Flowery Friday: rock soapwort.

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We held a retirement celebration for a co-worker this past week and in honour of her adoration of bright colours (especially pink!), we were all encouraged to wear something pink. Big fail for me – I don’t own a single item of clothing in any shade of pink.

Considering that it is my least favourite colour when it comes to my wardrobe, my garden seems to have an abundance of pink – including this beautiful Saponaria ocymoides (rock soapwort), which has got to be one of the most reliable, tough, and rewarding plants I’ve ever grown.  I’m hoping now that the weather has cooled down somewhat, there will be a second flush of blooms.  The heat stress my plants have been under has meant that there hasn’t been much for flowers for about a month now – the plants have just been standing still, trying to wait it out.

What colours dominate your wardrobe and your garden?  Are you passionate for pink?

Margaret Brown Memorial Garden – Calgary.

A walk on a very cool, foggy morning in late August brought me to the Margaret Brown Memorial Garden in the community of Varsity (Calgary).  Really happy I brought the camera along!   🙂

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Have a wonderful week!  Do you have any gardening (or other) projects planned?

Rain…and a garden update.

That ghastly s-word is accumulating heavily just west of Calgary as I write this, and I’m hoping the steady, slow rain that is currently falling here doesn’t decide to turn over to white flakes.  The city is greening up in a glorious way with this sudden moisture – it’s truly amazing to see what a few millimetres of rain can do to change the landscape.  On average, Calgary receives about 70 mm of rain and/or snow during the months of April and May, so it’s been a bit of a surprise to have barely cleared 30 mm in the past 53 days.  (No matter; the forecasters tell us 80 mm of rain is heading our way tomorrow.  Just goes to show there’s never a happy medium!).

The neighbourhood trees are all blooming at once:  apples, chokecherries, lilacs, cherries and plums.  They’re rushing headlong into fruit production, and while their blossoms seem more profuse and fragrant than usual, they won’t last more than a blink.  Everything seems accelerated this year, but maybe that’s more my state of mind than anything.  (Has anyone else noticed this?).

In my flowerbeds, the muscari are still hanging on, cheerfully poking out from the edges of the junipers.  The nepeta (I have both N. mussinii  and N. subsessilis) and the speedwell (Veronica penduncularis unbrosa ‘Georgia Blue’) is blooming and looking mighty fine in this suddenly cooler weather.   And the Aurinia saxatile ‘Gold Dust’ that I wrote about last year is just starting to put on her usual early show, although the plant has barely had time to mound as she usually does.

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Basket of gold. 

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There are a million photos of water droplets on lady’s mantle on the Internet.  Here’s another one. 

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I love Artemis schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’.  I don’t love the quack grass that seems to be in every photo I took this afternoon.  (I just weeded two days ago, honest!). 

If I ever actually get the time for some serious shopping and planting, I plan to put in quite a few more perennials in the beds.  A couple of weeks ago, I planted some purple Liatris spicata, which may not be the most original choice, given that I think every single gardener in Calgary is already growing them.  Hey – at least I know they’re successful!  🙂  Phlox paniculata ‘Nicky’ and blue sea holly (Eryngium alpinum) are new additions as well, picked up at the same time as the liatris.  I’ve also thrown in a pretty lungwort that a co-worker gave me.  On my list of potential buys:  Monarda, Echinops, goldenrod, alpine lady’s mantle, and more Aurinia, gold flax (Linum flavum compactum), and scabiosa.

Of course, I will probably forget my grand plan when I finally get inside the garden centre.  We shall see what I actually come home with.  😉

What plant selections (perennial or otherwise) are you most excited about this year?

Canada thistle.

Well, we’re digging ourselves out of a “nearly spring” storm here in Calgary – we received approximately 20 cm (8″) of snow yesterday and flakes are still falling as I write this. Just two days earlier, we were basking under +12°C (53.6°F) sunshine, which is pretty typical of the way the weather goes around here at this time of year. I was delighted to get out on Friday morning and take a walk up on Nose Hill, where I ended up sharing the sunrise with five deer and a grumpy porcupine (you can see one of my photos of him here).

While I was up on the hill, I noticed that the City’s war on Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) in the park is ongoing.  I don’t like the fact that herbicides are sprayed annually to control this nasty invasive, but if something wasn’t done about them, the whole park would be covered in thistles. Pulling them simply isn’t a good solution – and it’s not just because they are thorny!

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Canada thistle (winter)

CRAZY FACTS ABOUT CANADA THISTLE:

  • Canada thistle is not a native of Canada. It actually has its origins in Mediterranean Europe.
  • Another common name for Canada thistle is creeping thistle…as in, it “creeps you out” with its insane root system. 😉
  • Each plant can produce up to 5,000 seeds.
  • Each seed can remain viable in the soil for up to 20 years.
  • Just 8 to 10 days after flowers emerge, plants can already produce viable seed.
  • Canada thistle reproduces by seed AND by vegetative cloning – a double whammy.
  • New plants can form from the tiniest of root segments – just 3-6 mm (1/8 – 1/4″) thick and 8 mm (3/8″) long. This is why pulling and digging don’t do diddly.
  • The tap root of each plant can reach 6 m (20 feet) underground in a single growing season.  Isn’t that incredible?¹

I am sooooo glad I don’t have to battle Canada thistle in my flowerbeds! I have a severe problem with quackgrass (aka couchgrass, Elymus repens), however, which I have struggled with for over a decade. While I have made significant inroads, I cannot ever let my guard down….

What are your worst plant enemies?

¹http://www.agriculture.gov.sk.ca/canada_thistle_control

Book review: Natural Companions.

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Although we’ve been favoured with some bright sunny days and warm temperatures here in Calgary over the past couple of weeks, there’s still snow on the ground and it will be considerable time yet before the garden beds will completely thaw. Nearly everyone has been beset with cabin fever this year (especially those of us who didn’t head to the tropics for a vacation). I’ve been trying to combat it by poring through seed catalogues (which is getting old because I’ve told myself I must not order anything else!) and dipping into the mountain of gardening books I’ve dragged home from work. One of my co-workers – who suffers from the same garden itch as I do – recommended Ken Druse’s new book, Natural Companions, and after a quick glance inside, it was easy to see why she was so enamoured with it.

At this point, I have to confess that I didn’t read this book cover-to-cover. (I know, I know, I’m violating some book review rule, am I not?). Honestly, I couldn’t stop gazing at/drooling over the photographs. Druse’s exquisite shots of harmoniously grouped plants in garden settings are one thing. It’s the botanical photos that grab me. They’re absolutely astonishing – pure works of art. Druse collected all of the plant specimens (foliage, buds, flowers, seed pods, stems, etc.) and grouped them together according to a theme – “Signs of Spring” (daffodils, Daphne odorata, Camellia japonica, yaupon holly) or “Sunny Dispositions (Ligularia japonica, coreopsis, yarrow, rudbeckia), even “Peas on Earth” (ornamental peas, including lupines). You can imagine the floral combinations that make up “In the Pink,” or the gorgeous autumn frame containing bark, magnolia fruits, ornamental black corn and lablab beans compiling “It Ain’t Over ‘Til it’s Over.” “On Pines and Needles” is self-explanatory, as is “One Good Fern Deserves Another.” (Clever, no?). Artist and photographer Ellen Hoverkamp arranged all of the specimens on a flatbed scanner to create the incredible collages found on every page. Trust me – it’s easy to forget to read the text. You’re too busy ooh-ing and ahh-ing. This is a botanical art-lovers dream, a picture book for anyone who can’t get enough of plants.

I’m not certain it cured my cabin fever, though. In fact, it may have made it worse! 😉

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To see Ellen Hoverkamp’s work and a selection of prints from Natural Companions, click here. She’s got a few images up for sale in her store as well.  To say I’m tempted to buy one is an understatement.

(I’m participating in February’s Garden Book Reviews!  Head on over to Roses and Other Gardening Joys to check out all of the fantastic bloggers and their reviews).

Creative container.

Threshing machine planter - Saskatoon Farm - Aug 12 FP

Anyone have a spare antique threshing machine lying around somewhere?

I came across this image while going through some of my photos from the summer…isn’t this a fabulous idea for a planter? This is repurposing at its finest!

My hubby and I saw this display at The Saskatoon Farm in DeWinton, Alberta in August of last year. If you find yourself in the Okotoks area south of Calgary, make sure you stop in at the Farm during the summer…and do NOT leave without sampling or carting home several of their homemade saskatoon or rhubarb and strawberry pies and tarts. Trust me on this.  I’m going crazy thinking about them right now!  🙂

What “creative containers” have you seen or used as planters?

Flowery Prose link-a-thon – December 2012.

A combination of time-crunch and my exceeding talent (?) for procrastination means my inbox is perpetually stuffed to the brim with e-mails (not chocolate, unfortunately – that would be SWEET!).   Although I don’t always get around to reading everything as expeditiously as I would like, over the past few months I’ve been collecting links to some excellent “flowery” blog entries and articles that I thought I would share with you now.  So grab some Christmas cookies and eggnog and enjoy!

  • Read all about cattails and their fascinating uses at Garden’s Eye View.
  • The chalara dieback of ash trees in Europe is the focus of this article in Veg Plotting.
  • Take a look at the beautiful Sekkan Sugi Japanese Cedar, showcased by RainyLeaf.
  • Check out how to force spring bulbs indoors at Growing Grace Farm.  These are really timely tips – you can set this up now!
  • The Sproutling Writes offers a HILARIOUS quiz – take it to find out what kind of gardener you are!  (I’m a “Dreamer”!).
  • Do you know what tonka beans are?  (I didn’t!).  Read about them and find a delicious recipe to use them in at Words and Herbs.
  • Garden In a City’s humorous look at the difference between a drupe and a berry is spot-on!  Don’t miss this one!
  • Do you think garden centres and nurseries should offer guarantees on the plants they sell?  Consider the perspectives at Whole Life Gardening.
  • If you are planning to plant trees in the near future, read up on Kew’s Top Tips for Tree Care.
  • Are you interested in growing sprouts?  Try this method for starting rye sprouts from Addicted to Veggies.
  • Some interesting tests are being conducted using corncob grit and compressed air as a “sandblasting” method of weed control – read about it here.
  • I love the perfect geometric patterning of the flowers of Callicarpa pilossisima (beautyberries) – this is something you don’t see very often!  Take a look at this UBC Botany Photo of the Day link.

Recipe: Pickled horseradish.

Like coriander or capers, horseradish root packs a flavor that divides taste buds – you either like it or you don’t.

I happen to be one of those who love the hot, spicy kick, but only in very small amounts. As my hubby absolutely loathes horseradish, it’s not really worth it to grow it just for myself.

It’s probably just as well, as this very cold hardy (to zone 2) perennial has the potential to spread like crazy in the garden. Horseradish needs just a tiny segment of buried root to form new plants. You can check the progress of aggressive plants by completely removing the roots for harvest in autumn. Apparently, it’s a far better idea to grow horseradish in containers – but they have to be very deep and large to accommodate each plant’s large taproot.

Horseradish is one of the most low-maintenance members of the family Brassicaceae, which includes cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale. Once established, there’s no need to water horseradish unless there is a long period of drought, and no applications of fertilizer are necessary. Give plants a full sun location and they should perform mightily. Just watch out for cabbage worms, a common Brassicaceae pest.

Horseradish root

We recently received a fairly sizeable (and not terribly photogenic) chunk of horseradish root as part of our bi-weekly CSA share, and I was initially flummoxed as to what to do with it all! It’s not recommended to freeze whole pieces, so after gifting a couple of slices to some horseradish-loving co-workers, I set out to pickle my leftovers. Here’s how I did it:

Pickled Horseradish

(Don’t be alarmed by the lack of measurements in this recipe! There are only three ingredients, and the measurements depend on how much horseradish root you use).

Horseradish root
White vinegar
Salt

Peel the horseradish root. Grate root into a small bowl. If you are using a hand grater, try not to breathe in the fumes from the freshly-grated root. (The experience is a million times worse than slicing onions!). You can make the job a little less odoriferous by slicing the root into 3” chunks and throwing them in the blender. Make sure the lid is in place, then pulse on grate a few times until the root is finely shredded.

Remove the grated root from the blender jar, and place in a small bowl. Pour over enough vinegar to just cover the grated root. (It shouldn’t be floating!). Add a pinch of salt. Then set the bowl aside, uncovered, for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Carefully strain the grated horseradish through a fine sieve, reserving all of the vinegar in a separate bowl. Get out the blender again, and scrape all of the root into the jar. Add half of the reserved vinegar to the root in the blender and secure the lid in place. Pulse on puree until the root and vinegar mixture resembles a thick paste. If you need to add more vinegar, go ahead, but don’t make the mixture too runny (unless you like it that way). I left my sauce a bit on the chunky side – that’s okay, too. If you want to add a bit of salt, do so to taste. Transfer the prepared horseradish sauce into a clean Mason jar, and seal. There’s no need to process this sauce in a canner – but make sure you refrigerate it. It will keep for 2 months. Horseradish sauce is traditionally used on roasted beef, but you can also add a smidgen to fresh green salads or alongside other condiments on hotdogs, hamburgers, or tofu patties.

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Are you a fan of horseradish?  What is your favourite way to eat it?  Have you ever grown it in your garden? 

Book review: The Northern Gardener.

The Northern Gardener:  Perennials That Survive and Thrive – Barbara Rayment (2012, Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd., British Columbia)

Barbara Rayment says it all in her dedication:  this book is for any gardener whose little patch of earth is afflicted with

short growing seasons, poor soil, untimely frosts, drought, windstorms, rainstorms, (and) hailstorms….

Yep, count me in – here in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, my garden has all of those “symptoms” at one time or another during any given year.  (I say “year” when I really mean “the two months we can actually produce any sort of flower or veggie crops.”  I joke, but just barely).  And I’m big on perennials, so to say this book is right up my alley is a mild understatement.  The Northern Gardener is the go-to reference we cold climate gardeners should all have at hand as we peruse the seed catalogues and glossy gardening magazines this winter, looking for the best plants to grow next spring.  I sure wish it had been written when I was working in the garden centre years ago – it would have been a massive help!

The Northern Gardener is divided by “habitat,” not according to plant family or colour or any other category.  Rain garden, herb garden, pond and water, prairie, woodland, rockery…they’re all here and more.  Rayment offers up planting tips and cultural maintenance for each habitat and gives examples and photos of each.  Then she follows it all up with an “A to Z” listing of perennials for each category – from Achillea to Zizia, it’s all here.  The plant descriptions are short (you won’t find massive detail) but there are hundreds of listings, and small, but beautifully-shot photos for nearly every one.  Peppered throughout the plant listings are panels that further break down concepts such as drainage, mulching, and pest control – and offer separate categories for perennials with clay tolerance, for example, or deer resistance.   This wonderfully comprehensive list is the perfect starting point for more investigative research (or a rush trip to the garden centre to pick up a particularly desireable selection!).  In some northern regions, you still have time to put in perennials, so grab this book, and go shopping!  🙂

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I’m taking part in September’s Garden Book Reviews!  Click on over to Roses and Other Gardening Joys to check out the wonderful reviews by all the participating bloggers!