Gardening Blog

DIY holiday gift idea: Terrarium ornaments

I first discovered air plants at the Tropical Expressions booth at Canada Blooms a few years ago. I was fascinated that they do not require soil, and I learned that air plants collect water from the rain. They also attach themselves to and derive nutrients from other plants (though they’re not considered parasitic).

I incorporated air plants into an article about quick and easy holiday terrariums for Canadian Living‘s January 2013 issue. Because of their minimal care requirements, air plants can be popped into one of those clear, plastic or glass ornaments you can purchase at craft stores. I also created another option, which involved planting succulents in a larger glass ornament. All the how-to information can be found in the Crafts section on CanadianLiving.com.

These ornaments make great gifts, but be sure to make a few for yourself!


photo by Joe Kim/TC Media

Christmas for the birds

Monday night was our community Christmas party, an annual event involving hayrides, hot chocolate, tree lighting, and an appearance by Santa. It’s a fun night, and the kids come home with a paper bag full of tooth-rotting goodness from the Head Elf.

This year, the candy bags included a handful of peanuts in the shell. I remember enjoying just such surprises as a child (long before the days of rampant nut allergies) and was disappointed when all of my children, as well as many of the others, turned their noses up at the nuts. They were all about the sugar.

Not being one to let anything go to waste, I insisted the peanuts be brought home. “If you don’t want them,” I said, “I know someone who will.”

That got their attention.

So we sorted the candy from the nuts, and I set a little container of them out on the front steps (the feeder is under a snowdrift). Sure enough, Tuesday morning the kids found it, tipped over and surrounded in delicate bird prints. I was expecting blue jays, as they go (ahem) nuts over this special treat, but I haven’t seen any yet: it’s a big fat flicker helping himself as far as we can tell.

It seems fitting to pass on these castoffs to the birds, as many European Christmas traditions mention Saint Nick and his various cultural incarnations giving special attention to animals. There’s the whole animals-talking-on-Christmas-Eve thing, too, and in Lithuania, grain and peas scattered on the barn floor at Christmas time was said to ensure healthy, productive animals in the new year. So I’m kind of thinking Santa would approve.

This is our Playmobil Advent calendar, a forest scene with Santa feeding all the animals. So far we've got deer, badgers, squirrels, mice, and a crow.

 

 

Hostess gift idea: Rosemary tree

A rosemary tree makes for a festive hostess gift, don’t you think? Its conical shape resembles a miniature Christmas tree (although its boughs aren’t sturdy enough to hang ornaments off of) and its fragrance is just so herby and delightful.

Read the rest of this entry »

Putting together my holiday urn

This morning the sun was shining, it was mild and the birds were singing in my weeping mulberry. I decided it was the perfect time to go outside and put together my holiday urn. The sun promptly disappeared, but I was already in the mood to create, so I didn’t care. My urn is a mix of materials I bought (though I hate paying for stuff I can find in the woods for free) and things I gathered from my yard (and garage).

Here’s a list of what went into the mix:

  • I started by cutting a birch branch I found while on a hike (it was on the ground!) in two and stuck both branches firmly in the soil that was left over from my fall urn. There’s a nice fork in one of the branches, so I’m technically following the rule of threes! I added a bit more soil to anchor them in.
  • Next, I placed my pine boughs around the exterior. This was the only greenery I purchased (I grabbed a small bunch), since I don’t have anything like this on my property.
  • I also bought sticks. But only because I don’t know where I can covertly snip red osier dogwood in these here parts. My house sits up a bit from the road and my urn could look like a big blob of green, so I wanted a pop of colour with the red sticks. I placed these around the birch branches.
  • Then I took a walk around the yard, snipping two types of cedar branches, which I interspersed with the pine boughs.
  • I wanted to add a wee bit of sparkle, so I stuck three silvery stars on sticks around the birch. I had more, but I wanted to keep it subtle.
  • I crowned the centre with three enormous pinecones that I bought at the Toronto Christmas Market last year.

And that’s it! I fiddled a bit with all the branches to make them just so, but I’m happy with the result. Here are some pics:

It took a bit of fiddling to get the branches just so. I like the pine because it drapes nicely over the sides. The one type of cedar I used is a bit more one-dimensional, so it fits nicely in between, while the other type of cedar is fuller, adding depth and a bit of height here and there.

Here you can see the contrasting greenery a little better.

And this closeup shows the silvery stars--they're not that bad, right?--in contrast with the red branches, giant pinecones and birch.

Ruminations on the gardening gift

There’s a whole lot of whispering and sneaking and wrapping going on around here, and I can’t help but hope someone heard my loud hints about getting me some new secateurs. However, there’s a piece of me that hopes they didn’t notice. Why the conflict? I want someone to get them for me, so I don’t have to dither any longer about justifying the expense, but I’d really like to pick them out myself.

I’m horrible. I know. I should just be grateful, no matter what. And I’m pretty good about that when it comes to most things– get me a scarf, or a book, some music, or a fairy for my collection, and I am pretty much guaranteed to be genuinely grateful. But garden tools or garden decor can be such a matter of personal taste and needs. Not everyone wants a grinning resin turtle to cavort among the flowers. You’d better know your recipient pretty well before you go there.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d be pleased to receive many of the gifts on this lovely new list, but I’d be just as happy–maybe more–to get a gift card for my favourite greenhouse. They might carry a hint of cop-out, but in this case, and my case, it would be welcome.

If you’re set on giving a gardening gift, but the person “has everything,” is a little picky (like me), or you’re just plain drawing a blank, there’s always the option of a gift in kind: a donation to Plan Canada or World Vision (among others) can help plant fruit trees, start a quinoa crop, set up a family farm, or establish a schoolyard garden in developing parts of the world.

Anything given with love and thought is a great present, right?

Just don’t buy me any of these.

 

 

 

 

2-second garden tip: A trick to keep paperwhites upright

Today’s 2-second garden tip was first printed in the Winter 2006 issue of Canadian Gardening. It has been on the website ever since and every year I remind our readers of this clever trick. Here is a link to the original article that has a bit more info: Keep your paperwhites upright. And, here is our Pinterest-worthy tip:

Quick project: barn wood planter

I’ve been enjoying all the great ideas for winter planters, holiday flower arrangements and wreaths that have been popping up lately. When we were down in Kalispell two weeks ago, I noticed cute barn wood planters all over the antique shops, stuffed with juniper branches. Some were long and low, some tapered and carved, but they all had one thing in common: they were ridiculously overpriced. I said to Chris, “I bet we could throw one of those together in less than an hour.”

And this morning we tried. And got two done in less than an hour.

Of course, Chris is a confident woodworker, and we have loads of old fence board just laying around. But it’s still an easy project for anyone to try.

Choose wood that has aged nicely, but be sure it isn’t so aged that it is splitting. Interesting knots or grain are a bonus. For easy building, we used plain old but joints, and made the base the width of our board, and the height the same. For the end pieces, we measured the width of our board and added the thickness of each side piece. Use a coloured pencil to mark your measurements–regular pencil disappears on barn wood.

Cut your board into the lengths you want. A mitre or table saw will give you nice straight cuts, but if you're careful, a jigsaw or circular saw will work as well.

If you want handles, use a wood boring bit (or the largest drill bit you have) to make two parallel holes on the sides.

Once you have your holes, use a jigsaw to cut out the handle shape.

Use good wood glue (carpenter's glue) on each joint. This is what really holds it together.

After you glue the joints, nail them together. We used a brad nailer, but you could use chunky-headed roofing nails to add some detail.

Chris insisted on giving the edges all a quick router. It took longer to change the bit than to do everything else together, but I must admit, it really takes it up a notch.

If you intend to use live plants, you will want to be sure to build your planter to fit your container. I chose to do a dry arrangement, but 3 standard 5 inch pots (or old sour cream containers!) will fit just right when I decide to change it.

First one done! I'll add some of those stick-on felt circles from the hardware store so it doesn't scratch the table or floor.

Here’s what I did with one of mine. I did resort to using some artificial flowers; it’s protected in the porch and I don’t want to assault my junipers or dogwoods until they get a little bigger.

 

Gift idea: Plant green

Evergreen’s Give Green, Be Green holiday gift program is amazing! I’d love to give this to a fellow gardener or eco-minded pal.

Check out the Plant Green category. You can have a native sapling planted in a Canadian city or a pollinator garden planted in a public park or school; you can adopt an apple tree and Evergreen will share the fruit with a community in need or have a community garden planted in an urban space. It’s so simple: You donate and Evergreen does all the dirty work (quite literally). Your recipient will receive an e-card letting them know that a donation has been made in their name (and you get to avoid the hectic shopping mall – talk about a win-win).

Other categories include Play Green, Build Green and Eat Green.

To see how these gifts make for greener cities, check out the Plant Green video. Visit givegreenbegreen.ca for more information and to purchase your green gift.

2-second garden tip: Tucking in dahlia tubers

Today’s tip comes via garden writer Veronica Sliva. Veronica and I have known each other for a few years as members of the Garden Writers Association. In fact, Veronica was the regional director when we first met. We usually see each other throughout the spring and summer months at various gardening events, from Canada Blooms to the Toronto Botanical Garden’s annual Through the Garden Gate tour. That is, if Veronica is not off leading tours around the world for GardeningTours.com.

A prolific garden writer, Veronica creates columns and articles for both print and web (including CanadianGardening.com), as well as for her own website, A Gardener’s World.

Here is Veronica’s autumn-based 2-second tip:

‘Tis the season for holiday plants

With Remembrance Day behind us and Halloween firmly in the past, it is time for many of us to get into the full swing of all things Christmas.

I’ve got my poinsettia going, and my baby rosemary plants are putting on new growth. Now it’s time to try something else: forcing bulbs.

I’ve never grown an amaryllis or anything like that, but this year I thought I’d try paperwhites. I’m a die hard daffodil fan, so these cousins (Narcissus papyraceus) aren’t too far outside my comfort zone.

The little gift pack I stumbled across at Walmart for five bucks actually came with a pot and a disk of compressed coir, but many people plant the bulbs in a dish of water topped up with pebbles or marbles for stability. My kit says to plant them six weeks before you want blooms; most people on the Interweb say three weeks, so I’m doing it today and we’ll see.

I decided to ditch the coir and pot that came with the kit and do something prettier.

I put a shallow layer of stones in this (plastic-lined) dish, placed the bulbs, then covered them up to their "shoulders" in more stones and added just enough water to keep their bottoms wet.

I did find an intriguing tip for keeping blooming paperwhites from getting top-heavy –get them ever so slightly drunk. But as to why paperwhites are thought of as a Christmas flower, I couldn’t find any clues other than they bloom in December in warm climates. There doesn’t seem to be any special symbolism.

Poinsettias symbolized purity to the ancient Aztecs, and there’s the usual holly and ivy to represent eternity and resurrection. Evergreen trees fall into the same category. But amaryllis? Christmas Rose (Serissa or Helleborus, depending on who you ask)? Christmas cactus? We just seem to be looking for something alive and lovely in the dark winter months.

Fair enough. We were pretty excited when Chris got a zygocactus (Schlumbergera) blooming again.

Rosemary babies in the background!

At least, he’s the one who rescued the poor little guy. It was languishing in a corner after being relocated during the ever-present renovations, and he moved it to his studio where it gets bright, indirect light. He’s taking full credit for the transformation; I think he accidentally did exactly what it needed. 

But I’m not complaining. It’s pretty exciting to have so many things growing when there’s carols on the radio and four inches of snow.

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