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gardening

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In the Garden: Dog Strangling Weed

The first time we visited our now home with our real estate agent, she commented on a plant I had never seen before, calling it “Dog Strangling Weed,” and indicating we’d need to deal with it quickly if we purchased the home. I didn’t think much of it. I mean, it couldn’t be any worse than spearmint, could it?

Yes. Yes it could.

It wasn’t until our 4th summer in our home that I really made a dedicated effort to eradicate the weed,* and by that time it had made awesome headway.

dog strangling vine with flowers
Glossy green leaves, purplish-pink small flowers.

I not so fondly refer to this weed as a sentient being, likely deposited here by aliens as the first stage of taking over the earth. It really is that aggressive, hardy, and sneaky. I realise it can’t actually be sentient (can it?) but it does seem to find the smallest cracks and most difficult to get at places to grow. This extremely invasive plant is alien though, or at least a non-native species that was introduced in the North Eastern US in the 1800s. Native to Eurasia, Dog Strangling Vine is now found in many parts of Southern Ontario. It trails and attaches to trees, fences, itself, whatever, and it will strangle other plants in its way. I have lost three small trees to the vine over the years. The plant spreads via both roots underground and seeds blown by the wind. You must dig up the entire root to remove the plant. Any root fragments left behind will sprout again. Sound easy? This is the root:

dog strangling vine root system

The root clumps are huge and rambling. You need to dig underneath them and then carefully reach down and work them out of the soil, pulling gently but firmly on trailing roots as you go. It’s quite satisfying once you get one of the big main root clumps out, but truly a painstaking task to get there.

This is the plant as it’s first coming through the soil:

dog strangling vine shoots

Straight, young shoots with tightly closed deep green leaves. It is distinctive and easy to spot. Try to dig these out as soon as you see them. The larger they get the more difficult the task. And once they really start growing they move into flower and seed production quickly. Quick tip: If you find a patch of dog strangling vine that is flowering, or about to, but you don’t have time to dig it out right away, quickly rip out or cut the plants below the flowers and dispose. At least you will avoid seed production and distribution. I have done this in desperation a few times, just grabbing and pulling randomly. It will slow down the take-over if nothing else.

And while we are on the topic of disposal, this weed is so invasive and difficult, the City of Toronto does not accept it in either yard waste or green bin disposal streams. It must be sealed in plastic bags and put out as garbage. Ouch. Check with your municipality for proper local disposal guidelines.

There don’t seem to be any natural enemies of DSV here, although there are bugs that feed on it and keep it in check in its native Eurasia. Chemical treatment does work, particularly Round-Up, when applied at flowering. Check local regulations on household usage of herbicides.

You can find more information on Dog Strangling Vine and other invasive plant species at Toronto Urban Forestry. A nuisance in the home garden, these invasive species can wreak havoc with local ecosystems and cause major difficulties for farmers. Every effort we can take to combat these problem plants can have much wider benefits beyond our own back yards.

*I had pulled/dug some over the years, but our first summer we were just moving in, and busy inside. Then I was pregnant and exhausted. And the third summer I had a high needs infant that wouldn’t let me out of his sight.

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Keep Working Hands Feeling Soft & Healthy with Crabtree & Evelyn {review & giveaway}

I spent the vast majority of the long weekend in my garden, digging and weeding and planting. Over the next few months I will continue to spend every moment possible out there digging in the dirt. My garden is my happy place. But that happy place can really do a number on my hands. Forget manicures! These hands work hard, and I’m lucky I can keep even short nails, let alone pretty polish. I often don’t even wear my gardening gloves, particularly when I’m weeding. The gloves make it harder to feel for and grip the smaller weeds.

Digging and pulling and scraping and drying out my hands in the soil leads to the need for lots of hand washing, which can also be very drying for the skin and nails. If I were more vain about my hands I guess I wouldn’t garden at all, but as it is I just look for quality products to help me combat the worst of my offenses. And I’ve had great success with Crabtree & Evelyn. They have a line of liquid soaps, creams, and treatments specifically for gardeners.

The Gardeners collection is ideal for hands in need of a little tender loving care. Gardeners hand care is blended with natural ingredients and botanical extracts inspired by an English herb garden with notes of rosemary, lavender, sage, thyme and oak moss. They smell so fresh!

I’ve used the Gardeners Hand Therapy in previous years and love the rich, silky feel of the cream. Ingredients include macadamia nut oil and shea butter for a luxurious treatment that soaks in quickly, leaving hands feeling soft and nourished. The Gardeners Liquid Hand Soap combines soothing herbal extracts like alfalfa, carrot root and chicory leaf to deliver gentle cleansing and conditioning, as well as naturally deodorising sage, rosemary and cucumber. I keep these two next to the kitchen sink so I can wash and moisturise each time I come in from the garden, as well as to give my hands a treat after washing the dishes. You don’t have to be a gardener to appreciate this duo!

The Crabtree & Evelyn Gardeners Duo comes ready to gift, in this gorgeous botanical box. You can purchase online or in-store, and it retails for $40 CDN. I’m currently using the box on my desk, holding note cards and pens. It’s too pretty not to keep out on display!

A Giveaway

One lucky Raising My Boys reader will receive their own Gardener’s Duo gift package, including the hand soap and hand cream, in this beautiful box. Entries are via the widget below and will be accepted until 12:00 midnight EDT, June 5. Giveaway is open to both US and Canadian residents. Best of luck!

Disclosure: I received complimentary product to facilitate this review. No other compensation was received. All opinions on this blog, as always, remain my own.

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Spring Is Finally Here!

It’s really amazing what a little sunshine and warmer weather can do for my mood. Things started to look up earlier last week when I caught my first sight of a DVP groundhog (if you live in Toronto you likely know what I’m talking about – they live on/under a grassy median along this urban highway). Then there were 3 robins on my lawn, followed the next day by a pair of house finch in my pussy willow tree.

male and female house finch
I think Spring has finally arrived!

With the sun shining brightly, and a temperature approaching 20 degrees Celsius, yesterday was all about the outdoors. Some of that outdoors time was less than fun (read – cleaning up a winter’s worth of dog poop in the yard), but it was all really good for the soul.

Boo and I did some tidying up in the garden and were delighted to find life poking up out of the soil. There are lots of bulbs coming through, and the peonies are just peeking above the ground. Chives are doing great and can be clipped already. And I am estimating that my rhubarb is about 2 weeks away from harvest! I simply couldn’t stop smiling.

Naturally we couldn’t let this day go by without a nice nature walk with the dog. For a bit of variety we headed to Sunnybrook Park, on Leslie St. The park is huge and beautiful, with 9 parking lots and 2 picnic areas. And it was packed. Seriously packed.  We ventured along a wooded trail for a while, and Boo collected a series of sticks. Nothing new there. Maxi made friends with everyone we met – both human and canine. Most of our walk was along the road and through the picnic areas, so not exactly what we were after, but we really weren’t familiar with where to park. A few years ago Boo and I went there on a weekday morning, and we had an amazing walk through the woods, checking out streams and wildlife and cool bridges.  I just have to figure out where the heck I parked that time.

What is it with boys and sticks??
Maxi was crazy excited to see all the people and smell all the smells.

Sunnybrook Park is a great spot for hiking, biking, chilling, sports, picnics, and more. You can apply for a permit to use one of the fire pits in the picnic areas. And I noted a few geocaches as well – we’ll be going back to look for those without the dog. So many families had clearly settled in there for the day. Portable BBQs, water and snacks and full meals, bikes and games for the kids. You could feel the excitement as everyone dove headfirst into the best day we’ve had so far this year. Yay Spring!

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Putting the Garden to Bed

Having a healthy, productive garden is really a year-round affair. Even in the winter wonderland that is Canada. Every season has its particular tasks from planning and ordering seeds in the winter, to prepping the ground and planting in spring, weeding and cutting and feeding all summer, and harvesting in the fall, there’s always something to be done. And one of the most important fall chores is to put the garden to bed for the winter.

And this is a task at which I suck.

I think part of my problem is that I put it off and put it off, with the optimism of a summer heart, believing that there are still lots of warm days left. And then out of nowhere the weather turns and suddenly I realise I still haven’t harvested my lavender or taken the dahlia tubers out of the ground for storage. Sigh.

gardening toolsToday it snowed. So I figured I’d better get to it. I’d dealt with 90% of the vegetable garden about a month ago, but the herbs and flowers were pretty much overrun. There’s a lot to cut back.

I thought I’d share a few of the tasks needing to be done at this time of year. Some of them I’ve completed, others I’ll get to this week. I hope.

1) Cut back your perennials. First off, know what you have. Perennials with woody stems that flower on old growth can be pruned, but cutting them back heavily will ruin your next growing season. I have a gorgeous clematis that blooms on old growth, for instance (not all clematis do). I basically stare at ugly brown stems for half the year so that I’ll get the incredible blooms in June. It’s worth it. Other perennials that are going to grow back from the root in the spring should be cut back to 3-6 inches from the ground. The few inches of stems above the ground will allow snow to accumulate and insulate the roots. If you don’t cut them back, you’ll just have to clean up a soggy mess in the spring.

2) Remove your annuals. Again, if they haven’t already died right back to the ground, pull them out. They’re not coming back, and they’ll be gross to clean up in the spring. Plus, you don’t want them molding into your soil. If you’ve had pest or disease problems during the growing season, definitely pull out the plants. That being said, if you have some lovely seed heads to leave for the birds or for winter interest, go ahead. Just be conscious of how much cleaning you are willing to do in the spring.

3) As with the annuals, remove any plants remaining in your vegetable garden – tomatoes, peppers, cucumber vines, etc.

4) Do you have tender perennials you’d like to see again next year?  In this Zone 6 climate, tender perennials don’t survive the winter. Certain plants, like canna lilies and dahlias can be taken up in the fall and stored over winter, to be planted again once all danger of frost is passed. The bulbs/tubers should be allowed to dry for a couple of days. Then clean off the dirt and store in a bucket or pail (covered in sand or sawdust ideally) in a cool, dark location. Not freezing. When you take them up will depend on your climate. I should have taken mine up a couple of weeks ago.

5) Plant spring bulbs. Tulips, daffodils, crocuses, glory of the snow. These are all so lovely and hopeful when they poke through the ground after months of snow and ice. Plant these in October or November. As a rule of thumb, bulbs should be planted to a depth three times their height. Groupings of odd numbers seem to look best.

6) Once you have cut back your dying plants and planted any bulbs you want, it’s time to apply mulch. A thick layer of mulch will help to insulate the roots underground, moderate temperature fluctuations, and can add needed nutrients to the soil. All I do is rake leaves into my garden plots after the first hard frost. Then I rake them off in early spring. Really the leaves should be shredded, or just run a mulching mower over them before you add them to your garden. This will speed up decomposition and the leeching of nutrients. If you don’t shred, be sure to remove the leaves promptly in spring so air and moisture can get to the soil and sprouting plants can get through.

Maxi is a big help. See how she gathers up the sticks? 😉

Basically you want to do two things – get a head-start on spring cleaning, and protect your perennials and bulbs from extreme weather. It’s messy work, but so is all gardening, right?

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Easy Rhubarb Pie {Recipe}

It’s getting a little late for rhubarb, but I still have quite a bit growing that hasn’t gone soft yet. I pulled a big harvest on Sunday and chopped most of it up to freeze. But I kept out enough to make this pie. Super easy. Super tasty. And nicely sweet, with that rhubarb tartness underneath. I’m considering having a second slice now.

Easy Rhubarb Pie

4 cups chopped rhubarb
1 1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Pastry for two crusts or 2 frozen pie shells (Note – although I can make pastry, it’s a bit of work and since great pastry is so readily available in the freezer section of my Metro, I don’t see why I should bother.)

Mix the sugar, flour and spices together. Spread about 1/3 cup of the mixture in the bottom of one pie shell. Add the rest to the chopped rhubarb and toss to coat. Pour coated rhubarb into pie shell, top with another shell. Crimp edges and prick top with a fork.

Bake at 450 for 10 minutes, then reduce heat and bake an additional 35-45 minutes at 350.

Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!

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WW – Garden Bounty w/linky

My garden is finally showing some life. Some small tomatoes and a baby eggplant are making me happy.  Zucchini are doing great!

I also harvested a nice green pepper today.
Do you have a vegetable garden? How are your crops doing this year?

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TELUS Community Rooftop Garden

Rooftop gardens have become a much more common sight over the past few years. Just drive along the Gardiner Expressway and check out the green roofs on all those condos – even trees are being planted above our heads! These urban gardens serve a number of purposes, including aiding in keeping heating and cooling costs down in a building, helping to combat air pollution (so important in our downtown core!), as well as providing a pleasant and beautiful environment for building residents in an otherwise concrete jungle. But why not take this one step further and go beyond decorative gardens of flowers and shrubs, and introduce vegetables, herbs, and fruits?

Last week I was invited to visit Toronto’s first corporate urban garden, at TELUS House in downtown Toronto. It was a beautiful day, and the garden set-up was really quite exciting to this gardening gal. (I may have asked permission to pinch the suckers off some tomato plants – can’t help myself!)

This rooftop garden was created to maximize the green space at the building and generate fresh, local, organic produce for team members and local charitable organizations including Toronto-based charity, The Stop Community Food Centre, in addition to giving team members a chance to learn about sustainability through educational workshops and hands-on learning. TELUS staff, volunteering on their Green Team, Communities Growing Together (CGT), a collective initiative focused on addressing urban food security, sustainability and community empowerment through a palette of artful co-created growing projects, and the building owners, Menkes, will work together to tend the garden throughout the season.

TELUS Green Team watering garden
A TELUS Green Team member waters the marigolds

This year marks the beginning of the endeavour, and a testing phase. Renée Nadeau, an Urban Garden Consultant, has been brought on as the garden’s Curator, and she has chosen plants and locations on the roof to experiment with what will grow best where. Rooftop gardening brings its own particular challenges with intense sun, high winds, pollution, and more. As soil is being brought in, and the building structure and strength has to be considered in terms of the weight of soil the roof can hold, we are essentially talking about container gardening. Soil levels, drainage, and moisture retention, as well as nutrient composition and extra fertilising all have to be considered.

Renée Nadeau leads garden tour TELUS
Renée Nadeau leading a tour of the garden

The beds are a mix of elevated and low to the ground and house a large variety of plants. There are numerous tomato varieties, beans, peas, carrots, lettuce, beets, radishes, a variety of herbs, and more. Plantings have been planned to make the best use of space and light, including nasturtiums planted to cascade down over the sides of the higher planters for visual appeal. (They’re edible – you know that, right?) Companion plants have also been put in, specifically marigolds, to help combat pests such as nematodes. Irrigation pipes have been placed in the beds, and a layer of mulch helps to regulate soil temperature and conserve moisture.

Marigolds provide an excellent, natural protection against certain pests in an organic garden.
TELUS is known for its efforts both in environmental sustainability and community involvement. During this garden unveiling event, the TELUS Toronto Community Board presented a cheque to Green Thumbs Growing Kids – a Greater Toronto Area-based non-profit registered charity. This group works with underprivileged urban children, youth and their families to teach them about growing and preparing fresh foods in an environmentally sustainable manner. A perfect match for this Urban Community Garden!

Members of Green Thumbs Growing Kids accept a donation from Andrea Goertz, Senior Vice President, Strategic Initiatives, and Chief Communications and Sustainability Officer, TELUS & Rod Phillips, Chair of the TELUS Toronto Community Board and Postmedia Network Canada Corp. Board Chair

In support of their philosophy to “give where they live,” TELUS, team members and retirees have contributed more than $350 million to charitable and not-for-profit organizations and volunteered 5.4 million hours of service to local communities since 2000. This most recent effort will continue that philosophy and will, over time, provide healthy, fresh food to local community organisations. I’ve invited myself back later in the summer, to check out the progress in the gardens and see how the plants are liking their urban rooftop environment. If this test year goes well, there is an even bigger space that could be planted next summer!

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Get Ready for Spring with Canada Blooms

Hellebores, early spring flowers
image courtesy Canada Blooms

It’s March 1! We made it!! I am always very happy to see the backside of February, especially when March begins on the bright, sunshiny note it has today. (Although, I keep hearing “in like a lamb, out like a lion” in my head.)  My garden may be covered in a couple of feet of snow still, but I see pussy willows popping out on my tree, and I am filled with hope for spring. I don’t have a lot of room for starting seeds indoors, but I picked up a couple of things today. I hope to get Little Boo involved in starting my zucchini plants this weekend. I’m smiling at just the thought of getting my fingers in some dirt!

In the meantime, as we wait for the ground to thaw and our bulbs to poke through, I want to share with you these tips from Canada Blooms on prepping for your gardening season. These are some things you can do in anticipation of spring, to start your garden off on a strong footing.

1. Set up your composting area.

Compost is the black gold of the gardener’s world. Sure, you can purchase bags of it at the local nursery or co-op, but you can also create it yourself out of food and yard waste.

2. Start saving containers for those seedlings.

Start saving small containers (egg cartons are superb) for those seedlings you can grow yourself. In many areas of the country, you’ll want to get those seeds growing in February so they’ll be ready to plant in the ground by April or May.

3. Order your seeds.

This may be every gardener’s favorite part: browsing the seed catalogs and websites and picking out all the delicious, beautiful plants to grow this year. Order your seeds now so you’ll have them in time to start planting them indoors. 

4. Prep your soil as much as possible.

Depending on your location, the only soil prep you may be able to do at this point is just say a little prayer for it. But in many parts of the country, days of snow and ice will be interspersed with days of warmer weather and thawed ground. On those days, get out there and do as much work as possible to break up the soil.

5. Get your garden tools and potting area ready.

Claim a corner in the garage, workshop, or patio as your own. Pull out that old, dusty table from the attic or spare bedroom. Give it a bright, cheery coat of paint on a sunny day, set it up, and you’ve got a brand-new potting area ready.

You can get so much more information on flowers and gardening at Canada Blooms – Canada’s largest flower and garden celebration – taking place March 15th-24th, 2013, at the Direct Energy Centre, in Toronto. You can visit the website for the full run-down on what the show offers, but here are just a few highlights:

  • The Grey Power “Garden Solutions” Educational Series
  • The Master Gardeners Speakers Series
  • Wine Sensory Garden presented by Reif Estate Winery & Mori Gardens
  • Experience the Parklane and Tourism Ireland “Spring Gathering” etc.
  • Win a Trip to the Gardens of Spain with Air Canada, Tourist Office of Spain and Toronto Star
  • Scotts Canada “Ask the Experts and New Product” Stage
  • RE/MAX “Get Curbalicious” Feature

Most of all, I love to attend just to see the colours, smell the blooms, and get inspired for another successful year in my little patch of earth. I wonder what new plants I’ll discover this year??

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Gardening with the Sales

Southern Ontario has been experiencing a particularly hot and dry spring and summer.  (And I don’t think we’re alone.) Because of this (or maybe because of how busy + lazy I’ve been) my garden is suffering. A friend did come by to water while we were away (much appreciated!), but it has been so crazy hot some things still just did not survive, particularly in my containers. Some annual seeds I planted this spring also never came.

So, I have a number of holes to fill in my garden. I decided today to hit a couple of garden centres to see what I could do.
And you know what? It’s the perfect time!!
We are in the middle of July, and traditional planting season is essentially over. But the growing season still has time, and there’s lots that can still go in the ground or your containers. Garden centres are gearing down and getting ready to close for the year, so they have some fabulous discounts happening!
If you have some spots you need to fill in your garden, or are looking for a new hanging plant or container arrangement, this is the perfect time to visit the garden centre at your local supermarket or big box store. Some are already closed, but those that are in clearance mode are a dream!
This is what I got this morning at our RCSS garden centre:
That’s 24 plants (including 2 six-packs of marigolds). It cost me $12.80.  For reals. Other than two specialty plants ($4 and $3), everything was either 50 cents or 25 cents. Wow!
Some plants may look a bit rough at this stage of the season, but check near the soil for new growth. If you see little leaves and shoots coming through, you have a healthy root system and the plant should bounce back once you introduce it to your garden. And heck, if you’re buying an herb for 25 cents and it dies? What have you really lost?
This parsley has healthy new shoots coming up from the roots, and I look to this rather than to the yellowing growth above.

This perennial may be looking lanky and broken, but it is spreading out everywhere with new growth!

At this stage of the summer, vegetable plants will probably be hard to come by. I had been hoping to replace my cucumbers that had died, but no luck. I did still find tomatoes, herbs, and some fruits and berries though.
The really insane deals will be found at the seasonal garden centres, but even the professional garden centres that operate year-round have good sales now. I found these really healthy and large strawberry plants at my local Sheridan Nurseries. They had all fruits and berries on sale 30% off.
$12 each for very well-produced strawberry plants.
So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and find those deals! Then come home and get your hands dirty 🙂