Mother Nature is generous with her gifts and to those who know Hellebores, they will certainly agree. Gardeners who are winter weary appreciate these hardy evergreen perennials that start to bloom in later winter, very early spring, even before the daffodils! Hellebores, are also known as lenten rose as they bloom around the season of Christian lent and are the most elegant harbinger that a season of rebirth and renewal is upon us.
So where to site and how to grow these jewels of the early spring garden…
For those of you who have dry shade , hellebores are a hardy solution. A woodland garden is the perfect environment for growing, and they will thrive when getting established in moist, well draining soil. If you have poor drainage , your hellebores will suffer and may not even winter that well as they are sensitive to poor drainage. However once established, under a shade tree canopy where many perennials simply cannot compete, hellebores will shine! When planting your helleborus, don’t plant too deep, because just like a peony , who hate to be planted deeply, their bloom production will be inhibited. Hellebores would certainly fall under the category of perennials that “sleep ” in their first year( with minimal growth as they establish their roots), “creep” in their second year with improved top growth , and then “LEAP” in their third year with profuse blooming.
Hellebores will bloom for up to 6 weeks in the starkest time of the year, and it is recommended that you trim the leaves to the ground in late winter so that you provide maximum impact to the flowers. They are deer and rabbit resistant and in the heat of the summer do expect them to enter into a non- active state , their superb show already long since past.
Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ is a cultivar that has outward facing green to champagne blooms that is compact and very floriferous . Newer hybrids such as the Wedding Party series boast burgundy blooms, speckled blooms and blooms that have double florets.
Consider building on your shade woodland garden, by planting your hellebores with bleeding heart, whose flowering show will follow , vibrant heuchera (coral bells) and variegated Carex.
We have hellebores in stock at the greenhouse now, but don’t wait too long, because just as the warm spring sun does to the late winter snow, they will be Gone!
Rather than just grow plants, it is our goal at SunHarvest to teach people how plants can enrich their lives, feed their bodies, or simply add beauty to their environment. There is a desire to learn how best to use plants, not only in knowing where to plant an annual whether it be in sun or shade, or what herbs can one grow to ensure a flavourful plate over the summer BBQ season, but rather to add value to our experience given the limited amount of leisure time that we have in our busy lives.
According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health problem in the course of a year and 1 in 3 Canadians will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime. Some winter reading has lead me to discover that this problem is not something that is getting any better. The World Health Organization predicts anxiety will be the #1 health issue outranking obesity by 2030, and ‘Generation Y’ , those 13-34 year olds, are the most stressed.
Thankfully we are becoming not only more aware , but more active in our approach to dealing with mental illness. Sure, celebrities and Royals have lent their profiles to raising awareness towards the issue, but a growing trend in the ‘green’ industry has been identified as people wanting to take a break from being connected 24/7 and getting back to the real world . This trend is being powered by the Millenials who are choosing to include plants as part of their Rx for wellness. An example of this is the growing number of young parents who are planting vegetable gardens to experience growing with their children and to establish healthy eating habits.
The reality is that we are increasingly becoming an urban-centric society and people spend 90% of their time indoors. A particularly poignant tagline by a local Kingston landscaping company- ‘ Plant a tree, keep your City cool’ – speaks to the yearning that many of us have to get outside, yet our free time is so compromised by the pull of work, and scheduled leisure activities all the while being “plugged in” through our handheld technological wonders. We just need to “ unplug”, step outside under the shade of a tree, and take a deep breath.
Easier said than done, yet we are seeing signs of people addressing this need to green their spaces in order to provide for some therapy. Millenials have embraced houseplants again, and are decorating with tropicals, creating indoor jungles because they understand the benefits of introducing bromeliads and peace lilies to clean the air, they find it therapeutic to tend to plants and ah yes, they have to be plants that are Instagram – worthy. That is , they are not looking for Grandma’s African violets, but rather stunning showstoppers that require little attention. Philodendrons, ZZ plants, fiddle leaf figs and of course, succulents are all the rage, and serve that need for many of us to divert our attention away from our screens, observe how something changes under our care, and because they are plants, we know that they are pumping oxygen into our indoor spaces. ‘Breathing rooms’ are in fact a recognized trend according to the 2018 Garden Media Report, and hanging gardens, flower pot pendants are the next big thing to replace green walls. Be sure to come by when we open in early April to experience our ‘breathing room’. Our staff will be happy to teach you about care of tropicals and help you choose a signature plant that will add beauty and purpose to your indoor space, and perhaps offer you the chance to ‘unplug’.
I have always loved science, and growing up on a farm proved to me that farming is truly a wonderful applied mix of many sciences: biology, chemistry, physics , engineering on so many levels.
It is always fascinating to me to learn how farmers following different business models, whether it be conventional , organic , biodynamic or precision agriculture use science to grow and produce crops for food and fibre. Management styles differ of course, but the outcome is the same, to produce food to feed our communities and ultimately our hungry planet.
When we started in the greenhouse business, we were about to learn very quickly how fast paced, exciting and challenging it is to grow in a controlled environment. Controlled environment agriculture (CEA) is a general term that would include hydroponic greenhouse growing whereby many of the variables contributing to plant growth are precisely monitored and managed to optimize productive output – in our case, tomatoes, lettuces, cucumbers. The greenhouse structure, covered with the poly ethylene film, at Sun Harvest ,( although many of the newest greenhouse structures are glass), provides a temperature controlled environment , with the mechanics for automatic and precise watering regimes ( irrigation), while allowing for sunlight to drive that fundamental food making mechanism – photosynthesis. You remember grade 9 biology– water and carbon dioxide combine in complex chemical reactions using the energy of the sun to produce oxygen and glucose / sugars.
Growing in soilless culture (hydroponic), means you learn the importance of each nutrient and how it leads to the overall health and productivity of the crop. First we started with our good Glenburnie water, and learned the art of preparing nutrient mixes . We add precise amounts of nutrients, elements that would normally be found in the soil, such as nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, and to a lesser amount , essential micronutrients , to our water, dependent on the stage of the crop. Being a student of science, I knew that in an outdoor field setting, not all nutrients are readily available in the proper quantities for crops to utilize, so imagine how satisfying it is to prepare precise feeding regimes in which all nutrients are utilized by the plant! And in a CEA (hydroponic) system, water and nutrients are conserved and indeed recycled in a closed irrigation system, whereby any drainage from the crop is recirculated and “tweaked” for its nutritional content before being irrigated on the crop again and again.
Science, in our version of farming , extends to our disease management as well, in a most fascinating and profound way. The most important part of the plant in my opinion is the root system and nowhere is that more obvious than in a controlled environment setting . Healthy roots lay the foundation for a plant that can yield tasty and robust yields. And in our setting ,where we wish to grow a crop for a year it is of vital importance to keep those non evident parts of the plant as refreshed as possible , even when the temperatures hit a stressful high exceeding 30 degrees, when tired roots could succumb to root diseases. The downside of growing in a controlled environment , is that problems develop at a much quicker pace than in a field setting , which means our crop could rapidly go backwards , so delaying management decisions can have frightening consequences. It has been fascinating to learn of the research and now practise in our management, the benefits of adding naturally occurring beneficial fungi to the feeding solution which maintains healthy roots of our tomato crop.
Controlled environment agriculture has also honed our skills at insect identification and entomology . This branch of biology is truly amazing as we get to capture, count and combat all forms of crawling and flying insects eager to literally suck the life out of our crop using other species of aggressive insects hungry for a taste of the ones we wish to get rid of. Integrated pest management (IPM) has taught us how to prioritize which insects are worrisome and to quickly and consistently go after them by monitoring insect population thresholds. Because again, bad bugs certainly love coming in to a greenhouse with loads of healthy plants in a happy environment. They breed like crazy, even faster than the populations of them living outside! Although not a perfect science, it is a part of our business that presents an exciting challenge with every growing season as we grow our food using nature’s own defenses.
Can’t you tell how much I love science? I truly believe that science ultimately leads to solutions for growing food in a sustainable way , and I am so happy and grateful to be one practitioner who gets to practise it every day. Here’s to a productive 2018!
Happy New Year and with the turning to a new calendar year, comes many traditions of forecasting . As this winter gets firmly established, placing us in its icy grip, the weather is not what I am about to forecast. I thought it would be more fun to talk about forecasting of colour, and believe it or not, this is Big Business as it translates to what motivates people to purchase, everything from fashion, to home décor, lifestyle and Yes even in gardening!
The Pantone Colour Institute out of the U.S. is a consulting service that forecasts colour trends and advises companies on colour in brand identity and product development – it is global marketing machine and once a year this Institute chooses a colour of the year. Looking forward to the future , engendering creativity and ingenuity, Pantone’s 2018 colour of the year is Ultraviolet .
According to Pantone, ultraviolet is a colour that “ communicates originality, and visionary thinking”. It renders too, almost a cosmic image or a mystical feel, and many who look to the heavens may ponder if one day we may live beyond this planet we call Earth , given the fight for resources we wage everyday. It will take creative ideas to ensure that day does not come too soon, or alternatively, that we get there safely – ultraviolet personifies in colour, this type of “out of this world” thinking.
If you are like me and love to press the reset button on your garden plans with a new gardening season ahead , I will be looking to incorporate this colour into our outside spaces, ( because here in 2017 we had our fill of red and white). Expect that a hot selling plant this year will be Petunia Headliner Night Sky , whose blooms are the poster plant for this year’s colour with its vibrant purple- blue hue and Milky Way starry white blotches, and our favourite Supertunia Bordeaux. As gardeners, it may become a goal to incorporate more purple – blue plants either through flower colour or foliage in a garden bed, or container. Check back for future blogs on plants that we will be growing this season that will provide that pleasingly purple look to keep your outdoor spaces right on trend.
Purple will show up more in our foods that we eat as well, and according to the 2018 Garden Media Group report, purple veggies, high in anthocyanins, are all the rage – beets, purple cauliflower, purple kale, cabbage, eggplant and blackberries will have “foodies” on the lookout to deepen the colour on their plates.
Purple is often a colour embraced for its artistic symbolism, think musician Prince or David Bowie. And a a colour that suggests mindfulness, a pleasingly private place that many people will seek out, to escape from our overstimulated, techno – crammed world. Our need for “breathing room” is becoming more important today, and it is this mindfulness that is” top of mind” for 18-34 year olds who are now making mental health a priority, as published in the 2018 Garden Media Report. Again this is truly important and interesting stuff, and something that will be discussed in a future blog, and how gardening both indoors and out, has captivated this demographic to achieve this end.
So if you did not know how important colour is to our societal conscience, just observe how purple will parlay its way into all forms of media over the coming months – after all, with all of this wintry white, we are buried in now, it may be nice to envision a bit of colour as we put another log on the fire.
We love to grow begonias at Sun Harvest and sometimes it is difficult to pick our favourite when there are so many types and to choose from. Begonia is part of the Begoniaceae genus( plant family) which contains over 1700 different plant species – wow that would be a large reunion- and it is safe to say that some pretty exciting plant breeding efforts are revealing some fantastic varieties that are unrivalled as far as performance in containers and the garden. Even in a hot , dry summer like 2016, begonias of different types were still some of the stellar plants in our container trials.
Here at Sun Harvest we talk about non stop begonias, Dragon wing begonias, and Solenia begonias, but how do you as the home gardener use them to enjoy them the most during the growing season? Well because we DO want to see everyone experience a begonia of some type every growing season, the purpose of this blog is to break down the different begonias to better understand the best application for these showy annuals!
First of all it is important to note that overall, begonias perform best in light shade or part sun, that is 4-6 hours of morning sun and will do well in deeper shade, especially the tuberous Non-Stops and the flashy foliage types such as Rex begonias. However with improved hybridization, we now have begonias that can tolerate full sun such as the Dragon wing type or the boliviensis types such as Santa Cruz or Unstoppable Upright Fire.
Begonias are often divided based on their root system – tuberous ( fleshy tubers ) versus fibrous ( seed propagated) varieties. Many of you will appreciate the bright , bold yellows , oranges , reds and pinks of the ‘Non-stop” series which are a favourite in part shade , as well as the cascading Illumination begonias for fantastic hanging baskets which are both true tuberous begonias.
We are trying some new tuberous varieities this year that are touted to have some of the largest blooms- the Americana OnTop series with their picotee flowers, or the Ruffled series which boast fluffy double blooms up to 5 inches – a plant worthy of any prize!
Begonia semperflorens is the botanical name for the longstanding popular wax begonia which thrives in both sun and shade. Many gardeners have chosen to mass plant these begonias in landscapes where shade impatiens were always used , but now are not able to, due to the downy mildew problems that have been experienced in recent years with shade impatiens.
New varieties of fibrous begonias are taller plants in the landscape with larger leaves, well, they are really wax begonias on steroids, such as BIG series or Whopper and the new MegaWatt series. Those with bronze leaves grow so well in full sun too – like the BIG Rose begonia with bronze leaf.
Solenia begonias are a super begonia that we grow in a 6inch pot that features their gorgeous rosette type flowers on clean, glossy green foliage. Solenias are an improvement in begonia breeding as this cross between a wax and a tuberous begonia is powdery mildew resistant and can take full sun!
Another hybrid wax/ tuberous type is the hiemalis begonia, whose blooms resemble camellias and are fabulous indoor begonias – often referred to as the winter begonia. Just keep them to shade if planting outside, they do not like direct sun.
The Bullet proof Dragon Wing begonias are a landscaper’s dream because they are just that – fantastic form and flower power in the garden and containers, however only available in red and pink. Again a hybrid begonia from seed whose versatility in application is a benefit of plant breeding.
New introductions of the tuberous types include some varieties that we are so excited about at Sun Harvest – the boliviensis species. These begonias originated in the Eastern Andes mountains of Bolivia and much breeding efforts have yielded some spectacular varieities that you have seen and will continue to see grown at Sun Harvest. ‘Santa Cruz’ is our new favourite trailing boliviensis type and it has surpassed ‘Million kisses’ , in our opinion. Its bright orange ,slender fluted flowers are so striking on their arching , flexible stems that even sunny spots never tire of their endless show! Mistral and Beauvillia types feature red ,pink ,white and some even double blooms. Also an upright boliviensis, ‘Upright Fire’ has proven to be the best orange in containers.. If you are crushing for orange ,then never will you have to deadhead an orange geranium again for a sunny container, just ask for Upright Fire!
Of course we would be remiss if we did not flaunt the appeal of foliage begonias, for example the REX series. We will be featuring some varieities such as Watermelon, Escargot, which are truly an artist’s begonia for injecting texture and drama to mixed containers , with their striking colours and combinations. But keep them in the shade please , as that is where they are happiest!
WHEW!! That took some time, but hope it was well worth it as begonias are a must have for your containers or the garden. If you have never tried growing a begonia, do not worry, as it is not hard, just look for one of the sunny staff members at the greenhouse to help review your choices and look forward to a show like no other for this season!
If you are like me and peruse the gardening magazines at this time of year, it is because we simply cannot wait to “dig in” to the next growing season. But alas, the calendar says Feb 28th and although it actually feels like late March, we need to recognize the opportunity before us. We need to use this time to set some priorities for our gardens. We need to “stage the show”, and as any good director will attest, that means an investment in picking our cast .
Creating a perennial garden is a lot like putting together a high school musical, tall kids go to the back, short in the front and the key players are front and centre. Think about your existing perennial garden, or dream about your new one as if it were a great ensemble of colourful characters. After all , the garden should be a reflection of yourself , so think about your plant selections, draw out your garden if you will and now you have your script upon which to apply the personality of the show.
Species such as tall Agastache ( hyssop) in the sunny garden or Bugbane , for the shade , for example, could be the bass notes in the rear while shorter selections such as tickseed (coreopsis), cranesbill would occupy the front . A mass of your favourite character ( be it Shasta daisies, tall garden phlox or Echinacea) sings solo at centre stage.
Just as it important to cast perfect partners for the leading man and leading lady, it is important to choose perfect plant partners in the garden. Ornamental grasses, and Russian sage are perfect in the late Summer garden, while peonies and giant allium are so dramatic in a mid June garden flush.
Never underestimate the importance of the refrain ( chorus) of a key song in the production. The repetition enhances the overall melody and is pleasing to the audience, especially when you can sing along! In the garden, repetition is all important , for repeating a similar species in a long border ( for example, every 4- 8 feet) ensures a constant flower of colour, it creates a bold effect with less planning and worry .
So do come and see us when you are looking for those colourful cast members for the show – your garden for 2017! We look forward to sharing some wonderful background ( planting advice) on all of them with you!
This past weekend, we enjoyed a visit from some dear friends who we share much in common… Our professions revolve around plants , whether it be growing food or creating beauty in our living spaces. Brian and Regine are co-owners of a creative Landscape Design / Construction company located in Sunderland Ontario, called Earth Art Landscapes Inc. This family- run landscape company designs and builds breathtaking and functional outdoor living spaces for their clients , while celebrating the beauty of Mother Nature’s gifts. I invite you to browse their website www.earthartlandscapesinc.com or like them on facebook to seek inspiration in their work (NOTE: you may come across a giant garden troll in your journey..) Nonetheless, I am extremely proud of them as their fantastical garden designs have been showcased regularly at Canada Blooms, in partnership with VanderMeer Nurseries.
And as I began in this blog, we do share much in common , with our connection to horticulture, but it all began really back in 1986 when we all met as first year Aggies at the University of Guelph, as part of the class of OAC 90.. Regine was my roommate and we developed a friendship that proved to last through the years. We both eventually married our University sweethearts, and stood with each other in turn, as “maids of honour” at our weddings . In time we took our passions for this industry and plunged head first into starting our own businesses with our spouses , both very different, yet connected by the beauty of growing . Needless to say, our busy seasons are at the same time of the year, and we do not have the opportunity to catch up often , so winter visits are best. I love that when we do get together, we enthusiastically share ideas , the challenges and successes of working in this dynamic and fascinating industry.
So thanks for visiting us at Sun Harvest, Brian and Regine, we wish you a creative and successful 2017 season! …… Greg and Allison
I discovered a really neat website a couple of years ago as I was researching vegetable consumption trends for a presentation I was giving to a horticultural society at the time– it is called http://www.lovemysalad.com You can imagine my excitement to happen upon a site that celebrates and shares the good news of eating salads, being part of a family whose business is growing tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce – indeed the backbone of many a well constructed salad. This site was initiated several years ago by some employees from a family- owned Dutch vegetable breeding company – Rijk Zwaan. This company may mean nothing to most, but it is a company that greenhouse growers recognize for developing and marketing varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers , lettuces and more for greenhouse and field production. I love this sustainable business approach! Get people excited and talking about fruits and vegetables and build demand for your product- and therefore sell more seed! Love My Salad is truly “the Social Salad Network” ( as their website espouses) for passionate salad lovers from around the world to learn about fruits and vegetables and share recipes for great salads .
More recently in this country, the Canadian Produce Marketing Association has begun a marketing campaign “Half your Plate”, which stresses the importance of filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables at every meal, to ensure that you are getting your daily requirement of 7-10 servings according to Canada’s Food Guide. We all know the positive health benefits of increased fruits and veggie consumption, yet sometimes we need some inspiration on how to incorporate more into our diets. I encourage you to check out the “LoveMySalad” Facebook page with its almost 250,000 international followers and have fun interacting with salad lovers from every corner of the world and garnering a treasure trove of salad recipes. The various languages of comments posted on this page are just as fascinating as the recipes featured – truly the United Nations of Healthy Eating.
This week saw us at Sun Harvest preparing the nursery for the planting out of our new “children” – the couple thousand new tomatoes, the signature start to our growing journey for 2017. This year is a special year for us as we mark 15 years in business, an adventure that began in August of 2002. after the construction of our then, “brand new” greenhouse. We have seen many changes in our management of the crop over the past decade and a half, and some things that have never waivered. For one, when we started , we grew the tomatoes on the floor in plastic channels , whereby the tomato roots were submersed in a constant stream of the nutrient enriched water – true hydoponic culture, called the nutrient film technique. The year we decided to grow the tomatoes on suspended troughs in rockwool horticultural substrate led to improvements of overall plant root health and staff morale from not having to bend over for hours of the day. We have changed the polyethylene film a few times which covers all of the greenhouses since we started, as it becomes somewhat dirty and deteriorates from photodegradation over time. We have changed varieties of our cocktail /snacking / tomatoes on the vine as customer preferences changes. We have expanded our lettuce offering with heat tolerant greenhouse varieties now available all summer for our salad loving customers. We have even begun offering a mini cucumber for the fall market that has proven to be a joy to grow and a treat for our patrons, in addition to our staple English cucumber growing program. And we have fine tuned our biological control program based on new research that has lead to improved control of greenhouse pests using the “good bug eating bad bug” principles.
However, there are two very important constants that have allowed us to get to this point, now 15 years on…. our famous beefsteak tomatoes … and a new pair of shoes. Seems like an odd pairing.. Great tasting beefsteak tomatoes, in our case come from old genetics, as we have yet to find a newer hydroponic – suited variety that can provide that consistent “fresh picked from the garden” taste as our customers can attest. And every production year in the hydroponic greenhouse starts with a new pair of shoes. New shoes, in a freshly cleaned greenhouse, means a healthy start to the crop. No tracking in of “unwanted” guests/ pests that could pose a risk to a full year crop . Two very important constants that earmark the trademark and traditions at Sun Harvest.
So here we grow again – it’s only 10 weeks until we are picking that fresh taste of summer , Kingston!
With Hallowe’en now past and Remembrance Day advancing, we look to prepare our homes for the 5 month season that actually requires much forethought. The harvest is winding down with little more than kale ,bok choy to pick in our gardens. Beets , turnip, carrots are all pulled and if not already enjoyed, then carefully stored for future family suppers. The garlic crop has been mulched, wood piled neatly in the garage and leaves either raked or allowed to languish and add an extra layer of nutrients by the time the mower sees it next spring. Oh yes the winter season can seem like there will be not much to look at and enjoy when the cold temps settle in, but no , we have a wonderful opportunity to decorate our homes with long lasting natural arrangements using all kinds of natural and “fitting” re-usable accents.
Our team loves to create winter arrangements using the best of our native greens: red pine, white pine and white cedar are all long lasting evergreens that when watered periodically until freeze up can be enjoyed for the whole winter, or until we crave a change. Pinecones of all shapes , sizes, colours, branches, twigs, and berries are the jewelry that accent a well styled arrangement. You will even see us use fresh fruit, Christmas ornaments and of course beautiful ribbon to create a look that is not only festive but practical and unique. Having attended one of our workshops gives one an idea as to how much fun it is to create and celebrate a time of year when Mother Nature still has so much beauty to share. Wreaths that are each unique and handcrafted, artisanal beauties if you will, are worth the view and many look to “treating ” themselves with one of these creations if that is the only natural decoration that they indulge in for the festive season. Remember a well embellished natural wreath needn’t scream Christmas after Dec 25th.
Winter arrangements when you think about it, really are the hardest working / longest lasting of our calendar year.. so come and be inspired by what Mother Nature has to offer, and choose a well crafted beauty or join us this season in one of our workshops and let us show you how to create your long lasting winter arrangement.