Tuesday, April 21, 2015

... and we're back! The Weekend Gardener returns for its 8th season!

Throwback! Me and Owen Bridge of Annapolis Seeds when
he joined me on the show in 2011! He'll be back on the air
with me in early May. 
Eight seasons. I have no idea where the time has gone, but we have had such a blast these past 7 years that I can't wait to kick off our 8th! The fun begins this Sunday, April 26th from 10 am to noon (atlantic time) on News 95.7 FM in Halifax and 1310 News in Ottawa. But even if you're far away, you can listen live at the station websites and after the broadcast, the shows will be podcast on the same websites. (I also post the podcast links on facebook after each show).

More good news! Mega-producer, Meghan Groff will be back in the control booth once again, reminding me to talk slower (good luck with that Meghan!) and to keep everything on track!

I've been busy booking the first few months of shows and am excited to welcome back favourite guests like Craig LeHoullier (our tomato man!), Cathy Oulton, Owen Bridge, Marjorie Harris, Jessica Walliser, Tara Nolan, Steven Biggs, Crystal Godfrey, Allan Armitage, Beckie Fox, Telsing Andrews, and many many more.. plus many new guests like Shawna Coronado and 9 year old Emma Biggs!

If there are any guests or topics you'd like to hear, please let me know! As always, we welcome your tweets and phone calls during the show. The number to call is 1-877-801-8255 and you can tweet me HERE.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Lee Valley talk this Saturday, April 18th

Unfortunately, thanks to a bout of the flu last week, I had to postpone my Intensive Gardening seminar at Lee Valley in Bayers Lake. It will now take place this Saturday April 18th at 2 pm.. For more info or to register, just give Scott at Lee Valley a call. A complete description of the event can be found HERE. To make up for the postponement, I'll be bringing seeds to share with everyone!! :)

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Seedling update!

Salvia 'Summer Jewel Red'. Photo courtesy of
All-America Selections
I was late to the seed starting party this year, sowing the majority of my veggies, herbs and annual flowers a few weeks later than normal. Yet, with the rather deep & persistent snow cover, I wasn't worried, as it looked like spring would also be delayed by a few weeks.

Fast forward 2 weeks and everything is growing like crazy under the grow lights.. My basement is cool, which is ideal for encouraging strong, stocky seedlings and a small fan keeps the air circulating with a gentle breeze.

I still have to seed my cucumbers and squash (today??), but for now, I thought I'd share a glimpse of what's growing under the grow-lights. All of these below are new-to-me as I'm trialling a large selection of All-American Selection Winners this year.

How are your seedlings coming along?
These two All-American Selections (AAS) winning basils germinated quickly and I can already see the differences
in the baby plants. Dolce Fresca is more compact, while Persian plants are taller and they have different leaf shapes.

Persian basil is slow to bolt, meaning more basil and less
flowers. But when it does flower, the bees will love
it! Attractive and compact plants.

I don't think I've ever grown dianthus from seed
before, but I do often buy transplants from my
local garden center. This is Jolt, an AAS
winner that has large electric pink fringed blooms.
Side note - I got 100% germination from the seeds!

Dianthus Jolt, photo courtesy of
All-American Selections.

I have grown geraniums from seed before - several times - and I love the European flair they add to my back deck. This is Pinto White, a 2013 AAS winner. New to me though is growing Osteospermum.. I honestly didn't even know they
could be grown from seed. I thought they were propagated from cutting. Germination rates were 90% and
growth has been quick. I'm a daisy girl, so I'm really looking forward to Akila® Daisy White, which is said to be a
non-stop bloomer. 
Pinto White. Photo courtesy of All-American Selections.

Last, but not least, here are my salvias! I have three growing
under my lights. The main photo above is 'Summer
Jewel Red', but I also have 'Summer Jewel Pink' and
'Summer Jewel White'. I wish I could grow a flat of each
as I LOVE their tall, breezy growth habit and ability
to entice pollinators and beneficials. Perfect pot plants too!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A sampling of the new All-America Selections winners for 2015

Every year gardeners look to All-America Selections to discover the best new varieties to grow in their gardens. But who exactly is All-America Selections (AAS) and why do they bother testing and trialling new seeds? According to the AAS, the are "a non-profit organization, founded in 1932 by Roy Hastings, that promotes new garden varieties judged to have superior garden performance in impartial trials throughout North America."

To be considered for AAS testing, plant breeders must enter new, never sold before, cultivars. I've grown AAS winners since I was a teenager, but this year, I have been asked to grow, evaluate and blog about some of the winners from the past five years. So last week, a big box of seeds arrived and I spent a happy hour pouring through the box, choosing what to grow. I ended up starting 8 flats of seeds, selecting a combination of vegetables, herbs and ornamentals. As the spring turns to summer, I will continue to blog about these award-winning plants and update you on their progress, successes and failures.

Here are a few of the 2015 All-America Selections Winners that I'll be growing in my garden this year. To see more of current and past award winners, just visit the AAS website.

Broccoli Artwork F1:

I know you're going to think I'm weird, but sometimes when I'm feeling snacky, I crave broccoli! I'll steam up an entire head, sprinkle it with salt and devour it in mere minutes. Therefore I'm rather excited to try this new AAS award-winning broccoli.

Artwork is a stem broccoli, which means that the central head is just the opening act. After the initial crown is harvested, the plants begin to pump out side shoots for a long harvest of tender, bite-sized florets. The plants continue to produce stem (also called baby) broccoli for an extended period of time and are both heat and bolt resistant. I'm looking forward to testing this in my spring and early summer garden, but I also want to see how it fares for fall and winter harvesting.

Lettuce Sandy:

This is the first lettuce to win and AAS award in 30 years!! Wow, it must be good.

Sandy is a green oakleaf type lettuce that produces tight rosettes of crinkly leaves that are mild and sweet. The plants are resistant to powdery mildew and bolting, which means they won't throw in the towel on that first warm summer day.

AAS suggests growing Sandy in containers and/or the garden, so I'm going to do both to see how it fares. I've already seeded about a 1/2 flat under my grow lights and will try direct seeding it in the garden as soon as the snow disappears (June? July? AGH!)

Squash Bossa Nova F1:

It's great to see such a strong showing of veggies and herbs winning AAS awards in 2015, including this unique and beautiful summer squash. Bossa Nova boasts exceptional flavour and eating quality, but for me, it's the gorgeous fruits that make this a must-grow.

Each elongated squash has a mottled combination of dark and light green skin, which contrasts nicely against the dark green leaves, making the fruits more visible. No more missed zucchinis hiding beneath the foliage that grow to the size of baseball bats!

Basil Dolce Fresca:

Ok, I'm a basil freak. It's my #1 herb and I'm growing about a dozen varieties this year, but Dolce Fresca is the one I'm most excited about.

In growth habit, it's compact, forming a tidy mound that averages about 18 inches tall and 12 inches wide. The plants are quite dense, and attractive enough to be tucked in ornamental beds and containers.

It fills in quickly after each harvest and is also drought tolerant. If you have trouble growing basil, a common complaint among gardeners, consider giving Dolce Fresca a try!

Do you have a favourite All-America Selections award winner?

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.