Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cointreau and Maple Syrup: A Bit of Paris in Our Canadian Capital

Cointreau and Maple Syrup: A Bit of Paris in Our Canadian Capital: Playing with the Big Kids

Chef Herve fixes the class, arranged attentively in front of him, with his intense blue eyes. He is explaining the intricacies of that elusive and challenging French concoction, pate a choux. This deceptively simple mixture of eggs, milk and flour will, in the right hands, result in those most glorious of patisseries – the éclair, the ‘religieuses au cafe’ or those elegant swans filled with cream that are to be found only in the best pastry shops. Choux pastry, Chef informed us, was invented by an Italian pastry chef called Opelini in 1540, but it was developed and perfected by French chefs.
Chef is explaining, while he demonstrates, that it is crucial to add the next egg yolk only after the first has been correctly incorporated. “Do not over mix. Do not under mix. You will know, if you are paying attention “– ( he stares pointedly at one sleepy student who is having trouble keeping his eyes open) “precisely when the time is right.”
In the overhead mirrors, and on the television screens at the side of the room, we watch as he drops one yolk into the flour and milk and begins to stir.
He holds up the bowl “Not yet”, and stirs again.
“Not yet.” More stirring.
“ Now! It is ready for the next yolk.” And amazingly, we can clearly see that exact moment when the texture of the mix changes from too runny to just right.
I make a note. I will need to know this for the practical class to come. I have made pate a choux before. To be more accurate, I have attempted pate a choux before, with varying degrees of success. This afternoon, however, I will be playing with the big kids in the kitchen, the candidates for the Cordon Bleu who will be out to score big marks for their éclairs and swans. I don’t want to embarrass myself.
The Lyonnais accent of Chef Herve, the fanatical devotion to the details of cuisine, the sparkling white chefs’ jackets with their bright blue logos, - all would suggest a Parisienne kitchen. This, however, is the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Ottawa, the only fully accredited Cordon Bleu in North America, and one of only two cooking schools named to the list of the ten best on the continent.
Housed in the renovated Munross Mansion on Laurier Avenue, Le Cordon Bleu Paris Ottawa Culinary Arts Institute is teaching students from around the world to master the art of French cooking. The school, which originated in Paris in 1895, got its nme from the 1578 foundation of the Order of Knights of the Holy Spirit. The members of the order wore a medal suspended on a blue ribbon, and their spectacular feasts became legendary. The expression “Cordon Bleu” was later applied to mean an outstanding chef. Today there are 22 schools located in 12 countries. It is owned by Andre J. Cointreau, a direct descendant of the French Cointreau liqueur and Remy Marin cognac dynasties.
There is little doubt that the Ottawa Cordon Bleu is a bit of Paris transported to Canada. The minute you enter the door, the French style is front and centre. The high ceilinged rooms on the main floor are decorated in yellow and blue, with echoes of 17th century France, designed by Le Cordon Bleu’s sister company, Pierre Deux-French Country. It is an elegant and sophisticated space, particularly the small private dining rooms and the award winning restaurant run by the school, Signatures. The building for many years was the University Club, and, in the dark panelled bar, you can see the place where Pierre Trudeau spent many an evening when he was a student.
It isn’t until you enter the teaching areas that you realize that this is also a thoroughly modern state-of-the-art culinary school. The practice kitchens are immaculate stainless steel, with a fridge, stove and work for each station. On the top floor is the piece de resistance – an over the top fabulous teaching kitchen with Electrolux ovens and white tiles whose equal can be found in only one other place in the world – the kitchens of the Queen Mary 11.
I spent a full day at the Cordon Bleu – the morning in the demonstration lecture, and three hours with the students in the teaching kitchen completing the day’s cooking assignment. We were to produce six eclairs, three chocolate ones and three mocha ones, three religieuses, (a small ball of choux place on top of a larger ball, glazed and piped with pastry cream to resemble a nun’s habit), and three swans.
I’d like to tell you that my swans were a thing of beauty. I can tell you that they tasted heavenly, and that Chef Malik, in charge of marking the students in the practice kitchen, tasted one of my éclairs and deemed it to be “quite good.” Also, I was not at the bottom of the class. The sleepy-eyed boy ruined his first batch of pate a choux and never managed to produce even a deflated éclair. However the young girl next to me who looked to be no more than eighteen, and who is obviously on a fast track to her first Michelin star, was finished significantly faster than anyone else in the class, and her swans and éclairs were works of art.
I loved every minute of my day here. It was exciting and demanding, but it is not for everyone.. I know cooks who have taken every cooking class you can name who would love to take the challenge of a day in the company of such dedicated chefs. But I also know some who would be intimidated. For them, the school offers evening or weekend courses, covering things like plate presentation, hot and cold soups, or decorative garnishes. There are three day to four week courses in traditional bread baking and French Regional cooking. It is also possible to just sit in on the morning demonstration and lecture, without doing the kitchen practical. There is a class for every level of interest and expertise.
Outside the class, Ottawa seems to be claiming the culinary crown. I dined in the brand new Metropolitan, a bistro that rocked with energy and style and served an authentic steak and frites to rival any Paris bistro. Wilfreds, the dining room in the Chateau Laurier, is serving exquisite local specialties like Rack of Wild Nunavut Caribou with braised pearl barley and sun-dried blueberries. One morning I toured the Byward market with the executive chef from the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, and learned his secret sources for unpasturized cheese, the best rasberries and the dearest fingerling potatoes. He even introduced me to a woman on the market who sold a slice of fungus from which you could grow your own oyster mushrooms. How French is that?
In fact, these days in our capital, if you squint your eyes a bit, the Peace Tower could look a lot like the Eiffel Tower.

If You Go
Culinary Culture Package
A Chef In Three Days!
August 05 to August 07, and August 12 to August 14, 2005
Ottawa's Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute and Fairmont Château Laurier have combined culinary forces offering three day getaway for anyone who loves to cook. The Culinary Culture Package offers two nights accommodation, a chef's jacket and apron, breakfast and culinary tour through the ByWard Market (Ottawa oldest operated farmers market) with Fairmont Château Laurier's Executive Chef. Cordon Bleu Chefs will then sweeten things up with a half day pastry and chocolate workshops featuring hands on experience and plenty of taste testing. The package also includes passes to some of Ottawa's most popular sights.
Package Includes:
• Two nights stay, Friday and Saturday
• Buffet breakfast in Wilfrid's with the Chef (or sous-chef in his absence) followed by a walk through the By Ward Market.
• In-room welcome amenity from the Chef
• Two tickets to the featured exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada or two tickets to the Canadian Museum of Civilization
Le Cordon Bleu Paris Ottawa Culinary Arts Institute
(613)-236-CHEF (2433)
Toll Free: 1-888-289-6302

Via Rail
There are several trains that will take you hassle free to the train station in Ottawa, a ten minute taxi ride from the centre of the city.

Travel Writers Offer Top 10 Tips To Save Money Traveling


February 24, 2009: The Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), the world’s largest association of professional travel journalists and photographers, recently polled its members to discover the top 10 universal tips on how to save money traveling.

“There’s never been a better time to travel,” states SATW president Bea Broda. “With the economy the way it is, there are deals everywhere – and the Internet has made them easy to discover,” Broda says.

She suggests travelers should register online with airlines, hotels and car rental companies to receive updates and information on their special offers and packages. Comparison search engines such as www.kayak.com and www.bookingbuddy.com are helpful to find the best Internet prices.

Here, from people who travel for a living, are 10 practical ways to save money on vacation travel, with selected comments from SATW members:

1. Travel in the off-season or on the edges of popular seasons.

· “Traveling in the off-season saves big bucks on hotels and transportation, but there are other pluses too, such as fewer crowds and hence shorter lines at museums, churches, restaurants and so on.” Susan Farlow, freelance travel writer

· “Traveling off-season means cab drivers, hoteliers, merchants and locals are more accommodating and welcoming; you’ll have a better experience at a lower cost,” Judy Wells, freelance travel writer, TravelontheLevel.com

2. Get to know local bus/metro transportation for city stays. Ask about multi-day specials and special one-day tourist cards. Some international rail and travel cards must be purchased before you arrive in that country. Look at transportation Web sites for the cities and countries you will visit. For instance, the Visitor Oyster Card, good on all public transport in London, must be purchased before you arrive in London.

· “Public transport allows you to get to know the flavors and nuances of the people in a foreign country, and you have the serendipity of encountering kind gestures and helpful questions,” Roger Toll, freelance travel writer

· Using public transportation is not only less expensive than car rentals or cabs, but can also be ‘green,’ helping a community keep open streets and clean air,” Martin Hintz, freelance travel writer

3. Picnic instead of eating every meal in restaurants. Visit markets, bakeries, local shops and delis…but avoid uncooked street food and wash fruit with bottled water.

· “Shopping at local markets is not only a less expensive way to eat, it can be healthier (who needs all those sauces?) . You get a local’s view of the area and you can try lots of interesting foods and then eat them in parks and gardens.” Christine Loomis, freelance travel writer/editor

· “My husband and I often picnic in our room. A good bottle of local wine from a liquor store costs a fraction of those on restaurant menus. And take out food from local gourmet shops and markets not only give us quality equal to a fancy restaurant, but it is what the locals eat and take home. And we never buy water in a hotel, which is usually over-priced,” Mary Ann Treger, freelance writer

· “What’s better and cheaper than a baquette in Paris for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Stan Wawer, travel editor

4. Eat your big meal at lunch when prices are cheaper and go light on dinner.

· “Luncheon prices at restaurants are amazingly low compared to dinner prices. You don’t have to make reservations usually, and the food tastes the same, only with reduced prices, you can afford more courses,” Lorraine O’Donnel Williams, travel writer

· “Lunch at the Tour d’Argent in Paris, a wonderful restaurant, is half the dinner price. Same ambience, same service, same duck.” Alan Solomon, freelance travel writer

5. Use public transportation between airports and cities. Don’t rent cars in a city and pay for parking. If traveling to the countryside afterwards, pick up your car at the end of your city stay.

· “Public transportation to and from the airport is the way to go. Even if you’re renting a car, you can do so in the city and save on airport facility charges,” Al Bonowitz, editor, Hawaii Westways Magazine

· "Stay in a big city's suburbs and use public transportation to save money. You can catch the efficient Metro subway just outside Washington's Reagan National Airport and ride it to the nearby suburbs for accommodations, then take it downtown to enjoy the museums or the National Zoo.'' Robert Jenkins, former travel editor and freelance travel writer

6. Make your first stop the local visitors center and collect coupons, brochures, free maps, etc. Ask the staff about insider tips – free days at museums, matinees, free parking, and money saving programs like City Pass, www.citypass.com

Also, be sure to visit the Web sites of convention bureaus and state tourism offices before your visit. They often offer special rates, coupons and discount information.

· “To my delight, an early stop at the Visitor Center in London coincided with their free continental breakfast AND they had great deals on half-price and last-minute theatre tickets,” Christine Potter, travel journalist

7. Stay in accommodations that offer free breakfast and that have a refrigerator so you can store snacks.

· “If you really load up at breakfast, you can skip lunch altogether, perhaps getting by with a snack if necessary.” Robert Haru Fisher, columnist and contributing editor, frommers.com

8. Go to less well-known destinations.

· “Across the world, less well-known destinations – i.e. getting off the beaten track – is cheaper as well as more fun,” Chris Tree, freelance writer

9. Do a home swap or rent a vacation home rental rather than a hotel.

· “Renting a real home in a small town, or better, village, gives you a chance to feel that you live in the place – you meet more people, find out more about they live and more about their culture,” Catherine Watson, freelance writer/photographer

10. In cities, stay at business hotels on the weekends where there are often better room rates and restaurant deals. Shop for hotels near, not on, the biggest street. When booking your room, ask, “Is this the best rate available? Do you have any specials at the moment?” Also ask if they offer discounts for AAA, AARP or other membership programs.

· “You’ll pay much more for that hotel on the city’s main street. Wander a few blocks in any direction and you’ll have the same neighborhood without the premium price,” Margie Goldsmith, freelance writer

The Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) is a non-profit professional association that works to promote responsible travel journalism and to provide professional support for its members, including travel journalists, photographers, editors, electronic media, film lecturers, television and film producers, and public relations representatives from the travel industry.

For more information on the Society of American Travel Writers, visit www.satw.org

900 Miles Out to Sea

900 Hundred Miles Out to Sea

At first glance, the idea of a sea crossing, even on a luxury yacht, arouses skepticism. Why on earth would anyone pay money to spend eleven days encased in a small container, bobbing around in the south Atlantic, without the distractions of shore excursions or varied ports of call? Why would anyone want to be nine hundred miles from the nearest landfall, completely surrounded by water that at this point is over three miles deep?

The answer is one word: peace.

Let me explain by way of example: As I boarded the ship, a harried gentleman, red faced, obviously wired, a drink in one hand and his cell phone in the other, was panicking because, while checking in, he had missed three messages. He spent the next twenty minutes huddled over his phone, trying to catch up. Three hours after we left port, he was no longer able to receive or send . The difference, when I saw him at breakfast the next day, was amazing. Now relaxed, outgoing and sociable instead of lost in work, he was discovering himself, his wife, and his surroundings.

A repositioning cruise, such as the one I did on the Seadream 11, a 116 passenger yacht, is a special kind of cruise. Because many cruise lines have to move their ships from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean for the winter season, (and vice versa in the Spring) they often offer attractively priced voyages for the cruiser who likes the days at sea and doesn’t miss the port stops.

My cruise was an eleven day voyage that left from Tenerife in the Canary Islands, stopped for the day at Mindelo, on Porto Grande in the Cape Verde Islands, and then sailed directly across the south Atlantic to Bridgetown Barbados. 

This is not the cruise for everyone. It suits me perfectly. I like people, love to have the time to listen to their stories and get to know them. I like the peace of being able to sit in a deck chair and read for as long as I want, without a cruise director trying to involve me in a shuffleboard tournament.

Any one without the social instinct, anyone afraid of being alone with themselves, or, even more frightening, alone with their spouse, will have trouble with this cruise.

But not me. It is a tonic, a cure for the hectic scramble of my real life. I begin to breathe more slowly, to be aware of who I am again, to get in touch. 

As we sailed along, each passenger did what he wanted. Some were party-ers. Since all the food and all wine with meals is inclusive, they drank from mid morning to late evening, slept and began again. They had bowls of caviar and plates of shrimp at 4:00, entered the dining room at the moment when they would be the stars, dressed to the teeth, and really enjoyed themselves. “Look at us,” they seemed to say.  “We are loving every moment of this party at sea!”

One gentleman on this cruise, a successful marine lawyer, was busily engaged in rereading all of Shakespeare’s plays.  “I haven’t had a chance to read in years.  In fact, the last time I read Shakespeare was in my school days,” he confided. 

Others found this cruise the opportunity to schmooze with business people from other countries, an investment banker from London, a manufacturer from Malaga, a developer from New Zealand, an entrepreneur from Australia.

I’m a writer, so I collected stories. Like the one about the passenger, an elderly American gentleman who came on board with his teddy bear. The bear came to meals, changed into a tux for dinner, even had a place set for him at the table. On one cruise a woman arrived on board with a collection of white sheets which she used to cover all the furniture in her stateroom for the entire voyage. The cruise director, Helen, told me about another woman became ill in the middle of a crossing and had to be flown by helicopter, which was refueled in mid air, to hospital.  “She credited the crew of the SeaDream with saving her life and sent a case of champagne to thank them for it,”  Helen explained. 

There were many more stories, but I’m saving them for the novel I was inspired to write, somewhere around the 13th degree of latitude.

There are activities on board, a putting green, a well stocked library, evening entertainers, lectures and classes, but I still enjoyed the restful quiet times onboard best of all. 

This is a small ship, so the sea is ever present in your awareness. With the trade winds at her back the SeaDream sailed with a stately calm, and I savoured the sight and sound and roll of the waves. There was nothing else around us, except the odd pack of flying fish and an occasional dolphin.

Disembarking in Barbados was like waking up from a dream.

© Barbara Ramsay Orr

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Gardener’s Delight: The Continental Guide to Classic Gardens and Festivals

A Gardener’s Delight: The Continental Guide to Classic Gardens and Festivals

The thing about gardens is that their charm never fades. Even in the thick of winter, the minimalist outlines of branches against a grey sky have the power to entrance. But Spring, for my money, is the most intoxicating time to visit the classic gardens of North America, and every one of them will captivate the receptive visitor. Happily there are hundreds of truly exceptional gardens and flower festivals to visit, and the only difficulty is finding the one (or two or three…) that will best fulfill our need for a ‘green fix’.

Memory, as Proust explored so eloquently in In Search Of Lost Time, is a potent force. Think back to where you spent the first six years of your life and the memories you unearth will tell you what kind of garden you will most want to visit. Julie Moir Messervy, author of The Inward Garden, calls these our spatial memories – memories of the favourite places in our childhood, the times when we were happy. Search your memory for gardens that you find comforting- the lilacs that you smelled every Spring outside your childhood home, the pink roses that your grandmother grew, split rail fences or the orchards that you played in. Revisiting these memories through travels to the legendary gardens of Canada and the United States can provide a thread to past happiness, supply solace in a time of much unrest, and just plain feed the spirit that is hungry for beauty. It can also provide you with new ideas and inspiration to bring back to your own garden.

If tulips, daffodils, irises and fragrant lilacs are your special ‘spatial memory’, then one of the best places to visit is Canada’s most prestigious garden, and one of the world’s largest, the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario. It includes five gardens and four nature sanctuaries on 2,700 acres of land, linked by shuttle bus and open all year. The gardens are home to the world’s largest collection of lilacs, and nearly two acres of roses. Thirty kilometres of trails weave through the nature sanctuaries and marshland, including Cootes Paradise, one of North America’s largest wetland restoration projects.

One of the RBG’s most popular events is their annual plant sale. It’s an opportunity to buy some rare and unique plants, grown by the botanical garden’s volunteers, although you may have to be a dedicated gardener to truly appreciate it. Last Spring I stood in a long line-up in chilly rain to find my treasures – a Greek oregano that has since taken over the herb garden, and a fabulous pear-shaped miniature yellow tomato that bore fruit all summer, tasted sweet and wonderful, and looked spectacular as a décor note on a plate. The fine thing about this sale is the pleasure of anticipation – everything is expectation, and after our brutal winters, picturing how a Song of Norway Iris will bloom in the garden is a gardener’s delight.

The chances are that the person who is tending the table with the campanulas also grew them. Whatever advice you need – sun? shade? keep dry or water frequently? – is given by an expert. The sale runs in late April or early May (check the website.)

The Lilac Festival at the RBG is dazzling. It is at its best from mid to late May, has over 800 varieties of the fragrant shrubs, and you can have a guided tour, listen to some jazz and Celtic music, or enjoy a picnic at the bottom of the Lilac Dell.

The RBG also has Red-Hot Jazz and Cool Blues every Wednesday evening during the summer in the Rose Garden, and Paddling Through Paradise, a guided canoe trip through the marshlands of Cootes Paradise.

Ottawa bursts into bloom with the Canadian Tulip Festival fin May. Ever since Holland thanked Canada for giving sanctuary to Princess Juliana and her family during the second world war with a gift of tulips, the capital city has produced a stunning floral spectacle each Spring. The Dutch Royal family still sends 10,000 bulbs each year, and there is estimated to be over three million tulips in the gardens around Capital Hill. The festival celebrates the tulip during eleven days of flower displays, concerts featuring stars like Chantal Kreviazuk and the Guess Who, a Tulip Ball, with a display of gowns made by designers from flowers and fabric, and parades. There is a tulipass that gives you entrance to all the displays.

Mosaiculture International, from June to October in the Old Port of Montreal, is a different kind of horticultural festival. It has its roots in the embroidered flower beds of the 16th and 17th Centuries and is a synthesis of several art forms. Carefully chosen plants and flowers are used to create motifs, images and sculptures. This is horticultural art, and the works are all very different but spectacular. For example, in past exhibitions at Mosaiculture, there was a reproduction of a Van Gogh painting, a massive snowy owl, a unicorn, a totem pole, and the waves of the sea, all created from plants. It’s a very different spin on flower arranging, and makes for a unique garden experience.

If you are a gardener with an interest in history, the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens in Nova Scotia will hold particular appeal. The historic gardens showcase several different periods in Nova Scotian horticultural development. There are several themed gardens, like La Maison Acadienne et Potager which shows an early French settler's dwelling, and the Governor's Garden which is reminiscent of the period following 1710, while the Victorian Garden reflects the prosperous days of 19th century shipbuilding. The themed gardens are linked by paths through other display areas including several plant collections, the largest being the Rose Collection with more than 230 cultivars in their historical context.

Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island is another classic that merits a visit. In 1904, Jennie Butchart began to beautify a worked-out quarry site left behind from her husband's cement company and almost a hundred years later, the gardens she planted are still a favourite destination for flower lovers. Every evening from June 15 through to September 15, the gardens are lit by thousands of lights in dozens of hues. It is one of the largest underground wiring installations of its kind in North America.

The Blue Poppy Restaurant in the gardens is worth a visit in early May. By then, the tulips, rhododendrons, azaleas, Siberian wallflowers and forget-me-nots will supply both scent and colour in the gardens. Think about Mother's Day. If your mother is a gardener, a walk through Butchart Gardens and a gourmet lunch would be the perfect gift.

If you like your gardens stately, visit Royal Road’s Hatley Park, the sprawling Edwardian estate, about 15 kilometres west of Victoria. Built by a wealthy coal baron, and once considered the finest residence in Canada, the property was purchased from the Dunsmuir family by the Canadian military for use as a college, then by the government who created Royal Roads University in 1995. The house was declared a National Historic Site, and the gardens have been restored and enlarged.

If you prefer something more intimate, consider the Gabriola Home and Garden tour in June. Gabriola Island is a temperate and pastoral island of the coast of British Columbia, accessible by ferry from Nanaimo. This tour is a casual self-guided exploration of island homes and their beautiful coastal gardens that will give you an idea of what life is like on this ‘Isle of the Arts’.

Plants do not recognize boundaries (my Greek oregano certainly doesn’t) and the traveler who wants to see the harmonious side of American life has a plethora of gardens and festivals to visit in the United States.

New Hampshire has a festival in honour of my favourite Spring garden flower, the gorgeously showy Lupine. The Fields of Lupine Festival in early June, is a regional event celebrating the blossoming of this flower that grows wild in the State. The communities of Franconia, Easton, Sugar Hill, Bethlehem, Twin Mountain, and Bretton Woods combine to showcase the vast fields of lupines. Participants will fly the Lupine Festival flag, and events will include historic inn and garden tours, workshops, art exhibits and concerts. Local greenhouses and businesses will be offering Lupine plants and seeds for visitors to start their own Lupine fields. The Lupine Tour Book includes tour admissions, a map of local Lupine fields, and a listing of events.

The Newport Flower Show is held annually at Rosecliff, one of Newport, Rhode Island’s most elegant Gilded Age mansions, in late June. Last year’s show celebrated the majestic and historic trees that beautify Rhode Island’s cities and towns, with a special emphasis on caring for them. Rosecliff’s reception rooms will be the elegant backdrop for judging the flower design classes, with more than 80 vendors in the shoppers’ marketplace.

The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve was established to protect and perpetuate native wildflowers, particularly the California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica, the state flower. Seven miles of trails, including a paved section for wheelchair access, wind gently through the wildflower fields. Whether you enjoy expansive fields of wildflowers or the close-up study of a single flower, this is the place to visit.

There is no garden more classic than a Gertrude Jekyll garden and there is only one that was designed by her in North America, the Glebe House Museum and The Gertrude Jekyll Garden, in Woodbury, Connecticut. The museum is housed in a 1750 farmhouse set in the picturesque Litchfield Hills. In 1926, the famed English horticultural designer and writer was commissioned to plan an "old fashioned" garden to enhance the newly created museum. Gertrude Jekyll had a profound influence on modern garden design and is widely considered the greatest gardener of the 20th century. Although a small garden, when compared with the 400 designs she completed in England and on the Continent, the Glebe House garden includes 600 feet of classic English mixed borders and foundation plantings, a planted stone terrace and an intimate rose garden.
If your penchant is for impressively imposing gardens, the US has numerous possibilities. The Biltmore Estate in North Carolina celebrates Spring with its annual Festival of Flowers, featuring all the gardens in full bloom, and inside, the architectural grandeur of the house is accented with cut flowers and greenery. Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens presents its Acres of Spring celebration and the 600-foot-long Flower Garden Walk. The walk’s design is defined by four main colors: blue, pink, red, and white. Within each of these borders is a range of related hues, so that the garden progresses from cool blues, lavenders, purples, and pinks to warm reds, yellows, and oranges, then ends in creams and whites. Maymont Gardens in Richmond, Virginia, is an unusually complete example of a Gilded Age estate. The vast gardens, with expansive lawns are interspersed by gazeboes, statuary, and meandering walkways.

And lastly, a garden for the activist. Seattle’s Tilth is an organic gardening organization that has been one of the leaders in using gardening to foster a philosophical position that advocates organic community gardening as a healing solution for urban problems. Their gardens and the programs they have designed for children and urban gardeners should provide a comforting inspiration to any gardener. Their credo states, “We are working to make life-enhancing organic gardening methods the norm. We seek to expand opportunities for living well while using the earth's resources more lightly and to create opportunities for diverse people to work together in practical ways that nurture community.”

I’ll second that.

Well, there you have it, a quick romp through some, though by no means all, of the gardens and festivals that await the intrepid traveler with a green thumb.

Think about this: Charles Lewis points out in his book, Green Nature/ Human Nature that haemoglobin, the critical factor in our blood, is only slightly different chemically from chlorophyll, the lifeblood of plants. How then can anyone doubt that a harmonious relationship with green things has power to heal our modern maladies of the spirit?

We should all spend more time in our gardens.

©Barbara Ramsay Orr

If You Go

Royal Botanical Gardens, Burlington, ON; (905) 527-1158; http://www.rbg.ca

Canadian Tulip Festival, Ottawa; Tulip Hotline: (613) 567-4447; www.tulipfetival.ca

Mosaiculture International, Montreal ; (514) 868-2003; http://www.mosaiculture.ca

Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens , 441 St. George Street, Annapolis Royal, N S
(902) 532-7018 ; www.,historicgardens.com

The Butchart Gardens, 800 Benvenuto Blvd.,Brentwood Bay Victoria, BC; (604) 652-4422; www.butchartgardens.com

Victoria Flower and Garden Show, Royal Roads; (250) 391-2600
Gabriola Island House and Garden Tour; (250) 247-9935Email: lynch@island.net;

The Fields of Lupine Festival, New Hampshire, (603) 823-5661 or info@franconianotch.org.
Edible Flowers – The Exquisite Cuisine of Day Lilies, Hancock, New Hampshire, 603-525-4728

Newport Flower Show, Newport Rhode Island;, (401) 847-1000 or
Events@NewportMansions.org.; www.newportmansions.org

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve;( 661) 724-1180

Glebe House Museum and The Gertrude Jekyll Garden, Woodbury CT; (203) 263-2855; www.theglebehouse.org

Biltmore Estate, North Carolina;1- 800-624-1575; www.biltmore.com

Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens ; (610) 388-1000; http://www.longwoodgardens.org

Maymont Gardens, Richmond, Virginia; (804) 358-7166; www.maymont.org

Seattle’s Tilth Gardens; http://www.seattletilth.org

Good Books for the Independent Traveling Gardener:

Great Gardens to Visit
by Patricia Singer, (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, $28.95)
If you enjoy visiting gardens, this is an indispensable guidebook to more than 300 private, public and historic gardens that are open to visitors, some only by appointment. It covers Southern Ontario as far north as Huntsville and Ottawa, and is perfect for designing a self-guided tour, either for a day or longer, of special Ontario gardens.

Or, to read on the drive:

The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean, The tale of John Laroche's improbable scheme to plunder and eventually clone the ghost orchid from a Florida state nature preserve with stories about the history of orchid cultivation, the Seminoles, and the peculiar nature of the greenhouse culture in Florida.

Harvest of Murder, by Ann Ripley: A dog-walking professor friend of sleuth and PBS-TV garden show host Louise Eldridge (The Garden Tour Affair) regales her with tales of his younger days in the Brazilian jungles. Just before his murder, however, he tells her of a good health-and-longevity plant he discovered .