Saturday, December 16, 2017

Books for Holiday Gift Giving

Snow has finally arrived this week transforming the garden into a Christmas card. All the fallen leaves have been raked off the pathways and all my spring bulbs have been tucked snuggly into the ground. There is nothing to do now, but dream up fresh new plans for the coming spring. 

What new plants should I add? What improvements can I make? Gardening books are always a great way to find some answers. And with that in mind, I have a list of some book suggestions for last minute gift giving.

I would like to read this book for obvious reasons–it's a book about two things I love; gardening and dogs.

Nigel the golden retriever first appeared in the background of Monty Don's segments for the popular BBC television series "Gardener's World" and has risen to become a star in his own right. Nigel the dog has inspired huge fan interest, fan mail and even his own social media accounts. In this new book, Monty Don writes about Nigel and the other dogs that have been a part of his family's life and explores what it is that connects is with animals so deeply.

To confirm my interest in this book, I looked through the reviews on Amazon where it has received 4.8 out of 5 stars. One reader/reviewer writes,"It made me laugh and cry. A book written from the heart..." On Goodreads, the book has received 4.34 stars. The top review on Goodreads describes the book as "A lovely, light read..." 

All this makes me want to read the book even more. I'm hoping to find Nigel: My Family Life and other Dogs under the tree this Christmas!

The Art of Floral Forager features fanciful images all created with petals, leaves and other natural materials that artist Bridget Beth Collins gathers from her garden.

Included in the book are images of birds, fish, insects, mystical creatures and portraits of iconic women that have all been made using botanical materials. You can take a look inside The Art of Floral Forager here. You can also purchase prints of individual works of art on Bridget's website.

Of all the books I reviewed in 2017, Glorious Shade created the most reader excitement and no wonder. The book is a great resource for anyone interested in shade gardening. It's well written and packed with information. Read my full review here.

Another great gift for the shade gardener is The New Shade Garden (2015) by Ken Druse. This book covers basic topics such as designing your own shade garden and highlights a good array of perennials, shrubs and trees for shady conditions. Of the two books, I'd say this one has the most inspirational photos.

My pick for Best Coffee Table Book of 2017 would be Timber Press's Gardens of the High Line

The High Line was once an elevated rail line that had been neglected for nearly two decades. Today, it has been transformed into a public garden and serves as powerful example of urban revitalization. What I think gardeners will love about this book are the inspired plantings by world renowned Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf. 

With page after page of gorgeous photography, this book would do any coffee table proud. Read my full review here.

For those gardeners who love winter craft projects to keep them busy, I have two good books to recommend.

I follow San Francisco artist Tiffanie Turner on Instagram. Her very detailed paper flowers are simply amazing. Tiffanie's recently published book The Fine Art of Paper Flowers offers instructions for over 30 paper flowers including marigolds, roses, daffodils and more. Projects include flower crowns, daisy chains, boutonnieres and garlands. The photography in this book is wonderful.

The Exquisite Book of Paper Flowers by artist Livia Cetti features techniques for creating 27 blooms, including peonies, poppies, roses and hibiscus.  The author leads readers through the creation of each flower with clear instructions and step-by-step photographs. There are even pointers on how to create garlands, centrepieces, wreaths and corsages.

Erin Benzakein, the renowned owner of Floret Flower Farm, has written a terrific book full of professional tips for growing, harvesting and creating exquisite arrangements of year-round flowers. 

I have been following Erin's blog for a few years. I admire her openness, business smarts and her passion for flowers. Floret Farm's Cut Flower Garden is another book on my personal wish list. 

I enjoyed Marta McDowell's books on Beatrix Potter and Winnie-the-Pooh, so I am looking forward to reading The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder: Frontier Landscapes that Inspired the Little House Books. 

Plants, animals and landscape were an integral part of the Little House series of books. In her new book, she explores Wilder's life, inspirations and her deep connection to the landscape. 

Virginia Woolf's Garden is the story of the garden at Monk's House in Sussex, England where author Virginia Woolf spent summer weekends. Virginia was no gardener, but a little shed in the garden that her husband Leonard created was the place she came to write books like To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway

Author Catherine Zoob and her husband were tenants at Monk's House through the National Trust for over ten years. They helped to return the house and garden to its former glory. The book includes gorgeous photographs along with historical pictures and embroidered plans of the garden hand stitched by the author.

It wouldn't be one of my book reviews without a giveaway. 

Pretty Tough Plants highlights 135 plants that are designed to handle difficult conditions. Each of the water-smart choices has a color photograph and details about the plant's size, feature and bloom time in a handy box that can be read at a glance. The plant list includes perennials, annuals, groundcovers, grasses, trees and shrubs. A handy chart at the end of the book makes it easy to choose the right plant for your garden's specific conditions.

Thomas Allen & Sons has kindly given me a copy of Pretty Tough Plants to give away. Because this book will go to a winner through the mail, I will have to limit entry to readers in Canada and the USA. 

Please leave a comment below, if you would like to be included in the book draw. The draw will remain open until January 1st. If you are not a blogger, you can enter by leaving a comment on the Three Dogs in a Garden Facebook page (there is an additional link to the Facebook page at the bottom of the blog). As always, you are also welcome to enter by sending me an email (

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Hints for Santa: A Gardener's Wish List

Included on almost every list of gift suggestions for gardeners is a set of gardening gloves and a pair of pruners.

While I've grown to appreciate gifts that are useful, for Christmas I want a treat.  A pair of pruners is rather like getting a toaster for Christmas. It's just way to practical! If I need a good set of pruners, I'll buy them for myself.

I'd like to find something pretty under the tree. And if that pretty gift has a practical use, so much the better. With this in mind, I have gathered together a gardener's wish list of hints for Santa.

Dahlia May Flower Farm specializes in growing romantic and fragrant, often heirloom, varieties of flowers. Owned and operated by Melanie Harrington the farm is located near Trenton in Southern Ontario.

This year Melanie has put together two calendars that would make wonderful gifts for any flower lover. The portraits in the Men with Blooms calendar are of Melanie's husband, her family, friends and fellow local business owners. The Florals calendar includes pictures of tulips, daffodils and other favourite photos from the last year. 

Both calendars are just $20 each plus $5 shipping for Canadian customers (very slightly more for those customers in the USA). Here's a link right to the Men with Blooms Calendar order page and the Florals 2018 Calendar order page

Are these watering cans gorgeous or what? 

I have a number of vintage waterings cans (that I use all the time), but who wouldn't want one of these shiny, new models made by Haws in the U.K.? The one the left is their Copper Watering Can, and on the right is their 8.8 litre Heritage Watering Can

You can find a range of these waterings cans new on Amazon, previously loved on eBay and new at Lee Valley Tools. Here's a link to the American branch of the company as well.

This Thompson and Elm Bird and Spool Twine Holder and Scissors Set is both attractive and handy. This one came from the shop at the Toronto Botanical Gardens here in Toronto, but you can also find it on Amazon.

I was telling my husband about all my terrific finds the other evening while we were walking the dogs. 
"I bet you'd never think to get me a rain gauge, would you?"
"A rain gauge?" he returned, proving my point.
"Yah, I think it might be fun to track the amount of rainfall we receive", I replied enthusiastically, "And it would be even nicer if there was a cute frog holding the glass gauge."

I am not sure if he got the hint, but here's a couple of adorable rain gauges if you think it would be fun idea to monitor rainfall too:

Both are from Iron Accents. Here is the webpage with the Bird and Nest ($38 US) and here is a link to the Scientist Frog ( $45 US).

Iron Accents also have whimsical hose guides: Dancing Frog ($33 US) and Bunny Holding Umbrella ($36 US) 

Finally, how about this palatial abode for toads? Toad House ($60 US)

The one time I have to worry about the dogs trampling my garden is in the spring when the perennials are just beginning to pop up out of the cold ground. The garden eventually fills in to a jungle-like density, by which time, the dogs prefer to run in the open grassed area. Having a wire cloche to protect the most precious of my emerging plants would be great.

These Victorian-inspired wire cloches from Gardener's Supply Company are $23 (US) or $18 (US) each when you buy three or more.

Terrariums are always a welcome gift. On the right is Gardener's Supply Company's Hanging Prism Terrarium ($19.95 US) and on the left is Teardrop Tabletop Terrarium (on sale for $31.88 US). 

While your on the Gardener's Supply Company website check out the bird feeders, plant supports, Mason Bee Houses, tomato cages etc, etc...

Floret Flower Farm is a family run business in the Skagit Valley (Washington state) that specializes in growing unique, uncommon and heirloom flowers (Read more here). Their online shop features cut flower seeds, dahlia tubers, spring-flowering bulbs, tools, supplies and gifts.

You can buy individual seed packages, but I think that one of Floret Flower Farm's Seed Collections might make a really nice gift. I've picked just two examples from the many options: 

The Creamsicle Mix ($25 US) on the left includes Amaranth 'Coral Fountain', Annual Baby's Breath 'Covent Garden', Celosia Supercrest Mix, Cosmos 'Purity', Zinnia 'Oklahoma Salmon' and Zinnia 'Salmon Rose'.

The Pink Romance Mix ($25 US) on the right includes Bachelor's Buttons 'Classic Romantic', Bells of Ireland, Chinese Forget-me-not 'Mystic Pink', Corn Cockle 'Ocean Pearls', Orlaya 'White Finch Lace' and Stock 'Malmaison Pink'.

Another great gift idea might be a print of the farm's flower filled truck. Erin writes, "The truck, lovingly nicknamed Little Fat Dragon by the kids when they were small, is the heart of the farm..." 

The print is 12" x 12" and is on sale at the moment for just $15 US.

If you have followed this blog for awhile, then you'll know that I have a collection of rusty silhouettes scattered throughout the garden. Rusty metal stakes with birds also form the centrepiece of many of my container plantings.

These stakes would make nice, affordable gifts.  Bluebirds on Pussy-Willow Stake ($25.50 US) and Chickadees & Berries Stake ($21 US). They're all from Rusty As well these stakes, there are animal silhouettes, plants and trees, Christmas decorations and more. 

I have long been a fan of photographer Ellen Hoverkamp. Ellen did the illustrations for the book Natural Companions by Ken Druse (which itself would make a nice gift). 

Ellen creates her fine art photographs using a flat bed scanner. Medium and large sized archival prints of her work are available through her online shop. If Santa was feeling generous, these prints would make an amazing gift.

A very affordable alternative might be a set of gift cards ($20 US).

I had great fun putting this list together. Hopefully it will give you a few ideas. Up shortly will be a number of recommended books for gift giving.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Illuminated Outdoor Christmas Planter

Is it just me or are Christmas decorations coming out earlier and earlier every year? 

This fall I was seeing Christmas trees in stores and on social media in mid-October. I love decorating for the holidays, but Christmas in October is just way to early for me!

Here in Southern Ontario it starts to get pretty cold by the first of December, so I like to start my decorating by adding the a few seasonal touches outdoors. A festive arrangement of greenery lit by little fairy lights was my first project. Here's how I made it:

I decided on a star as the centrepiece for my arrangement. Grapevine stars like this can be found at a variety of stores and nurseries (they even have some at the grocery store where I shop). If you can't find a star, you may be able to find a grapevine sphere or other similar embellishment. Birch logs wrapped in lights might also be nice.

In the past, Christmas lights always meant ugly wires in the daytime and long extension cords. 

Now, with these new LED options, the lights are on a fine filament that virtually disappears into the greenery of an arrangement. With the battery packs, there are no long electric cords. I did a couple of projects last winter with these lights and my love affair with them continues this year as well.

I found this set of 60 lights at The Real Canadian Superstore (Michaels has similar sets of lights). The copper-colored string was perfect to wrap around my grapevine star. In the daytime, the copper filament all but disappears. At night, the tiny LED lights make the star sparkle.

To illuminate the star, I began wrapping the lights about 6-8" up from the bottom of the dowel. This will leave a length of the wooden dowel free to be pushed into the dirt of my urn. I also left a length of the light cord free, so I would have more room to manoeuvre when it came to hiding the battery pack in amongst the greenery.

Once I had the whole star wrapped, I tucked the end of the light cord in amongst the grapevines.

There are so many wonderful options for greenery. To save money, I try to forage as much as possible from the yard and the adjacent woodlot. I harvest responsibly, pruning branches carefully, so that I never damage the trees or shrubs I am cutting.

In the shady part of the garden, I am lucky to have quite a number of yews. Every fall they get a good haircut which leaves me with quite a bit of raw material for my winter arrangements. But even with the yew, I don't have quite enough evergreen boughs to fill all my containers, so I also buy mixed bunches of pine, fur, boxwood and cedar at the grocery store. 

To make my arrangement I am using an urn that was filled with annuals last summer. I cleaned out the flowers and left the soil as is. There is no need for fresh soil in a winter container like this. The main purpose of the soil is to hold the evergreens in place.

As an additional measure of security, I also dampen the soil in my arrangement. When it the water freezes, it holds the branches firmly in place.

As with any good container planting, use "spillers, fillers and thrillers" to create a nice arrangement of greenery and berries. 

Begin with the "spillers" that will drape down over the edges of your urn. For this I suggest long pieces of cedar and pine. Both evergreens have soft stems that allow them to hang down gracefully over the rim of the arrangement.

Next, it's on to the "fillers" that will give the arrangement the fullness you want. 

For this, you can use almost any type of evergreen. I used pieces of boxwood, yew, spruce, noble fur, oregonia and euonymus.

At the end of step 2, the urn has filled out nicely.

Next I like to add some colorful accents with assorted fruit, berries and pinecones. If you don't have crabapples or rose hips, you can substitute with red winter berries, which are readily available at a variety of stores and nurseries. If you can't find winter berries or they're too expensive, faux-berries would work just as nicely.

I used a mix of blue juniper berries, pinecones and faux red berries in my urn.

The final task is to add your star and the lights. I pushed the star into the centre and tucked the battery pack in behind the greenery. Then a added one additional string of lights.

I found this set of indoor/outdoor lights at Walmart for under $10. It has a green cord that disappears in amongst the greenery in the urn. This light set runs on three AA batteries.

The two battery pacs get tucked in amongst the greenery at the back of the arrangement.

Here's the final arrangement all lit up at dusk. 

Up shortly, I hope to have a few more seasonal projects plus gift and book suggestions for gift giving.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The "Old Man" Turns Nineteen

There have times when I didn't think Buddy would make it all the way to his nineteenth birthday, but against all the odds, he's done it.

His carriage is still regal, but under that glossy black coat, Buddy's skin and bones. I wish he were a bit heavier, but his frail digestive system suggests otherwise. The vet has removed a good many of his teeth and the sad old eyes are watery and opaque with cataracts. He'll climb a set of stairs with some encouragement, but he has to be guided or carried down.

With his swaying, halting gate we've nicknamed Buddy "Old Man".

When I reach for my coat each morning there is always a flurry of excitement among the two younger dogs. They know the routine.

When I sit to put on my sneakers Piper, the young upstart, notoriously swoops in to grab one of my house shippers. With my slipper held high like a trophy, he will then prance in a circular tour of the main floor of the house. If I manage to wrench my slipper out of his mouth, he'll pounce on the slipper's mate and do a fresh junket with it instead. My husband urges me not to let him get away with such bad behaviour, but I know it is Piper's way to tell me how happy he is that I've decided it's time to go out and play.

And where is the "Old Man" in all this excitement?

Usually he's lying fast asleep on his bed enjoying a very sound post-breakfast nap. How he sleeps through all the barking I'll never know!

"Come on Old Man," I say, bending to attach his red leash, "It's time to go play ball." The lead is necessary or Buddy would get lost on the way to the back gate. He can see what's right in front of him, but not much more.

Feeling the leash being clipped onto his collar, the old dog sits up startled and a little confused. It  takes him a few minutes to get his bearings.

For me this is a telling moment. Right now, there is still enough joy in the old dog's life that he rises to go out to play, but I know there is a time coming soon when this may not be the case. How I dread the day! As he nears the end of a very long life, I know there will come a day when he is no longer able to rally and stand to do the thing he loves best in the world–play ball.

Scarp is himself as old as Sheltie's usually get (he's twelve), and Piper will soon turn two.

Sometimes when Buddy is in one of those deep, deep sleeps, I'm torn with mixed emotions. My own breath catches in my throat as I wait for his chest to rise and then fall. And then there is a part of me wishes he could drift into death as easily as one drifts into sleep. 

Sadly death is rarely that kind.

Like most people, I want to do what's best for my dogs even if that means making a gut-wrenching decision. It will break my heart, but I will not let him linger in pain or discomfort. We'll face our loss head-on and do what's best for him.

But for now, I'm  so very glad for a raucous, three-way game of soccer while I attempt to get in the last of my spring bulbs. 

Buddy may be ancient as Shelties go, but his days are happy and I think that's what I think keeps him going.

Piper smiling for the camera.

Buddy has achieved an impressive milestone (the average lifespan for a Sheltie is twelve or thirteen years) and I just want to take this moment to celebrate it. Nineteen years! 

Well done "Old Man"!