Category: Gardening

Common Tansy

Common tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), a member of the sunflower family, is frequently seen throughout Alberta along roadsides and rivers. This perennial has branched, erect stems (often purplish-red growing to 1.5 metres.) Numerous small, yellow-orange button-like flower heads with flat tops grow in dense clusters atop the stems. It can be toxic to cattle, horses and humans. When crushed the leaves have a strong odor.

Tansy has long had medicinal and horticultural uses, therefore common tansy is still available in plant nurseries and from herbal remedy suppliers. It is a noxious weed, however, and gardeners should not purchase or grow common tansy.

Every effort should be made to control this plant. It spreads by seed and rhizome and can re-grow from severed roots, meaning chemicals may be required for complete eradication. Mowing and hand pulling help to control it.


photo by Jon D Brehaut


photo by Jon D Brehaut


More from the Alberta Native Species Council

Other weeds to watch for:

Centaurea macrocephala, on the prohibited noxious list.
Himalayan balsam, on the prohibited noxious list.
Creeping bellflower, on the noxious list.
Common baby's breath, on the noxious list.

A Primer for a New Generation

A Review of The Prairie Short Season Yard (Lyndon Penner, Sagebrush, 2014)

Jon Brehaut

Growing up in Calgary in the 50s and 60s, I watched my mother annually transform our yard from a brown, desiccated, chinook-ravaged landscape to a vibrant, colourful and fruitful garden. Perhaps ‘watched’ is too strong a word, for I didn’t seem to spend a lot of time doing it, but somehow I absorbed the fact that it was not through any natural process, but through her efforts that our yard looked as wonderful as it did. (It took me over 40 years though to act on this realization!) Having herself come from Quebec in her early thirties, she had to learn her gardening skills all over again, for a much cooler and more variable climate zone. How did she do it? She turned to Alex Munro, whose book Alex Munro’s Gardening Book (a book written specifically for Calgary), became her bible. I still have her copy in my own collection but not having lived in Calgary for most of my life, I have seldom opened it. Still it remained in my mind as the quintessential gardening book…that is, until I read Lyndon Penner’s new book, The Prairie Short Season Yard.

Lyndon Penner has done for me what Alex Munro did for my mother. He has laid out some principles, suggestions and advice that I can understand and follow in my own Sherwood Park garden. And he does it in such an earthy fashion, I think he is right here talking to me about my own decisions, my own problems. True the book covers the standard topics: soil, basic seasonal maintenance, garden tools, garden rules, plant diseases, creepy crawlies, and even gardening with animals. But he does it all within the confines of a northern prairie environment. Right off the bat, he emphasizes (and again and again throughout the book) that we need to be realistic in our choices: “While it is possible” he says, “that you may get a magnolia to live, it is never going to perform like it would in Abbotsford. (In fact, ‘live’ is about all it would do, if you were lucky. ‘Just wait till my magnolia blooms!’ said no one in Saskatchewan ever.)” or “…just because a plant is hardy enough to survive your winter does not mean it is well suited.”

The meat of the book, of course, covers plants: choosing them, buying them and taking care of them. Because this is about the prairies, he focuses on plants suitable for the prairies: bulbs, perennials and trees and shrubs. He skips annuals as there is nothing much special about growing annuals on the prairies versus other areas. Talking about buying plants, he doesn’t spare the gardening industry either: “Zone ratings make me absolutely insane…. More often than not, zone ratings are totally inaccurate….” A sentiment I think we can all agree with. And when he talks about choosing plants, he is equally honest: “I have sad news for you. Your astilbes are never going to look as good as they do on the labels or in the gardening magazines. They just won’t.” His advice on what to choose is based not only on the climate we garden in, but also on the recognition that garden suppliers change cultivars faster than you can change your socks. Whatever cultivar he might recommend, he says, would no longer be available in the garden centres by the time the book came out. So he sticks to species and leaves the rest up to us the readers. But he gives us so much on the species that we are well-guided in our choice of cultivars.

I hadn’t even finished the book, when an issue arose in our garden this spring…my immediate response: let’s see what Lyndon has to say! Move over Alex Munro; a new guru is in town.


Lyndon Penner, gardening rock star, has been getting dirt under his fingernails since the age of three. He’s never forgotten the thrill of growing his first flowers from seed. A landscape designer and horticultural consultant, Lyndon is a gardening columnist on CBC Radio in Alberta and Saskatchewan. He appears frequently as a guest speaker at universities and colleges in Western Canada. Lyndon lives in Calgary.

The Prairie Short Season Garden, Lyndon Penner, published by Brush Education Inc. 2014.

Common Baby’s Breath

Common baby’s breath (Gypsophila paniculata), also known as maiden’s breath, is still frequently asked for at local garden centre. Yes, this is the plant used extensively by the floral industry in bouquets and dried arrangements. Unfortunately it is now another ornamental perennial favourite on the noxious weed list, and thus no longer available for purchase.

The perennial is highly branched (bushy), producing numerous tiny white, scented flowers with 5 petals. It can grow up to a meter tall. It spreads easily by seed (each plant producing thousands of seeds) and has a long, drought-tolerant tap root, making it hard to remove once's breath with credit

This plant should no longer be grown in Alberta and every effort should be made to control it where it cannot be removed. Please check wildflower mixes for this and other invasives before planting.

Note that other Gypsophila, such as G. repens or creeping baby's breath are not on the noxious list.  Alternative plants include pearl yarrow (Achillea ptarmica ‘The Pearl’), which produces clusters of fluffy, double white flowers from June to September and is great in dried arrangements.

More from the Alberta Native Species Council

Other weeds to watch for:

Centaurea macrocephala, on the prohibited noxious list.
Himalayan balsam, on the prohibited noxious list.
Creeping bellflower, on the noxious list

Creeping Bellflower

creeping_bellflower_2Creeping Bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides), also known as creeping bluebell, is on the noxious list of Alberta weeds. It is invasive and, pretty though the bells are, NOT a plant you want in your garden.

Noxious weeds are considered too widespread to eradicate but must be controlled wherever they appear. We have spotted this plant in many local residential areas, in yards as well as lanes and boulevards. If you have this plant on or near your property, please work to remove as much as you can and keep it under control.

This highly invasive perennial spreads by very tough creeping roots and seed. Leaves are heart-shaped with serrated edges and alternately arranged on non-branching stems 20-60cm tall. Flowers grow on a spike and are blue or purple and bell-shaped. The root is resistant to most chemicals. Hand pulling, preventing seeding and digging out roots are the recommended controls.

While this plant is sometimes confused with native harebells, the native plants can be distinguished by much shorter stems, smaller flowers and leaf size & shape

Alternatives: There are lots of other bells (Campanula) readily available in garden centres that grow obediently and can beautify our gardens.

More from the Alberta Native Species Council




(All photos: Jon D. Brehaut, 2014)

Other weeds to watch for:

Centaurea macrocephala, on the prohibited noxious list.
Himalayan balsam, on the prohibited noxious list.

Himalayan balsam

Himalayan Balsam, (c) Keith Williamson, licensed for reuse

Himalayan Balsam, (c) Keith Williamson, licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence

Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera), also known as poor man’s orchid, policeman’s helmet, touch-me-not is now on the prohibited noxious weed list in Alberta and must be destroyed by anyone growing it. If you have this plant in your garden, please do not share it or let it go to seed, please remove it now while it is easy to identify.

This fast-growing annual plant has showy, irregular, pink-purple-white flowers with five petals. It grows from 1-3 metres tall and has large oblong leaves with serrated edges oppositely arranged on smooth, hollow, 4-sided stems. Roots are shallow and fibrous. Seed pods are explosive when ripe and can shoot seeds up to 10m. More from the Alberta Invasive Species Council...

Alternatives you could grow include: Husker’s Red Beard-Tongue (Penstemon barbatus ‘Husker’s Red’), Pink Sensation Monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelli ‘Pink), Gas Plant (Dictamus albus var. purpureu), and flowering raspberry.
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Centaurea macrocephala, also on the prohibited list.