Whichford pots


For a birthday more years ago than I care to remember, but in England so more than 21, we had an outing to Whichford Pottery to look for a suitable present for me and the garden. We came home with three very attractive terra cotta pots which had been made by hand there. The largest was a “second” because it is slightly asymmetrical. Having attempted to master pottery on a wheel subsequently I can’t imagine making something this size.

They survived the journey across the Atlantic and are a welcome feature in our garden each summer; we store them carefully each winter because, although they may well be frost resistant in English winters, they are unlikely to survive the freeze/thaw of our Montreal climate.

I enjoy seeing them in a group; when the deck was larger (before the sunroom was built) I used to have the largest in the corner with the two smaller ones near it. For several years we kept a lovely standard hibiscus with apricot coloured flowers in the largest pot for the summer, moving  the plant indoors for the winter. It eventually became too big to manage and was gratefully accepted by a friend who had a large conservatory/sunroom. The smaller ones I planted with toning shades of Million Bells type petunias.

Since the deck was reduced in size we’ve placed the pots in front of some tall grasses to one side of the grassy area where they form an attractive feature. The biggest pot calls for something tall and structural so for the past few years I’ve planted it with Canna lilies which have orange and red flowers with nasturtiums in the smaller pots beside it. When I was growing and overwintering dahlias I put some dwarf ones in the smaller pots but decided dahlias were too much work a few years ago.

Last year we had another cool spring and the nasturtiums did not germinate well. I had to buy some more seed and have a second attempt so this year (2019) I am experimenting with a different approach: bought pansies in the small pots early in planting season with a packet of nasturtium seed to bring on indoors, for planting out later in the summer when the pansies are over. Mid to late summer it should be a reasonable temperature indoors for the nasturtiums to germinate but hot enough outdoors for them to grow fast. We shall see!

Victoria Day


“Victoria Day is a Canadian statutory holiday celebrated on the Monday preceding May 25 in every province and territory. It honours Queen Victoria’s birthday. In Quebec this holiday is called “Journée nationale des patriotes.”

The weekend when it falls is generally called The Long Weekend despite the fact that most statutory holidays are Mondays. Most importantly in Quebec it is when most people start their “gardening” for the summer, ie buy and plant “flats” (polystyrene rectangular boxes) of annual bedding plants such as petunias, impatiens, geraniums, marigolds and pansies. It is the busiest weekend of the year in garden centres and by the time everyone is back at work front gardens are transformed with colour. And apart from mowing the grass and a bit of weeding that seems to constitute gardening for many Montrealers.

The date around mid May means most chance of overnight frost has past and usually the weather has warmed sufficiently for comfortable working outdoors. Our first experience of this weekend transformation took us by surprise: we had noticed ready planted hanging baskets and tubs appearing outside supermarkets along with their outdoor tents for shelves of bedding plants but did not expect everyone to do their planting on the one weekend so Tuesday driving to work gave us a pleasant surprise of instant colour.

That year we had determined that gardening was something we’d done in England and we intended to spend the summer weekends exploring our new territory. Also our container of furniture and possessions was delayed until well into June (that’s another story) so we had no gardening equipment, but we gradually succumbed: a few geraniums when our nice big terracotta pots arrived and then a few more plants until we were digging a new pond the following summer.

After a few years we learned to shop for our annuals before the rush of The Long Weekend and started planting in early May, occasionally having to protect against a late frost but in 2019 everything was delayed. We had returned from a visit to England a few days before Victoria Day but the weather was cool and wet with daffodils and hyacinths in flower and tulips only in bud. Deciduous trees were only starting to unfurl their leaves and the magnolias were still in bud. A week after Victoria Day found trees almost fully in leaf, magnolia blossoms nearly finished, although they had been spectacular, and tulips blooming alongside the later narcissus.

In 2019 we went to buy our annuals after Victoria Day when it appeared that much of the usual rush had taken place as some of the shelves were quite depleted. However I found enough of my “usuals” and have spent the past few days planting up window boxes and other containers.  Cascade petunias in the window boxes as usual but a couple of experiments elsewhere: pansies in the small Wichford pots while it is cooler, to be replaced by nasturtiums later in the season, and some different shade tolerant flowers in the pots on the front steps: dark-leafed ipomea, mauve alyssum, purple-flowered lamium and a couple of dark pink violas. Since the magnolia grew so large and shades the front steps it has become more of a challenge deciding what will do well in these pots.

Now nearer the end of May we have restained the deck while it is still cooler and are enjoying the blossom on the sour cherry tree, not that we expect to eat any more fruit than usual. The Viburnam carlesii again has lovely pale pink, clove-scented flowers. It must be four years since the digger backed into it, damaging the base of the trunk but it has survived, propped on a rock, each year producing lovely blooms, more than before its accident.

Post Abbey career

For International Women’s Day 2019 The Abbey School, Reading, where I was educated from age 11 is adding details of alumnae’s careers to its website. This is their call for information:

“We would love to hear from our alumnae about your illustrious lives and careers to inspire the next generation of girls as they begin on this journey themselves.”

And this is my response:

I am sure you will hear from many women whose exciting and successful careers were launched from an Abbey education but wondered if you would also like to hear from a fairly average student whose career could not be described as illustrious but was nevertheless enjoyable.

I left The Abbey in 1967 with A-levels in Chemistry and Zoology which enabled me to follow a full-time HND (degree equivalent) in Applied Biology. For several years I worked as a research technician in Pharmacology and Zoology departments with Wellcome Research and Birkbeck College, London. I found the work interesting although I realised I did not have the brain to pursue a career in academic research. I even worked for a couple of years proofreading scientific reports.

At Birkbeck I had found myself involved in quite a lot of administrative work for our unit, liaising with the Bursar about our grant funding. I discovered a liking for financial administration and ended up training as an accountant with a small town practice. Not one of the Big Three but three offices and about ten partners. I specialised in personal taxation and trusts. This may sound like something of a career leap but in fact both lines of work require the compilation and evaluation of data.

The backgrounds in Biology and Finance also informed many of my outside interests in ecology, botany, habitat conservation and amateur drama. When people discover you are an accountant they ask you if you would “take on the books” for a variety of organisations. I have helped with administration of drama clubs, a dance team, Women’s Institutes, Church groups, charities and birding clubs.

In 1998 my husband’s work brought us to Montreal, Canada. My Abbey education once again stood me in good stead as my memory of French irregular verbs proved quite accurate despite giving up the subject after O-level. I was able to achieve a certificate of competence in French for the workplace which pleased me so many years later.

Apart from work, my Abbey education reinforced my life-long love of reading literature, especially Jane Austen. In Canada, our love of the natural world has been allowed full rein exploring our home province of Quebec as well as further afield, always based on my knowledge of Zoology which was started at The Abbey. My work in Canada used my accountancy skills in the financial administration of a bird conservation charity and helping to manage a shop catering to wildlife enthusiasts.

My advice to current Abbey students who are considering their future careers is to stay flexible; some of you will have clear career paths but for others it may appear confusing. I studied subjects I enjoyed and found interesting which enabled me to work in a variety of fields and change to different lines of work as circumstances changed. My choices at school were important but not irrevocable. I hope yours bring you as much enjoyment as mine have.

Summer 2015

By mid-July the construction work was just about finished and new turf laid so we appreciated the regular rainfall which followed more than we might have done other years. About 50 dahlia plants went into half of Richard’s veggie plot, sacrificed to my plants. The apricot-flowered bronze leaf ones (City of Ankmaar) mostly went into the bed we made last year in front of Tony’s wall, with maybe six plants in Wichford pots. I managed to squeeze some plants in odd places around the garden and about eight in the site where we had previously grown dahlias, in front of the deck, once the turf job was finished. Woody pieces of tuber and ones which had not produced shoots ended up on the old open compost heap in the shaded area behind the new extension, where they grew and – despite the lack of sunshine – produced 4 or 5 flowers.compost dahlia flwr

Eventually I got tired of picking dahlias from the veggie plot for display indoors and decided to drastically cut back on the number to overwinter. We’ll keep the apricot ones, some Caribbean Fantasy (white, yellow and dark pink) and any remaining Balthazar, but abandon Who Dun It and the pink dwarf ones.

We were able to buy some cheap junipers and other perennials for the new beds beside the front culvert, added some bits of Vinca and watered assiduously because the soil is not very deep. We gradually repaired the edges of beds where clay and sand got dumped and by the end of August it was looking like a garden again. Richard created a nice work area for me on the garage side of the house where I kept my pots of lilies after they had flowered. We bought new benches for the paved patio area outside the back door when we discovered it was such a pleasant shaded area while the deck was in full sun. It turned out to be a favourite spot for afternoon tea.


early June 2015

As the building work is using the site of my dahlia bed I have to decide where they will be grown this summer. R has kindly sacrificed one of the raised beds intended for veggies, but the dwarf (border) ones and short bronze leafed ones need homes….I am also suffering from an embarrassment of riches.

The lupin which hangs on but not really thrived is growing up through a volunteer Rosa rubrifolia which seems to work quite well: the colours set each off and the rose holds up the rather leggy and droopy lupin.

lupin & rose2

early March 2015

Hippeastrum (Amaryllis) 2014 bulb bloomed magnificently, with two stems, the first carrying four large flowers and the second eight nearly as large. The 2013 bulb is still sulking but the 2012 bulb produced three huge flowers on a very short stem, this being its third time of flowering.


late September

After a couple of weeks of below average temperatures, including first frost – albeit only light – 19 September, we are now enjoying a burst of Indian summer.

24 September Large flights of geese passing over the garden, accompanied by cicadas sawing away in full voice, after a couple of quiet weeks, and not the usual end of season running down noise. Also juvenile cardinals and goldfinches begging food from their parents. Migrating warblers still passing through in small numbers, but lots of robins and vireos along with large flocks of goldfinches and starlings.

Dahlias still blooming well although the few flower buds on Kenora Macob have yet to open.

early August

Golden days when early morning light starts to become golden (as the angle changes) and is accompanied by other seasonal events: first Ontario peaches, first local sweetcorn, Golden rod starts to bloom – all golden!

The light is turning golden, and humidity and temperatures rising, although it is wetter than some years. High summer is here even if we haven’t yet reached the dogdays. There are compensations: first Ontario peaches, homegrown aubergines ready to cook, some garden tomatoes ripe enough to eat, dahlias in flower along with many of the lilies. While some lilies are finished with just one not yet opening its flowers, there is still a good show from them. The garlic crop has just been harvested.

Most of the dahlias are in bloom, apart from the very late-starting Kenora Macob, with plenty of buds to come. I planted three late-shooting dahlias at the front, behind the irises but next to the drive, where they are almost ready to bloom but from much shorter plants, presumably because of more sunshine. There should be a good show of apricot flowered Bronze leaf dahlias, with several already in flower in pots, and we already have four good flower spikes blooming on canna lilies.

The garden is full of juvenile birds demanding food from or being shooed away by their overwhelmed parents. The past few days have seen the arrival of lots of Yellow Warblers as well as an American Redstart, female or juvenile. There have been lots of juvenile hummingbirds visiting the garden flowers for the past couple of weeks.

late July/early August

Rescuing baby rodents:

A miniature mouse (deer or white-footed) popped out from a gap at the bottom of the basement stairs, as surprised as I was to see it, which gave me time to grab the wastepaper basket and shoo it into it using a handy towel. Of course it was a woven cane basket so it kept climbing up inside but I was able to shake it down again for long enough to get out the back door and release it under the cedar tree.

As if we need more grey squirrels! I have watched for at least a couple of weeks as a small grey squirrel with smart white front built a nest barely 10′ above the deck at the end of the lowest branches of the cedar tree in front of the dining room window. From its size and smart, unmarked coat I assume the squirrel is in its first season so presumed the nest to be some kind of roost. Although fairly safe from predators at the end of the branch, the whole edifice looked insecure and proved to be so when half of it thudded to the deck in a light breeze at lunchtime. The squirrel emerged and ran back up the tree to check the remains of the nest before returning to the clump of nest on the deck where it pushed its way inside, rummaged around and settled down, apparently unaware it was on the deck.

R went out to investigate, gently lifting some of the material with a cane and the squirrel shot out, back up the tree. He looked into the nest and saw two babies so we transferred it – and them – into a large plastic pot with drainage holes and wedged it in the tree near the remains of the original nest. The babies had the beginnings of some fuzz although they were pink and curled up with eyes closed. However, the strange squeaky whine I had heard in the past few days was explained – even squirrels this young will protest vociferously!

We returned indoors to watch and after some minutes, the mother returned, had a hissy fit outside the remaining bits of nest in the tree and then ventured down to investigate the remains on the deck. I was surprised how long it took her to locate the babies in their nest in the pot as we’d put it quite close to the original nest site and I assumed she’d smell and possibly hear them. After cautiously climbing into the pot, she emerged with a baby in her mouth and ran off up the tree so we left her to it.

An hour or so later, some of the nest lining materials had been pulled out through the drainage holes at the base of the pot, so she’d obviously returned again, hopefully for the second baby. Looking at surrounding trees, I saw a second nest about 15′ above the original, at the end of a branch of the basswood behind the cedar, so suspect the family has relocated there.


mid April 2014

Despite bright sunshine all day, my birthday was cold, starting at minus 8C and not rising above plus 3C. However, there are snowdrops, crocuses, miniature irises and chinodoxa blooming in the garden.

The cankered maple tree on the back fence was felled by Brian’s crew on 17 April, doing surprisingly little damage, apart from an area where the soil was rather trodden down.

Two days later, it was warm enough to work out doors in light sweaters. I started repotting the lilies to their summer quarters. The dahlia bed in front of the deck is not a good place to overwinter them because some have rotted.