Calgary Garden Tour

It’s the end of August and I just visited two amazing gardens in Calgary – my Oma’s garden with dozens of varieties of flowers and Uncle John’s homemade greenhouse.

Oma has a sea field of plants.  She’s been cultivating them there for over fifty years.  There’s white hydrangeas, red Japanese poppies (I brought the seeds back from a visit to Japan, but I don’t think they let you do that anymore), pansies, marigolds (annuals) and nasturtiums from seed…


white ones, yellow ones, pink ones, red ones, hostas, ferns…

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and clematis – to start!  There’s more flowers in the vegetable garden, around the house and in the front yard.  Plus apples, raspberries, onions, tomatoes, beets, rhubarb…

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And the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – Uncle John also has an impressive garden.  Look at these vegetables!  He strings up the tomatoes so they take up less space.  I think he has every vegetable you can grow!


Uncle John built this greenhouse on the side of his garage with pvc pipe and plastic film.  It’s over 6 feet tall and keeps a nice hot temperature even during those summer cold snaps.

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Oh, and here’s gardening companion, Diamond.  Uncle John catches wasps and puts them in her web.  Diamond wraps up the wasp like a breakfast burrito.  Samwise can’t save you now!

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Diamond, the gardener’s spider companion

Name that Lily

ROAR!  Another Tiger Lily has bloomed.  I have been waiting WEEKS for this one to flower.  I watched the tiny buds form, get bigger and gradually change colour.

Stages of Lily Flower Buds

Stages of Lily Flower Buds

And then today…

Tiger Lily

Isn’t that stunning? I think it’s a tiger lily BUT I thought the last ones were tiger lilies AND these are completely different.

Name That Lily

LilyCompareGoogle has been proven to be useless in my identification process.  How do you search “sort of a pale peachy orange colour lily in zone 3a”?  So the lily on the left will remain nameless but I’m pretty sure that the lily on the right is a tiger lily.  Maybe even a Port Alberni Tiger Lily.



Not Delayed Blooms – Monkshood (?)

(Sound of hand slapping forehead!)
Such a rookie mistake AND beginners’ luck!  I thought I had delphiniums, but now I think they’re monkshood.  I couldn’t believe that all my neighbours’ plants were blooming and mine just started to bud.  Then I took a closer look and realized that I had mislabeled my flowers.  The MAJOR problem is their care is completely different.

Last summer, I moved my monkshood (by un-gloved hand, oops!) from a partial shade area to full sun, covered it in manure and bone meal, and kept it moist.  Luckily they LOVED it!  They grew taller and with more buds than ever before, and are just starting to bloom.  It’s  easy to see the significant improvement because I missed moving a few plants, and the ones in the old location look weak and spindly in comparison.

Now that I look at the two flowers next to each other, they are obviously different.  The delphiniums have a five-petal flower and the monkshood are a funny hood-like shape.  I guess the lesson learned is that all flowers like extra sun, water and manure!

Delayed Blooms – Lily

I think my flower garden is developmentally delayed. I have watched other peoples lilies and delphiniums in full bloom for the past two weeks, while my flowers just grew on their own schedule with no inkling to bloom.

Then yesterday – kapow!  Tiger Lily! (Ok, I don’t actually know what kind of lily it is, but it’s orange, so I’m going with tiger). Check out this baby! I’m SO EXCITED about this one flower!!!  I’ve been working this garden for three years and have never seen a lily. Only last year was I able to identify it as not a weed, then some cottontail ate it!  Lois says that they need to be divided every 4-6 years and to plant them in a place they haven’t grown before to prevent disease, so last year I moved most of the bulbs to a sunnier location.  This is one I MISSED. She is doing much better than her sisters in their new home.


After re-reading Lois’s, I’ll have to remember these tips for next year.

Tips on Growing Lilies

  • Plant at depth 3 times the length of the bulb, pointed end up
  • Keep soil moist, but not puddled
  • Allow steps to die down before cutting back in fall
  • Divisions may take 2-3 years to flower
  • Heavy Feeders!  Bone meal and 20-20-20 one a month until Aug 1.
  • Mulch to keep roots cool
  • Deadhead, to improve bulb strength
Lily Bubils

Lily Bubils

Lily Bulbils

Part of the reason I thought these plants were weeds was these weird black nodules on the stem.  Thanks to Mike’s Backyard for explaining that they are part of the lily’s propagation.  I had to get my finger in the picture so you could see how small they are.  The bulbils will eventually mature, fall off, and start to grow in the soil.  But you might want to collect them so you can control where they grow.

Happy Hostas and Plentiful Petunias

Holy hostas! Check out these monsters!  They must be really happy to be exploding like this.  I wish I knew a secret as to why these are so healthy, but I didn’t do anything to them, they just grew that way.  I have about a dozen hostas of a few different varieties and these are the biggest.


I have to admit that I don’t know much about flowers.  Every spring I go to the garden centre and look at all the plants but it might as well be klingon poetry.  So I pick my old standby – petunias.  I love cascading petunias.  This pot only has three little plants but it looks like a magenta afro.


Lonely Iris and Old Peonies

Last summer I divided my irises.  Actually, I didn’t even know I had  irises until I was weeding and I dug up some mysterious rhizomes.  So I did some research, and carefully replanted them for the next season.  After all my hard work I got one little bloom.  It was a beautiful purple, but poor little Iris was all alone.

If you would like to divide your irises, do it just after they’re done blooming.  Cut leaves back by one third, divide the rhizomes with your hands and make sure that each piece has leaves.  Plant them in well drained soil with at least 6 hours of sun.  Leave the roots just barely exposed.  Spread mulch over them to protect them from the winter but remove it in the spring.  My irises may not have bloomed because over crowding or because I added mulch.


I’m pretty fond of my peonies.  I’m haven’t been much of a gardener, but my peonies grow and produce bushels of lovely blooms no matter what I do.  (If you aren’t much of a gardener either, I highly recommend that you take close up pictures of your flowers.  They are so much more impressive when you can edit out the weeds and mess.)  I have two colors of peonies, one delicate pink (my colours are blush and bashful) and the other clean white with a tiny touch of fuchsia, maybe festiva maxima. peonies_triptic

This week I learned a lot about peonies from Lyndon Penner on CBC radio.  Listen to the six minute interview here.  He says that peonies thrive in Alberta, and have grown here for over 125 years.  They are really tough and don’t need much fussing. (My brother tries to kill his each year, but they just keep coming back.  He doesn’t like their floppy stems and cascades of petals.)  Peonies also live a long time, 80-125 years, unlike a typical perennial which lives 5-8 seasons.  To take care off your plant, deadhead old blooms and cut back in the fall after the first frost.  Water after periods of drought and never fertilize with manure.  They don’t need dividing, but if you do want to divide them or move them, wait until the first week of September when the weather is cooler but not yet frozen, and put them in a spot where they can get full sun.  So bro, I’ll see you on Labour Day with my shovel.

Peony - Festiva Maxima

Peony – Festiva Maxima



Spring Flowers

Last summer I put a lot of energy into my flower beds, and I waited to patiently all winter to see what would come up this spring.  So far I’m pretty happy with the results.

These petite pink flowers of elephant-ears are the first to bloom in the spring and often come up while the plant is still surrounded by snow.  I never really appreciated this plant until I learned about its resiliency.  They grow in sun, shade, wet, dry or poor soil.  That’s why you often see them underneath spruce trees where almost nothing else will grow.  Once the flowers are gone you’re left with a carpet of tough green leaves.  Last fall I divided my plants and spread them out to cover more ground.

Elephant Ears


Forget-Me-Not is another early bloomer.  They come up as a carpet of tiny blue flowers.  I love these because they seed themselves and spread to anywhere that doesn’t already have plant.  Yet, they’re easy to remove if they get in the way.   It’s so nice to have some color in the garden when the rest of the plants are just waking up.  Since these spread so easily, they are a good plant to share with neighbors.  Just dig out a dirt full in the spring and enjoy.




Cornflower (or Bachelor Button) was the next to bloom.  I got these from a neighbour last year and I think they’re pretty happy.  I really like how the look with the Forget-Me-Nots in the foreground.  These are an interesting blossom that look a little like a fuchsia and purple dandelion seed head.  Lois says I need to deadhead them, and after the main flowers are finished, I need to cut them back to 1/3 height for second blooming.



Check out these hostas!  Twelve days ago they were just poking out of the ground.  Hostas are a shade loving plant and they look great all season.  I especially like the one with the variegated leaves.  I divided some of these last year and I can’t wait for them to fill in the entire bed border.

Next to the trellis is my new addition, brewers hops.  He’s little now, but he’s suppose to grow up to eight meters.  And right in front of him are my delphiniums.  Last year I moved my delphiniums to a sunnier spot , but it looks like I missed a few.  It really is better on the sunny side because those delphiniums are twice as tall.

South Garden

South Garden

Japanese Barberry and a few annuals.  I inherited these shrubs with the house, but I just had to share because they are the perfect plant for the dry and hot spot on the south side of my house.  The near one is golden nugget and the far one is concord.  They generally do well without a lot of water, but early this spring they were looking a little dead and needed hydrating.  They are prickly little plants, so don’t get too close.

Japanese Barberry

Japanese Barberry

In a couple of weeks everything will look so different.  I can’t wait to see what comes up next.




Winter Composting

Ok, I know it’s practically summer, but if I don’t make note of my winter composting experiment now, then I’ll never remember.  Last fall I was reading GardeningGrrl‘s experience becoming a Master Composter.  This is a serious 40-hour course offered by the city.  I’m into composting, but I’m more of a pamphlet-read novice.  My question is – Can you compost in the winter?  GardeningGrrl said she collects compost all winter with an equal amount of leaves, and in the spring it starts to compost.  So I took a spare kitchen garbage can (with a lid!) and just threw all my produce scraps in there.  It didn’t attract animals or smell because of the lid and it was usually frozen solid.  When the snow began to melt, I emptied the bin into my usual compost site and mixed it with the old compost/soil.  Then I gave the bin a really good rinse.  Since then it has become some really nice compost.


Square Foot Gardening – Carrot Success!

Check out my bountiful harvest!  This is the only crop that was successful in my square foot garden.  In my one row of my 4’x4′ square garden and 8 inches deep, I grew 3.75 lbs of beautiful carrots.  (That’s 1.2 m square garden, 20 cm deep and 1.7 kg of carrots.)  This is the best carrot crop I have ever grown.  The carrots are nice, big, and firm.  Just like I like them.  I planted the nantes coreless variety of carrots because they grow to 6.5″ with blunt tips.  I will definitely be growing carrots next year.  I think I’ll plant 2 of the 4 rows of my SFG with these carrots and maybe stagger them by a couple of weeks.  (Sorry the picture is a little blurry.)

carrots nantes

Biggest Underachiever – My Vegetable Garden

In early May I was completely gung-ho on my newly built square garden.  I planted all my seeds and watered regularly.  By early June I noticed that whenever something started to come up, it was quickly gone.  Rabbits!  So I put up a fence and re-planted.  Then we had cold weather and lots of rain, so I took to ignoring my little garden.  Today, mid-September, it looks like this.  Sad, isn’t it?

SFG fail

Half My Crop

Half My Crop

Of the 18 peas I re-planted, on two grew.  1/36 beans seeds grew, producing about 4 beans. My two pepper plants produced two golf ball sized peppers. The spinach grew straight up, and never had enough leaves to eat.  And I never did plant any kale, lettuce or basil.

I did get several zucchini plants to grow, and I spread them out into the empty squares.  I already picked one fruit, but it was really hard, so I thought I’d let it ripen.  It ended up rotting.

The only good thing is I seem to have a nice row of carrots.  I’ve been inspecting them, and the tops are a fairly decent size.  I’m still optimistic that this won’t have been a complete waste.

Am I discouraged?  Sure.  Will I try again?  You bet.  The nice thing about the garden is it really didn’t get many weeds.  And I like having my veggies contained to one small area.  Next year I’ll be sure to put up the rabbit fence right away, and if the carrots go well, I might double the area the carrots get.

Bird House Tutorial

Old Bird House

This birdhouse was old when my parents bought their house 27 years ago.

Every year the sparrows come and make it their home and my mom watches their activities from her dining room.  But the fence that the birdhouse is attached to is set to be demolished.  So, I decided this would be a good chance for me to build a new birdhouse.  I salvaged a nice wide board from the demolition of another part of the fence, and I followed the gist of this video tutorial.

If your birdhouse is meant to be functional, then there are a few design elements I would include:

  • First, hinge one of the walls with nails and close with a screw.  This makes it easy to clean out every year.
  • Second, cut the corners off the base.  This allows for drainage.
  • Lastly, make the side walls a 1/2 inch shorter than the main walls so it leaves a little gap under the roof. This allows for airflow.Bird House Tutorial


  • measuring tape
  • square
  • mitre saw
  • sandpaper
  • hole saw bit with drill
  • hammer


  • board – I used a 6″x48″
  • twig or dowel for the perch
  • nails
  • wood glue
  • 1 – small screw
  • paint and/or clear coat (optional)Bird House Cut List

Cut List

  • Side Walls 2 – 6″x6.5″
  • Main Walls 2 – 6″x7″ + peak
  • Floor 1 – 6″x4.5″
  • Roof 1 – 6″x7 5/8″
  • Roof 1 – 7″x7″ 5/8″


  1. First, draw out your cut lines.  If you don’t have a square, you can use a little math to draw the peaks on your main walls.  Since the peak is an equilateral triangle, and the width is 6″, then a 12″ X (two times the width) on your board will give you two equilateral peaks that face each
  2. Cut all four corners off the floor.  This will allow drainage in the house.
  3. Cut some grooves on the inside of the main wall below where the entrance will be.  The birds will like this rough wood to grip with their claws.
  4. Use a hole saw bit and drill a hole for the entrance.  This was a little bit of work and I saw smoke.  Be patient.Bird House Sides
  5. Drill a hole for the perch.
  6. Assemble the walls around the floor.  Pick one Side Wall and only put a nail on each of the top corners.  Don’t put nails on the bottom corners.Bird House Assemble
  7. See how the one Side Wall swings up like a DeLorean door?  That’s so we can easily clean it out at the end of the season.  We’ll secure it soon.Bird House Delorean Door
  8. Nail in the floor.  Don’t forget to leave that DeLorean door swingable.
  9. Add the roof.  Now, if I were smart, I would have made one side of the roof longer than the other side by the thickness of the board.  I hope that made sense.  Except, I can’t cut a 6″ wide board to make a piece that’s 7″x7 5/8″.  So the roof is uneven.  I hope the birds don’t mind.
  10. Now, to secure that DeLorean door.  I drilled a hole into the door only, not the floor, and made it wider than my screw. Then I popped in the screw and hand screwed it into the floor.  So when I do need to clean out the house, I just need a screwdriver to pop in the screw.Bird House Door
  11. Glue in the perch.
  12. Paint, if desired.

Bird House Tutorial

Spidy-Ball, Spidy-Ball!

Does whatever a bowling ball can! Bowling Ball Spidy-Ball

Check out my new garden friend.  A while back I made these Bowling Ball Ladybugs and it seems that one of the ladies got herself a beau.

Spidy was so easy to make.  All you need to do is spray paint a bowling ball red, then get your awesome friend to hand paint Spider-Man’s face on it.  My artistic Superman carefully painted every web onto this guy, and I think the results are amazing!  Don’t forget to give him a good spray of clear coat to protect him from the elements.

Lady and Spidy make a cute couple!

Ladybug & Spidy Bowling Balls

Aldo Leopold Bench

Aldo Leopold Bench

Aldo Leopold Bench –

When I saw this bench, the first thing I thought was “I could totally make that!”.  The second thing I thought was “This Aldo fellow must be some sort of  post-modern designer.”  It turns out that Aldo Leopold is considered to be the father of wildlife management and was a conservationist, forester, philosopher, educator, writer, and outdoor enthusiast.  The bench was the result of wanting a quick and easy place to sit among nature.  Haha – Made you learn!

The whole project took me less than an hour and cost about $20 in material.  As usual, my instructions are slightly different from what I actually made.  You need one 2x6x8 and one 2x8x10, but since my car can’t fit a 10 foot board, I used a left over piece of cedar for the back rest.  I bought pressure treated wood for this project.


Aldo Leopold Bench plans

  • Mitre Saw
  • Drill
  • Measuring Tape


  • one 2x6x8
  • one 2x6x10
  • ten x 2 1/2″ screws
  • wood glue

Cut List

  • A x 2 – 36″. Cut ends at a 22.5° angle PARALLEL.  You are making a parallelogram, not a Bench Cut Piecestrapezium.  Haha!  Made you learn remember math.
  • B x 2- 17 1/4″.  Cut ends at a 22.5° angle PARALLEL
  • C x 1 – 45″ square ends.
  • D x 2 – 42″ square ends.


1.  Cut pieces on your mitre saw.  Your mitre should display angles, so it should be easy to cut a 22.5° angle.

2.  Fasten legs (A and B) together with wood glue and screws.  Pre-drilling makes everything easier.  To make sure it will be level on the ground, use another board as a guide.  Repeat for the other side, assemble a mirror image.  Pieces B will be on the inside and will support the seat.

Bench Legs

3.  Attach seat (D) to the legs with wood glue and screws.

bench attach seat

4.  Attach backrest (C).

5. Sit and Enjoy!

Aldo Leopold Bench

Square Foot Gardening – Planting

Now that my square foot garden is built, I need to figure out what to plant.  I’ve made a list of plants I would consider growing, and the numbers of plants per square foot, according to my research.GardenPlan

  • basil – 1
  • beans – 9
  • beets – 9
  • carrots – 16
  • kale – 4
  • lettuce – 4
  • peppers – 1
  • spinach – 9
  • sugar peas – 9 – needs trellis
  • swiss chard –
  • tomato – 1 – need cage
  • zucchini – 1 (needs staking)

Check out the above drawing to see what I actually planted.  My choices were basically based on seeds I had left over from last year, plus I bought two pepper plants and will buy a basil plant as soon as I find one.

First, I soaked the seeds for a few hours before I started planting.  Apparently they like this.

Then I moistened the soil, so it wasn’t so dusty to work with and I figured it doesn’t actually matter if you water immediately before or after you plant the seeds.

If you’ve never planted seeds before, don’t over think it, and just push it into the soil until it’s covered, not very deep.  I didn’t actually take the time to deposit each carrots seed individually, but I probably should have.  They are so small, I just made sure they had good contact with the soil.

Now that planting is done, all I need to do is to water regularly.  Whatever that means.

So far I love my new veggie garden.  My self-diagnosed OCD loves the little squares.  The soil is light and easy to work with.  Planting was a breeze, especially six inches above ground.  And my feet stayed clean, since I don’t have to walk through the garden. Yay!

Square Foot Gardening – The Set Up

Thanks again to my favorite resource, Pinterest, I have discovered square foot (meter) gardening.  After all my research, here’s what I have come up with for my needs.  The frame cost me $15 and the soil $41 for a total of $56.

SFG – How to make a frame

To make the frame, here’s what I would suggest.  BTW – This is one of the easiest wood projects I have ever made.  I used all new materials, and the whole thing cost me about $15.  I opted for 2 inch boards instead of 1 inch because I wanted a sturdy box.


  • 2 pieces of 2x6x92-5/8″ = $8.50
  • 8 screws 2 1/2″
  • 3 cedar nailing strips 8′ $6
  • 9+ nails

Total Cost = $14.50


  • saw
  • drill
  • hammer
  • measuring tape


  1. Cut the 2×6 boards in half (46 1/4″)
  2. Drill two holes at one end of each board.  Drill the holes 1″ from the end and about 1 1/2″ from the edge.  You only need to drill holes into one end of the board because it’s going to butt up against the un-drilled side.SFG - Frame
  3. Lay the frame on the ground.  Butt up the un-drilled sides to the drilled sides.  (Does that make sense?)
  4. Use your 2 1/2″ screws and screw the frame together.
  5. Lay your frame in a sunny location, somewhere that gets more than six hours of sun.  Set cardboard underneath the frame to prevent grass or other plants from growing up.  I’d use cardboard over landscaping fabric because it’s (I’m) cheap.  Update: Use cardboard.  Grass grew through the fabric.
  6. Fill the frame with your soil.  The recipe for Mel’s Mix is below.
  7. Cut the nailing strips to length and nail them into the frame.  You need 6 pieces to make a 4×4 frame.   Some people just use string to divide out the frame.
  8. PLANT!

SFG $15 Frame –

Ok, you probably noticed that my frame doesn’t exactly look like what I described. First, it’s because I only bought 2 pieces of nailing strip, so I didn’t have enough.  Second, I really want a lot of carrots.  SFG grows veggies in just 6 inches of soil, but for carrots they suggest making little “high rises” to increase the depth to 8 inches.  I decided I wanted to grow A LOT of CARROTS, so I used an 8 inch board on one edge and I added a little divider that adds two inches to the height.  So I end up with an entire row that’s 8 inches deep.

SFG – The soil

Mel’s Mix is 1/3 peat moss + 1/3 blended compost + 1/3 vermiculite.  I’m not going to be too fussy with this mix.  Here’s what I bought, and it filled the frame perfectly.

  • Peat Moss 2.2 cu $7
  • Composted cow manure 15 kg $4
  • Composted sheep manure 15 kg $4
  • Coarse Vermiculite. Two 20L bags $30. (In Edmonton you can find these big bags at Apache Seeds)

Total = $41Mel's Mix -

Here are my resources:

Square Foot Gardening

Alberta Home Gardening