Friday, May 30, 2008

By (Sort of) Popular Demand

Well, I've waited by the phone and, so far, no calls from House Beautiful , Better Homes and Gardens or even Style At Home, which is Canadian! So, I guess the only way to show my three or four faithful readers the glories of the Beach House is to drag out the camera, clear away the debris and take my own pictures. A proper "Home Stager" would probably have mopped first but I was too lazy.

I've been a bit preoccupied the last couple of days because we've had a constant string of tourists in and out. I know the place is a highlight of any Fine Homes of the Okanagan Tour, but after several thousand visitors my hospitality is wearing thin.

My visitors are as alike as peas in a pod, about 1/4 of an inch long and not easily dissuaded. They come in the door, form a long line across the floor, go under the table and exit through a window frame. A few stray of them off the path and end up on the counters, which I do not encourage. It may ruin my reputation as a gracious hostess but I have been using the hand vac to suck them up, then I dump them (unharmed but confused) outside. (Maybe the ride in the vacuum is the object of the trip?) I sprinkled borax at their entrance and exit points this morning and they have slowed down to the occasional curious rubber-necker. I hope I am getting somewhere. Vacuuming before morning coffee is not my idea of the way to start the day.

Anyway, here's the tour for those with two legs, starting in the heart of every home, the kitchen. I am greatly enjoying having counter space, a table which we can actually use, a four burner stove, a good-sized fridge and a freezer and two sinks!

Strangely enough there isn't much more storage space in this place as in the Tinpalace. But it's much more accessible. Those who remember the Tinpalace know it had a two foot square pantry with three shelves. What went onto those shelves promptly disappeared into the back, and never saw light of day again. Here the shelves are narrow and you don't lose as much stuff, though I still fish around a bit for items I've misplaced.

Next we step back and take a look toward the kitchen from the living room. You can see the nice little red fireplace, and what wallpaper Salvador hasn't shredded. You also see the rocking chair and a bit of the sofa.

Sal has always loved to be rocked. In Calgary I had a rocker and he'd jump up in my lap, roll over and snuggle in for a good cuddle and a rock. And a nap. Since I didn't have a rocker in the Tinpalace he went a long time without a rocking. He hadn't seemed to remember his old "sooky baby" ways until a few days ago. I was sitting in the rocker when two of his brain cells sparked and he remembered rocking. He jumped up, rolled over and sighed a big sigh. And pestered me endlessly for two days - he wanted to be rocked non-stop.

Next picture catches the corner of the banquette in the dining room LOL, but looks into the right hand corner of the living room, where you see the Chippendale desk which belonged to Tony's Mom. It's at an angle to the wall because the wheel well is in that corner and you can't put something flat against that wall. I like it at an angle anyway. As you can see there are storage cupboards above the sofa and chair. These are very handy. The little doll on the sofa was made by Mandy, and was a gift eight or nine Christmases ago. It has such a beautiful face, it looks much like our lovely d-i-l!

Finally, we end up in the bedroom, where the cover on the bed reminds me of one of my favorite plants, the blue hosta. You can see that we removed the nightstand on that side of the bed and replaced it with a filing cabinet. The small drawer units on top are great for the multitude of small loose objects that seem to collect. Sitting on top are Bimbo, the sock monkey my sister-in-law June made for me when I was five, a cloth doll made by my late friend Judy, and Chinese doll, carrying her baby sister and a little teddy I bought years ago.

So, that's the tour. I am going to quit sitting by the phone waiting for decor magazines to call, and take the cell phone and sit in the garden, waiting for gardening magazines to call.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Realizations and Rhubarb

It was the Victoria Day weekend, the first "long" weekend of summer, or what passes for that season in much of Canada. And, to our delight, our children managed to shake off the shackles of commerce and spend the weekend with us.

The realization part of this post is that it hit me after the kids left that though I love them as much as I did when they were tiny, I have reached the point where I see them as adults who no longer need "mothering". I can enjoy their company without feeling responsible for them. It's a good emotional place to be.

Though we have had a very cool spring, a heat wave moved in just in time for the weekend. We had sunny skies and warm temperatures. Highlights of the weekend were; (in no particular order)

A lengthy late evening talk with Ian, just the two of us, sitting in the garden. A bat noticed the porch light and came by to check for insects. We didn't actually see the bat but we saw its shadow. Ian said there were several gliding around the light poles the previous night. He could hear their squeaking as they echo-located their prey. Not many people can hear the high frequency calls emitted by bats. Ian must have inherited that from me. I can hear very high noises which most people don't notice at all.

A second highlight was a long walk by the lake with Zak. There is a nicely developed path which runs through a range of micro-ecosystems, from sand and sagebrush all the way to marsh and creek. Along the way many of the wild plants were blooming or pushing madly towards bloom. At one time there was a house along this path.

They must have had a lovely garden, for many "domesticated" species have escaped and naturalized into the woods. For example the lilies are coming up in profusion, their robust stalks and folded leaves a faint promise of the glories to come.

The rhubarb is miles ahead of the lilies. There are many huge plants with dozens of smaller volunteers surrounding them. The leaves uncurl from the center with the complexity of waves breaking on shore. Currant bushes and roses have simply run riot. None are blooming yet but the scene will be spectacular when they do.

Wisteria vines wind through the trees, wrapped like shaggy package twine around and around trunks and branches. It's in bloom right now, heavy with purple and white pendants. Wild catnip grows in pungent profusion. I plucked a pocketful of leaves for Salvador. He usually eats a couple of leaves and I dry the rest for later. This time I emptied my pocketful on the floor and he ate every last one! He then staggered to the bed in happy bliss and snored away the rest of the afternoon.

The Mahonia, or Oregon Grape Holly is also in bloom. These are beautiful native plants which make spectacular garden plants, if you can find one in a nursery. Oregon grape is also extremely useful in herbal medicine. It stimulates the flow of bile and is often used to treat jaundice, hepatitis, poor intestinal tone and function, and general gastrointestinal dysfunction. The berberine alkaloid, a constituent of Oregon grape, has been shown to be of benefit for some patients with cirrhosis of the liver.

Oregon grape is also used to treat colds, flu, and numerous infections. In laboratory studies, it has been shown to kill or suppress the growth of some of the nastiest disease-causing microbes: Candida and other fungi, Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, E. coli and numerous others. Berberine inhibits the ability of bacteria to attach to human cells, which helps prevent and treat infections.

The mullein is one of the first plants up. It has pretty furry rosettes of leaves which beg to be touched. Mullein was originally an English garden flower which escaped cultivation in Colonial times and has spread right across the continent. It is another enormously useful plant in the herbalist's arsenal. The leaves, brewed into a tea, are an excellent treatment for asthma or stomach and bowel complaints. If you simmer the flowers gently in olive oil in a double boiler and then strain the oil it is wonderful for treating ear infections. Doctors are now recommending that children's ear infections not be treated with antibiotics, and mullein flower oil is a natural alternative which eases both the pain and clears infection. The flower oil can also be used to treat cold sores and hemorrhoids.

Other native plants which were growing along the path or in the marsh included; tansy, wild carrot, cattail rushes, rabbit brush, Saskatoon bushes, scouring rushes, horsetail grass, false Solomon's seal, lamb's quarters (an excellent green vegetable at this time of the year), yellow salsify, goldenrod, mountain sorrel, rose root, stork's bill and others I can't recall off-hand.

Zak and I made our way slowly down the half mile circuit and back, touching, smelling, examining, and enjoying the plants we saw along the way. We saw Canada Geese, plovers, rusty blackbirds and red-winged blackbirds, barn swallows, and a yellowthroat (I saw it, he didn't). The crowning bird sighting was a trio of American Avocets, birds I'd never seen before, standing at the edge of the water. I had my bird glass with me so we were able to observe them closely. Gorgeous!

I didn't get one-on-one time with Mandy, but we did have a nice visit in the last hours before they left. She's a creative and spirited young woman who is always embroiled in a project.

The only regrets for the weekend are that Tony wasn't feeling very well, and I had a terrific migraine on Saturday. The kids all had things to do but it made me miss a bbq Mandy's grandparents hosted in Penticton. This means I didn't get the chance to visit with Mandy's mom, Carol, who I haven't seen since we left Calgary. :(

I guess there's no perfection in this world, but aside from those disappointments this weekend came close.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Can You Stand It?

More gardening talk? Best run now if you can't. :)

The coleus plants I bought last week have done nothing but sit and pout. I think they may have been frost-nipped in our cold spell and they may never recover. Most disappointing. And I am still pining for that fern, so today I trotted off to the local nursery, called "Windmill Gardens".

My garden has taken a distinct trend. I am very fond of plants with dark foliage, but all purple foliage begins to look a bit funereal, so I fell into a lime green, purple, purple red, and (of course) various shades of green from grey green to blue-green.

I started out by picking up a dozen coleus plants, in various shades of purple, purple red and lime green, sometimes all on one plant. Looks like exploding fireworks! Try this colour combo inside and your neighbours would drop dead when they walked into the room. But outside? It's spectacular!

Then they had the Ipomoea "Blackie" Sweet Potato Vine which has vigorous trailing foliage with dark burgundy–black maple-shaped leaves. The young leaves come in a lime-green colour and mature into a rich, dark purple. I bought three of these to cluster in a triangle around my bear-berry, which is still blooming as vigorously as ever.

Adding to my collection of "Hen and Chicks" I bought a fantastic ruby-red one (!), and two different green types, one furry and greyish, almost like a soft cactus, the other lime coloured, shiny and plump as jellybeans. So I now have a half-dozen different kinds of "Hen and Chicks". Maybe I could call this a small flock? They seem to do well around here in pots, hopefully they will do as well in the ground.

I added clumps of a low and mossy-looking plant called "Creeping Charlie" to the Buddha mound. It's supposed to spread quickly and creates a lovely ground cover on gravelly soil. It naturalizes very readily here and does well without much water, which is an advantage.

Then, at various places, thinking ahead to fall, I planted a half dozen flowering kale, half purple and white, half lime and white. These should flower just as everything else is beginning hibernation.

To round it all off and bring a much needed touch of light and sparkle to a dark colour scheme, I planted a dozen clumps of sweet alyssum in a pink, purple, blue-purple and white "rainbow mix".

I am going to have to quit. I am running out of room. By mid-season there will be hand-to-hand combat in the garden as the different plants duke it out for space. But it will be beautiful, assuming they grow!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Red Letter Learning Day!

When the boys were small I baked most of the bread we ate, but over the years the kneading process has become too much for my wobbly arm muscles. Several of the neighbours at Bel Air had bread machines, and we were often the delighted recipients of a loaf of fresh, hot bread. Oh yum.

We decided a few weeks ago that we should try Tony on a gluten-free diet. Someone in this family has the gene for celiac disease and we believe it to be him. This means he can't eat store bread, and he was really missing his bread. So a couple of weeks ago I broke down and bought a bread machine. I used it a few times, trying to get the hang of it. The first time I didn't have xanthum gum, and essential ingredient of gluten-free bread, so while the bread tasted fine it crumbled at a touch.

This reminds me of a story which happened many years ago... I don't remember why I was baking a big double-layer chocolate cake, but I was. I was also in a hurry so decided I would frost it before it was completely cool. In fact it was still a bit hot to the touch. It looked beautiful, but a few minutes after I finished frosting it Ian called "Mama! Something is wrong with your cake!"

We watched in dismay as it slowly split down the middle. The two halves split into quarters and the quarters shivered themselves into smaller and smaller bits until there was a pile of steaming, sticky crumbs on the plate. Oh well, it was still great with ice cream.

Anyway, back to the bread. Yesterday, having eaten the last slice of the most recent loaf, Tony surprised (astonished) me by saying, "Could I bake bread with the machine?"

Well! Could he? I copied the recipe out and talked him through the process, as he's never baked anything before. Here you see him as he measured and mixed and stirred and got rice flour all over the kitchen.

He spooned the ingredients into the bread machine and turned out an excellent loaf of bread he has been enjoying very much. He now says he wants to bake his own bread. I think he likes playing with the bread machine! But I'm not arguing. I love it when he learns something new.

I'll get some regular flour and let him bake me some bread too. :))

Here he is with his loaf, after we'd eaten a slice each just to make sure it was edible. He was so proud. And I'm so proud of him. How many men bake their first loaf of bread at the age of 67?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Siren Call

I had to run a spate of errands Monday, and everywhere I went seemed to have plants for sale. Plants call to me just like the sirens called Odysseus, but no one has yet tied me to the mast to keep me from buying just one, or a dozen, more.

At the hardware store I bought half a dozen lemon thyme plants, some tri-colour sage (red stems, green and white pebbly-textured leaves), several summer squashes and four tomato plants.

A little bit later I found myself at the grocer's (well, I hadn't lost myself but you know what I mean), where they had a rack of - plants! Most were of no interest, but I did buy a half dozen "rainbow" coleus. Four are bright red and orange, two are green and yellow.

Tuesday we had to go to Penticton. I wanted to buy a storage cabinet at Canadian Tire, and noticed they had a large greenhouse and plant set up in the parking lot. My pocketbook and I were goners. Under the heading of, "I've always wanted to grow those" were heathers, purple Heuchera (coral bells), and best of all, hellebores. I bought several heathers, some burgundy mums, a large Heuchera, and a large Helleborus orientalis called "Pink Lenten Rose". It's in bloom now, with half a dozen green and pink bowl-shaped pink-edged flowers. The long-lasting flowers start off entirely green and gradually turn white with pink edges and pink-veined petals.

Other finds were a couple of fantastic "Dead Nettles" which have yellow-lime leaves, and look as if they are sunshine, even in shade. I planted the Heuchera toward the back, on the "Buddha Mound", with a dead nettle beside it. The contrast in colour, leaf shape and texture is gorgeous, though the contrast between the Heuchera and dead nettle confuses my poor digital camera.

I also got ivy geraniums, lots of pansies, mums and "sapphire" trailing lobelia. My hanging baskets should look wonderful in a few weeks! I still haven't found a single fern.

I put the squash and tomato plants into some large pots at the back, but the thyme, sage and coleus plants went into the bed to fill in some empty spots. I put the hellebore near the door (so much for avoiding flowering plants in the long bed). The heathers and mums went up at the front of the trailer in a bed and I planted some seeds for green leafy things - mesclun mix, rainbow chard and red and green lettuces in between and around the heathers and mums.

A little bamboo fence sets off the front edge of the garden bed and discourages foot traffic. I set a section of the same small fence at the back end of the bed, where it acts as a visual link between front and back. I leaned my plaque which says "Welcome" in Chinese against the fence at the front. I have a few more things to plant, but not many, unless I find some of those coveted ferns. I also have edging to place along the garden bed, again to discourage the feet which keep treading on my thyme seeds.

Tomorrow I will go into Summerland to pick up the round stepping stones I ordered earlier, and Linda ( One of the park managers) says they have brought in a load of gravel, and will bring some to cover the stretch of sand which now serves as the footpath.

Now it had all better grow. :))

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Mud - A Beauty Pack For the Soul

I needed a chance to get in the dirt and work on my soul, so it was fortuitous that yesterday was sunny and warm. It also was the day that the Summerland Ornamental Gardens had their annual spring plant sale.

After walking the cat and feeding Tony breakfast I shot out the door as if my tail was on fire. Half way down the street my neighbour Del was working in her garden. I stopped, told her where I was going and invited her along. She dropped her spade, took off her gloves and ran for her purse, saying, "I don't have room for a single more plant, but I'll come along, just to look. And I'll bring my purse, in case something calls my name."

Something called her name, actually more than one something called her name.

As for me, I bought as much as I could carry. I've always wanted to grow lavender and rosemary, so bought some of each, and some lovely succulents. We always have called these "Hen and Chicks" because the little ones grow off the side of the larger ones. I got two varieties of those. Some "Elijah Blue" grass, which grows in clumps and is gorgeous.

I also got the last plant they had of wooly thyme, and I got a magnificent Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, 'Kinnikinnick' or 'Bear-berry'. It is covered with beautiful tiny pink balloon-shaped flowers. It should spread far and wide, as it is a magnificent ground cover for shady spots.

I also bought a toad lily, which is a little sad-looking after being frost-nipped a few nights ago at the greenhouse, but it should recover rapidly and grow about three feet high. These bloom in the fall and have spiky, delicate, orchid-like blossoms.

The site is not entirely flat. It lifts slightly as you go front to back, and the left hand side is slightly higher than the right. There are two large trees, one at the front and one about 4/5ths of the way toward the back. Both are to the left hand side. A few days ago I raked a lot of the gravel from the lower part of the site into a flat-topped mound surrounding the Buddha, under the tree to the back of the site.

This created a perfect profile for what I wanted to do. I planted the plants in a meandering bed almost up the middle of the site, beginning by planting the wooly thyme between the astilbes I planted almost a month ago. After I had the plants in I sowed perennial thyme over the entire area, to serve as ground cover under the taller plants. And behind the thyme some "bunny-tail" grass, which has a little puff of white at the top of each flowering stalk. I will put edging of some kind along the meandering line of the bed, to give it a finished look. I saw one which appears to be small stones. I think that would work perfectly, as long as it is flexible enough to bend to the curves.

An 18" square of moss got divided up into small strips and punched into the mounded gravel platform where our Buddha sits admiring the blue Hosta growing there. I'm hoping it takes off and spreads. It's a very shady spot, very well-drained (gravel) but moss only uses the soil beneath it as an anchor, as it draws its nutrients and moisture from the air. I would dearly love a carpet of moss on that mound.

To the left of the bed is hard-packed gravel. The neighbour needs access to the back of his trailer, so no point in planting things where they will be stomped into the ground, but surprisingly, the gravel ended up being a strong and very interesting part of the design. Its colour and texture ties the entire design together, giving almost a tiered effect.

I will buy some ferns, assuming I can find some, to plant along the boundary between planting bed and gravel and serve as a backdrop to the other plants. Except for the two astilbe plants at the beginning of the long row, this is predominantly a foliage garden, meant to showcase the forms, colours, fragrances and textures of leaves. Any blossoms are small and not the predominant feature.

To the right of the bed is the path we take to the back end of the trailer, where there is strong sun for six or eight hours a day. So at the back I will plant a tomato or two, and some squash plants. Also some kind of climbing something on a lattice, to hide the mess to the back. I'll put the containers and baskets of annual flowers in front, and we will be surrounded by a veritable Eden.

It's wonderful having a place to garden again. Pots are fine, if you don't have a "dirt" spot, but there's nothing to me like real honest-to-goodness digging in the mud.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

End of Kayla's Journey

Kayla Marie St.Cyr

August 7, 1990 - May 2, 2008

We have lived not in proportion to the number of years that we have spent on the earth, but in proportion as we have enjoyed.
~ Henry David Thoreau