Sunday, March 30, 2008

back at the greenhouse

I planted today.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Frankenveggies?" and other Food Security concerns....

Me, in the heirloom garden at Old Fort William on a very cold damp day in 1996.

I'm going to be working with The Food Security Research Network as the On-Campus Garden Coordinator and I'm so excited about this my head has been abuzz with ideas since it was proposed to me by Connie the other day. What a perfect outlet, and direction for my gardenerding. I have oodles of heirloom garden resources packed away in an OFW box tucked away with other wonder years memorabilia; I'll have to make an extra effort to dig that out asap. The engineer in me is constructing, the writer is bursting, and the gardener is feeling extremely restless.

I've been reading The University Local Food Toolkit (pdf) published by SFU's Local Food Project. Excellent. Just imagine what this can do for the students at Lakehead!

Canadian Association for Food Studies "(CAFS) promotes critical, interdisciplinary scholarship in the broad area of food systems: food policy, production, distribution and consumption. CAFS recognizes the need for coordinated interdisciplinary research efforts in response to societal needs for informing policy makers, assessing the outcomes of community-based work, and demonstrating the environmental and social impacts of changes affecting food systems and food
policies. Members are drawn from an array of disciplines including (but not limited to) adult education, agriculture, anthropology, economics, environmental studies, health studies, home economics, human nutrition, geography, philosophy, policy studies, public health, rural studies, sociology, social work and urban planning. Membership is open to academics, students, professionals and others interested in food studies research. CAFS encourages research that promotes local, regional, national, and global food security, but does not advocate or endorse specific policies or political platforms."

Seeds of Diversity Canada - Canada's Heritage Seed Program

Canadian Organic Growers - The National Information Network for Organic Farmers, Gardeners & Consumers

Seed Savers Exchange - A non-profit seed preservation organization with a very comprehensive seed exchange.

...and for Shelly and Caroline: the Frog Pond Farm - a wine for us to try. They're the only certified organic winery in Ontario. Frogpond Farm does not use insecticides, herbicides, synthetic fungicides or chemical fertilizers. All their wines are organically grown, and hand-picked. Look for the label ;)

...and this morning I read this: Frankenveggies? Eat your greens (purples, blacks, blues and stripes, too) Globe and Mail article, 26 March 2008

and..'s list of heirloom vegetables, and links to more ideas for sustainable gardening.

600 feet, beside the, what a garden!!!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Hark, hark the Lark

Yesterday, this Globe and Mail headline grabbed my attention:
Hark, hark the lark suffers (Mr. William Shakespeare)

In the global scenario of increasing habitat fragmentation, finding appropriate indicators of population viability is a priority for conservation. We explored the potential of learned behaviours, specifically acoustic signals, to predict the persistence over time of fragmented bird populations. We found an association between male song diversity and the annual rate of population change, population productivity and population size, resulting in birds singing poor repertoires in populations more prone to extinction. This is the first demonstration that population viability can be predicted by a cultural trait (acquired via social learning). 1Our results emphasise that cultural attributes can reflect not only individual-level characteristics, but also the emergent population-level properties. This opens the way to the study of animal cultural diversity in the increasingly common human-altered landscapes.

Laiolo P, Vögeli M, Serrano D, Tella JL (2008) Song Diversity Predicts the Viability of Fragmented Bird Populations. PLoS ONE 3(3): e1822. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001822
Minna-Liisa Rantalainen, University of Helsinki, Finland
© 2008 Laiolo et al.

garden notes to self

  • Upper Canada Seeds specializes in organically grown heirloom tomatoes mmmm, offering 237 varieties of seeds in their 2008 catalog.
  • North America Native Plant Society's seed exchange program, and their great resources for native plant gardening within their publications page.

The Ritchers catalog has been under my desk at work for weeks.
Online they have some info sheets that I should remember to refer to in the future.

Books I wish I owned:

von Baeyer, Edwinna. Rhetoric and Roses: A History of Canadian Gardening 1900-1930. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1984. (635.09 V57)

Gray, Charlotte. Sisters in the Wilderness: the Lives of Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Trail. Toronto ON: Penguin, 1999. (920 G67)

Martin, Carol. A History of Canadian Gardening. Toronto ON: McArthur & Co., 2000. (635.09 M14)

von Baeyer, Edwinna, and Pleasance Crawford (eds.) Garden Voices: Two Centuries of Canadian Garden Writing. (820 G14) Toronto: Random House Canada, 1995. Hardback: 334 pp.


shady nook sketch,
21 March 2008

also should be mentioned: browalia and Labrador violets (pictured here), the many hostas, spiderwort, Solomon's seal, lungwort, purple carpet thyme...pots of shady things tucked here and there...

current music:
Conductor: Marin Alsop, Percussion: Colin Currie

Rapture - Percussion Concerto

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Again in the theme from In the Key of Charles this morning: water, I suggest reading this publication from the Ontario Clean Water Agency: Beautiful Lawns and Gardens through Water-Efficient Landscaping (pdf). The appendix worth checking out.

Also, an article on and how to create a down-spout bog garden (pdf) from the North American Native Plant Society.

Eco-Superior's rain barrel program

water lilies at the Royal Botanical Gardens
Hamilton/Burlington, Ontario July 2007

Saturday, March 15, 2008

horticulture oils

Pest Control Spray You Can Make in Your Kitchen (pdf)

To control powdery mildew, add 3 tbsp of oil to 1 gallon of water containing 1/2 tsp of detergent soap. Mix well, and stir or shake constantly while in the process of application.

Horsetail 'Equisetum' is a mineral rich plant which works as fertilizer, and cure-all against mildew and block spot on roses. Chop several handfuls of horsetail into 1L of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for two to three hours, cool, strain, and use as a spray.

Read more about Horticulture oils here.

Dormant oils are used on woody plants during the dormant season. The name refers to the time of application rather than to any attribute of the oil.

doodling from memory

Of course I'm planning all this having only seen it twice, briefly, by peeking through windows. I really have no spatial concept yet. There's a gate to the west side that will be the main entrance to amy's garden - I will concentrate on that side this year, and establishing the shady nook. The nook sits in view of the dining room window below the mature tree (maple?)(I haven't been close enough yet), and is sweetly protected and private.
The fence is tall. How much it adds to the shaded areas with its shadow is yet to be determined. Even with its southern exposure, I'm suspecting there's more room for shade plants than sun. Shady nook aside, the yard seems to receive a great deal of morning sun. I'm curious to learn the patterns of this new space; if my predictions turn true there are multitudes of opportunities here. I've got such a good feeling about this....the shady nook will be even better than at 606, and I can see it easily filled by my existing plants such as the hydrangea, goats beard, ferns, hostas...

The deck receives a great deal of sunshine, along with the space just below. I'm thinking about pots of things to eat. ~ but I have not got a clear enough idea of what the deck actually offers. I have to wait for the snow to melt.
Regardless, there will be plenty of space to grow vegetables and herbs. I've been in a sunflowery kind of mood lately also; and they could help me watch the sun.

On the north side of the house, the front steps offer two perfect rests for my 'window' boxes, finally. Both! They'll be in full, cool shade - which, to me, is great for containers - the planting opportunities are endless, and without worry of them drying out in a few short hours in hot dry sun; shady boxes will last and last.

I have such an incredible vision for our new home, both inside and out. The view out the dining room window will be divine. I'll be able to peer out on to my nook; I'm imagining it now on a rainy day - when I would long to sit out there. But from inside, by the fire, through that window...I think I'll feel quite content to gaze through the glass.


Sunday, March 9, 2008

Fairy Parasols

In emerald tufts, flowers purple, blue, and white;
Like sapphire, pearl, and rich embroidery,
Buckled below fair knighthood’s bending knee:
Fairies use flowers for their charactery

The Merry Wives of Windsor (5.5.48-51)

"fairy parasol", mycena Wishart Conservation Forest, September 2007

Kingdom: Fungi
Division: Basidiomycota
Class: Basidiomycetes
Order: Agaricales
Family: Tricholomataceae
Genus: Mycena

I don't know how it happens, but for the second time, In the Key of Charles on CBC Radio, which I'm listening to as I compose this, perfectly suits my subject. How does he do that? Today, his theme is "magic", mine: Fairy Parasols. With a playlist including Bewitched/Ella Fitzgerald, The Magic Flute and *SWOON*Un' Aura Amorosa, K 588 No 17*SWOON* (a cappella, Mozart), to A Kind Of Magic/Classic Queen!!!, and Beethoven's Rondo, Opus 51, NO. 1, to Puff The Magic Dragon, and Sorcerer's Apprentice, Symphonic Scherzo / Yan is complimenting my magic fairy carpet ride through mycena mycology this morning very nicely.

I started by reading this: Tiptoeing Through the Toadstools: Mushrooms in Victorian Fairy Paintings by Moselio Schaechter, from Mushroom: A Journal of Wild Mushrooming, a neat little article on a similar theme. I could easily get sidetracked searching through literature and mythology references, but I think trying to explain the origin of the nick name "fairy parasol" isn't necessary. It's easy to imagine the little waifs of fungi getting scooped up and carried off by a forest fairy. Also referred to as pixies parasols - and I think fairy's or pixie's "bonnets" as well in some instances; either way, they're used by forest sprites and interest me greatly. I love when science and folklore collide.

Supreme Court Judge Barron Field penned one of the earliest works of poetry published in New South Wales. The First Fruits of Australian Verse (George Howe in 1819, pub.), many being reflections on the colony's distinctive flora and fauna, included 'Botany Bay Flowers', wherein he refers to the parasol mushrooms being used by fairies distinctively, though also questioning their need by asking "If Fairies walk by day at all". (Of course we all know they walk by day, just like Smurfs. I've never never met one, or know anyone who's met one......yet.)

The innumerable mycena species make it impossible for me to positively identify my little parasols, pictured above, found in September 2007 in Wishart. Their thread-like stems were about as tall as a Q-Tips popping out of the forest floor, with little pleated-striate caps delicately balanced atop. Such waifs - I could hardly believe they could stand upright. is a fantastic resource. ;)

* Popular Studies in Mythology Romance and Folklore: The Fairy Mythology of Shakespeare
by Alfred Nutt (May 2006)

The Fairies in Tradition and Literature Katharine Briggs
Routledge; 2 edition (July 30, 2002)

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places: The Newly Updated and Expanded Classic
Harcourt; Exp Upd edition (November 2, 2000)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

knowing your plants, understanding balance

Canadian Botanical Conservation Network is a registered Canadian charitable organization aiding botanical gardens, arboreta and related organizations, individuals and others to increase their participation in plant conservation and biodiversity programs. Their site boasts (I think) the best children's information page called Botanists in Training which provides an opportunity for kids to dig a little deeper into the science of gardening and plants.

I'm thinking about this in response to my recent wanderings through the Agora, where The Food Security Research Network is holding their Second Annual Food Security Forum today. Displays are set up wth poster presentations on organic gardening in Thunder Bay (and surrounding area), and studies on the effects of various factors (human and otherwise) on environmental conditions relating to food production in northwestern Ontario.

Gardening with native plants and heritage varieties rewards the gardener, the garden, and the wildlife within. Sadly, naturalized gardening has been frowned upon by those uninformed, with the misconception that these gardens are "untamed" or have "gone wild" when in actuality they are beautiful contributors to our environment, keeping peace with the earth. I believe it was sometime just last year, or the year before when I read an article from a Toronto area paper wherein complaints were filed against a homeowner for a garden "gone wild" and considered an eyesore by neighbors, when in fact it was a garden full of natural species providing an oasis for wildlife within the bizarre urban subdivision. It was startling to read, considering.
Gardening with native plants is often easier (less maintenance because you're not trying to force something to grow where it wouldn't normally) and can use less water, pesticides and fertilizers than with nonnative plants - for obvious reasons. It's the smrt way to go.

Native plants are suited to this environment and provide a variety colours and textures in winter. Something not considered often enough here in TBay - thinking winter is for reading in bathtubs, rather than admiring foliage....and thinking about how beautiful the hydrangeas outside the Regional Center are right now, buried in ice and snow as they are, I can not disagree.

Another notable site: The Organic Gardener


"I speak for the Trees" - the Lorax
The Lorax by Dr. Suess
Random House 1971
"The now remorseful Once-ler--our faceless, bodiless narrator--tells the story himself. Long ago this enterprising villain chances upon a place filled with wondrous Truffula Trees, Swomee-Swans, Brown Bar-ba- loots, and Humming-Fishes. Bewitched by the beauty of the Truffula Tree tufts, he greedily chops them down to produce and mass-market Thneeds. As the trees swiftly disappear and the denizens leave for greener pastures, the fuzzy yellow Lorax who speaks for the trees repeatedly warns the Once-ler, but his words of wisdom are for naught. Finally the Lorax extricates himself from the scorched earth, leaving only a rock engraved "UNLESS."
With his own colorful version of a compelling morality play, Dr. Seuss teaches readers not to fool with Mother Nature. But as you might expect from Seuss, all hope is not lost--the Once-ler has saved a single Truffula Tree seed! Our fate now rests in the hands of a caring child, who becomes our last chance for a clean, green future." -

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Little Magical One

A member of the family Rosaceae, Alchemilla mollis or Lady's Mantle and A. xanthochlora, (which is much smaller with deeply lobed leaves), is one of two plants I'm considering planting in memory of Lisa.
Since she passed away I have been deeply affected by the condolences filtered through me. I'm in awe of countless, countless hearts broken and missing her friendship. She was a true healer to many. For this reason I've been drawn toward plants that heal, figuratively and otherwise.

Alchemilla has long been associated with healing and alchemists. From an Arabic word, alchemelych, meaning alchemy; the plant is named so for its "magical healing powers", with folklore suggesting that even dew collected from alchemilla leaves has healing properties.

Young leaves, raw or cooked, have a dry, bitter flavour. They can be mixed with the leaves of Polygonum bistorta (Common Bistort) and Polygonum persicaria (Spotted Ladysthumb / Redshank) then used in making a bitter herb pudding called 'Easter ledger' which is eaten during Lent.
The root is also edible; and the leaves are often used in tea.

It tolerates most soils densities, although requires it to be well-drained, and prefers it in the range of neutral to alkaline. It can grow in semi-shade to sun, and is drought tolerant.

There's a certain photographic side of me that, like many, adores this plant very much for how the water and dew collects like pearls.

books to read in the bathtub:

Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants. Weinheim 1959

Kunkel. G. Plants for Human Consumption. Koeltz Scientific Books 1984 ISBN 3874292169

Stuart. M. (Editor) The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism Orbis Publishing. London. 1979 ISBN 0-85613-067-2

The Book of Herbal Wisdom: Using Plants as Medicines by Matthew Wood

The other plant I'm considering for Lisa is

Althea officinalis Marsh Mallow

The generic name, Althaea, is derived from the Greek, altho (to cure), from its healing properties. The name of the order, Malvaceae, is also derived from the Greek, malake (soft), for the special qualities of the Mallows in softening and healing. Theophrastus (c. 372-286 BC) reported that it was taken in sweet wine for coughs, and Hippocrates cites althea in the treatment of wounds.
Leaving Greece, Mallow was considered a vegetable among the Romans.
...and oddly (but not), The Grateful Dead song Althea comes to mind, being one of Judith's favorites, and reminds me of conversations in the department office, and Lisa.

The leaves, flowers and the root of Althaea officinalis all have medicinal properties.

"Bot. [L. althaea, a marsh mallow, f. [the Greek] to heal.] A genus of the plants of which the Marsh Mallow and Hollyhockare species; by florists often extended to the genus Hibiscus. - Oxford English Dictionary

Flowering from July to September, it tolerates almost any soil type, ..but doesn't grow well in the shade.

"Whosoever shall take a spoonful of the Mallows shall that day be free from all diseases that may come to him."Pliny the Elder

more books for the bathtub:

Usher. G.
A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man. Constable 1974 ISBN 0094579202

Elias. T. and Dykeman. P. A Field Guide to N. American Edible Wild Plants. Van Nostrand Reinhold 1982 ISBN 0442222009

Chevallier. A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants Dorling Kindersley. London 1996 ISBN 9-780751-303148