One Big Greenhouse

When we decided to upsize at an age where most are downsizing, because I wanted more yard work at an age where most want less, the wish list was clear. It was all about the garden.

I wanted a south or west facing backyard and that yard had to be huge. A greenhouse, potting shed, established perennials, beautiful well paced trees, brick or stone walkways and raised beds were all on the want list.

The house we chose had none of those things. Life is funny like that.

In the end, after three years of searching, we chose not just a house, or a yard, but a place that felt like home. There were a few trees, but no garden area, no garden infrastructure and no greenhouse.

Darcy has built a greenhouse at pretty much every place we have ever lived. It’s been a journey of buy a place, unpack the boxes, build a greenhouse, repeat. He is willing to build one here as well, the question is where to site it. Our lot is small and there are only so many options, none of which seem workable.

And then I saw this…

A couple in Stockholm, Sweden built a greenhouse that covers their entire home and yard. In the middle of winter they go out on their deck to sunbathe instead of to shovel snow. They grow grapes, figs, tomatoes, cucumbers and all kinds of things in their outside greenhouse/garden/patio/yard.

Can you imagine? Of course you can!

I love how there is always a solution to what we think is an unsolvable problem. No suitable spot for a greenhouse? Put a greenhouse over EVERYTHING. Problem solved.

About the only flaw I can personally see in the plan (besides cost, city bylaws and talking Darcy into constructing the Mother of all greenhouses) would be access for birds, bees, butterflies and other bugs. I am not sure I would want to garden without them and it is possible the glass could even be deadly for birds, though maybe something could be figured out in that regard. If you have the ingenuity to build a greenhouse that drops over your entire house and yard, chances are you can figure out the nature element as well.

But oh, what a treat it would be to go outside on a sunny winter day and just hang out in your yard. Imagine strolling about your deck in shorts (or coatless anyway), sipping a cold drink, checking out your garden, pausing to wave at your neighbours bundled up in their winter gear, snow blowing their driveways.

Well, that might not go over too well.

It would only be a matter of time before one of them accidentally on purpose aimed a piece of gravel towards your glass house, and you could hardly blame them. Maybe you could host enough gatherings to create goodwill.

Oh! I just thought of another tick for the Yes side. We are getting ready to have our shingles and eaves trough replaced. This would negate the need entirely. What a tremendous cost savings. How thrifty am I?

Win, win, I say.

Though I’m pretty sure What? What? is what Darcy will say.

All joking aside it’s still an interesting concept, even if it won’t work for us (as much as I think I’d like it to).

If you’re curious about the couple who have actually made this dream a reality you can find all the details, including a video featuring this unique home, by clicking here.

A Not So Full Movie Experience

I am a bit of an introvert. And by a bit, I mean totally. My favourite activities are writing, reading, art, gardening and taking long walks. All things I do alone, except for the latter. Sometimes (pre ankle injury) I take my long walks with Darcy.

After a day of nonstop interacting with people at work, Darcy and I tend to spend all our shared downtime alone. We enjoy the ease that comes after sharing almost four decades of each other’s companionship.

A few days ago marked 36 years of marriage, so we decided to celebrate by watching a movie. Usually this means firing up Netflix and settling in on the couch but, because it was our anniversary, we decided to go all out and head down to the theatre.

There is nothing like watching a movie with a crowd. Sure, sometimes people talk or check their phones or do other annoying things, but it is all part of the experience. I enjoy sharing the gasps, the laughs and the tears with a group, even a group of strangers.

So off we went for an anniversary afternoon of popcorn, people mingling and the full on movie experience.

And? We went into the theatre and we were the only ones there. We were the only ones as the light dimmed, we were the only ones through fifteen minutes of ads and trailers and we were the only two in the entire theatre as our movie began.

At one point I almost forgot we were in a theatre altogether and was going to tell Darcy to pause the movie while I went to the washroom. Which was pretty much the only difference in the whole experience. No remote control.

The movie was pretty good though. And the last 36 years of marriage? Well, those have been pretty good too.

The Change is Coming

Just an add on to the last post about using white clover seed as a lawn grass alternative.

I was at one of our local nurseries today and I see they have small bags of white clover seed for sale in their lawn grass section.

The bags aren’t big and they were priced at 19.99 but a little goes a long way. As you can see by reading the packaging, the 700 g bags are equivalent to 1 1/2 pounds which should be enough to more than cover 3,000 square feet.

It is possible that an agricultural seed place would have it in big bags for a lot cheaper so if you are doing a country lawn it might be worth phoning around.

Mostly I was just cheered up to see it readily available in the lawn seed section. If they are selling, someone has to be buying, which means we really are coming full circle and starting to make smart choices for the planet.

A Truly Green Lawn


What if you could have a lawn that rarely needed watering, was naturally weed free, aerated the soil on its own, was soft to walk on, attracted beneficial insects, seldom needed mowing, stayed a luscious green even after Rover peed on it and was self fertilizing?

Well, back in the 1950s those were the precise qualities of a prestigious lawn plant marketed to savvy consumers. What happened to it? It was too easy. It worked so well there was no money to be made.

The solution? To usher in the era of finicky grass seed, lawn fertilizer, weed killers, sprinklers and lawn mowers that we know and use today.

What was the name of the once prestigious lawn plant that proved too easy for its own good?

Clover.


With its deep root system clover tolerates compacted soil better than grass and is able to tap into moisture at lower levels which is why it requires far less watering. These qualities make clover highly competitive and able to choke out weed competition, negating the need for herbicides.

And forget the fertilizer too. Clover has the clever ability to snatch nitrogen right out of the air and pull it down into nodes along its roots, making it self-fertilizing.


Clover’s small sweet honey scented flowers attract bees and other beneficial insects, as well as making them a delight for your own senses. Dutch White is the most commonly used clover for lawns, growing only four to eight inches high and hardy to Zone 4.


We have been taught to view the white clover blossoms as an eyesore, but if you take the time to look closely they are really quite pretty.

Left to its own intelligent devices, nature will always choose the most suitable blend of grasses and herbs for your lawn, which in the Peace Country most likely includes Alsike, the clover that naturally invades our lawns. Alsike grows taller and so requires more frequent mowing than Dutch White, but it is also much hardier, so better suited to our climate.

Alsike Clover

I’ll leave you with the following excerpt harvested from the book “New Way to Kill Weeds” by R. Milton Carleton.

“The thought of White Dutch Clover as a lawn weed will come as a distinct shock to old-time gardeners. I can remember the day when lawn mixtures were judged for quality by the percentage of clover seed they contained. The higher this figure, the better the mixture…I can remember the loving care which old-time gardeners gave their clover lawns. The smug look on the face of the proud homeowner whose stand was the best in the neighbourhood was something to behold.”

R. Milton Carleton from “New Way to Kill Weeds”

I feel like we are coming full circle and enough people are either concerned about the environment or sick of caring for their lawns that we are approaching an era where we will be “clover smug” once again!

A Sweet Surprise

I have tried to grow sweet potatoes several times over my many years of gardening, but with little success. Once I harvested a handful out of a half whiskey barrel in a greenhouse, but that was it.

I tried starting my own slips from organic store bought potatoes that were probably terrible variety choices for our northern climate. That didn’t work out at all. Twice I ordered slips from Nova Scotia to be shipped clear across Canada because the variety was supposed to be cold climate friendly. Or as cold climate friendly as a heat loving sweet potato can get.

Unfortunately the first time the slips arrived they were put into our rural group mailbox located about a mile from our house during a week where the nighttime temperatures were dropping below zero. More unfortunately, I didn’t always pick up the mail on the same day it was delivered. The 12 precious slips camped out in the mailbox for at least one entire night and maybe as many as three.

They may have been suited for a colder climate, but not that kind of a colder climate. I tried to revive them but it was all for naught. The next year I tried again, this time picking up the mail every single mail day morning without fail. That was the year I managed to harvest a handful from the whiskey barrel. And then we moved.

I don’t have a greenhouse (yet) at our new (to us) house so I didn’t bother ordering any slips.

And yet…I have a sweet potato all the same!

When I went out to the compost bin today I spotted this poking out of a tiny slit in the side of the bin…

Here’s a look at the whole bin…you can just make out the leaves poking out two ridges down on the right.

It’s been awhile, but I am ninety percent sure it is a sweet potato. It must have hatched out of a peel that got tossed into the compost.

So now it’s a bit of a dilemma. The bin is full and has been cooking at full throttle for about a week, but in the last few days it has slowly started cooling down.

I know this because I have one of those garden nerd compost thermometers that look exactly like something you would use if you were cooking a turkey for a giant. It has a button thermometer attached to a foot long steel skewer that you insert into the bin. The thermometer shows when the compost is in the cooking zone, when it is hot and when it is cold.

My compost just tickled the underside of getting hot before it started falling back down into the cooking zone. This means it is time to fork the compost about, give it a few turns and put it all back in to heat up and cook some more.

But then out sprouts what I think is a sweet potato leaf.

I love sweet potatoes. Obviously. Which is how so many peels got into the compost in the first place and why I keep trying to grow them.

So now I am thinking if I just leave it alone it might like growing in the compost bin. It’s certainly warm enough, and even as it cools down the black walls should keep the roots nice and cozy without frying them. Since it has popped out fairly high up the bin, that would allow for all kinds of potatoes to grow below.

However, if I want to make a few batches of compost this summer I need to turn the contents often and hurry things along so I have enough compost to amend all my beds in the fall.

So which do I want more…sweet potatoes maybe or compost for certain?

I am not a gambler and my motto has always been a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, but I think I will take a chance on this one. I will just have to start another compost bin/pile elsewhere.

Who knows? Maybe by chance my compost bin has discovered a whole new way to grow sweet potatoes in the north without a greenhouse.

Fingers crossed.

A Snip, Snip Here and a Sorry, Sorry There

I can’t believe I am espaliering fruit trees along our backyard fence, but there they are and so it is.

Just as I am bothered by animals in cages, the idea of tying a tree to a wall, whacking off most of its limbs and torturing its branches to bend in directions it would never naturally go on its own used to repulse me. Yet here I am doing it.

It gets worse.

I could say I am doing it because we have less than 7000 square feet which includes the house, garage, sidewalk and driveway, so growing space is at a premium. Espalier allows a gardener intent on growing as much of their own food as possible to pack in a crazy amount of fruit trees in a small area.

I could also say that espalier boosts productivity, fruit size and (this one surprised me) actually extends the life and increases the health of the tree. I have learned there are espalier gardens that are centuries old where the trees continue not only to survive, but thrive, producing crop after abundant crop, while suffering none of the blights experienced by their wilder siblings.

I could say all these things and they would all be true, but it wouldn’t be the whole truth of why I chose to espalier.

Turns out, I love to prune.

Here’s an image of an espalier from Pinterest https://pin.it/dxhiweefauorvh

I am not sure why my newly discovered penchant for pruning makes me feel slightly ashamed. It’s not as if I am confessing to being a serial killer or something. It’s just that for so many years I let things grow wild by choice. I rarely pruned anything. I hated to even thin the carrot beds and not just because it was a tedious job. I liked to think of myself as more of a helpful observer in my garden than a controller. If you asked me what I thought of people who espaliered I probably would have been less than kind in my response.

Then we moved to this urban lot and I felt forced to prune out some trees branches that were either crossing the property lines or causing issues with our house or driveway. First I reluctantly tackled some lilacs, then the mountain ash and finally our apple, birch and maple.

I took out all the branches that were dead, then ones that crossed over and rubbed on other branches and finally ones that took away from the overall shape of the tree. I discovered there is this moment when you are pruning where you can actually feel the tree start to “breathe”. The air circulates through the branches and everything looks and feels so much healthier and you can see the shape it wants to take. You can almost sense the tree thanking you.

After their pruning, the trees looked so much healthier. I liked how that felt but I also loved the process that got them there. If I were 20 years younger and not so afraid of heights, I would go into training to become an arborist. I love it that much.

I starting wandering around the yard with my pruning shears like a hairdresser gone wild, just looking for something, anything, to prune.

This is the perniciousness of the urban garden. It demands attention but then gives you very little to pay attention to.

If you have a busy life and a young family this is a good thing. You can whip around for a couple hours on a Saturday morning mowing, weeding and trimming and get all the yard work for the week finished and still have a weekend to call your own.

If you’re a gardener whose idea of a great weekend IS yard work, then it can be a bit of a let down. The good news is that it is nothing a few dump trucks of soil on your front and back lawn can’t take care of. Throw in a few high maintenance perennials and lots of beds that need constant edging, weeding and deadheading and all is right with the weekend world of the urban gardener once again.

Or you can sprain your ankle and let the garden get ahead of you that way, but I don’t recommend it. But enough about that.

If you are a gardener who has developed a pruning habit and find yourself wandering your lot with a pair of pruners, looking wistfully over the fence at your neighbour’s trees, well, you just might be interested in espalier gardening.

As soon as I read how espalier trees require lots of detailed pruning, I knew I needed to have some. And that is how I came to have a plum, an apple and a pear tree spread-eagling their way along a couple rubber coated wires on our back fence.

You can buy fruit trees specifically for this purpose that have already been prepped for espalier wires, but I did no such thing. Instead I bought trees that were already too tall to allow for any lower branches to weave their way along the fence. This is not ideal.

On the other hand, it allows me to plant smaller fruit trees of a different type and by pruning so they remain short, I can run their branches beneath the others, on a lower wire, further maximizing my space, food production and crop variety.

And so here I am, happily bending, tweaking, pruning and well, generally torturing encouraging things along. I have no idea if any good will come of it. All I can say for certain is I am being as gentle as I possibly can, I haven’t killed any of the trees yet and if an enthusiasm for pruning mixed with whispered apologies count as fertilizer, they should start growing like crazy soon. I hope.

Right now my own espalier shape is nowhere near as fancy as those shown above. It is simply sparse and somewhat horizontal. I also have grapes, clematis and Virginia creeper climbing up the fence, so I am hoping for a kind of a hodgepodge mix of blossoms, fruit, branches and vines that somehow add up to a wild, beautiful but carefully pruned whole.

Time will tell if it is a success or a rousing failure.

On that note, I leave you with one of my favourite garden quotes.

No Walk in the Park

We are finally getting some real rain. We had an inch yesterday and it is coming down steady again today. It’s a good thing. We need it. I am always amazed at how plants thrive after a rain in a way that never happens when you turn on a hose.

Maybe I need to stick my ankle out in the rain.

On Friday evening Darcy and I went for a walk through a park (or rather we attempted to take a walk through a park) when I stepped in a hole, twisted my ankle and dropped like a sack of potatoes.

What made it even worse, was on Monday I accidentally stepped off the side of the wheelbarrow ramp coming out of our garden shed and twisted the same ankle. However, with the first accident I experienced something of a miracle. After a painful day and evening of icing my bruised and swollen foot, I lurched my way to bed only to wake up pretty much fully healed. I have sprained my ankle several times in the past and have never recovered so quickly.

I was giddy with gratitude.

And then Friday evening we go for a walk, I step in the hole and well, this time there was no overnight miraculous healing to be had. My foot hurt so bad it took a few hours before I realized I had also pulled some chest and shoulder muscles.

THEN on Saturday I was slowly making my way back to the couch with a glass of water when I stubbed the toe of my swollen foot on an end table causing me to lurch across the living room in a flailing display of limbs, my eyes as big as dahlia blossoms. All I could think was I am NOT falling down again. To avoid falling I had to hobble way faster than I thought I could, water wildly splashing from my glass, before regaining my balance just in time to throw myself safely onto the couch. Sweet relief!

Things are never so bad they can’t be worse.

At this point I have no idea what the Universe is trying to tell me.

The good news is I don’t have to water the garden.