OMG, is it May yet?

My Toronto garden last May

It's late January and I'm going a little stir crazy with the snow, windchill, freeze, thaw games that's going on weather-wise in our neck of the woods. I dug through the photo archives from last May and want to present some much needed colour to get me and you through these next dreary months. These were all taken  in my backyard garden when flowers and foliage were exploding. 

We all have those moments when we're in the garden and think "damn, it's nice here!" There were many on that May day.

Rolly's Favorite Silene Campion bloom detail by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
"Rolly's Favorite" Silene/Campion/Catchfly


"Arnold Promise" witch hazel blooms

A January flowering shrub this Toronto gardener can depend on

Hamamelis x intermedia "Arnold Promise" witch hazel flowers unfurling by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
The underside of the petals have a beautiful tinge to them

I had a very small window of opportunity last Saturday when temperatures were about 5 degrees C. (40 F) and the "Arnold Promise" witch hazel in my backyard were open. I quickly took these shots of one of my favourite shrubs which provides as close to four seasons' worth of interest as any plant can. When the deep freeze arrived today, the blooms predictably shrivelled up to protect themselves. 

Aren't plants interesting?


The Summer Palace gardens in China

Tranquility at the Summer Palace

We will be getting some very low temperatures soon (windchills of minus 15 degrees Celsius or about 5 F) but what do you expect being firmly entrenched in winter in Toronto? Not much gardening to do (I'm not into houseplants) but to read, do some business planning for spring and moan about how cold and dreary it is. (Funny how I always complain how hot and muggy it is in July and August!) If you're reading this from chilly climes in the northern hemisphere and want to get warm vicariously, pretend you're being blasted with upper 30 degree Celsius (90 degree F) and about 100% humidity and read along.

Such beautiful water lily (lotus?) blooms coming from an incredibly dirty pond 

My immediate and extended family went to China and Hong Kong last July (!) on a whirlwind visit. (I blogged about our visit to the Ming Tombs area previously in a post called "The Sacred Way at the Ming Tombs" ) I use the exclamation point because anyone who lives and travels in this part of Asia knows damn well how incredibly hot and sticky one gets from merely standing still in one spot.

We spent a lovely, leisurely stroll all by ourselves one afternoon at the Summer Palace located outside of Beijing. 


Anyone who's been on a tour knows the game: follow that flag that's hoisted by our guide. Problem is that said flag/rag looks after a while like the other dozen flags hoisted by the other dozen guides shrieking in their mega-phones. Add the "balmy" weather conditions, several thousand tourists and locals and our lovely guide who is very keen on getting us to the next jade/tea/silk factory and one can imagine what a forced march feels like.

At the very real risk of being left behind, I said to myself "#@$% this! I'm going spend some time taking pictures of "gardeny" things."

I wish I could get closer but dared not fall in as the water was quite dirty 

Green on green on green. Love the willows in the back. 

Weeping Scholar (syn. Japanese Pagoda) tree

Sophora japonica leaves and flowers

I noticed this tree named the Chinese Scholar tree or Japanese Pagoda tree mainly because of the flowers which reminded me of those on a Japanese Tree lilac. The latin name is Sophora or Styphnolobium japonica (um). Apparently it's hardy to zone 4 or 5. Anyone seen it in Toronto? In your location?

You can make out a face if you stare long enough

What do you see?

The Chinese love rocks in their gardens and the more "holey", deformed and grotesque-looking they are, the better! The type of rockery used in the Japanese garden style is different. I don't normally see such rough and hollowed-out examples in the Japanese style. Maybe limestone or other sedimentary rocks are not native to Japan's geography?

I think I'm actually panting!

My wife took this shot of me in a very common and natural pose throughout our trip: me being dazed, overheated, dehydrated and screaming inside "get me back on that freaking air-conditioned bus!"

More warm thoughts and pictures of our China vacation will follow to get us through a Toronto winter....


I love yew, yew, and yew

Now, darling, that's a hedge!

The churchyard at Painswick, with monolithic blocks of yew.
The churchyard at Painswick, with monolithic blocks of yew

For those fortunate 1%ers who have a few acres of frontage to work with,  consider this bad boy of a hedge above showcased recently in a blog I follow called Gardenista. (The post is titled "Renew with Yew: The Easiest and (Hardiest) Hedge for Your Garden")

I find yews overused but for good reason. They can really take hard pruning and/or regular clipping but are so slow growing. Cultivars of Taxus x media like "Densiformis", "Wardii", "Hicksii"  and "Hillii" are commonly found in our garden centres, nurseries and, therefore, local gardens. Inevitably, they are shaped into variations of meatballs growing 2 feet away from the front of the house. All this in the name of "foundation planting"! 

A random collection or a formal avenue of yews is a common sight in rural churchyards. In Painswick, Gloucestershire
A random collection or a formal avenue of yews is a common sight in rural churchyards. In Painswick, Gloucestershire.

If shrub lollipops, popsicles and gigantic potatoids interest you, here's inspiration! I admit this would look fabulous right now with the snow we're having in Toronto. Your labour costs would likely go through the roof but so would the "wow" factor for an appreciative audience of this sort of look.

Irish yews at Sissinghurst
Irish yews at Sissinghurst

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