Gardening Blog

Accidents really do happen

No happy post today, friends. Sorry.

A family close to us had their not-quite-two-year-old daughter taken from them in a farming accident this past weekend. I hesitate to use the word, but it really is nothing short of a tragedy. I can’t imagine all the “what if I had…” or “why didn’t I…” thoughts going through the minds of her parents this week, but really, there’s nowhere to point a finger. It just happened.

Could it have been prevented? Maybe. But how does that help the family and community that now mourn her? Like most accidents, it was just the wrong blend of totally normal circumstances. I wish there was a way to rewind time and bring her back to her mother, father, and two brothers, and the circle of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins who love her. Not having a time machine or mystical powers, I find myself helpless to help beyond prayers and hugs.

I hope I don’t minimize this family’s loss, or make it uncomfortably public, by sharing it with you. My purpose is to bring your attention to how quickly and easily things like this can occur. It has made me look at my own home and yard with different eyes: where are the accidents waiting to happen? I’m putting my tools away a little more carefully, reassessing the chemicals in the shed, watching my step.

Many who will read this are urban gardeners, and may think this outside their list of worries. But all gardens have sharp tools, things to trip over, and probably some light machinery. I hope all of you will take a few minutes to assess the safety in your own garden, not to the point of paranoia or fear, but with a healthy respect for your mortality and that of those you love.

And give your kids, your spouse, your pets, an extra little hug today, for little Anna.

Reduce, reuse, re-harvest…

Call me frugal, call me resourceful, heck, you can even call me cheap. I’m a recycler and a Value Village maven (we call it V.V. Boutique around here). I’m the gardener who’s using newspaper for weed suppressant and milk jugs for cloches. That old adage, “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without,” lives on in my household.

I know I’m not alone. There are all kinds of gardeners out there learning and using talents to turn what they have into what they want or need.

But this guy here, he deserves a prize.

Pulling onions from his ready-made raised beds.

This is Allen Campbell, a neighbor of mine. He has put his garden into raised beds this year, but he didn’t build the frames. He has been collecting used packing crates from a wind turbine company that operates in our area. They are the perfect size and height for his veggies, and if he wants a section to be higher, they have metal corner brackets that stack. I don’t know that they’ll hold up like treated lumber, but they are working great. And they were free. And he didn’t have to build anything.

But that’s not all, folks. Oh, no.

He has patiently been collecting discarded bed frames from the dump. With this metal, some cheap-like-borscht white rigid plastic, and some welding, he has built a greenhouse. Yup, the L-shaped rails from discarded bunks are now growing tomatoes and cucumbers.

It's hard to show you in a photo, but Allen welded the rails together in such a way that they also act as shelf brackets: he can lay boards on them when the plants are small, remove them to make room as the plants grow.

An 8′ x 8′ building with double doors and set on cinder blocks to allow some air flow from below, Allen says the most expensive part of this project was the nuts and bolts. Of course, he laid out some time and effort. And exercised some patience to acquire all those bed rails. But we gardeners are practiced at patience, aren’t we?

So there you have it, some inspiration for your inner skinflint. Happy penny pinching!

In which I solve the mystery of the yellow water lily without much detective work

At the end of June, I took a little trip to Whistler where I visited various gardens and growers (stay tuned for more articles and blogs). As per usual when I travel west, my eyes popped open at about 5 a.m. as I was still on Toronto time. I remembered that Nita Lake Lodge, where I was staying, offers free bike rentals to guests. So, I headed downstairs, grabbed a bike and took a little jaunt along the Valley Trail before breakfast. I didn’t see much in the way of gardens as I was mostly pedalling through forest, but I did happen along a few of these amazing yellow water lilies (that’s what I called them at the time). I crouched there for awhile, not just to take a picture, but to marvel at how different they were. Each flower was like a little tea light holder with a matching yellow candle in the centre. I didn’t really think about these little gems again until I was flipping through some back issues of Canadian Gardening magazine yesterday. Lo and behold, I was able to ID my flower!

Yellow Pond Lily

I wasn’t far off with the name. According to the June/July 2002 issue, I spotted a Yellow Pond Lily. Here’s what was written about it:

Ponds, marshes, quiet streams and lakes from Newfoundland to the Yukon are home to the yellow pond lily (Nuphar variegata). Blooming between June and September, the four- to 6.5-centimetre, bright yellow blossoms are highly visible. Large, heart-shaped leaves, 38 centimetres in length, are produced from thick rhizomes, which are a favourite food source of moose, muskrat and beavers. Zone 2.

Mystery solved!

Summertime, and the livin’ is…

…easy, a little too easy.

It’s tough to get motivated on that weed pulling when there’s picnics and beaches calling. I’ve done more kayaking this week than lawn mowing, and hanging the hammock seems more appealing than hauling hoses. But it must be done, and there’s a part of me, buried deep under the sunscreen, that really does want to do it. So I made myself a ‘summer garden’ playlist to kick-start my work ethic. And being the generous person I am, I’m sharing it with you. Hope you enjoy. If it’s not your taste, make your own and share it.

Summer Gardening Mix

In search of local food

So I got an email last week about a shindig going on up in Edmonton (my old stomping grounds) this Friday — the Sturgeon County Bounty local food event. Local chefs will be presenting food sown and grown in the area. Sigh. Too bad I’m not in the area anymore.

One of the drawbacks to country living — and I’ll admit, there are a few — is being far away from all the fun events like this one. And Home and Garden shows. And Canada Blooms. And Hort shows in general.

But I digress.

As I wallowed in my lack of County Bounty attendance, a pang of guilt struck my heart. I remembered that up the road a little out of my way is a market garden I have never visited. I’ve driven past the sign for Room 2 Grow lots of times; but usually on my way up to Edmonchuck so I’ve never justified a stop. Why am I worried about local food in Edmonton when I’ve got local food right here that I’m ignoring?

A cayenne pepper growing in the greenhouse. Also here are tomatoes, cucumbers, and sweet and hot peppers.

So I repented and made a trip up there today (a whole 20 km, my odometer tells me) and had a visit with Heather, who runs the place with her husband Norm. They have about 2 acres of berries, vegetables, and herbs with the rest of their 1/4 section dedicated to raising bulls. It’s a laid back, unassuming place, with gardens of strawberries hiding behind tree lines and potato patches snuggled up against pastureland. They sell eggs, chicken, and beef as well. Heather (who is also an award winning artist) seems preoccupied with all the weeds she hasn’t pulled, but says she would “rather have it messy than have it full of who knows what.” She hands me a strawberry right off the plant and I taste the result of their zero chemical approach: the unbelievable flavor locals, tourists, and three local restaurants keep coming back for.

One of the ladybugs Norman released in the greenhouse to snack on the aphids. The Dodds rely on biological approaches like these to tackle any gardening problems.

I left with a bag full of strawberries, a cucumber, and several of the tastiest, most gorgeous tomatoes I’ve ever had.

Heather also reminded me that I have two different weekly farmer’s markets within a half hour’s drive of my house.

Drawbacks to country living, my eye.

So your challenge this week is to discover what kind of food opportunities are hiding close to you. I’ll bet you a sweet little strawberry they’re closer than you think.

Here’s a sampling of local food resources from across the country. Try Googling “local food” and your city or province.

Alberta Farm Fresh Producers Association

Greenbelt Guide (Ontario resources)

Eat Local Manitoba

Select Nova Scotia

Quick and simple flower arrangement

Here’s a centerpiece I asked my older girls to make for our dinner table yesterday. I had them pick a bunch of moss phlox flowers and float them in this oval dish. Not exactly a new idea, but it turned out so pretty I had to share.

I imagine the same idea would work nicely with cornflowers (bachelor’s buttons), periwinkle, cranesbill (hardy geranium), or any other small flower.

Footwear for serious gardening

During my epic search for a great pair of rain boots this spring, Tara suggested I might like to try some Blundstones: not a rain boot, more of an all-out work boot. The lovely people at Tin Shack offered to send a pair out, so why not, right? A pair of Blundstone CSA Greenpatch boots arrived a few weeks ago and I’ve been putting them through the paces ever since. I must say, they have passed every test I’ve invented.

The first pull-on was rather stiff–high arches strike again–and I was skeptical they would ever be comfortable. I thought I might have to take them to a cobbler for stretching (an option mentioned in the product insert). However, they have shaped to my foot very nicely in just a few weeks and go on and off easily. They do come with inserts so you can adjust the fit within your size, but I’m not using them. I’m generally a size 7, but I asked for a size 7 1/2 because I thought there could be nothing worse than a tight work boot. I’m finding when I put them on I think I could have gone with a 7, and by the time I take them off I’m glad I got the 7 1/2. They don’t rub or anything and my toes like the wiggle room.

I’ll be honest. I expected to get blisters and lead feet wearing these. I’m more into bare feet than army boots. So, after wearing them for a half hour to an hour a day for the first few days, I decided to consider them “broken in” and wore them all day. I’d be lying if I told you “I didn’t notice them at all,” but I really was impressed with how lightweight they are. Even this klutz didn’t get tripped up. And no blisters.

I think... I may... conquer the world with these boots.

I found myself on an extension ladder trimming tree branches in a downpour (long story). I’m not a heights person but I felt pretty solid climbing with these boots, and not solid in a clunky, bulky way, but in a safe, reliable way.

I stepped into my mudhole — I mean veggie garden — to check it. I maintained traction and dryness and escaped with my life. And my boots.

I edged all the flower beds and most of the veggie garden in one day and didn’t even feel it. Let me rephrase that– my feet didn’t feel it. My back didn’t like bending like that for that long, but my feet were oblivious, as were my legs. You know that achy shin and hip you can get when you do a lot of slamming your foot into a shovel’s tread? Nothing. Thank you, Kevlar shank. I don’t know the technical name for the phenomenon of impact vibrations resonating through the body. Go ask your chiropractor, then go get some Blundstones.

I was digging some overgrown clover out of a bed I’m prepping for plants and swung my fork a little wild as I straightened up. The prong landed square on my foot. Left an insignificant dent in my boot; would have left a significant dent in my toes if I’d been wearing my Crocs.

Knowing how some shoes split right down the middle of the sole, and thinking of all the digging/edging I’ve been doing, I also just checked the soles of my boots for signs of cracking or dents or… anything. So far, so good. Other than some gravel caught in the treads, they could be brand new.

Speaking of gravel in the treads, I found this dried bit of mud in my entry after a dirty battle with some dandelions.

Oh, sure, I thought. It’s all good now, with all the rain, and the air temperature barely flirting with the teens, but just wait till summer really arrives. So I waited. And waited.

And Tuesday it came! On the calendar and in reality! And I gotta say, these boots are very breathable. My feet did get warm (how could they not) but not sweaty, and not uncomfortable. Of course, I also ditched them for flip flops by four o’clock to have Dutch Oven at the neighbors… but I think they pass.

Here’s a weird little personal thing I have with footwear: I hate not being able to bend my ankle and my foot. I have kids, I crouch down, sit in the grass, crawl through play houses… and I garden the same way: kneeling, reaching. I need mobility. I thought a work boot would cramp my style, like a puddle boot can with its stiff upper. Or I feel like I’m going to crack the sole by crouching to much. Well, count another check mark for the Greenpatch. I’ve already mentioned the amazing durability of the soles, but get this: they bend too. And the elasticized sides allow more ankle movement than I would have expected while still maintaining support.

So in case you’re hazy on my opinion, I love these boots. I’ve planted trees and climbed them, forked soil and double dug it, checked the flooded crawl space and driven the kids to piano. My Blundstones have seen a lot in the last three weeks, and I am not a gear girl at all, but they are my new best friends.

Though you can still count on seeing me in my red crocs when the work is lighter.

My overgrown perennial bed

This is the lovely flower bed Margo planted years ago.

It is full of traditional perennials like irises, peonies, daffodils, lilies, clematis, phlox, and lupins.

At least, I think it is.

It was on the bottom of the priority list last year.

I thought it could stand a little neglect, because it was so well established.

Now I am paying for it.

Have I mentioned lately that I wish death to quackgrass? I don’t even think Kathy Renwald could help me hide this one…

Garden inspiration: Fix up an old bird cage

The other day, one of my writers, Signe Langford, sent me a photo of this gorgeous birdhouse with the following note: “A friend [Joy] did this for me. She found a decrepit Victorian bird cage and fixed it all up.” Does it not make you want to head out to the nearest antique market and find your own to fix up? I still dream about these amazing bird cages I saw in the Albert Cuyp market in Amsterdam. I still regret not bringing one home even though I was not quite sure how I would get it here in one piece.

Anyway, I asked Signe for a little how-to and this is what Joy had to say: I normally work in film doing set dec and art dept. I got the cage from a friend. They had used it as a humane way to catch squirrels. It was in rough shape and they were throwing it out. I knew Signe would like it. I took it home and I had to figure out how to make it look good. I had to repair the top part as the base of it had disintegrated. I ended up finding a piece of bendable wooden filigree that supported the unit and added a nice decorative touch. I decided I wanted to use paint from Restore as I felt better about recycled paint. I wanted a bright color so it would look beautiful in her garden amongst all the green. I found an egg yolk yellow. First I primed and it took 2 coats. Than I painted the yellow. After, I sanded the cage lightly to make it look a little worn, you know that whole antiqued look.

So there you have it, a little garden decor inspiration on this sunny day!

Don't you want to make one yourself?

Wildlife sightings

It’s been a good year for wildlife.

We had a perfect view of this little guy from a hallway window. Watched him for ten minutes before he trotted off.

We watched a fox bury his lunch in our backyard in February, and played host to the deer more than a few nights. There’s been moose up on the hill a lot this year and the guy I get my eggs from has a raccoon giving him grief. I think we’ve got some little yellow finches nesting somewhere nearby, because they are constantly hanging out in the mountain ash even though there’s no berries or anything yet.

We had two really cool visitors this week. A yellow-bellied marmot was just hanging out on the front walk when we saw him; by the time Chris got the camera out he was hiding out under the front steps so we didn’t get a picture. He was pretty amazing. I’ve never seen one in the wild, much less in my yard.

Then we had a tiger salamander drop in. They are common in southern Alberta, but we don’t tend to see them unless it gets good and wet, which it has been the last few weeks.

Salamanders are good luck charms for me. Amphibians are some the of first creatures to be affected when an environment is disrupted or damaged, so seeing this little guy is like a little signal from the universe that things are okay, that our little corner of the world is pretty healthy and happy. Makes you feel like you’re doing something right, you know?

Then doing the dishes here tonight, we saw a big old jackrabbit bound across the road. That’s a little more prosaic–my parents have a warren in their Edmonton neighborhood–but with all these critters around, I feel like our garden has become a veritable wildlife sanctuary. It’s reminded me I’ve been meaning to build a bat house and a mason bee house to add to all the birdhouses Chris and the kids have put up. Heck, I think maybe we’ll build a butterfly house this summer too… the more the merrier. As long as the raccoons stay away from my compost pile.

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