Teaching children to love nature

Because I am a nature lover, I assume that my grandchildren will automatically be nature lovers too. What I have come to realize is that teaching children to love nature is all about immersing them in it. This practice does not have to be an expensive endeavour, more of a shared life style, that can and should begin very early in life. One of my fondest memories of both of my grandmothers is their love of gardening.

I love all things garden related, so I make sure my grandchildren tour my gardens, patio and veranda plantings when they visit. I have added a few whimsical features throughout my yard to pique their interest, my way of teaching children. I love their sweet reactions!

I also have a few nature inspired features in my home décor that the kids love…

Teaching children has to be age appropriate or your students quickly lose interest. As my grand kids get older, the teaching or mentoring gets easier. In the spring they help me plant some decorations on my back deck. Then they water them throughout the summer to keep them thriving. I haven’t met a child yet that does not like to water flowers! Morning glories and sunflowers are easy to plant and grow quickly…

A word of caution when teaching children though, make sure you don’t care if they break your touches of nature. For example, the resin bunny has a broken tail and foot from two separate, accidental drops. And, one of my birdies cracked after my grandson threw it on a hard floor attempting to make it fly. I have to keep a close eye on the elephant as it is a sentimental (and very old) souvenir their great-grandpa brought their grandfather back from a trip to Africa.

Floppy hydrangeas make great impromptu gifts

All of the many varieties of hydrangeas sport beautiful flowers. The worst feature of the white “snowball” type however, is that they are easily damaged in a heavy rainfall, creating a mess of floppy hydrangeas.

The large balls of flowers soak up the rain water causing the stems to bend and eventually snap from the excess weight. This happens more often if the shrub is cut back each spring as the stems never get a chance to get thicker and stronger.

However, when your hydrangeas flop in the rain, cut the stems near the spot they bent/snapped, turning the floppy mess into a beautiful bouquet. Do this as soon as possible after the offending downpour, remove all but the top set of leaves and immerse the cuttings into water immediately.

I encountered such a display of floppy hydrangeas recently in a client’s garden and rescued them to do just that. I used my smoothie cup for a makeshift vase, and voila, a gorgeous and fresh bouquet, ready for gifting…

I have done this before, with peonies too as they suffer the same fate during a heavy rain. If the client whose garden I am tending is home, I give the cuttings to them to beautify their own home. This client happened to be away enjoying the summer weather at her cottage though, so these floppy hydrangeas were destined to go elsewhere.

On the way home I dropped the bouquet off at a local nursing home. As it turned out, my timing was perfect. As I walked in with them, staff was organizing a get together for the residents. My offering was gladly accepted and my gift turned into a beautiful centerpiece for the occasion! In a new vase of course.

floppy hydrangeas
Garden Terrace, Kanata

Rabbit ears, why are they so long?

Why are rabbit ears so long? If you asked my granddaughter, she would tell you that long rabbit ears make good handles. At least the ones on the (resin) rabbit in my back garden do. Don’t worry, no rabbits were injured in this story.

I had positioned this rabbit in my garden in mid-May so it appeared he was peeking out from his hiding spot amongst the hosta leaves…

peek-a-boo rabbit

My granddaughter loves to check out my gardens, stopping to admire the flowers…

She also loves critters of any kind, except for dogs. For some reason she is afraid of dogs. Birds, bugs, and other (small) animals are like magnets though, so when she spotted the rabbit in my back yard, she made a bee-line for it..

Her memory is very good. The next time she was over she headed straight to the back yard to rescue her new buddy again. The hostas had grown considerably, so the rabbit was trickier to find, but she grabbed him by the ears, and took him for a stroller ride…

rabbit ears
taking bunny for a ride

Another favourite critter at Grandma’s is the pink pig watering can her cousin Carter loves to take on his adventures…

Wedding Flowers on a Budget

How do you find wedding flowers on a budget? Easy! Visit friends’ gardens looking for the color you want the day (mid morning is best) before the event, put the cut stems in cold water immediately and store them in a cool place until you are ready to arrange them.

A friend’s son got married this week, and I guaranteed I could provide the wedding flowers on a budget. The bride and groom did not want bouquets, just flowers for a few vases on the tables. That made it simple for me. The biggest problem I encountered was that the colour theme was blue and silver. Any garden or flower lover will know that blue flowers are rare, and silver non existent. Lucky for me I had blue delphiniums blooming in my own garden this week and a few Gardens4u clients that also had blue blooms to share.

Silver was a whole other problem; thank heavens for spray paint! To add silver accents, I painted ferns and babys breath for the vases, and dusty miller and an ornamental grass for the large arrangement at the front door. If you decide to try this trick, be sure to use lots of newspapers or other material to cover everything in the vicinity of the painting process. Spray paint gets everywhere!

The vases for the guest tables were tiny, silver and small-mouthed, so I used appropriately scaled down sprigs of flowers…

wedding flowers on a budget
blue and silver theme

with larger blooms reserved for regular sized vases on the head table and the gift table…

Weeks ago I planted blue lobelia and white dusty miller in an insert that fits into a plant holder to act as a “welcome sign.” Last evening I spray painted the dusty miller as well as a chunk of ornamental grass I chose for some height…

floral welcome sign

Voila, wedding flowers on a budget. The total cost was a measly $62. Some may say I have a green thumb, but today I am sporting a silver one!

silver thumb!

Limbing Up, aka removing lower branches

Recently I took on the project of limbing up several evergreen trees on a client’s front lawn. One of my favourite gardens is part of this gorgeous property. Although I cannot take credit for designing or planting the gardens, I have had the honour of maintaining them for the past several years. The gardens are surrounded by a stone retaining wall with a verdant backdrop of mature evergreens, oak and maple trees.

The evergreens featured as the backdrop for these gardens are massive (the reach of their branches are at least 30 feet each) with their lower branches sweeping the ground, crowding each other and choking out everything, including the lawn. Many branches of these trees were dead or dying . Cutting the grass and raking leaves was awkward and frustrating. Annoying and increasingly dangerous mosquitos and ticks are abundant in these conditions.

I had suggested this limbing up process a while ago, but the homeowners were hesitant as they like the privacy of their lot. That is until they were the victims of a break in recently. Burglars drove into their driveway, broke down a door, gaining access to their home in broad daylight. Fortunately, their security system alerted the police so not much was stolen.

That home invasion was enough to motivate these homeowners into letting me start the limbing up process. I removed the branches from the first tree, then checked with them to make sure they wanted me to continue. With the go ahead, I continued with twelve more trees. Removed branches were cut into four foot lengths and left at the curb for pickup by the local garbage crew.

When limbing up, be sure to cut off the branches as close to the main trunk as possible, without leaving an unsightly and unhealthy stub…

As I was working, a few neighbours stopped by to say how wonderful the yard looked with these branches removed. I agree; the trees look much healthier and the yard still has that woodland setting I would never want to alter. When the lawn recovers, the property will be even more spectacular!

Garden Makeover in the Rain

Rainy days are good for a garden makeover, except for the mess that is inevitable. Today was such a day. Gardens4u got this project going early this morning before the rain started, but a drizzle started a few hours in, followed by a torrential downpour. Downpours to me mean lunch time, sitting in my van. Luckily, the rain subsided enough for me to continue until the job was complete. Well, except for the cleanup. Trying to sweep up my mess on the wet stone was not very effective. Nothing a hose down won’t fix though, a job I left for the homeowner when the rain stopped, long after I left.

These are the “before” pictures. The tree is a dead maple that was removed with the stump ground down before I started the makeover.

The burning bush (far right in third pic), lilac (center in center pic) and hydrangea (right corner in center pic) were salvaged, with the lilac getting a good pruning to whip it into shape. Everything else was removed. New shrubs and perennials were strategically planted and composted manure, my new favourite soil amendment, was added.

Here are the “after” pictures…

New plantings in this garden makeover include a pink magnolia (center of bed), a “Wine & Roses” weigela, several ornamental grasses, coneflowers, pink and purple sages and lavender, as well as several varieties of sedum and stonecrop to spill over the edges of this sunny garden. Once the new plants are established and well watered, I will add mulch to complete the job.

A second bed, between the sidewalk and the garage, is next up on my garden makeover list. Stay tuned for more before and after pictures.

Chewed bark on shrubs and trees spells trouble

Have you noticed chewed bark on the branches of your shrubs and trees this spring? That’s not good and signifies that they are in trouble. Those adorable rabbits, majestic deer and their furry friends can cause lots of damage to your garden plantings. Even death.

If the tree or shrub has the bark chewed all the way around the branches or trunk, the plant will most likely not survive. However, if only a portion of the trunk or branch circumference reveals chewed bark, you may be able to salvage the plant. Cut the plant back severely, almost to ground level and wait.

For example, this shrub rose had lots of bark missing from its lower branches, but there were patches of healthy bark still intact…

chewed bark
shrub rose with some chewed and some intact branches

To rectify the damage, I cut all branches back to 8 inches from the ground. Three weeks later, this is the result. Isn’t nature amazing?

chewed bark
rejuvenated shrub rose

Other similarly damaged shrubs I encountered in this same client’s garden were this weigela and ninebark. The stems of the weigela were almost totally stripped of their bark, you can see how white the stubs are. I am pleasantly surprised to see they are both showing signs of recovery:

chewed bark
weigela recovering from chewed bark
chewed bark
recovering ninebark

If you live in a rural area where furry critters visit your garden searching for food in the winter, consider wrapping the tasty trunks and stems of your plants next fall, before the snow falls. There are many products available for this purpose.

You don’t have much to lose if your shrubs or trees have suffered a similar fate this past winter. Cut them back and cross your fingers!

Flowering shrubs scream “Spring is Here”

It’s a good thing the flowering shrubs know it’s spring. Mother Nature on the other hand, has forgotten that the weather is supposed to warm up. The sunny yellow blooms of my neighbour’s forsythia are a beautiful sight from my bedroom window…

and my own magnolia is also screaming “spring is here!” with its fragrant blooms…

with the blossoms of plum trees not far behind…

My roses (at least the ones in my front yard that are protected from the north winds) are also showing signs of spring…

flowering shrubs
climbing rose
flowering shrubs
shrub rose

Now, if the cold and wet weather would clear up, spring would be awesome!

Gardening? Today? Who would have thunk it!

This might not seem too outrageous in your part of the world, but in mine gardening today is definitely pushing the season. After all, we still have lots of snow and today is the first day our temperature has risen above the freezing mark.

So, for those of you also lamenting the late arrival of spring here in Ontario, I will give you the exciting details of what gardening chores I was actually able to accomplish today. The rest of you can yawn in boredom as you mutter “been there, done that already.”

Every time I pull in my driveway these days, I am reminded of how sick I am of seeing the brown and crispy fall/winter arrangements that looked so green and lush last fall and for most of the winter…

Today the sun is shining and the temperature above freezing so I pulled out my garden gloves and secateurs…

gardening today
gardening essentials

First I tackled the evergreen arrangements that are an eyesore, at least I attempted to. Even though the temperature is warm today, the soil these branches are sitting in is still frozen in one of the containers. (One gets full sun all day, the other only a portion of the day) What is left of the one is just the blue spruce branches that are still a beautiful bluey green color. I know, they look kind of lonely without anything else to complement them, so I will have to find something to add, even if the plants are fake. The other container will have to wait until the soil thaws sufficiently enough to remove the branches and ornaments.

By the way, the ornaments (red dogwood branches, pinecones on spikes, etc) spend the summer in my gardening tool organizer, AKA a plastic shoe storage unit, that hangs on a wall in my garage…

gardening today
gardening tool AKA shoe storage

Another thing I tackled in my brief gardening stint today is the ornamental grasses I could reach. I like to leave them over the winter so the fronds can blow in the wind, but by this time of the year they are either broken (from the weight of the snow) or the seed heads have blown off. Before they send up new growth, and as soon as you can access them, cut them back to a few inches from the ground.

I have several in my back yard, but they are still buried under at least two feet of snow, so will have to wait for their trim. I do however, have one large clump beside my lamp post in my front garden that is accessible and several as experiments in pots on my front veranda.

As this veranda is always bathed in full sun and protected from the wind, I can get away with less hardy plants there. This year I tried leaving the ornamental grasses I planted in pots last summer on the veranda over the winter. Each time it snowed, (quite often this winter) I covered them with snow for some moisture.

The general rule of thumb for perennials in containers is that you have to (should) use plants that are hardy to two zones below your gardening zone. It appears I was successful in my experiment though as I see some green inside the trimmed shoots. That’s a sign they did not die, exciting news to me.

Earlier this week I helped a friend stage her house. She wanted fresh, live pussy willows and spring blossoms for her front porch, but as the temperature was still close to -20C overnight, we settled for plastic. Plastic flowers have come a long way; not the plastic flowers your grandma used to have!

gardening today
spring blooms

Perhaps I will go back to the dollar store and pick out some plastic flowers for my front containers.

Overwintering frost tender tropical plants

After procrastinating about it for years, last fall I chanced across the opportunity for overwintering some tropical (frost tender) plants. I have always put off doing this because I could never bring myself to purchase plants for my garden, deck or porch that would require more than minimal work.

Bringing plants inside for the winter seemed like too much work. I know, that sounds lazy, but my style of gardening favors perennials that can withstand our cold winters with minimal maintenance. That’s what my clients are looking for too, in fact low maintenance is their number one request.

Back to last fall. One of my gardening clients has a neighbour that is moving to a smaller home. My client suggested I look over the plants he was looking to donate to a good home. I assumed she meant the low maintenance perennials I referred to above, but instead found several bougainvillea and other tropical plants that he could not remember the name of. (Part of the reason he is moving is because he had a stroke and struggles to remember words)

As most were not blooming, I could not tell what they were. He did tell me he always moves them indoors for the winter. From that I was able to determine they are tropical or frost tender. I did recognize a few bougainvillea plants by the withered, hot pink blossoms that had fallen into their pots. If you are not familiar with bougainvillea, look at any touristy picture of Greece. It is the gorgeous pink flowered vine climbing the walls of many of their homes.

overwintering
bougainvillea

So, I loaded all of his offerings into the back of my van and brought them home. Some, including one bougainvillea and one mystery vine-like plant, are spending the winter in the sunny corners of my bedroom. All others are in my basement, near a window.

A word of warning if you try this. Shortly after you bring them inside their leaves dry up and fall off. No amount of watering can prevent this from happening. In fact, while overwintering these plants, watering should be minimal until all the old leaves have fallen off and new growth appears. This will prevent mold from forming on the soil and soil gnats from thriving in the pots. To deter both of these possibilities, I spray the soil of these plants as well as all of my house plants with a mixture of lemon and thyme regularly. You can help the overwintering process by gently removing any dead (brittle) leaves and stems, although this makes a bit of a mess…

overwintering
messy project

After that step, be patient and wait for new leaves to appear. They will come back! In the meantime, tie up any vines so they have support to climb on. I like using plant ties made of Velcro. Pictured below, they are gentle on plants, reusable, and easy to remove from the convenient roll they come on. Simply cut or rip off the size you need. These ties are also green, so camouflaged to blend into your stems and leaves. Nothing ruins the look of a beautiful plant than an unsightly support system.

This is the bougainvillea that currently has a prime spot in my bedroom, it is well on its way to recovery. I have watered this one more frequently than the rest of the plants I am overwintering because of its sunny location. No blossoms yet, but new leaves are sprouting daily…

overwintering
overwintered bougainvillea

My only dilemma now is waiting for spring. In our gardening zone I will not be able to move these plants outdoors until mid May. I am very anxious to see what these plants will look like on my sunny front veranda and back deck. I think the vivid pink blossoms of the bougainvillea will be spectacular against the white railings on the veranda. It should thrive in the hot, full sun conditions there too.

As soon as I figure out what the mystery plants are they will find a new home for the summer too, depending on their sun requirements.