Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas In Toronto - Allan Gardens Conservatory

Nothing says Christmas more beautifully, than gorgeous Christmas displays of colour, fragrance and texture. I had the privilege yesterday to view the stunning displays at Allan Gardens Conservatory.

The high-light for me had to be the Victorian Christmas display.

Victorian fireplace setting.

Mosses, Echeverias, Kalachoes, Hypoestes and Poinsettias make up much of the displays.

I apologize for the blurry photos. Unfortunately, I left my proper camera at home and used my meager cell-phone camera. This section is just a taste of other displays of colour. There's paperwhites, amaryllis, poinsettias, Christmas greens, Christmas decorations....lots to see!

Open 10-5pm every day! Christmas Show runs until January 7th. 
Please take the time to visit this Christmas Season!

Here is info regarding Allan Gardens history and location:  Allan Gardens

Kuddos to the growers/gardeners of the show: Curtis Evoy, Leslie, Maria, Joel and many others!

Here is another link to more photos and info: Allan Gardens Facebook Page.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Outdoor Christmas Container - Large Planter

I have the privilege to decorate the containers outside of my church. 

Because these concrete "bowls" are so large (diameter is just under 3 feet), they can take a lot of product which can run rather expensive and can become a huge project if you don't take that into consideration.

Our church has a high volume of traffic, and having learned over the years, here are a few reasons why I make them more simple: a) won't make it too attractive to tug and pull out greens and the accents, b) won't make it into a waste basket for litter and c) cost effective.

I actually like that the greens aren't covering the birch stems. They really stand out and when the snow falls, it dusts the greens beautifully!

I used for each container:

2 scotch pine boughs (14lb bundle)
2 western red cedar boughs (8lb bundle)
2 boxwood bunches (8lb bundle)
10 glittered vine balls
5 silver dipped dried seed pods
2 bunches of red dogwood stems
6 stems of birch branches

Again, I just cut back the annuals that were growing in these containers and removed the worst of the thick stems. Instead of inserting the evergreen stems upright into the soil, I just inserted them horizontally. The dogwood helps the birch stay in place and the boxwood covers all the end bits that I used to fill the empty spaces.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Christmas Gifts for the Gardener

If you are looking for a gift for the gardener in your life, here are a few ideas:

a) Gardeners Hand Recovery Cream
- great for cold days working outdoors
b) InteraTarp - trunk and hatch back liner for gardeners who schlep a lot
c) Badger Balm - great for when your cuticles and knuckles crack due to winter temps
d) Gardeners Journal- gardeners help-mate; when your memory fails ;)
e) Leatherman MultiTool  - great tool for the garden shed; you won't have to run to the garage as often
f) Copper Plant Tags - copper tags weather green and never decay
g) Felcos - enough said: or parts like replacement blades and coil - they all are great stocking stuffers
h) German Garden Clogs I enjoy wearing these all the time, even in winter

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Outdoor Christmas Container - Little Fun

My colleagues call this one I made - "the galaxy".  lol :) We try to get a bit more creative with each one.

When you have access to great product, you get a little more inventive. Using outdoor ornaments (which tolerate frost and don't crack or have styrofoam burst overwinter) can add a burst of colour when dried accents start to fade. Plus, the outdoor ornaments catch the light, especially at night making your urns pop out a bit more in the dark.

Here I added sprays of lime metallic Christmas balls and one bronze ball, suspended between the birch stems. Fun.
Plant World has an array of styles, made by several designers. Come stop by!  If you want to make one yourself, we can help you too!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Outdoor Christmas Urn Container - One Sided

Here I made a Christmas Urn Design that is one sided.

One bonus to making one sided Christmas urns: less material is needed. With this design, all the accents are on one side, making a bolder view from the front. You use less materials and yet have the effect of seeing all the accents from the street.  They are easier to make and faster to assemble. Great for urns that are situated next to the front door or garage - where the containers are right up against a wall/door.


  • magnolia stems
  • red dyed strobus cones
  • red dyed nut
  • spray of outdoor Christmas balls
  • red twig dogwood


  • white pine
  • western cedar
  • silver fir 
  • oregonia (variegated boxwood)

Try it!  All materials are available at Plant World.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Outdoor Christmas Urn Container - Natural

Here I made a pair of urns with natural items.

These urns span about 2 and 1/2 feet apart. A little more than 3 feet tall from the pot rim.
I used:

Have a look at some other designs here
  • 3 birch stems
  • 7 stems of dogwood
  • white pine
  • douglas fir
  • western red cedar
  • boxwood
  • magnolia stems
  • sumac seed pods
  • seeded eucalyptus
  • strobus (white pine) cones
  • dried belani seed pods
  • bronze vine balls
  • dried bell cups
  • 13" fibre liner
  • sand to fill pot

Another pair:
These accents may look all natural, but the pomegranates are artificial.  Pretty good for artificial though. No squirrels will try to take these away! 

One of the funnest aspects of my job.
 In the above, I used:
  • pomergranates
  • strobus cones (with snow flakes)
  • magnolia
  • birch stems
  • dogwood stems
  • white pine boughs
  • western red cedar boughs
  • Ontario hemlock boughs
  • burgundy seed pods
  • oregonia

Materials all from Plant World Ltd. These urns are also available there. 

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Outdoor Winter Container Designs

The first couple of frost hits is the sign to prepare for winter containers.

Some folks empty out their containers - soil and all to prepare for Christmas decorating. No, no.... I just snip off the tops of my annuals and the leggy stem bits that are left after a good frost. The soil with roots, as long as it's not frozen and not too woody, is an ideal medium to sustain evergreen boughs and cut stems for decorating.  If the soil has become frozen, bring it indoors overnight to thaw, or drench with boiling water to thaw out. The roots of your annuals help stabilize cut stems in place, when arranging.

Like the above demonstration class; if you're starting from scratch and you don't want to fill an entire urn or container, (or you can't keep a ceramic pot with soil overwinter) just use a smaller insert pot and fill with sand. In the above photo, we used 6-9inch fibre liners. When filled with sand, the sheer weight of sand will help to prop up the insert and will also freeze like an ice cube when in your decorative outer pot. Two great aspects regarding a smaller container: 1) the smaller the pot, the less materials needed and 2) the tighter the stems will be to withstand strong winter weather.

Materials needed:
  • Pair of sharp pruners
  • Comfortable pair of gloves that allow you to design with good tactile ability
  • If you are working indoors, wear a bib or apron to avoid sap from coming in contact with your clothes
  • At least 2-3 selections of evergreen boughs. (my preference is white pine, western cedar and boxwood, although you can use any kind).  For a 6 inch pot, 3 bundles will do.
  • Leafy stems (magnolia, eucalyptus, boxwood, oregonia, holly, euonymus). 2 bundles ea.
  • Colourful branches (dogwood, red willow, pussy-willow, birch stems, alder stems) 20 stems.
  • Accent pieces: (cones, pomegranates, osage oranges, rose-hips, sumac pods, outdoor ornaments...etc). Minimum 7-10 pieces
  •  If you are working with an insert, use sand and dampen it well enough to make sure it stays firm and holds moisture for the stems

To begin, decide on how decorative you want the urn. Sometimes, simpler is more attractive. Too much material and it becomes an eyesore. Here in the photo below, it seemed fitting to have a simple design given the ravine backdrop.

Here, I only used 3 items (white pine, red dogwood and some ivy).

Next, decide on the shape, height and position of your insert/container design. One trick to lessen the material used, is to design a flat sided container. These are great for containers that are propped up against a wall or backing on to something else. Accents and more expensive materials only need to be displayed at the front of these designs. You will need almost triple the amount of accents if you want a 360, all around arrangement.

Begin with the tallest boughs at the back, working and cutting your bough branches down slightly in size as you come to the front of the container. Be sure to make a fresh cut on ALL your bough branches. This allows the boughs to draw up whatever moisture they can during the winter - keeping them green.

With all around designs, you need to start with the tallest material (usually your stems, like dogwood) in the center. Working your way around the stems with filler - evergreen boughs. Once you get a sort of triangular shape, begin adding your accents to bulk up the design.

Pretty easy.

Water your urn inserts and or planters once every week. It may seem odd to water them in the winter, but it just maintains the green and keeps them looking fresh.

Here is a design from last year.

Check out these other designs

More here and here!

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Cold (Frost) Tolerant Annuals

One aspect of gardening that needs to be addressed when planning and using annuals, is furthering annual flower time with the onset of early frost. Mid October and November is really tough. Some days it's so cold outside, you'd think it was December. Other days, it's warm as September.

Outside of blowing huge budgets by replanting your beds with Kale and Chrysanthemums, there are other cold tolerant selections to choose in the spring when designing with annuals. Autumn in the greater Toronto area has rather cold spurts to start off the season, and with these choices, you'll be able to extend that bloom just a bit longer.

Here is a few examples in my photo collection:

Sweet William


Dusty Miller

Licorice Vine

Trailing Vinca




Dragon Winged Begonia

Many choices:
  • Helichrysum petiolare - Licorice Vine
  • Bidens ferulifolia - Gold Spark Bidens
  • Ageratum houstonianum - Ageratum
  • Pelargoniums - All annual Geraniums
  • Senecio cineraria - Dusty Miller
  • Salvia farinacea 'victoria blue' - Victoria Blue Salvia
  • Dianthus barbatus - Sweet William
  • Tagetes patula - Marigolds
  • Salvia splendens - Red Salvias
  • Viola x wittrockiana - Icicle Pansy
  • Antirrhinum majus - Snap dragons
  • Tropaeolum majus - Nasturtium
  • Vinca major -Trailing Vinca
  • Calendula officinalis - Field or pot Marigold
  • Gazania longiscapa - Treasure Flower
  • Lobularia maritima -Sweet Allysum 
  • Begonia x dragon wing - Dragon Wing Begonia

Monday, October 29, 2012

Chrysanthemum Show - Centennial Greenhouse Conservatory

There is nothing that really excites me about autumn transitioning into winter. It's usually a dull, stormy time of season - when trees strip bare of leaves and I dreadingly pull out long-johns from my dresser.  However, late October brings around the annual late autumn Chrysanthemum Show at Centennial Greenhouse and Conservatory. A little oasis, tucked in in the heart of Etobicoke (Toronto).

Here, I am fortunate to witness the painstaking work and effort put into growing these fantastic Japanese Chrysanthemums from cuttings and seed. Credit goes to: Stanley Roszak who grew the chrysanthemums; Donna and Mertyl who helped with the display. They all work as growers at Centennial Greenhouses and are colleagues of mine. They deserve much praise for their efforts. Well done!  It looks amazing!

A little cute fella, welcoming you to the show. :)

This one is by far my favourite. Spanning 6 inches across.

Not completely unfurled was at least the size of a dinner plate!

Wish my camera would of captured this better. 3 concentric hearts are joined together. Stan designed this himself. Wonderful!

The show runs from October 27, 2012 - November 25, 2012! Please go and see the flowers for yourself!

(Located: Off Rathburn, 151 Elmcrest Road. Open free to the Public)

Here is web information pertaining to other events and what grows under glass at Centennial Greenhouse.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Euonymus Crown Gall - Agrobacterium tumefaciens

Many a time, I come across crown gall on Euonymus. Never, have I seen it this large. Galls can form on several plant hosts. A gall is a plant tissue growth or "tumor" caused by a bacterium infection. Here, it's been cut away from the parent plant in order to take a clear photo of its size. The parent plant: Euonymus fortunei "Sarcoxie".

The cause of this gall is a bacterium known as: Agrobacterium tumefaciens. Being soil-borne it enters the plant through wounds in the bark.  I find the areas where galls occur most tend to be overlapping and crossed over stems that crack from sheer weight of heavy growth or over-crowded growth. This bacteria is unusual in that it transfers part of its genetic material to the plant upon infection. It's quite complicated, but an absolutely fascinating process in forming the gall. The bacterium induces tumor like genetic material into the host plant, the plant then responds growing this form of tissue (gall) as a response to the genetic material invading the host.  A type of plant hormone is produced when the host plant is infected by Agrobacterium tumefaciens. These "hormones" cause rapid cell division and distort stems or root tissue. Where the gall situates itself is where obvious trauma or wounds have appeared on the host plant prior to infection. These galls can range in size of a small nut to the one depicted in this blog post! So amazing, eh?

This one is about the size of a small cantaloupe, measuring about 16cm in diameter. 
Galls don't kill off the host plant. But they do interfere and inhibit normal plant processes. Vascular flow; (sap) water and nutrient transport is inhibited where galls form. This can weaken the overall health of the plant, especially if there is more than one gall on the host plant. Galls are usually situated on stems or trunk at the crown - base of the plant, closest to roots.


Because this bacterium is soil-borne, the main element of control is removing the gall and sanitizing secateurs after cuttings - where gall removal took place. I recommend cutting gall formed branches back to the main stem if possible. You want the wounds you inflict from cutting the infected area to be made well above the crown of the plant - avoiding close proximity to the soil. If you have wounds from removing stems close to the soil level, reinfection of the bacterium seems obvious to me. Yet, sometimes this is unavoidable. I try to follow the branching network where the gall is attached, to an area well above the crown. If the gall is on the upper portion of the plant, cut the stem at least 10-12 inches below where the gall was attached.

Please disinfect your pruners (secateurs) in a (1/10 ratio) solution (of bleach to water) after each cut. This prevents you from spreading the bacterium around to other hosts.

After gall removal, help reinvigorate your plant, by adding well rotted compost around the crown. Thin out over-crowded areas with routine pruning. Irrigate during drought periods and give a little extra TLC to bring the host plant back to health.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Best Plants for 30 Tough Sites

Photo from:
 Every once in a while, I come across a book that is a true resource and "keeper".  The University of Minnesota (Edited by Mary Meyer, Deb Brown and Mike Zins, Extension Horticulturists, University of Minnesota) have drafted a fantastic book called The Best Plants for 30 Tough Sites; outlining several plants for tough situations in the garden.

I have not seen this book first hand, apart from the access available on the web.(Chapters are available in PDF format here). I plan to order one straight away.

As stated on their site, these are some of the topics listed:

Inside you will find…

  • What can I plant under a black walnut?
  • What will grow in alkaline soil?
  • What is a good small tree for a boulevard?
  • What tree is good for my compacted soil?
  • What will grow in dry shade, under trees?

Just thought I would pass along its comprehensive content and give them a shout out - "well done!" Thanks University of Minnesota and the Master Gardeners!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Perennial Late Bloomers

Aside from the ordinary Chrysanthemum and Sedum - here are a few of my favourite perennial "late bloomers" that give flower in the midst of late autumn - tolerating light frosts and cooler day-time temperatures.

Eupatorium rugosum "Chocolate"

Eupatorium rugosum "Chocolate" (Chocolate Boneset Joe Pie Weed) found here in my garden - is one of my fav's. Its white flowers just brighten my shaded fence-line. Growing in a fair amount of shade, it's "chocolate" foliage is more bronze than burgundy - it's hard not to notice its lovely white wispy flowers contrasting against deep bronze leaves when most perennials are starting to go dormant.

Nipponanthemum nipponicum

Nipponanthemum nipponicum (Nippon Daisy) rounds the autumn off with an extraordinary daisy display. Its dense foliage and habit acts much like a shrub. Standing 3 to 4 feet in height, it commands attention. Foliage is sturdy, and evergreen in a sense - tolerating several frosts before it begins to wilt. In the winter, its foliage turns a bronze-brown and is considered an evergreen in warmer zonal areas. Flowers have a 3-4 inch span. Buds are sometimes an inch in diameter.

Tricyrtus hirta

Tricyrtus hirta (Toad Lily): part of the Lily family, but resembling an orchid, the Toad Lily's step ladder leaves and stems stay unnoticed until late September, when flower buds emerge. Standing near 3 feet when about to bloom, it's a great addition to the perennial border.

Anemone hupehensis var. japonica

Anemone hupehensis var. japonica (Japanese Anemone) This has to be my ultimate favourite. It's been in flower since late August and keeps going. Holding its flower stems above deep green, mounding foliage. Great as a cut flower. I love how it hints of white snowy days coming down the pike. Love, love, love!

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