Garden Sketch

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Garden Sketch Tests Well at Beta, Soon to Launch

Garden Sketch Tests Well at Beta, Soon to Launch

Posted by on Aug 14, 2014 in Backyard, Do it Yourself, Front Yard, Garden Design, Garden Sketch, Irrigation | 2 comments

Our design team from Denim and Steel has been working hard to implement the suggestions recommended by our alpha testers and we were pleased to present the results to our discerning panel last week. We had two returning members and two newbies to test the latest version. Overall, the feeling was that Garden Sketch tests well at the beta phase.

Opening up the App, small changes made it easier to get started.  We provided a lot less verbal direction at this phase as the instructional tutorial was now functional. We noted any user friction, seeing where our testers ran into difficulty.

Garden Sketch Live Testers

Garden Sketch Live Testers

Testers seemed excited by the variety of house shapes they could now incorporate but he biggest news was on the design tab. The colours were much brighter and our designers now had the choice of small, medium and big of any of the shapes they wished to use. We also add yielded to the public outcry for the option of a water feature and flower pots.

Garden Sketch Tester Design with Notes

Garden Sketch Tester Design with Notes

It was a lot of fun to watch our testers as the navigated. Their focus and intensity was notable and lasted at least forty-five minutes to an hour. There was complete silence as they worked to perfect their designs.

For me, the biggest surprise was how much I enjoy using the shape drawing tool to give a sense of space. I used it to represent the Pergola in my back yard because it didn’t match the shape of the gazebo.

Our goal at the outset was to develop an iPad App that would help the home gardener to map their yard, noting the existing structures, trees and plants and enabling them to make garden plans. We thought these plans could be useful by getting people looking at their gardens in a new way: is this space working for me? What would I like to change? What would my dream garden look like? How can I achieve it? Garden Sketch creates a low risk opportunity to try out different ideas and share them with your friends and family for input and feedback.

Garden Sketch is being submitted to Apple’s App Store for approval this month and we expect to announce its release in September. Stay tuned!

Here are some of the other designs we’ve been creating:

Garden Sketch Plan

Garden Sketch Plan

 

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Gardening as an Act of Creation

Gardening as an Act of Creation

Posted by on Jul 31, 2014 in Backyard, Flowers, Front Yard, Garden Design, Gardens, Inspiration |

I’ve always brought green things into my life.  My first year of university, I bought a plant so I could share my boarding house room with another living thing.  I always pulled the weeds and planted annuals in the gardens of our rental houses, but it has been here in this house that gardening has become an act of creation.

Breaking it down, I would say that I garden for three reasons: beauty, to create spaces and joy. The beauty piece is self evident.  It’s why we buy tulips on those grey days when winter seems in its final convulsive fits.  Beauty seems like a luxury in tough times but it is also very powerful.  Beauty draws us in and brings us closer.  And as fleeting as it seems, it connects us with the human condition as Robert Frost once said, “Nothing gold can stay.” Wandering my yard, I have realized that what gardens do is create spaces, like small acts of architecture.  As someone walks by on the sidewalk, they are invited into the space created by the ridiculously cheerful wall of Black Eyed Susans.  I’ve watched the smiles come over their faces as they reach out to check if the flowers are real.

The front sidewalk

The front sidewalk

On the other side of the same garden bed, there is a completely separate space–one that is shared with the people invited into my home.  It’s a view that is private and separate from that public facade.

The Other Side of the Garden

The Other Side of the Garden

In the backyard, the cute low fence keeps the dogs in, but still grants a view.  Here the pergola gives us a place to site our deck chairs as we enjoy the coolness of the evening.  With a few bird feeders, we’ve also created a space for creatures to visit.  The chickadees, juncos, finches and sparrows hover and flit, filling the space with life.  Our most welcomed guest is the Rufous hummingbird, who always exits the yard with an acrobatic flourish. IMG_0874 When we create these spaces for beauty in our lives, we can’t help but create joy.  I feel it as I sit here in the early morning scribbling my words.  I know it as I putter, watering my charges and pulling weeds.  I indulge myself as I daydream about the plants I will add next year.  The beauty of the garden is a luxury, but there are precious few things that we can do that bring us such joy.

What about you?  Why do you love to garden?

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The Quest for a Perfect Rhubarb Pie

Posted by on Jul 16, 2014 in Backyard, Do it Yourself, Gardens, Inspiration, Recipe | 4 comments

Summer Flavour

Summer Flavour

The joys of summertime in Canada are the flavours that burst from the earth as soon as the ground warms and the snows melt away.  My all-time favourite flavour growing up was my Mummo’s homemade rhubarb pie.  I haven’t had a slice in nearly thirty years but I can still imagine its tanginess tickling my tongue.

Recently, I set out on a mini quest to try and recreate the culinary marvel of my childhood.  It was not like the rhubarb pie that you’d buy from the bakery at the grocery store, deep and puffy.  The profile of her pies were quite low, probably about 10 cm or so.   The filling was more like a rhubarb puré.  The texture was very smooth and did not have the stringiness we usually associate with rhubarb.

With this is mind, I turned to the internet and posted a query on Reddit.  In response, a generous gentleman posted a recipe he had from an old cookbook.  I decided to give it a try, figuring that if nothing else I would have a baseline to work with in my quest to recreate Mummo’s delicious pie.

Crazily, I chose Canada Day, July 1st to launch the experiment.  It was record breakingly hot day here in White Rock and I harvested the stocks of rhubarb from my back fence.

Rhubarb: easy  to grow and delicious

Rhubarb: easy to grow and delicious

Thank goodness for my granite counter tops that day as I rolled out the dough.  It kept things cool enough that the crust didn’t stick too much.

Rolling the Crust

Rolling the Crust

I learned to make my pie crust from our family friend Sylvia Rukkila.  Her secret, which she learned in turn from her father, was to replace the one cup of shortening called for on the Crisco box with equal parts shortening, butter and margarine.  I’ve always found this to make a wonderfully flaky crust.

The filling recipe shared with me by le127 on Reddit called for:

*4 cups cut rhubarb pieces

*1 2/3 cup sugar

*1/3 cup flour

*1/8 tsp salt

Mix together and let stand 15 minutes. Fill pie shell, dot with 2 tbsp butter and apply top crust. Bake 40 min @ 400F.

With all the ingredients added, I topped it with dabs of butter as required.  Would this be the secret ingredient?

Is this the secret, dabs of butter?

Is this the secret, dabs of butter?

Then added the top crust and fluted the edges.

Rhubarb Pie with fluted crust

Rhubarb Pie with fluted crust

As the temperature rose inside the house, I could have baked the pie on the counter, but the air was filled with aroma of baking rhubarb.

The pie looked beautiful.

Rhubarb Pie: fresh from the oven

Rhubarb Pie: fresh from the oven

My son and I enjoyed a slice à la mode, and it was very tasty.   However, it was not quite the same as Mummo’s.  Next time I’ll try a little less rhubarb and try to grate it to get it really fine.  My quest for the perfect rhubarb pie recipe continues.

Rhubarb Pie à la mode

Rhubarb Pie à la mode

How about you?  Ay secret tips for an amazing rhubarb pie?  I’d love to hear from you!

 

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Tentative Gardener

Posted by on Jul 9, 2014 in Backyard, Do it Yourself, Garden Design, Gardens |

Very few things are permanent in my garden.  I plant them, stare for a while (sometimes for a couple of years) before making a change.  I guess I’m something of a tentative gardener.  I need my plants to be hardy enough to sustain a move or two.  I suppose the best way to avoid this problem is to make a good plan.  Unfortunately, however, sometimes I fall in love with plants at the nursery and have to find a place for them when I get home.  Other times I second guess myself and must reverse the initial decision.  Finally, there are the times when I just realize that the plant just needs a better home.

Let me give you a few examples.  I really love what Proven Winners has done in the last few years.  You can buy a set of four to six plants to create your own beautiful containers and hanging baskets.  I bought this white set and added the Heliotrope to the centre for a bit of colour and some height. As the plants grew in, it looked ok, but not perfect, at least in my mind.

Container Garden Original

Container Garden Original

So I replaced the purple with a bit of Japanese Blood Grass that I had in another pot.  This is how that looked:

Container Gardening Take 2

Container Gardening Take 2

I think I really like the difference in height better.

Check out the side garden in my back yard the first summer after I set my hostas.  The was a fun exercise the autumn before.  Having spent so much money on landscaping, I then pillaged Ian’s and my friend Debbie’s garden for donations.

Stater Hosta Bed

Stater Hosta Bed

As I stared at my garden over the next summer, I decided that the lack of symmetry, was making me a little crazy, so I decided to move the large hosta from the front row to a position in the far right corner.  I also decided to split the Siberian Bugloss in the middle which had really begun to spread this spring.

The garden looks more balanced now.  It benefits from the symmetry, and of course the additions I have made.

Hosta Bed Makeover

Hosta Bed Makeover

There are risks.  My Siberian Bugloss looked rather limp for about six weeks after I made the move. I had split this chunk off to create a third patch.  Siberian Buglosses have become one of my perennial favourites.  It is one of the first plants to emerge in the spring and then literally explodes with tiny blue flowers reminiscent of forget me nots.  With a little prune, their variegated leaves have a metallic sheen for the rest of the summer and last long into our temperate winters.

Traumatized Siberian Bugloss

Traumatized Siberian Bugloss

I needn’t have worried.   With six weeks of gentle rehabilitation, my Siberian Bugloss had made a nice recovery.

Rehabilitated Siberian Bugloss

Rehabilitated Siberian Bugloss

There are lessons of course.  For me anything I bring into the yard will have to be hardy and bear with me as I find the ideal spot.  This may mean a couple of moves, but that is the way of the tentative gardener.

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Grapes for my Pergola

Posted by on Jun 17, 2014 in Backyard, Do it Yourself, Inspiration | 2 comments

My Backyard Now

My Backyard Now

On of my goals for the backyard was to make the space more usable.  The back deck off the house is nice, but is in the shade after about 3 pm.  Since we’re so close to the ocean, it can be a little chilly sitting there.  So, I had our handy handyman Chris build a Pergola.  I’m still not sure how we’ll use it yet, but I made it big enough for a six person rectangular table, but also lovely for just a couple of Muskoka chairs or maybe a hammock, should I find the right one.  The structure was very nice when stained, and I was ready for phase two, which was to plant some grapes for my Pergola.

So I picked up three grape plants from a local shop.  I decided on one green and two red grape plants.  Then proceeded to dig up my lovely grass.

Breaking Ground for Grapes

Breaking Ground for Grapes

The instructions I found recommended digging a hole 12″ x 12″ and 12″ deep.

I worked into my wheelbarrow so I didn’t have to pile dirt on the grass.

Work in Progress

Work in Progress

I had read that it was a good idea to fill the bottom of the hole with compost, so you can see the lovely black stuff here:

Compost in the Hole

Compost in the Hole

I added the grape plant and used some of the soil from the wheelbarrow to top it off.

IMG_0273

 

Here’s how things looked when I was done.  I can’t wait to have them climbing the posts.  I’ve read it could take two or three years to get grapes, so I’ll have to be patient.

Three Grapes in the Ground

Three Grapes in the Ground

Do you have grapes in your yard?  What do you do with them, snacks or beverages?  Be sure to send us a picture.  We’d love to see your vines!

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Garden Inspiration

Posted by on Jun 9, 2014 in Backyard, Do it Yourself, Garden Design, Gardens, Inspiration | 2 comments

 

 

Inspiration

Inspiration

 

 

This whole project (meaning this particular yard and everything that has flowed from it) began two years ago when I purchased my home. The guy I bought it from had renovated much of the inside but had not tackled any of the outdoor work and it was in very sad shape.  We were in need of some garden inspiration.

 

My Backyard when we Moved In

My Backyard when we Moved In

Yes, the backyard was particularly bad.

 

Backyard from under Deck

 

I was horrified by the quote we received from a landscaper for leveling, sodding the yard and putting in the garden beds. My partner Ian, who had done similar work on his own homes in the past, figured he was up for the task. It took us about six weeks over the summer of 2012, but slowly the yard and gardens took shape.

Here’s a little peek at how far we have come:

 

My Backyard Now

My Backyard Now

 

Through this blog, I am hoping to share some of the projects and decisions we’ve undertaken along the way: both for the build and the day-to-day yard work.

I don’t have any special training. Most of what I do is by trial and error, relying on suggestions and advice from friends and professionals, in person and online. If there is a better way, let me know. I am open to it.

My end goal is the desire to recapture a space like my grandmother’s yard when I was a kid. She had immigrated from Finland in 1930. When I was growing up, she and my grandfather owned a small two bedroom house in a Toronto suburb. The yard had a raised platform for her to hang the laundry and for us to launch our adventures. A traditional Finnish swing that had been built by my maternal grandfather could serve as a car, train or airplane depending on our journey. Privacy was ensured by the lilac hedges that ran the property line and tucked underneath were tiny lilies of the valley.  No place smelled better during May.

She also had a round perennial garden with purple and yellow Violas juxtaposed against some tiny white flowers a little like Alyssium but which returned every year. Behind the garage she had a small vegetable patch where she would grow carrots, English cucumbers and rhubarb. My grandmother always had a four gallon pail filled with clean water beside the garden so we could rinse our freshly picked carrots before we ate them. The whole yard was dominated though by a huge cherry tree.  For a few weeks every year, we would climb onto the garage roof and eat our fill, gorging on summer goodness.

When we were sent outside to play, this yard marked the passage of time in flashes of colour, scents and tastes.

As I talk to people about the gardens and gardening, it seems like everyone has a similar story.  We are all drawn to a personal Eden: sunny summer days that we hope to recapture and share with a new generation. We do it in different ways and in different places from our original Edens, but they prove satisfying nonetheless.

Every week, I will publish some successes and failures from my garden and share the stories I collect from others. I am hoping to post lots of pictures and harvest a few tips.  I look forward to hearing from you.

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