Monday, January 28, 2008

Impatient for Spring

Spring is in the air. Okay...not really. Not even close. But I've had just about enough of this grey Canadian winter. I'm tired of being cold, having wet feet and chapped lips. I'm tired of waking up in the dark and leaving work in the dark. And I'm tired of being cooped up inside staring out at the garden longingly all the while telling myself that "it won't be long now." No, it just won't do. So helping spring to hurry up is in order. Mission number one: out with the winter decorations. This display of twigs and berries has graced the hallway for more than two months now. While I loved it when I first put it together, its time is up. The branches have been bundled and tucked away in the basement until next year.

Mission number two: replace winter twig display with something that says spring. Well nothing says spring like forsythia. So when I saw bunches of branches up for grabs at the local flower shop as I trudged home in the dark tonight, I decided I must have them. And here they are. The house feels better already. And the timing couldn't be better. February, one of the bleakest months of all, lies straight ahead. The promise of March could easily be wiped out by a single blizzard. Only a fool would dismiss the possibility of snow in April. Still there is something in the air. The energies are shifting. Momentum is building. Soon it will be spring.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tree Bench By the River's Bend

A winter walk in the woods gives me a quantum of solace. Okay, that opening sentence is one bit of stinky prose. But don't blame me. It was announced this week that "Quantum of Solace" is the title for the new James Bond film. It triggered a huge backlash online among Bond fans. Ever since, my husband and I have been trying to outdo each other by using the phrase as often as we can. So when a walk in the woods produced these two peaceful images, I saw an opportunity I couldn't pass up.

There is a quantum of solace to be found in the silence of the woods by the bend of the frozen river. The phrase actually works quite well in a nature and gardening context. But it's not exactly what comes to mind when one thinks of Bond...James Bond. Perhaps the producers will rethink the title. Stinky name or not, I'm looking forward to the new film. If it's anywhere nearly as good as "Casino Royale" with Daniel Craig I will forgive it its title. If the film itself stinks, I'm sure I will find a quantum of solace in knowing that my garden awaits me as soon as the closing credits roll.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Best of 2007: OPG

What's OPG you ask? Other People's Gardens. Puttering around the plots of friends and neighbours presents a great opportunity to do some comparison shopping so to speak. The first nod goes out to my mother whose garden success is simply maddening to me. She seems to exert no effort at all and yet her flower yields are simply astounding. Take, for example, her stunningly delightful poppy patch with hostas. The hostas were inherited and thrive with little or no attention. As for the poppies, my mother literally sprinkles some seed and sees what pops us.

All sorts of things pop up. I'm not sure what these pink flowers are and neither is my mother. And she doesn't care. She's just pleased that they are blooming.

Here's a sample discussion as we walk around her yard.

Mom: Come see this.

Me: Oh. Wow. That is gorgeous.

Mom: Do you know what it is?

Me: No, I'll try to find out.

Mom: See this one?

Me: I have to have that.

Mom: Do you know what it is?

My mom is a serial seed plucker. She sees pods in the neighbourhood, carefully plucks a few, promptly forgets what they are, and then lets them fall where they may. She also puts cuttings of anything she gets her hands on into the ground. Hence the constant guessing games. Unorthodox...perhaps. Undisciplined...definitely. Succesful...always. Can't say it runs in the family.

I love when I can enjoy flowers I love in other people's gardens. Take this poppy for instance, growing at my in-law's country property. That wild and crazy orange would not be a good colour fit for my garden. On top of that, I simply don't have the space to grow this giant variety. But I can drool over these blooms during weekend visits.

Maybe I should make room for some orange and yellow flowers. These mystery plants stop me dead in my tracks at the height of their bloom period. They cover the length of the yard at the local high school and I look forward to them every year. The flowers create a very natural scene on a city block that showcases urban high-school architecture circa the 1970s. Last year I noticed one of the school caretakers deadheading the blooms on more than one occassion. What a massive job. If I see him again this year, I will have to complement him. I have no doubt the beauty of the school garden is in large part due to his efforts.

Ever see a plant and say "One day I'm gonna get me one of those." For me, that plant is wisteria. Until I get my own, I'll have to be satisfied once again to visit the in-laws and sit under their wisteria-covered pergola overlooking acres of forest. I'll take in the scent, kick back with a lemonade, feel the warm breeze on my face. Thank goodness for other people's gardens.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Best of 2007: Veronica

If it's spikey and purple, there's room for it in my garden. But of all the spikey, purple things growing in my little plot, the lovely Veronica stands out among the rest. Sturdy, resilient, long-blooming and re-blooming. What more could a gardener ask for? More space to plant a few more Veronicas of course. Of the hundreds of images snapped during the 2007 garden season, this is just about my favourite. It has a dreamy quality about it, evoking a hazy summer's eve. This image was the perfect pick-me up after a work-day spent in wet socks because I got caught in a winter storm while wearing old, leaky boots. How many days 'til spring?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Best of 2007: Chives

When I decided nine years ago that I wanted flowers instead of a strip of lawn in the backyard, I was woefully unprepared and terribly uninformed about starting a garden. I tore up the turf to reveal something that resembled soil and started sticking plants into the ground. No soil amendments, no fertilizer, no compost, no nothing. As the years passed I realized my garden plot was little more than a dumping ground for someone's old renovation project. Nine years after the first shovel went into the ground, I still occasionally pull out a partial brick or slab of concrete. Needless to say, this sad state of affairs led to many failures in the garden. The chives are not among those failures. In fact, they are one of the resounding success stories of my garden.

The small pot of chives I stuck into the then-hostile environment of my garden plot not only survived but thrived. Every year, there were more and more chives. Now they are massed in large bunches at the garden's edge and form part of the garden's border. Chives are early bloomers and once they fade I cut them to the ground. How do they respond to this apparent cruelty? They send up new blades and offer a second, although somewhat more restrained, bloom period.

I appreciate chives even more since my daughter came along. She is a very picky eater. White toast with a little melted butter is about as much flavour as she can stand. Almost everything else is usually deemed too "spicy." But for some reason, she loves chives. She'll stroll out to the garden, pluck a blade and chow down. In a world where some kids think that food comes from grocery stores, I'm glad my four-year-old has learned a very simple lesson about where it really comes from.

Chives were an early favorite in my garden experience. They'll always have a prominent place.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Best of 2007: Trillium

Kate dropped by the other day to see how the January thaw was going. Well it has come to an abrupt and brutal end. The temperature bottomed out at -13 degrees celsius today. The windchill made it feel like -25. I can't believe that just a few days ago I told Soilman that a Canadian winter wasn't much of a winter these days. Talk about a reality check. And this isn't even really the dead of winter is it? February is still to come. This sad, faded little poinsetta sums up the mood. Uggh.

But gardeners aren't the type to give in to despair. A little inspiration is in order. So over the next few days, I'll be looking at some of 2007's greatest hits.

The white trillium in the provincial flower of Ontario. As an urban dweller my exposure to this forest dweller was largely limited to images on flags and coats of arms and such. One year my mother planted one in her garden. The single white flower has been appearing year after year ever since. It never changes. It never multiplies. I was decidedly unimpressed. But my opinion changed in an instant when I saw this. A field of trillium as far as the eye could see at my inlaws' place near Flamborough, Ontario (click on the image for a closer look). Quite simply magical. Now I cheer on that lonely single specimen in my mother's garden. Naturalize, naturalize, naturalize. If I dream it, it will grow.

Monday, January 7, 2008

January "Thawts"

When the temperature hits 13 degrees celcius (55 degrees fahrenheit) in January, one's thoughts tend to drift to spring. This expanse of sky was snapped on a frigidly cold December day. But that beautiful blue is neverthless a reminder of the milder, kinder weather to come. I'm convinced the annual January thaw is nature's way of telling us northern gardeners to hang in there just a little longer. And a big part of hanging in there is planning ahead.

I have two main gardening goals for this year. First, I am determined to get rid of the pathway running the length of the yard. All that interlocking brick is eating up valuable garden space! Purely selfish I know but I'll justify it by telling myself that greening even the narrowest patch of concrete or pavement will make the world a better place. So there. This photo of the path doesn't really reveal the fatal flaw in its design. A frame of wooden beams holds the interlocking bricks in place. But the beams are not level with either the brick or the lawn. This creates a virtual obstacle course: garden visitors are always stepping down onto the lawn, up onto the path and always over the wooden frame. Enough already!

A barrier free yard is the dream. The interlocking brick should be easy enough to remove. Most of the bricks are quite loose as it is (that's another charming feature of the path: one bad step and say hello to a twisted ankle.) What's underneath is of more concern: an old, poured concrete path. I've peeled back a few bricks here and there to inspect the concrete and it looks solid. A pick-axe might be in order. Or perhaps some professional help. I'll wait until spring to decide how ambitious I'm feeling.

Garden goal number two involves transforming a rarely used parking spot into a raised bed vegetable garden. I have dabbled in vegetables in the past. Last summer proved quite successful with a big crop of beefsteak and cherry tomatoes. Harvesting the crop made me think back to the first (and last) time I planted potatoes. It really was quite the remarkable experience to turn the dirt, find the potatoes, wash and boil or bake them and then sit down to some home-grown cooking. I've been dreaming about potatoes for weeks.

There's lots of room on this weedy, gravelly patch of an eyesore. I imagine it with three narrow beds running north-to-south and overflowing with potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, squash, onions (lots of onions), and maybe even a melon or two. Once again, depending on how ambitious I'm feeling, I might even dare to try some peppers.

The temperature is expected to soar once again tomorrow. I'd tell myself to keep my ambitions in check but that would take all the fun out of the January thaw.