January 31, 2012

The Curious Gardener | book review | Anna Pavord

“The point of gardening is the doing of it, not having got it done. It’s the process that matters, though it is of course directed towards an end result. It’s rare now for people to stay in the same place for generation after generation…In your garden, you can take a stand against the prevailing trashy mood of the time.” (p. 152)

Front cover of the curious gardener book by anna pavord by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Source: Amazon

Anna Pavord’s The Curious Gardener—A Year in the Garden (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010) contains such advice that all gardeners can heed. The book is a collection of articles covering diverse topics like organic farming, some famous and perhaps not so famous gardens, garden pests, and the author’s own battle with cancer. The book is structured, as the title implies, into twelve chapters for the corresponding months of the year. At the beginning of the chapter, there is a beautifully rendered wood engraving by Howard Phipps. There’s  a “tasks for the month” summary of general garden maintenance and specific suggestions for  looking after vegetable and fruit crops at the end of each “month”. (It should be noted that the author is the gardening correspondent for the British Independent and writes for her audience in the relatively balmy climes of England. North American hardiness zones and microclimates will likely adjust her suggestions.)
Such advice is there for those looking for it but I enjoyed more her recollections of garden visits to Villa Lante and Lotusland in Italy and California respectively and her often wry commentary on “modern” gardening ala HGTV. When she ponders our preoccupation with gas powered garden equipment and asks

“Do I want a gas-driven weed wizard, with a butane gas cylinder fastened to a long handle? Fire up the flame.  Burn off the weed. No, I don’t. The thought of it makes me sick. Not because I have sympathy for the weed (I’m battling against them all the time) but because the method speaks of industrial estates, ugliness, harsh environments, techniques from a factory world that have nothing to do with the world I am trying to pull together round me in my garden. (p. 182)

I actually nodded in agreement!

The Curious Gardener is part organic gardening 101, travelogue (visits to Corsica and Costa Rica), and personal diary written in an easy-going  and not overly-"instructional" manner. Her observations and gentle rants are painfully funny and sobering at times, skewering designer mulch, “wizard” tools, and a certain New York city florist. But she reminds us that in life, as in our gardens, there is hope:

“If the mood now is instant, disposable, then our gardens can become places where the opposite things are going on. We should be planting slow, steady, sustaining things. In the garden at least, if in no other part of our lives, we can dream a future.” (p. 152)

I recommend taking the time to read The Curious Gardener  over these next winter months. Has anyone else read it and what did you think of it?

A book review of Anna Pavord's "The Curious Gardener" by Paul Jung, owner of a Toronto organic and ecological gardening services company.
Published by: Bloomsbury UK
Date published: 10/11/2011
ISBN: 978-1408810064
Available in Paperback

Garden muses-a Toronto gardening blog by Paul Jung
The Curious Gardener is part organic gardening 101, travelogue (visits to Corsica and Costa Rica), and personal diary written in an easy-going and not overly-"instructional" manner. Her observations and gentle rants are painfully funny and sobering at times, skewering designer mulch, “wizard” tools, and a certain New York city florist.
The Curious Gardener
Date published: 10/11/2011
4 / 5 stars

January 22, 2012

Fantastic Turks and Caicos flowers and foliage!

It's a long way from Toronto to the Turks and Caicos

Think of warm tropical winds swirling around you...Well, back to reality. We're deeply embedded in winter and although it hasn't been too bad at all in Toronto in terms of bone-numbing cold and monster snow piles, I'm still counting the days until April. There's only so much white and brown I can take in the current landscape!

I think anyone can use some colour right now so fire up that space heater, angle that floor lamp, slather on some sunscreen,  prepare some margaritas and dream a little...

Dwarf Poinciana Caelsalpinia pulcherrima Turks Caicos by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Dwarf Poinciana (Caelsalpinia pulcherrima
Gorgeous red, orange and yellows. 
The stamens remind me of eyelashes!

As a harmless diversion and a denial of January in Toronto, here are some pictures of the floral around the Beaches resort in Turks and Caicos. The family visited T and C in November 2009 and had a great time. Of course, I had to shoot some photos of some of the plants in this Caribbean zone. I guess we'd consider them as houseplants or tender annuals so I was marvelling at the fact that they would be thriving all year outside. No lugging these babies in every fall!

Dwarf Poinciana
(Caelsalpinia pulcherrima) shrub 

Red Ixora coccinea Jungle Flame blooms Turks Caicos by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
 Red Ixora coccinea  (Jungle Flame) blooms 

Turks and Caicos giant pink hibiscus by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Big ole hibiscus, nothing subtle!

Tradescantia spathacea dwarf Boat lily Turks Caicos by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
One of my favourites, all texture and colour
Tradescantia spathacea (dwarf Boat lily)

Red bougainvillea bracts white flowers Turks Caicos by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Red bougainvillea bracts with white flowers 

White plumeria alba frangipani Turks Caicos by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
White plumeria alba (Frangipani)

Turks and Caicos pink plumeria flowers by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Kind of a pinwheel, the petals' edging is cupped
 and different on these plumeria

White crinum lily asiaticum Turks Caicos by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
White crinum lily
(Crinum asiaticum) 

January 15, 2012

Evergreen Brick Works

A resource for organic and ecological gardening in Toronto

Evergreen Brick Works sign by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog

The Evergreen Brick works (EBW) is a renovated site formerly known as the Don Valley Brick Works. The old site closed in the 1980s and became neglected and dilapitated. Now it is “a vibrant public space featuring a weekly local farmers’ market and retail garden market; a dynamic “living” lab where environmental innovators and companies can share ideas and emergent clean technologies; and a “hands-in-the-dirt” learning space for youth and adults alike”

Source: EBW pamphlet “Explore.  Discover. Play” 2012

My family visited the EB recently. Here are some of the highlights:

Evergreen Brick Works ice rink at Koerner Gardens by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Anticipation at Koerner Gardens

The ice rink in Koerner Gardens was full of skaters enjoying a crisp winter afternoon. We got there just as the zamboni was cleaning up the surface. (Ever wonder why this machine is called a “ zamboni”?  Look at this link: http://www.zamboni.com/)

Evergreen Brick Works ice rink rafters by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog

I like this shot of the old roof rafters, beams and ties against the brilliant blue sky. The geometry of the triangles and rectangles is interesting, throwing shadows on the rink.

Evergreen Brick Works giant coneflower on a building wall  by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Echinacea purpurea "Humongous"

At the Chimney Court  Outdoor Play and Learning Centre, this mega coneflower was fixed to the exterior wall. It’s very realistic, with the crinkled petals and spiky centre. Even the shade of purple/pink is close to the real Echinacea purpurea. Can you imagine a meadow punctuated with these huge models?

Evergreen Brick Works metal raised beds by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Wouldn't lick this right now!

Near the coneflower there were many raised garden beds and containers. Of course, all the plants have died or are dormant so the containers’ form and design are more prominent. I associated these metal (aluminum?) containers with stacked and welded window wells used to protect basements from flooding via below-grade windows. I suppose they’re “edgy” looking but any overwinter perennials will have a much tougher time surviving the colder root zone. Of course, if annual veggies are grown, this point is irrelevant. You won’t have to lug these guys into the house as they won’t crack like terra-cotta ones.

Evergreen Brickworks lookout point overseeing Don Valley by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog

We hiked up to a lookout point to see a birds-eye view of the old quarry excavated during the brick- making times. Plants and animals have returned to, what I imagine, a once scarred and empty pit. The white areas are the frozen ponds with a trail looping around. At this time of the year, the landscape is muted. Too bad we don’t have more snow for a prettier landscape.

Evergreen Brickworks winter sumac by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Come here, my pretty....
On the way to the top, I noticed a patch of sumac. The branching reminds me of many scary claws with wicked fingers, reaching out to nab unsuspecting passer-bys. There's beauty and wonder in a plant's structure, only if you are open to see it.

Evergeen Brick Works garden center organic seed packets by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Ready, set, germinate!

The retail garden centre stocks many native shrubs and perennials so it would be worth a new trip in the spring to see the selection it has. For now, we saw these organic veggie and herb seeds for sale. Should sow many of these within several months!

We lasted only a few hours as the cold set in. It was a very pleasant way of spending some hours learning about a re-purposed landscape that embraces its history. We see the site every time we drive up and down Toronto's main north-south highway and now we know a little more about the area.

The EBW also features a farmers’ market open every Saturday morning, a cafe, skating rentals, and a bike maintenance area. There's a free shuttle bus from outside of the Broadview subway, which is noteworthy as parking (while ample) is not free.

For more information, visit http://ebw.evergreen.ca/

January 07, 2012

Dem bones....

Are good bones in the garden

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.
Now hear the word of the Lord.

Toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the leg bone
Leg bone connected to the knee bone...
(African-American spiritual)

Winter is somewhat here in Toronto, although the lack of snowfall is disturbing and incongruous. The garden's structure (made up of plants and "hardscape") is upfront and obvious. Any and all design faults and omissions are out in the open. Conversely, thoughtful design is also clearly seen. The lack of garden flesh (foliage and flowers) forces the visitor to see the "bones" of the site: paths, fencing, statues, walls, etc. Things you don't really notice/appreciate in the throes of May blooms or October blazing foliage are, for me, uncomfortably visible.

I really don't mind showing my garden's shortcomings so let's go!

Excuse the mess, looking towards the garage

The paths' material was originally rose-pinkish coloured crushed granite that somewhat matched the cheapie 2' x 2' patio pavers in colour. 2" by 12"s were supposed to contain the gravel and they have over the years. Somehow, that ton of rock vanished and the paths are more muddy than anything else. They are messy to walk on and look lousy.  I've considered laying down interlocking pavers, random flagstone, or stained pressure-treated 2" x 4"s. The garden is composed of predominantly rectangles since it is a narrow and long "L" shaped site.

What would you do with regards to paving?  

Excuse the mess on the left. It's my storage area for the plastic pots and stands for the plants I sell. It's literally "out of sight, out of mind" with this area until spring.

Looking still towards the garage, further back

This path connects the above garage door path (background) to the patio (foreground). It's also muddy and visually unattractive. I'm leaning towards decking with stained cedar 2' x 4"s this spring. My backyard is a narrow "L" so the beds, deck and paths are rectangular to maximize usage. I'm happy with the layout but the materials need to be updated.

The white lattice must go! I repeat, the...

My wife and I were young and naive in the ways of horticulture and garden design when we moved in about 20 years ago. How else can I explain the use of the white lattice? (Maybe Home Depot had a clearance on these things, I forget.) We tried to grow English Ivy (!) up the back wall but a particularly harsh winter killed the vines luckily. The pre-fab white lattice has got to go, although I still like the blue colour as it brightens an area that rarely receives direct sunlight. The raised bed is "boxed" in by PT 6" x 6"s which are still in good shape. Ideally, I'd like to have a dry stacked wall using fieldstone as a facade. One day, one day.....

The main trees are two kousa dogwoods and one large "Ivory Silk" Japanese Tree Lilac while the largest shrubs include arrowwood viburnum, a witchhazel and 3 purple-leaf sandcherry standards recently pruned very hard due to scale infestation. I will add a border of boxwood for more winter interest which two small yews somewhat add to.

Japanese tree lilac Syring reticulata Ivory Silk bark detail by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Detail of Japanese Tree Lilac bark

The Syringa reticulata "Ivory Silk" has exceeded my expectations. It has tripled in height in about 7 years from a modest container-grown specimen. It still maintains a vase-shaped crown but should widen out as the years progress. A common criticism is that this tree is over-used but do we really need more "Crimson King" Norway Maples? It has given me zero maintenance issues and the bark is becoming more attractive every season. 

To the left is a closeup. My tree is much greyer than other JTLs which have more of a dark brown colour. But it flowers faithfully every late May/early June with about a dozen cream clusters of heady/stinky privet-smelling flowers. My wife hates the odour but a chacun son gout! (Sorry, I'm too lazy to figure out the proper letters with French accents on this keyboard but there is one on the first a and last u.)

Upon further reflection, the bones aren't so bad. Some relatively inexpensive tweaking this spring seems to be in order!