Friday, November 5, 2010

"And when the vines and stalks are empty, when the soil's been turned, and it is blowing into Winter, we sit with neighbours and compare. About who had the best luck with this year's garden. Outside, the garden's brown again. The crows are back. And we are, all of us, waiting . . . for next year's garden."

Cynthia Ryland, "This Year's Garden"

Today is one of those days that you just feel the need to have a little sunshine in your life. As I look out the window the sky is leaden grey and a light snowfall is gently drifting to the ground. Luckily it is still not cold enough for the snow to accumulate but rather it melts as it hits the earth.

It's hard to believe that it is the end of the first week in November already. Most to the garden chores have been done and the beds put to bed. The garden seems empty and dull with colourings of brown and green but the red rosehips and white snowberries add bright spots of colour. True to form, I still have tulip bulbs to plant. Hopefully we will have a slight reprieve this weekend and I can get them planted.
It seems like the time to sit back and relax but I know I must create next season's to-do list. Fix the fence, replace the lattice, redesign the front garden, divide the hosta, cut back the grapevines (do it earlier next spring because I got lots of foliage but no grapes this year)and build a waterfall for the big pond (that was on this year's to-do list but just didn't get done).
Some people like to think that gardening is an activity that can be "completed", if you can use that word. But a garden is a living, breathing, ever changing entity. Plants grow, or don't grow, and need to be moved and divided and we must always deal with Nature's blessings or her wrath. Our gardens thrive with plenty of sunshine and adequate rainfall or they suffer with cold or too hot temperatures and too much water but that is in fact the true beauty of gardening. No two seasons are the same and the garden is always in constant evolution.
But for today, I'll put the kettle on to make a cup of tea and dream of winter's depths when the land is covered with snow and as both the garden and I take a rest, I'll get my gardening fix getting caught up reading all about other people's gardening exploits.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thanksgiving and Harvest Home

It's hard to believe that it is already Thanksgiving weekend - autumn is almost over. I looked out the window yesterday and with the wind there was a rain of leaves falling from the trees. Here in Muskoka, the colour parade is mostly over and many of the trees are already bare. But the weather this Thanksgiving weekend has been beautiful, sunny with a touch of warmth that is unseasonal for this time of year. It has meant that we have ben able to get out and attend to the last of the garden tasks, like putting away the gazebo, table and achairs for the winter, cutting back the perennials and storing the statuary. But somethings have really surprised me.

Yesterday I purchased a new ice cream maker at a yard sale and today in celebration of the harvest season I made pumpkin and ginger ice cream. I had just told my husband I would have to wait until next summer to try lavender and honey ice cream but lo and behold, when I went out to get some parsley from the garden I noticed the lavender was blooming again. Hurray! Guess what? Tomorrow we try lavender and honey ice cream with locally made Papa Jim's honey - yummy!

It's time for pumpkins and squash, potatoes and turnips. I spent the weekend deocrating the church for Thanksgiving and it looked lovely celebrating the harvest from local gardens. How lucky we are to live where we do and in this time. Others in our world are not so lucky. But it's the rainy season in Wongonyi Village, Kenya and Ronnie is in the village checking up on the banana plantation and delivering seeds we've sent him to farmers in the village. The Lukundo Self-Help Group (a group of young men who are tryiing to improve their lives) have just benefitted from one of our microfinance loans to start a banana plantation too.

So many things we have to give thanks for - a bountiful harvest, good food, family and friends and most of all the ability to share our good fortunes with those who are not so fortunate. So celebrate harvest home - invite some friends or neighbours to celebrate Thanksgiving with you!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fall's Fungi

"I value my garden more for being full of blackbirds that cherries, and very frankly give them fruits for their songs."

Joseph Addison

What a month it has been - full of all sorts of changeable weather. Days start out warm and sunny but by mid-day the clouds roll in, the sky turns to pewter, and then the heavens open up sending folks scrambling for shelter. This means that garden chores are still waiting to be done, for you go outside, start to clean out the beds, then run for cover. I don't know where that beautiful Indian summer they predicted went but we certainly didn't get it here. But strange things are happening - can you believe it but my some of my hostas are blooming for a second time. And my roses are in full bloom again - global warming maybe??

Yesterday our hiking group from church hiked the Beetle Lake Trail at Oxtongue Lake just west of Algonquin Park. Up there the trees have already peaked in their autumn colouring and many of the trees are already bare of leaves. The wet weather this month has resulted in a great variety of woodland fungi as evidenced by the photo above in all manner of shape, colour and textures. But even then, the wetness has made many of the fungi turn to mush.

Today when I went to my yoga class the Mountain Ash tree outside by instructor's home was filled with birds, sparrows, robins, goldfinches chowing down on all the luscious berries. And when they weren't consuming berries, they were filling the air with chattering and chirping.
Carol was complaining that the fallen berries make quite a mess especially when you step on them and she's constantly having to sweep them up. But she commented that at the rate the birds are eating the remaining berries will only last another day or two.

Back at home I've started by autumn decorating by purchasing a couple of big pumpkins for the porch and a basket of ornamental gourds to brighten the table. I've put up the fall wreaths and will replace the spent annuals with some lovely fall mums. But not today, for as predicted the sky has clouded over and rain seems iminent, so that will wait for another day.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Summer's End

"The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown,
Lest I should be old fashioned
I'll put a trinket on."

Emily Dickson

Wow! It's hard to believe that summer has come to an end and today is the first day of September. Schools will start next week and routines will get back to normal. This week the weather has been hot and humid, a reminder of the dog days of summer, as if this season wants to linger on and not move into autumn but the gardenscape shows a different story. Although with this type of weather I can imagine what it must be like to live in America's deep south or a tropical country like Panama or the Caribbean.

On the ground the gardens are starting to show decline but up in the air the colour show is just beginning. The leaves are shifting from green to yellow, orange and red, a branch here, a whole tree there. And with the recent lack of water for the past few weeks, brown leaves have already been falling from the trees.

Back on the ground, it is time to remove those tired and dying annuals and spent perennials and repplace them with some fall annuals like chrysanthemums in shades of dark pink, gold and burgundy, tall willowy millet and purple crinkly ornamental kale and cabbages. Taking a few minutes to clean up the garden will give your garden a renewed look to take it through fall, especially if we have a lovely Indian summer. Just remember to dispose of any diseased plant material in the garbage not the compost pile so you won't transfer disease throughout your landscape.

There is still a good month or more of time in which to go outside and enjoy days and evenings with wonderful friends in the pleasurable pastimes of dinners in the garden.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Five Tips for Garden Touring Time

"God Almightie first planted a Garden. And indeed, it is the Purest of Humane pleasure. It is the Grestest Refreshment to the Spirit of Man."

Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626) Essays

Although summer is half over there is still time to get out and participate in a few local garden tours. These tours are a great way to take time away from your own garden chores and to get a little inspiration from other like-minded individuals. It's a fun way to spend a day and just think of all the ideas you come home with to use in your own personal sanctuary.

But there are a few things you should remember when visiting other people's gardens.
1. Be prepared. It's summer, it's hot so make sure you are caring lots of water with you, don't expect garden hosts to quench your thirst (except for garden knowledge). Bring along plenty of sunscreen, a hat and/or umbrella and remember to wear proper walking shoes. Many gardens are built on uneven ground. And don't forget your camera and a notebook for jotting down the name of that new and must have plant you see in someone else's garden.
2. Garden touring is really an adult activity - it is not particularly appealing for children or pets. Be respectful of your garden hosts and don't bring your dog along for a walk. Summer's heat is not good for your dog and others may have allergies to your pet, so leave Fido at home.
3. Practice good etiquette. Remember someone has opened up their private sanctuary for you to see and worked hard on getting it ready for your visit. Don't pick the flowers or snatch any seed pods unless you ask the owner and have been given permission. Most gardeners are happy to share seeds and plants but they need to be asked first. If you are using a tripod for photography work, ask first if you can place it in gardens to get a close-up. And don't expect to be able to use homeowners bathrooms, find a public washroom before or after visiting the garden.
4. If it is an expansive garden, don't get discouraged about your own garden. Instead look at the individual elements that combine to create this unique garden and take the elements back and recreate them in your own garden setting. Remember that everyone's garden is a combination of personal elements reflecting the artistry of the gardener.
5. Be patient with the gardeners when asking questions. By the end of the day, the gardener may have answered the same question 100 times and simply be out of steam (especially if the day is sunny and hot).
So take a day off, seek out some local gardens and get touring. There is still time, summer's not over yet and many localities still have garden tours posted. And best of all come home refreshed and full of new ideas for next garden season.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Revitalizing Buffalo - One Neighbourhood at a Time

"Gardens are not made by singing 'Oh, how beautiful!' and sitting in the shade."

Rudyard Kipling
July 24 and 25 are quickly approaching as gardeners in Buffalo prepare for Garden Walk Buffalo, a great event in which gardeners share their private sanctuaries and knowledge with others of like mind (gardeners and non-gardeners alike). Recently while getting a sneak peek at some Garden Walk gardens, as we toured around Buffalo I noticed that many areas of the city were less than prosperous having lost the lustrous shine of Buffalo's heyday. But the City of Buffalo is working to turn the town around.
We were taken to a restoration project opposite an old Olmstead water feature that too will be restored. Our hosts likened it to Extreme Home Makeover - Neighbourhood Garden Edition. In this neighbourhood a group of 16 landscape design companies volunteered to do 19 front yard garden makeovers (donating time, labour and supplies) on some tarnished homes, and in consultation with the homeowners they created lovely new landscapes in just 4 days. The public is being invited to visit the neighborhood and select their favourite garden in the National Buffalo Garden Festivals Front Yard Garden Competition. And this is only the first step in the revitalization project. Next the homes will be painted (some already had started being painted). Once the water feature is restored by the Olmstead Conservancy this neighbourhood will have begun to achieve some of its former glory.
The city is hoping that this project is just the first of many, acting as a model that will be repeated over and over again throughout the city bringing Buffalo back to life. Many thanks to the garden industry for working to improve these neglected urban areas.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Garden Walk Buffalo - It's Touring Time!

"Every gardener has a strange and romantic tale to tell, if you can worm it out of him - of blue flowers that came up yellow, or of a white lily that sinned in the night and greeted the dawn with crimson cheeks. In the strong heart of every gardener some wild secret stirs."

Beverley Nichols, 'Down the Garden Path'
It's the middle of summer and what better time to take a break from your own garden chores and check out the gardens of others. This past weekend my husband Peter and I joined 70 other garden bloggers in Buffalo to get a sneak peek of Garden Walk Buffalo 2010. This is an annual program where 350 homeowners throughout the Buffalo area open their private sanctuary up for other gardeners to take a peek. This year the event will be held July 24 and 25.
We had a lovely time swapping garden stories and advice, and getting a load of inspiration and ideas. Most of the gardens we had the opportunity to visit where small urban gardens and I was surprised to see the amount of plant material that can be packed into a tiny space and the ingenious ways people incorporated summer living areas into small spaces graciously adorned with plants. I certainy loved all the jewel box gardens we viewed.
My husband, the tool and project guy, got great inspiration from the many water features he saw, like the one in the photo above, if only he could find three large rocks predrilled with a hole in the centre. He was also busy checking out water features with water falls as that is his next planned project.
As the plant person of our gardening duo I was impressed with the many beautiful window boxes combining unusual plant combinations and obviously loving tended as you can see by the overflowing abundance. The tiny cottages and historic homes in all their coloured glory gave one a glimpse into Buffalo's prosperous past.
So don't get so caught up in the work of your own garden that you don't take time out to visit others. July is the month when many areas host garden tours and you don't have to go far afield. You will be surprised to find how many fabulous gardens abound in your own backyard. And the benefit is that you can make friends with local gardeners with whom you can share advice and potentially plants. Check out your local horticultural society for the date for your local garden tour.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hosta Heaven

"Brave flowers, that I could gallant it like you, And be a little vain! You come abroad, and make a harmless show, And to your beds of earth again; You are not proud; you know your birth, For your embroidered garments are from earth."

Henry King, Bishop of Chichester (1592 - 1669)

The last few days we have been experiencing the 'dog days of summer', even though July has just begun. But we should not complain just because the weather is a little like the tropics - hot, hazy, and humid, just plain steamy. But looking on the bright side, we've been able to enjoy dinner in the garden every night.

Last night sitting under the gazebo with the sun setting and the breeze wafting bringing a little relief I thought about how wonderful it is to have your own piece of heaven. The gazebo is now enclosed with the beautiful pale lavender blooms of the hosta giving a cozy, secretive atmosphere. We were entertained by the black squirrels frolicking in the honeysuckle and then playing "catch me if you can" as three squirrels chased each other along the top of the fence. Even though they dig up my bulbs in the fall, I can't be mad because they provide so much entertainment the rest of the year. They act just like little kids.

And another on another fence post, a male and female woodpecker tapped away, probably thinking they were going to enjoy a tasty meal. I haven't seen a couple in such a long time that it brought a smile to my face. I can't believe how mature the garden is already but a week of rain followed by hot weather has made it burst forth in all its glory.

With the summer heat it is so wonderful to be able to just sit, relax and enjoy the wildlife that is visiting the garden. The sound of the water fountain bubbling beside me adds yet another dimension to the garden experience and although we live in cottage country, we don't own our own cottage. But the garden provides the perfect getaway, even though the house is just steps away.

I hope you too take time to enjoy your personal sanctuary. Summer is fleeting so take time to smell the roses!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Honeysuckle's Sweet Perfume

"How sweetly smells the honeysuckle in the hushed night, as if the world were one of utter peace and love and gentleness."

Walter Savage Lanfor

How true the above quote is for the honeysuckle smells sweetly in my garden evoking the essence of peace, love and gentleness. Today as I hosted a ladies garden party, the sweet nectar of the honeysuckle in full bloom wafted gently on the breeze tantilizing our olfactory senses as the petals began to gently fall to the earth. I love the fragrance filling my garden at this time of year. As one moves through the garden scent fills the air, from the honeysuckle to the roses to the peonies. It seems there is no area in my garden that is not perfumed.

I am amazed that a simple thing like scent can lift the spirits, transform one's outlook on life and create a sense of bliss. We are certainly blessed to live in such a wonderful creation as our earth. And with our windows open the honeysuckle's fragrance drifts into our home in the evening hours. This quote from Louise Beebe Wilder from her book, "The Fragrant Garden " sums up eloquently the effect flowers perfume have on us. "It is to thread our days with subtle, gentle happiness, a happiness definable but profoundly felt. To sleep in a room beyond whose casement Honeysuckle scrambles and to awake in the night to the exquisite fragrance that inspires the darkness is an experience of a rare quality. Such things invade life's commonplace routine with an ecstatic pleasure."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Five Tips for Great Container Gardening

"And 'tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes."

William Wordsworth

Friday we enjoyed a jaunt to Toronto for our summer Garden Writers meeting at the Toronto Botanical Gardens. Our afternoon session was led by horticulturalist Paul Zammitt, who is full of enthusiam for all things floral. One of the other garden writers said to Paul halfway through his presentation, "Paul, you make me tired just watching you buzz back and forth giving your talk."

Paul was talking on Container Gardening and he gave these five tips for creating great container gardens.

1. Remember that even though you might not even any actual ground, you can have a container garden. Most people think you can only plant flowers in pots but veggies are also quite happy to be grown in containers. Check out local seed purveyors as many are now offering vegetable selections specifically bred to be grown in containers.

2. Choose a great pot - the best you can buy. Containers can add colour and art form to the garden landscape. Invest in the most expensive pot you can as it will last longer. Many containers look great even when they are not planted. Although terra cotta is tried and true, the new resin products are looking really attractive.

3. Drainage is the key. Make sure your pot has a hole in the bottom to let the moisture run through. If you don't have drainage, you can be sure that during a wet summer, your precious plants will die of root rot. If you are worried about soil running out, place a piece of screen over the hole.

4. Use the right soil. If you fill your container with ordinary potting soil, the soil will compact over time and you will squeeze out the air pockets which are essential to the health of your plants. Create your own potting mix by combining 1/3 triple mix, 1/3 compost and 1/3 peat or coir product for ligihtness. You can also add some slow release fertilizer to the mix.

5. Finally, get creative with your plant material. Mix up perennials and annuals, herbs and veggies, or combine all four. Think outside the pot, you are only limited by your imagination. Remember though that if you plant perennials in pots, you will need to move them into the garden to overwinter.

And remember that by gathering your pots together in clusters you can create a garden where none previously existed. Paul place three pots together with the same plant material and viola, instant garden. Just ensure that to make your watering job easier, cluster pots together that have the same watering requirements. Then sit back and enjoy the beauty you have created.

Monday, May 17, 2010

My English Gardening Angels

" Gardening can become a kind of disease. It infects you; you cannot escape it. When you go visiting, your eyes rove about the garden; you interrupt the serious cocktail drinking because of an irrestible impulse to get up and pull a weed."

Lewis Gannit

Well, as life goes sometimes it throws you curve balls and some things have to be left undone while you attend to life's challenges. This past month a variety of family health issues had me racking up frequent fliers points at doctors and dentist offices and as spring advanced, so did the weeds in my garden but no time for garden chores. But if one is lucky, life also sends you garden angels to help out. A couple of weeks ago just when I needed them, my husband's cousins, Jean and Godfrey arrived from England for their vaction. Little did they know what they were getting into.

When Jean saw the state of my garden and my life's challenges she quickly set to work. Every day with good weather she has been out doing weeding, weeding and more weeding. What a godsend, and does my garden now look great. Godfrey and I followed close behind crowning the newly weeded beds with a topdressing of mulch. What a relief! Before I was overwhelmed and now I can relax and enjoy my garden for the remainder of the summer. But as the quote above states, even with the gardens weeded Jean can't resist pulling up a newly sprouted weed during happy hour.

And not only has Jean cleaned up my garden, she also moved on to my neighbours. Karen can't believe she too was sent a garden angel as although she likes the look of gardens, she readily admits she is not much of a gardener herself. And so as we enjoy a new week of proposed beautiful spring weather, I will get busy and plant my veggie seeds while Jean and Godfrey take a rest and enjoy the final two weeks of their visit in Bracebridge before heading out on their tour of Quebec before heading back to England.

Previously Godfrey and Jean have only visited us in the winter as Godfrey loves our Canadian snow but this trip not only have we shown them a Canadian spring but they have experienced snow, hail, rain, and yesterday's summer hot weather (all four of our Canadian seasons) in just two weeks.

The garden is lovely - the forget-me-nots are in full bloom, the hostas have unfurled their large leaves, and a few late season tulips are still blooming, soon to be replaced with the budding peonies. In the greenhouse are colourful annuals waiting to fill my containers when the last frost is over about June 1st and tomatoes ready for transplanting into the raised veggie beds. Well, with the sun shining and blue sky overhead, it's time for me to leave this computer and get my seeds planted.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Daffodils Bring Spring Cheer

"I wandered lonely as a cloud,
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine,
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch in never ending line,
Along the margin of the bay;
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not be but gay,
In such jocund company:
I gazed - and gazed - but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on, my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils."

William Wordsworth (1770 - 1850)

These words penned so many years ago by William Wordsworth are known by many around the world, and today as I look out my window I see exactly what he was talking about. It's cool and breezy and the daffodils in my garden are fluttering and dancing in the breeze. Daffodils to me are one of the quintessential harbingers of spring. As the snow recedes and the ground retreats from hibernation, daffodils spring up, their cheery yellow colour brightening our days and reminding us the the fullness of the garden season yet to come. My garden is home to many varities of daffodils from single flowers to double petalled blooms, from delicate dwarfs to giant trumpets, each strikingly beautiful in their own design.

The prophet Isaiah in the Bible trumpeted the glory of God saying, "Let the wilderness and dry lands exult, let the wasteland rejoice and bloom, let it bring forth flowers like the jonquil, let it rejoice and sing for joy." And how true it is, for daffodils do make us feel joyful - that winter is over and spring is here. Their bright sunny colour also makes our hearts sing for their cheerfulness elevates our spirits after the long cold winter.

And so today, my daffodils are "tossing their heads in sprightly dance" and I sit gazing on their stunning beauty for they are the percursor of the beauty that is yet to come. But remember that if you want to be greeted with a "host of golden daffodils" next spring, you'll have to plant bulbs this fall. And with over 8,000 varities to choose from, I would hasten to say there isn't a gardener who couldn't find just one variety to bring a smile to their face.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Celebrate Spring - Happy Easter!

"European writer Karl Capek described spring as 'the rebellious outburst of the will to live.' A spring garden may be an acre of woodland, a special corner by the kitchen door or no more than a tub of tulips; but whatever for it takes, it is always the gardener's celebration of that joyful and indomitable spirit, the will to live."

I'm not really sure what happened but while we were away in Kenya for a couple of weeks, spring arrived. When we left there was two feet of snow on the ground and when we got home, the snow was gone, and the tulips, crocus and snowdrops along with the daffodils were bursting forth. Apparently as soon as we left, warm weather swept through Muskoka and melted all the snow. Our friends said we missed the best two weeks of weather. Oh well, we were happy to experience summer in Kenya.

It's Easter weekend and a great time to celebrate spring and the rebirth and renewal it brings. How great it was this weekeknd to open the windows and have fresh air blow through the house, to hang laundry once again on the clothesline in the sunshine and to set up the gazebo, get the table and chairs out of the potting shed and enjoy wine and cheese with my good friend Sandra as a day of garden clean-up ended. We had a hard winter and many of the plants and shrubs have suffered under the weight of winter's white snows. Broken branches need to be trimmed and the loss of three of the mature maples on the exterior perimeter of our property mean the face of our garden will change yet again this summer. More sun may mean the hostas will feel out of place but we will see. And I think of it as an opportunity to try out some new varieties of sun-loving perennials to attract both birds and butterflies.

Tomorrow is another day - the grapes still need to be trimmed, the compost to be turned, gardens to be mulched and the raised veggie boxes to be turned. I hope to plant my tomato seeds to - I feel a little behind this spring but Kenya was a great experience for our second trip to Wongonyi Village. It was amazing to see the banana plantation, unfortunately the bananas still had another two months before they reached maturity so we weren't able to taste them. But the Ushvika Ladies Group were very happy when we arrived with their new oil press. Now they will be able to press their sunflower seeds making oil for their own use and hopefully have excess to sell and generate income.

Spring is the perfect time to give thanks for the beauty and wonder of creation and the season of rebirth and renewal that heralds a new summer season soon to come.

Happy Easter!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What Joy - Spring is Just Around the Corner!

"Nothing is so beautiful as Spring - long and lovely and lush."

Gerald Manley Hopkins

What Joy I feel today for I know that spring is right around the corner. The sun is shining brightly the warmth of the sun toasting my face; the snow is melting off the rooftops with a gentle drip, drip, drip; and even though I have only seen one or two chickadees at my feeders, I heard the chatter of birds in the trees. As much as I love the thought of the impending spring, I also don't very much like this time of year, for as the snow melts a dirty world appears as winter's refuse bubbles to the surface with the melting snows and all the sand laid down to ease our winter walking tracks into our homes. But I take heart that it is only for a month or two and then - Spring!

Today we are busy with our final packing as we leave shortly for Kenya and our trip back to Wongonyi Village. We are excited to see all our family and friends again - to see the changes that have taken place in the village, thanks to the support of all of our donors to The Ronnie Fund. As we leave winter here, we arrive to an African summer and the rainy season. I'm looking forward to seeing a lushness we didn't see the last time we visited in August (Africa's winter) and we are anxious to try the bananas, the first harvest from the new banana plantation.

We return just in time for the Region VII meeting of the Garden Writers Association at Canada Blooms. The picture above taken last year gives us all a breath of fresh air as we know that tulips and daffodils will be blooming in a couple of months in our own gardens. So celebrate spring and don't forget to order your seeds now, if you haven't already.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Orchids - Simple, striking and so many images

"If nature ever showed her playfulness in the formation of plants, this is visible in the most striking way among orchids . . . [their flowers] take the form of little birds, of lizards, of insects. They look like a man, a woman, sometimes like an austere, sinister fighter, sometimes like a clown who excites our laughter. They represent the image of a lazy tortoise, a melancholy toad, an agile, ever chattering monkey. Nature has formed orchid flowers in such a way that unless they make us laugh, they surely excite our greatest admiration. The causes of their marvellous variety are (at least in my opinion) hidden by nature under a sacred veil."

From 'Exoticarum Plantarum Centauria Prima' (1678) by Jacob Breyne

I always find it interesting to see how different people describe flowers, how a simple bloom can conjure up so many wonderful images. A flower is not just a flower you see. I love the delicate beauty of orchids hanging on the stem as if floating in air. This orchid featured above is a wild orchid found along the roadsides in Malaysia. During our garden writers trip to Malaysia in 2007, I think our guide and driver thought this group of women were out of their minds. For as we drove along the highway, someone spotted the delicate blooms on the hillsides. "Stop the van" we cried. Our driver pulled over and we all jumped out and scrambled over the barrier and up the steep hills to photograph this natural beauty while the two men simply shook their heads. Oh what a garden writers and photographers will do to get an up close and personal look at nature in all her glory.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Where have all the birds gone?

"A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song."

Chinese Proverb

Today as I look on out a white world - sky, ground and even those white flakes that keep showering down on us I noticed an absence of birds at the feeders outside my window. All of a sudden I realized that I have not seen birds at the feeders for a couple of weeks now. And no birds means no songs or that chitter chatter of the little chickadees, a real absence of natural life.

Winter is usually a time of when I can look out the window and be entertained by the chickadees and yellow finches as they cover the hanging sock finch feeder, jockeying for the best position. Joyfully they flit between the grape arbour and the feeder, filling up on nutritious niger seed. But sadly lately there has been nothing. No sparrows, no chickadees, no yellow finches. And next door at my neighbours - no pigeons, no mourning doves, no blue jays. Where have all the birds gone?

And then at the norticultural meeting last week, many other residents where also complaining that there feeders were also absent of birds, causing us all great concern. Someone mentioned about the canary in the mine example and wondered if this was a symbol of our future and the effects of global warming.

I truly hope that as winter melts into spring, our birds will return bringing joy and entertainment to our lives and embibing that essential life force into the garden.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Florida Oranges - Nature's Sunny Fruit

Honeybell Tangelos being packed for shipment.
Perfect goodness - Florida oranges

Today as the sun was shining brightly in a clear azure blue sky, I was reminded of that old saying, "A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine."

And that got me reminiscing about my trip last February to Polk County, Florida in the interior of the state. Although Florida was experiencing a bit of cold weather that weekend, it could not dampen the spirits of a group of garden and travel writers as we experienced the wonderful hospitality central Florida has to offer - beautiful gardens, antique airplanes, conservation areas, great food and even a dude ranch, and of course, delicious, sweet citrus fruit.

Although we can't grow citrus fruits here in Canada, it was so interesting to learn about the various aspects of the citrus industry from growers to industry specialists researching methods to keep the citrus crops free from pests, from processors to restaurants and food companies turning the orange orbs into tasty and delectable treats. Not to mention growers more than happy to ship fresh picked produce direct to your door. Nor did I realize that there were so many different kinds of citrus varieties. One of the most delicious, and only available for a limited time in January is the Honeybell Tangelo - sweet and juicy, a cross between a grapefruit and a tangerine. The growers at Lang Sun Country Groves say "they are so juicy some folks eat them in the bathtub."

If you're looking to bring a little Florida sunshine into your day, you should try this delicious recipe for Honeybell Cake from Lang Sun Country Groves, it's guaranteed to brighten your day.

1 package of lemon cake mix

1 3 oz. package of orange gelatin

1/2 cup canola oil

1 Tablespoon grated Honeybell zest

3/4 cup Honeybell Tangelo juice

4 eggs

1 recipe Honeybell glaze
2 cups confectioners sugar thinned to a glaze consistency with Honeybell juice

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Grease and flour a 10 inch fluted tube pan. In a large mixing bowl combine cake mix, gelatin, oil, zest, juice and eggs beating on low speed with an electric mixer to combine. Beat at medium speed for 3 minutes. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour 10 minutes. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes. Using a knife or skewer, punch holes in cake. Pour warm honeybell glaze over cake. When glaze has soaked in and cake has cooled completely, remove cake from pan, sit down and enjoy this sweet treat.

All this talk about sunny citrus and that delicious Honeybell cake, I think I'll go a bake one right now.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Seed Catalogues Are Here!

" Snowy winter, a plentiful harvest."

As you can see from my last post it has been a very snowy winter in our part of the country. So if the proverb above is correct, I'll be looking forward to a plentiful harvest both in the blooms like this bounty of roses as well as in the veggie garden.

Each day it seems there is another seed catalogue bursting forth from my mailbox. And I can't wait to peruse the offerings looking for something new to try, easpecially in the veg department. I've been reading the book "Growing Chinese Vegetables in Your Own Backyard." I love cooking and one of my favourite cuisines is Chinese. I once worked with a Chinese girl who took me under her wing, introducing me to all sorts of Chinese food products not available in your local supermarkets and then showed me how to prepare them. Several times a year I make a pilgrimage to Toronto to Chinatown and load up on sauces, unusual vegetables and other culinary treats that are staples in Chinese cooking, so this book has been very interesting in learning the more unique veggies I can add to my backyard garden.

Since Asian foods have become more mainstream in recent years, more seed purveyors are offering these "new to us" varieties. So I look forward in the next couple of days to taking time out with a cup of steaming green tea and the new seed catalogues, making my list and garden plan for the upcoming season (that is if our snow ever melts). And then as the proverb says, with a little tender loving care, I'll be looking forward to a plentiful harvest. This is the perfect time to be making your seed selections, before you know it spring will be here.