Today it’s fewer words and more pictures. Right about now let’s say it’s time for a coffee break or tea at 2 p.m. So settle back wherever you are and from whatever you’ve been doing and join me for a time. Take a moment to get comfortable at the lunch counter or kitchen table with your Grainews in hand while I tip my hat and bid all welcome to the Singing Gardener page.
Bestowing an honorary name
Most gardeners know it as the castor bean (Ricinus communis) but I, Ted, also think of it as our Canadian castor palm tree. Today I’ll take you on a breathtaking word and pictograph tour of a four-acre beauty spot on Island Park in my hometown where Don Pelechaty and his wife Donée reside. They call the place High Grove Villa. Nowhere else have I, Ted, seen a more magnificent display of a castor bean hedge.
From Victoria, to Duncan, to Portage la Prarie
Don and Donée lived on Vancouver Island for six years. Four of those years were spent in Victoria. Their home “was at the foot of Mount Douglas, said to be the location of an extinct volcano,” according to Don. “Soil was beautiful and really good. Thousands of daffodils were once commercially grown at the site. It was a big field that was later turned into a housing estate. Volunteer daffodils came up all over the place, even on lawns. You couldn’t stop them.” Later, Don and Donée moved to Duncan on the shore of Lake Cowichan for two years, before moving to Manitoba. “Now that we are here,” Don exclaimed in his own unique way, “I like the winter and it’s going to be a glorious spring.”
- More from the ‘Singing Gardener’: Travel down Tomato Trail with Ted
Don’s experience with and opinion of castor beans
“I love them,” he told me. Don started about three dozen castors indoors early last spring. Once they were planted out he discovered lots of heat, sunlight and tons of water are to their liking and also found them to be tough, very hardy and almost indestructible. From personal experience he also learned of their incredible poisonous and repelling ability. “No bug, no bird, nor deer will chew on them. Things don’t even land on them. All life just avoids them. Nothing bothers them.” He described what weeding near the plants was like. “You have to be very careful and weeds won’t even grow near them. I was always very careful when even brushing past them. They gave me kinda the whim-wam.” I, Ted, asked: What do you mean by whim-wam? I never expected this response when he replied, “The shivers. They’re loaded with something that causes shivering.”
I posed another question by asking: “Are you going to grow any more this year?” while anticipating an affirmative response. “Of course,” without hesitation came Don’s reply. “They’re so exotic looking. They’re husky and can take the wind. They have very stout stalks. The leaves are incredible. They can grow three feet square.” I, Ted, then gave my two cents’ worth by saying to Don, “Yeah, like an elephant’s ear!” Don grew two kinds in 2013. “I had a green variety and a deep-red variety.” I, Ted, believe them to be Ricinus Gibsonii red (150 cm/five feet) tall and Ricinus Zanibariensis green, up to (240 cm/eight feet) in height. Overall, Don finds castor beans “to be a great plant and conversation piece that’s easy to propagate as an annual on the Prairies. They produce incredibly attractive seed heads that can be harvested and safely stored away for future propagation. Apart from their poisonous aspect, Don discovered each huge root system required some digging to get them out once the foliage was hit by a killing frost in fall. In Chile, South America castor beans are grown as a perennial and so I said to Don, “What about Vancouver Island and do they overwinter there as a perennial?” His response was, “I kind of think they would. I’ve seen them in formal gardens surrounded by canna lilies as a central focal point in giant flower beds.”
A Japanese tea house
… is one of the treasures on the park-like grounds at High Grove Villa. Don Pelechaty who is quite a historian in his own right recalled how “the original owner of the home, the late George Hill, built it on a hill (appropriate to his name) in 1949. Hill undertook numerous projects during his lifetime. Building a Japanese Tea House in 1967 was one of them and his way to celebrate and commemorate the 100th anniversary of our nation.
The tea house is made of bamboo imported from Tokyo. The floors are made of Japanese tiles and the ceiling is finished in Japanese murals depicting scenes of culture, family life, maidens in wedding dresses and samurai sword icons. Windows are glassed and screened in. The tea house has its own telephone, a bar and other amenities. People have wondered: What’s that thing on the roof? Wonder no more, people! It’s actually a chimney that would have led down to a brazier (a pan for holding live coals) to boil water for cooking rice and make some tea. Don Pelechaty is receptive and very welcoming to visitors, giving tours in season to those seeking a bit of Japanese ambiance on the Manitoba prairie. Don pointed out that a Japanese Tea House is a pretty rare thing in the middle of the country. “I don’t think I’ve seen or am aware of another one.”
Look for castor bean seeds on display racks at garden centres in your area or by mail from Dominion Seed House, phone 1-800-784-3037; T & T Seeds, phone 1-204-895-9962; Early’s Garden Centre, phone 1-800-667-1159; or Johnny’s (U.S.) phone 1-877-564-6697.