A winter’s walk at dusk

The  following  images were taken on my Android phone while out for a brisk , refreshing walk. A hospitable interlude from all the hustle and bustle of cleaning, baking, buying, making, wrapping madness. The plethora of Christmas prefatory measures that unfurl the 10 days before Christmas are known to many. I call them shenanigans that need to be chilled down with a breath of fresh air.




The Snow Storm

by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whitened air
Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden’s end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier’s feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.
Come see the north wind’s masonry.
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer 
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.

Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;
Fills up the farmer’s lane from wall to wall,
Maugre the farmer’s sighs; and, at the gate, 
A tapering turret overtops the work.
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not, 
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind’s night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.

Power perennials for Zone 3 climes

Opening Acts

The first perennials to brave the elements are stalwart specimens indeed. Winter, is allegedly a finite season not an endurance travail that perpetually tarries. Spring in Winnipeg, Manitoba is fraught with delays and set-backs and false starts. When all seems hopeless, as you’re thinking you’re doomed to eternal quiescence, the remarkable transfiguration transpires. Just as you’re thinking you’ll never wear a pair of flip flops or put your down filled jacket into mothballs the sub rosa affect occurs. My favorite perennials of all are the the opening acts, the unescorted soldiers if you will, which kick off the show, launching much anticipated spring into a feverish blazon.

Pasque Flower or Manitoba Crocus

Often seen emerging or blooming in the snow, the Pasque flower belongs to the Ranunculaceae family, which is Latin for “little frog”. The name was given to the family because a group of plants in this family grow where frogs live. The Pasque flower has several stems that rise 6-8 inches off the ground. On each stem is one flower with 5-8 petals. The range of color in the petals is from dark lavender to almost white. In the center of the flower are yellow stamens. The entire plant is covered in silky hairs.  The fruit of the plant is a plum that is achenial, which means that one seed is attached to the ovary wall, like a strawberry seed. The Pasque flower grows naturally in the tundra. It likes well-drained, sandy, and gravelly soils as well as roadsides. The Pasque flower, like all tundra plants, grows low to the ground in order to benefit from radiant heat in cold climates. Its fine silky hairs help insulate it from the cold.

Leopard’s Bane

Next champion perennial, and most likely to emerge is the valiant Leopard’s Bane Doronicum caucasicum or D. cordatum ~ was once thought to be poisonous to animals – hence the “bane” with regards to it being the scourge to small grazing animal species. The genus is from an old Arabic name for the flowers. Their long, straight stems make excellent cut flowers as they last for a number of days when placed in water. Because of their rich golden color, they are splendid for the border, for they begin blooming when most yellow flowers are still scarce. I plant them amongst tulips and muscarri, or near small flowering shrubs like dwarf Korean Lilac or dwarf plum, and in masses for high impact in late April and early May. Plant in rich loamy soil, they are equally good in shady or partial sun. Plants should be divided soon after they finish flowering. They also reseed themselves if the flowers are left to go to seed.

Longing for these delightlful sounds….

The Song Sparrow

Fair little scout, that when the iron year
Changes, and the first fleecy clouds deploy,
Come with such a sudden burst of joy,
Lifting on winter’s doomed and broken rear
That song of silvery triumph blithe and clear;
Not yet quite conscious of the happy glow,
We hungered for some surer touch, and lo!
One morning we awake, and thou art here.
And thousands of frail-stemmed hepaticas,
With their crisp leaves and pure and perfect hues,
Light sleepers, ready for the golden news,
Spring at thy note beside the forest ways–
Next to thy song, the first to deck the hour–
The classic lyrist and the classic flower.

Archibald Lampman

Skaters swirl atop a frozen shield of ice

All is quiet save for the scrapping blades of skates cutting contours on the recently Zamboni-ed surface. I strain to hear the swell and surge of the formidable estuary through the dense layers I stand poised upon. I know the cresting of the currents have not ceased under the crust of this ice. Another world, seemingly dormant, purdue in this sub-aqueous domain. This door is closed by natures harsh grasp. I float on the glaze of this dichotomy. I shine with the sun, I smile knowing the dark waters are temporarily thwarted, muted by the sheaths of dense crystals, snow and ice.

The smiles on the skaters faces, as they glide past me are pleasant and nostalgic. I love how my glides improve as my muscles warm. A sunny morning enhances the hoar-frost on the trees. The temperatures are perfect for skating on the river trail and the light is dazzling.

by Noa Biran and Roy Talmon

To mulch or not to mulch

Mulch is nature’s freebie so use it!

The idea of mulch is to add a layer of insulation on top of the soil preventing sudden changes on the soil temperature {from either freezing or thawing} fluctuations, which can compromise the root systems of tender perennials. Northern regions with reliable snow coverage have the benefit of snow mulch – natures own insulation however snow coverage can vary and cold snaps without proper snow coverage threaten tender perennials and transplants.

Mulching materials should be organic in matter and should remain loose around the plant so as not to suffocate. If the mulch compacts into a pancake it could create a wet environment for the perennial. A wet environment can cause mold, fungus, and disease and invite pests. I prefer mulched leaves; a mix of different kinds is best but experiment by all means. I’ve heard that maple leaves are particularly prone to compressing into a “pancake” layer. I like my oak leaves mulched through my lawnmower, they mesh together well. For my taller bushier perennials, {as in my rosettes, or roses} i will put a tomato cage around the plant to catch the mulch.  If you don’t have adequate leaves or leaves of your desiring, ask a neighbour to save some for you. Alternatively you can mix leaves with cedar bark or use in combination with pruned evergreen boughs.

The general rule for mulching perennials is to mulch after the ground has frozen. Apply mulch by piling on top of your plants to a dept of 6 to 8 inches. The depth of the mulch will depend somewhat on the soil underneath. Sandy soil will require more insulation that clayey soil. Elevated areas or areas exposed more precariously to the elements may warrant more protection as well.

Come spring the perennials will grow right through the mulch. Remove mulch from the crowns gradually in the spring as the soil thaws. You can remove the mulch completely when the ground has thawed completely.  {If you are not sure check the temperature of the soil, it should be 4 degrees Celsius or warmer.}

To Mulch or nor to Mulch was an article I wrote for the Perennial Workshop at Sage Garden on September 28, 2011

Preparing a perennial garden for winter at 49° North

Attention perennial gardeners, fall is the time to … Get a “Move On”

The great divide or investing in strong stock

If there was ever a time to rest on your laurels as a gardener its August and the beginning of September – unless of course frost warnings have you scrambling hither and yon collecting produce and protecting tender plants. However as September comes to a close the perennial garden needs a critical examination.  This is an opportune time to move or divide perennials. But there are rules to adhere to and certain protocols to follow in order to meet success for the spring. As a general rule of thumb, if a plant blooms between early spring and late June, an early division is ideal. If a plant blooms after late June – then early spring division is best. There are some perennials which require special attention, for example Peonies should only be moved/divided in the fall, Oriental Poppies should be moved/divided in August, Bearded Iris and Lilies should be moved/divided in mid to late fall. However one can always bend the rules and I do all the time. If you don’t push the boundaries you will never reap the rewards.  An autumn stratagem such as this accelerates the burgeoning appeal of your perennial beds so shake the cobwebs out and make September and October your time to get a head start on renovating your perennial beds.

Come August I tend to take a scrutinizing gander over the entire garden. With a critical eye I evaluate the if everything met my expectations.  I also track what I loved most in my garden journal; make wish lists for new acquisitions, as well as take account of what some of my kindred gardener’s successes were. Photos aptly illustrate my true loves. They also show the commonplace or noxious dwellers that beg to be shifted or banished.

I celebrate my successes and learn from my failures (or neglect). I also remember what I merely tolerated. The best part of photography is that it is a nice way to record the evolution of one’s yard as the years pass. Photos (digital photos at this juncture) help me to find where I relegated my new perennials in the autumn. This is a preventive measure as well as an artistic maneuver on my part, as it prevents me from inadvertently tearing or hoeing out, a fall edition in the perennial bed come May or June. This is my why not cutting back my perennials in autumn. I like most of the foliage to stay on the plant so that I know the lay of the land come spring. If there is insufficient foliage I recommend placing a good-sized marker or small stake and if no foliage is present a tag or wooden stick with the name of the plant. Besides that, leaving perennials intact adds visual and auditory interest in the winter, (ie. Ornamental grasses, Astilbe, Echinacea, Joe Pye weed, Virginia creeper), traps snow for better snow coverage (mulch) and provides for protective and secure perches for small birds in the winter.

Some perennials carry over the winter in a low clump of evergreen leaves near the ground, known as a “rosette”. Although you can trim the upright stems back on these “rosettes”, leaving the lower leaves intact. Remove only the brown or obvious dead parts of these plants in the spring. Some examples of “rosette” perennials are: Coreopsis, Digitalis, Gaillardia, Heuchera, Bearded Iris, Shasta Daisies, Penstemon, Poppies, Polemonium, Salvia, Primula, and Tiarella.

I keep an eye on the super-size perennials during the course of the summer so that when fall draws nigh, I have secured them some new real estate. This sometimes requires careful consideration and sometimes overall refurbishing of perennial beds in order to accommodate several specimens. You will find that some years you have many, many changes to make however I assure you, your hard work in September and October will be thoroughly rewarding in the spring. Sometimes a wet fall makes it more difficult to get into the garden. A dry fall is serendipity for a gardener so take advantage of what nature provides. When spring finally sashays into Manitoba, the results of your hard work will be a sensation. The newly refurbished perennial bed unfurls transformed for everyone to enjoy and admire.

There’s an army of reasons to move any given perennial. You may do so because it was in the wrong site. It may have been overshadowed by a shrub or scorched by the sun and is crying out for more shade or diffused light or the reverse may hold true, perhaps the drainage was poor, or it might merely need dividing after its fourth year ~ whatever the reason you must dig the entire plant up. Assess if it requires dividing and check the condition of the plant at large. It can be cut into halves or thirds using two shovels. I find a gardening knife an ideal way to saw through thick roots. If you don’t have room for the remaining part of the plant offer it to a neighbour or a friend, perhaps a trade will occur. Isn’t this what perennial gardening is all about… plenitude and sharing?

Dig the hole 5 to 10 inches deeper than the root ball, depending on the size of the perennial. Amend the soil by adding some compost (or Sea Soil), worm-castings or coco earth (if the soil is compacted with clay) or throw in combination thereof. Place the plant into the hole. Fill with remaining soil. Remove excessive foliage to promote root growth and serious wilting, which is desirable in the fall as plants are going into dormancy. Water in with Sea Magic as it is beneficial for stronger and speedier root development.

You must never, never fertilize in autumn. You may fertilize again in the spring once you see signs of leaf development. (Fertilizing a dormant perennial will encourage it to set out new growth, which will compromise it overwintering to its fullest potential.) Water the transplant regularly until the ground freezes being careful not to drown the roots through over-watering. Sometimes rainfall will not adequately “water in” the new transplant so check regularly until the ground freezes or snow falls, whichever comes first.

If you are choosing a new perennial from a garden centre, choose strong, healthy specimens. The foliage may not be impeccable this time of year but do check for disease or pests.  Look for over-sized perennials as they will give back forcefully and will require less monitoring than a minuscule plant. (Small perennials are best purchased in the spring when you can check its development more carefully). This might be just the time to choose something unusual or even reach into a less hardy Zone especially if you are providing winter protection.

This article was written for a workshop I gave at Sage Garden on September 28, 2011

The enigma of the Lost Peacock

When migration instincts fail

I had awoken to a horrific sound.

Peacock.wavCall of Peacock. 20.80 sec.

It took me a few minutes to discern what { or who? } could emit such a disturbance. It was loud and it was nigh!

A few years earlier my neighbor owned a cockatoo which he took outside {with clipped wings no doubt} and allowed it to perch in the oak tree in the back lane. It screeched without restraint until the bird was finally taken indoors by it’s reviled owner.  But alas this was not the sound of any species remotely related to the cockatoo.

This, my friends was a peacock. A female peacock at that, as it had no superfluous plumage. It had a beautiful iridescent head, neck and and breast and was adorned with an ebullient sapphire blue, tiara. Its wings were very precisely like its cousin, the pheasant with a spattering of orange fringing the wing tips.

There  it was standing on my fence, just outside my bedroom window! and I was clever enough to grab my camera.

Through my bedroom window I saw the buxom varmint, and it seemed to be contemplating the potentiality of taking up residence in my garden! It looked as much in its element as out.

It screeched its plaintive ruckus for some time. It sounded worried.  It seemed to me, that  it was calling to its mate or compadre, or its sister or to any kindred, feathered spirit that was near. Although it is said that peacocks cannot fly, it sailed its way to my neighbors roof, then to mine, then to another and another, until the sound of its cries  had grown faint and phantasmal.

Before I went to work I called the Zoo. It was indeed an escapee. A jail-bird trying to make a better life for itself outside the confines of the park. They {the Zoo-keeper} seemed not be too distressed by my call, I think the peacocks of the Assiniboine Zoo  frequently bolt in the spring when something in the wind coerces them to become drifters. The last remnant of instinct inviting them to embrace liberty.

I recently churned out another screen print. For some strange reason birds and elephants seem to keep appearing in my drawings and prints and apparently they are a recurring theme in my imagination as well.

This regal bird found a pretty spot to roost n’est pas? It’s next perch could be at your house. Who knows.

“resplendent enigma”, ~ Silk Screen by Karin Aldinger ~ April 18, 2011

How to get inspired for a silk screen

Matriarch Promenade

Whether Asian (Elephas maximus indicus) or African (Loxodona africana) or forest elephant (loxodonta cyclotis)~ the presence of elephants on this earth fortifies. Long may they breathe and perambulate.

As I forged another silk screen last week, I realized I hadn’t stumbled upon my imagery for the print arbitrarily. I stopped to ponder how elephants had repeatedly been impacting my life. As I began committing my passion for elephants to writing, I determined that my  admiration for elephants had in fact been going on for decades!

When I was 9 years old, my parents, sister Erika and I went on a summer vacation in the ol’ Meteor. Our destination was the Rocky Mountains. We made a pit-stop in Calgary to look up my Papa’s school friend. As one of our sightseeing excursions, Mr. and Mrs. Weishaar recommended an afternoon foray to the Calgary Zoo. I was comci’ com ca about the idea, however when Mr. Weishaar explained there were giraffes to be ogled my interest was piqued.

As it turned out, the Zoo was indeed fantastic! however what made it truly remarkable was something no one had bargained for. A famous visitor had arrived at the Zoo! To my amazement the peregrine elephant from the T.V show Daktari was fortuitously featured as the star attraction. I got caught up in the frenzy for I must confess, I had been a huge fan of Daktari for at least 3 years.

(I’m not positive but Dr. Marshall Tracy might well be standing beside the aforementioned elephant in the picture above)

To my amazement my sister and I were generously offered an elephant ride by Mr. Weishaar (may I emphasis the ride did not come at a pittance, even in those days). As I looked into my parents insisting eyes, I can only describe my feelings as “farouche”.

My sister immediately refused the offer, as she was nearly 3 years older than I was, and it would have been utterly mortifying to her to sit on an elephant at age 13. Well that left me to stand in queue by my lonesome.  I couldn’t muster the bravado owing to the fact that my shyness was like a wet debilitating blanket. What I needed was a big heaping dose of  persuasion – however this was not what was being offered. In the end I feebly declined and my parents and the Weishaar’s could not hide that they were seriously disappointed in me.

I attempted to linger. Skulking for that last glimpse of what could have been. I espied the celebrity elephant flaunting her trunk to and fro as she dawdled off with screeching children on her on  glutus maximus. The grown-ups could not have known that “my dreams”  were those dashed that day.

I agonized over my mutton-head refusal for the weeks that followed. I kept envisioning myself mounted, on that elephant, waving to the envious crowd below, with the belief that I would have looked like a verifiable deity astride that elephant. I scarcely survived my disappointment for the rest of the vacation. I had my indecision and disabling shyness to blame for the shattered scheme.

My obsession for elephants did not end here.

When my daughters were 2 and 5 years old,  I made certain they too become acquainted with an eminent  Elephantidae family – namely the Babar family. We watched the t.v. show  assiduously (all three of us when possible) when ever scheduled on CBC. We indulged ourselves the dream elephant living in harmony with people. We derived obsequious enjoyment from the animated series.

“That evening after dinner Babar tells the Old Lady’s friends about his life in the great forest”

I moved to The Republic of Maldives in 1999 with my husband and our two children. While there I read a great deal. One of the most enjoyable reads at that time was “The White Bone” by Barbara Gowdy. Gowdy describes the complex culture of elephants, seen through their eyes, mind and perspective. The elephants are given a unique narrative voice throughout their lurid journey which could more aptly be characterized as an exile.

After reading this novel with cosmic fervor, it seemed only natural that my life journey would draw me towards the Asian elephants of Sri Lanka since my proximity to them was merely a stone’s throw from Maldives. The day I finished the book I knew that I would always stay irrevocably connected to elephants.

By Barbara Gowdy

As fate would have it, in 2000 I found myself  gazing incredulously at the elephants in the Elephant Orphanage in Pinnewalle, Sri Lanka. I seriously thought I’d reached my very own, exclusive nirvana. We observed each elephant’s personal history with deference, for here at the orphanage they had at last each reached a safe refuge from either torment, abuse or neglect.

While in Sri Lanka we went on an elephant safari in Habarana. It was dare I say, tons of fun. This time my entire family shared the adventure of an elephant ride. The elephant negotiated a river, a dense tropical forest and jungle-like terrain  (as seen in the photo below). It was my childhood dream, come true at last!

I felt once and for all domiciled in the beautiful “kingdom” of Sri Lanka. The jewel of India could have easily become my safe haven in much the same way as it had for the elephants there.

My travels have endowed me with many elephant artifacts. They are cogent sentinels throughout my home and they seem to emanate prudence and balance.

Elephants evince power and determination, represent perseverance and epitomize  arduous labor. More profoundly they symbolize dignity. Theyhave a very long life span and their wisdom and understanding of mortality continues to mystify humans. Many years ago I watching a true story of Echo the African bush elephant on BBC . I felt a deep compassion for the matriarchal society in a land so vast and beautiful yet savagely harsh. A heartbreaking and heart-strengthening story to be sure. I first watched Echo being born in 1973 and a few months ago I happened to watch the final segment of Echo’s Life on BBC. If you ever have the opportunity to view any of the broadcasts please do so. It is oftentimes a sorrowful story but in the end culminates into a truly magnificent chronicle.

Buddhists believe the elephant symbolizes strength. Indeed they exhibit the noble gentleness and calm majesty of one who is on the path of enlightenment.

Ergo the vignette of the bird atop an elephant in my silkscreen, I envisage their stroll to be a parade though their parallel dominions, each protecting their contiguous latitudes. The silk screen of a bird perched atop elephant elucidate a peerless relationship between flight and stability. The bird who has the gift of flight and is the paradigm of freedom, while the elephant represents durability and stability and is the acumen of permanence. The bird is a hegira master juxtaposed atop the elephant, who is bound to endure the perils proffered by nature.

Despite their opposing idiosyncrasies, a  significant bond exists between bird and elephant. Here their wisdom fuses and they manifest an unlikely paradox.

“Elephant ride”, Silk Screen ~  Karin Aldinger ~ April 4, 2011

Impressions of Spring

Spring is escorted in by the fervent Robin.

Her gallant efforts to build her nest and then the endowment of the remarkable eggs!

“Robin’s pride” – silk screen/ Karin Aldinger. March 21, 2011

Slow Spring

by Katharine Tynan

O year, grow slowly. Exquisite, holy,
The days go on
With almonds showing the pink stars blowing
And birds in the dawn.

Grow slowly, year, like a child that is dear,
Or a lamb that is mild,
By little steps, and by little skips,
Like a lamb or a child.

Speaking words of wisdom…

Thoughts of rejuvenation and giving back

The time has come to say adios to Forev-uary (February). After many months of being blasted with arctic cold fronts it is liberating to call myself a survivor on this 2nd day of March. The daylight swells but the wretched cold will not loosen its grasp. The old adage, “I am March, hear me roar!” echoes through the frigid air. Let’s wish for a bonny lamb to gambol forth as the month of March draws to a close.

I’m looking for inspiration of late, as I sit in on knitting workshops and silk-screening seminars. I have a yen for making art prints and learning new skills and techniques. More than that, I have been looking for portents of healing and renewal in a world that seems to struggle with so many burdens caused by human errors. I recognize my necessity for feeling spiritually attached to nature and incentivizing environments. I yearn for my garden and feeling the soil in my hands and under my fingernails.

In 2008 a day trip to the Spirit Sands, located in Spruce Woods Provincial Park, Manitoba, formerly known as the Carberry Desert, yielded a wealth of wonderful memories. This mystical place totally revivified! I believe everyone left the desert that day a stronger, whole person. Wandered through the this intuitable, sacred, life-enduing region enchanted and heightened our awareness. It certainly was well worth traveling 171 km to discover. Nearly 8 years ago now, my sisters Gerlinde and Erika, my daughters and Erika’s sons took my cousin Karin here. Karin was visiting Canada for the first time. She is from Germany. Our aim was to inundate Karin with a myriad of experiences while here, by revealing to her the width and depth of our fair province with day-trips to various regions of Manitoba.  We all thoroughly enjoyed a splendid day of hiking and sight-seeing. I remember also a gourmet picnic lunch replete with deli sandwiches, fruit, vegetables and home-baked cookies. One minute it was torrid hot – befitting this desert-scape, the next we were scrambling for our microfiber layers in the overcast and suddenly, windswept dunes. Manitoba truly has abundant diverse places where one can still feign being a pioneer. Our vistas and landscapes are breathtaking and life affirming. How bountiful this world of ours truly is! What alms can one relinquish for this opportunity of being able to partake of a land so rich and praiseworthy? I think giving back is the answer. Our modus operandi must be to return the favor. I’m sure we can all afford to relinquish something of ourselves to a world so out of balance and still so remarkable and pure.

“For a creative writer possession of the truth is less important than emotional sincerity.”

~George Orwell

Spruce Woods Provincial Park: