Welcome to my world

It can't be controlled, and any illusion that it can be is just that. It can be guided - you can make choices about what to plant and what to weed out, but to be honest most of what goes on out there has nothing to do with any plan or efforts. It just “is”.

Credit: Barbara Rayment

Niki contemplating the fence. The plant in front of her is a perennial sweet pea, Lathyrus vernus, with very early purple-blue bloom, persistent purple seedpods.

Welcome to my world! The centre of my world, and what keeps me sane (okay, relatively speaking) is my garden. Friends and pets are also important, of course – but they can contribute to the craziness, as much as I love them.

I am coming to realize that my garden, originally designed as a one-acre test and demonstration plot for the nursery, is really a Zen garden. Not because it is a perfectly manicured place of calm and repose (after several years of benign neglect, it is more like a wilderness in transition, and home to more dandelions and hawkweed than I would like to admit to) but because it makes me think and teaches me lessons about life and myself. I can’t control it, and any illusion that I can is just that. I can guide it, maybe, and make choices about what to plant and what to weed out, but to be honest most of what goes on out there has nothing to do with any plan or efforts I make. It just “is,” neither good nor bad, and learning to accept that, and find beauty and interest in what is actually there instead of what I would like it to be, may be why I am here.

It is. Some perennials and a few annuals are self-seeding, and spots and splashes of colour are poking up all over one large central bed, under a couple of young oak trees that will dominate in 100 years. I did not plan these colour schemes, and who is to say if they “work” or not? I had planned something quite different; I came across those paper dreams while cleaning out some old files, and was pleased to see that the sweep of tall ‘Red Spire’ grass behind a river of dark stonecrop, echoed by a spring river of purple-blue grape hyacinth, still looked balanced. The “river” started under a pin oak at the top of a rise and curved down alongside a path, flowing towards a shallow drainage ditch at the bottom – maybe 50 feet. Simple, effective, lovely on paper and in imagination. The muscari took 10 years to fill in (they looked great this spring), the grass behaved for a couple of years then started seeding all over the place (it is still popping up all over that part of the garden, although the original planting has disappeared), and the stonecrop wandered around and mostly died out, unhappy in the heavy clay. The oak died five years ago – the clay may have been a culprit in that, as well, although there was some fungal disease that I never got around to identifying on the trunk. Other plants have moved in, or been planted in random acts of impulse gardening. Several different species of bright-pink thrift and creeping phlox intermingle with the bright spring yellow of spurge and false lupine. Various beard’s tongue, columbine, meadowrue and avens pop up here and there. The potentially invasive yellow flag iris is well-behaved in the dry heavy clay. The hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and various other small pollinators seem to be happy with it the way it is. The dogs lie in the shade or bask in the sun, and bury toys under saskatoon berries, dwarf honeysuckle and globe cedar shrubs. I am pleased to see that the climbing monkshood is still doing well, twining up through the globe cedar. Life is good.

It is. Short plants are growing behind tall plants, and instead of marking them to be moved in the fall I make the decision to enjoy the delight of finding these small treasures tucked away out of sight. A carpet of white-flowering wild violets has spread itself under the white hedgehog rose. The spring-flowering violets will be buried by that thorny shrub in another month, but this seems to be where they want to be. This association has been in place for at least several years now, and every spring the violets come back in a bigger and bigger patch, as the rose also spreads.

It is. A high-graft fern-leaf weeping caragana has been sending out suckers from the root-stock for a number of years now, and although it is always on my “to-do” list, they have never been pruned off. I knew that I “needed” to do this or the suckers of the more vigorous upright species form that is used for rootstock would take over and overwhelm the more delicate mutant weeping form. This spring, once again noting that I had to prune the suckers, which were indeed taking over, I realized that the form and habit of the interloper were actually quite nice; it had developed into a symmetrical arching vase shape, covered with the typical bright-yellow caragana flowers. Now I think that I will leave it alone. It seems to fit better into that corner of the garden, which is becoming a wild meadow of various self-seeded perennials, sorting out for themselves the sun and shade and soil that they need. I don’t know enough to interfere; I have barely learned to look.

That said, the project this year (other than the constant fence patching and adjusting to keep my adventuresome Houdini-inspired Akita from exploring the neighbourhood) is planting an assortment of hardy junipers, dwarf spruces and compact forms of Mugo pine wherever there are “holes” in the garden – or too many weeds. These evergreens will grow over time and fill in the gaps between the flowering shrubs and tough perennials, giving me low maintenance and four-season interest. That’s the plan, anyway. The garden will be what it wants to be. In times of political unrest and postal strikes, of tsunamis and hockey riots, it is teaching me about control and patience. To just “be.” To be still, to listen, to enjoy the garden for what is rather than fretting over what isn’t. My mission here in this blog (me, blogging! who would have thought?!) is to record the results of a northern garden evolving by its own plan.

Following is the list of botanical names for the plants mentioned, in the order mentioned:

Oak trees – Quercus rubra, Q. macrocarpa
‘Red Spire’ grass – Melicca transylvanica ‘Red Spire’
Dark stonecrop – Sedum spurium ‘Dragonsblood’
Grape hyacinth – Muscari armeniacum
Pin oak – Quercus palustris
Thrift – Armeria
Creeping phlox – Phlox stolonifera
Spurge – Euphorbia polychroma
False lupine – Thermopsis montana
Beardstongue – Penstemon
Columbine – Aquilegia
Meadowrue – Thalictrum
Avens – Geum
Yellow flag iris – Iris pseudacorus
Saskatoon – Amelanchier alnifolia
Dwarf honeysuckle – Diervilla lonicera
Globe cedar – Thuja occidentalis ‘Wareana’
Climbing monkshood – Aconitum hemsleyanum
Wild violets – Viola canadensis
Hedgehog rose – Rosa rugosa ‘Alba’
Weeping caragana – Caragana arborescens ‘Walker’
Juniper – Juniperus communis, J. horizontalis, J. sabina
Dwarf spruce – Picea pungens ‘Glauca Compacta’
Mugo pine – Pinus mugo pumila