Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Designing Your Ideal Green Space

There are few things in life (in my opinion) as exciting as designing something beautiful. Your yard, as all of us know (right?), should be no exception. With the right tweaking, you can turn a dull outdoor space into a gorgeous display of beauty, a fantastic entertaining space and an indispensable escape from the noisy world. A small, medium or large yard all have the potential of becoming something breathtaking.

Now that your appetite for beauty has been awakened, let's look into a few simple steps you can follow to move your space from blah into ooh lala. Or in more concrete wording, let's look at a few foundational landscape design keys.

Number 1. Think Long Term

As my professor said, remember the rule of 10s. How will this look in 10 weeks, 10 months, 10 years?  Look at the potential mature size of your plants - will they still all fit in place or will they be suffocating each other?

Number 2. Plant with All Seasons in Mind

When planning your yard, maximize the effect of every season. There's no reason your yard ever needs to be bland. Plant early blooming spring plants such as forsythia or alyssum saxatile (basket of gold) and annuals (e.g. petunias, zinnia, lobelia, etc.) that give good colour and show throughout the entire summer. Also make sure to plant late summer blooming plants such as chrysanthemum morifolium or summersweet, which have always proven to be absolutely refreshing in my experience. In fall, focus on adding some zest into your yard with fantastic colours - some good choices are maples, pin oaks, etc. And lastly for winter, plant trees or shrubs with interesting bark colour or shape such as Harry Lauder's Walking Stick, Silver variegated Dogwood or European White Birch.

Number 3. Height Difference

As a general rule, the tallest plants should be put into either the back of the bed or the middle if the bed happens to be in the centre of the yard. It is best to plant like a pyramid, starting with the tallest plants at the back and gradually going forward until the shortest plants are at the front.

Number 4.  Plant in Odd Numbers 

A general rule of green thumbs is always plant in odd numbers. "Even numbers tend to be divided by the eye." (My professor said that once upon a time).

Number 5. Allow for Air Circulation

Plants need air circulation to prevent disease. When plants are scrunched close together, bugs and diseases have a full out party. They love the moisture stuck between the plants as well as dry and stuffy, suffocating areas. To prevent these kind of conditions, plant long term (for instance, imagine how crowded things will be in 10 years, remember the rule of 10) and prune when needed.

Number 6. Pay Attention to the Tags

Whenever you purchase a plant, take special care to read through all the tag's information. Most everything you need to know for planting is often given right on the tag. It tells you what kind of conditions the plant likes (i.e. sandy soil, shade, etc.) and its mature height and width. 

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Cross Pollination?? Part 1

How to Cross Pollinate Petunias


Gardening stores are riddled full of “new breed” novelty plants selling at outrageous prices. What few know, however, is that growing and making these “new breed” plants is a relatively simple process.  By manually breeding (i.e. cross-pollinating) plants, there are no health risks. And by following a few simple steps, the results can be utterly fantastic. For the purpose of this experiment, the petunia plant (see Figure 1) is going to be the main subject. 

WARNING: There must be room for trial and error in this process. Some plants are not compatible with each other. Also, unwanted characteristics may result. View this project as an experiment and the differing results will be a great learning experience. 
A few uncommon words will be used throughout the instructions. These words and their definitions are as follows:
  1. To breed means to produce offspring (by sexual means) (Retrieved from
  2. To cross-pollinate means to transfer pollen from one flower to another (Retrieved from
  3. Pollen is a fine dust containing genetic pieces needed to make-up a seed  
  4. The style is the female part of the flower
  5. The anther and filament are the male parts of the flower  

Before starting, grab the following tools
Sticky Label 

Closed red petunia flower that has not yet bloomed
In order to carry out this experiment, the following materials are a necessity.
1 White Petunia with Blooming Flowers
1 Red Petunia with at least 1 closed flower   
(The colours can obviously vary depending on what you want to experiment on)

Time Required
In total, carrying out this experiment will take anywhere from 10-20 minutes. 

Note:  Though doing the experiment takes a relatively short amount of time, an eye must be kept on the plant for the next few weeks.

 There is relatively little cost. The equipment is all common household goods, while the price of petunias is relatively cheap (i.e. under $15).

People Required
This experiment is best done by one person with steady hands and good eyes. The work is rather particular and multiple workers easily lead to mistakes.

 Step Overview
The main steps for completing this experiment are to

  1. Prepare your equipment
  2. Open the white petunia flower
  3. Prepare the closed red petunia
  4. Fertilize with pollen
  5. Seal with tinfoil
  6. Label the finished product
You are now ready to begin the experiment.

Cross Pollination?? Part 2

A: Prepare your equipment
1. Measure and cut your tinfoil (See figure 3)
Figure 3: Approximate Size of Tinfoil

 Note: Approximately 4 inches long and 1.5 inches wide is a good amount

2. Wrap the tinfoil around a pencil
(See Figures 4 and 5)

Figure 4: Starting to wrap the tinfoil around the pencil

Figure 5: End Result of Wrapping

3. Fold the tinfoil down so the top is  sealed (See Figure 6).
Figure 6: Folding the tinfoil down

B. Open the White Petunia Flower
Note: Gently open the flower. You need to keep the anthers and filaments (see figure 7) intact and ready to use. 

When you look at this picture, take special not of the "fuzzy", dusty yellow smaller "stick" pieces. These are the anther and filament - i.e. the male part of the flower. The yellow dust is the pollen that is especially needed while completing the next part of the experiment.
Figure 7: Opened white petunia flower

C. Prepare the Closed Red Petunia Flower
1. Open the red petunia flower

2.Remove the red flower shell so only the anthers, filaments and style are left (see Figure 8)
(The anthers and filaments are the smaller "stick" pieces with white tops, while the style (i.e. the female part of the flower) is the one longer stick with a green top in this case). 
Figure 8

3. Remove the anthers and filament (see Figure 9), but leave the style. 
(See what I was talking about? Well, hopefully you do!)
Figure 9: Prepared Red Petunia

D. Fertilize with Pollen

1. Remove one of the anthers and filaments from the white petunia (See Figure 10).
Figure 10: Removing the anther and filament

Note: The top of the male flower part (the anther) is covered in pollen. (Remember we talked about that earlier. The pollen is all of that yellow dust stuff). 

2. Rub the RED petunia’s style with the pollen from the WHITE petunia’s anther (See Figure 11)

Figure 11: Mechanically fertilizing with pollen

E. Seal with Tinfoil

1. Take the prepared tinfoil and gently pull it over the fertilized red petunia’s style (See Figure 12 and 13).
Figure 12: Putting the tinfoil on

Figure 13: Pulling the tinfoil down to a suitable level

2. Pinch the bottom of the tinfoil together. 

Note: This will prevent germs and unwanted particles from getting inside and ruining the experiment.

F. Label the Finished Product

1. Rip a sticky note in half.

2. Write down what was crossed together on the note (See Figure 14). 
Figure 14

3. Loosely wrap the note together under the experimented petunia part (See Figure 15).

4. Put a piece of tape on the end of the note to make sure it sticks together. 

In a week or two, the tinfoil can be removed. If done correctly, a small hard seed pod will be found underneath the tinfoil (See figure 16).   

Figure 16: Attached hard seed pod.
 When this matures, it will actually burst (See Figure 17) leaving a plethora of “new breed” flower seeds (See Figure 18). The seeds can turn into pink, tie-dye, red or white flowers; the genetics are a bit unpredictable, but that makes breeding so much more exciting. (For info on how to plant these seeds, google it or wait for another article sometime in the future ... petunia seeds are a bit harder to make grow, but you definitely can do it!)
Figure 17: Mature seed "pod" that has burst
Figure 18: New breed petunia seeds


This is what my "new breed" petunia seeds turned into this past summer.