Review: Wildflowers of the Mixed-Grass Prairie by Johane Janelle.

Wildflowers of the Mixed-Grass Prairie – Johane Janelle (2017)

Here’s a fantastic resource for anyone interested in identifying the wildflowers growing on the western Canadian Prairies! Alberta-based photographer Johane Janelle has created and published a beautiful and useful brochure listing more than 70 wildflowers found on explorations on the mixed grass prairie.  The detailed photographs (arranged by bloom colour) assist with easy, quick ID, and Johane also lists the flowering period for each plant, as an additional aid.  The brochure is folded and laminated so it won’t crush or dampen during hikes.  It’s now a staple in my backpack!

Click here for a photo of the brochure, from the photographer’s gallery (don’t forget to check out her other work while you’re there!).  You can order the brochure directly from Johane by using the Contact Form on her website.

Floral notes: February 2018.

If you’re looking to ID native wildflowers on the Canadian Prairies (specifically in Saskatchewan), this website has the most amazing photography I’ve ever seen on the subject.  We have most of these plants here in Alberta and I know this is a resource I will use over and over again. Even if you don’t live in this part of Canada, you will hugely enjoy the beautiful images. I am floored that these are not yet compiled into book form; I would buy it in a heartbeat.

I somehow missed the name change for African violets and I can’t seem to find out when it was made official (for all I know, it was quite a while ago)…but here it is: Saintpaulia spp. are now more accurately termed StreptocarpusThis article offers a bit of explanation.

My favourite recipe so far this week: this one for Cranberry Muffins.  But I didn’t have any oranges, so I didn’t use orange zest or orange juice; I substituted 1 teaspoon of pure lemon extract instead.  And omitted the glaze entirely.  They were wonderful.  I will get some oranges and try them the way they were intended as well.

From the “Toot My Own Horn Department”:  I am delighted that my article “Vibrant Viburnums” is included in the new volume of The Prairie Garden!  The 2018 book is all about shade plants and was officially launched last week.


(Wild)flowery Friday: marsh smartweed.


Back in September, I came across this water-loving marsh smartweed (Polygonum amphibium var. emersum) along the recently-flooded shoreline of Beaver Mines Lake in southwestern Alberta.  It’s not a plant I was previously familiar with, but I did some searching and found that it is a member of the buckwheat family and a North American native, alongside a large number of other smartweeds. According to my reading, some smartweeds are considered invasive species in certain provinces and states, but none seem to appear on the Alberta list.  Do any smartweeds grow where you live?

Xeriscaping in Alberta.

There was a humorous comment on the Canadian Gardening Facebook fan page the other day in which a lady who was attempting to apply water-wise gardening practices to her own yard admitted that her landscape was not so much “xeriscape” as “zeroscape,” meaning she thought she had nothing to work with:  her soil was poor, she couldn’t plant a stitch that would grow,  and she was clearly despairing.  Aside from the play on words which delights me to no end, the topic was really timely for me as I just completed an online course about water-wise gardening through Northern Lakes College in Slave Lake, AB.  Instructor and urban garden guru Ron Berezan gave a really informative presentation about the principles of xeriscaping, and although the content was directed at the mostly northern residents that attended (who don’t have nearly the same problems with water as we do in the dry south of the province), he successfully outlined several key points that can be used regardless of location or annual rainfall amounts.

Obviously, most of the water in Alberta is surface water and it is clearly not going to keep running forever.  It’s not necessary to get into a discussion of the all the whys and wherefores and who is to blame; it’s a simple fact.  Gardening is one area where – with intelligent choices and decisions – we can arrest the wasteful usage of water and creatively produce thriving, living plants (including those for eating).  Xeriscaping principles include planting drought tolerant species (and that doesn’t always mean “native” – bear in mind that “native” doesn’t always mean “local,” either.  A native plant can be one that grows in North America, for example, but won’t do well in the subalpine region near Fort MacMurray, or in dry, hot Milk River), and being aware of which species are appropriate to grow in the several microclimates of the yard.  That bog area out back by the fence won’t produce really great wolf willow shrubs, perhaps, but throw a silver willow tree in there if there is room and it might be happy.  Plants need to be grown according to their cultural requirements, which sounds simple, but isn’t always.  It requires research and experimentation.  While we’re at it, we should also pay attention to multi-level planting, where various storeys of properly-planted (for their individual cultures) species assist one another by cycles of water uptake, holding and respiration.

Making sure soil is full of the proper amount of organic matter is a challenge for those of us who have the dreaded clay of the foothills…we can compost until the cows come home and it doesn’t matter a whit.  But it’s necessary:  more organic matter means more water holding capacity.  There is more to it, of course, but it all comes down to the fact that healthy soil is the very best water trap there is, and it will boost plant growth and welfare the proper way.   We can aid the soil by artificially contouring the land to help hold water (check out the video on YouTube called “Greening the Desert,” about a dramatic permaculture water harvesting experiment created in Jordan by an Aussie research team headed by Geoff Lawton – it’s astonishing), and we can do the obvious stuff like using rainbarrels etc..  And we should definitely use organic mulches, and we should pay very close attention to when we water and how we water.  Some homeowners are guilty of leaving the sprinklers on at full bore in the middle of a hot August afternoon and not only are they watering the sidewalk to boot, they’re shocking the plants and encouraging evaporation.  And really, if planted properly, with attention and concern to their requirements, most plants (and this includes the lawn!) do not need as much water as we think they do.