The Curious Gardener | book review | Anna Pavord

“The point of gardening is the doing of it, not having got it done. It’s the process that matters, though it is of course directed towards an end result. It’s rare now for people to stay in the same place for generation after generation…In your garden, you can take a stand against the prevailing trashy mood of the time.” (p. 152)

Front cover of the curious gardener book by anna pavord by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Source: Amazon

Anna Pavord’s The Curious Gardener—A Year in the Garden (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010) contains such advice that all gardeners can heed. The book is a collection of articles covering diverse topics like organic farming, some famous and perhaps not so famous gardens, garden pests, and the author’s own battle with cancer. The book is structured, as the title implies, into twelve chapters for the corresponding months of the year. At the beginning of the chapter, there is a beautifully rendered wood engraving by Howard Phipps. There’s  a “tasks for the month” summary of general garden maintenance and specific suggestions for  looking after vegetable and fruit crops at the end of each “month”. (It should be noted that the author is the gardening correspondent for the British Independent and writes for her audience in the relatively balmy climes of England. North American hardiness zones and microclimates will likely adjust her suggestions.)


Fantastic Turks and Caicos flowers and foliage!

It's a long way from Toronto to the Turks and Caicos

Think of warm tropical winds swirling around you...Well, back to reality. We're deeply embedded in winter and although it hasn't been too bad at all in Toronto in terms of bone-numbing cold and monster snow piles, I'm still counting the days until April. There's only so much white and brown I can take in the current landscape!

I think anyone can use some colour right now so fire up that space heater, angle that floor lamp, slather on some sunscreen,  prepare some margaritas and dream a little...

Dwarf Poinciana Caelsalpinia pulcherrima Turks Caicos by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Dwarf Poinciana (Caelsalpinia pulcherrima
Gorgeous red, orange and yellows. 
The stamens remind me of eyelashes!


Evergreen Brick Works

Evergreen Brick Works sign by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog

A resource for organic and ecological gardening in Toronto

The Evergreen Brick works (EBW) is a renovated site formerly known as the Don Valley Brick Works. The old site closed in the 1980s and became neglected and dilapitated.  Now it is  “a vibrant public space featuring a weekly local farmers’ market and retail garden market; a dynamic “living” lab where environmental innovators and companies can share ideas and emergent clean technologies; and a “hands-in-the-dirt”   learning space for youth and adults alike”

Source: EBW pamphlet “Explore.  Discover. Play” 2012


Dem bones....

Are good bones in the garden

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.
Now hear the word of the Lord.

Toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the leg bone
Leg bone connected to the knee bone...
(African-American spiritual)

Winter is somewhat here in Toronto, although the lack of snowfall is disturbing and incongruous. The garden's structure (made up of plants and "hardscape") is upfront and obvious. Any and all design faults and omissions are out in the open. Conversely, thoughtful design is also clearly seen. The lack of garden flesh (foliage and flowers) forces the visitor to see the "bones" of the site: paths, fencing, statues, walls, etc. Things you don't really notice/appreciate in the throes of May blooms or October blazing foliage are, for me, uncomfortably visible.

I really don't mind showing my garden's shortcomings so let's go!

Excuse the mess, looking towards the garage
The paths' material was originally rose-pinkish coloured crushed granite that somewhat matched the cheapie 2' x 2' patio pavers in colour. 2" by 12"s were supposed to contain the gravel and they have over the years. Somehow, that ton of rock vanished and the paths are more muddy than anything else. They are messy to walk on and look lousy.  I've considered laying down interlocking pavers, random flagstone, or stained pressure-treated 2" x 4"s. The garden is composed of predominantly rectangles since it is a narrow and long "L" shaped site.

What would you do with regards to paving?  

Excuse the mess on the left. It's my storage area for the plastic pots and stands for the plants I sell. It's literally "out of sight, out of mind" with this area until spring.

Looking still towards the garage, further back
This path connects the above garage door path (background) to the patio (foreground). It's also muddy and visually unattractive. I'm leaning towards decking with stained cedar 2' x 4"s this spring. My backyard is a narrow "L" so the beds, deck and paths are rectangular to maximize usage. I'm happy with the layout but the materials need to be updated.

The white lattice must go! I repeat, the...
My wife and I were young and naive in the ways of horticulture and garden design when we moved in about 20 years ago. How else can I explain the use of the white lattice? (Maybe Home Depot had a clearance on these things, I forget.) We tried to grow English Ivy (!) up the back wall but a particularly harsh winter killed the vines luckily. The pre-fab white lattice has got to go, although I still like the blue colour as it brightens an area that rarely receives direct sunlight. The raised bed is "boxed" in by PT 6" x 6"s which are still in good shape. Ideally, I'd like to have a dry stacked wall using fieldstone as a facade. One day, one day.....

The main trees are two kousa dogwoods and one large "Ivory Silk" Japanese Tree Lilac while the largest shrubs include arrowwood viburnum, a witchhazel and 3 purple-leaf sandcherry standards recently pruned very hard due to scale infestation. I will add a border of boxwood for more winter interest which two small yews somewhat add to.

Japanese tree lilac Syring reticulata Ivory Silk bark detail by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Detail of Japanese Tree Lilac bark
The Syringa reticulata "Ivory Silk" has exceeded my expectations. It has tripled in height in about 7 years from a modest container-grown specimen. It still maintains a vase-shaped crown but should widen out as the years progress. A common criticism is that this tree is over-used but do we really need more "Crimson King" Norway Maples? It has given me zero maintenance issues and the bark is becoming more attractive every season. 

To the left is a closeup. My tree is much greyer than other JTLs which have more of a dark brown colour. But it flowers faithfully every late May/early June with about a dozen cream clusters of heady/stinky privet-smelling flowers. My wife hates the odour but a chacun son gout! (Sorry, I'm too lazy to figure out the proper letters with French accents on this keyboard but there is one on the first a and last u.)

Upon further reflection, the bones aren't so bad. Some relatively inexpensive tweaking this spring seems to be in order!

By Paul Jung, author of "garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog"
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