Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Garden Report #8

July 25th, 2010

• So The Regina Airport has a new, full body scanner. One of those $250,000 machines that can see right through your clothes. I for one, long for the days when flying was fun, exciting, and a grand adventure. Now it is a series of lines, first at Air Canada and then the different levels of security. At every twist and turn, you are being monitored, investigated, inspected and now there is a glorified, high tech ‘peeping tom’ machine in place. All in the name of protecting us. What was a concern, a liability if you like with the occasional high jacking and of course 9/11, is now a billion dollar industry. Rest assured dear reader, this entire security concern is intensive because there are people making money and lots of it. First you create a threat, then you sell the solution at $250,000 a pop. I don’t feel any the safer, just poorer.

• Slugs, ugh! Hate the slimy, little critters. All of God’s creatures have a purpose and I suppose the slug’s purpose is to teach me patience and humility. I refuse to provide them with any more coleus. I planted all of mine in raised pots this year. So what did they chew on? My basil. Yes, the same basil that I have planted for the third time due to the cold and the wet. The basil in my raised herb garden is just fine, out of their reach, but the garden level basil is now ‘holy basil’, pun intended.

• Jeannie Freeman writes in that she enjoys the blog even though she has been reduced to one flower pot on her balcony for a garden. Roberta Nichol responded to my attack on sugar saying that as a teacher, she saw the affect that the sweet addiction had on her students. Alan Bratt responded to my assertion that we must watch out for the Lithuanian plan to take over the universe. Alan ledges that it is the Welsh in need of watching. He points out that they have been monopolizing all of the consonants, just for their town names. Our constant commentator, Marcus Fernando is a new father to a baby boy named Pascal. Marcus has discovered that the perfect way to meet beautiful, young women is to take Pascal for a walk. According to Marcus, they flock to him and Pascal in numbers that he could only dream of when he was single. Kim Lytle wanted to know about red leafed rhubarb and Lyn Goldman wanted to know where were the photos of Murphy? I explained to Lyn that Murphy has now joined ACTRA and is demanding union rates for his likeness. Marg Hryniuk said she had nothing to say but then complained about the blue bells and scentless chamomile, which is a concern to many of us. I saw some ox eye daisy dominating the area by the old Fleet Street Bridge, south of town. Many people look at them as if they are a wild flower, which they are in England, but good luck getting them out of your garden once they have entered. My sister Bonnie wrote in to lodge a complaint about how invasive the daisies have been at her cottage garden. Jodi Sadowsky wrote that she enjoys the blog and Gail White out of Winnipeg has been kept busy chasing a deer out of her back garden. Gail reports that while deer are an enjoyable creature to watch from the kitchen window, they produce a lot of poop that needs cleaning up.

• Took a stroll through Home Depot’s Garden Center. They have many apple trees in stock, none of which are hardy for this area. They don’t do new gardeners a favor by carrying these non hardy varieties. New gardeners, not realizing they are purchasing a tender plant, lose the tree the first year. Then the novice gardener assumes that they do not have the perquisite ‘green thumb’ and give up on this life sustaining adventure. Sad.

• Garden Tip: The best time to prune your evergreens including, spruce, mugho pine, cedars and junipers is between June 25th and July 10th, after the new growth has emerged. Having written that, it is a later year and you still have time to do a little shaping. Best to prune one half of the new growth back, thus removing the terminal bud. The plant now will produce buds from underneath the pruning point, filling out the structure. Pinch back half of the new growth of the candles on your mugho pine in order to keep its growth in check. Writing about mugho or mugo pines, either is correct, we used to have people wander into the garden center asking to inspect our ‘bugle’ pines. We tried not to laugh.

• Tomatoes…oh boy, fresh tomatoes. I have seen a few of the ones growing in pots, turning red. I harvested my first two this afternoon. The garden varieties are still quite some time away, but there is fruit on them there plants. My favorite way of serving up fresh garden tomatoes is to slice and arrange on a nice plate, chop up a good quantity of fresh basil and place over top, then drizzle some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I find that you don’t even notice the absence of salt.

• Salt: It is right in there with sugar, heroin, cocaine and few other things that are addictive and not so good for us. I was reading the label of Major Grey’s Mango Chutney. It said a serving size was half a tablespoon. Who here has ever used only half a tablespoon of chutney on their chicken? More like two or three tablespoons. Regardless, half a tablespoon had twenty per cent of your daily salt intake. Wow! Why?

• Reducing salt intake has many health benefits including lowering blood pressure.

• When I had the garden center, my blood pressure on a good day was 140/90 and on a bad day it would rise to 165/130, which is a one way ticket to ‘stroke city’. Three weeks after I sold Lakeview, my doctor panicked, thinking I was in congestive heart failure because my blood pressure dropped to a reasonable 110/70, where it has stayed for five years. Does anyone want to suggest that stress increases blood pressure?

• Garden Tip: Summer pruning of most shade trees is okay with the exception of elms, because of Dutch Elm Disease; and birch do not enjoy a summer prune. Other species are just fine with it.

• Blooming this week: Incredible, colorful, exotic, magical lilies. Everywhere. Saw some (inject superlative here) lilac lilies on the 2300 block of Montague.

• Number Three Son (Patrick) and his lovely, new bride flew home from Edmonton on Friday for a ten day visit with Mom and Dad. Needless to write but I will anyways, Maureen is ecstatic, having them in the guest room. I have already delivered my infamous speech, you know the one that starts “this is not a hotel nor is it a restaurant and your mom is not your maid and I am not your cook”. The only problem was that as I was delivering said monologue, Maureen was changing the towels and I was cooking them supper. I asked Patrick point blank, “are you being a good husband?” His response was “I have you for a role model, don’t I?” Good answer…very, good answer!

• Garden Tip: If you are looking for a lower growing, deciduous shrub, ‘Magic Carpet’ Spirea is an excellent choice. It finishes out around fifteen inches tall, spreads twenty-four inches and it has pink blooms over golden foliage.

• Exciting and upcoming news! My incredibly handsome nephew, Daniel Jackson (brother to the legendary Michelle of television fame) is getting married this coming Saturday. Daniel rose to the ‘most favored’ relative spot by taking his Uncle Rod to Nicky’s Café for my birthday, and Daniel paid for the meal. This had never happened before. My entire adult life, I have been stuck with the tab for each and every meal outside of the home. Now I know why people always say you never forget your first time. I assume they are talking about a free meal? Had I known that Daniel was paying, I would not have ordered the senior’s special. There would have been shrimp appetizers for everyone!

• Garden Tip: Georgia Hearn and I are doing some landscaping. We have hundreds of trees and shrubs planted and most are doing fine, except for four cranberries. No matter how much water we applied, they were often flagging (leaves drooping). So, we dug them up and sure enough, the bottom of the root ball was dry. For some reason, the water was not penetrating to the bottom of the planting hole. Georgia filled the holes with water and reinstalled the shrubs and all was fine. The moral of the story is that sometimes you have to examine the bottom of the issue to understand the top…or something profoundly more clever than that.

• Somehow the above relates to what our reader from Grand Forks, B.C., Garfield Marshall often says: “Just when we think we are the most brilliant of people, Mother Nature makes fools of us all.”

• My longtime family doctor, Proctor Girard, had a sign posted in his office that read: “I am sorry if my diagnosis does not agree with the one you downloaded from the internet.” I loved that sign as it reflected many of my experiences. People would ask my advice only to inform me that it did not match that of some website. Gardening is a set of local experiences. Everyday occurrences in Ohio are not so common here and growth habits in Toronto are usually greater than in Regina. Truth in horticulture is not one solid set of facts even though some people would prefer them to be so.

• Tied into the above: I grow some plants really well and others not so good. I admit that I am not all things to all species. My lobelia is often a disaster. But I grow some of the finest amaryllis and I have done so a thousand times. Maureen allows me to grow twenty-five of these lovely bulbs every October and November in our kitchen and family room, as I no longer have a greenhouse. I say I am going to sell them but I invariably give them away. So, one Christmas, I give my amaryllis away, in full bloom, to my neighbors, friends and relatives. Of course, I give everyone proper care instructions. We attended a Christmas party and one of the recipients was sitting beside me and informed me that her cousin, you know the cousin who knows everything about plants, told her how to care for the amaryllis and it did not match my instructions. I just stared at her. She waited for my rebuttal. I simply told her it was her plant and she could do what she wanted. And the next day, I got a phone call from yet another gift recipient. She informed me that her housekeeper has inspected the amaryllis and had decided that I planted the bulb in much too small of a pot, and did I not know any better? I didn’t speak my mind because I am of course Canadian through and through, but the next year the cousin who knows everything about plants and the housekeeper were instructed to grow their own amaryllis and show me how it should be done. I am still waiting to inspect their horticultural skills.

• A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing: In 1982 and 1983, Heather Lowe and I looked after Molson House and their surrounding landscaping. It was a nice, smaller project that took the two of us two hours every Tuesday and Friday. In other words, eight hours a week. The manager called us in at the end of the second year and thanked us for the good work we had done but he had to advise us we would not be back for year three. The union had decided it should be a full time job. This stuff happens. So they hire a young man to look after the grounds. He falls behind on his weeding program. Someone tells him, you know Rod and Heather used to spray Roundup on the weeds? He bought some chemical and applied it. This story almost writes itself, doesn’t it? A few weeks later, the manager calls us in as many of the shrubs are sick and dying. We talk to the new gardener. Yep. He had sprayed Roundup on those weeds. Except, some of the weeds were suckers from the lovely lilac and honeysuckle bushes. Suckers are always connected to the root of the mother plant, so the toxicity was easily transmitted. He didn’t know the difference. It was not a pretty site.

• Political correctness takes all the fun out life. I just mentioned that to my significant other as we debated the ethnic origins of her frugality. I don’t know exactly what she said but there was some mumbling about “Scottish assholes…” She will be hearing from The Robbie Burns Defamation League lawyer.

• Garden Tip: A partial list of the vines that you can grow in the Regina area include Virginia Creeper, Dropmore Scarlet Trumpet Honeysuckle, Grape Vines including native, Valiant and Beta, Clematis which can be tender and hops. Roses are not usually a success though Bernie Zaharic has grown a climber for over twenty years, but it requires continual winter protection. The late Sandra Whittick, who was one of my favorite gardeners, used to grow cotoneasters and train them to behave as if they were a vine.

• Sandra’s favorite advice to new gardeners was “you can never add too much peat moss into Regina soil.” It is great advice.

• Last week I sent ten photos as attachments. Some of your servers would not let those files through. Sorry about that. Patrick is home for the week and he has promised to teach me how to reduce files and photos so they will transmit easier and faster. This is why I fed him for twenty years. So that he could be my free IT guy as I enter my golden years.

• Happy Gardening…enjoy the heat and the plant growth…Rod McDonald

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Garden Report #7

July 18th, 2010
• The saying is that lightning never strikes twice but that does not apply to hail. My garden was almost recovered from the hail storm from eighteen days ago when what showed up this past Tuesday around three? If you said more hail, you win a flattened petunia pot. This bout was not as severe as the first one and hopefully everything will be lovely again in a week’s time.

• I love the old saw “Lies, damned lies and then there are statistics!” The most popular theme to the correspondence I receive in this blog is weeds. Easily ten to one over any other subject, thus my statistics reference. Two weeks ago, I reported that scentless chamomile should not be confused with oxeye daisy only to find out from Ingrid Thiessen that oxeye daisy is considered a noxious weed in Alberta. I have included photos of both of them. I also included the creeping bellflower as reader Marg Hryniuk reports that it is dominating many yards in the neighborhood. I have actually had a few of the pesky weeds attempt a takeover in the back corner of my garden. It was Paris of 1793 all over again as I ordered “off with their heads!”

• Garden Tip: Lots and I mean lots of powdery mildew is showing up. There is a fungicide/ insecticide on the market called Flortiect and it assists in controlling mildew. You can also try garden sulphur in a liquid or spray form. I found some of this product labeled as ‘Defender’ at Sherwood Greenhouses.

• As readers know, I love big and intense flavors. We tried Wah Sun on Rose Street last Sunday and I am saddened to report that they fell short. Nothing we ate made me go ‘wow’ or put me on the bus to flavor town ( expression kindly borrowed from Triple D). What did excite my taste buds was another incredible meal at Siam, on Hamilton Street. We devoured a chicken satay, a warm beef salad (it was to die for) and a super hot chili, pork and green beans dish. Order extra water with this entree.

• Since starting The Garden Report, I have received over a hundred emails expressing their support for the blog and participating in it with comments and questions. I knew that eventually I would get some that were not as supportive. Well, the first “take me off your mailing list” arrived and of course, I have to respect that person’s right to say no, so it is done. I also know that one day in the future, I will receive an email from a reader that will be less than kind. When I wrote my column for The Free Press, I received one piece of hate mail, unsigned of course as they usually are, because I wrote a column about how wonderful it is to have the multiculturalism of Canada. The writer was violently upset because he alleged that most of the world’s problems were a direct result of “the Catholics” and he thought I should expose their master plan to take over the world. I have no idea what the writer was talking about. Every sane person knows that it is the Lithuanians who have the master plan (that should get some responses from the Lithuanians.)

• Writing of multiculturalism, I love being Canadian for all that it entails. We were visiting my aunt in Nova Scotia and she invited us to stay at her home. My aunt married an Orthodox Jew in 1940, she converted and raised their six children as Jews. I explained to my beloved aunt that Maureen, in spite of her Irish name, is a grandchild from the first Moslem Arab family in Regina. Would this be a problem? My aunt didn’t hesitate for one second before responding: “It’s Canada, welcome to our home.” That’s Canada and that’s the way it should be.

• My lovely niece, Michelle Jackson has her first house and her first garden. She wrote in to say that her radishes, similar to the gardener in #6, were leafy with no bulb. That is a result of the cool and wet weather. Root crops need lots of heat. Michelle reports that she had her first fresh garden salad and it was everything she expected it to be. Many of you remember the three commercials that Michelle and Uncle Rod shot in 1989. The ‘ask me, ask me’ series. Michelle was just about five at the time and people always want to know how we got her to respond on cue. Well, here is the trade secret revealed. Layton Burton and I worked on those spots and Michelle did not respond on cue, so we shot a master tape and then inserted Michelle’s parts inside the master. The entire thing was shot out of sequence. And that is how you work with an actor who is only four and can’t remember her lines. Oh, and people always ask how much money she was paid for those ads? We are a Scottish family and we do not believe in spoiling our children with large sums of money. Anyways, she couldn’t count very high at the time so I think she got some fish and chips at Butler’s for her efforts.

• Garden Tip Number Two: Reader Sherrie Tutty sent this one in. She returned from a holiday to find seven ant hills in her lawn. She sprinkled ‘Equal’ onto the hills and only an odd straggler survived. According to Sherrie, artificial sweeteners with Aspartame work just fine as an ant killer, which makes me think twice about putting the stuff in my coffee.

• Thinking of other poisonous products: I was leaving DJ Paving Stones retail lot the other day and what did I spy a block away? A three or four year old boy in his front yard with a Double Big Gulp in his hands. The drink was almost as big as he was. This flabbergasts me! Why would any parent allow a child to consume sixty-four ounces of a sugar saturated soda pop? Do they not understand how addictive sugar can be? Those parents are setting their child up for a future that will in all likelihood entail obesity, dental issues, diabetes, attention deficit syndrome and hyper activity. Now, I might be on the soap box with this one, but it really rips me apart. I absolutely believe, allowing a child that much sugar is child abuse. I stuck my nose into this muck one time, and I asked one mother who was putting Coke into her baby’s bottle why she was doing that? Her answer: “He likes it.”

• Readers who took the time to write in this week: Lyn Goldman, Paula Grolle, Ingrid Thiessen, Marg Hryniuk, Roberta Nichol, Gail Aubin (Carman), Cary Rubenfeld (Winnipeg), Cheryl Hutton (Calgary) who wrote “you have a wonderful way of letting your readers in on the here and now”, Cheryl Ann Smith (England) who is on a religious pilgrimage and is offering up prayers for me, Colette Nichol (Ecuador), Jodi Sadowsky, Dave Calam’, Sherry Tutty, Murray Wallace, Michelle Jackson (my lovely niece), my cousin Judy Kerr, Dani Mario, Denise Cook, Denise Mirva, someone named Jackie, and John Huston (Toronto). John wanted to know what ‘deadheading’ means. It is the removal of the spent flower. ‘Pinching’ is the removal of the stem and the flower that while not dead, is past its’ prime.

• Blooming this week are lilies and delphiniums. There is a wonderful Lily Society in Regina if you are interested in learning about this easy to grow, summer blooming bulb. The linden trees are getting oh, so very close to blooming, but not just yet. Saskatoons are ready in some areas but not all. Strawberries are more or less done for a month then we should be getting another, smaller crop. Beets, smaller carrots, smaller onions, a few peas and fresh lettuce are showing up at The Farmer’s Market. The beets were just fine but the baby carrots lacked their usual, sweet flavor. I don’t know if it was the variety or the year. I will of course be trying them next week. Has anyone else noticed how addictive fresh, young carrots from the garden can be? Okay, not Dairy Queen Blizzard addictive, but at least compelling.

• This one can be filed under too much time on my hands. When I see on my call display that it is a 1-800 number, I have been answering “RCMP Drug Squad.” When the telemarketer continues, I ask him point blank if he wants to report a crime in progress. They usually mumble “wrong number, sorry” and hang up. If they ask for Maureen, I tell them she passed away this morning and that I am the minister arranging the funeral service. Then I ask the marketer if he or she would like to express condolences to the family. There is usually a strained silence before they apologize and hang up. For the record, she is alive and well.

• My, oh my, how disconnected we are from our food supply. Rick, the organic veggie farmer at the market told me that people have been asking for a few weeks if the corn is ready? For those who don’t get it, the question compares to asking if Santa Claus is expected soon. It is just way too early for both Santa and the local corn.

• We are growing peppermint in our raised herb garden and adding a sprig to our sun tea. Very, very tasty. Some of you have been interested in my mention last week of lemon thyme. Beautiful herb for pork, chicken, fish and vegetables. It does not really work on beef. I take lemon thyme, oregano, basil, garlic and I mash them up with a bit of lemon juice or fresh limes and olive oil. I make it fairly thick. I brush that on the pork or the chicken about ten minutes before the meat is finished when I am barbecuing. Fresh basil is a must with garden tomatoes. Fresh rosemary and chicken were made for each other by the way.

• Speaking of oregano, my friend Nicky Makris of Nicky’s Café fame is closed down for the month of July. He is renovating his diner and hopes to be reopened in early August. Nicky is one of those ‘proud to be a Canadian’ immigrants who would give the proverbial shirt off of his back, if you needed it. He told me when he flew back from his holiday in Greece, he landed at Toronto’s airport. He walked out of the terminal and he kissed the parking meter. I asked him “why?” And his answer: “Because I was back in Canada.” Another time I asked Nicky how many English words he knew in 1964 when he first arrived. He said: “Six, but five I couldn’t say in public.”

• Enjoy the summer gardens…Rod McDonald

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Garden Report #6

July 11, 2010

• Gardening above all else, should be fun. I have had two separate conversations this week with people who have taken on more than they can handle, and their gardens now own them. I have found in my garden, that there should be enough work for me to break into a good sweat, and enough time for me to sit on the swing, enjoying a cold glass of sun tea. There is a reason why I employ so much groundcover. Because it is very little work and it covers a lot of territory. If I were to replace all of the groundcover with annuals, I would have to add a few more hours to the day, just to weed and to deadhead. You should always own the garden. The garden should never own you. Philosophy 101.

• SCN is still on the air and ‘Prairie Gardens with Rod McDonald’ is still being broadcast every Friday at six p.m. There were twenty-six episodes shot and they rotate them. Viewers are still watching the show as they stop me in the street to ask about plants showcased on the series.

• I never know how my writing will influence someone. Some of you might remember my column that appeared every week in The Regina Free Press back in 1997 and 1998. One of those columns was about The MS 150 Bike Tour, a fundraiser for multiple sclerosis. I told the readers how much fun it was to be on the ride. A reader told me this week that her girlfriend, while never having met me, read the column and has been biking on the tour ever since.

• Boys are easier to raise than girls. I really thought that line last week would generate a strong debate. Not a chance. Got three emails, all agreeing with me. Gail Aubin, a reader from Carman in southern Manitoba, writes that she has three sons and that her twin boys graduated high school this June. She said for a hundred bucks each, Moore’s outfitted them with the tux, the shoes and the socks and the tie. Her friends who had daughters, spent around $1500 for their girls. Which proves, boys are cheaper to raise than girls.

• Transplanting? Always a great argument over spring versus fall. For the most part, all books and seminars will tell you that spring transplanting of existing material is the best. Having written that, one day several years ago, I was really ticked with my underperforming day lilies. I decided that I would transplant them. One problem. It was the middle of August and it was 32 in the shade. It was the middle of the afternoon and there was not a cloud in site. I dug up around thirty of them and they found a new home in a much brighter, sunny area. I gave them a good soaking and never lost one of them. In fact, those day lilies have been the mother plants for at least a hundred roots that I have since given away to friends and neighbors. What is the secret to good transplanting? Take as big of a root ball as you can handle. Simple as that.

• The following people took the time to write this week: Gail Bowen, Dave Calam’, Chris Pasterfield’, Cheryl Ann Smith (England), Casey Van Vloten (Vancouver), Cheryl Hutton (Calgary), Audrey Drummond, Ella McIntyre, Murray Wallace, Gail Aubin (Carman, Man.), Jack Tunnicliffe, Joan Kortje, June Mayhew, Ken McCaw, Kathleen Irwin, Marg Hryniuk, Marcus Fernando (Croatia), Marsha Kennedy, Carlo Giambatista, Paula Grolle, Peg St. Godard, Roberta Nichol, Susan Rollins, Laura Ross and Roberta Cox. Thank you for taking the time.

• Our old friend Gursh Madhur, who used to rule the roost from her command post at Access Seven was back in town for a few days and she telephoned. She is now Gursh Barnard, after her marriage to David, who is The President of The University of Manitoba. Two years ago, Gursh and David’s home in Winnipeg was being renovated so they moved into an apartment for the summer. One week, she kept saying to David, “I hear Rod McDonald’s voice, over and over again.” David assured Gursh that she was losing her grip with reality. At week’s end, David discovered that Maureen and I were renting the apartment across from theirs and that every day for an hour, I read the script from my play out loud and then for another hour, I recited my lines. Doing those two things helped to keep me sharp for that evening’s performance as we were on tour. My line reads were bleeding through the walls ever so slightly, just enough for Gursh to imagine she could hear me. We had a coffee and a good laugh before heading out on the road.

Garden Tip: For lawns in shady areas, I have been using 17-20-0-15 fertilizer (which has now been relabeled as 17-19-0-14), available from CPS Distributors on McDonald Street North. I apply five pounds per thousand square feet in early May, mid June and again in mid August. I find the sulphur (the fourth number) seems to help in greening everything up without making the grass grow an inch every day.

• Blooming this week: My very exotic Martagon Lily. This is one the few lilies to thrive in the shade. It finishes out in the three to four feet range and while it is not the prettiest girl of the lily family, it is an unusual one. Mine is a hard to describe shade of red with downward facing blooms. It has not yet multiplied as it is in only its third year but I am told it will. Japanese Tree Lilac is starting to show off all over the city. It is a medium sized tree with white blooms. There are some planted around Earl’s and near The Science Center. Lindens will be blooming soon as I see their buds forming. If you have never taken the time to smell the blooms of a linden tree, then do so this year. It will be a real treat. Some soap producers even use the oil from this bloom to scent their soaps. Absolutely lovely. Where to find some nice ones? In front of The Royal Saskatchewan Museum and there is also a gorgeous specimen located slightly west of the church at Elphinstone and Regina Avenue. Large leafed linden trees are also known as Basswood or American Basswood.

• In this week’s Garden Report, there are five photographs. Maureen took them but it was our friend Jodi Sadowsky who came over on Saturday and showed us how to save them. In the land of the blind, the one eyed is truly king, or queen in this case. Thank you, Jodi.

• With no sense of irony, The Garden Report this week is being written from my laptop computer in the garden. While I drink my coffee, the robins are busy sharing the strawberry patch and there is one random white butterfly floating around the ‘Morden Sunrise’ Rose. The sun is shining in its full glory and there is no wind. Maureen is reading the paper from her spot on the swing. Murphy, the orange cat, stretches out on the back steps, waiting for some innocent soul to scratch his tummy…and then he will launch his attack!

• Because of my appearance, I am often mistaken as being German or Dutch. When I walk past the Lufthansa or the KLM Desk at The Toronto Airport, people often address me in one of those two languages. It rarely happens here but yesterday I was in Maple Leaf Bakery and this grandmother starts a conversation with me, in German. I stood there with a stupid grin on my face, nodding appropriately. Finally, I picked up a loaf of bread and said one word “pumpernickel”. I thought that my lack of a German accent would indicate to this woman that we should carry on our conversation in English. Nope. With that one word of “pumpernickel” she launched into quite an animated diatribe as to why I should be buying rye bread and not pumpernickel. I actually seemed to understand what she was saying, but I still had to defend my choice in English. She didn’t miss a beat in the argument and went on to explain, in German, how wrong I was.

• There are many yellow potentilla blooming right now. The two most dominant are ‘Goldfinger’ which has the larger blooms, the size of a loony; and ‘Coronation Triumph’ which has blooms the size of a dime. Interesting to note that ‘Coronation Triumph’ which is grown all over the world was developed in Indian Head, by the late Mr. Walker.

• With our very late spring, some of you did not plant your annuals or if you did, you lost many of them to the wet, the cold and the hail. Do not be discouraged. Even though it is getting towards the middle of July, there is still time left to plant some of your yard. There are lots of nice plants available at the greenhouses and the garden centers and yes, I am following my own advice. I found a lovely pot of Thai basil labeled as ‘Siam Basil’ at The Farmers’ Market yesterday. It was planted within the hour.

• Writing of herbs, we grilled some lovely, thick pork chops the other night. For a finish to the grilling, I combined basil, lemon thyme and oregano from my garden with lemon juice and olive oil. I brushed the concoction onto the meat and it was so tasty. As you know, I love my big flavors.

• Is there anything that hot peppers do not improve? Okay, maybe porridge, I’ll give you that one.

• Tough one to mention but desperate times call for desperate actions. As most of you know, I was diagnosed with renal failure in 2001. I have been on dialysis, nine hours every night for the last three years, which replaces around fifteen per cent of my kidney function. Bottom line is that I am sick. I am on the list, a very long list, waiting for a cadaveric transplant. I have had six people volunteer to donate one of their kidneys as living donors, but no one was a suitable candidate. For some people, donating a kidney is not a difficult decision but for most of us, it is one filled with intense anxiety. I don’t know if I would have ever been willing to donate one of mine, except perhaps to my kids. Having written that, I know how difficult it is to read this request, let alone consider it. If you would be willing to entertain the idea and you wish to explore it further, you can contact The Saskatchewan Transplant Clinic. Possible candidates have to be in good health, under seventy years of age, blood type of A or O, be related to me or have an ‘emotional attachment’ to me. There can never be any money exchanged for the ‘gift of life’ and there can never be any coercion. Tough one to read, tough one to write but you get to a point where you are sick enough that you lower your false sense of pride and reach out to a wider community.

• Coercion, to save you time from looking it up, is me reminding you that I caught you smoking in the boys’ washroom in Grade Nine and that I am quite willing to tell your mom about it now.

• We went for a lovely bicycle ride to Grandma’s house today and we had one of Sharon Wallace’s Saskatoon pies in tow. As we rode along the bike path, we stopped to chat with a gardener whose yard backs onto The Royal Regina Golf Course. She told us that this year, her radishes are growing leaves as never before but the roots or edible bulb is not developing. When we got to Grandma’s house (my mom) we had a nice little visit. Mom is 88 and going strong. Her memory is still intact, both long term and short term. I am waiting for it to slip a little and then I plan to tell her stories of how well behaved I was as a teenager. As of this afternoon, Mom insists that I was an excellent child until the age of two…and then things started to go wrong. Funny, that is not how I remember it at all.

• Question of the week: Why is it that 98% of the people who wear spandex to ride their bicycles, shouldn’t? Cotton for me until I lose thirty pounds!

• Found a white leafed dieffenbachia this week and I planted it in a pot. It sure makes everything around it seem brighter. White is a great color for making things pop. Purple tulips never look so purple as when you plant a few white tulips in amongst them. We use white impatiens to separate our stronger colors.

• Here is one for the ‘people are strange column’. My friend Jan Pederson owned Shelmerdine Garden Center in Winnipeg. He was being interviewed on the radio about Christmas plants, specifically poinsettias. He mispronounced the name as point-settia instead of poin-settia which is correct. The next day, a woman called to bawl him out over his mispronunciation. Jan agreed that he had made a mistake and then he asked her if she did this sort of thing often. Phoned up people who had mispronounced words on the radio. She told him yes, yes she did. Speaking of the grammar police, reader June Mayhew points out that I referred to Fibber Magee as Fiber Magee last week. Fibber, at his age, does need more fiber. True enough.

Thanks for reading this week and happy gardening…Rod McDonald

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Garden Report #5

July 4th, 2010

• Once again, a sincere thank you to everyone who has taken the time to respond to ‘The Garden Report’. Lynn Shaw and I chatted in the middle of Angus Blvd. and she expressed how pleased she is to receive this blog. Kelly Pierson has been forwarding a copy to her friends and says they are enjoying it. Fifteen others took the time to email their comments.

• Our neighbor, Laura Ross and her husband Terry dropped by with family on Canada Day to check out our garden. Laura was very kind, proclaiming it to be the finest in town (humility never being my strong suit). While the garden is still suffering from the hail storm, Laura and Terry understood as they live only two houses down and theirs was hit, as well. Congratulations to Laura on her promotion to cabinet minister.

• Also dropping by for a garden visit was Roberta Nichol. Maureen was home so the two of them enjoyed a chat on the swing. Did you know that Roberta has retired from her teaching career? Her last day occurred this past week and now she has the time to garden and hopefully resurrect her singing career. For those who were not at The Folk Festival in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Roberta was a featured performer and she is one talented lady.

• Weeds, weeds, weeds! Ten of you took the time to file complaints with me about weeds in your gardens, as if I am ‘The Commissioner for Weeds’. (RCMP readers, please do not misinterpret the word ‘weed’.) Here is what I have to report. Our friend and reader, Ingrid Thiessen sent me photographs and information on the blue flowered weed that has taken over Lakeview. It is out of the campanula family and is known as bluebell, not to be confused with the ornamental bluebells. I managed to delete the photo of the blue bell weed, sorry.

• Another weed that gardeners are complaining about has a heart shaped or arrow shaped leaf and it twines itself around plants. It is field bindweed though Mike Liske’s crew over at The Classic Landscape Company have named it ‘strangler weed’, which is very appropriate and descriptive.

• Reader Marg Hryniuk sent along a photo of the scentless chamomile which has taken over many areas of the city. Marg reports that she has found to her horror, people actually cultivating the plant. It is considered a noxious and invasive weed by The Department of Agriculture. I have included a photo of the weed that Marg forwarded. Scentless chamomile should not be confused with the oxalis daisy. Scentless chamomile has stringy leaves as you can see in the photo whereas the oxalis daisy has broad leaves.

• Blooming this week and last: Mock Orange! Lovely medium sized shrub that grows around six feet tall (sometimes a bit more) with white blooms from June 25 until July 10th every year. When a gardener cuts the blooms and places them in a vase with water, the entire house will be filled with the smell of oranges the next morning, thus its name. There is not a lot to recommend this shrub other than its blooms. Maureen and I went for a walk through the neighborhood on Tuesday last, to count the mock oranges and there were many to be seen. We also found a house on McCallum cultivating the scentless chamomile. I should alert Marg.

• Also blooming this week are most people’s roses. I only have one, a ‘Morden Sunrise’ which while not fully hardy, has performed well for me for ten years. I do cover it up with lots of peat moss every fall and then pile on the snow.

• I received two inquires regarding poor blooming peonies this week. Here are the details for growing peonies. First, your peony root must contain three to five eyes for it to bloom in its first few years. Second, it must be planted in lots of sun. Peonies in the shade live but do not bloom well. Third, peonies must not be planted too deep as this slows down their bloom time. That is the basics. If you love peonies, there is a peony society in town.

• Writing about peonies, reminds me of our gardening friend Bernie Zaharic, who can be heard on CBC Radio One. Bernie values his peonies and does not hesitate to spend a hundred dollars or more for a rare variety. He had one of those rare ones planted in the front yard and became so nervous about plant rustlers that he moved it to the safety of the back. Now, before you start to laugh, any good gardener will confirm that I am not making up the term ‘plant rustler’. It is what we call plant thieves. Our neighbor across the street was recently raided for some prized plants and so have I been victimized. When I had Lakeview Gardens, I would drive into the parking lot around 6:30 a.m. to find that my test flower beds in the parking lot had been raided by shady (pun intended) gardeners. They had arrived at five a.m. How you can tell the difference between gardeners and vandals is gardeners always clean up after themselves. They actually take the time to fill in the hole and rake it even. How considerate.

• You don’t have to steal these, I will give them to you. I have two pots of day neutral strawberries and two pots of daylilies to share with readers. They were dug out of my garden to make room for tomatoes.

• After watching the news and reading the paper, I am reluctant to complain about my hail damage. Those unfortunate souls in Saskatoon, Maple Creek, Yorkton and Kawakatoose Reserve have been severely impacted by mother nature. The reporter covering the storms for CBC Television has been Dani Mario. She is a lovely, young woman who is doing a very good job for CBC. I coached Dani at the boxing club when she was fifteen so every time I see her on television, I have a ‘proud papa’ moment.

• Speaking of fifteen year old girls…I have never regretted that we had three sons, all of whom gave us a run for our money through their teens. What we went through was nothing compared to what my friends who have daughters have had to endure. I make this statement without hesitation: Boys are easier to raise than girls. That should get a few responses.

• I try to drop by The Italian Star Deli every Saturday and of course, Carlos is always a real treat to visit. Another person who treats me very well when I am there is Luanne. She has been employed at the deli for many years and is one of my favorites to assist me. Even though her name doesn’t sound it, she is very, old school Italian and knows her cheeses and deli meats. I thought that someone as nice as her deserves a plug in The Garden Report.

• Murphy had his vet visit this week. He reports that the car ride was absolutely no fun and that he complained about it the entire time, but that no one listened. The vet decided that Murphy is a little on the large side (eighteen pounds) and Murphy decided we need a new vet. Murphy also wants all of the readers to know “at least he had the decency to check the temperature in my ear instead of my…you know…other end. Way less humiliating! How would he like it if I stuck a cold thermometer in his rear?”

• Planted my basil for the third time. It really does not like cold and wet. Some people have planted their cucumbers three times as well.

It still makes me laugh when I hear people say they never lose a plant, that they are perfect gardeners. Perfect ‘Fiber McGee’s’ is more apt.

• How to grow beautiful geraniums: Plant in full sun. Water well. Fertilize regularly. Be a ‘heavy pincher.’ Don’t be afraid to reach in and take a depleted flower, stem and all, as close to the main part of the plant as possible. This encourages new blooms.

• Saw some lovely begonias in color shades I have not seen before at Sherwood Greenhouses. Excellent plants at this business.

• Sad to see The Book and Briar closing its doors at the end of July. The pressure from electronic books, Amazon, Costco and Chapters all made it difficult for this independent to survive. Bookstores are going the way of small hardware stores and greenhouses. When they are gone, we will miss them. Costco sells popular books at a discount but are they going to carry local authors or those specialty books that only sell a few copies in each location? Or will they special order something for you? I think not.

• Watering: Always a difficult answer. When it is warm, every three to five days for most planted items. Hanging baskets and containers should be checked every day. When it is cooler, once a week is usually adequate. Use your common sense more than hard and fast rules. Don’t be one of those people who give their dieffenbachia a cup and a half of water every Tuesday and then don’t know why it is not doing well. Also, morning watering is always better than any other time. Deep watering is always preferable to shallow watering.

• Summer in the city. I know that the noise level increases every summer. I have lived on this corner for thirty-seven years and we border Regina Avenue and are very close to Albert Street. But this year, we have more idiots on motorcycles than ever before, letting us know they are cruising the strip with their ‘vroom vroom’ throttles. Surprisingly, the worst offenders are not punks or street trash, rather they are middle aged dudes experiencing a second childhood on their Harley’s. To top that off, there are these ‘boom box’ stereos with four wheels that cruise by. You know the ones that shake your windows and rattle your bones. I have often thought it would be a great idea for my neighbors and I to capture one of these drivers and restrain him in my basement while we play Lawrence Welk medleys or Don Ho’s ‘Tiny Bubbles’ over and over on a continuous loop. But that would just be plain wrong. Grump. Grump.

• Happy Gardening…Rod McDonald