The new garden with its crooked stepping stones that the deer love.

The new garden with its crooked stepping stones that the deer love.


August 1 and summer is fully dressed.

We built a new garden last fall—we did it the easy way by laying down wet newspaper and covering that with a foot of topsoil. This spring, I scoured the garden centres for grasses because Glen had a hankering for their tall stately forms. He thought we should move the roses and have this space filled with waving grass. I didn’t move the roses, though. Now we have a grasses-and-roses-and-everything-goes kind of garden that you can meander through, walking along a badly laid set of stepping stones that I could barely lift—but I did!

The deer, that have recently taken to coming by for a visit and a bit of a nibble, love that pathway and they tread it nightly, stopping by to sample my coveted hydrangea blossoms – they even eat the lupins and have nipped off and stunted the phlox. I can deal with this, but we put a stop to their molestation of the columnar apple tree that was valiantly striving to survive these nightly raids. Glenn built a fence around it and the little tree is starting to recover.

hydrangea, basil

A pot of little leaf basil set among the hydrangeas to fool the deer. They don’t like the smell.

I found a way to fool the deer into leaving one of the hydrangeas alone: I placed a pot of strong smelling basil among the blooms and it worked! They have a yearning for hosta, too, and nibble on their favourites, leaving the one right beside untouched. They love the blossoms so hosta deadheading was off the to-do list this summer.

It’s not that I don’t love the deer, it’s just that I love my garden more.

It is a glorious summer – hot during the day, raining at night. The cucumbers are growing so fast I can’t


The cucumbers are getting away form me.

harvest them on time. Even the Empress Wu hosta that I thought was dead finally emerged, very late but fully intact. I am so looking forward to her reaching her mature four feet height. Many plants were affected by the late frost this spring; our 15-year-old tree peony didn’t show any signs of life until almost the end of June and brown leaves are hanging off the apple like tawdry remnants on a handkerchief tree. It dropped hundreds of tiny apples, too, but the crop is still heavy enough to bend the branches.

I am impatient at the computer this morning. The outdoors is calling; the sun is beckoning from a brilliant blue sky. I want to be among the daylilies (all the real lilies have succumbed to the dastardly red lily leaf beetles). I am itching to take the spent blossoms away from the patch of crazy daisies that makes me so happy. I need to fertilize the pretty container annuals – all red and orange this year – and give them a trim so they can continue to bloom. There is so much to do in the garden. The weeds are on steroids.

Tomorrow, I will take my granddaughter to the International Peace Gardens to revel in the work that Connie and Rodney and Keith and Johannes and Kathy have done there this summer. It is truly lovely. Claire will get to see the amazing succulents garden, wandering through the greenhouses to marvel at their myriad forms and shapes. Succulents are so other-worldly; we have an amazing collection there — world class.

And along the way, we can marvel at the golden fields of canola and the odd acreage of blue flax. The drive is a beautiful adventure all on its own. I love this province.



Will it ever Rain?

The weatherman was predicting rain again, but an hour ago there were only a few dark clouds in the sky, with the sun peeking through as it got ready to set for the evening. Now most of the sky is clear again and it does not feel like rain.

But it was very hot today, the kind of hot that takes the breath away, the kind of hot that used to predict rain in the evening. This lack of precipitation is so strange when you think about the floods this spring and how we, here in Winnipeg, were surrounded by water. You would think that heavy, wet clouds would have been generated as the water evaporated in the heat this summer, but if that happened, the clouds must have quickly moved on.

The trees are under stress. You can tell by the heavy seed load of the cedars and the maples. They seem to know when to make that extra effort to ensure they have offspring in case they don’t survive.

The lawn is sad

Although we watered faithfully, we weren’t faithful enough to beat the kind of heat our lawn and our perennial gardens needed to thrive this summer. Now the lawn is looking tawdry, with bits of green mixed with the dried-out straw colour of grass in dormancy.

The good news is that the lawn will recover, maybe even later in the fall when the temperatures drop and especially if we finally get some rain. Still, it will be a good idea this fall, just before the snow is expected, to throw down some lawn seed. Water it in well. That will help the lawn regenerate next spring and the seed will replace any grass that simply died over this droughty year.

We also need to water our perennial beds before winter to help the plants survive. And we cannot forget to water our trees, especially the evergreens which need moisture to keep their needles alive all winter. It’s a good idea to leave a hose on trickle at the drip line of the tree over night or for several hours to prevent all the moisture from simply slipping between the particles of earth in the dry, dry ground.

But listen to me. You’d think it was already all over, yet we are told the temperatures will remain in the high twenties and even thirties for the month of September. You can still go swimming every day.

As for me, I love the fact that I can write out here in my garden, surrounded by my flowers and the birds and the big blue sky. What a summer.


Blog August 30, 2011

The Raccoon War Wages On

Glenn did it again. Another raccoon and this one did not come quietly; it woke up the neighbours with its howling at 4 a.m. It was quite a tiny thing for the amount of noise it emitted. By sun up, it was sitting upright, catatonically peering out of the bars, exhausted. I had to harden my heart when I looked at it.

One glance at the tumbled down fountain was enough to do that. In fact, they have broken it for good. We really liked that fountain. The bill for these guys is getting close to a thousand dollars if we count the damage they did last year to our birdbath.

Glenn said it is not over. When he looked out the window during the night, he saw a very large fellow. “I think he might even be too big for the cage,” he said. It was probably this fellow who broke the fountain.

I look at the suggested deterrents for raccoons. One is to light up the area they frequent. Instead of acting as a deterrent, our lights seem to attract them. Another suggestion is to loudly play a radio tuned to an all-talk show: Huh! I’ll bet the neighbours would love that. I am beginning to suspect that the only way to keep then out of our yard is to electrify our fence. They come in through the park in the back yard where out pie-shaped lot is only 17 feet wide, so this could be an easy solution.

Not that any solution promises to be easy. These guys are very smart and cagey. To find out just how smart, check out this week’s Ten Neat Things at (you can sign up for this e-newsletter and  receive it automatically every Friday).
We go to Fort Whyte
This afternoon in the blazing heat, Claire, Julia and I went on a photo shoot to Fort Whyte Centre, a nature preserve reclaimed from an old cement works. Don’t bother looking it up – the history of its development has been replaced by a lot of public relations bumph and the neat story behind the development of the site has been discarded.

Still, it’s a cool place to visit. I remember planting a tree there years ago with one of the princes: Edward, I think. It was a blazing hot day then, too, and there were far more mosquitoes to contend with. After the tree planting, HRH and I and his entourage and the rest of the dignitaries went for a walk along the boardwalk through the swamp. Oh my, how the mosquitoes loved that fresh English blood.

I was walking directly behind HRH. Ahead and to the side were his guards, mosquito spray in hand. But they were totally flummoxed by the fact that the tastiest morsel on the Royal Body was the loonie-sized bald spot on the top of his head. There the mosquitoes clustered hungrily, while the staff clearly felt uncomfortable about spraying his head (are people allowed to spray a Royal head? Are they allowed to show that they know he has a bald spot?)

There was no royalty today, just my two beautiful granddaughters and me, cameras in hand, shooting ducks swooning in the swamp. Julia got a great picture of one of them taking flight.

It was a magical tour.

Pattacakes visits the garden

Pattacakes, the neighbour’s cat comes to visit now and then. She is a large tabby cat, the kind my grandfather always used to call Timothy, no matter whose cat it was.

Pattacakes is a friendly cat. She always pauses for a welcoming pat – hence her name? It’s hard to know. Her family, new to the neighbourhood, is not half so outgoing. She’s a curious cat, wants to know everything that’s going on. She stops to say hello, then meanders into the back garden, pausing along the way to greet an ornamental fairy, then looking back to see what caused the commotion when Claire jumped into the pool. Then she disappears into the undergrowth, perhaps taking a cool nap beneath one of the giant hostas or pursuing small rodents that don’t announce their presence to humans but which are never safe from the superior senses of a cat.

It’s cloudy, but breathlessly hot. Everything is very still. There may be a storm brewing at last. Pattacakes emerges from the garden, runs across the lawn and pauses by the garage door. Something lives there although we haven’t been able to find it. With a wave of her tail, she’s gone, perhaps summoned by a call our ears are too dim to detect. Claire has done 10 laps across the pool in 49 seconds, she says.  How does she know? She counted the seconds while I counted the laps. Claire knows how to make time slow down.

Glenn has taken our old condemned pool heater to the Brady landfill. It was shut down by a bureaucrat because it was only eight feet from the nearest window instead of the required nine. I think we will never replace it now. To get nine feet into the garden requires some re-engineering to make its intrusion less painful. It’s a small pool and the cool water does us good. Claire doesn’t seem to mind.

Earlier our neighbour next to us, she of the happy household, dropped by to offer us eight birdhouses that she once used as part of her decorating business. They are perfect for wrens. She has two major dogs – no rooms for wrens.

Pattacakes is back for a hug. She’s the perfect cat, because we don’t have to have her in the house where allergens build up and make it impossible for Lori or Shauna to visit. Even I have trouble. I will have to wash my hands after our little love fest.

She scratches her cheeks on the edge of our patio chairs and Claire, now out of the water, obliges Pattacakes’ exposed tummy by giving it a good rub. What green eyes she has. Pattacakes, not Claire. Claire’s eyes are the bluest blue, fringed by thick, black eyelashes. Pattacakes has gone back to watching that corner in the garage again, her body laid our flat against the cool cement floor. Claire has gone to dress. I am alone in my garden with the bees and the birds and the flirting butterflies.

Hot, Hot, Hot

The temperature was 37 degrees today, Monday (July 18), according to the very intelligent thermostat in my house. Tonight, the air outside is heavy and oppressive. Everything seems to be slowed down by the heat.

Someone burned down a house in town in what appears to be a revenge matter; four people are dead. Was the heat somehow implicated? People go a little strange in weather such as this. They always did.

But here in the garden, there is no hint of that. The pool is a warm 82 degrees without the benefit of a heater. Glenn has watered us into the poor house in order to keep the flowers and grass alive. Of course, we’ll be charged double; a water and a sewer rate both, for this extravagance, but what is the poor garden to do?

Two nights ago, Glenn confirmed that our midnight marauders are a family of four raccoons who have discovered the cool of the fountain and have been using it to bathe in. These fellows have baffled us for a couple of years and about $50 worth of bird feeders, smashed by their forays into the yard, and a potentially much larger bill when they upset the art deco birdbath our daughter gave us some years ago for a significant anniversary.

We have to discourage them if we can. While we appreciate the garden wildlife, raccoons are just a bit too wild and unpredictable, not to mention, destructive.

The bunny has come back though and is helping himself to a new pot full of goodies. No matter. We have plenty.

We have another occasional visitor; the neighbour’s cat, a friendly type that marks us as her extra territory. She insists that there is a mouse or something hiding in a corner behind the garage door. Glenn checks. Nothing there. Still, I believe Pattycakes (the cat). Wouldn’t you?
In the back garden, the filipendula is struggling into full blossom. It has been trying for two weeks. I think it is held back by the heat and the drought (funny word in a flooded province, but true, nevertheless).

But the lilies are well into their season. So far, no red lily leaf beetles for me. Some folks are inundated, though, so I know it is just a matter of time. To control, most advise going out early and hand picking. I advise this too, but when it comes here, I wonder how I will cope with 7:30 a.m. meetings and such. Probably easier to give up lilies for a while.

They don’t touch daylilies, though, so we can still have that pleasure.
As for how you, dedicated gardeners, will manage, you can douse your plants with talcum or baby powder, according to one of my listeners on CJOB, or you can spray with neem. Neither will kill the adults but the neem interferes with their reproductive system and I imagine the talcum powder will smother the eggs and larva (as will the neem oil).
Now it is cooling off a little. The neighbours next door are coming out and their quiet voices enliven the air. Across the street, Pattycakes has been recaptured and incarcerated with her proper family. The bunny has not reappeared tonight and even the red squirrel seems to be worn out (no wonder). Glenn and I sit back and absorb summer like a heating pad, storing up all this goodness against the inevitable winter.
Living here is so enervating.

Brazen Bunny

End of the week and we are both exhausted. The garden is the only place to recalibrate and it’s not yet the 32 degrees promised by the weatherman. Glenn and I bathe ourselves in the evening scents of petunias mixed with the mint that was crushed by his careless feet as he turned on the fountain. It’s warm, hot even, but still pleasant.

We talk over the events of the week: the floor repairman was here today to measure the floors. Glenn created a waterfall of hot water last week after forgetting that he had left a tap running and the sink plugged in as he went downstairs on another errand. Half an hour later, I discovered Niagara flowing from my kitchen sink and voila!  We have an insurance claim that will finally use up the new tiles we bought two years ago. I just shot a group of three gardens this morning in a hidden place in St. James. The lots were 200 feet deep and 50 feet wide – who knew what was behind those little houses on the south side of Portage!) We exchange stories.

Then we see movement at the edge of the back steps. A furry little something has come into our view. It is only six inches long and about four inches tall; a baby bush bunny has come out of the border by the house where he was hiding under the celandine poppies. They are fading badly now, but their foliage still creates quite a shrubbery.


He is quite brazen; undaunted by these humans sitting just a few feet away. Didn’t they just plant all of this for his pleasure? And of course, he is right. His pleasure is our pleasure as we watch him decimate some rambling daisies in a pot clearly positioned within his reach. I sneak up with my camera, but no reason to sneak – he is quite unconcerned. He reaches up and snags a sweet branch, then decides to eat the best part first, starting this time with the blossom, but continuing along the step and consuming all the leaves as well.

We watch and film for over an hour until we both tire of the sport. The plant is happier for its pruning and the bunny is clearly gorged.

This morning, bunny behind me, I did some tidying in the garden. The fading celandine poppies had to go to make way for some bright rudbeckia that were “dieing” to be planted. When I was through clearing out the poppy debris, I noticed bunny making a run for it from the garden to under the plants by the pool, then along the fence until he was lost to my eye in the overgrown back garden.

He hasn’t been seen since.

Things Of The Earth And Sky

Winnipeg must be the flyway for all sorts of romantic international flights because you see the contrails of these high flying jets lingering in the morning and evening air, streaking the sky with white lines that slowly dissipate into wisps that form interesting cloud patterns against the blue.

Sitting in my garden each evening, I look at the sky and marvel at the beauty of this celestial travel. Where are these people going? What business or adventures are they pursuing? Do they wonder at our antlike existence below them in the morning or evening sun?

My garden doesn’t care. It is focused on things of the earth; of plants and insects and animals getting their business done now because winter is only a whisper away and they need to reproduce as fast as they can.

The plants bloom fiercely and stunningly; theirs is such a short season in the northern clime, and the sun, so bright and hot, urges them on at a frantic pace. It stays out well into the night or what would be night in more southern parts of the world. When it becomes dark at 6 p.m. in Miami or Nassau or Cartagena, we are still basking in the sunlight and will do so for many more hours; near the summer solstice, it can stay light until eleven and dawn comes at 3 a.m. Do the jetliner people know of these wonders they are missing?

I once arrived in Whitehorse at 1 a.m. on June 21. The sky was a fierce blue with a ball of fire still lighting the night as bright as day. There was a strange sense of urgency in the air; the sun was forcing its energy upon us and people were responding by staying up and carrying on their abnormal routines in the middle of the night. The locals said that the newbies covered their windows with tinfoil so they could sleep.

For now, well into July, the urgency of June has passed and we are savouring each day of summer. The garden has lost its freshness – it’s amazing how quickly it can begin to look tawdry if someone isn’t deadheading and cutting back overgrowth every day. The lamb’s ears, so sprightly a week ago, have flowered and are looking tired. The brilliant yellow lilies are beginning to die away and the phlox is just beginning to bud. The celandine poppy, blooming so happily since May, has finally resigned, its yellow blossoms turned to vigorous seeds and its oak-like leaves already beginning, poppy-like, to fade and die back until next year.

But all is not over. The ivy that I “pinched” from a wall in Ottawa years ago is only halfway up the southern wall of the house. It is not hardy here, of course, and takes much longer to get started than the Englemann’s Ivy and the Virginia creeper that occupies the other half of the wall. The hostas are just coming into bloom and the fantastic filipendula still has only promising buds. Its frothy pink flowers are patiently waiting their turn to shine over the ligularia which will show off later. The annuals are spilling out of their pots, still looking fresh and young, and the feather reed grass has yet to send up its pretty plumes.

Meanwhile, the sky has cleared now; no clouds and no contrails. The evening is still luminous at 9 p.m. as the sun makes its way toward the horizon. A hush is falling over the land, muffling even the far off sounds of cars on the perimeter highway. It will soon be time for sleep.