Friday, December 11, 2009

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!!!

" Oh, the weather outside is frightful

But the fire is so delightful,

And since we've no place to go,

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!"

Wow, how appropriate those words are today. For the past three days it has been snowing non-stop here in Bracebridge as you can see from the pictures. The kids have had three days of "school snow days" as the buses haven't been on the road (and I'll tell you they are going stir crazy being holed up here in the house). As I write this looking out the window onto my garden, the snow is now waist high, the bird houses look cute with these high top hats on. It is simply incredible - the snow just doesn't stop and now they have declared Bracebridge as a snow emergency area. Even the snowplows are nowhere to be seen. Everyone is hunkering down in their homes, just as the song says - we have no place to go!

So much for the three lilacs we got last week at the Royal Botanic Garden. We didn't get them in the ground before the snow started, so now they sit inside the doorway and as you can see from the photos, there is no way they are going in the ground now. Winter is definitely here, as garden work has ceased and it is time to sit beside the glowing fire and get caught up on reading all the great garden books I received over the year but just didn't get around to really reading. We might as well enjoy it while we can for as soon as it does stop snowing, we'll all be busy shovelling out and cleaning off roofs. And for those of you outside the snowbelt, if you are looking for a white Christmas - come on up to Bracebridge, you won't be disappointed.

Well, no worries about it not being a white Christmas this year!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Colchicums - Autumn's Splendour

"September mild, October gold,
Are followed by November cold."


Well, it's hard to believe that it is almost the middle of November and the sun is shining brightly and the weather (for mid-November) is unseasonably warm. And when almost everything else in my garden has been touched by frost, my autumn crocus, like little soldiers, are still blooming brightly. What a cheerful patch they make here and there in the beds.

Now one small patch looks great in the spring when the foliage emerges in a spot where nothing else is growing. But once the hydrangea blooms the location is covered over and when the crocus blooms in all its autumn splendour, the blooms are hidden away. And every fall when this happens I tell myself I am going to move the bulbs so I'll truly be able to appreciate their colourful blooms the following year. In summer you get busy with other garden tasks and the foliage dies back and you can't remember where the bulbs are located. So you plan on waiting until the flowers bloom, but you know what happens, you get busy and time slips away or the weather turns suddenly and the ground freezes menacingly refusing to release the bulbs, and so another year goes by.

But today it is bright and warm and I'm determined to at least mark the spot where the bulbs are blooming. So armed with a few golf tees, I'll mark the spot now. Next spring I'll enjoy the foliage flush before the hydrangea puts on its growth spurt. Then as soon as the foliage dies back, I'll dig the bulbs and transfer them to a more visually accessible part of the garden.

Well, that the plan anyway. Gardeners always need to have dreams and plans, it's the implementation that doesn't always proceed as intended, but then again that's one of the trials, tribulations and yes, even joys of gardening.

So now we'll wait for November's cold and the December snows to follow. If you haven't already finished all your garden tasks, you'd better get busy for winter is on the way!

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tips for Planting Spring Blooming Bulbs

"Clean and round,

Heavy and sound,

Inside every bulb a flower is found."
Old Poem
I don't know how it happens but each autumn time magically slips by for me and before I know it, it's November and I still have garden chores to complete before the snow falls - like planting bulbs. And of course, this autumn is no different even when I promised myself I would be proactive. But between family events, attending the GWA symposium and having other commitments on those sunny warm days, the days I am free to get the chores done - it is miserable, cold and pouring down rain. So here sits my bowl full of bulbs still waiting to be planted and again today the weather has not co-operated but I did hear that the sun is to shine tomorrow afternoon.
Planting spring blooming bulbs in the fall is important so that you can be greeted with colour after 5 to 6 months of winter's white. There is just something magically about seeing the bulbs burst forth as the snow begins to melt brightening up the spring landscape. Here are just a few tips to ensure your bulbs bloom successfully next spring:
1. Make sure the soil has good drainage - sandy loam is best. Bulbs dislike damp soils that may be waterlogged come spring as your bulbs will rot and all your hard work will be for naught.
2. Bulbs look best when clustered together in mass plantings as opposed to planting one here and one there. This is especially important for the small bulbs like Muscari and Squill.
3. Your bulbs will benefit from a little bone meal, bulb booster, or compost mixed into the soil at the bottom of the planting hole.
4. Remember to plant your bulbs at a depth of 2 to 3 times the diameter of the bulb with the roots down and the growing tip up. For any bulbs in which you cannot determine the root end, plant them on their side and the stem will find its way up to the soil surface.
5. Once your bulbs bloom next spring, leave the foliage to die back naturally before cutting back. This will alow the plant to divert energy back into the bulb so it can bloom for you the next year. This goes for naturalized plants in lawns too - let the foliage die down before mowing.
6. If you are blessed with an abundance of squirrels as I am you may have trouble keeping your bulbs in the ground. Some say that squirrels dislike Daffodils - so plant more of these or you may want to try one of the commercial squirrel repellent products.
Take heart, if the ground is not yet frozen and there are still a few weeks in which your bulbs can set some roots you still have time to plant a few spring blooming bulbs. You may wonder as your fingers are freezing setting the bulbs but you will be visually and spiritually rewarded next spring.
Happy planting!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ten Ways to Celebrate Autumn

One of the many fruit and veggie stands in the Niagara region of Ontario offering fresh picked produce ready to be enjoyed.
"There is a harmony in Autumn, and a lustre in its sky, which thru' the Summer is not heard."

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Just the other day my son Jeremy said to me, "Mom, I think autumn is my favourite time of the year." Although I love all the seasons, I think I have to agree with him - the hills ablaze with colour, the mellow yellow of the setting sun, the chill of autumn evenings, the smell of woodsmoke in the air. Even with the shortening daylight hours, a warm Indian summer can be just perfect for gardening and family activities. Here are ten way to celebrate the fall season:

1. Visit a cranberry marsh - I'm lucky to live in an area with not one but two cranberry marshes (Johnston's and Iroquois Growers) plus my friend Sharon who lives in Hoquiam, Washington is also a cranberry grower. These tiny tart ruby berries are full of anti-oxidants and a symbol of autumn.

2. Decorate your home inside with big bouquets of sunflowers - a truly seasonal bloom that not only brings a ray of sunshine to your interior decor (they don't call then 'sunny sunflowers' for nothing) but also for me evoke a feeling of Provence.

3. Enjoy the warm weather by finishing all the garden chores you have been putting off. Winter weather is just around the corner. Cut back your perennials and protect tender ones with some mulch.

4. A great autumn family activity is raking the fallen leaves. When my children were young we would rake the leaves into big piles, their reward to jump into the piles before we would bag them for curbside compost collection. Now I have a mulching mower and use the mulched leaves to protect my garden beds and add to my compost.

5. Spend some quality family time planting spring blooming bulbs (tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and squill). Check out the variety at your local garden center or purchase your bulbs through one of the many specialty bulb suppliers (my favourites are Breck's of Holland and Vesey's) You'll be rewarded next spring when the snow melts.

6. Plan a day trip to a pick-your-own farm to purchase pumpkins and squash. My children still love searching the fields to select just the right pumpkin to carve for Halloween. I love trying all the different squash turning them into tasty treats like warm squash soup, mashed squash and even pumpkin muffins, fritters and cheesecake.

7. Spend a day making pickles or sauces. Visit a local farmer's market and load up on fresh veggies and tomatoes. A rainy autumn day is perfect for filling the house with the delicious aromas of garden produce being prepared now to be enjoyed in the depths of winter.

8. Clean out your potting shed. Clean and oil your garden tools so they will be ready to use next spring. Take all your unused fertilizer and chemical pesticides (if you have them) to your local landfill site on Hazardous Waste day. Do not dump them down the sewer as they will end up in your local water system.

9. Decorate your porch with an autumnal seasonal display. Purchase a bale of hay or straw, add a few cornstalks, a scarecrow (you can pick one up at the dollar store if you don't want to create your own), a pot of mums in an old milk can, aloong with some pumpkins and squash. Be creative, you are only limited by your imagination.

10. Finally, celebrate all the joys of the autumn season by inviting a few friends over for a seasonal dinner. It doesn't need to be lavish or elaborate. Fresh seasonal produce from farm or market stands, simply prepared, along with local cheese, breads and wines while watching the setting sun with good friends is the perfect ending to a great gardening season.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Indian Summer - The Best Fall has to Offer

"Who loves a garden still his Eden keep.
Perennial pleasures plants, and wholesome harvest reaps."

Amos Bronson Alcott

It's hard to believe that the kids go back to school tomorrow and just when summer has finally made its appearance. The past week has been beautiful, warm sunny days turning hot by late afternoon with not a bit of rain. Where has summer gone?

As the annuals begin to fade, their life cycle drawing to a close and hit by this sudden burst of heat and no rain, the colour show begins up above in the trees. Here and there a tree is bright with reds and yellows, fall is just around the corner. Yesterday I watched closely as a flock of starlings descended into the trees between our yard and our neighbours scouring the bushes for berries and the feeders for seeds. But I was fearful that they might attack my great crop of grapes. This year I pruned by grapes back hard and have been rewarded with lots of bunches of grapes. But the sunless, wet weather in July has meant that the grapes are behind schedule and I'm not sure that they will get ripe before frost comes (as I had such great hope for grape jelly this fall, so we will have to see).

The garden centres are full of mums and asters now, time to replace those ailing annuals with the rich tapestry of fall flowers. I can't wait for pumpkins and squashes to appear so we can decorate for autumn glory, perhaps we are to be blessed with Indian Summer. The beauty of Echinacea (above) Iare still blooming in the fall garden and the seedheads provide food for overwintering birds.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Trading Garden for Cottage - The Nature of Nature

"A spell lies on the Garden. Summer sits. With her finger on her lips as if she heard the steps of Autumn echo on the hill."

Getrude Huntington McGiffert, writer

After a hectic July of garden projects, chores and weeding, all in preparation for the garden tour, it was time to take a much needed break from the garden and so we ventured over to Haliburton for our week at the family cottage. It was here that I traded my garden tools and wheelbarrow in for a canoe and paddle. Up early one morning, as the mist began to rise off the still, calm surface of the lake, I slipped the canoe into the water and paddled on. From out on the lake I was able to view the shoreline and contemplate the beauty of nature.

The garden, although of nature, is a contrived setting, no matter how natural and informal we try to make it. Although we may select native plants and add rocks and other natural elements, we can never really make it appear as though it occurred naturally. From out on the water, looking back on the shore I saw nature in all its glory - trees that sprouted from fallen seeds, the understory plans of shrubs and small flowering plalnts co-existing happily. Along the shoreline, the sedges and bulrushes provide nesting areas for ducks and camauflauge for the great blue heron, standing still as a statue, amongst the cattails, hoping perhaps that I wouldn't notice him.

It's nearing the end of August and already the trees are just beginning to turn, the odd one giving hint that autumn will soon be upon us. It is in the fall that we are truly able to distinguish the great mix of our boreal forest, the warm colours of the changing deciduous in tone of yellow, orange, reds and burgundies, contrast to the cool shades of the coniferous trees creating a rich tapestry of nature. Sometimes in gardening I think we strive too hard to make things looks natural when all we really need to do is let nature take over and do its own thing. After all, the world existed before we did.

For me, Rudbeckia (above) are the perfect fall flower - bright and cheerful.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cottage Gardens - Richness of Plant Diversity

"In a small cottage garden where space is at a premium, everything must earn its keep, which is why cottage gardens have always grown plants that not only look good, but are also good to eat."

Jackie Bennett, "Cottage Gardener"

I was thinking how true the above statement is and how long cottage gardens have been living by this philosophy. The cottage garden has been around for as long as there have been rural working families, but there was little written about cottage gardening prior to 1750. It appears that "cottager" may have referred to a worker, be they a farm worker, gardener, dairyman or country craftsman, on a large estate in England.

The medieval cottage garden consisted of a yard that was home to animals as well as being separated into sections used for growing vegetables and corn, the crops being rotated annually. Not only providing some recreational activity, the humble cottage garden plot had to pay its way as a sustainable economy.

The cottage garden was a mixture of vegetables, fruits, shrubs, flowers, bulbs, herbs and soft fruits. Over the years the cottagers started to collect specimens of fruits shrubs from hedgerows in the countryside and transplant them near their homes to facilitate the harvest. The style was not planned but evolved over time, with vegetables not separated from flower beds but rather planted among the blooms. The nectar-rich flowers attracted bees, which produced honey, the only sweetener prior to the discovery of sugar cane. Aromatic herbs were grown for culinary and medicinal properties, the fruits and vegetables provided necessary sustenance for both man and beast.

My own "cottage" garden reflects Jackie's comments above, for living in the town of Bracebridge my small garden plot must satisfy all my gardening desires - for water, flowers, vegetables, fruits, herbs, shrubs and a biodiversity of wildlife. I love knowing that I am growing my own food while being surrounded by floral beauty. With a little careful planning you can have the cottage garden of your dreams.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Garden Tour Mania

"The first object of a seat is invitation. Its position should be such that it should attract, whether because it offers rest at the end of a long walk, or because it is so placed that its surroundings may give rise to pleasant contemplation."

G.A. Jellicoe, "Garden Decoration and Ornament" (1934)

Well, its been two weeks since the garden tour and we have had a few moments to rest, relax and actually enjoy our garden. A few friends have been over for dinner as summer finally has blown in our way with some warm, dry weather.
Some would ask what in heavens name would possess someone to agree to be on a garden tour. First there is all that weeding and preparing and then having people walking (or some would say tramping through your private sanctuary). Welll, you see my husband, the hole digger and structure builder happens to be a procrastinator. He talks a lot about the things he is going to do or build but he seems to take his time in actually bringing his ideas to fruition. But give him a deadline (like saying, "honey guess what I've agreed to be on the garden tour), and suddenly you can see those projects actually taking shape and being accomplished.
Take for example the greenhouse he started last year. The cold weather came and the greenhouse had to be tarped over, so now the final windows are being installed and the gingerbread is on the top but he still has to fill in a couple of spaces and side the outside. He also talked about moving the fence to enlarge the garden and create a new seating area - mission accomplished as you can see in the photos above. Creating a waterfall into the big pond was also a motive for moving the fence and we collected so rocks but that project might acutally have to be put on the list for next year unless we get a long and warm Indian summer.
As for people visiting our garden, we love sharing our private sanctuary with others. I think it is the fact that when others enter the space they tell us how calming it is, how wonderful it is to hear the sound of water from the three water features as you wander around the garden. So as long as there are garden tours and we have projects to accomplish, we'll continue to participate and share our love of gardening with others of like mind.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Two Garden Show-stoppers

"A garden that is finished is dead. A garden should be in a constant state of fluid change, expansion and experiment, adventure, above all it should be an inquisitive, loving but self-critical journey on the part of the owner."

H.E. Bates, "A Love of Flowers"

Today was beautiful, sunny and hot - a real change from last Saturday, the day of the Bracebridge garden tour. Then it was cool, and overcast with only a little drizzle once or twice. Thankfully the real downpour waited until 5:00 p.m. to let loose. It went well and everyone loved the peacefulness of the garden. And as the quote above states, this garden was in a state of change and expansion the very week before the tour. We bumped out a portion of our fence to reclaim a little used parking space and created a new seating area. The other change that we had anticipated completing but didn't quite get to was an new waterfall into our large pond, but that is a job for another day.

One of the show-stoppers on the tour was the "Pretty Much Picasso" Petunia from Proven Winners shown above. Everyone was drawn to the green edging on the beautiful purple blooms. But those who loved it will have to wait until next spring to purchase this stunning beauty as it will be available in spring 2010.

The other plant that garnered a lot of attention was my Queen of the Prairie shown in the top photo. This tall perennial with the frothy pink blooms might better be called "Cotton Candy" for when in full bloom it looks just like the favourite fall fair treat. So many people thought it was Astilbe.

The garden is looking great and we have been enjoying many evenings inviting friends for dinner to share our restful space. And we plan on inviting more folks to come and enjoy. One of our friends said after she had spent the evening, "It's just like being at a cottage or in the country. It's hard to believe you're in downtown Bracebridge." And that truly is the beauty of a garden, sharing it with others.

Well, a strong wind is blowing in the clouds, the temperature is dropping significantly and it looks like a storm may be on the way, but the plants need the rain. So be happy and enjoy your garden and don't forget to share it with others, you'll be glad you did.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

5 Tips for Taking Garden Tours

"A garden never looks perfect; something is always dying, something about to bloom."

Nigel Nicolson (son of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson) 1993

Anyone who has shown their garden on a garden tour has uttered these very same words. The garden is never quite perfect no matter how hard you try to make it so. The gardener just has to relax and let nature unfold as it will, and they know that other gardeners will understand when you relate how you have been fighting with the quirrels to keep the plants in the containers. Or how you find your radishes all over the backyard, yanked out of the veggie garden, tasted and then spit out so you can't even enjoy them. And then the days you had planned to spend getting the garden absolutely perfect are gone or rather rained out by a deluge of rain. Relax, nature has it's own plans. So now we are on the week count-down to garden tour day. We have the hosts tour on Thursday night.

Those who will be out touring our gardens are sure to find lots to inspire them. When touring gardens you should keep these 5 tips in mind:

1. Remember you are touring someone's private sanctuary, so be respectful and don't step in the garden beds to check out a new plant and don't take any cuttings when the home owner isn't watching. Instead ask the gardener if you can purchase a cutting or have a piece next time they are dividing their perennials. Gardeners are a generous group and usually happy to share plants.

2. If you are taking pictures, ask first. Most gardeners are pleased to show off their gardens an happy to have you take photos. And iof you are using a tripod, don't put it in the beds.

3. Use the gardens for inspiration - look for new plant and colour combinations or a nifty new garden art idea you can recreate at home. Like the Pot Person I photographed in a Montreal garden.

4. Ask questions, the gardener is always eager to share their knowledge and swap tips and ideas, whether it is about new plants you see or a new technique that may improve your landscape.

5. Remember to thank your host. Gardeners go to a lot of work to make their garden available to the public and volunteer a day of their time, so tell them you appreciate it.

And lastly, if the garden has a guest book, please sign it. This is our third time participating in the Bracebridge Garden Tour and we love to see where people have come from to go on the tour. Then go back home and add a new idea or two you picked up on the tour in your own garden.

Happy Touring!!!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Beauty of Raindrops

I remember that old saying from my childhood "Rain, rain go away, come again another day."
Well this past week we've had rain everyday.
So much so that I haven't been able to get out in the garden to work and enjoy. My peonies are done, bent over to the ground, the petals soggy and brown under the week's rain. Yet rain isn't all that bad. For one thing I love the sound of rain as it falls to earth, there is something soothing about that pitter pat, the second thing is the beauty of raindrops on flowers, I simply love to photograph raindrops on roses and on foliage like this Lady's Mantle which captures the drops like shining diamonds. The final thing is that the plants love the moisture, spurning on growth.
Today the sun was shining and as I toured the garden I was amazed at the lushness of growth. My garden is almost a jungle. As my friend Barbara commented in her blog on the stage of her garden versus last year, I am sure that mine is well ahead of last year in actual growth. My Hostas are huge, the Nannyberry has seemed to sprout overnight, the Ninebark stems are arching out and over the Queen of the Prairie. In the veggie garden, the tomatoes are doing well, the potatoes have sprouted, the beans are well established and we've even had a few radishes already.
I've been continuing to weed and mulch, the garden tour is just three weeks away but I think we will be ready. Peter, my tools and project guy, has just started clearing the corner around our big pond to build a waterfall. He is using a stryofoam cooler as the water reservoir which will be hidden with rocks and I plan on planting some grasses among the rocks as this is a full sun location now. I hope it looks as good as I imagine it will and the best part will be the sound of the water as it cascades and tumbles over the rocks. I'll post a photo when it's finished.
But as I sit here this evening musing on the past week, the sky is clouding over again and my husband has just told me that rain is yet again in tomorrow's forecast. So much for garden work, I guess I'll just have to be content taking a break and enjoying the sound of raindrops and the beauty they bring.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Contained Garden - 5 Tips for Great Containers

"Into your garden you can walk
And with each plalnt and flower talk;
View all their glories, from each one
Raise some rare mediation.
Recount their natures, tell which are
Vertuous like you, as well as fair"

John Rea, 'Flora, Ceres and Pomona', 1665

I've just spsent the afternoon in the garden weeding in preparation of the upcoming garden tour a month away. The garden look beautiful this morning. Yesterday it rained all day, that gentle soaking rain that the plants just love. This morning the garden looked as if sprinkled with diamond dust as the raindrops dripping off the plants shimmered in the newly rising sun - a simply beautiful sight. The purple spikes of the regal Lupines are now fading but in the past two days the bursting of the Poppies has taken center stage and now the Peonies are starting to unfurl. I love that the garden is an ever changing palette, when one perennial's life span is over there is another waiting in the wings to take its place.

The kitchen garden is coming to life as the beans, potatoes, varieties of lettuce and radish are pushing through the soil. The tomatoes are flowering giving promise of the heirloom varieties we will soon be enjoying (I can hardly wait). We have already been enjoying the delicious herbs adding culinary freshness to salads and other dishes.

And this year I've been trying my hand more at the contained garden. With limited space in my raised beds, I've been planting crops in pots and so far with good success. The pepper plants already have tiny peppers being formed. My tomato surrounded at the base with herbs is thriving but my other tomato with lettuce surrounding it has suffered at the paws of the squirrels and chippies but I'll try sowing the lettuce seeds. In the greenhouse I've got pots of tomatoes, potatoes and Swiss Chard. As well I have numerous pots and hanginig baskets bursting with colourful blooms like the container in the photo above which I took at Terra Nova Nursery in Oregon. Here are a few tips to help you with your contained gardens:

1. Think outside the pot - let your creative juices flow in terms of plant material and colours.

2. Consider the container - it can also bring colour to the garden and be a real focal point.

3. Don't be afraid of using perennials in your containers. If you live in cold climate like I do, simply heel in your plants in the garden in the fall and then you can reuse them next spring.

4. Group together those containers that have the same watering requirements, it will make your watering work easier.

5. Add embellishments to your containers, hidden gems that draw people into your arrangements. Canadian garden designer Thomas Hobbs is a genius at this by including glass balls, shells, and unique items in his containers. Check out his books 'The Jewel Box Garden' and 'Shocking Beauty'.
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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Start of the Summer Garden Tours

"A garden is preeminently a place to indulge individual taste ... let me say that the best general rule that I can devise for garden-making is: Put all the beauty and delight-someness you can into your garden, get all the beauty and delight you can out of your garden, ..."

John Sedding, English garden writer of last century

It's hard to believe that its aleady June and the start of the summer garden tours. Yesterday we had the pleasure of a sneak peek of the upcoming "Through the Garden Gate, Beyond the Bridle Path" garden tour taking place on June 20-21, 2009 from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. in Toronto. This is the Toronto Botanical Gardens 22nd garden tour. It was a lovely day as we toured four of the fourteen gardens selected ranging from a Japanese garden, sleek modern gardens, a sculpture garden showcasing a stunning Chihuly glass sculpture among many others. The garden tour is a fundraiser for the Toronto Botanical Gardens and is made possible through the efforts of over 100 volunteers. We toured an interesting sculpture garden that covered three town lots with a fabulous Chihuly glass sculpture; a modern garden complete with lap pool and fantastic outdoor kitchen and entertaining area; a large formal garden complete with stunning outdoor gazebo with fireplace, tennis courts and large pool and looked so established we could hardly believe it was only two years old; and finally a smaller more intimate garden with a beautiful pool and dining area, tennis court and a more informal garden area. All in all a great day and just think, on Father's Day weekend we can go back and see the other ten gardens. Why not purchase a couple of tickets ($40.00 per person for the public and $35.00 for TBG members) - a great Father's Day gift for your resident gardener!

Tips When Going on a Garden Tour

1. Be respectful, you are visiting someone's home and garden. Don't pick the flowers and don't walk in the flower beds. It is also polite to ask if photos are permitted.

2. Gardens come in many different sizes and styles. You might not always like one style but remember that this is someone's private sanctuary and appreciate it for what it is.

3. You might be overwhelmed by the grandeur of some gardens but remember to look carefully at the different elements that make up each garden space, be it a sculptural element or an interesting plant combination - it's these small things you can take back to your own garden.

4. And don't hesitate to ask questions, most gardeners and designers love to speak about their gardens.

5. Finally, remember to stop and smell the roses. Enjoy the day and as Paul Zammitt says "Don't forget to stop and get some ice cream!"

To purchase tickets online for this fabulous garden tour go to

A large container at one of the gardens on yesterday's tour.

And now I'd better get busy tidying my own beds as our garden is one of nine featured on the Bracebridge garden tour on July 25th.

Happy Touring

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Soft Showers bring Beautiful Flowers

"It was the sixth of May,
And May had painted with her soft showers
A garden full of leaves and flowers.
And man's hand had arrayed it with such craft
There never was a garden of such price
But if it were the very Paradise."
Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400) from The Canterbury Tales
Today was one of those special spring days - overcast but with a light gentle rain that persisted throughout the day nourishing the earth. I love these kinds of days, the rain falls softly, not a hard pounding rain that bounces off the ground and runs quickly away but rather soft and gentle soaking into the turf and gardens. You can almost see the plants absorbing the moisture, standing taller, looking stronger.
Even though the sky is darker, the colours of the plants are more luminous. The many shades of the emerging leaves become brighter, more saturated in colour. One is amazed at how many different shades of green there really are in the colour palette. One of my favourite things to do after a rain, is to grab my camera and head outside to photograph raindrops still clinging to the blooms. Lady's Mantle is a great plant for it collects rain and dewdrops in the centre of the leaf. And any flower that drips with raindrops catches my eye for they are like jewels adorning the blooms.
And not to mention the fresh, clean smell that lingers in the air, the earth refreshed, nourished and ready to shine in the next day's sunshine. It's a good thing I was able to plant my veggie seeds yesterday in anticipation of today's rain. I look forward with anticipation to the fresh produce soon to come and be enjoyed in my culinary creations. So embrace the rain and the renewed life force it brings.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Mistress of Mulch

"Here remember, that you never take in hand or begin the weeding of your beds, before the earth be made soft, through the store of rain, falling a day or two before."

Thomad Hyll, ("The Gardener's Labyrinth 1590)

My husband fondly refers to me in his articles as "the resident gardener" but this week I've renamed myself "The Mistress of Mulch". It's a pretty descriptive name and I think you get the picture. After two years of being away for most of the summer touring other people's gardens and judging for Communities in Bloom my gardens have suffered from neglect and the proliferation of goutweed is the telling tale.

So with an upcoming 90th birthday party for my mother-in-law and her sisters this month and then the invitation to be included in the garden tour in July, I've been out in the garden every sunny day, busily weeding, weeding and doing more weeding. At first I felt overwhelmed but I began to tackle one small bed or area after another and the goutweed is slowly disappearing (only temporarily I fear) and as I complete each little area, I cover the freshly weeded soil with a layer of natural cedar mulch. There is something very satisfying about seeing the hostas surrounded by a skirt of mulch.

But with so many garden beds, I have only just begun and already I've gone through 9 bags of mulch. But I just keeping reminding myself how nice it will all look once I'm finished and my spirits are already lifting when I look out from the bedroom window to see the completed beds. It has just started to rain and they predict more tomorrow, so I will get a day's rest to recharge for more weeding. So this summer I shall happily wear the crown "The Mistress of Mulch".

But I'll go now and put my morning glory and peas seeds to soak so I can pot them up tomorrow. A gardener's work is never done!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Spring Showers bring May Flowers

"On Early Morning
Peach blossom after rain
Is deeper red;
The willow fresher green;
Twittering overhead;
And fallen petals lie wind-blown
Unswept upon the courtyard stone."

Translated from the Chinese by Helen Waddell

This Chinese poem resonated with me yesterday as it rained constantly the entire day. Not that I was unhappy as I love the sound of the rain as it falls upon the earth. I also love, as the poem states, the willow fresher green, for all the world seems greener after a spring shower and there is a certain clean aroma to the earth following a rain. You can almost see the flowers perk up with the added moisture.

Yesterday I also heard a cardinal sing and when I looked up there it was, red and regal in our cedar tree. I felt even more joyful when the female cardinal swooped in to meet its mate. I really hope they set up house in one of the nearby trees for we don't get many cardinals in our neck of the woods, lots of blue jays but cardinals are a rare sighting. I was also surprised to walk out of the garden gate and see a bird's nest in a maple sapling. I haven't seen any birds actually building the nest but it wasn't there a couple of days ago. I'll just have to keep my eyes open.

But not all is rosy at Rosewood (the name we call our house) for Friday our daughter Martha exclaimed that a weird creature had taken up residence under our front porch. We kept watching and yesterday afternoon out popped a groundhog, an unusual critter for a town garden. As much as I love wildlife in the garden, this creature will need to find a new home. He's already dug a few holes in our lawn, so tomorrow Peter will make a trip to the rental store to see if he can get a live trap so we can catch the critter and relocate him to a new home in the country. I really don't want to have him munching on all the tasty delights my garden might offer. The chippies and squirrels are wildlife enough.

I love spring - the tulips and daffodils are in bloom, the hellebores are in flower along with the pulmonaria and the trees and shrubs are beginning to bud and leaf out. As the new tree leaves are forming the sky seems to be bright with lime green colour and the returning birds are twittering overhead. Everything seems alive.

So I leave you with this thought by Margaret Cropper

"Far beyond hope the Spring is kind again,
Lovely beyond the longing of my eyes."

Monday, April 20, 2009

5 Tips for a Spring Garden Tune-up

"With tumbled hair of swarms of bees,
And flower-robes dancing in the breeze,
With sweet, unsteady lotus-glances,
Intoxicated, Spring advances."

from a Sanskrit poem

It's cool, damp, dark and drizzly today (what my husband likes to call a 'Winnie-the-Pooh blustery day') and a friend even mentioned we might be receiving the "S" word ( snow!!!). This rain at least should eliminate the few pockets of snow we still have remaining, so it's time to tune-up the garden for the season ahead.

1. Clean up all winter's debris. We had lots of wind storms over the winter so have to deal with lots of downed branches.

2. Cut back and clean up any vegetative matter you left standing last fall. If the matter is healthy put it in the compost, if diseased dispose of in the garbage.

3. Prune any shrubs and flowering plants like roses and grapes that suffered winter kill and also require a new hairdo (a little shaping for looks and control).

4. Check your compost bin - give it a turn to reactivate it if your fall compost isn't quite finished.

5. Get bang for your buck by planting seeds - now's the time to start planting outdoors your cool weather crops like lettuce and greens, peas and sweet peas.

Remember not to work in the garden until its dry or you risk compacting the soil structure preventing oxygen from reaching the plant's roots.

A pleasant surprise for me the other day as I worked doing garden clean-up was seeing the flash of gold in one of our ponds. The goldfish we put in the pond last summer had survived the winter and are ready to provide us with wildlife pleasures again this summer. It was a meditative day and I was happy for the return of birdsong and the lengthening days - more time to spend in the garden. The daffodils are up now and just about to burst forth in bloom - when they do, it will bring to cheer to these necessary April shower days that promise May flowers. Spring truly is here!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

World of White - What Happened!

"All beaut-iful the march of days
as seasons come and go;
The hand that shaped the rose
hath wrought the crystal of the snow;
Hath sent the hoary frost of heaven,
the flowing waters sealed,
And laid a silent loveliness
on hill and wood and field."

Frances W. Wile (1878-1939)
from "All Beautiful the March of Days"

Well, last Thursday I said that spring had finally arrived, the snow was melting and the tulips pushing through the damp soil. But I think I was a little premature. Because over the past two days, winter has not wanted to lose its grip on us. Constant snow and the gardens are once again covered, not truly ready to accept spring's warmth, they have pulled the covers back over their heads. Having packed away the winter boots, I had to pull them out once again to wander through the 6 inches of snow.

Outside my window the birds huddle in the trees to keep warm against the howling winds, shaping the snow into architectural drifts. Nature does have a way of keeping us in suspense. So to bring some warmth into the spirit, I turned to my photos of my recent trip to Florida's Polk County. My new friends, Gorgia Turner and Katy Martin of the Polk County Visitors Bureau warmly showed us the beauty that abounds in central Florida. For me one the the highlights was our visit to Historic Bok Sanctuary, a stunning estate complete with bell tower and natural parklike gardens. For me one of the most interesting items was the beautiful neo-Gothic and art deco Singing carillon bell tower pictured above. As a member of a handbell choir, I was thrilled when we were allowed special consideration to see the inside of the tower. Travelling up in a very tiny elevator, we reached the level of the 60 carillon bells and the view out over the surrounding orange groves was magnificent, as was our guides description of how the carillon bells were played. Handbells are a simpler version of the ancient tradition of changing ringing in church steeples, that then was replaced by carillon bells. A camera in the bell tower, allows visitors to the gardens to watch the carillonneur play during concert times.

Designated as a National Historic Landmark, Bok Tower Gardens provides a continuous array of musical and artistic events throughout the year. Located on Iron Mountain, the highest point on the Florida penninsula the Tower stands as a sentinel. On the ground, visitors can enjoy strolling through the 128 acres of gardens designed by the renowned Frederick Law Olmstead Jr. The gardens were a gift to the Americvan people by the Dutch immigrant and humanitarian Edward W. Bok in the 1920's. Mr. Bok was a world peace advocate, Pulitizer-Prizewinning author and editor of Ladies Home Journal. The gardens bear his grandmother's motto
"Make you the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it." Mr. Bok did just that in offering this natural site to the world. Next time you are in Florida take time to visit one of America's finest historic gardens, I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

For more information on events, concerts, art exhibits and seasonal bloom times check out their website at
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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Spring is Finally Here!

"Those who look at sea or sky or wood see beauty that no art can show; but among the things made by man nothing is prettier than an English cottage garden."
Willaim Robinson, 'The English Flower Garden'

William Robinson was the great English garden designer known as the originator of the herbaceous border and this photo brought to mind the season soon to come. The sunshine today, that is to be followed by April showers tonight, will certainly be bringing these summer flowers. Already I have hope for the beauty soon to come as I noticed my neighbours crocus blooming just the other day and I see my tulips pushing through the still cool soil. We still have pockets of snow here in the shady corners of the yard but soil is being exposed to the warming rays of the sun.

And inside my tiny tomato seeds are beginning to germinate and I can hardly wait to bite into a vine-ripened red tomato bursting with delicious flavour. I love to eat seasonally so I savour each fruit and vegetable as it comes into maturity, gorging for the weeks when it is at its best and most flavourful and then waiting for its return next season. Tonight I think I'll start some more seeds to get a jump on the planting season and hopefully when they have germinated my new greenhouse will be completed. My husband started it last fall using recycled windows from a local business but winter's early arrival forced him to curtail its completion. But upcoming holidays mean it will be finished just in time for me to start more plants indoors and then move them to the greenhouse prior to our plant out date of June 1st. If only it would get a few degrees warmer!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Winters Grip

It's mid March, a week ago we had a couple of warm days evocative of spring - the birds were singing, the snow was melting, dripping off the roofs, puddling on the sidewalks and then wham! Overnight the temperature dropped causing flash freezing, the roads became as slick as a skating rink and the next day we were back in winter's grip with blowing snow causing whiteouts and temperatures so cold one dared not venture out of doors.

It has been a long and cold winter here in central Ontario and I for one will be glad when spring finally decides to come. Until then I will have to continue to dream of spring and nature's re-emergence. Just looking at floral photos like this fuchsia give me hope that spring truly is just around the corner.

"Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;
Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And groping blindly above it for light,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;
The flush of life may well be seen
Thrilling back over hills and valleys."

James Russell Lowell (1819-1891)
from "The Vision of Sir Launfal"
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Monday, February 23, 2009

Book Review - "My Natural History" by Liz Primeau

"The garden is not the place for control freaks and perfectionists, and yet I know that in may callow youth I tried to make mine conform. I used to wish for the time when it would be finished, when it would reach the perfection I envisioned. Now I know it's going to be different every year, and I will have had less to do with how it looks than I'd hoped, beyond setting out the basic plan and guiding and maintaining the plants."
Liz Primeau
With the temperature outside dipping below -20ยบ C, venturing outdoors results in nipped fingers and toes. So I opted for staying indoors and cozying up to the fireplace with a hot cup of tea and a good book. I do like winter for the opportunity it affords to get caught up on my garden reading. And so I settled down to read “My Natural History, The Evolution of a Gardener” by Liz Primeau, a fellow garden writer.

I enjoyed this chronology of Liz’s life and the role gardening has played in helping her to deal with the challenges life serves each one of us. The way in which digging in the soil, nuturing plants can act to nurture the soul and create a sanctuary of peaceful feelings. I can certainly relate to many of the gardening experiences Liz recounted such as the tomatillos that reseeded wantonly (who hasn’t planted something they later wished they hadn’t although it seemed like a good idea at the time). Liz’s tales of her battles with squirrels and raccoons had me chuckling as I too have a yard full of black squirrels who’s presence have me alternating between loving their antics and hating them digging my bulbs and last fall we too waged war to eradicate five raccoons from their happy home in our eaves.

Finally, as Liz and I are of the same vintage her “Six Stages of Gardening” hit home with me, and I’m sure others. When you’ve been gardening for a while, your concept of the garden matures and develops over time but is something that you must learn and experience. As Liz said, “…these stages echo the stages in our lives, from the desire for immediate gratification in our youth to the deeper and mellower pleasures of maturity.”

I found Liz’s memoir to be entertaining recap of her life’s connection to the garden and gardening sprinkled with garden history and floral references. Perfect reading for a wintry afternoon.

Liz Primeau’s book is available through Greystonebooks at

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Tranquility of the Chinese Garden

"So I will build my altar in the fields,
And the blue sky my fretted dome shall be,
And the sweet fragrance that the wild flower yields
Shall be the incense I will yeild to Thee."
S.T. Coleridge
It's one of those 'cloudy bright' days as my husband would say, the sun just barely shining through a film of gauzy clouds. The snow returned overnight, the gusty winds creating dramatic drifts of architectural sculptures and as I look out the window, our squirrels scamper in and out, over and under the drifts. It's been a long, cold winter and for some reason today I just began to dream about warmth and the return of the green landscape full of blooms and wildlife.
I was thinking about the garden and the cycles of life, remembering my trip last fall to the Chinese Garden in the heart of Portland, Oregon. Amid the hustle and bustle of downtown, shrouded by stone walls was an oasis of beauty and tranquility. I have now visited several Chinese gardens around the world and in each I find a special beauty in the simplicity of the plantings and the emphasis on the natural beauty of rock and water. And in this simplicity there comes a calm, a peacefulness that transcends time. Perhaps because Chinese gardens even today model those of the ancient past, a symbol of longevity and stability in an ever changing world. And yet as my reflective photo above shows the juxtaposition with the modern world of today. Sometimes I feel like the renowned author and illustrator Tash Tudor, who passed away last year, rooted in the past, straddling the abyss and yet being called to the future. But life as the seasons of the garden moves on and so must we. So today I will just enjoy the beauty and rest that has presented itself and continue to dream patiently about what is to come, remembering the ancient wisdom of this old proverb:
"Patience is a flower that grows not in everyone's garden."

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Essence of a Cottage Garden

Roses are the epitome of cottage gardening.
Posted by Picasa"What is the secret of the cottage garden's charm? Cottage gardeners are good to their plots, and the in the course of years they make them fertile ... But there is something more and it is the absence of any pretentious "plan", which lets the flowers tell their story to the heart."
William Robinson
I love this quote by William Robinson for it truly expresses the essence of the cottage garden. As I sit here watching big fluffy flakes of snow softly drift down to blanket by gardens I dream about my cottage garden sleeping quietly under its cozy quilt of white. Not only do I live in cottage country but I have always been drawn to the relaxed nature of a cottage garden. Perhaps that is why I have so many pictures of quaint English cottage gardens.
As Robinson says, the cottage garden lacks any prententious plan and although I do tell novice gardeners it is best to start out with a plan, my cottage garden has simply evolved over time. I guess my plan has always been in my head and not dedicated to paper. It is a loving collection of mostly common plants telling their story to the heart, since many of the plants came from friends gardens. I received them as gifts of love and when I walk around my garden and view the flowers I am instantly reminded of the relationships that I have with the gift giver or the occasion for which the plant was given.
I am not a plant collector but instead I love a variety of flowers, herbs, veggies and foliage that make up the style of a cottage garden. For me, a garden has to be not only pretty but productive. Aromas, textures, flavours and colours all combine in a delightful mix that is pleasing to the eye in an informal way. Each garden is a unique reflection of the gardener that created it and serves as a sanctuary, providing a restful respite for our daily cares.