Well actually they're not - they're buildings. Some people think churches are a congregation of Christian believers - the people, not the place - which may or may not be true - but I always found the places more compelling than the people. Not to be rude or anything. Young introverts will introvert - such is life. My father is a retired Baptist Minister of the 20th Century Maritimer sort - moving us to a new world of childhood exploration (for me) every few years. Each church had its own flavour - some were old and rich, some were young and isolated - and they all played a big part in the education of my imagination.

These days - three decades later - my relationship with churches is a distant one - an occasional faraway nostalgia - but my increasingly wide ranging garden activities have led me to spend a fair amount of time driving down a nearby road alongside Kearney Lake through often dense forest past an unusual number of churches and tabernacles and not a whole lot else.

Further along this new commute is this place:

It's an Ethiopian Orthodox church these days, apparently. And a fascinating little place. Some light investigation is in order it would seem. Mind you - these phone pictures don't describe how tiny it is and how oddly placed. It's very narrow and inappropriately tall. Yes - some investigation is in order. How mysterious.

As a manner of contrast I thought I'd share an example of a contemporary church in the described neighbourhood, appearing as if like a vision carved from the lovely forest:

It has a monstrous, desolate, corporate feel, yes? The stark contrast between these two churches speaks volumes of how times have changed for some in between the birth of that first odd Church and this one. Not to be rude (again) - the truly vast canyons of empty parking spaces must mean something - people congregate here apparently - but I have to wonder how this building might affect the people inside and what this architecture says about the people who prefer it. 


Forest Glade, Garden

Somewhere nearby, in a spacious new neighbourhood, down a short drive and behind an unassuming fence and gate, lives the first real garden that I was hired to imagineer and construct. 

When it was made I identified myself as a New Perennial gardener and it's full of plants associated with the early days of that scene. Deschampsia, Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' and Molinia 'Skyracer', for example. My involvement with the garden since installing it has been fairly piecemeal, unfortunately - which happens sometimes in unstable times I'm told - and the planting hasn't been adjusted much since it was planted 4 years ago. Things have become quite full - to a fault perhaps. I didn't get to see it in the spring or early summer this year - these photos are from early autumn 2013, when I was called in to stem the vegetative tide.

It's become a nice, warm, soothing place hidden away from the world. Certainly, compared to what it was. To my rather relentless critical eye there's a lot to do here yet, however. The privet monster hedge in the back, for example, needs a stiff clipping. A good, clean levelling to five feet or so. I've half a mind to go do it right now in the middle of the night in January but that might be misinterpreted. That singleton deschampsia clump in the front of the larger island bed has gotta go. The cherry trees in the planted islands are a wrong choice in retrospect. They haven't bloomed well from what I've heard - I haven't been around to see it. And one of them was lost to porcupine vandalism and now there's an oddly unbalanced pair. In a perfect world these would be swiftly pulled and replaced with Cercidiphyllum japonicum. Or Pagoda dogwoods. Maybe. The plant choices in general are stuffy and already too familiar - this scene calls for some semi-evergreen carex perhaps, to fill in some of the bare sections near the front, and some white asters to compliment the ubiquitous Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' and echo the Miscanthus blooms. Unfortunately, it's not my garden (technically) and these things can't happen as casually they really should.  But such is life as a self-proclaimed New Perennial gardener in an unwitting eastern Canada.


The Other Winter Gardening

Hyphessobrycon columbianus

A little over a year ago, I was happily reacquainted with a childhood hobby - fishkeeping. Aquariums have always held a strong draw for me and with gleeful relish I dove back in (so to speak) with confidence and skills of a grown adult. An adult with a new knowledge of plants. To my mind these are obviously miniature (water) gardens and serve to supplement the gardening appetite during our long winters. Thank goodness.

Iriatherina werneri

These are gardens, however, with an interesting cast of characters with a fascinating array of instinctive behaviour. Like the male Threadfin Rainbowfish in the photos above who flicker and spread their exotic fins in macho displays of awesomeness. Or the Columbian Tetras below who have made that clump of Ludwigia repens their happy safe spot.

Experimenting with making various hoods and stands and low-tech DIY lighting has been an education but the woodshedding is paying off and the kinks that occur naturally when trying to contain aspects of nature are being worked out. Accommodated. The possibilities, like garden hardscaping and the framing of paintings, are endless.

This one is tiny - a five gallon. The yellow plant is Rotala indica.

This is the largest, an 80 gallon, shown here newly replanted after the 20 year-old silicone sprung an untimely (or auspicious) leak late on Christmas Eve. As is typical with "collaborating" with nature sudden troubles or snags can appear - such is the nature of the hobby, I think. But, as is also typical, these troubles often end up provoking positive change that may not have been made otherwise. After the panic of quickly removing the scared inhabitants into holding buckets and draining it and breaking it down and removing the old silicone and resealing it, the winds of change and re-scaping felt downright gleeful. I took the opportunity to replant it all in a variation of the Walstad style and divided the few larger clumps into many smaller sections. In time it will fill in and provide lots of extra plant material for other projects and other deserved hobbyists. Nature wins again.

The traumatized inhabitants are ecstatic to be back in their spacious home:

Here's the plantlist for the interested:

Cryptocoryne balansae
Cryptocoryne wendtii
Hygrophila difformis
Microsorum pteropus 'Narrow'
Anubias barteri
Sagittaria subulata

These are all common aquarium plants and are tolerant or appreciative of modest lighting and surprisingly low maintenance.

This is the stocklist:

Rasbora trilineata
Rasbora kalochroma
Tanichthys albonubes 'gold'
Hemigrammus bleheri

Ancistrus dolichopterus
Hemigrammus erythrozonus

Trichogaster trichopterus


Camera Testing, Testing - This Winter Garden

Finally, an actual DSLR has found its way into my little mitts. I haven't had an okay camera since I gave up on my film cameras ten years ago. Shall we commemorate the occasion by dusting off the old, perpetually-neglected garden blog? Why not.

This home garden of mine is maturing in a way but its still in early days, not quite what I want it to be. For example, the evergreens I've introduced are still tiny, inching along. I can see them come to size in my mind's eye but I'm sure none of this apparent to the passerby. The ground here is difficult, wet and acidic and rock-filled and I've been experimenting in many sections with not amending things to get a sense of what will do well and what won't in this boreal forest edge. So it's perfection is slow to be realized. Its time to take a step back and take stock of successes and try to see the larger plan amidst the last seven years of incremental decisions.

Winter reduces the garden to its basic framework or its "bones" (as someone like Penelope Hobhouse would say) and - sure enough - the framework here is minimal, seemingly daunted by the environment, trying to find its place here in the middle of a chaotic, lichen and moss-filled woodland.  The tiny boxwood and cedar huddle like scared children but someday I hope they'll be confident sculptural characters.

I'm more and more impressed by the performance of certain ornamental grasses and plan to propagate these fellows again and again and plant them in bigger groups so they'll someday hold some attention even in the heaviest of our oppressive winters:

Chasmanthium latifolium

Interestingly, the so-called "warm season" grasses are the real stalwart winners in our winters. They're amazing things, really - incredibly resilient, vigorous life forms worthy of our admiration. And next season, when the time of action is at hand these few plants will become many and replace the less impressive.

The most impressive perennial here - not just because of its looming winter presence - has got to be Inula racemosa 'Sonnenspeer'. Thanks to my beloved hero Piet Oudolf it's now socially acceptable (trendy even) to find such a dark presence in gardens beautiful. Inula's dead foliage, like drying leather flapping in the mist. On stems almost 9 feet tall. A strangely attractive, ghoulish presence in winter.

Happily, or perhaps frighteningly, it also seeds like a bastard and you can see it here poised to have its way out into the wider garden. Fortunately, the seedlings are large and robust, and easy to pull as needed. I'm going to let it make its own decisions for the most part, however.

This is Sedum telephium 'Matrona' - another clear winter winner in need of some swift propagation to boost the winter impact in the sections of the garden with sharper drainage. All things being relative, the warm burgundy tones of its seed heads seem positively positive in winter and contrast nicely with the upright, blonde grasses.

This is Eryngium yuccifolium or "Rattlesnake Master" (and yet another Oudolf favourite) that does well here if it's received enough light during the growing season to toughen it up. In areas of less light it tends to flop early on in our heavy rains.  Given the right place its rich browns and spherical sculptural shapes stand up well in the wet white world.


This autumn, crescendo - the garden is unwinding beautifully. Goodbye for this season, brave chlorophyll.