This is the stuff you didn't realize you needed to know about gardening

Dorothy Dobbie is a Canadian classic. An entrepreneur, Dorothy started Pegasus Publications in Winnipeg in 1996, a member of parliament in the late 80’s and early 90’s and a passionate gardener. Together with Shauna Dobbie, her daughter, Dorothy is responsible for a great Canadian book called The Book of 10 Neat Things (2).

We call it “Everything you didn’t know but you need to know about plants”.

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It is informative and fun.

Here are some highlights, with our editorial musings:

Basil(Ocimum basilicum). A native of India, where it was traditionally used to treat asthma, arthritis and diabetes. Growing basil can be simple. It loves heat and sun, not too much water but it does not like to dry out either: it rehydrates badly. It is very cold sensitive, among the very first plants to succumb to fall frost. Remove flower stems before they blossom and go to seed. This will encourage young, oil-rich new growth for future use in your cooking.

Basil, like verbena and geraniums, can be purchased in a variety of flavours that include lemon, cloves, peppermint, licorice and anise. It is an ambitious plant that seems unsure of what it really wants to be. We prefer plain ol’ basil.

Daisies. There are many daisies and only one Shasta daisy: leucanthemum x superbum. Don’t make the mistake that Mark made for years by pronouncing the last three letters alone, as in super-bum. The correct pronunciation is superb-um.

The word daisy comes from “days eye”, as in English daisies. Dandelions are members of the daisy family (they are European imports, brought here as a cheap substitute for coffee about 300 years ago).

Daisy is the birth-month flower of April and the flower of the fifth wedding anniversary. It symbolizes cheerfulness, innocence, modesty, purity and sympathy. Shasta daisies, when cut in a bouquet, last a very long time, up to a couple of weeks. Our favourite variety is “Becky” as it blooms for up to 6 weeks in a sunny garden.

Pick a daisy and pull the flower petals to determine if you really love someone: she loves me, loves me not. We really hope that you don’t push up daisies any time soon. An expression Ben’s grandfather used in reference to dying.

Cedars.According to the book, Canadian cedars are not real cedars, they are members of the cypress family. Thuja occidentalis or white cedar is the most popular evergreen hedging plant in Canada. It is reliably green, winter hardy to zone 3 (Regina) and lends itself to pruning for a generation or more. It even smells good, like an evergreen should, when you prune it. Birds nest in cedars and cedar wax wings forage for mature cedar seeds late in the season.

Cedars do not attract mosquitoes, despite the rumours. Swamps and low-lying land attract mosquitoes. Sometimes native cedars will grow naturally in such places. Thus, their reputation.

If your cedars turn brown, this is usually an indication that they are overwatered or too dry. You determine. If they are dead within a couple of years of planting, chances are they are Emerald Cedars bought on the cheap. It is possible to buy a 125 cm tall Oregon-grown Emerald cedar for $25 or so. They are strip-mined down there, force-fed with goodness knows what and grown to salable size in a couple or three years, versus 5 to 7 years on Ontario farms.

The secret to successful Emerald cedar planting is to plant the more expensive, better performing Ontario grown stock.

There is much more in the book. For instance, you shouldn’t eat kale more than two or three times a week or the oxalates that it contains can have a negative effect on your liver or gall bladder. Good news for those of us who hate the stuff.

Not just about plants, the book is handy if you want to learn about clouds and ladybugs, Lyme disease and deer ticks, it is all here in The Book of 10 Neat Things (2). Published by Pegasus Publications. A Canadian treasure.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and Member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, and on Facebook.

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