Archive for ‘Gardening’

January 20, 2015

How to Make the Garden an Extension of your Home

When choosing a house, one of the non-negotiable priorities for many buyers is that it must have a garden. There’s something about having that patch of lawn bordered by flower beds, or that useful patio, littered with pretty flowerpots, that we just can’t do without. And even when it’s the size of a postage stamp, we cherish it. So how can you appreciate your garden even more?


Having a solid wall between you and your slice of outdoors will never do. And whereas most people opt for a set of French or patio doors, this won’t invite the garden in like a bi or tri-fold sliding door. The beauty of this type of door is that it’s possible to have wall-to-wall glass, which then slides open and neatly folds out of the way.

With this type of door, you’re truly extending your kitchen or living area into the garden. Even when shut, you can see your garden unimpeded, plus the extra light brought in is a real bonus.

Creating Flow

An interesting way of extending into the garden, is to have the same flooring going from room to patio. This ‘infinity’ look can be quite effective. Solid oak flooring is suitable for both inside and out, and together with the sliding, folding doors, will create a large, combined living space. If you’re not into the wood look, then limestone tiles would work equally well or some frost-proof porcelain tiles. If there is a step down, then you may want to consider raising the patio so that it’s on the same level.

Mirror Plants

By choosing varieties that are equally happy indoors as out, you can have mirrored plants. Get matching containers and pot them up with the same plants. Then place one just outside the door and its twin on the inside. This further confuses where the garden starts and the house ends. If you think flowering plants might require too much maintenance, why not choose some robust succulents, which include cacti and sedum.


To blur those lines even further, particularly if the room in question is a conservatory or living area, you may wish to consider all-weather furniture, both inside and out. There are some very attractive and comfortable sofas and chairs available, such as a mock rattan design.
With a little ingenuity, and by making relatively small changes, it’s very possible to give the illusion of bringing the garden into your home, for maximum enjoyment.


October 20, 2014

Wormwood the Infamous Ingredient In Absinthe

Wormwood is an ingredient used in the infamous alcoholic drink absinthe, also known as the green fairy. It is an extremely bitter herb and absinthe was traditionally poured over sugar cubes to sweeten the taste.
When used on its own, it is a powerful medicinal herb. It’s main taste is bitter, which is good for stimulating the digestive axis of the stomach, liver/gallbladder and intestines. As its name suggests it expels internal worms, while it also provides immune support.

It is best combined with aromatic carminatives like peppermint, anise, fennel, ginger, chamomile, bergamot, thyme for taste and balance, just like the ancient recipe absinthe.

I prefer wormwood macerated in red wine to temper the bitterness. Steep it for at least a couple of weeks, and then strain. I take a single teaspoon once a day, for a week. Take small doses before or after meals as an aperitif. A tincture formulation is good, but the tea infusion might be too bitter to swallow. It is Not advisable to add sweeteners, the taste cannot be masked. It is better to taste the bitters to stimulate secretions for maximum medicinal power. This is a medium strength remedy so caution is always advised. Be careful dancing with the green fairy.

Use Artemisia species medicinally in the same way, including mugwort, annual wormwood, southernwood, but wormwood is the most bitter.

Wormwood is native to Europe and Western Asia and established in the temperate regions of North America.

Wormwood herb starting to show its tiny yellow flowers from my garden.

Common Name

Wormwood herb
Latin Name

Artemisia absinthium
Family Asteraceae
Parts Used Perennial herb pick aerial parts, flowering tops bloom in July/August summer
Target Organs Digestion, stomach, nervous, urinary, reproductive
Common Uses Digestion: cooling bitter stimulant, digestive conditions, infections, poor digestion, promotes bile, indigestion, dyspepsia, flatulence, IBS, inflammation, parasites worms-pinworm, roundworm, threadworms, constipation, colic, poor appetite, anorexia, food poisoning, toxicity, headache, nausea

Stomach: all conditions,

Liver/gallbladder: congestion, infections



Properties Cold bitter digestive, astringent, pungent, antibacterial, hepatic, liver decongestant, carminative, stimulating digestion immune, cholagogue, laxative, stomachic, anthelmintic, anti-inflammatory, tonic, nervine, antimicrobial, anti-emetic but emetic in large doses, vulnerary,
Constituents Sesquiterpene lactones, volatile essential oil, thujone, thujan, cineole, linalol, chamazulene, camphene, cadimene, monoterpene, pinene, phellandrene, azulene, bisabolene, flavonoid glycosides, rutin, quercetin, organic acids, amino acids, phenolic acids, polyacetylenes, lignans, ascorbic acid, tannins,

Cautions Medium strength: contains thujone a neurotoxin with narcotic properties. Large doses can cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, restlessness, tremors, convulsions. Long term use may lead to liver and kidney damage. Not recommended during pregnancy, lactation, infants, or if kidney or liver damage is present.
Dosage Use in formulations (herbal combinations) up to 25% of formula. continuous use should not exceed two months.
Macerate in red wine or vermouth: 1 small teaspoon a day for a week
Or used as an aperitif small sips before or after meals to aid digestion

Tincture: 1-2ml dilute with water 1 oz before consuming.
Mix a formula with aromatics, do not add sugar or sweeteners

Tea: 3-5g (Very bitter) infuse


September 2, 2014

Monarch Metamorphosis

Monarch Metamorphoses

What is an ending to the caterpillar is a beginning for the butterfly. One in the same cocoon. Trust the process.

“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world the master calls the butterfly.” Richard Bach

“A great beginning is sometimes at the point of what you thought would be the ending of everything.” Dodinsky

“The caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets all the publicity.” George Carlin


For more information on how to help improve the Monarch butterfly population >

October 17, 2013

Sunroot or Sunchoke is a Nutritious Medicinal Root Vegetable


Sunchokes Helianthus tuberosus L.are also called Jerusalem artichokes, but it has no relationship to Jerusalem and it is not an artichoke. The better known common names for this yellow flower are sunroot, sunchoke and earth apple.
Sunchoke is the modern common name used to avoid confusion with artichokes for cooking purposes, but it does have a mild artichoke flavour.

Sunchoke is a very tall prolific perennial plant that is native to North America, and has a long history of being used by Native Americans as a root vegetable. The sunchoke flowers belong to the same family as sunflowers, and the flowers follow the sun like sunflowers do. They like to grow wild and they need lots of space, because it likes to multiply. The stalks and leaves are rough and hairy. The roots are starchy tubers that look a little like ginger rhizomes, and are edible like a potato.

It was a popular plant to use to hide the outhouse or to put in front of other unsightly eyesores, as it creates a thick, tall hedge that requires no maintenance, unless overpopulation is an issue. Perhaps there is a warning in there somewhere among the yellow flowers.

Sunchoke is becoming popular food for thought again, but when consuming lots of sun chokes it may cause digestion disturbance in the form of …um… gaseous upset. It has earned the nickname “fartichokes.” Eat a little and see how well your digestion system tolerates it.

The edible tuber roots have a high inulin content, which is a type of soluble fibre. Inulin is a carbohydrate with sweet polysaccharides that is safe for diabetics, and it is pre-biotic. Containing the Pre-biotic (FOS) Fructo-Oligio-Saccharide means that it promotes healthy bacteria, which is beneficial for feeding healthy flora in the digestion system. It balances yeast and has a positive impact on overall health. It breaks down into fructose in the gut, but might be hard to digest for some people, and may cause cramping, bloating and excessive wind, especially when consumed in a large quantities. It relieves constipation.

It is best to wait until the first or second frost to harvest, and they are dug up until springtime, weather permitting of course, or buy them where you get fresh produce. Some people prefer the springtime to dig them up. They are available year round, but peak season is October-March.
It is also best to dead head the flowers if the roots are going to get dug up and eaten, they will grow bigger.
Store up to one to three weeks raw, but once cooked eat right away. Some people say they are better stored in the fridge for a week before eating.
They are a good source of iron, potassium, phosphorus, vitamin C, FOS and of course fibre, Inulin. It improves calcium absorption, lowers cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Sunchokes are good medicinal food, but eat sparingly at first.



Sunchokes will oxidize like a potato so dip them in water with lemon juice or keep them in water until ready to use, because they will turn brown. Do not cook in aluminum or iron pans.
The skins are edible like ginger skin is, and when cooking it is best to leave the skins on and remove peels later if desired. Wash, scrub and remove rootlets or strings if any are present before cooking. Goes well with mint, onion, garlic, chives, thyme, cumin, black cumin, pepper, turmeric, rosemary, lemon citrus, lemon verbena, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg.

Eat Sunchokes raw topped on a salad or mixed in salsa, grated or thinly sliced and tastes like jicama. Try small amounts at first to see if your digestion can handle it this way. They can also be added to juicing recipes.
I wonder what it would be like thinly sliced and pickled like ginger.

Sun chokes are better steamed and not boiled, which will make them mushy. It does make good puréed soup mixed with nut or coconut milk.

They make a great water chestnut stir-fry substitute, they have a similar texture and taste.

Oven bake them brushed with oil and herbal seasonings and bake for 20-40 minutes at 375 degrees.
Bake with sweet potatoes and other root vegetables to make root chips.
I wonder what they would taste like flavoured and then put in the dehydrator and dehydrated overnight.

Food and Cooking (2004 edition), page 307, Harold McGee indicates that the flatulent effects of Sunchoke roots are due to complex fructose-based carbohydrates that are not digestible by humans.

Long, slow cooking allows enzymes present in the fresh tuber to convert these to fructose over time.

McGee recommends 12-24 hours at 200 F / 93 C.
The result will be soft and sweet, akin to a vegetable aspic.

Note that the ogliosacharrides in beans are a different class than the inulin in Sunchokes, and the digestive supplement Beano is not effective with sunchoke.


August 20, 2013

Elecampane Beautiful Garden Flower with Medicinal Roots

imageElecampane is a tall perennial that grows over four feet tall and has cheery golden yellow sunflower like flowers, but elecampane has thinner floret petals with fringe tips.

The Latin name is Inula helenium with the species name Helen stemming from Helen of Troy, the face that launched a thousand ships. Elecampane flowers are really that stunning and it did launch a thousand ships when it was brought to North America from Europe. It likes to grow in full sun in open moist meadows. The plant is best propagated by root division spacing four or feet apart because they have huge course leaves.

The genus name Inula refers to the inulin content found in almost half of the plant, which has been shown to help control blood sugar levels as a fibre and regulates the immune system which is good for autoimmune disorders. Inulin is a fibre but should only be used in whole form, attached to the whole plant root it is soluble starch fibre. The whole plant is greater than the sum of its parts. Whenever plant parts are removed the outcome and quality are always compromised.

The root is used in herbal medicine for coughs, colds and parasites mainly but it is a good restorative and tonic for chronic fatigue and infections. It benefits the hypothalamus, and is a thymus, spleen, endocrine tonic that has digestive, respiratory and immune stimulating properties that make it good to combat infections, especially of the respiratory, digestive tract or in cases of parasitic, worm infections or food poisoning. The root was popular candied and to make ale or beer drinks out of, but even then the candied root tastes bitter and pungent. The bitter quality helps to stimulate the body through reflex reactions of the digestive and respiratory tracts.

Common Name Elecampane root
Latin Name Inula helenium
Family Asteraceae
Parts Used Perennial- harvest second year or older root in the Fall
Target Organs immune, endocrine, digestion, respiratory, stomach, pancreas, spleen, uterus, nerves, liver, kidney/ bladder
Common Uses endocrine restorative, spleen thymus tonic, immune stimulant, infections, coughs, colds, catarrh, bronchitis, UTI, digestive, parasites, worms, stomach upset, food poisoning, fatigue, allergies,diabetes,
Properties digestive immune respiratory stimulant, antimicrobial, demulcent, expectorant, anti-tussive, stomachic, astringent, demulcent, bitter tonic, warming, drying, anti-allergenic
Constituents 40% inulin,E.O: camphor, sesquiterpenes lactones; mucilage, triterpenes, bitter resin, alkaloid, helinin, sterols, calcium, magnesium
Cautions mild remedy: combine with demulcents for dry coughs. Do not use during pregnancy it is a uterine stimulant.
Dosage Tincture: 2-4mlTea: 2-3 tsp steep 10-15 min


July 3, 2013

Dog strangling vine Threatening Native Species and The Monarch Butterfly

The dog strangling vine is a destructive invasive alien plant that is threatening to strangle out native species in North America. Even the name sounds so horrific I want to just call it the strangling vine for short.

This strangling vine Cynanchum rossicum is from the milkweed family but it is a different Genus than the native North American milkweed that the monarch butterfly lays their eggs on.

Flower They not only strangle out milkweed, the vine tricks the monarch into laying eggs on it, probably because it is from the same family. The eggs do not mature which endangers the monarch butterfly population numbers. The loss of milkweed due to pesticide use and loss of habitat is having devastating consequences on the monarch butterfly population.


This plant is tough to take out too, you need to remove all the roots or it will grow back.

I have removed all of these invasive vines from my garden. I pull them every year because I didn’t like they way they strangled everything and now I know what a true danger they are I will pull them even earlier.


I am growing a small patch of milkweed in my garden for the Monarchs and it surprises me how many people say to me why don’t I pull ‘those weeds.’

Between people pulling native milkweed or putting pesticides on them, destroying natural habitat and now invasive aliens competing it is no wonder why the monarch butterfly population is in decline.

If you see this plant in your garden or anywhere else please remove it. As a caution wear gloves and long sleeves when removing it, it may cause a rash or wound.

Thank you for helping the Monarch butterfly and our native plant species.


July 2, 2013

Milkweed is not a Weed it is Important Monarch Butterfly Food

20130702-171904.jpgMilkweed is not a weed, it is important butterfly food. The Monarch butterfly decline is directly related to environmental degradation, destruction of their habitat and the use of pesticides from Monsanto. The use of glyphosate developed by Monsanto in the U.S. for products like Round-up, which is the number one selling herbicide in America, are a threat to important pollinators and plants.

Read the full story here-

Monarch butterflies cannot complete their life cycle without the milkweed family. These plants are important because it is the only food source of the monarch butterfly larvae.
The female lays her eggs on the plant and the young caterpillar eats it as food until it turns into a butterfly to then feast on the milkweeds nectar. Eating the milkweed as its only food source, it absorbs the acidic bitter constituents from the plant and that is what deters predators from eating it.

Common milkweed has the Latin name Asclepias syriaca and is the most common milkweed although it is not invasive it grows in colonies like goldenrod. Milkweeds are becoming less common in some areas in North America threatening the declining monarch population.


Maybe it is considered a weed because of the name, but it is very pleasant smelling and the flowers are very beautiful. It blooms June to August in umbrella like clusters with up curved horn purple petals below a crown of hoods. It releases silky parachute seeds from pods after it flowers.

It is native to North America even though the Latin species syriaca name of the common variety suggests it is from Syria. It is common there and in Southern Europe, but it was actually brought there from North America. It is native from Quebec to Saskatchewan south into The United States.

The common name Milkweed is named so because it has a thick milky white sap that has bitter chemicals that protect it from predators. The sap and root are potentially toxic having cardioactive compounds that influence the heart, so avoid internal use of fresh sap.

There are other Asclepias species of milkweed- butterfly weed milkweed, swamp milkweed, poke milkweed and all are important nectaring and nesting sites for the monarch butterfly. It is important to build butterfly friendly areas for the monarch butterflies and other important pollinators on their flight path and stop the use of pesticides and insecticides from Monsanto to ensure a rebound in population numbers.



June 27, 2013

Thyme for a Grass Substitute


My parents got a letter from the city that they now have to cut the grass on the boulevard that isn’t even in front of their house but nearby on a busy high traffic road. It is a new bylaw in the city of Toronto that states that everyone on a corner lot or at the end of the street beside city roads is now responsible for the grass on the boulevard. The recent by-law voted on March 5-7, 2012 and came into effect January 1, 2013,
BY-LAW NO. 375-2012

How safe is this and how is this saving the city money?

They have never had to do this in the twenty-five years or so that they have lived there. Now the city expects an elderly man to risk his life to cut the grass on busy high traffic city boulevard just to save the city some money? The city mower stops at the property fence line but mows the rest of the boulevard when it would be just as easy to do the rest. This is a discriminatory bylaw and could affect the property value of the houses mentioned, because let’s face it, would you want to mow grass next to high traffic as an added expense when next door doesn’t have to do it? If your answer is yes then start your engines!

This is not age related because I think no one no matter what age or condition should risk their life to maintain boulevard. People have been killed waiting for the bus and this is a bus route. It is just that the elderly and sick are the most vulnerable and people might be on fixed incomes and should not be responsible for maintaining the city boulevards, especially next to dangerous high traffic areas.

My dad finally got someone on the phone and they said if he or a family member couldn’t do it he would have to pay someone to cut the grass or be held responsible. The fine is $200 dollars, and I would rather pay the fine than risk my parents life. First the doctor wants to kill my dad with pills and now the city wants to risk his life for grass.

In the letter they never even stated how much grass he had to cut so someone came out to actually measure how much to cut! By this time the grass and weeds were so tall it was blocking a turn lane line of sight and was causing accidents. There was an accident out front that happened just as I was speaking to my parents and they were telling me about this.

When the city sent a worker to measure how much grass to cut they had to crunch over car pieces from earlier car accidents that jumped the curb. I just can’t believe that a council wants my elderly father to mow over broken car parts and endanger his life just to cut grass?
The neighbours rallied together, they sent letters, emails and they have finally gotten through to someone in council. Their city councillor was very nice and told them that they are not responsible for it anymore but have yet to get that in writing.

I propose that no one mow. A simpler solution would be to grow low growing thyme varieties instead of high maintenance lawn grass. GO LOW GROW NO MOW!!!!!

20130726-195022.jpgIt would be good to start with low maintenance boulevards and give up the unnecessary stink of gas and noise that you get from lawnmowers. Eliminate the use of mowing by planting low growing perennials like thyme and lavender on boulevards and wherever you don’t want to mow.

Find out more about Thyme here at thyme time ->

I am sending It is THYME for a GRASS substitute idea NO MOW LOW GROW with a note attached to city council and if you could please send one too that would be much appreciated!
The recent by-law voted on March 5-7, 2012 and came into effect January 1, 2013,
BY-LAW NO. 375-2012
( I phoned the city and they gave me the wrong by-law information I told on the phone the website didn’t have it uploaded it yet, not that you could figure out that bylaw system, the sewer site is more user friendly. I had to get my information from a councillor, but I found it frustrating that I had to inform some councillors and explain the new bylaw to them.)


Scarborough community council

Toronto city council

Mayor Ford of Toronto might get back to you between scandals

416-397-FORD (3673)

Let’s see what is cooking on the boulevard.



Allan Smithies
Manager, Traffic Planning/Right-of-Way Mgmt
Etobicoke York District
Etobicoke Civic Centre
399 The West Mall
Toronto ON M9C 2Y2

Phone: (416) 394-8412
Fax: (416) 394-8942
Mobile: (416) 434-6784
Blackberry: (647) 828-9506


June 26, 2013

Why Comfrey is Essential for First-aid Medicine and Permaculture


Comfrey is a very beautiful beneficial addition to any garden and an important herb for medicine and permaculture. Other common names for Comfrey are knit-bone and boneset, because of its amazing ability to regenerate and stimulate the growth of bone. Comfrey is a must have for the first aid herbal kit, because it has demulcent, astringent and vulnerary herbal properties that make it ideal to treat any type of injury, whether it be sinew, bone, tissue or flesh.

Its powerful cell regeneration is mainly due to its allantoin content, which has a calcium type of effect that stimulates cell production that repairs collagen, connective tissue and bone.

Comfrey has tannins that produce so much astriction, which means tightening together of the skin, that stitches might be avoided.

It’s mucilage content is demulcent, sweet and moist, which relieves dryness, acute inflammation as well as swelling and provides good treatment for burns. It provides a protective coating that soothes, moistens and cools making it a good choice to treat any type of ulcers, internal or external, inside or out. It is also good to use for arthritis.

It is also a nutritious restorative having many vitamins and minerals in it along with other healing properties.


Permaculture- Working with the biodynamic forces of nature

There are countless uses for Comfrey in the garden adding much-needed nutrients and enriching the soil. Comfrey does not compete for nutrients with trees so it is ideal to plant around fruit trees.
It attracts beneficial insects and earthworms while it breaks up compacted soil and draws up nutrients.

The many uses in the garden include:

Compost- add to compost
Mulch- chop and drop mulch
Fertilizer- green manure
liquid fertilizer provides nutrients like potassium

Powerful cell and bone regenerator.
Stimulates the growth and healing of bone, flesh, connective tissues, collagen.

*Note that for broken bones it is important they are set in the right place first before using comfrey to knit the bone together. If in any doubt about your injury please see a doctor for proper diagnosis first before applying comfrey.

Heals any injury, ulcers external and internal.
Use Comfrey leaves and root  externally in the form of poultice, compresses, ointments, tea infusions or tincture. The fresh tincture is the best choice for serious injuries with pain or mix it with clay.

There are other species of comfrey Russian comfrey and prickly comfrey and they are all used in the same way, but the officinale species is the one herbalists use the most.

It is from the Borage family and like borage it has pyrrolizidine  alkaloids that have some cautions attached to it regarding internal use, but caution comes from animal testing using isolated alkaloid constituents in high doses for long periods. There have been no human fatality cases reported.

Do not use internally when pregnant, lactating, liver disease, small children, frail elderly and caution with external use in these cases. Contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, avoid long-term internal high dosage use due to potential liver damage.

The alkaloids are least concentrated in the mature herb. The young spring leaves contains 8-10 times the amount found in the mature herb. The root has the most which is 4-5 times the alkaloid level in the mature herb. The alkaloid content is higher in the Russian variety than the prickly comfrey.

Common Name  Comfrey herb/ root
Latin Name  Symphytum   officinale
Family Boraginaceae
Parts Used Perennial-   flowers mid June to July pick from before flowering to mid flowering/ root rhizome- Fall/ Spring
Target Organs skin, mucus   membranes, skeletal-muscular, connective tissue, collagen, bones, respiratory, digestive, stomach,
Common Uses External use only: broken bones, fractures, scars, ulcers, wounds, abrasions, burns, sunburn, bites, stings, bruises, dislocation, varicose veins, sprains, strains, any injury, periodontitis, pharyngitis, eye infections,
Internal use with supervision for inflammation and ulcers of the digestive tract, colitis,
Properties astringent,   demulcent, vulnerary, anodyne, emollient, tonic, pectoral
Constituents Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids, mucilage, gum,   tannin, allantoin, Essential Oil, triterpenes, resin, inulin, choline,   protein, steroidal saponins, mucopolysaccharide 29%, phenolic acids, vitamins   A, B12, C, E, mineral iron, calcium, phosphorus, trace minerals
Cautions Medium strength: Mainly external use only. Do not use internally   when pregnant, lactating, liver disease, small children, frail elderly and   caution with external use in these cases. Contains pyrolizidine alkaloids   avoid long-term high dosage use due to potential liver damage. There have been no human fatality cases reported all research backing this toxicity claim were conducted on animals using using isolated alkaloid constituents and not the whole plant. The alkaloids are least   concentrated in the mature herb. The young spring leaves contains 8-10 times   the amount found in the mature herb. The root has the most which is 4-5   times the alkaloid level in the mature herb. The alkaloid content is higher   in the Russian variety than the prickly comfrey.
Dosage the average dose is 10 g or 2-4mls of tincture
June 4, 2013

Different Types Of Lilac Bushes


I love the way Lilac shrubs/bushes/trees perfume the air in springtime. Come and sit in the garden and smell the fresh scent of lilacs blooming.

This Lilac is blooming now and the smell is really strong attracting hummingbirds, bees and hummingbird moths.

This lilac bush blooms later and has smaller flowers, but it has a larger fragrance.

This lilac bush blooms later and has smaller flowers, but it has a larger fragrance.

imageOther than the purple and white solid colours, I love this striped variety of Lilac, Syringa vulgaris L.

Enjoy the fragrance while it lasts.

Enjoy the fragrance while it lasts.


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