Gardening Blog

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.

Snapping tropical blooms in Hawaii

I recently returned from a two-week trip to Hawaii. I spent one week on Kauai, which is known as The Garden Isle, and one week on Oahu. While I wasn’t there to work, I’m going to err on the side of cliché and say that it was hard to ignore the tropical splendour. Seriously, these islands are so incredibly beautiful, it was hard to put the camera down. The only disappointment was that I couldn’t really smell the flowers as I had a nasty cold for most of my trip. Fortunately I didn’t let a few sniffles ruin my time and I was able to explore and enjoy both islands. Long before I became a gardening editor, I have always managed to include a visit to a botanical garden on most of my trips. So of course I had to add a couple to my itinerary. Luckily my husband didn’t mind.

One thing I’ve struggled with is taking really great botanical shots. I try to crouch down and pick good angles, but my pics always seem to turn out pretty one-dimensional. Last summer, I signed up for a digital photography workshop with professional photographer Theresa Forte. I learned some great things about perspective and framing your shot. And then, while we were away, our friend Reuven encouraged us to take our camera off “auto” and play with the manual features. So we “went macro” with some fantastic results.

I’m going to post some slideshows of the amazing plants I saw at the botanical gardens, but in the meantime, here are some gorgeous, colourful hibiscus blooms.

This hibiscus was right outside the entrance to our condo in Kauai. This was one of the first blooms I tested out the macro lens on.

This gorgeous hibiscus was taken at Limahuli Botanical Garden, a gorgeous, plant-filled sanctuary on the North Shore of Kauai.

This delicate, pink beauty was taken outside of our B&B near Diamond Head in Honolulu.

Ok, this isn't a hibiscus, but I had to include it. This was the first time I've seen a Bird-of-paradise growing in a garden. A native of South Africa, this really looks like a bird's head, doesn't it?

Gardening gift of the day: Interesting pickles, jams and jellies

Yup, I said pickles. Let me explain. This past summer, I visited Reford Gardens in Grand-Métis, QC. Partway through our stroll through these amazing gardens along the St. Lawrence River, my little group met up with Alexander Reford. As he took us outside of the visitor area and started to show us some of the things he has in store for the next few years, we ran into chef Pierre-Olivier Ferry and a member of his team plucking blooms for a wedding the next day. I was able to taste some of his culinary magic at lunch in the Estevan Lodge. And as I was leaving, I ducked into the gift shop and grabbed a few jars of the specialty products Pierre-Olivier has started selling. A strawberry and lemon verbena jam was amazing on my summer toast. And this brings me to my next purchase: the pickles. Pierre-Olivier pickles daisy and daylily buds. I brought them to my parents’ house to try with our dinner one night this summer and they are quite delicious! I guess you could compare them to capers, but they’re a bit sweeter – the daylilies are pickled in honey vinegar. They make a unique addition to a salad and are delicious served with fish. Perfect for the foodie gardener on your list!

Price: Prices start at $5 a jar for some of the jellies and go up to $50 for 8 jars from the whole line.
Available at: Order online at the Reford Gardens Online Shop.

Gardening gift of the day: New annuals and perennials for Canada

From Lone Pine Publishing, New Perennials for Canada (by Don Williamson) and its companion, New Annuals for Canada (by Rob Sproule), are a fantastic, and dare I say, essential resource for the seasoned gardener’s bookshelf. Jam-packed with information and gorgeous photographs, each book features a few hundred varieties of interesting plants.

Williamson “encourages readers to push the limits of the hardiness zones in their area, exploring microclimates in their own yards to further enhance the potential plants that can be grown.”

Sproule “emphasizes the selection of healthy plants and deals with gardeners’ most common questions.”

Price: $21.95 each
Available at: Order through the Lone Pine Publishing website or from Chapters Indigo

Gardening gift of the day: Botanical art


Instead of making crackers or drying fruit to eat, artist Diane de Roo has used her dehydrator to create works of art. I first saw her work at last year’s One of a Kind Show in Toronto and fell in love. Diane captures all the intricate details of various fruits and vegetables and freezes them in time. They are then hand-painted and framed. Choose from larger frames or smaller shadow boxes. These are great gift ideas for both avid cooks and green thumbs and would look amazing hung in a kitchen.

Price: from $55
Available at: Order information is on the website, Botanical Art by Diane de Roo.

Gardening gift of the day: Botanical tea towels

These colourful botanical tea towels recently caught my eye and I made sure to add them to my list of gifts for gardeners. Based out of Vancouver, Creative Tea Towels takes the work of Canadian artists and prints it onto 100 per cent cotton tea towels. The design shown above, Shirley Poppies, was painted by botanical watercolourist and avid organic gardener Lyn Noble. There are some other lovely designs to choose from, as well.

Wrap them up for the gardener on your list or use them as eco-friendly wrapping paper to envelope a small gardening gift.

Price: $14.99 to $17.99
Available at: Online and at boutique shops across Canada. See the website (linked above) for details.

Gardening gift of the day: Grow Great Grub

I really wish I knew about Gayla Trail’s first book, You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening, when I first bought my house. Gayla has a way of making gardening sound so fun and easy and attainable. Her fantastic follow-up, Grow Great Grub, inspires readers to grow their own fruits, veggies, herbs and edible flowers. Teeny tiny yards and balconies are no obstacle, you just have to work with what you have. That might mean growing tomatoes upside down or raising kumquats in your living room. Delicious, interesting recipes make full use of your harvest and a helpful section shows you how to preserve your bounty so that nothing goes to waste. Gayla’s DIY ethos and conversational tone make you want to reach for your gardening gloves and start planting, salvage containers for plants and grow something you haven’t tried before—like potatoes in a metal garbage can!

Price: $24.99
Available at: Chapters Indigo and Amazon.ca

Gardening gift of the day: An art nest

This little gem caught my eye at the One of a Kind Show (if you’re in Toronto before Sunday, it’s at booth P4). It’s an art nest that can serve double duty as a suet feeder and as a building supply shop for the birds – the wool is enticing for nest building. According to Tracey Martin, half of Martin House Garden Art with her husband Derek, it’s always been a best seller and by the end of day 3, they had almost run out. Derek apparently made more last weekend. I believe it was Derek I spoke to at the booth and he said they would ship the nest if you call or email to place an order.

Price: $48
Available at: Martin House Art in Barrie, Ont. or by special order.

Gardening gift of the day: My Garden, A Five-Year Journal


When I first moved into my house, a couple of neighbours would point out certain plants, tell me their name, give me tips on how to care for them. While I managed to retain most of the information, sometimes I wish I had written it all down. Keeping a garden journal is a great way to chronicle your successes and failures, ideas and advice, all in one place.

This journal by seasoned gardener Mimi Luebbermann allows you to record all the nitty gritty, inspirational details about your garden throughout the four seasons. Quick tips serve as gentle reminders of what needs to be done, instructive how-tos help you do everything from choosing the right tool to picking the right plant, and handy checklists ensure no essential tasks are missed. There is also plenty of room to include sketches and ideas, and an expandable envelope at the back will hold plant tags and other loose bits of paper nicely.

Price: $24.95
Available at: Chronicle Books, Chapters Indigo and Amazon.ca

Gardening gift of the day: The Thoughtful Gardener

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Thoughtful Gardener Watering Can, $39.99

Sometimes it’s really hard to find garden gear at this time of the year – a lot of stores have packed it all away for the season. With that in mind, Chapters Indigo has come out with these charming tools and accessories featuring whimsical quotes just in time for the holiday season.

The secateurs have rubber-coated handles and a non-stick, coated blade. The tool set features a trowel and fork made of stainless steel with weatherproofed ash handles. If your green thumb is already all geared up, the watering can is not only functional, it deserves a spot on a shelf – indoors or out. And I bet your favourite gardener doesn’t have a twine tin. Family, if you’re reading this, the twine tin is on my list!

Price: as per photos
Available at: Chapters and Indigo stores across Canada and online

* Check back every weekday until December 23 for more great gift ideas!

Thoughtful Gardener Tin of Twine, $9.99

Thoughtful Gardener Secateurs, $24.99

Thoughtful Gardener Tool Set, $29.99

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