Just the other day, I was walking in the sunshine, music playing through the buds stuck in my ears, when the song, “You Are My Sister” came on. As Antony Hegarty’s melodic and impossibly high-pitched voice filled my head I thought back to when we first “met” and how we bonded very quickly over a mutual affection for this album. Immediately my mind took me back to late summer when we met in person for the first time. There I was again, driving up to your place in the rental car, a canopy of tall trees shading us from above; you standing at the gate, that familiar green and red house behind you, the garden surrounding us all. And then, jumping further ahead again, my mind made a b-line to the nicotiana.
Dear Margaret: Those two words are how each “letter” in this series of letters to my friend Margaret Roach of A Way to Garden begins. This is letter number thr. To backtrack, see letters one and two. Margaret’s most recent letter to me is here.
No, it’s not a sea creature out of water. It’s a super freak, super freak, super freaky (Rick James approved) mutated succulent!
Fasciation, cristate, cresting, or bundling: all are words for an interesting genetic mutation that causes a plant to grow gnarled and twisted, thick in some parts and thin in others. Sometimes the plants appear super-pumped, almost as if it were doubling and even tripling back onto itself. These mutations, often occurring at the tips in new growth and sometimes even in the flowers, are triggered by a range of traumas ranging from environmental issues such as chemical exposure and frost, to insect attack, over-crowding, and disease.
And then plant breeders take these random mutations and use them to their advantage to produce far-out, freaky, alien varieties, such as this Echeveria runyonii ‘Topsy Turvy Cristata’.
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.
It’s no secret that I love tomatoes. Growing them is an exciting, ever-changing challenge with a big reward at the end. I strive each year to experiment with as many different varieties as I can fit into my small gardening spaces, testing them in a variety of growing conditions to see how well they will perform. Some of my results are shared here.
Since many of you have already started your seeds and even have your plants outdoors in the soil, and others, like me, will be starting seed soon, I’ve waded through the extensive tomato archives on this site and picked out the posts that are most geared towards how-to growing, care, cooking, and preserving information. They’re now all available in one place that you can return to again should you need the help or inspiration.
Click here to see the You Grow Girl Tomato Growing Guide.
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.