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!)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

March Break for families at Canada Blooms 2015

The wee folk will have fun spotting all the wee folk (and one large troll) in the Vandermeer fairy garden.
Maybe it's the Let's Play theme at Canada Blooms 2015, but I found myself wishing I were a kid again. Some garden writers might give me a hard time for even daring to think of applying the word "whimsy" to a garden, but many parts appealed to my inner whims child.

Not to say the show is only for kids this year. My inner grownup would've liked to take a few things home. A greenhouse I'll post on later, for instance. But if you're looking for a March Break excursion, keep Canada Blooms for the rainy days. The show is tucked in a new location, making it a tad harder to find. But it means there are fewer ways for kids to wander off into the maze of the Home Show.

So have a look at what my inner family liked, and tell me if you agree.

What goes up into the Bienenstock treehouse must come down that curlicue slide. Yes, adults are allowed, but only with that proviso. The hobbit house carved from a 200-year-old stump made me want to be three feet tall. 
The Toronto Botanical Garden continually outdoes itself for Canada Blooms. This year, their theme was A Pollinator Playground and it included four delightful mini gardens. But what I really, really wanted were those butterfly wings. 
Parklane played the Rain Game with five ways to rain garden, and lots of native plants. Their outdoor living spaces were grownup-friendly (and I could find room in my garden for that archway), but the downspouts were works of art, literally, that kids would surely find cool. Art in the garden was by Floyd Elzinga and Jeff Smith. 
A fairy ponders her next move on the giant chessboard in the Near North garden. 
In Shawn Gallaugher's Otium garden, the focus was fitness and play, for regular Joes like me as well as PanAm and ParaPan Am 2015 athletes. Some of the structural elements will live on in a new park for the St. James Town community.
Mum and Dad can look at BBQs, patios and pergolas aplenty. Genoscape (left) and Garfield Thompson (right) did beautiful things with stonework and water. The new location was much better suited to heavy loads than past years.
Finally, I love the Garden Club of Toronto flower show. It's as fascinating to read the judges' comments on entries as it is to see the participants' creativity (including Go Fly a Kite designs by the smallest small fry). Always a must-see for me.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Fling folk are Repeat Befrienders

My photo library includes many pictures of Claire Jones looking decorative. Her blog: The Garden Diaries (Maryland)
So, here's the thing about Fling. You come for the gardens, but you find yourself returning again and again for the people. Who could imagine forging so many long-distance relationships, all bonded by love of gardens. Not me, but that's what happened. And I'm not alone. Many first-time Flingers are hooked by the Fling experience, and friendships form.

How about you? Will you nab one of those last few spaces? Deets on registration are here.

Often vying with me to be the last one back on the bus, Barbara Wise of BWiseGardening (Tennessee)
First-time Flinger last year in Portland, Neil Jones and his parter Mark Domingo of Alternative Eden (Bedfordshire, UK) were among the first to sign up to return for the Toronto Fling. 
After knowing them online through their blogs, I met Gail Eichelberger of Clay and Limestone (Tennessee) and Susan Tomlinson of The Bike Garden (Texas) in real life at the Buffalo Fling in 2010. Delighted they'll be with us in T.O.
Thrilled to be having the always-sharp designer's eye of Susan Cohan of Miss Rumphius' Rules (New Jersey)
on our Toronto Flingaganza
For a photographer, it can be tough to share a garden with all those bodies. But sometimes you can't image the photo without them. Here's Mary Beth Shaddix (Alabama)
So many of my Fling friends are or have become garden authors. Here's the ever-charming Victoria Summerley of Tales from Awkward Hill (Gloucestershire, UK) whose new book Secret Gardens of the Cotwolds describes my ideal life 
And, of course, we have Canadians! Especially this year. Including one of Toronto's indispensable organizing genii Lorraine Flanigan of City Gardening Online, seen here with the wonderful Aldona Satterthwaite 
Helping add scale (the good kind of scale) to this garden pic is San Francisco Fling organizer
Kelly Kilpatrick of Floradora Gardens (California)
Showing us how to look relaxed, Garden Rant gal and Buffalo Fling organizer Elizabeth Licata (New York)
Perfectly colour coordinated (American translation: "color coordinated"),
Jean McWeeney of Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog (Louisiana)
Almost finally, it will be hard for us to follow the astonishingly hard-to-follow Portland Fling team,
Loree Bohl of Danger Garden and Scott Weber of Rhone Street Gardens (Oregon)
We hope to strike the same fear into next year's organizer, the lovely and talented
Amy Andrychowicz (Minnesota) of Savvy Gardening. Kidding, Amy, kidding! 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Six cool birdhouses for a cold day

Adorable multicoloured green roof seen at Joy Creek Nursery near Portland
Winter 2015 is for the birds – and so are these nifty birdhouses. That's just about all I have to say on this record-setting-cold-streak, Almost-Wordless Wednesday. Except: Enjoy!

Give your fine feathered friends the licence to move in. This great recycle even looks like the roof is InsulBrick – a good grippy texture for itinerant mosses. Seen at Bella Madrone near Portland OR.
Charming Quebecois-style red roof in a Quebec garden. Strangely, it reminds me of a cartoon character. Maybe Pogo.
(Do you see faces in everything, too? It's called pareidolia.)
Rather swish abode for an avian family in Pittsburgh PA
This zigzag bird condo in an east Toronto garden looks like something from Dr. Seuss. I think I like it, Sam I Am.
Ceramic birdhouses by Kennedy Creek Pottery were spied at Joy Creek. The green one followed me home.