Gardens go with the gardener

I’m happily ensconced in my new home now, though I have to admit that I get a pang when I look at pictures of my old garden. It’s gone now. Pretty much obliterated.

DSCN4272The best laid plans… ah well. I had made arrangements to move my favourites slowly through October and into  spring and leave behind a low-maintenance design. But then my landlady became seriously ill and her rather tyrannical father, who co-owns the house, growled that he wasn’t going to look after gardens. The text message arrived at 3PM on a Friday afternoon telling me that everything was to be pulled out the next day and that I should stop by if I wanted anything. Holy crap.

I stopped by… and since it was all coming out anyway I hauled 4 truck loads of plants to my new home that weekend. And to my regret, I could have taken 4 more. Such a waste.

Needless to say everything ended up heeled into some hastily prepared beds, and I have only a vague idea of what ended up where. I hired two helpers and they worked fast – too fast for me to organize the plants and make sure my carefully prepared labels remained intact. Clematis, daylillies, grasses, surprise! It’ll take a year or two to sort them all out. But the best of my plants are safe. I have no complaints, other than sadness for the creatures who made their home outside my door. Evicted. It’s been paved over with green asphalt.

Gardens go with the gardener. It’s humbling. I somehow thought that by creating habitat for nature and beauty for myself, I was doing something important and changing the world. But I was only changing my little piece of the world, for a little while.

One last look back over my shoulder

Another week and I’ll be in my new home – my forever home, I hope. Friends tease me that I’m more concerned about moving my plants than my belongings and I confess – it’s true. The weather right now is hot, sunny, and dry… horrible for transplanting! I’m the only one objecting but if you’re a gardener, you’ll understand.

And so, one more look back at a garden that began in grief and has ended in an explosion of colour and joy. What a wonderful place to start my next garden.

Gardening in the Face of Change

I know it seems like I have Bumble Bees on the brain, but I just read a very cool email from the Xerces Society and want to share it with you.

Their “Gardening in the Face of Change” message is a clarion call to anyone who has a patch of grass or a planter: Help bring back the pollinators. Habitat fragmentation – i.e. more lawn than garden and more house than lawn – could be a factor that drives many species to extinction in the next 30 years. Lord knows the last 30 years have been disastrous for creatures like the beautiful Yellow-banded Bumble Bee and the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee. The next 30 could see them disappear forever unless we do something about it. And yes, we CAN do something about it.
Bring back pollinators
Xerces’ Matthew Shepherd says the rest much better than I can.

“The Xerces Society’s Bring Back the Pollinators campaign promotes four principles that can be adapted to any location – grow flowers, provide nest sites, avoid pesticides, and share the word. Fill a window box with flowers. Add planters to a deck. Create a colorful garden border. Mix flowers with the vegetables in a community garden. Enhance the grounds of a school or church. You can do this is a city park, golf course, corporate or university campus, or farm.

Insect habitat doesn’t need to be big, but it should offer a mix of nectar-rich flowers and be free of insecticides. The importance of flower choice was underscored during a recent visit to a large show garden. There were acres of gardens but butterflies and bees were limited to a very few plants. Woodland skippers loved the Pacific aster, as did a variety of bees and flies. Bumble bees were happy on purple coneflower, English lavender, and catnip. Black-eye susans and sneezeweed were humming with all sorts of bees. In between, the brightly coloured bedding plants and flower-less shrubs were quiet, devoid of interest for passing bees.”

I know, I know. Bumblebees on the brain. And gardening. I hope it’s contagious.

The Bumblebee Watch Garden Stare

I have a thing for bumblebees. They’re the Panda Bears of the insect world, and they give me a reason to stare at my flowers.

You know the “Stare”? It’s that trance-like state gardeners fall into whenever we wander among the flower beds. It’s not a restful state, no chess player ever used more brainpower to strategize a next move than a gardener. We may look serene but our minds churn constantly with lists of things to do and change in the garden. So Bumblebees are a welcome distraction. I find them endlessly interesting and as a bonus I get to look – really look – at my plants while I watch them.

Another part of the fun of Bumblebee-watching is trying to figure out what kind they are. That’s not particularly easy, and neither is taking a picture of them. They never stop moving and the workers all seem to look alike. But sometimes I get a shot that’s focused enough to submit to

It’s kind of fun to do. You login, upload your picture, click on some identification hints and then take a stab at identifying them. Then you sit back and wait for the experts to check your conclusion and tell you if you were right. Or more likely wrong. But who cares – it’s fun anyway.

Try it!

Bumblebee Watch is a collaborative effort by:

  • Wildlife Preservation Canada
  • University of Ottawa
  • BeeSpotter
  • Montreal Insectarium
  • Natural History Museum, London
  • Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation


Nature has been doing some volunteering of her own

I’m a volunteer with the Toronto Bruce Trail Club’s Conservation Committee, and I’ve been busy all summer growing native plants for a habitat restoration project. Meanwhile Nature is showing me up with some volunteering of her own. I was pretty thrilled to see Cardinal Flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) growing along the grass edge of the stream at the back of the property; they are spectacular and one of my favourite wildflowers.

That mystery plant I wrote about in June did turn out to be an orchid – a Helleborine. Apparently it’s non-native and can even be invasive. Just imagine… habitat overrun with orchids. I should probably be disturbed by that idea.

How to bee nice to Bumbles

DSCN3955I just received a newsletter from, and it has some of the most interesting information on Bumblebees that I’ve read in a while. Since I don’t see a blog on their website, I thought I’d share a bit of it here.

Most bumble bee colonies are well advanced and have a complete worker caste, so they have switched to producing the colony’s reproductive members. Because creating queens takes more resources from the colony than producing workers or males, the colony can only accomplish this once it has a worker caste large enough to provision the nest appropriately. Since the number of new queens (and not the total number of bees in a nest) is the measure of reproductive success, this is a critical time of year for all bumble bees. Ensuring they have enough food to eat between now and the end of the season will determine the strength of next year’s population.

So one of the best ways to help bumblebees (which are declining at a truly alarming rate – never mind honeybees!) is to have lots of pollinator flowers in the garden that bloom into the fall.

I’m not affiliated with the organization, just a big fan. If you love bumblebees, You should sign up!

The synchronicity of a small thing

The “small thing”.

Several years ago, while living and working in Munich, I discovered that such a thing as a “Garden Museum” existed in the City of London. Naturally, I took the first opportunity to visit during a business trip to that great city.

The Garden Museum is housed in the ancient church of St. Mary-at-Lambeth in a historically tawdry area of east London called Lambeth/Southwark. Back in the 16th century this area was fertile ground for wealthy manors, gardens, and great plantsmen but by the mid-18th century it was a lawless borough known more for bear-baiting, prostitution, alehouses and bowling alleys than for horticulture and wealthy retreats.

The Church of St. Mary-at-Lambeth was bombed in WWII and a dilapidated tear-down by the mid-1970’s. A determined group of influential horticulturalists intervened and turned it into the world’s first museum dedicated to gardening.


Back in the 17th century this had been the parish church of famous historical plant hunters, the Tradescants, and they are buried in the churchyard. The Tradescants were plantsmen and explorers who introduced to cultivation many of the plants we now grow in our gardens; they also created the world’s first purpose-built museum. The churchyard also contains the graves of Captain Bligh of The Bounty, Anne Boleyn’s mother, and other characters famous but less noteworthy… to a gardener.

So what does this have to do with me and synchronicity?

The “small thing” is a clay tile, a souvenir I purchased at the museum. The first thing I did four years ago when I started the garden was to hang this tile up at the entrance to a makeshift pergola. The quote, “Change this garden then for paradise“, appealed to me. Those words are inscribed on John Tradescant’s gravestone.

Fast-forward a couple of years, when my elderly Dad anointed me keeper of his genealogical research. To make a long story shorter, I discovered that my 2nd great-grand parents were married at St. Mary-at-Lambeth in 1853. I uncovered skeletons and a tragic, sordid story that I’m sure no one has known about for over 100 years. It reminded me that I’m alive today because some very hardy ancestors were survivors.

paradiseBut seriously – what an odd coincidence. And in just over a month I really am going to change this garden for the paradise that is my new home.