Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Wild lupines in High Park's restored oak savannah

In High Park, June 2015 – a patch of spontaneously regenerated wild lupines (Lupinus perennis)
I've seen wild lupines in Iceland and in Nova Scotia. But I had no idea that Ontario was also a habitat for this lovely legume (Lupinus perennis). Then we visited High Park this June with the Toronto Fling and learned how efforts to restore the native black oak savannah there is helping native wild lupines spontaneously regenerate. What better day to talk about this than Wildflower Wednesday!

Blue flowers get me right here (pounds heart) – how about you? To see them pushing their little blue heads up between the grasses made me very happy. We couldn't get too close, not wanting to stomp on these gentle refugees. If you want to know more about them, or are wondering why lupines are named after wolves, skip over to this link on Wild lupines from the High Park Nature Centre.

Jennifer Gibb, a natural resource specialist with the City of Toronto, walked us through a couple of sites to talk about their restoration work – successes and challenges. Until people stepped in a few years ago, High Park was being trampled by humans as well as being overrun by invasive species. The link in my first paragraph gives you a more complete story.
Wild lupines are one of the successes. The hope is that this small patch will continue to grow and expand. Watch where you step. And, please, don't pick them! If you want to try growing your own, why not order seed through Wildflower Farm.
They use various techniques to get rid of the bad guys. Covering the ground with black plastic or tarp smothers or solarizes (which, basically, means "cooks") the unwanted vegetation beneath. Still, as you can see, plants excel at finding the gaps.
Our bloggers wend their way past a giant oak tree to reach the fenced-off site where major restoration initiatives have begun, removing invaders, planting native trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants, and helping them become established.
This is just a small sample of the damage that alien oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) can do to a tree when it escapes into the wild. At its worst, it can create vast, impenetrable canopies, literally choking out and smothering native plants. Kellie Sherman of the Ontario Invasive Plant Council gave us the lowdown.
The "bittersweet" truth is that we often inadvertently introduce menaces into wild spaces, simply by making the wrong plant choices at home. Birds can spread bad seeds far and wee. Kellie talked about about the Invasive Plant Council's excellent guide Grow Me Instead! which suggests safe alternatives.

Some plants we want to spread. Some, we don't. I'm grateful for the efforts of all the people who help restore our lost native habitats and species. That could even be the efforts of you and me!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

For when the rain barrel's empty

This brass Y spigot with the ball-valve shut-offs is very easy to operate
My heart broke last week when – as temperatures dropped – I had to empty three full rain barrels. It seemed sinful, somehow. A long section of hose on the spigot, backed up by a watering can, let me spot water the garden as they emptied. But some water simply had to run down the driveway.

(Picture a sad-face emoji here.)

The value of rain barrels depends so much on when the rain comes – or if. Empty rain barrels can't water a garden. As I wrote earlier this month, we often had half our usual precipitation in 2015. While techniques like mulching can conserve water, when there's no rain you need backup.

So I'm thankful I have Mr. TG, who loves solving problems. A few years ago, he rigged me up an easy-to-use watering system, the backbone of which is the two-spigot tap above from Lee Valley. I'm inclined to agree with their catalog when they call it the "best shut-off valves ever." Trust me on this, we got them using real cash money (and have invested in more since), and I say "I love you" every time I use them. Much easier than those wee wedge turn-offs, these levers have leverage!

Aqua-Dynamics quarter-turn shut off
The main shut-off valve (the one that once was red) is a smaller version of the same type of ball-valve system Lee Valley uses – a quarter-turn tap from Aqua-Dynamics (purchased from Rona or Home Depot), which fits better into the tight space at the top.

One side of the Y goes to a soaker hose and gets turned on in emergencies. The other side waters my vegetable containers. Over 2015's hot, dry July, that became pretty much daily.

I'll be writing about more of my watering favourites later. Meanwhile, I'd love to hear what you do in your garden when your rain barrels are empty.

Monday, November 23, 2015

My Luscious Backyard foraged wreath workshop

Hopefully, the wreath I end up making will be as beautiful as this one by Sarah Nixon
By sheer serendipity, the day after posting my story about Sarah Nixon and My Luscious Backyard, an email landed in my inbox announcing Sarah's December 5th workshop on making a foraged wreath. I jumped at the chance. So now I'm thankful to be one of only 10 spots in the workshop. Act quickly, and you might be, too!

Or, if you miss out, why not order one of Sarah's charming foraged twig wreaths like those seen in Canadian Gardening last winter – info through the workshop link above.

By the way, I might just hint to Mr. TG that a floral subscription would be a great gift for my birthday next fall – a way to stretch out a gift delightfully over a couple of months. Hint hint. Hint.

Okay, I'm a fan girl.

P.S. I'd be very grateful. Hint hint.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

My Luscious Backyard, Parkdale's own farmer florist

Quaint, quirky and sometimes queenly, this is Toronto's Parkdale neighbourhood, home to My Luscious Backyard
Yesterday, I wrote about a cool art piece we noticed in Parkdale. Today, I'm writing about what we were in Parkdale for – to visit Sarah Nixon of My Luscious Backyard. Sarah's an urban flower farmer with a novel way to yard share, and we wanted our Toronto Flingers to know about it.

Nixon finds local homeowners who'll let her plant and tend flowers in their front yards (in 2015, she had 10 of them). Then she harvests those flowers through the season and arranges them in vases and bouquets – sold by weekly subscription or special order, for clients from businesses to brides.

Everyone wins with this (forgive me) arrangement. The homeowner gets a beautiful, maintenance-free garden; My Luscious Backyard harvests from a distributed "slow flowers" urban farm made of micro-plots, within a few blocks of home; clients get hard-to-find, farm-fresh flowers.

Ours was the first of three small busloads of bloggers, and Sarah Nixon welcomed us from her back porch. We were charmed by her daughter, who peeped out to make sure we behaved.
As Nixon explained her business, we checked out her plant propagation area. She starts all her own seed indoors in a heated shed over late winter and early spring, then hardens them off in the collapsible greenhouses in her back garden.
You can see the diversity of plants she grows – 100+ species or varieties. Producing them can be challenging. In 2015, for example, she told us how the extra-cool spring had her hauling plants back indoors after having set them out to harden.
It isn't only seed in My Luscious Backyard. Isn't this a smart way to label dahlias?
Nixon's back yard also produces perennials like these Baptisia and peonies, as well as (not seen) roses for both flowers and decorative hips, large-flowered clematis, and shrubs such as colourful ninebark (Physocarpus) which she likes to use for foliage. She squeezes a lot into her small space.
After explaining how My Luscious Backyard works, as we poked around, Nixon gave us a quick demo of how she creates a typical arrangement. The vase is from her collection of vintage milk glass. No nasty floral foam required.
She gave us good tips to take home, and this was a time when I wish I'd had a notepad in my hands instead of a camera. Peonies, for instance, are best harvested before fully opened when at the springy "marshmallow" stage. That image handily stuck in my brain. Nixon always conditions her stems to prolong the life of the foliage and flowers.
Starting with the foliage stems, to hold everything in place, she worked quickly, and soon produced this lovely arrangement. The trailing stem of clematis vine and its flowers was the finishing touch. Then we all uprooted on foot to go see one of her clients' gardens nearby.
There were sights and delights on the way that made some of us dawdle. Are you looking at me?
You are looking at me.
Soon, we were around the corner to see a newly planted garden in early June. I think I recall her planting method as this: after clearing the site of major weeds or grasses, she lays down landscape cloth and puts all new soil on top – something I would never do in a perennial garden. But these are annuals, remember. The garden will be renewed every year – and likely the landscape cloth along with it. And, of course, I could have dreamed the whole thing. One thing for sure: she plants each seedling in a little well to capture rainwater, which is a good way to conserve watering and further these babies along.
After that, we loaded back onto the bus for our next stop – with a few distractions along the way.
I'll admit to having had misgivings about how we'd manage to shoehorn 70 bloggers into Sarah's tiny back garden. Yet, with the high-precision bus scheduling of fellow Toronto Fling committee member Lorraine Flanigan of CityGardening, manage we did (or for the most part; the last bus ran short on time and missed the demo). For this I send Lorraine my undying admiration and all of our thanks. It was a treat to show off this Toronto urban agriculture biz to our guests from far and wide.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Milkweedy curbside art in Parkdale

Thankful to be passing by, and spotted this little art piece by the sidewalk in someone's garden
Think of this as an Almost-Wordless* Wednesday-on-Saturday. Love the use of milkweed seed here.

Gratitude to the internet and search engines for satisfying my curiosity: The fluffy, parachute-like structure at the top of the milkweed seed, or achene, is called a pappus. A good word for Scrabble.

And thanks again to the web for finding this article from Forager's Harvest, talking at length about milkweed. The immature silk can be a good substitute for cheese – as well as fine art. Who knew?

(*Confession: I am almost-never almost-wordless. As you can see. Happy Saturday.)