Gardening Blog

2-second garden tip: Clever cloches

Halifax-based garden writer Niki Jabbour and I met at the annual Garden Writers Association luncheon at Canada Blooms two years ago. Since then, we’ve been corresponding, mostly via social media like Twitter and Facebook, and I’ve been a guest a couple of times on her radio show, The Weekend Gardener.

Niki is the author of the upcoming book Groundbreaking Food Gardens, which will be released by Storey Publishing in March 2014. She also penned the award-winning book The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, which is a fantastic resource for those gardeners who don’t want to confine their edible gardening to our short, Canadian summers. It’s also the name of her blog.

It seemed logical that Niki provide our next 2-second garden tip, which speaks to extending the harvest. I know I’ll be on the lookout for unwanted punch bowls from now on!


Image courtesy of the Year Round Vegetable Gardener, Storey Publishing.

When a larch isn’t a tamarack

One of the bizarre details of my past is that I starred in a filmstrip for Parks Canada when I was a kid. It was called “The Aspen Curtain” and was all about the various species of trees found in Elk Island National Park. My nine-year-old noodle absorbed all kinds of little facts, one being that tamaracks, though a conifer, are deciduous: they turn gold and shed their needles in the winter.

That little nugget of knowledge was sleeping in the back of my brain when we were given a bunch of cast-offs from a tree planting expedition a few years ago. Not being ones to let a tree die without giving it a fighting chance, we put them all in the ground. Many of them died back anyway, turning brown or yellow. But one of these came back in the spring, with healthy, bright green growth. I was mystified. I had assumed all the baby conifers were spruce or pine or fir, and had not taken the time to ID them (and honestly, when they’re that little, they’re a lot alike. At least to me.).

How exciting! A tamarack of my very own!

Then a neighbour happened by and got pretty excited when he saw it. “That’s a larch!” he said, “I love larches. They’re my favourite tree!” We stroked its lovely soft needles and exclaimed about its airy structure. I agreed that it is one of my very favourite trees, and respecting his backwoods knowledge more than my moviemaking memory, mentally christened the little gem a larch. Larches must be another deciduous conifer, I thought, and left it at that. No research, no verification.

I really can be horribly pedantic when I want to, but apparently I wasn’t in the mood that day.

That changed when we went to Kalispell, Montana this last weekend.

As we crossed through the Flathead National Forest, we started seeing brilliant yellow trees dotted amongst the pine and spruce. Disease crossed my mind, but just as quickly I realized I was looking at larch trees. Hundreds of them. Maybe thousands. Being used to seeing my one solitary specimen, this was like a big golden early Christmas present.

I’m sure I’ve been looking at them constantly when I’ve been in the mountains, and just didn’t realize it: this week my timing was right to see their golden colour. When they’re green or naked, they kind of disappear into the forest. Even in the four days we were there, we saw them fade and begin to drop.

But what about the big question: tamarack or larch? The lovely people we asked called it a ‘tamarack larch’ which I found completely unhelpful at the time, but turns out to perfectly accurate.

A tamarack larch, or American larch (Larix laricina), is likely what we were looking at in Montana, which is a species of the genus Larix, which includes several European and North American species. So all tamaracks are larches, but not all larches are tamaracks.

Kind of like all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.

As for exactly which larch mine is, I’m done with being pedantic today. I’m just enjoying the colours.

DIY holiday gift idea: Herbal tea

Well before most of my garden had called it quits for the season, I decided to dry a few herbs. I snipped bunches of sage, oregano, French tarragon and spearmint. As I was crumbling my spearmint to save for tea the other day, I though to myself: “Wouldn’t this make a cute Christmas gift?” For my birthday, my friend Brenda gave me one of those ceramic jars from Anthropologie with the chalkboard label on the front, as well as a package of these lovely little drawstring tea bags. This is the perfect packaging if you choose to share some of your herbs. Looseleaf tea bags can be found at most tea shops. I would recommend a teaspoon of dried herbs in each. Or, make it a spice jar and fill it with savoury herbs you’ve dried, like oregano or thyme.

Writing in chalk was the hardest part. I must have erased various wordings (Tara's tea, peppermint, etc.) at least 20 times. I settled on "Tea" because it was short and sweet.

2-second garden tip: Add a peony hoop now

The second 2-second garden tip in our new Pinterest series comes from Amy Andrychowicz who writes the Get Busy Gardening blog. Amy and I met and hung out at the annual Garden Writers Association Symposium this past summer in Quebec City. What really impressed me about Amy is that for her day job she is a software developer, yet she has devoted what I’m guessing is a lot of spare time (and passion) to create gorgeous gardens around her Minneapolis, Minnesota home (USDA zone 4b!). She also finds the time to regularly update her blog with lots of great gardening tips. Now that winter is coming, Amy will be turning her attention to her indoor garden. Apparently she has a big collection of houseplants, succulents and tropical plants.

I have to admit, I first saw this tip on the Get Busy Gardening Facebook fan page. I asked Amy if she would mind if I turned it into a 2-second garden tip, which she happily agreed to. Voilà!

A short post about overwintering my fig tree

I was going to keep this post short and sweet, but I thought I should say a bit more about overwintering my fig than simply that I brought it into the garage.

Before getting my fig tree cosied up in its winter home, I first had to remove two small figs that appeared in September. I was so excited because my fig tree was a mere stick when Steven Biggs (aka The Fig Pig) gave it to me at the end of last winter. I tweeted Steven (@noguffsteve) to ask what I should do with my wee crop. He said that the figs probably formed a bit too late to ripen this year, so I should break them off by winter if they did not fall off themselves (check!).

Can you spot the wee fig?

By next July, Steven said I should get my first crop of breba figs. Breba is the name given to the crop that grows off the previous year’s shoot growth. There will be a second crop later in the summer that will grow off next year’s shoot growth.

I should add that I brought the fig tree into the garage after a couple of light frosts, but before our first hard frost. The leaves were starting to drop, indicating that the tree was going into dormancy. My garage is the perfect place for overwintering because it is fairly dark and cool, but above freezing.

Steven recently posted on his blog about overwintering figs outdoors using a “door” method. It’s worth a read if you can’t bring your fig trees inside!

Fall seeding in the sandbox

Late this summer, my friend Halli led me through her fading garden collecting flower seeds for me to bring back from my visit. Many of the plants she showed me were planted by her grandmother, self seeding annuals that have thrived for years outside the family home. There were nasturtiums, poppies, blanket flowers, sweet peas, and bellflowers. Some were familiar, some were new, and all got me excited about adding them to my own garden.

 

Then I got home and life took over.

I took the seeds out of the plastic I brought them home in, but the plate where I spread them to dry got knocked over, and the little slip of paper where I had noted the description and identity of each seed went missing. I moved the seeds to a safer location, and forgot all about them.

Now, here we are, the beginning of November, and I’m feeling guilty. I can’t waste this gift, but we’ve already had a couple of snow falls. The ground is starting to freeze. Should I hang on to them until next year, and hope they are still viable? Shall I give them an artificial winter in the fridge?

To the rescue: what I call my “sandbox” (an idea I think I gleaned from Marjorie Harris)–a little spot of ground specifically left empty for playing, experimenting, and housing the random plants that jump into your hands at the greenhouse. Mine is in a little corner of the front flower bed, out of immediate view, but close enough to where the action is that it doesn’t get forgotten. I think it will make the perfect way station for Halli’s seeds. Loosely sown on the soil surface, scratched in just a little, they should ride out the winter in the way they were meant to, and in the spring (hopefully) I will have a riot of new faces to sort through.

Replacing the leaves that naturally gather in this corner will add some winter protection.

2-second garden tip: Saving plants from fall containers

Today I am launching the first in what will be a series of “2-second garden tips” here on the blog (and on Pinterest). I’m going to be asking fellow gardeners for quick, informative tips that I can turn into interesting Pinterest graphics like the one below (by the way, check out our Pinterest boards here). My first tip was inspired by my fall container. I purchased a lovely heuchera with grey-green and purplish foliage and a requisite chrysanthemum (along with some annuals and kale). There was no way I was going to send the heuchera or the mums to the compost, so I planted them in my garden (with fingers crossed they’ll survive the winter). Now my pots are ready for pine boughs and birch branches and whatever else I find to stuff in them.

The graphic was designed by our talented design intern, Emily Swift, who is working on all of TC Media’s brands, from Elle Canada to Style at Home. I’m hoping to post a tip a week, so stay tuned. Oh, and if you like the tip, please share it with your Pinterest friends!

The garlic has taken over my raised beds

Two years ago I planted garlic for the first time. I had just moved into a new home in mid-October, but I grabbed some organic Ontario garlic from the market in town and planted a few last-minute cloves. I think I got about twelve heads of garlic, but I was over the moon and quickly used it up in my cooking.

Part of my first-ever garlic harvest drying in the garage (hence the bad lighting)!

Last fall, I dropped the ball completely and was not happy about my garlic-less garden this summer. I vowed not to let it happen again. So when I saw a Facebook post by fellow garden writer Niki Jabbour (aka The Year-Round Veggie Gardener) recommending Eureka Garlic, I decided I should plan ahead and place an order.  I did a little Googling and discovered that the garlic Al Picketts grows for Eureka is chemical-free. I emailed Al for a list and was overwhelmed by the 79 varieties that arrived in my inbox.

My garlic order from Eureka Garlic

In the middle of my decision making, I happened to run into Liz Primeau, who wrote In Pursuit of Garlic a couple of years ago. Liz was anxious to get her hands on the rare Rose de Lautrec at the Stratford Garlic Festival in September. She recommended I speak to a couple of ladies who would be there for advice. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it, so I went back and read some of Liz’s book and after a bit more research, I settled on ‘Music’, ‘Persian Star’, ‘French Rocambole’ and ‘Polish Hardneck’. I felt nervous about putting all the garlic in one bed, so I divvied it up amongst my two raised beds (which took up about half the space in each), added a couple along the side of my house and plunked the last four or five cloves in a sunny perennial garden at the very front of my property.

Keeping track in my garden diary

To plant, I followed some of the tips in this step-by-step article by Katharine Fletcher. Is it too early to be excited for July?

Protect your plants from winter snow

We got our first big snow of the year this week–a good six inches of heavy, wet stuff. It is melting and blowing away as we speak, but it has already done some damage: my ninebarks are flattened.

These were four feet tall. If I had braved the storm, I could have shook them off as the snow came down and saved them. Unfortunately, I slept through most of it.

I’m not overly worried about most of my perennials; they don’t care about some broken end-of-season stems. Even the ninebarks will likely come through not much worse for the wear. My young Medora juniper, however, took a beating last year and kind of languished through the summer. It is getting a burlap teepee this year to protect it both from dumps of snow and the wind: conifers continue to transpire moisture throughout the year and so are particularly vulnerable to drying winter winds.

Poor thing is looking kind of rough, but I'm hoping a little protection might help him through the winter. Use stakes and weatherproof fabric and be sure to leave air space for the plant to breathe.

The other thing I’m looking at is installing some snow guards on our metal roof. Snow comes sliding off in huge hunks sometimes, and one of my cold frames got smashed pretty well to pieces by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A rail-style snow guard by Euramax Canada

 

Will you be reading The Signature of All Things?

One of the reasons I love fall is that it gives me more time to read. There’s so much to do in the garden over the summer, I don’t think I relaxed in my lounger with a good book more than once! Don’t get me wrong, I still have a LOT to do to put my garden to bed for the winter, but I can now spare a couple of hours here and there to curl up under a blanket with a hot cup of tea and a good book. One of the new books I’ve been looking forward to reading is The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray Love) because the main character is a botanist. You can read a review of it on the Globe and Mail website (I started, but stopped because I felt it was giving too much away), and read a synopsis or purchase on the Indigo website. Does anyone want to read the book and then chat about it in a few weeks?

 

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