Cherished flowers and a Secret Garden Tour

At right is one of my most cherished flowers, made many summers ago, by my oldest niece, Sarah.Sarah's-flower2 One summer, we spent endless hours crafting all manner of flowers, animals and objects out of FIMO. We intended to sell all of our items on the main street of a town near our family cottage, Fort Qu’Appelle. My mum put a stop to that though, so I’ve ended up with a lovely and treasured collection. Sarah’s younger sister, Vanessa, also crafted many objects as well.

I apologise for not having done much blogging for several weeks, since I was busy preparing my garden for the Regina Secret Gardens Tour which was held from 18 July through 20 July. The Tour is a successful fundraiser for a wonderful local modern dance group, New Dance Horizons. It was an exhilarating and fascinating experience. The Tour was well organised and has been a popular summer event in Regina for the past eleven years.

It was with much trepidation that I prepared to open my garden to the public.Evolvulus-glomeratus-'Blue- There seemed endless tasks to accomplish which I am now  happy to have behind me.

My garden has always been an intensely private space for me and has rarely had more than a handful of people in it at one time. Contemplating strangers wandering about was disconcerting and a bit of an internal struggle.

Several days before the Secret Gardens Tour was to open, the participating gardeners and friends of New Dance Horizons had a pre-tour. It was so much fun getting to know other gardeners and having an opportunity to see their gardens. I anticipated that I would have a chance over the Tour weekend to spend time going through these gardens again. 

Little did I know then, that nearly 500 people would visit my garden, beginning last Friday evening. As a night garden on the Tour, I had spent much time arranging to have enough lighting so that the garden would be visible when darkness fell. I was so happy to find Shoji solar lanterns from a Canadian garden supply store. The lanterns were a huge hit, casting beautiful light and shadows in the garden and on the stenciled garage wall. I had help from my friend, Rox, who I dubbed my garden lighting consultant.Salvia-Guaranitica-Black-an

I had planned to take many photographs during the weekend, but found that I spent all my time answering questions and having lively discussions with the many gardeners who toured my garden throughout the weekend. 

Since the Secret Gardens Tour ended, I have spent most of my time sitting in the garden and enjoying it. Thankfully the Tour was last weekend, since we have since had a torrential rainstorm with hail and the next day, a thunderstorm that partially flooded the basement. The garden is looking somewhat battered, but many of the flowers (above left, the Evolvulus glomeratus ‘Blue Daze’  and, above right, the Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’) are blooming with abandon.

Now I have a renewed appreciation for the amount of time and effort that goes into opening one’s garden for a public tour.

Strutting our stuff

 
When the gardener slowly ambled near, we put on our best display and silently willed her to look our way.Bégonia-tubéreux
“Begonias,” she muttered, “I haven’t had any in my garden for at least twenty-five years.”

“That’s why,” we gently pleaded, “you must take us home and become reacquainted with our beauty.”

The gardener felt drawn to our beautiful soft white blooms and our lovely burgundy-veined leaves. We truly are vastly different from those she remembered upon first planting begonias.  As she dug through her memories, she had a clear vision of those long ago planted begonias. They often had reminded her of kindergarten-aged children silently lined up waiting their turn for the bathroom.

Always one to experiment with plants different from her usual favourites, the gardener chose us and happily planted us in a lovely deep purple-collaged flower pot. Knowing that we must wow her with our carefree existence and our innate loveliness, we are intent on putting on a beautiful show.Bégoniatubereux3

It isn’t exactly a chore since we drape nicely over her pot, opening initially as pale pink flowers and gradually transforming ourselves into multiple white blooms with a pale green-tinged centre.

We have vowed to keep flowering throughout the summer. Perhaps, if we are fortunate, we shall return indoors in autumn to keep the other tender plants company.

What we enjoy most about our gardener is how she weaves tales about her plants. It was a special evening, as she sat out on the porch, regaling us with stories of our origins. She told us that we were first discovered in 1650, by a South American explorer, Francisco Hernandez, and that we travelled over the high seas to Europe where we fast became favourites in scientific botanical gardens. Thankfully, we avoided any daring pirate ships.

According to one source, most tuberous begonias, of which we proudly claim membership, can be traced back to the four original species discovered by the intrepid English plant hunter, Richard Pearce. Thankfully, he came upon us in Peru and Bolivia in 1864.That perked us up – we’ve a long and illustrious pedigree. Perhaps that’s why the tango and Choro music the gardener plays on the mandolin resonates so well with us.

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A pink in the garden

 Every morning this past week, I have gone out to my front garden and buried my nose in the hauntingly-beautiful fragrance of the Dianthus superbus (aka pinks).Œillet-mignardise I could look at the deeply-fringed flowers of this pink forever. Luckily, for me, I have several clumps of this flower in my garden.

I came across this flower many years ago when it was in bloom and purchased one. Looking back, it was one of the flowers that inspired my gardening passion. It is easy to grow, if given a light, well-drained soil. It does particularly well in this climate, where high humidity and heat are not a problem. If deadheaded regularly, the flowers last for much of the summer.

On a warm summer’s evening, there are few pleasures quite as delightful as breathing in the scent of these pinks. It is truly intoxicating. While I love most rock garden pinks, these are, by far, my favourites. I have never understood why this particular pink is so rare in gardens. My solution is to grow it from seed which is, thankfully, easy to do.

Pinks, which also include the ubiquitous carnation, have a long and rich history.Œillet-mignardise2 They received the name, Dianthus, by Linnaeus in 1737, from the Greek, signifying divine and flowers. The common name, pinks, is thought to have originated from the look of the petals – as if they had been cut by pinking shears. Pinks were called gillyflowers for centuries – their name originating from the French, girofle, which means cloves (alluding to the clove-like scent of the flowers). In her book, The Language of Flowers, Marina Heilmeyer talks of how the French army during Napoleon’s time wore pinks in their lapels to signify their bravery.

In England, pinks were generally shunned by the aristocracy, which gave rise to pinks being regarded by the lower classes as flowers standing for bravery and love.

Never late for the dance

The Columbines have definitely been intent on increasing their numbers this spring.Ancolie7 And why wouldn't they? It always helps to have enough dance partners attending the annual spring fête. Many showed up this year to create a dance well worth watching as it unfolded for days on end.

Columbines will always have a pride of place in my garden. I love the way they appear wherever their hearts' desire. The fun part is that one never quite knows what colours they will be – from pale yellow and white flowers one spring, lovely blue flowers appeared the next. Ancolie5.

This year, the 
dark mauve/blues predominated with a few magenta and shell pinks emerging as well.

As with all flowers in my garden, the conversations between the Columbines have been entertaining and have made for some fascinating eavesdropping.

I discovered that, even though my plants are not long-lived and self seed merrily, they are well aware of their long histories and their medicinal uses for centuries. Ancolie2

They love the way their name originated and enjoyed hearing me read to them from  Marina Heilmeyer's book, The Language of Flowers (p. 20):

There is no clear explanation for the Late or Middle Latin name aquilegia the monks gave to the columbine. The term may derive from the Latin aquila, the 'eagle', because the spurs of the flower resemble an eagle's hooked beak and talons. The shape of the bloom's nectar gland does slightly resemble a dove, hence the English name columbine (from Latin columba 'dove'). This in turn led to the flower of the columbine taking the place of the dove as the symbol of the Holy Ghost….


The plants quite like knowing that they were planted in monastery and castle gardens alike, as early as the twelfth century, both for medicinal purposes and for their beauty.

Fleurd'ancolie2





When I told them of their importance as a protection against evil spirits and as an aphrodisiac, well, they were most content.



Of course, they said, we could have told you that just as easily. They were quite aware, said they, that people saw a pentagram in their flower shapes and that's how their ability to keep evil at bay originated. 

They also were delighted to discover that William Morris had a particular fondness for them, planting them in his gardens and including them in his designs.


and so it goes … the rhubarb story

 Finally – I have rhubarb in my garden courtesy of my parents prolific rhubarb plants. Last month I mentioned to my parents that I'd like a small chunk of one of their rhubarb plants.Rhubarbe-cachée-dans-les-fe I love watching rhubarb grow and love eating it. More importantly though, I wanted to have a part of their beloved garden in mine. That same day, my dad arrived bearing a big chunk (pictured here). I was so pleased and decided immediately to plant it among the roses and the Black Elder bush growing in the front garden. Rhubarb likes sun and that seemed the best place.

Suddenly I found myself rethinking my front garden. These days, I have been preoccupied by the question Michael Pollan so bluntly asked in his book In Defence of Food: Do you know where your food comes from? Rather a simple question I thought until I began thinking carefully about all the foodstuffs we eat. So I am determined to grow more of my own food. I'm starting small this year and adding several herbs and veggies to my front garden. Next year, I will rent a plot in a community garden and start a bigger vegetable garden.

What's not to love about rhubarb? It grows incredibly well in this harsh climate, faithfully appearing every spring. I love walking the dog down our back lane and looking at all the rhubarb growing in so many gardens and in the lane.

What I especially love though, is having long-held memories come floating back. I can so clearly remember my mother picking rhubarb and presenting us with short stalks and a small bowl of sugar. In those days, our sugar consumption was pretty limited, so this was a treat of monumental proportions. My older sister and brother and I would lick the end of the rhubarb and carefully twirl it in the sugar. We'd spend what then seemed an eternity slowly sucking on the sugar as it mingled with the rather tart taste of the rhubarb. It was a little glimpse of heaven for each of us. And then we returned to our play.

When my dad presented me with some huge rhubarb stalks (60 cm/2 feet long) on Wednesday,Croustade-rhubarbe-et-frais I immediately knew what I would do with them. I made a rhubarb and strawberry crisp (pictured here), liberally flavoured with cardamon, mace, ginger. cinnamon and nutmeg. I added some unsweetened coconut and a handful of walnuts to the oats, flour and brown sugar mixture. The aromas wafting through the kitchen helped ease the work of wet vacuuming the downstairs carpet, flooded from all of the rain we've had.

I'm looking forward to sharing this dessert with my friend Kerry tonight – another big rhubarb fan. Served with plain yogurt or vanilla ice cream – a wonderful taste experience.

gracefully aging

While admiring the Pulsatilla vulgaris this spring,Pulsatilla I began thinking of how the life of a flower from bud to seedpod loosely parallels our lives. When we are young and in full bloom, we turn our faces to the sun and bask in our youthful beauty and exuberance. It is a time of unlimited possibilities and much exploration. Our petals are shiny and bright. We are filled with youthful optimism and yearn to reach higher and experience as much as we can.

 And then, as time goes on, we gain more knowledge and a deeper wisdom about life.Pulsatilla3 We have cycled
through our early adulthood and have reached middle age. We have learned much about life and love and know the meaning of loss. We know, too, what is really of value and what we cherish.

It is a time of a different sort of beauty- more of a radiant, inner one. Even though we are exhorted to try and maintain youthful appearances and banish any outward signs of aging, there is a dignity nonetheless in allowing ourselves to enjoy the skin that we're in.

Just as with the Pulsatilla, the seedpods are not as flashy as the flowers, but they still have an allure. There is a mystery to them. They are occupied with other things beyond passing fads and pleasing others. Sometimes these are hard lessons to learn. 

The Arrival of Little Fishy

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This winter,
our five pond fish were much entertained by the antics of the newly-arrived Little Fishy (pictured above). Little Fishy
would have us believe that she swam across the Atlantic Ocean from her home in England. We humour her because she is a much-loved member of our family. Fishy can weave tales to rival those of any plant that grows in my garden.

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Last week, when the day finally arrived for the five fish to return to the pond, Fishy insisted that she watch the proceedings from an adjacent Dogwood. The large Elm tree, she decided, simply did not show her colouring off to advantage. Who were we to argue?  The Dogwood turned out to be a perfect place for Fishy since she hung by a lovely brass ring overlooking the  pond.   There was much excitement as my son and I put the fish back in the pond. I was only able to photograph four of the five fish together in the photograph here.

Little Fishy is the creation of the talented and lovely Gretel.  When Fishy made her appearance in Gretel’s blog, Middle of Nowhere, I knew that her home was with us. If you have not visited Gretel’s blog or her Etsy shop, Red Flannel Elephant, then you have a treat in store for you. How Gretel can needlefelt such lovely creatures is magical and mysterious to me. Fishy arrived in a beautiful package along with a beautiful set of cards featuring Gretel’s toy illustrations.   

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Now that the fish have been restored to the pond, it feels as if summer has arrived. Weather-wise it certainly has as the temperatures zoomed up to 27c late last week and have been hovering in the low 20s for the weekend.

Fishy spends part of each day outdoors and accompanies us inside at night. Her days are filled with much excitement as Lytton, the dog, keeps neighbourhood cats and pesky pigeons away from the pond.  Every morning we have been relieved to discover that none of the fish have disappeared.

Silently stealing the show – The Liverlilies

Img_1602_2 This year, we’ve had the time of our lives,  happily surviving several
frost-filled nights and putting forth more blooms than ever before. As the days grow warmer, the time will soon come when we must say goodbye.

We
aren’t ready to take our leave just yet. If by chance you were to  happen upon us, you would almost certainly be charmed by our cheerful beauty, especially on a sunny and warm spring day.Liverlily_2

When our blooms are gone, what will be left are quiet remembrances of our beauty. Our odd-shaped seedheads will linger for a time before disappearing, while our reddish-tinged, liver-shaped leaves will  remain healthy all summer long. That’s because we are partially shaded by trees and plants.Img_1607

We like to think that we are still noticed in the garden all summer long though, even if our sunny buttercup-like blooms have become distant memories. Sometimes we fancy that the gardener is smiling fondly upon us. We watch and we listen to the world unfolding around us.

There are now five clumps of us (Liverlilies – Hepatica nobilis)
in two different places in the garden. Each spring we race to see who
will be the first to toss up blooms. Every year, the eldest of us wins, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. We are ever hopeful.Llily03

A long time ago, it was thought that we played a role in curing liver ailments.  Just because  our three-lobed leaves were thought to resemble human livers does not mean that we had any special healing powers.  Now we are mostly left in peace in gardens and also in the wild places we still inhabit. 

The thing about gardens is that everyone thinks they go on growing, that in winter they sleep and in spring they rise. But it’s more that they die and return, die and return. They lose themselves. They haunt themselves.

Every story is a story about death. But perhaps, if we are lucky, our story about death is also a story about love.

And this is what I have remembered of love. (Helen Humphreys, The Lost Garden)

Continue reading “Silently stealing the show – The Liverlilies”

Almost ready for the performance – Northern Fairy Candelabra

It isn’t every spring we deign to make an appearance. Some years, our gruelling schedule takes its toll and we break from our usual, annual touring schedule. Last spring, was one such time.Img_1720_2 None of us can recall the source of our fatigue, but no matter. This year, we decided to appear with our full touring entourage. 

Usually we like to perform solo from every corner of the garden. This year, however, we’ve decided to do things a bit differently.

We formed several quartets that live up to the name most people know us by – Northern Fairy Candelabra (Androsace septentrionalis). There are also the usual solo performers who provide us with backup. ‘Most years, we limit our touring to western parts of Canada and the United States. Some people call us Pygmyflowers too. We prefer to be thought of as Candelabra though. Img_1721

While we are sometimes viewed as weeds in farmers’ fields, we are mostly beloved as native wildflowers. What isn’t there to love about us? Our white flowers appear high above our slender, toothed leaves and remind people of flickering candlelight. Each of our performances make every garden and field a much lovelier place.

When we have completed our final performances, we "do not go gentle into that good night." Rather, we  finish out the summer setting seeds for next year’s possible return. As our leaves turn a beautiful reddish colour, we "rage, rage against the dying light."

Whenever we start blooming, one gardener is reminded of the song, Wildflowers, by The Trio  – Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton (1987).

I hitched a ride with the wind
and since he was my friend 
I just let him decide where we’d go 
When a flower grows wild
It
can always survive
Wildflowers don’t care where they grow.

Stay tuned for our much-anticipated performances. We prefer to wait until the Liverlilies are finished before taking front and centre stage.