Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Royal Manor B&B Garden in Niagara-on-the-Lake

Niagara-on-the-Lake, located at the mouth of the Niagara River and overlooking Lake Ontario has a long and distinguished history. Site of a major battle during the War of 1812, the town was burnt to the ground by invading Americans forces and later rebuilt.

Today, Niagara-on-the-Lake is filled with tree-lined streets and beautiful century homes. Surrounded by fruit orchards and vineyards, it is often referred to as "one of the loveliest town in Ontario".

Certainly, you would be hard pressed to find another place in the Provence of Ontario that has dedicated as much public and private property to the art of gardening. "Gardening is a hobby and a passion here in Niagara-on-the-Lake, we are fortunate to have an abundance of wonderful gardens and gardeners too!", explains Vicky Downes, host of the Royal Manor B&B in the historic district of "Old Town".

The B&B is a handsome two story Georgian home that was built in the early 1800's as a tavern for the ships arriving at the docks at Navy Hall. In recent years, the house has been lovingly restored in a way that is faithful to its 19th century origins. The original pine floors still remain and are in amazingly good condition.

The B&B is surrounded by mature trees and has a lovely perennial garden complete with a small waterfall and pond. "The gardens have all been built over the last decade.", Vicky tells me, "They continue to evolve yearly, as the plants grow and need to be trimmed, separated or moved."

Let's take a peak around, shall we?

"Perennials are my passion and I have planted as many varieties as I can afford over the years. After a decade, I now have colour throughout the growing season and lots of textures and greenery too.", says Vicky.

Main border looking back towards the driveway.

A pretty hosta and Giant Fleece Flower, 'Persicaria polymorha' in the near background

Giant Fleece Flower, 'Persicaria polymorha' and Black-eyed Susan, 'Rudbeckia hirta'

Black-eyed Susan, 'Rudbeckia hirta'

Many of the perennials have a sentimental history for Vicky. "Plants that have been acquired from neighbours and friends are a constant reminder of that friendship whenever I'm working around them in the garden."

"I am always delighted when I am asked to share a cutting, because I know that that person will always remember where the original plant resided, and hopefully think of me too."

Toward the back of the property, is a large pond that was designed by Clearwater ponds to be low maintenance.

"The pond was built over a large hole that the previous owners had called a sunken garden (but was filled with weeds) and that I believe was the location of a former building/shed on the property. The pond plants were a new endeavour for me and I'm still learning how to get them to bloom and how best to locate them for maximum growth.", Vicky tells me.

The pond and the adjoining patio is a perfect spot to relax and recharge. "The fish are a delight for my Mom who watches them from her windows and calls them to feed daily in the spring and summer.", Vicky says.

Red Hollyhock

A pretty combination of several Hydrangea shrubs and a Japanese Maple.  

As well as a wide range of perennials, there is a nice selection of trees and shrubs. "I have many trees around the property, but always wanted a Japanese Maple and a Dogwood, both of which I now have."

Purple Smoke Bush, Cotinus coggygria 'puroureus'

A beautiful mixed of plants and shrubs welcomes guests at the front of the house.

Large container plantings flank either side of the front door. (Love this mix of Coleus, Sun-loving Impatiens and golden hued Creeping Jenny!)

"The hydrangeas at the front were planted in 2000 just as the 18 month renovation was being completed on the interior and now need some severe trimming yearly so that they don't cover the windows. I am not sure of the name of the variety, but they are an 'old' variety that bloom off the old branches, so they can't be trimmed too much or no flowers will appear the following year.", explains Vicky.

I found colours in these hydrangeas so pretty that I couldn't stop taking pictures of them. I think I must have over 20 shots!

"I scatter aluminium sulphate on the soil annually in the spring to create the colour variations.", Vicky tells me.

Many thanks to Vicky Downes for allowing me to show you her beautiful garden.

Further information and Links: 

Thinking of visiting Niagra-on-the-Lake this summer? You my just want to time your visit to include the Shaw Garden Tour. Visit: for more details.

For general information on Niagra-on-the-Lake:  and

For information on the Shaw Festival visit:

A bit more about Royal Manor Bed & Breakfast:

The B&B is located in the heart of Niagara-on-the-Lake and is a few minutes away from shops, theatres, and restaurants. The manor offers three spacious and beautifully appointed bedrooms, each with a private ensuite bath.
The B&B promises the visitor an array of gourmet breakfast options including "eggs benedict, omelettes & quiches, fluffy buttermilk pancakes with maple sausages, or apple french toast" which are served in a bright and airy breakfast room. 
Royal Manor has central air conditioning, is smoke-free, pet-free and adult-oriented. Manor House Photo gallery.

I have never had the pleasure of staying at Royal Manor, but did note an abundance of favourable online reviews that spoke of the B&B as a "true gem" and described the hospitality as "gracious" and "welcoming".  

Royal Manor Bed and Breakfast

Friday, February 24, 2012

Growing Old

What struck me most upon returning home from Nova Scotia were the contrasts. The day I had left behind in Halifax was brilliantly sunny and warm, whereas the early evening in the Toronto, when I walked out of the airport terminal, was overcast and miserably cold. 

As I rolled out of bed at 5am the next morning, and my feet hit the cold, wooden floor, I thought about the differences again, this time between households. I looked across the bedroom at the mess of my half unpacked suitcase, and thought of the spotless, white interior of my sister-in-laws house, where I had been billeted during my stay. Where were those plush carpets when my cold toes really needed them? 

I thought too about the dark gloom of my in-laws living room, where the curtains are always drawn. (My mother-in-law, who is battling Alzheimer's, finds bright light hard on her eyes.) 

And then, I remembered the busy chaos of my mother's house, where my sister and her two teenage children had stayed. Sadly, it had turned out that the restless energy of a 14 year old boy, the distress caused by her two visiting daughters messing about in her kitchen and the simple change in routine had been really hard for my almost 90 year old mother to bear. We did our level best to make it easy on her, but one tumultuous evening in particular, she burst into tears and could not find comfort, even in my father's arms.

Have you had to come to terms with aging or ailing parents yet? It is a tough and heartbreaking experience, I warn you!

When we went for coffee and cake at my in-laws, I am not sure my mother-in-law, looking reed thin and ashen grey, really knew who I was, but she greeted me warmly anyway. She simply avoided any situation where she had to refer to me by name.

Though her memory may be failing her, my mother-in-laws pride is still in good working order. When it was time for coffee, she refused all offers of assistance and got up to make the preparations herself, because that is just what any good hostess of her generation would do.

As the polite living room chatter continued, we watched as she made countless trips back and forth from the kitchen, setting out all the plates, coffee cups, spoons and forks on the dining room table.

I am sure my father-in-law had cheated a little and laid out everything in the kitchen in advance of our arrival, yet I could see the worry on her face as she stood looking at the items she had arranged on the dining table, trying to make sure that she had not forgotten anything. When she finally announced that coffee was served in the dining room, all I wanted to do was to give her a big old hug.

It troubled me greatly to see too the toll my mother-in-laws illness was taking on her partner of over 60 years. My father-in-law seemed so deeply depressed that it was both shocking and heartbreaking to see. Throughout their long marriage, he has always assumed a very traditional role as a husband, and now in his late eighties/early nineties, he was starting over, and learning to cook and clean the house for the first time.

When, in life, does a house cease to be a familiar place of comfort, and becomes instead an untenable burden?

Honestly, there seems to be an overwhelming degree of denial in addressing this question on the part of both my parents and my in-laws. 

So far, my father-in-law has flatly refused to bring in outside help. 

My Dad is unsteady on his feet and walks with a crutch now. All to soon, climbing the stairs will become an impossibility for him, yet my mother continues to speak of any future transition in their living arrangements as something in the far distance.

I hate to be too grim about my trip home to Nova Scotia and give you a false impression. Though I did spend many a night tossing and turning, fretting about what the future will bring, there were many good times as well. At my sister-in-law's place one evening, there was plenty of lively conversation and laughter over plates piled high with chicken, massed potatoes and gravy. There was also a fun pizza night at my brother's house.

My sister N., who had come all the way from Ireland with two of her three children, managed to give her Irish kids a proper introduction to winters in Canada, with happy afternoons spent skiing and skating. We also went bowling, to the movies, to the farmer's market and shopped til' we dropped. 

Gosh, how I miss both of my sisters and wish we could get together more often!

This is my brother's dog 'Scout'. The arrival of a new baby at my brother's house has meant that Scout has been spending more time than usual at my parent's place. My mother simply adores him and we often joke that Scout is her favourite grandchild.

Scout is a Nova Scotia Duck Toller (a breed of dogs unique to Nova Scotia). It doesn't matter how cold the water is, give him even the slightest excuse, and Scout is off for a swim!

He is also quite the ham!

I will always have such fond memories of him riding around with my parents in their little grey Honda, Scout standing in the backseat, forepaws resting on the centre armrest, presiding over the two old people in the front passenger seats.

I will also treasure the lazy afternoons I spent sitting with my Mom, listening to family stories, hearing all about her wooden carving projects on-the-go and reviewing with the magazine clippings earmarked as ideas for future projects. 

It seems that those as-yet-to-be-completed projects are what keep you going when your almost 90! That and gardening!

Of course, we spent the good part of a morning making an all-important tour of the garden, despite the cool winter weather! These days my Mom keeps herself young, while serving as head gardener at my sister M.'s house.

Have yourself a great weekend everyone!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Wounded Wing

About 40 minutes into my return flight home, there was a woman's scream that came from the back of the cabin. The flight attendants rushed down the centre isle and all heads swivelled toward the back of the plane. I am sure that I was not the only passenger whose first thought was that something horrible had gone wrong with the airplane.

A flurry of activity followed and then the senior flight attendant returned to the front of the plane. 

"Is there any medical personnel on the aircraft?"

So, it seemed we weren't all going to die in a fiery crash, but at least one of us was in enough danger to have provoked a woman's scream.

There was a few horribly empty moments when no one stood up in answer to the flight attendants plea. 

"What if someone is seriously ill, maybe even dying!", I thought to myself, "Can there really be no one to help?"

Then, thank goodness, a gentleman across the isle stood up. Several women also got to their feet. 

I am glad to report that the passenger recovered enough for the flight to continue on to Toronto, where the ailing gentleman was assisted off the aircraft by a team of paramedics. He was sitting on a stretcher, smiling and chatting with the paramedics when I walked past, so hopefully he will be fine.

I guess you could say that my trip ended with just a little bit of drama!

Where did I get off to last week? 

I went home to Nova Scotia. The timing of my visit may seem a bit odd, but it was a week that was all about family, not sightseeing or sitting on a sandy beach.

Nova Scotia is on Canada's east coast (see the red arrow above). 

Don't let my grey-winter-day photograph fool you. Nova Scotia is a very colorful place.

In the twin cities of Halifax/Dartmouth where I grew up, the largely wooden houses are painted all manor of crazy colors. Just down the hill from where my parents live, I spied a bright, orange house and second one painted the most vivid shade of aubergine. Nova Scotians' are certainly not timid when it comes to the color of their homes!

Gardening on the east coast of Canada is a little different from it is here in Ontario, where I currently live. Pale mauve rhododendrons grow wild along the wind sweep coast. Heathers (above) thrive in the often moist, peaty soil. 

My trip home was favoured with a few bright, sunny days that brought out the delicate, bell-shaped blossoms on these heathers. 


I had precious little time alone with my camera, but I did manage to snap a few pictures of these heathers blooming in a neighbour's front garden.

I tend to think of the often beautiful, maritime Provence of Nova Scotia as a moody, romantic place. Is it any wonder then that so many artists come to the art college in Halifax and then choose to make the Provence their permanent home?

Meet Wounded Wing. 

This darkly comic character, missing more than a few feathers, comes to the apple tree just outside my mother's kitchen window each day, hoping for a treat. 

I sat with wrap amusement one morning and watched him drop bite-sized shredded mini-wheats into a dish of water and wait for them to become saturated with the precious liquid (many wild birds die of dehydration in winter). Then, I watched Wounded Wing fish out each of the pieces of cereal from the water, one at a time, and gobbled them up in a single bite. 

He was careful not to eat all his treats though. I watched him strut proudly around the backyard for almost half an hour, looking for the perfect spot to bury what he had determined where surplus treasures.

More about my adventures in the next post...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Travelling for a Week

I will be travelling for a week and look forward to catching up with you upon my return.

  I hope that you have a very happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Showing a bit of Versatility

Farmer's Market Dahlias from this past summer.

I have been honoured thrice over with a Versatile Blogger Award. Many thanks to the thoughtful blogging friends who have given me with this award.

I believe that as the recipient of this award, I must reveal 7 random things about myself. I have decided to stretch this mandate just a bit: I am going to divulge 7 random things about this blog and in a roundabout way, tell you just a little bit more about myself. So here we go:

1. With the exception of one guest post, all the content on this blog is original. That's right, every spelling mistake, every grammatical error, every instance of word repetition is all my own doing. No one else can be held accountable.

Recently, I have been approached by several parties offering their services in creating fresh "content". I never ever think of any of my posts as "content". This blog is more personal than that.

Farmer's Market Dahlias from this past summer.

2. Except where indicated, all the pictures are my own. Not everyone is a photographer. I get that. Sometimes you need to use an image to illustrate a subject you are describing in words and I think that is fine. I've done it, but always make a point of crediting the source and photographer.

I do have a pet peeve about blogs that show nothing but magazine photographs, and present them without any credits, as if they were original images. Some of the interior design blogs are notorious for this.

I would much rather read a post with a well-intentioned, soft focus picture that has been taken by an amateur, than a post with a professional shot appropriated from a magazine.

One of my peonies and some lilacs.

3. It takes time to be original. I wish that I could post more often and more regularly. It takes hours and hours of my time to do the photography for this blog.

I also have to add that taking the pictures is not work, it is pure pleasure.

4. I am not a gardening professional or even a master gardener. If I could go back and do it all again, I would probably be a landscape designer. (I may yet make the transition. Becoming a master gardener is also of great interest.) As a non-professional, I can only humbly offer my knowledge as an experienced amateur gardener.

 5. This is not a money making enterprise. My meddling son, greatly concerned about the amount of time I was spending working on this blog without remuneration, pressured me to add Google AdSense. To shut him up, I relented, but banished the ads to the bottom of the website.

I think I made a big $8 in the first month or so. (I hate to think about the hourly wage I received for putting that month's blog posts together.)

When this morning, I checked on the total amount earned, so I could write about it accurately, I noticed my AdSense account had been suspended because of some unknown violation. Gosh, I guess I never  see those 8 bucks now! Oh well!

Mixed flowers from my garden.

6. I am willing to get personal. Perhaps I am foolish, and should guard my privacy more carefully, but I have made this blog a personal account of my garden.

Even evil Goutweed can put on a pretty face.

7. Don't imagine for a minute that my garden is anything near to perfect just because I take pretty pictures. One of the flower beds has been completely taken over with goutweed.

Japanese knotweed continues to send up fresh shoots at the back of the yard, despite all attempts to eradicate it.

There is a temporary, ugly-as-hell shed that my husband uses as a workshop opposite the main flower border in the back garden.

... and I could go on.

I make lots of mistakes too. I always plant perennials too closely for one. Even after years of practice, gardening is still very much a learning experience.

Siberian Iris from early summer in the garden.

Finally, I want to say thanks again to the bloggers who have given me the Versatile Blogger Award.

I know the rules state that I must now pass on the award, but I think instead I will highlight the bloggers who have given me this award. They are:

Tammy a science teacher and gardener whose blog Casa Mariposa always makes me laugh. You can always count on her blog posts to be written with great wit and creativity.

Patty a fellow Canadian, who manages two garden blogs: Garden Pomona about her own garden and Women in the Garden that highlights the contributions made by women throughout the long history of gardening.

Life is Just a Garden is a blog that I am just getting to know. I notice that from her Versatile Blogger Award post, that we not only share a love of gardening, but dogs and ice cream as well (chocolate for me please!).

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Highlights from the Toronto Interior Design Show

On Sunday, we spent the afternoon at the Interior Design Show in downtown Toronto. The exhibition hall was packed with people and filled with inspiration. 

Here are just a few pictorial highlights and my notes on design trends at the show.

Trend ideas in this picture: Ground level marble coffee tables, legless sofa and a book case with shelves organized in an irregular pattern. The shelves are filled either with spare accessories or stuffed full of books that have had their covers removed. (Should defacing books be a fashion forward idea? What do you think of those low tables? Are they really practical?)

Trend idea: Over sized arrangements. 
(Did you notice the vase within a vase that holds the flowers and foliage in place? Clever!)

Trend ideas: Black and white accessories, blond wood, whitewashed floors, chrome and glass.

Love this statement making chandelier!

Bedroom ideas: Greige linens, distressed wood, collection of small mirrors.

Inspired by WWII aircraft this chest of drawers in the UP Country's display have a romantic, 
vintage feel.

Accessory trend ideas: Collections of vintage globes, vintage trophies, worn books and antlers.

Trend ideas: This industrial chic look mixes metal cabinets, distressed leather furnishings, romantic mercury glass chandeliers and contemporary styled armchairs with clean wooden arms. All from Elte in Toronto.

Trend ideas: Over sized wall clock, graphic black and white artwork, rough wooden headboard
and a distressed chest of drawers. All from Elte in Toronto.

Trend ideas: Charcoal wall color, rough wood surfaces, metal legs and chairs, amber colored glass chandelier, silhouettes and high gloss decorative plates. All from Elte in Toronto.

All from Elte in Toronto.

Kitchen trends: High gloss kitchen cabinets, dark grout on backsplash tiles, clean walls without upper kitchen cabinetry

(What do you think of the fashion for using dark tile grout in kitchens and baths? I think that this is one trend that will date itself quickly. The dark grout may be practical, but it has a way of making even a simple white backsplash look busy.)

Color trend: Tangerine and lime colored accents

Outdoor furniture trend: Woven faux rattan, metal legs, and sculptural, over-sized floral arrangement.

Trend: Zigzag patterns, orange terry pillows

House and Home magazine has a video clip of a few other show highlights. 
See it here: House and Home Online.