Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sap's Running

Winter continues to linger in these here parts. The temperature has barely cracked the freezing mark. Flurries blanketed the sidewalks with snow again this week. And I still can't see the garden for the snow. On the bright side, spring is making some headway. The creek at my in-laws place is flowing with the melt and, more importantly, the sap is running.

Thank goodness for the chance to make some maple syrup. It's a welcome distraction from a winter that just won't let go. Here are three tapped maple trees and the buckets that catch the sap. It looks just like H20 and tastes like sugar water.

Drip. Drip. Drip. You'd be surprised how fast these buckets fill up.

Once the buckets are full, it's time to collect the sap. We used a t-shirt to strain it.

At this point, the operation shifts into the sugar shack.

The sap is poured into a giant pan and slowly brought to a boil over a wood-fired stove.

Voila! Maple Syrup to enjoy with breakfast.

And, of course, there's always plenty to share with family and friends. What a great Canadian tradition. I think I'll plant a Maple Tree.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Aching for Green

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone. Green is the colour of the day. I didn't realize how soothing green can be until I started looking back through last year's garden pictures. Here's a purple coneflower as it prepares to bloom. What is there not to love about this flower? It looks great all season long.

I love how the sun hits this Chinese Lantern.

This Solomon's Seal is from my in-laws' garden.

A hen and chick glistening with raindrops. It spent the summer in a container on the back porch. I transplanted it into the garden in fall but doubt it survived.

This has become a favourite corner of the garden. That crisp clean edge disappears as the summer progresses, but all the shades of green keep this section looking lush. Aside from some dainty white foamflowers and some delicate, red heuchera blooms, this area is all green. I can't wait to get the lawn chairs out there again. I hope the luck of the Irish rubs off on us northern gardeners this St. Patrick's Day and sends some warm weather our way. My eyes are just aching to see some green in the garden again.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Seedy Saturday

A recent post by Ottawa Hortiphilia made me curious about Seedy Saturday. I looked up the event and sure enough there was one happening in town this weekend. So with husband and 4-year-old in tow, I headed to "Seed World" as they dubbed it. Wow! Talk about a lot of seeds. I was unprepared for the variety and unprepared for the crowds. Gardeners, it would seem, are thriving in this city. One could spend hours browsing all the selections. I, however, made a surgical strike: 30 minutes to look around and shop while the family took in some kid-friendly activities. I limited my purchase to a packet of Petitbec, a Canadian tomato. I already have tonnes of seeds at home and the raised beds aren't even in yet. I thought it would be best to show a little restraint. Next year...well, that will be another story. There are lots of dates still to come across the country, so check it out.

Friday, March 14, 2008

More Canada Blooms

Here's another wonderful tulip display from Canada Blooms. Clearly, whoever designed this didn't face the challenge of city squirrels. While it must be great to grow flowers in ideal conditions without real-life difficulties, I'm sure it cuts down on the number of amusing anecdotes one has to share with fellow gardeners. That's half the fun isn't it?

Here's another fun shoe-planting. Anyone who thinks this might be a good project for the summer should head over to The Crafty Gardener. The first time a saw a shoe-planting was on Crafty's blog. She has a beautiful example of garden shoes planted with hens and chicks right there on her main page.

This little fairy garden was called "Soul Mates" (or was that "Sole Mates?") My four-year old nearly hit the ceiling with excitement when I showed her this picture. She continues to examine the image carefully trying to determine if the fairies are real. Too cute.

While we're on the topic of cute, check out this scotch moss. It was planted under a rhododendron and really caught my eye.

Some darling little paperwhites. I've never grown them myself and love the way they look. Everything I've heard about the fragrance is true...they're a bit stinky.

This massive planter was part of the celebrity door display. It belonged to Rex Harrington of the National Ballet of Canada. I liked it a lot but can anyone imagine having to move this thing?

I got to see Canada Blooms for free by volunteering at the show. My ice-cream selling shift was a breeze. I met the very lovely Sue from Port Hope. For three hours we supplied Haagen-Dazs dreams to the gardening masses (Almond Caramel Crunch was the hands-down favourite) while chatting about our own gardens and Sue's chickens. Sue, if you find my blog, cheers to you. For any other would-be volunteers, I say go for it. It's super easy to sign-up. It's nice to feel like you're really part of the show. And, there was a lovely parting gift: a one-year subscription to "A Gardening Life." I totally wasn't expecting that, so thank you Canada Blooms.

Now for my one big criticism: while I really enjoyed gawking at all the exhibits, I can't say any of them really inspired me. In fact, I would say the show as a whole was wildly uninspiring. It just felt a little impersonal. The feature gardens all came across as made-to-order, instant gardens that could be yours for the right price. Nothing wrong with dreaming the big dream but I think I'll stick to my 20-year plan and nurture a garden that is really about me.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Visit to Canada Blooms

Canada Blooms: The Toronto Flower & Garden Festival is on right now. Remarkably I was able to stay away until Day Two. I have been especially winter-weary the past two weeks. While the show as a whole didn't do much for me, this was nevertheless just the jolt of colour I needed. As expected, the flowers were all just gorgeous. Here are some of my favourites.

This year's theme was Flower Power. Gardens and displays were supposed to reflect the spirit of the 60s. I thought this peace symbol captured the theme perfectly.

A closer look at the peace symbol revealed just how many roses were jam-packed into this display.

As far as themed gardens went, I liked the Heart and Stroke display. It featured Foxgloves (a natural choice for the foxglove's connection to heart medications.)

The Heart and Stroke Display also included strawberries, lots of them. A reminder that healthy eating leads to healthy living.

This tulip display gets a thumbs up for sheer volume. There must have been a thousand tulips here, maybe more. There's definitely something to be said for mass, monochromatic plantings. But what would you do with this in your garden once the blooms are done and the foliage starts to fade? It would be a lot of work to disguise all those fading flowers.

There were many, many living wall displays. From a distance, they all made a good impression. I wasn't too impressed with them up close though. The frames that hold the actual plant material looked pretty much like old milk crates to me. Maybe with a little more time, the plants would fill in and improve the appearance of the frames.

One of the more whimsical features of the show was a display of old shoes planted with flowers. This one was super cute.

I have lots more pictures to share. Stay tuned for more from Canada Blooms.

Monday, March 10, 2008


I got an email this afternoon from my friend Jennifer about an exciting new website she has launched with her friend and business partner Adriana. It's called PassedDown and it's your chance to share your favourite passed down recipe. This isn't just about the ingredients and cooking times. This is about sharing your favourite food stories. How did you get that recipe for peach cobbler? When did grandma let you in on her secret to apple pie? How did that recipe for cabbage rolls survive a cross-Atlantic journey on a steamer? Jennifer and Adriana want to know.

As I surfed PassedDown this afternoon, it occured to me that this is the perfect site to share with all my garden blogger friends. A spatula and shovel might seem very different on the surface but I found that the recipe site and garden blogs have a lot in common. Nobody, and I mean nobody, does the pass-along better than gardeners. How many of us have a pass-along or two or three? An extra plant a friend didn't have room for? A cutting you just had to have? A handful of seeds picked up at a seed exchange? Sharing our passed-down recipes seems like a natural extension of what comes naturally to a gardener.

We green thumbs have a special, sometimes even obsessive relationship, with our food. I was amused to learn that Jen is concerned that Canadian food chain Loblaws gets its garlic from China. She wonders whether it really needs to travel that far. Many of us gardeners aspire to get our garlic from our very own backyards. Growing our own food makes preparing it and enjoying it that much more special. I managed to grow some tomatoes last summer. And weren't they just the best tomatoes ever! It's got a lot to do with knowing where your food comes from. There's a parallel with passed down recipes: they are a part of our personal histories.

It's those personal histories that set this recipe site apart. Anyone can put together a list of ingredients and instructions. But when was the last time a recipe took you on a journey to another time and another place? Some of the stories are fascinating. I've been reading garden blogs for about a year now so I know all of you have wonderful stories to tell. I'm actually going to have to put out a challenge here: Anna at FlowerGardenGirl spins a tale like no other. I'll just bet you've got a few recipe stories to tell. How about it?

The site is clearly a celebration of food. More specifically, it is a celebration of food lovingly prepared. I love Christmas cookies. I love them all. But my mother's "shapas" are more than a cookie. They are an experience. They transport me in time to when I was kid: I can feel the grinder in my hands, I can see the walnuts crumbling into the bowl. I can feel the cool, buttery texture of the dough. I can literally see and smell the season. Christmas without "shapas" is just not Christmas. Do you have a food memory like this one? Well then, please share.

Congratulations Jennifer and Adriana on your website.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

It's Over!

I am unilaterally declaring winter over.

I don't care what the calendar says. I don't care that we are digging out from yet another two-day storm. I don't even care whether Toronto beats the record snowfall set in the winter of 1938-39. Back then, 207.4 centimetres (about 6'10") fell. We're only 12.2 centimetres short this time around. None of this matters. It's over!

This morning, the sun declared spring is here. The clocks say it too. They have sprung forward and Daylight Savings time has kicked in. Goodbye Farch. Goodbye winter urn. Make room for the daffodils. There's so much catching up to do. Connie got her garden clogs and felco pruner out days ago. And Soilman has been busy at the allotment. The parsnips are in the ground.

So me and my little sprout kept busy this weekend with another round of seed sowing. This time around we're trying leeks. I'm not much of a cook but my leek and potato soup is awesome. I'm worried about "Operation Pepper." It's been two weeks since I planted the bell pepper seeds and there is still no sign of a sprout. On the bright side, I seem to be having great success with my helenium. They are sprouting all over. It's a good thing too. I fear my backyard heleniums might have had the life stamped out of them during a construction project right along the property line with the neighbours. I love helenium flowers. It will be nice that I won't have shell out big bucks for new plants. I'll likely even have enough plants to share.

So nice try winter. You thought you could crush me with your final bitter blow. But you're done! There's the door. Don't come knocking until next December.

P.S. Despite my many protestations, I was very relieved to have a real winter this year. All this melting snow has got to be good news for a landscape that was parched to no end last summer.