Monday, December 20, 2010

The Garden Report #28

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

• Canadiana: We were on our way to Government House yesterday. The Dickens’ Singers were presenting their tenth annual Christmas concert which is always first rate. Following the concert, the women of Government House serve up a decent cup of brewed tea along with plates filled with home baked goodies. It is a wonderful part of Christmas for many of us. As we were driving there, we had to cross the four way stop at Regina Avenue and Pasqua Street. Another vehicle arrived at the same time as we did. Being a good Canadian, I waved the other driver through the intersection. After all, he might have been there slightly ahead of me. No. He would not drive through. He waved me through. I waved him though again and he repeated his motion, that I should be the first to cross. So I did, waving my appropriate thank you as I did so. We were laughing quite heartily over this classic Canadian interaction. Almost a one upmanship to determine who was more polite. In another culture, this would not have been the case. It was one of those innocuous events that allow me to enjoy being a Canadian, even if we laugh at ourselves in the process.

• Readers write: Chris Pasterfield denies that it was his bum that was on display in the photos of #26. Many of you wrote in sharing wonderful memories of The Rotary Carol Festival. Thank you. Sherrie Tutt writes “Love your blog. Always learn something.” But then goes on to deny that her book club is a front for an eating cult. Reader Rhonda Rein has signed her mother up for The Garden Report. Now that is an inexpensive Christmas gift. Leanne Mann wrote: “I’m thoroughly enjoying your Garden Report. Very entertaining!” Reader Kim Lytle out of Saskatoon asked for a recommendation as to good poinsettias in her city. I have found good plants at Cory Park on the south side of the city. Reader and actor Marcus Fernando has a Christmas gig in an ‘Aladdin’ show in London, England. Always pleased to know the actor/readers are eating. Sharon Nowlan who is also an actor/reader, residing in Toronto, writes that she will have a new show out this summer with a run in New York, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Sharon also writes that she enjoys The Garden Report as it keeps her up to date with things ‘back home’. June Blau wrote “Thanks for writing.” Heather Lowe from Zehner weighed in with “Another good read.” Reader Cheryl Ann Smith is heading up a prayer house in England these days. Some readers will remember when Cheryl Ann was the major domo of The Marian Center in Regina. Cheryl Ann writes that England has been shut down with the snow. They just don’t have the equipment to handle it. Reader and Fine Arts classmate from ’69, Wendy Richardson (nee Campbell) wrote “You really are funny…” and I trust she is not referring to my photograph. Producer and director Ian Ferguson was in town just for one night this week and stayed with us. Ian suggested that as many Fringe performers have stayed in the guest room over the years, that they should start signing the wall. That is the exact behavior that got our kids grounded when they were six Ian, writing on the walls. Ian’s wife, Karen Van Ritzen, a very funny comic, is performing in Victoria this month. Karen wrote “Enjoying your Garden Report as always.” Jodi Sadowsky was over for a visit. Jodi tells me that The Regina Fringe Festival lineup is close to being filled for the July 6th to 10th time slot. There are some big names from the tour coming to Regina this year, which is a good thing.

Rod and his geraniums

• Garden Tip: Les Vanderveen, who has grown millions of poinsettias in his greenhouse, called to disagree with keeping poinsettias dry. Les reports that people who run their points too dry, usually lose many leaves on the plant. He suggests that you keep your plant neither over nor under watered. You should be like Goldilocks and water it “just right.”

• Trivial Pursuit: Those of you who have Access as your cable provider can watch a fireplace, complete with birch logs burning, every night. The fireplace is on Channel Seven. If it should ever come up in a trivia contest, the fireplace is located at our house. Five years ago, Kevin Foote from Access arrived with camera in hand and started filming as I lit the fire. Periodically, you will notice a hand tossing another log onto the fire. That is my hand! And to think some of you said those acting classes would never pay off.

• Winter soup: There is absolutely nothing that tastes better than a steaming bowl of soup on a cold winter’s day. One problem: Most canned soups and mixes contain enough salt to either sink or to float a battleship, depending on which way you want this metaphor to go. Problem solved: Make your own soup with little or no salt. On Tuesday, I whipped up a quick batch of tomato soup that was tastier than Campbell’s and better for you. I took one can of unsalted plum tomatoes, added in an equal amount of low fat milk, a pinch of garlic powder, some cracked black pepper, a pinch of cloves, and some fresh ground coriander seed. I blended everything in the blender and then I poured it into a soup pan. I cooked it on a very low heat for a couple of hours, never allowing it to boil. It was delicious. If it gets too thick as it reduces down, either add in some more milk or water and continue to cook. For a different taste, you can add in the juice from a fresh squeezed orange. That is something I learned from Mieka Weins many years ago.

• Garden Tip: If you have not already done so, take some of that snow in your yard and pile it around your more tender perennials and roses. Nothing insulates better than a pile of snow.

• Garden Tip: If you use a deicer around your garden, best to use one that is not high in salts of any kind. Salt is very toxic to plants as it raises the ph level of the soil.

• Garden Tip: Basic ph lesson. Seven is neutral. Above seven is considered salty soil or alkaline. Below seven is considered sweet soil. Regina has slightly alkaline soil measuring around 7.3. Many plants prefer a slightly acidic soil of 6.5. This is one of the reasons good gardeners use lots and lots of peat moss. Peat moss is usually under six on the scale, so it helps to lower soil salinity. Is there a test at the end?

• Conversion Experience: In 1982, I attended Olds College in Alberta for a week, to obtain my applicators license in order to work with chemicals. The class had two horticultural students and sixty farmers in it. The class was taught in metric, which was pretty new at the time. The other ‘hort’ boy and I had converted and we had no problem but the farm boys struggled the entire week. They wanted to know “how much chemical do I pour into my tank and mix with water.” They did not want the 10ml. of chemical to each liter of water, applied at a rate of 6.5 liters per hectare. Nope. That was not what they wanted to hear. It was a real struggle. I suspect, that was the origin of the organic farming movement, right there.

• Garden Tip: Several readers have written in to share with me how they have destroyed their poinsettias in record time, this season. My newest and best advice for each and every one of you has now been changed to: Enjoy your plant until you kill it.

Maureen and Miss Poofy Duvet (Courtney Cunningham)
• It’s Canada: A few years back, we were in Vancouver for St. Patrick’s Day. They had a big parade downtown. Marching in the parade was a Pipe Band. My people! The Scots just love a parade and I am certain the band would show up for an Indian Pow Wow or a Swedish wedding if asked, especially if free beer was involved. As the pipers passed by in their full kit of tartan, sporran and kilt, we could not help but to notice that seven of the pipers were Sikhs with turbans and five were of Chinese descent. What can I say? Everyone wants to be a Scot, even on St. Patrick’s Day.

• Marian Center: My friends from The Madonna Apostolate have run a soup kitchen in downtown Regina since 1966. They serve the poor. I have been connected with them since I was a student in 1971. Daniel, one of the men who used to serve there said it best: “Our true mandate is to love those who cannot love themselves. We only use food as the lure, so we can carry out our mandate.” It took me many years to arrive at the point where I fully understood the wisdom of what he said.

• Old School: Frank Mario emigrated from Italy many years ago and resided in our neighborhood. He was a wonderful man and a true character, which most Italians seem to be. Frank phoned me up one day and made an ‘appointment’ to visit at two o’clock the next afternoon. He arrived for his appointment wearing a suit, tie and shined shoes. He wanted to buy a plum tree from me. That was it. He got dressed up just for that.

• Still Old School: Watching an old episode of Law and Order when ‘Lenny’ was the lead detective. Lenny comments on how slovenly and casual we dress today by referencing “I can remember when we used to get dressed up just to phone long distance to my uncle in Albany.” Too funny. I can remember how we would phone my grandfather in Nova Scotia every New Year’s Day as a little boy. We were required to put on our Sunday best for the phone call. My mother would say “now go comb your hair and straighten your tie. You want to look your finest for your grandfather.”

• Old School Training Needed: My sister Bonnie and I were at a cousin’s wedding a few years back. We both got dressed up for the ceremony because that is what you do, right? In walks this twenty something. She has on a pair of tight blue jeans, a t shirt that does not cover her ample tummy and her rather large bosom has overflowed the low cut top. To finish off the scenario, she was chewing gum in a rather bovine fashion. I turned to my sister and said “and to think I polished my shoes before I left the house.” Now, I am the first to admit that I will never be profiled in GQ Magazine for my sartorial splendor. But there is a major difference between proper attire and being a slob!

• I’m a dog with a bone: What is no more than sheer laziness and at times ignorance and disrespect is now passed off as being ‘casual and comfortable.’ I am at the airport. A sixteen year old arrives dressed in sweat pants and a baggy shirt. She looks rough, even for the gym. Her mother chastises her for her choice in clothing. The girl responds that she wants to be “comfortable for the plane ride.” For crying out loud. It’s a one hour flight to Calgary! She’s not spending a week in the cargo hold of a tramp steamer. Give me Frank Mario’s courteous approach to the world any day. The universe does not decide who is a slob…you have to go out of your way to demonstrate that you are one. To get in my final licks, men with tummies who wear sweat pants with fanny packs hanging to the front, filled with their change and cigarettes, should be confined to Tim Horton’s. They should not be allowed in grocery stores or in other public areas where small children and seeing eye dogs can be easily frightened.

• Perfect Neurosis: Once you realize that there is no such thing as a ‘perfect Christmas’, then you can relax and enjoy the season. Who decided that we had to have the perfect tree with the perfect decorations and the perfect food served while wearing the perfect outfit with the perfect smile. Who decided that we had to wage war at the mall to find the perfect gift? Was it Chatelaine? Martha Stewart? Better Housekeeping? I want names! Better yet, being a real Canadian, as opposed to those fake ones out there, we should have a Royal Commission. One hundred and forty eight lawyers working on the investigation for three years, compiling a report of at least twelve hundred and forty three pages that no one will ever, ever read, at a cost of thirty-seven million dollars. Now that would be perfect. Well, at least it would be Canadian.

• Close: My friend Giselle was German and she struggled with English idioms and expressions. One day she told me to meet her and another fellow at three o’clock because “I want to kill one fly with two bricks.” Somehow, I knew what she meant….but I still reached out to assist. “That’s two birds with one stone, Giselle,” I said. Exasperated by the nuance, she exclaimed in frustration “English!”

• Mentors: My beloved mentor Dieter Martin, was recognized by the nursery trade as being one of the best in the business…but he rarely let ‘outsiders’ see just how smart he was. One day in 1995, Dieter and I were out for a walk in Victoria, B.C. We strolled passed The Lieutenant Governor’s Residence where an elderly volunteer was tending to the garden. Dieter, ever the gregarious sort, asked the volunteer gardener what he was planting. The man stopped what he was doing and explained that he was planting sedum and then went on to explain to Dieter and I the importance of gardening and some of the ‘secrets’. Of course, the fellow had no idea that he had just presented a ten minute seminar to one of the top horticulturalists in Canada. Dieter nodded appropriately, never interjecting into the conversation. We continued on our walk. Bursting with curiosity, I blurted out “What the hell was that all about?” Dieter’s response was simple: “The man had a story to tell and I let him tell it.”

• Christmas Theater: The Globe has an absolutely stunning production of ‘Honk’ on right now. Is it a great show for kids and adults. When you go, make sure you cheer for the cat. Nothing makes for a better show than a dastardly villain and this one tap dances, too!

• Garden Tip: Poinsettias looked their finest when displayed on a lower table or even the floor. Poinsettias set on a regular table rarely look as good as those set down lower. Never display your poinsettia close to a heating vent or a drafty window or door.

• Thanks for reading…Rod McDonald in Regina

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