Red hot for Fall!

7 Nov

We often rely too heavily on flowers to deliver pops of colour in our garden.  Every Fall we watch the spectacular show of vivid reds, burnt oranges and golden yellows that many deciduous plants put on display.   Here are my 3 favorite plants that provide relentless red colour for your garden!

1. Burning Bush or Winged Euonymous (Euonymus alatus)

No other bush provides such intense scarlet red and purple-reds every Fall.   This shrub grows up to 8′, often wider than tall and can handle heavy pruning to maintain a smaller form. It works perfect in a grouping to form a hedge or as stand-alone specimen as well.  The stems are odd-looking with  four corky ridges or “wings” which adds further interest to this bush.

Burning Bush, Euonymous alatus

2. Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

A Canadian staple for any sub-urban yard or larger landscape area, Red maples provide the iconic harbinger of Fall in Ontario.  Be sure to provide this tree plenty of room  as over time it will grow up to 25m tall!

3. Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)

If you love the colour of Red Maples, but don’t have the space, consider a Japanese maple.  The unique form, delicate and often colorful leaves and smooth gray bark give Japanese maples year-round appeal. These graceful trees work in traditional landscapes as well as theme gardens. There are more than 300 cultivars! With so many options, it’s easy to picture one of these serene beauties in your landscape. My fav is Japanese Maple ‘Inabe Shidare’ shown here.


Fresh Fall Plants: Part 2 Ornamental Grasses

3 Nov

Every Fall, ornamental grasses  strut their stuff by delivering bold vertical impact in your garden.  Part 2 of my Fresh Fall Plants video series highlights some of my favorite  ornamental grasses that will provide a dramatic effect to any container or garden bed.  Grasses featured include:

1. Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis)
2. Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum, native to Canada)
2. Blue fescue (Festuca glauca)
3. Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium, native to Canada)
4. Black Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘nigrescens’)
5. Golden Hakone Grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’)

Tulip Time – Plant bulbs for a Spring surprise!

2 Nov

It may seem odd to be already thinking about Spring but if you love the vibrant fresh colours that bulb flowers deliver, it’s time to plant now!

Here are some quick tulip-planting tips to get your Spring flower display started.

1. Find a sunny spot
Though most bulbs prefer a sunny location, you can still plant them under trees as the bulbs will bloom before the leaves on the trees are fully out.

2. Plant in clusters  for bold effect
To get maximum impact, don’t plant them in a straight line or dot them here and there in the garden. Instead, arrange bulbs in groupings of 5 to 9 or more.

3. Layer-it-on!
Your Spring display will have greater impact if you layer bulbs according to bloom time and depth requirements (sounds complicated, but all bulb packaging clearly identifies both of these important facts).  For example, the same area of soil can hold crocuses in the top 13 cm (five inches), hyacinths at 16 cm (six inches) deep and daffodils and tulips at about 20 cm (eight inches) down.  The result is a full Spring season of blooms fr0m late April to early June.

4. Avoid creating a buffet for local critters! 

Some bulbs, including tulips and crocus are a favourite food for squirrels. Others, such as daffodils, fritillaria, alliums a are not quite as appealing.  If squirrels are a nuisance, put chicken wire over the bulbs. It can be left in place all winter and bulbs bloom right through it in Spring.  Be sure to clean up after planting because the papery bits left on the ground is a signal to critters that there is likely buried treasure nearby.  Also, your can try a dusting of cayenne pepper or blood meal over freshly planted bulbs but don’t be surprised if this doesn’t slow them down – squirrels are crazy-smart and quickly learn from tricks your neighbour’s may have already tried!

5. Spring Maintenance Tips
Let bulb foliage “die back” naturally for six weeks after before cutting back their leaves, because the leaves store food for the following year’s bloom. But, dying foliage can be unsightly so pair bulbs with perennials as their foliage will camouflage the bulb foliage as it dies back.  For example, the purple foliage of these Plum Pudding Coral Bells makes the orange tulips pop!

Orange Tulips contrasted against Purple Coral Bells

Purple tulips with pansies underneath

Do I have to buy organic?

27 Oct

Did you know that fresh spinach  can carry over 60 different pesticides! YIKES!!! I love fresh fruits and veggies but I’m not always ready to pay the premium for organic produce. Thankfully Joy MacCarthy, holistic nutritionist and my go-to food expert,  makes shopping organic EASY.

Her Dirty Dozen list identifies those veggies which are most sprayed with harmful chemicals.  Studies show that if you avoid the non-organic version of the Dirty Dozen, your pesticide exposure will be reduced up to  80%!!!   Hmm… I think going organic on at least these 12 items is a no-brainer.

Just as important as what to avoid is knowing what produce is not worth the Organic premium.  Once again, Joy MacCarthy to the rescue with the Clean 15! (See list below)


  • celery
  • peaches
  • strawberries
  • apples
  • domestic blueberries
  • nectarines
  • sweet bell peppers
  • spinach, kale and collard greens
  • cherries
  • potatoes
  • imported grapes
  • lettuce


  • onions
  • avocados
  • sweet corn
  • pineapples
  • mango
  • sweet peas
  • asparagus
  • kiwi fruit
  • cabbage
  • eggplant
  • cantaloupe
  • watermelon
  • grapefruit
  • sweet potatoes
  • sweet onions


Fresh Fall Plant Ideas

25 Oct

Are you looking for fresh ideas for your Fall containers and garden beds? My new Fall video series highlights some of my favourite plants  to give your garden the extra ‘umph’ it needs!

Detoxify and Beautify with Swiss Chard

17 Oct

To avoid Fall container boredom, I dare to add bold edibles in my displays.  This season, I gravitated towards the vibrant colour and texture of Swiss Chard.  The glossy, ruffled foliage can grow up to 2′ , with the stalks and veining delivering lipstick red contrasted with fresh green.

Swiss chard, like spinach, is the store-house of many phyto-nutrients that have promotional-health  and disease-prevention properties. As a mega source of Vitamin A & K and good source of omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin C, Swiss Chard is not only a ‘looker’ but also a great fall ingredient to keep fresh-on-hand.

My favorite way to prepare Swiss Chard is to saute in olive oil with white onions, garlic, mushrooms and season with freshly-cracked pepper and sea salt. Simple, hearty, nutritious and delicious!.


My friend Joy, a registered holistic nutritionist  and health coach of Joyous Health, recently shared a delicious soup recipe that is simple  and perfect for making in batches for future chilly Fall days. Try it out!


Freshly planted fall container with #kal

27 Sep

Freshly planted fall container with #kale #cabbage #gourds. Looks beautiful enough to eat! A #VerkadeDesign original!

Darling, don’t forget the dahlias!

19 Sep

If you love Spring peonies then consider adding dahlias to your late summer garden.  They bloom from early August until the first frost and come in a dizzying array of sizes and colours. Some are as small as a golf ball while others rival the largest of buffet dinner plates!

Dahlias are know for their saturated and rich colours of orange, pink, purple, scarlet, yellow and white.  The best part is,  you can find many varieties that offer a combination of these colours all in one flower which make these perfect for cut- flower arrangements. My friend Roxanna shows us how gorgeous a simple bouquet of the flowers can be!

Dahlia Growing Tips

1. Select a comfy home.  Dahlias are sun lovers and must have well-drained (yet moist) soil.

2. Be careful when planting. The most common way to grow dahlias is from their tuber form (imagine oddly-shaped fingerling potatoes or ginger root).  These tubers however are very sensitive to any damage so be sure not to scratch, cut or break the tuber as otherwise you may be disappointed come bloom-time.

3. Provide Support.  Dahlia flowers are often very large which makes them top-heavy.  Give theses busty plants support by using a wooden or metal stake.

4.  Winter “Hibernation.” Dahlias unfortunately are not perennials in our climate. Once frost has brought an end to this years gorgeous display, remove the tubers and store in a dry, cool place until the following Spring.

Click here for more Dahlia growing tips.


Grow cool season veggies that pack a punch!

16 Sep

Arugula growing easily on my 29th floor balcony. YUM!

Are you a novice gardener? Don’t fret! Cool season vegetables are easy to grow. In fact, this is the perfect time to start growing your anti-oxidant, nutrient rich greens in your backyard or even on your balcony.  The following Fall favourites are moderately frost- tolerant so if you seed them now you will have fresh greens to put on the table at Thanksgiving!

  • Chives
  • Arugula and other salad greens. Click here to watch a video on how to seed your own lettuce.
  • Kale
  • Radish
  • Swiss Chard
Read the step-by-step guide to sowing your own salad greens in my guest post on

Joy, from Joyous Health,  is an amazing Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Health Coach.  She offers tons of easy to understand health and nutrition information, delicious yet simple recipes, and fresh perspectives to provide food for the soul.  Learn more about Joy and check out her blog.  She is cute to boot! (I guess eating healthy does work after all!!!)

5 Tips for Cottage Gardens

8 Sep

Ontario’s northern landscape proudly displays the grandeur of speckled smooth granite boulders, towering stands of swaying pine and birch and soft sweeping carpets of mosses, wildflowers and grasses.  For the avid gardener, you may wonder what “improvements” if any can be made to this gorgeous landscape?

My friend Caroline Coulson seems to have found the answer to this at her evolving Georgian Bay island cottage garden.  Her garden teaches us 5 simple tips to creating the perfect cottage garden.

1.Be Inspired by Nature

Any hardscaping elements such as pathways and retaining walls should be constructed using local materials (if not from the actual site itself).  Notice how her garden beds have been formed in the lowest areas in the granite surface.  Not only does this appear more natural but also ensures maximum water availability as water collects in these “pool-like” indentations.  Also, granite boulders found on the property have been moved to create organically-shaped retaining walls.

2. Pick Non-fussy Eaters!

The soil in cottage country is thin and low in available nutrients.  As a result, if introducing non-native species, ensure that they tolerate well-drained infertile soil.  That doesn’t mean you have to forfeit beauty. For example, add a range of early to late summer blooming day lilies and hardy Black Eyed Susan’s for colour throughout the summer.

3.  Plan for Hot Days & Cool Nights

Soil temperature in cottage country varies greatly throughout the day and puts added stress on plants. The large granite boulders can end up “baking” plant roots.  As result, select plants that are drought-tolerant and can handle hot days and cool nights.  For example, this garden bed contains Black Eyed Susan’s, variegated Sedum and early summer day lilies.

4.  Grow Food for the Soul

Nothing goes better with the great outdoors than eating freshly-picked produce.  Again, select veggies and herbs that prefer warm days and cool nights and consider growing  in containers to help keep soil moisture and temperature more steady. Caroline has had great success this year with her 9 different varieties of tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers!


Tomato plan in pot


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