Out of the blue, vintage fencing for the Manse

Fenceless Manse 2

Does this Manse need a vintage fence along the front of the property? I think it most certainly does! I have nothing against the front yard being open to the street, but a gorgeous fence from the first half of the last century would be a lovely touch. And it’s coming soon!

A very long time ago – less than a month after I began this blog, way back at the start of 2012 – I asked readers a question: Has anybody seen this fence? It was a plea for information on how a person (i.e. me) could track down vintage fencing of the type that I remember from my childhood here at the Manse in Queensborough: traditional page wire gussied up with decorative small metal maple leaves. To illustrate what I was talking about, I used a photo I’d found of a painting by Robert Bateman. That lovely painting will surely evoke nostalgia in anyone who, like me, grew up in rural Ontario in the middle of the last century. Here it is again:

Robert Bateman Maple Leaf Fence painting

Maple Leaf Fence, by superstar Canadian artist Robert Bateman.

A couple of years after that first mention of the maple-leaf fencing that I longed for, I did another post on the theme, having come upon a 19th-century farmhouse in Hungerford Township (the rural area south of nearby Tweed) that has that exact fencing along its front:

Maple Leaf fence, rural Hastings County

Many’s the time since I wrote the post that I’ve thought about dropping a note into the mailbox at that house, telling the owners that if ever they decided to do away with or replace their fence, to please give me a call and I’d gladly take it off their hands. I never followed through – mainly because the fence is so well-cared-for that I strongly suspect the owners love it as much as I do, and would, sensibly, not want to part with this nice piece of vintage Canadiana.

Maple leaf fence 2

A gate at a farm outside Queensborough that has some of the coveted maple leaves.

My desire for the maple-leaf fence has come up in a few other posts over the years, like here and here. But I was being realistic when I said this in one maple-leaf-fence-themed post:

“Truth be told, vintage fencing is pretty far down the list of priorities for the Manse. (A renovated kitchen to replace the tiny pantry being pretty close to the top. Followed by approximately 38,212 other things.) But as an eternal optimist, I hold out hope that it might happen someday.”

People, “someday” has arrived! I am thrilled to tell you that five-plus years and well over 1,000 blog posts since my first plea for help on finding vintage maple-leaf fencing, I have found my fencing.

Out of the blue a couple of weeks ago I received a brief note via Facebook Messenger:

“Hi Katherine – my name is Debbie and searching for maple leaf fencing on the internet led me to your blog. I have a roll (approx 40-50 ft) for sale. It is very old and I bought it as a project for my house (1832 log cabin) but I changed my mind and decided on cedar rail fencing instead. Would you be interested in purchasing it?”

Wow!

Would I be interested in purchasing it? I most certainly would! Forty to fifty feet is just about exactly the length we need for a fence along the front of the Manse property. Clearly this was meant to be.

Debbie was kind enough to send photos, which only made my heart beat faster:

Debbie's fence 2 Debbie's fence 1

So as you can probably guess, one day very soon Raymond and I are going to climb into his little red truck and take a drive that will end with us bringing home 40 or 50 feet of just the fence I’ve been wanting for the Manse. Life is good!

But I have to confess something. More than five years after I wrote that first plaintive plea for help in finding the fence that would match the one I remember being in front of the Manse in my childhood. I have come to the realization that – wait for it – my memory is almost certainly faulty. Here; you can judge for yourself:

Melanie and me at the Manse, 1965

That’s a photo of me (at right) and my sister, Melanie, in the gateway that once stood at the end of the flagstone path to the Manse’s front door. On either side of the gate is the fence. Which … does not have maple leaves on it. It is a plain page-wire fence.

So that fence memory that I treasure from my childhood must be from somewhere other than the Manse. I feel certain that the maple-leaf fence was somewhere in Queensborough or its immediate area – but I guess it wasn’t at the house I grew up in.

But who cares? The Manse may not have actually had that classic vintage fence once upon a time, but it should have. And now, I am delighted to say, it will.

Better late than never.

With spring come the street sweepers, we hope

Bunny on street signs

Classic Queensborough in springtime: blue skies, high water on the Black River by the historic Thompson mill – and happy little Easter bunnies added to our made-in-Queensborough street signs by the beautification committee!

Peter's sap bucket

An old-fashioned (though brand-new) sap bucket for one of the small maple-syrup operations in the Queensborough neighbourhood.

There are so many things to love about the arrival of spring in pretty little Queensborough. The goldfinches and woodpeckers that appear at your bird feeders. The peepers who will soon be singing their little hearts out in every watery place (including a marshy area kitty-corner from the Manse.) The roaring high water of the Black River, and the colourful kayakers who come with it. The sight of buckets on the maple trees, signifying that someone’s making maple syrup. The brightly coloured Easter bunnies that our village’s beautification committee has placed on all the street signs.

On the other hand, there is the sand.

Let me explain. Our municipal snowplowing guy is absolutely outstanding when it comes to keeping the streets in our village and the surrounding roads safe to travel in wintertime. On snowy and icy days, he’s out there plowing and sanding at all hours of the day and night, and I know I speak for everyone when I say his efforts are very, very much appreciated.

But come springtime, we get the downside of all that sand that kept us from slip-sliding away in December, January and February. As the snow melts, what’s left behind are big piles of sand on the sides of the streets, the sidewalks – and the fronts of our yards. Every year the municipality sends around sidewalk sweepers and street sweepers (machines, I mean, not people with brooms). That’s all well and good for cleaning the streets and sidewalks (though not so much if they send them before the snow even melts, which has been known to happen). But it doesn’t help us property-owners with all the sand piled up streetside in our front yards.

Jos shovelling sand

How much sand is there? you ask. This photo (taken from a video by my friend and neighbour Marykay York-Pronk) gives you a pretty good idea. That’s her husband, Jos, chair of the beautification committee and the craftsman who made our Queensborough street signs, shovelling this past Sunday in front of their building at the heart of the village. (Photo courtesy of Marykay York-Pronk)

The good news is that this year some forward-thinking people in the community have been in communication with the municipal works department, and have wrested from the works folks an agreement that, if we’ll get the sand from our lawns onto the street, the sweepers will take it away. There’s also been some newfound communication that has resulted in us getting a heads-up as to when the sweepers will arrive, rather than it being an unannounced surprise as has generally been the case in the past. For all this good co-ordination work, I’d like to say to my friend and neighbour Anne Barry: please stand up and take a bow! We all thank you.

So if you’ve happened to drive through Queensborough over the past few days and noticed long rows of piled sand in front of several properties – well, now you know what it was all about. I did my bit today, having received notice from Anne this morning that the arrival of the sweeping machines was imminent. What? You’d like to see the fruits of my labours? Oh, I’m so glad you asked! I’m quite proud of them.

Here’s one “before” photo, showing the sand in front of the historic Kincaid house adjacent to the Manse:

Kincaid house before

And here’s the “after” shot, with the sand raked up and ready to be carted off.

Kincaid House after

And here’s a picture of what I achieved in front of the Manse itself:

Manse after raking

I have to tell you that my cleanup was accomplished thanks to good old-fashioned Queensborough neighbourliness. Research done right here in our hamlet (take a bow, Lud Kapusta) has determined that the absolute best tool for raking winter sand off the front of your lawn is this gizmo:

Best rake for sand

The best sand rake of all time, even though I believe it’s technically called a thatching/dandelion rake. Also: the boots of my friend and neighbour Ed, as he holds it up for the photo.

That photo shows Lud’s own sand rake, which I went to inspect a few days ago in the interest of knowing what I was looking for when I went shopping for one of my own. The problem, Raymond and I found out after visits to every single hardware and farm-supply store and lumber yard in the Madoc-Tweed area, is that such rakes are not easy to come by. Even online searches have proved fruitless.

So when I learned this morning that the sweepers were coming and that I’d better get my cleanup done today, I first panicked, and then did what anyone in Queensborough would do: I called my neighbours. Lud and Elaine Kapusta kindly lent me their rake for the morning, and then, when they needed it back to get their own sand cleaned up, I was able to borrow another one from Joanie Harrison. Thank you, folks!

And hey: if anyone can tell me where I can pick up one of those rakes, I would be very much obliged.

Because, you know – I’ll have to do it again next year. Hey, you live in Queensborough, it’s part of the deal.

I’m good with that.

I made a garden!

Shade garden after 1

My new shade garden, featuring hostas and impatiens, after two sweltering days of hard, hard work. I hope it survives!

Did you know that gardening can be a contact sport? No? Well, then you’ve never tried to create a garden north of 7, where fertile soil meets Canadian Shield and the latter generally wins.

A little over a week ago I plunged into a garden project I’d been wanting to tackle for a long time, to wit: turning the southwest corner of the Manse’s fairly expansive yard into a shade garden. (It has to be a shade garden because it’s under two very large evergreen trees that, I am embarrassed to admit, I have yet to identify. Tamaracks? I’ll figure it out one of these days.) This particular plot of land was, when Raymond and I bought the Manse, a repository of some years of compostable junk; the raking involved in my first yard cleanup turned up hundreds and hundreds of evergreen cones, along with assorted other things. Having cleaned out that stuff, I enjoyed seeing what subsequently happened in the shady patch, notably a rhubarb plant emerging.

But this past spring and summer, the shady corner plot turned up less (translation: zero) rhubarb and instead a ton of high-growing weeds. Which I was itching to get at and replace with shade plants, a project I finally got to once my rather demanding year of being a college instructor ended. Here is what that plot looked like just a couple of weeks ago:

Shade garden before 1

My shade garden when it was not a shade garden but a large patch of weeds.

In theory, my gardening project was easy: transplant several of the more-than-enough hosta plants that populate the perennial gardens in front of the Manse; and add in some bargain-priced (because it was late in the plant-selling season) impatiens, everybody’s favourite colourful shade bloom.

In practice: not so much.

What I found when I started digging that corner of land was roots, roots, roots and more roots. That’s pretty much what I find whenever I start digging anywhere around the Manse: this land is old, and the trees on it are too – and thus rooty; and the soil is thin and rocky. It is good for roots. And weeds. And rocks. And maybe rhubarb. Or blueberries. And not much else.

Creating my small shade garden turned out to be a very intensive two-day project, on both days of which I got dirtier and sweatier (the temperature was above 30C throughout, and it was humid) than you can probably imagine. In retrospect, I really wish I’d taken a selfie when I finally came in on one or the other of those days to collapse into the shower; the combination of sweat and soil on my face (not to mention the rest of me) would have done an early settler of our corner of central Hastings County proud. Plus it would have shocked Raymond! (Who wasn’t there at the moment, and is fond of neatness, tidiness, and cleanliness. He would have been horrified.)

What I did manage to do, however, is get a photo that sort of captures the contact-sport thing I was mentioning at the start of this post. Raymond was back by the time I’d showered the second evening, but while the grime and sweat were gone, the marks from the roots and thorns kind of going after me were still quite evident. I am rather proud of my gardening scars, and here are a few of them:

Gardening is a contact sport

You don’t spend two days wrestling with the old roots of Hastings County and come out unscarred. (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

After pulling all the weeds and pulling and/or cutting (with my trusty Fiskars) all the roots that I could find on the surface of my garden-to-be on Day 1, and feeling like I might have got the better of the rootiness, I proceeded on Day 2 to try to dig small holes in which to plant the hostas and impatiens. At which point I learned that there are more old roots in a small patch of north-of-7 land than you or I have ever dreamed of.

And you know, you can’t do everything. At least, not all at once. So as I tried to plant my wee plants and found little but roots as I dug, I made the executive decision to take my chances with planting the impatiens and the hostas among the roots. I mean, there is some soil there; and, given that the weeds had been absolutely flourishing a short time before, maybe the roots would also cut my new shade plants some slack and let them do their thing too.

We shall see. I have since decided that I may need to look into mulch, something I know nothing about but that I understand may help suppress weeds and encourage the plants I am trying to grow. (I hope veteran gardeners will not be laughing at me. Remember, I am new at this.)

Regardless, I am proud of my efforts. Proud enough to show them off to all of you. Here once again are some before-and-after shots.

Before: weediness!

Shade garden before 2

After: a garden! (Rudimentary, but still – a garden.)

Shade garden after 2

Time will tell whether the victor in this project will be the roots, or me and my shade garden. But I am a determined person, and I’ve already put a lot of sweat equity into this project. I’m betting on me. And the hostas.

Death, beauty, nature, gardening: a Queensborough miscellany

tomato plants

I am just delighted about the heirloom tomato plants that Raymond and I put into our garden early this evening. Don’t they look nice beside the soon-to-blossom peonies (a gift from our Montreal friends Johannah and Tracy) and our bright-red oil tank?

It has been another in a string of sunny, hot days here in Queensborough, though today the heat was moderated by a lovely soft wind that had the added bonus of steering the bugs away. As I drove home from work along Queensborough Road late in the afternoon, I was luxuriating in the beauty of the rural countryside.

And then I saw the turtle.

Regular readers will know that Raymond and I are among the many local residents who do everything they can to make sure the various species of turtles that inhabit our region get safely to the other side of the roads that they are bound and determined to cross during the warm months. I’ve told you before (like here and here) about how Raymond in particular has taken on as a mission the business of helping out the turtles. But we both travel with shovels and gloves in our vehicles – the gloves for picking up the smaller turtles, the shovels for moving the big snappers – and I’ve done my share of this turtle crossing-guard work too.

So when I saw a smallish turtle-shaped object at a big curve on Queensborough Road, I of course slowed down – only to realize with horror that the turtle was on its back and probably dead. I pulled over, hoping that the poor thing only needed to be righted after a glancing blow from a vehicle, and that it would be okay. But it was not to be; there was the pool of blood trickling away from the body of that innocent little painted turtle with the gorgeous markings that you can see here:

Dead turtle, Queensborough Road

A sight you don’t want to see: a beautiful painted turtle, killed on the road.

Poor, poor turtle. I only hope that the driver who struck it did so accidentally and without deliberate intent to harm; I am told (though I hate to think it’s true) that some cruel people actually try to hit the turtles when they see them. I personally hope that those people burn in hell, though I suppose that’s not a very Christian thing to say.

I decided that one thing I could do for the little turtle was to get its body to the side of the road so it wouldn’t be struck again and again, and crushed and mangled. What I saw when I turned it over with my shovel wasn’t very pretty, but I gently carried it to the tall marshy grass where it had probably been hoping to lay its eggs, and bid it farewell. And carried on with the rest of my drive back to the Manse, feeling deeply sad.

But you know, there are things to make a person feel better. Like seeing the flower baskets that our friends at the Queensborough Beautification Committee have once again hung all over the village, and that look absolutely splendid:

Queensborough hanging baskets 2016

This past weekend, the volunteers with the Queensborough Beautification Committee once again installed hanging flower baskets on the made-in-Queensborough street signs. They are beautiful!

And then there were the irises that have bloomed in the Manse’s front garden:

Manse irises

And also, the 2016 crop of geraniums in hanging baskets that Raymond had bought this afternoon from our reliable supplier, the garden centre at Madoc Home Hardware, and put up on the front porch:

flower baskets 2016

Two of this year’s geranium baskets (along with a wasp trap to protect Raymond) on the Manse’s front porch.

And the satisfaction of planting (with Raymond’s help) the two heirloom tomato plants – Brandywine and Black Vernissage – and that we’d bought at the Whole Darn Town of Madoc Yard Sale a couple of weekends ago. You can see the results of our planting session in the photo at the top of this post.

Also, there was the interesting surprise, as we prepared the ground for those plantings, of a pair of recently shed snake skins!

snakeskins

Perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Garter Snake whose acquaintance I made a few years ago have not disappeared after all.

And finally, as Raymond and I sat on the front porch post-planting session, admiring our garden and our flowers and pretty little Queensborough generally, came the crowning touch: the first appearance of the year of a hummingbird at our feeder. These tiny things are so lovely, and they seem so friendly. I wish I had a picture of Mr. Hummingbird to show you, but you all know how fast and flitty hummingbirds are.

None of these good and happy and pretty things made me forget the sad end of the turtle; but they all – perhaps especially the snake skins, left behind as the snakes enter a new phase of life – reminded me of the wonder of the cycle of the seasons and of the natural world. Death is just a part of that cycle, isn’t it? But so is renewal, and new growth. And the return of the hummingbirds. Life is good.

But people, please please please be careful about the turtles when you drive!

Take my hostas. Please.

Manse hostas

Isn’t this just the most luxuriant spread of hostas? I know it makes me sound ungrateful (to the people who created this garden at the Manse), but it is a little too luxuriant for me. Time to unload some hostas!

I’ve mentioned many times how appreciative I am of the fact that people from St. Andrew’s United Church, Queensborough, planted and maintained a perennial garden for years before Raymond and I bought this old house. The result of that planting and maintenance being, of course, that we have a garden that looks pretty respectable despite my dire lack of knowledge about horticulture and my equally dire lack of time (this summer, at least) to do weeding and maintenance.

However.

People, I will admit it: I am tired of hostas. I mean, I get how they are great because they will grow and flourish no matter what the weather or sun/shade conditions are, and no matter what you do (or don’t do) to them. I totally get how people (St. Andrew’s church members) who planted a perennial garden at a Manse where the inhabitant (i.e. the minister) might or might not have the wherewithal to deal with it would install things (hello, hostas) that require zero attention.

But hostas do spread, it seems. And while I very much appreciate the green they bring to the northern portion of our perennial garden (where there are several planted, and flourishing), I feel the time has come – well, will have come by the time of next year’s gardening season – to put different things in that garden. Like maybe more phlox, such as I planted this year. And peonies. People, I want peonies!

But the hostas are taking up all the space.

So what do I do with them? I gather real gardeners (that is, people unlike myself) know how to divide and transplant hostas and other such things. I, on the other hand, haven’t got a clue. And on top of that, I don’t actually want to transplant half an existing hosta plant anywhere on the Manse property. I have enough hostas!

So, good gardening friends, please tell me what to do. If any of you who live in the area would like some or all of these hosta plants, you are more than welcome to them. They are very healthy, believe me. And if you don’t – that is, if you yourself have more hostas than you need or want, and I expect that includes pretty much anyone who has a garden – will you give me dispensation to yank them out and toss them?

Or – is that gardening sacrilege?

Oh dear. I have so much to learn about gardening. And also: so many hostas to get out of my life.

When it comes to no-maintenance herbs, I am an awesome gardener.

The herb garden

My growing-like-mad herb garden on the south side of the Manse; I am very proud of it. Note nice new sign! (A gift from Raymond.)

Having yesterday shared with you a gardening tale that may very well have no happy ending – that is, my wish that I could grow lavender here at the Manse – I thought that tonight I would post something about my big gardening success story. It is… my herb garden!

Which, as you can see from the photo above, looks extremely healthy indeed. It’s just what I hoped for when I ruminated long ago about my desire for a flourishing herb garden. And doesn’t its newly acquired sign (a gift from Raymond) just add the finishing touch? (Along with the nice bit of bright-red colour from the adjoining oil tank, of course.)

Yes, my tarragon, sage, marjoram, rosemary, basil and especially Italian parsley and oregano are doing very well indeed. In fact the Italian parsley has, unfortunately, overshadowed, overgrown and kind of killed off my previously happy chervil. And the oregano has gone nuts.

My one issue with the herb garden is one I’d never faced with previous herb gardens. It gets so much sunlight, and the soil seems to be so accommodating, that things are growing a little too well. In addition to the aforementioned Italian parsley and oregano, the curly parsley is showing signs of overgrowing and not being nice anymore. I now think I was supposed to cut back these plants a bit when they started to grow so well, to keep them under control. But since never before have I had a herb garden that grew so prodigiously, I was blissfully unaware of this requirement. It’s a lesson for next year.

Anyway, the best thing about my herb garden is that herbs basically need zero maintenance – aside, I guess, from cutting them back a bit when they get too boisterous. This means that when it comes to herbs, I look like a success as a gardener even when I’ve basically done squat.

Now that is my kind of gardening!

Apparently even I could grow lavender. Or could I?

Doris's lavender

A gorgeous lavender bush in front of the home of our Belleville friend Doris. It got me wildly excited about the possibility of growing lavender at the Manse – excitement that I now strongly suspect was premature.

I haven’t written much about our garden lately, primarily because it is in a shameful state of weediness that I don’t like to think about (or broadcast, though here I am doing exactly that). I find it amusing, though not in a particularly good way, that I seemed to have more time to weed the garden in the two previous summers, when Raymond and I were only able to get to the Manse on the occasional weekend, than this summer when, theoretically at least, we are in full-time residence. The problem is this: we went and planned so much activity (including travel) for this summer that I can’t find any time to experience what I once called the zen of weeding. What I desperately need is one long, sunny, warm-but-not-too-hot-and-not-too-buggy day with nothing else to do, so I can spend it on hands and knees getting those same hands and knees gloriously dirty, pulling out the weeds that are trying to suck the life from our perennials.

But it hasn’t happened yet. Still, even though my garden is weedy, I can continue to dream garden dreams – can’t I?

My latest dream is about having lavender, although I am far from sure that this is a realistic dream.

I was inspired by a recent visit to our friend Doris, who lives in Belleville. Thinking I had discovered something exotic (for southeastern Ontario), I brought Doris a little bouquet of lavender that I discovered for sale at the farmers’ market in Stirling on the way (the long way) to Belleville from our home in Queensborough. I’ve always loved lavender, perhaps partially because of its deep association with beautiful Provence (where Raymond and I spent part of our honeymoon). I am so interested that it is now being successfully grown in some parts of Quebec (notably at the large Bleu Lavande operation in the Eastern Townships) and Ontario – including, obviously, somewhere close enough to Stirling for the product to be sold at the farmers’ market there. It seemed so pleasantly foreign, and so that’s why I picked some up as a little gift for Doris.

So what did Raymond and I see as we pulled into Doris’s driveway? A gloriously healthy lavender bush right there in her front garden!

Of course I felt dopey about bringing something as a gift that she already had in plenty, but I also used the occasion to try to learn something about growing lavender here in our part of the world. Doris told us that the lavender she has success with is the English kind, and she mentioned two varieties, Munstead and Hidcote. When I expressed surprise that they could be grown here, she said it was not a problem at all in Zone 5b. (Do you know about growing zones? Neither do I, particularly, but they are explained here.)

Spot for lavender

I love these big tall bushes of yellow flowers because they happen effortlessly (for me) – but since there is a bit of a surfeit of them, I think some could be removed to make this prominent corner of the Manse’s perennial garden just the spot for lavender. That is, if it’ll grow here.

Okay, so far so good. By the time Raymond and I got back to the Manse we had already decided where we wanted to plant our lavender. I was very excited!

However … it turns out (and I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by this) that Queensborough, in its north-of-Highway 7 location, is not in Zone 5b, as Belleville, on the shore of Lake Ontario, is. According to this map from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, it isn’t even in Zone 5a, the next-colder one that takes over a bit north of Belleville.

No, once one gets just a bit north of 7, one is in Zone 4b, where winters are colder still; and it looks rather doubtful that lavender would survive that.

Maybe it would, though; the entry on Munstead lavender on this gardening-company site says that it is their most hardy version, and while it lists its growing zones as 5a to 11, it also says that is is “cold-tolerant to Zone 4.” It doesn’t look like Hidcote lavender is a possibility; that one is listed as being in only in Zones 5a-5b for hardiness.

So this is the juncture where I would like to ask my Queensborough-area gardening friends (you know who you are): What are my chances of successfully growing lavender in the Manse’s garden?

Once I get the weeds out, that is.