Tulipalooza

Bit of a throwback there for the Gen X near-olds of Ottawa, Ontario. Show of hands if you, too, spent a weekend in May 1990-something lolling about Major’s Hill Park, ostensibly there to admire the thousands of rainbow-hued tulips that were, and continue to be, the main draw of the Canadian Tulip Festival, but actually there to flirt with cute boys (and girls) at the all-ages alternative rock show. I met my second boyfriend in just that fashion, in line for the Pepsi Taste Challenge, which was beside the Much Music Video Dance booth, just in case I haven’t aged myself enough with these references. It won’t shock you to learn that that weekend also involved hacky sacks, neon pink comb-in hair gel, and many appearances of local musical weirdo-heroes, Furnaceface.

But I digress. This post is actually about the tulipalooza that I hosted in my garden this past spring, a throwback in itself given that tulip season has LONG since passed.

And that season was, to put it poetically, a beautiful nightmare. It started in the fall of 2020 when I purchased nine or 10 different varieties of heirloom bulbs from Breck’s Bulbs (zero complaints there; the bulbs I bought were in beautiful shape, white, fresh and plump.) In anticipation of the bastard rodents that would surely make merry with my tender tulips, Mr. Finger Candy made eight cages out of zip ties and chicken wire to lock the bulbs in before I planted them in the ground. I then planted a couple dozen, foolishly unprotected, in the pie-shaped bed at the front of the house. I had been inside maybe 15 minutes before I looked out the window and saw that arsehole squirrels had made off with at least three. Mr. Finger Candy leapt to the rescue once again, this time pinning an entire sheet of chicken wire directly on top of the soil.

Winter came and went, and in the spring my fledgling tulips began to fledge. I was so excited to look outside and see their tender green shoots just beginning to poke through the loamy gloom! And then the rodents returned, kneecapping my efforts – and the growth of my flowers – at every. single. turn. It also snowed in the middle of April, necessitating a frosty jaunt out to the beds in my flip flops to rescue the more advanced blooms.

I spent the majority of my spring vacillating between wild gardening highs and crushing rodent lows (not to suggest that I ever actually physically harmed the thieving little jerks, unless you count dosing my flower beds with Da Bomb hot sauce-infused water, a neat little trick that only occasionally proved successful.)

Highs? This absolutely stunning bouquet of inky purple Queen of the Night tulips, ruffled Black Parrots and bubblegum pink Fancy Frills I pulled from the front bed at the very end of the season. How such gorgeous specimens dodged the Wrath of Rodent, I’ll never know, but I loved having this cut bouquet in our home for the two weeks that it remained pert and bright and upright.

I also loved this sunset-hued bouquet of early bloomers I clipped during that aforementioned springtime snowstorm. These gorgeous, plush blossoms are Coral Pride and Pink Pride tulips mixed in with some yellow and white tulips that just randomly sprang up in the yard (I call that gardening by squirrel, or let the tulips lay where they may.)

Another high? This unique blossom, a Showgirl tulip. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a blue flower before (okay, purple-grey) let alone grown one.

The cool tones of this beautiful tulip matched nothing else in the garden, which certainly didn’t matter to the squirrels, who seemed to find these particular flowers extra delicious. But when I was able to actually bring one or two inside, I just wound up hodge podgeing them together with whatever else was in bloom, making for some interesting arrangements.

Lows? Oh, pretty much any time I looked outside and saw a wilted pile of leaves, or worse, a tall, green stem with a nipped-off blossom just laying in the dirt beside it. My mom said, with a note of concerned pride in her voice, “Well, you’re a real gardener now!” when I called her one morning, wracked with sobs and blubbering about my decimated tulips. Apparently heartbreak is just part of the gardening deal? I *might* even have been sort of understanding if the rodents actually ate the tulips, or derived some sort of sustenance from them. Canadian winters are hard; I suppose I can’t fault the little guys for falling on the first fresh greenery they’ve seen in months. But to just nip off the head and then leave it there, fully intact, the plant now utterly destroyed, is unconscionable. I could wring their little rodent necks.

Instead, I began dosing my beds with ground cinnamon, ground cayenne pepper and hot sauce-infused water. Capsaicin, the active component in chili peppers, is also usually the first active ingredient in critter ridder preparations, none of which seem to work very well, and all of which are quite expensive. So I bought a bunch of ground cayenne pepper at the bulk store and sprinkled it around my tulips. It worked as an invisible barrier more often than not, as did the hot sauce treatment, but I still suffered losses to squirrels who are apparently impervious to the pain of a 2 million scoville-rated hot sauce. As for the cinnamon, I was thinking anything that burns. Have you ever inhaled a bunch of ground cinnamon (or worse, done the cinnamon challenge)? It hurts and smells incredible all at the same time. I was just looking for the squirrel version of that. Is this also a sign that I’m becoming a “real” gardener, that I don’t want to hurt the rodents that thoughtlessly thrashed my garden, but I do want them to pay?

It’s been a learning process, that’s for sure, and one that I’m in the process of repeating right this very moment (get those bulb orders in now!) Heartbreak and tears notwithstanding. Only next time I’ll be approaching the whole endeavor with a bit more gardening wisdom – and A LOT more physical barriers.

A Year in Review

No need to add to the chorus of “thank-your-lord-of-choice 2020 is over” exhalations of exasperation; this post is going to be about the good things that came into my life last year, the positive behaviours I somehow picked up, and the happy memories I made in the process.

Not to lay too much responsibility at the doorstep of our actual doorstep, but like most good things in our lives, they begin and end with our house.  We actually moved in just before Christmas 2019, so 2020 was all about finding our footing as new homeowners.  Mostly, we were unbelievably grateful – every single day, audibly, no doubt involving a number of colourful epithets – that we were not trying to pandemic-in-place in our old condominium.  Had this camel’s back not been broken by the proverbial straw some months earlier, I have no doubt that COVIDing-in-a-condo would have been the thing to finally do it.

Instead, we settled in, grateful – there’s that word again – for our little fortress against the unknown.  We couldn’t control what was happening outside our door, but we could tend our little kingdom, and its surrounding community, as best we could, and just try to stay safe.  At its very core, I think that’s all that’s been asked of us all along – just take care of yourself and your neighbours.  I’m not sure how that message got quite so twisted up.

Mask Up!

Okay, brief political interlude aside (NOT a positive thing in my life in 2020; against my better judgement, and very much to my mental detriment, I became a hardcore doomscroller) our house is rad, we love living here, and we had a great year as first time homeowners.

My lovely, gigantic kitchen gave me plenty of space to spread my culinary wings, whether it was countless Hello Fresh meals – an absolute treat and sanity-saver during the very earliest days of the pandemic – or from-the-garden rhubarb jam, or pumpkin spice cinnamon buns, or many, many, many dozens of scones – a friend’s daughter paid me the greatest culinary compliment I’ve ever received when she commented that they were topped with icing worthy of Santa’s cookies – or even both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, a first for me.

Sweet Treats

And in the early summer we purchased a gas barbecue, one of those “When I have my own house one day!” items I’ve been dreaming about over the last 17 years of apartment life.  Oh, the delicious, smoky fun we had this summer!  Mostly a lot of vegetarian, carby things (penne in a smoked vodka tomato cream sauce, white pizza, and alfredo-thyme farfalle studded with smoky, blackened corn) because Mr. Finger Candy is a vegetarian and I love carbs, but it saw its fair share of bacon-wrapped tenderloins and smoked chicken as well.  The very best food discovery I made this year is that dry mesquite wood chips loaded into a tinder box and set beneath your grill will impart a smoky flavour to your food that is virtually indistinguishable from bacon.  Spread the word, vegetarians!

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (and Your BBQ’d Pizza)

Because our house has rather a lot of yard (and one super adorable shed) this is the year I discovered I *might* be a green-thumb in the making.  My grandfather, one of those “Let me graft this pineapple onto a cherry tree and see what happens” types, would be so proud!  It’s serious enough that for Christmas this year, my parents gifted me with seed-starters and hydroponic lights to hang above my workbench.  No joke, I am but 7,567 loose nails and a mock road signing proclaiming “Brain surgery while you wait” away from turning into my Poppy, and I’m completely delighted. 🙂  I took such great pleasure from gardening and yard work last year – nothing felt so good as taking a hot, sudsy shower after a long day of pruning, mulching, replanting, de-crittering and/or rock wall-building.

Shed Life

Not to say everything in the great outdoors has been going totally swimmingly.  In the spring I planted and replanted (and then replanted and planted again) a promising collection of berries, tomatoes and peppers, before just giving up and giving them over to the many, many rodents, birds and outright pests that populate our back yard.  The squirrels made off with my heirloom tulip bulbs, even after I “dressed” the front beds with about five pounds of powdered cayenne pepper.  My peonies kicked the bucket.  I forgot to tie up our cedars for the winter, necessitating a 4 am, first-snowfall-of-the-season jaunt to the backyard in my jammies and boots to strap them down.  And in the early fall, one of the squirrels I liked to alternately coddle with vast quantities of nuts AND bitch about mercilessly, expired on my front lawn.  I buried him in the garden whilst softly singing Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah.  When the garbage collectors came by, I was slumped over my shovel sobbing like some sort of heroine out of a gothic novel.

In Bloom

Carrying out funereal rites for the rodents aside, both Mr. Finger Candy and I have derived great joy from the vast assortment of critters that swing by our backyard to partake of the endless nut buffet.  We don’t have cable TV any more, we just have a back window!  Friendly black squirrels, sassy grey squirrels, twitchy red squirrels, fearless chipmunks (Mr. Finger Candy claims they are my disciples and I am their queen), bossy blue jays, shouty crows, gentle doves, rambunctious raccoons (had to evict three of them from our shed in the summer), pudgy skunks, relentless woodpeckers, regal cardinals, flocking finches, and one adorable extortionist cat we nicknamed Mewington.

Little Rodentia

Speaking of cats – and the very best thing to happen to us in 2020 – having a home allowed us to once again open our doors (and hearts) to a couple of deserving feline friends.  Just before Christmas, when our souls were feeling a bit battered from the weight of everything, the opportunity to foster a bonded pair of rescue kitties floated across my Facebook news feed.  As I stared at the photos of their sweet, clearly frightened faces, I knew if I so much as showed the post to my husband, they’d be with us within the week.  So I sent him the link, and they were. 🙂  Fluffy, the big, floofy boy, and Beans, the tiny tabby girl, have been with us for about a month now, and we love them so much, some sort of medieval weaponry will most assuredly be needed in order to get us to part with them.  Seriously, I’ll cut you off at the knees and then feed the bits to the cats if you try to take them from us.  What can I say, my love is violent. 😉

Les Chats

The holidays were weird as heck this past year, with both Halloween and Christmas happening in the shadow of ever-tightening provincial lockdowns.  But in an odd sort of way, they were more enjoyable than in recent years past – probably something to do with that unknowable human quality of simply trying.  Trick-or-treating was heavily discouraged at Halloween, but we geared up just in case, laying out a socially distanced spread of bagged candy for the 20 or so kids who did stop by.

This is Halloween

At both Halloween and Christmas, we went heavy on the holiday decorations, turning our house first into a fog-shrouded, jaunty haunt, and then into a peppermint striped winter wonderland.  And guess who finally got her pink Christmas tree?!

Making Christmas

Making Pinkmas

And for both the spooking season and the holly jolly holidays, Mr. Finger Candy really got in touch with his inner Clark Griswold, adorning the exterior of our home with many hundreds of programmable twinkle lights.

Let There Be Light

When purchasing Christmas gifts this year – and indeed, this was the overriding ethos for nearly all of my purchases in 2020 – I really tried to keep it local.  And in doing so, I discovered (or re-discovered) some really terrific vendors and creators, like Heart & Home Soaps, which is owned by a woman I’ve known since elementary school, Doughbaby Doughnuts, which is *right* around the corner, and The Girl With the Most Cake, who supplied my wedding shower cake many marital moons ago.  And at the very height of the pandemic (the one way back in the spring, since we’re now up to multiple waves) my husband arranged to have some favourite photos of our late kitties Porky and Weegie transferred onto canvas by printers VistaPrint.  We also ordered in a lot of takeout from local restaurants, including Meatings BBQ, the Lone Star Cafe, Biagio’s and Karara Indian.  Having made only one Amazon purchase last year (unicorn pen calligraphy sets don’t grow on local trees!) we felt pretty great about how we chose to exercise our purchasing power in 2020.

Shop Local

Other things that felt pretty great in a year of decided un-greatness?  The three-hour, wee small hours of the morning message chat I had with my high school best friend.  We’re all old and shit, with kids and cats and ugh, responsibilities, but it felt like we were 18 again, falling asleep on the phone with each other as we planned our going-out outfits for that coming weekend. 🙂  I loved the socially distanced backyard visits I had with my other high school best friend in the summer and fall – nothing felt so much like the very essence of 2020 as sitting in the late summer twilight with Uber’d Starbucks lattes, catching up on our lives.  Zoom chats with even more high school friends were fun excuses to catch up, drink virtually and wear ALL of the makeup that I had not worn the rest of the year.  We also spent a bit of time getting to know our neighbours, including a lovely summer evening enjoying socially distanced drinks with the folks next door.  And while I didn’t do very much nail art this year – funny, for what is ostensibly a nail art blog – I did get my creative craft on in other ways, jumping back into the world of calligraphy and lettering, assembling a couple of miniature shadowbox lanterns for my parents, and making a felt wreath inspired by The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Getting Crafty With It

Without a doubt, there is much of last year (and some of this new year) I could have done without.  If ever there were a moment to Rip Van Winkle an entire year, no?  But it clearly wasn’t all a total loss, something I periodically need to remind myself of – there is enjoyment to be found in the awful, so long as you’re willing to acknowledge that it can exist.

Chionodoxa

Blue Flowers 1

That’s the name of these cute little blue blooms that have flower-bombed my front beds and lawn.  They’re big time bee-bait, though, so I’ve been admiring them at a distance (except for when I dashed outside to recklessly plunge my hand into the buzzing bed of buds to snap this photo of these inspired-by nails I recently did.  What can I say, guess I’m willing to suffer for my art.) 😉

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The Blueberry Bush

Blueberry Fingers

A number of years ago I got more than a little cocky about my abilities as a balcony gardener.  I have two large balconies that overlook a river, and for one glorious summer three or so years ago, I cultivated a thriving garden of everything that’s not supposed to grow on a windy hunk of waterless concrete, from herbs and pansies, hibiscus trees and roses, to succulents and ferns, daisies and – in my greatest feat of green thumbing EVER – a fruit-producing raspberry cane.  BOO-YEAH!  All right, so it would appear I haven’t quite abandoned the cocky thing just yet, but come on, that’s kind of impressive, right?  I’m still impressed!  Just look at this little raspberry!  I made him!

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Although perhaps I should not be quite so down with me, because that one glorious summer of thriving bounty?  Never to be repeated again. Subsequent summers have netted naught but a wasp infestation in my gerbera daisies, one tiny bulb of garlic that grew into a slightly larger bulb of garlic and a flowering magnolia that steadfastly refused to flower.  It should also be noted that that one perfect year I harassed the power of nature, my blueberry bush REFUSED to do, well, anything.  It sent off a few promising green shoots and then just sort of sat there for the season while I periodically cursed it out.

But there was no swearing at these cute blueberry nails, which were not only easy (detail brush for the leaves, dotting tool for the berries) but also didn’t require me to go outside, which is terrifically attractive when it’s as cold and rainy as it is today.  Not that I’d be gardening today anyways, but the analogy stands!  I think.  The one thing I can be absolutely sure of, though – these little lacquered blueberry bushes are a lot prettier than the real deal, and definitely more bountiful!

Tick Tick Bloom

Rose HandHere’s some pretty, bright floral nail art to kick off what I’m hoping will be a warm, melty weekend. Despite the flakes that continue to fall every few days, there’s a definite hint of Spring in the air, and I’m really looking forward to getting out onto my balcony this gardening season and swiftly killing another rose (I can grow an actual fruit-producing raspberry bush on my balcony, but not a rose – go figure) as opposed to just killing it with roses on my nails! Still, given my aversion to the great outdoors – even the concrete-encased version one step off my livingroom – and the fact that winter won’t really be over for at least another month, perhaps I should stick to the lacquered variety of gardening for the time being.

I’m biased, of course, but I think these floral nails are pretty great. They look like a fabulous duvet I really need to own. I’m also pleased to note that my rose game has gotten much better. I used to regularly churn out these blobby things I referred to as rose-oids, but these could actually pass for flowers! Well done, me.Rose Fingers

Dahlias

Dahlias

I live in a condo apartment with two large balconies, and for the last few summers I’ve tried to set up a little horticultural oasis on at least one of them. It turns out I don’t have an altogether useless green thumb (I did keep a raspberry cane alive over the winter with no more care than shoving it into a pot in the corner of my livingroom and forgetting to water it for weeks on end) and I like the sort of calm that steals over me when I’m sitting in the early morning chill, clipping useless dead bits off my rose. Last year I went for a real hothouse kind of look – lots of oranges, hot pinks and yellows – while this year it’s more country garden-inspired, with buckets of girly-but-deceptively-temperamental flowers like cabbage roses and dahlias and a stupid flowering gardenia that’s already driving me insane. This manicure, a simple floral design sitting atop a blackened teal glitter polish that itself reminds me of dark green dahlia leaves, is inspired by those new-to-my-balcony flowers.