The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter – July/August 2020.

The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter

July/August 2020

Welcome to the fourth 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

Request for book reviews!

Do you have a copy of either of (or both of!) our books, The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables and The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases? If you do, can you please help us out and take a couple of minutes to give us a rating and review on Amazon.ca/Amazon.com?  Don’t worry about leaving a lengthy review…two or three words is honestly all Amazon requires.  If you’re on GoodReads, leaving a rating over there would be wonderful, as well!  Thank you so much! We are so grateful for your support and encouragement and we hope you are finding the books informative, useful, and fun!

We’ve been on a podcast! 

Janet and I had the pleasure and honour of being guests on Agriculture for Life’s Know Your Food podcast, for not one, but TWO episodes! We talked about growing veggies and other edibles, encouraging children to catch the gardening bug, and the connection between the coronavirus pandemic, self-sustainability, and growing your own food…and a few other topics, besides!  Go to Ag for Life’s website to listen.

EPISODE ONE – click here!
EPISODE TWO – click here!

Winners of Flowery Prose blog contest

Congratulations to Sherryl H. and Linda H., who each won a set of The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables and The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases by participating in a contest run here on the blog earlier this month.  A huge thank you to our publisher, TouchWood Editions, for supporting the contest and providing the prizes for the winners!

Out and About

Sheryl:

After being laid off for nearly four months, I am back to work at the library and, combined with my writing schedule and gardening and the need to eke out a few fun summer activities while there is still time, I’m a wee bit swamped. I have an ever-accumulating load of articles to write, questions to answer for curious (and occasionally desperate and fed up) gardeners, thunderstorms to dodge (my tomatoes have spent half of their lives covered up with sheets to prevent hailstones from destroying them), and So. Much. Weeding.  The weed du jour (besides quackgrass, which is actually the bane of my existence): stinkweed (Thlapsi arvense).  At least stinkweed is an annual, and it spreads via seeds instead of rhizomes (or seeds AND rhizomes – shudder).  It’s easy to pull but there seems to be an incredible amount of it this year.  Stinkweed has the glorious distinction that if it is allowed to set seed, one plant can produce 15,000 seeds.  I’m pretty sure all of those germinated in my raised beds this year, alongside a zillion annual chickweed plants (Stellaria media), which are another story altogether.

A few articles that I wrote earlier in the year have made it to publication – check out “Harvesting Rain’’ in the Summer 2020 issue of The Gardener for Canadian Climates and “Superb Serviceberries” in Mother Earth Gardener.  Both of these are available on newsstands across Canada – and in the case of Mother Earth Gardener, you can find it anywhere in the United States, as well. (You can also read the article online here!). I also went a little farther afield than usual and wrote an article called “Opossums as Pollinators in Brazil” for the April 2020 issue of 2 Million Blossoms.  As you can imagine, that one was fascinating to research! This is a beautifully-produced, brand-new publication out of Arizona, dedicated to celebrating and “protecting our pollinators.” (If interested, you can order a subscription from their website).

I also had a chance to do a story about houseplants, for a change – my article “Devil’s Ivy vs. Philodendron: Which is Which?” can be found online at Farmers’ Almanac Check it out here! And, finally, “Using Colour in the Garden” was published in the July 4, 2020 issue of the newspaper The Calgary HeraldYou can read it here

Janet:

Unlike Sheryl I have been taking a hiatus from writing and workshops since the middle of June, although my article ‘Attracting Butterflies with Annuals’ is in the Summer issue of The Gardener for Canadian Climates. It was a joy to research, write and photograph and I hope any of you that take in this magazine enjoys it too.

My Horticultural Therapy programs are all in abeyance too, except for one that is online!

So, my days have been filled with planting, sowing and weeding all the gardens that folks in the programs usually do. Plus, every so often, getting into my own garden.

One thing I haven’t had to much at all is watering, seeing as the sky has repeatedly provided ample moisture. Apparently, Alberta is experiencing La Nina like conditions in the atmosphere which have been contributing to our cooler and wetter weather lately. There is also a 50/50 chance of a full blown La Nina for this winter. Can we say cold and snowy?

I have been loving the chance to get out into the wild where the wildflowers have been stunning along with the insects and birds.  Usually my days are filled in the summer months and I seldom get the chance to go out and about. If there is a silver lining to this year, it is the joy we Albertans are getting from relearning our own backyards and wild spaces!

Mountain bluebell – Jasper, Alberta (photo by Janet Melrose)
Western lily – Jasper, Alberta (photo by Janet Melrose)
Lady’s slipper orchid – Jasper, Alberta (photo by Janet Melrose)

In Our Gardens

Sheryl:

As I already mentioned, weeds are what’s happening.  We have had a lot of rain and now there are weeds everywhere.  I’m a bit weird in that I don’t mind weeding: I like to relax in the sun and pull and dig them up by hand.  Weeding is just a really nice opportunity to turn the ol’ brain off and listen to the birds sing and the bees buzz in the garden.  More importantly, it’s a way to get really up close with your plants and see what’s going on almost at soil level.  Sometimes you get in a rush and you run to the garden to grab a handful of lettuce for a supper salad, or you sprinkle some water over everything before you dash out to work in the morning and you don’t really SEE what’s going on out there.  You need to sit and go slow to do that.  If you take a look at our pests and diseases book, you’ll notice that we talk about Integrated Pest (Plant) Management.  One of the tenets of that practice is monitoring.  That’s one of the things you can be doing while you weed: monitor your cultivated crops and ensure they are healthy and stress-free. If they aren’t, maybe you can see what the problem is while you’re out there weeding.

In July and August, everything is up in the garden and you’re just taking it all in, harvesting a few crops here and there and waiting on others to get larger or to produce more.  We’ve been enjoying spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, scallions, garlic scapes, kohlrabi, and various herbs – and, of course, potatoes (which are honestly the real reason I grow vegetables, LOL). And now the beans are coming along as well and the zucchini (which is seriously late for me this year).   

A bit of hail damage isn’t stopping those nasturtiums and calendula! I always mix edible flowers into my veggie beds. (Photo by Sheryl Normandeau)

Janet:

I have been having so much fun working in my bed at Inglewood Community Garden. It is a 10’ x 4’ bed so I have taken our Victory Garden plan (which you can see here) and used it in this bed using the square foot gardening technique to control my urge to just add a bit more into it.

Bumper harvest – Inglewood Community Garden (photo by Janet Melrose)

It is producing magnificently with my four kale plants in full production, along with lettuce and chard galore. This year with all the rain our radishes were wonderful….mild tasting, beautiful round orbs and nary a radish maggot to be found. Soon it will be the turn of the pole beans, garlic and tomatoes as they all come into their own. And I grew the best cilantro I have ever done, with it tucked in the shadow of the tomatoes and under floating row cover the entire time. A testimony to the benefits of using this ‘gardeners’ best friend’, not to mention the value it provides as hail protection!

Best cilantro ever! (Photo by Janet Melrose)

As I love to get as much as I can from a space I have already sown more radishes where the cilantro was in the hopes that the conditions there will good enough to get a second delicious crop. While the first lettuces are being harvested using ‘crop and come again’ I have sown more seed to germinate while I munch through the first round of delicious leaves. When the garlic come out in a few weeks I have more seedlings growing in wintersowing jugs to take that space to continue the bounty!

Fantastic radishes! (Photo by Janet Melrose)

Floral Miscellany

Sheryl:

A couple of the questions that keep cropping up (pun intended) on the Alberta Gardening group on Facebook concern the topic of growing onions.  If you’re waiting on your onion bulbs to plump up and you know it’s going to be a few more weeks, what do you do if flowers suddenly show up?  Do you cut them off?  Do you leave them?  And some gardeners stomp down the tops of their onions at this point in the growing season because they think it will promote fatter bulbs – is that something that should be done?  (I’ve seen people recommend this for potatoes, as well).  Let’s get down to the bottom of this! 

Janet:

Continuing on with the Allium family, garlic (Allium sativum) is taking centre stage now. Our late and cool start to the growing season has meant that they are only now developing the distinctive curl to the scapes, but now is the time to snip those scapes back to the first set of leaves. A gourmet delight and expensive in stores, use them just as you would the cloves for your summer cuisine. They pickle and pesto perfectly too if you have too many to use fresh!

Then watch for the leaves to turn yellow and die back in the next few weeks. Once they are about one third brown harvest one to see if the bulb is big and well formed. If it is, then harvest the lot as left too long after that the quality starts to degrade. Cure for three weeks in a dry and warm spot and we have fantastic garlic for the winter months plus using the best bulbs our stock for planting come fall when the cycle begins again!

If you love growing garlic like I do check out Ron L. Engleland’s iconic book ‘Growing Great Garlic’.

Get Social with Us! 

Sheryl: 

Facebook: @FloweryProse

Twitter: @Flowery_Prose

Instagram: @flowery_prose

Janet:

Facebook: calgaryscottagegardener

Twitter: @calcottagegdnr

Instagram: calgaryscottagegardener

‘Til later!  ♥Sheryl and Janet

Flowery Friday: Arnica.

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).

The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter – June 2020.

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. 

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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!

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An article Janet and I wrote about updated-for-2020-small-space Victory Gardens is out and about on Facebook and the rest of the Internet – and it comes complete with a useful garden plot planner, gorgeously illustrated by Tree Abraham (who also did our amazing and unique book covers and designed the layouts).  Please feel free to share it!  P.S.: The garden plot in the article isn’t merely hypothetical – it actually exists!  It is the very one Janet is using this year in one of the community gardens she belongs to! 

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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. 

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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

Sheryl: 

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. 

Janet:

 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!

(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

Sheryl:

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. 

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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.  

(Left to right: Lovage, Rhubarb – Photos by Sheryl Normandeau)

(Updated on June 22 to add this video I made to profile the herb lovage:)

Janet:

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!

Floral Miscellany

Sheryl:

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:  

Janet:

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.

You may like to check out an article by Steve Allen on the Harvest to Table website for lots more seasonal advice for planting this year! 

Get Social with Us! 

Sheryl: 

Facebook: @FloweryProse

Twitter: @Flowery_Prose

Instagram: @flowery_prose

Janet:

Facebook: calgaryscottagegardener

Twitter: @calcottagegdnr

Instagram: calgaryscottagegardener

 

‘Til next month!  ♥Sheryl and Janet

Junction Hill hike.

We didn’t do a whole lot of hiking this past summer – I ended up working most weekends and things just didn’t pan out as we had hoped.  Our trip to Junction Hill in early June ended up being quite the adventure,* but the scenery was utterly worth it. I have never seen so many shooting stars (Dodecatheon conjugens) and calypso orchids (Calypso bulbosa) blooming in one place – it was simply breathtaking!  This isn’t a popular hike by any stretch and so the area is largely undisturbed, allowing the wildflowers to blanket every inch of the ground on the lower slopes. In case you’re in Kananaskis Country and want to try this trek for yourself, be forewarned: this isn’t some little hillock that you can casually saunter up and back from.  It’s a certifiable mountain with a highly inappropriate name.

So, this…found at the beginning of our hike.  Not ominous, at all.

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Wildflower bliss!

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And one of the exceptional views from the summit….

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*1. Ticks! We had a tick removal kit from the Central Alberta Lyme Society (CALS) and this very useful information from Alberta Health.
2. Don’t underestimate the need to wear properly-fitted hiking boots.  My new pair are super comfortable and I thought they were suitable, but I should have tried harder to get something that didn’t encourage my toes to crush themselves into the tips of the boots on the descent. Here are some tips for a proper boot fit.

Review: Wildflowers of the Mixed-Grass Prairie by Johane Janelle.

Wildflowers of the Mixed-Grass Prairie – Johane Janelle (2017)

Here’s a fantastic resource for anyone interested in identifying the wildflowers growing on the western Canadian Prairies! Alberta-based photographer Johane Janelle has created and published a beautiful and useful brochure listing more than 70 wildflowers found on explorations on the mixed grass prairie.  The detailed photographs (arranged by bloom colour) assist with easy, quick ID, and Johane also lists the flowering period for each plant, as an additional aid.  The brochure is folded and laminated so it won’t crush or dampen during hikes.  It’s now a staple in my backpack!

Click here for a photo of the brochure, from the photographer’s gallery (don’t forget to check out her other work while you’re there!).  You can order the brochure directly from Johane by using the Contact Form on her website.

The largesse (largeness?) of spring.

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Infinity is just so big that by comparison bigness itself looks really titchy.

~Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe 

O riotous spring!  My hayfever has hayfever, and the three of us (because of course the two hayfevers are their own monstrous entities) have a cold on top of it all.

But it’s cause for celebration! Why, you may ask? Well, let me tell you:

  1. I’m fairly certain I’m a walking medical miracle. I mean, hayfever + hayfever + cold and I’m still functioning-ish? My allergist needs to get on publishing that research – he could be retiring to the Caymans in no time.
  2. Although it’s probably reasonable to state that we had a more “accurate” winter than we usually do (lots of cold and snow versus a ton of Chinooks and dry, exposed earth), it felt impossibly huge and long and draggy and we. are. officially. (probably. sort. of. maybe). done. with. it.
  3. The photo says it all. The Prairie crocuses are blooming like mad all over the sunny slopes and despite the incessant sneezing and sniffling, life is pretty awesome.

 

Floral notes: February 2018.

If you’re looking to ID native wildflowers on the Canadian Prairies (specifically in Saskatchewan), this website has the most amazing photography I’ve ever seen on the subject.  We have most of these plants here in Alberta and I know this is a resource I will use over and over again. Even if you don’t live in this part of Canada, you will hugely enjoy the beautiful images. I am floored that these are not yet compiled into book form; I would buy it in a heartbeat.

I somehow missed the name change for African violets and I can’t seem to find out when it was made official (for all I know, it was quite a while ago)…but here it is: Saintpaulia spp. are now more accurately termed StreptocarpusThis article offers a bit of explanation.

My favourite recipe so far this week: this one for Cranberry Muffins.  But I didn’t have any oranges, so I didn’t use orange zest or orange juice; I substituted 1 teaspoon of pure lemon extract instead.  And omitted the glaze entirely.  They were wonderful.  I will get some oranges and try them the way they were intended as well.

From the “Toot My Own Horn Department”:  I am delighted that my article “Vibrant Viburnums” is included in the new volume of The Prairie Garden!  The 2018 book is all about shade plants and was officially launched last week.

 

(Wild)flowery Friday: Marsh smartweed.

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In the foreground: a new view of marsh smartweed, a plant I profiled on Flowery Prose around this time last year.  (Take a look at my original post here, along with a close-up view of the flower).  I shot this photo from our boat as we followed the northwest shoreline of McGregor Lake (near Milo, Alberta), on a crazy hot and smoky August afternoon.

I’m not certain of the ID of the large reeds in the background; I’ve done some tentative digging but haven’t come up with anything conclusive. I’ll update this post if I can find out any more info about them.

Flowery Friday: common willowherb.

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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.

(Wild)flowery Friday: Monarda fistulosa.

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Yes, this plant is about as common here as wearing socks…well, except it’s summer and a blisteringly hot one at that and everyone is currently shod in sandals and…where was I? Yeah. Wild bergamot, sometimes called horsemint.  Monarda fistulosa (syn. M. menthifolia, M. bradburrana).  Socks in winter.  Ahem.

It looks pretty marvelous, especially when photographed in the early morning.  One of my favourite Alberta wildflowers.  Me and the bees.   🙂