Latest articles from Saskatchewan Perennial Society

Grapes (Part I)

Sara Williams and Bob Bors, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

“The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.”   Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

There are few if any commercial vineyards on the Prairies but walk down the back lanes in any older neighbourhood and you’ll find an abundance of grapevines hanging over fences, many laden with grapes every fall. These are almost always plants of our native riverbank grape, Vitis riparia.

The range of North America’s most cold hardy grape species, Vitis riparia, (meaning “of the riverbank,” its natural habitat) includes parts of the Canadian prairies. Although extremely hardy, the grapes are small, very sour, useful for jelly, but not good for fresh eating or wine making.

Two very hardy, higher quality grape varieties have been developed by crossing Vitis riparia with other species. Both are good for fresh eating and jelly. ‘Beta,’ developed by Louis Suelter in Minnesota in the 1880s, is a hybrid of ‘Concord’ (Vitis labrusca) x ‘Carver’ (Vitis riparia) and was the first grape planted commercially in Minnesota. It has the flavour and “slip skin” characteristics of its ‘Concord’ parent but with smaller fruit.  Designated as zone 3, it can be grown in zone 2 if placed in a protected microclimate. Only one plant is needed for pollination and fruit set.

‘Valiant,’ bred by South Dakota University in 1982, is a cross of ‘Fredonia’ x SD S9-39 (Vitis riparia).   Hardy to zone 2, it is the more frequently grown. Very vigourous, it can be used as a table grape or for jelly or juice. It has the preferred tangy flavour of its wild parent but is much superior. Like ‘Beta’, only one plant is needed.

Some of the varieties from the Minnesota breeding programs could be tried in zone 3, but they have not yet been fully evaluated in colder areas of Canada.  These include ‘Frontenac’, ‘Marquette’, ‘Frontenac Gris’ and ‘Swenson Red’.  All are hardy to -35°C, but winters on the Canadian prairies are generally colder.

Grapes are fast growing and require drastic annual pruning, from which they regenerate to become large vines by season’s end.  Often, they continue growing until hard frost. If not pruned, they soon take over fences and choke out trees. 

The flower buds develop in fall on vines of the previous season, forming at the base of the leaves in groups of three.  Usually, only the largest (or primary bud) “breaks” the following spring to form two or three clusters of grapes along a new vine.  If that bud is injured by late frost, insect damage or a very cold winter, a secondary or tertiary bud may develop. But these are usually vegetative or produce only very small clusters of fruit.  Grape flowers, resembling tiny bottle brushes with no petals, are wind pollinated. ‘Beta’ and ‘Valiant’ are self-fruitful, with only one plant needed.

Remember Galileo! Plant grapes in full sun in well-drained sandy or sandy-loam soils with good air circulation. Avoid frost pockets in low lying areas or at the bottom of hills.  Ideally, grapes are best placed on south, southeast or east-facing slopes.  Or, plant them on the south, southeast or east side of a building, fence or hedge. These locations warm up quickly in spring (in effect lengthening the growing season), receive more sunlight and are protected from prevailing westerly winds. As well, they accumulate snow during the winter that insulates the roots and any vines below the snowline from extreme cold. Sun exposure ensures that grapes will ripen. In partial shade they are less productive.

Overly fertile or nutrient-rich soil may encourage growth into fall, making them more susceptible to winter damage. They have extensive, deep root systems, able to absorb sufficient nutrients, but do not tolerate standing water.

Grapes are best planted in spring 1 to 3.5 meters apart. Often sold in pots or bags, they have usually begun growth by the time garden centres open.  Select plants which have begun to leaf out. Bagged plants usually benefit from being soaked in a pail of water for an hour. Prepare a much larger hole than that of their container. Fan out the roots in all directions but plant the main stem at a similar depth to the one in which it was originally grown. Mix in compost with the soil when filling the hole. (Too much can cause vines to become vegetative at the expense of fruit production.) A trellis should be set up at the time of planting as grapes grow rapidly and soon need support.

Next week: Care and Pruning

Sara Williams and Bob Bors are co-authors of Growing Fruit in Northern Gardens.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.

Early Spring blooming shrubs and trees

Alan Weninger, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

Each spring, in a subtle ritual that I probably share with most people that love plants, I look for signs and make my rounds to reaffirm that the trees and shrubs around me are still alive and well. A sure early sign is the swelling of leaf and flower buds.

In the city, elms that line the streets will be looking fuller and rusty brown as their flower buds get ready to open. Here and there a forsythia will make itself known with a flush of yellow blossoms. A look around Patterson Arboretum is sure to pay off with tiny budding flowers on currants (Ribes), the silver maple (Acer saccharinum), and unfolding little green leaves on cherry prinsepia (Prinsepia sinensis). As the snow disappears, I will pay a visit to my farm tree collection to see unusual early flowers like those on leatherwood (Dirca palustris) and sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina) shrubs. Predictably, everything will be as it should be and ready for another growing season.

Last December, thanks to a lack of snow cover and unseasonably warm weather, I was out pruning hedges at the Horticulture Field Lab where I work. As some of the high branches of European violet willow (Salix daphnoides) fell to the ground, I noticed that they already had already developed white catkins ( the flower clusters of willows and some other types of trees). Was this a case of being fooled by the weather, or was it getting a very early start on spring flowering? Either way, it is a testament to the hardiness and determination of this species, which will certainly be covered in fuzzy white catkins by April.

Violet willow trees are not commonly planted, although there are a few on the University of Saskatchewan campus which I seek out as part of my spring rounds. Their flower clusters are large and showy, although perhaps not as adorable as our native pussy willow.

Flowers of course have an innate mission: to be pollinated in order to produce seeds. Willow flowers can form as early as they like, since they are wind-pollinated. The showy flowers that we are most familiar with, such as those on crabapple trees, are more restricted to the warmer side of spring when they can be pollinated by foraging insects.

Wind-pollinated trees, which can start the season early, include birch (Betula) and alder (Alnus). In the front of Patterson Arboretum in Saskatoon is a native speckled alder, Alnus incana, and every spring I check for its elongating, drooping pollen catkins. They are not colourful, but they are fairly showy and hang down lazily, covering the shrub and moving in unison with any breeze.

Forsythia is always one of the first colourful flowers, arriving while other plants are still leafless. The flowers are bright yellow, abundant, and appear before the leaves, and thus a blooming forsythia is a very showy plant on a background of brown. The flowers first open on the lower branches, where there is generally a bit more warmth radiating from the ground, but quickly the entire plant is covered in blossoms. Forsythia ovata ‘Northern Gold’ is commonly planted, although there are other cultivars and species that will thrive in the prairie region. They can be grown easily from seed and from cuttings. Forsythia are related to lilacs (olive family, Oleaceae), and a similarity can be seen in both their flower structures (four-lobed) and in their opposite leaf arrangement. Both forsythias and lilacs are native primarily to Asia.

My spring rounds invariably take me to my farm tree collection, where I can always depend on a particular Dahurian rhododendron (Rhododendron dauricum) to be generous with bright pink flowers. In Saskatchewan, some types of rhododendrons can thrive if given the conditions that they need: a site that mimics their natural forest home as closely as possible. Forests are generally places of semi-shade, humidity, and soil rich in organic matter.

Among my farm trees this rhododendron grows under larch trees, in a low spot where rain and snow-melt provide moisture. In the city, planting on the shady north side of a house, beyond the house’s rain shadow (close to the house will be too dry), will do the trick. A wood mulch to shade the roots and enrich the soil is also beneficial. At the University of Alberta Botanic Garden near Edmonton, there is a glade in a natural conifer forest which is planted with several Rhododendron species and cultivars. On such a site, there is shade, forest soil, and shelter from the wind.

This year perhaps, get an early start on spring by looking for the subtle botanical signs that the season is changing. There is so much to see and many different flower types everywhere. Then before you know it, you’ll be awash in the familiar and more in-your-face spectacle of pink crabapple trees, lilacs, and white cherry bushes.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; ). Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events

Tender Bulbs for Summer Blooms

Jackie Bantle, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

When considering plants that grow from bulbs, one often thinks of tulips, daffodils or crocuses however, there are many other beautiful summer flowers grown from bulbs: these bulbs are planted in spring.  Technically, many of these flowers are not grown from bulbs but from other underground storage organs.  These storage organs may include bulbs as well as rhizomes, corms and tubers.   

Gladiola flowers are grown from corms and produce excellent cut flowers.  Corms are specialized sections of the stem that form roots.  Corms are round and flattened in shape.  Plant the pointy side up and about four times as deep as their width.  Gladiolas usually only produce one flower per corm so plant corms at 1 week intervals for about 4 weeks in spring to ensure a continues bloom in the garden.  As with any tender geophyte (that have underground storage organs), plant the corm once the soil has warmed to at least 15˚C (approximately mid-May in Saskatchewan) and about two weeks before the latest spring frost. 

Dahlia and begonia tubers as well as calla lily and canna lily rhizomes can be started indoors to get a jump start on the gardening season.  Plant the tubers or rhizomes indoors as early as April 1st in a warm, sunny location.  Ensure the tuber or rhizome are in a large enough container (at least 3cm wider than the tuber or rhizome) with holes in the bottom for drainage.  If planting directly outdoors in spring, soil temperatures should be at least 15˚C (third or fourth week in May).  For dahlias, begonias, canna lilies or calla lilies that have been started indoors, do not transplant outdoors until any danger of frost has passed.  Any exposed foliage on these tender geophytes will freeze below 0˚C. 

Elephant Ears (Colocasia, Alocasia and Xanthosoma) are a group of tropical plants grown from tubers and known for their large, heart shaped leaves.  All these plants can be grown as houseplants throughout the winter and moved outdoors for the summer.   The tubers can also be harvested in fall: cut the tops about 2.5cm from the tuber and stored in a cool, dry location.  A pot with dry peat moss in the basement is a perfect storage location for elephant ears. 

All of these tender geophytes prefer even moisture throughout the growing season.  Tuberous begonias and elephant ears favor dapple sun whereas gladiolas, canna lilies and calla lilies enjoy full sun. 

If you want to enjoy your tender bulbs for more than just one season, consider harvesting the underground corms, tubers or rhizomes in the fall and storing them indoors over the winter.  Prior to storage, allow foliage to dry down or to experience a light frost.  Ensure that the frost does not affect the tubers/rhizomes/corms.  If foliage is killed by frost, dig the plant up within 1-2 days to prevent rot causing organisms from entering the root through the damage stem.  Dig carefully and deeply to avoid any damage to the tubers/corm/rhizome.  Cut stems back to 2.5-5cm from the underground storage organ.. 

Lightly shake off excess soil from the roots.  If soil is a heavy clay, gently wash roots with a stream of warm water.  However, NEVER wash gladiola corms: this will encourage rot in storage.  Place roots on screen or dry surface to dry off for several days: warm, dark conditions are best.   Gladiola corms and calla rhizomes should cure (remain in these warm, dry conditions) for 3 weeks; other tender bulbs for at least several days.  Never store any damaged or diseased plant tissues:  they will rot in storage. 

Store tubers, corms and rhizomes in slightly moist peat moss in perforated plastic bags.  Open the bags every few weeks for aeration, to check for rot and to mist lightly.  Temperatures around 10˚C are ideal for storage.  If you find the perforated plastic bags are too moist, wrap underground plant parts in newspaper, place in a covered cardboard box and cover lightly with peat moss or sawdust. 

Tubers and rhizomes can be divided in fall or spring.  Sometimes it is easier to see the eyes on the tubers or the sprouts on the rhizomes in fall.  If splitting in fall, let the cuts dry before placing in storage.

The key to storing tender bulbs/rhizomes/corms is to keep them cool, keep them dry but don’t let them dry out. 

 This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; ). Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.

Looking for flower colour? Grow Zinnias

Jackie Bantle, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

The brilliant colors of a well-designed annual flower bed can be awe-inspiring.  Once those flowers start to bloom in early summer, the show usually carries right through to a killing frost in fall.  There are many annual flowers that perform well in the Prairie garden but one of my favorites are zinnias.

Zinnias (Zinnia elegans and Zinnia augustifolia) are part of the Asteraceae family of plants (also known as the daisy or sunflower family).  One of the most obvious characteristics of this plant family are the composite flower heads.  Composite flower heads appear as one flower however, they are composed of many small flowers called disc flowers that may or may not also have ray florets. These ray florets occur as colorful petals. 

Zinnia flower heads have disc flowers in the center of the head that are usually surrounded by colorful ray florets along the circumference.  Some zinnia inflorescences are rather simple with tight, button-like colorful center of disc flowers surrounded by a single row of ray florets (like a daisy) or they can be made up of several rows of ray florets surrounding a small area of disc flowers (like a dahlia flower).  The inflorescences can also vary in size from small pom poms to large 10-15cm diameter flowers.  Some zinnias can have speckled or streaked petals and some inflorescences are multi-colored. 

Originating in the southwestern part of Mexico near Tixtla, Guerroro, zinnias naturally prefer warm, sunny locations.  Although they can withstand some drought, zinnias should be watered regularly.  Zinnias that suffer extended periods of drought will not recover well.  Alternatively, zinnias that are grown in shady, cool conditions will be prone to tend to be infected by powdery mildew and botrytis if over watered or grown in shady, cool conditions.  If you notice the bottom leaves on your zinnias starting to wilt and die back, remove these infected plants immediately as the botrytis will quickly spread to neighboring zinnia plants.

Zinnias can be transplanted or direct seeded in the garden in early spring.  Seed germinates easily and plants grow quickly.  In nature, zinnias are typically 15cm in height however through many years of breeding and hybridization, hundreds of different zinnias are available that range in size from 10cm to 1m tall.  Flower colors can be found in purples, reds, pinks, orange, yellows, cream, white and every shade in between.  ‘Queeny Lime Orange’, an 2018 All American Selection winner, starts out as a lime green color and matures to light orange color later in the season. 

Zinnias are one of the best flowers for attracting pollinators and butterflies.  Interplant your vegetable garden with a row of zinnias for better fruit production in your cucumber, melon and squash patch.  Generally, the taller cultivars with the flat topped flowers are more adapted to pollinators and butterflies than the dwarf cultivars.  The yellow centered flowers with the disc floret provide more nectar than the double flowering blooms.

Zinnias bloom throughout the season.  Deadheading (removing spend flowers) not only encourages more flowers but also promotes branching of the plants.  Fertilizing the plants with a 20-20-20 soluble fertilizer once/month will stimulate support healthier plants and ample blooms.  If transplanting zinnias in spring, water in the transplants with a 10-52-10 soluble fertilizer.  Always mix any fertilizer according to label directions. 

There are many different types of zinnias available.  The Profusion series of zinnias are mounding plants, approximately 45cm tall and up to 60cm wide, with ‘profuse’, 5cm diameter blooms.  Many colors are available. 

Double Zahara™ series of zinnias are compact plants with excellent disease resistance and recommended for containers and flower beds.  The fully double flowers are 2-5cm.  Deadheading flowers is not necessary in the Zahara™ series. 

Two zinnias recommended as cut flowers ar eth Benary and Oklahoma series of zinnias.  Benary’s zinnia series produce giant flowers (10-15cm across) in bold colors.  The Association of specialty Cut Flowers recommends the Benary series for its vigour, uniformity and productivity throughout the season.

The Oklahoma zinnia series produce medium sized semi-double blooms and displays good powdery mildew disease resistance.  Deadheading is recommended for these cut flower series to increase branching and blooms.

Cactus flowered zinnias are eye catching and unique.  These large blossoms (15-30cm) grow on stalks up to 1.2m tall.  The ray florets are multi-layered and ‘quilled’ (ie. individually rolled in a tubular shape).  Recommended for cut flowers, the plants will produce several cuttings as a ‘come and cut again’ flower.

If you’re looking for an easy annual flower with a lot of color throughout the season,  zinnias are the way to go.  You could grow a new one every year and not get through all the colors and series in one lifetime.  My favorite is ‘Zowie!™ Yellow Flame’ but there are hundreds from which to choose.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; ). Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.

Bearded iris – The varieties! (Part II)

Sara Williams, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

Last week’s article covered the origin, classification, description, care, propagation and placement of the various types of bearded iris. Here I introduce you to some of the many varieties within each group.

Dwarf iris, generally classified as Iris pumila (sometimes found among the bearded iris in catalogs and greenhouse benches), are 7 to 15 cm (3-6 in.) high with flowers borne singly on short stems hidden by the foliage. Native to Europe and Asia Minor, they are nearly always hybrids involving I. chamaeiris as a parent. They are among the most dependable iris on the prairies and should be much more widely available at local nurseries and greenhouses. If you can’t find them locally, try the plant exchanges and sales of your local horticultural society. Or purchase them on-line through the catalogs of several Canadian nurseries that specialize in iris.

Dwarf iris are ideal in a rock garden or placed at the front of a border. They are generally divided into two groups. Miniature dwarf iris are 15-20 cm (3-4 in.) in height. Standard dwarf iris are 20-40 cm (4-16 in.) in height. Both are ruggedly hardy in prairie gardens, blooming in early spring. Plant them in well drained soil in full sun.

Among the Miniature Dwarf Bearded Iris are:

‘Snow Tree’– pure white petals with outstanding olive-green veining, 30 to 40 cm (12-16 in.)

‘Eramosa Pepper’ – pale blue, darker around the blue beard, 20 cm (8 in.)

‘Forever violet’- smooth violet self with dark violet beard, 18 cm (7 in.)

 ‘Azurea’ – originated before 1881; very early with light blue flowers, 15 cm (6 in.)

‘Sleepy Time’ – pale light blue self (standards and falls are same colour) with white beard, 14 cm (5.5 in.)

‘Wise’ – dark purple with white-gold beard, ruffled, 18 cm (7 in.)

A sampling of Standard Dwarf Bearded Iris:

‘Cat’s Eye’ – mauve rose standards with fine black cherry veins and feathered edges, dark cherry red falls veined black and widely banded in mauve rose and violet beards with brown tips. 38 cm (15 in.)

‘Fireplace Embers’ – dark yellow standards, dark maroon falls and gold beards, 25 cm (10 in.)

‘Blue White’ – blue standards and falls that are white with blue veins edged blue with white beards, 15 to 30 cm (6-12 in.)

‘Brassie’ – chrome yellow standards, chrome yellow falls faintly overlaid green and yellow beards, 36 cm (14 in.)

‘Adoring Glances’ – light grey standards, falls with chartreuse infusion; blue beard, 12 in (30 cm)

‘Ahwahnee Princess’– pale pink with wisteria blue beard and soft orange throat, 12 in. (31 cm)

‘Autumn Maple’ – medium pinkish orange, beards dark orange, 28 cm (11 in.)

‘Azure Like It’ – wisteria blue with white beard, 33 cm (13 in.)

‘Bantam Prince’ – dark royal purple, 25 cm (10 in.)

‘Bazinga’ – mid-clear yellow, white throat, 38 cm (15 in.)

‘Beginners Surf’ – light butterfly blue, darker beard, 28 cm (11 in.)

‘Being Busy’ – yellow standards, maroon falls, white beard, 36 (14 in.)

‘Black Lightning’ – dark purple black, striking purple beard, 36 (14 in.)

‘Blissful’ – clear mid yellow, tangerine beard, 15 in (39 cm)

Among the many intermediate bearded iris are:

‘Aqua Taj’ – dark blue with bronze beards, 56 cm (22 in.)

‘August Treat’ – blue-lavender, 51 cm (20 in.)

‘Lakota’ – orchid-peach, 58 cm (23 in.)

‘Anaconda Love’ – pink-purple, 60 cm (24 in.)

‘Blue Flirt’ – white with blue beard, 64 cm (25 in.)

‘Bounce’– garnet to rose amethyst, 64 cm (25 in.)

‘Batik’ – purple streaked with white and yellow beards, 60 to 65 cm (23-25 in.)

‘Lenora Pearl’ – soft salmon pink, 70 cm (27 in.)

‘Anaconda Pearl’ – light pink standards lightly splashed with beetroot-purple, beetroot-purple falls streaked silver white and orange beards, 60 cm (24 in.)

The above are just a very small sampling of what is available. There are many many more!

A gentle reminder: Many tall bearded iris are available in prairie garden centres. They bear spectacular flowers in a wide array of colours. But only about 25% of these can be expected to survive more than one or two seasons in our Saskatchewan gardens. Mulching plants deeply and placing them in a protected area (in full sun)is recommended.

Sara Williams is the author of many books including Gardening Naturally with Hugh Skinner, Creating the Prairie Xeriscape, and with Bob Bors, Growing Fruit in Northern Gardens. She gives workshops on a wide range of gardening topics throughout the prairies.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.

Bearded Iris (Iris germanica) (Part I)

Sara Williams, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

Of the 200 species in the genus Iris, only a few flourish in our northern gardens. Iris have been classified in many ways over the last few centuries and the nomenclature and origin of some species remains confused.

Both the genus and the common name honour the mythological Greek messenger, Iris, who came to earth via a rainbow and left these flowers, in a rainbow of colours, wherever she wandered. Iris have been cultivated since 1500 BCE and have become widely naturalized in many regions. Much of their origin is shrouded in mystery. A great deal of the information on the parentage of what we now call “species” (but are more likely natural hybrids) is said to be purely speculation.

The most dependable and widely grown species on the Canadian prairies are the bearded iris (Iris germanica), the Siberian iris (Iris sibirica) and the blue flag iris (Iris versicolor).

Of these, the bearded iris is the most commonly grown. There are thousands of cultivars. A recent estimate is over 20,000! The word “bearded” refers to a prominent patch of brightly coloured hairs found on the falls or lower tepals. Why the common name German bearded iris? Another mystery! They are not native to Germany nor has a lot of breeding been carried out in that country. It is now generally accepted that this is not a true species, but ancient hybrids of unknown parentage. It has become an umbrella term for a large group native to the Mediterranean region and naturalized in many countries. A heritage variety that has been grown in Prairie gardens since prior to World War I is the blue and white ‘Mrs Andrist’.


Iris germanica forms an erect clump of linear, sword-shaped leaves, often held in a fan and varying in height from 15 to 90 cm (6-36 in.). The flowers, in all colours of the rainbow, consist of three outer tepals (the “falls”) and three smaller upright inner petals (the “standards”) and appear in late spring and early summer. The roots consist of thick rhizomes, which practically exclude weeds, and are usually visible on the soil surface.

Iris should be planted in well-drained soil, with a pH at or above neutral, in full sun. The rhizomes should be on or level with the soil. They are drought tolerant once established. Divide them every 3 or 4 years or the clumps will eventually die out in the centre due to overcrowding.

Classification based on height and hardiness:

Miniature Dwarf iris (Iris pumila) are 15 to 20 cm (6-8 in.) in height and are dependably hardy in zones 3b to 2.

Standard Dwarf iris are 20 to 40 cm (8-15 in.) in height and dependably hardy in zones 3b to 2.

Border or Intermediate iris are 40 to 70 cm (15-28 in.) in height and dependably hardy in zones 3b to 2.

Tall bearded iris are 70 cm (28 in.) in height or over. This group is NOT dependably hardy in zones 3b to 2, although they are always available for sale.

Intermediate bearded iris make a fine addition to the mid-section of a perennial border while the dwarf varieties are at home at the front of a border or in a rock garden. All are quite drought-tolerant once established and also do well in a xeriscape setting once established. Iris are easily increased by rhizome division (each with a fan of leaves and roots) after flowering.

Next week’s article will describe the numerous varieties of iris which are generally available to prairie gardeners through nurseries, greenhouses and catalogues.

Sara Williams is the author of many books including Gardening Naturally with Hugh Skinner, Creating the Prairie Xeriscape, and with Bob Bors, Growing Fruit in Northern Gardens. She gives workshops on a wide range of gardening topics throughout the prairies.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.

Seeds, catalogues and many good things

Jackie Bantle, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

The days are getting longer and there is a bit of warmth in the sun.  There is a hint of green starting to show up on my thumbs and it’s not gangrene.  One way to manage this ‘green infection’ is to sit in a comfy place with your favorite beverage and seed catalogues in hand.   

My favorite Canadian catalogues for ordering vegetable and flower seeds include West Coast Seeds in Delta, BC (, Vesey’s seeds in York, Prince Edward Island (, William Dam Seeds in Hamilton, Ontario ( and Stokes Seeds from Thorold, Ontario (  All of these catalogues have colorful bright pictures, highlight new varieties each year and carry many of the most current vegetable and flower varieties released into the market by seed breeders throughout North America. Vesey’s always has an excellent selection of cole crops like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower to choose from as well as corn and tomato varieties that have seasonal requirements similar to the Prairies. West Coast Seeds is a great company to find unique organic vegetable and flower seed, especially many Asian vegetables.  Stokes Seeds has the biggest selection of flower and vegetable seed of any seed company in Canada.  William Dam Seeds may have a smaller selection but anything that I’ve grown from William Dam Seeds has always performed well in my garden. When searching for seeds from companies located in areas with a longer growing season than yours, remember to look cultivars that are early maturing or recommended for shorter growing seasons.

Although they may not carry the newest vegetable or flower cultivar releases, one of the advantages of purchasing seed from a more local seed company is that the seeds that they do sell are probably some of the best performing cultivars for your area. T&T Seeds ( and Lindenberg Seeds ( are two well established seed companies in Manitoba.  Lindenberg Seeds has a simple catalogue, but a large selection of flowers and vegetables recommended for the Prairie region.  You will find some older, ‘hard to find’ cultivars of vegetables and flowers in the Lindenberg catalogue.  In the Saskatoon area, Early’s Farm and Garden ( puts out a catalogue each year that contains some of their best selling vegetable varieties along with many other gardening tools and resources that they sell. If you are looking for turf seed that is hardy for Prairie conditions, Early’s has many options available.

One of my favorite sources for heirloom tomatoes and regular tomato varieties as well as other heirloom and organic vegetable seeds is Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Albion, Maine (  I have never had a problem importing seed from this company. They have their own breeding program which produces some unique new vegetable varieties that are specifically bred with the backyard gardener in mind. (i.e. the focus is more on flavor and quality and not necessarily on yields).

My favorite source for herb seed and seedlings is Richter’s Herbs in Goodwood, Ontario ( Richter’s has everything from 32 different types of basil and fourteen different types of garlic to twenty five unique tomato cultivars. If you are looking to expand your herb garden, Richter’s is a definite place to shop.

Other interesting Canadian sources of seeds include The Incredible Seed Company ( (flower, vegetables and tree seeds), OSC Seeds (, Blazing Star Wildflower Seed Company ( (specialize in Canadian wildflower seed and is located near Aberdeen, SK), Heritage Harvest Seed ( (a company in Manitoba specializing in rare and endangered heirloom vegetable, flower, herb and ancient grain seeds), Salt Spring Seeds ( (garlic bulbs, heirloom vegetable, flower and grain seeds) and Prairie Garden Seeds ( (a Saskatchewan seed company selling vegetable, flower and grain seeds and many heirloom varieties).

The number of seed/gardening catalogues available to the Prairie gardener can be overwhelming. The challenge of seed catalogue shopping is not to overspend and purchase more cultivars than you have space for in your garden.  The dreams and plans for the upcoming garden season are alive and well!

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; ). Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events

Gardens of France — Part 3

Bernadette Vangool, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

After our sojourn in Normandy we headed south to visit a few castles and gardens in the Loire Valley. Perhaps the most impressive of those visited was Villandry, an estate whose current buildings date back to 1536. The traditional gardens were converted to an English style park in the 1700s, but were restored to their original splendour by Joachim Carvallo, a Spaniard who bought the estate in 1906. Joachim left his scientific career to devote his time exclusively to his property. The gardens were lovingly restored over a ten-year period from 1908 to 1918. As a scientist, Joachim researched gardening techniques and vegetable growing, excavated part of the property to unearth archaeological details such as wall foundations and piping and spent endless hours poring over existing maps of the property. The 6 hectares (14 acre) gardens have been open to visitors since 1920 and depend on tourism for upkeep. The property is currently owned by Joachim’s great grandson, Henri Carvallo.

Because of the predominant use of boxwood hedges and annual flowers and vegetables, the upkeep of the gardens is pretty labour intensive, and employs nine full time gardeners and two apprentices. Since 2009 they have become completely organic,  eliminating chemical insecticides from the garden. There are over one thousand lime trees (linden or Tillia) on the property that from 1990 onwards were systematically sprayed for the red spider mite Eotetranychus tiliarum, which caused discoloration of the leaves and early leaf fall. Villandry worked with the University in Tours to come up with a solution and now have introduced predatory mites to keep the red spider mites under control. Irrigation is automatic and controlled by computer. Regular hand hoeing of the flower beds controls weeds and improves water absorption.

The property was a pleasure to visit both inside and out. The garden has been brought inside with beautiful flower arrangements, paintings of flowers, botanical drawings of vegetables, wrought iron floral designs on the railings of staircases and the large windows which gave you great views of different parts of the garden. Visitors also have the option of climbing to the top of the keep for an overview of the entire garden and property, definitely a worthwhile destination for garden lovers.

Photo by Bernadette Vangool. A portion of the Villandry vegetable garden viewed from the tower.

The next property, Chenonceau, appealed to me, not because of its gardens, although these were extensive, but more because of its remarkable location on and across the Cher river, and its history as the Ladies Castle.

Between 1513 and 1521, Thomas Bohier (then Finance Minister) and his wife Katherine Briçonnet demolished the fortified castle and mill on the property except for the keep or Marques Tower which they restored in Renaissance style. Katherine (the First Lady) was the true developer of the castle and the property around it.

In 1547, King Henry II donated Chenonceau to Diane de Poitiers. She extended the castle across the Cher river, and developed the area now known as Diane’s garden.

Catherine de Medici, Henry II’s widow, removed Diane from the castle. She added what today is known as Catherine’s garden and raised the height of the two-floored gallery across the Cher, so she could throw glorious parties.

Louise of Lorraine moved into the castle in 1589 upon the death of Henry III. Her death in 1601 marked the end of the royal presence at Chenonceau. But not the end of influential women.

In 1733 Louise Dupin held court or had salons or gatherings in Paris as well as at Chenonceau. She was a writer and invited writers, poets, scientists and philosophers, among them Voltaire, and Rousseau. She is credited with saving the Chateau during the French Revolution.

In 1864 Marguerite Pelouze, a descendent of the Industrial Bourgeoisie spent a fortune on the estate to return it to the splendor of Diane de Poitiers’ era. In 1913, the castle was sold to the Menier family. During the First World War, the first and second galleries were transformed into a hospital. Up until 1918, over 2000 patients were cared for by Simonne Menier, the matron of the family and the hospital. The hospital was financed by the Menier family whose claim to fame in France was a chocolate factory until 1965.

From 1940 to 1942 the castle served as an escape route for refugees from Germany. The North side of the river was German occupied, while the South side was Vichy-controlled.

After a significant flood in the area, the castle sat abandoned for some time until the Menier family decided to restore both the castle and the grounds to its former glory. Chenonceau is the second most visited castle in France after Versailles.

The gardens include Diane’s garden, Catherine’s garden, a vegetable and flower garden, a maze as well as the Green Garden and Russel Page Garden. So, plenty to see and learn for both the gardener and the history buff.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.

Gardens of France — part 2

by Bernadette Vangool

Saskatchewan Perennial Society

Normandy, a region of France with historic significance to Canadians, is often visited to see the sites that commemorate our part in the two World Wars. However, this landscape is also home to many  memorable gardens. The majority of these are privately owned and maintained, and depend on the tourist industry to keep them afloat and in some cases to carry out restorations. Many are connected to grand estates, where the historic buildings can also be visited. One can travel on your own to these destinations, or else search the internet for formal garden tours to a particular region of interest.

Our foray into Normandy, took us to the picturesque town of Rouen, steeped in Normandy history and famed as the place where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431. We enjoyed a walking tour through the town of half-timbered buildings, a visit to the cathedral and of course the Joan of Arc Museum. One of our first garden stops was Les Jardins’ d’Angelique. This garden forms part of an 18th century estate and was created by Yves and Gloria le Bellegarde in memory of their daughter. Self-taught gardeners, Yves brought a love for roses and Gloria an artist viewpoint into the garden. She realized early on, the importance of using different perennials, with different bloom times throughout the garden, to ensure some colour throughout the seasons. To the north of the mansion, is the informal English garden, with meandering pathways and occasional benches where you can rest and enjoy your surroundings. The south garden is in the formal French/Italian style, with a symmetrical design of trimmed hedges around the central fountain focal point. Plantings of annuals and perennials within those hedges contain predominantly white blooms. Since Yves passing, Gloria maintains the gardens with the help of her daughter Claire.

For the student of French literature, a visit to Chateau de Miromesnil near Dieppe, would be of interest. The beautiful setting, with ample perennial borders, and perhaps the best kitchen garden on our entire trip, also allows a visit to the Chateau, the birthplace of Guy de Maupassant, the French master of the short story. Some of his letters and original manuscripts are on display. Besides a day visit to the castle, you also have the option of an overnight stay there or in one of the estate cottages.

Chateau de Canon, located about 20 km from Caen, is a twenty-hectare English landscape park with beautiful buildings constructed around 1760. At that time an ornamental spring-fed lake was also constructed to perfectly reflect the castle. The estate has survived revolutions and two World Wars, but has belonged to the same family throughout. During the second world war it served as a German hospital, the foliage of two century-old trees providing screening from the allies. Since the last war. some parts of the estate have been restored under a system of war compensation. However, the bulk of the renovations have fallen to the de Beaumont family. In 1999 they formed a civic property association in which all family members are represented and each pledges 150 hours per year of work to the estate in various roles: gardening, publicity, reception etc. The English landscape park is complete with follies, (a dove cote, a Greek Temple, a mini chateau), waterfalls, and decorative bridges across canals. The water falls and canals create a restful atmosphere. The estate is also recognized for its ten walled gardens called chartreuses, which originally were planted with fruit trees, espaliered against the walls. The walls, heated by the sun, create a microclimate allowing for the growing of peaches figs and other fruits not endemic to the area. Some of the walled gardens are now planted with peonies, roses, and other perennials, but are in the process of being fully restored to their original uses.

Some of the other sites worth visiting in Normandy include: Chateau de Boutemont, Chateau de Meznil Geoffrey, Jardins d’Etretat, Jardin du Bois de Morville and Les Jardins de Castillon-Plantbessin. During your visit, don’t forget to sample the Camembert, a local cheese made from raw milk, the apple ciders and the famous Calvados, an apple brandy this region is famous for.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; ). Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.

Gardens of France — part 1

Bernadette Vangool, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

It’s winter, not much to do in our gardens, but a good time for planning that next oversees adventure. Perhaps the gardens of France could tempt you?

In the fall of 2022, I joined  an organized garden tour of Normandy and the Loire Valley. We started out from Paris to visit Claude Monet’s Garden in Giverny. I had previously visited this garden with a friend in 2009. At that time, we took the train from Paris to Vernon. From Vernon a short taxi ride brought us to the bread and breakfast we had booked on Rue Claude Monet in Giverny. We spent the next day exploring the little village, Monet’s garden and the Musée des Impressionnismes with its attached garden. Giverny was a relaxing experience. I enjoyed the French country-side, the walk ability of the sights all along Rue Claude Monet, the cemetery, the small eateries, the impressionist’s artist shops and hotel Baudy. If you have an extra day in Paris, avail yourself of a car rental and make Giverny your day excursion.

Claude Monet, the French impressionist painter, famous for his paintings of water lilies, flowers and French bucolic scenes, made Giverny his home for over 40 years, with Alice Hoschedé, whom he later married, and her six children. It was here, in Giverny that he had his painting studio, and where he developed the gardens which provided him with continued inspiration for many of his paintings. The gardens themselves are in fact an artist’s canvas, where the assembly of the whole is more important than its individual parts. In other words, he used monochromatic borders (borders with flowers of one dominant colour) to create a canvas. One example is the sea of red geraniums in front of the house, a reflection of the red bricks and green trim of the building. In spring the same effect could be achieved with pink and red tulips.

As an individual visitor, you enter the garden through the studio, which Monet had built with exceptionally tall walls, to paint his large water lilies canvasses, promised to the French Government. This studio is now the gift shop, with reproductions of some of Monet’s masterpieces adorning its walls. From the studio the garden gently slopes down and leads to small meadows of grass, adorned at that time with fall crocuses. These small lawn areas are separated by perennial borders. This part of the garden was once the working farm, where goats were tethered and chickens roamed free. The entire garden was enclosed by walls and originally was a fruit orchard.

Bernadette Vangool.
The Grand Allee in Claude Monet Garden.

As you walk past the meadows and towards the house, you are assaulted with a myriad of colours in the perennial borders. A visit to the house is well worth it. Or better yet, one before the garden and one after. On the second floor, you can get an overview of the entire walled garden. I found the dining room with its many shades of yellow most striking. The studio/living room where Monet liked to work and rest is surrounded today by reproductions of his work and that of other artists. The reproductions have notes as to when they were painted and the name of the work or what inspired the particular canvas.

As you leave the house, feast your eyes on the grand allée, which might look quite different from spring to fall, depending of the plantings of the season. Next, make your way through colourful borders to the right rear corner of the walled garden. From there visitors can access the water lily garden through an underground passage (built for tourists – Monet would have crossed the lane, now a busy roadway and the railway line). The tranquility of this garden is astonishing compared to the flamboyance of the walled in garden. Two small row boats are moored in the large lily pond. One is used by a gardener employed only to clean the lily ponds; the other is ready for the artist to step into, sketchbook in hand, to float among the lily pads. A Japanese wisteria covered bridge completes one of the scenes in this garden, a favourite for tourist photographers. Here  the colours seem more muted and the water soothing. Both the pond and the quiet river supplying it  as well as the choice of plants and trees contribute to the peaceful and picturesque landscape. The group entrance to the gardens is located near the underground passage. While necessary during busy times, I felt entering through the studio gives one a much better appreciation of the site as a whole.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; ). Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.

Gardening gifts for any season

Bernadette Vangool, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

Somehow or other this article had disappeared in the ether, airwaves or however these transmissions work these days. It was meant to appear sometime before Christmas. As many of the suggestions were books, and winter is long, I have decided to resend it, albeit a bit late for Christmas, perhaps these can be birthday presents for your gardener friends.

Gardeners among your family and friends may well appreciate some new gardening gloves, or a tool to make the gardening experience a little easier. The Saskatchewan Perennial Society has some nifty hand hoes in stock, for sale at $17.00. To get yours in Saskatoon call 306-343-7707. If no answer, leave a message on the answering machine. In other areas of Saskatchewan, contact your local garden club, many of which sell these handy tools as a fundraiser for their society.

For those of you contemplating a new garden space, why not incorporate some fruit trees or shrubs in your design? Many apples, cherries and plums have beautiful spring colour and provide plenty of fruit. These often are of smaller stature than the species and well adapted to smaller spaces. A “dwarf” fruit tree is smaller in tree size, not in fruit size! ‘Growing Fruit in Northern Gardens’ by Sara Williams and Bob Bors is an excellent resource. This book includes more than 20 species and almost 200 varieties – from sea buckthorn, heritage plums to apples and dwarf sour cherries. Take this winter to hone up on your knowledge of fruit trees and shrubs, so you can make a more informed decision as to which to include in your landscape.

For the young naturalist in the family, ‘Raising Butterflies and Moths in the Garden’ second edition by Brenda Dziedzic will be a welcome addition. The book features 50 North American moths and butterflies; their range, stages of development, the host plant that the caterpillar feeds on, as well as the nectar plants that attract the butterflies to your yard. With over 500 photographs showing the complete life cycle of each species and minimal writing. the book is an easy read. If there is a down-side to the book, it would be that many of the species covered are not endemic to our area. But it will wet the appetite to further exploration.

For bird lovers, ‘Bird Brains – the Intelligence of Crows, Ravens, Magpies, and Jays’ by Candace Savage examines the behaviour of the corvid family of birds across the world. It features full colour photographs by over two dozen wildlife photographers. This coffee table book has many little gems of information, such as the habit of magpies or crows to hide and tuck away morsels of food for future consumption. This revised edition with a new introduction was published in 2018. I found my copy at Wild Birds on 8th Street in Saskatoon.

Photo by Bernadette Vangool. Gardening and nature books make a great gift for the budding naturalist in your family.

History buffs, here is a book for you, hot off the press: ‘Trees Against the Wind – the Birth of Prairie Shelterbelts’ by William Schroeder. This is an in-depth look at the history of tree planting on the prairies, the nurseries developed to supply the trees, the men who ran those nurseries, the inspectors who traveled the province, visiting farmyards, etc. It is a well researched book documenting an important part of our prairie history, with stories and photographs.

The 2024 Prairie Garden Annual publication is now available. This year’s edition focuses on gardening indoors, with 30 articles from growing African violets and orchids to starting seeds of native plants indoors. There are also an additional 27 articles on general gardening topics such as ‘Gardening with deer’, which I will have to read as they have invaded our gardens at the Forestry Farm Park. The Prairie Garden is available from some garden centers as well as from McNally Robinson and other book stores.

The Christmas season is a good time to reflect on times gone by and also to look forward to the new year ahead. I am truly thankful for my family and friends and my gardening buddies. Many volunteers help us to provide our programs to the public, from organizing information meetings  and garden tours, the gardening at the zoo gardens, and, of course, providing these regular columns to your local paper on a weekly basis. As a board member I like to thank each and every one of you for your contributions to our organization in the past year. I would also like to wish all of our readers and volunteers all the best in 2024.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.

Veratrum nigrum, dark, bold and beautiful

By Bernadette Vangool

One of my gardening friends gifted me with a little seedling about seven years ago. The instructions were to plant it in full to partial shade, in rich loamy soil with good drainage. Shade is a relatively easy commodity in my yard, moist shade not so much. I decided to situate my new treasure close to the house and the hose, in the hopes that I would remember to water it regularly.

The first few years my seedling presented itself as similar to a hosta, a plant grown mainly for its foliage. But it was quite distinct in that the leaves grow from the centre in a whorl. As well, the wide leaves sported veins that grew parallel to the centre, giving the 30cm (12 in) leaves a beautiful pleated appearance. I was very happy with my new addition and over several years I watched it grow a little more robust. During the fifth year, lo and behold, a spike-like flower started to form in early June. By July, the flower stalk had attained a height of about 150cm (5 ft). Its flower stems extend outwards to a width of about 60cm (2 ft) with dark brown to dark purple flower florets appearing on little stems about 1cm (.5 in) apart.

Photo by Bernadette Vangool.
V. nigrum in flower in late July.

Even though Veratrum nigrum might be known in some gardening circles as black false hellebore, it is a member of the Melanthiaceae family and is in no way related to the real hellebores. Veratrum nigrum is native to Eurasia, from France and Germany to Russia, Mongolia and China. It has been cultivated in European gardens since the 1770. Charles Darwin grew it in his garden in the 1840s. It is often used as a backdrop for brighter coloured flowers and plants such as goatsbeard and meadowrue. Sources list it as a zone 4 to 8 plant, but in a sheltered location away from drying winds it seems to do quite well in my Saskatoon garden.

It blooms from June until late September. Seed pods start appearing in early September. Although they are generally described as crimson, so far on my plant they are a green colour. Perhaps our season is not long enough for the pods to mature. Nor have the seeds on my plant yet produced seedlings. Last year I distributed some seeds in my garden beds but I had no germination. The plant can also be propagated by division, but I loathe to uproot my baby when it seems to be relatively happy in its location. Because the pods adhere quite well to the plant, it also creates great winter interest.

Photo by Bernadette Vangool.
Seed pods start appearing in early September.

During  the next few years I intend to leave the stalks up through the winter in hopes that it will eventually produces seedlings naturally. Friends will have to be patient and wait for this to happen. I seldom see slug damage in my yard, but in spring, there were signs of a slug presence on the leaves.

Although dark, bold and beautiful, Veratrum nigrum is also dangerous if ingested by humans. All parts of the plant are toxic when taken internally, especially the roots. Its toxic qualities were known and mentioned by Lucretius (ca. 99 BCE) and Pliny the Elder (ca. 23AD). Ingestion can also cause a combination of low heart rate and low blood pressure resulting in death. During the 1930s, Veratrum extracts were tested as a treatment for high blood pressure, but patients had too many adverse side effects, so the trials were abandoned. The toxic qualities of this plant may well be the reason that Veratrum seeds, or this plant are a rare find in Canada and the United States. But well worth a try if you come across it during your travels through greenhouses or garden centres.

What is Christmas Without a Poinsettia?

by Jackie Bantle

Many special occasions have special flowers or plants associated with them.  The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) has been linked with Christmas celebrations in North America for the past century. 

The poinsettia occurs naturally in northwest areas of Mexico and can be found growing wild in deciduous tropical forests along the western coast of Central America, as far south as Guatemala.   The ‘blooming red flower’ is not a true flower but rather a collection of colored bracts or modified leaves.  The bracts change from green to red (or white, pink or even orange) when the consecutive daylight hours each day are less than 12.   The actual flowers of the poinsettia are the small yellow structures in the center of the leaf bracts at the growing point of the plant. 

The poinsettia was named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. foreign minister to Mexico.  On his return home to South Carolina in 1829, he brought back cuttings of the native poinsettias to grow in his greenhouse.  At the turn of the 20th century, Albert Ecke started field cultivation of poinsettias near Los Angeles, California, selling dormant plants to his customers.  In 1919 Albert’s son, Paul Ecke Sr., took over the farm and started selling them as cut flowers at roadside stands in Hollywood and Beverly Hills.  By 1963, Paul Ecke Jr. had joined his father in the poinsettia business and developed the first commercial quality poinsettia cultivars grown in pots. Paul Ecke Sr. became known as “The Poinsettia King”.

When selecting your poinsettia, choose a healthy plant with a sturdy branches.  Ensure that the true yellow flowers are present.  Avoid purchasing poinsettias that are displayed in plastic or paper sleeves around the plant as plants that have been sleeved too long lose their leaves prematurely. 

Poinsettias were traditionally red in color but with breeding efforts; white, pink, red and white speckled and peach colors are common.  This year I even noticed white poinsettias that had a blue and purple tinged bracts:  they were spray painted.  Transporting poinsettias home in the winter can be challenging.  Wrap the poinsettia in a paper or plastic sleeve surrounded by newspaper and place it in an inflated closed plastic bag.  The extra air helps insulate it.  Take it home in a warm vehicle.  Once home, remove the plastic and paper wrapping as soon as possible.  Place your poinsettia in an area with bright, filtered light – not direct sunlight.  Avoid exposing it to warm or cold drafts.  Poinsettias prefer temperatures between 19-22°C. 

Water poinsettias sparingly but thoroughly once the top 1-2 cm of the media is dry.   Do not allow them to completely dry out, but never let them sit in water.  Allow the excess water to drain from the pot.  If you decide to keep your poinsettia as a house plant, fertilize it once a month with a soluble fertilizer low in nitrogen and high in phosphorous.  The red bracts will eventually fall off and replaced by green colored bracts as the days become longer.  

To initiate colored bracts on your houseplant poinsettia for the next Christmas season, place it in a dark location for a minimum of 12 hours each day beginning in September.  This 12 hour ‘dark period’ must be completely uninterrupted by light.  By early November, new colored bracts will start appearing.

Some people avoid purchasing poinsettias because they are said to be poisonous.  While the plant sap can be irritating to people and pets, it is not poisonous.  Studies have shown that a 20 kg dog or child would have to eat between 500-600 bracts or drink a 2kg of the sap before it would be toxic.  The sap is very bitter so if a pet or child started to eat the plant, the bitter taste would turn them away from further consumption.  

Whether it is the traditional red poinsettia or one of the newer pink, peach or speckled types, with proper care you’ll enjoy your poinsettia throughout the Christmas season and beyond.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; ). Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.

Where in the world is your Christmas tree?

by Ginnie Hartley

Saskatchewan Perennial Society

How will you decorate your Christmas tree this year? Will you stay close to home and pull out the tried-and-true box of ornaments full of nostalgia, or will you try something new – an idea from another country?

Tradition tells us that the original idea for a decorated tree at Christmas time started in Germany in the sixteenth century. Martin Luther is believed to have put lighted candles on his family’s tree as they reminded him of the stars twinkling in the sky in winter.

German settlers in America introduced the idea of a decorated tree in the eighteenth century, but the New England Puritans viewed them as desecrating “that sacred event” and having a decorated tree was a penal offence.

However, in 1846 in England, Queen Victoria and her husband Albert were depicted standing around a decorated Christmas tree with their children and the idea immediately became fashionable.

Early twentieth century North Americans decorated outdoor Christmas trees with homemade ornaments and strings of popcorn which were originally intended to feed the birds. The arrival of electricity brought Christmas tree lights, and now homes and yards are decorated with displays of figures, lights and music to delight (or annoy!) their neighbours.

Photo by Jill Thomson.
Christmas tree ornaments from around the world. Moose (Canada), Apple (France), Donkey (Corfu), Bee (Saskatoon), Spider (Ukraine).

There are many different traditions, and ornaments, associated with Christmas trees all over the world:

          •        in Mexico, the principal holiday ornament is a Nativity scene but artificial trees or branches from local trees are often incorporated.

          •        in Norway, parents decorate the tree while the children wait outside. Then they circle the tree, walking around it while singing carols.

          •        Christmas tree decorations in the Philippines are called parol, ornamental lanterns typically made from bamboo and Japanese paper and lit from inside.

          •        Ukrainian decorations mimic spider webs shimmering with dew. An old folk tale tells the story of a poor widow who couldn’t afford to decorate a tree for her children, so the spiders in the house spun beautiful webs all over her tree.

          •        In France, tree ornaments often take the shape of red apples which have a religious association with the Garden of Eden.

          •        In Australia, Christmas is in summer so decorations are often shells or other things associated with being on the beach. Australians typically “fire up the barbie” at Christmas to celebrate while eating outside.

          •        Finish trees are decorated with himmelikits – geometric straw ornaments that are thought to bring a good harvest in the upcoming year.   

          •        Christmas trees in Denmark are decorated with julehjerte – ornaments made of pleated and plaited red and white paper in a heart shape, which are filled with nuts or sweets.

          •        Children in Iceland are visited by 13 trolls for the 13 days before Christmas. They leave a shoe by their bedroom window for the trolls to fill with gifts, but if they have been badly behaved, they may receive rotten potatoes instead of a gift. The trolls are popular as tree ornaments.

          •        Christmas in Japan is a secular holiday, but Christmas trees are popular and are decorated with gold paper fans, lanterns, wind chimes and most popular – origami cranes. As an aside, a popular Japanese tradition at Christmas is to eat at Kentucky Fried Chicken!

          •        In China, “trees of light” at Christmas are usually artificial trees decorated with spangles, paper chains, flowers and lanterns.

Decorated Christmas trees in Canada are thought to have been introduced in 1781 by a baroness who placed a tree in her home and decorated it with white candles. Our Christmas tree decorations now reflect traditions from many countries. 

So try something new this Christmas! Hang a troll or two on your tree, or make a parol or some himmelikits before you fire up the barbie or run out to KFC.

Ginnie Hartley is a retired speech-language pathologist with an interest in writing, gardening and obscure facts! This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.

Itoh Peonies (Part Three)

Sara Williams

Itoh peonies, a hybrid combining the hardiness and habit of herbaceous peonies with the colour range, flower size and extended flowering period of the tree peonies, are a relative newcomer to the prairies.

The story of their development is one of persistence and tenaciousness on the part of their first breeder, Dr. Toichi Itoh (pronouced Ee-toe), a Japanese nurseryman and plant breeder. His goal: to create a pure yellow herbaceous peony. Dr. Itoh pollinated more than 1,200 peony plants before obtaining 36 seedlings in 1948 after successfully crossing the yellow hybrid tree peony with a double-flowered, white herbaceous peony.

Nine of these seedlings resembled tree peonies. Sadly, he died in 1956 before any of them came into flower. His son-in-law, Shiagao-Oshida, continued his work and four plants were selected for introduction. Until then, there were no true deep yellow herbaceous peonies.

In 1974, an American horticulturist and breeder, Louis Smirnov, who had served as a president of the American Peony Society, learned about this amazing breakthrough. He made arrangements with Dr. Itoh’s widow to import these plants and register them with the American Peony Society.

Over the last few decades, several American peony breeders have made significant introductions. When first introduced, some of these peonies sold for as much as $1,000 per division! But with modern mass propagation techniques, prices have become more affordable.

Itoh peonies bloom from late spring to early summer. Colours include white, pinks, reds, golden yellow, copper red and orange, often with contrasting flares at the base of the petals. Many are fragrant. They have attractive, finely cut foliage and strong stems that rarely if ever, need support and are extremely vigorous. The rounded bushes are about 90 x 90 cm (3 x 3 ft). Their care is similar to that of garden peonies.

Among the hardy varieties are:


‘Kopper Kettle’ has semi-double to double, copper-orange (with occasional yellow streaks) flowers with dark centres on plants 60 to 90 cm (24 – 36 in.) high.

‘Singing in the Rain’ has semi-double, apricot blooms that appear light orange upon opening and fade to yellow, giving the plant a multi-coloured appearance. Lightly fragrant, it is very floriferous with many side-buds, blooming in mid-season. It is 90 to 120 cm (35-50 in.) high.


‘Cora Louise’ has single or double flowers of pale lavender fading to pure white with lavender flares. Flat in form, they bloom in mid-season on strong stems 60 cm (24 in.) in height.

‘Morning Lilac’ is single to semi-double with lavender-fuchsia-pink flowers with dark purple and white streaking, flowering in mid-season. Plants are 65 to 70 cm (26 – 28 in.) tall.

‘Visions of Sugar Plums’ has large single flowers of a soft pink blending to a deeper pink at the petal edge. Each petal has huge, plum-colored flares towards the center. Blooming in midseason, it has a height of about 75 cm (30 in.).

‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ has semi-double to occasionally double, rose-form flowers of an  attractive deep pink with cream undertones that fade slightly as the flowers mature. They are 15 cm (6 in.) in diameter, of good substance with a pleasant fragrance and bloom in mid-season. Floriferous, they have 2-3 buds per stem on plants 90 cm (36 in.) in height.


‘Bartzella’ has large (15 to 20 cm /6-8 in. diameter), fragrant semi-double to double, soft sulphur yellow flowers with red flares. Floriferous and of good substance, they bloom mid to late season on strong 80 cm (32 in.) stems.

‘Garden Treasure’ has semi-double, bright yellow petals with small scarlet flares. It is very vigorous and flowers over a long period in mid to late season with up to 3 blooms per stem on plants of 75 cm (30 in.) in height.  It is a Gold Medal winner.

‘Sequestered Sunshine’ has single to semi-double, canary yellow flowers 12.5 to 18 cm (5-7 in.) in diameter with white carpals tipped with red stigmas and a ring of yellow stamens. Flowering in mid-season, it is fragrant and vigorous. Plants are 65 to 75 cm (25-30 in.) high.

‘Smith Family Yellow’ has semi-double to double (30-50 petals) flowers of a clear deep yellow with small red flares that are up to 20 cm (8 in.) in diameter with very good substance. It is a vigorous and floriferous plant with 2-3 buds per stem, strong stems, and mild fragrance blooming in mid-season. Plants are 70 cm (28 in.) tall.

Sara Williams is the author of many books including Gardening Naturally with Hugh Skinner, Creating the Prairie Xeriscape, and with Bob Bors, Growing Fruit in Northern Gardens. She gives workshops on a wide range of gardening topics throughout the prairies.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.

Peonies a Plenty! [Part II]

Sara Williams, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

Last week’s column provided an introduction to peonies, their history and care. An old favourite in our perennial borders and one that seldom disappoints, here are some of the varieties that have graced prairie gardens for many decades.


‘Bowl of Beauty’ (1949) has large, rose-pink flowers with a creamy yellow centre on 90 cm (3 ft) plants.

‘Coral Charm’ (1964) has large, semi-double, coral peach flowers and is 90 cm (36 in.) high.

‘Coral Sunset’ (1981) is 75 cm (30 in.) high with large, semi-double coral pink flowers.

‘Do Tell’ (1946) is orchid pink to rose pink with a yellow centre and 80 cm (32 in.) high.

‘Edulis Superba’ (1824) is a very old hybrid but still considered among the best. It is magenta rose with a sweet fragrance and 95 cm (38 in.) high.

‘Gay Paree’ (1933) has brilliant magenta outer petals around a pale pink centre.

‘Laura Dessert’ (1913) has fragrant, fully double, pale pink, saucer-shaped flowers and is 1 m (40 in.) in height.

‘Monsieur Jules Elie’ (1888) has large, ruffled, double rose-pink blooms on 90 to 95 cm (36 in.) stems. It received an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

‘Raspberry Sundae’ (1968) has double, pale pink flowers with a yellow centre and a sweet fragrance and is 90 cm (36 in.) in height.

‘Sarah Bernhardt’ (1906) has relatively weak stems of 95 cm (36 in.) and very large, fragrant, double, soft apple blossom pink flowers.

‘Sorbet’ (before 1987, origin unknown) is 75 cm (30 in.) high with an upright form and double, soft pink and ivory flowers.


‘Buckeye Belle’ (1956) is 85 cm (34 in.) high with semi-double, dark red flowers with a pale red centre.

‘Early Scout’ (1952) is 85 cm (34 in.) high with very fragrant, large, single red flowers with a yellow centre.

‘Felix Krause’ (1881) is 75 cm (30 in.) in height with very large, double red blooms with a sweet fragrance.

‘Flame’ (1939) is among Sara’s favourites. It has single, orange-crimson flowers and is 90 cm (3 ft on plants 60 to 90 cm (2-3 ft).) in height.

‘Henry St. Clair’ (1941) is 80 cm (30 in.) in height with double red flowers.

‘Kansas’ (1940) has very fragrant, double, deep crimson-purple flowers and a height of 100 cm (40 in.).

‘Karen Gray’ (1965) has fuchsia red petals surrounding yellow stamenoids on 65 cm (26 in.) stems.

‘Karl Rosenfield’ (1908) has mildly fragrant, crimson red, double flowers on 80 cm (32 in.) stems.

‘Red Charm’ (1944) is 90 cm (36 in.) in height with deep crimson, double flowers.


‘Le Printemps’ (1905) has large creamy yellow petals with the centre veined violet carmine on plants about 70 cm (30 in.) in height.


‘Claire de Lune’ (1954) has single, cup-shaped ivory flowers with yellow centres and is 85 cm (34 in.) high.

‘Duchess de Nemours’ (1856) is 80 cm (32 in.) in height with very fragrant, double, creamy white flowers.

‘Elsa Sass’ (1930) is 70 cm (28 in.) in height with double white flowers.

‘Festiva Maxima’ (1851) has large, double, white flowers with flecks of red, is very fragrant and about 100 cm (3 ft) high.

‘Honey Gold’ (1966) has fragrant, double white flowers with a pale yellow centre and is 90 cm (36 in.) in height.

‘Primevere’ (1907) is 90 cm (36 in.) high with fragrant, white double flowers with a lemon yellow centre.

‘Requiem (1941) has single, creamy white flowers with a spicy fragrance on 90 cm (36 in.) plants.

And, last but not least, the fernleaf peony (P. tenuifolia), native to the dry meadows of southeastern Europe, Asia Minor and the Caucasus. It is early flowering with very finely divided foliage and deep red single flowers.  ‘Plena’ is the double form.

Next week: Peonies, Part III, the Itoh Peonies

Sara Williams is the author of many books including Gardening Naturally with Hugh Skinner, Creating the Prairie Xeriscape, and with Bob Bors, Growing Fruit in Northern Gardens. She gives workshops on a wide range of gardening topics throughout the prairies. This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.

Peonies! [Part I]

Sara Williams, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

There are over 30 species of peonies (Paeonia spp.) worldwide. Unfortunately, only a few of these are commercially available and ever show up in our gardens. Used medicinally in China and Europe for a wide range of ailments for centuries, peonies have been hybridized for thousands of years. 

Herbaceous peonies (Paeonia lactiflora), also called garden peonies and Chinese peonies, are native to China and Japan. The species name, lactiflora means with milky flowers. First imported into England from China in 1805, this species is the source of thousands of our hybrids. About 60 cm (2 ft) in height, the stems carry two or more fragrant flowers. They have been a standard in prairie gardens for over a century because of their cold hardiness, drought tolerance, longevity and showiness. Paeonia officionalis is native to eastern Europe and has also contributed to our garden peonies.

Herbaceous peonies consist of a tuberous root ball, crown and stems, with plants varying in height from 30 to 90 cm (1-3 ft). They bloom from late spring to early summer. Colours include white, pink, red to magenta, and yellow.

Fragrance varies among the varieties. Some of the older double varieties such as ‘Festiva Maxima’, ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ and ‘Karl Rosenfield’ are exceptionally fragrant.

The glossy, much divided foliage is attractive throughout the growing season. It emerges with pink to purple tones, is green through the growing season, and generally colours again in the fall. The degree of leaflet division varies with the species and variety. Most will take up to five years to assume their mature flower characteristics.

Remember the mature size of a mature peony root ball and prepare the soil well. Planting holes should be a minimum of 45 cm deep by 60 cm (1.5 x 2.0 ft) in diameter. Space them 1 m (3 ft) apart from each other and other plants. Place them in full sun well away from tree roots in a well-drained soil that has been generously amended with well-rotted organic matter such as manure or compost. There should be no more than 5 cm (2 in.) of soil above the top of the buds or “eyes”.

Water deeply after planting (remember the depth of that root system!) and ensure even moisture for the first several years after planting. Once established, peonies are very drought tolerant. Side-dress with a light application of a high phosphorus fertilizer in early spring.

The older, double forms sometimes lack sturdiness because of their heavy flowers and relatively weak stems. These will require peony hoops or another form of support to remain upright, especially after a heavy rain or wind.

Deadhead them after flowering, so the plant’s energy will go into their roots rather than seeds. Buds for next year’s stems are formed in the fall prior to the foliage dying.

Ants are neither helpful nor harmful to the peony. They are simply after a “free lunch” in the form of the exuded sugars on the flower buds. Botrytis, a fungal disease, can be a problem in some years. Water the soil rather than the foliage and increase air circulation. Remove and destroy infected foliage. Deer generally leave peonies alone.

They are well placed in the perennial border and are excellent in fresh or dried arrangements. Peonies can be left undisturbed for years. They are best propagated by division in September or early October. Lift the entire clump. The buds, stems and roots will be very brittle. Before dividing it, let it sit in the sun for a couple of hours to become less brittle and more flexible. Use a sharp knife. Each division should include a section of the root and crown with three to five stem buds or “eyes.” When replanting, ensure that the tops of the buds are never more than two inches below soil level.

Peony flowers are self-fertile. Species may be raised from seed but may take up to five years to flower. The seed is large and dark blue to black.

Next week: Part II, Peony Varieties!

Sara Williams is the author of many books including Gardening Naturally with Hugh Skinner, Creating the Prairie Xeriscape, and with Bob Bors, Growing Fruit in Northern Gardens. She gives workshops on a wide range of gardening topics throughout the prairies. This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.

‘Feeed Me’ with Bugs and Things!

Jackie Bantle

When touring children around a greenhouse or conservatory, they are often on the lookout for the weirdest, biggest, smelliest, most colorful plant.  One in a while, I might even get the question, are there any people-eating plants in here?  My usual response is… not since the last student asked that question…

Remember the play, Little Shop of Horrors?  If you recall, the story is about an eccentric florist who grows a plant that feeds on human flesh and blood.  Although the story is fictitious, the idea that some plants can get their nutrients directly from insects or animals is not so far-fetched.  There are over 600 species of carnivorous plants.  Carnivorous plants refer to any plant that derives its nutrients from trapping and consuming some form of animal, insect, microorganism, arthropod or bird.  Although carnivorous plants generate all of their energy from photosynthesis, most of these plants live in conditions where good root growth can be challenging:  bogs, swamps, poor soil with very little nutrients. 

There are five main methods in which a carnivorous plant can trap a prey.

• ‘Pitfall trap’ is the type of trap that pitcher plants use.  The prey simply falls into a rolled leaf that has a pool of digestive enzymes and bacteria at the base from which the prey cannot escape.

• ‘Snap trap’ is the type where the hinged leaves snap shut when trigger hairs are touched.  Note:  the ‘snapping’ is not the same speed as a mouse trap closing.

• ‘Suction traps’ are modified leaves in the shape of a bladder with a hinged door that is lined with trigger hairs.  Bladderworts have suction traps.

• ‘Flypaper’ or sticky adhesive traps like one would find on sundews or butterworts whose leaves are covered in glands that exude a sticky mucilage.

• ‘Lobster pot’ traps are found in plants like Sarracenia psittacina where the prey is enticed to the opening of the trap but its curiosity and desire for food has it wind its way into the cavity until it can no longer find its way out. 

Various types of carnivorous plants are found throughout the world.  In Saskatchewan, there are at least ten native carnivorous plants that can be found in boggy areas throughout the province.  A good location to find the native pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea ) or the round leaved sundew (Drosura rotundifolia) is along the ‘Boundary Bog Hiking Trail’ in the Prince Albert National Park.  The 2km walking loop was closed during the last summer season due to maintenance but hopefully the trail will be up and running for the 2024 walking season.   Never remove these plants from their native habitat: they will not grow well as house plants or outside their native ecosystem.

Occasionally, nurseries and your favorite florist may have some carnivorous plants available for growing as houseplants.  They can be a challenge but rewarding.  Venus Fly Trap, pitcher plants and sun dews are some of the more common carnivorous plants available for purchase.  Venus Fly Traps have hinged leaves that close if touched.  Pitcher plants have small pitchers that produce nectar on the rim of their pitcher.  As the bug searches for more nectar inside the pitcher, the bug falls into the pitcher and the smooth insides of the pitcher prevent the insect from crawling out.  Sundews have sticky glands along their leaves that trap tiny insects as they land on their leaves. 

Carnivorous plants are found in bogs which, in nature, are usually very sunny, very wet and the ‘soil’ is a  base of peat moss.    Avoid using conventional potting soil or compost to grow carnivorous plants. 

Keep the peat-based substrate continually moist by placing the plant’s container in a saucer of non-chlorinated water.  The water can be changed periodically to keep it fresh.  Do not use tap water (there are too many minerals in tap water) – distilled water or rainwater is best.  Do not fertilize your carnivorous plant.  Also, do not put dead flies or kitchen meat (like hamburger) on top of a carnivorous plant like a Venus fly trap: it will simply rot on the plant and may kill the plant.

Carnivorous plants prefer at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily.  A south facing window in summer may be too hot but the plant will appreciate the light.  The carnivorous plants that we grow as house plants prefer warm temperatures and should never be exposed to temperatures below 5°C. 

Most carnivorous plants do experience a dormant period annually. You may notice your carnivorous plants slowing down their growth during the winter. During this dormant period, plants may die back. Keep plants moist during this time but consider moving them to an east or north window during this ‘rest’ period. When they are ready, they will start to regrow and can be moved back to their sunny location.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; ). Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.

Some trees are for the birds…

Sara Williams, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

With such a wonderful, long extended fall, the coming winter seems almost illusionary. But it’s no doubt on its way. Gardeners with trees or shrubs that retain their fruit through the long prairie winter have a wonderful opportunity not only to enjoy the often bright red splash of the fruits’ colour against the snow, but to also enjoy the over-wintering birds who come to feast on them.

Following are some of the hardy, fruit-bearing trees that can provide a mini smorgasbord for wintering birds. Consider adding these to your landscape this spring.

Showy mountain ash (Sorbus decora)

Although several species of mountain ash will survive prairie winters, the best choice in terms of hardiness and disease resistance is the showy mountain ash, native to Manitoba. A tree long associated with magic, sorbus means stop, possibly a reference to warding off witchcraft. The species name, decora, means decorated or showy.

It is indeed showy, with four-season landscape value: flat clusters of showy white flowers in the spring; orange-red fruit in summer that persist through winter; and brilliant red fall foliage. And a size (an oval to rounded form about 20 ft / 6 m in height) that makes it suitable to both small and expansive landscapes.

The fruit persists through winter (until consumed by flocks of waxwings), offering a sharp contrast to our otherwise white landscape.

Plant mountain ash in full sun on well drained soil. Water until established after which it is very drought-tolerant.

Amur or ginnala maple (Acer ginnala)

Here is a small, tough tree of about 15 ft (4.5 m) with amazing fall colour, varying from yellow to orange to red to brilliant scarlet. It is native to China, Siberia, Japan and Manchuria including the Amur River Valley from which it gets its common name. The paired winged seed pods, known as samaras, are a brilliant red, ripening to a straw colour. The seeds, retained through winter, are a treat for grosbeaks and other birds. Among the improved varieties are: ‘Atomic’, ‘Bailey’s Compact’, Durone’, ‘Flame’ and ‘Royal Crown.’

Plant them in well-drained soil in full sunlight. It is excellent for smaller urban yards or massed in larger spaces.

Flowering crabapple (Malus spp.)

We usually think of flowering crabapples in terms of their lovely white to pinkish-red spring bloom. Small, dense, low headed trees of up to 25 ft (7.5 m), they are ideally suited to smaller urban landscapes or planted as groupings in larger rural settings. Relatively fast growing, their lifespan is about forty years or more. Plant them in full sunlight on well-drained soil. Among those with fruit that is retained through the winter until consumed by birds are:

            •           ‘Rudoph’ is a symmetrical upright tree of about 12 ft (3.5 m) with red flowers, bronze foliage and persistent red fruit.

            •           ‘Pink Spires’ has pink flowers and a narrow columnar form to 20 ft (6 m). The purple-red leaves turn a greenish-bronze and become orange-yellow in the fall. The dark red fruit persist over the winter.

            •           ‘Kelsey’ is an upright, rounded tree to 18 ft (5.5 m) with double pink flowers in the spring, bronzy-green foliage which becomes orangish-yellow in the fall, and small purple fruit that persist into winter.

            •           ‘Makamik’ has an upright rounded form to about 20 ft (6 m), reddish-purple spring bloom, and dark purple leaves (turning orange in the fall). The small dark red fruit persist through the winter.

            •           ‘Prairiefire’ has rich pink flowers in the spring, purple leaves, and dark purple-red fruit that persists through winter. It has a height and spread of 15-20 ft (4.5-6 m).

            •           ‘Radiant’ is compact, symmetrical and rounded, with a height and spread of about 15 ft (4.5 m). Single pink flowers are followed by bright red persistent fruit.

            •           ‘Red Splendor’ has a large open form with a height and spread of 15 ft (4.5 m). It has deep rose-pink flowers, green foliage and retained red fruit.

            •           ‘Selkirk’ is vase-shaped, with a 20 ft (6 m) height and spread, with burgundy spring foliage. Single pink flowers are followed by persistent red fruit.

            •           ‘Starlite’ has a height of 25 ft (7.5 m) and a spread of 15 ft (4.5 m).  A profusion of white spring flowers is followed by tiny red fruit which are retained through winter.

Sara Williams is the author of many books including Gardening Naturally with Hugh Skinner, Creating the Prairie Xeriscape, and with Bob Bors, Growing Fruit in Northern Gardens. She gives workshops on a wide range of gardening topics throughout the prairies. This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.

Join a Horticultural Society – It’s Not ‘Hoity Toity’

Jackie Bantle

Saskatchewan Perennial Society

People often join groups to share similar ideas, information, enjoy camaraderie and develop friendships.  Prairie gardeners have a long history of enjoying the company of fellow gardeners and learning from others how to and what are the best plants to grow in our harsh Prairie climate. 

In the late 19th and early 20th century, formal gardening groups or ‘Garden Societies’ as they were called,  formed in many communities in Saskatchewan. Typically, these societies were formed by community leaders around a central flower or vegetable show.

Local gardeners would bring the flowers, fruit and vegetables that they grew in their own garden to show to other gardeners and community folk.  Certain men in the society would be the ‘judges’ and awards would be handed out for the best specimens, based on previously outlined criteria. The shows were not only one way to brag about one’s garden but more importantly, it was a chance for gardeners to learn from each other about what vegetables, flowers and fruit could be grown.

Since the original shows, the societies evolved to be a place where gardeners could influence local policies regarding community landscape, share ideas, trade plants and seeds and to try to impress fellow gardeners with their own gardening skills.

Photo by Jackie Bantle
Award winning dahlia flowers at Saskatchewan Horticultural Association provincial show.

Some of the older societies in the province include; Regina Horticultural society, founded in 1896 and Yorkton Horticultural Society (established in 1906).  In 1927, the Saskatchewan Horticultural Association was formed with the objective of promoting “the interest of horticulture generally and horticultural societies particularly”. In 1928, the provincial government passed the Horticultural Societies Act, giving the University of Saskatchewan Extension Department responsibility for the general supervision of member societies. The department aided the societies with organization and training related to horticultural exhibitions, garden competitions, field days and demonstrations, home and town beautification, rural work and lectures on horticultural topics.  The Saskatchewan Horticultural Association (SHA) is alive and active.  Some of the current member societies of the SHA, beside Yorkton and Regina, include: Carrot River, Doghide River Garden Club (Tisdale and area), Kamsack, Tamarack Garden Club (Melfort), Indian Head, Norquay, Shamrock (Foam Lake), Tri-City (Nipawin), Spiritwood, Sturgis, Walter Willoughby (Parkside), Shellbrook, Swift Current, Weyburn, Windthorst, Wood River (McCord and area), Saskatchewan Perennial Society (based in Saskatoon) and the Prairie Peony Society (based in Regina).

The gardening societies have undergone a lot of change over the years.  Initially, most of the society events were attended by men in business attire.  The societies then became more popular with housewives who would share garden tips and show off their vegetables.  Today, the societies often provide professional speakers for information nights and assist children or seniors to plant their gardens at their local school or retirement home.  Members may get together to share recipes for their favorite garden produce or discuss a favorite gardening book.  Some clubs spend their time planting community flower pots or maintaining a local public garden.  Today’s members are all ages, men and women, with many horticultural interests.  Some members have a large garden, some have a balcony garden and some members have no garden at all. 

The idea of calling the gardening group a ‘society’ has, perhaps, discouraged some of the younger generation from becoming members – giving the impression that there is a lot of tea and crumpets served with a healthy dose of gossip.  Many gardening groups are renaming themselves as ‘gardening clubs’ to avoid this stigma. 

I have been involved with a local society and the Saskatchewan Horticultural Association for the last fifteen years.  I can assure you that I am not a fan of tea and crumpets and have never been offered tea and crumpets at a society meeting. 

Being part of a society has helped me make gardening connections across the province. This province is rich with horticultural businesses and beautiful personal gardens that have become accessible to me because I am a member of a gardening society. If you love horticulture and you have the desire to learn more, join a local horticulture society or gardening club. What’s the worst that can happen? You might end up with a greener thumb.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; ). Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.

Free trees for your homestead

Bernadette Vangool, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

Just off the press, “Trees Against the Wind: The Birth of Prairie Shelterbelts” is a treasure for those interested in trees as well as a great read for history buffs. William Schroeder has done an excellent job of documenting the life and times of those involved in tree planting, from the settlement of the Canadian West in the early 1900’s until the shut-down of the Prairie Shelterbelt Program in 2012.

William Schroeder, a scientist with expertise in tree genetics, retired from his position with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Agroforestry Development Centre in Indian Head in 2016. During his 35-year tenure he was a world leader in breeding woody plants and pioneered sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) research. His work at Indian Head awakened his interest in the history of tree planting. He subsequently spent many hours at Indian Head, Regina and Ottawa delving into the history of tree planting on the prairies and documenting the stories he had heard at his work place.

The Dominion of Canada realized that to settle the West, and make the prairies more attractive to pioneers, it was necessary to grow trees, to protect crops, gardens, livestock, people and buildings from the often cold, relentless prevailing winds. The tree nursery near Indian Head grew up during this time of British Colonization and provided free trees to homesteaders. The plum jobs, those of foremen and inspectors, were typically awarded to British subjects and the menial work delegated to those of other ancestries, mainly the inhabitants of ‘Germantown’ in Indian Head. Schroeder documents the trials and tribulations of holding onto a reliable work force in the face of hard work and low wages. Inspectors traveled extensively across the prairies, ensuring that farmers prepared the land properly, before any trees were shipped out. They traveled mainly by trains, which may have run once a week or so. But they almost always had to rent horse and buggies at the train station to continue their journey to extensive rural areas beyond those reached by rail.

As a volunteer interpreter for the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park (the former Sutherland Nursery Station) you might have expected me to be bored with the subject. But I found many gems of new and unusual information.

Who knew that communities like Biggar, Saskatchewan, held tree planting contests? To qualify,  a shelterbelt needed to be a minimum of an half-acre and consist of at least one thousand trees. Farmers could enter in two categories – The Best Shelterbelt or – The Best Prepared Plot. The response to these contests was enthusiastic and results were published in local papers. In 1926, the Best Shelterbelt won the grand prize of $50.00.

Although I knew about the tree planting rail car that travelled from April to November as part of a passenger train and was dropped of at towns along the way, I did not know it was set up as a travelling theatre with long rows of seats and a screen at the front.   “During a typical session, visitors viewed a travelogue of films highlighting all parts of Canada, followed by the film Tree Planting on the Prairies, which was commissioned by the Forest Nursery Station in 1919. The film was a highlight for viewers; many had never seen a talking film before.”   The tree planting car was in service from 1920 to 1973. Today it can be seen at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum, where it continues to educate the public about tree planting on the prairies.

It was great to hear another voice on the subject of shelterbelts – those rows of trees that reduced the winds, making a house a home, and how they came into being. I found the book to be an informative, well researched and an entertaining read.

Thank you, Bill for preserving this little known part of Prairie history.

Trees Against the Wind is available from Nature Saskatchewan’s online store, McNally Robinson and Wild Birds Unlimited in Saskatoon.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; ). Check out our website ( or Facebook page (

Protecting trees and shrubs from rabbit and mouse winter damage

Erl Svendsen, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

White winter rabbits are the cutest – at a distance and in someone else’s yard. Mice, on the other hand, are rarely considered cute except perhaps by their mothers. And during winter, both can cause a little to a lot of damage to your yard and garden, especially to the trees and shrubs. Of course, you don’t notice the damage until the snow is gone and your woody plants are starting to leaf out. 

Stems and bark are good sources of nutrition for animals in the winter, especially when compared to dried grasses and other desiccated herbaceous plants. Rabbits cause damage by eating the bark down to the wood. When they eat completely around a trunk or branch, they effectively girdle it, cutting off the flow of nutrients and water between the root and the living portion above the damaged area. In spring, woody plants may initially flower or leaf out, but eventually the portion above the girdled area dies. Rabbits will also consume small branches and twigs. Mice cause similar damage but are less likely to kill a tree unless their numbers are completely out of control.

Trees with light to moderate damage can recover. However, even if not completely girdled, expect some branches above the visible damage to be less vigorous or even die. Shrubs can take more damage as they can sprout new branches from the surviving stumps or from below ground (i.e. suckers). Prune out any deadwood. While bridge grafting may save a tree with a girdled trunk, it is a difficult technique with limited success. Severely damaged trees are best removed and replaced.


Preventing access to the tasty, nutritious tree bark is the easiest approach. Trees and shrubs can be protected from rabbits by fencing around the tree (5-10 cm / 2-5 inches away from the trunk) using chicken wire or galvanized wire mesh (10-20 mm / 0.5-1” squares). Preventing mouse damage will require a finer wire mesh (5 mm / 0.25”).  Dig the fence into the ground about 7.5-10 cm (3-4 inches) to prevent rabbits and mice from crawling under, and it should reach at least 50 cm (2 feet) above the expected snow line. After a heavy snowfall, remove snow as required to maintain enough fence above the snowline to prevent rabbits from reaching over.

Commercial tree protectors are also available from most garden centres (e.g. spiral tree wrap, corrugated tubing, plastic mesh) for protecting smaller diameter, single trunked trees.


Repellents, available from garden centres, work by either making the bark less tasty (e.g. very bitter or spicy hot such as capsaicin), or by fooling bark-munching animals into thinking there’s a predator nearby (e.g., wolf or other equally disgusting urine). The repellents can be painted or sprayed onto tree trunks and shrubs. Some products are longer lasting than others – read and follow product labels.

Habitat change

Loose organic mulch (dry leaves, straw, wood/bark chips), while very effective in reducing weeds, protecting roots against extreme temperatures and conserving soil moisture, can be an excellent overwintering habitat for mice. Before freeze-up, push mulch about 15 cm (6 inches) away from tree trunks and shrubs. In my own garden, I have found mice like to nest in the middle of my Karl Foerster grass clumps. So this year, I cut them back this fall rather than waiting until spring. 

Population control

Use rodenticides as a last resort when mice populations are high and they threaten not only your landscape but are also an occasional indoor visitor. Put out bait stations in late fall before freeze up. Place them close to suspected mouse habitat but where other animals, pets and small children won’t have access to them. Inspect the bait stations regularly and refill as necessary. Follow label instructions.

Susceptible species

Most often, young trees and thin-barked trees are the most susceptible to severe rodent damage. But  when food sources are scarce and populations are high, all trees and shrubs are potentially at risk. The following are species that especially tasty and would benefit from protection.

Trees: fruit (apple, crabapple, pear); ornamental (hawthorn, linden, mountain ash, poplar, willow).

Shrubs: fruit (raspberry, saskatoon, sour cherry); flowering (barberry, burning bush/winged euonymus, forsythia, lilac, rose, spirea, willow), small evergreens.

On the other hand, the following are rarely reported to be damaged: black walnut, Colorado spruce, cotoneaster, dogwood, Ohio buckeye, potentilla.

Erl gardens in Saskatoon and enjoys being a climate zone denier by trying new and interesting perennials. This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; ). Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.

Sclerotinia – a spooky fall fungus

Jill Thomson, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

Whether the fruit are used for attractive fall displays, making pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving or carving for Halloween, October is pumpkin month. Our family enjoys both the pumpkins we grow ourselves as well as an annual shopping expedition to the pick-your-own pumpkin at the vegetable farms close to the city.

Pumpkins can be attacked by an ubiquitous fungus called Sclerotinia sclerotiorum, that can totally rot the whole pumpkin. Many pathogens are very selective about the plants they attack, for example the rusts and mildews have different species that attack specific plant types. However, Sclerotinia can attack a wide range of hosts, including vegetables (carrots, parsnips, beans, celery), fruits (tomatoes, pumpkins), flowers (sunflowers), herbs (caraway, coriander) and agricultural crops (canola).

The diseases caused by Sclerotinia are often called cottony rot or white mould, because of the white fungal growth that envelopes the host, or stem rot and blossom blight because of the parts of the plant being attacked. The first sign of infection is usually surface growth of white, fluffy mycelium (fungal strands), and the breakdown of the plant tissues under the fungal mat. A soft rot of the plant tissues may develop as the fungus releases enzymes that break down the plant tissues, enabling the fungus to absorb nutrients from the infected plant. As the disease progresses hard, black resting structures called sclerotia develop on the mould. When stems are first infected, the foliage above the infection may appear normal, but once the stem is completely rotted the upper part of the plant dies quickly and sclerotia will form inside the stems. These sclerotia usually take on the shape of the cavity in which they are growing. This is typically seen in canola and sunflowers.  In a field crop like canola, the sclerotia fall to the ground when the crop is swathed and are incorporated into the soil.  This provides a continuing cycle for the pathogen. After the winter, and for at least 2-4 years hence, the sclerotia produce tiny, mushroom-like structures called apothecia, that release puffs of airborne spores when air currents pass over them. The small, colourless spores can travel several kilometres on wind currents, and their release is usually timed to cause infection of new crops. Weedy species, such as thistles, may also be infected and help continue the disease cycle.

Photo by Jill Thomson. Later infection with sclerotia forming.

When underground crops like carrots and parsnips are infected by the mycelium in the soil, the initial infection may not be noticeable but once the vegetables are place in a cool, moist environment for storage , large pockets of infection can spread from root to root, causing extensive losses. We store our carrots in ventilated plastic bags, and inspect them every few months for signs of infection. Removal of all damaged roots and re-bagging of healthy carrots is necessary. If you suspect high infection rates, rinse root crops, like carrots, in a dilute bleach solution to reduce the spread of disease. This year I have noticed early infections on tomatoes and melons lying on the soil surface in a drip-irrigated area. I will be keeping a watchful eye on my stored vegetables.

Canola and commercial vegetable producers often spray fungicides on their crops, to prevent, or reduce, disease. Home gardeners can help reduce disease by reducing humidity in the garden by spacing plants to avoid touching each other.  As soon as there is any evidence of infection, remove plants immediately to help prevent spread to other plants. Careful monitoring of stored vegetables is necessary, particularly if Sclerotinia has been observed in crops before harvest.

If ever someone writes a horror story about a fungus that mutates and becomes a major problem for humans, turning them into white, ghost-like specimens covered in mould, then Sclerotinia would be the most likely candidate. A long time ago, on an exam paper, I asked students what their favourite pathogen was and why. The response I have always remembered was from a student who chose Sclerotinia, “because the infection it causes is like a car wreck. You know you shouldn’t look but you can’t resist it.” And that does sum up nicely the damage this fungus can cause.

Jill Thomson is a retired Plant Pathologist who lives in Saskatoon, where she enjoys gardening with her family, including the dogs. This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.

Geraniums via cuttings

Sara Williams, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

My most enduring memory of geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) dates back over 60 years ago to 1963. As a young teacher in Tanzania, East Africa, I was amazed to see geranium hedges of over 6 feet (2 m), not unlike the caragana hedges that form an integral part of prairie shelterbelts. I later learned that this species was one of almost 250, almost all native to South Africa, where they grow in a dry, frost-free environment. Only a few of these species have been used extensively in modern hybridization.

Perennial plants, the botanical name is derived from the Greek word, pelargos for stork. The seed head looks like a stork’s bill. Flowers range from white through pink, salmon and red with many bi-colours. The leaves are palmately lobed and often coloured.

First introduced to European gardens in the early 1600s, they were grown by John Tradescant in Lambeth, London by 1633. They had arrived in Holland via the Dutch East India Company by 1700 and were grown in the Chelsea Physic Garden in England by 1701.  Geraniums were often collected by sailors because the tuber was once used in the treatment of dysentery. Hybridization had begun by the 1800s. Geraniums gained great popularity during the Victorian era and were enjoyed by the British royalty.

Widely grown on the Canadian prairies, geraniums are generally grown as annuals: as bedding plants, in containers and in baskets. However, they are actually tender perennials, and if taken indoors before frost, they will live for many years. Once indoors, ensure that they have adequate light (a south-facing window) to prevent spindly growth.

Most of the species commonly grown as house plants have been extensively hybridized, including zonal geraniums (Pelargonium x hortorum) whose attractive leaves are “zoned” into various colours; ivy geraniums (Pelargonium peltatum) with foliage resembling that of ivy; regal geraniums (P. domesticum); and scented geraniums (derived from various species).

Many varieties can be propagated by seeds: in spring, sow indoors in flats about 10 weeks before the last expected frost. Once true leaves appear, move them to two-inch pots and then onto four-inch pots once they are larger. Hybrid varieties will not “come true” from seeds, but these are easily grown from cuttings:

            •           Bring the plants indoors in the fall before frost.

            •           Take cuttings in late winter or early spring from the active new growth.

            •           Cuttings should be about 3-4 inches (8-10 cm) long, taken from vigorous shoots of 15 cm or longer. It’s best to use non-flowering stems.

            •           Using a sharp knife, make a clean slanted cut just above a node.

            •           Remove the bottom leaves, allowing three leaves per cutting.

            •           Let the cut end dry for a day before placing the cuttings in individual 3-inch pots with good drainage. Fill the pots with moist clean sharp sand, vermiculite, perlite or peat moss. Ensure that the cutting is in firm contact with the soil.

            •           Cover loosely with plastic to retain moisture.

            •           Place the pots in a warm (70-75°F), moderately humid environment in bright light but out of direct sunlight.

            •           Do not fertilize.

            •           Spray lightly with water if they appear dry. Keep them evenly moist but never wet.

            •           Alternatively, geranium cuttings may be rooted in water and transplanted to a soilless medium once the roots have developed.

            •           Once roots develop (generally within 3 weeks) at or near the cut surface of the cutting, your new plant is off to the races. Gradually harden these off in terms of light, temperature and humidity.

Sara Williams is the author of many books including Gardening Naturally with Hugh Skinner, Creating the Prairie Xeriscape, and with Bob Bors, Growing Fruit in Northern Gardens. She gives workshops on a wide range of gardening topics throughout the prairies. This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.

Chill out for an early indoor spring bulb floral display

-Erl-, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

My younger brother, who lives in Sidney just north of Victoria, BC, taunts me every February with pictures of flowering daffodils and tulips. But I have an answer to that and can enjoy flowering spring bulbs as early as January while there’s still snow on the ground with the constant threat of -30C or colder.

The trick to ‘forcing’ bulbs to flower out of season is realizing that when planted outdoors in the fall, bulbs are not completely dormant. During the late fall and early spring, when the soil is cold but not frozen, bulb roots and flower buds are developing. You need to replicate this in your home by planting them in moist potting mix and maintaining cold (but not frozen) conditions. By fooling them into thinking they have spent a winter outdoors, they will be just as anxious to bloom as you are to enjoy them.

            •           Bulb quality matters: Purchase large good quality bulbs as soon as they are available from stores, by mail order or online.  Avoid shrivelled, damaged and undersized bulbs. If possible, select shorter or miniature cultivars.

            •           Pot size: The traditional pot choice is a bulb pan – wide and short – usually 7.5 centimetres (3 inches) high. The wide base make tipping over less likely when growing taller plants. Smaller bulb species (e.g. crocus) are fine in slightly taller pots as they don’t require the extra stability.  But ultimately, any pot will suffice as long as it provides sufficient depth and has good drainage.

            •           Pot depth: The pot needs to be deep enough to have at least 5 centimetres (2 inches) of potting mix PLUS the height of the dormant bulbs. Choose a deeper pot if the bulb will stick above the pot rim (exception: amaryllis).

            •           Potting up: Add at least 5 centimetres (2 inches) of sterile soil-less potting mix, leaving enough room for the bulb to sit just below the pot rim when planted on top of this first layer. Fill the pot for an impressive display: pointed tip up, leaving 1-2 centimeters (0.5-1 inch) between bulbs. Cover all but the tips with additional potting mix. Water well and allow them to drain completely. Label with the species/variety, planting date and the date when the chilling period will be complete. Tip 1: Plant only one variety of one species per pot: a mixed pot is unlikely to bloom in unison. You can still have a mixed effect,  by using multiple pots with separate species and varieties. Tip 2: Space out planting dates to extend the length of time you’ll have spring flowers beautifying your home.

            •           Temperature: Bulbs need consistent chilling temperatures (2-7C / 35-45F). Not many of us have a root cellar or a cold room anymore, but your refrigerator provides an ideal environment (but avoid storing them with apples, avocadoes, bananas, blueberries, cantaloupes and other ethylene producing fruits). An attached garage may work, but the temperature may fluctuate too much (too warm to excessively cold) which will lead to poor results.

            •           Chilling period: Chill your pots in the dark for 12-20 weeks (see below for species-specific chilling period). If you cut the time short, the plants and flowers may end up stunted and distorted.

            •           Inspect regularly: Water to keep the potting mix slightly damp but not wet. If kept too wet, mold and rots may develop. Remove diseased bulbs. Bulbs may start growing before their ‘official’ chilling period is over – move to step 8. when shoots are 5-8 centimetres / 2-3 inches long.

            •           End of chilling period: Bring the pots into a cool and bright location but avoid full sun. If they haven’t started growing already, it may take 2-3 weeks for the bulb to send up shoots and flowers. When the buds start showing a bit of colour, move the pots into a warmer and brighter location. But keep in mind the warmer the location, the shorter their bloom period.

Recommended weeks of chilling

Amaryllis: no chilling required, but may take 6-8 weeks to flower after planting.

Crocus: 15 weeks

Daffodils: 15-17 weeks

Grape hyacinth (Muscari): 14-15 weeks

Hyacinths: 11-14 weeks, although it is possible to purchase pre-chilled bulbs. Just pot these up and wait for the blooms.

Paperwhites: no chilling required.

Squill (Scilla): 12-15 weeks

Tulips: 14-20 weeks

TULIP TIP 1: Face the flat side of the tulip bulb towards the outside of the pot so the first leaf grows towards the outside for an attractive and tidy look.

TULIP TIP 2: Remove the brown papery covering (optional).

Erl gardens in Saskatoon. This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events

Darwin tulips – the best!

Sara Williams, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

Tulips add spring colour to our perennial and mixed borders as well as in annual beds. Native to the mountainous areas of Asia from Turkey through Siberia, the genus name, Tulipa, is from the Turkish tulbend, meaning turban, a reference to the shape of the flower. 

They have been the centre-fold of the bulb industry since the 1500s when Turkey initiated a flourishing trade. Cultivated and hybridized in Turkish gardens for centuries prior, they were introduced to Holland and the garden of Carolus Clusius, a botany professor at the University of Leiden, about 1593. Stolen from his garden by botanical thieves, they quickly gained popularity among the wealthier Dutch.

By the 1630s, “Tulipmania” was in full swing in Holland. Amid much speculation, enormous prices were paid for single bulbs, many with unusual striping or mottling. Unfortunately, these bulbs were not long-lived and many fortunes were lost. Both the unusual colouring and their short life were due to a virus. 

Nothing is more enticing than garden centre shelves full of plump tulip bulbs in September with their implied promise of spring bloom. Although widely advertised and readily available, growing tulips in the colder areas of the Canadian prairies is often disheartening. The harsh reality is that many of these are not reliably hardy on the prairies. Some will come through their first spring and then fail to appear in subsequent years. Others may not appear at all. 

Of the approximately five thousand tulip varieties available today, the Darwin varieties listed below are among your best bets for reliable spring colour on the prairies. They combine drought tolerance, hardiness and a more perennial habit than most. 

First introduced in the early 1950s, Darwin hybrid tulips are a cross between single late tulips and early emperor tulips that was first made by Dutch hybridizer D.W. Lefeber. Their parentage gives them their large, shapely blossoms and a relatively early bloom time. Depending on the season and your location, Darwin hybrids typically bloom between mid-April and mid-May. They are generally tall plants with single flowers of good size and colour on sturdy stems. Most are 18 to 22 inches (45-55 cm) tall.

Purchase the largest, plumpest bulbs as soon as they become available in the fall and plant them immediately in well-drained soil in full sun. Water well, mulch, and hope for an early and continuous snow cover – their best insulation!

Among the older Darwin hybrids, generally red, yellow or orange, are:

• ‘Apeldoorn’ – red with persimmon-orange edges and interior (in case you’re wondering, Apeldoorn is a city in         Holland).

• ‘Beauty of Apeldoorn’ – yellow washed with orange. 

• ‘Golden Apeldoorn’ – golden-yellow.

• ‘Golden Oxford’ – golden yellow.

• ‘Oxford’ – scarlet flushed with red.

• ‘Parade’ – red, large black interior base edged with yellow.

• ‘Pink Impression’ – large pink-rose flower. 

The more recent Darwin hybrids also include pinks, whites and purples:

• ‘Acropolis’ – iridescent rosy-pink flowers.

• ‘Ad Rem’ – fragrant, scarlet petals with a gold band.

• ‘American Dream’ – golden-yellow with reddish-orange edges.

• ‘Apeldoorn’ Elite’ – red-orange petals with golden edges.

• ‘Apricot Impression’ – apricot-orange with a yellow edge.

• ‘Apricot Pride’ – apricot-pink to peachy yellow.

• ‘Banja Luka’ – yellow with broad red edge.

• ‘Beauty of Spring’ – extra-large, pale-yellow petals delicately edged in crimson.

• ‘Delta Graffiti’ – pinkish-red exterior with cobalt-blue centre edged in black.

• ‘Hakuun’ – pure white flowers.

• ‘How Sweet It Is’ – peachy-apricot with a golden edge.

• ‘Ivory Floradale’ – cream with a slight pink hue.

• ‘Juliette’ – bright golden flowers with a scarlet flame.

• ‘Mystic Magic’ – reddish-pink flowers on compact plants.

• ‘Novi Sun’ – sunny yellow, 2020 introduction.

• ‘Ollioules’ – rose-red fading into ivory white on the edges.

• ‘Orange Queen’ – mandarin orange-red with yellow glow on outer petals.

• ‘Pink Sound’ – soft candy pink petals with cherry pink edges.

• ‘Red Impression’ – deep red.

• ‘Rise Up’ – salmon-pink petals with a golden yellow base.

• ‘Salmon Impression’ – pink petals with salmon-apricot flushed in their centre.

• ‘Triple A’ – rich orange with delicate orange edging.

• ‘Wedding Dress’ – pure white, 2020 introduction.

• ‘White Clouds’ – snow white.

• ‘World Friendship’ – creamy-yellow; symbol of peace and friendship.

Sara Williams is the author of many books including Gardening Naturally with Hugh Skinner, Creating the Prairie Xeriscape, and with Bob Bors, Growing Fruit in Northern Gardens. She gives workshops on a wide range of gardening topics throughout the prairies. This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.

What drives Dutch Elm Disease?

Jill Thomson, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

Dutch elm disease (DED) is probably one of the best-known tree diseases in North America and Europe.

American elm trees (Ulmus americana) have been planted in many developing cities since the 1900’s, to provide shade for residential areas, and along main streets. They have grown into large, mature trees with a characteristic main trunk that divides into many spreading branches, providing an ideal canopy that shades a significant surrounding area.

Many of us enjoy the cooling effect of the overhead canopy, and this shade will become even more important as our summer temperatures keep climbing. Since the recognition of the destructive nature of DED and its ability to remove mature elms from our landscape, cities have been trying to find suitable replacements for elms, but no other trees are quite as successful at providing shade on city streets.

Dutch elm disease is a very complex disease caused by fungal pathogens,   (Ophiostoma species)that can affect any kind of elm (Ulmus species). It is transmitted by three kinds of elm bark beetle (native elm bark, european elm bark and banded elm bark – in Saskatchewan it is usually either the native or european elm bark beetle that spread the disease), by movement of infected wood, and through natural root connections that occur between trees.

The fungus was first isolated from dying elms in 1921 by a Dutch plant pathologist and another Dutch researcher helped determine that the fungus did cause the disease. Thus, the disease was named Dutch elm disease, although later it was determined that the disease originated in Asia.

The pathogen and beetles were transported to North America in infected wood, probably shipped from Europe after the First World War. DED was first identified in the USA in 1931, and in Ontario in 1946. Many trees died in eastern Canada in the next 40 years.  The disease also spread slowly westward, usually following the stands of native elms (U. americana) that grow along the rivers. It was found in Manitoba in 1975 and Saskatchewan in 1981.

The disease has become established in the native elms of the Qu’Appelle valley, in the Carrot River region and other stands on the eastern side of the province. An isolated elm tree was infected in Regina in 1981 and since then the city has removed more infected trees.  An infected Siberian elm tree (Ulmus pumila) was found in Saskatoon in 2015, it was immediately removed and extra vigilant monitoring of the neighbourhood trees was conducted for about 4 years. Another infected elm occurred in the Westmount area in July 2021 and in July 2023, three infected elms were discovered, two in Sutherland and one in Pleasant Hill.  In August, an additional infected elm was identified in Forest Grove and it is likely about 30 elms will be removed along Central Avenue (City of Saskatoon report, August 28, 2023). 

The disease destroys infected elms quickly, taking one to three years to kill a tree. The first signs of disease are sudden wilting, yellowing and browning of leaves on individual branches (flagging), or the whole tree. When the bark of infected branches is peeled back, brown streaking or mottling is seen on the outer layer of wood.

A laboratory test can confirm the presence of the fungus, which produces spores that travel through and block the conducting tissue of the tree. The fungus is spread from tree to tree by elm bark beetles that make tunnels and lay eggs in dead or dying wood. The larvae develop in infected wood, and when adult beetles emerge they are contaminated with fungal spores that are transmitted to either healthy or infected elms by feeding beetles.

The fungus and beetles have developed a mutually beneficial relationship: adult beetles lay eggs in dead or dying elm wood that is infected with the fungus.  The young beetles that emerge are contaminated with spores of the fungus and initially they feed on healthy trees, transferring the disease to uninfected trees. This ensures dead wood in which the next generations of beetles lay their eggs.

The importance of transmission of the pathogen spores on beetle bodies was recognized when the disease cycle was first studied, and initially control methods targeted the insect vectors. However, this did not prevent the disease and methods to inject pesticides into the trees were used to protect specific elms considered vital to the beauty of city landscapes.

Management programs in most provinces include public education, prevention of movement of firewood, tree maintenance (pruning and removal), sampling trees that are symptomatic, a ban on pruning in the summer when beetles are active, and monitoring of bark beetles to identify types present and population levels.

Prompt removal and destruction of infected trees is considered to be particularly important. Cities have also developed Prevention/Management programs to keep the disease in check because of the aesthetic and economic losses caused by the death of elms.

The city of Saskatoon provides information on prevention of disease transmission, and in August a pamphlet telling us how to “Protect our elm” was distributed with utility bills. The main recommendations, within the city, are:

1. Not to store elm wood

2. Do not prune elms from April 1 to August 31

3. Dispose of elm wood at the landfill (not at compost depots or in green bins).

It is also illegal (hence, very important) not to move elm wood within the province, particularly from home to campsites, and vice versa.

The city will inspect trees that the public suspects may be infected ( Extra vigilance is important in areas were infection has been discovered recently. We can all play a part in controlling this deadly disease.

Jill Thomson is a retired Plant Pathologist who lives in Saskatoon, where she enjoys gardening with her family, including the dogs. This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; ). Upcoming event – Fall Plant and Seed Exchange and Plant Sale Sunday September 10th 2:00pm at Saskatoon Forestry and Zoo Hall. Check our website ( for more details.

‘Leafless’ spurge?

Jill Thomson, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

The ideas for many of my articles are often triggered by something I notice on my daily dog walks. When walking by the river in Chief Whitecap dog park at the end of June, I noticed a very large, colourful caterpillar feeding on a leafy spurge plant. This black, red and white caterpillar was identified by my entomology friend, Cedric Gillott, as the spurge hawk-moth (Hyles euphorbiae) caterpillar, which is not native to North America, but has been introduced to try and control leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula). Leafy spurge is a noxious weed, introduced to North America from Europe and Asia. I do find the plant has an attractive appearance; it is a shrub with long, pale blue-green leaves and a fresh, bright green appearance when flowering. Many yellow-green bracts forming a flat topped cluster start to appear in May, about three weeks after the plant emerges. Small, green, inconspicuous true flowers emerge two weeks after the bracts. However, all parts of the leafy spurge plant contain a milky-white latex sap that is exuded when the plant is damaged. This latex is reported to be toxic to grazing cattle and horses, and can cause skin irritation in humans. However, it is the invasive nature of leafy spurge that is most concerning. It can compete aggressively with valuable grazing species, significantly reducing the ability of the pasture to provide feed for livestock.

The plant is very noticeable when blooming and should be reported to the local authority responsible for weed control. Small patches may be removed by spraying with herbicide, but in the case of the patch growing by the river a biocontrol agent would be more appropriate. Hawk moths have been released in the dog park area for several years by the City of Saskatoon Entomologist, Sydney Worthy, along with a flea beetle (Aphthona species). So far, populations of these biological control agents have become established but not in sufficient numbers to control the plants.  Another option for control may be the use of goats and sheep, as they are able to eat this weed, with no detrimental effect on their health.

Populations of the caterpillar have been noticed in Saskatchewan in other years, occasionally in high numbers, unlike the single caterpillar I observed on my walk. This year a large infestation was seen in southern Saskatchewan in the Meyronne area, where thousands of caterpillars defoliated the spurge (T. Mulhern Davidson). It seems that the population levels of caterpillars, and their ability to defoliate spurge plants may be determined by summer and winter weather conditions, but generally consistent defoliation and control of spurge is not achieved.

More effective biocontrol may be provided by leafy spurge flea beetles. Adult beetles eat the above-ground parts of the plant, and lay eggs in the root area. The larvae that emerge feed on the roots of leafy spurge, and this exposes the roots to bacterial and fungal infections that can cause death of the plant. Recently, an article in the agricultural newspaper, The Western Producer (August 3, 2023), describes attempts to increase the populations of the beetles by catching adults in an area with a well-established population, and releasing them in other areas where leafy spurge grows. Volunteers catch enough beetles, in sweep nets, to start a new population in another area infested with leafy spurge. The beetles only feed on leafy spurge so other plants are not damaged.

On researching this article I was surprised to find that leafy spurge has many relatives that can be grown as house plants in our climate. The best known relative is the poinsettia, with its attractive coloured bracts and of course this is a plant that can be toxic to pets, because of the latex sap. Another relative is the firestick plant (Euphorbia tirucalli), which again should be handled with care because of the toxic sap.

Jill Thomson is a retired Plant Pathologist who lives in Saskatoon, where she enjoys gardening with her family, including the dogs.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; ). Upcoming event – Fall Plant and Seed Exchange and Plant Sale Sunday September 10th 2:00pm at Saskatoon Forestry and Zoo Hall. Check our website ( for more details.

Roses in my neighbourhood

Bernadette Vangool, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

Along with healthy exercise, a daily walk around my neighbourhood provides an opportunity to meet the roses my neighbours are growing and to observe how they are faring from year to year. Among these are ‘Morden Centennial’, ‘John Cabot’, ‘John Davis’, ‘William Baffin’ and ‘Adelaide Hoodless’. Together, their namesakes represent four centuries of Canadian history. And planted in the right location and cared for properly with regular pruning, all are quite disease-resistant.

‘Morden Centennial,’ introduced by Henry Heard Marshall, commemorates the centennial of Morden, Manitoba. It has large, medium pink, double flowers. Though it often suffers some winter dieback, it quickly rebounds. Even though this rose drops its petals after blooming, it’s still a good idea to deadhead the rose clusters to promote repeat bloom. Stop deadheading in mid August to allow the  rosehips to form and to signal the rose to enter dormancy.

Bernadette Vangool/Submitted. The ‘Morden Centennial’ Rose was introduced by Henry Heard Marshall, and commemorates the centennial of Morden, Man.

‘John Cabot’ is a pillar or climbing rose, but can also be grown in Saskatchewan as a shrub rose. It produces sturdy canes that can be up to 1.5 meters tall with double, fuchsia-coloured flowers. It blooms heavily in the early summer and continues to bloom until fall. More fragrant than most hardy roses, it was the first climbing rose of the Explorer program developed in Ottawa by Felicitas Svejda. She named the rose after John Cabot, an Italian who sailed under the British flag and reached Newfoundland in 1497. ‘John Cabot’, is one of the best known Canadian roses. Felicitas Svejda recalled that in 1972 she had ordered a propagation field of roses to be ploughed to allow for new trials. She was approached by the tractor driver a while later for permission to work around the ‘John Cabot’ rose, as it was just too pretty to destroy.

‘John Davis’, another stunner and traffic stopper. is my favourite rose, probably because it graces my driveway and provides hours of enjoyment to me as well as  my neighbours. It is covered with pink double blooms, slightly lighter in colour than ‘Morden Centennial’ and blooms profusely for about three weeks starting in the middle of June. It continues to bloom, albeit not as vigorously, until freeze up. It is named after the explorer, John Davis, who searched for, but never found, the North West passage between 1585 and 1587. It is a robust grower and shows the least winter dieback of all my roses.

‘William Baffin’ has deep pink (with a bit of white near the centre), semi-double flowers. (Semi-double flowers refer to roses with a petal count from 5 to 15. Double flowers have more than 15 petals.) Listed as a climber growing two to three meters in height, it becomes very full with large flower clusters. Considered one of the hardiest Explorer roses, it is best grown against a wall. It will need extensive pruning to train it to grow on a trellis. It is named after William Baffin, who sailed with Robert Bylot, and charted the coast of the largest island in Canada in 1615, today known as Baffin Island.

‘Adelaide Hoodless’, one of the Parkland roses, was introduced by Henry Heard Marshall. The clusters of dark red, smaller, but double flowers are stunning and very recognizable in the landscape. It is probably best grown in a more sheltered location. In spring, cut back the canes to 60 cm and remove some of them at ground level. This reduces the need to support the heavy flower clusters. ‘Adelaide Hoodless’ may have flower clusters of up to 25 roses, making it an excellent cut flower, as one single stem can make up an entire bouquet. It is named after the founder of the Women’s Institute of Canada in 1897.

Many of these roses are still available from nurseries and can bring years of enjoyment to the rose lovers in your family. Enjoy!

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.

Roses in my garden – tried, true and totally hardy

Here are some rose cultivars (cultivated varieties) that have done well in my garden and are well over 20 years old. In other words, they are tried, true and totally hardy.

‘Morden Fireglow’ has done exceptionally well, sandwiched in between two cedars that have outgrown their space. The unique orange-red flowers with very narrow flower buds, the glossy foliage and the form all resemble that of a tea rose. It does die back sometimes to the ground in winter but always bounces back.

Brian Porter, in Growing Roses in Saskatchewan, mentions that it is susceptible to blackspot and is only moderately resistant to powdery mildew. This has not been my experience. Neither of these diseases have developed. Perhaps it likes its location, just outside the range of my watering system, and therefore in a relatively dry area of the garden.

‘Morden Snowbeauty’ is a sprawling rose bush, with large, white semi-double flowers in small clusters. It is about a meter tall with a spread about twice that size. The lower branches tend to lie near ground level and are quite prickly.

I have planted it amongst other tall perennials, so it is more upright in appearance. My daughter, however, had it planted too close to her walkway and dubbed it ‘The Ankle Biter’.

Because it tends to sprawl, branches at ground level will often root. If you separate them from the mother plant, they can be moved to other locations in your yard. It dies back some years but is quick to rebound.

New growth in spring tends to be very tender and in my yard a bit susceptible to insect damage on the lower branches. Introduced by Lynn Collicut and Dr. Campbell Davidson, I believe it is the only white rose released out of the Morden rose program.

‘Cuthbert Grant’ is another favourite because of its large, deep red, velvety flowers. It was introduced by Henry Heard Marshall. Cuthbert Grant was a Scotsman who in 1793 established Fort La Souris, later known as Fort Assiniboine. It was his son, also named Cuthbert Grant, who is credited as the founder of the Metis nation and its leader in Saskatchewan (prior to Louis Riel), that the rose commemorates.

It blooms in the beginning of summer and will repeat bloom near the end of summer if properly deadheaded. This year it had severe die back. I thought it might not survive, but by the middle of June it put out its first spray of flowers.

Bernadette Vangool/Saskatchewan Perennial Society. A Morden Snowbeauty.

You may be lucky and find some of the following heritage roses  at your local nursery. Many are no longer in general circulation but are thriving in my yard. What they have in common is a tendency to sucker considerably. Nor are they repeat bloomers. Their maintenance is not for the faint of heart.

‘Dr. Merkeley’ blooms only once in summer. It has double pink,  fragrant flowers with densely packed petals. It is a vigorous grower with a wide spread because of its suckering habit. I planted it in the Heritage Rose Garden in Saskatoon, in a spot where nothing else wanted to live. It requires extensive pruning, which is a challenge sometimes as it has quite sharp prickles that grow back along the stems and hook onto everything. This rose was discovered in Russia and brought to Canada by a Dr. Merkeley, a dentist in Winnipeg, who gave it to Frank Skinner who introduced it. It probably fell out of favour because of its suckering and sporadic bloom habit.

‘Suzanne’ blooms in spring just after my cherry trees have finished blossoming. The fragrant flowers are a light pink. Kept in check with regular pruning, it can be a beautiful addition to the garden. Whenever I mow my lawn, I need to first prune out all the suckers, which appear up to three meters from the mother shrub – perhaps the reason it is no longer widely available. A Frank Skinner rose, it was often used by other early plant breeders in their rose development.

‘Prairie Peace’ competes well with my raspberries. Developed by Robert Erskine, its peach flowers never fail to delight in spring. It’s easier to keep in check than ‘Suzanne’, but not by much.

All three of these roses are on display in the Heritage Rose Garden at the Forestry Farm Park in Saskatoon. Unfortunately,  they only put on a show in spring, shortly after apple blossom time.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.