Sneak peek at Canada Blooms 2010

February 17, 2010 at 4:57 pm (reviews & previews) (, , , , )

In mid-Feb I start to get the garden show itch. I’m sick of a white and grey landscape and longing for a shot or two (or 16) of colour.

Info about Canada Blooms 2010 is starting to trickle in and it’s encouraging. Some of my–and others’–pointed comments on last year’s show have had an effect:

1. The return of a theme for the show: “Passions.”

2. The return of Gardeners’ Fare, the section for non-profit groups to tell the world about their work. Current info from Blooms lists more than 20 exhibitors, including the Canadian Peony Society, Evergreen – Brick Works, Greater Toronto Rose & Garden Society, Local Enhancement & Appreciation of Forests (LEAF) and a bunch more. I always love this section, full of dedicated enthusiasts, and am thrilled that it’s returning.

Of course you know the new location for the show: the Direct Energy Centre at the CNE. No more trying to figure out which way is up in those cramped elevators!

As usual, there will be dozens of dreamy display gardens, and a full slate of speakers each day on topics like veggies, houseplants, clematis, laying stones and other garden know-how.

It’s still a pricey show, though I think admission is the same as last year. You can save a bit, though, with special deals:

Get the whole blooomin’ story at

–Mary Fran McQuade, writer, gardener and BGS member/blogger

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Happy (Chinese) new year!

February 9, 2010 at 4:11 pm (Getting to know us, reviews & previews) (, , )

Happy new year!  A bit late for the western calendar, but just in time for the Chinese year of the tiger, starting Feb. 14.

January always flashes by in a blur. I’m a working freelance writer and all my editors seem to return to the office full of energy and assignments. Don’t get me wrong–I’m VERY happy to get work from them. But add the deadlines to volunteer work and Christmas clean-up, and it makes a full month.

While our new website is in development, I should bring you up to date on Beach GS happenings–because it looks like it will be a full year for us.

Beach GS at work on District 5 AGM

The big event looming ahead is the Ontario Hort Assoc District 5 annual general meeting and conference (what a mouthful that is). You may already know it’s scheduled for Apr. 24 and a gang of Beachers are working madly to organize things like food, door prizes, meeting room set-up/decor, loot bags and the flower show and print materials competition.

If you’re a BGS member and want to get to know the group better, volunteering is a great way to do it. There’s a real spirit of camaraderie and fun that develops from working together on a project like this–and new hands and brains are always welcome. Give Ursula Eley, who’s coordinating this bunch, a call if you want to pitch in.

People always call it the district AGM, but I like to add “conference” to the description. Nothing sounds duller than an AGM, and there’s a lot more going on here than just district business. Jim Edwards, our own flower meister, is giving a demo/workshop on flower arranging. If you’ve seen Jim do one of these, you know it’s like watching magic happen right before your eyes. Best of all, for me, is that Jim manages to entertain at the same time as he creates floral works of art.

Our other speaker, Martin Galloway, is well known for his knowledge of the natural world, as well as horticulture. I’ve only heard him once, but in that one talk I learned the reason slugs were created (they DO have a purpose in the garden), as well as some SHOCKING things about their sex lives. I won’t spoil the secrets–come to the district AGM and hear Martin for yourself.

All garden clubs have been sent registration info, I believe, so ask yours. Or email me at the address below and I’ll forward your request to the right place.

Upcoming BGS speakers

Feb. 16–Paul Zammit, Perennials Worth the Hunt. Many folks know Paul from his role as the hort director of the Toronto Botanical Garden. Many also know him for his non-stop energy and enthusiasm for gardening. An evening hearing Paul speak should lift you right out of any Feb blahs.

Mar. 9–Evelyn Wolf, Front Yard Gardens. Running out of space for favourite plants? Get rid of that boring front-yard grass and expand your garden there. (It’s a fine way to meet people in our pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood.) Come find out how.

Apr. 20–Lorraine Mennen, Trees for Small Backyards. Lorraine is that rare creature, an entrepreneur-gardener. She owns Pathways to Perennials, a gorgeous boutique garden centre and landscape service in Kettleby, ON. Her talk should help us avoid the “giant tree, mini garden” problem that sometimes occurs around here.

May 18–Christina Sharma, Project CHIRP. CHIRP is a songbird conservation initiative with connections to many other wildlife and conservation organizations. A gardener herself, Christina should have lots of tips on how our gardens can become places of refuge and refreshment for the feathered chirpers and tweeters. as well as ourselves.

June 15–Steven Biggs, Vegetable Gardening. Everyone talks about veggie gardening but is anyone doing it? Bring your notebook and questions so you can take part in this red-hot 21st century trend.

More to come

Lots more happening in 2010, but running out of room. Check back later for more BGS news.

–Mary Fran McQuade, writer, gardener and BGS member/blogger

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Bye-bye, ’09

December 27, 2009 at 4:32 am (Getting to know us, perennials, winter)

I’ve been having the guilts about this dormant blog. Could come up with lots of excuses, but I won’t. Even with this past summer’s generally rainy days, there still seemed to be lots of writing, dogwalking, watering the porch container plants, etc., to deal with.

Summer’s just not a good time to blog, for me.

Now, in this time-between-time, which is how I always think of the period between Christmas and New Year’s, I’m thinking over the successes and not-so’s of the past summer.

Scratch Roma tomatoes
I’m never going to try growing Roma tomatoes in containers again. I’ve done it a couple of times now and it just doesn’t work. The wretched things take too darn long to fruit, and demand constant watering. They’re utterly unforgiving of the occasional lapse. In future, I’ll stick to Cupid, a prolific grape tomato that pumps out fruit in big dangly clusters, very much like grapes. It doesn’t get that disgusting black-end thing that neglected tomatoes get and merrily chugs along even when the gardener is otherwise occupied.

Not sure if I’ll bother with hanging basket strawberries, either. I did get a few precious berries from my hanging container. They were great fun and tasted fantastic, but took a lot of care for the tiny harvest. My plant is wintering in the dark on the unheated back porch, so I’ll see if it comes alive next spring. If it’s ready to keep going, I’ll have another go, too.

Cheers for geraniums–in red, of course
If I can get my hands on it, I will happily plant the spreading geranium marketed by Loblaws again. I got one sample plant from them and the thing filled the giant tub on my porch by mid-summer. It was a great performer and took little care, so I was impressed. I realize some folks probably think red geraniums are utterly low-class tacky, but I love their sturdy shape and big, bold flowers on my hot, west-facing porch. I also enjoy the unique geranium (OK, pelargonium) scent, which takes me back to my childhood.

Spring experiments
The back porch is full of container plants sleeping peacefully until spring. Some, like the garlic chives, I know will come back faithfully as soon as the freezing days are past. Others are experiments. My Clematis tangutica seems to have seeded itself and there’s a baby plant in a pot tucked away back there. I’ll see if it survives the winter and find it a new home if it does.

A young lilac I was given in very late fall, when the ground was too frozen to dig, is also wintering under cover in its pot. So is a gorgeous container clematis that was another trial plant from Loblaws. The clematis is supposed to winter over in its container in a cold, dark place, so I hope it survives. I think it probably should have been moved into a larger pot before its winter sleep, but that was one job I had to leave undone. As with many things, we’ll see.

Website changes ahead
The garden society board plans to change our website again. I’m not up to speed on what’s happening, but I hope they let me keep trying with the blog. Will let you know. Meantime, this post is appearing so that the blog (and website) live on. Hopefully, it will all come together in the new year.

–Mary Fran McQuade, writer, gardener and BGS member/blogger
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Back again with lotsa news

June 16, 2009 at 1:27 am (Getting to know us, reviews & previews, Uncategorized) (, )

 Where has the blogger gone? Sorry folks, she’s been busy doing the dirty work – planting, yanking out undesirables, moving houseplants to summer outdoors, cleaning out the shed, making new potting mix…. You get the idea.

The garden is still poking along, slowed by our unseasonally cool temperatures. The begonias are sulking and even the rosemary has got spots (dratted mildew!).  My roses are just little green buds and our last flower show until September is later today. Not much for me to bring, but I’ll try to find something. Hate to disappoint our hardworking show organizers and the judge.

Shameless plug: Come to the June meeting and get your tickets for our special door prizes: five fabulous pruning and trimming tools donated by Fiskars Canada. The pruners, loppers and shears all feature Fiskars’ special PowerGear technology that’s easy on sore fingers and hands. Tough, lightweight carbon-fibre handles mean you don’t have to be a weightlifter to use them, either.

This blogger – and the cutting-edge prizes – will be perched by the door near the stage, so be sure to stop by for your tickets.

 Explore gardens of the Beach

Weather or no, it’s garden tour season. Mark your calendar for Sunday, June 28, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., when Beach gardens will be on show, thanks to the Beach Garden Society. I previewed just a few and can’t wait to see the rest.

Gardens in our neighbourhood are noted for their personality. They’re all well-loved and most are designed and cared for by the owners. It’s absolutely the best way to find out what grows well in real people’s gardens.

Tickets are just $10 each for an afternoon of fun and inspiration. Get them at local shops Cool, Green & Shady, Pet Value, Trinity 1 Gallery, East of Eliza and Bill’s Garden Centre.

The rich are different

And then there’s that other garden tour: Through the Garden Gate, held by the Toronto Botanical Garden (used to be the Civic Garden Centre). This year’s extravaganza features the gardens of the Bridle Path – some of which look like botanical gardens themselves.

Gasp at pavilions the size of your house. Goggle at scenic pools. Groan with envy at mixed rose and peony borders. And wonder at museum-quality sculpture by west coast glass artist Dale Chihuly.

TBG garden tour runs June 20 and 21, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. One-day passes are $40, $35 for TBG members. You can purchase online at

Enough words. See you at the meeting.

— Mary Fran McQuade, writer, gardener and BGS member/blogger

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Orchids A to Z

April 12, 2009 at 10:58 am (houseplants) (, )

I confess. I was thinking of skipping our last BGS meeting because I’m not a big orchid fan. It’s not that I don’t like them — I think orchids are gorgeous, especially the dainty ones that grow together along a stem (see later in this post). But they look so fragile that I’d feel as if I’d pulled the wings off a butterfly if I let one die.

However, our March speaker, Terry Kennedy, was enthusiastic and downright fun when she talked about orchids. She has all kinds of qualifications. She grows them, she imports them, she even breeds the things, I think. But she wasn’t a fusspot about them and — best of all — her talk combined practical advice with intriguing facts.

The weird and the wonderful
Who knew there were about a zillion species of orchids, from Angraecum to Zootropheon? Who knew they’ve been around since the dinosaurs? (Imagine a T. Rex with an orchid tucked tucked behind its ear.) Who knew there was an orchid that smelled like chocolate? “Very popular at Valentine’s Day,” Terry said. Who knew wine corks are the favourite growing medium for the lovely Vanda orchids used in Hawaiian leis? Or that they have the truest blue, a colour rare in orchids?

And then there are a Bulbophyllum that smells like rotting meat;  the Dracula vampira orchid that Goth kids ask about; and a fascinating Rapunzel sort of orchid that sends down long skinny petals so ants can climb up and pollinate it. (I think of it as Rapunzel, but its real name is Phragmipedium grande.)

A bit of botany
On the factual side, we learned that orchids are very specific about their pollinators — just one to a species. Rapunzel up there won’t let anyone else in except ants. If the pollinator dies off, so does the orchid. The wonders of biodiversity.

I finally learned how to say Cattleya (CAT-lay-a), the classic prom orchid. I also learned that “orchid” isn’t, actually, the most common colour of orchid flowers. Most are yellow and brown; the pinky-purple shade was developed by breeder selection. I also learned that the dainty, colourful orchids I like are the “dancing ladies” of the Caribbean, a kind of Oncidium orchid. Good news for me, they’re easy to grow indoors and like to be kept on the dry side, Terry said.

Orchid care, simplified
Terry also cut through the mystique of orchid growing with basic tips on care:

  • Choose plants with fat, full leaves, not limp ones.
  • The more roots a plant has, the more flowers you’ll get.
  • Water orchids by flooding the top and letting the plant drain, which draws air through the pot.
  • Leave a stick in the pot to check when to water. The stick should be dry at the middle or the end before watering.
  • Mist plants to add humidityonly during the day; leave them dry after dark.
  • Forget the fancy fertilizer: 20-20-20 is just fine.
  • Repot at least once every two years, if not annually. Orchids grow in organic matter, so when that rots, so do the roots.
  • Don’t be too quick to cut off flower stems. Some orchids keep blooming at the growing tip of the stem. Don’t cut the stem until it’s brown. If it gets too long, cut back to a node and powder the cut with a little cinnamon to prevent disease.

Throughout, Terry’s mantra was, “The plant will tell you what it wants.” She made it sound so easy, I may give it a try one of these days. (Terry and Doug Kennedy’s business is Orchids in Our Tropics,

–Mary Fran McQuade, writer, gardener and BGS member
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One more from Canada Blooms

April 5, 2009 at 7:16 am (Getting to know us, reviews & previews, Uncategorized) (, )


 Finally found out how to insert a vertical photo into the blog. (Don’t laugh — I’m new at this, both the blogging and the digital image stuff.) Hope I can remember what I did for next time!

Anyway… BGS member (and former prez) Jim Edwards was one of about a dozen professional florists with wonderful, giant-sized displays right near the entrance to the main floor of Canada Blooms this year.

His business is San Remo Florist, and he showed his skill with this impressive arrangement of moss, curly willow (or is that corkscrew hazel?), ranunculus and a couple of kinds of orchids.

The whole thing was as tall as I am. Great show, Jim! (Forgive me if I got some of the plant material wrong. Too busy admiring it to take notes, and too tired from wrestling with the tech side of blogging to call you and ask.)

–Mary Fran McQuade, writer, gardener and BGS member 

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Blooms a bust?

March 27, 2009 at 9:59 pm (reviews & previews) (, )


What’s happening to Canada Blooms? Sorry to have to say this, but this year’s edition of Toronto’s big flower and gardening show was a disappointment.


This espaliered weeping Atlas cedar was one highlight.

This espaliered weeping Atlas cedar was one highlight.

Usually there are several knock-out display gardens to ooh and aah over. Not this year. Usually there’s a mind-boggling line-up of outstanding speakers to choose from. Not this year. One of my favourite parts of the show – Gardeners’ Fare, which showcases REAL gardening organizations and societies – was completely missing. Even the Marketplace area seemed pretty thin, with no-shows from several longtime participants. 


Reford Gardens had a witty, interactive display.

Reford Gardens had a witty, interactive display.

 Top marks to Landscape Ontario (the gardening industry association) for  “Green for Life,” its gorgeous, informative display garden right near the show entrance. The Bienenstock children’s play area was another stand-out, the ideal kind of playground of our dreams. And I loved the whimsical, artsy interactive plant-a-tree garden from Reford Gardens, which let little kids and kids-at-heart get into the act.

 It’s not that there was anything wrong with the gardens on display (except for the one or two that still didn’t allow disabled access). It’s just that the show this year seemed tired and frayed around the edges, perhaps battered by the economy, like the rest of us. I’m just guessing, but the sudden death of show partner Gardening Life magazine was probably a big blow to the event.

 Another problem may have been that this year’s show didn’t have a strong theme. Previous years focused on ideas like “flower power” or “a walk in the park.” The theme this year was supposedly “Canada” or “Canada blooms.” (I never did get it quite clear.) And how much can anyone do with that?


I want to support Canada Blooms. A city of our size and talent should have a flower and garden show that delights and inspires. But people now expect value for money, and dear old Blooms is going to have to come up with some fresh, creative ideas to keep its future as bright as its past.


 — Mary Fran McQuade, writer, gardener and BGS member

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More about Hachonechloa

March 10, 2009 at 6:21 am (perennials) (, )

We still don’t have comment-capability here yet, but Peggy Sloan, enterprising (and talented) gardener and BGS member wrote me with her observations on hachonechloa. (They appear as a block quote below.)

In my Feb. 28 post, I quoted our February speaker, Belinda Gallagher, as saying Hakonechloa needs close planting and lots of watering to look good. Apparently that’s not always true — certainly not in Peggy’s experience. Yet another example proving plants behave differently in different locations!

Peggy writes:

Hakonechloas seem to get bad reviews lately but I find them all gorgeous and reliable. Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ is in dappled shade in a slightly raised bed for most of the day and gets a blast of sunshine in the late afternoon, which makes it glow bright gold. I wish I could say I planned that but it is just a happy accident for which I am grateful.

Hakonechloa macra, the species, is pale lime green and grows beneath the elm with enormous root competition. It’s doing just fine. Two chunks of these plants winter over in the vegetable garden. I haul them out in the spring and put them in pots for the patio.

I have had self-sown plants, exactly two, from the species and none from ‘Aureola’. These are well-established plants now and need no special care or watering. They grow just fine where hostas grow.

pegs-hachonechloa1Here’s a picture of Hachonechloa in Peggy’s garden — like a leafy, gold-green waterfall that shines in a shady spot. All this inspires me to try them in my own shaded back space. One more thing on the wish list for spring. (Maybe some will turn up at our plant sale May 16?)

— Mary Fran McQuade, writer, gardener, BGS member

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Not your usual turf talk

February 28, 2009 at 11:15 pm (perennials) (, )

I love ornamental grasses. Their stately size and shape, their swaying movement, even their sibilant swishing sound take me back to some primeval grassland and bring a bit of the untamed into a peaceful perennial garden.

So I was thrilled to hear plain talk about ornamental grasses from our February speaker, Belinda Gallagher. You may have seen Belinda on the Weather Network’s summer gardening segments. She was recently appointed director of horticultural at Hamilton’s Royal Botanical Garden.

Belinda, bless her, finally cleared up my longstanding confusion about “warm season” and “cool season” grasses. I’ve read about the difference but never could get it straight in my head. Here’s her explanation:

  • Cool season grasses grow in early spring and early fall; they’re dormant in summer’s heat. (Guess that’s why they’re called cool season.) They tend to be shorter than warm season grasses and may be evergreen.
  • Warm season grasses grow when the weather warms up – 25 Celsius night and day. They bloom in late summer and early fall, and often have good fall colour.

 Belinda named lots of things to love about grasses. (In this post, I’m just talking about ornamental grasses; forget lawn/turf grass for now.) They’re an upright accent. They have great form and texture. They reflect or glitter in certain lighting conditions and in winter.

 And they’re low-maintenance. Just five simple steps to get going with grasses:

  1. Choose your plant.
  2. Buy your plant (remembering that warm-season grasses look dead in spring)
  3. Plant your plant. It’s hard to go wrong here, Belinda says. “Their goal in life is to grow.” They’re so vigorous, you can pretty much stick them in the ground.
  4. Water your grasses to get them established, then don’t fuss. Once they’re settled in, go easy on the water and never fertilize or you’ll end up with big, floppy flower heads.
  5. Cut back both cool- and warm-season grasses in early spring, when you can see new shoots. Leave 2 to 8 inches of stubble, less for short grasses, more for tall ones.

 After the how-to’s, we moved on to some of Belinda’s favourite and not-so-favourite grasses. Too many to list here, but choice plants include:

  •  Bowle’s Golden Grass – a golden, cool-season grass good for woodlands.
  • Carex muskingumensis – a native sedge (grass-like plant) that resembles bamboo and turns bronze in fall.
  • ‘Karl Foerster'(Calamagrostis)– a tall, columnar grass; cool-season and dramatic in winter.
  • Panic grass (Panicum species) – a pretty, wispy grass; bluish ‘Heavy Metal’ doesn’t flop; ‘Warrior’ develops red heads.

 Not-so-nice grasses include:

  • Hakonechloa – a lovely arching grass that needs a ton of water and close planting to look good.
  • Miscanthus atropurpura – a purple maiden grass that loses its colour and turns brown in a matter of days after it comes up.
  • Deschampsia – a shade-tolerant grass that looks great in spring but browns out in summer (possibly from too much sun and dry soil?).
  • Spartina, lime grass and ribbon grass – all well-known thugs that will take over a garden.

A great evening, lots better than reading a gardening book!

 — Mary Fran McQuade, writer, gardener and BGS member

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2009 speaker schedule

February 10, 2009 at 4:12 pm (Getting to know us) (, )

This is a new website for the BGS, as I’ve mentioned. So our speaker schedule isn’t yet up on our main website. Our newsletter editor, Doreen, kindly sent it to me so I could post it here in the meantime. (Time and place of meetings appear after the list.)

  • February 17 – Ornamental Grasses for the Garden; Belinda Gallagher, Director of Horticulture, Royal Botanical Garden
  • March 17 – Orchids for Beginners; Terry Kennedy, Orchids in Our Tropics
  • April 21 – Delphiniums; Hazel and Joe Cook, Blossom Hill (will bring plants for sale)
  • May 19 – Gardens I Have Known and Loved; Trish Symons
  • June 16 – Bonsai: An Introduction; Arthur Skolnick
  • September 15 – To be announced
  • October 20 – Q & A with Master Gardeners; answers to all your burning gardening questions
  • November 17 – TBA

Meetings begin at 7:30 pm at the Adam Beck Community Centre, 79 Lawlor Ave. Visitors are always welcome — no admission charge (though we’d like you to come again as a member).

We also usually have flower shows (arrangements and plant specimens) at our meetings in March through September. Winning a ribbon can be addictive — more about that another time!

–Mary Fran, writer, gardener and BGS member

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