Sunday, 24 June 2012

Our little lavender farm

Mia has always dreamed of moving to a farm.  When she saw pictures in a magazine of a lavender farm in Provence, France she fell in love with the idea.  She pictured living in an old stone house with a barn, climbing roses and fields of lavender. Something like this.
I had worked on farms in my youth and have a less romantic view of country life, but I thought I would see what I could do to at least capture the spirit of her dream.

The south side of the house, adjacent to the neighbour’s driveway, needed some improvements. We were considering different options for this section and wanted something to go with the roses we had just put up on trellises. 

Mia had read that lavender goes well with roses and I jumped all over the idea.  I looked up how to grow lavender on the web and contacted a grower in Dundas, Ontario.  Kevin, of Weir’s Lane Lavender was really helpful in answering my questions about which variety to purchase and how to plant them.  Kevin recommended going with an English variety of lavender called Hidcote.  It is hardy, has rich purple flowers and does not get too big. 
Hidcote Lavender
To pick up the lavenders, I met Kevin on one of his trips to Toronto at the Fire Hall in the Beach. It felt a bit like a drug deal.  He was standing on the corner with a tray of 10 plants beside some bushes waiting for me. 

Kevin from Weir's Lane Lavender Farm waiting for Misha

The plants were in amazing condition and I was really glad I did not buy the 2 for 1 plants from Sheridan Nurseries.  We plan on visiting his farm on July 14 as part of a 3 farm tour – check out his web site for details.

How we did it:
Lavender likes full sun and sandy well drained soil with little organic material.  It actually does poorly in rich wet soil.  The south facing side of the house is the ideal location to maximize sunlight.  The soil in the area we wanted to plant contains a lot of clay so I decided to amend it for the lavender by adding sand and gravel to improve drainage.

I started by removing the top 1 foot of soil from the planting area and laying it to the side. I then turned the second foot of soil and left it in place.  Next I spread 1 bag of gravel and one bag of sand over this layer. I then replaced the soil I had laid to the side. 

I spread two bags of cement gravel and two bags of sand over the surface then dug it in by turning the soil in the bed.

Mia pitched in to help with the planting.  We measured to ensure the plants were 2 feet apart and one foot away from the driveway edge of the bed. 

We used our last bag of sand and gravel to mulch the plants.  The finished look is great.

Kevin was also impressed by our planting and asked us to send him pictures when they flower in September.  Next year our lavender farm should be blooming from June to September.   A little bit of Provence in Toronto.  Pass the Gratin D’aubergine and Chateauneuf du Pape.  Sante!


Thursday, 14 June 2012

Striped summer skirt

There is something about striped summer skirts. They remind me of carefree, sun filled days on the beach, cool drinks and happy conversations. That’s exactly what I was thinking when I spotted this 100% cotton skirt during one of my bargain hunting trips. For $2 it was mine in an instant and ready to be transformed.

The skirt had a draw string at the waist which meant I didn’t have to make any adjustments. The only thing I didn’t like about the skirt was the length and the slight A-shape of it.  The length was easy to change; I just measured the fabric to the desired length and cut it straight. I left the end of the skirt unhemmed as the fabric naturally rolls up giving it a nice casual look.

The A shape of the skirt was also easy to alter. I used chalk to mark the desired shape and then I sewed it along the mark. Before I cut off the excess fabric I tried it on to make sure I was happy with the width. I cut the remaining fabric off and finished off the ends. The skirt ended up having a nice semi-tight fit that still is comfortable to wear.

I really like this skirt; easy to wear, eye-catching and brings a beach feel to my city outings. You can’t beat that :)


Saturday, 9 June 2012

The kitchen demolition has begun

How exciting to see our kitchen being transformed. We have slowly been working away on taking apart the kitchen cabinets that had been custom built by the previous owner. The floor to ceiling cabinets did not fit into our new kitchen vision and they had to go. 

We felt badly throwing out the cabinets thinking that they were solid wood and that we might be able to recycle them. We looked into the option of donating them to Habitat for Humanity but were refused because they are too old. We also thought about putting them up on Craigslist or reusing them in the basement but during the demolition we discovered that they are actually wood veneer with a particle board core. We don’t feel that badly about getting rid of them now.

This past weekend we were able to remove all three of the built-in cabinets from the dining area and carried the huge cabinets out to the driveway. Yes, Misha made me carry them out with him! My back still aches...

Working hard at the demo

We also removed the dropped ceiling and replaced the fluorescent light with a temporary builder's socket. At first, taking apart the cabinets seemed like a daunting task. There were no nails showing and everything was very solid. We started dismantling this puzzle piece by piece with the help of a crow bar and hammer. We were able to remove the cabinets ourselves, saving time and money.

It is amazing to see the kitchen be transformed from a small dark room into an open, light-filled space. We keep looking at it to see what a great sized kitchen we suddenly have. 


In process 

The next step in the demolition will be removing the cabinet above the gas stove and the stove exhaust fan. We will need to get this done before the windows arrive to give the installers enough space to work around the window frame. The kitchen renovation is suddenly starting to feel more real. Exciting!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Our native woodland garden - Neighbourhood pioneers or pariahs?

We are the talk of our neighbourhood and not in a good way. Passers-by checking out our front yard belong to two categories; those who are  really curious about what’s going on in our front garden and those who think its a disaster and wish we would have neatly cut perfect lawn like the rest of our neighbours’ do.

Misha came up with the idea of taking up the lawn and creating a native woodland garden. I loved the idea! A native garden is better for the environment as it provides habitat and food for birds, insects and pollinators, increases biodiversity and as native plants have adapted well to the local climate, it requires minimal watering and maintenance.

The idea was great but we didn’t realize what a huge job it would be. First of all, we have to deal with a fully grown Norway Maple tree on our front lawn. Norway Maples are notoriously challenging trees to grow plants under. They are non-native and their shallow roots suck up all the water around them. Also, they are very dense so they let very little light and rain through for plants trying to survive under them.  They also drip a toxin from their leaves that many plants cannot tolerate.  They are now considered an invasive species in many of our urban forests. 

Our Norway Maple

Removing the sod is also challenging but we have developed a fairly efficient system to survive the experience.  I let Misha go out by himself to remove the sod so I don’t have to hear all the cursing and swearing.  Once it is removed and the ground prepared, I come out to help plant. It works for me :)

This is what we started out with - decent green grassed front yard

We looked for Ontario native plants that were shade and drought tolerant, such as violets, foam flowers, wild geraniums and wild ginger. We also planted a dogwood, serviceberry, viburnum, wild rose bush, snowberry and two yews. We have been planting since March, but our front yard is still a disaster. 

This is our front yard now. A total disaster!

The next step will be to plant some more ground covers and to create a flagstone path to provide access to the side garden. That’s going to be the fun part. Hopefully it will pull the look together and appease our neighbours.