Beginner Gardening for Canada by A.H. Jackson.

I am an absolute noob when it comes to anything green. I can keep my cats alive but I’m notorious for killing indoor plants and up until recently I’ve never had a yard to attempt anything other than that. I now have a yard that requires my maintenance and I am afraid. My Dad was the gardener in my family and was such a Nazi about his yard that the one time I mowed the lawn for him as a teenager,  he went out and did it again as I had the pattern all wrong and it really wasn’t done to his standards. However, my Dad did have a passion for gardening and I always loved eating fresh vegetables or seeing our own flowers grow so perhaps his green-thumb will transfer to me?

To give myself some confidence I picked up a book at the library called Beginner Gardening for Canada by A.H. Jackson. The book is easy to read and has a decent amount of pictures. There were times I felt that the author was a tad pretentious and condescending towards non-gardeners like myself and particularly about the direction that many people have taken in terms of outdoor decorating and the environments we thrive in everyday. With that being said, his passion did rub off on me and he made some very valid points in terms of how humans have fallen out with nature and the benefits of reconnecting with it. The author is also extremely experienced and knowledgeable and I learned a few things! So here are few things that I’m going to retain when I tackle my yard in the coming spring weeks:

1) Map your yard. It’s a good idea to map out the sunny and shady areas in your yard as well as the water drainage areas.

2) Rhubarb leaves are toxic to both humans and to insects. Put the leaves into boiling water and it soak for 24-hours, filter and add a few drops of dish detergent and you have a very natural and effective insecticide for mites and aphids.

3) Know your soil. Analyze samples of your soil by gathering some from various spots and places and put it a large jar with water. Screw the lid on tight, give the jar a good shake and let it sit for 24 hours. The soil will settle into laters: sand on the bottom, then layers of silt, clay, water and floating organic matter. If the sand, silt and clay settle in almost equal layers you have well-balanced soil.  If there is little organic material it indicates that your soil needs compost, peat moss, rotted manure or all three. If you have a lot of clay, that will need to be remedied.  Clay is the bane of any gardener’s existence as it provides very poor drainage. To counter clay, build raised beds with quality top soil.

4) Soil testing is important. Especially if you’re planning on starting a vegetable garden. Homes and soil have been subjected to a lot of different things over the years and you want to ensure that your soil is free of toxins as those toxins will make their into your grown foodKnowing what’s in your soil will also give you an idea what kind of plants will thrive in your yard.

5) Ditch the deck. According to the author, decks are the “insidious 1960’s-era inventions of lumber dealers wanting to horn in on the rising popularity of the flagstone patio”.  The author argues that decks turn landscape into an afterthought and that they raise homeowners above their gardens making them “nature voyeurs”. He insists that we should be one with nature and that a patio is by far a better option.

6) Rookies should avoid bramble bushes. Jams are delicious but brambles are needy. They require a lot of attention and grow like weeds. They can easily become overwhelming for a new gardener.

7) Wear garden gloves. I always figured that gloves were just to prevent scraps and bruises while messing around in the dirt but there is actually a lot more to it than that. Soil is full of bacteria, mold and nematodes. C. tetani, lives everywhere, to the air with breathe, our beds, skin and food but for the most part they call their home in the earth.  Many people get this bacteria by stepping on a nail in an outdoor or dirty environment, it’s because this bacteria needs a deep wound void of oxygen in order to survive. If you get deep wound while out gardening always get a booster shot as this bacteria can develop into tetanus which, causes painful muscular spasms that can lead to respiratory failure and, in up to 40% of cases, death. Nematodes, or more commonly known as the Roundworm, lay their eggs and larvae in soil and are everywhere you dig. If they get on your hands and then you touch your mouth you will have some new friends living in your intestine. Wearing gloves will protect you from these microscopic dangers.

8) Shrubs and hedges are great for beginning Canadian gardeners. Shrubs are a result of climate rather than an actual botanical category. They are trees that have evolved to adapt and recover from storms and unfavorable weather. Almost any tree can become a shrub or a hedge with pruning. They can also be a lot of fun to work with as you can get creative with your shrub or hedge shapes.

9) Keep your mower blades sharp. Dull mower blades will rip your grass instead of cutting it causing damage your grass.

10) Weeding. Know your enemy. Careful that you’re not pulling up what you’ve worked hard to plant. Avoid weeds in a vegetable garden by using a rototiller prior to planting and use mulch in flower beds. Mulch prevents sunlight from reaching weed seeds and slows water evaporation. It’s also organic so it will eventually breakdown and add nutrients to your soil.

Splintered by A.G. Howard

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 371 pages.
Read from April 24 to May 07, 2014.

I was torn between giving this novel two or three stars but I decided to go with three because the real fault with this book is that it just isn’t written for someone my age.

Splintered is a gothic and modern rendition of Alice and Wonderland. The protagonist, Alyssa Gardener, is a teenage girl who, from the time she hit puberty, is able to talk with insects and plants. All of the women in her family are inflicted with this ‘curse’ and her mother and grandmother have been institutionalized for these abilities. This curse, along with the abilities, is long rumored within Alyssa’s family to be in relation to the story of Alice in Wonderland, as Alice is apparently one of her great grandmothers.

Alyssa is keeping her abilities a secret from everyone but especially her institutionalized mother who hasn’t been home for most of her life. Between the stress of her family, tensions rising with her crush Jeb who is overprotective and the uncontrollable chatter of the critters around her, Alyssa is faced with a choice to end the curse that has plagued her family and save her mother. She takes the leap down the rabbit hole with some unexpected company and memories to a world that’s very different from the tale Alice depicted.

This Wonderland is a scary place, almost vicious, like that of a horror. The White Rabbit is actually rabid and missing some it’s skin due some inflicted punishment from the one of the Queens. The Mad Hatter doesn’t have a face but rather its head is literally a hat making mechanism. The Cheshire cat had its head cut off and half of his body has been eaten by a large and terrifying creature. The Walrus is some awful octopus hybrid called the octobenus and has an insatiable and cruel appetite. These horror-twisted characters are truly awesome and the reader can envision them perfectly with the author’s descriptions. It was a world, I wish I could have explored more. Instead, so much of the book’s focus was the weird romantic tension between Alyssa, Jeb and the netherling, Morpheus. I can’t ever recall as a teenage girl ever craving cheesy romance in my books but if this is what girls are into these days when it comes to novels then maybe I need to stop reading young-adult books.

This book had such amazing potential with its innovative setting but I felt it was ruined with lame-ass teenage romance. In my opinion, if this book had been written for adults and it ended up focusing more on the setting and Alyssa’s adventures instead of her love interests, it could have a been a really solid book! With that all being said, I didn’t dislike the book. I just wish it could have been formed differently.

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

4/5 stars.
ebook, 449 pages.
Read from April 20 to May 02, 2014.

Three down and two more to go for the Canada-Reads nominations of 2014. At this point, I would have to say that this novel is my favorite out of what I’ve read thus far. While I admit I am already partial to Atwood as an author just because I’ve read more by her, I would still say that this one worked best for me as a reader.

The Year of the Flood is the second book in the MaddAddam trilogy. While this book is the second in the trilogy, it is technically a prequel or rather a companion piece to Oryx and Crake, the first novel in the series. The third book is called MaddAddam which takes place after these two books. While it is not necessary to read them in order if you are going to take up the novels I would recommend doing so as you’ll experience a whole different  level of plot depth.

The novel follows two main characters, Toby and Ren that are connected through a religious group called The God’s Gardeners. The women are separated by at least a decade of age between them yet they are invariably connected. The  God’s Gardeners anticipates the coming of a waterless-flood that is going to come and wipe out the human race so that the Earth can heal and rebuild from the destruction and unbalance that humans have caused it. The book moves through different areas of Ren and Toby’s lives in different time-frames, including what happened to them before they came apart of The God’s Gardeners, their time in The God’s Gardeners and where they are after the waterless-flood has hit the Earth.

The Gardener’s believe that humankind has strayed away from how God wanted us to live on the Earth. Especially with the way the world has become. Corporations, called the CorpSeCorps, now rule everything and are less than moral.  They have used up almost all of the Earth’s resources and have erased most of the animal species on the planet. The animal genes that remain are spliced and used to create horrible hybrids that serve human purposes. Food is highly processed and people have stopped asking where it comes from. The most notorious example of this is the burger chain, Secretburger. They will use any protein that they come across to use in their burgers. Even human protein. Hence, the name of the establishment, as you don’t ever really know what you’re eating. As a result, The God’s Gardeners choose to separate themselves and live in the pleeblands, the slums. The pleeblands and are inhabited by some very desolate people: homeless, refugees and criminals which make living there very dangerous. The God’s Gardeners are strict vegans and condemn anything material made. They recycle everything, grow their own food and teach their children how to live in one with God. The children take courses and learn essentials skills in classes taught the leaders of the groups, the Adams and Eves.

The book focuses on Toby and Ren in this very detailed and expansive world that Atwood has created. Like the Earth, both Toby and Ren have to heal from items that they have suffered in their past and they find this peace when the book concludes. The writing is at times chaotic, though I wouldn’t say that it’s hard to follow, so it perfectly mirrors the chaos in the plot.

There is a scary sense of realism that comes while reading this book. I found myself looking at the teachings of The God’s Gardener’s and wondering if I should take some of their own practices into my own life because the world that Atwood has created feels like it could be a possibility for our future. An excessive one maybe, but humans are an excessive race so I wouldn’t put this story too far past the concept of reality. With that being said, another point that I believe that Atwood makes, is that there is always hope and resilience, no matter what the horror.

Overall, a must-read for dystopian and Atwood lovers.