Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Wishing you the very best of the season and an awesome New Year. Happy Gardening to all in 2010.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Winter Urns and Window Box

Let's forget, for now at least, the bags of miniature iris bulbs sitting under the kitchen table waiting to be planted. And the two dozen daffodil bulbs. Not to mention the three dozen or so pass-along yellow iris rhizomes I brought home from my mother's garden today. They'll all get planted really soon...I promise. For this week, though, springtime plantings are on hold in order to give the house and garden a festive makeover before the arrival of the snow.

In the past I've had a local landscaper design my urns. I wanted a "wow" factor I could never seem to achieve. This year I'm determined to deliver the "wow" all on my own. The two pictures above are of an urn on my backyard deck. The yew came from backyard clippings. Fir boughs, cedar branches and bright red dogwood twigs were collected in the country at my in-laws' place. I added a few dogwood branches from my Cornus Alba "Elegantissima" as well. My newly sheared euonymus provided plenty of leathery evergreen leaves with bright orange fruit pods. The red "berries" and white branches are from previous urn designs. I kept them figuring they could be reused some day (today! yay!)

The second backyard urn features the same material as the first but arranged in a slightly different way. The cedar and euonymus are more dominant along the front of the urn creating a "skirt" effect. I also added several dried astilbe blooms from the garden. I didn't think the stems would be sturdy enough to stick into the ground but they were.

There are more of the same materials in the window box with one exception: I found some juniper clippings put out by a neighbour for trash collection and just had to have them.

I'm very happy with the designs. I think they have good height and beautiful colour contrasts. There is a fullness to the urns and window box that was lacking in my earliest efforts (the reason I got a pro to help in the first place.) I can't help but be extremely pleased that these designs didn't cost me a cent! Materials for urns can be crazy expensive! You can bet I'll be poking around neighbours' yards for clippings in the future. Finally, I'm happy I can say "I did that! It's an original design by me!" Funny how I found a creative outlet in some branches nobody wanted.

So things are looking a little more festive around these parts. The question remains: what do you think? Have I delivered the "wow?"

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Euonymus Epiphany

Euonymus shrubs like the gnarly, twisted and sprawling mess growing in my front yard have never been a favourite of mine. Most of the evergreen varieties I have seen tend to be...well... gnarly, twisted and sprawling. In all honesty, euonymus was ugly to me. I ranked it second only to goutweed as a most hated plant. But recently I came to see the error of my ways. I realized that I had been judging this plant far too harshly. It was time to make amends.

I recently attended a City Shade Gardening seminar presented by horticulturalist extraordinaire Marion Jarvie at the Toronto Botanical Garden. It was most enjoyable and I took home lots of practical advice that I've already started to implement. It was during one of the lectures that I had a euonymus epiphany. The lecture featured images of some very lovely euonymous clipped into large topiary balls or towers. Marion mentioned that euonymus is sometimes criticized for being an unattractive shrub, but...and this is where it hit me....

it's not the plant that's's the gardener.

At that moment I was sure Marion knew my secret euonymus shame. How could I have allowed my shrub to get so out of control? How could I have neglected it for 11 long years only to turn around and blame it for being undesirable? I knew I had to act. Something had to be done. So I went out and bought some loppers (amazing what you can do with proper garden tools) and I got to work. It didn't take long to prune the euonymus back to a shadow of its former self.

By the time the pruning was done, the euonymus stood only about a foot high. It looked absolutely wonderful. Now I find myself looking forward to spring when it will start putting on some new growth. I hated this plant for so many years that I blinded myself to its many charms: leathery and glossy evergreen foliage, creamy springtime blooms, bright green new foliage and colourful fruit in fall.

Friday, November 13, 2009

New Fall Favourite: Fothergilla Gardenii

Every year when autumn rolls around I inevitably go on and on about the amazing, blazing colour my burning bush produces. It deserves all the praise I give it. The red foliage is outstanding and I can't imagine my garden without it. This year, the burning bush did not disappoint but its fall foliage spectacle has been over for at least a week.

Enter Dwarf Forthergilla or Fothergilla Gardenii. The two shrubs I purchased earlier this year have been more than happy to step into the spotlight now that the burning bush has made its exit. The fothergilla is not nearly as in-your-face as the euonymous alatus. The colours are far more subtle and each leaf provides several shades of yellow, orange and sometimes red. The best way I can describe the overall effect is by comparing it to a camp fire: the shrubs glow warmly while featuring occasional hot spots to make things interesting. Perfect for the ever cooler and shorter days of November.

The shrubs are growing very happily in a fairly shady section of the woodland walk. At only about one foot tall, they have a lot of growing to do which means many more and better fall foliage displays. In a few weeks, once they have dropped their leaves, the countdown to spring begins. It will only be a few short months before the fothergillas are back with their fragrant, bottle-brush blooms. I'm happy to have extended the fall foliage show in the garden. And I'm happy to be discovering plants that provide multiple seasons of interest. Obsessive research through an ever growing pile of garden books and hours of surfing garden sites is really starting to pay off.

Friday, October 9, 2009

New Fall Bulbs: An Inventory

The bulbs are here! The bulbs are here! A box containing my first ever online bulb order arrived in the mail this week. As much as I wanted to start planting, bad weather kept me out of the garden. The rain didn't keep me out of the garden centre, however. As a result, I'm up to my ankle in bulbs of the garden centre and online variety and I'm ready to dig. I am determined not to repeat mistakes of the past, i.e. forgetting what I plant the minute I put it in the dirt. So here's an inventory of bulbs for future reference.

Daffodil "Ice Follies"
I tried "Ice Follies" for the first time last year, planting several large groupings in the community garden. They performed admirably producing plenty of long-lasting blooms. I love daffodils for their early flowers. I love them more because squirrels don't touch them. I'll be adding 26 bulbs to the front-yard garden.

Iris danfordiae
I planted a small group of these miniature iris in the front garden last fall. They were the earliest flowers to bloom this past spring. The flowers are an intense yellow and seem to last forever. On the down side, they bloom once and then take several years before blooming again. Garden websites recommend planting a few new bulbs every year so that you always have some blooming while the bulbs multiply in the earth. I have taken that advice to heart and will be adding 80 bulbs.

Dwarf Iris "Cantab"
The catalogue had me at "vivid, cobalt blue petals." 48 bulbs.

Drumstick Allium, A. caeruleum
Alliums of all sorts make me swoon. Mainly it's the price. Purchasing some of the real giants like "Globemaster" or "Gladiator" requires a small mortgage. Thankfully, the drumstick alliums are very reasonably priced. They will add some nice height and a jolt of reddish-purple to the May garden. 20 bulbs.

Daffodil "Minnow"
These two-tone daffodils grow only 10" tall. They are also supposed to be very fragrant. 36 bulbs.

Daffodil "New Baby"
Like the "Minnow," the "New Baby" won't grow taller than 10". Both daffodil varieties carry multiple blooms on each stem. 24 bulbs.

Daffodil "Tete-a-Tete"
I don't know what I was thinking when I decided to buy even more daffodils. The Tete-a-Tete's simply called out to me. Anytime I see a "great for naturalizing" sign I go a little nuts. Tete-a-tete are described as extra-early and also carry multiple blooms per stem. I'll be adding 50 to the garden.

Tulip Saxatilis
Why, oh, why do I grow tulips? They are an invitation to grief. Grief of the squirrel variety to be precise. But tulips are so beautiful it would be crazy not to try, right? Saxatilis is a miniature tulip. It is a species tulip that is supposed to be long-lived in the garden with the capacity to spread into a nice big clump. 18 bulbs.

Tulip "Little Beauty"
Another dwarf species tulip. Another "great for naturalizing" selection. I'm adding 18 bulbs.

Tulip "Turkestanica"
The BBC's Plant Finder website places "Turkestanica" in a category for experienced gardeners. Should I be worried? Probably. 18 bulbs.

Long Stemmed Red Tulips
This is the classic, tall red flower I expect to see when I hear the word "tulip." I have 18 bulbs that I will likely divide into groups of six.

Tulip "White Clouds"
Tall with ivory white petals. Again, I have 18 bulbs that I will divide into smaller groups. On top of all the tulips and all the other bulbs above, I also have 300 muscari bulbs to plant. This is easily the single-biggest bulb purchase I have ever made. I always like to justify my binge-buying by reminding myself that I don't splurge anywhere else. I also consider it a personal wellness purchase. After four long-months of winter, there is nothing better to recharge my batteries than springtime blooms.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Growing Garlic: Attempt #2

My previous attempt at growing garlic was a complete and total bust. Last fall I took some grocery-store variety garlic cloves and stuck them in the ground. I was so happy when they sprouted. Alas, it was not meant to be. The garlic produced just a sad little single bulb that resembled a sad little onion.

The temporary defeat was not enough to deter me from trying again. So this year, I got serious. Very serious. Grocery story garlic obviously wasn't going to cut it so I placed an order for a hardneck garlic called Music. When it arrived I was astounded by the size of the cloves. They are truly giants.

I have a terrible habit of planting things will-nilly, wherever there's a spot available. It hasn't served me especially well. So this year I'm going with rows...plain old straight lines. And not only that, I brought out a measuring tape and measured precisely the distance between cloves. Surely the garlic will appreciate that.

I gave each planting hole a little sprinkle of blood and bone meal in hopes of giving the roots a running start. I think I've done everything right but it will be the spring of 2010 before I know for sure. Still, I think there's a garlic harvest in my future.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Apples, Rainbows, and a Face in the Clouds

Today was supposed to be about apples...and it was, but it didn't end quite as expected. I am indifferent to apples for 11 months of the year. During apple picking season though, there is nothing I like better. Empires and Spartans were up for grabs today at a "U-Pick" orchard outside the city. I ate three apples before I even started to think about filling my bag. There is no beating the crispness of an apple right off the tree.

But apple picking (and the requisite side-trip to find the perfect pumpkin) is about much more than good apples. It's about building great memories. When I was a kid, my family would go apple picking every fall. There was something very special about riding out to the orchard on a wagon pulled by a tractor and stuffing our faces in the field. It was always a good day.

Those are the kinds of memories I want for my little sprout. Cozy and comforting. It was a good day despite the rain that fell...sometimes poured...intermittently through the afternoon. As we headed home, the skies began to clear and the sun came out. A perfect rainbow appeared over the highway. It was the perfect ending to the day. I got my camera out to capture the rainbow but I captured so much more.

Do you see it? I haven't fiddled with it in any way. It came straight off my camera and onto this blog. I think this picture is awesome. The rainbow is cool but the cloud formation is way cooler. It was there for a few minutes before dissipating.

Soon after taking these photos I arrived home to learn that a dear family friend had passed away after a long battle with cancer. He was a friend of my parents and one of the people responsible for some of my happiest childhood memories. When I was very little he would lift me up to a chandelier in my parent's home. I would run my hands through the crystal prisms. They made a beautiful, fairy-like, tinkling sound, all the while casting crazy rainbows that appeared to bounce all over the walls. That's right...crazy, dancing rainbows.

I'm trying not to attach any meaning to this confluence of photos and bad news. It's just what happened, right? Still, it's interesting how a day about apples led to a day about rainbows, a disappearing face in the clouds and indelible memories of a truly wonderful person. You'll be missed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Autumn: Bursting With Blooms

There was a time when the first day of fall brought a deep melancholy. The cooler temperatures could only mean that it was time to resign oneself to pots of mums.

Don't get me wrong: I adore mums. I love the way they look on my front steps. I love their distinct fragrance. And I love the feelings they invoke of warm, cozy nights by the fire, pumpkin pie with whipped cream and all the other delights autumn has to offer. But over the years I have learned that mums aren't the only options for fall blooms.

Two Toad Lily "White Towers" are blooming for me for the first time. Purchased last fall at an end-of-season sale, it's absolutely thrilling to see them at their best just as everything else in the garden is going kaput. Best of all, the plants are bursting with buds suggesting several more weeks of flowers. I can definitely see adding more of these to the shade garden.

The bugbane looks quite lovely covered with hundreds of tiny, round flower buds. The arching flower stem is beginning to straighten up and reach for the sky. I knew that bugbane was a late bloomer but I had no idea how late. I'm hoping for something very impressive come October. Like the toad lilies, the bugbane was a late-season addition last fall.

The hot pink of the sedum spectabile "Neon" is starting to fade. Here it is growing next to the extraordinarily fragrant calamint. I didn't plan this combination but quite like it. The sturdiness of the sedum is a nice contrast to the airy calamint.

Another plant that produces a very delicate and airy effect is white snakeroot. This native has really won me over for its carefree attitude and its irrepressible fall display. A warning though: I left the seed-heads on the plant last year. It reseeded itself everywhere. And I do mean everywhere!!! Fortunately the seedlings were easy to pull. I plan to keep growing it and to use it in some garden trouble spots but I will definitely take the shears to the spent flowers to prevent an all out invasion.

As the sunshine begins to make itself scarce, Black-Eyed Susans provide the perfect sunshine supplement. I have had mixed feelings about the Susans. I haven't always appreciated them for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. This year, however, they are looking especially spectacular.

Finally, the workhorse of the garden, Geranium "Rozanne" is still producing an abundance of blooms. She's slowing down a bit but even so "Rozanne" is still going strong toward the finish line. I'm just so happy that so many others are right there alongside "Rozanne" keeping the melancholy at bay and making sure that autumn is bursting with blooms.

Friday, September 11, 2009

All About Me(me)

So much blogging to do, so little time. The Nutty Gnome is set to get me back on track though. She has tagged me for the "Seven Things You Don't Know About Me" meme. I can't possibly match the exciting times Nutty has shared but here goes. (By the way, the image above is Jerusalem Artichoke. They look positively gorgeous right now even if I have let them get somewhat out of control.)

1. I don't know how to pronounce "meme" and no matter how many times I look it up, it just won't stay in my head. Okay, I've just looked it up again...rhymes with "cream." Next time I see "meme" though I will be completely baffled.

2. While Nutty has met the Queen, I once shook hands with Princess Diana. A friend and royal watcher begged me to accompany her to the waterfront for a chance to see the Princess during her Toronto visit aboard the royal yacht. We waited for hours and hours pressed up against the barricades. A car pulled up to the dock and Princess Diana emerged. She was so far away. But then, to our unbelieving eyes, she made the long walk toward us. She shook hands with just about everyone in the crowd who could reach her. It may seem silly but shaking her hand was pretty special. She seemed to sparkle and her smile was completely genuine. I love a good celebrity sighting but Diana was different. There was no ego there. She seemed to really care about all those people on the waterfront that night.

3. My worst summer job ever was working (very briefly, thank goodness!) as a receptionist at a limousine company. The job was very boring until it took a very scary turn. One day a guy swinging a baseball bat showed up and took out the door frame while looking to collect on some sort of debt from one of the bosses. I didn't stick around long enough to find out what happened but pieced enough together to know the drivers were running cocaine more than they were running passengers around.

4. I can't eat eggs. Hard-boiled, scrambled, sunny side up...all their various incarnations get my gag reflex going.

5. The Who and Simon and Garfunkel top my list of music favourites. Ask my husband, though, and he'll tell you I have a thing for dancehall.

6. I played flute (badly) all through elementary and high school. It made school bearable.

7. I credit Arthur Fonzarelli, Richie Cunningham and the rest of the characters in Happy Days for teaching me about so many important life lessons. Happy Days was, is and will always be the best show ever. Let me reiterate: Best. Show. Ever. Ayyyyyyyyy!!!

So there you have it. A few interesting, ridiculous and even embarrassing things about me. Nominating seven blogs and pasting in all the code for links could take me days so I'll just put out an open invitation to any bloggers who want to share a few "fun facts" about themselves. It's always good for a laugh. Head over to The Nutty Gnome for more details.

The Jerusalem Artichokes probably have about a week of bloom time left. I always consider their faded blooms the official end of summer regardless of what the calendar says. While that leaves me a bit melancholy, it also signals the start of a whole new period in the garden: bulb planting time. Now that's exciting.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Worth the Wait

It took more than a whole month longer than last year but the tomatoes are finally here. And don't they look just gorgeous? Last season my best one-day harvest was 21 Petitbec tomatoes. So far this year I'm up to a total of four tomatoes. I guess that makes them all the more precious. The colour and flavour are outstanding and lucky for me there are plenty more on the vine.

I have to thank Connie at Notes from A Cottage Garden for introducing me to the flavour sensation of Brandywine Tomatoes. Connie, you were absolutely right! Brandywines taste great!!! Make that: Brandywines taste GREAT!!! I started this Brandywine Red by the kitchen door in February. I plucked it from the vine late yesterday afternoon. My expectations were high and this tomato did not disappoint. It makes store-bought tomatoes taste bland, bland, bland. This tomato is truly like tasting a bit of sunshine. There are least another four Brandywine Reds on the vine right now. All of them are an infuriating green. With fall fast approaching I'm hoping for an intense burst of heat to help them ripen. Otherwise I'll be paying a visit to The Nutty Gnome to ask for the secrets to an awesome Green Tomato Chutney.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Green Tomatoes

This is the only tomato in the garden that's looking exactly as it should: green. It's a green zebra. It's not quite ripe but at least it seems to be on track to make an appearance on a salad plate really soon.

The Petitbec tomatoes are way, way, way behind. I plucked last year's first Petitbec on July 18th. It is now August 10th. August 10th! There's not even a hint of a blush on these little guys.

After an extremely slow start the Brandywine Reds have taken off. The vines and fruit are large and vigorous. But yet again I have not seen anything to suggest the tomatoes will be turning red anytime soon. I'm beginning to wonder if I'll be able to harvest anything before September.

To make matters more frustrating, just look at all this basil. I planted it to enjoy with my not-yet-ripe-and-maybe-never-ripe tomatoes. What a waiting game! I should really just make pesto sauce!

As for those green tomatoes, I'm sure they will come along...eventually. I am planning for a glut of green tomatoes this fall though. I have made pickled green tomatoes in the past. To my surprise they were quite delicious. Are your tomatoes late? What do you do with your green tomatoes?