pot from my sister, brother-in-law and niece and I knew exactly what colour would look fantastic in it: yellow. I added some spearmint to enjoy as a tea and in summer desserts. And I fell in love with the delicate, barely-there white flowers on a wee euphorbia.

Pot number 3, from left to right: Dahlinova Lisa Dark Pink dahlia, Baby Tut cyperus

Pot number 3: For this pot, I ignored the rule that things look better grouped in odd numbers and simply planted this stunning pink dahlia and the swirly, curly cyperus.

Pot number 4: Hot pink petunias and blue mystery flowers.

Pot number 4: I can’t take credit for this one, it all came planted together in on pot. But it carried on my pink theme, and I wanted to show how effortless container planting can be if you’re not sure what to put together. Sometimes the nursery does all the work for you!

Low-maintenance Monday: The Callery pear

Mary Fisher’s urban backyard reflects clarity of vision, restraint and discipline, illustrating her expertise as a master gardener. Although simple in design, her garden gets its richness and interest from texture and the repetition of a small number of select plants. “It’s simple and uncluttered,” she says about her wonderful garden featured in Gardening from a Hammock, “and I am coming around to that in my whole life.”

What immediately captures your eye in her urban backyard is a silver-green screen at the back of her property. The screen is made of three graceful, pyramidal Callery pear trees whose delicate appearance belies their hardy nature. “Pear trees are so hardy that they prosper throughout the city of New York,” explains Mary. “In spring they have great white blossoms that look like clouds. They are ornamental with beautiful, shiny green leaves, and yellow colour in the fall. Since they are columnar, they are ideal for a small space.”

photo courtesy of Northscaping Inc.

The Chanticleer Callery pear is resistance to blight and limb breakage. The tree will not produce an edible fruit, it is only grown for ornamental reasons. It has attractive flowers, leaves and bark. Bark is at first smooth, light brown to reddish-brown then later turns grayish brown with shallow furrows. The abundant white spring flowers are fragrant, with masses of white blossoms with purple centres. Leaves are glossy dark green and turn yellow or reddish-purple in the fall.

This columnar tree grows 13 metres high and about five metres wide in zones 4 to 9. It makes a strong enough statement to be used as a specimen, an accent, as a screen or to line a walkway. These trees are recommended for small spaces and vertical gardening, as well.

Plant in full sun. Prune in winter or early spring. Because of its pyramidal shape and branching structure, the crown is less prone to break with heavy winter snow than the ‘Bradford’ pear tree. These trees can survive periods of drought, cold, and air pollution and even salty coastal winds.

Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’ 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.

Volunteers

Things in my veggie patch are finally starting to green up after a chilly spring here in Alberta, and I when I went to check on things this is what I saw:

Lovely, healthy pea plant, right? Right. Except this is the corn patch. See it there in the front, all two-to-three inches of it?

Apparently, more pea pods than I realized made it through the winter and got dug under enough to sprout. Someone <ahem> must have also put some ripe sunflower heads in the compost, because they’re all over the place too.

Now here’s the thing. These ‘volunteer’ peas are twice the size of the ones I planted on purpose. I haven’t gotten around to planting any sunflowers yet, and the volunteers are already eight inches up. So are they weeds, to be yanked with the dandelions? Or do I let the peas climb the corn, assuming the corn (‘Speedy Sweet’) catches up to all that robust growth? The sunflowers coming up close to the broccoli might offer just enough shade to keep the brassicas happy through the hotter parts of summer. Or will the volunteers suck all the water and nutrients and compromise the things I intended to grow? I’ve tried companion planting before, with good success, but it was always… you know… on purpose.

I’m still thinking about it. And getting Jefferson Airplane in my head every time I do… but the more I think, the more I’m reminded that my intentions and Mother Nature’s should probably be meeting somewhere in the middle.

Low-maintenance Monday: Japanese painted fern

It is no accident that so many of the gardeners featured in Gardening from a Hammock included Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’) in their recommendations for an interesting, low-maintenance garden. It is one of the top ten plant picks.

This colourful fern is one of those plants that gets along with just about everyone, brightening a shady area and making almost every other plant around it look better. No wonder it is a must-have for the shade garden.

Japanese painted fern is compact, growing between 30 and 60 cm high and wide. It has deep burgundy leaf stems with olive-green arching fronds lit with silver. Each plant has its own unique colour and pattern. Although native to Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan, it does well in zones 4 to 9 here. Master gardener Merle Burston asks: “with this growing in the shade, who needs flowers?”

Although it can stand alone in the garden, Japanese painted fern is a favourite dance partner. Its upward reach and shape provides interesting contrast for plants with downward arching forms, such as Solomon’s seal.  It looks dramatic when set against any dark green background or with other plants that pick up its burgundy colour, such as red Japanese maple, maroon Heuchera, black-purple Cimicifuga simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, or chocolate-purple Ligularia ‘Britt Marie Crawford.’ It lights up an area with its silvery shimmer. Consider it as an accent, a specimen, for edging or as a woodland plant. But by all means consider it for one of your prized shade plants.

Japanese painted fern 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.

Rain: we’re never happy

Three weeks ago, everyone was saying, “We sure could use some rain.” And now that it’s pouring (and hailing, with funnel clouds and all), everyone’s saying, “It’s so wet! What we really need is some heat to get the crops and gardens going!”

Though it feels like a bit of deja vu, here I am talking about the weather again. But I don’t want to complain today. No, despite my nagging compulsion to get outside being thwarted by the unbelievable wet, I am here today to pay homage to the rain. Where would we be without it? Really, think about that for a minute.

So in the spirit of gratitude, here’s some tunes for your rainy day party… or if you’re needing moisture in your neck of the woods, maybe have yourself a little rain dance.

http://8tracks.com/aprildemes/rainy-day

 

 

Low-maintenance Monday: Solomon’s seal

“Solomon’s seal is one of those spring plants that make your heart beat faster,” Aldona Satterthwaite says about the perennial plant whose arching leaf and white drooping flowers signal spring. A master gardener, Aldona is executive director of the Toronto Botanical Garden and knows of what she speaks.

Fellow master gardener Belinda Gallagher of Hooked on Horticulture, agrees. “Solomon’s seal is my favourite plant of all times–today,” she says. “It takes dry shade, and is very elegant and graceful. I love the flowers, but particularly the arching shape of the stems. They emerge like sea serpents from the ground in the spring.” The native Solomon’s seal grows 60 to 70 cm both in height and width and grows well in a dry, shady spot from zones 3 to 9.

Solomon's seal adds grace to the garden. It can be featured as an accent or woodland plant, or used as a cut flower.

Delicate, white bell-like flowers hang from gracefully arching stems in late spring. The small flowers are self-cleaning and will drop off naturally. The foliage remains attractive all season, so the plant is virtually maintenance free. The stems even disconnect from the rhizomes on their own after a frost. But before that, the foliage turns a golden yellow.

Belinda explains that Solomon’s seal is usually misnamed in garden centres. The native and non-native (mainly from Asia) are often mixed together. “I like them all,” she says. “The variegated ones are wonderful, but take a longer time to mature and bulk up so people may be disappointed.”

To me that is a good thing, since that means they are less invasive in the garden. The variegated Solomon’s seal is my favourite, since its arching stems of green leaves are edged in white, brightening the shade. They are scented, which is an additional gift.

Note: The other recommended varieties of polygonatum in Gardening from a Hammock may not grow as quickly as the native species, but are valuable additions to any shade garden. Check out Giant Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum commutatum), which makes a statement in any garden as it grows from 90 to 120 cm high.

Solomon’s seal 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.

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