Gardening in zone 5b - writings by Dan Clost

Dan Clost is a well-known and respected garden writer for the Canadian publication, Quinte West EMC. Clost addresses his readers as "Gentle Reader" which sets the tone for his what-a-pleasure-to-read gardening advice.

Online, Clost describes his plant-experience, "Day job-nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre. Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years).

Here's an excerpt from his column on pigweed or as he called it hogweed -

"Let me head off on a side jaunt. Many of us recognise wild carrot as the road side plant with the white flat flowers. Other plants, such as poison hemlock, have a similar appearance to wild carrot and they can, indeed, be deadly. When the two are compared, side by each, the differences are apparent, however, when you see one in isolation it can be quite difficult to discern which it is. The primary factor, in this case, is that every part of the wild carrot smells like carrots. People eat the roots, put the flowers in salads and make a tea with the leaves. Here is my advice: don't graze on the vegetation while strolling through ditches and such-like. If you do have a hankering for noshing some Queen Ann, go to an accredited herbalist. The penalty for error is severe.

So here's the deal folks, there are lots of plants, insects and larger animals that can cause us harm when we stray from our garden paths. Giant hogweed is just one of them. If you're going on nature walks, traipsing through meadows, hedgerows and forested areas you will encounter them. So get out your books and learn what these chappies look like. When you see one, tell your companions, they'll think you're frightfully clever. Then leave it be and move on. I am not in favour in eradicating something just because it might harm the unwary or unlearned.

On the topic of soil
"Dirt is under the refrigerator, soil is in the garden. Sort of doesn't matter what you call it, Gentle Reader, you're bringing it home by the bagful, lots of bagsful, and yes, more than three bags full."

Clost also writes for the Canadian online garden advice blog, I Can Garden. Click here to see his columns.

Here's a 2010 sample -

"Sustainability is a big picture affair where everything is connected- not only you and your customer but your community and society at large. We’re in the business of living in today and caring for tomorrow.

The use of native plants in a sustainable landscape is important because they use less water, provide habitat and replenishment for birds, butterflies. They’re also essential to creating a soil environment with the proper mix of microbes, humic components and all sorts of good stuff. This is true, but it’s not a be-all end-all statement. You gotta put the right native plant into the right native environment. You can’t just pull any plant off the “Canadian Native Plant List” 'cause Point Pelee is not Madoc and Vancouver is not Napanee.
You can’t take a Carolinian tree like a sweetgum (Liquidamber styraciflua) just because it grew in our area some 800 years ago. It will grow nicely until January, then it stops."

and one from 2009

"Last week I bemoaned the demise of our gardens due to inattention during a heat spell. I thought all was lost but I underestimated the tenacity of plants. A bit of rain, a bit of cooling down and almost everything has come back to its earlier vibrancy. Mind you, there was a bit of dead heading to do. In our city lot estate, I removed seven-plus wheelbarrows of clipped materials.

It took a while but since we had our annual July bbq scheduled, sprucing up the yard was mandatory. I sort of like that type of work because it affords time for part of the mind to wander off on an unfocussed journey of disassociated thought. I made a few interesting discoveries:

Discovery 1: Coneflowers are the both the rabbits and lemmings of the flower world. Two years ago I planted 7 or 8 wee clumps to become backdrops of 3 front lawn gardens. Now, we have more than 2 dozen groups that have produced more of a thicket than a verdant screen. Just like rabbits. When those original Echinacea were introduced to an unsuspecting greenscape, they were all different cultivars. Magnus, Doppelganger, Razzmatazz, Albus, and Kim’s Knee-High are the one’s I remember off hand. At the moment, they all look the same, I think even the white one is changing to purple. For some reason, everyone of them decided to “fade” at the same time even though they didn’t bloom so. The result was that all of them needed deadheading at the same time. Lemmings. So, this fall, if you want generic coneflower divisions or seeds you know where to come.

Discovery 2: Also, there is no doubt in my mind that de Mestral might have invented Velcro after noticing burdock in his dog’s fur but the genesis of that thought occurred whilst deadheading coneflowers in his garden.
Discovery 3: Mulberry is an ubiquitous beast of a plant but, fortunately, is gifted solely with the brains God granted a rock. We have a Carolina All Spice shrub that thrives happily giving us a “sweet” textured leaf and wonderfully curious fruit. As I was working away last week, I thought it was looking a bit strange but didn’t really investigate. Yesterday, whilst experiencing the tedium of dead-heading drudgery, I glanced over to “Carol” and saw that she had gained a foot in height during the week. Further examination exposed a mulberry seedling that had shot up above the canopy during an ill-advised growth spurt. Once identified, it was Morus mortus and consigned to wheelbarrow load number four of future compost.

Discovery 4: I am not a poet. Bear with me Gentle Reader and I’ll explain. As I was standing there with secateurs in my hand and an empty wheelbarrow before me the gardener’s lament crossed my mind; that being, “You should have seen it last week!“. The disassociated portion of my brain said, “You (meaning me) are standing in a disgraceful estate. Now, one of my favourite sonnets is Shakespeare’s No 29. which has the opening line, “When in disgrace with...” The connection was made and what follows is the result of my musings.

When, in disgrace with St. Fiacre and all gardeners' eyes,
I all alone beweep my barren estate,
And trouble deaf heaven with my flowerless cries,
And look upon my perennial beds and curse their fate,
Wishing them like to those more scenic than hope,
Featured like Sissinghurt, like Quatre Vents with creativity possessed,
Desiring Monet’s art, and Capability’s scope,
With swards I most enjoy contented least,
Yet on these grounds my greenery almost despising,
Haply I plant in thee, and then my estate,
Like the morning glory at break of day arising
From fertile earth, sings hymns at Eden's gate

From those sweet seeds remembered such fruits bring,
That then I scorn to change my estate with kings.
You’ll be pleased to know that I shan’t quit my day job just yet.

At the bottom of his first column in 2000, Clost summarized his experience thus
"Diploma in Agriculture, University of Guelph, 1979 and Diploma in Horticulture, University of Guelph, Kemptville Campus, 1999. In between, and a little bit on the other, been a soldier, an orchardist [10 yrs manager of a large commercial orchard] and a social worker [ten years as interpreter, advocate and linguistic analyst focussing on deafness]. Currently employed at a large garden centre/ nursery as the wholesaler."

There is one plant, Creeping bellflower, Campanula rapunculoides that does merit eradication from our gardens. It is insidious. It can be beautiful if you are willing to accept solid drifts off this evil beastie in all of your flowerbeds. It has been quite a battle and I'm afraid I'm losing groundlots of it. So I've devised a new strategy. I shall attempt to shade out the first year rosettes with the leaves of a series of large vines. When you stroll past the front yard gardens of our bit of this good earth later this fall you might see pumpkins, gourds, squash, cucumbers but neither zucchini nor eggplant. Over the years I've slipped carrots, onions, basil and other delicate appearing veggies in among the flowers. This year I'm going to convince myself that those leaves are indeed beautiful. In reality, the effect might be a titch "off" but then that suits my approach to gardening perfectly."

If you garden in zone 5 or have an interest in browsing well-written columns, click over to the links above and enjoy!

7.3.12 Via email, Dan added
"We have two weeds up here that share a similar name  pigweed and hogweed.
Pigweed is the wee thing that pops up in soil piles, manure piles, just about anywhere fresh bare soil is laying about- seeds are viable for up to 80 years. As a member of the amaranth family it is a fairly benign plant and; in fact, it’s a good indicator of fertile, albeit dry, soil
Hogweed is a Heracleum (sp?- it’s late) is often sold as an ornamental. It’s not invasive unless ignored. The downside of this spectacular ginormous specimen is that the latex-like sap has some phytotoxic properties that will seriously harm a susceptible person."


Anonymous said…

This is a really well written article.
Molly Day said…
Thank you for your kind words.
We bloggers put a lot of thought and time into our work and it's so nice to be acknowledged.

Come back and enjoy!
Anonymous said…

You are incredible! Thank you!

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