After countless hours of preparation, we were saddened to hear that Canada Blooms 2020 has been suspended due to COVID 19 concerns. While not surprising, we want to take this chance to share a behind-the-scenes look at the effort that went into our award-winning backyard garden display.
Canada Blooms History/Background
Canada Blooms is Canada’s largest garden show, founded in 1996. It celebrates the best of Canadian gardening and floral design, attracting tens of thousands of visitors each year from across the country and internationally. At Canada Blooms, people get a taste of spring, get inspired for the upcoming season, and learn about new trends, new plants, and new innovations in the gardening world.
The Growing Connection received confirmation for our backyard space after we wrapped up Canada Blooms 2019, where we set up a balcony garden display. The 2020 theme is “Birds of a Feather”.
Preparing Our Plant Material
Plant material prep began as the 2019 growing season was wrapping up. In September/October, our Caja containers were refreshed with organic substrata (soil) and fertilizers for the March 2020 show. The process means clearing out the old plant debris, refreshing the soil with new fertilizer and a top-up of soil, and moving them into the greenhouse to await the actual planting in the new year.
In November, as trees and shrubs went into dormancy, we selected various fruit trees that would be brought out of dormancy in time to start leafing out and growing for the March event. This was a special request for us as we wanted to incorporate a variety of fruit trees as part of our garden theme. New vegetable and herb seeds were ordered for the seed starting that would take place in December and January.
In December, from the comfort of our home, we started all of our vegetable seeds that would eventually get transplanted into the greenhouse in January. These included peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant, kale, chard, basil, and more. Having proper seed starting equipment such as trays, lights, heating mats, and a rich/loose soil blend ensured that we had high germination rates and hearty plants.
Transplanting / Planting
Early January 2020 saw the start of several trips up the terrific greenhouse of our partner high school. Since 2017, we have been very fortunate work with Stayner Collegiate Institute in their state of the art greenhouse. In exchange for teaching container gardening, we gain access to valuable greenhouse space for our Caja planters that were prepared from the fall.
The boxes after transplanting (notice all the snow and ice outside the windows!)
Eggplant – these were smaller container varieties called Patio Baby Eggplant
Determinate tomatoes that would stay relatively short and compact
Mixed swiss chard
Early January 2020
Also in early January, we had a site visit to the Enercare Centre to speak with the Canada Blooms team and tour the site that would eventually be transformed into a huge garden space.
January 30th was our next plant checkup since transplanting and boy did the plants look happy and healthy! As part of the lesson plan, the high school students were learning about seeding and growing their own plants, and our boxes and plants were used as a teaching tool to show how the plants would look since we had started our seeds several weeks earlier.
The tomatoes, kale, and other plants are loving the warm, sunny environment! Thanks to the staff and students for keeping our boxes watered each week.
Mixed kale, from left to right: darkibor, red russian, and dinosaur
Swiss chard with basil/kale and other boxes in the background
Since the last visit, we noticed fungus gnats were becoming more prevalent, so we setup a number of yellow sticky traps to control the number of adults. By controlling the adults, we reduce the eggs they would lay and the future generations of the insects. Fungus gnats thrive in moist and wet environments, which is typical for the Caja since the built-in 10L water reservoir keeps the soil moist for extended periods of time. In outdoor settings, fungus gnats are almost never an issue as more airflow and a more robust environment with various predators help to keep their population in check. Indoors and especially in a greenhouse environment, fungus gnats can be a nuisance, though not usually a concern due to their limited damage.
Another option we could have used in addition or as a complement to the yellow sticky traps is BTi (Bacillus thuringiensis var. israelensis), which is the active ingredient in products such as Mosquito Dunks. These granules, when dissolved in water, produce a toxic protein crystal that stops the gnat larvae from feeding, causing them to die. BTi only affects mosquito and fly larvae and are safe for all other creatures including amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, making it a safe and approved product for organic production.
Boxes with yellow sticky traps protecting the plants
With energy and excitement growing as the show dates approached, we visited a different greenhouse where our trees/shrubs, as well as a large number of plants for other builders were being forced and being woken up from dormancy.
For us, it was like an early, early taste of spring walking into the heated greenhouse despite temperature below freezing and several inches of snow and ice still on the ground.
The white/red-tagged plants are currants that were just about to start leafing out.
Our fruit trees starting to flower!
Since our last visit 9 days ago, the plants have continued to grow and thrive. Here are some more photos of how the plants are looking.
Our last chance to check on plants before load in the following week. In the 2 weeks since our last visit, the plants have continued to grow and thrive. The eggplants have finally started putting on more mass (they are one of the slower-growing plants), while the greens, herbs, and tomatoes continued to look great. The yellow sticky traps are doing their job and the fungus gnats have been virtually eliminated. Now is the time when we hope and pray for warm weather for our load-in.
March 7/8: Over the weekend, our partners at Oaks Landscape Products began the build-out of the base for our backyard garden. Based on our garden plan, the team took an empty space and turned it into a beautiful spot for us to setup our planters and fruit trees. This is the time when our plant material gets shipped in.
Photo Credit: David Ohashi
Photo Credit: David Ohashi
March 10: TGC Load In
Tuesday was our main day for loading in our plant materials. A rental van transported all the Cajas from the Stayner greenhouse to the Enercare Centre. Thankfully, the weather was very warm that day and we didn’t have to blast the heat in the car as much as we did in previous years. The plants were looking great, though we knew it would be a bit sad for the plants as this would probably be the last time they would see natural sunlight for the next 2 weeks (show runs from Mar 13-22)!
One unique aspect of the show’s construction is that you are able to drive your vehicle onto the show floor and directly up to your garden. It’s a real bustling job site with lots of contractors, construction equipment and people hard at work (along with the requisite empty take-out coffee cups strewn about).
Over the next few days, we continued to get our garden planted, prepared, and ready for display. Lots of other construction and garden building was still taking place, so we waited until the last day, the morning March 12 to put the finishing touches on our garden including misting down the plants and stone to clean the leaves and reduce dust, watering the trees and the boxes, ensuring everything looks good for judging. That afternoon, before the show opens to the public, a panel of judges goes around awarding various prizes to the different gardens – and our TGC Caja garden received the Do Up the Backsteps Garden award!
Sadly, in the evening on the 12th, we got the call saying the show was being suspended with more details to come as events continued to unfold. Despite being a 10-day show, it takes a team of several full-time staff working year-round to plan and executive this show.
As just one of the dozens of gardens being constructed, we can understand the frustration and sadness that comes with the countless hours, not even mentioning the financial cost that goes into the materials and labour, that go into setup, planning, preparing, sourcing plants, and putting on this large scale event. We want to give a huge thanks to the Canada Blooms staff and to all the folks who helped us get our display together!