Gardening Blog

Gardening in a thong?

What do you wear when you garden? Well a gardener in Collingwood, ON was recently given some fashion advice from the OPP after they received reports of a man wearing an ill-fitting thong while gardening. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t imagine gardening in a thong would be very comfortable. But then again, if you’re having fun in your garden and you’re not offending your neighbors, does it really matter what you're wearing? Maybe the thong-wearing gardener should invest in a privacy fence around his backyard–he could even claim the expense under the Home Renovation Tax Credit!

Gotta love the city’s street tree planting program

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Of the 36 trees to choose from, I picked a Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) to be planted in my front yard by the City of Hamilton's Street Tree Planting Program.

Shortly after moving into my house, I called an arborist for a quote on having an old maple tree removed from the corner of my property. It had been dead for sometime and was leaning precariously towards my driveway. The arborist came to look at it and told me it would cost $350 to remove it, but then he mentioned that since the tree was on city property, I should call them to see if they would remove it free of charge. I certainly appreciated his honesty and willingness to save me some money, even if it cost him the job.

After calling the city to enquire about removing the tree, they came out to verify it was on city property and it was! They came back a few weeks later, removed the tree and left behind some brochures on the city's tree planting program. Not only did they remove the tree and stump free of charge, they also offered to plant a new one. I was surprised I had never heard about the tree planting program. Occasionally the city will canvas neighborhoods to plant trees in suitable locations, but otherwise, it seems the program is one of the best-kept secrets in the country.

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The gingko, also known as a Maidenhair tree, has an angular crown and erratic branching pattern. The fan shaped leaves are truly unique.

Whether you live in Kelowna, Simcoe, Kingston, or Charlottetown, most Canadian cities offer a tree planting program. These programs were created to plant trees on city owned street allowances fronting residential properties for free. Homeowner are able to choose from a variety of trees native to North America, imported from Europe and Asia and hybrid varieties. Some cities have taken the program a step further by offering residents subsidized backyard tree planting. LEAF (Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests) is a non-profit group dedicated to improving Toronto's urban forest.

An ingenious example of guerrilla gardening

guerrillagardening2If you can find them among the ever-growing piles of garbage in Toronto, abandoned newspaper boxes can be an unsightly blight on our street corners. Karina at Canadian Gardening magazine forwarded me a link yesterday afternoon to a local blogger’s attempt to beautify our city. ‘Blade Diary’ actually built wooden flower boxes this past spring that fit perfectly inside some of these abandoned, tagged garbage targets. I guess once some of the owners found out they gave the flower boxes the boot and starting using them again. Too bad…I like the petunias better.

You can find more photos of Blade’s gardening project here. He even shows sketches of his project plans!

Did anyone see these boxes in their urban habitat before they were taken away? Have you seen other great examples of guerrilla gardening where you live?

The home renovation tax credit and your garden

Hopefully you've been hanging on to all your garden centre receipts this year because the Home Renovation Tax Credit covers a number of garden related items. This is the perfect excuse to buy more plants! I'm planning on building a pond in the garden next year, so not only am I going to wait until the garden centres have their annual summer clearance sales, I'm also going to use my receipt for the tax credit. Who could ask for anything more?

So what landscaping projects and garden items qualify?
• perennials
• trees and shrubs
• garden rocks
• new sod
• decks
• retaining walls
• irrigation
• garden lighting
• fences
• driveways
• ponds and waterfalls
• garden sheds
• large permanent garden ornaments
• professional landscaping services
• professional landscaping contractor services

For a complete list of eligible expenses, visit Revenue Canada.

The incredible flowering hoya

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One of my most treasured houseplants is my Hoya carnosa `Snowball` or simply known as a hoya or waxflower. Native to Eastern Asia and Australia, H. carnosa is one of 100 species in the Asclepiadaceae (milkweed) family. This tropical vine has dark, green leathery leaves that leak a milky sap when damaged.

My hoya is probably over thirty years old and has been passed down like a family heirloom. It was originally my grandmother's plant, who gave it to my mom, who in turn gave it to me. hoya2

Like clockwork, it blooms twice a year, once in July and again in January. It has clusters of attractive, star shaped, white blossoms with red centres. It's spectacular when it blooms. Right now, it's covered with dozens of flowering clusters.

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I've already removed a handful of flowers that have finished blooming. The waxy flowers look fake, but I assure you they are real. Once the blooms opens, they are extremely fragrant, especially at night. I'm not sure why the fragrance increases at night, but the sweet scent easily fills my entire house. I've heard of some people removing the flowers because the fragrance is so strong.

So what's the secret to my hoya's success? Simple–I ignore it. I occasionally water it and rarely fertilize it. I did repot it a few years ago and replaced the soil, but other than that, it just hangs in my dinning room window. The new shoots grow quickly and it isn't until they've grown a few feet that they get leaves. There have been a few occasions where I've discovered new vines that had weaved their way through the strings of the blind, with full-sized leaves stuck in between. Unfortunately, the only way to remove them was to remove the leaves and pull the vines through. A hoya will bloom more frequently if placed in direct sunlight, but they'll also tolerate low light.hoya4

If you're looking for an exotic houseplant to grow, consider bringing a hoya home. Notoriously long-lived and hardy, these trouble-free plants are ideal for beginner and experienced gardeners alike.hoya5

Welcome to a Gardener’s Playground

I've spent most of life playing in one garden or another. Both my grandmother and mother nurtured my green thumb from an early age. My Oma could make anything grow and she happily shared her gardening secrets with me as we puttered around her garden. I remember spending warm summer afternoons picking red currents for jam or munching on cucumbers freshly picked from the veggie patch. My mom's garden was always brimming with colourful blooms and she was never upset with me when she caught me stomping through her flowerbeds to pick the tulips, peonies, or dahlias. Instead, she gave me my very own garden where she encouraged me to explore and get my hands dirty.

It seemed only natural to study horticulture, landscape design and then publishing. During my summers and school holidays, I worked at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario as a student gardener. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to play in a public garden, where so many experienced gardeners have left their own `gardening fingerprint` by nurturing the vast collection of plants. I also worked at a few local garden centre where I played in the production and retail facilities. I did everything from working as a cashier and customer service rep, to drawing landscaping plans, to hosting seminars, but what I loved most was working in the greenhouse. I never truly appreciated how much time and effort was spent growing the plants behind the scenes. The whole process is very complex, from ordering the plugs, to planting, pinching, watering, fertilizing, replanting and then watching the swarms of gardeners scoop them up on the May long weekend. What an incredibly rewarding experience. Each season brought a new crop to nurture–annuals, mums, poinsettias, hydrangeas, Easter lilies–the list goes on and on.

From my first garden as a child, to an apartment filled with houseplants and a balcony brimming with containers, to a postage-sized townhouse plot, I've continued to play and learn. Today, I garden on a mature 75×175-foot lot an hour west of Toronto, which I share with my husband, daughter, dog, and four cats (much to their dismay, my feline friends are only permitted to admire the garden from indoors). Although it's a work in progress, it truly is my gardening playground! A little fun in the garden is good for your soil!

If you've got a thought or question to share, please post a comment!

Anja Sonnenberg

Tabouleh from the garden

Last night while I was pondering what side dish I could make out of some tomatoes that were on my windowsill, I remembered a “Super quinoa tabouleh” recipe I had tucked away from Body of Knowledge Healing Arts. Now usually I wouldn’t have had mint or parsley just hanging out in my fridge, but then I remembered, “duh, they’re growing in my garden!” Out I went with my little snips to cut my fresh ingredients from the garden.

It may be awhile until I see a veggie, but it was very satisfying making great use of my herbs in the meantime.

Taming my rosebush and treating its spots

After three years of basically avoiding my monster rosebush, I got a pair of Wells Lamont rose gloves for my birthday from my sister. Now I'd already made a few cursory cuts here and there to try them out, but the last couple of days, after reading Stephen Westcott-Gratton's really helpful article from the June issue on renovating roses, I decided to tackle this thorny task wholeheartedly. There were no thorns scraping my wrists or spikes under my fingernails. I could get right in there with my pruners grab the scary-looking canes and chop them up in my yard bag.

One thing I did notice, however, is that a lot of the leaves on my rosebush have these weird orange spots under the leaves. After a quick Google search, it appears I have rust, a fungal disease that can actually overwinter, so I'll have to be careful to get rid of all the offensive leaves and treat with wettable sulphur. One thing I want to look into first is that the treatment I choose is organic…

My yard is abuzz!

Yesterday during my mid-week holiday (Happy Birthday Canada!), I was able to get out in the garden for several hours. Amid the weeding and trimming and edging I noticed that a few of my tall, yellow wildflowers that seem to have bloomed overnight were a little bent over. As I tried to lift them, not one, but several little bees flew out. This made my day. And as I looked around, I saw bees on my other blooms, as well. I've been reading a lot lately about the importance of bees in the garden and about their alarming decline in Canada. Knowing that I'm attracting these vital pollinators to my garden makes me want to plant more bee-friendly blooms.

Here are a couple of articles on CanadianGardening.com about how you can make your home a healthy habitat for bees:

A final note

img_30251Happy Canada Day, everyone. While economic times are still uncertain, those of us lucky enough to live in this country have much to celebrate tomorrow.

After I stepped down last January as editor-in-chief of Canadian Gardening, I promised myself a lazy gap year before I returned to the fray of the working world. So the second half of 2009 will be spent–doing whatever I feel like. This means less writing, more reading. Less talking, more listening. Less looking, more seeing. You get the picture. This entry will be the last one before my blog goes on hiatus.

But how can I leave you without showing a few more photos of my garden, and making an observation or two? The large image at the top of the page is a little corner filled with various pots. It looks a bit messy but there’s a reason for it. The winter brought with it a leaking roof underneath an old deck off my bedroom. This meant the deck needed to be demolished and the roof replaced, with everything that had been up there brought down. It was a big expense, so I did it in two stages. Stage one was the installation of a new flat roof last winter. Stage two was the building of a sturdy and handsome new deck a few days ago. Little by little, some of the myriad pots dotted around my garden will make their way up to my roof. But there will be far fewer than normal this year, and no veggies. Oh well, there’s always next year. Gardening is for optimists.

There are many things I’m enjoying about my garden right now (not the least of which is having some time to sit in it). Here in Toronto, it’s been a coolish and wettish early summer, and my garden has made huge amounts of lush, verdant growth. There’s very little weeding to do, because the plants are so densely packed together. So far, I’ve seen very little insect damage. There have been a few snails about, but the giant leaves of my ‘Frances Williams’ hostas are intact. Fingers crossed this may continue.

img_29881The plant shown here is my Chinese flowering dogwood (Cornus kousa chinensis), which is bursting with health and absolutely covered in starry white flowers. Divine. I heartily recommend this small tree for narrow urban Zone 6 gardens like mine, as it truly offers four seasons of beauty. Smooth, grey bark and graceful, compact form in winter, followed by attractive leaves and white flower-like bracts in late spring/early summer. These bracts (“flowers”) persist for many weeks, turning pinkish as they mature. Their berry-like centres go a brilliant red and are relished by squirrels and birds. And the leaves go a lovely burgundy fall colour as well. If the flowers were scented, it would be perfection.

Lastly, a word about containers. Don’t be afraid to combine shrubs, perennials, annuals, grasses and herbs to create the look you want. One of my favourite shrubs for this purpose is the ubiquitous purpleleaf sandcherry (Prunus x cistena), which is overused in the landscape but seldom seen in pots. Cheap as chips, open and spare in habit with showy burgundy leaves, it’s hardy (Zone 4) and easy to plant under because it’s not a space hog. (Whatever shrub you choose for a container, be sure it’s at least two zones more cold-hardy than where you live. Here in Zone 6, this means Zone 4.) Yes, the sandcherry overwinters outdoors in its pot.

img_29911And try growing some of your invasives in pots as well. Seen here is an old galvanized washtub (be sure to add drainage holes in the bottom with a drill) filled with various types of mint. I harvest the leaves to make fresh mint tea: take a generous handful of leaves and stems, rinse them, put them into a teapot and bruise well with a wooden spoon. Cover with boiling water and steep to taste. Pour into cups and float a few mint leaves on top for colour. Sweeten with honey, or not. This makes a lovely clear drink that’s delicate and refreshing. You can do the same thing with lemon verbena, which is another rambunctious plant.

Or use fresh mint leaves in mojitos or as part of the quintessentially British drink of summer: Pimm’s number 7. You can find recipes on the internet.

So that’s it from me for now. Cheers to you and happy gardening. And thanks for reading my blog.

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