Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Garden Report #10

• What started as a ‘one off’ has its own blog site.  I still don’t know exactly where this venture is supposed to go, but I will tell you that I am enjoying the ride. My long time Dutch friend, Bill Janzen, used to say “if you don’t care where you are going, then you are never really lost.” Welcome to number ten.  The photo is of Sharon Wallace's garden, a regular reader of The Garden Report.

• Today is a beautiful Sunday morning in the garden. There is a cup of French roast coffee sitting on the garden bench, the tomato plants have turned into bushes filled with fruit, the temperature is climbing rapidly to a plus thirty and the neighbor to my east has a blues album playing. There is a bee circling around my Little Princess Spirea seeking nectar, and a white butterfly floats by searching for a Muhammad Ali metaphor. Maureen is in the kitchen talking nonstop with her kid sister, who is visiting from Toronto. When the two of them get together, they inhale as they speak. Life is fine. Life is good.

• Fashion Tip: Women! If you care about cultural pollution, please do not allow the man in your life to leave the house wearing knee length shorts and knee high socks. I saw one of these fashion catastrophes on south Albert Street, early this morning, with the only skin exposed being that of his knobby knees. For God’s sake, make him wear sandals! And tell him his t-shirt is too small. He’s not been twenty-two for thirty-five years and a medium is no longer his size.

• Some people just never get it and I guess, that is the way it is supposed to be. When I started landscaping in 1977, I was in the same boat as many young men starting out. Limited money (a polite way of writing that I was broke) and a beat up, old half ton. I worked hard and saved my cash. In my third year, I had enough for a down payment on a new half ton truck. Now, at the time, many landscapers in the city were hanging out at Buddy’s Coffee Shop, located by the McDonald Street exit, off The Ring Road. Every time I would use The Ring Road, I would glance down at Buddy’s and see the same trucks in the parking lot. The lads would be there for early coffee, lunch, afternoon coffee and supper. On rare occasion, I would stop in to chat to one of them about a project we would be working on, but I was never in there for long.

One day, Roy Currie from C and C Sod Company told me that the other landscapers didn’t think I was too friendly of a person because I always got my coffee to go, and never sat down to gab with them. So I asked Roy, what else they were saying about me. He informed me that the gossip was the reason I purchased new trucks and equipment was because I didn’t know how to fix the old stuff. Now at this point, I need to explain to my female readers that amongst men, saying that you don’t know how to repair equipment is a put down. It is the male equivalent of when a woman says about another woman, “she has no fashion sense”.

In reality, I was okay with repairing my equipment, but I preferred to spend my time earning money rather than fixing engines that would not start, so I bought the new stuff in the hopes that it would not break down. I could afford to buy the new stuff because I didn’t spend half my day in Buddy’s, telling everyone how busy I was or how far behind I was in my projects.

Whenever and wherever I have told this story, I am always informed that there is a Buddy’s in every town, filled with guys talking about all the things they have to get done…and not doing them. They are a lot like Moses, in that they will wander in the dessert for forty years and, while they can see the promised land, they will never get to enter it. Sad.

• Roberta Nichol has weighed in on the wildflower/weed debate. Roberta lives on an acreage at White City and there are fields filled with ox eyed daisy and scentless chamomile. People comment on the beauty of the flowers, but they have not experienced how difficult it is to keep the plant out of the garden. Once they enter your garden, you have a problem. They are very invasive.

• Reader Jean Freeman wrote in regarding my story last week, about my mom at the wedding. Jean is now inspired to start a business called ‘Rent A Baba’. She will sit at any family function with a shawl wrapped around her shoulders and her walker or a cane resting against the chair. People will be required to bring her drinks and food while she makes rude comments on how skanky the young women are dressed and other inappropriate remarks. Jean feels this will add that certain cache missing from many festivities. As an actor (Granny on Corner Gas), Jean does not feel this role is a stretch.

• My mom, at the age eighty-eight, asks Jean “you can get paid for that?”

• My next book is: ‘You don’t have to be Jewish to have a Jewish mother.”

• On to political correctness and historical stupidity. One of the great things about Canada is our multiculturalism. Everyone agrees. And we are supposed to leave the old garbage behind and if we must have resentments, they should be new ones, right? Like those people from Moose Jaw who think they know everything. But one of our profs at the university in Saskatoon forgot this part of Canadian culture and his old country biases reared their ugly heads. Here is the story. A few years ago, my dear friend Ed Heidt, who teaches at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon, asked me to perform my play ‘The Preacher’, at his college. Ed is a lovely man and he is a priest in his spare time. No problem. I performed my play which is about Jimmy Swaggart, the television evangelist. After the play, a professor came back stage and complimented me on my performance. He had an Irish accent. So, I told him that my father was Irish and he asked for my father’s name which was Cecil Elial Pyke. He immediately, turns on me and says “he’s not Irish, he’s a f…ing Orangeman!” Now, I am a history buff and I understand the wars and the battles that have raged for hundreds of years and there were atrocities and horrible carnage. But somehow, I thought it was supposed to be different once we were in Canada. That when we, or our grandfathers, packed up the suitcases and left wherever it was we came from, that we did not bring that garbage with us. So, I let him be. He stormed out and I said nothing. We have enough issues to resolve without charging at windmills, Don Quixote.

• So last week, I wrote a tongue in cheek bit about the discrimination the Scots experience due to their uncanny ability to stretch a nickel into a dime. Several of you came out of the woodwork to self identify as one of my people, proclaiming your mother to have been a Mac Duff, a Campbell, a Duncan or some other clanswoman. Personally, I think you are just jumping on the bandwagon, in an attempt to get my haggis recipe.

• Writing of the Scots, my grandparents were James Kerr and Agnes Truesdale and they emigrated around 1912. They farmed at Maclean. They had a plethora of children (fancy word, look it up in your thesaurus). So when people ask me if I am related to Bob Kerr, I tell them “yes, I am related to three Bob Kerr’s, which one are you talking about.”

• Can someone please explain to me the lure of Tim Horton’s? I have only been there twice but I was not impressed with their coffee or their food. And the service was incredibly slow even though when we were there, it was not that busy. So if the coffee is not great and the food is bland and it takes a long time to get your stuff, then why are they lined up at the South Albert location? Bah, bah, black sheep, have you any wool?

• On other fast food issues: There is a direct correlation between the rise of fast food restaurants and the increase in obesity. I have struggled with my weight all of my life and we made a conscience decision to stop patronizing fast food establishments about seven years ago. No McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Wendy’s and so on. We have only broken our rule a few times as in an odd root beer at A and W, a fact fining mission to Tim’s and twice a year, a Blizzard at The Dairy Queen. We are dedicated but not zealots.

• Can’t help but notice that McDonald’s has been spending big bucks advertising their hamburgers, something they have not done for awhile. I suspect that they are ensuring their core product is kept in the forefront of the consumer’s mind. The ads have been geared to a theme of ‘we have always been there for you, like an old friend’. They’re slick. Comfort food for another generation filled with fat, sugar and salt. But hey, I’m preaching again.

Garden Tip: If your plants are not as healthy green today as they were a month ago, ask yourself if you have been fertilizing. Plants need four things to survive. Water, sun, oxygen and food. Plants growing in good garden soil usually benefit (but it is not mandatory) from some fertilizer during the growing season. Plants in pots are similar to babies. They are totally dependent upon the gardener for their food and water. Fertilize regularly, especially pots and containers.

Garden Tip: Because I have so much shade in my back garden, my grass can be a little on the thin side. A smaller bladed grass often fills in those bare spots and it looks just fine, nice and green. The lawn looked the best it ever has this spring, due to our cool and wet conditions. Then last week’s heat wave knocked this petit grass out of the park and now I have yellow/brown patches galore. So, it is time to reseed. In a shady area, I use a grass seed blend that is heavy to the creeping red fescue side of things, and not so dependent on the Kentucky Blue Grass. I find it beneficial to cover the grass seed with a thin layer of peat moss. This prevents the seeds from drying out and hides them from the birds so they can germinate. I find that you can successfully reseed a lawn up until the end of August.

Garden Tip: If you have broad leaf weeds or chickweed growing in a newly seeded lawn, you should not apply Killex or any similar product until after your third mowing. This will give the grass time to harden. Chickweed continues to be a problem in shadier areas this year and I suffer along with you.

Weird: One day at the garden center, a woman comes up to me and says “I want to die in Israel.” So I bite and I ask her why? “Are you Jewish or part of a fundamentalist church or have any other connection?” She responds: “No, but I think that would be a nice place to die.” To this day, I have no idea who she was and why she shared that with me. ‘Shared’. Another one of those overused words along with ‘bonding experience’. Shoot me if I use it again.

• Misuse and overuse of good words: The next time some bureaucrat announces that there will be a meeting of ‘stakeholders’, is it alright to bring back the death penalty or should we just cut out his tongue?

• Politically Correct…and here we go again. As everyone knows, we live in a death denying culture so we have many words and euphemisms to mask death itself. My favorite is The Salvation Army’s referring to a death of one of their members, as having been ‘promoted to glory’. We also have difficulty with the word fired so we say terminated, down sized, going in a different direction, let go and so on. But The Academy Award for misuse of the English language in this regard, has to go to former Premier Grant Devine, who when he fired a whole bunch of civil servants referenced the act as “returned them to the private sector”. Wow. Fiction writers can never match the imaginations of politicians.

• We checked out The Queen City Ex at Evraz Place which used to be Buffalo Days at The Exhibition Grounds. I had not been there for several years, just not one of my summer highlights, as it was when I was a kid. I wandered through the exhibits, the midway and the concessions. One thing I must admit is that at The Exhibition (I am staying old school on this one), you can see things that you never get to see the rest of the year. Things like the guy who weighs four hundred pounds, wearing a white Speedo (I can’t make this stuff up); or the dude with forty-seven nose rings. After dark, the circus really does come to town as the night crawlers emerge. Toss in the snake oil salespeople pitching the newest high tech mops, pots and pans and car wax and the adage flashes in the sky, ‘a fool and his money are easily parted’. Don’t be a wise guy and asked how much I spent? My total purchases were two cabbage rolls from the Romanian booth and they were very tasty. You can always trust the food prepared at the church booths versus the travelling concessions. Perhaps it was just me, but I did not see any of the local food booths that used to dominate The Exhibition many years ago.

• As an aside, when I was at the Romanian booth, I insisted that I be served by a “real Romanian. I don’t want one of those pretend Romanians looking after me.” One gent stepped forward to take my order and spoke exclusively in Romanian, which meant for once, I didn’t have a lot to say.

• Now call me a Scotsman if you must, but I will take the high road even if you take the low road (Gaelic humor), but does anyone else find the food prices at The Exhibition approaching the gouging level? Try this one on for size: A bottle of water, four dollars; a simple hotdog, five dollars; a hamburger, six dollars and with cheese, seven dollars.

• For fun and value, we took in The Victorian Tea at Government House prior to checking out The Ex. Nine bucks each got us a great pot of tea, sandwiches, a scone with Devon cream and Saskatoon jam, and a dessert. My choice was one of their homemade, lemon tarts. It was easily the finest lemon tart I have ever had. The whole thing is staffed by wonderful volunteers. I was so excited about going to the event I even put on my best underwear and if you know me, that meant I was planning on behaving myself. After all, why would you risk your best gotch in a brawl at a Victorian Tea.

• Did you know that when we entered Government House, no one inspected our i.d., no one patted us down or asked us to remove our shoes, no one asked the ladies if they had packed their own purses and they do not have a single, body scanner. Someone should call The Regina Airport and tell them to send over a security consultant. Because that is what we need, more high tech security to ensure we are all safer.

• While we had our out of town family at Government House, we toured the building and the grounds. They have put a lot of time and effort into restoring the gardens and they are worth checking out. In the center garden, there are two matching Silver Leaf Dogwoods that are the finest specimens I have seen in Regina. Silver Leaf Dogwoods usually grow in the four to five feet range but at Government House, they are in all day sun and well watered, so they have reached the six to seven foot level and their width is even greater. Sadly, the conservatory which is a heritage greenhouse of a construct rarely seen, has some very poor tropical plants as flora. The conservatory itself is well maintained, but not the plants.

Garden Tip: Your last application of lawn fertilizer should be happening within the next two weeks. In Regina, you don’t want to fertilize too late into the fall because your plants need time to harden off for the winter. If a plant or a lawn is too lush when the temperature drops, it can be damaged.

Garden Tip: As strange as this may read, considering how hot it is today, it is time to plan your fall bulbs. Tulips, daffodils, crocus, frittalaria and other bulbs need to be planted in September and October. I plant lots, as in one to two thousand, heavy to the tulips, that way I have wonderful spring color from April 15th until it is time to plant my annuals. Fall bulbs equal spring flowers…spring bulbs for summer color…that is the ditty.

• Weird, yet again: One day about ten years ago, I got a call from a woman who wanted to know if my tulip bulbs were in stock. Only one problem, she was calling in early May. I told her that tulips are always planted in September, never in May. She chided me, saying that she had just got off the phone with Canadian Tire and they were expecting their tulips bulbs any day now. Don’t you just love it when someone quotes the authority of Canadian Tire to prove their point?

• I actually stopped into Canadian Tire this spring, looking for some Strawberry or Raspberry Dianthus. None was to be found at the regular greenhouses. I looked around. There was actually a staff member in their garden center and he asked me what I was looking for. I told him. He informed me that the dianthus was in the greenhouse (there was none there and he really didn’t know what it looked like anyways) and then it got comical when he tried to sell me some strawberry plants. I told him that the ‘Strawberry’ I was looking for was an adjective, a color of a dianthus and it was at this point, his eyes glazed over. “You’re the manager of the garden center, aren’t you?” I asked. “How did you know?” he responded. Just a lucky guess.

• Our reader Marcus Fernando lives part of his life in Birmingham, England. It rains there often, or am I being patronizing? One day, while Marcus was catching a train, a fellow passenger engaged Marcus in a conversation by saying “the rain is very wet today.” Marcus often wondered what was the correct response… “as opposed to the dry rain we had yesterday?”

• Readers who took the time to write and to call this week include the one and only Jeanie Freeman, her sidekick Lyn Goldman, Neil Vandendort from City Parks, Murray Wallace who is married to Regina’s best pie maker Sharon(send one over anytime Sharon), Roberta Nichol, Lola from Ninth Street B and B in Saskatoon which is the finest B and B we have stayed at, hospitality wise, Casey Van Vloten from Vancouver, Robin Poitras’, Heather Lowe and Marg Hryniuk. Also, some lovely lady working at Government House introduced herself as a reader who is receiving the blog from a friend. Always nice to meet new people.

Warning: Dirty Joke-not suitable for sensitive readers: Four years ago, we took a comedy on tour titled ‘The Art and the Science of the Married Man’. It was well received by the audiences, but not by one critic for The Free Press in Winnipeg. He complained that I was not edgy enough, almost boring, and no one has ever called me boring before. The show was family rated, not at all raunchy and that was an artistic choice that I had made. So the next day, I wrote the following joke and told it to my Winnipeg audience. First, I set it up by reading the review to the audience so they had the reference point, especially the part about me not being ‘edgy’. The joke: “All of my life I have been opposed to anal sex and now that I have been reviewed by Randall King of The Free Press, I know why.” Big laugh from the audience. Good joke, eh! When the audience settled down, a woman three rows up and to my right said out loud “I don’t get it…” and the wave of laughter began again. When it stopped I told the woman if I had to explain my jokes to her, I would have to charge another ten dollars. Please forward your ten dollars if you are one of those people who need it explained.

• With the garden growing fine and this edition of The Garden Report finished, we are heading off to The Regina Folk Festival, a cultural event that we are so proud of and really enjoy.

Happy Gardening this week…Rod McDonald in sunny Regina

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