Monthly Archives: January 2016

Office oasis

Last year I started cultivating a garden oasis in my workspace, in order to make the environment more welcoming and relaxing. Thankfully the woman who shares my office space likes plants so she lets me bring plants into her work area (the window is behind her desk).

It started with me picking up some ficus elastica (rubber plant) cuttings from the office kitchen. I walked in one morning, and asked excitedly, “what is this?!” as I stared at some cuttings in a vase. The HR person said it was a cutting from a plant in the president’s office. I exclaimed that it was beautiful and she said, “you can have it if you want.” I didn’t need to be told twice, I took it back to my office right away (score!). I ended up giving a cutting to a friend as a housewarming present (she loved it!) and the other to my aunt.

I hope it does well.

I hope it does well. Love this rubber plant!

Later in the year I picked up some other plants from outgoing colleagues. And picked up a money tree plant in a nearby convenience store (I’ve been coveting another colleague’s money tree for almost two years!).

5 aloe plants and one money tree

5 aloe plants and one money tree (pachira aquatica).

Tricolor rhoeo and thanksgiving cactus

Tricolor rhoeo and thanksgiving cactus. A colleague noticed that the tricolor rhoeo’s leaves are only purple on the back of the leaves (neat!).

Thanksgiving cactus leaves

Thanksgiving cactus leaves (here) are sharper than a Christmas cactus.

Wish I’d read myth #3 before I’d put my cactus away from the window. I had read that you need to give it more darkness in order for it to produce blooms. So I took it away from the window. Obviously I misunderstood the instructions and in the end I did some serious damage. After several weeks of being deprived of the light it needed to thrive, the poor plant is looking pretty sickly.

The leaves are paper thin and have started dropping off

The leaves are paper thin and have started dropping off


Diseased-looking leaves

I really liked this plant. Not at first (at first I thought it was ugly, no wonder it was left behind), but then it started to grow on me. I’m hoping now that it’s back by the window that it might start to perk up again.

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2015 was the year I really got into succulents.

In early May I bought a jade plant from a store on Kingston Road near Victoria Park. I think my sister and I were visiting Threads Lifestyle, which like the the Keen store next door, closed in 2015. We decided to walk home and ended up ducking into a few flower shops on the way. In one shop I was captivated by the lithops or living stones, but I decided against purchasing the $10 plant (it needs lots of light and I don’t really get that at my place). I picked up this lovely jade instead.

I think this plant costed me $6 and there were at least 3 in there

I think the pot cost $6 and there were at least 3 individual plants in there

I repotted the plants into their own container and gave one to my dad. Sadly over the next few months the leaves started dropping off of my plants until I was left with this:

Sad state of affairs

Sad state of affairs – whether it was over-watering or not enough light (or both), they all died. Early July.

Luckily the one I gave to my dad was still doing well when I checked on it last summer (he gets a lot more light than I do). I briefly toyed with asking if he still wanted it but then stopped myself. Aside from it being very poor form (even though I don’t think he cared one way or another if he had it), how would I keep it alive when all the others I had died?

Even though I failed at this attempt, or perhaps because of it, I became obsessed with the need to purchase more succulents. I searched the net for nearby stores and came across a review for Grow Something on Yelp. The reviews, though few, were glowing. The website only made me more excited. It was in East York according to the map, close to a friend who was on mat leave with her first child so I asked if she wanted to check it out with me.

The store turned out to be in the backyard of the owner’s childhood home. The selection was great, the prices affordable, and the owner and her family were friendly and helpful. We each ended up buying a tray of 6 with the intention of sharing once they made ‘babies’.

Only the middle plants at the top and bottom and the plant to the bottom right are still alive

Took these to work. Only the middle plants and the plant to the bottom right are still alive

Over-watering probably got this one. Top left in the tray above.

Over-watering probably got this one. Top left in the tray above.

Looks like mould, Could it be mealy bugs?

Looks like mould. Could it be mealy bugs? Original plant is bottom left in the tray above.


If you rest a leaf on top of the soil, eventually a new plant will begin to grow. Original plant top right corner of tray above.

I’m not sure why some plants didn’t survive. Perhaps I over watered initially (I think I was doing it once a week) or maybe it also has something to do with the environment in my office. They are right in front of a north west facing window (there is a building next door which blocks out some light) but behind them is a vent that I can’t really control. Perhaps my potting soil to perlite ratio is also off (it’s about 50-50). Who knows.

Failure again did not deter me.  I took another chance when my friend decided she wanted to go back for more plants (she was hooked!). I got 6 more, including an airplant!

Tillandsia, or air plant

Tillandsia, or air plant. Care tips.

I put them all on the west facing windowsill in my bedroom. They were doing really well until I moved them into my living room, which gets much less light, when it started to get cold. One day I noticed my favorite cactus had mealy bugs!

Mealy bugs on my favorite succulent! Early

Mealy bugs on my favorite succulent! Late November.

I used the direct dab with alcohol swab method of dealing with this pest.  I couldn’t find definitive guidance on how often to do this so I just did it once a week on all the plants that looked like they had mealy bugs. I also wasn’t sure of how long to leave an insecticidal soap on a plant so I didn’t choose that option, although it was mentioned as a really reliable option on many Facebook gardening groups that I follow. I think the recommendation to test whatever you plan to use on a small part of your plant before you use it on the entire plant is a really good idea, but this is hard to do on really small plants like this.

This plant doesn't look so good. I wonder if it had to do with the alcohol applications or poor light exposure.

This plant doesn’t look as good as when I bought it (the brown parts). I wonder if it had to do with the alcohol applications or poor light exposure. Mealy bugs are apparently attracted to fresh young growing leaves which this one had plenty of during the unseasonably warm fall weather.

This plant was more full when I bought it. It lost the lower half of its leaves.

This plant was more full when I bought it. The bottom row of leaves shriveled up and died. Low light or alcohol applications or both? Some of the leaves near the top have a bit of damage.

This one doesn't look so bad. I'm pretty sure the minute white spots are perlite dust and not bugs.

This one doesn’t look so bad. I’m pretty sure the minute white spots are perlite dust and not bugs. I have some leaves resting on the soil to make more plants. Perhaps I should move them to their own pot.

It's easiest to get the mealy bugs off of the jade. This jade is doing really well on the windowsill and seems to not have been greatly affected by it's time in the low light of my livingroom

It’s easiest to get the mealy bugs off of the jade. Not many places to hide. This jade is doing really well on the windowsill and seems to not have been greatly affected by it’s time in the low light of my living room.

I’m glad I persevered with the succulents. They’ve given me a lot of joy. I’m looking forward to getting more plants when the store reopens in the spring. I may take a chance on the lithops this time, knowing that my bedroom windowsill gets a good deal of light and I’ve had some experience with caring for succulents and dealing with pests.

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Edible flower garden

Last season my aunt gave me full run of the flower garden at the front of the house. She had trouble with Scarlet lily beetles in 2014. She really hates bugs so once I told her what the beetles were and what they were attracted to, she wanted the lilies gone. However, she couldn’t bring herself to get rid of them right away. I was still left with plenty of space for my edible flower garden.

All ready for planting!

All ready for planting

I planted sunflower, cornflower, borage, lupine (not edible), and nasturtium seeds, and a lavender plant I bought at Kensington Market. I also remember planting viola but they didn’t take.

Lupine - it didn't survive

Lupine – planted out in late May. 


This is as big as the lupine got. It didn’t survive.

Although I didn’t have the trailing variety, I thought nasturtiums would look great in the hanging pots (at the front and in the back yard) and in the planter boxes on the railing. Unfortunately the pots at the front were attacked by aphids. The ones at the back were perfectly fine. I purposely used seeds I had harvested from city plants at the front, knowing we wouldn’t be eating from those pots, and saved the organic seeds for the back yard.

Nasturtium from organic seeds

Nasturtium from organic seeds – looks tasty!

Organic nasturtium in full bloom

Organic nasturtium in full bloom

Nasturtium from city harvested seeds

Nasturtium from city harvested seeds. Not bad looking from far away, but on closer inspection…

Aphids running wild!

Aphids running wild!

Overall, I think the flower garden turned out pretty well.


L to R – lavender, lilies, sunflower, marigold, cornflower, roses; nasturtium in the planter boxes. End of August. Borage had already run its course.



Pink cornflower

Pink cornflower – I bought a mix and got purple and blue as well

I bought some other flower seeds that I didn’t end up using this year: cosmos, larkspur, and poppies. Hope to plant more varieties next year (and I’m eyeing some more I’d like to purchase – velvet queen and autumn beauty sunflowers, for example) and harvest some as cuttings in addition to using them as companion plants.

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My favorite plant

Happy new year!

My favorite plant to grow last season was the Jamaican red hot pepper I bought at Urban Harvest. I thought it was a scotch bonnet pepper, because of the photo on the packet and that’s generally what I think of when I hear talk of Jamaican peppers, but it didn’t look like the scotch bonnets we usually buy.

It does look like a spaceship!

It does look like a spaceship!

Jamaican red hot changing colour

Jamaican red hot changing colour

Here they are in a bunch

Here they are in a bunch

I had the most success with peppers in 2015.  The pepper plants I’ve bought at Kensington Market haven’t done well in the past so last year I didn’t even bother. I grew them all from seeds (the five colour Chinese peppers from saved seeds) and they all did really well!

Good old reliable five colour peppers, purple stage

Good, old reliable five colour peppers, purple stage (red pear tomatoes at the back)

I bought some habanero seeds at Urban Harvest as well as two types of sweet peppers, California Wonder Sweet and the Golden variety. I debated for too long on a dark sweet pepper plant (the next time I went back it was gone) so I’ll be looking for it this year. I thought about it all season!

There weren't many and they weren't big, but they looked like sweet peppers!

There weren’t very many and they didn’t reach full maturity when I picked them, but they looked like sweet peppers (and tasted great)!


Some didn’t fare so well

Habanero was the only one I grew in a pot because there wasn’t really any room in the garden in Hamilton, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to plant them in the community garden where theft is an ongoing problem. I didn’t think they did well initially because I didn’t find many on the plant. Turns out my cousin was picking them and cooking with them.

Habaneros on the vine

Habaneros on the vine

Habaneros in full colour!

Habaneros in full colour!

There’s a guy at my sister’s workplace who loves to grow hot peppers. He brings them to work and then dares other guys to eat them. Apparently they have a good time. My sister is a bit offended, on principle, that the girls are never invited. She almost called him on it once but then decided not to, in case she was dared to join in the fun.

I’m not really into hot peppers beyond growing them (I mean, how cool is that Jamaican red hot?! Never seen anything like it! They fascinated me all summer). They give me heartburn and I tend to touch my face a lot so I’ve had some not so pleasant experiences handling them (let’s be honest: traumatic experiences of burning eyes and fears I’d never see again — on more than one occasion. If this ever happens to you, milk and plain yogurt relieve the burning and swelling really well).  Luckily my mom and brother love them so they never go to waste. My brother made a few jars of hot pepper sauce using the ones I grew and scotch bonnets from the grocery store and they happily enjoyed them at practically every meal.

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