Master Gardener a McCauley Treasure
“You can’t compare tomato from backyard to tomato from store. Complete different thing!” So says Orlando Bruno, one of McCauley’s master gardeners, in this thick, Italian accent. He ought to know. He’s gardened in Edmonton more than 50 years and raised over 50 different varieties of tomatoes, all of them from seeds. One variety he especially likes is the Thomas plum. Its fruit, he says, is “juicy sweet, like sugar” and he’s gotten as many as 200 plum-sized tomatoes off one plant.
Besides tomatoes, his garden crops also include basil, oregano, dill, garlic, spinach, swiss chard, potatoes, beans, peppers, and zucchini.
Orlando has been a gardener since he was nine years old back in Italy. He specializes in grafting branches onto fruit trees, a technique he’s taught to many people at the U of A and elsewhere for 30 years. He has over 15 mature fruit trees in his yard, most of them apple, but a few cherry and plum trees too. Thanks to grafting, one tree can produce 10 or more varieties of fruit. He says that 50 years ago, the only fruit trees in Edmonton were crabapples, but now it’s possible to grow many varieties here.
He told me of a trip he took to the Okanagan in July a few years ago. He asked an orchard owner for some branches off his apple trees so he could graft them onto trees back in Edmonton. The owner had never heard of grafting in mid-summer, but Orlando convinced him he knew what he was doing, that there are two seasons for grafting, as long as you know how. Orlando noted that the seasons for grafting are specific to the area but they vary year to year, depending on the weather.
Orlando has four children, eight grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren. He’s committed to teaching others how to garden organically so that 50 years from now, Edmonton gardens will still be reaping benefits from his knowledge and experience.
Orlando has other expert knowledge to pass on as well. Gardening is what he does for fun, but he’s worked as a chef his whole life. Zucchini is his favourite, he says. “I make special food out of the flowers.” But that’s a story for another time.