Snowdrop alert 2016. Wow, they're early.

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This is our earliest-ever official Toronto Gardens snowdrop sighting – I noticed my usual earlybird snowdrop was up yesterday, February 3, 2016, but it had likely awoken a few days before. Our neighbours S and B have a nice little patch blooming in their front yard, too.

Prior to this, the earliest we've posted on snowdrops has been the end of February 2013 (although, I have seen this baby up once in January, before we started our snowdrop alerts).

That's what you get with a non-winter. The hellebores are popping their heads above the leaf litter, too. How are the snowdrops (or other spring harbingers) doing where you are?

However they are, and wherever we are, one thing I know for sure: We must plant more! Agreed?

Toronto Islands - let's never take them for granted

Toronto's downtown skyline from the corner of First and Channel Avenues on Ward's Island
For over 20 years, whenever we crossed the bridge to our summer home on Ile d'Orléans, in the St. Lawrence River just outside Quebec City, I'd take in the view of the broad river and forested mountains and say a little prayer, "Don't ever let me take this for granted."

It's easy to become blind to the things we see every day. Familiarity can breed indifference (as Aldous Huxley said). Our yearly trip to QC was a reminder to open my eyes, and keep them open back home.

But, sometimes, all you need is to spend time with visitors. Do we ever look at our city as closely as when we entertain guests? Seeing 70 garden bloggers, visiting last June from all over the States and UK, respond with delight to our own Toronto Islands brought back my summer prayer.

I hope that, next time you ferry over to the Islands, you take some time to stroll the lanes of
Ward's and Algonquin Islands and really think about how special they are.
Even if we don't live there (and chances are very good we never will), we're lucky to have them.
Every couple of years, the residents' association opens many of the cottage gardens to the public.
The Toronto Garden Bloggers' Fling was so fortunate to get a private preview of the 2015 Islands Garden Tour.
Our visiting bloggers were captivated by the car-free leafy lanes.
They loved the charming diversity of these mostly informal spaces.
And 2015's late cool weather put the "Spring" back in the "Fling" this year, especially in
the Islands' microclimate. Note the lingerling lilacs and spring bulbs.
Ours are islands of ingenuity, where rusty stuff is cleverly recycled – because it's easier than hauling it to the mainland.
Surprising planters offer inspiration, like this one topped with golden scotch moss (Sagina subulata 'Aurea') and an
ephemeral head-dress of purple Allium flowers.
Cottage gardens feature wall-to-wall greenery, with odd-ball but wonderful touches
like a cast-off TV antenna as an obelisk or a tree-like display of golden kale flowers.
Paintbox colours on the woodwork make me wish I could do something this cool at home. And why not?
Because we were competing with the rainclouds for precedence in the gardens that afternoon, our bloggers might have missed seeing one of my loves: the willow tree pebble mosaic at the Ward's Island clubhouse.
This cool work was assembled in panels, and became a community project. Find links to references after the next photo.
See the bikes with their pull-carts? That's how Islanders need to transport everything from groceries to building and garden supplies from the mainland.
This link takes you to the Toronto Island Mosaic blog. Scroll to the beginning for the play-by-play.

And this link takes you to the story from designer Kathleen Doody.

The clouds began to assert themselves by the time we reached Algonquin Island. But the
gardens and gardeners here were no less charming. I learned, for example, that
the visiting birds love the pebble ramp into this pond. (Didn't ask about raccoons.)
Raindrops began to patter on this colourful vignette. It was seeing them all over the Islands
that made me plant Camassia (the blue bulbs here) in my garden. So happy I did.
The tissue-paper delicacy of tree peonies seems to last longer on the other side of the ferry.
Island gardens are all about mix-and-match magnificance. It's gardening with panache.
For the price of a ferry ticket, we can make our getaway to a very different kind of space.
In a big city like Toronto, let's never take this for granted.

Our snowless winter of 2015-16

No heavy snow to weigh down the grasses along Lake Shore East, January 2016
Perhaps we dreamed of a White Christmas in December 2015, but a dream was all it was. And the snow has just kept on not coming.

Toronto often has little snow on the ground in January, but this year has been a stark contrast to the previous two. While we have had some precipitation in the form of rain, the protective snowy blanket that helps borderline plants overwinter in our USDA Z5/Canadian Z6-ish climate is missing.

So, if this keeps up, don't be surprised if you lose certain plants, despite the milder weather. Sudden cold snaps like the one this week can knock the stuffing out of unprotected plants. That's just one of the many joys and continual mysteries of gardening.

What's weather like where you are?

My foraged wreath with My Luscious Backyard

At the My Luscious Backyard, workshop magic began with this foraged wreath kit – a great package of scavenged materials
On December 5th, 2015, Mr TG dropped me off at Propellor Coffee in the west end – and lucky for me he did, as I found on my way home with my delicate foraged wreath in hand. The subway was closed west of St. George. My return trip required a series of interesting dance moves, in crowded quarters, with my wreath overhead like a halo, and many excuse-me-excuse-me-excuse-mes.

But I didn't suspect this when I arrived in Propellor's back room, where My Luscious Backyard foraged wreath guru and flower-grower extraordinaire Sarah Nixon had our goodies laid out to begin wreath-making. I couldn't wait to unpack my twine-wrapped package. It held different types of evergreenery (like spruce, pine and juniper), some with baby cones or berries attached, a few sprays of miniature rosehips, and a sprig or two of euonymus. Under it all was a twisted grapevine wreath.

The first step in the workshop was to watch Sarah demonstrate the technique. After deciding which is the top of the wreath (so you have something to hang it from), her no-tie method simply involved snipping small sprays of evergreen and wedging the cut ends into the vine frame. Each bit of evergreen shingles over the piece before, layering them all in one direction.
Here is my wreath in progress. Sarah had started with spruce, taking it about two-thirds the way around, then varied it using other materials. But there's really no right or wrong way. I didn't have quite as much spruce in my kit, so I filled in here and there with bits of soft white pine. I saved the most interesting bits like the budded false cypress and a branch of juniper, thick with blue berries (which are really fleshy cones – did you know that?) for the bottom.
My wreath is almost done. As well as the kit we each received, Sarah supplied a basket of larger cones and a vase of branches, so we could give our wreath more personal quirks. All her materials were foraged, with permission, from neighbours' gardens or from vacant lots, and she wasn't greedy, leaving some for others. Think about that when foraging.
A close up of the tiny rose hips and the catkins and lichen on my foraged branch of (I think) birch. [Ed: I should add that we added the cones and branches, tying them in with raffia-wrapped wire – a handy tool to have in your craft kit.]
Not a great shot of Sarah's wreath, which in real life looks fabulous, but a nice one of the always photogenic Sarah Nixon. Unfortunately, this was her only workshop this winter. But asking her about the possibility of spring wreaths put a maybe-not-a-bad-idea look on her face. So keep your eyes open, just in case.
Yes, my foraged wreath did make it safely home on the subway, and is now welcoming visitors at our front door. For $85, I thought Sarah's workshop was good value. She gave us the materials, including that luscious satin bow, great coffee and snacks, Fiskars snips to take home – and most of all the how-to knowledge for many wreaths to come.

I agree: Brown is a colour, too

The Toronto Botanical Garden's entry garden in January 2013
Today, we'll put November to bed, and tomorrow we'll wake up to December – which some feel means the end of colour in the garden. Well, all the leaves may be brown, and the sky is grey… but when we go for that walk on a winter's day, that's not such a bad thing, is it?

Last June, when Paul Zammit, head of horticulture at the Toronto Botanical Garden, showed our Fling garden bloggers how he magicked a container, he made the bold statement: Brown is a colour. Yes, Paul, you're right. Look at all the shades of it above. Brown is beautiful.

Though, technically, winter doesn't come for three weeks, I've tried to turn you on to it before. Winter is a season with a lot of brown in it. Or a lot of browns. Think of them all; the richness. Tan, russet, fawn, bronze, buff, chestnut, coffee, sepia, ochre. Goodness, there's even a brown called fulvous!

So, for the last post of my unofficial NaBloPoMo 2015, I'm going to try showing the browns in my life some respect, appreciation and gratitude. I invite you to join me.

Miraculously, my clivia bloomed

What is that – a flower spike? Could it be? It is! My Clivia is blooming!
This was a year for miracles in the garden. Not only did the Hoya I'd tended for 30 years bloom for the very first time this spring – it did it three more times in succession over the summer!

And the Clivia I wrote about two years ago – suspecting the plants were virusy – put out two flower spikes this summer. What did I do right? I have no idea. Perhaps fed it a bit more often? It certainly didn't get the cold spell it likes between October and February – which is apparently why it bloomed in June and not March, as it should.

Who cares! By blooming, it has given me hope. Perhaps I'll figure out a way to chill it. Perhaps I have a sister with an unheated sun porch. Or perhaps I'll actually follow these detailed care instructions from And maybe I'll have even better luck (and more to be grateful for) next time.

My friend Veronica tells me the secret with clivias is to ignore them. Perhaps that's what I did right?

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