February 25

February 25, 2010

More sun today but with some heavy showers overnight and a forecast for more rain this afternoon. We have a couple of people in this morning to help with the cleanup since it is obvious that I am not going to get to it for a while. I must confess that it is really nice to have people helping who knows what they are doing and to be able to take advantage of their knowledge to get information about some of the plants in the garden that, despite our having been here for four years now, I still don’t know the names of. They are going to prune the big floribunda roses at the front of the house as well which will be great. I have been intending to get to them for a couple of years, but they are so overgrown that I don’t really know where to start. It’s a bit intimidating. And then there is the pruning of the buddleia which grows like a weed really and needs to be slashed to the ground every once in a while. This is a perfect time to prune it so let them at it.

Heather at the entrance to Albion Manor

When God first made the world, He looked at the bare and barren hillsides and thought how nice it would be to cover them with some kind of beautiful tree or flower. So he turned to the Giant Oak, the biggest and strongest of all of the trees he had made, and asked him if he would be willing to go up to the bare hills to help make them look more attractive. But the oak explained that he needed a good depth of soil in order to grow and that the hillsides would be far too rocky for him to take root.

So God left the oak tree and turned to the honeysuckle with its lovely yellow flower and beautiful sweet fragrance. He asked the honeysuckle if she would care to grow on the hillsides and spread her beauty and fragrance amongst the barren slopes. But the honeysuckle explained that she needed a wall or a fence or even another plant to grow against, and for that reason, it would be quite impossible for her to grow in the hills.

So God then turned to one of the sweetest and most beautiful of all the flowers – the rose. God asked the rose if she would care to grace the rugged highlands with her splendour. But the rose explained that the wind and the rain and the cold on the hills would destroy her, and so she would not be able to grow on the hills.

Disappointed with the oak, the honeysuckle and the rose, God turned away. At length, he came across a small, low lying, green shrub with a flower of tiny petals -some purple and some white. It was a heather. God asked the heather the same question that he’d asked the others. “Will you go and grow upon the hillsides to make them more beautiful?”

The heather thought about the poor soil, the wind and the rain – and wasn’t very sure that she could do a good job. But turning to God she replied that if he wanted her to do it, she would certainly give it a try. God was very pleased. He was so pleased in fact that he decided to give the heather some gifts as a reward for her willingness to do as he had asked.

Firstly he gave her the strength of the oak tree – the bark of the heather is the strongest of any tree or shrub in the whole world. Next he gave her the fragrance of the honeysuckle – a fragrance which is frequently used to gently perfume soaps and potpourris. Finally he gave her the sweetness of the rose – so much so that heather is one of the bee’s favourite flowers. And to this day, heather is renowned especially for these three God given gifts.

With thanks to Speyside Heather Garden & Visitor Centre for the above story.

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February 24

February 24, 2010

Finally it rained last night.  It has been so dry.  We’ve been a couple of weeks without rain.  But it is sunny again today and very mild.  Perfect weather for growing.  As you can see from the photo, the crab apple trees are starting to leaf out.  There should be flower buds soon.  I’m a sucker for anything red and these have beautiful red flowers.  I love them.  There are 2 that we planted in the front lawn 2 years ago, so this is our third season with them.  These are flowering crab apples, not the kind that has edible fruit and yes I love their flowers but I hope that the fruit doesn’t become a problem as it drops all over the lawn and then requires cleaning up.  What we are hoping to do is to create a garden that doesn’t require a lot of maintenance.  I know that some will always to necessary, but cleaning up after the crab apples is not one of the jobs that I want to have on the list.  It is bad enough to have to clean up after the 3 plums each fall without having 2 more to have to do in the spring.  We’ll see how that one develops as the trees get bigger.

Flowering Crab Apple Trees

Nationalism is reaching a fever pitch as the Olympics proceed.  Personally I don’t think the athletes should be representing nations, they should be representing themselves and competing solely against other athletes, not against other countries.  In my system, the IOC would fund all the athletes and would do so on a question of merit and skill, not on a basis of which country they come from.  Nationalism is always a dangerous emotion.  Shouldn’t we all be happy when the best athlete or the best team wins, regardless of where they are from?  What if the fourth best skier in the world is faster than the fastest skier from Austria.  Shouldn’t that person be allowed to compete.  Why should the slower skier compete just because s/he is from a different country?  The games are about individual accomplishment after all, not about countries.

Fernando is up and around again today after being flat on his back for 4 days with a cold and fever.  When I picked him up from the airport, instead of coming directly back to the bed and breakfast, I took him to the medical clinic where they gave him a prescription for antibiotics.  He had a very high temperature.  Sad way to come back from his 6 week vacation in Seville.

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February 23

Today is cloudy.  No jokes about it.  You can’t see any blue anywhere.  This is a first in a very long time.   The garden continues to grow though and we have had to get the company that mows the lawn to come in to mow the lawn.  This may not sound like much but usually they don’t start their regular maintenance until the end of March or so.  I will say it again: everything is very early this year.  I look forward to the coming months with some nervousness but with excitement to see what will happen.

Hand-painted pot at Albion Manor Bed and Breakfast in Victoria

Hand-painted Pot by Fernando

I have managed to write for the last week or so without mentioning too much about the Olympics which are happening in Vancouver.  There has been a lot of talk about whether or not Victoria will receive any benefit from this huge event.  From the beginning I felt that we wouldn’t.  Others thought it would be a great boom to the city.  My reasoning was that people would be coming to Vancouver to see the Olympics.  They are not necessarily on holidays- they are just coming to see the Olympics.  It is unlikely that they will plan to spend more time here than is necessary especially considering that this is the winter.  In the end, I have been proved correct.  There are very few bookings at any of the bed and breakfasts in Victoria.  We had one couple from Paris who booked for 4 days in Victoria then 4 days in Vancouver and then another 4 in Victoria.  They had as wonderful time in Victoria, as all visitors do, but when they got here, they cancelled the last 4 days in Victoria saying that they didn’t realize that Victoria was so far from Vancouver!  What a surprise.  So all in all, we have 2 bookings during the Olympics, but only 1 that is Olympics related.

The question on my mind right now is whether or not to aerate the lawn again this year.  It was done last year and I can’t say that there was any great improvement in the quality of the lawn.  As in all such questions, one turns to google to get information.  While no one gives information on whether or not it is necessary to aerate several years in a row, all searches give information on the characteristics of a lawn that requires aeration- an ours fits those quite well: the lawn doesn’t stand up well in periods of low precipitation (i.e., summer drought) indicating that the soil is so compacted with age that water doesn’t penetrate well to the roots and as a result, the  roots don’t go very deep.   This also means that nutrients aren’t getting to the roots making the grass weak and allowing weeds to grow- all problems that we have here.  So the question is answered- yes we will aerate again this year.

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February 22

Finally some clouds.  Oops, they’re gone.  Such is the weather at this beautiful bed and breakfast in Victoria, BC.  We’re having such glorious weather here and I understand they are having the same over in Vancouver, home of the 2010 Olympics.  Vancouver and Victoria do not always have similar weather: Victoria’s is usually much sunnier.  Being right up against the Coastal Mountains, Vancouver gets a lot of rain.  Seattle is much the same although it gets even more rain than Vancouver.  Victoria on the other hand is at the southern end of the mountains that run down the centre of the island making Victoria the driest place on the Island.  Although the West Coast is considerably wetter than the East Coast, in Victoria we get only 64 centimetres (25 in.) of precipitation per year.

You won’t know this in a normal winter when it can be quite rainy, but the summers in Victoria, and on the Southern Island, are very dry and it is not unheard of to have water restrictions in Victoria.   I am concerned that, with the very light rain and precipitation we have had this winter, there will be a real shortage of water this summer, not something that an avid gardener looks forward to.  The gardens at the bed and breakfast are a real attraction to our guests and it is important that we keep them looking in top condition at all times, something that is embarrassing to write, given the current condition of the gardens.  I am however, for the first time ever, hiring someone to come in next week to give me a hand with the spring cleaning.  They will be coming in on Friday and I hope we can get the worst of it done in one day.  With any luck, we will.

Peony Buds in the Garden at Albion Manor in Victoria BC

Peonies coming up in February

Here’s something that brings joy to the heart of any gardener: tender young shoots, in this case peonies.  I would remind you that today is February 22 and some of these are up 2” already.   On our recent trip back to Spain to visit Fernando’s family, his father showed us a recently installed tank which he uses to collect rain water.  I can’t remember the exact size, but something like 4000 litres.  It sits above the ground and is about 6’ in diameter and about 5’ high.  He plans to install another one sometime this summer.  I know that you can get similar things here in Victoria and it is something that I have considered in the past, but the problem here is that there is no place to put them.  The whole property is already completely taken up with something or other and finding an efficient location for huge tanks would be a problem.  They would certainly take the pressure off the summer water supply though.

More Peony buds in the Garden at Albion Manor

More Peonies at Albion Manor

Also today, the first signs of the sneezeweed on the west side of the driveway and the lupins are up about 2”.   Buds are forming on the crab apple trees and tulips are springing up all over the place.  I planted hundreds of them again last fall so there should be a lot of colour this year.  Antici…pation.

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February 21

More sunshine but a very light frost overnight.  Fernando still sick in bed and looking like he will be there for a few days.  We were supposed to be going to Vancouver tomorrow to clear all remaining possessions out of the old house in Burnaby.  Our friends Martin and Makie and their 2 kids have been given notice to be out of the house by the end of February as the owner wants to move in.  I don’t really believe this.  I think they have finally realized that they have been undervaluing the possible rent on the house by 50% and the only way they can get the market value for rental is to move in and then move out again.  They would never be allowed to raise the rent by 100% at one time.  Oh well, it was a great run while it lasted: 8 years for Fernando and I and almost 5 years for Martin and Makie.

 Narcissus in the Albion Manor Garden

Narcissus in the Albion Manor Garden

I have been doing research into Narcissus Bulb Fly which is definitely a problem.  In some places where they used to be lots of daffs, there are now only a few.   This fly lays an egg at the bottom of the stem and the grub works its way down to the bulb where in burrows inside that then spends its days eating the inside of the bulb.  It doesn’t actually kill the bulb but it kills the new blower.  The bulb will divide and will come up again the next year (apparently) but there will be no flower in the current year.  Of course, there will be more flies and more grubs and etc.

So the trick will be to look for leaves with no flowers, then dig these out hopefully before the grub can emerge as the fly waiting to lay more eggs.   Now there’s a mission if ever there was one.

I thought the adult was more of a moth but it turns out that it is more like a bumble bee except that bees have 2 sets of wings while these flies have only one.   The idea that while I am enjoying these beautiful flowers there is something in the down there, in the soil, maybe even inside the bulb that is eating away at their very soul is very disheartening.  However, I am off to buy a butterfly net to try to catch the flies.  Each one lays about 100 ebbs so each one I can catch is 100 daffodils that will be safe and sound.


Narcissus Bulb Fly- the little buggers

Some people recommend planting a close-knit ground cover over the bulbs, because the flies need to get right to the soil to lay their eggs at the base of the flower stem.  This would mean that for maybe the first year until the ground covers get established the blubs would be vulnerable, but at least it would be a start.  I guess bulbs could be added in later years if it was obvious that there was an empty spot. Creeping phlox, periwinkle and ivy are some possibilities.  I’m not wild about the ivy so am looking for quantities of creeping phlox and periwinkle.

Here are a few other ground covers that would do the trick, with thanks to GardenWise:

• variegated wall rock cress, Arabis caucasica ‘Variegata’
• aubrietia, Aubrieta cultivars
• candytuft, Iberis sempervirens
• Dalmatian bellflower, Campanula portenschlagiana
• creeping jenny, Lysimachia nummularia
• creeping phlox, moss phlox, Phlox subulata
rock soapwort, Saponaria ocymoides
• gold-spotted London pride, Saxifraga ‘Aureopunctata’
• lamb’s ears, Stachys byzantina
• woolly thyme, Thymus pseudolanuginosus
• mother-of-thyme, Thymus serpyllum
• common thyme, Thymus vulgaris

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February 20

Sun.  Sun.  And more sunshine.  Fernando arrived home from Seville last night with an awful cold.  I took him straight from the airport to the medical clinic where they immediately put him on antibiotics.  He hasn’t slept in 3 days and looks it.  The 10 hour flight from London is a real killer if you are even a bit under the weather.

Showdrops in the Garden at Albion Manor

Snow Drops in the Garden at Albion Manor

Most of the snowdrops bloom on the north side- not for any particular reason other than that is where they were planted.  They don’t get a lot of sun there and I think that might help them although there is really nothing wrong with the.  I just think that they might last a bit longer if they had a bit more light and sun.  They come up in nice big clumps.  Speaking of clumps I have to start planting all the bulbs closer together.  I know all the references say to plant them a certain distance apart.  Generally I find that this is too far apart.  They all look much better if they are close together.  I know that they will produce more blooms in the following years and so will eventually form larger clumps with blossoms closer together, but I am too impatient to wait for that to happen.  I went it now.

If you want short term happiness, get married.  If you want medium term happiness, have a family.  If you want long term happiness, plant a garden.  Where did I read that recently.  I don’t have the first 2 although Fernando and I have been together for 18 years and I don’t have any kids, so I am concentrating on the latter bit of advice.

I got the roses pruned yesterday.  Well, most of them.  I am still uncertain as to how to proceed with the big ramblers at the front of the house.  They are so big but I know they need pruning because some of the large stems are dying away.  I guess the thing to do is just jump in and do it.  It is unlikely that I will kill them unless I cut them right to the ground and I am not going to do that.   I am also going to try to get the trellis for the Joseph’s Coat climbing rose finished today.  Work around the bed and breakfast is never done but the weather in Victoria certainly is inspiring.  Lots to do.  Better get going.

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February 19

Again that sun.  And no frost last night.  But it is a bit chilly this morning.  Fernando gets home from Spain today.  And I looking forward to it?  I barely function without him so the answer is obvious.  He will be in the air right now, somewhere over Northern Canada, probably on his second movie.  I hope he doesn’t have problems with Canadian Immigration as he usually does.  You couldn’t find a more gentle person in the world, but with his dark Spanish looks they often assume that he is Middle Eastern and single him out for detailed scrutiny.

Primroses- First Colour Blast of Spring

One of the first real colour explosions of spring comes from the primroses and these bloom in profusion in the front garden.  You can see in the top of the photo an old stem from one of last year’s dahlias- one of the jobs that I am still hoping to get to soon, while this glorious weather holds.  And the lawn needs mowing and the roses need pruning and on and on.  I will get to all of it eventually, but must do the roses today.

Last night I went for the first time to a meeting of Communities in Living an organization of local gay business-owners.  There were 9 people present representing everything from lawyers and real estate agents to interior designers and travel agents: quite a diversity, as one would expect.  My hope is to eventually bring up with them my concerns about Tourism Victoria’s marketing to the LGBT public and how that is being done.  I felt a bit uncomfortable last night in that it was my first meeting with the group and I thought I should get a chance to know them first, and give them a chance to get to know me, before confounding them with serious issues.  Not that they don’t deal with serious issues all the time, but not from a new comer to the group.  All in good time.

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February 18

Yet another glorious sunny February day at the bed and breakfast here in Victoria BC. Boy are we getting spoiled. It’s February! The first photo below is of the oak tree on the boulevard at the front of the house.

Obviously the oaks aren’t to be fooled by the weather, but the second photo is of one of the many Japanese maples at the corner. All the flowering trees in the city are in full flower. It is glorious. Here’s hoping that we don’t get any rain in the next little while. Rain is always the end of the flowering trees.

Trees in Full Bloosom

Ray and I went to see Where the Blood Mixes at the Belfry theatre last night. It’s a new play by Kevin Loring and has been nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award. The show deals not so much with Residential Schools as with the aftermath of Residential Schools. The characters, in some way or other, are all dealing with the effects of the Residential Schools. It’s beautifully written, well acted, great set and lighting. The story is about a native man whose wife committed suicide just after the birth of their daughter. The daughter is then taken away by the ‘authorities’. The show starts years later. His daughter has found him and has arranged to meet him for the first time- in the bar that is his usual hangout. It’s heart wrenching.

What the play doesn’t deal with is hypocrisy. I mean the hypocrisy of the white society. We have just celebrated the opening of the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. In the front row were the Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Premier Gordon Campbell. Surrounding them was a phalanx of native people all in the traditional costumes. And all around the centre of the stadium, natives danced while the athletes paraded in. It was all so bright and loving and colourful and it is so nice that they let us use them when we want to put on a show and add some colour and come curiosity. However at any other time, we wouldn’t give these people the time of day. We certainly wouldn’t want them to live next door to us or marry out daughters. We prefer to have them living in their foul communities, in mould infested houses- houses that none of us would live in. What we resolutely refuse to do is deal with their social problems in a meaningful way or honestly deal with their land claims. But we have not problem celebrating their culture when it suits us, when it makes us look good to the world. As I say, we need a good play about hypocrisy.

I am concerned about the hypocrisy of the audience as well.  Will seeing this show inspire any of us to actions on behalf of Native People.  Probably not.  The show is very cathartic.  It takes you on a dark journey but the end is happy for the father and daughter.  There is a reconciliation of sorts, a reconciliation with an acknowledgement that there are problems that still have to be dealt with but at least they are happily talking to each other at the end.  And so we feel good.  All that pain and suffering that we had just experienced is going.  Whew, I feel so much better, let’s go and have dinner.  It was just a play after all.

And that’s what you think about when you are out in the garden.

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February 17

A few clouds this morning although all signs are that it is going to be another bright sunny day here in Victoria and at the bed and breakfast. There was a frost last night, the usual result of having clear skies the day before. Not a heavy frost, but there is frost on the roofs this morning. I’m currently working on the new stained glass panels for room 8 but still hope to get to cleaning some of the beds later today- all the stuff that I didn’t get done last fall. When I stand back and look at it, but garden is looking a bit ragged at the moment. I noticed this morning that the muscari are up in front of the cottage. I think I planted a couple of hundred of them so I’m looking forward to seeing them in full bloom soon.

Viburnum Timus Thrives in the Side Garden

Viburnum tinus is a flowering shrub that starts with  pink buds which turn to white blooms in the late winter and early spring, as in right now.  These blossoms then develop into a dramatic, clumping fruit that is a deep, nearly iridescent, blue-black. It seems to be thriving in the side garden where it really only gets sun in the afternoon.  This beautiful bush is right beside the lower entrance. It is in full bloom right now, the middle of February and fills the entry with a heavenly scent .

Today is the scheduled day for pruning and fertilizing the roses. The roses were very successful last year after a very heavy pruning in the spring so I am attempting to do this now every year. Especially the rambler that is right by the front door. I pruned it really severely last year and it was beautiful by late spring.

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February 16

I can’t get over how far along the plants are in the garden this year.  The city was doing some work on the mains on the street before Christmas and they had to dig a big trench into the yard so the lawn is looking considerably unkempt, but there are shoots coming up all over the place.  Does this mean that it is going to be a really bad summer?  You see how catholic I am- guilt: you have to pay for any good that comes your way.

I have just returned last week from 3 weeks in Spain and then, on the way home, 1 week in London.  Seville was, as it always is, amazing.  I did however manage to maintain my record.  For the past 3 years, it has snowed in Spain on the first day that we arrived.  This year was no different except that this year it even snowed in Seville.  This is unheard of.  The last time it snowed in Seville was 50 years ago.  So while southern Spain is getting the worst weather in 50 years (at least all the dams are filling up).

Showdrops in the Garden at Albion Manor

Daffodils Growing in the Front Lawn of Albion Manor

Victoria is basking in beautiful warm sunshine. And I have a chance to get some of the work done that I didn’t get done in the fall- cleaning and getting rid of the old leaves and branches. Just a general spring clean up in other words.

Daffodils at Albion Manor

Daffodils at Albion Manor

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