March 29, 2013

Happy 2nd Birthday to "garden muses"!

This Toronto gardening blog turns 2!

A big wet kiss goes out to all my readers who, I hope, have enjoyed reading my "garden muses" blog as much as I've writing it over the past year. If you're not open to the kiss, then enjoy a piece of my birthday muffin vicariously:

Happy birthday muffin for garden muses: Toronto gardening blog's second birthday!
Two years and counting....

Keep visiting: I really don't know where my posts will take me!

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

March 27, 2013

Allan Gardens Conservatory 2013 Easter Flower Show | part one

Well, at least it's blooming here in Toronto!

Inside of course. 

Winter is sloooowly leaving us and we may reach double digit (Celsius) temperatures next week. I'm seeing a flood of florist mophead hydrangeas in supermarkets and  hardware stores in blue, pink, white and variations. Easter is around the corner so Easter lilies are ubiquitous as well. Outside, tips of tulips, crocus and daffodils are poking up.

The Allan Gardens Conservatory in Toronto exhibits five types of flower shows each year, free of charge. Since the focus is on plants (annuals and tropicals) and not interlocking brick or McMansion boulder arrangements, I wonder why anyone would rather go to Canada Blooms than this inner-city horticultural jewel. True, the area is kind of sketchy (nice Harveys down the street, wink!) and the city staff don't make eye contact with you but you're there for the plants, not to be accosted by hot tub and hot sauce salespeople.

I digress.

During my visit today, the mass plantings of tender hydrangeas and Easter lilies were not fully in bloom yet so I'll have to go back in a week or so. In the meantime, please enjoy these pictures of  hydrangeas, daffodils, cyclamen and a blooming rhodo.

Wishing you a happy Easter for those who celebrate (and a good long weekend for those who don't!)

Allan Gardens Conservatory Easter Flower Show 2013 blue hydrangeas variegated ivy by garden muses: Toronto gardening blog
Variegated lacecaps, blue mopheads and variegated English ivy

March 24, 2013

Orchid Fever | book review | Eric Hansen

A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust, and Lunacy

Book cover of Eric Hansen's "Orchid Fever" from

There is something distinctive about the sight and sound of a human body falling from the rain forest canopy (p.  4.)

After reading this first sentence of Eric Hansen’s Orchid Fever: A Horticultural Tale of Love. Lust, and Lunacy,  you get the feeling that this book isn’t just a “how-to” instruction manual on orchid identification and care. Orchid Fever does go over how growers look after their prized possessions  but Hansen is much more interested on how orchids affect collectors, growers, judges, “smugglers”, and seemingly normal people in bizarre, humourous, and, at times, tragic ways. In other words, how “orchid people” inevitably get the fever.

March 16, 2013

Toronto gardeners in the zone

Plant hardiness zones can answer the question "Will this plant survive in my garden?"

You’re in the garden center and see this plant that is begging to jump on your cart. You know that there’s a little label stuck somewhere in or on the pot outlining the plant’s common name,  botanical name (who cares!), and whether it “likes” sun, shade, or something in between. Then you see something along the lines that your new baby is “recommended for zone 6/5/4/3” and you wonder “what is this zone nonsense?”

To help growers of crops and ornamental plants, American Canadian agricultural authorities have divided and colour-coded the country up into climatic zones in which certain plants are assumed to be able to survive. Here's the Canadian plant hardiness map produced by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada:

Canadian plant hardiness zones map
Plant Hardiness Zones of Canada

Survival factors include the area’s  historical (typical) minimum winter temperatures, number of warm days per year, number of sunshine hours per year, soil type, volume and persistence of snow cover, and wind velocity and direction.  A plant’s “hardiness” (ability to survive) is then given a zone designation and corresponding number and map location  in  which experts believe a certain plant should survive in. The higher the number, the higher the minimum winter temperatures (and conversely, the lower the zone, the lower the expected minimum winter temperatures.)

The Toronto area is rated, using the Canadian system, in the 6 zone (American zone 5) so you should feel secure buying and planting perennials, shrubs and trees with a rating of 5 or lower. (Most annuals, herbs and vegetables we grow in the GTA don’t have a zone rating or a rating that is 8 or higher. This means that they will not survive a typical Toronto outside.)

Well, so what?

Remember that these zones were created by plant scientists (i.e. humans) so they’re really best guesses about a plant’s survival in a specific geographic area, all things being equal. Of course, all things not being equal, don’t be shocked that a perennial labeled for zone 4 doesn’t make through a particularly harsh winter or that a “tender” plant somehow does. A deep and persistent layer of snow really “pushes” the zone higher for many perennials and shrubs in our area.

Zone designations are not perfect (because the folks who dream them up are not, just saying) but instead give you a good, quick and easy to understand (hopefully) indication whether that expensive and trendy plant you just need to buy before your neighbor does will likely live and thrive. Zones are more like probabilities not absolutes.

For me, it’s better to think of growing plants in Toronto (or your particular area) within a range of zones that can be taken advantage of (“pushing the zone”) if you want to work extra in creating “less harsh” growing conditions by covering plants up for the winter, growing them along a south facing wall for us in the northern hemisphere or covering them with an extra deep layer of leaves in the fall to act as a protective mulch. Or you can be conservative, not get involved with all this pampering, and stick with plants with 3 or 4 designations. Boring, yes, but less heartache and pain on the credit card.

Toronto gardeners love to push the zone, earning bragging rights, and occasionally pushing back against their Vancouver/Victoria cousins. You can too but just remember that when it comes to a number on a label called the “hardiness zone”, plants will die (and thrive), zones be damned!

March 09, 2013

Sex and manure: the missing link now revealed

Why this Toronto gardener won't think about composting the same way

File this post under, literally, scatalogical humour or simply, WTF, but this is a gardening blog after all and an irreverent one at that. (There are way too many how-to-grow-this-plant blogs out there. I refuse to add to the tedium.) Anyway, I can't make this stuff up.

I'm a big fan of composting: either doing it yourself in your backyard with some sort of contraption (bin, pit, pile, whatever you have handy) or diverting your organic green waste via the municipality's recycling program (if offered in your area.) So it was with a tinge of curiosity, disapproval and arousal that I re-discovered about the benefits of composting offered in the calendar (and video!) below:

March 03, 2013

The 2013 Perennial Plant of the Year™ is....

Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ (Variegated Solomon's Seal)

It took me 2 months to get this out to you, loyal reader, but the Perennial Plant Association (which determines these kind of things and actually trademarked that designation) has listed the "winner" for this year:

Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’  Japanese Solomon’s Seal
Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’
(Japanese Solomon’s Seal)