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Wendy Vreeken Banham

Guest Contributor, Wendy Vreeken Banham

A Daughter’s Priorities – by Wendy

Image: Mark Winwood (c) Dorling Kindersley

Winter gardening (or, a daughter’s priorities)

I’ve been meaning to write a column about winter gardening for weeks now, but when I sit in front of the blank page, all my brain is full of are these four words:  My Mother has cancer.  So, I admit it, this isn’t a column about gardening at all.

My Mom’s foot starting swelling back in June.  Soon afterwards her whole leg started filling up, then the other foot, and the other leg, and finally, her abdomen.  There was a seemingly endless parade of medical appointments, and eventually, a referral to an internal medicine specialist.   He told us a CT scan would reveal the answers.  When we received our date for the scan, it was a very long two months away.

By then my Mom had already lost her quality of life.  She could no longer go to her regular exercise classes with her beloved girls. She could barely get her feet into oversized running shoes.  Only one pair of pants would fit over her oversized legs, belly and bottom.  She was tired.  Doing anything was an effort.  My normally active, healthy 83-year-old Mom had finally turned into an old lady, relying on her three children and their partners, and her huge circle of loving friends and neighbours for virtually everything.

Eventually I took my Mom for her scan.  We were to wait two weeks for the results.  Two weeks!  What happened instead was that we ended up in the ER after an episode of severe pain just a few days later.

I will never forget when the extremely kind and gentle ER doctor pulled the current around us and said, “unfortunately I have some bad news.”  I grabbed my Mama’s hand and held on tight.

How her life and ours has changed in four short weeks.  She has already had her first round of chemo.  There is a dizzying array of hospital visits, for blood work, chemo and visits with the Oncologist.  She is also getting house visits from a nurse, a physiotherapist, and a very kind and respectful woman who helps her have a shower.  On the chemo days, there are drugs.  Lots of drugs.  And many boring hours to fill.  But we’re told her Lymphoma is very treatable, and by the end of treatment she should have her quality of life back.  I sure hope so.

Meanwhile, I never got around to writing about the bulbs I like to plant, much less actually planting them.  I never got to tell you about my favourites.  The ones that have worked out, and the ones that, well, not so much.  My bulb garden is taking the winter off.

Instead of tending my garden, I am tending my Mother.  We all are, and we hope that she flourishes.

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Guest Contributor, Wendy Vreeken Banham

Fall Garden – by Wendy Vreeken Banham

I love my garden. Not like I love my husband or my children, of course. But it is hard to beat the joy of being outside with my hands in the dirt.

It’s truly my happy place enjoying when weeding beds, deadheading flowers, and generally finding ways for the garden to look as beautiful as possible.

The payoff is so cool. I admit it, I love it when guests come over and say, “wow!”
My garden is far from perfect.


Here it is back in August, at its peak. Well, actually, a lot of the perennials had already finished blooming, but it still looked pretty nice.

Now, not so much.

Now, usually, I’d already be in cleaning up mode…but this year, I’m of mixed mind.

Recently an article spoke about letting your garden “be” in the Fall. Just letting it do what it does, in all its messiness. It offends me a bit.

I’ve always had a ‘scorched earth’ approach to Fall cleanup. Everything must go! Seedheads, begone! Long tall spent flowers – off with your heads! Dahlia tubers – out you get; time to get comfy and cozy in a nice box, away for the winter

This year I’m thinking, maybe I will just let it be.

I will stay busy digging up those dandelions and the clumps of grass that seem to grow in my garden beds – and Dahlia tubers, yes, those need to get dug up, cleaned off, and put away.

Other than that – I’m going to let it be. All of which would save me a tonne of work!

Why? Because all of that spent vegetation in your garden beds is actually terrific habitat for bugs. Those seed heads are great food for birds. Ladybugs, who eat Aphids in the Spring, need a place of refuge for the Winter. Bees, that are increasingly endangered, need a place to overwinter. Snakes and frogs are looking for a home as well. The more you dig up spent perennials, the more habitat you destroy.

So this year, I’m taking the opportunity to be a bit lazy under the guise of being environmentally responsible.

I’m hoping this new approach can actually be a boon to the bugs and birds that form the bottom of nature’s food chain. So, I’m going to do the world (and my back) a favour, and be lazy for a change.
Happy gardening!

About Wendy:

I’m from a previous generation of news gals who really enjoys this new site. My passion is now gardening, as I sit on the edge of retirement. I’ve worked with Kristina Matisic and Corinne Newell, and am thrilled to add my name to the list of guest contributors.


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