28 April 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Magnolia Magnificence







26 April 2010

Eating my Words



I love learning something new, especially when it comes to plants. There's always, always something new to learn, too. Including about myself.

So I'm at Glad Gardens out in Waterville, which is a very cool family owned operation that I discovered a few years ago. Daina and her mother Laura and their team of employees strive to have great plants, including a lot of unusual annuals, many of which Daina grows from seed. She creates astonishingly beautiful container plantings too, but more about those another day.

One of the reasons I enjoy going to Glad Gardens so much is that, like the other nurseries I frequent, the owners LOVE plants, and love to talk about them. We exchange information, puzzle over things together sometimes. Like when Laura told me about the Filipendula purpurea 'Elegans that she'd had growing in front of the nursery, and then moved it, and the flower colour changed. She'd grown it on in several spots and it still didn't resort to the rich pink flowers they had been--more of a pale peach. Did I know why? No, I didn't, although I'd read something about this in Allan Armitage's Native Plants for North America Gardens just recently and so when I got home I'd go find out what ever else I could and let her know.

Daina and I are walking through the nursery looking for plants for me to take with me to Saltscapes Expo this Friday, and she points out the tuberous begonias she grew. "I'm not a fan of begonias," I tell her, even though my father grew them splendidly when I was a kid back in St. John's. Somehow, they're just too...I don't know what, but I've only ever had the occasional Rex begonia around for years.

The words are hardly out of my mouth--I MEAN that--when I glance up and come to a halt. "Which one is THAT?" I demand, pointing at a glowing, perfect flower, gold edged in pink-scarlet. It looked a little bit like a tree peony, so stuffed with gorgeous petals.

"Non Stop Fire, "Daina says, grinning at me. She knows me well, and when plants stop me in my tracks, there's usually something about to happen.

Yes, she added one to the box of treasures she was carrying for me. Surprised? Didn't think so.

So that was one thing I learned--I can be seduced into liking at least ONE species or cultivar in a genus if the right colour combination catches my eye. But the thing about this little interlude that cracked me up is that I was looking at another flower on the plant, with single petals and a cluster of stigma in its centre. "Why is this different?" I ask.

"That's the female flower," she says. "The male is the bigger, showier one. Some people cut the female flowers off so more energy can go into the fancy double ones."

D-uh to me. All these years and I didn't know that? Okay, granted, I've said I don't LIKE them and consequently don't grow them or read about them or...but still. Wow. But I've never pretended to be a know-it-all, just a curious person. And like I said, I love learning something new.

Oh, so what else got into the car today besides the begonia that felled me in a single swoop? I'm not telling, not today. Just a tempting little hint; rich dark foliage, blue flowers, orange flowers, rosy pink flowers, vine, annuals, perennials, succulents. Hmmmm. What has she gone and done NOW?

You'll have to wait a day or two to find out, friends. With the Saltscapes Expo only 5 sleeps away, I have much to do before I head to Halifax for the weekend.

25 April 2010

Seeing rather than looking: a weekend miscellany

A few highly productive but also very busy days around here. The weather, as I mentioned last post, has smartened up significantly, leading me to get up early, write/work like a demon til lunch or early afternoon, then go outside to tackle the garden. Just on Friday, I wrote over 2500 words for assorted projects, including, of course, The Book, which seems to be coming along well.



Likewise, the garden is coming along well. It's actually leaping ahead at an amazing rate, sort of worrying because I wonder if everything is going to be early and thus done early. But on the other hand, I've been enjoying welcoming the arrivals of plants that I had thought might be spleeny. And I do greet the discovery that they've made it through the winter with great joy. "Welcome BACK, Anemone 'Vestal.' Nice to see you again, Echinacea 'Coconut Lime'. Hurray, you've made it through, Eryngium 'Jade Frost' (above photo)." And so on.

I love going outside to take photos with my small digital Canon, which has an interesting macro feature and sees things that I didn't notice. I might be fixating on the myriad shades of colour in the hellebore petals (actually sepals, but we won't quibble) and fail to notice the wee insect making its way toward the flower's centre, perhaps to pollinate.


Along with writing The Book, I'm providing the photos for it, and have been taking extra shots in case images I have from other years aren't enough. The most frustrating flower to photograph has been this Orange Konigin epimedium, because each flower is so small, they open at different times on each stalk of blossoms, and they're just not cooperating. It wasn't until I was looking at these images blown up that I noticed the wee hairs on each flower's stipe. Also the cat hair and/or spider web festooning this plant, courtesy of the two elderly cats who do go outside and who like to help me in the garden.

Love the venation in these pulmonaria blooms. Of course, I've mentioned my love of pulmonarias before, and will again. They're just so wonderful, and pollinators adore them too. Given that I was talking about pollinators to a group of gardeners in Dartmouth on Saturday, it's small wonder that I have them on my mind.

Magnolias are in bloom in other parts of Nova Scotia, and some report frost damage from the cold nights we had a few days back. Only a few of my flowers are beginning to show on the stellata, and most are still nestled inside their protective bud covers (the proper name of which completely escapes me tonight.)

This seems to be the week of rainbows, too. Thursday evening's was nice, but Saturday evening we were given the present of a double rainbow over my neighbour's old house. After taking some photos, I sat out behind our place and just let the intermittent rain spatter on me while I watched the rainbows, which went on for probably twenty minutes.


And I was thinking to myself as I looked at this sedum emerging from its winter sleep, how much I like the look of some perennials as they push through the ground. I almost wish this one (which is one of the taller varieties, possibly 'Matrona') would stay small and tidy and lovely. Almost.

Something about the geometric beauty of this hellebore's flower, surrounded by the rosy sepals, really, really pleased me. So did the condition of the soil in the lower garden where the hellebores are and where I was weeding the past couple of days. It's turned black, rich and friable from all the compost I've added to it over the years since I first took on the challenge to deal with what was red clumpy clay. So it can be done, friends. It really can. The dedicated work we do, whether in the garden or on other projects, really does pay off.

So, what has come back in your garden that you've been really pleased about? What has seemingly gone to sleep, never to awaken again?

23 April 2010

Skywatch Friday: April showers bring...April rainbows

The past couple of days have been truly glorious, proving that all things come to those who wait and don't complain about the weather. Okay, well, maybe a little complaining. But we forget all about the complaining when the weather turns to mild spring and we can almost hear the gardens growing, right?

Tonight after supper I was on my way to town to do a couple of errands, and as I started up our road, I noticed a rainbow over my neighbour's house. I was curious as to whether it would hold til I got to the Look-Off, and while it had faded a little, it was still enough that I took a couple of photos of it, arcing over the beauty of the Annapolis Valley and the Minas Basin.
Then as an added bonus, as I was coming back from town and crossing the Cornwallis River at Middle Dyke, a shower of rain off to the westward coupled with the setting sun and the rising of ground mist in the dykelands beside the river made a wonderful watercolour. So since I've missed the past couple of Skywatch Fridays, here's double the skywatching!

Meanwhile, tonight, the sky is clear, the peepers are singing a huge chorus, and...I can hear the garden growing. Seriously. A couple of warm days and everything leaps ahead. But I'll report on that in my next post.

20 April 2010

Anodyne for April-is-the-cruelest-month-itis


Well, it had to happen sooner or later. The weather finally remembered that this is April in Nova Scotia, and threw a hissy fit worthy of a prima dona ex-federal tory cabinet minister stuck in a Charlottetown airport. There was no bad language out of the weather, tis true, but there was plenty out of me while I watched wind, rain, snow, more wind, chilly temperatures, and of course, yet more wind over the past few days.


However, I laugh in the face of such adversity. Ha. Ha.


Guess that wasn't overly convincing, was it? Okay, yes, I'm still cranky about the weather. But I've been using the inside days to get other work done so I can take a day off and go outside when April resumes behaving like a genteel lady once again. In the meantime, let's talk about some spring performers that make us happy. Like Lantana, which of course is an indoor performer at present but will be festooning many of my containers when the weather warms up again (top photo of Landmark sunrise).

Or primulas. I am very fond of them and have a few, though I plan to have a few more sooner rather than later. The watercolour one in the second photo is a lovely plant at the NSAC rock garden, and I'm hoping it has babies to share. This brilliant red and gold character came from Lloyd Mapplebeck's nursery last spring, and looks to be multiplying at a good rate. None of these primulas are in flower yet, I hasten to add. We're early, but we're not that early.

This brave soul, on the other hand, is close to flowering. This is Primula frondosa, the cutest little alpine-like primula you ever saw. We're talking tiny; each rosette is about the size of my camera lens cap, and the flowers are pea-sized. I love it.
Sneezing, looking around resentfully, but putting in an appearance is my old friend the hepatica. This simple little bloom makes my heart happy every spring when it and its friends put in an appearance. A native of Nova Scotia but all but extirpated, I got this from a nursery that grew its own plants from seed years ago. It's very slowgrowing, however, so I don't expect to have the woods awash in it any time soon.

The pieris that my friend Dick Steele gave me is quivering with anticipation. Just a few more days, and it will erupt into displays like this, it promises me. I've cut the holly back this year so the pieris has more room to shine.

Ah, the beautiful blues of scilla. This is one of those true blue flowers that just makes my heart happy to see it. It multiplies nicely, not insanely fast but with good persistance, and its cobalt blue flowers are very satisfying.

This rock cress is a determined plant. As soon as the weather warms up even slightly and sunlight hits it on its rocky hillside, it's in bloom. I haven't had as good success with the more lavender and magenta forms, but the white one does splendidly for me year after year.

A little foliage now, to excite us about things to come. Polemonium 'Stairway to Heaven' is reminding me that I love it for its foliage as well as for its softly blue flowers later in the spring.

And lastly, a perfect, exquisite, fragrant magnolia from down in the Valley. Mine aren't in bloom yet, and are still enough wrapped in their furry perules (those furry seed coverings) that the chilly weather won't harm the buds. I've convinced myself that I really should add one of the hardier yellow-flowered magnolias to the garden this year. Don't you think that's a good idea too?

15 April 2010

Having a Hellebore good time for Bloom Day


For a couple of years I was seriously challenged by hellebores, and unfortunately at the same time I had a deep and abiding passion for them. I don't know what it is that appeals most to me: their early rising to cheer our hearts or their complex and lovely flowers. They look somehow extremely exotic to me, and considering the fact that I have a lot of diverse, lovely and sometimes exotic 'stuff' growing in my gardens, that's quite a statement. They just fascinate me.

And they used to defeat me, because of two things: the capriciousness of our late winter/early spring weather, and the ongoing hassles with drainage. Clay has its advantages, generally being nutrient rich and holding moisture in summer, especially if you mulch it. However, it can also hold too MUCH water in winter and spring. Saturated soil is not good for many plants, including hellebores. But finally I located the best spots for them, and they're doing well, also thanks to the tutelage of Frances of Faire Garden and Barbara of Mr. McGregor's Daughter fame, who have been my hellebore mentors, so to speak.

But we're a little ahead of ourselves here, so to speak. There's actually quite a bit blooming in my garden this April Bloom Day (Thanks to Carol for hosting this longrunning meme!) Along with the usual forsythia-which still gladdens my heart even if it's common-as-dirt--we have snowdrops, and puschkinia, and glory-of-the-it-better-NOT-snow (Chionodoxa) and the first of my beloved pulmonaria (Redstart and an unnamed P. angustifolia seedling).

While the double galanthus are winding down, the single flowered forms are still going marvelously strong. And we have iris reticulata, and still have all kinds of crocus happening--some of them just coming on. That's the advantage of living where we do. Although spring comes slowly sometimes, the cooler weather also means that things last longer. Or so I console myself. (was that REALLY snow falling earlier, or just chunks of frozen clouds? Whatever they were, they didn't stay around.)

Okay, back to slobbering over hellebores. Yes, they're glorious. They're also apparently quite promiscuous once they get going, though I haven't yet detected any seedlings around mine. The first two to join our family and stay with us were 'Ivory Prince' (above) and the less showy but still wonderful H. purpurescens. There's also H. 'Red Lady', who is a little shy and slow but coming along nicely.

I have a new love now. Yes, yes, I do. Meet 'Golden Sunrise', who utterly seduced me with glowing, rich colours, and got into the back of my car before I could argue. I could sit staring at those flowers with their aurora borealis-like colours for hours. I don't think that will make them bloom longer or stronger, but I'm totally smitten.

However, there will be others coming to join the hellebore family very soon. I have four new cultivars waiting for me at my friend's nursery, including (gasp!) 'Metallic Blue Lady.' Almost as cool as a blue poppy. And the mail is bringing other surprises soon.

Obviously my Urgent Plant Seeking Madness is not going away any time soon.

Happy Bloom Day, everyone!

14 April 2010

Urgent Plant-Seeking Madness: Do you have this Condition?



In my previous post I mentioned how the initial signs of Urgent Plant Seeking Madness (UPSM) were upon me, as witnessed by my foray out on Saturday "just for a look" and my return home with the car packed with plants. Ooops.

Others of you have commented that you've also been stricken--or smitten--with this condition. You may have it and not even be aware of it, or you may already be in the full-blown condition. In the interest of public (garden bloggers) health, I thought I'd offer a reprise of a post I did several years ago, with some additions and of course shiny new photos. Gotta have more pretty pictures, don't we?

UPSM affects a broad spectrum of individuals. It’s closely related to Urgent Plant HUNTING Madness, which is a less-known form that causes botanists, nursery operators, garden writers, and other plant enthusiasts to go off on forays to exotic locales such as the Himalayas, outer Mongolia, central Africa, and Newfoundland and Labrador. UPHM sufferers should have bumperstickers on the backs of their vehicles that say, “I brake for interesting plants”.

There is no known cure for either affliction, other than a change of seasons, or an exhausted bank account. Even an overflowing garden doesn't cure the situation. You'll figure out ways to make more beds. Who needs boring ol' lawn, anyway?




Here are the warning signs of UPSM:

1. All winter you’ve been salivating over blog posts, catalogues, websites and magazines, learning about new plants.

2. You’ve got a list longer than your regular grocery list of ‘Must Have’ plants.

3. You can’t pass by a nursery, garden centre, or even a bigbox asphalt ‘garden centre’ without going in. Just. For. A. Look.

4. You come out of said business with at least one garden-related item. Probably more like six or seventeen. Or two dozen. Or so.

5. You carry a tote box, plastic trunk liner, spade and bucket with you wherever you go.

6. You find the need to have to go run errands far more often. No matter that the price of gas is approaching that of a dentist appointment. There are plants to be checked out!


7. Your grocery budget takes a dip towards hamburger helper, peanut butter, and canned soup.

8. You start parking your vehicle around the back of the house, so as to unload your ‘groceries for the garden’ (as my friend Flora and HER long-suffering spouse call these outings) more conveniently (and out of view of your long-suffering spouse, who’s getting tired of peanut butter sandwiches and hamburger helper).

9. An enormous queue of new acquisitions lines itself up along your walkway in your dooryard (That’s Maritimer-speak for driveway/walkway/front yard), or your holding bed, or your greenhouse. Or your kitchen. We do what we gotta do to protect those new little darlings.

10. Despite that enormous queue, you continue to suffer from UPSM and to seek out nurseries, plant sales, yardsales with plants, garden centres, plant giveaways…

11. The first thing your longsuffering spouse says to you when you come home from an expedition is “Where are you going to plant THAT?” The second thing, of course, is “what are we having for supper? Not MORE hamburger helper!”

12. You blithely say, "Oh, that's been here for years!" when confronted about the new magnolia or Japanese maple or plot of hellebores or three dozen Osteospermums that have suddenly appeared in your yard. You change the subject to, "When are you going fishing, dear?" or some such diversionary tactic.

13. You plan Sunday drives/family outings so that they'll accidentally go past nurseries. And then, well, since you're in the area, you need to stop in. Just. for. a. minute.

14. While longsuffering spouse drives, you scan roadsides for houses with tables of plants for sale, even though you KNOW they'll mostly be stuff you already have. And damned ol' goutweed.

15. You make up excuses to go off by yourself for drives. Just to do some thinking, you know. (and because you don't want to waste valuable vehicle space with other family members.)

You can’t wait for the next trip so you can do it all again!

11 April 2010

Resisting anything but (plant) temptation


Seedy Saturday at the Wolfville Farmer's Market was a great success, as far as I could tell during my visit there. Among the delights on offer were seeds from several small local heritage seed businesses, which I'll have more to say about on another day. Saturday, however, I was all about plants, though it started out innocuously enough. The Friends of the Garden at the KC Irving Environmental Centre at Acadia were doing a tree seedling giveaway, and when a couple of the Friends spied me, they of course insisted I needed a tree seedling or two or three.

I ended up with five. The seedlings were free, with a donation to the Farmers Market building fund, a project I happily support. Meanwhile, three white pine seedlings and two balsam fir seedlings took up happy residence in the trunk of my car.

That was the beginning of the kickoff for the 2010 Urgent Plant Seeking Madness.

It happened that there were a couple of women at the Market, selling perennials. I know and like these women a lot, having gotten some choice plants from them over the years, including my unique and lovely lindelofia, a member of the borage family that looks like giant forget-me-nots or anchusa. They tell me they're growing it again this year. I'll have to visit their nursery and get a couple more plants, as I'm quite sure I know of one or two others who would love another blue-flowered plant.


Saturday, however, was about other blue-flowered beauties, and more. Like pulmonaria. I have a huge love for these plants, also members of the borage family, for their silver spangled foliage even more than for their flowers. The photo at the top is of one that has all-green foliage, however, P. angustifolia 'Azurea'. What it lacks in silver accents in the leaves, it more than makes up for in the brilliant, dazzling blue flowers.

Less exuberantly blue but with exquisite silver-green accents is P. 'Gaelic Magic', one of the Proven Winners series of perennials. It also followed me out to the car.

The primulas are starting to come up in my garden, so of course I couldn't resist the urge to add another to those already hanging out there. This is one of the drumstick primulas (P. denticulata).

And the last of the perennial purchases for the day was a Labrador violet (Viola labradorica). I had this a few years ago but it was either in the wrong spot or got overwhelmed by larger, more vigourous plants. Its foliage is stunning, deep green with highlights of darker purple, almost black, against which the dainty flowers show up beautifully.

Well, after that little episode I had the bit well and truly in my teeth, and went down to Falmouth to visit my buddy, nurseryman Rob Baldwin. Rob's one of those plant people who is phenomenal at propagating and growing impressive, healthy nursery stock, another acolyte of our late lamented friend Captain Steele. He specializes in shrubs and trees, but also has a nice selection of perennials, many of them specifically to encourage pollinators. We went plant hunting with Captain Steele to Newfoundland and Labrador in the summer of 2007, and brought home many cuttings and seeds, which Rob has been growing on since then. If you live in this province, I can't say it more clearly than this: go to Baldwin Nurseries for plants. Seriously.

Um...I came home with the car full. Literally. I shared the front seat with a seedling magnolia and a northern bayberry, because there was no room in the trunk or the back seat. Next time, I'm bringing the truck!

So what treasures came along with me this time? Aside from the magnolia and the northern bayberry (Myrica pennsylvanica), a mixture of natives and introduced friends climbed into the car:

A lepidote rhododendron, the name of which has temporarily left me.
Two Daphne mezereum, or what we call Acadian daphne (photo above), as it was brought to this province by the Acadians some 400 years ago.
A young barberry (Berberis thunbergii) from tiny seedlings I brought to Rob several years ago
A sea buckthorn (Rhamnus hippophae)
Two Cornus sericea 'Flaviramea'
One Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum), from seed we collected on the Labrador Quebec border during that trip. Well, he climbed this rocky hilltop beside the ferry terminal while I held the car in the queue and worried. The plants were scoured by wind and heavy snowload and they seem to have evolved with somewhat reflexed leaves as a result.
Two creeping silver willows (Salix repens argentea)

Did I mention I'm making more beds?
I have to get these all planted before I can go plant seeking again. That's the rule. Guess it's going to be a busy few days. As soon as the wind stops blowing gale force, that is.

09 April 2010

Skywatch Friday: Horizontal holds and spring peepers

Sometimes, the camera sees soooo much more than the eye does. The other day brought fine weather to Scotts Bay, but also a low fog that hung over the water and only advanced and retreated as the tide did, never extending beyond the water's edge. It made everything down in the community look very Brigadoon-ish and mysterious. I thought it would make an interesting, brooding photo for Skywatch Friday.



It wasn't until I looked at this photo on my big monitor that I noticed the numerous horizontal waves that composed the entire photo; I count nine different bands of lines, from the clouds and sky to the two coasts flanking the Minas channel (channel unseen in this photo) to the veils of fog, then the spruces of the woodlot below our place, the alders and willows, the grasses, and the white cord of our pasture fence. It's not art, but it's kind of interesting.




Photo from the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History website


Meanwhile, the best of all possible spring gifts arrived tonight. I went out on the step just around sunset to smell the air and just revel in mild weather, when I heard the bell-like peep! peep! peep! And I started to grin. The northern spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) has woken even in Scotts Bay, and begun the annual chorus.

The spring peeper is as much a rite of spring as counting the snowdrops and waiting for the redwinged blackbirds to arrive. The tiny, tiny frogs begin their song shyly, just a few intermittent peeps here and there, like aural polka-dots. But with each passing night, the chorus grows and swells until it becomes this wonderful, heartwarming din, night after night after night. I shouldn't call it a din--although we have lots of peepers all around us, they aren't raucous like, say, a murder of crows descending on the trees. They sound like little crystal bells to me, and whenever possible I leave the bedroom window wide open so I can listen to them and let them sing me to sleep.

Which is what, dear friends, I'm going to let them do right now.

Spring is just awesome.

08 April 2010

Public Service Announcement: Seedy Saturday in Wolfville



Because I haven't learned how to do pages yet, I just decided to put up this public information on my blog, as a way of letting people in the Valley know about a Seedy Saturday event at the Wolfville Farmers Market on this coming Saturday.

PSA: Seedy Saturday returns to Wolfville!

Come to the Wolfville Farmers’ Market on April 10th for our third annual Seedy Saturday!

Activities and events include: seed starting and seed saving workshops; free take-home tomato and pepper seedlings; a seed exchange and trading table; seed and plant vendors; a free children’s gardening activity; free seed catalogues and gardening handouts; a Seeds of Diversity table; as well as over 40 regular vendors and live music at the Wolfville Farmers’ Market.

Whether you want to plant a few pots on your balcony, or plant the back 40, there will be something for every gardener and farmer, young and old, new and seasoned, big and small.

For more information, and a complete schedule of events, please see our website

06 April 2010

Sustainability and a bloomingwriter's garden



The weather decided to cooperate somewhat this weekend so I got to spend a good deal of time out in the gardens, puttering and thinking. I spent some of my time thinking about what it means to live sustainably. The words have changed somewhat over the years, but the sentiments remain the same. We talk a great deal about sustainable living today, and many of us practice such a lifestyle in as many ways as we possibly can. Mine begins, not surprisingly, with the garden.

In order to best understand my own philosophy about gardening, come along with me on a time trip. It’s the late 1970s at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College where I am a student, one of the first big wave of female students with an interest in that discipline. That was no problem. What WAS a problem, at least to a few of us, was the spectre of Agribusiness and Big Chemical that was being touted as the cure for all of agriculture’s woes. Get bigger! Specialize in one or two crops or livestock types! Put the chemicals to your soil: chemical fertilizers, chemical herbicides, growth regulators, pesticides, fumigants…they’d all make you better, more productive farmers! Never mind what they might do to the environment, and to beneficial creatures like frogs and bees...

Now…for those of you who are young’uns in the sustainable movement, bear in mind we’re visiting a time about 15 years after Silent Spring had been published. I read Rachel Carson’s plea for our environment in my mid-teens, not terribly long before heading off to college. Some of what Carson wrote stuck in my head, and I worried about what pesticides were doing—to plants, to animals, to insects, to the environment…to us.

So being a curious student, I questioned. I also wondered about lots of other things, mostly to do with plants—especially after calculus prevented me from going further with my dreams of becoming a vet, and I switched to plant science. I wrote papers for various courses on subjects that weren’t exactly conventional. Herbs. Edible wild plants. Biological control of plant pathogens. Organic gardening.

Remember, this is the late seventies—Organic Gardening magazine had been around for several decades, but many people thought that ‘going organic’ was something done only by the long-haired hippy set, the draft dodgers who came up to Canada, the college dropouts, the granola set fleeing urban sprawl…all those scary things that didn’t conform to the American—or the Canadian—dream.

So you can well imagine, when I stuck my hand up in plant pathology class and asked the provincial weed inspector (who was guest lecturing and going on about spraying weeds with 2, 4D) why we don’t try alternative, organic means of weed control…I was looked at like some sort of traitor. Anaethema! Why do all that hard work when a simple spray would take care of all those nasty weeds for us? He expounded and postulated, ranted and raved while also chainsmoking his way through the lecture…

I noticed his obituary in the newspaper, about a decade later if memory serves right. Cancer. So it goes.


Being stubborn as well as curious, I stuck to my organic guns, and fortunately I had intelligent professors who, although they might teach a lot of chemical solutions, also acknowledged that there were other ways. I graduated with honours, and sallied forth to the Annapolis Valley, prepared to go work in a greenhouse…

…where we fumigated the ground before planting, fed everything hydroponically with a grand concoction of fertilizers and fungicides, sprayed hideous insecticides that made me sick to my stomach…and I lasted there four months before quitting. I worked on several farms before leaving agriculture behind as a career—but always gardened whenever I had a place with even a postage-stamp yard. If no yard, the gardening was of the indoor variety.



Flash forward to today, thirty years later. I write about gardening, sometimes about agricultural issues, and still live in the Annapolis Valley, or rather on the North Mountain that bounds the Valley. We have seven acres here, pasture, trees, pond, wildflowers, native shrubs and trees, plus assorted gardens. I garden mostly organically—I HAVE resorted to glyphosate on occasion while battling the bane of my gardening existence, the evil bad goutweed (Aegopodium podegraria), but the rest of my repertoire for dealing with garden pests is organic: water for aphids, laissez-faire for just about everything else. Nature brings most things into balance, and if my hostas get slug holes or my phlox some powdery mildew, tough. The hummingbirds and bees are much more important to me than a photo-shoot-ready landscape.

However, I am not a horto-saint: I don’t buy only organic soil, or plants only from organic nurseries, or eat only organic, free-range, vegan food. As much as I disliked the hard-line chemicals-will-save-us approach of the 70s (and later), I also dislike the enviro-nazis who are strident and morally superior to us mere mortals. That might be fine if you are either living on the street, or off your daddy’s trust account, but most of us are trying to make a living and be as good people as we possibly can.

I do think most people want to be good stewards and live sustainable lives. Maybe that means recycling plastic bags and pots, not completely eliminating their use; eating local food, even conventionally grown, because we know the producers and how they produce their food. Maybe we haven’t all abandoned growing lawns yet; but lots of us are developing more wild spaces that can be habitats for other creatures.

Our property is rich in plant and animal diversity—plenty of birds, reptiles and amphibians, insects (primarily beneficial, in my worldview) and all kinds of plants: natives and naturalized, heirlooms and hybrids. It’s not a Martha-Stewart-perfect yard or property: some of the hoity horts might think it ugly at times, and the really snooty designer types would likely look down their noses because it WASN’T planned by one of them. But it is a living, healthy property. A sustainable one.

We have monarch butterflies hatching out every summer. Ducks and redwinged blackbirds, nest around our pond, swallows in our barn, assorted other songbirds around the property. Our wild pond wouldn’t be brimming with frogs if we used chemicals to take the ‘weeds’ out of the pasture or make the plants grow faster or kill the ‘pests’ on roses, phlox, tomatoes, hostas.


We can’t all achieve sustainable sainthood overnight. But every step we take is a help to our world. So my wish for this coming Earth Day is that each of you do what you can to help the environment, when you can. Try gardening with fewer chemicals, or no chemicals at all. Instead of thinking your lawn must be perfectly cut turfgrass in order to be right, let the clovers grow, and let it grow a little longer. Recycle your plant pots—some nurseries can take them, others can’t—and if you can’t make a compost heap, try digging little holes in the garden and dumping some of your vegetative organic matter into them as mini-compost spots. Plant a tree: if not on your property, donate one to a public park, a schoolground, some other greenspace that can be shared by all.

But most importantly? Bloom where you’re planted, and enjoy your sustainably-growing garden, be it a multi-thousand dollar landscaped job or three pots of scarlet geraniums on a windowsill.

This is my post for Jan Thanks4Today’s “Garden Bloggers Sustainable Living Earth Day Celebration.” The deadline for entries is fast approaching: you have just over a week left to get your entry in. So please check out Jan’s webpage, and write a post to celebrate the upcoming Earth Day—you could win an awesome prize, and more importantly, inspire others to try living more sustainably too!

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