Did you know?
December 15, 2012

-The Canada Blooms feature gardens are built in just 6 days. In 2012 along with the floral material, the feature gardens made use of 800 tons of sand, 420 cubic yards of mulch, 30 tractor trailer loads of stone and concrete products.

-VanDusen Botanical Garden Festival of Lights December 7 to January 1

At VanDusen Botanical Garden a dedicated team of gardeners and volunteers have been working flat out to deck the Garden's boughs and building strings of 'jolly' light bulbs in preparation for the Garden's Festival of Lights.

-Montreal Botanical Garden Christmas is Knocking at the Door! December 7 to January 6

Celebrate the magic of Christmas in the Main Exhibition Greenhouse, lushly decked out for the season.

-UNQUENCHABLE: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines

"The bottom line: Buy it, savour it, use it." —The Globe and Mail

From the author of the bestselling Red, White and Drunk All Over, comes, Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines that will amuse and enthrall with its character sketches of obsessive personalities, travel to gorgeous vineyards, mouth-watering descriptions of food and wine, "hidden" wine education and neurotic humor.

-OPALS: Nothing to Sneeze At (From GrowerTalks Ball Publishing)

OPALS is the Ogren Plant Allergy Scale, and even though it has been around since 1999, I just learned about it a couple weeks ago via an Acres Online comment by Canadian Peter Prakke, a major fan and spokesman for OPALS.

Developed by Thomas Ogren, author of "Allergy-Free Gardening," it’s a 1-10 scale of how allergenic a plant is. Thomas tells me the scale is being used by USDA Urban Foresters; the California Department of Health; lung and asthma associations, a growing number of hospitals, parks, cities, schools and so forth. It (and his book) have been written up in more than 300 newspapers and magazines plus NPR.

The book lists the OPALS rating for some 5,000 plants. Here are a few examples from Thomas’s website:

- A completely pollen-free tree like Red Maple ‘Autumn Glory’: 1 (the best)

- Double hollyhocks: 2

- Single hollyhocks: 3

- Abelia ranks: 5

- Japanese boxwood: 7

- Bottlebrush: 9

- Staminate pepper trees (the ones without the berries): 10 (the most allergenic)

Pollen is one factor in how allergenic a plant may be, but the scale actually takes into consideration more than 120 individual values. Thomas says male trees are a “surefire recipe for huge amounts of urban pollen, allergy, asthma,” and in some cities, the male to female ratio of separate-sexed landscape plants runs to more than 95% male. The biggest allergy culprits: male mulberry, male juniper, male yew, male ash, male poplars, male willows, male box elder, male-only honey locust, male red maple and male maple hybrids.

Why isn’t an OPAL rating on every plant tag? I’m not sure; Thomas told me in an email, “For years I have not gone directly to the nursery industry, for various reasons … but, there actually are a considerable number of very large wholesale woody plant growers who know perfectly well about OPALS and have known for more than a decade, and who chose to ignore it, hoping it will just go away, I suppose. Nonetheless, this past year I have started meeting with different key players in horticulture.”

Still, according to Thomas, there are estimated to be 100 million people in the U.S. who have pollen allergies, “and (at the moment) horticulture offers them next to nothing to improve their lives. My goal is to change this dynamic. There are (potentially) thousands of exciting new cultivars (of grasses, vines, shrubs, trees, perennials) that could be completely allergy-friendly.”

Wow! With all the talk recently about plants as “more than just pretty,” providing this kind of information to our customers seems like a gem of an idea! (Sorry, couldn’t resist). I wouldn’t even wait for my nursery supplier to print it on the tags, I’d get the book and make a retail display of low-allergy plants.

Go to for more information and to buy the book.

-There is a lot of confusion about the differences between compotes, jams, jellies, marmalades, spreads, etc., all sweet things cooked for our pleasure. Here is a great website to help you along with the history of them!

-"This charming, simple book makes a great gift for gardening friends, who can curl up with it on a rainy day and reflect on their own obsession." —Publishers Weekly

It's the perfect time to curl up in your armchair with The Roots of My Obsession and read what the best garden writers have to say about their passion for plants. Here is a collection of kindred souls and inspiration for next year.

  • New Eden
  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row