Gardening Blog

What did you think of the royal bouquet?

Well, I rolled out of bed at 3 a.m. and curled up on my couch to watch the Royal Wedding. I wasn’t one for listening to the exhausting round of predictions of what Kate might carry down the aisle, but I was still interested in the real deal. I was pleasantly surprised by the bouquet’s subtlety and simplicity. Sure it was a little old-fashioned, but I like that it wasn’t dripping in excess, which suits Kate’s understated style. And the size was perfect because it didn’t take any attention away from that stunning dress.

Earlier I retweeted Frank Ferragine aka Frankie Flowers’ description of what was in the bouquet. Later on he mentioned that a do-it-yourselfer could easily put it together for about $100 to $250. Of course Kate didn’t have the time, but for you crafty DIYers out there who are getting married this summer and want to add an auspicious dash of fairy tale magic, here are the details.

According to the official Royal Wedding website, the bouquet was designed by Shane Connolly. I like that it’s layered with meaning from both sides of the family and the couple:

  • Lily-of-the-valley: Return of happiness
  • Sweet William (cute!): Gallantry
  • Hyacinth: Constancy of love
  • Ivy: Fidelity, marriage, wedded love, friendship and affection
  • Myrtle (stems were used from a myrtle planted by Queen Victoria in 1845): The emblem of marriage and love.

I don't have a close-up shot of the bouquet, but a big thank you to Adrienne Brown at our sister site Homemakers.com who was live-blogging the event as she watched it online (I've included a link below) and captured this image that she shared with me.

What did you think of the bouquet? Share your thoughts below!

Adrienne’s live blog with Royal Wedding highlights at Homemakers.com

The epic search for puddle boots

My footwear of choice for gardening is a pair of beat up Crocs, but I see rain boots as a stand-by piece of equipment for the dedicated gardener. When you’re digging a big planting hole or fishing something out of a pond, dealing with prickly brush or wrestling with ornery hoses, you want your feet good and protected. My old stand-by black rubber boots got a crack in the heel last fall, so I told Chris I wanted new, fun ones for Mother’s Day. He said, “Great, go ahead and find the ones you want.” Smart man, huh?

So the last couple of times I’ve been in town I’ve looked around a bit (translate: while dashing through the grocery list with the kids I’ve noticed a few), but never took the time to try anything on. But this week I found myself in Edmonton all by myself (!) with a few hours to kill (!!) and decided to find my new puddle boots. Fairly straightforward, right?

Well, let me tell you.

I thought with the old “April showers” saw it would be easy to check a hand full of retailers and be able to peruse a reasonable selection of rain boots for somewhere between $15-$40, depending on the quality. Not so much. Walmart, Old Navy, and Payless had all gotten rid of theirs already: either sold or sent back to the company because the “season is over.”

Excuse me? The runways and window dressers may be switching gears to flip flops, but there’s still plenty of mud at my house. Are we expecting NO rain ALL summer? A lovely lady at the Shoe Company in Calgary sympathized with me: “How come they don’t realize it’s not just about fashion around here, but also nessecity?” She had a great pair of green ones, but they had a fuzzy, winter-minded lining. Pass. The few I did see were either no fun, ill-fitting, or not my size.

I’m kind of picky about my footwear because I have widish feet with high arches (thanks, mom) and fit is tricky, especially with a fairly rigid item like rubber boots. I was against getting anything online for this reason, but since the on-the-shelf retail life for rain boots appears to be 9.3 days, I decided to see what I could find in the web world.

Kamik Janis Plum Rain Boots

Love these, but they're kind of tall and kind of more than I wanted to spend. Also they seem awfully narrow through the ankle = impossible for me to get on.

Gum Drops has a pretty impressive range of choices, but the prices are mostly higher. Sears carries a few, there’s some American retailers, Walmart’s website has nothing but Spiderman…

Sperry Top-Sider® Women's Waterproof 'Nellie' 8'' Fashion Rainboots

These are available from Sears, but I'm not crazy about the colors.

Then I found RainCo — a Ladner, B.C. company that makes their own funky rain boots (and umbrellas!). They have several styles, including a shorter-topped one that seems like it would be more comfy for me, and they have a big tab in the back to help pull them on over my beautiful arches. And they come in my favorite color! After checking the return policy, I think I’m going to splurge on these. I love them, so I’m willing to go a little higher in the price range… anybody want to clue me in on other options?

I think these are the winners.

The wonder of it all

I’m going to stop for a moment from my usual narration of events to draw your attention to the affairs of nature we observe and encourage as gardeners.

Watching seeds sprout and perennial roots send out new shoots, I’ve been thinking – how does this happen? How is it that we take the growth of plants for granted as absolutely normal? Even with the understanding of biology, cell division, photosynthesis, isn’t the the whole process just this side of impossible?

Seeds turning into flower, or food, or tree is simply a part of our lives. We’re surrounded by it. But think for a minute. A tiny 1 millimeter seed. Add water, soil, light, and time, and you’ll end up with a 10 inch carrot. Isn’t that on par with pulling a rabbit out of a hat? Or Scotty beaming us up?

These little packets of cells know entirely what they are doing. They know how to make beautiful, useful somethings out of dang near nothing. And after exposure to cold that would end the life of most respectable living things, many of them come popping up cheerily as if nothing were ever wrong.

I invite you to mentally pack away your spring to do list, your gripes about mud or snow, everything you know about botany and cultivars and fertilizers and landscape design, and go find a crocus or a tree budding. Watch it for a bit. Marvel at the absolute ridiculousness of it all.

And remind yourself–this is reality. And this little bit of reality is a full-on miracle.

How to tell if a tree is dead

Those little plant tags on new shrubs and nursery trees tell you all kinds of things: where to plant, how much to water, even sometimes a primer on hole preparation. But they never say much about what to do if Mother Nature pulls a fast one on you. Same for the magazines (no offence, CG staff): idyllic shots of root balls, mulch, and watering cans, but little mention of how to know if your green thumb has turned black.

I’ve been the death of at least one tree and several tomato seedlings. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that this winter has done under one or two of the plants I’ve put in over the last two years, including my mountain ash that I apparently can’t stop talking about. So I got a quick refresher from my sister Jenni, an arborist, on how to assess the level of life or death in my springtime saplings. (For more mature trees, it really is worth it to bring in an arborist. Really.)

First things first: every plant is different. Peeling bark could be a warning sign on some plants, but for ninebarks it’s totally normal—actually, a feature.

Have a close look at the object of your concern. If it’s deciduous, are there buds on the branches? Are they soft and full? Your tree is probably still sleeping. Be patient. If they are shriveled and dry, check all the branches. Are they all like that, or just a few? It’s not unusual for some branches to die off from stress or exposure over the winter, but the rest of the tree can bounce back. If the plant has already leafed out but got zapped by a cold snap, or if the buds all spell doom, try snapping off the tip of one of the twigs. Does it crack easily, or is it bendy? Bendy means there’s still life in it.

If you’re really worried, and not in the mood to wait and see, here’s something you can try. Scratch into the bark of your tree just a couple of millimeters and hopefully you’ll see a soft, moist, green layer of tissue. That’s your cambium, the life-giving part of the tree, where all the other cells are produced. If you’ve got healthy looking cambium, there’s hope. Remember though, not every tree will have a really obvious green cambium. And even a little scratch is still a wound, adding stress to an already stressed tree. Consider yourself warned, but it’s an option.

Here's my mountain ash, showing a bright green cambium. Try a twig or branch before the trunk.

Junipers may look awfully grey, but if you can see some green in the leaves and they are still relatively pliable, they are likely okay.

It’s normal for conifers to lose some needles, so don’t be too alarmed if you see some bronzy ones dropping to the ground. The ones to watch are the needles at the tips of the branches. If those are dropping, you may have a Code Blue. Evergreens continue to transpire (lose water) over the winter, so even with melting snow they could be feeling pretty dry by now. Some judicious drinks of water may rescue them.

Dwarf Alberta Spruce. I'm worried about this guy. Gave him a nice big drink today.

Now, with all that said, I’m a big believer in giving any plant a full season to show itself. Give the poor guys a chance before you rip them out of the ground. I had an Amur maple I was sure was toast (the deer certainly thought it was food), but it came back from the root and (with some love) is now a healthy four-foot tree. There’s a bittersweet vine I never got around to pulling out last year, and in September I noticed leaves on it.

Never give up. Prune back dead bits so the plant can focus its energy on the healthy parts, bring on the water, and – like a good gardener – cross your fingers and hope.

A colourful nesting box for bees

After the recent Garden Writers Association luncheon at Canada Blooms, I came home with new books to read, new products to try and new plants and seeds to plant. However one of the items I was most excited about was this:


Except mine is pink and white. The reason I’m excited about it is a few weeks ago I watched a documentary called The Vanishing of the Bees at the Evergreen Brickworks. It was followed by a panel discussion by three bee experts. I had a great chat afterwards with J. Scott MacIvor, a PhD student studying wild bees. He’s set up nest boxes like this one all over the city so that he can monitor wild bees for a research project. Because I’m moving, I couldn’t really commit to being part of the project, but I’m excited to put this little guy in the garden where I end up. The pollen bee nest shown here is available at Armstrong & Blackbury Horticultural Products. The website explains quite thoroughly how to put it in your garden and maintain it.

Cold frame lessons

It’s done!

The newest addition to my "tool" kit--a cold frame with booster frame. This will be more or less its permanent home.

While I decided to use the plans provided on CanadianGardening.com, we (meaning my wise, more experienced husband) made a few changes based on our needs and site.

We chose to make the lip for fitting the booster frame to the top 1/2 inch instead of 1/4 inch. It just didn’t seem deep enough. We also decided to put a bit of a top on the back to make the back of the frame stronger and to allow a different hinge attachment.

A bit of the hard-won wisdom I’ve gained this week:

Me cutting the posts for the corners.

Chris nailing the top on. He says this will make it stronger and help keep it square.

Choose the widest board you can find for the angled side pieces. I wasn’t thinking about this when I chose fence board (5 1/2 inches). I was limited to a smaller angle for my window than I would have been if I had used the 8 inch boards recommended. This, of course, means I won’t get the same solar gain I could have.

Measure twice, cut once. And think it all the way through: the measurement of the side of the cold frame will not be the same as the side of your window. Window on angle = shorter side measurement. Duh.

Cedar is a very soft wood. It will split on you. It’s a very good idea to use an awl to make your holes for the screws (or pre-drill), and go slowly. Chris actually used a brad nailer to put the frame together with the glue, and then we followed up with the screws.

In preparation for actually using my new toy, I put down a double layer of weed control fabric inside the finished box, just in case any dandelions get any bright ideas. I’m planning to set pots in the frame rather than filling it with growing medium, so with some shredded leaves on hand for extra insulation, I think it’s ready to go!

Makes me want to start more seeds… cukes, more tomatoes, and it’s about time to get the squash going…

Building my cold frame

Well, it’s not built, but it’s ready to be built. Do I get an ‘A’ for effort?

After studying up on the basics again, I think I’m ready to begin.

When I revamped my front yard in 2009, I planned this spot (where you see my materials waiting) with a cold frame in mind. It’s a south facing wall, out of the worst wind, with full sun exposure. There’s gravel to walk on, as my yard is known to be a mud hole in the spring. Also, it’s about four feet from a tap for quenching thirsty seedlings.

We’ve had this old window sash hanging around since we bought our house (this is where it pays to have a pack rat around). It’s old and worn and absolutely gorgeous. The glass is all intact, but it does wobble just a wee bit. We will probably reinforce it some so it will stand up to being raised and lowered, not to mention kids trying to sit on it, and cats laying on it to bask…

For the box itself, I bought cedar fence board. It’s rougher than your nicely planed boards sold for decking, but I’m not going for any woodworking prizes here. With bottom line in mind, I paid $3.80 each for 6 six foot lengths, a total of 22.80. The 2″x2″ post for the corners I found with the decking stuff; one eight foot length was $4.28. All the hardware I’ll need is kicking around the garage, so all told I’ll pay just over $27 for this project (plus a little sweat and maybe a few splinters).

Next step: power tools!

Garden decor I’ll be checking out at the One of a Kind Show

This Wednesday I’ll be heading down to the One of a Kind Spring Show + Sale in Toronto with my friend and colleague, Heather Camlot. We’ll be checking out all the crafty amazingness for our respective writing gigs, but also because we’re pretty crafty ourselves and always come away feeling inspired. I really enjoy the spring show because there tends to be more outdoorsy stuff. And since I’m in the midst of creating spring gardening content, the show couldn’t come at a better time. There are also lots of other cheerful things you can pick up for spring, like clothing (I’m always on the lookout for cute frocks), jewelry and Easter gifts.

The show starts this Wednesday, March 30 and runs until April 3. Details (ticket prices, directions, hours, etc.) can be found here on the One of a Kind Show website.

Here’s a preview of some of the outdoor furniture and accessories I’ll be checking out:

Peter Trollope has modernized the Muskoka chair with an easy-to-assemble design. The seat is like a puzzle (no nuts and bolts required), which makes for easy storage.

Chad Arney scours his adopted hometown of Muskoka for old junk that he can recycle into some interesting garden sculptures. I love the idea of displaying art alongside your bushes and blooms in the garden. It looks as though you could put tea lights in the lanterns hanging from the little bird on the right.

These colourful chairs by Jardinique remind me of the wooden chairs I used to curl up on as a kid on the deck at the cottage.

From seed to sprout to… cold frame?

Despite my seed buying frenzy of February late, I’m not really a seed starter. Most years I just pop a few squash seeds in pots a few weeks early and direct seed the rest of my veggies. Any other flowers, shrubs or trees I want I’ve either had given to me or I’ve bought from the nursery. I’ve had a few ambitious years where I’ve started the odd thing, but that’s hardly normal.

This year I’m bound and determined to really apply some things I’ve learned about seeds. Last week I realized it was almost the full moon, so I got it together and planted:

- tomatoes: ‘Roma V.F.’ and ‘Beefsteak’ for sauce and eating, ‘Tiny Tim’ and ‘Earlianna’ for the kids to snack on in the yard. I’m not very experienced with tomatoes in general, so this is a grand experiment.

- peppers: I found ‘Little Blue‘ because a neighbor grew some last year and they looked so fetching in their pots. Also a ‘California Wonder’ for your basic green pepper.

- broccoli: I’ve never grown broccoli from seed (other than for eating as sprouts) but I came home with a packet on my shopping spree, so here goes another experiment. ‘Green Sprouting’ is what this is; I expect I’ll still buy a few ‘Green Goliath’ or ‘Packman’ plants because I know I like them.

Broccoli babies

Izah labeled this "Tiny Tim" with a strip of styrofoam cut from an egg carton.

They’re all up except the peppers; not a peep from them yet.

I plan to start a few plants of different varieties every couple of weeks, so that, for instance, one batch gets scorched or drowned, I’ll have back up.

The flaw in this plan, of course, is my distinct lack of counter space. I would hate to annoy my wonderful dishwashing husband by eating up all his workspace with flats of baby greens, so the other part of my plan is to build the cold frame I’ve been thinking about building for the last three years. (See the to-do lists piling up? It must be spring!)

I hereby promise to tell you all about my cold frame adventures next week. Maybe that will mean it actually gets done.

The last of my pesto stash

I had great luck with my herbs last summer. For the first time, I didn’t just use the bounty from one or two plants, I used most of them at one point or another to season summer dishes (especially my basil and parsley). Towards the end of the season, I cut back a great deal of my columnar basil, which had reached about three feet high, and whipped up a winter’s worth of pesto. I froze the whole lot into cubes and then tossed my pesto-cicles into a Ziploc bag. Sadly I used my last two cubes for dinner last night. Whenever I didn’t know what to make for lunch this winter, I’d toss together some of my favourite brown rice pasta with a pesto cube and marvel at how I’d made it myself. I can’t wait to start this year’s crop of herbs.

Inspired by an article about preserving herbs that Charmian Christie wrote for me last year, I also dried some of my herbs for the first time. My house isn’t particularly big, so I found a new use for an Ikea contraption (see below), which provided the perfect place to hang everything. I especially have enjoyed the dried tarragon. I use a lot of it for a quinoa with edamame recipe that I make rather often.

This was one of my end-of-summer hauls. I thought it looked so pretty waiting on the counter, so I snapped a pic. The lavender went into a little vase in my bathroom and the herbs were dried.

These are my herbs drying on an Ikea rack that usually has little tin cups hanging off of it.

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