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Becoming A Garden Column-ist
by Janet Davis
by Janet Davis


Janet Davis is a freelance garden writer and horticultural photographer whose stories and images have been featured in numerous publications. Magazines featuring her work include Canadian Gardening, Canadian Living, Gardening Life, President’s Choice Magazine, Chatelaine Gardens and, in the United States, Fine Gardening and Country Living Gardener.


April 3, 2011

PostwithBirdhouses2.jpg (25916 bytes)

 A 4 x 4 post with painted birdhouses. The plant on the right is monkshood.
Aconitum bicolor

In my garden, I have a lot of 4 x 4's. Not the kind with four-wheel drive and anti-lock braking but the ones made of cedar or spruce. In fact, where some gardeners might collect dianthus or philadelphus, I own an extensive collection of very fine posts.
You see, about the same time my husband and I discovered we were not the people realtors have in mind when they refer to "handyman specials", I started to long for structure. Not the kind of structure you get from planting a $20 white pine and waiting a few decades for it to grow. No, I wanted cheap-and-cheerful structure - the type you get at the lumberyard.
English garden books with photos of arches dripping with roses had given me a bad case of arch-rivalry, but how to get the darned things up, if not with sturdy posts? So we mulled over our options before deciding that plunking a post into the ground wasn't exactly advanced carpentry: we'd do it ourselves! Armed with spade, wheelbarrow, carpenter's level and a bag of ready-mix cement (that guaranteed a hernia on lifting), we decided to get some initial practice on our first post project, the sidewalk into the back garden. Here, I'd decided, was the perfect spot to span an arch of bittersweet vine. But because bittersweet needs a male and female growing in proximity to create the bright orange berries I desired, I realized I needed not one, but two arches. Not to worry! We heaved, and dug, and snipped roots and cleared rocks until finally, with four deep holes gaping on each side of the walk, we were ready. Lowering in the posts, we scrunched our eyes shut as we mixed water with the fine-textured cement powder. With the holes filled, it was time to place our fine new columns.

Him: "Hold the post straight."
Her: "It is straight! You're crooked."
Her: "I thought all these posts were the same length? Why is that one taller?"
Him: "Never mind, I'll use a skil-saw."
Her: "Isn't that for people with skill?"

Well, you get the idea. That was many years ago. Today, the bittersweet scrambles over the path, tied to the elegant iron arches an accommodating blacksmith bolted to the four posts.
On our sundeck, another post holds up the pivotal corner of a massive arbour draped with a rampant vine. We used to joke that if the whole thing collapsed, it would give new meaning to the term "post-partum depression."
And in a garden beside the patio, three hand-painted birdhouses found a new home attached to the sides of a simple post topped by a fancy finial. Over the years, the post has become hidden by purple and pink clematis vines. Each spring, the chickadees drop by to have a quick look, but they've never moved in.
Could be the cat. Then again, maybe the birds don't fancy "post-modern architecture".

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