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).
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.
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!
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!
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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:)
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!
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:
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!
‘Til next month! ♥Sheryl and Janet
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.
And one of the exceptional views from the summit….
*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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 Streptocarpus. This 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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
In around the packing for our move across the city, the brutally lengthy commute, and working at a new location (not to mention, utterly failing to reply to the thoughtful, wonderful blog comments people have left or find the time to read anyone else’s blog entries) , there have been few spare moments to do any hiking or wildflower hunting this spring…and I’m dearly missing getting out. My hubby and I did manage a whirlwind couple of orchid-hunting trips a couple of weeks ago, first to a spot we know southwest of the city, near the mountains, to look for calypso (or fairy slipper) orchids. We found a scarce few, and I hope it was just a timing thing, because their numbers were sorely depleted from our last visit in spring 2015 (when I took the above photo).
Later in the same week, we went out to a place in the foothills of the Rockies, and scoped out the brilliant yellow lady’s slippers I mention here. In this place, this year, the orchids had spread abundantly – a fantastic sign!
Speaking of lady’s slipper orchids, I recently came across a great article about the pollination and seed development of these gorgeous plants. Enjoy the interesting read here.
Hopefully things will settle down in the next month or so and I can catch up with all of you very soon! Have a wonderful weekend!