Floral notes: June 2016.


Whew!  Nine days in, and I can tell this is going to be one busy month…I think I’ve already spent 184.5673 hours of it watering my gardens.  We broke a heat record on Monday and the plants have been practically scratching at my window, begging for a drink.  This, when many parts of the world are suffering from flooding. I hope everyone affected is safe.

I have a bunch of fascinating links to pass along this month – hope you enjoy these!

National Geographic posted their winning images from their 2016 Travel Photographer of the Year contest – these are spectacular!

This slideshow profiling wild tulips from all over the world is truly incredible – move through the link and click the arrow on the right hand side of the first page to get started on the flower photos.  Even if you don’t have time to click on any of the other links I’ve given you today, take a couple of minutes to check this one out – you’ll understand why when you see it.

Considering espaliering your fruit trees?  Think BIGGER.  Trees meet architecture in this photo compilation.  

Canada has been gifted with a gorgeous new tulip in advance of the 150 anniversary of Confederation, to be celebrated next year.  ‘Canada 150’ is red and white, just like our flag.

English artist Rebecca Louise Law exhibited another of her deconstructed flower arrangements in Berlin – what a way to celebrate spring!

Here is a fascinating article about the origin of Canada’s most famous apple, the McIntosh. 

This is a candy terrarium.  Yep, it’s edible.  You won’t believe it, either.

And, finally, some stuff I posted elsewhere over the past few weeks:

I’ve put up a recipe for a flourless Rhubarb Oatmeal Cake on Grit.com – you can use either fresh or frozen rhubarb for this one.  And then top it off with a big mound of vanilla ice cream.

Vanilla ice cream…the only way to deal with a heat record.  Plus, if you get it served in a cone, you can water the garden while you eat.  Win-win.

(Clipart credit.)

Giveaway Winner Announcement – Shawna Coronado’s book Grow a Living Wall!

Drum roll please….

The winner of a copy of Shawna Coronado‘s new book Grow a Living Wall is Boomdee!  Congratulations!  Boomdee, please let me know your mailing address (you can e-mail me directly using the form on my ‘Contact’ page) and I will get the book out to you this week!  I hope you enjoy it!

Thank you to everyone for participating in the giveaway – it was so great to read all of your comments and ideas for living walls.  (And thank you once again to the publishers – Cool Springs Press/Quarto Publishing Group USA, Quayside Publishing Group – for the books!).

Have a wonderful week!


A tropical-themed living wall in Calgary’s Devonian Gardens

Book review: Rah, rah, radishes.

Rah, Rah, Radishes!  A Vegetable Chant by April Pully Sayre – (2011 Beach Lane Books, New York)

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I will get a share in a new CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) program getting underway this coming season – my mouth is watering just thinking of all the fresh, LOCAL produce that I will get every week (and my head is spinning trying to imagine how I will prepare them all in meals, especially given my meatatarian hubby’s “allergy” to veggies!).    I’m thrilled that more and more of these CSA programs are becoming available for Albertans – especially for those of us who do not have the space to grow a significant amount of our own produce!

While I anticipate the CSA share and look forward to the opening dates of the local (seasonal) farmers’ markets and U-Pick farms, I simply have to share an adorable picture book I found at the library the other day:  April Pulley Sayre’s Rah, Rah, Radishes!  A Vegetable Chant.  A celebration of farmers’ markets and all of the good, fresh food harvested and sold by local growers, Rah, Rah, Radishes!  is a total gem, with punchy, fun, rhymes:

Root for rutabagas.

Bounce for beets!

Pile up parsnips.

Turnip treats!

Snag some sweet corn!

Shuck an ear.

Celebrate celery.

Give a cheer!

Accompanied by absolutely STELLAR photography of all of the vegetables in their full, colourful glory, the book looks good enough to eat.  It’s like a seed catalogue with a boppin’ soundtrack (and no confusing cultivar names).  If you’ve got a little one in your life, introduce him or her to this book – and the exciting world of vegetables.

Now, ‘scuse me, I’m off to make a recording of this book to play back while my hubby is sleeping…I’ll get him to eat kohlrabi somehow!


Check out April Sayre’s veggie photos and more info at AprilSayre.com.  (And watch for her fruit-themed picture book Go, Go, Grapes! in May of this year).

Related posts:  Book review:  Water, Weed, and Wait.

Book reviews for spring planning.

If you’re like me, and you’re living in a location where the spring storms have brought snow and your cautiously-emerging early-flowering bulbs are buried under the white stuff, you’ll be needing a little pick-me-up to tide you through until the weather turns around in earnest.  Try out these books for a double whammy of eye-candy and excellent information:

The Beginner’s Guide to Growing Heirloom Vegetables by Marie Iannotti (2011, Timber Press, Inc., Portland)

Okay, so I may have drooled a little on this book – hopefully I won’t get fined for the damage when I return it to the library.  It’s just that it’s so unbelievably pretty, you can’t help but ooh and ahh over all of the sumptuous photographs.  I keep opening it, just to take a random gawk at the ‘Chioggia’ beets in cross-section, the ‘Japanese White Egg’ eggplants (which actually look like perfect white chicken eggs), or the beauteous purple-flowered ‘Di Sicilia Viletto’ cauliflower.  Or what about feathery-leafed fennel ‘Zefa Fino’ or the potent brilliant orange ‘Fatali’ peppers, or the watermelon radish, with its bright white skin and “red meat” inside?  And although you could treat this as merely the world’s most tantalizing picture book, Iannotti gives you all the information you need to know to grow all of these wonderful vegetables, including what’s most important:  how to save the seed and preserve these heirlooms for the future.  Add to this the fantastic stories of the origins of some of these veggies and you’ve got my hands-down favourite gardening book of the season so far.

Okay, but then there is Carolyn Herriot’s The Zero-Mile Diet:  A Year-Round Guide to Growing Organic Food (2010, Harbour Publishing, B.C.).  Another book that is blissfully heavy on the seed-saving side of things (seed-saving methods are provided for every crop listed in the book – how amazing is that?), The Zero-Mile Diet is seriously fun to pore through.  While there are A-Z sections for veggies and herbs, there is also a large chapter devoted to fruit crops, and every inch of the book is loaded with extras:  inspirational quotes, historical facts, food recipes (for humans AND for plants – did you know how to make a nutritious fertilizer from comfrey before this?), cultural recommendations, charts and tables, and more photos than you could shake a stick at.  Oh, and there are chicken and duck raising tips in here, too!   As if that wasn’t enough, it’s all laid out to follow a year in the garden:  what to plant and when, what to harvest and when – and while the West coast of Canada has a decidedly different climate than we do here on the Prairies, we can still use this template (we just have to compress it a little and move it ahead a few months.  Okay, and we can’t grow everything.  But we can dream!).  The key word with this book is “sustainability” and there are examples of it in spades – it’s really a treasure trove of useful, practical information.

Hands down, one of the best books on the planet if you want to learn how to improve your soil organically and keep it healthy and viable for your plants is Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis’ Teaming with Microbes:  The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web (Revised Edition, 2010, Timber Press, Inc., Portland).  While it’s a little textbook-y compared to the likes of Herriot and Iannotti’s books, it’s not about the glamourous side of gardening.  Teaming with Microbes is all about what makes up garden soil, all the fungi and bacteria and mold and spores and critters that give the soil life – and in turn, help your plants take up moisture and nutrients so that they can thrive and produce.  You want to know the science behind compost?  It’s in this book.  So is a marvelously detailed discussion of mycorrhizal fungi.  And mulch.  And leaf litter.  And, most importantly, how to maintain a healthy lawn and garden just by understanding your soil and knowing what to contribute, and when, so that your plants get the best leg up.

Book review: Sugar snaps and strawberries.

Sugar Snaps and Strawberries:  Simple Solutions for Creating Your Own Small-Space Edible Garden – Andrea Bellamy (2010, Timber Press, Inc., Portland)

This beautifully-photographed tome is a must-have for wannabe small-space urban gardeners:  it’s a comprehensive how-to manual that details all of the necessities for creating an aesthetically-pleasing and highly productive food garden on a balcony, deck, courtyard, driveway, or small yard.  Containers, of course, are the cornerstones of Bellamy’s designs, but she also offers construction plans for raised beds.  All the gardening nuts and bolts are covered:  light, water, soil, amendments, fertilizers, siting, pest control (organically, natch!) and all of the cultural requirements from sowing to pruning to harvest (including a really great section about saving seed and deliniating the terms “heirloom” and “hybrid”).

About one third of the book is devoted to the food plants themselves, with brief, detailed portraits of standby greens, herbs, tomatoes, root veggies and small fruits – and some surprises, such as mushrooms and grains.  I’m a bit astonished that Bellamy has included larger plants such as apples and corn on this list (particularly the latter, about which she writes, “Unfortunately, corn, also known as maize, is not suited to growing in very small places.”   I’m not quite sure it belongs here, especially as she doesn’t mention that it can be grown as shoots, which may be more appropriate given the theme of the book.  In her defense, though, a small yard can support a few corn plants, soooooo).  All in all, however, the plant selections are excellent small-space choices and many of them can be grown even in geographical locations with limited frost-free days.

Written in a easy-going, very accessible manner (and as an aside, I LOVE the fonts and layout!), this is THE primer for small-space gardeners looking to get started on their first food garden…it’s well worth purchasing as a reference tool.


Bellamy is the creator of the blog Heavy Petal, which can be found here.


Related posts:  The Book of Little Hostas.

How to Grow Your Food.

Book review: The book of little hostas.

The Book of Little Hostas:  200 Small, Very Small, and Mini Varieties by Kathy Guest Shadrack and Michael Shadrack (Timber Press, Inc, Portland, 2010)

After several weeks of absolutely BALMY winter weather here in Calgary (since when is it plus 13 degrees Celsius in January?), we were hit with a blast of the white stuff and falling temperatures yesterday.  In an instant, I switched back into hibernation mode (well, sans the hot chocolate and Bailey’s – alas, my cupboards are currently bereft of such essentials, and it was far too windy and chilly to walk to the store to restock).  Fortunately, I’ve got quite the stack of gardening books on my kitchen table, enough to fortify my imagination for a few wintery days.

The Book of Little Hostas is pure eye candy for me.  I’m not sure how I would fit these petite perennials in my flowerbeds as they are currently designed, but I have been thinking of undertaking a serious overhaul over the next few years and maybe I can work in some of these beauties as edging.  As the authors state, these are not plants to just plop in a bed willy-nilly – siting them is everything.  Due to their size, they can easily be overwhelmed by larger plants; as well, with the massive variety of foliage colour, pattern, and shape, you really want to show little hostas off in their own raised bed or a rockery, perhaps, or in containers.

Little hostas have been hybridized primarily with the serious plant collector in mind – since 1996, with the introduction of Hosta ‘Pandora’s Box’ (with beautiful variegated white and blue-green leaves), the whole little hosta trend has mushroomed so much that the American Hosta Society had to create categories to distinguish the miniature from the just “small.”  To determine if a hosta is small, very small, or miniature, the size of the leaf blade area is measured:  plants with a leaf blade area smaller than approximately 11 cm² is considered miniature, while a small hosta has a leaf blade area between roughly 25 cm² and 60 cm².  (Notice the categories don’t make mention of the overall height or spread of the plant, but don’t worry, these are definitely space-saving compared to full-size hostas.  I believe in most circles, “miniature” hostas are less than 15 cm in height, and “small” plants are between 15 and 25 cm tall). ¹

Authors Michael Shadrack and Kathy Guest Shadrack carefully outline all of the maintenance and care needs of little hostas, including specific cautions regarding soil and amendments:  little hostas, it seems, are far more choosy when it comes to soil type than their bigger siblings.  Addressing the collectible nature of these plants, there’s even a section in the book about mapping and labelling cultivars, and a list of things to consider if you plan to journal as you grow your collection.

But, it’s all about the photographs, really, and it’s easy to spend A LOT of time ooh-ing and aah-ing over the amazing diversity of little hosta cultivars.  I’ve always has a soft spot for variegated hostas, so I was immediately drawn to ‘Calypso’ and ‘Hi Ho Silver’ and the gorgeously streaked ‘Fireworks.’  And what about ‘Lakeside Zing Zang’, which has white to cream-coloured leaves splattered with green flecks and blotches?   Extremely cool.  Other (non-variegated) favourites include ‘Cheatin Heart’, which sports heart-shaped leaves (of course) in gold.  Or, there is ‘Plug Nickel,’ with shiny bright green oval foliage and delicate lilac-coloured flowers.  If you want just-plain-weird, look no further than ‘Hacksaw’, with light green, narrow, extremely serrated leaf blades.  It doesn’t resemble any other hosta I’ve ever seen, but the texture and colour of the foliage really draws the eye.

(And you have to admit, the cultivar names are pretty creative:  ‘Silver Threads and Golden Needles’, ‘Little Stiffy’ (???), or ‘Holy Mouse Ears’, anyone?).

While I’m uncertain that ALL of these cultivars would perform in challenging zone 3a, it’s just so wonderful to go through a book like this and consider the possibilities….

¹I got this info from Durable Gardening.  (I switched the measurements to metric, though).   You can check out a photo of another crazily-named hosta – ‘Wheee!’ PPAF – on the same page.   It’s a full-sized hosta cultivar, but it was introduced just last year and it’s a hot selection right now.

Book review: Water, weed, and wait.

Water, Weed, and Wait – Edith Hope Fine and Angela Demos Halpin (illustrated by Colleen Madden), 2010, Tricycle Press, Berkeley. 

There’s an encouraging and inspiring trend going on in North America:  getting children to dig in the dirt and learn about food and horticultural plants through community and school gardens.  Whether parents or teachers are leading the projects, the emphasis is always on fostering community involvement:  entire families or neighbourhoods may help out with the gardening duties in fun social events that take the shape of work-bees.  I even came across a project online at City Farmer where students of an elementary school and the retirement home next door joined forces, in North Vancouver.   If the growers don’t consume the produce themselves, it may be donated to those in need, or used in restaurants or cafeterias, or sold as part of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares.   And, from start to finish, the growing season is full of lessons for both adults and children – there’s simply nothing better than an outdoor classroom!

Books like Weed, Water, and Wait celebrate the “school garden” movement in a big way.  Full of bold, bright, and extremely colourful illustrations, this children’s picture book is ideal for introducing the idea of a school garden, to get the ball rolling before actually doing the work.  In it, a master gardener appropriately named Miss Marigold leads her student charges – and a whole host of adult helpers – in building a school garden, literally from the ground up.  Along the way, a curmudgeonly neighbour named Mr. Barkley lends comic relief with his grumpy “hmmmmphs,” while Miss Marigold teaches valuable lessons about “worm poop” (her words, not mine) and beneficial insects.   Great, snappy writing and catchy repetition of key phrases and concepts (as well as a silly song about veggies and fruits, sung by a certain character in a carrot costume) make the book ideal for reading aloud.   The lessons in the book can be taken out of the context of “school gardens” and can be applied to any gardening venture, even a tiny container garden or raised bed at home, so don’t be afraid to try the book out on the little ones in your life.  (Maybe wait until spring, though, or you’ll have a whole lot of “How many more sleeps until I can plant the peas and carrots??!!”).

Book review: How to grow your food.

How to Grow Your Food:  A Guide for Complete Beginners – John Clift and Amanda Cuthbert (2011, Green Books, United Kingdom)

I know the gardening season has come to an end, at least for those of us on the Prairies (the snow is falling as I write, after all), but I believe you can never start soon enough with the dreaming.  I mean, we have ten seven months of winter – what else can we do?  Planning for next year’s garden takes longer than growing and harvesting the garden itself!

If growing vegetables and fruit is new territory for you, but you’re dreaming of having your own fresh food next year, then Clift and Cuthbert’s book is perfect for you.  This is about as basic as it gets, right down to the format of the book.  It’s a very tiny, slender volume, with information about each plant on one side of the page and excellent, large photographs on the opposite page.  Only one or two paragraphs are devoted to descriptions on how to grow, maintain and harvest each plant – this isn’t the place where you’re going to learn quirky facts or get bogged down by fancy cultivar names.  Yet…it’s just the right amount of information for you to take with you to the garden centre when you buy your seeds in the spring, or to take to the garden plot after it’s been dug out and is ready to plant.  You can grow veggies right away based on what is in this book – even if you’ve never put your hands in the dirt before.  And, considering the book’s size, there are a lot of veggies, fruits, and herbs represented (forty in all):  carrots, beets, zuchinni, garlic, onions, spinach, leeks, parsley, basil, currants, raspberries, rhubarb, potatoes, salad greens, even beansprouts.   Even if you’re not a food garden newbie, there may be some plants you haven’t tried yet, and this book will give you sufficient direction.

Track this book down and start dreaming!  The photos alone will make you drool.  And, if you have never grown vegetables or fruit before, do give it a try – you don’t need a huge garden plot, and a great many varieties can be grown in containers.  Don’t get frightened by the traditional view of straight rows in a massive bed that takes up half the yard – that’s not necessary (unless you want it to be).   With the high cost of food (and I mean that in more ways than one), it’s worth it to grow at least a few plants for yourself.  You’ll be hooked.

Related post: Rhubarb rhuminations.

Book review: Get fit through gardening.

Get Fit Through Gardening:  Advice, Tips, and Tools for Better Health – Jeffrey P. Restuccio (2008, Hatherleigh Press)

Everyone knows that gardening can be a real physical workout:  the vigourous pull of raking, the lift and twist of shovelling, the repetitive motion of weeding, the forceful push of a lawn mower or a wheelbarrow, the hilling of potatoes or the turning of compost – it all makes your body move, sometimes in strange and wonderful ways that you may not be used to.  (I have firsthand experience of that – my spring cleanup this year somehow resulted in a strained hamstring!  I have to ensure that my fall cleanup doesn’t cause the same).  Many articles and guides have been written about how to address the physical nature of gardening without sustaining injury, with tips about stretching before and after performing gardening tasks, using ergonomic tools, creating a more user-friendly garden through design, and so on, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen, until now, a book that uses the actual act of gardening itself as a fitness plan.  Forget those Bowflex infomercials  and your old Richard Simmons videotapes!   Jeffrey P. Restuccio shows the reader how to embrace gardening as a workout regimen in and of itself.  Fitness need not be a mere byproduct of your gardening labours any longer:  it can be the end goal.  And why not?

Restuccio starts off by addressing fitness equipment – no rowing machines or dumbbells here, we’re talking long-handled rakes and hoes, and short handled trowels and cultivators, all with proper weighting and length and grippy, comfortable handles.  Restuccio describes types of tools and their specific functions, and offers tips about what to buy and how to properly use/work out with them.  We’re also introduced to the mini-tiller, which some people may or may not use (depending on your opinion regarding no-till gardening) and the rotary push mower.  For all of these tools, there are specific exercises that can be performed:  “The Mini-Tiller Shuffle” is one, with accompanying photos showing a man engaged in the proper, fully extended push-and-pull action of moving the machine.  (We won’t talk about how he isn’t working out in the veggie beds, but rather on the lawn, with the tiller in the “off” position – that’s for his neighbours to speculate about).

By necessity, Restuccio devotes an entire chapter to both static and active stretching exercises and warm-ups, addressing every part of the body, and listing suggested repetitions and hold counts for each.  (There are photos for most of these stretches as well).  Had I performed many of these exercises, I likely would have prevented my hamstring boo-boo earlier this year.  While I may not be cruising around with my yoga pants and my weed-trimmer out on the front drive, I will certainly adhere to the stretching tips.  (And, really, these are good, effective stretches for any type of work, even for sitting at the computer and blogging).  Restuccio also gets into a little tiny bit of anatomy, describing how and why certain exercises work for the body:  don’t worry, though, he doesn’t go into enough detail to make your eyes glaze over.

And then, there is the workout!  Segmented into categories based on equipment use, and illustrated with photos, we have everything from the “Classic Lunge and Weed” (in which you use a short-handled weeder and the fairly common forward lunge movement, well-known to runners and most people who ever suffered through, I mean, set foot in a gym class) and “The Lawnmower In and Out” (a variation of the bench press I’ll bet you have never ever considered before) to an ergonomic take on “Digging” that incorporates very proper squats and lateral movement (without wrenching your back).  And who knew that aerating the lawn worked your triceps, or that digging post-holes could be so effective, employing your hamstrings, quadriceps, triceps, glutes, and the abdominals?  In all seriousness, I believe that many people who garden don’t really think about the types of movements they perform (or which muscles they engage) while enjoying their favourite job or pasttime, and this book quite successfully illustrates the proper form and execution of the exercises it promotes.  I don’t know that I would deliberately use garden tools in place of hand weights and I don’t think that I will be spending any extra time with the lawnmower in “rowing” practice, but this book is a good, solid fitness and health resource and the skills and knowledge gleaned from it can be easily transferred into everyday living – outside or inside the garden.


Check out this You Tube link for a stretching video to accompany Restuccio’s book:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDS-To5OBQM.    (It’s kind of rapid-fire, offering a very quick look at several different exercises.  I’d take them down a whole lot of notches if performing them myself).


Related postsBook review: In the land of the blue poppies.    Book review: Tree and shrub gardening for Alberta.   Book review: Perfect perennials for the prairie gardener.

Book review: Perfect perennials for the prairie gardener.

Perfect Perennials for the Prairie Gardener – Dawn Vaessen (2011, Fifth House Ltd.)

Prairie gardeners obviously face a different set of challenges than, say, our counterparts in Ontario, or coastal British Columbia.  In the past, many Canadian gardening books have proven too general in scope to address our particular conditions and issues, but this is rapidly changing:  over the past few months, I’ve perused several new-ish volumes specifically dealing with Prairie gardening, on topics ranging from best annual selections, to delectable edibles, to identifying insect pests.  Dawn Vaessen’s book focusses on perennials, a subject near and dear to my heart, and she covers it with thoroughness, colour, and humour.

Vaessen’s mission is to offer Prairie gardeners a detailed examination of plants that are both highly appealing and adaptable (ie:  drought tolerant and winter hardy), and she accomplishes this with flair.  Weather, climate, hardiness zones, day length, microclimates, sun exposure, soil conditions, fertilizing, division, transplanting, pruning, watering, buying appropriate garden tools, planting levels, diseases, weeds, mulching, composting, dealing with plants and kids…you name it, it’s all here.  Vaessen infuses what could potentially be dry textbook writing with fantastic personal accounts:  in my favourite story, Vaessen, a teacher by profession, recalls one of her junior high school student’s comparison of deadheading plants and an erroneous take on the “emo” lifestyle.  (If that’s what it takes to bring garden writing to the masses, and the younger generation in particular, then I’m all for it!).

And then there are the perennial selections themselves…each plant is carefully written up with descriptions of origin, companion plants, best varieties/cultivars, and specific “pros” and “cons.”  Sumptuous photographs that can be easily employed for identification purposes accompany each choice.  In order to make things easier for readers, Vaessen carefully groups the plants into categories such as container plants, ground covers, edgers, borders, vines, and ornamental grasses.  The careful details and the sheer scope of this book make it an accessible and welcome addition to the library of both novice and more knowledgeable gardeners alike.

Related postsBook review: In the land of the blue poppies.    Book review: Tree and shrub gardening for Alberta.