Gardening Blog

Dining between the charcuterie and the olives

Two nights ago I attended the launch of A Taste of Ontario, a cookbook jointly published by the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers and Foodland Ontario. The dinner was hosted by Mark McEwan and held at his new 23,000-square-foot grocery store, McEwan (located in The Shops at Don Mills). Between the European-style meat, deli and dessert counters, we sampled some of the delicious recipes conceived by award-winning chef Anthony John Dalupan.

Besides launching this free cookbook (which you can also download as a PDF here), the event was meant to showcase the fresh local produce from Ontario greenhouse growers. And what a difference the lack of distance between your food and your plate can make. I received an amazing basket of vegetables from local greenhouse growers — the taste and quality are amazing!

So in the dead of winter when you're trolling the grocery store for healthy local produce, keep an eye out for greenhouse-grown produce from a local grower.

Also, stay tuned as I will be posting an excerpt from the cookbook on our site!

It was pretty neat eating dinner in a grocery store, especially McEwan - I will definitely be going back to treat myself to some of the amazing cuts of meat, salads and produce!

It was pretty neat eating dinner in a grocery store, especially McEwan - I will definitely be going back to treat myself to some of the amazing cuts of meat, salads and produce!

I'll be cracking open A Taste of Ontario to use up some of these delicious peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes I received!

I'll be cracking open A Taste of Ontario to use up some of these delicious peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes I received!

Mum-ma mia!

I can't take credit for planting them, but I love the dependable, gorgeous colours my chrysanthemums bring to the yard each fall — white, pink, yellow, orange. Still covered in bees, these are not delicate flowers. The frosty temperatures we had last week didn't harm their little faces at all! I haven’t done it yet this year, but I love to snip a short stem full of blooms and place them in water, low to the vase. It’s like a ready-made, elegant bouquet! Just make sure they aren’t covered in little bugs. I made that mistake last year!

Bulb planting made easy

4-001I finally managed to find some time to play in the garden on the weekend. Although my gardening to-do list wasn’t completed, I did manage to plant all my tulip bulbs. Every fall, I wait till the bulbs are on sale by mid-October they’re normally reduced by 40 to 60% off the regular price. This way I can buy more bulbs, while sticking to my gardening budget.2

When I worked at the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) in Burlington as a student gardener, I had the pleasure of planting tulip bulbs in the Rock Garden. Each year, the Spring Bulb Display showcases over 100,000 bulbs, which are brought in from growers in Holland. After they bloom, the bulbs are dug up and sold at the RBG’s bulb sale. Now consider planting 100,000 bulbs each and every September….now that’s a lot of bulbs.

4Instead of using a trowel to plant the bulbs, we used a bulb planter. Now this handy little tool saves a lot of time. Basically you rotate the handle as you push it into the soil. Once you’ve reached the specific depth, you pull it out. The soil is securely grasped in the cylinder, leaving a perfect hole to plant your bulb. Once you’ve nestled the bulb in its new home, you squeeze the spring-loaded handle, and it releases the soil, tucking the bulb in for the winter. If you’re wondering how far to dig the hole, the cylinder has gradation marks on the side for easy measurements.

5This handy device makes bulb planting a breeze. I spent 20 minutes planting 40 bulbs on the weekend and that included watering the bulbs and cleaning up. Now all I have to do is wait for spring!

A bumper crop of teeny tomatillos

The tomatillos that managed to escape my broiler and blender last year reseeded themselves and produced three plants this spring. There could have been more, but I think I inadvertently pulled some out. Anyhow, they are finally ready and survived this frosty week. They are much smaller than last year, but made a delicious salsa verde last night. Last year I mentioned a recipe I found on CanadianLiving.com, but I also really enjoy the variation I’ve created with a recipe from the old Wish magazine site because it calls for honey. A delicious addition to the tacos I made last night… yum!

My garden's report card: the annuals

In a recent column, Canadian Gardening magazine’s editor-at-large, Stephen Westcott-Gratton, wrote up a report card for his garden. The recent change in the weather from mild and pleasant to downright frosty has inspired me to reflect on what worked — and what didn’t — in my own garden.

Now I definitely need to practice my botanical photography, but here are some photos of my favourite plants this year. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to take a photo of some before they started going downhill, so those I’ve just listed at the bottom.

I planted my Picotree Cosmos around the edge of my vegetable garden to create a lovely, tall border behind my veggies. Now I suspect some of the seeds were carried off by the squirrels because I didn't end up with much of a border, but nonetheless, I'm very pleased with the fuchsia and delicate pink blooms that are still gracing my garden.

I planted my Picotree Cosmos around the edge of my vegetable garden to create a lovely, tall border behind my veggies. Now I suspect some of the seeds were carried off by the squirrels because I didn't end up with much of a border, but nonetheless, I'm very pleased with the fuchsia and delicate pink blooms that are still gracing my garden. Grade: A

Lantana from Home Depot

I bought this Lantana (a Lucky Red Hot) from Home Depot on a whim one weekend and it took over! You can see it shading my ornamental grass. But the flowers were lovely and it didn't require much water to survive in my dry, sunny front garden. Grade: A+

Other successes:

  • My herb garden. Most of my herbs came from the President’s Choice Lawn & Garden Centre at my local Loblaws and a PC event I attended. For the first time I used almost all my fresh herbs in my cooking (which is incredibly satisfying)… the only ones I didn’t use were my lemon thyme and my sage. Grade: A+ (I give my cilantro a D because both the plants started from seed and the plants that just appeared in my garden died)
  • My Red Antirrhinum majus Snapdragon. This one flowered on and off throughout the summer and was a little finicky, but well worth it for the gorgeous crimson blooms. Grade: B+
  • Kong Rose Coleus from Pape Garden Centre. This lovely plant drew my attention because of its lime green, fuchsia and purple foliage. I planted it beside an Irish moss I bought at Sheridan Nurseries. The squirrels carried away the moss, but left my lovely Coleus behind. Grade: A+
  • Begonias – I had a peach and a fuschia and both were gorgeous! Grade: A

Will my new pen biodegrade as I’m writing my to-do lists?

papermate-blogDespite working on the web, I'm still a paper person. I keep lists and notes in more than one notebook, I'm forever jotting things on Post-its and I still keep track of my life in my daytimer. Not particularly eco-friendly, I know, but at least my pen now is! A few weeks ago I was sent a Paper Mate Biodegradable — a nifty new pen made of parts that will decompose in soil or compost.

So maybe next spring after all my note taking, my pen will be inkless (though you can buy refills!) and I'll be able to bury it and see how long it takes to biodegrade — right alongside my Cargo PlantLove lipstick case. It will be like a little bioplastic graveyard in my garden!

Spectaular ornamental grasses

grass22One of the first gardening projects my husband and I tackled when we first moved into our house was dig up an old Privet hedge in our backyard. The hedge grew between the upper and lower patio I think the original homeowners wanted a screen between the house and pool, but when we moved in, it was unkempt and burly. I had thought we could salvage it, but my husband wanted to remove it (Yes, honey. You were right!)

It took a whole weekend to dig out the bushes and deep roots. When we were done, we were left with a sloping L-shaped bed. Once I saw the blank canvas, I envisioned a small rock garden. I built up the bottom of the slope with rocks to create a foundation and then amended the soil with compost and topsoil. The next step was deciding what to plant. Aside from a variety of succulents planted in the rock crevices, I also added a bunch of perennials including sedum, lamb’s ear, coreopsis, creeping phlox, and Scotch moss. To add some height, I decided to plant a few ornamental grasses. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Goliath’, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Titian’, Carex pendula (Drooping Sedge), Carex flacca (Blue Sedge), grass333and Festuca amethystina.

Two years later, the ornamental grasses have stolen the show. They’re not that showy in the spring, but by midsummer they’re quite impressive. By early fall, they skyrocket and bloom, and are quite spectacular. During the winter months, they create interest in the garden when everything else is hidden underneath the snow.

If you haven’t tried growing ornamental grasses, I highly recommend adding them to your garden. They’re easy to grow, versatile in the landscape, and incredibly showy. I’ve become addicted to ornamental grasses and have dabbled with a few in the front yard. I also want to design a new bed under a huge maple tree at the back of our yard. Ornamental grasses are definitely a good thing!

Don’t forget the flowers!

happy-bunch-227If you’re attending Thanksgiving dinner hosted by friends or family this weekend, don’t forget the flowers. Cut flower bouquets make a great hostess gift. You can either stop off at your local florist to choose a lovely arrangement or you can create your own. Either way, they’ll make a lovely addition to your Thanksgiving dinner table!

For a few ideas on festive arrangements you can make yourself, check out these bouquets.

A lush fall centrepiece

A happy bunch of fall flowers

Three fall centrepieces for the harvest table

Trees for Toronto

trees-for-torontoWhile I'm on the subject of Toronto, as I was driving over the Bloor Viaduct on my way to yesterday's event, I was admiring the gorgeous canopy of trees in the Don Valley that are just beginning to turn. Living in the city you sometimes forget just how much green space there is.

Queen's Park is another gorgeous `green` area in the city and last week, William Thorsell, Director & CEO of the ROM along with Toronto Parks and Environment Committee Chair Paula Fletcher unveiled new interpretive panels and tree identification signs as part of Trees for Toronto. The aim of TFT is to renew the urban forest in Queen's Park, which originally opened in 1860. It is home to 47 varieties of trees, including red and white oaks, butternuts, Norway maples, lindens and pines.

Has anyone seen these panels up close yet?

Celebrating 175 years!

Last night The Horticultural Societies of Parkdale and Toronto held a gala reception to celebrate their 175th anniversary. Speakers included Mayor David Miller; The Honourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario; Paul Zammit from the Toronto Botanical Garden and Marjorie Harris, author of my fave gardening book this season, Ecological Gardening.

The event was held at Allan Gardens, this gem in the middle of the city that I didn't know existed! I had to Google-map it before I left. The reception began in the Palm House, (a structure built in 1910 that was modeled after similar buildings from that era in the United States and England). Afterwards, you could stroll through the six greenhouses that play host to different themes and plant life. Right now there are displays of colourful mums for their Chrysanthemum Festival and I was told there are some beautiful holiday blooms around Christmastime.

You can get to the entrance from the south side of Carlton Street between Jarvis and Sherbourne. According to the website, Allan Gardens is open from 10 to 5. If you live in Toronto, I encourage you to check it out! I've heard that it's really neat to go in the dead of winter when you're longing for signs of life and greenery.

Here are some photos I took of the event.

Me and The Honourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. I used to be a guest from time to time on his show, Homepage, when he was still at CityTV and CP24.

Me and The Honourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. I used to be a guest from time to time on his show, Homepage, when he was still at CityTV and CP24.

Walking into the Chrysanthemum Festival greenhouse.

Walking into the Chrysanthemum Festival greenhouse.

100 oil lamps were positioned throughout all the gardens creating a warm ambience.

100 oil lamps were positioned throughout all the gardens creating a warm ambience.

I'm clearly not a botanical photographer, but I loved the rich, buttery yellow of this flower and the curly petals.

I'm clearly not a botanical photographer, but I loved the rich, buttery yellow of this flower and its curly petals.

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