A few weeks ago, I received a question from a gardener in the city who wanted to know about the best hydrangeas to grow in Calgary. Due to our climate, we’re not able to overwinter the really showstopping bigleaf types (H. macrophylla) that gardeners in warmer regions can, but we still have some extremely nice selections to choose from. I suggested that, due to sufficient cold hardiness, smooth hydrangeas (H. arborescens) and panicle hydrangeas (H. paniculata) tend to fare best in our part of the world – and then he wanted to know: what on earth did I mean by the word ”panicle”?
Good question! The term panicle is often associated with grasses. Most grass panicles are easy to identify. Here is an example: Take a look at the fuzzy top of foxtail barley (Hordeum jubatum, a beautiful but persistent, troublesome weed here in Alberta). That lovely plume is a panicle, a type of compound flower head that features long, sliver-like awns, which can cause pain for livestock that accidentally graze on the plant.
With hydrangeas, what we think of as one huge flower is actually a panicle. Like the fuzzy flower head of foxtail barley, a hydrangea’s panicle is a compound inflorescence. It is made up of tiny individual florets, which are attached via pedicels (stem-like structures) to “branches” called racemes. Panicle hydrangeas are named for this type of floral arrangement.
Do you grow hydrangeas (any types)? If so, which ones are your favourites? (If you have any, please feel free to link up to photos of your hydrangeas on your blog or website – I’d love to see them!).
I have a question for all of you long-time bloggers! Do you periodically go through past entries in your blog and do a refresh? (Fix broken links, add new updates, redo or add new photos etc.)? Flowery Prose turned ten years old in March of this year and while I’ve tweaked a few little things here and there, particularly with the themes, I haven’t ever done a thorough clean up of old posts. What is your process for doing this? Or have you just left everything as is?
This recipe is from an old post that I’ve revised to better categorize the content. Finding it again was a bit fortuitous, as this spring I decided to use up some old Swiss chard seeds I had kicking around – and had excellent germination rates with them. (Don’t chuck ancient seeds! The charts may “say” they’re not viable after a certain point but it never hurts to try. If you’ve stored them properly, you might have a chance at success). The plants are still small – again, as with everything this year, I’ll just chalk that up to our wacky spring weather – so I’m not attaching a photograph. No need to brag. 😉
Swiss Chard (or Beet Green) Soup
5 cups chopped fresh Swiss chard or beet greens (or a combination of the two)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tbsp milk (dairy or non-dairy, such as cashew)
freshly cracked pepper to taste
1/2 cup Havarti cheese, shredded (use a vegan substitute, if preferred)
Sauté the chard or beets, the garlic, and the onions in olive oil in a large saucepan until the greens are reduced. Add the stock and simmer for 30 minutes over low heat. Remove the soup from the heat, cool it slightly, then carefully purée it with a hand blender. Add the milk and cheese and reheat gently (do not boil). Add pepper to taste.
Yield: 2 generous servings
What are your favourite ways to eat Swiss chard and/or beet greens? Or do you dislike them entirely?
A recent trip out to Brown-Lowery Provincial Park (near Millarville, Alberta) revealed an understorey filled with bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), tall lungwort (Mertensia paniculata), and this yellow beauty, heart-leafed arnica (Arnica cordifolia).
Particularly at this time of year, when the new candles are formed, mugo pines may appear to be the angriest shrub of the plant world, looking for all the world like they are furiously gesturing to the idiot that cut them off in traffic. (Now you’ll never see them the same way again. You’re welcome). 😉
Mugos have shorter needles than most pines, but they’re still fairly long (up to two inches), elegant as befitting pine trees, and clustered in pairs. If you touch the needles, they’re not particularly soft like some other pines. Again, that sort of fits with the whole angry thing.
On the larger cultivars, the branches are supposed to sweep upwards in stiff arcs, but the shrubs themselves sometimes acquire a sprawling habit as they age (I completely understand this as I have, too), so this isn’t always accomplished as well as it should be. When left unkempt, unattractive bare spots often open up in the centre of the shrub. (You can – carefully and judiciously – prune the shrubs every few years to maintain a more tidy, compact shape). Smaller cultivars, such as the lovely ‘Mops’ (which really does look like a ploofy green mop turned upside down and stuffed into the ground), tend to be a tad more well-behaved.
Once you’ve got the ID down pat on these, you’ll start to realize how common they are, at least in urban areas here on the prairies. Their hardiness and compact size (small and smaller) make them tough to beat as landscape specimens. They’re pretty much a go-to for residential and commercial foundation plantings. Although it does occur in particularly harsh years, mugos tend to resist winter desiccation a bit better than many other conifers, and that’s a big deal around here.
If you plan to grow fruit trees and shrubs that are pollinated by insects such as bees, consider your site carefully before you plant. If you are thinking about putting the plants in a windy, exposed site, your plants may not receive their very best chances at pollination. Bees don’t like working in the wind! (It totally ruins their hairdos). Instead, choose a more sheltered location to encourage the bugs to do their jobs in calmer conditions.
Do you grow any fruit trees or shrubs? I’d love to hear about them (it doesn’t matter if you live on the prairies or not!). What do you like best about them? Is there anything about them that you find challenging?
Welcome to the third issue of The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter! Janet Melrose and I are keeping you up-to-date on everything related to our book series Guides for the Prairie Gardener, letting you know about what other Prairie gardening-related projects we’re working on, and throwing in some gardening trivia and newsy tidbits, just for fun! If you like what you see, please follow us on our social media and hit the subscribe button on Flowery Prose.
Book News and Events
We held our virtual book launch via Facebook Live on the evening of May 31. The event was hosted by the Alberta Gardening Facebook group and despite some major technical difficulties, we still managed to chat a bit about our books and answer a few prairie gardening questions for viewers. A huge thank you to everyone who joined us!
Janet did an amazing interview with Michele Jarvie of the Calgary Herald on May 16, talking about our books and the unique challenges of gardening on the prairies. You can read the article here.
We were on the radio again! We did a segment with Doug Dirks on CBC Radio One’s Homestretch program on May 14. We talked a bit about our new books and dispensed a bunch of tips for long weekend gardening! And Janet was a guest on 770 CHQR’s “Let’s Talk Gardening” show on Sunday, May 31. The link to the podcast is here.
Out and About
There has been a lot of walking and appreciating the fact that spring is bursting out all over the place. I’ve done plenty of writing, and editing, too, as well as volunteering for the Calgary Horticultural Society and the Master Gardeners Association of Alberta answering online gardening questions. It’s always difficult at this time of year to strike a balance between going slow to properly take in all the newness in the world and the unbelievably harried (and hurried) rush to get everything done…but this year is a bit different because I am not yet back to work at my regular job at the library.
Apple blossoms – Photo by Sheryl Normandeau
One of my articles, “Using Colour in the Garden,” has been published in the May 2020 issue of Calgary Gardening, the members’-only publication brought out by the Calgary Horticultural Society.
Like Sheryl, I am trying my level best to enjoy our early growing season and this year the flowering trees and shrubs have been fabulous! I have been taking photos right, left, and center!
Haskap – Photo by Janet Melrose
Forsythia – Photo by Janet Melrose
Double Flowering Plum – Photo by Janet Melrose
(Top left: Haskap; Top right: Forsythia; Bottom: Double Flowering Plum – Photos by Janet Melrose)
May was unbelievably busy with workshops with experienced and new gardeners all taking part in the webinars I have been involved in facilitating.
June is a slower workshop time as we are able to be outside in our gardens, but here are a few workshops happening to launch us into summer:
June 3rd – Embrace Gardening-How to Get the Most out of Your Raised Bed Part 2
We will have spent May sowing and transplanting, and things are coming up and some may almost be ready to eat. While others should not have even gone into the soil outside yet! There’s more to edible gardening on the Prairies! To register, click here.
June 4th– 2 Gals in a Garden – Sensational Succulent Planters
Succulents are a fascinating with all the different shapes, colours, and sizes! They are perfect in a container for a hot and dry summer. To register, click here.
June 11th– Calgary Horticultural Society – Bringing Back the Bugs!
Creating a welcoming garden for all the critters that are so necessary to our world is one way; a very constructive way to contribute to the larger efforts to stem the insect crash of our times. To register, click here.
June 18th– Beyond Kale* – Taking the Edible Garden Into the Summer!
Now that our gardens are growing strongly, let’s learn what we need to do to keep them that way! To register, click here.
In Our Gardens
Lots going on! The community garden which looked to be shuttered for the season has now reopened…and to my surprise, they weren’t full up, so the garden leader asked if I wanted to rent a second plot. Twist my rubber arm! This gives me plenty of space to put more seed in…which I did, with huge enthusiasm, this past week. Late in the month, I also planted the plot I acquired from the other community garden I joined – I put in potatoes, onions, and a few root veggies such as beets and rutabaga. I know I will not be able to get over there often due to the distance I have to travel, so low-maintenance selections were key. I spent hours last week digging up quackgrass in my “new-old” community garden beds and found a pleasant surprise tucked in alongside the troublesome plants: clusters of dill weed volunteers. I know some people find them annoyingly…erm…weedy, but to me, dill is a staple herb – my hubby and I love its fresh leaves in potato salad and other dishes, and I always bring some to seed to use when I make garlic dill pickles. I will allow a few of these plants to grow and produce seed, and the thinnings I removed were scrubbed and used in a meal.
Dill weed – Photo by Sheryl Normandeau
In the communal beds at the “old” garden there are chives and lovage and rhubarb ready for all the plot holders…especially that lovage! It grows so fast I think you could just sit in front of it for five minutes and new leaves would pop out before your eyes. Be aware if you plant lovage that it is a perennial, that it gets to six feet tall (or over), that it has a propensity to reseed, and that you will ALWAYS have too much of it as a very little goes a long way in cooking. But it is well worth having in the garden if you love to cook – it’s one of those herbs that once you’ve tried it, you’ll wonder why you didn’t plant it sooner. Plus, you seriously don’t have to do anything to get it to grow – it’s unbelievably maintenance-free.
Lovage – Photo by Sheryl Normandeau
Rhubarb – Photo by Sheryl Normandeau
(Left to right: Lovage, Rhubarb – Photos by Sheryl Normandeau)
(Updated on June 22 to add this video I made to profile the herb lovage:)
I am trying out our Victory Garden plan with my bed at the Inglewood Community Garden and going whole hog with a full-on Square Foot Gardening grid to boot! We were delayed getting into the garden while rules for operating during the pandemic were being figured out, but after the long weekend we got busy. I had already prepared the bed last fall and my garlic was up so I launched right into sowing all the cool season veggies on the plan along with some kale seedlings. Our monsoon rains took us out the next week but I was back in there again this week and took a chance and sowed some pole and runner beans, though I may regret it if the soil isn’t warm enough for them to germinate quickly. No way was I going to transplant my tomatoes and cucumbers in this early as the long-range forecast is calling for the obligatory cool and rainy (maybe snow) episode the first weekend of June. Did you know that [famed championship horse jumping venue] Spruce Meadows [here in Calgary] changed the date of their first tournament [on the annual schedule] to the second weekend of June because that first weekend always was snowed/rained out? I’ll wait until June 10th for those tender transplants, thank you very much!
(Inglewood Community Garden Bed – Photos by Janet Melrose)
Lots of other gardens I am involved are getting planted too with the hope that sometime during the summer Horticultural Therapy programs can resume in some form or another and will want a garden growing strongly to greet everyone! It’s a time to try out all sorts of techniques and planting schemes not to mention a few old gardening saws to see how it all works out. For starters I am trying out a large 2 Sisters planting guild at the Between Friends Camp Bonaventure garden with lots of pumpkin plants surrounding the corn and beans to see if we can ward off the hares and deer that think that garden is a buffet planted just for them! If it works our returning gardeners should have a treat harvesting everything come September!
I recently came across an unusual piece of garden advice: apparently, to reduce the risk of seeds from squash such as zucchini from rotting in the soil before they germinate, you’re supposed to sow them with the edge of the seed slid vertically down into the soil, instead of laying the seed flat onto the soil surface. Have you ever done this? It’s not wise to direct sow squash seed into cold, wet soils, anyway – it’s better to instead wait for everything to heat up a bit. (For squash and pumpkins, you’re looking at soil temperatures of 15.5 degrees Celsius/60 degrees Fahrenheit, minimum. Waiting until the temperatures approach the mid- to high twenties is even better). If you do that, then you don’t have to worry which way is up (and more importantly, you’ll likely have better germination rates!). I’ve been asked a few times whether or not it matters how you orient seeds when planting (as far as how it influences the way seeds germinate and grow) and this article from the Laidback Gardener gives one of the best explanations I have ever read.
And, as the rhubarb is growing beautifully and thoughts turn to rhubarb pie and upside-down cake and pie again, I’ve put in my two cents’ worth about how to properly harvest the plant here:
As always, I am interested in weather and nature wisdom. Buffalo beans (Thermopsis rhombifolia) are blooming right now. They are so named because First Nations people used their bloom time to indicate that buffalo bulls were ready for the spring hunt!
(Left to right: Lilac, Buffalo bean – Photos by Janet Melrose)
Another guide is to wait till the lilacs are in bloom before setting out tender seedlings such as cucumbers, squashes, and – dare I say it – tomatoes and eggplants. Seeing as the lilacs in Calgary are only just budding out, though I have seen a few in bloom downtown in the heat island, we had better pay heed and have the patience to wait till they are in full bloom.
This stuff. Floating row cover is incredibly useful in regions where the weather is, at best, a little raunchy, and at worst, downright horrific. Here on the prairies, we commonly face high winds, heat, drought, excessive moisture, hail, and freezing cold…often within a 24 hour period in the middle of July. (I exaggerate, but only slightly). Floating row cover, combined with a hoop tunnel, can be massively helpful when it comes to protecting your plants from all that wackiness. It can also assist in a whole lot of other ways, including as a control for insects (buh-bye, flea beetles!).
One thing to know before you go out and buy floating row cover: Don’t cheap out. Trust me on this. You think, oh I’m saving a few bucks, but you really can tell when you open the package that it is flimsy and a tad shoddy. You set it up at the community garden anyway, and that very night (of course), there is a thunderstorm. It’s not even a severe one. Middling, actually. No hail, either. At any rate, you go in to check on the garden the next morning and your cheap floating row cover is completely ribboned, strips hanging like banners from your hoop tunnel and bits scattered all over the garden, confetti strewn in other garden plots and clinging damply to the fence. So you spend the next half hour trying to find all the pieces of fabric and hoping that the garden leader isn’t going to show up to see what you’ve done. (Worse yet, you’re worried that she has already been and gone and is now drafting you a nasty email).
No, as with most things in life, get the good stuff. In this case, it’s reusable for many, many years.
Do you use floating row cover in your garden? (I know many of you who don’t live on the prairies use it, as well!).
If a plant is farinaceous, it sports a white, flour-like bloom on the surfaces of its leaves (and sometimes fruit and other plant parts). This white coating is epicuticular wax (occasionally referred to as farina) found on the outer surfaces of plant cuticles. Why do plants need to be waxed, you may ask? Well…let me tell you. The wax helps to repel water and soil particles, which prevents nasty things like bacteria and moulds from attacking the plant. It also limits the amount of water lost by the plant through transpiration, which is valuable if the plant is stuck in a drought situation.
If you’ve ever grown cabbages, you’ve likely noticed epicuticular wax on them. You’ve undoubtedly spotted it on some apple fruit. And if you delight in succulent gardening, you’re definitely aware of the fact that these adorable and addictively collectible plants are farinaceous.
Just to be a tad more confusing, the leaves (or other plant parts) of a farinaceous plant that have a coating of epicuticular wax are described as being glaucous. So, that’s pretty much three botany words of the month in one post – bonus! 😉
One genus of farinaceous plants is Chenopodium, which counts lamb’s quarters (C. album) as its most notable (notorious?) member. Many years ago, I grew magentaspreen (C. giganteum) – you can see evidence of the epicuticular wax on the leaves.