Monday, April 13, 2015

Gardening can be like a marathon

In winter, I walked past this snowscape on Unwin Avenue (shown through the lens of the Waterlogue app)
Spring and fall are the big work seasons for gardeners. They're also when my other hobby messes up my gardening life. I'm a power-walker. Since 2003, I've averaged 3.27 half marathons a year, in spring and/or fall. So when others are planting or raking, I'm likely training for a race, too.

Though some power-walkers, like my husband Mr. TG, are freakishly fast, we aren't like runners. We cover the same 21 km or 13.1 miles as they do; it just takes us longer. You might say we're the true endurance athletes, and we have time to think. Like about the similarity between my two "sports".

In both cases, you need to put in the miles. In both, you'll sometimes hit the wall. Persistence wins.

In spring, you might find us training on the Leslie Street Spit. I'm often way at the back, looking at plants and taking pictures – and staring aghast at invasive species.
One of our favourite walking destinations in any season – a summer turnaround at Rosetta McClain Gardens in the Bluffs
Fall training might take us through the grasses at Woodbine Park. They look great in winter, too.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Scarification and other life lessons

Glorious sweet peas – wish our blog had smell-o-vision.
Some seeds, like sweet peas, must be nicked or scratched to help them germinate. That's called scarification. Other seeds need to be subjected to long periods of cold; even frozen. Stratified, in horticultural terms. For others, fire is as necessary to the seed as food and water will be later to the growing plant. Perhaps someone can tell me the word for that.

Right now, I'm feeling a little nicked and scratched; perhaps somewhere between ice and fire. Like those warm October days last year that straddled summer and fall, or 2015's never-ending winter-cum-spring, I feel poised between two states, neither one nor the other.

A well-planned garden will withstand a certain amount of neglect. Mine, while a little overgrown, still gets positive comments from passing neighbours. Even when all I see are the weeds, the plants that need hacking back and the 'Autumn Joy' sedum planted in the wrong spot.

But what about the gardener? At the moment, I'm focussing on the benefits of being scratched and dented. Muscles tear with exercise and heal stronger; tree trunks gain strength from buffeting winds.

And spring does come again, all present evidence to the contrary. What life lessons have you learned from your garden? Spread a few seeds here…

Thursday, April 09, 2015

My hoya blooms for the first time in 30 years

A gardener sometimes needs faith. And, often, persistence. Hoya carnosa in bloom.
Celebrate, hoyoo, hoyay! After much anticipation, my barbecued hoya is blooming for the very first time. No one could be more pleased…or surprised. Perhaps if I'd read this from the International Hoya Association, that headline might have been written 30 years ago (albeit, not on this blog).

Whatever I did right (and who's to know where barbecuing falls into that process?), I'm happy to say that hoyas not only have very nice foliage, they have cool buds and flowers, too. You can tell they're members of the dogbane family, with a flower structure similar to distant cousins milkweed (yay!) and dog-strangling vine (a very big boo!). I've been told their scent is heavenly, but I find it mild.

A small victory, but something to sustain hope during this never-ending Wintpring 2015.

Waxy, button-shaped buds (the reason for the common name "wax plant") pop open to reveal star-shaped florets. The flowers develop on unpromising-looking flower spurs – at first, they seemed like tiny clusters of brown bristles. Flowers will rebloom – fingers crossed – on the same spurs, year after year. 
I was surprised at how fuzzy the petals are inside. Like fine velvet. They naturally produce a nectar from the central corolla, which some tell me is drippy. No sign of that here, yet. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book review: The Herb Lover's Spa Book

'Therapy' – Joyce Johnson's ribbon-winning design in her category at Canada Blooms 2015 – seems like a serendipitous way to begin a post on The Herb Lover's Spa Book.
Geez, it has been a cold, cold, cold, cold, cold few months. The snowy, snowy, snowy weather is finally receding, at least in Toronto. Still, we could use a little TLC, doncha think?

The Herb Lover's Spa Book by Sue Goetz (St. Lynn's Press) is all about how to "create a luxury spa experience at home with fragrant herbs from your garden." Goetz divides her book into three sections. The first is about garden design with a spa focus. The second is about 19 types of herb that are pretty easy to grow – and how to plant, harvest and preserve them. Then there are recipes for making your own spa therapy products, including ingredients you've grown yourself.

Goetz includes smart ideas. Like using fine cornmeal in a scrub in place of earth-UNfriendly micro-beads. Or how easy it is to make old-fashioned pleasures like herbal sachets to tuck into a pillowcase.

Most of the recipes sound delicious. Making my own vanilla-scented jojoba oil looks dead easy – after that wee tricky bit of actually finding jojoba oil and vanilla beans. There's a nice recipe for hand and nail butter, using cocoa butter, beeswax, grapeseed oil and and essential oils – with an accompanying description of a hand massage that made my shoulders unclench just reading it.

But if I can wear my quibbler's hat for just a moment – it isn't about Goetz or this book specifically, but with the claims made generally by the spa industry, and which writers sometimes take up without question. Some "spa science" is questionable.

Yes, a massage feels fantastic and, sure, fragrances can be soothing and even transportative. The problem begins when we start giving spa therapies magical properties. Like "detoxification." Or even something as taken-for-granted as epsom salt in a bath – does it really make it better than just a warm bath itself for relieving pain in your aching muscles? No, actually. The science doesn't support it.

Taken with a grain of (epsom?) salt, however, I like the idea of home-made luxury, and Goetz does show how make it simple. The torture of receiving a book like this to review in mid-February was not having anything homegrown to try it with. But soon, baby, soon. I can almost smell the rosemary.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Snowdrop alert, March 2015

Do a little "Where's Waldo-ing" on this photo, and you can see masses of happy snowdrops, finally welcoming spring.
Yes, Toronto, there are snowdrops! This year, Sarah won the local snowdrops sweepstakes, with a handful blooming by her drive. Mine are mostly hibernating. But look, look, look at these in a Riverdale garden on Saturday! It has been a long, cold winter (especially February 2015, the coldest in 140 years), but snowdrops say spring has arrived, and none too soon. Do you have snowdrops yet?

Here's a closer view. Do you see their smiling faces? (Plus a smart gardener who knows to leave the leaves!)