Our first tastes of winter have been mild and oh-so-pleasant for we gardeners. Installing seasonal arrangements, I know this first-hand; the soil is neither a hard block of frozen nor do my hands protest whilst working outside. Warm LED lights bring an immense amount of joy to the shorter days and add a welcome twinkle to the eye.
The tulip trees, Liriodendron tulipifera, are in bloom and don't disappoint! Underplanted, I love these beauties for several reasons: they make great shade trees, are native and the seed capsules in winter are eye catching and interesting.
For the last few weeks I've swapped out spring for summer, containers that is. These pansies were winners all season long, still are, now in a vase. There's so much waste in this industry already that every small act feels significant; bulbs that land back in a garden instead of the garbage, tropicals taken indoors to extend their life.... and a posy of pansies.
I visit nurseries regularly and in particular to hand pick tree specimens for clients. So I was dismayed to learn on a recent visit that beautiful and native Chionanthus virginicus, Fringetree, has been discovered to be an alternate host to the ash borer. Bad news. I'll enjoy mine planted last year for as long as possible and unfortunately won't be specifying it any longer.
At the bleak end of March I find myself planting tiny pearls. When I opened my seed package I was delighted by the pearly iridescence of Digitalis purpurea! They positively sparkle in comparison to the wee brown specks of Digitalis ferruginea that also got planted today. With luck this Camelot Mix will make the perfect cutting flower this year.
Once you become addicted to collecting plants you also develop a whole new appreciation for Latin. When it comes to accurate identification you rely on a plant's botanical name versus its common one. Common names may be shared by several very different plants but botanical ones belong to one, and only one.
Latin offers us clues as to how a plant may look, perform, and its origins. This book's a gem both for deciphering Latin names but also for its rich botanical illustrations.
One of the joys of being a gardener is sharing your garden with others. Lovingly collected and grown plants suddenly go on display for others to enjoy, if only for an afternoon. Today marked a highlight on the calender: touring fellow Ontario Rock Garden & Hardy Plant Society members' gardens.
Join me in my continued admiration of those special Niagara region gardens:
Winter's traditionally a time of rest for gardeners. Being a lifelong pursuer of new interests, skills and knowledge, I chose a slightly different route then: to learn the art of floral arranging from one of Toronto's premier florists, Michael Pellegrino of Teatro Verde. Having temporarily traded soil for water has shed light on the life of a florist:
• First and foremost, lest you romanticize the idea too much, being a florist is just as much physical work as being a gardener.
• I've developed a new appreciation for plants that I would've previously bypassed altogether. Ubiquitous Dusty Miller comes to mind. The judicious placement of just one leaf of this fragile, soft and silver plant is capable of making an arrangement sing. Thus, it is no longer left to simply hum along like it does at the edge of a parking lot border.
• Anyone can throw together a bouquet of "pretty" flowers; not everyone though is able to elicit a breathless "wow".
How appropriate then that I've spent the weekend enjoying the works of two Japanese florists: Makoto Azuma and Shunsuke Shiinoki in their book Encyclopedia of Flowers.
The first surprise for me was the book's size: contrary to its encyclopedic name, it's small and more akin to a largish novel.
Every aspect of this book has been carefully and beautifully considered, from graphics to content. The book begins with an outline of poetic chapters (Whole, Flock, Coexistence, Hybrid and Appearance) which then lead to Azuma's reflections on his career as a florist over the past fifteen years.
Contrary to garden design, floral arrangements allow for the mixing of the impossible: plant material allowed to flirt with one another from different countries, climates and seasons.
The book represents three years worth of work and a conscious decision to create floral "haute couture". By including roots, weeds, 50 year-old bonsai, fruit and vegetables Azuma and Shinoki "borrow materials from nature and follow an inviolable rule: that existence will not be mistreated."
Sensuous, elegant and at times primeval, each arrangement juxtaposes the "close proximity of life and death... to what extent can [it be brought] to life by killing it."
Encyclopedia of Flowers is like an Emperor's dish served to the masses.
For more: www.azumamakoto.com
At this month's Parkdale Horticultural Society meeting, writer Tony Spencer gave a presentation on his personal journey and garden inspired by time spent studying with the great Dutch plantsman, Piet Oudolf.
I walked out afterwards into the chill of the night feeling warm and smiling. I'd met Tony in person (having only previously known one another through social media); traveled to the Netherlands and back in one evening; heard Oudolf's voice in my head as I read his quotes from the screen; and graciously been offered a visual storybook of Tony's hard work, tenacity and experimentation in his own garden.
A faithful fan of Oudolf's work myself, it was a pleasure to experience, through another, what studying under him had been like. Moreover, I was reminded of several valuable tools:
• aim to see "the purpose of a plant in four dimensions", the fourth one being time
• try the "acid test" on your own garden: photograph it using the black and white setting of a camera. This enables you to assess plants and layout for form, texture and structure without being distracted by colour
• lastly and beautifully: "share plants, share ideas, freely" -Piet Oudolf
If you're unfamiliar with Oudolf's work I highly recommend taking a peak - you might discover that you've walked amongst his plantings afterall, perhaps at the Toronto Botanical Gardens, New York's High Line or Chicago's Lurie Garden.
See too for yourself some of Tony's adventures and images on his blog:
One of my favourite places to visit is Tommy Thompson Park. I love that our waste has been re-purposed to simultaneously provide wildlife habitats, recreational use and ad hoc art installations all in one. It also infinitely pleases me to see the tracks of cottonwoods, goldenrod, wild apples and other normally categorized "weeds" that are allowed simply to be- part of an evolving ecosystem.
Their beauty never fails to astound and delight me. I photographed this collection of seedheads in my backyard under the overcast, but perfect light so typical of November.