The Rites of Spring: Awakenings

Up in our neck of the northern woods, you catch the first signs of spring in the mosses on the forest trails. On a dank cloudy day, they appear to glow like emerald velvet clouds come down to earth to hug the rocks.

Rites of Spring 3

By the time you hit mid-April, life has erupted in micro with the first ephemerals and sedges poking their heads up from the tapestry of the woodland floor.

It’s an absolute thrill to experience the first spring in my still-new pond garden. I’m as goofy as a young parent staring through the maternity ward window – searching for the newborn perennials to emerge from the soil, fingers crossed that they survived the soggy winter intact.

So far, looking promising. And yes, nothing says perennial spring like the crisply folded origami of a young Veratrum nigrum;-)


I note that our one-acre pond typically floods its banks with the spring run-off. And when I arrive for the Easter weekend, the edge of the garden is submerged under a few inches of water. Hopefully, the bog plants and ferns there will take it in stride.


Tonight in the rain-swept dark, I traipsed out with a flashligh to explore the vespertine world of the garden. The ground comes alarmingly alive as scores of fattened pink worms squirm and slurp out of sight the moment the beam of light hits them.

Spring peepers are chanting in a high staccato, and there’s the invisible drumbeat of wings as wood ducks cruise in for a midnight water landing.


I hear a big wet splash right off the nearby bank, followed by an even louder slap in the water. I’m almost certain it’s a beaver warning me off. Not the best of news for a pond gardener.

Meanwhile, I get right down to soil level where tiny spiders hold court in the leaf litter. Above it all, perfectly camouflaged in brown, a noble toad sits like buddha placidly surveying the soil horizon. I leave him to do his hunting and turn to watch the stars.

Breaking silences

After a period of winter quiet, my blog is also stirring back to life. But I’ve been madly busy in the interim doing everything but post.

In the offline world, I spoke at big seasonal hort events like Canada Blooms, did another sold-out workshop at the Toronto Botanical Garden, and wrote a lead article on naturalistic design for Canadian magazine GardenMaking set to be published in mid-May.

Whew! I’m on fire these days – all to keep spreading the word of the naturalistic garden.

Rites of Spring 5

The timing is auspicious with the zeitgeist hitting an all new high. I take great joy (along with a measure of self-torture) in the serious challenge of explaining the essentials of new perennial planting design to the uninitiated.

It makes me question everything I know in the search for better answers.

Flaming spring green

Later this spring, I’m plotting out an upcoming series of blog posts to take you on a kind of journey of the genre. It starts in mid-May with an overall introduction to the naturalistic ethos and contemporary methods followed by explorations into the cutting-edge as being currently practised in Europe.

Stick around, things are going to get good!

Red Umbrellas

In parallel, I’m traveling to Montreal later this week to speak at the Dorval Horticultural and Ecological Society and then in June, I fly out to the West Coast to speak at the Victoria Hardy Plant Society Study Weekend. Madly popular with a hotlist of local and international speakers, it’s already sold out. For me, it’s a long-awaited return to Vancouver Island where I hung out one lovely winter in the rain forests as a post-grad bohemian.  

In the meantime, I still have much planting to do to finish up the initial incarnation of my pond garden. I’ve spent the winter amassing an Armada of plant plugs and unusual perennials that can only be sourced by seed.

We’re making plans for a whole other dry sunny prairie garden up near our almost renovated cabin.

That’s it for now.

I hope all is wondrous in your own garden, as we fall in love all over again with the romance of a new world rising.

Here’s proof this love affair never ends, courtesy of my 92-year old English mum’s latest painting. Although Joan has lost much of her vision to macular degeneration and she holds the paintbrush with a trembly hand, it doesn’t stop her from still reaching for beauty. 

So may we all.

Mum's spring


11 thoughts on “The Rites of Spring: Awakenings

  1. Tony-
    Such a luscious initiation into spring in your neck of the woods. So good to hear that you are as passionate as ever about your own garden and spreading the word about naturalistic design.

    • Thanks Fran. Yes, I’m very happy to be also getting down my thoughts in magazine form and directed to a more Canadian audience for a change. I had some catching up to do in that regard.

  2. You certainly are much in demand these days, which is great, as it is all grist to the mill for the natural garden! I love the moss – reminds me of our native woodland which is evergreen rain forest. Is the blue woodland carpet Chionodoxa? And is it flowering at the same time as your tulips? Here Chionodoxa flowers very early in spring and tulips much later.

    • The blue carpet is Scilla – which naturalizes and blooms all over the city here in Toronto. Yes, in demand apparently… but I keep it in perspective. This is always about more than any single person.

  3. So inspiring! Looking forward to the new series. Thank you for the beautiful painting as well – wish i could get a print for my garden room. Miss the Dutch Dreamers! Just can’t deal with Facebook any more.

  4. This is absolutely gorgeous to see. Stunning photos. Wonderful thoughts expressed. I’m looking forward to everything to come this year. And I’m hoping to hear more about your dry sunny prairie garden since we live in Colorado. Ps The painting by your mother is a jewel. I wish we could get a print.

  5. Thanks for the lovely thoughts and images, Tony. Ephemerals are one of my favorite groups of plants, all those special little woodlanders. It definitely takes a gardener’s eye (and commitment to venturing out for the few days that they’re emerging) to fully appreciate them. Excited to hear about the new series of posts on cutting-edge naturalistic planting practices emerging in Europe.

    • Much appreciated, Caleb. I’m also under the ephemeral spell – last year I wrote a major post here that gets into it much more deeply.

      Yes, stay tuned for the new posts (as soon as I get them out of my head into a file!) I see you’re doing much yourself on FB and yr blog to stir up debate and enthusiasm on the horticultural frontiers.

  6. Interesting your take on the beaver, I have one that forages often along the creek on our property and eats with abandon shrubs and twigs growing along the shore.Any shrubs I plant have to be either distasteful or fenced off (metal) to keep from being it’s next meal. Deer, mice in winter & beaver, the trifecta of threats .

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