More steps

Yesterday I delivered an hour-long lecture on digital photography for gardeners to the Master Gardeners in Ontario’s zone 6. I’m glad to have it over, as I put quite a bit of pressure on myself to deliver a lot of information in a short time in an interesting manner (I had 70 powerpoint slides; 40 of them were images illustrating points).

It was well received, and I’ve been asked to create a follow-on presentation for our local Master Gardeners group that deals exclusively with the post-production process (after you press the button and take the picture).

One side-effect of the seminar for the Technical Update session is that I’ve added a PDF to my website, which is a free download: a composition guide and checklist for garden photography.

To use the composition guide, print the page (landscape mode) onto a transparency. Some modern cameras provide this grid through the viewfinder, or on the LCD display screen.

Look through the grid at your composition: try to position straight lines at or near one of the lines on the guide. Or, if you’ve got specific points of interest, try to position them at the circles where the lines intersect. Make sure you check out both landscape and portrait orientations of the grid. Once you’ve got a composition that you’re happy with, notice where the edges are, and use your camera to capture the composition.

I brought some of my canvases to the seminar, and showed them at a table (had a folder with proofs of the whole set of still life images, with finished canvas size and price marked on each, and postcards with my email address and website).

I was hoping to show a jacquard-weave tapestry blanket of three David Austin roses, but it wasn’t ready on time (it will be ready on Monday: figures, eh?).

At the seminar I met a designer who may contact me to display some canvasses at a charity design house she’s working on: this could be an opportunity to show some images in the sort of setting they’d be used in. We’ll see what happens.

That was a busy day: I need to take a few days off, because I’ve been working 60-hour weeks at work, plus pulling together the seminar.

I’ve got a week of vacation coming the first week of December. If not before then, I’ll use some of that time to convert one of my spare bedrooms into a photo studio, so I don’t have to cart everything down from the third floor to the dining table when I want to do a photo shoot.

Getting things accomplished

Between Sunday and today, I

  • revised my price list, created a PDF of it, and linked it on my web page
  • created new gallery stickers for my canvases that will be showing at The Commissary
  • created a hanging diagram to show how the images should be hung
  • also ordered a sample of 10 mini-business-cards with photos on (thanks, Sandy!)

Now I’ve got to

  • create and print stickers to go on the backs of my postcards to get some eyeballs looking at the canvases
  • order more ink and a roll of canvas from Epson
  • get that darned CD for retailers finished
  • get some more publicity – try to get something in the cabbagetown-area weekly newspaper


  • finish writing and illustrating the seminar I will be giving to the Toronto Master Gardeners on Oct. 21st
  • print some of my floral images on canvas to take to TBG that day (I’ve got a table at which to sell my wares).

I’ve got under a month to do all the above.Oh — and write a cheque to the insurance company, now that they’ve dinged me an additional $345.60 for running a small business at home so they would give me exhibit insurance. I wish they’d get with the modern age and let me pay either directly from my bank account or via credit card.

Home again

Just back home from 3 weeks travelling in France and Italy. I was too early in Provence for the lavender (guess I’ll have to go back there!) but the wild poppies were in bloom, and the air was fragrant with broom and its forsythia-colored flowers.

Back on the home front, all the spring bulbs finished while I was away: I completely missed the alliums. Pansies growing in the two urns by the front steps had enough time to get long and leggy, and the irises (both bearded and Siberian) — which I also missed their blooms — needed a haircut.

About the weeds: ugh. 3 weeks is enough time for weeds to go from “not there” to “taking over the garden.” Spent many hours weeding yesterday, and got about half done.Went to Humber Nurseries today to get some more plants. I gave away my Othello rose, Annabelle Hydrangea, and Weigela early in the spring: they just weren’t flowering in the back yard. Picked up a Sutherland Golden Cutleaf Elder (beautiful pale chartreuse leaves, flowers in the summer, and has berries in the fall) and — I couldn’t resist it: a Scentimental rose. We’ll see if it flowers.

Also got some vinca, hedera helix ivy, chartreuse sweet potato vines, and petunias, and repotted the two urns. Moved the leggy pansies into the front rose garden bed, and after they get established, I’ll cut them back.

Oh — the seeds I planted for the annual plant sale grew. I had no problems with damping off this time. I grew the seeds in peat pots with a sterile mix. Although some of them were a bit leggy due to less-than-optimal light, I was able to get about 50 plants to the sale.

Happy gardening!

I can scarce remember…

How that summertime used to make me smile….

But I’m seeing finches, sparrows, and chickadees (and the occasional downy woodpecker) out back, so that’s nice.

Soon I will start planting seeds: not just for me, but for a seed sale. ah, I shall have to take care that I don’t end up with the usual seed wilt&die: I’ve been told that a dusting of cinnamon or a spritz or two of chamomile tea can help reduce the dreaded die-off after the plants get their first real leaves.

I’ll let you know if it works!

Oh, my back

Yes, I’ve been delinquent writing here.

I’ve been delinquent weeding, too.

Initially, my excuse was that I needed to wait for all my bulbs I planted last fall to be finished.

That happened several weeks ago (it’s been a long cool spring).

It also became evident by the middle of June that a whole whack of roses didn’t make it through the winter. Sigh.

This past weekend I made up for the weeding problem, and spent 4 hours weeding the back yard yesterday. That wasn’t too bad, actually, but when I completed the weeding by plucking out yellowed leaves from daffodils, and cut the rest back the garden looked really desolate. So Ash and I went out to Humber Nurseries to buy yet more plants.

First, before I describe them, I should really tell you what else I’ve already put in this spring….In window boxes and urns, we’ve got petunias, ‘Mont Blanc’ nierembergia (lovely little white star-shaped flowers) nasturtiums, geraniums (Patriot — bright red), four different types of sweet potato vine (ace of spades, Marguerite, tricolor (which has some pink edging in it), and a variegated one), licorice vines, heliotrope, torenia, and some annual salvia.

Now to the perennials.I bought one pot of Saxifraga ‘Apple Blossom’ which is out beside the Othello rose. It’s finished blooming for the season, and is now just a tight little cushion of green.

Near it is a Marble-leaf Sea Holly (Eryngium variifolium) which must be one fo the strangest plants I’ve ever purchased. It’s prickly like a thistle, but is developing flower heads… It seems to be in some strange land between thistle and holly, in terms of looks. I’ll take pictures when it matures.

Over in the shady garden (the south little bed against the fence) I bought a Heuchera vesuvius (Coral bells with mahogany colored leaves), which was mature enough that I split it into two before planting it. It’s in flower now, and is lovely.

It works really well with a couple of foxgloves I put in (no flowers yet: maybe next year), a bleeding heart, and a lovely white astilbe that has finally come into its own. I’ve also put in a Heuchera ‘marmelade’, which is an interesting color, and two ferns: a Japanese and Korean fern. I have another Japanese fern the other side of the pond, which I thought had died, but showed itself in June.

In the sunny north garden, I planted three Persian Sheids (Strobilanthes) which have the most wonderful colors of green and fuchsia. Very metallic looking leaves: I’m waiting for them to get some height (they’re still only about 3″ tall, and should grow to 24-36″ in height, according to the tags… I want some lovely photos of this trio of plants.

Also, at the west edge of the north garden I planted 3 rose mallows. One died; one is in blossom, and one yet to come into flower. They’re a lovely, easy-to-care-for flower, as long as you stake them.

By the edge of the north garden, I planted a trio of Wolly lamb’s ear, within easy touching distance. One must hit all the senses in a garden, after all ūüėÄ

In the herb garden, I planted a trio of rosemaries, two more lavender varieties, two sages (one purple sage, on large leaf variety), two oregano types, and a tarragon. I think I might pull up the bloody dock (lovely colors, but it does bolt, and we don’t eat it) and replace it with a couple of basils.

Then yesterday, Ash and I bought more perennials.All for the north garden, to fill the holes from the bulbs.

  • A couple of pale pink primroses
  • A trio of nicotiana, from deep red, through pale pink, to white
  • A couple of phlox panniculata in a color that works well with the primroses
  • Two more astilbes: one pink, one raspberry
  • A pink baby’s breath
  • Two perennial salvias (deep blue/violet)
  • One perennial hibiscus (this should be a treat: lovely flowers, and we don’t have to bring it indoors over the winter) and probably some other plants that I’ll only remember after I file this and wander in the garden.

Anyways, that’s just about it for today…except to say: I GOT 85% ON MY FIRST TEST in Horticulture I! WWoooooo hooooo!

I’ll save information about what we did about the dead roses for my next posting.Until then, grow green!

Gardening in small spaces

Sonya Day gave a great talk to the Master Gardeners to get us all warmed up! Here’s a summary. Any errors are mine.

It’s spring, and the gardening magazines tempt us with the promises of beauty, fragrance, and novelty. But — alas! We turn the cover to see huge greenswards, lengthy vistas, interminable flower beds, and despair of being able to create anything as enticing on our apartment balcony, condo courtyard, or postage-stamp city lot. What’s a person to do?

Lots! First, like any other gardener, you need to know your microclimate. Which direction does your gardening space point? Are there any large trees or buildings shading your space? The amount of light you get will play a huge role in the range of plants from which you can choose to personalize your space.

How high are you?

Gardening space on a balcony above the 8th floor is going to be windier than at ground level, and it is likely to get windier the higher you go. This also influences your plant choice, in terms of height (is that clematis going to be able to twine around the trellis in constant gale-force winds?) and drought resistance (evaporation rates on leaves and on the soil’s surface increase with temperature and wind speed).

How much effort are you willing to put into it?

For example, don’t buy cacti if you want something to tend to daily, and don’t plant roses if you believe in benign neglect.

If you’re at ground level, what’s your soil like? Sand, loam, or potter’s clay? Are you willing to amend it or build raised beds on top of it, if need be? Or do you want plants that do well, thank you, in the type of soil you naturally have?

Next, what do *you* want? What sort of atmosphere do you want to create? Hot, lush tropicals (you’ll have to either bring them indoors in the winter or treat them like annuals)? Cool forest greens? English country garden, Zen garden, xeriscape, native plants only?

Armed with answers to these questions, you should be able to approach any knowledgeable garden centre employee and come away with a list (and maybe a basket) of plants tailored to your environment and temperament.

Some quick tips for a successful gardening season:

Don’t plant tender plants until later in May. If you like herbs, you can plant parsley now, but leave the basil indoors until mid or late May, depending on how the season develops.

Plant trees and other woody-stemmed plants when it’s cool, preferably before the buds break (so the plant can initially concentrate on root growth), and water carefully for the first year, according to instructions that come with your tree or shrub.

If you’re moving tropical plants outdoors, move them into the sun gradually (leaves can and will get sunburned if you transition them too quickly).

If you’re container gardening, be aware that clay pots are going to allow the soil to dry out faster, so you’ll have to water more often.

Hydrogel crystals can help soil in containers retain moisture (they’re available at Sheridan Nurseries in Toronto, and probably at other gardening centres).

Follow instructions. If a plant’s tag says it requires full sun, it won’t give you the results in the picture if you sit it in your north-facing window.

Projections on what’s hot this year

  • Tropicals. Banana trees! Of course, you’d want to have enough space indoors to overwinter them.
  • Mixes of food and flowers. Plant a grape tomato variety among the sweetpeas.
  • Elephant ears. Start them indoors, move them outdoors, and harvest the bulbs in the fall for next year.
  • For more news about what’s hot, see Canadian Gardening’s website.
  • Looking for more information? You may want to get one of the following books, written by Toronto gardening writers:
    • The Urban Gardener – How to Grow Things Successfully on Balconies, Terraces, Decks and Rooftop, by Sonia Day. Key Porter Books.
    • The Urban Gardener Indoors – How to Grow Things Successfully in Your House, Apartment or Condo, by Sonia Day. Key Porter Books.
    • For information about creating a small garden in the city, check out Marjorie Harris’ website, or get her book “Pocket Gardening” published by Harper Collins Canada. Marjory also has a new book out on native plants, “Botanica North America: the guide to our Native plants, Their Botany, History, and How They Have Shaped Our World” published by Harper Collins, and has gardened organically in Toronto for the last 30 years. It sounds like a great book. I’m ordering it.
  • Also, during May, members of the Master Gardeners of Ontario will be available to talk to (for free) about your garden at all Toronto-area Sheridan Nurseries.Have fun, and grow green!

Growing Green in Toronto

In 1962, Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring” about environmental¬†damage caused by DDT and chemical pesticides, and predicted a desolate¬†future caused by the poorly-tested chemicals used to grow our food and¬†keep the golf greens putt-perfect. Her book shot to the top of the¬†best-seller list, she was on the cover of Time magazine, and people¬†listened. This was the effective start of the environmental protection¬†movement.

The City of Toronto will become more envlronmentally sensitive by implementing the first stage of a new pesticide bylaw. Starting on April 1st, many insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides may no longer be used on your lawn or in your garden as a matter of course.

Why is the city doing this?

In part, because we don’t know what the¬†long-term effect is of the chemicals used in combination — their use is¬†pretty recent, dating only as far back as the 20th century, with most¬†having been developed after World War II.¬†Toronto’s pesticides frequently travel from lawns and gardens when¬†heavy rains wash them into the storm sewer system. These chemicals end¬†up in Lake Ontario, the source of Toronto’s drinking water. The city¬†filtration systems simply aren’t capable of removing all chemicals from¬†our drinking water.

How does this new bylaw affect you?

For starters, it’s time to take any leftover Round-Up to your closest¬†hazardous materials drop site. Weed & Feed is also prohibited, as are¬†chemical weedkillers that rely on surface-coating broad-leafed¬†weeds. Most spraying to kill insects is also forbidden, unless it’s¬†city-directed to kill West Nile infected mosquitoes.

How will you adjust to this new way of gardening?

Consider your expectations: is it reasonable to expect an unvarying¬†green lawn, even in the height of a drought, when the plants are¬†stressed and less resistant to insects and disease? If you’re willing to¬†be a bit less of a perfectionist, you’ll have an easier time. There are a few areas to look at: soil, weeds, and bugs.Good lawns and gardens all start with the same basic ingredient: soil.If you have healthy, well-structured soil, you’ll have an easier time¬†growing healthy plants.

What can you do to promote this type of soil?

If you don’t already have¬†one going, now is the time to start a compost pile. Composting is easy,¬†benefits your soil, and reduces the garbage destined for landfill sites.¬†You can buy a composter from almost any hardware store or the City of¬†Toronto.There are a few general principals for a healthy, sweet-smelling heap:

  • layer green (recently alive, like kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, or¬†freshly-killed weeds) and brown (shredded newsprint, dead leaves fromlast year)
  • keep it moist, but not wet. The bacteria need moisture to do their¬†work, but if the pile starts smelling foul, that’s a sign that you’ve¬†got an anaerobic bacteria take-over in progress: if it’s smelling bad, turn the pile daily for a week to help it dry a little, and to bring some oxygen into it to help the good bacteria win the battle. A fistful of nitrogen fertilizer might¬†help, too.
  • no meat products or byproducts. No dairy products. Although these will¬†compost, you’re likely to attract city-based vermin to your pile: rats, raccoons, even coyotes if you’re near one of the city’s ravines. They will make a mess, and your neighbours will hate you. You don’t want that, now, do you?

After a couple of months, you should have rich, sweet, well-rotted¬†compost. Dig it into your gardens, or top dress your lawn and around¬†plants. You’ll be rewarded with healthy plants that are more¬†disease-resistant and better able to cope with bugs and slugs.

How to deal with weeds?

A healthy thick lawn can keep many weeds at bay¬†by crowding them out. The best way to get rid of them once you have¬†them is to dig them up. Some can be easily pulled. Others require¬†assistance. A whole assortment of aids is available these days, from¬†tools like the garden claw and loop hoes, to water pressure-based tools¬†that liquify the soil around the weed so it can be pulled, and butane¬†torches for immediate destruction of weeds between paving stones. Check out your local hardware store or Lee Valley Tools.If you’re looking for an inexpensive, safe, and effective technique to spot-kill weeds, pour boiling water over them. In about 3-4 days they’ll wither and be¬†very easy to remove, even from between interlocking brick.

But what about bugs?

Dealing with bugs can be very trying. There’s nothing quite like checking up on some rose buds that are about to open, only to discover that a cane borer has turned the stem into a flute and all the buds are dying. Most bugs have natural predators, and if you make your garden safe for them, they’ll help keep the population of the bad bugs down somewhat.If you’ve got to get rid of bugs, the first and best way to kill them is to squash them (or kill them manually some other way). It leaves no environmental residue, but it does mean that you need to be eternally vigilant. The second route, for insects like aphids, is to spray them off with water. The third path of attack is insecticidal soap, which kills bugs on contact. Read the instructions first: it can’t be used on all plants.Some pesticides are still available if you need something stronger. These are more natural solutions than the outlawed chemicals, but can still be quite toxic. Natural methods for dealing with insects include nematodes to eat grubs, rotenone to control chewing insects, or pyrethrum to kill many sorts of bugs. Check with the experts at your local gardening centre: they should be able to point you in the right direction. One word of caution: you may still find some of the banned substances for sale in local hardware stores, where the owners may not be aware of the new bylaw. Compliance is your responsibility.A good rule of thumb to use when taking care of a lawn or garden is to¬†start with the least harmful solution, and gradually work up through¬†more toxic solutions only if the environmentally friendly solution¬†didn’t work. Strong insecticides kill the beneficial insects as well as the pests, so they should be avoided whenever possible.For more information about growing green and the City of Toronto’s new¬†bylaw, see the following files on the city website:

If you have any gardening questions, don’t hesitate to ask the¬†Master Gardeners organization (throughout North America) — the Toronto¬†group may be contacted at their gardening Q&A board or by phone at 416-397-1345.There’s also some good information on growing organic lawns ¬†and on biological control out there.Have fun, and grow green!

No, it’s not a warm winter!

Looking back, I can’t believe I wrote that.

Just after New Year’s, the temperature plummeted. It’s been below freezing ever since: frequently below -10. So it’s not the time to go out in the garden, but it is time to catch up on garden reading, my coursework for the horticulture courses I’m taking, and reading through catalogs and dreaming of spring.

Vesey’s spring bulb catalog arrived in the mail on Friday, and calladiums are starting to appeal to me, even though they’re high maintenance (requiring starting indoors, then move them outdoors in June, then pull up the bulbs in October). But the colors are lovely, and they work in the shade, which we’ve got more and more of, as the years go by and the neighboring trees continue to grow. Don’t you think a bunch of these would look lovely beside a little splashing water cascade?

I’ll have to finish up my garden map and post a link here so you can see what I need to replant next year. I’m also thinking of enlarging the water garden, but it could be challenging to do that without making it really attractive to the raccoons! As it is, we have been covering both front and back water gardens every night (during growing weather, when the goldfish are in the ponds)… making the pond larger could make that task more difficult. We caught a raccoon at the back pond one evening–he was just reclining beside the pond with one paw stuck in the water (well, up to his shoulder) — gently waving his arm back and forth, looking to catch a goldfish. Very nervy, these urban raccoons!

Looking for more information about gardening? Here are two places to go: if you’re in a northern clime, wander over to Kathleen Purdy’s web site. For a list of blogs about gardening, check out Sheila Lennon’s list of links — lots of great information!That’s about it for tonight — take care!

Got my course materials!

On Tuesday, Ash called me at work — two hefty boxes arrived from Canada Post from The University of Guelph for me.

So here it is, Thursday noon, and I haven’t opened them yet. I will tonight: Tuesday night I was dealing with the ticking clock of a one-week subscription to the Toronto Star archives running out; last night we had a late dinner, I called my sister to wish her a happy birthday, and West Wing was on ūüôā

I’ll finish this blog after I unpack the boxes and see what I’ve let myself in for.

Two boxes. Unpacked, a total of three big binders.I watched the video, and read the first two chapters. Hmm.

As I gaze into the crystal ball, I see a fair amount of memorizing in my future!