Zygocactus in bloom.

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I found this glorious zygocactus (Schlumbergera, Christmas cactus) in full bloom in a sunny bay window at my Mom-in-law’s residence this past weekend, and it got me thinking that I’ve never attempted to grow one before.  It is definitely time to change that!

Do you grow zygocacti?  Do you have any tips for me? 

(P.S. In case you’re wondering, I did indeed alter the natural position of the bloom so that it doesn’t turn downward in this photo).

Practical plantings.

Here in Calgary, we love our junipers.

Well, it seems like it, anyway.  Walk by nearly any commercial property in the city and there will be a juniper or, more likely, a long row of junipers in front of it.  Plenty of homeowners use them, too.  I’m not talking about the tall, upright varieties, either.  (I’d be positively THRILLED to see more of those – many people plant cedars instead.  Unfortunately, here in Chinook country, beautiful moisture-loving cedars often turn to brittle red sticks over a single winter).

No, I’m thinking about the spreading junipers, the ground covers.  They’re everywhere!  And while many people dismiss them as “unimaginative” and “boring,” there’s a reason why they’re so popular here.  They’re practical.  You can literally plant them and forget them – and I’m not just saying that.  The mass grouping of junipers  in front of my workplace is rarely watered other than by rainfall or snowmelt, and I doubt any of the shrubs has ever been pruned.  Junipers are drought tolerant (once established), they can withstand our wacky temperature extremes, and they don’t mind all the road salt and the urban pollution.   They like the sun but they can take a fair amount of shade as well.  And, as for soil, most varieties don’t really care how fertile it is.   Some prostrate types cling to the sides of mountains!  They’re largely resistant to diseases – although you do have to watch out for various rusts.  Deer and hares and most other pests won’t eat them, which is a bonus.   You can get a wide range of varieties and colours from deep blue to golden yellow to bright green, which also means that you aren’t restricted to planting them en masse – they make great specimen plants as well!   I’m extremely fond of the three ‘Blue Chip’ junipers (J. horizontalis) in my garden – their blue-green needles are beautifully textured, and they have a fabulous mounding habit.  They perform like a dream, and I do absolutely nothing to encourage them.   Yes, they’re certainly practical – and that’s a very, very good thing in my book!

Plus, spreading junipers look great – or, at least, I think they do!  Especially with a nice, fluffy layer of snow to decorate them.  (Unfortunately, I can’t claim to have taken these photos a month or two ago – we received another sprinkling of the white stuff yesterday and I shot these images this morning.  To my delight, warm winds moved in this afternoon and ate most of the new snow).

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I’m going to tentatively ID this collection of junipers as Juniperus sabina ‘Scandia’ – they are too tall to be ‘Calgary Carpet’ or ‘Buffalo’.   If you have any other ideas of what they might be, I welcome them!  🙂

What types of  ubiquitous “practical” plantings are popular where you live?  Do you grow any of them yourself? 

Wanted: Warm blanket and soft pillow.

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(Photo credit: R. Normandeau)

A grouping of Chionodoxa and Puschkinia poked out of my flowerbeds in a rare sunny moment last week.  Unfortunately, further blooms in my garden have been arrested by the cold and freezing drizzle that has been falling on and off for the past three days.  I can completely relate – the weather makes me want to go back to bed, too.  😉

I hope you have a relaxing Saturday!  Do you have any plans to get out into your garden this weekend?

Floral delivery.

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Sending a little good cheer your way! 🙂

I can’t believe tomorrow is March 1st (wasn’t it just Christmas?)! What fun plans – gardening or otherwise – do you have for the new month?

Recipe: Sea buckthorn and apple jelly.

(Photo credit:  R. Normandeau)

My hubby and I managed to get out this past Saturday morning and gather some sea buckthorn fruit so that I could try my hand at making jelly from it.  If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll recall that I made a sea buckthorn beverage last year – I just love the citrusy taste of the berries and their gorgeous sun-bright colour.

Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) is a fairly common roadside plant here in Calgary – the City planted many of them years ago, mostly for erosion control on slopes.  It’s one of those shrubs you’d be hard-pressed to kill:  it’s tough-as-nails, drought-tolerant, pollution and salt-tolerant (good for our winter roads and all that de-icing salt), and a fairly aggressive spreader.  You don’t find it employed as an ornamental landscape plant very often, but it’s really very pretty, with silvery-green leaf clusters and the brilliant autumn fruit.  (Both male and female plants are required for fruit production).  Sure, some people may be turned off by the thorns, but they contribute to the shrub’s rabbit and deer resistance, which can’t be a bad thing, right?!

The only thing that irks me to no end about gathering sea buckthorn berries is that it’s just such a difficult process – the fruit only comes off the stems under extreme duress.   The kind of duress that leaves you standing there with bright orange seabuckthorn juice all over your clothes and squirted in your eye.  I’ve read that commercial harvesters of the shrub just go along and prune off fruit-bearing branches, freeze them for awhile, and then “shake” the berries free…but I didn’t give that a go.  I ought to have – it took me FOREVER to get the berries off of the branches.

But it’s worth it for this jelly.  Trust me.  It’s so yummy and pretty!

Small-Batch Sea Buckthorn and Apple Jelly

(I added apples to this recipe because I didn’t use commercial pectin – sea buckthorn doesn’t have very much natural pectin, so the addition of a high-pectin fruit helps the jelly set properly.  I had some British Columbia-grown ‘Sunrise’ apples, but use any variety you love.  Crabapples would work as well).

4 cups sea buckthorn berries, washed thoroughly

3 apples, washed, peeled, cored, and diced finely (if you don’t want to go to the trouble, and your apples are organic, you can leave the peels on)

1/2 cup water

Place berries, apples and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer fruit for 20 minutes.  Stir periodically and crush the fruit against the side of the pan with the back of the spoon.  (It all mashes down pretty well on its own, and won’t require much additional help).

Strain the fruit through a jelly bag (or several layers of cheesecloth) over a large bowl.  Don’t force the fruit through the bag – this will make the jelly cloudy and you don’t want that!  Set it up so that the fruit can slowly strain overnight.

In the morning, sterilize your canning jars and lids.   Measure out the juice.  I ended up with 2 cups using this recipe, but your measurement may vary slightly.  Place the juice into a saucepan and mix in an equal amount of white sugar.  Bring the sugar and juice to a rolling boil and boil, stirring constantly, until you’ve reached gel point.

Carefully pour the jelly into the sterilized jars, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (don’t forget to adjust the length of time according to altitude, as specified in this handy chart).  If you plan to eat the jelly soon and don’t want to go to all the trouble of processing jars for storing, you can just pop the jars into the fridge once the jelly is cool.  It is a very small batch, after all…and you’ll be hooked once you have a taste!

Do you grow sea buckthorn in your garden, or do you forage for sea buckthorn berries?  

 Looking for more sea buckthorn berry recipes?

My sea buckthorn berry recipe book, Sea Buckthorn Bounty: Recipes is now available here!

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