October snow.

Gardening so isn’t happening right now.

Gotta love October in Calgary! It’s been snowing on and off all week and we’re currently under a snowfall warning (to see what Environment Canada defines as a “snowfall warning,” click here)…and this morning around six, we hit a low temperature of minus 15.5 degrees Celsius (that’s 4.1 degrees Fahrenheit). To put that in perspective, our average daytime high temperature for October hovers around plus 13 degrees Celsius (55.4 degrees Fahrenheit).

Oh well. It’s still rather pretty. (I’m just saying that because I went out and planted and mulched my garlic five minutes before the snow started late last week. Totally squeaked it in on my lunch break from work. While wearing my dress clothes and shoes.) 😉

Community garden theft.

My onion harvest was grossly truncated by theft this year – aside from an earlier picking of smaller bulbs, the remainder of my onions (somewhere between 20 and 30 of them) were stolen from one of my community garden beds just over a week ago.  The garden coordinator said that theft had been a huge issue this year (perhaps understandably, given our current global health crisis and high unemployment rates) and she was taking measures to try to mitigate the problem.  Installing a trail cam to try to catch night-time prowlers was one first step, and she was considering new signage.  I have had some minor theft from my beds in previous years (a few carrots there, an onion or garlic bulb or two), but this was the first time that an entire crop had been taken.  I am always happy to help out anyone in need, so hopefully the thieves enjoyed some good meals from the plants.  It made me chuckle a little when I noticed that they left my beets and kohlrabi alone – it appears the culprits had a refined palate and only wanted onions!

Our community garden actually has several beds in the garden that have been set aside and planted by students from one of the schools in the area for anyone in the community (not garden members) to harvest whenever they want to, but our garden coordinator noted that these aren’t the beds that are mysteriously losing produce in the middle of the night.

If you’re on Facebook, the Calgary Horticultural Society held a Facebook Live session earlier in the year to discuss theft and vandalism in community gardens – you can view the archived video here. (It’s public, so you don’t have to be a member of the page to watch it). This sort of thing is fairly common in community gardens and you just have to be aware of it and try not to get too upset when you’re at the receiving end.  Gardeners do love to share, after all…I just kind of wish that the thieves would have left me a couple of onions.  🙂

*IMAGE courtesy Clipart Panda.

Prairie garden tips: use floating row cover.

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This stuff. Floating row cover is incredibly useful in regions where the weather is, at best, a little raunchy, and at worst, downright horrific.  Here on the prairies, we commonly face high winds, heat, drought, excessive moisture, hail, and freezing cold…often within a 24 hour period in the middle of July.  (I exaggerate, but only slightly).  Floating row cover, combined with a hoop tunnel, can be massively helpful when it comes to protecting your plants from all that wackiness.  It can also assist in a whole lot of other ways, including as a control for insects (buh-bye, flea beetles!).

One thing to know before you go out and buy floating row cover:  Don’t cheap out.  Trust me on this.  You think, oh I’m saving a few bucks, but you really can tell when you open the package that it is flimsy and a tad shoddy. You set it up at the community garden anyway, and that very night (of course), there is a thunderstorm. It’s not even a severe one.  Middling, actually.  No hail, either.  At any rate, you go in to check on the garden the next morning and your cheap floating row cover is completely ribboned, strips hanging like banners from your hoop tunnel and bits scattered all over the garden, confetti strewn in other garden plots and clinging damply to the fence.  So you spend the next half hour trying to find all the pieces of fabric and hoping that the garden leader isn’t going to show up to see what you’ve done. (Worse yet, you’re worried that she has already been and gone and is now drafting you a nasty email).

No, as with most things in life, get the good stuff.  In this case, it’s reusable for many, many years.

Do you use floating row cover in your garden?  (I know many of you who don’t live on the prairies use it, as well!).  

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The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter – May 2020.

 

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Welcome to the second issue of The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Monthly 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

The print versions of the books will be released this month!

The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables and The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases were released in e-book format on April 7, and print copies will be out on May 12! We are so thrilled that our publisher TouchWood Editions has given us this opportunity to get these books out into the hands of prairie gardeners!  You can order them from independent bookstores in Calgary such as Owl’s Nest Books, Shelf Life Books, and Pages in Kensington, as well as Audrey’s Books in Edmonton. They are also available from Chapters-Indigo, McNally-Robinson, and Amazon – you can use the links on our publisher’s website (click on either Janet’s bio or mine).  Look for them in bookstores and garden centres near you!

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On April 16, Janet and I were guests on CBC Radio One’s Homestretch program with Doug Dirks – we spoke a bit about our books and early planning for our favourite time of the year: spring!  If you want to listen to our segment, click here.

Out and About

Sheryl:

This month may seem slow as I don’t have evidence of everything I’ve been working on – no new published articles this go-around!  But I have been writing up a storm, plugging away at the next two manuscripts in the Guides for the Prairie Gardener series and a slew of articles that will be published later in the year (and one already for next summer!).  I’ve researched and written about everything from dragonflies to herbal adaptogens to beardtongues to leaf mold over the past few weeks…never a dull moment!

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In mid-April, I took in an online class through the University of Saskatchewan.  It was taught by Egan Davis, the principal instructor of horticulture training at the University of British Columbia, and covered an interesting and relevant topic: Ecologically Modeled Planting Design (EMPD).  To simplify the concept, it’s basically the antithesis of modern gardening, where we have tended to work with static landscapes (plants are grown and mature in place and decline fairly rapidly, usually within a couple of decades).  EMPD is constructed in phases, and it is dynamic and long-lasting, taking as its inspiration the natural world and the way that plant communities evolve in the wild.  The presentation left me with a lot to muse about, and ideas to delve deeper into.

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Otherwise, I’ve been getting outdoors daily for long walks, taking in as much of spring as I can possibly soak up.  The pond near my home is a favourite destination for me…and a myriad of duck species.  The red-winged blackbirds arrived last week; their “rusty gate hinge” calls are a sure sign of the changing season.

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Photo by Sheryl Normandeau

Janet:

April turned into a really busy month for me! Like Sheryl, I have been writing like crazy on our books for 2021, articles and new workshops too! Plus trying out all sorts of techniques  indoor sowing and growing. Some worked out beautifully, such as the leeks I finally got to germinate and have a nice crop on the go, but some not so much as I have killed many a lettuce seedling pricking them out. I have lots of kale, tomatoes and cucumbers  on the go and about a zillion wintersowing jugs starting to germinate now outside. Lately of course now that it has stopped snowing, it has been a delight going out into the garden to see what has bloomed overnight with crocuses, snowdrops, and other spring bulbs popping up.

Photos by Janet Melrose (l-r: crocus, wintersowing)

What really made my month busy was learning, literally overnight, how to do online workshops and Horticultural Therapy sessions! It’s quite a skill and not one I had on my bucket list for 2020 for sure, but it’s fun getting together virtually and learning gardening when we are stuck at home!

In May and early June I have a number of workshops scheduled on a range of topics and with a number of groups, all of which are open to everyone!  You register either through Eventbrite or on the Calgary Horticultural Society’s website. Most are talks, but others have a hands on component either with supplies you bring in yourself and others where a kit is delivered to you. I do hope that you will be able to sign in for at least one!

May 5th – Garden On! – How to Get the Most out of Your Raised Bed

Got a raised bed? Learn how to get the very best out of it with planting strategies and practice to maximize your space to the best effect!

For more info and to register, click here. 

May 6th – Beyond Kale* – Small Space Edible Gardening

Those who have limited space or access to a ‘regular’ garden can garden effectively and creatively in containers, taking advantages of all the benefits of this style of gardening and minimizing the disadvantages, and have fun too!

For more info and to register, click here. 

May 7th – 2 Gals in a Garden – Fun, Frivolous and Functional 3 Season Flowering Containers –

A full hands-on Workshop on designing, planting and caring for flowering planters this season.

For more info and to register, click here.

May 12th – Calgary Horticultural Society – Native Plants for Alberta Gardens

Alberta is blessed with profuse and varied native species that are naturally suited to their particular ecological niche. By including them in plant selection, gardeners can save time, energy, money and frustration in efforts to garden wisely and successfully in our challenging environment.

Includes a demo planting…that you can do as well with materials purchased by yourself for the night!

For more info and to register, click here. 

May 13th – Embrace Gardening – Garden Self-Sufficiency  

Growing produce this year is never more important. To learn and know that you can grow part of your food is gardening self-sufficiency.

For more info and to register, click here. 

May 14th –  2 Gals in a Garden- Mixed Edible Planters- A full hands-on Workshop

Grow Your Own Veggies, Fruit and Edible Flowers In Planters to Fit Any Space! And plant up your own container during the workshop!

For more info and to register, click here. 

May 21st– Calgary Horticultural Society -Intensive Planting

How to grow more in less space! Includes a demo planting…that you can do as well with materials purchased by yourself for the night!

For more info and to register, click here.

May 28th– 2 Gals in a Garden- Mighty Herbs-A full hands-on workshop

Herbs belong in every garden, big and small! Join us to learn about culinary herbs, then plant your own container !

For more info and to register, click here. 

In Our Gardens

Sheryl:

The community garden I’ve been a member of for the past few years looks like it will be shuttered due to some ongoing issues, so I’ve been scrambling to find a new garden group to work with.  Fortunately, I found a plot in a garden in a community just south of where I live, and I’m looking forward to joining their membership!

My tomatoes are toodling along indoors and will be hardened off and planted out in a few weeks into large containers on my balcony. In late April, I sowed radishes, Swiss chard, and lettuce in containers outside on the balcony, and some spinach seeds went in today.  And of course, there are plentiful garlic greens, pea shoots, and mustard sprouts going on indoors…it’s fun to keep these going successively so you can always have fresh fixings for sandwiches and salads. 

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Photo by Sheryl Normandeau

Janet: 

It is amazing! Ever since Spring arrived on April 20th the garden has woken up and started blooming with spring bulbs flowering everywhere along with the Hepatica. The insects are out too to my great surprise as in the past couple of years they kept under cover until mid-May. Chives are already growing and ready to use and the rhubarb has poked its nose out to sniff the air. Perennials are sending out new growth and the robins are back along with the waxwings that eat the last of the mountain ash berries.

My bed at the Inglewood Community Garden has had its winter blanket of burlap sacks removed, and I can see garlic coming up under the floating row cover. My containers of edibles back at home are sprouting radishes, spinach, pac choi and arugula. I am so looking forward to some early greens in a few weeks!

Photos by Janet Melrose (t: Hepatica; l-r: cucumbers, chives, rhubarb)

Floral Miscellany

Sheryl: 

Have you ever heard of a condition called tulip fingers?  It’s an interesting – and potentially painful and itchy! – bit of plant chemistry that you can read all about here.

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Seems like plenty of Prairie gardeners are planting raspberries this year – I’m seeing lots of mentions on social media! Did you know that the first written record of raspberries as an edible/medicinal plant was in an English herbal in 1548?  It is believed that the fruit has its origins thousands of years ago in Asia.  There are 200 species of raspberries worldwide – and that’s not counting all the cultivars! The Government of Alberta recommends the following varieties for Prairie gardens:

Floricane types (summer bearing): 

‘Boyne’

‘Festival’

‘Killarney’

‘Honeyqueen’

‘SK Red Mammoth’

Primocane (fall bearing – mid- to late August):

‘Red River’

‘Double Delight’

‘Summit’

‘Autumn Bliss’

‘Fall Brook’

Janet: 

If April brought snow showers, we are really hoping that May bring flowers! But we had better not be too hasty! May can bring lots of abrupt changes to the weather and in Calgary we have had snow on the May long weekend and just plain rain more often than not. Actual snow fell seven times since 2000, and 2016 was the second coldest May long weekend in 40 years! Though 2018 was gorgeous. As a weather geek I am already wondering about our upcoming holiday weather for 2020!

CTV News, “Snow makes long weekend appearance in Calgary and surrounding areas,” May 22, 2016. 

Global News, “2016 the second coldest May long weekend in Calgary in at least 40 years,” May 23, 2016. )

But if May is iffy, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be sowing. Many vegetables should be sown well beforehand, and can weather just about whatever weather we get thrown at us this month. Here is a handy guide put out by Agriculture Alberta for the soil temperatures for many of our common vegetables, plus some historical data to help us plan our sowing!

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♥

Floral notes: Late summer and into autumn.

When they say time is flying by, what is its mode of transport, actually? Eagle wings? Lear jet? Rocket?

Trips and treks:

My hubby, my brother, a friend, and I wandered around Powderface Ridge in Kananaskis Country in mid-August…my hubby and I didn’t go to the summit, choosing instead to enjoy the scenery  and the sunshine at a spectacular outcropping.  Next year we’ll make another attempt, this time from the south!

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The garden:

As of two weeks ago, I’ve wrapped up things in the community garden, finally getting the garlic sown and a handful of parsnip seed chucked into my raised bed before mulching and heading home for the winter.  Before the snow fell at the end of September and the first week of October, I made nearly daily trips to the garden to collect seed and came out with large stashes of calendula, nasturtium, and dill seeds; as well as enough lovage seeds to share with several gardeners in the Alberta Gardening Facebook group.  Aside from truly pathetic performances from my zucchini, pumpkin, and pattypan squash plants, I am pleased with my veggie yields this year – I had pleasantly decent harvests of shallots, potatoes, turnips, bush beans, kohlrabi, dill, and parsley.  As for flowers, the wet weather proved more than suitable for them, and I had a lovely turnout by the sunflowers (tiny, cuddly ‘Teddy Bear’ seen below), several cultivars of sweet peas and nasturtiums, and calendula. Since then, it has snowed several more times, and more of the white stuff is on its way this weekend.  My winter coat is getting an autumn workout!

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Worthy reads:

The Delicate Storm by Giles Blunt.  This gripping, gritty mystery series featuring police detectives John Cardinal and Lise Delorme is set in the fictional city of Algonquin Bay, Ontario (modeled after the author’s hometown of North Bay). The Delicate Storm follows the first novel Forty Words for Sorrow, with a thoroughly engrossing story that draws connections to the events during a particularly troubling time in the history of the province of Quebec. In this second novel, the writing is polished and the characters are more fully realized than in the first book. Call me officially hooked!

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Kathyrn Scanlan’s Aug 9 – Fog.  This remarkable title may not be to everyone’s taste, but I was absolutely captivated by it.  Over a period of a decade or so, Scanlan excerpted the contents of a stranger’s diary – a battered, everyday object she picked up for free at an estate sale – and then put the pieces back together again in different ways, creating an entirely new work that encapsulates Scanlan’s intentions, as well as the words of the original writer (one Cora E. Lacy, from rural Illinois, who began writing the diary in 1968, when she was eighty-six years old).  The result is a snapshot into the life of a woman who did the laundry, washed her hair, watched the garden grow, put up preserves, went to church, socialized with friends, had the aches and pains associated with old age, and who mourned the deaths of loved ones.  Her life was not extraordinary, but Scanlan has painstakingly taken the woman’s daily ruminations and lent them a gravity and majesty that is simply breathtaking to read.  “Terrible windy   everything loose is travelling.”

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The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk W. Johnson.  This story – of an obsessed fly tier who steals several rare and massively valuable bird skins from the Natural History Museum at Tring, in the United Kingdom – has so many crazy twists and turns that it’s REALLY difficult to remember that it’s not fiction.  Johnson’s meticulous research, polished writing, and (dare I say it?) perfectly breathtaking pacing elevate this true crime account to special heights.  And the conservation angle doesn’t hurt, either – the statistics about human influence on species diversity are devastating.  I came away furiously angry and heartbroken…for more than one reason.

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Me blathering about me: 

I’ve had a slow year, as far as publishing fiction goes…once again, I’ve been focused primarily on writing non-fiction and my fictional work has fallen by the wayside.  I will, however, have a very short story called “Opening Night” published on selected cardboard coffee sleeves that will be used in several independent coffee shops in Edmonton, Alberta. The sleeves will be printed near the end of this year or early 2020 so I’ll have to ask my Edmonton friends to go drink a bunch of coffee (hot chocolate?  rum in a coffee cup?) and track down my tale.  😉  And…my micro-fiction horror story “Seams” was also just published in the Scary Snippets Hallowe’en anthology, currently out as an e-book and available very soon in print format.

Cook (and bake) this: 

This pumpkin bread is gluten free, but you can sub regular flour if you don’t need to eat GF. And it looks like it’s fairly easy to make this vegan as well.  If you have to adhere to a gluten free diet, this bread may make you tear up with joy – it doesn’t have the consistency of typical GF baked goods (which are either powdery or rubbery or somehow, illogically, both at once).

This is the best slow-cooker whole chicken recipe I’ve ever found. When time flies, a slow cooker is a necessity; it balances the space-time continuum or something.  Yes, that’s it, I’m sure….

Really, it’s just chicken, but it’s seriously delicious chicken.

 

As always, thanks so much for reading!  If you want to, please share some fun projects you’re working on, recipes you’ve recently tried and loved, your plans for the next couple of months leading into the holiday season.  (Feel free to put up a link to your blog, if you like – I’ve been trying to keep up with the WordPress Reader but it’s impossible, and my email inbox is a nightmare befitting the recent ghoulish holiday.  Plus, this way, others can head over to your site and see your posts as well).  Have an amazing weekend!  ♥

Garden snapshot: Parsley.

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When asked about “seriously hardy and reliable” herbs for our climate, parsley is always a ready answer. I grew both Italian (flat leaf, seen here) and French (curly leaf) this year – I love them both and can never decide which one is my favourite. I harvested the leaves from all of my plants in late September and we’ve had two snowstorms and a couple of weeks of hard overnight frosts since then, and they are still merrily growing away. If the weather holds, I will get another handful of fresh leaves yet before winter settles in.  Sweet!  I won’t dig these up to overwinter as I have no room indoors (and they won’t last five minutes with our cat)…but I’ve had parsley overwinter inground in the past so perhaps it will be a gift that keeps on giving next year.

Another type of parsley I’ve grown in the past is root (Hamburg) parsley – our growing season is so short in Calgary that I don’t get really large roots from the plants, but I’ve had decent success with them each year I’ve put them in.  And, as a bonus, you can eat the tops as well.  A hugely versatile plant!

Is parsley a favourite of yours, as well?

In the garden: pleasant surprises.

I finally finished my garden clean up this past weekend.  I don’t have perennial beds at our new home; my new garden space is a combination of containers on the balcony and a plot at the nearby community garden. Clean up was easy: I had no issues with diseases with my container plants so all the soil was dumped into a large covered tote and left on the balcony for use next season, and the pots were all scrubbed and put into indoor storage so they don’t freeze and crack.  Clean up at the community garden was also a cinch: our garden committee encourages members to leave plants in place and chop and drop them in the spring.  (I am a huge fan of this! Keeping the dried plants in place over winter helps prevent a bit of soil crusting, as the garden is fully exposed during chinook winds and freeze and thaw cycles. The plants may also provide a safe haven for beneficial insects such as ladybugs, and the sunflowers in some of the other plots may be useful for hungry birds).  I did pull the pumpkin and zucchini plants, as they were beset with a vicious case of powdery mildew.

My garlic is planted at the community garden and mulched and hopefully snug for the winter, and I sunk a large container of alpine strawberries into the raised bed there in the hopes that they might survive. (I don’t have any in-ground spaces like I used to).  I’ll winter sow some more strawberry seeds outside in early March as insurance.

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I haven’t had a lot of time to review this year’s gardening season.  It was a challenging one, as far as the weather was concerned. Spring wasn’t gradual and wet; instead, we were blasted out of the gate with mid-summer-like heat and no rain.  Some direct-sown seeds refused to germinate, even with supplemental irrigation. Our summer was hot and filled with forest fire smoke, and we had a couple of severe hailstorms that handily trashed plants in mere seconds.  Many gardeners I talked to fought multiple insect infestations, but aside from the cutworms early in the season, I was fortunate in that regard. And then, just as everyone was still hoping their pumpkins would ripen on the vine and they would get some tomatoes that were a colour other than green, we were hit with two weeks of snowfall and bitter cold in September.

One pleasant surprise in my garden (besides these) were the ‘Le Puy’ lentils I grew for the first time.  The plants are pretty, resembling some of our common vetches so much that I thought perhaps I’d get in trouble for harbouring weeds.  The deer find them attractive, as well, which definitely reduced the quantity I was able to harvest.  Compared to some of my other plants, the lentils didn’t seem to require much care – a regular watering schedule was the most important thing, and they made it through the heat better than my sweet peas and sugar peas.

I quickly realized that the timing of harvest is critical with lentils.   The pods must be picked when they are dry, but if you wait too long (a scant few minutes, it seems!), they shatter, blasting the seeds across the soil or the entire garden or into the parking lot in the street adjacent.  I swear I could hear them pinging off the streetlights before I got to them.  😉  I still managed to collect enough to enjoy a decent snack (this recipe is easy to prepare and delicious!).

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Were there any pleasant surprises in your garden this growing season? What about any old favourites that were once again reliable?

Flowery Friday: Nasturtium.

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The importance of labeling garden things (plants, seed packets, fertilizer containers, and those assorted parts and pieces for the lawnmower that mysteriously are not currently installed on the machine) cannot be overstated. I believe I have stressed it in more than one article that I’ve written.

This is me clearly railing against my own decent, sound, and meaningful advice: here is a photo of a nasturtium (the super common but super pretty ‘Jewel Mix’) that I grew this year in the community garden.  Trouble is, I also grew the even more lovely ‘Ladybird Cream Purple Spot’ and now that they’re all finished blooming, I’m collecting seed for next year.  Guess what I didn’t do before all the flowers were spent?

Oh well. I’ll have a fantastic collection of ‘Jewel Ladybird Cream Purple Spot Mix’ for the 2018 gardening season. It will be awesome.

What is your labeling practice in the garden?  And do you grow nasturtiums?  If you do, which cultivars are your favourites?

Flowery Friday: ‘Paquito’ sunflower.

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My poor bed at the community garden is toast, thoroughly fried by the prolonged heat we’ve had this summer.  Really, there’s not much left to salvage now, just a few surprisingly decent shallots and straggling zucchini (and perhaps some potatoes if I ever get time to dig around and check).  Even the sunflowers decided they had enough of the sun, but before they threw in the towel, they yielded a few not-so-shabby blooms.

These are ‘Paquito’, a dwarf branching cultivar, and this was my first year growing them. (Those of you who are members of the Alberta Gardening group on Facebook will have already seen this pic, but it’s a sunflower, and therefore, it’s impossible to groan about the repeat).

What is your favourite bloom in your garden right now?  (If you can’t narrow it down to just one, give me a list!).  Hope your weekend is wonderful!