Gardening in the slow lane

Why is it that the Universe seemingly punishes me when I go off to play for a few days

Why is it that the Universe seemingly punishes me when I go off to play for a few days, because inevitably all heck breaks loose while I’m away and then my newly relaxed and refreshed mind and body is immediately sent into high gear again.

For instance, it turns out that a semi-truck used our power pole for target practice, which knocked out our telephone and Internet which can’t be fixed for another week with writing deadlines to meet in the meantime, a robin had made three messy nests above our deck with the makings of them strewn from one end of it to another, my one-pull wonder of a lawn mower didn’t start when my yard looked like a meadow and the weeds had seemingly been slipped a dose of steroids.

Ugh!

So many times when I’m off to the Coast, someone will say how much faster a trip it is now, but I rarely take the fast lane because it’s much more pleasant to take the slow lane so I can make a bunch of pit stops along the way on some of the prettier – though sometimes longer – routes.

I had a week to spend with our daughter on her school break and this time she wanted to ‘do’ Vancouver (which means mostly shopping to her), but I had the wheel, so we spent it my way in my old and familiar stomping grounds on the north and west shores, where I could navigate around the worst spots of the now insane traffic down there.

Thankfully the weather was with us, so we strolled the Stanley Park and West Van seawalls, took in the expansive (and expensive) views from atop Grouse Mountain and scrambled over the smooth and warm rocks at Lighthouse and Whytecliff parks to watch all the boats and ferries go by while soaking up the sunshine and breathing in the scent of salt air and seaweed.

Not only was it fun and relaxing, but it also served as a good reminder that the best things in life are usually free, and to enjoy beautiful days like that is way better than a shopping mall any day. (Even though she still had to get that out of her system.)

One of the best parts of the week was to bask in the lushness of that rain forest region of towering woods full of ferns growing on the forest floor (my favourite plant) and the gardens bursting with foliage – particularly those regal rhododendrons, which were gigantic in some cases and all in full bloom.

What a feast for the eyes to see those big bouquet-like blossoms of white, red, pink, purple and mauve growing everywhere we went – wow – but the best treat in store for me was coming back home!

Cruising slowly along the Hope-Princeton Highway, I stopped everywhere to enjoy the mountain meadows of the Cascades, inhale the heady scents of pine and sage along the Similkameen River and drink in the views of the Okanagan valley with all the glistening lakes and acres of orchards and wineries.

For years I’ve missed the blooms at Pacific Rhododendron Park, (located just within the western gates of Manning Park), but this time I hit it just right because of our early spring, so with camera in hand, I silently walked the winding trail through the woods to revel in the presence of the ‘rose trees of the forest.’

Now there’s nothing more lovely to me than to see that beautiful plant in a natural setting, growing between the trees on a carpet of green moss, with their branches reaching up to seek out the sun and the smaller and mostly pink blossoms speckled by the light and shade, making it all feel like I was in some kind of enchanted forest.

This is what the sign said about them: – ‘rhododendron comes from the Greek word meaning rose tree, and the Pacific rhododendron could compete with even the showiest of the hybrid roses.

Reaching a sprawling height of up to eight metres, it surpasses many of its cultivated cousins.

Of the 600 different species worldwide, only 27 varieties occur in North America, and because of it’s rarity, the Pacific rhododendron is protected by law. They are only found in isolated populations in Manning Park, the Skagit Valley, near Mt. Rainer, the Olympic peninsula and by Parksville and Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island.

Their strategy to survive the nutrient-scarce forests is to form a strong partnership with a fungus called ectotrophic mycorrhiza, which exchanges sugars and water for carbon dioxide and sunlight.’

It’s always worth taking the slow lane if you can to enjoy our beautiful natural and man-made surroundings.

So next time you plan a road trip to the Coast, allow yourself some time to not only stop and smell the roses, but to hopefully be rewarded by something extraordinary, like catching those rare roses of the forest too.