Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Garden Report #108

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

Morden 'Cardinette' Rose

• Writers write:  ‘Black Friday’, the promotional sales event in the United States is finding its ugly way into Canada. Every year, there are videos of long lines outside of stores, south of the border. Added into this mix are the cell phone videos of fights breaking out as consumers argue over whose purchase it really is. Sickening, disgusting, humanity at its worst. We sat back and mocked the Americans for their behavior, taking a false pride in our sense of Canadian civility. Instead of confining this dismal display of depravity to the cultural waste bin where it belongs, we have imported it to our country. No riots yet, but give us time. Here is my kick. We have only so much money to spend. We want to get a good bang for our buck, I get it, but at what cost? Staff from these stores are required to work bizarre hours, opening at three a.m. in some cases. When do they get to sleep or to have a life that approaches normalcy. Boxing Day sales have already taken away something from our family gatherings. People who work in retail now finish up on Christmas Eve. They are exhausted but put on a big smile to participate in Christmas Day, a celebration. Rather than rest their bodies, some have to be in their stores at five and six a.m. to get ready for the ‘Boxing Day Blowout’ or some such named event. We take away from our families and friends so that we can acquire a bigger television? Why? Will a bigger screen TV make me happier than the joy I have from hearing from my readers, visiting with my neighbors and looking at how my kids are now all grown up? At some point, we have to say “enough is enough. We need no more.”

• Readers write:

• Joanne Crofford loved the photo of my six year old friend and her birthday gifts. She writes “If I had known it would produce such spectacular results, I would have come over to your house, a couple of weeks ago to check on the whereabouts of my birthday gift.”

• Georgia Hearn agrees with my stance on Christmas gift giving. “Rod: I loved this issue. Christmas is a time to reflect on our gifts of family and friends and not the biggest gift. Thanks.”

• Rob Van Zanten from the Vancouver area also enjoys family at Christmas. “Loved this week’s Report. I was reading your Christmas segment and have to tell you that it mirrors my ideals to a tee. Nothing better for me than having family together on Christmas morning (with turkey to follow in the evening of course). From our family to yours we wish you all a very Merry Christmas.”

• Marsha Kennedy weighs in on Christmas with a poignant response. “I am beginning to find that your Sunday Garden Reports are very important to begin my week. Your humor, rich and down to earth sharing, and good advice for our plants is quite therapeutic. I very much feel the same way as you do about Christmas. I am one of those who take the time to spell out Christmas rather than using the short hand Xmas. I am not religious in any traditional way but feel that the origins and spirit of Christmas should never be de-captitated. The abolition of the use of the word Christmas in our institutions is saddening as it empties meaning and history from the holiday, leaving us with shopping, over indulging in food and drink, as its only meaning and purpose. This easy path in an attempted move toward 'political correctness' is degrading to me. What would be meaningful is if all religions could come together to celebrate this season and that our children be educated and made aware of the many celebrations that occur around this time of year.”

A closeup shot of a double cherry bloom
 • Roberta Nichol also has her own take on Christmas. “I love your take on Christmas. Connecting with people, small pleasures..... that's where it's at with me, too. It's so easy to get swallowed up in the insanity of it all. I see children, some as young as nine, already getting that attitude. I shudder when I think of the incredibly expensive gifts some of them get. What do they have to look forward to, as they get older?”

• Marg Hryniuk reminds us of the importance of removing the sleeves on poinsettias when they arrive. “Thought of you last night when I saw some glorious ‘points’ that were still wearing, almost enveloped by tall plastic collars. I think it was you who told me during an interview that those tall collars should come off immediately.”

Poinsettia Fund Raiser for The Marian Center

I am organizing a poinsettia fund raiser for The Marian Center, again, this year. We will raise at least a thousand dollars to support their soup kitchen that feeds hungry men in downtown Regina. The poinsettias will be available for pick up at my house on Saturday, December 8th between noon and four p.m. They will be premium poinsettias, in a decorative cover with a touch of silver fairy dust. They are available in three colors. Red, pink, white and if ordered by the case, mixed. They are only available by pre order and payable by cash. Sorry, no credit cards, debit or checks. Also note, there are no greens or wreaths for sale this year. The poinsettia prices are as follows (the same as last year):

Six inch premium $20 each or $14 each in a case of seven (red, white or pink)

Seven inch premium $30 each or $25 each in a case of five (these have two cuttings per pot and are available in red, white or red and white)

I am bringing in the top 10% of this crop
Eight inch premium $40 each (these have three cuttings, are very large as in best displayed on the floor. They are perfect for a store or a large home. Available colors are red, white and tricolor

• No win: My sister worked at the university for many years. Some say that she ran the place without the big salary and fancy office. She was in charge of organizing the Christmas party one year. Does this write itself or not? She started receiving calls and emails regarding live bands versus a DJ, food choices, decoration decisions and so on. When you are a volunteer, there is never a shortage of people willing and able to tell you how to do your job. The ultimate email came from the self anointed professor in charge of political correctness. It sounds as if it should have been a faculty onto its own. She wrote that the name needed to be changed from ‘Christmas Party’ to ‘Seasonal Holiday Party’. In spite of her assertions, she still took the 25th off as a holiday.

• No win #2: At every Fringe Festival, there are very few paid employees. Most people that you see taking tickets, handing out programs and ushering audiences in and out, are volunteers. At every festival we have attended, there has been an occasional outburst directed at these volunteers. People demanding that the published rules of the festival be reinterpreted to suit their needs. Looming large on the complaint list are people wanting to enter a theater after the show has begun, which in Fringe culture is an absolute no-no. Also on the list is watching adults throw temper tantrums because the show they wanted to see is sold out. They yell at the volunteers, thinking in some other world logic that if they are loud enough, the volunteer will find two more tickets, just for them.

• Two distinct versions: There are two parts to every conversation, what is said and what is heard. Several years ago, I told a fellow “you are wasting your life”. His side, that he repeated to many people, was that I had told him “you would be better off dead.”

• Garden Tip: The following comes from Les Vanderveen who has grown millions of poinsettias in his life time. This is why you should take the sleeve off plants. “When poinsettias are sleeved there is a buildup of ethylene in the sleeve. So it is best to remove the sleeve as soon as possible. If the sleeve stays on for extended periods, the plants upon immediate removal of the sleeve can appear droopy as if dry, but they are not. Usually the droopiness disappears in a day or two. The older varieties, years ago, really suffered from this droopiness call epinasty. This epinasty can also be worse if the plants are in an enclosed box for days being shipped long distances. With the newer varieties this does not happen as often, but there are varieties that package and ship better than others. Ultimately does this kill the plant? No, but it is definitely best to unsleeve as soon as possible when receiving it.”

Another shot of the Morden 'Cardinette' rose
• La Bodega: Reader CJ Katz has told us that the best fish and chips are at La Bodega. Bobby Sue, are resident President of The Good Eaters Club tried it out. Here is her report. “Hello, President of the Good Eaters' Club here. I am here to report that a friend and I went to La Bodega today for lunch, to sample the'  fish and chips CJ Katz raves about. Here is the final answer: Oh Lord, save me ..... truly the best in town and possibly surrounding areas! I wanted to fall off my chair, get silly, and let my eyes roll back in my head. Rod, I'm telling you, they're good! The batter is so delicately thin and really tasty and the cod is delightful. The chips are excellent as well. This was my splurge for the rest of my life. I likely could have fed a family of three with it.”

• Just park it: I was driving down Albert Street after our snow storm on Thursday. There was a young man driving a hot car. Lots of horsepower under the hood and fancy looking wheels. He was busy spinning his wheels back and forth with the result that he was digging himself deeper into the snow pack. Traffic was backed up. At what point does he realize his ‘go fast car’ is not designed to be driven on the snow?

• Garden Tip: Again, if you have a live Christmas tree, you must provide a fresh cut before installing it into the stand. Better yet, fresh cut the base with a two inch cut and let the tree stand in a bucket of water overnight to allow it to absorb a good amount of water. Trees that are in stands where the reservoir of water is allowed to fall below the base of the tree will seal over with sap. Once that has occurred, they will no longer drink and the drying out process begins.

• Two taps and a question: When we had our Retriever, McIvor, living with us, two taps on the side of my thigh meant motion. If we were upstairs, it meant we were going down. If we were at home, two taps meant we were heading outside and vice versa. That was our signal. One night, I turned off the television and was heading upstairs to bed. I gave my two taps to signal the dog that it was bedtime. Maureen was having tea and reading at the time. She said “those taps better not be for me.”

• Odd you say: I invited any and all of our readers to join us at The Liver Lovers Supper at Greko’s this past Monday. To my great surprise and dismay, none of you begged to be included in the outing. Yet, close to forty of our club members arrived in time to join a wonderful feast. They do a decent job of cooking liver there.

A photo of a cherry blosson, probably a 'Nanking'
 • The gift of life: The head of The Saskatchewan Transplant Clinic was in town this week. He told me that they have not had a donation for two months now. This is always a delicate subject to raise but the proverbial head in the sand attitude does not make it disappear. If you are comfortable with the idea of donating organs or tissue after you pass away, then you need to do two things: a) sign your donor card and b) tell your family of your wishes. If you are not willing to donate, I understand. It is a difficult subject to think about for many. On the other side, there are over a hundred people waiting for the gift of life in Saskatchewan and more than three thousand in Canada.

• Garden Tip: Never curse the snow, though my back is a little sore from shoveling. Okay, you can curse it quietly, but for no more than fifteen seconds. This lovely amount of snow is a God send for gardeners and farmers. There was actually a shortage of rain from September onwards this year, leaving some fields and gardens wanting for moisture. This snow will not only alleviate that dryness in the soil but it will protect garden plants and fall seeded crops such as winter wheat.

Our house at sunset
• Everything you wanted to know: This week’s ‘Q Magazine’ which accompanies The Leader Post on Thursdays, had a lovely bio on our reader and frequent writer, Jean Freeman. If you don’t know Jean and all the wonderful things she has done in her life, then take a gander at the magazine article. She is fine lady.

Thanks for reading…Rod McDonald in a snow covered Regina!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Garden Report #107

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

'Ice Crystal' poinsettia
• Writers write: The Christmas season approaches and unlike some who dislike this time of year with a passion, I truly enjoy it. I do not despair when my neighbors and friends wish me a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I return the favor with sincerity. I enjoy the numerous parties that I attend, which afford me the opportunity to connect with those I have not seen for some time. I found the key to this endless round of merriment is to limit my intake of the treats proffered. Nothing ensures a negative experience more than an upset stomach or an atrocious hangover. Along with the hangover, there is usually a less-than-pleased wife and a vague memory of the night before. Thank God those days are long behind me.

What I don’t enjoy about Christmas is the feeding frenzy of gift giving. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy gifts. Small ones. Perhaps a sweater, a pair of gloves, even a pair of socks. I am embarrassed if it is too grand of a gift, costing many dollars. If a gift is hand made by a friend, such as a jar of jam or a plate of cookies, I enjoy it even more. Our mothers were right. It is the thought that counts.

I do enjoy sitting around the tree with my family and perhaps a friend or two or three; the fireplace crackling and sipping apple cider. I am fully aware that, of which I write, sounds as if I am a part of a Norman Rockwell painting. I really don’t care. I have worked hard to find a small degree of joy, happiness and serenity within my life. I have experienced the other side of Christmas with the chaos and insecurity. I want no part of that. I look forward to the spirituality of being close with those I am already close to, the quiet solitude where nothing need be said.

The tearing open of gift paper, the momentary high or elation of a new gift, is not a part of my Christmas. Rest assured, I am not made of the ‘hum bug’ fashion. I am only too aware that with a materialistic high, there is an accompanying spiritual low. I much prefer to keep Christmas as a quiet expression of family and friends, a celebration of joy within the heart. For all those gifts I have received from the hearts of others, I am truly grateful. There is no greater gift than the extended hand of friendship and of love.

• Readers write:

• Ted Bowen shares the story of how he told his dad that he was a grandfather. “I called my folks to announce our first-born and (also) the first girl in our family. My reticent Texan father shouted over the phone "ooooweeee!" Grandpas are allowed a few ‘oowees’ so don't worry.”

• Sandra Rayson has just returned from a medical conference in New York. She writes: “It is always good to read The Garden Report. Thank you for all your efforts to make it happen. The photo of your house would make a lovely post card of winter in Regina which were my very thoughts as I passed your house after midnight last night, returning from NYC.”

• Roberta Nichol has been on the war path for many years regarding the misused apostrophe. “Well, I'm sure glad that Jean Freeman, the professional writer, has chosen the apostrophe nit to pick. I've been raving about it for years. (How often have I mentioned the signs in my acreage community that read, 'Lot's for Sale'?) Thank you, Jean! Thank God I'm not alone in this world. It's so hard being the Chief of the Grammar Police and the President of the Good Eaters' Club, all in the same year.” Roberta added this further down in her response: “You have a following that Charles Manson would be jealous of .” The wording is intriguing but I get the drift, it’s a compliment.

For all the grammar nuts out there!
• Kate Berringer is also a believer in the proper use of the English language. “Attached is a great grammar cartoon that I came across awhile back. I too am a grammar snob.” Note: The cartoon is in the attachment.

• This is in from Marsha Kennedy. “Thank you for this week's Garden Report, Rod. I enjoy the varying tone that is held within your newsletters from week to week.”

• Joanne Crofford is a good sport about the snow. “I am loving the current Winter Wonderland. For me snow means the weather is still doing some of the things we expect this time of year. In an era of concern with climate change, normal is good.”

• CJ Katz has been bombing around the country, promoting her new cookbook. She sent this from Newfoundland. “I'm sitting here in the airport in St. John's, Nfld. It's 6:29 am and I'm reading your Garden Report. The kindred food spirits that we are, I thought you'd love to know a couple of food tidbits I picked up while here. First off the fish cakes out here are fab. The common filler is mashed potatoes, but not the silky smooth type. Nope, they have to have some lumps throughout. It gives them a lovely homey texture. They are on my list of Newfoundland specialties that I think will become a regular supper dish in my home. Second, in promoting my cookbook here (I did a signing at the local Chapter's) I discovered that Saskatoon berries grow here. But in the usual tongue-and-cheek style of the folk here (don't call them 'Newfies' by the way, they hate that) they are called chuckle berries! Don't you just love that name?”

Vanderveen's grows  a sea of poinsettias
• Audrey Vanderveen along with her brothers, keep Vanderveen’s Greenhouse a thriving operation, in Carman, Manitoba. Audrey’s brother Les sent along the photos and Audrey sent along this missive. “Still enjoying your Garden Report. Keep up the great work!”

• Joanne Brown enjoyed my story of the baking contest when I was ten years old. She shares one from an even earlier time. “Loved your story Rod. It brought back another to me in regard to my father and one of his brothers. You, me and many of your readers have been brought up by parents who struggled in every way to get through the depression years, helping to provide for their families (and themselves) back then. These stories have had impact on us. My father was born in 1927, number four in a family of five boys. Needless to say these boys had to learn a few domestic tasks, sans sisters. Given the times, lucky were those who were able to develop an entrepreneurial spirit. When my Dad was about 12 and his brother 13, they entered a cake baking contest at the YWCA. The prize was cash in a denomination I can't quite remember. My Dad's name is Clarence, his brother, Vern. They entered their cake under the names of Verna and Clare Brown. Lo and behold, they won first place, but had to 'fess up in person to obtain the prize. They did, and both blushed large as they were already into puberty. Youthful hubris aside, cash was cash in the 1930's.”

• Garden Tip: Heather Lowe is an expert on proper pruning procedures. She shares this insight for the benefit of our readers. “In regard to timing of pruning, we were taught to remember the two “F’s”. Do not prune when leaves are forming or falling. This has to do with the movement of water and nutrients within the plant. Removing foliage just before fall deprives the root system of nutrients (energy) developed during photosynthesis. Removing branching in spring before the plant has fully leafed out results in a larger ratio of nutrients (energy) within the roots moving up the plant. Evergreens can be pruned anytime. Best to prune lilacs and some other flowering shrubs right after the current flowering season finishes.”

• Too funny: Maureen was teaching a class last week, to a Grade Five group. The subject was art appreciation and she showed them copies of paintings from the 1600’s. The teacher asked the kids what they had learned. A boy replied “everyone was old back then and they all died.” He was right on both counts.

• Too funny #2: A friend of mine taught Grade One Sunday School. He told his students the story of David and Goliath including the part of David slaying Goliath with his sling. He asked the kids what was the lesson of the story? One young lad thought about it and replied “Duck?”

• Garden Tip: This snow came at a good time. Shortly after the snow arrived, the temperature dropped to minus 25 which is damned cold. Damned cold is approximately five degrees colder than darned cold. Had we not had the protective snow cover, many tender plants would have died from cold exposure including perennials, bulbs and non hardy roses. There are blessings for us even from a snow storm.

• Would somebody do something: Once again, 13th Avenue is made more difficult for travel and parking as the parking lane is now filled with snow. This street should be a priority for clearing and removal. Also, I have flogged this issue once too often but here I go again. The merchants along 13th should take responsibility, as a group, to have their sidewalks cleared. If not by themselves, then a contractor with a rotating brush on his tractor. Cathedral is supposed to be a great walking district of small shops, yet the ice induces fear and treachery. On Saturday morning, I had difficulty traversing the ice fields that pass as sidewalks. I am still fairly agile so you can imagine the difficulty it poses for our seniors.

• Gossip time: There was and still is, a Lakeview maven who places her self-importance above others. She did not hesitate to enter greenhouses in the busy part of the spring, demanding that they provide her with a ‘special quote’ for her bedding plant requirements. Her order was not exceptionally large. While all orders are appreciated by greenhouse owners, the question is: how much tap dancing do you have to do to get it? She went to Prairie Lily and was shocked that he told her he was too busy to deal with her. She came to my place, complaining about him and I tried to explain, you cannot show up during the busiest time of the year and expect mangers to bid on your requirements. You pay list for a regular sized order even if you think you are someone special. What triggers this story is I was in a store this week. She entered that store along with her attitude of entitlement. Above everything else, she remains consistent. She reminds me of a character from an English sit com. Someone who attempts to elevate her class standing by putting on the ‘hoity-toity’. Thank goodness that most Canadians have a greater sense of decorum than she does.

• The Artesian thrives: I stopped in to visit Chad and Marlo who operate The Artesian at 13th and Angus. They have been filling up their time slots at an incredible rate. I knew that they would be busy because Regina was starved for small performance venues. Now that Artesian is up and running, we also have The Artful Dodger and The Creative City Center offering performances of independent artists. From limited venues to three new spaces in the last two years. This is something that we needed and deserves our support. A big thank you to those who made it happen.

• A new business venture: I am thinking of opening a nudist colony in my backyard. To ensure that those attending are serious about this venture, it will only be open December 1st until February 28th. We will sing ‘A Paler Shade of White’ but change the words to include the colors blue and purple. Who says that the Canadian entrepreneurial spirit is waning.

• Christmas tree advice: If you are looking for a real Christmas tree and you are confused by the range of prices, here is something you need to know. Christmas trees are graded. Most people don’t know that because it is not the law to label the tree with the grade. A Number One is a premium tree. A Number Two is an okay tree. A Number Three is not a great tree, but is cheap, both for the seller and the buyer. When I was selling Christmas trees, I sold only Number Ones plus twenty Number Twos that I brought in for those looking for something less expensive. Most box stores are selling Number Threes, thus the lower price than independents. This explains why at one place a tree can be $25 and at the next, $60.

• Christmas tree advice #2: A real Christmas tree should have the bottom two inches cut off of its trunk, prior to setting it up. This should not occur more than an hour in advance or it will begin to seal over. The tree should be set in a stand that provides a decent sized reservoir of water. The level of the water should never be allowed to drop below the bottom of the tree trunk. If you do not provide adequate water to a fresh cut tree, it will dry out. Once a tree trunk has sealed over, it cannot be opened up unless cut again. Something I have done to ensure proper hydration of my tree is to cut the trunk and place the tree into a large bucket of water overnight. This provides the opportunity for the tree to ‘drink’ as much as it needs prior to being set up.

• True but funny: A friend who had adult sons, said this: “All I want for Christmas is for my boys to return the tools they have borrowed.” This could be an anthem, perhaps a prayer, spoken by fathers everywhere.

Garden Tip: If you find your poinsettia has a white, sticky substance on one of its leaves, do not panic. It is not a sign of insects. Rather, it is a sign of a broken stem. A broken stem will leak its fluid and poinsettia ‘blood’ is white and sticky.

• It’s spelled poinsettia: One year, Joan Anderson who worked with me at Lakeview Gardens received a phone call. The caller ledged he was a professor at the university. In reality, he was a session instructor in art. His complaint was that in our Christmas advertising, we had neglected to insert the middle ‘t’ in poinsettia. His assertion was that correctly spelled, it is ‘pointsettia’. He knew he was right because “I am a professor.” He was wrong. It is spelled correctly, as poinsettia. To add confusion to this issue, within the trade, we never say poinsettia, preferring the short hand nomenclature of ‘points’. We phone up a grower and ask “how are your points?”

• It’s still poinsettia #2: Reader Jan Pederson used to have a radio show in Winnipeg. Jan was one of the owners of Shelmerdine Nurseries, Winnipeg’s largest garden center. The day following one of his Christmas shows, a woman called Jan at work. She chewed him out for mispronouncing the word poinsettia. Jan had pronounced it with the middle ‘t’ as pointsettia. Jan admitted he had made the mistake. Then he asked the woman a poignant question: “Do you always phone people up who have made mistakes when speaking on the radio?” “Yes I do,” was her answer.

My small friend with her big plush toys
• I’m bad: I have a friend. She is six. She asked me why I had not gotten her a birthday gift. The kid will never need to attend assertiveness training class. I rectified the situation quickly with a couple of big plush toys.

• Out in the community: Wintergreen is on this weekend and I have heard from friends that it is an incredible show, as usual. I did take in The Farmers’ Market on Saturday as well as Westminster’s Craft and Bake Sale. Both were excellent events, well attended by The Garden Report readers. Where else but a church craft sale do you find a pair of hand knitted mitts for four dollars. That’s not a misprint. Four bucks and no tax. Knock me down with a feather.

• Garden Tip trivia: Poinsettias are a native to Mexico. They do not turn red due to the addition of any chemical or fertilizer. Rather, they turn red due to a restriction of light. When SIAST had a greenhouse at their Winnipeg Street campus back in the 1980’s, their first crop of poinsettias did not turn red. They eventually figured out that the dawn to dusk security light at the back door had interfered with the growing process.

A grower at Craik, Saskatchewan had problems with a greenhouse furnace once morning, at three a.m. He went out to check what was wrong, using a flashlight to repair the malfunction. It only took him thirty minutes. The poinsettias, surrounding the furnace area, did not turn red because of that flashlight.

Once a poinsettia has turned red, you no longer have to worry about the light/dark ratio.

Red Fether grass looks lovely in the winter
Thanks for reading…Rod McDonald in Regina.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Garden Report #106

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

Our house with lots of snow
• Writers write: I cannot fathom the horrors of war. Snipers using your head as target practice. Bombs being dropped from so high up that you cannot see the airplanes that released them. Chaos all around you as young soldiers cry out for their mothers, the life force of their blood slowly slipping away. Revolting, tragic, and shocking. There are no shortages of adjectives to describe war and its casualties. War is never neatly confined to combatants. For every soldier fallen, civilians, including children, lie beside him. Lives are destroyed.

Today, we honor the veterans and all those who have been impacted by war, including their families and civilians. Each of them have suffered. There is a reason that soldiers in the trenches describe their experience with the three word phrase ‘war is hell.’ On occasion, I have heard people say that that phrase is trite or a cliché. No it is not. They are three short words reduced down to acknowledge an experience that is not describable.

When we see the vets march at The Brandt Center, The Cenotaph or at The War Memorial in Ottawa on television, we see men who are now in their eighties and nineties. When they landed on the beaches of France or sailed the treachery of the north Atlantic, they were barely men. Eighteen, nineteen, perhaps twenty. Most had never been away from home prior to enlisting in The Canadian Forces. They had only scratched the surface of living, yet they had been asked to risk their precious lives.

For what they did for us, long before some of us were even born, for their sacrifices and for those boys who never returned home to their moms, the least we can do is to honor that minute of silence and say “thank you.”

• Readers write: Many of you wrote in to congratulate our family on the arrival of our first grandchild. Thank you for your kindness. Those emails are not being published. I am trying not to become ‘the grandfather who won’t shut up’.

• John Huston is always a fountain of obscure information. In #105, I used the term ‘Grand Pubah’ in self deprecation. According to John, this is not the correct spelling. He writes from Toronto: “ ‘Poohbah’, or alternatively, ‘Poobah’ is the correct spelling. Most people will tell you it comes from ‘The Mikado’, and they are right, up to a point. W.S. Gilbert, author of ‘The Mikado’ used an earlier version of the name ‘Pishtush-Poohbah’ in a comic poem. The name, of course, comes from two words of disdain or contempt.” Rod’s note: I have also found this spelling, ‘Pooh-Bah.’

• We had a few letters this week regarding other grammar issues. Jean Freeman who is an author and a playwright, finds the following to be the sand in her ointment. “The nit which I wish to pick is with those people who are under the impression that any word ending in an ‘s’ should have an apostrophe even if it's not a possessive. e.g. ‘Open Sunday's’, ‘Dog's welcome’, ‘Boat's for sale’. We may be nit pickers, thee and me, but standards must be maintained!”

• Denise Cook comments on the poor spelling on the Arby’s sign. “I too have noticed the Arby’s sign several times. That is the editor in me coming out.”

• Ann Anderson also writes for a living as a Communications Consultant to The Mayor. Here is her take on exclamation points. “I agree with your views on misusing punctuation, but like many rules in the English language, there are always exceptions. When I read "I LOVE YOU!!!!!!" from my daughter who's traveling overseas for several months, I am not insulted by her use of all caps and a string of exclamation points. Every exclamation mark emphasizes how much she misses me. The longer she's away the more punctuation she uses. She'll soon be bolding the text.”

• Roberta Nichol who leads the grammar police, rooting out run on sentences everywhere she finds them, wrote this: “Regarding 'Misuse of Words': I agree. In short, (writers) quit repeating yourself. Your point loses its punch. Done.”

• Georgia Hearn understands the need to promote prostate exams for men, even though she does not own that particular gland. “Rod: What a fabulous issue. I remember the issue last year about men acting responsible and getting the prostrate exam. Sunday mornings are always a treasure.”

Rob Van Zanten's grand puppy 'Max'
• Rob Van Zanten, from Vancouver, is joining the fight against prostate cancer by growing a moustache for ‘Movember’. “By the way, I am three days into my ‘Movember stache’. As I look at yours in the photo that you attached in #105, there is not a hope in hell that I will get close to that.” Rod’s note: I got started with mine in 1974.

• My cousins, Rick and Judy Kerr, recommend Table 10 Restaurant on Robinson Street. “This is a gluten free, vegan and meat restaurant. So good! We had to let you know and you have to try it.”

• Kevin Hynd was a high school student employee of mine. He wants to be a comic when he grows up. He writes: “In reference to your dog kennel story: There were certain times at the Garden Centre, when you left the room, we jumped up and down like excited puppies.”

• May Blois shares a sentiment with us. “If there are no puppies, kittens or ice cream in Heaven, I am not going.”

• David Calam lives across the street from me. I can see his house when I write The Garden Report. Today, he writes to us from across the world. “Possibly the most distant response to your Garden Report? I am sitting in the Beijing airport, waiting for the Air Canada flight home via Vancouver and Calgary. We went seeking our grandmother's home and our mother's birth place in the Lushan Mountain town of Guling, in southern China. We found the school where our grandmother taught and saw some of the sights our mother talked about but sadly, the area in which her home was located has been abandoned and has reverted to forest. A fascinating and exciting adventure. Eating wonderful food, seeing breathtaking scenery, meeting all kinds of people, experiencing kindness everywhere we went. No matter the height, the color, the language, the race, the culture, we are all the same. We are all people, nothing more, nothing less.”

• Judith Langen sent along a nice compliment. “I love your writing, your fans and the comments. Have a great week.”

• Susan Rollins (Pasterfield) has a thank you. “I think I am in a very select group with my picture twice in The Report. Thank you for your lovely words.”

• Eric Bell is a new reader and this is his first time responding. “I have been a regular reader for the past few months or so, and I don't even garden! I love the stories that you and your readers bring to your blog, as well as your reviews of local businesses.”

• Lyn Goldman has been globetrotting this fall. She writes: “I just returned from a garden tour of Tuscany. Their idea of gardens is very different from ours; low boxwood hedges carved in elaborate patterns, lemon trees growing in pots, terraces, fountains and sculptures. I really enjoyed it and the weather was fine, but I was glad to get home to my garden and my cats.”

• Kathleen Livingston sent out this good vibe. “As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed your weekly missive. Anyone who can write so compellingly about a pet – cat or dog – is all good in my books.”

• Around thirty of you took the time to express your condolences over the passing of Murphy. Thank you. I don’t want to fill up this edition with that many kind responses, so I selected one email that I thought you would enjoy reading. It comes to us from Sherrie Tutt. “Hi Rod: Your story about Murphy touched my heart, particularly because it has come at a time when I just lost my cat, Murmur. He was a feral kitty, rescued by my daughter after a tough life in the back allies of Toronto. Black, minus one ear and very shy of people, Murmur neither purred nor meowed, but made a sound like a murmur, hence his name. Thin as a rail, he had the cat version of HIV. He lived in my bedroom for less than two years, mostly under the bed or in his special basket, coming out to eat and, in the later months, to sit in the hall with big sad eyes, as if wishing he could join in. He shot back under the bed should anyone try to pet him but would sit quietly when stroked by a pheasant feather. I did not realize until the day I came home to find him dead, how much a part of my life he had become. He was my first thought in the morning, my last good-night and tempting his failing appetite, employed many waking minutes. Your story allowed me to cry for him without shame. Thank you.”

• Garden Tip: If you feel so inclined, you can still do some fall pruning. There has always been a debate in the gardening world over spring versus fall pruning, as to which is better. I do favor the spring camp on this one. Having written that, I have carried out much fall pruning do to time constraints. When you own a greenhouse, it is difficult to free up a day to prune in the spring.

Where have all the flowers gone...
 • Things change: When we become parents, our view of our own parents changes. We are no longer judgmental of them. They made the best decisions that they could. And as we age, we come to realize that we gave our parents a really good run for their money. As my mother grew into her old age, I no longer expected her to explain her shortcomings. Rather, I learned to apologize for mine. This is the cycle of life.

• I shouldn’t have asked: When I was twenty-six, I was on a flight home from Victoria to Regina. I was seated beside a woman who was in her eighties. It was a two and a half hour flight. She seemed like a nice grandmother. We were chatting away. Being a rookie to airline etiquette, I made a fatal error. I asked her if she had any grandchildren. She reached into her purse, pulled out six envelopes of photos and turned that flight into perhaps the longest one of my life. Air Canada did not stock enough liquor on that airplane. I promise not to be that grandparent and to only sneak the odd photo into the conversation.

• Too funny: A man I knew was a garden center consultant. He was hired by conferences to speak to the owners on how to make their operations more successful. That is how we met. He told me that he flies a lot and that if someone seated beside him, discovers that he is in the garden center business, they won’t shut up. They will pepper him with question after question about what is wrong with the plant in their back yard. He developed an interesting way of having peace and quiet on the many flights he takes in a year. When his seat mate asks him “what do you do for a living” he responds: “I am an insurance salesman. How are you fixed?” He said they invariably clam up and leave him alone for the duration.

• Garden Tip: Yes, you can still transplant shrubs at this time of year, if the day is nice enough. The ground is not yet frozen. Dig a nice big hole, fill the transplant with lots of peat moss and take out a bucket of water to freeze the plant into the ground. You do not need to add any fertilizer until the spring. Rod’s note: I wrote this before the twelve inches of snow arrived.

My bacopa on its last legs of the fall
• First date déjà vu: Maureen and I were sitting across from each other at the kitchen table. I told her that we had just met. I said “I am rather quiet, humble, easy to get along with and I am rarely judgmental. I would love to attend a modern dance recital as boxing matches are not that important to me. I don’t snore, fart or belch and I just know I will love your cooking. I seldom complain when I don’t get my own way. I always put my dirty clothes in the laundry hamper and I wipe down the tub when I am finished.” She was laughing so hard by the time I finished that she could not offer up her version of what she would have said, had this been our first date.

• A strange child: When I was ten years old, The Sherwood Coop advertised in the newspaper that they were holding a baking contest. They had different age categories and according to the rules, your mom was not supposed to help. I enjoyed baking so I entered my apple/walnut coffee cake. I wrapped it up in tin foil and took the bus down Dewdney Avenue to their Victoria/Albert Street location. I was the only boy surrounded by dozens of girls from ages eight to fifteen. As I had not entered puberty yet, that many girls surrounding me was a total waste. Don’t laugh too hard, but I got a ribbon. My entry took third place. Surprisingly, my parents were very supportive of my interest. My dad, chauvinist that he was, told me “the best bakers are always men”.

• A welcomed visitor: Keith Carpenter who is a regular reader of this blog and works in the sales department of Van Noort Bulbs in the Vancouver area, stopped in on Wednesday. We did a bus man’s holiday, driving around for the afternoon visiting greenhouses and landscaping projects. I always enjoy visits from people within the garden trade as I have spent many years being a part of that industry. Keith left me some reading material and I will be writing about some of those new introductions.

• Garden Tip: Do not take live wreaths or greens into the house too soon. Even with misting, they only last a few days before drying out. Best to keep them outdoors. If you want cedar greens inside for Christmas, do not bring them in until a day or two before the 25th. I found the best way to keep my greens fresh was to bury them in snow. They stay perfect that way, much better than if placed in a fridge. Then I pull them out from the snow when I need them. Cedar is the most fragrant of the greens. White pine has very little fragrance. Fir has some.

• The final say: Okay. You guys, and there are several of you who really enjoy ragging me about the use of exclamation marks. We have to close the chapter on this edition of ‘As the World Writes’. There are other fish waiting to be fried so no more emails. Just to get in one last lick, you are now going to get a taste of your proverbial medicine. “Oh my gawd!!!!!” he exclaimed. “I can’t believe you REALLY DID THAT!!!!!! You used way too many exclamation marks!!!!! Like chill out man, and let the words SPEAK for themselves!!!!!!! This is so cool!!!!! Do you think if I add in like sixty-eight of them, it will get my POINT ACROSS???????”

A sea of purple
 • Thanks for reading…Rod McDonald in a snow covered Regina.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Garden Report #105

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

Murphy was not thrilled wearing my bow tie on New Years' Eve
 • Writers write: We are given puppy dogs and kitty cats to teach us how to love. Some of us are in the slow learners class when it comes to love, but our pets are patient teachers. They open a part of our hearts that lies dormant and once we learn to love them, we learn to love others.

This reflection is tied into the passing of our orange cat, Murphy. He came to us as a kitten, found by our son Patrick, walking down a country road in 1995. He was about eight weeks old and opinionated, even at that age. We advertised but no one came forward to claim him. I laid down the law and told the residents of our house that he was to go to The Humane Society for placement. No ifs and buts. I have allergies to cats. As usual, when I have laid down the law firmly within our family, no one paid any particular attention to me, so we had a kitten who became a cat. Patrick got wanderlust two years later and left for Europe. Murphy had been his cat. Soon, the cat was curling up with me, watching Blue Jay’s games on TV and purring away. He became my cat.

I wrote a story about him, alleging that he must be of Irish origin. He would leave the house at eleven p.m. and not return until sunrise, looking the worse for wear. We hired a private detective to follow him one evening and found out that he headed down to O’Hanlon’s for a few Guinness’ with the lads. He also enjoyed a good brawl now and again, cementing my theory that he was indeed an Irish cat.

Murphy was diagnosed with a fatal illness around the middle of June. The vet did not expect him to make it much past July 1st. He hung on for four months, defying his diagnosis. He enjoyed his life until the end, with his walks through the garden, his snacks and his cuddles. He loved to curl up with Maureen in bed as she read and he thoroughly enjoyed having a nap with me, but if the two of us were in the same bed, he left. He never told us why.

Murphy taking it easy in the garden this summer
He took a turn for the worse on Saturday and passed away on Monday, with the two of us holding him, thanking him for the seventeen wonderful years he gave to us. We know this much about Heaven. It is filled with our dogs, cats and ice cream, because if it’s not, then it’s not Heaven.

• Readers write:

     • Cheryl-Ann Smith writes to us from England. “I just love your description of what it is to be a writer. You put your finger on what I love about your writing: it's the observation of the details of the faces, every day events and behaviors, and seeing the interior humor, wisdom, foolishness, poignancy. Your writing is a gift. Thank you.”

     • Jim Tomkins enjoyed last week’s opening segment. “I loved your story about your adventures at Taylor Field as a boy; It brought back my own memories of paying my fifty cents to watch the Riders in the 1950s. In my day, the kids got to sit on the grass, right beside the field of play. Opposing teams were always complaining that having kids on the sidelines inhibited their receivers, for fear of injuring some fans. "Bush league", they said. We loved being so close to the action, but the Riders eventually gave in and forced us into the stands.”

     • Jean Freeman is well known as a writer and a actor within our arts’ community. “Hi Rod: Your story about the genesis of your writing compulsion made me stop in my tracks and revisit my own childhood and what got me started on the creator's path. Writing, telling stories, making plays, performing - they're all part of the same magic that I discovered as a wee child. In my case, most of the time, I had to participate. But the memories have always remained magic, even today, when the time has arrived that I'm mostly an observer. Thanks for the memory!”

     • Roberta Nichol is always a fan. “I loved your 'Writers Write' this week. Such a lovely trip down Memory Lane. When softened with time, things somehow seem more simple and satisfying. I thoroughly enjoyed taking that journey with you. I'm afraid that type of afternoon or evening couldn't be done now. Not many moms would send their children to Taylor Field alone, for five hours. Kind of sad.”

     • Marsha Kennedy sent this bit in for us to read. “Well, I made it to the dining room table to read your Report this Sunday. I love your childhood stories, Rod. I grew up at the same time, and your stories bring so many images and memories to mind. Football for me, was not of much interest, but I do recall the fall days, walking my dog while sounds of the game drifted into the street. It was usually quiet outdoors as everyone was watching the game.”

     • Sandra Rayson is always up for giving a compliment. “Thank you for The Garden Report as always. Your time, effort and advice are much appreciated.”

     • Marlo V. is also in the mood to deliver compliments. “Thank you for another great Report!”
• Garden Tip: Now is a good time, and it is also a legal time, to prune your elm trees. All branches and stumps must be delivered to the City Nuisance Grounds for proper disposal. You cannot legally and should not morally, store elm firewood. Elm firewood is a breeding ground for the insect that carries Dutch Elm Disease.

• The Liver Lovers’ Club meets again: Some of you will be thrilled to read this information, others, not so much. The Liver Lovers’ Club will be hosting a supper at Greko’s on November 19th. Tickets are twenty-two bucks. It is always a great time, provided you enjoy liver and onions. If you want to buy tickets send me an email and I will forward it to the organizers.

• Exclamation points and other misused grammatical devices: Okay. So three of you decided to rag on me about exclamation points this week. I am vulnerable. Here it is, written out slowly for those who are not quick learners. I am not opposed to exclamation marks, used properly, to accent sentences of excitement such as: “Fire!” he shouted. What I do object to are those who decide that the exclamation point will accent something they think is important. Then there are those, yet again, who pound out six or seven of them, just so you will get it as in “It was so good to run into you this afternoon!!!!!!!” I appreciate enthusiasm but there is subtly and nuance to language. To include a half dozen exclamation marks is actually quite insulting to your readers. It is as if you are saying that they are not bright enough to catch your drift without enhancements.

• Misuse of words: When a person is writing a strong letter of opinion, they often include powerful statements to emphasize their point. I.e., “I view this as an abuse of power”. Once written, you have made your point. To include the same phrase, ‘abuse of power’, a second time is overkill and to do so a third time is insulting. If your reader does not get your point the first time, they certainly will not accept it if you use power phrases a second, third or fourth time. One time in Vancouver, I read a letter where the writer included the phrase “I did nothing wrong” over and over until they had used it nine times. It did not help to make their point and I was just a third party bystander to the letter, not involved at all.

Tulips and trollius benefit from a cover of snow
• Garden Tip: With the arrival of the snow, shovel some of it around your more tender plants to protect them. Snow attracts snow and with good snow cover comes good cold protection. Remember the ‘igloo’ effect. If it is minus thirty air temperature and you have twelve inches of snow, the soil temperature is a balmy minus six. You are free to notice that I mix my Celsius with my Imperial. My farmer friends often tell me that they were spraying eight liters to the acre.

• Premier Wall has this one right: I was not thrilled with Brad Wall, acting as our Premier, when he cut the Film Tax Credit and SCN. Those two decisions destroyed an arts community that had developed over the last thirty-five years. This week, he announced that he is growing a moustache for ‘Movember’, which supports the work against prostate cancer. With his much higher profile than any of us regular plebes, he encouraged all men to get a regular prostate exam. That is something I have preached from the rafters. For five seconds of discomfort, in a doctor’s examine room, afflicted men could catch prostate cancer in the early stages. Caught in the early stages, us men have a very good chance of surviving this disease. Listen to your Premier.

• Poinsettia sale: Some people have emailed and asked if I am planning on doing the poinsettia fund raiser for The Marian Center this year. I have not yet decided but the answer will probably be yes. We have lots of time left to make that decision. Essentially, I am waiting to see the direction my health is going. If I am doing it, I will announce it the middle of November.

• To bleach or not to bleach: I got a job in Saskatoon when I was twenty-four. I was not very good at doing my laundry even though I had moved out when I was twenty-one. I headed down to the Laundromat on 33rd Street with two hampers of dirty clothes. I had picked up some Tide as that was what my mother had used. I also purchased a bottle of bleach, again, something I knew my mother used. Does this story write itself? I filled up the washing machine with my dirty clothes. I did not sort colors from whites. I dropped in my cup of Tide and then my cup of bleach, right on top of a brand new pair of golden/brown cords. Of course, the cords came out of the process tie dyed which was appropriate for the time. I asked an older woman at work what happened and she said “did you pour bleach directly onto the top of the laundry?” Well, of course I had. “Isn’t that what you are supposed to do?”

Maureen, yours truly and Susan Rollins (Pasterfield)
• A story of socks: For many years, you could only purchase athletic socks or tube socks in the color of white. Sometime in the 1990s, someone offered up those one size fits all socks in a grey color. Joan Anderson, who I worked with, looked at my newly purchased foot wear and remarked “They are coming already grey from the factory.” I am not certain, but it could have been a cheap shot at us men, collectively.

• Garden Tip: If you grow tropical plants in your house, it is a good idea to have a bottle of Trounce on hand. It takes care of a wide range of insects and it is quite safe as it is an organic. As with all things, read the label before applying. There are certain plants that do not enjoy being sprayed with Trounce.

Immigrants are Canadians: In the news recently, there has been an ongoing story of the MP in Saskatoon who was raising hell over health benefits for immigrants. Here is my take on the issue. If immigrants arrive here in need of health care, I have no problem offering that to them. They have enough problems adjusting to our language and culture so if a bit of medical support is required, I am for it. Shortly after arrival, most immigrants become not only self supporting but some of the hardest working members of our community. My friend Nicky Makris arrived on the boat from Greece in 1964, knowing only six words of English. He worked long hours, hard hours, to pursue the Canadian dream. He built a life for himself here as have most immigrants. All he ever wanted was the opportunity to raise his family in this wonderful country of ours. And he did. I keep hearing stories of people who have been abusing the system. That is nothing new. There will always be those who try to get something for nothing and the systems people have to have procedures in place to catch the abuse. Having written that, we can’t throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. After all, most of us are only two or three generations removed from the old country.

• Are we this grateful: Everybody’s friend Nicky Makris, tells me that when he returned from Greece, visiting his relatives, he landed at Pearson in Toronto. He walked out of the airport and kissed the parking meter. I asked why? “Because I was back in Canada. This is my home.”

• Women are hard to understand: My beloved comes to me with a complaint. “We have not been on a date for quite some time,” she says. I told her “last Friday night, I took you to Shoppers’ when you needed some distilled water.” She glared at me, not appreciating how thoughtful and romantic I really am.

• Kave Haz Café: This lovely neighborhood café is on Dewdney Avenue, across the street from Luther College. It has a good vibe to it along with the best latte I have had in Regina. They use an espresso bean from Italy. Their soups are made on location and I had one with tomato, macaroni, celery, carrots and potatoes. It was filling but a little on the bland side. It needed more spicing to kick it up a notch. It was $2.75. I followed that with a very good egg salad sandwich for $3.75. I am always surprised at the number of places that cannot prepare a decent egg salad sandwich, which in my books should be a basic. Their bread is also made on location. The dessert cooler is filled with an incredible variety of treats, again made in house. I had the rice pudding. It was good but a little undercooked. It needed another five minutes on boil to soften the rice. The service was very friendly. Would I go back? That is always my measuring stick. Yes is the answer.

• Arby’s can’t spell: Arby’s disgusts me. I have been there only once, in 1992, ordering their roast beef and cheese special. The roast beef does not look like roast beef, it doesn’t smell like roast beef and it doesn’t taste like roast beef. I have no idea what they do to screw up such a classic, but they have obviously mastered that skill set. Tuesday, we were driving north on Albert to get Maureen’s tires rotated at Graham Tires. We passed the Arby’s. It has a sign out front, announcing the return of a special. They wanted to say ‘They’re back’. What do they have on the sign? ‘Their back’. That is nit picking, but if they didn’t screw up the food so bad, I would cut them more slack.

Our baby holding his baby
 • A special place: We stopped into The Humane Society to deliver some paperwork. Seeing as we were already there, I took a tour of the dog kennels. I have never walked into a bar or a coffee shop and had everyone jump up and down with joy. These guys sure did. All of them were barking for me to stop and visit each of them and many of them were saying in doggy language “Hey man! It’s great to see you. How you been doing? Wanna go for a walk or just hang out?” As I wrote, no group of humans has ever been that excited because I entered a room. I felt like a rock star.

Rayanna's first photo
• Some wonderful news: I get to finish the week off by announcing that in addition to my title of ‘Grand Pubah’, you may now address me in a more familiar form, ‘Grampa Rod’. Patrick and Lisa had their baby girl, Wednesday morning. Her name is Rayanna Maurina Gardiner which includes all four names of the grandparents. My middle name is Gardiner, one that has been in my Clan Kerr family for many generations. She arrived around 8:30 a.m. weighing six pounds, fourteen ounces. Maureen flew up to Edmonton right away to be with all three. Unfortunately, I cannot travel. I have decided to call her ‘Ray-Ray’ and I suspect the first time I hold her, there might be some tough guy tears.

• Thanks for reading…Rod McDonald in snowy Regina.