{ Archive for the ‘garden design’ Category }

Planning a summer BBQ party

Tis the season to enjoy the backyard and all the work you’ve put into the garden. We’re having a big summer bbq party on Saturday and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn’t rain.

I’ve trid to keep up with my weeding, deadheading, and other garden chores, but it’s amazing what still needs to get done outside in the next few days. The grass needs to be cut, the patio swept, gardens weeded, phlox tied up, apples picked from the lawnwe have a huge apple tree in our yard, which is lovely, but the lawn looks like a minefield of apple bombs that hurt when you step on them.

And then the menu needs to be decided. Luckily local produce is in season at the farmer’s market. I’m sure fresh corn on the cob, beans, tomatoes, and peaches will grace the table.

If you’re looking for some great backyard party tips, check out these great articles at CanadianGardening.com. I know I’ll be reading them in the next day or two!

Tips for planning a backyard potluck picnic

Garden party

hamburger-cupcake

Here is a photo of the hamburger cupcakes I made for my backyard BBQ. They were quite a hit!

Gotta love the city’s street tree planting program

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Of the 36 trees to choose from, I picked a Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) to be planted in my front yard by the City of Hamilton's Street Tree Planting Program.

Shortly after moving into my house, I called an arborist for a quote on having an old maple tree removed from the corner of my property. It had been dead for sometime and was leaning precariously towards my driveway. The arborist came to look at it and told me it would cost $350 to remove it, but then he mentioned that since the tree was on city property, I should call them to see if they would remove it free of charge. I certainly appreciated his honesty and willingness to save me some money, even if it cost him the job.

After calling the city to enquire about removing the tree, they came out to verify it was on city property and it was! They came back a few weeks later, removed the tree and left behind some brochures on the city's tree planting program. Not only did they remove the tree and stump free of charge, they also offered to plant a new one. I was surprised I had never heard about the tree planting program. Occasionally the city will canvas neighborhoods to plant trees in suitable locations, but otherwise, it seems the program is one of the best-kept secrets in the country.

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The gingko, also known as a Maidenhair tree, has an angular crown and erratic branching pattern. The fan shaped leaves are truly unique.

Whether you live in Kelowna, Simcoe, Kingston, or Charlottetown, most Canadian cities offer a tree planting program. These programs were created to plant trees on city owned street allowances fronting residential properties for free. Homeowner are able to choose from a variety of trees native to North America, imported from Europe and Asia and hybrid varieties. Some cities have taken the program a step further by offering residents subsidized backyard tree planting. LEAF (Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests) is a non-profit group dedicated to improving Toronto's urban forest.

The home renovation tax credit and your garden

Hopefully you've been hanging on to all your garden centre receipts this year because the Home Renovation Tax Credit covers a number of garden related items. This is the perfect excuse to buy more plants! I'm planning on building a pond in the garden next year, so not only am I going to wait until the garden centres have their annual summer clearance sales, I'm also going to use my receipt for the tax credit. Who could ask for anything more?

So what landscaping projects and garden items qualify?
• perennials
• trees and shrubs
• garden rocks
• new sod
• decks
• retaining walls
• irrigation
• garden lighting
• fences
• driveways
• ponds and waterfalls
• garden sheds
• large permanent garden ornaments
• professional landscaping services
• professional landscaping contractor services

For a complete list of eligible expenses, visit Revenue Canada.

A final note

img_30251Happy Canada Day, everyone. While economic times are still uncertain, those of us lucky enough to live in this country have much to celebrate tomorrow.

After I stepped down last January as editor-in-chief of Canadian Gardening, I promised myself a lazy gap year before I returned to the fray of the working world. So the second half of 2009 will be spent–doing whatever I feel like. This means less writing, more reading. Less talking, more listening. Less looking, more seeing. You get the picture. This entry will be the last one before my blog goes on hiatus.

But how can I leave you without showing a few more photos of my garden, and making an observation or two? The large image at the top of the page is a little corner filled with various pots. It looks a bit messy but there’s a reason for it. The winter brought with it a leaking roof underneath an old deck off my bedroom. This meant the deck needed to be demolished and the roof replaced, with everything that had been up there brought down. It was a big expense, so I did it in two stages. Stage one was the installation of a new flat roof last winter. Stage two was the building of a sturdy and handsome new deck a few days ago. Little by little, some of the myriad pots dotted around my garden will make their way up to my roof. But there will be far fewer than normal this year, and no veggies. Oh well, there’s always next year. Gardening is for optimists.

There are many things I’m enjoying about my garden right now (not the least of which is having some time to sit in it). Here in Toronto, it’s been a coolish and wettish early summer, and my garden has made huge amounts of lush, verdant growth. There’s very little weeding to do, because the plants are so densely packed together. So far, I’ve seen very little insect damage. There have been a few snails about, but the giant leaves of my ‘Frances Williams’ hostas are intact. Fingers crossed this may continue.

img_29881The plant shown here is my Chinese flowering dogwood (Cornus kousa chinensis), which is bursting with health and absolutely covered in starry white flowers. Divine. I heartily recommend this small tree for narrow urban Zone 6 gardens like mine, as it truly offers four seasons of beauty. Smooth, grey bark and graceful, compact form in winter, followed by attractive leaves and white flower-like bracts in late spring/early summer. These bracts (“flowers”) persist for many weeks, turning pinkish as they mature. Their berry-like centres go a brilliant red and are relished by squirrels and birds. And the leaves go a lovely burgundy fall colour as well. If the flowers were scented, it would be perfection.

Lastly, a word about containers. Don’t be afraid to combine shrubs, perennials, annuals, grasses and herbs to create the look you want. One of my favourite shrubs for this purpose is the ubiquitous purpleleaf sandcherry (Prunus x cistena), which is overused in the landscape but seldom seen in pots. Cheap as chips, open and spare in habit with showy burgundy leaves, it’s hardy (Zone 4) and easy to plant under because it’s not a space hog. (Whatever shrub you choose for a container, be sure it’s at least two zones more cold-hardy than where you live. Here in Zone 6, this means Zone 4.) Yes, the sandcherry overwinters outdoors in its pot.

img_29911And try growing some of your invasives in pots as well. Seen here is an old galvanized washtub (be sure to add drainage holes in the bottom with a drill) filled with various types of mint. I harvest the leaves to make fresh mint tea: take a generous handful of leaves and stems, rinse them, put them into a teapot and bruise well with a wooden spoon. Cover with boiling water and steep to taste. Pour into cups and float a few mint leaves on top for colour. Sweeten with honey, or not. This makes a lovely clear drink that’s delicate and refreshing. You can do the same thing with lemon verbena, which is another rambunctious plant.

Or use fresh mint leaves in mojitos or as part of the quintessentially British drink of summer: Pimm’s number 7. You can find recipes on the internet.

So that’s it from me for now. Cheers to you and happy gardening. And thanks for reading my blog.

My alien succulents–find your own at a succulent and cacti show this weekend!

This past spring at Canada Blooms, I attended one of Marjorie Mason's seminars where she spoke about xeriscaping. It was inspiring to hear how some of Marjorie's land was originally very sandy and through continuous mulching she was able to feed her soil and make things grow. Part of the magic is also knowing which plants will thrive in drier conditions. That's where xeriscaping comes in — choosing plants that can adapt to a dry environment and finding native varieties that have already adapted to the growing conditions in your particular area. This was a really helpful seminar for me as the soil tends to be very sandy in front of my house and I came away with some great ideas.

hensandchicksSucculents, such as hens and chicks, do very well in dry conditions as they retain water in their leaves, stems and roots. Last year I planted some hens and chicks out front in an area that gets a lot of sun and that can become rather dry. I've included a photo to show how they've spread and spawned (I say `spawned` because these sweet alien-looking flowers sprouted out of my little cluster and ‘spawn’ seems to be an appropriate description).

You can look for your own interesting succulents and cacti this weekend at the annual Ontario Cactus & Succulent Society (OCSS) Show at Sherway Gardens. Hundreds of rare, unusual and expertly grown cacti and succulents will be on display and there will be experts available to give you more information about xeriscaping and to provide valuable growing tips. Maybe you, too, will be able to find that perfect succulent for a dry spot in your garden.

Too much of a good thing?

blogimage32All of us rejoice when a plant in our garden does well. But sometimes it does too well–who among us doesn’t have a surfeit of one thing or another? Take wood anemone (Anemone nemerosa) at left. Now this is a lovely woodland plant, but it’s a rambunctious one. A gardening friend passed some along to me a couple some years ago, and I’ve been yanking ‘em out ever since. The plant has leaves very like that of masterwort (Astrantia major), which is another plant I grow, so it fools me into thinking it’s the more polite plant. Until I see its pretty white flowers, which are a dead giveaway. I do like wood anemone, but it spreads like mad with running, underground roots that form new plants even if only the tiniest bits are left in the soil after you yank it out.

Like many of my other invasives, I’ve moved some wood anemone to the front garden where only the very toughest plants survive in the rootbound soil under the Norway maple. Survive? The darn thing is colonizing! Meanwhile, the area out back that I thought I’d thoroughly cleared last year has a fine new crop of plants. Sigh. You have to give it marks for perseverance.

A few weeks ago, I was volunteering at an advice clinic at Islington Nurseries in Toronto’s west end–part of what I do as a Master Gardener. One man came in clutching a small fistful of leaves. “This noxious weed is everywhere in my lawn and in my flower beds,” he fumed. “I don’t know what it is and I want to know if there’s anything I can put on it to kill it dead.”

blogimage2I took one look and saw that he was holding a handful of as-yet-unbloomed forget-me-nots. I was able to reassure him that these plants are self-seeding annuals, and if he didn’t want any next year he could simply mow them down before they set seed. There was no need to spray them with anything.

Personally, I love forget-me-nots, which sow themselves merrily in my garden hither and yon. Once their bloom is past its best and the plants look almost mouldy and seedy, I simply pull them out and shake the seeds where I want them to come up next year. It’s as simple as that.

blogimage1Sweet woodruff is another plant I was delighted to welcome but now slightly less so. This is a pretty little groundcover that’s at home in a woodland garden and covers itself with starry white flowers every spring (seen left, with a few forget-me-nots thrown in for good measure). It has a dainty, almost frothy appearance.

Unfortunately, it’s also a rampager in my garden, though easier to keep under control than the wood anemone. I foolishly planted some in a little semicircle area where I wanted to create a patchwork of low groundcovers in different colours and textures, and the sweet woodruff is trying to muscle them all out, including the expensive clump of Canadian wild ginger (Asarum canadense). Naughty, naughty! I’ll have to get out there next week and show it who’s boss. (And yes, there’s plenty growing in the front garden as well.)

Waifs and strays

img_2939Most experienced gardeners know it’s best to invest in a well-grown, top-quality plant. Well tended plants have the vigour and stamina needed to make the successful transition from nursery pot to garden. Once in awhile, though, I’m drawn to a less-than-stellar specimen at an end-of-season sale. Something about it telegraphs, “please give me a chance,” and I do.

Take the tree peony shown here, which was little more than a stick when I scooped it up a couple of years ago for $4. The few leaves it had were healthy and green, so I gave it a little talking to, a bit of TLC and planted it in the ground. This year, it’s powered up into a big, beautiful plant and rewarded me with more than a dozen massive, brilliantly hued blooms.

img_2963Ditto this Japanese maple, which I rescued quite late one fall for $20. A few of its branches had been broken off and it was a bit lopsided, but basically it appeared to be healthy and just needed some gentle pruning. I placed it in the back of the garden where its spindly condition wouldn’t be so noticeable.

Plain old Acer palmatum is the most commonly sold and hardiest of the Japanese maples in our Zone 6 Toronto climate, and I figured it had more of a fighting chance of surviving that first winter than some of the fancier, more finicky, cut-leafed marquee types. I was right. This once-scraggy example is now well on its way to becoming a graceful, shapely small tree.

Of course, I would never buy a plant that is clearly diseased or really needs to go to that great garden in the sky, and neither should you. But it’s fun to adopt a promising mutt and see it grow into a champion.

Another thing I love about gardens is the way mystery plants crop up in unexpected places. These may be gifts from the squirrels or the wind.

img_2931img_2967A lone candelabra or Japanese primula (Primula japonica, far left) appeared in the garden this year. I didn’t plant it, but it seems to have made itself right at home. And columbine (Aquilegia spp., left) in various colours seeds itself hither and yon, including in between the patio pavers.

A couple of doors up, the neighbours have a fine show of Allium giganteum, below. I grow various types of alliums as well, but not this one. However, I now have several of these in my front garden, courtesy of the squirrels (and inadvertently, my neighbour. Luckily I live on a very friendly street).

img_29461Take a look around your garden and see what unexpected gifts you might find out there. And keep your eyes open at the nursery for those orphan plants that deserve a good home and a fighting chance.

Texture in the shade

img_2915Many of us who garden on a city plot have to contend with a fair amount of shade. Some gardeners think this means saying buh-bye to colour, but that’s not true. There’s so much you can plant to add oomph to even the darkest, dankest corners. (My front garden is a special challenge, for there I deal with the dreaded dry shade, thanks to a moisture-wicking, nutrient-sucking Schwedler Norway maple, which thrives on a tiny patch of ground.) So out I went with my camera, to give you a few examples of what I mean. The main photo at left shows the emerging lower foliage of a ‘Golden Shadows’ pagoda dogwood, as seen against the dark green of periwinkle, now in bloom.

When it comes to shade, texture is the name of the game. Texture can mean a play on green, as well as an interplay of other colours. The photo just below, far left, is a corner that has several oakleaf hydrangeas (which really need a bit more sun, but oh well. Pee-gee types do better and give me loads of blooms in late summer.). In spring, Leucojeum ‘Gravetye Giant’ adds its tall, snowdrop-like blooms to those of variegated and plain solomon’s seal. This is underplanted with green-and-white-striped sedge (Carex ‘Ice Dance’) and Lamium ‘White Nancy.’ img_29061img_29271Nearby is a healthy clump of the brunnera called ‘Jack Frost,’ whose silvery leaves look fabulous throughout the season. Above all is that trusty standby, an old, shapely redtwig dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’) with its green-and-white variegated leaves. So greens, whites and silvers lighten and brighten up this area.

Two other plants I find most useful in both gardens are various types of heuchera and perennial geranium (near left), especially Geranium macrorrhizum cultivars, which handle the shade with aplomb and reward me with pretty blooms in spring and nice foliage throughout the season.

img_2912img_2910And I can’t praise barrenwort (Epimedium spp., far left) enough. Also known as bishop’s hat, this plant is very happy in my garden. I have the rosy, purply and yellow types. The flowers are dainty but it’s the foliage I really like. Small, delicate and airy, it combines well with other shapes and doesn’t overpower (you really want to avoid the “moundy roundy” look you can get with a surfeit of heucheras and perennial geraniums).

Like many shade gardeners, I’m mad about ferns. Here is ‘Lady in Red’ (near left) in my front garden, where the soil is a constant battle for it really wants to be nothing more than dust, so I have to amend it like mad. The purple leaves growing through it are Lysimachia ‘Firecracker,’ which proved to be horribly invasive in the back but is just fine here, and easy to hoick out if it gets too rambunctious. In fact, I shifted other invasives to the front, including gooseneck loosestrife and lily-of-the-valley. Both are surprisingly well-behaved and haven’t overwhelmed the more polite plants, which just shows how bad the conditions out there really are.

img_29343The Japanese painted fern (far left) is one of my favourites. I have a fine clump of them in the back, near a Japanese maple and a dark-burgundy-leafed ‘Diabolo’ ninebark, and the veins of the ferns echo the deep burgundy. It took a few years for these ferns to get established with any sort of vigour, so don’t lose heart if yours look poopy. They’ll come along. However, they haven’t done well in the front garden, where the fierce roots of the Norway maple make life a real struggle for all but the most determined (and shallow rooted) of plants. Others that don’t do well out in the front include hostas, which need more room for their roots, so they stay small and sulky.

img_2909Another fabulous fern is the maidenhair (near left), with its graceful, black, wiry stems. This clump resides in the back near some hellebores and an arching and very thorny Acanthopanax sieboldianus. The leaf-and-frond shapes complement each other nicely. And I’m working on a green-and-gold corner that’s just starting to knit together. It’s basically a combo of golden Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’), ‘Bowles Golden’ sedge, various green-and-gold hostas, and so forth.

img_29351Note the Japanese forest grass is a slow grower, and takes awhile to become established. But it’s worth the wait. For without help, this area could be dark and miserable. Though still a bit sparse, the golden tones do much to brighten things up. In spring, the creamy yellow, fragrant ‘Elizabeth’ magnolia nearby is underplanted with yellow-flowered barrenwort and daffodils. It does my heart good to see them.

The plot thickens

img_2889Of all the seasons, my grandmother loved spring the best. I’ve always been an autumn girl myself, but as I grow older I’m growing more partial toward spring as well. It’s a celebration of renewal; nature’s annual affirmation of faith in the future of this planet.

As you can see by this photo of a corner of my back garden taken this morning, everything is growing by leaps and bounds. Later in the season my patch will mostly be in shade, but I’ve learned to embrace this.

So what should you be planting right now? I’ve carefully put in a few more ferns and hostas, but cautious Clara here is keeping a watchful eye on other emerging perennials before I plant more stuff, because it’s oh-so-so easy to be over-hasty and dig up or damage plants that are simply slow to get started.

And personally, I never buy tender annuals until after Victoria Day, which is early this year. This week, Toronto has had some nippy nights with frost warnings, so I’ll likely wait awhile before I go shopping for my favourite tuberous begonias, which are such beautiful plants for shade. Use your judgment and don’t buy too early if it’s cold where you live.

A corner of my front woodland garden.

A corner of my front woodland garden.

But there’s absolutely no need to feel gardening-deprived. Because across much of the country this is the ideal time to put in perennials, shrubs, trees and evergreens; in fact, you really want to shop for those as early as possible for the best selection. One caveat–to optimize sales, perennials in nurseries and garden centres are often forced into full bloom out of their normal cycle. Keep this in mind when shopping. Once established, unless it’s an early spring perennial such as brunnera, it’s unlikely your plant will bloom at this time in your garden. Nor will all your plants bloom at once! It’s best to do a bit of research before you buy so you can plan for a sequence of bloom throughout the season. And once you’re at the nursery, choose perennials that are bushy and compact with strong stems and loads of growing points and buds, as opposed to tall and lanky and in full bloom.

It goes without saying that spring is a very busy time for garden centres. Once there, even super-organized gardeners with itemized lists are likely to be seduced by something fabulous and unexpected, but that’s part of the fun.

Aimg_28661s a master gardener, part of my commitment involves putting in a minimum of 30 volunteer hours a year. And there’s nothing nicer than doing that while being surrounded by top-quality plants. So in the past several weeks I’ve had the pleasure of advising gardeners at Islington Nurseries in the city’s west end, and helping at the Toronto Botanical Garden‘s plant sale, which was held last week. Paul Zammit, the new director of horticulture at the TBG, brought in some dandy plants. Some of the choicest specimens were scooped up by the mad keen plant nerds on Day One, but there was plenty from which to choose on Day Two as well, which is when I put in my shift. One of the biggest bargains there was this magnificent serviceberry clump, which I scooped up for my daughter’s garden. The price? Just $19.99. I should have bought more.

Good Ideas for Small Spaces

Every spring, Loblaw companies generously invites garden journalists from Toronto and southern Ontario to a luncheon and preview of their new President’s Choice plants, garden equipment, accessories and decor (to check where they’re available in your area, go to presidentschoice.ca). There are always some good ideas to take away, not to mention armloads of fabulous plants they give us plant piggies to trial at home.

This year, a couple of things struck me as being great for gardeners with limited space, such as a tiny urban lot or a balcony.

One of these is a President’s Choice clematis that offers two types in one pot. Developed by Britain’s famous Raymond Evison, it’s guaranteed for one year and sells for $24.99; mine combines wine-red Rebecca with periwinkle-blue Cezanne, both hardy to Zone 4. Double the colour punch, but takes up the same space as an ordinary clematis.

Another smart idea is a handsome, square planter of herbs. The one I picked up is ready-planted with sage, rosemary, thyme, parsley and chives–just the thing to pop on the back deck near my kitchen. (Or on your apartment balcony?)

img_2892However, my favourite item, shown here at the side of my house, is this compact, rectangular rain barrel. I bought it yesterday for $74.99 on sale at my local Loblaw store, and will hook it up to my downspout this week. I don’t have enough space for one of those huge round standard-sized rain barrels, but this is just the job, and will help keep rain away from the foundation of my house. The brown colour blends in with the brick of my house, but you could always paint it something else with one of the new paints that adhere to plastic, such as Krylon Fusion.

And of course, there’s nothing better than soft rain water for your plants.

Shopping for garden treasures at Canada Blooms

The shopping made me leave Canada Blooms–but only because my arms wouldn't let me carry anything else! My first purchase was… jam! I’d tried this delicious Pears & Pansies jam that my mom bought at The Culinarium. The woman who makes these unexpected combinations, like mixing pears with pansies, had a booth, From These Roots. I had to try three more flavours. I bought Apricot HoneySuckle, Black Currant & Wild Violet and Mango Jalapeno.

Next a stunning bunch of violets caught my eye, so I grabbed one in bright crimson.

At Your Creations Hostas and Perennials, I was eyeing the hellebores when I saw these huge hibiscus rhizomes. Hibiscus is one of my favourite flowers, so, despite its tropical provenance, I'm going to try my luck at growing one this summer.

At Tropical Expressions, a bonsai retailer, I saw these small, spiky and hairy sprigs. They were in a basket–no dirt, no water. Called Tillandsia–or air plants–these little specimens are epiphytes, meaning they can be placed on any surface and will grow there without needing soil to take root. All they need is to be misted with water a couple of times a week–or so I was told. My little guy is currently on my kitchen windowsill. I will try really hard to keep him alive with his minimum care requirements.

My last purchase was a little stone cabbage for my garden from this great booth that has a store in the Eglinton Town Centre in Scarborough. I can’t wait to put it outside amongst my plants! With that weighing down my bags along with some of the literature I picked up from various booths and Mark Cullen's new book, The Canadian Garden Primer: An Organic Approach, which I had received after hearing Mark speak at the press event, it was time to head home.

I could have kept going, but this Budding Gardener is on a budget!

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