Excellent weather for my first garden consult of the year tonight. -24oC (-11oF) and almost zero visibility due to falling snow! LOL!
I'm working on a Parents and Kids gardening workshop for the Calgary Horticultural Society. Currently the plan is a 2-hour workshop for a 6-8 year old accompanied by a parent. This is totally exciting to me but also a little petrifying - my experience with gardening with kids comes only from my own family and a few friends. I've never worked with a larger group before!
If you were attending such a workshop, what would you and your child be interested in learning/doing?
This post also reminds me of a few links that friend/reader Paula sent me a while ago and I keep forgetting to post. They are for great (adult and/or kid) projects that could be done at home:
If you would like a beautiful and kid-friendly garden that nourishes your body and soul, view My Services for consultation details.
When I first started this blog my intention was to post timely, regular advice for how to do everything in the garden. What a silly idea! I quickly realized I didn't have time and there are plenty of other full-time garden writers and horticulturalists putting out great how-to information on the web. I'm just a little part-timer who does this for fun. So this blog has turned into more of a record of what I'm doing in my own garden and garden coaching business, which I try to write in a way that will inform others who may need a little online help or who want to exchange advice.
The biggest problem with 'how-to' and plant information on the web is that it may not be written for a Calgary gardener's context. Our timelines are different, our soil and climate conditions are different (understatement of the year!) and many of those beautiful plants you see recommended out there just don't grow here.
So instead, I've decided to highlight some of the great posts I've read from other sources each month, with a few comments about their usefulness and applicability. Here they are for February!
Blogs and Blooms:
The Garden Professors
The Home Outside
Garden Designers Roundtable
Wow! 2 calls this week for consults and 2 more for upcoming talks. This is the earliest in the year I've ever started receiving calls for garden coaching. Glad to know I'm not the only one thinking about spring!
Have a great long week-end everyone!
After I posted that series of pictures of how my front Welcome Garden looked in 2010, I felt very dissatisfied. In fact, I almost didn't post them! Yes, I was sure to use caveats such as "this is a work in progress", this is an "experimental garden", "I don't baby this garden" and "this is only its second season and it still needs to fill in", but still, I felt this garden is not all it could be or should be. Time to plan a renovation!
Above: I'm actually fairly happy with the garden area close to the sidewalk, although it does need another couple of years to fill in. However, the area in the centre of the yard and directly in front of the steps needs help. Big time.
I actually consider it to be a skill to view a garden and be able to see what it will look like in a couple of years. This prevents you from planting too many plants too closely and then having to move them all in a couple of years when they reach a more mature size. (This is a skill you don't learn in a couple of hours BTW, but it comes with experience or a garden coach can help you with that if you are planning or renovating a garden.) But in my own garden this sometimes makes me a little blind to what the garden really looks like RIGHT NOW. I tend to view it through rose-coloured glasses which make all the plants look like the full-sized, lush, healthy specimens that I expect them to be in a few years. Photos on the other hand, or at least my photos which I didn't crop or alter, show the naked truth. This garden lacks an overall plan.
To be fair, I am dealing with someone else's mistakes (planting 5 large spruce trees in a small front yard? What were they thinking?) And I'm also developing the garden myself on a very limited budget of time and money - this includes the tree-removal budget! But parts of the front yard developed in stages over the last 7 years with no real plan and it kinda shows.
Above: I first broke ground almost 7 years ago with this small bed. I needed a place to plunk plants that I was bringing from my old house. Over the years some things have survived and some have not thanks to the competition from surrounding spruce trees and my general if-the-plant-doesn't-grow-with-minimum-care-it-doesn't-deserve-to-be-in-my-garden attitude.
But really, I can't look at those pictures of my front garden without cringing. Time to add structure! Time to add a more formal layout! Time to add focal points! Or, at least, plan for them (as this year will be the year of the pergola, hubby has promised!) It is my hope that if I have a plan that won't be implemented until 2012 then at least this year I won't waste a lot of time and money doing things in this garden area that will just get undone later.
Here's one possibility for a new front yard garden design. It is the front yard in plan view with the house at the top. This design actually doesn't make any major changes to the front area near the sidewalk, but adds an open, patio area at the base of the stairs (the width of the sidewalk where it meets the stairs is currently too narrow), as well as a second, circular open area, mulched for low maintenance, with some extra interest using buried timbers (or possibly brick?) in a radial pattern and a birdbath as a focal point. The existing sidewalk will be edged in the same cobblestone and the concrete will be stained to match. This is a minimal cost design as it makes use of most of the existing sidewalk and only requires a fairly small amount of new cobblestones.
This is just a rough sketch, not to scale and showing minimal planting detail (but I promise you, there will be no grass!) But for my own purposes I'm just trying out different layouts before I spend too much time on designing plantings. I'd like to get out there and outline this layout with a couple of hoses in situ and really be able to visualize what it would look like. Suddenly I can't wait for the snow to melt!
Here's a photo of a neighbour's upgraded regular concrete sidewalk that inspired me to re-use the existing concrete sidewalk.
From the archives:
If you would like unique, DIY solutions to create your urban paradise, view My Services for consultation details.
I know we have many more weeks of winter left but I'm starting to let myself feel just a wee bit excited for spring! Normally this time of year I pull out my old magazines, go to the library and stock up on gardening books, and just stare and stare at pictures to get my colour fix. This year I also added a little floral to the indoors to satisfy my cravings.
The bay window in the kids' play room has had plain blue curtains in it for years. In the interest of reducing/reusing/recycling, I didn't want to get all new fabric but I wanted to dress them up. So I made felt flowers with ric-rac stems and sewed them on. I also lined the curtains and hemmed them. Actually, I started this project one year ago and finally got around to finishing them last week! If I'd taken the time in advance to think about how long these were actually going to take, I probably would never have done them. But anyway, they're done! And here's the view with the curtains open as well!
... and some new punchy floral fabric I happened to notice at the fabric store made a nice runner for the buffet in the dining room and pillows for the sofa. The fabric just happens to have all my favourite colours in it. (Yes, I know it's a dowdy sofa but I'm holding out for another year or two until the kids are past sofa-jumping age!)
What are you doing to stay sane these days?
From the archives:
I'm starting to gear up for spring these days with lots of garden renovation plans, seed starting, and more frequent blogging. And then I remembered I hadn't told you about my worms yet. Would you think I'm crazy if I told you I got myself a worm composter for Christmas?
I've already admitted to stealing bags of leaves in the early mornings, so now I'm admitting to housing worms in my basement. Seems entirely reasonable to me! I'm sure most gardeners would agree, although my mother-in-law, a fellow gardener, was pretty squeamish about it when I told her.
As the saying goes, "feed the soil and the soil will feed the plants." Good soil is the key to healthy and productive plants and a handful of worm castings can do wonders. Basically, it adds biology to the soil - it adds microbes which are what extract nutrients from organic materials (dead plant material) and incorporate them into the soil to be available to plants.
I plan to use my worm castings primarily to top dress my house plants and vegetable gardens. They could also be added to the perennial gardens and/or lawn - even just a scattering helps. Unfortunately, I won't have enough to go around so the edible gardens will be the highest priority.
A worm composter is a great science project for kids - my three-year-old especially likes to help feed them. We feed them a couple of cups of chopped up kitchen vegetable waste a couple times a week, and that's about all the work it takes until it's time to harvest the compost (can you "harvest" compost? you know what I mean!) And there's no smell or mess, honest! In fact, my bin smells quite sweet.
One tip a friend gave me is to freeze and then thaw the scraps (especially fruit) before adding them to your bin in order to kill off potential fruit flies. I do have another friend who's had fruit fly infestations in her worm bin so I consider that very good advice!
Here's the latest news letter from the Calgary Horticultural Society (you can also receive updates if you're not a member by joining their facebook page.)
I think you have to be a CHS member (well worth it for many other reasons!) to take advantage of the first two events, but Seedy Saturday is open to everyone.
FILM NIGHT: "The Dirt" The Movie February 11th
Inspired by William Bryant Logan’s acclaimed book Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, Dirt! you are invited to see a story with "Heart and Soil" followed by discussion and dessert
When: Friday, February 11th
Free parking at Balmoral School, behind the Hall
Learn Everything there is to know about seeds from catalogues, seed packets, seed techniques and more!
Presented by avid gardeners of the Calgary Horticultural Society:
An event sponsored by:
Mark your calenders for the kick off event of the 2011 season.
When: Saturday, March 19th
A family event with tables, displays, presentations, Kid's Corner, refreshments, and of course plenty of seeds from open-pollinated varieties of vegetables, fruits, flowers and grains.
Supported By: Calgary Horticultural Society-Community Garden Resource Network
For more information or to volunteer check the Seedy Saturday website:
painted sage, cleome and alpine strawberry seeds planted as of Feb 7.
Ah, it feels good to be playing in dirt again! (OK, growing mix is not real dirt but let's not get technical at this point...)
from the archives:
If you would like a beautiful and successful garden that nourishes body and soul, view My Services for consultation details.
I did it. I finally did it. I'm not sure what possessed me to spend hours trying to figure the linking and importing and feeding issues out... but it finally worked. (OK, so keeping up with technology is not my specialty!)
Anyway, you'll now notice you can "like" this blog (link on left) or "like" individual posts. I also have a facebook page (search for Calgary Garden Coach on FB) and you can follow me directly there if you prefer.
In the last of this series showing different areas of my gardens-in-progress over the 2010 season, here is the front Welcome Garden. After removing a large spruce tree near the front steps in February of 2010 (but don't worry, there are still 4 left!), the garden has opened up a little. This yard is east-facing so closer to the sidewalk is fairly sunny, but closer to the house is shady and very dry due to - the bane of my existence - all the spruce tree roots.
I do not baby this area so I only grow very tough, drought-tolerant plants here. It is also a bit of an experimental area just to see what will do well in these fairly harsh conditions. I keep adding more and more ornamental grasses each year and I'm starting to think of naming my garden "Spruce Meadows." Whaddya think?
Above: by mid-June the grape hyacinths, euphorbia and ornamental alliums are in bloom. Mental note to plant many more hyacinths - they multiply over time and add great spring colour - the hares seem to leave them alone too (unlike tulips!) I think some smaller varieties of ornamental onions would be nice, too. Please note that the area on the left was all new only last year so it is only just starting to fill in. You will also notice that in June I was in the process of mulching the front garden with cedar bark mulch. It's half-finished in this photo. I'm not that happy with the look but fortunately, the colour will darken over time. Also, I was also about to start painting the house trim white to match the new windows when this picture was taken... I still have to finish the back this year!
Above: these photos taken later in June show close-ups of bearded iris, nepeta (catmint) 'Walker's Low', ornamental alliums, shasta daisies, sedum kamtschaticum and achillea 'Moonshine' (which was blooming early because I had just purchased it and planted it that spring.)
Above: close-ups of spirea 'Goldflame', veronica spicata 'Sunny Border Blue', shasta daisies, campanula glomerata, achillea 'Moonshine', nepeta, some asiatic lilies, and deschampsia (tufted hair grass.) In the top right picture of this collage you will notice some wee little blue fescue plugs I planted last spring - they are planted in an alternating pattern on either side of the front walk and will provide some great texture and continuity once they get bigger (describing the garden is always about how much better it will look in a year or two, isn't it?)
Above: by mid-August, the nepeta is still blooming (love this plant!) plus a few shasta daisies. Also blooming now are the asiatic lilies, daylilies, echinacea, older achillea 'Moonshine', ornamental grasses and teasel. I've added some Dart's Gold ninebark shrubs in front of the spruce tree on the left for more colour, I finished getting rid of the lawn grass once and for all, and if you look closely there's a mound of dirt by the steps where I'm gradually getting things fixed up after the tree removal. Like I keep saying, my garden is a work in progress so please don't judge too harshly!
Above: some of my favourite plants for fall foliage colour in this garden include: daylilies, euphorbia, spirea 'Gold Flame', ornamental grasses (and note! the nepeta is still blooming!), and of course, the neighbour's cotoneaster hedge across the street which is spectacular!
From the archives:
Other areas of my garden:
If you would like unique, DIY solutions to create your urban paradise, view My Services for consultation details.
This is the first design principle I talk about when I'm giving people advice about designing their own ornamental gardens. For low maintenance purposes, I mostly recommend perennials over annuals, but the thing people need to be aware of is that most perennials flower for a much shorter period than annuals, which generally flower all summer long. So to make your garden look interesting even when some things are not in flower, it's important to consider the plant's form i.e. its shape or outline.
Round, mounding plants:
cushion spurge, artemesia 'Silver Mound', perennial geraniums
Some ornamental grasses, daylilies
snakeroot, spiked veronica, obedient plant, delphiniums, verbascum
astilbes, hostas, columbine, meadow rue, bleeding hearts
...and some plants are combinations of these shapes depending on whether or not they are flowering.
Here are some examples of forms that work well together in my garden:
You'll notice there are also contrasting textures in a lot of these plant combinations. Although foliage colour also makes things interesting, it is secondary to texture. A great way to check for a good plant combination is to look at the picture in black and white and see if it still looks interesting:
For more great perennial plant combinations, check out the post I wrote about Piet Oudolf-inspired plants for Calgary sustainable gardens, which was published in the Calgary Horticultural Society's magazine last year.
If you would like an urban paradise that rejoices the eye and refreshes the spirit, view My Services for consultation details.
If you've been following my blog for a while you know I've got a love/hate relationship with spruce trees. I curse the 9 (large, mature Colorado and white spruce) trees on my lot - a couple would be fine, but nine? Nine severely limits the opportunities for a diversity of other plants in terms of space, sun, and availability of water and nutrients in the surrounding soil. Here's my reasoning for having removed a few of them in the past and the results, and part of me would like to get rid of just a few more (really, wouldn't 5 large spruce trees on a regular city lot be plenty?)
Some trees have just plain been planted in an inappropriate spot and should go. But a full-sized, healthy spruce tree that has been allowed to grow without hacking or distortion of its limbs, is a beautiful sight especially at this time of year! I took these pictures on my walk to work this morning. Gorgeous. I live in a neighbourhood where in general, the trees are three times taller than the houses (rather than the other way around in newer neighbourhoods) and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Designers would say, trees should be kept in scale with the house. The trees in my neighbourhood are definitely not in scale with the houses! But they are in scale with the rest of the neighbourhood. In the smaller, new lots that are developed these days, there are few places for large trees like this, and there are plenty of newer, smaller varieties that make much more sense to plant on small lots.
These trees in my older neighbourhood are not only beautiful in winter, they provide shelter and nesting places for plenty of birds each year and they insulate our houses and gardens from the brutal Calgary winds.
So should I campaign my husband to remove just a couple more trees from our yard (there are 2 in the front and 2 in the back I have in mind, the front ones being the most desirable to get rid of)? The designer and gardener in me says 'yes'. The environmentalist says 'no, at least not until it's absolutely necessary'. Since my husband also says 'no (not ever!)', I guess the problem is solved for now... until a few more years from now when the ones planted too close to the house and/or each other get even more ridiculously large...
Do you think there's nothing to do in the garden these days but sit around and wait for the snow to melt? Not so! (and in Calgary, let's face it, you would be waiting until at least June!) Here's what I hope to get done this month:
Seeds and Vegetables
Trees and Shrubs
From the archives:
If you would like a beautiful and successful garden that nourishes your body and soul, view My Services for consultation details.