Category Archives: Dreams

The KISS Principle – Winter Sowing 101

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

“If it’s not easy, you’re doing it wrong” Trudi Davidoff

For the last few years I’ve been hearing people (especially those in the native plant field) raving about winter sowing. What’s that I asked? Simple, they said – a germination method where you put seeds in an enclosed container out in your garden in winter and let Mother Nature make you more plants.

Hmm, I thought, that sounds too easy. As someone who has struggled for year with starting plants from seeds (especially annuals, vegetables, or herbs) and lost many sad looking seedlings to damping off I was intrigued.

Now I know it really is straightforward (although it requires an Ontario twist – more later) – and I am all about using a KISS principle – Keep It Simple Stupid!  

My plants – June 2022. As you can see not all successful. I love the Hunk O’ (or Chunk O’) transplanting method once they have grown (see FAQs)

Started in 2000 by Trudi Greissle Davidoff of New York in an essay, the Winter Sowing Method is a low cost (bonus!!!), temperate climate method of producing sturdy plants for your garden. There is no need to set up lights or have a space inside your house and best of all, no hardening off process. In 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recognized the viability of the technique by adding the term to the National Agricultural Library Thesaurus.

The Basics

So how does it work? For winter sowing you use a recycled container (bonus!) to create a mini greenhouse that protects the seeds from animals, birds and other pests, as well as from our often variable spring weather, until they get big enough to transplant into your garden. This is one case when you actually want your seeds to be placed outdoors and exposed to the elements (including freezing temperatures, snow, and rain).

You can use any container that’s deep enough to hold sufficient potting mix and has a clear or translucent covering that is tall enough to allow the transplants to grow. It must have drainage holes in the bottom as well as ventilation holes in the top. You can use perennial or annual seeds – basically anything as long as it isn’t a tropical seed (for obvious reasons). Native seeds are particularly good because they need a period of cold stratification to germinate – why not take advantage of natural temperatures, rather than artificially refrigerating seeds that need this process?

My winter sowing containers – January 2022

You fill the container with potting mix (at least 4-5 inches), sprinkle in your seeds, make sure the mix is moist, tape or secure the top of the container in some fashion, and put it outside. It’s good to check on the containers periodically so they don’t dry out or become waterlogged. Then you wait – it really is that simple.

Ok, I know there are questions – When do I start where I live? When do I plant x seeds? What soil do I use? Let me try and answer some of the basic ones and point you to other resources as well.

Trudi’s original website is no longer active but there is a very active Facebook page that follows her method – Winter Sowers – which I highly recommend for all the basic information and lively discussions amongst members. Trudi is an admin on the page.

Timing for Winter Sowing?

You can start winter sowing anytime after the Winter Solstice (December 21st). Perennials are generally done first, as they often require (or benefit from) cold stratification, then hardy annuals, then tender annuals. But the bottom line is that the seeds will germinate when the conditions are right for each kind of seed. That is the beauty of winter sowing! Many people winter sow their perennials in January but then wait until March to start their annuals. It really doesn’t matter – do what works for you!

They are ready to plant whenever the outside temperature has sufficiently warmed and they are the right size (2 to 3 inches or more importantly at least two sets of real leaves).

What Soil to use?

It’s recommended to use a sterile potting soil mix; avoid soil bags that say they are ‘weed free’ because they can contain chemicals mixed into soil to prevent any weed seeds in that bag from germinating. So they will also prevent the germination of seeds you sow in that same soil! If you live in an extremely dry environment, you might want to use soil that has moisture retentive crystals – otherwise this is not necessary (and can even be a problem in wet winter regions like the U.S. Pacific Northwest). Using fertilized soil for a sowing medium is a personal preference.

What Containers? The Ontario Twist

Most winter sowers tend to use milk jugs for their seeds, but these are not readily available in Ontario – we still love our milk bags! But the reality is that you can use any container for winter sowing as long as it can hold at least 3 inches (7.6 cm) of potting soil. I have seen various other things used –  juice bottles, clear pop bottles, blue and green bottles, aluminum pans, salad boxes, plastic containers, pretzel barrels, cheese curl containers, ice cream buckets, nut containers, and vinegar jugs. They must be translucent (some light passes through) or transparent (all light passes through). Opaque materials will not work. Personally I have used the large fresh spinach containers or aluminum roasting pans with clear lids.

You do need some sort of cover on your container, as it helps keep heavy rains under control (so they drip slowly into your containers), it keeps more moisture in so that you have a higher germination rate of your seeds, and it keeps weed seeds out of your containers.

How do I Label?

Labelling is really important unless you’re a genius at identifying new sprouts! I recommend putting in two labels – one on the underside of your tray and one on a popsicle stick in the container. Trudi recommends using duct tape and an industrial sharpie. Tip – place your labels before you fill the tray with soil and put them so they don’t impede the water drainage holes. There is lots of discussion on the best pens to use for labelling – everything from paint pens to garden markers, livestock markers, and china/grease markers.

This will be my second year winter sowing just north of Peterborough – I learned a lot in my first year, most importantly to transplant my seedlings before they get too big and dry out. I wrote a blog earlier this year about some of the cool native plants that I winter sowed last winter.

I hope this blog encourages you to consider winter sowing for your garden, particularly for native species to your area – seeds are so much cheaper than plants and then once they go to seed you are all set to grow even more plants, either for yourself or to share with friends!

Want More Information?

Some videos (and posts) you may want to check out – there are lots of winter sowing videos out there (sometimes with conflicting information) but these are two that are recommended by the online group

Dolly Foster – Hort4U Winter Sowing Presentation

All The Dirt on Winter Sowing

Planting Native Seeds (Facebook link)

WinterSowing 101 – Jug Prep (if you have milk jugs) (Facebook link)

Frequently Asked Questions (Facebook link)

Reflecting on the Past Season

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener

The frost has made its first appearance marking the end of the summer growing season.  Before plunging headlong into bulb planting, I find it valuable to use this time to take stock of the past season as it serves to help me plan for next year (although I must admit I have already submitted a lengthy list of dahlia tubers for next spring).  I find it helpful to keep a gardening journal throughout the year for reference purposes and it becomes an important part of this process. There are many entries especially in spring when I am propagating, not so much in the summer but I always do a fall summary.  This written record has served me well over the past few years.  I also take this opportunity to look back over the photos I took throughout the season. They sometime remind me of just how much I enjoyed a certain plant.  One plant whose value seems to fade from my memory is sweet peas. Time consuming to grow, somewhat fleeting in our climate, I am always ready to drop them from next year’s list until I look at the photo.  Then I recall just how much I enjoyed their appearance and scent!!

Successes: It can be hard to see all the good things that happen when you are in the midst of seed starting, weeding, transplanting and harvesting.  I tend to dwell on what is not working (don’t all gardeners?) and often pass over the good stuff.  Evaluating the successes allows you to repeat or expand on your wins for next year.  This year I grew lisianthus (prairie gentian) for the first time.  It grew well in our climate and produces a bloom that is both attractive and long lasting.  It has continued to push out buds and I am still cutting it for the vase.  Next year, I will try starting it from seed, grow more of them and also plant some in the landscape for bloom from August to frost.

Challenges: Identify what did not go well and try to ascertain what the problem was and if it can be addressed.  Sometimes things just don’t work in your situation and its worth evaluating if the time, effort and money is worth allocating to this endeavor.  After a couple years of trying, I have decided to give up on ranunculus.  They are labour intensive as they require pre-sprouting in March with planting out in April under hoops and frost cloth.  Growth was great on the plants however each time a plant budded up an unidentified varmint would come in and make off with the flower bud.  So it’s a choice between adding rabbit protection to the already busy growing regime or devoting the resources elsewhere.

Future Opportunities: Always be on the lookout for possibilities for next season.  Whether it is a major project or a plant acquisition, this is a good time to firm up ideas.  I watch a lot of different types of gardening webinars and do a lot of reading and am always jotting down plant ideas that might work for me.  This is a good time to evaluate that list and based on available space, determine what to try for next year.  If it involves propagation, it might mean acting now.  I have decided to expand my planting of perennial poppies and am going to take root cuttings for the first time which will be overwintered in my extension.  With any luck, I will have new plants for next spring.

Try investing in a few hours musing over you garden and you reap the rewards next year.

https://extension.psu.edu/evaluating-the-garden

https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/garden-health-evaluation-part-1

My Newest Favourite Flower

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener

One of the new plants that I tried this year was Lisianthus (Eustoma grandiflorum) also known as prairie gentian.  Lisianthus are flowering plants native to northern Mexico and the Great Plains in the United States and as with most prairie plants, they love the heat and are quite drought tolerant.  I thought they just might work in my growing conditions.  The plants are hardy in USDA zones 8 to 10 and are grown as annuals here in Ontario.  Their flowers come in a wide range of colours, are double or single, can be very ruffled and are reminiscent of a rose.  They produce multiple buds on a single stem and one stem can bloom over a 3 week period.  A single stem will last around 2 weeks or more in a vase.  Plants bloom around late July/August and if pruned back when finished, a second smaller flush should bloom in September.  What a treat in August when almost everything else is flagging in the summer heat to have this beauty bloom! A welcome sight in that period before the dahlias really get going.

Is there a down side?  Lisianthus has a bit of a reputation of being difficult to grow. They are very slow to germinate and grow.  Here in Ontario, seeds should be started in early January. I can’t speak to that personally as I was able to purchase plugs in April in order to give the plants a try.  I will attempt to start seed this winter.  There are Lisianthus seed starter groups on line where lots of information and assistance.

Note that these blooms had been in this pot for 2 weeks when the photo was taken!

Seed/Variety Selection

Lisianthus produce tiny seeds hence most of the seed that you purchase is coated to make handling easier (NB coated seed does not store well from season to season).  A number of different series are available and varieties of lisianthus are grouped by bloom season (similar idea to the classifications of snapdragons).  Flowering is stimulated by three factors; Temperature (warmer temperatures accelerate flowering),Light intensity (high light intensity accelerates flowering), and Day length (long days accelerate flowering). By using varieties from Group 2 and Group 3 you can have blooms over a longer period of time as they have different bloom periods.

Cultural Requirements

Lisianthus is a heat-loving plant but it doesn’t like direct afternoon sun. Ideally it should have full morning sun and part shade in the afternoon. The lowest temperature lisianthus can survive outdoors is -12°C and many growers feel that the plant benefits from being planted out before the last frost in order to get their roots established. Lisianthus prefers to have an even amount of water on a regular basis. If it doesn’t rain often, the plant will need to be watered for the best performance.  I neglected to do this (got busy with dahlia issues) and the lack of water was reflected in stem length and bud count but the flowers seemed unaffected (I still had 5-6 buds on each stem). The blooms were wonderful. Recently I visited someone who had watered their plants: they were twice as tall and had even more buds than mine.  Lisianthus can be subject to botrytis hence it’s important to water at the base of the plant. Well-draining soil with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH is preferred. These plants are happy with a feed of compost and if you’re feeling keen, the occasion feed of fish fertilizer. 

Next years seed starting should prove interesting.  Of course, if it doesn’t work there are always plugs!

“Before the seed there comes the thought of bloom” E.B. White

Resources

Armitage, A.M. and J.M. Laushman. 2003. Specialty Cut Flowers, 2nd Edition. Timber Press, 586 pp. 

Lisianthus Seed Starters Group, https://www.facebook.com/groups/198146460815037

Why Do We Garden?

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” Audrey Hepburn

If you’re like me, you love to garden. Time in my garden provides me with joy on so many levels — emotional, physical, social, creative — and connects me with the outdoors and the environment. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down, one of the silver linings is that we’ve seen a renewed interest in gardening and its benefits, whether you’re working in a large garden or a few containers on your balcony. So I thought I would explore some of the top reasons I think we garden.

Physical and Emotional Health

Gardening is physical. As a low to medium impact exercise that requires both strength and stretching, you’ll see increased muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness over time, as well as improved sleep and diet (if you grow your own produce). On the emotional side, gardening reduces stress, anxiety, and depression and improves self esteem.

It’s good for the mind — gardening calms me down and helps me be more patient with myself and those I interact with on a daily basis. It gives me time to contemplate as I go about my tasks, up to my elbows in soil. Even weeding is cathartic, pulling out those little terrors by the root!

Just visiting gardens helps to calm the mind, bringing a sense of contentment and tranquility from looking at beautiful landscapes, flowers, or just colour and texture.

Building Relationships

While gardening can be a solo activity (some of my favourite moments are just by myself in my green oasis), it’s also a fabulous way to connect with people, whether they be family or strangers!

Teaching people how to nurture a living thing and to be responsible for a little bit of the environment is a lesson and gift we can share with others. Gardening knowledge is shared through generations — I love hearing about plants handed down from grandparents, or children working with their parents to grow seeds for the first time. It’s a great way to pass on critical life lessons — about patience as plants and vegetables grow, responsibility as they look after their care, and loss when flowers die at the end of a season.

Beyond family, gardening helps us connect with the broader community. Whether you plant too many tomatoes or zucchinis and end up giving them away to neighbours, or participate in a community garden plot, gardening can be a very social activity and a chance to learn from, and share your bounty, with others.

Learning Life Values

Gardening teaches you important life values like patience, determination, caring, and hard work. It also makes you very humble as you realize that there is always something new to learn. You need to observe the seasons and the weather, and this puts you in contact with the natural world. I love that I can get dirty and do this very physical activity, working with seeds and plants and seeing growth in all I do.

Growing Your Own Food

Gardening provides benefits for your wallet, your nutrition, and reduces your environmental footprint. By growing your own food (either from seeds or small plants), your food is automatically more sustainable simply because you are doing it onsite or in a community garden. If you control the ‘inputs’ and do it well, you can save a lot of money.

But ultimately there is nothing more rewarding than planting and maintaining your own vegetable garden and harvesting (and sharing) your results. And we all know how much better homegrown produce tastes versus conventional produce at the grocery store. If you have too much produce, then you can just share the love with others!

Connecting With Nature

I think this is one of the best reasons why people have a garden — the sunshine on your face, hands in the dirt, and feeling connected to nature. The garden is so much more than just plants and flowers — it’s the birds, the bugs, the bees, the spiders, the snakes and all the small mammals. I feel like I am establishing a little ecosystem in my own garden and that I am trying to give back for all the benefits that I receive.

Working in the garden also gives you that sense of wonder, accomplishment, and reward. To grow plants is to give life. It keeps you busy but reminds you to be one with the earth. To see the results of something growing from seed to six feet tall is just incredible.

Exploring Creativity

I find gardening to be an incredibly creative activity. Finding the right plant for the right spot, mixing colours, and making sure there is interest for every season — these are real challenges. I’ve spent much of the past few years learning about new plants to consider in my garden, especially natives.

Helping The Environment

Finally, gardening is so important for our planet. Even though we create our gardens (so they are human made) they do represent natural environments, with trees and shrubs and plants that are all taking in carbon and releasing oxygen. The plant roots stabilize the soil and filter water, and the plants themselves support our pollinators.

We live in a symbiotic relationship with our gardens. We give back by planting and maintaining them, but we receive so much more from them than we give.

Why do you garden?

Dreams of Spring Gardens

By Emma Murphy, Peterborough Master Gardener

It’s really cold out. I mean REALLY cold. -25 degrees Celsius cold. With lots of snow. And wind. And ice. So it’s got me dreaming of springtime and things that are green and not white.

So indulge me while I research and share with you some of my favourite English gardens in southern England that we plan to visit later this spring. Hoping things improve to celebrate my aunt’s 95th birthday and fulfill a long held dream to visit England in late springtime. While I’m planting many more natives in my messy “English-style” garden, I’m still fascinated with the diversity, structure, and composition of more formal English gardens.

Here’s my top 5 ‘not to be missed South England gardens” – there are (of course) more on our list but these are the key ones. Some of these may be familiar to you, and some not…

Hoping that these profiles help ease the January blues. Since I’ve haven’t been there yet these are photos taken by others. If you have been lucky enough to visit these gardens please share your photos in the comments.

1. Great Dixter House and Gardens, Rye, East Sussex

Great Dixter is an historic house, a garden, a centre of education, and a place of pilgrimage for horticulturists from across the world. Certainly it’s the one garden that has the highest reputation with overseas visitors.

Surprisingly, it’s maintained this reputation for many decades, even through a change of hands. Initially famous through its owner Christopher Lloyd (1921-2006) – who lived in the half-timbered fifteenth-century house all his life – Lloyd (or “Christo” as he was known) was not only a gifted and artistic gardener but a prolific and knowledgeable writer whose articles and books inspired a generation of gardeners.

Today, the gardens are managed by the Great Dixter Charitable Trust and Fergus Garrett, who became head gardener in 1992. I was lucky enough to hear him speak at a Toronto Master Gardeners’ Technical Update a few years ago.

The two gardeners had a creative working relationship, both loving plants and their combinations, and even though Lloyd is gone more than 50,000 visitors a year find Great Dixter as vibrant a garden as ever, and full of things to learn from.

This is an ‘arts and crafts’ style garden, with topiary, a long border, an orchard and a wild flower meadow. The planting is profuse, yet structured, and has featured many bold experiments of form, colour and combination.

On the grounds are three 18th-century oast houses, under a common roof, and a 15th-century barn. Find out more here.

2. Sissinghurst Castle Gardens, Sissinghurst, Kent

Located in beautiful Kent, Sissinghurst Castle Garden was created by poet and writer Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson, author and diplomat in 1930 and developed over 30 years with some notable head gardeners.

Designated Grade I on Historic England’s register of historic parks and gardens, it’s among the most famous gardens in England. They transformed a farmstead of “squalor and slovenly disorder” into one of the world’s most influential gardens.

Following her death in 1962, the estate was donated to the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty. It is one of the Trust’s most popular properties, with more than 200,000 visitors each year (and I hope to be one of them!).

There are a number of specialty gardens, including the Rose Garden, the (famous) White Garden, the South Cottage Garden, the Herb Garden, the Nuttery, the Lime Walk (Spring Garden), the Delos Garden (Mediterranean garden), Moat Walk, the Orchard, and the Purple Border. Learn more here.

3. Hidcote Gardens, Hidcot Bartim, Gloucestershire

Hidcote is a world-famous garden located in the north Cotswolds (not far from [the original] Stratford-upon-Avon). Created by the talented horticulturist Major Lawrence Johnston (and inspired by the work of designers Alfred Parsons and Gertrude Jekyll), yew, holly and beech hedges define a series of outdoor garden rooms – the Circle, the Fuchsia garden , the Bathing Pool Garden, the Red Borders and the steps up to the two gazebos. The outbreak of the Great War (1914 – 1918) in which Lawrence fought, suspended progress.

You might recognize the narrow-leaved lavender, Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’, and Penstemon ‘Hidcote Pink’, as developed by Johnston. Many of the plants found growing in the garden were collected from Johnston’s many plant-hunting trips to faraway places so it will be the perfect source for gardening inspiration. More history here.

4. Gravetye Manor, East Grinstead, Sussex

Created in 1885 at the former home of William Robinson, who championed naturalistic planting, the site today is a prestigious hotel, but visitors can still enjoy the gardens which are curated and cared for by Tom Coward (who trained with Fergus Garrett at Great Dixter).

An oasis of calm with over 35 acres of beautiful grounds, Robinson created a landscape that celebrates nature rather than controls it. He also introduced the idea of the modern mixed border and popularized common place items such as secateurs and hose pipes. In many ways Robinson created modern gardening as we know it.

Some of his most influential books include The Wild Garden and The English Flower Garden, which remains the bestselling gardening book ever printed. He also ran several gardening journals such as The Garden and Garden Illustrated.

Robinson made Gravetye “the paradigm in which house, garden, fields, and forest are united in a pastoral work of art as quintessentially English as a painting by Constable,” wrote landscape designer Elizabeth Barlow Rogers. Some ideas on how to create the Gravetye look here.

5. Wisley Gardens, Wisley, Surrey

Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Garden Wisley is operated by the RHS and is a beautiful garden with romantic half-timbered Tudor-style buildings. Unlike many English gardens, the soil is mainly acid sand which is poor in nutrients and fast draining.

There is a canal designed by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, a rock garden, formal and walled gardens by Lanning Roper, a country garden by Penelope Hobhouse and long borders by Piet Oudolf.

Then there are long herbaceous borders, the alpine gardens, the model gardens, soft fruit garden, rose-garden, summer garden, winter garden and woodland garden, a fruit field, glasshouses and an arboretum.

This garden is home to some of the largest plant collections anywhere in the world, with constantly evolving planting schemes to inspire visitors. In June 2021, Hilltop – The Home of Gardening Science opened at Wisley so I’m looking forward to exploring this impressive exhibition space and three beautiful new gardens.

Well that’s it for this blog – I hope you feel inspired to explore gardens wherever you live or travel – they are so many incredible gardens here in Canada and the U.S. alone. Even if we can’t travel much at the moment, many gardens have developed virtual visits, presentations, and videos so you can explore that way until we can move more freely. One of my favourites is the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia, which I hope to visit in person in the future. Check it out here.

I leave you with a photo of my messy Lakefield “English garden” from last summer, my hardworking husband and our 2021 new greenhouse and dreams of springtime.

Joys of Nature and Spring Garden Tasks

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

April 22nd was Earth Day.  It is a time for reflection on what we can do to help develop a new approach to conservation and it can all start in our own yard. As we experience what we all hope will be our last full shutdown, we need to remain optimistic in the growing interest in gardening with natives and the number of younger people who are learning to grow their own vegetables.  Douglas Tallamy, author of Nature’s Best Hope, writes that as homeowners, we need to “turn our yards into conservation corridors that provide wildlife habitats”.

Spring is a time of renewal.  To help us get through the stressful days of this lockdown, a walk outdoors will help you experience the joys of nature and all it has to offer! 

I have created two lists.  The first is ‘Joys of Nature’ that you will encounter this time of year.  The second is ‘Garden Tasks’ to tackle over the next few weeks.

JOYS OF NATURE

Hepatica image compliments of Joan Harding, Peterborough MG
  • My garden makes me smile this time of year with all the blooming Daffodils (Narcissus), Hyacinths, Hellebores and even Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis). 
  • Local ponds are alive with the sounds of the spring peepers and the chorus frogs.  If you take a walk and come across a wetland, you will be amazed at the sound.
  • Many of the migrating birds and waterfowl have returned.  My feeders are being well used by the yellow finches, grackles, house finches and mourning doves.  If you enjoy the hummingbirds, don’t forget to get your feeders out now.  They will soon be back!
  • A walk through the woods will reveal the beauty of the spring ephemerals.  Ephemerals are short-lived spring flowers that take advantage of the sunshine before the trees get their leaves.  I have seen bloodroot, hepatica, coltsfoot and the beginnings of the trilliums and the dog-toothed violets.
  • If you are out digging in your garden, don’t be surprised if a robin will follow you around in the hopes you might throw him a much sought-after worm.  Robins are already nesting so the female is likely to be at the nest site.
  • Watch for early butterflies such as the Mourning Cloaks, Eastern Comma and the Spring Azure.
  • In early May, you should begin to see the white blossoms of serviceberries and the beginnings of the lilacs and the cherry blossoms.

Get outdoors, take a deep breath and walk slowly through a local park or wooded area and enjoy many of the items mentioned above.  Do it now before the return of the blackflies and mosquitoes!!

If you are interested in a sample of simple nature events in the Kawarthas, Drew Monkman, a retired teacher and well known environmentalist and advocate for climate control, has written this monthly almanac: https://www.drewmonkman.com/sample-page/monthly-almanacs/

SPRING GARDEN TASKS

Author’s Spring Garden… Hyacinths, Bloodroot and Daffodils
  • Only rake your lawn if walking on it leaves NO footprint.  The time to overseed your lawn is generally when the lilacs are in bloom.
  • Now is the time to top dress a generous amount of compost and other organic material into your garden beds.  Let the earthworms do the work.  I do not suggest that you rototill your garden as this disturbs the beneficial life in the soil.  Bacteria, mycorrhiza and insects are damaged, sometimes beyond repair, with rototilling.
  • Prune overgrown vines and shrubs such as some hydrangea and some of the clematis; basically all the shrubs and vines that do not bloom in spring.  Do not prune lilacs as they bloom on last year’s growth.
  • Gradually remove protection on rose bushes and prune down to a swollen bud.  Remove dead, diseased and crossing branches.
  • If you haven’t already, now is the time to sow frost tolerant veggies such as peas, carrots, spinach, lettuce, beets, kale and radishes directly into the garden.
  • Divide and transplant perennials as growth resumes.
  • Now is a good time to think about planting shrubs and trees.  Maybe you would like to replace an old shrub with something native, such as Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), Eastern snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) or Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa)
  • Be sure to have your rain barrels set-up and ready to collect that wonderful spring rain.
  • Keep your bird baths filled and cleaned.
  • If you have been growing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and annual flowers indoors, early May is the time to begin to harden off those young seedlings.
  • The soil is still quite soft, so now is a good time to edge your garden beds as well as start to pull all those weeds that seem to survive no matter what the weather.

    Get out in your gardens, enjoy the warmer temperatures and don’t forget to get your knees dirty!

Seeds

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

The excitement is building!  We have been dreaming while looking at seed catalogues.  Some have placed their orders and may have even received some product.  But, did you know that there are local events where you can purchase seeds from local growers and/or swap seeds with people who have  their own seeds saved from plants that they grew?  These events are often called “Seedy Saturday” or “Seedy Sunday”.   

The first Seedy Saturday event was held at the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1990.  Sharon Rempel had been trying to track down  flower and vegetable seeds for a heritage garden that she was trying to create at a museum in Keremeos, British Columbia.  She could only find what she needed at a Seed Foundation in Washington State.  Sharon wanted to bring together people who were interested in collecting and sharing seeds in British Columbia.  Sharon’s idea, of collecting and sharing seeds, has since become very popular across Canada.

Why are local seeds something to care about?  Seeds produced by locally grown crops/vegetables, flowers and trees, have been produced by plants that successfully grew under local growing conditions.  When we limit the variation in the plants we grow, we lose biodiversity.  Biodiversity is so important because  it ensures that there is genetic diversity which means that the plants have the traits necessary for local growing conditions.  Local seed production can result in new varieties of plants that are more resistant to disease and local pests and better able to adapt to local soils and environmental conditions.  With enough variation in a group, there will always be individuals that can survive changing conditions…..so necessary in today’s world.

Local seeds are often heirloom, or heritage and openly pollinated which means that if you save seeds from these plants, they will grow true to the parent plant.  The other big bonus is that vegetables, grown from these seeds, are often tastier and more nutritious.  For more information, see this Mother Earth News article HERE.

So, back to your local Seedy Saturday or Seedy Sunday….these events are fun!  There is great excitement and bustle as attendees talk about what seeds they have to swap and as they look at the seeds offered by various local vendors.  Workshops and “Ask the Expert – Q & A” are often offered.  Sometimes there is even something to get your really young gardeners off to a good start eg. growing sunflowers.  This year I hope to track down musk melon seeds that will be sweet and ripen quickly in my area.  My grandmother used to grow the best musk melons ever!

This year, Covid 19 remains something that we have to contend with….many Seedy Saturdays and Seedy Sundays have gone virtual!  Check out Seeds of Diversity  HERE for an event near you.  The Peterborough Seedy Sunday is on March 14.  Check out their Facebook page HERE for more details.

If you have not checked out a Seedy Saturday or Seedy Sunday before, have a look virtually this year.  You might discover a delicious new-to-you variety of your favourite vegetable or learn something amazing at a workshop!

Additional Resources

Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy, 10th printing 2016, ISBN 13-978-0-88192-992-8 – information on biodiversity

Seeds of Diversity, https://seeds.ca/sw8/web/home – seed saving resources, pollinators, biodiversity and more

virtual garden tours

Exploring gardens around the world makes the winter pass so much faster

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

I have the February blahs. Although I am absorbing each minute of our ever increasing daylight (when it’s not cloudy!), I’m craving lush greenery and blooms anywhere I can find them. I spent part of yesterday looking through some trip photos to Florida from 3 years ago where I visited just about every botanical garden and specialty garden I could find – it was heaven!

And while my seed orders have arrived from William Dam Seeds and Richters and I can look forward to some sort of virtual Peterborough Seedy Sunday, the traveller is me is still feeling unfulfilled.

So..the solution..virtual garden tours! So many wonderful botanical and famous gardens have adapted to not being able to have guests by launching virtual tours or live broadcasts from their locations since the pandemic. Here’s a few of my favourites.

Time to travel around the world from your living room. (additional links at the end).

Keukenhof, The Netherlands

Built in 1641, the Keukenhof Castle (west of Amsterdam in the Netherlands) and estate is more than 200 hectares. In 1949 a group of 20 leading flower bulb growers and exporters decided to use the estate to exhibit spring-flowering bulbs. 2021 will be the 72th edition of Keukenhof, with A World Of Colours as its theme. Check out their virtual tours and the initial invitation by Managing Director Bart Siemerink in March 2020.

The Keukenhof Gardens in full colour.

Claude Monet’s Garden, Giverny, France

Over 500,000 people visit painter Claude Monet’s famous gardens each year (so glad to be one of them in 2018!). There are two parts to the garden – the Clos Normand flower garden in front of the house and a Japanese inspired water garden on the other side of the road (where he completed his Water Lilies painting series). Enjoy a commentary alongside a video tour of the famous garden, including the wonderful lily pond. More info here.

Monet’s Water Garden

National Trust’s Hidcote Manor Gardens, England

The National Trust site allows you to take a 360-degree tour around the old garden, plant house and spectacular red borders of these Arts and Crafts-inspired gardens in the rolling Cotswold hills in Gloucestershire.

Hidcote Gardens

Scotland’s Garden Scheme

One of my favourites. Established in 1931, it helps garden owners across the country open their private gardens to the public to raise money for charity. The properties range from cottage gardens to stately homes; allotments to therapeutic and physic gardens; and formal gardens to wildlife sanctuaries. There are more than 100 tours to look at here.

A Scottish country garden.

Australia’s Blue Mountains, New South Wales

Further afield in Australia’s Blue Mountains just outside Sydney, artist Trisk Oktober’s steep, cool temperate gardens in Katoomba are transformed into a living artwork. I visited the nearby Mount Tomah Botanic Gardens in 2010 and it was magical. It’s also the only botanic garden within a United Nations World Heritage Area.

The view from Mount Tomah Botanic Gardens of the Blue Mountains

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, Hawaii

Located on Hawaii’s Big Island, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden includes not only a garden but a nature preserve. If you need to zen out and feel like you are on a tropical island, this is the tour for you. And this one.

Plumeria flower

Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania, USA

Closer to home across the border is Longwood Gardens, consisting of 1,077 acres of gardens, woodlands, and meadows. It is the living legacy of American entrepreneur and businessman Pierre du Pont, inspiring people through excellence in garden design, horticulture, education, and the arts. The Our Gardens, Your Home initiative is their way of keeping gardeners connected.

Longwood Gardens

There are so many more virtual garden tours going on around the world.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Richmond, Virginia, USA

This botanical garden was one of the first to go virtual when the pandemic started. They have great virtual tours and visits and a terrific Facebook page.

Gardens Illustrated‘s Virtual Garden Tour series

Gardens Illustrated has assembled a collection of some of the most amazing tours – everything from Chatsworth House (a 105-acre garden with 500 years of careful cultivation) to a Virtual Chelsea Flower Show.

Kew Gardens, London, England

On my bucket list when we can travel again, this video gives you some of the highlights to see. The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew has 37 acres of woodland, 14,000 trees and 50,000 different plant species.

Wisley Gardens, Surrey, England

The Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley in Surrey (south of London), is one of five gardens run by the Society, and top of my list of gardens to see. Check out their website, and also they have a great collection of videos on YouTube.

If you’ve found a great virtual garden tour please share it with all of us in the comments! Spring will be here soon!

Year in Review, Part II

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I wrote the first part of this two-part blog on a beautiful fall day, with a temperature of around 20 degrees and blue skies. Today as I’m writing it is the type of winter day that I love, temperature hovering around zero, snow on the ground and I don’t need 4 or 5 layers of clothes on when I go out for a walk. The first part of my year in review blog that was published back in November described some of the many challenges and learning experiences I faced gardening in 2020, including growing Sicilian zucchinis, handling Creeping Charlie in my lawn, and becoming more selective when deadheading. In this second section I’ll continue on with the challenges, including staking perennials, trying to grow an English cucumber and battling with the wildlife over the grapes, blueberries and currants.  

Now I have to admit before I start, that staking is not really my thing; it typically needs planning and thinking ahead. You can stake reactively as I tend to do, but by then it is often too late; the plants still look untidy, flop over adjacent plants and you can see the stakes, which for me personally is an issue. Last spring my iris, lupins and especially peonies grew so tall so quickly that they easily outgrew the old peony cages that surrounded them.  My fall asters also fell over as they hadn’t been staked at all and were easily over six feet tall. So this spring I need to be more preventative and stake as early as I can. There are many different types of stakes that you can use such as grow-through supports as in peony cages or tomato cages. These work well if the plants are not too tall, although I do have some of the larger tomato cages in my garden. Grid-type supports also work well for plants that bloom heavily, and for irises I tend to use single stakes that I can just move around the garden as needed. You can also make your own supports using bamboo stakes or tree branches and twine or even chicken wire. Most gardening catalogues, such as Veseys or Lee Valley sell plant supports in many styles. For me however, I tend to find them quite expensive and tend to work with tomato cages or make my own.  For more information please see the following article: https://www.bhg.com/gardening/flowers/perennials/staking-and-training-perennials/

English cucumbers, what can I say, I still tend to prefer these over other varieties that definitely grow much better here. English cucumbers tend to be longer, thinner, with an edible skin and in my opinion taste better. They do not however like cold temperatures, so if planting in the garden ensure that all danger of frost has long passed, and in fact, wait a further week or two after that. They also have shallow roots so need more frequent watering. I also find that for me they grow stronger and healthier if I provide some type of shade when it gets really hot. English cucumbers will also grow straighter and longer if the fruit can hang, so growing on a vertical support works really well. However, after saying all that, I still am unable to grow them as well as I would like and they are definitely very labour-intensive. So for this year, I am going to grow a different variety, although in saying that I have not tried growing cucumbers in containers, so that might be an option to try. Greta’s Organic Gardens have some interesting cucumber varieties for seed purchase, including Crystal Apple Cucumber that is shaped like an apple when mature, a Miniature White Cucumber which needs no peeling and is eaten when smaller than 3 inches. Lastly a Spacemaster Picking Cucumber that can be grown in either a container or a hanging basket. This company is one of many Organic seed companies based in Ontario. https://www.seeds-organic.com/pages/contact-us

And last but not least, one of my favourite subjects last year in the garden was the wildlife, namely the dreaded squirrels and rabbits. We have a few different structures that we have built to keep out the animals, including:

And:

Not to mention:

This last picture shows simple plant trays with a mesh bottom lying upside down over new seedlings. I use these both to deter the animals and also to help keep the seedlings shady. However, none of these prevented the squirrels from taking bites out of most of my tomatoes, eating all my grapes, of which we had a bountiful crop, and the birds from eating my blueberries and white currants. The previous year I had put nets over the blueberries and currants which had helped, however since then I have read a few articles stating that the types of netting I was using could damage both birds and other wildlife so I was reluctant to put it on again. I have since done more research but not found anything yet suitable for my needs. However it is only January and will likely get a lot colder, which gives me plenty of time to do more investigation and come up with something suitable.

My covid-19 project for 2021 — starting a cutting garden

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener in Training

Last October as I planted the last of my fall bulbs, my thoughts turned to what next???  How to extend my garden experience by stretching the season.  I adore flowers in the house and between retirement and lockdowns seem to have the time so why not try a cutting garden?

Used with permission from antoniovalenteflowers.com

I have no experience with the subject matter and it made sense to find some resources.  A good comprehensive book is “Floret Farms Cut Flower Garden” by Erin Benzakein.  It covers the basics of cut flower gardening as well as highlighting tips for commonly grown flowers.  How to plan, grow, harvest and even some basics on arranging.  This book proved to be a doorway into a plethora of other references and websites on the subject.  “YouTube” was also a plentiful source of information.

Site selection is key.  Most cutting flowers require full sun and well drained, fertile soil.  A site sheltered from the wind is preferable.  I decided on an area on the west side of the house where the sunshine is ample and my water source is nearby.  Since it will be windy, the support provided to the plants is important and will be discussed in future entries. The final length of a bed will depend on the amount you want to grow. The recommended width is 4 feet. This width allows you to reach the entire bed without stepping into the bed.  The type of flowers to grow is personal preference but regardless of the variety, look for plants with long stems and lots of blooms.  Try to have plants that bloom in the spring (eg. snapdragons), summer (eg. zinnias) and fall (eg. dahlias).  If space is limited, skip the plants that bloom once (like many sunflowers) and concentrate on continual bloomers such as zinnia and dahlias.  These are known as “cut and come again varieties” as they provide blooms for long periods if they are cut or deadheaded. You may also wish to grow some plants as fillers such as Dara.  Fillers are the backbone of arrangements, lending structure, supporting delicate blooms and filling gaps between focal flowers.

Dara filler used with permission from antoniovalenteflowers.com

Cut flowers are grown more densely than usual and most commonly are spaced 6,9 or 12 inches apart.  References abound on the internet indicating which spacing is best for each variety.  The number of seedlings, corms or tubers required is calculated using the area available for that plant and the spacing distance.  Once calculated, order your seeds as soon as you can.  Goods for the garden seem to sell out quickly in these days of lockdown. Seed vendors have been discussed in a previous blog.  In addition to those already cited, many of the cut flower farmers also sell seed. 

Once you have selected your seed, you then need to determine when to start them indoors using the last spring frost date for your area (OMAFRA lists Peterborough as May 17).  For each variety, check the seed package for timing and work backwards from there.  This allows you to make a seed starting schedule.  For those seeds you intend to direct seed, you may need to consider time to maturity in order to give the plants time to bloom (work backwards from first frost date in your area).  I make a list of seed sowing dates to help keep me organized.

Now all there is to do is wait for the seeds to arrive.  I start sowing in February.  Please join me through this blog on my horticultural adventure.

Resources

https://antoniovalenteflowers.com/
https://www.johnnyseeds.com/flowers/
https://www.damseeds.com/pages/flowers
https://www.floretflowers.com/

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow” Audrey Hepburn