Friday, August 15, 2014

Fly Away Home Again

For the second time this summer, I am flying home to Nova Scotia to check on my Mom. She's doing well, all things considered, but we worry anyway. This time around my sister Nancy is coming home from Ireland and we have a lot of catching up to do.

I am well behind on returning visits, but promise to drop by and say hello upon my return.

I leave you with an image of one of the prettiest things in the garden at the moment: Ornamental Onion, Allium 'Millenium'. The bees adore it.

Have a wonderful week!

Monday, August 11, 2014

So I bought a Fig Tree...

I bought a fig tree principally because of a short story.

I know, I know. It's a bit of a zany reason for a plant purchase, but let me explain.

I am a longtime fan of Stewart Mclean and his hour-long radio show on the CBC called the Vinyl Cafe.  Of Stewart's many tales, my favourite, and there is no surprise here, is about an aging gardener and his fig tree.

I know it is a little sentimental, but I like the idea of having a pleasant reminder of a favourite story in my garden.

I sure you must be wondering about the practicality of growing figs in Canada. 

After all, fig trees hail from the Middle East and western Asia.

Well, I have it on good authority that it is indeed possible to grow figs here in my zone 6b garden.

Steve Biggs, author of Grow Figs Where You Think You Can't, has become a well known authority on the subject of growing figs.

But why bother to grow your own figs in the first place? In his book, Steve writes:

"A fig picked too early never ripens to perfection. It's just a corky, semi-sweet thing passed off as a fig. Contrast that to a truly ripe fresh fig, which packs a succulent burst of jam-like sweetness. That perfectly ripe fig is far to fragile to withstand long-distance shipping. And that means that many people living in colder climates have never experienced one."

Count me in amongst all those people who has never experienced a proper tree-ripened fig! I have eyed the rather sad, slightly shrivelled specimens in my local grocery and have always passed on buying figs. On the other hand, the "jam-like sweetness" of a homegrown fig sounds divine.

Curious as to where his interest in figs began, I contacted Steve and asked him a series of questions to help me get started with my first fig tree: 

How did become interested in growing figs Steve?

"My first exposure to figs was to the dried sort. I don't mean to disparage dried figs, but they would not be reason enough for me to go to the effort of growing my own figs in my garden. When people say they don't like figs, I am immediately suspicious that they have only tried the dry ones...

My interest in figs grew as I watched neighbours grow figs. Then as a student I spent a summer working at a nursery in the UK that specialized in growing figs."

What types of fig trees are best adapted to life here in Canada?

"Some varieties such as "Hardy Chicago" can tolerate cold better, so are better suited for growing in the ground. Varieties that ripen 'main-crop' figs earlier are always a safer bet. And, varieties such as "Desert King", which have a heavy Breba crop (the early crop in July) are a good bet. 

[Breba fruit grown on wood from the previous year, usually ripening in July; while main-crop figs are on wood from the current year, ripening late summer or fall.]"

I know absolutely nothing about growing figs. What can I do to get my fig tree off to a good start?

"Sun, heat and water are all important to actively growing plants. Unpruned, plants usually grow into a bush, but can be trained into small trees, if that's what you prefer."

How can I encourage fruit and get it to ripen before fall frosts?

"Pick a hot, sunny microclimate, such as next to a brick wall that radiates heat. Pinch out shoot tips after 3 figs form, so that energy isn't wasted growing figs that probably won't ripen in our climate."

What can I do to make sure my fig tree makes it through the winter?

"Fig trees lose their leaves after the first frost. They WANT to go dormant. That means you can keep them over the winter even if you don't have a bright, hot greenhouse. While they're dormant, they don't need light or much heat. Contrast this to lemons...

Do not put your fig tree in a sunny window. If it grows to much indoors it will get to gangly. It is also important not to overwater, as this can rot the roots.

If your fig is in a pot, move it to a cool, dark location such as a cold room; or an attached garage can work well too. A stand-alone garage tends to get too cold in extreme conditions. 

If it is in the ground, bend over the shoots and insulate with soil and some sort of insulating cover."

Just to be clear: are you suggesting I bury it in the ground and then cover it over with additional insulation?

Many people do this, although here in the Toronto area, you can bend it to the ground and mulch heavily. No need to bury your fig tree!

What do you suggest I use as an insulating cover?

"Some people use leaves. One fellow I know uses an old door with a sheet of insulating foam on it. Your goal is to moderate the temperature swings, not to prevent it from freezing."

My hardy Fig tree, Ficus carica: Needs 3-6 hours of sun. Full height 8-10', Full Spread: 10-12' 
USDA Zone 7-10 ( -18 degrees C) 

My fig tree is far too young to produce figs this year, but if it successfully overwinters, I hope to enjoy its first figs next summer.

As Steve describes it,"The neck becomes soft, the fruit drops and becomes soft to the touch, and sometimes a glistening drop of nectar escapes from the eye."

I can hardly wait!

More information and Links:

Steve Biggs is an award winning journalist and author specializing in gardening, farming and food production. A life-long gardener, he favours a practical and fun approach to things. His book No Guff Vegetable Gardening, co-authored with Donna Balzer is a Canadian best seller. Grow Your Own Figs Where You Think You Can't is the winner if the 2012 Silver Award of Achievement, Garden Writers Association.

Steve lives with his family (and a couple dozen fig trees) in Toronto.

Watch a short video of Steve at Richter's Herb Nursery speaking on growing Figs.

Be sure to check out Steve's plans for creating a "Fig Patio Garden" inNiki Jabbour's new book Groundbreaking Gardens.

For those of you that live in the GTA, you can check out the new Fig Patio Garden at the Toronto Botanical Gardens

Stewart Mclean is a best selling author, award winning journalist and humorist. The Vinyl Cafe stories follow the misadventures of Dave, the owner of the Vinyl Cafe (the world's smallest record store) his wife Morley, his daughter Stephanie and his son Sam.   Find some of the most recent Vinyl Cafe podcasts here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Threadleaf Coreopsis

Coreopsis 'Jive' and 'Salsa'

Mauve colored Veronica 'Eveline' and Penstemon 'Dark Towers', with its deep maroon stems and light pink flowers looked pretty together in my front garden for quite a number of weeks, but as the summer slipped quietly from July into August, they both were starting to look a bit weary. 

Hoping for a fresh flush of flowers in early fall, I ruthlessly pruned them back. Cutting any perennial back hard is always a case of short term pain for long term gain. Often a plant looks like hell before it bounces back.

To disguise the mess I created, I bought a big pot of annual Coreopsis 'Jive' and placed it right into the flower border.

I have always been a fan of Threadleaf Coreopsis.  I have perennial Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam' in the front and back gardens.

Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam' : has soft, ferny foliage and buttery-yellow flowers in late July/August.  Deadheading encourages new flowers and an extended bloom time. This is an easy care plant that tolerates a range of soil types and growing conditions. Full sun. Height: 30-45 cm, Spread: 30-45 cm. Note: Moonbeam is essentially sterile and must be propagated by division or cuttings. USDA Zones 4-9.

'Zagreb' is another popular cultivar with flowers that are a deeper, more golden-yellow.

Coreopsis verticillata 'Zagreb': has the same ferny foliage and golden-yellow flowers in late July/August. Full sun. Height: 20-30 cm, Spread: 30-45 cm. USDA Zones 4-9.

Coreopsis verticillata 'Golden Gain': offers the same golden yellow flower as 'Zagreb' on a plant that is a little taller than 'Moonbeam'. Again full sun. Height: 60-75 cm, Spread: 45-60 cm. USDA Zones 4-9.

This pink cultivar is sometimes sold as a perennial here, but it has never been hardy in my Zone 6b garden. 

Coreopsis rosea 'American Dream':  has the same threadleaf foliage as 'Moonbeam', but with pink flowers in late July/August. Full sun. Height: 30-45 cm, Spread: 45-50 cm. Coreopsis rosea 'American Dream' prefers average to moist soil. USDA Zones 4-9.

Coreopsis 'Route 66' is also a perennial that has to be treated like an annual here (hardy only to Zone 5).

Coreopsis 'Route 66': has starry yellow flowers splattered more or less with maroon. (Each flower is a little different than the next.) This species is native to the Eastern USA and tolerates heat and humidity well. It prefers dry growing conditions and is happiest in sandy, poor or rocky soil that offers good drainage. Full sun. Height: 50-60 cm, Spread: 45-60 cm. USDA Zones 5-9.

Coreopsis 'Red Satin' is final example of a perennial that must be treated like as annual here in southern Ontario (hardy only to Zone 5).

Coreopsis 'Red Satin': has maroon flowers summer to fall. It is native to the Eastern USA where it grows in hot, dry conditions. Like 'Route 66', it is quite happy in poor, sandy soil and is drought tolerant once established. Full sun. Height: 45-60 cm, Spread: 35-45 cm. USDA Zones 5-9.

In recent years, Coreopsis tinctoria and Coreopsis rosea have been hybridized to produce many new annual varieties. 

Coreopsis 'Jive' is part of the new Coloropsis series. Full sun. Height: 30-45 cm, Spread: 30-45 cm. 

Coreopsis 'Salsa': is part of the same series as 'Jive' and is compact, upright annual with yellow flowers that have a reddish-brown centre. Full sun. Height: 30-45 cm, Spread: 30-45 cm. 

One drawback is that many of these new annuals are sterile and must be grown from cuttings. Sadly there is no possibility of collecting seed each fall.

A nice companion plant for any Threadleaf Coreopsis might be Calamintha, which is also quite delicate in appearance.

Dwarf Calamint, Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepta: has arching spays of pale mauve-blue flowers. The foliage of this plant has a slight minty fragrance. Full sun or light shade. It tolerates average, dry and moist growing conditions and is suitable for normal, sandy or clay soils. Bees love it! Height: 20-30 cm, Spread 30-45 cm Hardy USDA Zones 4-9.

Here Coreopsis is combined with some purple Liatris spicata and a great mauve colored Geranium called 'Rozanne'.

Geranium 'Rozanne': Height: 30-50 cm, Spread: 45-60 cm. Full sun to part shade. Normal, sandy or clay soil are fine. Average to moist soil. Hardy USDA zones 4-9.

In my back garden 'Moonbeam', which is about to flower, is tucked into a little corner along with Sedum, Rudbeckia and Artemesia schmidtiana 'Silver Mound'.

Artemisia schmidtiana 'Silver Mound': makes a nice, compact mound of soft, silver-grey foliage. Full sun or very light shade. It doesn't mind poor soil and dry conditions. Height: 25-35 cm, Spread: 30-40 cm. Hardy UDA Zones 4-9.

One word of warning: the pot of 'Jive' Coreopsis on the pricy side. 

So far though, it has been well worth it. With Jive's profusion of cheerful white and reddish-brown flowers, a section of the front garden that was looking a bit tatty is bound to look great for weeks.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Healing Garden Series, Part 2: A Garden of Spiritual Healing

I sometimes struggle with the concept of fairness. 

I desperately want life to be fair; that being a good person and working hard means that you will prosper and be happy. But the reality is that life isn't fair. Goodness is its own reward and bad things often happen to good people.  

When life deals a person a serious blow what, if any, role can a garden play in the process of healing? 

This "healing" might be a simple matter of getting through tough times without lingering sorrow or bitterness, finding and giving forgiveness, or discovering the inner strength and courage to do battle with a serious disease like cancer.

Today I want to share with you a unique garden in Ancaster, Ontario. In partnership with the Bob Kemp Hospice for Palliative Care, the Wesley Urban Ministries and the Aboriginal Health Centre, the Bethesda United Church has a very special "Healing Garden".

Open to "all people of any faith or no faith" this garden is a unique outdoor space that is intended to promote wellness in the mind, the body and the spirit.

The garden is comprised of three spaces that are "meant to be a place of reflection, healing and 

The Wooded Nook is a "place to reflect, to dwell prayerfully and to hopefully reset our problems into  perspective".

The tree in the picture above feels almost like a big old hug doesn't it?

The Healing Garden addresses the healing properties of plants in relationship to the body. 

It is intended to be "a place to encounter creation in nature's most beautiful forms".

Finally, a walk into the centre of grass Labyrinth is intended to be a symbolic seeking spiritual direction. 

The Labyrinth is meant to be a "place for meditating, healing and praying".

Throughout this garden, there are subtle reminders that some good can often 
come from tragedy and death.

There are also many gentle reminders that in its finest moments, life can be truly beautiful.

More Information & Links:

Bethesda United Church recently celebrated its 187th birthday. It is located at:

584 Garner Rd West
Ancaster, Ontario
Phone: (905) 902-0337
website: Bethesda United Church  

Friday, July 25, 2014

My Favourite Day of the Week

Do you have a favourite day of the week? For me it's Saturday. 

Weekends always feel like bit like a mini-vacation that begins with a leisurely breakfast, hot coffee and the weekend paper. Even if the day involves the odd chore and errands like shopping, Saturday is always a nice break from the weekday routines.

In the summer, Saturday is Market Day. The Brampton Farmer's Market is more popular than ever. 

The whole family comes out to shop for fresh, local fruit, vegetables and flowers. 

There are always babies in strollers, kids with balloons and dogs on a leash. 
Music and delicious smells in the air.

Last Saturday there was sweet corn by the bagful. 

Later that evening had corn-on-the-cob for our dinner. Slathered in butter and sprinkled with fresh pepper, it was the perfect summer indulgence.

We're at the end of this year's cherries, but that only means that 
there will be peaches for sure this coming Saturday.

Beans and peas are my favourite mid-summer vegetables. 

Not all the peas make it home. They're so good we eat them like candy.

One of these days I must try making my own pickles!

As well as food there is always some form of entertainment at the Market. This fellow in a Mod 70's costume was selling tea. 

Not sure what the connection is between that era and tea, but he sure seemed to be having fun.

These musicians were playing a couple of instruments at one time.

Best moment of the morning: this little guy dancing and playing along on a tambourine. We adults so rarely relax and enjoy music so freely.

Seems even dogs like the Blues.

Free samples? Yes, please!

So many flowers! Which to choose?

I decided to buy one of the Mason jars filled with flowers.

It doesn't take long before your get loaded down with grocery bags. 
Smart shoppers bring some sort of shopping buggy.

Even the weather cooperated and the rain held off until everyone was packing up.

May your weekend be filled with sunshine and good food!