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.