Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Operation Pepper

I'm really going to do it. I am really putting in a vegetable garden this year. I started my efforts tonight by planting a packet of "Early Calwonder" peppers. I love peppers. I also know they are notoriously difficult to grow. But I'm going to give it my best shot.

Rather than shell out for a seed starter kit, I decided to use whatever was lying around the house for planters. This was a conscious effort on my part to keep my garden spending in check and to do more recycling. So into the recycling bin I went. I used the bottom half of a 2 litre pop bottle for one planter and an old blackberry container for another.

Time will tell if it was a wise decision to plant the bulk of the seeds in a paper egg carton. It went limp when I watered the seeds and nearly buckled in the middle. Must remember to treat this planter gingerly.

I covered the planters tightly in plastic wrap. I'm hoping that seals in some warmth and moisture (I'm notorious for neglecting my watering duties.) Whether plastic wrap is a good strategy I don't know but it seems like a good idea. I'm leaving the seeds in a west-facing window where they will get sunlight for the entire afternoon.

Now I can sit back and watch for the first sprout. In the meantime, I should stock up on pepper recipes.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A World Without Seeds

Imagine a world without carrots or peas, sunflowers or tomatoes. No onions, no corn, no beans, no pumpkins. No nothing. That doomsday scenario is part of the motivation behind the Svalbard Global Seed Bank set to begin operations on February 26th. The "facility" is a tunnel bored into the permafrost of a mountain in Svalbard, an Arctic archipelago about 1000 kilometers south of the north pole. As a gardener, this story immediately sounded interesting to me. But as I read more about it, the story of the seed bank went from interesting to astounding.

The goal of the project is to protect and preserve every known variety of the world's crop seeds. These seeds will be a "back-up" supply in the event of a natural or man-made disaster that wipes out a seed variety -- or even all of them. There's room for 4.5 million seed samples in the vault. Each sample contains about 500 seeds. That adds up to a whopping 2.25 BILLION seeds. All I can say is "Nobody sneeze."

This is a monumental undertaking. I can't imagine I collected even 500 seeds from my garden last fall. I saved some morning glories, liatris, helenium, and columbine. Of those, half have been lost to seed spills. So the thought of collecting 500 seeds from 4.5 million seeds types from around the globe is simply mindboggling. Still, I feel a solidarity with these seed savers.

The Svalbard Global Seed bank has been nicknamed the world's "Doomsday Vault." A bit morbid, no? I'd prefer to forget the doomsday scenarios and imagine instead the world's ultimate seed swap. While I'm glad to hear that countries around the world are getting involved in saving seeds, it's nice to know that gardeners are doing their bit every day to protect bio-diversity on the planet -- simply by saving a few seeds.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Bud Watch

The temperature cracked the freezing mark today and the sun was strong and blinding all day. Could it be that spring approaches? I just had to get out to see the action in the garden, limited though it might be. The buds on the copper beech were looking somewhat haggard, but I know from watching them over the last few seasons that they will plump up for some months to come. Just when I think the tree will never produce leaves, they will appear as if by magic overnight. The copper beech is one of my garden favourites, providing four seasons of beauty.

Even wearing just its buds, the Bloodgood Japanese Maple looks as elegant as always.

The black chokeberry (aronia melanocarpa "Autumn Magic") is looking especially robust and healthy. It was discount sale purchase late last fall so its appearance is especially encouraging.

The yew never disappoints. It is just dripping with little round green buds. It's doing surprisingly well considering that it has spent much of the past two months hunched over to about half its six-foot height under the weight of the snow. A few branches have begun to emerge from under the heavy layer of what is more appropriately called snow-ice but there's a lot of melting that needs to get out of the way first.

How is it possible that these little buds will produce some of the most spectacular blossoms in my garden? Some people aren't fans of the lilac. My garden wouldn't be complete without one. The burst of colour and fragrance it offers is unsurpassed.

I'm most looking forward to the blossoms of my serviceberry. I added it to my garden in mid-summer and missed out on its showy spring display. It produced a healthy crop of berries....although the raccoons got to them first more often than I did. It also put on a very colourful fall display. Now the waiting begins for its other great feature. Serviceberries are early bloomers, among the first in the springtime garden. And those blossoms can't come soon enough for me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Spring Arrives at Allan Gardens

As I was heading into Allan Gardens last week for my first visit in something like three decades, I ran into a co-worker. "Oh it's cute in there," he says. "I haven't been since I was in grade school," I tell him. "You'll probably see some of the same plants," he laughed. Indeed. As soon as you enter the conservatory, a massive common screw pine steals the scenery. The tree is one of the oldest plants in the conservatory. The blue sky was no slouch either.

Pink is a sure sign of spring. I'm not big on the colour or cyclamen, but these were pretty impressive. Must remember to always think "mass plantings."

If only I could achieve such a display of tulips in my garden. Obviously squirrels are not a problem in the greenhouse.

These tulips were just a little past their prime but offered a bold jolt of colour nevertheless.

Nothing beats the fragrance of hyacinth. I also happen to like this shade of violet.

This rosemary plant had a lot of fragrance and pale violet blooms to offer. This was easily the biggest, most bloomingest rosemary I have ever seen, standing about hip-high.

Orchids in a hanging basket. The blooms were quite large, about the size of my palm.

This is a piece of lead statuary from England depicting the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan. Leda, the Queen of Sparta, apparently caught the eye of Zeus. She would bathe in the river Eurotas. In order to get close to her, Zeus transformed himself into a swan. Leda took the bird under her wing and was eventually seduced by the mightiest of gods. Interesting story, peaceful scene.

Coleus has a starring role at the conservatory. It is used throughout to add colour and texture.

My walk through the Allan Gardens conservatory was just what I needed on a bitterly cold February day. I won't wait another three decades before making my next visit.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Visit to Allan Gardens

February has been less than kind. Three major storms have hit the city in the past few weeks, dumping somewhere in the neighbourhood of 70 centimeters of snow. Relief came in the form of a visit to Allan Gardens in downtown Toronto. Six greenhouses. 16,000 square feet of plants. Sigh.

Daffodils provided a cheery welcome. The fragrance hit me as soon as I opened the door.

The peace lilies seemed very content glistening in the humid conditions. Inspired me to take better care of my two lilies which persist even though I treat them as drought resistant plants.

The conservatory's Palm House boasts a small grove of banana trees.

One greenhouse is devoted to cacti and succulents. Looks like I just missed the blooms on the barrel cactus.

The Old Man of the Andes was my favorite plant of the day. Great look. Great name.

Stay tuned for more pictures from Allan Gardens.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Welcome to Toronto, Canada

A shout out to Jodi at bloomingwriter for coming up with the "Where in the Gardening World Are You?" challenge. What a fun idea. I can't wait to visit all your cities. But first please visit mine.

Welcome to Toronto, Canada, located on the beautiful shore of Lake Ontario, one of North America's five Great Lakes. The city skyline is unmistakeable. It is dominated by the C.N. Tower which soars 555 metres (or 1,822 feet) above the streets below. Visitors can ride up to the top and stand on a glass-bottomed floor (not for the faint of heart).

The tower is famous but so are our streetcars. The 501 car along Queen St. West was recently named the number one trolley car ride in the world by National Geographics "Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World's Greatest Trips."

Hop off the streetcar along Queen West to check out the funkiest art and shopping district in the city. You can spend a whole day popping into galleries, tasting coffee and food from around the world, and finding all sorts of rare books, fantastic antiques and one-of-a-kind crafts. Pause for a minute to snap a picture of the famous graffiti tree.

Mosey along a little further west and you'll find the world-famous CityTV truck. It bursts out of the wall of the building at the corner of Queen and John and is a must see for tourist. People pause here every few minutes to take a picture. One of the most famous Toronto catchphrases is: "CityTV Everywhere." (Sadly due to company mergers/takeovers the truck has had a makeover and is no longer technically a CityTV truck. But it will always be that for me and many of my fellow Torontonians.)

Did you know Toronto has an island? Several in fact. Ride the ferry to Centre Island for a day a Centreville with the kids. Young and old alike will love the old time feel of this amusement park. If peace and quiet are what you're after why not try the nude beach at Hanlan's point? Take a stroll past the houseboats on Olympic Island. The cottage-style homes on Ward's Island will make you want to run away to the Toronto Islands forever.

Nature lovers will feel right at home in Toronto. High Park is Toronto's answer to Central Park in New York. It spans 398 acres in the city's west end including gardens, Grenadier Pond for fishing, a small zoo, historic Colborne Lodge, and lots of hiking and biking trails. At the very western edge of the park, a fantastic marshland restoration is underway.

A summer in T.O. wouldn't be complete without the Canadian National Exhibition. The C.N.E. is the tradiitonal end of summer blast that gives everyone an excuse to pig out on Tiny Tom's Donuts, the teeniest, tiniest, tastiest donuts in the world. The rock 'n roll soundtrack of the midway will have crying out for more. The Ex, as we call, it is one of the largest annual fairs in the world.

Toronto's no slouch in winter either. Every year hundreds of thousands of people line the streets for the annual Santa Claus Parade. Millions more around the world watch the event on tv. It started in 1905 and has grown into one of the biggest parade events in all of North America. And while skating elves on a parade float are more likely to win the Stanley Cup than Toronto's beloved Maple Leafs, this city is the best hockey town in the world.

Toronto is also one of the most multicultural cities on the planet. At any given moment in time, this city is alive with culture. Pick a place on a world map, any place, and you'll find someone from there living in Toronto. This is one of the city's greatest strengths. Little India, Greektown, Little Italy, Little Korea. You name it, Toronto's got it. Consequently, the eats are really good in T.O.

Now because this is a garden blog, I would be remiss not the mention that Toronto is home to beautiful gardens. The gate is always open in my back yard for anyone who wishes to pop in.

Thanks for visiting Toronto. Please come again.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


Every year the city of Toronto hosts a week of events in February called WinterCity. Well this year, February really has produced a WinterCity. There have been two major snowstorms in the past week. Wednesday's 30-odd-centimeter dumping of snow was the biggest one-day February snowstorm in T.O. in three decades. What's a gardener impatient for spring to do? I decided to take an hour to really appreciate winter. I picked up my camera on the way out the door this morning to capture what I could while walking to work. The C.N. Tower (above) is the iconic image of Toronto. Here it is peeking through two giant evergreens in Trinity-Bellwoods Park. The branches are drooping under the weight of the snow.

Getting my daughter to walk to school this morning was out of the question. She could do it of course but the 10-minute journey to school could easily take two hours, what with all the stops to make snowballs and snowangels. Snacking on the snow also takes some time. Sledding was a far better option, especially since my husband did most of the pulling.

After the stormy skies cleared, up there was nothing but blue up there. The trees all cloaked in white looked fantastic everywhere.

A path cut through the snow at Trinity-Bellwoods.

Colourful coats and sleds on the tobaggan hill at Trinity-Bellwoods.

Sparkling snow between the shadows. I wonder if anything's ready to start growing under there?

A bike buried in snow. But not for long. Soon the snow will melt. The bitter wind will turn to warm breezes. I'll be back on the bike and riding to the garden centre. Sigh.