Memories of Mexico

Mexico memories 1

Bougainvillea blooms over a fence at the entrance to a beachside house near Progreso, on the Gulf of Mexico in Yucatan state, Mexico

Now that we’ve returned to frigid Ontario after many weeks in tropical Mexico, I’m glad I have photos of eye-popping bougainvillea to drool over. They’re helping me hold on till my spring bulbs eventually break through the earth… Continue reading

Art in the garden: letting go at Brillig Manor

jabberwocky bird brillig house

The Jabberwocky bird at the entrance to Brillig Manor could pass for an unusual piece of modern sculpture, but in fact it’s a hint of what’s to come.

I know this is easier said than done, but I think we should let ourselves go a bit in our gardens. We’d have more fun, we might release more tensions, and we’d end up with more memorable gardens, like the one at Brillig House.

I appreciate as much as the next person beautifully tended borders and well-designed pathways, but the gardens I remember years after scouting them for Canadian Gardening magazine and its eponymous TV show are the ones where the gardeners strayed from the rules and let their instincts take over. I was especially intrigued  with those that were  unique to the point of being wacky.

For instance, there was the woman in Halifax who employed a porcelain toilet as a planter; with ivy flowing over the sides it had a surprisingly classic look. A Winnipeg gardener copiously painted old milk cans and washtubs with colourful flowers and moved them around the beds to fill empty spaces when the real flowers faded. Then there was the Berkeley, California, gardener who set cobalt blue bottles over the ends of the limbs of a mature tree in her backyard. It fairly glowed in the afternoon sunlight.

“What kind of tree is that?” I asked before it registered that they were real bottles. “It’s a blue bottle tree,” she replied, deadpan, then explained that it’s an old tradition–the bottles trap evil spirits who are attracted by the lovely colour and can’t get out.

Which brings me to my point, and another California gardener–Darlene Graeser, whose phantasmagorical garden I visited on the Westlake Village Garden Club Annual Garden Tour in California in early May. Darlene’s garden is called Brillig Manor because it’s inspired by Lewis Carrol’s nonsense poem “Jabberwocky” in Alice Through the Looking Glass, which begins “Twas bryllig, and ye slithy toves/ did gyre and gymble in ye wabe…”

Actually, it’s not only Darlene’s garden—her husband, John, handles the plants ( the garden smelled hypnotically of lavender and rosemary on that warm sunny day) and Darlene does the garden decor. In their other lives, he’s a dentist and she’s a clinical psychologist. What do you make of that?

Darlene has a third life, too–as an artist. And the interior of  her house is a fantastical as her garden. We couldn’t stop ourselves from peeking in the windows. Check out her website to see all her work, which includes jewellery, too.

But words can’t do this garden justice, so here are some photos of the garden at Brillig Manor. I hope they inspire you to let yourself go in your garden.

brillig front 1 The entrance garden is deceivingly  simple, with gravel mulch punctuated by low grasses,  and a footbridge over a stream bed. Then you wonder about the huge mosaic-tiled balls, and notice that that the stream bed isn’t water at all–it’s also made of colourful tiles.

The  agave  looked a little odd, too.  I wanted to straighten it up.

 The front door is classically lovely, with etched glass doors and a tiled entrance pad.  What’s different is the ribbon of limestone that runs right across the front of the house. front door Discreet yet stylish, we thought. Then we rounded the corner to the covered patio at the side of the house.  WOW! patio This is where the window peeking began–that’s me at upper left.There was so much to take in I almost overlooked the painted sofa. painted sofaSomeone told me Darlene had John lie on the sofa so she could draw his outline, then she sat at the other end so her silhouette could be drawn. Then she painted the figures on the fabric. After that we–my son Joe was with me, as well as my husband, Chris, who took the pictures–we wandered and gawked.  And did more window peeking. window peeking bum and gravel garden tools

We saw some unusual plantings ….






And  the colourful area where some garden tools were stored.






There were lots of comfy places to sit in the garden…one was made out of an old bathtub

sofa….and many pieces of statuary to look at .
statuary 2           dog statuary           







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And of course there’s a pool–this is California, isn’t it?

This pool is different, however–it has a beach edge, which beckoned me to walk in and cool my feet. I resisted…Guess I’m not quite as unhibited as Darlene.


I’ll never forget the Graesers’ garden, but the Westlake Village Garden tour had five very different spreads to view, including a huge one done Provencal style, and a smallish suburban one that featured California native and Mediterranean plants.

If you’d like to take a tour and feel inspired, go to my Photo Gallery page.

Applewood Garden Club tour

On the Events page I’ve given you a hint of what my work-in-progress looks like as I get it ready for Applewood Garden Club‘s Great Neighbourhood Gardens tour July 14 in Mississauga, ON, but here I thought i’d give you a little preview with its best foot forward. Without the wheelbarrow and the plant trimmings, I mean. All the pictures on this blog were taken Friday, July 5, so we can expect the garden will look reasonably similar at tour time.

I’ve been working hard to make the garden look good for its day in the spotlight, even though it got a good going over for the Flamborough Horticultural Society’s tour in late May. But gardens can change and look unkempt in even a few weeks, so I’ve been at it again. I’ve been deadheading, weeding endlessly and of course viewing the garden with a critical eye. Why can gardeners never stop changing things? I’ve removed some perennials (we’ve lost a couple of trees over the past three years, leaving some shade-loving plants browning in the sun) and I’m putting in evergreens and shrubs to cut down on work. And I’ve introduced some new perennials. Why? you may ask…well, just because.
bee balm Continue reading

Spring in my front garden

my front yard in springSpring is the best time in my front garden–my neighbours like it best, too. Naturally, it’s a welcome change from the mostly dreary winters we have in the Toronto area, but it’s more than that. I’m fresh from a few months of garden starvation and I spend a lot of time sprucing the place up, like pruning back the bushy (and lethal!) ‘The Fairy’ roses, of which I have six (or is it seven now? They do keep rooting themselves) and by the end of April it looks a lot tidier. But it’s the parade of colour that really makes me glad.

In early March the garden suddenly springs alive and starts blooming in yellows, pinks, lavenders, blues, purples, chartreuse and dark red, starting with clumps of crocus and passing through daffodils, prairie smoke, moss phlox and aubrieta, tulips, dwarf bearded iris, lady’s mantle, cushion spurge and catmint.  The magnolia bursts into bloom –well, usually it does: last year a sudden late frost turned its pregnant white buds into mushy beige tissues hanging from the tree–then the vibrant PJM rhodos and that heavenly wisteria. Many clumps of early through late tulips (I usually plant several dozen new ones every fall) give the plantings changing colour, form and height till late May.

I especially like the garden’s low, undulating height in spring.  By mid-summer growth is starting to get out of hand and I have to diligently whack plants back or they start to fall over and look jungly. The cats like it, though. Tall plants are perfect places to rest under on a hot day. Come to think of it, they love the garden in spring, too, probably because the sandy soil warms up fast (it faces west  and captures the best heat of the day) and provides cozy napping spots between bouts of bug-chasing.