Jim the Obscure


My name is Jim Thorleifson and I live, and garden, in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada. I believe that this area is a nominal zone 8 USDA garden zone, on the West Coast of Canada within 10 kilometres of Pacific tidewater. Coastal British Columbia is often referred to as being a rainforest; covered with expanses of evergreen forest on a mountainous stage its winters are wet but summer droughts are not uncommon. The temperature seldom dips below freezing though we can count on a few dips most years and in some winters we can be plunged into the deep-freeze and buried under a foot or two of snow – just enough, and for long enough, to banish our west-coast smugness regarding dreaded Canadian winters.

I live in a multi-family complex, a townhouse (a strata corporation in BC), with limited common areas outside but have signed an agreement with the strata council to install my garden and to assume maintenance responsibilities for it. It is a reasonable size, about 40 x 40 feet in the rear with another 30 foot strip along the side of the house, a duplex unit. Looking from the rear of the house out to the garden one is facing north, at the outset considered a drawback, but I have come to be grateful for my garden’s siting; the house to the south of it, rising two stories, casts a shadow over most of the garden from mid fall until well on into the spring that slows down the rebirth of the plants, hopefully until after possible spring frosts that are prevalent during the month of March. The fence along the rear of the garden, facing back to the south, is the first spot to receive the sun in the spring when it is welcome.

When temperatures are cold enough during the night to freeze the ground it will stay frozen in its gloomy shadow while other nearby plantings in the sun will thaw only to freeze again the following night – such cycles are stressful for plants and some species can be thrust out of the ground by these repeated frosts where they can face death on the surface. When snow falls on this garden it will last through warmer and sunnier days, again protected from the sun, and I benefit from the insulating properties of snow. I’ve recently read in a few places that the R value of snow is R1 per inch so a foot of snow has the same insulating value as a conventionally insulated 2×4 wood framework wall.

As obsessed as I am with gardening, I’m not quite sure that I’m not more obsessed with garden writing and garden history. I collect books, about 600 at present of which most are garden books, and have a particular interest in the garden writers of the past, both near and distant. It takes time for one genius to be assume the place of one who has passed, consumed by time, and we sometimes have to wait for the next writer who will distil the truth and beauty of gardens into words that will lull us, or thrill us. The past has done the waiting for us and these writers await us there – if only we look back. The craft and art of gardening has changed surprisingly little over the centuries making their reflections on the world’s 2nd oldest profession, gardening, often as relevant today as they were when written, regardless of the era. To that end I’m constantly searching for these old books and attempting, either with a scanner and OCR (optical character recognition) software or from online sources, to present excerpts from them and to hope that other people will discover them and look for them.

I lament the state of digital reproduction of old books, of any nature – most that can be downloaded from the web consist, as editable text, of text files derived from scans of books (often by Google) that bear the inevitable OCR spelling errors that makes reading them precarious. EBook formats derived from these files carry the errors like a virus; what is needed is a concentrated effort to accurately reproduce past works, once and for all, and to keep them in a central repository for all time – a permanent world library of accurate and properly formatted works of literature for the ages.

The blog name originally comes from the title of a book by Thomas Hardy that subsequently became the name of a rose bred by David Austin but perhaps, even better, it relates to Virginia Woolf’s desire to write biographies of the lives of the obscure – I would be happy to be one of them. I hope that you can find something of interest or value on this blog

Jim Thorleifson



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