ENRICHED LIVES: Barbara Rivett, a faerie assistant to Mother Nature

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I am inaugurating this new section of my blog with a bio about BARBARA RIVETT, “The faerie assistant to Mother Nature.”  Barbara, a loving mother of 4, caring grandmother of 11 and endearing partner of 1, lives in the heart of a middle sized city bordering the metropolis of Toronto, Pickering, Canada. She has been a secondary and elementary school teacher, piano student, university attendant, sometime painter, and occasional photographer. But besides her family, she has a passion for gardening. Her gardening philosophy is “Nature will take care of creating beauty, so stand aside! Her half acre of residential land is a tribute to the majesty of Mother Nature’s arboreal and floral splendour with nary a penny given to commercialized enhancement. Her only assistants in developing her splendidly natural landscape has been a team of contractors who have done the work without pay: squirrels, birds, chipmunks, butterflies and the like. Contracted to doing their work annually, they scurry and flit about her yard ceaseless developing the beauty of her property.

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When did you start gardening?

As a youngster, I helped my mother maintain the garden at our family summer home. It was a fantastic place, half an acre with majestic Dutch elms and landscaped shade gardens, as well as flower beds filled with annuals. As well in the city, I had my own garden for flowers and vegetables. I can still remember the pride I felt when my mother used my freshly harvested vegetables for our meals.

Who inspired you to start gardening?

My maternal grandmother, a poor Polish immigrant, treasured her limited gardens, a concentrated vegetable garden and an outstanding flower garden. I first learned about propagation from cuttings from my granny whose three daughters received roses from boyfriends. Over the years granny developed a gorgeous rose garden, all from cuttings.

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Why do you garden?

As a child, it was an opportunity to share a passion with my mother. I’m sure it was a pleasure for her to see my interest grow and my knowledge develop. I appreciate art in its many forms, but I think, at an early age, through my mother, I learned to savour the “living art of nature.” Every spring, my heart spills over with the wonder and beauty of new life, from cuttings or seeds, from the awakening of perennials and from the return of our birds and butterflies. Raising four children, gardening was limited to maintenance and productivity of a very large vegetable patch. But about 10 years ago, I started my dream to naturalize my half acre. I planted many trees and slowly naturalized 90% of the property, including the city’s land along the street. My aim was to create a habitat for a variety of wild life and a little piece of nature’s art to enjoy. This spring there was a scarlet Tanager, a rare sight in a city garden. Many other varieties of birds often visit, and occasionally there are even owls. Of my 11 grandchildren, two granddaughters show a love for gardening, one has even created her very own small garden. All of my children, 2 boys and 2 girls love and appreciate gardening and nature. IMG_1184 IMG_1164

Wild poppies !

What other hobbies do you have?

I love to ski, snowshoe and swim. I enjoy reading historical fiction and I belong to a local book club. I am taking adult education courses at the University of Toronto, attending lectures weekly. On holidays, I snorkel too.

What other artistic, creative outlets do you enjoy?

I have dabbled in painting, sketching, photography and flow pressing to create cards. By far though, my greatest creative outlet is my garden.

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Where do you find your sources, ideas, inspiration?

My inspirations come from other gardens, such as the Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island: the inspiring story of Jenny Butchart, one woman with a dream, converting an abandoned quarry into a huge, lush, gorgeous garden. Also I research information about plants, shrubs, trees, etc. that are best for food for birds and butterflies.

Anyone who knows me, offers suggestions, especially my family, and plants too, when they are down sizing, or in various stages of their growth.

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When did you start your present garden?

The street garden is a story. About 6 years ago, I discovered about a dozen of the wild poppies. I’ll never know how they got here, and I have yet to see them anywhere else in Pickering. (I have had many such gifts over the years, probably from squirrels and birds. I have an oak and mulberry tree, wild strawberries and many wild flowers – all gifts of nature, I am certain.

The following spring I planted them along the street garden fence. A friend gave me about a dozen tiny trees from her wood lot, and many dwarf iris for along the curb. Another friend’s daughter helped me with the ‘lasagna part’ of the garden — large sheets of cardboard recycled from industrial bins layered alternately with mulch and manure to kill the cut weed/grass and nourish the soil which was very sandy. I learned that dandelion and thistle can grow through multiple layers of cardboard! I split all of the perennials from the rest of the property and planted them along the street garden. Then nature did the rest — hundreds of poppies and huge clumps of perennials with many mature trees!

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How did you go about planning and developing your gardens?

Landscaping a garden so large would be too costly with purchases. So the development hinges on availability of plants from others or splitting of my existing perennials. I like a Monet sort of planning – very little – so that it has the look of nature’s hand waving over it. I’ve tried some sort of symmetry in a small area by the deck, but the influences of sun, wind, soil, etc. takes over and changes it!

What are your favourite plants?

For hummingbirds:  honeysuckle vine, Monarda

For robins, etc.:   sumac, honeysuckle, bushes, trees, mulberry trees

For butterflies:   phlox, butterfly bush, sedum, lavender, French marigold, cosmos, milkweed, etc.

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The most difficult tree to grow:  the “scandalous Ottawa Senator”

Why do you like those plants?

Of course, I love being surrounded by all of the attracted nature and entertaining show they provide. Cutting the flowers for a small arrangement gives the opportunity to appreciate the intricate designs and patterns of colours of the blooms. But those plants add to the life of my garden, my living piece of art.


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To view Barbara Rivett’s beautiful garden, drive by 1491 Old Forest Rd., Pickering and bring your camera. Mother Nature changes the display weekly after Victoria Day!

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