Gardening Blog

Frozen pesto cubes for winter pasta

Last weekend I had a tall, beautiful columnar basil plant (courtesy of President’s Choice) nestled beside my tomato plants (to help their flavour). It was almost up to my waist. Rather than let it go to seed, which hadn’t happened yet thanks to my consistent pruning, I decided to make pesto.

I found an easy pesto recipe online from Whole Foods and then did a little research to see how to preserve it. The easiest way I found was to freeze it in an ice cube tray, wrap it in saran, being sure to let out all the air, and then pop the frozen cubes into a freezer bag (again, letting out all the air). I left out the cheese from the recipe because I wasn’t sure how it would freeze.

Now throughout the winter, when I want to make a quick weeknight meal–say shrimp with brown rice pasta fettuccine–I can just grab a cube or two, let it thaw a little and then stir it in! No more jars of store-bought pesto required.

I’m feeling ambitious about my herb saving, so this weekend I intend to clip some tarragon, oregano, sage and thyme and dry it out. Charmian Christie wrote a great article for the site that I posted this week called 5 ways to preserve your herbs in 5 minutes. If I get the time, I might also try to create some herb-infused vinegars.

Unexpected surprises in the garden

After another little round of rain I went out to investigate the yard and found a few unexpected things. We grabbed the camera to document them for you.

-A Boreal Chorus frog (or possibly a Western chorus frog) in the driveway. The kids pulled out the field guide and identified him before setting him loose in a puddle. Every time this happens I start thinking again about putting in a pond. Because I’m keeping up so well with the rest of the place, and I don’t have any half finished projects.

-At least five different types of mushrooms growing in the lawn and (what was supposed to be) the fallow section of the vegetable garden. If these ones are edible, I’ve probably got enough to stock the freezer for the year. Where’s a reliable mycologist when you need one?

-The peas going to town, blooming like there’s no tomorrow, which there might not be for them–we’ve already had our first snow! I don’t normally grow peas, so this is an extra special treat for me, and makes me wonder, why don’t I normally grow peas?

-The tops chomped clean off one patch of beets. I assume the deer are coming through again; they seem to change their route a couple of times a year and I haven’t seen much sign of them since late winter. I’d have a picture for you of that travesty except meine Kamera ist kaput. (The final unexpected surprise. Boo.)

This weekend: Learn about ikebana

One of the things I love about my job is learning about something that inspires me to try it. This week on CanadianGardening.com, I posted an article about ikebana, the Japanese style of flower arranging by Suzanne Hartmann. I find the whole discipline so fascinating and was interested to learn that ikebana featured prominently at the recent G8 and G20 summits. Then, I got a note from Suzanne informing me about the 42nd Anniversary Floral Art Show of the Hamilton Chapter International Ikenobo Ikebana Society. It is this Sunday (September 19) from 1 to 5 at the Royal Botanical Gardens. At 2 pm there will be a demonstration by Prof. Masakazu Nakamura from Kyoto, Japan. I’m bringing my sister, who taught in Japan for three years, and look forward to learning more about this floral art form.

A new blog beginning

Even though our growing season can seem rather short, the Canadian Gardening team has gardening on the brain all year long. We are constantly writing, shooting and editing stories for both the magazine and the website that we hope will inspire you to plant and grow, whether it be a few pots of herbs on a windowsill or an ambitious perennial garden. That’s why we’ve got various editors from the magazine on board to bring you tips and advice for all abilities, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at how those breathtaking pages of blooms are created.

Check here for a list of who you’ll start to see on our blog in the coming weeks!

The philosophy of undoneness, or how I stopped worrying and enjoyed my yard

Yay! We got through August without snow!

Why are you laughing? I’m serious.

This has been a year of absolutely abysmal weather in southern Alberta. Rain, rain, and more rain, and next to no heat to get anything growing. We got our first frost last night, though it didn’t kill anything, but the mountains out my window are dusted with white. I’m trying to count my blessings, but at this point it’s easier to count the things I was hoping to have done before the snow flies. It’s a long list.

I got some inspiration and perspective from an unlikely source this week though. Being inside (as there wasn’t much chance to be outside) I caught up on some of the podcasts that have accumulated on my computer. While listening to an old one from CBC’s Ideas, I was introduced to the sociologist and urban planner Richard Sennett. He articulates thoughts about different parts of a system working together like instruments in an orchestra. I imagined the different plants in a garden placed to create a cohesive picture. He advocates craftsmanship; my time spent arranging flowers just how I want them seems less frivolous. He talks of a city being a growing thing, unfinished, not static, and this is a good thing, because it allows room for growth, opportunities for the people residing there to contribute their talents and energies. It means the city is dynamic and alive. As he spoke, I pictured my yard, with areas on every point of the spectrum between undone and finished. Indeed, my garden is very much alive, waiting to be worked and enjoyed. I kind of hope it never is “done”, I guess. What a revelation! Of course, he’s talking cities, and I’m just talking about my little corner of the world. Maybe I’ve got gardening on the brain, but I’ll take truth where I find it.

Latin, shmatin. It’s pretty.

My garden is inherited from a wonderful woman named Margo. When we bought this place she toured me around and identified most of the plants growing here. Some she didn't know, several I've forgotten, as I had too much faith in my used-to-be-good memory and never wrote any of it down. Over the 8 years we've lived here I've stumbled into identifying most of them–none of them are anything really fancy (a clustered bellflower, a couple different sedums, an ornamental hops vine, some lupins). As a self-educated gardener, I feel I have progressed from that naive tourist to a middle-weight who can make a pretty good guess on many things.

 Happy bee on Mystercus planticus "Tall Yellow Stuff" with Echinacea looking on.

Happy bee on Mystercus planticus "Tall Yellow Stuff" with Echinacea looking on.

But escaping my casual attempts to name it is a tall, fluffy golden-flowered perennial, affectionately known as “the tall yellow stuff.” Every once in a while I've flipped through a few guidebooks and gone in circles on horrible plant identification websites. I have seen it growing here and there and have always asked the gardener in question if they knew what it was. Each answered with some variation of “don't know, it's always been there; I call it the tall yellow one.”

When I was in Slocan Valley, Uncle Heinz took us to a neighbor's garden. While touring Susan Appleby's beautiful yard (which really deserves its own post) I spotted the unknown plant again. She had already proved her mettle to me, and so I had high hopes she could solve my mystery. But: “Oh, I dunno, I just call it the tall yellow stuff. Been there for years.”

Dang.

Then, whilst going through old gardening magazines discarded from our local library (I glean them for information and ideas and collect the cuttings in a scrapbook/plan book) I found an article on sunflowers (Heliopsis, Helianthus, and Helenium all) and there it was! A picture of what looked a great deal like my tall yellow stuff!

This photo shows the immature blossoms as well as a full one, and the upper, single, leaves.

This photo shows the immature blossoms as well as a full one, and the upper, single, leaves.

`Flore Pleno` perennial sunflower, said the caption. I scanned the text for more and found a pretty accurate description of my John Doe. But, wouldn't you know it, even the venerable Patrick Lima wasn't completely sure of its identity.

The lower leaves. It splits in three at the left, and then the center part becomes three-lobed.

The lower leaves. It splits in three at the left, and then the center part becomes three-lobed.

My plant's leaves don't quite jive with most of the pictures I've been able to find, but it's hard to see detail and I've yet to find a description that goes into leaf shape and position. So I could be on the completely wrong track, but for the first time I have a little something to go on. Not that I'm overly worried about it. It would be kind of fun to nod sagely at some other gardener's question and grace them with my wisdom, but I'm not going for the championship in botany. I'm just curious. Those unknowns kind of pester me. But even if I never find its true identity, experience has taught me that if I call it “the tall yellow stuff,” most people pretty much know what I'm talking about anyway.

Can you identify my mystery plant? Do you know of a good plant identification website?

My blog drought is over and garden beasties

I've been terribly remiss in my blogging this summer. I blog a lot in my head as I'm gardening, but that doesn't always translate to publishing my thoughts. And so, these next couple of weeks I'll be catching up on what I've wanted to say about my garden. Let's start with the interesting population of bugs. See exhibits A, B and C below.

Exhibit A: I spotted this bug hanging out in the dirt by my garage about three weeks ago. What the heck is it?

Exhibit A: I spotted this bug hanging out in the dirt by my garage about three weeks ago. What the heck is it?

Exhibit B: I nearly jumped out of my skin (ha ha!) one day when I went to pick a pepper and spied this on a leaf. Like a snake or a dragonfly, this beastie also sheds his outer layer. I've found a few throughout my garden this summer!

Exhibit B: I nearly jumped out of my skin (ha ha!) one day when I went to pick a pepper and spied this on a leaf. Like a snake or a dragonfly, this beastie also sheds his outer layer. I've found a few throughout my garden this summer!

Exhibit C: This spider took up residence between my tomato plants. Sometimes she's not there, so I feel all crawly coming inside as I imagine her hitching a ride into my house on my back.

Exhibit C: This spider took up residence between my tomato plants. Sometimes she's not there, so I feel all crawly coming inside as I imagine her hitching a ride into my house on my back.

‘Tis the season

This is a painful time of year. There are so many plants languishing in greenhouses and parking lots, begging to be rescued from their uncertain fate. (Is it just me or does every big box store with any connection to domesticity now have a garden centre?) And it's not that hard to do the rescuing; everything goes on sale as greenhouse workers face the reality of overwintering or getting rid of all that greenery. One place I stopped last week had trees on sale for 70% off. Under these circumstances, don't you feel like you could nurse anything back to health? Don't you find yourself tempted to buy entire flats of stuff, and one of every bush you've ever thought about growing? Doesn't reason go out the window when you see those price tags and those drooping but still viable leaves? Come on, I know I'm not alone.

 Some of the sweet potato vines I rescued in my Canadian Tire planter (one of my prizes!)

Some of the sweet potato vines I rescued in my Canadian Tire planter (one of my prizes!)

One of the 70% off trees I saw was a weeping birch. I've always wanted one. My grandparent's front yard had one that was perfect for climbing and hiding in. All kinds of warm fuzzy feelings and happy memories surface at the sight of one or the mention of its name. But I made a $75 mistake a couple of autumns back on a weeping birch–got it too late, snapped the leader off in a moment of idiocy, and a late spring frost nipped the buds, well, in the bud. So I was a little more careful this time. I weighed my options carefully. Dozens of plants were jammed together like the proverbial sardines. I noted the mottled leaves, a sign of something not good, though I'm not sure what. The soil was overly damp and turning green. There were some dead twigs.

But it was a weeping birch. At seventy percent off.

The deciding factor ended up being the hour long highway drive home in our van full of kids. Nowhere to put the thing. Safely distanced from temptation now, I'm very glad I was delivered from evil. I will get my weeping birch, hopefully sooner than later, so that my kids can sit under the waterfall of leaves with a book and avoid their chores just like I did. But I'm determined to be patient and find a healthy one, even if I have to pay full price.

And for now, I'm happy with rescuing a bunch of sweet potato vines and coleus. At sixty percent off!

Tell me about your $75 dollar mistake, or your have-to-have-it plant.

A visit to Nikka Yuko

nikka-1

This fern leaf caragana made me rethink my general disdain for caraganas.

I checked something off my bucket list this week. Chris and I were in Lethbridge for the day, sans kids, and went to the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden. Now that I’ve been, I can’t believe I’ve put it off for ten years! “Beautiful” seems like an obvious description, as does “relaxing” and “inspiring.” But they are all true.

It’s a relatively small garden, but incorporates many views that unfold gradually as you walk through it, leaving the impression of a much larger space. All the traditional elements of Japanese design are used. All the structures and decorations were built in Kyoto, including a huge brass bell that Chris wanted to bring home. As for me, I wanted to bring home the crew of gardeners I met there.

nikka-2

Chris enjoying the dry rock garden.

I found Jeff Quinlan first, pruning a creeping juniper. A graduate of Olds College (which has a great botanical garden in its own right), Jeff seemed about as serene working there as we were visiting. He says he is grateful to have such a place to come to every day, and hopes the garden continues to get the public support it needs to stay open.

He introduced me to Al White, who has tended this garden for 20 years. We chatted for a few minutes about Scots pines and Amur maples, two of the predominant trees in the garden (actual Japanese maples aren’t hardy enough for southern Alberta). It was really interesting to get Al’s perspective, as he has been able to see the garden evolve. It got overgrown in its early years (1960`s), as the Japanese experts advised a natural state and western keepers misinterpreted that advice as “leave it alone.” Al talked about the Japanese ideal being working with nature but with good helpings of shaping. It’s all about “enhancing what the tree is already offering you,” he says.

nikka-3

Me trying to convince Chris that an Amur maple can look great multi-stemmed.

We only stayed about an hour, but it was a quiet, slow hour that offered me a lot of perspective on my “get-it-done” attitude. So Chris didn’t bring home a bell and I didn’t bring home a work crew, but I did bring home a gentle reminder not to fight nature, and to be patient and let my garden evolve. Pretty Zen, huh?

Knowing me, I’ll need another reminder in a few weeks. Guess I’ll just have to go back to Nikka Yuko and see the fall colors.

The week of berries

This has been the week of the berries. We spent last week in the Slocan Valley in B.C. visiting Chris` family. All the way there and all the way back there were fruit stands full of blueberries, cherries, and the first of the peaches. There's nothing like getting your fruit straight from the grower, except maybe getting it yourself.

Cathie picking Saskatoons, wishing she had a bucket or two!

Cathie picking Saskatoons, wishing she had a bucket or two!

The hill behind Uncle Heinz's house at Winlaw is covered in blackberries. According to him, back in the day there was a Doukhobor farm on the hill, and when they abandoned it their berries just kept on growing. So these aren't really what you'd think of as “wild” berries, small and hard to find. They are ridiculously overgrown and brambly, and competing with the ferns, but they are the biggest, tastiest blackberries I've ever had. And so thick on the bushes! We could stand in one spot and get a pint, even popping the best ones in our mouths as we went. And there are lots more coming in the weeks ahead… too bad I'll be back in Alberta. Uncle Heinz and his neighbors (Hi Lily!) will get them all.

But berry season is going strong here too! We spent the day christening our new kayak at Police Outpost Provincial Park. While hunting a geocache on the island on the lake, we came across Saskatoon berries thick on the bushes. We picked and ate and carried home what we could with makeshift containers. Uncle Jared reduced them down to a gorgeous sauce for our ice cream. What a way to finish the weekend.

Then, back in “work” mode Monday, I toured the yard to see how things had fared in our absence and found the raspberries ready to pick! We moved the whole patch out of the veggie plot to its own spot last fall. We tilled it last spring, dug out the clumps, and cleaned it out again, but we're still thick on thistle and clover. Probably should have left it fallow one more year, but they'll be okay. Raspberries are my personal favorites, and I'm glad to see our transplants have taken hold, though we won't get the gallons we usually do this year. Maybe we'll hit the huckleberry festival at Castle Mountain too… if we're not sick of berries by then. Like that will ever happen.

 Jenna and some of the blackberries

Jenna and some of the blackberries

What’s your favorite berry? How do you eat them?

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