I grew up in a household that was always full of flowers and plants. My mom loves having fresh flowers around the house – she would collect flowers from local florists or from her own garden every weekend and switch out the vases Sunday mornings. She also has a substantial orchid collection that could wow most gardeners! I’ve come to expect being surrounded by flowers, so when I moved out years ago, I have tried to continue this tradition. Currently I have eight orchids in my apartment (probably one too many but I just love them!). However, orchids can be a difficult plant to live with. They are gorgeous for a few weeks/months, and then the flowers fall and you have to be patient and wait a while for them to re-bloom. On the weekend I decided to go a different route and purchased a few small succulents – a plant that I have never had before.
Most gardening happening in my world right now is either in my head or on a printed page as I hibernate from winter’s abuse. Over the years, my personal library has acquired a pretty healthy collection of volumes on everything from berries to birdbaths.
Today, I’d like to draw your attention to a Vermont publishing house that had its heyday back in the seventies, that era of nature-loving, do-it yourself sustainability (which is so much in renaissance currently). Garden Way published all kinds of reference and how-to manuals about gardening, farming, and building that still are incredibly useful. They are exhaustive without being tedious, in-depth but not at all intimidating for the beginner. I’m constantly on the watch for them at garage sales and thrift stores, as most are out of print.
Keeping the Harvest, in particular, doesn’t even reside in my library; it stays right by the stove with my most-used cookbooks. Authors Nancy Chioffi and Gretchen Mead not only detail the preservation of almost any fruit or vegetable you can imagine (by freezing, canning, drying, pickling, cellaring, juicing, or, er, jamming), they give great advice about planting and harvesting for best yield and taste.
If you find a book with the Garden Way name on it, just grab it. I don’t think you’ll regret it.
The new year is upon us, and goal setting comes to mind — though for me, what mostly comes to mind is all the past resolutions I’ve made and then abandoned by the following January 6th. As a result of the ensuing guilt, I have actually resolved to reject resolutions of the New Year kind. I tend to set some goals at the beginning of the school year, as that is a fresh start for me more than this time of year, and sometimes my birthday gets me thinking about them.
But I have come up with a list of gardening resolutions for this year. With it being winter and all, and the actual implementation of these goals is safely located in the hazy future, it seems like a good time to commit myself to unlikely outcomes.
So here it goes.
1. I declare serious war on my weeds. Quackgrass? I’m looking at you. I am stockpiling cardboard for smothering and investing in a wholelota black plastic. I realize I’ll never eradicate weeds — they’re a fact of life, especially in my agricultural location — but I’m getting the upper hand this season. You can come and hear all about my strategies at the Calgary Horticultural Society Garden Show this spring.
2. I’m pretty good already at growing what we eat, and eating what we grow. But this year I want to grow a little extra and take it to the local food bank. Most food banks and soup kitchens appreciate this kind of donation; check with one close to you or visit Plant a Row, Grow a Row.
3. I promise to put in an apple tree this spring. I’ve been talking about it for years, I have the spot and the cultivar chosen, I’ve just got to do it. Trees need years to get established, so it’s worth putting money into them early. I know this. I have practised this. But I have been nervous about the apple because of the tricky weather we have–unpredictable frosts, winter thaws, high winds. It’s time to cross my fingers and plant.
4. Finally, I’d like to try growing sweet potatoes this year.
Pretty reasonable list, right? We’ll see how reasonable it feels come, oh, May long weekend. But now that I’ve voiced these goals to the internet world, I’m accountable. No chance to forget these like a well intentioned gym membership.
It’s been a stormy December all across Canada, with heavy snowfalls and frigid temperatures, even by our standards. We’ve had close to hurricane-force winds (110 km/h) here in Southern Alberta a few times in the last weeks, with another blizzard due to blow in today and tonight. It’s not easy on us or on the garden either, though the old adage “whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” hopefully applies equally to plants and to people.
Which reminds me of a little poem I heard a while ago, by Douglas Malloch:
Good timber does not grow with ease,
The stronger wind, the stronger trees.
The further sky, the greater length.
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.
I first discovered air plants at the Tropical Expressions booth at Canada Blooms a few years ago. I was fascinated that they do not require soil, and I learned that air plants collect water from the rain. They also attach themselves to and derive nutrients from other plants (though they’re not considered parasitic).
I incorporated air plants into an article about quick and easy holiday terrariums for Canadian Living‘s January 2013 issue. Because of their minimal care requirements, air plants can be popped into one of those clear, plastic or glass ornaments you can purchase at craft stores. I also created another option, which involved planting succulents in a larger glass ornament. All the how-to information can be found in the Crafts section on CanadianLiving.com.
These ornaments make great gifts, but be sure to make a few for yourself!
Monday night was our community Christmas party, an annual event involving hayrides, hot chocolate, tree lighting, and an appearance by Santa. It’s a fun night, and the kids come home with a paper bag full of tooth-rotting goodness from the Head Elf.
This year, the candy bags included a handful of peanuts in the shell. I remember enjoying just such surprises as a child (long before the days of rampant nut allergies) and was disappointed when all of my children, as well as many of the others, turned their noses up at the nuts. They were all about the sugar.
Not being one to let anything go to waste, I insisted the peanuts be brought home. “If you don’t want them,” I said, “I know someone who will.”
That got their attention.
So we sorted the candy from the nuts, and I set a little container of them out on the front steps (the feeder is under a snowdrift). Sure enough, Tuesday morning the kids found it, tipped over and surrounded in delicate bird prints. I was expecting blue jays, as they go (ahem) nuts over this special treat, but I haven’t seen any yet: it’s a big fat flicker helping himself as far as we can tell.
It seems fitting to pass on these castoffs to the birds, as many European Christmas traditions mention Saint Nick and his various cultural incarnations giving special attention to animals. There’s the whole animals-talking-on-Christmas-Eve thing, too, and in Lithuania, grain and peas scattered on the barn floor at Christmas time was said to ensure healthy, productive animals in the new year. So I’m kind of thinking Santa would approve.
This morning the sun was shining, it was mild and the birds were singing in my weeping mulberry. I decided it was the perfect time to go outside and put together my holiday urn. The sun promptly disappeared, but I was already in the mood to create, so I didn’t care. My urn is a mix of materials I bought (though I hate paying for stuff I can find in the woods for free) and things I gathered from my yard (and garage).
Here’s a list of what went into the mix:
- I started by cutting a birch branch I found while on a hike (it was on the ground!) in two and stuck both branches firmly in the soil that was left over from my fall urn. There’s a nice fork in one of the branches, so I’m technically following the rule of threes! I added a bit more soil to anchor them in.
- Next, I placed my pine boughs around the exterior. This was the only greenery I purchased (I grabbed a small bunch), since I don’t have anything like this on my property.
- I also bought sticks. But only because I don’t know where I can covertly snip red osier dogwood in these here parts. My house sits up a bit from the road and my urn could look like a big blob of green, so I wanted a pop of colour with the red sticks. I placed these around the birch branches.
- Then I took a walk around the yard, snipping two types of cedar branches, which I interspersed with the pine boughs.
- I wanted to add a wee bit of sparkle, so I stuck three silvery stars on sticks around the birch. I had more, but I wanted to keep it subtle.
- I crowned the centre with three enormous pinecones that I bought at the Toronto Christmas Market last year.
And that’s it! I fiddled a bit with all the branches to make them just so, but I’m happy with the result. Here are some pics: