November blog fun.

2102034

It has been quite a few months since I’ve done one of these posts – let’s launch into it right away, shall we?

Have difficulty pronouncing plant names?  Me, too.  I even mangle them when I’m very consciously thinking about how not to – actually, that’s when the tongue-tangling gets truly terrific. This pronounciation guide may help.  At the very least, it’s interesting reading.

You may not live in New England (I don’t!) but your region may include some of the same plant species.  Or, you might just want to have fun with a fully interactive dichotomous key.  I’m here to help – I found this great link from GoBotany that will helpfully ID all 3,500 taxa in New England. I played with it a bit and, as expected, found that we share some of the same plant species here in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Here is another ID tool – this one for bird feathers.  It is from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, so it won’t likely be conclusive in other locations.  As we share many of the same bird species in Canada, it may work in a limited fashion for us.

It’s Canada’s sesquicentennial this year and Mercury Filmworks has created an animated short to illustrate Canada, coast-to-coast.  The artwork is vibrant and fun, and there are some delightful references to some of our most famous pop culture icons.

Here’s another post that celebrates Canada’s history – this time of the Rocky Mountains.  Take a look at this small collection of photos of people working, playing, and living in the mountains – it’s an eye-opening trip!

If you enjoy reading science fiction and you’re particularly interested in the work of writers during the 1950’s, ’60’s, and ’70’s, you may wish to check out this gem: the complete run of IF Magazine from 1952 to 1974 is available to read for free, here.  Some big names wrote for and edited this magazine and if you’re a fan of the genre, you will recognize some of them.  I love that these stories won’t be forgotten.

Writers and film buffs might have fun with this incredibly comprehensive list of narrative devices and tropes.  How many of these do you recognize in your favourite movie or book?  How many of these have you used in your own writing?

Finally, libraries and museums such as the Met, the New York Public Library, and the Smithsonian have made a ton of images from their collections available for everyone to download and…well…colour.  I believe the whole sharing to Twitter part is over with for the year, but you can still access the images for your own use. #ColorOurCollections will likely return in 2018, so watch for it.  Many of these are botanical prints, so that’s rather lovely for anyone who is interested in that sort of thing (me, me!).

Clipart credit.

Book review: House Plants by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf.

L

House Plants: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Growing and Caring for Indoor Plants

By Lisa Eldred Steinkopf (Cool Springs Press, 2017)

Throwing millennials and houseplants together seems to be a thing in the media these days; this (slightly tongue-in-cheek) article from The Washington Post is only one example of many that I’ve come across lately.  One glance at the racks in your local garden centre will tell you that indoor gardening is indeed experiencing a resurgence – for everyone’s benefit!  There are so many more plant selections available, and not just the succulents and air plants that have been trendy for the past few years.  Looking after houseplants is meditative, nourishing, and just plain enjoyable, but only if you know what you’re doing.

That’s what Lisa Eldred Steinkopf’s book is for: to help you succeed with your growing endeavours.  In House Plants, Steinkopf (thehouseplantguru.com) thoroughly and precisely covers every detail: soil, water, light, containers, siting, propagation, and troubleshooting pests and diseases.  Her advice is practical and easy to understand, even for those just getting into the hobby – this is a book that will definitely inspire confidence when it comes to keeping houseplants.  (The chapter on propagation particularly impressed me, with its clear directions and accompanying photography).  Indoor gardeners will appreciate that she even touches briefly on bonsai, topiary, living walls, water plants, and holiday plants, as these somewhat specialty niches become more mainstream.

Of course, it’s truly the more than 125 profiles of houseplants that attracted me most to the book…I feel like I now have a goal to try them all at some point (don’t tell my hubby!).  I love the fact that individual plants are categorized according to their difficulty of cultivation and maintenance (again, this gives me something to work towards!).  From ferns to figs to palms, orchids, and dracaena – it’s all here and each one is beautifully photographed to aid in identification.  Comprehensive, useful, and a delight to pore through, this really is the “complete guide” to houseplants!

 

(Full disclosure: I was given a review copy of Lisa Eldred Steinkopf’s book House Plants by Cool Springs Press, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group. All opinions are 100 percent my own.  Heck, 300 percent my own).

Alberta snapshot: Upper Kananaskis Lake hike.

UKLFPNormandeau

This gnarled/gnarly (!) tree stump was posed dramatically in the middle of a massive rock slide area that we crossed on a recent hike around Upper Kananaskis Lake. If you find yourself with a few hours to kill in Kananaskis Country, this is the hike to do – it’s 16 kilometres of incredible scenery and diverse landscapes that are not to be missed.  As a bonus, the elevation gains are minimal so if your knees are a muddled mess like mine, you can still nicely manage.  And there are TWO waterfalls!  Truly difficult to top.

Aaaaaaand then the stump got me thinking about gardening (well, pretty much everything does so that’s not a huge stretch)…and specifically, wildlife and naturescape gardens and stumperies.  I haven’t seen too many designed/planted stumperies in the city, but there is a fantastic one at the Ellis Bird Farm in Lacombe, Alberta that wowed me when I saw it a few years ago. What are your thoughts on converting leftover (dead) tree parts to garden elements? Have you ever done it? If so, how did you go about creating your design?

Flowery Friday.

FPCWHNormandeau

I wonder how much soil is under that rock?  I’m guessing, not much.  And I’m not showing it in this photo, but there was snow clinging to the rocks just southeast of where I was standing.  In July.  This common willowherb (Epilobium ciliatum), a close relative of the (ahem!) even more common fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium*, also known as rosebay willowherb), is a mountain plant with heaps of beauty AND brawn.

*In another case of Nomenclature Gone Wild, fireweed was previously known as Epilobium angustifolium.  I can’t yet find an explanation as to why the genus name was changed for this plant and not for common willowherb…but I’ll keep digging.

Recipe: Sea buckthorn and apple jelly.

It’s time for my annual visitation of this old-but-relevant post from 2012…’tis the season for harvesting sea buckthorn berries in Alberta (and many other places worldwide)! Tasty AND beautiful!

 

(Photo credit:  R. Normandeau)

My hubby and I managed to get out this past Saturday morning and gather some sea buckthorn fruit so that I could try my hand at making jelly from it.  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll recall that I made a sea buckthorn beverage last year – I just love the citrusy taste of the berries and their gorgeous sun-bright colour.

Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) is a fairly common roadside plant here in Calgary – the City planted many of them years ago, mostly for erosion control on slopes.  It’s one of those shrubs you’d be hard-pressed to kill:  it’s tough-as-nails, drought-tolerant, pollution and salt-tolerant (good for our winter roads and all that de-icing salt), and a fairly aggressive spreader.  You don’t find it employed as an ornamental landscape plant very often, but it’s really very pretty, with silvery-green leaf clusters and the brilliant autumn fruit.  (Both male and female plants are required for fruit production).  Sure, some people may be turned off by the thorns, but they contribute to the shrub’s rabbit and deer resistance, which can’t be a bad thing, right?!

The only thing that irks me to no end about gathering sea buckthorn berries is that it’s just such a difficult process – the fruit only comes off the stems under extreme duress.   The kind of duress that leaves you standing there with bright orange seabuckthorn juice all over your clothes and squirted in your eye.  I’ve read that commercial harvesters of the shrub just go along and prune off fruit-bearing branches, freeze them for awhile, and then “shake” the berries free…but I didn’t give that a go.  I ought to have – it took me FOREVER to get the berries off of the branches.

But it’s worth it for this jelly.  Trust me.  It’s so yummy and pretty!

Small-Batch Sea Buckthorn and Apple Jelly

(I added apples to this recipe because I didn’t use commercial pectin – sea buckthorn doesn’t have very much natural pectin, so the addition of a high-pectin fruit helps the jelly set properly.  I had some British Columbia-grown ‘Sunrise’ apples, but use any variety you love.  Crabapples would work as well).

4 cups sea buckthorn berries, washed thoroughly

3 apples, washed, peeled, cored, and diced finely (if you don’t want to go to the trouble, and your apples are organic, you can leave the peels on)

1/2 cup water

Place berries, apples and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer fruit for 20 minutes.  Stir periodically and crush the fruit against the side of the pan with the back of the spoon.  (It all mashes down pretty well on its own, and won’t require much additional help).

Strain the fruit through a jelly bag (or several layers of cheesecloth) over a large bowl.  Don’t force the fruit through the bag – this will make the jelly cloudy and you don’t want that!  Set it up so that the fruit can slowly strain overnight.

In the morning, sterilize your canning jars and lids.   Measure out the juice.  I ended up with 2 cups using this recipe, but your measurement may vary slightly.  Place the juice into a saucepan and mix in an equal amount of white sugar.  Bring the sugar and juice to a rolling boil and boil, stirring constantly, until you’ve reached gel point.

Carefully pour the jelly into the sterilized jars, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (don’t forget to adjust the length of time according to altitude, as specified in this handy chart).  If you plan to eat the jelly soon and don’t want to go to all the trouble of processing jars for storing, you can just pop the jars into the fridge once the jelly is cool.  It is a very small batch, after all…and you’ll be hooked once you have a taste!

Do you grow sea buckthorn in your garden, or do you forage for sea buckthorn berries?  

 Looking for more sea buckthorn berry recipes?

My sea buckthorn berry recipe book, Sea Buckthorn Bounty: Recipes is now available here!

51HB5NUxB3L._AA324_PIkin4,BottomRight,-60,22_AA346_SH20_OU15_

Flowery Friday.

LFPNormandeau

Lewisia (Lewisii spp.) isn’t a plant I’ve come across very often here in Calgary, so I was absolutely delighted last week when I spotted a couple of specimens in bloom in the William Reader Rock Garden.  If my own rock garden ever happens, there will be more than a couple of these beauties tucked in.  Do you grow them?

Alberta snapshot: William Reader Rock Garden.

WRRGFPNormandeau

Apart from the staff bustling away at the tea house, the whole of the William Reader Rock Garden was mine one morning last week.  It was utterly blissful.  Especially when you contemplated scenes like this, which were pretty much everywhere.  It’s a wonder I didn’t trip over my jaw and stumble on the rocks.

And this is the garden past its peak, sliding into autumn.