Guest post by Emira Mears
Sometime around last weekend the lilac in my backyard burst into bloom. Since then we’ve been enjoying stunning cut blooms and scent in the house. As I was bringing the cuttings into the house, I was reminded of last year around this time when I made my partner go out under the cover of night stealing blooms from alleyways for me (none of the neighbours I was friendly with on the block had lilacs).
Perhaps as evidenced by my willingness to push someone into theivery, lilacs are among my favorite flowers/plants, and when we found this house last summer the large health lilac tree beside the garage was among the “pros” on my feature list (it kind of made up for the very bad wall to wall brown carpeting). In fact, last Spring, when we were beginning to think about buying a place “must have, or have room to plant” lilac tree was on my list of qualities that would make the ideal home. And I’ve been looking forward to this season when I would get to experience its blooms since last summer.
Funnily enough though, while I’m certainly enjoying, it is no longer really the centre of the garden the way it was when I first identified it. As I continue to put work, thought and plans into the garden I’m finding that I’ve got so many favorite corners that delight me in slightly less ostentatious ways. Everything from my well monitored seeds in the veggie garden, to the successful reclaiming of my rosebushes from an aphid attack occupy my gardening thoughts deflecting my past obsession with the showy splendour of a lilac in bloom. I think I like it better this way.
I keep hearing that fancy, mega-expensive containers are one of the current trends in gardening this year. To which I reply with a big fat WHATEVER. You can keep your fancy-schmancy urns and leave all of that quality junk for me.
I found this discarded orange crate while walking through one of Toronto’s “nicer” neighbourhoods. Crates are just tall enough to accomodate leafy greens or herbs with shallow root systems. I decided to fill this one up with a crop of mache. Mache is the de rigour green of the uppercrust and a good choice if growing lettuce feels like a waste of time and space. The succulent leaves make a delicious salad (especially good with figs and blue cheese) but fetches a hefty sum at your typical Whole Foods.
Little work is required to prep your crate for growing. The bottom of mine had large spaces between slats and required some kind of coverage to hold soil in. Alternatively, crates with solid bottoms will require drainage holes to let water out. I laid an average-sized plastic shopping bag inside the crate and cut a bunch of small holes with a pair of scissors to make drainage. The key here is making a vessel that will hold soil, but adding drainage back so your seedlings aren’t swimming during a heavy rainfall.
Next, I filled up the crate with good quality container soil. A cheap container plus cheap soil, equals too much cheap! When it comes to container soil you get what you pay for. Your best bet is usually with the mid-ranged priced soils. Avoid the Miracle Grow stuff if you can. Fill your container to the top and tamp it in with your hands. You want to remove the air pockets and make a respectably flat surface. Don’t go crazy with it — a level is not required.
Once you’ve got your soil in place, cut around the edges with the scissors to remove the excess plastic bag. Pour a handful of seed into your hand and spread it thinly, and evenly across the soil surface. Don’t worry if you have too many seeds as you can remove excess plants later. Add another 1/4″ of soil on top of the seeds and water everything in well.
Leafy greens prefer cool weather and shadier spots. Plants will bolt in hot weather which means that they quickly go to seed and become bitter. How much sun is too much depends on your conditions and the time of year. Mine are currently placed in a sunny spot on my rooftop deck because the daytime temperatures are in the light sweater to spring jacket plus long sleeve shirt range. I will move it to a shady spot when the heat picks up. Water your container everyday. Soon you will see little tiny plants emerging. Here are what mine looked like today 15 days after sowing. Mache can take as much as 20 days to emerge from below the soil so don’t give up if yours take their sweet time. Be patient!
Other suggestions for your crate:
- Rouge d’hiver lettuce
- Red orach
- Kale (grown as baby kale only)
- Thyme – lemon, lavender, orange, silver…
While they are probably meant for kids, these paper model projects featuring assorted plants, insects, and organisms are fun projects for any age. Models include your standard garden fare; lady bugs, and butterflies but take learning about the ecosystem of the garden to another level with nematodes, bacteria, and more.
Projects come with simple and advanced models, which means you can adapt them to your skill level. New designs are added regularly — if you’re creative (or nerdy) enough you can keep building and eventually create your own 3-D paper garden diorama.
I hate to be so Toronto-centric but there are a number of local and very good plant sales coming up that ya’ll should know about. They’re more bang for your buck, the experience is fun, and often times the haul is of better quality than your typical garden super centre.
FoodShare’s Plant Sale
When: Saturday, May 13th 10 am to 1 pm (plant sale); noon to 1 pm (Annual General Meeting) 1 to 2 pm (Lunch by the Field to Table Kitchen)
Where: FoodShare’s Field to Table Centre 200 Eastern Ave.
What: ORGANIC seedlings grown by FoodShare in their rooftop greenhouse.
Parkdale Horticultural Society Plant Sale
When: Saturday, May 13th 11 am to 3 pm
Where: Community Centre at the corner of Lansdowne and Seaforth
What: Annuals, herbs, perennials, bushes, etc starting at $1 and going up to about $10. You can also purchase tickets to their Garden Tour or praying mantis egg cases for your garden. They also have a second room of local vendors.
Swansea Horticultural Society Plant Sale
When:Saturday, May 13th 9 am to 1 pm
Where:Swansea Town Hall 95 Lavinia Avenue
What: No idea. I’ve never been to this one.
Note that all three events are happening on the same day. You may be able to hit them all with the right strategy in place. That said, I leave you with a few Plant Sale Tips young grasshopper:
- Arrive on time – In fact, arrive BEFORE the start time. A gym or church basement filled with plants can clean out within an hour. Tardy people are left with chives, catnip, and orange daylilies if they’re lucky.
- Do Not Hesitate – Hesitation is for losers. Choose now, decide later. You can always put something back, but you can’t get something that is gone.
- Get Crazy – Follow the example of hoards of screaming mothers during the height of the Cabbage Patch Kid mania. I’m kidding. I just wanted to make that Cabbage Patch Kids comparison. Did I mention how some of us didn’t get one and how all the popular kids brought theirs to school the first day after the holidays and sat them on their desks and swung them on the swings at recess, and how some of us were completely left out from that right-of-passage because they didn’t have mothers willing to go all the way and do what it took to acquire that stupid, ugly doll? Until their understanding aunts stepped up to the plate and ordered one sight-unseen but it was the ugliest kind with the most bizarro name and how the whole ordeal haunts them to this day? Think of the children.
- Bring a Cart – One flat is the most an average person can hold while still leaving one hand free to pick and choose plants. Get yourself a wagon or a cart and be hands free.
- Bring an Assistant – Girlfriends, boyfriends, and siblings are easily guilted into this role. They can hold extra plants, a water bottle, and a towel with which to dab your sweaty forehead. You think I’m kidding.
- Bring Enough Money – These events are cash only. Estimate the amount you will need and then double it. You don’t want to regret putting that $2 raspberry bush back.
- Make a List – And then burn it because frankly there is no way to know what they will have and that list will be thrown out the window five seconds into the sale. These sales are about adaptability. Rise to the challenge. People who stick to rigid plans and lists tend to come out empty-handed.
Feel free to add your favourite, local up and coming plant sale to the comments.
Guest post by Ariane Khachatourians
I know this isn’t exactly about gardening, but it is about a fellow avid gardener who passed away earlier this week. I don’t know how many people know of Jane Jacobs, myself having studied human geography and urban planning in university, she is one of my idols. If you haven’t heard of her, just google her name and start reading…maybe you will be swept away too.
Jacobs grew up in the States, but has lived in Toronto since 1969, when her family left the States to escape the chance of her sons being drafted to fight during the Vietnam War. She has been one of the most vocal and influential critics of urban planning throughout the years, fighting against the building of major expressways that have destroyed neighbourhoods and promoted the povery of inner-city neighbourhoods in cities like New York and Toronto. She has fought for planning centred around neighbourhoods and citizens, and against planning catering only to the automobile. She has championed the organic, complex, and disorganized nature of urban neighbourhoods, and criticized the suburbs for their isolation, poor economics, and automobile-centredness.
She has been one of the biggest proponents of mixed-use planning (complete communities where shops, residences, and recreational areas are all within close proximity to each other, often with shops along the street level and residences above them), which has been regaining popularity in North America over the past decade and a half or so.
Her books are timeless, and perhaps her most famous one, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, was first published in 1961, and is still an inspiring read to anyone who is interested in progressive urban planning.
If you want the readers digest version of her work, Wikipedia has a great overview. And for a more personal mini-biography of her life, the CBC has a great tribute up on their site.