Thursday, 11 June 2015

Garden 1: Lilac Bush and Abandoned Cans

Cans hanging in the lilac bush are a sort of penitence
There were three healthy, mature lilacs growing along the East garden fence when we moved into our old-timer house in 1998. The only lilac I had ever known to that point, which lived in our back yard in Kamloops, was a bush, not a tree, and the flowers, being at nose height, were easily enjoyed. In a mistaken attempt to return the flowers of my tree to where they belonged - where I could smell them - I had a friend saw all three trees down to one-foot-high stumps. I shudder when I think of it. This lilac bush is the only one to survive. For 17 years I've been trying to correct that lamentable mistake, one of my very first acts as a gardener. I don't remember what promted me to hang the first of a growing collection of no-longer-useable, abandoned watering (and other) cans from the branches. The "installation" just sort of happened. The cans distract from the awkward, ugly stump and the badly-pruned branches shooting out the top. I rather like the bush as it is now, especially with the volunteer ferns that help hide the unsightly stump, but I definitely regret giving the order that day.

A house-warming gift from Mr. Renwick
Cheapola, abused Ikea can
Doronicum, from a soon-to-be-bulldozed garden.
I like the spent flower heads.

Isn't this green one a beauty?
The other was found in the parking lot
adjacent the Chemainus Theatre on Vancouver Island
I look forward to my lilac blooming around Mother's Day each year. The flowers are white, large, and especially heavenly-smelling at 7 PM. Most years I bring in a big bouquet, which sits elegantly on the back of the toilet, giving off a fantastic scent that fills the house, until I get tired of picking the fallen florets out of my Phentex slippers, and eventually chuck the lot in the yard waste container.

At some point in the summer I will haul out the aluminium ladder - a gift for my husband that I really bought for myself - and snap off the dried-up flower heads. Pruning is on-going, as small stems are constantly budding out in all the wrong directions, and suckers periodically come up beside the stump. Furthermore, the bush is too close to the fence, and has power lines hanging above it, so there's always strategic branch removal happening. I've tried to encourage another lilac, a gift from a friend on a very sad occasion, to grow in other parts of the garden, but no luck. The rest of the yard is just too shady.

The first item to adorn the bush, an ancient, rusty paint can, was found in the rafters of the garage when we bought the house. There had been three other owners before us, including Mr. A. Renwick, house painter, and his family. I expect the can was his. Mr Renwick's touch is all over the house, and he took good care of it. The doors and door frames, though wood, he meticulously painted a different, more classy,  faux wood - a detail I've seen in some other houses of the same age in the neighbourbood. (I wonder, did he paint those houses, too?) I found the faux wood very... something, and with apologies to Mr. Renwick and the help of a can of Kilz Primer, which seems to stick to everything, including varnish, I had the trim painted over in glossy, candelabra white. I wonder what Mr. Renwick would say to that. The hours it must have taken him to painstakingly create that imitation wood grain... Later, at a yard sale in Southlands, I found a bedside table with identical, hand-painted, faux wood grain. I feel a little bit better about obliterating Mr. Renwick's careful work, having that piece of furniture to remind me what it used to look like.

The rest of the cans, milk jug and enamel-coated kettle appeared at various times, from alleys, garage sale "free" boxes, hand-me-downs, and Ikea. The Ikea watering can is the only one I paid for, bought shortly after we moved in. It wasn't long before the spout separated and the bottom dropped out - not to mention the handle getting crushed underfoot. (Aw, come on... watch where you're stepping!) Nowadays, there's nothing I want from Ikea, aside from gingersnaps, the occasional package of frozen meatballs, and a rare jar of lingonberry jam.

All the cans have holes, except for the red gas can, which is too sketchy-looking to use for gas, and was left behind in the neighbour's shed when they moved away. I think it had been there when they moved in, too. I felt like I was removing a precious artifact, but we were told the house would be demolished, and I wanted to make sure this gorgeous specimen wasn't demolished along with it.

Speaking of novice gardening mistakes, other biggies made around this time include: 
  • removing the pear tree (it looked scabby) and; 
  • digging out the evergreen shrubs hiding the less attractive portion of the front of the house. I used to have a thing against evergreen shrubs, though I can't remember what, exactly. They are serviceable, undemanding, and they smell good, too. I replaced these sensible workhorses with fussy, raised, matching flower beds on either side of the front steps, one of which, due to being right up against the plaster, caused the wall to buckle, and hastened the rotting of our wooden steps. It has since been replaced by three evergreen shrubs, much like the originals, found, half dead, dumped in a heap behind a house a block and a half away. I hauled the least dead of them home on my son's plastic, Fisher-Price baby wagon, a hand-me-down from a friend who has been extremely generous to me with her son's clothing and toys. I baby those shrubs with frequent, deep drinks from a barely trickling hose, and three years later, depending on the angle, they look much less dead.
Lesson learned: wait at least a year before making any changes to any newly acquired garden. It's hard to be patient, especially when you've just treated yourself to a new set of gardening gloves, a Costco-sized container of bone meal and a lovely, sharp set of garden shears, but it's worth it. Abandoned cans might hide a number of sins, but they can't bring back all the delicious pears we didn't eat these last 17 years.

Garden 14:  Harvest
Garden 13: Abandoned Stuff, Things of Beauty
Garden 12: Death and Potential
Garden 11: Japanese Maple Tree and Sedum (?)
Garden 10: Foxglove and Weed Digger
Garden 9: Veggies and Sweet Pea 
Garden 8: Gnomes and Slugs
Garden 7: The Lady Next Door
Garden 6: Euphorbia and Rusted, Metal Things
Garden 5: Cement Bench and Wallflower
Garden 4: Maryjane
Garden 3: Family Portrait
Garden 2: The Neighbours'

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