Gardening Blog

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.

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!

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