Inspirations From The May Garden

May is violet time in my USDA Zone 4 garden, a sesson blessed with my favourites. Heaven might have these views and fragrances, don't you think? Today, meantime, they heal the eyes of body and soul.

First, a look along the flagstone path from under the Corkscrew Hazel, through Husband's forged iron “Peony” sculptures. The green glass flower (lower right) is part of his forged iron candelabra (subject of another post one day on garden sculptures.) Beyond the greenery, you see the Rideau Canal, alongside which lies our garden. It is the Tulip Festival time in Ottawa and my tulips have obliged this year by blooming on time with the violets. The flagstone path is where violets love to grow.

Nature inspires art.

My embroideries of past years have all been especially inspired by the colours and textures of the season in my canal-side garden.

Textured pinks, purples, lavenders, burgundies:

Purple Sandcherry (Prunus cistena) – to embroider as well as to eco-print

Tulips…extravagantly contrasting purple petals and golden stamens

Hardy Rhododendron, acidly mauve. Victorian.

Isabella Preston's “Prestonia” extremely hardy lilacs, developed here in Ottawa at the Experimental Farm of the Government of Canada, during a time when females did the work and males got the credit…(Hmm, you say? ) ….Isabella did get two Ottawa streets named for her eventually. A fine parade of her hybrid lilacs is still grown in the Farm's Ornamental Gardens as well as in gardens all over the city and in the valley around. We can let t the work speak for Isabella in lasting pleasures of fragrance and colour.


Lily of the Valley, fragrant and spotless – no enemies at all thanks to her iron hands in velvet gloves. Well, blessed are such peacemakers in some parts of my garden! But keep her out of the dye pot and the veggie garden – she could hurt you there. Above, she is getting along well with the Forsthythia which will have dropped its blooms by the time the Lily of the Valley is in full flower.

Dandelions, Pis-en-Lits (Pee The Beds) with violets (The pink petals are from the “Purple Passion” hardy apple tree under which they grow.) Our city no longer uses pesticides so the dandelions are free to roam. Love them, always have – that is my harmless, cultural prejudice. Would that all cultural prejudices could be confined to quarrels over what may be termed “weed” or “useful” in the plant world.

The Canada Violet, my all-time-most-loved plant.

See how the violet manages to find a place to grow between the spaces in the flagstones? I love the symbolism of blooming in a tight and arid space…

And here, my favourite Spring tree blossom – the native Serviceberry (Amelanchier family) Pretty soon, the delicious berries will ripen to purple and the birds of the neighbourhood will flock to the tree…in a few days, all the berries will be gone. I snack on a few but leave most to the birds. I do pick Saskatoon berries, though – the birds and squirrels here ignore them. I have some berries in my freezer waiting to be eco printed. No need to make the jam- Saskatoon berry jam, made in Saskatchewan, is available in our supermarkets. It is tasty if seedy…and it is Canada-local! The tree is a member of the Amelanchier family (see plant list pages )

Bleeding Heart does well under the Serviceberry, The pink form is much hardier than white in my garden. I try not to have any plant “pets” so no matter how much I love white Bleeding Heart, if it cannot tolerate the basic conditions in my garden, I cannot have it there. When I began gardening seriously in this environment, I did have all kinds of pets, growing them from seed, even. In time, however, I changed my gardening style to growing drought- native plants and only those Green Immigrants known to adapt well to Zone 4. NO pushing the seaonal envelope in this garden nowadays.

“Le Temps Des Violettes – Violet Time” 2004
In response to these Spring Garden Beloveds, I made an embroidery. It was actually among the first art embroideries I created with free motion stitch on a printed substrate. I designed the colours and shapes in my computer graphics programme, printed it out on Pellon on my inkjet printer, then used all manner of threads in my sewing machine to create textures and colours, aiming to capture the parade of blooms such as you see in the photos above. I embellished the finished embroidery with seed beads and painted Pellon “beads”



Reflections of trees in the canal water are a fascinating source of art inspiration, too. Across from my garden is a magificent old elm tree. I think I have hundreds of photos now showing that tree in every season, year after year. I am planning to make an Artist Book or two about my Elm Friend. Here is the tree on a warm day in May across the canal:

I have made many embroideries of reflections in water. Here is one about the willow tree in my garden as reflected in the Rideau Canal waters:




Until next time with more embroideries about the spring garden and waterside trees, and some eco printed artist books. You can see more of my embroideries on my website




16 thoughts on “Inspirations From The May Garden

  1. Great to see the spring colour in Canada.. we have had such a cold spring here and everything is several weeks behind.
    I enjoyed looking at your embroideries too, and I do empathise with your fascination for reflections…

    1. Thanks, Isabella. Spring was five weeks late here, then we hsd a heat wave last week – and this week, bsck down to near zero overnight…

  2. Wendy your photos make me wish to be there,where I am in Australia I don’t really get the change of seasons.It has its own beauties ,but something in me loves the seasonal changes.My violets flower best anytime but summer when its too hot and dry for them.Thank you so much for sharing your garden

  3. Stunning views guided us. No wonder they’re inspiration for your work. Your stitches are wonderful, fine and detail. What a beautiful surrounding you’re in. Admire a lot.

  4. Wendy, your garden is a fairytale. So many wonderful flowers, and the violets are just incredible. It is interesting and inspiring to see how you manage to melt the gardening and your artworks together.

    1. Elly,
      So good of you to comment! Your own garden is a Northern paradise! Thank you for sharing your passion and your love of writing…As an aside: I have tried growing Meconopsis but no success here in my part of Zone 4…I also enjoyed trying to figure out some of the Norwegian words in your post. My mother’s grandmother came from Norway – she was known as “Mul” and came to Orkney (my birthplace) as a bride…the other connection I have to Norway is an admiration for the work of Sigrid Undset!



    1. So kind of you to say so, Holly! That is a real compliment from one whose own work is beautiful, varied, interesting, accomplished… I especially like the medieval themes and expressions you explore. I would like to introduce my blog readers to your work – the medieval connections with making one’s own pigments would be interesting for eco print artists who tend to try printing with with anything in and of the earth, not just plant pigments. Have you tried making your own paints a la medieval? I am awaiting a book by an Australian artist, Sandra Webster, who makes earth hues and uses them in her artist books so will share that on my blog


  5. Isn’t it just great that the seasons change and we always have some other source of colour to look forward to. I have been collecting autumn leaves and just been down to Dunedin (I’m in New Zealand) to collect some new rocks for paints… So I am not missing the colours of nature yet – come July it will be different. It makes me feel really happy that at last I have found a way to create from the plants around me. And the embroideries are so spring-like! Thank you!

    1. Hi Celia!
      Thanks for this and for your blog posts, especially your info on earth pigments. As it happens, I have just ordered a book about them by Sandy Webster. I am inspired to try them myself this year. It has been pretty cold here this spring so I have not been out foraging much. England was also very cold and spring delayed. The plant lists for the Cotswolds that you obtained for ne through your sister is incorporated into the lists I gave my students for the eco print class. When I get around to updating the reference pages on my blog, I will put them there. I would like to link to your blog for info on earth hues and pigments. An article about printinh with all things in and of the earth will appear in Fiber Art Now, next issue. Althoigh it concerns plant and rust printing mostly, I am hoping readers will catch the mention of printinh with soils and rocks… We can extend eco printing beyond plants, in other words. I am sure readers will love your research into earth hues. Thank you for sharing your work

  6. Dear Wendy, I feel so happy to “meet” you here. Your posts are wonderful, and I feel we share a basic interst in nature and growing as a basic of creating art. So one day may be you are going to Orkney and Norway? I love the Orkneys. Some years ago I was running different printmaking courses in Kirkwell. Such enthusiasm!! Have you been back? Many words in the Orkney dialect relate back to the viking age, when Orkney was a part of Norway. Again, I feel lucky as I found you on the web. Thank you so much for your generous sharing. After each post my first thought is to pack my suitcase and go and see it all live.

    1. Hi Elly,
      Indeed I would love to visit Orkney again- now much further away that when I lived in England…who knows when?
      But I have had it in mind for some years to do a series of textiles about the Orkneys…at least I can now work with plants that are common there as well as here in Eastern Ontario. The gardens of Orkney are tiny treasures…I recall aconitum does well but I would not print with it! Then the fuschia and the mysembrianthemnum does well there, too. I remember as a four year old popping the fuschia buds between my fingers and collecting heather and blue berries from the moors…the cow parsley grows abundantly there and makes great prints even of gardeners hate it and it is not native…Thanks for the northern sea memories…Nature makes its own lasting prints on us, does it not?

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