Gardening Blog

Pick the perfect gourds for Thanksgiving decorations

I love hearing about it when an article on the site inspires a reader. Last fall, the talented Jennifer Roos created a Thanksgiving centrepiece and table accessories. Our advertising sales director, Julie Wiggins, emailed me to let me know she saw the idea featured in our newsletter and decided to create a similar centrepiece for her Thanksgiving table. The photo is below!

What are you creating to decorate for this weekend’s feast?

I love those large acorns nestled around the gourds and mini pumpkins!

Disappointing Hoses

While cleaning up one of my flower beds this fall I found yet another soaker hose with a hole in it. It’s one of the black foamy types, and it’s ripped almost in half. I’ve been responsible for this kind of damage before (garden fork, anyone?), but more than once I’ve found a busted hose with no clues about its demise. A rogue rose thorn? A particularly hungry gopher?

The obvious next thing to do is blame the hose itself as being crappy. I’ve tried the green kind with the pin prick holes, but they were constantly kinking on me if I try to put the teeniest curve in them. I moved on to the black kind. I tried a Canadian Tire and a Home Hardware brand. Both bit it within the season. I bought some repair kits. New cracks appeared. So I shelled out a little more for some Gardena ones. They lasted quite well, actually, and came with lots of quick connect pieces. That was the one I found this morning. This is only the second season I’ve had it, but even so I think it was the better buy. The ends are self repairing; if I cut down the hose to where it broke, they’ll reattach, making the same, but shorter, hose.

So the next thing to blame is water pressure, or storage practices… I thought I was being careful in both these regards.

I expect to repair, as well as replace, hoses now and again, but I wasn’t counting on doing it at the rate of three or four a year. Am I missing something? Is there a better way? A better brand? A Holy Grail?

Or is this just part of the gardener’s yearly lament that I was unaware of?

A gorgeous fall container and a pumpkin covered in peanuts

Tuesday afternoon I headed to the TBG to shoot a video with director of horticulture, Paul Zammit. Paul is a natural on-camera, and had shot another video with us about two and a half years ago that still gets viewed every month. So I arranged to have him create a fall-themed pot and set a date with Carrie Shibinsky, the marketing and communications director. When I got there, Paul had chosen a very picturesque focal point outside. Our new media producer extraordinaire Ryan DaSilva, accompanied by Mark the intern from the Hockey News (talk about a change of scenery!), was there to film the unique setting and, of course, Paul’s masterpiece.

When I got there, Paul announced he wasn’t going the traditional orange and red route. I wasn’t worried, but I also wasn’t sure what to expect. Well the final result is quite stunning and unexpected. Paul chose a palette of chartreuse, yellows, greens and silvery blues. Even the pumpkins matched! Not only does Paul have a great eye, but you always learn important tips as he takes you through the steps. You’ll have to watch the video to learn more! And I’ve included a couple of behind-the-scenes shots below. If you’re in the mood to share, post your fall pots on our Facebook fan page!

Mark and Ryan setting up the right angles!

Paul always brings along lots of interesting plant material!

This is the pumpkin I mentioned in the blog title. After the video shoot, Paul took me out back to see it because it looks so interesting - like it's covered in peanuts!

Savour delicious soups and support a good cause at Soupalicious

Last week I was invited to “sip, slurp and savour” a variety of soups cooked up by a medley of Toronto chefs. The event was a preview of what the general public will taste if they attend Soupalicious next Saturday, October 9 (from 11 to 4) at Heritage Court in Exhibition Place. Over 35 restaurants, chefs and local farmers will be stirring local produce into cauldrons of soup for the crowd as well as for various charities. The proceeds from this soup festival ($10 for 10 cups of soup, $15 at the door) will go towards supporting the Plant a Row – Grow a Row program, an organization that encourages gardeners to plant an extra row of veggies so that they can share their bounty with those in need. The program is spearheaded by The Compost Council of Canada and the Garden Writers Association, and supported by local food banks. Visitors are also encouraged to bring a food donation next weekend to help support local food banks.

Here are some of the delicious soups I tasted – I would have like to try them all, but I was full after six!

  • The Annex HodgePodge Bistro & Catering: Curried Carrot & Ginger
  • Arvinda’s: Red Lentil and Carrot
  • Le Papillon: French Onion
  • Torito: The Latin Caldo de Puerco
  • The Gladstone: Cauliflower Soup with Leek Compote and a drizzle of curry-infused cold pressed soy oil
  • Room Service: Red Pea Soup with coconut cream and chicken

Good Grass, Bad Grass

After spending a good deal of the season trying to get rid of grass, I’m planting… grass.

We tore up a bunch of lilacs as part of a big garden overhaul last fall so there’s all kinds of lumpy bits and bare patches in the lawn. Not that it wasn’t pretty lumpy already; I live in fear of one of us spraining an ankle whilst strolling innocently out to the shed, never mind the kids running around. I’ve heard people blame this lumpiness on night crawlers, those big, fat, earthworm look-alikes. I’ve heard people blame it on horses and deer, which I’m apt to believe. I’ve heard people blame it on too much foot traffic in the wet spring. Whatever the reason, I have a very lumpy lawn. If you can even call it a lawn. It’s really what you call “farm grass”– a mix of clover, dandelions, crab, quack, and bluegrass. Everybody around here has it; it’s just one of the facts of life for a rural community. However, I cringe every spring when my lawn turns golden with little yellow mopheads. It wouldn’t bother me that much except I’m upwind from most of town and any negligence on our part will be felt by a lot of neighbors and farmers. And making your grass stronger and healthier is one of the better (and decidedly non-chemical) ways to choke out lawn weeds. So between the lumps, the relocated lilacs, and the dandelions, (and a few bags of free grass seed) I’ve been planning all year to do a little resurfacing and over seeding this fall.

Springtime on the east part of our property, formerly pasture for a couple of lump-making horses, now home to a nice crop of dandelions.

I fully intended it. They say it’s the best time. But a couple of weeks ago, right about when we started getting frost, I heard the BEST best time is several weeks before frost. Maybe the rest of you still have a chance…

So I’m focusing on another grass. I’m going to plant rye. As in, fall rye. My vegetable plot is returning to its clay origins lately and is in need of a good dose of vitamins, and fall rye is supposed to make a great “green manure” and help choke out weeds too. I’ve never tried it before, but what you do is clear the soil of vegetation and sow (“In September”, according to the package… that gives me… tomorrow, right?) the rye shallowly. It grows. Then in spring, you till (or hoe) it under with a little bonemeal, and you have a nicely rejuvinated soil. Rye is an annual grass, so it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) come back to haunt you… Considering my history with grass, I’m taking a major risk. Here goes nothing.

An ode to trees

Had to share with you a podcast I listened to this week from CBC Radio’s Definitely Not the Opera. It gets people from all over the country telling their stories about the trees in their lives.

Here’s a few of my stories. What are yours?

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was really morning sick, all day. I worked on the north end of Edmonton and rode the bus home to the University area. The driver on the route I took really liked to take the corners tight, and by the time we got over the High Level Bridge, and took that little twist at the end, I was turning green. I would hold it in until I got off the bus, but I would more often than not succumb to the nausea about half a block east. This neighborhood is/was full of mature leafy giants planted in the boulevard that give the streets that lovely canopy of shade. There was one tree I would lean against while… taking care of business. This might sound goofy, but I swear, it held me up. It felt like it was letting me suck a little energy out of it. More than once I saw people giving me funny looks, and I’m pretty sure they thought I was dead drunk at 10 pm, but I’d just hug my tree, say thank you, and carry myself home to bed.

My grandparents’ weeping birch I told you about earlier this summer has lots of memories. We lived with Grandma for awhile after Grandpa died, when I was in high school. That tree had great branches, and I would climb up there and wait for rides. I was totally hidden in the branches. I’d jump down to the ground when my friends drove up, appearing out of nowhere, and pretty soon the running joke was that I lived in the tree, not the house. That was okay with me; I loved that tree. We were buddies.

We hired an arborist in the spring of 2009 to rescue our mature poplars (been topped one too many times). He gave us a free estimate, worked fast and neat, left us loads of wood chips to use, and came in under his quote. Then this spring, after they’d leafed out, the same poplars were attacked by the power company’s “arborists.” It looked like one side of three of them had been shaved. I think they’ve killed one; they took probably 60-70% of the growth off of it. I swear, give me a bucket truck and I would have done a better job. Don’t get me wrong, I have a very healthy respect for the situation–my sister is an arborist and she’s married to a power linesman, so I’m pretty well educated. But I was raging for weeks. I want to hire my guy back and bill the power company. How do you think that would go over?

Anyhow… trees. Love ‘em. This podcast also helped me commit: I am going to quit threatening and actually plant an apple tree this spring. I’ve had my eye on a Prairie Sensation…

Frozen pesto cubes for winter pasta

Last weekend I had a tall, beautiful columnar basil plant (courtesy of President’s Choice) nestled beside my tomato plants (to help their flavour). It was almost up to my waist. Rather than let it go to seed, which hadn’t happened yet thanks to my consistent pruning, I decided to make pesto.

I found an easy pesto recipe online from Whole Foods and then did a little research to see how to preserve it. The easiest way I found was to freeze it in an ice cube tray, wrap it in saran, being sure to let out all the air, and then pop the frozen cubes into a freezer bag (again, letting out all the air). I left out the cheese from the recipe because I wasn’t sure how it would freeze.

Now throughout the winter, when I want to make a quick weeknight meal–say shrimp with brown rice pasta fettuccine–I can just grab a cube or two, let it thaw a little and then stir it in! No more jars of store-bought pesto required.

I’m feeling ambitious about my herb saving, so this weekend I intend to clip some tarragon, oregano, sage and thyme and dry it out. Charmian Christie wrote a great article for the site that I posted this week called 5 ways to preserve your herbs in 5 minutes. If I get the time, I might also try to create some herb-infused vinegars.

Unexpected surprises in the garden

After another little round of rain I went out to investigate the yard and found a few unexpected things. We grabbed the camera to document them for you.

-A Boreal Chorus frog (or possibly a Western chorus frog) in the driveway. The kids pulled out the field guide and identified him before setting him loose in a puddle. Every time this happens I start thinking again about putting in a pond. Because I’m keeping up so well with the rest of the place, and I don’t have any half finished projects.

-At least five different types of mushrooms growing in the lawn and (what was supposed to be) the fallow section of the vegetable garden. If these ones are edible, I’ve probably got enough to stock the freezer for the year. Where’s a reliable mycologist when you need one?

-The peas going to town, blooming like there’s no tomorrow, which there might not be for them–we’ve already had our first snow! I don’t normally grow peas, so this is an extra special treat for me, and makes me wonder, why don’t I normally grow peas?

-The tops chomped clean off one patch of beets. I assume the deer are coming through again; they seem to change their route a couple of times a year and I haven’t seen much sign of them since late winter. I’d have a picture for you of that travesty except meine Kamera ist kaput. (The final unexpected surprise. Boo.)

This weekend: Learn about ikebana

One of the things I love about my job is learning about something that inspires me to try it. This week on CanadianGardening.com, I posted an article about ikebana, the Japanese style of flower arranging by Suzanne Hartmann. I find the whole discipline so fascinating and was interested to learn that ikebana featured prominently at the recent G8 and G20 summits. Then, I got a note from Suzanne informing me about the 42nd Anniversary Floral Art Show of the Hamilton Chapter International Ikenobo Ikebana Society. It is this Sunday (September 19) from 1 to 5 at the Royal Botanical Gardens. At 2 pm there will be a demonstration by Prof. Masakazu Nakamura from Kyoto, Japan. I’m bringing my sister, who taught in Japan for three years, and look forward to learning more about this floral art form.

A new blog beginning

Even though our growing season can seem rather short, the Canadian Gardening team has gardening on the brain all year long. We are constantly writing, shooting and editing stories for both the magazine and the website that we hope will inspire you to plant and grow, whether it be a few pots of herbs on a windowsill or an ambitious perennial garden. That’s why we’ve got various editors from the magazine on board to bring you tips and advice for all abilities, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at how those breathtaking pages of blooms are created.

Check here for a list of who you’ll start to see on our blog in the coming weeks!

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