Posts tagged ‘winter’

A walk through the garden

rockland primulas 2
Welcome to the new year. I am happy to be still in pajamas at three in the afternoon enjoying a quiet day as 2014 begins. It is calm and overcast today in Vancouver, one of those west coast days where the air is moist and warm. Moss and ferns and lichen rule the landscape this time of year, even in the city, and especially in the tucked away areas of Vancouver Island where we spent most of the last week visiting family.

We had a couple of hours to spare on our way home from the Island this time, and one of the things we did was stop for a walk at Government House gardens in Victoria. I used to live a five-minute walk away from these gardens when Victoria was home, so I know them well.

You can always tell how much care and thought goes into a garden by what it looks like during the winter months. The Government House gardens are a good reminder about the quiet beauty of the plants that thrive at this time of year: Garry oaks, evergreens, lichens, moss, berries on trees and shrubs, first flowers like hellebores, cyclamen, snowdrops and blue-flowering rosemary.

rockland rosemary 2

Cultiver ton jardin is the thought that is with me today as I think about how to approach the new year. Cultivate your garden. It’s not a new idea, but it’s a good one. It comes from a famous book called Candide by the French writer Voltaire. Candide’s life starts out with innocence and promise. Tragedy after tragedy plagues him, however, and after much loss and struggle, Candide concludes that the only path through this suffering is to focus inward, away from those things out of our control and toward practical action: “Il faut cultiver notre jardin.” One must cultivate one’s own garden.

rockland flowers

What Voltaire meant by the garden keeps many a Literature major up at night. A space of our own making, a place of growth and discovery, a gathering of loves, a sanctuary to help us survive trauma and hardship. At times it might feel like a futile exercise, cultivating our little gardens while the world crumbles around us. But without the garden how can we find the strength to create the change we seek?

Last night we had friends over to celebrate New Year’s Eve, and as always I am at a loss when the question of resolutions comes around. I’m leery of resolutions because I’m just not motivated by goals. That seems like a terrible thing to admit, but it’s true. Goals quickly become tasks on a list – obligations – which make me want to run in the opposite direction. I don’t know why I feel that way, but I’ve given up fighting it. Doing the things themselves is fine; it’s the planning to act that brings me down. I attempt to do most of the things I see others striving for: eat well, exercise, and try to live in the best way I can. But I’ll never approach those things as goals or resolutions. If I have a goal I need a motivation beyond the goal itself to see things through. Ideas like mindfulness, intention and sustaining a practice (artistic, spiritual, healthy living, etc) work much better for me than the idea of achieving a goal. I’m wired for living life in increments, not for planning big leaps and bounds.

rockland hellebores

When it was my turn to offer goals for the new year, travel seemed like the only thing to say. It’s too wonderful to hate, so I felt safe putting it on a resolutions list.

“Cop out,” said my husband, who is one of the most goal-oriented people I’ve ever met. He claims travel doesn’t count as a real resolution since I’ve already half done it by making plans for two trips during the first part of 2014: Hawaii in January and then Denmark, Sweden and Germany in March. I think my resolution still counts. And it was truthful: travel is a goal of mine every year, but more importantly, it’s part of my garden cultivation strategy. No matter what is going on my life, being in a new place seems to make it better.

It takes a day of thought to come to a proper answer sometimes. My walk through the gardens at Government House brought quiet and solace on one of the last days of 2013, and reminded me about the importance of creating something beautiful that can stand up to winter in its literal and metaphoric forms.

2014, for me, I hope, will be about continuing to cultivate a garden worthy of all the seasons.

rockland new rhodos

rockland mountains

rockland red berry bush

rockland garry oak

rockland moss

rockland rosemary

rockland tree in front of house


January 1, 2014 at 6:06 pm Leave a comment

Happy holly days

December 24, 2012 at 5:50 pm Leave a comment

Fall turns to winter and spring

magnolia buds_november

It is pouring down rain today. Pouring! The rain is hitting the roof of our apartment hard enough that the plink plink plink sound is echoing in the hood fan of the stove. It’s beautiful to listen to, lovely to write about, and in a few minutes I’ll be walking downtown and getting soaked by it.

The other day, when I was out for a walk in the sun, I saw that holiday decorations are going up all over the place: lights, wreaths, acrylic snowflakes and oversized Christmas ornaments hung on the almost-bare branches of trees. Along with these vestiges of winter, I noticed that spring has already started. Furry buds on magnolia trees, green clusters holding spring’s rhododendrons, and even a few spring bulb tips peeking out of the ground just as the final leaves fall from the trees. This is the thing I missed when I lived in Calgary: the continuous cycle of plant life, the constancy of new beginnings, things forever growing and green. I will take the rain.

November 30, 2012 at 12:10 pm Leave a comment

Flowers + snow

Winter on the west coast is at its best when flowers and snow collide. Take these two scenes: above is a picture of a cherry tree in bloom just off Davie Street and Burrard in Vancouver’s west end. I took this picture today when I was wandering around on my lunch break. This seems shockingly early for cherry blossoms, but the photographic evidence speaks for itself.

And below, in the same neighbourhood on the same day, just a few hours earlier, is the view from my office window of the 20-minute snowstorm we experienced this morning in Vancouver. It was a great start to my week to be able to gaze out into the swirl over emails and Monday morning coffee.   (more…)

January 16, 2012 at 11:07 pm Leave a comment

Still growing

It’s hard to believe that there are still things growing as we enter the first part of December, but look at this: a blooming pink primula that has come back to life after the heat of summer. These tough flowers continue to thrive in our little garden and this one is adding a welcome spark of brightness right now.

December 1, 2011 at 11:01 pm Leave a comment


It gets cold in Vancouver during the winter, usually only for a few days at a time, but long enough that it has taken a toll on a few of my patio plants. My black-eyed susans are now black all over and dormant until next summer, and the Norfolk pine that we painstakingly moved from Calgary is black as well, its branches drooping downwards in complete surrender. We also had a few tropical plants on the patio for the summer months that unfortunately didn’t make it inside before frosty days arrived. I’m not sure what I’ll replace these plants with. It’s sad to see them go, but I’m sort of excited to have the pots empty again to try new things. It’s also an excuse to visit one of my favourite places – the local garden store.

Despite the cool weather and the occasional snow flurries this month and last, the snow drops and crocuses I planted in the fall are already coming up and a few winter violets are still holding on. There are even buds forming on some of the neighbourhood trees and shrubs, and I know that it won’t be long before the bare branches of the cherry trees lining our street are alive with blossoms. It’s dark and cold these days, but I know it won’t last. We’re very happy to be in Vancouver and looking forward to a wonderful growing season ahead.

January 8, 2011 at 7:43 pm Leave a comment

Flickr Photos

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