Monday, October 31, 2005


So, you haven't carved your pumpkin yet? It's not too late, and now you don't even have to waste time being creative. You Grow Girl has a Jack-O-Planner, a fun little flash game that allows you to, well, you know, plan your jack o' lantern.

(For those of you who were too obstinate to read the instructions, you drop the pieces by hitting the space bar.)

Sunday, October 30, 2005


I have kind of a love-hate relationship with mushrooms. I grew up loathing them; being forced to try "just one more bite" before I could leave the table. Now I largely like them; shiitake, oyster, enoki... anything but the bland, styrofoamy "white mushroom." Oh, and they all have to be cooked before they cross my palette.

Nevertheless, I find myself wanting to grow my own. I love the idea of being able to harvest something as exotic and gourmet as shiitakes, or Chicken of the Woods for that matter.

As you can see from these photos, I actually do grow my own. Except I'm not trying to. And I can't eat them because I have no idea what they are and don't feel like dying from a toxic mushroom. But I love them! I don't understand why people want to eliminate them.

These make me want to find a miniature gnome or Smurf figurine and give it a home.

You can buy shiitake starter kits at Dominion Seed House.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Seed saving

You Grow Girl, a website dedicated to - you guessed it - gardeners of the female persuasion, has a good blog. What's neat about it is that it's written by a dozen or so gardeners from around the world (well, North America, Australia and the UK anyway).

The most recent post is about seed saving, which I always find thrilling. There's something inherently satisfying about being able to perpetuate a plant you've grown. It's kind of addictive.

And, if you run out of seeds to collect and save, volunteer for the seed collector program at Van Dusen Botanical Garden.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Apple time

Apple season is in full swing here in B.C., which brings loads of fresh apples to our farmer's markets and grocery stores. If you came home with just two or three of the 30,000 lbs of apples that were sold at the UBC Apple Festival, you're probably going to want to check out All About Apples. has a free online cookbook written by North West neighbour, Scott Carsberg, Chef at Lampreia in Seattle. All About Apples is available via free download. Scott says:
When I created this menu it was between September and October in the state of Washington. Apple orchards are everywhere, especially in eastern Washington. There are so many varieties of apples, and they all have different textures and flavors. I wanted to combine them, not so much in a theme menu, but in a way that takes advantage of the season. I just wanted to do something that was true to this area. Apples are one of those products we’ve always exported. They’re a commodity. But there’s more to apples than apple pie.

He proves it with recipes like Dungeness Crab wrapped in Red Delicious Apples and Pork Prepared two ways with Apple Cider Sauce and Pippin Apple Dumplings. Mmm mmm good! And such a fabulous way to celebrate the apple harvest.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Autumn Decay


Clematis seed head

Naked Canna



I've discovered the digital macro feature on our new camera! Now I'm starting to build my flickr library. Stay tuned for more images.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Peanut butter plant

To go with your chocolate garden... Melianthus major (Peanut butter plant). It's a weird, dramatic shrub with large, serrated leaves. And yes, it really smells like peanut butter. Zone 8.

Friday, October 21, 2005


From the Cute-but-impractical File: Egglings (from Japan) look and feel like a real egg, but are made of white porous ceramic. Kids (or adults!) just crack it open, add water and sun... and voila! Basil, thyme or Italian parsley at your fingertips.

Plants grow for up to five months in the eggling's fortified peat mixture, and can then be moved them to your garden or window box.

But it begs the question, doesn't it? Why not just use real eggshells? Let Martha show you how.

Buy it at Romp.

Via Popgadget.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Chocolate-scented plants

Chocolate. Plants. Put 'em together and you've got one of the hottest trends in gardening. If it weren't enough that there are a number of plants with "chocolate" in their name, (Heuchera 'Chocolate Ruffles' and Eupatorium rugosa 'Chocolate,' for example), there are several plants that smell like chocolate as well. Here are a few of the best.

Berlandiera lyrata (Lyreleaf Greeneyes, Chocolate-scented Daisy, Chocolate Flower)

Berlandiera lyrata is the most chocolately-smelling of all chocolate-scented plants. A night bloomer, so your garden will smell like cocoa in the morning. Zone 4-10. Full Sun.

Cosmos atrosanguineus (Chocolate Cosmos)
A must have for the chocolate garden. Plants form a medium-sized clump of dark green leaves, bearing cup-shaped blooms of deep burgundy-red, with the distinctive fragrance of dark chocolate. Sun. Zones 8-9.

Akebia quinata (Chocolate vine, Five-leaf akebia)

A deciduous to semi-evergreen twining vine with a chocolate scent, - Akebia quinata has clusters of rounded leaves and racemes of captivating purple-brown blooms with a spicy fragrance. Warning: potentially invasive if left to own devices.
Zone 4 but deciduous in zones 4 through 6. Height 20' to 40'. Full sun.

Mentha piperita cv. 'Chocolate' (Chocolate Mint)

Chocolate mint doesn't really taste like chocolate to me, but lots of people claim it smells like a combination of chocolate and peppermint. Who cares when it's got lovely bronze-green leaves. 12-24" tall. Sun to part shade.

Gilia tricolor (Bird's Eyes)

This annual California wildflower is deliciously fragrant. Meadow plantings. Full sun. Height 3'.

(Now only if they tasted like chocolate...)

Chocolate Flower Farm is a Washington-based specialty nursery offering "chocolate" (scented as well as coloured) perennials.

Read more about scent in the garden in Scent for all Seasons.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Hundred Mile Diet

Never thought I'd say it, but I've found a diet I can fully endorse.

Fellow Vancouverites Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon are halfway through their one-year committment to the Hundred-mile Diet. No, it has nothing to do with the town named for the hundredth mile on the gold rush trail (my mom, whose parents dragged her city-girl ass up there "to homestead" half way through her grade 12 year, has another name for that diet. It's called bitterness.)

But I digress. Smith and MacKinnon's diet is based around a vow "to live with the rhythms of the land as our ancestors did." For one year (they started with the spring solstice in 2005) they are only consuming food and drink produced within 100 miles of their home in Vancouver.
This may sound like a lunatic Luddite scheme, but we had our reasons. The short form would be: fossil fuels bad. For the average American meal (and we assume the average Canadian meal is similar), World Watch reports that the ingredients typically travel between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometres, a 25 percent increase from 1980 alone. This average meal uses up to 17 times more petroleum products, and increases carbon dioxide emissions by the same amount, compared to an entirely local meal.
Their ongoing account is a thought-provoking and fascinating read. Their struggles (Does locally-milled wheat made from wheat grown on the Prairies "count"? How are we going to get through the winter?) and triumphs make for inspiring reading. It's humbling. And wish I could at least give up the evil banana.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Annual Annihilation

Upon arriving at work this morning, I was incensed to see the landscapers ripping out the annuals from the beds at the main entrance. Those hapless marigolds. Those wretched salvia. Snuffed out in their (late) prime. "Totally unprovoked," I cried. "I mean, we haven't even had our first frost!" My carpool buddy was, at this point, looking askance and probably thinking I'd gone nuts.

But it got me to thinking. What is it about beds of "cheerful annuals" that sets off so many gardeners? (Why are annuals always "cheerful," anyway? There's something untrustworthy about that.)

Amy Stewart writes:
What is it that's so offensive to serious gardeners about carpets of annual bedding flowers? I think it's the waste. For the same money and effort, you could plant extraordinary perennial gardens, or even, for that matter, extraordinary annual gardens. Hey, if you're going to grow annuals, let's see a wildflower meadow. A pollinator garden. Vegetables! Herbs!

Jane Perrone writes about her trip to the Butchart Gardens with similar feeling:
The planting in a lot of the gardens within the garden were a case of "bung in the annuals": as soon as anything starts to wilt or die off, it's whipped out and replaced with more temporary bedding. The result was a blaze of colour, certainly, but not particularly sustainable or likely to get a thumbs up from many organic gardeners.
Now, in (weak) defense of Butchart. First, I have to admit that even though I'm a Vancouverite and even lived in Victoria for five years, I've never gone to Butchart Gardens. But still I feel the need to point out that it is a tourist attraction (some might say misleadingly masquerading as a garden). At least that's how the locals see it. As the website claims, it's "fifty-five acres of wonderful floral display." And I'm sure the tour groups love it in all its theme-park-like glory. It should just come with a disclaimer for "serious gardeners."

Monday, October 17, 2005

Guernsey Lily

Phoenix Perennials, a Vancouver nursery specializing in "Distinct Perennials, Fragrant Shrubs, Hardy Subtropicals and the Botanically Intriguing" sent this grey-day-defying Nerine bowdenii (Guernsey Lily) to my inbox. According to their e-newsletter, Nerine bowdenii is perhaps one of the most colourful flowers for the late September and October garden. Nerine bowdenii is the only semi-hardy variety (it's a South African species of bulb, so most are tender). Blooms in bright candy pink...Wants full sun and protection from cold. Zone 8. Read more here.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Fall container no. 2

It's not as exciting as the other planter I made up at the same time, but I like the simplicity of this one (also with 50% off perennials from David Hunter Garden Centre ).

Clockwise from left: Hebe glaucophylla 'Variegata,' Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln' (Dwarf Fountain Grass), Chrysanthemum Showmaker™ grandiflora amor, Brassica oleracea acephala (ornamental kale), Acorus gramineus 'Ogon' (Golden Variegated Sweet Flag), and Viola (Pansy) 'Trick or Treat mix.'

Friday, October 14, 2005

Zoned out

The Canadian Forest Service has initiated something called Going Beyond the Zones, a new look at the old plant hardiness zone maps. Their website states:
It should be apparent to anyone who digs into the matter that both the old, and new, zone maps have limits and have not been calibrated to the wide number of plant species of interest to Canadians. Any single, national formula is bound to have limitations. For example, a decrease in snow cover may be disastrous for some plants in one part of the country, but may indicate generally warmer conditions in another region that may help some plants.

I can certainly say that Vancouver's wet winters can be harder on some plants than the cold is!

Going Beyond the Zones aims to go beyond a single general map and develop climatic profiles for individual species of trees, shrubs and perennial flowers. These climatic profiles will be mapped giving an indication of the possible range of each species.

You can help by registering and providing your feedback on which plants grow well (or don't) in your area.

You can alo play with their interactive zone map.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Master Gardener course

So, I'm thinking about studying to become a Master Gardener. There's an information session this coming Monday, October 17, at Van Dusen Botanical Garden, during which I will have to complete "a multiple-choice test on general gardening situations."

Alternatively, I could apply to the UBC garden design program for significantly more money.

Thoughts? Advice? Anyone undertaken either of these programs?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Thomas Hobbs' garden

Arguably Vancouver's most famous gardener and garden personality, Thomas Hobbs owns Southlands Nursery and has published two books; The Jewel Box Garden and Shocking Beauty.

I was lucky enough to visit his garden this summer on a Vancouver Hardy Plant Group tour and saw first hand the "jewels" that his latest book describes.

His is not a typical West Coast home by any stretch. Rather, it evokes the sun-baked villas of the Mediterranean, with its adobe-like finishing, tiled terrazzas, and tropical plantings.

Succulents fill pots and bowls, and even sprout from walls and ledges. The colours of the walls and the materials used in the house and garden all serve to enhance the Mediterranean theme.

The pond, here seen from two different angles, lends a Moorish influence and reminds me of the gardens of the Alhambra.

The beauty of it all really is, dare I say, shocking. Hobbs has certainly pushed the envelope here, and it works.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Vegetables that are pretty enough to hold their own

Scarlet Runner Beans

An edible landscape, simply put, is one that provides value visually and on the table.

There are hundreds of good-looking edible plants that you can easily tuck into your perennial borders, containers, or even as a stand-alone potage. And just think of being able to pick and eat vegetables that you've grown yourself. Now isn't that more satisfying than scoring the last Echineacea 'Mango Meadowbrite' on sale?

Here are just a few of my favourite attractive edibles:

Globe artichokes (If only they could flower and still be eaten)
Beets (choose Burpee's Golden OP plus a standard red like Kestrel for contrast)
Chard (Rainbow or 'Bright Lights')
Pumpkin (lovely broad leaves followed by autumn joy)
'Flying Saucer' squash (and they do look otherworldly)
Corn (although, if you can find a way to keep the squirrels from stealing the cobs, please let me know!)
Lettuce (I usually plant a few varieties so they mature at different times)
Herbs! (Basil, parsley, oregano, chives, dill, cilantro, sage, thyme, mint)
Tomatoes (cherry, roma, field)

'Bright Lights' Swiss Chard

Red Currants

Take a cue from your Commercial Drive neighbours and grow grapes, figs and, yes, tomatoes. Plant peas or beans alongside your clematis. Scatter dill, parsley and marjoram seeds among your flowerbeds.

It's a style of gardening that might not work for everyone. It takes a tremendous amount of foresight and planning, and not everything grows the way you want it to. I guess that's standard in gardening, but at least with vegetables you can more-easily grow from seed. And that's something that's satisfying in and of itself.

More reasons to RIP OUT your lawn

The lawns in the United States consume around 270 billion gallons of water a week—enough to water 81 million acres of organic vegetables, all summer long.

Food Not Lawns is an organization dedicated to encouraging and supporting people in replacing their lawns with edible flowers, fruits, vegetables, and other useful plants. "Or," they suggest, "what about turning your whole yard into an organic food garden and using a local park, school or natural area for recreation?"

We already use herbs - such as tricolour sage, for example - in our plantings. Why not introduce more edible plants next spring? View my suggestions for planting attractive edibles.
Food Not Lawns says:
Lawns use ten times as many chemicals per acre as industrial farmland. These pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides run off into our groundwater and evaporate into our air, causing widespread pollution and global warming, and greatly increasing our risk of cancer, heart disease, and birth defects.

Scary. And it's all just about changing our land-use philosophy from one of ownership and control to one of sharing and cooperation. And isn't that something we were supposed to learn in kindergarten?
Via Dirt by Amy Stewart.

Friday, October 07, 2005

I can see it now...

Black Lace™ arrives in select garden centres in spring 2006. Normally polite Canadian gardeners will be knocking over little old ladies in a bid to secure what will quickly become the latest "must-have" perennial. Some will be reminded of the 1983 Cabbage Patch Kid™ shortage.

Seriously, though. Black Lace™ elderberry (Sambucus nigra 'Eva') from ColorChoice® Flowering Shrubs by Proven Winners® is going to be hot.

First, it's black - and black foliage is still very desireable. Second, it has a fine, lacey texture (comparable to that of a Japanese maple). Apparently, it also has beautiful pink blooms in early spring and summer. Then - get this - in the fall it produces dark black berries that can be used for making wine and jam or for attracting wildlife! You really can't get much better than that.

Use: As a stand alone accent plant, mixed in a perennial and annual border, in a container or even as a hedge.
Hardiness: To Zone 4.
Size: 6-8' high and wide.
Exposure: Full sun to part shade.

Learn more.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Fall container with Canine schnauzer 'Shadow'

An amazing selection of fall blooming perennials (50% off!) at David Hunter Garden Centre allowed me to make up some stunning containers. I combined tall, red Carex buchanii (New Zealand sedge) with two varieties of Heuchera; 'Dolce Peach Melba' and 'Velvet Night,' Ophiogogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' (Black Mondo grass), Bracteantha bracteata 'Sundaze Golden Beauty,' Capsicum annuum (ornamental pepper) and Viola (Pansy) 'Trick or Treat mix.' Perfect for combatting those autumn blahs, n'est pas?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Even the world's smallest balcony...

Wouldn't this be the perfect this for those teeny Juliette balconies appearing in new developments all over Vancouver? (Yes, Degan, yours too!)

The Leopoldo City Vegetable Garden is kind of a modern version of a window box or hanging basket, but waaaay more stylish. I like the double-decker styling, which provides more growing room for your buck.

Via Treehugger.

transcendental kitchen scraps

Bette Midler on gardening:

"My whole life had been spent waiting for an epiphany, a manifestation of God's presence, the kind of transcendent, magical experience that lets you see your place in the big picture. And that is what I had with my first compost heap."

From the marvelous Horticultural, Jane Perrone's organic gardening blog.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

I heart edamame

There's nothing better than a bowl of steamed, lightly-salted edamame (soybeans) with your beer.

Why not grow yourself an appetizer? West Coast Seeds, which I love because they're local (president Mary Ballon and I even went to the same Elementary School, albeit 30 years apart!) sells soybean seeds.

West Coast Seeds carries the 'Early Hakucho' variety, but Soybean 'Edamame' is good too, and then there's the oh-so-literal Soybean 'Beer Friend'. Here's what West Coast Seeds has to say about growing soybeans:
They grow well in ordinary garden soil. Plant in mid-September to early November in mild winter areas, 8cm (3 in.) deep just before the ground freezes. Weed between the rows of these over-wintering plants in the spring, and incorporate a nitrogen fertilizer to encourage early growth for a yield in June. Or plant in February. Set the seeds 12cm (5 in.) apart, 4cm (11/2 in.) deep in double or single rows 1m (3 ft.) apart. Providing stakes or strings between the rows may help control the plant’s tendency to fall over when bearing heavily. When aphids attack in May/June, pinch out the growing tip to stop further new growth on which the aphids feed. This helps the plant to mature the setting pods.

Then, I might add, pick when pods are plump and green, make yourself a batch, and pour yourself a cold one.