Monthly Archives: April 2015

Music and Lavender

Lone flower

Sweet stray anemone in Queen Mary’s Garden

I was sitting in a rehearsal today thinking about what music and flowers have in common.  They’re both beautiful (mostly) and they have the power to make people happier; I also enjoy having both in my life.  I was listening to our piano soloist, André Laplante, playing the Grieg piano concerto; I was mesmerized by his phrasing and his sensitive touch on the piano.  I have the same feeling when I walk out into the Tranquil Garden (or any garden) when flowers are in bloom.  I’m carried away with the enjoyment of being surrounded by beauty.  I’m extremely fortunate to be in a position to listen to great soloists (not the least of whom play in my orchestra every week) live, on stage, not twenty feet away.  I’m also lucky to have a wonderful garden that I can work in, nurture, and enjoy all the summer long.

Did I mention lavender? Oh, yes, I was thinking about my previous post where I talked about pruning perennials.  When I was in the garden yesterday I looked at my lavender plants and remembered that they can be quite puzzling for a novice gardener.  They look as dead as anything in the spring, completely grey, etc.; but, looks are deceiving.  They will regenerate and it’s better not to prune them back very much.  A little trim is okay, but wait and see what little shoots start to come before you give up on those dead-looking branches.  The same goes for thyme; but I’m not sure about sage.  I’m going to wait and see on my sage plant.  It looks pretty dreadful, but I can’t remember whether it will produce new leaves on the old branches or on new growth.  Better safe than sorry.

Trees and stump

Trees and stump in Chiswick Garden

I decided to get in there and risk trampling on the still somewhat damp earth because I wanted to prune a big branch off the lilac tree that was damaged and sagging.  I think the heavy snow did a number on a few of the trees.  In the front yard one of my cedars is sagging in a similar way.  I also raked some leaves off the front beds to see what was coming up underneath.  I probably should have left them there for compost, but I couldn’t resist.  It’s so much fun to see the little heads of the perennials and bulbs coming up.

Another good chore for the early spring is to pull grass, creeping charlie and other weeds out that might be growing in your flower beds where you don’t want them.  It’s much easier to do this before the plants really get going.  Grass tends to get a head start on growth compared to many plants, so yank out as much as you can by the roots.  I’m actually thinking I might have to dig out entire beds of perennial phlox because there’s so much grass growing in it.  Sigh!  I might have to cut back the periwinkle pretty aggressively this spring too.  That stuff is about to take over!

I probably whetted your appetite for piano music so I’m going to find some André Laplante for your listening pleasure.

Here’s a piece by Ravel: “Alborado del Gracioso” played by Laplante.  What a master!


A Few Spring Chores and Words of Wisdom




I was looking out on the Tranquil Garden today and thinking about starting the annual spring clean-up.  I won’t be doing it right away, because, first of all, that would be against my nature; but, also because the ground is still pretty soggy, and I’ve read many times that walking around on the lawn and flower beds before the ground has a chance to dry up is a no-no.  It can compact the soil and grass in a way that you won’t like later on.  It’s not good for the garden, in other words.  One recent article I read suggested that if you can walk on the grass in stocking feet without getting your socks wet, you’re good to go.

Once all danger of compacting the soil is passed, however, there are lots of things to do to help optimize the growth in your garden.  You can start by cleaning out the dead stalks from last year’s growth; throw them on your compost pile, they will help dry out the compost if it’s a bit too wet.  Once the beds are clean of the old growth you can take stock of how your bushes have fared over the winter.  You might want to prune back the roses-most of them can take a pretty hard pruning this early in the year.  Other plants need to be pruned right back to the ground. Peonies for instance, if you didn’t do it in the fall, will need it soon, before the new growth comes up. This is more a question of how neat you like your beds, because peonies will do well whether you cut off the old growth or not.  Some gardeners feel it’s a waste of energy, but others say the old growth can harbour harmful bugs.  Your choice!

There are many plants that are evergreen, so when the snow is gone, there they are, looking a bit bedraggled and greyish but still alive.  I usually wait awhile to see which parts of these plants are going to revive and which ones will need to be cut off.  Some are obviously mangled and dead so you can go ahead and cut those branches or leaves off.

Queen Mary's Garden, Regent's Park

Queen Mary’s Garden, Regent’s Park

The one chore that will do your garden the most good is to lay down some mature compost, either from your own compost bin or from the garden centre.  There are many choices, and I don’t think there’s any harm in experimenting with the different kinds of composted manure that are for sale. Some are cheaper than others, so choose according to your budget.  You can spread it around the roots and drip lines of your plants, digging it into the soil a bit as long as you’re careful about not cutting off the tops of plants that are just under the soil.  When in doubt, just lay the compost on top and let the worms do the work of pulling it into the ground.

Soon it will be a good time (as soon as the earth is thawed out) to plant the hardy perennials that you’d like to add to your garden.  It’s too early for annuals in our neck of the woods, but in more temperate areas of the country you may be already enjoying them, lucky you. Here, the usual rule of thumb is not before Queen Victoria’s birthday, (AKA Dollard Day in Quebec), which is May 18th this year, I believe. It seems ages away but freak frosts have been known to happen, so it’s better to wait or lose all your money.

I’m going to sign off now, because I’ve got supper to cook.  I’m hoping to put up a photo album of my London/Bath flower photos, maybe on the weekend.  Happy Spring!

To help celebrate, here’s a rendition of Schumann’s Symphony #1, the Spring Symphony, with Nézet-Séguin conducting.



Weather Report…FROM LONDON!

Camellia japonica "Elegans"

Camellia japonica “Elegans”

This will be much more than a weather report, but I thought it would be fun to continue the theme once more all the way from London, UK!  Today’s weather is cloudy with a high of 12C.  So, not the Bahamas, but still a vast improvement.  I went out with a hat, scarf and fingerless gloves, but I didn’t have to worry about slipping on ice.  I only wore the hat because I’m trying to get rid of a cold.

Gorgeous dark pink camellias.

Gorgeous dark pink camellias.

Yesterday I did some of the tourist things one does in London; I approached Buckingham Palace and watched the Changing of the Guards (from a distance),  listened to their fine band and remembered doing the very same job in Ottawa about a million years ago when I was 21, and didn’t envy them one bit! Once I was tired of the crowds,  I walked the long block to the Wellington Arch and got an accidentally excellent view of some passing horses, their riders in black uniforms and fancy helmets.  I enjoyed watching a policewoman on horseback directing the cars to stay in single file while these magnificent equine specimens trotted past.  That was all a treat.  After that I decided to check out the Churchill War Rooms, a very interesting permanent display of the rooms where Churchill and his War Cabinet conducted WWll.  As educational as it was, I realized afterwards that it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing.  I would have rather been at the Tate Britain looking at the Turners, but on the map it looked too far so I didn’t go.  Maybe tomorrow.

Today, since Erica was doing her exam in Stage Combat at LAMDA, where she’s currently in the Master’s of Classical Theatre program, (doesn’t that all sound magical, actually?), I decided to walk over to see the Chiswick House and Garden, a 20 minute walk away from her digs.  I really enjoyed strolling the grounds and visiting the 200-hundred-year-old Conservatory, where they’ve been keeping the same camellias for over a hundred years in many cases.  The trees were probably past their peak of blooming, but they were still stunning.  I will post a picture, or several.  I didn’t know anything about the camellia except that it’s not hardy in Montreal, but it has similarities to peony, rose  and hibiscus.  On the way back to Erica’s house I recognized a few camellias in people’s front yards so I guess I’m now an expert.

A few things I learned about camellias:

The flowers are mostly double blooms, colours varying from white to dark pink, some variegated; that the leaves are dark green and waxy; they can live for 200 years; they are difficult to propagate; when they were imported from China it was thought they wouldn’t be hardy in England, thus the Conservatory setting.  Later it was discovered they could survive the English winters just fine and now they’re ubiquitous around here!

The grounds of Chiswick house are beautiful and for the most part, casually laid out.  There is an emphasis on maintaining a habitat for birds, insects and animals in the wilder parts, with a few more formal areas, such as the Italian garden just outside the Conservatory.  The house, which was closed to visitors, is majestic and stately with its own austere beauty.  There is a wide stream that flows through the grounds as well, a home to many water birds, such as coots, mallards, moor hens, mute swans, Egyptian geese and Canada geese.

Update:  Today is Easter Sunday and I spent it on a “Hop-on-hop-off” bus tour around London.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially, and predictably, the walk through Queen Mary’s Garden in Regent’s Park.  I’ve found myself inspired and delighted by the gardens and flowers in this great city!  Cheers to pink tree season!

P. S. I’m posting this from my iPad, so I’m limited in what I can do.  Posting a lot of pictures is a pain, and I’m not even going to try to post music!  When I get home I promise more flower photos!