All posts by ailsaf

Growing your own, organically!

Earlier this season the folks over at Canadian Organic Growers approached me and asked if I would write a review of their latest labour of love, a COG practical series handbook called, The Organic Backyard: A guide to applying organic farming practices to your home or community garden.

21039593_10213388180442044_1947744349_n.jpg

This publication, only 61 pages long, packs in all that you need to know to begin growing your edible plants organically on your own property, as part of a group in a community garden, on reclaimed parks or urban spaces across the country.

The hope is that this book will help “to engage more of the community in building the local organic food system.”  The editor, Sarah Chisholm Ryder, envisions this little book “spreading across our communities, turning every available space into one that produces good food that nourishes our soils, us and our environment.”

21034289_10213388127600723_1581214977592101823_n.jpg
The voluptuous Civic Garden at Lansdowne Park, Ottawa

Before you can truly garden organically, you must understand that the quality of your soil is your biggest ally.  Simply gardening without synthetic herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers is not the full picture.  Growing organically, especially food crops, means:

  • Understanding soil life
  • Building soil health and productivity of the land for generations to come
  • Protecting the environment by decreasing water pollution and increasing biodiversity and pollinator habitat
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by not using fossil-fuel based fertilizers
  • Protecting seed identity by not using genetically modified (GM) seed
  • Knowing the source of your garden inputs and how they affect the environment, your land and your neighbours land
  • Recycling nutrients within your garden system through composting, crop rotation and cover crops

If you’re new to vegetable gardening, this wide-ranging ideology might be overwhelming to you at first, but don’t worry.  This guide introduces you gently by providing you with easy steps to follow along your food growing journey:

  • where to site your food garden;
  • how to prepare your site, whether it is in an existing lawn, a compacted backyard (i.e. raised planters) or intended as a production market garden;
  • the tools you’ll need;
  • the seeds you should source, as well as a brief guide to starting seeds indoors;
  • the importance of keeping a journal;
  • the qualities of good soil and how to make it happen (i.e. making compost, the value of manure, compost tea and the use of cover crops);
  • helping your garden grow (managing weeds, intercropping or co-cropping, mulching, the pros and cons of tilling, dealing with pests and diseases, encouraging pollinators and beneficial insects and organisms);
  • the notion of crop rotation and how it helps to balance soil fertility;
  • the benefits of companion planting (with plant notes);
  • the value of succession planting (making the most of your space);
  • final thoughts on keeping things going when the weather turns cold.

20992976_10213388128360742_2238303377144710487_n.jpg

There is also a small section at the end that talks about community gardening, including tips to help you start one of your own, a checklist of what to consider and guidelines that will ensure everyone contributes equally and the garden’s management is not left to Mother Nature or chance.

Highly recommended as a tool for the beginner vegetable gardener, or someone wanting to have basic information available at their fingertips as they grow food organically.  If you’re a beginner, it is important to reach out to an organization like the Canadian Organic Growers and this book is one of many resources available to you.  Gardening sympathetically alongside the natural world and being mindful of our earth’s future is our duty in today’s fast-paced and throw-a-way world.  The sweetness of freshly pulled carrots or the burst of flavour in home-grown tomatoes is the end result of our commitment to following certain organic principles.  But it’s not just the harvest that can give us joy, it is the entire journey.

You can purchase your copy for $15.00 CAN here.

019

 

 

 

Only time heals

When we lose someone, we lose our compass, our rudder.  Up is now down, and left is right.  Nothing is the same.

When we lose someone, we are in a vacuum and for the moment, time has no meaning.  We think this day will never come.

If you’ve been lucky enough to have a dog who meant the world to you, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.   If you haven’t, I’m sorry for you.

If you’ve had a dog who was sick, infirm or old, you’ll know that these are the times that your bond grows deep, develops extra lignin, strengthens your connection and builds a wall around you that is never breached.  This is love.

020

I thought I’d be back blogging soon….but words seem to fail me.

There is plenty to talk about and I am keen to talk about it….but in this moment, I will simply reflect that it has been nearly a year since I said goodbye to Skye-dog and my life is slowly regaining its colour.

Thanks for waiting.

A winter reverie…

….with colourful summer planters!  But first, here I am with my big sister in the Gatineau hills.  She’s holding the leaf; I’m eating an apple.  My two loves: the outdoors and food.

85436727-sld-001-0010

Successful summer planters are full and lush.  They are also fearless and creative….

img_1818

This is the planter that undergoes seasonal changes at True Loaf bakery on Gladstone in Ottawa’s centretown.  If you crave chewy, flavourful, delicious and inventive bread, both savoury and sweet, this is your destination!

This planter combines white cosmos, buttery yellow petunia, golden Carex, white Gaura, ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia, a hit of fire-y zinnia, ‘Tiger Eye’ sumac and the blades of Acidanthera.  It probably didn’t need the orange-red zinnia, or else would have benefited from more plants of that colour.  Oh well – live and learn.

img_1021

As you can clearly see, I can’t get enough of yellow, chartreuse, green and white, so this is my garden in the early summer.  Incorporating a large pot into a garden planting can be very rewarding and can afford a big statement, that can be changed according to the season.

img_1783

This is a family garden, where kidlets enjoy the raised pond and lawn play area while the adults appreciate the colourful planters.   Grouping smaller planters like this into a vignette makes a bigger statement than just one.  As you can see, the blue-silvery planter is raised on a simple metal stand, giving it extra height and presence.

img_1005

Planters can be anything — this one uses an antique bucket to great effect and is very much a part of the garden display in a plant nursery in Hudson, NY.

img_0866

The same nursery, this time with a large copper tub acting as planter, along with a vintage red truck.  Such whimsy!  When you’re building your arrangements, think about coloured foliage as much as you think about flower colour….

img_1128-2

This mirrored planting shows the value of both scale and foliage.  Palms provide bulk and height, massive ‘Gryphon’ begonias (large, palm shaped leaves) provide texture and a metallic quality, ‘Bonfire’ begonias shout red and English ivy trail.  This is the perfect combination for a sheltered, shady porch.

IMG_1883

Another entrance planter enthralls in the sunshine with luscious chartreuse, yellow and black….

I can’t wait to create some new combinations in 2017…..

Save

Colourful and natural planters for the holidays

Christmas is coming and so is our opportunity to do something festive and special.  A tree, yes, but also a planter outdoors that allows us to be as flamboyant or as natural as we like.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

The folks at Mill Street Florist in Manotick always mix the unexpected: in this outdoor display, cut red roses are paired with winterberry (Ilex verticillata) to produce an undeniable punch of red.  Of course, red roses will not survive sub-zero temperatures for long, so this combination is best for indoors, perhaps a cool vestibule, or outdoors during mild weather.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

My planter a few years ago was simple: imported cedar from British Columbia (much softer and greener than ours here), snipped wild rosehips and large pinecones.  Simple but effective, at least before it was covered with snow!

dec-2011-011

A small yet jewel-like basket from Mill Street Florist.  Bark, cones, grapevine and greens combine with colourful berries, a rich rose and demure, artificial apples.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Simple, natural displays can be all you need or want.

Consider that if you want red, winterberry and rosehips are entirely different in their effect…

While winterberry (left) is bold and lush and can be seen from a distance, rosehips (right) are much smaller and present a looser, more natural and spare effect.

Whatever you do, keep scale in mind.  A small arrangement is best reserved for the mantle or table-scape, while a large (weatherproof) urn works best next to your entry.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Stuff, stuff, stuff; think about texture, movement and colour; and ensure it has impact.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

You don’t need to spend a lot of money.

Search the woods for different conifers and snip branches selectively.

Use dried flowers like hydrangea and seedheads like those from sumac and wildflowers.

And don’t forget to add height with dogwood, curly willow, birch branches or whatever you fancy.

Make something special and enjoy your creation through the holidays and beyond.

Save

Stick with me…

….and I promise to write on this blog more often!

Today’s gardening column in the Ottawa Citizen was my last.  That is because they have parted ways with their freelance writers – that’s right, as I understand, all of them.

Thank you so much for following me through my columns talking about gardens, plants, our struggles and triumphs.  It was a privilege writing for Ottawa’s paper for so many years.

Thankyouwithhand

But, you’ll still find me here and hopefully in some other select gardening publications as well.

Stay tuned….

 

Perfection in a pocket

Earlier this summer I had the pleasure of visiting Kristin Kendall’s garden in an old central neighbourhood of our city.  Tucked next to the Rideau River, and surrounded by other charming homes of similar vintage, the Kendall home is full of character and style.  And so is the garden.

img_2660

Barely large enough to swing a cat, the natural paving stone patio nonetheless is furnished with a small teak table and two wicker viewing chairs.  The secateurs and trowel on the table are not props; Kristin and her husband Bill (my old high school teacher no less!) are active workers in this jewel of a garden and keenly choreograph the plants and keep them happy and healthy.  There is not a weed to be seen!

img_2690

Of course, there is no swinging of cats here.  Sorry, didn’t mean to offend.

img_2659

The colours in this half and half sunny/shady garden are hot and luminous.  The brights include Ligularia dentata ‘Desdemona’, as well as a scarlet coleus, a lupin, Japanese blood grass, a dark border sedum and monarda in the rear.  A weeping hemlock on the right, Virginia creeper on the fence and a Serbian spruce on the left all provide a green backdrop for this brilliant canvas.

img_2663

A stone water bowl with rhythmic striations provides a feature in the garden as well as a drink for wildlife.  These grooves are mimicked by the shadows of the iris growing alongside.

img_2671

Kristin would have me tell you that the garden is impeccable at this moment because it is post-tour.  But I’m not so sure — I think the stylish gardener and homeowner is detail oriented every day.

img_2673

On this day the hyssop was absolutely covered in buzzing bees; a sound that complemented that of the gently bubbling fountain…

img_2658

 

The weeping larch cascades to the ground alongside the giant boulder, bubbling constantly.  Everything is compact in this garden, but every inch has been thoughtfully filled.

img_2670

Non-living details in this garden are chosen with style and taste.  Kendall’s brother is the owner of Balleycanoe & Co., a business that sells 19th century architectural salvage pieces in Mallorytown.

img_2686

img_2684

This garden is truly a labour of love and the owners appreciate what they have helped to create.  You may even find one of them sitting, every once in a while, appreciating the view…

img_2692