A Gardener’s Midsummer Dream: Wild and Cultivated

Garden tours are always lovely, especially for those of us who are a little nosy. What better way to spend an afternoon than peeking behind fences and waltzing through strangers’ backyards? Last week, I found the best one yet: The 2017 Mississauga Garden Festival. What made it so spectacular? It included a little bit of wilderness, too. IMG_5525.JPG

This event was a pilot project, and a new collaboration between the Applewood and Cloverleaf garden clubs. Inspired by Buffalo’s Garden Walk , it included more than a dozen gardens in two neighbourhoods as well as an open house at the Bradley House Museum.IMG_5531.JPG

It was a hot Sunday afternoon, but we almost didn’t notice. Huge trees towered over us the whole way and almost every yard was shaded. In fact, there was so little direct sun that by the end I called it ‘the hosta and hydrangea tour’ because almost every yard was filled with those shade-loving plants. I should add that I didn’t mind it at all–I discovered new varieties like the pinky purple Aspera hydrangea. I want one of those!IMG_5527.JPG

The tour necessitated a walk or drive between neighbourhoods. We chose to walk through the Rattray Marsh, and it was the best decision we made all day. Within seconds of stepping onto the woodland path, we felt as if we were hours from the city. Surrounded by lush green forest and native plants, P. and I held hands and slowed our pace. We stopped and watched the rippling waters of the Sheridan Creek. We even came across a pretty female deer and had a lovely visit, standing only a short distance away as she ate her fill of fresh greenery (including, we noticed, some just-planted city trees. Oops!).IMG_5546.JPG

At the end of the trail we returned to streets of impressive homes with carefully tended yards. I swooned over the house where the boulevard had been transformed from plain grass into lush garden. We stopped and rested on a stone bench beside a pretty backyard waterfall. And then came a final wander through the museum grounds, with its heritage vegetable garden and some much-needed refreshments. IMG_5547.JPG

Our tour lasted only about three hours, but it almost felt like we’d been away for the weekend! Now that summer is in full swing, I hope that you have the opportunity to tour a garden or two, or wander through a conservation area. Or maybe both. That’s definitely my recommendation.


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Bring on spring! And fiddleheads!

neighbour treeYes, I know it’s raining. Still, spring is the best. From where I’m sitting I can see the beautiful white blossoms on my neighbour’s trees and the buds of my backyard lilac bush. Everything is lush and green–even my groceries!

About a year ago, I used a gift certificate from a friend to order fresh produce from Mama Earth Organics. It was a pretty radical departure from my usual routine at the local discount grocery store. Feeding six people on a budget has never afforded me the opportunity to buy much from the organic aisle. Fiddleheads changed all that.

3254c915-f2d5-4302-8474-5118c9d9036f_thumbFiddleheads are the young, curled leaves of ostrich ferns that presumably get their name because they look like the scroll end of a fiddle (you can see them in this picture from the MEO website). They can only be harvested in the spring in Ontario, and I remember having them as a child at my grandmother’s house. If you manage to find some–they are always in short supply and the season goes by in a flash–wash them gently and well, being careful to get all the bits of sand out from the leaves tucked up in a tiny spiral. They taste a little like spinach and I think they are best when simply sauteed in a little butter. Yum!

Last spring, my fiddleheads came in a box with a bunch of other produce, delivered right to my front door. All of it was organic and sourced from small and medium farms within two hours of Toronto (if you go to their website you can even see a map with pictures of the farmers!). As a gardener, I love the idea of supporting small growers. As parent, I love the idea of my family eating fewer chemicals. And as person, I love someone else doing the shopping.

meoThere is one more important reason why I am still getting a box of fresh produce from Mama Earth every month: it is an opportunity to be mindful of each season. In the spring, it’s fiddleheads and wild leeks. In the summer it’s berries and tomatoes. Fall and winter bring colourful root vegetables and sprouts that grow indoors. With each delivery I am aware of the rhythm of the earth. It reminds me to respectfully live within its limits.

You may have noticed that it has been awhile since I’ve posted on this blog, but thankfully the seasons have shifted (as they always do). After four years I am now finished a Doctor of Ministry degree, which recently included intense work on a dissertation about introverts in the church. For the first time in a little while I am enjoying life without any homework or reading lists, and I couldn’t have timed it better. Spring is the perfect season to spend some extra time walking in the park, cooking up some fiddleheads, and stopping to smell the roses apple blossoms. I hope you are enjoying this beautiful spring season, too.

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Casa Loma: A place of beauty, history, and Pokemon Go

OK, I admit it. I got sucked into playing Pokemon Go this summer. Actually, it was all very professional: as soon as I heard that churches were somehow involved, I had to try it for myself. I started with an American account, but it wasn’t long before I was Canadian again. I discovered that our church is a gym. Also, it is a game that works best if you leave your house and go to places like Casa Loma.

Pokemon Go wasn’t the reason I ended up there this summer. At a charity auction (my husband and I seem to go to an awful lot of those!) we bought a pass to Toronto attractions that included places like the Toronto Zoo and the CN Tower. The kids enjoyed some of them, but my beloved and I were glad to have a day to poke around the castle we haven’t been to in years. It was much nicer than we remembered, especially the gardens.103If you’ve never been there, Casa Loma is the former home of Sir Henry Pellat, a businessman who began building it in 1911 (it took three years to complete) and lived there until bankruptcy forced him out in 1924. It has grand rooms and secret passageways, a conservatory, billiard room and smoking room. There are stables, a garage and several different gardens, all sitting on four acres of property.086Why we climbed all the way to the top of a turret on a #*%! hot day is beyond me. But at least we were rewarded with a lovely view of the gardens below. (I didn’t even drop my camera when I took the picture.)

Getting to see that garden close up was lovely. It was set up for a corporate event, which made it hard to get close to most of the perennial beds. On the other hand, it looks like a gorgeous place for a tea party!102After we popped in to see the potting shed (which was actually a bright and beautiful building with pretty period details) we met up with one of the gardeners. She was getting ready for that night’s event, too, picking rose petals to be used in the kitchen. How does one get invited to that sort of thing, anyway?106The property is filled with long, sweeping perennial borders and winding wooded paths. There is a lovely blue fountain, too, surrounded by benches to sit and enjoy the sunshine. Everything was immaculate and there wasn’t a weed in sight (I spied a number of gardeners quietly tending the beds. Obviously they are doing a great job).  097It was a beautiful day. We did exactly what one should do on a day set aside for rest: we wandered down beautiful paths, shared a drink on the patio and admired the flowers. Also, I caught my first Gastly, a dark Pokemon with big fangs and a cloud of poisonous gas. A little weird, maybe, but a nice day all the same. Thanks for everything, Casa Loma.100

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I didn’t think it was possible, but camp just got even better

I love camp. It’s where I found spiritual nurture, physical challenge and a love for God’s creation when I was a child. I even met my husband there when we were teeangers. So it only makes sense that my children started attending a Presbyterian Church camp when they were little, just like I did. This summer, the two older ones are on staff at Camp Kintail and the two younger ones get up there every chance they get. And no wonder: Kintail is amazing. Especially the garden!

025The wilderness camp I grew up with had lots of great programs (does catching frogs count as a program?) but never anything like the chance to grow carrots. Since Camp Kintail’s co-directors grew up in farming communities, they know they know the importance of growing food. Now, what started out as just a few rows of vegetables has blossomed into a round herb wheel,  huge swaths of garden beds, a garden shed, a composting system and even a chicken coop. It seems to expand a little (or a lot) every year.

029In my years at camp I served as a canoe tripper, counsellor, and even a cook. But if I had the privilege of being camp staff again (oh, wouldn’t that be nice!) I would want the job held by a young man whose camp name is Escarpment–this year he’s the Camp Garden Director. Since the spring, he has been planning, planting, tending, weeding and harvesting a huge variety of produce including tomatoes, kale, peppers, lettuce, beets, potatoes, onions, beans, and peas. Everything goes to the kitchen where it is prepared and shared as a regular part of the camp menu. One of the directors told me that he was amazed at the beautiful bowls of fresh salad they serve every single day.

021But that’s not the best part. What I love most is that gardening has become a regular part of the program for everyone who goes to camp in spring, summer and fall. School groups, churches on retreats, international visitors and the lucky ones at camp in July and August all get to spend time in the garden. They see first hand how food grows and they learn how to tend it. Then they eat their hard work!

193There is no doubt that camp is fun, but it is not frivolous. Camps like Kintail teach all kinds of people how to live in community, and how important it is to respect the needs and comfort of others. It offers a level of spiritual depth and intimacy that is rare at home or even at church. It lets campers and staff live in close proximity to creation where they encounter the awe-inspiring beauty of stars and sunsets. It shapes them into compassionate, thoughtful people. When they leave camp, they go out to make our world a better place.

027I had never thought of it before, but a camp garden makes perfect sense. It draws a clear line between care for the earth and food on the table. It creates an opportunity to participate in feeding one another. It illustrates all the good that comes from working together. It has a unique set of lessons and experiences to offer in spring, summer and fall.

I know that there are all kinds of great summer camps out there. But Kintail is better: it has a garden!

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Jesus kale and its eight million seeds

Last year I grew two garden boxes of kale: one was Curly Blue Scotch and the other was Red Russian. Everyone I knew, including my friends at the local fresh food bank, received big bouquets of it (whether they wanted it or not). At home, we made it into chips, stir fries and smoothies. We even froze it to eat all winter in soups and sauces. But that was just the beginning.

042In the fall I cleaned out the box of red kale and left the box of green. We ate it well into November, even while the plants grew lean and spindly. It was still growing when the snow arrived in December, but eventually died back and looked sort of brown and forlorn. I felt sorry for it on cold winter afternoons.

In the spring, I glanced out the window and discovered that it had turned green again (the kids and I named it Jesus kale because it once was dead but now was full of life again!). Then, while I was still feeling smug about all the work of seeding and planting I wasn’t going to have to do this year, it bloomed. Four foot high wands of little yellow flowers made the plants pretty much inedible. But I didn’t want to tear them out–they were so pretty in my spring garden. And besides, the bees loved them.

032Then, just when I was enjoying the flowers, they ran to seed–back to the brown and ugly. Still, I let them stay and take up an entire garden box, mostly because I’m cheap. I knew that if I harvested the seeds, I wouldn’t need to fork out $3.95 for packets of kale any time soon.

It took far longer than I expected, but I have finally managed to harvest those Curly Blue Scotch kale seeds. All eight million of them (that’s my best guess, anyway).

kale 2Some of the pods–many of them, actually–had cracked open before I got to them. Dozens of  brown husks had spilled their tiny black seeds on the ground underneath them in the garden box, in the garden boxes next to them, and on the path. As I took the long stems to the compost, I realized that stray seeds were being dropped all the way along, too. I can only begin to imagine how many tiny kale plants are in my future!

kale 1This afternoon, I ran my fingers through a nice big bowl of dry kale seeds and marvelled at their abundance. I noticed the birds pecking at my now empty garden box–I even noticed a purple finch I’ve never seen before–and they were enjoying the seeds, too.

All I did was let my little box of plants do what God intended them to do. That kale lived each season in its turn: growing up,  weathering the hard bits, finding resurrection, and blooming when I least expected it. It leaves behind a legacy, too, with enough seeds to plant generations more. All of this from ordinary kale that lived out its generous mission in the world.

I think there must be a life lesson in there somewhere. At the very least, there is encouragement: Bloom where you’re planted. Give yourself away. Wait for resurrection.

My Jesus kale turned out to be a wise teacher.

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Why labels matter

Signs on public bathrooms seem to be very important to people thesFullSizeRendere days. Some people are quite concerned that those using them also seem to need to be clearly defined and labeled. I don’t really get all the fuss. I’m a mom with four kids–I’m just happy to have a quiet, clean place to pee when I go out.

Sometimes, however, I think that labels are important. Like on plants, for example.

This spring, I was so pleased with myself. I got lettuce and peas into the garden earlier than ever so I could get a head start on the growing season. I got three kinds of tomatoes started in my little basement grow-op. I also started basil, hot peppers (something called ‘fish peppers’ that I got at a seed swap), and green curly kale. I was so smug.

IMG_3279My usual process for starting seeds is to use old pots (cleaned well) and trays. I add the soilless potting mix, seeds and water. Easy peasy. It’s especially easy because I don’t fuss about putting names on all the plants. Just one sign per flat is enough to let me know what I’m growing.

But this year, I made an error. I put two different varieties of tomatoes in the same flat. I didn’t need to label each individual pot, of course. Who needs to be so picky? I thought I would be able to see the difference between a Roma tomato plant and a golden cherry tomato plant once they came up, even after shuffling them around under the grow lights time after time. I was so wrong. Without flowers and fruit, they are basically identical. Damn.

IMG_3319For weeks I have been looking for differences between the two kinds, but they all look the same. So today I just took a deep breath and planted them anyway. The problem is that one variety is determinate (short) and one is indeterminate (tall). I have no clue how to stake them–with a short cage or a tall pole. So I’m just going to let them grow for a while longer and see if it becomes clearer with time. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Now if only we could convince people to be so relaxed about public bathrooms…



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Wonderful waiting in South Baymouth

Here in snowy Ontario we are waiting for spring to arrive (it’s April–hurry up already!) so I thought this would be the perfect time to share with you a wonderful waiting experience I had last summer. Yes, I said wonderful! Have a look at these photos and you will see what I mean.


After my husband and I enjoyed a canoe trip in Quetico Provincial Park, we drove to Manitoulin Island. Since we hadn’t exactly planned in advance, we arrived in South Baymouth just in time to see a ferry leaving the dock. Drat! What else was there to do but wait until the next one?

As we walked up the street to the little grocery store, we noticed a fence and could see there was a large garden behind it. After wandering the grocery aisles looking for snacks, we remarked to the woman at the register that we would love a look at the garden across the road. To our surprise, someone overheard us and said, “Dick and Eunice? I think they’re home. They’d love to give you a tour. Just go and call at the gate!” That’s when our waiting turned wonderful.


We could never have imagined what lay beyond that garden gate. It was a paradise of fruit and vegetables, flowers and butterflies. There was a huge stand of corn along with tomatoes, onions and even a hops vine that had escaped its trellis and was growing up the side of the greenhouse. Native plants grew in abundance alongside annuals like petunias, impatiens and strawflowers. Perennials were everywhere: hosta, globe thistle, iris, lupins, gaillardia, phlox…


Not only did we get a personally guided tour of the flower beds and greenhouse, we got to see the chapel. Yes, on their not-very-big property, they built a sturdy wooden building for prayer and worship. It was tiny! “I planned it that way,” Dick said. “It’s so small that it only fits one person at a time. That means that this is the only church in the world where there will never be an argument!” We laughed in the way that only seasoned church goers would (they are Anglican and active in their local church).


When it was time for us to catch our ferry, we were sorry to leave. Dick and Eunice were the kind of people that are fun to be with because their lives are overflowing with adventure (you can get a sense of that from this 2014 article about them).


They insisted on driving us back to the terminal so that they could show us the entrance of the local trail system they have created. Dick loves to walk, and about ten years ago he decided to clear paths on nearby vacant land for forest walks. Wanting others to enjoy the beauty and exercise, he built bridges and boardwalks and added handrails to make them all child and senior friendly. As if that wasn’t enough, Dick hand carves beautiful walking sticks and makes them available at the entrance and exit of each trail (he hopes you will leave them for the next person when you’re finished).


It’s important to meet people like Dick and Eunice–people who are ahead of you on life’s journey–because  it’s important to have great role models. I know that my empty nest years are still a ways off, but these are the kind of people I would like to be when I grow up: full of laughter, rooted in love, and living lives in which their faith easily infuses everything they do. Also, I would love to have a garden like that some day!

If you find yourself waiting for the ferry  on Manitoulin Island anytime soon, look up Bowerman’s Garden. Call out  for Dick and Eunice at the gate and you might get lucky enough to enjoy a tour yourself. It will make your waiting wonderful!



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