September 27, 2022

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The ultimate gift guide for the Prairie gardener on your Christmas list

8 min read

Bernadette Vangool shares her bookshelf favourites on topics like backyard bird feeding, native Prairie plants, and floral design.

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As I was perusing my bookshelf, I thought I would share the many book gift possibilities for you, your resident gardener or gardening friends.

Book gift ideas for gardening friends. Photo by Bernadette Vangool /Supplied photo

For the cut flower grower, consider Cultivated, The Elements of Floral Style by Christin Geall. This book delights with photographs of beautiful flower arrangements interspersed with pertinent information on contrast and composition. It is well written, easy to digest and pleasing to the eye. Erin Benzakein, flower farmer and floral designer, says it best: “Christin Geall is the rare talent who has the eye of an artist, the pen of a poet, and the heart of a gardener.” Geall takes you from supplies, to flower selection through colour and design, always with great bouquets, beautifully photographed to illustrate her points. The author is a designer, writer and gardener in Victoria, B.C. who teaches floral design through her company Cultivated by Christin.


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Complement the book on floral design with Mastering the Art of Flower Gardening, a Gardener’s Guide to Growing Flowers, from Today’s Favorites to Unusual Varieties by Matt Mattus. Here, you’ll learn how to grow cut flowers for the express purpose of making these beautiful arrangements. Matt gardens in Massachusetts. Although he discusses perennials and bulbs, the majority of plants covered are annuals, for which the differences in growing zones are negligible. He shares his experience with seed germination of various flowers, as well as the time to sow and when and how well seedlings transplant.

I’m unsure about the availability of the above books in local book stores, so order early or obtain them online. The following books are available locally.

Backyard Bird Feeding, A Saskatchewan Guide by Trevor Herriot and Myrna Pearman is an excellent introduction for beginner bird watchers. In just a few years, I have increased the number and variety of bird feeders in my back yard and the feathered friends visiting have been a great delight and form of entertainment. Originally written by Myrna Pearman and first published by Ellis Bird Farm in Alberta in 2015, it has now been adapted to Saskatchewan. Many of the photographs were submitted through the Sask Birders Facebook page and credits are noted. It covers feeders, types of feed, individual bird preferences, bird baths, feeders to discourage four-legged critters and bully birds. Chapter 7 describes a large number of birds that may frequent the backyard feeder. It includes a photograph and discusses their habits and preferred feed, such as suet, cracked corn, millet, sunflower seeds, etc. This could also be a great gift for the grandkids.


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One little book that has been around since 2001 is Best Bulbs for the Prairies by Liesbeth Leatherbarrow & Lesley Reynolds. Still as relevant today as the day it was published, it includes information on the many bulbs available, from spring flowers such as crocus, fritillary and tulips to iris, lilies, gladiolus and much, much more. Beautiful photographs accompany the descriptions of cultivars and their use in the landscape. “Perfect partners” for particular bulbs are also discussed.

Last but not least is Native Plants for Prairie Gardens by June Flanagan (2005). I just revisited this book, and, of course, found some new-to-me native plants to incorporate into my landscape. Each plant featured includes its natural range (eastern prairie, widespread across northern prairie), its habitat (dry slopes, rocky hillsides, stream banks, woodlands) and type of plant (grass, herb, upright perennial) along with hints that will help you best place it within your own perennial border. I discovered that the prairie coneflower (Ratibida columnifera) which I planted last year is a short-lived perennial that will self-seed. So, I’ll have to replace it if I decide to mulch my new border!

Book gift Ideas for gardening friends.
Book gift Ideas for gardening friends. Photo by Bernadette Vangool /Supplied photo

As the person who fields emails for the Saskatchewan Perennial Society, I’m often approached with a variation on the question: “What do I plant on the east side of the house in a six-foot wide flower bed?” I used to think about this and reflect on what is growing at my house in that location and offer some suggestions. But really, the answer is, “Please do your homework.” And if that is not an option, hire a landscape designer to come up with a plan for you.


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If you are willing to do the work, start by assessing what is, what you would like, and how you will get to your future dream landscape.

Creating the Prairie Xeriscape by Sara Williams is an excellent resource for low water, low maintenance landscaping. There are chapters on design, including beds, hardscape and dry river beds; irrigation; lawns (how much do you really need?); soil; mulch; and the numerous drought tolerant trees, shrubs, perennials, bulbs and vines that are hardy on the prairies. Remember, the landscape is a living thing. Trees grow up and provide shade, some perennials are short lived and will need to be replaced, others are brutes and need to be kept in check. You will still need to do the work, but with Sara guiding you through the process the results will be very rewarding. Pay special attention to paths and hardscaping as well as the placement of trees. For the rest, plants are very forgiving to work with and small changes in future years are easy to make.

Now that you have your plan in place, review your tree and shrub selection. First ensure that your selections will actually fit your space. A ‘Dropmore’ linden is not a good choice for a small yard as they can become quite large. You may also want to replace some of your ornamental selections with edible trees or shrubs. These days we hear a lot of talk about food security and sustainability, so perhaps now is the time to incorporate those fruit trees. Sara Williams joined forces with Bob Bors of sour cherry and haskap fame at the University of Saskatchewan to produce Growing Fruit for Northern Gardens. This book is very comprehensive and includes most of the fruit that can be grown in our climate. It is fully illustrated with beautiful photographs to guide you to the fruit that is right for you and your yard. It also discusses some of the potential problems you may encounter with specific varieties of fruit. Looking back, I often wish that instead of the ornamental crabapple, I would have chosen a variety that would have actual edible fruit for me later in the year. Sour cherry and Nanking cherries are the first to bloom and provide a bountiful harvest of cherries that last me through the winter in the form of jam or cherry cakes. If you include haskaps in your landscape, plant them adjacent to one another to make netting easier to prevent birds from harvesting your crop.


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How about including some hardy roses in your landscape? Bob Osbourne has recently revamped his previous rose book, published under the new title of Hardy Roses: The Essential Guide for High Latitudes and Altitudes. With the same basic information, it now includes many, many more of the rose varieties that do well in Canada. The ones listed as zones 2 to 3 should be fully hardy on the prairies. Besides the roses detailed by description, photograph, origin and parentage, a list of hardy cultivars is included at the back of the book, including roses that are readily available through nurseries which may or may not be featured elsewhere in the book.

If you are a Lyndon Penner fan, you may also check out his books: The Prairie Short Season Yard; Garden Design for the Short Season Yard and Native Plants for the Short Season Yard.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society. Reach the society by email at [email protected] or visit their website at You can find them on Facebook at

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