Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Hints for Santa: A Gardener's Wish List


Included on almost every list of gift suggestions for gardeners is a set of gardening gloves and a pair of pruners.

While I've grown to appreciate gifts that are useful, for Christmas I want a treat.  A pair of pruners is rather like getting a toaster for Christmas. It's just way to practical! If I need a good set of pruners, I'll buy them for myself.

I'd like to find something pretty under the tree. And if that pretty gift has a practical use, so much the better. With this in mind, I have gathered together a gardener's wish list of hints for Santa.



Dahlia May Flower Farm specializes in growing romantic and fragrant, often heirloom, varieties of flowers. Owned and operated by Melanie Harrington the farm is located near Trenton in Southern Ontario.

This year Melanie has put together two calendars that would make wonderful gifts for any flower lover. The portraits in the Men with Blooms calendar are of Melanie's husband, her family, friends and fellow local business owners. The Florals calendar includes pictures of tulips, daffodils and other favourite photos from the last year. 

Both calendars are just $20 each plus $5 shipping for Canadian customers (very slightly more for those customers in the USA). Here's a link right to the Men with Blooms Calendar order page and the Florals 2018 Calendar order page


Are these watering cans gorgeous or what? 

I have a number of vintage waterings cans (that I use all the time), but who wouldn't want one of these shiny, new models made by Haws in the U.K.? The one the left is their Copper Watering Can, and on the right is their 8.8 litre Heritage Watering Can

You can find a range of these waterings cans new on Amazon, previously loved on eBay and new at Lee Valley Tools. Here's a link to the American branch of the company as well.


This Thompson and Elm Bird and Spool Twine Holder and Scissors Set is both attractive and handy. This one came from the shop at the Toronto Botanical Gardens here in Toronto, but you can also find it on Amazon.


I was telling my husband about all my terrific finds the other evening while we were walking the dogs. 
"I bet you'd never think to get me a rain gauge, would you?"
"A rain gauge?" he returned, proving my point.
"Yah, I think it might be fun to track the amount of rainfall we receive", I replied enthusiastically, "And it would be even nicer if there was a cute frog holding the glass gauge."

I am not sure if he got the hint, but here's a couple of adorable rain gauges if you think it would be fun idea to monitor rainfall too:

Both are from Iron Accents. Here is the webpage with the Bird and Nest ($38 US) and here is a link to the Scientist Frog ( $45 US).

Iron Accents also have whimsical hose guides: Dancing Frog ($33 US) and Bunny Holding Umbrella ($36 US) 



Finally, how about this palatial abode for toads? Toad House ($60 US)


The one time I have to worry about the dogs trampling my garden is in the spring when the perennials are just beginning to pop up out of the cold ground. The garden eventually fills in to a jungle-like density, by which time, the dogs prefer to run in the open grassed area. Having a wire cloche to protect the most precious of my emerging plants would be great.

These Victorian-inspired wire cloches from Gardener's Supply Company are $23 (US) or $18 (US) each when you buy three or more.


Terrariums are always a welcome gift. On the right is Gardener's Supply Company's Hanging Prism Terrarium ($19.95 US) and on the left is Teardrop Tabletop Terrarium (on sale for $31.88 US). 

While your on the Gardener's Supply Company website check out the bird feeders, plant supports, Mason Bee Houses, tomato cages etc, etc...


Floret Flower Farm is a family run business in the Skagit Valley (Washington state) that specializes in growing unique, uncommon and heirloom flowers (Read more here). Their online shop features cut flower seeds, dahlia tubers, spring-flowering bulbs, tools, supplies and gifts.

You can buy individual seed packages, but I think that one of Floret Flower Farm's Seed Collections might make a really nice gift. I've picked just two examples from the many options: 

The Creamsicle Mix ($25 US) on the left includes Amaranth 'Coral Fountain', Annual Baby's Breath 'Covent Garden', Celosia Supercrest Mix, Cosmos 'Purity', Zinnia 'Oklahoma Salmon' and Zinnia 'Salmon Rose'.

The Pink Romance Mix ($25 US) on the right includes Bachelor's Buttons 'Classic Romantic', Bells of Ireland, Chinese Forget-me-not 'Mystic Pink', Corn Cockle 'Ocean Pearls', Orlaya 'White Finch Lace' and Stock 'Malmaison Pink'.


Another great gift idea might be a print of the farm's flower filled truck. Erin writes, "The truck, lovingly nicknamed Little Fat Dragon by the kids when they were small, is the heart of the farm..." 

The print is 12" x 12" and is on sale at the moment for just $15 US.


If you have followed this blog for awhile, then you'll know that I have a collection of rusty silhouettes scattered throughout the garden. Rusty metal stakes with birds also form the centrepiece of many of my container plantings.



These stakes would make nice, affordable gifts.  Bluebirds on Pussy-Willow Stake ($25.50 US) and Chickadees & Berries Stake ($21 US). They're all from Rusty Birds.com As well these stakes, there are animal silhouettes, plants and trees, Christmas decorations and more. 


I have long been a fan of photographer Ellen Hoverkamp. Ellen did the illustrations for the book Natural Companions by Ken Druse (which itself would make a nice gift). 

Ellen creates her fine art photographs using a flat bed scanner. Medium and large sized archival prints of her work are available through her online shop. If Santa was feeling generous, these prints would make an amazing gift.


A very affordable alternative might be a set of gift cards ($20 US).


I had great fun putting this list together. Hopefully it will give you a few ideas. Up shortly will be a number of recommended books for gift giving.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Illuminated Outdoor Christmas Planter


Is it just me or are Christmas decorations coming out earlier and earlier every year? 

This fall I was seeing Christmas trees in stores and on social media in mid-October. I love decorating for the holidays, but Christmas in October is just way to early for me!

Here in Southern Ontario it starts to get pretty cold by the first of December, so I like to start my decorating by adding the a few seasonal touches outdoors. A festive arrangement of greenery lit by little fairy lights was my first project. Here's how I made it:


I decided on a star as the centrepiece for my arrangement. Grapevine stars like this can be found at a variety of stores and nurseries (they even have some at the grocery store where I shop). If you can't find a star, you may be able to find a grapevine sphere or other similar embellishment. Birch logs wrapped in lights might also be nice.



In the past, Christmas lights always meant ugly wires in the daytime and long extension cords. 

Now, with these new LED options, the lights are on a fine filament that virtually disappears into the greenery of an arrangement. With the battery packs, there are no long electric cords. I did a couple of projects last winter with these lights and my love affair with them continues this year as well.

I found this set of 60 lights at The Real Canadian Superstore (Michaels has similar sets of lights). The copper-colored string was perfect to wrap around my grapevine star. In the daytime, the copper filament all but disappears. At night, the tiny LED lights make the star sparkle.


To illuminate the star, I began wrapping the lights about 6-8" up from the bottom of the dowel. This will leave a length of the wooden dowel free to be pushed into the dirt of my urn. I also left a length of the light cord free, so I would have more room to manoeuvre when it came to hiding the battery pack in amongst the greenery.

Once I had the whole star wrapped, I tucked the end of the light cord in amongst the grapevines.


There are so many wonderful options for greenery. To save money, I try to forage as much as possible from the yard and the adjacent woodlot. I harvest responsibly, pruning branches carefully, so that I never damage the trees or shrubs I am cutting.

In the shady part of the garden, I am lucky to have quite a number of yews. Every fall they get a good haircut which leaves me with quite a bit of raw material for my winter arrangements. But even with the yew, I don't have quite enough evergreen boughs to fill all my containers, so I also buy mixed bunches of pine, fur, boxwood and cedar at the grocery store. 

To make my arrangement I am using an urn that was filled with annuals last summer. I cleaned out the flowers and left the soil as is. There is no need for fresh soil in a winter container like this. The main purpose of the soil is to hold the evergreens in place.

As an additional measure of security, I also dampen the soil in my arrangement. When it the water freezes, it holds the branches firmly in place.


As with any good container planting, use "spillers, fillers and thrillers" to create a nice arrangement of greenery and berries. 

Begin with the "spillers" that will drape down over the edges of your urn. For this I suggest long pieces of cedar and pine. Both evergreens have soft stems that allow them to hang down gracefully over the rim of the arrangement.



Next, it's on to the "fillers" that will give the arrangement the fullness you want. 

For this, you can use almost any type of evergreen. I used pieces of boxwood, yew, spruce, noble fur, oregonia and euonymus.

At the end of step 2, the urn has filled out nicely.


Next I like to add some colorful accents with assorted fruit, berries and pinecones. If you don't have crabapples or rose hips, you can substitute with red winter berries, which are readily available at a variety of stores and nurseries. If you can't find winter berries or they're too expensive, faux-berries would work just as nicely.

I used a mix of blue juniper berries, pinecones and faux red berries in my urn.


The final task is to add your star and the lights. I pushed the star into the centre and tucked the battery pack in behind the greenery. Then a added one additional string of lights.


I found this set of indoor/outdoor lights at Walmart for under $10. It has a green cord that disappears in amongst the greenery in the urn. This light set runs on three AA batteries.

The two battery pacs get tucked in amongst the greenery at the back of the arrangement.


Here's the final arrangement all lit up at dusk. 

Up shortly, I hope to have a few more seasonal projects plus gift and book suggestions for gift giving.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The "Old Man" Turns Nineteen


There have times when I didn't think Buddy would make it all the way to his nineteenth birthday, but against all the odds, he's done it.

His carriage is still regal, but under that glossy black coat, Buddy's skin and bones. I wish he were a bit heavier, but his frail digestive system suggests otherwise. The vet has removed a good many of his teeth and the sad old eyes are watery and opaque with cataracts. He'll climb a set of stairs with some encouragement, but he has to be guided or carried down.

With his swaying, halting gate we've nicknamed Buddy "Old Man".


When I reach for my coat each morning there is always a flurry of excitement among the two younger dogs. They know the routine.

When I sit to put on my sneakers Piper, the young upstart, notoriously swoops in to grab one of my house shippers. With my slipper held high like a trophy, he will then prance in a circular tour of the main floor of the house. If I manage to wrench my slipper out of his mouth, he'll pounce on the slipper's mate and do a fresh junket with it instead. My husband urges me not to let him get away with such bad behaviour, but I know it is Piper's way to tell me how happy he is that I've decided it's time to go out and play.

And where is the "Old Man" in all this excitement?

Usually he's lying fast asleep on his bed enjoying a very sound post-breakfast nap. How he sleeps through all the barking I'll never know!

"Come on Old Man," I say, bending to attach his red leash, "It's time to go play ball." The lead is necessary or Buddy would get lost on the way to the back gate. He can see what's right in front of him, but not much more.

Feeling the leash being clipped onto his collar, the old dog sits up startled and a little confused. It  takes him a few minutes to get his bearings.

For me this is a telling moment. Right now, there is still enough joy in the old dog's life that he rises to go out to play, but I know there is a time coming soon when this may not be the case. How I dread the day! As he nears the end of a very long life, I know there will come a day when he is no longer able to rally and stand to do the thing he loves best in the world–play ball.

Scarp is himself as old as Sheltie's usually get (he's twelve), and Piper will soon turn two.



Sometimes when Buddy is in one of those deep, deep sleeps, I'm torn with mixed emotions. My own breath catches in my throat as I wait for his chest to rise and then fall. And then there is a part of me wishes he could drift into death as easily as one drifts into sleep. 

Sadly death is rarely that kind.

Like most people, I want to do what's best for my dogs even if that means making a gut-wrenching decision. It will break my heart, but I will not let him linger in pain or discomfort. We'll face our loss head-on and do what's best for him.







But for now, I'm  so very glad for a raucous, three-way game of soccer while I attempt to get in the last of my spring bulbs. 

Buddy may be ancient as Shelties go, but his days are happy and I think that's what I think keeps him going.

Piper smiling for the camera.


Buddy has achieved an impressive milestone (the average lifespan for a Sheltie is twelve or thirteen years) and I just want to take this moment to celebrate it. Nineteen years! 

Well done "Old Man"!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Moose and the Bear that went to War


It was August, 1916. War had made a hard life in Northern Ontario even more difficult. At that time, my great grandfather William Henry Guppy, or "Bill" as he was actually known, had a small business buying and selling furs out of a humble wood-frame store.

To keep food on the table for a wife and six children, he also hunted and trapped in the winter. The most lucrative part of his income however, came from guiding southern tourists looking to hunt and fish in the Canadian north. With the outbreak of the First World War, those tourists had all but disappeared.

This is a faded image of my grandfather's store near Timiskaming Ontario. The store in the wilds of northern Canada sold supplies to fur trappers and groceries to locals and visiting tourists.

Times were tough, but it was more than financial hardship that made my great grandfather sign up to fight for Canada.

He was a woodsman, who lived for adventure. The chance to fight for his country and see parts of Europe were hard to resist.

William Henry "Bill" Guppy (seen on the left) was a short, wiry man. The Native North Americans had named him Pijeense, the Little Lynx because his eyebrows stuck out like the distinctive tufts of fur on the ears of a lynx. My great grandfather is pictured here with his son Willie, who at sixteen, got lost in a snow storm and perished.

Young men had answered the call to battle in the early days of the First World War, but in 1916 the Canadian war effort was asking older men to enlist.

So my 42 year old great grandfather left a wife and large family behind and went with his brother Alex and his seventeen year old son Harold to the recruitment office in North Bay. Ontario.

 The 159th Battalion of the 1st Algonquin Overseas Regiment were known as the "Northern Pioneers". Their motto "Nekahnetah" translates as "Let us lead". Image Source

If it was adventure they were seeking, the early days of their lives as a privates in the 159th Battalion of the 1st Algonquin Overseas Regiment had to have been a huge disappointment.

New recruits from northern Ontario found themselves billeted in a skating rink in North Bay for the winter. Army discipline and order wasn't sitting well with a group of men who made their living in the wild working as woodsmen, lumberjacks, trappers and road builders. Bored and restless, fighting and drinking became a problem.

Looking to build moral, the adjutant in charge sent my great grandfather out to find and purchase a regimental mascot. After a quick break to visit his wife and family, Bill bought a two year old moose cow for fifteen dollars cash.

The mascot of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Battalion. Image Source

A goat, possibly the mascot for the 16th Battalion, marches past Major-General S.C. Mewburn, the Minister of Militia and Defence from 1917 to 1920.  Image Source

Having an animal serve as a wartime mascot was fairly common. In fact animals in general played a key role in the First World War.

A Canadian soldier sits with his dog, reading the day's paper. The packed equipment suggests that he is waiting to move up the line and to the trenches. Image Source

Many soldiers had small dogs and cats as pets. A beloved pet helped soldiers far from home cope with the harsh realities of war.

Dogs played an important role in detecting dangerous gases, explosives and landmines.  Both dogs and cats carried messages onto the battlefield with notes fastened around their necks.

A member of the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps and a horse pose wearing gas masks. Horses could withstand higher concentrations of poison gas than humans, but chemicals could still damage their lungs or burn their legs and hoofs, eventually requiring their destruction. Image Source

Members of the 20th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, stand beside their pack horses, loaded with 18-pounder shells. This photograph was taken before the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917. At Vimy, the Canadian gunners had an estimated 1.6 million shells and every one had to be carried forward to the guns. Image Source

Battlefields were mud-soaked, and the terrain at the front was often without roads. This made transportation using motor vehicles impossible. Instead horses, mules and donkeys were used to haul food, equipment and ammunition. Horses were even used to carry war wounded.

By the end of World War 1, eight million horses were lost. That's a staggering number!

The only picture that survives showing my great grandfather with Bessie the Moose 
and Kitchener the Bear. From the book King of the Woodsman by Hal Pink.

"Bessie the moose soon became famous," my great grandfather recounts in a memoir entitled King of the Woodsman"She learned to come to me when I whistled a certain call, and would follow round at my heels like a dog when I went out collecting food for her... It was on parade that she shone... Bessie threw out her chest and paraded like a veteran...she walked beside me, step for step, the proudest moose in Canada."

The moose was a great rallying point for the bored and restless men waiting for their time to be deployed. The second mascot Bill was ordered to find and train proved to be a more difficult challenge. My great grandfather recounts that the young bear cub he purchased was “a nasty little brute with a vile temper, showing his teeth and ready to fight at the drop of a hat.”

When the regiment were called up, Kitchener the bear and Bessie the moose boarded the Empress of Britain along with the troops. It was a fourteen day trip to Liverpool, England. Neither Bill nor the bear were seasick, but Bessie faired badly. She grew steadily weaker and eventually died.

A horse drawn hansom cab, circa 1900.  Image from the London Transport Museum.

When the call to the front approached, Bill was ordered to take the bear to the London Zoo for safekeeping. A Canadian black bear was not a typical passenger on an English rail line, so it took quite a bit of persuasion before Bill and Kitchener the bear could board the train bound for London.

When my great grandfather and his bear arrived in London, the station was packed with troops leaving for France and the families seeing them off. The station was quickly in a state of pandemonium, complete with shrieks and yells, as everyone shoved and elbowed to clear a path for the Canadian soldier with his black bear.

Bill and Kitchener rattled through the streets of London in a hansom cab, Kitchener standing on the cab's splashboard, showing his white teeth to the staring crowds of astonished Londoners. 

After releasing the bear into his new pen at the London Zoo, Bill left for the front line in France, where he went for a stretch of 39 days without rest. At one point a German shell exploded burying Bill and several other men alive in their trench. Amazingly, he escaped with only minor cuts and bruises.

In 1917, my great grandfather wrote home in a letter that survives to this day. The letter was written hurriedly in pencil on Salvation Army stationary and uses the plain simple language of a man with limited education. Words are misspelled and sentences run together without capitals or periods. He writes to my sixteen year old grandfather, "Go straight, be gentle and honest and you can't go wrong."

What probably saved my great grandfather's life was a chance friendship he struck up with the army cook of the Fourth Canadian Mounted Rifles. Bill became a cook in the field kitchens for the remainder of the war. The life of a cook was not without its perils. "In the daytime bullets popped and pinged and whizzed by like gnats...", Bill reminisced years later.

After the war Bill went back to the London Zoo to see Kitchener. He recounts in his memoir, "He showed his teeth at me when I spoke to him, and shambled over to inspect me. But I was nothing in his young life now, so with a snort through the bars he rolled away again."

The ending to this story is a sad one. Bill goes on to say,"Years later, in 1937, I learned that Kitchener the mascot had died in London, and had been given a military funeral. Like Bessie the moose, he never returned to his native soil. I've often wondered what he thought about that trip across London in a hansom cab!"