Marie’s Gardening Notes:  Identifying Wildflowers

A great way to learn about plants is to look out for wildflowers when you are out walking.  I was probably about 8 or 9 years old when my Dad gave me my first flower identification book and showed me how to use it – a life-long gift!  

Particularly as we enter another shutdown, walking outdoors is one of those things we can do for our mental health, and if you have young people in your bubble, you can share your love of the natural world.  I walk the trails at Elliott Falls regularly and this morning I noticed this little gem. 

As soon as I got home, I pulled out my trusty Peterson Wildflower Field Guide.  This guide is easy to use since it is organized by colour.  It takes a bit of practice, but it’s a matter of skimming through the pages to find the general type of plant and then look closer at the line drawings.  So in the White section, I found my flower on the pages “Low Creeping or Matted Plants”, and confirmed it from the note about the oval, leathery leaves that remain green over winter.  It’s trailing arbutus.

Of course, you can probably use the internet to identify a photo too, but there’s a lot to be said for being able to use a field guide.

Making Willow Water

Marie’s Gardening Notes – Making Willow Water

This is the time of year I start making willow water, which works as a natural rooting hormone for any cuttings and transplants.  I am beginning to get plants ready for the Norland Horticultural Society’s annual plant sale in May and a good dose of willow water will help them grow good strong roots.  Many thanks to Diane Buchanan, a former NHS member who taught me how to do this!

Look along ditches and wet areas to find the willow.  You want the nice green young growth from pussy willow plants. 

Cut a few of these skinny green branches (approximately ¼ inch wide), and then snip the branches into pieces about one inch long.  I cut them on the diagonal to increase the surface area.  You can see that the pith (the inside of the branch) is light green, which means they are alive.  I put the pieces into a mason jar, top it up with water (rain water you’ve collected is best, tap water is fine too), and then leave the jar in a sunny spot outside for 24 hours.  If you’re in a hurry, you can use boiling water to cover the pieces and use it once the water has cooled.  Then I strain off the water and add it to a watering can of water to dilute it further, then I water all my cuttings with this special mix.Typically I am making cuttings or dividing plants for about 8 weeks prior to the plant sale, and making willow water about once a week.  Each new batch of plants gets at least one dose of willow water, sometimes two.

Pictures show the cut pieces percolating in the mason jar, the willow plant itself, the slender green willow branches, and the bucket I use when snipping up the branches.  Hold the branches down into the bucket when snipping – otherwise they tend to boing off everywhere.

Spring planting in the area

Marie’s plants started under lights a month ago.

I planted cherry tomatoes, basil, cilantro, parsley, lettuce, marigolds, hollyhocks and lupins.  Although the herbs and marigold seeds can go straight into the ground at the end of May when the soil is warm enough, I like to get a head start with them inside. The cherry tomatoes will all be split up into 3″ pots of their own shortly, since they are growing fast and need more space and nutrients.

The lights are on chains so I can raise them either side, and I put the taller plants at the higher end.  The lights are on a timer so I get a consistent day length.

Gardening is always a huge experiment – some seeds don’t come up and some do really well.  Things that work well one year don’t work the next year and so on!

I love marigolds, they are great for companion planting as they deter many insect pests.
Two pictures show my tall marigolds from a couple of years back.  In addition to transplanting the ones I start inside under lights, I also plant a few rows of marigold seed right into the garden.  They attract tons of bees and butterflies and make a nice show into the fall.