Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Holiday Wishes

This will be my final post before Christmas. I want to wish you and your family all the best for the holidays and the new year!

P.S. Be sure to take a moment and enter the book draws in the last two posts!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Layered Garden: Book Review and Giveaway

Image from The Layered Garden © David l. Culp & Timber Press, 2012. Used with kind permission from Timber Press.

This year, I happened to visit the garden of a well-known, local garden expert and writer while on a summer garden tour. I was so disappointed! His garden was truly awful. Seriously, any amateur could do better! The new pond he had installed was so staged and artificial that it was hideous. Most of the tiny back garden was patio. There were very few plants to speak off, let alone take pictures of.

We got to chatting and perhaps because the conversation turned quickly in the direction of the other gardens on the tour, he got a little self-conscious. 

"You know who has the worst gardens?", he asked me. He didn't pause for my reply. "Garden writers! They are too busy writing to be fusing around in their own gardens."

"Really?", I thought to myself. "Can that possibly be true?"

No, come to think of it, I don't think that's true at all. The garden writers I respect are the ones with the dirty hands. They are gardeners first and writers second. They speak from experience both good and bad.

The reason I bring all this up is the fact that I am about to review a book by a gardener who offers expert information that has been gleaned from decades of hard work on his two-acre garden in Pennsylvania. 

You need not take my word on this- David Culp's garden is his best referral. 

Take a peak at the garden he and his partner call "Brandywine Cottage".

Image from The Layered Garden © David l. Culp & Timber Press, 2012. Used with kind permission from Timber Press.

 Isn't this Ruin Garden simply amazing?

Image from The Layered Garden © David l. Culp & Timber Press, 2012. Used with kind permission from Timber Press.

Of course it didn't always look like this. This is a before and after shot.

Do you see what I mean? This is a garden that grew out of lots of hard work. I absolutely respect that!

Image from The Layered Garden © David l. Culp & Timber Press, 2012. Used with kind permission from Timber Press.

The rest of the garden is just as nice.

Image from The Layered Garden © David l. Culp & Timber Press, 2012. Used with kind permission from Timber Press.

David confesses in The Layered Garden, "The path to horticultural enlightenment may be littered with countless missteps, mistakes, and (may I be honest?) dead plants. But the wonder of gardening is that it always keeps us looking forward, since there is always the next flower to bloom, the next season, next year."

In the book, the term "layers" refers to the design process of maximizing interest in each garden space with plantings that either grow and bloom together or follow each other in succession. The result is a non-stop parade of color that begins with daffodils and hellebores in spring and continues into the winter months with Asian wildflowers. 

The book leads you on a detailed tour of the garden through the various seasons. It was especially nice on a few occasions to see the same part of the garden in one season and the next side by side. 

The photographs by Rob Cardillo are superb!

The Layered Garden is the perfect book to cosy up to and read this winter. 

I am going to link this review to HolleyGarden's monthly book club on her blog Roses and Other Gardening Joys. To see more reviews, please click the link.

If you would like to be included in a book draw for a copy of The Layered Garden, please leave a comment below. The contest closes January 6th. Be sure to see the previous post, as there are other books to be given away as well. Many thanks to Timber Press for providing a copy of The Layered Garden for the giveaway.

More Information and Links:

Author David L. Culp along with his partner Michael Alderfer are the creators of the gardens at Brandywine Cottage in Downington, Pennsylvania. David's writing has appeared in Country Living, Fine Gardening and many other publications. An expert on herbaceous perennials, David serves as a sales consultant and new plant researcher for Sunny Border Nurseries in Connecticut. He has developed the Brandywine hybrid strain of hellebores, and was recently cited in the Wall Street Journal for his expertise on snowdrops. Brandywine Cottage has been featured several times on HGTV and Martha Stewart Living.

A Bumper Crop: Books to add to your Wish List

I thought that I would do one final review post highlighting books that have caught my eye, great reads I discovered in 2012 and books that I want to read in the new year. Breeze through and pause on the books that interest you.

Winter is the time when we gardeners get gardening in our daydreams!

Oh, and be sure to enter the book draw at the end of the post.

A Feast for the Eyes:

Bloom's Best Perennials and Grasses
by Adrian Bloom
Photographs by Adrian Bloom and Richard Bloom
Timber Press

Adrain Bloom's Gardening with Conifers is one of the books in my home library that I return to often to find inspiration. When I noticed that he also had a book on perennials and grasses, I went looking for a copy. Just look at that book cover to the left. Wow! Filled with expert plants choices and absolutely stunning pictures, this book is sure to inspire you too.

Natural Companions
by Ken Druse
with Photographs by Ellen Hoverkamp
Stewart, Tabori and Chang

This has to be one of the most beautiful books that I saw in 2012. Add in some wonderful writing by well-known author Ken Druse and you have a classic gardening book. See my full review here.

Image by Ellen Hoverkamp © Natural Companions by Ken Druse with Botanical Photographs by Ellen Hoverkamp. Published in 2012 by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, New York. An imprint of ABRAMS.

The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year-Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage
By David L. Culp
Photographs by Rob Cardillo
Timber Press

This is a another gorgeous book! Brandywine Cottage is David Culp's beloved two-acre garden in Pennsylvania. See my full review in the next post. 

Image from The Layered Garden by David L. Culp Photography by Rob Cardillo © Timber Press 2012

Great Reads for the Reflective Gardener:

The Untamed Garden: A Revealing Look at our Love Affair with Plants
By Sonya Day
McClelland and Stewart

This was possibly my favourite read in 2012. Master gardener and author Sonya Day takes a witty and often humorous look at our love affair with plants using a mix of myth, botany and plant lore. See my full review here.

Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe
By Charlotte Gill
Greystone Books

Charlotte Gill spent twenty years working as a tree planter in the forests of Canada. Her compelling memoir was shortlisted for numerous literary prizes and on the Globe and Mail 100 Best Books list in 2011. In Eating Dirt, Gill offers a glimpse at the gritty life of a tree planter caught in the turmoil between environmentalists and the logging industry.

Gardening for a Lifetime: How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older
By Sydney Eddison
Timber Press

This is a subject that many of us might want to avoid, yet growing older is something we all must face. Sydney Eddison offers the reader practical and heartfelt advice that helps to shorten the long list of everyday backyard chores, while preserving all that is enjoyable about gardening.

The Roots of my Obsession: Thirty Great Gardeners Reveal Why They Garden
Edited by Thomas C. Cooper
Timber Press

There is nothing like writing about gardening yourself to help you appreciate great garden writing. In this essay collection, writers like Thomas Hobbs, Ken Druse, Margaret Roach and Amy Stewart reflect on their passion for gardening.

Books for the Crafty Gardener:

Concrete Garden Projects, Easy & Inexpensive Containers, Furniture, Water Features & More 
By Malin Nilsson and Camilla Arvidsson
Timber Press

There are some really awesome outdoor craft projects that you can do with basic building materials like concrete. Next spring, I might finally find the time to do my own project and this book is the prefect inspiration.

Watch a neat video on one of the book's projects here: Concrete House Numbers
Image from Concrete Garden Projects © Malin Nilsson and Camilla Arvidsson and Timber Press. Used with kind permission from Timber Press.

Handmade Garden Projects
By Lorene Edwards Forkner
Timber Press

Ask anyone in my family and they will tell you that I have always got some craft project on the go. Here is a book with lots of fun, whimsical projects that will help you to add that personal touch to your garden.

Books for Plant Lovers: 

In Pursuit of Garlic
By Liz Primeau
Greystone Books

Written by best-selling Canadian garden writer Liz Primeau this book is on my reading list for the coming winter. Scientists are increasingly interested in garlic's antibiotic, anti-parasitic and cancer fighting attributes. In Pursuit of Garlic leads the reader on a tour following garlic's role in history, along with offering tips on growing garlic, and garlic-centered recipes. 

The Unexpected Houseplant: 220 Extraordinary Choices for Every Spot in Your Home
By Tovah Martin
Timber Press

My houseplants plants breath a sigh of relief when winter refocuses my attention indoors. Over the years fewer and fewer of them have survived a summer of neglect. To tell the truth, I think that I have become a bit bored with plants like african violets. Martin's approach to houseplants just might change my mind. More traditional plants, like the ivy below, are presented in novel ways and the author also recommends more unusual plants that you might never have thought to grow indoors. Houseplants are extremely beneficial. They clean the air, which can be up to ten times more polluted than the air outdoors. I think this book might just give me a whole new respect for houseplants!

Image from The Unexpected Houseplant. Photographs by Kindra Clineff © Tovah Martin 2012 Used with kind permission from Timber Press

Why Grow That, When You Can Grow This?
By Andrew Keys
Timber Press

This book offers hundreds of alternatives that replace or outshine common problem plants. Garden designer Andrew Keys introduces each problem plant and lays out 3 alternatives that include three or more of the original plant's characteristics. I love the way this book has been organized. All the permanent information is highlighted and available at a quick glance. Why Grow That, When You Can Grow This? is one of those great garden books you are likely to reference again and again. 

The Book of Little Hostas: 200 Mini, Small and Very Small Varieties
By Kathy Guest Shadrack and Michael Shadrack
Consulting Editor Diana Grenfell
Timber Press

Blame it on the influence of a fellow blogger's posts on mini-hostas: I have found a whole new reason to be interested in this dependable, but somewhat boring garden plant. How cute is this little container planting on the left! With over 200 color photos, and lots of valuable information, you will never think of hostas as dull or common again.

Coming in 2013:

The Backyard Parables: Lessons on Gardening and Life
by Margaret Roach
Grand Central Publishing
Release date: Jan. 15th, 2013
Here is another book I am looking forward to reading. The Backyard Parables is the popular author's mediations on the natural world, gardening and life. Visit Margaret's blog here. See the book's trailer here.

Slow Flowers: Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets from the Garden, Meadow and Farm
by Debra Prinzing
St. Lynn's Press
Release date: Early in 2013

This is a perfect follow-up book to Debra Prinzing's book The 50 Mile Bouquet. The author takes the reader through the seasons with 52 bouquets using locally sourced materials-even in winter. Visit the Debra's blog.

Fine Foliage
by Karen Chapman ad Christina Salwitz
St. Lynn's Press

I would be remiss if I did not give fellow blogger Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz's new book for 2013 a mention. Karen, I can't wait to read your book! I am sure it will be terrific.

Timber Press has very graciously provided me with four review copies that I am going to giveaway in a book draw. They are: The Layered Garden, The Unexpected Houseplant, The Roots of My Obsession and Gardening for a Lifetime. I will do four separate draws, so be sure to state which books strike your fancy. Also feel free to enter all 4 draws if you like.

The holidays are a busy time and so I am going to leave this book giveaway open until Sunday, January the 6th. A comment left anytime up until the end of the 6th of January will enter you in the giveaway. Good luck everyone!

I am going to link this review to HolleyGarden's December Book Review Post. To read other thoughtful reviews, please click the link: Roses and Other Garden Joys.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Getting Personal

How much do you want the world to know about you persoanlly?

Last November, I decided to write a Remembrance Day post on the subject of my father-in-law's early life and military service in the Second World War. At that point in time, I had known father-in-law for over twenty years, but I don't think I really knew him until I sat down to record some of the details of his life. 

My own childhood was comfortable-nothing fancy, but there was always food on the table. As I wrote this short biography, I struggled to imagine what it must have been like to work as a child delivering groceries at 2 cents an order or the extreme poverty that meant his family could not even afford to get him a simple library card. 

I sent hours pouring over every sentence in that blog post wanting to make sure that I represented his life and his contribution to the war effort in a way that would make him proud. 

When I emailed the polished piece of writing for his blessing, I was surprised by his response. 

He was horrified! 

"I don't want people to know all those things about me!", he exclaimed on the phone. What was for me a touching tale of his childhood and early career, was for him too private and personal for all the world to know. 

Of course I had to respect his wishes, and scrap the piece I had worked so hard on!

I think that as an artist and a blog writer, I had become somewhat accustomed to putting myself out there and even baring my soul just a bit. Foolishly, it hadn't accrued to me that not everyone is willing to do that. 

I must confess that there have been times when I myself have begun to wonder if there is even such a thing as privacy in this modern age. 

Buy a simple magazine subscription, and the next thing you know, you have some air duct cleaning company in Toronto hassling you on a daily basis with sales calls. 

It doesn't matter how many times you tell them that you have a boiler not a furnace, and that there are no air ducts to clean...they keep on calling every evening. 

All these thoughts came back to me last weekend when I found myself standing in front of the deeply personal paintings of artist Frida Kahlo.

My days of late have not been my own, so a completely selfish afternoon planned around a visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario was something I had been looking forward to for weeks. 

Not even a grey and dismal day could dampen my mood.

Self-Portrait of Diego Rivera from the AGO website

At the moment, the gallery has on a wonderful exhibit of artwork by Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

Diego Rivera was the more celebrated of the two artists during their lifetimes. Over the years however, the prominence of Diego's work has receded somewhat in favour of that of his wife Frida. I have a theory as to why that is: Frida Kahlo's her artwork is open and honest that it is impossible not to be touched by it. While Diego's paintings are a magpie of different artistic styles, while Frida's paintings are uniquely her own.

Academically trained, Diego Rivera was certainly the more technically proficient artist.  

Self-portrait by Freda Kahlo from the AGO exhibit

Kahlo was self-taught. She completed fewer than 150 small works- mostly self-portaits and still-lifes before she died at the age of 47. 

The bulk of her paintings are intimate in scale; you could easily tuck them under your arm and walk out of the gallery (although security might take issue if you ever dared to do so).

"I paint my own reality.", Kahlo once famously declared. 

At the age of 18, Frida Kahlo was involved in a tragic accident that left her with several broken ribs, a broken pelvis, multiple fractures to he right leg and foot, and a spine that was broken in three places. 

She spent three months recovering in a full body cast and underwent over 30 operations during her lifetime to repair her injuries and to correct the damage caused by several of the botched early surgeries. 

Drawn from her tumultuous marriage to Diego, her broken body, and her many miscarriages, Kahlo's paintings are often about pain. In this self-portrait above, a lifetime of struggles is expressed in the nails that pierce her skin, a torn body and exposed spine. Tears flow from her eyes and run down her cheeks. 

Kahlo holds nothing back here. She puts her heart and soul onto the canvas.

When it comes to self-expression, most of us are not more hesitant about revealing our inner lives. 

Our most earnest wish from childhood is to fit in and be accepted. We carry into adulthood a deep seated fear of judgement and even recrimination.

Who doesn't want to be seen in anything but the best light?

Add to those concerns is the fact that no man or woman is an island. It is one thing to put yourself out there, it is quite another to drag your family into the spotlight along with you.

When you write for the internet, how personal do you get? Do you dare mention first names of your loved ones?

Let's face it, the internet can be a scary place at times. 

The requests for help that pop up in my email inbox each day are a reminder of that. 

And I would be a very wealthy woman if I could ever claim the vast sums of money I have supposedly been sent or inherited!

When it comes to my blog, there are also disturbing reminders in the daily onslaught of bogus "Anonymous" comments:

"Hey, dude! Assume blog. I really like your article. I am going to visit on a regular basis. Be sure to check out my website:"

I think I may have to enable comment moderation in the new year.

Then... just when you start to question the sanity of ever getting personal on the internet again, you come across a piece of writing that is so honest and heartfelt that it can't help but move you to tears.

The writing was so crystal clear that you feel as if you are standing right there in that kitchen, pealing apples for a pie, and listening to the hushed conversation between a mother and her only son.

The dilemma with which any artist, writer or blogger must wrestle is that sometimes we are at our very best when we are at our most vulnerable.

Monday, December 10, 2012

And the Winner is....

 I am sorry about the big delay in announcing a winner for The 50 Mile Bouquet book draw. A terrible cold and family matters have kept me away from garden blogging.

Our daughter-in-law was working on the weekend, so my husband and I took her dog Mator in to the vet to have his stitches removed. 

Mator has always respectful of the two bigger dogs in the family, but not our smallest sheltie Rusty. He uses every opportunity to pick on his arch rival. We are hoping that in having him neutered Mator will settle down, and poor Rusty can have some peace.

While at the Millcreek Vetrenariy Clinic, Dr. Dawn Hughes-Bissonnette (DVM), a.k.a. Dr. Dawn graciously agreed to assist us with the book draw. 

And the winner is....

Garden Walk Garden Talk. Congratulations Donna! I will be in touch shortly to get you address so I can have a copy of The 50 Mile Bouquet sent to you.

Writing Contest: The Winning Entries

I am excited to announce the winners for November's Essay Contest. The five winners, in no particular order, are:

Holly of the blog Roses and Other Gardening Joys

Laurrie whose blog is called My Weeds Are Very Sorry

Tammy whose blog is Casa Mariposa

and last but not least

Sheryl of My Flowery Prose

I will be in touch very shortly with each winner to have them pick out a bracelet as their well-deserved prize. 

The winning essays will be published, one each Sunday, beginning in January. 

A big thank you to each of these creative and talented bloggers for taking the time to write such terrific entries.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Never Give Up! Never Surrender!


Like me, you have probably devoted most of your adult life to pursuits for which you have a talent or aptitude. Life in general, and childhood schooling in particular, have a way of pointing us in that general direction.

Over the years, I am sure you have discovered a long list of things you are good at doing; whether it may be adding up columns of numbers, working with mechanical things or even a way with words.

Most of us also have an alternate list of shortcomings. These are the kind of things that you might want to skip mentioning in a job interview: "Yeah, I am not much of a morning person." or " I crack under pressure."

I became well aware of my limitations early on. The childhood rhyme used to teach young children to tie shoelaces which begins "Left over right and under..." was lost on me.

I was the last person in my primary school class to learn to tie their shoelaces.

I am dyslectic- left and right, b and d- are things easily confused in my feeble brain. In those early school days, I also lagged behind my classmates when it came to reading, verbal and language skills. (Ironically, I have always loved reading. A trip to the bookstore or library is right up there with a trip to the local nursery on my list of favourite things to do on a Sunday afternoon.)

Early on, I learned to compensate for being a slow reader by teaching myself to skim texts in search of the answers. Much of schoolwork is memorization, and I excelled at that. A series of drawings to illustrate my school reports was always good for a few extra marks. Despite my handicaps, I always managed to be an average to above average student.

In my working, life I have focused my energies on the things in which I excel: creative and artistic pursuits. 

But then... every once in a while, I crash head-first into something that reminds me of my limitations.

This fall, I decided to take a college accounting class. 

It's not that I have late-in-life ambition to be an accountant; I merely want to be able to be able to manage to books of a small business. (Most small business accounting software packages do not require accounting skills, but I thought an accounting class might give me an extra degree of confidence going forward.)

I knew going in that this was not going to be an easy class to take, but I had no idea just how truly hard it was going to be.

I suck at accounting! Big time!

Last Saturday, we had a mid-term exam and I worked really, really hard to get ready to for the two-and-a-half-hour-marathon-of-a-test. 

Depressingly enough, I am sure I either failed or came darn close to it.

Failing as an adult is just as hard as failing as a kid. I have been beating myself up for days over my dismal performance on that darn test.  

"Joe Smith works as a security guard in a hospital and earns a wage of $8.80 per hour. Smith's payroll deductions include withheld income tax of 10% of total earnings, pension of $180, unemployment insurance amounting to $300, and a monthly deduction of $45 for a charitable contribtution. Calculate Joe Smith's gross pay and net pay assuming he worked 172 hours during the month."


I get lost right after "Joe Smith works as a security guard in a hospital..."

I bet Joe is one happy man knowing I don't work in his hospital's payroll offices, because I have no idea how much to pay him, gross or net.

At this point, it is pretty safe to say that my ship is sinking. 

It is too late in the term to drop the Accounting class. Even if I could drop out, I am not sure I would.

I am determined to persevere, even if I do end up with a big fat "F". I am just going to have to work hard, keep bailing water and hope for a miracle: a shining beacon of light at the end of a very dark accounting tunnel.

At the very least, I hope to salvage the basic understanding of accounting principals that I set out to learn in the first place. 

What about you? 

Have you ever had to struggle to learn or do something that you are just plain not good at?

Are you wondering why I have shown these particular plants in this post? 

The first plant is a Mallow or Malvia sylvestris that I photographed in mid-October. These Mallows continued to bloom right up to the end of October. It seems that this old fashioned cottage flower has amazing staying power, even when the temperatures start to dip in late fall. 

A short-lived biennial, and a cousin to hollyhocks, this pretty self-seeder has crossed the street to our yard from my neighbour's garden. 

The plucky pink chrysanthemums are growing all along a chain link fence in another neighbour's yard. 

We have even had two hard frosts. Here it is the 21st of November and they are still blooming their little hearts out.

Now that's persistence!

P. S. The post title "Never give up! Never surrender!" comes from the 1999 movie "Galaxy Quest" starting Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman. In the movie, the washed-up cast of an old Star Trek-like television show have a real life encounter with aliens from another planet. I am no Trekkie, but I have been married to one long enough to think that this movie is hilarious.