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Anyone who has tried starting a garden in Alberta knows that our climate can make it a unique challenge and gardening tips that work in other parts of Canada don’t always cut it here. That’s why this June, we’re sharing one plant description every Friday from Alberta gardening books and plant guides. Today’s Flora Fridays feature comes from Old Man’s Garden: The History and Lore of Southern Alberta Wildflowers by Annora Brown.
Annora Brown (1899–1987) was one of Alberta’s foremost early artists, despite the isolation of living in the frontier town of Fort Macleod for most of her life. Originally published in 1954, Brown’s Old Man’s Garden is a Canadian classic that tells the story of Southern Alberta’s native plants and wildflowers through art and in consideration of Indigenous traditional knowledge from the region—a self-described “book of gossip about the flowers of the West.” Accompanying the new Rocky Mountain Books edition of Old Man’s Garden, Sidney Black of Fort Macleod, the Indigenous Anglican Bishop for Treaty 7, provides his own commentary about Annora’s art and writing in relation to the Blackfoot, while independent art curator Mary-Beth Laviolette broadens the story about the artist’s contribution to Canadian art.
One of the most outstanding beauties of this wild vegetable garden is the evening primrose. Looking ethereal and lovely by the cool light of the moon, but fading rather badly as soon as the hot rays of the morning sun touch her, she has her great moment when most of the other flowers are asleep. The visitors for whom she dresses herself in yellow satin are not the bustling bees of the summer sunshine but grey moths that appear out of the night, sip a moment from her nectar and vanish again into the darkness.
Oenothera is almost entirely an American species. Only one species, a native of Tasmania, is indigenous outside of the North and South American continents, though several have been introduced into Europe. On the grassy prairies and arid regions of the west there are a great many varieties, mostly with large yellow or white flowers.
As indicated by its name, the plant is biennial, that is, it lives two years, putting up a rosette of green leaves the first year and blooming the second. The large four petalled flower advertises a nutritious, stocky root which the Indigenous inhabitants gathered in the autumn and dried for winter use. It is a close relative of the primrose which Europeans have introduced into their gardens because of its large edible root, which they cook or serve in salad.
The farmer classes them as weeds, and so we see, by a queer twist of fate, a man digging out and casting aside a vegetable which has for centuries helped to feed the First Nations people, and replacing it with a vegetable which has for centuries helped to feed the Europeans.
From Old Man’s Garden: The History and Lore of Southern Alberta Wildflowers by Annora Brown; introduction by: Mary-Beth Laviolette; foreword by: Niitsítapi (Siksika) Bishop Sidney Black (Rocky Mountain Books 2020). Image and excerpt provided courtesy of the publisher.
At the end of June, we are giving away a prize pack containing the gardening and plant guides from our Flora Fridays series including Old Man’s Garden by Annora Brown. Sign up for our newsletter to win! If you’re already signed up, you’re already entered! This giveaway is open to Canadian residents.