March 1, 2018
Gardens, food and family

Gardens, food and family

Picture a family around the dinner table, about to enjoy a meal featuring home-grown food. What better way to counter today’s world of technology and instant return? Garden Inspiration decided to explore how families are passing on the tradition and love for gardening, and what inspires the next generation to dig in for themselves.

Container gardening enchants children

  Adult container gardening with two small children
Paul Zammit gardening with his grandsons Alex and Quinn.
“I like fun and relatively simple plants that offer lots of colour and fabulous fragrance from both flowers and foliage,” says Paul  Zammit, Nancy Eaton Director of Horticulture at the Toronto Botanical Garden. Garden Inspiration asked Paul’s expert opinion on growing herbs in container gardens with his grandsons, Alex and Quinn.

“It would also include mix of plants to provide varied heights and textures. I also always try and incorporate plants that provide food, while at the same time help to attract and feed pollinators. I am big fan of using curly leaf parsley in all of my planters. The ruffled dark green foliage looks fantastic; it is yummy; it’s great for making small, hand-tied flower arrangements and it is an important food source for swallowtail butterfly larvae.” 

Paul particularly likes African Blue basil for its fragrant foliage, and also because its flowers are edible, a magnet to pollinators and make excellent cut flowers. His other favourite herbs are upright and trailing rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley and ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ basil.

Calendula, nasturtiums, scented geraniums, and borage are also among his recommended edible flowers. Favourite fragrant flowering plants for containers include heliotrope and sweet alyssum. While neither are edible, both are fragrant and attract pollinators.

Paul says, “Avoid containers that are  too small, as these will dry out too quickly and limit overall success. I personally prefer clay pots for their weight and natural colour. Children can personalise their own clay pots using food-safe paint. If a traditional container is not available, consider getting creative and upcycling by using recycling bins, buckets or old baskets. All items must have drainage holes!

“When it comes to growing herbs indoors, I prefer and recommend growing one plant per pot in a six- to eight-inch pot. Provide as much light as possible and increase humidity around plants by placing the pots on a saucer with a layer of gravel. Keep the saucer filled with water, to just under the top of the gravel. The individual potted plants should not be in direct contact with the layer of water.”

A harvest of family memories

  Mark Cullen with daughter Heather and son Ben.
Mark Cullen with daughter Heather and son Ben.
Mark Cullen is Canada’s garden guru, lending his tips and advice to homeowners for many years. His family farm is a summer buffet of enchanting garden paths, towering sunflowers and hollyhocks, and burgeoning vegetable plants. Mark’s daughter, Heather, has found her path in horticulture as both a landscape architect and a beekeeper. Mark’s son Ben is following in his father’s footsteps as a horticulture adviser. We asked Ben and Heather about growing up green.

Did you grow up helping in the garden?
We were in the garden at a young age, but not so sure how much we were helping until I started mowing the lawn as a preteen.
BEN: My earliest memory is actually the smell of wet potting mix in the greenhouse attached to the back of our childhood home, where Dad would start seeds in the early spring. He would let us ‘help’ with filling trays and placing seeds in each cell, but I think we were mostly there to make a mess. My first memory in the garden was at the veggie plot Dad kept at our grandparent’s farm. I remember pulling a carrot from the ground and wiping it on the grass before eating it; before Mom had the opportunity to work it into any recipes.

What has your dad taught you about gardening and the green industry that you have taken into your careers?
He taught us there are various ways to be involved in the industry and areas to move within it. For me, working as a cashier at a garden centre and answering calls for his radio show led to travelling as a gardener throughout Canada and the U.K., which ultimately lead to consulting design work.
BEN: Most of Dad’s advice can be applied pretty broadly, but it’s definitely helped in our careers. I think the most valuable lesson is his persistence and positivity — something we try our best to emulate, even on bad days. Specific to the green industry, he definitely drew my attention to the broad sense of camarderie which exists. Maybe it’s a function of everyone knowing each other, but integrity and mutual respect runs deep. Dad’s very aware of that.  

Heather, how did you get interested in beekeeping, and do you use the honey you collect in recipes?
The increased importance of pollinators, with the great reviews of the Toronto Botanical Garden beekeeping course, piqued my interest to sign up. The year-long course exceeded my expectations, which encouraged me to get more practical experience. Being my first year with my own bees, I chose not to harvest honey and leave it for the bees this winter. I love to make granola with lots of honey, and nothing beats a slice of toast with creamed honey.

What do you hope to teach your children about gardening?
Mostly, I hope Neil gains an appreciation for gardening — whether it is the sustainability aspects, health benefits, design appreciation, community building or career opportunities.
BEN: Much like Heather’s Neil, my nephew, I hope that  when I have kids they will see the outdoors as a place to learn and enjoy. I don’t think it will require a whole lot of guidance, I’m pretty sure “outdoor wiring” is mostly genetic.

Do you have a favourite recipe from your mom you would like to share, that uses vegetables or fruits you helped your dad grow?
We would probably agree that Mom’s applesauce is a pretty staple, harvest-menu item. Dad’s reluctance to spray his apple trees provides ample seconds for Mom to put through the food mill, and her reluctance to add sugar makes for a naturally sweet and tart taste that we can only get at home. Dad will have it at any meal, but we like it best served over homemade ginger cake.

Recipe for landscape success

  Frank Ferragine
Frank Ferragine.
Frank Ferragine, Breakfast Television’s Frankie Flowers, is well known for his weather broadcasts and hosting many green-related events. He is from a gardening family that operates Bradford Garden Galleries, a large-scale, full service garden centre in the Barrie area. Garden Inspiration asked Frank for his ideas on how to get your best garden spot.

What are the ingredients for an award-winning garden design?
An award winning garden design must be mindful of its surrounding while blending in and adding value to the aesthetics and function of a space. An award winning design, in my eyes, should be a balance of hardscapes and softscapes, both working together to minimize homeowner headache and add to outdoor enjoyment. An award winning design should use space wisely and design elements should either make a small space feel more grand or a large space feel more welcoming.  

What is your recipe for the perfect planter pot?  
The perfect recipe for a pot is a combination of plants that have texture, colour, and varying heights including a thriller, a spiller and a filler. Pick a combination of plants that will survive in your light conditions and add impact to your space. I’m a fan of monochromatic colour combinations, as simplicity, in my eyes, is elegant and easy!
Can garden centres help homeowners choose plants suitable for their gardens, and help with garden design?
The good ones can; independent garden centres strive to make a homeowner’s shopping experience the best one possible. The good garden centres want you coming back and those same garden centres strive to keep you excited about gardening. If you are successful you will be excited about gardening and the process of garden design. Good garden centres are here to help you every step of the way. My suggestion is, on a May long weekend, garden centres are full-out crazy busy, and getting questions answered isn’t easy due to the volume of customers. I say visit them early in the season and be prepared!
If a condo owner only has a balcony for outdoor space, can a garden centre help choose hardy plants and vegetables that could be grown in pots?
100%! There are so many vegetables that condo dwellers can grow in pots; from tomatoes, peppers, Swiss chard to even potatoes, if you are willing, options are endless. Garden centres are there to help, but a quick Google search for "container-grown vegetables” or a read of my book “Food to Grow” can help too — shameless self promotion.  

Frank suggests these edibles for pots:
Bush tomatoes, Tiny Tim cherry tomatoes, Space Saver cucumbers, Bright Lights Swiss chard, Bush beans, Cayenne peppers, Basil, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Everbearing strawberry ‘Pretty in Pink’

Celebrity: The next generation

  Denis Flanagan with grandson Ethan and daughter Gillian.
Denis Flanagan with grandson Ethan and daughter Gillian.
Denis Flanagan is Landscape Ontario’s very own celebrity. His TV shows taught viewers about growing and caring for indoor plants, and how outdoor gardens can have many looks. He appears regularly at garden club meetings, green industry shows and is a favourite speaker at Canada Blooms. His children, Chris and Gillian, grew up as guests and later work crew on his television show. Gillian, now married with a child of her own, has embraced healthy eating, and along with her neighbour, Farhana, share their green thumbs and the rewards from their urban home gardens.

Gillian’s crops are, “Eggplant, green chili peppers, coriander, ghost peppers, thyme, mint and parsley. We also frequent farmers markets and often share squash, zucchini and pumpkins if we have too many.” She says limited space does not curtail her gardening. For example, she used a rooftop shared with her neighbour Farhana to grow green chilies.

A big gardening motivator is Gillian’s toddler son. “As young parents, Mike and I feel it is imperative that Ethan knows where his food comes from; and for us this means beyond the grocery store! Urban living has some limitations, but we are also fortunate to be living in a city that is embracing urban growing and local markets. We try to go to a market weekly with Ethan so he has exposure to a more traditional format of engaging with your food — land/farmer to consumer. Our hope as parents is to teach our children the benefits of gardening and growing vegetables at home.

“My brother and I grew up in the garden,” Gillian says. “A lot of that time was spent watching Dad and playing around him, I feel that instilled an inherent connection to nature in my brother and me. Boredom didn’t really exist at our house. We craved and lived outside! I want to raise my children with this same sense of comfort and love of nature.”

Food for thought

  Anthony, Lorenzo and Lyanda Pugliese.
Anthony, Lorenzo and Lyanda Pugliese.
School boards have come together with parental groups to ensure every child in school had nutritious food in their lunch boxes to feed their bodies and their minds for learning. Anthony and Lyanda Pugliese are parents to an 18-month old son. Both educators, they see how healthy eating helps children learn better.

As teachers, do you feel healthy eating plays a role in learning?
To learn properly, a young student has to be fully tuned into what lesson they are participating in. This means having good energy levels from proper sleep and nutrition. You can definitely see when a student hasn't had a proper morning breakfast. Also, if they have had an unhealthy lunch. This leads to lethargic participation in the afternoon to lessons, or homework. Even high school athletes are learning the benefits to proper eating.

Are you seeing healthier lunches being brought and served at schools?
There has been a big push in our high school cafeteria to offer healthy options to students. Gone are the days of cheap, high sugar or fat options. The whole menu is geared towards health options. A new phenomenon is student's using SkipTheDishes to order food online to be delivered. Booster Juice is a student body favourite.  

As parents of a youngster in daycare, do you have input on your child's midday meals or do you pack a lunch for your child?
We love homemade food! So our son has learned to love properly prepared, seasoned, and home cooked meals. So this was essential when we were looking into a daycare provider. The location we have, prides themselves on authentic European homemade healthy style meals. We also have a healthy snack ready for him on the ride home during the sometimes long afternoon commute.

What would be some of your suggestions for a healthy 'brown-bag' lunch that kids will actually eat?
You have to be mindful of school restrictions to allergens being brought into the building. Our son loves cucumbers, apples, carrots and hummus, salsa and multigrain nachos. Good snacks are key!
Many garden centres we visit today were started as small family enterprises with big dreams. These families have put heart, soul and many years into seeing their businesses bloom. Take the time to visit your local retail garden centre and be inspired by the products and ideas these family-centred professionals have to help you bring your outdoor space, whatever the size, to life.

To find your nearest retail garden centre and discover the magic in gardening, visit

Garden Inspiration magazine Spring 2018From Landscape Ontario's Garden Inspiration magazine, Spring 2018.

Get your FREE copy at Canada Blooms 2018
March 9-18 at the Enercare Centre, Toronto, Ont.

All images and article copyright of Landscape Ontario