Friday, April 22, 2016

Go see Grow Op 2016 at the Gladstone

You get an underworld view of daffodil bulbs in Persephone by the Toronto Flower Market and various local growers, including Sarah Nixon of My Luscious Backyard whom we ran into at the show.
Happy Earth Day. A perfect time to share earthy thoughts that make us think. These scenes are just a few from the Gladstone Hotel's annual alternative garden show Grow Op, taglined "Cultivating Curiosity." The show runs till April 24th, and I hope you'll find time over the weekend to see it.

Thirty artists, landscape architects, historians and other smart and creative folk have made things that provoke and stimulate. Like these. And we haven't even shown you the countertop cricket farm...

Look closely to see the etched cities surrounding grassy terraria in Green Living by glass artist Becky Lauzon.
Turf and its roots are the medium in Terrena by [R]ed[U]x Lab from Ryerson's architecture department – the same group who made one of my favourites (the dayglo pine cone) in 2015's Winter Stations.
Artist Michael Rennick with one of his many pieces in Sticks, Stones, String and Sealing Wax
If I had a million dollars (story of my life) I'd've been happy to take this one of Rennick's works home. Part dreamscape, part garden, part Dali-esque horse head.
Woodworker Shelly Dwyer's Unbroken by Nature sees what she calls "garbage chairs" rehabilitated and reborn into something new using willow basket weaving techniques. This is one of her chair pods.
Vivian Wong of Wabi-Sabi Collective with All Night Blossoms Fell, inspired by Tanabata-style wishing trees.
My wish is to have one of these in a corner of my home.
Loop, a cool hydroponic garden by urban-ag design collective Design Build Grow Studio
Bright pink manganese chloride crystals grow in glass bulbs in Michaela Macleod's strangely beautiful My Chemical Garden
One of the evening's award-winners, David Perrett stands beside three hollowed-out, ash-borer felled trunks, collectively titled Timber. The base of each trunk allows it to rock back and forth, like one of those punching-bag clowns.
Chainsaws, chisels and a lot of elbow grease went into hollowing out these. The textures, manmade inside, insect made outside, were mesmerizing. And no one could resist giving each trunk a shove. Go try it before the weekend ends!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Spring 2016 is (finally) in the air

No. Unfortunately not a picture of a Toronto garden. Not yet.
Nearly a year ago, I photographed this in the display garden of Sunset Publishing in California, sighing that it would perk me up before my return to the brownery back home. Well, Facebook just reminded me of it, so I thought I'd share it here to perk you up, as well. Think Spring, friends!

And don't you love that circular arbor? I'm trying to imagine how to make one for myself. Any tips?

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Yes, we're all patiently waiting for spring 2016

Joe Fafard's cows in the meadow of Toronto's Financial District
Last night's double-digit minus temps and today's snow make me feel like these gals look. Resigned.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Book Review: Terrariums (and I make some, too)

In a tableau I might call "Pardon My Dust" (which you might not have noticed if I'd not pointed it out) I hope to show that even my most lowly terrarium creation in the brandy snifter can add something cool to a tabletop setting.
The book pretty much has it all: Design, materials,
containers, plants, maintenance, and how-tos.
A shocking months and months have passed since I received my review copy of Terrariums: Gardens Under Glass by Maria Colletti from Cool Springs Press. My enthusiasm to use this book to experiment making terrariums (more properly, I guess, terraria) didn't wane. In fact, I'd thought I owned the perfect jar!

But, between then and now, I learned two things:

In making a terrarium, it can be hard to find containers large enough and plants small enough.

However, once I finally got it together, I was hooked.

Terrarium making is fun and somehow magical. You're creating miniature garden worlds, without the fussiness of a fairy garden. And even though I didn't follow Colletti's instructions to the letter, making my terraria/boomdeeays gave me a lot of satisfaction. I will be making more.

Seeing them arranged here on my counter, these three glass vessels might look like no-brainers for terrariums. But they represent four (four!) hunting trips to my fave thrift shop (with initials VV).

I quickly learned that the jar (not shown) I'd first thought was perfect… wasn't. Not for a first try. It looked too narrow and was way too tall. Back to VV for #2, the brandy snifter. Also too small. One plant pot seemed to swamp it. VV again for #3, the lidded jar. Hmmm. It seemed too short for the plants I'd collected. Finally, the glass barrel. No wider than the lidded jar, but at least it had no lid.

In the end, I used them all. The secret was to be ruthless about prying big plants into smaller bits.
So what about plants? Like the containers, I had false starts. First, I tried a couple of local florists. At one, I bought a maidenhair fern (Adiantum) I'd thought might live in a moist terrarium. Nope. It's one fern Colletti says she never uses. Too fussy. And, yes, I almost killed it waiting to get started.

Then I had a problem with size. Like the Cryptanthus or earth star bromeliad (one of Colletti's favourite terrarium plants) from the shop at the Montreal Botanical Garden. The stiff leaves of mine turned out to be too wide for any of my jars.

Other plants came from here and there. A red polkadot plant (Hypoestes) from a grocery store. An eyelash begonia (Begonia bowerae) purchased from Jeff Mason at a Mason House market stall back in January. And three plants
I found at 3 for $20 at Canada Blooms: red Fittonia with cool striped leaves, tiny blue Pilea glauca 'Aquamarine', and a lovely blue star fern Phlebodium aureum. By sheer dumb luck, all three were on Colletti's great terrarium plants list.
 
Note: I might've avoided all this if I'd started at Valleyview Gardens on Kennedy Rd. They have a good selection of reasonably priced, suitable plants, as I discovered after my project was done.
Now we get down to brass tacks. Colletti likes to use aquarium gravel as a drainage layer in the bottom, and adds horticultural charcoal to keep the soil sweet. I had neither. But I did have a bag of SumiSoil I'd bought earlier from Lee Valley – tiny ceramic balls with a charcoal centre. Perfect.

On top, I placed a paper barrier (you can just detect the white edge in the photo above) to keep the soil from infiltrating the drainage. She suggests something like a coffee filter; I used a paper towel, cut to fit. The moistened soil goes on top. I used a commercial cactus soil. (In this closeup, you get a good look at the stone I added – a pitted volcanic rock I found on the Black Beach in Iceland.)
Then I gritted my teeth and tried to gently tease the plants apart. This was scary. I didn't want to kill anything. The 'Aquamarine' pilea was a dense mat of interwoven trailing stems. The begonia's rhizomes looked delicate. And the blue star fern seemed to spring from one central growth point.

But I did it. And if I did, you can, too. You'll have a lot of bitty plant bits. So invite some friends to share your plant parts. Or, like me, make a lot of terrariums.
Here's the finished lidded jar with 'Aquamarine' pilea, red Fittonia, eyelash begonia, and one tiny strawberry begonia, which is neither a strawberry nor a begonia but Saxifragia stolonifera [Ed: make that Saxifraga… Silly fingers!]. As accent, I added some of my collection of round stones. 

This covered jar makes a lot of condensation. I've been doing as Colletti suggests, venting it by removing the lid sometimes and wiping off the condensation. It should settle down eventually.
After I'd assembled all the plants, two of the first ones bought didn't work well with the others in the design, so I paired them here. That they'd survived for weeks in tiny pots with my indifferent care is proof of their toughness. The frilly one is a Ming aralia (Polyscias fruticosa) and the striped rosette, a baby Dracaena 'Warneckii'. Who knows? They might end up in another terrarium one day.
In the end, there were a lot of leftovers. But they don't look bad together here. Do you agree?

Colletti's book gave me the instigation, inspiration and information I needed to work on this project. But the "doing it" – with her guidance – is what gave me the confidence I could do it again. Try it.

Now, fingers crossed that my creations manage to outwit my planticidal tendencies.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Gabion fences at Canada Blooms 2016

Canada Blooms 2016 may be over, but my mind keeps returning to this show garden from Jacob's Gardenscape. I don't know which criteria earned it the Most Innovative Garden award, but the gabion fences were really interesting.
If you've spent time on the trails along Toronto's Don or Humber rivers, you've probably noticed the original purpose for gabions. Typically, these big, galvanized-wire-caged boxes filled with hunks of stone offer a cheap and effective way to shore up slopes and prevent erosion.

Recently, though, landscape designers have recognized their utility and even their style in the garden. I've seen them elegantly curved as low retaining walls, or capped with glass for tables or with wood for benches. And the big hunks of stone have become more refined. I've even seen them replaced with colourful wine bottles. Let's look at some of the ways they were used by Jacob's Gardenscape. 

Jacob's trimmed theirs to roughly the thickness of a glossy design magazine, and the fill is mostly pea gravel. But how do you like that central strip? It sparkles slightly as you walk past and, lit from behind, it glows.
The translucent material is crushed glass which, from the cube-shaped shards, must be safety glass. Two different-size wire grids sandwiching it all in place add their patterns to the mix. Probably, they also helped keep those lines perfectly level.
Along the long sides of the garden, the lighter strips had a warmer, pearly glow. A closer look showed why: they were filled with small white shells. In a real-life Canadian garden, it would be hard to know how shells would stand up to weather extremes. But it was a nice surprise to see, and fun to think of possible alternatives. Marbles, perhaps?
Jacob's used pea gravel as patio paving, too. Permeable and "olde-worldey," this softer hardscaping is relatively quick and easy to lay and crunches satisfyingly underfoot. (And note that Jacob's show garden was one of the few to also include a ramp for people who'd find the surface and steps a challenge. Kudos for that.) When your furniture has thick legs like these rustic seats, why would you need harder paving? By the way, see the small gabions edging the garden? 
The exit mirrored the entrance for this pleasant space. Altogether, it had a nice fusion: the simple lines of pergolas and fences gave it a little Asian zen; the pebble paving contributed a pinch of old-world Europe; while the Muskoka chairs gave it North American familiarity. And, now, it has me thinking creatively about gabions, and hoping they aren't the "recycled pallets" flavour of the month. What do you think?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

In praise of tree fungus

I think these lovelies might be the turkey-tail fungus (Trametes versicolor). You'll correct me if I'm wrong.
There are many (many!) things I don't know, but I know what I like. Something that falls into both categories is tree fungus. Despite the damage they cause to the forestry industry, I find tree fungi to be fascinatingly decorative. And that's what today's blog is all about.

If the way they look weren't enough to make me love them, fungi generally inspire the most colourful names, as you'll read in these galleries from Windsor's Ojibway Nature Centre or Andy's Northern Ontario Wildflowers. Names like wolf's milk slime, pixie cups, witch's butter, or elegant stinkhorn. Tree fungi, too, might be called red brain fungus, artist's conk, soft slipper toadstool, turkey tail or chicken of the woods. There's something about them that inspires a kind of perverse poetry.

So come for a walk in the woods with me near Sarah's country schoolhouse, and we'll admire them.

Ms. Internet suggests that this might be more turkey-tail, overlaid with a mist of algae.
Could this be chicken of the woods? I don't know, but it sure is frilly.
And here's the decorative underside of the creature above.
Again, I'll admit my ignorance as to the identity of this puck-sized bracket fungus, with its wavy orange top and dark underside. A woodlot might not be happy to see it growing so abundantly. But my camera and I found reasons to be amused.
(If you're like me, you might enjoy this great page on how to identify and photograph mushrooms from cell biologist and nature photographer, Dr. Robert Berdan. Some beautiful shots there, too.)
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