Sunday, October 30, 2011

Most Unusual Landscape Features

Donna was out and about again - on tour as it were. Although the purpose of the meeting was garden writing, Eaglesong, the "director of natural beauty" gave us a tour of the grounds at the Willows Lodge in Woodenville, near Seattle. Eaglesong not only directs beauty, she digs in and composts and prunes and plants. She is part of a very small crew managing this sustainable landscape (for anyone who still thinks sustainable is "natural" or "messy" check out this near perfect landscape.) Willow Lodge is beautiful and in full fall mode right now and staff are planting bulbs and touring garden writers. I was there for the region six Garden Writer's meeting and I am definitely an interloper (region 7 is Canada and the rest of the world so I was slightly out of my range).

Today at Willow Lodge we saw Bill Reid's work (he is a Canadian First Nation's artist) all over the grounds and inside the hotel. Wow - I am proud to be a Canadian. The dead burned out ancient Fir at the entrance and poisonous mushrooms were the most unusual landscape elements I had ever seen. How fabulous is this?

Well - it is a beautiful place - no doubt and they are ready for Halloween too.
When a deadly poisonous mushroom sprouts, Eaglesong points it out rather than removing it.


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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Finally Frost- A month late

It's true - the tender annuals have frozen in my yard- finally. I was getting tired of them anyway and wasn't too upset. The amazing thing is I didn't lose it all until Oct 15th- this is an exceptionally long frost free period for Calgary. My book partner Steven Biggs has just loaded all the most current Environment Canada weather data on our Garden Coaches Chat web page ( after my friend Joan and I got the info as a scanned typed sheet from Environment Canada, made corrections and put it into an excel spread sheet. This was no small feat and there is only one problem- the info is 20 years old.

Yes- it's true the most current information provided by Environment Canada to us for thus project on frost periods across Canada was twenty years old. Does this make a difference? Sure- twenty years ago the average frost free period in Calgary was 112 days. Now, according to Calgary meteorologist Steven Rothfells we have on average 115 days without frost. Environment Canada's data says we usually didn't get frost from May 25-Sept 15 so this fall we got a month more than usual in the fall- absolutely amazing.

Is it climate change or just good luck? Well, I am a gardener, not a meteorologist so I can't say for sure. In any case annual flowers

reached a huge size this year with all the extra growing time and that is a good thing. Too bad I didn't get great pictures of all my favorites such as Dorotheanthus bellidiformis 'Mezoo'TM (Mezoo trialing Red) shown here and the golden 4 O'clock with its golden leaves and bright pink flowers. One of the least favorite new plants this year was the new mini double white petunia from Proven selections (Blanket Double White). It seemed like a non-event with its aphid attracting sticky leaves and fairly low ration of blooms to leaves. Just a non-starter.


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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

In Love With Wales: Reason #6- Hands On Gardeners

Who knew gardener's still wore early 20th century clothing to go about their daily gardening duties? Complete with cap, suit jacket, short pants and boots, this unknown gardener has it all. Apparently it is rare - or at least this is the only period gardener I glimpsed. He was in the beautiful and famous Bodnant Gardens. I did originally take a photo of him from the front but when I pointed out to him his zipper was undone he shuffled off without answer so I took this more demure photo from behind.
Gardener Glyn Smith and jet-lagged Donna Balzer (AKA me) pose in Glyn's incredibly diverse garden - Erdding Hall in Wrexham, Wales. Yes it is early in the morning - or maybe late at night I am not sure but it was day one - the only time I thought to pose for a picture in Wales just to prove I really was there. The bus waited while I ran back to get my purse containing passport & money. Oops! That wasn't the only time I left my purse behind but I did stop blaming it on jet-lag.
Head Gardener, Robert Owen, kept the Bodygallen Hall Gardens in top shape and shared little pieces of wisdom: "Wales is self-sufficient in things like sheep and leeks" and "When boxwood turns orange it needs fertilzer". Owen uses fish, bone and bloodmeal for fertilizer and tells us he used to spray all the time for blights on apples. Since they ran out of time (less staff on this 220 acre spread) they stopped spraying and they noticed they rarely have blight any more. Go figure.
Gwaenynog Hall is maintained by Janie Smith in an attempt to keep the memory of her distant relative Beatrix Potter alive. If you didn't hear the story of Peter rabbit and all his adventures it is time to dig into your child-hood books. These stories were inspired by these gardens.

Monday, October 3, 2011

In love with Wales: Reason #5- Going Back in Time

Recognizing the famous song "Men of Harlech" (Wale's unofficial anthem) struck a chord with some of the garden writer's visiting Wales more than others (sorry I didn't have a clue and didn't recognize it at all). Recognizing a great piece of architecture was easier. I think we all enjoyed the famous and impregnable Harlech Castle from the thirteenth century.
The details of the double walled Harlech castle were amazing!
Amazing Welsh guide Donna Goodman (left) explains the inner workings of the famous Harlech castle to Canadian Gardening Magazine Editor in Chief Erin McLaughlin (right).
On the Isle of Anglesey the famous new Royal Couple (W & K) have their abode. If you want to feel Royal, you can stay at the recently refurbished Plas Cadnant Gardens in their Welsh farm buildings turned into lux rental units. Here the official garden cat inspects the blooms in anticipation of the official public opening in 2012.
Garden writer Donna Dawson (L) tries to photograph fellow writers Veronica Sliva, Dorothy Dobbie and guide Donna Goodman (Left to Right).
How delicious - A garden Bell (also called a Cloche) inside the Historic Erddig Garden and house.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Why Visit Wales: Reason 4- Varied Landscapes

"Wales is such a small country but we have such a variety of landscapes" said our enthusiastic Wales tour guide, Donna Goodman (she was a warden and naturalist in earlier careers). "It's not just the landscape, it's the history and culture I love. If you like history it is around every corner".

Like England 50 year's ago, Wales is rustic and wild compared to other parts of the U.K. We loved the mountains (especially Snowdonia), the language (Celtic), the food (authentic and fresh- especially the mussels at Feather's Royal Inn in Aberaeron), the people and the hospitality.

Donna Dawson of "I Can Garden" website fame takes a photo of the famous Welsh landscape fence- it is made of slate!

Part of the varied scenery: the dramatic Snowdonia mountains.
Aberglasney Gardens shared both old and new features - this one piece of the garden was new, designed by famous U.K. designer Penelope Hobhouse. Head gardener, Joseph Alkin, also showed us 400-500 year old Diamond style cobble paths and the oldest Yew tunnel anywhere (apparently the oldest verified living garden feature in the U.K.)

At the first National Botanical garden to be developed in the new Millennium, The National Botanical Garden of Wales includes the world's largest single spanned greenhouse (shown here).

Saturday, October 1, 2011

In Love With Wales: Reason #3 (Bright Colours Inspire)

Yes we've all heard the stories: "Wales is rainy and gloomy". Nothing could be further from the truth. Once we dipped into the Welsh countryside the small group of travel writer's I was with were fascinated with the colourful buildings - especially at the tourist town and garden of Portmeirion. Built to promote his architectural business and to be a self-funded "village", both the town and home garden of Clough Williams-Ellis were showy and colourful.

Not as famous as the blue Tiffany packaging, Portmeirion blue should be! Used throughout both the Plas Brodnaw Gardens and village of Portmeirion, in all the little details including trim, fences and benches.

The seaside holiday village of Portmeirion features a variety of bright colours including the famous blue used again here in the trim.

Stunning white fall blooms (probably Anemone x hybrida 'Honorine Jobert') look fab in Portmeirion and in Clough Williams-Ellis' home garden Plas Brondanw.