Category Archives: Websites

Permaculture: Where do I start?

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

So what do gardeners do in the winter? Once we’ve read all our seed magazines and compiled our purchasing lists, or designed new or changes to existing perennial beds, or decided on our vegetable crop rotation for the upcoming season, or read a new gardening book, or watched some gardening videos or TED talks, or found ourselves in the middle of taking a gardening course, what next? Personally, once I’ve exhausted all these possibilities, I tend to reread my favourite gardening books. I have an incredibly bad memory and find it really helps me when I reread the same books over and over; hoping eventually something will sink in. My books to reread this year are both permaculture-related: Toby Hemingway’s “Gaia’s Garden” and Rosemary Morrow’s “Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture”.

When I first became interested in permaculture a number of years ago, I started reading books and watching videos by the two founders, Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. The concept, ethics, and principles resonated with me, but I have to admit that I struggled based on the literature available at that time, to understand how to translate this into my own Canadian garden. It was not until a couple of years later that I attended a couple of local permaculture design courses and read the book by Toby Hemingway who focuses on North American gardens, that I felt confident enough to bring some of those concepts and methods into my home garden

As I mentioned in my last blog, permaculture is a design system, a set of guidelines, principles and practices for sustainable living and land use, working with nature in a continuous cycle that benefits both people and wildlife. As with anything new or overwhelming, it is easy to be deterred by the big picture.  Instead, focus on smaller ideas or concepts. If you start implementing smaller more manageable tasks, it will give you confidence to tackle the larger concepts.

The following are a few easy-to-implement permaculture techniques to get you started:

  1. Sheet mulching. This was actually the first group activity I performed in my first design course.  It can also be called lasagna gardening. Permaculture encompasses a no-dig philosophy focusing on building soil life. Sheet mulching allows you to create new beds whilst eliminating weeds and building up the health of the soil. It is also a lot healthier on your back. You simply lay a heavy layer of newspaper or cardboard over the area and top it with 12 inches or so of organic mulch.
  2. Keyhole garden beds. Keyhole beds are often used in permaculture because they maximize use of space, whilst building soil fertility.  They decrease irrigation needs and are easy to plant, harvest and maintain. The bed can be either raised or not, and is often created in a circular pattern which decreases the space required for paths and increases space for plants. This type of bed is most often used for growing herbs & vegetables and because of the circular design, plants with different growing requirements can be planted together often creating different microclimates. For more information: https://permaculturefoodforest.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/keyhole-gardens/
  3. Creating gardening communities or guilds. In permaculture, a guild can be defined as a grouping of plants, trees, animals and insects that work together protecting their health, habitat and productivity. Probably one of the most familiar guilds is the Three Sisters Guild in which squash, corn and beans are grown together; each one supporting and benefiting the others. The beans grow up the corn and provide nitrogen, whilst the squash mulches and covers the soil. In my last garden, I grew apple tree guilds, surrounding each apple tree with daffodils in the spring (deter predators from chewing bark), comfrey and yarrow, and herbs such as dill & fennel along with chives & onions.
  4. Multiple stories or forest gardens. As an avid gardener and someone who has difficulty saying ‘enough is enough’ when it comes to plants–and also the owner of a small city garden–this technique is one I am especially interested in. The idea is that a garden can have multiple stories or layers; from a low herb or ground cover layer up to perennials, shrubs, small trees and finally the canopy trees. The plants in each layer combine and support each other to create and maintain a healthy ecosystem.
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Vegetable garden incorporating annuals and perennials

Permaculture is much more than the simple examples I have given.  It can encompass everything from designing landscapes and buildings, to water and waste management. The benefits for me include enriching the land, feeding and providing habitat, growing food for my family, and giving me somewhere to unwind and feel good about life. However, I am omitting one very important benefit for myself–by incorporating some permaculture practices into my garden, the garden tends to look after itself much more with less interference and work for me!

Thank goodness the seed catalogues have arrived…

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

“Thank goodness the seed catalogues have arrived… I was about to start cleaning my house!”

It starts with the dream.

There’s no better time than now to  dive into a good seed catalogue and start planning for the upcoming growing season. Seed catalogues can be a great resource for bulbs and unique seeds, and offer a far bigger selection than what you can find in your local garden centre. You’ll find inspiration and will likely discover new plants that you must have in your 2020 garden.

You’ll be the most successful if you pick the seed companies that are closest to where you live, or in the same growing region as you. However, you can still have success ordering from a company farther away, but you’ll have to be careful not to order a plant that isn’t in your growing zone.

Below are some popular seed companies from across Canada, with some that are also in close proximity to the Peterborough, ON, area.

Florabunda Seeds

Whether you are an avid gardener or just beginning to get your hands dirty, Florabunda Seeds in Keene, ON, has a wide variety of heirloom and unusual flower, vegetable and herb seeds. They pride themselves in their untreated, non-GMO, and non-Hybrid offerings. They package generously by measurement and not by seed count.  Download catalogueRequest a catalogue.

OSC Seeds

OSC Seeds from Kitchener, ON, features a selection of high-quality seed packets, perfectly suited for the Canadian climate and ready for planting in your garden. Their full line of products includes 30 herbs, 250 vegetables, 240 annuals and 100 perennials & biennials. Request a free catalogue

William Dam Seeds

William Dam Seeds is a family-run company located just outside of Dundas, Ontario, supplying small farmers and gardeners in Canada with seed for food, flowers and soil building. They are proud to offer a varied catalogue of many different seed varieties that are not chemically treated, and some of the seeds are certified organic as well. You can download their online catalogue, or request a mailed copy via their contact page.

Natural Seed Bank

Natural Seed Bank is an online retailer of garden seeds. They sell various organic and untreated garden seeds. Located in Port Hope, Ontario, Natural Seed Bank is 100 percent Canadian owned and operated. All of their seeds are non-GMO and untreated, and many selections are organic. They’re committed to never selling GMO products.

Richters

Richters is your go-to for everything herbal. Located in Goodwood, Ontario, Richters has been growing and selling herbs since 1969. Check out their online catalogue or request a copy to be mailed out.  Online catalogueRequest a catalogue.

Veseys

Veseys is one of the premier seed, bulb and garden supply sites in North America. Located on Prince Edward Island, Veseys has 75 years of history providing products, services, and advice to gardeners.  Be sure to head over and subscribe for your free catalogue. They put on many fantastic specials, have quality products and outstanding customer service. Request a catalogue.

Resources

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The Christmas Rose: Helleborus niger

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

Nothing warms a home up as much as plants do. At this time of the year there are so many options to choose from: Poinsettias ranging in colour from white to deep reds, Cyclamen, Christmas Cactus, Amaryllis, Rosemary to name a few. There is one, however, that is usually found in garden centres in the spring but which one can occasionally find in a grocery store or florist in the fall, and that is the Christmas Rose. Its botanical name is Helleborus niger and its common name is Hellebore.

Helleborus niger is a hardy perennial in the Raniculaceae or buttercup family. It has dark green evergreen foliage and delicate white flowers resembling a wild rose. They are hardy to zones 3-4. Bloom times vary from November to February/March, depending on the location. They like semi-shade and grow well in sheltered areas in well-draining soils.

If you are fortunate enough to find one in your local store, not only will you have a conversation piece, you will be able to plant it outside in your garden and enjoy it for many years.

Links:

Photo credit: Sue Flinders Adams: After being purchased in a  grocery store in November/December, it was planted at Portage Lakehouse, Haliburton and bloomed under the ice and snow the following spring. Picture taken April, 2017.

‘Tis the Season … for Poinsettias!

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

When I was growing up, my mother always had a big green and red poinsettia sitting in the centre of the dining table during the holiday season. By the middle of January, it had lost all of its leaves so out it went in the trash. Oh yes, we also called it a “pointsetta”.

In Mexico, where it grows wild as a leggy shrub or small tree, the native plant (Euphorbia pulcherrima) has been associated with the Christian Christmas holiday since the 16th century. Thanks to Joel Robert Poinsett, the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, poinsettias were introduced to the United States in 1825. They did not really take off, though, until the California based Ecke family grew plants using a grafting technique discovered by Paul Ecke Sr. in the 1960s.  They began aggressively marketing the holiday season blooming poinsettia as a holiday tradition. In the 1980s, John Dole identified the technique used by the Ecke family to produce their compact poinsettias. This led to many more growers entering the retail market.

Poinsettias are members of the Euphorbia family. The brightly coloured “flowers” are actually bracts (modified leaves). Their bright colour helps to attract pollinators in the wild.poinsettia1

When purchasing poinsettias, look for an erect plant that has dark green leaves down to the soil and fully coloured bracts. The actual flowers, located at the centre of the bract, should be immature and red-tipped or green, not yellow with pollen because these more mature blooms will not last as long as the immature blooms. Plants displayed in plastic sleeves or crowded together may be stressed and deteriorate quickly after purchase. When purchasing any plant, always check for disease or insects. Yellow leaves, wilt or the presence of insects (check the underside of leaves too) always indicate problems and a plant that you do not want.

Poinsettias are not poisonous to humans but may cause pets to experience vomiting and diarrhea if consumed. Like all Euphorbia, damaged poinsettia stems and flowers exude a white sap that may cause skin irritation to susceptible individuals and pets.

There are over 100 varieties of poinsettias. They come in many colours from the traditional red to white, pink, cream and marbled or speckled.

Poinsettias prefer 6 hours of indirect light each day away from heat registers and cold drafts. Water the plant when it is dry but do not overwater because it may wilt and drop its bracts. (I think that is likely what happened with my mother’s poinsettias!) Allow the water to drain into a saucer after watering then discard this water. Do not let your plant sit in water. If you would like to keep your plant past the holiday season, fertilize it once a month with a houseplant fertilizer once the plant has stopped blooming.

Poinsettias may be put outside in the summer after all danger of frost has passed. But if you would like it to rebloom during the following holiday season, bring the plant back indoors before frost. Then, beginning in October, keep it in total darkness for 14 hours each night. The combination of total darkness and warm, bright days should cause the bracts to colour. This might be fun to try but to guarantee that you have a blooming poinsettia during the following holidays, purchase a new one and compost your old plant.

Poinsettias have long been associated with the holiday season. They come in several colours which will help to add holiday cheer to any home decor. Enjoy them while they last!

For more information on poinsettia care and reblooming, please see the links below.

Halloween Gardening

By Christine Freeburn, Master Gardener

What can you do in the garden now, with Hallowe’en just around the corner?

DSCN7053Plant garlic! Yes, this is the time of year to plant garlic for harvesting next summer. You can probably still find garlic bulbs at farmers markets. Buy locally grown garlic, not product of China. Separate the cloves from the bulb and plant at a depth of 3 times the height of the bulb in rows in the garden. Cover two-thirds deep with soil and then top off with straw or mulch. For full details, see this fact sheet on growing garlic.

DSCN5616Plant tulips! Although it may be too late to plant daffodils, you can still pop some tulips into the ground, even up to freeze up. Squirrels do love tulips, but if you plant them deep enough (6 to 8 inches), use hen manure or bone meal, and cover up the bare spot with leaves or mulch, you should deter them. Check this link for more spring bulb information.

Cut some hydrangea blooms! Hydrangeas have been tinged by the frost and many are lovely shades of pink. Bring some into your home and place in an empty vase and they will dry naturally.

Cut back some perennials. Putting your garden to bed in the fall, gives you a head start in spring. It also gets you into the garden to pull any weeds that have sprung up and may be going to seed. Cutting back daylilies, iris and hosta can tidy up the garden, but I recommend not chopping everything down. Cut back any seed heads that you don’t want to reseed. Leave your grasses and sedums standing. They will help to hold the snow in the garden which helps to insulate the frozen ground, which is a good thing.

DSCN4263Don’t rake! Mulch those leaves into your lawn with your lawn mower. It’s easier on your back and is so good for the lawn. Use your leaf blower to mulch into your flower beds too.

Scree Gardening

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

My casual interest in scree gardens became a burning desire to have one (you know the feeling) when I went on my first Peterborough Master Gardener garden tour in 2017. We visited a nursery that had amazing demonstration scree and rock gardens. I was smitten!

A scree garden is found in nature. Small rocks and gravel travel down the side of a mountain because of the freeze-thaw action on the rockface. This material accumulates in crevices, on rock shelves and at the mountain base. It drains well and is home to plants that survive on only rain. Scree gardens are good for areas that are already rocky, sandy or do not have a lot of soil to begin with. However, they can be replicated pretty much anywhere with a raised bed to ensure good drainage. A raised bed is especially important if you have clay soil. Choose a sunny site that is not overshadowed by trees. You don’t want the constant challenge of leaf litter on your garden. As when creating any new garden, make sure all weeds and grass are removed before you start.

Different sources quote different mixes for the actual garden “soil” to use in your raised bed. I used what I had for mine. This consisted of some larger rocks in the bottom, and then a layer of gravel, then mostly sand, and gravel mixed with some garden soil. The sand, gravel, and garden soil mixture was used to fill the spaces in the rocks up to the top of my raised bed. Remember that you are trying to replicate nature so your scree must have excellent drainage and not be overly rich.

I chose plants that I knew could take dryer soils and thrive in my Southern Ontario garden with it’s summer heat and high humidity. There are lots of lists of potential scree and rock garden plants on the internet. Some local nurseries carry plants that will thrive in well drained conditions. Once that you have found plants that will grow, as with any garden, choose plants that will give you the look that you want ie. colour, texture, height and spread.

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Author’s garden

In her book “Pocket Gardening”, gardening writer Marjorie Harris talks about how to maintain the scree and rock gardens. Ms. Harris recommends topdressing the garden with leaf mold and coarse sharp sand or 3/8 inch gravel when plants are dormant which means very early spring or late fall.

Have fun with it and make your garden into what makes you happy!

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Author’s garden

Resources

Anna’s Perennials –  Ontario Rock Garden & Hardy Plant Society –  Rock Wall Gardens

‘Weeding’ Through Gardening Websites

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Gardening resources on the internet are plentiful but can quickly become overwhelming for both novice and experienced gardeners. Over the past year I have noticed certain websites that continually show up at the top of my search results; these sites are “gardening content farms”, a term I learned from fellow Master Gardener Cathy Kavassalis (@CathyKavassalis). A content farm (or content mill) is a website that provides limited pay to large numbers of writers to generate a wide range of (user-generated) content which is often specifically designed to maximize page views in order to generate advertising revenue.

Examples include gardeningknowhow.com, gardendesign.com, thespruce.com, theflowerexpert.com. Many have names that entice you into their site (like a fly to a spider’s web). The websites may contain lots of information about gardening, but it appears to be mostly collected from other sites or produced by writers with minimal gardening knowledge. As Cathy puts it “The quality is variable but the sites are created to ensure they show up early in Internet searches to generate ad revenue.”

For a while I actually didn’t notice the content farm sites because I have an adblocker program (so I didn’t get the ads). Once Cathy mentioned the sites in response to a question on our Master Gardeners of Ontario Facebook site, I consciously looked and was shocked by the number of ads that had been blocked when I clicked on the links – 6, 9, even 15 or more.peonies

So I purposefully put “types of peonies” in the subject line in a Google search, keeping the topic very general. First link up is from gardendesign.com. Some good information there, but 8 ads blocked. And of course first of all I get a pop-up wanting me to sign up for their newsletter (to sell me more stuff).GardenDesign.pngThis is where you have to be an engaged researcher. Often the author may own a business (for example, one that sells expensive peonies); this doesn’t mean the information isn’t good, but their primary motivation in writing the article is to drive you to their website, or for you to share their article with others to increase their profile. Other sites engage writing generalists to search the internet for information on a topic and repost it on the site, which could mislead you into thinking they wrote the article (usually there is an attribution to the source at the bottom of the page in small lettering).

The content provided on these sites are not a bad place to begin your searches, but the quality varies significantly, as these are not generally writers with gardening knowledge. Also if they are reworking other (maybe erroneous) information, they are simply continuing to spread misinformation.

I offer three suggestions to help you find gardening information on the web:

If you are doing a Google search focus your search with as many key terms as you can so you get what you need, often bypassing the gardening content farms. For example, typing in “ontario gladiolus bulbs overwintering” brings up good local answers from sites such as TorontoGardens (with Helen and Sara Battersby), Landscape Ontario, an Agriculture Canada publication on gladiolus, and Toronto Master Gardeners. Then the aggregate (garden farm) sites follow, as they have more general information.

Rather than Googling for information, use some of the great resources available on Facebook and Twitter. Master Gardeners of Ontario, Ontario Horticultural Association (OHA) (through GardenOntario), and many regional Master Gardener and OHA groups are on Facebook and Twitter – it really is a terrific way to learn (and make new gardening friends). Also there are many good gardening websites to be found (really another entire post) – look for information with that provided by a government agency (e.g. OMAFRA, USDA, etc.), respected horticulturalists, a botanic garden and/or arboretum, a university, a Cooperative Extension services associated with a university (USA), or a wildflower or native gardening society.

Subscribe (or follow) excellent gardening blogs – find those that match your interests and where the writers are passionate gardeners who want to share their knowledge. You are on one now 9a2684c4213171476e13732af3b26537 so sign up to get notifications of new posts (every week). Other blogs I like are The Impatient Gardener, Savvy Gardening, and  Three Dogs in a Garden. Ask friends for recommendations. You can also reach out to me on Twitter.

Filtering through all the information is challenging, but hopefully this blog gives you some tools to separate the wheat from the chaff. Happy Gardening!PMG