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In the Garden with Gail and Sam

Right away, you can tell that two avid gardeners live here.

Blog Photo - Gail's garden - implements on tray

These gloves don’t stay idle for long.

Blog Photo - Gail's Garden - Covered Porch

Gail and Sam have lived in their home in a city east of Toronto for 25 years.

Blog Photo - Gail's Garden - Covered Porch 2

Theirs is a mature, complex garden that is tended conscientiously every day. It has trees, vines, ponds, statuary, gazebos, and plants that grow in the ground and in a multitude of containers.

Blog Photo - Gail's Garden Buddha

Of course, a gardener’s work is never done. If you’re a gardener, you’ll relate to this moment:

The camera comes out and Gail spies a weed — way, way at the back of the garden.

“Wait!” she says. “Let me remove that weed!” As she pulls one, she finds one more. And one more.

Blog Photo - Gail pulling weeds

A Canadian who was born and raised in Jamaica, Gail has fond memories of the island.

Blog Photo - Gail's Garden  Pond closer shot

This garden helps her to keep connected to it.

“We come out here and we’re in Jamaica!” says Gail.

Blog Photo - Gails Garden Gail talks

Blog Photo - Gail's Garden Pond - Tree reflected

The garden is also a tribute to her mother, who died several years ago.

Blog Photo - Gail's Garden - Ferns over pond CU

Gail is a passionate gardener. Luckily, her husband Sam, of Italian-Canadian background, also loves gardening — and Jamaica.

Blog Photo - Gail's Garden water Lily

To see them in the garden is to see a team that works well together.

Blog Photo - Gail's Garden - Sam

He does the building and hardscaping (paths, gazebos, trellises, stone walls, ponds, decking, etc.) while she chooses and takes care of the plants.

Blog Photo - Gail's Garden Wide shot from back

To no-one’s surprise, there’s a banana tree, rescued when the friend who had it was having trouble caring for it.

Blog Photo - Gail's Garden Rescued Banana Tree

It’s among umpteen tropical plants growing in containers spread throughout the garden.

Blog Photo - Gail's Garden Taro

Blog Photo - Gail's Garden Tropical Plants

Most of them would be quite at home in a Jamaican garden.

Blog Photo - Gail's foliage plants 1

Blog Photo - Gail's Garden table and chairs

There’s even an old copper gallon-jug which was originally used to measure rum at the Appleton estate in Jamaica.  It belonged to her father, and, thrilled with the historical significance of the jug, Gail was very pleased when her dad gave it to her for her garden in Canada.

Blog Photo - Gail's Garden Jug - Appleton

Gail’s an active volunteer in Canada’s Jamaican-Canadian community. She was a member of the Toronto committee celebrating Jamaica’s 50th anniversary in 2012 with a variety of cultural events, including concerts, author readings, an art show and other activities. That project is over, but when Gail wants to feel a connection to Jamaica, all she has to do is to step into her garden.

Blog Photo - Gail's Garden - wide shot different angle

Blog Photo - Gail's Garden back porch view 2

Thanks, Gail and Sam, for allowing me to visit with you in your beautiful garden.

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The Guilty Gardener

Blog Photo - Garden - Rose

I love gardening.

But for a smart person, I can be really stupid. 

**

A pain-filled fall and winter got worse as we headed toward spring: the few times I went out, I caught something.

Flu.

Bronchitis.

A cough that wouldn’t end.

Photo by Hamlin Grange
Photo by Hamlin Grange

Worn out and afraid of falling, I rarely even went into the garden.

Stuck in bed, I tried to write my way back to sanity and health.

Spring came.

Blog Photo - Garden - Roses in Boxwood Garden

And then.

“You’ve relapsed,”  the specialist said flatly during my hospital visit.

“Guilty,” I replied. “Sorry.”

“Do NOT feel guilty,” she answered.  “It was an awful winter. All my patients with complex injuries had a very tough time.”

“But your immune system is also weak,” she warned.  “Be very careful this spring.”

I listened.

I promised.

And I was. Blog Photo - Garden - Working in Garden1And then.

It was gardening season.

Day after day, my husband worked hard in the garden.

I watched, feeling entirely useless.

He left, on an errand.

Blog Photo - Garden - working in Garden 2And then.

I spied a large crop of forget-me-not growing into the lawn from the garden beds.  I know they bug him, and I know they’re easy to dig with a trowel. And so I thought I’d help.

A small thing.

A good thing.

I could do this. Blog Photo - Garden FMN straying into lawn I crouched over the lawn and started digging, feeling useful. When the back and leg pain intensified, I lay on my front, face just above the grass.

I dug, sneezing as dust went into my nose.

Then I spied a few dandelions nearby. Now I crouched over them, trowel engaged.

“Stop!” said my wiser self.

I listened.

I meant to.

In just a few seconds. Blog Photo - Garden - Butterfly on Mint

And then.

My sense of time did not kick in. It rarely does.

When I got up, the pain almost knocked me out. I staggered. Stumbled. Fought against falling, my cane desperately trying to find purchase in the ground.

“Cynthia! Cynthia!” came the panicked shout.

I had not heard my husband return.

Blog Photo - Garden in late Spring I ask you: which is worse?

To watch your partner struggle to do the gardening duties that you loved doing — on top of everything else on his plate? Or risk even worse pain — and his distress — by doing a few small gardening things to help? Blog Photo - Garden - working in garden 3 Blog Photo - Garden compost bags Some days, I’m almost used to the pain. It’s with me all the bloody time.

But the guilt? I never get used to the guilt of watching him do all the gardening work. It drives me nuts.

“Why do you do this?”  He shook his head, frustrated and angry. “You know better!”

Yes I do.  Blog Photo - Garden in shadows

So I’m obeying the doctor. Again.

Sparing my husband distress. Again.

Trying to cope with guilt. Again.

All stuff that requires a person to be not just smart, but wise.

So far, so good.

Wish me luck.

**

Dedicated to all gardeners who are struggling due to age, illness or pain. And to the caring people who help us: thank you.

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A Fine Canadian Whine

That funny sound across the land

Is not the geese in flying band

That sound across this country mine

Is just a fine Canadian whine

*

Photo by Hamlin Grange
Photos by Hamlin Grange ©

We whine and whine about our weather

Spring and Summer, Fall and Winter,

We whine at snow, heat, fog and rain

We whine, we carp and we complain

*

“Winter is hell”, we cried and said

(Forgetting hell is hot and red)

“Come Spring, come soon, or we shall rot”

So Spring herself is what we got

*

Blog Photo - Arbor and pink clematis

Blog Photo - Pink Clematis

We’d dreamed of Spring’s so-pretty flowers

Forgetting Spring’s cold wind and showers

Spring came with those accompaniments

Arousing such crude sentiments

*

“Can you believe this awful cold?”

“Come on now Spring, break Winter’s hold!”

“Can you believe this awful wet?”

“Good God, this Spring is the worse yet!”

*

Blog Photo - Bloodroot

And on and on Canadians go

As if our lives were full of woe

Day in, day out we moan and groan

As if bad weather were ours alone

*

But grateful gardeners aren’t such grumps

We take the good and take the bumps

We welcome all the days of Spring

And give our thanks for what they bring

*

Blog Photo -  Blooming rhubarb

And so we wait the Winter out

And though at times we feel some doubt

We know that flowers need the rain

Without it, we would toil in vain

*

Without it, what would be the point

Without it, we’d be rolling joints

Oh, wait – out by our West-Coast way

Some people do that night and day

*

Blog Photo - Crocus in Spring

Okay, alright that was a slur

‘Gainst folks whose Springs are oft a blur

Of rain.  Offense, they do deserve it not

(Their “B.C. Bud”  is known as hot)

*

My West Coast friends, I will refrain

From mention of your weed and rain

I will not write about your pot

At least I will not write a lot

*

Blog Photo - Blue clematis2

Back to my garden I will go

Back to a subject that I know

And walk between the growing plants

And tend to what the garden wants

*

At evening, sounds rise o’er the land

(It’s not the geese in flying band)

That pleasant sigh is me and mine

Sipping a fine Canadian wine.

****

All Photos by Hamlin Grange ©

I’m dedicating this poem to my friends on Canada’s west coast, hoping their sense of humour is working well today.

And  especially to Louise, in Niagara-On-The-Lake, who has a lovely garden, and her husband Neil, who loved his work at a winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Despite the uncertain weather of some growing seasons,  the story of Canadian wineries (in both the east and the west) is remarkable, with many award-winning wines. Way to go, Canadian wines!  

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At Home With Valerie Rowley – Pt. 2

Interior designer Valerie Rowley and her husband Chris took a big risk in 1993 when they bought their future home.  For one thing, the countryside house north of Toronto was quite run-down.

“We immediately saw the potential but we hadn’t sold our existing house and it was during the recession.  So did we play it safe and wait?   Nah!  We bought it and just fervently hoped our other one sold (we were up against another bidder so really had no choice).”

The other house sold, in the nick of time.

Blog Photo - Val house steps with flowers Looking at the house today, you wouldn’t know all the work Val and Chris took on. Blog Photo - Val Patio “We virtually rebuilt the interior of this home.  And made the garden almost from scratch – unless you count the few scrubby six-foot cedars that we inherited. It took many years which is why we feel we have so much of ourselves invested in it.” Blog Photo - Vals Kitchen Val’s favourite interior spaces are the kitchen and sunroom.  Blog Photo - Val Sunroom“The sunroom is full of light all year round. It’s also where I raise my vegetable and flower seedlings, grow watercress, herbs and salads through the winter, take cuttings of summer geraniums. To have this area full of pink, salmon and red blooms through the snow season makes the monochrome of winter bearable.” Blog Photo - Val Homegrown SeedlingsFavourite outdoor spaces?
Blog Photo - Val flower Bed The garden is an important part of “home” for Val and Chris. Blog Photo - Val Peonies on hillside “Luckily, Chris enjoys physical work a lot more than I do, so it’s a good partnership.   I grow things and prune and he digs holes and chops down branches.  And we have a young weeding lady who is also a budding opera singer!” Blog Photo - Muskoka chairsIn late summer and early fall, there’s the harvest. Blog Photo - Garden Produce
It takes work. But as you can see from Chris’ smile, it’s work they love doing. They plan to keep doing it for as long as possible.

Blog Photo - Chris Apple Picking

Many people today are drawn to houses that look like they belong in a glossy interior design magazine. Valerie, an interior designer, and her husband Chris, a TV producer, didn’t do that.  They bought a run-down place and worked hard at it for 20 years.  Today, for this couple, this place is  — quite simply  — home.

“I guess because everywhere  I look, what I see is immensely satisfying to me,” says Valerie.   “The flowers (growing, not cut) that I always have everywhere, the artifacts that Chris and  I have accumulated from numerous foreign countries over the years, the carefully chosen furnishings and the general knowledge that we have constructed a home  that is very personal and comforting to the two of us.  It all works.”

Blog Photo - Val Home2

“We have no intention of leaving,” says Val, “ until we physically can’t handle the work it entails – and it does entail work!”

“It’s about staying as healthy as one can as one ages,” says Val.   “I think it’s important for everyone to realize life doesn’t have to stop when the wrinkles and aches and pains start. “

Bravo, Val and Chris. You’re an inspiration.