30 Oct 2014

Grace in the Garden: Thirty Years of Blunders and Bliss: Book Review

[** All photographs are courtesy of Grace Peterson and can be found on her gardening blog Gardening With Grace**]

I will admit beforehand that I am slightly biased towards the delightful author of this book. Grace Peterson and I have been garden blogging friends for a number of years, and as such, although we have never met face to face, it sometimes feels as if I am right there alongside her as she walks through her beautiful garden property! She uses the term 'diehard' to describe a specific type of gardener, but I'm tempted to say that she is well beyond 'diehard' and is more in tune with 'dieharder!'

I love memoir styled gardening books and consider Beth Chatto's 'The Woodland Garden,' and Des Kennedy's 'An Ecology of Enchantment,' to be two of my favourites. I now have a third favourite to add to the shelf of 'Favourites!'

As the back cover will attest to, Grace Peterson is indeed a Master Gardener, garden columnist and an avid garden blogger. If you're reading this review, you will understand the term blogger! We are an ever increasing, multi talented bunch to say the very least! I have always been somewhat envious of the fact that Grace gardens in a comfortable Z7-8 region of North America, where some of us prefer the more frigid Z5 temperatures of Canada! [Somewhat envious only insomuch as I would never give up my near Arctic winters!]

Grace was one of the first people to leave a comment on my blog during its infancy. I had no idea what I was doing, other than writing about and sharing with others what is my life - that being gardening. Over the course of the next four or so years we have remained in contact with one another via further 'comments' on our blogs, and via email. Grace is already a published author of the award winning memoir 'Reaching,' and when she alluded that she was working on a gardening memoir, I sat back patiently and waited. Another talent that I am jealous of is the fact that once she sets her mind to something, look out world, there is no stopping her!

Grace in the Garden: Thirty Years of Blunders and Bliss is a delightful read. Divided into twenty nine chapters, we follow Grace from her humble beginnings as a child, when she and her siblings grew vegetables. Gardening flowered in her blood, thanks to her Grandparents whose property was adorned with a number of plants that would lay dormant in her memory, resurfacing years later when she discovered that an urgent piece of her individual identity included gardening! We lead about her first 'real' gardening experience, and how, as her growing family moved, so too did her gardening experience and knowledge. Sections titled 'Things that make me want to Scream,' 'The School of Hard Knocks,' and 'Aster Anarchy and Bachelor Button Bedlam,' bring a refreshing, realistic, and decidedly mischievous humour to a subject that for some of us can be terrifyingly daunting. 

I was surprised and dumbfounded to find myself mentioned in this delightful book when Grace discusses her hope of creating a border made up exclusively of blue flowers. I had a vague picture of what her horticultural partner in crime Carol was like, but I laughed out loud at some of their nursery crawl antics - knowing full well that were the three of us ever to meet up...... lets just say that there would likely be an arrest or citation of some sort forthcoming! I have always been an advocate of the belief that gardening represents one of the most truthful forms of autobiography that exists today. I have read about her husband Steve and her loving family, about the family pets, the raccoons, the frogs and tadpoles that reside in the three ponds on her property all within the posts of her brilliant blog Gardening With Grace, so it was refreshing to be able to 'dig a bit deeper,' and discover where her passion first took root, and to better understand where her garden inspiration comes from.

 Hers is not a small property! The two photos above are but a tease of the horticultural bounty that Grace gets to call home. I spent hours 'trolling' her blog when I first discovered it, and find myself gravitating to some of her favourite plants, even though, as King of Zonal Denial, I know I do not stand a snowballs chance in hell of successfully cultivating a third of them. One in particular, Melianthus major, still haunts my nightmares to this day. Overall, a fantastic read. The plantsman in me reveled in the appendix outlining the vast number of plants that are mentioned, the nurseryman in me was snickering as Grace related to working within the industry, and as a friend, I was so thrilled and happy that yet another dream has become a reality for my friend Grace. Well done!


Grace, you've done it again! Your second publication offers us a lighter, happier subject matter, one that anyone who is even remotely familiar with you can attest to being one of your true life passions, and all the luckier for those of us who have had the pleasure of meeting you. We simply must find a way of meeting in the here and now, and maybe even embarking on yet another nursery crawl with Carol and whomever else we can round up. Kind thanks again for the unexpected shout out! I am waiting ever so patiently to see how your Anemonopsis does for you. It will sweep the feet out from underneath you.
Dare I ask what you have slated next on the agenda? Winter is Coming after all!

13 Oct 2014

Garden of Giving Thanks

This is a post of thanksgiving! It doesn't include your traditional family, nor turkey dinners and pumpkin pie - but rather a very special garden [to me at least!] and the people who helped inspire and bring it to fruition, and who actually assist me in its continuous evolution.

It was my Grandparents, and my Grandmother in specific who introduced me to the wondrous magic of the 'darkling wood' of Sombra Twsp as a child. The genus Arisaema was the very first I learned to identify, and as such, it has remained a life-long fascination for me! Our NA native A.triphyllum happily seeds himself about every year, and there are an ever increasing number of 'cousins' being introduced.

Parents are not supposed to have 'favourites', though secretly I think we all do, given the hour of the day, and our level of stress, and as such I find my heart swelling everytime I come across the faintly blushed faces of A.candidissimum! How do you not totally fall in love!

Once upon a time, eight odd years ago, my current employer at that time pressed into my hands a book that he thought I might be interested in. I cannot help but laugh when I think back, of how he rather wittingly ensured that the 'green' [and I do not mean in the environmentally knowledgable way] acolyte standing before him would find himself ushered toward the 'dark side' within the short span of reading the first six pages of the book pictured above. If you're at all familiar with the name Daniel J Hinkley, you will also undoubtedly know the name Heronswood - a word intimately associated with a magnificent garden, and a sadly now defunct nursery in Washington.

Say no more! That damned photo in the bottom right hand cover of the dust jacket ignited a full on hortgasm inspired obsession for me! 'Sweet baby Jesus, what is that startlingly blue flower, and more importantly, how do I get my hands on one? Of course said plant is none other than one of the pinnacles of accomplishment for obsessed gardeners like myself - hell, we've even designated a scale of 'worthiness' if I am truthful: if a plant is held in high enough esteem, it is often referred to as being part of the elusive 'holy grail' - and if there was ever a plant to deserve such a designation, it is most definitely Meconopsis - specifically those with the sublime blue of the photo above, which, for the record is from my own garden! Please. No applause until the end of the post..... thank you! [LOL]

The next recipient of thanks is the mastermind behind one of Ontario's best woodland garden nurseries, not to mention a display garden that can best be described as 'a magnet for repetitive hortgasms!' I see I might be confusing some of you with the word 'hortgasm' - a brief definition:

'The sudden state of mind and body that may include the following - a sudden tightening of the chest cavity, followed by successive heart palpitations, a sudden sweat, dizziness, shortness of breath all occurring in quick succession after viewing a particular plant or collection of plants in a defined space.'

Welcome to paradise, conveniently located in nearby Acton, Ontario! Larry Davidson is a plantsman with a decidedly shady disposition, and as such, Lost Horizons, his woodland plant nursery is home to a staggering selection of plants that also share his passion for all things woodland: they are indeed the best examples of 'shady characters' bar none! The plantings that make up the display gardens are unlike anything pumped out by the 'landscrapers' of today. Each plant is hand selected, an intimacy between plantsman and chosen plant that reflects knowledge, respect and an awareness towards aesthetics - a key component that too often supersedes those aforementioned. The perfect balance, the harmony if you will shines through in aces when you see the garden first hand!

Lost Horizon, as mentioned, is first and foremost a woodland plant nursery - one that coincidentally is home to an inventory of what can best be described as 'rare and unusual perennials!' Did you not see those exact words somewhere else within this post? Skip back - I will wait for you! With an inventory of some three odd thousand plants - yes, you read that number correctly, and with three quarters of said number made up of hortgasm worthy shady characters, not to mention a generous spattering of said 'Holy Grail' selections - Sweet Baby Jesus! All I am going to say! Well no. I lie! I should add that for close to two garden seasons, LH was where I spent my working days. As shy and elusive as Larry's reputation claims, he practically guided me by the hand, step by step through his display gardens and numerous hoop houses, introducing me to his 'green family!' The aforementioned book? It was the proverbial snare~!

Which brings us full circle: three influential individuals, each an essential part of said circle: My Grandmother; a plantsman/author extraordinaire; a plantsman whose nursery inventory allowed for Teza's Garden to be born. It would be remiss if I did not also mention gardening compatriot Barry Parker, whose generous gift of what remains one my my personal favourites, not to mention a favourite among garden visitors: Polygonatum has never looked so darkly shady as does my beloved 'Betberg.' I am also largely indebted to my current employers at Cedar Spring Nursery in neighboring Elora, both of whom were willing to bring a notoriously shady character into their fold. The creation of the numerous display gardens has been a divine pleasure to be a part of! Here then are a few candid shots of some of my 'family' for you this Thanksgiving Day!

23 Sep 2014

In The Gloaming of Gentle Decay

A new flush of foliage on Miss Grace [Cotinus coggygria 'Grace'] has been eliciting gasps and finger pointing from people walking down the street, wanting to know what kind of tree it is. Thanks to annual coppicing when it was but a mere shrub, it does in fact resemble a tree. I have seen this genus available as a grafted specimen.

Only yesterday I was worrying about where I was going to plant the newest Acer specimen - A.pseudoplatanus 'Eskimo Sunset' - and it wasn't until I realized that with his cream coloured foliage, he would look rather stunning planted at the base of the aforementioned Cotinus. Of course when I turned one of his leaves over to reveal the startlingly claret underside.... it was a no brainer. I still cannot get over the fact that this diminutive selection is not more popular. [Must remember to reserve two or three with Darren before he places his Spring order, as I am sure once folks realize how extraordinary it is, they will be knocking the doors down next year! 

This is also the time of year when my Actaea [formerly Cimicifuga, a name I much prefer!] is in glorious bloom. The flowers ar such a pristine white, at a time when the existing whites are all looking beige and faded. And then there is the olfactory overload, thanks to the delicate sweet fragrance that they emit. Its another of the 'must have' selections, especially for those looking not only for height, late season bloom, but for fragrance! Pure heavenly sublimation!

It helps that the camera has a love affair with them as well, although all of the photos in this post come via my iPhone and not my trusted DSLR.

Grace would perhaps feel at home with the pinks in the next photos. I despise its name. but love the blooms of Hydrangea paniculata 'Pinky Winky!' Damned teletubbies! 

Paeonia mlokosewitschii, affectionately known also as 'Molly The Witch' has the most unique seed pods! This one is fully opened where the remaining dozen or so [this was the best year for bloom, even if they were more pink than yellow!] all resemble smiling mouths filled with pink teeth! Most bizarre indeed!

The gentle decline isn't being so gentle in my favourite section of the garden. There is a lot of brown, decayed leaves, and while you cannot make them out very clearly, the bare stems of my beloved Anemonopsis macrophylla bring a certain pall and sadness to my heart! I wait ever so patiently for it to bloom every Summer, and then turn around to see empty stems! Sigh! We're supposed to have warmer temps for the next week. All Summer we went above 30 twice, and one of those days were here in September. Not that this icicle Canuck is complaining. On the contrary!