Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Garden Report #144
Sunday, May 25th, 2014

Our spring garden last year with everything in bloom
• Writers write: Get my soap box ready, here I go. Tuesday night, around ten p.m., I needed milk for breakfast. I drove to Sobey’s on south Albert. A fellow drove into the parking lot at the same time. He parked his car in a handicap zone and walks into the store. He didn’t miss the handicap parking sign, I am certain of that. He decided that he would use it, as no one else was at the time, as if that was his right.

Being a good Canadian, I was indignant. Canadians believe that handicap parking spots are for those who truly need them and that it is not a hardship to walk a few extra feet. In fact, being able to walk those extra feet is truly a privilege. That sense of moral indignation, which appears to be a part of our national fibre, was fuming inside of me. Do I say something? Do I ask him why he thinks he needs to park in a zone that is reserved for others? Do I risk a confrontation because Canadians might have moral indignation, but unlike our American cousins, we detest confrontation. So, as most of us do, I said nothing and just fumed for an hour or two. Now I complain to you about what happened. That is also a Canadian trait.

I often wonder, if all of us, collectively as a nation, started bawling out people who usurped handicap parking zones, would it not bring an end to the behaviour quite quickly? Social shaming does work and most of us are not prepared to be confronted because we snuck into a parking zone that did not apply to us. I do wonder.

It turns out that in Toronto, there are many, many people who have somehow received a handicapped parking permit, and yet they are fully mobile. They use that permit to snag reserved handicap parking spots and they don’t have to pay the parking charges. It has become so prevalent that they now have an enforcement officer who patrols those zones. A television news crew followed the enforcement officer around and did people ever have stories to tell. “Well, my mother is handicapped and that is why I have the permit.” And where was her mother? “She’s at home right now.”

Readers write: I want to thank the many of you who wrote in just to say “welcome back”. Those readers include Margo Soriano, Jay Hale, Doug Gummeson, Sandra Rayson, Tim Mooney, Denise Mirva, Shannon Claypool, Ken Alexe, Roberta Nichol, Ingrid Thiessen, Lyn Goldman, Jean McKay, Janice Cerato, Ricky and Judy Kerr, Patrick Hawley, Wilma Bell Wessel, Denise Cook, Casey Van Vloten, Audrey Henderson, Linda Lyster, Adella Hayko, Sally Orr, Rex Deverell, Georgia Hearn, Michelle Jackson, Arlene Sauer, Frank Flegel, Kathleen Livingston, Donna Burton and Gail Bowen. I don’t want to do a ‘Sally Field speech’ but you really do love me!

• Cheryl Ann Smith writes “How wonderful to hear your voice again - to see your lovely photos. It really is good to have a word from you and see that your humor is still intact!”

• Edie Friesen is one of our many, resident Mennonite readers. If you have Mennonite readers, you must be on your best behaviour at all times. “What a really nice surprise to receive your Garden Report! It was truly a pleasure to read and made me pleased to know that you were feeling well enough to put it together. Your pictures were a delight!”

• This in from Joan Anderson. “ Your Garden Report is always worth waiting for. We’re all big fans so we’ll just wait for the next install until you and it are ready.”

• Sarah Willis writes from Toronto. “Hope you will give The Mercury another chance to earn your business, and what a wonderful story about your friend giving a young person a helping hand. Sounds like they both must be extraordinary people.”

• Rhonda Rein had this to report: “We took your advice with regards to trying the fertilizer from CPS on McDonald Street last year. We really liked the results and are using it again this year.”

• Jennifer Cohen is always a cheerleader. “You'll be deluged with many messages but who can have too much love? Know for sure when I see your Garden Report, spring is really here. Your story of a small act growing exponentially has been played many times in my little life, too. Can never predict where a thoughtful action will go.”

• Susan Rollins enjoys good food. “I agree with both of your restaurant reviews. I had a tasty, delightful meal at Caraway Seed with friends and can't wait to go back. Also The Mercury is inconsistent as you say and I have been disappointed with their food. It is very close to Mum and I had hoped for good, home cooked food.”

• Joanne Terry writes “OMG – Rod, I have missed you so much. I was off for almost a year due to a heart attack and almost every Monday, I would see if there was a Garden Report in my inbox.”

• Murray is glad The GR is back. “Good evening Rod, hoping this note finds you in good spirits, I sure missed your Garden Reports as they really make my day. More so the humor, thanks again, keep them coming.”

The tulips I planted last October are now in bloom!
• William Hyrcan is a unrepentant gardener in Saskatoon. He is one reader who understands my addiction, because he shares it. “Thanks for another plug. I love The Gardener and I'm really happy to have your support, too. We appreciate every bit of promotion you send our way. I'm glad you're feeling well enough to put together another Garden Report, and I look forward to the next one, whenever it lands in my inbox. As always, my prayers are with you.”

• Gwen Barschel is a reader and a nurse, which means she is a double winner (I adore both readers and nurses). “You hit some high notes with me, ‘Man of La Mancha’ for one, maybe the best I have ever seen at The Globe. Caraway Grill....fantastic. Here’s one for you, Marokena Crepe Cafe, in northwest Regina, if you ever make it up here. All fresh fillings, delicious. The owner is a young lady, fairly new to Canada, who worked her butt off to open the place, and I love supporting her.”

• Neil Slater opines: “Rod, it's great to read your prose again. We've missed you, even though we understand why you haven't been in our email inbox. We've thought of you often, always with positive energy sent your way. No matter how sporadic, your Garden Report is always welcome reading. Maybe we'll see you at the Scottish Pavilion!”

• Heather Lowe, the Landscape Designer, loves our local read. “So nice to see the Garden Report again. Two comments: 1. The Mercury Café …… I have been there once. No desire to go back. Food was ok, but it’s the washroom facilities that got me. As you may know, they have only one washroom, serving both male and females. I don’t like that. 2. Grampa’s Report on Rayanna is a good read and humorous.”

• Jean Freeman, our grand dame of the theater world (written with the utmost of reverence) is always a big fan of this read. Jean writes with great enthusiasm “I can’t tell you how delighted/happy/thrilled/over the moon I am to receive Garden Report #143. And I know I’m not alone! I pray that you will be able to shepherd your stamina and share your wit and wisdom with us whenever you can — and I also pray that this will happen often! Much love-Jean.”

Martagon lily growing in my garden-this one
does well in the shade
Photos credits: The hanging baskets are being grown at Cedar Creek Gardens, across the street from the old Cinema Six. Also, Brad Crassweller and his family grew their own perennials, for resale purposes, and in this photo, you can see the plants turned out quite lovely. The key to growing good perennials is to grow them slowly, with the temperature around ten degrees, in April. If you grow plants at a higher temperature, they tend to become leggy. My adage for growing plants is quite simple: Develop the roots and the tops will follow. The photo of the Martagon Lily is from my garden. This lily grows well in the shade. I have had it for close to ten years and last fall, I divided it up into four parts and replanted those parts throughout my garden. All four parts are up and will bloom later this season. The ‘Morden Sunrise’ rose is also from my garden. It suffered considerable winter damage this year but it will bounce back. I expect full blooms, like this one, by the end of June or early July. The last photo shows a handful of the many tulips I planted last fall. I do love my tulips.
'Morden Sunrise' rose in our garden

• Garden  Tip: For your trees, shrubs, perennials, roses and bedding plants, I recommend one fertilizer. One fertilizer only, as I like to keep life simple. The one I use and therefore recommend is a water soluble 10 30 20. Now, since I sold Lakeview Gardens, I realize that it can be difficult to find one with those numbers. I actually bring in large bags of it from HJS out of Winnipeg for my own use. If you cannot find my recommend, a good sub would be 15 30 15 which I have seen available in several stores and garden centers. Remember that the regular application of the fertilizer is more important than the actual NPK numbers.

On the search for good food: Here are a few Oriental places that we have checked out this past winter. Pearl River is a hole in the wall, grab joint in The Hill Avenue Strip Mall. It has been there for many years and is close to our residence. It produces a top notch wonton soup and an excellent hot and sour soup. The chicken or beef satays were not worth ordering again nor was the chicken with baby corn. Surprisingly, the old standby, chop suey, is done very well, so don’t turn up your nose at this fifties dish.

Ngoc Anh, which is in the space where Mieka’s used to be, Smith Street near 11th Avenue, is in a word, unpredictable. This place is run by a lovely family and I would have thought as it is the same people cooking each night, that the dishes would not vary. Not true. We have eaten there a total of six times. Three times, the food was first rate and three times our reaction was “what the hell is this?” One night, we ordered a bowl of hot and sour soup, a favourite of ours. It had been an excellent soup the last time we ordered but this time it tasted very similar to a sweet and sour sauce. Yep, the soup was very sweet indeed. Strange. One night we enjoyed a fabulous dish called mango chicken and the same dish, on another night, was very short of chicken. Had they run out and were reluctant to tell us? If we only knew the nights when they were going to be bang on in the kitchen, we would attend on those nights.

The Nhu y Tea Tree was our choice for New Year’s Eve and thank God the year has been much better than the meal. Most places that advertise they are Viet/Chinese/Thai places are usually owned by Vietnamese. We started out our meal with one of their pho bowls and it had an odd taste. I can’t explain it other than to say it did not taste great. That was our Viet choice. Then we ordered a Chinese vegetable dish and one labelled as being Thai. Both looked identical. Could not tell one from the other except the Thai one had a tablespoon of green curry paste mixed into the veggies. Thai cooking is one of the most sensuous cuisines anyone can eat and rest assured, a bit of green curry paste does not make any dish Thai. All three dishes fell short and the only saving grace was I did enjoy a Vietnamese iced coffee. That was the highlight and nothing more. Obviously, not getting a recommend here.

Ngic Van serves up a decent, large bowl of wor wonton soup for $14. Two small complaints. The wontons are the smallest I have seen and the chicken broth was not skimmed of its fat which meant there was a presence of oil (chicken fat) floating. When I make my chicken broth, I let it cool over night and then I remove the fat that accumulates at the top. I love a clear, well flavoured broth and I know when one is not made properly. After the soup, we each ordered a barbecue pork steam bun, one of my favourites, anywhere I go. Maureen loved hers and mine was not eaten. Why the difference? Their steam buns are wonderful except they bake an egg inside, on top of the filling. Maureen loves a baked egg, even as a surprise. I don’t like eggs, surprise or no surprise. I asked the owner if he ever makes them without eggs and he told me to call him two days in advance and he would make a batch, just for me, without eggs. Nice fellow but it’s not going to happen.

The Sezchaun Kitchen is in Saskatoon on Broadway, near Ninth Street. If you can find The Seven Eleven, you can find this place. We spent quite a bit of our time in Saskatoon, last summer and fall. Before that, when we travelled with The Fringe, performers would always order the braised tofu and vegetable dish from this place. I know, I know, it doesn’t sound all that delicious but trust me on this one, ignore the name and you will enjoy the dish. Back to the soup in question. We love our soups, any kind, anywhere. We had the best wor wonton we have had in this province, at this joint. The price was ten bucks and I asked our waitress what was the difference between the deluxe wonton and the wor wonton? “The deluxe is a smaller bowl.” With that question resolved, we dug into a large bowl of soup, the broth was excellent, lots of wontons, shrimp, chicken, veggies and the requisite barbecue pork floating across the top. I don’t have an overall recommendation for this place, having only ever sampled three of their dishes, but I will stake my reputation (good or bad and no snarky comments, please) that this wonton soup was a highlight of one of our many trips.

Cedar Creek Greenhouse grew forty-one varieties of
perennials in their first year in business- a good start
• Garden Tip: After reading all of those reviews of low calorie places to eat, best if all of us return to the garden to burn off those calories. Gardening is one of the best forms of exercise that any of us can engage in. Gardening sustains life and more importantly, it makes life worth living. So, this was not really a classic garden tip, more of an admonition to get out there and grow something.

• Tulip time: Last fall, Billy Patterson came over to help me plant my tulips. We planted either 1200 or 1500 bulbs, I can’t remember, October was a long time ago. The fruit of our labours has come to fruition and the hidden treasures are now poking their noses through the soil. Again and again I preach but does anyone listen? Tulip bulbs, planted in the fall, give you a full four to six weeks of colour before you can set your annuals out (this year being the exception). I love my tulips so much that I think there must be a Dutchman in my family tree. I apologise to The Dutch Embassy, in case they read this epistle, what with The Dutch Embassy having a limited sense of humour. That comment should get a few nasty letters from the Van Noorts, the Vanderveens, the Van Zantens and the De Jongs, all of whom are readers.

• What I do for my readers: In February, I had a GIC mature. I took some of that money and bought shares in The Dairy Queen. Now, every time we go to the DQ, it is not for a treat. Rather, it is nothing more than a shareholder inspecting a Blizzard, for quality control. If you need a further explanation, look up the word rationalization in the dictionary.

• Vole damage:  If your garden suffered vole damage, here are some things you can do. Shrubs that have been stripped of their bark can be pruned back. If the entire tree has suffered damage and pruning would remove everything, then your only option is to not prune, wait for Mother Nature to take its course and see what survives. Often, a plant will leaf out and bloom after rodent damage only to die later in the season. If your lawn was damaged by voles and this is normally indicated by tunneling marks, then you need to top dress the tunnels with some soil, reseed those bare areas and water. There was quite a bit of vole damage this year, especially in gardens adjacent to the countryside. My garden, adjacent to the downtown core, had no vole damage. There was also rabbit damage in some gardens, again, most of those gardens were located close to parks or the countryside.

The things I do for my readers #2: I have to put on a disguise, a hat and shades, and walk around chain stores, inspecting their garden centers just for the benefit of my readers. In short, my report says “you owe me big time for this one.” I have inspected, if I can use that word, Lowe’s, Rona, Home Depot (East), Super Store (East), and Wal-Mart (East). What I found, for the most part, makes me shake my head. At Super Store, I would estimate that one half of their plants were either dying or already dead, including their tall cedars. I found that there is a bit of a price war on ten inch hanging baskets, with some going as low as nine bucks, at Wal-Mart. I examined those hangers and if you really want a nine dollar hanging basket, give me a call and I will make up an order, just for you. Those nine dollar hangers are so poorly made that I calculated they had a cost of less than three dollars in them. That’s why I will take your orders. They are in a word, a ‘joke’, overpriced at nine bucks. If you want the good stuff, the hangers that are well grown and well looked after, then visit one of the independents I recommended in #143. At all of the chain garden centers, I found and observed first hand, that there are two types of employees. Those who put things on shelves and those who take your money. I could not fine an employee, nary a one, who was actually offering any type or form of service. At the independents, they will tell you to leave some of their plants alone because you either have too much shade or too much sun. It is worth a growing season to have someone who knows something about plants, assisting the customers who shop there.

Well cared for hanging baskets at Cedar Creek Greenhouse

• Is it too early to plant: Tough one. If you could dig out your crystal ball and tell me within one degree, how cold it will be at night for the next two weeks, then I could provide you with a better answer. Myself, I am not planting until this coming weekend. Similar to you, I am tempted to get out there on the first nice day that we have and to plant up a storm. I did that three years ago and within the week, my friend Greg Morley was over, running into my garage, all the pots and containers that I had planted, for safe keeping. Greg never complained, at least to me he didn’t, but I suspect that his wife heard me being described with Unchristian like words later that evening.

Cathedral Village Arts Festival: The street fair had another incredible turnout. It was smoking hot in the afternoon and the lines for cold lemonade were long. I know that the following statement shows my age, but has anyone else noticed that the line between fashion and lingerie has been blurred? If by chance, you are privileged to see me in my underwear, chances are I have made a terrible mistake and not a fashion choice.

An inner thought shared: I say that little things don’t bother me, but I lie, they do.

Thanks for reading, I appreciate your effort...Rod McDonald in the sunshine capital of Canada-at the south end of The Albert Street Bridge in Regina

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Garden Report #143
Monday, May 19th, 2014

My spring garden last year-definitely not this spring!
• Writers write: The festival season is upon us with The Cathedral Village Arts Festival kick off today. A truly great, community based event. Then in early June, we have Mosaic, the festival to honour the countries that provided the people who populated our province. I try to take in four or five of the pavilions but I always end the night at The Scottish gig, over on Broadway Avenue. I get to hang out with ‘my people’. It’s also a chance to harass the other clans and applaud the pipe and drum bands. You have to check out the bouncer in the kilt with biceps thicker than my thighs. Remind me not to take him on lest I embarrass the poor lad. The Fringe Festival is in its tenth year and runs from July 9th to the 13th this year. Jodi is doing a bang up job running the festival and regular readers know it is my favourite week of the year. It’s kind of my Christmas. August is always a highlight month with The Folk Festival in Victoria Park. Old hippies, new hippies, non hippies, hip hippies, far out if you dig it, man. My first Folk Festival was 1969 and I still sing along with the tunes in the park. “Susanne takes you down, to her place by the river…” To me, the festivals are what the summers in Regina are all about. I hope to see you there.

• Readers write: Emails and letters from the readers are now out of date, what with my last missive being released September 22nd. Sorry about that. The good news is complaints are way down with my absence.

Downy mildew is destroying impatiens beds
• Impatiens planters be wary: I have been planting impatiens in my beds, in a big way, since 1973 and never lost a crop. That statement was true until last August when my impatiens, which were normally so thick you could not find the soil beneath them, were finished. Downy mildew attacked them though it did not attack every garden. It is probably not worth the risk to plant the traditional impatiens from the Walleriana family as they are the susceptible ones. This year, I am planting the ‘Divine’ series and New Guineas, which are not subject to devastation from this disease. 

• Garden Tip:  It is time to fertilize your lawns. There are many choices for fertilizers and the one I recommend is a little difficult to find. It has an NPK of 17 19 0 with 14% sulphur added into the mix. I purchase mine from CPS on McDonald Street and I apply five pounds per thousand square feet, three times a season. It is best to water this fertilize after application as it needs the water to dissolve the granules and begin the fertilization process. If you don’t water, it can burn the blades.
This is a well fertilized and cared for lawn

Big flavour: I love big flavour and I had heard from several sources that The Caraway Grill, tucked away on Broad Street by the subway, offers intense flavour. My nephew, Daniel Jackson, took me there for a very, belated birthday lunch (my birthday is in September). The Caraway Grill not only serves food with big flavour, but it also served one of the best meals I have had in years. To make things even better, Daniel paid for my lunch. He is my one relative who picks up the check when we are out and for that, I celebrate my sister for having the good fortune to birth him.

• Great performances: Both The Regina Symphony Orchestra’s last performance of the season and The Globe’s last show, were outstanding. The RSO had a Mahler Symphony on its docket and that piece alone, knocked my ‘Sunday go to meeting’ socks off. On the theater front, ‘Man of La Mancha’ was fantastic. I love that show. The blurred lines between what is real and what is not, within the mind of the writer, always intrigues me. The performance was first rate.

Always plant the tall plants at the back, never in the center
Garden Tip: When you plant your containers and you have chosen a center piece plant, such as a dracaena, never plant it dead center within the container. Off set it, balancing it with lower plants and edging material. It will look more natural.

• I really want to be nice: I really do, but sometimes restaurants just won’t let me be the man I aspire to be. It was a Friday at the end of March. I had had a small breakfast, no lunch and no treats. A long about way of saying I craved a large calorie meal. We headed over to The Mercury Café on 13th, a local bistro. I had a craving for a good burger, real fries and a chocolate shake. We sat down. The first thing that grabbed me was I had a feeling that I was in a pub, not a café or bistro. Several patrons were lined up at the bar, downing their drinks. I thought “its Friday night and a few of the regulars are letting off steam.” I found out from a friend, who lives in the neighbourhood, that the pub atmosphere is now a regular thing, not limited to a Friday night. I ordered my chocolate shake but was denied. Why? “Were out of chocolate ice cream.” I was sitting at a window booth, looking at the Safeway across the street. “Shall I pop over there and get you some?” The waitress laughed. I wasn’t joking. I ordered my burger and fries. The burger was first rate, met my expectations. It was what I wanted. There is ketchup on the table but if you want mustard or relish for your burger, you have to ask. It is not offered. The fries are advertised as being hand cut and double fried. Yep, they were hand cut, no doubt there, and if they were double fried, I was fooled. They were undercooked as in raw in the middle. I let them sit, didn’t say anything to the waitress, wondering if she might ask why I didn’t eat them. Not a word. She just took the plate, fries and all, and dumped them in the garbage. I had been to The Mercury one other time and my fries were first rate, very crisp, the way I love them. I so very much want to say wonderful things about local independent businesses but I can’t, not when they fall this short. Perhaps on another night, all three of my components will be perfect, but not that night and that’s the one I am writing about.

It's not you, it's Mother Nature: The season is late, no questions about that statement. It is as if we are in the last week of April, not the third week of May. Weather happens. Rest assured we will have summer. I did a quick inspection in my garden and out of my 1200 tulips, I have a dozen purple ones in bloom. The rest are coming along.

A butterfly flaps its wings: There is a regular reader and a friend of mine, who would be embarrassed if I mentioned his name. He has changed a young man’s life. About twenty years ago, our reader became aware of a young boy who had a less than opportune home life. He stepped into the boy’s life and invited the lad to a hockey game. I was there, along for the ride, for that first night. The boy’s home life deteriorated to the point where our reader took the boy into his home, raising him as his son. The boy grew into a man, worked hard, built a career, and took on a new challenges. He studied hard and applied to medical school. Last week, he was accepted. I wonder, had our reader not stepped up to the proverbial plate when it was required, what would have become of that young boy, twenty years ago? One man makes a big difference and it all started with taking a kid to a hockey game.

Cherry Lane has lots of plants
#Where to buy plants: There are five greenhouses, all independents, that I can recommend to our readers. They include Sherwood tucked behind CTV on Highway One East; Cherry Lane just off of Highway One West, on the east side of Grand Coulee; U and K which is north of Indian Head, along the highway to the lake; Dorn’s which is south of town along Highway Number Six and a new one called Cedar Creek which is also south of town on Number Six, across the road from the old Cinema Six Drive In. I have been working part time at Cedar Creek (I am not there a lot) and they are growing their own perennials, forty-one varieties, including lilies, peonies, daylilies and bleeding hearts. They have the basics of petunias, geraniums, pansies and veggies along with some very decent hanging baskets. I am giving them a bit of a plug here because it is their first year open and they don’t have an established clientele yet. They need one. God knows I remember my first year or two, trying to build that regular clientele, wondering if I was ever going to break even let alone show a profit. It is scary, opening your own greenhouse, that I know from experience. I didn’t read it in a book.

'Emily Carr' rose is a prolific bloomer

• Garden Tip: Many of the hardy roses suffered winter injury this year. Do not panic. Just cut your roses to the point below the winter injury. If the winter injury is complete, cut the bush to the ground and they should pop back up. This happened three years ago and I had to cut many roses to the ground. By the end of June, there were roses blooming all over the place, ones that had initially appeared finished. Plants are resilient and they live in spite of us, not because of us. 

• Garden tip: No pruning of any type of elm tree until September 1st. This is not my rule, it is a Provincial Ban.

"Who me?  The lamp was already broken."

• Grampa's Report:  Rayanna gets down from Edmonton about four times a year to visit her four grandparents, here in Regina. Sometimes she brings her mom and dad along for the ride. I got to look after her for three hours, by myself! Now, for some readers, they are going “whoopty doo” but for me, I have never had her by myself before. We danced to Holly Cole, we ate cheerios, no one pooped themselves, and we watched Mickey Mouse on a DVD. She wouldn’t have a nap, even though she wore me out and I needed a one. We had a wonderful afternoon together. I was her knight in shining armour with her asking me to pick her up, that is until her mom came home. Then I resumed my regular role as ‘chopped liver’. The one thing that does peak her interest in me is my harmonica. Yeah, yeah, I know, ‘Alvin and The Chipmunks’. She loves it when I play and she tries with all of her might, but no sound comes out, yet.

• A truly great magazine: There is one garden magazine that I can recommend for readers and that one is ‘The Gardener’. It is, hands down, the best gardening magazine published and it is produced in Saskatoon. Excellent articles and the photos are so wonderful.
Grampa and Rayanna drumming-we are getting ready for
The Catheddral Village Arts Festival
• Signing off:  The Garden Report is back, this week, but there is no guarantee of regularity. The issue is one of stamina. It takes around ten hours a week to produce this, send it out, respond to thirty emails and so on. Some days I have it and other days, you are going to have to wait for me to catch up to you. Thanks for your patience and your support. It has been a long eight months since you last heard from me. Rest assured, that is not my choice.

Thanks for reading...Rod McDonald on a cloudy, Victoria Day in Regina