Summer Fluff of the Cottonwood Tree

cottonwood seed pods

Cottonwood seed pods explode into a summery fluff.

If you are anywhere near a Cottonwood tree (Populus deltoides, a member of the poplar family) you’ll experience a seasonal event in summer when the seed pods of the female trees ripen and explode, causing fluff to fly everywhere. I caught this one in mid-explosion at the beach on Lake Ontario. You might notice piles of fluff and not know where it came from, as it blows in the wind very easily. The tiny seeds are attached to the fluff, and are spread by the wind or anything the fluff attaches itself to, much like a dandelion seed.

The Eastern Cottonwood is a tall tree—one of the largest in North America—with thick, papery leaves that make their presence known in more ways than one. Another is sound. There was a massive one in my neighbourhood, (until lightning struck it) and I loved the particular sound of the leaves rustling in the wind. Yes, some trees are noisier than others! Maybe Cottonwoods’ sonic force is due to the coarsely-toothed leaf edges. Cottonwoods have a lot of visual clues that help you identify it. I like this description of the seed pods from The Tree Pages:

Fruits are capsules on long pendulous catkins appearing somewhat like green beads on a necklace.

Cottonwoods grow happily along our lake front and in many parks and ravines. They are a bit large for most home landscapes.

Cottonwood trees are the fastest growing trees in North America. A young tree can add 6 feet or more in height each year. This rapid growth leads to weak wood that is easily damaged.

The trees can grow to well over 100 feet tall, with eastern species sometimes reaching 190 feet. The canopy of a mature tree spreads about 75 feet wide, and the diameter of the trunk averages about 6 feet at maturity.

In fall, the leaves turn a bright yellow, adding to the beauty this tree provides. We are lucky in Toronto to have so many cottonwood trees as part of our large tree canopy.

The Tipping Point and Natural Wildlife Gardens

monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly on verbena bonariensis flower.

Is the desire for natural gardens—along with a concern for pollinators like bees and butterflies—at a tipping point? I’m beginning to think so. Now that so much of our world is technologically driven, urban, half concrete-based and half virtual, there’s an instinctual movement back towards the natural world. The urge is primal—a longing for the natural—for, as Joni Mitchell once wrote, “getting back to the garden”.

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Organic Detox



There is a bit of a fad that has spent the last few years gaining traction, but recently, as often happens in the case of many fads once the facts are in, is now spinning its wheels. You’ve heard of it, you may have even had a go at it; “detoxing”.

The idea is, many of us are guilty of eating a lot of unhealthy foods, too much sugar, trans fats, processed foods with preservatives and additives, maybe we have overindulged at a party and feel the need to get rid of what we perceive to be an accumulation of toxins stored in our bodies.

Certainly one’s heart is in the right place if one wishes to remove the traces of these excesses, sort of like going to confession after sinning. But recent research indicates that it doesn’t work this way. Continue »

The Time To Plant a Tree: As Soon As You Can


Trees like this red maple give you great fall colour, shade, raise property values.

Trees like this red maple give you great fall colour, welcome shade, and raise property values.

They say the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, and the next best time is today. I keep that advice in mind, especially the part about today. There’s no use regretting the unplanted trees of years’ past. It can be easily remedied: Plant one today. Or on the weekend. Or next week. Let’s just say, commit to planting a tree in the near future. And May is a perfect time to do it. (April is good too. And fall. In fact, you can plant a tree anytime, as long as you commit to keeping it watered for the first few months.)
Few things make me happier than seeing the trees I actually did plant over twenty years ago. They tower over me, barely resembling the sprigs I brought home in plastic pots.
Perennials may come and go, but trees last almost forever. At least, longer than most of us will ever see.

A tree changes the neighbourhood it’s planted in for the better, and it also affects your property values. Houses in neighbourhoods with trees are valued higher, and sell faster than those without. A tree on your property directly affects your property value, says Fiesta Gardens customer and local real estate agent, Josée Couture. Trees on your property can increase the value between 6 and 15%. Josée is also a Master Gardener, so she knows about growing things. “Money doesn’t grow on trees, but money grows with trees,” says Josée. Forget that fancy bathtub, a tree may be the better investment. Says Josée, in her latest video:

Did you know that a mature tree can increase your property value? Trees are a necessity for life which is why The City of Toronto has very strict By-laws about removing shade trees. But in addition to all the environmental benefits of having a mature tree, planting a shade tree is one of the best investments you can make to add value to your property.

Even a small tree, or a collection of small trees and shrubs is worth planting, and can make your front garden almost maintenance-free.

Lettuce Rejoice



We love our lettuce. Crunchy Iceberg, tender Boston, Bibb, flashy red leaf lettuce-perfect for lettuce wraps-and good old stout Romaine, we all have our favourites and they all occupy a special place in our hearts and in our crispers, our salads, soups, wraps and sandwiches. Can you imagine a BLT without the lettuce? Well, in addition to requiring a name change for that sandwich it would be just wrong. A few leaves of crisp, fresh, hydrating lettuce is de rigeur in most sandwiches and burgers, offering a satisfying and refreshing crunch to counter the soft bread or bun, as well as adding the benefits of at least a little green vegetable goodness as you wolf down another hamburger. Continue »