Brugmansia Mania

Brugmansia have spectacular, trupet-shaped blooms

Brugmansia have spectacular, trupet-shaped blooms

IT STARTED INNOCENTLY ENOUGH with just one plant, but that led to another and then another.

When all were packed into the basement one winter, I counted 50-plus brugmansias stowed behind the furnace, in the cold cupboard — even in the washroom.

My wife, Shelley, concerned by my new obsession, suggested I stop taking cuttings and making more plants every time one came out of dormancy and started to grow. I didn’t stop.

The following summer I was glad I hadn’t, because that year the plants burst into a spectacular show of 225 trumpet-shaped flowers — some nearly the size of wine bottles. Their intensely sweet fragrance wafted into the house and floated down the street.

Click here to read my story about growing Brugmansias from Garden Making magazine.

No Fuss Backyard Fruit

Grow no-fuss backyard fruit such as elderberry

Grow no-fuss backyard fruit such as elderberry

Grow no-fuss backyard fruit such as elderberryGrow fruit in your own yard...even though you have squirrels, raccoons, shade--and not too much time to tend your garden.

Join me at Toronto Botanical Garden this Thursday, June 2 and Thursday June 9 for a 2-part discussion of fruit plants that are easy to fit into an urban backyard and busy lifestyle.

Click here for more information or to register.

It’s cold out, so let’s talk figs!

Grow Figs in cold climates.In December I had the pleasure of talking with the host of the Urban Forestry Radio Show, Susan Poizner, about growing figs in cold climates.

Click here to listen to me talk about growing figs on the Urban Forest Radio Show.

A long-time journalist and a gifted storyteller, Susan shares my passion for growing edibles.

Susan, is the founder of Orchard People. She offers workshops and online training about growing fruit trees. And she is the author of the award-winning book Growing Urban Orchards: The Ups, Downs and How-Tos of Fruit Tree Care in the City. Visit her website for a great newsletter and free e-book.

Chard: Looking Good in the Frost

Swiss chard is an easy-to-grow garden vegetable that soldiers on through early frosts. Actually, it looks really nice when painted by a touch of frost. Then, when the sun comes out, the frost melts away and plants spring back up.

Swiss chard looks beautiful when painted by frost.

Swiss chard looks beautiful when painted by frost.

Swiss chard looks beautiful when painted by frost.Chard is one of my late-fall favourites. It’s both delicious and attractive. Along with traditional green-and-white varieties, look for orange, red, yellow, and white and red stalked varieties.

(Chard looks great in planters, once summer annuals have succumbed to frost!)

I often cook chard with my two other fall-time favourites, leeks and sorrel.

This trio—leeks, chard, and sorrel—combine to make a scrumptious filling for pastry. It’s a late-fall, fresh-from-the-garden version of spanakopita (the traditional Greek dish with cooked spinach in flaky pastry.)

Gardening, Soup, Parenting

I've thoroughly enjoyed the time together with my daughter Emma as we wrote our book Grow Gardeners: Kid-Tested Gardening with Children.

Our latest book-related adventure was going to a commercial kitchen to make 60 litres of soup for a soup festival where we promoted vegetable gardening and gardening with children.

Soupalicious features chefs from around Toronto. Not being a chef, I felt a bit intimidated. But the event raises funds for Plant a Row · Grow a Row, a program that encourages gardeners to share the harvest with those in need.

While not a chef, I know about planting and growing…so that helped us get started on a trip outside of our comfort zone!

Buffalo Girl

This spring, I sat down to chat about food and farming with Jennifer Bain, a.k.a. The Saucey Lady. Bain, the food editor at the Toronto Star tells stories of food through people; and stories of people through food.

I had to buy a chest freezer when we were dating,” says Jennifer Bain. She pauses while the audience laughs. Then she continues telling us about writing Buffalo Girl Cooks Bison, her latest cookbook. She is Buffalo Girl. Her introduction to bison came when she married Rick, an Alberta bison rancher.

Bain weaves her own stories into the book, just as she does in her talk. The first chapter starts with her photo, in a cowboy hat, looking out over bison grazing on rolling hills. She writes, “We called him Blue Tag 741, for lack of a more personalized name. He was the first bison on our ranch in Alberta that I watched move from field to corral, then slaughter to freezer, and finally stove to stomach.”

Read more about Jennifer Bain and how she shares stories of people and food in my May 2015 article in Country Guide magazine.

Toronto's Gerrard India Bazaar

I love the shopping trips that I take for Country Guide magazine. Who would think that writing for a farm magazine would take me to Toronto's Gerrard India Bazaar. But it does:

It’s pretty clear that we don’t exactly know what we’re doing. The shopkeeper, looking through the window, sees our hesitation. He opens the door, looks at us, smiles, and waves us in. “Please come in,” he says.

Not familiar with this stretch of city shops, we had paused to peer in the window of a store called Toronto Cash & Carry. We don’t know where we’re going. We only know that we’ve been told we’ll be glad we made the effort to come here, and that we should be sure to buy the brand of chana masala spice blend that comes in a green box.

We have tried chickpea curry and liked it, and we’ve been thinking of making our own, and apparently this is where we must come for the best ingredients.

Read more of my look at Toronto's India Bazaar in the March 2015 issue of Country Guide magazine.

Tindora, a.k.a. Ivy Gourd from the Indian bazaar

Tindora, a.k.a. Ivy Gourd from the Indian bazaar

Embracing Change on the Ranch

When I talked with Colleen Biggs of TK Ranch (she's of no relation to me) about her business of direct-marketing ethical beef, what struck me was that she embraces change. 

They told me I would fail,” says Colleen Biggs, remembering the phone call she made soon after taking over sales and marketing on the home ranch. It was 1995, and with no room to cut costs any deeper, she had called the Alberta Ag Ministry to find out more about direct marketing, thinking their way forward had to be to add value.

Conventional wisdom said it couldn’t work, especially in a province dominated by a powerhouse commercial beef sector. But what other choice was there?

Read more of my article about Colleen Biggs and TK Ranch from the March 2015 issue of Country Guide magazine.

Shedding Light on Farm Stories

I had a very interesting chat with author dee Hobsbawn-Smith about food, farming, and her book Foodshed.

Foodshed explores food produced in Alberta. It also looks at the stories of the people behind the food.

In the book, Hobsbawn-Smith talks about what she calls the great food divide: to buy on price or to buy on story; to shop for a commodity or to shop for dinner. By putting a human face — the human story of “her” farmers — alongside the farms and food in her book, she narrows that divide. “Just about everyone who reads it comes away with a sense of the scope of the politics that underlie the food-growing world,” she says.

Read about it in the February issue of Country Guide, on the Country Guide website.