I met Michele Parker last June, via email, when I sent a love letter to those who followed my newsletter. I wanted to make a deeper connection with my readers, I wanted to get to know those who were getting a glimpse into my life, my artistic dreams. A half-dozen souls answered my message in a bottle. Warmly and openly they shared their lives, their art, their garden dreams. I got to know them and was thrilled to share their beautiful paintings, poems, and stories.
I thought, Wow, how lucky I am to know these people!
I connected with them all, but Michele and I really hit it off.
This woman, who describes herself as “loving all things green, winged and dressed in fur,” is a force of nature (oh, the powers she embodies: a keen intellect, so many talents, and amazing energy), and yet the most beautiful thing about her is her wise, gentle soul. We connected deeply when we discovered that an experience I had written about years ago dovetailed (in a supernatural way!) to an experience in her life. It’s a long story that I hope to share one day, but let’s just say that it involved those who have passed on bringing us together. We call it “big magic,” a la Elizabeth Gilbert’s book. Michele and I became pen pals, shooting off dozens of emails, sharing joys, trials, ambitions, loves. You know something special is happening when you write a long email, press the send button, and the person you’re writing has written you at exactly the same time! That’s happened more than once.
I could go on and on about Michele, but I will instead do what I’ve set out to do and introduce you to her via an interview. You see, today is very special. It’s Earth Day and Michele is launching her new brand new blog, Garden Love! Her first post tells about her start as a gardener almost 20 years ago on her five acre, Zone 3, piece of land in Manitoba, Canada.
Flora’s Forum: Congratulations on your blog launch! Love and gardening, Garden Love. Yes, that says it all. How did you get your start in gardening?
Michele Parker: Thank you! The love of gardening is all down to my mother. Her greatest joy was nurturing the growth of plants. Each home we lived in growing up was ﬁlled with all manner of trailing, arching, bushy, spiky, ﬂowering and upright plants. Seeds were started in the basement and transplanted in the backyard, trees planted, garden beds created . . . chives and herbs lived happily outside the back door and close to the kitchen.
The Findhorn Garden was one of her favourite books, and it led both of us deeper into the wonder and magic of co-creating with nature—beyond the practical aspects of planting and into the mystery of life itself. My website is dedicated in loving memory to her.
“The vine in this picture is Macropetala clematis ‘Bluebird.’ She’s been in place there for almost 20 years and I have a post on her in Garden Love. My blog will include Plant Profiles of some of my hale and hearty favourites every so often, just to highlight some of the plants that have been exceptional and admired for one reason or another.”
Flora’s Forum: I love your style—very cottage garden-y, with the vegetables and ﬂowers, a blend of easy-going and organized. Who are your style inﬂuences?
English gardens have always been my ﬁrst love. The novels of Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy and of course, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden are dear to my heart and have been a huge inﬂuence on my garden style. I admire the English garden designer, Rosemary Verey—she designed many quintessential English Country Gardens, including the Barnsley House gardens in the Cotswolds. I own several of her books and often return to them for a good inspirational shot in the arm whenever I need it.
On a more contemporary side, I have also been deeply inspired by the writing and gardens of Patrick Lima, a Canadian gardener who lives on the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario. His writing beautifully illustrates the growth and changes within his beloved Larkwhistle garden. If you get a chance to read his book The Art of Perennial Gardening I highly recommend it!
Flora’s Forum: Do you have any unusual garden obsessions?
Michele Parker: Oh my—YES! Aquilegia is my garden obsession—common name is columbine. The native Aquilegia canadensis has happily self-seeded in my garden for years, which has led me to explore all the colourful hybrids as well. Two years ago I purchased 7 seed packets of varying colours, shapes and sizes and tossed them with abandon into the garden surrounding my pond. I started to doubt my haphazard approach until this spring as I scratched around the fallen litter to discover tiny aquilegia seedlings emerging from the ground. I just about peed my pants I was so excited! I will deﬁnitely be sharing their progress on the Garden Love blog.
“This is a southfacing foundation bed at what used to be the front of the ‘little blue house’ that was on the property. (Our addition is to the left.) All the perennials have meshed together and run in wild abandon: shasta daisies, daylilies, hostas. Virginia creeper, hops, and clematis ‘Jacmanii’ are the vines you see climbing the side of the house.”
Flora’s Forum: If you could only grow ﬂowers or veggies, what would you choose, and why? (I think this means practical or frivolous to some, but not to me!)
Michele Parker: Flowers. There are many ways I can feed my body . . . but my Soul requires ﬂowers.
Flora’s Forum: I agree! Sometimes I feel guilty about that, a little, because I feel I should grow even more food, but I can’t help it! What are your favorite books (gardening, ﬁction, nonﬁction), authors, and music?
Michele Parker: The books which have struck a resonating chord with me . . . Richard Bach’s Johnathan Livingston Seagull, The Reluctant Messiah, and One all contained a theme of following your heart and a knowing that there is more to living than meets the eye. Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet was a book my brother Jim gave me which touched me deeply with its prose and message of unconditional love. Mary Stewart’s tale of a young Merlin discovering his natural gifts in The Crystal Cave was an enchanting thrill for me to read—but one of my favourite books of all time is the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor/philosopher from the ﬁrst century AD whose insights and wisdom are truly timeless.
Music is where it gets eclectic for me . . . our family grew up surrounded by music—my Dad would often play Glenn Miller big band type music and always brought home a huge variety of music from the radio station where he was the morning man here in Winnipeg. My mom was an accomplished pianist and my brother Scott writes his own music and plays guitar beautifully. I instantly loved the piano and practically begged for lessons as a little girl. Dearest to my heart though, hands down is Beethoven. The Allegretto from his Symphony No 7 can literally bring me to tears. It’s funny, of all the songs I learned to play on the piano, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and Fur Elise have never left the memory of my ﬁngertips . . . he is in my blood.
Flora’s Forum: I know you paint too, and you write! A life surrounded with ART. I love it. Okay, back to gardening. What do you enjoy most about gardening? What do you hate?
Michele Parker: This is really difﬁcult to answer. When I garden it is such an immersive feeling that it’s really challenging to pick out one aspect which I enjoy most. To be honest, I’ve recently had an insight into the heart of my love for gardening and nature overall which came to me on a walk the other day with the dogs . . . lost in thought, my mind swimming with ‘to do’ lists and questions, the song of a robin cut through my distraction and captured my attention instantly. I became present again to the beauty surrounding me in that moment.
Gardening, even one perfect ﬂower, has the power to capture our attention and safely deliver us into the present moment where life is happening—away from our stresses and worries of the future or demons of the past. I love the power of nature to heal the human spirit in this way . . . it gently reminds us to be fully present. If our mind is elsewhere when we are gardening—we might as well be doing the dishes in the kitchen.
“This is the vegetable garden being watered in the early morning. The scarlet runner beans are growing up a teepee I made out of branches collected from our woods–the hummingbirds of course love the red flowers, and I primarily grow it each year just for their pleasure. Our vegetable garden lies to the east of our house and receives full sun for most of the day, although there are shaded areas in the late afternoon as the sun falls behind the tall trees and house.”
Flora’s Forum: Any big projects in the works?
Michele Parker: I have a major overhaul to do in two foundation beds at the front of the house this season. Tens years of certain plants running amuck (globe thistle I’m talking to you!) and others in desperate need of dividing means I’m planning some serious refurbishing!
I’ve also become interested in creating more habitats speciﬁcally for bees and butterﬂies in our yard. A new butterﬂy garden is in the works which will include many milkweed plants for the monarch butterﬂies in particular, but also another ﬂower bed which will be a lot of fun, that will contain mostly colourful and nectar-rich annual ﬂowers just outside the vegetable garden.
My husband Ray is going to begin work on the screened back porch off our living room as well, and part of his plan there is to include two large planters on either side of the stairs which will add some more wonderful plant life to that part of our yard as well!
Flora’s Forum: I know this is Flora’s Forum, but I could very well love having a blog called Flora’s Fauna, about animals! We’re alike in that way too; mad for our pets and the wild creatures. Tell us a little about your pets, please.
Michele Parker: Cali and Max are the true heartbeat of our home in the country. We never went looking for any of our dogs, they all just kind of found us. Max arrived one Monday afternoon when I happened to be home with the ﬂu from work. My older dog Lily was out on the back deck and I heard her barking so went to see what the fuss was all about. Standing shyly at the side of our house was an emaciated young dog. I said “Well hello there” and he ran over and pressed his body against my legs and looked up at me as if to say “Can you please help me?” He had grown into the collar that was around his neck and was desperately in need of food. I took him to the vet and we tried for a week to ﬁnd his owners but no one appeared to be looking for him. The vet phoned after a week and told me they couldn’t hold him any longer and had to ship him off to the humane society. I said, “I’ll be right over to bring him home, thank you.”
Cali came on the heels of a summer where we had to say good-bye to our beloved ﬁrst dog, Lily. I promised Lily in her last days that I would bring her home again if I could, and that I would watch for her and recognize her eyes when I saw them. A random email arrived later that fall from a rescue shelter in Saskatchewan with a handful of photo attachments of a litter of puppies they were trying to ﬁnd homes for. One after the other I opened and each received the customary “Ahhhh!” then the last photo I opened sent an electric shock up the back of my spine when I saw the eyes looking back at me . . . I called Ray to come and see . . . at the same moment he was calling me to run into the living room and see this dog on television that looked EXACTLY like our Lily.
I don’t ignore synchronicity in my life. . . . We drove 6 hours to pick Cali up and bring her home and she’s been the Queen of the garden ever since. I brought my girl home again.
Max is on the left, Cali on the right.
This is Zeus, Michele’s handsome American Paint horse. She has an amazing story about how he came into her life as well, which I hope she will share one day on Garden Love!
Flora’s Forum: That is a beautiful story about Lily/Cali! One more gardening question—do you ﬁnd any big differences between American and Canadian gardeners?
Michele Parker: I’ve had a chance to meet some wonderful gardeners from America—yourself included—that share the same passions we do here in Canada, and I have never come across any discernible differences between us. I really do believe this is a universal language we all share. The types of plants which are native to each of our varying zones may differ in form and habit, and I can only DREAM of growing magnolia trees or massive rhododendrons here, but the impulse and desire which gets us all digging in the dirt and nurturing plant life is the same wherever we are on the planet.
Flora’s Forum: I believe you’re right. The gardening heart is universal. My final question: In the overall garden of life, what’s germinating for Michele Parker now? What beautiful things will Garden Love to be the jumping off point for?
Michele Parker: Well, I’ve spent close to twenty years working in the corporate world with some incredible people—some will be friends for the rest of my life. I learned a lot about communication, teaching through documentation and having to think fast on my feet in order to ﬁnd solutions to immediate problems. But I feel an internal shift happening that is telling me, “It’s really time for a change Michele.”
Setting up Garden Love and preparing all the tech side of things was a huge learning curve for me—and yet I’ve never been so excited, scared or engaged as I feel right now. I’m doing what I absolutely LOVE; writing, sharing, expressing myself creatively and talking about gardening!
I don’t know where this will lead . . . I only know I’m open and ready for more adventures in my own backyard and can’t wait to ﬁnd out what I’m going to learn from fellow gardeners in the near future—that’s the x-factor and that’s where the magic lies . . . just keep moving forward.
Flora’s Forum: Thank you, Michele, and Happy Earth Day, everyone!
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