We recently returned from the West Coast of British Columbia and were pleased to see the 9 inch ice ruts on our neighbourhood street had mostly melted away. However, the weather had also turned and we touched down to -9ºC and more snow.
On a quick walk about the backyard to see how much of the 6 foot snow pile had melted, I was astonished to find some anemic snowdrops frozen in place in the sudden change of temperature. (They are growing in a little alcove between our house and the fence so this area has a warmer microclimate.)
In the years that I’ve gardened in this variable urban prairie environment, I have learned that spring bulbs are hardier than their dainty appearance and I shovelled some snow on them and let them be.
The last couple days it has been warm enough for that snow to melt and they have emerged again. Today I documented them before returning them to snowy solitude. (Tomorrow’s forecast is a low of -19ºC with snow and a windchill of -25ºC.)
It has become an annual tradition to document the Galanthus that appear in my tiny garden each spring. They are not as lush and prolific as their Coastal cousins, but they remind me to try to be a little more purposeful and graceful under trying circumstances and they are hopeful signals that nature will let spring arrive eventually no matter how much we want her to hurry.
(I was given the opportunity to temporarily try out Photoshop CC and used it to edit the above image. It has been over 15 years since I have used this program. An amateur attempt at relearning an old skill – there are too many other things to do to worry about perfection! Below are the original unedited photographs.)
I’m not sure how I found her, but awhile ago, I started following Lara Gastinger on Instagram. Her illustrations of botanical subjects are exquisite. At the end of December she described her perpetual journal process and invited others to join her in this way of working. I misunderstood at first and thought it was a daily drawing entry, but rereading her process again, I found out that she only enters one drawing a week. In this way, there is room for subsequent years of drawing.
I started by recording pieces of the winter wrapped garden and quickly realized that I was more inspired by my new fascination with houseplants. So I will record the houseplants I have and by the time spring arrives, I plan to move outside to record the garden.
This is a wonderful low commitment way of practicing observation drawing – especially during the busy months of work. It will also help me keep track of the plants I have and their development over the years (space allowing!).
Every garden year is different and this one was no exception. As our yard matures, some plants have settled in, new challenges have developed and I have shifted my focus from acquiring new specimens to editing and caring for plants that I have an affinity for. (But let’s be honest: I will always have difficulty passing up a good plant trade or garden centre bargain!)
Spring brought the welcome sight of botanical ephemerals. Hepaticas and the Jeffersonian dubia are favourites for their exotic and delicate appearance. Inside, I was surprised to see an orchid I had purchased on clearance years ago, finally bloom again.
In May, I started to see the rock garden perennials wake and the Oak fern (Gymnocarpium dryopteris) is starting to spread. Sadly, I had no success with cultivating Mason bees that I had overwintered as cocoons. I did catch a photo of one below as it briefly visited some Dwarf Valerian.
I credit the mason bees for doing such great work pollinating the cherry trees this year. On both my potted ‘Nanking’ and ‘Carmine Jewel’ we had profuse blossoms which yielded large quantities of cherries.
Unfortunately, the beauty of our crabapples was marred by the discovery of Fire blight. I am carefully pruning away affected branches of our ‘Spring Snow Flowering’ crabapple and this was the first autumn where I had to dispose of the leaves which I would normally use for mulch. At least the distinctive leaf markings made for an interesting drawing study in pencil crayon.
Other lesser garden challenges included finding out a Martagon lily I planted two years ago was actually not an ‘Alba’ but some unknown magenta imposter as it finally bloomed this summer. The specimen Saxifraga borisii ‘Vincent van Gogh’ also spent most of the summer recovering from vole damage incurred last winter. (With the amount of snow we are currently having, I wonder if our lawn and perennials will be visited again by those marauding beasts!) And unexpectedly, a ‘Morden Blush’ rose which I thought I had dug up and given to a friend is back in full glory after I let a wayward piece of root have its way. This proves to me that roses need not be temperamental!
The last challenge which is a continual one every winter in Calgary is a long standing Chinook that led to 14ºC temperatures in December followed by the current -27ºC we are enduring. I took this photo of the seed heads of Clematis koreana ‘Brunette’ while watering the evergreens on December 10.
It has been a whirlwind trying to summarize my creative pursuits in three blog posts in 2 days. Now that I have reformatted this space, I hope to visit it more often in 2018 in this less formal way. Best wishes.