Allen Gardens Glasshouse

Saturday 3 December 2011

Flowers in December? or, How to Cure a Hangover

Oh dear. The party last night was much too much fun and I enjoyed myself much too much. Today I was paying for it when the sun finally came out. I decided that the dog and my head needed a really long walk, so we went along College Street west to the bridge over the railway tracks and up the Western Toronto Railpath to Bloor. Although we've had a number of nights when the forecasts were for several degrees below freezing, I was amazed at the diversity of flowers still in bloom.
Railpath in fall - photographer unknown

Of course the usual suspects, sweet alyssum and calendula, were going strong. To my mind there are few experiences to match coming upon a steep front yard slope covered with sweet white alyssum in late fall. If the sun is out and the temperature just high enough, the wonderful perfume of this simple, unassuming annual is incomparable.
Alyssum scanned - Clement Kent

Roses in December are more surprising, especially as I saw so many colors and forms. This we owe to the breeder's use of Chinese roses (Rosa chinensis) in creating modern teas - the Chinese species are from warmer climes and tend to keep blooming (and make tea roses less hardy here).

It was probably only 5°C so of course we walked on the sunny north side of College. Many of the houses here are very close to the sidewalk and typically have small 1-2 foot wide gardens just below the porch. At this season that sunny position and the shelter of the house walls to the North create miniature Mediterranean microclimates. In his blog on the container gardens at Powys Castle, Barry Parker has given us some wonderful images of what can be done in a cool climate if you have a south-facing wall...

Along College in these postage-stamp gardens I saw chrysanthemums, snapdragons, purple petunias, and even marigolds and one large dahlia still in bloom. The last two made me stop and look twice - if you've grown them you know they almost literally melt away in a frost. Too bad I didn't have my camera with me!

We reached the entrance to the Railpath and paused to look at the memorial to cyclist Jenna Morrison. She and her unborn child were killed at that corner under the wheels of a truck.
Jenna Morrison memorial, Dundas & Sterling. Photo by Martin Reis, Creative Commons 2.0 rights
It was very sad to pass that memorial (which has grown considerably since the picture above was taken) to the Railpath, which wouldn't have come into being without the efforts of many ardent city cyclists. The path is a fantastic achievement, and as I walked along it enjoying the late-blooming goldenrod and New England asters, I wondered how our Horticultural Society could help beautify the space and at the same time create a living tribute to Jenna.

Sunflower - Clement Kent
The image that kept popping into my head was of a sunflower I grew this summer with palest yellow flowers, some with central white spots. One can buy flower seeds very economically by the ounce or larger quantities, and it would make a wonderful volunteer activity on a mild May day to wander along the path poking seeds in the ground here and there. The white centre mirrors, in my mind, the white "ghost bike" which cyclists put at spots where one of their number has died.

I became more excited about this the more I thought about it. The path is long and narrow, and it's not really feasible to do a maintained garden. Instead we would have to plant things which naturalize, so this ties in perfectly with my Pollinator Gardens native plant goals. There are some stretches where there is a ditch between the path and the railway which has moister soil, yet doesn't seem to have any of our beautiful native wet meadow plants. Here rather than seed, I'd imagine using plug plants or 1-year old perennials (sparingly, because of cost).

As I was thinking of this along came Hort member Henrietta Markus on her bike - we talked and she thought it was a fine idea. So, I've discussed it with one member already - let's hear your thoughts! Comment here if you like...

I'd especially like the Hort to partner with other groups, say a cyclists group and the Railpath folk, and perhaps seek a small grant from Evergreen for this. I will propose this in our newsletter and to the Board once I've been in touch with potential partners.

Rose "Graham Thomas" and goldenrod, Dec 3. Clement Kent
As the dog and I walked back I enjoyed geraniums and fuchsias in hanging pots on front porches, along with the deluded viburnum that had come into spring bloom. We were nearly home when I saw a Forsythia in half-bloom. That pleased me because I had cut a branch from one of my Forsythias a day earlier that had a single bloom, and arranged it in a vase with the golden Graham Thompson rose by David Austin and some golden Clematis tangutica from a nearby back lane fence. Today I added a spray of goldenrod from the railpath and had a golden December harvest.

rose - Clement Kent
December blackberry, by Clement Kent.
In fact, gold seems to be my garden's pre-solstice theme. Here are two more views of it: of a golden Explorer rose in bud with the puffy white seed heads of Japanese anemone as backdrop, and of the blackberry vines on our west wall still trying to figure out if fall is here or not.

Work by Clement Kent is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Images by other photographers are subject to stated rights.

Frank Cabot, creator of Les Quatre Vents

Fall bumblebee, Stonecrop Gardens. Photo: Naomi Sachs
Frank Cabot, creator of two great gardens - Les Quatre Vents in Quebec, and Stonecrop Gardens in New York - died recently. His book "The Greater Perfection: The Story of the Gardens at Les Quatre Vents" won much acclaim. Does the Hort library have a copy, I wonder?

Cabot co-founded the Garden Conservancy to help preserve excellent gardens in North America. As we've enjoyed hearing Barry Parker's stories of visits to great Welsh gardens, it's interesting to note that Cabot helped preserved the gardens at Aberglasney. Read a recent blog entry from Barry about Aberglasney and the Cabot's role there.

Story: the Globe & Mail

Sunday 6 November 2011

Cape Farewell and the Vegetable Garden Tour?

"You need an artist to bring the science back to the way we live, to a human scale." That's a quote from artist David Buckland, founder of Cape Farewell, a group promoting a cultural response to climate change. Long based in England, Cape Farewell is opening its North American office in Toronto with a benefit concert on Thursday November 10 titled "The Dew Line Concert".

So what does this have to do with the veggie garden tour? The organizer of the tour was Beth Kapusta, a well known Toronto writer on architecture and design. Cape Farewell organizes yearly expeditions with a mixed crew of artists and scientists to areas affected by climate change. Beth was part of the 2010 Svalbard and Spitsbergen tour, a fact I discovered when we were sitting in her dining room this summer working on the veggie tour.  I was looking at some of the amazing and very well mounted photographs of Arctic scenes on her wall that were unsigned. "Beth", I asked, "these are very good! Who is the photographer?".  I guess I asked the right question, because she had a big smile when she replied "me"! I must say I think Beth keeps interesting company - look at her and some of the other artists in Cape Farewell expeditions here. You can read Beth's article in the Fall 2011 issue of Canadian Art or see some more pictures on her Facebook site.

If being on a month-long Arctic tour somehow prepared Beth to organize our Vegetable Garden Tour, we can only be grateful. But because I knew Beth from the veggie tour, I got early warning of the Cape Farewell event. If you'd like to meet her, and perhaps the board chair for North America David Miller, plus hear some good music, check out the site for the concert and buy some tickets - they're going fast!

The Cape Farewell story is also featured in this post on the Pollinator Gardens blog. Find out how climate change and pollinators intersect!

- Clement Kent

Tuesday 1 November 2011

New rules for non-profit groups?

Today the Globe and Mail has an article on changes to both federal and provincial laws governing not for profit organizations. Please follow the link to read the details - but it may mean changes to our bylaws over the next 2 years to comply. We'll be looking to groups like the OHA to find out what changes may be required, but if you work with another non-profit that has already worked through these changes we'd love to hear from you!

Monday 17 October 2011

Should we let all our ash trees die?

ash leaflet
Ash trees are one of our common street and forest trees in Toronto. There are several species native to Ontario and they are commonly planted as street shade trees. In some Toronto streets, ashes are the main or only boulevard tree.

And, they are all going to die in the next few years. More, the city is going to let them die and then make you pay to remove them.

Our ash trees have been attacked by the invasive Asian Emerald Ash Borer beetle. The beetle escaped attempts to control it and now infests many parts of the city - a map from the urban forestry dept shows that trees are dying now in pockets of Etobicoke, North York, and over most of Scarborough.
orange - areas of dying trees

As reported in the Star and Globe and Mail, our city has given up. It plans to spend $60-70 million to remove dying or dead trees on public property over the next 6 years. Homeowners with afflicted ash trees will be expected to pay for removal themselves. Depending on the firm hired, this may cost $2,000 and up per tree, and there's a real risk that when the big die-off happens, prices for removal will escalate (supply and demand, doncha know?). Some people who have had large trees removed this year have been quoted $5,000.

The strange and sad part of this story is that there is a treatment that can cure a recently infested tree, and prevent future infestations for 2 years. It costs around $200 per tree and must be repeated every 2 years. Hmm, let's say you have a large ash in your yard. You could pay $5,000 to have it cut down, or you could pay $600 over 6 years to protect it. Furthermore, the city itself predicts that after 6 years, most unprotected ash trees will be dead, so there won't be any more beetles and you may be able to stop treating your tree. Sounds like a stitch in time saves nine (9x$600 = $5,400), doesn't it?

Stranger still, the treatment (TreeAzin) was developed by Canadian firm BioForest Technologies Inc so some of the money you spend goes to support a Canadian innovator. The rest goes to the licensed applicator who does the injection treatment.

Our current civic administration is pinchpenny and more interested in cars and football and shopping malls than trees, so I don't think we can rely on the city for rational action. HOWEVER, this is a natural issue for horticultural societies.

Can we the people of Toronto combine to save some of our trees? Undoubtedly! Coordination and planning will be required to get the best prices possible, to apply for grants to support this, and to ensure protected trees are protected not just from the beetles but also from chainsaws.

Ash trees turn a beautiful golden colour in the fall. Take a walk in your neighborhood and find some big specimens you think are worth saving. Let us know by commenting here, sending us pictures and locations.

The loss of Toronto's Elms and Chestnuts was a tragedy. This time around, we do have the option to save some of our Ash trees. Will we use it?

Note to guitar players, baseball fans, lobster fishermen, woodworkers and home renovators: ash wood is the material of choice for making guitars, baseball bats, lobster traps, tool handles, and many kinds of flooring. Kiss them all goodbye! Or, maybe we can do something...hmmm...

-Clement Kent

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Moving from a house to an apartment garden

Barbara’s new gardens

Where I came from - previous garden

old front garden
old back garden
This summer, I moved from a 3 story house up 39 steps from the street. The hill was densely planted. The back yard was small but densely planted. Some of you who visited and relieved me of plants can attest to this. The plant fair helped as well.
Where I moved to –

I am now in a single story (yay!!) 5th floor condo with a west facing balcony and a7th floor east-facing garden allotment (9’x3.5’ stone faced raised bed with a common wall with the next garden).

view from inside
view from outside
There are many interesting garden features at this new property and I will tell you more about them in subsequent issues; namely, the ground floor exterior and atrium planting, the exterior and atrium balconies, and the roof garden.

The balcony is west facing, which I am used to, but has a lot of sun in the summer. There is no balcony above and I am just at tree-top level. It is windy but there are sheltered corners. I have a LARGE pot with Bamboo Fargesia  dracocephala ‘Rufa’

You may remember this from the plant fair. Quite a lot of it made it there and was very popular. This does well in sun or shade and does not spread rapidly and on the balcony it will be in shade in a sheltered corner for the winter. Also, I have a plant stand for overwintered tender perennials and annuals.

The roof garden is in full sun which I am not used to and it is very windy. However, “the man in the next garden up-sun of me” has shrubs and tall plants that are a good shield, at least by July.   I have brought over a selection of my favourite plants; one short climbing rose(“shades of pink”) on a short trellis (this has to be tied securely since it is a weapon in a gale), some clematis, geraniums, grasses, a dwarf Japanese maple, a dwarf variegated bamboo (double potted so it won’t spread to the next bed!!), daylilies, phlox, coneflowers, bits of groundcover experiments,…..

My roof garden raised bed
everyone else's garden
I planted this up in August and as of early October, it is growing splendidly! The violets are reblooming, the cut-off daylilies all have new leaves, and one alpine clematis has big buds which look like they may have time to open.

My 5’ high tomatoes survived the move and are still producing and blooming their little heads off.I won’t have a plant-light to start them next spring so will have to use the window. But then, my floor to ceiling, side to side windows let in a lot of light (yay, again).

I am told that spring bulbs don’t do well but I am determined to try some dwarf alpine varieties. I have seen lilies growing in other plots so I have moved some of my Martagons here. I have some large pots that I will try (i.e., store) my favourite shade plants in; ferns(I can’t be without ferns), Solomon seal, ….

I am approaching all of my plantings (as always) as an experiment. Some of the plants I have moved from my previous garden (most of which I potted up in April in preparation for the move) tend to be for somewhat shadier circumstances, so if they don’t survive I am prepared to try something else.

Will I miss my old garden? I don’t think so now that I have all these other gardens to look at.

More to come and I will report on growth (survival) in the spring.

-           Barbara Japp

Giving thanks for vegetables...or, the potato blues

This weekend just past was Canadian Thanksgiving, and there were many things for which to be thankful. The weather was extraordinarily nice - I put a chair into Lake Huron and just sat in the water one sunny afternoon. This is not something you can do every Thanksgiving, unless you have a good drysuit!

last Tigerella tomatoes ripening in October
It was harvest time for the last tomatoes on the vine, still gradually ripening in the mild warmth.

I also dug up almost the last of the Russian Blue potatoes I planted this spring. They had bloomed abundantly and set many seed pods, looking a bit like purple-green cherry tomatoes but with a much firmer texture.

vegetable bestiary
The parent tubers were a revelation - engagingly warty, blobby, and just generally eccentric. It seemed like the only thing to do was to arrange them along with the purple cherry tomatoes and some amazing gourds in a vegetable bestiary.

blobby Blues
The insides of the Blues are lighter towards the edges and darker in the centre. Boiling reduces the colour but slicing thinly, tossing in olive oil with a bit of salt and thyme, then baking in the oven (mixed with Yukon Gold slices, also from the garden) produced a colorful treat in much less time than boiling or baking would have taken.

Another super-abundant vegetable crop in our country garden this year is nasturtiums. They looked quite beautiful as an underplanting below the 8-foot tall tomato vines.

seasonal visitor, seasonal colours
But beauty wasn't all that was on the menu. We experimented with uses for the peppery flowers and leaves, in salads, omelettes, and stews. I remember particularly being at table with some not very gourmet friends and their children and passing around the flowers as a snack. "Eeeew!" was the general response, before any flower was tasted. So, I led a small tasting session by pointing out that the long spurs that stick out behind the flower are where the nectar is stored. A bite of just the spur is a delectably sweet sip of what butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds already know.

gathering flowers for nasturtium butter
But I had so many flowers that I needed new uses. That's when I found recipes for nasturtium butter. This lovely condiment adds the colours and mild peppery flavour of nasturtiums to small butter logs which can be saved and used on fish, vegetables, or baked goods. I enjoyed the recipes here or here. Just gathering the ingredients was an exquisite task. Our puzzled dog, who is not as fond of vegetables as we are, wondered what the fuss was about.

Well, that's all for today from me. We need to get some other Hort members on the blog, so the next post will be from Barbara Japp, about moving from a house and garden to an apartment and garden.

Clement Kent