Monday, September 27, 2010

Learning to like Gladiola

I loved Edith Hope's wonderful post in July on the subject of gladioli, which she titled "Things My Mother Told Me."

Firstly, I thought the provocative title was perfect. Secondly, I identified with the subject matter in a number of ways. In this post, Edith recounts that her mother would frequently remark that, "Gladioli are such vulgar flowers." As I told Edith in my comment, my mother had a very similar hard and fast opinion of certain flowers.

By way of example, my mother regarded roses as hopelessly old fashioned, ridiculously temperamental and their thorns mercilessly hostel.

My mother wouldn't dream of having boring old roses in her garden! Instead she preferred the oriental poppies with their bright red, tissue paper thin flowers. ( If you are old enough, you may remember that poppies, both the flower and the motif, were all the rage in the 1970's.)

For my mother, who was a suburban housewife with a garden, poppies were an irresistibly bohemian choice of garden flower. They not only hailed from far more exotic local than Nova Scotia (our home provence), they faintly scandalous as the source of the world's supply of opium.

And perhaps the apple does not fall far from the tree, because I too have a negative view of certain flowers. While I would not go so far as to agree with Edith's mother that gladioli are "vulgar", I must confess that I have never been a big fan of glads. 

Its hard to like a flower when you closely associate it with death. Let me explain.

An Irish graveyard

A zillion years ago, for a brief time I worked for a small florist. 

(And before I go further, I wish to state so as not to possibly offend blogging friends, that not all florists are created equal. Some florists are certainly more talented with flowers than others.)

Anyway, at the florist's in question, when someone passed a way, we were encouraged recommended "funeral containers" as an appropriate expression of sympathy. At R_'s House of Flowers, these large scale arrangements were made using rather hideous, white, papier-mâché containers that we stuffed full of oasis chips. Glads were rammed into the oasis in a fan-like display to add height to the arrangement and balance the girth of the container. 

The whole arrangement was most often finished with a flourish of inexpensive daisies or carnations, a large gaudy bow and a sympathy card attached with a straight pin. The simple card commonly read something safe and almost impersonal like, "With Deepest Sympathy, The Smith Family." (It seems that people are so worried about saying the wrong thing when it comes to death and bereavement, that they say as little as they possibly can.)

Now, most often the glads in these funeral containers were not fresh, in-season glads (unlike the ones shown here). They were limp, barely open glads that had been kept on life support at the back of the store's cooler. The spindly tops, which would never open, were usually sapped off. 

No one ever complained about theses funeral arrangements. Funerals are generally executed fairly expeditiously. The arrangement only had to last a few days. What seemed to matter most was the fact that the container was large and showy expression of genuine sympathy. 

The problem now is, when I think of glads, I can't help it, I think of funeral arrangements!

But, look at the glads fresh from the market. They are so lovely! How can I hold my past against them? 

On top of that, they are inexpensive. $10 will get you a nice bunch!

I know that I just need to get over and on with it, but I have one other small problem. While I am usually good at arranging flowers, those ram-rod straight gladiola stems confound me when I come to arrange them nicely in a vase.

Recently, I noticed this rather nice arrangement of glads in Canadian House and Home magazine.

Home of the Month, Canadian House and Home, September, 2010, Photo by Andre Rider

Note the glads on the grand piano. I like the casual arrangement of the glads and clean, contemporary look of the glass vase. And it is an arrangement that I can easily replicate in my own home.

So, I still don't love glads, but I am trying to learn to like them.

How about you? Is there a flower that you struggle to like?

Friday, September 24, 2010

An Alternative to Fall Mums: Beautiful Ornamental Cabbages and Kale

I happen to like fall mums, but not everyone does. Lets face it, mums are so overused that are kind of common. If you are searching for an alternative to fill your fall planters, may I recommend ornamental cabbages and kale. You can grow your own or like me, you can head to the local nursery to find them.

This beauty makes me think of an ocean wave, as they are sometimes rendered in Japanese art.

Ornamental cabbages are the same species as edible varieties of cabbage, but they are not as tasty as their cousins. 

One of the best things about ornamental cabbages and kale is that their remarkable foliage becomes even more vivid after the first few hard frosts.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Chance Discovery: River Sculptures by artist John Felice Ceprano

My dear husband hates being lost. Its like someone has pulled the carpet out from beneath his feet. Me, I regard an uncharted course as a map for adventure. Who knows what you will come across when you are lost?

During our summer vacation visit to Ottawa, we had become hopelessly lost. I was driving and Harold was sitting me beside me in the passenger seat, stressing, alternating between looking for street signs and frantically flipping map pages. We had seriously no idea where we were.

I was happy enough to keep going until we found a major artery that could be identified, but my trusty navigator was at wits end. "Pull over, pull over here.", he insisted,"I need to figure out where we are."

Reluctantly conceding, I pulled off onto a side road curving toward the Ottawa river. The road lead to a parquet, where I stopped to let Harold finish his map quest.

Refusing to get swept up in solving the mystery of our location, I looked around to see just where the car had landed us. The Ottawa River was as grey and forlorn looking as the overcast sky.

Then, I noticed a group of odd rock formations at the water's edge."Look, what's that? I'm going to check it out", I said opening the car door.

I strode across the slope of wet grass to the river bank. This is what I found at the water's edge. 

All along the shore, tiny pebbles had been used to balance larger river rocks to create these amazing natural sculptures.  

Even more lucky about this misadventure was a chance encounter with the artist, who was busily making adjustments to a few of the rock sculptures in preparation for an outdoor dance performance that was to take place at the water's edge later that same evening. 

We struck up a conversation and chatted for sometime about his work and the challenges of making a living as a contemporary artist in Canada.

John Felice Ceprano at work

The sculptures are all made by hand, each rock carefully balanced and shimmed. They range in size and can be as large as 10 feet high and 150 feet in diameter. The art project begins in summer and continues into late fall. Each winter the sculptures are dismantled naturally by the rising river and the ice floes. Thus the artwork is only temporal.

I thought they were great fun. And to think I never would have seen them, if we hadn't gotten lost!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fall Colors at Edward's Gardens in Toronto

The month of August was a hard one for us. My husband has been taking a new diabetes drug (new to Canada) to better control his blood sugar levels. The drug has many benefits in comparison with insulin the old stand by drug for diabetes, with side effects in only .1% of the patients. Unfortunately for my husband Harold, he seems to have fallen within that insignificant percentile and has been experiencing every bad side effect on the drug's list, including nausea and vomiting. Crushing exhaustion has also been plaguing his days and I find him nodding off at the drop of a hat. He lost 10lbs in a month and looks pale and gaunt. (All this from the drug that is supposed to be "helping" him with diabetes!)

It was then with great relief that the last days of the month and the first days of September we had a bit of a reprieve from daily stresses. Two welcome weeks of vacation!  With great excitement, we embarked on a few days for a vacation trip to eastern Ontario/Ottawa. The health issues came right along with our other luggage, but it was still wonderful to be away.

Amongst other things, we went on a boat cruise of the Thousand Islands

We took in the Museum of Civilization and the National Gallery in Ottawa. This is a detail from a sculpture on display at the Museum of Civilization.

After our days of travel, we returned home to Toronto. Harold had plans to be off on his own adventure for the final few days of our vacation. Guilty to be leaving me behind at home, he let me choose some things I wanted to do with our final vacation day together. 

I decided I wanted to do something fun and for me taking pictures of flowers is fun. We have never been to Edwards Garden in Toronto and I thought that it was about time we paid the civic garden a visit.

Adjacent to the Toronto Botanical Gardens, Edwards Gardens is a former estate garden that was purchased by the city of Toronto in 1955. It is now a public garden known for its roses, wildflowers and rockery.

It is always wonderful to discover new perennial that would make a great addition to my own garden. I was not familiar with this one at all but thought that it was really pretty, as a foil for all the pink sedums in the fall flower beds. 

Perhaps you know its name? I think it might be Caryopteris or as it is commonly called Bluebeard or Blue Spirea.

At Edwards Gardens, tall grasses made a really nice backdrop for the flower beds planted with a variety of perennials including sedum and asters.

The ruffled leaves of burgundy Heuchera (lower right) nicely compliment the pale pink color of the adjacent sedum.

Dark burgundy leaves, warm pink and a blue toned pink flowers create an odd but interesting mix of colors, don't you think?

Up close the tiny sedum buds are like fireworks

The Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) we saw there can be a great addition to the fall garden. They are easy to grow in moist soils in sun or part shade. Be careful to choose on of the newer varieties like "Miss Manners" as older varieties of obedient plant can be invasive.

Here different shades of pink sedum were mixed to great effect.

Annuals really come into their own in the last days of summer. I haven't used many annuals in my garden and these beds where enough to make me reconsider. I love the distinctive leaves of these annuals. Who needs flowers when you have such dramatic foliage?

Our morning at the garden was quite and restful. Harold soaked in the sun, while I went round and got picture taking out of my system. He did stir off his garden bench to take some bee pictures. He loves taking bee pictures. Me, I've been stung too many times. I'll stick with flowers. Except for run-ins with thorns, flowers don't bite!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Great Fall Color in a Country Garden in Eramosa Township

Heuchera blossoms in the foreground with Japanese Blood Grass in the background

The expansive roadside flower beds brimming with fall color leave no doubt that this small stone farmhouse in Eramosa township is a gardener's home. 

Tall clumps of Feather Reed Grass stand like sentinels on either side of the home's driveway. Summer flowers which include Annabelle Hydrangea and orange colored daylilies are succeeded in fall by Brown-eyed Susan, Echinacea, Sedum and large clumps of tall grass. In the winter months, evergreens take over the job of providing interest in the garden. 

River rock curves its way across the bottom of the roadside banks of perennials. Large scale boulders were brought in to add permanent, all-season structure to the flower beds. 

The old stone farm house dates from around the 1850's.

River rock was also used to frame the large oval shaped garden at the end of the driveway. A curved set of stone steps lead up into the bed of flowers. Here again sweeping clumps of tall grasses, Sedum and Brown-eyed Susan add dramatic fall color.

At the front of the house, a cluster of different varieties of Phlox, Echinacea (above), Globe Thistle (below) and the last of the pink Holllyhocks (below) were all in bloom, when we visited the garden.

In the back garden, the sea of Periwinkle must look amazing when the purple flowers emerge in spring. Even green, this mass planting is quite striking.

Also in the back garden, this Japanese Blood Grass looks amazing with sedum as a backdrop.

There are two seating areas in the back garden, a circular stone patio just off the back door and this little nook above, with its park bench and small pond (half hidden on the right).

A rustic birdhouse in the back garden

A Chipmunk with a battle-scared face pays a fall visit to the garden

For wild animals and birds, summer can be a fairly quiet time for activity in the garden. Come fall however, birds rediscover the feeders, squirrels and chipmunks scamper about the garden looking for that seed or nut, which will get them through the coming winter.