Because everything’s better with flowers

Queensborough Road planter

One of the planters that have in recent days been quietly installed on Queensborough’s new street signs. How nice is that?

So there I was, down on hands and knees and doing some real true gardening work on this beautiful sunny, warm, not-too-buggy day here in Queensborough.

Monster root

The challenge that I still have to overcome in my garden: the root (of some big thing or other) that runs deep. Very deep.

Aside from an unsuccessful attempt to remove a monster root (photo adjacent; and believe me, I will win the battle with this root), all went extremely well. In one whole section of our garden I managed to completely clear out what may or may not have been weeds. That is, some of the stuff (clover and grass) was definitely weeds; other things I came across (plants with kind of heart-shaped leaves that seemed to be crawling everywhere) may or may not have been – but I made an executive decision that they were bugging not only the hostas and the phlox that had been planted in that area but (more importantly) me, and ripped them all out. Everything was looking much better as a result.

As I was stopping and admiring my work and feeling rather proud of myself, I noticed that there was some activity down by the recently installed Queensborough street sign just south of the Manse.

And there were Queensborough Beautification Committee members (and our excellent friends and neighbours) John and Anne, with a truckload of gorgeous hanging planters! They were installing one of them from the sign that tells you where you are if you find yourself at the intersection of King Street and Bosley Road in our little hamlet. (Which would more or less be the location of the Manse.) Other such beautiful planters have, thanks to the committee, appeared in recent days on the rest of the new made-in-Queensborough street signs. But Raymond and I were so thrilled to see that the sign closest to us would also get one. And here it is:

Planter at King and Bosley

Mind you, our reward/challenge for having this planter overflowing with blooms nearby is: to care for it. I promised Anne that I would, and that means daily watering. People, for a rookie gardener such as myself, this is some serious responsibility! Because it’s not just about my own garden; this is a community project. What if every other street-sign planter in town looks awesome, and the King/Bosley one looks dry/withered/awful?

Pressure, people. This is gardening pressure. But I am going to rise to the challenge, no matter what.

Meanwhile, and far more importantly: let me echo what I know many other people in Queensborough are saying and thinking, and thank, yet again, Anne and John, and Jos and Marykay, and all the people responsible  (which includes the councillors of the Municipality of Tweed, who have given some money for the purpose) for the fantastic new street signs, for their hard work and commitment to making our pretty little hamlet as pretty as it can possibly be – and for challenging gardening-challenged people like myself to help out by hauling out that watering can. It’s all good!

Waves of lilacs, in an unforgiving land

Field of lilacs, Queensborough RoadAs I noted just a few days ago, it’s lilac season once again. And yes, I know I’ve also noted that the lilacs are always splendid throughout Hastings County, but really, this year they seem to be putting on an especially good show. The blooms don’t last all that long, but while they are out, it is just a wondrous thing to drive (or bike, or walk) along the back roads and even the main roads of this part of the world.

Today Raymond drew my attention to an extraordinary display, along Queensborough Road southeast of Queensborough. Part of it is what you see in the photo at the top of this post, but the photo doesn’t begin to do justice to it. It is a whole field of lilacs – waves of lilacs. Perhaps you can imagine how lovely the scent of the early-evening air was when I stopped to photograph them.

One of the other pictures that I took contains something interesting that didn’t strike me until I’d returned home and downloaded it. Here’s the photo:

Rocks and lilacs, Queensborough Road

What I like about it is the mix of the lilacs in the background and the rocky area in the foreground. I like it because it says so much about the people who settled this place, who tried to farm the thin soil that just barely covers the rocks of the Canadian Shield here in, as poet Al Purdy calls it, The Country North of Belleville.

Those early settlers often planted lilacs around their homes to bring some springtime beauty to lives that were filled with hard work and harsh reality. Nowadays you see many places where the lilacs still bloom but there are no longer homes; they have been long since abandoned, decayed, torn down, burnt. Perhaps – very probably, in fact – those homes’ long-ago inhabitants finally gave up hope of making a living by farming that thin soil, and moved on.

But the lilacs remain. The lilacs, and the eternal rocks.

Have you planted your vegetable garden yet?

Corn for planting You know how sometimes you come across some little thing that (figuratively speaking) tosses you straight back to a long-ago era of your life? That happened to me a couple of weekends ago, when Raymond and I were in Stonepath Greenhouses between Madoc and Tweed, looking for bee balm to plant. What was the little thing that sent my mind hurtling back to the past? It was – wait for it – corn kernels.

Seed potatoesThey were in a container by the cash, in a section featuring vegetable-planting materials. Right beside them were containers of seed potatoes, which added to the another-era effect for me. Well do I remember being charged – along with my sister and brothers – with helping plant corn kernels and seed potatoes in the big vegetable garden when we were all young, here at the Manse in Queensborough.

My family grew other things in that garden too, of course: beans and peas and lettuce and tomatoes and radishes and onions and carrots. And I imagine I helped plant all of those. But it is the dry corn kernels and the seed potatoes – those little leftovers from last year’s crop, with all kinds of white sprouty things on them; gross if you’re planning to cook and eat them, but helpful if you want to put them in the ground and turn them into potato plants – that I remember best.

(Actually, I seem to remember that the corn kernels we planted in the Manse’s vegetable garden were a bright – like, garish – pink colour. Is that even possible?)

Anyway, I didn’t buy any of the corn kernels or seed potatoes, not even for old times’ sake. Yes, Raymond and I are living in that same Manse that I grew up in, but we’re not yet ready to start a vegetable garden. That labour-intensive project is for another year (next year?) when we have less on our plates regarding moving from one province to another, selling one house and renovating another one, adapting to a new job, and so on. But it will happen (as I promised myself not long after we bought the Manse). And here is exactly the spot for it:

The site of the vegetable garden

The big indentation that you can see in our verdant back/side yard is where the vegetable garden was back in the days when I was growing up at the Manse. It seems eminently sensible to restore that spot to its proper use as a supplier of fresh corn, potatoes and tomatoes.

But here is my question: is it vegetable-planting time? If you live in our neck of the woods, have you planted your vegetable garden yet? The warm, sunny weather we had over the past few days made it seem like growing season and then some, but as I write this, things have turned quite chilly in Queensborough and area.

When does one plant those corn kernels and seed potatoes, anyway? It’s been a long time since I’ve done it, people. I don’t want to get it wrong.

A cracked and weedy old sidewalk: a memento

The old sidewalk, Queensborough

I went for a walk through the eastern part of Queensborough this lovely spring evening, and came across something that touched me. It was an old section of sidewalk, nowadays not leading much of anywhere, on the south side of Queensborough Road just before the bridge that crosses the Black River. When I was growing up in Queensborough (a long time ago), the area that this sidewalk ran in front of was the site of a pretty and historic house owned by the Leslie family. But that house is no more, and the sidewalk is clearly not much used.

The new sidewalks, Queensborough

One of the new sidewalks. Serviceable, but where is the greenery growing up through the many cracks that kids would want to try to avoid?

There are other sidewalks in Queensborough, quite new-looking; I believe the Municipality of Tweed put them in not too many years ago, and they are perfectly fine.

But I rather miss the old ones that I remember from my childhood, the ones with the weeds and greenery growing up through the cracks. The ones I would walk – going up the hill on Bosley Road to St. Andrew’s United Church, for instance – and, while doing so, try so hard not to step on the cracks in them. (Step on a crack, break your mother’s back – remember that?) It was challenging, because the sidewalks were so old that the cracks were not just between sections but all over the place. Sometimes, for a bit of a variation, I would try to step only on the cracks. Ah, those simple childhood self-imposed challenges, and the pleasures that came with meeting them.

The old neglected sidewalk, in front of the old Leslie place, reminded me of that. A nice memory for a lovely spring evening,

A flagstone walkway? A sensible (and nice) driveway? Help!

Driveway situationThe photo above explains better than my words ever could a couple of situations that Raymond and I are facing with the front yard of the Manse. People, I won’t hide the fact that we could use your suggestions for resolving those situations. In other words: Help!

First situation: the driveway. (Where Raymond’s red truck is parked in the photo.) I am fairly sure that for some years prior to our purchase of the Manse two and a half years ago, residents and visitors here had just parked their cars on the side of the road. (That would be Bosley Road, one of precisely four streets in “downtown” Queensborough that are now proudly marked with beautiful new street signs made here in the community.)

But of course because I tend to look so happily and longingly back at the days when I was growing up in this house, I started to park – whenever I had the chance; Raymond generally likes to be the one doing the driving – on the section of the lawn that was, back in my childhood, the driveway. That long-ago driveway really was a driveway, and not a piece of lawn taken over for the purpose; thanks to my hard-working minister/woodlot manager/farmer father‘s constant use of several vehicles – the family’s elderly used car, an even older half-ton truck, a tractor and a front-end loader, plus various wagons and trailers often attached to the latter two – the driveway was clearly delineated apart from the lawn, and that was that.

But sometime in the decades that followed our family’s tenure in the Manse (that would be 1964 to 1975), the grassy lawn was allowed to return across the driveway, very possibly because no subsequent minister had need of a half-ton truck, a tractor or a front-end loader. Or any trailers attached to same. So my parking of our vehicles there was a bit of a disturbance to the lawn.

Then this past winter came, and as we all know, it was a brute. And the driveway required tons of plowing and tons of anti-slip material – we tried to avoid salt, opting for something marketed as more environmentally friendly – and the result was, come this spring, a large earthy yellow-brown patch where once there had been green grass. That’s what you see under and around Raymond’s truck in the photo.

The other situation is the yellow-brown diagonal patch where, during that blasted winter, we shovelled and plowed and snowblowed and salted (using the supposedly environmentally friendly stuff, of course) so that we could get between our parked vehicles and the house. This makeshift walkway does not, you will notice, coincide with the square concrete pads that were put down some years ago; and why would it? The yellow-brown walkway is where any sensible person actually would walk; the concrete slabs are where someone with too much time on his or her hands would take the long way, walking straight out from the house, turning a sharp right at a 90-degree angle, and then to his or her vehicle.

So while I coax and water and encourage some green grass to come up from the large yellow-brown patches in the Manse’s lawn that resulted from this past winter’s vehicular and foot traffic, I ponder these things:

One: What should we do about the driveway? This makeshift thing that we have going now probably isn’t a great idea. Is laying down gravel the only option? Is there such a thing as an environmentally friendly driveway? Does anybody out there know?

Nice flagstone walkway

Wouldn’t something like this be nicer than the square concrete slabs? Especially with low-growing thyme among the flagstones?

Two: Wouldn’t it be lovely to pull up those square concrete 90-degree-angle slabs and replace them with some big flat flagstones on the diagonal path that people actually walk? With thyme planted among the flagstones, since whenever you brush a thyme plant with your hand or foot it smells so lovely?

And finally: Are my dreams of an environmentally friendly driveway (whatever that might be) and a beautiful thyme-scented flagstone walkway going to cost a fortune to make into reality?

I think I already know the answer to that.

A happy (and fragrant) surprise: a lilac bush grows at the Manse!

Lilacs at the Manse 1

My discovery this afternoon upon returning to the Manse after a couple of days in Montreal: lilacs!

If you live in Southern or Eastern Ontario – or, I suppose, in many other parts of eastern North America, and maybe some parts of the west too – you will know that the lilacs are just coming into bloom everywhere. And isn’t that a wonderful springtime event?

Also, if you happen to be a longtime reader of Meanwhile, at the Manse, you will know that I love lilacs, and have publicly pined (here and here and here, for instance; that last one has some good Al Purdy stuff in it, by the way) to have a lilac bush here at the Manse, as we did when I was a child growing up in this very same house.

In response to that public wistfulness on my part about the lack of lilacs, some good friends from this area have very kindly offered a cutting to transplant from their plenteous supply. It is an offer that we are definitely going to take them up on, though we are still pondering where might be the best place to plant the cutting.

But meanwhile, at the Manse (so to speak): we have just discovered that we already have a lilac bush!

Mind you, I had my suspicions last year. Raymond and I went through an extended period last spring when we had a lot of obligations in Montreal (where we then lived) and for several weeks straight weren’t able to spend any time in Queensborough. That was inadvertently clever on our part, because we managed to completely miss the blackfly season. But when we finally did get back here, I noticed what I thought were the end-of-season remains of some lilac blooms on a bush that is part of a lot of general bushiness under the old Manitoba maple in our back yard. I was far from sure, however, and given that whatever the blooms had been they were way past done for the year, I kind of forgot about it.

Lilacs at the Manse 2

I took this closeup photo partly so you could admire the deep purple colour of our lilac blooms, and partly so you would know (because of the corner of the Manse you can see in the background) that the lilac really is right here in our back yard. Yay!

But hey, one of the pleasures of living in a place full-time is that you discover things you don’t when you’re only an occasional visitor. And I have just discovered that, yes, we really do have a lilac bush at the Manse! Nestled under (and kind of hidden by) that weedy but venerable Manitoba maple; and tucked away in the back yard as opposed to blooming proudly and happily in front of the house, as the lilac bush of my childhood did; and not very big and probably in need of pruning or transplanting or some such attention – but nevertheless, a lilac bush of our own! And the blooms smell just as lovely as one would hope.

So that is a happy spring surprise at the Manse. I am very proud of my newly discovered lilac bush, and will do all I can to ensure that it flourishes. And if we can add more lilacs thanks to our friends, well – the property will be the better for it. Because lilacs kind of define spring, don’t they?

What is this plant, and what is it doing in our garden?

Garden takeover plant 1

See how this rogue leafy plant seems to be trying to take over the irises? (At least, I think they’re irises; have I mentioned that my garden knowledge is thin?) I am very inclined to yank it out, but won’t do so until you wise gardening folks tell me it’s okay to do so.

I know that lots of you readers know infinitely more about gardening than I do, so tonight I would like to pick your brains and ask your advice. There is a plant that seems to be trying to take over the perennial beds at the front of the Manse, and I am deeply suspicious of it. But  before I rip it out, I turn to you.

What is it? Where did it come from? Is it trying to eat my perennials? Here’s another photo of it apparently trying to overwhelm some perfectly nice plants:

Garden takeover plant 2

Another section, where the mystery plant seems to be overwhelming a hosta.

Am I right to yank it out? (Because, you know, I won’t do anything until I hear the wisdom of the community. Especially since my own garden wisdom is nonexistent.)

I do, however, want you to know that all is not lost in the Manse garden. There are success stories galore! (All having to do with the good gardeners who planted and cared for the perennials long before Raymond and I bought the Manse.) Here’s one, beautiful narcissus:

Garden success 1 And here’s another, a close-to-the-ground plant whose name I know not but whose mauve blooms are so beautiful at this time of year:

Garden success 2 And here’s yet another one! No idea what it is, but look how good it looks!

Garden success 3

There is so much to appreciate in our garden. But should the intruder – if it is an intruder – be booted out?