In 1907 my great grandfather, John Fairgrieve, came to Canada from Scotland, age 20. A carpenter by trade he arrived with ten dollars in his pocket only to find that the carpenters of Winnipeg were on strike. Seeking work he was quickly introduced to farming.
At the time much of south western Manitoba was owned by Americans. John worked for one such established farmer named Grover Omstead. This granary is the last standing vestige of a once magnificent and prosperous settler farm. All across the country barns and granaries reflect the various cultures of settlers. Few remain so with each passing year I'll continue to admire the workmanship, proportions and endurance of this prairie landmark.
The Japanese have an expression: shinrin-yoku 森林浴. It means “forest bathing” and refers to a therapeutic, mindful and guided walk through the forest. You can even get a prescription for it.
Recently I visited one of Ontario's few old-growth forests where some of the trees are 250 to 300 years old. I was instantly reminded of this beautiful metaphor. The mature maple-beech forest, intermixed by birch and hemlock, is typical of the ecoregion's mixed woods. These species have co-evolved together, a glimpse into what pre-settlement woodlands across the area might've once looked like. It was also a gentle reminder of the therapeutic benefits we reap, both physically and mentally, simply by dipping our feet in a woodland bath.
With declining monarch butterfly numbers it's no surprise that this year's perennial of the year is Asclepias tuberosa, the butterfly weed. Asclepias means milkweed and indeed, should you pick one, you'll soon see the milky latex sap from the stalk. This North American native plant loves a sunny spot, is drought tolerant AND supports at least twelve different butterfly and moth species. It thrives in well drained soil, preferably sandy to loamy in Zones 4-9. A good companion is Penstemon; they grow in nature together so well that they can even be put in the same planting hole! As pictured, it looks particularly striking when paired with grasses as it might be found in a natural prairie or meadow.
If you want many, it's also easy to grow from seed. In this scenario though don't expect blooms immediately, that's a 2-3 year commitment.
Much awaited seeds have started to arrive in the mail and I'll directly sow most right into the ground come May. Others though require that extra bit of attention in order to germinate. Nature would normally do the work for us. However, this plant is uncommonly found at nurseries and therefore necessitates planting from seed. Like the sweet pea, Lathyrus vernus needs a two day soak before it'll even consider sprouting. I'm thrilled to discover how beautiful each seed is in its own right. Spring here we come!
There's nothing quite as sublime in February as a crisp day of sunshine, blue skies and the striking berries of a hawthorn, Crataegus. We crave colour in the winter and this tree delivers.
Visiting the prairies in October feels a bit like traveling to the future. The temperatures have long ago dropped below zero and the trees lost most of their foliage. Yet the landscape and its immense sky above never fail to thrill me. In this expanse your eyes take in the large and then focus slowly on the small. Here then a sampling of both and a place close to my heart.
In July I turned my attention to my own garden and set out to trial some new Dahlia tubers that I'd purchased back in the spring. It was late in the season for planting but I've been rewarded with this jewel. Every year I trial new plants and this one's a keeper. 'Totally Tangerine' Dahlia is a short but dapper one that pairs especially well with the dark foliage of Penstemon digitalis and airy Calamintha nepeta. Dahlias need to be dug up and stored indoors for the winter. I never mind the extra work though because they continue to cheer on every once of sun before the frosts definitely mark the change of seasons.
A big thanks to Brit + Co for their feature article on my journey from industrial to landscape designer.
Click on the link for the entire article:
As a gardener and landscape designer my own personal garden receives a fair share of neglect; save for watering the trees in this year's drought I gravitate more towards the hammock than the tools after a long day outside.
Over the years the perennials have crowded out the weeds and I deliberately let the young Cercis tree sprawl to screen the patio with its immense leaves. Yet, for all the neglect the garden is a gift that I cherish, a giving and green oasis in a big city. On this long weekend the dahlias finally got planted- late yes! Compost got spread, a rose moved and the last of the peas, haskaps, currants and serviceberries all gleaned. I still haven't got my beans planted but for now I'll content myself with all the volunteer tomato plants that have emerged and return to the hammock. Happy Canada Day weekend.
Exuberant combination of Alliums and Cotinus
After a cold spring start the bulbs are finally up in full force. Fritillaria deserve a close up view for their delicate checkerboard patterns. Neither as commanding as the upcoming Allium nor as dominant as Daffodils, Fritillaria sit close to the ground and sparkle, especially when sited in the foreground or close to paths where they'll be appreciated in drifts.
My first career was in product design; I worked in Germany at adidas then came back to Canada to design hospital furniture, packaging and housewares. All to say that when I see good product design it makes me happy and even happier when the goal is helping others garden.
Nourishmat, by Earth Starter, is the perfect kit for urban edible gardening: you get the seeds, the planting plan and a weed barrier all in one. With a footprint of 4'x6' you can then harvest 15 to 20 pounds of food in one small garden. They're currently looking for funding on Kickstarter!
Two years ago I planted a Witch hazel in my backyard. I strategically placed it so that it'd be viewed every day from the kitchen window. And it has not disappointed- it shimmers and glows in both the sun and cloud. I can't highly enough recommend this shrub for a shot of exuberance that beats back the winter doldrums!
There's nothing so clarifying as being shown, or seeing for yourself, something to understand an issue more deeply. More than Honey is a documentary about bees worldwide, animal husbandry and the collapse of this invaluable species. Einstein posited "if bees were to disappear from the globe, mankind would only have four years left to live". This film highlights mankind's role in the collapse of a species so vital to our own existence. We get an inside view of the industrialization of agriculture: from the transportation of bees across the United States to China where man has had to step in and hand-pollinate trees because the widespread use of chemicals has wiped out bees.
A sight to behold: the dried fruit of the Tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, laden with snow. Each fruit is made up of many winged seeds
Over the years Pearl Fryar rescued, planted and fantastically pruned discarded trees, deemed too sick or damaged to sell, from a local nursery's compost pile. Someday I'll visit this garden in person, Bishopville, South Carolina!
I'm more than a little fond of this infrequently planted native shrub, Myrica pensylvanica. The Toronto Botanical Garden has a clump underplanted by low Junipers which set off its winter berries beautifully. You'll need both a female and male plant though to successfully set fruit. Myrica pensylvanica is named for its crushed aromatic leaves, the Greek work myrike meaning fragrance.
This holiday arrangement for the foyer of a condo is meant to be long lasting. It's made up of South African Leucospermum flowers amongst more traditional evergreens. Our indoor environments are typically very dry and as every florist will tell you, keep adding fresh water to your arrangements, they'll last even longer.
Our first tastes of winter have been mild and oh-so-pleasant for we gardeners. Installing seasonal arrangements, I know this first-hand; the soil is neither a hard block of frozen nor do my hands protest whilst working outside. Warm LED lights bring an immense amount of joy to the shorter days and add a welcome twinkle to the eye.