Posts Tagged ‘Gardening’


I have operated a small specialty plant nursery from our farm for many years, but this year am thrilled to be taking a sabbatical from that occupation, which means I get to look around and get a proper taste of spring. Earlier in the month we travelled to Vancouver for a look at the spring flowers there, and I fell head over heels in love with the many magnolias which rivalled the lovely cherry blossoms which were our initial and “official” quest.

I’d never seen these before in their full glory, as we are ourselves much too far north (being situated close to the centre of the province) for magnolia trees to survive, let alone thrive as those on the coast obviously do.

Too lovely not to share, so here are a few I captured with my camera. Much more spectacular in real life, by the way, as those of you in milder climes will no doubt already know.

Happy Spring!


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Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, everyone, no matter where you are!

Out yesterday with the camera to capture a glimpse of autumn in our part of the world – Cariboo-Chilcotin region – interior British Columbia, Canada.

In the nursery beds: Michaelmas daisies, lily and sea kale foliage for contrast. Hill Farm October 13, 2013.

In the nursery beds: Fall asters, with lily and sea kale foliage for contrast.
Hill Farm October 13, 2013.

Mountain ash.

Mountain ash.

Echinops ritro - Golbe Thistle - with Macleaya cordata - Plume Poppy - foliage in background.

Echinops ritro – Globe Thistle – with Macleaya cordata – Plume Poppy – foliage in background.

Italian prune plums - this year our small tree was loaded with fruit. Almost over now, but so sweet and worth the long wait for ripening!

Italian prune plums – this year our small tree was loaded with fruit. Almost over now, but so sweet and worth the long wait for ripening!

Cottonwood trees beside the Fraser River - our daily view from the edge of the garden.

Cottonwood trees beside the Fraser River – our daily view from the edge of the garden.

Last roses of summer... Label long lost - no idea which variety this is, but reliably gives us a few late blossoms.

Last roses of summer…
Label long lost – no idea which variety this is, but reliably gives us a few late blossoms.

Alcea rugosa - Russian Hollyhock - an endless bloomer, tall stalks reaching for the sky.

Alcea rugosa – Russian Hollyhock – an endless bloomer, tall stalks reaching for the sky.

Hosta leaves touched by frost - snapped a picture just before my daughter ruthlessly chopped them down - she's in full garden clean-up mode these days!

Hosta leaves touched by frost – snapped a picture just before my daughter ruthlessly chopped them down – she’s in full garden clean-up mode these days!

Bur Oak leaves.

Bur Oak leaves.

Velvet-textured and dramatically veined Italian petunia; the plants themselves are leggy and awkward at this time of the year, but the few late blossoms make up for it; a lingering reminder of summer now past.

Velvet-textured and dramatically veined Italian petunia; the plants themselves are leggy and awkward at this time of the year, but the few late blossoms make up for it; a lingering reminder of summer now past.

The horse chestnut can't decide which colour it wants to be, so it's trying a bit of everything.

The horse chestnut can’t decide which colour it wants to be, so it’s trying a bit of everything.

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Welsh Poppy, Minter Gardens

Welsh Poppy, Minter Gardens

Minter Gardens, May 29, 2013

Minter Gardens, May 29, 2013

The coolest water feature ever - the "water wall" at Minter Gardens.

The coolest water feature ever – the “water wall” at Minter Gardens.


Clematis, holly, grass, rock - Minter Gardens.

Clematis, holly, grass, rock – Minter Gardens.

Gunnera detail, Minter Gardens.

Gunnera detail, Minter Gardens.


Bridal Veil Falls, near Chilliwack, B.C.

Bridal Veil Falls, near Chilliwack, B.C.

Water power, natural sculpture at the foot of Bridal Falls.

Water power, natural sculpture at the foot of Bridal Falls.

Maidenhair fern, B.C. coastal forest.

Maidenhair fern, B.C. coastal forest.

B.C.'s provincial flower, Pacific Dogwood, Cornus nuttallii.

B.C.’s provincial flower, Pacific Dogwood, Cornus nuttallii.

Pacific Dogwood in fir forest, near Alexandra Bridge, Fraser Canyon. May 29, 2013.

Pacific Dogwood in fir forest, near Alexandra Bridge, Fraser Canyon. May 29, 2013.

These dogwood flowers are big, as you can see by my hand holding the branch.

These dogwood flowers are big, as you can see by my hand holding the branch.

Pictures from our recent excursion to the lower mainland. We took time out on our final day to botanize and tourist our way home. Didn’t take too many pictures, but these are a sampling of what we saw in our travels.

Beautiful British Columbia – the clichéd phrase is so very true!

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the shape of a year jean hersey 001The Shape of a Year by Jean Hersey ~ 1967. This edition: Scribner’s, 1967. Hardcover. Library of Congress# 67-13158. 243 pages.

My rating: 6/10.

This is not at all a poor book, but rather an unexceptional one. Set in the author’s rural homeplace of Weston, Connecticut, here are month-by-month musings and reportings of the little incidents of her life. These definitely have a certain appeal, but there is a creeping banality clothed in florid description to some of what she judges worthy of note. Most of it is all very well and good, but while readable this does not promise to become a favourite.

As a personal record it seems just a bit too good to be true, a shade too sweet and optimistic; there is little record of any sort of frustration, annoyance, disappointment or anger; it is all very “nice”, as if the author decided ahead of time to only include the more inspiring incidents of her days. I think this would be a much stronger memoir if it showed a broader range of emotion.

Golly, these comments sound a little harsher than I had intended. Here, I’ll share some of the author’s words with you so you can get a better picture of what this one is all about. I suspect this author will appeal most to the Gladys Taber crowd. (For the record, I like Gladys Taber; my mother had a number of her Stillmeadow books and I read them with deep delight during my teen years.)

Jean Hersey, born in 1902 and living in the Eastern United States, in Pennsylvania and Connecticut, was a prolific writer of magazine articles for Woman’s Day and various gardening and houseplant periodicals. She also authored something like a dozen non-fiction books dealing with gardening, homemaking, and semi-rural life.


From The Shape of a Year: January, 1965.

January mornings at seven are like opals, soft, milky white and pink around the edges. The January sun rises silvery white, bright but not warm, and a mist like an aura hovers over the south meadow.

One morning early as we ate breakfast, Bob was eyeing a cluster of many colored Christmas tree balls lying in one of the upholstered chairs. We had dismantled the tree the day before.

“They look,” said he sipping his coffee, “as if they were waiting for a goose to come along and hatch them.”

“It would have to be a golden goose,” I replied watching the stars laid on their shiny surfaces by the early sun streaming in the windows. Obviously no ordinary goose could sit on these bits of Christmas magic.

May, 1965:

May sweeps in on a theme of daffodils. I gather armfuls from the meadow and next day so many more unfold that I cannot see where I have picked. Along the roadside the willows are tumbled masses of pale green foam, and forsythia, in streaming fountains of flowers, reflects the sun’s golden rays. Here a dusky pink weeping cherry adds a soft note of color. There a magnolia tree is a bouquet of pink blossoms, and everywhere maples are shaking out their tight fists of green into lacy green leaves.

July, 1965:

Where is our grandson? I am waiting on the station platform for this young thirteen-year-old who will be carrying a suitcase and I don’t see him. Other people get off, but no Jeff. There is a boy down the platform – or is it a boy – it seems more like a thatched roof moving along.

“Hi, Grandma, here I am.”

“Why, Jeff,” I gasp. “Hello, how good to see you.”

I gasp because here we have the Beatles incarnate. I have no war with these young Englishmen beyond what they have done to the hairdos of America…

October, 1965:

The fragrance of burning leaves is another autumn delight. Their delicious rustle and the scent of their smoke invariably carries me back to the days when my father used to rake great piles to burn. Before he lit them my friends and I would burrow deep and hide ourselves in the slightly scratchy heaps. From here we would look out at the world through tiny odd-shaped chinks of light …

December, 1965:

These days the car is always filled with Christmas presents on the way in or the way out. One time we were in New York City with presents to deliver and we parked our convertible. When we returned the presents were gone and the top neatly slit with a little triangle just large enough to reach in and draw things out. The gifts did look rather festive with their gay paper and ribbons. I’ve often considered though, what their effect was on the person who appropriated them. He overlooked a suitcase and overcoat on the back seat, and took instead a package of wild bird food destined for my brother-in-law and a book called The Power of Constructive Thinking by Emmet Fox. I’ve never ceased to wonder about the reaction of this particular thief as he opened his haul.


And there are recipes.

While I wouldn’t search this author out, I also wouldn’t turn down another of her books if it came to me cheap and easy, as this one did – on the bargain rack at a used bookstore this autumn.

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The Way of a Gardener: a life’s journey by Des Kennedy ~ 2010. This edition: Greystone Books, 2010. Softcover. ISBN: 978-1-55365-417-9. 271 pages.

My rating: 8/10. Beautifully written, but I found myself occasionally tuning out – just a tiny bit – in the later chapters. The author’s life has been so full that he just barely touches on many of the events in his later years. I would love to have seen this as a volume one of a multi-volume biography, ending at his leaving the seminary, or settling on Denman Island (one of the Gulf Islands in British Columbia’s Georgia Strait, between southern Vancouver Island and the mainland), because I think the last four decades on Denman plus all the environmental involvement could easily fill a book of its own.


I remember when Des Kennedy first blipped onto my radar, through his 1990s columns in Gardens West magazine, a Canadian publication which is de rigueur reading in my fellow gardeners’ social circle. This was soon followed by my purchase of Kennedy’s first book, a collection of essays on unloved creatures – think rats, slugs, spiders and their ilk – called Nature’s Outcasts: Living Things We Love to Hate (1993),and the rest of his gardening books as they were published, the most recent, before this one, being 2008’s An Ecology of Enchantment, which hints at some of the backstory detailed in this current memoir.

He popped up here and there, speaking at a garden show, authoring an article in a gardening magazine, leading a well-advertised garden tour to Ireland – an instantly recognizable figure with his halo of unruly red hair, and his confident gaze straight into the camera.

Much has been made of his time spent as a Catholic seminarian and novice monk; Kennedy left the monastery before he took full vows after continually clashing with his superiors in matters concerning involvement with the secular and artistic world. (Kennedy was in favour of a degree of inter-mingling between the seminarians and the local population of artists, poets and musicians; his immediate supervisors were not.)

From the Greystone Books website:

A personal and revealing exploration of a life lived close to the earth, from one of Canada’s best-loved gardeners.

Called “a green-thumb rogue” (Star Tribune, Minneapolis), accomplished novelist, satirist, and garden writer Des Kennedy describes his life journey from a childhood of strict Irish Catholicism in Britain to a charmed existence amid the gardens of his Gulf Island home in British Columbia.

From his appearance as an innocent dressed in white for his First Holy Communion to his days as a young seminarian in black habit, through the Beat poetry scene in New York City and the social upheavals of the 1960s, this monk-turned-pilgrim pursues a quest for meaning and purpose.

After leaving monastic life and moving west, Kennedy takes up a new vocation in what has been called the Church of the Earth. On a rural acreage, he and his partner build their home from recycled and hand-hewn materials and create gardens that provide food as well as a symbiosis with the earth that is as profoundly spiritual as past religious rituals. Spiced with irreverence and an eye for the absurd, The Way of a Gardener ranges over environmental activism, Aboriginal rights, writing for a living, amateur wood butchery, the protocols of small community living, and the devilish obscenity of a billy goat at stud.

This book describes Kennedy’s childhood years in Liverpool, before his emigration with his family to Canada at the age of ten in 1955. Growing up in a strongly religious Roman-Catholic family, Kennedy convinced himself that a religious career was his vocation; he spent eight years studying and working towards this goal, and eventually graduated with a degree in Philosophy from the Passionist Monastic Seminary in New York in 1968.

He then left the religious life and drifted and travelled for a time, ending in Vancouver as a school teacher and social worker. There he met the love of his life, Sandy Lesyk, who has been his companion and partner ever since. In 1972 the couple moved to a rural acreage on quiet Denman Island, where they proceeded to pursue the not-terribly-simple “simple” life, building a house from salvaged materials and clearing the land to establish a large garden. The couple still live there today, and still pursue the same lifestyle, though the vegetables now share space with a unique and individualistic mature ornamental garden which has received many praises and was the site of a weekly television show in the 1990s.

Despite the title, this is most emphatically not a book about gardening. It is a highly personal memoir about the time before the gardener emerged, and a look backwards at the sometimes rough and twisted path the author travelled, before the arrival at the gates of the present very earthly “Eden”.

Those coming cold to this book, without knowing who the heck Des Kennedy is now, may wonder what it’s all about. I must confess that if I had not already had the context of knowing about the writer, I might not have found this partial autobiography as interesting as I did.

Definitely recommended for those already familiar with this author, as it gives a marvelous insight into the background of this mesmerizing British Columbia gardening and environmentally “green” figure.

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Odd Lots: Seasonal Notes of a City Gardener by Thomas C. Cooper ~ 1995. This edition: Henry Holt, 1995. Hardcover. ISBN: 0-8050-3741-1. 218 pages.

My rating: 5/10. I felt rather brutal giving this rating, because the author writes well, sometimes exceedingly so, and his subject matter is dear to my heart. But somehow this book just didn’t feel like a “keeper” – I had to push myself quite firmly to go on with it after the third chapter or so, and as I did so I found myself skimming much too much, between the bits worth slowing down for and more deeply savouring.


This book of twelve monthly themed garden essays began life as editorials in Horticulture magazine. Thomas Cooper is a passionate and literate gardener, and he writes a perfectly readable style of prose, but for the most part there was nothing here to really stick with this particular reader. A pleasant one-way conversation. I mentally nodded and smiled, while one half of my mind was appreciating Cooper’s thoughts on peonies, mulch and the joys of examining a crocus at child’s eye level. The other half – well – it was thinking about my own garden much of the time, or the progress of the dinner roast, or how I really need to sweep down the cobwebs on the ceiling fan. Oops, bad sign.

This review from Kirkus says it well:

A devoted gardener offers a meandering collection of brief essays that may hold some charm for others of the same ilk.

As the editor of Horticulture magazine, Cooper contributes a regular column whose intent, he says, is “to capture the world in and around a garden.” This translates into fragmentary and scattered musings, mainly about his own backyard gardens in Massachusetts, so don’t look for practical assistance or even the occasional clever idea here. Although the columns are not dated or presented chronologically (for example, the reader sees Cooper’s daughter age eccentrically from three to two to six), they are grouped by month. January finds the author poring over nursery catalogs and drafting resolutions (“Stop accepting plants as gifts, no mater how tempting . . . just imagine they are offering a tray of zucchini seedlings”), while by April he is yearning for a spiffier potting shed and delighting over the arrival of packages from mail-order nurseries. A number of columns are little more than the verbal equivalent of puttering, but then, as Cooper says, gardeners do “raise puttering to the state of high art.” Occasionally, pieces that were written to be read one at a time are diminished by being crowded together: Although July’s articles on water and watering, musing on a watering can, noting the desirability of an efficient soaker hose, and admonishing readers to learn from water shortages out West are separated by forays into other matters, they lose some of their effect when read within the space of half an hour.

This one is for people who nod sagely at the line, “There is only so much Geranium endressii one person can handle,” and whose hours not spent in the garden are spent talking about being in the garden.

What else can I say? Good effort, nice production, but just a titch more miss than hit, at least in this garden veteran’s opinion. And yes, I did read many of T.C.C.’s columns in Horticulture during his 22-year stint as editor which ended in 2001, and enjoyed them in a mild way, as one does when reading the editorial as a sort of appetizer for the much anticipated main course of the longer articles to come.

Tom Cooper knows his stuff, and can turn a neat phrase, and in his time at the helm he oversaw a marvelous gardening magazine, my prized back-issue collection of which I frequently re-read. But when it comes right down to it, I can’t in good conscience wholeheartedly recommend this book. I truly wish I could – it’s that close.

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On the outer edge of autumn. October 17, 2012.

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Green Grows the City by Beverley Nichols ~ 1939. This edition: Jonathan Cape, Ltd., 1939. Hardcover. First edition. 285 pages.

My rating: 8/10. A little lush in the prose department, but ultimately I found this semi-fiction quite a likeable diversion. The chapter devoted to the author’s black, half-Siamese felines, Rose and Cavalier, won me completely over; I had been wavering a bit as the human cattiness of the narrative was sometimes rather too precious. Nichols’ affection for and description of his pets is a lovely bit of writing, appealing to anyone who shares his predilection for cats as the perfect – though endlessly demanding – home and garden companions.

The author makes no pretensions about his preferred role as planner and onlooker rather than a get-dirty, hands-on gardener. A little light watering, the plucking of a few blooms to adorn the breakfast table, maybe a mite of flower arranging to while away a slow morning, while the hired gardener does the heavy stuff under our Mr. Nichols’ interested eye…

Oh, meow! Who’s being catty now?


Beverley Nichols, in his long life (1898-1883) in which he acted out the roles of journalist, author, playwright, composer, lecturer, pianist, and gay (in every sense of the word) man-about-town, alternately amused and infuriated his audience, friends and, I suspect, more than a few enemies. Possessed of a very high opinion of himself, a keenly sarcastic tongue, and a decided willingness to share his lightly censored thoughts in print, Beverley Nichols remains as readable today as he was when first published. Especially popular are his garden books, as among all the chattering nonsense and superfluous frills there are passages of very authentic admiration and insight into the appeal of that cultivated “square of ground” so universally sought after the universal tribe of gardeners, and his portraits of the plants that struck his fey fancy are small treasures of descriptive prose.

Speaking in the chapter regarding ferns,  Rhapsody in Green, in Green Grows the City, of his introduction to the gold and silver ferns (Gymnogramme species) at Kew:

…(A)s I stooped to tie the (shoe)lace, I happened to glance upward. And the underside of this fern was coated with gold, pure gold, that glistened in the sunlight.

Perhaps it may sound silly to say that it was the loveliest thing that has ever come my way since I have seem life through the eyes of a gardener… I knelt down before it. The closer I came, the more lovely did the fern appear. There were no half-measures about the gold-dust with which it was so richly coated. It wasn’t just a yellow powder. It bore no sort of resemblance to the ochre make-up with which the lily is adorned. Nor was the gold dusted merely here and there – it covered every curve and crevice of the frond.

The tiny shoots that were springing up from the base were, if possible, even brighter. Since their leaves had not yet opened, and there was no green about them, they looked like delicate golden ornaments, daintily disposed about the parent plant.

And by the side of it was another excitement. A silver fern! As thickly coated with the metal of the moon as the other had been coated with the metal of the sun. If I had not realized the futility of comparisons at moments such as this, I would have dared to suggest that the silver fern was even more beautiful than the golden. For it seemed actually luminous with this magic dust. And again, there were no half-measures. It was silver. Not just white or grey, not in the least like, say, a centaurea. It was silver, hall-marked, pure and glistening from the inexhaustible mint of Nature.

What gardener could resist such a teasing description? Now in my botanical garden and specialty nursery visits I shall be forever watching for gold and silver ferns…

Green Grows the Garden is the fictionalized account of the creation of a very real garden. In 1936, after parting from his beloved country cottage and garden in the village of Glatton, Nichols tried the inner city life, living in a small, gardenless house in the Westminster district of London. Homesick for a bit of green, he tried without success to find a more suitable situation.

I had a hunger for green. I was lonely for the sound of trees by night. I longed to feel the turf beneath my feet, instead of the eternal pavement. Even if it were only a narrow strip of sooty grass, it would be resilient and alive, and would give me some of its own life.

Finally a small semi-detached house is found, in a close in the suburb of Heathstead. There is a garden, of sorts, a triangular-shaped bit of ground which challenges the would-be garden-designer with its peculiar idiosyncracies.

The challenge is accepted, and the transformation begins. Struggles with the site abound, not least of which is the continual protestation of every one of Nichols’ projects by the overbearing “Mrs. Heckmondwyke” of No. 1. The feud between No. 5 and No. 1 drives much of the drama of this microcosmic enterprise, though in the end something of an uneasy truce is attained.

The book is dedicated “To My Friends Next Door”, probably to nip in the bud any idea that any of them were the actual prototype of the overwhelming Mrs. H, and Beverley Nichols quite freely admits, in an evasive forward, that perhaps some of his characters owe more to fiction than to real life. The garden was a real garden, though; as were the cats and the extraordinary, imperturbable, Jeeves-like manservant Gaskin.

As the story draws to a close, the shadow of World War II is looming, and in the last chapter there is sober reference made to the outside world. Watching newsreel footage, Nichols comments:

…Line after line of youths, in brown shirts, black shirts, red shirts, any sort of shirt…marching, always marching. Backwards and forwards, to the North, to the South, to the East and West. Marching with bigger and better guns, to louder and fiercer music. Marching with clenched fists or with outstretched arms, animated by the insane conviction that the fist that is clenched was made for the sole purpose of striking the arm that is outstretched. Marching, always marching, blind to the beauty that is around and above, deaf to all music save the snarl of the drum, marching to a destination that no man knows but all men dread.

And I suspect no one will be found to argue with the often quoted final words of this little book:

…(T)hat if all men were gardeners, the world at last would be at peace.

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