UPDATE (April 10, 2013): My plants have flower buds!
Are you afraid to grow hellebore? I am. Like clematis, they are a plant that I have long associated with hoity-toity gardeners and their fancy pants gardens. Their ticket price doesn’t help matters. Hellebores are notoriously expensive plants, often coming in at the $20-30 mark in most retail garden centres. That’s a lot of money to sink into a plant that I am almost certain I will kill.
And then I met Barry Parker.
Barry loves hellebores. He also loves clematis (but that’s a story for another day). And you know what? Barry’s garden is awfully fancy. Few fully staffed, public gardens I have visited have been able to pull off what Barry achieves in his urban Toronto backyard. While the initial shock has worn off, after 4 years, it still blows my mind every time that I visit it.
It may be fancy and a little bit intimidating, but I never walk away from Barry’s garden feeling like a failure in my own. I think this is owing to Barry’s heart of gold and his cheerful, encouraging, and generous charm. Instead, I always leave Barry’s garden with a can-do attitude and the drive to do better. Whats more, having Barry as a friend has helped me come a long way in undoing old, self-imposed stereotypes about gardeners, plants, and gardens.
How much sun does it receive? That’s the first question we gardeners tend to ask ourselves when we start out to garden in a new space. It’s an important question for sure, but over the years, I have come to understand, that if you want to make the best use of your space, there are other, equally meaningful factors to consider.
Growing in the city, where heat-absorbing materials abound, my focus has often been on observing patterns of extreme heat. I earned my real gardening chops battling what I often refer to as Full Sun ++ for 15 years on the rooftop of my former apartment building. Times have changed and now I garden in a thin, bowling alley style urban backyard. Naturally, I spent the first winter carefully observing the way light fell onto the yard (throughout the day) in an attempt to identify how to tackle the space come spring. I also paid mind to heat, wind, drainage, soil, and the slope of my garden, and I have made adjustments over the last two seasons that address those issues or work best with them. Now that I am about to embark on my third spring in this garden, I have come to see with clarity that one condition that I had failed to fully acknowledge — probably out of habit — are the places in the garden that are the coldest.
What are Cold Spots?
In my Toronto garden, these are places where the snow and ice lingers the longest. While the rest of the garden is waking up from its winter dormancy, these cold microclimates remain asleep. In the fall, these also tend to be the spots that are hit first and hardest by the killing frost. Even if you live in a climate that does not receive a hard frost or snow, you will still have spots that are cooler and warmer than others.
Salad greens are one of the first crops that I start outdoors. It snowed today, but as soon as the soil is workable, I will be out there, seeds in hand, to get started. As with Seed Starting 101, I have created a permanent page that lists all of the best posts around the subject of growing (and eating) lettuce and salad greens. If you come back looking for it in the future, you will find it over here on the Resources page (link in the top bar).
The photo (above) depicts a winter salad mix that I grew in a big washbasin the last two years. It includes a really pretty burgundy mizuna variety called ‘Red Frills.’
Let’s talk about fungi.
I first heard about mycorrhizae — pronounced my-corr-rye-zuh and literally translated to mean “root fungi” — about 8 years ago while I was travelling to promote my first book. At an event in Oregon, a fellow speaker gave a presentation on the mutually beneficial relationships that are forged between fungi and plants, both above the ground and in the soil. I regret that I only caught the final minute or so of the talk, and to this day I can’t recall his name, but the seed was planted in my brain. Fungi are more than just another organism doing its own thing out in the big bad world. They can (and do) form cooperative communities with other organisms, including plants.
And then it sat there quietly waiting in the background for 7 long years.
It must have been intimidation that caused me to avoid pursuing it, because it wasn’t disbelief. In many ways, the basic principles behind the way that mycorrhizae acts in the garden closely resemble my own personal journey with holistic healthcare. Rather than treating each symptom individually, an holistic approach to wellness takes the whole system/being into account and seeks to address the root cause of the problem in order to restore balance and harmony. These experiences with holistic health have had a profound effect in how my approach to gardening has evolved over the last decade or so. It has been a time of great learning and my commitment to looking at the bigger picture has been strengthened by the anecdotal evidence that I observe in my gardens each year.
Info on how to enter the giveaway follows.
And so it begins. Every spring I compile lists of posts about seed starting, but this year I’ve decided to create a permanent page dedicated to everything seed starting that you can find anytime you need it by clicking over to the Resources section. I am slowly rebuilding the Resources and will add more permanent, topical, how-to garden resource pages as I go.
On a personal note, I bought my first two packs of seed the other day; more impulse buys from my local Italian grocer. I could not resist another big packet of Spigarello (you must grow this) because friends are always asking about it. I also purchased a long day (better for Northern gardeners), Italian red onion I have never grown before called ‘Rossa di Toscana’ as the time to start onion seed is quickly approaching.
I’ve been very fortunate to move into a neighbourhood where a wealth of Italian heirloom vegetable seeds are easily accessible so I thought I’d do a giveaway of five packs of my favourites to get the season started.