Allen Gardens Glasshouse

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

Monday 3 October 2011

Gary Gilfillan - some memories

Gary Gilfillan
Laurence Packer, Anne Dondertman, Gary at Pollinator booth
Our September newsletter passed on the sad news of the death of member Gary Gilfillan on May 3, 2011, of cancer. This came as a shock to me because Gary helped in the Pollinator Gardens and Hort booths at Canada blooms in late March - and at no point did he mention that he was ill or show signs of it.

I spent several hours sitting in the booth with Gary, which is not a long acquaintance! Nonetheless, two things about him were clear even in such a short time. First, he was wonderful with people. He engaged everyone who paused at the booth in conversation easily and effortlessly drew them in. Second, he told wonderful stories about his life. Both of these characteristics are evident in the ten pages (!) of memorial comments about Gary at the Toronto Star's Legacy website.

Because Gary began work with the CBC in the 1950's and because he seems not to have been a self-promoter, it takes work to find out much about him on the web. He told me at the booth that he actually started out as a dancer and was in a show, but the other dancers convinced him to try another career! His deep knowledge of music made him a valued behind the scenes contributor on many CBC programs, in areas ranging from classical music to jazz to country. He is listed as music consultant on several films, including Dancing in the Dark (1986) with Martha Henry, Neil Munro, and Richard Monette, directed by Leon Marr and The War Against the Indians (1993) directed by Harry Rasky.

I think, based on things he told me, that Gary also played piano on some of the productions he was in, but don't find credits for this online. He worked and was friends with Toronto jazz legend Guido Basso.

There are a number of photos by the fine Canadian photographer Walter Curtin in the Library and Archives of Canada, some of which have Gary in them. Unfortunately none of these seem to be online. However, a great example of Curtin's work is "Conductor James de Priest, Production Assistant Gary Gilfillan and Violinist Juan Fernandez" in the National Gallery of Canada. This 1978 image shows the 43 year old Gary looking much younger than his age. I haven't included it on this page because I don't know what copyright restrictions there may be but have an inquiry in to the National Gallery, so if they allow will post it here later.

Let me close this memorial posting with a story Gary told me. At one point he and some CBC colleagues were recording at Yehudi Menuhin's home in England. The great violinist played some phrases on his Stradivarius, decided the sound was not right for the piece he was playing, and handed it to Gary. Menuhin said for Gary and a young production assistant to come down to the climate controlled room where the violin collection was kept. There Gary reverently put the Strad back in its spot while Menuhin prowled the room. At last the maestro seized two violins, one of them a famous Guarneri, handed them to the young assistant, and went back up stairs. Gary told me that the assistant climbed the stairs as if she were walking on eggshells, as I might well do if I were carrying millions of dollars of musical instruments!

Please, if you have stories about Gary or pictures of him, add them as a comment below or send them by email to us. We'll add them to this posting.

posting by Clement Kent

Saturday 1 October 2011

Why did my pear tree look so sickly this year?

pears from our country garden. photo: Clement Kent
I'd like to share with you a very informative letter sent out by Laurel Atkinson at Not Far From the Tree. If you don't know about Not Far From the Tree, check out their website at the above link. They help city gardeners with large fruit trees that are hard to pick or which bear too much fruit for home use to (a) get the trees picked, (b) get some of the fruit for yourself, and most importantly (c) have much of the fruit donated to food banks, community kitchens, and places where people don't otherwise get much fresh fruit.

city pear with trellis rust. photo: Clement Kent
Although we were able to donate 5 buckets of pears from our cottage to  Not Far From the Tree, our city pear tree had a complete crop failure. The picture tells the reason why - a very bad infection with pear trellis rust. Below, Laurel tells you all about this fungus and how to help your tree for next year.

The main thing to know is, you don't need to cut down your pear tree!

trellis rust spots. photo: Clement Kent

Dearest pear tree owners -

This season, many of you have been sharing disappointment about your barren pear trees and bewilderment as to the cause. Others have sent photos to us showing orange spots on your tree’s leaves, which have grown bigger over the course of the summer. I wanted to take the time to fill you in on some facts about this issue, as well as steps you can take to help prevent it from rearing its head next year.

What is it?

The orange spots and lack of fruit are tell-tale symptoms of pear trellis rust (or for the Latin-loving among you, Gymnosporangium sabinae), a highly contagious fungus which affects pear trees. Last year, we picked 10,000 pounds of pears, but this year only 25 pounds. The fungus is airborne, disperses far and wide, and has affected almost all of our registered trees. We did manage to pick one pear tree out of our 260-odd registered pear trees -- far outside the downtown core -- that was robust and healthy enough to produce pears even though it was beginning to show signs of the fungus.

Are other trees or plants at risk?

Pear rust not only affects pear trees, but junipers as well, which host the fungus through the cold winter. The fungus “hibernates” in galls (growths) on the stems and twigs, which may not be visible to the untrained eye. These growths will become obvious in the late spring (April - May), shortly after the beginning of our rainy season, when an orange residue -- the fungal spores -- prepare for a journey to their new summer homes on your pear tree.

What can I do?

Once your trees leaves have fallen this autumn, remove them from your property -- that’s right, no mulching or composting for these guys. Lest you be tempted to pluck all the leaves from your tree before they fall naturally, remember that your tree still needs to produce energy from the sun to prepare for the spring, and the only way to do this is through its leaves. Secondly, have a look around your immediate area (either your yard or a neighbour’s yard) for any juniper shrubs. See if you can come up with a plan to ensure that the fungus doesn’t get a chance to disperse next spring, either by inspecting them in the winter or in the late spring (when the spores will be obvious). The only way to get rid of the fungal spores is by pruning and disposing of the galls.

Can I spray?

You may be tempted to try to hunt down a fungicide spray to deal with this issue. However, not only is this illegal under the Provincial Pesticide Act (unless you’re an arborist with the proper training), but the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) says that there is no known fungicide that works against pear trellis rust. (OMAFRA also recommends not planting pear trees and junipers within one kilometre of each other, but something tells me that you may not have control over your neighbour’s prized juniper bush).

Thanks to all the pear tree owners who sent us in photos, stories, suggestions, and questions. Special thanks also to the OMAFRA website and other folks who helped us better understand this fungus.

With a little bit of love, we can nip this fungus among us in the bud (er, gall)!


Laurel Atkinson
Program Manager
Not Far From the Tree
c: 416-521-5153

p.s. Here's a very nice letter I received from Laurel after donating our country pears:

Hi Clement

Just wanted to say a big thank you for donating these lovely pears to Not Far From The Tree. I delivered them to Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre. I was literally followed by folks from the sidewalk outside to the kitchen, all of them eager to get their hands on these lovely-looking pears. Al, who works in the kitchen, was ecstatic to receive pears because we haven't picked any this year due to the fungus that is going around. It was really a magical moment to be able to donate this fruit.

Thanks again,

Laurel Atkinson