A Good Home, Twigs in My Hair - A Gardening Memoir

The Story Behind the Story

I remember the day when CBC Radio host Shelagh Rogers and her colleagues Jacqueline and Erin came to interview me at our old farmhouse on the northern edge of Toronto.

It was summer 2014 and a day like the one pictured on the cover of Twigs in My Hair

Created with GIMP

My first book, A Good Home, had been recently published, and I, who had interviewed hundreds of people on television, was terrified. Of forgetting, of stuttering, of other painful things resulting from a car accident.

Wise woman that she is, Shelagh asked me to stroll with her around the gardens before the interview.

Blog Photo - Afternoon Tea Shelagh and Cynthia in Garden

Blog Photo - Afternoon Tea Garden

My friend Marilyn Mirabelli prepared tea for everyone. “Everything goes better with a cup of tea,” she said, trying to calm my anxiety.

Blog Photo - Afternoon Tea Ladies

The interview complete, we sat outside and enjoyed ourselves. Marilyn regaled us with stories about the history of the afternoon tea tradition in Britain. We heard names like Queen Victoria and Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford.

Blog Photo - Afternoon Tea pink cup and saucer

I remember the tea party, but almost nothing of the interview.

Much later, I remembered this:  Shelagh asked if I was writing a sequel.  I said I was terrified of writing a sequel because I’d have to revisit my journals — and that was too painful.

No way. I’d come too far to go back.

Blog Photo - Cynthia Reyes on The Next Chapter

Instead, I said, I was working on something fun — a gardening book! It was, in fact, almost complete.

But life went and did what life does.

Something unexpected happened. It led to the writing of An Honest House, the sequel I had dreaded.

Book cover - An-Honest-House

It went on to win an award and much critical acclaim for its raw honesty. But writing it traumatized me. The gardening book was shelved and forgotten.

Now, five years after I first wrote that gardening memoir, I look at the cover and feel a bunch of differing emotions.

  • Surprise. That we (Hamlin and I) and Mother Nature created such a beautiful garden.
  • Gratitude. That God graced us — my husband in particular – with ideas and  stamina to care for it. Hamlin built those garden beds and created the garden structures by himself.
  • Delight. That the book is finally published.
  • Satisfaction. That Hamlin’s photos and my story reflect a real life. Many images are gorgeous, but because the book is a memoir, we chose photos of real gardens and a real family. No staged or airbrushed photos here!

TWIGS -3D Cover Black BG

I see memories everywhere in this book cover. Most are good, a few are painful, and all in their own way, are precious. 

Almost every object you see has meaning for us.

Look closely at the boxwood semi-circle behind the round garden bed.

Twigs in My Hair - Photo of Arbour and boxwood circle and veggie garden to right

Now look at the biggest of the boxwoods, given to us in the 1980’s by a revered gardening teacher, Donald Moore. You’ll meet him – and the boxwood — when you read Twigs in My Hair.

Of course, I should apologize to Shelagh Rogers for misleading her, and for the book being years late. But hey! We finally got it done!

 

 

 

A Good Home, Canadian Gardens, Gardening, Low-Cost Gardening

8 Tips for Lovely, Low-Cost Gardens

Our gardens are usually lovely because my husband and I take good care of them. 

Blog Photo - Garden - Beautiful long shot to wall

But there’s another reason we’re pleased: nothing we add costs us much. Some gardening tips to share:

  1. Look for end-of-season sales. Blog Photo - Hostas and bird bathMany plants in our garden were bought in late June or early July. Remember: water generously that first summer.
  2. Divide mature plants. Blog Photo - Garden Path and HostaHosta, hydrangea, phlox, bee balm — most perennials, in fact — may be divided within 2 to 4 years of planting, instantly creating more mature plants for other spaces in your garden. We got these green-and-white hosta from our neighbours’ garden and have divided them repeatedly in two years.
  3. Consider gift certificates. Blog Photo - Red Bee Balm and Red ChairsIf you have a big anniversary and friends ask “What would you really like?”, suggest gift certificates from one centrally-located and reputable nursery. I never remember this until it’s too late.  But with a few certificates, you could get a shrub, tree, or even garden furniture.
  4. Bargain. Blog Photo - Clematis pink and lavenderWe had beautiful clematis plants at the farmhouse garden. Most were straggly-looking at the garden-centre, so we negotiated, got great deals and loved them back to health.
  5. Keep the good stuff. Blog Photo - Pool long shotOne of our most cherished pieces was a gift from friends: a cedar bench made especially for us. We’ve lived in three homes since then, and it always comes along.
  6. Paint the Old Stuff.Blog Photo - Blue Metal TablesOur metal tables were old and rusty. Blue paint brought them back to life.
  7. Work with what you have. Blog Photo - Muskoka chairs and UmbrellaWe never wanted a pool. But the house-with-the-pool cost much less than the houses-that-had-no-pool. So we bought it. Then a neighbour gave us his old paving stones; my husband created another paved area for seating.
  8. When you can’t afford what you want, consider a substitute.Blog Photo - Red Chairs and White Bench
    Blog Photo - Red chairs and white bench front shotI’d like a certain kind of chaises longues for my garden, but cannot afford them. So every spring in the last three years, I’ve bought one of these zero-gravity loungers. Solid and durable, each costs about one tenth of the chair I’d like and is very comfortable too!    Happy saving to you!
8 low-cost garden tips
8 low-cost Garden Tips
A Good Home, Canadian Gardens, Gardening, Gardens

The Bloomin’ Garden — Late Summer

My favourite photographer Hamlin Grange took these pictures of our garden, which is still thriving in mid-September.

Of course, he complains — like a diva: “That’s not even my best work!” But I love these pix, so I’m sharing them.  Here goes:

Blog Photo - Pink Phlox and Butterfly

We are grateful to have inherited a host of phlox from previous owners  — 6 different shades in all.

(I wanted to say “a flock of phlox”, but it doesn’t quite work, does it?)

Blog Photo - White Phlox CU.JPG

Blog Photo - Pink and White Phlox

They, and this special shrub (below) from our friend Les, bloom in late summer and attract bees and butterflies.

(Perhaps “flock” would work better here? “A flock of bees and butterflies!”)

Blog Photo - Blue shrub and Bee2

Blog Photo - Shrub with Blue Flowers1

Blog Photo - Blue Shrub Full.JPG

There’s fragrant hosta, rudbeckia and other stuff too.

Blog Photo - White Phlox ECU

Blog Photo - White Hosta Group

Blog Photo - Rudbeckia

Blog Photo - Garden with Phlox

It’s a blessing to have a blooming garden this late in the Canadian summer!  The weather has been mild — call it summer in September — and we are grateful.

~~

All photos are by Hamlin Grange. 

 

 

A Good Home, Arabella Magazine, Architecture, Art, Canadian Art, Canadian Gardens, Canadian Homes, Canadian life, Verandahs

The Verandah

Like verandahs? (Perhaps you call them front porches?)
As a former island girl, I love them.
blog-photo-verandah-chairs[1]
See my story in Arabella’s Spring Issue. It’s accompanied by sumptuous art: