Floppy hydrangeas make great impromptu gifts

All of the many varieties of hydrangeas sport beautiful flowers. The worst feature of the white “snowball” type however, is that they are easily damaged in a heavy rainfall, creating a mess of floppy hydrangeas.

The large balls of flowers soak up the rain water causing the stems to bend and eventually snap from the excess weight. This happens more often if the shrub is cut back each spring as the stems never get a chance to get thicker and stronger.

However, when your hydrangeas flop in the rain, cut the stems near the spot they bent/snapped, turning the floppy mess into a beautiful bouquet. Do this as soon as possible after the offending downpour, remove all but the top set of leaves and immerse the cuttings into water immediately.

I encountered such a display of floppy hydrangeas recently in a client’s garden and rescued them to do just that. I used my smoothie cup for a makeshift vase, and voila, a gorgeous and fresh bouquet, ready for gifting…

I have done this before, with peonies too as they suffer the same fate during a heavy rain. If the client whose garden I am tending is home, I give the cuttings to them to beautify their own home. This client happened to be away enjoying the summer weather at her cottage though, so these floppy hydrangeas were destined to go elsewhere.

On the way home I dropped the bouquet off at a local nursing home. As it turned out, my timing was perfect. As I walked in with them, staff was organizing a get together for the residents. My offering was gladly accepted and my gift turned into a beautiful centerpiece for the occasion! In a new vase of course.

floppy hydrangeas
Garden Terrace, Kanata
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Losing your mother changes your life

Losing your mother changes your life in many ways. I lost my own mother twenty-five years ago today, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of her, wishing she was still here. She barely got to know two of my sons and never did meet the third. With my sons all grown up and four sweet grandchildren of my own now I wish she could share the joy they all bring to our lives.

My mom died just after reaching her 65th birthday; I was 34. She was diagnosed with lung cancer and dead within 3 months, so we had very little time to get used to the idea of life without her before she was gone. She didn’t even have enough time to rally from the shock of the diagnosis to begin to fight for her life. Losing your mother leaves you shell shocked for a long time afterward.

My father had just retired and she planned to do the same. It would have been well deserved after working from the tender age of fourteen with only a brief hiatus to bear six children in eight years. Years of work and raising children were finally in the rear view mirror as she looked forward to a more carefree life.

With six children and 13 grandchildren (at the time) spread out over Canada and USA, my mother looked forward to visiting with them all often. She was the travel planner and organizer, my dad was more of the stay at home type. In fact, after her death my father rarely travelled more than a few kilometers from his home. He was heartbroken, literally.

My mother’s untimely death changed my life in many ways. Concerned that my own life expectancy may only be 65, I reduced my work hours and the accompanying stress level by changing departments. The goal was to concentrate on the important things like spending more quality time with my three young sons (I had a third not long after she died) and my husband. Volunteering at the boys’ schools, on field trips and for their sports teams became my focus. I do not want to feel that I should have spent more time with them when I am older.

When my boys were grown up and independent twelve years later, I once again began searching for more out of life. I made another drastic change and retired (very early) completely from hospital work to start my own gardening business.

Losing your mother makes you introspective, comparing your mothering style to hers. Not just your mothering style really, but all your mistakes and regrets, as well as the hopes, dreams and triumphs too. It’s like a wake up call to improve the quality of your own life. During her last three months, my mother and I spent many hours discussing such things.

As my grandchildren grow up, I try to spend as much time with them as I can as well. I hope to be around to witness their milestones, something my mom missed out on.

losing your mother
my favourite picture of my mom

Rabbit ears, why are they so long?

Why are rabbit ears so long? If you asked my granddaughter, she would tell you that long rabbit ears make good handles. At least the ones on the (resin) rabbit in my back garden do. Don’t worry, no rabbits were injured in this story.

I had positioned this rabbit in my garden in mid-May so it appeared he was peeking out from his hiding spot amongst the hosta leaves…

peek-a-boo rabbit

My granddaughter loves to check out my gardens, stopping to admire the flowers…

She also loves critters of any kind, except for dogs. For some reason she is afraid of dogs. Birds, bugs, and other (small) animals are like magnets though, so when she spotted the rabbit in my back yard, she made a bee-line for it..

Her memory is very good. The next time she was over she headed straight to the back yard to rescue her new buddy again. The hostas had grown considerably, so the rabbit was trickier to find, but she grabbed him by the ears, and took him for a stroller ride…

rabbit ears
taking bunny for a ride

Another favourite critter at Grandma’s is the pink pig watering can her cousin Carter loves to take on his adventures…

Wedding Flowers on a Budget

How do you find wedding flowers on a budget? Easy! Visit friends’ gardens looking for the color you want the day (mid morning is best) before the event, put the cut stems in cold water immediately and store them in a cool place until you are ready to arrange them.

A friend’s son got married this week, and I guaranteed I could provide the wedding flowers on a budget. The bride and groom did not want bouquets, just flowers for a few vases on the tables. That made it simple for me. The biggest problem I encountered was that the colour theme was blue and silver. Any garden or flower lover will know that blue flowers are rare, and silver non existent. Lucky for me I had blue delphiniums blooming in my own garden this week and a few Gardens4u clients that also had blue blooms to share.

Silver was a whole other problem; thank heavens for spray paint! To add silver accents, I painted ferns and babys breath for the vases, and dusty miller and an ornamental grass for the large arrangement at the front door. If you decide to try this trick, be sure to use lots of newspapers or other material to cover everything in the vicinity of the painting process. Spray paint gets everywhere!

The vases for the guest tables were tiny, silver and small-mouthed, so I used appropriately scaled down sprigs of flowers…

wedding flowers on a budget
blue and silver theme

with larger blooms reserved for regular sized vases on the head table and the gift table…

Weeks ago I planted blue lobelia and white dusty miller in an insert that fits into a plant holder to act as a “welcome sign.” Last evening I spray painted the dusty miller as well as a chunk of ornamental grass I chose for some height…

floral welcome sign

Voila, wedding flowers on a budget. The total cost was a measly $62. Some may say I have a green thumb, but today I am sporting a silver one!

silver thumb!

Limbing Up, aka removing lower branches

Recently I took on the project of limbing up several evergreen trees on a client’s front lawn. One of my favourite gardens is part of this gorgeous property. Although I cannot take credit for designing or planting the gardens, I have had the honour of maintaining them for the past several years. The gardens are surrounded by a stone retaining wall with a verdant backdrop of mature evergreens, oak and maple trees.

The evergreens featured as the backdrop for these gardens are massive (the reach of their branches are at least 30 feet each) with their lower branches sweeping the ground, crowding each other and choking out everything, including the lawn. Many branches of these trees were dead or dying . Cutting the grass and raking leaves was awkward and frustrating. Annoying and increasingly dangerous mosquitos and ticks are abundant in these conditions.

I had suggested this limbing up process a while ago, but the homeowners were hesitant as they like the privacy of their lot. That is until they were the victims of a break in recently. Burglars drove into their driveway, broke down a door, gaining access to their home in broad daylight. Fortunately, their security system alerted the police so not much was stolen.

That home invasion was enough to motivate these homeowners into letting me start the limbing up process. I removed the branches from the first tree, then checked with them to make sure they wanted me to continue. With the go ahead, I continued with twelve more trees. Removed branches were cut into four foot lengths and left at the curb for pickup by the local garbage crew.

When limbing up, be sure to cut off the branches as close to the main trunk as possible, without leaving an unsightly and unhealthy stub…

As I was working, a few neighbours stopped by to say how wonderful the yard looked with these branches removed. I agree; the trees look much healthier and the yard still has that woodland setting I would never want to alter. When the lawn recovers, the property will be even more spectacular!

Garden Makeover in the Rain

Rainy days are good for a garden makeover, except for the mess that is inevitable. Today was such a day. Gardens4u got this project going early this morning before the rain started, but a drizzle started a few hours in, followed by a torrential downpour. Downpours to me mean lunch time, sitting in my van. Luckily, the rain subsided enough for me to continue until the job was complete. Well, except for the cleanup. Trying to sweep up my mess on the wet stone was not very effective. Nothing a hose down won’t fix though, a job I left for the homeowner when the rain stopped, long after I left.

These are the “before” pictures. The tree is a dead maple that was removed with the stump ground down before I started the makeover.

The burning bush (far right in third pic), lilac (center in center pic) and hydrangea (right corner in center pic) were salvaged, with the lilac getting a good pruning to whip it into shape. Everything else was removed. New shrubs and perennials were strategically planted and composted manure, my new favourite soil amendment, was added.

Here are the “after” pictures…

New plantings in this garden makeover include a pink magnolia (center of bed), a “Wine & Roses” weigela, several ornamental grasses, coneflowers, pink and purple sages and lavender, as well as several varieties of sedum and stonecrop to spill over the edges of this sunny garden. Once the new plants are established and well watered, I will add mulch to complete the job.

A second bed, between the sidewalk and the garage, is next up on my garden makeover list. Stay tuned for more before and after pictures.

Chewed bark on shrubs and trees spells trouble

Have you noticed chewed bark on the branches of your shrubs and trees this spring? That’s not good and signifies that they are in trouble. Those adorable rabbits, majestic deer and their furry friends can cause lots of damage to your garden plantings. Even death.

If the tree or shrub has the bark chewed all the way around the branches or trunk, the plant will most likely not survive. However, if only a portion of the trunk or branch circumference reveals chewed bark, you may be able to salvage the plant. Cut the plant back severely, almost to ground level and wait.

For example, this shrub rose had lots of bark missing from its lower branches, but there were patches of healthy bark still intact…

chewed bark
shrub rose with some chewed and some intact branches

To rectify the damage, I cut all branches back to 8 inches from the ground. Three weeks later, this is the result. Isn’t nature amazing?

chewed bark
rejuvenated shrub rose

Other similarly damaged shrubs I encountered in this same client’s garden were this weigela and ninebark. The stems of the weigela were almost totally stripped of their bark, you can see how white the stubs are. I am pleasantly surprised to see they are both showing signs of recovery:

chewed bark
weigela recovering from chewed bark
chewed bark
recovering ninebark

If you live in a rural area where furry critters visit your garden searching for food in the winter, consider wrapping the tasty trunks and stems of your plants next fall, before the snow falls. There are many products available for this purpose.

You don’t have much to lose if your shrubs or trees have suffered a similar fate this past winter. Cut them back and cross your fingers!

Buzzer beaters create Raptors’ bandwagon

I realize buzzer beaters are a common occurrence in basketball, but boy, do they ever cause a rise in my blood pressure when the outcome of the game rides on one.

The buzzer beater that Kawhi Leonard bounced (four times) off the rim and in, as all of Canada held their breath, sending the Toronto Raptors to the NBA finals, was mesmerizing. I’m sure it has been watched around the world by seasoned basketball lovers as well as those new to the sport, now perched on the Raptors’ bandwagon.

The strategy of waiting until the buzzer is about to sound before shooting for the winning basket is nerve wracking to say the least. As long as the ball is released before the buzzer sounds, the score counts. Only if the shot is successful of course. The strategy is that the opposing team does not get a chance to respond to a score. The game is over, while the ball is still in the air, the final score yet to be determined. Until the ball goes in or misses the net.

In game five of the NBA finals between the Raptors and The Golden State Warriors, the Raptors found themselves behind by one measly point with mere seconds left in the game. Unfortunately, this particular buzzer beater by Raptors’ super star Kyle Lowry failed to hit the basket. Instead of jubilant elation, the crowds in the Toronto stadium and pop-up Jurassic Parks across Canada were stunned quiet and sat dejected, as TVs in homes across the country were clicked off to escape the misery.

What a difference in emotion! The first of these buzzer beaters I could of watched over and over again, as many fans did. The joy and disbelief on the fans’ faces and the ensuing celebrations were heartwarming to watch. Especially in these times of political division within our country. From coast to coast, Canada was united in their joy and pride for their team. We still are; it’s not over yet!

The series will resume Thursday night in California where game six will unfold. The Toronto Raptors have a 3-2 lead in this final series, and hope to wrap it up as the NBA champs, the first time ever for a Canadian franchise.

I just hope we don’t have to wait for a buzzer beater to seal the deal! My heart can’t take it!

buzzer beaters
Toronto Raptors logo

Morel mushrooms, our consolation prize

One good thing about our cool, wet spring weather is the bumper crop of morel mushrooms we have been harvesting at our cottage. This is the first year we have seen them, in fact I was not sure what kind of mushrooms they were and whether or not they are edible. So, I sent an SOS (and picture) to the “all things nature related” expert, my cousin John in Missouri. Whatever would we do without our handy cell phones?

morel mushroom
edible or poisonous?
morel mushrooms
delicious or poisonous?

He sent me this link so I could read up on these delicious discoveries before we sauteed them up in butter for dinner. We did wait until we were in the (relative) safety of our home to try them as the cottage is a bit far from any hospital. I am happy (and alive) to report cousin John was right, morel mushrooms are quite yummy. Lots of work though, to clean them up, as their brain-like crevices hold lots of dirt.

morel mushrooms
first harvest of morel mushrooms

As the (miserable) cool, wet weather continued into June, we are taking some consolation in the fact we have had three weekly harvests of these morel mushrooms now, each collection larger than the last. At first they were hard to find; now we know what to look for and where to find these beauties. And also to check that their stems are hollow, an important characteristic that distinguishes them from their more sinister cousins.

morel mushrooms
third harvest

This week has been much warmer, finally some summer weather, so that may be the end of our mushroom harvesting for this year.

Shame on you BCE, employees deserve better

Shame on you Bell Canada for treating your loyal, long-term employees so poorly! You promote yourself as a company that cares about the Canadian communities you serve and the well being of others. You have raised millions of dollars in your annual Let’s Talk Days, however let’s talk instead about your recent shoddy tactics.

Downsizing due to changing technology is understandable, but there is a right way and a wrong way to go about the necessary cut backs. A company of this stature should be above stressing your long term, valuable employees by offering severance packages to any of them whose jobs you are drastically changing. The same should apply to those wishing to leave after many years of service as part of the downsizing process.

Instead, many of these Bell Canada employees are holding their breath, stressed to the hilt, waiting to see what will happen to the jobs they have been at for forty plus years. I have heard these stories, but can only speak to one in particular.

My husband started working for Bell Canada as a teenager in the summer months. After college, they offered him a job here in Ottawa. That was 38 years ago. In the early years he worked outside, climbing poles, running cable, and installing phones in homes, basically anything they asked him to do. For the past thirty years or so he has been working inside fixing computer systems that support Bell’s technology, covering the entire 613 area code. It has been common for him to spend 7 hours a day driving to and from remote Ontario communities to fix the “troubles” as they come up. Year after year he has received rewards and recognition for his excellent work ethic and lack of sick time. You would not need all the fingers on your two hands to count the number of sick days he has taken since 1981. Up until recently he loved his job.

Sounds like a great career doesn’t it? Not to mention an excellent, valuable employee. Both the career and employee should be congratulated, rewarded and celebrated. The problem is, now at almost 61 years of age, this employee has been told he is now expected to be climbing ladders outside, year round. How ridiculous is that? Shame on you BCE!

He was told by his manager that if he doesn’t want to climb ladders he should just get a doctors note saying he cannot do so. Many others in the same predicament are doing this due to their health restrictions. So why doesn’t he do that? Because that goes against the very core values that have made him such a valuable and loyal employee! He is also relatively healthy and fit, something he should not be punished for. Not to mention the fact that he can (still) probably climb ladders better than the younger generation soon to replace the older guys. The point is not that he cannot do it, but that he should not be forced to do so.

Who in their right mind wants to risk injuries that could affect their retirement years? Who at sixty years of age is as agile as a twenty-something or even thirty-something employee? It is ridiculous that any company, let alone a blue chip company like Bell Canada, expects their senior employees to modify their job descriptions in this manner. What about the liability involved? Is there not an age limitation on employees climbing ladders? I guarantee you if he is injured on the job, I will be hiring a lawyer!

With this downsizing initiative, severance packages have been offered to some (selective) surplus employees. Several on the seniority list above him and a few below him are eligible for these packages but not him. Even though his specific department has been downsized from sixteen to three scant employees in the past few years, his position has not been categorized as surplus, so he is ineligible. Sounds fishy to me!

Even after this shoddy, disrespectful and unfair treatment, this man still does not want to slam or discredit a company he has been loyal to for so many years. I have no such qualms as I am the key witness to his anger, frustration and grumpiness creating the unhealthy stress levels he has been forced to endure.

Union representatives have suggested he grieve the fact that he is not eligible for a severance package. Especially as he was told they only need two employees (he is the third) in the department. They also suggest he wait a few years until another package comes out. My concern is the stress involved in the process, not to mention the potential for serious injuries. Selfishly, I want him around to enjoy our golden years together.

Shame on you Bell Canada! Why not let any of these long-term, senior employees bow out gracefully if they wish to do so?

Shame on you