Garden Goals for 2015


My goal: grow ALL the columbines! (These were at Wave Hill)

Over the years I’ve really enjoyed reading the blog Growing with Plants by Matt Mattus. It’s got a great design and Matt is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable plantsman. Plus he has a greenhouse! One of my favourite things he does is present a list annual goals/challenges (like training fuschia topiaries or growing exhibition sweet peas) and then follows up on his successes and failures.

Since this is my first year of seriously returning to gardening after New York, I am trying to keep myself in check (don’t look at that specialist peony nursery webshop, bad Amy), but also challenge myself to learn as much as possible. In order to keep myself accountable I will list them here and then report back next year. If you have any tips on anything let me know!!

1. Primula auricula

Primula theatre at NYBG

Primula theatre at NYBG

I had seen antique drawings of Primula auricula and of course stunning photos from Chelsea but they had never been something I actively considered growing until my hellebore obsession led me to perusing nurseries such as Ashwood or Woottens of Wenhaston. That people could casually order dozens of different varieties in the strangest colours made me insanely jealous. Luckily we have Wrightman’s Alpines in Canada so I ordered 5 to try, on top of some seeds I bought from an Edmonton enthusiast. Those seeds are currently in the basement under my grow lights and I’m hoping they show signs of life in the next few weeks. I did save a few seeds to sprinkle outside in an area I am going to designate as a random perennial seed bed. May the hardiest win!

2. Hellebores


Hellebores in Morningside Park


This past fall Uncle D and I transplanted two hellebores from his yard into my new woodland bed. I also picked up two from a local nursery for 75% off because it was October and only crazy people were still gardening. Lucky for me we had a really mild October and I gardened into November. I’m hoping the plants had some chance to establish and I mulched them heavily with leaves. So far we’ve had constant snow cover since it got cold in November which should also help. I also bought a small packet of seeds from Gardens North to try out – many germinated but did not seem to want to release their seed coats. I did some delicate seed surgery and now have a few sets of dark green cotelydons. I’m hoping in the next month or so they start growing a few true leaves. Hellebores are marginally hardy here and for the last few years Uncle D has grown impressive leaves but no flowers.

3. Dahlias


Dahlias at Butchart Garden


Ah, dahlias. What is there to be said that hasn’t been already. Everyone has gone crazy for them lately, popularized by Floret Flower Farm and the Brooklyn florist set, not to mention Martha Stewart. I’ve only ever grown the bedding types, so this year I am venturing into the unknown with a couple dozen different varieties of tubers set to arrive sometime in April/May from three different growers (Oakridge Dahlias, FGL Dahlias, and Production St-Anicet). I tried to choose early flowering varieties as I know our growing season is significantly shorter than either coast, but even if I get only a few weeks of flowers it should be worth it!

In April I will build some raised beds to house my collection during the summer à la Francis Palmer.  I’m also planning to pot them up indoors as soon as I receive them so they can get a bit of head start before going into the garden proper. Should be interesting to see how fast I can get flowers and how strongly they perform.

4. Perennials from seed

Sorry if this is non-specific, but for the first time I’m growing 30 or so different perennials from seed. At this point I have sowed most of them as many need a chilling period, or like clematis, are warm but irregular germinators. So far I have one tiny Clematis stans seedling which germinated in the kitchen cupboard and has since been potted up (one true leaf already!), plus my little hellebores. I will rejoice if I manage to grow even one or two plants to maturity as they are all things I’ve rarely seen at local nurseries or are fairly expensive to buy.

5. Aquilegia


Aquilegia at a test garden in Ottawa


Columbines are one of my favourite flowers. We’ve always had a few around the yard that, despite getting decimated by slugs, come back (or self-seed). Daryl grows some real beauties in his yard as well. Inspired by the wide variations present at Wave Hill, I am determined to grow and encourage wide variation in my beds going forwards. So far I have seed for Aquilegia vulgaris (multiple kinds including ‘Black Barlow’ and some clementines), A. fragrans, A. ‘Leprechaun Gold,’ A x. caerula, and A. longissima, plus I ordered A. chaplinei. I am hoping they will eventually produce some new crosses to play with. If there’s any breeding project I’m excited about, it’s this one, even if it is one of the easiest. I thought first about trying to breed zinnias as I’ve seen some pretty crazy ones out there on internet forums, but they’re nothing next to the romance of aquilegia… and what bouquet doesn’t benefit from their addition.

6. Continue improving the woodland garden

Thalictrum thalictroides at NYBG

Thalictrum thalictroides at NYBG

Two years ago I started making a little woodland garden with some assorted perennials I found on sale at the end of the summer, predominantly thalictrum, heuchera/heucherella and a couple different epimediums. I also transplanted in astrantia that had self-seeded in our yard. Last October I added in some snowdrops, muscari, crocuses, Tulipa sylvestris and Fritillaria meleagris, plus the aforementioned hellebores. I am hoping for a good show this spring! This year I would like to add Anemone nemorosa, Thalictrum thalictroides, Trillium grandiflorum and Uvularia grandiflorum, plus a few more epimediums. I fell in love with Anemone nemorosa and Thalictrum thalictroides in NYC and I am determined to try and grow them here. They should be pretty sheltered as there’s a large saskatoon bush (Amelanchier alnifolia) and the house on the east side of the bed and a 5 ft. wood fence and mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia) to the South. The snow is usually slow to melt there too.

I am also worried that all those spring blooms will be fried in seconds if we end up with one of those instant summer years. It is tough when tulips are only reliably blooming in June. June! The weather could actually inflict anything from snow to a balmy +25. So spring, and this garden, might be a bit of a joke… At least most of the perennials have nice summer/fall foliage.

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I’m in love with these Muscari ‘Artist’ as well as some unnamed Muscari armeniacum.  Muscari are easy to force – or at least I’ve had no trouble with them. I just potted them up and left them in the fridge for 10-12 weeks (watering only when they appeared dry). I will say the bulbs chilled longer have been much more productive bloomers.

‘Tykus, Tykus’ - A Lithuanian folk song Oran sang at today’s concert which I loved.

Food52’s Piglet Tournament is back with some great cookbook reviews!

As much as my palette is perplexed by high end dining, I’m extremely taken by the visual presentation of it – see these dishes from Noma’s pop-up in Japan.

I’ve been doing a bit of reading on irises and lilies lately. I’m not sure I want to commit to either at this time because I’m not sure how long I’ll be here, but they are genera with a lot of possibility for our zone. One story I enjoyed coming across was that of the Benton irises bred by the painter Cedric Morris Cedric Morris (who is credited with breeding one of the first pink irises and a subsequent pink ’Strathmore’ that won some accolades at Chelsea in 1948). Apparently he dedicated a field to growing over a 1,000 of his own crosses. You can see some beautiful photos on Dan Pearson’s site and read a detailed catalogue entry of the painting ‘Iris Seedlings’ about the connection between Morris’ art and irises.



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Weekly Links: A tulip endorsement


I’ve always said that when in doubt about what flowers to get for someone, buy tulips. They’re generally cheerful and they keep growing in the vase so that every day the arrangement is slightly different. The Dutch grow hundreds of varieties of tulips, from weird parrots to dainty frills. These are double tulips called ‘Flaming Evita,’ which I’m pretty fond of. I love how full the doubles get.

Right now you can even find tulips that haven’t flown across the ocean. BC tulips are everywhere and at the Strathcona Market you can buy some from Red Deer! So for Valentine’s Day, skip the roses and grab some tulips instead. A fresh and dynamic choice – much like your relationship, right?




Humans of New York has done some great work but it doesn’t get much better than helping a student and his school principle raise over a million dollars, visit the Ellen show and sit with the President in the Oval Office

 Stile Antico sings ‘Agnus Dei’ from William Byrd’s ‘Mass for Five Voices’

Snowdrops of the Chelsea Physic Garden (Love the idea of a snowdrop theatre!)

High End Dumpster Diving - mom didn’t seem too keen when I told her you could make $100,000+ doing this

Orange glazed polenta cake (for some reason I have a cornmeal craving)

Saipua florals in Mexico

The perfect tea shop, Bellocq

A make-ahead potato gratin

I’m really sad that Gardenimport has closed right when I need an exotic bulb source in Canada, but happy to have stumbled across this article on growing summer bulbs in pots

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Winter Madness


Hellebores in NYC in December

I struggle in January – it always seems never ending, and I had forgotten what it is to be staring down 5 months until “spring” (which is the term I use to describe the last two weeks in May – others have been known to employ “hogslop”). After living in the East, where I usually had snowdrops in February and reliably had early bloomers by mid-March to look forward to, January in Alberta has seemed interminable. But last week the muscari I forced (in the beer fridge my brother graciously loaned me) finally started to bloom and things seemed doable.


Muscari ‘Artiste’ from Botanus and one of mom’s forced hyacinths

The fridge is now filling up with little pots of seeds that need to be chilled. I’m trying a bunch of new stuff: annuals, perennials, bulbs. I’m sure I will have pretty high failure rates, but for the price, seeds offer a great return in anticipation and the opportunity to try stuff no one else has. Some seeds will be going outside into the snow in the next few weeks, while others will be warmly tended with heat mats under my new grow lights.

It reminds me of when dad decided we should grow native grasses, which have all kinds of weird requirements for germination. Unfortunately, meeting those requirements was the most exciting thing about them – they eventually were labelled weeds and removed. Sorry dad! But on the plus side you clearly imparted some lunatic impulses towards growing novel things.


My NARGS seed exchange haul

I am also working on possibilities for grand adventures next winter. Every time I go to complain I consciously remind myself that this is a choice – no one has to live like this. People ask if I miss NYC, and I do, every day, but I don’t regret leaving. NYC couldn’t easily commit to my demands for a garden so we had to part terms. Now I just need to figure out where I can find that commitment. If it means a little globe wandering, well, now’s the time right? If anyone has any thoughts let me know! I am currently looking at UK gardening opportunities.


Mahonia (about to burst into fragrant, yellow bloom) and Red Sprite Winterberry on the High Line in December


Buttermilk Tangelo Scones

A fascinating article on archiving the web

I made these chocolate brownies with peanut butter frosting last night – pretty great. I skipped the salt because unsophisticated.

Great furniture picks – I think current internet taste is finally infiltrating my brain. Related: the new Ikea line which is awesome!

Listening to this performance by Lake Street Drive from Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis, which is on Netflix Canada. So much talent on display – worth a watch.

Cool trailer for a pixel-inspired dance show via Kottke

Lost buildings of London

From the same blog: Christmas Meat Auction – I bet Shaun wishes there was one of these in Saskatoon

Impossible chocolate flan

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Almond Acorns


This year we decided not to get a tree, mom donated or threw out most of our Christmas decorations, and for the first time I am not hosting any baking parties as many of my friends are traveling or not coming home for Christmas this year. I’m struggling to find the annual rhythm, but one thing remains the same, Christmas cookies must be made. While Aunty Cathy has me beat currently with her multiple batches of nanaimo bars, and gingerbread cookies, I vowed I will turn it around this week. I made the classic Almond Acorns from Canadian Living this weekend and forced my cousins into dipping them for me. I have fond memories of making these with Monika, likely for the first time in 2001, when this magazine was published. She was a fan of the whimsical shape but I think everyone can get behind their crumbly nuttiness. I would recommend not grinding the almonds too fine (stoneground cornmeal, not flour texture) to get the best out of them.

Other holiday favorites:
Peppermint Sandwich Cookies
Nanaimo Bars
Maple Pecan Cookies
Gooey Butter Cookies
Sugar Cookies

Almond Acorns
Adapted from Canadian Living
Depending on size of cookies makes anywhere from 3 – 5 dozen

1 1/3 cups raw almonds
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups salted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (preferably dark)
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
6 0z semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1. Roast almonds at 350F for 10 minutes or until toasty and fragrant. Cool and then grind the almonds with 1/4 cup of granulated sugar in a food processor. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, cream butter with remaining white and brown sugar. Stir in vanilla.

3. Add 1 cup of flour and 1/2 tsp baking powder and mix until just combined, before adding remaining flour. Stir in almond mixture. If dough seems excessively sticky add in more flour or chill for 1 hour.

4. Roll into balls and pinch one end to form a tear drop shape, placing finished cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Chill for 1 hour or up to one day.

5. Bake at 350F for 12 min., or until the sides are lightly gold. Ideally bake one pan at a time, but I usually do two at a time, rotating at the 6 minute mark. Let cool on pan for 5-10 minutes before transferring to a rack. Let cool completely before dipping as cookies are very tender.

6. Melt chocolate (I prefer the microwave at around 70% power for a minute or less at a time, stirring at each interval). Dip the rounded end of each cookie in chocolate to resemble an acorn cap. Place on waxed paper and chill briefly to set the chocolate. I advise storing the cookies between layers of waxed paper to keep them looking their best.


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Even better than your favourite Christmas cookies


The month of Christmas baking is upon us! Our first batch included the stalwart maple pecan cookies (orange zest extremely optional) and, since Jess is on a mission to cook her way through the Duchess Bake Shop book, florentines. My cousin met this combination with “oh $#!&, my favourite cookies and some even better ones!” With near universal accolades, Jess and I still agreed that a pure shortbread or pate sucree base to the florentines may be preferable to the slightly crumbly almond dough used in the Duchess recipe. (Next up on the blog, we report back from our experiments with the near universally acclaimed nanaimo bar recipe! Stand by!) You can find a fairly similar recipe for almond bars here. Or perhaps these salted caramel shortbreads are more your speed?

If you’re also starting to think about holiday baking you can find cookie recipes under the Recipe Recommendations header. I have also put together a quick guide to cookie party hosting, if that’s your jam!

Mom might appreciate this malted chocolate cake recipe
Good dates necessitate sticky toffee pudding or perhaps this smooth date custard tart
I have been enjoying reading Ian Young’s Bulb Log – maybe you would like to consider growing your bulbs from seed too (if you can wait a number of years for a bloom!)
Does anyone have a hardy rose they swear by (other than rosa glauca)?
Love Kelly and this interview!
And, in case you were wondering, at no time has Sarah stopped being inspirational. 
Great gardening, great photography, this blog post is a gem
An interview with Chris Rock which I enjoyed: “When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.”

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Introducing Amy Sanderson Flowers


So as you may have surmised, I am no longer New York-based. It was time for a change and while leaving has not been an easy decision (cue Coldplay), I think it will prove to be the right one. Of course, I moved partly so I could have my own garden again (October was full of much digging!) but also to explore other careers besides the one I went to school for.

To that end, over the last few weeks I have been putting together a website for my new floral design business based in Edmonton. I hope you take a minute to visit – you may recognize a few of the photos, but I put some new ones up on the blog there for you as well! I’m excited about the future, even knowing it will be full of hard work and learning from mistakes. Flowers and plants have my heart and nothing makes me happier than sharing that love with others.

I’m not going to abandon this blog right now – the winter is long and there are a number of recipes and links that will inevitably need to be shared. Plus I anticipate that there will be more gardening projects through the coming year! Who else is going to appreciate my attempts to germinate auriculas or force anemones? But I will take the opportunity now to say thank you for sticking with me through these last few years as I descended further into the depths of plant obsession. (Un)fortunately, despite an early focus on flour-related topics on this blog, flowers have come out on top. That being said, Jess and I are now back in the same city, regularly elbowing each other out of the way of the stand mixer and making questionable french pastries, so maybe I speak too soon!

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