A compendium of some of the weird, wacky and wonderful horticultural happenings from the past month

Up the Garden Path

By —— Bio and Archives--September 30, 2017

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Back Yard

  • Backyard blitz is having an adverse impact on our health, warns ABC News from Down Under. Amid regular talk of the need for high-density housing and less urban sprawl, there are concerns that the loss of backyards is bad for our health.

Lawn n’ Order

  • Mark Johnson, 53, of Alburgh, Vermont was charged with spraying liquid manure on a marked U.S. Customs and Border Protection car after confronting an agent about immigration enforcement [The Washington Post]

Uncivil Servants

  • A Brit environmental worker was slapped with an ¬£80 fine by a controversial litter enforcement firm—for dropping cherry stones among trees, reported The Daily Express. Jeff Hughes, 47, was stopped by two community patrol officers employed by private litter firm Kingdom as he was eating a small bag of cherries in Birkenhead, Wirral. He was handed an on the spot fine of ¬£80, due within 14 days, for throwing “several cherry pips and one whole cherry.”
  • A cash-strapped Brit council can only afford to cut the grass on one half of a park, explained The Daily Express. Birmingham City Council has only been able to cut the grass on one side of 25-acre popular Great Barr Park in a bid to save cash.
  • The UK’s National Trust has sacked a loyal gardener who had worked on historic estates and had “over 50 years experience” because he did not have “the right qualifications,” The Daily Express reported
  • Anger on the island as the EU unveils emergency plans to wipe out all of Majorca’s plant life in a bid to combat the spread of a deadly bacteria that is killing olive trees. Eurocrats have proposed tearing up all vegetation within 100 metres of plants and trees affected by the disease according to the Spanish newspaper El Confidential. The bacteria Xylella fastidiosa has been dubbed the “Ebola of the olive.”

Home Farm

  • Mary Grams’ engagement ring that she lost in the garden at the family farm southeast of Edmonton in 2004 was found, after a carrot grew around it, it was widely reported internationally.
  • New Zealand’s Clutha District Council has received a run of complaints about wayward chickens scratching up neighbouring gardens in a few of the district’s towns during the past few weeks, The New Zealand Herald reports

Deep in the Woods

  • A new tree species, endemic to the floristically rich Hawaiian island of Kaua’i, is already assessed as critically endangered according to IUCN criteria. First collected and documented as early as 1988, Melisope stonei, has been officially described and named in the open access journal PhytoKeys.
  • The Royal Horticultural Society has warned that one of the UK’s most popular gardens faces losing acres of woodland in a “criminal grab” by Highways England, reported The Daily Telegraph. Plans to widen the A3 could result in the loss of 500 trees at RHS Wisley in Surrey, including one planted by the Queen to mark her silver jubilee, and some that are more than 100 years old it has been claimed. Is nothing sacred in the land famed for its gardens and gardeners?
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The Good, the Bad and the Bugly

  • It was ‘a costly lesson learned,’ said Thunder Bay Fire Rescue district chief John Kaplanis, adding nobody was hurt and nobody was stung by a wasp. Fire crews were called to a home on Rockwood Avenue after a man poured gasoline on a nest and set it on fire, only to ignite the home and nest attached to it, explained CBC News
  • It was a woolly ride, but three wild rabbits managed to escape floodwaters in New Zealand by clambering aboard sheep and surfing to higher ground. “They’d showed so much initiative I thought they deserved to live, those rabbits” said the farmer who photographed them, reported CTV News.
  • While working with bugs requires a strong tolerance of what others might consider creepy or gross, the new book, Bugged: The Insects Who Rules the World and the People Obsessed with Them by David MacNeal shows that fascinating careers await those brave enough to take the plunge, suggests a book review by The New York Post
  • A Hamden, Connecticut 13-year-old boy got an unpleasant surprise when he awoke to find a skunk in his bed. Police said an animal control officer arrived “to the poignant smell of skunk, which emanated throughout the house,” according to The ChronicleHerald
  • Prepare for an invasion of randy super-fleas who want to use you home to mate, warned UK-based The Sunday Express. A plague of randy super-fleas is set to invade British homes as the washout summer had made them desperate to get indoor and get loved-up! The super-fleas boast a penis two-and-a-half times the length of their body, the largest genital relative to size of any insect on the planet, according to the hopped-up newspaper.
  • An alligator has been found in a swimming pool at a motel at the New Jersey shore. The three-foot-long alligator was found and removed from an outdoor pool at the Bayview Inn & Suites, in Atlantic City explained CTV News


  • University of California Los Angeles research found that US cats and dogs cause 25-30 percent if the environmental impact of meat consumption in that country. The nation’s 163 million cats and dogs eat as much food as all the people in France. The study was published online in the journal PLOS ONE.
  • Hamilton, Ontario resident Walter Ertsinian got a shock when he walked out into his backyard to do some summer barbecuing and found a 1.5-metre alligator resting there, says GlobalNews. Officials said it was likely someone’s pet. We certainly hope so.
  • An Oregon family’s golden retriever has been honoured by a sheriff for digging up $85,000 worth of heroin in a family’s backyard [The New York Post]


  • A bear hijacked a Subaru in Durango, California, likely by releasing the parking brake and causing the car to roll down the driveway and crash into a utility box and mail box. Neighbours didn’t see the bear, but they did find the steering wheel and radio ripped out, the back window broken—and tell-tale beer poop left behind, according to The Durango Herald.


Bird Brained

  • In Smiths Falls, the geese are not chicken of swans, suggested CBC News. The Ontario town purchased two swans to keep an urban swimming area free of Canada geese, though residents say the two species are forming a fine, feathered friendship.
  • A rising number of people are being injured by seagulls on Britain’s coasts. Seagulls are becoming increasingly aggressive and are no longer content to scrounge leftovers. Medics are warning of a rise in patients being treated for injuries after attacks by swooping seagulls [The Daily Telegraph]
  • Residents across a Connecticut town say they were a bunch of sitting ducks—thanks to a flock of aggressive wild turkeys that have been on the attack—and some residents are fearful of leaving their homes, the Stamford Advocate reported.

Buzz on Bees

  • The fact that nothing can be counted as something—what we humans call zero—isn’t exactly common knowledge across the animal kingdom. New research suggests the humble bee can be taught to recognize nothing as an amount, which considering they can count as high as four, makes them veritable arthropod accountants, suggests ScienceAlert
  • A 68-year-old New Zealand beekeeper charged with smuggling more than two kilograms of pure cocaine into Australia is a good person who fell victim to online scammers, his lawyers says. Roy Stuart Arbon was arrested at Peth International Airport in February 2016. The drugs were concealed in a suitcase he brought from Brazil [ABC News]

Legends in Their Own Minds

  • Sheep are to graze in London’s Royal Parks for the first time since the 1930s as part of a project to revive Britain’s wildflower meadows supported by Prince Charles, according to The Daily Telegraph


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  • California wants to go beyond even President Barack Obama’s proposals on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, such as methane gas from manure piles. But can the state pull it off, wonders The New York Times? Surely a case of ‘non compost mentis’
  • For $12 a month, the Alberta firm TreeEra will plant 100 trees in your name over a year to help you offset your carbon footprint and speed wildfire recovery, announced CBC News
  • In the mid-1990s, 1,000 truckloads of orange peels and orange pulp were purposely unloaded onto barren pasture in a Costa Rican national park. Today, that area is covered in lush, vine-laden forest, reveals the journal Restoration Ecology
  • More trees mean cleaner air, right? Not necessarily, suggests a new study looking at wooded areas next to roadways, explains Barbra Rodriguez in Science. Instead, lines of trees known as “greenbelts” might actually trap a common pollutant from vehicle exhaust—nitrogen dioxide (NO2)—boosting on-the-ground levels of the gas up to 21%. That could make breathing harder for bikers and pedestrians with asthma or other respiratory diseases. The study appeared in the journal Urban Climate.
  • Poultry has been discovered containing fipronil, the insecticide that triggered an EU-wide scare after traces were discovered in eggs. Around 5,000 birds were contaminated or potentially infected last week after the poultry from Germany turned up in Poland. The news, in The Daily Express, was reassuringly accompanied by an advertisement for ‘Seniors Life Insurance’

Business as Usual

  • How much do you pay for a humble swede? The price of swedes varies throughout Southland. In New Zealand, The Southland Times detects a ‘swede pricing scandal’ of what elsewhere are called rutabagas.
  • Police in Warwick, Rhode Island are asking people to be on the lookout for a goat that wandered off a landscaping job. He is owned by the Goatscaping Company, based in Plympton, Massachusetts, which offers ruminants as an alternative to herbicides in the management of vegetation, explained The Times-Colonist.
  • Fiona Bruce could barely believe her ears when she was told how much a plant pot was sold for, more than 20 years after the item first appeared on the Antiques Roadshow. The Japanese-style jardini√®re was first seen on the BBC show in 1991 when owner Terry Nourish took his plant pot to the team for a valuation. It was worth a shocking ¬£10,000. Terry hung on to his item, deciding to sell it at a later date. He has now sold the pot for an astonishing ¬£560,000, reported The Daily Express

Science Is So Wonderful

  • It might seem like as tomato plant and a subway system don’t have much in common, but both, it turns out, are networks that strive to make similar trade-offs between cost and performance. Using 3D laser scans and growing plants, Salk scientists found that the same series of universal design principals that humans use to engineer networks like subways also guide the shape of plant branching architectures. The work appeared in the journal Cell Systems.
  • A team of scientists from the Kunming Institute of Botany in China and the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena has discovered that parasitic plants of the genus Cuscuta (dodder) not only deplete nutrients from their host plants, but also function as important ‘information brokers’ among neighbouring plants, when insects feed on host plants [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences]
  • Turtle researchers turn to sex toys to determine male and female of species, according to ABC News from Down Under. James Cook University PhD student Donald McKnight says a vibrator can determine the sex of a turtle with 100 percent accuracy for some species.
  • A Triceratops or Tyrannosaurus rex bullying its way through a pine forest likely dislodged flowers that 100 million years later have been identified in their fossil form as a new species of tree, the journal Paleodiversity reported
  • Petals of wildflowers called starry campions may be a pretty little battle ground between the plant’s male and female parts, writes Susan Milius, Science News. As is common in flowers, each Silene stellata bloom forms both male and female sex organs. After measuring petal variation between plants and tracking parenthood of seeds, Juannan Zhou suspected a sexual tug-of-war. Conflict arises over what’s best for male versus female parts
  • It cannot run away from the fly that does it so much damage, but tall goldenrod can protect itself by first ‘smelling’ its attacker and then initiating its defenses, according to an international team of researchers in the journal Nature Communications

Down on the Farm

  • CBC reported on the reaction of residents in the Cathedraltown neighbourhood of Markham, Ontario, who said the stainless-steel sculpture commemorating award-winning dairy cow Charity” scares the children.” Zane Caplensky of Toronto’s Caplinsky Deli says he would be very happy to move Charity to the front of his Yorkville location so his customers can enjoy it.

The Sporting Life

  • Kiwi botanists fear Porirua’s new mountain bike track will destroy a native reserve. One council spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on bringing native plant and birds back to Porirua Reserve. Now another wants to spend hundreds of thousands more to carve a mountain bike track through it, which a group of botanists say will ruin all the good work. - The Dominion Post, 16 August 2017
  • For the uninitiated, superstition portends that bananas are bad luck for fishing and could mean disaster for a trip, according to ABC News from Down Under.
  • Arborists venture to new heights at tree climbing championships, reads a header from ABC News Down Under. The best climbers in Queensland vied late last month for the title of the state’s best at Samford, northwest of Brisbane. Run by the Queensland Arboriculture Association, competitors used their experience and skill o climbing more than 30 metres.

Weather or Not

  • With weeks of winter weather still to come in New Zealand, Taranaki is in the grip of a dry firewood shortage that has left many households with nothing to burn for heating, bewails the Taranaki Daily News
  • The Amazon rainforest is home to strange weather, writes Ilima Loomis in Science. One peculiarity is that rains begin 2 to 3 months before seasonal winds start to bring in moist air from the ocean. Now, researchers say they have finally figured out where this early moisture comes from: the trees themselves. They reported their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • A magnificent Boston ivy, which has been growing on Churchill College at Cambridge University got nearly 60 years, is changing from green to scarlet as the UK sees an early end to summer this year, observed The Daily Express in the third week of August

Bon Appetite

  • “We’ll just have to use wine” some say, according to perhaps envious The Daily Telegraph. Italians fear for the future as drought dried farming heartlands.
  • Rainbow chard is growing on traffic islands along Lambton Quay in central Wellington, New Zealand’s capital. Most of its composted once its harvested in late September, but it’s fine to eat so long as you aren’t put off by the diesel fumes and pigeon droppings, Wellington City Council says. Just make sure you ask permission, and wash it thoroughly, warns The Dominion Post
  • If you’ve never heard of kohlrabi you’re not alone. But if you frequent local markets or participate in a community-supported agriculture box, you’ve certainly seen this cabbage offshoot. Kohlrabi is as fun to eat as it is to say, suggests CBC News in Ottawa
  • Out with the kale, in with the kalettes—a new hybrid vegetable is about to rock the Kiwi food scene, writes Ophelia Buckleton, The Weekend Herald. The cross between kale and poor old Brussels sprouts has stolen the show in the UK and now they are here. The mini-cabbage look alike taste much more like kale than Brussels sprouts but without the bitter taste and are crunchier.
  • Police say a New Holland, Pennsylvania man ranted that there weren’t enough cucumbers in his Wendy’s salad before he threw his food at an employee and said, “If I had a gun or a knife you would be the first to go” [The Washington Post]
  • When it comes to chowing down on kale, Georgia man Gideon Oji, 25, is once again the top dog, beating back a challenge from hot dog-eating champ Joey Chestnut. He downed 22-and-a half bowls of leaves, or 3,600 grams in eight minutes at Erie County Fair in New York. The kale was served raw with oil and vinegar, explained The Daily Mail

In Sickness and Health

  • A defensive mucus secreted by slugs has inspired a new kind of adhesive that could transform medicine, say scientists. The “bio-glue” is incredibly strong, moves with the body and crucially, sticks to set surfaces. The team at Harvard University have even used it to seal a hole in a pig’s heart. The experiments were published in Science.
  • Drinking moderately three or four times a week may protect people against diabetes, a study in Diabetologia has found. The research showed that men who drank 14 units a week, equivalent to a bottle and a half of wine, and women who drank nine units lowered their chance of contracting type II diabetes by 43 percent and 58 percent respectively [The Times]
  • The New Zealand Gardener suggest five lesser-known herbs to combat stress and reduce anxiety. Of course, gardening is meant to do just that, but for the record, here they are: California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) teas and tinctures made from flowers; Ashwangandha (Withania somnifera), also called Indian ginseng, dried root in teas; Vervain (Verbena officinalis) in teas or tinctures; Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) unpleasant-tasting tea; Kava (Piper methysticum) root decoction (banned in some countries)
  • Boosting your performance between the sheets not only improves your love life—it can also improve your health, claims The Sun, a Brit tabloid. Charlie Turner and Lee Foster, founders of Neat Nutrition, have come up with seven foods that can boost your libido: dark chocolate, nuts, garlic, broccoli and celery, fish, oats, whey protein. Burp. Pardon.
  • New Hurricane Harvey threat? Millions of venomous floating fire ants, warned The Miami Herald. Floating colonies of fire ants, as many as 500,000 in one group, are banding together to stay above water in flood-wracked Houston—and they bite, warned to Houstonia magazine and ScienceAlert.

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Wes Porter -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Wes Porter is a horticultural consultant and writer based in Toronto. Wes has over 40 years of experience in both temperate and tropical horticulture from three continents.

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