Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Toronto Botanical Garden is on top of garden trends at Canada Blooms

Award-winning & best-selling author,
Jessica Walliser!
I get a lot of press releases, articles and information packs from garden PR firms, nurseries, plant breeders all telling me what the next great garden trends will be. Often garden trends are nothing more than a sales pitch to promote new plants and products.

Sometimes, garden trends are so apparent that no press release is needed. Such is the case with the #1 garden trend of 2015 - at least according to me! But when I went to Canada Blooms in Toronto in mid-March, it seems that the Toronto Botanical Garden is also on the same page as I am, as their entire gardens at Canada Blooms focused on pollinators.

For years, I've seen this trend slowly building as more and more gardeners realize the important of attracting and supporting the populations of good bugs. My teacher was Jessica Walliser, who first piqued my interest with her book Good Bug, Bad Bug. I still take that book out into the garden when I need to ID insects and figure out what harm - or help - they can do.

Her latest book, Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden (Timber Press) builds on her earlier work and has just been honoured with the American Horticultural Society 2015 Book Award! Woot woot!! Congratulations Jessica! My copy is already quite dog-eared and I'm so excited for the coming season when I can put many of her ideas and suggestions into action in my veggie and new ornamental gardens. You can also read more about bugs, pollinators, etc from Jessica on Savvy Gardening, the website we started with Tara Nolan and Amy Andrychowicz in 2014.

As for the Toronto Botanical Gardens, this was - by far - my favourite spot at Canada Blooms 2015. Their display included a series of pods, which could represent corners of large gardens, small gardens or even condo balconies, with each showcasing pollinator-friendly plants and easy DIY projects for supporting and attracting the good bugs in your garden.

What do you do to attract pollinators and beneficials in your garden?

All about their pollinator playground. An army of volunteers
was also on hand to share their knowledge with gardeners.

Tara Nolan, of Savvy Gardening, was my partner-in-crime as we explored
the pollinator playground. 

Pollinator friendly plants - herbs, flowers & more
were included in all the pod gardens to showcase
the diversity available to gardeners. 

Master gardeners were also on hand to offer
advice & info. 

Like most gardeners, I'm a huge fan of upcycling. Paul
Zammit, the Director of the Toronto Botanical Garden
created a masterpiece with many re-purposed items. He
suggests including simple DIY solitary bee houses in your garden
and planting clumps of bee and butterfly plants. 

Um, the TBG also had an amazing store at Canada Blooms. I
may have accidentally bought a few tidbits! SO. MUCH. COLOUR!

There were some great pollinator friendly toys
and gardening kits for kids.

Let's just say I needed a bigger suitcase! 

Garden Making magazine was on display in a corner
of the booth.

They were also selling spring bloomers - tempting!

Air plants to help clean the air. In trendy and pretty glass containers.

A living wall pod - great for small spaces. These were beautiful foliage plants,
but imagine a tapestry of lettuces, or herbs! Sigh.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A peek into the garden writers lunch at Canada Blooms

Last week, I had the amazing opportunity to spend a few days at Canada Blooms. I gave two talks and managed to plan my trip so that it coincided with the Garden Writers lunch. This annual meeting is a great chance for me - especially where I live rather far from most of the other garden writers - to connect with old friends and meet some new ones too! I thought I'd share a peek inside the lunch and introduce you to a few of these fine folks.

Me with fellow Savvy Gardening expert, Tara Nolan, and Steven Biggs,
author of Grow Figs Where You Think You Can't and
his soon-to-be-released children's gardening book,
Grow Gardeners (stay tuned for a podcast interview we recorded
with Steven about this new book)

Tara with Barbara Phillips Conroy (Barbara's Garden Chronicles)
and renowned garden writer, Lorraine Hunter. 

Two shining stars! Beckie Fox, Editor in Chief
of Garden Making magazine and Lorraine
Flanigan (City Gardening)

Canada's garden guru, Mark Cullen with Liz Klose, the director
of the Memorial University of Newfoundland BotanicalGardens

Tara with Susan Poizner of Orchard People and Lise Gobeille,
a well known Horticulturist at the Montreal Botanic Garden.

Sarah Battersby (Toronto Gardens), Rob Howard, Barbara
Phillips Conroy & Kathy Wood

I had to include this shot too, just so you didn't think Rob was
super serious!! A fun & fabulous bunch!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

New podcasts!!

Mark getting interviewed at Canada Blooms
last week - me sneaking in a photo! :)
As you may know, I'm a co-owner of the website, Savvy Gardening. We launched just over a year ago and the response has been incredible. Along with Jessica Walliser (bug & pollinator expert), Tara Nolan (flower & container gardening expert), Amy Andrychowicz (Budget & DIY gardening expert) and me (edibles expert), we cover a lot of ground.

We've now ventured into podcasts and have started a series of brief interviews called, Short & Savvy. For the first podcast, I chatted with Mark Cullen, Canada's garden guru! HERE is the link to the podcast, if you're interested in taking a listen.

Many more to follow!!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Straw bale gardening

A straw bale cold frames whose bales will be turned into
a straw bale garden.
A few years ago, I built a straw bale cold frame to house some winter crops. It was a very basic structure made up of 6 straw bales arranged in a square with an old window on top. Come spring, I had planned to break up the straw bales and use them as a mulch in my veggie beds, but then I read about a unique gardening technique called straw bale gardening. So, instead, I used my bales to build a no-dig garden, planting an assortment of veggies, herbs and annual flowers. The result? A fabulous harvest with no backbreaking digging, bending, stooping or weeding.

In his recent book, Straw Bale Gardens (Cool Springs Press), Joel Karsten details his secrets to creating a productive and beautiful straw bale garden. He writes that you need three essential components: 1) At least one straw bale 2) sunshine - 6 or more hours if you want to grow food crops 3) water. 

You don’t need a large property to straw-bale garden, and can even use this technique on decks, patios or unused concrete areas, or place them directly on the lawn. The easiest way to arrange the bales is in single or double rows where they are placed end to end. Orientate the rows north to south for maximum sunlight. 

Bales are held together with string and when you are placing the bales, make sure the strings are running along the sides and not the top. “Bales of straw are like Humpty Dumpty,” writes Joel. “If they break open you’ll never get them put back together again.” The strings, which are tightly compressing the straw actually help the interior of the bale compost down, making the lovely growing medium for your plants. Between the bales, you can add landscape fabric, straw, wood mulch or another type of material to keep your feet clean and the garden tidy. 

Seedlings ready for my straw bale garden.

Before you plant, you’ll need to ‘condition’ your straw bales. “The process of conditioning will take approximately 10 to 12 days - with the exact time determined by the air temperatures,” writes Joel. “This means that the bales will have composted far enough that the bacteria inside is activated and begun to digest the straw, making nitrogen and other nutrients available.”

When it comes to what to grow, you’re only limited by your imagination. Joel recommends erecting wire or string trellises above the straw bales - just like you would in a conventional garden - to support climbing crops like pole beans, peas or cucumbers, or annual flowering vines like sweet peas or morning glories. Rambling vegetables like pumpkins, squash and zucchini respond extremely well to straw bale gardening. 

To plant seedlings, dig into the top of the bales with a hand trowel and insert the young plants into the straw. For seeds, Joel adds a one to two inch layer of potting soil on top of the bales for edibles like carrots, lettuce and beans. Keep the newly planted seeds and seedlings well watered. To keep plants irrigated, he recommends running a soaker house along the top of the bales, among the plants. This prevents the need for overhead watering, which can spread disease, but will also reduce water waste. 

Have you ever straw bale gardened? 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Canada Blooms 2015!

The view from my hotel room! 
Phew! Just back from a whirlwind tour of Canada Blooms in Toronto. It's my 4th year visiting this amazing show, which is celebrating its 19th year in 2015. Can't wait for the 20th anniversary where BIG things are planned!

For me, Canada Blooms has always been the official kick off to spring - even though I flew home just before Mother Nature dumped another 30+ cm of snow on us (sigh) and tonight and tomorrow is another 30 cm (double sigh).. but that's ok as it's just 3 DAYS TO SPRING!!

I still have major seed starting to do and when/if the snow melts, I will have new beds to dig.. don't tell the hubby, but I've realized that I don't have enough garden space for all I want to grow.. therefore, I think some of the nice, sunny, flat back lawn will need to morph into gardens. Who knows, if I gradually absorb the grass, he may not even notice ???

Over the next few days, I will do a handful of posts about Canada Blooms as I took hundreds of photos and want to feature a few of the most outstanding gardens with their own posts. For example, the display created by the Toronto Botanical Gardens was incredible and completely dedicated to pollinators. The #1 garden trend in 2015 (at least according to me!) Stay tuned!

I had the opportunity on Friday March 13th, to have an early morning media tour with some fellow garden writers, like Tara Nolan, who owns Savvy Gardening with me (and Jessica Walliser and Amy Andrychowicz). We did the first Savvy Gardening talk at Canada Blooms, focusing on Garden BFFs: How edibles and ornamentals can play nicely in the garden. It was a great group of gardeners who came out to see us and I hope it will be the first of many Savvy Gardening talks!

The theme of the 2015 show is 'Let's Play', and many of the garden designers created spaces to reflect playfulness, childhood and capture the imagination.

For now, here's a teaser of some of the sights of Canada Blooms 2015:

Walking through the Home Show to get to Canada Blooms!
Not quite a red carpet, but an impressive allee of potted trees, tropicals
and blooms.

Almost there - just a few more steps until we get to Canada Blooms, 
Tara Nolan and I did our duty and thoroughly
explored all Canada Blooms had to offer! This is Tara
walking the charming wooden path of the Fairy Frolic garden by
Vandermeer Nursery and Earth Art Landscapes. 
According to the designers, the Fairy Frolic garden
was "created with the hope that it will awaken
memories of days gone by, a world other
than our own and a retreat that takes us
back to childhood play."
This was a garden where you had to look very closely.
There were many details that were
only appreciated with careful viewing. 

This was my favourite vignette in the garden - check
out the waterfall!
If you have any old tree stumps, logs, etc in your
garden, you might want to consider creating
a little fairy world.
I also loved this 'curious troll', a sizeable display in
the Fairy Frolic garden.

Look who was filming a TV spot in the nearby
Beinenstock Playground - it's Mark Cullen!

This was one of the coolest gardens at the show and
was created by Adam Beinenstock.
It featured a treehouse, with
a double spiral slide - which I tested out, thank
you very much! Not so easy in heels.. :)

Another view of the playground from the other side of the treehouse.
This garden used so many elements that appeal to kids.. there were
water features, chalkboards, trees to climb, slides, toys, etc. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Garden advice

I was talking with a non-gardening friend last week and she asked me to give her some advice. More specifically, the best advice I could offer a new gardener. Well, that certainly got me thinking and here is what I told her:

Have fun!
Gardening isn’t about competing with the neighbours, rather it’s about creating a space that makes you happy. Whether its a single container of petunias, a personal veggie plot or a large ornamental garden, take pride in what you create and be sure to enjoy the process. 

Start small
It’s very easy to go overboard when making your first ornamental or vegetable garden, but remember to start small. If you find yourself running behind and don’t have time to care for your garden, it will become overgrown and weedy and feel like a chore. Your garden should help you relax, not be another item on a ‘to-do’ list. 

Feed the earth
Ok, this sounds cheesy, but it’s true. A healthy, low-maintenance garden begins with good soil. Yearly applications of compost or aged manure will feed the diverse populations of microorganisms who live in the soil, who in turn will release nutrients back to your plants. 

Work with Mother Nature
Do yourself a favour and grow plants that do well in our region. They will require less fertilizer, water and be more resistant to insect and disease problems. Not sure what they are? Ask at your local nursery, spy on your neighbours garden (not to compare, but just to see what they are growing) or join a garden club. 

It’s hard to go wrong with hardy perennials like daylilies, veronica, purple coneflower, yarrow and ornamental grasses. Top shrubs include hydrangea, weigela, azaleas, rhododendrons and rugosa roses. As for trees, I count magnolias, paperbark maple, Japanese maple, serviceberry and Kousa dogwood among my top picks. 

Eat (and grow) your veggies
It’s amazing how homegrown veggies and herbs taste so much better than store bought, so consider planting a small vegetable garden, adding herbs to a windowbox or even tucking some tomatoes or bush beans among your ornamental plants. If you have young children or grandchildren, it’s also a great way to introduce them to where their food comes from. Plus, they’ll have fun ‘helping’ tend and water the garden. 

My favourite veggies include ‘Sungold’ tomatoes, ‘Lemon’ cucumbers, pattypan zucchini, ‘Emerite’ pole beans and ‘Napoli’ carrots. 

What advice would you add?? 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Five ways to beat the winter blues!

Happy January!! I know, I know.. I've been neglectful.. full speed ahead on book #3 and a handful of magazine deadlines.. plus a bunch of upcoming lectures! But I'm also so excited to turn the corner on January and start thinking about seed starting.. Soon, I'll be sowing artichokes, onions, leeks and more.. have you started any yet?

Therefore I thought I'd share a few ideas of how to keep your green thumb in top shape throughout the 'deep-freeze' period:

1) Order seeds. Many gardeners prefer to wait and head directly to the garden centers in spring to buy their seeds, but others like to browse through seed catalogues and websites, selecting all or a portion of their seeds and waiting impatiently by the mailbox for them to arrive. Personally, I do both, ordering from my favourite seed catalogues, but also stopping at every single seed rack I encounter (farmer’s markets, supermarkets, garden centers, hardware stores - anywhere!) just to make sure I haven’t missed anything. 

The 2015 Halifax Seed catalogue is now
2) And since you’re ordering seeds, start some indoors - At this time of the year, slow growing seeds - like annual geraniums, leeks, onions, for example - can be planted indoors in a sunny windowsill or under grow-lights. I also like to start pansies indoors now, transplanting the cold-tolerant seedlings to my outdoor containers in mid-April for a breath of spring.
3) Pot up some herbs - When I first got serious about gardening, I began with herbs. It amazed me that those little glass bottles lined up on my mother’s spice rack were filled with bits of plants that I could actually grow. I started with the basics - parsley, basil, rosemary and thyme - and discovered that fresh plants tasted (and smelled) so much better than those bottles of dried green flakes. I never went back. Now, I grow a steady supply of aromatic herbs in our gardens, supplementing in winter with pots on our windowsill. Some herbs, like thyme and parsley are super hardy and can be overwintered in a cold frame for a non-stop bounty, but others like basil and rosemary are too tender and must be grown indoors. Also don’t shy away from unfamiliar herbs like lemon verbena which makes a delicious tea or lemony addition to fish and chicken dishes. Discover the range of herbs at the Canadian company, Richters Herbs which sells both seeds and mail order plants through their free catalogue.

4) Force some branches - You know that forsythia shrub sitting in your front lawn - c’mon, we all have one - go outside with a pair of sharp pruners and judiciously clip some branches, choosing those that may have needed a haircut anyway. Any twigs that are damaged, crossing each other or sticking out in an odd way, can be pruned off and brought indoors to be forced into bloom. Look for branches covered in fat buds - flowerbuds - for the best show of colour. Also consider pruning twigs from your other spring flowering shrubs - crabapples, witch hazel, serviceberry, quince and willows. Pop those stems in a vase of water, changing it every few days and within a week or two, those flowerbuds will swell and burst into bloom. 

5) Think & dream. Right now, the garden is a blank slate, especially if you literally have no garden. If that’s the case, think about what type of garden you would like and what you’d like to grow - perennials, shrubs, vegetables, herbs? - and how you like it it to look - formal? natural? cottage garden? Get inspired by gardening books and magazines, or take some time and get lost in the countless garden photos found online at Pinterest. If you already have a garden, you may also want to re-evaluate and consider what works and what doesn’t, moving under-performing plants to new areas and making a list of new things you’d like to try. 

What are you up to in the garden?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The last hurrah of autumn

I found this forgotten Black Spanish radish in the garden.
I think I'm too scared to eat it though - it's almost 3 inches
across and will be VERY VERY spicy!
According to the weather forecast, we may get 5 to 10 cm of snow tomorrow.. NOOOOOOOO! Mother Nature has been so kind to us this autumn with wonderfully mild weather and few frosts.

I've been out working in the garden for the past few days, trying to tie up loose ends (and pull random weeds!) before the weather bomb. It looks like today is the last mild day, and I've still got plenty to do like deep mulch the root/stem crops and put up a few mini hoop tunnels in preparation for the (sniff, sniff) snow.

However, I thought I'd first share some photos I took yesterday - Nov 12 - when it was warm enough to work outside in a t-shirt!

Have you wrapped up your winter garden yet?

I've got about 20 celeriac ready for deep mulching.
Most about about 4 to 6 inches across.

Baby beets! Steamed these last night - like candy!

There are still some random blooms for the late bees. This
borage flower was pure perfection.

Plenty of calendula still in bloom. The nasturtiums
gave up last week, but these cheerful orange blooms
fill the gap nicely.


Can't forget about 'Peppermint Stick' swiss chard!
Seriously a knockout in the garden spring through winter!

I also still have  hedges of sweet alyssum. It
just keeps going and going - even under
mini hoop tunnels. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Free download from Horticulture magazine - Great Garden Plants!

One of the more fun jobs I've had in 2014 has been writing a regular column for Horticulture magazine.  I'm happy to say that my column will now continue in 2015! A nice bit of news after the unfortunate demise of Gardens East, Gardens West and Gardens Prairies magazines earlier this month.

Also, because 2014 is the 110th anniversary of Horticulture magazine (they first published on December 3, 1904), they are giving away their Guide to Great Garden Plants: Award-winning Selections for Shade, Sun and Everything In-Between for FREE! Click HERE for the link.

I'm off to plant more garlic.. wondering if 500 bulbs is too many?? Nah!! :)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The last autumn hurrah in my vegetable garden

This has been an utterly spectacular autumn.. My garden is still frost-free, but I think the party is coming to a quick end as the temperature is predicted to dip very low in just two more days.. ah well, I can't complain as we continue to harvest traditional summer crops like cucumbers, cucamelons, the odd cherry tomato, basil, and zucchini.

I've been a slack blogger lately - sorry! Tied up with book proposals (book #3!), magazine deadlines, and Savvy Gardening, the site I co-own with the wonderful Jessica Walliser, Tara Nolan and Amy Andrychowicz.

I'm especially excited for the launch of our new Savvy Gardening NEWSLETTER this coming Tuesday.. It's looking fabulous and anyone interested in receiving the free regular newsletter can sign up here.

I'm off to give a talk this afternoon in Middle Musquodoboit at 2 pm and then will wrap up my 2014 lecture season on November 1st in Bridgewater, NS. Details to follow.

I thought I'd take a quick second to snap a few photos of my garden before Jack Frost pays me a visit in the coming days.. Hope all is well in your gardens! What are you still harvesting?

So much celeriac - almost ready for winter mulching!

This was a red mustard planted last autumn.. we harvested during
last winter.. then spring.. then it bloomed.. and the
remaining stub came back again! It's now pushing out
lovely rosettes of leaves and blooms along its stem. 

I'm also still gathering seeds - calendula, cucumber, and
of course, nasturtiums!

I love the combo of Italian parsley and sweet alyssum. I
toss handfuls of the chopped parsley in steamed potatoes,
in grated carrot salads and in my morning eggs. Yum!
I've got to move a few clumps to the cold frames for winter.

The Pineapple alpine strawberries I grew from
Renees Garden seed are spectacular! They're still blooming and
producing the aromatic fruity flavoured elongated berries.

I get a nice handful every day from my 24 plants. Will be
interested to see how they overwinter.

Here's a seasonal friend - the wooly bear caterpillar. So