December 29, 2013

A Visit to Flower Harbor Park, West Lake, Hangzhou

A school of carp and a lonely peacock...

Hmmm, gardening in Toronto as 2013 ends? Not a pretty picture with many trees severely damaged due to the recent ice storm. (An estimated 20% of Toronto's tree canopy was destroyed.) Temperatures are also expected to plummet this week to lows of minus 15-20 degrees Celsius. 

And it's only the beginning of January!

I retrieved some pictures from a warmer time in July 2012 for you from our family's trip to China. This post covers part of a day visiting the Flower Harbor Park, a scenic attraction near the southwest part of West Lake (Xi Hu) area near Hangzhou, China.

Flower Harbor Park West Lake Hangzhou lotus bud by garden muses-a Toronto gardening blog
Flower Harbor Park, West Lake, Hangzhou lotus bud 

December 22, 2013

Reflections on 2013

Some muses from the past 12 months (notes to myself, in no particular order):

  • don't bother growing cannas with the intention of overwintering them. Yes, you did cut the stalks off but were too busy lazy to dry the tubers, break open the bag of perlite and store them in the basement. Accept them as annuals.

  • 2014 could be year to shovel prune the three purple leaf sandcherry (Prunus x cistena) standards in the backyard that are afflicted with scale, rust, sawflies, etc. and bloom for a week. Discuss with your beloved.

  • don't accept business (a new client) referred to you by said potential client's ("PC") previous gardener ("PG"). It's very likely that PC hasn't let go of PG, emotionally, and will never really accept you. This makes for a doomed relationship. Sometimes, your best customer works for your competitor.

  • always carry anti-histamines with you as the severity of an allergic reaction from a yellow jacket sting is exponentially related to the distance of the nearest pharmacy.

  • you're still a "U-OH"! (an unrepentant ornamental horticulturist). You prefer big blowsy blooms, bold in-your-face foliage and deeply furrowed bark over a row of vegetables. Square foot gardening doesn't get the blood pumping for you.

  • the viburnum leaf beetle is here to stay in and around Toronto; therefore, the arrowwood viburnums (V. dentatum) in your backyard are losing their appeal, real fast.

  • Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra cultivars) should be in every garden. It's just a  matter of time.

  • you realize, once again, that you can't work in an office again full-time and that your c.v. is increasingly, if not already, useless. As an entrepreneur, you feel that this is perfectly normal and expected.

  • The overuse of Emerald cedars (Thuja occidentalis "Smaragd"), "Emerald Gaiety" euonymus and Hicks yews (Taxus x media "Hicksii") around Toronto is alarming. Several yards of retina-burning red dyed mulch added by landscape "professionals" complete the transformation.

  • Logically, plants are just plants. They're often bought and planted and, for many unexplained reasons, they also die. This is the rational view but gardeners are humans, ruled by emotion. Gardens are extremely emotion-laden places. Something to think about before making a comment about a client's ancient forsythia or bridal wreath spireaea that hasn't been pruned since, perhaps, the 1980s.

  • you've met some of the most incredibly nice, thoughtful and wise people in the world: my clients.

Well, that's all I can think of at the moment as I peer out of my living room, marvelling the front yard's silver maple currently ice laden due to the freezing rain wreaking havoc to southern Ontario.

I wish you a Merry Christmas, if you celebrate, and a Happy New Year to everyone.

May your gardens and other gardeners continue to inspire you next year.

By Paul Jung, author of "garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog" Google Google Find us on Google+

December 14, 2013

The Lingering Garden in Suzhou, China

Classical Chinese garden design at Liu Yuan

The funny thing with the frigid windchill and impending snow storm is that I'm out of "garden mode."  I'll have to stretch my definition of  "gardening"  for readers over the next 5 (!) months until spring, mercifully, returns to us in Toronto. Which could occur in April 2014, maybe. 


It's good to keep the cold weather in perspective because, if we're completely honest, we tend to moan and gripe about the humidity, heat and bugs assaulting Toronto gardeners in July and August. As a mental exercise, then, see if you can warm up a little by reading this post.

My family visited parts of China in July 2012, eventually ending up in my wife's ancestral village. I posted about our visits to the Summer Palace and Ming Tombs near Beijing  previously under these posts:  "Toronto gardeners need some warmth!" and "Garden muses visits Beijing in July". Now if you ever visited China in July, you darn know well it's hot and humid. No different when we visited Suzhou on the same trip.

Suzhou (pronounced "Sue-Joe") is about 100 km from Shanghai (see this map) and is a major commercial city of about 6 million, give or take a million, in China's Jiangsu province. It's famous for its canals and gardens, or so our tour guide advised us; therefore, off we went to visit the Lingering Garden or Liu Yuan. Although the heat was stifling (around 40 Celsius or upper 90s Fahrenheit humidex), it was an extraordinary experience to see classical Chinese garden design first hand.

Hao Pu Pavilion Lingering Garden Suzhou by garden muses-Toronto gardening blog
Hao Pu Pavilion in the Lingering Garden, Suzhou 

December 09, 2013

Saying goodbye to a Toronto garden

(An open letter to two former gardening clients)

Dear Sue and Doug:

As 2013 draws to a close, I'm reflecting on the "highs and lows" gardening-wise over the year. I wasn't surprised to hear that you decided to move, downsize and spend more time travelling. Still, I'll miss spending time in your garden.

I think we first met about 8 years ago when I was gardening at the church (Islington United Church) and you must have got my number from Rosemary. You'd asked me to, first, put down a short fieldstone path around some perennial beds and towards the back pergola. Then, over time, the garden enchanted me.

Of course, over the years, we:

  • fretted over the possibility/likelihood of the oakleaf hydrangeas blooming on old or new wood (still a mystery to me, they do what they want to do)
"Sum and Substance" hosta and oakleaf hydrangeas by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
"Sum and Substance" hosta and oakleaf hydrangeas

  • resigned to seeing the slug and snails wreaking havoc with the hostas
  • tried to tame to wild and woolly trumpet vine
  • complained about the condition of the front lawn
  • marvelled at the Paper Birch's beauty
  • laughed at how the Pagoda dogwood grew from a sapling near the compost bin, likely introduced through a bird dropping!

After my last visit before your move, I realized that I would miss the garden more than I thought.

I think a garden gives back to the gardener in many ways, dividends that enrich the soul and psyche (to mix metaphors.) I always found your garden to be restful and even idyllic with the pond gurgling away. Yes, it was visually nice to look at, with the iris and peonies blooming in the spring and later with the monkshood and bugbane tying up the year. And, although I'll miss the weeding and fussing about the garden, deadheading here and there, I'll really miss my experiences with you both: sharing time over coffee, talking about the kids and grandkids, and even commiserating about aches and pains due to aging!

Thank you for providing a space for me to develop and implement my creative thoughts about garden design and, much more importantly, showing me how to be a better person, with your kindness and generosity, in and outside the garden.

By Paul Jung, author of "garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog" Google Google Find us on Google+ Find us on Google+

December 02, 2013

Allan Gardens Conservatory Christmas Flower Show 2013

Get your poinsettia fix in downtown Toronto

Poinsettias seem to me the ultimate decoration plant: you buy one or several for a month or so and then chuck them out soon after December 25. I suppose one could nurse them along the rest of the year (I've seen a few very forlorn-looking examples occasionally behind the windows of barber shops, convenience stores, etc.) but the logic escapes me.

Better to enjoy them, en masse, within the cozy confines of the Allan Gardens Conservatory during its seasonal Christmas Flower Show.

I made a visit just after the place opened at 10 this morning. Nice and quiet, as usual.

Here are some highlights if you can't make the trek downtown to Jarvis and Carlton (poor excuse if you live in Toronto!)

Allan Gardens Conservatory Christmas Flower Show 2013 piano by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory Christmas Flower Show 2013 piano