The story of Prince Aidan and his 8th birthday

Once upon a time there was a little prince named Aidan.

Prince Aidan lived in a land far away where the only flowers that grew were dandelions.   Dandelions were named from the French term, ‘dent-de-lion’ meaning “lion’s tooth”.   Aidan left the castle one morning and came across a clutch of dandelions in a field.  Taking the name of these flowers literally, he brandished his sword and said, “Halt dandelion!  I am Prince Aidan and I will protect my kingdom from lions teeth!”

The dandelion replied, “We are not lions teeth!  We are just called ‘lion’s tooth’ because our yellow flowers have petals that resemble lion’s teeth!  You don’t need to be afraid of us – we are harmless!”

“Oh,” said Prince Aidan.  “I didn’t realize that you weren’t dangerous.  I am glad that you won’t be eating the people in my kingdom with your big lion teeth.  I will let you go.”

“Thank you,” said the dandelions.  “We are grateful that you don’t slice us up into smithereens.”

So then Prince Aidan kept walking through the woods and suddenly found a dragon hiding in the shrubbery.

“Who are you scary dragon and why are you here, hiding in the shrubbery?” asked Prince Aidan.

“Please don’t hurt me Prince Aidan! I am not a scary dragon.  I am a friendly dragon and I have been sent here to wish you a Happy Birthday!”

“It is said that on a Prince’s 8th birthday, a friendly dragon has to appear over the internet to wish that Prince a happy birthday.  That is why I am here.”


Skye-dog is 10!

How do you say Happy Birthday to a 10 year old border collie, especially if she has had a very, very tough year?

Why, with a DQ cone of course!

“Is that really for me?”

“Must. Eat. Quickly. Before. It. Goes. Away.”

“Am. In. Heaven.”

“Can’t. Stop. Must. Eat. Container. Too.”

Happy Birthday Skye-dog!  And many more…

Emma Dibben: illustrator and allotment gardener extraordinaire!

These luscious figs, just enticingly juicy enough to make your mouth water and purple enough to evoke jewel-like baubles, are the work of English artist Emma Dibben.

If these images look at all familiar to you (like these delightful French Breakfast radishes), it might be that you’ve been lucky enough to acquire a re-usable Waitrose shopping bag.

Emma graduated from Falmouth College of Arts  with a degree in illustration in 2004 and makes her home in Bristol.  Today she has an impressive list of clients besides the mythic Waitrose …

… so you may have also seen her work in issues of House & Garden magazine, BBC Gardens Illustrated, Conde Nast Traveller, The English Garden and other print media.


But fans of her work can also buy her originals or signed prints either from her own website or from the Bristol Contemporary Art website here.

Emma has an allotment garden which she has blogged about since 2010 and this is where she gets much of her visual inspiration.

I find the best illustration is done by those who have seen, felt and tasted their subject.

Emma clearly has a green thumb and exercises it regularly on this plot of verdant earth.


Sometimes with company…

Winter on the allotment

She is a committed allotment-er and grows not simply veggies in the ground, but fruits and berries from trees and vines.  I think her allotment is not simply abundant but also beautiful.

Even in the winter -


Her artistry both on paper and in the garden has truly given me renewed inspiration for my own plot which, by the way, just experienced tomato devastation.  So at my virgin allotment in the ‘colonies’ -

- with tomatoes that I had grown from seed and planted thus-ly:

They now look like this one:

I have been told by Mary, a veteran allotment-er, that the culprits are field mice (our guesses had been giant cutworms, voracious earwigs, rabbits, groundhogs, etc…).  Well, live and let live I say so immediately went out to the Lansdowne Market the following day and purchased four new tomato plants: 2 Brandywine and 2 I can’t remember (another heirloom variety).

As you may remember from last year, I had high hopes for this allotment and my hopes have not been dashed.  This season we have grown and already harvested different varieties of greens as well as some Rainbow chard.

Here is Monet’s Garden mesclun from Renee’s Seeds.

In the last couple of weeks the plants have grown exponentially!  I have also snagged some blackberry, raspberry and haskap plants from certain death on a rack in a Loblaws garden centre as well as several shrubs that I received to trial as a result of my membership in the Garden Writers Association.  Lucky me!  So, although my allotment is several minutes from home and completely at the mercy of mice and men, I am hopeful that it can begin to flourish as a place of ornamental experimentation and tasty produce.  I may even buy some fruit trees!

I’ll be back again with more photos.  In the meantime, I will dream of Emma’s beautiful plot and devise ways to make mine half as lovely.

This treasure does not last long enough…

* Swoon *

Meet Paeonia ‘Garden Treasure’ with its companion, Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s mantle).  This peony is an ‘Itoh’ variety, also called ‘intersectional’, meaning it is a cross between a herbaceous peony and a Japanese tree peony.  It is also a American Peony Society Gold Medal Winner.

I purchased this peony from La Pivoinerie d’Aoust about three years ago and it cost me ….. shhhh…. $150.0o!  If you’d like to order from this company, you’ll have to wait until the fall of 2013 when they will have a new catalogue and will resume shipping.

In the meantime, you’ll have to see if Suzanne Patry can get one for you at her nursery, Whitehouse Perennials.  If no, then there is no shortage of other glorious peonies to choose from!

Old-fashioned Christmas

Our family has decided again this year to abstain from gift giving and just concentrate on being together.  My two sisters will visit from Toronto, one of them complete with partner and kidlets, and it will be nice to see them although I know our time will be short.  The only exception will be gifts for the kids, who are always fun to shop for but funner still to see them open their presents and enjoy the food, laughter and festivities.

Just the thought of not having to brave the malls, big box stores or busy main roads has me feeling a bit more relaxed.   That being said, the shops I’ll visit will all be local, within walking distance so it will be a civilized endeavour!   This is my neighbourhood.

Although I’m not old enough to remember these old cars, this corner of Bank Street and Second Avenue was three blocks from where I grew up and the corner store was a groceteria owned by the Badali Brothers which I remember clearly from my youth.  For more information on the history of the Glebe, John Leaning has written the definitive record; read it here.

This nostalgia for times gone by had me finding a program called Victorian Farm Christmas on TV Ontario the other day.  This is a very well done series that follows three British historians as they take on specific working class roles on an English country estate that time has forgotten (Acton Scott Estate).  The series follows them through a Victorian rural farming year and ends with them enjoying a Christmas feast at the grand home of their boss, the landowner Mr. Acton Scott.

The Victorian Farm series was produced by Lion Television and saw a team of three historians, Alex Langlands, Peter Ginn and Ruth Goodman,  recreate rural life as it might have been in 1885.  The  series was filmed through four seasons in 2007 and 2008 and first broadcast early the following year accompanied by a best selling book. With viewing figures of more than six million  for each episode, the first series of Victorian Farm proved enormously popular. 

To build on this success, BBC2 commissioned a three part series, Victorian Christmas, first on air in December 2009.  This involved Ruth, Alex and Peter returning to the estate during 2009 to tackle an array of new farming tasks and discover how the Victorians created the celebration of Christmas as we know it today.  

You can watch several episodes of Victoria Farm Christmas on the TVO website here or watch the TV Ontario schedule for a re-run of this beautifully produced series (it originally aired December 11th).

That face!

This is a little thing that was rescued by the amazing people with Isla Animals on Isla Mujeres, Mexico. 

How can you resist that face? 

I’ve written about her organization before but if you love dogs, it is certainly a cause worth your generous donation. 

Garden tour extraordinaire: Part II

We said goodbye to the centre of Pakenham, where the gardens were charming with old homes to match, and made our way south.  After a stretch of highway, we took a turn onto a road that began to narrow and crossed our fingers as we passed farmers’ fields and country vistas that another car wouldn’t come barrelling in our direction.  When we arrived at the farmstead of Fern and Peter Martin, we realized the exiting and entering of garden tourists was being carefully orchestrated by volunteers on walkie talkies:  they had thought of everything!

Despite our heart-stopping crossing over an old wooden railway bridge as we approached the farmhouse, our visit was like a taste of country living.  Open views, a large porch with comfortable chairs for lounging, numerous barns and outbuildings with exuberant plantings and generous, well organized vegetable and herb gardens.

I immediately noticed the scale and work that this property demanded, but also the love and care that was given it.  Notice the well-sheared cedar entrance hedge that welcomes the visitor into the garden next to the house.

The gardener here pays attention to the little things as well as the ‘big picture’.  These lovely spires of soft yellow flowers with pink centres are possibly the perennial  Verbascum chaixii ‘Gainsborough’, a smaller, ornamental hybridized variety of the common mullein.

The large vegetable garden demonstrates the rural mantra (one that is, thankfully, becoming an urban one too):  re-purpose.  Old and sturdy wire fencing has been used to support the peas while grass clippings and straw are recycled to mulch the ground around the lettuces and beans.

Looking past the bed with asparagus and raspberries, as well as graceful fruit trees, you are summoned by a long bed of lupins along the fence-line, just past their prime.

And of course, a country property needs a stream.

After experiencing the peace and tranquility of this picturesque property, we hit the road again and made our way to Almonte.  The garden of sisters Gudrun Boyce and Carol Neumann will stick in my memory for three reasons:

Pristinely maintained flower beds, orderly and weed-free pathways, and seating areas that beckon  –

– a wonderful series of  wired tunnels that allow the cats to enjoy the outdoors but keeps them (and the birds) safe –

– and the work in progress:  an expansive rockery down the hill from the house with views across the Mississippi River.  Pocket plants, peonies, sedum, dianthus, daylily, flowering shrubs and happily flowering catmint — a display that is in its infancy now but in a few years will be overflowing with colour.

Our last stop was the garden of Gillian and Roger Danby, a late and frenzied drive back up to Arnprior after we were told it was nothing short of spectacular.  And we were certainly glad we came.  The entrance to the garden offered up these miniature displays in hypertufa troughs, made by Gillian herself.

It is immediately evident that this is a thoughtfully and artistically designed garden by someone who knows and loves plants.

Plants have been chosen and grown according to their requirements, and are given the space and the neighbours to best accommodate their needs and features.

An arbour is placed in the centre of an island bed, acting as a frame rather than an entrance.  It embraces an ornamental grass and a languid sculpture of a nude woman.  A large-flowered clematis (probably Clematis jackmanii) hugs one side of the structure.

At the rear of the property is what I considered the piece-de-resistance of this garden.  All white, silver and green; an understated and elegant display, loosely arranged and bounded with peastone rather than grass, accentuating the lightness of the plants.  And in the centre, a raised urn planted with a mix of succulents and annuals.

Everywhere you turned there was a beautifully arranged display with impeccably grown plants, like these herbs –

– and these tomatoes –

– and these lettuces in the tub and lucky squash (growing on the compost heap!) –

And if the river view isn’t enough to make you want to bring your suitcase and move in, this is — the view you leave with at the end of your visit:

Thank you Ottawa Botanical Garden Society for organizing this tour of these varied, enjoyable and inspirational gardens.  And thank you gardeners who opened your spaces for this worthwhile cause.  It was a great show.

Garden tour extraordinaire

If you didn’t go on the Over the Hedge garden tour organized by the Ottawa Botanical Garden Society this past weekend, their only fund-raiser this year, then you really missed out!   This tour was organized by the volunteers on the Board, specifically the dynamo Vice-Chair Monique Oaks.  A vast contingent of volunteers was helping out over the two days, greeting visitors to each garden, selling aprons and t-shirts, offering flavoured ice water and generally providing smiling and enthusiastic faces all along the way.

There were twelve gardens on the tour and I’m embarrassed to say we only made it to half of them.  This was because I insisted on having a leisurely Sunday brunch at mid-day (the outing was my birthday present from my good friend who just happens to be a professional gardener as well, Patti Allen) and we did so at the amazing Heirloom Cafe Bistro in Almonte.  If we had gone out on Saturday as well, it would have been a breeze to see them all (but I was busy having a pedicure and then dinner with other girlfriends!)

The first garden we visited was a small, corner property in Pakenham belonging to Judy and John McGrath.  Judy is a gardener and photographer and the garden is personal, quirky and feels very private.  With beguiling entrances and seating areas, curving beds and miniature water features, this garden reflects a relaxed and friendly sensibility.

Next we moved across the street to the property where Paddye Mann lives and works, joined by her daughter in the neighbouring home, the homes and studio linked by an Asian inspired garden.

What I liked about this garden was the way in which the paths and plantings complemented the existing topography.

River-washed stone, timbers and naturalized plantings all echo the relaxed character of this garden, where a dry stream bed meanders alongside ancient granite bedrock.

An Asian-inspired cedar boardwalk is elevated above the garden, allowing the visitor an easy stroll and accommodating the pre-existing evergreens.

Daylilies, hostas, perennial geraniums, dogwood, coral bells — all these plants have been placed under the canopy of white pines and here, a metal sculpture that mimics the effect of wind rustling grasses gives the finishing touch. 

The working studio affords a view into the peaceful garden — a beautiful still-life from outside as well as inside.

The last Pakenham property belongs to the Bean family and has a lovely view of the Mississippi River.  The garden surrounds the expansive grounds of the stone heritage home called `Glenbeancragge`, referencing the limestone outcroppings that embrace the property and provide a natural home for a vast planting of specimen hostas, or –

– creeping sedums.

Stay tuned:  more to come…


This is the serene view of Matsushima Bay,
which is off the eastern coast of Japan just a few miles north of Sendai
(a city many of us had never heard of before March 11th). 
Matsushima Bay, Japan
If you were to visit, you might have stopped here to have tea:

Kanrantei tea house overlooking Matsushima Bay, Japan

 Then you might have taken this short walk along a towering cedar lined road towards Zuiganji Temple, whose origins date back to the 9th century …

The temple hall would have been closed for renovations, but you could have visited its Zen kitchen, where all the meals were prepared, and lingered to appreciate its beautiful architecture.

 You could have wandered off along another pathway to experience the caves in the hillside where the monks would go to pray…

If you were going to visit Japan and wanted to know where the most beautiful and interesting sites were, you may have visited the website here, which is where I found these tantalizing pictures.

Instead, too many images of destruction have been seared into our minds since the earthquake and tsunami struck.

Remember the beauty of Japan and its people and give whatever you can.

 For the Canadian Red Cross, click here.

For Care Canada, click here.

You can also donate to WorldVets here.  They are on the ground in Japan helping to save lost, abandoned and relinquished pets.