Purple and they Smell Nice

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It's interesting. Ask anyone, gardener or not, to describe a lilac flower and they will tell you 'it's purple and smells nice'. Most people recognize the scent of lilacs, and it's perfume can awaken fond memories of springtimes past.

The common mauve lilac shrub or hedge is familiar to most of us, however there are many other types of lilacs available and suitable for every area of your garden. Depending on the varieties planted, you could have continuous lilac blooms for up to two months. Looking to help our pollinators? Bees and butterflies love lilacs!

'Lilacs & Forsythias 'was the subject of the evening when Erna Wiebe, of Oakridge Garden Centre in Steinbach, gave a comprehensive talk to the garden club, describing the attributes of the types of lilacs, their growing requirements, and recommended varieties. Lilacs are such easy shrubs to grow and no doubt most of us will now be inspired to find room for another lilac or two in our gardens.

How to Grow - Lilacs appreciate being situated in good soil and full sun. Our Manitoba clay soil suits them very well, but remember to plant them in a well drained area as lilacs do not like wet feet.

Fertilizer is generally not necessary, in fact too much nitrogen from an overspray of lawn fertilizer could well cause an overabundance of new green growth at the expense of flowers.

Lilacs are mostly untroubled by insects, however, if powdery mildew shows up on lower leaves in late summer, copper spray will take care of the problem. Mildew is usually the result of cool, wet weather. Take care when watering at the base of these shrubs as mildew spores in the soil could be splashed onto the leaves.

Your lilac didn't bloom for you? Lilacs are spring blooming shrubs, and begin setting next year's flower buds very soon after blooming. It's important to remember that any pruning should be done as soon as the flowers fade to avoid pruning out next year's blooms. These are attractive shrubs in or out of bloom, but they will occasionally need a tidying and shaping. Older lilacs can be rejuvenated by removing some of the oldest stems at the base of the plant.

Types of lilacs and recommended varieties – Flower colour, bloom time, leaf shape and other characteristics differentiate the types of lilacs. Shrub lilacs range in height from 3 – 15 feet, and tree lilacs grow to 20 feet tall.

Preston lilacs – bloom in June and July, a little later than the common lilac, have more elongated leaves, upright stems and are non suckering. They are often used as hedges and make a lovely, dense privacy screen. Generally around 8 feet tall, their scent is spicy. 'Charisma' is more compact at 4 feet.

French lilacs – A variety of perfumes can be found within this group, and the leaves are rounder, dark green and smooth. 'Prairie Petite' and 'Wonderblue' are smaller flowered dwarfs at 4 feet.

Outstanding varieties are 'Beauty of Moscow' (double flowers delicate pink, turning to white), 'President Grevy' (blue double flowers), 'Charles Joly' (dark purple to magenta, double) and 'Sensation' (purple edged white bi color) is an outstanding lilac, although perhaps not as vigorous. All are 8 – 10 feet tall.

American lilacs – It is significant that these varieties were bred in Manitoba by the late Frank Skinner, who gained fame as a lilac hybridizer. They are hardy, perfumed, bloom 2 weeks earlier and even show fall colour! Examples of his cultivars which are still popular today are 'Mount Baker' (white), 'Pocahontas' (deep violet) and 'Maiden's Blush' (mid pink).

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Others – There are also several varieties which, because of their dwarfed size, beautifully fit into smaller, urban gardens. Displaying smaller leaves and scented, lavender flowers, they are compact and dense.

'Miss Kim' has burgundy fall leaves, unusual for lilacs, 'Bloomerang' reblooms all summer on old and new wood, and 'Dwarf Korean' lilac is often found as a small, topgrafted tree.

Now, about those tree lilacs. Proving to be a very popular urban tree, Japanese Tree Lilacs attract attention in June or early July due to their huge, creamy flower panicles. They are virtually pest and disease free and their gorgeous cherry brown bark provides winter interest.

'Ivory Silk' and 'Ivory Pillar' have glossy, green foliage while 'Golden Eclipse' displays variagated gold edged green leaves.

What about the Forsythias mentioned earlier? Well, like lilacs, forsythias are also spring blooming shrubs. In early spring, before their leaves appear, spectacular bright golden- yellow flowers cover the branches – or one hopes they will. These shrubs are essentially hardy in our climate, however the flower buds do not always survive our winters. Still, when they do, they are a treat for spring colour-starved gardeners! Plant these otherwise unassuming shrubs in the rear of the border, allowing others to shine after they bloom.

At 2 ½ feet, 'Sugar Baby' is a shorter variety, so a nice blanket of snow may protect the buds. A new variety, 'Fiesta', also shorter, and with interesting variegated leaves and red stems is on my shopping list.

There you are – a lilac for every corner of your garden – and, oh yes. They smell nice!

It Shouldn't Hurt!

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Let's be honest folks, many of us don't stay in shape as well as we should, and when the gardening season arrives our muscles are not prepared for all the digging, raking, reaching and bending. What's more, we're having so much fun out there we often don't pay attention to the signs of fatigue, and overextend ourselves. Sound familiar?

Grant Bainard, physiotherapist at Eastman Therapy Centre in Steinbach, stopped by at a recent garden club meeting to talk about preparing for the rigours of gardening and what to do when it hurts. His special interests include injury prevention, physical activity promotion and pain education, so this was perfect for us!

Grant's presentation provided us with very useful information, such as recognizing the difference between muscle soreness vs. the pain associated with injury. Injuries should of course be attended to by a health care professional, however muscle soreness can often be managed by the gardener. Interestingly, muscle soreness is often delayed, peaking 24 – 48 hours after the activity, and surely indicates the need for a more gradual approach.

Grant also provided timely reminders, such as the importance of warming up in preparation for gardening. Warm up stretches are often overlooked in our eagerness to get 'out there'! So, Grant provided an excellent reference for our gardeners - pre gardening stretches designed specifically for loosening up before grabbing that rake. 'Be aware of your activity threshold – remaining on the safe side of your threshold may result in muscle soreness. Exceeding your threshold will result in pain.' - American Physical Therapy Association

Grant Bainard's advice for injury prevention

- Recognize fatigue

  • Optimize posture and body mechanics:

    align your spine, engage core muscles, use your legs for force production and warm up to prepare your body.

    adjust your workspace with raised beds, good gardening tools, utilize stools and benches, and smaller loads in your wheelbarrow.

  • Improve your fitness level with regular activity such as walking and squats.

There's still a bit of time to get in shape, dear gardener – your body will thank you and your garden needs you! Join me for a brisk walk?

HaHa's, White Gardens and the British Influence

Master Gardeners and casual gardeners alike, garden club members and many visitors listened with rapt attention at a recent garden club meeting, while Sara Williams, respected horticulturist, international garden tour guide, and author of many garden books gave a fascinating 2- hour talk on “An Introduction to the History of the Gardens of Great Britain” and how they continue to influence our own gardens.

Although most of us have our own interpretation of an English garden, it can be many things – perhaps a garden built on axis with mirrored flower beds? Misty herbaceous borders filled with flowering plants? Lots of boxwood hedges? Yes, it's all of that and so much more. Many Canadian gardeners attempt to emulate it, often unknowingly.

Ms Williams prefaced her talk by saying that some features of a typical English garden are actually of Italian or French influence, however others, such as herbaceous and mixed borders have their origins in England.

Enclosing castles and whole towns with walls and hedges began of necessity in medieval times for protection from both marauding humans and animals. But as society became more settled, the walls and hedges began to serve other purposes.

Hedges of boxwood and yew became ornamental and were used for various effects, including topiary, knot gardens and mazes. Still a feature in many major British gardens, topiary is the clipping of hedges into geometric or animal shapes and is of Roman origin. Mazes today (like our corn mazes) are intended to be fun for folks trying to find their way through, however originally they had religious significance and represented the journey to Jerusalem. Low hedges using dwarf shrubs surrounded flower and herb beds, a garden arrangement still used today.IMG 1770 optGreenhouse and hedged vegetable garden

Walls began to enclose food gardens, and provided a micro climate for growing vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers. Tender orange trees were introduced from China in 1580, and pineapple from South America, a symbol of prestige, wealth and welcome, could also be grown in England as a result of enclosure and protection. Other important features still commonly used today are greenhouses, cold frames and the keeping of bees for pollination and honey. Sound familiar?

British aristocracy became interested in the view to the countryside beyond the terrace (Italian), so lawns, follies such as dove-cotes and grottos, and statuary were introduced. Clair-voie, an opening in a wall or hedge, provided an interesting way to view the countryside beyond.haha optHa ha

Wondering about those hahas? These perpendicular ditches prevented livestock and other animals from wandering onto the lawn. They were invisible from the terrace for an unimpeded view of the countryside beyond. See illustration.

Water served both a practical and decorative function. Since medieval times, ponds have provided fish and powered mills, and Moorish canals called rills provided irrigation. The idea of pools travelled from Egyptian gardens via the Romans, and from Islamic gardens by Arabs who occupied Spain. More decorative than utilitarian, all of these add beauty to our gardens today.

So, which characteristics are distinctive of an English garden? Although many of the garden features mentioned above originated in other countries, a relatively new style, 'the English landscape garden' came into existence under the influence of several English designers whose names are still recognized for their particular contribution to the style. Notable features include rolling lawns, a lake set among well placed groves of trees, all depicting a pastoral landscape. It was a direct and deliberate contrast to formal French gardens.

These designers included Lancelot “Capability” Brown, who opened up the English landscape, creating lakes and rolling parkland. William Robinson was a proponent of natural gardens with native plants, and the informal mixed border.

Possibly the most recognized are Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens who created many famous gardens in Britain and beyond, some of which are still in existence. Lutyens was an architect and created the hardscaping plans, or 'bones' of the garden, while Ms. Jekyll designed informal herbaceous borders within the formal framework. Her plant combinations, use of the color wheel and single colored borders are imitated to this day. Hence the 'white garden' referred to in this blog's title.

There was much more to learn in Sara Williams talk and this is just an overview. But no doubt, as we plan our own gardens we'll often be reminded of how the English garden continues to influence our own. Hmm...now where to put that new greenhouse? Or the maze for the grandkids. Dreaming here.

Interested in visiting the gardens of Morocco, Turkey or Ireland? Sara will be leading 3 small group, customized garden tours this year: Morocco (March 16-April 1); Turkey (May 15-31); and Ireland (Sept 20-Oct 4). For more information contact sara.williams@usask.ca.Vancouver garden tour June 2014 511 opt 1A maze to get lost in

Local Wildlife Photographer a Highlight

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Well-known wildlife photographer, Dennis Fast, was guest presenter at the Steinbach & Area Garden Club's January meeting, which premiered “The World is My Garden: My Garden is My World”. Speaking to a full house of gardeners and their friends, Dennis enthralled his listeners with a brand new show of his remarkable photographs, created just for gardeners.

Dennis Fast has played a significant role in sharing the magnificence of the Canadian Arctic to the adventurous traveller, as chief in-house photographer and photo safari guide at Churchill Wild, an arctic polar bear adventure company. His extraordinary photographs have appeared in many books, including Canadian bestseller, “Wapusk: White Bear of the North” which was the first book to feature his photographs exclusively, and which addressed the threats to the bears' environment. As principal photographer in many more books, Dennis has become well known as an experienced photographer whose stunning images express the light and beauty of the north.

Other publications featuring his photographs are “Outdoor Photography Canada”, “The Land Where the Sky Begins”, which was commissioned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada and featured Manitoba's endangered tall grass prairie, and the CBC followed him on a sunset photo shoot as part of their search for the 'Seven Wonders of Canada'. And have you seen Dennis's polar bear images in the new polar bear centre at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Zoo?
Most recently his newly released book, “Princess: A Special Polar Bear”, is charming children, their parents and grandparents alike. It's about a mother polar bear, teaching her cubs, Braveheart and Wimpy, about the same issues parents and their children face every day in their families. Be sure to stop by the Mennonite Heritage Village gift shop or McNally Robinson bookstore in Winnipeg for your own copy of these wonderful books!

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As a traveller, Dennis has photographed many areas of the world, and we were fortunate to also see beautiful photos taken in Kenya, Africa, Equador, S.A., Hawaii and Texas, USA, and Canada's Okanagan, Churchill and southern Manitoba. Want to view some of his work? See www.dennisfast.com!

Did I mention that Dennis and his wife, Frieda are garden club members? Naturally, fellow garden club members were curious about their gardens in Kleefeld and Steinbach, so, through the lens of Dennis's camera, we were also treated to an extraordinary view of their plants, flowers, birds and insects .

Because he's also an experienced birder, Dennis was asked to demonstrate bird and animal calls, and the audience greatly appreciated his incredible imitations, distinctive of the various owls residing in this area. And we won't soon forget his haunting wolf call. No, really, it was spine tingling! Typical comments heard following the show were “Absolutely wonderful, awesome pictures and his presentation of accompanying facts was outstanding!” - Bernice McMullen
Your local garden club has an exceptional lineup of speakers and events scheduled for 2015 and you won't want to miss the February 2nd meeting! Whether you are an experienced or novice gardener or not a gardener at all, you will enjoy Sara Williams, speaking on English gardens and their continuing influence on our own gardens. Escape into the warmth of the garden on a cold winter evening, sit back, enjoy the refreshments and learn the origins of mazes, topiaries, white gardens, espalier and the modern lawn.

Sara Williams is a well known horticultural specialist, author of many prairie gardening books and international garden tour guide, so you are sure to appreciate her knowledge and personable, humorous presentation style. The public is always welcome at our events, so please join us Monday, February 2, 7:00 p.m. At the Mennonite Heritage Village. Non member admission - $5.00.

Please visit our website, www.sagardenclub.com for much more information about us.

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Interesting Nearby Destinations Cont'd - The Afternoon

The Weston Family Tall Grass Prairie Interpretive Centre, located east of Stuartburn, and just minutes south of Steinbach was the garden club's next destination. Many of us had long intended visiting here and were delighted to take advantage of the opportunity.

Before the arrival of European settlers, the Red River Valley in south central Manitoba was a vast sea of tall grass prairie, a complex ecosystem with an astonishing variety of grasses, flowers and wildlife. Dominated by grasses that reached over two metres in height, this was the most productive type of prairie in North America. The very richness of the tall grass prairie, however, spelled it's doom. With deep fertile soils the colour of coal, the prairie was soon transformed by settlers. Cereal and forage crops are now cultivated where orchids, lilies, and grasses once thrived. The tall grass prairie ecosystem in Manitoba today, is only a fraction (less than 1%) of the original, which extended south to the Gulf of Mexico. source: Critical Wildlife Habitat

In 1987 the Manitoba Naturalists Society discovered remnants of the tall grass prairie within the Tolstoi, Gardenton and Stuartburn area in southeastern Manitoba. Today, through various partnerships, the Nature Conservancy of Canada now protects over 25,000 acres of this rare ecosystem. These remnants of tall grass prairie escaped cultivation because large boulders, swamps and large aspen groves made it too difficult to plough, discouraging early settlers.

Grassland, forest, wetland, sedge meadow and oak savannah meet in this diverse ecosystem, changing constantly through the seasons. Of special interest to our gardeners were the over 300 plant species which can be observed in season here in their natural habitats. Rare and endangered species are also found here, such as the Western Prairie Fringed Orchid, which blooms in July, and May blooming Small White Ladies Slipper. We visited in August, and were very fortunate to see late blooming Gentians, a true blue flower!

Of course, grasses are the stars of the Manitoba Tall Grass Prairie Preserve in autumn, so we were expecting undulating waves of grasses. Big Bluestem, or Turkey Foot (so called for it's seedhead's resemblance to a bird's foot) stood tall. A sea of burgundy coloured Big Bluestem in southeastern Manitoba, backlit by the late afternoon sun is breathtaking! Big Bluestem's roots extend as deep as 4 metres into the ground, which enables it to withstand extreme droughts and fire.

Many species of animals, birds and insects also live here, from frogs and turtles, dragonflies and mosquitoes, blackbirds and sandhill cranes in the wetlands, to elk, foxes, gophers, bears and rabbits in the forests and grasslands. And so many more could be listed! Over 150 species of birds pass through the Preserve during migration, as well as many kinds of butterflies.

The Manitoba Tall Grass Prairie Preserve encompasses a North and South Block, each with it's own interpretive hiking and walking trail, however our group visited the recently opened Weston Family Tall Grass Prairie Interpretive Centre, just east of the community of Stuartburn. We arrived in time for lunch which included roasting bannock over a fire, a novelty for most of us. Our guide, Cathy Shaluk, a naturalist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Master Gardener, began with an excellent presentation in the meeting space. Interactive displays, a second floor observation deck, and a fascinating, 400 sq. ft. mural depicting wildlife above and below ground level, are also in the spacious centre. Cathy also guided us through the Prairie Garden with it's butterfly and bee attracting plants and herbs, then the Prairie Orchid hiking trail, where she expertly pointed out many details unique to this vibrant ecosystem - large boulders called 'sleeping sheep', wolf scat, turkey foot grass and of course, the blue gentians!

This environment is always changing. Within each ecosystem, whether grassland, forest or wetland, each with it's own species, transformations occur constantly. One must visit often throughout the seasons, to watch, listen and learn to know this landscape and it's inhabitants.

Getting out of our backyard gardens and into a garden of a much larger scope and complexity, the Tall Grass Prairie was a wonderful opportunity to observe another, very special aspect of nature! Many of our group expressed interest in returning to walk the other trails, each with it's unique features. No doubt, we'll be back - kids and grandkids in tow.

Interesting Nearby Destinations - You Should Go!

The Steinbach & Area Garden Club arranges a day trip every August for club members, the purpose being to visit horticulturally significant locations and learn something new of interest especially to gardeners. Previous destinations have been the International Peace Gardens, the Lily Festival in Neepawa, an exceptional garden tour in Victoria Beach, a very important and interesting tree trial project in Portage la Prairie, conducted by the Western Nursery Growers Group, and more. They all included side trips to very special gardens and garden centres and we have a great time! We also become a little more aware of the considerable horticultural accomplishments of Manitobans.

This year we elected to explore two places closer to home, in fact, within a short drive south of Steinbach - the Northern Sun Farm Co op and the Manitoba Tall Grass Prairie Preserve.

Northern Sun Farm Co op members have been sharing 240 acres of land for more than 25 years, focusing on creating environmentally sustainable technologies and living practices. Particular areas of interest are wind and solar alternative energy, organic food production and it's cultivation and storage, composting, alternative building practices, well building and clean water conservation - all in the interest of promoting awareness and a responsibility to the environment.

Our group had asked for a tour that would interest gardeners in particular, so our wonderfully informative guides, Dawn and Mitch, focused on their food production processes, beginning with a tour of their extensive vegetable gardens. Pesticides are not used, of course, so other methods of pest control such as companion planting are practised. Crop rotation is another. The deep, fertile soil has been created by continually amending it with compost, cover crops and large bales of straw. Creative hoop houses, relocated annually to a new spot in the garden, provide ideal growing and harvesting of various vegetables. Each fall seeds are harvested for next year's garden.

Our group was fascinated by an ingenious solar oven, used for baking and roasting, and a large system of drying racks, also solar powered, and used extensively to dry herbs, fruits and vegetables. The solar oven, designed and built by co op member, Gerhard Dekker, was constructed as an educational workshop.

There was so much more - the adorable goat, grass topped roof and beautiful community centre, a round building with a high ceiling, used for occasional group meals and activities. Our time was limited however, so we only briefly checked out the water tower and root cellar. Recently completed, the root cellar will be used for food and seed storage.

Thank you to our hosts, Dawn and Mitch for taking the time to show us how Northern Sun Farm Co op practices sustainable living. We're looking forward to trying some of the gardening methods we observed in operation. Your knowledge and appreciation of working with the earth is inspiring!

Northern Sun Farm Co op welcomes visitors for a tour, but requests that you call ahead or it may not be suitable. Co op members also conduct workshops, both on and off the farm. The extensive list of choices includes using solar and wind energy and alternative building skills. Many workshops relate to gardening, for example, cover cropping for soil healing and vermicomposting. Food production workshops include food preservation skills and seed saving.

Happily, our tour to the farm has resulted in the organization of a workshop for our club. At last night's club meeting, interested gardeners quickly signed up and filled a hands on Fermentation class, which will shortly be conducted by Dawn Buchanan of Northern Sun Farm - to learn 'this ancient art of preserving vegetables, nutrients intact and easy for the body to digest'.

Next time I'll tell you about the afternoon at the Manitoba Tall Grass Prairie Preserve. Another fascinating place!

Revamping the Garden for Free Plants

Have you noticed the many changes in the garden as nature shifts from high summer to autumn? Earlier rapid growth has slowed as trees, shrubs and perennials begin preparing for dormancy. Very soon, in response to shorter days and longer nights, hormonal changes will trigger leaves to stop photosynthesizing, shipping nutrients into the roots of plants in preparation for the cold season ahead, effectively "freeze-proofing" the plant.

Late summer and fall have always been a favourite gardening time for me, less frenetic than the busy spring and summer, when so many gardening chores crowd to be completed. In late summer, with plants having reached their maximum size, it's easy to see where there are holes or areas needing attention.

This is the time of the year when I spend far too much time, gazing at my garden with narrowed eyes, in critical evaluation. No plant is spared assessment, and in order to 'make the cut' must have demonstrated it's right to occupy valuable garden real estate. Often I wait much too long to remove a plant that's not growing well or is somehow not working well with the overall design, so it's a relief to send it to a new home or the compost, freeing up space for a new plant. Editing the garden is sometimes necessary to achieve continuity, an important design principal which often requires fewer varieties of plants. A challenge for this gardener who loves most plants!

Sometimes garden beds require rejuvenation and early fall is a great time for this. Cooler nights ensure less stress for newly divided plants and with frozen ground still weeks away, their roots still have lots of time to develop. Generally, fall blooming plants such as Echinacea, Japanese Anenome and Joe Pye are best divided in spring, however, most spring and summer blooming perennials can be divided in the fall,. Hostas can be divided anytime, hardly skipping a beat in the process. Peonies are best divided in the fall.

Why revamp a garden bed? The fun of experimenting with a new design has already been mentioned, but there are other reasons why this can be necessary. Most mature perennials eventually need renewal, as indicated by fewer flowers, bare spots in the middle or smaller leaves, all signs they should be lifted and divided to restore their vigour.

Also, plants occasionally outgrow their allotted space, or shrubs grow too big, crowding surrounding plants, causing a struggle for light and moisture. If the gardener has not been replenishing the soil with nutrients, this is a great time to amend the bed with compost, dried leaves and manure. Of course, you will save all your leaves this fall for the best, free compost of all, right? Continue to topdress with compost over time and your plants will thank you with vigorous growth and bigger flowers!

Need more plants for your garden? Dividing your plants is a wonderful way to make more plants at no cost to the gardener. Use the most healthy, vigorous sections and replant into newly replenished soil. Water as needed to keep the roots moist until the ground freezes. Especially important for plants divided in the fall - be sure to mulch with several inches of dried leaves to protect the plant's roots from damage caused by alternate freezing and thawing in early spring.

The Steinbach & Area Garden Club will hold it's fall plant exchange at the September 8th club meeting, so if you'd like to acquire some new beauties for your garden in exchange for some of yours, here's your opportunity! Bring a plant(s) - Take a plant(s). Please visit www.sagardenclub.com for more information about this and the presentation "Paths and Walkways" by horticulturist, Andrew Fehr. Everyone is welcome and admission is free for non members this night only. See you there.

Showcasing Local Gardens - A Very Special Garden Tour and Tea

It's a fact - gardeners love to see other peoples' gardens! And the recent "Indulge Your Senses" Garden Tour and Tea provided an excellent opportunity for gardeners to do just that. Visitors arrived from as far as the Interlake to tour 9 beautiful gardens in the Steinbach area.

The Steinbach & Area Garden Club organizes a garden tour for it's members annually, however this year we were invited by the Mennonite Heritage Village auxiliary to co organize a very special event in honour of MHV's 50th anniversary - a garden tour, planned by the garden club, followed by a tea, hosted by the auxiliary. And it would be open for the public to enjoy also!

The garden club tends the gardens at MHV, and club members had worked their magic preparing the beds, so they were looking their best, roses and many other perennials being at the height of their season. In keeping with the theme of the day, we decided to further appeal to the senses by including art and music as well in the gardens at the Mennonite Heritage Village. Local artists from the Southeast Artists' Group took advantage of the beautiful day, working both outdoors, sketching and painting floral scenes, and indoors where a display of their work greeted the visitors.

A public garden, the exceptionally lovely Helena Loewen Park situated next to the library was also included. Hard working City of Steinbach employees keep our parks and boulevards so beautiful and this little park was especially groomed for the day. Hundreds of lilies were in full bud, ready to burst into bloom! It's always a serene, peaceful place to visit, especially in the evening.

However, it's private gardens visitors really want to see, and the 7 stunning private gardens on the tour strutted their stuff! Each one was unique so visitors came away with many new ideas for their own gardens. One country garden highlighted a series of garden rooms, including a moon garden and memorial garden. Another rural property featured a watercourse created with large boulders, as well as extensive raised vegetable beds.

The town gardens were also varied and included waterfalls, bridges, fountains, ponds and a swimming pool. Pergolas, benches, antiques and much more added interest and sometimes humour to the gardens. Trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals, many in full bloom, were at their midsummer best. Even vegetable gardens were creatively grown and one, planted at a diagonal, certainly attracted visitors' attention.

Tea in the gardens at MHV was certainly another highlight! White tablecloths and freshly picked floral centrepieces decorated the tables and the auxiliary served a delightful assortment of refreshments including biscuits, Devonshire cream and strawberries. Yum! Birdsong and violin music, beautifully played by talented musicians, 13 year old Bronwyn, Rayna, and Kadri Rempel, added more ambiance. And did I mention the weather was perfect? Storm clouds were gathering however, and, as if on cue the rain arrived at precisely the minute the event was to end!

Thank you to everyone involved, especially the garden hosts who so generously allowed appreciative visitors to enjoy their leafy, private paradise!

Garden tours and outdoor teas - a lovely way to spend a summer afternoon!

It's Not a Hobby!

Ask any gardener, beginner or experienced, why they garden and you will hear the usual reasons - good exercise, vegetables taste better and were grown organically, being with nature and creating beauty.....

Perhaps it was a particularly beautiful plant that started it all, or the memory of gardening with a much loved grandmother. The scent of lilacs or roses can sometimes entice one into 'coming over to the green side'.

Question is though, is gardening a hobby or not? To my mind, a hobby implies something that can be picked up and continued anytime, like, dare I say.... golf? Or knitting. By definition a hobby is an activity or interest outside our regular occupation, for pleasure or relaxation. And this is what gardening is for many folks - light activity, planting and caring for a few plants for pleasure. Truly commendable - and definitely a hobby for them.

I think it's the degree of interest that determines whether it's a hobby or something more - sometimes so much more. For some gardeners it's no less than a passion on it's way to becoming an obsession - definitely not a hobby! The following may seem familiar to some of us, surely to some of my best friends who have discovered how seductive making and caring for a garden can be. So much so, they might actually benefit from group therapy.

Gardening for them is never far away. They may pretend to listen to conversation but they're really in the garden. Waiting in line is never boring - they retreat to the garden! This time of year is particularly 'difficult' because the garden centres are finally open, and in observing these gardeners, one is reminded of cats rolling in catnip - eyes glazed, they lovingly touch the plants, sniffing their seductive aromas. Roses, herbs, even marigolds and geraniums can send them into exclamations of joy!

You can recognize them in their gardens by their unusual behaviour, perhaps gazing with narrowed eyes into the distance, muttering something about moving that tree, building a gazebo or hauling in boulders for a water feature. Never content with their gardens, they endlessly move plants. Garden writer, Marjorie Harris calls this 'divine discontent'. For these gardeners, finding the perfect spot for a newly purchased hydrangea is at least as important as the state of the economy! They've also been known to strap a flashlight to their heads and garden into the night. The nerves are not settled when, in the same day they may experience the agony of discovering the dog just unearthed a very expensive new water lily and ecstasy in observing the perfect colour of a newly opened flower or popped the first sun drenched cherry tomato. Weather itself, never reliable, can save the garden with a perfectly timed rain or ruin it with hail in summer.

However, gardening for the gardener obsessed is so much more than weeding and watering, although these tasks can be very therapeutic. It's a journey which can encompass a lifetime. Touching the earth has a primal affect on humans, providing a connection to our outdoor surroundings like nothing else can. In it's continuous cycle, the garden constantly reminds us of the joy of birth, vigour of life and melancholy of death. Caring for a garden, watching it grow, observing it's subtle changes is a fascinating education that never ends and therein lies it's fatal attraction.

Just a hobby? Hardly.

'PLANT COMBINATIONS FOR AN OUTSTANDING GARDEN' - On Monday, May 12th, talented garden consultant, Arlene Ortiz, guest speaker at the garden club's meeting will advise on creating beautiful combinations of annuals, perennials and vegetables for exquisite containers and gardens. Everyone is welcome! Door prizes, refreshments, and $5.00 non member fee. At the Mennonite Heritage Village, 7:00 pm. See www.sagardenclub.com for more information.

Early Spring Gardening Tips While the Glacier Melts

It's exciting to watch the glacier retreat in my yard, ending the ice age known as the winter of 2014! Bare spots are increasing, revealing not only my gardens and shrub beds, but also clearly indicating where snow collects in greater or lesser amounts. This is valuable information for the gardener to remember because the first bare spots in spring are also dry areas during the late summer. Make a note of them and plant accordingly. Planting drought tolerant plants in these areas will allow you to decrease both your water bill and watering time. It's just common sense, really. Examples of plants that prefer a drier, sunny location are peonies, iris, daylilies and grasses, to name just a few.

Conversely, note where the snow disappears later because this is where you will want to plant shade and moisture loving plants, such as hostas and ferns. It's also where marginally hardy plants are more likely to survive, because protective snow cover is guaranteed longer in spring. More newly emerging plants are lost in early spring where snow cover has melted early, followed by a late, hard frost. Snow cover also mitigates the freezing and thawing which can heave plants out of the ground, damaging their roots.

Perhaps it's due to procrastination that my yard stays relatively untouched for a bit, even though the snow is gone and it's warm and sunny. But it's also because this is better for my yard and garden. Try to resist the temptation to be the first in your neighbourhood with an immaculately cleaned up yard. Here's why:

In spring when frost leaves the ground, the soil in our lawns and gardens is beautifully porous from winter's freeze/thaw cycle and walking on it compacts it, which prevents air and water from reaching the roots of our trees and grass. So, try to hold off a few days and wait for the soil to dry before you get to work - or play. Not easy to do!

Did you know that among all those leaves you rake out of hedges and shrub beds, there are many insects just waiting for warm days so they can get on with their life cycle? But before you start thinking it's important to remove them as quickly as possible from your yard, consider that you will also be removing the very insects that will take care of the 'bad guys' for you. Lady bugs and other beneficial insects also overwinter in garden detritus,and if you bag all those leaves and send them away, you're losing your built in, natural defence. You are also losing the best soil conditioner/fertilizer you could have. If you don't use a composter, think about starting. If that's too challenging, go the easy route. Distribute a generous layer of dried leaves over your shrub and flower beds as a mulch where they will decompose into a rich, crumbly humus. It will keep earthworms and other important soil micro organisms happy, and they will in turn feed your soil so you can grow healthy plants. Also, when you mulch, moisture won't evaporate as quickly, fewer weed seeds will germinate and you will be weeding a lot less! Experienced gardeners see a mulched garden as a healthy garden - a good thing!

Although I'd much rather be raking, I think I'll sweep the garage. How mundane.

Ever wondered exactly what the difference is between the garden product that says it's 'organic' and the one that doesn't? Do you think your plants will actually know the difference? What do the numbers on the bag mean anyway?

The Steinbach & Area Garden Club has a full evening planned for Monday, April 14th. At 6:30 there's a Seed Starting Workshop which is open to anyone interested in learning about the process of starting new plants from seeds. Pre register by calling 204-326-2396.

Then, at 7:00 pm, Sheldon Gesell of Dirt n Grow will give us all the information we need about 'organic vs. inorganic', to grow that beautiful, healthy garden. You know! The perfect one in the magazine. Come - learn gardening.

The views expressed in Community Blogs are those of the author, and are not necessarily shared by SteinbachOnline.com

Steinbachonline.com is Steinbach's only source for community news and information such as weather and classifieds.

About the Author

Karen Loewen is the President of the Steinbach & Area Garden Club and a Master Gardener who is keenly interested in promoting the art, science and 'how to' of gardening in our community, especially to new gardeners.

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