Monday, April 29, 2013

Garden Ornaments 2013:Everything from Weird to Wacky to Cute

As gnomes go, this guy is kinda cute.

Honestly, I think you should put whatever ornaments suit your fancy in your garden. It is your private space after all! 

There are some pretty offbeat choices available though, and I can't resist poking a bit of fun at some of them. 

For me, the oddest trend in garden ornaments for this year is: Scary! 

Still, if your goal is to frighten trespassers, this cobra might come in handy. 

On the other hand, he also might frighten away family and friends. I know my mother wouldn't step foot inside the back gate if she knew there was a snake, even if it was a plastic one, lurking in my garden.

What do you think of these guys? 

Could they possibly be so freaky emerging out of some leafy greens that they might be a bit tongue-in-cheek funny?

Hmm....look at those eyes though. They kinda creep me out. Too Adams Family for my tastes I think!

Here is scary of a different kind. 

God forbid the dogs get used to this statuesque fellow and assume that all skunks are this harmless.

Got problems with racoons or birds eating the fish in your pond? 

He may be smiling, but I bet this guy might send Mr. Racoon running for cover.

I also saw lots of bird themed ornaments at my local garden centre. I like chickens and roosters, but I am just not sure about this brightly colored plastic one. 

Where would you put him anyway? In your vegetable garden maybe?

These owls are sort of sweet.

For me, Out-of-Africa themed ornaments will always seem like an odd choice for a non-tropical, 
North American garden.

A few years ago garden gnomes experienced a brief vogue when a children's movie featuring the chubby-cheeked little characters hit the big screen.

Now three years later the last of those racks of garden gnomes are on final clearance.

These poor little guys have yellow discount stickers slapped right in the middle of their foreheads. 

Not their most dignified moment for sure!

Three Dogs in a Garden? 

No thanks! I think I'll stick with the real thing.

P.S. The golfing chimp from last year's stock is still available at the nursery. Any takers?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Winning Essay # 4: Burnt Casseroles

Back in November of last year, I sponsored an essay contest. The best entries submitted had a chance to win one of my handcrafted bracelets. Today, I am delighted to share the fourth of those winning entries with you.

Sheryl is a writer and gardening enthusiast from Calgary, Alberta. She spends an inordinate amount of time at the public library...mostly because she works there. She blogs about plants and gardening on her blog Flowery Prose.

It is my pleasure to share Sheryl's winning essay with you here and illustrate her words with my pictures.

Burnt Casseroles

by Sheryl Normandeau

In many ways gardening is a lot like cooking: you learn as you go, and it's a lifelong process. I think my Mum is still laughing about the day I phoned her and asked how to "halve" an egg. (I was shrinking a muffin recipe and panicking at the thought of having to achieve such a complex method of egg separation.)

As someone who is still navigating the "burnt casseroles" of gardening, I'd like to pass along some nuggets of wisdom (if you want to call it that) to neophytes and acolytes alike. I certainly wish I had known this stuff when I first started to garden!

1. Never, ever take ownership of your perceived lack of a green thumb.

Blame the weather anytime something goes wrong- or, if for some hitherto unknown reason you can't, loudly proclaim the inaccuracy of plant labels.

2. Never go to the garden centre on pay day, or when the trucks arrive from the growers.

A trip to Vegas is far cheaper, plus there are slot machines!

3. Learn some botany. A little grasp of science helps you to understand how your plants grow, and by extension, how you can better care for them.

Plus, it may keep you from snickering like a 12 year old boy every time you hear the world "peduncle".

4. The grass is always greener on the other side. No, really it is. But, you can always fall back on Nugget #1.

5. Pleading ignorance is your best defence when your significant other questions why you've brought home yet another plant from the garden centre.

"It leaped into my shopping cart" doesn't work though- you'll have to come up with something a little more convincing.

6. Don't believe those list you find all over the Internet, the ones that tell you about all the deer/rabbit/squirrel-resistant plants to grow. 

I once transplanted half a flat of "rabbit-resistant" sedums, only to turn around and see a rabbit watching me intently. He was licking his chops and rubbing his front paws together with glee. 

When someone asked me about the decimation of my new plants, I blamed it on the weather.

7. Gardening advice is just that.. advice. You can choose to follow it or not, with varying results. (But if I wrote it in my blog or in a magazine, it simply cannot be disputed...right?)

Remember, as in cooking, a little common sense goes a long way. That being said, spontaneous moments of complete irrationality can sometimes bring about the most interesting possibilities.

Just...keep it legal.

8. Always have fun! If, for some strange reason, gardening gets to be a slog, immediately initiate Emergency Treatment: Drop your shovel or rake, back away slowly, and head to the fridge for a nice cold beverage and a snack.

Then find a warm, sunny spot and curl up with a good book until the perceived misery passes.

9. Don't get bit by any of the following: spiders, snakes, scorpions, mosquitoes, black flies, or plant lust.

The first five can be physically painful, and the last one is another reason to book that trip to Las Vegas pronto.

10. Finally, be creative and don't be afraid to experiment. Reuse, repurpose, recycle, reinvent, rethink, redo.

You can't possibly fail- remember Nugget #1.

More Information and Links:

You can read more of Sheryl's fine writing by visiting her blog Flowery Prose.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Three Books to get your Garden Growing (Giveaway Draw)

Recently, Timber Press sent me a big box of their new spring titles and I would like to share copies of the first three of these books with my gardening friends in a giveaway draw.

Starting Seeds by Barbara Ellis:
128 Pages
Illustrations throughout
Storey Publishing

For the novice gardener, seeds can be mysterious and even a bit intimidating. How do you turn a stack of seed packets into a thriving garden?

In this handy pocket-sized book, expert gardener and author Barbara Ellis offers practical advice for sowing vegetable and flower seeds both indoor and out. Seed starting topics include all the basics, plus subjects like pre-germinating seeds and stratification: cool-moist stratification, warm-moist stratification and complex dormancy.

With concise text and simple illustrations throughout, the author offers advice on such things as seed starting mixes, containers and indoor lights. The book continues on to address the care of young seedlings, as well as how and when to transplant seedlings out into the garden. Finally there are handy tips for collecting and storing seeds for next year. 

If you are new to gardening and want to save a little money this spring by start your vegetables and flowers from seed, this is the perfect guide to get you started.

Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener by Joseph Tychonievich
216 Pages
Images: 7 line drawings
Timber Press

Even though I have been gardening for years, I must confess I was a little intimidated by the title of this next book. Plant breeding? Could I really be ready to take that on? It sounds really interesting, but possibly a little tricky and maybe even a bit too technical.

Well, let me reassure you. The book is a great introduction to the subject of plant breeding and won't overwhelm you with a lot of scientific jargon.

In this book, you will learn some basic information about genetics; how to pick the best parent plants; how to cross-pollinate; the best techniques to use for popular vegetables and flowers; and how to harvest and store seeds.

Towards the end of the book the author tackles specific flowers like columbines, daffodils and coleus. Wouldn't be fun, for instance, to create your own unique daffodil? The book also addresses vegetables like tomatoes, lettuce and squash. Might there be a unique Three Dogs in a Garden tomato in my future? Maybe, just maybe!

The Speedy Vegetable Garden by Mark Diacono and Lia Leendertz
208 Pages
250 Color Photos
Timber Press

Traditionally, we view the vegetable gardener's lot as a long suffering matter of sowing seeds, tending young plants, pulling weeds, fighting diseases and fending off bugs and other creatures. If all goes according to plan, eventually there are vegetables to harvest.

The Speedy Vegetable Garden highlights quickly harvested crops like sprouted seeds and micro greens that can be planted and eaten within weeks, days and even hours.

Chapters include: soaks and sprouts, micro greens, edible flowers, cut-and-come-again salad greens and quick harvest vegetables, like cherry tomatoes and early potatoes. Growing tips are nicely paired with beautiful photography and recipes.

What I like best about this book is that it suggests that even gardeners who are pressed for space or time can enjoy their own homegrown food.

To enter the book draw, please leave a comment below. I will make three separate draws, one for each book, so please be so kind as to state which of the books you are interested in winning. I also ask entrants to make sure there is some kind of link available to their email address. I need to have a way to get hold of you should you be a winner! 

The draw will remain open for one week.

I am going to link this review/giveaway to Holley's monthly garden book reviews. To find other great gardening books, please click the link: Roses and Other Gardening Joys

Friday, April 19, 2013

L is for Lobelia

The blue spires of Cardinal flowers, Lobelia syphilitica first caught my attention last summer in the Lost Horizons Nursery display gardens. 

In the past, I have always shied away from this family of plants because I know they like moist soil and my garden was usually dry, especially in late summer.

But when I saw them franking the pathways in the display garden, I began to wonder if I had been too hasty to dismiss the possibility of growing them in my own garden. 

Despite the drought we had in the later part of the summer, these plants didn't seem to be too stressed. Nor did they look to have been pampered great quantities of water from a hose. 

I began to wonder if maybe, just maybe I might be able to get away with growing them myself.

When I decided to investigate further I was surprised to learn that these beautiful Cardinal Flowers, Lobelia syphilitica were actually native plants.

I am sure many of you are familiar with the better known native, Lobelia cadinalis, which has bright red flowers and can be found growing in marshes, along the banks of streams and in wet, wooded areas. The name 'Cardinal Flower' alludes to the bright red robes worn by Roman Catholic cardinals. Lobelia cadinalis is not a long-lived perennial, but it will self-seed wherever it is happy growing. In a home garden, this native makes a great companions for ferns.

Since insects find it difficult to negotiate its long tubular flowers, Cardinal Flowers depend on butterflies and hummingbirds, which feed on their nectar, for pollination. 

While at the nursery a few other cultivars caught my attention as well. If you have the requisite moist soil and sun/part shade this Lobelia 'Misty Morn' might be a nice option to consider.  Height: 65 cm Spread: 35 cm

Also at Lost Horizons was Lobelia x speciosa 'Fan Schadlach'. 

'Fan Schadlach' has amazing bronze foliage, and as a hybrid, it is apparently more forgiving of site and moisture conditions than the red flowering native Lobelia cardinalis

Like most gardeners, I have a limited budget for new plants. It is always tough call: do you only invest in plants that suit your conditions perfectly, or on occasion, do experiment with plants that require growing conditions other than the ones found in your garden?

Generally, I err on the side of caution and only choose plants that I feel confident will be happy where I  place them. 

In this case, I was so taken with the blue flowers I decided to throw caution to the wind and give the blue Cardinal Flower, Lobelia syphilitica a try

Money well spent or ten dollars wasted? Time will tell.

What about you? Do always stick with plants perfectly suited to your growing conditions or do you ever push the envelope?

Have a wonderful weekend gardening!

My garden alphabet so far: 'A' is for Astilbe, 'B' is for ButterflyThree 'C's, 'D' is for DelphiniumThe Letters 'E' and 'F' , 'G' is for Geranium , 'H' is for Hollyhocks, 'I' is for Iris , 'J' is for Jacob's Ladder, I am skipping K for now because I am stumped for a 'K' and now 'L' is for Lobelia.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Signs of Spring at long last!

After days of snow, rain and freezing temperatures we were treated to a little spring weather yesterday. 

Would the old gardener, who used to live up the street, be pleased to know that the snowdrops he first planted more than ten years ago come back in greater numbers each spring? 

I think he would.

The blue scilla that he planted alongside the snowdrops are blooming to 
the delight of the bees.

Sunny yellow Winter Aconite or Eranthis hyemalis dot the lawn of what was his front garden.

In my own garden, the snowdrops are much more humble in number. 

Planted just last fall, these Galanthus elwesii are larger than common snowdrops and have two leaves that wrap around the stem of each bloom stock. The markings on the flowers are also slightly different from the snowdrops in the opening pictures.

In late fall, we constructed a temporary cold frame that snaps into place overtop of my raised herb garden. 

The sides of the cold frame fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. They can be removed in spring and the raised planting bed easily restored.

To save money and because the wood of the cold frame was above ground level, we used cheap pine boards for the construction of the cold frame. 

In a mad rush last fall, we fashioned a cover for the cold frame using a sheet of clear plastic and some old windows that a neighbour kindly lent us for the winter. As luck would have it, the four old windows fit together perfectly to cover the frame.

The simple cold frame has opened up many new possibilities. 

For instance, in the past years the tiny plants that cover the shallow surface of my birdbath container plantings (see lower left) would have perished in winter's wild mood swings. Each spring, I have had to replace the plants with new ones.

This year, I have had the luxury of being able to store the tops to the two birdbaths inside the relative warmth of the cold frame. As you can see, they have come through this long, drawn out winter just fine and are even springing back to life.

The cold frame has also made it possible to easily start seeds for the first time. 

To mark my seedings I have seen using a combination of plain old coffee stir sticks and little decorative flower plant markers I made myself.

I picked up a box of wooden craft shapes ($3) and used outdoor glue to attach them to the wooden stir sticks ($1). 

I lightly drew a circle in the centre of each flower shape with pencil. 

Then, around the circumference of each flower centre and down the stir-stick-stem I wrote the plant name with a fine permanent marker. Finally, I erased the pencil line guide. 

Violá, cute little plant markers!