Thursday, December 18, 2014

Here's a quick snapshot of wonderful things to see in the San Antonio, and Hill Country area of Texas. I have a story in the Hamilton Spectator and a road trip story coming up in the Toronto Star Wheels section.

Kitchen garden sculpture at the J.W. Marriott in Hill Country Texas
Carol Hicks Bolton's fabulous store in Fredericksburg Texas. Mysterious, sensuous, raw style decor
Raw linen bedding from Belgium

Taxidermy for your home

Thousands of square feet of curated decor

From the working farm at the LBJ Ranch in Johnson City

The Hangar Diner at the Fredericksburg airport, there's a retro hotel there too

Take a tour boat along River Walk to see San Antonio from the water

Happy to be there for the Tamale Festival. With 35,000 other people

A quiet moment at the Alamo

The National Park Service tours of the missions in San Antonio are moving and inspiring

There was a wedding in Mission San Jose while we were there

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tiny Terrific Front Yards

New look for a tiny front yard


   The plants are on sale, the ground is still warm, and landscapers  aren’t as busy, that’s why the fall is a good time to start a new garden.
  Kelly Seagram just put the wrap on her new, front yard garden in downtown Hamilton. She bought a Victorian era house tw
years ago, has been diligently renovating the interior and finally had enough of the weedy, treeless front yard.  With a busy life, and what she calls “novice” gardening skills she wanted an easy-to-maintain landscape. But not just any, off-the-shelf design would do.
  “I wanted a garden that looked intentional, but not too fussy or formal. I like the elegance of green gardens and requested an understated palette of dark purples to lime greens, with no showy blooms,” she says.
  That request was answered by Janine Bleecker, owner of Rooted landscape design inc. ( of Oakville. It’s Bleecker’s first year in business, and Seagram’s 20 by 15 foot front yard was an excellent first project. Bleecker switched careers from making nautical charts for Canadian Hydrographic Service at Canada Centre for Inland Waters in Burlington (she has a B.A. in geography from McMaster University) to garden design after getting her certificate from Ryerson University’s Chang School of Landscape Design.
  The unglamorous work came first, striping the weedy lawn from the front yard and replacing about four inches of rubble filled earth with proper top soil. Seagram had taken advantage of the City of Hamilton’s free street tree program, and a gingko was delivered to the site as planting started.
  Seagram’s list of must haves included evergreens for winter interest. Bleecker started with a planting of three Hick’s yews at the foundation of the house to soften the architecture and frame the bay window. A grouping of Degroot’s Spire Cedars add a sense of separation from the house next door, and because of their tight, pyramidal shape, will not overpower the garden. With a solid backing of evergreens, a planting of three oakleaf hydrangeas will stand out in all seasons. They are already showing their beautiful fall colour, and Seagram loves their exfoliating winter bark. “I chose plants that require very little upkeep, some will need trimming once a year, but that’s it,” says Bleecker.
   Surprisingly one group of plants that will not be trimmed are the boxwoods, they’ll be left to grow into the natural shapes that Seagram likes. More fall colour will come from the burning bush planted near the house, and berberis and coral bells Purple Palace will add all season shades of burgundy and purple.  As the garden nears the sidewalk,  low growing creeping junipers should stand up to the rigours of their location. For a change in texture and shape, Bleecker chose hostas in shades of lime that will be able to adapt to the sun from the southerly exposure. The hostas will contrast nicely with the spiky blue fescue grass that lines the walkway to the front door. A large specimen Hinoki cypress is on a diagonal from the hydrangeas, and balances out the intense planting on that side of the garden.
  As the garden fills in, Seagram will look for spaces for some special features. “In the future I'd like to add hardscaping to the design, rocks that are native to the landscape of other places I've lived -- limestone from the south end of Georgian Bay and granite from the Canadian Shield.”
  Bleecker’s experience designing the garden was a wonderful one, working with a client with a strong vision of what she wanted and in a location that was a delightful surprise. “It was so fun to work here on Barton Street, people always stopped to talk, and people in cars driving by would yell out their windows about how great it looked. I told my husband I want to move here.”


Here's a look at Cottage Industrious

Live in a cottage the size of a shed? Dani did it

   Every night this summer, Dani Guo went to sleep to the sound of crickets and the site of stars floating over a field. The 27 year old is a seeker of a simple life.  For five months she found it on a farm in Copetown.
  Guos home was in a cottage the size of a big garden shed. It had a sink, and some chairs, a lamp, and a ladder to the sleeping loft .She cooked her meals in an outdoor kitchen, and used the outhouse as needed. The carefree life, short on stuff but big on experience was what the 27 year old wanted, It was really nice not having clutter, I didnt need to worry about having so many things to clean and look after.
  On her path to a plain way of life, Guo was lucky to meet the artist Dave Hind, and fortunate to find her way to ManoRun Organic Farm in Copetown. Farm owner Chris Krucker and Hind had hatched an idea to create Cottage Industrious. Hind would built a magical little cottage to house an agricultural intern on the farm, three days a week the intern would plant, weed and harvest, and the other three days they would make art. Guo, a Toronto native saw an ad for the internship on when she was working on a farm in Hawaii. I couldn't believe someone combined art and farming, I never thought such a thing existed.
  Guo was charmed by the 14 by 10 cottage Hind built. Hed been making paintings out of recycled aluminum, and they kept getting bigger. They started to resemble walls,Hind says. So the idea of an art object made functional led to Cottage Industrious. All parts of the cottage are recycled. In addition to recycled aluminum Hind used windows and doors discarded from a renovation, and bits and pieces of old lumber for interior walls and shelves. The inspired floor is made of damaged highway signs from the 401. I saw a broken sign and got the number for the company that makes them, they were happy to see them reused.
  The exterior cottage walls are the artists canvas. One side is covered by an aluminum painting of an igloo Hind made with The Aluminum Quilting Society, an artists collective. The patchwork pieces interpret a 1950s Life Magazine photo of an experimental igloo made of Styrofoam.
 On the opposite side Guo drew and etched her experience of farm life on bits of recycled aluminum. Each piece, about the size of a baseball card, records the day-to-day work on the farm, from harvesting beets to planting corn. Its a botanical journal for a new age.
  Cottage Industrious is a concept for a different way of living according to Hind, art meets agriculture meets simple shelter. It may grow into a village. Already Hinds portable, wood-fired sauna is parked next to the cottage, next summer he may add a bathhouse. The cottage will be improved Hind says, but not too much. Its about simple pleasures, being outside, wood fires, feeling alive.
  Guos internship finished in October. Shes packed her one bag and moved on to a monastery in New Zealand where she will cook and garden in return for room and board. Though she has a Masters in international relations, she found the work discouraging, life on the land with less is her path. Sleeping in the loft with the stars and the fireflies, it made me fell like a kid again.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Dahlia Delight

Dahlia Land in Dundas

From the cold, windowless operating rooms where he works Mike Parrish anticipates getting home to the garden. The anesthesiologist at Hamilton Health Sciences walks into a wonderland of colour in his Dundas backyard. Its dahlia-land.

  The cheerful, cosmic flowers poke their heads high in the sky, some as small as ping-pong balls, others as big as dinner plates at a steakhouse.
  There is something about dahlias that guys love. Most of the members of the club are men, Parrish explains.

  The club is really a society, the Hamilton and District Chrysanthemum and Dahlia Society.  September 20th and 21st they are staging their 50th anniversary show at the Royal Botanical Gardens.  Parrish will be in the thick of things there, competing in a bunch of classes.
  It all started 10 years ago when he went to his first Hamilton show, he saw the dahlias and he was a goner.  Theyre an amazing flower, I signed up right then,he says.

   He bumbled through his first bunch of dahlias, and then got in the groove of the methodical way they need to grow. The staking, tying, disbudding, watering, fertilizing, lifting, cleaning and storing, thats the rhythm from April to November.

    Then once youre growing, youre on the slippery slope to competing. The day we meet, Parrish was getting ready to compete in the dahlia show at the Canadian National Exhibition. The show attracts a crowd. People shuffle through with their funnel cakes and bear claws, smitten with the flowers. I really like the atmosphere there,Parrish says.
  Next up is the Hamilton show at the RBG, one with a great reputation. Parrish will select the best blooms, put them in individual vases, stake them with hair clips to spears of bamboo, and then secure them in the car so they dont get bashed on route. Hes been competing for seven years and has the hardware to prove it.

  Competing is just a sliver of what he loves about dahlias though. They all have their own personalities he says, and theyre packed with energy. The speed at which they grow is spectacular.
  Sequestered in their own beds, with a deep blue sky as a backdrop, the dahlias are brazenly festive.  Parrish grows all kinds, unusual in dahlia society, where enthusiasts tend to specialize. Cornel is a deep maroon ball type with petals placed with mathematical precision, a showstopper called Max has a fringe of petals exploding out from the centre, and a dahlia named Pooh turns its big face to the sun like a solar panel ready for charging. Funny that the fashionable dahlias are staked to rough and ready rebar, beauty and the beast in spades.
  Dahlias make excellent cut flowers. A few years ago Parrish started taking big vases full of them where their special cheer is very welcome. I take them into Mac where I work, the nurses and patients love them,he says. Giant bouquets go to labour and delivery, pre-op clinics, same day surgery, Initially people thought they were fake, when I told them I grew them, they asked for more.
  The 50th anniversary show ( coming up at the RBG will undoubtedly seduce more people to the charm of dahlias. After the judging the show is open to the public, on Saturday the 20th from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday the 21st from 10 a.m. until approximately 3 p.m. At closing the blooms will be for sale. Bring a vase or bring a bucket, and prepare to fall in love.