National Poinsettia Day.


Apparently, it is National Poinsettia Day in the United States. I don’t have a poinsettia this year, although I love them. It’s been so cold here that transporting one from the garden centre to home might completely do it in before I even had a chance to enjoy it. Arctic air masses that lounge around for days and days on end are not fun for anyone, and especially not if you’re from the tropics, as this plant is. Which is also perhaps why it is not National Poinsettia Day here in Canada – we’ve established that temperatures in the minus mid-to-high twenties (that’s Celsius!) are not ideal for such a celebration. Really, for any celebration. Except one involving hot chocolate and Irish cream and a warm fireplace.

Even if we don’t have a special day to honour poinsettias here in the frozen north, I can still share a fascinating bit of information: did you know that the dense, multi-branching habit and stunted growth of our holiday poinsettias results from infection by a type of pathogen?  This article has more information about how it works.*  And here is another for further perusal.  Enjoy the reads – I’m off to petition the government to make National Hot Chocolate and Irish Cream and Warm Fireplace Day a reality.

Are poinsettias part of your holiday celebrations?  What colour is your favourite?  And have you ever seen a poinsettia in tree form?  (I haven’t).  

*UPDATED: I managed to track down a photo of a “wild” poinsettia, as the photo in the first link isn’t accurate – take a look here.

Snow in summer. No, not the flower.

Well…we already had frost last Wednesday night, and an intense cold front moved into southern Alberta late yesterday.  Heavy rain overnight is expected to turn to snow flurries by this afternoon (it’s apparently already coming down in the north), and the whole mess is supposed to persist through Wednesday.

I picked all of my tomatoes yesterday morning – vine ripening at minus 2 degrees Celsius or colder is a pleasant concept, but tricky to achieve.  Anyone know a good green tomato recipe?  (I’m not keen on them fried!).


(From the Capitol Hill Community Garden, Calgary, Alberta – photograph taken 6 September 2014)

I know this chilly blip on the weather radar won’t last, and we’ll have more sunshine and warmth before long, but this zinnia and I are thinking about packing our bags and heading south.  Like South Pacific south, where spring is just arriving.  I was talking with someone a couple of days ago and we were laughing about how weather-obsessed we Canadians are – but you can’t blame us, can you?

Okay, you know I’m going to ask it:  How’s the weather where you live?


Winter solitude –

in a world of one color

the sound of wind.

                                         -(Matsuo Basho, 1644-1694)

You guessed it – it’s still snowing here.  But it’s not quite a “world of one color”:


Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides)


Peking cotoneaster (Cotoneaster lucidus)


European cranberry, guelder rose (Viburnum opulus)

I love the persistence of berries during winter!  Not only are they amazing pops of colour in the landscape, but some of them provide sustenance for fruit-eating birds during these cold, dark days.  I’ve been worrying a bit about the chickadees that have been huddling together in the lilacs in the yard – the property management company doesn’t encourage the use of feeders, so they’re not getting any sort of nut-seed mix from anyone in the complex.  I wonder if I could get away with buying a block of suet and placing it somewhere deep in the shrubs?

Of course, a covert operation such as this will require significant stealth tactics and a pre-dawn launch.  I’ve got the early morning part down pat, but I’m utterly hopeless at sneaky – I’m guaranteed to get caught!   Oh well, it’s all for a good cause….  😉

Do you feed wild birds during the wintertime (or year-round)?  And what are your favourite shrubs and trees for winter interest?

Warm thoughts.

Wow, it’s cold here!  I read one time that it is a typically Canadian characteristic to express the temperature while taking into consideration the windchill factor –  I guess we sound even hardier and dare I say heroic if we say it’s minus 36 degrees Celsius with the windchill instead of a “mere” minus 29 without.  (That’s minus 33 and minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively).  The wind is something you definitely have to factor in, especially when you have get somewhere on foot or wait for a bus – it makes sense to give it its due.  The crazy thing about all of this, it’s even colder the further south and north you go in the province.  I saw a snippet on one of the local news broadcaster’s Facebook page this morning that said of the 15 coldest places in the world right now, 5 of them are here in Alberta.  (Should we be proud of that or what?).  By comparison, we’re actually downright balmy here in Calgary.

Unfortunately, a tropical escape is not in the works for me right now (I have all that holiday baking to do – I simply can’t leave now!).  😉  In lieu of a white sand beach and non-stop sunshine, and with the pressing need to get organized before the new year, I’ve been going through my photos from the summer, including the ones I took at the conservatory at the Devonian Botanic Gardens.  Located in Devon, Alberta, about 300 kilometres (186 miles) north of Calgary,  the 190 acre Gardens are run by the University of Alberta.   My hubby and I hadn’t been there in years and to say we were impressed would be an understatement.

One of the plants in the greenhouse that stands out for me as I browse through the photos this morning is Jacobinia carnea (formerly Justicia, Flamingo flower, Brazilian plume), a South American native with spectacular firework-like blooms.  I made a mental note in July to do some research about this beauty – it turns out there are about 400 species of Jacobinia but only two are used in horticulture, J. carnea and J. pauciflora.  (The latter is apparently considerably less common).  In zones 8 to 11, Jacobinia is an evergreen shrub, and can actually reach a height of 215 cm (7 feet), with a spread of 90 cm (3 feet).  I read that it’s easily espaliered and is often grown that way as a backdrop for other perennials.  Here, of course, it can be a successful houseplant if given low light conditions and plenty of humidity.  If kept in a container, it supposedly gets a bit leggy after flowering, so it is advised to cut it back after the blooms have faded.  Temperature is a concern – Jacobinia does not tolerate the cold and will not perform if kept in a room hovering below 12 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit).


The flowers come in various shades of red, yellow, orange, white and this incredible pink.  J. carnea is definitely a plant to remember if I ever get a sunroom to put one in.  Sigh…SUNroom….

Are you familiar with Jacobinia?  Do you grow any houseplants?  What are your favourites?

Double flowering plums (our “northern cherry blossoms!”).

It’s a bit too cold up here in Alberta to grow the sweet cherry trees you’ll find in warmer climates (we do have gorgeous and delicious hardy sour cherries, however!). We’re not complaining in the least. Especially when the double flowering plums (Prunus triloba ‘Multiplex’) put on a show like they are this spring.


Double flowering plums stopping traffic in front of  Captain John Palliser Elementary School, Calgary, Alberta



Chalk one up for having the perseverance and determination to trudge through that fiendishly long winter!  What a beautiful reward!  🙂


Do you grow cherry trees or double flowering plums?   

*POST UPDATED MAY 2018 to incorporate a title change and a note about sour cherries.


Plot plotting: mini hoop tunnels.

BCGG Plot Winter FP

Well, I swung by the ol’ plot at the community garden this morning, and hung over the fence for a moment. (The gate is frozen solid into the ground, or I would have let myself in).

Yep, it’s still there. Yep, everything is still encrusted with a layer of snow – which, admittedly, has greatly receded with all the sunshine we’ve been having lately and is nothing like what everyone on the east coast of North America is currently experiencing. (I feel for you all! I hope things don’t get too horrible – stay safe and warm indoors if you can).

Even though spring seems tantalizingly within reach, our community garden group won’t do its annual spring clean up until the second week of May…really, the weather here isn’t usually co-operative before then. Indeed, in years past, the first spring work bee has been postponed a couple of times due to heavy snowfall. Last year, however, one of my garden plot neighbours was harvesting baby spinach and some lettuce at the end of May and the first week of June (right around the time many of us were still SOWING our first seeds). While we all stood around drooling and shielding our eyes from the awe-inspiring green-ness of the mouth-watering leaves, she let us in on her not-so-secret secret: she had seeded some of her crops while there was still snow on the ground.  Of course, we started muttering with jealousy (“why didn’t I do that?”), but my neighbour has been growing this way in Calgary for years and she’s not the only one.  As Niki Jabbour has been showing readers in her book, Year Round Vegetable Gardener, cold weather doesn’t have to matter. And while I can’t accomplish many of the feats she writes about (living in an apartment means constructing a cold frame is decidedly out of the question, wanhhhh), I am serious about charging forward on a few ideas this year. We can garden on the seasonal periphery!

I  definitely want to direct-sow a bit earlier this year than I’ve done previously (not in March or April, though! There’s something about planting seeds while wearing a winter coat and a toque that disturbs me).  But I’m also not going to wait until just the right “planting weather” comes around (whenever/whatever THAT is).   I’m planning to build a small hoop tunnel in a similar style as my plot neighbour. You can see a bit of his design in the foreground of the photo. It’s a tried-and-true system and many of you have probably set up something of the sort in your own gardens. Some plastic sheeting will give the plants a leg up early in the season, and then I can switch over to a row cover, which should deter the inevitable flea beetle problem. My neighbour actually further employed his row cover as a hail guard last year, and it worked surprisingly well – I expected the hailstones to punch through the fabric but his set-up withstood all of our wicked storms last summer. While I was scooping up the shredded slaw-bits out of my plot, I’m sure he was (politely and sympathetically) tickled pink that he had built his tunnel.

I’m all for salad greens that are not pre-mulched!

Any tips or words of advice for me as I get ready to build my hoop tunnel? Are there any other advantages or disadvantages to this type of system that I’m not thinking of?

What do you do to extend the gardening season and/or keep the pests away?