Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Little Green Onions

I often wonder if I am strange, or if living in the country has just made me feel stranger without the veil of a busy city life to disguise things. I can't sleep again, and at 2 am I thought I would be much alone with with my thoughts to sort this out. But a constant scraping outside the window has alerted me to my neighbour, who is shovelling his driveway. I guess he can't sleep either, or he's trying to escape his wife again, for which I wouldn't blame him.

We moved to our country setting nine years ago to find peace. But the quiet imposed by this winter has made it almost too quiet. The birds have retreated and the coyotes haunting chatter has ceased to fill the early morning air. The relentless cold and ever mounting snow is starting to feel less beautiful and more confining. Reaching for gratitude lightens my spirit and I do try to remind myself that nature is vastly intelligent, and in the spring this snow will melt and feed my well, the river that runs behind us, the roots of the trees and the very soil that I need to grow things in.

All will be made green and glorious once more.

Our wood pile has dwindled down to the last row of logs that are perfectly frozen to the ground. Feeding my wood stove gives me purpose in the winter, and one of my few forms of exercise. Chop, carry, stack, repeat. Though we can heat with the furnace, we've tried very hard not to and much like an eager child I look forward to seeing how much lower my hydro bill can actually go, and if the savings we incur offset the initial cost of the wood. And, so far, yes it has. With the wood supply dwindling I am worried about the rhythm of my days as two more months of winter looms in the horizon.

Which is why I am thinking too much.

I am one of those that worry deeply about climate change and wish truly that I had more answers on how to make it better. I look at my youngest daughter and wonder what her life will be like when she reaches my age. Food security is a hot topic right now, and I do find it encouraging that more of us seem to be inclined to have chickens and victory gardens and bravely take a stand for a more honest way of living. I wish our governments and large corporations could bring themselves to be just as honest.

We compost, we recycle, we buy as much organically grown and free trade products that we can afford. In the growing season we choose to design with native plants and drought tolerant varieties. Little acts of kindness to repay a world that has given me so much.

I was inspired by a photo I saw on Pinterest.  I started saving the ends of the rather expensive organic green onions we've been buying and planting them up in spot on the only windowsill in the house that lets in enough light.  They will grow in water, but I was craving soil between my fingers.

I don't believe I have ever admitted the aversion I have to house plants in general, which seems like a contradiction to my very nature. I know am very hard on myself and I find it utter nonsense that I can't keep an African Violet alive, but there you have it. A confession. That these unsuspecting green onions have flourished and are ready for harvesting after a mere three weeks is astounding to me. One small victory. I'll gladly take it.

I think the point I am trying to make to myself in these early morning, slightly caffeinated ramblings is that there is always more we can do, that I can do, even when we feel overwhelmed by the troubles of the world. That I may be strange in thinking that a garden has the power to change a life, to change worlds, but that perhaps I should be thankful that I feel that strangeness...that I am not content to live by the status quo.

Meet Ron Finley

Hope takes many forms. Inspiration can be found in the smallest of things. Gratitude has the power to shift beliefs.

Be bold. Cherish everything. Grow onions.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Kiwi Gardens, Perth

I am slowly making my way through the hundreds of pictures I took last summer, scattered between the Canon and the Blackberry. Waiting to edit summer photos while yet another January snow falls softly outside the windows is a reward in itself, and I am thoroughly enjoying the escape to some of the beautiful places and spaces we were able to visit in 2013.

At the end of the first week in June, Paul and I were able to sneak away for a quiet drive to Kiwi Gardens in Perth. Though it is only an hour away, this is the first time we had been there. I was on a quest  for Persicaria Polymorpha, and their website had it listed…the only garden centre, it seemed, anywhere near Kingston that had this particular perennial available...but that is a post (or rant) for another day.

As we pulled into the parking lot, the gardens began, and I instantly regretted leaving the Canon at home.  I said a small prayer to my husband's Blackberry and hoped it would do some justice in capturing what I was seeing. The garden centre is surrounded by lush forest, and overcast skies gave contrast to the vibrancy of the perennial beds, most designed with shade loving perennials and native shrubs…I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

Parking lot border

A lesson in the effective use of ground covers,
colour and composition.

Beautiful flagstone pathways -
hostas clearly thrive here

The nursery - I was impressed with the staff as much as the gardens.
Everyone was incredibly friendly and possessed a genuine, passionate
knowledge about the plants they sell. 

Pathways lead you through tantalizing display gardens,
many perennials are identified along the way
for gardeners of all abilities.


Beautiful artwork is displayed along the walkways.

Display bed - perennials are grown and propagated on site.

Kiwi gardens is situated on ten acres near Perth, Ontario. The owners have been in business for twenty-five years and though I did not have the opportunity to meet them, their love of the plants and nature is evident in every beautiful nook and cranny. I look forward to visiting again this spring and perhaps wandering a little longer.

Theirs represents the dream of a life I hope to have someday, working and living amongst gardens, sustaining, nourishing and cherishing diversity. Kiwi Gardens offers a refuge for 3000 perennials, many unique and not easy to find on the tables of our mainstream garden centres. A plant list is available on their website, and I urge you to browse through it as we sit and wait, planning for spring. If you are lucky enough to visit and shop, I urge you to bring your camera and comfortable shoes for strolling the trails.

By the way, I did find my Persicaria, and purchased three healthy plants along with five Carex Rosea and a few more perennial treasures.

Wishing you lovely day!

Friday, 24 January 2014

Beginning Again

It has been quite a while since I’ve written, and I am actually so surprised I remembered my password to login. Making the time to write, something I think of as a gift to myself, lost priority this year to the running of businesses and caring for a home and family. More than once I have wondered why we keep up this crazy notion that running two businesses at the same time is a good idea, but it is hard to imagine life without both of them in it.


The doubts and constant soul searching that comes with being an entrepreneur, and a completely self taught one at that, creep in constantly. In a seasonal business like landscaping, when winter feels like it will never end, I find myself worrying what the next season will bring. Will I have amazing clients like last year, will I be challenged, how is the industry truly doing, will I be able to pay the bills, will the bees come back, will I finally make time for tomatoes…

Bachelor's Buttons blooming all summer…one of the few bees we had can be seen nestled in a flower

Nepeta…perhaps a garden's best friend

I am so grateful to report that last spring and summer was a truly amazing season for us. My baby, Stone and Maple Landscpaing, had the opportunity to work with truly wonderful, interesting and inspiring people. We began in the spring teaching a group of volunteers in a three week landscaping program partnered with a not-for-profit daycare centre. A cedar pergola and sandbox was constructed for the children, and our volunteers learned valuable skills, the most important I think being the value of giving and the happiness that working with your hands can bring. I will never forget the last day of the project, as three tough looking guys with tears in their eyes stood watching the kids play in the sandbox for the first time. Priceless.

Found a new geranium at the garden centre…she's so pretty
Chamomile left to self seed

The rest of the summer was a whirlwind. At home inspiration came from that April ice storm. So many branches destined for the fire pit made their way instead into the beginning of a hugelculture garden. The plum trees bloomed, the cherries tried, a carpet of chamomile swept under the apples. I waited for bees. I cursed the mustard garlic pulling it out by the wheelbarrowfull. I planted peas, lettuce and spinach with my sweet Julia, watched in amazement at the progression of the raspberry patch. The old apple tree bloomed. The redbud bloomed, I sat in my wicker swing and meditated on its beauty. I sat grateful everyday for the spring rains, plants that struggled last year burst forth with flower. 

All the world becomes right again after a few moments spent in the swing...

Our youngest daughter Julia and my best garden helper! 

The glorious blue spires of baptisia, luscious peonies, iris, lilac, and the tiny white bells of Deautzia Chardonnay Pearls and Bridal Bush. Bachelors buttons, calendula and daisy erupted everywhere. The clematis was a riot of pink, nepeta Walker’s Low was a froth of lilac/ Carl Foester was stately, but Miscanthus and Pennisteum were sadly missing. 

We watched and waited for the bees. 

Chives, rhubarb and comfrey in the herb garden

Beautiful blue baptisia 

I pulled more mustard garlic. The hedge of comphrey was a magnificant show, I left it to flower for the bees. A few came, but not the hundreds that used to swarm the comfrey flowers, falling asleep in a contented, drunken state to be found asleep every morning snuggled in the blossoms.

I watched Julia play in the garden, marvel at the size of the rhubarb, sit quietly by the pond, play with frogs, run through the stone pathways and gather bouquets of dandelions. She waited for the butterflies.

In the shade gardens the hostas grew, mingling with Solomon’s Seal, hydrangea, geranium and masterwort. Ajuga spread under the boxwoods, jacob’s ladder and brunnera created a sea of palest blue under the japanese maples.

The sweet scent of Miss Kim lilac perfumed the yard for days on end
Clematis finally taking off this year, I thank the spring rains
I added more herb beds and promised myself that I would valiantly make the effort to take care of my vegetable garden, whose fate is very similar to that of this blog. Additional work and maintenance began for two of our favourite long-standing clients at their cottage; a drainage problem was remedied and a new garden was created for Pauline, one of our very first clients, and as such holds a special place in our hearts. We spent a few days on spring maintenance at the Utilities Kingston Water Conversation Garden then spent time throughout the summer working with the summer’s garden intern, another sweet, creative, hard working Julia, who was an absolute joy to be with. 

We worked again with Utilities Kingston to design and install Phase 1 of a water conversation garden, this time at the King Street Water Treatment Plant in Kingston. Everyone we worked with on this project was so truly kind, passionate and supportive of this project, it was a true pleasure. This segued into a three week build of retaining walls during the hottest part of the summer. Our client Tom was a dream to work with, and he made sure he kept us well watered and filled with gingerale as we struggled in the heat and humidity. But it hurt, my muscles ached for weeks and my body reminded my daily that I was definitely not even close to being 29 anymore.

That segued into the bioswale installation in Kingston, which I confess is one of my most rewarding experiences, for many reasons.

Echinacea and switchgrass dancing in the bioswale

Summer gave way to fall, then winter and Christmas and finally this ice locked January where I sit in my snow pants at the keyboard trying to warm body and soul.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

April Ice

I have been trying very hard not to jump on the bandwagon and complain about the absence of spring. Very hard. When I've been feeling down the last month about the cold, the frozen ground, the northern winds that penetrate to the bone and, oh yes, the lack of sunshine, my lovely six year old daughter has done her best to cheer me up."You can't look on the dark side Mommy, you always have to look for the brightness." She is a very clever little girl.

Yesterday, as the universe and little girls have a gentle way of reminding us, was a perfect weatherly illustration that everything indeed happens for a reason and in its own time. 12 hours of freezing rain from a slow moving winter storm enveloped most of eastern Ontario, and had any of my plants been above ground the damage would have been much, much worse. I am thankful for that. My tulips are only 2" high and everything else has quite sensibly stayed asleep.

I sloshed around in the back with my camera after the worst was over. Ice coated shrubs and branches gave an almost ethereal effect against the newly greening grass.

Definitely broken. 
In total we have nine large branches down, not too bad really, and they all missed hitting anything important, like the house and the cars. I think my husband is excited to get his chainsaw out today and start cleaning up!

The new "orchard" in progress. Young and strong, they show no signs of damage.

An icy tangled mess of bush honeysuckle and sumac that grows wild along the boundaries of my property.

Of course no one was sitting here at the time, thank goodness.

Limbo anyone?
This birch tree showed amazing flexibility and I had no need to worry, though I must confess I was redesigning this space in my head in case it shattered.  I am amazed that this morning it has fully rebounded.

I hope everyone affected by the storm has power back on and made it through with little or no damage. We'll be spending our weekend cleaning up and looking forward to the brighter, sunnier days that are sure to come.

Take care wherever you are - best wishes for peace, love and joy and happy gardening!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Cookies for Breakfast!

Not so long ago, I used to believe I could eat anything. Physically demanding work and raising five children kept me very active and I honestly thought I had been blessed with an amazing metaboliosm. Back then my favourite go to food was cereal - I loved it....breakfast, lunch, supper it didn't matter and it was so easy. Though not exactly a creative, culinary choice, I naively thought I was fortifying myself with a healthy, crunchy, yummy food. Not so anymore.

After turning 40, my body started rebelling. Aches, pains, chronic inflamation, burning stomach aches, poor sleep. It was my wise beyond her years oldest daughter who suggested that I may be lactose intolerant. As it turned out eliminating dairy did help me feel much better but how I mourned the loss of some of my favourite foods. When she suggested I try the gluten free diet that she was following I was terrified. She sent me a copy of the book "Wheat Belly" and with a doubt filled heart I started on my gluten free journey - and that has dramatically changed my life.

One year later and I still feel amazingly better - no more chronic pain in my shoulder and thirty pounds lighter. I still have weakensses and I find myself craving cookie like textures and crunchy cereals. A gardening girl and a busy working Mom needs to start the day the right way and it is so nice to add a little variety. If it can be quick, easy, healthy and provide much needed energy so much the better!

I have so many food allergies that I resort to using coconut flour for all of my baking - which has resulted in some dry and disappointing results...and honestly, as my husband frequently reminds me, coconut can get a little boring. 

Yesterday, I was inspired by this cookie recipe from Steven and Chris on CBC. Not having all the ingredients on hand, I made some substitutions and was very, very happy with the moist, sweet cookies that came out of the oven. The quinoa packs in a lot of nutrition and adds a nice brownie-like heft to the mix while the eggs and bananas keep the cookie moist. Though there are 4 bananas in this recipe, they seem to balance nicely with coconut flour, and neither flavour is overly dominant. I use organic palm sugar (found in my neck of the woods at The Bulk Barn) as it is much lower on the glycemic index.

Quinoa Chocolate Chip Cookies


4 eggs
4 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 c coconut oil melted but not hot
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 c organic palm sugar
1 c organic coconut flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 c cooked quinoa
1/2 c dark chocolate chips (I splurged and used 1 full cup of Camino bittersweet chips this time, but a chopped dark chocolate bar 80-85% cocoa would be equally as fabulous)

Fun options:
You can get creative with this recipe and add in your own favourite healthy additions like shredded coconut, cocoa nibs, nuts, or sunflower seeds. The original recipe actually calls for 1 c. unsweetened coconut.


Quinoa is made the same way you prepare rice, twice as much water as quinoa. I like to make a big batch which will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days. It makes a great breakfast topped with fresh fruit and a sprinkle of palm sugar or agava syrup, or a nutritious lunch topped with chicken and steamed veggies. Also very handy when you want to whip up a batch of cookies or muffins!
  1. Prepare the cooked quinoa: Bring to a boil 1/2c. quinoa in 1c. water, reduce heat and simmer for 15 min. Allow to cool before adding to recipe.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F
  3. Beat the eggs until light and frothy
  4. Mash the bananas and blend with the eggs
  5. Add coconut oil, vanilla and mix thoroughly
  6. Mix in the palm sugar
  7. In a separate bowl whisk together the dry ingredients until well blended
  8. Slowly add to the wet mixture incorporating well
  9. Stir in the quinoa and chocolate chips 
Drop by tablespoons onto a greased or parchment lined cookie sheet -  I can attest to the fact that coconut flour cookies will stick.

I roll the cookie dough into a ball then flatten with the back of a spatula - these will not spread like traditional cookie batter. 

Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes


...and yes I did have some for breakfast this morning - they were a little bit of cookie heaven both husband and kid approved! These will make awesome little snacks when gardening season kicks in and weeding becomes more important than cooking.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Blood, Sweat & Tears: The Making of a Shade Garden

I thought I would share the project that kicked off my gardening season last March. I had been working on design plans all winter for our own property, and redoing the side yard took priority as I knew I wanted to move some mature plants early in the spring. Our side yard is actually a good size, and you can see in one of my first posts about my lovely twisted sisters that it is also rather bare with a slope of approximately three feet. The previous homeowner had used this area for a daycare and had 12 yards of sand dumped in for the kids to play on. Not so good for lawn or garden, but with perseverance and a great deal of compost I have slowly been able to improve the growing conditions.

Even though the grass now grows, this portion of our property is hardly used as it is completely visible to the neighbour who frightens the kids and the dog. Perhaps I'll enlighten you more in another post, but I'll be be charitable today and spare everyone the ongoing saga of the fight for privacy from said scary neighbour.

I planned the new shade garden to consist of two tiers to address the slope. Each tier measure 8' wide by 24' long. As our property sits perched on fractured limestone, the first order of business was to search for the ever prevalent rock that plagues my gardening enjoyment. This first find proved to be a challenge. Barely sticking out of the soil, I had no idea what I was about to get myself into...a battle with a three foot triangle of limestone that did not want to go quietly.

There is nothing like a pair of steel-toed boots to make a girl feel like superwoman! Armed with a shovel and a pry bar, and a weak knowledge of basic physics, I started off feeling rather invincible. Two hours later, exhausted, and utterly annoyed I called in back-up. My son Jo was 13 in that photo, and had sprung up to 6'2" over the course of the winter. His new found strength came in handy though he enjoyed gloating a little too much that he was finally stronger than his mother. (In my defence I do believe the rock was still wet, and therefore heavy, from the spring thaw...I can normally do this on my own.)

Triumph! With Jo's help (he's still in his pajamas!) the rock was shimmied over to take the corner position of the first tier. To finish off, stone was unearthed from this garden area and other various locations, and after four days of digging, lugging, preparing base, and levelling I was ready to start prepping the soil...and have a very long nap.

Lots of compost went into the beds as well as five yards of Gro-Max which is a fantastic product I order from my local supplier. The garden filled in with a lovely mixture of textures and my favourite vibrant hues of green from emerald to chartreuse...perennials include hostas, ferns, brunnera 'Jack Frost', heucheras, polemonium (Jacob's Ladder), Alchemilla mollis, (Lady's Mantle)hydrangea 'Annabelle'. I added two clipped yews for vertical accent and two Japanese maples which my wonderful, thrifty husband had bought for me at an end-of-year blowout sale for only $8.00 each.

Here are some photos of the finished product as it started to fill out in May and June:

Upper tier

My elegant $8 japanese maple looking pretty in the morning sun

A hedge of Annabelle hydrangea back the lower tier

Though it looks like fall this photo was taken at the beginning of July - the effect of the drought can be seen with falling leaves littering the curved pathway between the garden and the house. Two large rain barrels sit to the right of this picture which helped keep everyone alive.

I am so looking forward to seeing this garden spring back to life over the next two months. Until next time I wish you sunshine, warm days, peace and joy!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

The Garden Stars of a Long Hot Summer

It is 3 am as I sit down to write this. An ungodly hour to be up, even for my early rising self. The stomach flu has swept through our house this past week, finally claiming me as a victim on Thursday. After sleeping for the better part of 24 hours, I feel remarkably restored and grateful that we all seem to be getting back to normal.

There is not a lot a girl can do at 3 am especially with a husband snoring softly away on the couch, himself in a state of recovery.  Tip-toing, I brewed some fresh coffee and made my way to the back deck. It is -3 C outside, but not too cold and the sky is brilliantly clear, a deep black cloak bejewelled with stars. The snow still lies a foot deep, the steam rises from the mug in to the clean country air. Somewhere to the southwest the coyotes are wailing in their eery sing song voices.

So much to be grateful for.

I am often guilty of planning so many projects for myself that I tend to feel overwhelmed even before I have started. These projects are then quite often interrupted by a sudden burst of inspiration that takes me off in a completely different direction. My problem really is that I am a problem fixer and I sometimes forget to appreciate all that is right.

So at 3 am this morning, surrounded by a dark and sleeping world, clarity crept in as I let my thoughts wander to the heroes of last summer's gardens...the plants that amazed me, that stood up to the drought with surprising fortitude. There were so many lessons and some pleasant surprises. I am grateful that as gardeners we have such a multitude of colours to paint with, that with a little research, creativity and a freshly sharpened spade we can create a truly personal masterpiece in any part of the world.

Here is a short list of a few plants that I could not live without, that offer beauty with a strong mix of tenacity and tolerance. As I wrote this, I realized they all have similar traits...drought tolerance, interesting texture and scented foliage.

 Nepeta Walker's Low (divisions from my own garden) creates a striking border for a butterfly garden at a school in Kingston. Looks completely natural planted with echinacea, rudbeckia and perovskia. This was an enormously gratifying project...You can read more about the garden here on our website.

Nepeta: I have two varieties, Walker's Low and a border of the more diminutive Blue Cloud. This is one of the first perennials to show life in early spring. At first a soft green mat appears that belies the size it will soon take. Walker's Low flowers in late spring to early summer after which it is cut back for a second show that carries through until the fall. This darling perennial has so many virtues. Very drought tolerant, requiring little extra water. The soft grey-green leaves have a wonderful mint like fragrance which deters insects, but the flower is a huge attractor of the good ones - bees and butterflies love it!

It is cloud of soft purple when in flower, making a casually elegant hedge or a beautiful specimen. I have found it is beneficial in deterring insects from neighbouring plants as well, helping to reduce maintenance in the beds.

Nepetas are what I like to call a "bang-for-your-buck" plant, reaching full size within 2-3 years and very easy to divide. From my original mother plant I have created dozens of offspring. The mature spread is approximately 3' with a flowering height of 18-24". They rarely look good potted up in the nursery, but don't let that deter you, once it has room to grow it will quickly fill out to its full glory.

Hardiness: Zone 3-8

The first flowers of the Nepeta are almost ready to bloom (bottom left)...the timing is perfect with lupine, peony, and iris. Geranium alba (front) provides a nice textural contrast, echoing the rising green spires of delphinium in the background. Picture taken 2009.
And here is a mature nepeta clump as it appeared early September 2012, you can see it survived the drought quite nicely. I can't say that about the rudbeckia which looks surprisingly stressed out. A column of Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' is backed with the remarkable hardy and self-seeded annual Nicotiana alata or night-scented nicotinia.

Caryopteris: Also know as Bluebeard, this hardy shrub provides late season interest, bursting into a cloud of blue in late summer and early fall. I have a small hedge of three beside the patio where I can run my fingers through the scented foliage that is an alluring minty sweetness. Likes the sun by I can report that mine have done nicely with some afternoon shade.

Beautiful grey green foliage adds a softness to the garden, mine is offset with the deep rich green of climbing hydrangea behind, and boxwood in the front. My favourite combination is with Gaura lindheimeri, the airy white whirling butterflies create the illusion that the bluebeard is in flower all summer, a happy planting accident that created a stunning effect. Once in bloom, the plant is alive with bees, who I think must be grateful for such an abundant food source so late in the season.

Hardiness: Zone 5-9. In my zone 5b garden, the plant is treated more like perennial and I cut back the foliage from 6-8" in early spring.

I have the hardest time trying to capture this shrub just right...but here it is, my lovely caryopteris beside the patio. just past its prime. If you look closely you can see the small white flower of the gaura mingling in the background.

And here is a picture from Longwood Gardens...what a stunning display the long borders of caryopteris make!

And for this post I will end with just one more....

Geranium macrorrhizum: I love, love, love this ground cover! This amazing perennial, also known as Big Root Geranium, stands up to extremely tough conditions, like drought, shallow soil, and dry shade. It will grow virtually anywhere in any soil conditions.

Though it spreads quickly, it is not one of those dreadful garden is very to control the size and direction you want the clump take. As the plant matures and spreads it performs as a wonderful weed suppressor - I have yet to pull one unwanted invader.

I find this geranium performs better with some shade as mine have displayed burnt leaves in full afternoon sun when the UV warnings have been high. Lovely magenta flowers in do not have to deadhead unless you so desire as the new growth covers the seed heads nicely.

The foliage is strongly scented (some would say pungent) be honest I cannot decide if I like it or not. I find the leaves to be somewhat spicy with a strong hit of lemon. This of course helps repel insects, and I have never had a problem - it also seems to help keep slugs away from the neighbouring hostas.  

Hardiness: Zone 3-8

Geranium macrorrhizum in the shade garden at Utilities KingstonWater Conservation Garden. I divided and potted up over 80 divisions to create the border in this part of the garden...very rewarding!
Another shot of the Utilities KingstonWater Conservation Garden.
After one season this pretty river of geranium is already filling in...
the roots of the large silver maples have not hampered its efforts in the least.

These are but a few of the plants I truly adore...I would love to hear what some of yours are!

Until then I wish you love, light and peace...and take a moment to reflect on what you are grateful for. As gardeners we tend to be too critical of our work, embrace the beauty you have created in your part of the world.