Foundations of this place

The property has become a welcome green hug in this time of pandemic and may just be the best distraction there is.

It’s raining today, yay!  I’m at the computer, staring out the window, when I’m pulled into memory of this place – and it’s green.

Green, in my mind, is about nature and gardening – cultivating land, community and story. Going into the green means developing an interesting relationship with something bigger than ourselves and engaging with a community way wider than our own reach.  It involves not just the big picture but the small, the pleasure of slowing down to meet the timetables of seasons, to pause and see.  It means constantly learning and being open to the experiences of plants and the people who tend them. 

It’s been 21 years since we moved here and I value the moments I can just breathe, focus on a season, a plant, a bird, or animal.  The property has become a welcome green hug in this time of pandemic and may just be the best distraction there is.  21 years ago we kept a wary eye on YK2, this year – well – we’re still waiting to see how the impact of COVID-19 will all work out.

2.06 acres on a corner lot and all with fine, green bones. After World War II, the original owners had purchased a larger lot of land – three sections in all – and over the course of a lifetime, raising children and working, they had planted.  There had been a calculating, creative gaze cast over the planting of this former farm field at some point and the map of trees, windbreaks, planting beds and garden structures were evidence of it.  Our land – or the land that we now inhabit – was the second home to this hybrid couple of Canada and England.  It was all quite amazing that it then passed into the hands of an urban couple who, at best, had grown four, maybe five, hostas in the suburbs. 

A large portion of the perimeter is a vast cedar hedge and provides privacy.  Maples – silver, sugar, and Manitoba – are also scattered over the land joined by balsam, spruce, and pine.  We were so lucky in those first years to find a young fellow in town who mapped out and identified all the trees for us, so we knew what we had committed to. Elm are slowly losing their foothold as the rot has set in. One tree lost to time, now stands, blackened, and twisted against the sky, as a macabre reminder that much can change. It will come down in its own time but not until generations of Flickers, squirrels – grey, black, and red, Pileated Woodpeckers and untold others have fashioned homes in the crags of this old snag.  Histories are so much better with feather and fur involved after all.

Lilac planted for a friend now gone – but still here.

Lilacs, white and shades of lavender, tell a tale of our time here and fragrance the air with stories to be told. Lilacs are my partner’s favourite flower and that very first spring, in the middle of a lawn, I planted a deep purple promise whose heavy blossoms now greet us every year. Others were added over the years. This summer we propagated from some of the parent trees to ensure their company remains with us well into time – oh, and of course to shape more gardens.   

Willows loom and shift with the breeze – they remind us of times when we were children and would run through streets with long, flowing wands of green. With the drying that will accompany climate change now and into the future, we know we may lose some of these trees over time and are beginning to succession plant saplings. There was worry when the extended drought and heat caused the silver maples to drop leaves and the trees overall put out so much seed that we found ourselves sweeping off the deck and surrounds in July. These trees are friends of ours – we hurt when they hurt and feel joy when the leaves burst through.  When our friends lost their leaves, we felt it in other ways too – the canopy cools the house but when depleted, the temperature rises for those below. This season though, August rains helped pull them and us through.

Add to this growing palette a house, a barn-shaped workshop, and a teetering glass potting shed, and you have a good idea of what we moved to.  The potting shed would be taken down in time before it sagged into memory and a pergola was put in place, the workshop was painted fire-engine red and festooned with a painted quilt block, and the house remains to anchor it all.  

Finding a green place is to begin an adventure and today a means to survive the long months of pandemic isolation.  Into the green we went, happy, expectant, and wary at the same time. 

Sunflowering

To garden can mean to learn, to cultivate, to share and to wonder, or is that wander?  Today I’m going with wander, a visit elsewhere and a chance to learn from the vision of others – this can be a lifetime of inquiry.

Today we sought out the sheer joy of Helianthus annuus, the common sunflower, whose eternal optimism has blooms turning to face the sun and then following it all the way to nightfall.  Might be a lesson here.

You just don’t walk up to a sunflower, you lean into the field with a smile to match its bold declaration of summer. Set against a blue and cloudy sky, well, perfection! 

A great source of oil and seed for hungry birds and furred varmints, we’re enjoying seeing more of the plant in this area near Ottawa. In this case, an invite to walk through acres of nodding blooms while considering a donation to a farm that harbours animals in need of a home, was an invitation to bliss. Blue skies, acres and acres of yellow, and help for other creatures on the planet – it was perfect.

Although a week day, it was high vacation time and the distraction needs of the pandemic resulted in the parking lot being full but the expansiveness of the land gave us more than enough room to roam safely. What fun to know we could be together, apart, and enjoy a day puncuated by the giggles and laughter of children.

How will this botanic moment mark those that walked this trail and got up close with such beauty? Will yellow become a favourite colour, a seed be planted? We know the rich history of being influenced by the nature around us. Through time, artists have drawn on this botanical beauty and been inspired to inspire us! Think of Vincent Van Gogh’s sunflowers which have brought me to tears in the middle of a museum in Amsterdam, or pause to ponder “Ah! Sunflower” by William Blake connecting life’s journey and aspiration.

Ah, Sunflower, weary of time,

Who countest the steps of the sun;

Seeking after that sweet golden clime,

Where the traveller’s journal done;

Where the youth pined away with desire,

And the pale virgin shrouded in snow,

Arise from their graves, and aspire

Where my Sunflower wishes to go!

William Blake

In this dark year with the shoulder-bending burden of pandemic concerns and hope for a return to normalcy, however defined, taking a few moments to just be is a necessity. A plant that bends to face the light – the wonder of positive phototropism – is primal behaviour to learn from and to shake a skewed perspective to rights. For now.