Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Garden Report #77

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

• Writers write: I don’t normally place someone’s passing in this spot of The Garden Report, but an exception is required for Miss Shirley Covey. She was the Latin teacher at Scott Collegiate for many years. To write that she was a popular teacher would be understatement. She was one of those rare people who reached out to hundreds if not thousands, of fourteen year olds and said what needed to be said: “You are okay and we are going to survive your teen aged years. And we will have fun doing it.”

In my business years, my secretary and I would engage in great debates over grammar, as English is a construct of a number of interpretive rules. When we were at loggerheads, we would call up the long retired Miss Covey. She, being the last of the great arbitrators of such arguments. Her rulings were final, leaving one of the parties to gloat and the other to wallow in the bloodshed of defeat.

'Pink Wave' petunias love the sun
My favorite Shirley Covey story is this one. When I was fifteen, I hitchhiked often, not having my license to drive just yet. It was 1967. A farmer picked me up one evening, in his International truck. He asked me where I attended school? He responded that he too, had been a student at Scott Collegiate back in 1946. He inquired “is that sexy Shirley Covey still teaching there?” I was horrified. The concept of Miss Covey being referenced as ‘sexy’ was unthinkable. I kept that conversation as a deep secret for thirty two years. Flash forward to 1999 and I was the MC at The Scott Collegiate Reunion. I was to introduce Miss Covey as the key note speaker. Prior to doing so, I relieved the burden of my secret to Miss Covey. I told her of the ‘sexy’ reference and assured her it would not enter into my introduction, as I had too much respect for her. To my great surprise, she insisted. Her exact words were: “No one has ever had the courage to refer to me as ‘the sexy Shirley Covey’. I want everyone to hear those words tonight”. I told the story and introduced her to the assembled throng: “..and here is the one and only, the sexy Shirley Covey.” She got a standing ovation, not for her sex appeal, but because she had loved an entire generation of teenagers. Not for what they would become, but for who they were that day.

• Readers write:

     • Ingrid Thiessen is running a homeowner’s landscape design seminar as a church fundraiser. “Thank you for advertising the fundraiser and your most generous comments. I have already received my first student who read your blog! Thank you. With appreciation, Ingrid.”

     • Judith Langen is a fan of Ingrid’s. “Love, love your Report. Thanks for sharing as I'm really trying to have a better garden this year. I have a chuckle with your family stories. We had Ingrid at our housing conference in the fall 2011. She received rave reviews.”

     • Georgia Hearn loves to garden. “Love the verbena and I will visit Sherwood Greenhouse. From working with you, I know the value of Pro-Mix. I am excited about the workshop and will contact Ingrid. Thanks for more laughs and more learning. It is always worthwhile to read your Sunday reports.”

     • Gerald Wilcox had this to say: “I always enjoy reading The Garden Report. Today, it had just the right mix of humor and warmth to bring hope and brightness to my day. I wanted to tell you I appreciate being included in the circle of readers.”

     • Many of us know Frank Flegel from The University of Regina or from the world of broadcasting. He is now one of us, a reader. “This is the first time I read The Garden Report to the end. Thanks to Tommy Fong for forwarding it to me. He knows I enjoy vegetable gardening and have a plot in the community gardens behind the old fire hall in Whitmore Park.”

     • Jackie Arnason had a comment. “Loved your lesson in reality! When I was working (ages ago!) my criteria for hiring was first - a good attitude and second, a desire to learn. Without both of these - hiring the person was of no benefit to either them or me.”

     • Roberta Nichol is being a school teacher, again. Read on. “Cheryl Hutton's husband suffers in silence, “like most of us”? Rod Mcdonald, I have never heard you silent about anything during the years I have known you.”

     • We have not heard from Robin Poitras (New Dance Horizons) for awhile. She is still a reader. “Your Garden Reports sure are special. I'm was home with a nasty cold this past weekend and I must say, kind of enjoyed taking the time to catch up on reading and writing. I really appreciate the great gardening information you extend and always enjoy the often surprising interconnections you weave between the animal, vegetable and human worlds and the community.”

     • Billy Patterson is fairly new to gardening and as with all new converts, he is a true believer. “It might interest you to know that I am leading a week-long day camp with fifteen, 6-8 year olds titled ‘Little Green Thumbs’. I enjoy getting dirt under these kid's nails and teaching them to love growing plants. Today, I let them play with worms for half an hour. Something so simple, yet they found more joy playing with those worms in that half hour than most adults have in a week! Trying to teach kids can help you learn a lot about the important things in life.”

     • Sandra Willis gardens in southern Ontario. Here is her report. “I'm glad you are getting a good response from readers. You obviously have the knack of making a personal connection through the printed word. We have some great gardening weather in Southern Ontario and I hope you do, too. Forsythia and magnolias are already in bloom (unheard of) and the Bradford pear in my backyard isn't too far behind. The bulbs seem to be a bit more sensible and aren't quite as far ahead. I don't know how it will all play out, especially for the fruit farmers in the Niagara peninsula.”

• Garden Tip: We were having the nicest spring weather there, for awhile, then we got a taste of winter again. People were asking, when should I do this, when should I do that? They wanted to get a jump on the season. I am reminded, in these situations, of what my friend and reader Garfield Marshall likes to say. He offers “just when we think we are smart, Mother Nature makes fools of us all.”

'White Dream' tulips in a vase
• A Ukrainian feast: I had Easter supper with twenty-eight Ukrainians, and that is not the beginning of a bad Saskatchewan joke. My youngest boy is married to one, not that there is anything wrong with that. So, we got an invitation to join her family for supper. The first thing readers who have never been to a Saskatchewan Ukrainian supper need to know is, there will always be enough food for at least a hundred. We had three types of cabbage rolls, perogies, sausage, seafood, ham, barbecued beef, chopped pork, eight salads, fifteen desserts, pickles, cheese and the list goes on. Let’s just say it was not a situation sponsored by Weight Watchers. The only thing missing were the jellied salads. I am certain that will be rectified the next time.

• Throw down: People should stop invoking the word ‘authentic’ for recipes, based upon their mother’s maiden name. Just because your mom’s family name was Kowalchuk or Yakimouski, does not mean her cabbage rolls or perogies are ‘authentic’. What it does mean is that your mom made her food the way her mom taught her and, rest assured, there were adaptations made along the line. Her cabbage rolls might be excellent, but they are not ‘authentic’. There is no such thing as ‘authentic’! My cabbage rolls are very good and I will throw down with any babba out there, whether she be Polish, Ukrainian, Armenian, German or Ukanatazan ( I made that one up). We will call our grudge match, ‘The Authentic Cabbage Roll Super Bowl’. First prize will be authentic pergoies.

• Of cabbage rolls and kings: I have produced over two hundred episodes of gardening shows for television. I have featured roses that no one has ever seen before and I have received perhaps, three inquiries for those yet unknown roses. I have produced only one show that featured cabbage rolls. Only one! Yet, the inquires and comments continue to pour in, years after its first airing. People have asked my advice, given me theirs, challenged my use of certain ingredients (hot peppers) and generally, wanted to discuss the show at length. The people of this province do take their cabbage rolls seriously. Hmm…I wonder if I could be elected The Czar of Saskatchewan on a platform of free cabbage rolls for every constituent?

• Throw down #2: ‘Authentic’ jumped the ship a long time ago, into nationalities. People will claim that the Chinese are good cooks, the Italians good brick layers and the Dutch, good greenhouse operators. It is true, there are Chinese cooks who are outstanding, but rest assured, there are bad cooks who claim Chinese ancestry. The same rule applies to Italian bricklayers. Some of the best bricklayers are Italian, but not all Italians are good bricklayers. When I had my greenhouse, I had an employee who spoke Dutch. An elderly woman was shopping one day, he recognized her accent and addressed her in their first language. She responded in Dutch, saying “I knew that this place was too clean to be run by anyone but a Dutch family.” He informed her that the closest I came to being Dutch was my love of that country’s licorice. Generalizations are never bang on, except for the Scot’s. The Scot’s are a generous people, except when we are not. We are also known for our bravery, the women for their fair skin and the men as great lovers. I could go on and on, but we Scot’s are known for our humility, as well. For those who are tongue in cheek challenged, insert (he writes with a sigh) your LOL at this juncture.

• Benefits of the job: One of the perks of writing The Garden Report is that readers, on occasion, drop off homemade goodies. Over the Easter period, Edie Friessen walked over with a loaf of paska bread, made with a cream cheese icing. For those uninitiated, it is an egg bread used to celebrate Easter in the eastern, European countries. Very tasty and very appreciated. I do admit that this is a misuse of editorial privilege, shamelessly trolling for home baking and goodies.

• Baking it old school: I stopped into Brewed Awakenings on Tuesday. They have such a nice vibe to their cappuccino shop. In their display case, they now have Jam Jams. Talk about old school. I didn’t try them, yet, but tomorrow is another day.

'Winnipeg Parks' hardy rose
• Old school store: I stopped into The Coop Store up on Winnipeg and Ninth North the other day. They have soup to nuts for most homeowners, and I actually saw a couple of staff members who knew what they were doing. Beats going to Rona or Home Depot.

• Garden Tip: If you have a caragana hedge, a cotoneaster hedge, a Manchurian elm hedge or a potentilla or spirea plant, after several years, it will become woody. It will become so thick with branches, that it is difficult to prune. Every ten or so years, these plants will benefit from being cut six to twelve inches from the ground. This will give the plant the opportunity to develop new growth and manageable branching.

• A small club: Over the years, I have had the odd person who I found so obnoxious, that I have assigned them a permanent listing on The Idiots Club. It is a small club, as I have developed a remarkable tolerance for fools. There is a man who lives six blocks away who has a hedge of Manchurian elms. It had become so overgrown with dead wood and thick branches that it was impossible for him to maintain. He asked my advice and I told him that if he were to cut it down, that it would grow again. The new branches would be easy to cut. He did so that November. In January, there was a social. He approached me at this function and said “So help me God. If those plants don’t come back in the spring, you will be hearing from me!” This from a man who had solicited my advice for free. I told him that he should pray that his wife outlive him. He asked “why?” I answered that if she were to die first, he would never receive another invitation to a social function in the community. I can give as good as I get.

• Timing is everything: The adage is that in comedy, timing is everything. It also applies to growing crops in a greenhouse. There is an old joke, from the trade, that goes like this: I have good news and not so good news. The good news is that my poinsettia crop is the finest anyone has ever grown. The not so good news is that it will be ready December 26th. And you thought greenhouse people had no sense of humor.

• Garden Tip: If you want or have a need to get a start on some outdoor planting, then go with pansies. Pansies are one of the strongest flowers that you can plant early. They will survive frosts of minus seven and even of minus nine. Marigolds on the other hand, will turn black at plus two. Even mentioning the word ‘frost’ can destroy a crop of marigolds. So the next time you call someone a ‘pansy’, just remember that in reality, you are saying they are quite tough.

• No call from the diplomatic league: A friend came into my greenhouse. She was walking gingerly, not putting any pressure on her toes. I recalled that she had had some surgery. I assumed, it must have been for bunions on her feet, the way she was walking. I asked how the foot surgery had gone. She responded “I had a hysterectomy you idiot.” My friends are so kind. I mentioned the way she was walking. Her response to that was “you have a hysterectomy and let’s see how you walk!” Some days, I am better off not saying anything.

'Black Satin' petunia
• Garden Tip: The photo of the ‘Black Satin’ petunia came to us from Larry over at Sherwood Greenhouse.

• Garden party: The Humane Society is having a garden party/fundraiser on May 2nd. Tickets right now are $25. If you would like more information, go to their website at

• Gardens wanted: New Dance Horizons will be hosting their fifteenth annual ‘Secret Gardens Tour’ as a fundraiser. They ask people to nominate either their garden or a friends to be included in the tour. If you have a suggestion, send me an email and I will hook you up with the organizers.

We are a good looking crew planting trees and shrubs
• Good looking crew: I need some assistance when planting new gardens. I sometimes turn to the Thiessen sisters, Sandy and Becky to help me out, as they are hard working. In the attachment, there is a photo of us. I am the one wearing the cool shades.

• The times they are a ‘changing: Culturally, we have had Saskatchewan’s storyteller taken away from us with the demise of SCN. Then the film industry had its bottom taken out with the elimination of the Film Tax Credit. This week, the federal government has gotten in on the act. CBC is going to have some changes, the scope of those yet to be determined. Now, the tree farm at Indian Head is to be shut down in 2013. The tree farm provided farmers and acreage owners across the prairies with seedling trees and shrubs for over a hundred years. As any of us drive from Winnipeg to Calgary, we see thousands of homesteads with trees surrounding the houses. All of those trees came from Indian Head. They provide a sanctuary for humans, birds and wildlife. They provide a windbreak and reduce the use of fossil fuels to heat homes. They provide oxygen and they cleanse the air of pollutants. We need more trees not fewer. Did the winds of The Great Depression not teach us anything?

• Old school saying: A stranger is only a friend that we have not yet met.

• Sixties bumper sticker: If I’m okay and you’re okay, then why did you just lock your car doors?

• Thanks for reading…Rod McDonald in Regina

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