Monday, May 27, 2013

Graham Arboretum

According to the local paper, the Graham Arboretum has been a feature of Springbank Park since the 1920s but most folk in London are totally unaware of its existence. This isn't all that surprising as an arboretum is simply an assortment of trees and shrubs grown for exhibition or scientific study. Before the present feature, a small gazebo took centre stage here.

The Memory Wall, partially visible on the left, features granite tablets personalized with individual messages. Londoners are using the Memory Wall to honour or remember friends and loved ones with an engraved granite plaque.

Each plaque costs $1,500 with a portion of the money going toward the purchase of new trees. The arboretum was originally conceived by park superintendent Ernie Graham in 1926 and today the collection includes 300 trees encompassing 75 species: Red oak, Serbian spruce, weeping beech, purple beech, an entire magnolia grove . . .

Saturday, May 25, 2013

London, ON: World class medical research centre

London, Ontario, likes to think of itself as a world class medical research centre. And you know, it might be true. There is so much puffery surrounding claims made by cities that one has a tenancy to pooh-pooh the claims and write them off as so much hollow bragging. But London has the facilities and the history to back-up their claims of world class status.

I personally have benefited from the solid medical treatment available in London, albeit on an experimental basis. I was the first person in Canada to have a failed mitral valve in the heart repaired robotically.

Think of my operation as open heart surgery but with the accent on "heart surgery" and not on "open." No cracking open the chest for me. All I have to show for my surgery is a small scar  hidden in the fold of skin below my right nipple. (I had to check in a mirror to be sure.) Oh, and I have a repaired mitral valve as well. It's been ten years and the repair is holding.

I also benefited from the research being done by Dr. John White in high powered MRIs. Thanks to Dr. White an error in my genetic code was discovered that explained a runaway heart episode, a V-tach event, that I suffered in the States while on vacation.

After Dr. White's discovery it was clear I was a prime candidate for another V-tack event and possibly sudden death. I now have an ICD and I'm on proper meds to minimize my heart rate problems. I won't live forever but I won't die as soon as I surely would have without the intervention of the London doctors.

Note the name on the building in today's photo: Lindros. On his retirement from hockey, the former NHL star Eric Lindros marked his exit from professional sports with a $5-million donation to London Health Sciences Centre. The gift was the largest known one-time charitable donation from a Canadian sport figure.

Lindros is a native of London, he was born at the London Health Sciences Centre facility. It was probably known as University Hospital at that time. Anyone who follows hockey knows that Lindros had more than his share of injuries suffered during play.

I was at the press conference where he announced his gift and he said one reason for the size of the gift to the hospital was that he credited the excellent health care he was given in London over the years with allowing him to play as long and as successfully as he did.

London's facilities are definitely world class. Don't believe me? Ask Della Reese. This is what Wikipedia says:

"In 1979, after taping a guest spot for The Tonight Show, she suffered a near-fatal brain aneurysm, but made a full recovery after two operations by neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Drake at University Hospital in London, Ontario."

Yes, there's no question. London's has a world class medical centre.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Do wild flowers make a better lawn?

Spring daisies.

Herbicides, at least those for home lawns, are illegal in Ontario. The result has been more dandelions, more daisies and just generally more weeds. Personally, I don't think the result is so bad. My neighbour says we're just going to have to rethink lawns and what makes a good one. Perhaps, in the future, a good lawn will have lots of pretty wild flowers.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hurry-up and wait, uh, weight

This gentleman was spotted taking a walk for his health in Springbank Park in London, Ontario. To pump-up the benefit, the chap is pumping a couple of small barbells.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Thai Cusine or why folks like their cars

A Thai take on won ton soup.

The little restaurant is simply called Thai Cuisine. The food is fresh, delicious and inexpensive. The restaurant, frequented by Londoners, is in Mt. Brydges — a little town to the west of the big city. It is a drive of about 20 km for many of its London customers.

This soup, with its coconut milk base, is yummy.
It takes me 20 minutes to drive there and it costs me about $1.10 in fuel. Thai Cuisine my be located in another community but thanks to my ownership of a VW Jetta TDI, the cost in time and money to enjoy a meal there is quite reasonable.

Urban planners in London talk a good line about the need for mass transit and they are right but they are only addressing a part of the transportation story. People like to drive when neither their feet nor their local bus will do.

Our urban planners appear to hate the car. If you want to hear about bikes, they are eager to talk but if you want to talk about how to make the car more successful, well, you are barking up the wrong freeway.

I have been to some cities that are heavily dependent on mass transit: Toronto, Paris, New York. Yet, there is a place for the car in all three cities and that place is fraught with attendant problems. That is why Paris is experimenting with the best way to get folk out of their cars — offer them another car. Think autolib', the electric-car sharing scheme being tested in Paris, France. And here is a link to an article: 100,000 rentals!

More links to Thai Cuisine, Mt. Brydges:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Asparagus growing in suburbia

I took this shot just the other day. Two pounds for $5.00 is a very fair price.

It is asparagus season and the little asparagus farm near my suburban home is open. For just a few short weeks each spring the little farm has freshly-picked asparagus for sale. It is just about the only crop grown on the little plot of land beside a gravel pit and surrounded on every other side by suburban homes.

This asparagus farm is a short walk from my suburban home.
I so hope the family that owns the land continues to farm it well into the future. There is something quite wonderful about strolling from one's home to an asparagus farm. To make everything just that much better, the green stalks are delicious. The asparagus is far better than the stuff in the supermarket shipped in from Peru.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Thousands of trilliums blanket forest floors

There are a number of place in the London area to view the spring spectacle of thousands of trilliums in bloom: Warbler Woods, Meadowlily Woods, and Longwoods Conservation Area west of Delaware.

Warbler Woods is mostly the classic white trilliums. That is where I took my granddaughter Saturday to view the flowers. I understand there are more of the red variety of trilliums to be found on a walk through the Meadowlily area. The last time I was at Longwoods, there were a lot of the green striped white trilliums. The green striped flowers are actually infected with a virus. Eventually the diseased plants will die from the infection but it is a long process.

Pink trilliums are found everywhere as these are simply white blooms showing their age.

The trillium is the official provincial flower and often appears on government stuff in a number of stylized forms. 

There is a myth that it is illegal to pick a trillium. It isn't. That said, it is often illegal to pick any flower on land that is not your own. This rule goes double for provincial parks and for the many conservation areas that dot the province.

Years ago my daughter picked some trilliums that were growing on the land beside a  nearby gravel pit. The land was soon to be savagely disturbed by a bulldozer clearing the land for commercial purposes. It was not illegal for the gravel pit owner to rip out hundreds of trilliums growing on his land and I'm sure he did not mind my daughter rescuing a few.

Fiona, my granddaughter, loved her "first walk in the woods." She asked for my camera and took a few pictures to remember the day. She got a nice shot for a three-year-old. See below:

Photographer: Fiona Blair (three-years-old)

I love it when Fiona drops to her knees to find a better angle. It is so cute to see a little three-year-old with more sophisticated photography skills than shooters ten times her age. I'm quite impressed with the enthusiasm for life shown by little kids. We could all learn from the little tykes.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Warbler Woods, more than trilliums: mushrooms!

My wife and I took our granddaughter for a walk in Warbler Woods yesterday. My wife and I thought it would be nice to show her the thousands and thousands of trilliums that blanket the forest floor at this time of year. The trillium is the provincial flower. Tomorrow I will post a photo of the flowers but today I will post a picture of something my granddaughter discovered — mushrooms. She discovered that damp forest floors contain "yots and yots" of different mushrooms — all very exciting to a three-year-old.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Sprawl: What exactly is sprawl

Saying this neighbourhood sprawls does not seem accurate.

Urban planners like to toss about the word "sprawl" to describe suburban living. Yes, the new homes are being built on former farmland. And yes, someday we may miss that farmland. But, maybe a good argument could be made that there is no more sprawl to be found in suburbia today than went down a hundred years ago in the older downtown neighbourhoods.

I used Google map, satellite view to compare housing density in the old neighbourhoods of London and the new suburban ones. The neighbourhoods that I compared indicated that there is no more sprawl today than in the past.

In fact, in some cases it appears the old neighbourhoods with their huge back yards, big front yards, laneways and wide streets don't seem to be anywhere near as densely built as many newer suburban neighbourhoods.

Clearly, if we are to save our farmland and halt the expansion of our cities, we have to do more than attack sprawl.

For some perspective on the problem, consider this:

Between 1971 and 2011, urbanization consumed an area of farmland almost three times the size of Prince Edward Island. By 2001, about half of Canada’s urbanized land was located on the country’s “most productive farmland,” according to Statistics Canada.

—  source: NDACT 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Jane magnolia?

I'm believe this is a Jane magnolia tree bloom on a tree in my backyard.

My wife wanted a magnolia tree. We bought one. We planted it on our hill. It died. We bought another. Planted it on our hill. It too died. Finally we bought one that promised not to grow too big. This one would fit in our small backyard without reaching either the roof of our home or the steep slope at the back of the yard.

It's a beautiful tree. It has lasted a number of years. It has survived both summers, dry, and winters, cold. But the blooms are not quite what we envisioned. The flowers are long, thin, magenta pedals that spread out from a core in an almost loose star shape.

Thanks to the Internet, I think I've figured out what we have. It's a Jane magnolia. A member of the "Little Girl" group of hybrid magnolias, it promises to remain smallish. Some call the Jane magnolia, developed in the mid '50s at the U.S. National Arboretum, a shrub rather than a tree.

The Jane magnolia blooms later in spring than many other magnolia varieties and this is good for a tree in London, Ontario. This late blooming lessens the risk that it will lose its flower buds to frost damage.

With luck our tree/shrub will not get taller than 15-feet or less and its spread may not be more than six-feet in any direction. It sounds perfect.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

For London, this is a dense development

Just driving by this area one might be tempted to call this a snout nosed subdivision. In my opinion, that would be wrong. These are examples of the garage forward look. There is a difference. One, the snout, is a subset of the other, the garage forward.

Think of the old dictum form follows function dictum.This style of housing offers short driveways, no laneway behind the home to be cleared in winter and ample parking inside the garage and on the driveway. This is a very functional design. It is no wonder it is popular with new home buyers.

These homes are placed well forward on relatively narrow lots. Many of the homes have small, but covered, porches. Critics, who think a porch must wrap around a home on a least two sides, would not be satisfied. I say, "Forget the critics." The look is good and one stays dry while looking for the house keys in wet weather.

If you look carefully, you will see a young woman sitting on the top step of the second home in on the right. I also saw people sitting on their little front lawns. It is a pleasant and inviting neighbourhood. I'm not surprised folk like to sit outside, enjoy the evening, and greet their neighbours as the stroll by.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Critics don't know walkable

Many new subdivisions are pleasant places for an evening stroll.

Today was possibly the warmest day of year. It hit at least 22-degrees centigrade. Nice.

I live in a rapidly expanding area of London. New homes are springing up like proverbial weeds. Originally the area where this picture was taken was going to be London's first foray into new urbanism. The plan collapsed.

The little community centre with traditional shopping, that the local paper had claimed was so important to the area's success, mutated into a common neighbourhood shopping centre. It is just where you'd expect it, at a nearby major intersection. Although one could walk to shop, and some folk do, most people drive. No surprise here, unless you are a believer in new urbanist myths.

Londoners want walkable neighbourhoods and the suburban developments are not answering that need, or so the local paper is always telling its readers. I'm flummoxed. Why do they say such stuff when reality so clearly is proving these claims wrong?

The new neighbourhood streets had lots of people out strolling, enjoying the warm spring evening. Young couples were everywhere, some with children and some without. New streets, new homes, new dreams. A few of the young people living here today will still be living here when they retire, I'd bet on it. This is a neighbourhood.

What the critics don't seem to understand is that give people a safe, clean street, lined with good housing and people will walk. In the short time I was taking pictures, I said hello and got smiles from half a dozen area residents. Yes, this is a neighbourhood, and a good one.