Haikuesday: Grass Ballet


It’s mid-summer in the Okanagan, and the grass is growing tall and golden. A recent drive up to Salmon Arm had us passing sweeping fields of grasses and wildflowers with heads bent gracefully in the soft breeze.

I love the way a field of tall grasses can look alive, like a murmuration (there’s a cool word!) of thousands of starlings shape-shifting in the sky. They seem to move like one graceful entity. A tawny corps de ballet. A million feathers all seeming to sway and dance as one. Grassy fields are like that. Ruffle… Rustle… Wave… Whisper…

Daisy frosted field
Grass ripples soft as feathers
I’ll lay me down here.


Reading the Garden: 3 Summer Reads for Gardeners

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To me, gardens and reading just go together naturally; a good summer read enjoyed amid the blooms is one of life’s great pleasures. Most gardeners I know are as happy with a book in hand as they are clutching a trowel. It could even be possible that one of the main reasons I create and tend my gardens is just to have a beautiful place to read when the weather is fine.

My ideal summer story is absorbing without being too challenging. No dark, depressing books at this time of year, thank you. When I find a novel with a garden theme my little heart leaps like scarlet runner beans spiralling up a trellis! A common theme threading through many novels in this Garden Lit genre is the healing power of plants and green spaces, as any gardener knows well. Check out this list of garden-themed novels I’ve enjoyed recently – maybe they’ll become your favourites too. (PS: their covers are as lovely as the stories!)

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by Julie Cantwell

Prodigal daughter Lovey returns home to small town Mississippi to help her parents celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. As she works in her mother’s beloved gardens, she struggles with her need to heal her relationship with her bitter sister, versus her desire to carve out her own niche in a city far away. This charming story made me long to while away a sultry Southern afternoon among the black-eyed Susans, hydrangea and gardenias in Lovey’s mother’s garden, iced tea in hand, bees humming drowsily in the blooms.

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The Language of Flowers
by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

For young Victoria Jones, recently emancipated from the foster care system with nowhere to go, the Victorian language of flowers communicates her loneliness and mistrust better than words. In the San Francisco park she calls home, she plants her own garden and gives away flowers full of meaning to strangers in need of healing. Can flowers help her open up to a life of happiness and love? This gorgeous debut novel had me from the first page, so much so that I am thinking I need to read it a second time.

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The Forbidden Garden
by Ellen Herrick

In 1993 I had the good fortune to be part of a team tasked with recreating an 1890s pioneer garden at the Historic Stewart Farm. This project sparked my passion for old gardens that continues 25 years later. In The Forbidden Garden, nursery owner Sorrel Sparrow lands an opportunity to cross the pond to England to revive a long-dormant Shakespearean garden on a country estate. But things in the garden are not as they should be, and many have tried but failed to bring it back to life. Will Sorrel be the one to break the spell and restore it to full bloom? Take a cracking good mystery, sprinkle in a dash of magic, and seed in lots of old-time flowers and herbs, and you’ve got a perfect summer read. I discovered afterwards the book has a prequel called The Sparrow Sisters, which is another addition to my ‘growing’ list of garden reads.

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What new garden reads are waiting in my hammock for me? I’ve just begun The White Garden by Stephanie Barron – a story that offers a new take on the tragic end of writer Virginia Woolf. Other characters include Vita Sackville-West and her famed White Garden at Sissinghurst (yes, a garden can be a character in a novel!), and members of the Bloomsbury Group. So far I’m all in. Also on this summer’s To Read list is Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies by Ross King. It’s got gardens. Famous flower paintings. History. Bliss!

Help me grow my list of books set in gardens by adding your recommendations in the Comments below. Then go grab your own garden read and head outside because summer is short and there are so many books to read. Don’t forget the iced tea!

The Quotable Gardener: Roses


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This week I’m celebrating the first roses to bloom in my new garden. There were three of them here when we moved in last June, all climbers (a plus), and unscented (a definite negative). But beautiful nonetheless.

I’m also celebrating my love of old roses. Many-petalled wonders, crammed full of velvet and satin; rumpled rugosas cultivated for a millennium yet barely tame; heady wafting scents of tea and peaches; tints of butter and rouge, ivory and sunset; fleeting and delicate, strong enough to last centuries. Diamonds indeed.

I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.”
~ Emma Goldman, early 20th century political activist and writer

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Buff Beauty 7

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Many thanks to the photographers at Pixabay for amazing free photos.

And Way Down She Goes…

Way down

WARNING: This post contains information that could lead to highly addictive behaviour in gardeners. Read at your own risk!

Down the rabbit hole I go. Again. It’s a particular type of rabbit hole only found in gardens, at nurseries, and on garden blogs. You know this hole – you’d swear it wasn’t there a moment ago, then bam! You fall in and down you go with dirt under your fingernails. I’m quite susceptible to these plunges into the abyss on days when the weather isn’t cooperating for gardening, whether it’s too wet, cold or hot. I get bored and go for a *quick* visit to a nearby nursery or get out my laptop and start a search, and I’m done for.

My new obsession? The Gardenista blog. “The definitive guide to stylish outdoor spaces, with garden tours, hardscape help, plant primers, and daily design news” says their website. Into my inbox come carefully curated articles sharing lavish images of incredible gardens around the world, ideas for landscaping, water features and garden furniture, tips for growing hundreds of types of plants, and more.

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And the shopping! I am not an online shopping addict; I’ve barely dipped my toe into those deep waters. But I fear I’ll need water wings if I keep browsing through the offerings in their Plants & Seeds store. From heritage seeds to house plants, garden tools to amaryllis bulbs, historic roses to cut flowers, it’s all here, as well as things you wouldn’t expect to buy online, like Christmas trees. (Who buys their Christmas tree online?) One good thing – most of the sources are American and British, so I’m safe from random plant purchases, as they won’t ship to Canada. Sigh of relief here.

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This morning I enjoyed my tea with Everything You Need to Know About Fountains (maybe a small one on my back patio?), and sipped my smoothie as I explored Prince Charles’ unusual and eccentric Highgrove estate garden in At Home With Prince Charles: A Garden Ramble (includes a peek at a special childhood play place of young princes William and Harry). Everything You Need to Know About Cottage Gardens included photos and tips for how to achieve my favourite garden style. Only my mug of cold tea and a need to get off the couch kept me from further browsing. I’ve bookmarked 10 Garden Ideas to Steal From Greece for later – it might have some good ideas to swipe for my own dry garden.

Something I particularly like (of course) is that the articles occasionally include historic info on the plants, landscapes and crafts they feature. I love when plant and garden heritage goes mainstream, because most people don’t think about history when they choose plants for their gardens. Check out Heirloom Plants 101 to find out why you might want to add some heritage to your garden.

What’s your gardening addiction? That must-have plant you keep bringing home from the nursery these days? A favourite garden blog or website? Share in the comments and join the club!

Check out Gardenista on Instagram

Pinning Down Seed History

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Must. Stop. Pinning. Vintage seed packet art. That’s right, antique seed packages are a thing, and they’re intriguing and beautiful.

As I continue to wait for winter to let go its hold on my region, one way I keep my inner gardener satisfied is by pinning gorgeous full-colour images of vintage seed packages and catalogues to my Yesterday’s Garden Pinterest board. A lot of them.

The earliest seed packets were created around 1812, when the idea of marketing small amounts of seed to home gardeners took hold. When the chromolithographic process was developed around 1840, it revolutionized the print world, allowing bright colours to replace less appealing black and white printing.

morning glories     vegetables

Seed packets feature soft ballerina-hued sweet peas and extravagantly ruffled pansies. Nasturtiums are striped and etched, smirking pea pods walk hand-in hand, and fluffy poppies are billed with typical Victorian hyperbole as “The finest double poppies grown”. All this in an effort to lure would-be gardeners to purchase more seeds.

Sweet peas     Pansies

Want a giggle? Check out Cardigans & Cravats’ blog post on hilariously “personified” seed package art featuring anguished onions, tubby tomatoes and grapes in makeout mode. I’ve included a taster below.

Pea couple      Miss Peach

My favourite packets and catalogues, from the Victorian and Edwardian eras, are highly collectible, with unused envelopes being most prized. Their elaborate typography, graphic embellishments and curlicues, and of course full colour flower and vegetable images, make for perfect winter browsing over a cup of tea. They encourage me to break out my seed collection and nestle tiny orbs into dark soil. Then the breathless wait for the first tiny green sprout to push its head above the dirt. Who can resist?

If you’ve developed a craving to view more of these small envelopes, simply Google. Go on, I’ll wait…  Now that you’re back, have you been bitten by the collecting bug? They’re easy to find on Ebay, Etsy and Amazon. Reproductions are also very popular for home and garden decor, wedding favours and more.

Pinterest enthusiasts can go down the rabbit hole and view seed packets, links to old garden sites, and images to inspire your own antique-style gardens, and more on the Yesterday’s Garden companion board. Happy pinning!


The Quotable Gardener – March

Digging in the soil

Happy Spring, readers! Spring is here!

In the Spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”  ~ Canadian writer Margaret Atwood

Spring Garden Discoveries

Tulip shoots in garden

Well, lookee here! Check out what I found while digging my garden out of winter! Are they little species tulips? Any other guesses? I’ll let you know when they reveal themselves.

This is my first spring in the Okanagan, and this garden is brand new to me. I can’t wait for additional snow to melt, revealing more surprises pushing their heads up to the sky. I wonder what I’ll discover? It’s like looking for buried treasure!

I have no idea who wrote this sweet little poem in celebration of spring bulbs, or when. I discovered it in “The Complete Book of Garden Magic” published in 1951, which makes the poem itself an heirloom. The book belonged to my dear grandparents, who are partly responsible for my love of gardening. My 6-year old self loved paging through it to the photos of ponds and gardens. It occupies a cherished spot on my garden book shelf.

The little brown bulbs went to sleep in the ground,
In their little brown nighties they slept very sound,
And Winter he raged and he roared overhead,
But never a bulb turned over in bed.

But when Spring came tip-toeing over the lea,
Her finger on lip, just as still as could be,
The little brown bulbs at the very first tread
All split up their nighties and jumped out of bed.”
~Author Unknown

Winter is Ending. Maybe.

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It’s the end of our first winter in British Columbia’s Okanagan, and we made it through! Sort of. Because winter’s chilly grip still seems to be holding Kelowna fast in its icy fist.

As a born-and-raised Lower Mainlander I knew it would be a risk for me to move from the relative warmth of Vancouver’s winters to the Okanagan’s deep freeze. But I like snow, and I was weary of the West Coast’s Gray Season, which some years seems to last from October through May or June. I wanted real seasons – endless warm summers, gloriously tinted autumns, sparkly cold winters, and the anticipation of fresh green springs.

Initially we enjoyed the light fluffy snow that falls here, and embraced the cold temperatures. Okanagan air is drier, and minus-temperature days seem to feel warmer than Vancouver’s damp above-zero winter weather. Then Valentine’s Day arrived. Every Northern Hemisphere gardener knows that February 14 heralds the arrival of days with enough light to trigger plants to awaken, yawn, and stretch their stems toward a new growing season.

daffodil shoots 1 croppedBut apparently not in the Okanagan. My neighbours assure me this has not been a normal winter, which is scant comfort. I learned today that in February 2018 alone we’ve broken decades-old snowfall records, with more snow coming tonight. I haven’t seen bare earth since mid-December. No early snowdrops lift their heads. No green spears of daffodil foliage. No downy grey buds of pussy willow or star magnolia.

My inner gardener is going wild. I’m craving my fix of fresh green foliage and damp brown earth. I need rose bushes with tender red shoots to prune. Lavender and lamb’s ears to chat with and encourage. The scent of diminutive grape hyacinths and violets to tempt me on to my knees in the soil.

How to soothe the gardening beast pacing inside me? Well, just bide my time and be patient. Dream over catalogues and books. Shovel 3-foot piles of snow away from the garden beds so I can gain access sooner. Plant lemon seeds in a small pot to see what happens (nothing yet).

Tonight I’m heading to the Friends of the Summerland Ornamental Gardens AGM with my friend and Historic Stewart Farm heritage garden partner Pat, who also just moved to the Okanagan. I knew the gardens were up on the hill above the town of Summerland, but have never visited and wasn’t aware of their 100-year heritage. I just checked out their website and was astonished and delighted to discover gorgeous English-style gardens full of plants that are suited to the Okanagan’s dry climate. I can’t wait to meet like-minded people tonight, and learn more about these special gardens. I’ll keep you posted – there is a lot of garden heritage here!

Nuts About Heritage


By now it must be pretty clear to my long-time followers that I have a deep appreciation for heritage. I love museums (and have worked in them), vintage graphic design (which I do), and old furniture (if it is well-loved, even better). But when it comes to heritage gardens and plants, I’m kind of nuts. And no more so than when I discovered the Gellatly Nut Farm Regional Park on my final fall walk of the season (I knew it was the last fall stroll because we received 9 inches of snow the following day).

I mostly focus on heritage flowers and vegetables, but have never given much thought to heritage nuts. Turns out, like most heritage sites, this park has a very interesting story to tell.

20171113_140211_20171114093043092_20171114093637247.jpgThis four-hectare working nut farm is run by the Regional District of Central Okanagan. Situated in a scenic spot on 485 feet of beachfront in West Kelowna, the land was purchased by Scottish pioneer David Erskine Gellatly, who emigrated to Kelowna, BC around 1893 with his wife Eliza, and their eldest son David Jr.

What’s special about this park (besides its beauty) is its uniqueness. In the early 1900s David Jr. and his brother John began crossing northern varieties of nut trees with commercial types to create at least 58 new varieties that were more cold-hardy for Canadian growers, and suckered less. This labour of love continued for decades, and made the Gellatly Nut Farm a leading breeder of hardy nuts in North America.

In 1998 a developer attempted to purchase the property and convert it to a resort. After much local petitioning the rezoning application was denied and the Regional District purchased the land to preserve it as a park. Hoorah for grassroots movement, which is often all that stands between paradise and paving!

20171113_135401.jpgToday this lovely site is a perfect spot for a stroll or photo shoot among the nut groves in all four seasons. You’ll find walnuts, hazelnuts, and the unique varieties created by the Gellatlys, including buartnut (butternut x heartnut) and trazelnut (Turkish and Chinese hazels crossed with native hazelnuts). In the autumn nuts from these 100-year old trees can be purchased on site from the Gellatly Nut Farm Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the orchard. Proceeds from August-October nut sales go towards the protection of this historic farm. I’ll definitely be there next year, sack in hand. I’ve never tasted a butternut – have you?

It was a golden fall day during my first visit two weeks ago; today there was snow on the surrounding hills, and naked nut trees swayed and shivered in angry winds. The nuts have been picked, and only the hardy are enjoying the park. I am looking forward to seeing catkins adorning the hazelnut trees like Christmas ornaments, and sweet green leaves unfurling as spring arrives. In summer the heritage trees will form a cool canopy to shield us from the intense Okanagan heat. Truly a timeless place for all seasons!


Haikuesday: Secret Garden


Good Haikuesday evening, fellow garden lovers! It’s a busy week for me – a few days of work then we’re going down to Vancouver to move my mom up here to West Kelowna! So another quick post for this week.

Old garden slumbers

Dreams of waking to the kiss

of a loving hand.”

Have you read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden? I sheepishly admit that I have not. But I think I need to find myself a vintage copy and give it a go. I have fond memories of watching the 1993 movie many times with my daughter when she was young. I can hardly think of a more magical movie scene than the moments shot in the mysterious and almost-forgotten estate garden. Plus – it has Maggie Smith, so no more needs to be said! Below is a trailer from the movie that will give you a hint of the garden’s (and movie’s) delights. Bookmark it for a dreary winter day when it seems like spring will never come.