Prairie gardening viewpoints: guest post.

I am delighted to announce that I have another guest on the blog!  I’ve been thinking it would be interesting for me to pose a few questions to some Prairie gardeners I know, inquiring about their experiences gardening in such a unique, challenging climate.  I want to find out what they love about gardening in Alberta, what they find difficult, and what inspires them about growing.  Whether you live on the Canadian Prairies or you’re much further afield, I’m sure you’ll find ideas and solutions to consider for your own gardening endeavours.

Please allow me to introduce Lana Gress!

Where do you garden in Alberta?  What challenges do you think we face as gardeners in this province?  How can we overcome those challenges?

I have been gardening in Red Deer, AB for the last three years. I think that Alberta is very unique in respect to gardening because we have some very distinct differences in weather depending on where you are located in the province and how close you are in proximity to the foothills. I really struggled with this the first two years that I lived in Red Deer. Having grown up in northern Saskatchewan, I initially expected gardening to be similar in Alberta but only better because Red Deer is a zone 3b to 4! I had not anticipated the affect of the freeze/thaw cycles of chinook years on trees, shrubs, and perennials that I considered hardly in SK, or how the close proximity to the mountains really makes the overnight temperatures dramatically lower, even in Central Alberta. I believe that these are probably the most challenging things for Alberta gardeners, especially when it comes to vegetable growing. I really had to rethink everything that I had learned about vegetable gardens in Saskatchewan! In Red Deer I’ve found that the ground is still too cold and the night temps are often low well into June. Things that I would have direct seeded on May long weekend in SK (cucumbers, zucchini, corn) have a better chance of success in AB if they are started as transplants in the house. I also live in a hail belt region and I usually get about 2-3 incidences of hail in June/July. This means that it is riskier growing things like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. I tend to grow those vegetables solely in containers for two reasons; I can move them to protected areas if I think there is a chance of hail, and with the colder overnight temps I find that container growing produces more robust and vigorous growth because the root zones of my heat loving plants are always warmer.


What inspires you about gardening?

My grandmother was an avid and inspirational gardener, and she grew the large prairie garden that was typical of her generation. She also had a passion for houseplants and her home was a jungle! Many of these tropical plants were started from seeds and slips all acquired through mail-order catalogues. Grandma even started succulents and African violets from seed! I think this early exposure to growing everything is what developed my passion for growing. I have a diploma in horticulture from Olds College, and have worked as a professional horticulturalist for over 25 years in all aspects of the trade, but growing is my main passion!  

What types of plants are you most passionate about growing?

I’m extremely passionate about food security so vegetable growing is a large focus of mine. I lived in Vancouver and urban areas of the Fraser Valley for 15 yrs before moving to Alberta. The cost of living is very high there so I always looked for ways to stretch my income. Growing as much of my own food as possible was an obvious solution to me. I never had much space either so I started to focus on container growing both outdoors and indoors to help maximize my growing potential. When I moved to an area where I was able to have a “traditional vegetable garden”, I really started to explore gardening methods like biointensive planting practices. I have had gardens that have produced about 1200 pounds of produce in 300 sq ft by using methods like succession planting, interplanting, vertical gardening etc…

What gardening (or gardening-related) projects do you have on the go this year?  What are your goals for this growing season?

This season is an exciting one for me! I have been renting in Red Deer and my yard had no established garden beds and the landlord was a bit hesitant for me to establish a garden bed or build raised beds.  I have solely container gardened for the last two seasons. Once my landlord saw how capable I was he has now agreed to let me develop permanent garden space in the yard. Last summer I began by developing a small in ground bed using the  sheet composting method aka “lasagna gardening”. This is a great method for my landscape as I have very heavy clay subsoil and a small layer of topsoil in the yard. I will be building more beds using this method plus I’ve started to build raised beds. I also have been growing tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers indoors using LED lights for the last few years. I’m planning on expanding the indoor garden in the fall by building a vertical hydroponic system to grow greens, herbs, and strawberries!

A huge thank you, Lana, for your detailed and thoughtful answers – you’ve got us thinking about microclimates and how to protect plants from the extremes of the weather, as well as effective strategies to grow successfully indoors, create productive container gardens, and garner high yields in small spaces. These are all concepts we can use no matter where we live!

Photo by Lana Gress
Photo by Lana Gress

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?

Book review: Container Gardening Complete by Jessica Walliser.

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Jessica Walliser – Container Gardening Complete: Creative Projects for Growing Vegetables and Flowers in Small Spaces (2017, Cool Springs Press, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc.)

If you’ve followed Flowery Prose for a while, you’ll know I recently moved and had to give up my in-ground garden beds. Besides caring for my hastily-planned and planted plot at the community garden in my new neighbourhood, I didn’t do any gardening this summer, but for next year, I’m hoping to set up a small balcony garden in our new home.  Container gardening isn’t something I’ve done a huge amount of in the past, so I am particularly excited about Jessica Walliser’s new book. As “complete” as its title suggests, Container Gardening Complete is a goldmine of excellent information, from the design and sowing of a wide range of plant selections (perennials, annuals, vegetables, fruit, even trees and shrubs), to cultivation and harvest and dealing with potential pest and disease issues.  Suggestions and detailed directions for the creation of themed and seasonal container designs are concentrated in the back half of the book and are guaranteed to inspire.  A clean, attractive layout, beautiful photos, and above all, clear, precise, and useful information from a knowledgeable expert make this book a fantastic resource for anyone interested in container gardening – whether you’re just getting started, or have a bit of experience under your belt.

*Quarto Publishing generously provided me with a review copy of Container Gardening Complete, but my opinions of the book are 100 percent my own and honest.

Flowery Friday: Calibrachoa ‘Holy Moly’.

It’s been all snow and grey gloom here today so I’m flashing back to a bright, candy-coloured Calibrachoa I trialed for Proven Winners this past summer.  This is ‘Superbells Holy Moly’ – holy moly, indeed! Those blooms are guaranteed to turn heads, that’s for sure.  What do you think of that colour combination?

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