Category Archives: Plants

Garden Envy

June 20th, 2017 | 17 Comments »

Coming home from a tour of English gardens I felt a short, sharp shock. Everything in my garden looked inadequate, not up to the standard I had come to expect. I moped. I complained. Why can’t I grow the hundreds of plants I saw and admired?  Some of them must surely suit my climate. So why don’t the garden centres around Glen Villa stock them?

Then I faced the facts. My garden will never match the perfection of an English estate that employs six or seven full time gardeners.  The garden centres will never stock the rarities — with such a small market, it’s not a paying proposition. Plants I grow will never match the size they reach in England, not as long as I live where I do, where winter temperatures drop regularly to -25 or -30C.

And since I have no desire to live anywhere else, I had to quit complaining. I gave myself a good talking to. Instead of accepting your limitations, I told myself, embrace them. And I have. I do. My garden no longer looks inadequate, it looks splendid. I am enthusiastic about what I can grow, and even more enthusiastic about what grows here naturally.

I mean, just look at it. Can any English country scene be more beautiful than our old farm field bursting with buttercups?


The Upper Field at Glen Villa is a what dieticians argue against, butter spread thick on the ground.
The Upper Field at Glen Villa is a what dieticians argue against, butter spread thick on the ground.


And what about the lupins that are dancing their way across the meadow? I’m happy to see them, and to see this year for the first time a brighter-than-average pink that I hope will spread and become even brighter.


This year we have a brighter than normal pink lupin. Natural hybridization, I guess.
One source says that lupins are meant to take nourishment from soil, to wolf it down, as it were, thus explaining their name.


My heart sings when I  see the lupins blooming amid buttercups and ragged robin, especially when set off by the citrus green of Aralia ‘Sun King’ behind them.


The white posts mark the entry to the China Terrace. To their right are white window frames and a cascade of spirea.
The white posts mark the entry to the China Terrace. To their right are white window frames and a cascade of spirea.


I take no credit for these wildflowers.  Each year they appear on their own, this year more floriferous than last. The shrub border in the Upper Field is a different matter, and it gives me pleasure of a different sort. I chose the shrubs and thanks to the fence I designed to protect them from the deer, they are blooming like they’ve never bloomed before.


Viburnum sargemtii 'Onondaga' is standing tall. Physocarpus opulifolius 'Golden Dart' is in the foreground.
Viburnum sargemtii ‘Onondaga’ is standing tall. The citrus-coloured shrub is Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) ‘Golden Nugget.’


The shrub border is doing all I hoped it would, and more. I wanted some privacy in the Upper Field, and the shrubs are big enough now to shield our view of cars driving past. I wanted the privacy screen to be truly appealing, so I’d walk up the hill to see it. And that has worked. The vibrant blossoms and foliage add colour and excitement, and draw me like a magnet to see how each plant changes, day to day.


Another view shows a different ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius 'Coppertina.' I like how the hint of green in its leaves picks up the citrus of the 'Golden Nugget' beside it.
Another view shows a different ninebark in the foreground, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Coppertina.’ I like how the hint of green in its leaves picks up the citrus of the ‘Golden Nugget’ beside it.


The blossoms on the Ninebark ‘Coppertina’ for instance. They start as tight pin pricks, then open to resemble tiny berries, then become as fluffy as dandelion heads, all in a matter of a week or two.


The same shrubs
The blossoms here are at the berry stage. They are more open now than when I took this photo.


All around the garden, blooms are bursting. At the Skating Pond the  yellow flag iris are shining in the distance …


This year the yellow flag iris are blooming riotously.
The bare patch of ground to the left of the iris needs attention. Next week, perhaps.


… elsewhere, single white peonies gleam …


Blowsy peonies... I love them!
Blowsy peonies… I love them!


… and camassias growing more abundant year by year.


I'm not sure which variety of camassia these are. Can anyone identify them?
I’m not sure which variety of camassia these are. Can anyone identify them? According to my planting notes, they should be either Blue Melody or C. caerulea. I’d like to order more and want the same variety.


Seeds I gathered from an acquilegia in Australia are blooming quietly on a rocky outcrop, retaining their original colour and refusing, I’m glad to say, to affect the colour of the wild Canadian ones that grow nearby.


Nostalgia speaks. Whenever they bloom, these acquilegia remind me of another place, and another time.
I feel nostalgic whenever these acquilegia bloom. They remind me of another place, and another time.


But the wildflowers capture my heart most of all. The yellow flower that is blooming in a field next to a tall grass…


Is this yellow hawkweed?
II haven’t tried to identify this yellow wildflower. Can you?


… the delicate pink daisy-like flowers that appear everywhere….


My granddaughter Vivienne took this photo. Thanks, Viv!
My granddaughter Vivienne took this photo. Thanks, Viv!


Why should I be envious of an English garden when I am surrounded by such natural beauty? Even the grass is glorious.


Can any manicured garden hold a candle to this?
Can any manicured garden hold a candle to this?


Do you have garden envy? And are you doing anything about it?

The flowers that bloom in the spring, Tra-la

May 9th, 2017 | 8 Comments »
untitled (5 of 20)
Gilbert and Sullivan got it right when they wrote about spring flowers. The flowers that bloom in the spring, Tra la, Breathe promise of merry sunshine — As we merrily dance and we sing, Tra la, We welcome the hope that they bring, Tra la, Of a summer of roses and wine. Right now, I'm dancing and singing. Because everywhere at Glen Villa, spring flowers are blooming. Daffodils galore brighten the path to the China Terrace ....   [caption id="attachment_5129" align="aligncenter" width="1319"] We planted these daffodils about fifteen years ago. The


The Upper Room

April 26th, 2017 | 24 Comments »
The hardscaping for The Upper Room was completed last summer.
After months of anticipation, yesterday we installed the glass panels at The Upper Room. The wait was long but it was worth it -- I am thrilled with the results. The Upper Room is a memorial designed to honour my mother and her beliefs. It's a tribute to family and to the traditions I grew up with in Richmond, Virginia, when classically symmetrical architecture, brick, and boxwood shaped our streetscapes and our view of the world. From inception, brick and boxwood were essential elements of the design. So was a sense of embrace. I wanted the


Looking Back and Forth

December 31st, 2016 | 10 Comments »
Since I didn't do anything about new pots, I shouldn't have a photo to illustrate this goal. But I did use Mandeville vines on the living room deck. I've had these same plants for ten years or so, and they continue to provide abundant blooms and colour.
Last December I took the risky step of setting goals for 2016. So as that year ends and 2017 begins, it's time to assess. How much of what I wanted to do did I actually accomplish? 1. The Cascade: As intended, I modified the plantings around The Cascade. I reduced the number of different types of plants, improved the drainage and the soil in the beds themselves. As a result, the plants flourished and I was content. But of course there are always reservations. The Weigela 'Wine and Roses' needs another year


When Less is More

December 5th, 2016 | 25 Comments »
water meadow clean up
Is less more? I associate the familiar phrase with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, one of the founders of modern architecture and a proponent of simplicity of style. But when I went to confirm this, I found to my surprise that the phrase was first used in print in Andrea del Sarto, a poem by Robert Browning. Who strive - you don't know how the others strive To paint a little thing like that you smeared Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,- Yet do much less, so much less, Someone


The Colours of Autumn

October 31st, 2016 | 12 Comments »
What an array of colours! The view looking out over the Big Meadow never fails to excite me.
I missed the peak of autumn colour this year in the Eastern Townships of Quebec -- where colours are as good as (or better than?) any place in North America -- because of some trips that took me away from home. So when a friend sent me a photo he took a week or so ago of the hills behind our house, I was delighted.   [caption id="attachment_4579" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Our house and boathouse on Lake Massawippi are dwarfed by the hills that rise behind.[/caption]   What a spectacle it was. Friends who were


Yin and Yang at the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden

October 3rd, 2016 | 8 Comments »
Black and white, rough and smooth
Vancouver's Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is an  oasis in the middle of a busy city, a place to rest and reflect on a garden tradition that reached its peak in the Ming dynasty (1358-1644). In accord with the Taoist philosophy of yin and yang that guides the garden's design, the aim is to balance opposing forces and thereby to achieve the equilibrium that constitutes perfection.  Behind the walls that separate the garden from the city, contrasts of dark and light, flexible and immovable, rough and smooth, large and small combine to create a picture


Changing Colours

September 27th, 2016 | 10 Comments »
I don't know which of the asters this one is. But notice the different coloured centres.
This year autumn is slow in coming. Often by the end of September, the hills are as colourful as the big box of Crayola crayons I always begged (unsuccessfully) my mother to buy, with trees standing in ranges of red, orange and pink, gold and chartreuse, and occasional patches of dark wintery green. Not this year. Temperatures have remained high and leaves seem reluctant to lose their grip on summer. In the woods and fields around Glen Villa, though, wildflowers appropriate to the season are blooming their hearts out. Asters predominate.


Fall projects for Gangly Teens

September 21st, 2016 | 10 Comments »
The line of green clearly marks where you are meant to walk. But now that all the grass is cut, it is easy to walk anywhere.
Coming home after a tour of gardens in the UK is always a shock. English gardens are so lush, so flowery, so impressive in predictable and unpredictable ways. In comparison, my garden in mid-September is a let-down. In fact, it makes me think of a gangly 13-year old. The teen may have good bones and a sense of fashion but for the moment the best features are hidden behind braces and a spotty face. Like that gangly teen, my garden is full of promise. It has good bones even if they do seem hidden today,


The Big Meadow in August

August 25th, 2016 | 19 Comments »
The mown path makes this work. Showing a human intervention is essential.
  This summer I've been watching what used to be a manicured lawn turn into a meadow.  Seeing the changes month to month has shown that what pleased me in June ...   [caption id="attachment_4073" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] The view from the driveway gives some idea of the size of the Big Meadow.[/caption]   became even better in July.   [caption id="attachment_4203" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Grasses on the prairie used to be called oceans of grass. Now I know why.[/caption]   I was thrilled. Was the transformation from lawn to meadow going to be as