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March10 City Gardening & News

 

March 2010

City Gardening by Wes Porter

WHEN HAS SPRING ACTUALLY SPRUNG?

Leeks and St David + Shamrocks and St. Patrick

A Passion for Parsley

Profiling Celebrity Gardeners: Harold Lloyd

Garden News in Review

In her Ode to Spring Saskatchewans Sarah Binks joyfully welcomed substitute for departing winter, proclaiming that: For spring is coming with its mirth/And breezy breath of balmy warmth, while luscious joy shall fill the earth.

Spring home and garden shows abound but when does spring really arrive? The sun may wobble north again the third week of March. A few snowdrops may be joined by adventurous crocus. Cabin fever may be banished but we all know frosts and even threat of more snow is not yet past.

American poet Ogden Nash, a New Englander if ever there was one, was not enthralled with the arrival of spring, expressing his opinion thusly:

I do not like the signs of spring,

The fever and the chills,

The icy mud, the puny bud,

The frozen daffodils.

This dubious period is, he stated,

Spring is simply a seasonal gap

When winter and summer overlap

And clinched the whole dreary matter:

I suppose its the same in Patagonia;

Today spring fever, tomorrow pneumonia.

Most of Canada, too if we go by the calendar. Some say the first flowers pushing up from the soil. But can snowdrops really herald spring? The first robin arriving? Naw many knowing a free handout when they see one, hang around all winter. Perhaps the arrival of male redwing blackbirds is more reliable, arriving before the missus to stridently stake out their territory. Whatever it is, you can forget the third week of March.

The good news is that according to USA Today, 28% of Americans say that gardening is their favourite springtime activity, followed by walking or running at 18%, and outdoor sports such as baseball, soccer, tennis and golf trailing at 11%.

Diversion No. 1

The Manure Maiden, the Fraulein of Fertilizer, Princess of Poop . . . Andrea Lawseth is a manure educator at the Langley Environmental Partners Society (LEPS), writes Glenda Luymes in The Province. Lawseth is also Manure Matchmaker after her newest project, the Manure Link website, a place where farmers with extra manure and gardeners seeking free fertilizer can do their business. Check out www.manurelink.com or, for educational matters www.manuremaiden.com.

Last year, spring arrived early. Golf courses were open by the end of March. Those eager gardeners who sowed hardy seeds right away were in for a disappointment. The weather stayed cool for several weeks. Soils, particularly clay ones, stayed chilly, rotting any sowings.

So like so much of gardening, we are left in the hands of the gods. Folklore is full of advice on the subject. And not all of it is foolish either. In Lincolnshire, eastern England, farmers used to go out into their fields, drop their pants and sit bare-assed on the soil. If it was not uncomfortable, then seeds could be sown safely. In Canada, pant dropping should probably be practiced at night, lest nervous neighbours called les gendarmes.

There are several safer opportunities gardening offers this month, however. Summer-flowering shrubs are best pruned in March. Since flowers are produced principally on new wood, removing one-third of branches over three years old each year will yield more prolific blooms. At the same time, as with all shrubs and trees, remove any dead, dying or diseased wood.

Drastic pruning in March can revitalize very old, neglected deciduous shrubs. Admittedly, it takes some nerve but many older favourites will revive in two or three years if reduced to four-to-six-inch stumps. Specimens for such vigorous treatment include forsythia, honeysuckle, mockorange, privet and spirea. Cut back old-fashioned lilacs to a foot-high, while removing all suckers from the base. The latter should also be an annual undertaking.

Shrubs that have outgrown their present positions may be moved to new locations as soon as frost is out of the ground and the soil can be worked, but before they have leafed out. Dig with as large a rootball as possible, taking the opportunity to undertake any remedial pruning.

Diversion No. 2

You could enjoy a bottle of the Champion of World Sparkling Wines, Nytimers Classic Cuve 2003 providing you can locate any after it beat such French Champagne makers Bollinger and Louis Roederer in an international competition. A bottle of bubbly will set you back a trifle more than 30 the West Chilington, Sussex vintner in south England is or was when it was acclaimed in the competition run by Italian wine magazine Euposia. In vino veritas, eh what?

Near the end of March, pull back winter-protecting mulches from perennial and herb beds. The discarded winter mulch can be added to the compost heap or dug into the vegetable garden.

As soon as the first bulbs bare their heads, expect the local squirrel population to wreak havoc. Narcissus (daffodils) and Scilla (squill) are poisonous to them but little else is. So down they come from the maples, where they had been biting twigs to lick the sweet sap this explains the maple litter this time of year. Dusting every few days with hot cayenne pepper along with blood meal fertilizer is the usual advice. Commercial deterrents are of questionable effectiveness.

Although corn gluten is a useful, non-toxic herbicide, it is way too early to apply yet. However, last year was the breakthrough season for this natural selective weedkiller and many garden centres soon sold out. Purchase early to avoid disappointment as certain ads once advised . . .

Diversion No. 3

Happy is the tender grass/When your feet do not trespass, sign seen at The Great Pagoda, Xian, by The Daily Telegraph reader Anthony Tricot

The perennial border is about to become a foodies fantasy if one is to judge by Gardenimports spring 2010 catalogue. Cimicifuga Chocoholic; Dianthus Coconut Punch, Dragon Fruit, and Pomegranate Kiss; Echinacea Hot Papaya; Heuchera Green Spice and Georgia Peach; and Leucanthemum Banana Cream, to name but a few, surely builds an appetite for this seasons gardening experience. For more, check out www.gardenimport.com.

On the subject of catalogues, some mail order seed houses include in the price of the packages their packing and postage. Others do not. And these extra charges can increase the cost of your order considerably. Interestingly, those that include the cost are not necessarily charging more for their seeds. In fact, those of at least one company, Richters Herbs (www.richters.com), are often less expensive. Illegitimi non carborundum indeed

Diversion No. 4

Hollywood actress Liv Taylor, star of The Lord of the Rings triology, yearns for the rural life, according to Anita Singh of The Daily Telegraph. Before I die I want to live on a farm with chickens and a vegetable garden and a John Deere tractor, the actress, 32, says.

A week before spring barges in, daylight saving time arrives. Time to set back the clocks an hour and risk what the doctors call myocardial infarction. In plain English, a heart attack. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed the number of heart attacks, on average rises by about five percent the first week of DST. The clocks go back on 14 March this year except for Saskatchewan where presumably you would be less at risk.

April Fool! By the time you get to read these words of wisdom, the 1st April is likely to be well past its best before date. So here are a trio to try on family, friends, at work . . . but perhaps not on fellow gardeners:

1. Tomato plants grow taller when subjected to the sound of a womans voice rather than that of a man, according to British research.

2. The giant Palouse earthworm lives in the vast agricultural region that stretches from eastern Washington into the Idaho panhandle. The worm is said to secrete a lily-like smell when handled, spit at predators, and live in burrows 15 feet deep.

3. The cuddle chemical oxytocin is being put to use by farmers in India to boost the growth of pumpkins and cucumbers.

The first is true, the second well, sort of, and the third dubious:

1. The RHS found that the tomato plants that listened to female voices grew an average of an inch more than the ones that listened to male voices. Some of the mens tomatoes did so poorly that they grew more slowly than the soundless control group.

2. It absolutely exists, insisted Jodi Johnson-Maynard, a University of Idaho professor who is leading the search for the worm of which there have been only four sightings.

3. It is unlikely, but not impossible that there could be an effect in plants, but I seriously doubt that this would massively impact on crop yields in most situations, says Malcolm Hawkesford of Britains Rothamsted Research.

1st March: St. Davids Day

The Welshmen did good service in a garden where the leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps. Henry V, Act IV, scene vii

Patron saint of Wales, St. David is said to have been a sixth-century Celtic priest active in Cumbria. But why a leek? One tale has it that in about 540, the Saxon invaders were advancing to the Welsh border. Uniforms being unknown in those far-off days, St. David advised his Welsh warriors to wear leeks in their caps to distinguish them from their foes.

Another story has it that the battle between Saxon and Welsh was fought over a field of leeks, perhaps under the leadership of Cadwalladr when he defeated the Saxons near Hethfield, or Hatfield, Yorkshire in 633. Needless to say, this is denied by English historians.

The Romans are believed to have introduced the leek, Allium porrum, into the British Isles, following in the booted footsteps of their caligatae or footsloggers. After all, Nero himself, so mighty a consumer of the succulent vegetable in an effort to improve his singing voice, that he was nicknamed Porrophagus, the leek-eater. At least so we are told by Prosper Montagne in his famed Larousse Gastronomique (1938).

All were proceeded in their love of leeks by the Israelites. While domiciled in Egypt, they embraced that veggie popular with Pharaohs subjects along with cucumbers, melons, onions and garlic. Fleeing to the Promised Land, they wailed in the wilderness of their lack (Numbers 11:5).

Eat leeks in March and ransoms in May/And all the year after physicians may play was a 17th-century proverb (ransoms are wild onions).

Alas for historical purists, today the daffodil is often chosen as a more decorative substitute and certainly easier for florists to retail. And the culture of leeks, especially enormous ones, seems to be more favoured in England. According to Roy Vickers in A Dictionary of Plant Lore (1995), the National Pot Leek Society, with 1,000 members now has branches from Scotland to Somerset.

David is pronounced Taffid in the Welsh dialect or, more familiarly, Taffy, especially to the English. Indeed, the latter never seemed to tire of making derogatory remarks about their western neighbours. Quoth one in Shakespeares Henry V (Act IV, scene I): Tell him Ill knock his leek about his pate upon Saint Davys day. Alas, faced with his Welsh foe, the boastful Brit was forced to eat his enemy's leek raw.

17th March: L Fhile Pdraig, St. Patricks Day

The Government of Ireland registered shamrock as a trademark. Tradition has it that St Patrick used the three-leaved plant to explain the Holy Trinity to the pre-Christian Irish people. However, according to the Oxford English Dictionary such was not recorded until 1726. Another Hibernian legend claims that the Druids believed shamrock was a sacred plant because its leaves formed a triad, three being a mystical number in their religion.

But botanically what plant is shamrock? The Irish Embassy is Ottawa is mute on the subject, ignoring requests for elucidation. This is strange since at least two studies conducted in the Emerald Isle delved down to the root of the matter.

Botanist Nathaniel Colgen, c.1893, in the Irish Naturalist stated it was Trifolium repens, white or Dutch clover. (Trifolium minus considered at one time to be a separate species but is really a form of T. repens). Clover in the Irish tongue is seamuir, also spelt seamair, the diminutive of which is seamrg. This has been anglicized to shamrock.

Almost a century later a second botanist, Dr. Charles Nelson, asked Irish people to collect and send to him shamrocks. The predominant was the annual clover Trifolium dubium, or lesser clover (seamair bhui), an annual.

James Armitage of the Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley remains unimpressed. The plant itself is not particularly fascinating. Its slightly weedy and grows in grassy areas and open ground, he told BBC News on 17 March 2004.

Be that as it may, Montreals flag is a red cross on white background with a shamrock in the lower right quarter and French, English and Scottish floral symbols in the other three. On the Irish flag, green stands for Catholics, orange for Protestants and white for a wish for harmony.

The colour green continues to be associated with all that is Irish and not just in Ireland. Toronto Maple Leafs 1919-27 were known as the Toronto St. Patricks and wore green jerseys.

The pots of shamrock offered by florists in the first half of March may indeed be lucky clover but with four leaves and grown from specially selected Trifolium seed produced in the Netherlands. Or it may be another plant altogether, Oxalis, with small white flowers.

The connection between Ireland and Canada continues. It is claimed that an Irish-Canadian botanist succeeded in crossing shamrock with poison ivy and got a rash of good luck.

A Passion for Parsley

Watch packages of curly parsley seeds fly off the stands this spring. According to foodies, the herb is the in thing this season.

Parsley was mentioned in Homers Ulysses, perhaps long ago as 1000 B.C. Calypsos isle featured four streams bordered by soft meadows in which parsley flourished. Indeed its botanical name, Petroselinum, derives from Greek petros, rock, and the genus name Selinum, the plant originating from the Mediterranean region.

The Greeks of the classical era appear not so as to have eaten parsley but to have, like the Romans, placed bunches of the dining table to counter the effects of over-indulgence in vino. The funerary custom in Greece of scattering parsley on fresh graves gave rise to referring to those looking deathly ill as to be in need only of parsley.

In the case of parsley, however, the Romans failed in their usual adaptation of Greek practices and ate it with relish, often accompanied by lettuce.

According to Frederick Rosengarten (1973), parsley is said to have been introduced to England in 1548 from Sardinia and mentioned some fifty years later Shakespeare in The Taming of the Shrew.

Parsley is surrounded with superstitious beliefs. Roy Vickery in his A Dictionary of Plant Lore (1995) writes there are possibly more beliefs than any other plant with the possible exception of apple. There appears to be general agreement on the following:

Seed germinates slowly because the roots have to go down to the devil up again

Should always be sown on Good Friday

It is extremely unlucky to transplant parsley

Parsley only grows where the wife is the boss

Bring calamity upon an enemy by pulling a stem while muttering their name

Parsley cannot be surpassed for its versatility in the kitchen, says Richters Herb Catalogue. It underlines the flavour of foods without being dominant, and compliments almost every dish. Fresh green appearance and fragrant aroma delight the eye and stimulate the appetite. But variety which is best?

There are three species of the biennial herb: the flat-leaf or Italian, Petroselinum crispum neapolitanum; the curled, wavy or crisped, Petroselinum crispum; and the Hamburg or root parsley, Petroselinum crispum tuberosum. The last need concern us no further as it is used as a vegetable rather than herb. The flat-leaf is, according to authorities, closest to the wild form. This is the parsley much favoured by culinary experts who have sneeringly dismissed the curled variety as fit only for WASP palates. After all hell, it has been said, is where the police are German, the politicians French and the cooks English.

Ah, but wait! No less than Canadian House & Home has declared curly parsley as a hot gourmet food item, notes Anne Kingston in that icon of Canadian culture, the weekly Macleans magazine. Curly parsley has long been a joke in the food world, says Claire Tansey, Canadian House & Homes food editor, herself only a recent convert.

It is everything the gourmet could look for: attractive, deep green, crisp and, as it ages, full flavoured without harsh after notes. Regrettably one thing it will not do is remove bad odours from ones breath. Despite many a diner noshing into the sprig of parsley decorating the plate after a hearty meal replete with garlic, it is simply yet another unsupported folklore.

Researchers who have looked into this particular folk remedy have found little evidence that it works, says Anahad OConnor of The New York Times. The Bottom Line: There is no evidence that parsley can counteract bad breath.

Nevertheless, plant plenty though perhaps given the notoriously fickle Canadian climate not outside in the garden on Good Friday. Parsley seed, like that of all its relatives in the carrot family, Umbelliferae, requires prolonged moistening to remove growth retardants from the seed coat. Soak overnight between sheets of wet paper towel prior to sowing. Indoors, this can be accomplished in peat pellets (Jiffy 7s); outside in full sun or light shade. It makes a splendid edging in front of a row of chives.

I have rows upon rows of delightful possibilities, wrote Lucy Maud Montgomery, Journal, The Manse in Leaksdale, Ontario on 10 June 1924, listing, corn, cucumbers, poppies, gypsophila, cosmos, peas, asters, gladioli, beans, sweet peas, parsnips, sweet sultans, radishes, balsams, zinnias, beets, carrots, pansies, egg plant, parsley, nasturtiums, watermelons, lettuce, onions, cabbages, cauliflowers and tomatoes note the only herb was parsley. I prowl about, weeding, watering, transplanting, she concluded.

Profiling Celebrity Gardeners

Harold Lloyds 16-acre Greenacres: the Estate that Laughter Built

Harold Lloyd is best remembered today for the iconic scene where he dangles from clock hands high above the street in Safety Last (1923). The American film actor and producer was active 1914-47 in both silents and talkies. He was the highest paid movie star of the 1920s, appearing in more than 500 films and made at least 200 himself. Lloyd was famous for his silent comedies that included thrill sequences. He also knew his trees, personally choosing and collecting all 500 for his 16-acre landscaped grounds at 1225 Benedict Canyon Drive, Beverley Hills.

The appropriately named Greenacres was built 1926-29 on 16 acres. The Spanish-style house, which had 44 rooms and 26 bathrooms still exists on a sadly reduced 6 acres at its modern address of 1740 Green Acres Drive, Beverely Hills, CA 90210, off Benedict Canyon Drive. It required 15 servants to run for Lloyd, his wife the former actress Mildred Davis, and their three children.

House and grounds, were created at a cost $2-million under the careful supervision of Lloyd. Not only was he an accomplished actor who had made his stage debut at the age 12 in 1905 and on screen seven years later he was also had a head for business, more so than could be said for many of his contemporaries such as Buster Keaton.

The final landscaping included a dozen formal gardens, an equal number of fountains, and an 800-foot-long canoe pond fed by a 120-foot waterfall pouring down the hillside. The owner of this ebullience, his family and guests could disport themselves in a 250,000 gallon Olympic-size swimming pool 85-feet by 40-feet; a tunnel ran around it with underwater windows for photography.

If they tired of this, they could play a 9-hole golf course that, on special occasions, became 18 holes by combining with next-door neighbour Jack Warners through a normally locked gate.

The three Lloyd children had a four-room playhouse in one of the gardens, which came complete with a thatched roof, plumbing, electricity and miniature furniture.

All these water features and their surrounding lush plantings were maintained by a 50,000 gallon water reservoir, with 16 full time gardeners supported by 84,000 square feet of greenhouses.

Harold Lloyd kept Greenacres intact until the day he died there on 8 March 1971 of prostate cancer. A month previously, following one of Californias not infrequent earthquakes, he still found the strength to inspect the property for any damage.

His family had hoped to maintain Greenacres as a museum under state protection. Alas, as with so many magnificent creations it was not to be. In 1975 it left the possession of the Lloyd family and the grounds were divided except for the main house on its six acres now owned by a billionaire. The remaining ten acres were cleared and covered by apartment houses.

Garden News in Review

Landscaping

  • Most of us have become used to hearing gardens described as extension of the house, an outdoor room or a child-friendly space, somewhere to entertain our friends, and, ideally produce enough to feed your family, suggests Rachel de Thame in The Sunday Times. And gardens can be all of those things, she says. But of you want to truly enrich your life, make your garden beautiful. Create something that makes you catch your breath as you step outdoors and tend to it yourself as much as you are able.
  • Best bet for hedges: beach or hornbeam. The Times of London might consider a new copy editor.
  • Kew Gardens may be forced to close the worlds largest Victorian glasshouse. The Temperate House is in urgent need of restoration and in a few years could endanger public and staff, a report warns [Source: The Guardian]
  • Golf mad Ron Turnbull spent 20,000 to install a 4-hole golf course in his garden in Ryton, Gateshead claimed The Daily Telegraph. The photograph of the enthusiast and his course seemed to indicate a fenced, landscaped backyard complete with his wife vacuuming the Astroturf of a putting course.
  • Consider laying down a shrub with dense thorns right next to the windows to deter people from gaining access, suggests David Cascarano of The Morton Aboretum in a Chicago Tribune article, Landscape should be beauty, not burglary.
  • Make your own garden a destination, and you wont have to pack a suitcase to enjoy a little vacation, suggests Marty Ross in the Miami Herald.
  • Rock steady is how The Sunday Times describes Japanese gardens, suggesting that with their emphasis on serenity and simplicity, they can provide the perfect inspiration for turbulent times.
  • A home for sale in Torquay, Devon was advertised as having an extensive cliff top garden. It sold for 154,000. Three days later, the extensive garden was at the bottom of the 300-foot cliff after 5,000 tons of rock crumbled. The house is now just 50 feet from the edge of the cliff edge [Source: Sun/Daily Mail]

Lawns

  • Happy is the tender grass/When your feet do not trespass, sign seen at The Great Pagoda, Xian, by The Daily Telegraph reader Anthony Tricot
  • 531 Brits required medical treatment for injuries sustained from lawn mowers last year, according to British media.
  • A 37-year-old Australian woman lost her right arm following an accident involving a ride-on lawnmower, reported The Cairns Post.
  • British gardeners are receiving an unpleasant surprise as the snow melts back from their lawns something Canadian gardeners are all too familiar with snow mould, Fusarium nivale.

Trees

  • A 200-year-old tree in the centre of works for the A$4.8 billion Airport Link project in North Brisbane was axed. The Crowes Ash tree in Lutwyche was cut down to make way for on and off ramps despite protects from residents and Brisbanes Lord Mayor [Source: The Brisbane Courier-Mail]
  • Three people have been charged with violating Vancouvers tree-cutting bylaw after 23 trees were removed from a west side property where only two had been permitted to be cut, reports CBC News. The miscreants were apparently caught on a camera being operated by Internet giant Google.

Scientists in California say a drop in coastal fog could threaten the states famed giant redwood trees. Their study fog has decreased markedly over the last 100 years. Fog prevents water loss from the redwoods in summer and is really important for the tree and the forest, said co-author Professor Todd Dawson. [Source: BBC News/The Daily Telegraph].

Richard Pennicuick, 57, has been literally up a gum tree since 7 December last year. The Australian from the City of Gosnells wanted to save the eucalyptus outside his property. So he commenced living in it. The authorities deemed the tree damaged and a danger. The Heritage Council of Western Australian refused his application in February. Down will come the tree and with it Mr. Pennicuik [Source: Perth Now]

  • Westside residents have accused the Brisbane City Council of hypocrisy, promoting tree planting while cutting down trees to widen the Gap Creek Road. [Source: The Sunday Mail]
  • Trees in Torontos city parks are off limits to tapping for sugar notes the Toronto Star, as a eco-group proposes to tap Norway maples on the private property of volunteers. The traditional sugar maples cannot be used as they are over stressed under urban conditions.

Roses

  • Why Im wild about big hips. The Sunday Times Stephen Anderton enjoys the winter display of Rosa rugosa.

Flowers

South Africa has the worst murder record in the world 50 a day but perhaps the most beautiful botany. Where else would you find the Hibiscus Coast Municipality?

  • Look for Banditos lantana to come blazing to the forefront of the flower border in landscapes all across the U.S. this spring and summer thanks to their rich colours, compact habit and rugged performance, writes horticulturist Norman Winter in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
  • Shorter plants for growing beneath black walnut trees suggested by Denise Corkery, Chicago Tribune: astilbe, Canadian wild ginger, hosta, pachysandra, daylily, purple coneflower, rose campion
  • Taishan marigolds were stars at the Beijing Olympics and this spring you will have the opportunity to put them to the test in your garden too, according to The China Post of Taiwan. Named after the famed Taishan Mountain, these large-flowered African marigolds grow 12-inches high with a 10-inch spread and are offered with gold, orange and yellow blooms. More: www.panamseed.com

Wildflowers

  • Less than one per cent of Canadas original 6,000 sq. km. of tall-grass prairie remains most of it in Manitoba, a new study reports [Source: 24 Hours commuter tabloid]

Vegetables

  • The parsnip is the perfect definition of taste, said Jean-Luc Rabenel after cooking some at LAtelier, his two-star restaurant in Arles, Provene. It can reconcile men, when and children, noted The Sunday Times. Parisians were reported willing to purchase le panais at prices the equivalent of 3.50 a kilogram in the capital city.
  • Sweet potatoes wont grow from a whole tuber notes Walter Reeves in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The tubers produce sprouts (slips) that are started indoors in more northern climates and not planted out until late spring.

Of all the vegetables that I buy, whole iceberg lettuces have the greatest longevity. They are edible up to three weeks after their best before date. Other vegetables succumb sooner, Finn de Boer, Rotterdam, Netherlands writes to New Scientist. He wants to know why does it last so long compared with, say, tomatoes, broccoli or radishes?

  • What many of the current rush of Grow Your Own (GYO) books and articles tend to gloss over is the shear hard work involved in that seemingly lush and productive veg patch, suggests Jane Perrone in The Guardian.
  • Prince Edward Islands potato farmers are looking at a gloomy season, reports CBC News. Consumers are avoiding the spud and Idaho overpriced by half a million tonnes.

Fruit & Nuts

  • A British couple has begun to produce olives commercially from their smallholding in Sidlesham, near Chichester in southern England. Stephen and Nora Nunn, both 45, left their jobs as an office worker and piano teach respectively, to live the good life and raise commercial fruits and vegetables with their four children [Source: The Daily Telegraph].
  • Not satisfied with being a hangover cure, a good source of vitamin C and great for your skin, the little red fruit is now tackling cancer, writes Luke Salkeld in the Daily Mail. Toasted as a super superfood for its ability to reduce the risk or prostate cancer, the Moruno tomato has twice the levels of lycopene, a natural cancer-fighting substance and as much vitamin C as a similar size orange, it was developed by a Spanish scientist and is being offered in Britain by the supermarket chain of Tesco.
  • British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is claimed to have been eating nine bananas a day as part of a health drive ordered by his wife, according to The Daily Telegraph.

Beverages, Herbs & Spices

  • You could enjoy a bottle of the Champion of World Sparkling Wines, Nytimers Classic Cuve 2003 providing you can locate any after it beat such French Champagne makers Bollinger and Louis Roederer in an international competition. A bottle of bubbly will set you back a trifle more than 30 the West Chilington, Sussex vintner in south England is or was when it was acclaimed in the competition run by Italian wine magazine Euposia. In vino veritas, eh what?
  • Test findings suggest saffron reverses age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, the most common cause of blindness in old people, announced Professor Silvia Bisti of the University of Sydney, Australia [Source: Daily Mail].
  • The first commercially produced wine from grapes ripened in Perthshire, Scotland is to be launched if there is enough sunshine, reports The Sunday Telegraph.
  • A mutation that causes some Asians to flush red when they drink alcohol may have evolved to help their ancestors cope with rice wine, according to New Scientist. A genetic study suggests that it evolved around the same time Asians were starting to farm rice and ferment it into boozy drinks.

Rosehips, hops and valerian, flavoured with berries and lavender; thats what at least some of the most popular new cans of anti-energy drinks, or, should you prefer, relaxation drinks contain. One, available only in the U.S., even contains kava, implicated according to Health Canada with possible liver damage, explains Kate Lunau in Macleans. Not explained is why a simple brew of valerian tea wouldnt have the same effect, as mentioned by Lawrence Durrell acclaimed novel The Alexandra Quartet.

  • Like Sophia Loren, many of the worlds great wines have been recognized for the ability to age gracefully, says New Zealands Herald on Sunday.

French winemakers and traders have been found guilty of a massive scam to sell 18 million bottles of fake Pinot Noir to a leading U.S. buyer, E & J Gallo, under its Red Bicylette brand, hugely popular in the U.S. [Source: BBC News]

Houseplants

  • Readers of the Minneapolis Star Tribune tackle fungus gnats. We always recommend Safers Sticky Stiks, but here are some other ideas. Flypaper from Home Depot said one reader. Another suggested placing a cut potato on the pot plant soil for a day or so, then discarding. Even changing containers to ones with drainage holes works, advised a local plant business professional.

For the Birds

  • A Surrey, B.C. neighbourhood is in a flap of a flock of problematic peacocks, reported The Province. The flock, estimated at from a dozen to 35 birds, scream, like some one being murdered, according to one local resident. He also said that the birds poop all over my yard and roost in my tree and on my front porch. Nobody is sure of exactly where the peacocks came from.
  • Where did the crows that have invaded Charlottetown come from? Perhaps from Kentville, Nova Scotia, which as plagued by the birds 15 years ago, reports CBC News. The crows were driven away from that urban area by the use of a Phoenix Wailer, a device that emits random sounds of gunshots, distress calls and bird of prey calls. Other Nova Scotian communities have used the device to scare the crows into rural areas and across the water into Prince Edward Islands Charlottetown.
  • Putting salt to stop birdbaths from freezing over is killing the animals, Britains Royal Society of the Protection of Birds warned. They also discouraged using antifreeze or other chemicals for the same purpose.

The Good, the Bad and the Bugly

  • A young female deer, healthy and seemingly unafraid of people, hung around the entrance to an office building near the Ottawa train station. The six-storey building at 250 Trembley Road is home the Canada Border Services Agency, amongst others, reported The Ottawa Citizen. As things do not move as fast in Ottawa as elsewhere, it took 24 hours for authorities to arrive and tranquilize the doe, nicknamed Dasher by locals, and remove her to safety.
  • A missing boa constrictor fuelled urban myths in Port Alberni, B.C. Weve heard that its five to ten feet long and its eating alligators and kids, RCMP Staff Sergeant Lee Omilusik told the Vancouver Sun. I don't know what to believe anymore, he added.
  • Butterfly puddling pool. Sign in a Hong Kong wetlands park seen by reader of The Daily Telegraph Emma Rae.
  • A 59-year old man was arrested for using his ex-wifes musophia to wreak cruel revenge following their breakup after he pushed 19 mice through her letter box in the Stockholm suburb of Mrsta, reported the newspaper Aftonbladat. Er, yes, musophia, that would be fear of mice, wouldnt it?
  • As the world diverts more grain into producing meat, some scientists are pushing policymakers to take a closer look at insects as an environmentally friendlier source of protein, Gretchen Vogel writes in the journal Science.
  • With the threats of Dutch elm disease and other hazards to trees always looming, Saskatchewan residents have been reminded that it is illegal to transport, store, sell or use elm firewood, warns Saskatoons The Phoenix Star. The wood from elm trees that have been removed must be burned or buried. The province is also gearing up to the threat of mountain pine beetle.
  • Slugs and snails are emerging after Britains worse winter in 20 years to nosh on gardens, warns the Royal Horticultural Society. Among gardeners worse enemies, the munching molluscs are immune to cold snaps that have killed many of their predators. Not unconnected is the news that a brewery in Scotland has devised a beer with a 41 per cent alcohol content. They call it Sink the Bismark! A dish of that brew should finish them fast or at least assure they die happy.
  • The emerald ash borer arrived in Ottawa in 2008. The insects have been slowly munching through the city's 75,000 ash trees city officials told CBC News as crews removed 37 trees from the Beacon Hill neighbourhood.

University of Sydney researchers have discovered that placing open cans of cat food close to ponds used by cane toads eliminates the infamous introduced Australian pests. The cat food attracts carnivorous native ants which, being immune to the toads poisons, feast on the young ones.

Buzz on Bees

  • Plans to save Britains declining bee population have been thrown into disarray after a row broke out between beekeepers and officials, reports The Sunday Telegraph. The British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) believes that the money put aside for a 2.8-million government initiative to protect the health of honeybees is being misspent. Perhaps it is a sting operation?
  • From mangoes to mustard and almonds to apples, bees pollinate more than 400 crops that would be poor producers without their services making their decline a major concern for the health of the worlds food supply. By the latest estimate, bees in the United States add $15 billion in additional value to food supplies, contributing to about one-third of our diet [Source: The Boston Globe].

Seeds

  • Looking for something new in vegetables this year? The Sunday Telegraph recommends coriander Calypso which they say under test, did not bolt until late in the season at least under English climatic conditions while maintaining tender shoots and good flavour. Seeds are available from Thompson & Morgan.

Soil

  • A local joke in the Caribbeans North Caicos is that the soil in Bottle Creek is so fertile that a man can grow two feet just by standing on it, according to the Turks and Caicos Weekly News.

Compost

  • The Manure Maiden, the Fraulein of Fertilizer, Princess of Poop . . . Andrea Lawseth is a manure educator at the Langley Environmental Partners Society (LEPS), writes Glenda Luymes in The Province. Lawseth is also Manure Matchmaker after her newest project, the Manure Link website, a place where farmers with extra manure and gardeners seeking free fertilizer can do their business. Check out www.manurelink.com or, for educational matters www.manuremaiden.com.
  • British scientists have developed a new plastic food packaging made from sugar that, unlike present recyclable plastics, can quickly compost. Researchers at Imperial College London have managed to transform sugars found in fast-growing trees and grasses into a large molecule, known as a polymer, that can be used to make a fast-degrading plastic, reports Louise Gray in The Sunday Telegraph.
  • Generations of gardeners have relied on peat to ensure their back-breaking work delivers blooms and produce of the highest quality, writes the Daily Mails Sean Poulter. However, research by experts at British gardening magazine Which? found that alternative peat-free commercial compost can now outperform the traditional product.

Weeds

  • The best-known weed and the most difficult to eradicate is Japanese knotweed. It is the botanical equivalent of the cockroach, says Simon de Bruxelles in The Times of London. All too well known to Canadian gardeners, it has also invaded Britain. It can force its way through concrete according to de Bruxelles and, he says, has roots that grow so deep they could survive a nuclear war. It has a foothold on the site of the London Olympics, forcing contractors to remove soil to a depth of 16 feet (5 metres).

Pathogens

  • Mould spoils some 10% of the worlds annual harvests, and many fungi produce poisonous chemicals that can accumulate in human tissues. Mycologists are studying possible solutions to drive out toxin-producing strains, reports Dennis Normile in the journal Science in a special issue devoted to food security.

Fertilizer

  • Chinas largest fertilizer enterprise, Sinofert, has purchased 350,000 tonnes of Canadian potash from Canpotex, the organization that markets potash for three Saskatchewan producers, for an undisclosed price, reported CBC News.
  • Soil scientists in China are showing farmers that reducing fertilizer use can improve crop yields without adding to environmental problems, reports the journal Science in a special issue devoted to food security.

Pesticides

  • A group representing Ontario lawn care companies is now calling for charges to be laid against 23 environmental activists in addition to provincial Environment Minister John Garretson and his senior ministry staff. The group is alleging the accused used false and misleading information to undermine the industry [Source: CTV News]

Gardeners

While watering her garden, an 84-year-old Australian woman was attacked by two dogs roaming the streets of her Queensland community. Police shot one dog, restrained the second and took it to a pound. The senior was admitted to Caloundra Hospital in stable condition.

  • News from antipodal media recounts the tale of a 40-year-old New Zealand builder who eschews clothes outside his business life. He mows his lawn, tends the garden and rides his bicycle sans clothes. A motorist on a rural road near Wellington reported him to the police. He appeared in court clothed and was duly fined but is appealing the New Zealands Supreme Court [Source: The Dominion Post, New Zealand Herald, The Brisbane Courier-Mail]

Gardening in the City

  • Shaun Foggett, a 30-year-old joiner of Oxford, England is a crocodilian enthusiast, so much so that he keeps 24 of the reptiles in the back garden of his semi-detached house, reported the British media. They reside in a specially built, heated enclosure, presumably safely away from his wife and three children.
  • A mystery thief who stole a treasured gnome from a garden in Leeds, England in 1996 left a replacement with an apology note 14 years later, along with a rake also purloined at the time [Source: The Daily Telegraph]
  • If 2010 garden trends to shape up to be like those of 2009, were in for more vegetable gardens replacing lawns, writes Sophia Markoulakis in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Science and the Gardener

  • Predators tend to be more intelligent. They have to do more moving around to outsmart the other guy. You dont have to be terribly intelligent to grab a leaf of lettuce. Evolutionary Biologist Lynn Rothschild of NASAs Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, quoted in New Scientist
  • The tobacco plant Nicotiana attenuata has a love-hate relationship with the hawk moths that visit its flowers every night, writes Helen Fields in the journal Science. The moths pollinate the plant, but they also drop off eggs that hatch into very hungry caterpillars. Now ecologists have found that when a tobacco plant is being clobbered by caterpillars, it shifts the time of day it flowers open. That makes it more appealing to hummingbirds, a more benign pollinator that doesnt eat leaves.
  • The rapid diversification of carnation species over Europe suggests that the continent may have been an evolutionary hotspot, say scientists. New research reveals that the flowers 300 species emerged at a record rate, many of them in Europe [Source: Science]
  • A warmer world will be a more fragrant world, say scientists. As CO2 levels increase and temperatures rise by 3C, plants will respond to climate changes by releasing greater levels of the fragrant chemicals known as biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs) according to research teams from Spain and France, reporting in the journal Plant Science.

Quantum biology has come in from the cold, notes New Scientist. First came the news that birds could see magnetic fields, thanks to quantum effects. Now it seems that pigments used in photosynthesis use quantum calculations to harness light.

Weather

  • The British coldest winter in more than 20 years has badly effected Cornwalls daffodil growers in southwest England, making the popular cut flowers scarce and expensive for those Brits looking to cheer up a bleak winter and early spring.
  • Bad news: polar ice caps are melting. Good news: ice cap forming on D.C. Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • Some parts of traditionally soggy England experience two weeks of rain over 48 hours. To add to their discontent temperatures drop to below those being recorded at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Could be worse though: Brisbane received 100 centimetres of rain in a single hour. In fact, Brisbane is facing the wettest February in more than a decade, proclaimed The Brisbane Courier-Mail, although not breaking the all-time record for the month.
  • Britain was colder than Canada as temperatures plunged to -18C . . . with more snow on the way, howled headlines in the country's Daily Mail. Just where in Canada, you might wonder. Alas, the mighty Mail failed to specify, buried as they were under an astounding four inches of snow.
  • It is once again fashionable to blame El Nio on just about anything including the lack of snow, says The Ottawa Citizen. Still, there was enough, if not of the best quality, to make an igloo at 24 Sussex Drive, a pet project of Mrs. Harper, guided by an Inuit expert.

Down on the Farm

  • Januarys cold snap cost Florida farm workers US$50 million in lost wages, reported The Miami Herald
  • Vertical Farmer: one of new professions that Britains Department of Business, Innovations and Skills believes will be required in the future to tend crops grown on the outsides of buildings [Source: The Sunday Times]
  • Cash-strapped fruit farmers in the B.C. interior need emergency payment from the federal government, to help them weather an acute financial crisis, federal Agricultural Minister Gary Ritz was told in Kelowna. Payments for apple and cherry crops have dropped significantly within the past two years and many farmers are having trouble making ends meet, he was told [Source: CBC News].
  • Strict laws designed to keep the European Union free of unauthorized GM crops and products are not working, and are posing problems for the EUs 150-billion-euro livestock industry, according representatives for 15 million EU farmers. Europe has zero-tolerance laws on GM contamination. But tolerances operate for other contaminants, including pesticides and heavy metals. So why not for GM materials, ask the farmers, much of which have been cleared for human consumption elsewhere in the world? [Source: New Scientist]
  • Reversing their own scientists decision, the Indian government has halted the cultivation of its first genetically modified vegetable crop of eggplant because of alleged safety concerns. There has been heated public concerns over the cultivation of the crop, reported BBC News.
  • Anne Simpson, 26, and Pete Mortimore, 25, have been voted Britains sexiest farmers. They each received 250 and a pair of wellies, Englands beloved wellington boots.

Gemma Pulsford, 17, spent two years restoring and repainting every single piece of her 1962 Fortson Dexta classic tractor after inheriting her unusual hobby from her grandfather. She entered the tractor in the ladies section of the Somerset Vintage & Classic Tractor Show and beat 220 other entrants to claim first prize [Source: Daily Mail].

Organic Scene

A notice, Warning: potatoes handle with care, was noted on a sack of organic potatoes by New Scientists Feedback reader Richard Jennings.

  • The latest United States agricultural numbers show that California is the leading state when it comes to certified organic farms, but second is Wisconsin [Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune].

Genetic Modification

  • Scientists at the National Institute of Plant Genomic Research in New Delhi, India have created genetically modified tomatoes that stay fresh for a month longer than usual. The results were published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). According to Kate Devlin writing in The Daily Telegraph, the team believes their breakthrough could lead to longer shelf life for other fruits, including bananas, and see the cost of their production tumble.
  • The dwindling ranks of frankenfood enthusiasts have been dealt yet another blow. Claims by Giles-Eric Sralini at the University of Caen in France, concludes that the rats showed statistically significant signs of liver and kidney toxicity have been roundly rebuffed, according to independent toxicologists contacted by New Scientist. They say Sralinis analysis overplays the importance of minor variations that most experienced toxicologists would consider to be random background noise, writes Andy Coghlan.

A group of pioneering Canadian scientists at the University of Calgary is working on a way to make a much cheaper form of insulin using an easily grown plant: the safflower, reports CTV News. They have figured out a way to genetically manipulate safflower flowers to produce insulin. By inserting a human insulin gene into the plant, the safflowers become little insulin factories. Their seeds are then ground, the oil extracted, and the insulin harvested.

Environment

  • Biofuel requirements for cars may destroy the rainforest, according to a report from the Renewable Fuels Agency (RFA). Using biofuels in vehicles could be destructive to the rainforest as well as leading to higher greenhouse gas emissions, the fuels watchdog has claimed [Source: The Daily Telegraph].
  • The IPCCs controversial climate change chief Dr. Pachauri uses a car and driver to travel a mile to the office while telling all the rest us to walk, reported the Sunday Mail.
  • Climategate Professor Phil Jones revealed that he was so traumatized by the backlash against him that he considered taking his own life, reported The Sunday Times.
  • Are environmentalists planning a campaign to ban the banana? Last year, Canada imported 443 million kilograms of the worlds favourite fruit, every kilo of them breathing in oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide, according to Kate Lunau writing in Macleans. Yes, thats the dread greenhouse gas CO2. Wait until Elizabeth Mays learns about that one.
  • Chinas farms generate more water pollution than its factories, according to a government-commissioned report. It shows that agriculture is dumping most of the phosphorus and nitrogen found in rivers and lakes [Source: New Scientist].
  • War has been declared on invasive plants that cost Britian 2.7 billion a year, according to the National Trust. The Be Plantwise campaign to urge gardeners to help keep the foreigners under control is the first of two offensive campaigns beginning this year, reports Simon de Bruxelles in The Times of London.

Travel

  • National Geographic Traveller has named Torontos Evergreen Brick Works a Top 10 destination for sustainable travel.
  • Tea drinkers have been banned from the walled garden of Delapre Abbey, Northamptonshire for disturbing the tranquility of the historical site in England by making too much noise. The tearoom will now be located in front of the historic 12th century abbey in its car park [Source: The Daily Telegraph].
  • To some of us, the Netherlands means tulips, clogs windmills, fingers in the dike. To others, it means marijuana cafes, long-haired soldiers, legalized hookers, fingers in the dike. Mark Steyn, Macleans
  • Participants threw thousands of oranges in the annual Lent fruit fight at the northern Italian town of Ivree. According to The Daily Telegraph, the event commemorates a local revolt when a medieval count tried to exercise his right to sleep with a newly wedded girl on her wedding night. And you thought droit de seigneur was just another medieval myth. Tutti fruitti indeed.

Show Biz

  • Sir Cliff Richard, 69, has been ordered to pull down a 17-foot-long, 30,000 conservatory at his Surry, England mansion after losing a long battle with planning officials [Source: Mail on Sunday].
  • Hollywood actress Liv Taylor, star of The Lord of the Rings triology, yearns for the rural life, according to Anita Singh of The Daily Telegraph. Before I die I want to live on a farm with chickens and a vegetable garden and a John Deere tractor, the actress, 32, says.

Law and the Gardener

  • Four young men, aged 19 to 20, were caught green-handed with garden ornaments, including 16 gnomes, in Bridgewater, Tasmania, reported Danielle McKay in The Mercury. Police appealed to the public to help them find the owners of the ornaments and again take pride of place in the garden.
  • A pair of hooded bandits used a garden trowel taped to a broom handle to threaten a service station attendant on Brisbane, Australias south side, reported The Brisbane Courier-Mail. Well, they do call them diggers, dont they?
  • A horticultural lecturer was found murdered in woods after her gardener lover found out about her allotment trysts with another man, a British court heard. Mother of three, 34-year-old Linda Casey ran her life and lovers to a strict timetable, the murder trial heard, although it was alleged she did refuse to have sex in the bushes of the Royal Horticultural gardens at Wisley.
  • Paying more to gardeners than cleaners is sexist, rules Lord Justice Pill in British Appeal Court.

Business

  • Sino-Forest Corporation, a Toronto operator of tree plantations in China, says it has reached a deal to buy up 16.5 million cubic metres of forests [Source: Metro commuter tabloid]
  • 180 pea farmers in eastern England have lost their contracts with frozen vegetable giant Birds Eye after the company lost out with an Italian food processor. Some of the farmers had supplied Birds Eye for over 60 years.

The Greenhouse Program Coordinator for the Ontario Greenhouse Growers Directory and Buyers Guide is one Cindy Rose

  • In an attempt to profit from studies suggesting that wine molecules may help ward of cancer and heart diseases, French producers are transforming the fruit of their vines into pills, health tonic and other dietary supplements, writes Adam Sage from Paris for The Times of London.
  • Napier florist Kendra Drinkwater, 40, changed her competitors details on Google maps to direct clients to her business, was sentenced to 100 hours of community service [Source: New Zealand Herald].

Health

  • Stone Age medicine was more advanced than previously thought, scientists discovered after unearthing the 7,000-year-old skeleton of a man with an amputated arm. Painkilling plants such as the hallucinogenic Datura were likely to have been used in the operation and the wound probably cleaned using antiseptic herbs like sage, the scientists said. The discovery was made from a site about 40 miles south of Paris, France, reports Heidi Blake in The Daily Telegraph.
  • People with epilepsy should be warned that using Gingko biloba may increase the risk of seizures, researchers say. German scientists writing in the Journal of Natural Products said they have found 10 written reports of seizures linked to the herbal remedy [Source: BBC News]
  • NDP Leader Jack Layton announced that he is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. Reported Macleans: Layton, who is a coffee drinker, is also getting a lot more green tea from his mother-in-law Ho Sze Chow. He was told tea is better than coffee for cancer patients, prompting wife Olivia Chows mom to say, I told you so to her son-in-law.
  • Herbal remedies such as garlic, gingko biloba, ginseng, green tea, and St. Johns wort may be putting patients of heart medication at serious risk. In a review in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, doctors warn that while herbal remedies may be thought of as safe and natural, they can cause serious interactions with heart drugs.
  • Chinese herbal medicine containing banned aristolochic acid has destroyed an English womans kidneys, caused a heart attack and left her with cancer, a court was told. Patricia Booth, a senior civil servant in her 40s at the time, now faces dialysis three times a week, it was alleged [Source: Daily Mail]
  • Homeopathic medicine should not be allowed to make claims they cannot justify and should not be paid for by the taxpayer, British MPs recommend. A report from the Commons science and technology committee criticizes the use of National Health Service resources to fund remedies based on the current evidence for them, writes Laura Donnelly, The Sunday Telegraphs health correspondent.

Bullfighter

  • Revelation that the 2007 IPCC report of Amazon catastrophe was unfounded and based on data from green campaigners is reported by perhaps not inappropriately-named Jonathan Lake in The Sunday Times. The IPCC report that global warming might wipe out 40 per cent of the Amazon rainforest was based on an unsubstantiated claimed by green campaigners who had little scientific expertise, wrote Leake.

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