Thursday, April 16, 2015
Sunday, April 12, 2015
|Salvia 'Summer Jewel Red'. Photo courtesy of |
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|
|Pinto White. Photo courtesy of All-American Selections.|
Saturday, April 4, 2015
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.
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.
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!)
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!
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
|Award-winning & best-selling author,|
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.
|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
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
|Mark getting interviewed at Canada Blooms|
last week - me sneaking in a photo! :)
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
|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
|The view from my hotel room!|
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
|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
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:
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.
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??