Gardening Blog

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.

Abundant inspiration at Canada Blooms

I’ve already been to Canada Blooms twice this week and I’ll be there again tomorrow for the Garden Writers Association annual luncheon and meeting. Am I sick of it yet? Not a chance! Tuesday night was the preview party. We were greeted at the entrance by characters from Cirque du Soleil’s new production called Totem and then allowed to walk freely around the display gardens. My date for the night, my friend and colleague Alyssa Schwartz from MSN, had a great time bumping into some familiar faces and getting a sneak peek at the lovely gardens. Wednesday morning I was up bright and early for the media breakfast where I got to hear about all the amazing ideas and hard work that went into this year’s show. My parents met me at the show mid-morning and we walked around together. They were very patient while I took pictures and chatted up some of the garden designers. I’ve started my highlight roundup and will be adding to it over the coming days. You have until Sunday, March 20 to visit. Here are a few more pics, as well!

Alyssa and I. I bought flower tights for the occasion!

The opening night party featured characters from Cirque du Soleil’s new show Totem wandering around, as well as a show on the main stage.

A wheel of hydroponic lettuce from Aden Earthworks.

A Fiat filled with blooms. Apparently my dad owned one just like this when he first met my mom!

So is it spring or isn’t it?

I woke up at 3 am this morning to a baby fussing. I rolled over, and thought, “Just a few more hours, little girl, it’s not time yet. If you wake up now, we’ll both be miserable for the rest of the day.”

She settled down on her own, and slept until 7:30, but I found myself repeating similiar words as I looked out my window at breakfast.

“Just a few more weeks, little tree, it’s not time yet. If you wake up now we’ll both be miserable, and you’ll end up dead.” The object of my mother-naturely concern: the European mountain ash I planted in my front garden last year.

The poor dear is so confused. Between the chinooks warming everything up and blowing away his nice chilly blanket of snow, he’s convinced it’s spring. We had a warm spell a few weeks back, and I had to bring snow from the drifts around the yard over to his base. I covered his toes while mumbling (yes, out loud), “Go back to sleep, you silly thing. It’s February.” No matter what the ground-hog may guarantee, I’m an Alberta girl. I’ve seen one too many April snowstorms. Around here, you don’t plant anything tender before the May long weekend any more than you’d give chewing gum to an infant. I’m not that worried about the big old poplars; they’ve seen more winters than I have and will hardly wilt at a late frost. A young tree budding in early March is doomed.

Or is it? Driving around on the highways today, the Canada geese are everywhere and the gophers are running around getting themselves run over. There was frost on the windshield this morning, but my tulips (and the shepherd’s purse) are showing growth. Maybe it is spring, and I’m being overprotective. Maybe I need to let my baby tree out on its own — sink or swim — just like a toddler learning to walk is going to get a few bruises. But I can’t help wanting to coddle him just a little this first year. I know spring and its fickle nature can have too many casualties.

On the top of my priority list for this year: start a shelterbelt to protect my little mountain ash and all his friends (as well as eliminating the snow drifts across the driveway. Hopefully.)

What to bring to Canada Blooms

Tomorrow Canada Blooms, the annual gardening extravaganza, kicks off at the Direct Energy Centre in Toronto. Last week I put together a little preview of what I’m excited to see though realistically I’m excited to see it all.

Tomorrow morning I will be there bright and early to take it all in. I put together a quick little list of what you should bring/wear so that you have the best possible time:

  • A notebook and pen: You will gain countless ideas and tips that you can apply to your own gardens. Best to write them down. I do!
  • A camera: Again, you’ll be brimming with ideas as you stroll through the stunning displays. You’ll want to visually capture some of that inspiration for your garden journal. Also you never know who you’ll run into! Martha Stewart took a stroll through last year’s show.
  • Comfortable walking shoes: You’ll be walking on concrete for x number of hours. I speak from experience when I say “wear sneakers.”
  • A watch: You don’t want to miss any interesting seminars or presentations.
  • Cash: The shopping is pretty irresistible. You can buy everything from exotic plants to organic seeds to rain boots to magazine subscriptions (like to Canadian Gardening, wink wink).
  • Reusable shopping bags: For your loot. Some people even bring those little bags on wheels.
  • Also, empty your purse of non-essentials. There is nothing worse than lugging around a ton of bricks for five hours.

My seed addiction

Hi, my name is April, and I’m a seedoholic.

I came to face the brutal reality of my situation after a trip into town last week.

We are in the middle of a bathroom renovation, and I put “vent for bath fan” on my shopping list, not realizing the danger I was putting myself in. I walked innocently into the hardware store and instantly the paint/grout fog of recent weeks melted away and the proverbial sunshine shone down upon me: the seed displays were up. Even more, soil mix and peat pots were on sale. My heart quickened. Before I knew what I was doing I had detoured from “heating and ventilation” and had a mitt-full of little bounty-promising packets.

A sane voice somewhere inside reminded me not to try too many new things all in the same season. It mentioned the catalogues waiting patiently at home for careful, measured appraisal. The voice pointed out the total lack of sunny counter space to place the mini-greenhouse I was carrying to the checkout.

The voice was right! I had stacks of cell packs in the shed and an already bulging box of seeds tucked away. Was I medicating my cabin fever? The drawn-out-reno blues? Was I simply willing February to hurry on up?

Whatever the reason, I still came home with three bags of assorted growing medium, the aforementioned greenhouse, a pack of peat pots, and, ahem… several seed packets.

On the way home, I mentally constructed a make shift shelf on which to put all my potential babies. I resolved to organize those seeds and have a proper look at my catalogues.

I also realized I’d have to come back into town sometime and pick up that fan vent.

Some of the less common seed companies I like (when I can avoid the impulse buys and choose carefully):

Bedrock Seed Bank – seeds for Alberta native plants. I met them at Edmonton’s Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market.

Richter’s – best for herbs according to most people I know who know. Seeds, plugs, extracts. Other plants as well.

Prairie Seeds – out of Saskatchewan. Heirloom and open-pollinated varieties, stuff that actually lives on the prairies.

Christmas inspiration for next year courtesy of Quebec City

I was in Quebec City for the Quebec Winter Carnival last weekend and the last thing I expected to see while exploring the snowy streets was inspiration for CanadianGardening.com. But Christmas is alive and well in this gorgeous old city – I imagine they’ve left the decorations up until the carnival ends – so I snapped a bunch of pictures to inspire next year’s holiday crafting extravaganza.

See? Christmas! Without the stress of hunting for presents.

This establishment used terra cotta pots as part of all their arrangements. Here they have painted the rims and tied them to a windowbox of sticks. They created an arbour using the same design.

Here they've tied wee terra cotta pots to a pinecone wreath. If I were to recreate this I'd take it a step further by adding something to the pots for colour.

I loved how they've perched this cute little owl atop some pine bows and birch logs. A little paint and some lights add colour and the snow looks like it was deliberately placed in just the right spots.

Terra cotta is traded for metal pots full of berries in front of Le Cochon Dingue - probably the best place I ate lunch while I was in Quebec City.

The stone facade, the colourful paint. This quaint little building looks like it belongs in a fairy tale.

A tartan Alfred Sung exclusive

Last night, I got a glimpse of spring at a special event to launch the SUNG Outdoor collection. Based on the success of last year’s inaugural Capri and Barcelona lines, Alfred Sung himself was there to present their return to the Bay, as well as some special-order pieces and a fashion-inspired collection called Blackwatch. Sung, who has always had a thing for tartan, described this hand-woven black, green and navy resin set as “sleek, sophisticated and simple.”

If you, like Sung, are partial to plaid, you will want this stylish set to greet summer guests on your patio. But—and this is a big but—you only have this weekend to get it. Created exclusively for the Interior Design Show (IDS) in Toronto and available through the Bay, it is only available this weekend (January 27 to 30). So snap it up before your neighbours do.

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