Borage – Borago officinalis

by Gini Sage

Native to the Northeastern Mediterranean, Borage is a hardy annual herb that is reputed to lift the spirits, banish melancholy, and impart courage. The leaves are grayish-green and velvety textured, with a thick hollow stem. The nodding bright blue star shaped flowers appear in the spring. The leaves, flowers and seeds of borage are all edible.

Borage prefers full to partial sun, with moist, well drained soil. Plant the seeds in early spring and cover completely as the seeds need dark to germinate. Keep the young seedlings evenly moist. Pinch back the plant at 10 to 15 cm to keep it bushier. Borage will grow from 15 cm to more than 1 m tall. Once established in the garden, borage self-sows abundantly, so thin new seedlings as required. Borage is an excellent companion plant for tomatoes, squash, and strawberries. The flavour of tomatoes is actually improved by growing borage nearby, and it deters tomato worm. Borage may also be planted in pots for indoor harvesting of leaves in the winter. This plant does not like to be transplanted, so sow seeds in the pot they are to be grown in. Indoor plants need lots of light.

In the kitchen, the mild, cucumber-like flavour of borage can be used in salads, soups, steamed, used in curries, yogurt, fish and chicken dishes, tea, summer drinks, and candied for decoration. In Germany, a few chopped leaves are often added to lettuce salads. In China, the leaves are stuffed and rolled like grape leaves.

Article was originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, April 2009

Twelve Weeks of Bloom: Sequence of Flowering Spring Bulbs

Early Spring (Weeks 1 to 4)

Common Grape Hyacinth

(Muscari botryoides)


(Crocus spp.)

Danford Iris

(Iris danfordiae)

Early Daffodils

(Narcissus spp.)


(Chionodoxa luciliae)

Grecian Windflower

(Anemone blanda)

Netted Iris

(Iris reticulata)

Siberian Squill

(Scilla siberica)


(Galanthus nivalis)

Striped Squill

(Puschkinia scilloides)

Winter Aconite

(Eranthis hyemalis)

Midspring (Weeks 4 to 8)

Checkered Lily

(Fritillaria meleagris)

Early Alliums

(Allium spp.)

Early Tulips

(Tulipa spp.)


(Hyacinthus orientalis)

Medium-Cupped Daffodils

(Narcissus spp.)

Species Tulips

(Tulipa spp.)

Summer Snowflake

(Leucojum aestivum)

Late Spring (Weeks 8 to 12)


(Allium spp.)

Dutch Hybrid Iris

(Iris hybrids)

Late Daffodils

(Narcissus spp.)

Late Tulips

(Tulipa spp.)

Midseason Tulips

(Tulipa spp.)

Tulipa spp.

by Gini Sage

Tulips are one of the most beloved of the spring bulbs, available in a myriad of colours, forms and sizes.

The classification of tulips is according to time of bloom, parentage and flower form. For early season bloom, try Single Early (12-16”) or Double Early (12”) cultivars. In the midseason range are Triumph (16-20”) and Darwin Hybrids (24”). Among the late season are Single Late (long stemmed and large flowered), Bouquet (3-6 branches, each with its own flower), Lily-flowered (22” with pointed arching tips on the blooms), Fringed (24”, with fringed petals), Viridiflora (24” with green-edged petals), Rembrandt (streaky colours), Parrot (large, twisted blooms) and Double Late (or peony flowered).

Most of the tulips on the market today should be planted in moist, well-drained soil, 8” deep and in full sun. The newer hybrids should be lifted and replaced after three years, as the bloom quality and quantity will decline in subsequent years. Species or Botanical tulips and their hybrids, which are closer to the original wild tulip, are smaller in stature (6”), and although not as showy as their hybridized cousins, are suitable for naturalizing. They require a fast-draining, light-textured soil that is not too fertile, in full sun, and will continue to thrive and spread in years to come.

Article originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, April 2007

Grape Hyacinth – Muscari armeniacum

by Gini Sage

Grape Hyacinths, or Muscari, are actually not Hyacinths at all. They are members of the Lily family, and are native to the Mediterranean and Asia Minor.

These delicate looking spring bulbs are actually quite hardy, and will naturalize well in almost any conditions. They prefer sunny to partially shaded exposure in moist, but well drained soil. Grape Hyacinths should be planted in the fall, approximately 8 cm deep, for an early to mid-May blossom. They may also be ‘forced’ indoors in the winter. The flower stalks will grow from 15 to 20 cm tall in shades of blue to rich purple. Other cultivars are available with white or pinkish-mauve blossoms. The flowers have a delicate, sweet smell. Like any bulb, let the leaves die back naturally before removing them.

Grape Hyacinths are wonderful companion bulbs to daffodils, tulips and true hyacinths. For those of you who have problems with deer or squirrels eating your bulbs and plants, they will not touch the Grape Hyacinth.

Article originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, April 2009

Growing Cosmos, the Township of Uxbridge Flower

by Gini Sage

Cosmos, the Township of Uxbridge flower, is a bright, easy to grow alternative for you to add to your gardens. This hardy annual is native to Central and South America, and was cultivated by the early Spanish priests in their mission gardens in Mexico. Due to its evenly spaced petals they christened the flower “Cosmos”, from the Greek word kosmos, which means “an orderly harmonious systematic universe”.

Cosmos belongs to the family of plants known as Compositae, and consists of over twenty species. The most commonly cultivated annual species for the home gardener are Cosmos sulphureus and Cosmos bipinnatus. You may easily distinguish between the two, as the flowers of C. sulphureus are shades of yellow, orange and red, with leaves that are long, with narrow lobes and hairy margins. Contrasting with these hot colours, the flowers of C. bipinnatus are cooler colours, varying from the palest white to solid or variegated shades of pink to dark rose. The leaves are finely cut, and are similar in appearance to dill or ferns. The flower form of C. bipinnatus also varies, as the “Seashell” cultivar has petals that are tubular. The range in height for the different cultivars is 25 cm to over 40 cm in height.

In contrast to many other annuals, Cosmos prefer hot, dry sites and poorer soils. To grow these in your garden, you can choose to either purchase boxed plants at your local nursery, or sow seeds in April or May directly into your garden bed. The shorter varieties may also be grown in containers. Thin the seedlings to a spacing of 15 -25 cm apart. Consistent with the site selection, do not over water or over fertilize the plants, as this will result in tall “leggy” plants with decreased flower production. There are no diseases or pests that affect Cosmos, so care is easy. Simply deadhead the spent flowers and they will continue to bloom well into the fall. Allow some of the seeds to fall in your garden, as they will readily self-seed for the next year.

In addition to the beauty of this flower brings to your garden, it will also attract Monarch butterflies. Cosmos also makes an attractive cut flower for your arrangements, and is suitable for drying. With the advantages this flower has to offer, consider adding Cosmos to your gardens this year, and celebrate the Township of Uxbridge.

Article originally published in the “Uxbridge Town Talk” magazine, April 2012

Calendula – Calendula officinalis

by Gini Sage

Calendula is a very prolific, easy to grow annual flower that produces orange, yellow, lemon, apricot and cream coloured flowers on long stems. It is native to the Canary Islands, South and Central Europe, and North Africa, and a common sight in most “cottage gardens”. The blooms of Calendula are daisy-like in shape, up to 4 inches across, and are produced from mid-summer to the first heavy frost. They can be used in cut flower arrangements, and the petals are edible, often used in soups, stews and salads.

Calendula is best grown from seeds. They should be sown directly into the garden early in the season and covered with ¼ inch of soil, as they require dark to germinate. They prefer rich, well drained soil, but will tolerate average soils. They prefer full sun, but will grow in partial shade. Add plenty of compost, and an all-purpose fertilizer once per month to optimize bloom production. Calendula deters asparagus beetle and tomato hornworms making them excellent companion plants to these vegetables. The plants should be dead-headed to promote longer bloom time. The last flowers of the season, however, should be left on the plants to mature, and drop their seeds, as Calendula will readily re-seed and provide years of lasting enjoyment in your garden.

Article originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, November 2007

Soil Structure – The Foundation for Growing Success

by Sherry Dodson

Whether it is growing vegetables or growing ornamental plants, your garden is an investment in both time and money. The structure of the soil that your plants are growing in is one of the key ingredients in a successful garden, and one that is often overlooked.

Just as the ability to breathe air is vital for our survival, it is also important for the vitality of the plants in your garden. It is necessary for nutrients to be dissolved in water and transported through the soil in order for a plant’s roots to absorb them. Without sufficient air in the soil, plants lose the ability to absorb water and nutrients. If the roots do not have sufficient air to absorb nutrients, adding fertilizer and water to your garden is of little value.

Think of well-structured soil as a well-designed building with ample hallways, living spaces, storage spaces, and doorways where its occupants can move freely without congestion. In soil, these spaces, or pores, are shared by water and air. When soil is saturated with water, gravity causes the water to move fairly quickly through large pores. When the soil is not saturated the forces governing movement of water are cohesion (the attraction of water molecules to each other) and adhesion (the attraction of water molecules to other substances). At this point, the movement of water will be fairly equal in all directions, with gravity having only a slight effect.

Whether your garden consists of clay, silt, sand, or some combination of these three, you can improve your soil’s structure to create an environment that is conducive to healthy root development, resulting in healthy plants. Adding large amounts of organic matter to the soil is the best way to improve your soil structure.

This can be done most easily with the addition of commercially available compost. Adding compost to a clay soil chemically alters the clay and allows aggregates, or clumps of matter, to form, creating airways that allow water and nutrients to flow.

Sandy soils drain freely, but they can allow water and nutrients to flow away too quickly from the plant’s roots. Adding composted material to sandy soil also creates clumps of material which improve the water-holding capacity of the soil.

You can work compost into the top layer of your soil, or it can be added as a mulch, which allows earthworms to eat and disperse the compost throughout the soil. Add about a 3” layer, being careful to keep the compost away from the plant’s main stem. This should be done annually to enhance your soil’s structure.

Just like a well-designed building, well-structured soil will enhance your garden’s growth and your enjoyment of it.

Pinks or Carnations – Dianthus

by Gini Sage

Gardeners have been growing dianthus for hundreds of years, and it is a mainstay perennial in the English cottage border. The name pinks is often attributed to the colour of the flowers; however, it may also be a description of the edges of the petals, which appear to have been cut with pinking shears. The smallest form, Dianthus deltoides, or maiden pinks, are only inches tall, and come in a variety of colours from white to intense magenta.

Intermediate height (12 – 15 inches) forms of dianthus include Cheddar Pinks (Dianthus gratianopolitanus), Cottage Pinks (Dianthus caryophyllus) and Hybrid Pinks (Dianthus hybrida). All come in a similar colour range, some with two-toned flowers. Hybrid pinks are also the classification for Clove Pinks, which have an intense sweet smelling flower. The largest form of Dianthus is D. caryophyllus, or Carnations, which grow to 2 feet in height. As these are hardy only to zone 6, they will not survive the winters in our area.

All dianthus prefer full sun in a well-drained alkaline soil. The soil may be sweetened with a mixture of wood ashes mixed with compost, dug in around the plants in the early spring. Ensure the plants receive plenty of light and air movement to prevent disease and slug infestations. Division is not recommended, so propagate through vegetative stem cuttings in mid-summer. Keep the cuttings moist and partially shaded until the roots form, and then plant them out in the garden.

Article originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, April 2008

Oriental Poppy – Papavar orientale

by Gini Sage

Oriental Poppies are one of the most brilliant herbaceous perennials to grace the early summer garden, blooming during the month of June. The flowers, which appear to be made of crepe paper, can be 6 inches across, on stems usually 2 ½ – 3 feet high, although some varieties are more compact.

The colours of Oriental poppies range from silvery white to rose/pink, peach, salmon and crimson. Plant the poppies to draw the viewer’s eye around the garden, pulling it from one place to another. Red poppies combine well with blue, yellow or dark green backdrops. Pink and white poppies may be mixed with iris for a good colour combination. Plant pastel coloured poppies with asters, phloxes or delphiniums. These flowers provide a beautiful backdrop, and once the hairy, fern-like leaves of the poppies turn brown in early summer and disappear completely, they move in to the area that is left when the poppy goes into dormancy. This ensures that your garden blooms continually.

Oriental poppies are easy to grow and require a limited amount of care as long as they are planted in any area that has rich, loamy soil and full sun. Prepare the soil to a depth of 1 ½ to 2 feet and space plants 15 to 18 inches apart. Spread the roots down and out, over a hill in the centre of the hole, and cover the crown of the plant with 3 inches of soil – deeper than you would plant most perennials. They require very little water; however, if spring is unusually dry, water them occasionally. When Oriental poppies reach the dormant stage, they require no water. They seem to thrive when their roots are baking under the hot, summer sun. In the fall, the plants will show some signs of growth, which is the best time to divide them. To divide poppies, cut a piece of root approximately 2 inches in length and plant in sandy soil. Or, they may be started from seeds; however, the seed must be exposed to frost to germinate.

Article originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, June 2007

As We Destroy the Environment We Also Lose Languages

The attached article links environmental concerns, biodiversity, seed diversity and human diversity.

by Anna Brones

As we cut down forests and lose biodiversity, there’s something else that we’re also losing: languages.

Since the 1970s, linguistic diversity has been declining as fast as biodiversity — at about a 30 percent decline. That’s according to a new report a by researchers Jonathan Loh at the Zoological Society of London and David Harmon at the George Wright Society, which highlights the link between the world of nature and the world of culture.

“There are extraordinary parallels between linguistic diversity and biodiversity,” Jonathan Loh, a researcher at the Zoological Society of London, told the Guardian. “Both are products of evolution and have evolved in remarkably similar ways, and both are facing an extinction crisis.”

A study by Conservation International in 2012 showed that 70 percent of the world’s languages are found in biodiversity hotspots. Which means that as those hotspots are threatened, so are the languages. The parallels between the loss in biodiversity and language are striking. For example, one in four of the world’s remaining languages are threatened, the exact same ratio as mammals that are endangered.

How many languages are we talking about? Today there are 7,000 languages spoken worldwide. Half of those have fewer than 10,000 speakers, making them spoken by only 0.1 percent of the global population. The rest of us have a much smaller diversity in the languages that we speak. 95 percent of the world’s population speaks one of just 400 languages, and 40 percent of us converse in just one of eight languages: Mandarin, Spanish, English, Hindi, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian and Japanese.

That loss in diversity of language is leading to a kind of cultural homogenization. “We are losing the richness of human diversity, becoming more and more similar. The languages we speak define how we think and understand the world,” Mandana Seyfeddinipur, director of the endangered languages archive at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, told the Guardian.

According to the report, ”Ultimately both biodiversity and linguistic diversity are diminishing as a result of human population growth, increasing consumption and economic globalization which are eroding the differences between one part of the world and another.” That has an effect on conservation, because as we lose languages, we lose local know-how of how to function within a certain environment. Take New Guinea for example, a hotbed of biodiversity and culture. There are 1,000 languages spoken, and it has one of the greatest varieties of life in the world. As deforestation continues, all of those are threatened, and as cultures and languages are destroyed in the process, we lose the knowledge that has been developed over tens of thousands of years. How to use traditional plants for medicine, how to live a symbiotic relationship with the natural world, these are all things that we lose in the process.

To work on conserving nature, we also need to work on conserving culture.

“As we lose rare indigenous languages we lose the cultures and all the knowledge that they contain. The knowledge of indigenous people is phenomenal. Conservationists should make use of it,” says Loh.
When Conservation International released its study two years ago, the sentiment was similar. Dr. Russell A. Mittermeier, President of Conservation International, wrote, ”… at its most basic level this finding further reinforces an ethos that we have at CI: ‘People need nature to thrive.’ It also shows that we can have real win-win approaches in which efforts to conserve nature and ensure the integrity of human cultures can go hand in hand.