Category Archives: the great outdoors

A winter reverie…

….with colourful summer planters!  But first, here I am with my big sister in the Gatineau hills.  She’s holding the leaf; I’m eating an apple.  My two loves: the outdoors and food.

85436727-sld-001-0010

Successful summer planters are full and lush.  They are also fearless and creative….

img_1818

This is the planter that undergoes seasonal changes at True Loaf bakery on Gladstone in Ottawa’s centretown.  If you crave chewy, flavourful, delicious and inventive bread, both savoury and sweet, this is your destination!

This planter combines white cosmos, buttery yellow petunia, golden Carex, white Gaura, ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia, a hit of fire-y zinnia, ‘Tiger Eye’ sumac and the blades of Acidanthera.  It probably didn’t need the orange-red zinnia, or else would have benefited from more plants of that colour.  Oh well – live and learn.

img_1021

As you can clearly see, I can’t get enough of yellow, chartreuse, green and white, so this is my garden in the early summer.  Incorporating a large pot into a garden planting can be very rewarding and can afford a big statement, that can be changed according to the season.

img_1783

This is a family garden, where kidlets enjoy the raised pond and lawn play area while the adults appreciate the colourful planters.   Grouping smaller planters like this into a vignette makes a bigger statement than just one.  As you can see, the blue-silvery planter is raised on a simple metal stand, giving it extra height and presence.

img_1005

Planters can be anything — this one uses an antique bucket to great effect and is very much a part of the garden display in a plant nursery in Hudson, NY.

img_0866

The same nursery, this time with a large copper tub acting as planter, along with a vintage red truck.  Such whimsy!  When you’re building your arrangements, think about coloured foliage as much as you think about flower colour….

img_1128-2

This mirrored planting shows the value of both scale and foliage.  Palms provide bulk and height, massive ‘Gryphon’ begonias (large, palm shaped leaves) provide texture and a metallic quality, ‘Bonfire’ begonias shout red and English ivy trail.  This is the perfect combination for a sheltered, shady porch.

IMG_1883

Another entrance planter enthralls in the sunshine with luscious chartreuse, yellow and black….

I can’t wait to create some new combinations in 2017…..

Save

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.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

dec-2011-011

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.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Save

Just in case you were missing the snow…

A family of towering evergreens wearing their winter cloaks hang their heads….

IMG_4148

…at dusk, they awaken and march through the arboretum…

IMG_4145

This is when an other-worldly pink cast descends upon the landscape.

IMG_4126

In this light, the secrets of the forest become crisp and magical…

IMG_4139

…and the path beckons.

Dec 2011 - 2 045

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is it over?

Is the gardening season over?

IMG_2060I think not!

There is still plenty of colour that belies the end of the gardening year.

This glorious plant is likely Chrysanthemum ‘Red Chimo’, also known as Arctanthemum articum ‘Red Chimo’ or Chrysanthemum articum ‘Red Chimo’.  Poor chrysanthemum.  The powers that be can’t seem to decide what to call you.  First chrysanthemum, then Dendranthemum, and for this species, now Arctanthemum.  Never mind.  This cultivated variety of Arctic chrysanthemum is dead hardy at zone 3 and is the pink/purple/mauve version of the species that appears as pure white.

I favour the singles since the doubles just remind me of the seasonal annual “mums” that we can find at every garden centre in September.

IMG_2061

In contrast, these hardy mums are loose and natural and shrub-like and a perennial that we should all embrace as part of our late season gardens.

Chill.  Don’t cut everything down.

Even this Geranium ‘Rozanne’ wants to shine in the luminous light of September.

Oct 1 011

And the wild New England aster is giving its all ….

Oct 1 050

There is magic in these seasonal shifts…it is everywhere and doesn’t need our hand.

I don’t think there is anything more beautiful than a fall leaf tapestry…

022

…even if it’s poison ivy!

I miss our walks in the autumn woods but Skye isn’t able to walk this far anymore.  Another kind of season….shifts and changes.

Oct 1 041

Now we rest … and take a load off….

IMG_2073

That’s okay; we don’t have to be anywhere…

The last days of summer…

The dog days of summer…

IMG_1925

…….

It’s been hot.  Too hot for black dogs.

IMG_1924

So hot that shade is barely shade.

July 2011 - 1 001

The snappers wind their way, prehistoric bodies smeared green with algae and lumbering from water to grass, grass to water.

August 2011 - last 001

There are surprises in the woods…..I recall someone who went mushroom hunting and ate those he found on a log, differentiated by those *next* to a log.  Was it these that were poison or the others?  Thinking you are right is not the same as being right.  He could have said this as he recovered from his hospital bed.

cef - 2011 004

…and more surprises in open spaces.  The straw-coloured grasses sway in the shifting heat that at one moment is thick with moisture and then the next, light with hints of autumn.

August 2011 - 3 003

The grasses and lily pads are choking the pond, making the ducks work extra hard to power through, bobbing for food and then relaxing on the logs that have been placed there for that very purpose.

010

  The milkweed is ready.  I cannot resist the urge to pull the silken stuffing from their pods and set each seed free by waving them over my head.  Like nature’s bubble machine.

Brewer Park: its past meets up with its future

When I was very young, my Mother would take my sister and I to the beach.  Not a beach at a lake or ocean.  But the perfect man-made sandy beach surrounding a constructed swimming hole at Brewer Park in Old Ottawa South, just across from Carleton University.

brewer1966.jpg

This was in the 1960s and I was less than 10 years old.  I remember the convenience of a parking lot (I’m sure this was more important to my stressed-out mother than to me), as well as a large building that housed changing rooms, washrooms and, most importantly, a snack bar.  Pasty white children would scream and splash and swim in the mirky water, which slowly percolated until the levels of bacteria and urine hastened its closure some years later.

Over time, Brewer Pond began to look like this…

brewer pond 2012 Tom AlfoldiBrewer Pond 2012: photo by Tom Alfoldi

 ….with the once pristine sandy beach gradually being replaced with bull rushes, alder, Manitoba maple, willow, larch, milkweed, wild spirea and others.  Not to mention hosts of wildlife including rabbits, birds, foxes, turtles and very active beavers.

But there was a problem.  Every spring, snow and ice run-off from up river would rush downstream and flood this section of the park.  What resulted was not only damaged and uprooted trees but also a redistribution of river fish and other aquatic creatures into the pond.  Sadly, they became prisoners there after the flood subsided.  Because the water was stagnant, it became anaerobic (or lacking oxygen) so with time, the relocated fish and other organisms suffocated and eventually expired.

The edge of the Rideau River in this location had once been much more dynamic, but this was before I was born.  Channels defined islands which existed apart from the park’s fields and provided paths for the spring waters to follow, preventing serious flooding.

brewer1950.jpg

Fast forward to today: in the last 40 years the naturalized area around the swimming hole has once again been buzzing with life, both wild and otherwise.  A well traveled foot path circumnavigates the pond making it a popular place for play, peaceful contemplation and socializing amongst people and specifically, their dogs.

In the great tradition of the revitalization of natural spaces, largely paid for with development dollars (one wetland destroyed = another one re-created), overseen by those who know how to achieve it (i.e. the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority) and work carried out by contractors who specialize in large-scale earth moving, habitat protection and species relocation, the project was begun this past fall.

The idea was to re-connect the pond with it’s mother, the Rideau River.  Over the last decade, at least, ideas about how to do that were bantered about.  I remember being involved in early discussions that involved ECOS, the Environmental Committee of Old Ottawa South (which has now been integrated into OSCA’s general operating principles) and various partners and players (Mike Lascelles, Michael Loewen, Hedrik Wachelka and others).  For example, one or possibly two channels could be dug to allow unobstructed water flow through the landmass — a good idea, but this kind of land severing would require a way for people to access the resulting island.  I asked about using foot bridges like the elegant rusty steel one at the Dominion Arboretum.  “Too expensive,” was the answer, and there was an issue with it being washed away in the spring floods.

So over a period of several years, the ideas for how to achieve a link with the river resulted in the notion of a single culvert on the down-river side of the pond.  It would mean water would still rush over the area during the spring thaw but that afterwards, fish and aquatic creatures would no longer be trapped.  And more than this, river-bound fish would hopefully choose to re-enter the newly oxygenated pond and use it for spawning.  Enter Muskies Canada.

You might not know this but the Rideau River, especially around the Bronson Bridge is a hot-bed for fresh water giants like muskie and pike.

muskie

If you’re a duckling, you’re shuddering right about now…but if you’re a fisherman, you’re overjoyed.

So, in October 2014 work began.  First, as many creatures living in the pond as could be trapped or caught were collected and re-located (with the exception of the very active beaver family.)  Then a low level barrier consisting of landscape fabric and wooden posts was erected around the pond to theoretically keep them from returning.

IMG_1373Nobody told the beavers this.

Then the metal fencing went up and heavy machinery moved in.

IMG_1420Two or three giant excavators moved in and began scooping out the perimeter of the pond after the draining was complete.

IMG_1494Huge metal cylinders were brought in to act as culverts, linking the dredged pond to the river.  Once put in place, they will remain completely invisible to all but the creatures who swim through them.

IMG_1547Work continued as the snow began to fall and the temperatures began to drop…

IMG_1579….until finally the machines were gone and the only evidence of the new connection between the pond and river is this  opening in the ice.

I can’t wait to see what the spring brings…..more to come!

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….

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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?

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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.