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.)
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.
Have you ever been surprised by a habit you didn’t realize you had until someone points it out to you?
It appears that this year, I formed a mild habit of handspinning fibre. Until I started organizing photographs, I hadn’t realized I was spinning something almost every month of 2017.
I think of it as meditation in motion. The by-product just happens to be pleasingly tactile, beautifully coloured yarn that also looks great under a camera lens (phone camera lens that is).
Below are some of the images I recorded. I am still learning to chain-ply, took a great class on hand carding with Diana Twiss and practiced a bit of knitting too. (All images photographed with iPhone 5 or iPhone 6S. Notecard in mail image by Susan Stephen.
One way of creating that has helped me deal with the challenges of a demanding teaching profession is spinning. It is highly process oriented and basic in its reduction of form through texture and colour. It is a linear (no pun intended) way of working through thoughts and can be fit in a few minutes here and there without feeling I’ve lost track of what I was doing (as happens when composing a drawing).
Today I thought I would pay tribute to the beautiful wheel my parents bought for me almost 20 years ago: An Ashford ‘Joy.’ Sometimes the things we need to help us settle into ourselves are right there waiting for us to pick them up again. I digitally processed the photographs in black and white to draw the eye to the elegant, minimalist curves and natural wood grain.
In 2016 I took a lot of photographs… on my phone. Here are 12 photos from my garden and one from a local park we discovered this year. All photos taken with an iPhone 5 using ProCamera app and Photoshop Express.
An unexpected family event this summer brought us together and a chance conversation with a cousin whose been good about keeping in touch brought up the topic of spinning.
Her enthusiasm and gorgeous spinning skill have convinced me to take up something I haven’t touched in over a decade. It has been the perfect antidote for working through thoughts and calming a worried mind.
Someone once told me that I can’t do everything, that I have to choose. And that is my problem. I still do not. I want to be a skillful artist, excellent teacher, adept gardener, household contributor, caring partner and family member, healthy, spiritual, intellectual, calm personality. I try for all of it, but do none of it well.
Try again… and again.
This linocut is the beginning of a reduction print. The ink is new to me: Akua intaglio. There are some things to be worked out.
In the mean time, an homage to my favourite spring flower:
Update, December 20, 2016: I did eventually get the second colour on this print and it took months and months to dry. In fact I took a print out to scan today and it is still smudging. I will be on the look out for a more reliable permanent ink for 2017 printing adventures.
My garden is small and Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Pixie Fountain’ is finally making itself at home in places I think it will be happiest. A photograph shows how light plays on it – even in winter. An image of a linocut I printed last week is a reminder of a pleasing time I had in November, studying and carving lines.
There is ease and immediate sense of gratification with photography. I find this even more the case with a phone in hand. Moments are captured quickly and become sketches for drawings that rarely materialize!
Last week provided the opportunity for some quick documentation of the hoarfrost that gilded our City – stunning against the clear blue sky.
In the garden, the still standing remnants of Cimicifuga ‘Chocoholic’ seemed to bloom again. Below are photos from last week’s frosty show and the Bugbane’s September blooms – all taken with an iPhone.