Sunday, February 6, 2022


February 6,2020

For a retreat from the cold visit the Gage Park Tropical Greenhouse at Hamilton's Gage Park. It's free. It's open after the lates pandemic shut down.

Gage Park Tropical Grennhouse


Saturday, May 30, 2020

Dividing Elelphant Ears

 Kathy Renwald
  My elephant ear plant is at least 10 year’s old and it’s so cramped in the pot it’s fighting for its life.
 Several thick trunks, the size of a caveman’s club choke the growth of new plants struggling for space.

  Most elephant ears sold here come in two type-ones with leaves pointing down, properly called colocasia, and those with the leaves pointed up called alocasia. I have both types, but the one needing dividing is an alocasia. You will also see them called Taro plants as well.

  My take is, the dividing should have happened in the fall. But I alway remember the advice of a garden sage. When asked the best time to prune, he said when you have the time. And we all have time now don’t we?
  I checked some books, some online sites, and looked at You Tube videos and the information was spotty, or suited to moderate climates where elephant ears live outside year long.
  So using bits and pieces from everywhere I took the knife, the pick and the pruning saw into my hands and went at it.
  First the elephant ear came out of its cramped pot, and was plunged into a big tub of water with a weak solution of fertilizer.  I let it soak up the potion for a couple of days. Keep in mind, this plant loves water and nutrients at all times.
  After spreading out a big tarp, the elephant ears came out of the pot for inspection. Roots were winding around and around, and four or five trunks were practically welded together.
  I spread out all my tools on a table like a frontier dentist and selected a hook shaped weeder to tease the roots apart. It was surprising easy.

  The trunks needed to be sawed apart. I started with a pruning saw, but it was too big for the cramped space. Turns out the best tool wasn’t in the bag, but in the kitchen-a bread knife. Not my best one, but a “B” team knife.

  It sliced through the thickest part of the plant easily. I ended up with six elephant ears worth repotting and bits and pieces that I think have potential to grow.
 After trimming off some of the longest roots, the new plants were put into fresh potting soil, mixed with composted manure and a bit of granular fertilizer.
  Alocasia grow from both tubers and rhizomes, some types have a history as an edible crop. It is recommended to wear gloves when doing work such as dividing and cutting off leaves, since the liquid released is a skin irritant.
   I now have six pots of elephant ears in various states and sizes, and a few random pieces that I may plant directing in the ground to see what happens.
I used a bread knife to divide the elephant ears

  My intention was to give some of these plants away. That may happen in the future but I’m really intrigued by how they will grow, so they’ll stay here. And also I am not good at sharing.
   In the past, the alocasia has moved indoors for the winter with all its leaves in full glory, some years it looks fabulous, others not so much. Another option would be to cut off the leaves in the fall, and move it indoors to a cool space where it idles until the spring.
  Both types are fabulous choices to give a tropical flair to the garden. The colocasia with its downward facing leaves that sway in the slightest wind is truly spectacular.  Varieties such as Mojito, splashed with streaks of black, are worth the investment, but are hard to find. If you do nab a special one, store it for the winter.
Elephant ears called Mojito

  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a bunch of pots to stare at.
  And here's a video on dividing the elephant ear.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Life in a Hayloft

At Home in a Hayloft

Solid as Stone

March 27, 2020
Kathy Renwald

When potter Scott Barnim moved in to his 1860’s Dundas home, it was already in an altered state.   
  Way back in 1899 the ground floor of the stately Georgian stone house was peeled away to make room for a carriage shed and a stable. Horses on the ground floor, and people on the second.
  From the time Walter Chisholm built the house and became the first town clerk of Dundas, it was occupied by movers and shakers. After Chisholm, the successful  Laing family moved in, builders of the Laing block on King Street.  At the turn of the century the Grafton's owned it, their successful businesses employed 400 people.  When Tom Folkes settled in around 1927 he ran a busy riding academy.

  Now the equally industrious Barnim is retooling the house for his needs.
  “I work a lot,” he says from the sales shop located where the carriages used to park, “At least 40 hours and more a week.”
  Usually he would have a student assistant, now in these Covid times, the work is solo.

  His pieces, domestic and useable as he describes them, fill shelves, tables, and walls in the shop. It’s closed now,  but the business is open for porch pickup and shipping.
  From the 1970’s he’s been constantly producing, but his work found its feet after a placement in a masters ceramic program in Cardiff Wales.
   A professor said to him, “You’re a craft potter, don’t let people pick on you for that.”  Barnim was instructed to go out with a sketchbook and draw things he loved.

  “I had to learn to decorate, I sketched the fish at the market,  their shapes and pattern, that ended up on my pottery.”
   Barnim’s intrinsic feel for shape and texture was squeezed for all its worth in his recent reimagining of his heritage home. He turned the 2,000 square foot main living space into an academic rental, and he moved into the hayloft.
  At 450 square feet, the hayloft-apartment is packed with charm. It has a tiny bedroom, and a tinier kitchen, and a living space where each stick of furniture needs to earn its keep.

  “The Welsh dresser is where I put the pieces I need to set the table,” Barnim says.
    During the redesign, Barnim worked with his longtime friend, designer Phyllis Tresidder. They shopped for fabric and paint and she advised on areas to highlight and areas to “paint out”.
   To ready the rental apartment, Barnim worked on the jobs inherited in an old house. Layers of linoleum coated with horse hide glue,  were pried off original red pine floors. Plaster walls, held together with old wallpaper, needed rescue.

   The work wasn’t daunting for Barnim.
“I’m good at that kind of thing, I could have been a builder.”
  A tour through the house is part art history lesson, an antique roadshow, and family memories.
  Barnim used his own pieces to furnish the apartment.  A table in the dining room is the one where threshing crews ate at his grandparent’s farm, a quilt in the hallway came from a trade with Burlington artist John Willard, the many paintings reflect the talent of the Dundas artistic community.
  Fully stocked, thoughtfully decorated, the apartment is listed with McMaster University’s academical rental program.
  “You can walk in with your backpack and have a dinner party tomorrow night,” Barnim says.
  The extra income of $2,500 a month is welcome, and may help in a future project of restoring the front of the house to the original.
  As the historical designation says it was once a beautiful Georgian stone building.
  “I’d love to put the house back,” Barnim says just a bit wistfully.
   Even as it is, framed by waving branches of spruce and pine trees, it is a thing of beauty.

Here is a link to a You Tube video



Friday, December 13, 2019

Let's Cherish our Gardens


  Gardens aren’t just pretty. They all do their bit to make the city liveable. The trees improve air quality, the greenery cools hot summer air, and plants absorb rain. A lush garden, with a carpet of plants helps to keep water from overwhelming the sewer system water during heavy storms

  Sewers, sewage, wastewater treatment plants, combined sewer overflows, these things, the intestines of our city are much on our minds.  That's why we must continue to value gardens, parks and natural lands.

  Though many people “get it”- the value of gardens, many still hold a thinly disguised attitude that they are a frill, a trifle, a hobby for “ladies.”
  When I used to do a lot of speaking engagements I would often be introduced by a man (sorry men) who would say something like, “I don’t know a thing about gardening, (or care about it) but Kathy’s stuff is pretty interesting.”
  Well I guess some folks would be happy living in a house plunked in the middle of a Walmart parking lot.
  The sewage leak and the coverup has  me ten shades of cranky.
  While I try to focus on the “pretty” things, the gardens and parks in our city, I carry around a bag full of grudges.
  Try going to a public meeting for a new development. In my neighbourhood some developers of future condominium blocks are asking to be relieved of landscape requirements. In plain language all paving, no plants. Oh, maybe there would be a pot at the front entrance with a dead spruce and cigarette butts in it.
  Are these requests granted? It’s hard to tell unless you follow the development through all the planning approvals. 
  I do know the city has a 50 percent green space requirement for front yards that is supposed to prevent average Joe homeowner from paving the entire front yard.
  But where does this hostility to plants come from? Notice real estate photos. Houses are renovated from roof to basement, but the yard is a dismal defeated patch of grass with a volcano of mulch masquerading as a garden.
  The budget for a home renovation would contain many big-ticket items. Is it so painful to plunk down a hundred bucks for a pretty, beneficial, tree, or order one from the city for free?
  When the sewer leak story broke in the Spectator, it caused many to reflect on the state of our city. It’s not just about the open gate at the holding tank, or the withholding of vital information, it’s about the way we live and the choices we make.  
  Many years ago when the Parks Canada Discovery Centre was built on the waterfront, Ken Parker was bought in to advise on landscaping.
  Parker had the wonderful native plant nursery called Sweetgrass Gardens on the Six Nations Reserve.
  Using Ken’s expertise smart things happened. The parking lot was broken up with plantings of trees and shrubs. They filtered the storm water run-off and changed the nature of the parking lot from ugly to intriguing.
  On the water side of the Discovery Centre a garden of native plants and a tranquil pond made a thoughtful connection to the harbour.
  Now not a trace remains of that little oasis. Paved over for the restaurant that followed and failed. The trees in the parking lot remain, but Parker has moved on to Buffalo, where he is helping people understand the connection we need to protect between plants and a livable city.
  So, it’s more important than ever to treasure our pretty gardens, and to plant more of them. They improve our mental health, cool and filter the air, and soak up rain. There is not one single downside to a garden.
   In 2020 we have to do better.