Green Thumb-Chapter Eight-Gardening is a Team Sport

Lone Responsibility Albeit Temporarily

My gardening friend went away for three weeks.  I was on my own in the garden and found my relationship with the patch of dirt changed.  It was similar to the way a home feels different when those who usually live there with you are absent.  It’s just not the same.  I know now that for me gardening is a team sport.

I made my treks out to the garden.  There was weeding, watering and some produce to harvested.  I didn’t feel drawn there in the same way as when my partner in gardening was there.  But then I thought about the responsibility and how things would look if I didn’t put in some time in care and tending.  The weeds have never given up, never abated at any time in the season.  The place would look terrible upon her return and that would never do after the sweat equity we’ve put into the patch of clay.

August Trials and Tribulations

Our friends are very kind.  They ask ‘how is the garden’.  They seem truly interested when they ask.  Often, though, after a description of the ups and downs and the time spent, they talk about the ease and relatively low-cost of shopping at the local outdoor markets.  Yes, yes I think they have a point.  But we’ve had such a good time-watching the garden grow, replanting/coaxing those things that didn’t grow, and relishing the consumption of vegetables from our own garden.  Not exactly a bounty but we have served our vegetables at a few family dinners.

  • The Disappearing Squash Family: we have grown a number of members of the squash plant family such as pumpkin, butternut squash, zucchini and patty-pan squash.  Some of the plants grew well initially, some were outright attacked by some insects that kept eating at them and hindering their development.  Through covering them up and pampering them we got them going and things looked good-until about three weeks ago. (about the time my friend left).   The leaves started turning milky/white and then they would die off…wither away.  We think it is white powdery mildew.  Help!!  The squash family is disappearing before our eyes.  We have one pumpkin-it seems to have no mother plant any longer.  We have had three zucchini-three!  Aren’t those the things that people grow in great abundance?  The patty pan squash was our pride and joy-then half of one plant fell over-maybe it was too heavy and along came powdery mildew and the plant began to dissolve before my eyes.
  • Potato Bug Life Cycle: I figure that the multitude of potato bugs in our garden missed the lecture on life cycle.  That would be the lecture that tells them that after week upon week of trying to eat all the leaves off the plants and having hundreds of their kin squashed by the resident gardeners they should just give up and move to the next portion of their life cycle.  That would be the portion where they lie dormant in the soil for 100 years.
  • The Promise of Yield:  It occurred to me during one of my weeding sessions that perhaps after all the bug murder Mother Nature might have a trick up her sleeve.  What if, after all the care of the potato plants, there were no potatoes!  It’s possible.  Our soil is mostly clay, it is hard to hill, weeds are very difficult to pull…and maybe the bug assault has been just too much for them.  I started scratching around to find potatoes…thought I found one or two and they turned out to be a smooth clump of dirt down inside more dirt.  Don’t tell me!  I quit looking for a while.
  • Last week I thought, that’s it.  Before I spend more weeks of bug squashing, watering and weeding, possibly to no avail, I got out the garden fork.  And there they were-there is something about digging vegetables out of the garden, smelling the fresh dirt and paying some attention to just what it takes to produce food.  While digging around I turned up our one resident earth worm again.  

More Fun Than Vegetables

A dear friend who reads this blog said it looks like our garden is more fun than vegetables.  What do you think?  My spouse and I were in a grocery store yesterday and there was a special on vegetables grown locally.  For five dollars, you can purchase four 5 lb. bags of an assortment of vegetables-20lbs in total.  The assortment included carrots, beets, onion and turnips.  

And yet, I am quite sure we will do this again next year.  We have plans to improve the soil and try different crops and use raised beds and maybe we’ll get to sit a bit more and weed a bit less.  We have yet to see the end of this season.

I am very happy to have my partner in gardening back in town. Game on!


Tribute to Jack Layton

The death this week of Jack Layton, Leader of the Official Opposition, has spawned an outpouring, a public display of affection and respect for him from across Canada. Whether you receive your news via the web, the newspaper, TV or radio, tributes to the man are everywhere.  And it is very heartfelt.  Tributes have come from ordinary Canadians who feel this man cared about them, he cared about the disadvantaged and the marginalized and he worked to make things better.  He dedicated his professional life to his beliefs.  He believed together we could make a difference.  And in the end, as ill as he was, he wrote a letter that spoke to the country and to the individual.  

In an age when it is easy and perhaps in vogue to be critical of politics and some of the things that politicians have done or not done, Jack Layton’s legacy rises above it all.  He challenged us all to work to make the world a better place.  As I stood in line today to pay my last respects to him as his body lay in state on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, it made me consider what I have done or I could do to make this country and this world a better place.  


Bonnie’s Lavender Farm

A Place to Lay My Head

I recently wrote about attending a class at the School of the Arts in Haliburton, ON.  I needed a place to stay during the week-long course.  The school provides a list of  places that offer accommodation.  It is a very long list.  The school has the following proviso included in the list:

Your choice of accommodation should be the result of many questions asked of your host. You are advised to discuss accommodation requirements, cancellation policies and meals with the host in advance to ensure that your visit will be everything you expect it to be. The list and information here is intended for the use of students registered at The School of The Arts. The accommodations listed have not been inspected by the college.

Bonnie’s Lavender Farm

Ultimately I booked a room with Bonnie of Bonnie’s Lavender Farm.  The description from the school’s list of accommodations: 

Room for rent, charming country bungalow. ‘Bonnie’s Lavender Farm’, make yourself at home. Located on private 10 acres, whimsical gardens, candyman (Llama) welcomes artists.

Mental Images-How Far Off Can They Be?

A lavender farm, whimsical, pet llama…I started to form a mental image.  Bonnie would likely have long hair, she’d wear a big floppy straw hat, a long flowing summer dress and on her feet-Birkenstocks.  As I drove towards her home on the first night, little did I know what an interesting person I was about to meet.  The only part I got right was the long hair.  As I turned into the driveway and parked in a pretty, well-tended yard with a powder blue garage. Yes, there was the corral with a llama looking out at me.  Here’s a picture of the garage with a couple of the many bat houses that hang there along with the lilies in front of the veranda.

Bonnie met me on the veranda and when I went inside I was greeted by dogs barking, lots of dogs barking.   Dogs barking upstairs and downstairs.  I recall the information saying the owner has pets.  The upstairs dog was a black standard poodle named Dancer.  The dogs downstairs Bonnie said were German shepherds.  They were trained as personal protection dogs and in my first few moments their barking sounded distinctly like “Don’t you bother Bonnie and don’t you make me come up there and get you!!”.  I kept my distance from those downstairs dogs for the rest of the week.  

So, What Do You Do?

And so, throughout my week’s stay at Bonnie’s Lavender farm, I got to know Bonnie a bit.  The more we talked, the more questions I asked.  The more I saw, the more questions I asked. Bonnie has done many things over the years.  She has trained thoroughbred horses and various animals for television.  She has raised dogs and trained dogs for personal protection and for drug and land mine detection.  She currently trains standard poodles.  That by itself sounds like quite a bit. It continues.  Bonnie has operated farms in a few different places and on those farms she has raised sheep and bison.  There was some commercial photography in there too.  

Artists Welcome 

Bonnie welcomes artists (yes I know,  I was the exception) and you can see why.  She is an artist….and a craftsperson.  She loves to paint-not just the home she largely renovated but almost everything in the home and yard.  

She has painted her fridge pastel green, her coffee maker is pastel green, and much to the surprise of the local mechanic, her International Harvester (IH) normally red tractor got painted green.  Die hard IH enthusiasts would be mortified.  At one point I told Bonnie that I needed to keep moving when in the house, lest she paint me if I sat in one spot too long.

Other art/crafts from Bonnie include outdoor art-things you can display in your garden, the bat houses you saw in the picture above, chain saw sculpture (done with her chain saw, of course), smaller wood figures done with her jigsaw, larger items like her dining room table and cupboards for displaying her products.  She said she’s done using a ripsaw as during a recent project it sent a chunk of wood zinging past her head.  She crochets quilts.  It might have been easier to list what she isn’t capable of doing.  While I went to school to learn about art composition, colour and other theory, Bonnie just seems to innately know those things.  On a piece of plywood she had cut out and painted a bear and it sits in her yard.  When I first saw it I waited to see if it would move.  It didn’t.  And neither did the two bear that she has shot when they were in the yard and after her sheep.  

An Independent Spirit

The week with Bonnie was very interesting.  She talked of her regular monitoring of the shopping channel and then, in the next breath, her interest in the writing of Deepak Chopra.  I have no idea when she has the chance to do any of it after she has maintained her farm and pursued the arts and crafts.  Maybe she reads while operating her wood splitter. 

Ah yes and about the lavender.  She does grow lavender.  She sells lavender plants as well as her handmade soaps and lotions and creams and sachets and greeting cards and other things.  She carefully wraps each product and puts it in a bag she has decorated and finally inserts a little handwritten saying she picks from a jar she has filled with same.

Who knows who you will meet when you are beyond full-time work and you have the opportunity to spend a week taking a course and staying at a farm.

Bonnie’s lavender farm. Lavender-yes.   Shrinking violet-no way.  Thanks Bonnie.

Bonnie and Dancer

Simply Biscotti- a twofor

I am way off my planned weekly visit to Simply Biscotti (SB).  It has been about a month since the last visit.  Perhaps fall and winter will be better for the regular enjoyment of coffee and treats…just the seasons when the level of exercise can drop off too (must make a mental note to buy pants with elasticized waist).  My friend and I enjoyed a lovely weekday morning cycle this week and we stopped at SB for a refreshment and treat.  And just as I have introduced other people to Rosa’s establishment, my friend said ” I didn’t know this was here.  I’ll be back!”.  

We enjoyed a chai tea latte, a coffee latte, a v-shaped sweet pastry and a cayenne pepper biscotti.  My friend had the biscotti and said it was very nice.  Ah…the good life.  The picture isn’t the best.  If you want to have a real appreciation for the place and its fair, you’ll need to journey to Little Italy in Ottawa.

Green Thumb Chapter Seven-Some Things Never Change

When you are out in the garden, particularly when you are alone, your mind tends to wander.   I have always marvelled at how things are connected, whether it be people or events and how you can take what you observe in one area of life and compare and contrast it to another area or event in another part of life.  

People ask “how is your garden”.

Here we are in early August and well, we continue to work away.  We are starting to enjoy some bounty.  There is swiss chard and lettuce (things that the long-term wellprepared gardeners in some parts around here enjoyed 6 weeks ago).  The Sunburst or patty pan squash are prolific little guys and they need to be monitored every couple of days or they grow too big.  Aren’t they cute?

There’s a late breaking development with the pumpkin.  That’s the pumpkin that we thought would mature by Christmas.  It started off like gangbusters.  There were flowers and vines everywhere-it’s like the plant in the movie “Little Shop of Horrors”.  But then things started looking not so great-white powdery mildew has set in and the poor pumpkin doesn’t look long for this world.  There is one pumpkin that’s trying to grow.  I don’t know if it will have sustenance on the dwindling vines.  If the plant continues at this rate there could be a bare patch in that part of the garden in the near future and we will have an orphaned little pumpkin. 

Why did we buy those umbrellas and camp chairs?

When my gardening buddy and I started to set up our shop…late as it was this year…we looked around and saw that many gardeners seemed to ‘nest’ as well as garden.  There were little plastic picnic tables and umbrellas in some of the gardens.  Some gardens have those gazebos with netting.  Well, we thought, isn’t that great!  In addition to growing things we can sit here and watch the world go by.  We can have wonderful discussions while watching Mother Nature do her thing.  We each purchased a camp chair and one of those little beach umbrellas to sit underneath.  We have used the chairs once.  

The rest of the time it’s hoeing and digging and weeding and planting and watering.  And the weeds, there is one particularly some nasty type of grass.  I thought this morning as I dug and pulled and uprooted them that my cousin Steve in Australia might be wondering if there were earth tremors.  No Steve, no tremors, just your cousin pulling weeds here in Central Canada and their roots come up by your front door.

When does the part about sitting on your rear and admiring things start.  Actually I am exaggerating a bit.  We admire and tour the garden every time we go out there.  It’s the sort of thing other gardeners might understand.  If you haven’t gardened I imagine, it’s hard to see the beauty in it.   This is the current state of affairs.

And there are some lovely flowers

Some things never change

And so to the things that are linked in life and such.  I met another neighbour today. Gardeners are a friendly lot.  He was telling me since he’s isn’t able to weed as much as he’d like he hires people to weed for him.  It costs him $300 per year.  I suppose we can think about that as we weed away.  It might come in handy as a sideline business if the Standard and Poors rating of the USA sinks our investments.  I don’t think I’ll look at the newspaper tomorrow…but that’s another story.  Nonetheless, the garden at this point is about 9 parts weeding and watering and 1 part produce.  We’ve already paid for the seeds and fertilizer and peat moss and garden gloves and of course the chairs and the umbrellas.  

In the position I left as I moved to life beyond full-time work, I worked in the not for profit sector.  And here I am, just months later, working in another not for profit sector.

Haliburton School of the Arts experience. Will this be another spitoon?

A History of Attempts at Creativity-A True Story

There’s some part of me that enjoys being creative.  It might more accurate to say some part of me enjoys making things, the results might not always be seen as creative.   Over the years I have ‘expressed my creativity’ in a few ways with varying degrees of success. Sewing is something I have done on and off for many years.  Some of the “deliverables” have been things I could wear in public (my wedding dress, for example) while a number of other creations were thrown in the corner in a fit of frustration and there they stayed until they found their way into the bottom of some drawer and then finally they went out with the garbage.  Some things were constructed but never saw the light of day after their initial fitting.  For example, early in our marriage I set out to make my spouse a pair of slacks.  To this day we refer to them as “the clown pants” (due to both lack of fit and wonky construction).  Needless to say I was liberated from looking for a pattern and material for him again.  

Other pursuits of mine bordering on creative have included knitting, macrame (that’s dating me, isn’t it), making greeting cards, tole painting and making door wreaths.  One year while at university I signed up for a free-form pottery class.  I think that was the name…it was making pieces of pottery without using a potter’s wheel.  I remember making two pieces.  One was a smallish bowl that turned out pretty well and the glaze chosen was relatively pleasing to my eyes at least.  The second item was to be a small, handle-less pitcher.  When I took it home, my practical mother looked at it and said “Oh, look!  A spitoon!”  .  And so, throughout the years as I tried to make things, if they didn’t turn out very well, people in our house say “Oh, look! A spitoon!”

Haliburton School of the Arts-Quilting The Art Quilt

Over the past few years I have started to do some quilting.  I’ve taken a number of classes  but have not really completed many projects.   Now, in my Next Chapter, that is, beyond full-time work, I can decide to devote more time to things like quilting.  With this newfound freedom, I attended a week-long course at the Haliburton School Of The Arts recently.  The class was Quilting-The Art Quilt.  The village of Haliburton is home to its own School of the Arts and the summer programs are really worth checking out. 

Earlier this year I was fortunate to take a course related to quilting from Elaine Quehl.  Elaine is full-time artist, teacher (and a very good one) and dyer from Ottawa. Her work has won many awards.    Reading Elaine’s blog a few months ago, I learned she was giving a class in Haliburton and decided it would be a wonderful experience to spend a week learning about art quilting.  When you sign up for a class you also have to find accommodation-mine was at Bonnie’s Lavender Farm and Bonnie will be the subject of my next blog.

It Isn’t Easy, Being Creative

There were 12 of us in the class.  We had some reading assigned ahead of time and the materials list….well it took me several hours to amass all the stuff we were going to need.  The “deliverables” from this class were an opportunity to hand dye 16 pieces of fabric and to make two small art quilts.  We learned about finding inspiration, about colour, composition and design and about planning and creating the art quilt. Elaine has a wealth of experience and she shares her lessons learned and her tips freely.  

We put in full days and I spoke to more than one of my classmates who, like me, felt pretty tired by the end of the day.  Trying to be creative can be exhausting.  Everyone enjoyed the class immensely.  The final products were very nice-and all very different from each other.  We had an opportunity to discuss each other’s work on our last day.  Elaine wrote a piece in her blog on the class.  When you look at the blog page, you can see some of the pieces-lots of talent and creativity.  To be clear, the leaf design quilt by “Barbara” is not me.  It was designed and sewn by the creative Barbara in the class.  While she was doing that, I was still trying to figure out the pattern.

I may get up enough nerve to show what I made…but for now, I think I’ll keep it under wraps.  I wouldn’t want to put it up here and have someone comment “Oh look!  A spitoon!”

P.S.  Being creative runs in the family!!!  My daughter just reported she and her friends spent an evening crafting tonight.  They were making underwear to throw onto the stage at the NKOTB-BSB (New Kids on The Block-Back Street Boys) concert this weekend.  Unfortunately I don’t have pictures.