Thursday, December 31, 2009


"One resolution Eve and I have made for the New Year is that we will keep a photographic record of our garden month by month. We have settled on twelve spots in the garden of which we shall take a photograph on the first day of every month or as near the first as weather conditions will allow. This pictorial record of the same spots at the same dates year by year should be interesting."
From: Adam and Eve in a Garden, page 202 February 1934 issue.

Good idea Adam! I am going to try to achieve the same in mine...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Excerpt from "The Garden" February 1934, Pg 200. These excerpts are part of a diary written as part of a husband and wife banter under the title "Adam and Eve in the Garden"

Dec 24
"It has always been considered ungracious to look a gift horse in the mouth but I couldn't help looking several Christmas gifts which have arrived today in the mouth. And I shall have to perjure my soul when I write thank-you letters for them. As usual, these are from friends who are not gardeners themselves but know I am; think they are clever in sending me "something for the garden." There should be a general rule that nobody who is not him - or herself a working gardener should ever buy any tool or gadget for one who is."

Dec 26
To economise space under cover of glass, we decided that early strawberries and French beans in pots could be dispensed with - in fact are not worth the trouble and space....

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Young Love

Photo of Kale, thoroughly enjoying digging potatoes in the summer.

... The lesson I have thoroughly learnt, and wish to pass along to others, is to know the enduring happiness that the love of a garden gives.
GERTRUDE JEKYLL: Wood and Garden

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Peggy"s Patio

What a great little space Peggy's husband has created for her in their tiny back yard! These wooden "tiles" - purchased and installed by Peggy's husband are a good example of a creative and beautiful effect in a small space... and yes- that is one of the upcoming titles in my new book series... more info to follow as all the details come together- now back to work.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tomatoes you have known and Grown

Cohen's favorite eating tomato is this green zebra ... what is your fav?

I am seeking the names of tomatoes Calgary Gardeners love and asking for reasons you love them!

Send in the names of tomatoes you grow and tell me why they are a favorite of yours ...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What Have I been Up to?

It is hard to imagine a faster month gone by. In the month since I put away my steel-toed boots and stacked my tools in storage- why have I been too busy to write?

I am in thinking mode and in writing mode but not in writing Blog mode. I have been reading all the various garden books I have bought over the years including one from 1908 . I am worse than the proverbial "kid in the candy shop" - It really is a gorging event. This is my "education season" and I have been waiting years to do it. Instead of staying in Calgary to read and write amid distractions of "real" work and visiting with friends I have come to the coast with all my books and I am doing exactly as I dreamed. I am reading and writing and thinking. I am keen to start a new book but not a book that simply repeats all the old wive's tails and adjective filled descriptions of plants or step-by-step instructions to do this or that. I was looking for a single "good idea".

I recently came upon a set of magazines called "The Garden" published monthly by Theo A. Stephens starting in January 1934. With a subtitle "An intimate magazine for garden lovers", Stephens opened with a personal foreward. "For many years it has been my ambition to produce a gardening paper" starts Stephens. "The type of magazine I have always visualized was a de luxe production, taking advantage of modern methods of reproduction by colour printing, photogravure and fine screen half tone.... a small intimate book, simple and friendly".

Coincidentally I have also been dreaming of writing "a friendly small intimate" book (not a monthly magazine). I have considered producing a series of small books covering tasks people tell me they want more information on. It will be a distillation of my thirty years of gardening experience with a dash of my collected book knowledge. And it won't come together quickly. It is a luscious and fun task and I am in no hurry to complete it! The working title for the series is almost a done deal and the first book in the series is in the works with many titles and ideas on the board. Meanwhile I am also enjoying modern non-gardening reading and have almost finished "Cradle to Cradle". In a few weeks I leave for an extended visit to New Zealand where I hope to keep "working" in a comparative way on my various garden ideas.

Meanwhile I will fill this blog with bits and pieces from "The Garden" and other books I am reading so that there is something to fill the blank pages of my blog as I pursue my dream.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Plants back to life? Anita was right

My horrible dry and frozen leaves have thawed and look normal now and just may get normal fall colour.

A week ago I was worried that my life (as a gardener this season) was over! The temperatures dipped to minus 15 celsius and the leaves on trees including my little silver maple were horribly crispy and shrivelled. Registered Consulting Arborist Anita Schill told me not to worry. Trees that are horribly dry may need water, she said but everything else will be okay. I am publishing a photo of a leaf from the same maple I was so worried about a few weeks ago. It has thawed, come back to life and looks like it will go into normal fall colour and perhaps senesce normally. Go figure. You were so right Anita!

Remember if your leaves have not dropped and do not look like "normal" fall leaves you must get out and water right now. While the soil is still alive. Don't wait until February to think about this. In all many gardening years this is the first time I have seen heavy freezing as a general rule on trees in the fall before the leaves have dropped.

Empty Water Barrels Now

Well --- I drained my water barrel and then placed a container under it to catch the last of the water, tightened the tap - and then I went away. When I came back it had snowed and the melted snow has filled the barrel again! Okay - truth is it is time to physically disconnect the barrel and put it in the garage or upside down beside the house for winter. A rain barrel is a big item but if it is not put away and kept dry it might split and break during one of our freeze/dry cycles this winter... And it is not just me- Clean Calgary also reminds us to empty barrels and their argument is convincing- open the tap and empty it out today! Before it gets cold again. We are not living on Vancouver Island - we are in Alberta!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The End of Summer?

Yes there is snow on the ground this morning. I guess this is good for oil prices?

It is definitely too early for temperatures this cold and the trees know it. After a warmer than expected fall with a leisurely and extended summer the frost came and it stayed. The first few frosts started turning the leaves and we had a bit of fall colour coming on. Some hardy old poplars even shed their leaves. Good for them. Now it is so bloody cold we are all checking on last minute seat sales and passport renewals. The trees can't leave town so they are stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place. Many leaves have frozen rigidly on the stems before they started to change colour and this is the worst case scenario.

What it means is that no abscission layer was formed between the leaves and the stems. Instead of slowly pulling in all the reusable nutrients and storing them away in the roots for use again next year, the leaves and stems froze rigidly on many trees and shrubs and the nutrients are now locked in the dead leaves and are hanging on instead of falling off. Woody plants and even old standby perennials like peonies usually put the minerals and sugars and nitrogen back into the roots and that way they have a resource come spring. The plants were caught with their pants down. Some arborists are not as worried. To paraphrase Anita Schill, Registered Consulting Arborist with Tree & Leaf in Calgary: "The short days have triggered plants to begin to acclimatize ... they have been storing away food for a month already" she said. She is not worried trees will lose all their hard labour and nutrients with this sudden turn of events and thinks there is something we can do to save them - water, water and water.

The nutrients will be reused by the tree if they are left on the ground because eventually the woody plant can bribe a few fungi with sugary photosynthate exuded from their roots and these fungi will break down the dead leaves into its usable components again next spring. I believe stems still holding leaves may now suffer from "winterkill" or freezing because they have too much water still in the cells. Dry trees, Schill emphasizes, are the problem. They are holding dry leaves right now so watering will help because the root fungi are still active and needing moisture.

Not just a sad day for gardeners, it is a sad day for new trees planted this year that may not have the reserves in place to fully overwinter. We won't really know until next May but it isn't looking good for any new plantings or lush growing plants right now. I agree with Schill- get out and check your moisture. The snow we've had is not enough for the soil borne organisms - give them a break by watering now.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Snow, Compost & Fall Bulbs

It was a busy weekend of emptying the old compost bin and spreading it; draining our water barrel for the winter; watering in the peonies we moved and finally planting the bulbs and spreading a yard of commercial compost. Yes it happened all at once. I ordered compost and just as it came the weather turned and it started raining. By the time the bulbs (Allium christophii and Allium Mount Everest - see first two photos above) were planted it was starting to snow. Luckily we finished planting bulbs and covering all the beds with compost (see bottom photo of Eagle Lake Black Gold) before it really came down this morning. Now it looks perfect!

The leaves are slow to change colour this year but those that are down were added to our cleaned out bin along with a few kitchen scraps. It is hovering near 2-5 degrees now which is only a shock because it was plus 30 last week. This is all in celcius of course and that means it was very hot and now is so cold. Good thing we are going away for Thanksgiving!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fall Harvest Grass & CBC

I will be bringing some fall grasses with me to CBC radio this friday but meanwhile I have had an image of Foxtail Millet sent to me by John Moore ( Have a look at his beautiful website for more details about the ornamental grasses you can grow here in Alberta such as triticale, millet and old strains of wheat. Very beautiful!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Giant Hydrangeas - was it the compost tea?

This fall my Annabelle Hydrangeas are bigger and better than ever. I wondered how they managed to get so big and if it was the "special" fertilizer I used or the compost tea? I am still making compost but the days are so cool I am not making tea any more. The Sustainable Soil Solutions fertilizer was only applied once so I am not sure if that had any special effect. With the cracks in the soil as it dries out this fall I am also wondering about adding more calcium this fall. Research shows that cracks are often caused by a deficiency such as Calcium and that needs to be sprayed onto the soil instead of the plants so I might do that now. Many of us deal with poor soils and cracks form when the clays shrink. If it is a problem a fertilizer can solve then gardeners need to know.

Meanwhile don't forget to water - it is fall but micro-organisms in the soil are still working and probably need the moisture to do their life's work.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fall is my Favorite time of Year

It is hard to believe how nature keeps ticking even as the evenings get so cold. Remember all insects are cold blooded so they are hiding in leaves and duff and cracks and crannies when it is cold but as soon as it warms up they are out and about on the flowers looking for a little last minute snack. Here I caught a painted lady butterfly on a sunflower.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fall Harvest

With frost pending this week I am hurrying to gather up all the produce. What a beautiful sight this squash makes in the sink. These are all summer squash which means they don't have a long shelf life.

I have also pulled all the tomatoes and they are laid out in boxes between newspaper while they finish ripening. I plan to roast the tomatoes on the barbeque or in a low oven. My favorite is to slice the cherry tomatoes or paste tomatoes in half, brush them with olive oil which has crushed garlic in it. Then I lightly sprinkle sea salt on the works and roast in a low oven for an hour or more. I want things to dry out a bit before I either freeze them or mix them with fresh pasta. Yum, Good.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

1962 Pontiac Landscape

It's the first day of fall - hotter than blazes and I am happy to report I saw the best fall landscape the other day. I was emerging from the LRT and there was the landscaped Pontiac. Complete with a water feature.

Someone had to do it - makes me wish I had a spare pontiac. Or not.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More Fall Colour - from Annuals?

What a surprise to come home to! The asters ordered from Vesey's in January; started from seed in March and planted outdoors in late May have finally bloomed in September. Gardening certainly beats the "slow food" movement in terms of testing patience. And within a few weeks it will all be compost.

But who is thinking about the next few weeks? The reward right now is in the beautiful deep purple blooms spilling over the sidewalk and sprouting between perennials. True to its description, Pavlova Dark Blue Aster is icing on the cake of my 2009 garden.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hardy Korean Maple- Fabulous fall colour

Years ago Byland Nursery in Kelowna gave me three little maple seedlings to trial. They were promoted as similar to Japanese maples but for a cold climate. I was in between gardens at the time so I gave them to three different gardeners in different parts of Calgary. Two out of three survived and the fall colour is amazing!

If you don't have enough fall colour in your yard why not try this plant - especially if you are in an inner city location with good sun and some shelter. This photo was taken today in the SW neighborhood of Spruce Cliff with a spruce hedge behind it and a full west exposure. What a way to welcome the first day of fall.

Happy Surprise!

In happy news a cluster of fall crocus met us at the front door as we arrived home this weekend. When did we plant them or did they come from the previous owners? Who knows and who cares. These simple and beautiful fall crocus are a short-lived and apparently deer proof plant so we love them! If you haven't got any they are still available for sale in the garden centers.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Blue Chiffon Blooms

In a run of bad luck reported earlier this season, my new Blue Chiffon Hibiscus was initially yanked out and cast aside as a dead duck in my Calgary garden. Then, after seeing a single bud emerging from the cast-off root I decided to pot it up and brought it out to God's country - Vancouver Island - in its pot this August.

Planted carefully and fertilized with only the purest enzymes and cold water Kelp, I babied it to the still fragile but stable flower bud stage. Then we got busy on a rotation of bed changing, shopping and cooking for visitors to our west coast getaway. We basically forgot about the buds that had formed and when we got back from "the daughter's" wedding there it was in all its glory. The leaves were all munched away but the blooms were showing their prize winning form.

Sadly, the deer noticed the plant while our killer cat was trapped indoors while we were off to the wedding. Now the deer were back for another taste. As the baby deer posed in all his spots and charms I ran to grab my camera. My husband, dear thing, decided to take the offensive and tried to chase the deer out of the yard in an attempt to figure out how he got in. This produced one very scared deer, once frustrated engineer and a hapless photographer begging everyone to just hold still for a moment so a photo could be snapped.

In lieu of a photo of the deer I snapped a photo of the flower- close enough I hope to show the splendor of the late season, deer attractive plant without illustrating the stripped and naked stems. Is it just me or is this plant a prima donna? Late to come to the party and then attracting all the attention with its tasty and primed leaves. My neighbor reports these plants are so poisonous to deer he had one legs up in his front yard shortly after a late night snack. He felt ripped off because not only had the deer eaten his deer repellent and reportedly poisonous plant, it had died on his front step and the fish and wildlife had refused to pick up the rigid body. In fact they suggested he dig a hole somewhere in his own yard and bury it. It was not enough to provide the last meal, he had to provide the burial grounds as well.

Dear husband has just left the house again for another trip to the hardware store. He is reportedly planning some tweaking to the deer-proof fence he built earlier this year because although he is now getting good at running an unofficial bed and breakfast for relatives I am sure the last thing he wants to add is an animal graveyard. Not yet, anyway.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Name this plant...

A friend gave the  wife of a cousin of my husband the most beautiful impatience plant. What could it be? It came from Ontario originally so I know some of my friends/readers know this one. Help me out.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Codling Moths and Apple Maggots

On CBC radio today I received a question about Apple worms. Andrea from Edmonton wanted to know what to do about holes or worms in her apples. I suggested she pick up the apples on the ground right away but also that she get traps for next year so that this problem is diminished. Many organic growers are also finding Pheromone traps are effective and studies done in BC confirm these traps may be better than sprays so these new products are all worth testing.

Traps are available on-line and at some garden centers but they need to be installed in the spring when the moths are flying. Here is an excerpt from a web page selling the apple maggot taps:

Red plastic spheres that mimic apples and catch apple maggot flies on their sticky surfaces. We are glad to offer reusable traps, which you can order in bulk or in kits. The kit contains everything you need to set up 3 complete traps (optional apple scent lure may be purchased separately). You may also order the spheres and sticky coating separately. For monitoring, use 1-2 traps/acre. Home gardeners, use about 1 trap/100 apples (2-6 traps per tree, one per dwarf tree). Set the traps out 3-4 weeks after petal fall (mid-June).

Note: Apple maggots are present but are not yet a significant problem. Codling moths are much more common. The damage is easy to distinguish. Apple maggots riddle the fruit, codling moths make an entry and exit hole. See also the Fruit Fly Trap Kit for another apple maggot trap option.

The bottom line is that gardeners need to determine if they have coddling moths or apple maggots and then look online for traps that will work best. Meanwhile, pick up the fruit this fall, cut it open to see what you have and toss it out rather than leaving it on the ground.

Special Crops on Tap

As I arrived at my friend's house she began apologizing for her garden. "I really only grow petunias and margaritas", she explained,  as we looked at her front yard. 

"You are going to have to tell me how to grow Margaritas!" I replied. "That is something all gardeners should know. "

"Oh" - she replied- "I guess they might not be margaritas ... maybe marigolds?"

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Beautiful Boulevards

After struggling with the maintenance needs of our blvds on 4th Street in Calgary I was shocked - no amazed - by the boulevard plantings in Victoria on a recent visit. How do they do it? Well to be honest I guess they just don't have any worries about winter ice or salt so it is a bit easier to have a dazzling display. Or is it simply a priority of the Victoria residents to have beauty everywhere?

This blvd. is in the Cook Street area of Victoria - just across from Beacon Hill Park - notice the brown lawn in the park - obviously they don't water in summer- a time of drought and water restrictions in this Canadian hot spot.

Dahlias are at their peak in Butchart!

Yes I went to Butchart Gardens in Victoria and yes the tourists were glued to their cameras taking pictures of dahlias and roses. So of course I took a picture of tourists taking a picture of Dahlias. Why not? They are at their peak for such a short period and so dramatic right now in this moment of summer end glory. Frost isn't on the horizon for Victoria gardeners but all us Prairie folks know it is coming soon .

Honestly - and back to Dahlias- what other garden annual reaches heights like these but is also available in dwarf plants? It grows in so many colours and shapes and is stunning in bloom in late summer? Sadly it is fleeting beauty and that is why Butchart is so succesful. Unlike the rest of us they can grow plants on in a holding area and bring them out when they need to fill a hole or want a spash of colour. 

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Two Minutes - two wasps

Although I have all the commercial wasp traps at my disposal, I also bought one at the Farmer's market today. This caused a small problem. At this time of year all wasps really want is meat. This is why they are buzzing trees looking for aphids and picnics looking for sandwiches. We had it on good authority they also eat fish.

The only fish we had was the dead fish head in yesterday's garbage.

You guessed it - the handy husband went out to the garage and sifted through you know what looking for you know what. Anyway with fish head in place in the trap we caught the first two wasps in two minutes. Now this is a simple device- an empty can of niblets makes up the base and with entry holes in the can the wasps fly in looking for the fish and then up into the screened portion and then you guessed it - they are trapped. All this for 12 dollars and a fish head. The price is right and dinner will be wasp free tonight.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bubbles with a bug inside

Nancy wondered about a problem on her very old Poplar tree - it was probably "an original" in the city she thought and it had "Bubbles with a bug inside".

Dr. Ken Fry, Entomology Instructor at Olds College had already helped me out with this problem last summer so I called up his notes:
"The moth species mining poplar and willow have one generation per year. The larvae feed within the leaf during the summer and then spin a silken cocoon in the mine to pupate. The adult emerges in late July or early August. The adult overwinters in leaf litter or debris on the ground. Eggs are laid on either the upper or lower leaf surface in the spring. The larvae then chew their way into the leaf.
       My neighbour has this moth infesting his willow. I also saw this leaf miner on old poplar at the Confederation golf course. A systemic insecticide (one that is injected into the tree and the tree delivers the insecticide to all tissues) would be effective. The reason "Cygon", the commonest systemic insecticide used by homeowners has been removed from sale is it is very toxic to humans and the majority of pests it was used against are not very serious and did not justify the use of such a toxic product (as judged by today's standards).
       Commercial applicators do have systemic products registered for such purposes. However, Donna is correct in mentioning that your trees are in the twilight years of their life and beginning to decline. Insects and diseases exploit this decline in vigour and attack the tree. It is merely another step in the cycle. The tree will eventually die and be recycled by wood-boring insects, wood peckers, leaf-cutter bees nesting in the rotting wood, etc.
       Leaf miners will not cause the death of the tree, merely stress it. As Donna has said, providing nutrients and ample water will allow the trees to weather the assault from the moths. Plan for the future by planting replacement trees now and be sure to have an arborist evaluate the trees as they age for risk of blow-down in a storm."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Moving Plants and other nonsense

I brought a full sized (ie 5 gallon pot) tomato plant with me to the coast. This is partially because I have come here at the wrong time in terms of my garden in Calgary. The plant had green fruit but alas nothing even a California exporter would consider shipping. If you've read yesterday's post you know I have come here at the right time - it is freezing cold there and nice and warm here. Anyway I brought this full and "giant" plant in the back of  the car with a dog and a cat and an assortment of other plants that just really weren't working in Calgary - a miniature rose and a chi-chi 'Chiffon Blue' Hibiscus. 

But back to the tomato - I was imagining ripe fruit on this plant I  had started from seed in mid-March, transplanted twice as it grew and watered carefully with tepid water on alternating days. Ever the optomist I didn't want the fruit to be ripe in Calgary when I was on the coast so I dutifully put it out by the car and my very patient husband dutifully loaded it into the car. "Wrap it in newspaper" , I suggested, "to keep the leaves from being crushed if the cat decides he would rather ride in the back".

The Proven Winner's Chiffon Blue Hibiscus came to me free last summer as a trial plant shipped to Calgary. It was a "new for 2009" plant and of course - by summer's end - I was reading rave reviews about the fabulous blooms -written by every single garden writer in Toronto - even as my plant was barely getting its second leaf.  I  was fed up with my loser plant and ready to throw it away when I saw it was dead this spring. Too bad, so sad, I thought as I ripped it out to make room for the next winner-  and then - there is was - a small bud of life at the base of the plant and it was only June 25th! 

Chiffie was alive. Clearly I had to pot it, carefully adding compost to the soil, and hold it over until our departure. I had to shelter it from hail and heavy storms and by August it was rewarding me with three or four leaves!  I knew it was destined to come with us to the coast. At this size it couldn't possibly tolerate another prairie winter. 

The three amigos arrived here in good shape and one of the jobs I had to do this week was plant them in their new locations. Not their final locations, mind you, since I need to make sure they are watered and deer free for at least a season. Well- what am I saying - no matter what I do that tomato is doomed in the next 60 days even in Canada's Hawaii. Lets just say all three plants were given a second chance in the vegetable garden which of course make sense for the tomato but the other two? What they don't know won't hurt them. 

Friday, August 14, 2009

Call me Amazed...

Yes it is summer but in most of Alberta this means cold wet weather (plus 9 today in Calgary). Out East they had similar weather all July. "Only three days all month without rain in July" said our friends from Montreal. All this weather talk is partially why we pack up and come to the west coast for August. 

One of the things I love to do here is go to the farmer's market. All the great produce, happy hogs and truly free range eggs are right here. Imagine my joy when Kathy Zipp from the Qualicum Beach farmer's market encouraged me to come to her farm. I was curious - of course- about local farming methods and jumped right on it. 

Now imagine my amazement when I arrived at Kathy's farm and everything was being grown in greenhouses in what I consider the warmest and mildest climate in Canada. From seeds started indoors in January and planted out into the greenhouse in spring Kathy has produced huge onions. She also has carrots, corn and edible flowers in bloom as well. And everything is growing under cover. I guess this keeps the deer out and keeps the temperature moderate. All the beds are raised but otherwise look like they are outdoors and the crop is fabulous. 

Of course when I got lost going to Kathy's I came upon a strawberry farm. Learning that all their fertilizing was done by helicopter based on tissue analysis was fun and educational. Okay - seriously - it is warmer here and people also garden differently. If I am going to learn it all I might need a bit more time.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Shirley's Rose probably has "Balling"

Last week Shirley from Calgary phoned me at CBC radio in Calgary to ask about her Morden rose. It was forming large flower buds but instead of opening up normally the large fluffy buds fall off when she touches them. I was shocked and surprised. I had not heard of this problem - a cause of great excitement for me but obviously not for Shirley. When I was off the air I called Joan Altenhof at the Calgary Rose Society. Joan is one of the many people cooperatively  writing the  book "Growing Roses in Calgary" so she is in the know.

Joan immediately knew the problem - it is called  "Balling" - and  it is common in Morden Fireglow roses - so she assumed that Shirley's rose is this cultivar. Joan has solved the problem in her own garden by shovel pruning. If you are not familiar with this drastic measure - in involves digging up and tossing out the plant.  Joan has an extensive rose collection and numerous plants in the Morden group and only Fireglow regularly had this problem so obviously this plant is no longer growing in Joan's garden. Sometimes "Balling"  is caused by cool spring weather but since it was continuously happening with Morden Fireglow she felt it was just a problem with the plant. Because she has tossed the plant she couldn't send along a Fireglow image so she sent me balling in a different rose. In this photo you will see the flower bud also has Botrytis disease (ie browning) but balling doesn't always lead to Botrytis.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Blackberries are ready early!

Yes the wild foraging continues. This week the wild blackberries are ready and they are mother's nectar! Big bold and black. Even though it has been dry on the coast there seems to be more fruit than I can remember. Maybe it is a stress response - many plants bloom more if the conditions are stressful and the drought and heat on the coast this summer has definitely been over the top.

Most people think of the coast as lush and green but there is a very dry season in the summer when the lawns go brown and the plants just sit and wait.  We spread the fish compost this spring on the lawn and are on a modified watering program and it seems to have worked because the lawn was "pale" green until it rained and then it quickly brightened with the heavy rain the other night. 

Back to the blackberries ... pies to be made 

Monday, August 10, 2009

It's Summer and the photo is changing

Gardeners may have gotten used to my "professional photo" but that has now changed. I went on an amazing hike and had to include a photo among the blooms in Mount Assiniboine, BC. So beautiful a place I thought it was worth including for the time being. 

Right now I am continuing to hike and garden and gather wild foods as I spend August in my "retirement" home on the coast. 

Lacewing Larva

Yes- it's true - here is another photo from Terry Altenhof of a lacewing larva. Check out those giant mandibles! 

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Predators to our rescue

Terry Altenhof took an amazing photo of the eggs of two predators in his rose garden. Both types of predators are seen here on a single leaf. These are the all important egg stage photos of the lady beetle and the lacewing. 

Why are they so important you might ask? They are important because people do not recognize the eggs of ladybugs and lacewings. Because they don't recognize them they might squish them at this fragile egg stage.  What a boon to the garden the larvae (ie. young hatchlings) and fully grown adults (ie ladybugs and lacewings)  are with their voracious appetites for aphids. Lacewings -see white eggs suspended on small stems-  and ladybeetles - see the yellow eggs - both eat aphids at both the larval and adult stage. Does anyone have a shortage of aphids this year? No - I didn't think so. We are already well into our second generation in Calgary. Maybe the ladybugs and lacewings will catch up to the aphids by fall. Cross your fingers and look for eggs and the young black larvae of lady bugs ... I wonder what a lacewing larva looks like?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Spittle Bug Photo from Ken

Ken has sent me a photo of his spittle bug... it literally looks like spit on your plant. Like aphids, this is a true bug and has the ability to feed directly from plant- sucking (or rather imbibing) plant sap. But first it secretes this "juice" that looks like spit and hides inside the spit while it feeds. This bug doesn't really do a lot of damage but like other plant feeding bugs may spread virus to plants it feeds on. 

Simply hose it off plants as you see it. No big deal.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Veggies on the Balcony

Little Kale is three and he keeps asking to go look at my balcony vegetable garden. I used to have a vegetable garden in the ground but that is a long story. The short story is that I gave Kale a little paintbrush last week and showed him the male and female squash flowers and showed him how he could take some pollen from the "boy" flower and move it to the "girl" flower.

He did that last friday, touching both parts with his fingers as well as his paint brush. "It is so sticky" he said as he touched the girl flower. "All the better for the pollen to grab on to" I replied. Well, that was last friday and today - Monday- there is a little squash where his efforts were put to good use. It's amazing how much is ready on my tiny space - looks like rapini is on tap now as well as lettuce, basil, peas and parsley. The squash are only a few weeks away and the tomatoes are in full form but no red ones yet. The whole balcony is only 2 meters by 2 meters but it is the sunniest part of my yard because it is on the second story so it is ideal for sitting and pondering veggies!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bloomerang Lilac Featured in MACLEAN'S magazine this week

 MACLEAN'S featured a plant (on page 44) this week!  It is totally amazing how far the breeders of this new lilac have gone to promote it. The article reads as if it is an exceptional plant that everyone will be clamoring for. In fact it seems like quite an ordinary plant so far and zone 3 gardeners (myself included) are still unsure if it is an improvement over the regular little leaf lilac (Syringa meyeri palibin). Both plants are supposed to bloom twice. Both are purple and both have a small habit. 

Here are two photos - the top is the new Bloomerang in bloom in late June in Calgary and the bottom one is a more mature "no name" little leaf lilac in Edmonton in late June. Neither one looks anything like the French lilac which is featured prominently in the MACLEAN'S piece (photo page 44, July 27, 2009 article).

As I said - the jury is out.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Powdery Mildew

In case you were wondering how powdery mildew differs from Fireblight here is a photo of powdery mildew on Dahlias on the older leaves. Not a pretty picture but definitely not fireblight!

On trees powdery mildew often looks like a very faint dusting of white on the leaves with some cupping of the leaves.

Fireblight- Yikes

A few weeks ago I was called in to look at an apple tree that had "fireblight"... it turned out it only had powdery mildew and the homeowner was relieved but I wondered how an arborist,  a neighbor and a homeowner could all be confused about this very distinctive disease so when I saw this Mountain Ash with actual fireblight I had to photograph it. 

The symptoms are very distinctive and you never forget them. The tree looks like it has been burned and sometimes only one or two branches are affected. In this case most of the tree in the park was affected. For the safety of the surrounding trees it should be removed. Check other references for more detail about this bacteria and it's control.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Favorite Peonies

I was chatting via e-mail with peony grower Bob Yaremko of Parkland Perennials in Northern Alberta ( and since he mentioned the peonies are still in bloom there I happened to ask him what his favorite peony was....

Of course politically correct Bob loves all his peonies but especially Jean Ericksen, an anemone type with strong stems, secondary buds and a long blooming season. I am so glad I asked! We are soon coming up to Peony planting season and Bob sells by mail order so his website is worth a look. His prices are truly reasonable and plants have arrived in excellent shape in the past. 

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Intensive gardening- remove tillers off corn

Remove side shoots - or tillers as they are known - from corn right now before it blooms to encourage stronger growth and more cobs on the stems left standing. We have such a short season if you leave all the stems some will not have time to produce filled in corn cobs. 

The corn will ripen faster and produce - on average- an extra cob for each tiller removed. See photo which shows main stem (which should be left) and side shoots, which should be removed now.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Veggie Tune-up

Well - it is time to cut back a few veggies to encourage really good root growth. I am talking about potatoes and carrots. If you trim off potato flowers now, the plant will send more energy into making potatoes. Simple and easy - just pinch off the blooms.

Carrots will form small twisted roots if they are not thinned properly so get out there and start "harvesting" the small carrots right now by thinning out the rows. Leave up to a cm between carrots when the final ones are thinned. 

Trim off the curlicue flowers forming on garlic now to encourage bigger garlic cloves (see photo)

PS Check the Calgary Herald this friday for more work to do this time of year.

PPS And pick your peas! You'll get more if you pick them as they form

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Cottony Psyllid - aka dead ash trees- Revised

Listeners to CBC know a lady phoned in about her  Green ash tree  last week - it had not leafed out properly and she was worried about it. Just in case I didn't give enough information about this new pest, the  Cottony Pysllid, I thought I should add a quick blog. Dr. Ken Fry - Entomology instructor at Olds College reminds me this pest is only a problem on Manchurian and Black ash - not on green ash. If a green ash is suffering it is likely from ash plant bug (with noticeable black frass on leaves) or wooly ash aphid with similar curled leaves to the cottony psylllid. If the caller is certain she has a Green Ash that is likely the problem.

If the tree is a Manchurian or Black ash it may have perfectly good leaves one year and be almost dead  the next year but I have suffered from this same problem and my tree is now dead completely and removed. There are no organic cures for this insect yet, but some of the larger tree care companies are now treating it. Again, Dr. Fry says "systemic insecticides injected into the tree have proven to be very effective against the cottony psyllid".

Everything  you need to know about this new pest is at the following web page:

Some Excellent Feedback!

Hello Donna, I wanted to let you know that we are really thrilled with your advice, which you gave us in November 2007.  
We are in Chinook Park ("white house" "kayakers") and the garage was not completed in time to do much last summer.  
However, we have now planted and have found your recommendations to be excellent.  
We are really enjoying the new plants and they all seem to like your choice of location.  

Thanks again, I look forward to your Herald columns and hope you are having a great summer.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Compost Tea - Details this Friday in the Calgary Herald

It seems like a never-ending topic but it is time to fertilize again and - as usual- I have chosen the organic route. This year I tried out my new compost tea maker (a Growing Solutions product purchased last fall in Oregon). Of course I used my own home-made worm castings for the compost component. They of course came from my can-o-worms worm bin... the garbage feeding these worms came .... okay you get the picture - this isn't just fertilizer - this is slow food for plants.

My friend asked why I do it. Why do I make tea when everyone else just opens a package. Well I make bread too and soup from home-made stock. Maybe I am weird but I want to try new and innovative things from scratch. (And this is not my first commercial tea maker - I had a Soil Soup unit a few years back).

So- after 24 hours and a trip to home depo to buy a new sprayer and figure out how to set it up and how to strain my tea I am the proud owner of too much tea. But- heh- I did notice a small change in the powdery mildew on my Dahlias today- Coincidence?

Check out the full article this Friday in the Calgary Herald.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sea Asparagus - a little wild foraging

One of the advantages of visiting the seaside is indulging a new-found passion for foraging. During my last visit it was my delight to find sea asparagus growing wild on the west coast. A gourmet delicacy free for the taking!

Here are some photos of Marionette "picking" with her scissors, Chelsie and Cohen wandering the salt flats and a close-up of asparagus in case any readers are on the west coast in the next few weeks. This plant grows in the marshy areas between high and low tide in the mud flat areas. We googled how to cook sea asparagus and found a great fastfry using water chestnuts and oyster mushrooms. Delightful.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wildflowers(?) in Bloom

On my way home yesterday I took the little train - it ends in Courtney on Vancouver Island and I was early for my plane so I took a little walk around. Imagine my surprise when I saw this "wildflower" meadow in a lot for sale downtown. Usually if a property is sold and the building is bulldozed the land is left to weeds. Good for the developer and the town! Of course these are not really wild flowers in the literal sense. Instead they are probably a mix from a commercial supplier - wildflowers are or should be local plants and many of these annuals are from Europe but - heh- it looks a lot better than an abandoned lot.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Last week Frost - This week Potatoes

Well it isn't just that the weather has gotten better- I have simply changed locales and come to our Island paradise.  Believe it or not the potatoes have taken over the garden which is only strange because I didn't plant any potatoes this year! Planting lettuce and celery in April was the last job before I left clean beds in April.  Here it is early June and I came back to (almost) full grown potatoes. Because baby potatoes make such a fine lunch we have decided to dig a few for that purpose. 

Sunday, June 7, 2009

CBC Question: Will Sumac Grow Here?

 I had a caller ask about sumac on my CBC phone-in show this week so I decided to post a photo of Tiger Eyes sumac. It usually dies back in winter but meanwhile it makes a nice addition to the bed because of it's unusual colour and form. Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) and the native sumac (Rhus trilobata) also work here. I actually love the little native sumac because it is a small round shrub and is very drought tolerant and hardy - it never dies back in the winter.