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

Up the Garden Path—October 2017

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By —— Bio and Archives October 31, 2017

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Up the Garden Path
Front Garden

  • A collection of excruciating horticultural fails has been gather up by one cheeky account, Featuring a gardener painting his lawn green, a chicken’s garden party, a lonely palm tree on a bleak balcony, topiary lemurs and a dashboard miniature cacti oasis, amongst many others, there’s little to covet about these plots, observed The Daily Mail. The account welcomes submissions, with most of the gardens features so far located in Australia. Sounds about right: where else would you find a row of planted toilet bowls as decoration or an ample bra transformed into a hanging basket?
  • Open and shut case: The Daily Express‘s Alan Titchmarsh offers tips on choosing the right gate for you garden. The Brit paper explains that the right gate will make your garden look more inviting. And who knows where that might lead?
  • A Star Wars fan in England built a 20-foot-high AT-AT Walker on his lawn to compete in a local scarecrow-making contest. 54-year-old Ian Mocket raised $1,000 for an air ambulance charity thanks to eye-catching homage, reported The New York Post.
  • A Colorado mum lost it over a mystery woman who was pooping on the lawn outside her house. Cathy Buddle, of Colorado Springs, says her kids caught the daring defecator in mid-squat. Police in Colorado Springs are now investigating after the family first spotted the female jogger with her pants down outside their home seven weeks ago [The Daily Express, The New York Post]

Back Yard

  • That’s bananas! Vancouver’s tropical summer yields tropical fruit revealed CBC News. After four years of cultivation Vancouver’s Antonio Zullo’s banana plant has flowered and developed fruit, something he never thought possible because of the city’s climate. Each winter he covers it to protect it from the cold. It’s now about two metres tall. A banana tree bearing fruit has happened before though, in Abbottsford, B.C. two years ago, says author David Tracey.
  • Green-fingered Brit pensioner Cliff Ainsworth got the surprise of his life when a banana plant he began growing 14 years ago finally bore fruit. He had brought home six Cavendish bananas from Tenerife and planted them in his Brighton, south England back yard. He moved three into pots last June, leaving the others in their original location—and one them bore fruit, The Daily Express reported.
  • It seems bobcats are popping up in backyards all over Calgary these days, writes Rachel Maclean, CBC News. Brett Boukall with Alberta Environment and Parks suggests cleaning up backyard garbage, keeping pet food inside, removing the bird feeder, installing motion sensor lights, trimming hedges and shrubs and fixing holes under decks and steps.
  • A mushroom-shaped treehouse which a father made for his 12-year-old daughter complete with Harry Potter-themed brickwork and stargazing glass roof has been named Britain’s best shed in Chiddingfold, Surrey [The Daily Mail]. Shed?

Lawn n’ Order

  • Dog walkers who fail to carry two plastic bags for collecting their pets’ mess face 80 fines under a Brit council plan to reduce fouling of parks and pavements. Canterbury city council enforcement officers will approach walkers and ask them to show how many bags they are carrying. Those who produce none or only one could be fined unless they give a reasonable excuse, such as having already used their bags, warned The Times

Home Farm

  • Backyard chickens carry a hidden risk: salmonella, warns The New York Times. More than 900 people have contracted it from backyard poultry this year—the highest number ever—and the trend is expected to continue, said the newspaper.
  • On the East End of Long Island, a professionally planted and tended garden requires a different kind of green. The rigours of vegetable gardening, for most people, are humble and gritty: planting weeding, dirty knees, working up a sweat and maybe straining a back muscle or two. But here on the gilded acres of Long Island’s East End, a different skill often applies: hiring a landscape architect to design the garden, a gardener and crew to plant and pamper the beds and sometimes even a chef to figure out what to do with the bushels of fresh produce. All that’s left is to pick the vegetables—though employees frequently do that, too. The hardest-worked muscles may be in the hand writing the cheques, writes Stacey Stowe, The New York Times
  • Green-fingered pensioner Bryan Calder, 72, grows a five-foot cabbage that is 50 times bigger than average—and so large he needs a wheelbarrow to carry it. The retired lorry [truck] driver from Forfar, Angus grew it from seed in his allotment. Trust The Daily Mail to suggest that this is “Unbe-Leaf-Able!”
  • How to ensure keeping chickens is all its cracked up to be suggested ABC News from Down Under. As backyard chickens become increasingly popular, Peter Shands from the Royal National Capital Agricultural Society offered some tips for those thinking of keeping hens for eggs, meat, to turn over compost and/or fertilizer. Note: Down Under they’re ‘chooks.’
  • A Utah man who’s loved giant pumpkins since childhood is trying to set a state record for the second time with a nearly 2000-pound specimen he’s been tending with scientific precision, according to the Cache Valley Daily. Some might think he’s out of his gourd.

Deep in the Woods

  • The UK’s Woodland Trust launches this year’s competition for the Tree of the Year. Among the 28 short-listed are a sapling pulled from the mud of Passchendaele in the First World War to a tree which inspired the scouting movement and yew trees which “bleed” or have served as pulpits for preachers. There are 3 billion trees growing across the UK reported The Daily Mail urging readers to root for their favourite.
  • Plants may need to sleep at night as well as humans and animals, finds new study by a team from the California Institute of Technology. Earlier this year, an arboriculturist claimed trees in Britain’s cities were dying early because of the glare of street lights, interfering with their circadian rhythms and depriving them of “sleep.” Peter Wohlleben said trees standing near street lights tend to die earlier than those in the country, explained The Daily Telegraph

The Good, the Bad and the Bugly

  • A deer rampaging through an Aussie at funeral home caused $100,000 damage, reported ABC News. An out-of-control deer, weighing about 250kg, smashed into a funeral home in Melbourne’s east side, leaving the place looking like “a horrific crime scene” a staff member says. The deer, which appeared to have been wounded previously, was confined in a small room. It was later put down.
  • Muffin bottoms and pizza crusts: how city garbage is affecting Sudbury’s chipmunks, revealed CBC News. The chipmunks in your yard might be healthier and happier than their counterparts in rural areas, says a Laurentian University researcher.
  • Scientists haver discovered a new type of ‘hell ant’—a species with terrifying spiky mouthparts reinforced with metal and used for drinking the blood of its enemies reported ScienceAlert. Thankfully, these insects have been extinct for a while, but a 98-million-ywear-old amber specimen has revealed stunning detail of the prehistoric species, including a curious metal component in its jaw. The new species was described in Systematic Entomology.
  • The albino groundhog at the centre of Canada’s most high-profile weather forecasting tradition has died. Wiarton Willi died mid-September, according to a news release from the Town of South Bruce Peninsular. He was 13 [CTV News, CBC News]
  • Australian researchers have developed a new type of fly food that can help double the number of “sexy” sterile Queensland fruit flies being reared in laboratories reports—who else?—the official website ABC News
  • Janitors at Salt Lake City’s West High School rounded up 300 bats in three days, prompting the school cancel programs so they could capture all the flying mammals invading the property, The Washington Post reported

Pampered Pets

  • Brit father-of-two Paul Gordon, 42, from Buckinghamshire, spent four months and ¬£3,500 to build a Crystal Maze-style hutch the size of a garage in his garden for his pair of nine-year-old pet tortoises. He also believes its also a great place for his wife and two daughters to hang out. How much did he shell out for that, wonders The Daily Express?
  • The world’s largest pet rabbit is 3-feet-4-inches long, weighs about 50-pounds and eats 4,000 carrots a year [The Daily Mail]


  • Jim Burke of Wilmington, Vermont is trying to turn his 62-acre property into a wildlife refuge for bears, according to The Brattleboro Reformer

Bird Brained

  • The small Oregon city of Pilot Rock is asking the state for advice on how to handle a flock of wild turkeys that are ruining gardens and leave droppings just about everywhere, explained The East Oregon
  • A town’s pigeon population decimated by homeless eating the birds, claimed Brit-based The Daily Express. Police were today investigating claims homeless men are eating Exeter’s pigeon population—to leave more of their benefits cash to spend on booze. Coo!


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Getting the Buzz On

  • Beekeeper Jaimie Grainger won a $1,000 bet in rural Matamata, New Zealand after he sat bare-bottomed atop a beehive for a painful 30 seconds. “It wasn’t pleasant, but it was actually amusing,” the 27-year-old Kiwi said afterward. “As you can imagine, your arse swells up,” buzzed The New York Post. Closer to home, The New Zealand Herald warned that a “bare bum comes with a sting in its tail.”
  • Juan Carlos Noguez Ortiz set a new world record in downtown Toronto, sitting still while completely covered with bees for 61 minutes even though he was stung twice. Ortiz is an employee at Dickey Bee Honey Farm in Cookstown, near Toronto, revealed CBC News
  • School pupils in Warepa have been have been given their own leafcutter bee house to help grow a colony, according to The New Zealand Herald

Legends in Their Own Minds

  • A scarecrow, featuring a Trump mask, stars and stripes tie, and a distinctive mop of blonde hair, sits on Michael Douglas’s Majorcan estate that has been on the market since 2015. The actor praised his ‘golf buddy’ as ‘not an idiot’ earlier this year, explained The Daily Express
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel was hit by a tomato thrown from an angry crowd at an election meeting in the university city of Heidelberg. One of her aides was also hit by flying fruit to calls of “liar” and “hypocrite,” reported The Daily Express. Later in the month she was re-elected for a fourth term.
  • The $30 “spray-able elixir” sold on Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness site contains ruby, rosemary, juniper, lavender and reiki charged with crystals, reports The Daily Express
  • Prince Charles wants to reduce grey squirrel numbers by feeding them contraceptives hidden in Nutella, a nut spread [The Daily Mail]

Uncivil Servants

  • A floral tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, has been described as “absolutely horrendous” and likened to Worzel Gummidge reported The Daily Telegraph. The memorial was created to mark the 20th anniversary of her death. Britain’s Chesterfield Borough Council said it hoped the design would bring people to the town but local said it would more likely make them a laughing stock. Worzel Gummidge was a living scarecrow played by comedian Jon Pertwee on a children’s television show.


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Business as Usual

  • It’s the new wave in floral arrangements, according to The New York Times, explaining that for the most innovative designers working today, form is just as important as flora.
  • Banks of what appear to be gargantuan mirrors stretch across the countryside, glinting when the sun shines and glowing with eerie interior light when night falls. They are Holland’s extraordinary greenhouse complexes, some of them covering 175 acres. These climate-controlled farms enable a country located a scant thousand miles from the Arctic Circle to be a global leader in exports of a fair-weather fruit: the tomato. The Dutch are also the world’s top exporter of potatoes and onions and the second largest exporter of vegetables overall in terms of value. More than a third of all global trade in vegetable seeds originates in the Netherlands, writes Frank Viviano, National Geographic

Science Is So Wonderful

  • Leaf sizes all over the globe differ in size by more than 10,000 times, from less than a square millimetre to over a square metre in area. Surprisingly, there’s little research to confirm exactly why this variation exists. Now research by an international team of scientists has determined night time temperatures and risk of damage from ice are the key factors that determines why the Philippine banana tree (Musa textilis) has large, wide leaves, while the camel thorn (Acacia erioloba) has tiny, relatively narrow leaves [ScienceAlert/Science]
  • Cutting onions breaks their cells, allowing two substances to combine that make you cry. A new study describes how these chemicals fit together like a potent chemical weapon, explained The New York Times
  • Scientists have found the gene that controls colour in a butterfly’s wing. By using the CRISPR gene editing technique, they could make it possible to design a living butterfly’s wings, suggests The New York Times
  • Golden Delicious apples have almost three time as many genes as people [The Daily Mail]

Down on the Farm

  • Millions in E.U. farm subsidies that go to Britain’s landed gentry—including Queen Elizabeth II—could be eliminated after the country leaves the block, suggests The New York Times
  • The Netherlands is a small, densely populated country, with more than 1,300 inhabitants per square mile. It’s bereft of almost every resource long thought to be necessary for large-scale agriculture. Yet it’s the globe’s number two exporter of food as measured value, second only to the United States, which as 270 times its landmass, explained Frank Viviano for National Geographic,
  • Evansville, southern Indiana farmer Jeremy Goebel who created a corn maize with trails outline the face of Star Wars character Princess Leia says he planted it to honour the late actress Carrie Fisher, according to The Detroit News
  • It could be the backdrop foliage for a Jurassic Park movie: an invasive vine called wild cucumber covers everything in its path on a farm on Prince Edward Island, revealed CBC News, apparently unaware that the native plant was once believed to have aphrodisiacal properties.
  • We will all reap the rewards of roboticised farms. Automation can boost productivity, make British farming competitive and end an out-dated market for low-paid labour, writes Matt Ridley in The Times
  • One Wisconsin farmer has grown a uniquely science-themed crop, after being approached by geologists at the University of Wisconsin’s Geology Museum in Madison. Angie Treinen modelled her maze after the state fossil, the long-extinct trilobite reported Science

The Sporting Life

  • Some 160 tonnes of over-ripe tomatoes were thrown in this year’s annual food fight in eastern Spain—a record, reported BBC News


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Weather or Not

  • “Unprecedented.” “Unknown.” “Beyond anything experienced.” When forecasters needed to describe Hurricane Harvey, they stretched their linguistic abilities into new territories, observed The New York Times
  • A group of Mainers hope to continue a seasonal tradition with a weather-predicting lobster they call ‘Passey Pete.’ The crustacean has been fished out of the Passagassawakeag River for the past three years to see if he will pick a scroll to determine whether Maine will see six more weeks of summer or be greeted by winter, according to WLBZ-TV
  • Welcome to the era of extreme rain: The number of severe rainstorms has jumped by one third in recent decades. Warmer air is a big reason, writes David Leonhardt in The New York Times
  • Maurice Bluestein, who modernized the wind chill index, died at 76. Mr. Bluestein observed a flaw in the existing formula while shovelling his daughter’s car out of the snow, explained The New York Times
  • Edmonton saw its first snowfall of the season on a late September morning. A heavy rain turned into flakes of white stuff shortly before noon, bringing a chill to Alberta’s capital region. The following day snow warnings went up for highways in interior B.C.

Bon Appetite

  • The healthy food message is getting out, say Mangawekas asparagus farmers George and Diana Turney, having just returned from visiting relatives in Britain—although he had to show them how to cook asparagus, they told The New Zealand Herald
  • Swiss supermarket chain Coop has started selling burgers and balls made from the insects—and says the products are popular. About one-third of the burger is mealworm larvae [CTV News]
  • According to experts at the Australian magazine Delicious, a somewhat unexpected ingredient—tomato soup—can be used to create the perfect chocolate cake recipe making it “fluffy and soft with a dream-like texture” [The Daily Mail]
  • One business in the United States has embraced a ‘drink your wine and eat it too’ attitude turning grape waste into flour. Hilary Niver-Johnson makes wine flour in Finger Lakes, New York State. Wine flour is a high-fibre, high-protein supplement that can be used in a wide range of cooking and baking including cakes, biscuits, stock and smoothies, according to ABC News

In Sickness and Health

  • Christmas is on its way but don’t panic—there are things to do in preparation for the festive season, advices UK tabloid The Daily Mail. One of those being a shot of turmeric every morning. It is known for its anti-inflammatory properties.
  • A Japanese news conference which aimed to raise awareness of tick-borne disease ended in disaster when a live tick disappeared. The Miyazaki prefecture’s governor was left red-faced and forced to apologize. The room was later sprayed with insecticide, explained The Sunday Mail
  • A 67-year-old man who took apricot kernel extract believing it would improve his health found that it gave him cyanide poisoning instead, Despite the diagnosis the man told his doctors he planned to keep on taking the supplements. Australian doctors described the case in the journal BMJ Case Reports.

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.