Sunday, 11 March 2012

Spring Forward!

Did you remember to change your clocks? I know you, like my teenage daughters, might meet this grand day with some moans and groans as you realize you just lost an hour of sleep. But for me, today has all the excitement of Christmas morning, the clocks moving ahead that wonderful hour means that I have the gift a "normal" life again.

For reasons unknown, my body decided four years ago that it simply didn't care what time it was anymore. The time would change, but I would not. I have always been an early riser, and grateful for it... up before the sun, usually between 4 and 5 a.m. With a house full of kids, a very busy husband, two cats, a dog and a japanese fighting fish named Princess, two hours alone every morning with my coffee and my thoughts is a much cherished ritual. In the fall when we turn the clocks back an hour, my body wakes itself up at 3 a.m -  not nearly so desirable and it can be hard to keep busy that early in the morning when there is nothing but snow and darkness about.

But today I am just giddy with anticipation and I hope wherever you are that you can share in my happiness! In addition to the time change, it seems Mother Nature has finally decided to smile upon us and deliver a balmy day of 9 C and with a warming trend the rest of the week. As far I am concerned, today is MY first day of spring, and I am already wandering around in my blundstones waiting for the sun to come up so I can get outside and do something.

And there is so, so much to do!

My list is rather long - I will be out there brandishing the pruners, tackling the shrubs, cutting back the grasses, and picking up all the stuff that was left behind in the fall and tossed around in the wind storm two weeks ago. No doubt I will calling out to my son to pick up dog poop he missed over the winter and for my husband to please help me clean and sharpen the tools. The patio chairs will receive their cushions, the bbq will be cleaned, and perhaps the waterfall will be started up in the pond. We will be looking (praying) for the coi and trying to decide if the frog floating around on its back is just sleeping or has met an untimely demise (whereupon we will distract my five year old so that said frog can be gently removed).

I will walk the gardens seeking signs of life...the sweet cabbage-like buds of sedum, the dainty strands of crocus, buds swelling on the lilac, plum and apple. I have been writing this long enough that the song of robin and whip-poor-will have started up and it is now time to go.

It is going to be a glorious day!

So until next time when I may have some lovely shots of my own garden to share, all spick and span, and bursting with life, I would like to share some photos from other gardeners who have been enjoying spring a little longer than I have.

From the lovely blog Wife, Gardener, Mother we have these gorgeous snowdrops and crocus...

Just love this cheerful little crocus surrounded by sedum acre:

And from Sweetbay are these shots from her garden taken last April and May - she has the most beautiful woodland gardens...

White iris are stunning

A lush planting

And an elegant Alabama Azalea

And from a blog I found just yesterday, Rhone Street Gardens, we have these beautiful photographs from Scott Weber...

vibrant hues of sedum welcome spring

I hope you enjoy this glorious Sunday and all that it has to offer. Happy gardening!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Les Quatre Vents: a beautiful legacy

 “We should be transported from our regular preoccupations. With an open heart and soul we can be receptive to the images, scents, sounds, spaces, and views that surround us, as well as to the touch of the wind and the rain, to the peace everlasting of the “genius of the place.”
 ~ Frank Cabot, "The Greater Perfection" 

I am guilty, dear readers, of overlooking what has been in my own rather large Canadian backyard. In fact I have somehow overlooked what is "considered to be one of horticultural masterpieces of the 20th century". Like many of us, my attention has been trained on the spectacular gardens of England and France and the famous designers that inspire and teach us. Granted, Canada is rather a large backyard, but I find no excuse for not knowing that such a glorious creation existed just one province away.

I first saw a picture of Les Quatre Vents (garden of The Four winds) just two short months ago as I was perched at my desk, researching the web for information on Canadian was sheer joy when the image below from appeared on the screen. I was completely enraptured by the unique border of ornamental rhubarb, the rill leading us to the view beyond. It was rather unusual - and daring - and brilliant. I was smitten and I have been searching for information on Frank Cabot and Les Quatre Vents ever since.

I am not going to write an in-depth piece here (I hope you don't find me lazy), but what I am going to do is provide you with some inspiring photos. I have compiled a list of links at the end of this post that will take you to articles written by authors who have actually visited the gardens and will do much more justice to this place than I could at this moment.

Situated near La Malbaie, Charlevoix County, Quebec Les Quatre Vents is the private garden of Frank Cabot and his wife Anne. A self-taught gardener and designer, Cabot spent 25 years developing, restoring and creating 20 acres of masterful garden 'rooms' that include the whimsical, the formal, the lush and so much more - all infused with Cabot's passionate eye to the "genius of the place".

Sadly, Mr. Cabot passed away in November 2011 at the age of 86. I am committed to visiting the garden this summer, even in the midst of our busiest season, but  I confess I deeply regret that I will not have the opportunity to meet this most inspiring gardener. He leaves us now his gardens as teachers and I hope you will find some inspiration from his work as I have.

Ornamental rhubarb creates a luscious border
Photo via: Riding the Buses

Frank Cabot in the garden at Les Quatre Vents
photo via:

A clever use of mirrors in the garden...
 creating the illusion that you could simply walk forever 

Photo via:

An archway in the pigeoniere beckons us to the gardens beyond
photo via: Doug Green's Blog

The Tea House at Les Quatres Vents
photo via:

The stunning contrast of the formal within a natural setting
photo via: The Cassandra Pages

A touch of whimsy...
This is from a wonderful collection of photos:

Photo via: Riding the Buses

...and also from  Riding the Buses
a stunning vista of glorious spring colour

The Blue Moon Bridge - I am speechless
Photo via:

For more information on Les Quatre Vents follow the links below:




Mr. Cabot has narrated a DVD about the gardens. A sample clip is available on youtube and at the link below. The charm, passion and wit is audibly apparent in the warm tones of the gardener.


You may have a hard time finding this book, I certainly have which is making the yearning that much more intense. Available online at all the usual places like Barnes & Noble, Chapters, and Amazon 'The Great Perfection' has a rather shocking sticker price. 

I have seen used copies available from just under $200.00 to well over $2000.00. At the time of this writing, there does not seem to be any new copies on the market. I am hoping if I am successful in making my garden trek, a copy may be available at the gardens themselves. wish me luck...and send me an email if you have a copy you would like to sell for less than the prices mentioned above :)

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Blue Wonder

It is yet another blustery snowy day here and the only signs of spring are blooming sweetly on the dining roomy table. But I do know spring must be coming because my favourite little campanula has arrived in the grocery store again. 

Campanula Haylodgensis 'Blue Wonder'
'Blue Wonder' is smothered in dainty double blooms that I find irresistibly romantic. Though she is hardy to zone 3, I will have to admit defeat when I have transplanted this pretty girl outside to the garden in past years, perhaps I was a little too hasty in the acclimatization process. I am quite content to enjoy her presence indoors for the moment.

Sitting pretty in a pot purchased at Neil's Flowers.
These french inspired containers are waterproof
so I can use them for cut flowers as well.

And what would spring be without the heavy perfume of hyacinth. She looked lovely by the kitchen sink but the scent was overpowering and so she had to go - finally landing in the faraway corner of the dining room.

The garden is sleeping outside, ready to awake in all her spring glory.  Blue is such a relaxing and peaceful colour to include in the perennial garden, and I love the soothing contrast of blue and whites offset with the freshness of chartreuse and apple greens. Soon will be the tulips, muscari and iris leading up to the sky blues of phlox, centaurea, and baptisia. Just to be patient a little while longer.

Love your thoughts and feedback.

Have a lovely day!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

The Peace of Wild Things

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me 
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, 
and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. 

I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. 

For a time I rest in the grace of the world, 
and am free.

by Wendell Berry (1968)

Quite by accident, I stumbled across this poem this morning by Wendell Berry and I was completely drawn in by those few simple, perfectly ordered words. "...into the peace of wild things". 

Ask gardeners why they garden and you will hear many different and wonderful reasons, but I believe those reasons are all rooted to the same basic need. Beyond the beauty and the joys of creation lies a profound, inescapable connection to the earth; an ancient yearning that draws us in and commands us to stay away awhile. It is a seductive undertaking to conjure up and make real our own version of paradise. 

A garden offers escape, hope, healing, reassurance, a chance to breathe.

In the mornings I am lured by the perfumes of freshly turned soil, the scent of lavender, lemon balm and thyme, bird song and water trickling, the sparkle of dew and a serenity that comes from being witness to all of those things. 

Your version of a peaceful setting will be different than mine, this is a very personal thing. For me, woodland and Japanese (or zen) gardens are two gardening styles that perhaps best incorporate this bit of alluring wildness into the mix. I love trees and of course they are valuable for so many important reasons. They provide us with structure, rhythm and movement, an assortment of colour and interest, shade and protection, and bring a voice to the wind. They can be small and graceful, or large and stately and no matter the size of your space one can be found that will make your heart sing.

Here are a few of some of my favourite inspirational gardens - I think they all capture the essence of peace and serenity in the garden.

(Photo: The Honey Tree Nursery, PEI)

Grace in the garden with a planting of gorgeous Japanese snowbelles (styrax japonicas).

Hardy in zones 5-8, this smaller tree grows to height and spread of 25'...perfect for smaller yards. Dainty white blooms add beauty to the garden in late June. A touch of formality is offered up by the boxwoods. I love the curves of this rustic gravel pathway 
...leads the eye to the sculpture and fountain and what lies beyond.

Rick Darke's American Woodland Garden. The thoughtful design of this garden
created a truly spectacular and peaceful setting. Native plants were used extensively.
I would love to take a stroll beside the stream and meditate with nature for a while.

Image ⓒ Dency Kane from Barbara Pleasant’s Garden Stone

A small pond and fountain tucked away in the corner of the garden
brings pure pleasure to even the smallest yard or balcony. Natural stones smothered in moss anchor the dainty textures of ferns and grasses - a lovely, tranquil spot.

( Photo via

Chionanthus virginicus (White Fringe Tree):

I adore the wild and charming nature of this native tree which gifts white spring flower to the garden. Like the Japanese snowbell, this graceful beauty reaches heights of 12-20' and is hardy to zone 4. Last summer 

Utilities Kingston Water Conservation Garden: spring 2011
A little bit of peace in the midst of the city.

This is a project is very near and dear to my heart. 
My husband I designed and installed this section of the garden in 2009-2010. 
(Would you believe there is parking left just to the left of this photo.) 

Flagstone pathways lead to sitting stones overlooking the swale.
Sweet woodruff as ground cover, mingles through the hostas and tiarella - 

a contemplative space under the shade of silver maples 
for employees and the public to enjoy.

(Photo via

That wild and peaceful feeling can still be found within a more modern setting.
This lovely design by Samuel H. Williamson Associates incorporates simple lines
with a relaxed atmosphere created by a soothing palette. A water feature provides the soothing musical overtones to this alluring courtyard garden.

I would love to hear your thoughts 
and cherish your comments!

Have a beautiful day!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Simple Pleasures

Good morning! It is Family Day in Ontario which means on this sun-filled February morning my house is bustling with the comings and goings of my wonderful husband and four of my gorgeous children (and so far everyone is getting along and the decibel level is bearable). We often start feeling a little cramped this time of year, and we are aching to get out into the backyard where freedom reigns and there is plenty of room for everyone.

The spring and summer months are filled with so many delights, but I cherish the simple joys most of all...those that add a richness and wholeness to daily life, the tiny but powerful anchors that bring us back to earth and remind us of our humanity.

In the hammock under the maples, summer 2010

The garden is our summer house. The kids run through pathways, count frogs in the pond, pick mulberries and currants, and sit and swing. We bbq almost every day and wonder at the stars on bonfire nights, swatting mosquitoes and inhaling the fragrance of night-scented nicotiana.

We need a new hammock to hang between the only two perfectly spaced maples...I do believe I could fall in love with this one and wonder how much time I can find to hide away and read a book...

this one is lovely too, and perhaps a little more durable...
the view is breathtaking and reminds me that a summer vacation is long overdue...

A basket of cozy cushions on the patio would be nice....

but first to see the grape hyacinth...

and how I look forward to the scent of lilacs...

and the graceful spires of delphinium...

and tucking in pretty pots of begonia to the shady corners...

I would like to create a romantically wild refuge in the 
back corner where little girls can hide from their big brother....

and plant more cosmos this year between the grasses...

and incorporate more herbs into the mixed beds like anise... 

then end each day with a family dinner in a space like this...
Penelope Bianchi's garden

Thank you so much for stopping in today...wishing you all the best of life's simple pleasures. I would love to hear what inspires you and invite you to  leave all thoughts & comments below.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Deciphering your garden style

Show me your garden 
and I shall tell you 
what you are.

~ Alfred Austin

My Mom was the gentlest of souls. She was quiet but creative, shy but powerful, and her touch spoke volumes.  She was a passionate gardener, though a little careful in her decisions. In her front gardens (the bit the public could see) she allowed only geraniums, begonias, dusty miller and sweet alyssum. But in our back gardens she adored a profusion of peonies, roses, tiger lilies, asters... soft pinks, punches of colour and summer fragrance. A true romantic. Often shy, my Mom was able to express herself with greater clarity and confidence in the garden.

Gardens are a reflection of who we are. For the new gardener it can all be very confusing and the biggest challenge is just trying to figure out where to begin. 

To that I would say, you must begin at the beginning. Before a shovel so much as touches the earth you have to make some decisions...many actually, but we are going to take this one step at a time.

You have to decide what makes you content, fulfilled, at one with your own universe.

A good place to start is your wardrobe. How do you like to dress: is your closet filled with simple lines, muted tones, the perfect black dress, a touch of silver, everything refined and polished. Or do you love prancing around in prairie skirts, ruffles and flip flops. Does vintage make you swoon or are you a jeans and t-shirt sort of gal (or guy). Now head out of the closet and take a look at the interior of your home - what is your style, do you like modern, classic, shabby chic? What are your favourite colours, textures, patterns?

These are all good places to look for clues that will help you blend your garden harmoniously with your house and your lifestyle. And, dear friends, that is our illustrious end goal.

Lets explore this a bit more with some pretty visuals:

If you love modern sensibilities and nothing pleases you more than simple, clean lines and a distinct lack of clutter then you might just like the modern style of gardening. This is characterized by strong geometrical shapes and straight lines in pathways, patios and gardens. The use of hard materials is used extensively and plant material is carefully selected to give maximum effect with limited selection. The planting scheme is often monochromatic. 




or maybe.....

Or maybe you are a girly-girl at heart and pinks, peaches and other pastels make you happy. Your interiors could have a touch of vintage, classical or french charm - floral patterns, sumptuous pillows and sparkling crystal bring daily joy. A bit of ruffle, a touch of cashmere, a beautiful brooch... you are a romantic. 

Romantics often find a kindred spirit in cottage, english and french garden styles. These approaches include carefully orchestrated colour palettes and colourful borders bursting with perennials and annuals. The style can range from the flamboyant to the charmingly controlled with pleached hedges, boxwood topiary and gorgeous urns to add structure and interest.
English style/ Cottage style/Romantic

or maybe like this.....

If you're like me, then you feel most at home in an old pair of jeans. Your casual style might be reflected in the use of natural materials in your home...distressed oak floors mixed with leather furniture mixed with wrought iron fixtures. If you tend to have a relaxed personality, find total bliss in sunsets, hiking, and just watching the butterflies float by then the Prairie style might appeal to you. This style of gardening is very much in tune with the rhythms of nature and also goes by the names "New Perennial Movement" and "sustainable". 

Your garden would consist of the perfect blend of ornamental grasses, native species, and drought tolerant perennials. These gardens mature later in the season, looking their best from July through until early winter and careful attention has to be paid to adding some spring interest. Gardens are densely planted in large drifts...mulch is not wanted or needed here.



Natural prairie style

This has been fun for me...and I could go on like this all day. I know its not always easy trying to figure out what you like, but it is a journey you must take. Edit the stuff out of your life that you've put up with, or inherited, or bought on sale...all the things that drive you nuts for whatever reason when you look at them. 

To find harmony, we must have honesty and bravery.

There are many official styles of gardening. We will not all fit into a box, and I am no exception. I also thank goodness for that, life would be pretty boring. Work through your collection of inspiration photos and see what is floating to the top and taking dominance...then look at what you like next and so on. 

For example, I simply adore many of the french characteristics, the peace I receive from straight lines, the shelter of perfectly spaced trees, (not to mention the little chateau in the south of France)...  I also like the gentle sway and movement of ornamental grasses and the serenity offered by a more monochromatic planting scheme. Styles can be combined, and maybe we should just all call ourselves eclectic and be done with it. There are ways to unite everything you love into a cohesive whole.

That is a lesson for another day.

Thank you so much for reading, I wish you all a very beautiful day.