Is spring looking promising in your neck of the woods? The warmer, sunny days here (Ottawa, zone 4/5) are making me itch to get into my gardens.
It is still (at least it is here) early to get into the gardens to clean them out as many (most) hardy perennials and shrubs are still dormant. I know it is tempting when you start seeing green shoots, but hold off a bit. At least until the soil is not mushy.
The same cautionary rule applies to your lawn. If the snow is gone, wait until it is no longer squishy to walk on before raking, aerating, top dressing etc. I have been aerating in the fallfor the past few years, so I am one step ahead.
You also should beware of overwintering bees and other beneficial insects. Gardening too early will disturb them before they are ready to come out of their cozy spots under the debris in your gardens.
Also be on the lookout for nests belonging to our fine feathered friends. Spring is nest and baby season for birds. If you discover one being used, avoid it for a while, until babies have left.
Rabbits have their babies in burrows or holes in the ground in a protected area. I came across onea few years ago when weeding a client’s garden. I was pulling weeds, when I spotted movement. The only way I could distinguish that they were baby rabbits was by their big feet. They had no hair yet. I replaced the weeds to protect them and moved onto another area of the garden.
What can You Do This Early?
You can prune trees now, in fact this is the best time to do so, before the leaves come out. Just do not prune anything that blooms early, like lilacs or forsythia, as you will cut off the spring blossoms. And, if you have to trample all over your soggy lawn to get to the trees to prune them, perhaps you better wait for a few weeks.
Use a good quality, sharp set of loppers to prune branches. This is one of those times it pays to purchase quality. Choose a set you can handle, as some are quite heavy and create a workout for your arms.
If cut branches are diseased, wipe lopper blades with disinfectant (rubbing alcolol or hydrogen peroxide) between cuts.
Cut Back Ornamental Grasses
You can and should cut back ornamental grasses that were left tall for the winter. By now they look weather-beaten. Cut them back to 4 to 6 inches from the ground. This will ensure the new green shoots (when they appear) wont have to compete with the dead brown ones.
Use a sharp pair of garden shears to make the job of cutting back the ornamental grasses much easier.
Plan and Dream
This is also a great time of year to plan. Make a list of things you want to do, even if they seem far-fetched. Sometimes dreams become reality!
Get Ahead of Crabgrass
If crabgrass is making an appearance in your lawn, treat it quick! As soon as the snow is gone crabgrass germinates, so the earlier you get to it the better. The snow is always gone from my south facing lawn first, so I have to get on the crabgrass now. You can recognize the sprouts as they are bright green in an otherwise drab lawn, and whorled like spokes on a wheel.
This year I poured boiling water on the germinating sprouts, will let you know how that works.
Disinfect Tools and Pots with Hydrogen Peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is an environmentally friendly alternative to bleach for cleaning and disinfecting in the garden.
If you use containers on your patio, deck or in your gardens, a warm sunny day is a great time to clean them out. Rinse them out and spray with undiluted 3% hydrogen peroxide to disinfect them. Let the pots sit in the hydrogen peroxide for at least ten minutes. Rinse again, then fill them with new soil so they are ready to fill with annuals when your last frost date arrives.
If you intend to fill any containers with perennials (I have some with ornamental grasses in them) you can do that now. Contact your local nurseries to see what they have available, my favourite here is Ritchie Feed & Seed.
Hydrogen peroxide is also an effective way to clean your tools. Spray or soak them, let them sit for a minimum of ten minutes, then rinse and dry.
Change up Your Outdoor Decor
Remove your winter arrangements (the evergreens that are not so green anymore) and replace them with harbingers of spring. Nothing says spring like pussy willows (I saw some at Farm Boy yesterday) or forsythia branches!
My husband is on vacation for the next month; this will be a practice run for his looming retirement, so wish me luck. And patience.
I say patience because I have been spoiled. Retiring myself nine years ago from alarm clocks, stress, and strict schedules, my daily routine has evolved into one I am completely comfortable and enamoured with. I have gotten used to picking and choosing what I feel like doing for the day. Or week. Or month. Sounds selfish, I know, but it has been nice. And don’t get me wrong, my hubby is the rock to my kite, still the partner of my dreams, thirty-seven years in.
Last Year at this Time
Last year at this time hubby was off for three weeks, using up vacation time for the fiscal year too, but also planning to retire. With the pandemic just in its onset, although we were not able to travel, we were able to “isolate” to prepare for our granddaughter staying here while her baby brother was born.
Obviously, his retirement didn’t materialize either, another victim of the ever-lasting pandemic.
I also took advantage of my husband’s presence to get a thorough spring cleanup in my own gardens, although I did have to keep nagging him to watch out for still-dormant plants, bees, and other beneficial insects.
Renovation dreams for our cottage and home were put on hold too as supplies were limited. It took the whole summer just to replace the base for our dock, with the dock itself still needing replacement. With most stores closed to the public, we were unable to look at the options for a new one, and unfortunately, a dock is not something easily assessed online.
A Year Later
It is hard to believe one year has passed and we are now entering a second of pandemic restrictions. Everyone is pandemic weary and frustrated. Still not able to travel and still no concrete renovation plans. No new babies (grandchildren) are on the way this year; it now appears that the birth of our grandson last April was the highlight of that year.
Spring is a great time to clean all areas of the house, inside and out. On the list are:
removing Christmas lights
powerwashing front veranda and back deck
Of course, there are garden chores to be shared too, with a few branches of our apple trees on the list for removal. This is the time of year to prune many trees and shrubs, and it looks like I have the manpower to do the job.
It is also a great time of year to edge the gardens if you use a natural, trench method, top-up and amend the soil, divide perennials, add mulch, clean out birdhouses, birdbaths, and the pond, rid the lawn of crabgrass, prepare containers for annuals etc, etc.
We have had chats with a neighbour on how they renovated their (identical to ours) ensuite bathroom, so that might encourage my resident DIYer to firm up some plans. He knows I have been dreaming of a bean (freestanding) tub to soak my weary gardener bones in. I would still love to head to the cottage for a month while the work is being done, but I will accept a compromise.
I would also like to shop for a small garden shed to fit in the back corner of my yard, something else that is hard to envision online.
Wild Birds Unlimited has moved to our neighbourhood, within walking distance, with visitors now permitted in the store. I have purchased products online since their arrival, with curbside pickups in effect due to pandemic restrictions. I know my husband will love this store as much as I do.
My honey-do and shopping lists continue to grow! Fingers crossed we will get something accomplished this year during our retirement practice.
I am proud to report thatI was recently featured in an article in First for Women magazine about turning a hobby into a lucrative business opportunity. The picture of me isn’t the most flattering one, taken in a hurry first thing in the morning (my grandkids take better selfies than I do) because the one I had submitted was too blurry, but the garden pictured is one of my favourite projects. I have literally watched it evolve over the years from a weed filled, uninspired, large area into a stunning, colourful, well-planned perennial garden bed.
I was approached in January to submit a story on how and why I started my own business, then told it was accepted to be published. The magazine is on newsstands from March 11th through to March 31st. This, of course, is a much-edited, sugar-coated version of my story. I have learned tons over the years, including how to create a website, blog and invoicing or accounting system. I’ve also learned what not to do. If anyone needs further motivation or details on how to get a (very) small business up and running, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
While many people have been inspired to find unique ways to earn income during the pandemic, my gardening hobby-to-business adventure began in the spring of 2012. In fact, last summer my business took a hit, due to the fact that many of my clients were working from home and able to manage their own gardens. Others gave up their gardener to tighten their budget as the pandemic stretched from weeks to months. I was excited, however, to be able to design a few new gardens, something I have been doing less of in recent years. It was a hot and dry summer too, so the cottage season was an exceptional one.
I was thrilled to see the magazine article in publication, especially as the weather appears to be warming up to what could soon be gardening weather. I do still have quite a bit of snow covering my gardens, but it is melting. My south-facing front yard is always the first on the street to reveal the grass under the snow…
Everyone has their own list of what they consider to be essential garden tools. As the owner of a gardening business, I am no exception. These are my essentials, although you don’t have to use specific brands:
A shovel, a spade (shovel with a sharp, flat cutting edge) and a trowel will cover all your digging needs. Choose a light weight, but good quality version of both so they are easy to use and will last forever. I have several sizes of shovels too, sometimes you need a small one to get into tight spaces.
I have a few different styles and sizes of rakes. The fan shaped ones are good for gathering leaves and debris. I have a tiny (child sized) version that is great for getting in and around plants in your garden. The larger ones work better on lawns.
I prefer the plastic ones as they are nice and light, but my husband prefers a metal one. Go with whatever you will use.
This is the one area I advise splurging on because of the working mechanisms. In this case especially, you get what you pay for. If you buy inexpensive secateurs or pruners, they will not work well for long. I have a few different ones that I keep around my yard, in sheltered locations to prevent rusting.
I consider an edging tool essential since I love the look of natural edging, rather than rocks or rubber edging. Of course, a shovel would work too, but an edging tool, whose head is a half circle, works wonders to create smooth edges in your gardens.
Loppers or Branch Cutters
Once again, pay a bit more to get a good quality pair of loppers. You won’t regret it. Buy some that are heavy (strong) enough, but not too heavy that you cannot handle them efficiently. They come in varying mouth widths too, so choose one that will cut branches up to at last one inch thick. Of course, you can have several (I do) for different chores.
Shears are like large scissors, great for cutting large sections of plant material at once. They make for quick results on a big plant. For example, I use them for cutting back my large ornamental grasses. I have also seen people using shears to trim small chunks of grass after mowing their lawns, around obstacles in the lawn such as trees. They are not however any good for cutting branches or even twigs.
It is great to have a bag to carry around your hand tools. I currently have one that the tools flop out from, so have been looking for a taller one. This tool bag from Tacklife looks great, perhaps that will be my next purchase. And, as a bonus, it comes with some garden tools. One can never have too many tools!
Nice to Have, but not Essentials
There are many other garden tools I have that the average person would not consider essential. I have a compartmentalized tool bag that contains a roll of string, stakes, a box cutter, a hammer, a tape measure, vine clips etc, in addition to my small hand tools.
I also have several sizes of rubber baskets that are essential to my gardens. They are great for toting garden debris, new plants, weeds, cut flowers, even water in a pinch.
What you consider essential will be different than what I consider essential, based on your needs, physical ability and even your budget. The one thing we should have in common though is keeping our tools clean and sharp. Tools should be cleaned off after each use and sharpened at least once per season. At the end of my gardening season, I spray my tools with a disinfectant, wash them well, then rub blades with a bit of oil to keep them all in tip top shape.
Recently I was diagnosed with moderate scoliosis. The weird thing is that I was being checked out for something else when my curved spine was noted on my chest x-ray. At least I thought it was weird. Apparently, this is common in the otherwise healthy, aging population. The other weird part? I only read about the scoliosis when checking out my new online health file. The doctor never mentioned it until I asked, a year later, when I was perusing the new online health portal.
Let me explain the spine, in case you forgot or never learned anatomy. Your spine is made up of 33 bones, including the pelvis. These bones or vertebrae are normally stacked one on top of the other, with only the top 24 able to move. These moveable vertebrae can be divided into thoracic, lumbar, and cervical regions, based on where they are in the stack. The lower 9 vertebrae are fixed in place, and consist of 5 bones in the sacrum of the pelvis, and 4 that make up the tailbone.
A normal, healthy spine naturally curves slightly in three spots, looking like an S only if you were to look at it from the side. From the front or back it looks straight. This shape permits a spring-like function allowing the spine to move and absorb shocks. At the neck (cervical) and the lower back (lumbar) the spine naturally curves inward (concave) and at the middle of the back (thoracic) it curves outward. (convex) To visualize the “S”, keep in mind the inward curve that would continue at the top of this picture as the spine goes into the neck area.
What is Scoliosis?
Scoliosis is defined as a medical condition involving an exaggerated or abnormal lateral (left or right) curvature of the spine, usually in a C or S shape. When diagnosed, it is categorized into a mild, moderate, or severe state, depending on the angle of the curve. The greater the angle, the more severe the condition.
The offending presence of a curved spine is categorized into where exactly the spine is curved:
lumbar, in the lower back region. Often presents with one leg longer and one hip higher than the other
thoracic, in the mid-back region, is the most common. Sometimes involves ribcage and shoulder deformity and/or lung and heart impairment.
thoracolumbar, involving both the lumbar and thoracic spine, often detected in utero or at birth. Also often associated with neuromuscular disorders such as cerebral palsy or spina bifida.
Who can Develop Scoliosis and Why does it Happen?
The condition is divided into three categories based on the age at which it is diagnosed or becomes symptomatic:
childhood: diagnosed in infants or toddlers with congenital deformities, it is termed infantile scoliosis, while developing (usually neuromuscular) symptoms between the ages of 3 to 10 is called juvenile scoliosis
adolescent: between 10 and 18 years of age where growth spurts are most common
adult: symptoms or diagnosis past the age of 18. This category is further divided into 2 groups, idiopathic (unknown reason) and degenerative (our bones do deteriorate with age)
The adult age group is quite large, so a more precise category of “elderly” is also often used. Scoliosis in the elderly is quite common, caused by aging bone structure, injury, or the progression of an (untreated) adolescent category.
For reasons (yet) unknown, female patients tend to be diagnosed with more severe curvatures, requiring a more drastic treatment process.
Treatments for Scoliosis
Suggested treatments are based on the severity of the condition. Options range from simple yoga poses and sleep patterns to surgery (spinal fusion) with lots in between. The in-between may include posture correcting, various methods of bracing, exercises, chiropractic manipulations, and inversion therapy.
Yoga poses, good and bad
According to Healthline.com yoga poses beneficial for those with scoliosis include:
Half Forward Bend (Ardha Uttanasana)
Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasna)
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha)
Side Plank (Vasisthasana)
Side-Reclining Leg Lift (Anantasana)
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Be sure to avoid yoga poses (cobra, half moon, locust, sun salutation) that bend the spine backward as well as other exercises that twist the spine.
Adjusting Your Sleep Habits
Adjusting sleep patterns uses gravity to improve the alignment of the spine so the curve (sometimes) moves back into its proper position. So, if your abnormal curve is on your right side, try sleeping on your left side, and on your right side if your curve is on your left side.
Sleeping on your back would be a secondary choice, but lying on your stomach is not recommended.
Practice Good (Better) Posture
This might be the easiest way to alleviate pain and muscle strain. Find your natural body alignment and realign it as often as you can throughout your day.
Slightly tuck your chin in so that it is not jutting forward or too far down.
Draw your stomach in slightly
Unlock the knees slightly.
When sitting, keep your back and neck straight and legs uncrossed. Your ears should be over your shoulders, not in front of them as they would be if your neck is inclined.
I have learned a lot with my research into scoliosis. I went to the doctor complaining about left chest pain that radiates from below my breast up to my shoulder. I wouldn’t even call it a pain, more of a pressure. Due to the fact that both of my parents died of pulmonary ailments, I was concerned about the possibility of lung problems.
Regular mammograms have indicated no problem there, but a chest x-ray showed a moderate curve to the left in my spine. Even though my posture has not always been the greatest, I have arthritis elsewhere in my body, and my shoulders and neck get sore when I’m stressed or tired, I never suspected scoliosis. When I questioned my doctor (after reading the x-ray results) she agreed that the left curve in my thoracic spine is most likely what is causing pressure on my ribcage for over a year now.
I’m a proponent of natural remedies, so this is my plan. I already do many of the yoga poses and exercises recommended, but also a few of the ones I shouldn’t do, so will discontinue those. I will make a conscious effort to improve my posture when standing and sitting.
And, I will quit sleeping on my left side, something I have been doing for as long as I can remember.
A year later and my hair is totally white, it was pretty much so by July. My hair grows very fast; I have been cutting it myself since that last salon visit. Luckily I have a bit of wave in my hair so it is very forgiving when I mess up with the scissors and thinning shears.
These pictures show the transition from reddish brown to pure white. The five adorable kids are just props. For some reason, I cannot resist smiling from ear to ear when they are around.
I must admit, I do like the fuss-free white look, even without makeup on to brighten my complexion. I cannot remember the last time I wore makeup; this pandemic has really shortened my morning routine. Shower, a dab of leave-on conditioner, tousle and done. The gray hair has grown on me, literally, in more ways than one. No more worrying about trying to disguise the white roots that always seemed to grow in so fast.
Most of my grandkids have forgotten the red-brown look, or in the case of our pandemic-born grandson, never knew it. My three year old granddaughter saw an old picture of me the other day and said “who’s that?” My seven year old granddaughter does remember the old me, but recently asked “why would you dye your hair?” Two of the boys are much too young to remember and the four year old could care less. At least he hasn’t mentioned it.
The transition to gray hair is still new to me; every time I see a reflection or picture of myself I am taken aback at how much I look like my father. Which is a good thing as I miss him and my mother so much. I hope you are smiling down at the new me, Dad.
Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus is the name of a best selling book authored by John Gray back in 2012. It is a great communication guide for couples, with the focus on understanding how the other thinks and feels. Far from rocket science, but important in the evolution and success of relationships.
I learned long ago, early on in my 36+ year marriage, how to get my husband to do the things I need him to do to keep our household running smoothly. The solution was/is simple. Ask for help and tell your partner how you feel. Communicate what works for you as a couple. And what does not!
Many of us women were raised to believe we have to do everything (household chores) ourselves if we want things done properly. This may have worked early in the last century, but modern women are busier than ever and smarter than that. So are men.
In defence of the men in that generation, they were raised to believe similar rubbish. Chauvinism was rampant. My husband was one of them, so were my three brothers. My mother and mother-in-law were clones of June Cleaver, looking after their children and their homes while their husbands worked outside of the home. Things got more complicated, not to mention stressful, when both mothers went back to work as soon as their youngest child was in school. All of a sudden they each had two full time jobs. My sisters and I were recruited to help out, but the males of the family were exempt.
If I learned nothing else from that experience, it was that I would not accept that archaic mentality in a partner. Making that decision a reality was tricky, but we managed to figure it out. I used to slam cupboard doors and stomp around when I was angry and frustrated with his (perceived) inability to recognize necessary household chores.
I would like to say I straightened him out, but must admit he figured it out faster than I did. He did notice the slamming doors and stomping feet after all, so made the first step by admitting his need for me to communicate (verbally) exactly what I wanted him to do. This must be why “honey do lists” became so popular. He was quite happy to “help” although learned fast that he was merely pulling his weight rather than helping. This was especially important when our three sons were young and our household was very busy.
Our sons have all grown up and moved out, with two of them proud fathers themselves. That means our family of five has extended to a family of twelve. So when we entertain the gang, I am traditionally the cook and hubby is the cleaner upper before and afterwards. Works for me!
Men have (thankfully) evolved over the years, into caring and nurturing fathers, husbands and partners. And women have evolved by losing the martyr act and encouraging their men in these roles without losing any of their superhero powers.
As the picture above indicates, successful foreplay doesn’t have to come in the form of candy, flowers or sweet nothings whispered in our ears. Unless of course that is what you need; everyone is different. Me, I believe actions speak louder than words and gifts. I feel participating in cooking, kitchen cleanup, bath time and bed time routines is far more effective.
The moral of this story? Men may still be from Mars and women from Venus, but we can successfully co-exist on Earth if we communicate!
This past month I have been obsessed with houseplants. I’m not sure if it is because we have been under lockdown for so long, due to my love of anything green or my love of nature and gardens. Probably a combination of all three, much to the chagrin of my husband who keeps reminding me “the gardens are outside.” Hmmmmm, I can fix that, I do love a challenge…
Indoor Potting Station
Typically I take stock of my houseplants in winter, when my gardening business is snowed in, but this year I think I have taken this obsession to a whole new level. Recently, a large box of soil bags, plastic saucers that go under plants to protect floors, and pots has taken up space in my front hallway. The floor there is easier to clean up after spills, so this spot has become my potting station.
Research Your Options
The internet is a great resource for which houseplants to buy (or trade with like-minded friends for), what window to place them in and how and when to repot and take cuttings. I love this site in particular; it provides lots of “how to” videos for all sorts of plantings.
I have also joined a Facebook group of other individuals in Ottawa that are as houseplant obsessed as I am.
My granddaughters and I have started seeds, with some progress. Currently we have success with zinnias, strawberries, lemons, and lots of hibiscus. We will have to restart some in a warmer spot in the house; my basement kitchenette appears to be too chilly.
There are several other ways to propagate all plants, including houseplants. I am currently attempting a few methods to increase my own houseplant population.
Taking leaf cuttings and putting them in water (changing it often) until roots develop is just one way, but by far the simplest. This method works best on plants with hardy stems such as African violets.
Adding rooting hormone to leaf cuttings and inserting the stem intoperlite (lightweight, volcanic glass pieces used to hold air in soil) or potting soil also works well. Sanseveria work well with this method; several sections can be cut from one leaf, just be sure to keep track as you cut them into sections so they are planted right side up. It does make a difference; if you plant the sections upside down (easy to do when removed from the plant), they will rot.
Air layering is another propagation method, but a bit more complicated. Make a slit on a stem (2/3 of the way through the stem) between two leaves, cover the wound with damp sphagnum moss and wrap the area in plastic wrap to create a humid environment. When new roots form, cut the new plant off and pot it up.
Simple layering involves pinning runners or long stems into soil while still attached to the parent plant to form new root systems. When the new roots and new shoots form, sever the connecting stem between the parent plant and the new roots/shoots and pot your new baby up. Pothos, ivy and spider plants propagate well with this method.
Sometimes when repotting your plants the roots just naturally fall apart (divide) into separate clumps, creating another easy way to propagate and grow your collection or to share with others. Sanseveria (snake plants) and ferns lend well to this division method.
Even though it was his third consecutive Superbowl commercial about the popular carbonated, sugar-free, calorie-free drinks, the content has been different each time. With new varieties in flavour of the sparkling water introduced on a regular basis, this year pineapple and peach Bubly were the newest features.
Although I have historically never been overly fond of carbonated beverages, I do likeBubly; perhaps it is less carbonated than others. These drinks are a great way to incorporate water into your daily regime, staving off dehydration and its effects on your health, with no added calories to deter your diet.
Even my almost three year old granddaughter loves Bubly. She calls them “bubbles,” too young to understand the play on words between bubbly, Bubly and Bublé. Autocorrect doesn’t get it either, changing my Bubly to bubbly each and every time. My granddaughter and I also share a penchant for preferring our bubbles at room temperature rather than ice cold, so we often split one when she is here.
I have also developed what I call a “Canadian Margarita” recipe that features lime flavoured Bubly along with tequilla, freshly squeezed lime juice and maple syrup. Served in a glass rimmed with salt, it is delicious! Perhaps I should send Mr Bublé the recipe!
So far, lime is my favourite flavour, with cherry a close second. That was before I knew pineapple was a thing. I do love pineapple, so am anxious to give it a try. Did you notice the pineapple one is opened in the picture above? Perhaps a Pina Colada recipe is on the horizon.
I just bought a box of both new varieties, pineapple and peach, proof that commercials do work. Especially ones with Michael Bublé in them.