There is going to be a country wedding on Home Farm. In our gardens and on Home Farm we are growing these flamboyant beauties to grace the tables. Planning started as far back as December. The bride, the darling of the farm, chose Cafe au Lait, to be the centrepiece. A bit of a chameleon she blooms a delicate pink. Then petals start to fade to white tinged with just a touch of coffee brown.

I started the wedding dahlias indoors in early March. Several different shades of burgundy wine, apricot and pink.
Shaggy white cactus and pompoms in shades of bronze. Colours chosen to compliment the bride’s Cafe au Lait dahlias.
A few years ago we sowed half of our vegetable garden with wild flowers. We’ve always chosen to grown more vegetables then we need. We’ve taken the surplus to the library in our Village of Ladner to share with others. With Covid we were unable to do that. Now most of our garden is flowers for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

I cut my flowers early in the morning when they are still filled with moisture. Dahlias are demanding darlings. They need to be put into water immediately. I use a deep bucket to support the tall stems of the heavier flowers.

I cut the sweet peas daily. Their heavy fragrance fills the garden and butterflies are in their glory. Sweet peas will not share a bouquet with any other flower. The presence of sweet peas wilt other blossoms. I take a basket filled with several small containers of water out to the garden. Each exquisite colour of sweet peas goes into these separate containers. The stems of sweet peas are a bit fragile and this segregation of colours makes flower arrangements easier.

I love our gardens. I love the doing of them. Digging the soil. Planting. watering, weeding. And if at the end of all this we have vegetables. Or flowers. That is an added bonus. It is the doing that is important. This season we had the thrill of growing new flowers for the wedding. Anxiously awaiting the blooming, for dahlias sometimes are not as pictured on the package. In a couple of weeks we will harvest the flowers. Their ephemeral beauty will continue next year to be known as “our wedding dahlias”.



I have a Camelot garden.  In it grows a  gorgeous rose of such fragrance and beauty the  very stars  look down in envy.    Its beckoning orange-red buds open to form  a magnificent chalice-shaped bloom.  A rose that perhaps long ago would have graced King Arthur’s table.  My Lady of  Shalott rose, an important rose because it was a Mother’s Day Gift and the rose that adorned a family wedding.


There she weaves by night and day a magic web with colours gay.”  Each perfect rose petal blushes salmon pink  then quietly reveals a secret  that unfolds to golden yellow.    This Lady of Shalott rose has an old-fashioned  fragrance that conjurers up  thoughts of  exotic tea  spiced with cloves and apples.


The Lady of Shalott is a fairy tale  rose.  Early morning I visit my Camelot garden and gather a  bouquet of roses.   And every morning  the rose bush is covered once again with more sweet roses.  If your soul yearns for romance  whisper the words LADY OF SHALOTT ROSES by David Austin  and the glorious days of Camelot will enter your garden.


The very, very best part of this unique rose is –  it is simple-to-grow.    It is highly resistant to disease and blooms with unusual continuity.  It is low maintenance  and will bloom from early spring until frost. It’s highly recommended for rose beds and border.  It would be spectacular in a flower bed with deep blue flowers.  It can be trained against a wall or trellis  or  planted in large pots and containers.  It loves full sun or a little shade.  If you are an inexperienced  gardener you will adore this  Lady of Shalott David Austin rose.


The Lady of Shalott was a popular l9th century  ballad inspired by Arthurian legend.  It was written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.    Reading this poem one discovers the  words and phrases that inspired the naming of this old-fashioned rose .

THE LADY OF SHALLOT  …  Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
To many-tower’d Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro’ the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow veil’d
Slide the heavy barges trail’d
By slow horses; and unhail’d
The shallop flitteth silken-sail’d
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
Down to tower’d Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers “‘Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott.”

Part II

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

And moving thro’ a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-hair’d page in crimson clad,
Goes by to tower’d Camelot;
And sometimes thro’ the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror’s magic sights,
For often thro’ the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights,
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed;
“I am half sick of shadows,” said
The Lady of Shalott.

Part III

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro’ the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel’d
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glitter’d free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazon’d baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell’d shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn’d like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
As often thro’ the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
Moves over still Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d;
On burnish’d hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow’d
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flash’d into the crystal mirror,
“Tirra lirra,” by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro’ the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look’d down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
The Lady of Shalott.

Part IV

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
Over tower’d Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.

And down the river’s dim expanse –
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance –
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right –
The leaves upon her falling light –
Thro’ the noises of the night
She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song.
The Lady of Shalott.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darken’d wholly,
Turn’d to tower’d Camelot.
For ere she reach’d upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died
The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame.
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they cross’d themselves for fear,
All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, “She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace.
The Lady of Shalott.”







Early morning and wisps of river fog creep across the fields. The brilliant summer sky pales into autumn. In the garden the hydrangeas change colour.  Vintage verdigris.   Bruised blues and purples. Faded lavenders and pinks. It is now when the hydrangea   blossoms take on the rich colours of a renaissance painting I gather them by the armful. They dry beautifully.   Tucked away from the light they wait to play the part in the familiar  rituals of Christmas decorating.

 This Christmas will be unlike any other.   This year I  planned something completely different from my  traditional  decorative wreath.  I wanted to take the beautiful days of summer and hang them on our front door.  This year these summer memories will adorn our home far into the new year.

starting the TT

These wreaths are wondrously  easy to make.   You need a vine wreath.  A vine wreath is important as the tangle of vines allows you to easily poke the hydrangea stems into place.   The stems of  the flowers cut around 6 inches.  A generous armful of flower  and a few  sprigs of cedar or fir boughs and ribbon  is all you require.  No glue or wire required to fasten the flowers.

For a lush, generous wreath tuck the blooms into the sides of the wreath and then on the top.  Intersperse them with the green cedar boughs.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  There is no right or wrong way to arrange your flowers.

You can hang the wreath plain and unadorned.  But the colours of the wire ribbon are an elegant touch.  It takes  about an hour to make a wreath.  I always make two wreaths at Christmas.  One for our door and one for my friend and neighbour.   

Stay safe dear friends – wherever you are.

Love Virginia.









MYSTERY FLOWER IN THE WILD GARDEN . . . what is its name?

Bel’Occhio’s Wild Flower Garden

The mystery flower.   It flaunts its beauty and seduces the bees, then as the sun sets  tightly folds it blossoms and disappears.

It was the long talk with my friend, Oswald, gentleman rabbit,  that gave me the idea for this garden.  He is a master gardener and is responsible for all things growing.  He voiced his concern about the challenges facing bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  Pesticides, climate change,  and the disappearances of their habitats in rural areas have drastically reduced their population.

We took a third of our vegetable garden and dedicated  it to wild flowers .   I thought I would  have some  dainty flowers growing wild and free in the breeze.   A few bees and butterflies, and the occasional hummingbird doing what they do best.    This outrageous, flamboyant display was a wonderful surprise and I am thrilled beyond belief.  It is my secret garden,  hidden from public viewing in the  quiet privacy of our vegetable garden.

Today I discovered  a brilliant, sapphire blue flower.  It took my breath away.   I searched my garden books but haven’t discovered its name.  I hope someone will know.

The mystery flower.



I have a wild flower garden.   It’s a secret garden.  A garden where bees, butterflies and hummingbirds quietly go about their business in calm privacy.  It is surrounded by hay fields.  Near by are ditches filled with water and grassy thickets and brambles.

This spring I took almost half of our vegetable garden and sowed it with wild flowers.    I filled it with annuals, biennials and perennials.   Bees are especially drawn to  blue, purple and yellow flowers.   

The bees love these single petal flowers.  They hum songs of happiness as they fly from blossom to blossom.  Occasionally makings forays into the vegetable garden for flavours or oregano and mint.  This is their secret magic world.  A garden of earthly delights for bees.

My wild flowers flaunt outrageous colors .  Waving gossamer petals to entice butterflies and hummingbirds to dine on their nectar .

I’ve added extra flower seeds to my wild flower mixture.  Lots of flamboyant poppies and delicious blue and pink bachelor buttons.  Their bright colours catch the attention of hummingbirds and butterflies.

The wild flower garden is rather like  Christmas.  Early in the morning, when the dew still sparkles on the cobwebs in the grass, I stroll out to the garden.  There’s always a new surprise for the contents of the wild flower mixture are not listed.  They are yours to discover one by one.  I never take flowers from the bee garden.  I don’t dead head.  It is their sanctuary.

I’ve close planted the flowers creating   a brilliant  kaleidoscope of colour.  The garden  is in full sun from morning to evening.    It is a garden of joy.    A small thing , this garden for bees, butterflies and hummingbird, but incredibly important to our environment.

It is estimated one out of every three bites of food we take is made possible by bees and other pollinating wild life.  Food and shelter for bees allows them to nest and increase their population in safety.

My secret bee garden.  Oswald, the master gardener would approve.  He understands the need for a rabbit proof fence.









They flounce in the garden.   Their ball gowns worn  with great aplomb.   Their glorious heads sway and dance to the slightest breeze.   They are the voluptuous, sumptuous darlings of the garden.

Peonies  beguile us with tiny, tight buds and  seduce us unfurling paper thin petals after petals to burst into blooms of staggering beauty.


Peonies are rather precocious and sometimes rather petulant when it comes to flower arrangements.  They like to be coaxed  and pampered to flaunt their full blown beauty.  The trick to encouraging these reluctant  little darlings to open faster is to cut their stems a little shorter.  Every time you snip the stem, a peony will open further.    But peonies, having a mind of their own, will also change their shape and colour each time you shorten them.  For example the deep pink may fade to a lighter shade.

So as that delicate light  of twilight  creeps into your home, the intoxicating perfume of peonies  surround you.  Their perfume whispers of romantic waltzes  and  past loves.  It spins a web that connects you to these treasured memories  from the past.    You smile.  You cup the fragrant blossoms in you hand and hold the most wondrous of thoughts close to your heart.

The most precocious of peonies with behave with decorum if you follow a few tips for a longer vase life.  Pick your flowers in the early morning and let them wile a way a few hours in a dark place deeply immersed in a bucket of warm water.

Make your own “plant food” .  To a quart of water add 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 teaspoon of sugar and 3-4 drops household bleach.  Stir the water throughly before adding the flower.  The bleach and vinegar reduce the chance of bacteria multiplying.  Bacteria cause stems to become slimy and turn the water cloudy.  The sugar acts as food for the flowers.


And when a few petals drift down to adorn your table – let them linger.  Perfection can be boring.


They grow wild here on our West Coast.   Flinging themselves with outrageous abandon along side country roads and busy highways.  They cover hillsides with their brilliant colours.   Magnificent  spires of unbelievable beauty.  The fabulous.  The fantastic.   The outrageous too-good-to-be-true   Foxglove.

They grow tame in my garden.  No wild adventure for these towering, glorious foxgloves.  Imperiously they rule my spring garden.   High and haughty  above cornflowers and poppies.  Ignoring purple irises and  pansies.  Tall and slender they weave back and forth waltzing to the slightest breeze.

It’s early morning.  The dew caught like diamonds in spider webs woven across the lawn.  I have a deep bucket filled with warm water.   I cut  and strip the lower leave from the foxgloves,  and immediately dunk them in the bucket.    I let the foxgloves drowse away the morning hours in the cool, dark boot room.  The plants are slightly toxic so I wash my hands after handling them.

A  stunning  bouquet of foxgloves.   A spectacular statement of our connection to all things green and growing   This bringing the outdoors into your home is a simple pleasure.      Isn’t that what life should be about?

DIGITALIS PURPUREA (aka foxgloves)  have a vase life of up to 2 weeks.   Florists supply you with a sachet of plant food.  It is easy to make up your own plant food.

1 quart of water, 2 tablespoon vinegar, 1 teaspoon sugar and three or four drops of bleach.  Give it a stir before adding the flowers.  The bleach and vinegar reduce the chance of bacteria multiplying.  Bacteria cause stems to be become slimy and turn the water cloudy.   The sugar acts food for the flowers.




All is not as it seems in the beautiful garden.  Danger lurks.  Someone has murder on their mind.    In Agatha Christie’s detective fiction,  A Pocket Full of Rye, the dastardly murderer brews up a batch of yew leaves.  Adds it to a pot of marmalade.  And it was toast for the unsuspecting victim.

The yew trees rotten reputation was saved  in the l960s when an extract from the plant was discovered to have tumour-fighting compounds and was developed into cancer medication.

The castor bean is another baddie.  It contains a deadly toxin ricin.  It put an end to the writing and everything else for journalist and communist defector Georgi Markov.  His vitriolic  comments ended when a pellet containing ricin was fired into his leg by  an umbrella wielding  assassin associated  with the Bulgarian Secret Police.

The euphorbia belongs to the same family as the caster bean but it is a more kindly cousin.  It’s not deadly,  just plain irritating.  Its  milky sap can cause rash or welts, and the leaves and flowers can irritate the skin and eyes.

One must  admire this heavenly blue perennial splashing its colour along herbaceous borders each summer.  But beware.  It is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  It goes by two names,  monkshood and wolfsbane. The entire plant is very dangerous to touch and to eat.  Its poison (aconitine) was originally used to kill wolves.  It will cause numbness and stop the heart!  Arm yourself.  Wear gloves when handling the plant and keep it out of reach of unsuspecting guests.

Dog lovers beware of the flirty, beguiling cyclamen.  All parts of it cause severe discomfort if ingested by humans, and can bring on convulsions and paralysis in dogs.

Snowdrops.  The little darlings of spring.  So delicate, sweet and assuming.  But one must take great care when planting.  The bulbs may irritate the skin, and cause a mild tummy upset if eaten.  It can happen if  forgetful gardeners drying onions in their sheds confuse the two bulbs.  Yes, it has been known to happen.  Where were their heads?

Without alliums in the kitchen food would be pretty ho hum.   Garlic, onions, chives and leeks are deliciously edible for us but be wary of the ornamental types.  They flaunt their gorgeous heads of colour but they can be nasty and cause skin allergies.  All parts of ALL alliums are poisonous to cats and dogs.  They contain a chemical that causes anemia and is toxic in high doses.

They trumpet their exotic outrageous beauty in the most magnificent manner.  Tall, stately amaryllis command attention .   Beware of these beauties if you are a dog owner.  The sap and bulb are poisonous.  It can cause mild tummy upset in humans.  But they can be fatal for dogs bringing on lethargy, shock and coma.

The list goes on.  Every part of the foxglove is quite poisonous.  The good news is that its properties  are used to make the cardiac drug Digitalis.  The red berries of the  holly we adorn our home with at Christmas are unpleasant. If eaten by dogs can cause tremors, seizures and loss of balance,  and give children a serious tummy ache. Consider yourself warned! There’s more than one hundred dangerous plants growing in gardens and fields.

For a walk on the wild side you can visit a poison garden in Northumberland, England.   The  Duchess of Northumberland took a little trip to Italy.  Instead of a souvenir mini statue of David she brought back the concept of a poison garden.  The Medici Poison Garden in Padua was the inspiration for the”world’s most dangerous garden”,  The Alnwick Garden.    You’ll know you are in the right place when you see the locked gate embellished with skulls and crossbones.  Mind how you go and stay close to the guide.

HIPPEASTRUM (Amaryllis)  ACONITUM (Monkshood, Wolfsbane)  ILEX (Holly )  EUPHORBIA (Spurge)  TAXUS (Yew)  GALANTHUS  (Snowdrop)    CYCLAMEN  (now you know one Latin plant name)  )  ALLIUM (and a second)









We live out in the country wedged between the mighty Fraser River a few minutes walk  north of us and the Pacific Ocean a short drive to the west.   This enviable location does come with a problem.  A micro-climate with ground fog rolling across the farm lands and over my tomato plants.

There is a secret to growing tomatoes in this will-of-the-wisp summer.   You plant them in big black plastic nursery pots. Then position these pots against a south wall preferably with a large overhanging roof.  If you are fortunate this will give the tomatoes some protection from the heavy dew and ground fog.

The only supermarket tomatoes I buy are  Campari tomatoes. Eight small tomatoes in a precious plastic box.  They have real,  honest-to- goodness tomato flavour. I harvested seeds from these tomatoes.  Early spring I started them indoors and then transplanted the strongest into pots.    I ended up with six rather straggly plants left over and no more pots. Off to the compost heap with them.  Until my good husband rescued them and planted them in the garden.  They grew.  They grew, and grew and produced tomatoes.   Better tomatoes then the plants coddled in protective pots.

The summer was unique.  We had months and months of nothing but sun.  The plants in the garden loved the heat.  Not so the tomatoes planted in the pots.  Day after day I would harvest the garden grown tomatoes.   A couple of pounds of these dazzling red darlings filling my basket.  The final one day harvesting of the Campari tomato plants netted over forty pounds.  All from six spindly almost thrown-away plants!

This was the summer of enjoying tomatoes every day.  Tomato, bacon and lettuce sandwiches (vegetables from the garden and our own bacon) – divine.  Tomatoes baked in cream with thyme – sublime.  And then tomato soup.  Tomato soup so superb you’ll never go back to your old recipe.    One big roasting pan filled with tomatoes, shallots, garlic, carrots, onion and the zinger – jalapeno chile.  You roast it.  Puree and then eat.  FIERY ROASTED TOMATO SOUP – it just doesn’t get any better.