Tag Archives: trees

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Garden Weeds

In declaring my independence from the city and moving to the country, I felt a sense of renewed freedom that was truly hard to describe.

Regular readers and my inner circle of friends will recall that in the city, I have had more than my fair share of lousy neighbours. Over the years, I have endured blaring music till all hours of the night, my backyard being used as a dog’s toilet and my driveway being used as a visitor’s parking spot, among other not-so-neighbourly infractions.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had exceptionally lovely neighbours as well and I miss them dearly, but the nuisance ones occupied significantly more of my head space than the delightful ones.

The move to a rural property meant less need to compromise and to accommodate the impingements of self-entitled neighbours in the name of “staying on good terms”. With so few neighbours, I had the distance I needed to breathe and to heal.

But in the country, there is a different impingement that has become an almost daily preoccupation: garden weeds.

When we arranged a first visit to see this property, it was mid-February and the 1.4 acre parcel of land was covered by snow. We knew that the place had a garden, as the listing referred to the patio as an “oasis”, but that was the extent of what we knew about the state of the landscaping.

Fast forward to our closing date and our first visit to the property, we were delighted to see the home surrounded by flower beds and shrubs…. A multitude of flower beds and shrubs…. Endless flower beds and shrubs. It begged the question, how much free time did the previous owners have to maintain all of this?

The glorious array of flowers and greenery was a beautiful sight in itself. But once we got past the first impressions, a closer look revealed overgrown shrubs with no sense of boundaries, dead branches embedded in each tree, and garden weeds growing wildly in every flower bed.

While I looked forward to adding gardening to my hobbies in retirement, I didn’t envision it as a replacement for my full-time job.

Up until that point, my points of reference for weeding gardens were minimal at best. In childhood, the small number of small flower beds we had around our suburban home were what I would consider to be reasonable and manageable, for two working parents and a kid whose main hobby was television. When I was old enough, I mowed the lawn, but that was it. I assume that one of my parents tended to the garden weeds.

If we skip through the decade I lived in apartments and fast forward to my first home, the extent of my exterior maintenance was reserved for a little shade garden in the backyard (referred to as the science project) that was maybe 3 feet by 6 feet. I could weed that little garden in about 5 minutes, maybe 3 or 4 times per season.

In total, this was insufficient training, life experience and mental preparation for a property of this size, with an abundance of overgrown plants. If we took the time and energy to dig them up and divide them, we could supply a garden centre for weeks.

You can imagine my discouragement at first when realizing that an hour of weeding the overgrown gardens was a mere drop in a bucket and barely made a difference.

My discouragement was compounded by my body’s reaction the next morning, and feeling muscle groups that haven’t been used in this way in…. well… ever! The big question at that time was whether or not my body would adjust and get used to it, much like it eventually does, as it did with other activities like running.

If there is anything that running taught me, it was that if I wanted to keep at it, I knew that I had to set time limits for each session and to stick to my exercise and stretching routine daily. Once I was in a routine, then I could build up gradually.

There is an odd satisfaction (appealing to the Type A part of me) when comparing the congested flower beds with no boundaries, to a slightly tidier flower bed with increasing breathing space between plants, where you can see which ones were intended to be there in the first place. There was indeed incentive to keep at it.

There are times when weeding is really a game like Sesame Street’s “One of these things is not like the others.” And then there are other times when it feels like a giant game of “Whack-a-mole” when the weeds grow back within days.

But slowly, with each session, the garden is starting to look better. We’re certainly not approaching any big reveals yet like an HGTV show, but with each improvement and less incidence of regrowth, the encouragement is building, as is my determination to stick with it.

And of course, living in the country, we are keenly interested in trying to keep things as natural as possible. It would be so easy to accelerate the process with an herbicide to kill off the weeds, but the idea of a strong rainfall washing away herbicide residue toward healthy plants (or into the well system) is not really an option. Plus, with the abundance of birds, bees, butterflies and wildlife (including my cat that takes supervised walks daily) we don’t want to risk driving the critters away or getting any of them sick.

I am certain that once we get the garden under better control, ongoing maintenance should be just that, occupying only an hour here and there.

When that time comes, that is when I expect that we won’t cringe each time we drive up our own driveway, and we will actually be better able to enjoy our property to the fullest, leaving leisure time for actual leisure.

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Filed under 50+, home, Humour

Country Living and Non-Stop Pick-Up Sticks

When I first read the real estate listing for our home-to-be, one of the details that stole my heart was the mention of a tree-lined lot and the picture of mature trees surrounding the little house.

Even though I am not what I would consider a winter person, when combined with a fresh February snowfall, the house presented all of the elements of a charming country retreat. A couple of friends mentioned how it looked like the kind of house you’d see in a Hallmark Christmas movie.

Having grown up in suburbia, I wasn’t a stranger to trees. We had a weeping willow, a crab-apple tree, cedar hedges and a few shrubs. There was even an apple tree on the property line with one of our neighbours. But as a kid, I never really thought about them. I just remember climbing them or making them into a big prop in whatever game my playmates’ imagination came up with.

Then came a decade of rental apartments, where trees were there for shade, shelter and beauty, but I never really gave them much thought. Even in the townhome where I lived for 20 years, the condominium corporation took care of the trees. The most I ever did was rake a few leaves.

Now, in a home with a tree-lined lot, I see trees differently, both literally and metaphorically. They are a source of pride and joy and we are so fortunate that our property has such a variety of beautiful trees. But the reality check is setting in: ongoing maintenance.

Sadly, there are a couple that aren’t doing well that will need to be removed, but that’s just nature and the circle of life at work. At the same time, we have a few majestic ones that we were told by our tree expert were probably standing since our great-grandparents’ days and will probably outlive us.

In having so many trees around, in various stages of life, I understand that getting acquainted with each variety individually and understanding their respective needs will be a project in itself.
But the one thing that doesn’t take a tree expert to realize is that when you have mature trees around, falling twigs, sticks and branches are a fact of life. Continue reading

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The Pitfalls of Nature Photography

Now that I have been out and about, enjoying the spring weather, indulging in a little quiet time, communing with nature and taking photos, I could not help but notice that my hobby does have its share of pitfalls.

In trying to capture the perfect shot, I often feel like a secret agent, trying to move in on a subject in stealth mode, intensely looking at the world through a viewfinder.

But in doing so, and in being so focused, I have occasionally lost track of the intricacies of the physical world around me, including time and space. From a health and safety perspective, it concerns me a little, given my tendency to occasionally be a bit of a klutz.

Yet even when faced with these challenges, I don’t seem deterred. The rewards of capturing a great nature shot are worth every bump and bruise.

Also, Mother Nature has a way of keeping photographers on their toes by changing the perfect conditions with little advance notice. It can get a little frustrating but I’d like to think that this is part of the thrill of the hunt when perseverance leads you to that shot that made it all worth it.

Here they are, my top 10 pitfalls of nature photography:

10. Losing track of time
It has happened that in the process of evaluating the composition and the lighting, taking a test shot, evaluating the result, making adjustments, taking another test shot and repeating until I think I have captured the best photo possible, before I know it, an hour has passed. It’s delightful to lose myself in the creative process when I have unlimited time on my hands, but it is quite another matter, when I am on my lunch hour and due back for a meeting at 1:00 sharp.

9. Wearing the wrong shoes
A subset of #10, sometimes I get so enthralled in my photo shoot, not only do I lose track of time, but I lose track of space and distance and find myself farther away than I originally planned. It is on the long walk back and dealing with a blister that I realize that I was not wearing the right shoes for such an undertaking. Continue reading

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Filed under Humour, Inspiring, Lists, photography

Did Nature Photography Get Me to Enjoy Winter?

In last December’s post, “How Nature Photography Might Get Me to Appreciate Winter”, I wondered if my rediscovery of photography might be able to nudge me out of my usual winter cocoon and spend more time outside.

For those who have never been to Ottawa, let me offer a little bit of context. Yes, we do have an abundance of beautiful winter days that are like a shot out of a Disney movie. However, the Norman Rockwell painting of a perfect suburban Ottawa winter starts fading around the 18th consecutive day of snow, threat of freezing rain, or temperatures so low, even the cat won’t sit by the window and conduct her usual backyard surveillance despite her abundant fur coat. Winters here can be very harsh for long stretches.

When the weather outside is frightful and the sidewalks are covered with snow and ice, it’s not most conducive to a cheerful walk outside at lunch time. When you also factor in a long and slow commute home wondering where the heck the city’s snowplows went and repeatedly mumbling to myself “Why the heck do I pay taxes?” it should come as no surprise if I have to dig deeply to want to spend more time outdoors and risk falling and breaking a hip… the joys of becoming a grumpy old man! (and yes, I know some close friends are now thinking, “what do you mean ‘becoming’?”)

But this winter, I did spend more time outside, thanks to the camera!

While I wouldn’t say it made me a winter lover in one season, nature photography certainly made it more enjoyable by helping me lose track of time while doing something I truly enjoy. I would even go so far as to say this winter didn’t seem to drag on as much as it did in previous years. Continue reading

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The Christmas Trees of August

So let me see if I understand this correctly… You cannot buy a bathing suit in August, the stores need to make room for long underwear. You cannot buy long underwear in February, stores need to make room for bathing suits. The back-to-school supplies are out before the kids are out of school. And on the hottest, most humid days of the year, the retail sector seems to think that I am dreaming of a white Christmas and supporting that dream by putting up Christmas trees and ornaments in August. Is that right?

Dear Retail Sector… Stop that right now!

Back in my day (“I’d like ‘things I swore I’d never say because it makes me sound like my dad’ for $1000, Alex), when I worked at your friendly neighbourhood pharmacy, in late October, as the Halloween section’s costumes, decorations and treats started to dwindle, we would gradually move together the remaining items to make the shelves look fuller. Then magically, the Christmas elves took over the store a little bit each night as the Christmas decorations and wrapping paper gradually took over the seasonal section as Halloween came and went. That, my friends, was Christmas magic back in the 1980’s! Continue reading

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Filed under Christmas, Misc blogs