Retirement Woes: Is it Tuesday or Wednesday?

retirement woes

This quote is from a post written nine years ago already; wow, time does fly. At the time I was describing the changes in my lifestyle since my retirement from the healthcare industry:

Since retiring last April, it seems I never know what day of the week it is.  I rely on my fifteen-year-old son’s school and hockey schedule to keep me somewhat on track.  My other two sons are older, can drive themselves around and so keep track of their own schedules.  The rest of the side effects of retirement are all positive…

To start, I spent a lot more time doing the things I had previously called hobbies…

I have read more books in the past year (since retirement) than I did in the previous 25 years combined.  My favorite was the Millenium trilogy from  Stieg Larsson; the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the Girl that Played with Fire, and the Girl that Stepped on the Hornet’s Nest.   I had a hard time putting these books down once I started reading them, the suspenseful storyline and believable characters were gripping, from the beginning of the first book to the last pages of the third book.   Yes, I did read the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, but it didn’t rate nearly as high in my books (pun intended!), and by the third one, I found the plot to be quite predictable and boring.

My other (pre-retirement) hobby was gardening, which currently moved to the front burner in the form of a new business called Gardens4u.  This was a no-brainer for me as I had spent many previous gardening seasons volunteering my green thumbs to friends, family and neighbours.  I now do gardening on a full-time basis from April to October, depending only on Mother Nature for restrictions.

I was also able to spend more time at our family cottage, and what a summer it was for living lakeside.  The water temperature was the warmest it has ever been; I’m sure I spent more time in the lake than I have in the previous 10 years combined.

In the last half of 2011 and throughout 2012 I discovered firsthand the health benefits of a wheat-free diet.  Just recently I began to share my knowledge with friends and family concerned about the same health issues.  Please share your knowledge on this important subject by visiting my blog…

Retirement takes getting used to, but I am game!

Update:

Fast forward to 2022. My interests are still the same, just evolved over time. My husband has now joined the retirement club. This means neither of us knows what day of the week or month it is. His work schedule kept me (somewhat) organized chronologically since my retirement.

Compromises

Hubby’s retirement also means lots of adjustments and learning to choose my battles. Compromise is key. For example, I have learned to find the positive aspects in his need to re-organize the kitchen cupboards after almost forty years. As long as they are decluttered, something he is not known for, I am happy. Another example? Loading the dishwasher, something I have (predominantly) done over the same forty years. Knock yourself out, dear, I have other things to accomplish.

Extended Family

We are now empty nesters. Our three sons are grown up and long gone, graduated from post-secondary schools, and doing well in the workforce. Two have purchased homes of their own and the same two are parents themselves. The third son (almost 25) is finding it harder to break into the homeowners market with the current real estate conditions, rising inflation, and a struggling economy. But that’s a whole other post, and fortunately, he has time on his side.

We are currently blessed with six (!!) healthy, adorable grandchildren. I must admit that my life revolves around them. I figure in a few years when they are all registered in school and extracurricular activities, Grandma days will be few and far between.

Gardens4U

My beloved gardening business is winding down this year, with my current focus on design instead of maintenance. I’m okay with that as garden design was my original business dream. Several of my garden designs can be viewed on my YouTube channel in a time-lapsed format. Modern technology is wonderful!

Cottage Renovations

Cottage renovations have been in our conversations for several years now but unfortunately we have not accomplished much. My father-in-law’s declining health and subsequent passing created the first delay, then Covid and the resulting pandemic extended the delay. Hopefully this season we can get our renovation plans back on track instead of spinning our wheels.

Health Issues

My health issues from the last decade have been resolved, mainly by eliminating wheat from my diet. Of course, new ones have developed this decade, as I am not getting any younger. I am finding though that regular exercise and clean eating keep me relatively healthy.

Travel Plans

Something else that moved to the back burner thanks to the pandemic was our travel plans. We did squeak in a trip to Mexico last November between covid travel restrictions. My brother’s destination wedding was a great excuse to find a way to plan the (much needed) getaway. Hopefully, more travel is in our future.

We are counting on the next decade (at least) to be full of adventure and compromise.

photo credit

Update on Wildflower Garden

update on wildflower garden

To start off this season I want to provide an update on a wildflower garden I started at the very end of last garden season. It was an experiment I convinced management at our local hospice to permit me to try.

I called it the lasagna method.

Surviving the Winter

Today I visited the site to see how it looked now that winter is (hopefully) behind us. The leaves are long gone as expected in such a windy area. Watering them down did not do the trick as hoped. Wildflower gardens in my future plans will be sure to include an additional layer of soil on top of the leaf layer. I thought of that for this one but the budget did not permit it as it is a huge area.

The good news is that the soil is all still in place with no cardboard peaking through.

update on wildflower garden
update on wildflower garden

There are no new green sprouts yet but it’s still a bit early to expect those. Especially considering we had a few snowfalls as recent as three days ago! There are a few dandelions, of course, something you have to expect from bulk orders of soil.

Winter Sowing Experiment

I do however have sprouts in the other half of this garden experiment. Remember my post on Winter Sowing of seeds? I was ambitious and started seeds in 22 clear plastic containers. They lived out in the elements on my back deck for the winter. We had lots of snow and extended stretches of cold temperatures, so I was leary on how successful this experiment would be.

update on wildflower garden

Permanent Markers not so Permanent

The biggest problem with the experience was that the permanent marker I used to label the containers with was not so permanent. Fortunately, I recorded the numbers in several spots on each container. With the help of my strongest reading glasses, I was (barely) able to decipher the numbers. Phew!

Sprouts!

I did discover a few sprouts in some of the containers, also with the help of my reading glasses. Amazing! I cannot wait until the sprouts are big enough to transplant into their new home. Sorry, these pics are so blurry, the condensation within each container prevented clearer shots. The white squiggly things are sprouts, the last two even have green leaves reaching for the sunlight at the top.

Starting Seeds Indoors

I also started seeds indoors. This I have done before, although I have never had much luck. To increase my chances of success, I purchased two warming mats to keep the seeds and seedlings warmer. Especially as I have them growing in my basement in front of a sunny window…

Designing the Wildflower Garden

In the meantime, I plan to create a design for the placement of the new plants within the sections of the wildflower garden created by the stepping stones. Each type of plant has been assigned a code (A2 or C4 etc) based on the plant’s height at maturity as well as flower colour and bloom time. This way the RSH garden team can simply follow a detailed diagram.

In the center of each section, I will plant tall yellow sunflowers, boneset, purple aster, cleome, and Joe Pye Weed. The next layer will consist of plants a bit shorter in stature. Think purple and grey coneflowers, red sunflowers, various colours of poppies, cosmos, milkweed, goldenrod, steeplebush, and bugbane. A bit shorter yet, black-eyed susans, penstemon, rudbeckia, and verbena will be planted. The final layer will consist of edging (short) plants such as lavender, heuchera, salvia, stonecrop, lamium, and more.

Can you picture it? I can!

I will post another update on this wildflower garden when planting is complete.

Stay tuned!

Garden Creations by Gardens4u

garden creations

If you have not yet visited the before and after pictures posted to my business website, check out the videos posted here.  These are a few of my largest garden creations, from start to finish, in video format. Most of these gardens are approaching a decade of evolution. Watching the videos is like watching the gardens grow.

Neighbourhood Garden Creation

One of my very first garden creations is the star of this first video. It was a huge project, converting a grub-infested front lawn into a gorgeous grass-free yard. To conserve my time and back muscles, an independent contractor worked on the labor-intensive parts. Removing sod, adding soil and river rock are not in my wheelhouse. It took most of my first summer in business to get this project completed. The fact that this summer was one of our hottest on record did not help.

The best part is the fact that this masterpiece is located across the street from my home. I have literally watched it grow over the past nine years.

Moving Into This Century

Another big garden creation, also early on in my business, involved reshaping an existing garden. Removing foundation plantings from the 80s was the first step. Next up was removing boughs (limbing up) from an evergreen that blocked the view of the house from the street. This is another favourite amongst my projects, as I have been able to watch it evolve over the years. After the garden’s original design settled in, the clients asked to widen it. This sounds simple enough, but took a bit of work and planning. Plants chosen for the original edges had to be moved forward to create the new edging feature. Then new plants were selected for placement between the new edge and the largest shrubs and perennials in the center of the garden.

Adding Variety and Removing Weeds in Existing Garden

A third of my favourite garden creations involved modifying an existing garden. Although this garden had a wonderful stone retaining wall as an edging, it had lots of issues. To start with, there was proportionately a very small variety of plants. The garden was large, so the opportunity for variety was obvious and easy to achieve. Especially once all the weeds were removed, leaving plenty of space for new tenants. Tall shrubs and small trees were added to the back along the fence. Several layers of perennials were then planted in front of them. Bulbs were added too, for spring colour. This is another garden that has evolved over the years into a beautiful backyard feature.

Volunteer Gardening

In addition to working in clients’ gardens, I have been volunteering on the garden team of our local hospice here in Kanata. This next video is one of the largest garden creations (to date) on this property. In 2017, this courtyard garden and its surrounding stonework, water feature, and pathways were designed. The following spring I got involved when most of the original plantings had not survived the first winter. I do love a challenge! Four seasons later it has been transformed:

More Videos

More garden videos have been uploaded to my YouTube channel. Check them out and share your opinions.

Fall Planting for Spring Bulbs

Now is the time to plant spring bulbs

Fall planting of bulbs anticipates a wonderful harbinger of spring. As long as the ground is not yet frozen, bulbs can be planted.

How to Deter Squirrels from Digging up Your Bulbs

I tend to wait until mid-November so the squirrels don’t raid my bulbs. As well as waiting until as late as possible to plant your bulbs, there are a few other ways to guarantee spring-blooming:

  • use bloodmeal: sprinkle a handful in the hole, over the bulbs. Be sure to wear gloves when using bloodmeal. Bonemeal is a fertilizer that will help them grow, but will not deter rodents.
  • cut squares of chicken wire and place a square in each hole. I plant my bulbs in groups of five, so a one foot square piece of wire is sufficient. It can be purchased in a role at most grocery, DIY stores.
  • banana peels over the bulbs in the hole also works. I have done this in the past with success, crisscrossing the strips of peel over the bulbs like spokes on a wheel.
  • plant alliums, members of the onion family, or daffodils as squirrels don’t like either of these.

I generally order my bulbs from Brecks, this year was no exception. Their prices are reasonable (especially if you buy in bulk as I do) and the variety of bulbs is amazing. I love looking through their catalogs picking and choosing colours, bloom time, height etc. These are the tulip and allium bulbs I chose this year:

How many weeks until spring?

photo credit

Lasagna Method Ends Garden Season

YouTube

This week Gardens4u and the volunteer garden team at Ruddy Shenkman Hospice (RSH) created a wildflower/butterfly garden using the “lasagna method.” This technique is used to smother grass instead of digging it up, saving both our back muscles and the nutrients (nitrogen) within the grass.

What Layers to Use in Lasagna Method

Use large pieces of cardboard, or any other compostable ingredients, ending with a layer of soil. A warning though: be sure to choose items that will not entice rodents to dig up your garden. We did try newspaper too, especially over the cracks/holes in the cardboard. It was so windy though that the lightweight paper was difficult to hold in place. We used small stones (you can see some in the pictures) to hold the layers in place.

If time permits (before the snow flies) we hope to add another compostable layer to the “lasagna” over the seeds in the form of mulched leaves. The leaves will also help hold the seeds and bits of newspaper in place.

Plants of Choice for a Butterfly Garden

After the cardboard and soil were layered over the lawn, we sprinkled seeds over the soil. We used tall, flat and large flowered, butterfly-loving, native perennials and self-sowing annuals. I chose various coneflowers, tall phlox, monarda (AKA beebalm), joe pye weed, globe thistles, black-eyed-susans, filipendula, asters, and many others. All were harvested from my own or clients’ gardens.

In the spring we plan to supplement the seedlings (if necessary) with plant donations (if you live in my area, contact me when dividing your perennials in the spring). We will move some seedlings around for a lush, but informal wildflower look to contrast with the existing formal beds created and tended over the years.

Finishing Touches

Flagstones were added to create a meandering path through the garden. These stepping stones also enable our garden team to access sections of the garden for maintenance such as watering and weeding.

Finishing touches in the spring will also include tidying up the outer edge of the garden for a neater appearance. I may or may not add shorter perennials to the outer edges. I am still undecided about that call as I do not want to ruin the informal, natural look.

Here are some pictures of the lasagna procedure, in chronological order:

That’s me on the phone, ordering more soil from Lancosa Landscaping who delivered two loads of garden soil on short notice. They also generously donated the second load after learning about this volunteer project at the RSH.

Lasagna Method Garden Project Ends Gardens4u Season

Great work team! Many thanks to those of you who donated your time and muscle power, cardboard, newspapers, and seeds.

Stay tuned for a spring update!

photo credit

New Garden Designs for Gardens4U

gardening business

As well as general maintenance (weeding) and spring cleanups, Gardens4u completed several new garden designs so far this season, although one is still a work in progress. Most of the time I remembered to take before and after pictures.

Continuing the Neighbour Theme

At the end of last season, a third neighbour asked me to help them reconfigure their front yard around an updated veranda and interlock walkway.

This was one of my easiest projects as the homeowners were very hands-on. From shopping for and planting perennials and shrubs to sod/grass removal,(the black fabric smothered the existing grass) soil enhancement, and edging of the finished creation, they barely needed me. My job was to recommend plant choices and their placement based on mature size and bloom time. I also created the garden shape with a hose and suggested the location of the stepping stones.

This is what the yard looked like during the process:

…and this is what it looks like now:

Wedding Preparation

Another client asked me to help him transform and design new gardens on his parents’ farm property in preparation for his daughter’s upcoming wedding. The house is being renovated as well with plans for an Airbnb property.

There are seven garden beds; a huge undertaking that I have been working on all summer. The bride and groom to be have been helping too, doing most of the clearing, weeding, mulching etc. This frees up my time for designing and planting, my two favourite parts of a new garden project.

Here are a few before pics:

some during pics:

and some after pics:

These after pictures are of just the new garden designs at the front of the house. Disclaimer: I had nothing to do with the gorgeous sidewalk.

The other beds are still in progress. When this project is complete, I will show you the final pictures of all garden beds created. Stay tuned!

Moving to the Backyard

I have been working with these clients for several years now, first at their old home here in Kanata…

Gardens4u New Garden Designs

…and then at their new Hintonburg area home after they moved. Last season I worked on new garden designs for the front yards of their new duplex. The outside of one side is very traditional looking, the other quite modern, so I designed gardens to match the two different styles…

Before pics:

This is what they look like now:

This season these same clients requested my services for garden design and an overhaul in their back and side yards.

before pics:

after pics:

Next season these newly renovated garden beds will look awesome!

Garden Touch Up

At the end of the last (2020) season I modified a neighbour’s garden, moving plants and adding new ones to the expanded space. We also added stepping stones to break up the larger area. At the time she had some natural coloured mulch we used up.

This summer we changed the look by adding dark brown mulch, (right on top of the natural coloured mulch) creating a much more vibrant look, which contrasts well/better with the maturing plants.

Designing new gardens or updating tired, old, outdated or overgrown gardens is my favourite part of my gardening business. Check out my website for more before and after pictures of my creations.

photo credit

Essential Garden Tools

Everyone has their own list of what they consider to be essential garden tools. As the owner of a gardening business, I am no exception. These are my essentials, although you don’t have to use specific brands:

Diggers

A shovel, a spade (shovel with a sharp, flat cutting edge) and a trowel will cover all your digging needs. Choose a light weight, but good quality version of both so they are easy to use and will last forever. I have several sizes of shovels too, sometimes you need a small one to get into tight spaces.

Rakes

I have a few different styles and sizes of rakes. The fan shaped ones are good for gathering leaves and debris. I have a tiny (child sized) version that is great for getting in and around plants in your garden. The larger ones work better on lawns.

I prefer the plastic ones as they are nice and light, but my husband prefers a metal one. Go with whatever you will use.

Rakes with straight heads and tines are best for removing thatch from lawns in the spring.

Secateurs or Pruners

This is the one area I advise splurging on because of the working mechanisms. In this case especially, you get what you pay for. If you buy inexpensive secateurs or pruners, they will not work well for long. I have a few different ones that I keep around my yard, in sheltered locations to prevent rusting.

Edging Tool

I consider an edging tool essential since I love the look of natural edging, rather than rocks or rubber edging. Of course, a shovel would work too, but an edging tool, whose head is a half circle, works wonders to create smooth edges in your gardens.

Loppers or Branch Cutters

Once again, pay a bit more to get a good quality pair of loppers. You won’t regret it. Buy some that are heavy (strong) enough, but not too heavy that you cannot handle them efficiently. They come in varying mouth widths too, so choose one that will cut branches up to at last one inch thick. Of course, you can have several (I do) for different chores.

Shears

Shears are like large scissors, great for cutting large sections of plant material at once. They make for quick results on a big plant. For example, I use them for cutting back my large ornamental grasses. I have also seen people using shears to trim small chunks of grass after mowing their lawns, around obstacles in the lawn such as trees. They are not however any good for cutting branches or even twigs.

Tool bag

It is great to have a bag to carry around your hand tools. I currently have one that the tools flop out from, so have been looking for a taller one. This tool bag from Tacklife looks great, perhaps that will be my next purchase. And, as a bonus, it comes with some garden tools. One can never have too many tools!

Nice to Have, but not Essentials

There are many other garden tools I have that the average person would not consider essential. I have a compartmentalized tool bag that contains a roll of string, stakes, a box cutter, a hammer, a tape measure, vine clips etc, in addition to my small hand tools.

I also have several sizes of rubber baskets that are essential to my gardens. They are great for toting garden debris, new plants, weeds, cut flowers, even water in a pinch.

Conclusion

What you consider essential will be different than what I consider essential, based on your needs, physical ability and even your budget. The one thing we should have in common though is keeping our tools clean and sharp. Tools should be cleaned off after each use and sharpened at least once per season. At the end of my gardening season, I spray my tools with a disinfectant, wash them well, then rub blades with a bit of oil to keep them all in tip top shape.

Last Garden Project of the Season for Gardens4u

gardening business

photo credit

I finished my last garden project of my Gardens4u season recently. The beautiful weather we have experienced lately has certainly helped in that I was able to extend the season a bit.

This latest garden project was for a neighbour. I had already designed a garden in her front yard a few years ago…

…but the condition of her lawn after the drought conditions of this past summer convinced her to extend the garden right to the road.

So, she dug up what little lawn was left, giving me a blank slate….my favourite design opportunity! I amended the existing soil with composted manure, then added stepping stones to divide the yard visually….and to provide access for maintenance as well as amusement for her grandchildren…

 Instead of one large garden, I treated the sections as individual gardens with taller plants in the center and lower ones around the perimeters. I think this will create added visual appeal. (this may be difficult to see now, but will be obvious when the plants mature) Several existing plants were moved to achieve this effect; those that were previously at the edges of the garden were moved to the fronts of each new bed, with taller ones planted behind them. A row of drought-tolerant, succulent groundcover now edges the curb where the lawn refused to thrive.

 After the plants settled into their new homes, mulch was added to finish off the project and protect the new plants over the winter. 

The neighbouring yard/garden visible in my pictures is the mature version of one of my very first Gardens4u projects, way back in 2012.

The challenge now is waiting until spring to see this latest design come alive!

Dahlias, dinnerplates or smaller

Dahlias

Do you plant dahlias in your garden? Are they hardy to your garden zone? They are not hardy in my zone 4/5 gardens, so I would have to remove the bulbs each fall to keep them alive, something I cannot seem to commit to.

This, however, is going to change. Call it an early New Year’s resolution if you must, but I plan to order some of these beauties to plant this coming (2021) spring. Maybe because I have become more patient or appreciative or perhaps because I admire all the gorgeous dahlias in everyone else’s gardens. These dahlias bloom from summer until a hard frost kills them off, at least they do here. They may perform in your gardens even longer!

With my recent order of tulip, allium and lily bulbs from Vesey’s, I received a spring catalogue chock full of dahlias in every colour of the rainbow. They got me! Every year, usually around February and not November, I peruse the flower catalogs for spring ideas. As you may know, I have a gardening business, so like to stay on top of new offerings in the flower department.

I love ordering from Vesey’s. Not quite local geographically, (they are located on the east coast in PEI, while I am a few provinces away in Ontario) but a Canadian company, so local in a patriotic sense. If this pandemic has taught us anything, the need to support local businesses should be at the top of the list. Darn, here I thought I could post about something other than the dreaded pandemic. Funny (not funny) how it seeps into our conversations like that.

Check out Vesey’s website to discover all of the dahlia options. You can order individual varieties or mixtures of many colours and shapes. On the website you can request a catalogue of your own to view at your leisure. Orders can be placed online or by mail in an envelope included with your catalog. Shipping is available within Canada and the USA.

I decided (finally) on a combination package of the dinnerplate variety as well as a single beautiful blue version…

The dinnerplate dahlias do live up to their name; I have seen many planted in gardens, just not my own. Yet. The deadline for ordering is not until January, so I may change my mind and order more!

Garden Renovation at Ruddy Shenkman Hospice

gardening business

Recently Gardens4u expanded the front garden at the Ruddy Shenkman Hospice (RSH) in Kanata. I have been volunteering my (gardening) services at RSH for several years now, shortly after it moved to my neighbourhood.

Only the Good Die Young

This project has been a vision in my brain for a while; I just had to wait until all parties were onboard and permission was granted. As a non-profit organization there are always lots of hoops to jump through.

A few existing shrubs were left in place, in particular the burning bush which is gorgeous this time of year. Two large spreading junipers were trimmed and shaped, but will remain in the garden, mainly because they would be much too difficult (for me) to remove. They also provide winter interest as they are evergreen in our climate.

The first step was to mark out the shape of the new garden using a garden hose and black spray paint. My granddaughter was on hand as the inspector for that job…

Next, to save time as well as my back, I enlisted the help of Tim Driscoll of TD Small Loads who scraped the sod and carted it away.

When that chore was complete, we spread the composted manure donated and delivered by Ritchies Feed & Seed on Carp Road in Stittsville.

After the soil amendment came the plants, many of which were donated by other members of the RSH garden team as well as some of my neighbours. The large shrubs were also selected from and donated by Ritchies. I placed the shrubs and perennials strategically in the garden, still in their pots, according to their bloom time and colour, foliage shape as well as their mature size. A few tweaks here and there are always the norm before holes are dug and actual planting takes place.

The final step is to fill any blank spots in with contributions from my own gardens. Then a layer of cedar mulch (also donated and delivered from Ritchies) finishes the garden off…

I can’t wait until this garden matures, it should look beautiful!!