Lisa’s End

Day 197: Anyone who gardens and also, in those impressionable years before YouTube or Netflix, saw in theatres the movie Howard’s End, will NEVER get over the writ-large scene in that film of the tramp through the bluebell-carpeted forest. See it here to remind yourself Bluebell tramp (really?).

So today, the shivers I had running down the back of my neck as I planted my first measly 75 bulbs of English bluebells into the midst of the first of my two maple bushes, were not due to the snowfall, damp and cold. It takes several generations and possibly hundreds of  years to hope for the effect shown in Howard’s End, but nevertheless, there is a smattering more English bluebell in the woods up here today, albeit dormant until spring, than there was yesterday, and I am thrilled well beyond reason. Yesterday there were none.Bluebells

My 1500 bulbs to plant are very nearly planted. I have another 75 English bluebells, another 75 fragrant white Thalia narcissus (daffodils) to plant in the woods tomorrow,  and then my six month long mission is completed. I can’t get the car into the property anymore due to snow and mud, but I don’t give a damned. This has been the most thrilling period of my life by far.



Learning How Not to Count

Day 189: I haven’t written since August, because one day has been exactly like another. Since mid-August, if not raining, I’ve stuck to a punishing routine. What can one say about monotony? I daily felled three trees, limbed those trees, stacked long logs, and hauled tree parts out of the way. I learned, sometimes the hard way, how to stay safe. I’d wait for a good day to burn the accumulated mountain of fine brush. I got used to hearing coyotes and to seeing an unpredictable mix of white tailed deer, scruffy coyotes, coy bunnies, turkeys in groups, thundering pheasants and dubious snakes. I was cutting so obsessively I thought it pertinent to cut my hair. Until a week ago, the sameness of the work was discouraging.  I hovered mid point on that neither-up-nor-down staircase, gripping the hand rail, painstakingly taking minor steps ad nausea. So much so that the bottom step I was trying to gain on seemed just a likely sign of my madness. I took the odd lovely break: I made it to see the Kathe Kollwitz and Rebecca Belmore exhibits, went to the comforting Owen Sound library, spent a day helping a friend move, had visits with my children, went to a friendly wedding reception. But that was all. I felled one tree last Monday that was resoundingly different. That tree being gone meant I’d at last cleared twenty percent of the south yard strip of forty-foot high cedars. Forever. I could see the future not just in my head, but in the yard, both north and south. One final tree gone that created a fifty foot open stretch of nothing but five waiting rose pillars, lining a crucial part of the south yard, revealing a grand possibility to plant fall bulbs. Today being three days later I have since had eighteen cubic yards of top soil delivered and have planted four hundred of my fifteen hundred fall bulbs. I am at last delivered of the self-imposed burden of my six months of hard graft, and am standing proud and almost stunned at the power of being at the very place I had last spring crazily dreamed of standing.

I made a productive vegetable garden from weedy ground. I designed and planted a large fruit cloister. I’ve made tomato sauce from things just picked; eaten potatoes only half an hour from their life in the underground; discovered the magic of garlic scape pesto, and boiled up both rhubarb and concord grape jams. At the moment I am inventing new uses for pumpkins. During these same end-of-summer months, I hired a tree angel, a man who gracefully climbs to frightening heights to rid me of immense trees tickling the house roof or hydro wires. He was here for weeks. I had my first ever ride in a fifty foot high cherry picker platform, courtesy of the capable two men now still working to save the sides and insides of my barn. I’ve learned how to use a chain saw and sharpen chains, how to fell tall trees, how to push past the seemingly impossible. Tuesday a wood stove was sold and removed. Today the second was removed, two port hole sized openings were punched in the house walls, two safe chimneys are going up, and two amazing stoves are being installed exactly as I write this. There is one more week of barn work and bulb planting here ahead of me, then everything will be put on hold waiting for a spring that promises some show, and far more time to relax.

This has been the most physically arduous, most amazing, and the best six months of my life with the possible exception of the first awe struck moments and months of motherhood. And I suppose this is a kind of entry into a fresh late life motherhood, and the beginning of a deep love to last me until the end of my days.


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Half Way

Halfway Down

Halfway down the stairs
Is a stair
Where I sit.
There isn’t any
Other stair
Quite like
I’m not at the bottom,
I’m not at the top;
So this is the stair
I always

Halfway up the stairs
Isn’t up,
And it isn’t down.
It isn’t in the nursery,
It isn’t in the town.
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run round my head;
“It isn’t really
It’s somewhere else

Although I don’t know many half completed creatures or projects that look anything but ugly, still, I am disheartened that I have worked such a long, hot, hard summer and have so little to show for it, with absolutely nothing I’ve done looking even remotely beautiful. My new chain saw caused confusion and delay; the only wheels my trailer now has, are on back order; the barn needs hired expertise, for which I wait a month and pay large sums. Large trees come down in a month, with cost. Many are up to me to cut, haul, and burn, which can’t be done without the trailer. Everything is taking painfully long to progress. And I find myself chanting the gardener’s chant: next year will be better. In the meantime, I face with a downcast mood, the dreary dishevelment of unfinished business.

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The End of the Beginning

Day 111: Yesterday I planted and watered a twenty-five foot by three foot row of forty-seven Excelsior foxgloves, just before they began to suffer horribly from being crammed in their seedling flat together for four long months. I have reached the end of the beginning up here. Everything to follow will be progress approaching a moving target, or it will be maintenance. Along with a perpendicular trench for ten delphinium and the parallel iris walk, the approach to the barn now has mild definition. The foxglove trench produced glass, rusted metals, and half a cubic yard of stone. It was given a hundred and sixty two kilograms of plastic bagged manure (where are you farmers?), as a bare minimum to keep the seedlings alive until more nourishment can be built in. Excelsior Foxglove

By the house I converted a weedy old herb section into a flower garden that contains Apricot Beauty foxgloves, two types of delphinium, deep red snapdragons and scabia, one Velvet Queen sunflower, and a border of lavender. The herbs for the time being are in box planters.

The river here needs serious attention, and August is the time to do it. Two trailer loads of river silt have already been relocated from the swimming hole to a fallow quadrant of the vegetable garden, and much more needs to be cleaned out: when added to the soil already in the garden, it makes for a velvety loam.

I am past the stage where madness and physical stamina was required to see past the vast impossibility of the vision. Foxglove glass

The Cost of a Pea

Day 44: When travelling, this expression has a very different meaning. However, the cost of getting 24 pea plants into the May 2018 limestone rocky ground in Bruce County, also protected from groundhogs, is not to be underestimated. Peas

Eleven dollars a pea is what I estimate. It took me several days to be able to say that monumental task was done, two of those days spent just laying out parameters to allow for house expansions. As with most new projects, what I dreamed was simple, is far from that. There was the polypropylene I’d laid down to suppress weeds: free in the back shed or not, I will never use that horrible, slimy, slippery, shredding, environmentally and aesthetically despicable junk again. And not thought through, since the entire garden carries a pronounced slope along its length westward, and any new border hedge will memorialize that slope, the evolution of plans now includes undefined time to terrace the slope. Any hedge to mask animal barriers must wait months to begin. So must laying paths.

20180507_173037Any thought of having the time or energy to amend the soil is laughable at this point. But Ontario appropriate, and well deserved, I sat by seven with a bottle of Black Fly to relax under my newly acquired solar chandelier as the sun set over the chicken wire barrier around 24 two inch plants that hopefully are merely the torch-bearers for a decade of grander things to come.



Black Fly

My back hurt like Hades..




Fruitless Brooding

Gardens of Eden: I have a tendency to grow small projects into quite massive ones. Thus it has been over February, with the simple thought of buying one new apple tree. The 10-tree-orchard my father planted  several decades ago is struggling after so many years of neglect. I have pruned hard back for a few years now, but the trees need serious nutrients, consistent organic pest control, culling the beginning fruits at every June drop time, and more time to get well.  The one quince produced fruit once, in all it’s snowy cold long life.  I wanted to do something this year, and that something has grown.

Image result for purple passion apple

                                                                  Purple Passion – Apple

Prior to the Guelph Organic Conference, I’d discovered, out of Quebec. They have marvelous things, but they won’t do semi-dwarfs or dwarfs, and if I live long enough to see ripe fruit on new trees, I have no intention of climbing 20 feet up a ladder to acquire juicy edibles. Alexander the Great is credited with finding dwarfed apples in Kazakhstan in 328 BCE. In any case, I also have dreams of diminutive step-over apples, fruit arbours and fan shapes, elaborate yard art created with hard producing fruit trees. Like the really old days. I want a challenge.

I found Silver Creek Nurseries, again, just “up” road, in Wellesley, Ontario (NW of Kitchener). And in Notre-Dame-de-l’Ile-Perrot, QC  (west of Montreal).  Both organic. Between them, I am spoiled for choice.

I can’t refrain from intellectualizing about most things in life, and trees are no exception. The origins of many apples we can grow today, “stem” from centuries ago. Cap of Liberty  cider apples date from the 13th century: you bet I am going to grow one, no matter how bitter the fruit or brew, but apparently it produces heavenly sweetness.

More recent types began in Russia, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Brittany, Normandy, Sussex, Japan, or New Zealand. I can grow the favourite apple of Henry the VIII. Or quinces originating from Portugal, Croatia, figs from Turkey, plums from Germany.  I can grow cultivars developed and tested for disease resistance for the last forty years by pioneering organic growers and breeders. I can grow persimmons and kiwi.

This requires more than one planting hole. They will all be littered with boulders. Thus, a plan is vaguely hatched, and a place to inch forward while I am also tackling 20 other priorities. I will dream of four or more little Edens, each containing fruit trees reflecting the sensibilities each garden evokes. This year, I will make a stab at a loosely defined old European style cloister, with a monastic or contemplative feel to it. It will lead off the orchard/kitchen garden that’s there now, past a newly made compost production area, hidden from view.

Woodchuck in Apple Tree

 I have yet to come to terms with the fact that groundhogs (whistle pigs, Marmota monax, woodchucks, as derived from the Algonquian wuchak) eat apples. They also eat crabgrass, but I can live with crabgrass. Perhaps I’ll need to build a low solid barrier.

I’d like lots of sharp hedges, espaliered and cordoned fruit shapes, some rigid sparse topiary, strong lines of sight, some stone and much green. If I’m lucky, it will feel French.  But it likely won’t look like much for years. Quince, plum, pears, some early  Russians and French cider apples, if I can thwart the groundhogs. When finished, at another phase of my gardening life, that should lead into another garden as if by surprise. Perhaps that will be Asian, English, Canadian or American. If this very long journey is of some interest, stay tuned.

Spring in the snow

Day 1: When does spring begin for a gardener? Valentines Day?

I have been pouring through order catalogues for weeks, but last night I completed my 2018 bare root rose order, and for the sake of simplicity, will call this the season’s day 1. The count for spring planting against the old cedar posts in the farm yard is now 14: funny, that. I’ll have the odd addition to this as the summer approaches. I am hoping these will sit playfully and perhaps elegantly surrounding the old yellow and red brick Victorian farm house.


Red Eden  Climbing. Classic old rose fragrance & form. Re-blooms. 5″ blooms. Heat tolerant. Good in the vase. Grows 10-12ft. Source just up the road, in Waterdown, at They have also developed a fabulous organic rose feed & pest inhibitor.

Don Juan of course! Free blooming. Very fragrant. Heat tolerant. Grows  12-15ft. Good in the vase. Source, Hortico.

Dublin Bay. Free blooming Irish bred climber.  Fruity fragrance. Disease resistant, and good cut. Grows up to 12ft. Source, Hortico.

Tess of the d’Ubervilles. David Austin climber. Free blooming. Very thorny. Strong myrrh fragrance. Just 8ft. Good in the vase. Source, David Austin’s North American distributor in Texas, on-line at  the U.K. home base,

Mister Lincoln. Dark and velvety. Strong damask fragrance. Good disease and heat resistance. Repeat flowering. This is not a climber: 4ft. Great cut. Source, oddly, David Austin directly, via Texas. Sadly, that’s what Canadians must do.

I have ordered one more red through David Austin, to be at the discretion of the powers that be. Whether that is Falstaff climbing, or Munstead Wood, or Shakespeare, time will tell. I will keep you updated.

I will post my yellows Friday. Happy Valentine’s Day to all.