Colourful and natural planters for the holidays

Christmas is coming and so is our opportunity to do something festive and special.  A tree, yes, but also a planter outdoors that allows us to be as flamboyant or as natural as we like.

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The folks at Mill Street Florist in Manotick always mix the unexpected: in this outdoor display, cut red roses are paired with winterberry (Ilex verticillata) to produce an undeniable punch of red.  Of course, red roses will not survive sub-zero temperatures for long, so this combination is best for indoors, perhaps a cool vestibule, or outdoors during mild weather.

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My planter a few years ago was simple: imported cedar from British Columbia (much softer and greener than ours here), snipped wild rosehips and large pinecones.  Simple but effective, at least before it was covered with snow!

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A small yet jewel-like basket from Mill Street Florist.  Bark, cones, grapevine and greens combine with colourful berries, a rich rose and demure, artificial apples.

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Simple, natural displays can be all you need or want.

Consider that if you want red, winterberry and rosehips are entirely different in their effect…

While winterberry (left) is bold and lush and can be seen from a distance, rosehips (right) are much smaller and present a looser, more natural and spare effect.

Whatever you do, keep scale in mind.  A small arrangement is best reserved for the mantle or table-scape, while a large (weatherproof) urn works best next to your entry.

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Stuff, stuff, stuff; think about texture, movement and colour; and ensure it has impact.

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You don’t need to spend a lot of money.

Search the woods for different conifers and snip branches selectively.

Use dried flowers like hydrangea and seedheads like those from sumac and wildflowers.

And don’t forget to add height with dogwood, curly willow, birch branches or whatever you fancy.

Make something special and enjoy your creation through the holidays and beyond.

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Stick with me…

….and I promise to write on this blog more often!

Today’s gardening column in the Ottawa Citizen was my last.  That is because they have parted ways with their freelance writers – that’s right, as I understand, all of them.

Thank you so much for following me through my columns talking about gardens, plants, our struggles and triumphs.  It was a privilege writing for Ottawa’s paper for so many years.

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But, you’ll still find me here and hopefully in some other select gardening publications as well.

Stay tuned….

 

Perfection in a pocket

Earlier this summer I had the pleasure of visiting Kristin Kendall’s garden in an old central neighbourhood of our city.  Tucked next to the Rideau River, and surrounded by other charming homes of similar vintage, the Kendall home is full of character and style.  And so is the garden.

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Barely large enough to swing a cat, the natural paving stone patio nonetheless is furnished with a small teak table and two wicker viewing chairs.  The secateurs and trowel on the table are not props; Kristin and her husband Bill (my old high school teacher no less!) are active workers in this jewel of a garden and keenly choreograph the plants and keep them happy and healthy.  There is not a weed to be seen!

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Of course, there is no swinging of cats here.  Sorry, didn’t mean to offend.

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The colours in this half and half sunny/shady garden are hot and luminous.  The brights include Ligularia dentata ‘Desdemona’, as well as a scarlet coleus, a lupin, Japanese blood grass, a dark border sedum and monarda in the rear.  A weeping hemlock on the right, Virginia creeper on the fence and a Serbian spruce on the left all provide a green backdrop for this brilliant canvas.

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A stone water bowl with rhythmic striations provides a feature in the garden as well as a drink for wildlife.  These grooves are mimicked by the shadows of the iris growing alongside.

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Kristin would have me tell you that the garden is impeccable at this moment because it is post-tour.  But I’m not so sure — I think the stylish gardener and homeowner is detail oriented every day.

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On this day the hyssop was absolutely covered in buzzing bees; a sound that complemented that of the gently bubbling fountain…

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The weeping larch cascades to the ground alongside the giant boulder, bubbling constantly.  Everything is compact in this garden, but every inch has been thoughtfully filled.

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Non-living details in this garden are chosen with style and taste.  Kendall’s brother is the owner of Balleycanoe & Co., a business that sells 19th century architectural salvage pieces in Mallorytown.

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This garden is truly a labour of love and the owners appreciate what they have helped to create.  You may even find one of them sitting, every once in a while, appreciating the view…

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I went for a walk….

So I went for a walk this afternoon.

Just like I went for a walk yesterday afternoon, and the afternoon before that.

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Rushing first, rushing, rushing, rushing….becoming breathless because in truth, I haven’t walked like this for at least two years.

I know why I’m walking.  I know it.  I’m looking.  I know this feeling.  I remember it.

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I’m looking for her.  But I know I won’t find her.

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But I hear rustlings.  I hear peeping in the thickets.  I hear the swishing of the leaves.  Or could it be her?…….

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I haven’t been on this path for a long time, not since Skye’s elderly back and balance and strength would no longer allow it.

I haven’t been on it since I lost my first heart-dog, Riley.

Our visits had been clipped short.  I would drive to our spot, the same spot we had driven to for the last 14 years, take out the ramp, open the hatch, help her up on her feet with her harness and slowly guide her down.  She would wobble but right herself, walk to the same familiar entrance to the woods, sniff, pee and then return back to the car.

It was enough.  She could do no more.

I remember coming to the same spot with Riley, 14 years before.  She would not get out of the car.  She was not even able to do that.

Today, things have changed.

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This is our woods.  But the memory has changed.  It has been invaded.  Defiled.  You can’t stop me.  I’m walking here.  I have always walked here.  Sometimes with another dog friend.  But always here.

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Through here was our spot.  The opening to the water.  The giant old willow that bowed down toward it.  The same trunk that both Riley and I walked along, tip-toeing, balancing.  When I started to come with Skye, it finally crashed down. And further along….

We would watch the river together.

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…and then pause, discuss our plans before hopping the stream and walking under the railroad bridge.

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But today, it is hushed.

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I have to turn around and go another way.  To where we used to play in the river.

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….where the chunk of concrete was exposed in the early spring and Skye would search for sunken treasure, it is now submerged by late summer rains…

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I turn away from the river and walk along the shaded paths, now grown over and unfamiliar…and I brush the trees and towering undergrowth away from my face…and feel the tears.

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But wait…Do you see?  Does the grass look like fur to you too?

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I have walked these paths.  I will walk these paths again.  But today, this path is lonely and dark.

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But my memories are not.

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It will take time.

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Today, I went for a walk…

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Colourful planters, a new friend and her puppy

The other week I had the pleasure of meeting a fellow plant and beauty lover, Leslie Fulton.  Turns out a comment of hers on a local plant nursery Facebook page struck me and I commented back, asking if she’d talk privately to me.

You see, I was co-writing a feature on deck/balcony/patio gardens and she had said hers was not only big but attractive to bees and butterflies.  How could I not be curious and want to know more….

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Wowsa!

Her second floor deck is off her study and bedroom and is big enough for 42 pots and two comfy chairs and a fat ottoman.  Oh, and did I mention the puppy?

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Sam the puppy is named after Samuel Pepys (pronounced somewhat tragically, “PEEPS” — and yes, the man who wrote the famous 17th century diary), who is the object of much of Leslie’s writing affection (along with his wife, Elizabeth) — did I mention Leslie is a freelance writer, after a career as a journalist?  This young pup is a source of much amusement and her constant, somewhat apprehensive questioning, “Sam?  Where are you?”, so while we were enjoying the flowers and the view, he was creating photo ops.

Leslie lives in this heritage brick house in Ottawa with her husband and starts working (should I even say “work”?) on the porch planters early in May.  Forty two pots, an ode to the answer to the meaning of life in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, cannot be planted in one day by any sane person.  Some plants are brought out from their winter homes in south-facing windows (aka her son’s second floor bedroom), and others are purchased at local nurseries, garden centres and wherever else she can score a gem or a deal.

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She doesn’t just choose annuals (like variegated nasturtium, osteospermum, dusty miller, lobelia, etc.), but also jumps in with two feet potting up wisteria, lavender and catmint.  She’ll pop these into her own garden when the season is done.

The heavy pots are being transitioned to lighter ones, easier to move in and out without the help of the men in her life.  The smaller cobalt blue ceramic and some terracotta ones were showing age and a certain amount of distinction so I asked, “are these antiques or at least vintage?”

The answer was sheepish.  “No, they are HomeSense specials…,” she said with a smile.  “They’ve just suffered from frost damage and neglect!”

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Certain plants have meaningful associations for Leslie: the portulaca, her brother’s favourite; lantana, her dad’s; and the whole process of planting and creating beauty, her mother’s skill, who showed off her green thumb every day at their half acre Kingston property while Leslie was a kid.

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The tree in the corner planter is a volunteer, that is, a seedling that Leslie allowed to grow and thrive — it appeared to me to be some type of willow, and it looked perfect holding that space next to the post-flowering yellow Baptisia to it’s left and beefy coleus near its feet.

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It’s not only colour but edibles as well: basil, thyme, parsley, tomato, pepper and an orange tree are given pride of place among annuals you might find in a cottage potagerie — that is, marigolds, cosmos and zinnia.

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….and then the stunners with no flowers but plenty of colour echoes: two varieties of coleus, a striped canna lily (possibly ‘Cleopatra’), ‘Baby Tears’ stonecrop, hens and chicks (Sempervivum) and paddle plant (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora).

Despite these succulents, most of Leslie’s planters require considerable amounts of water, hence her Lee Valley irrigation system.  Piping spans the perimeter of the deck, with individual (or more, should need be) watering spigots plunged into the soil of each pot.  The whole system is attached to a hose which runs from the ground up the side of the house to the corner of the deck, and is on an electronic timer.  In June, plants received two minutes of watering twice daily, but should they need it, Leslie can re-program the system easily.

But mostly, this deck is a peaceful retreat from the workday.  Not simply for Leslie and her husband, but also for Sam, who works very hard at being a puppy.

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Gardens change…

Life changes.  Gardens change.

Some of this is planned, orchestrated, made better.  Other times changes are borne out of circumstance that don’t necessarily fit into your idea of aesthetics.

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Some time ago we placed mattresses on our living room floor so that our beloved Skye-dog would not be alone at night.  You see, she can no longer negotiate our stairs and we didn’t want her to be relegated to the downstairs without us.  So we all sleep in the living room together.  She will be 14 this month and is a 5+ year lymphoma survivor.

For some, this would be anathema.  For us, it is togetherness and there is a certain simplicity to it.

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The living room is one thing.  The garden is another.

As anyone with an aging dog knows, we must tweak how we live to accommodate them.  This may mean mobility aids, raised dishes, night lights, shortened walks, regular vet visits, ramps and modified outings.

Our backyard was never doggie friendly.  Years ago, when our beloved best friend was Riley, one day she exited the kitchen door to the backyard and leaped off the porch stairs — much like she had all her life — but this time to touch down in agony on the ground.  Her anterior cruciate ligament was ruptured and she would need surgery to repair it.  In Skye’s case, she could no longer negotiate the steep stairs and a solution for nightly potty breaks had to be figured out.

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That’s when my wonderful friend Jo Hodgson stepped in last fall and built in one day our doggie ramp…which was a god-send to us throughout the winter of 2015-16 — a winter that was not supposed to be seen by Skye-dog at all…

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But the garden!  The garden!

It is a work in progress.  And always will be … as circumstances change.

What is a garden worth?  Does it exist without love?  Without associations?

This garden will forever reflect this relationship.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

There is life after retail

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