May 28, 2012

Let It Snow

Yes, it's snowing here. Thankfully, it's not the icy, frosty type.  This snow is delicate and frothy and very welcome in my garden.

I have several viburnums in my garden but these two have 'snow' in their names:  Snowball Viburnum (viburnum opulus roseum)

and Summer Snowflake Viburnum (viburnum plicatum).

Aren't the crinkly petals wonderful?

I've made lots of progress in my garden the past couple of weeks but there are still two major flower beds to clean up.  This is the most intensive time of year for me gardening-wise. After that, it's a matter of not letting the weeds take over.  I hope to get back to painting soon.

Yesterday, we tested our irrigation system.  Meeko only chewed six sprinklers this past winter, compared to twenty-five the year before!  He concentrated on an area that I can't see from the house. Very sneaky of him. I repaired them yesterday, wrapped them with chicken wire and sprayed them with citronella (as he does not like that smell) and hope he will stay away from them for a little while (like maybe all summer!). I guess I should thank him though for allowing me to add sprinkler repairs to my handywoman repertoire.

May 23, 2012

A Piece of Paradise

Have you ever thought of planting a vegetable garden?  Just look at the photo above.  Need any more reasons?  That's Chloé just after her 7th birthday celebrating the harvest from our garden.

We receive a weekly basket of organic vegetables from a local farm. We've been a customer/partner of the same farm for almost 17 years now. Despite the fact that we know that we are going to receive beautiful, fresh vegetables throughout the summer, it was very important to me to have our own veggie garden. I wanted Emma and Chloé to have a connection with how things grow and to feel the joy in participating in the process.

This photo is of our first vegetable plot at this house.  Chloé is about two here and Emma would be six. Just to give you some perspective, Emma is about to turn 17 in June and Chloé will turn 13 in July. Teaching a two-year old to plant seeds took a little patience. I think I recall laying down on the ground on one point (not a mommy tantrum, I just needed a little rest), but it is so worth it to involve kids early.

Here are my gardeners a few years later, I think at age five and nine.

Hmmm, where did that fashion pose come from? Certainly not me. Emma is holding an insect cage that was very well used over many summers here.
I use a planting method that I absolutely adore and that is the 'square-foot garden' method.  It is an inspired idea developed by an American engineer, Mel Bartholomew, for growing a diverse array of vegetables in a limited space. Essentially, each 'crop' is planted in a one-foot square. Depending on the vegetable, you can plant one, four, eight or sixteen plants per square. (The rule of thumb is one plant per square if a 12" plant spacing is required, 4 plants for 6" spacing, 9 plants for 4" spacing and 16 for 3" or less.) The number of squares is according to the space that you have.

The next photos you will see document the transformation of our garden this year from a wild, neglected space (I didn't have time to look after it last year and we missed it SO much) to a beautiful, ordered, planted vegetable patch.

I told you it was overgrown. I took this standing on a stepladder about a week ago. All that green is provided by many happy violas, some coriander, a perennial strawberry plant, a monster sage plant and many, many weeds.
The first years we had our garden, I just planted at ground level.  I really didn't have time to create something more elaborate. Later, I followed Mel's method more accurately by raising the bed with a cedar perimeter. I bought long square cedar posts at a home centre.  Then I cut them to the length I needed and attached them together on the inside using metal joints.  (If you do this, please make sure that you use untreated cedar. Some cedar is treated against rot with toxic chemicals that you don't want leaching into your vegetable garden.)  Raising the bed creates a warmer bed that allows for a longer growing period.

Now weed-free with the soil topped up with organic earth and compost.  
To separate the space into square feet, Mel offers many suggestions. I found my own. The simplest and least visually obtrusive method was to put screw eyes at one-foot intervals along the cedar edges and use fishing line to create the divisions.  Once the plants have started to grow, you'll barely notice the fishing line.

Honestly, you'd think that Meeko was the one who weeded and then hauled and spread the ten bags of organic soil and three bags of compost himself!
I use stepping stones to allow access into the bed.  I always try to rearrange them into a different shape each year.  I was very happy one year to create a heart shape. I couldn't wait for the girls to get home from school to show them.  I asked if they recognized the shape. I remember Chloé saying "Of course, it's a dinosaur head." This year, I call my stone shape "T.V." as it is sort of a T and a V. I could have made a more proper V but I would have lost two planting spaces.

Not all vegetables grow close to the ground, so you will need a method to support your taller vegetables.  The square foot method suggests various tall structures.  For me, I need a combination of 'practical' and 'pretty' to be happy, so I bought attractive metal obelisks that I use to support my taller plants.  This year, I will also be using the shrub at the back of the bed to support my cucumbers.

Here I'm trying out positions for all of the vegetables. You'll notice I used both potted plants and seeds.
The potted plants in the photo included six different tomato plants (I try to choose different colours and unusual heirloom varieties for interest), three pepper plants, two strawberry plants, several types of herbs including lots of basil and, at the front, some Spanish and English lavender and violas.

Here is our veggie garden on Sunday afternoon, planted and watered.
Chloé helped me plant several types of seeds on Sunday afternoon. We planted radishes, carrots, swiss chard, turnips, mesclun, beets and cucumber seeds.  Nasturtium seeds were planted all along the two ends.  Five squares have been left empty waiting for Emma's planting touch.

All in all, if I don't count the spaces taken up by stepping stones, we have forty-four planting spaces. It's an amazing way to grow many beautiful things in a small space.

I am very excited to report that I can see signs of sprouting from some of our seeds only four days after planting them.  Sunshine and rain. We've had the perfect garden combination in past days. 

As if planting a garden wasn't a reward in itself, Chloé made a beautiful apple pie all on her own this past weekend (her first time!). Here it is on a beautiful tea towel from a business we love very much here (Bookhou owned by Arounna and John) with a lovely weekend sunset sparkling in the background.

P.S. The pie was delicious!

May 18, 2012

Lilac Painting

 Lilacs Watercolor Painting
And it's finished!

I posted in-progress photos of my lilac watercolour yesterday. Here's the final painting.  I really tried not to add too much detail and to keep things loose and suggested. (Not my normal way of painting down to very last line and dot!)

Detail of Lilacs
The page views of my blog have a good chance of topping 10,000 this weekend. It's just over nine months since I started my blog. I just wanted to say thank you to each and every one of you who comes here. It means so very much to me.

Have a happy holiday weekend (for those of you with one) and a wonderful ordinary one for those without!

May 17, 2012


Trowel or paintbrush...or spade?  I've definitely been torn in past days. I didn't look after my garden the way I normally do last year because I was involved in a huge volunteer project for my youngest daughter's class in May and June. So I am definitely committed to getting my garden up and running in a more respectable way this year.  The biggest task right now is cleaning up my vegetable garden, an even bigger job than normal because of it having been so horribly neglected last year. I'm taking photos as I go, so I will post a step-by-step transformation of my sweet little veggie patch in the next week or so.

Here are some violas from the veggie garden dug up and ready to be transferred to pots and other parts of the garden
So I have my vegetable garden as well as flower beds to clean up. Seeds to sow. Annuals to plant. And yet there are so many lovely things begging to be painted in the garden right now! Like lilacs. Oh, if you could smell them.  I can't walk through the backyard without stopping to bury my nose in them.

I cut some to paint a couple of days ago.  I started my painting in a very loose way with lots of water on the paper. Then I added paint and let it spread in a pretty free way.  It's not my normal approach but I felt the need to do things in a less structured way. Maybe because of all of the emotion of last week. I'm using a different paper (my experiments continue!) and I quite like this one. It's Fabriano Artistico 300 lb. hot press paper. It has a very smooth surface. It is noticeably smoother than the equivalent 300 lb. Arches paper.

This is just after the initial washes and a first few details were added
This morning I had planned to continue my work in the garden, but then I realized that if I didn't work on my lilac painting, the lilacs flowers would be gone. That's the thing with a spring garden. There is constant change and the blooms of one week are gone the next.  Even just two days later, I had to go out and cut new branches to use as my references. The first ones were already wilting. That's a flower that I wish would last a little longer in a vase.

Here's my work on it this morning.  You can see how I'm starting to add more detail. One lovely side benefit of painting lilacs is that you get to smell them as you paint!

I'm writing this while listening to birds chirp outside and sipping on green tea steeped with fresh mint leaves from the garden. How I love this time of year. Now up to the studio to continue work on my painting!

May 13, 2012

New Paintings and Mother's Day Wishes

Here is a little nature collection composed of three paintings I've been working on in the past week.  The shell painting was already included in a previous post, but you're seeing this particular feather study and the painting of a forget-me-not stem for the first time.  I'm sending out warm Mother's Day wishes to my own mom and all of the other lovely moms who come to read these pages.  I hope you have a wonderful day.

On this Mother's Day, I woke up to the smell of delicious waffles being prepared for me by Emma. My gifts were memoirs by Rosanne Cash and Diane Keaton and recipe books (no, I don't have enough yet) by Béatrice Peltre and Heidi Swanson.  Chloé has also said she wants me to pick out a fish for my studio and she will pay for it. I'm going to get a betta.  Meeko gave me Norah Jones' latest CD (very thoughtful of him).

On Mother's Day, it's nice to spend a little time on favourite activities.  I worked on my forget-me-not painting this morning and plan to work in my vegetable garden this afternoon. I'll take some photos of my progress and post them later this week.

For your Mother's Day enjoyment, here are some photos I took yesterday in the garden. I wish I could transfer their fragrance along with the images. The lilacs in particular smell so beautiful this week.

"Um, wait a minute. Meeko, have you been in my garden?"
"No, and I really hate being blamed for what the other kids do."

May 12, 2012

Forget Me Not

What a strange week it's been. It began with a very sad event. Very early Monday morning, the mother of my best friend died.

Then on Tuesday, a bus from my daughters' school was involved in a terrible accident. The 22-year-old car driver, who hit the bus head-on, died on impact. The school bus ended up in the ditch. It was not my daughters' bus, but one of Chloé's best friends was on it as well as many class- and schoolmates. Thankfully there were only minor injuries among the teenagers, but the moments of the accident were terrifying for them and afterwards they were subject to a gruesome accident scene that had more in common with a war-torn country than the quiet suburbs where we live. In the moments after impact, the teenagers on the bus and passersby reacted with speed and courage. Police and ambulances arrived quickly. Chloé's friend called her within minutes of arriving home to share what she had just lived through.

So it has been a week full of emails and phone calls, tears and hugs. Reminders of the fragility of life yet also the strength of friendship and the importance of family. Fear and courage. Sadness and comfort. And even smiles and laughter.

Yesterday was the funeral of my friend's mother and, oddly, that helped the week to end well. Chloé decided to come with me, as my friend is like family to us. Emma would have come if she hadn't had two tests that day.

My friend is the youngest of six children and they prepared a service that was touching and beautiful for their mother. I had only met her once. They told the story of a feisty 90-year-old woman who led a full and interesting life yet had some regrets. They spoke of her love of music, nature and her family. They also talked of characteristics that were sometimes hard for the family. As I sat there absorbing the words, I thought this is a real person they are talking about.  There was a bagpipe that played at the beginning and end of the service and a beautiful soloist who sang uplifting songs. It was so moving to be a part of this poignant, honest service. There was sadness in the church but also so much love. I kept thinking about it even hours later.

After the funeral and reception, it seemed too late for Chloé to go back to school, so we went for a walk with Meeko instead.

The sun was shining. There were beautiful green leaves, flowers and butterflies. We took photos. We got down on our knees so that we could see the wild strawberry blossoms and wood violets better. We picked forget-me-nots.  There were Red Admiral butterflies everywhere. One of them kept circling back to Chloé. Maybe there have been other days when we've walked and seen flowers and butterflies, but yesterday everything seemed more beautiful.

The flower photos were taken by me; all of the rest of the beautiful photos were taken by Chloé.

May 9, 2012

A Bundle of Joy and a Stork?

Two years ago, I held a beautiful bundle of joy in my arms. No, it's the not a third child whom I never speak of (the one who lives under the stairs). Two years ago today, we brought home Meeko. That's actually Emma in the photo, holding him as we drove home. It happened to be Mother's Day and that seemed like a perfectly fitting day to me.

When we brought Meeko home, he was smaller than the phone book.
Meeko was calm and cuddly for about three days, actually it may have been more like three hours, before becoming a highly energetic, rambunctious rascal. I lost some weight in the first few months he was with us and slept more soundly than I had in years. Meeko moved constantly and it almost always involved mischief, so I needed to move as fast as he did. He would nip our ankles as we walked across rooms. Soft-coated Wheaten terriers originated in Ireland where they were used primarily as farm dogs. They would tend sheep. We figured it was his sheep-herding instincts coming to the fore. We couldn't wear anything that dangled (skirts, scarves) or he would try to snatch it. He tried to snack on just about every plant in my back garden. He chewed on the edges of a couple of pieces of furniture and gnawed a hole in the middle of a wall (don't ask me how, I honestly don't know how he did it). We bought the special bitter lotion that is sold to deter dogs from chewing furniture and, wouldn't you know it, he liked the taste of it! He pulled my recipe books off the bottom shelves of the bookcase (we had to fence the bookcase off for a year). He chewed many, many sprinklers of my watering system in the back garden. I really don't have room to fully list all of his shenanigans.

Meeko thinks that the stories of all of his puppy mischief are quite funny.
With a lot of work on our part and a good deal of maturing on his, he has turned into the wonderful dog he is today. He is goofy. He is joyful. He is faithful and affectionate. And he is smart like you wouldn't believe. At the dog training courses we took, I was told to keep my words to him brief. But I can't. I talk to him in words, sentences and paragraphs and he's absorbed a good part of it. The number of words he understands is really quite remarkable. Emma has even taught him a number of commands in ASL (American Sign Language). He still has a few rough edges, but then I guess so do most of us. He has captured even the reluctant hearts in this household and a few more in our neighbourhood as well. I love him deeply.

Speaking of bundles of joy, I could have sworn I saw a stork out the front window this morning. There is a small man-made lake in the park across the street. I am used to seeing a great blue heron there, but this bird was white. Then I realized, there were two of them. I searched online and found out that they are great egrets. Just beautiful. Chloé and I both took photos.

The second one is on the other side of the grasses (a bit to the left). It almost looks like a mirror image.
I hope they visit again. (This photo is by Chloé)

May 8, 2012

An Aussie Feather

My first Australian feather study.  So many beautiful colours in one feather. I'm going to try to walk away from it and leave it loose, without too much detail. Someone might need to tie my hands. :)

May 7, 2012

Across the World

When I began my blog nine months ago, I'm not sure that I knew what to expect. I was in the midst of resuming my painting career and I felt it was a way of making a public commitment to that. I knew I liked to write. I was an English major in university (not a surprise I suppose that I like to write). What I didn't expect was the friends I have made. Lovely friends in all parts of the world.

Last week, I receive some mail. Good mail. Really good mail.

One of my blogging friends sent me a collection of shells, sea glass and feathers from Australia. Thank you, Cindy. I hope you understand the thrill and joy I felt in receiving and opening your beautiful package. Aside from being a blogger, Cindy Lane is a wonderful artist, amazing photographer and an art teacher. She lives in Perth, Australia.

I visited Australia many years ago.  What an absolutely beautiful country.  Sadly, I didn't get to Perth. We did visit Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Cairns and Brisbane though. It was an amazing trip.

When I received my wonderful package from Australia, it felt good in so many ways. It was a beautiful gesture from a blogging friend and fellow artist. It was a collection of gorgeous natural objects from a country I love, not to mention that someone took the time to walk on a beach thinking about me. Pretty special.

This past week, I visited an art supply store--one of my happy places. I bought some new watercolour paper.  I have almost always painted on 140 lb. cold press Arches paper. I have painted occasionally on Arches 300 lb. cold press paper, Saunders 140 lb. cold press and, most recently, on Saint-Armand handmade paper. Having Cindy's beautiful shells as inspiration allowed me to test out some of my new papers. Here are three quick little shell studies (ACEO size) on Arches 300 lb. hot pressed paper, Arches 140 lb. hot pressed paper and BFK Rives 280 gsm paper.

Most every happy story has a tragic underside (English major bias I guess). Well, here is the one that belongs to this one. When I was photographing Cindy's shells for my blog, I was juggling more than one thing.  I had the camera around my neck. I had a blank stretched canvas propped at the side (and steadied with my knee) to reflect the light, as it was a dim day. I was using a tripod that was not quite at the right angle for my photo, so I was tipping it forward. As I was manipulating all of these things, the canvas slipped and fell. Do you ever have something happen in front of you and you feel that it is occurring in slow motion? This was. As it happened, I yelled 'Nooooooooooo' and it just might have been heard in Perth.  When I lifted the fallen canvas, everything was fine except for the two beautiful sea urchins that were smashed into many pieces. I am not a gazelle but I have a pretty good track record for looking after delicate things. These lovely objects had made it across the world intact and within 24 hours I had broken some of them. I cannot tell you how terribly sorry I was. Tears may have been involved.
My sea collection with two pieces from the smashed sea urchins at the top
Thanks again, Cindy, for sending me these gorgeous treasures from the other side of the world. What a beautiful place we live in.



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