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.

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