Thursday, March 1, 2018

Mow Down Your Perennials (in the spring). Advice from an expert.....

Know Maintenance Gardening

March 1, 2018
Know More and Work Less in Your Perennial Garden
Kathy Renwald

It’s March. The Red Wing blackbirds are back. Snowdrops are up. People are REALLY thinking about gardening.
  Roy Diblik has been thinking hard about gardening. He’ll tell you what he thinks tomorrow night at the Royal Botanical Gardens in a talk he calls The Know Maintenance Garden.
  “I’m 65 years-old and I don’t care what other people think,” Diblik is saying over the phone as he wrestles with the watering system at his Northwind Perennial Farm in Wisconsin.
  He’s happy to be outside after a long winter, “deep in the chaos” of getting the farm running again.
  Diblik is a grower, a perennial plant expert, designer, speaker and authour. He’s provocative and blunt, and if you hear him talk tomorrow night, I’m sure he’ll shake up some tired ideas you have about gardening.
  “There are so many things that perennials can do to heal the earth,” Diblik says in a long, interesting monologue about plants. He talks about plants in a poetic way, how they like to live in communities, be close to each other and be social. When he designs a garden he looks at it like a universe he says, where the plants are in a happy relationship. “Beauty does not have to be expensive.”
  The work he has done in Chicago is a vivid snapshot of his style. His plantings around the Shed Aquarium, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Louis Sullivan Gateway Arch evoke a gorgeous meadow in full bloom. The Gateway Arch picked up cues from the nearby Lurie Garden in Millennium Park. I visited that garden two years ago and loved its texture and diversity. To look at the rich swath of perennials against the Chicago skyline was breathtaking.

  Diblik’s book The Know Maintenance Garden is theaccumulation of his life’s work.  As he describes it, we have to really know where we live, and what plants will thrive. The type of soil, the temperature extremes, the wind direction, how much shade and sun the garden gets are some of the key questions.  When designing a garden for clients he wants to know how they live and how much time they have to maintain the garden.


Though guided by sustainability and ecological concerns his gardens are also are beautiful and thoughtful.
  “Too many designers want to categorize and put things in a box, if it doesn’t work it’s discarded. They don’t know their plants.”
  Of course Diblik uses plants we know and use here in Hamilton, the durable coneflowers, daisies, asters and ornamental grasses to name a few. But he doesn’t restrict his designs to native plants, as long as they are hardy and their growth rate and cultural needs suit the garden, they are considered.
  Part of his “know maintenance” approach includes time saving gardening methods. Starting in early spring he recommends using a Dutch hoe to weed the garden. The Dutch hoe allows you to weed the garden fast and in an upright position. By August when the good plants have filled in, “observational weeding” takes over-that is simply pulling weeds by hand.
  In large perennial gardens he uses a mulching mower and mows the garden in early spring leaving the debris in place. New growth, including bulbs push up through the layer of healthy debris “like their ancestors did."


Diblik is encouraged by the direction many young gardeners are going, as they embrace urban agriculture. He sees empty city lots being used to grow food, and a healthy interaction between young gardeners and the land.
  “If you ever want to feel needed, plant a vegetable garden,” Diblik says with a laugh.
  His lecture Perennial Plant Communities; The Know Need Approach is at 7 pm at RBG Centre Friday night. Admission is $18 for non-members, $6 for RBG members. More info at

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Mysterious place of dark nostalgia....

February 1, 2018
Dark Nostalgia
Kathy Renwald
  Step into the world of illusion and mystery. Pause at the fortune teller, see the curling lip on the ventriloquist’s dummy and don’t forget to pick up a glass eyeball. 
   Welcome to the home of Ron and Gayle Eady at the intersection of dark and light.
  “Some people get it and some people don’t,” Ron says.
  “It” is a boxy commercial building in the Stinson Neighbourhood the couple bought 10 years ago. They left behind a lovely old farmhouse in Burlington to move downtown. Now, close to the CP main line, “We have a great view of the Christmas train,” near parks and the escarpment they are happily imbedded in the gritty creativity of Hamilton.
  “We made the move at the right time,” Gayle says. 

  House prices were high in Burlington and low in Hamilton. The sale allowed Ron to quit his job at outdoor advertising company Eclipse Imaging of Burlington, to concentrate full time on art. His paintings based on industrial images, were taking off.
  The building was a blank slate to showcase his art, and their antiques.  They’ve been collecting for 40 years. In the past 15 years the focus has been on ventriloquist dummies. The marvelous and macabre faces appear to follow you through the house. They come from England, France and the US, dating to the 1800’s, beautifully crafted and haunting.
  “I like them because they are pieces of art, hand carved, and hand painted,” Ron says.
   A display of medical mannequins occupies a special place in the house. Dentists and eye doctors needed to practice their skills, and the mannequins awaited.
  “To go to the trouble to make these so beautifully, some have gears so the head can be tilted, the craftsmanship is wonderful,” says Gayle.
  Beyond the mannequin display is Ron’s office where a tiger from an original circus wagon looks over the room and more medical curiosities are arranged on the artist’s desk.  “Early on I did a series on quack medicine, but these props don’t make their way into my paintings now.”
  Their personal collection of dummies, carnival games, eyeballs, hotel signs, even an HSR rotating bus sign remains at home, but they also sell pieces through their business Vintage Stylings. They have stalls at the Hamilton Antique Mall on Ottawa Street and Southworks Antiques in Cambridge.
  Though the props aren’t represented in Ron’s paintings, they act as inspiration he says.  His big industrial landscapes capture the darkness of smokestacks, blast furnaces, raw metals, and lonely freighters on vast grey lakes. Even when he ventures to paint a natural landscape, a canoe on a pond for instance, you have the sense that something is going to go wrong.
  “I like illusive imagery, it makes you ask, ‘What’s going on here.’” 
   Eady’s ( paintings in oil and encaustic are in private and public collections in Canada and the US. He is represented by the Abbozzo Gallery in Toronto and Earls Court Gallery in Hamilton where his next solo show is in 2019.
  Making a home in a big box allowed space for both a painting and sculpture studio. Using old beams, Eady is sculpting bold figures that seem to pick up cues from both the ventriloquist’s dummies and medical mannequins.  “I like to use the character of the wood to let the personality come out.”
  All three of the Eady’s daughters are artists, involved in photography, fashion design and collage, and surprising to Gayle they all love antiques.
  “I call it dark nostalgia, that’s what I see in my paintings and in our collection,” Ron says.
  “We both love coming into Hamilton on Burlington Street and the factory views,” Gayle says, “And then coming in on the beautiful Cootes Paradise side we feel so lucky to be here.”

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Dutch Touch

The Dutch Touch
Kathy Renwald

Wherever he lands in the world Gerard Bos unpacks his shipping container and makes a comfy home.
  Six weeks ago Bos moved to Hamilton from Tokyo where was he was Customer Experience Manager for Ikea Japan
    “My container arrived from Tokyo and then I’m like a little animal about to go into hibernation.  It has to be all unpacked I just need to have it finished. I have a busy job, I’m travelling a lot, and it’s important to me that I don’t live out of boxes for three or four months.”
  When Bos signed on for a three-year assignment as Customer Experience Manager for Ikea Canada, he naturally assumed he’d live in Toronto. “I thought that was the place to be,” he says.
  But it took just one rush hour drive from Toronto to Ikea head office in Burlington for Bos to change his mind.
     He started to look for a place to live close by. Location agents showed him 20 rentals mostly in Burlington and Oakville, but missing was the spark of the big cities he’d lived in across Europe where he worked for Ikea and before that for British Airways.
  "Being in the home furnishing business, home is important to me, I need to feel at home the minute I open the door,  particularly when you live in different countries over the years, that’s even more important.”
 So Bos, a native of Holland started his own home search and focused on Hamilton. "I started to look on Realtor and Kijiji, than driving one day I spotted the building and thought “This is lovely.”
  The building was in the Stinson neighbourhood, a former factory converted to lofts. Bos walked in and said ‘This is it.”
  And it is lovely, with warm wood floors, exposed  beams, and big windows with deep sills. The street with houses dating to the 1870’s, is “like stepping back in time” Bos says.
  When the container arrived it didn’t take Bos long to put things in order. His pieces are well travelled, Switzerland, Belgium London, Glasgow, the island Jersey, Tokyo and more.
  "This is why home is so important, you gather your own things, develop style, the minute your container arrives and you take your things out and find a home for them that suits that layout, and somehow it always works.”  
  Though the loft in Hamilton is two floors, most time is spent on the open space main floor that encompasses the kitchen, dining area, living spaces, office and bedroom. 
  Walk in the front door and you’re immediately in the living space. An antique chest of drawers purchased in London in the 90’s and a slim wooden shelf mounted by the front door help organize arrival and departure clutter.
  To the right is the living room, with a gas fireplace glowing and morning light coming in the from the east. “This has the loft look but it doesn’t have that emptiness you sometimes get in lofts because the ceilings aren’t that high. I like a warm, cozy feel in the home,” Bos says.
   A big leather sofa faces am iconic Noguchi coffee table Bos bought in Belgium 20 years ago, and two Italian designed chairs, are also well travelled. “I love their shape, and they are very comfortable.”
   Factory sized windows have minimal coverings, and the deep sills are all used for displays of pieces collected over the years.
   “I grew up at home with plants and flowers on the window sills, that’s quite common in Holland. These sills are almost like cabinets and great to display the things you love. I do love my Dutch touches.”
   A compact and efficient kitchen faces a small dining area where Bos has grouped “up-cycled” wooden chairs with a mango wood table.
  Beyond the kitchen and framed by hefty wood pillars and ceiling beams another sitting area showcases a beautiful antique glass cabinet that stores dishes, cups and books. It has moved seven times with Bos. A striking orange two-seater sofa divides living room from bedroom. “I spotted it in Sweden in the Ikea design centre before it was launched and had to have it.” Bos swapped out the wooden legs for metal ones for a modern look, using Ikea’s clever mix and match theory of flexible design. He did the same at his window-facing desk, resting a rectangle of bamboo wood on top of an Ikea set of drawers for a warm approach to office decor.
   In many ways Bos’s loft is like a living lab of design solutions. Storage space is at a minimum, so he uses cabinets, trolleys on wheels, and chests for storage. “I’m not a minimalist, but I don’t like a lot of clutter,” he says. To expand the sense of space at night he uses small Ikea floor lamps in each corner of the room.
  Ikea’s philosophy of accessible design and flexible solutions comes naturally to the 52-year-old.
  “Because (the loft) is all open space you need to think about colour schemes, using similar tones, and then creating compartments within the open space, for sleeping work, and dining. If the flooring is the same throughout it helps.”
  Between getting to know Ikea’s 13 major stores across Canada, Bos wants to get to know Hamilton. “I appreciate the diversity and creativity, there’s a nice feel about this city that I like.”
  And it all looks better through the windows with “the Dutch touch."