Sunday, 30 September 2012

Never say never, nerine

Back in the spring, I found some nerine bulbs at my favourite local nursery, Plantworld.  Recalling how beautiful they are in sheltered, sunny spots in the UK, even as far north as my home town of Aberdeen,  and knowing that they would never survive the frigid Ontario winter, I decided to experiment with planting them in a container I could overwinter indoors.  I was pleased to see strap-like leaves appearing, and watered and fed diligently all summer.  Two or three weeks ago, I was dismayed however, to notice the leaves looking decidedly yellow and about to die....which they promptly did.  I thought my experiment had failed dismally.  However, I'm pleased to report that I noticed today that a great big, swelling flower bud has appeared, as if from nowhere, and it looks like I'll have flowers after all!  The variety is Kodora, which from the packaging seemed to be a strong coral-red.  Stay tuned.
A single flower bud has emerged from my otherwise dormant nerine bulb.  I planted two bulbs, both of which put out some leaves, so perhaps a companion will emerge shortly.

Nerine Kodora

Perfect fall weekend

I thought the weather was going to be dreary this weekend but it turned out to be perfect - nice warm sunshine, perfect blue skies, and an undertone of crispness to the air.  Went on a jaunt to St. Jacob's to get out of town for a few hours.  The trees have already started to turn, and the colours are already quite impressive - every shade from lime green, through vivid yellow, pumpkin-like orange, all the way through to deep mahogany reds.  Hopefully they will be even closer to their peak for the Thanksgiving weekend next week.  I hadn't been to St. Jacobs in about a decade, and was a little surprised by the strip malls and general development since I was last there....but there were still plenty of Mennonite horse buggies and bonneted women scurrying around, and the smell of pig & horse dung was a constant companion all day, so at least it felt like we were truly out in the country.  The highlight for me was the hot, freshly made apple fritters and coffee that we snacked on, out in the sunshine!
A full spectrum of pepper colours

Beautiful fall flowers

Mega cabbages....sauerkraut anyone?

The St. Jacob's farmers market was bustling this weekend.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Michaelmas daisies, chills in the air, and a little Tippett.

Autumn has arrived!
Autumn arrived all at once here, this weekend.  Suddenly, there was a definite chill in the air, and the trees have started to show a little colour in the Don Valley.  This morning it was only 4 degrees  outside when I got up - definitely needed my cozy goose down duvet this morning!  On my routine Thursday with the boys at the end of last week, we even lit the first log fire of the season, as we settled down to watch Downton Abbey and tucked into apple crisp.  I think this is only a blip - rest of the week looks more seasonal.  Things are progressing with the some new laths were added to the sections of stucco which needed full replacement, and the metal mesh has been replaced.  Expect to see the new fresh stucco up there shortly.

What am I listening to this evening?  Something I haven't heard for years, but which I discovered towards the end of high school, and one of those things I listened to absolutely obsessively....I completely adore the last two minutes or so on this Youtube video!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

A facelift on a 90 year old.

Right now, her face has just been revealed for the first time in a decade, and despite having accrued some of the "barnacles of old age" (to quote my dermatologist), I think my house looks absolutely beautiful, following the removal of her veil of vinyl (siding that is!).  I love the half-timbered look, and although it's a bit hard to see through the scaffolding, I know that when the team from Padgett's Plastering Services are finished, the house is going to be a real charmer!

Monday, 17 September 2012

Stucco before and after

Remember my crumbling 90 year old lime stucco?

The stucco above my bathroom window was very deteriorated, and the remainder of this side of the house had plenty of fissures and cracks that were only going to get worse.

Now the western wall of the house is pretty much finished and the scaffolding has been taken down and moved to the front.  It's been done using traditional lime plaster, as per the original.  It looks so clean and lovely!


I'm very excited to see what the house will look like under the vinyl siding, which should be removed shortly.  It's been there since I bought the house, so I'm really looking forward to seeing the house's original facade.

Meanwhile, in the garden, things are starting to take on a look of autumn.

White anemones in full bloom.

I replanted the window boxes a couple of weeks ago, and they are looking lovely now.

I'm very pleased with my bay laurel standard this year  - it's looking very healthy and is starting to fill out at last.  It has to come indoors for the winter, but never seems to mind.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Walking round Wychwood & Halifax donair.

When I first moved to Toronto, I lived overlooking Christie Pits park.  Today, I went for a mooch around the old stomping grounds, and visited the Wychwood area, including beer and lunch at the Wychwood Barns, a stroll through Wychwood Estates, topped off with a wander around what is now the urban hipster hub of Ossington & Dundas.  Today, I had my first Halifax donair, which was something I'd never heard of, but apparently, I'm not up to speed on my Canadian delicacies.
Old signage at the Wychwood Barns, reclaimed transit garages which are now a community arts & environmental hub.

Halifax donairs:  we watched the pita bread dough being rolled out and cooked in a wood burning brick pizza oven.  The "Halifax" aspect of the kebabs is the sauce.....a very sweet concoction with condensed milk as a starting point.  Unfortunately, although the pitas and meat were delicious, I wasn't too keen on the signature sauce!

Eggplant and feta pastries - these were absolutely delicious (and I don't even really like eggplant that much).  The olives were served warm from the wood burning oven, and were smokey and delicious.

This is the oven in which our food was cooked, including little pitas which puffed up like balloons in front of our eyes.  Note the homemade catering cart - a Heath Robinson affair of plumbers pipe and bicycle wheels.  Food courtesy of "Hot Mess Hall"  
A beautiful house, with dramatic charcoal grey shingle front, in bucolic Wychwood Estates, a privately gated enclave in the heart of midtown Toronto.

Arts and Crafts style house 
Wychwood Estate is like a little private English village in the midst of Toronto's urban sprawl.

Love the exterior of this house...inspiration for my current renovation project at home.

My dahlias were flattened in the storm this weekend, but these on a Davenport Road garden were absolutely amazing.

The Ossington and Dundas area used to be Toronto's Little Portugal, but it now has more of an urban hipster feel.  This colour scheme would look charming and exotic in Havana or San Juan, but on a cloudy Toronto day, on a Victorian house, it seems a little out of place.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Stormy weather

Pouring, torrential, bucketing rain this morning.  Violent winds - pots blown over, dahlias flattened, tomatoes washed into the soil.  I rescued the fallen dahlias, and cut the broken stems for a bouquet.  I'm not the world's most talented flower arranger, and the fact that there wasn't a single straight stem in the bunch made the task more challenging!
Shepherd's pie, with a cauliflower mash topping for dinner......cheesy crust - yum!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Chanterelles for dinner, and a prize!

I got back to my desk after a meeting this morning to find a little paper-towel wrapped package, in a ziplock bag waiting for me.  The wild mushroom fairies (aka my colleague Tanya who is just back from a week with her family in northern Ontario) had paid a visit, and left me with a generous portion of fresh chanterelles picked from the woods a couple of hours outside Thunder Bay.  When I was a kid,  my best friend at school had a Swiss mother,who would take us out into the woods in October to find these orange coloured, apricot scented beauties, hiding under moss and amongst beech leaves and pine needles.

For me, having grown up in a Scottish culture where any idea of eating mushrooms gathered from the wild would invariably be greeted with derision and possibly even fears for one's sanity, the entire process of gathering these, and their remarkable flavour, which is unsurpassed, was entirely magical.  I have to say, unless my memory has elevated the chanterelles of my childhood beyond reality, the ones gathered in Scotland have a superior flavour.  But then, I wonder if the cool, damp autumn conditions in which we gathered them may have made a difference too, and intensified the flavour?  Regardless, these were a completely unexpected treat and a wonderful reminder of how good the simplest of things can be.  And on another note.....

.....I got a letter in the mail today about the "Etobicoke Great Gardens Contest 2012".  I'm very pleased to announce that I was the first prize winner for Ward 6, in the alternative category (which basically means I don't have a lawn).  YIPPEE!!

Monday, 3 September 2012

Progression of the season

We've had a beautiful Labour Day weekend, with amazing blue skies, lots of sunshine and heat - little sign yet that summer is preparing to depart, but the progress in the garden indicates that we are rapidly progressing through the season.

I've been delighted with my fig this year.  I bought it as a tiny twig in the wet summer of 2009, as a reminder of a beautiful vacation in Provence in May of that year.  Last year was it's first year to produce any fruit, and of those, only a single fruit made it to the end of the season, and to perfect ripeness.  It was an absolute revelation, still warm from the sun, and oozing honey-like juice as it was cut open.  This year, the number of fruits has been multiplied to a dozen, but the pattern is the same.  Tiny figlets formed around mid-June, swelled very slightly, and then just sat there without much change until the last days of August, when they suddenly started to swell like balloons, and ripened in a couple of days.  You can tell by the frequency of my "fig posts", that I will never get over the excitement of growing figs.  Having been brought up at the same latitude as Hudson's Bay, they seem like a miracle as far as I'm concerned!

Tiny figlets, formed in June.

These suddenly started to swell up on the weekend, and should be ripe by mid-week.
I'm also pleased with the Wim's Red hydrangeas I planted earlier in the summer, to replace the unkempt and unpleasing cotoneaster by my front steps.  Even though they are only just getting established, they have produced a number of flowers, and these have undergone the transformation from frothy, creamy white, to deepest rosy-pink.  They may yet descend into deeper mahogany...only time will tell.  I must given them some winter mulch to make sure they make it safely through their first winter.

Here are some photos of what else is going on in the garden....and a few notes to myself on jobs to be done!
I bought some lavender "Grosso" to fill in a couple of spots in my lavender hedge, but didn't get a chance to create proper planting spots in the garden.  In order to keep them healthy, I quickly potted them up in a terracotta pot, and I may well stick with this.

Towards the top right hand corner of this photo, you can see one of my year 2 rosemary bushes - I'm very proud of it!
Less proud of the clay pot in the front of the photo - which had a couple of nerine bulbs planted in it.  They produced some lovely leaves, but recently died back without blooming.  Not sure if they were just settling in, and will bloom next year.

Huge swathes of pink Japanese anemones are filling the front yard right now..... well as some more demure and less invasive white ones, which are quite lovely.

I was surprised to suddenly see this cardinal flower blooming in the jungle of my front yard....then I remembered it was one of the plants Greg brought from his grandmother's garden for me last summer.

You know fall is approaching when the asters are starting to bloom.  I do love them.

Pink carpet roses gathering the last few rays of the day.

Here is a job to tackle before winter.  In the spring, I thought I had thinned out these black-eyed Susans, but they are back with a vengeance.  I need to reduce them by at least half and make room for some more interesting companions!

Have always had issues keeping my window boxes moist enough, but last weekend, I got some new, much larger ones on mega-sale at Plantworld.  The increased volume of soil should help!  I planted them with some more seasonal specimens. 
This urn is completely thriving, despite little attention for most of the summer.

A few of the purple kale plants I sowed in the spring have escaped the slugs and snails, and are a good size now.  I made my first dish of them this weekend, mixed with some beet greens, swiss chard, tomatoes and onions.  Delicious!  And the plants are decidedly statuesque now.

Anemone invasion!

Arabian Night dahlias.....the photo doesn't quite represent their most striking feature.  They are almost black, and very beautiful.
I'm finishing the weekend with some achingly beautiful Brahms.

Ham, eggs and homemade tomato ketchup

I was on a pickling, canning and bottling frenzy this weekend.

Ham steak and eggs for breakfast this morning - not a normal Monday breakfast for me, but definitely a good one for a long weekend.  And the real highlight?  Tasting the homemade tomato ketchup that I made on Saturday!  It was surprisingly little effort (although it didn't half make the kitchen hot!!), and the results are amazing.  I can highly recommend it if you have access to some good, ripe tomatoes.  I followed a recipe from, which was a real cinch.  I may make another batch on a cooler weekend in the fall to give away as presents.
Following a tip on, I broiled my tomatoes to remove the skins, before canning them.  Much easier and quicker than the boiling water method.
I was also very pleased with a previous auction purchase this weekend.  A year or two ago, for no particular reason, I bought a massive copper pot in an auction.  The interior tin lining is still there, but probably not intact enough to be safe to cook in directly, and it's so gargantuan, it didn't seem worth the money to have it relined because I don't intend to boil 10 chickens simultaneously at any point in the near future.   However, when I discovered that my normal process of using my stock pot as a boiling water bath when canning wasn't going to work with quart jars because they are just too big, I suddenly remembered that old copper pot.  It weighs a ton, and by the time I had filled it with water, it took two of us to get it on the stove, and about an hour to get the water to a rolling boil, but it did the trick admirably.  I knew I must have bought it for a reason!
I don't know how many litres this copper pot holds, but you could boil about 10 chickens in there, and probably half a sack of potatoes as well.
For a sense of scale, to the left is my standard stock pot, which I normally use when canning....don't normally do anything larger than a pint jar.