For about a year when I was seven or eight my mom took me to Chinese brush-painting lessons every Saturday morning at a strip mall in Scarborough. I can't recall my teacher's face anymore but I remember she was about my mom's age, and gentle and patient. I remember the smells of bottled India ink and cracked tubes of rainbow paints; the dread of having to wash my brushes under a tap that only ever ran icy cold; the sound of my teacher's knife slicing through rice paper to cut sheets to size; and my frustration when I produced only clumsy-looking compositions. Perfectionist at seven years old, sigh.
Every few weeks my teacher would demonstrate a new form - either flora or fauna - and then I'd practice the brushstrokes in their particular order. I worked my way through grasses, daisies, helenia, goldfish and various seaweeds - but chrysanthemum blooms were my very favourite to paint. Starting with the two innermost petals and working outward from there, each incurve petal was its own study in brush control.
Sadly, when my teacher moved away, the lessons stopped and I never thought much about chrysanthemums again except to doodle them in pencil from time to time. I always appreciated the giant potted mums that show up each year in October (so robust, so showy!), but I didn't equate them with the elegant specimens I'd learned to paint as a child. Also I didn't know any gardeners growing up - and heirloom chrysanthemums aren't regular garden fare anyway - so it wasn't till I interned at Floralora Flowers that I realized they existed beyond the realm of Chinese paintings. I could grow them myself!
I got my first heirloom chrysanthemum plants in May and promptly lost all their labels, oh well. My chrysanthemum supplier had suggested I grow them on in containers so I could move them indoors if they hadn't bloomed by the time frost came. Well, about half of my varieties flowered before the frost and the other half afterward, so I'm glad I followed her advice. Here are the very last ones to bloom (they're still sitting on my table - I'm so impressed with their vase life):
My chrysanthemum memories are all the sweeter because my dad's mother practiced Chinese brush-painting too, in her later life. I never got to watch my grandmother work, but she'd tape her studies to her bedroom wall. Every Saturday afternoon when we visited, I'd examine them closely.
My grandmother died a few years ago, and my grandfather this past spring. I helped a little to sort through their things, and I made it my mission to find the paintings I remembered. It's not lost upon me how lucky I am to have found them:
What are your flower memories?
My final garden harvest of the year was giant brussels sprouts, ten purple and blue beasts that I'd tucked into various holes in my perennial beds. I lay them all in a row and marveled at them like I'd just returned from a prehistoric plant safari. I was hoping to store the stalks whole (with the sprouts still attached), but the sprouts were so tiny that I just harvested them all and we had a particularly sprouty dinner that night.
I considered including a recipe here, but I don't know the quantities of anything I used - I'm turning into my mom, haha! Briefly, I sauteed the sprouts with caramelized onions that I'd made in the slow-cooker and frozen in ice cube trays last week. Besides salt and pepper, I like to add a tiny bit of sugar to my sprouts, tho these ones weren't bitter at all to begin with. Next time I must add some bacon/prosciutto/pancetta...
If I grow these again I'll have to seed them much earlier and give them more sun - but I don't know if I can spare the space! For better or worse, my list of flowers to grow in 2018 is almost double that of 2017. Still, these purple-green gems are hard to resist, no?
Until next time, Gang.
Though it's been a warm October and I'm still waiting for frost, autumn's here, alright. I've been in the garden most of the afternoon, tromping rather listlessly from patch to patch, caught up in a cycle of starting and abandoning tasks, distracted all the time by moments of beauty, a raucous wind, and sporadic but heavy rain.
In my travels across the yard I'm seeing all kinds of bees and wasps and I'm very admiring of them. They work, work, work until the cold gums up their muscles, so that they lay nestled inside a cosmos bloom, or belly-flopped on a nasturtium blossom. I'm suddenly struck by the idea to dress up as a sleeping bumblebee for Halloween - and then I remember that the only Halloween costumes I've ever been good at are the ones that require a paragraph of explanation...
Hey, when did the cicadas stop buzzing?
To be honest, I can't wait for a hard frost to come. There's a long list of things to do to prepare for winter and next spring, and I can't help putting them off while there are still dahlias begging to be cut and arranged. How can I argue with the value of practicing and building my design portfolio? Plus, the prospect of rediscovering a big cache of pretty images over the winter is delicious, no? Like opening up a cupboard full of fruit jams - which I am also working on.
Aside from making jam (mostly for a select group of aunties who flatter me into making them more each year) the main jobs ahead include planting a thousand or so bulbs before the ground freezes, and setting up a webshop so I can sell my antique vases alongside the first annual Posy Gang calendar, which I am very proud of. Most excitingly, I'm already booking 2018 weddings!
So, even though I sometimes feel like I'm just walking around in a flowery dream, today I've gotta cultivate my focus and decisiveness if I'm to get everything done.
The day is slipping away and my sense of urgency intensifies. I put down my camera, dig out four clumps of a dahlia variety that I didn't end up liking (I will practice dividing tubers on them), and I tear out the whole scabiosa patch.
I feel better having done these things and head inside just as it gets too dark to see.
Talk to you after the frost,
October 7: market morning! Ours is a two-hatchback household, for good reason. The tent is up in the roof box which, to date, is our best curbside find ever :D
My lovely mama was my assistant this time around. We wore jean jackets without trying to match; if I wore glasses everyday I'd wear hers. Husby was essential too, but despite my best efforts I haven't been able to obtain his consent to publish his likeness on the internet, lol.
The best part about market was the surprise visits from friends and family, reuniting with Flower Friends, and getting to meet so many nice people! This smiling pair took away whole handfuls of my dried bouquets and northern sea oats to decorate the newly-opened restaurant Hello123. EEK! I can't wait to have supper at Hello 123.
And I got to meet Spring, a super talented photographer, who sent me a photo of my bunches of nasturtium, shoulder to shoulder. I can smell their perfume from here, can you? Mm, there's nothing better than leaning in, sniffing a flower, and finding that it actually has a scent. Anyway, go to Spring's website, cause she's really good at what she does.
Rachel sent me a picture of the cake she baked for Thanksgiving dinner. That frosting................ drool.
And THEN, Divya sends me this photo of her maple pecan loaf. Come ON! Divya's obviously multi-talented - check out her blog here.
The way to my heart is definitely through my stomach. And my eyes. We eat with our eyes!
Okay, I'll end with a slideshow (please sit tight - I want it to move about twice as fast as it does, but it won't!). So I was able to bring home a handful of mason jar arrangements leftover from the market. And exactly 7 days later, they still had so much life in them that I couldn't throw them out just yet. There was even a cosmos bud just about to open (white dot under the big yellow dahlia on the left). Yeah fresh cut flowers! So I made this for you. Enjoy <3
Getting anything done in the garden is difficult when the roses are in bloom. This past week, it's been a treat to roam around with my camera at the end of the day and pass over every bloom with an admiring eye.
Did my care of them make any difference? Aphids loved the wet and chilly spring and queued up in grotesque formation to suck the juices from growing shoots. I did my best to wash them off with soapy water and it kind of worked, but maybe I harmed beneficial insects in the process. Leaf-rolling caterpillars settled into their comfy nooks, laying there eating and making frass; I cut off dozens, leaf and all. I don't know if my actions resulted in more roses or better blooms. There was no time to set up any kind of scientific study, nor was I willing to risk doing nothing. I made biased observations and moved on. Every decision has its trade-offs.
My thorniest rose bush produces the most fragrant and intensely-coloured flowers. They last in a vase for about 72 heavenly hours before shattering into a pile of perfect petals. I'm not surprised. Again, trade-offs.
Yesterday evening, taking these pictures was my very last task (I'd already told myself "just one more thing" too many times). When I was done, I slumped down into a patio chair missing its cushion, holding my camera in one hand, and a pair of clippers in the other. I knew then how mindlessly I'd been going about my day, as I suddenly became aware of my body again and how incredibly tired it was. It's not an unpleasant feeling unless you know you have to be somewhere, doing something else. I asked my husband to take a picture of me like that, out of curiosity. If you've ever looked at yourself in the mirror while ugly-crying, the motivation was similar (I'm not ashamed, I bet plenty of people have done it... although if you think it's vain and dumb, my husband agrees with you). Anyway, the picture was not worth posting here, but I'll tell you I was wearing a dirty, sweaty sun hat, an oily face, and red socks pulled up over the cuffs of my saggy-bum pants (the socks help keep the top edge of my rubber boots from chafing against my shins). Wait, I had a point to make... oh yeah: trade-offs. I had worked outside all day, and probably didn't take enough breaks or eat enough, so today I'm indoors with so much to do, but feeling catatonic. And nobody to blame but my own damn self.
But since we've got these pictures of roses to look at now, and since I'm really good at rationalizing my choices, I say - totally worth it.
Till next time, Posy Gang.
May is my favourite month. The season is still in flux, but can you feel it starting to gain momentum?
It poured yesterday, and all the weather websites are calling for more rain in an hour or so. I'm only halfway through my garden chores but I want to take pictures. I run in to grab the camera and begin stalking the grounds for subjects.
The scent of wet earth is on the air.
I have many memories tied to this scent, but what comes to mind first is a school-aged Allison, hastily shutting the front door and running out to the car in the morning just after it's rained. There is no time to take in my surroundings but that lovely muddy smell hits me anyway. It's 8:11 AM and homeroom begins at 8:50, several stop signs and ten subway stations away. I can see through the windshield that my mom is already gripping the wheel with both hands. I feel a little guilty. She always seems to be in more of a hurry to get me and my brother to the subway than we are...
If somebody is selling this scent of mud, I'll take a few bottles. FYI my chemist friend tells me the scent is called petrichor and is made up mostly of geosmin molecules. Hm...!
Suddenly another scent hits me. It's lilac season. I'm delighted to host a white-flowered tree in my space, but my neighbour's mauve flowers have the heavier fragrance. I inhale deeply while casting longing looks at those luscious blooms just on the other side of the hedge.
Loud rustling from within my compost pile breaks my reverie. A robin emerges with a long piece of straw in her beak. If this is the robin I think it is, then I'm cheered to know she's building again. She made her first nest under my eaves, but she abandoned it last week, around the time I found a blue, broken egg on the ground. Did I disturb her too much?
A grackle lands on the roof, hops to the edge, and peers down at me.
The compost heap looks rather inviting today. I feel compelled to lay down upon it and recite The Lady of Shalott. LOL. I think I have Anne of Green Gables on my mind. See how nostalgic I get, enveloped in a cloud of petrichor and lilac perfume?! That said, even if I were eleven again, the thought of slug slime and sowbugs all up in my hair would probably be too much to overcome.
By the way, that hosta growing at the top of the pile came from a yard waste bag I filled last fall while dividing perennials. Hostas are tanks.
Okay, let's go look at what I'm growing now.
The roses are leafing out and aphids have been snacking on their tender shoots. I've been trying out Ed Lawrence's spray bottle remedy. It seems to have worked. The aphids are not completely gone, but I think I can keep their numbers low this way. Recipe: 1 part liquid soap in 40 parts water sprayed all over; left on for 10 minutes; rinsed and repeated 3 times over 10 days.
More hostas. The one on the left is a giant. I love them best now, as they unfurl, and before the slugs begin their season-long feast.
Oooh, these are hybrid and tiger lilies. New soundtrack for the remainder of this post: Eye of the Tiger (the Jenn Grant cover, not the original).
I was in the middle of planting these dahlias when I started taking pictures.
It's getting a bit dark and drizzly out here now - let's finish up quickly on the far side of the house.
Holly bushes make flowers! I'd never thought about it before, but of course they do! And based on those central green nubbins (ovaries?), I think this one's a female. Despite having no space for anything else, I consider finding her a mate so she'll bear those bright red berries. They would certainly make my winter wreaths more colourful...
Oh no, rain's falling heavier.
Decision to buy male holly deferred.
Okay, gotta run inside now to save my camera..............!
Japanese maple, how do you stay so zen?
Talk soon, Gang!
So Saturday was my first Toronto Flower Market, and I really want to tell you about it.
Two words come to mind: intense and incredible. Thank you to everyone who came out and made the whole market such a success! A bunch of vendors sold out - I know I was down to my last bouquet by 1pm! It's a good thing I physically couldn't have made or stored more, else I would have been mad.
I think my favourite thing about the market was how I got to give many people their first experience of scented geraniums. Strawberry, apricot, and chocolate mint, yes please! I love how people put their heads together and leaned in to sniff - then looked up with delight when they'd caught the scent. It never got old. "How did you DO that?!" was a common refrain. It wasn't me, I swear! I really wish I'd caught one of these exchanges on camera. I'll have to make do with my mental snapshots.
My other favourite thing was when my family and friends - some of whom I hadn't seen in years - came to visit me. I felt so loved! My only regret is that I didn't get a chance to visit any of the other vendors. I was suffering from a major case of tunnel vision.
The hours passed in a flash. Sometimes I'd look up and there would be a wall of people in front of us where there had been none just the moment before. Truthfully, I often feel very shy, and there's no doubt I'm an introvert who likes to spend lots of time alone. But when I'm facing happy strangers and I've got flowers to show off, then I sure do relish a performance. I think it's my Cancer-Leo cusp showing.
When it was all over, I was giddy with relief and fatigue, feelings which were quickly supplanted by weepy gratitude, for all the help and encouragement I've been so privileged to receive. Hey, while I've got your eyeballs here for another moment I'm going to take the opportunity to name a few very important people.
Sas of Floralora Flowers, who gave me my first taste of flower farming last spring and who continues to be an inspiration and great support. Also, as far as I'm concerned, she is the Tulip Queen of the world, and she supplied me with gorgeous blooms when I ran out of my own.
My parents, who mostly took it in stride when I told them I was going to start a flower business, and who I know just want me to be happy and healthy and safe.
My husby, who routinely gives up his days off to help me dig soil and transport fridges, and who indulges my dreams and generally takes good care of me (of course, I take care of him too).
And perhaps most of all, my sister-in-law who said yes without a second thought when I asked her to help me sell bouquets and plants alllll day long. She memorized every selling point and morsel of plant info I gave her. She is such a pro salesman, and a very, very good Unni indeed. When I think about it, I suppose many sisters are game for at least one flowery labour of love, but I don't think I will ask her to do it again. It was a lot. So now watch me pamper her real good.
I'm also realizing that even though I was able to pump out several dozen wrapped bouquets all by myself (super proud; also thank you roster of podcasts and entire seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix), I'm going to need even more help soon. Cuz I heard my business is supposed to be "sustainable" or something. The only alternative is that I keep trying to do everything myself, turn into a flower supernova, and flame out in a big burst of colour and fragrance. Just imagine, nothing left of me but a slow-mo shower of singed petal confetti and smoke.
Actually, that sounds like it would be worth seeing.
Okay I'll do my best to avoid it.
So... that was the only Toronto Flower Market I signed up for in advance. As this is my first season I didn't want to commit to more before I'd been tested, but man, I hope I'm able to go to market again. It was fun! And very stressful. But at least now I have my set up ready to go. I even dyed my own tablecloths and display drapes! The resist effect wasn't a complete success, but I guess it's nice to remember that time I spent an entire afternoon crawling around my kitchen floor, writing out Posy Gang over and over again on a bedsheet with white glue, haha.
Epilogue: I'd planned to take off all of Sunday, but it didn't happen. Tulips wait for nobody! And I made my mama flowers for Mother's Day. I mean, I worked, but it was pleasant, so I guess it was okay.
What's next? Back to seeding, planting, and waiting for the last frost so I can plant out my dahlias and tomatoes. Looking forward to the fruits of those labours! And wedding planning of course - bring it on. Till next time, dears!
Life change, transitions, can be so difficult. But the garden makes change seem effortless. Or inexorable. For all that I love order and executing carefully laid plans, growing flowers will always be just beyond my control - a good reminder that most things can never really be, nor should be, perfect. Wabi sabi, right?
Let's see what's been happening in the Posy Gang garden the last few weeks...
And now for things still to come: roses, lilacs, sweetpeas:
Okay let's keep it moving! Come on inside again:
And because I promised you more colour this blog, let's take a peek at what I've been harvesting.
Till next time, dears. I hope to be back before long to show you behind-the-scenes preparation for the Toronto Flower Market...
Guys, spring is here in earnest! Every place I look there is new life. Today's high: 20 degrees! Time to go outside and stay there. Let's have a tour, shall we?
Meanwhile, seeding continues indoors. It's been a learning curve for sure. With each succession I'm adjusting how deep to sow each variety of seed, how humid to keep them, when to water them, when to move them off the heat mat and under the lights to keep them stocky and strong. As a very small scale grower, soil blocking has definitely been worth the space saving.
It's now time to plant all the hardy annuals I sowed in March, which I've just started to harden off in these warmer temperatures.
One of my biggest hurdles is going to be getting the new big bed prepped in time. I gotta get it done soon. Over the winter I tried my best to make the lawn melt away under layers of newsprint, leaves, compost, and snow, but it turned out to be mostly wishful thinking, ha! So with a few sighs and what I hope is an endless well of determination, I'm going to break ground and remove the sod myself. And double dig and amend with compost. I promise to use my legs, not my back, and take lots of breaks.
That's it for now - I'm certain the next set of pictures will be more colourful! Until then, stay tuned to Instagram as I've got some exciting news for you all in the next couple of weeks!
There's a tulip in my house. What's more - those masses of tulips and narcissus I planted last fall? They're coming up too. Shit's getting real.
Their appearance should be no surprise, since the whole of last week was freakishly warm for February. Temperatures of 9 and 15 and even 18 degrees Celsius?! It's got me on edge though, since they're more vulnerable now to the elements, and varmints. As I was pulling up the hardware cloth and brushing away the blanket of leaves I'd heaped on the tulip beds last fall, I was hoping, hoping, hoping I wouldn't see any green tips. But I did, and lots of them. I gasped, or groaned. Babies go back to sleep!!!! It's not time yet!!!!
I've mentioned it before, but I'm really weirded out by my changing outlook on seasons. It's so unlike me to be anxious about spring. At least I know that underneath my apprehension is pure, itchy-palmed anticipation. Fortunately, everything's gone according to schedule so far. I'll take that as a sign that I'm headed in the right direction. And sure, the season's hardly begun, and everything could still go wrong, but..... It's a good thing I'm a dogged optimist who loves to plan ahead!
Yesterday I took a time-out from wedding work to plant seeds for my winter sowing experiment. Have you ever heard of winter sowing? It's my first time trying it out, but on paper it looks like a lazy-yet-efficient way to start seeds that need a few freeze-thaw cycles in order to germinate. If you do some Googling you'll read that many of the plants that do well when winter-sown are the ones that tend to self-sow.
Basically, you sow your seeds into clear, plastic containers in mid-winter and just leave them outside. Once the temperatures start to warm up the containers act as mini-greenhouses, triggering germination and protecting the emerging seedlings. You do have to keep an eye on the containers in order to ventilate them at the right time, but you end up with stocky little plants that don't need to be hardened off, since they've spent their entire lives outside. Of course I'm hedging my bets (all this week I'll be seeding indoors into soil blocks too) but if the winter sowing turns out well, I'll be very happy indeed.
Happy sigh! Building this little business is all I can think about. Some days I focus on growing stuff, other days I'm corresponding back and forth about weddings, dreaming all the while. Making something from nothing, telling stories (mine and yours) with flowers - talk about flow state!
Signing off, with dirt under my nails once more,