Gardening Blog

My seeds: The chosen ones

My sister and I chose our seeds from the heirloom seed house and plant nursery, The Cottage Gardener in Newtonville, Ontario. It was important to us to choose heirloom and organic varieties.

It would have been easy to go crazy and pick one of everything, but we had to realize that we can't start everything from seed. I simply don't have the space, and as Anne Marie said, not everything does as well from seed. So, I'll be hitting the nurseries, including my usual spots–the heirloom vendors at the Evergreen Brickworks Farmer's Market and Richters–for the seedlings of the veggies I'm not starting early.

But back to my seeds. My choices include cosmos, one of my favourite flowers, and experiments like white-stemmed pak choy and Detroit dark red beet. My sister chose a lot of herbs, which I'm game to try out, as well. Here is a list of what we're planting:

• Dill
• Florence Fennel
• English Thyme
• Black Calypso Beans
• Common Chives
• Roman Chamomile
• Cilantro
• Champion Collards
• Black Hungarian Hot Peppers
• Arugula
• Cosmos
• Detroit Dark Red Beet
• White-Stemmed Pak Choy
• Mesclun mix (a gift from Canadian Gardening writer Lorraine Flanigan)

Citrus groves and grapefruit pie

img_23272Do you ever stop to wonder at the contradictions in nature? For example, why do orange blossoms smell so sweet when the fruit they produce tastes tart?

Citrus is big business in central Florida, so a visit to the groves was a component of our tour. We were shown how oranges are washed, dried, polished and waxed before being packed for shipment. I was surprised to learn 95 per cent of Florida’s harvested oranges are earmarked for juice. However, enterprising Floridians figured out a use for all that leftover pulp and peel–it goes into cattle feed. I guess Florida cows don’t suffer too much from colds and flu.img_23331

One of the many interesting stops we made was to the Citrus Research and Education Center of the University of Florida. It’s been around for about 90 years, with a citrus library that’s open to the public. In addition to an overview of projects being carried out by graduate students and other young scientists, Wendy Meyer (with magnifying glass, right), an entomologist and research biologist, told us about some of the pests that are plaguing crops. One of the most serious of these is the Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri), an aphid-like insect that is a vector for the Liberobacter asiaticum bacterium, which causes deadly greening disease that can kill a tree in just five years.img_23141

Since its initial discovery in Florida in 1998, the Asian citrus psyllid has spread throughout the state. Dr. Meyer reviewed various methods that are being used to monitor this pest, including putting out pheromone-laced yellow panel traps. Controls being tried include interplanting citrus with guava, which seems to act as a natural repellent. At present, there is no cure for this devastating disease. Greening could spell big trouble for the industry in the years ahead.

img_2409Next, we headed off for lunch to Lang Sun Country Groves in Lake Alfred, a family-run business since 1951. The massive Florida flame vine (Pyrostegia venusta) in front of the building dates from that time. Not only does Lang’s grow, pack, ship and sell oranges, grapefruits and other citrus varieties, but they also have the Taste of Florida Cafe, where they serve freshly squeezed juice, homemade soups, salads, sandwiches and especially, desserts. I sampled the signature grapefruit pie shown here (you can find the recipe on their website, below).img_2414

After lunch, we toured the packing facility out back, where fruit is sorted by size and packed by hand. It seemed a surprisingly small, low-tech operation for a company that ships citrus fruit far and wide. Lynn Miller, a second-generation member of the Lang family, proudly showed us a box of honeybell tangelos, a runaway Florida marketing success story. When I told him their shaped reminded me of the mineolas I bought at home, he grinned. It seems they are indeed the very same. The difference is they couldn’t give away mineolas in the U.S. until an enterprising grower changed their name to honeybells to reflect their bell-like form.img_2426

www.langsuncountry.com
www.visitcentralflorida.org

Next: Good eats and cheap retreats

Taking a deep breath and perusing the seed catalogues

I have never started my seeds indoors before. Sure, I've thrown a few in the ground over the years to see what would come up, but I always worried I didn't have enough space or light to sow them inside. I had varied success with my veggies last year, but my sister and I both realized that the long wait for our peppers and tomatoes had a lot to do with planting them too late in the season. This year we're determined to get a head start.

We decided to order seeds together, but plant in our own respective homes. I'm going to sacrifice the windowsill in my home office and the space around it. My sister's apartment is a virtual greenhouse–her lemongrass is a tree!–and her husband built her these awesome shelves for her seed pots. I figure my odds of fresh herbs and veggies increase with both of us planting the same thing. If one of us fails (most likely me), we have backup.

But where to begin? I find seed catalogues so overwhelming–especially when looking at 10 tomatoes with the same description. Cross-eyed and confused, I turned to Anne Marie for some advice in choosing what to plant.

Here are her helpful tips:

• Look for flowers and vegetables listed as award winners. These are some of the best ones to grow.
• Good plants to start from seeds indoors include tomatoes, marigolds, sunflowers, squash, geraniums, lettuce, sweet peas, cosmos, morning glory and basil.
• Sunflowers, squash, lettuce, sweet peas and morning glory are also good to sow directly outside, too.
• Not all plants are worth starting from seeds. Some are better divided or started by cuttings. (Good call, I'll reign in my list!)
• Buy the size of package you can use in one year.
• If packets contain less than 10 seeds then expect to pay premium prices because they have to be collected by hand, the plant is rare, or the plant only produces a small number of seeds.
• Beware of packets that contain 1,000 seeds for a low price such as $2.49.
• After your seed list is assembled a little time searching on the Internet can give you the specific details about how to sow them–when to sow i.e. days before planting them outside, to cover or not to cover (light vs darkness), ideal temperature for germination, days until germination, etc.

Someone recommended a seed company to my sister, so we both compiled a list and our seeds are in the mail! I just have to buy my little seed starting pots and I'm good to go!

Hollis Garden, Lakeland, Florida

Once the third largest city in Florida, Lakeland is a quiet, pretty place with three lakes within its downtown core. This is a college town, home to the University of Southern Florida and Florida Southern College, where the latter’s campus boasts a number of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. It’s also been the spring training camp of the Detroit Tigers baseball team for 70 years.

Known as the “city of swans,” Lakeland is also home to Hollis Garden, a formal, neoclassical-style beauty spot located on the shores of Lake Mirror and a very pleasant place to spend a few hours.

Established in just 2000, the garden has matured well and packs some 10,000 plants on its 1.2 acre grounds. There you will find Florida natives, as well as annuals, fruits, vegetables and herbs in some 16 garden rooms, along with water features, grottoes and more.

The garden has other, quirkier, charms. A number of offbeat sculptures keep the space from looking too prissy. And I was especially enchanted by the historical Trees of America section. There, pollarded to maintain a manageable size, are trees with a direct connection to their famous owners–some of them come from seedlings or the original trees found in their gardens. You can admire the Abe Lincoln overcup oak (Quercus lyrata), the Elvis Presley weeping willow, the George Washington tulip poplar and the Patrick Henry osage orange, to name just a few.

Seldom-encountered curiosities, such as this Buddha’s hand (Citrus medica var. sarcodactylus), above left, from China may also be seen. Yes, it’s a citrus and loaded with Vitamin C, but according to our guide Stacy Smith (shown in middle photo, above, with sugar cane) it must be cooked before it’s eaten. Another interesting plant is the popcorn cassia (Cassia didymobotrya), above right. Native to South America, it’s so named because it really does smell like buttered popcorn.

Once you’ve strolled around the garden, you might want to head over to the nearby Hotel Lakeland Terrace, which also overlooks Lake Mirror, for some refreshment. Originally built in 1924, the hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a member of Historic Hotels of America. Its impeccably restored interior, including the beautiful pecky cypress ceilings, makes it a fine spot for a relaxing drink or a full meal.

Some gardens need more space than a mere blog can give them. To explore central Florida’s historic Bok Tower Gardens, view Lorraine Flanigan’s slideshow.

(www.terracehotel.com)

Next: Citrus groves and more

Into the wild

Lying about 45 minutes or so equidistant from Tampa and Orlando airports, not far from well-known, man-made attractions such as Disney World, is the “other” Central Florida of Polk County–a place of pretty little towns, rolling hills, myriad lakes, orange groves, astonishing public gardens and mysterious natural habitats that are little known to the casual visitor. And that’s where we’re going on the next few posts of this blog.

Our comfortable hotel, the Holiday Inn Winter Haven, is the jumping-off point for our adventures. Although I’d be a liar if I didn’t tell you there’s the usual share of what our “Gardens and Groves” tour leader Georgia Turner dubbed “Generica” here–that endless permutation of suburban strip mall/big box store/motel-and-fast-food-joint that seems to be found most anywhere you land–it’s well worth looking beyond that to discover what’s special, such as the Circle B Bar Reserve located between Bartow, Lakeland and Winter Haven.

A long allee of live oaks, beautifully festooned with Spanish moss, line the road to the newly opened Polk’s Nature Discovery centre at the edge of the reserve, where we learn more about the area and pick up our two volunteer tour guides, Ray and Herman. Then off we go into the wild.

It’s hard to believe that prior to 2000, the Circle B Bar’s 1267 acres of marsh, cypress swamp and oak hammock were mostly a working cattle ranch. Since that time, wildlife and nature have been allowed to take over and it’s now a haven for some 172 species of birds and numerous plants, many of them unique to this part of the state. Neither the lake nor the land have been stocked in any way, and Herman and Ray explained that wildlife and plants came back on their own after just five years.

A breeze ruffles my hair and the spring sun feels warm on my back. I am in heaven. The silence is broken only by the cries of birds and the rush of their wings. Wild turkeys, bald eagles, palm warblers, moor hens, pie-billed grebes, coots and especially the famous rare white pelicans (seen at the top of the page) are just some of the species to be found around Hancock Lake.

A big green water snake and a couple of alligators glide by. (The big old fella seen here smiled obligingly for my camera–or maybe he was just sizing me up for a snack.)
www.visitcentralflorida.org

Next: Hollis Garden

Seedy Saturdays heads-up

The days are getting longer, there’s new warmth in the sun and soon it’ll be time to start a few seeds indoors to get ready for the gardening season ahead (hooray). So before I embark on writing about my Florida trip (the first post will be online later today and I promise there won’t be even a whiff of winter), I wanted to give you a quick heads-up about Seedy Saturdays. These offer gardeners a chance to exchange or buy seeds–often heirloom or hard-to-find varieties. Even if you don’t have any seeds to swap this time, it’s perfectly fine to go along and see what’s what and a great way to connect with other plant-mad folks in your community.

A number of events are taking place tomorrow (February 28) with more to follow. To find information on what’s going on near you, contact your local garden club or the Master Gardeners group in your area, or log on to the Seeds of Diversity website at http://www.seeds.ca/ev/events.php

Forcing branches and other ways to start spring now!

Elaine working her magic

Elaine working her magic

Sunday morning it was almost as though Mother Nature was mocking me by throwing snowflakes every which way as I headed into the Distillery District in downtown Toronto. How dare I think about spring! But despite the wintry day, spring awaited me inside Tappo Wine Bar & Restaurant. I was there to attend “A Cabin Fever Breakaway: A festival for gardeners longing for spring.” I was invited by Elaine Martin, owner of Vintage Gardener and the organizer of the event.

Brilliant yellow forsythia branches and daffodils, multicoloured primula, deep purple hyacinth and candy-coloured tulips surrounded a table filled with the amazing vintage pots and vases that Elaine sells in her store. I was feeling inspired already!

So what were forsythia branches, one of the first signs of spring, doing inside when it's clearly still winter? That's what Elaine focused on for the first part of her talk—how to force branches (forsythia and magnolia work best) into thinking it's spring. This is something I'm definitely going to try—I have two forsythia bushes in the backyard. And it seems so easy!

With this planter, Elaine explained how to gently bend the pussy willow branches to create a handle!

With this planter, Elaine explained how to gently bend the pussy willow branches to create a handle!

According to Elaine, all you have to do is wait for a sunny day when the temperature goes up by 10 degrees. Cut some branches—longer than you need—and bring them indoors. Once inside, trim about six inches from the bottom and then take a hammer and crush the bottom or make cuts up the stem. Then place them in room temperature water and wait for the magic!

Make sure your branches are in indirect light. Elaine says it can take anywhere from three days to two weeks for blooms to appear.

The next part of Elaine's presentation involved creating planters with the rainbow of flowers she had brought. I took some pics because they were so beautiful and definitely the perfect way to bring spring inside your home during the last days of winter.

Elaine has lots of great workshops coming up in her store. Stay tuned to our events page for details!

Too many cooks?

Days of being cosseted and pampered in Quebec (if I were a poodle, my name would be Fifi) came to an abrupt end at the luxurious Ripplecove Inn and Spa in the Eastern Townships. As we pulled up to the picture-postcard-pretty site, I felt I was arriving on the set of a charming and wholesome Hollywood movie, such as Father of the Bride. General manager Michel Vauclair showed us to our rooms–mine was #36, with a balcony, a pot-bellied stove and a stunning view of Lake Massawippi. (All the rooms in this much-vaunted and very romantic inn are unique, and you can look on their website to choose the room that best reflects your taste.) As beautiful as Ripplecove Inn is in winter, I’d love to come back in the summer to see its English gardens, which were tough to spot under the mountains of snow.

Once we’d freshened up and changed, we were invited down to the library for a glass of champagne. Then Mr. Vauclair led the way down to the dining room and lowered the boom: we had to work for our supper. Chef’s whites were passed out and donned, and the agenda was laid out. We were to eat dinner at a table specially set up for us in the kitchen, but first, we had to help the chef and his assistant by setting the table, announcing the various courses, serving the meal and bussing dirty plates.

In short, we had become waitresses. But luckily, only for each other.

Of course, my tongue is firmly in cheek as I write this, for it wasn’t an ordeal at all. It was all great informal fun, and involved minimal effort on our part. Sommelier Patrick Jackson joined Mr. Vauclair at our table, and we had a wonderful time sampling various delicious Quebec wines, as well as delectable food from a special menu fit for a rajah. Chef Maxime Theriault tempted our taste buds with locally cured smoked salmon, followed by medallions of rabbit in a port wine sauce with cipollini onions, and a beef filet so tender you really could cut it with a fork. This meat was enrobed in a very thin pastry crust with a side of celeriac puree and wild huckeberry. Dessert consisted of various takes on maple and all thoroughly delicious, somehow made even more so by the fact that we were eating it in the kitchen.

Afterwards, sommelier Jackson led us on a tour of his wine cellar, and showed off his most expensive bottle–a 1957 number that sells for $1000.

It was a memorable evening punctuated by much laughter, and the seven journalists who had started out on this getaway together as strangers had become friends. And so to bed, knowing the next day we would be leaving the Eastern Townships and Quebec and returning home. (www.ripplecove.com)


Next: fabulous gardens and more in surprising central Florida

Alphabet soup for gardeners

We had a faint whiff of spring a couple of weekends ago–it was sunny and mild, the snow disappeared and there was that amazing dirt smell you get when the ground is wet and things are ready to bloom. I felt so hopeful, but alas this budding gardener had to talk some sense into herself. Spring does not begin in February in Southern Ontario. I will not be able to head outside in my old clothes and new Gloveables to spring clean my garden.

However there is lots still to do indoors–I need to order my seeds already (which I'll be doing with my sister), plant those seeds and start planning what I'll do in the garden when spring finally does arrive.

Looking for planting inspiration? Our shutterbug forum members have been busy posting photos in their annual Alphabet Soup. Started a few years ago by forum members Patty and Jean, users can post up to three photos that correspond to a new letter every other day. We are currently at the letter “N” and you can even go back and post on the other letters if you want to share your snaps.

Good-for-you spa-a-ah

Jocelyna Dubuc is a woman ahead of the curve. More than 30 years ago and long before it became fashionable, she began composting, practicing water and energy conservation, planting organic, pesticide-free gardens and observing many other eco-friendly practices at Spa Eastman. Located in the gorgeous Eastern Townships of Quebec, an easy drive from Montreal, this destination spa–dedicated to the pursuit of relaxation, fitness and a healthy lifestyle– was recently named “Best Affordable Spa” in the 6th annual Spa Finder.com readers’ choice awards.

Along with the six other journalists invited on our Girlfriend Getaway, I spent a tranquil 24 hours in this lovely place. There I enjoyed the delights of its 315 wooded acres, the wide array of delicious and wholesome food choices at mealtimes, locally sourced as much as possible (in the photo: rabbit and an array of veggies).

I love good food (um, perhaps just a tad too much), and can report there’s nothing miserly or holier-than-thou about the size of portions here. Organic wine is available as well.

At the spa, I was treated to lymphatic drainage as well as a demonstration of watsu underwater massage, which felt a bit like returning to the womb. (Guilty treat: I also plumped for a 1/2 hour numerology consultation–a first for me. And hey, my numbers are looking good!)

Several of us also went on a head-clearing anti-stress walk with Ms. Dubuc (she’s the one to my left in the white parka, above) and all of us attended two interesting symposia. The first was given by Edith Smeesters, a biologist who has been at the vanguard of the anti-pesticide movement in Quebec. The founder of Nature-Action Quebec and the Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (CAP), Ms. Smeesters led a workshop titled “One Step at a Time to Save the Planet,” a useful overview of the many simple ways we can all work together to make this a better and healthier world.

The second (and far less familiar to me as a topic) was aimed at helping people understand stress, emotions and health. Ilona Barbara Dowgiallo, who is on staff at Spa Eastman, earned a doctorate in physics and spent 15 years in a department of nuclear medicine specializing in cancer research before pursuing her interest in the role proper nutrition and the body’s energy circuits play in health. She has studied acupuncture and is a certified naturopath. What followed was an absorbing 1 1/2 hours, during which Dr. Dowgiallo outlined which emotions affect what parts of the body (for example, anger affects the liver and sadness affects the lungs, while anxiety affects the digestion and stomach), and put forward her support for natural healing by eating for your blood type, unblocking the body’s energy circuits, meditating, getting some sunshine daily to stimulate the pineal gland and using Bach Flower Remedies (devised in early 20th century England by Dr. Edward Bach) to help alleviate various problems.

Then again, as gardeners, we know all about the power of flowers, don’t we?

www.spa-eastman.com
“Eat Right 4 Your Blood Type” by Dr. Peter d’Adamo (also: www.dadamo.com)
Info on Bach Flower Remedies: www.bachcentre.com/centre/remedies.htm
More info on emotions and organs: www.shen-nong.com/eng/principles/bodyorgans.html

Next: kitchen duty at a top notch resort-hotel

Pages: Prev 1 2 3 ...43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 Next

Follow Style At Home Online

Facebook Activity

Contests

Latest Contests

more contests