Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Garden Report #34

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

• Writers write: I want to thank all of you for your emails, cards and attendance at mom’s funeral. Your support is appreciated. The one realization that I would like to share, having gone through this cycle of life in the last week, is: Our bodies are really and truly, only a shell that houses our spirit and soul. Nothing more. And when that shell is finished, we still exist. We are spiritual entities that occupy a human form but for a short period of time.

Rod's Garden towards sunset with Murphy's tail
• Readers Write: Itinerant actor and reader John Huston wrote into say that a wonderful part of the slow food movement exists at ‘The New Ground Café’ in Birch Hills, south of Prince Albert. John says it is worth the visit if you are in that area. Beth Pelletier is writing to us from her winter home in Texas. Beth writes that the Tucson shootings didn’t even make the front page of her local paper. She says that there is a real disconnect between Texas and the rest of the world. Sarah Willis out of Toronto, is afraid to comment on why women sniff underwear to ascertain if they are clean, less I quote her. I have no idea where Sarah would obtain an idea such as that one. Sherrie Tutt was wondering about Yorkshire Pudding. It is exceptionally easy to make. Anyone can do it. Regular reader Stew Wass from Indian Head says, one day he will send in an update of what is happening in his town, gardening wise. Stew says he really enjoys The Garden Report and he reads it upon arrival every Sunday. Marcus Fernando is holidaying in Cornwall, on the south coast of England. I asked Marcus if he is anywhere near the filming for ‘Doc Martin’ and he has never watched the show! So he was not able to answer. Imagine, a Brit not watching ‘Doc Martin’. I love that show. Patient: “Am I going to die?” Doc Martin: “Yes, but not today.”

• Good Coffee: Reader Jan Pederson is the former owner of Shelmerdine’s, a premier garden center in Winnipeg. He sold it, but you can’t keep a good man down so he went to work for Byland’s, a wholesale nursery. He travels a lot. Jan weighed in on the coffee issue. He recommends the following as being good choices for our addicted readers. In St. Andrews, ‘The Café at Lower Fort Garry Garden Center’. In Dauphin, ‘Scotty’s Bakery’. In Steinbach, ‘Oakridge Greenhouses’. In Prince Albert, ‘Great Western Coffee Company’. In Biggar, ‘Weasie’s Gourmet Blend’. In Saskatoon, ‘The Fine Art Café’ at Lansdowne and 14th. Thank you Jan (pronounced Yan).

• Good line: I ran into a friend who is taking chemo treatments for her cancer. She told me that chemotherapy can affect your brain for awhile. I asked her how so. Her response was great: “Not only am I making stupid decisions, but I am doing so quite slowly.” You have to laugh or you might cry.

• Democracy in Action: Regular readers know that I am not a fan of call in radio shows. It is not that I am opposed to people voicing their opinions. I do support democracy. What I am opposed to is stupid people voicing their opinions. There is this entire subculture of people who call into these shows and hold court on subjects they have no experience with. Rex Murphy had a relief worker from Haiti on the air this past Sunday. The guest was thoughtful, compassionate and a caring person. Then Rex opened up the phone lines.  There is a major difference between asking questions of the guest and staging a polemic. They should have taken the amphetamines away from the first caller ‘cause he was flying high. So, why don’t I just turn the show off? Well, you have to be aggravated by something.

• Bread news: The new Orange Boot Bakery has opened on Gordon Road and Queen Street. It is producing artisan breads. Reader June Blau has purchased a few loaves and raves about the quality. Don over at Lakeview Fine Foods tells me that he will be stocking some baguettes from Koko’s in the next two weeks, along with a sourdough loaf. Koko’s bakes a fine product as well.

• Johnny Cake: Reader Iris Sirke wants Maureen’s recipe for this piece of heaven. Maureen provided it with this comment: “It’s like giving up one of my kids.” Now, I love my kids as well, but I would not hesitate to trade any one of them for a taste of this. Below is Maureen’s recipe.

Maureen’s Johnny Cake Recipe

Preheat oven to 400, warm the pan for 15-20 minutes, preferably a cast iron fry pan(the older the better!)

3/4c cornmeal

1 1/4c milk

1c all purpose flour

1/3c sugar

1tbsp baking powder

1/2tsp salt (optional)


1/4c vegetable oil

Combine cornmeal and milk. Let stand 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in larger bowl. Add egg/vegetable oil to cornmeal mixture and mix well. Add to dry ingredients stirring just until combined. Fill greased pan (this was in the oven preheating) and bake until golden brown. Cut into wedges and slather with butter, syrup or whatever your preference.

• Strange times: At The Edmonton Fringe Festival, several years back, a small, fundamentalist church decided to protest one of the plays being performed. They had a picket line marching back and forth in front of the venue. As The Fringe in Edmonton is an incredible mixture of street performers and lunatics, most people assumed the protestors were a part of The Fringe. And in a strange way, they were. Their protest brought added attention to this particular play and it quickly sold out, curiosity being a strong motivator. The protestors would harangue the people who were in line to see the show, but most people thought it was all part of the ‘set up’. The preamble to the production itself. Having witnessed the success obtained by this show, due in no small part to the protest, I was tempted to ‘rat myself out’. I gave serious thought to calling the church and informing them that my show too, was filled with heresy, blasphemy and anti-Christian bias. It wasn’t’, but I was quite willing to say so, to provoke a picket line outside of the theater. Shame is not something that comes easily to most impresarios.

• Strange times are not new: During the 1950’s and ‘60’s, book publishers would often promote a book with the heading of “banned in Boston!” The inference being that it contained some racy material (the good stuff) and thus, promoted sales.

• Gay Marriage: Saskatchewan’s highest court has weighed in on the Marriage Commissioners’’ legal obligation to provide a service for same sex couples. I am not going to proffer an opinion on that particular issue as it has been thoroughly discussed in most media. It did provoke this observation from me. Over the years, there have been a small number of same sex couples who have lived in the neighborhood. Their houses have always been well maintained. Their eves trough are not hanging off of the roof, you never wonder when they will be painting their garage and their gardens are often the finest in the area. In short, gay couples have made excellent neighbors. Now, if only I could get those damned heterosexual neighbors to clean up their yards! I trust that my readers do not believe for one moment that I am prejudiced against opposite sex couples. After all, some of my best friends are straight. And after thirty years with the same woman, there are some within the community who would suggest that I might be heterosexually inclined as well. Hopefully, I will not have Bill Walcott outside my door protesting my secret sin, that I like to kiss a pretty girl and take her dancing on New Year’s Eve. I believe that I have just ‘outed’ myself.

Power Surge Mum

• The photos: Courtesy of Jeffries Nursery in Portage la Prairie, are two photos. Power Surge Mum is part of The Firecracker Mum Series. It produces a series of double red flowers that rejuvenate the fall garden. Mums bloom in early September. The second photo is of Hotwings, a small tree that is tolerant of drought and alkaline soil (which we have in the Regina area). It has dark green leaves with bright red samaras at the end of the branches. It is a selection from the Tatarian Maples which are similar to Amur Maple. The third photo is of my back garden, the view towards Angus Street. Murphy’s tail is in the foreground. I thought it might be a good time to present this photo, what with all the snow on the ground.

Hot Wings Tatarian Maple
 • Garden Tip: A few readers have expressed concern over the mounting level of snow and wonder how it will affect their garden. The heavy snow load will cause a bit of damage on some shrubs. They may be bent and a few branches will be broken. For the most part, the shrubs will recover from this physical stress by mid June. Perennials and bulbs will come through this winter with higher than average survival rates as the snow acts as a wonderful insulation blanket. Of course, there will be an increased amount of damage due to the snow melt and lower lying gardens will lose some plants to drowning. There will probably be an increased amount of snow mould on lawns as the weight of the snow will create favorable conditions. The best thing to do is to rake the snow mold (white cotton threads) off of the lawn as soon as is possible. Then reseed and fertilize.

• Garden Tip: With the very real possibility of flooding this spring, it would be a wise decision to purchase a pump before they are all sold out. I suspect that many of us will be draining parts of our yard out to the street, to protect our gardens and basements.

• Garden Tip: Reader Rhonda Rein wrote in to ask about using mayonnaise to clean house plant leaves. She had heard about this from a neighbor, many years ago. This ‘tip’ has been around for years and it resurfaces every now and again. Here is the situation. If you use a bit of mayonnaise to wipe your houseplant’s leaves, they will initially look very good. They will be quite shiny from the oil in the mayonnaise. After a short period of time, that oil will plug up the breathing pores of the leaf, preventing it from engaging in oxygen exchanges. Best to clean your house plants by placing them in the shower and giving them a rinse with plain water if not too dirty or you can use a weak solution of dish soap to wash the leaves if they are particularly dirty and then rinse with plain water. There are a number of leaf shine products on the market including one made by Miracle Gro. These products are not harmful to most house plants and they do leave your leafs with a shiny, green luster. Here is the question: Do you want your house plants to look natural or do you want them to have a shiny, almost plastic and thus artificial appearance to them? Most people prefer to have their plants with the natural look.

• Garden Tip: Another reason to give your houseplant a shower every now and again is to reduce spider mites. Spider mites love a dry environment and they detest a high humidity one. Spaying your plants with a mister is a good idea as it makes the plant less hospitable to those pesky spider mites. The same applies to spider mites in your cedars, outdoors. Hosing them off on a weekly basis chases some of the bugs away. And it’s organic, too. Might as well engage in some political correctness.

• Minifie Lecture: This year’s speaker was Anna Maria Tremonti and her topic was on taking back journalism. She maintains that many journalists are afraid to write the truth because if they do, their access to politicians will be restricted. She spoke about her coverage of war and conflicts, and regardless of the side, people want a good life for their children. It was well attended, which is the norm for this annual series.

Thanks for reading…Rod McDonald in Regina

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Garden Report #33

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

• Writers Write: Last Tuesday afternoon, I got a call from my sister. My mom was slipping away. All of the family were there to hold her hand, to say their goodbyes. She was almost eighty-nine. Mom enjoyed a sharp mind until the very end. Sometimes it was too sharp, especially when she would recall something I had done when I was fifteen. A writer should know what to say when a loved one is getting ready to start on a new journey. Something profound or creative. After all, we deal in words. All I could muster was “thank you for being my mom.” Mom had made it clear that when it was her time to go, not to keep her here. Her time was four p.m. The children she had brought into this world held her, as she took her last breath. It was quiet. She was at peace.

Rod and Mom at her grandson's wedding last summer

• Readers Write: Morag Armbruster writes in to say that she totally supports the slow food movement. They have rid themselves of their microwave and the cooking time does not appear longer and the food tastes better. Marsha Kennedy has been looking for a good breakfast joint and she is going to try Nicky’s, which was on the ‘best of’ list in #32. Both Marg Hryniuk and Heather Lowe wrote in to nominate their choices for best honey. Marg thinks Three Bees Honey which is sold at Lakeview Fine Foods is excellent and Heather has been buying honey for her ‘honey’ from Michelle at ZeeBee Honey. ZeeBee can be purchased at Sarah Willis writes from Burlington, Ontario that ‘Breaking Bad’ is her favorite television show. Kevin and Janine Gray are readers from California. They wrote to say they enjoy The Garden Report, especially the humor. Mike Liske wrote in requesting my tomato soup recipe. I had to tell him that it is not a recipe as much as it is a guide. I rarely make the same dish identical to its first incantation. On the food topic, I did mention in last week’s Report that Maureen had not baked Johnny Cake (corn bread) on Sunday morning. Believe it or not, when I awoke Monday morning, I could smell that oven baked piece of heaven wafting upstairs. Now, what else can I write that will get some action around here? Trevor Langen disagrees with my rating of Harden/Huyse above Bernard Callebaut in chocolate shops. Reader Michiel Verheul from High Q Greenhouses in Alberta wrote: “I am happy that you added me to your Garden Report. I like you poking fun at the Dutch (Michiel is very Dutch)…they are used to it and will flourish and survive.” Who has been poking fun at the Dutch? I would never do that because the Dutch make us Scots look as if we are big spenders. Roberta Nichol produced her own ‘best of’ list. Noelle Chorney who edits that wonderful gardening magazine ‘Gardening for the Prairies’ out of Saskatoon, wrote in to say that great cappuccino can be found at The Mendel in Saskatoon and at a place called Café Sola.

• Great to be Canadian: Sad to watch the news reports of the shootings in Tucson, Arizona. Six people are dead all because of easy access to guns. In Canada, gun culture revolves around hunting, not the right to bear arms. People do not walk around with guns in Canada, as a rule. We do not have them in our glove compartments, underneath our front seats or in our night stands. This is not to write that we never have a shooting or even a mass shooting in Canada. We did have our Montreal massacre in 1989, but deaths from guns are rare occurrences. Added into the television coverage from Tucson was the political rallies where people arrived with their guns in hand…because they believe they have that right! In Canada, an upset driver might flip off someone who cuts them off in traffic, but they don’t shoot the offending driver.

• Garden Tip: Reader June Blau is wondering if due to the tomato blight, one needs to replace their garden top soil. The blight is wind spread so changing the top soil will not improve the crop. However, it is always best, if you can, rotate your crops within your garden. There has been anecdotal evidence that the heirloom tomato varieties showed resistance to the blight. Heirloom tomatoes are ‘open pollinated’.

• Garden Tip: Reader Marsha Kennedy wanted to know about pruning a plant that is getting too tall. It is always best to prune a tall plant to control its height before it gets to the final stage. Nothing is less attractive than a plant that has been ‘topped’. It looks very unnatural. If your plant is a multi stemmed plant, remove the tallest stem so that a shorter one takes over to become the ‘leader’. On occasion, you can train another stem to become a leader. Always best to make any cut on an angle rather flat across.

Garden Tip: I can’t get over how many readers have written in to say that my tip regarding watering poinsettias gave them the best plant they have ever had. Just how many plants were you people killing? The tip applies to most plants. Simply place your potted plant into a sink, filled with two inches of water. Let it absorb as much as it needs for ten minutes. This method stops overwatering which is harmful to all plants. Your pot must have drainage holes in the bottom for this to work, or did I need to write that?

• Good concert: Jack Semple who is an incredible guitarist, has a concert on at The Royal Saskatchewan Museum on Saturday, February 12th. If you have never heard Jack play, you will be impressed. The boy has fast fingers.

• Great venue: One of our best venues for concerts and theater in Regina is at The Royal Saskatchewan Museum. It is a decent size in that it holds 280 people in comfortable seats. It has some very clean washrooms, well lit parking and good acoustics. I have produced quite a few shows there and I always received great cooperation from the staff.

Red Lion Amaryllis
• Garden Tip: No matter how lovely your poinsettia is still looking, it is time to bring a bit of fresh spring into the home. Check to see if there are any spring bulbs available in pots. Things like tulips, daffodils and crocus all brighten up the house as do primulas, mums and begonias. Some new plants will give most people’s spirits a lift.

• Good eats: Last Sunday I was motivated to create an old fashioned Sunday supper complete with prime rib (sorry my vegan friends), roasted carrots, green salad, boiled corn, pickles and my first attempt at Yorkshire pudding. I love that stuff but never knew how easy it is to make. Here is the recipe: combine three eggs with a cup of milk, then add in a cup of flour. Mix and set aside. Pre heat the oven to 375, take a muffin tin or a loaf pan, add in a teaspoon of butter into each muffin compartment and let it melt in the preheated oven for about five minutes. Bring the muffin tin out of the oven, fill the compartments with mix and bake for five minutes at the 375. Then reduce the heat to 350 and bake for another 25 minutes. I actually like the loaf better as that is the way we made it at home, but the muffins do make for a better visual appearance. I served the Yorkshire pudding with a scratch gravy that I finished off with a teaspoon of horseradish. I find most gravies to be bland so I decided to pump it up with a bit of bite and it was fantastic. Drooling yet?

• Gender wars: One of the differences between men and women is that men will not sniff their underwear to see if they are clean. We just put them believing that they are ‘probably clean enough’.

• Thought for the day: The danger of singing our own praises is not that others will think we lack humility. No. The real danger is that most will think we are delusional.

• Thanks for reading this week…Rod in very snowy Regina

The Garden Report #32

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

The following ‘best of’ are very subjective and limited to my experiences, nonetheless, I venture forth.

• The best places to eat for big flavor: 1) Siam 2) The Greenspot 3)13th Avenue Coffee House

The worst places to eat: Any and all of the fast food joints which have directly contributed to the physical decay of our society. A bit ‘preachy’ but so what?

• Best ‘old school’ service: Lakeview Fine Foods, Colin O’Brian Men’s Wear, Dutch Cycle. All three are tops.

• Worst customer service experience of 2010: Rona

• Best things to do in the Regina summer: 1) Folk Festival 2) Fringe Festival 3) Kiss a pretty girl while on a walk around the lake 4) Bicycle ride through Wascana 5) Rider game

• Worst thing to do in the summer: The Exhibition- home of five dollar hot dogs, three dollar waters and some of the scariest people in the city.

• Best story teller of the year: Martin Dockery from New York, who was on his first Fringe tour. Very gifted. Performed at ‘The Artesian’.

• Best place for a diner breakfast: Nicky’s Café

• Best coffee: 1) My house, hands down 2) The Greenspot 3) Roca Jacks

• Best French fries: 1) Nicky’s 2) Bushwhacker’s 3) Butler’s

• Best comic actor on a television series: Jim Parsons (Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory)

• Best dramatic series on television: 1) Madmen 2) Rescue Me

• Best food show: Diners, Drive Ins and Dives

• Best sports show: ‘In the Huddle’ with Rod Pederson and John Lynch (better than any show on TSN)

• Best Leader Post columnist: Rob Vanstone

• Best local news anchor: 1) Manfred Joehnck 2) Costas Maragos

• Best bread: 1) A tie between Koko’s and Beer Brothers 2) The pumpernickel and sour rye from Maple Leaf

Best pastry: Lemon tarts from Koko’s

Best greenhouse: Sherwood Greenhouses and U and K at Indian Head

• Best new theater venue: The much needed and appreciated ‘Artesian’ on 13th Avenue.

• Best deli: The Italian Star

• Best thing to do on a Friday night: The Central Library’s Film Theater in the basement. Great films for six bucks and no junk food.

• Best hidden gem: Rotary Park-beautiful, serene and rarely busy.

• Best event on a Saturday morning: The Farmers’ Market

• Best new law of the century: No smoking in public places.

Best new law yet to be enacted: Ship motorcycle riders who insist on loud mufflers to the South Pole. They should take car alarm people with them.

• Best reason to not listen to the radio: Fan phone in shows.

• Best reason to listen to the radio: Randy Bachman and Stuart McLean

• Best honey: Wink Howland’s from the Yorkton area (Farmers’ Market)

• Best pies: Sharon Wallace’s ‘Apple, Pear and Ginger’ or her ‘Country Apple’ (Farmers’ Market)

• Best bread and butter pickles: Roberta Nichol’s – she doesn’t sell them but she should.

• Best local chocolates: Harden and Huyse

• Best Canadian chocolates: Purdy’s or Roger’s

• Worst parking: 1) The General Hospital 2) The Pasqua Hospital

• Best lingerie shop: No idea. Never thought about it.

• Best concert: Leonard Cohen in Saskatoon. Played from eight until almost midnight and didn’t cop attitude. Sheer talent and entertainment.

Best cappuccino I ever tasted: The Broadway Roastery in Saskatoon at Five Corners. Better than the best in Vancouver.

• Best cappuccino in Vancouver: The Continental on Commercial Drive.

Writers Write: Another Sunday afternoon. The wind is a cold one, blowing snow around the garden. The nooks of the sidewalk and the driveway are receiving their drifts. One pile is approaching two feet. Someone should shovel those drifts. This morning began as many of our Sundays, except there was no Johnny Cake for breakfast. The cook took the morning off. When she was a nurse, an actual RN, there was always Johnny Cake or waffles or French Toast or pancakes on Sunday morning. Now that she has retired and established herself as an artist, she does not feel the old traditions apply. So today, it is toasted bread from Calories in Saskatoon, served with Saskatoon jam and a Panama coffee that was a Christmas gift. I had to make it myself. That is how much our brunch has deteriorated. I barely have the strength to write. I told her that without the Johnny Cake, I would probably not be able to shovel the walks or take out the garbage all week. She glares at me. She hears idle threats. We listen to ‘The Vinyl Café’. She is stretched out on the couch. I am in the big chair, the lap top perched upon…well…my lap. I really thought taking her dancing on New Year’s Eve would entitle me to another year of good brunches. Life with an artist is not easy. Thank God us writers are able to adapt, otherwise there would be nothing to read.

• Readers Write: Denise Mirva writes “thanks for these entertaining, thought provoking and informative reports.” Paula Grolle had a different view of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ than I did. She wrote than when she was a young, single lady, whenever that song was played, she headed for the washroom to avoid being fondled by the young men she danced with. Darrell Komick who runs a farmers’ market in Calgary, writes that building community relations is the cornerstone of a great neighborhood. Right on, Darrell. Roberta Nichol thinks that guitarist Bob Evans is the epitome of humility. Roberta thinks Bob is a genius when it comes to music and I do not disagree. He is brilliant. We were in Saskatoon on Thursday and had a delicious lunch at Calories on Broadway. Janice Hutton who owns the bistro, told me that she reads The Garden Report sometimes. Sometimes? Regardless, we had some great soup, a Mexican styled one with beans and corn. Their wild rice bread and baguettes are now baked using organic flour. Both are wonderful to eat. Neil Vandendort wrote that he enjoys reading The Garden Report. Greetings also arrived from Marcus Fernando, Kirsten Van Ritzen, John Huston, Jean McKay and Georgia Hearn.

• Urban Renewal: There are a few new homes under construction in the neighborhood. This is a very good thing for all of us. The new homes are replacing lower valued homes, ones usually in need of much work. It is also a good thing because it shows that people have confidence in our neighborhood to build a new home. A neighborhood never stays the same, even if we want the status quo. It either is improving or it is declining. With new home construction, the market indicates the neighborhood is improving.

• Neighborhood in full cycle: When we moved into the neighborhood in February of 1973, the area was in decline. Several of the homes had been rented out, many were in need of repair and the population was leaning to the elderly side of the demographics. My cousin Duncan Fisher, lived in the house on the corner, by the bridge, as he still does today. I phoned Duncan before I bought my house and I expressed my concerns over the declining housing stock. Duncan said that he thought the neighborhood was just about to improve, that there would be a resurgence brought about by younger families moving in. Duncan was right. Within a few years of us purchasing, several of our friends also bought homes close by. The neighborhood went from having very few children to many. Soon, there were renovation vehicles on every block installing new roofs, painting, upgrading bathrooms and kitchens. That was the 1970’s and ‘80’s. Today, our children and the children they played with have all grown up. The neighborhood is again populated by people between fifty and eighty-five, most of us ‘empty nesters’. In the next few years, several homes will be sold to younger couples as our once young and formerly hip friends choose condo living. It’s just another cycle for the neighborhood. At one time, we were on the front end of the shift and now we are on the back end. Hey man, what happened? Answer: Time.

Slow food movement: I applaud local chef, Adam Sperling for running ads promoting the slow food movement. Adam is the owner of La Bodega on Albert Street and he has been promoting local ingredients, organics, green energy, healthy food and now slow food. As regular readers of The Garden Report realize, I am on my high horse when it comes to slow food. Our reliance upon fast food, both at the grab joints and at our homes has been detrimental to society. The increased levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure can all be connected to the fast food movement and industry. We have traded ledged convenience for our health. I use the word ‘ledged’ because it does not take very long to prepare your own soup, spaghetti sauce from scratch or a bit of salad dressing. I made a scratch tomato soup two weeks ago and I doubt if my prep time was much more than ten minutes. And I knew every ingredient that was in the soup and more importantly, I knew everything that was not in it. This week, a pot of homemade minestrone took me fifteen minutes to get started and it covered for three meals. So, how much more time did it cost me versus opening a can of Campbell’s? Not much and the taste, well there is no comparison. Feel free to join in the slow food conversation. I know that many of our readers are already converts, but I don’t mind preaching to the choir.

• Garden Tip: If you wish to grow your poinsettia into the spring, best to start fertilizing it lightly. Use a 10 30 20 or a 20 20 20 at half strength. Keep them in a fairly well lit place. Protect from drafts and from heating vents.

• Thanks for reading…Rod McDonald in snowy Regina

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Garden Report #31

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

Our house after the snow-photo by June Blau
 • Writers write: The Garden Report is often filled with the words community, neighbor and neighborhood. They are inserted regularly and often as they are important words to me. There is a simple explanation. You have to live somewhere and why not have the people who surround you wave in a friendly fashion, rather than pretend you don’t exist. A young family moved in down the street, on Angus. I met them at a neighborhood party. He told me that they had lived in Tsawwassen for eight years and had never got to know their neighbors. He moved to our block and had been to three neighborhood parties and had two ‘come over for dinner’ invites, all within six months of arrival. That’s the way it is supposed to be. Neighbors are supposed to look after each other. They are supposed to care. And when people understand the essence of community, then a neighborhood is a safer, more enjoyable place to live. For us, we have enjoyed living here since February 26th, 1973, and we have appreciated sharing that time and space with the people who surround us.

• Thank you: Over the holidays, readers of The Garden Report having been dropping off goodies, often leaving them on our front steps if we are not home. Licorice, jams, jellies, pickles, cookies, coffees, teas, chocolates and poppycock. Thank you for thinking of us and we appreciated your cards as well.

Readers Write: Roberta Nichol weighed in that the Christmas spirit is complete when she views Alistair Sims in ‘A Christmas Carol’, shot in 1951. Actors everywhere agree that Sims was the best ‘Scrooge’ of all time. Cheryl Hutton out of Calgary wrote in to say that The Garden Report slows everything down for her, and she is a busy lady. Jean Freeman wrote in to wish everyone well for the new year. Joanne Crofford wrote “you old softy” and I can only hope it was not in reference to my tummy. Laurie Marcella out of Winnipeg wrote to say that The Garden Report is similar in spirit to a conversation over the back fence, amongst neighbors. Reader Ed Heidt who now calls New Mexico home, understands my thinking that God, Jesus and Santa were somehow connected when I was a little boy. Ed informs me that they have a twelve year old, chocolate lab whose name is ‘Murphy’. Mike Liske writes that when he talks in his sleep, he is ordering supplies. Trust me Mike. As a married man, ordering supplies in your sleep is much safer than talking to former girlfriends. Laura and Terry Ross spent Christmas in Georgia and they wrote to say how much they enjoyed the news from back home. Gail Bowen writes “I look forward so much to reading your Garden Report every Sunday”. Audrey Vanderveen from Carman, Manitoba says that what she enjoys best is my quirky sense of humor. Now, let me be the first to admit that I am surprised that my Dutch friends are willing to admit that they actually laugh at something, let alone something that I wrote. Audrey, put on your wooden shoes, go back into the greenhouse and stop this fooling around. Considering that The Garden Report has around fifty Dutch readers, that bit should get a response or two.

The Marian Center Dining Hall on Christmas Day
• Marian Center: Every year, the local florist shops and Vanderveen’s Greenhouse donate Christmas plants and greens so that my family can decorate The Marian Center Soup Kitchen.

• Nice people: I always enjoy writing about the positive aspects of our community. Three generations of one family operate Dutch Cycle, our local repair shop. Dutch Cycle has been open since 1960 and I have an early memory of Grandpa Fred repairing my flat tire when I was ten years old. Grandpa Fred passed away this year at the age of eighty-six, leaving Fred Jr., Lawrence, Freddy Junior Junior and Larry to carry on. They are easily the best repair shop in town and they treat me and all of their customers very well. Nice families deserve a plug.

• Thought for the day: No matter how much humility you possess, you can never brag about it.

• Garden Tip: Writer Jean Mackay wants to know why we do not plant our amaryllis bulbs all of the way up to the neck of the bulb. I turned to ultimate bulb man, Frank Van Noort, who by nature of his last name appears to be an expert. Frank responded that if we bring the soil level up too high on a bulb, the moisture surrounding the bulb will lead to ‘red streaking’ which can damage the bulb. ‘Red streaking’ is also called ‘red blotching’ and it leads to an infection. Now you know.

• Garden Tip: As your amaryllis grows taller, you will need to provide some type of support. The best thing to do is to place the potted bulb inside a taller container such as a wicker basket. The basket will provide an area for the stalk to lean against, thus reducing the chance it will break.

• Winter Solitude: The best thing about winter is being able to sit out in the garden when it is thirty below and not have to listen to the idiots gun their motorcycles.

• Tommy Douglas: Some (but not all) of the RCMP files on Tommy Douglas will be released in the next few months. According to CBC, the file is over eleven hundred pages thick. No one from The RCMP has yet to answer the question of why were they collecting information on the man voted Canada’s ‘Greatest Canadian’? No doubt, any explanation will contain reference to ‘the times’ which leads to the next question: Who is The RCMP/CSIS collecting information on today? Let me guess. Whoever it is, the phrases ‘national security’ and ‘threat of terrorism’ are included in the rationalization. I have written this before and I write it again, a lot of people make a lot of money ‘protecting us’.

• Tommy Douglas continued: For as much as parts of our community had deep concerns over the leadership of Tommy Douglas and his policies, in the sixteen years he was premier of this province, he offered up sixteen balanced budgets. In reality, he was a fiscal conservative, not a wild spending dreamer. Imagine that. A politician who actually believed in staying within budget. That is kind of radical.

• Sadly: Lauren Rice, one of our areas best gardeners, passed away this week at the all too young age of forty-nine. Lauren had an incredible garden at her residence in the Lumsden hills. She believed in ‘garden rooms’ so that as you moved through her property, you entered into different horticultural experiences. Each room was distinct from the one next to it. On my SCN television show ‘Prairie Gardens’, I featured Lauren’s garden. It was a real treat to interview her and film the yard. She was a wonderful woman.

• Cultural Divide: I do not golf. Never have. But I have a brother in law from Toronto who loves to play the game. Jack was in town visiting, so I arranged for him to play a round with friends. I had to have him at the club house for a 6:30 a.m. tee time. We were a bit early so I waited until the other three golfers arrived. Conversations that I heard while waiting were filled with put downs, sarcasm and faux machismo. It reminded me of the negative aspects of high school, with its posturing and pettiness. Except the men were sixty years of age and up. Wow! Less any golfer take offence, I merely write what I heard. I did not script the words or the behavior. That was chosen by those men, themselves.

• Our turn: As a young boy, I used to laugh at my parents as one would read the obituaries to the other, across the kitchen table. It was just too funny. Not surprisingly, I now read the obituaries to Maureen every morning, at breakfast. The kids were home for Christmas. They laughed at us. No matter how much they protest, their turn awaits them.

• New Year’s Eve: A table of Garden Report readers brought in the New Year on Friday night, at The Italian Club. Gathered together were Dave and June Blau, Gary and Ina Field, Roberta Nichol, Maureen and myself. We shared the night with around 250 people, many of whom were named Tony. We chose The Italian Club because ‘Cornerstone’ was playing, an excellent dance band. They started playing at nine o’clock and you know how no one ever wants to dance during the first set? Not the case on Friday night. The dance floor filled up from the first song and stayed that way until the last one. The audience had come to dance, not to drink, which added to the overall enjoyment. The smokers were banished to the frigid outdoors, leaving the hall with clean air. For ten years now, we have had a law banning smoking in public places and that was one of the best laws ever enacted. Around ten p.m., the band asked Roberta Nichol to join them on stage for a song. Roberta sang with this group many years ago, so they were comfortable with her at the mike. She chose ‘Blue Moon’. The dance floor overflowed with old and new lovers and Roberta ‘knocked the socks’ off of the audience. The girl still has her pipes. As the evening approached midnight, the band played a slow dance classic, ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. Dancing beside us were two nineteen year olds. He was holding her bottom tightly in his hands and she was loving it, nuzzling into his shoulder. Maureen asked why we no longer danced like that? Now, I immediately thought of at least six incredibly funny answers to the woman’s question. I just know that each one of you would have laughed at my clever series of retorts. However…being an experienced husband and having provided the wrong answer to this type of question before, I simply responded “I don’t know, dear, I don’t know.” A wise man knows his audience and chooses his words, carefully.

The Marian Center, Christmas of 2010-Nancy, Rod, Trudy, Doreen-Poinsettias donated by Vanderveen's Greenhouse
 • Happy New Year from Rod McDonald in lovely Regina!