Could that be Spring I see Outside?


Today is May 9th. I think spring has finally arrived in Canada. I’m not the first person to think about this or write about this. We all know about climate change and the crazy weather patterns we continue to see and experience around the world. I’m just happy that spring has arrived. Don’t get me wrong – I love the winter and all the outdoor activities that come with it. But, there is something special and fresh I always feel in spring. It took us a little while to get here. And now I am thrilled that indeed spring is here.

I am not a gardening maven and I’d say I have something between a green and a brown thumb. Maybe olive green? For me, one of the surest signs that spring has arrived are the green tips and buds that appear in my garden. It is nature at its best, with that perfect shade of green that pushes through the thawing, brown garden bed and from the branches on trees.

As each day goes by, the green shoots grow taller and bigger and other colours appear. I have tiny purple flowers now all over my front yard (which may be somewhat invasive and yet also beautiful) along with some red and yellow tulips (which are always swiftly consumed by the local squirrel population).

Last week my favourite tree started to bloom – the magnolia. I don’t have one on my property, which is just fine with me. They are all over my neighbourhood and during the first week of May every year I love exploring and looking at this most magnificent tree. The flowers are a gentle shade of pink that makes me smile. But this tree only blooms for a week or maybe two. We hit the height of the blooms a few days ago, and the flowers are already falling off the trees and lying on the ground. I don’t mind that I don’t have one as I don’t have to clean up all the petals.

A blooming magnolia tree on my street.

And speaking of outdoor cleaning, well that’s another sure sign of spring. No matter how much garden clean-up we do in the fall, when the snow and ice finally melt in the spring, our yard is a mess. I am blessed to live in the city on a large property. We have a big backyard, with huge hundred-year-old oak trees and a seemingly endless length of garden beds. Enough leaves fall on our property each year to fill about 50 garden bags.

Throw in massive wind storms which blew dozens of sticks and branches everywhere and it’s hours of cleaning for us each spring. My husband has abandoned the interior of our house the last few weeks to spend every free minute in the backyard cleaning up leaves and sticks. And he’s still not finished! Spring is beautiful, but it’s definitely synonymous with cleaning!

One headache I do experience every spring is the mess that is my front lawn.  As I wrote about last May, I dream of a green, thick, lush front lawn every spring, and so far, no luck. Last year we hired a gardening company to get rid of the grubs and re-seed, and by the fall our front lawn was a mess. In April, as everyone’s front lawns began to grow, we got a patchy mess, with more grubs and more raccoons. That’s right, those pesky raccoons once again pulled apart my lawn.

This year I’m trying to fix it on my own, and so far, no luck. I raked out the dead grass, aerated the area and sprayed a huge amount of grub-eating nematodes everywhere. I’m planning to lay a fresh layer of grass seed today. I will water it diligently, maybe apply some fertilizer and try to keep weeds away. And those grubs too. And the raccoons. If I fail, I will have to come up with a new plan next spring.

Today the sun is shining and my thermometer says it’s 21 degrees outside. I can take that. Actually, I think that 20-22 degrees Celsius is the perfect temperature and a sure message to us all that spring is here.  Welcome to the warmth, the greenery and the colours. I love it.

My Vegetable Garden in the City


In a previous post, I stated that I don’t exactly have a green thumb. I am not a natural when it comes to the garden or plants. I admit that I kind of forget to water my indoor plants. But I love the idea of an outdoor garden. I love to walk through my neighbourhood and admire colourful and neat and tidy gardens that have grown to maturity because of a lot of love and care.

In our first home, I was determined to create a small garden of my own. I wanted a mix of gentle greenery, hits of colourful flowers, some herbs to give a nice aroma and even a few vegetables in pots. The garden grew and flourished. The vegetables either wilted and died or were pulled and eaten by the many animals that lived in the neighbourhood. Our old neighbourhood was frequented by many squirrels, racoons and even skunks, and they were in charge of the garbage and gardens with food. I had little success even growing a simple healthy tomato.

When we moved to our current home a few years ago I decided to try again. I thought, maybe the local raccoon and squirrel militia was kept in check a bit better in this area, where most of the garbage cans were kept in garages and sheds. The garden got a late start as we only moved in June and planted a limited vegetable garden. I also planted my vegetables on my deck, right beside my house.

The tomatoes came in late, around late August, but they grew! We had a limited tasty crop, and their bright red colour made my garden shine. Did we have a weaker animal population? Did the proximity to the house, on my deck, make a difference? Maybe.

I was so excited in 2014 to see the tomatoes grow
Julia was so excited to watch the tomatoes grow in 2014
Yes I took a photo of the first tomato I pulled from garden in 2014

I dabbled in vegetable seedlings in 2015 and 2016 and failed miserably. They all sprouted quickly and easily and grew. I kept them in a warm and sunny spot in my house all spring and lovingly cared for them. I transferred them outside as the weather warmed, and boom, they either flopped and died or the local animal militia gobbled them up.

But, I also bought a number of small plants from my favourite Collingwood Farmers’ Market and a bunch more from an organic market north of Toronto called Awesome Blossom. Success! Okay, not big success, but my plants flowered in early summer, and we had a small crop of tomatoes, green beans, peppers, zucchini, kale and lettuce. My vegetables were tiny but cute and I decided that I would push forward in 2017 and build a fresh vegetable garden.

Last year’s flowers on the growing tomatoes
Zucchini last year
The biggest tomato that grew in my 2016 garden

I’m at it again this year, and while it’s early, so far things are going well. My giant deck planter had a small incident over the winter (okay, it broke and crashed to the ground), so now each vegetable has its own planter. I think that actually may help so I don’t have any crowding or competition for soil and water. I did experiment with a bit of corn, which was grabbed by the animal militia, but my cucumbers, tomatoes, peas, beans, peppers and a few other goodies are thriving so far. My husband’s experiment with a strawberry, blueberry and raspberry plant have been a bit of a failure. They are growing and are green, but so far all we have seen are two tiny strawberries. We are not ready to grow fruit yet!

I am excited to watch my vegetable garden grow and bloom. I will provide updates here as it develops over the summer and we harvest the goodness.

The plants growing in my garden right now

Could I Create Victoria’s Garden?


Victoria Day and the long weekend that goes with it is marked annually as Canada’s unofficial launch of the summer season. This holiday goes all the way back to 1845, when Queen Victoria actually sat on the British throne and celebrated her birthday on May 24, and Canadians have embraced it for over 150 years.

Canadians celebrate this long weekend in various ways: they open the summer cottage, enjoy fireworks, catch up on some overdue spring cleaning and spruce up the garden and lawn.

I love to garden, or to put it another way, I love the idea of gardening. I do not naturally have a green thumb, and I worked hard to create a simple garden with greenery, a nice lawn and a punch of colour in our first home, one we lived in and enjoyed for almost 12 years.

We have lived in our current home for three years and it’s been a struggle to create a functioning front lawn. We are lucky to have a large, spacious, flat lot in the heart of the city, but with that comes tremendous maintenance.

Our biggest challenge is the front lawn, the first impression zone of any property. When we moved in in June 2014 the front yard was in bad shape. We inherited a balding lawn covered in weeds sitting in front of an overgrown garden with half dead bushes.

What a patch of the front yard looked like when we moved in three years ago

Over the last couple of years I have cleaned up the garden beds, removed years of dead leaves and brought the small bushes back to life. However, I didn’t do much with the grass patch, thinking always that maybe some miracle would happen and that each spring a thick healthy patch of grass would grow.

Boy was I wrong. Last year weeds and clover took over, and this spring an army of grubs moved in. An alert went out to the neighbourhood raccoons who heard there was a buffet of grubs at our house, and they attacked what was left of our front lawn.

Neighbours and dog walkers would shake their heads and remark how pathetic our small front lawn looked. I had to do something. After calling a few lawn and garden businesses I chose one that had a great name (Gardenzilla), they were friendly, had good reviews and quoted a fair price to aerate the soil, get rid of the grubs and put nemotodes in to keep the raccoons away and put down fresh grass seed.

We have been watering diligently, and green is starting to return as the grass begins to grow. But the daily alert to the neighbourhood raccoons still goes out. Most mornings I can still see a piece of the new lawn scratched at and turned over. Maybe we need more nemotodes. Or we need to install a scarecrow. Maybe these intelligent raccoons will learn to read and I will put a big sign up on my lawn that says “keep out.”

What a patch of the front yard looks like today

I dream of a soft, thick green front lawn, and I will keep seeding, treating and watering the grass until one day that miracle will happen. If you have any ideas or simple suggestions about how to help my lawn go green post a comment here or Tweet me @AliciaRichler.