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Aldona at Large: Tender and Sublime

For many years, I was an “autumn girl.” But now, in the autumn of my own years, I find that I am especially moved by the tenderness and hope of those first few days in spring when, overnight, trees offer up their newborn leaves for us to admire. I love that gentle, fleeting blur of brilliant chartreuse or deep red. Yes, my eyes itch and my nose runs, but I look up as I walk along, knowing that this show (and my allergies) won’t last long.

In the past few days, these were a sight for my sore eyes:

A birch tree with its trembling catkins

A maple tree in full sweet bloom

And of course, it’s that time of year when gardeners’ expectations and energies run high, and last year’s gardening disappointments are lost in the forgiving mists of time. There are plant sales and events aplenty, and opportunities abound for running into gardening friends.

Naturally,  your trusty reporter has been busily taking it all in, so here are some highlights.

Loblaw Media Luncheon

For garden writers, few events kick off spring better than the annual Loblaw media shindig, held last week at the TBG. Lord knows that garden writing isn’t the best-paid profession, but there are definitely perqs that make it all worthwhile.

Not only do we get treated to a lovely lunch, but we also get the lowdown on what’s new and notable at the Loblaw garden centres this season. Check out the exotic-looking shrimp braid standards seen above, which apparently will maintain their good looks throughout the season. And next to them, the Chicago fig plants, with roots that are hardy down to Zone 4 and a top that’s hardy to Zone 6 on a tree that will grow up to 10 feet tall.  That means you can risk leaving this tree outdoors over winter with no tiresome trenching or boxing-in.

And look at this stunning tableau, starring Get Mee, a new perennial campanula with colour so vivid that it made me blink. It’s one of the Fairytale Flowers bred by Gartneriet PKM in Denmark, and grown here in Canada by Rodney Bierhuizen of Sunrise Greenhouses.

This introduction is no overnight success story. “My father started developing this plant in 1970,” grower Kristian Madsen of Gartneriet PKM told me, “and over the years it was selected from more than one million plants.”

And they call me picky. Ha!

Dr. Rumen Conev, Dr. Daryl Somers and Dr. Jim Brandle of the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre

One of the most interesting stories came out of Ontario’s own Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, which has embraced the Green Revolution and has succeeded in breeding the Pixie Grape from the Pinot Meunier champagne grape. The Pixie Grape is ten times smaller than a regular grape and can be grown in a container as tiny as a teacup, yet is hardy down to -20 or -30 Celsius. While conventional grape vines can take two or three years to bear fruit, the sweet-tasting Pixie Grape fruits in just a matter of months.

Then there’s the President’s Choice Mighty ‘Matos,  a selection of grafted tomatoes, including the heirloom Brandywine, that will grow up to six feet tall and wide, with fruit that matures earlier and is more plentiful. Pass the salt and pepper, please.

Loblaw’s gardening guru, Peter Cantley, looks on benevolently as garden scribblers make a mad dash for the plants.

Of course, the part every garden writer loves best is the end, when we are invited to help ourselves to whatever plants we wish to trial, for f-f-f-f-free. Talk about a smash and grab feeding frenzy. I don’t have a photo of what ensues, because believe me, it ain’t pretty.

Don’t you just love a good mystery?

Marjorie Harris and Jack Batten

A day or two later, having recovered from the scrum, I strolled over to the Dora Keogh pub on the Danforth for the book launch party for Jack Batten’s new mystery novel, Take Five. Jack, who’s the author of some 35 books, is married to my pal the gardening goddess Marjorie Harris. Hosted by Fine Print and Ben McNally of McNally’s Books, Jack and Julian Porter led a spirited and funny Q and A.

This novel marks the welcome return of wisecracking Toronto sleuth Crang after a 20-year hiatus, and it’s a corker. Take Five is published by Thomas Allen. You can find out more here.

A few days later, it was on to the Ontario Rock Garden and Hardy Plant Society’s plant sale at the TBG, which is always well-attended by those on the hunt for the rare and special.

Paul Zammit and Toni Vella manned the TBG table and did a brisk business in gorgeous succulents and other temptations.

(And even if you missed the Members Day preview, the TBG’s own Plant Sale continues through Mother’s Day. You can find out more here.)

Speaking of being tempted, I sidled over to the Garden Café, just reopened for the season, and enjoyed a lovely slice of pizza for just $3.50. Betsy and her daughter were also selling fresh bread and herbs, so stop by for a tasty treat next time you’re at the garden.

Spring Awakening

The coral-coloured azaleas that comprise this huge ball seem to set the Gardiner Museum’s lobby aglow.

After scarfing down my pizza, off I went to the Gardiner Museum to check out “Spring Awakening,” and some truly spectacular floral displays inspired by and set among the precious ceramics in the galleries. These designs were created by luminaries such as Michael Renaud of Horticultural Design, Rosemary Little Jeffares of Quince Flowers, Joseph Delarge of Ecostems, Bella Jackson of Floral Fetish, the Garden Club of Toronto’s own Margaret Taylor and Sue Clarkson, and others.

This stunner was created by Bert Browne of Earthwork Floral Design, who was inspired by William Duesbury’s Harlequin figurine, c1770-1780.

Fee, fie, PHO and um, fun!

Garden guru Belinda Gallagher, who now lives with her husband, Coleman, on 100 acres of land near Algonquin Park, was in town to give a talk to the Toronto Master Gardeners. So the night before, keen gardeners and writers Sara Katz, Lorraine Hunter, Belinda Gallagher, Liz Primeau, Carol Cowan and I got together to catch up with our old friend and enjoy some Vietnamese food and garden world-type gossip. Tasty stuff.

Requiat in pace

Finally, and on a much sadder note, I was shocked and sorry to learn of the sudden passing of Gerry Ginsberg, whose office was across the hall from mine at the TBG. Gerry was the General Manager of Canada Blooms, and a really lovely man. Gone much too soon at age 64, he died in his sleep in Florida.

Next week I’m off to England and the Chelsea Flower Show, among many other delights. So there’ll be plenty of good reading in upcoming blogs, cherubs. Pip, pip, cheery-bye! And Happy Mother’s Day to good moms everywhere.

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