Tag Archives: My garden

It might be over soon


There’s some new Bon Iver stuff out, repetition and melancholy. Perfection. When I look for confirmation of myself in music, it’s usually Bon Iver. I like the routine, and the emptiness that is allowed around it. When every day is your own to make, the space seems interminable.

I love the phrase melancholy and the landscape. I saw it the other day on Federal Twist, in a post that reflects a bit of what I’ve been thinking about lately. Why aren’t photos of bright English borders making me feel anything? Why do I feel a fondness for kale in a mixed border in the evening light? Why am I loathe to stake anything? Why am I so uncomfortable being lonely now when it used to be as natural as breathing?


It’s a recalibration, coming off a few weeks of working on weddings, and back to my own, solitary existence. Back to a garden that will be taken apart and redistributed in a few months. I make flowers with the mildew ridden ‘Graham Thomas’ roses, sunbleached yarrow, and drying astilbe. I cut whatever I want from the shrubs because who cares, I’ll be gone. There are luxurious bouquets of Koko Lokos and Distant Drums.

I’ve let the frosted explosion grass and cosmos self seed, making the main bed near impossible to get through. It takes me practically 5 minutes to get to the zinnias 3 meters away. It doesn’t have to be this way but I like encouraging the plants’ agency (and aphids). Every spring I never seem to be able to remember just how big individual cosmos plants get. I think I can leave them in between the rows of other plants. Always a mistake.IMGP3643


The pounding rains have forced me to corral the sweet peas (now reaching 6 ft and going for broke) with hastily erected trellis I had lying around, and a prison of twine. It looks vicious but already the vines are growing through and softening the look. I can hardly imagine the painstaking work that must go into cordon training them. If I manage to prevent them from going to seed another day, I pat myself on the back.

My garden is not melancholic. It’s just a lot of flowers growing every which way. Flowers everywhere. It’s a mess. Can your own garden ever be melancholic? Melancholy suggests a longing and aloofness that’s difficult to feel about your own work (or lack thereof). Although, yes, it is true that death is always around in gardens and the season might be over soon. Might be over too soon.


Too, one has to be melancholic, or at least suggestive towards it, to let the surrounding melancholy seep in. Otherwise the garden just looks shabby, tawdry, distasteful. The landscape evokes but I think more often it confirms. Like listening to music or viewing a dance performance, really any art, you either feel the weight of a piece or you don’t. You can learn from something or appreciate it, but not feel it.

Just because something doesn’t strike you one day, doesn’t mean it won’t another, and vice versa. I think this is why good gardens have a variety of spaces, and there is always some point that lets you breathe. Maybe it’s why we love long views ending in classical statuary. Really, is there anything more melancholic than a yew hedge, lawn and a crumbling Aphrodite? A few days since that lawn was mowed, a few decades since that hedge was planted, and a few centuries since that sculpture was discovered, in pieces, in a cave; millennia since it was first made. Time.

Why, if this interval of being can be spent serenely
in the form of a laurel, slightly darker than all
other green, with tiny waves on the edges
of every leaf (like the smile of a breeze)–: why then
have to be human–and, escaping from fate,
keep longing for fate? . . .

From The Ninth Elegy, Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell

Getting lost in a garden, or having the sensation of disconnect, is another way of approaching melancholy. It’s good to have curving paths and small alcoves. It’s good to be alone.


And why should it be melancholic? I suppose because there’s a peace to melancholy, there’s no expectation of excitement, joy or curious engagement. It has a realism in its embrace of age, bitterness, and death. It accepts the ephemeral nature of plants and the garden. It opens space for quiet longing and gratitude. At its best, a melancholic garden takes you outside your lonely self and into the company of those others who aren’t present but surely have felt the same resonance of the space. It confirms, and envelops, then fades softly in memory into something more beautiful than it was.



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Did I say I hated forget-me-nots?


The Solar Garden at Great Dixter

If you’ve read some Rosemary Verey or Christopher Lloyd, I suppose the tulip/forget-me-not combination isn’t that surprising. It’s a “classic” for a reason – the forget-me-nots have a rangy habit and form an airy mat below the tulips, the blue lending the tulips a fresh and springy energy (although it fails to redeem the godforsaken Tulip ‘Malaika’). Both flowers tend to finish at roughly the same time, making bed turn over an easy decision as well.  And once you have forget-me-nots you will rarely be without them, so you can prepare for next year’s display by simply letting a few plants go to seed (as a bonus the clumps of seedlings will choke out other emerging weeds through autumn) and then transplanting as necessary (they’re exceptionally hardy so feel free to dig them up, leave them in a bag in the shed for a few weeks, and then lovingly chip them into frozen soil – not that I’ve done that).

It’s possible, that while transplanting the 3000th forget-me-not in late March, I swore I would burn every one in my garden when I got home. It’s also possible that I scoffed at the Solar Garden bed when the bubblegum pink tulips emerged over those perfect baby blues in a display worthy of Disneyland. What is certain, is that within 3 days of being home I transplanted roughly 100 forget-me-nots as a “joke” and then watched the compliments roll in. Classic. CLASSIC.


Our Edmonton version of tulips and forget-me-nots


Forget-me-nots with ‘Shirley’ in the Peacock Garden at Great Dixter


With ‘Queen of the Night’ in the Peacock Garden


With ‘West Point’ and hellebores in one of the Orchard Stock Beds


Tulip ‘Red Shine’ (?) with Euphorbia wulfenii and Acanthus mollis Hollard’s Gold behind


With Tulipa bakeri in the Peacock Garden

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A few weeks ago we had one of those perfect, misting rains where the drops cling to everything. I rushed outside when it slowed up to take pictures. I love the way they draw attention to the form of the plants.




The garden has been good to me this year – more successes than failures. I have a lot of bulbs on order which I’m hoping will arrive in the next few weeks. And I’m starting to take notes and reflect on the season. I had a lot of dahlia failures, but mail-order roses were generally a win. Amaranth and ‘Frosted Explosion’ grass were outsized performers and popular with everyone. I had beautiful cornflowers and some nice zinnias – next year I will give both more room and hopefully will be rewarded with even more blooms. Feverfew got destroyed by bugs so I probably won’t bother with it again. Sweet peas – can’t grow enough.

I continue to be inspired by garden designers and I see their influence sneaking into my floral design. I think as I become a better gardener I will also become a better designer. Both require spacial awareness, and a good sense of colour and texture. Both require so much knowledge of plants – knowledge that I try and absorb every day as I walk the garden.


Dan Pearson’s Old Rectory at Naunton and related – Pearson’s journal post on visits to Sissinghurst and Great Dixter

Ginger Peach Rum Punch

The work of Marianna Kennedy from Pentreath and Hall



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Already August


August comes with a certain sense of melancholy – the garden has exploded with flowers, weeds, thrips, ripening apples, fluffy seed heads, you name it – but the geese are already flying over, and the nights are starting to cool down. We haven’t had near enough rain but steady watering has kept most things going. Now I wonder if the dahlias and cobea vine will actually bloom before the first frosts hit. I start contemplating what it will mean to make flowers in early October. I place bulb orders. I think about winter.

When the End of Civilization Is Your Day Job

And another piece on climate change from Rolling Stone

The Strategists podcast – if you like discussing Canadian campaign strategy here’s some guys who can elevate your conversation, particularly if you live in Alberta

Sky ladder made of fireworks

Selfie with Sunflowers

Gorgeous cover of ‘Yellow’ and my favourite song of the summer



Love Calendula ‘Bronzed Beauty’


Nigella – probably ‘Delft Blue’ but potentially just a random from a Chiltern Seeds mix


Zinnia ‘Queen Red Lime’



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A non-trifling amount of trifle


Summer means trifle in our house. I made two huge ones for my grandparents’ 60th anniversary, and also a chocolate and vanilla layer cake with swiss buttercream. I was so delighted by the flowers I put together on the top – phlox, sweet peas, oregano and geranium leaves. Ignore my super crooked writing though! And the little raspberry cake pictured below we ended up eating the next day with some unexpected guests. Always fun to share cake! I used the sour cream chocolate cake from Sky High which you can find on Smitten Kitchen, and then two different vanilla cake recipes also from Sky High. I still prefer the buttermilk one that I’ve posted here. To punch up Smitten’s swiss buttercream I added raspberry jam.

The garden continues to explode with flowers and I’m so excited that the roses have started! All except Poseidon I’ve never seen in person so it’s been fun to study them as they open. Incidentally Poseidon has the most immature buds of the 7 bushes but it’s also the most shaded so perhaps that’s why it’s slower. It’s gotten overwhelmed by the cobea vine which I am contemplating butchering if it doesn’t bloom in the next two weeks.

A good read from Wired on the DNA editing technique Crispr

The best of Poppies and Posies’ bouquets

A review of Hidcote

I always appreciate the sneak peek at Molly’s cookbook shelf

The raspberries are almost done but I might try and make these fresh raspberry scones

Fascinating article on two sets of fraternal twins who were actually identical twins

A quick recipe for zucchini









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Doing summer things


Summer snowflakes (Leucojum) with summer snowflakes (elm seeds… bane of my existence after thrips, stinkbugs, and drought)

Hard to believe it is already June. Since I’ve gotten back into garden blogging I instinctively want to start each post about the weather, but that’s lame, especially in Alberta. Suffice it to say that the weather gods did not rejoice at my return and grant us a gentle transition from spring to summer.


The irises were done in 3 days due to the heat

No matter. I have been diligently spraying things with insecticidal soap and patiently spending hours watering. It’s hard to remember what the point of it all is right now, when everything looks kind of small and straggly. What does look good are the older perennials – epimediums, thalictrums, astilbe, etc. A few years of settling and they are starting to increase in size. I’m kind of excited to see how everything looks in another three years after my little seedlings develop and I have a chance to move things around.


I would like more of these Thalictrum aquilegifolium – only thing really blooming in the border right now and is about 2 1/2 ft tall!

In other news I made several Smitten Kitchen recipes. I would heartily recommend the Chocolate-Hazelnut Macaroon Torte, but everyone really liked the Key Lime Pie as well. I was less excited about the key lime pie because it required zesting and juicing way more than the suggested one dozen key limes but apparently the recipe also works with regular limes. Other things I have made: microwave oat bars. Breakfast of champions.

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From bottom left: Chocolate-Hazelnut Macaroon Torte, Key Lime Pie and Best Cocoa Brownies

– an omelette for a crowd

– already ordered Hummelo, the new book by Piet Oudolf, reviewed here

fascinating visit to a historic dock yard

– would have loved to see Dan Pearson’s Chelsea garden – am contemplating buying tickets for next year


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Spring, summer, whatever


I’m trying not to get teary eyed at the early loss of my beautiful ‘Dream Touch’ (pictured above) or ‘Brown Sugar’ tulips. It’s been a classic Alberta spring – snow one week, plus 25 the next. I can’t say I missed it. The only thing I did miss was the smell of Mayday trees which perfume the air.




Over the past few days I’ve been putting in dozens of seedlings and the dahlias that I pre-sprouted. Still dozens and dozens left to go. The perennial border is definitely filling in now, although it is increasingly haphazard. I figure I’ll give the seedlings a few years and then I can do a big move if necessary.


Many of the perennials that went in 2 years ago are looking quite good right now (of course the heucheras never came back last year – that was my second try with them and still a total fail). The thalictrums, epimediums, aruncus and ‘Splish Splash’ geranium are starting to really dominate their spaces. Of course am I learning from this lesson and planting my seedling perennials far apart? No.


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