Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Gardening in Ukrainian Calgary

impressive horseradish - but not mine!
These sunny, hot Calgary days are forcing me to spend more time outside, which is wonderful, but it makes it impossible to overlook the overgrowth.  Time to look at improving our landscaping plan. The yard is great, but all the plantings from over the years are overgrown, or have lived their life cycle and need to go to the great compost heap in the sky (actually backyard). The spruce trees had a disease and stopped flourishing.  The mayday (I thought it was a chokecherry) lived a good life, it got cut down, as did the second one. Now the ornamental crab, though it had the most spectacular mauvy pink blossoms, and was the most beautiful tree in the neighborhood for a while, has aged and looks scruffy at best. The nicest large plantings on our yard are one huge Manitoba maple that gives shade to the front of the house, and its little sibling which will shade the front corner. So with a landscaping rethink, I decided to consider which traditional Ukrainian horticultural elements we would want to feature.
As I recall, every Ukrainian folk song or folk tale uses symbols from nature to underscore relationships. The way the boughs on a tree bend and bow, the order of flowers growing, the sunflower gracefully tipping its face upwards, the water rushing over the roots of a tree, everything has meaning. Silly, I know, but I have always wondered at the garden choices of my Baba, my Pra-Baba, and even my mama.

Pra-baba's garden was amazing, it even had a cold frame which she used to nurture little seedlings through tempermental springs on the prairies.  Beets, potatoes, cabbage, beans, peas - these I remember.  Sunflowers too!

I know that my grandmother insisted there should be schavel', wild sorrel on the yard. So she brought plants here to my home in Calgary from her cute little house, and amazingly huge garden in Manitoba. And raspberries, because she knew they are my absolute favorite fruit. And my uncle gave us horseradish to plant somewhere, and though it seemed right, the Baba-team warned it should only go into the alley-which it did, and promptly died. I have never heard of khrin dying, but in this Calgary back alley it did.
Now you know where there has been a good "hospodenia" gardener, when you see horseradish in the backyard that looks as impressive as this!!

Mama gave me mint and told me to plant it where it wouldn' t go completely berserk and take over the property. It gets used all summer long in cooking recipes like chortopita (the wild-greens version of spanakopita that my family loves). I also dry the leaves several times a season, when it gets overgrown, for sipping on mint tea all winter long. Just loved it when my mama would send up bags of the dried green stuff, my kids would just laugh when mama was getting her new "stash"!

Then somehow some little chamomile plants hitch hiked here in a pot of other things.  It sows itself, and when there is enough I collect and dry the flowers for chamomile tea, really!!

My husband planted hollyhocks because he remembered seeing them grow in Baba's yard. Mal'vi, as they are called in Ukrainian, are puffy like mallows, and a pretty pink, but with the windy weather in Calgary they tend to fall over. The gladioli did too! So I have delphinium. But what are they called in Ukrainian?

periwinkle - barvinok
Then there is the poppy!  With all the famous recipes calling on ground poppy seed, kutia, poppyseed chiffon cake and poppyseed tortes - but Canadian law says it is illegal.  darn!  So I have to restrain myself to the other traditional flowers used in a Ukrainian garden all seem to be popular plantings here on the prairies!   Marigold, peony, bluebells (campanula carpatica!), chamomile, periwinkle (barvinok), and iris, which, wouldn't you just know it, most of which grow in the garden already!!  Maybe I am on track already??

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