Friday, July 10, 2015

A visit to Wild Flower Farm

Miriam Goldberger and Paul Jenkins (with the lovely Penny) at Wildflower Farm
As if three 13-hour days of the Toronto Garden Bloggers Fling weren't excitement enough, and an optional fourth day in Niagara didn't do us in, on the fifth day Sarah organized an outing to native seed producer Wildflower Farm. We confess that while we've known Miriam Goldberger for years, this is a trek Sarah and I hadn't made – till our game U.S. and UK out-of-towners gave us an excuse.

Early June was not the ideal time to see acres and acres of wildflowers in bloom, with a few exceptions. But it was perfect timing for a clear, sometimes surprising view of this family operation.

Surprising because, despite the laidback, back-to-the-land, hippyish vibe that comes with a name like Wildflower Farm, for Miriam and her husband Paul Jenkins producing quality wildflower seeds is serious business. Particularly so for Jenkins, who is the brains behind seed processing techniques that are part wacky Rube Goldberg contraption and part brilliant science. Come see what we mean.
Many of the flowers we did see matched the blue skies that day: deep blue false indigo and cloudlike white and cream (Baptisia australis), sky blue wild lupins (Lupinus perennis), mauvey Penstemon, with sunny splashes of golden Alexanders (the wonderfully consonantal Zizia aurea) and Coreopsis or tickseed. In a scree bed, the winecups (Callirhoƫ involucrata) were just getting started and the smoky seedheads of prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) and glossy native prairie crocus (Pulsatilla patens) caught the sunshine. Back in Toronto, it was pouring that day.
Looking relaxed after four days of Flinging is Louise of Two Girls with a Purpose . Her co-blogger Sue and her daughter Kylee (Our Little Acre) drove up with her before heading back to Ohio. Victoria from Gloucestershire (Tales from Awkward Hill) and Andrea from Texas (Grow Where You're Planted) filled out the Battersby portion of the expedition.
Don't be fooled by the rustic look here. After the harvest out in the fields, this is where the magic (aka drying) begins. A small business like Wildflower Farm has to be a clever operator. These stackable drying racks were snapped up at a bargain price after almost being discarded by another business. The dry-sauna heat in the old greenhouse gets the job done.
How do you separate the seeds from the chaff – and tougher plant debris? Each species is different, and having been at this since 1988, Jenkins has discovered or developed ways to get at the goods. Some ideas put existing machinery to new use – like a cement mixer or meat grinder. Some required tracking down obscure inventions by others, like this seed cleaner, one of 50 made by a guy in Oregon, chased down – literally, by car – from a vendor in Georgia. Some are Paul's own invention.
It's all captured in Jenkins' Wildflower Farm bible. That's 30 years' worth of intellectual property behind the business of wildflower seed production – from how to grow, harvest and separate the seeds to how to measure, precisely, 100 seeds from tiny to huge, fly-away to heavyweights. Do you think about that when you buy a packet of seed? Well, I certainly didn't. Jenkins points out that, unlike some native plant seed producers, he sends customers pure seed. Only the good stuff.
And, of course, we know Miriam, often the smiling face of Wildflower Farm. Dropping in to her office at the end of the tour (and after a delicious lunch spread conjured up by Paul) was the capper for a fascinating day.
Since our visit, we we've been happy to hear that Miriam's 2014 book Taming Wildflowers and its publisher St. Lynn's Press has won Silver (also up for Gold) at the upcoming 2015 Garden Writers Symposium. We reviewed her book last year.
Happy bloggers heading back from the field under gorgeous skies. We'd love to come back in August when the fields are closer to their flowery best.
And here's one of the fields (and beyond) – perhaps the most famous one, the set for a recent music video.
I can't close without sharing these. Do you see the faces? The one with the red eyes reminds me of the jumping spider family that shares my office window with me.  Even the machinery is wild at Wildflower Farm.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Red and white garden for Canada Day

A cottage garden feel in the colours of the Canadian flag (with sunshiny touches of yellow). And a matching red door.
Just in time for Canada Day, a Leslieville garden full of ephemeral red poppies and what look like common ox-eye daisies. This stopped me in my tracks as I passed. Happy, happy Canada Day!

Patriotic or not, what a glorious combination!
It's hard to see from the photograph, but these are two shades of red. The one on the left has more blue.
These pics are the best I could do with my phone camera – still, I hope they communicate the loveliness of this display.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Free Wood Chip Mulch Delivered to My House? Yes, Please.

Mulch is a must to keep soil cool and moist. 

[EDITED July 1ST 2015: Sadly, the company we wrote about below only takes orders from U.S. Addresses, even though their website clearly asks for "postal codes". We've written them to ask about extending their reach to Canada and will update when we hear anything. In the meantime, arborists in Canada, does this spark any ideas?]

[EDITED July 5th 2015: We heard from About Trees regarding their service not being available in Canada. It's related to funding. Here is their response: "Sadly our Kickstarter campaign did not get funded. One of the main intents of attempting a Kickstarter for us was to expand internationally. Since people did not invest in the funding we can not personally foot the bill for all the extensive work that would go into this expansion at this time. So sorry to disappoint we would have liked to have been able to expand. Maybe some time down the road it will happen. But for now its out of our budget."

In the mean time, one of our readers found this nursery in Canada, Maple Green Tree Services, that does give out free chips. 

This is an exciting prospect. I'm always looking covetously at piles of wood mulch when I see arborists at work— chipping up all the branches they've removed—and wishing they would just dump it on my driveway instead of driving off with it to parts unknown. Now we can do that, with help from a service from a company called About Trees.

Arborist Mark Russell, of heads up a project where wood chips can be delivered to an address close to where the branches were chipped. Right now you can sign up on their website for free wood chips. How can they do this for free?
Tree services save a LOT of money when they recycle their wood chip mulch close to where they are working.  It saves a ton of fuel and THAT helps our environment!  This is why we created the free mulch program.
There are so many benefits to a project like this, not the least is saving diesel fuel and keeping mulch out of our overcrowded landfills.

  Mark Russell explains;

 Since 1997 I’ve delivered mulch across the city to the dump sites, all the while knowing that I was passing people who would love it. The problem was  the inefficiency of tree services maintaining their own separate in-house mulch request lists. I realized that we needed one centralized list for maximum efficiency.  So we built phase one and people love it!
 The Free Mulch app from will be the fastest way for the clients to get their mulch.  It saves the tree service time and fuel, and for every connection the app makes it prevents an average of 2 to 5 gallons of fuel being needlessly wasted and 12-30 cubic yards of valuable material out of the landfill!

 About Trees is now using Kickstarter to develop a smartphone app to match homeowners with those free mulch piles even more efficiently. The app sounds like a great idea, helping mulch givers and mulch wanters connect. It's a little bit like an Uber for Wood chips, except you can't order a specific day to receive your mulch, as it all depends on who is doing tree work in your area. There is a bit of the luck of the draw in the system, but hey, it's free! You can sign up for a load of free wood chip mulch here on your browser:

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A windowbox rainbow for today

An arch of curly willow and a spectrum of flowers
It was Pride weekend in Toronto, and I was walking on Queen Street. Whatever the designer's intention, I chose to see this sweet combination as a rainbow. What do you think?

Monday, June 22, 2015

What is that white fluff, anyway?

No, it isn't snow. It's the fluffy seeds of the eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides). A row of mostly cottonwoods sits on the horizon at Tommy Thompson Park on the Leslie Street Spit.
Walking on the Spit last Saturday, my friend Sharon asked, "What is that white fluff, Helen?"

I was so glad she did. Because I often find myself boring my friends getting unduly excited about plants we see when we walk. But, as we've quoted from Jane Austen before, not everyone shares our passion for dead leaves or live ones, or in fact any part of plants.

"Look up," I was happy to tell her, because she wanted to know. "It's coming from the cottonwoods."

And I realized today that this post about our native eastern cottonwood tree (Populus deltoides) has been three years in the making. At least. That's how long I've been snapping pictures, intending to write about them. While that's given me an archive of shots at different stages, there are gaps.

Fortunately, the wonderful Canadian Tree Tours website has tree ID pages (with catkins, bark, and more) on this and many other tree species in Toronto. Scoot over there after you're finished here.

The eastern cottonwood is a type of poplar (Populus), and the specific epithet in its botanical name deltoides means triangle, related to the triangular leaves. But not all poplars produce "cotton." Here, you can see the dangly earrings of ripe fruit-bearing catkins on the female tree, with capsules getting ready to burst into fluff-factories.
In June, the capsules open to release their fluffy, wind-borne seeds. Thousands of them. Millions! This article says 4 million to the pound. They float through the air like a summer snowstorm.
Looking up, you can see the white fluff getting ready to drift down from this mature cottonwood tree.
Looking down, you notice the "snow" clinging to the road's edge. And just about everything else.
Ever wondered if you can do anything with all that fluff? You aren't alone. Google coughed up this interesting thread from the Knitter's Review Forum. It talks about creating yarns from milkweed fluff, but mentions cottonwood and other natural fluff-makers in passing. And, for the sheer fun of visiting a site with the name Halfbakery, you might also find this anecdote amusing.

Thank you, Sharon, for helping me get that out of my system.