Friday, September 30, 2005

I feel like paella tonight

Did you have any idea that you could grow your own saffron?

Saffron is the dried, bright red stigmas of the flower Crocus sativus, which is a relatively easy-to-grow perennial. According to The Farmer's Almanac, it grows well in Zones 6 through 9. It lies dormant all summer, then pushes its purple blossoms up through the mulch just as other plants are succumbing to frost. Cool.

Each blossom offers up to three scarlet stigmas. You plant the bulbs in summer and harvest the stigmas in fall.

A starter supply of about 50 bulbs costs about $30 and will produce about a tablespoon of the spice the first year. However, each year more flowers will grow, and therefore you'll get more of the spice. Ultimately, your investment will pay off. Fresh saffron threads can be used immediately for cooking, or they can be dried and stored.

To dry them, place on paper towels and leave for several days in a warm place. Then transfer them to an airtight container and keep in a cool, dry place.

Saffron is a staple in the diets of Mennonite farmers in places such as Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where gardeners have been growing it for centuries. Robin, you gotta love that.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Tomato blight

The last few years I've grown tomatoes, they've come down with the blight (kind of the tomato equivalent of bubonic plague). What to do?

I had dinner with some Italian friends, and we had a rousing discussion of how to prevent/cure tomato blight, which dissolved into conflicting "true stories" involving home remedies and nylon stockings.

So I checked out the BC Ministry of Agriculture website, which provides some answers to your questions about tomato blight and offers some good advice:

- Grow tomatoes in a warm, dry, sunny area. If you have had blight previously, move to a different area if possible, or replace the upper soil layer since "oospores" will carry over in soil.

- Water only underneath the plants, not the leaves or fruit. Drip irrigation is preferable to watering with a hose, to reduce water splash. Don’t overfertilize or overwater.

- Grow on a light sandy soil if possible or cover soil with a white plastic mulch to increase soil and air temperatures around the plants and reduce humidity.

- Growing plants under an overhang or a clear plastic shelter will help prevent spores from being deposited on plants by wind and rain. But plants must be covered before infection has occured. Covering the plants after they are infected may raise humidity and make the disease worse.

Read more.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Eden Project

How cool is this? You know when, in sci-fi movies, an alien bacteria creates an inhospitable Earth, the heroes simply band together and create a biosphere-type orb out of plastic wrap that they can live in safely while repopulating the planet?

Tim Smit, co-discoverer of The Lost Gardens of Heligan, who I'm beginning to think is the most brilliant man ever, has now brought us The Eden Project.

It started as a crater, and is now home to over 100,000 plants representing three of the world's climate zones ("biomes").

"The Humid Tropics" (Rainforests and Tropical Islands) is the theme of the first biome (the world's largest greenhouse!), while "The Warm Temperate regions" (the Mediterranean, South Africa & California) are represented by the second biome. The third, or "Outdoor Biome", is a temperate zone where a range of plants from the India to Russia rub shoulders with the native flora of Cornwall, and the Atlantic rainforests.

I wanna go!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Feed the birds

...Tuppence a bag... (now see if that lovely Mary Poppins song doesn't get lodged in your head).

It's officially autumn. Crisp air greets us in the morning, the leaves are blazing red and orange, and the koi are looking a little sluggish in their pond. It's also time to be thinking about feeding the birds during the winter ahead. The Canadian Wildlife Federation's excellent website, Wild About Gardening, has a wealth of resources to help you attract wildlife to your garden. And it's not just about birdseed and squirrel-repellent feeders, either. There's advice on meeting the needs of bats, bees, and birds through planting, providing a water source, shelter, a pesticide-free space, and just basically meeting the needs of wildlife.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Adventure: Nitobe Memorial Garden

Yesterday my boyfriend Ben and I went to Nitobe Memorial Garden at UBC to check out a matcha festival.

Considered to be one of the top traditional Japanese gardens in North America, Nitobe Memorial Garden honours the Japanese scholar, educator and diplomat Dr. Inazo Nitobe (1862-1933).

Nitobe is meticulously designed and maintained, down to each pebble; every leaf and stone. And everything is infused with meaning.

There is tranquil harmony here, in the careful balance of masculine and feminine forces traditionally attributed to natural elements: waterfalls, rivers, forests, islands and seas. Grab a pamphet on your way in - it directs you on a self-guided tour.

A number of stone lanterns, strategically placed, grace the two-acre oasis. Stone lanterns appeard in Japan during the Asuka period and were used to light the front of Buddhist temples. Their decorative use in gardens began with the rise of the tea ceremony and the need to illuminate the roji path to the tea house. This Nitobe family crest lantern (shizen doro) was not in garden designer Dr. Mori's original design but was added later as a gift from the city of Morioka. The stone is local to Morioka district and it bears the crescent moon and stars of the Nitobe family crest.

Stones, which have many symbolic meanings in Japanese gardens (female, male, child; alarm, sensory awareness, etc.), anchor and provide the "bones" of the garden.

I love the serenity inherent here. I really want to create a Japanese-style garden when we move to our new place, but I've never been good at self-restraint. Maybe it will serve as an exercise in that.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Mmm... rotting flesh

Plants that smell like rotting flesh to attract pollinators include the dragon arum (Dracunculus vulgaris), which has a burgundy leaf-like flower out of which flows a slender, black appendage. The plant is native to the Mediterranean, but this one "showed up one day" in the Bronx, New York, garden of Rosemarie Dieda. The plant was identified by Debbie Gartzke of Weird Dude's Plant Zoo. The plant "will seed around, so apparently someone else in the neighborhood has one," said Gartzke.

Read more at National Geographic.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

In its heyday, Heligan Manor, the former seat of the Tremayne family, was one of the glories of Cornwall, England. Almost completely self-sufficient, it had a number of farms, quarries, woods, a brickworks, a flour mill, a sawmill, a brewery, and productive orchards and kitchen gardens. Its land extending over a thousand acres, it was the centre of the community and supported 20 "inside" staff and up to 22 "outside" staff.

The outbreak of war in 1914 put an end to that. Many of the staff died in battle, and, although the Tremayne family returned after the war for a few years, they eventually rented the estate out to friends and moved away. Although basic maintenance was undertaken to the grounds around the house, the gardens were gradually abandoned.

Fast-forward to February 16, 1990. That was the day that Tim Smit and John Willis decided to explore the rumours that, near the village of Mevagissey, Cornwall, there was an overgrown tropical valley; some claimed there were desolated temples and mosaic floors found in the middle of the forests.

Crawling on hands and knees through massive, overgrown laurel hedges and the ruins of glasshouses, they discovered this lost world.

Now, through a painstaking process of restoration, Heligan is returning to its former glory. The Lost Gardens of Heligan extend to some eighty acres, the site of the largest garden restoration in Europe.

One of the reasons Heligan is so valuable is that no major alterations had been carried out over this last century and all the vernacular and garden buildings remained untouched. There are very few examples of gardens which haven't been modernised and Heligan provides a unique snapshot of the Victorian vision and ingenuity which first created this subtropical paradise.

From the official Heligan website:

It's hard to believe that this garden was under several feet of brambles and overgrown laurel when it was discovered in 1990. Now the Italian Garden is restored to its former glory and is one of the most beautiful areas in the Pleasure Grounds.

This is cool. This is where the Tremaynes kept their bees to produce honey for the Big House. Each hollow contained a bee skep, like an upturned basket, in which the bees made their home.

Do doll parts have a place in garden design?

Timmerman Daugherty, the artist behind the "permanent flowers," as she calls them, (shown above), rescues abandoned items, deconstructs/reconstructs them, and gives them a good home. View her bizarre home and garden at her website,

"Bottle trees" (foreground in photo above), mosaic tables and sculpture, and yes, doll parts, play a prominent role in this Baltimore garden. It's not my style (there are hardly any plants!), but something about it appeals to the hippy/artist/packrat in me.

Weird indeed.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Don't let your children run loose here

The Duchess of Northumberland's controversial poison garden has been officially opened.

Cannabis, opium poppies, magic mushrooms and coca - the source of cocaine - all feature at the centuries-old Alnwick Garden.

The Home Office granted the Alnwick Garden Trust permission to grow the plants late last year.

Poisonous foxglove, tobacco and wild lettuce, which can be used as a tranquilliser, will also be grown.

The site has been designed by Belgian Peter Virtz. More than 50 dangerous plants are included in the collection.

To highlight its hazardous nature the garden's beds are laid in the shape of flickering flames.

Members of the public will be escorted around the walled garden by marshals.

The Duchess of Northumberland officially opened the garden with Northumbria Police chief constable Crispian Strachan.

She said: "Drugs are a major concern across the country and an emotive issue.

"The garden will offer a new avenue, outside the classroom, to get people talking about the misuse of drugs - most of which grow in nature."

From the BBC news

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Fall colour

If your beds are looking a little forelorn right now, it's time to reassess your fall garden. Plant some fall-blooming perennials, grasses, or cool-season annuals.

Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan) is one of my fall favourites, as is Colchicum:

Friday, September 09, 2005


Van Dusen Botanical Garden is having their annual manure sale (or, as they call it, "Tree-mendous Compost Sale") on Saturday, September 24 from 10-3 in the parking lot. Good stuff.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

I love grass no. 2

I love the simple drama of this Crescent Beach garden; there's only, as far as I can tell, three types of plants used here. I could never be that restrained. Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus' (Maiden grass) is in the background, Pennisetum villosum (Feathertop) is in the mid-ground, and there's some sort of bamboo in the foreground. The plantings suit the seaside community and the house they surround.

See how the bamboo seems to grow right out of the pavers on the front drive? And the use of white sand to further blend the bamboo in with the pavers? Genius.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Natural lawn care

I don't believe in lawns. At least in principle. Or is it just that I don't like the over-manicured, green-even-in-summer, weed-free lawns we gardeners are supposed to aspire to? It just seems so... wasteful. But it doesn't have to be. And, let's face it: lawns serve their purpose: they (can be) easy care; they provide a visual resting place for the eye; and they provide an arena for cartwheels and bocce. Here's a step-by-step guide to Natural Lawn Care 101 from the City Farmer website:

Use a push mower. Set your blade to high. Long blades of grass develop deep roots.

Leave clippings on your lawn to provide nitrogen and moisture. Mow often.

Hand weed - don't use herbicides! Develop a tolerance for weeds.

Conserve water. Water thoroughly but less often - a maximum of one hour a week.

Fertilize in May, early June and September. Use organic fertilizers (like Gaia Green Turf and Lawn Blend).

Top dress with a thin layer of compost and sand.

Overseed with grass seed.

Aerate by hand in May or September to reduce soil compaction.

Or, if this all seems like too much work, why don't you lose your lawn?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Adventure: UBC Botanical Garden

One of Vancouver's garden treasures is the UBC Botanical Garden, which makes for a fabulous day of adventure. Originally created as a research centre focused on the native flora of British Columbia, the mission of UBC Botanical Garden has broadened to include research, conservation, teaching and public display of temperate plants from around the world, particularly Asian, alpine and native plants.

Their website is awesome. There's a blog, but even better I think is their "botany photo of the day" page, which, with its descriptions, acts like a blog anyway.

Lupinus polyphyllus in the Native Garden at UBC Botanical Garden.

During summer (until late October), the garden is open every day from 10am to 6pm. It cost $6.00 to get in.

Check their website for upcoming events; don't miss the Apple Festival, on October 15 & 16, 2005.

Communities in Bloom

Vancouver's boulevards and traffic circles, in recent years, have just exploded with greenery and blossoms. Ever wonder who plants and maintains these public gardens? It's people like you and me. Gardeners who've recently divided perennials. Who see a bare patch of dirt and think, "I have just the plant for that spot!" It doesn't take much: talk to your neighbours. Plan a planting day. You can even sponsor a street garden. The City of Vancouver supports a program called Green Streets, which offers Vancouverites an opportunity to become volunteer street gardeners. Residents sponsor a traffic circle or corner bulge garden. The City provides guidelines for planting and runs a Street Gardener Information Exchange, which allows participants to share information and plants, and ask for advice.

It's good for the earth, good for the community, and good for people. There's an international movement behind community planting. Check out Communities in Bloom for more info.

Here's a photo of a beautiful community garden in my East Vancouver neighbourhood. Inspired yet?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Cobrahead weeder

I received a Cobrahead weeder probably a year ago and have been meaning to blog it ever since. It's the perfect multi-purpose hand tool - or, as the website describes it: "The Cobra Head precision weeder and cultivator is the closest thing to a universal garden tool. Its blade is a steel fingernail™ that becomes an extension of your hand."

I never garden without it.