Flowery blurbs, volume 9.

Life-glowing season ! odour-breathing Spring !

Deck’d in cerulean splendours !vivid,warm,

Shedding soft lustre on the rosy hours, And calling forth their beauties !

balmy Spring ! To thee the vegetating world begins

To pay fresh homage.

-“Ode to Spring” by Mary Darby Robinson (1758-1800)  Read the whole poem here.

I know, I know, I’m a bit early – spring is officially eight days away – but I figure it never hurts to be organized.  (Yeah, that’s it).  The truth is, even though we’ve had an unusually mild winter here in Calgary, I’m just that anxious for the change of season, excitedly counting down the days until the first bulbs poke up out of the earth:  crocuses, scilla, anemones, and glories-of-the-snow.

The zen of tulip maintenance.  (Sort of).

I don’t plant tulips anymore – while I’m honoured to provide a banquet for the local squirrels and hares, my pocketbook simply can’t take the hit.  Instead, I buy fresh cut tulips whenever I can find them and put them on display in my rodent-free livingroom.  If you’re like me (that is, tormented by insatiable tulip-munching adorable furry critters) and you buy your tulips from a florist or at the supermarket, try these tips for keeping them fresh and beautiful for as long as possible.

Thumb’s up for this northern Alberta biomass conversion project.

In the small city of Whitecourt, Alberta, fast-growing poplars and willow trees are being grown in waste water and sludge cast off of the water treatment plant.  The idea is to harvest these trees as fuel for the city’s wood-burning power plant.  Four other municipalities in northern Alberta are working on similar projects, and involvement and interest is increasing.  While this isn’t a new concept, nothing of this scale has yet been undertaken in the province.  Read about this interesting venture here.

What’s in a biofumigant? 

Glucosinalates, to be exact.  These chemical compounds are naturally produced by members of the genus Brassica (broccoli, kale, mustard, etc.) and, if grown as part of a cover crop and rotation strategy, are capable of destroying certain soil-borne diseases that may affect other food crops, such as potatoes.  Read about how they work here.

Vertical farming ideas abound. 

Ground-breaking has been undertaken on an – ahem! – groundbreaking vertical farming project in Linköping, Sweden.  Do you think we’ll be seeing a lot of these domes in the future, or is this just a one-off thing?  (Presumably, if Plantagon has anything to say about it, these greenhouses will eventually be sprinkled all over the world).  Read all about it here.

Peel appeal.

Whether you grow your own fruits or veggies, or purchase them at a farmers market or grocer, consider saving the peels and rinds and using them for everything from natural fabric dyes to natural cosmetic treatments, flavoured sugars, and tasty, oven-roasted chips.  Make sure everything you use is organic and scrubbed really well, and use this handy guide as a source of inspiration.

Floral notes: early February 2012.


No show-snow (Photo credit – Rob Normandeau)

Last night, I had what should have been a lovely dream:  I went outside into my flowerbeds and all of my spring-flowering bulbs were up and growing like crazy.  That would be super – in April or May.  But it’s the first week of February, and I’m actually very fearful that it’s going to happen – high winds and unseasonably warm temperatures have completely eliminated what little snowcover we had, and the beds have been exposed for most of the winter.  I swear when I walked outside yesterday afternoon I could smell the earthy scent of spring thaw – even though our local version of a “groundhog,” a Richardson’s ground squirrel named Balzac Billy,  declared that we were up for another 6 weeks of winter.  (You can see Balzac Billy in all of his…um…ground squirrelly splendour here).  Oh well, I shouldn’t complain, really.  We’ll get our “winter” in March, guaranteed, with a ton of snow and cold, and then everyone can laugh at me and say “I told you so.”

In the meantime, while I fret about my plants, you can peruse some Flowery Blurbs:

This is gonna be one popular poplar

Watch for a new poplar to be the “it” tree in a nursery near you (well, if you live in Canada, that is):  the hybrid AC Sundancer is the recent creation of the Agroforestry Development Centre (part of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada), and it comes with big promises!  AC Sundancer is everything traditional poplars aren’t:  relatively slow-growing (so it doesn’t shoot up and then die in a few decades), compact in size, disease resistant, lacking seeds, and – this is the best part – possessing a controlled root system.  No more cracked foundations and split sewer lines, no more poplar stigma!  Check out the bulletin here.

And the winner is….

For the past few years, the Calgary Horticultural Society has taken to declaring its own “Perennial Plant of the Year.”  I like the idea of selecting a zone 3 hardy plant because quite often the Perennial Plant of the Year chosen by the Perennial Plant Association isn’t appropriate for our particular climate.  (See my previous post, Flowery Blurbs, Volume One, for information about the 2012 PPA PPOTY.  It’s actually a zone 3 plant this year!).  The CHS has announced that this year’s chosen one is Helenium autumnale ‘Mardi Gras’ (sneezeweed or Helen’s flower), a cheerful and hardy member of the Asteraceae family.  See a photo of the summer beauty here.

Vertical farming viewpoint

Although this article was written in 2010, I just happened across it the other day, and I thought it offered another interesting perspective on the viability of vertical farms.  See the write-up in The Economist here.

Streaming plant ID

Finally, if you want to spend an hour and a half on a basic botany lesson, you may want to check out Olds College instructor Annelise Doolaege’s talk on UStream.  She also discusses plant keys and how to use them in the field, and gives a brief photo tour of wildflowers found in central and southern Alberta, including the Rocky Mountains.  Doolaege’s talk is the first in a series to be offered over the next few months, as a teaser for the college’s annual Hort Week festivities.   Find the link to the lecture here.