Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Joy of Beauty in Public Places

Park Flower Bed

Park Flower Bed. Click on the photo to see the details!

In my neighbourhood there is a park with three parts to it; there are tennis courts, a playground for kids, and a small area for walking or sitting, complete with park benches, trees and shrubs. It’s a lovely park and I take for granted what a hub of activity it is in the summer. People walk their dogs around and through it, lots of kids enjoy the playground equipment, and the tennis courts are busy day and evening. All of this makes a wonderful public space for the humans of our neighbourhood. It touches all the bases; some structured play areas for kids and adults, and the unstructured area with a circular gravel walk surrounding a large lawn. This would be enough to make this a valued space in our community, but some bright light in the public works department (whose name I wish I knew so I could send him a fruit basket on his birthday) decided that the park needed a flower garden component. So, part of the grassy area is given over to a large flower bed with a few other beds planted in random corners of the park. These beds were planned by a wise gardener who chose his plants with care. The season starts with tulips and daffodils and moves through the perennials. Many are the tried and true echinacea, bee balm, and black-eyed susans, salvia and various shades of rudbeckia; now, in August, the dinner-plate sized Rose of Sharon are blooming in vivid shades of pink. It’s the perfect plant for a park bed, because you can see them from a distance and they really pop. In the fall, the shrubs here and there in the park turn a vivid red, adding to the beauty of that season. The loveliness touches me every day as I walk through it with my dogs, and every year that it continues to exist increases my wonder and pleasure at it.


Indoor public spaces, with few flowers to draw my notice, rarely capture my imagination. However, I recently whiled away a pleasant half hour at Complexe Desjardins in the heart of downtown.  Although I work right next door and have been through it many times, I’ve never sat down to simply experience the space. Essentially a mall and office building, it has an enormous central atrium, perhaps three stores or more high with a balcony running all around on each upper floor where you can lean over and people-watch. The stores face inwards from all around. They’ve recently restyled the area and set up benches where you can sit and watch the fountain do its thing in the centre. It is a simple, large , square, plate-shaped fountain, but the water dances in it in an intriguing way, every so often sending plumes almost as high as the ceiling. The day I was there, there were families with kids hanging around and every time the plume went up the kids squealed with delight. I sat there enjoying my ice cream cone and marvelling at the simple structure of the building, its enormous concrete pillars holding up the parapets, its vast open space, and the amazing fountain. It was a beauty unlooked for and overlooked. I was glad to have found it.

In honour of this sunny day, after many days of rain, here is Joni Mitchell singing “A Chelsea Morning”.  Enjoy!

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Not the Glamour Jobs

Some of my irises, in happier days.

Some of my irises, pre-borer.

Yesterday, I finally decided to investigate the (first) compost bin to see how it was developing and take out the mature compost, if any.  This is way later than I normally tackle this job, but my excuse is that I was away for four out of the last six weeks.  This must be close to the top of any list of non-glamourous jobs, but it’s part of the whole process, so into the breach we go.  I love that you can throw a lot of muck and garbage into a bin and take out rich and nurturing soil after a few months.  That part is at least magical, if not glamourous.

For the last few years I’ve noticed that my compost bin tends to be a little too wet, thus inhibiting proper breakdown of the components that make up the rich result.  It can be pretty smelly, too.  This year, for a change, the bin was a bit too dry.  I don’t think there’s been any significant change in what we’ve been putting into it, so I’m not sure why this is so.  Things seem to have progressed pretty well, though, so I took out a cubic foot or more of compost and mixed up the rest and threw some dry leaves on top to keep the smell down.  I also added some lime for the same reason, and to keep the compost from being too acidic. I swished some water round in our kitchen compost bin and poured that in to improve the moisture level in the bin.  I have an improvised sifter I use to weed out the big pieces that are slow to break down.  It’s a large metal grate gleaned from somewhere, quite a bit too wide but it works well enough.  The holes are about an inch apart.  The pieces that don’t make it through the holes get thrown back into the top of the compost bin.

In case you’ve never done any composting before and would like to try it, it’s not very complicated.  As in other areas of life, the components in a compost bin have to be in balance for the process to work efficiently. Things to include:

  • Green (wet) waste from your kitchen: peelings, pits, seeds, coffee grinds, egg shells, basically anything that is not meat-related.  Even bread that’s gone mouldy can be thrown in. For a quicker breakdown, cut the pieces into smaller bits and crush the egg shells (optional!).
  • Grass cuttings, waste from your garden that doesn’t include weed seeds or diseased plants. (I have so much garden waste that I made a big compost pile for it in the back of the garden.  It doesn’t get smelly and eventually will break down. That way my compost bins don’t get over-full)
  • Brown (dry) waste: dead leaves, newspaper, straw, etc.
  • The occasional spadeful of soil or compost
  • some water, if the mixture is too dry.

Every two weeks to a month, the mixture needs to be turned with a pitchfork or some similar tool.  To keep any smell to a minimum, throw dry leaves and a bit of lime on top.   That’s about it.  Remove mature compost two or three times per season, but especially at the end of the growing season so you have plenty of room in the bin for your kitchen waste all winter!

On to the next super-not-glamourous garden job.  Today, as I was doing some long-overdue cleaning up (weeding, dead-heading, edging, etc) I noticed, as I was cutting down the dying bachelor’s buttons to make way for its new shoots, some alarming signs amongst the irises.  There were way too many browning leaves and on closer inspection, mushy rhizomes. I feared the worst and my fears were realized.  Yes, the dreaded iris borer .  The iris borer is a caterpillar, a disgusting, whitish-pink grub-like caterpillar that turns into a brown moth in the autumn and lays eggs in the clutter around the iris plant.  I can’t emphasize enough how gross these creatures are. It appears I was not careful enough in cleaning up that bed last fall.  Anyway, today I was ruthless.  There was no saving the majority of the plants, so I dug them up and threw them in the trash (NOT the compost!). I found about three unaffected rhizomes and planted those far away from the infected area.  Yuck!  I’m sorry to lose those irises, but picking my way around those borers is more than I can handle.  Did I throw the baby out with the bathwater?  Could I have saved more rhizomes if I had carefully examined each one?  Maybe, but I couldn’t do it.

Hoping for more enjoyable jobs in the garden tomorrow!