“I look upon the pleasure which we take in a garden as one of the most innocent delights in human life.”   Cicero


There is a 20-acre garden located in New Delhi titled The Garden of the Five Senses with a purpose to: ‘Stimulate all the five senses in an evocative bouquet that awakens the mind to the beauty of life and invoke a grateful prayer for the gift of touch, sight, sound, smell and taste.’ Visitors are encouraged to ‘touch the rocks and displays, smell the fragrance of the flowers to stimulate the olfactory senses, visually take in the appealing landscaping, hear the ceramic bells and the soothing sound of the water falls to please the ear and enjoy the variety of cuisines at the food courts to please the tongue.’ So how do these seemingly simple – yet super-sophisticated – senses of ours actually work in our bodies so that we can enjoy and experience all of that?


Touching the rocks: Your sense of touch comes by way of your skin – which has about 5 million nerve receptors – and when those sensors are stimulated, they send electrical pulses to your neurons. These special cells then relay electrochemical impulses along until it reaches your spinal cord, which then take the incoming signals and sends it to your brain for translation.


Smelling the flowers: Our sense of smell is 10,000 times more sensitive than any other of our senses, and the receptors in our nose is the only place where our central nervous system is directly exposed to the environment. Vaporized odor molecules (or chemicals) floating in the air, reach the nose and dissolve in the mucus, which is on the roof of each nostril. Underneath the mucus are specialized olfactory receptor neurons that are capable of differentiating thousands of odors and scents, which then transmit the information to the olfactory bulbs, located at the back of the nose. These sensory receptors send messages directly to the most primitive and higher brain centers, which can then influence emotions such as triggering memories, and modify conscious thought. Our noses are responsible for 80 – 90% of our perception of flavour.


Seeing the landscape: Our eyes collect visual information by images that are carried by light passing through the cornea, which bends – or refracts – this light. The iris regulates the pupil, which controls the amount of light that enters the eye. and behind that is a lens that further focuses light, or an image, onto the retina. The retina is a delicate, photosensitive tissue that contains the special photoreceptor cells that convert light into electrical signals, which are processed further and sent to the brain through the optic nerve for interpretation and to scan its memory banks. 50% of our brain pathways are dedicated to vision and our eyes can distinguish up to 10 million different colours!


Hearing the bells: Sound waves travel into the ear canal until they reach the eardrums, then passes the vibrations through the middle ear bones or ossicles into the inner ear (or cochlea), which is shaped like a snail and has thousands of tiny hair cells. Hair cells change the vibrations into electrical signals that are sent to the brain through the hearing nerve to interpret what that sound is.


Enjoy their cuisine: Taste is basically a bundle of different sensations that land on our taste buds and tongue, which then boil it down to sweet, sour, salty and bitter, as well as qualities such as smell, texture and temperature. The ‘colouring’ of a taste happens through the nose, and only after taste is combined with smell is a food’s flavour produced. Like smell, taste is closely linked to our emotions because both senses are connected to the involuntary nervous system.


A couple of years ago, my ‘getting up there’ mom and I were out walking and we stuck our noses into what I experienced as an incredibly scented rosebush, but she could barely smell them. Her advancing age had clearly robbed a lot of this precious sense from her, which really shocked and saddened me. So the moral of that short story and the message in this column is to take big, long whiffs of wonderfully scented flowers whenever you see them and enjoy and truly appreciate all our other senses that we likely take for granted. In another words – use ‘em before you lose ‘em!


Gaiagardening column –  June 2016


Worldwide, we humans turf out about 30% of our food – or roughly 450 billion tonnes of it – every year. Ways of wasting depends on stuff like storage, spoilage and insects, failed quality standards, purged at processing plants, dumped from damaged packaging and distribution disasters. Retailers wrestle with over-ordering, best-before dates, customer carelessness and us turning up our noses at slightly unsightly products, then further down the food chain, factor in the fantastical figures of rejected and ejected foods from restaurants/fast-food franchises and the picky eaters at home and Houston, we have a problem! Indeed, it’s so bad that the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization said: “Given the limited availability of natural resources, it is more effective to reduce food losses in order to feed a growing world population.”


Food waste is a terrible waste, but thankfully there’s lots of good news on the global food front these days to keep this ‘golden garbage’ out of our already full landfills! Celebrity chefs are cooking with cast-offs, action groups like Waste Watchers; Feedback; The Food Recovery Network; the Food Waste Reduction Alliance and Love Food, Hate Waste are popping up all over the place, grocers and markets are marketing more ‘ugly foods’ or ‘culinary misfits’ at discounted prices rather than throwing them in the trash, gleaners are growing and more and more businesses, cities and communities are collecting compostables to create soil.


We gardeners and landscapers naturally know how composting can add enormous value to our soil, but I know some still have qualms about adding kitchen scraps, so here’s a quickie crash course. If you don’t want your compost to become a calling card for unwanted critters, then keep it covered with moistened layers of (preferably shredded) leaves and grass – again, diversity is key to great soil – which will help smother the tempting smells and keep it secured it with a heavy lid or one that locks.   Stinky stuff such as meat and dairy are a magnet for marauding scavengers, so leave it out. If you’re worried about rodents, then the plastic composting bins are better, but they can still broadcast odors to bears, so other organics still apply. Always make sure your compost is cooking properly and the smaller the bits, the easier it is to munch up for the red wrigglers and microbes. Trenching can sometimes invite trouble because the scents will soon rise to the surface to be detected by sensitive noses, so composting is best. (See The Joy of Kitchen Composting)


I’ve been composting food for years, but now the roguish roots of a cedar tree have found their way into it making it no longer usable and a looming expropriation from a highway expansion project seemed futile to start another. I’ve been stressing about not separating because there’s no way I’m throwing it out, but now there’s a perfect solution for me and those that fall into the Not-Composting-But-Still-Care-About-It category! The CSRD has recently begun a partnership with Spa Hills Farm (you’ve seen the bins by some businesses) to collect household food waste plus is now in the process of a Food Waste Curbside Collection program in some spots in Salmon Arm. All I had to do was go down to their office, sign up and fork over a refundable $20, which then gave me my green bucket with a bunch of biodegradable bags and instructions in it plus my own key to the container at the landfill. Not only was it a piece of cake, but I can also divert even more stuff, such as soiled paper products, bones, meat and diary!


“Waste not, want not”, as they say. I no longer suffer from separation anxiety and now can sleep soundly at night knowing I am participating in a community solution, rather than a planetary problem. Yahoo!


Gaiagardening column June 2016





We always think of springtime as being a happy time because the coldest part of the year is finally over, the days are longer, the sun is warmer, the blossoms are blooming and we can be outdoors to enjoy it all.   However, it’s also the one season that plenty of us could well do without because they have to still stay indoors because beginning with early spring, millions of folks around the world (that’s 25% of us Canadians) suffer from mild (that’s me) to monstrous (that’s my poor pal in Vancouver who looked like a squinty-eyed puffer fish this year) allergic reactions from air-born pollen particles departing in yellow clouds from trees, as well as grass and plants.   When these foreign substances enter into the more sensitive bodies, it creates an immune system response commonly known as hay fever, (aka seasonal or outdoor allergy or allergic rhinitis), with symptoms ranging from runny noses, watery or itchy eyes, sneezing, headaches and sometimes more serious conditions such as upper respiratory problems such as asthma.


Some only suffer for a couple of months, whereas others are cursed to cope with it until late fall or even for most of the year (trees waft it away spring, summer and fall), but there’s even more bad news for those plagued by pollen.   Sadly, spring has statistically the highest suicide rate of the year, which is attributed to a number of possible factors, one of them from being exposed to aeroallergens that cause inflammation in the brain as well as certain chemical reactions, sometimes triggering suicidal behaviour. So if you’re feeling bummed for no particular reason these days, then perhaps it’s partly because of all the pollen in the air.


I bought a big, beautiful hardcover book off a discount table a couple of years ago titled ‘Pollen – The Hidden Sexuality of Flowers’ by Rob Kesseler and Madeline Harley, which was not only loaded with all kinds of great information, but also with wondrous and amazing photos taken by super-sophisticated micro-lensed cameras. The authors dedicated their book to Nehemiah Grew (1641 – 1712), who wrote ‘The Anatomy of Flowers, Prosecuted with the bare Eye, and with the Microscope in 1682, and said: “The particles of these powders, though like those of meal or other dust, they appear not easily to have any regular shape; yet upon strict observation, especially with the assistance of an indifferent glass, it doth appear, that there are a congeries (collections, masses), usually, of so many globes or globulets; sometimes of other figures, but always regular.” He considered pollen to be “particles of prolifick virtue”, which is an understatement indeed, because it’s sure a prolific way for plants to propagate!


The English word ‘pollen’ is also the Latin word, which means ‘fine dust or flour’ and has been uttered since antiquity. It’s first use as a scientific word to describe the male sperm carrying units of flowering plants is credited to Carl Linnaeus in his publication ‘Sponsalia Plantarum (The Betrothals of Plants) in 1747, who defines pollen like this: “Pollen is the dust of vegetables, which will burst when moistened with the appropriate liquid, and propulsively explode a substance which is not discernible by the naked senses.” The pollen grains themselves are considered among the most beautiful and remarkable in nature, albeit on a teensy, weensy scale and I highly recommend getting on the Internet to see some photos. These masterpieces of natural architecture and engineering are the extraordinarily structured and elaborate containers for carrying the sperm cells of two major plant groups: flowering plants (angiosperms), and conifers and their relatives and they come in thousands of ‘pollen types’.


This critical and life-giving mating game called pollination between the plants via air, insects or mammals may be one of nature’s most perfect performances and one we should never take for granted. Many of us gardeners are becoming much more aware and concerned of the plight of our pollinators and are taking steps to add or switch plants in their yards to provide their favorite flowering foods, which should also be from spring until late fall. Providing habitat and housing – both natural and man made – can also play a critical role in their survival too (as well as a safe water source where they won’t drown), so let’s all do our part to make sure these carriers of those microscopic miracles of nature never ends, and life goes on!


Gaiagardening column May ’16



This column is dedicated to Heide Hermary, co-founder of the Gaia College, who ‘listened and heard’ everything.  She sadly died this past March, 2016.


Seeking out silence in this modern, noisy world can be a real challenge, but some things are under our control, such as resisting the urge to talk with people when out in nature or quieting our minds while we farm or garden. When I go to the island to visit my family, my brother and I usually head out to a provincial park that’s big enough to be alone in and our slow steps and stops through the hushed forest floor and along the river, are always with the understanding that neither of us say a word to each other so that we can be truly present to consciously experience all the sights, scents, touch sensations, sounds and the silence around us.   But that silence doesn’t actually exist, because in reality there is a whole lot of racket going on in those woods that our ears just couldn’t tune into.


Our planet is constantly being bombarded with energy such as photons and cosmic rays that travel at different high and low speed wavelengths.   This is known as the electromagnetic spectrum, and within those ranges of vibrational frequencies are things like radio, ultra-violet and infrared light and x-rays as well as the visible light and audible tones that our eyes and ears are designed to receive. Everyone and everything is affected by these electromagnetic energies – so much so, that life on earth as we know it couldn’t exist without them. When these waves travel through a medium such as water or air, it creates a sound or a subtle audible frequency. All matter, such as living organisms and their sub-systems such as organs, rocks, gases, distant planets and even the excretion of nectar by plants to attract insects – emits or vibrates a unique energy ‘signature’ too, and all these individual signatures then create countless interacting energy fields and sound frequency patterns.


Hans Jenny, inventor of the tonoscope that translates the human voice into visible patterns, became convinced that biological evolution was a result of these vibrations, and that their nature determined the ultimate outcome – that sound is the creative principle and must be regarded as primordial. He was able to demonstrate that when the vowels of the ancient languages of Hebrew and Sanskrit were pronounced, the patterns produced were in the shape of the written symbols for these vowels, such as the sound or tone of OHM. That group of 3 sacred vowels and their meanings of earth, atmosphere and heaven, is central to the Indian philosophical belief that God first created sound, that the universe arose from it and is continually held together by it. In the bible it says: “In the beginning was the Word”, which (to me) may have meant the same thing except in a different language, because God’s ‘word’ was a sound vibration, and sound vibrations can create, generate and influence all kinds of patterns, shapes and moving processes – even into highly ordered 3-D forms. Sacred geometry is also associated with the belief that God is the geometer of the world, because there is so many universal patterns found throughout nature, such as the spiral of a shell or flower as well as the hexagonal cells of a beehive.


Plants are affected by varying kinds of sound or music, and experiments have shown that when they’re subjected to high vibration classical or traditional Indian music, they exhibited earlier flowering and fruiting as well as increased growth and seed yields by as much as 60%, but failed to thrive with low vibration rock or especially heavy metal. More and more farmers and gardeners worldwide are now becoming aware of this phenomenon and broadcast high frequency music or sound over their fields and plots (see Sonic Bloom). Singing, as well as bird song and the buzzing of insects, are also known to be important stimulators of plant growth.


Linda Long, a biochemist from Exeter University, recently took our understanding of plants and sound vibrations a giant step further by demonstrating that plants actually create music. She did this by grouping the sound emissions of protein constituents into 7 sequences, which she then related with the 7 musical notes – one note per sequence, then her software read the structure of a protein and converted it into corresponding musical notes. What was truly astounding though, was that she found that instead of random notes, the sequence formed a kind of musical tune. Her conclusions were that each protein in a plant has its own specific note, so if it had 100 proteins, then 100 musical compositions could be created. Just think about that!


So maybe the heavens – or the distant harmonics of celestial bodies – and nature actually do ‘sing’ in their own special, mysterious way. If only we had the ears to hear in those silent moments, that incredible symphony of sounds and the epic-sized choir of nature’s ‘voices’ that are all around us, all the time.


NOTE:  We too, are very much affected by sound vibrations, both good and bad.  See Messages From Water, by Masaru Emoto.


Gaiagardening column – March 2016


Deep sleeps the Winter, cold, wet and grey; Surely all the world is dead, spring is far away.                                                                                                                                                      Wait! The world shall waken; it is not dead for lo; The Fair Maids of February stand in the snow!

(Song of the Snowdrop Fairy, by Cicely Mary Barker


Ah, spring has sprung and everything is awakening with life again! Farmers and gardeners are beginning to prepare their gardens, yards and fields, newly arrived birds and insects are flitting about, the bugs are oozing out of the cracks and crannies of our homes and the trees and shrubs are bursting with buds.   Balmy breezes are caressing our cheeks and the delicious scents of fresh earth, rains and growing grass are tickling our noses too.  But the best part of this time of year to me is the colourful parade of bulbous perennial flowers that are emerging from their secret hiding places under the cold ground!


The old Stadnicki homestead in Sicamous where I live has had a spectacular backyard meadow of beautiful blooming bulbs for decades.   They rise up everywhere – through their lawns and garden beds as well as under the old apple and big maple trees – making the whole amazing spectacle look as though it came right out of an English painting! First to poke up through the patches of white and green are the sturdy little snowdrops and dainty blue, white and pink Chionodoxa (known as glory-of-the-snow), along with a bright yellow carpet of aconite (a little woodland buttercup) under the maple. Over the weeks, the warmth of the sun slowly teases out the clusters of multi-coloured crocuses and grape hyacinths, followed by bluebells, the super-scented hyacinths and their incredible variety of daffodils and tulips – many of which had come from heritage catalogues or old gardens.


Years ago when I was living on Vancouver Island for a spell, I spent well over a month risking life and limb to rescue a couple of thousand snowdrops that had unceremoniously been bulldozed over a 200’ bank from a demolition of an old lodge and surrounding gardens, then gave them away to whoever wanted them.   What amazed and impressed me during that over-zealous exercise, was that many times those pretty little plants had to be dug out (or more like excavated!) from a depth of well over a foot and a half!  The more mature (but still mini bulbs) had somehow managed to grow not only petals that length and then some, but still had enough energy to produce a flower. Talking about being determined to survive by having to manufacture such an incredible amount of foliage from such a small orb!


These pretty flowering bulbs of spring are sure a sight for sore eyes for us humans after a colourless and dreary winter, but they’re even more so for the pollinating insects because their food supply is scarce at this time of year. These plants play a crucial role in their survival – and by extension all living things that depend on them – so buy, bum or rescue them from a property that’s going under the blade if need be, and dig them in all over your yard or create a wayside garden along the road, so that everyone and everything will benefit from them!


Gaiagardening column – February 2016



The north wind doth blow, and we shall have snow,
And what will poor robin do then, poor thing?
He’ll sit in a barn, and keep himself warm,
And hide his head under his wing, poor thing.

The North Wind Doth Blow (Robin), author unknown


When I spot a robin huddling in a snowy tree while out on my daily strolls, I often wonder why some of them are still hanging around here in these cold Canadian winters, rather than basking in warmer climes like the rest of them. Was it because a few happened to miss the memo to move south or are they just the birdbrains of the bunch? It was high time I found out and just in case you’re curious about this too, I’ll begin with a little background on these beautiful little birds that we all love and know so well!


These heralders of the dusk and dawn with their delightful song are known as an American robin, which are named after the European robin because of its reddish-orange breast, though not closely related. They are part of the thrush family which have about 65 species, ranging from medium to large, and seven subspecies with only one – the Baja California Sur – that is particularly distinctive from the rest because of its’ pale, gray-brown under parts. According to some sources, this bird ranks behind only the red-winged blackbird and just ahead of the introduced European starling and the not-always naturally occurring house finch, as the most abundant land bird on this continent. This is a triumph, considering that an unbelievable 80 percent of their young fall to predators every year, like that raven that raided the nest full of fledglings on my porch last year. Jerk!  (See my Critters and the Killer Kitties)


Robins are a migratory songbird that commonly live and breed throughout North America from Alaska to Mexico and move around more in response to food sources rather than to temperature. There are a few that tough it out in the northern part of the US and southern Canada, but the majority head south to over-winter in Florida and the Gulf Coast, central Mexico and Guatemala as well as along the Pacific Coast. The males are far more likely to remain in the north than females, not because they’re more macho, but because come springtime, their main job is to find and defend a territory and they want to be there first. A females’ job is to create and lay the eggs, which requires a lot of good nutrition and food energy, so she has to make sure she’s got lots of groceries in winter, which keeps her in the sunnier south.


One would think that robins could freeze to death in the winter months, especially in the colder provinces, but apparently frigid temperatures – even extreme cold – don’t hurt most birds, just as long as they have food. As nights grow cooler during the fall, northern birds start growing lots of downy feathers close to their bodies that help keep them insulated and warm, plus they’re also able to make body heat by shivering.


During the spring, summer and fall, their diet consists of delicacies such as beetle grubs, earthworms, caterpillars, fruits and berries and the ones that stay north nibble on mostly mountain ash berries and crab apples. These might not be that easy to find at times, so us folks can help out our little feathered friends by offering them nutritious energy snacks like blueberries, raspberries and strawberries – but not birdseed, because they’ll turn their beaks up at it. These tough little thrushes would also appreciate it if you could leave the food in the same spot so they can find it easier and faster, as well as put out a little drinking water if everything is frozen up, because it takes precious energy for them to melt snow in their mouths.


It doesn’t seem like they belong here in winter to me, but I guess it’s their choice to stay and they’re not suffering. When I see one in the snow now, I’ll know that it’s probably coping with the cold ok because there’s luckily plenty of mountain ash in the area to keep their tummies topped up to keep warm. But still, I think I’ll treat them to a blueberry or two if it turns really cold, just to make sure they survive – poor things!


Gaiagardening column – February 2016


“I look upon the pleasure which we take in the garden as one of the most innocent delights of human life.”  Cicero


Des Kennedy describes gardeners this way in his funny book ‘Crazy About Gardening’: “In my opinion, most gardeners are nuts. Some will deny it, of course, some will object. But the evidence is overwhelmingly against them. Just ask a person who doesn’t garden, but lives with someone that does. Better yet, spend a few minutes at a flower show, a garden-club meeting, or a horticultural society soiree. These events are attended by more peculiar-looking characters than a jesters’ convention in Las Vegas. The costumes are unconventional at best, the conversations quirky. The whimsical walk arm-in-arm with the eccentric, the two of them perhaps pausing to study a cluster of dead twigs in a vase. Idiosyncrasy wafts through the room like cheap perfume. At their most extreme, gardeners become fanatics, obsessive-compulsive personalities for whom the condition of a newly purchased cryptomeria far outweighs the collapse of nation states. History itself is little more than a backdrop against which their roses might be displayed to better effect. Theirs is an all-consuming passion, an infatuation that precludes all else. A place where the mind ‘goes to seed’.”


Gardeners come in all shapes, sizes and sexes, race and colours, range in age from the youngest of children to the creakiest of centenarians and can be found planting and picking pretty well all over the planet. They have vastly varied levels of abilities, skills, knowledge and education as well as centuries of cultural and philosophical backgrounds and some can have very polarized points of view about the methods and treatment of soils, plants and water.


Obviously not all gardeners of the world are created equal either. They toil in the soil for basic survival or a livelihood; for pleasure, physical exercise, food, fun, fresh air, vases of fragrant flowers or to follow in their family’s footsteps; for the desire to create beautiful landscapes; for study, contemplation, critter habitat, healing, social connections or simply for the spiritual practice of consciously connecting with the earth. Some gardeners or farmers become highly educated in all aspects of it, while others prefer to learn about certain things in particular, such as greenhouse gardening, hybridizing, planting pots or hanging baskets, seed starting/saving, etc. The lucky ones are gifted with a natural ‘green thumb’ who can seemingly grow anything with little effort, while others – despite all their efforts – can never seem to achieve the same results. In another words, no two gardeners will ever be alike and they all started somewhere, somehow.


Take me for example. When I was a kid in Vancouver, my mom got me to plant stuff in her garden that would grow fast like radishes so I wouldn’t get bored with it, plus I loved our old neighbour’s amazingly scented sweet pea patch, but I’m not sure this ‘planted a seed’ in me to become a gardener. Then in my late 20’s, life landed me on a small acreage where I grew my first over-sized veggie garden by just sticking seeds in the rows and keeping it watered. A few more plots over the years were pulled off the same way wherever I happened to move to, until I at last took the time to take an organic gardening course at around 50. Although more enlightened after that, this knowledge to me did not hold a candle to the ‘real’ gardeners I knew or read about, which were far more versed on plants, seeds, harvesting, pruning, etc. than I was or would ever likely be.


My composting and mulching practices are much better now for sure, but by nature I’m the wing-it type rather than the studious, so I still plant things willy-nilly around the yard, usually start the veggies too late, rarely research anything or ask for advice and I’ve yet to learn things like saving and starting my own seeds and all the other things I really ‘should’ know by now. I could probably manage to name a few plants in English, but I couldn’t give you one plant name in Latin if my life depended on it. Unfortunately in high school, I learned the words ‘organic’ and ‘orga -’ (well, you fill in the rest!) at the same time, as well as humus and hummus, so I still have to think really hard not get them mixed up in conversation. So you see, I see myself as one those people that garden a bit, rather than being one of those genuine gardeners, because I don’t know a whole lot about anything really, let alone practice it. And here I am writing a garden column!


My point is, most of us are likely never going to be in the same league with the super-educated and experienced gardeners – you know, the garden gurus -, but like me, we can still manage to grow some food and flowers because thankfully the plants know what to do with a little bit of care and attention. Anyone can be a gardener and goodness knows this poor old planet of ours could sure use a lot more of us, whether we’re just winging it or not!


Gaiagardening column – January 2016