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.


Styx Crossing

With nearly 60 years since this 100 acre heaven has been farmed, approaching 20 years since my nationally famous garden writer father’s passing, the solo task, of creating compelling gardens in the rolling stoney landscape of Styx Crossing, seems overwhelming. Over the coming winter months I will share with you my reflections, regarding both my father H. Fred Dale, and myself, through this wild, beautiful, and stubborn property we both have loved. The past, present and future will collide I hope in a marvelously Canadian way. Above all, this will be about the bliss and madness of gardeners and gardening. We are in zone 5, but not zoned out.