Category Archives: food for thought

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.


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.


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.


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…


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.


Goldenrod shouldn’t be roasted and eaten with Thanksgiving dinner

Poor parsnip.  All it wants to do is be eaten.  And it should be!  It is loaded with nutrients, vitamins and cancer-fighting anti-oxidants….but its toxic sap just keeps grabbing all the headlines.


But wait a minute?  What’s this?  The only other yellow plant more maligned than wild parsnip is the ubiquitous goldenrod, Solidago canadensis.  Believed to be the wild botanical culprit that causes our autumn sniffles and itchy eyes — but isn’t! that credit goes to ragweed — goldenrod is actually cultivated in Europe as an ornamental and used in decorative plantings alongside ornamentals (like grasses, sedum, Joe Pye weed as well as rudbeckias, asters and echinacea.)


Best to know the difference between the two — wild parsnip, as well as its relatives giant hogweed (uber toxic sap), dill, coriander, carrot, parsley, Queen Anne’s lace, and others — are members of the Apiaceae (formerly Umbelliferae) family.  They share the same flower-structure, which appears as a flat-topped umbel:


So be aware, but don’t be fearful.

After all, parsnips are yummy with your Thanksgiving dinner!  Goldenrod, not so much.

Earth Day 2014 and a challenge….

In honour of Earth Day, especially when this day in 2014 is grey and wet and there is little colour yet to be seen, I give you hope but I also give you a challenge….


How are you celebrating?  Have you gone searching for the earliest spring blooming perennials in your garden?


Did you skip your clean-up last fall and are you having now to unearth blooms from under a blanket of wet leaves?


Are you seeing these beauties in other peoples’ gardens?  Are you now making plans for this autumn, searching for Chionodoxa, primrose and other jewels to enjoy in your own space next spring?


This spring, I challenge you to not simply look down and appreciate the plants.  I challenge you to take a garbage bag with you on your next walk and pick up plastic, pop cans, other peoples’ trash — there is nothing that makes a landscape more unhappy and feel more unloved.   And if this blight is on your regular commute, you see it everyday and it chisels away part of your soul and your feelings of hope for the future.   Make the world, your small piece of the world, a place that can bring joy instead of discouragement.  Honour a small part of your world and clean it up.  Do it in honour of Earth Day…

But do more than this:  tell me about it!  Take “before” and “after” photos and I’ll post them — and give you kudos for a job well done.


Random thoughts: a wretched winter, ‘holiday’ and faith



It is crazy sometimes how there is so much beauty in such menace.


The papery sheaths of dog-strangling vine seedpods and their delicate twisting stems strike such a beautiful silhouette against the snow.

But, honestly, it is not even mid-January and the crusty, icy and treacherous trails that Skye and I walk are not fit for human or beast.


A youthful dog might prance and pounce through this awful mess of a winter, but it is slow going if you’re 11 1/2.  And a dog, that is.


It is now well past Twelfth Night and we are finally taking down the Christmas tree.  It is funny how Christmas is now a ‘dirty’ word.  When I was in retail, there was little mention of it, only the ‘holidays’.  I remember as a young girl, being sent on my way after a night of baby-sitting at a neighbour’s house.  I said politely upon leaving, “Merry Christmas”, only to hear in reply that they didn’t celebrate Christmas.   Didn’t celebrate Christmas?  How can that be?  Didn’t everyone celebrate Christmas?


Apparently not if you’re a devout Jew is what I learnt.  And I also learnt much later, as I was a well-insulated WASP child, that Christianity and Judaism aren’t the only faiths.

Out recently with an old (Jewish) friend I said, ‘Really, what makes us so different in terms of faith?’ — that is, if I were a true Christian.  She replied with a laugh, ‘Jesus’.

I have always been curious about my inherited, if not embraced, faith in a historical sense, as well as the figures that take centre stage in it.  In my case, Jesus, his followers as well as those who are said to have written the New Testament.   Did they really exist as we think they did?  How true are the ‘Jesus stories’?  What is symbol and what is historical truth?

It is interesting to me how history has unfolded largely within the rigid structure of religion — with the skills needed for learning and self-awareness not shared beyond the monastery wall.   I thought of that when we visited several plantations on our trip through the southern states two years ago.  The haves and the have-nots.

Georgia 3 030


The Christmas season is upon us and I have noticed that everyone is distracted.  People seem to be driving around town wrapped in a fog of multi-tasking, walking in and out of stores with a grim determination rather than a smile.

Excuse me while I slow down the pace a little bit.


It is such a beautiful time of year, especially with this layer of healing snow.  As gardeners, it allows us the opportunity to rest and reflect.


 If you can, take a moment to think about your year.  What were the highlights?  Here are some of mine…


First, and perhaps most importantly for me, celebrating another year with my beloved Skye-dog.  As many of you know, she was diagnosed with lymphoma when she was 8 1/2 years old back in February 2011.  After undergoing six months of chemotherapy and complementary holistic care, the first with Dr. Bravo and her team at Alta Vista Animal Hospital and the second with Dr. Eddie Beltran at Blair Animal Hospital, Skye-dog remains healthy and in remission.  We are very grateful and hope that she stays with us for another lifetime.  Surely not too much to ask.


My trip to Francis Cabot’s garden known as Les Quatres Vents with my friend Patti was a bit of a marathon, in a good way.  A long drive and much anticipation ended in several hours of horticultural wonder, not to mention post-viewing garden analysis.




Les Quatres Vents 078

If that wasn’t enough of a feast for the eyes, I saw the spectacular glass creations of Dale Chihuly at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which were just so alive and organic.




My year was also filled with smaller, but no less meaningful moments…














Slow down, take a breath.  What have your moments been?

Random (somewhat maudlin) November thoughts

The temperature and light is shifting.  Strange winds blow and the grass starts to form weird wavy patterns as it begins to recline after a long summer.


Animals slow down and think about finding a place to call home before the snow arrives.



Our walks are faster and colder.  I’m often forgetting to wear anything on my hands but I have placed a wool blanket on the back seat of the car so Skye will not be chilled.


We are stockpiling coffee logs for the fireplace.  Real wood snaps and crackles, making Skye run and hide.


Gardens are being cut down, tidied up and let sleep for the winter.  Colds and sore throats are beginning to impact our state of mind.


Melancholy is beginning to set in.


Short days, cold nights.  Bundle up.  I’ll put on my happy hat next time ;c)

Autumn: Day 1

Today was the first full day of autumn.


It was crisp and the clouds came and went.  Sometimes they threatened rain (and delivered) and other times not.


Skye-dog led the way.


There are surprises in the fields.  Sometimes they were placed there to attract bluebirds:


And sometimes they appear if you look down amongst the brush…



The afternoon sun looks warm, but its reflection on the river is only an illusion of heat at this time of year.


The sumac is showing its full colour now — isn’t it early?


Another few moments and this day of change shifts suddenly.


Soon we’ll be huddled inside in front of the fire…