There’s something very cheering about looking at a miniature palm tree against the background of deep snow in the garden. This little beauty sits on the table in my breakfast nook, snuggled into my vintage iron planter. It’s an elephant foot palm (Beaucarnea guatemalensis), and I picked it up at Ikea last fall for $11.99.
Judging by its name, my little palm is likely more used to the tropical climes of Central America. But it seems quite happy in its new, colder setting–I simply give it lots of admiration and a good, long drink of lukewarm water once a week in the sink, letting the water drain out of the bottom of its pot. I’ve placed moss around the top to add a finishing touch and help keep in moisture.
I have many indoor plants. And as I’m hoping to do a lot of travelling this winter, I’m slowly training them to get used to waiting longer between waterings. It’s working. In fact, many people overwater houseplants–literally killing them with kindness. Mine seem to respond to a certain amount of benign neglect.
And speaking of travelling and palmy days if not palms, I’m off this morning to Quebec City, courtesy of Quebec tourism, to experience the Quebec Winter Carnival and other delights both there and in the Eastern Townships near Montreal. Yippee! I’m as excited about it as a little kid. I’ve packed good thermal underwear and socks and, of course, my camera and notebook. Never fear, your trusty correspondent will reveal all on my next blog posts. Meanwhile, stay warm and keep smiling.
One of my favourite holiday plants is the Christmas cactus. When in full bloom, they are an absolutely gorgeous contrast of colour and interesting leaves. I've had mine now for a few years and the last two, I got one lonely bloom. So I asked Anne Marie what I can do to bring back that riot of colour next year. Here is what she had to say:
Christmas cacti are plants that respond to cooler temperatures and the length of the day (short days and long nights) to trigger them to flower. Keeping them slightly dry in the fall may also help, too.
To get them to form buds in early winter or late fall, put them where they will get night temperatures near 15 deg. C (55 F) and day temperatures below 18 deg. C (65 F). After about six weeks at this temperature, buds will form at the end of the branches. Placing the plants where they can get 13 hours of uninterrupted darkness each night also helps bring on the flower buds. Once the flower buds are formed, the cooler temperatures and long night darkness can be stopped.
But, don't let the plant get too hot, too dry, too cold or experience a sudden change or else the flower buds might drop off.
It's going to be a long wait, but I look forward to the challenge to bring on the blooms!
While looking through reader comments in articles recently, I saw that someone had commented on Lorraine Flanigan’s article Blanket your garden with a cosy winter mulch. The question was whether or not you can use sawdust to cover your bulb beds. I wasn’t sure how to answer this question, so I consulted Anne Marie. Here is what she had to say:
The sawdust will add another layer of insulation in addition to the soil and protect the bulbs during winter. However it should be removed or amended in the spring. Sawdust is a high carbon source (almost 40%) and when it decomposes in the garden it can divert microorganisms from helping plants obtain valuable nitrogen fertilizer. It can easily cause a nitrogen deficiency when it is breaking down as a result. This can be compensated for by adding additional nitrogen from fertilizer (for the plants) while the sawdust decomposes. The estimated carbon:nitrogen (C:N) ratio for sawdust and wood chips is 500:1 while composted manures are usually in the 17-50:1 range. A C:N ratio of 30:1 is considered ideal. Sawdust can be used in the garden, but after it has been composted. Use it in a compost pile with lots of “greens” to provide the offsetting nitrogen source. The nitrogen sources can be lawn clippings, vegetable kitchen waste, garden refuse but not leaves which are another carbon source. Some gardeners just pile the sawdust in the back corner of their yard and let it sit for a year and then it should be safe to use. So, remove it before it robs too much more nitrogen from the soil, put it in a pile in an out of the way place and add a high nitrogen fertilizer throughout to help with the decomposition process.
Happy New Year!
Besides giving my thirsty indoor plants lots to drink in this cold, dry weather, I haven't done much thinking personally about my own garden — that will change in the coming weeks as I'm really excited for spring.
However I have been busy editing and uploading content to go with the new special issue that is being mailed to subscribers probably as I write this! The theme is “Fantastic eco-wise Gardens.” With municipalities banning the use of pesticides and enviro-minded garden gurus reminding gardeners everywhere about the benefits of “green” gardening, this will be a fantastic resource to get you in the eco-friendly spirit for spring.
We also have lots of great eco-friendly content online…
For the new year, Jennifer Murray, my fabulous web producer, put together a helpful list of realistic eco-gardening resolutions.
If you're looking to add some earth-friendly titles to your gardening library this year, consulting editor Lorraine Flanigan has compiled an extensive list of resources.
Plus, you can determine how green you are with Stephen Westcott-Gratton's “Determining your green thumbprint” quiz. It might inspire you to adopt at least one of the eco-gardening resolutions — even small steps can make a great difference.
My eco resolutions include:
- Setting up my composter to actually produce compost! Currently it is just full of grass clippings. All the good stuff goes out in my green bin each week.
- Trying to find an effective, “green” way to get rid of the army of ants who call my property home.
- Plant a couple of trees in my yard. This will be win win as my neighbours behind me plan to build a second story on their bungalow – I’ll need privacy! Plus it will be good for the environment.
What are your eco-gardening resolutions?
Winter is tough on gardeners, who itch to be outside, getting their hands into the soil. It’s still a bit early to start seeds, and houseplants and catalogues can only take you so far. Sigh.
But it’s a grand time to learn more about your passion, if you’re so inclined. When it’s cold and snowy, you can sit through a day of lectures with equanimity.
Last weekend, for example, I attended the Toronto Master Gardeners technical update, which was a day-long symposium dedicated to The Global Gardener: Gardening in a Changing Climate held at Toronto Botanical Garden. I trotted along to several seminars (on bio-intensive gardening and backyard greenhouses), hobnobbed with more than 200 fellow gardeners from around Ontario, ate a delicious lunch, then listened to a fact-filled and thought-provoking keynote address given by Natalie Iwanycki and Alex Henderson of Royal Botanical Gardens.
One of the things Natalie and Alex touched on was Plant Watch, a volunteer monitoring program designed to help identify changes that might be affecting our environment. The way it works is gardeners across the country help record flowering times for selected plant species in their area, in effect becoming citizen-scientists. The program is a joint venture between the Canadian Nature Federation and Environment Canada’s Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network Coordinating Office (EMANCO). Check it out at www.plantwatch.ca–you can get your kids involved as well.
As the old year limped to a close, many looked ahead to 2009 with either trepidation or hope.
The scary global economy is something to give everyone pause, especially if you’ve lost 35 per cent or more of the value of your investments, as so many people have. However, we’ve all taken the hit in one way or another, so I guess it’s a level playing field of sorts.
You see, I definitely belong to the hopeful group; an incorrigible Pollyanna, the original cup-is-half-full kind of gal. And I’m looking forward to this year, which I know for me will be filled with new adventures. On January 22, I’m leaving my job as editor-in-chief of the magazine and striding forth into the great unknown.
But meanwhile, there’s the post-Christmas stuff to face. I need to start thinking about taking down the tree and putting away the colourful ornaments for another year. And after the reds and bright lights of the holidays, this is a time when I crave not more colour, but white. Perhaps it’s a symbol of purity for the as-yet blemish-free new year. I especially love to buy white amaryllises–I’m not quite ready for fragrant spring blooms, but the stately, scentless white blossoms of amaryllis feel just right–almost like trumpets to herald in the new year. There’s a little flower market not far from me that carries them for just $6.99; a real bargain, for just one plant brings pleasure for weeks.
I used to save my amaryllis bulbs and try to get them to reflower, but I had limited success with this (despite my cosseting, too many of them came up blind). So now, most of the time I enjoy them, then toss them into the compost. Happy New Year.
I don't usually hang any Christmas lights outside. I save the magic for inside where it's warm and cosy and I don't need to worry about a really long extension cord wrapping around my house and turning anything off and on in the cold.
However I recently got these great NOMA Outdoor Solar-Powered Decorative Landscape Lights to try out from Canadian Tire. They're like those gazing balls that you see in people's gardens, only these ones are holiday red, green, blue and amber. A simple switch on the little solar panel can leave them on autopilot for the season and the sun will do its magic during the day.
The frozen ground proved to be a challenge, but after pouring a bit of boiling water in my garden (in a bulb-less and plant-less area), I easily inserted the little stakes into the ground, stuck the lights on top and that very night had a lovely little glow lining the garden in front of my house. They're like cheerful lollipops in the snow.
These are a great last-minute gift idea for the gardener on your list–or if you get a gift certificate for Christmas and don't know how to spend it!
Last week, I wrote about a cheap and cheerful way to fill up containers for winter. In case you had trouble visualizing what these branches look like decorated for the holidays, here’s your answer. We had a fresh snowfall this morning here in Toronto and I went outside to do some shovelling before heading off for work. I took this photo at first light (I’m an early riser).
I spent maybe 15 minutes, tops, festooning the red dogwood branches with an old string of white lights (must replace these with LED lights, which I’ll buy in the post-holiday sales), some unbreakable ornaments and a few garlands of unbreakable red beads. Maybe it’s not the most elegant container in town, but I like it.
If you’re planning to shop for a fresh-cut Christmas tree, you can prolong the life of its needles by spraying the tree with an anti-dessicant spray (several brands are available at nurseries and garden centres) before bringing it indoors. Ditto for your wreaths and swags. What this spray does is help seal the needles to retard evaporation of moisture.
I no longer get a big, fresh-cut tree–partly because the most misshapen, woebegone, Charlie Brown tree on the lot was the one I’d invariably choose to buy. One year, the poor thing was so crooked and bare on one side, I literally had to wedge its stand under the baseboard to keep it from toppling over. It looked as though it was bowing to everyone who came into the room.
These days, my tree is a sculptural affair fashioned from brown twigs. Each year I haul it up from the furnace room, put it on a table and decorate it. But I do buy fresh-cut boughs and put them in a big pitcher for their lovely smell.
We’re due for more snow tomorrow. Maybe it’ll be a rare white Christmas after all.
One of my favourite parts about Christmas is finding my tree. Its scent evokes so many warm memories of my childhood, so I look forward to choosing that perfect pine (or fir or spruce) every year. When we were little, we used to go to a cut-your-own farm. This often resulted in my father having to cut off the top–or string it somehow to the ceiling–so it would fit in the house and stand up on its own.
Now that I'm in the city, my trees are a little more modest in size, but I still love walking in the door after a long day at work, breathing in the heady scent and gazing at the lights over a hot cup of tea.
If you still need to grab a tree before the big day, check out Shelagh McNally's guide to choosing the perfect tree.