Monthly Archives: March 2013

An Ode to Spring

Hi, All,

I am not writing a whole post today but I am going to share a video I saw on Facebook in case  you haven’t seen it.  I really enjoyed it so I thought I’d post it along with a couple more photos to get us really in the mood for spring. I took the photos below when the OSM went on tour to Germany in spring a few years ago.  These were taken on an idyllic day off in Baden-Baden. The rest of the tour is a blur but I remember that day!

Botanical Gardens, Baden-Baden View from Brahms's house

Spring Trees, Baden-Baden Baden-Baden

Cabot Garden Trip

The following is a re-issuing of a post I did on my old site, since I just published my photos from my trip to The Cabot Gardens (look under Garden Photos on the top menu) and thought a little background might be useful. 

In 2011 I  went on a “mini-break holiday” to Lamalbaie, Québec, with stops in Baie St-Paul and St-Irinée.  The main focus of the trip was to visit “Le jardin de quatre-vents” (, or Cabot Gardens, which is on the outskirts of  Lamalbaie.  It is a private garden that only allows visitors four times per summer, but if you can get in on those days (you have to reserve tickets months ahead of time), it is well worth the trip.  The whole region is absolutely beautiful and this particular garden is quite remarkable in its scope, design, and creative plantings.

There is a long, interesting history of the property that I won’t go into here, but the most recent proprietor is Francis Cabot, and he has been revitalizing it since the nineties.  He has not only planted thousands of flowering plants, trees, bushes etc,  but has created many garden “rooms” that each has its own atmosphere. There are very formal “rooms” walled in with severely coiffed hedges, some with simple plantings that offer a sort of ‘zen’ feeling, and other areas that are more wild and relaxed.  Among others there is a rose garden, an all-white garden, a kitchen garden, an herb garden, a vegetable garden and many water features, including a large pond and a spring-fed swimming pool.  In fact, water is a constant presence in the gardens, which  adds peacefulness and warmth to the experience of wandering through it.  Many areas have been laid out specifically to allow the admirer to see a particular view, often a statue,  that is best and sometimes only seen from a certain spot.

My favourite area of the property is a Japanese-inspired garden that has a lovely little tea house in it.   The garden is approached via a steep, uneven moss-covered stone staircase, deliberately built to heighten your concentration as you come closer to the bottom of the ravine where the house sits. All of a sudden you feel as though you’ve dropped into a tropical jungle.  It’s quite amazing.

I could go on, but you get the idea.  Check it out and go if you can!  The only drawback is that the visits are guided and are on a strict schedule so there’s no dawdling in the areas that you might want to dawdle in.  However, the guide was very informative (in French only!) and it was certainly interesting to hear the story of this incredible estate.

Im Mitternacht from Ruckert-Lieder by Mahler sung by Thomas Hampson.

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Celebrate the Equinox!

A lovely pink iris. .

Pink Iris that I bought a few years ago at an Iris farm near Ottawa.

As a non-religious person, every year I’m becoming more and more attracted to the idea of celebrating the natural rhythms of the earth instead of celebrating man-made (in my view) occasions like Christmas or Easter, (I’m using Christian examples because my background is more Christian than anything else, but any man-made occasion will do as an example).  As it happens today is the March Equinox (or “Spring Equinox”, here in the Northern Hemisphere) and therefore, the first day of Spring.  An occasion worth celebrating!

The first day of spring is a reminder of the cycle of life’s forces that is well beyond the control of any human.  In fact, no matter what humanity does to this planet, some plants (at least!) will surely survive though humans may not.  Perhaps it’s strange to some of you, but it comforts me to know that nature will ultimately have the upper hand, though it may be a long time coming and the cost may be very great.  Despite being poisoned by pollution and/or nuclear war the planet will live on, serenely oblivious to what has happened to it; at least until our sun collapses, but that’s another story.

The snow outside is deep and may not be the last of it for the year either, but spring will eventually conquer winter and gardeners everywhere will get to see the fruit of our labour of last autumn: the new plants we dug in, the new bulbs we planted, transplants we attempted. What survived and what succumbed to the vagaries of life? We’ll soon know, so happy Spring!

Enjoy this old video from Gordon Lightfoot’s early days.  Early Morning Rain.

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Last Day of Winter

“In like a lion, out like a lamb,” could describe March in reverse this year.  It’s been pretty sweet all month and now it’s decided to give us one more whammy before the big fade-out.  Despite the set-back to my spring fever, I can’t help admiring the beauty of this March snowstorm (feel free to flip the virtual ‘bird’ in my direction if you’re not feeling this with me!).  There’s lots of snow, inadequately plowed (did Montreal decide that after March 15th they could retire most of the fleet for the season? Tut-tut!) but it’s not very cold,  so as long as you’re dressed adequately it’s quite nice to be out there. Plus, I know it’s not going to last so it’s not ruining my mood. In your face, winter!

You’re going to think I’m a real Pollyanna when I say that I’m glad my hard-working husband, Dave, is not suffering through this last (fingers crossed) snowstorm of the year but is instead enjoying the balmy temps and interesting culture and architecture of Havana.  He left just in time to avoid this mess and when he returns on Saturday the snow will have melted in half, judging by the temperatures in the forecast.  I hope he will take a few pictures of any interesting flowers he happens to see, and if so, I’ll post them here.  I have my doubts,  however! He’ll be too busy smoking stogies and listening to the local bands.

Here’s a picture of the Tranquil Garden today, just for comparison!

Tranquil Garden Winter Scene

The Tranquil Garden, March 19th, 2013.

Since we’re back to winter temporarily, might as well embrace it!  Here’s Gute Nacht from Die Winterreise with Fischer-Dieskau and (possibly) Gerald Moore. Enjoy!

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Preparing for spring

For those of you who brought in begonias, dahlias or other tuburs in the fall, by now you should have put them into a pot with some potting soil, given them a drink of water and some sunlight and are waiting for them to show some sign of life.  You can also go out and buy some begonia tuburs and get started with this right now.  It’s as much fun as growing plants from seed but with less chance of failure.  I tried growing annuals, etc, from seed years ago but without much success.  I don’t have enough natural light in my house or a large enough area I can set aside for a grow-op (even a legal one!).  The only things I ever tried to grow from seed succumbed to stem-rot or simply died because I had watered them too much or not enough.  It’s a challenge to try it, but the upside is you can order things from catalogues that you might never find in a local nursery.  If you have a really sunny window or can set up some grow lights in your basement, it’s definitely worth a try.  Let me know how it goes!

I can’t resist adding a few photos from my 2012 garden.  You should be able to view these and more photos under “2012 Garden Photos” if you hover over Garden Photos on the menu.  I’m working on that next!


Birds and Bulbs

Pink and green tulips

Pink and green tulips

I’m starting to get really excited about spring now.  I know we could still get several major snowstorms before it’s over but it really looks promising for the moment.  There has been lots of rain here in Montreal so the snow is gradually shrinking and more grass is showing.  Today the sun is shining so it makes the disgusting state of the sidewalks and lawns a little easier to take.  (Side note: Dog-owners, pick up your dogs’ poop! Even in the winter!)

I bought some premium bird feed a couple of weeks ago because I was really hoping to attract some interesting birds and not just sparrows.  Sparrows are okay, mind you, but I like a little variety.  I ran into some trouble with the feed because there are pretty large nuts, etc, in amongst the seeds and, believe it or not, raisins (I could pour myself a bowl of this stuff and have it for breakfast, it looks so good!) and the mix won’t come through the holes where the birds can get at it.  I have to go and shake the whole feeder periodically to get it to unclog.  Next time I fill it up I guess I’ll have to put it in a plastic bag and take a rolling pin to it. Or put it in the food processor. Sheesh!

I like trying to make the Tranquil Garden an attractive place for birds, bees and butterflies, etc.   One of my goals as a gardener is to make a haven for some of the wildlife that toughs it out with us here in the city.  I’m not sure I’m that excited about inviting raccoons and skunks to lurk under the bushes, however, so I guess there’s a limit!  I do try to plant things that will attract beneficial insects, though,  and a friend of mine just bought me a case of praying mantis eggs that will be delivered just in time for release in the spring! Stay tuned for the results of that experiment.

Now that the grass is revealing itself I’m reminded that back in the fall when I planted tulips and daffodils, I covered up the spots where I planted them with large flat stones so the squirrels wouldn’t get at them.  This was an idea from one of my gardening magazines, possibly, “Garden Making”, a mag I highly recommend, btw.  The idea is that squirrels are attracted to newly disturbed earth and will dig there in hopes of finding some succulent treats, but the large stones are too heavy for them to move.  The hitch is that in the spring you have to remember to move the stones so the shoots can come up!  I have begun to do that already and lo and behold, there are the shoots!  Pretty exciting.  The next challenge in the bulb department is discouraging the squirrels from chomping on the flower buds just as they’re about to open, but that’s a few weeks away still.  I’m glad squirrels avoid daffodils so I’ll have those to enjoy if the tulips get destroyed.  If anyone has any ideas about discouraging squirrels write them in the “comments” section. FYI, I’ve tried various methods of applying hot pepper with limited success but new ideas are always welcome.

In honour of spring and my friend, Mike, who is a big fan of Tony Bennett, here is “You Must Believe in Spring” sung by Tony  with Bill Evans on piano.

(P.S. I added new photos under “Garden Photos”.  Just hover over it on the menu and you’ll be able to click on “Reford Garden Photos”.  I visited there a few years ago and took a lot of pictures, some of which I’m sharing with you.)

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Happy IWD!

My husband sent me a text with that message (Happy International Women’s Day!)first thing this morning. I had just woken up and didn’t realize he’d left the house so early. Also, I wasn’t aware that it was a special day, so it was a nice surprise.

It made me mull over why IWD exists. Why must we celebrate women in this way? There is no “International Men’s Day”! When I mentioned that at work a colleague said, “That’s the other 364 days of the year!” and perhaps he’s right. On the whole, women get the raw end of the deal an awful lot. I certainly wouldn’t put myself in that category but many women all over the world are still living in terrible isolation, poverty and repression.  It’s important not to forget that in our part of the world things have moved ahead faster than elsewhere.  Trite as it sounds, we can’t ever take it for granted.

I feel extremely fortunate to live in a country like Canada, with all its faults, where women have opportunities (almost) equal to the ones enjoyed by men. Where my husband is okay with making dinner most nights of the week and realizes that since we both work, we both have to pitch in on the housework. Equality is partly appreciating our partners’ contributions and efforts and putting the proper value on them.  

I am posting a photo of the flowers my husband, Dave, gave me in honour of the day. Thanks, Sweetie!  He knows how much I love them, especially during the cold, dark winter!

Also, the OSM recently played Rachmaninoff’s 3rd piano concerto in a concert with Denis Matsuev playing the solo and Mikhail Pletnev conducting.  It was a truly memorable experience and I thought I’d share a version of the third movement with Horowitz playing. Enjoy!

Flower bouquet

My husband surprised me with a bouquet of flowers in honour of International Women’s Day. He also bought some for our daughter and our good friend. He’s the best!

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Spring is in the air!

White peonyI know it’s only March 6th and I say this too early every year, but the air does seem different recently.  There is a thaw going on and that can’t help but make us imagine we feel spring in the air.  Spring is absolutely my favourite season.  I know people complain about the garbage that turns up after the whole winter during which nobody picked up their dogs poop or their own gum wrappers, apparently imagining that snow would magically decompose these things during the melting process; to say nothing of the slush, the mud and the ubiquitous pot holes.  I am aware of all this unpleasantness, but overarching all this is the song that fills my heart as the snow melts, the air gets warmer, and  actual green(ish) grass is gradually revealed.  You can skip out of the house with your coat unbuttoned; you lose your gloves after a whole winter of keeping good track of them because (“tra-la-la!”) one day your hands aren’t cold so you forget them at the restaurant.  You have to wear your billy boots, or Bogs, or whatever is made of rubber and won’t inhibit you from wading happily through the puddles that are everywhere for the next two months.

Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself.  Yes, there’s a thaw going on but real spring is still at least a month away.  But still, a month! That’s nothing!  Courage, people!