A very short list of a few of the things in my neighbourhood I’m going to miss…

…now that moving day is nearly here and we will be heading to a new community all the way across the city.

The grocery store just up the street. I know where absolutely everything is, aside from the egg replacer (turns out no one there knows where it is, either…might have something to do with the fact that there is some question as to what, exactly, it is). The friendly faces of the staff members will be missed, as well – including one gentleman my hubby and I both worked with years ago at a different job, and a courtesy clerk who treats my hubby like a rock star and makes us smile about it every time.

Our landlady, who has a magical green thumb and grows the most incredible nicotiana and tomato plants I’ve ever seen, and who has always been so kind and generous and thoughtful.

The perennial flower beds that I’ve tended for nearly twenty years…which, well, *sob.* I can’t even begin to tell you how much I will miss them. The balcony in our new place is small and I will be restricted to just a few plants in containers. It will be very difficult for me.

The community garden that I’ve been a member of for five years and served on the organizing committee for.  I met some fascinating people through the garden – everyone with diverse backgrounds, education, and opinions – and learned several lessons about plants and life (!) during my experience there.  I am delighted that there is a community garden near our new place, and I’m already growing some veggies there. I’m starting off small this year (both due to a serious lack of time and a cutworm problem that is unfortunately keeping the plants in check), but hopefully next year’s growing season will be more promising.

The plants in the community that mark the seasons in their own ways: the neighbour’s yellow forsythia in early spring, the soft-needled larch trees in the park next door, the ginormous lilac hedge along the drive.  The mayday tree out front with its sickly sweet-scented but gorgeous white flowers, the snowball viburnums in front of the building across from us.  The plums and crabapples down the street, and the splendid mountain ash with their persistent berries.  Even the green ash tree that has threatened to drop branches on our truck in stormy weather several times over the years.

Nose Hill.  If you’ve followed Flowery Prose for a while, you’ll know this is my favourite place to walk and I have posted many, many photographs of the flowers and the landscape there.  Of course, I will still be living in the same city and I will still be able to travel to Nose Hill to walk there but because of the distance, I know I will not be able to go there as often as I do now.  On the plus side, in the new community, there will be several new parks to explore.

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The northern flickers that nest in the trees outside the back door of our apartment building. They are a joy to watch.

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Photo credit: R. Normandeau

The jackrabbits and the squirrels.  Yes, they ate or dug up great chunks of my garden most years, but you can’t help but smile when you see these little furry bundles of energy.  Even while you’re clapping your hands and chasing after them, screaming, “Get out of there, you little ********!” and your neighbours are all going to their windows and lifting the curtains and wondering what the crazy lady is doing this time.

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The library branch I used to work at, a twenty minute walk from my home. I dearly miss the friends I made there – but I know I will keep in touch with many of them in years to come.

That dude who takes his acoustic guitar out on sunny days in the summer and sits on the bench in front of our building and treats us all to some great music.

Cross country skiing in the park next to our apartment.  Especially fun after a fresh snowfall, at night, when it’s quiet and you’re the first to make tracks and the snow is all powdery and perfect and sparkling in the street lamps.

The courtyard of the school where, in the summer, I used to go to read and enjoy the weather on my lunch breaks from work.  One late afternoon, I hid out under the roof for nearly an hour while the most insane thunderstorm I’ve ever seen raged around me.  There was so much lightning and thunder and rain that I had to wait it all out before safely walking home.  Lightning hit a generating station a few kilometres away and the resulting sonic boom was terrifying and awesome.  And…then there was that time I was reading and I heard a noise nearby.  I looked up to see that something…someone…had opened the window of the classroom next to me and stuck a hand out the window.  To say I was freaked out is an understatement, as the school was closed for the summer.  Sure, it could have been a janitor (that’s what I tell myself, anyway), but in truth, there were no cars in the parking lot and the hand sort of just “felt” the air and went back inside, leaving the window ajar. Not really the behaviour of a janitor, but how else to explain it?  And no, I wasn’t reading Stephen King at the time.

The neighbourhood Korean barbeque place that doesn’t have an English name, where my co-workers and I delighted in some really delicious, cheap meals for birthday and other celebratory lunches.  It has the plainest decor and you can seat perhaps a maximum of twenty people in the place, but the food is really stellar.  Sometimes those tiny hole-in-the-wall places are the best.

The community arena where my hubby and I occasionally watched junior lacrosse games.  It’s one of those places where the reek of sweat has completely saturated the entire building, from the floorboards to the ceiling, and you can probably get athlete’s foot from merely sitting on the spectator bleachers, but it’s so fun to watch Canada’s national summer sport grow with these kids.  Sometimes, if we were lucky, we caught a glimpse of one or two well-known professional (current and retired) lacrosse players coaching their students in the field outside the arena.

If you had to move today, what are a few of the things you’d miss about your current home and the community where you live?  

 

More seeds to give away!

I’m organizing!  Or something like it, anyway….

If you live in Canada and would like any of the following seeds, please go to my CONTACT FORM and fill out your name, mailing address, and a list of the seeds you’re interested in. I’ll ship them out to you free of charge within the next few weeks.

I’m so sorry, but I cannot mail seeds to anyone outside of Canada. As well, I have very limited quantities of some of these, so drop me a line right away for best selection.

Although many of these are salad greens and vegetables, there are a few that you may need to research ahead of requesting – look for things such as hardiness zone, size, growth habit (some of these are spreaders and reseeders, so be warned!) etc..  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

And, of course, even though I’ve made all attempts to store these properly, there is no guarantee that they will germinate and/or grow.  But I think you should have pretty good results.  Happy gardening!

Up for grabs:

Calendula (unknown cultivar, single blooms)

Rock soapwort

Chervil

Lupine (unknown cultivar)

Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) – SORRY, ALL SPOKEN FOR

Rat’s tail radish

Mache

Golden purslane

Chives – SORRY, ALL SPOKEN FOR

Tennessee coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis) – SORRY, ALL SPOKEN FOR

Magentaspreen (Chenopodium giganteum)

Poached egg plant (Limnanthes douglasii) – SORRY, ALL SPOKEN FOR

Komatsuna

Hu hsien

Red frills mustard greens

Radish (regular white-fleshed, red-skinned variety)

Mitsuba (Japanese parsley, Cryptotaenia japonica)

Tsoi-sim

Rapini ‘Sorrento’

Alyssum (perennial)

Ground cherry ‘Aunt Molly’

Shiso (Perilla frutescens)

Hamburg parsley

Tatsoi

 

Book review: Build a better vegetable garden.

There’s still snow on the ground here, although there have been sightings in the area of crocus foliage (not in my garden, sadly – although I’ve been going out every morning to take a look, just in case something’s changed overnight.  Nope, just snow). It doesn’t matter. I’ve already ordered some seeds and I’ve got the veggie garden all mapped out (Version 8.0 or thereabouts – we all know I’ll be revising until the very day I plant, especially if the seed catalogues keep coming!).

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And I’ve been looking at a few new books. I was sent a copy of Joyce and Ben Russell’s Build a Better Vegetable Garden: 30 DIY Projects to Improve Your Harvest (2017, Frances Lincoln Limited/Quarto, London) for review and it hasn’t left my desk…I keep picking it up and browsing through it.  Whether you’re an experienced gardener or a newbie, there are projects in here that can get you growing in no time: setting up a raised hoop tunnel, designing and constructing a raised bed, building your own wooden planters, creating a cold frame, or making a trellis for climbing beans.  Other projects you may not have immediately thought of include making your own seed trays (and dibber!), a storage rack for your tools, a wire support for raspberries, a handy trug, a cabinet with trays for drying the harvest, and a beautiful decorative obelisk.  The best part about this book is you don’t need to be a certified woodworker or carpenter to do any of these projects.  You don’t need specialized tools (most can be done with a basic drill, a couple of types of saws, some hand tools and hardware you can easily pick up and afford).  Nearly all of the projects are made from wood.  And the instructions are straightforward, easy to understand, and very clearly photographed so you’re not guessing at any stage of the project.  I am the least crafty person I know, and I have confidence I could undertake most of these projects without making a huge mess of them (or losing a limb in the process). 😉  I really think this book would be a fantastic gift for a new gardener or homeowner – and it would be extremely useful for anyone setting up a community garden or allotment as well.  Highly recommended (and that’s my honest opinion!).

Do you have any recommendations for gardening books that have you feeling excited and inspired as you plan (or dig in) for the new season?  Tell me what you’ve been poring over, I’d love to hear! 

Recipe: Roasted pumpkin and lentils.

In lieu of photos of skeletal trees, interesting living sculptures, and a harrowing (!) trip to a ghost town, this year I’m offering up a Hallowe’en post with a recipe.  It’s a frighteningly good one, though, and it uses pumpkin, so it will hopefully meet with unanimous approval and gifts of tiny individually-wrapped chocolates.

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Roasted Pumpkin and Lentils

SPOILER ALERT:  Gratuitous pumpkin gore ahead*

1 small pumpkin

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup red lentils, washed and drained

4 cups water

½ tsp ground turmeric

½ tsp salt

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1 tsp ground curry

1 tbsp minced garlic

1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced

1 large tomato, diced

1 tsp red pepper flakes

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Metric conversion table here.

*First, prepare the pumpkin. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Carefully cut the pumpkin in half, and scoop out the seeds. (Save the seeds to roast later on).  Place the pumpkin, cut sides up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment.  Brush olive oil into the cavity of the pumpkin halves.  Roast the pumpkin in the hot oven for 45 minutes.  Cool, then scoop out the flesh into bite-sized pieces.

Using a colander, rinse the lentils under cool water. Into a large saucepan, place the 4 1/2 cups of water and lentils.  Bring to a boil.  Add the turmeric and salt.  Cover the pot and cook at medium heat for about 20 minutes or until the lentils are soft.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add the cumin seeds, curry, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, and red pepper flakes.  Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Add the roasted pumpkin and lentils (including the liquid) to the pan.  Mix well.  Cook about 5 minutes, then add fresh parsley.  Serve over hot cooked rice or noodles.

I think it would be highly appropriate to chow down on this festive comfort food with a side of miniature chocolate bars while enjoying a recording of Vincent Price and Basil Rathbone reading Edgar Allan Poe stories and poems (the link may be found here; you’ll need a Spotify account to listen).  Freakishly fantastic!

Fun and interesting facts about rhubarb.

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The rhubarb in the community garden is absolutely monstrous this year – it shot up so quickly I barely had time to blink during the transition between fat sprouts to gargantuan wide leaves and thick, harvest-ready stalks.  I’m dreaming about the rhubarb cake I am going to bake….

Rhubarb gardeners will know most of these fun facts, but if you’re new to growing (or eating!) it, you might enjoy this little list of rhubarb trivia:

  • Rhubarb is in the Polygonaceae family, which includes buckwheat and sorrel.
  • Rhubarb’s binomial name is Rheum rhabarbarum – the specific epithet is from the Latin and means “root of the barbarians.”
  • Rhubarb leaves are poisonous, chock full of more oxalic acid than humans and animals may safely consume.  Small amounts of oxalic acid are found in the stalks, which we eat – the acidity gives rhubarb its “tang.”  (You’ll find small amounts of oxalic acid present in sorrel and spinach, as well).
  • Contrary to popular belief, even though rhubarb leaves are poisonous, they actually can be composted.  The acids in them will break down like any other natural chemical found in plants and will not cause the compost to become toxic.  Just make sure you chop those gigantic leaves up so that they’re easier for your composter to break down quickly.
  • The part of rhubarb that we eat is the petiole of the leaf.
  • Rhubarb is a perennial. And it is supremely tough and cold-hardy, so you usually have to do something really, really horrific to kill it once it becomes established.  Like drive over it with a truck.  Or set it on fire.  And it may even survive those things.
  • Rhubarb is botanically a vegetable, but we treat it like a fruit in cooking and often eat it in desserts.  In 1947, the United States gave it the legal designation as a “fruit” to avoid the high tariffs imposed on imported vegetables. (It was cheaper at the time to bring fruits into the country).
  • You’ll sometimes hear rhubarb referred to as the “pie plant.”  If you’ve ever eaten rhubarb pie (or even better, strawberry rhubarb pie), it’s not difficult to be a supporter of this nickname.
  • If your rhubarb stalks are green, they’re not underripe or something.  Some cultivars have greener stalks than others.  The red colour is due to the presence of anthocyanins, the same chemicals that make the leaves of some deciduous trees turn red in the autumn.
  • Rhubarb root has been used as a laxative in Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
  • Rhubarb reached Europe via the Silk Road in the 14th century.  The plants were brought to North America by European settlers in the early 1800’s.
  • If you like to dye textiles with natural plant-based dyes, rhubarb leaves make a good mordant (just be really careful while handling them!).  The roots will produce a brown dye.
  • In the United Kingdom, it is common to force an early rhubarb crop under pots in January and February.  A second crop is planted outdoors for later harvest.
  • Store harvested rhubarb stalks in the fridge and use them up as soon as you can.  Rhubarb freezes well so that’s an option if you have a huge harvest.
  • Do not harvest rhubarb in the heat, as the stalks will quickly wilt.
  • Speaking of harvesting rhubarb – pull or cut?  Always pull!  If you cut the stalks, you might encourage rot.  And never, ever, take more than half of the stalks of the plant at a time.
  • If your rhubarb is damaged by a late spring frost, you can remove most of the stalks (leave at least 3 to 5 on the plant) and allow the plant to regrow – it should produce another crop shortly.  Don’t eat the frozen stalks.
  • Rhubarb has really pretty, dramatic flowers – and as long as you don’t allow them to set seed, you can enjoy the flowers for a very brief time.  You can keep harvesting the rhubarb stalks while the plant flowers – the quality of the produce does not suffer.  If the plants set seed, however, the energy that would be devoted to the creation of delicious stalks is then diverted to the seeds, which you don’t want.  You’ll end up with smaller stalks as a result.   So if you want flowers AND yummy stalks, watch carefully to remove the blooms at just the right time.
  • The word “rhubarb” may also refer to a loud dispute; in the 1940’s, it was commonly used as a descriptor of the on- and off-field shenanigans of fans and players at raucous baseball games.  In 1930’s theatre, the repetition of the word “rhubarb” by stage actors was used to simulate background conversation.

What are your favourite rhubarb recipes?  (Please go ahead and post links – I’m always on the hunt for more!).  

 

 

Book reviews: Water-Smart Gardening and High-Value Veggies.

It’s officially spring! (I’d put a few more exclamation points in there, but I side with many grammarians who believe that as a punctuation mark, they’re utterly overused. Everyone is really excited these days, apparently). But, hey, spring!

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So…although I can’t really do much in the garden just yet except contrive methods of humane squirrel discouragement (why oh why do they have to be so adorable?), I’ve been doing a lot of reading about gardening. There are plenty of new books on the subject being published right about now, and here are two interesting and very relevant titles from Cool Springs Press:

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Water-Smart Gardening:  Save Water, Save Money, and Grow the Garden You Want by Diana Maranhao

I was particularly keen on this title because we just came out of the driest winter I can remember. While it was nice not to have to worry about breaking a wrist from falling on an icy, snow-covered sidewalk, it wasn’t the best situation for the plants. (The verdict is still out whether or not all my perennials made it. And I was recently talking to a fellow gardener at the community garden and she figured that the warm temperatures and lack of snow cover caused some of her fall-planted garlic to rot. I’m so glad I took a cue from last year’s garlic disaster and hadn’t planted any).

Last summer and autumn were hot and dry as well, and there’s no telling how our summer will round out this year. It could be very tricky to keep the plants going. Making sure supplemental irrigation is available has always been a necessity on the Prairies, for farmers and gardeners alike, but what if we have government-imposed water restrictions? Many jurisdictions are forced to go this route when water supply is stretched. As author Maranhao comments, drought is becoming a big issue world-wide, but no one seems to be doing anything concrete about it. This book is her solution to gardening successfully with low water use, and she has all sorts of solid, practical (and often creative) ideas about what to do. She covers plant selection (with a focus on zonal plantings), growing in microclimates, soil health, best planting/cultivation practices, and of course, a host of smart irrigation practices including swales, rain barrels, and in-ground and drip systems.

Maranhao’s most important advice?  “Garden within your environment.” I’m totally with her on that!

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High-Value Veggies: Homegrown Produce Ranked by Value by Mel Bartholomew 

You all know Bartholmew as the creator of square foot gardening, but I must admit I was rather more excited by this book than any others he’s previously written. The concept behind High-Value Veggies is that many of us tend to grow vegetables in our gardens that are already mass-produced and inexpensively-purchased at the grocery stores or local markets. His suggestion is that we abandon the idea of growing those “low-value” crops and instead focus on the ones that are really pricey to buy. He proceeds to break it all down by inputs (tools and equipment, amendments, irrigation) as well as the cost of land and labour and then stacks them up against the potential return on investment (U.S. stats, but likely fairly translatable in Canada and possibly Europe). All of this yields (pun intended) a top ten list of plant selections that Bartholomew profiles in more detail. There are definitely some edible plants that make more economical sense to grow than others!

I was thinking about this in terms of my community garden plot. The restrictions of space mean I need to choose which crops I plant very carefully every year, and although I may not have specifically thought about return on investment, I know I don’t always grow plants that I can buy for a reasonable price from local growers at the farmers’ market.  Bartholomew’s suggestions are seriously worth considering before the seeds are purchased for the year – and it doesn’t matter what scale of gardening you’re doing.

 

*Many thanks to Cool Springs Press for providing copies of these new titles for review. I did not receive any compensation for my opinions, which are my own.

Gardening books for children.

I recently wrote an article about gardening with children and I couldn’t help myself, I had to add in a bit about reading and books. The two activities truly go hand-in-hand!

The community garden I have a membership with has worked for many years in conjunction with the nearby library branch (that I just so happen to be employed at) to hold story time programs in the summer months. One of the library assistants takes a bunch of books out to the garden on a mid-week morning and children from all over the community and beyond gather with their parents and other family members to listen. Needless to say, it is a very well-received program!

Alberta-based writer/speaker/blogger April Demes published a fantastic post last spring about her favourite gardening books for children – you can check it out here. I have a few other titles to add:

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April Pulley Sayre – Rah, Rah, Radishes!  (I previously mentioned it here).

and Go, Go, Grapes!

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Fresh veggies and fruit have never been so much fun. I love the illustrations, too – they’re bold and bright and eye-catching.

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Stefan Page – We’re Going to the Farmers’ Market

This board book for the very young is the perfect introduction to an outing at the market and all the delicious produce you can find there.

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Kadir Nelson – If You Plant a Seed

There aren’t many words in this book, but they’re chosen with a powerful message in mind. This is less a book about gardening than it is about consideration and kindness. Nelson’s paintings are absolutely incredible – a real must-see.

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Julie Fogliano – And Then It’s Spring

Sweet, soft, and inviting.  Like spring should be, but often isn’t.  😉

 

Elly Mackay – If You Hold a Seed

A beautiful story about a boy and a tree as they grow up together. Dream big!

Watch Mackay’s fascinating process for creating her papercut illustrations here.

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Kevin Sheehan – The Dandelion’s Tale

One of my favourite children’s picture books in recent years. (I previously mentioned it on my other blog The Door is Ajar -click here).

 

What are your favourite gardening or garden-related books for children?