Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gardens East Arrives Today!

Atlantic Canadian gardeners are in for a treat! The premiere issue of Gardens East arrives at newsstands across the Maritimes today! The magazine is a publication of Gardens West, a magazine that has become so popular in Western Canada because of its practical information for gardeners, always told with a touch of humour and the personal experiences of real gardeners.

There will also be a handful of regular departments on plants and flowers, birds and bugs, as well as features on local gardens and the exceptional gardeners who have created them. I've been busy working on the articles for these feature gardens, and I can attest to the fact that we have some pretty spectacular gardens here in the Maritimes!

Here is the cover shot from the premiere issue, which features the gardens of Duff and Donna Evers - a breathtaking lakeside utopia created by true gardeners. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Spring is on its way! (Insert happy dance) Isn't it great to walk into a hardware store, garden centre, grocery store or home improvement warehouse and see the large seed racks already set up? Even though I have more than enough seeds, I still never pass up an opportunity to sneak a peek at the racks - just in case I spy something new and exciting. At least I can justify it by saying that it's for work (not that my husband buys that excuse anymore)..

Anyway, in the spirit of spring, I wanted to mention that my article for Canadian Gardening magazine on the spring bulb display at Folmer Gardens in Ontario, has been posted online at the following address:

Please check it out - there are some gorgeous photos accompanying the article as well..


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Make a Garden in 2010!

A lot of people tell me that they're interested in starting a veggie garden, but they're terrified of the work! I think many of us remember the gardens of our childhood that seemed to sprout 10-foot tall weeds every night and attract every pest within 10 miles! At least it seemed that way to me sometimes.. Even I have memories of hours spent tediously thinning the carrots and trying to hack through the weeds to find any actual vegetables.. Really, it's a miracle that I ever ventured back into the world of gardening as an adult (or whatever passes for an adult)..

In reality, that typical rectangular veggie garden, which was surrounded by tall grassy weeds (what were we thinking!?!) and arranged in rows was the problem. We were trying to create a mini-farm on a 24 x 12 foot patch of land. Not the best idea. If I knew then what I know now, I would have divided the area into manageable 4-foot wide raised beds with permanent pathways (no compacted soil and no wasted space). This would have allowed me to plant intensively, shading the soil and preventing weeds, and given us a much greater harvest!

Ah well, the follies of youth.. Now, our kitchen garden is 2000 sq feet and I often find myself wandering along the pathways, looking for something to do! No monster weeds here or endless chores.. A well organized, designed and planted veggie garden is a thing of beauty - a place to relax and unwind.. In fact, I always nestle a few sitting areas in the garden just in case the urge to sit overcomes me.. The children also like to sit and watch the meandering bees and keep an eye on their veggies. I've been told that they can hear the celery grow if they listen hard enough.

Enough rambling.. I do have a point! Make 2010 the year you start your veggie garden! Edible gardening is the biggest trend to hit the horticultural world in years! With the increasing interest in local, organic food, the worldwide economic crunch and headlines blaring about international food shortages and questionable pesticides, more of us want to try to grow our own. This is a photo of my dear friend and neighbour creating her own kitchen garden last spring.. an overwhelming success! The initial 'horror' of her family at having their front yard dug up was replaced by wonder as they discovered the difference between 'home grown' and store bought food. Even the teenagers appreciated it!

The vegetables in our garden are not just your standard supermarket fare, but rather we plant rare heirloom varieties, unique selections from around the world, or gourmet favourites that are often too expensive at the grocery store. I’m often asked whether it is a big money saver to plant a vegetable garden. The answer is: maybe. Depending on your existing soil and what you want to plant, growing veggies can certainly save you money, especially in the long run. Smart planning will also help save money.

We like our salads (you might have clued into that from reading previous entries!) and buying organic gourmet greens at the grocery store every week costs big bucks. Yet, growing your own lettuce, arugula, baby spinach, mesclun and more is so simple and inexpensive.

A kitchen garden doesn’t have to be big. In fact, I would encourage you to start small. A big garden can quickly get out of hand, so I would recommend beginning with a four-foot by eight-foot plot. If you find that you don't have nearly enough space (a guarantee!), then you can always go bigger once you've gotten the hang of things..

In the coming weeks, I'll be posting some ideas for garden design, planting ideas, seed starting and more.. In the meantime, give some serious thought to breaking ground on your new garden this year.. what are you waiting for?

Happy Gardening!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

i LOVE Arugula!

My husband first discovered arugula after a business trip to Argentina a few years ago. Down there, they dress it simply, using only a splash of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of salt, letting the peppery flavour shine through. When he asked me to pick some arugula up from the store so that we could re-create this salad at home, I discovered that arugula was hard to find. When I finally found it, I discovered that it was also expensive!

Luckily, we have a garden, so I ordered a large packet of seeds and we started to grow our own the following spring.

Arugula is a gardener's dream for several reasons:

1) It is very easy to grow! Sun, partial shade, cool weather, unexpected frost, whatever! Arugula can take it...
2) It grows very fast - I've had seed germinate in just 24 hours! Generally, we're harvesting baby leaves in less than 30 days.
3) It thrives in the fall/winter garden - especially when sheltered in a cold frame or a mini-hoop house.

Did I mention that it's delicious? To grow your own, simply sow the seeds in the garden as soon as you can work the soil in the spring - late March/early April if possible. Continue to sow more seed every 2 to 3 weeks for a continuous harvest. In the heat of summer (not that we get much heat!), arugula will go to seed quickly, so I usually stick summer plantings under pole bean teepees or A-frame trellis. This provides a break from the hot sun, and delays bolting (going to seed).

Happy Gardening!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Colour in the Kitchen Garden!

I love to plant huge clumps of annual flowers in the kitchen garden. Not only do they add a welcome splash of colour, but they also attract beneficial insects and pollinators to the garden. Certain annual flowers, such as marigolds or nasturtiums may even repel pests from munching on the broccoli! Diversity is key to a successful garden and by including a large selection of plants, a healthy ecosystem will be achieved.

Here are some of my favourite annual flowers for a kitchen garden:

Nasturtiums - In my humble opinion, nasturtiums are essential to a veggie garden. They are beautiful, edible and available in a range of colours including pale yellow, bright gold, pumpkin orange, deep scarlet and a burgundy so dark that it's almost black. There are two types of nasturtiums - mounding and trailing. Trailing types can take up quite a bit of space, so if you choose to grow trailing nasturtiums ensure they'll have room to run or netting to climb.

I plant mounding nasturtiums at the end of vegetable rows or as an edging around a garden bed. Both types also look spectacular when planted at the entrance to a garden, sprawling and spreading in every direction. Plant nasturtium seeds directly in the garden in mid to late May, pushing them about a 1/2-inch deep in the soil.

Marigolds - I've never liked marigolds. At least not until I discovered the beauty and versatility of Gem marigolds. In shades of yellow, red or orange, these small-flowered marigolds produce a 1 foot tall bushy plant that is covered in cheerful blooms. They make a great edge around a garden bed or a colourful hedge at the front of the garden. I tend to buy transplants in late May, spacing them about a foot apart in the garden.

Cosmos - Cosmos are a tall annual with delicate ferny foliage and large daisy-like blooms. The flowers may be carmine pink, soft pink, white, yellow, orange or a combination of colours. There is even a doubled cosmos that has pretty frilled flowers. Plant the seed indoors 6 weeks before planting out or sow directly in the garden in mid-May. Pick the flowers often for long-lived bouquets.

Zinnias - Zinnias are an old fashioned annual with flowers in a large range of sizes, colours and styles. Some varieties grow tall and produce large dahlia-shaped blooms, while others are compact and bear delicate button-like flowers. Whatever type you choose to grow, you'll be glad you did! I start seed indoors in early April, transplanting the seedlings to the garden in late May. I often stick a few between the bamboo posts of my pole bean teepees or amongst the tomatoes.

Sunflowers - Who can resist the friendly face of the sunflower? They're easy to grow, produce large, brightly coloured blooms and attract bees, birds and butterflies to the garden. Sunflowers are also found in an assortment of flower sizes, shapes and colours. The children love to grow the deep red types, as well as the miniature sunflower 'Teddy Bear' with doubled flowers. If you have the space, try growing a few 'Kong' sunflowers - a giant sunflower that can reach heights over 16 feet with a little TLC.

Happy Gardening!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Seeds are Arriving!

It's so exciting to open up the mailbox and find a parcel of seeds - a sure sign of spring! So far, 2 out of the 3 seeds orders that I placed have arrived and I've been busy trying to organize what needs to be planted and when! I typically start about 12 flats of veggies, herbs and annual flowers indoors under my lights. I wish I had more space, because I could easily double that..

At this time of the year, it's a bit early to start most transplants, but certain veggies, such as artichokes should soon be seeded. Yep, I said artichokes!

It might sound funny to think about growing artichokes in the Canadian Maritimes, but last year we harvested some delicious, tender artichokes in the garden in late July. This year, I'll be growing 'Imperial Star', which is a revolutionary artichoke that can be 'fooled' into producing the first season. It's often called an annual artichoke and will produce its edible buds about 90 days after transplanting.

The secret to getting 'Imperial Star' artichokes to produce their tasty buds is to set out the transplants in mid-April - or when the outside temperature is above freezing, but below 10 C. You can place them in a sheltered area such as a protected corner, a coldframe or an unheated greenhouse, but cover them if temperatures dip below freezing. After a few weeks, the plants think that they have gone through a winter cycle and when transplanted into the garden in early June, they consider themselves to be 2nd year plants.

By mid-summer, you should be able to start harvesting homegrown artichokes! By the way, the plants themselves are very pretty and can grow quite large - up to 4 feet across and tall.. although, I find that mine never really exceed 3 feet.

Happy Gardening!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Homemade Plant Tags - A Fun Winter Project

I received an e-mail a few days ago from a clever local gardener - Frank Mosher - who has devised a simple method for making homemade plant tags. As you can see from his photograph, these are metal tags constructed from empty pop cans.

Frank has a lot of fruit trees, as well as hybrid roses and climbers. He likes to keep them labelled, but the wooden tags with wire that you can buy at local garden centers is very expensive and as he mentioned, they quickly fade, leaving you scratching your head over which plant is which!

Therefore, Frank has taken matters into his own hands and created these handy and long-lasting tags. His instructions for creating these are as follows:

All you need are some simple tools (shown above) and empty beer or pop cans. First, cut out the tags in whatever size that you wish. Punch out a small hole at one end and insert a piece of wire.

To label the tag - Place the tag on a piece of cardboard and inscribe it with a sharp ballpoint pen with whatever info you want recorded - species, year planted and such. Since the information on the tag will be raised, it can't be washed away in the rain.

Frank also notes that he finds the tags to be effective in scaring deer because of their light reflecting properties and tinny noise in the wind - something that really interests me, since our garden is located on a deer superhighway!

Anyway, thanks so much to Frank for sending this to me and I hope other gardeners will find it helpful!

Happy Gardening!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Rainbow of Tomatoes!

My friend, neighbour and partner in (gardening) crime, Raylene introduced her dad to the wonder of heirloom tomatoes this past summer. An experienced organic market grower, he had always grown the traditional hybrid beefsteak tomato. So, last spring, Raylene gave him the seed for a handful of new types to try - Black Krim, Persimmon, Costuluto, Sungold, Cherokee Purple - and he grew them in his large garden.

These photos show you the results! One day last September, he pulled up in his car and opened the trunk - it was completely (and I mean completely!) filled with a rainbow of tomatoes in every size and shape imaginable! Here are some photos from that day..

I've been slack in my posts over the past week.. I've been busy working on a few in-depth articles for the new magazine, Gardens East.. Hopefully that's a good excuse? It's been over a week since I promised a list of our favourite tomatoes, so I thought I'd share that with you today.

I have placed all my seed orders and am anxiously waiting for them to arrive in the mail (maybe today?) But, it's not too late for you to order a few of these tomatoes, should any tempt you.. I generally start my tomato seedlings indoors under lights around April 1st. They are then transplanted in the garden around the 3rd week of May. If frost threatens, I cover the tomato cages with sheets or floating row covers.

Try growing a few different types of tomatoes this summer - or perhaps a rainbow of colours? Last week, I talked about some of our favourite black tomatoes, which are a must for the garden, but also consider trying some yellow, orange or striped types. Size is also varied and can range from tiny currant tomatoes to huge 3 or 4 lb monsters! When picking varieties, be sure to check the Days to Maturity listed in the seed catalogue so that you know whether your growing season will be long enough to mature the fruits.

Although we grow about 20 varieties per year, these are the ones that stand out and are planted again and again.. I didn't re-list the black tomatoes, so refer to last week's post for info on Black Krim and Cherokee Purple..


It’s been about 12 years since I was introduced to this incredible tomato and it’s still the most popular vegetable in my garden. An indeterminate type of tomato, Sungold produces an endless supply of bright orange cherry-sized fruits that boast a super-sweet tomato flavour, perfect for salads or eating out-of-hand. The vines are very vigorous, early producing and resistant to both Fusarium and Tomato Mosaic Virus. I usually grow a few plants in patio containers on my back deck as well as in the garden, because you can just never get enough of the sweet-as-candy fruits. (Renee’s Garden, Cook’s Garden, Johnny's Selected Seeds)

Costoluto Tomatoes

An Italian tradition, Costoluto is a delicious heirloom beefsteak tomato. The plants are vigorous and produce a generous crop of medium to large-sized tomatoes, ideal for a gourmet bruschetta. The fruits are also very beautiful! They're heavily pleated, deep red and very juicy. My sister Lisa loves the classic tomato appetizer of sliced garden tomatoes with fresh mozzarella, basil and a drizzle of olive oil. This is the perfect tomato for this salad - not only is it beefy and delicious, but thanks to their pleating, the cut slices resemble flowers. Gorgeous!

Persimmon Tomatoes

Another heirloom tomato, Persimmon is a must-have tomato in our kitchen garden. The meaty fruits are big and juicy and ripen to a glowing orange. My mother-in-law declared them her favourite tomato and their sweet flavour has guaranteed them a permanent spot in our garden.

Big Rainbow

Big and beautiful! This is what happens when tomatoes have threesomes! They produce a superb specimen with huge, juicy, meaty fruits in a pretty mix of red, orange and yellow. The streaks of colour appear on both the inside and the outside of the 2 lb fruits, which are simply delicious. According to my husband, they taste as if they've just been sprinkled with sugar... mmmmm...

Happy Gardening!