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A go-to resource for the prairie gardener

Calgary authors create practical gardening series on seeds, veggies, pests and small spaces.

Do you know how many hardiness zones Alberta gardeners contend with? What about drought, winds and wild temperature fluctuations across the prairies? There's no shortage of gardening books on the market, but there are relatively few that address prairie-centric issues; things like chinooks, soil erosion, freeze/thaw cycles, hail damage and short growing seasons.

With the Guides for the Prairie Gardener Q and A books, Calgary writers and long-time gardeners Sheryl Normandeau and Janet Melrose answer prairie-focused queries like 'Can the garden come back from hail damage?' or 'Where's the best spot in the garden for tomato seedlings?'

"We want the books to sound and feel like it's just Sheryl and I having a conversation--approachable and easy to reference and carry out to the garden with your bucket and trowel," said Melrose, who is also known as Calgary's Cottage Gardener but started her love affair with the land while growing up in Trinidad. "There's no time off from the garden there. I think that's why we love house plants here--it's a way to keep that interaction going with nature even during the cold months."

The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Seeds and The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Small Spaces are joined by two other go-to books on Vegetables and Pests & Diseases. Another two volumes will come out next year, on soils and trees and shrubs.

"We're blessed with six biomes in Alberta; (grassland, parkland, foothills, boreal forest, Rocky Mountains and Canadian Shield) in hardiness zones ranging from about 1a to 4b. That creates a huge range of conditions," said Normandeau, a Calgary freelance writer, volunteer and urban gardening advocate. Though she does edible small space/container gardening on her balcony--think carrots, beans, tomatoes, herbs and greens--Normandeau is also big on community plots and--through her work with the Alberta Gardening Facebook group--she sees the explosion of interest and questions gardeners grapple with time and again.

"Though there are so many new gardeners now, people keep coming back to weather-related questions, or about transplants--what seeds can be sown directly and when, what is hardening off, how to deal with insects and pests? People aren't always able to Google answers applicable to our prairie climate, so our easy-to-read format makes the information relevant and accessible."

Melrose says gardening addresses our physical, emotional, social and spiritual sides, offering a sense of accomplishment for those who take care of, harvest and eat their efforts.

"This is something I've been doing for 25 years now. The connection is in my blood going back generations to my grandfather the potato farmer and a long line of English gardeners," Melrose said. "You can't take away without giving something back to the soil, so I also teach how to invite nature into our backyards, understanding what grows well here and honouring that." 

Melrose says gardeners shouldn't stress out about what plants succeed or fail, but should enjoy the always changing experience that is gardening. 

Look for Normandeau and Melrose on social media too. The AMA's Good to Grow Facebook page regularly features the pair, and series publisher TouchWood Editions features the authors too.

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