Sunday, 29 January 2012

Waiting for Spring

Winter has finally decided to put in an appearance. The last few weeks have brought us freezing rain, snow squalls, rain, and wet snow....gracefully bent branches, icicles, and trees crashing in the woods. Still not much of an accumulation, we're not building snowmen yet... but I do believe I could strap on my skates and do figure 8's in the back yard.

I am happy that we are finally on the receiving end of all sorts of precipitation, but with that comes  grey, dreary days and wistful longings for spring. Patience is a virtue but I am  not feeling so virtuous this time of year, as my husband would most certainly attest to. To pass the time in a constructive manner I am dreaming of fragrance and foliage and planning the extensive changes I will be making to the gardens this year. 

Last summer came and went so quickly that I simply ran out of time to add summer flowering bulbs to the garden. Planted in spring, countless varieties are waiting to offer a unique and beautiful display to the summer garden. Many are hardy enough to leave alone once planted, a few will have to be lifted and stored for the following season.

I have been preparing my list of summer bulbs I would like to try this year. My first stop has been at online at Online shopping can offer interesting choices and varieties that are not readily available in the traditional garden center.

For the white garden, here are the lovely ladies who have made the list so far:

Anne Marie's Dream Double Asiatic Lily:

Polar Star Oriental Lily:
Love the touch of green

Acidanthera bicolor murielae:
To be planted with dwarf miscanthus...a nice bit of movement, will lift in the fall

Ismene 'Advance' {spider lily}
Isn't she fun!

Greenleaf Canna ' Tropical white'
It took me a while to appreciate the tropical beauty of cannas - I love the delicate touch of lime in this one and she is shorter than most coming in at 30"

And now for a sweet touch of blue...

Agapanthus 'Blue Triumphator' (Lily of the Nile)
The epitome of grace

Anemone De Caen 'Blue Poppy'
These delightful blue blooms can often be found grown out in containers come early spring...
hardy to zone 8, they need to be lifted in fall. 

Bearded Iris 'Blue Suede Shoes'
Gorgeous, rich jewel tone!

It may seem strange to some of you to think about ordering plants now. It has been my (frustrating) experience that the more unusual varieties can be sold out very quickly. Online garden suppliers will indicate ordering & shipping times in your area, so I encourage you to start compiling a list of your favourites now and plan accordingly.  Some bulbs and seeds especially, can be started indoors 4-8 weeks before official gardening starts...another little something to keep us happy until spring gets here.

Thank you for reading - love to hear your feedback!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

A Gentleman from Denmark

The gardens of Claus Dalby

A few years ago we had a wonderful customer who we were always happy to see. She was a vibrant, feisty 80 year old gardener with the most perfect name of Faith. She was sheer radiance and I always felt uplifted after being in her presence. She was an angel... a beautiful, loving spirit all decked out in black rubber boots and a plaid jacket. Her aura simply filled any room she entered.

Truly happy people like Faith are not that easy to find. Today, though, through the almighty grace of the internet, I came across a most inspiring gentleman from Denmark who seems to fit this bill nicely. He is a gardener by the name of Claus Dalby, who has designed and created a truly beautiful garden in Denmark. He is also a gifted writer. 

Dalby's gardening blog is written in his native tongue, and though the Google translation to english is at times charming, and others a little weird, the sweetness of the man who writes it and the gentleness of his soul comes shining through.

I love the tender simplicity of white gardens and was completely drawn to the composition that Dalby has created in his. His use of texture, contrast, repetition, and rythm is masterful and enchanting. The transition from season to season and from one flush of colour to another is a great demonstration of planning (and planning, and planning). 

The blog itself is a treasure trove of gardening advice, plant combinations, and encouraging words. I won't spoil it for you, you really need to grab a cup of tea and browse through it yourself. I am gushing, I know, (and using an abundance of adjectives)...but I'm having a hard time stopping myself.

Here are just a few of the photos waiting for you...

Leveillei  anemone

"Everything breathes peace and tranquility in the garden.
The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and my white doves 
circling around their pigeonholes."
~ Claus Dalby

Iris pseudacorus with spring green tulips 

Lunneria dancing through the tulips

Its a happy day for me when I find something new and plants, new designers, new insights. Gardening is a school that will forever offer new lessons. I hope you enjoyed this post and appreciate your comments and I thank those who have sent me encouraging emails, they really do mean a lot.  Now please go make that tea and spend some time with this lovely gentleman from Denmark.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Crazy Love: Marble and Roses

Rosa 'Crown Princess Margareta' in June at David Austin Rose Gardens, Shropshire, England UK Photographer: Ron Evans

This week I have been tackling the finishing stages of a long overdue kitchen reno. We started a year ago, ridding ourselves, FINALLY, of the horrible 70"s cupboards and hunter green laminate countertop. The wonderful deal making details will be presented in another post.

In my garage, sitting woefully in a corner since last December has been 30 sq. ft. of the most beautiful Carrera tumbled marble. If you are at all familiar with my Pinterest boards, you would have noticed that I have a penchant for the all things white...not a practical choice for a family of nine, living in 1600 sf, that contains at least three rather messy cooks -  but there you have it.  Life is short, and that means we should all throw caution to the wind sometimes and choose the impractical option just because it makes us gleefully happy.

And so I have chosen white marble for my backsplash....because it makes me gleefully happy. 

My love for natural stone in landscapes seems to have logically transferred into similar choices for interior designs...marble, slate, travertine all speak to me in ways that ceramics do not. They have a voice, a depth, a vibration if you will... an organic something that whispers of history and earthly wonders.

But I digress.

I started on Monday getting the backsplash ready to tile in my kitchen. In between, when forced to let things set, or dry, or when I was just plain tired, I filled in my minutes by playing on Pinterest. An addictive hobby this, especially in the cold months of winter when there is little to look at outside. I came across the glorious photo above of the David Austin rose...isn't she just lucsiously beautiful. 

Like Carrera marble, roses, especially the old english varieties and the David Austins, make me giddy inside. I am drawn to them like a moth to a flame. I could analyse and say it is the wonderful crinkled textures of the petals, the feminine unfolding like the petticoats of a ballerina, the divine fragrance that floats up from the garden on warm summer days. It is all of that and more.

Roses, though, are the little prima donnas of the gardening world. If, like me, you enjoy sustainability and work to improve drought tolerance and disease resistance naturally, then these gals are not for you, no matter how pretty they are. It is not a logical choice to have roses in my garden due to the lack of soil, and the aforementioned limestone substrate.

I just can't help myself.
Graham Thomas

One of the most widely grown and best loved English Roses.
‘Graham Thomas’ has been voted the World’s Favourite Rose by the World Federation of Rose Societies (WFRS) which represents over 100,000 rose lovers in 41 member countries. The award was announced at the 2009 World Rose Convention in Vancouver, when the rose was inducted into the society’s ‘Rose Hall of Fame’.

It has cupped flowers of medium size; their colour being an unusually rich and pure yellow that would be hard to match even among modern Hybrid Teas. The growth is upright but bushy and very vigorous, with shiny, pale green, disease-resistant leaves. It is an excellent rose, both in beauty and performance.

There is a fresh Tea Rose fragrance, with a cool violet character typical of its colour group.

Named for the late Graham Stuart Thomas, who was one of the most influential rosarians of our time.
4 ft. x 4 ft.

I have three Graham Thomas rose bushes at the moment that have managed to survive with fairly little attention. They are mulched with rich compost and I amend the soil with seaweed, manure and coir.  I am also experimenting with companion plants like yarrow, garlic, white geranium, nasturtium...all used for their bug repelling properties and ability to influence the surrounding soil. 

Interesting is that I have noticed that the rose bush with Nepeta "Walkers Low" planted nearby seems to have less insect problems than the others. The minty scented foliage must be helping, though this is certainly not a scientific observation.

I would love to hear about your rose success stories and about any "magic bullets" you might have discovered.

Until then, I must go grout my tile...and go back to longing over Pinterest photos while it dries. I hope you too will take a risk, and choose to do something today that is outrageously impractical - just because it makes you gleefully happy!

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

SpindleTree Gardens

SpindleTree Gardens are located near Tamworth, Ontario...the inspiring garden project of retired architect Tom Brown and his wife Susan Meisner. You would be hard pressed to meet two people who are more passionate, dedicated and downright delightful to be with. I have met both Tom and Susan and toured the gardens. A garden tour with Tom consists of 90 minutes of sheer entertainment....stories, garden facts, mythology. 

Photo credit: Mike de la Haye
His enthusiasm is contagious and he has every right to be proud. Refreshing is Tom and Susan's sense of humility. Too often gardens can become about the gardener and not the plants themselves. This is not the case here...Tom speaks of his many perennials with pride and reverence...they are the true stars of his show.

Currently, the gardens spread out over 20 acres of an 80 acre property. The highlights include extensive ponds, raised gardens, a meticulously maintained rose garden, a walled kitchen garden to die for, and a charming croquet court with hoops architecturally rendered after famous buildings.  

Photo credit: Mike de la Haye
The walls, pathways, pergolas, and columns have all been touched by the hands of Tom Brown. In fact, Tom has designed every bit of the architecture...walls, water features, bridge, garden layouts and so on, himself.  His creative stamp is everywhere. I don't know his exact age, not that it matters, but I do know that Tom is retired and performs labour intensive feats that would put men 30 years his junior to shame. He rarely hires help, preferring to do the majority of the work himself.

Susan informs me that further expansion is in the works and they are halfway finished building a new curved conservatory/greenhouse which will be the focus of the allĂ©e at one end of the big field with the Victorian well cover as the focus looking the other way.  

I can hardly wait until the spring to see the new changes!

this steel bridge was designed by Tom Brown and constructed off site.
The hair-raising tale of how it finally came to rest safely over the Long Pond is
definitely worth the price of admission.
A VIEW OF THE LONG POND FROM THE BRIDGE..the ponds were constructed
by Tom and consist of elaborately hidden waterworks that keep everything flowing.
If you are fortunate to find yourself anywhere near here, I urge you to come for an inspiring visit.

Spindletree Gardens are located at 6248 County Road 4, Tamworth, ON K0K 3G0. The gardens open in 2012 on Mother's Day (Sunday, May 13) and close Thanksgiving Day (Monday, October 8th). Until gardening season starts again, you can visit their website, and talk to Susan on Facebook.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Twisted Sisters

You may think that the "maples" portion of my blog titles refers to those stately maples that grace elegant  gardens and properties everywhere...those that turn shades of glorious reds and golds in the fall...Sugar maple, or the graceful Japanese, variegated Harlequins, the handsome Crimson King, or the lovely Deborah.

I am sorry to say it is not is something much humbler than that.

I have nine mature maples on my property that came with the our little house when we bought it six years ago. I find them imperfectly charming, though I would I have to admit if pressed, that three of them are just downright unattractive (sorry trees) but I have not figured out the right sort of plan to deal with them yet. So they been given a temporary reprieve.

I have had several groups of my husband's gardening students over for garden tours, and these poor maples, Acer negundo illicit the most heated comments. I think the criticism is a little unwarranted. I had one memorable student, arms waving, teeth clenched (honestly, she did that) decry their very existence, proclaiming that if it was her garden they would have all been cut down before the china was put away in the cupboard. Weeds, she called them. Ugly old weeds. I have to admit I was hurt, as hurt as if she had insulted my children.

Given a choice I would not plant manitoba maples. But I do feel a kinship to them and a sense of loyalty fed by nostalgia. 

A view from the side yard
(one day I will learn to put away my gardening stuff and the kids toys before grabbing the camera)

My Grandma B's garden in Stonewall, Manitoba was contained by a perfectly clipped beech hedge on one side and a row of four manitoba maples on the other. I loved climbing those trees as a child ( I would be sure to break something if I tried that now), loved raking the leaves, loved sitting under their shade. When we first looked at this house in its unmaintained glory, it was the twisted branches of the maples that spoke to me the loudest. They reminded me of home.

They do have their shortcomings...they are messy, always dropping branches and thousands, if not millions of keys that root far too easily in the gardens. The send up suckers relentlessly and require constant pruning several times during the year. They are not what you would call "picture perfect" either with their large gnarly, multi stemmed trunks, branches that shoot out at weird angles, and a fungus that infects the leaves with horrible little bumps otherwise causing no real harm.

But I do love them. They provide the required shade for my shade gardens and lovely spots to sit under. They keep the house cool in warmer months. Their twisted, dancing branches have proven to be very useful for hanging things from... a hammock, a garden swing, bird feeders, and the occasional child who gets their underwear hung up on the branches. Most importantly, their roots have been instrumental in breaking up the solid limestone that I garden on, creating the "deep zones" that I hunger for.

They will not be around forever... Acer negundo is relatively short lived as far as trees are concerned, and some of my trees must be approaching the end of their expected lifespan. We have prepared for this day and have added littleleaf lindens (Tilia cordite), a darling paperbark maple (Acer griseum) and two blue spruce (Picea pungens)  that are taking forever to grow through the limestone, but will hopefully reach a respectable height by the time the maples come down.

But for now I defend my right to enjoy my twisted sisters and proclaim that they too have the right to live out their lives in the protected shelter of my gardens. 

They remind me, humbly,  that we all have flaws and true beauty is in the soul of things, and in the eye of the beholder.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Hands in soil

I truly believe that each of us has the power to connect to the energies of the universe that pulse all around us. Look deeply and we are all but an orchestra of vibration, intrinsically designed to sustain life without us knowing how or having to think about it...just as the trees are, the spring trilliums and summer daisy, the red leaf of Japanese maple in the fall. 
My Garden June 2008

Everything is connected. 

It is for this reason that I never wear gloves when I garden - I prefer to feel the warmth of the soil between my fingers and the gentle tangle of roots when I am working. Peace flows through my soul when I am lucky enough to find a few hours alone in the garden. I can't bear to wear gloves and feel cut off from all that goodness.

My students like to comment on my gloveless state as it is in contradiction to the safety lessons we teach them. 

I was working with a group of inmates in October, replanting some divisions of blue fescue we had made. Mr. C (who's name I am not allowed to use here) often preferred to work alone with me. He was a giant of a man with a gentle heart. Mr. C had never worked in a garden before, nor had he been particularly enthusiastic about manual labour at all, and was clad head to toe in all the protective equipment he could possibly wear. "Miss B" he asked "why aren't you wearing gloves? And I told him all the reasons I mentioned above. He knelt down beside me and sat in silence for a few minutes. Then he took off his gloves and slowly began digging in the garden with his hands, preparing a planting hole for the fescue. I watched his face change and lighten from initial fear to something resembling bliss. "That's nice" he said. His smile said it all. He made his connection. 

After that day, Mr. C  opened up and became more active in our project. He began talking about favourite plants and plans for his own garden and is thinking about staring his own lawn maintenance company. He found hope in the soil and a glimpse of a future that could contain all things good. 

Weird Weather Woes

Happy ferns and hostas in my shade garden,
Spring 2011
My thoughts are very much on the weather this morning - an occupational hazard I suppose. The weather here is just not what it ought to be, nor has it been for a very long time. We live in the country about 20 minutes northwest of Kingston, Ontario ...12 minutes if you drive like the locals.

I should proclaim that I am a self-confessed Weather Network addict, an addiction that has driven me to complete and utter distraction the past seven months. The gardening season started off with a bang here last Spring. Copious amounts of rain fell and my gardens flourished...the shade garden looked stunningly jurassic with luscious ferns and huge hosta leaves. I was a happy, happy girl...

Then someone turned off the tap.

I should explain for a moment that I garden on just under an acre of property that sits on top of fractured limestone. I have little native soil to speak of. My gardens consist of raised beds with the abundant limestone repurposed as retaining walls. Truckloads of soil have been brought in over the last five years.  It is not ideal, I know...the limestone  substrate acts like a giant sponge and watering is a constant challenge.

It was a cruel, cruel thing that my plants responded so vigorously to the spring rains, then had to endure drought like conditions for three months. I know many of you had to deal with rain and flooding all summer. But it did not rain here. In fact, it would rain 10 minutes to the east, north, west and south of us...but not here. 

Along with our fantastically feisty neighbour Natasha, my husband and I would sit staring at great, dark storm clouds as they rolled in, rush to make sure our rain barrels were hooked up, grab a glass of wine and sit and pray. And pray. And pray.

The good folks at Weather Network said there was 100% chance of rain. 15-20 mm. 5- 10 mm. 40 mm.

We performed our little rain ritual all summer and yet the rain never fell. By late August we were a frenzied group feeling battered by heat and steeped in disappointment. I had a water truck come to fill my rain barrels.

The fall has given us some respite, but early into winter and we have had little snow. With this post I am sending a wish out into the universe for huge amounts of precipitation...our local trees desperately need it, as do our farmers. I will gladly take any snow you may wish to send my way!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The Early Years

 The lime kilns, Stonewall, Manitoba 

1974: It must be late June, the prairie sky is inky dark, huge and splattered with stars. The warm summer breeze is doing very little to keep the mosquitoes at bay. I remember the sense of nervous anticipation as my sister and I followed our Grandma B out into that dark night, tiptoeing through her garden, creeping across the back field, brushing past the wild saskatoon bushes...then across the street and into the old limestone quarry that lie on the other side.

I was the keeper of the flashlight, my younger sister held a plastic pail clasped firmly in her four year old hands. Our grandmother was a fearless albeit graceful leader with a shovel in one hand and a scarf wrapped tightly around her curls.  Just inside the quarry was a bit of scrub brush and the object of our illicit late night expedition...a solitary lady's slipper, growing defiantly amongst the rubble. The lime kilns loomed in the distance. They were not pleased.

The love of a plant may know no bounds and can compel the gardener to do all sorts of crazy things like dragging innocent granddaughters into the night to steal the provincial flower. But that is the sort of passion that my grandmother and mother had for gardening. I was unaware at the time, but their shared passion quietly crept its way into my subconscious where it lay in waiting for two decades until I was ready.

That is where my garden story begins...