29.4.12

The March of the Emerald Cedars


A sign of spring in Toronto: the annual migration begins


(Cue the background soundtrack of the moans of howling winds)

An unusual and curious migration occurs every April in Toronto. This is the first documented report, that I know of, in recorded history of this strange phenomenon. With temperatures rising slowly above freezing and winter's snow slowly melting, these event are worthy of being on the Discovery Channel and, in the past, HGTV before the "G" was removed. After months of sub-zero conditions, biting winds, and mounds of snow (except this year), the Emerald Cedar (Thuja occidentalis "Smaragd") has returned from months of feeding and gorging itself on 20-20-20 in greenhouses all over southern Ontario to return to its breeding  selling grounds outside of big box stores and nurseries.



  Thuja occidentalis smaragd Emerald cedars in containers by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Huddled together to preserve warmth against April's cruel winds


More Thuja occidentalis smaragd Emerald cedars in a  big box store parking lot by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Some already claiming preferred nesting sites on strange wooden objects


More Thuja occidentalis smaragd Emerald cedars in containers by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Patiently waiting for their right mates to appear


Containers of Thuja occidentalis smaragd Emerald cedars by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Highly territorial at this time of the year, these cedars have staked out their sites and will vigorously defend them





Emerald cedars all over Toronto are waiting on large asphalt landing areas for their respective mate, Newhomeowner torontus "Cheap and Oblivious", to bring them to their rightful spots to form stalwart hedges between acrimonious neighbours, among the massive boulders one sees near newly-built McMansions, and jammed adjacent to tiny front stoops all over suburban Toronto.



Unfortunately, the migration from the retail grounds is one way and more often than not, these majestic and brave Emerald cedars die slow and painful deaths in deep shade or wind-swept vistas. Still, for millenia (or at least the past 20 years), their migration faithfully occurs with the change in seasons, without fail or fanfare.



(Can somebody get Morgan Freeman on the phone?)






By Paul Jung, author of "garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog" Google Google Find us on Google+ Find us on Google+

24.4.12

Hitting the sweetspot


"How to succeed in writing a gardening blog without really trying"


Gardeners are masochists because we plant things we love but know, in the deepest parts of our hearts, that will suffer slowly and die. And we do this again and again. Garden bloggers are a special subset. After all, why do we write, offer our precious thoughts to a seemingly unresponsive and unappreciative audience? Insanity can be loosely defined as the condition of doing something we know is ineffective, over and over. Is blogging a form of insanity? Why all this crying out to the internet wilderness?

Occasionally, though, someone or something validates my effort with this blog. (Just the other day, my very own sister blurted out accusingly that the author of "garden muses" could not possibly be her brother!) Indicative of my masochistic bloggy nature, I regularly check the number of visitors. Why do such a depressing thing? Why perform a useless habit? Well, habits are hard to break (especially the naughty ones) so when I noticed a spike in the number of visitors recently, my curiosity became, shall we say, aroused.

In the past, such fervent activity was associated with spamming from porn sites. I'm not entirely innocent. What did I expect when I titled a particularly sentimental post about putrefying ginkgo fruit "The Fairer Sex?" I remained calm, carried on, and clicked on the link from "sweetspot.ca", all the while expecting more XXX action. Well, you could hardly believe my shock and horror when I found out that the garden muses blog was considered, by those arbiters of fine gardening taste, as one of the "10 Best Canadian Gardening Blogs"!

To be perfectly honest, I smelled phish and expected an heart-tugging plea from an apparently not-too-distant Nigerian cousin asking for CAD to be wired very quickly! I clicked through the other nine blogs (all more worthy and deserved of this new status) and discovered, indeed, they are from Canada and not fronts for selling Viagra.

I'm really confused, flattered, and feeling very ambivalent about the whole situation. Here's how Sweetspot.ca described my blog:

"We dig how Paul Jung, a gardener and blogger who focuses on organic and ecological practices, uses pop-culture references and casual language on his blog Garden Muses. It’s a refreshing way to learn about this ancient art."

I don't think I've ever made references to Led Zeppelin, compost, and rain gardens in the same paragraph (although that would be a sweet challenge) but if Sweetspot.ca says I did, darn, I did!

What does this all mean? How shall I cope with this new fame and the much-needed fortune that is sure to follow? When will I be invited to speak about my favourite 300 hosta cultivars to the great unwashed at Canada Blooms? (I'd be happy enough to start with an intimate talk at my local public library as long as the coffee is free and the talk about slug deterrents hot and heavy!)


Not to sound uncharitable, but Sweetspot.ca had me on the wrong list.  


Without any shame or immodesty, I submit that I should had been placed among the "10 Best Downtown Toronto Gardening Blogs"!


(Update: Apparently sweetspot.ca was shut down by its new owners, Rogers Media, in May 2012 so my shot at fame was exceedingly short!)




13.4.12

Toronto blooming cherries, plums, and magnolias


Reasons to visit Mount Pleasant Cemetery in the spring


Blooming flowering Amanogawa Japanese cherry tree at Mount Pleasant Cemetery by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Prunus serrulata "Amanogawa" in bloom

When you really think about it, a cemetery is a great place to appreciate trees any time of the year. I don't find it morbid at all!

Right now, members of the Prunus genus are strutting their stuff, to mix metaphors, and since my last post "Sakura dreams: Cherry blossoms at the University of Toronto" seems popular, why not give the reading public more of what they want? My family and I spent a few hours bike riding (them) and staring at the spring blooms (me) recently on a beautiful afternoon at the cemetery. I think this beats going to the mall any day!




Prunus serrulata Amanogawa Japanese Flowering Cherry blooms by garden muses-not another Toronto garden blog
Prunus serrulata "Amanogawa"
 Japanese Flowering Cherry blooms
at Mount Pleasant Cemetery


Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto rivals any local arboretum. Many visitors jog, ride their bikes, pay their respects, and a few, like me, wander around appreciating the foliage and flowers. Spring and fall are special times to visit for the botanically-inclined.




The "Amanogawa" tree above is a memorial for this gentleman who I think, um, was a Who fan.

Food for thought: if you were to pick a memorial tree for yourself, what would it be and why?


Blooming Leonard Messel magnolia at Mount Pleasant Cemetery by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Fleeting beauty, eternal rest

Nearby, a Leonard Messel magnolia (Magnolia x loebneri "Leonard Messel")  was in full bloom.

I didn't crop out the statue and marker since the grave does reinforce the idea that the blooms, like ourselves, are only here for a short time. We might as well enjoy ourselves and others while the opportunity exists!



Weeping American plum Prunus americana in bloom at Mount Pleasant Cemetery  by  garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Smells heavenly! Prunus americana in full bloom

I don't find the Japanese flowering cherries very fragrant. This can't be said for the several weeping American plums found in the cemetery. Prunus americana has a sweet odour and the specimens here were covered by pollinators (bees and flies that are, bad pun intended, wanna-bees) hungry for nectar.



White American plum Prunus americana blossoms in detail at Mount Pleasant Cemetery by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Detail of American plum blooms 



My two kids in a flowering Japanese cherry in full bloom at Mount Pleasant Cemetery by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
My two special blossoms tucked in there

7.4.12

Sakura dreams: Cherry blossoms at the University of Toronto

Beauty and the Beast at the St. George campus 


White Prunus serrulata Japanese flowering cherry blooms by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Detail of  Prunus serrulata blooms


You would never be fooled into thinking that you were walking along the shore of Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. or in picnicking in the hanami style in Kyoto but on a crisp spring day with a brilliant blue sky in Toronto, many were marvelling at the sights and smells of 70 cherry trees with heavily laden pure white blossoms. 

And, lucky for you,  I was among them!




Fortunately for the good citizens of Toronto and few University of Toronto undergrads who notice, the Consulate General of Japan donated these and many other flowering cherry trees through the Sakura Project to grace a formerly non-descript pathway. I was on my way to Chinatown with my son for dinner when these "floating clouds" mesmerized me. Knowing how fleeting the scene is and how short-lived the blooms are, I was compelled to return and take many photos.


Allee of flowering Japanese cherries Prunus serrulata in bloom outside of Robarts Library University of Toronto St. George campus by garden muses: a Toronto gardening  blog
Side view of allee

Allee of Prunus serrulata flowering Japanese cherries in bloom outside of Robarts Library by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Looking down the allee 



The path runs diagonally and bisects two roughly triangular pieces of lawn and is beside the University of Toronto's Robarts Library. It is a perfect site for an allee but what types of trees would be suitable? As you know by now, I'm an unrepentant ornamentalist so with the usual caveats of ornamental cherries being short-lived, pest and disease magnets out of the way, of course something beautiful had to be planted!

Above is the view looking south-east. The monster library is situated on the left.


Won't this be incredible once the canopy entwines?


You can imagine that before these trees were planted, this was more or less a runway strip. You just kept your eyes on the ground and bore right through getting to class! Well, I did anyway.



Bees feeding in white Prunus serrulata Japanese flowering cherry blooms by garden muses: a Toronto gardening  blog
Hungry visitors gorging on nectar
Not only was I knocked out by the sheer number of flowers but there was a noticeable scent as well. Bees were everywhere! I wonder where their hives are amid the concrete and asphalt of downtown life?



Ornamental Japanese flowering cherry Prunus serrulata tree bark by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Amazing bark (I'm a bark guy!)

While not every tree had this example of smooth and shiny bark, I wanted to show you another beautiful and under-appreciated aspect of Prunus. This was above the graft and, in fact, all the root stocks had a dull gray matte look to their trunks.




Prunus serrulata Japanese flowering cherry tree blooms in foreground with University of Toronto Robarts Library in background by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Natural beauty vs. Neo-Brutalist architecture



This picture juxtaposes the natural ornamental foreground of the cherry branches with the library in the background. I don't know whether the students call the John P. Robarts Research Library "Fort Book" today but when I was a grad student, oh, 20 years ago, I practically lived in the stacks of this imposing and unfriendly-looking structure. 

The cherries try their best to humanize the space and for a couple of weeks out of the year, they do indeed!




Japanese flowering cherries in bloom allee by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allee with Japanese flowering cherries in bloom  


3.4.12

Spring blooms in da 'hood

Spring blooming daffodils and hyacinths in a downtown Toronto park (Paul Kane House Gardens)


Blue hyacinths in bloom by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
A little early this year but reminds me of Easter

Living in the concrete jungle that makes up my Toronto neighbourhood, I'm always looking for bursts of colour amid the urban chaos. There's so little green space around that I appreciate any effort to add colour. 

These spring bloomers are strutting their stuff across my house in the condo's front gardens. They are rather large beds for downtown and are filled with an eclectic mix of perennials and shrubs. 



Pink hyacinth in bloom by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Cluster of florets more like a ball than a cone

Maybe "eclectic" is the wrong word. The plants are typically found at big box stores. I am grateful that the whole area wasn't carpet-bombed with euonymus but since there's no strong design in the planting, I get an uneasy feeling. The beds suffer from "one plant-itis" in which one type of bulb/perennial, etc. is planted here, the same variety planted over there, and another one tucked in here. Without the massing, things look disjointed and "polka-dotty"! These hyacinths, for example, were placed one at each corner of the rectangular space! For the love of Pete, why?!

I suppose 99% of people walking by just appreciate the colour or ignore it and that's fine. But this design error distracts me all the time. (This will be a topic of another post!) I am certain that you, kind reader, don't commit such an egregious error in your gardens, lol!

The next photos were taken at the Paul Kane House gardens nearby. I profiled the flower beds in June 2011 in a post titled "Don't fence me in! (or "scared straight," horticulturally)" and noted that the plantings were "guarded" by a silly metal grate-like contraption. Well, such protection is mercifully missing this year. Would such a thing occur at Sissinghurst?!



Yellow daffodils in bloom at Paul Kane House gardens by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Bright, cheerful, yellow daffodils


Miniature yellow daffodils in bloom at Paul Kane House gardens by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Miniature daffodils with emerging poppy leaves


White daffodils in bloom at Paul Kane House gardens by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
A little overexposed but you get the idea


Blooming star magnolia magnolia stellata at Paul Kane House gardens by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Magnolia stellata: She's a star for a few weeks but what a diva!

I couldn't get a closeup on the Star magnolia flowers but this gal seems to have weathered  well the few nights of frost we had last week. Since we are 2-3 weeks early, bloom/bud-wise, this year and it's only the beginning of April, I suppose a hard frost could occur.

I mean, come on, it has snowed in April before!


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