Friday, December 30, 2011

A Year in a Northern Garden

For love, for love, we toil.  

Our gardens are a curious mix of labour and art. And let's not forget the dreaming. It all starts with the dreaming. While our gardening styles may differ wildly, as do the conditions under which we toil, we are all creatures consumed by imagination. I like that. That is our art. The labour is our act of creation.

Looking back over the past year, it's interesting to see just how our gardens grew. And grow they did. You probably worked harder than you realized even if you didn't work as hard as you planned. Did your heart break just a little bit now and then? Were you thrilled and surprised on occasion? Good.

Inspired by Laurrie's month by month look back at her tumultuous year in the garden, I decided to reflect on my own garden by the season.

Like much of this continent, at least, it was a strange year for weather. Our spring arrived very late, and when it did it was wet. We really needed the moisture but it pushed back the arrivals so far that spring and summer stumbled over each other in the mud. I suffered a few losses over the winter but nothing calamitous. My double flowering plum (Prunus triloba ‘Multiplex’) had its best year ever. Our tree, Goldrush Amur Cherry (Prunus maackii ‘Jefree’), planted the fall before, came through with flying colours and dazzled us with its copper bark, fluffy white pom-poms and elegant shape. Spring was a time of waiting for us, for we had plans...

The wet spring led to a wet summer and pushed our plans back to July. But the big day finally happened, the planting of the bones of our back garden. After three years of taking out the gravel, scraping away eight inches of clay, bringing in topsoil, removing stumps and grinding out an old gnarly hedge, removing dead trees, building a fence, adding sod and doing the hardscaping we finally (!) got to the fun part, the plants! We put in more trees, shrubs (assorted roses, hydrangeas, spireas, ninebarks, mock oranges and yews, among others) and the key perennials (hostas, rose daphne, daylilies, heucheras, ferns, lamiums, bugbane and more). The garden looks much fuller, but there are miles to go before I sleep. :) I had hoped to put in more perennials nearer the end of summer (and then bulbs!), and maybe even tackle other areas of the property but I ran out of time and steam. *sigh* But that's why we get back to it the next year, right?

When we returned from holidays in late August the sun had found us and the garden was glorious, just in time for autumn...

Our autumn was absolutely gorgeous. AND it lasted. The garden, and the woods, had an opportunity to develop stunning colour. My hydrangeas were the stars in the back as their great dancing blooms turned rosy and carried the day. In the front potted mums and a collection of pumpkins provided the intense colour this season calls for.

The light was a rich, golden honey and the days felt luminous. Halloween came in trailing the last vestiges of gold and red, then November settled in with sombre greys and bark browns. The walking weather remained and I started to incorporate some running into my walking routine. Much to my surprise I've kept it up. The sun began to retreat south, reluctantly sending us slanting rays, as an afterthought, really, and soon our mornings and evenings darkened and Christmas lights went up on the houses. Winter was coming...

December is a very dark month here. Unless I get outside at noon hour, I don't see daylight during the work week. Right now, we get just over seven hours of daylight each day. This contrasts with the summer solstice where we get 17 hours. The mild weather continues and there is only the lightest dusting of snow. I'm enjoying the shapes of my newly full garden. I've filled the front pots with festive greenery and branches. The dry weather has meant lots of clear nights, providing the opportunity to enjoy the first hours of the lunar eclipse. Deer and rabbits are happy. Christmas was the best yet. My young son was over the moon. My favourite gift? The necklace on the right side of the mosaic. The charms are based on old wax seal patterns. I love the one with the tree. My husband knows me well.

And now we close the year. I hope you weathered the storms (or droughts!) and found beauty in your creations. The seed catalogues are arriving and gardeners dreams are stirring. I am thinking perennials and what I want to see happen in other areas of the garden. Scary as it may be, I am even thinking of changing some of the garden we have created in the last three years (Don't tell my husband!). :)

As you dream, I wish you all the best in the New Year for your gardens, and for you. Gardeners are full of hope, that is implicit in the act of planting. And you know, hopeful people create the future. I like that too.

"A garden is never so good as it will be next year." ~ Thomas Cooper

Welcome to 2012!

Monday, December 19, 2011

I wasn't expecting it to be so much fun

Hello! Yes, the garden is quiet here in the GWN, but life is bustling as we get ready for the festive season. After a hectic autumn at work (new assignment, new colleagues, lots of travel), I finally skidded in to the holidays. And I am soooo happy to be here!

I thought I might be frazzled and stressed, but somehow I'm not. I could feel the stress creeping in during the last week of work (so much to do!), but midweek I snuck away to a noon hour concert with friends at a church near my office. It was just the antidote I needed. The next day I went to the pool and worked out until I was spent. After that, I slept through the night and have since.

My son is four this year and his joy has certainly rubbed off on me. Is there anything more exciting than anticipating Santa's arrival? Reading Christmas books, putting up the lights in the trees out front, and, for the first time, making a gingerbread house. (Bits and bobs of it are "disappearing" but I'm good with that):)

I also picked up a cute creche to start explaining the story of Baby Jesus' birthday. (Last year he thought it was Baby Cheeses and was relating it to the little red Babybel cheeses in the refrigerator). I put the creche beside the gingerbread house and then felt guilty to have the Baby Jesus housed outside such 'opulence'. Hmm, perhaps I need to lay up an offering of chocolate coins to explain the gifts of the wisemen. On the other hand, I may be overthinking this. ;)

On the weekend we went to the tree lot and our little guy picked out our Christmas tree. I think he charmed all the retired gents volunteering there as he ran from tree to tree exclaiming how beautiful they were. We finally settled on a Grand Fir. I have never had one before, the flat needles are a bit curly and the branches are very dense. It looks kind of wild and both exotic and traditional at the same time. Oh, and it smells divine. I love it.

I'm afraid we got a little carried away with the decorating and even tackled the dining room chandelier. It feels very festive so I think it will be a new family tradition. Why not, hey?

I found the box of ornaments my mom gave me when I moved away for university. It contains my childhood ornaments including favourites, ones I made, the plastic one with my name on it in black marker (written by my dad in his beautiful handwriting) that I took to school for the classroom tree, and some that I think belonged to my mom from her mom. Every year, when I see these, I fall in love with Christmas all over again. There were a few years after my mom died that I couldn't open this box, but now I can and am glad to have them.

I recently bought this St. George ornament. Maybe not your typical ornament, but it makes me think of my English gran who was such a big part of my Christmas's as a child. It's for her that I set the plum pudding on fire each year. She understood a little pomp and circumstance go a long way to making rituals into family memories.

And, finally, we spent Sunday afternoon decorating the tree. My little guy danced around with joy. I've decided I absolutely must have more bird ornaments. There is a small flock fluttering around the star now but I really need more. Now that the tree is done, it really feels like the Christmas season has officially arrived.

Still a bit of shopping to do, my son's preschool Christmas concert (can't wait!), family events and parties with friends ahead, as well as some quiet family time. I hope to get out for a few walks in the woods, read some books, visit some of your blogs (!) and listen to some beautiful music. We may even sneak away for an afternoon movie matinee now and again. I want to get to the Muttart Conservatory to see the Snow Queen display and to a garden centre or two to enjoy the Christmas displays. Mostly, I just want to enjoy loving being with the loves of my life.

Here is our favourite Christmas song this year. My son won't let me sing it in the car because he likes it too much ("Mommy, please, please, let it sing by itself!"). He calls it "Ark the Herald Angels Sing." :)

All the best to you and your families for the holiday season. I hope love and joy find their way to your door -- or down your chimney! ;) xo

Merry Christmas!!

Ms. S

Monday, November 14, 2011

It's Here!

Is it fairy dust?

Is it a silver frosting to remind us of the beauty and strength of simple form?

Is it a soft carpet that muffles us and makes the world hushed and new?

Or is it something that the twitterers on the #yegtraffic feed curse and howl at? It can be all of that. We can love it or hate it, but remember, here in the Great White North, it is here to stay - for a few months yet. So, whatever you may call it, might as well say it with a happy face.

[Creation of gorgeous snowman with carrot nose compliments of the littlest artist in the house, my preschooler] :)

Don't you think he kinda looks like Ed Asner?  lol

Sunday, November 6, 2011

And Into the Darkening

It's that time of year. The light is contracting, all is in silhouette as we await the snow queen's arrival. Here in the Great White North, November is rarely cherished, or even welcomed. I think, however, we have to look into the heart of November and find the lessons in the month. What does November teach us? There may be wisdom in its silence.


For me, November is time to turn inwards and look to the warmth of home, family, good food, good books, and good music. I can't get enough poetry in November. Funny, that. And this year, I am completely smitten with the following piece of music. It is my November muse.

Hope you are finding your light in the darkening days.

Edit: If you are looking for a charming read for these indigo evenings and like YA fantasy (like I do!), I highly recommend Wildwood by Colin Meloy, singer and songwriter for the Decemberists. The book has beautiful, quirky colour plates illustrated by his wife, Carson Ellis. Find the Globe & Mail review here.

If you're feeling the need for a poetry fix, check out Canadian poet, Alexis Kienlen here. I've read her first book and can't wait to read her second.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Bwwwaaaa haaa haaa!!

We had so much fun carving pumpkins this year. My little guy absolutely loved it. So much so that we've had to go out and light the candles in them each evening before bedtime so that he can jump around and enjoy them.

His is the little one in the middle, named "Happy Evil", his daddy's is "Happy" on the right and mine is "Saucy Evil Genius" to the left. ;-)


Will be taking my wee Captain Jack Sparrow out trick or treating in the evening after his party at preschool. (Sorry, Johnny Depp, I love you, but you got nothin' on my Capt'n for cuteness!) Let's hope for a mild evening for all the kidlets.

Now, for those of you who enjoy a little atmospheric music to go with your smoky green grog, here is a cover by The Strangelings of Donovan's 1966 classic, Season of the Witch. Love the avian imagery in this version.

Wishing you all spooky goodness on Halloween. Bwwwaaahhhaaahhaaa...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Second Spring

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. ~Albert Camus

Last weekend we tackled many of the tasks of putting a garden away. We took down the gazebo, stored the furniture, deep watered the trees, shrubs and perennials, chucked much material into the compost and stored away the pots. There is still compost to mound up and burlap screens to place, but they will come later.


First I had to stop, dazzled, as I entered the back garden early in the morning after a little jaunt. The sun had just made it over the roof of the house and was sending slants of liquid light through the last vestiges of the garden.


There were beads of silver gleaming up at me from along the path.


I had intended to go in the house for the hot breakfast hubs was cooking, but instead found myself on my belly, in the dew, with my camera.


I silently thanked my neighbours for having so many beautiful trees, especially the oaks. It really is my favourite leaf in the fall.


We've had a stunning autumn so far with beautiful weather and brilliant, long-lasting colour. It has lasted so long this year that I feel time has slowed down, allowing me to really savour, for the first time in ages, this luminious season. I will concede that it has, to some measure, restored my soul after this year's all too brief spring and summer. It has loosened up my heart and made me almost giddy some days. I needed that.

I hope your autumn has been just what you needed too. :)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Love in Old October

All things on earth point home in old October; sailors to sea, travellers to walls and fences, hunters to field and hollow and the long voice of the hounds, the lover to the love he has forsaken.
~Thomas Wolfe

There's something about October that compels us to seek out the touchstones of home, whatever they might be and whatever home might signify. For me, it is turning deeper towards my truer self. My creativity is inspired. I need to connect to the earth and things of the earth. I bring branches inside and pull my pottery out of the cupboards. I get out into the ravine in the early mornings. My walk/run regime is turning into more 'run' these days but I slow down for the pretty bits.

I usually start before the sun rises and finish as it begins to warm the earth. I love the smell that rises from the leaves as it melts the frost off them.

This morning was especially sublime; vivid colours, thick, sparkly frost and a perfectly blue sky.

I want jewellery that looks like this. Or maybe a fascinator of glittering leaves. :)

There was the finest glazing of ice on the creek this morning. As pretty as it is, I really do hope it melted later in the day. (I'm just not ready!)

My garden is quietly laying down now. I still, however, crave the final brilliance that October promises. We went to the garden centre last weekend and picked out pumpkins and mums for the front entranceway. My little guy is so excited that we will be carving jack-o-lanterns for Halloween, and so am I. :)

My favourite pumpkins this year are the little white and orange striped ones. Have you seen them? They are so cute and festive looking.

In the Thomas Wolfe quote above he says all things point home in October, including the "lover to the love he has forsaken". If you're feeling the tug of something you've pushed to the back cupboard, this might be the perfect time to take another look at it, in the liquid gold light of old October, and see if the murmur of love is still there. Who knows what treasure you might find tucked away? A talent, a gift, a memory, a relationship? Whatever it is, I bet it will be beautiful. :)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Gypsy Garden

September has been a beauty this year. With a flush in her cheeks and with a twinkle in her eye, she has begun casting her golden light over the land. I've remembered all that I love about this brilliant month. It is such a fleeting and magical time (and not just because my birthday is in this month!). Really, that deal summer made with winter, the one where winter agreed to her turning to gold and crimson and dancing out with an entourage of swirling leaves and flocking birds, was a clever deal.


It starts off with the subtlest blush in the mornings. Even green is a little weary of itself and longs for a bit of flash


The garden begins to look a little ragged around the edges, like someone who has spent too many nights out dancing under the moon and now they are a little muddied and their hair a bit wild


I've felt like dancing myself these last few weeks. Somehow, this season, with its insouciance stirs a little gypsy in my soul. (My English grandmother always claimed to my dad that there was some gypsy blood on her side. We never knew if this was true, but it seemed terribly romantic to me as a child.)


In recent years I've become interested in gypsy music. For an excellent radio documentary on the original gypsy music click here.

I know what is coming. I know the lassitude that deep winter brings. I know all about the days ahead of curling up on the couch with a good book and a glass of wine, candles lit in the late afternoon.

Until those days come, I am dancing in the golden light. To say goodbye to summer, my husband and I waltzed in the back garden in the late evening light. I said my own goodbyes in a field under the stars looking out over the ravine. But today it's time for one last joyous spin, and to thumb our noses at waiting winter. Join me, won't you?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Can the band stay late tonight...?

I am feeling the bittersweet ache of late summer when cool evenings begin to brush alongside warm days. Too soon, my heart calls out, I need more time in the garden. Time to sit, to soak, to pretend it will always be like this.

A star of my late summer garden is the hosta, 'Royal Standard'. I have a pair of them framing a collection of white astilbe and goatsbeard, fronted with some rose daphne. I love their gleaming, corrugated, almost lime, foliage. However, unusual for a hosta, the real draw, for me, is the white, scented flowers.

The flowers are just coming into their own right now and hold sway with their fresh evening perfume

The funnel shaped flowers look like the skirts of long, white, hem-stitched cotton dresses

Elegant, demure, and just a little flirty, they lead the evening waltzes at the beachside dance halls in the old summer villages.

I'm not ready to hear the last song yet, so keep dancing girls, keep dancing.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Richness of the Season

Just a quiet photo to capture that perfect zenith of the garden before it turns to gold. I do love the richness of August - back lane raspberries, dragonflies humming, the first blush on the apple trees that hang over the fences.

A fresh flush of flowers on my Morden Snow Beauty. Only this time it is not alone. Behind it is a Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight' and the Spirea japonica 'Shirobana', a lovely spirea whose flowers start off dark pink and fade through varying shades of pink and white. These shrubs are part of a larger bed with repeated plantings of these and other shrubs as well as a few trees.

This is where we start to feel like it has been like this forever - only screen doors between us and the universe. Skirts and shorts, flowered blouses, sandals by the back door, hair swept up in a ponytail, and, in my case, a few new freckles across the nose. :)

I'll be mostly offline for the next little bit, so hoping you are enjoying the richness of the season.

Friday, July 29, 2011

A giant spaceship hovered over my back garden and a door opened...

...a ramp was lowered and four little green men started wheeling plants down. They saw me in the window, one touched the side of his nose and winked at me before they silently rose up and zipped away.

Okay, it didn't quite go like that, but the plants did arrive! Trees, shrubs and perennials - the bones of the garden. Honestly, it did seem a little surreal.

I've been working on my dream list of plants for soooo long that to actually see them here kinda choked me up. Good thing it was pouring rain or I might have had to do a dance around them. As it was, the only dancing I did was when the mosquitoes swarmed every time I went out to look at them.

As you can glimpse, my focus for the bones of the garden are green foliage with some chocolate and burgundy foliage, mostly white flowers with a bit of pink to pull the various foliage together. I built on my existing plants and got more of the ones that were thriving.

We planted mostly in groups of three or five with some mass plantings of ferns and ground covers.

I went for a few drop dead gorgeous plants to add drama and contrast.

I also got a bit of blue for a special feature area I am working on.

Because those little "green" (Ha! Get it? Gardener's humour lol) men obviously zapped me with something when they winked at me, I am now madly contemplating more plants. And a water feature. Has this happened to anyone else? The more plants thing, I mean, not the spaceship plant delivery... ;)

Hope your gardens are full of pleasant surprises!

Edit: Here is link to where we left the landscaping last year. It has links to the previous stages of landscaping this back garden. Alternatively, you can click on the landscaping label and see highlights of the progress in this garden space - from bare gravel to lush retreat.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The flowering stars...

Here I go again, swooning for a silvery lavender rose. A couple years ago it was the gorgeous hybrid tea 'Sterling Silver'. These silvery phantoms have haunted me ever since I saw a pale rose shimmering in someone's front garden in Victoria, BC. I was smitten and have remained so since. I tried to overwinter the Sterling Silver to no avail. I shook it off and swore my obsession was satisfied and needed the silver rose no more.


Of course, I was delusional. I am so not over this rose. I was at a garden centre last week for a brief escape from the rain. It was there I spotted the miniature rose, 'Lavender Crystal'. I had no choice. It had to come home with me. I circled the table, elbows at the ready should someone move in on my rose before I could secure it. I told myself that at $8 it was the deal I was after, not the rose. Yeah.


I potted it up in a black ceramic pot with a pearl finish on it. The perfect foil for the rose. I had to put it by the front door so it is the first thing I see when I come home. I am telling myself that my time with this rose is fleeting. It will never make it through the winter. Besides, there are other silver roses out there.


But then I look at her, gleaming in the soft evening light, impossibly mysterious and regal. If I believed in elves or other magical creatures (which as a grown woman I certainly do not - harumph!) this miniature beauty would be of their garden.

What is it about roses that inspires such flights of fancy? I really have no idea. They don't affect me at all. Really.

For ancient king and elvish lord
There many a gleaming golden hoard
They shaped and wrought, and light they caught
To hide in gems on hilt of sword.

On silver necklaces they strung
The flowering stars, on crowns they hung
The dragon-fire, in twisted wire
They meshed the light of moon and sun.

~J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

BTW: Planting finally commencing in garden! Will post updates soon. :)


Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Little White (and red) for Canada Day

Happy Canada Day!

In honour of our red and white Canada flag, here is a one of my favourite Canadian whites, the Morden Snowbeauty rose. This sweet rose was bred here in Canada as part of the Parkland series at the Morden Research Station in Manitoba.

This is year three for this shrub rose for me and it just keeps getting better. It is tough with practically no winter dieback, the leaves are glossy and mildew resistant, and this year it has more blooms than it ever has. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Love it!

It is hardy to zone 2b and is said to grow to about 5 ft high and wide. Mine is at about 3 1/2 ft high this year and about 4 ft wide with a nice low rounded form.

My shrub is absolutely covered in buds this year - too many to even count. After this first flush I expect it to bloom intermittently throughout the summer. I don't give it any special treatment other than the usual deadheading, which results in a later second flush at the end of the summer. The buds have the palest pink veining in them that absolutely enchants me.

So here's a salute to my favourite plant blooming in my garden on Canada Day.

Oh, and as for the red of the Canada Day red and white? Just look at those gorgeous red thorns on the snowbeauty. Big and well-spaced enough to be easy to avoid, they add a lovely contrast to the creamy white blooms.

Have fun where ever you are this Canada Day and think of us northern gardeners keeping it beautiful in the GWN! xo