Flowery Friday.

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I didn’t quite realize it before we moved in last summer, but our new home is situated on a property containing a delightfully large number of apple trees.  There appears to be several different cultivars. I have no idea what they are (it’s a bit easier to narrow the ID on them when they fruit!), but what a treat to see them blooming right now.  The sight – and lovely sweet scent! – makes me smile each time I head out the door.

Which fragrant flowers in your garden are your favourites?

 

Book review: Gardening Complete by Authors of Cool Springs Press.

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Gardening Complete: How to Best Grow Vegetables, Flowers, and Other Outdoor Plants – Authors of Cool Springs Press (George Weigel, Katie Elzer-Peters, Lynn Steiner, Dr. Jacqueline A. Soule, Jessica Walliser, Charlie Nardozzi, Rhonda Fleming Hayes, and Tara Nolan) – 2018 Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc., Minnesota

I ♥ the concept of this book! Take eight highly knowledgeable and experienced garden experts and get them to write individual chapters covering essential gardening topics and bundle it all into one comprehensive volume. Everything you need to know to start a new garden or refresh a mature one is here: understanding soil, managing weeds, planting, watering, fertilizing, pruning, composting, mulching, propagation, and harvesting. The detailed, accessible writing and sumptuous photography make this book a delight to browse AND the kind of reference you’ll find yourself going back to over and over again. The design chapters are also highly useful, addressing native plants, water-wise gardening, pollinator-friendly landscapes, and container and raised bed set-ups.  This is a well-researched and beautifully-presented project – definitely a recommended read!

*Quarto Publishing Group generously provided me with a copy of Gardening Complete; as always, my opinions about the book are my own.

Book review: Practical Organic Gardening by Mark Highland.

Practical Organic Gardening: The No-Nonsense Guide to Growing Naturally – Mark Highland (2017, Cool Springs Press, an imprint of The Quarto Group, Minnesota)

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Gardening is all about inputs (and, obviously, outputs): you need the water, nutrients, light, soil, seeds/cuttings/transplants, and a bunch of elbow grease and sweat and love and passion to reap the rewards.  I’m thinking that most gardeners have substantial overflowing reservoirs of passion and love for their plants, but I’d argue that one of the most important of the remaining inputs is soil.  Specifically, healthy soil.

Which brings me to one of my favourite aspects of Mark Highland’s new book Practical Organic Gardening: The No-Nonsense Guide to Growing Naturally.  He talks a lot about soil (he does, after all, own a soil company in the United States).  More importantly, he stresses how to respect instead of work the soil – a statement which really aligns with my whole abject laziness when it comes to that elbow grease expenditure.  I can respect with the best of them!  Seriously, however, his discussion of the significance of the relationship between the microbial activity in the soil and organic gardening/no-till (or low-till) principles is one many gardeners may be interested in.  No matter if you garden organically or not, knowing something about the biological and physical properties of your soil will help you offer the very best for your plants. And understanding how to conserve your soil brings your garden closer to sustainability.

When he’s not presenting valuable tips about boosting soil health, Highland covers everything from irrigation and siting, to amendments and mulching, and using organic controls within Integrated Pest Management.  He talks about food forests and mushroom farming.  He offers solutions for container and raised bed gardening, and explores xeriscaping design.  He wades into the lawn/no lawn debate. Chapters explore planning your garden, seed starting, and vegetative propagation.

With its accessible layout, excellent photography, and straightforward, experienced voice, Practical Organic Gardening is comprehensive and highly informative; I can easily see this as a go-to manual for both novice and experienced organic gardeners.

*Quarto Publishing Group generously provided me with a copy of Mark Highland’s Practical Organic Gardening; as always, my opinions about the book are my own.

Book review: Container Gardening Complete by Jessica Walliser.

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Jessica Walliser – Container Gardening Complete: Creative Projects for Growing Vegetables and Flowers in Small Spaces (2017, Cool Springs Press, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc.)

If you’ve followed Flowery Prose for a while, you’ll know I recently moved and had to give up my in-ground garden beds. Besides caring for my hastily-planned and planted plot at the community garden in my new neighbourhood, I didn’t do any gardening this summer, but for next year, I’m hoping to set up a small balcony garden in our new home.  Container gardening isn’t something I’ve done a huge amount of in the past, so I am particularly excited about Jessica Walliser’s new book. As “complete” as its title suggests, Container Gardening Complete is a goldmine of excellent information, from the design and sowing of a wide range of plant selections (perennials, annuals, vegetables, fruit, even trees and shrubs), to cultivation and harvest and dealing with potential pest and disease issues.  Suggestions and detailed directions for the creation of themed and seasonal container designs are concentrated in the back half of the book and are guaranteed to inspire.  A clean, attractive layout, beautiful photos, and above all, clear, precise, and useful information from a knowledgeable expert make this book a fantastic resource for anyone interested in container gardening – whether you’re just getting started, or have a bit of experience under your belt.

*Quarto Publishing generously provided me with a review copy of Container Gardening Complete, but my opinions of the book are 100 percent my own and honest.

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!

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Alberta snapshot: William Reader Rock Garden.

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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.

Recipe: Saskatoon berry drink mix, two ways.

It’s saskatoon (serviceberry) season and it shows by the amount of clicks I’m currently getting on this post, which I put up waaaaaaay back in 2012.  I realized the original post was in need of a bit of an update, as the u-pick farm I mention in it has undergone a name change…as well, I have a new saskatoon berry drink mix recipe to add!

The saskatoon berries are here!  The saskatoon berries are here!

Last Saturday my hubby and I spent a VERY long time in the sweltering morning sun gathering saskatoons at a wonderful nearby U-Pick farm, Little Purple Apple (now called Prairie Berry). We may be the slowest berry pickers in the world…BUT I didn’t have to do much sorting when we got home.  We snagged only (mostly?) the ripe ones, with barely any leaf litter or roving bugs.  Saskatoon berries are easy to pick, and they don’t have the soft skins of blueberries or haskap, so they don’t bruise easily.  We still came off of the field with stains on our hands, though!

I have big plans for our bounty!   Some of the berries are already scrubbed, bagged whole, and set in the freezer for use in pies at a later date.  Others were crushed and sent into the dye pot – saskatoon berries make a great dye in the red-purple range.  A sizeable batch of jam is on my list of things to do this afternoon, and a quick assembly of a saskatoon and rhubarb cobbler is in the works for tonight’s dessert.

One of the workers at Little Purple Apple (Prairie Berry) was telling me about some saskatoon syrup they had preserved for sale to the customers; she said if you weren’t inclined to put it on your pancakes, you could add a small amount to ice water for a refreshing summery drink.  Of course, that got the ol’ gears grinding, and I thought perhaps I could create my own version of the recipe at home.   Here is my take:

Saskatoon Berry Drink Mix Version #1

3 cups washed saskatoon berries, crushed with a mortar and pestle or a potato masher

1 1/2 cups water

Place in a large saucepan and heat to boiling.  Boil hard for 5 minutes, then remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

While you’re waiting, make the simple syrup.  Mix 1 1/2 cups of sugar and 3/4 cups of water together in a small saucepan and bring to a boil on the stove.  Stir constantly to dissolve the sugar.  Once the mixture is boiling, remove it from the heat and set aside to cool.  (If you want to make your syrup thicker, you can step up the ratio of sugar:water).

Once your ingredients have cooled, run the berries and water through a metal sieve, reserving the liquid.  Press the berries into the sieve with the back of a spoon to get all of the juice out.  You will end up with some berry pulp in the sieve – don’t discard it!  I put mine in the freezer for use in muffins or cake later on.

Run the saskatoon berry liquid through an even finer sieve if you have one (tightly-woven cheesecloth if you don’t).  The idea is to make the syrup as clear as possible.

Combine the sugar and the berry juice together and process (if you’re canning it) and store in your usual way.  This recipe makes about 3 cups of syrup.  I’m just keeping my syrup in the fridge, as I know I’ll use it up fairly quickly.  When you want to drink it, just place a few tablespoonsful in a tall glass and add chilled water, diluting the syrup to your taste.  (I think a carbonated water would work very nicely, as well).  You could probably add a couple of fresh mint leaves or a squeeze of lemon to your drink, but for me, the sweet nutty flavour of the berries is wonderful on its own!

If you don’t have saskatoons, I think this would work nicely using blueberries…or maybe, with the correct ratio of sugar, red currants.

Saskatoon Berry Drink Mix Version #2 (no simple syrup)

Here’s another version that doesn’t use a simple syrup.  It’s quicker to prepare than the previous recipe, as well.  Store leftover mix in the fridge and use up within three days.

3 cups washed saskatoon berries, crushed with a mortar and pestle or a potato masher

1 1/2 cups water

Place in a large saucepan and heat to boiling.  Boil hard for 5 minutes, then remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Once your ingredients have cooled, run the berries and water through a metal sieve, reserving the liquid.  Press the berries into the sieve with the back of a spoon to get all of the juice out.  You will end up with some berry pulp in the sieve – don’t discard it!  I put mine in the freezer for use in muffins or cake later on.

Run the saskatoon berry liquid through an even finer sieve if you have one (tightly-woven cheesecloth if you don’t).  The idea is to make the syrup as clear as possible.

When you’re ready to drink, pour some of the mix over crushed ice in a tall glass, add water or sparkling water, and a drizzle of honey or other sweetener.  Adjust to your taste and enjoy!

Do you grow or harvest saskatoons (serviceberries)? What are your favourite saskatoon berry recipes?