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

Floral notes, early January.

I hope the start of 2020 has been good to you!

What’s growing (nothing outside – other than the snow piles):

Catgrass (I’ve planted a mix of wheatgrass and oats).  I swear this stuff germinates in five minutes.  If you ever feel like your green thumb’s gone bust, just plant some catgrass and your confidence will be restored almost immediately.  My personal assistant Smudge is cut off after only a few good gnaws, as she has an exceedingly delicate digestive system and I hate cleaning upholstery.

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Droolicious books I’ve been gawking at:

Urban Botanics: An Indoor Plant Guide for Modern Gardeners by Emma Sibley and Maaike Koster (illustrator)

Whether you’re a dab hand at growing houseplants or you’re captivated with the idea of growing them and want to know more so you can actually get started, this book is worth a gander or two. Or more:  While the text offers up plenty of well-researched information and will likely lead to rushed trips to the nearest garden centre to scoop up a new Dracaena or Philodendron or an entire shopping cart full of succulents, the illustrations by Maaike Koster are absolutely glorious, pure eye candy at its most delicious.  

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The Embroidered Art of Chloe Giordano

A co-worker mentioned Giordano’s Instagram account to me and after just one glimpse, I was highly motivated to track down this gorgeous book. Thread-painted woodland animals – what could be more beautiful?  Even if you don’t embroider, you can’t help but be amazed at Chloe Giordano’s insane talent and creativity.  

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Getting out and about:

One snowshoe trek is in the books!  In early December, my hubby, my brother, and I earned “Braggin’ Rights” out at West Bragg Creek.  Braggin’ Rights is 8.7 kilometres (5.4 miles) long, but we linked up via Snowy Owl and Old Shell Road, which added a few more K.  Even though the bulk of Braggin’ Rights is in forest, the snow changed texture as we progressed from the cooler morning to the warmer afternoon, luxurious powdery crystals becoming sticky and heavy and clinging to our ‘shoes.  I’m hoping we can get out several more times during the next eight months of winter*, but scheduling is a bit wonky with work, so we’ll see….

*I exaggerate, but only slightly.

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(Old Shell Road)

What fun things are you doing this early in the new year?

 

Book review: Countertop Gardens by Shelley Levis.

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Countertop Gardens: Easily Grow Kitchen Edibles Indoors for Year-Round Enjoyment – Shelley Levis (2018, Cool Springs Press, Quarto Publishing Group USA, Minnesota)

If you’ve been following Flowery Prose for a while, you’ll know that we have teeth-chatteringly, bone-chillingly long winters here in Alberta.  Six months isn’t an overstatement, and it can stretch even further than that on occasion.  Accordingly, our growing season is short (and often brutal).  Planting outdoors is a challenge…one that we never back down from but occasionally must grin and bear.  Given the vagaries of gardening in our climate, growing edible plants indoors is a very tempting option.  Yet…growing plants indoors isn’t foolproof – there are so many factors to consider, such as heat, humidity, light, and space.

Fortunately, Shelley Levis has come to the rescue for situations like this with Countertop Gardens! This indoor gardening manual is chockful of inspiration and ideas for turning your indoor living spaces into miniature edible gardens.  From microgreens to herb gardens to simple hydroponic systems, it’s all here.  And there are some surprises, as well: have you ever considered growing mushrooms, potatoes, gingerroot, or tomatoes in your kitchen?  Try them all using Levis’ tips!  She also examines some of the most popular grow-light countertop garden kits available on the market today and discusses ways to maximize their use – practical information whether you’re thinking of buying one or already own one.

Countertop Gardens is a fantastic starting point for anyone wanting to grow fresh food indoors all year ‘round – definitely a recommended read!

*The Quarto Group generously provided me with a review copy of Countertop Gardens. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Book review: House Plants by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf.

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House Plants: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Growing and Caring for Indoor Plants

By Lisa Eldred Steinkopf (Cool Springs Press, 2017)

Throwing millennials and houseplants together seems to be a thing in the media these days; this (slightly tongue-in-cheek) article from The Washington Post is only one example of many that I’ve come across lately.  One glance at the racks in your local garden centre will tell you that indoor gardening is indeed experiencing a resurgence – for everyone’s benefit!  There are so many more plant selections available, and not just the succulents and air plants that have been trendy for the past few years.  Looking after houseplants is meditative, nourishing, and just plain enjoyable, but only if you know what you’re doing.

That’s what Lisa Eldred Steinkopf’s book is for: to help you succeed with your growing endeavours.  In House Plants, Steinkopf (thehouseplantguru.com) thoroughly and precisely covers every detail: soil, water, light, containers, siting, propagation, and troubleshooting pests and diseases.  Her advice is practical and easy to understand, even for those just getting into the hobby – this is a book that will definitely inspire confidence when it comes to keeping houseplants.  (The chapter on propagation particularly impressed me, with its clear directions and accompanying photography).  Indoor gardeners will appreciate that she even touches briefly on bonsai, topiary, living walls, water plants, and holiday plants, as these somewhat specialty niches become more mainstream.

Of course, it’s truly the more than 125 profiles of houseplants that attracted me most to the book…I feel like I now have a goal to try them all at some point (don’t tell my hubby!).  I love the fact that individual plants are categorized according to their difficulty of cultivation and maintenance (again, this gives me something to work towards!).  From ferns to figs to palms, orchids, and dracaena – it’s all here and each one is beautifully photographed to aid in identification.  Comprehensive, useful, and a delight to pore through, this really is the “complete guide” to houseplants!

 

(Full disclosure: I was given a review copy of Lisa Eldred Steinkopf’s book House Plants by Cool Springs Press, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group. All opinions are 100 percent my own.  Heck, 300 percent my own).