Thursday, June 25, 2009


The stepping out into private garden maintenance, out of a short trial in retail, and magazines and wishful thinking, required a leap of faith. To meander front garden perimeters, balance on rock walls, enter into backyards through side gates and around behind .
It magnified my nervousness , threshold crossings in both surrender and anticipation.

A journey into what I longed to feel familiar, what I longed for, so unknown.
It was only through the kind reaching out of a past acquaintance, now special friend, that I got the chance to do this at all, sub-contracting with an eager smile, newly stiff gloves, and pocket guides to Ontario plants tucked at the bottom of my tool bucket.
I was drawn in to the light, onward, and on the clock, by this magnificent inviting wall of climbing hydrangea greeting me that early summer morning.
I remember steadying my breathing, labouring into that light , a few more steps to getting the I forgot how hard this used to be moment behind me.
This garden isn't particularly large, flowing around the pool and deck and patio with a good mix of both common and newer shrubs, perennials, and older trees, a simple addition of annuals for colour. Scattered about are the odd trinkets and ornaments, tasteful and cheerful.
The space invites. It is casual and comfortable, neat yet unpretentious.
I can't tell you how relieved I was, and how honoured and grateful to have such an opportunity to poke around and soak up such easy beauty.

There is good placement of contrast, such as the blue oat grass with the barberry, variety of texture, and staggered bloom time colour, unifying the backyard bordered by the newly planted cedar hedge , with the style of the home itself.
I was challenged right from that first scheduled visit, when it came time to prune the variegated Japanese willow standard, sweat beads from sun and stretching and skittish wielding of blades, praying to leave few cross branches, and enough life and form.
After edging and raking and sweeping, all I could think of was the Ikea commercial... shouting "Start the Car" to myself as I fumbled and stumbled with everything in one trip to make my getaway before I was found out. I didn't have master gardener training to offer, Latin in pockets , or years of tending anything more than a tiny patch of hope by our old play set, and the more recent experiments in don't you know your yard is shady now poolscaping.
I've gone through a few pairs of gloves since then, lost a pair of expensive pruners, gained more clients, and a permanent boot tan.
This home with it's front , side and back plantings truly brings joy.
It is a just the right sized piece of suburbia in the older mature treed part of the city. A slightly tired , time to freshen up, imperfect here and there sanctuary. The stubborn old vines keep sneaking over the window sills, the windswept climbing rose blooms in spite of itself. The cedar hedge has flourished and has made a reworking of some of the now shadow cast spots the latest project.
The family that blesses this space couldn't be any warmer or sincere or giving. I could feel it right away , back that first day , when she took the time to email mail me afterwards with gushing thanks, insisting on paying more than I had shyly undercharged.
I knew it in soggy aching bones when he approached me to share his ideas for the changes and wanted to know what I thought and introduced me to his son.
When her mother took sicker than she had been and grew weaker, she wore it on her face, in her walk , her tiny frame of grieving soul slouched a bit in the doorway. Her painless passing breaking and filling my heart, witnessing and touched by such love and grace.
It is a real home garden , sweeping around and hugging a truly beautiful family, and I still get a little tremble there at that solid iron gate, so grateful to get to wrap up in it for a while, and carry it with me forever.

I am posting this as the first of the A Stroll and a Ramble entries. In which I sort of highlight a garden I work on, or covet, or visit, and will no doubt unfold it as a story.
There is abundance of fabulous foliage , unique tastes and inspiring design in our community , and I'm certain that in shining some light on it, we could all learn and share , growing from each other. We are neighbours after all.

Monday, June 22, 2009


I read somewhere that gardening is a kind of parenting for plants.

 Plant parenthood. 

 It involves nurturing a life from tiny seed , or graft, or cutting. A perennial, shrub, or tree needs a careful eye to maintain shape, watch for insects, prune out dead or diseased bits , cutting back when necessary.
Depending on where you live, temperatures, humidity, rainfall, soil conditions, etc., will necessitate unique grooming practices and tried and true habits that reflect the those zones or ideals of what a garden "should" look like or include.

In our area,  there is a shift to low maintenance, drought resistant, instant and constant colour bloom and growth .
 Most people don't have the time , knowledge, or inclination to garden, grow  flowers, vegetables, fruits, or otherwise. 

 When I worked at a garden centre recently, many customers preferred their purchases to be foolproof, weather notwithstanding, and to provide a decorating element to their yards and outdoor spaces along the same lines as the necessary evils of fencing, and to decorate much the same way as their patio table decisions.
  The staff was aware of this "dumbing down" of gardeners , and the move to predesigned, plunk it down and forget it marketing that seemed inevitable.

Yet I was encouraged more and more by genuine interest .

 Young couples that shared their stories about wanting to recreate the sweeping lily beds at their family cottage. Newly married first time homeowners honest about their lack of knowledge but eager and excited to embrace sustainable green spaces and avoid mass annual plantings that seemed wasteful and boring. They wanted perennials, the latest cultivars , the better developed shrubs and trees that would complement their spaces , co-ordinate with their homes, with appreciation for texture, colour , flow, and curb appeal. 

Time and again I was surprised by the  earnest cheer  of young adults helping their parents redo a garden, aiding a grandparent begin anew on a smaller property. By children keen to learn about hens and chicks, and tomato plants, urging parents to buy sunflowers, iris, lilac, watering cans, seeds, and rakes.

We prompted most of these customers to buy mulch... a true lifesaver on busy hot summer weed thriving days, and to plant far enough apart , and dig large enough holes , to augment their soil and so on.
I pointed to the plant labels and suggested they keep them in a safe place,  urged them to call or visit the store , or it's website for support and to ask questions, and to continue the journey of gardening.
I warned them with a smile and touch of an arm that they were beginning a lifestyle.
 A cycle of life and death that would have them in union with the greater cycles of birth and life and death, seasons,  changes, mistakes, disappointments, rewards, pride, accomplishment.

I was met back with joy in the eyes of these on the threshold dreamers. 

I told them that gardening meant getting dirty, sweaty, soaked through, bug bitten, sunburnt, sore, and scratched up sometimes too.
That it was about putting in wholesome commitment and getting on your knees service to grow, uphold, sustain, maximize and never leave unchecked hope and gratefulness in beauty and life.

I was met back with joy in the eyes of those on the threshold dreamers and it changed me , and has rejuvenated my  mudpie maker heart.

We should all find promise and optimism  and a trusting peace in those that follow along just there in our left off conversations. Hope for the future that they've read in the books, and listened  in our lectures and laments and fears. If we see with their blossoming eyes, we may look upon a  rose coloured flourishing future.

If you have any encouraging stories of budding gardeners, please share. I will be starting a section on kids and gardening soon,  so look for that prompt too!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I must confess that the stark beauty of delicate petals blooming in morning sunlight catches me in wonder .
I am taken by the contrast of colours and textures .

But it is something more this playing in dirt thing.

Because even as I tend to my own gardens, or those of clients, as I try to turn the eyes of my children to the miracle of seedlings and unfurling and tendrils wrapping, it transcends .

I appreciate all the terminology and science that is gardening. Zones and soil , wind, drought, propagation.

Yet it is the growth that gets me. The dirt, the seed , sprouts, buds, life from dormancy or decay.
The cycle of life.
The inevitability of death , disease, withering, breakage, spoil.
The need for pruning, trimming, dividing, composting.

There is hope and joy and faith in shrubs and trees and perennials. Tenacious runners and suckers .
And it brings us to our knees in labour, in awe, scratching at the soil to let in air and water, scratching at tired crusty soul too.

I can slug my bucket of tools around with an eye for seasonally appropriate planting , weeding, and cutting back times.

But more importantly I can scatter seeds into a pot for a convenient kitchen herb garden , this late in June already, when this should be the picture,

not this,

Just like my little girl self , long ago on a very urban street in Montreal,when I planted dreams under a crumbling porch in a bean seed of faith, I water and wait.

Gardening shouldn't be intimidating or about achieving magazine ideals of colour balance and bloom time . It should suit your lifestyle, feed your soul, and maybe your family a little too. It should get you in touch with the earth 's bounty. Roots, and veins , and scents , greens, purples , yellows , and whites that add value to our view of the outdoors , our lives.

Be encouraged to  try , to look around you, to dig in and get a little muddy. 
And go ahead and confess to those flubs and flukes, the annuals that withered in plastic trays before you got to transplanting them, the sprouts pulled out with the weeds, the tomatoes planted so late you prayed for the longest summer ever to coax out a red prize. 

Share ... you'll feel better. 
Our basil will bring tomatoes to splendid perfection in no time , right?

Saturday, June 13, 2009


 I struggle to get the dirt out from under my nails and from the creases in my aging fingers.
Digging in soil, creating a garden, pulling out tired, overgrown plants, edging, and amending. 
Worn work boots, knee pads, mud streaked shorts, hair askew . Hours spent reworking and revamping garden spaces. 
Weeding, cultivating , raking, planting, deadheading, dividing , pruning, trimming.
Nurturing .
It is creative, earthy, earthly, heavenly, tiring, soul feeding, honourable, and as uplifting as any stewardship of this great creation can possibly be. 

It provides a bit of solitude, community, some monetary reward, bountiful spiritual reward.
It is common ground for my husband and I , and I hope we have instilled the passion in our children.
It links us to our past, our journeys, and is a vital component in the hope for all of our futures.
Won't you join me here, share the seeds, the wishes, the blooms, the fruits.