This is my second summer in Glen Williams and the gardens and I have bonded. When I arrived my first thought was, “I don’t know anyone here” – and I was talking about the plants. People thought it was quite funny when I said that, but I was serious – I need to see a garden through all four seasons before I feel comfortable that I have met all the inhabitants.
Unlike the garden, I settled in as a resident of the village immediately. The wonderful humans of Glen Williams had already embraced me as their own.
The gardens have responded with gratifying enthusiasm to their new home and my ministrations. Even the shocked truckloads of plants I hauled from my last garden are recovering from the trauma of that day and are starting to approach their former glory. The conditions are quite different here from my last residence, the soil is sandy as opposed to wetland clay. The house and gardens are on a steep slope tucked into the side of the escarpment so the drainage is – shall we say – rather good. However, the same tactics apply; a deep mulch of lots and lots of shredded leaves in the fall cures all.
The gardens were already full of mature perennials and shrubs when I arrived, so it’s been a match made in heaven. The former gardeners had a keen interest in native species and I inherited an eye-popping variety of beauties. I can’t decide if the delicate Pale Coneflower (Echnicaea pallida) is my favourite, or the Royal Catchfly (Silene regia) simply because I’ve never seen one before. I can’t understand why this beauty isn’t in everyone’s garden.
Perhaps the most beautiful thing about these gardens is that they are vibrant and alive. Birds of all kinds, butterflies, bees and other pollinators, a friendly toad, cheeky chipmunks, a garter snake, newts, tree frogs, turkeys… Not to mention the surviving long-tailed weasel in the barn area who keeps the rabbits under control, a raccoon, a possum… Turbo is acquainted with the resident skunk. Naturally.
I just watched this video and you should too; Paul Zammit (Director of Horticulture the Toronto Botanical Gardens) does a great job demonstrating how to control the spread of Vincetoxicum rossicum, the nastily named and even more nastily behaved Dog-strangling Vine.
I stopped by the old place last weekend to pick up a favourite shovel I thought I had lost, and to visit with former neighbours/forever friends.
When I walked around the corner it felt like a punch in the gut. This was the scene before me:
Scars of ripped out gardens and smears of green asphalt.
Four months earlier it looked like this:
As painful as the scene was to face, the experience was an interesting lesson in the fragility and fleeting beauty of gardens. It also brought home to me how vulnerable the creatures we share our space really are to the human love affair with lawn mowers.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 BumbleBeeWatch.org.
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.