Flowery Prose

Growing words….


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Annual Performance Review, 2014.

It’s time for my Annual Performance Review!

I know, I’m running a bit late this year – there’s been snow on the ground for a couple of weeks now and I cleaned up my garden eons ago.  This is an entry that I ought to have done months ago, but everything kind of got away from me.  Still, it’s never too late to talk about plants that worked, so here are my recommendations for the best of the annuals in my garden this past growing season.  Bear in mind that my soil is the kind of compacted clay that only plastic garden gnomes truly thrive in, and I live on the Prairies, which means that it is blisteringly hot and dry during our summer days, with nighttime temperatures that plummet and hover around the freezing mark.  (I exaggerate, but only slightly).

My flowerbeds are primarily filled with mature perennials – I’ve been working on these beds for just over a decade now and many of the plants are nearly that old (and, sigh, some badly need divisions that I did not manage to get around to even though the weather held beautifully this autumn).  I do like to throw in a few annuals every year, however, just for an extra punch of colour that lasts the full growing season…well, if the rabbits don’t get to them, that is.  This year, I went heavy on the full-sized petunias – truly, they’re not my favourite plants (we sold GAHzillions of them when I worked in the garden centre years ago and now the sight of them en masse stresses me out.  I have a petunia tic, I swear).  But I got a super deal on some really healthy specimens and, to my surprise, they didn’t end up as rabbit fodder.  ‘Picobella Red’ and ‘Pretty Grand Midnight’ did their jobs admirably well, and stood up nicely even though I didn’t water pretty much all summer and the weather was hotter than usual.  Unoriginal, perhaps, but steady, reliable workhorses…which is what you need sometimes in the garden (and in life!).

I only did up two containers this year – and both of them featured the same plants, the combination of which hands-down takes the award for Best Annuals.  If you’re into the whole “Thriller, Spiller, Filler” thing, you’ll be disappointed, because I omitted the filler (actually, the spiller and the thriller had that job covered nicely, anyway).  My goal was to showcase an amazing begonia, the ‘Pegasus’ hybrid from Proven Winners.  If you’ve been following my blog for awhile now, you know I have a thing for begonias, and this one totally made my jaw drop when I uncrated it. ‘Pegasus’ isn’t grown for flowers, but for that incredible foliage.  If you’re a fan of coleus (have you been growing/drooling over the Under the Sea collection from the University of Saskatchewan or are they just a little too off the wall for your tastes?), you’ll appreciate the sophisticated patterning on the leaves of this begonia.  This is a plant that will complement any other – I’m already dreaming of new combos for next year…something in white, perhaps, that will absolutely glow in the shade?

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This year, I paired ‘Pegasus’ with ‘Supertunia Black Cherry’, a petunia hybrid with an attitude.  These fierce beauties didn’t stop blooming even though I occasionally often forgot to water and they were located in a mostly shady spot. They even went through several light frosts, which didn’t faze the begonias, either.   And that colour makes me just plain happy.  :)  These supertunias also performed beautifully in a sunny spot well-suited to them, in the front of one of my perennial beds.

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Do you grow any annual flowers?  Which ones are favourites in your garden?  Are there any you don’t care for at all?

Finally…just for fun…do you start your annuals from seed, or do you pick them up by the flat from the garden centre? 

Look for ‘Pegasus’ begonia and ‘Supertunia Black Cherry’, as well as other new Proven Winner annual selections such as Salvia longisicata x farinacea ‘Playin’ The Blues’, Sutera hybrid ‘Snowstorm Blue Bubbles’ and ‘Vermillionaire’ Cuphea in garden centres in 2015.  ‘Pegasus’ will be on my list, for sure!  (Although Proven Winners generously provided me with a few annual plant selections from their upcoming 2015 catalogue to trial in my zone 3 garden, I was not compensated to review them.  My opinions of how they performed are my own).

 


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Pincushion flower and bee.

Bee Scabiosa

I meant to post this photo ages ago…I’m hoping to pick the brains of anyone who is interested in/an expert regarding/wants to wildly speculate about bees to get an ID for this little one I found on a fading scabiosa bloom in my garden.  I took this image on a chilly morning in late August and the bee seemed awfully cold - it sure wasn’t moving much.

I just can’t resist pincushion flowers (mine is Scabiosa caucasica ‘Perfecta’) – the structure of the blooms is remarkable and the pollinators adore them.  I am determined to add a few more hardy types to my perennial beds over the next couple of years.  Do you grow Scabiosa? 


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Ghost town trek: Lille, Alberta.

The spookiest part of hiking into Lille isn’t the fact that your destination is a ghost town…it’s that the trailhead keeps shifting around in a sinister manipulation of time and space.  It’s as if the place wants to protect all of its secrets and remain hidden in the dark, quiet* woods.

Either that, or my hubby and I are just terrible route finders.

We did as the guide book said: we parked in the meadow that we easily located after passing by the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre in Frank, Alberta, in the heart of the Crowsnest Pass.  We thought we had it all down pat as we jogged up the cutline past the accoutrements of oil and gas activity and headed towards Goat (also called Bluff) Mountain.  Although we read in the book that we were to hang a left at “any obvious junction,” we thought the gravel road that the people in the SUV were driving down couldn’t possibly be accurate (who hikes along a ROAD?), so we kept ploughing onward until we had to bushwack through a huge grove of wind-stunted aspens and we kinda sorta got the inkling that we might be going the wrong way.

We ended up climbing part of Goat Mountain that day.  After a few hours of being blasted by wind and scraped by trees, we conceded defeat and went to the Interpretive Centre to ask for directions.  (Yeah, I know what you’re thinking).

We made our second attempt to find the unfindable town of Lille the next morning.  Guess which road it was on?  Apparently, most people don’t hike all the way in – they drive in!  If you have a 4×4 or an ATV, you can navigate the numerous creek crossings and not have to hoof any bit of it at all.  We chose to park our truck (she of the delicate constitution) where the road degenerated into a goat path and walked the rest of the way.  And although our efforts were nearly thwarted by The Only Slightly Wobbly Bridge of Doom,

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The Swamp of Skeletal Trees,

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The Red Herrings (I mean Red Crabapples) Designed to Throw Us Off the Trail,

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and the Devilishly Dangerous Free Range Cattle,

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we eventually found the No. 1 Mine Site at Lille, as well as the townsite.

Construction on the town began in 1901 by the British Columbia-based company Gold Fields Ltd..  There had been hope for gold deposits in the clear-running creeks, but the lure of big coal was worth setting up camp for.  One of the founders of the company, J.J. Fleutot, managed to secure funding from financiers in the city of Lille, France, and so formed the West Canadian Collieries Ltd. to manage the burgeoning mines.  A railway was built, which you can still see the spectral impressions of today (unless I’m wrong, and these mounds are instead the work of some insanely large and industrious dew worms):

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One of the interpretive signs indicated that the railway had a mind-boggling 23 trestles over the distance of only 11 kilometres (the area sits near the confluence of three generously sized creeks).  A good chunk of the railroad was damaged during the Frank Slide in 1903, which cut off the town of Lille and crippled its industry until it was rebuilt.

By 1906, Lille was a proper town, with a hotel, a school, and a hospital.  The population peaked somewhere around 400 in its heyday, but by 1912, it was all over when the coke market went into decline.  The mine was closed and everyone living in the town moved on.

Now, Lille is just bits and pieces in a cow pasture, but you can walk (or, apparently, roar* your ATV or dirt bike) among the foundations and wonder about the past.

The Seriously Scary Window (Chute?) in the Wall at the No. 1 Mine site.

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The Guts of the Formerly Three Storey Hotel.

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The Really Creepy Fire Hydrant Out in the Middle of Nowhere.

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And, most impressively, the Decaying Coke Ovens, which were built of bricks manufactured in Belgium.  The bricks were numbered and shipped to Lille, where they were reassembled in what I imagine was sort of like an IKEA build on a massive scale, only without the hex-key wrenches.

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Oh yeah, and because it’s Hallowe’en and this is a story about a ghost town, here is a photo of the bones of something that obviously couldn’t find the trailhead to Lille, either.  Yikes - sure glad we asked for directions!   ;)

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Happy Hallowe’en!  Have you ever spent any time in a ghost town?

Link:  The History of Hallowe’en in Alberta - Trick or Treat (Retroactive)


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Book review: Apples of North America.

books

Apples of North America – Tom Burford (2013, Timber Press, Portland)

Here is THE book for anyone who loves apples – whether that means eating and cooking with them or growing them. Orchardist Tom Burford has assembled a thoroughly-researched guide to 192 apple varieties found in North America, offering tips on how to successfully grow apples in both orchard and home garden settings, from seed to harvest and storage.  There are even detailed instructions for cooking apple butter, drying apples, and pressing and making apple cider (my favourite!).  The individual apple portraits are the best part of this book:  each page is complete with photographs (so you can see the variations of colour and striping), and a short blurb about the apple’s history, outstanding tree characteristics, interior and exterior descriptions, notes about disease resistance, and ratings for use (dessert, baking, frying, drying, cider, applesauce, vinegar, landscape design, etc.) and storage.  Not only informational, this book is a delight to pore through – I wasn’t familiar with most of the varieties in the book as few of them make it to our grocery or markets, so it was a treat to see how they all varied in size and colouration.  The breeding history of each one is fascinating as well – Burford goes beyond the science to tell the stories behind each apple.

Mmmm…now all I can think of is apple crisp warm from the oven (can you tell I haven’t eaten breakfast yet?).

What are your favourite apple varieties – and your favourite ways to eat them?


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Alberta Snapshot: Forgetmenot Pond.

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A late-day shot of the beautiful pond in the shadow of Forgetmenot Mountain, near Bragg Creek, Alberta.

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This cheeky gray jay (whiskey jack) was out with his buddies, buzzing daringly near my hubby and I, looking for handouts.  The pond is a popular picnic site and fishing hole during the summer, so the birds are used to getting “people” food.   I know they don’t migrate south for the winter, but I had to look up their cold-weather diet:  like their Corvidae relatives magpies and crows, they’ll eat pretty much anything from fruit to carrion, and they’ll even cache food in trees (actually, “on” trees is more accurate, as they apparently glue their food to tree branches using their saliva).  Interesting little guys.  I find them so entertaining to watch.


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Planting Garlic: Pre-treatments and crop rotation.

Garlic B&W

Do you grow garlic?  A co-worker and I were discussing our plans to plant it this year and we got on the subject of soaking the cloves before putting them in the ground:  yay or nay, and in what media?  Soaking garlic is supposed to deter fungal infections and insect infestations, and presumably because the cloves are healthier, the subsequent plants will be as well (which translates as better yield and quality).  Soaking garlic is standard procedure for many growers – is it something you do?

It seems there isn’t a consensus about what to soak it in, however – or even how many steps you should take to accomplish the task.  My co-worker just puts the cloves in rubbing alcohol for three or four minutes and then sows as usual, but I’ve read that some gardeners use a pre-treatment of either an overnight soak in plain H²O or a combination of liquid seaweed, baking soda and water, followed by the alcohol rinse.   Alternatively, you can leave out the rubbing alcohol (or vodka or hydrogen peroxide or ?) and just go with the seaweed mix.  Commercial growers appear to have their own brews, including guidelines for the optimum temperature of the soaking media.  What is your go-to concoction?

Or…you can do what I did last year and not soak your garlic at all.  I didn’t have any problems, but would that have been a risk you would have taken?  How seriously do you consider the source of your seed stock in determining if you soak the cloves or not?

And then we started talking about rotating allium crops…she doesn’t, I do.

Garlic growers, what are your thoughts?


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Alberta snapshot: Larch and blue sky.

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Amazing colour practically* in my backyard.

(*It’s in a public park just over the fence.  But if I actually had a backyard, there would absolutely be a larch or two in it).

 

Whether they’re the wrong hardiness zone or you don’t have the space or the right conditions for them, which plants do you dream about growing if you could? 

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