Latvian gardens

latvian gardensIt’s not often that I post something this personal, but I can’t resist (it’s Rena Upitis posting, and for those of you who don’t know me, I’m the Executive Director of Wintergreen Studios).

I’ve just returned from an amazing trip to Latvia, where I spent languid days with my children and many of our Latvian relatives (close to 30 of them, on both my mother’s and father’s sides). I was completely taken with their energy, strength, and love of the land. And boundless optimism, in spite of what some might regard as nearly overwhelming challenges.

Everyone gardens. There are fruits and vegetables galore. Many make their own cheeses, meats, breads, in addition to harvesting the produce. Perennials abound.

latvian gardensPlenty of wood-burning stoves and furnaces, too. I was awestruck by one of my mother’s 86-year-old cousins (the younger of two). She visits her other cousin, who is 88, as often as possible, but because it is an 8 kilometre walk — in each direction — she confessed that she doesn’t visit as much as she once did! One of my other relatives commented that the wood pile was a long way from her walk-up apartment, and so it was. (I’ll never complain about moving wood again.) And her garden, too, was simply lovely. Humbling and inspiring.

Open House – Sunday August 24

open houseCome visit Wintergreen this coming Sunday, August 24. Our monthly Open House will take place from 11 – 4. Drop by any time.

While you’re here, feel free to wander the trails (we have trail maps), have a swim in our beautiful lake, or simply stroll through the gardens next to the lodge. Our self-guided tour features our sustainable practices, from photovoltaics (solar power!) to passive solar to our peat-based septic system. Staff and volunteers will be on hand to answer any questions you might have about upcoming events and workshops as well.

Spinning Wool in the Woods

Spinning woolAre you a spinner, or curious about the process of spinning wool? Join us for the last weekend in September, as the weather turns cooler, and the trees respond with their colourful palette. Beginners are welcome, as are participants with a working knowledge of wheel or spindle spinning.

During this relaxing weekend retreat, you will explore new spinning and fibre preparation techniques.  Bring your spinning wheel, combs, hand carders, and fibre and gather together for a weekend of creativity, idea sharing, camaraderie, and soft, fluffy, wool in a beautiful natural setting. We’ll have supplies at hand for beginners!

Spinning woolThis workshop takes place from September 26 to September 28. You can read more about the spinning wool workshop and about Angela McInnis, the instructor (wearing some of her colourful wool creations) by clicking here.

Register for this workshop

Open Book

Illustrated Journal Workshop

Hello friends!

We’ve decided to extend the registration period for the illustrated journal workshop put on by Helen Humphreys and Kelley Aitken that will be going on here, on August 7th-10th, 2014.  You still have a couple of days to sign up for the workshop, the deadline is now Thursday, July 31st, 2014. If you’re still thinking about registering, head to the workshop’s webpage and sign up for the event! With a little initiative from you, Helen and Kelley will help guide your inspiration and show you how much fun it can be to blend art and writing.

Wintergreen Studios is the perfect place to hone your artistic and writing skills. Under the guidance and supervision of our two talented teachers, your experience at this workshop will certainly inspire you. Join us for a long weekend of creativity and collaboration you’ll treasure forever with your journal.


Drum Circle

We had a wonderful weekend workshop with Beverly Anger and Lorrie Jorgensen who taught a group how to create their own drum. Made of cedar frames and raw hide, the drums participants made are a beautiful symbol of individuality and creativity. Now that the drums and drum sticks are made, participants will be returning next weekend, Saturday July 26th, for the drum circle. The drum circle is pot luck and open to one and all. We hope to follow up next weekend with another successful afternoon. Please come and join us for the drum circle! Bring your drum, food for the pot luck, and a small token gift for the giveaway. We hope to see you here.




A Herbarium for Wintergreen Studios

We’re working  on a fun science project at Wintergreen Studios this summer. In the interest of tallying and identifying all the species of plants on our land, we’re constructing a herbarium. A herbarium is essentially a library of plants, a vast collection that catalogs the species composition in our surrounding area. When a plant is picked, it needs to be dried out and then mounted on a rigid piece of cardboard for display.

Each entry is a single plant along with particular attributes:

  1. the plant itself, identified with its family, genus, and species
  2. the precise (GPS) location where the plant was found
  3. a short description of the habitat where the plant was found
  4. the name of the person who collected the plant and the name of the identifier
  5. the plant’s cataloging number
  6. the date on which the plant was picked
  7. the name of the institution where the plant is stored

When picking a plant, it is important to have all of its parts. That is, the roots, stems and leafs, flowers, and fruits. This way, you have a complete view of the plant and identification is much easier with all of the plant components. Identifying the plant is the hardest part and requires patience and the proper tools to help you out. A 10X magnifying glass will be useful, as will a field guide and identification key.

Herbariums are a great source of information for universities and botanical gardens. They are most typically utilized for scientific consultation, in situ visits, inter-institutional loans and exchanges, and now, web consultations as more and more of the information can be easily digitized. The Royal Botanical Gardens and the University of Montreal have two of the largest herbariums in Canada.

Big institutions protect the plants in tall, hermetically enclosed, fire resistant cases. The cataloged plants contain valuable information about habitat, chemical composition and DNA, to name a few, that needs to be well protected in order to preserve the plants. Should some of the plants become extinct, these banks are the only chance we have a restoring the plants to life on earth.

Now, our project will not be quite as involved as the herbarium you’d find at the Royal Botanical Garden, but nonetheless, it will be complete, precise, and incredibly fun to make. With hundreds of species to identify, this project will certainly take a few years to complete. I’d better get started!

Bob Bossin on June 28th

We’re pleased to have Bob Bossin, former frontman of Stringband, perform at Wintergreen Studios.  His show will be part story telling, part musical performance and tells the tale of his father Davy and his involvement in the Toronto gambling scene of the 1930s and 40s.

Bob has been performing “Davy the Punk” to sold out show across the country and, between shows in Ottawa, is looking forward to performing for you at a smaller venue.  Praise for the show comes from everywhere:

“Our audiences loved it. Davy the Punk is a triple crown of music, wry comedy, and affecting family reunion. The songs are thoroughbred Bossin, the story is beguiling, and the reunion –
between Bob and the father he knew as a soft spoken booking agent
but who turns out to be, well, Davy the Punk – is something to
cheer about.”

“Bossin is a Canadian folk hero for good reason. He has given us a glorious patchwork quilt with many riveting images and soul revealing truths.” – JOSEPH BLAKE, THE TIMES-COLONIST

Some tickets are still available, be sure to reserve yours here! Dinner will be served at 6 p.m. and the show will begin at 7:30 p.m. Join us on Saturday the 28th of June for a great evening!


Tilting to the sun

tilt sunWith the sun climbing ever higher, the time has come to tilt our panels closer to the sun.

On June 13, we held a retreat at Wintergreen called Building Community Power. Turns out that there were a number of participants who were all too eager to help us tilt our panels! Pictured here are Julie Leach (SolarShare), Steve Lapp (St. Lawrence College),Dwight Lunan (Visiting Electrical Engineer from Kingston, Jamaica), Alex Campbell (Wintergreen Studios), Joseph Lewis (Visiting Mechanical Engineer from Kingston, Jamaica), and Mike Brigham (TREC Renewable Energy Co-op).

Market Season

photo4I hadn’t yet been to one of the local farmers markets,  so last Sunday, June 8th, I drove out to the Memorial Centre in Kingston and, along with a couple other volunteers, helped marketing & recruitment manager Jolene Simko and market manager Emma Barken set up the market. June 8th marked the grand opening for the market and I took the opportunity to get acquainted with the organizers and local farmers. This is the third season for the the photo2Memorial Centre Farmers’ Market (MCFM) and with the addition of more vendors for the 2014 season, the MCFM now has over two dozen local producers and artisans.

marketThough the market is full of local meats and produce, guests can still benefit from a couple of international dishes.  Wander over to Natasha’s for a Ukrainian lunch or even enjoy tacos and refreshing horchata from her Spanish neighbour. The market is also set up with games for children and adults alike, such as identifying herbs or vegetable seeds. The market runs from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. and they’re always in need of helpful volunteers to aid in setting up and tearing down the market. You can contact Jolene is you’re interested in lending a hand.

marketComplete with music, hot meals, cold beverages, an excited crowd and, of course, fresh local food, the MCFM is a great way to spend your Sunday mornings in the summer.


Nature Talks

After a little gardening  this morning, I had a bite to eat for lunch and then strolled over to Forest Farms, my neighbours, to pick up some fresh organic asparagus.  Wolfe was there this week and we got to talking about gray ratsnakes and how lucky we are to coexist so closely with these reptiles. Listed as a threatened species in this region (Frontenac Axis) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), the gray ratsnake is readily seen around Wintergreen Studios and Forest Farms. According to the recovery strategy for the gray ratsnake in Ontario, we fall in a region prescribed as a habitat for this species. The females will commonly lay eggs in ” rotten interior cavities of large deciduous trees and stumps or compost piles”. The latter is exactly where Wolfe and I found a snake as we headed down the trails.

Gray ratsnake
Gray ratsnake


 I can’t be sure that it is a female but given that we’re nearing the beginning of June (reproduction season) and that the snake was on a compost pile, I think it’s reasonable to assume that it is indeed a female.

With my asparagus in hand, I returned to Wintergreen but before I made it back, I stumbled upon another interesting species, a lovely morel. I happily picked it, thinking it would make a tasty dish with my asparagus. One however, will not suffice… I’m off to search for more.


You cross all kinds of species while out in nature. A keen eye and some knowledge of your local biodiversity helps to spot animals, plants, and fungi you might not normally notice. Add a little curiosity to that and you’ve got a recipe for enjoying the outdoors … and perhaps your supper as well!

bringing balance back