Sunday, June 17, 2018

Gardens reflect the gardener

Having a new-to-us garden is an interesting experience, reminding me just now, of the first house that we bought many years ago, largely because of its established garden. 

We weren't gardeners, then, just botanists with an affinity to having something more than lawn, azaleas, and pines in a southeastern US garden.

There is the same sense of discovery now, in exploring a garden created by now absent gardeners with definite proclivities toward fragrant flowering plants - lilacs, roses, bush honeysuckle, and astilbe, as well as for bird-friendly plants (Aronia, Sambucus, and Amelanchier), and edibles (cherries, apples, gooseberry, and raspberry). 

one lilac along the road

a deep purple lilac near the house
The shape of the garden has a lovely feel;  it frames the house and outbuildings quite nicely, with spruce, paper birch, quaking aspens, sugar maple, ash, and oaks in the overstory, with abundant shrubs and perennials in the understory. 

But the garden is now 16 years old, with limited gardening being done the last 3 years. 

So there are many shrubs that have become too large or have become shaded out or have suffered die-back for various reasons.  So it's an exploration as we assess what is here and think about what we'd like to have the garden evolve into.

We're now experienced gardeners with a distinct inclination toward natives and naturalistic gardening, so having a garden full of plants that we're vaguely familiar with, but wouldn't normally have planted ourselves is interesting.  They certainly deserve a season of observation, except for the obviously invasive ones.  (The Euonymus alatus lining the front parking area -- hmm-- are they invasive here like at home? They sure are robust and have grown vigorously.)  Yikes.

Prior to weeding
Another "familiar to us, but we wouldn't have planted it" example is a large bed of variegated Astilbe below the house that's flourishing, in spite of being overrun with a particularly robust perennial grass.  (We have LOTS of Astilbe, all over other parts of the garden.)

After weeding
So, weeding is necessary, regardless. 

There are also four robust peonies planted in the bed about to flower. It'll be interesting to see what they look like, too. 

Peonies aren't among my enthusiasms either, but a number of my friends just love them and they're certainly plants with a remarkable history of cultivation.

It's all part of the adventure and how we transform gardens to reflect the gardeners.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Traveling and settling in

A friend asked me via email today whether the HomeExchange swaps and the traveling we’ve had over the last year and half had encouraged us to buy this wonderful place in Quebec.

I’ve had that thought, too; summer here is magical and it is definitely a special place, now where we have a wonderful house and garden.  

I’m quite certain our frenetic traveling  (encouraged by Home Exchange) over the last 18 months will not be repeated, but we’ve been traveling for many years, so I think we’ll still be going to different places — but just not as many during a single year!

Interestingly, an online Home Exchange friend, who lives in Montreal, and was in New Zealand at the same time we were, dropped by yesterday unexpectedly.  He’s up on an island somewhere in the St. Lawrence fishing for a month, and recognized the house (he knew the location) that we’d told him we thought we would buy.  Our connection was mutual HomeExchange folks in Ecuador, who’d stayed with us last spring on a hospitality visit overnight.

What fun is that?  He said his house in Montreal is open anytime.  Nice.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The gift of friendly neighbors

We had our neighbors over for dinner last night. They're a lovely couple who have lived in their mid-19th century house for 25 years and who speak quite good English.

She's a social psychologist who taught at the local university and he's an agricultural economist who worked with farm cooperatives throughout the region.  One of their sons is a professor at Mississippi State University (specializing in 14th century landscape use in the Middle East) and the other is an international non-profit consultant.

Daniel (the previous owner of our house in Quebec) had told us about the farm family on the road -- they're all friendly and nice, too, but it was a gift to have English-speaking neighbors that we didn't really know about (as Daniel was just acquainted with them, and had mentioned they spoke a bit of English...)

They've already helped us sort out an unexpected car repair and an expected water heater/pipe replacement.  Google Translate is great for email, but when the phone is involved -- a bit more challenging!

More gardening today -- a car repair day and a rainy day brought a bit of recovery, but then pulling weeds followed by a first bike ride in the Parc National du Bic has me reminded of underused shoulder and arm muscles.

A great first bike rid in the park

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Watching birds

We moved Daniel's bird feeders closer to the house.

At one time, he had them where they are now, in his early real estate views.

But, as the honeysuckle shrub(s) got bigger, he must have moved them near the chicken/small animal shed; at least they were there, when we moved in.

Half of the birdfeeders near the house
But it's much more fun to see the feeders out the living room window and see the parade of goldfinches, sparrows, blue jays, and the occasional starling visit.  Not to mention the frequent Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

A Rose-breasted Grosbeak dropped by the other day.  Wonderful.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Living in a new place

From the solarium (sun porch) side of the house
 We visited with a lovely woman at the Heritage Resource Center (English-based) in Rimouski this afternoon.  It's a new branch of an Heritage Resource Center in Metís, where there's a larger group of English-speakers, both ancestral (from 200 years ago) and through well-to-do summer residents.

It was interesting to learn a bit more about local English speakers in Rimouski from our contact -- they're a mixed group:  from local University and research institute folks to students to immigrants who speak English better than French.  They have a small English language library here, with a much larger one in Metís.

They're starting to offer programs here locally (they're helped by sponsorship from the Canadian government as "minority" language folks.)  This part of Quebec is a concentrated Francophone area; almost 95% are native French speakers.  Our host at the Center, an American who's lived here for 25 years, said she could count the Americans that she knew lived here on her hands (!); most English-speakers here are Canadians from other provinces.

Now, we're both committed to learning basic French -- I was proud that I spoke an entire sentence in French yesterday, even if it was "I'm sorry, I don't speak French," as I was exchanging light bulbs at our local hardware store.  I had a nice interchange with the older woman (my age) there. Young people here seem glad to practice their English, too, and everyone has been welcoming.

Monday, June 11, 2018

A charmed place

We signed a purchase agreement for this house and garden in Quebec having only seen the real estate photos (on the for-sale, by owner website).  We fell in love with the photos, so it's remarkable that the reality is even better.

view from the road
We're pushing the limits of our fitness (which is actually quite good), by gradually editing the landscape (hmm, heavy weeding and pruning), improving drainage around the house (think moving bags of river stones), and carting around bags of soil amendments for the new screening plantings.

It's a magical and charmed place. 

The previous owner (an antique dealer) had created a special house (filled with his antiques) and garden (with his previous girlfriend).   We're fortunate enough to have acquired both.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

After gardening, sunset views

Another day spent gardening had us both tired, in a good way.  My gardening companion is tapping off as I write this. I weeded more beds and he planted a bit of screen below the house (Thuja cultivars - 6 more of them) to buffer the view of the highway (and absorb a bit of the noise)....

The noise isn't really that bad -- we're city dwellers in Asheville, near the 240 loop, so it's not phasing us, but an extra bit of vegetative buffer will be good.

Our landscape from the upstairs bedroom window was magical this afternoon.

Bedroom window view
Our after-dinner walk brought us back to the park in the nearby village of Le Bic.  The sunset views were amazing. Coming back down the hill, we stopped at the small overlook.  The colors had deepened by then.

View from the Le Bic view point

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Weeding overgrown beds

It's a bit of a treasure hunt, as well as a satisfying enterprise, to free planted garden beds of unneeded grasses and dandelions.

I'm not sure I'll keep all that had been planted there - daylilies and hydrangeas aren't my favorite plants.  The climbing roses, maybe.

All are survivors of these harsh Zone 4 winters, so I'll let them do their thing before deciding.  There are other plants in the beds, too -- Aquilegia, what looks like a rose campion, some Spireas (I think), etc.

The variegated Vinca --- well, I yanked that out, even though it currently had pretty blue flowers.

Here's the garden shed bed before weeding.

Garden shed bed before
And after.  I cut out the dead honeysuckle vines after I took this photo, and will be removing the sugar maple saplings tomorrow!

Garden shed bed partially weeded

Encouraged, I moved along the bed next to the antique shed, where the previous owner had his shop.  No before photo here, aside from previous ones.  

Here's a general view of the area in  a "newly-tidied," but not finished mode.

Antique shed and garden shed (somewhat tidied)

Dandelions are welcome in the small lawn, at the moment -- it's a freedom lawn!  We'll have to mow it periodically, but it's nice now.

Friday, June 8, 2018

View from the house and sunset view

We did a lot more gardening, today, and I did take photos (at least a bit of before and after).

But the today's highlights were the late afternoon view from the main living space and amazing sunset views at nearby St. Fabien du Mer.

View towards the "deck" and where my greens are now planted below
St. Fabien du Mer sunset this evening

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Starting to transform a (new) garden

The previous owner of our Quebec house and property had had the landscape tidied up, fortunately, before we came.  It had gotten away from him, and his ability to maintain it, for sure, but he hired his helpers to trim, mow, and rake.

But, there's still a LOT to be done, as we tweak the landscape more towards natives, start converting lawns to meadows, etc. And of course, gardens are always changing.

There are a gazillion sugar maple seedlings everywhere, lots of variegated Astilbe gone feral, unknown grasses (fescue from the nearby hayfields?) popping up, and dandelions everywhere.

Nice, in their place, but not necessarily clustered around the front door.

So, we've been busily pruning and weeding, while buying plants to add (natives and veggies), looking around for things to transplant, what to save and what to remove.

We've already uncovered a wonderful view of a nearby farmhouse and barn that was obscured by a shrubby honeysuckle - it had spread to become a giant multi-trunked shrub.

I cleaned up the dandelions, knocked back the Spirea, and pulled up a lot of grass mats yesterday in the front entrance.  This was early on -- I suddenly thought that I needed to take photos!
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