There and Back; a Hortigeek’s Tale, Part 3 ~ Going Coastal ~

Our time in wine country had been amazing – Len has professional associates in the area so we’d been treated very well. The coast was calling though, and for me this was the most anticipated part of our trip. Our next stop would be Monterey, which hubby had determined (mistakenly) we could reach via a single Interstate. Somewhere between Fremont and San Jose he asked his navigator (me) to check his directions (which he proactively wrote out every night before bed) to make sure the highway didn’t turn anywhere. Comparing his written directions to our TripTik, I realized something wasn’t right. I advised The Captain that according to our map, I-680 did not continue through to Monterey, that in fact it appeared to end abruptly just east of San Jose. It’s not so much that he didn’t believe me, as that he couldn’t disbelieve Mr. Google… until we found ourselves on the 101 heading towards San Francisco and there were no more signs for I-680. So we turned west somewhere, then eventually south until we ended up in Santa Cruz (which fortunately was less than an hour from Monterey and a very nice drive along the coastal highway). After this, it was I who consulted Google maps every night and wrote down directions for our next day’s destinations. I won’t say we didn’t get lost again after that, but at least I could read and understand my own directions. I suppose our continued use of such tools as maps must seem archaic, considering every cell phone now comes equipped with GPS.

When we arrived in Monterey and finally found our hotel (my husband did eventually break down and use his GPS), we checked in and asked the young ladies at front desk where we could find the best seafood. Our intention had been to have dinner in the famed Cannery Row district, but hotel staff asserted that the best seafood was to be had at fisherman’s wharf. The hotel was several blocks from the waterfront so we could walk along the beach to get to the wharf. It was windy and cool walking along the Monterey coast – a refreshing change from the hot still air of the valleys. I was fascinated with the unique coastal vegetation – rugged wind-sculpted Monterey cypress punctuated masses of succulent Delosperma carpeting the sandy hills beside the shore. Every so often I’d stop and turn to snap another shot.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

I inhaled deeply the ocean’s salty aroma and revelled in the wind blowing through my hair. I heard the distant bark of sea lions which grew louder as we neared the wharf.

When we reached the dock it was too early for dinner so we wandered a bit. We found a little coffee shack and as usual, ordered a dark-roast – almost everywhere we visited we’d been unable to get a cup of dark-roast coffee. I started to think maybe it was a Canadian thing, this love of really rich dark brew, but here in Monterey we were finally able to sate our coffee cravings. Sipping the first dark brew I’d had since leaving Canada, we strolled around the wharf area and soaked up the coastal essence.

Beautiful Mexican sage bush (Salvia leucantha) in Monterey. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Beautiful Mexican sage bush (Salvia leucantha) at the Monterey wharf. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Masses of Grasses: the reddish inflorescence of this dwarf fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) looks stunning against red-brown cedar shakes, Monterey Marina. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Echium - monterey

Purple spikes of Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans) are a common site in coastal gardens and landscapes. Photo: Sue Gaviller

We followed the sound of sea lions to their basking place on a raft beside the docks. I don’t know why I became so enamoured of these particular marine mammals – perhaps it was their goofy social antics, belying the incredible grace with which they swim and dive. Or the way they lay in the sun, their soft brown fur glistening, lifting their heads periodically to peer around before laying back down again, so seemingly content. They reminded me of our sweet brown dog Pepper, whom we’d lost only a couple of months before. It was mid January when we were given the news that she was terminally ill. My one wish had been that she’d have a chance to soak up the sun in her backyard, splayed out on her side the way she loved to do – just one more time. On a warm March day after weeks of vicious cold, she was able to do this – for maybe five minutes she lay there on a patch of dry grass, breathing softly, then got up and looked me straight in the eye as if trying to tell me something. I knew then that she was ready, indeed she wanted, to be set free to chase rabbits – in that big dog-park-in-the-sky. She’d lived a good life, a long life, and while I was at peace with the decision that had to be made, I knew I’d miss her terribly. And so it was that every time I saw or heard sea lions, I’d think of her and feel awash in warmth… and just a little melancholy.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

These furry brown sea mammals are sooo adorable are they not? Photo: Sue Gaviller

The wharf offered many choices for dining, each venue featuring plated displays of mouth-watering menu items and someone posted at the door beckoning passersby to come dine there. It was difficult to choose, so we chose the one with the first available window seat. Equally difficult was trying to decide what to select from the menu – in the end I opted for a ‘Captains Plate’ which had a bit of everything. And they boasted the best clam chowder in town so I had to try some of that too… yup I rolled outta there when we were finished. But a divine meal it was, eating succulent seafood and watching the sea lions settle on the rocks as the sun set.

While in Monterey we did visit Cannery Row (had another great cuppa dark java), as well as the artist’s community of Carmel about 20 miles south of Monterey. Both are tourist destinations, and since it was a weekend, they were very busy places. We agreed that we’d like to come back one day, when we had more time – and there were fewer people.

A contemporary planting, with a nautical flair in Cannery Row. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A contemporary planting – with a nautical flair. Cannery Row, Monterey. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A Brewer’s Blackbird flits about a casual coastal planting. Photo: Sue Gaviller

In the artist's community of Carmel by the Sea, the artist's touch abounds, as in the pretty painted vine on the house above and the artful container arrangements below. Photos: Sue Gaviller

In Carmel, the artist’s touch abounds – note the pretty painted vine on the house (above) and the artful container arrangements (below). Photos: Sue Gaviller

container planting Carmelcontainer planting Carmel 2

When we left Monterey we drove south along the Big Sur coastline – a magnificent drive along winding, cliff-hugging roads with panoramic views of the ocean. The heights and the road’s proximity to the edge might have made me queasy had the vistas not been so awe-inspiring.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Breathtaking views along the Big Sur coastline have earned this portion of route #1 the designation of National Scenic Byway and ‘All-American Road’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

We continued our drive along the beautiful coastal highway until we reached the town of Cambria where we turned inland towards Paso Robles – there were a couple of wineries in the area we wanted to visit, so we spent the night. We’d been on the road now for two weeks and I needed to wash some clothes – fortunately our hotel had laundry facilities. When I approached the front desk to get some coin for the washer and dryer, the clerk politely obliged. Well, more than politely – in his Southern-drawl he added, “Ma’am you smell real good. Like real expensive perfume.” The young fellow was probably just being friendly, but I found his candor a bit unnerving, especially since I wasn’t wearing any perfume.

It was pretty here, though hot and very dry – the effects of California’s drought were more obvious the further south we went. I was thankful we were back inland for only a day or two before we’d be heading back to the coast. San Francisco was our next destination.

I’d never been to San Francisco and I really didn’t think I was going to be all that thrilled with the sprawling metropolis. But I agreed to go for one night just so I could say I’d been to San Fran. Thanks to my directions we had no trouble finding our hotel, and to my delight, our room was on the 20th floor, providing a spectacular view of the city and a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge. I was beginning to like it here. It was mid afternoon so we had time to grab a Starbucks and take a leisurely stroll before heading to the wharf for dinner.

We made our way up the hills and down, marvelling at the distinctive design of the buildings. San Francisco’s architecture can only be described as… well, San Francisco. It is entirely unique. Of course there are many examples of contemporary design, but it is the peculiar mix of architectural styles in the older row homes that I found so intriguing.

san fran

Mosaic tile steps, terra-cotta containers and scrolled wrought iron create a distinct Spanish Mediterranean feel in the front entrance of this San Francisco home. Photo: Sue Gaviller

It is often referred to as Victorian, and there are certainly those elements – bay windows, steeply pitched roofs and highly decorative flourishes.

But there are also Spanish Mediterranean influences (mosaic tile, scrolled wrought iron, courtyard gardens) and some even exhibit a hint of New England Colonial – clapboard-like siding painted soft blue, ivory or beige, with white trim and paned windows.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A pretty courtyard garden in San Francisco. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Bright fuchsia Bougainvillea and white climbing rose frame an entryway; lavender, lily of the Nile and azaleas line the pathway. Photo: Sue Gaviller

We reached fishermen’s wharf about half an hour before our dinner reservation so we had time to do a little souvenir shopping. San Francisco’s wharf isn’t near as quaint as Monterey’s – it’s big and busy and… utterly enchanting. The sound of jazz floated through the air. I assumed it was music being piped from one of the many shops or restaurants, but I discovered later it was a lone busker – with a really big amp. And of course there was the now familiar sound of sea lions – here there were dozens of rafts for the cute critters to pile onto.


As expected, dinner was delectable, and the taxi-ride back to the hotel quite entertaining. The driver, a big fellow with a silky smooth voice, drove for a limo-tour company and did a fine job promoting San Francisco; not that it needed promoting – I was already smitten with The City by the Bay.

We spent the following morning in Golden Gate Park – the park has a world-renowned Japanese garden which I’d always wanted to see; another reason I’d agreed to visit San Francisco. After the difficulty I had photographing Portland’s Japanese gardens I hoped to have more success here. This garden was very different – brighter and more open than the dappled shade of Portland’s moist, almost-tropical garden. I mistakenly assumed this would make it easier to shoot. It didn’t. The hazy white sky created unpleasant glare and gave everything a yellowish tone. Of course if I was a real photographer I’d have known how to compensate for this. As I looked about the gardens I noted another significant difference – whereas Portland had more coarse textured plants like Hosta and abundant large-leaved rhododendrons to break up the finer texture of pines, ferns and grasses, much of the plant material here seemed finer textured. This resulted in a somewhat busy feel to plant compositions and also contributed to my photographic woes – the fine texture created so many areas of light and dark, hence the same difficulty with harsh contrast as the dappled shade of Portland. Sigh.

Still, it was beautiful and given the Japanese philosophy of celebrating ‘place’, it’s entirely valid that a Japanese garden in coastal California would differ from that of an Oregon rainforest. Regardless, it was well worth the visit.

Photo: S Gaviller

Iris ensata adds an elegant splash of colour to rich green vegetation at the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Cloud pruning is the Japanese practice of trimming trees and shrubs into cloud-like forms. Known as ‘Niwaki’, which means ‘garden tree’, it is seen throughout the gardens. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Stone lanterns are an integral part of the Japanese garden. Here a small lantern provides a solid foil for the many fine-textured elements. Photo: Sue Gaviller

fern grotto

Circle of Peace in the Fern Grotto, National Aids Memorial Grove, Golden Gate Park.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

We had both thoroughly enjoyed San Francisco and knew we’d visit again – for much longer next time. But now it was time to head to our next and final destination where we would spend our anniversary, and the last few days of our trip before embarking on the long journey home. Originally Len had suggested we stay in a big fancy resort hotel in Sonoma to celebrate our marriage milestone. However, I thought something quieter would be more relaxing and romantic. My research led me to a beautiful spa resort at Bodega Bay on the Sonoma coast – very elegant but not the least ostentatious.

We arrived mid afternoon and checked into our ocean view suite, complete with luxurious lounge furniture, a wood burning fireplace, a hot tub and a private patio. A bottle of chilled champagne awaited us – a gift from resort staff in honour of our special day. Pouring ourselves a glass of the cool effervescent nectar we relaxed on the patio and gazed out at the ocean. Tidal channels and saltwater marsh, creating a bird sanctuary, lay between us and the ocean. We could hear birdsong all day, frogs chirping all night… and sea lions barking all day and all night. Tastefully landscaped grounds, gorgeous pool, 4-star restaurant – truly this was a little piece of paradise. I didn’t think I’d ever want to leave.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Native grasses and yellow lupins along the shoreline. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Not sure if this is the invasive artichoke thistle, but it was certainly photogenic against the misty marshlands at Bodega Bay. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

The softly draping form and muted colour of dwarf ornamental grasses contrasts beautifully with the rich colour and stiff upright texture of New Zealand flax. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

This lovely coastal landscape includes handsome New Zealand tea tree (Leptospermum scoparium), Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima) and lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus). Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A bench in a cozy nook amid ferns and fuchsias. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A fine pair; rich dark Aeonium and soft blue-green Echeveria. Note how the foliage rosettes echo the scalloped edge of the planter. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A statue of Poseidon, Greek God of the Sea, watches over the pool area. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Yes indeed it was hard to leave – the Oceanside walks, strolls though the bird sanctuary, wonderful fresh food,  champagne by the fireplace, sea lions swimming and diving around the pier. But alas the time soon came for us to bid the coast goodbye. Our trip had come to an end – all that was left was the four-day drive back to Calgary, and this time we weren’t taking the scenic route.

Interestingly, the only negative experiences we had on the entire trip occurred on the drive home – a resort hotel in Reno with a casino that was so smoky we could smell it in our room. The room itself was posh on the surface, but somehow seemed really seedy – dozens of faux satin and velveteen pillows on the bed, and a black, not-terribly-clean hot tub at the foot of the bed. I wondered if the adage ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ might apply to Reno as well.

While we were out for dinner that night we received a panicked text from one of our sons who’d been looking after our house while we were away. He’d been heading out the door to leave when he saw, at the foot of the steps, a big ol’ skunk. He wasn’t sure what to do. I knew what he was thinking – a number of years ago, his friend from across the road came home late one night, startled a skunk that was hiding in the shrubbery and got himself sprayed. I’d never really had any ‘up-close and personal’ dealings with the striped villains, though I’d smelled their stench periodically in the neighbourhood. And growing up on an acreage in Southern Ontario, the family dog would run afoul of one at least once every summer. Supposedly the only way to get rid of the smell was to bathe them in tomato juice, but I don’t honestly remember doing so with any of our dogs. I was pretty sure my twenty-something son wasn’t going to be too keen on a late night tomato juice dip – and there was no way of avoiding Pepé Le Pew in his current position. I texted him back, “Pour yourself a Scotch and sit down for a bit til he’s gone,” was the best I could come up with.

Then there was the horrible meal we had in Twin Falls the following night – the vegetables were literally rotten. And our last night on the road, in Great Falls – we got bumped from our hotel room (which we’d reserved weeks before) and dumped into what was likely the worst room in the hotel; way at the back with train tracks only a few feet from our window, and a really small bed. It made us all the more eager to get home.

Late afternoon the next day we arrived home. I was greeted with the colorful blooms of moss phlox, creeping thyme, dwarf iris… and lilacs. I hadn’t missed them after all! Walking up to the front door, suitcase in hand, I stopped and closed my eyes. For a moment, the breeze carried me back to the California coast I breathed deeply and my nostrils filled with Syringa‘s sweet perfume. I was home. Though I still felt the call of the road, it was time to dig in and get to work. This was my busy season and I knew I’d have to hit the ground running….

‘Til next time,

There and Back; a Hortigeek’s Tale, Part 2 ~ California Here we Come ~

We left Portland on Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend. Apparently traffic is bumper-to-bumper heading to the coast on holiday weekends, but since it was Saturday, our hope was that everyone would’ve arrived at their destinations already.  We decided to get an early start just to be safe. Indeed it was quieter on the freeways than any other time during our 5-day stay – if we’d known how much time we would spend in heavy traffic travelling to and from wine country, we’d have opted to stay in one of the smaller towns down the valley. I heard one of the locals comment that even visitors from LA, which is known for crazy car congestion, complain about traffic in and around Portland.

The drive to the coast took us through wine country again, then onto the Salmon River Highway which eventually joined up with the Oregon Coast highway just North of Lincoln City. We stopped in Lincoln City for a cuppa java – one of the finest we’d have on the entire trip; whether it was the coffee itself or the fact that we sipped while gazing out onto the Pacific Ocean I’m not sure. It had been years since I’d been to the ocean, and never the Oregon coast. I felt the familiar call of the water, as I always did since leaving my home on Georgian Bay as a young woman. Why I chose to move to an inland city (a semi arid one no less) I really don’t know, but I knew this trip would have me longing again for a life on the water.

The Coastal Highway was, as expected, very scenic – Oregon’s coast is varied in its topography, the highway traversing a shoreline of rugged rocky bluffs, massive sand-dunes that were oft right next to the highway, and dense forests of shore pine, rich with Rhododendron understory. I marveled at the range of conditions in which these Ericaceous shrubs thrived here – from the rich fertile soils of the Willamette valley to lean, sandy (and likely salty) coastal soils. I remembered something I’d read recently about successfully growing Rhododendrons in less-than-ideal soil conditions – amend the soil with pine needles. Noting the masses of healthy-looking native rhodies beneath the pines, I understood why. I noted too how Mother Nature, the ultimate designer, had perfectly paired the fine feathery texture of pine foliage with the coarse leathery Rhododendron foliage.

We pulled off the highway at a particularly gorgeous ocean look-out and I took a few shots of the breathtaking view. Then I heard it – a sound I’d miss more than any other sound the ocean offered – the barking of sea lions. Adjusting our vantage point we saw them, camped out on the rocks far below, basking in the sun. From where we were they looked rather like slugs. Turned out that just up the road were the Sea Lion Caves, a very busy Oregon Coast tourist attraction.

Heceta Head and Devil's Elbow Bay, Oregon Coast. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Heceta Head and Devil’s Elbow Bay, Oregon Coast. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sunbathing sea lions. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Several hours later we crossed the border into California. Shortly thereafter the highway veered inland and before long we found ourselves among giant redwoods. I’d of course seen the behemoth redwoods before. I’d had the dizzying experience of looking up, looking waaaayy up, into the soft-needled crown of a single specimen or small stand, but never had I seen a whole forest. These horticultural giants were truly awe-inspiring. I wondered if maybe J.R.R. Tolkien was staring into an old-growth forest such as this when he created his beloved Treebeard and the other Ents.

Somewhere around Crescent City the highway met the shoreline again. We found a sandy cove where we dipped our feet, me for the first time, in California’s Pacific waters.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

I first set foot in California waters here on Wilson Creek Beach, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. Photo: Sue Gaviller

We spent the night in pretty Eureka on the North coast. Looking out over Humboldt Bay we watched a big orange sun drop beneath the misty horizon. My husband ate fresh oysters from the bay and I partook of a fine California Riesling – this would be the first of many California sunsets we’d witness in the coming weeks.

Continuing South the next day on U.S. Highway 101, fittingly called the Redwood Highway through this part of the state, our destination for that day was Napa Valley. The fastest route would have been to follow 101 all the way down, but hubby wanted me to experience the Shoreline Highway as he had when a 20-something young man. So at Leggett, it’s Northern terminus, we turned off 101 and headed West on California State Route 1. Though it’s called the Shoreline Highway, it is well inland at this point and to the East of heavily treed mountainous terrain. To get to the coast one must first navigate this terrain…………

I took a deep breath. I knew I was in for a wild ride. At first it didn’t seem so bad, but very quickly the road heads into dark foreboding territory. We were climbing, climbing, following the winding, twisting road, narrow and full of snake-turns and switchbacks. Though we were always aware of the steep slope on one side or the other, periodic breaks in the trees allowed us to see how far up we were. And just when I’d think we were through it all and we’d start descending, we were climbing again. At times it was so dark, the tree canopy so dense, and the road so narrow that my husband commented, “I feel like we’re on some kind of hobbit trek.”

“Yeah, like through Mordor,” I muttered. If you aren’t familiar with Tolkein’s mythical realm of Middle Earth, then suffice it to say that Mordor is a very bad place. I don’t know how long we actually drove through this – it was only about 26 miles, but the going was slow and it seemed like hours. We finally emerged from Mordor about a half hour north of Fort Bragg, drove up around a bend and there stretched out before us, was the spectacular California coastline in all her windswept glory. Never had I felt so elated to see the endless expanse of water.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Gorgeous view of California coastline just north of Westport-Union Landing State Beach.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

When we reached Mendocino, where we’d planned to stop for lunch, it was so full of tourists (yes we too fit that description) that we decided to wait. I needed to get out and stretch after the white knuckle drive I’d just endured, so we opted to have coffee and wander around the historic little town. I asked the young girl in the coffee shop where their washroom was – she informed me that due to the drought, all their wells were dry and the only available washroom was a public one down the street. I went in search of the facilities, passing numerous expensive shops and boutiques – in my ignorance I still thought of Mendocino as an old hippie town. There was a line-up for the ladies’ room – standing in line gave me the opportunity to take some photos of pretty gardens nearby. Vegetation here, both natural and garden, differed from that further up the coast.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Mounds of pink and white rock rose dress up Mendocino’s wooden water tower. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Still waiting in line, I noticed a young man with long hair and a beard (which was as long as his hair), wearing cargo shorts, work boots and walking a beautiful bloodhound. “Must be a local,” I thought to myself, still showing my naivety (as if I had any idea what a local Mendocino-ite might look like). “Nice dog,” I remarked. He looked at me warily and muttered something – everywhere we’d been people were so open and friendly and this man’s guarded response was a marked contrast. “Is that a Bloodhound?” I persisted. At that the bearded fellow opened up completely, informing me that yes she was a bloodhound, that she was in heat, the second phase of her heat to be precise, and she was really………..well to put it a tad more delicately than he did, apparently her sex drive was extremely elevated. He was looking for another bloodhound to breed her with but the only one in the area belonged to the local police chief or sheriff or whatever and blah, blah, blah……..the guy was harmless but I was now a little uncomfortable with the conversation – fortunately by this time I’d progressed to the front of the line and could politely dismiss myself.

When I exited the washroom Mr. Mendocino was nowhere to be seen. I heard the sound of acoustic guitar and soft voices – a few yards away under a shady tree, a group of young people were playing guitar and singing old Neil Young tunes. I guess it was still a hippie town – young and old. I smiled, remembering my own youth and my first acoustic guitar, singing Mamas and Papas or Joni Mitchell tunes around a campfire – I was barely a teenager…………..and such a wannabe hippie.

I found my way back to the car where hubby was waiting, wondering if I’d got lost. We took a stroll, coffee in one hand, camera in the other, and explored scenic Mendocino before heading out on the road again. The gardens here were quite unique – picket fences, roses, heathers and other old-fashioned garden elements spoke to the vintage of the area, and spiky upright plants like Echium, Phormium and tall stiff grasses spoke to its coastal locale and lent structure to the softer elements.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

The juxtaposition of New Zealand flax (Phormium) with the white picket fence and heritage building makes quite a statement. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Purple-blue spikes of Echium contrast nicely with the old-fashioned white roses in the foreground. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Variegated New Zealand flax and tall ornamental grasses frame and anchor the mixed shrub/perennial border lining this pathway. Photo: Sue Gaviller

We continued our drive south on the #1 until it met up with #128 which would take us back inland, through more redwood forest on more winding roads – but nothing like Mordor. As we left the giant Sequoia forest behind, the landscape and vegetation changed quickly – we were entering wine country, more specifically the Anderson Valley Appellation (appellation is a fancy word for wine-growing region). We stopped for lunch in a little town called Boonville (yes that’s right; a little town out in the boonies called Boonville). It was hot here, like all wine growing regions, and like all small towns associated with wine growing regions, there were lots of great places to eat. We found a casual salad and sandwich place – I had one of the most flavourful salads I’d ever tasted; arugula, mango, grilled chicken breast, fresh cilantro…………mmmmm I can still taste it.

A couple of hours later we arrived in Napa Valley where we would stay and explore for the next 5 days. I won’t bore you with a play-by-play account of our stay in California wine country – I’ll just say it was fabulous; fine wine, great food, stunning scenery, beautiful gardens………………..

Chateau Ste. Jean, a Sonoma winery, boasts beautifully landscaped grounds - Mediterranean inspired in the Italian Renaissance style, with classical statuary, parterres and hedging, archways and rustic pergolas. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Chateau Ste. Jean, a Sonoma winery, boasts beautifully landscaped grounds – Mediterranean inspired in the Italian Renaissance style, with classical statuary, parterres and hedging, archways and rustic pergolas. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Truchard vineyards are one of the oldest vineyards in the Carneros region of Napa and produce beautiful wines, my personal favourites being Chardonnay and Cabernet Reserve. After a lovely lunch in the gazebo with Tony and Anthony, we took a stroll through the vineyards. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Modern, minimalistic promenade in downtown Napa. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Simply planted , it is the shape, colour and placement of these terra-cotta pots that provides the appeal. Photo: Sue Gaviller

In Yountville, a gorgeous little town just North of Napa, beautiful gardens and landscapes abound - here lavender, roses and the ever-present columnar cypress adorn a restaurant parking lot. Photo: Sue Gaviller

In Yountville, a picturesque town just North of Napa, gorgeous gardens and landscapes abound – here lavender, roses and the ever-present columnar cypress adorn a restaurant parking lot.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Poolside planting outside private residence at Trefethen Vineyards. Note how the form and dense texture of the columnar cypress nicely dominate the scene with the rounder forms playing a supporting role. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Roses planted alongside a stone wall create real old world appeal in this roadside planting next to a vineyard in Napa. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rhythmic repetition of narrow upright cypress creates nice movement around this circular drive. Photo: Sue Gaviller

lambert bridge lavender 2

Layered planting – a swath of lavender repeats the horizontal line of the stone wall, which is again repeated in the barberry shrubs and the trees beyond. Lambert Bridge Winery. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Kendall Jackson, another Sonoma winery, has lush gardens to wander through. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A stunning ‘hedge’ of Cannas near Dry Creek. I guess they don’t get hail there. Photo: Sue Gaviller

After 5 days of hot weather, daily wine tasting and other overindulgences, I was ready to move on to the next leg of our journey – back to the coast. I was so looking forward to fresh seafood, the smell of saltwater and walks along the beach. Join me next time for more garden pics from the California coast.

Til then,



There and Back – a Hortigeek’s Tale

Greetings fellow gardeners! I must apologize for ignoring this blog of late, but I was on vacation for a few weeks. Vacation you ask – at this time of year? What garden designer in her right mind goes AWOL for 3 weeks just as gardening season is revving up? Well I’ve never claimed to be in my right mind – although if truth be told I think I’m one of the sanest people I know. But I digress. My husband and I observed a milestone anniversary earlier this month – so to celebrate, the sommelier and the garden designer took a little road trip; touring wineries, visiting fabulous gardens and noshing on fine victuals.

I know y’all have been waiting for my ‘Colour in the Garden’ series to begin, and for my weekly Plant Pick Page to get up and running, and I promise I am working on those. In the meantime though, I thought I’d share some of the beauty I’ve recently witnessed.

When we left home on Victoria Day the leaves were just beginning to break bud – this was an unusually late spring, even for Calgary. As we drove South, the green aura of emerging leaves became more marked, and by the time we crossed the border and made our first pit-stop, everything was green and leafy, crab-apples and lilacs were blooming – spring had certainly come to Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho. While hubby filled the gas tank I looked longingly across the freeway where a hedge of lilacs bloomed – I wanted to run across four lanes of traffic and bury my face in the fluffy purple panicles, breathing in their intoxicating aroma. But that would be foolhardy.  Hopefully when we stopped for the night there would be lilacs to sniff.

When we reached Spokane, Washington where we’d stay for the night, there were indeed lilacs blooming, chestnut trees too, peonies, Siberian irises, and deep, rich, fuchsia-red hawthorn blooms. A walk after dinner afforded me the longed-for opportunity to stick my nose in some sweet lilac blossoms and inhale deeply – mmmm I do love lilacs. I hoped there would be more as we continued on our journey. The next morning my husband was up early and eager to get on the road. I was tired – taking this time away had meant weeks of hectic scheduling beforehand and I found myself resisting his attempts to schedule our time. It would take a few days for him to get the ants out of his pants and me to get the lead out of mine. However we did have appointments to keep – we were expected that afternoon at a winery in Walla Walla.

The drive through the Columbia Basin in Washington State revealed some of the most intriguing scenery I’d ever seen – strange, rolling, treeless hills that were at times bright green with agricultural crops, (often topped with huge white alien-looking windmills), at times rugged as rangeland, and at times awash with the muted colours of sagebrush, purple vetch-like flowers and tawny-hued grasses. The horticulturist (a.k.a. plant geek) in me wanted to stop the car every five minutes so I could identify each and every plant, and the designer in me wanted to photograph every landscape, natural or manmade – but more often than not, there was no safe place to pull over. This would be one of many times I’d have to settle my inner ‘hortigeek’, lest I experience every beautiful sight as a missed opportunity.

When we arrived in Walla Walla, spring had been left behind – it was early summer here; very warm, shorts-weather even. We ate lunch on the patio of a charming historic restaurant in the town-site, then headed out to wine country. The Walla Walla wine region is hot and dry – it felt stifling when we first stepped out of the car; Calgary was cold and rainy when we’d left only the day before, so the heat was a shock to the senses. I was thankful for the cool of the air-conditioned tasting room. For my husband this was the true beginning of our trip – the winery experience. It would be at least another day before I felt the same.

We made it to Portland that night after a picturesque drive on I-84 along the Columbia River Gorge, and an exquisite dinner in the hip little town of Hood River. Portland is at the northern tip of the Willamette Valley; a wide fertile valley that is home to some of the world’s finest Pinot Noirs, and boasts phenomenal gardening conditions – here Rhododendrons of every colour thrive, indeed they are native to this area. In fact everything seems to thrive here – driving along the I-5 from Portland to wine country the next day, I was thrilled at the roadside plantings of rhodos, roses, ivy, Spanish lavender and other sumptuous offerings (but no lilacs). Gorgeous gardens everywhere; even fast food chains had nicely landscaped grounds.  The hortigeek in me was plotzing again – but vineyards and wineries are beautiful places, as are the many small towns where they oft reside, so there was lots to photograph.

Rhododendrons grow everywhere in Oregon, much like Syringa and Potentilla grow in our climate. Here a coral-red rhodo grows alongside spreading juniper in a parking lot planting.  Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rhododendrons grow everywhere in Oregon, much like Syringa and Potentilla grow in our climate. Here a coral-red rhodo grows alongside spreading juniper next to a parking lot in Newberg, Oregon.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Spanish lavender too is a common sight throughout the area. Here it is planted with other herbs in a back alley garden in McMinnville, Oregon. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Roses were in full bloom in Oregon when we were there the end of May. These three perfect white roses just begged to be photographed. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A lovely Mediterranean-inspired garden outside a restaurant where we had lunch in Dundee, Oregon. Note how the various plant forms play off each other. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A visit to Portland’s famed Japanese garden was the moment I finally relaxed – entering through the gates I felt the tensions and busy-ness of the previous weeks melt away and I was overcome with emotion. This is the aim of the Japanese Garden – to provide a haven from worldly cares. However as soon as I brought my camera out, I wasn’t so relaxed anymore – dappled shade is soothing and tranquil to be in, but not so easy to photograph in. My husband, sensing my growing frustration, related his own experience with photography as a young arts student – wherever he went he was always looking for subject material, hoping that today would be the day he took the photo; the photo of a lifetime, until one day he realized that his attempts to capture with perfect artistry that which he saw, actually undermined his ability to experience and enjoy what he saw. He was right of course – here we were in this amazing place of calm and I was anything but calm. So I put my camera away and we walked in the cool dappled shade, we listened to sweet birdsong and dancing water and we sat beside the koi pond and marveled at the serenity of it all. Yes this was the beginning of my vacation………..

Portland Japanese Garden - water basin

A peaceful stone water basin sits just inside the gates. Photo: Sue Gaviller.

Portland Japanese Garden bridge

A bridge crosses a tranquil stream in the ‘Strolling Pond Garden’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The sound of running water, from numerous streams and waterfalls, is everywhere in the garden. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Portland Japanese Garden - ferns and rhodos

Hot pink Rhododendron pairs beautifully with bright green ferns. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Mount Ste. Helens and downtown Portland are visible through an opening in the trees – an example of the Japanese principle of ‘Borrowed Scenery’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

We visited several wineries over the course of the next few days while staying in the Portland area, but the one that most bears mention is WillaKenzie Estate Winery – I could of course rave about their fabulous Pinot’s (everybody does), or I could talk about their delightful winemaker’s assistant Gabby, a young French-Canadian woman who gave us an intimate look behind the scenes, but what I really want to rave about is the breathtaking scenery; beautifully landscaped grounds, spectacular views……….

Trees frame the view of a vineyard at WillaKenzie Estate. Photo: Sue Gaviller

willakenzie white rhodos 2

A low hedge of crisp white rhodos lines the steps at the entrance to the winery. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Flowering dogwood trees have large showy flowers which look stunning against the dark green coarse-textured leaves. This young specimen graced an estate pathway. Photo: Sue Gaviller

willakenzie sensory garden

The Sensory Garden – lavender, thyme, oregano, fruit trees, strawberry vines, mint, iris and all manner of things to delight the senses are grown in the Sensory Garden overlooking the vineyards. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Irises in the Sensory Garden. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The lovely Gabby offers us a barrel tasting of a 2013 Aliette Pinot Noir. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The lovely Gabby offers us a barrel tasting of 2012 Aliette Pinot Noir. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The patio outside WillaKenzie’s tasting room boasts a panoramic view of rolling hills, valleys and vineyards. Photo: Sue Gaviller

willakenzie cheese plate 2

Fresh baguette, fine cheeses, nuts, dried cherries and apricots were the perfect complement to a glass of wine on the patio. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sitting at a shady table on the patio, sipping an elegant 2011 Aliette Pinot Noir and nibbling on the tasty treats that were kindly offered us, I couldn’t imagine a place more beautiful. A red tailed hawk soared out over the valley. I reached for my camera……then stopped – this moment was too perfect to waste fussing with camera settings for the umpteenth time. As if reading my thoughts the hawk swooped down into the valley and out of sight. I took a sip of wine, closed my eyes and felt the warmth of the gorgeous red nectar and the light caress of cool breezes. Could it get any better than this? I would soon find out as we continued on the next leg of our journey………..

Stay tuned for, ‘California Here We Come’.

Til then,






Let’s Talk About the 3 R’s

We all know the importance of the 3 r’s – readin’, ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic. No not those 3 r’s. Reduce, re-use, and recycle? No not those either. I’m referring to the 3r’s of romance – Rubies, Roses and Red Wine. Ah yes, those 3 r’s. Today is Valentine’s Day, so let’s talk about………..


They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but I don’t think I agree. Men get to have dog as best friend – I’d rather have a dog than diamonds. I guess I’m just not that into diamonds, or any jewelry for that matter. I’ve never been the kind of gal who surreptitiously points out to my husband around anniversaries, Christmas, Valentine’s Day etc., the beautiful expensive pieces showcased in jewelry store windows, in the hope that one might find its way into a box with my name on it. Indeed the jewelry he’s given me over the years, has had sentiment as big as (or bigger than) the price tag. So it is with rubies – they have sentimental value for me much more than monetary value. There is of course, a story here…………..

The first year we were dating, my husband gave me a single red rose for Valentine’s Day, along with a charming card with some amorous message in it (which I really can’t remember). I do however remember how he signed it; Happy Valentine’s Day, Love Len………and in brackets he wrote, “Sorry I couldn’t find any rubies.” The reference to the sparkling red gemstones was from a story we’d read – about a couple who out of necessity, held their nuptials out on the range, exchanging their impromptu but heartfelt vows on horseback. The gentleman (okay he was more of a rogue) had no ring to give his new bride, so he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small handful of rubies. He gently placed them in his wife’s hand, and with a twinkle in his eye said, “Every woman should get rubies on her wedding day.”

Oh be still my beating heart. The mention of rubies (clearly a symbol of commitment) in this first Valentine’s card seemed strangely farsighted given the early stage of our courtship. It was also weirdly incongruous coming from a man who fervently fought tradition. Seems he’d been pierced by cupid’s arrow, though he didn’t know it at the time – he didn’t stand a chance.

And so it was that several years later, on another February 14th (after a year or so of cohabiting, during which time he discovered that everything he feared about marriage and commitment had already come to pass………..and he’d survived), I came home to find on the kitchen table: a dozen red roses, a card, and a bottle of Sebastiani Cabernet (our wine savvy in those years, was as limited as our budget). The message inside the card was sweet and romantic, but again the only detail I remember was how it was signed; Happy Valentine’s Day, Love Len………and in brackets, “This time it comes with the promise of rubies.” The rest as they say is history, but my wedding band is indeed adorned with several rubies.


“I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds ’round my neck.” ~ Emma Goldman ~

For me, as a horticulturist and garden designer, a bouquet of roses (or a bouquet of anything) is akin to the gift of jewelry. Nothing warms my heart more than a big bunch of flowers, whether from a friend, a dinner guest, my sons, or in particular, my husband. While he’s often given me roses for Valentine’s Day, he’s also been known to defy convention (surprise, surprise) and purposefully buy a very different type of arrangement; “Everyone gets roses for Valentine’s Day,” he’ll say. “You deserve something special.” Nice sentiment. But honestly, either works for me – I love the thoughtful break from tradition, but I can’t deny I also love the traditional dozen red roses; their softly scented, velvety petals just ooze romance. Unfortunately though, they don’t always have a lot of staying power – the trick is to make a good selection when buying them. Here’s a great list of what to look for: How to Buy Roses.

Roses have different meanings for different people – for my sister and her husband, exchanging a single long stem red rose was an essential part of their wedding ceremony. It was a gesture the groom requested as a way of honouring his mom who had passed away many years earlier. In the years since her death, a pretty red rose-bush which grew alongside the driveway of his childhood home, and had bloomed profusely under his mother’s care, had long since stopped blooming. But in the months leading up to their wedding, it burst into bloom – to them it was a sure sign that their upcoming marriage had his mother’s soundest blessing.

Red Wine

In the early years, red wine was our beverage of choice. I don’t mean it was the only liquid we drank – we didn’t drink it in the morning instead of coffee, or fill water bottles with it to go on a hike or to the gym – I just mean if we were going to indulge in a ‘fermented beverage’, we were likely to choose an Old World red; maybe a Burgundy or a Bordeaux blend.

Red wine has played a part in many of our celebrations over the years – anniversaries, birthdays, just-because-days, but the one that comes to mind is an early spring hike along the river below Elbow falls, many years ago. Len carried a knapsack in those days, the contents of which always intrigued me – his wallet, cigarettes, herbal tea, other ‘herbals’, a paperback or two (usually sci-fi), sometimes a magazine (Esquire or Omni), snack food of some kind, a Swiss army knife, a windbreaker, and anything else he thought he might need on a given day. This day he added: a loaf of still-warm French bread, a brick of cheese, and a bottle of red wine.

We walked along the river a ways and found a warm sunny rock to picnic on. We tore pieces of fresh bread off the loaf, cut cheese with the knife he carried in his pack, and drank wine out of plastic cups. It was the perfect picnic, and a fine way to enjoy a bottle of red – soaking up the warm spring sun, until concern we might get caught in rush hour traffic urged us to head back into the city.

The Three B’s

It would be unfair and insensitive if I didn’t take a moment to acknowledge the 3 B’s: Broken-hearted, Between-loves and By-choice Single – if one of these describes your current situation, you might decide to boycott Valentine’s Day altogether. I don’t blame you – we’ve all been there, or will be, at some point in our lives. I know someone who was dumped on Valentine’s Day – by text, after paying for dinner at an expensive restaurant. Honey you can definitely pass on Valentine’s Day for a while.

If truth be told I wasn’t very lucky in love before I met my husband – of course in retrospect I realize that some of it had more to do with bad choices than bad luck. But oddly enough I never disliked Valentine’s Day; maybe the memories from my childhood gave it meaning beyond the syrupy romance that greeting card companies, diamond merchants and chocolatiers thrust upon us.

I remember in grade school we’d make pretty Valentine crafts – heart-shape cards made with red and pink construction paper, lacy white doilies, and glitter paint. And on Valentine’s afternoon, we’d have a class party – with snacks and games and the ritual exchange of simple valentine’s cards where no one got left out. There were treats that our Mom’s had baked – cupcakes with pink icing and candy hearts or heart-shaped cookies with red sprinkles. And each child would go home with a little gift bag filled with red cinnamon hearts, red and white jelly beans and ju-jube hearts, and red foil-wrapped chocolate hearts. To this day I still make up bags-full-of-goodies for my two grown sons.

It’s more than that though. Valentine’s Day is about the promise of something – if not rubies, then perhaps future romantic possibilities, and if not that then most surely, spring. Yes my friends, spring – it’s around this time every year that the fog of winter hibernation begins to lift; the days are noticeably longer, the sun perceptibly warmer, and spring becomes more than a distant probability. It has become a promise. The promise of spring, to a child, or a gardener, a grieving grown-up, or a happy lover, is something to celebrate – indeed it feels very much like hope.

So to everyone – married or single, happy or sad, young, old and everything in between, breathe deeply the air of promise…….and have a very Happy Valentine’s Day.


Princess Pepper’s Adventure – Part 2

“What happened?” my husband asked hurrying toward me.

“The car was in neutral and the emergency brake wasn’t on and it rolled and I tried to catch it and stop it but I couldn’t and I fell,” I blurted out as if it were all one word.

“Are you okay?” he asked, putting his arms around me.

“I think so,” I replied, as he quickly surveyed my wounds.

“We need to get these cleaned up. There’s a washroom inside,” he said, motioning me towards the building.

“But the dog,” I protested.

“I’ll go check on the dog,” he assured. I can’t remember the exact sequence of events after that. I was still in shock as I entered the building and found the women’s washroom – hubby had obviously apprised the staff of the situation immediately because a young lady followed me in there with a first aid kit.

“I have this,” she said, handing me something – peroxide maybe, or rubbing alcohol.  “And this,” she added. I read the label – chlorhexidine.

“Yeah that’ll be good,” I said and started spritzing it on my many lacerations – left shoulder, left side of left leg, right side of right leg, right shoulder, between my shoulders, top of both feet. Ouch, ouch, ouch – can you say road rash?

The back of my head was throbbing. I reached behind to touch the spot – only a little blood.  I asked the young woman if she’d mind having a look. “Of course,” she said and examined my head. “There are a few big bumps, one has just slightly broken the skin,” she reported. I dabbed some peroxide on this.

“Thank-you so much for your help,” I said.

“Oh no problem,” she replied.

Another woman, a little older than the first, poked her head in the washroom. “Are you alright?” she inquired. “Can I get you anything?” I think she might have even asked me if I wanted a glass of wine, though perhaps I only imagined that. I mean it is a winery.

“No, this young lady’s been very helpful,” I answered looking towards the younger one. “What’s your name?” I asked her.

“I’m Caitlin,” she said. “And this is Christina,” she added, referring to the woman who’d just arrived on the scene.

“Well thank you both so much,” I said.

Hubby must have seen the party going on in the women’s room and figured it was safe to enter. “How you making out?” he asked.

“Well I think that’s as clean as I’m going to get things for now,” I replied.

“Let’s get you back to the hotel,” he said. On the way back to the car he advised me that Pepper was fine and the car was fine – the damage appeared to be only cosmetic.

A mile or so down the road I realized I didn’t have my keys – I would’ve had them in my hand when I started my sprint towards the rolling car and obviously had dropped them. The keys to everything in my life were on that key ring – I didn’t want to wait and go back later lest they never be found, so we turned around. It didn’t take long for us to conclude that the keys weren’t in the parking lot because it was still empty. It was at this point I realized how very fortunate it was that it had been a slow day at the winery and there weren’t other cars, or God forbid people, in the parking lot to share in my little drama.

I went inside to see if maybe my keys had already been found. From behind the bar in the tasting room Christina looked up and said, “Oh I have your keys.”

“Oh thank you,” I responded, relieved. “Where were they?”

“In the parking lot,” she replied. She reiterated her concern for my wellbeing, asking again if I was okay, or if I needed anything. I assured her I would be fine.

Caitlin and Shane I think his name was, the assistant winemaker, were near the front doors as I was leaving. Both asked if I was okay and if there was anything they could do. “Don’t worry about the rock,” Shane assured me. I assumed he was being facetious because I really hadn’t given any thought to the wall of large boulders my car had hit. All I could think was “It’s a really big rock. I think it’ll be okay.” It occurred to me later that since they’d obviously visited the scene of the accident when they retrieved my car keys, the point of impact had already been assessed – maybe there was in fact damage to the rock. It never occurred to me, that in a fight between a compact wagon and a huge boulder, that the boulder wouldn’t win. Maybe Shane’s absolution was genuine – if so, I was grateful and promised myself I’d make a point of checking into it.

Driving back to the hotel, the magnitude of what I’d just experienced –  indeed the proverbial bullet I’d just dodged – began to sink in. I started to sob; sobs of gratitude that the outcome had not been worse, sobs of foolishness for the dim-witted mistake I’d made. My husband kept saying he was sorry and that he felt so bad. I realized he thought it was his fault – he didn’t know I’d started the car again after he’d parked it, and that I was the one who’d stupidly left it in neutral and didn’t apply the emergency brake. I enlightened him.

“Everybody makes mistakes,” he responded. “Don’t beat yourself up. I’m just happy you’re okay.”

We stopped at a pharmacy and he went in to get Epsom salts and antibiotic ointment. After what seemed like an endless drive, we were finally back at our hotel. I ran a hot bath and dumped the Epsom salts in. Wincing, I lowered myself into the tub. I realized my whole right side hurt – I hadn’t noticed the large abrasion extending from waist to knee on my right side as it had been underneath my tank top and chino capri’s. The fabric wasn’t torn at all on the outside but had scraped against my skin so hard that it tore the skin and there was fabric lodged in the wounds. The bruising would come later.

After soaking for a bit, the stinging subsided and I was able to thoroughly clean my ‘ow-ies’. Hubby helped me put ointment on the wounds I couldn’t reach, and assessed me for concussion. We decided I didn’t have one – I’d be seeing my Dad, a retired GP, the next day so would have him check everything out.

“Do you feel well enough to go out for dinner?” he asked. “Or do you want to order in?” We had reservations at a lovely Italian restaurant – another place we’d been to on our honeymoon many years ago.  I decided we should go out – it was a beautiful evening in Niagara-on-the-Lake, I was happy to be alive, and our sweet Peppydawg, around whom this whole trip revolved, was completely fine. Celebration was in order, albeit low-key.

We parked the car near the restaurant and took Dawg for a walk before settling her in the car. Clippety-clop, clippety-clop, clippety-clop; we heard the sound of hoofbeats nearby – a horse-drawn cart showing tourists around the charming historic town made its way down the street. Princess Pepper started prancing, much like she does when she sees another dog. In fact I’m pretty sure she thought the horse was a dog – a really big dog that smelled really good. “No Peppy. It’s not play time,” I said and we continued on with our walk. Then with Peppy curled up in the back seat of the Little Red Wagon, we had a wonderful dinner on the patio – carrot ginger soup, rack of lamb, wild rice and seasonal veggies. And of course wine.

Later that night, lying in bed, sleep eluded me – I couldn’t lie on my left side because my left leg and shoulder hurt. I couldn’t lie on my right side because my right hip hurt. I couldn’t lie on my back because the back of my head hurt, even against the soft pillow. How on earth did I manage to get banged up on both sides of my body and the back of my head – maybe I rolled while being dragged, or when I let go? I thanked God that I wasn’t hurt any worse, and that my dog was okay and my Little Red Wagon was mostly okay. The last thing I remember before falling asleep was thinking, “It’s gonna really hurt squeezing into my Spanx on Saturday.”

The next morning I awoke feeling not-too-bad – tender still, but functional. After breakfast in the hotel (taking turns of course so Pepper wouldn’t be left alone) we packed up to head North to my hometown. We had a few stops to make on the way – most important was those butter tarts! Pulling into the parking lot of the little marketplace, I noticed a beautiful hedge of Hibiscus edging the pavement. I suspect from the size of the huge blooms, that it was likely H. moscheutos – I believe it’s actually a woody perennial, which unfortunately isn’t hardy in Alberta.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

The blooms on this plant are described as ‘dinner plate’ sized which is no exaggeration  they are indeed strikingly large, and range in colour from white to pink to red. Gorgeous aren’t they?

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Anyway, we bought a dozen butter tarts, scrumptious looking things that were purported to be the best in the country – I would reserve judgement until I sunk my teeth into one. I am a connoisseur of several things, butter tarts being one of them.  We also picked up fresh Niagara peaches, nectarines and corn-on-the-cob.

Since our vineyard visits had been cut short the day before, we stopped at a couple of wineries too. Thirty Bench Winery was our first stop – again too hot to leave doggie, but given how sore I was, I was happy to stay put in the car…………until I heard a very loud blam. I was sure it was gunfire. Maybe the winery was being robbed at gunpoint. I heard another gunshot, this time further afield, then another in a yet a different spot. There were other people in the parking lot, some obviously worked there. None of them seemed alarmed. Maybe it’s just a car backfiring, I thought. But I kept hearing it – sometimes deafeningly close and sometimes much further off. The dog was starting to freak out. I didn’t want her to associate the car with anything fearful (the car was our last bastion of freedom), so I decided to take her for a short walk. I checked to make sure I had put the emergency brake on, then I checked again…………and again. I took a few photos – a very pretty place, though more rustic than the wineries we’d visited the day before.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A few minutes later we met Hubby back at the car and I told him about the gunshot noise that had Princess Pepper quite unsettled. “Those are bird cannons,” he informed me. “They use them to scare the birds away so they don’t eat all the fruit.” Okay that makes more sense than a vineyard robbery.

Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Just down the road a bit was Hidden Bench Vineyard – it was the last winery we’d be able to visit in Niagara wine country, at least on this trip.

We parked in the shade right beside the vines – close enough that without even leaving the car, I could get some macro shots of the clusters of Pinot Noir grapes in various stages of Véraison (this is a fancy word viticulturists use for ‘beginning to ripen’).

At this point we weren’t too far from Peninsula Ridge – I wanted to pop in to say thank-you again for the help and concern the staff had shown me the day before.  Christina was busy in the tasting room but as soon as she saw me she stopped what she was doing. “Hello my dear,” she said. “How are you feeling today? We’ve all been thinking about you and hoping you’re okay,” she continued. I told her I was a little battered and bruised but all in all felt pretty lucky it hadn’t been any worse. The staff I’d met the day before weren’t there so I asked Christina to please pass along my thanks to them as well.

As I walked to the car, I looked around and noted how beautiful the grounds and vineyards looked under the very blue sky. I took a few pictures, remembering that it was photographing these very things that got me into trouble in the first place – the irony of it wasn’t lost on me.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Heading east back to Hamilton before turning to head north, we made a few stops in the city. Somewhere along a main thoroughfare in Hamilton, we noticed the air conditioning had stopped working. Hubby looked at the temperature gauge. “The car is over-heating,” he exclaimed, turning the AC off and the heat on. “This will help dissipate the heat from the engine,” he explained. Okay great, it’s a zillion degrees out and we have the heat on, we’re in stop-and-go traffic so even with the windows wide open there’s no breeze. Now I won’t say my husband was perfectly calm at this point but I will say this: he excels in crisis management of this sort – indeed it saved our life on at least one occasion, so I’ve learned not to argue with him.

“We have to get out of here and onto the highway,” he said. Of course we hit every possible red light and the temperature needle was inching dangerously close to the red zone. Thankfully we made it to the highway and with faster speeds the temperature began to normalize. We hoped maybe this overheating thing was just an anomaly – it was blistering hot out and the car had been idling off and on in city traffic. It could happen right?

We turned the heat off, but didn’t dare turn the AC back on. As we approached Clappison’s Corners we noticed that traffic had slowed despite the green light. No, please no, not now. Yes sir, somebody up ahead was moving a house and the sign read ‘Wide Load. Do not pass’. As traffic slowed to a crawl, the car rapidly began heating up again. We turned the heat on again and groaned, as all around us big semi-trucks were congregating, creating a mammoth heat sink. I was starting to worry about the dog – she doesn’t do well in the heat and it was ridiculously hot in the car. She was panting and obviously stressed.

Finally the wide load cleared the intersection…………..just as the traffic light turned red. As if in answer to the red light, the temperature gauge jumped into the red zone, past the red zone, right off the charts. The engine light came on.

“That’s it,” my husband declared. “We’re toast.”

……………TO BE CONTINUED…………..

Stay tuned,

© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Princess Pepper’s Adventure

On the morning of August 16th 1993, my sister and I and my two boys, then aged 2 and 8, boarded our Olds Cutlass station wagon (affectionately known as the Gutless Cutlass), to make the long journey from Calgary to Southern Ontario. Fitting then, that exactly 20 years later, August 16th 2013, I hopped aboard our Ford Focus station wagon (AKA the Little Red Wagon), this time with my husband and our old dog Pepper, and set out on that same road trip.

What on earth were we thinking you may ask, making the 6500 km round trip with a geriatric dog? Well here’s the thing: Pepper is – how can I say this – ‘special’. Leaving her with friends, or boarding her at a kennel so hubby and I could fly back to my sister’s wedding, would be the easiest option for most dogs………but not Princess Pepper. In her old age she has developed severe separation anxiety and wouldn’t be happy away from us for so long (and this is understating things considerably).

Oh the things we do for our dogs.

In the weeks leading up to our road trip, I began to feel increasing trepidation about it: how was our sweet and very sensitive old pooch going to manage the long, long, long days in the car? She loves car rides but this was going to be the ‘Mother of all Car Rides’. One of my boys expressed similar concern: “Mom, I’m worried about Pepper,” he said. “I think she might die on your trip.” Now before you fret that there’s a sad ending here, let me just say – we all lived to tell the tale…………

I’ve always loved this particular drive, gruelling as it is – it’s a fascinating affirmation of how vast and variable our huge country is. And with my husband doing the lion’s share of the driving, I am free to gaze out the window and appreciate the spectacular scenery – even through the rugged plains of Saskatchewan, which contrary to popular opinion, I actually find quite beautiful in its austereness. I think knowing how many mouths are fed by the endless fields of grain, adds to its beauty.

I am fascinated by the changing ecosystems or ‘biomes’ as we move from west to east – from Grassland to Parkland to Boreal Forest. And the Canadian Shield displays intriguing variation in rock colour and texture – sometimes rusty-brown with vertical striations, sometimes smooth and pink and sometimes grey and jagged. As gardeners, landscape designers and horticulturists, we can take many lessons from the natural rock formations and forestation that Mother Nature presents – the way she mass plants her trees and understory, the large areas of perceived monoculture masking the plant diversity that lies therein. Indeed this should be our template. Of course you don’t have to make a long sojourn to find this inspiration – just go visit the closest natural area. For example, here in Calgary, we have Nose Hill Park and Fish Creek Park right within the city limits.

As we drive on, occasionally we get a whiff of some pungent odour – we assume if we’re driving through farmland that it’s likely cow manure, or maybe rotting vegetation if we’re passing through boggy areas. We close the windows, only to find the odour gets stronger. Somewhere in Northern Ontario we figure out that the smell isn’t coming from outside – it’s coming from inside the car. Turns out what we’re smelling is dog breath – when Pepper starts panting, she has doggie halitosis. Seems the princess is in need of a dental, or at least a really good teeth-brushing. We soon learn that when we smell that smell, it means she is hot, or thirsty, or agitated………or awake. Mostly she just hunkers down in the back seat and sleeps – when she wakes up she seems confused as to why we’re still in the car. Frequent stops allow for her to stretch her legs, have a drink and a pee – us too, though I’m the only one who actually requires ‘facilities’.

For three days we drive – we make it to Winnipeg the first night after a 14 hour drive, and to Sault Ste. Marie the second night after a ridiculous 17 hours of driving. The third day is easy by comparison – we actually have time to have breakfast in the hotel dining room and I even have a few minutes to take some photos of the beautiful hotel gardens; a lovely courtyard with mammoth Hostas, delicate ferns and crisp white Hydrangeas.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Ostrich Fern and Hosta ‘Frances Williams’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A lovely pairing – Large white flowerheads of Annabelle Hydrangea echo the bright white variegations of Hosta sp. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Then it’s off to Hamilton. Coming down the 400 we get stuck in weekend traffic, and it is smokin’ hot out. In fact it was sweltering hot throughout the entire drive across four provinces – thankfully the Little Red Wagon has very efficient air conditioning.

Arriving in Hamilton early evening we have time to freshen up at the hotel and take Pepper for a walk around the very funky neighbourhood where our hotel is located. Later, when it’s finally cool enough that we can leave Dawg in the car (the one place she’s quite comfortable without us), we are able to have a proper dinner at a real restaurant – ‘road food’ when one is trying to eat healthy means not eating much at all.

Hubby wants to take me to a place he’d discovered when in town several weeks prior – a great little restaurant called Earth to Table Bread Bar. If you’re ever in Hamilton I highly recommend this popular spot – the food is awesome and their philosophy and practice of sourcing the best ingredients from local producers, as well as their own farm, means everything is fresh and flavourful. Our meal is made all the more entertaining by our flirtatious young waiter.

Next day is a flurry of whirlwind visits – first stop is the Royal Botanical Gardens, which allows dogs on the grounds providing they are leashed.  We have some time to tour the gardens before our scheduled lunch, though not enough to really take in all that is there – this would require at least a full day, which sadly we didn’t have. I snap a few photos. The sun is strong and the lighting harsh. I’m hot, Pepper is bored and looking for trouble, and though hubby is being extraordinarily patient, I don’t have the patience to fuss with camera settings to adjust for lighting conditions. I’m all too happy to abort my photo mission and head to the cool of the Gardens’ Café where we meet for a lovely lunch with my husband’s sisters. The visit is of course too short, but we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that this is indeed a whirlwind trip.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Beautiful stone sculptures from Zimbabwe are featured in the sculpture gardens. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Spent bloom of Echinacea ‘White Swan’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

The Scented Garden flaunts a magnificent tiered fountain. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Container on pillar 2

A fluted container brimming with yellow million bells sits atop a stone pillar in the Scented Garden.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Trumpet vine on the Pergola Walk. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Next it’s off to my sister’s in Dundas to see her handsome new home and get a feel for the property so I can design her gardens. Princess Pepper is delighted to cavort with her dog and roll around in the grass. Princess Ellen my adorable 3-year-old niece, is delighted to show off her many talents; like ‘cooking’ plastic hot dogs and corn-on-the-cob, swinging on her swing (“Auntie Sue, look what I can do”), or telling outrageous stories – her mother looks at her sideways and says, “Honey are you sure that really happened?” Soooo cute. The visit is again way too short, but we’ll see them again in a few days – we’re here for a wedding and there are numerous family gatherings still to come.

Finally we’re off to beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake where we plan to decompress for a few days before family festivities begin. Passing through several small towns along the way, we start imagining where we might settle should we decide to move to this part of the country. It isn’t the first time we’ve fantasized about this – it’s beautiful country here. It’s wine country here – and garden country extraordinaire. Why wouldn’t we want to live here? We pass by a covered produce stand – the sign outside boasts fresh Niagara fruit and vegetables as well as ‘Canada’s Best Butter Tart’. Mmmm, butter tarts – we decide we’ll definitely stop by here on our way back out of town.

Arriving in Niagara-on-the-Lake we check into our hotel, a block from the shores of Lake Ontario, and let the serene stillness of our cool room wash over us, shedding the stress of the long hot drive. The hotel staff are impeccably professional, yet casually unpretentious. And they love Pepper – when we walk through the lobby we are greeted warmly and cordially, but Princess Pepper is effused and gushed over.

We walk down to the beach. Pepper ventures to the water’s edge intending to drink, but a small wave laps up against the shore and startles her. Again she goes to drink. Another small wave and………..well, she’s a skittish thing and gives up – clearly this big ‘water bowl’ isn’t a safe place to drink from. She’s happy to walk alongside us though as we stroll beside the water.

It’s very warm here, even with the moderating influence of the lake. We wait until sundown before we head out for dinner – it should be cool enough then for Pepper to stay in the car. The back seat of the Little Red Wagon has become her safe haven during the trip – indeed it is her home away from home.  We park the car close by and she obligingly curls up in the back seat (or the front passenger seat, or even the driver’s seat) and lets us dine. We choose a place that seems oddly familiar – my husband remembers that in fact we had dined at this exact restaurant when we honeymooned here 24 years ago. How romantic.

The following day I head to the shopping district (I needed to purchase another dress or two since I’d packed only what I’d wear to the wedding and a bunch of schlub wear for travelling in, completely overlooking that there would be a few other events I might want to dress up for). The walk from the hotel takes me through a residential area with many pretty gardens, a beautiful park with various mixed shrub, perennial and annual plantings, and of course the streets are all beautifully planted with stunning displays of annuals. I’m on a shopping mission, but I knew I’d want to snap some photos, so made sure I slipped my camera ‘round my neck before setting out.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rose of Sharon is a common sight in the Niagara region, and much of Southern Ontario, at this time of year. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Hosta Hillside – two types of Hosta adorn a sloped boulevard. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Much of what grows here is also hardy in Alberta, but I also see numerous trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses that we can’t grow – some I recognize from growing up in Southern Ontario, some I feel like I should know but can’t quite put my finger on, and others I really don’t know at all.

My horticulture and landscape design training has taken place entirely in Alberta, so I feel somewhat out of my element here. Evidently, if moving to this part of the country is in my future, I’ll have to expand my mental horticultural database and upgrade my plant ID skills.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Lime green Coleus and wax begonia provide a colourful underplanting for weeping cypress and variegated Brugmansia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Acer palmatum, Hosta sp. and Bergenia cordifolia make a lovely trio. Photo: Sue Gaviller

foliage planting

Another lovely combo – fountain grass, coleus and sweet potato vine present great color and texture contrast. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Brightly variegated Canna lily foliage is a stunning backdrop for the bright coral-red flowers and shiny foliage of this wax begonia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

In the afternoon, we head out to visit some wineries – my husband has been charged with the duty of choosing and purchasing wine for the wedding. The first vineyard we visit is Tawse – voted Canadian Winery of the Year 3 years in a row by the now defunct Wine Access magazine. It’s blistering hot out, too hot for puppydawg to stay in the car, so hubby heads into the winery and Pepper and I take a walk around the stunningly landscaped grounds – truly they’ve spared no expense here.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Variegated ornamental grass pairs beautifully with Rudbeckia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A sunny border of Echinacea, Sedum, Rudbeckia, Calamagrostis and other ornamental grasses.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

As I photograph the beautiful gardens, I hear ‘Baaaah’ from down the hill and over the fence – a small flock of sheep canters up to a covered enclosure, likely seeking shade. Princess Pepper is utterly enchanted – she trots back and forth at the end of her long lead, tail up, ears perked and looking as exuberant and energetic as she did in her puppyhood. I don’t know if her response was predatory or playful, but she really wanted to get to those sheep. Eventually the tugging at the end of her leash makes it difficult to take photos so I reel her in, “Peppy down” I command gently. “Peppy down” I say, a little less gently. She does so, begrudgingly, and I manage to snap a few more shots.

Tawse plantings 2

Photo: Sue Gaviller

The Courtyard, as seen from the tasting room, Photo: Sue Gaviller

The Courtyard, as seen from the tasting room. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A classical fountain in the gardens at Peninsula Ridge. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A classical fountain in the gardens at Peninsula Ridge.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Next stop is Peninsula Ridge – makers of some of the finest Chardonnay in the country. We find a shady spot beneath a beautiful multistem birch, but it’s still too hot to leave Pepper for any longer than a few minutes. While Hubby buys wine, I stay with the dog. Even in the shade with the windows wide open it’s really hot – worried that pooch might overheat, I start the car, put it in neutral and let the air conditioning run for a minute or two. With the car cooled off a bit, I decide I can leave Peppy long enough to take a few photos. I stroll around the empty parking lot and snap some shots of the gardens and vineyards.

Perovskia atriplicifolia and Rudbeckia. Photo: Su Gaviller

Perovskia atriplicifolia and Rudbeckia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

View overlooking the vineyard at Peninsula Ridge. Photo: Sue Gaviller

View overlooking the vineyard at Peninsula Ridge. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The next few minutes are a blur, but it goes something like this: I saw a red station wagon on the move heading down the hill, about 50 feet away from me. It took me a few seconds to a) realize the car was mine b) realize why it was moving (I’d thoughtlessly left it in neutral, apparently on an imperceptible slope) and c) determine that its trajectory appeared to be down the sloped driveway potentially into the path of oncoming cars. My only thought was, “My dog is in that car!” and I took off after it. I haven’t sprinted like that since I ran the 50 yard dash in high school – in fact I didn’t think I still had it in me, but I caught up to that car and grabbed the post between the front and back windows, hoping to reach in and pull the emergency brake. Alas the car was moving too fast and I lost my footing. I was dragged for several feet before realizing I had to let go. I remember distinctly the sensation of my left shoulder scraping along the pavement and thinking it odd that when the back of my head hit the ground, it bounced a few times, rather like a basket ball.

Now I don’t know if perhaps I put sufficient drag (pardon the pun) on one side of the car so as to actually affect its trajectory, or if some divine intervention had just occurred, but as I pulled myself up, I saw the car change course, slowing its movement slightly and head towards a low wall of large rocks. It came to rest with a thud – no, a very loud crunch.

This photo was taken seconds before my little 'mishap'. Photo: Sue Gaviller

This was the last photo I took before my ‘little mishap’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

I start running towards the car, fearing the worst – my sandal has broken and my feet are bleeding so I can only hobble. Oddly my first thought is “There goes my pretty pink pedicure.” When I reach the car I’m barely able to open the driver seat door due to the damage the impact has caused the front end. Pepper is still lying quietly in the back seat, but sits up when she hears the loud noise the car door makes as I force it open. She looks at me quizzically as if to ask “Mom, what was that?” She appears to be unharmed. Unfortunately I can’t say the same about myself. Shaking, hyperventilating and still in shock I try to reach my husband on his cell phone. No answer. I begin limping up the hill towards the winery just as he exits the building. He looks at me, puzzled.

“We have a problem,”  I announce.

……………TO BE CONTINUED…………..

Stay tuned,
© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Are You Done Yet?

I’m not.

Getting there though – just a few gifts left to take care of, mostly stocking stuffers really. How about you – still looking for some last-minute Christmas gift ideas? Well maybe we can help.

Is there a gardener on your list? Good – we gardeners are easy to buy for. Gardening can be hard work, so anything that makes it a little easier on us is always appreciated. Ergonomic secateurs, long-handled shears, a really good pair of buttery-soft leather gardening gloves, gardener’s soap and hand balm – all make very thoughtful gifts. Or how about a beautiful gardening book?  A gardener can never have too many of those – we especially like books with big glossy pictures (my husband calls this plant porn).

Not a gardener? Sorry I can’t be of much help then – our Sommelier extraordinaire has some ideas though…….

The Spirits of Giving

by Len Steinberg

It’s that time of year. We’re preparing for the season of giving and not everyone on our list is easy to buy for. Some already have everything they need, some are just picky and some we just don’t know very well.  I have some solutions for you.

Rich foods, baking and sweets are a big part of the Christmas Season. There a number of wines that will work very well with those sweet indulgences and make excellent gifts.


This is a fortified wine which finds its origin in the Douro Valley of Portugal. Port is produced by arresting the fermentation process with neutral spirits – this preserves the natural sweetness of the grapes while boosting the alcohol level to 17 to 22%. It comes in a number of styles:

  • Ruby, a young fresher style.
  • Tawny, a barrel aged oxidized style which is classified by age.        
  • LBV or Late Bottled Vintage, which fits in the middle of the two styles. I feel LBV port is one of the best values on the market.
  • Vintage port, declared in only the best years, has great longevity in bottle and is of course pricey.
Tawny Port

Tawny Port. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Port is usually served after a meal and pairs well with baking, chocolate and nuts.

The classic cheese pairing would be Stilton, and Christmas cake or Christmas pudding also work splendidly.

Dessert Wines

Dessert wines come in a number of styles:

Late Harvest Wine

Late Harvest wines are produced from grapes left on the vines for an extended period of time, which allows for a concentration of flavour and sugars. This style of wine is produced around the globe, Canada being a premier producer, along with Alsace, Germany and Australia. Look for grape varieties of Riesling, Vidal, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. They pair well with fruit flans, caramel tarts and strong cheeses, even blue cheese.

Ice Wine

Ice Wine is a unique production process that can only take place in colder climates. Grapes are left on the vine to freeze to temperatures of -8 to -10 Celsius. The grapes are then picked and fermented into beautifully structured dessert wines. Canada produces some of the world’s greatest examples of Ice Wine, from both Ontario and British Columbia. In Quebec they are producing Ice Apple Ciders that are delicious. These wines are concentrated and as a result the prices tend to be a little higher.

Ice wine grapes frozen on the vine. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Ice wine grapes frozen on the vine. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Ice Wine is produced mostly from white grapes like Riesling or Vidal but some producers are making wines from red varieties like Cabernet Franc. These wines present rich fruit on the nose and due to the high acidity, are much crisper and more structured than you might expect. They pair well with a full range of desserts – be sure to take into account the grape variety when pairing.


Sauternes and other Botrytis Affected wines are quite extraordinary. The grapes used to produce these wines are infected with the benevolent form of Botrytis cinerea or Noble Rot. This fungus breaks down the cellular walls of the grape which causes the fruit to lose moisture, concentrating the sugars and flavours, and developing bold structure.

Botrytis cinerea on Semillon grapes. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Botrytis cinerea on Semillon grapes. Photo credit: Wikipedia

In the Sauterne region of France the classic grapes used are Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, in a blend.

In Alsace, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Muscat grapes are used. You can find BA wines from many wine-producing countries, including Canada and the US.

Sauternes are the standard for this style of wine. They have great cellaring potential, improving with age. They are complex enough to be paired with savoury dishes, classically Fois Gras and Roquefort. For dessert pairings, accent flavours of apple, pear, cinnamon or exotic fruits. Ginger Bread is always a favorite too.  These wines come in many price ranges, with the quality being directly linked to price.

Champagne and Sparkling Wines

These are the sought-after wines of celebration.

Champagne uncorking. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Champagne uncorking. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Sparkling wines are made around the world, but the classic bubbles – true Champagne – comes from Champagne, France. Here the wines are produced in various styles, from 3 grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Champagne is produced by secondary fermentation in bottle, producing the mousse or bubbles we love so much. You can find less expensive sparkling wines that use the Charmat or tank method of production, like Prosecco or Asti.

All sparkling wines are very versatile and make excellent aperitifs, on their own or with the addition of a flavoured liqueur. As well, they can be paired with almost any course with an affinity to seafood, shellfish and fresh fruit.

The gift of wine is always a treat, but there are also alternatives for those that prefer stronger beverages.  Choose someone’s favorite Whisky, Brandy, Tequila, or Rum. For those who don’t imbibe there are Sparkling Ciders, and Alcohol-free wines and sparkling wines.

Essentially there is something for everyone in the world of wine. Let’s raise a glass to the season.

“To Life”
© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Nice Pair Part 2 – What Should I Have to Drink With This?

‘Tis the season.

Depending on your cultural or religious background you might be participating in the frenzy of shopping, cooking, eating and drinking that is the Christmas Season. So many decisions still to make – like what to buy for Mom or Dad, son, daughter, boss or in-laws. Or what delectable delights we’re going to dish up for our guests. And what kind of wine should we serve with that?

Resident Sommelier, Len Steinberg, offers some helpful hints…………..

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

by Len Steinberg

Winter has arrived with a vengeance. I know weather varies by locale but when you live anywhere in Canada you just can’t escape the cold. The seasons change, as do our appetites and menu choices. Fall and winter fare tends to be on the heartier side. We move away from the lighter meals of summer to the rich flavours of comfort food, like braised and roasted meats, stews, and soups. These, along with the texture and flavours of root vegetables and hearty grains, will be on the menu for the duration.

The switch to winter fare also brings the change on our palates for wine. Not to suggest that there isn’t a place for fresh whites and lighter reds, but the seasonal changes in cooking styles call for heavier wines to match the weight of our dishes. The whites tend to be fuller and richer in texture while the reds are deeper and more structured.

Here is a quick look at a few seasonal dishes and some possible pairings.

Roast chicken is one of our favorites. We still like a dry Riesling for this one, but an oaked Chardonnay or a Bordeaux White is also a great match. If the sauce is rich, a chipotle rub for example, a medium bodied red like a Cotes du Rhone or Pinot Noir is a good fit.

Baked ham or roast pork is a fine choice for a hearty meal. Once again a white may be on the menu, possibly Viognier or an Arneis from Piedmont. Reds work too – maybe a Spanish Grenache, a medium bodied Zinfandel from California, or a Barbera.

Pasta in our house calls for red wine. A Chianti, Valpolicella or Chilean Carmenere is always nice.

Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma region in California

Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma region in California.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Stews of any sort call for bold reds. Whether lamb or beef, braised meats have that concentrated richness from the slow cook. I like to use a similar wine in the sauce while it simmers. Merlot, Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon will enhance the flavours of the dish.

Roasted beef or lamb is rich protein and the flavours demand the structure of big Reds. I reach for Bordeaux Reds or Meritage Blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz or Nebbiolo to round out the meal.

This is a great time of year to explore the world of wine. Try a new producer, country or grape variety. Wine can be a fun and inexpensive way to ‘travel’ to warmer climes as we endure the storms of winter.

Malbec vineyard in Cahors, Southwest France

Vineyard in Cahors, Southwest France. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Take a beautiful Malbec from Southwest France.

As you inhale the complexity of the aromas, close your eyes and imagine standing in the vineyards on a warm summer afternoon.

Works for me.

© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Colours of Harvest

If you looked up just around sunset last night, you may have seen the rising of the harvest moon – an early fall event that refers to the full moon nearest the Autumnal Equinox. It seems appropriate then, that I write something in honour of harvest. Of course we’ve been harvesting from our vegetable garden for a good part of the summer, but this weekend we’ll pull in the remainder of frost tender produce – green and yellow zucchini, pattypan squash, tomatoes and tender herbs. Apparently there is snow in the forecast this week!

It’s been a good year though, despite the cold wet start to the season which slowed germination, the hailstorms which set everything back, and the hot dry weather of July and August that left even heat loving plants looking scorched and wilted. However, we were still able to eat fresh produce from the garden from June onwards, so all in all we’ve been blessed with a fine harvest.

My husband is the veggie gardener in our family – it was my baby many years ago, but as I gained an interest in ornamental gardening, I lost interest in the vegetable garden. It makes sense that hubby would take it over – after all he is the superior cook, and I’m most grateful for his labour and the love with which he cultivates the garden. Although I don’t tend that garden anymore, I’m still delighted by its bounty.

Harvest is more than just a feast for the palate – it can be a feast for the eyes too. As a designer, I find the whole trend towards ‘Designer Veggies’ very appealing – purple and yellow carrots, orange, yellow and black(ish) tomatoes, golden beets, pink striped beets. There’s a whole new world of colour out there! Except it’s not new. In fact, many of these colourful vegetables are actually heirloom varieties that are now being reintroduced. As with many heirloom vegetables, the flavours are better and so is disease and pest resistance. While they may not be suited to large-scale agricultural production, they are perfect for the home garden or market garden.  And they make for a colourful feast that looks as good as it tastes.

Heirloom carrots lack the large size and uniformity of their more hybridized counterparts, but their sweet crunch makes them perfect for eating right out of the garden. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Left: Cherry, plum and pear tomatoes are small and sweet. Right: clockwise from top – Black Krim, Tangerine and St. Pierre heirloom tomatoes. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Left: Baby heirloom carrots glisten with the chicken ‘jus’ in which they were roasted.
Top: Green and yellow zucchini and pattypan squash tossed in olive oil and roasted.
Right: Baby heirloom potatoes are tender and flavourful – they’re best simply steamed and buttered….mmmmm. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Mother Nature too has been busy, readying her own colourful feast for our fine feathered friends – indeed the birds have already begun partaking of her bounty. The abundance of berries and pomes, hips and haws, provides fuel for birds preparing to embark on their migratory journey, as well as those needing winter long sustenance. These beautiful fruits have significant ornamental value as well – a bonus Mother nature didn’t really intend for us, but we’re happy to accept.

Many fruit bearing trees and shrubs have bright red fruit to attract the birds. Clockwise from top: Sorbus decora, Viburnum trilobum, Malus sp., Lonicera tatarica. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Not all fruit is bright and showy, but the birds manage to find it nonetheless. Clockwise from top left: Prunus mackii, Cotoneaster lucidus, Cornus sericea, Malus baccata ‘Rosthern’, Malus ‘Rosy Glo’. Photos: Pat Gaviller

Crataegus mordenensis ‘Toba’ has very ornamental fall fruit, loved by birds. Photo: Pat Gaviller

The very showy fruit of Sorbus decora will remain on the tree until stripped by the huge amoeba-like flocks of Bohemian Waxwings. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Harvest Moon 2012. Photo: Pat Gaviller

It was a good summer – the fruits of our labour bear witness to this. But there is a chill in the air today – fall is definitely here, and it’s time to reap what we have sown. May your harvest be plentiful!

Til next time,

Reasons to Celebrate

Today is the first day of summer and a lovely day it was. On days like today all seems right with the world, or at least with the garden. Our vegetables and herbs have been planted and despite the lack of any extended warmth, most seeds have germinated. Tomatoes are in, ornamental containers are done, and we’ve finally been able to determine whether those dead looking shrubs are actually dead or just really slow. Of course a gardener’s work is never done, but we’ve earned the right to rest for a bit, sit back with a glass of wine and appreciate our handiwork. If ever there were a reason to do just that it would be Summer Solstice – no weird rituals, just a really nice glass of Chardonnay, Viognier or…….okay I’m venturing into territory not my own. So please let me introduce to you, professional Sommelier, Len Steinberg as he explores why and what to sip while enjoying our gardens.

Any Excuse Will Do

…….by Len Steinberg

We all live busy lives – work, school, households and just stuff. Sometimes we just have to make time to sit back and experience the moment. Today is June 21st – summer is finally here and the longest day has just passed. It is a perfect time to sit outside on the patio after dinner with a glass of wine and enjoy the early spring excitement in the garden.  My point – any excuse is a good excuse.

In Calgary our summers can be challenging so we have to take advantage of every opportunity to spend time outdoors. While beer is always a summer favorite, along with some amazing choices for cocktails, wine always has a place on the patio, and with dining  ‘al Fresco’. Tonight when Sue gets home we have a date to sit on the patio and taste some of the open wines left over from a recent tasting. It would be a shame to let it go to waste.

We have a choice of an Argentinean Torrontes by Mauricio Lorca, Jackson Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, or a Prado Rey Verdejo from Rueda Spain. All are fresh and crisp, perfect for summer sipping. The open reds are a Merlot based Bordeaux Superior Chateau l’Esperance that has matured nicely, a Sangiovese from Amador Foothills Winery in Northern California and one of my favourites, Truchard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – a very nice selection with some aged cheese.

Entrance to the caves at Truchard Vineyards. Photo: S Gaviller

Entrance to the caves at Truchard Vineyards. Photo: Sue Gaviller

I recently finished a contract for a wine competition, The International Value Wine Awards, sponsored by Wine Access Magazine. During the competition 1100 wines were tasted over five days. The selection of styles and varietals in the competition is staggering. This inspires me to expand my tasting experience and to try new wines from all over the world. Don’t be shy, if you don’t like it you can always use it for cooking.

One of my favourite reasons to open a bottle of wine is dinner or any meal. While the meal is being prepared I take a look at what we have in the cellar and choose a wine that will pair well with the menu. Not everyone has a wine cellar but a local wine shop is usually not far away. This is especially nice if the warm summer weather is enticing you to dine al Fresco. We can talk about wine pairing another day.

Here are some of my favourite excuses to sip on wine in the garden:

My good friend Tom Firth of Wine Access really needs no excuse except, “It’s already in the fridge” or, “I think this would be fun to drink with…… as good as any”.

Shelly Boettcher, wine writer and editor says “any night that it isn’t snowing and that I don’t have to drive my kids anywhere”.

I think we can all relate to these reasons for a sip of magic surrounded by the wonders of nature.

What’s your excuse?

To your Health,