Today felt like spring

I look back through my blog, and see that my King Alfred daffodils were in bloom by this time last year. Not this year! But I did start to do garden clean-up today, so they have a tidy space to come up in.

It was about 12C by 2pm, and I went to Hooked and enjoyed a few buck-a-shuck oysters. Absolutely delicious.

There were two from New Brunswick: St-Simon, and Caraquets. Loved these:

St-Simon Continue reading

Yes, there was snow!

I shovelled once on Thursday, and (I think — I lost count) 5 times on Friday.

Here’s my street near the end of the storm (more came down after this photo).

4pm, Feb. 8, 2013

And my back garden yesterday evening, when the sky was almost that perfect sapphire colour, and the streetlights were on in the laneway.




12 days later, early spring continues

Sunday — I couldn’t hold back any longer. Many of my neighbours have already cleaned up their gardens, and it was so beautiful I felt I had to be out there, collecting dead leaves, ripping up dead alyssum, trimming the roses a bit (didn’t do the full-on pruning yet: it’s still too early for that).

We’re definitely about 3 weeks ahead of where we usually are. Usually at this time, I’m hauling a big block of ice out of my backyard water thingie for the birds. This year, there was no ice. Daffodils and yellow things: another sign. In 2006, my King Alfreds opened around April 24th. My previous mention of an early spring that surprised me was April 5, 2010, when I noticed the forsythia in Ray’s yard in bloom. My King Alfreds are all open, and the forsythia has started opening: Ray thinks it will be in full bloom for his mother’s 103rd birthday on the weekend.

As a kind of diary to record what’s going on, here are some pictures of various shrubs and bulbs in my gardens from Sunday. Today was cold, tomorrow’s supposed to be, too: let’s hope nothing dies back. Actually, I’m more concerned with food growers than my little garden.

King Albert daffs

King Alfred daffodils

David Austin

New shoot on David Austin’s “the Faerie” florabunda rose

Honeysuckle vine

Honeysuckle vine that twines around the wrought iron fence surrounding the garden


In the back garden, the elderberry called “Sutherland Gold”


Clematis. Good lord, the Jackmanii clematis is out already. I remember growing up in Montreal, and it seemed Art Drysdale was always on about how difficult it was to grow clematis. But that was Montreal, and this is now.

Lilac leaves

Lilac is coming into leaf, too.


Globe alliums are really mature already. They usually bloom first week of June. We’ll see this year.

Hans Christian Anderson florabunda

Hans Christian Andersen florabunda in the back garden.

We’re a couple of weeks ahead of my earliest spring. We’ll see what happens this year. I’ll keep taking pictures.

Oh — and I’ve applied (and gotten onto the waiting list) for an allotment garden at the base of Leslie Street again. We’ll see if I get it. Usually, one only finds out in June, and there’s a fair bit of weeding to do. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

And now for something about me!

This week’s edition of the Riverdale Mirror contains an article about me on page 3. I knew there was going to be an article, because Joanna and I spoke by phone, and she interviewed me, and I sent her pictures.

However, I was alerted that it was published when someone mentioned it on Twitter, and used my @Digiteyes handle.

So here it is, the bottom half of page 3.


If you’d like to read it online (which you can magnify), go here and click Launch Edition.

My eBook has been published

It’s now available on the SmashWords website.

What’s it about? It’s about the plants that George Leslie was growing in his Nurseries here in Leslieville. It’s got all the plants listed that he had in two catalogues — I’ve marvelled at the number of apple varieties (over 100), pears (over 80) and roses (over 120) that he was growing.

We’ve lost so much: I’m hoping that when people read this, they’ll be prompted to help spread around and continue growing some of the rarer varieties of fruit. Did you know that George sold six different types of rhubarb? Wow, imagine that!

Unfortunately, I don’t have a list of the different type of seeds he was selling: if I do manage to find that, I’ll create a new edition of the book.

Here’s the cover I designed for it:

eBook cover

I’ve applied for a membership with CISS so I’ll get an ISBN number, and that will enable me to get the book published… Oh, but it can take over 2 weeks for CISS just to get back to me about being a member so… I’m going to go with the ISBN option on SmashWords instead.

I wasn’t sure how long it would take to publish: SmashWords has a PDF booklet about how to format for them, and I messed up initially (had all the plant lists in tables, which SmashWords can’t interpret). Fixed that, tried to make sure I did everything correctly — but one never knows. Sometimes uploading something for translation is an iterative process: get errors, fix something, upload again, etc., etc.

I didn’t have any errors, so it was pretty painless.

Onward and upward. Now I need to send out press releases.

Almost time for my mail-order roses

Back at the end of January, I was yearning for spring, knowing there were still months of winter ahead.

I went online to Pickering Nurseries, and browsed through the hundreds of different types of roses they have.

I wanted one to replace Scentimental, which died when it got too shady in the back garden.

They didn’t have a Scentimental, but they do stock George Burns, which looks a lot like it, white with red streaks (or sometimes red with white streaks).

I’m a big fan of old-rose smell, so I hunted through the David Austin-bred roses in search of some with big perfume. I found two: St. Cecilia, and The Pilgrim. I asked for them to be delivered around April 15th, so we’ll see when they arrive, and what bare-root roses look like when they’re shipped.

I look forward to showing you pictures of their blooms this summer!

A quick look at the Sansepulcro market

As you may have read, we bought food at the Sansepulcro market on Tuesday morning, while we were staying in Anghiari. I seem to have been a bit timid in photographing vendors and their produce, so I don’t have as many photos of this market as I do of the others.

Nonetheless, here they are.It was late in the morning, so the light is very contrasty. All of the market stalls were on one long narrow street. The farmers and vendors must have the setup down to a science for who gets there when, and who sets up first, and how they’re organizing their stalls. Most of the food stalls were all at one end of the market, although the occasional one was dotted here and there in the rest of it.


The next vendor was fruit, fruit, fruit, of all kinds, very fresh.


I found the wares of the fellow selling meat and cheese very tantalizing.


Next to the anchovies, which are to the right of the cheeses, you’ll see a huge pile of sliced dried porcini mushrooms. This was a great time to be in Italy for mushrooms: we had some early season white truffles at a couple of restaurant, and fresh porcini were everywhere.

The next vendor had some of the most rainbow-colored tomatoes I’ve seen. Oops. On second look, they’re cherry peppers.


The markets in Italian villages aren’t just food markets: they’re markets with all kind of things that one might want, and not have a local store that provides. Clothing stalls with men’s, women’s, or children’s clothing; electronics (Sandy got an iPod car-plug-in recharger); kitchen gadgets, dinnerware, linens; seedlings; shoes!


I thought I took a picture of the young plants that were being sold at the market, but I don’t see it here in my downloads. The season is long enough in Tuscany that seedlings of cruciferous vegetables, lettuce, and onion sets were being sold for people to plant in their back vegetable gardens, so there must be time for another harvest of cool weather crops.The market started to peter out at one point where two roads intersected. There were a few vendors on the side arms of the second road, and it was spacious enough that I could stand back and take a picture of the vendors.


After getting our purchases, it was time to drive again across the plain where the Battle of Anghiari was fought in the 1400s.


Sustainable native back-yard gardening: edibles

How’s that for a subject line to push all the buttons?I attended a seminar by Lorraine Johnson at the Brick Works, back in July, on just that subject. Lots of food for thought, and lots of books to consider getting, including:

  • Identifying and harvesting edible and medicinal plants  – Steve Brill
  • City Farmer – Lorraine Johnson
  • Peterson Field guide to edible wild plants

It was a fact-filled morning, discussed fruit, veggies, and mushrooms, and included some things I hadn’t even considered. We’re at the northern edge of the Paw-paw’s range (Carolingian forest), and it seems they were never commercially grown because there wasn’t much of a way to save them — they don’t transport well, they don’t stay fresh long — so they never caught on big with the population. I’d only heard of them in a southern play that got used a lot in scene study classes (can’t even remember what it was called! about 3 sisters).

She described it as very tropical looking… like a small mango, and with an interesting taste, like banana and pineapple and custard all together. To me, it sounds like it should be ice cream at the very least, and probably would make a good cream pie flavour.

These days, we can refrigerate or freeze fruit, which wasn’t available back when.

So it was interesting to hear Lorraine talk about them, and what’s needed to actually get harvestable fruit in the fall.

The tree, which under the most optimal conditions, can grow up to 30 feet tall, is more likely to max out at about 10-15 in our climate, so a medium-height shrub. And they grow slowly. It needs filtered light in its early years, and then full sun when it is established. It doesn’t like wind; it does like high humidity (sounds like Toronto summers!)

The one problem? Lorraine said 3 trees are needed for cross-pollination.

Hey, who says they all have to be in one yard? Given the size of downtown backyards — about 17 feet across, maybe 20-30 feet deep, if three neighbours got together and each planted one, there’d be plenty of paw-paws to go around. Sounds like fertilization is mostly through insects (but not bees). So they can’t be too far apart. Most insects aren’t known for long-term memory.

It’s hard to find them in garden centers now, because there isn’t demand. And there isn’t demand, because people don’t know about them. So it’s kind of a vicious circle. But just as the whole 100-mile diet thing really got started with two writers reporting for the Tyee, maybe Lorraine can start things up here… she told a bunch of us, and if we each tell a bunch of people, and can collectively get people to plant them, then we’d bring back a tree that’s almost been completely extirpated from our ecosystem. And who knows what else that might help?  Definitely the zebra-swallowtail butterfly!

More info about Paw-paws here.

I think it sounds like an interesting project… some garden centres may carry them: Lorraine mentioned Grimo, in Niagara.

What do you think?