{ Posts Tagged ‘seasons’ }

Early spring blooms

Early spring is my favourite time of year. Gardeners across Canada are so starved for petals, that it’s always a thrill to see the first flowers emerging in our gardens. Most of us had to wait three or four weeks longer than usual this year, but the insulating snow cover protected our most precocious bloomers, who cheerfully thrust their flowers up through the cold soil the moment the snow had melted.

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A happy thought for blustery days

It’s been a stormy December all across Canada, with heavy snowfalls and frigid temperatures, even by our standards. We’ve had close to hurricane-force winds (110 km/h) here in Southern Alberta a few times in the last weeks, with another blizzard due to blow in today and tonight. It’s not easy on us or on the garden either, though the old adage “whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” hopefully applies equally to plants and to people.

Which reminds me of a little poem I heard a while ago, by Douglas Malloch:

Good timber does not grow with ease,
The stronger wind, the stronger trees.
The further sky, the greater length.
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.

Stay warm.

Bulb planting made easy

4-001I finally managed to find some time to play in the garden on the weekend. Although my gardening to-do list wasn’t completed, I did manage to plant all my tulip bulbs. Every fall, I wait till the bulbs are on sale by mid-October they’re normally reduced by 40 to 60% off the regular price. This way I can buy more bulbs, while sticking to my gardening budget.2

When I worked at the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) in Burlington as a student gardener, I had the pleasure of planting tulip bulbs in the Rock Garden. Each year, the Spring Bulb Display showcases over 100,000 bulbs, which are brought in from growers in Holland. After they bloom, the bulbs are dug up and sold at the RBG’s bulb sale. Now consider planting 100,000 bulbs each and every September….now that’s a lot of bulbs.

4Instead of using a trowel to plant the bulbs, we used a bulb planter. Now this handy little tool saves a lot of time. Basically you rotate the handle as you push it into the soil. Once you’ve reached the specific depth, you pull it out. The soil is securely grasped in the cylinder, leaving a perfect hole to plant your bulb. Once you’ve nestled the bulb in its new home, you squeeze the spring-loaded handle, and it releases the soil, tucking the bulb in for the winter. If you’re wondering how far to dig the hole, the cylinder has gradation marks on the side for easy measurements.

5This handy device makes bulb planting a breeze. I spent 20 minutes planting 40 bulbs on the weekend and that included watering the bulbs and cleaning up. Now all I have to do is wait for spring!

The last of my tasks

The weather has just not cooperated this fall. Granted my schedule can be a bit hectic, so I can't just expect Mother Nature to conform to MY timetable, but seriously, does it have to rain every time I have a free moment? It poured this past weekend, so I didn't get the opportunity to do any raking, but I managed to sneak out today for an hour before work and get some of those leaves up in my backyard before the snow flies.

The one thing I've neglected to do is trim back some of the lily and iris foliage around my yard.

I asked Anne Marie if I can cut it back before winter and here is what she had to say:

  • If your iris and lily foliage is ready to be removed (i.e easily pulled out) go right ahead.
  • Lilies: After the foliage has naturally died down, remove all but 4 cm of the stem so you know where the plant is next spring.
  • Bearded iris: Do not mulch, cut foliage down to 15 cm.

And alas, as I'm about to post this, it's starting to snow.

The #1 fall task gardeners should do

As the weather has not been particularly cooperative on the days I'm available to clean up my yard, I asked Anne Marie what the one thing is that all gardeners should do. Last year it snowed before we go all our leaves up!

Here is what she recommended:

  • Water your evergreens well
  • Prune your hybrid tea roses to knee height and mound with soil for protection
  • Tie cedars and junipers that might be damaged by ice and heavy snow loads

Ok, that's three things, but all very helpful if they apply to your yard. Oh and she recommended that I empty my rain barrel because the water will expand when frozen and could damage it. That's one thing I have managed to do.

So my mint is nestled against the house, all my pots and garden knick knackey things have been put away along with the patio furniture and the barbecue, the birdfeeder is out…

And this past weekend it rained–again–meaning my backyard is still an ocean of leaves. If I can just get home before dark one night I'll grab my rake!

Golden days

Here in Toronto, we’ve been having the most fantastic week of beautiful weather. Blue sky days with wonderful golden light, and foliage colours so radiant and vivid they almost look electric. I took this photo from the deck off my bedroom, which is on the third floor of my house. The neighbour’s silver maple was looking at its autumn best, untouched as yet by the inevitable and cruel November winds that will surely come soon to shake its branches and loosen the leaves. (I had to laugh listening to Tom Allen on CBC Radio Two Morning, who remarked on how it was so Canadian to rejoice in great weather but somehow not to trust it, needing to mutter darkly about paying the price for it later, etc. So true.)

Anyway, I was out there emptying the last of the annuals out of their pots before it got too cold to do it comfortably (the deck faces west and gets great afternoon light, but also the prevailing wind, so it can get pretty darn nippy out there if you leave these jobs too late). Once emptied, the pots were stacked in a corner where I can’t see them through the sliding door, while the potted junipers and cedars were grouped where I can. I lightly bound up the junipers with garden twine to keep their branches from being pulled down by snow, watered the evergreens within an inch of their lives and mulched. If the weather stays warm, I’ll keep giving them big drinks until the cold sets in.

Out in the garden, I planted some pure white bulbs sent to me by my friend Sally Ferguson of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center. In went crocuses, species tulips, hyacinthoides, alliums and more, and the thought of them emerging next spring, joining the plethora of other bulbs already out there, will keep me smiling through another long, grey Toronto winter.

In the front, the autumn pots were definitely looking past their sell-by date, so I yanked out the spent plants and popped fresh dogwood branches in one and curly willow branches in another, then topped things off with moss and stones. Presto! Talk about a five-minute facelift. If only there was something that worked this quickly and easily on humans.

Can you pick veggies after a frost?

As you may have read, I had a real problem with my tomatoes this past season…they were so late! I managed to pick (and eat!) a few juicy, delicious beefsteaks and plums, but there were still some pretty green ones hanging out on the vine.

Then we got a sprinkling of snow and a few days of frost here and there. What to do?

According to Anne Marie, some of the slightly cold-tolerant vegetables can be picked after a frost. Apparently some even taste better (parsnips, rutabaga, kale, chard) if they are harvested after the first light frost (or two). Other cold tolerant veggies include carrots, cabbage, turnip, leeks, spinach, some lettuce, kohlrabi, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

Others, such as tomatoes, cucumbers and summer squash, do not tolerate a frost and should be picked before the freezing temperatures.

When I was out raking this weekend, I grabbed the last of my tomatillos (which still seemed OK) and a promising looking tomato, which I'm happy to say is turning a happy shade of red on my windowsill.

For the rest, I'm going to try my luck at wrapping them in newspaper as Anne Marie suggested to see if they ripen on their own. Hopefully it's not too late!

Thanks be

The last few weekends have been spent in good company with dear friends, though I must confess they’ve included rather a lot of festive meals and nice red wine (thank heavens for Lycra). Of course, all this feasting was compounded over Thanksgiving, which here in Toronto was graced by spectacular Indian summer weather and last night, an intensely bright full moon that should have kept me awake, but didn’t.

Yesterday as I waddled around my garden (MUST get back to the gym…soon…), I felt a glow of happiness and well-being and yes, gratitude, which was further enhanced by the warm, sunny day and the beautiful sight of some favourite plants that have just started to don their colourful autumn mantles. Looking good right now are my ‘Lady in Red’ ferns, whose fronds have turned a pale gold that contrasts with their stunning red stems. Some of my barrenwort has also taken on burgundy hues, as has the serviceberry. The neighbours to the north of me planted birches along our property line, and these went buttery yellow almost overnight, to echo the leaves of my climbing hydrangea and certain hostas. The blooms of various paniculata type hydrangeas are a stunning cerise right now, reminding me to harvest some for display indoors, and although the Chinese flowering dogwood hasn’t turned dark red yet, it’s thinking about it, as are the oakleaf hydrangeas. I also have a tender euphorbia known as Caribbean copper plant (Euphorbia cotinifolia ‘Atropurpurea’), whose foliage looks for all the world like purple smokebush (hence its Latin name), growing in a planter. Over the summer, it’s reached an impressive size and the leaves have just turned the most vivid shades imaginable of bronze, orange and red. Wow! Gorgeous, but how will I get it in the house? Speaking of which, with a view to the cooler forecast later in the week, I’ve already brought in the New Zealand flax and will soon bring in the agapanthus. My pots of herbs are still going strong, though, and being a glutton, I’m thankful.

The photo I’ve included this week isn’t from my garden; it’s of an arrangement sent to me a few weeks ago by my friend Erin and created by the floral wizards at Teatro Verde. I keep changing the water and it’s still going strong. The main components are sedum heads, celosia and asters, and if you omit the orchids you could have a bash at recreating it yourself, either from what you have in your garden and planters, or what you can find at the local florist shop or greengrocer. First, pebbles were placed at the bottom of the low bowl, which was then crisscrossed across the top with thin pieces of cellotape to anchor the plants (I checked). Then the arrangement was built up with the flowers mentioned and a few greens.

Finally, I’m off tomorrow morning to the Direct Energy Centre at Exhibition Place, to help designer and landscape architect Shawn Gallaugher start setting up The Green Room, which is Canadian Gardening’s large display area at this weekend’s Style at Home Show, which starts Friday, October 17 and continues through Sunday, October 19. Shawn and I spent last Thursday morning at the Norval farm of Sheridan Nurseries, choosing plant material for the display (the generous folks at Sheridan have lent it to us for the show) and I can promise you it is SPECTACULAR. We have terrific programming scheduled for each day, too, with gardening celebrities including Lorraine Johnson, Gayla Trail, Liz Primeau, Charlie Dobbin and Denis Flanagan, to name just a few, giving talks and doing how-to demos. We’ll also have Master Gardeners on hand to answer all your gardening questions, book signings, and daily Make and Take workshops with Kate Seaver of Kate’s Garden. (To see the full schedule of events, go to styleathomeshow.com and click on schedules). I hope you’ll come down and say hello.

Gourd the turkey

I just couldn’t resist posting this today! I took this photo a couple of weeks ago when I was working on a videoshoot for the website at Sheridan Nurseries. After a little research I discovered this is called a gooseneck gourd–how appropriate! Some clever person has created a stand with the turkey tail and feet that you see here.

I just wanted to take the opportunity to wish my fellow budding gardeners a safe and Happy Thanksgiving! It’s supposed to be a beautiful weekend, so I intend to spend part of it out in my garden, crossing items off my fall checklist.

Check back soon for that video I mentioned earlier. Custom designer Elene Nouri shows us how to create a terrarium, so you can hone your green thumb throughout the winter.

Hats off

A helpful friend just reminded me that fall is officially here. Go tell that to my summer containers, which are still blooming their hearts out. No need to go rushing out to pick up pots of mums or asters for the front steps, when my tuberous begonias continue to put on such a glorious show (they’re a lot more sturdy than people give them credit for, by the way).

With the advent of fall, some things do need to be changed, I guess. Take the straw hats on my hallstand, which scream of summer garden parties and a minty, fruit-and-cucumber-filled glass of Pimm’s. Two of them are vintage–my favourite one has strawberries both on and underneath the brim; very Carmen Miranda. Another is covered with pansies and black tulle–definitely not a mucking about in the garden kind of hat but just right for an outdoor soiree.

Underneath the hall stand is a basket filled with the more prosaic fabric hats and gloves I wear in the garden when I’m out there working. (With my fair skin, I’m vigilant about sunscreen and covering up in the sun–the doctor has already sliced a pre-cancerous chunk out of my chin, and it doesn’t look like a cleft).

I suspect, however, that just like my sandals, which also have yet to put away, I’ll drag my feet on stashing the hats. For once they go, it means I need to pull out and display the winter ones, which of course also means acknowledging the beginning of six months of largely grey and often dreary days, few of them spent in the garden.