Friday, June 29, 2018

Greens from Quebec

So nice to harvest butter crunch lettuce and baby chard (from transplants), snip some young bolting arugula from a sown mesclun mix box, and contemplate a full-scale harvest of baby arugula from another - these from seeds brought from the US.

harvested greens on our old dining table
Mesclun, arugula and chard
There should be a couple of harvests of kale, too, from the trough box, before we leave.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Morning views from Parc National du Bic

On my morning walk, I looped around the Ile aux Amours (a low-tide walk) -- fantastic, with wonderful native vegetation on the island.  The view from there was spectacular, too. I enjoyed seeing the houses across the bay in the nearby historic town of Le Bic.


The day was overcast, so the light was somber.  Another short walk nearby brought these views.



Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A view of the world

It's a bit dizzying right now. 

A difficult news week at home in the U.S. 

Trying to learn more French - a difficult language for English speakers, I'm thinking, with all of the silent letters and combined pronunciation of words. Yikes.

And the lovely interjection today of watching a German gardening show that included the garden of an English garden blogging friend, Victoria Summerly, had me reminded of a wonderful visit to Oxford (also featured in the show) and the Cotswolds, where she lives. 

Hmm, I could understand the German almost word for word, even after many decades past my year there post-graduate school.  But a visit about 5 years ago had me reviving those modest skills, so perhaps that's how my brain remembers (I did study German for 6+ years in middle and high school, and a bit in college, before living there for a year).

Well, maybe I can eventually learn French, too, or at least enough to converse here in Quebec. I had a bit of French as a 3rd and 4th grader, and quite a bit of it seems familiar.  Thank goodness for the wonderful online resources and classes available, now.

The Canadian view of U.S. politics is interesting, to say the least, and another friend's post about the reliance of Canada on imported food, has me musing. 

50+ banana varieties in Mto Wa Mbu, Tanzania, seen some time ago
There actually is more focus on eating local here in Quebec than I would have thought; it's similar to Asheville, which is a very eat local kind of place.  And new tariffs just encourage thinking along these lines, apparently.

But it's all about context.  Here in Le Bic, what's local right now (fresh) is asparagus, radishes, and a few greens (in the farmer's markets); there's Quebec-raised pork, chicken, and beef in the groceries, Canadian milk, and there are delicious Quebec-grown potatoes (much better than at home). Quebec-grown apples are quite nice, too (they're Cortland, Spartan, Empire, etc).

Lots of folks have small vegetable gardens (why they'd try to grow tomatoes and peppers here surprises me), but they try.  I have lettuce, swiss chard, and kale growing here from starts, but it's hardly going to feed us for the next month.

So it's not surprising that folks in the markets are buying all the produce that we're familiar with -- but that's all imported.  Interestingly, more is coming directly from Mexico (peppers, carrots, lettuce, etc), and even more interesting is seeing onions from the Netherlands and garlic and broccoli (!)  from Spain. The organic spinach that I recently bought was from the U.S., as some of the organic produce often is, but I haven't looked at the labels for the large lettuce/spinach/greens boxes that I've also bought, thinking it was cheaper than at home (~ $4 US vs $6 US).

I haven't even looked at the green beans or zucchini for sale -- they're almost certainly from Mexico, too.  And berries -- there will be wonderful berries here but not until mid-July through August.  We're just getting the first strawberries from the Ile d'Orleans in the market, and they look quite modest, actually.  But the bananas that my gardening companion loves -- well, they're coming from different countries than at home in NC:  Columbia, the Dominican Republic, etc. and are different "brands."

This isn't so different than what I saw in Stockholm last summer - fresh vegetables and fruits imported from all over, but again with a bent towards what's closer distance-wise.  Or in Umbria in April -- LOTS of great (and truly delicious) produce from southern Italy, particularly Sicily, I thought, but not much local in April.

Here's a link to a post from 2008 about starting on my local food journey.  I always look at labels of origin...and try not to buy too much out of season, but I'm mindful that we do depend and benefit from a global food supply.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A visit to Jardins de Métis

We've been to Métis Gardens/Redford Gardens a couple of times before and really enjoyed it, but this was our first visit this year.

It was a perfect day, clear and sunny, so a good day for an outing.  It's a garden full of special plants in an outstanding historic setting; it's a garden simply to enjoy, rather than focus on photos for today's visit, I thought.

We joined as members, planning to go back a number of times this summer.  In any case, we like to support gardens!  It's a lovely drive ~ 40 minutes from our house.

Several interesting highlights:

Meconopsis betonicifolia
First, it's the start of the flowering season for blue poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia), a Himalayan species challenging to grow, but one that Elsie Redford, the garden's founder, first grew from seed in 1930's; their progeny are what we enjoyed seeing today.

And interestingly, given my newfound appreciation of peonies, there were peonies in many of the garden areas, including the collection near the historic house.

They're just starting to flower, and these were being avidly visited by pollen-collecting honeybees, as well as some sort of small flower fly.

peony with pollen collectors
 And the lupines in the meadow were in flower, so we timed our first visit perfectly.  But we'll be back, too, to see what else unfolds.  The rhododendrons (both deciduous and evergreen) - unusual for a garden this far north, apparently - were striking in flower on this visit, too, but I didn't take photos of them, as they're not so unusual for me!

lupines (with enhanced blue sky!)



Monday, June 25, 2018

The gardeners buy more plants

In a garden filled with plants, we can't help tweaking it towards our gardening style, which is natives and naturalistic.

So, we've been scooping up plants at the local nursery -- Arctostaphylus urva-ursi (Bearberry), Asclepia incarnata (Swamp milkweed), Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal flower), Liatris spicata (Blazing star), Rudbeckia fulgida (Black-eyed Susan) etc. and others.  Combined with transplanting natives from a neighbor who's glad to have us take a few (Canada mayapple, paper birch, lowbush blueberry, etc.), we're happy gardeners.

a cart full of plants!


Sunday, June 24, 2018

A month in Quebec

It’s been just over a month since we left North Carolina for Quebec, imagining what was to come with excitement and some trepidation. What if the house didn’t work out?  What if we didn’t like it? What if it’s not like we imagined?

Now a month in, I’m sitting in the small armchair in the living area, looking out at the Pic Champlain in Parc National du Bic as I write.  The view is framed by a lilac in flower at one edge.  And the light is marvelous.  I had been reading about Asian cooking in Milk Street Magazine, after a long morning in the garden, weeding, planting, and pruning.  As I was reading, I was suddenly struck again by the contrast of the light in this house with the light at home in North Carolina.

It's so different. In our house in North Carolina, the main floor, including the kitchen, is infused with light through the morning and afternoon, especially in the winter.  The light isn’t harsh, but bright and dappled, with a feeling of being surrounded by nature, with the canopy trees visible in the woodland garden through the windows.
One of the first things we did here in Quebec is open up the curtains more widely to let more light in.

The previous owner enjoyed the coziness of dim light; he had artistically draped the lovely old-fashioned curtains from their centers, halving the view through the upper windows.  Ditto for the curtains framing the French door, where the view looked out into giant overgrown shrubs.  Now, sitting in the armchair, I can look out to the small back porch and a more expansive view, including the lettuces and kale in the now cleaned-up and planted wooden trough.

Similarly, although we both loved the lace half-curtain above the kitchen sink, in a dimly lit space, it blocked a bit of welcome extra light and part of the view outside.

For the same reason, we took down the graceful and delightful curtains in our upstairs bedroom.  The view looks over the east side of the garden;  it’s lovely in the morning after we pull the shade up (necessary because of the 4:30 am sunrise!)  It's nice in the afternoon, too.


Afternoon view from the main bedroom
Afternoon view from the second bedroom
As we open up the overgrown landscape, recreating views into woodland, we're doing the same thing.  By editing ungainly shrubs, so the outbuildings are more visible, we're gradually creating a more cohesive feel again of garden to house. There’s a balance between surrounding the house and outbuildings with garden and having the overgrown garden smother the context of the setting, which is singular, set between farms and the natural landscape of the national park across the highway. 

And in an odd way, the hum of the road and the close presence of the train also reminds us that we’re on what the tourist authorities have designated the Route des Navigateurs, which follows the St. Lawrence River, focusing on the diversity and history of the river in their materials, including 19th century seaside resorts, fishing villages, and lighthouses.

A context for the peonies

I can't believe I'm doing another post about peonies as a gardener devoted to plants that work for a living (eg. pollinator and wildlife-friendly and edibles).

But there's something rather remarkable about these peonies;  perhaps the secret garden aspect of discovering them under an overgrown chokecherry, their obvious age, and the remarkable size of the flowers.  Peonies, like ginkgos, have stories that are compelling, and if I count the ants that visit the extrafloral nectaries of the herbaceous types, and maybe these too...., and maybe something collects the pollen on them.  They're all single-flowered.

A few more photographs this morning put their scale in better context than yesterday's post.

Peonies to the right of the garden shed

Flowering on new shoots

Saturday, June 23, 2018

An unexpected peony

The herbaceous peonies were obvious, big and robust plants in borders and along fence edges.  They're just starting to show a bit of petal;  they'll be opening soon.

But the surprise was the already open peonies arising from woody stems -- tree peonies or shrubby ones -- as we cut back an overgrown Aronia near the small animal barn (where the chickens live).

Amazing.  I haven't really paid attention to peonies in the past, but these flowers are rather extraordinary.  They're the size of salad plates. And I notice that the former owner had a photo of one included on a page of his antique listings -- nice.

Two sauce-size peonies
This photo has an unfortunate highlight, thanks to my sloppy iPhone technique, and the scale is hard to read, as the flowering branches had drooped down (to escape the shade of the Aronia, I suppose, but -- remarkable.




Thursday, June 21, 2018

A morning walk

This morning's walk in Parc National du Bic reminded me of Rocky Mountain camping summers and hikes -- not these views of the St. Lawrence, but the birches, spruces, and firs in the nearby woodlands.

It was high tide, so nice to walk along the path out to the northernmost tip that's accessible at high tide.  It was a wonderful walk.  The only downside was that dogs aren't welcome, so I was on my own, as Woody and my gardening companion stayed at home gardening.

I didn't feel the need to listen to a podcast, as it was so beautiful.



Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Another wonderful sunset view

We went back to the park above the village of Le Bic tonight -- it was getting late, so it was a short outing.

The view didn't disappoint, nor did our quick loop through the boreal forest part of the park.

View from the park above Le Bic

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

At Saint-Fabien sur Mer

Sunset view
Woody with a stick

View of Pic Champlain
Less than 10 minutes from our house in Quebec is the small waterfront community of Saint-Fabien sur Mer.  A wonderful place for walks, at any time of day.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Evening views

Connecting to the natural world is why my gardening companion and I garden.  He was busy (in the rain) today transplanting some native plants from our neighbor's property (with permission, of course) -- totally happy to be out there.

Coming home from some errands this afternoon, the fog/clouds over the Havre de Bic were amazing.



And a late evening view from a living room window towards the field beyond ---delightful.

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.)

So, weeding is necessary, regardless.

After weeding
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!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Two (urban) naturalists tend chickens for the first time

Although my gardening companion and I have spent a lot of time in the woods, we've always lived in cities, small towns, or suburbs, with the exception of research summers in Maryland, early in our careers, where our absent artist landlords left "gamecock" chickens, in large numbers.

They were basically wild, and you were lucky to get a few eggs each summer, if one of the hens bothered to return to the garage boxes.

Here in Quebec, the previous owner of our "new" house LOVED his chickens, and even went to the expense a couple of years ago to provide electricity (e.g. heat) and water to his small animal shed, which is essentially a palatial chicken coop.


This year, even though he must have been fairly sure that we would love his house and property, buy it and move in, he still acquired 5 hens and a rooster, from his chicken purveyor, for his 4-5 week stay before we arrived.  He told us just to return them to the purveyor when we left.

They're delightful, nothing like the gamecocks.  They have personalities, come to us, don't mind Woody (and he's good with them), and they're producing lots of eggs in their lovely hay-lined nest boxes.

We're getting 3-4 eggs a day.

today's collection
What fun!

After our neighbors told us that Daniel had let them roam around, they're now enjoying spending their days free-range, and nights back in their coop.
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