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.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The 50 Mile Bouquet: Book Review and Giveaway

"How did something as natural and ephemeral as a flower spawn a global industry? And what if anything had we lost along the way?"
Amy Stewart in her foreword to The 50 Mile Bouquet

"To many of us who seek that visceral joy of just-picked bouquets to bring into our homes or use for special celebrations-or give as a gift to others- the flower has lost its soul. What happened?"

Debra Prinzing in her introduction to The 50 Mile Bouquet

When we first moved into our present home, we were surrounded by nurseries and farms that grew strawberries, apples and asparagus. As well as berries, our nearest farming neighbours, the Butt family, grew flowers: dahlias, delphinium and glads.

Over the years we came to know this large and extended farm family. I grow flowers for fun. They grow flowers for a living. It is the flip side of the same coin, so the conversation was always easy and natural.

Like many area residents, we'd head to their farm to pick our own strawberries in June. In the summer months, we'd always stop by their stand at the weekly Farmer's Market to buy bouquets of their fresh flowers.

Who could resist their beautiful dahlias?

When sprawling housing developments put pressure on the farm, the Butt's who had been growing flowers on their land since the 1940's, reluctantly sold their property, and moved to a quieter spot just north of us. 

We've kept in touch though. We've been out to see the new farm and I still treat myself to a fresh bunch of their flowers every Farm Market day of the summer and early fall.

This brings me to the subject of today's post.

When I had read the buzz about the book The 50 Mile Bouquet and saw some of the preliminary photography for the book on the internet , I felt an immediate kinship with the book's subject matter. 

So when the book came out earlier this year, I went looking for a copy.

Before I go much further, I want to pause at the book's cover image to admire the beautiful photography. Isn't this shot amazing? The picture simply dances with sunlight and color.

I want to be there in that field right now, waist-deep in summer flowers! 

 Photograph © David Perry from The 50 Mile Bouquet by Debra Prinzing, St. Lynn's Press, 2012

And now that I have strayed into the on the subject of photography, I want to show you my favourite shot in the book. 

I love, love this image by photographer David E. Perry! It is the kind of picture you might want to frame and hang on a wall.

 Photograph © David Perry from The 50 Mile Bouquet by Debra Prinzing, St. Lynn's Press, 2012

The book itself is fairly slender, but it has made a big impression on me. I honestly don't think that I will ever look at cut flowers with the same eyes again!

Winters are long here in Canada. I get through the months of cold, and ice with pots of forced spring bulbs and bouquets of cut flowers from the grocery store. There are many times however, when I have stood in front of the cellophane wrapped bunches of scentless roses, mums and carnations and wished there was an alternative. Even in the summer months, when there are locally grown flowers available, the store selection never varies.

The 50 Mile Bouquet peaks behind the curtain of the 40 billion global flower industry to reveal that there are alternatives already in place. The book follows the path from field to vase, highlighting along the way, growers committed to sustainable practices and floral designers who prefer to work with flowers that are seasonal, locally grown and natural.

If this all sounds just a bit dry, let me reassure you, I found the book to be both interesting and completely readable.

Photograph © David Perry from The 50 Mile Bouquet by Debra Prinzing, St. Lynn's Press, 2012

As I read through the pages, I began silently cheering on growers like Tara Kolla who took on city hall and a disgruntled neighbour for the right to grow sweet peas in her half-acre backyard in Los Angeles. 

I also found myself admiring growers like Diane Szukovathy and Dennis Westphall (pictured above) who managed to entice area floral designers to use unconventional flowers and foliage.

As author Debra Prinzing points out, most consumers are unaware of how "ungreen" many of their floral choices often are. For example, a standard box of long stem roses is very likely to have been sprayed with pesticides and dosed with preservatives, so they can make the two week journey from farm to store. 

And did you know that the primary ingredient in the floral foam that many designers use is formaldehyde?

I had no idea. I bought some recently for a project I wanted to do. Now, I am thinking of returning it to the store.

I don't want to make the book sound preachy though, because it's not. It simply introduces readers to alternative ways to enjoy cut flowers. In its pages, we meet floral designers, wedding planners and even DIYers who are using new and creative methods to make arrangements and eliminate conventional and sometimes harmful industry practices.

The book even has many helpful hints from growers including ways to get lilacs to last longer in a bouquet and...

A great tip for storing peonies for up to a month. I definitely want to try this technique out next summer when my peonies come into flower.

As Debra Prinzing writes in The 50 Mile Bouquet, there is "a better way to beautiful." I think that this is a book that anyone who enjoys flowers should want to read.

If you would like to be included in the draw for the copy of  The 50 Mile Bouquet, please leave a comment below. I am going to leave the contest wide open until November 25th, so visitors to Holley's monthly garden book-review-linking-party can have a chance to enter. The draw and winning announcement will be made near the end of the month.

Many thanks to St. Lynn's Press for providing a book for this giveaway.

Good luck everyone!

I am going to link this post to Holley's monthly book review party later this month (November 20th). Be sure to check out Holley's blog on 20th for other interesting garden book reviews: Roses and Other Gardening Joys.

More Information and Links:

Debra Prinzing is an outdoor living expert who writes and lectures on interiors, architecture and landscapes. She is the author of six books including the award wining Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways ( Clarkson-Potter/Random House, 2008) Debra serves as the president of the Garden Writers Association and was a co-founder of Debra is a contributing editor Better Homes & Gardens and her features appear in magazines such as Garden Design, Fine Gardening and Metropolitan Home. Learn more about Debra at

Photographer David E. Perry began exploring the world and telling stories with his camera the day his father gave him a vintage Certo Dollina rangefinder and several roles of film. In The 50 Miles Bouquet David found a way to combine his love of photography with his love of flowers. To see examples of his photographic work, visit his website at David also has a blog as well.

Special Photo Credits in this post: The photographs from the book The 50 Mile Bouquet  are by photographer David E. Perry and have been used with kind permission from St Lynn's Press. © David Perry and Debra Prinzing 2012.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Shades of Grey in the Garden: The Final Chapter

The swirling waves of an Ornamental cabbage 

I have a marathon of images to finish off my grey-themed posts, so I will keep this introduction short and sweet. 

I always learn something in putting these post together. The pictures are bookmarks that reference the important passages in last summer's travels: Note to self: Remember this plant or that planting combination. Even if a plant is as common as dirt, I often see it used in such a way that I find myself thinking: now isn't that a great idea!

So, let's dive right in:

I am pushing it with this first example of grey. I hope you will forgive me, but you don't see this old-fashioned plant as often as you should these days. This is Basket of Gold, Aurinia saxatilis 'Compacta'. Its foliage is greyish-green.

Here it is tumbling down the rocky hillside of a former quarry. (The Rockery at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, ON). Height: 20-30 cm. Spread 20-30 cm. Care: Full sun, average to sandy soil. Drought tolerant when established.

Snow-in-summer, cerastium tomentosum in my garden

My mom always detested this ground cover, but though it can take over in a hurry, it does have some uses. In my garden it holds a sloping bank on the eastern side of the house. In the image below, snow-in-summer cascades down a steep embankment at the RBG in Hamilton.

Snow-in-summer, cerastium tomentosum. Height 15-20 cm. Spread: 60-75 cm. Care: As you can see this plant is a spreader. It is perfect in hot sunny areas with poor soil. Clip it back after flowering to keep it tidy.

Cheddar Pinks, Dianthus Height: 15-30 cm Spread: 20-30 cm Care: Full sun.

I couldn't leave these out. Beautiful grey foliage and a delicious, spicy scent.

A front planting that incorporates a pale, pink dianthus as well as a few grey-blue evergreens. Private Garden in Mississauga, ON.

Sea holly, Eryngium Height: 60-75 cm. Spread: 45-60 cm Care: Full sun

Sea Holly with purple Monkshood in the foreground. Larkwhistle Garden on the Bruce Peninsula.

Yarrow, Achillea taygetea 'Moonshine' has lovely silver foliage. Height: 45-60cm Spread: 50 cm Care: Full sun. Blooms June to September (with deadheading).

I have this silver yarrow in my garden. It is very reliable, quiet and well-behaved (never the class clown). It puts up with any amount of neglect I lavish on it.

Lavender Cotton, Santolina chamaecyparissus Height: 30-45 cm Spread: 30-60cm Care: Requires good drainage. Drought tolerant when established.

This is a plant I saw at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton and knew nothing about. I liked the foliage so much however, I wanted to know more. Lavender Cotton was often used in traditional herb and knot gardens. Its dried leaves are nicely scented and are sometimes used in potpourri.

Artemisia schmidtiana 'Silver Mound' Height: 25 cm Spacing: 35 cm Care: Best in full sun. Makes a nice compact mound of silver. 

I have Artemisia ludoviciana 'Silver King' in my garden. Now, if you are familiar with this cultivar then you are probably questioning my sanity. In researching this plant, I found a reference that described it as "a little aggressive for the average perennial border". 

That's a polite way of saying it spreads like mad!!

I knew 'Silver King' was a spreader, but I thought I could outsmart I planted it in the garden in a pot with a hole cut in the bottom. Foolish, foolish gardener!

'Silver King' laughed in my face and sent out runners that just skipped over the rim of the plastic pot. 

Despite the bad experience, I haven't given up on Artemisia. Look how great it looks in combination with the burgundy Barberry above. I am convinced that I just need to find another cultivar that is better behaved.

Artemisia 'Powis Castle' Height: 75 cm Spread: 45 cm Care: Full sun, well-drained soil. Excellent for hot sunny sites. Hardy zones 6-9.

What is your experience with Artemisia? Do you know a great cultivar we should all try. Here are a couple of options I saw last summer. Any comments?

Edwards Garden in Toronto Artemisia stelleriana 'Boughton Silver' with taller Calamint behind. Height: 15-30 cm Spread: 60-75 cm Care: Compact selection. Full sun. Clip back mid-summer to maintain low mat-like effect.

We had Lamb's Ears in the garden when we first moved in. Over time, the shade of mature trees made it harder and harder for it to prosper. Next summer, I would like to find a new spot and buy some new plants. 

I have to say that I am not fond of Lamb's Ear's in bloom. Stachys byzantina 'Silver Carpet' has dense clumps of soft, velvety silver leaves. Apparently this selection rarely blooms. Height: 10-15 cm Spread: 30-60 cm. 

Russian Sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia. Grey foliage makes a nice foil for warm colors such as pink and mauve. It can easily be a best friend for blue and purple.

The Music Garden, Toronto, ON.

Blue-grey evergreens in the Kinanen's backyard garden in Dundas Ontario. The garden's pond is right off the deck. Perfect for watching the fish dart around. Pond by Clearwater Ponds.

Really quickly, I will remind you that evergreens offer some beautiful garden greys.

Korean Fir, Abies koreana 'Siberlocke' You can read more about Koran Fir trees in this post by Alistair who writes the blog Aberdeen Gardening.

Aren't these grey pinecones interesting?

The Harrison Sister's garden in Hamilton, ON

A beautiful story in color and texture.

Here we are looking back the other way in the same garden. The Harrison Sister's garden in Hamilton, ON

Hostas also come in a nice range of grey and blue-grey colors.

Heather Bradley's garden in Mississauga, ON.

Finally, if you want to add grey to your garden next summer, don't forget to consider 
ferns like this Japanese Fern.

Edward's Garden, Toronto, ON.

I end with a mystery. I'm not sure what the name of this grey beauty. (You see, I really do learn from doing these posts.) Any ideas?