Helen Chesnut: Take pride in your brown lawn

Until recently, two properties on the block still displayed bright green, amply watered lawns and boulevards. My next-door neighbour was one. She had removed her front fence and was sternly determined to relish an expanse of park-like green through to the street.

Then, during one of our more recent chats, this neighbour confided that she’d become embarrassed at displaying green amidst almost unbroken lines of a straw colour along the street. That leaves just one holdout.

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It’s an amazing thing how minds and attitudes adjust. Browned lawns, once symbols of neglect and objects of scorn, now speak of evolved awareness and an advanced concept of Earth stewardship. And if regarded with new eyes, strips of golden straw colour along a street can be seen as beautiful.


Dancing in the rain. Not a single soul could be heard whining over the arrival of summer rain, delivered somewhat spottily over the Island. I felt like dancing in the patio puddles as blessed moisture, for a brief few minutes, fell and bounced merrily off the surface.

At last, the garden received some of Nature’s watering and the cooler, damper weather came at an ideal time for sowing and transplanting fall and winter vegetables.

The garlic site, harvested before the rain and renovated with moisture and compost, was ready for replanting with endive, mizuna, more kale for young leaves in late summer and fall, and young baby broccoli (Aspabroc), zucchini and lettuce transplants.


Water. The drought and heat of early summer squeezed certain food crops into early, slightly abbreviated and overlapping harvests. Some growers were picking strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries at the same time. Many early pea crops fizzled in the heat after a couple pickings. So far, it’s been a highly unusual growing season.

Even with a bit of rain, drought conditions prevail. Here are some thoughts on managing and conserving water.

Lawns. Let them dry. Learn to appreciate gold as a landscape framework colour. The grass will return to green in the fall.

Shrubs and trees. Most will be all right with just an occasional long, slow watering. Watch for signs of stress, though, in droopiness or excess leaf drop. Make an exception for shallow-rooted plants like rhododendrons and azaleas. Water these weekly, enough to keep root zones moist and also to ensure flower bud set for next spring’s bloom. A top-up of their mulch layer, applied after a thorough soaking, will help to sustain the plants and conserve soil moisture. Use compost, alone or mixed with fine fir bark. Another shrub that needs ample water is the big-leaf hydrangea.

Flowers. Water well and mulch with compost around drought-sensitive plants like summer phlox and delphiniums. Roses will benefit from the same treatment.

Vegetables. Long-term plants like late (storage) potatoes, kale, zucchini, tomatoes, winter squash and pumpkin can use a midsummer boost of a nourishing mulch like compost or/and composted manure (no manure on potatoes), watered in well. Then, to conserve moisture further, lay some soil-cooling material that will reduce evaporation while still allowing the soil to breathe.

For this, I invested in an inexpensive bale of straw. It’s perfect, if used carefully. Straw pulls off the bale in thin, compacted layers that need to be fluffed out for a loose, airy soil covering. Applied to the soil in compacted layers, the straw will tend to shed rather than admit moisture. Straw, shiny and light in colour, reflects sun and heat to keep the soil cool.

Look also for likely materials on hand. I’m constantly pulling up bracken where it creeps into garden beds. Chopped up and applied loosely, it works well to slow evaporation from the soil.


Hardy banana needs protection in winter

Dear Helen: On a whim, I bought a banana plant described as “hardy.” I’d appreciate information on the kind of site, soil and care this plant will need.


The banana you purchased is most likely Musa basjoo (Japanese fibre banana), considered the hardiest of all the banana species. It is grown commercially for its fibre, which is used in textile production. In Japan, cloth made from this fibre is called bashofu — reflecting the species name.

Banana plants require a sunny site that is sheltered from winds, and a very fertile, humus-enriched soil. To accommodate the wide-spreading root system, a broad expanse of ground needs to be dug deeply before the planting, with plenty of compost or/and composted manure as well as fertilizer mixed in.

Good drainage is important, but the plants also need heavy watering in dry weather.

Musa basjoo grows very rapidly and, with winter protection, will grow up to 7.6 metres high with a spread of up to 1.4 metres.

Winter protection is recommended in the form of a wrap around the stem up to a height of about 1.5 metres. Before the first frost, make a wrap of burlap or some similar material, filled loosely with dry leaves and/or straw, drawn close at the top and then enclosed loosely in plastic to keep the protective materials dry.

There is another banana, fairly commonly available, that is grown as either an annual or an indoor-outdoor plant. It is the red-leaved Abyssinian banana (Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii,’ formerly Musa ensete). It is native to the high, semi-dry forests of Ethiopia and East Africa.


Dear Helen: I’m swamped with zucchini and would like to find out about using it, grated, to make crusts for various things like pizza. I was told you had once written something about this.


Zucchini plants, like so much else in the garden this summer, are exploding with productivity. The bounty has pushed me to revisit the grated zucchini crusts I made a couple years ago. My friend Sallie and I have been comparing notes and recipes. So far, we’ve had very nice results from these two recipes. Keep in mind, too, that grated zucchini is delicious simply fried in butter with minced or mashed garlic.


Quiche with Zucchini Crust


1 large or 2 medium zucchinis

1 egg

1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese


1 large handful of kale or spinach

1/3 cup cheddar cheese

1/3 cup mozzarella cheese

4 eggs

1 cup yoghurt

1/2 tsp salt

Pinch of nutmeg

Pinch of cayenne

Pinch of black pepper

• Sliced kalamata olives

The Crust. Grate zucchinis, place in a clean tea towel to squeeze out excess moisture, and measure around two cups. Mix the zucchini with egg and Parmesan cheese.

Press into a 23 or 25 cm buttered pie pan and bake 20 to 30 minutes at 350 F, until the crust is lightly browned at the edges.

Filling. The recipe calls next for a layer of cooked spinach. I often use instead a large handful of kale, finely chopped and steamed tender.

Sprinkle the cheese on top of the greens.

Blend the eggs, yoghurt, salt, nutmeg, cayenne and black pepper. Top the quiche with sliced kalamata olives.

Bake for 10 minutes at 425 F, then at 350 F for 20 to 30 minutes or until set.



3 cups coarsely grated zucchini, squeezed dry as for the quiche crust.

3 beaten eggs

1/3 cup flour

1/3 cup grated mozzarella

1/3 cup grated parmesan

salt and pepper

Optional: 1 or 2 Tbsp minced fresh basil leaves.

Combine and spread into a pizza pan or a 9-by-13 inch baking pan covered in oiled parchment paper. Bake 20 minutes at 350 F. Spread with preferred pizza toppings and bake for another 25 minutes.

Sallie came up with a brilliant idea: Bake the crust, cool it, package and freeze it for later use. The parchment paper makes it entirely easy to lift the crust off the baking pan. Imagine pizza with zucchini crust at mid-winter.



Pruning party. The B.C. Fruit Testers are hosting a Summer Pruning Party today from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. in the Walled Garden at Royal Roads University,

2005 Sooke Rd. Bring secateurs for some hands-on experience. Follow the signs to the Mews Carpark for pay parking. More information at 250-818-1836 or barrie.agar@royalroads.ca.

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