From the garden...

A Garden Story…

This is how it all happened!  As we had no travel plans for this summer we thought we would put some energy into having a small garden plot.  As always, I went to the library.  I found this amazing book:


I’m a sucker for the revolutionary way to do anything, and when I read that the author had been an efficiency expert in his corporate pre-gardening life I was smitten.  The book has tons of great information – I highly recommend it.  I thought we would start with a simple 2×8 box, but Mr.Martini doesn’t do things by halves, and so we ended up with something more magnificent…


This is exactly why I had children – many hands make light work!


This is exactly why my father-in-law wishes he never had children – having a son has earned him a crazy daughter-in-law who finds endless tasks for him in his “retirement”! (He secretly loves it. It gives him great ammunition for his daily rants.)


After digging out our spot and laying down landscape fabric we built an 8×8 frame using two layers of 8 foot long 2×6 planks.

IMG_6197 IMG_6198

We filled the frame with four yards of garden soil (compost, sand, dirt mixture) from the garden centre.  Thank goodness Zio has a utility trailer – that would have been many trips otherwise!


Thank goodness for many hands, and for a beautiful evening to rest and appreciate our labours thus far!


Our flower garden was humming along on it’s own this spring with lupins…






…and the very first poppy of the season…


…plus cosmos, some snapdragons…


…and African daisies…


…so we continued to concentrate our efforts on creating a home for the veggies.  Our giant plot would be too big to maintain from the edges so we built a plank bridge right down the middle, creating two separate sections with 3×7 grids.

IMG_6213 IMG_6216

The real square-foot gardening method involves a grid plan where the number of plants is calculated by how much growing space it needs and therefore how many seedlings could grow in each square.  We drew ourselves a map to remember what was where, and over the growing season we have referred to it many times – it is surprisingly easy to forget which is red cabbage and which is savoy or how many butternut squash we actually planted when they are all growing enormously large and every which way!  In the beginning they were so tiny, but filled with promise…  Starting in mid-June we had hot weather, day after day, and so we continued to water the veggie patch faithfully.


In the meantime, the flowers continued to grow in spite of our neglect, and made a happy home for birds and bees and ladybugs…

IMG_6224 IMG_6227

IMG_6241 IMG_6242 IMG_6250 IMG_6253 IMG_6254 IMG_6312

As we tended the baby plants they continued to grow.  In preparation for the rain that we expect eventually here in the temperate rainforest of the north west Mr. Martini built a support for the shelter we would need…


The little plants loved the sun and heat that kept on coming, and so we watered every day.

IMG_6485 IMG_6486 IMG_6487 IMG_6488 IMG_6489

Meanwhile, the poppies continued to bloom…


…followed by the peonies…


…and the ever-present foxgloves…


…and the kiwi flowers came in abundance…


One morning, while leaving for work, our entire family stopped in amazement to see a hummingbird hanging out in our front garden… I knew I let the yucca grow there for a reason!



Then the biggest surprise of the summer so far: our female kiwi tree, covered in more blossoms than ever before (in spite of our constant neglect, and with no male kiwi in sight) began to make actual kiwis.  Amazing!

 Then the absolute best part of having a garden began – those little plants that we had nurtured and watered (and sung to – thanks Miss G.) were ready to be harvested!  None of my hobbies are more satisfying than growing my own food; it creates a great sense of pride and fulfillment to know we can do it.  (Really, the food grows itself!  But I’ll take some credit when I can.)

First came spinach…

  …followed quickly by the broccoli and the early tomatoes…


…then the savoy cabbage which was very popular as a bug hotel.  Lots of washing required…

The beets are not quite ready, but some of them are getting close!

We have more cucumbers and zucchini than we know what to do with.  Today I found a cookbook at the library with six zucchini recipes.  Phew!


There are so many spaghetti squash as well – this first one I picked from our garden weighs over 9 pounds (about the same as G.Jr. when he was born!)

We are still waiting for the peppers, the pumpkins (started at preschool from seeds!) and the butternut squash.  Also, we optimistically planted a cantaloupe… maybe this will be the summer that we actually get one!  As for the little square-foot garden – well it sure has grown.  And we still have two months to go!  If the vines start coming in the house windows we might worry…

From the desk of...

Thoughts About Heaven…

My littlest one has been asking questions a lot lately about heaven.  He is curious and thoughtful about what happens after we die, and as we have told him that we will go to heaven he is curious and thoughtful about that too. 

Every day he has a new thought or question about heaven, and his own thoughts have inspired me to think more about what I believe and how it can make sense in the world I see around me…

Everything I see around me in nature makes me wonder at the complex beauty of  it all.  Each leaf and petal is more complex in design and execution than any of my most profound thoughts…

And yet it is through the honest and unaffected questions of a preschooler that the most profound ideas find their way:

“Is heaven part of earth?

Is heaven all around us?

Are we standing in heaven right now?
When we’re both in heaven, how will we find each other?”
This last question makes me cry even now.  I am moved by the great big loving heart my little one has, and his worry that we might be separated from each other in a place too great to comprehend…
“Does heaven ever end?
Why is heaven forever?  How long is that? Why is it so long?  
Why isn’t this life as long as that?
How do people go to heaven?  How long will it take us to get there?
Will we need to have wings?  Will our things be with us?  How will we live without anything?
Once you’re in heaven can you come back to earth?”

His questions are so human.  They remind me that there is more in life that I don’t know than what I do, and that maybe, like him, I should make the most of every moment as it happens.  How long is life?  I can’t say.  But this moment we have together today is a tiny piece of heaven for me… and I plan to hold onto it with all my heart.

From the garden...

How Does Your Garden Grow? (Volume 2)

After a long winter we are just now venturing out into our much neglected garden…  The greatest thing about it is that the garden grows in spite of us!  Each little spot of green is a moment of hope for the new season…

My mom has always loved her garden – I have great memories of her trucking in dirt and digging up holes – but I never knew the joy of the garden until Mr.Martini and I bought a house with a large yard and began to plant our own.  We have been at it for well over a decade already, and still somedays I look out and wonder when we will ever be close to filling up the space.  Patience, the garden whispers.

“A garden is a grand teacher.  It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.” (Gertrude Jekyll)

Plant by plant the garden starts to grow into the light.  First there were the snowdrops…


…and then came the crocuses…


“First a howling blizzard woke us,
Then the rain came down to soak us,
And now before the eye can focus —
Crocus.” (Lilja Rogers)

Next came the daffodils…


…followed by flower after flower in a tumbling symphony of colour and light.

“Spring makes its own statement, so loud and clear that the gardener seems to be only one of the instruments, not the composer.” (Geoffrey B. Charlesworth)






“Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.” (Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke)




IMG_0509-2 IMG_0512-0

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” (Anne Bradstreet)



“Every spring is the only spring — a perpetual astonishment.” (Ellis Peters)







…and gorgeous double cherry blossoms (hand grafted to wild cherry stock by Nonno – the garden whisperer…)


“April is a promise that May is bound to keep.” (Hal Borland)

…and my favourite (of course!)… the tulips:

IMG_3414 IMG_3415 IMG_3412 IMG_3413 IMG_3408-0 IMG_3410-0 IMG_3416-0 IMG_0503-3
The way the dirt smells, the way the wind blows, the way the garden creatures begin their scrambling explorations of the  hidden garden places… all these things inspire me and remind me that the garden grows green and new each spring – and so can we.  (Patience!)

“Hope is a roving gypsy
With laughter on her tongue,
And the blue sky and sunshine
Alone, can keep her young;
And year by year she lingers
Under a budding tree…”
(Dora Read Goodale, “The Chorus,” in Country Life in America: A Magazine for the Home-maker, the Vacation-seeker, the Gardener, the Farmer, the Nature-teacher, the Naturalist, April 1902)

Places to Go

Queen Elizabeth Park – Bloedel Conservatory…

Vancouver is a beautiful city… the grey wet winters sometimes cloud our vision but the promise of early spring makes up for it every year.  One of my favourite sights – inherited from my grandmother – is the moment the cherry blossom trees burst forth with wild, reckless abandon.  They are a symbol of life and optimism that can’t be ignored…  as if their personal motto is “why do it when you can overdo it?”


There are a few places in the lower mainland to hang out with the blossom trees… This year we went to see them at Queen Elizabeth Park.  On such a sunny, temperate late winter day we weren’t the only ones with that idea – the park was filled with locals, tourists and countless cameras.  My photo taking was mild by comparison; there were photographers everywhere!  Still, we found a few quiet places to enjoy the flowers and sunshine.

IMG_5866 IMG_5868 IMG_5871

The view down to the quarry garden is gorgeous – even at this time of year when not much is blooming.  I was instantly reminded of many many visits to the park and gardens as a child with Oma and Opa – this was one of their favourite places to visit.  We would come on sunny Saturday afternoons to marvel at the flowers and the colourful wedding parties visiting the park for photographs…

IMG_5872 IMG_5876 IMG_5877

The north facing view over Burrard inlet and toward the mountains is also lovely.  Notice there is no snow on those mountains.  No snow!  What a year.

IMG_5885 IMG_5886

At the top of the hill is the Bloedel Conservatory.


This space like dome is the home of some incredibly beautiful birds and flowers – with half an hour left on our parking ticket we gladly spent the 15$ for our family of four to tour the garden inside…

IMG_5889 IMG_5891 IMG_5893 IMG_5894 IMG_5895 IMG_5904  IMG_5913 IMG_5920  IMG_5921

The birds roam free through the garden and are quite tame – they are comfortable with the visitors and we were able to observe them eating and grooming at very close range!


Who are these crazy birds?

IMG_5922 IMG_5930 IMG_5934 IMG_5940 IMG_5945 IMG_5946 IMG_5947 IMG_5949 IMG_5952 IMG_5954 IMG_5956 IMG_5958 IMG_5959 IMG_5962



Something about birds makes them seem so human.  They have a way of looking right at you as if they’re thinking “Yes, I’m beautiful. Of course, I’m intelligent. I’m a bird.  Don’t worry, silly human, you can be intelligent and beautiful too – you just have to work a little harder.”  I’m afraid I have my work cut out for me – I feel this spring may be a transformative moment.

“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird; it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” (C.S.Lewis)

Outside the fountains of my childhood still burst forth in celebration of the coming spring too:


Are you starting to feel it too?

From the garden...

Stopping to Smell the Roses…

A new work week is only hours away – it promises to be action-packed as usual. Thank goodness we had some time today to stop and appreciate the almost-summer around us…

…particularly, the roses!








Today we saw our first backyard butterfly, times two! They were twirling around and playing tag in and around the garden. So much fun to watch! There are a few other flowers here and there to catch the eye of a butterfly…


The irises…




The dahlias…


The African daisies…

We are so lucky to have the space to “garden”. We have learned so much along the way about what works in nature, and about ourselves…

While I’m on the subject of gardening… at the grocery store this morning we found a treasure in the bargain books bin:


I remember finding this in the bookstore a few years ago (it was published in 2009) and adding it to my “list” but somehow it never made it home. I was thrilled to find it again today… It is as meaningful as ever. A little boy lives in a city that looks like this:


…becomes inspired by a tiny dwindling garden, and finds his city turns into this:


Not everyone will make a large difference, but every little difference is made by someone. Maybe, this week, it will be me. Until then, I am going back out to my garden!




Prayer in a Garden…
“Today the world seemed cruel, but evening hours
Were filled with perfume from forgotten flowers.
I saw again familiar filigree
Of moonlight through my lacy Lilac tree;
I heard the robins stirring in their nest;
And saw the path that fairy feet had pressed;
Reflected stars were in my garden pool;
On my warm face the breeze was kind and cool.
The silence seemed to speak, my head was bowed,
Then ramblers that had grown into a cloud
Lifted my eyes that, tear-washed, now could see
The beauty that today was lost to me.
Dear god, who is so near to flowers, and birds,
Be nearer still, as I shall search for words
To thank Thee for the blessings night revealed,
Which through the day discouragement concealed.”(Eva Sparks Taylor)

From the desk of...

“You Shall See Wonders…”

Life continues to be a whirlwind. We had an extra long weekend here and managed to get a few projects taken care of:

Hammocks were hung…



Gardens were planted…



Flowers (and lemons!) continue to grow…






A black bear wandered by…


Daily life.

These are the things that take up our time and create the joys and angst that propel us through our days…

And then there are the moments that give us pause to reflect. Sadly, I learned today that one of my grandmothers died this past weekend. Happily, her three children were there with her and I’m sure that was a great comfort to all. I didn’t know her well but I knew that she was brave and independent, and I hope that I have inherited those qualities just a little.

This is the only photo I have of her, from before I was born – my two grandmothers standing together.


I carry a part of each of them with me, just as my daughter carries them too. And so we carry on with daily life, and with the tasks of bettering the world around us.

We celebrated Mr.Martini’s birthday…


Completed some grade 2 science homework…


Ate together, read together, loved one another.

“We learn in the retreating
How vast a one
Was recently among us.
A perished sun
Endears in the departure
How doubly more
Than all the golden presence
It was before!” (Emily Dickinson)

“Happiness is not found in things you possess, but in what you have the courage to release.” (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

“You shall see wonders.”  (William Shakespeare)

From the garden...

Planting the Seeds

I have been having a wonderful week. The sun is shining, the garden is growing, and I have been completely charmed by one small child after another during the pre-kindergarten assessments. Being a teacher has many challenges, set-backs, frustrations and disappointments, but all of those things disappear in the moments of joyful learning that we share!

This quote came up on my calendar last week, and was echoed beautifully in an email from a mentor teacher that I received today:

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”

A lot of teaching is about planting seeds. We may never see them flower, or even sprout, but the joy can be in the planting.







Isn’t it coming along beautifully? Gardening, for me, is as gleefully fun as working with children full of enthusiasm. Here is my favourite poem on the subject… I’ve shared it before, but you can never have too much Emily Dickinson!

“If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.”
(Emily Dickinson)

It’s all about the helping. It’s all about the small gestures. It’s all about the…planting seeds.







(I was thrilled to discover that I have four different colours of lilacs growing!) Here is my favourite garden moment today:


(Every yard needs a tractor.)

We are looking forward to spending our long weekend in the garden. (Waging war on dandelions and buttercups- they are taking advantage of our patient nature!) One seed at a time, we are planting a new tomorrow…

From the desk of...


So many things in life can be frustrating – I’ve listed my own peeves here before- but nothing in life combats frustrating like happiness.

As Oscar Wilde says, “With freedom, books, flowers and the moon, who could not be happy?” Happiness is the most powerful antidote to all that is negative and destructive in our world. Choose it. So many things may be frustrating, but so many more things are beautiful, inspiring, stimulating, encouraging… Happiness is powerful.

Earlier today I opened an email link to the Happiness Advantage (good work Mrs. W…) which served as reinforcement for what I already believe to be true: happiness is a choice. It feels good, it helps others, it heals the body and it wields power.

“With freedom, books, flowers and the moon…”

What is making you happy today?






Flowers opening up daily in my garden… Flowers popping up daily in the school hallways…







(Grade Two)


(Grade One)

Tiny birds in my garden…


And tiny birds in the school hallways too…







Choose happiness. Not every day will be perfect, but every day is a new day, with a new chance to create happiness for yourself and others…

“Tomorrow is fresh with no mistakes in it.” (Lucy Maud Montgomery)

What happiness can tomorrow bring for you? What happiness will you bring to others?

From the desk of...

Sun, Sun, Sun – Here It Comes…

This week in my world is busy. That is a big oversimplification, but to go into more detail makes me feel like I should be breathing in and out of a paper bag to avoid hyperventilating, so I’ll leave it at that. I try to remember that everyone has a busy life, and that no one wants to hear about my tribulations, so I work on not over sharing and then spiralling down into a vacuum of negativity and pity…
That’s not fun.

Instead, I breathe deeply, I look up, and then I look around for blessings to count. There are many. I have an amazing husband (amazing) who pitches in a lot even when our life isn’t off the charts. I have two loving, creative children who are fun to be with (most of the time)… And I have a job that I love to do, with the flexibility to spend time with the people I love because that is important too.

Today I had the incredible fortune of finding “the eye of the storm”.


I had a few hours to spend just with my son, despite the swirling madness that makes up our life this week. We had a great time learning some martial arts. Afterwards I visited his preschool for snack and sharing time – priceless.

Important to note – it is hot in Vancouver today. Really hot. Time for an ice cream treat out of the corner store freezer selection (I wish I had a photo of the options – not just fudgesicles and creamsicles anymore!) So many delicious looking choices, we took a long time deciding.

Then we were off to the local park, where we spent over an hour playing with every possible piece of equipment…




Weather – amazing. Flowers – amazing. Chance to be part of a special adventure with my little one – priceless.





It only takes a day of sun in this grey/cold/rainy west coast city to bring out the best in people. Suddenly we’re all smiling and nodding and holding the doors and saying “no, no – you first!” The warmth steaming up from the grass invades our chilly early spring hearts. The sparkle reflecting in daily life makes the regular (traffic, lineups, construction, very busy schedules) seem jubilant. We are all in this together. And (as my friend Rose used to say) it’s a beautiful thing.




On the last day of April – for poetry month…

Ramona Street on a Hot Summer (or Spring in Vancouver) Day

You can hear the whack
of a tennis ball against the plastic bat.
You can smell Ms. Lowry’s
honeysuckle bush
that grows along her fence.
You can lick an ice cold popsicle
from Petey’s ice-cream truck.
You can feel Joey’s sprinkler water
tingling on your skin.
There’s no place I’d rather be
than Ramona Street
on a hot summer day!
(Betsy Franco)

From the garden...

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I have always found gardens beautiful and restorative places to visit, but I didn’t know how much I would love gardening until I owned a little piece of land with no garden at all. Mr Martini and I bought our house together just eighteen days after our wedding in very late fall and began to work in the garden the following spring – the large empty space called out desperately for plants.


My mother has always been a gardener but I never had cause to pick up a shovel until I had a garden of my own. When faced with so much space and no garden at all, I threw myself into the challenge of learning something new.


Being a book person, I started at the library. My love of words made the discovery of Latin plant words thrilling. I repeated their names like little poems to myself as I wandered the aisles at garden centres from one end of my city to the other. I still say them like chanted prayers as I dig them into the dirt and wish them well as they grow. (If it wasn’t for Mr. Martini, my first born may very well have been named Strelitzia, but that’s a story for another day.)


I learned a lot from my mother and father-in-law. They are both gifted plant people. My mother-in-law has been known to transport seeds thousands of kilometres in a sock for safe keeping; my father-in-law is a master grafter, once growing five kinds of apples on just one tree. They found my ignorance about the plant world they know so well to be a little bit amusing, but my curiosity and enthusiasm have almost won them over, and they have been generous with both advice and with plants over the years, so that my little garden has flourished into a wild and overgrown refuge for people an animals too – just the way I like it.


Do not think this means I am good at gardening. Just gleeful about it. The best part is the sheer joy that digging, planting, weeding and pruning can bring. I have found myself filthy, scratched, sweating and exhausted but grinning from ear to ear! The satisfied happy feeling of making/tending a garden is a gift in my life, and I am happy to share it with my own children. Playing in the dirt is now enjoyed by three generations of our family, and we are all the better for it!



(Dicentra – Bleeding Hearts)

(Antirrhinum – Snap Dragons)

(Aquilegia – Columbine)

(Helleborus – Lenten Rose)

A trip to the green house is a whole day affair.  So many plants, so hard to choose! This is what we came home with today:

Early girl tomatoes, hot peppers, snap dragons, basil, strawberries, cosmos and heliotrope (because nothing smells better on a summer evening patio…). Pumpkins and zinnias were not ready – maybe next week. Now it’s time to excavate the shovels from their winter storage and dig in…


My children love to “help” in the garden. Making something grow is incredibly satisfying!

The words of the garden are a natural choice for poetic use… Thinking about poetry month – the Latin variety lends itself easily to an alphabet poem. Children love this style of poetry because the structure is concrete and simple to follow; the lines themselves can be as simple or complex as the writer would like.

Aquilegia, Buddleia, Cosmos, Dicentra, Echinops, Fritillaria, Geranium, Helianthemum, Impatiens, Jovibarba, Knautia, Lonicera, Muscari, Narcissus, Oenothera, Papaver, Quince, Ranunculus, Salvia, Trifolium, Utricularia, Veronica, Weigela, Xanthium, Yucca, Zinnia…

I hope your week is full of life and growth and inspiration. If nothing else works, get your hands dirty!