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New Calgary Gardener & Ross Hawthorne

A gardener moves from Toronto to Calgary, and asks what may survive; plus should older shade trees be thinned out regularly as a matter of course; and the death of garden writer, Ross Hawthorne.
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale

email: art@artdrysdale.com

Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at http://www.artdrysdale.com


March 6, 2005


Two rather poor photos of a young and an old mature plane tree (Platanus acerifolia). Note how massive the mature specimen is--obviously too large a tree for a city street as shown. The pruning in the latter case was to prevent damage to overhead wires, not just for “thinning”.

Author photos. Also, the photo of Ross Hawthorne comes from the Toronto Star.

Last week, Jeffrey Walker of Toronto wrote with an interesting question. “The head office of Imperial Oil is moving to Calgary and I will be moving along with it. We have quite an extensive garden and there are some plants which have a very sentimental value and we would really like to somehow bring them with us. We have some ferns from my wife’s grandparent’s farm in Sudbury and a bleeding heart from her mom etc. I also just purchased a couple of Japanese Maples before the announcement and have heard that there is no way they will grow in Calgary. Do you have any insight or hints on how best we might bring some of these plants along with us ? Or are we wasting our time and energy.

“Thanks. We are looking forward to gardening in new surroundings and any hints or direction to information would be greatly appreciated. We will probably be moving out in August.”

Some Toronto gardeners might say this move is a gardener’s nightmare; but my friends in Calgary would kill me if I said that.

Since Jeffrey’s Japanese maples are just newly planted, he could certainly containerize them early this spring (minimum size 45 - 50 cm in diameter and height and not with sloping sides) and then bring them with him. The potting-up should ideally be done before any of the leaf buds open. That too is problematic in that moving in August the trees would have to be kept at least somewhat moist, and as I recall long distance movers do not wish to take your plants--at least mine did not. We brought all the plants we wanted to keep, with us (not nearly enough) and we did lose a couple, but then our move was in March and the overnight temperatures in northern Ontario were quite low!

If you can take them yourself, and it is in August, the problem will be not having them cook in a vehicle that heats up while you are away from it. The exact same thing applies to a moving truck. Not an easy problem to solve but maybe Jeffrey will have a solution.

The next situation will be finding a cold room (no need to be lighted) where the containers and tress can be kept (slightly moist) for the winters. It could be a heated garage that doesn’t exceed 2 or 3 degrees Celsius, or a cold cellar, or a nursery that has such facilities.

As to perennials, many, many grow well in Alberta. One factor is snow cover--as long as there is good snow cover most perennials will be fine. Bare ground though, during a cold spell is not good news. You mention bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis), which is a zone 2 plant--it should be fine with you; although depending on specific local conditions, you may want to mulch it/them in late fall. Ferns are all over the hardiness map; the northern maidenhair (Adiantum pedatum), for example, should be fine in Calgary, with a little care. The common lady fern (Athyrium felix-femina) which is also deciduous should likewise be fine.

In any case, good luck gardening in an area three zones colder than where you are. Calgary has an active horticultural society and other groups that may interest you.

This week, Dirk Maasland wrote from Victoria with a question that contained a term that I had never encountered previously. “I wonder whether you could help me. I live in a condominium where I am the chair of the garden committee. On our property we have a mature London Plane tree; estimated age 70 years. Some of our members feel that the tree should be windowed at regular intervals (say once every two, three years). Others believe that this expenditure is wholly unnecessary, as most of the pruned branches will be replaced by several others. The tree is on the seashore and is exposed to and accustomed to relatively fierce winds. Could I have your opinion so that we can settle this matter? I thank you in advance.”

I wrote back to Dirk to confirm his definition of “windowed” was the same as mine. Though I have not encountered the term in over 40 years of dealing with tree topics. I, and the tree people I know, call it thinning. Dirk responded that the term was new to him as well, and that it seemed to come from the English people in his community.

Thinning is often recommended, including by me, if there is a shade problem that causes certain types of gar-den plants to grow unsatisfactorily. In that case there are two operations that can be done, one is a “lift” of the lower branches which is the removal of the lowest branch or branches allowing more sun to reach plants (or lawn) on the ground. A “thin” is just that, wherein some of the secondary branches basically on the interior of the tree are thinned out not unlike is done with most fruit trees on a regular basis. I did not see anything in what Dirk wrote that would indicate the thinning is needed for this reason. Certainly it is not needed for the health of the tree.

On the other hand, if after five or more years, there are numerable cross branches these could cause problems in windstorms with one or another being broken. But generally, I think the “windowing” is just good employment for the tree company.


A good pal of mine, and friend of gardeners in southern Ontario, died on February 17. Ross Hawthorne was 82 years of age. Toronto gardeners, as well as those in the Kingston area will remember him for his garden broad-casts in the 70s, 80s and even 90s (in Kingston) wherein he brought good gardening information to his listeners. He did that by means of bringing a wide range of Ontario horticultural guests to his programme to answer listeners’ questions. He had a nice voice and listeners liked to listen to him. He and I shared a story about a happening in garden writing circles in the late 80s, that now only I can relate, and perhaps some day I’ll do that!

Ross enlisted in the Queen’s Own Regiment and served in the UK and continental Europe. He had also been a teacher, and sincerely enjoyed gardening. He had three daughters: Joy, Pam and Laura and step-daughter Dawn who all mourn his passing.

There is to be a memorial gathering to celebrate his life, and friends are invited, along, of course, with family. It is to be held in Brighton By The Bay Community Centre, 8 Mills Road in Brighton Ontario at 2 PM on Saturday, March 26. Hale and Farewell Ross!

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