In the garden: pleasant surprises.

I finally finished my garden clean up this past weekend.  I don’t have perennial beds at our new home; my new garden space is a combination of containers on the balcony and a plot at the nearby community garden. Clean up was easy: I had no issues with diseases with my container plants so all the soil was dumped into a large covered tote and left on the balcony for use next season, and the pots were all scrubbed and put into indoor storage so they don’t freeze and crack.  Clean up at the community garden was also a cinch: our garden committee encourages members to leave plants in place and chop and drop them in the spring.  (I am a huge fan of this! Keeping the dried plants in place over winter helps prevent a bit of soil crusting, as the garden is fully exposed during chinook winds and freeze and thaw cycles. The plants may also provide a safe haven for beneficial insects such as ladybugs, and the sunflowers in some of the other plots may be useful for hungry birds).  I did pull the pumpkin and zucchini plants, as they were beset with a vicious case of powdery mildew.

My garlic is planted at the community garden and mulched and hopefully snug for the winter, and I sunk a large container of alpine strawberries into the raised bed there in the hopes that they might survive. (I don’t have any in-ground spaces like I used to).  I’ll winter sow some more strawberry seeds outside in early March as insurance.

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I haven’t had a lot of time to review this year’s gardening season.  It was a challenging one, as far as the weather was concerned. Spring wasn’t gradual and wet; instead, we were blasted out of the gate with mid-summer-like heat and no rain.  Some direct-sown seeds refused to germinate, even with supplemental irrigation. Our summer was hot and filled with forest fire smoke, and we had a couple of severe hailstorms that handily trashed plants in mere seconds.  Many gardeners I talked to fought multiple insect infestations, but aside from the cutworms early in the season, I was fortunate in that regard. And then, just as everyone was still hoping their pumpkins would ripen on the vine and they would get some tomatoes that were a colour other than green, we were hit with two weeks of snowfall and bitter cold in September.

One pleasant surprise in my garden (besides these) were the ‘Le Puy’ lentils I grew for the first time.  The plants are pretty, resembling some of our common vetches so much that I thought perhaps I’d get in trouble for harbouring weeds.  The deer find them attractive, as well, which definitely reduced the quantity I was able to harvest.  Compared to some of my other plants, the lentils didn’t seem to require much care – a regular watering schedule was the most important thing, and they made it through the heat better than my sweet peas and sugar peas.

I quickly realized that the timing of harvest is critical with lentils.   The pods must be picked when they are dry, but if you wait too long (a scant few minutes, it seems!), they shatter, blasting the seeds across the soil or the entire garden or into the parking lot in the street adjacent.  I swear I could hear them pinging off the streetlights before I got to them.  😉  I still managed to collect enough to enjoy a decent snack (this recipe is easy to prepare and delicious!).

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Were there any pleasant surprises in your garden this growing season? What about any old favourites that were once again reliable?

Book review: House Plants by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf.

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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).

Garden discoveries.

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From cutworms to deer…my experience thus far as a member at the community garden near my new home leads me to understand that I have a few different challenges than I did at the “old” place!  We never had to worry about deer at the other community garden (baby jackrabbits sneaking under the fence and vandals, yes, but not deer). I am so surprised that deer would venture out so close to the commuter trains and buses and shops, but let’s just say I won’t get many beans this year.  Oh well.  Next year I will plant the beans in pots and set them on my balcony instead.  Unless the critters have wings, the plants should be safe with that set-up.

A few days ago, when I went over to the community garden to water, I discovered a trio of business cards for a well-known local gym tucked into one corner of my bed, splayed out casually on the top of the soil.  I blinked; was someone trying to tell me something? With the move and job change and all, I admit I haven’t had time to do much walking lately and my hiking trips to the mountains have completely fallen by the wayside.  A quick check of the other beds didn’t reveal any more cards so it seems I was the only target.  I’ve decided not to take it personally.  Indeed, I have to applaud the novel and creative marketing approach, despite its ultimate failure.  😉

The cards got me thinking, however.  While working in your garden, have you ever found anything unusual or interesting, something that seems a bit out of place?  I documented the weirdest (and most dangerous) thing I’ve ever found in this post, and here’s a fascinating link to a list of oddball “garden treasures” for fun and inspiration.

Book review: Good Garden Bugs.

A quick book review today!

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Good Garden Bugs:  Everything You Need to Know About Beneficial Predatory Insects – Mary M. Gardiner, Ph.D.  (2015, Quarry Books, Massachusetts)

Every gardener needs to be able to identify and understand the role of the most common insects in the garden – a difficult task, to be sure, but it can make a huge impact on the way integrated pest management is practiced.  There are a myriad of excellent insect ID books out there – both general and regional in scope – but to my knowledge, Dr. Gardiner’s is the first to specifically cover only beneficial predatory insects.  If you are trying to keep your garden as chemical-free as possible, a working knowledge of the insects described in Good Garden Bugs is essential, as they are your allies against any insect pests that might attack your plants.  We’re all familiar with the role ladybird beetles play as voracious aphid feeders – but have you thought about how useful insects such as assassin bugs, lacewings, wasps, antlions, and the parasitoid flies are?  What about arachnids such as spiders, predatory mites, and scorpions?  How about the water beetles that can help protect your pond plants?

Good Garden Bugs is easily accessible to the home gardener:  the profiles of each insect offer sufficiently appropriate (not overwhelming) details about identifying features, distribution, and behaviour/habits.  The full colour photography is outstanding and is a huge asset to anyone looking to make a positive ID of the six- or eight-legged critter found in the bean plants.

I was particularly interested in the short discussion of the feeding habits of the insects, as the way that they eat (piercing, sucking, etc.) is important to consider when examining their effectiveness as predators.  Excellent macro photos illustrate the various mouthparts.  There are also good tips on designing an “enemy-friendly” landscape, including a useful list of attractive plants (focussing on natives and those with extrafloral nectaries).

The readability and the stellar photography in Good Garden Bugs make this a must-have resource in any gardener’s library.  Next time you go out in the garden and you see an insect you can’t identify, consult Good Garden Bugs.  You might just be getting a helping hand in the garden!

(My copy of Good Garden Bugs arrived compliments from the publisher, Quarry Books.  This review is 100 percent my honest opinion.  Maybe even 110 percent).    🙂

Planting Garlic: Pre-treatments and crop rotation.

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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?

Red Lily Beetle.

Although I don’t make a habit of revisiting old posts, this one bears repeating.  The red (or scarlet) lily beetle has taken over Alberta, it seems – and I know infestations have been occurring all over the world (in some places, for quite a number of years).  This is my post from last year about the dastardly red beast:

Red Lily Beetle (Flowery Prose)

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This gorgeous Asiatic lily isn’t from my garden, although I wish it was – I took this photograph at the Calgary Zoo a couple of summers ago. 

Have you been faced with an infestation of red lily beetles in your garden?  (I sure hope not!).  If you have, what seems to work best to keep them under control?

Post updated: May 2018.

Flowery Prose gets a makeover.

In part because our spectacular sunny reprieve from winter is coming to an end (up to 10 centimetres of snow is predicted for tomorrow, which reminds me that I needed to buy new winter boots a few days ago…sigh) AND because I’ve been pondering it for some time, I’m announcing some additions to Flowery Prose.

As many of you know, I’m what I term a “microgardener” – I live in a tiny one bedroom apartment (with no balcony or deck) and although I have soil to dig in – I look after the perennial gardens on the property where I live, and I rent a community garden plot every year – I have space limitations like you wouldn’t believe.  Plus, there’s the not-to-be-overlooked-even-if-we-wanted-to fact that it is winter here in Alberta about six or seven months out of the year (if we’re lucky).  In truth, it’s not always possible (or desirable) to post about my gardens’ goings-on, which is why you’ll see me touring other gardens or writing about the plants I see on my hikes or delving into some tidbit of plant lore I find while I’m doing research.

I’m still going to do all of that.  My blog is first and foremost about plants and gardening…I aim to keep the “flowery” in Flowery Prose.

But I’m going to add some topics to the mix.  As a freelance writer, I’ve covered everything from vinegar to minor hockey, and while things won’t be quite that eclectic around here, I’m eager to explore a bit more in the way of local history, nature, cooking and baking, and photography.  I’ve already done a bit of that here in the past…only now I won’t necessarily add a plant or gardening connection.

Except for gardening titles, my book reviews (or whatever you want to call what it is that I do over there) will still be found on my blog The Door is Ajar.  I will still put up new content on my “Alberta snapshots” blog There is a Light, but for any of you who are subscribers to both Flowery Prose and There is a Light, there may be occasional overlaps.  (Flowery Prose will always get the new posts before TIAL).

My Facebook feed for Flowery Prose will remain the same:  all plant stuff, all the time.  (I love to scoop up links from online sources and share them).  My Twitter feed contains links to gardening information, as well as notifications about my writing projects and blogs and anything else I find interesting.

I really, REALLY hope you will enjoy the slightly more diverse content I’m planning…I truly appreciate the fact that I have such wonderful readers.  I always love to hear from you!

I hope you all have a fantastic weekend!  I’m off to buy some boots….

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(Frontenac rose – Devonian Botanical Garden, Devon, AB – July 2013.  Oh, I miss summer already!)