31 March 2006

Let the plant-shopping begin!

Ah spring….March is going out, not like a lamb, but like a dustball of soft, silky, fluffy cat hair…just like the dust rhinos of cathair roaming at large in our house, as 9 ¾ cats all shed simultaneously. I vacuum, then check the vacuum cleaner bag to make sure that no one got inadvertently sucked up…and five minutes later, Mungus and Spunky or Toby Soprano and Mango Tango or Simon Q and Everyone Else get into a rumble or decide to play Critterball…and we have more new dust rhinos rumbling through.

Continuing on the theme of last time, I’m still sore, and have added a wide assortment of digs, scratches, cuts and other abrasions to the aches. Yup, the pruning of the rose jungle is well underway, coupled with the removal of last year’s spent teasels. Most roses bite, we all know, and rugosas are particularly toothy…but teasels are snarky too. Despite that, and their tendency to selfseed profusely, I love them….but live in fear that they’ll crossbreed with the goutweed in the front bed and we’ll have Teenage Mutant Ninja Triffids or something equally horrific.

Driving through New Mindless the other day, I was annoyed, but not surprised, to see the asphalt ‘garden centres’ erupting at the Big Box Bullies in that commercial wasteland. So I’m voting with my planting dollars, and don't buy plants from them regardless of what kind of spin they put on their advertisements. And I simply don’t acknowledge the bully from the US that is trampling small communities with its huge blue-signed stores…

Price isn’t everything when it comes to buying plants, or anything else. I am prepared and willing to pay more for product from locally owned and operated nurseries and garden centres where the staff actually KNOW about and love plants. Granted, the plants need to be of very good quality, and nursery operators know that and are doing their best to meet the needs of gardeners, both in having the best stock possible and in bringing in new and exciting plants that we plant people crave. Many of them are developing terrific new websites where we can browse online before we sally forth in search of Berberis thunbergii ‘Nana Aurea’ or Anagallis ‘Wildcat Blue’ or Echinacea ‘Orange Meadowbrite’…They also carry planting, pruning and gardening supplies, garden furniture, home accessories with garden themes, have seasonal shops focusing on accents for spring, summer, fall, Christmas, etc…everything we need to celebrate our home in the garden and our garden in the home.

Some of my favourite places to leave the grocery money (whoops, I mean my disposable income) don’t yet have websites, but what I’ll do is post a list of them and their phone numbers here very shortly. In addition, people have been writing to me at my Saltscapes email address, which is jodi at saltscapes.com of course, to let me know their favourites, as I can’t get everywhere or know everything. So watch for a listing of centres from around the region soon.

In the meantime, Blomidon Nurseries has launched their new web presence, and it’s looking mighty fine to me. They don’t have their 2006 plant list up yet,but I’m assured it’s on the way. Likewise, Brunswick Nurseries has a dandy new website that makes me want to jump in the car and go to Quispamsis right away…featuring the ever-delightful and very knowledgeable “Dr.” Duncan Kelbaugh, whose columns and television presence delight New Brunswick gardeners on a regular basis. And of course while I’m in New Brunswick, I’ll make my annual pilgramage to see Bob Osbourne at Cornhill Nursery, although he now has secure online ordering which means I can get my plant fix from here…though that’s not nearly as much fun, is it?

Our friends at the Hammonds Plains, Truro and Berwick garden centres operated by Springvale Nurseries will soon be open for the season and will also be launching their new website in just a couple of weeks, together with a bright and informative email newsletter, so stay tuned for more about that.

I’m looking forward to a roadtrip down the beautiful south shore of the province very soon, so I can visit my friend Alice at Ouestville Perennials as well as my fellow Aggie and friend Susan Gray at Briarwood Treasures Of course I’ll also be stopping at a host of other plant places, including Bayport Plant Farm, Cosby’s Garden Centre in Liverpool, Spencer’s in Shelburne, and hopefully a unique place called Lavender Hill, between Shelburne and Barrington I think but I can’t find a phone number for it—just know it’s off the 103. Hopefully someone can get me their contact info. And these are just a few of the places I haunt…I’ll also be leaving grocery money (whoops, don’t tell my long suffering spouse that he’ll be eating hamburger for a month!) at Lakeland Plant World just outside of Dartmouth, Hillendale Perennials in Truro, Woodlands and Meadows Perennial Nursery in Truro, West River Greenhouses in Pictou County…well, anyway, you get the picture.

And I’m really delighted to tell you all that the cream that I use year-round for all sorts of purposes, Naturally Nancy’s Protective Cream now has a sparkling new website. I wish I had shares in this family-owned business, because I LOVE Nancy’s cream…I use it on my hands, feet, elbows, face, on cuts, burns, scratches, on my spouse’s hands which are always getting cracked from working in the woods, on my riding boots and horse’s bridle…its gentle formula of beeswax and a few other natural ingredients makes it safe and most of all, highly effectice on dry skin and a variety of ailments.

I leave you all with a very good giggle…it’s official. I’m now a Mad Gardener, which comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me. Point your web browser to David Hobson’s delightful Garden Humour site, where you can join the rest of us who bolding grow where no one has groan before. Take his simple test to find out whether you too qualify as a Mad Gardener, and receive a lovely, personalized and free certificate to print out, hang on your wall and prove to your long suffering spouse what was already suspected.

If you need me for anything…I’m in the garden, pruning, weeding, or just wandering around with that beatific smile on my face. Spring may only be here for a few days, but we’ll take it!

25 March 2006

In the words of Leonard Cohen

"I ache in the places where I used to play…."

Oooouuucchhh! All the muscles in my body have decided to be mad at me, especially those in my legs, shoulders, back and arms. My fingernails are all broken off. There are splinters and scratches and digs in my hands, and there’s a distinctive stain that looks like dirt in all the creases and callouses. And what’s this??? Blisters? BLISTERS?

Yes, all these things are here. Also a bit of windburn on my face, and a distinctive sense of being overwhelmingly tired. It’s so nice to feel these things again!


Yup, nice. It’s gardening season again, and I just overdid it for the first time this year. Was working away on a presentation and the sun was beckoning me away from my office just to go out and walk around the yard for a little bit. Then that walking turned into pulling out a few weeds—some couchgrass, a few dandelions, a bit of chickweed. Oh, maybe I should cut down those dead stalks of Echinacea, centaurea, euphorbia…well, better get the rake out and clean up the mess I’m making. Can’t find my gardening gloves anywhere…must be the glove gremlins swiped them out of the greenhouse, so I’ll just grub along without them. Didn’t put any Naturally Nancy’s Protective Cream on before I went out on this unplanned gardencleaning session, so my hands aren’t only scuffed and scratched, they’re a bit dry feeling…but they’ll be fine later.

Every spring, that first session of working in the garden leaves me with that same achy-sore, but blissfully tired sensation. I’m sure many others are experiencing the same sort of thing after their first spring cleanup session too, as they massage achy muscles and use gardening scrub to clean the grit out of their skin and apply moisturizer to rejuvenate. Andwhile we all realize there will be a smelt snow and a robin snow and the poor man’s fertilizer snow and blistering cold winds and rain and sleet and more wind, we HAVE successfully broken the back of winter.

Wandering around the garden is like visiting a collection of much loved friends that we’ve not seen for ages. Here is a collection of foxgloves, mostly pink, but some pure white with only a few tiny speckles. Over here are the tiny sprouts of Fireglow Euphorbia, sort of resembling orange asparagus. All the bugleweeds are starting to shake off their pyjamas and get dressed in their spring and summer finery, shades of blue and rose and gold and burgundy. And here, pushing up through those bugleweeds are the little white darlings that caused me to dance around the yard so gleefully the other day, two dozen or so tiny snowdrops, bowing their gleaming heads under the sun’s warming rays.

This is a funny time of year, this late March, officially spring but not really. We grab days like this when the weather is warm and inviting, and we scramble around doing as much as we possibly can today, because tomorrow it could be snowing and cold and windy or grey and cold and windy…windy and cold of course being the operative words. But today it’s a day of carpe diem in the garden, so I’m carpe dieming full speed.

13 March 2006

No ducks here, we're gardeners!

This is one of those tales of woe that deserves to be shared.

One of my very favourite plants is the blue poppy, Meconopsis. It’s not the easiest plant to grow, as many of you can attest. Hands up, those who have tried and failed with the gloriously gorgeous, shimmeringly beautiful, almost too-blue-to-be-true Meconopsis?

Be honest now.

I have my hand up too.

Yes, I’ve had them grow and flower. There’s one from our garden on the cover of my book. I have one on my business card, lovingly drawn by my uncle, a talented and generous commercial artist. This was chosen intentionally, because the blue poppy IS beautiful and exciting to have in our garden—and sometimes cantankerous too, and enough to humble almost any gardener. But it can be grown, and grown well, in Atlantic Canada.

Just don’t have ducks.

I bought a package of seeds the second year we were here, determined to grow a Meconopsis for our garden. I had dreams of a whole patch of them, lovingly tended by me and my herd of helper-cats, dazzling passersby with their true blue colour so different from any other flower in the garden.

Three seeds germinated. And I coddled two seedlings along to a transplantable size that spring, although I was worried about their small size. Then one inexplicably threw a tantrum and died. There was I with one teeny tiny seedling. But it grew on, and I cosseted it in between a hundred chores and projects and other adventures.

Then one day, we were on a road trip on the south shore and went past a place that registered in my brain about five seconds after we drove by. “STOP!” I told my long suffering spouse. “Back this truck up, please!” Being the best spouse in the world, longsuffering or otherwise, he did just that.

We pulled into Bayport Plant Farm. For those of you who have never been there, GO! Bayport is awesome—the truly wonderful plant farm operated by Captain Dick Steele and his daughter Diana Steele, two of the absolute finest plant people in this country and probably the world. I was googling and ooohing and ahhhhhhing over some plants on benches that were for sale, and long suffering spouse had wandered off a ways. He came bouncing back to me, and said excitedly, “You’ve gotta come with me RIGHT NOW!”

I figured there must be a boat back there in the trees, because boats is what LSS loves the most next to me and the cats. But no….it was blue poppies. Lots of them. Many of them in flower. All nicely potted up and for sale.

We bought two, and a variety of other things. I was in heaven. We’d have blue poppies this very year, while my seedling grew on. Maybe we’d have (gasp!) seedlings from our plants? And what do you know, the climate in our windy foggy cool garden must be quite Himalayan-like, because the plants did very well.

Dear friends and gentle gardeners, we DID indeed have blue poppies, three or four flowers on each plant.

And then we had seedlings. A fuzz of little grey green, hairy seedlings, just like the three I had had from a whole package of seeds. I had also planted the one surviving seedling near the mature plants, hoping to inspire it to great deeds.

Then there were the ducks.

The year before, we had gotten three ducks, two hens and a drake, from a farmer. My dearly beloved LOVED ducks, and thought it would be fun to have some for the pond. We had a variety of challenges getting the ducks to produce ducklings initially, then Sweetie hatched out ten ducklings. They were so cute and busy and charming…

Until they grew suddenly into fullsized, somewhat voracious ducks that were given to going walkabout. One day, I chased the entire herd back up the road, as they were stampeding down the middle of the highway.

One day in late fall, they escaped from their lodging by the pond. When we found them, they were in the shade garden. The shade garden where the Meconopsis were. The shade garden that they had trampled, dug, eaten, shat in, trampled some more in their search for grubs or greens or something. Yup. Flattened those poppies flatter than a roadkilled snake.

The ducks left that day. No, we didn’t eat them. We simply loaded them into a poultry carrier and took them down the road to a fellow who had two large ponds and wanted ducks. We now admire wild ducks in our pond, and they’re fine and welcome. But no more ducks.

Happy ending, however. I got a few more young poppies a couple of years ago, and nurtured them carefully. This past June, when a plant with several crowns put up not one, but two stems of flowerbuds, we left it grow. And one week after my father died, the first flowers opened.

On Father’s Day.

10 March 2006

What do you like in your windowboxes?

Actually, I have a confession. Currently I’m without windowboxes. I have plenty of wonderful containers for outside, and some of them could be windowboxes if they were mounted on the house, but I need to cajole my dearly beloved, long-suffering spouse into building us three new ones that are all the same, and then put them up after we do some painting on the house this spring.

I love container plantings of all kinds, but the more interesting, unusual and colourful the plants, the better I like them. Ever hear of Anagallis?

It’s an annual, sometimes called Blue Pimpernel, with truly dazzling, cobalt blue flowers that close up on cloudy days or when it’s going to rain (hence another common name, Poor Man’s Weather Glass). Now there’s an equally dazzling anagallis called Wildcat Orange, and it’s awesome paired up with the blue and with something hotly magenta, and some vibrant lime-green foliage.

Are some of you shuddering? That’s okay. We all have different colour tastes, and I love to play with colour in containers, because if something doesn’t work—there’s always next year. Or I’ll just add a couple of different plants with more muted colours to tone down the mix if it doesn’t work like I anticipated it would after it’s planted. For containers, hanging baskets, windowboxes, I do like vibrant, especially in spring when we’re all hungry for something bright and cheery.

Like Sarah Raven, I like the bold and brilliant garden colours, jewel colours rather than pastels. This year, I hope to include those two anagallis, some brilliant green Bells of Ireland, and probably a hot coloured verbena in at least one planting. Hey, has anyone checked the colours on prom dresses lately?
They’re just as vibrant, with neon oranges and pinks together, or turqoise and lime green…but I think I’ll keep my colour playfulness in the garden. Thankfully I’m not likely to wear a prom dress any time in this current reincarnation.

But speaking of windowboxes, for those who belong to garden clubs in the Maritimes, there’s something fun going to happen at this year’s Saltscapes Expo. Here’s what I wrote in an email and newsletter that’s going out to clubs in our region:


"Spring is still a ways off, but those of us planning for the Saltscapes East Coast Expo know that it's coming soon. For those of you who don't know about this, Saltscapes magazine hosts an annual exhibition "Saltscapes Live" , a three day extravaganza of fun, food, activities, shopping, demonstrations and more which will be held at April 28, 29, and 30 at Exhibition Park in Halifax.

"This year, we're excited to announce that we've got a new event tailored just for gardeners. As one of my many hats, (and because I'm Saltscapes' Gardening Editor), I'm delighted to be coordinating the First Annual Saltscapes Expo Windowbox competition, which will run throughout the show at Exhibition Park.

"This competition is open to garden clubs throughout Atlantic Canada. The rules are quite simple: dress up a windowbox in any kind of live plants, bring it to the show by 7 pm on Thursday, April 27. The entry fee of 15.00 per club (one entry per club, please) will be donated to Communities in Bloom. In return for a club's entry, the club will received an autographed copy of The Atlantic Gardener's Greenbook (written by yours truly) for their club library or to use as a door prize at future meetings.

"The entries will be judged by a panel of 3 judges, who will award 1st, 2nd, 3rd and honourable mention awards. There will also be a People's Choice award, voted on by visitors to the show and awarded with other prizes on Sunday afternoon, April 30th. Prizes will include a slate plaque donated by Scotia Slate, and a prize package of items which can be used by the club in any way they wish--whether as raffle items, or door prizes, or whatever! We've already got donations rolling in, and are really excited at the support we're receiving.

"Now we're hoping for an equally excited response from the gardeners of Atlantic Canada. Please consider entering the competition: you may use any sort of windowbox you want, up to 4 feet in length (bearing in mind it has to be transported and can't be too heavy) plus any sort of plants you desire--annuals, perennials, heaths and heathers, native plants, orchids, cacti, other succulents, spring bulbs--the only limit is your imagination, and you're all gardeners so I KNOW you have imagination!! We feel this will bring more attention (and more members) to the garden clubs of Atlantic Canada, which will be a great benefit to all who share our passion for planting. "


I hope this will be well received by our clubs! The judges have already been asked and have agreed (I’m not one of them, since I’m coordinating the competition) and some prizes have already been donated by various businesses. We expect to see some neat entries to this competition—late April is a bit early for getting bedding plants, but we’ve stipulated that anything goes for plant material, whether house plants, native plants, cacti, orchids…I hope plenty of clubs take up the friendly challenge.

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