Oh for the Love of Dog!

I caved.  We got a dog.  I got a dog.

After seeing how much more bearable my own children’s absences were for me when in the presence of my friend’s schnoodle this summer, I came to the realization that all the psychological things that pets do that would be healthy for Boo and Lou right now, would be healthy for me as well.  Yep, me.

The dog was supposed to be Lou Lou’s big birthday gift (which he was, but..), but – in fact – adopting a large rescue dog in September was as much about Mumma’s mental health right now as any childhood heart’s desire.  Friends laughed at how keyed up I was getting in anticipation of adoption day.

Babysitting my girlfriend’s schnoodle in July while she, her husband and her own teenaged daughter were in Alberta this summer was beta-testing this seemingly half-baked idea.  I wanted to see how begrudgingly I dealt with the day-in-day-out realities that that sort of an animal would entail before I committed to fulfilling my own daughter’s favourite wish.  I did have a half-formed idea that the doggie would be good company when my ex took my own two offspring away on vacation for more than a week.  That idea proved to be quite true.


Piper, my first therapy dog.  :D

As much as Piper barked, growled, whined, and basically made my ears bleed in those first few days of adjusting for her ten day visit, she also got me out walking (just short walks, but regular, necessary ones) twice a day.  She got me to get up in the mornings now, if only to feed her.  When I got home from evening outings, her presence helped me get out of my parked car and into my house.  No more sitting on my tailbone in the dark –  windows down and swatting mosquitos – staring at my phone in the emptiness with no motivation to go inside.  At night, she licked my face and settled down on my bed to sleep, a warm weight by my side on top of the covers.

She made me feel needed again.  She even made me laugh.

Before the kids got back I surrendered her one Monday afternoon to her freshly returned papa.  The three days then really alone, between that moment and getting my own son and daughter back, became somehow the worse, loneliest, saddest days of my entire summer.  The grey fog they induced lingered into August, whenever I was alone again.

Then – one weekend – my friend was going to her in laws’ and bringing Piper was not convenient.  I suddenly found myself with both dog AND kids.  And my kids adored her.  The first words every morning were “Where’s Piper?”, quickly followed by licked noses and cheeks.  They played all day.  Outside, or actively all over the house.  They forgot about computers and PlayStations.  They helped me walk her.  Lou Lou even willingly picked up poop! And Piper now knew and trusted me.  She was content here (not trying to “talk” in that disturbing way with growls and high frequency, ear-splitting yips now).  I was getting used to this new routine.


Changing our routine, in a good way.

It was that weekend that sealed the deal.  We would get a dog.  It’s pretty tough to argue against something that so obviously looks good for everyone.


How can I say no to love like this?

In the next several weeks, as I prepared for my own upcoming vacation road trip (a 1600 km one) with Boo and Lou, I also researched breeds.  I visited the Humane Society.  I made excursions to Pet Smart.  I had marathon Messenger chats with dog-loving friends, who recommended books, magazines, and YouTube videos.  Materials piled up on the bedside table.


Pricing and researching.  So many choices!

I decided we should get a large dog, a “working dog” breed.  Boo has an intense emotional bond with his Guinea Pig, Melvin, and had some apprehensions about breeds that would instinctively want to go after our family rodent (so basically all ratters, hunting dogs, etc., including Piper herself, who we just plain banned from the basement, for Melvin’s safety). I also noticed Piper, although water-loving, was too small to venture far into wavy water.  I ended up standing on the shore, holding a leash, as my children swam that weekend.  I envisioned us with a Newfie, all of us swimming and laughing together without a care.

Soon my short list included Newfoundlands, Bernese Mountain dogs, and both German and Australian Shepherds.  The Shepherds were appealing, dogs that might corral my ever errant six-year old daughter, but I could also see the Bernese or Newfie pulling her to school through deep snow in Ottawa winter, their harness roped to her plastic sled.

Piper’s mumma messaged me a Facebook page for Rescue Animal groups in our area.  Since I am new at this, I figured an adult dog would be easier and more socially and fiscally responsible of me than a purebred puppy.  I had already applied at the Ottawa Humane Society, where they’d told us the waiting time was 5-6 weeks right now.  I thought that timing was about right, given the fact I wanted our road trip out of the way first, but I wasn’t entirely confident about the Humane Society process.  Basically, you fill in a detailed application, wait to come to the top of their pile (about 4 weeks later) and then it’s like a lottery as you wait to see if your profile matches one of the seven or eight dogs that have “come to the front” by then.  If you’re interested in adopting from OHS, btw, it’s much easier and quicker to get a cat or other small animal.


Picture of the perfect dog!

We were fortune to find DJ, a six-year old Australian Shepherd, through Facebook.  He was beautiful, purported to be friendly and “good” with every situation and every sort of critter, and shown in the pictures soaking wet, fetching a tennis ball from the Ottawa River. The perfect dog for us!  I PM’ed the rescue organization, filled in their paper application, and quickly returned it.  They called us back, and soon brought him round to meet the family.  Boo threw the ball over and over, both boy and dog jumping with excitement.  Lou was territorial, then disappeared to the basement when foster mom and dog were about to leave.  She “didn’t want to say goodbye” she told me, breaking my heart.

The adoption fee was $400.  The rescue agency had had him neutered and his vaccinations were up-to-date.

Foster mom dropped DJ off here the morning after we got back from our trip.  It was Labour Day.  We spent the evening playing at the dog park, my kids proudly walking our new boy and our new boy excited to be being played with.  Everything was perfect.


Happy together.

The next morning, my tanned and freshly laundered children marched off to school (a new and unfamiliar building, as our local school had been rebuilt over the previous year and summer).  I walked DJ over to the chaotic paved school yard, griping his 4 foot leash and sometimes tugging hard to keep him in check.  His apprehension, and my inability to handle him sufficiently, caught me off guard, as did my discomfort at the school and hubbub of back to school parents, kids, and new teachers.  I guess the other shoe, at last, was dropping.

This wasn’t going to be as easy as I’d thought.  Even after all my preparation, I was still like a mom bringing home the new baby.  Not truly prepared for the reality.  How could I be?  On leash, he pulled hard, knocking down the kids if something disturbed his equilibrium.  Even for me it was all I could do to hold him back.  Like a new baby, I didn’t love him instantly, like I thought I would.  He fussed and I didn’t understand what was wrong.  He vomited at night.  He messed the carpet in the basement.  Twice.  He jumped and twisted in the air, scaring the kids as they tried to throw his toys and balls for him.  Rearing on hind legs, he loomed above Lou’s head.  He begged constantly, using “Sit Pretty” ridiculously to try to please humans in every situation.  Worse, he “spoke” only French, having come to rescue from the Quebec side.  I scraped the dregs of my memory for words like “Asseids” (“Ah-Seh”, sit), “Reste” (stay), and “Viens ici” (come here).


Now I have a new dog.  A stranger in my household.  How can I know what goes on in that head of his?

By the time we’d had him two weeks I was already completely frustrated.  What had I gotten myself into?  Perhaps I’ll tell you more in the weeks to come.  Of course, it’s not all bad.  ;)

All for now,



60263773 - notebook and pen  with barbed wire, a press censorship concept

An Update on Updates

Paranoia has kept me from writing recently.  That sounds ridiculous, but it’s true.  I’ve had so many new email follows in the past three months that I’m starting to doubt their authenticity.  I haven’t written anything in nearly two months.

Where are these people coming from, and why do so many of them have email address ending in .po, .ru, or  Maybe it’s a scam, but I haven’t figured out of what sort.  Maybe they’re robot drones, sent by my ex-husband’s lawyer. Maybe somebody’s spying on me – the kids’ school or the neighbours perhaps.  Or maybe they’re all legitimate new followers.  After all, there’s already a mountain of stuff here to read.  Geesh.  I should have more confidence.

I need to get out more and stop being such a ginormous hermit.  In the meantime, I do know how to remove email followers.  And I can check my stats too.  New follows from .po and .ru should mean more Eastern European readers, no?  Still doesn’t tell WHY they’re reading it, but whatevs.  I’m a blogger.  That’s always going to be a problem.

Maybe I’m just losing my nerve.  Losing my stomach for leaving the open diary on public transit with the “Read Me” post-it attached.

Anyhow, as a result of these misgivings, I’ve taken to posting more of my interests and musing on my private Facebook page lately.  Keeping my thought sharing to those I know. Sometimes friends and family are bemused by this.  Sometimes, too, I miss writing.

I realise now I’ve been considering stopping writing altogether.  I’m not sure this is the right decision, but it would neatly solve the problem of paranoia about unknown followers.  I could duck out of facing further criticism from family and friends about what I share here too.  Because family (especially family) criticism is the worse.  It’s corrosive, starting a spiral of anger and self-doubt and outrage (“How dare they tell me what to say or how to feel after they did/didn’t do/say this, that, or the other thing?”).

And – honestly – yeah.  How DARE they tell me what is best or what will make me feel better when they are never, in ANY tangible way there for me?  When I am dealing with my loneliness, my divorce, my kids’ issues, and all the practical problems, responsibilities, and feelings of day-in, day-out life without any help or support from them in any way.  When I have had to live my life – the whole past 28 years of it – WITHOUT their presence.

And hey.  Can I get a little respect, props perhaps, for doing just that?  I’ve been here all that time without them and have managed to build my own circle of friends and  have two beautiful children of my own to boot.  I own my own home and my own car.  If mainstream media is to be believed, I am financially more solvent than many  Canadians and Americans.  Okay, so I’m not defining myself by my career or love interest at the moment.  I don’t remember opening up my life decisions to a Stats Can poll.  I’m not governed by majority opinion.

And yet.  I stopped writing for two months.  Nobody made me, or told me to.  I did that.

There.  I’ve written 439 words already. No, it’s more now.  Editting.

Yet these are NOT the words that I had planned.  I was going to do one of my humourous list posts today.  Change of plans I guess.

What I know is that a writer cannot fear the censorship of her elderly relations if she is going to get on with the business of telling her truth.  She cannot fear her husband, or any lawyers or private investigators he might choose to retain.  She cannot become hamstrung because she has an improbably high number of new email followers in Poland.

So I say to everyone who comes here today.  Please know this.  You are free to read.  You are free to follow.  And I am free to speak.

My writing isn’t always fair or precise.  Sometimes I am inaccurate in my descriptions, or inarticulate in describing what I feel.  Sometimes my perceptions or beliefs aren’t “right” (or, at least, they may not represent someone else’s truth).  Sometimes I mouth off about something without having all the facts straight.  Sometimes, when I’m telling a story,  I add a little hyperbole or colour.  And I never promised not to.

I write as best I can what I am experiencing, feeling, or perhaps even imagining in that moment.  That’s all I can manage.

I love my children and our little home.  I love the guinea pig, the dog (a new addition to the family!  post to follow!), and my beat-up blue car.  I love the little glowing ember we are fanning into the flame of a whole new life.  I love the much better future that I can now imagine.  I love my friends and far-flung relations too, but I prize those first things more.

I want to write, but I want our precious life safe more than that.  I want to invest time here, but not as much as I want our home clean, our bellies full, our sanity preserved, and the kids’ homework done.  I don’t know yet if writing fits into this future or not.

A side note, to my family, today:  I know you love me, and I love you too.  Accept that we have somehow have become strained, but not estranged.  I know things that changed my young life and set me on this course of distance happened so long ago now that you no longer remember why, and that these ancient events may now seem like a dream.  Realize that – accept it or not – I have to live with these ancient events and the myriad fall-out from them every day, and that’s for the rest of my life.  I have to live with how I was raised, how much I was accepted (or not), and the role I was dealt.  Some things in life require more work to heal than others.  Simply saying them one day like you’re aware, but continuing to live life as if you’re not, isn’t always good enough.  For these reasons, be happy that we are still talking, that I am open to you all, and that I forgive you for being too afraid to live life more honestly.  There’s nothing wrong with me except your own perceptions, which I’m going to stop feeling guilty about now.  Anyway – if I am damaged goods – maybe it’s time to contemplate the source of the damage.  I’m not asking you to do that if it’s too hard, but I am asking for my space and your respect.  None of this was my fault, but – yes – I am sorry. #notthatsorry

This feels at once like saying too much and yet not enough.  But – hey! – strained is better than estranged, right?  Glass half full analogy and all that.

Anyhow.  I think that’s all I should write today.  Now I’d like to turn things over to you, the readers.

Who are you?  Where do you live?  How did you find this site and what motivated you to follow it?  If I was to clean house (so to speak), tell me why (if applicable) you’d like to stay.  Call it dredging for compliments, if you want, but I’d like to know who my readers are and why they’re here.  Maybe it’ll help me decide where I’m going with this thing from here on in.

Reach out to me this week.  Leave a comment.

All for now,



What Should Coping Look Like?

The kids have been gone over a week now.  They’ll be back in three short days.  I made it through mostly okay.  In fact, I kept so busy the first seven days that – by Friday – I was longing to crash and have some mental re-grouping time at home.

I still don’t fully understand the exhaustion that overtakes me sometimes.  Do I feel like hiding away and becoming a sloth because I don’t get enough sleep for me?  Is it my iron? Maybe it’s too low again.  Or is it more of a disease of the spirit – needing time to cocoon because I’m a secret introvert and need that away time to recharge the creative batteries as well as to sincerely enjoy being around other people again?  Sometimes I wonder if I “get low” if I simply go too long between journaling or blogging it all out.

If that last possibility also resonates with you, you may like the following link: The Psychological Benefits of Writing Regularly, by Gregory Ciotti.  It’s an article that really spoke to me recently.  :)

In any case – after a week that included kayaking, dragon boating, a couple of walks (with Alice, including a downtown day and a day at Ottawa’s totally fascinating Mer Bleue Bog, post to follow..), some great music at Bluesfest, and dog-sitting a lovely little poodle that has certainly done more than her share to keep loneliness at bay – by Friday all I wanted was to lie on my bed and think about my own projects and lists once more.

The only problem with that is, at home, there is nothing but the lovely numbness of Netflix to keep me from checking out my own belly button lint somehow mentally, no matter what other chores I find to busy my body with.  In other words, I start to stew.  Things that more social forms of busy-ness keep at bay start gnawing at the back of my brain when I take my alone time.  So – even as I binge on Orange is the New Black and assemble the new drawers I picked up at Ikea on my way home from volunteering at ORCC – reflection somehow sneaks back in.  Even though, honestly, the dog does help (She somehow really does help me).


Doggy keeps loneliness at bay!  Film at 11.

I love my lists.  There are lots of projects I want to do right now.  I started reading True Wealth (Juliet Schor) and had scarcely begun before becoming obsessively interested in one point.  Her observations about the changes in perceived value of textiles in the past 100 years or so resonated with me deeply.  I too have noticed that the price of a new shirt or pair of pants has remained unchanged for the last twenty plus years.  When I (in the past) needed retail therapy, I tended to take it out on my closet.  It was a place BG neither looked nor cared, a tiny island of autonomy in an otherwise constricted life.

The consequence of that I live with still.  Clothing litters my closet shelf and floor.  Packing boxes still sit, full of things I haven’t dealt with yet, even though I’m now the proud owner of a 9-drawer dresser and a separate lingerie tower (both filled) that are  “mine all mine.”  Not to mention my ample closet space.


I have too much clothing.  I forget what I own and buy more.  When I remember something I would, in particular, really like to wear on any given occasion, I typically cannot find it.  More than once a rainbow avalanche of knit sweaters has rained down on my head as I’ve searched for something on that high shelf, with tears and frustration.  Instead of making my bedroom look tailored and classy, the ottoman at the foot of the bed, always strewn with discarded “half-dirty” items, makes my space resemble a dump.

Clothing is an area in which the feeling of plenitude has eluded me, despite the bulk of my possessions.  And I’ve realized I want my life back, bedroom floor included.

I won’t shoplift from Juliet Schor by paraphrasing too much from the book, but I do tend to agree that all this needing and shopping and going out of style and discarding and “so around we go again” is a self-inflicted social illness that has negative consequences for the planet, as well as for (obviously) my own home, which is swimming in cloth while I still continue to believe I have nothing to wear.  I am sick sick SICK of that and really want to change it.  Beginning to read True Wealth crystallized that for me personally and made me realize it’s something that the time has come for me to deal with.  I shelved the book (which I think is great) for the time being, to be continued once I deal with my demons.

On Thursday – while I was out downtown with Alice –  I picked up another book: The Upcycled T-Shirt by Jenelle Montilone.  Another book that spoke, again, directly to this waste of domestic resources that’s now sticking so badly in my craw.  I decided to take my current batch of (necessary!) discards out of the cycle.  I’m going to re-use these textiles MYSELF.


Yesterday I assembled an Ikea drawer unit in half of my massive bedroom closet.  I pulled out the cardboard boxes of unprocessed clothing and dumped them out on my bed.  Then I sorted the contents.

I made three piles:

  • Stuff I want (going to live in the new drawer unit)
  • Stuff I don’t want but shouldn’t dismantle (off to Goodwill with this!)
  • Stuff I’m going to pull apart and re-use the material from (my Upcycled Shirt pile)

I successfully cleaned up my room, leaving only a tidy pile in one corner: the cloth to be processed.  This pile consists of overly tight t-shirts, old gym pants, excess fleecy pj pants, and a few nice pieces of fabric too (mainly consisting of badly tailored blouses I should never have bought but did because I couldn’t resist the piece of cloth they were made of).    Last night I settled down in front of Orange is the New Black with a small pile.

I cut off the binding around the necks of my shirts.  I cut off the cap sleeves at the shoulder seams.  Then I consult my new bible for how to reduce what remained to “yardage” for all the fun projects in the book.  I can’t go any farther.  I need a rotary cutter and a self-healing mat.  A seam ripper too.

Mentally, I add these items to a list that is – once again – growing.  I need an iron to make a straight edge before I hem the Ikea fabric for Lou’s new curtains.  I no longer own a decent glue gun (my go-to tool for so many great projects in the past).  And I still need some equipment for camping on my coming vacation with the kids (even though I already spent over $300 to purchase my own pots, pans, plates, bowls, and campstove).

This is the way of it still.  Even something as mundane as tearing up an old pair of pajamas serves as a reminder that the infrastructure of my life has been completely dismantled.  First when I left the prospect of replacing everything and starting over was an exciting one.  As it goes on and on and on it has become depressing.

I drifted to sleep last night trying to remember the details of the backyard at my old house; the location and appearance of stairs, railings, patio stones, the feel of pea gravel, grass, water being thrown from the sprinkler.  Are my kids and husband there now, back from vacation?   How did I become this outcast – the only member of my band not present when the rest take trips we always planned, and postponed, doing together?  Has anyone missed me this past number of days?  Has anyone felt a twinge of remorse, or regret?

Somehow it’s hard, it’s bitter, to accept that I was unloved and unwanted by the other person to that extreme.  That he’s chosen the life of being a stranger, even to the extreme of denying me the knowledge of where they’ve gone or when they’ll be coming back.  I don’t know how to reach my children if I miss them and just want to hear them say “Hi Mumma, I’m okay.”

Grief is like malaria.  It strikes again – a relapse – just when you think you are better.  You mustn’t get overtired, over-exert yourself, or wait too long between meals.  Grief will find you again, and leave you too weak to so much as raise your arm.  You will find yourself, again, sitting in the driveway in the driver’s seat, unable to get up and go into the house.

Separation has been like a cancer diagnosis and chemo for me.  It’s been my battle, my triumph and defeat, the thing that – some days – lays me to waste.  I surprise myself by finding the mental energy and self-sufficiency to track down and change the water filter in my fridge today.  These are the little victories that keep my confidence up.  Somehow, I continue to exist.

My mother always told me “God only gives you what you can handle.”  I’ve handled so much now, so many things that – once upon a time – were the stuff of my worst nightmares (separation, loneliness, trusting the world with my children when I am not able to keep them safe here with me).  The thought that God might throw at me anything I can handle is a terrifying thought.  I’m not sure what I couldn’t handle at this point.

All for now,






Much Ado About Parsnips

I’ve just started volunteering at a natural garden here in Ottawa.  It’s an area within the Central Experimental Farm that has been entrusted to the Ottawa Field Naturalists’ Club, basically a demo garden with native and “naturalized” Ontario plants.  It’s a vision of what a home garden could be – a welcome home to bugs, bees, bats, and butterflies and a riot of healthy wildflowers, starring vitamin V for Variety.  This is the Fletcher Wildlife Garden (FWG) or “Fletcher’s” as its friends call it.  Those are all links, btw.  If you’re in Ottawa and like botany you should check them out.

My job (as it were) at Fletcher’s is to remove the ultra invasive Dog-Strangling Vine (DSV) overgrowing my little plot.  I am charged with at least getting the seed pods bagged, so the DSV doesn’t send its thousands upon thousands of fluffy seeds scattering about the garden come September, furthering its glossy but insidious invasion of the precious garden.  If possible, I am told, it would be good to also uproot as many as possible.  Dog-Strangling Vine is perennial by its root stock as well as its dandelion-like seeds.

I won’t get into how I got lost in the garden on my first day there.  I did do some damage to the DSV, but I’m pretty sure the area I attacked wasn’t the assigned plot Sandy showed me a couple days earlier.

Since I was wandering at FWG, and have also had lots of evenings at the ORCC (Ottawa River Canoe Club, which I recently joined), my mind has started thinking about plants again.  Last night, as I walked back up the hill to my car out at the ORCC, I found myself identifying all the wild plants I could.  While far from a complete job, I was able to name quite a few and found myself once again excited to learn more.

I’ve written about Canadian flora before and  – surprisingly – I’ve observed over time that these posts are my most popular.  So – yay! – other people find this stuff interesting too. Therefore, this summer I’m going to do a series of short posts on wild plants of Ontario, inspite of the fact that being part of FWG is so humbling and makes me aware how very little I do know.  It’s fun researching and learning a little more and I love that my readers enjoy Canadian flora as much as I do.

À propos of that, I got a very timely question on one of my previous botanical posts earlier this week. Corina from Newfoundland’s Northern Pennisula wrote:

I have a question that I’m hoping you can answer. I live on the northern peninsula and we have a weed that grows rampant here. I’ve only ever heard it called hemlock but I’m not sure that it’s the actual name. The liquid that comes from it when you cut it can leave burn like blisters on your skin. It does resemble hogweed but not entirely. Any ideas?

This interested me a lot because there was a lot of hype last summer on Facebook about a similar type of (giant) weed that has been plaguing Ontario, and I’d even seen “warning – please share” type posts from as far away as the UK with gruesome pictures of the resulting burns.  Most of this focused around an invasive species known as Giant Hogweed, but it turns out there actually is a little more to the story.

When I wrote about plants previously I got a little bit into the problem of language and folk custom and geographic variation that can make absolute identification of some species by us amateurs such as quagmire.  I’m from Newfoundland but now live nearly 3000 kilometres away.  Canada is a big country.  So when Corina mentions a plant I haven’t seen and suggests a couple possible IDs she’s heard around it’s pretty hard for me to give her a definitive diagnosis, even if I was an expert.  And I’m no expert.

There are a bunch of Canadian wildflowers that are all relatives, belonging to the carrot family, and comprising the antecedents and wild relatives of the carrots and parsnips we eat at the supper table.  Here’s a bit of friendly advice, DO NOT eat these plants.  DO NOT gather these plants.  Let these plants be.

Here’s why…


Queen Anne’s Lace. Bowring Park, St. John’s, Newfoundland, July 2014.

Here’s a pretty close-up of some Queen Anne’s Lace.  Actually did take this shot in Newfoundland, by the by.  Queen Anne’s Lace is the “great grandmother” of the domestic carrot (the root is an edible, carrot-like thing).  Notice the tiny white flowers, in umbrella-shaped clusters.


Spotted Water-Hemlock Flowers.  copyright Daily Telegraph, UK

This is Spotted Water-Hemlock, generally regarded as THE most poison plant in North America.  Again, notice the tiny white flowers in their umbrella-like clusters.

Can YOU tell the difference between these flowers?  Me neither.  There might be some slight difference in the leaves, but the flowers are readily confused.

Hemlock, of course, is famous in folklore as the active ingredient in the drink given to Socrates to do him in.  Not to be confused with carrot juice.


The Socratic method dictates we must ask our students which they think right – to drink the carrot juice or to merely admire the drinker from afar?

Because one of these plants could do for dinner and the other for a murder, with little to distinguish them it seems obvious that it’s sensible to “look but leave it” in the case of these two.  The next two I’m about to discuss – their relations – make the case for leaving it even clearer.

Be warned:  The following image is gruesome.  Scroll past fast if sensitive!


Third-degree burns from Giant Hogweed.

Giant hogweed or Heracleum mantegazzianum is an invasive species now found growing wild in northern latitudes and is a matter of record in areas such as Hamilton, Ontario (found some good info from City of  Hamilton).  I have read some “please share” type posts on Facebook from out of the UK as well.  Seems it’s spreading all over.

Giant Hogweed was brought to the UK as an ornamental plant in the 19th century and it spread from there to other UK gardens, and the wild.  Now it is found wild in Great Britain, Europe, and in North America, having been imported to New York in about 1917 and recorded in British Columbia by about 1930. As shown above it is actually very dangerous, causing phytophotodermatitis due to the furocoumarin derivatives in the leaves, roots, stems, flowers, and seeds of the plant.  This is a plant that turns your own skin against you, rendering it hyper-sensitive to UV.

On a “spread of invasive species” note, BTW, DSV is in our area now as a result of eager gardeners who admired its glossy foliage and imported it here.  There’s a lesson here about bringing non-native species to new areas (getting it out again’s a bitch and may be impossible so don’t choose these plants in the first place, perhaps?), but ‘nough said for now.  Still, it’s something worth inquiring about before you present the local nursery with your MasterCard maybe.

Giant hogweed is native to Central Asia and the Caucasus.  It has various aliases, giant hogweed, cartwheel-flower, giant cow parsnip, hogsbane and giant cow parsley among them.  Adding to the confusion, in New Zealand it is also sometimes called wild parsnip, or wild rhubarb.  And – possibly – “hemlock” in Newfoundland. J

So what does it look like?

Giant Hogweed has been described as “Queen Anne’s Lace on steriods.”  It’s considered a “noxious” weed in most jurisdictions, and – in fact – it’s so alien outer space freaky that, in 1971, Genesis even wrote a song about it (“The Return of the Giant Hogweed” – it’s “US” versus “THEM”, folks!).  It’s dangerous; if you spot it the first recommended countermeasure is to let the local authorities come in and handle it.  They’ll be wearing hazmat suits.

If you can’t get anyone else to remove it and you really must remove it for the protection of children and pets, wear your full armor of PPE (personal protective equipment).  Cover every part of yourself and use plastic and tape to ensure nothing passes to your skin.  A rubber suit would not be overkill.  You’re handling dangerous chemicals.

Eye protection is especially important. Furocoumarin can cause permanent blindness if it comes in contact with the eyes.  If skin is exposed, the affected area should be washed thoroughly with soap and water and the exposed skin protected from the sun for several days.

And, yes, Corina, I’m sorry to say the list of affected areas I saw also includes “isolated areas” of Newfoundland (as well as most of Canada in general).  I’m afraid this is one nasty cat that is well and truly out of the bag.

So, how much should we freak out?  Do we need teams with blow torches to come to our local woodlots and leave not a Queen Anne’s Lace standing?  Can we tell these devils from the angels they so resemble?

Well, yes! That’s the good news.

Giant Hogweed has the word “Giant” in its name for good reason, it stands often over 2 metres tall, with stems 10 cm in diameter.  Giant hogweed should stand out from Queen Anne’s Lace on the basis of sheer size alone.


copyright unknown – not my picture



unknown copyright



Giant hogweed is biennial – the plants grow large one year, produce seeds, and then sort of disappear in the second year.  Then, in Year 3, the cycle starts again.  Perhaps that’s why I haven’t seen any of these stories this year.  Watch out in 2017 tho’.

I mentioned a partner to this plant, one we perhaps might confuse in our enthusiasm and naivety.  I wasn’t thinking of Queen Anne’s Lace.  I was actually thinking of our sometime friends, the Wild Parsnips.

Wild Parsnip, Cow Parsnip, and Common Water-Parsnip have a  similar habit to all the other plants we’ve discussed.  The erect stems appear similar.  The umbrella-like clusters of little white (or yellow, in the case of Wild Parsnip) flowers are nearly identical.  I do think Queen Anne’s Lace has something about its habit that makes it the super model of the group, but my grasp of this is somehow a bit ephemeral, and not I’m still always sure (and I’ve looked a LOT!) that it’s Queen Anne’s Lace I’m looking at.  In any case, I once read they were Katharine Hepburn’s favourite flower and – on good days – I tend to agree with her.


Beauty is as beauty chooses in the forest, perhaps?

In general, Wild Parsnips will have yellow flowers, which I believe they can be distinguished by.  With a maximum height of about 150 cm, they can are quite tall but not quite as shockingly enormous as Giant Hogweed.

Cow Parsnip and Common Water-Parsnip can vary in height between one and three metres, making them a bit more difficult for us non-botanists to distinguish from Giant Hogweed.  All are found throughout North America.

The most interesting fact I learned in reading up on this for today’s post is that BOTH Wild Parsnip and Cow Parsnip, like their cousin Giant Hogweed, have the ability to cause phytophotodermatitis.   Common Water-Parsnip does not, but is so VERY SIMILAR TO HEMLOCK that it is not worth risking it.

I found this handy chart, showing the relative intensity of phytophotodermatitis by  plant species.  Copyright as shown.


The moral of the story?  Well, I hope – for starters – this post helps Corina accurately ID her mystery plant.  I’ve also given some tips if you have to deal with these plants (do not eat or touch, and use PPE if you must remove).  If you suspect Giant Hogweed, call the appropriate local authority.

The big moral, I think, is that these friends are best left alone.  Don’t pick or transplant them (even though with Queen Anne’s Lace it’s ever so tempting!).  Don’t ingest them.  Keep them away from children and pets.  And always think twice before adding any new unknown factor to your own garden.

Talk soon,




P.S.  That’s Wild Parsnip in the picture.  Love the colour.