Gardening Blog

Pretty in pink with a dash of yellow: My 2012 containers

The weather was so perfect in early May, I got to plant my containers much earlier than in previous years. I had the urn I bought before Christmas to fill, a gorgeous, turquoise, printed pot I got as a birthday present and a couple of rustic, terra cotta pots that I bought from a yard sale. These are the decorative ones. I also filled an old whisky barrel with some herbs.

I thought I’d share the results as I’m quite happy with how things turned out. I went with a pink theme this year out front and reserved a big yellow dahlia for my turquoise pot, which sits atop my new patio table out back.

All of the plants, with the exception of the gerbera daisy, which was an Easter present from my parents, are from President’s Choice. Some I bought on a grocery store outing, some I received at a President’s Choice preview event to try out.

Pot number 1, clockwise from left: Gerbera daisy (you can just see the leaves, but its blooms are pink), 'Cotton Candy' dahlia, lemongrass, 'Wasabi' coleus, Lanai Twister Pink verbena, 'Goldi' creeping Jenny

Pot number 1: This one was really fun to make because I needed lots of plants to make it lush and full. I chose all pink flowers, but I like how the verbena has the white to break it up. I also repeated the contrast foliage of the lime green coleus in the creeping Jenny. The lemongrass I will be able to harvest and eat throughout the summer. I learned that trick (of adding edibles to pots) from Paul Zammit, director of horticulture at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Pot number 2, clockwise from left: Dahlinova Alabama dahlia, spearmint, 'Star Dust' White Sparkle euphorbia

Pot number 2: If anyone asked what I wanted for my birthday this year, I replied: “Pots or anything for the garden.” I got this amazing turquoise pot from my sister, brother-in-law and niece and I knew exactly what colour would look fantastic in it: yellow. I added some spearmint to enjoy as a tea and in summer desserts. And I fell in love with the delicate, barely-there white flowers on a wee euphorbia.

Pot number 3, from left to right: Dahlinova Lisa Dark Pink dahlia, Baby Tut cyperus

Pot number 3: For this pot, I ignored the rule that things look better grouped in odd numbers and simply planted this stunning pink dahlia and the swirly, curly cyperus.

Pot number 4: Hot pink petunias and blue mystery flowers.

Pot number 4: I can’t take credit for this one, it all came planted together in on pot. But it carried on my pink theme, and I wanted to show how effortless container planting can be if you’re not sure what to put together. Sometimes the nursery does all the work for you!

Low-maintenance Monday: The Callery pear

Mary Fisher’s urban backyard reflects clarity of vision, restraint and discipline, illustrating her expertise as a master gardener. Although simple in design, her garden gets its richness and interest from texture and the repetition of a small number of select plants. “It’s simple and uncluttered,” she says about her wonderful garden featured in Gardening from a Hammock, “and I am coming around to that in my whole life.”

What immediately captures your eye in her urban backyard is a silver-green screen at the back of her property. The screen is made of three graceful, pyramidal Callery pear trees whose delicate appearance belies their hardy nature. “Pear trees are so hardy that they prosper throughout the city of New York,” explains Mary. “In spring they have great white blossoms that look like clouds. They are ornamental with beautiful, shiny green leaves, and yellow colour in the fall. Since they are columnar, they are ideal for a small space.”

photo courtesy of Northscaping Inc.

The Chanticleer Callery pear is resistance to blight and limb breakage. The tree will not produce an edible fruit, it is only grown for ornamental reasons. It has attractive flowers, leaves and bark. Bark is at first smooth, light brown to reddish-brown then later turns grayish brown with shallow furrows. The abundant white spring flowers are fragrant, with masses of white blossoms with purple centres. Leaves are glossy dark green and turn yellow or reddish-purple in the fall.

This columnar tree grows 13 metres high and about five metres wide in zones 4 to 9. It makes a strong enough statement to be used as a specimen, an accent, as a screen or to line a walkway. These trees are recommended for small spaces and vertical gardening, as well.

Plant in full sun. Prune in winter or early spring. Because of its pyramidal shape and branching structure, the crown is less prone to break with heavy winter snow than the ‘Bradford’ pear tree. These trees can survive periods of drought, cold, and air pollution and even salty coastal winds.

Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’ is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

Volunteers

Things in my veggie patch are finally starting to green up after a chilly spring here in Alberta, and I when I went to check on things this is what I saw:

Lovely, healthy pea plant, right? Right. Except this is the corn patch. See it there in the front, all two-to-three inches of it?

Apparently, more pea pods than I realized made it through the winter and got dug under enough to sprout. Someone <ahem> must have also put some ripe sunflower heads in the compost, because they’re all over the place too.

Now here’s the thing. These ‘volunteer’ peas are twice the size of the ones I planted on purpose. I haven’t gotten around to planting any sunflowers yet, and the volunteers are already eight inches up. So are they weeds, to be yanked with the dandelions? Or do I let the peas climb the corn, assuming the corn (‘Speedy Sweet’) catches up to all that robust growth? The sunflowers coming up close to the broccoli might offer just enough shade to keep the brassicas happy through the hotter parts of summer. Or will the volunteers suck all the water and nutrients and compromise the things I intended to grow? I’ve tried companion planting before, with good success, but it was always… you know… on purpose.

I’m still thinking about it. And getting Jefferson Airplane in my head every time I do… but the more I think, the more I’m reminded that my intentions and Mother Nature’s should probably be meeting somewhere in the middle.

Low-maintenance Monday: Japanese painted fern

It is no accident that so many of the gardeners featured in Gardening from a Hammock included Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’) in their recommendations for an interesting, low-maintenance garden. It is one of the top ten plant picks.

This colourful fern is one of those plants that gets along with just about everyone, brightening a shady area and making almost every other plant around it look better. No wonder it is a must-have for the shade garden.

Japanese painted fern is compact, growing between 30 and 60 cm high and wide. It has deep burgundy leaf stems with olive-green arching fronds lit with silver. Each plant has its own unique colour and pattern. Although native to Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan, it does well in zones 4 to 9 here. Master gardener Merle Burston asks: “with this growing in the shade, who needs flowers?”

Although it can stand alone in the garden, Japanese painted fern is a favourite dance partner. Its upward reach and shape provides interesting contrast for plants with downward arching forms, such as Solomon’s seal.  It looks dramatic when set against any dark green background or with other plants that pick up its burgundy colour, such as red Japanese maple, maroon Heuchera, black-purple Cimicifuga simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, or chocolate-purple Ligularia ‘Britt Marie Crawford.’ It lights up an area with its silvery shimmer. Consider it as an accent, a specimen, for edging or as a woodland plant. But by all means consider it for one of your prized shade plants.

Japanese painted fern is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

Rain: we’re never happy

Three weeks ago, everyone was saying, “We sure could use some rain.” And now that it’s pouring (and hailing, with funnel clouds and all), everyone’s saying, “It’s so wet! What we really need is some heat to get the crops and gardens going!”

Though it feels like a bit of deja vu, here I am talking about the weather again. But I don’t want to complain today. No, despite my nagging compulsion to get outside being thwarted by the unbelievable wet, I am here today to pay homage to the rain. Where would we be without it? Really, think about that for a minute.

So in the spirit of gratitude, here’s some tunes for your rainy day party… or if you’re needing moisture in your neck of the woods, maybe have yourself a little rain dance.

http://8tracks.com/aprildemes/rainy-day

 

 

Low-maintenance Monday: Solomon’s seal

“Solomon’s seal is one of those spring plants that make your heart beat faster,” Aldona Satterthwaite says about the perennial plant whose arching leaf and white drooping flowers signal spring. A master gardener, Aldona is executive director of the Toronto Botanical Garden and knows of what she speaks.

Fellow master gardener Belinda Gallagher of Hooked on Horticulture, agrees. “Solomon’s seal is my favourite plant of all times–today,” she says. “It takes dry shade, and is very elegant and graceful. I love the flowers, but particularly the arching shape of the stems. They emerge like sea serpents from the ground in the spring.” The native Solomon’s seal grows 60 to 70 cm both in height and width and grows well in a dry, shady spot from zones 3 to 9.

Solomon's seal adds grace to the garden. It can be featured as an accent or woodland plant, or used as a cut flower.

Delicate, white bell-like flowers hang from gracefully arching stems in late spring. The small flowers are self-cleaning and will drop off naturally. The foliage remains attractive all season, so the plant is virtually maintenance free. The stems even disconnect from the rhizomes on their own after a frost. But before that, the foliage turns a golden yellow.

Belinda explains that Solomon’s seal is usually misnamed in garden centres. The native and non-native (mainly from Asia) are often mixed together. “I like them all,” she says. “The variegated ones are wonderful, but take a longer time to mature and bulk up so people may be disappointed.”

To me that is a good thing, since that means they are less invasive in the garden. The variegated Solomon’s seal is my favourite, since its arching stems of green leaves are edged in white, brightening the shade. They are scented, which is an additional gift.

Note: The other recommended varieties of polygonatum in Gardening from a Hammock may not grow as quickly as the native species, but are valuable additions to any shade garden. Check out Giant Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum commutatum), which makes a statement in any garden as it grows from 90 to 120 cm high.

Solomon’s seal is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

The great gardener’s paradox

I can not win.

My daughter gave me a fridge magnet last Christmas that reads “Gardening forever, housework whenever“. It makes me smile. And I try to live by its wisdom. But the other demands on my time don’t seem to appreciate my priorities.

I spend a lovely, productive day in the garden, then come back inside to realize all the stuff I forgot to do in other aspects of my life. Unopened urgent emails, un-refilled fish tank sucking air through the filter… what’s that? You children want to eat?

So I shift gears, try to repair my negligence a little. Get the laundry put away, make the phone calls I’ve been putting off, help with the Social Studies diorama. But before I know it, four days have passed. The garden is jealous of my attention, and pouts, and the dandelions seed with abandon. Never mind the annoyed greenery in the porch, still waiting for me to get them in the ground. They might as well have their leafy stems crossed and their flowery brows knitted into a scowl.

I’ve had a little chat with my house, and my garden, my business files, and the piece of my soul called “mom”. We’ve negotiated. We’ve guilted. And this is the plan we came up with: One half hour, every day, minimum, in the garden. Enough to keep things together, without everything else falling apart.

Think it will work?

How do you keep a balance?

 

 

Garden eye spy: Otherworldly beauty

Do you ever stop to admire a pretty bloom or interesting plant and find yourself almost in disbelief that such beauty is of this world? I often find myself thinking exactly that when I’m out and about viewing the world through my camera. It focuses your vision upon one tiny spot of life, forcing you to really see it in a way you may have never considered before.

Photo by Laura L. Benn

Take this evocative lilac-coloured flower for example. See how it seems to glow with an effervescent glory, flaunting its delicately poised petals without shame? I’m not sure how many times I’ve walked by it on my way home from work, but now that I’ve stopped to really appreciate its presence it seems almost too good to be true.  What plants have you discovered lately?

{Laura L. Benn is the Multi-brand Web Content Editor at TC Media.  Follow her writing, photography and other creative ventures on her blog, Acquired Taste or via Twitter.}

Low-maintenance Monday: Allium ‘Schubertii’

The next long weekend may be in July, but the best fireworks this year come from the Allium ‘Schubertii’ in the garden. The purple flowers of this ornamental onion are showstoppers. Every gardener, blogger and writer eventually stumbles across the description of the large, globe-like flowers that are 15 cm in diameter. Visualize star-shaped, lilac-pink flowers that shoot out of the centre stem; a spherical shape comprised of hundreds of tiny flowers. Imagine a giant sparkler of a flower head caught in mid-bang with as many as 200 individual pink florets or a whimsical giant onion creating a spidery ball in bloom.

A Globemaster allium towers over the garden.

Many will agree that when it’s in bloom, any allium commands attention as it towers over the other plants in the garden. This particular allium will climb 60 cm on spindly stems and spread an amazing 30 cm. They make even more of a statement if grouped in clumps of three or more. And, they remind Sonia Leslie, one of the master gardeners featured in Gardening from a Hammock, of the stars and planets. She recommends these plus any and all alliums for a low-maintenance garden.

“These are members of the onion family, unappealing to squirrels or deer,” she says. Sonia assures us that you can’t go wrong with any allium as they last a long time in the garden and then the seed heads provide interest when they fade and dry. Allium bulbs are planted in the fall, bloom throughout spring and summer (depending on the variety), and then provide architectural interest throughout the fall and into the winter.

There are hundreds of varieties of alliums, from small to huge. Sonia recommends three varieties in particular to provide low, medium and tall heights and that provide blooms from spring until midsummer. They are: golden garlic allium (Allium moly ‘Golden Garlic’), giant allium (Allium giganteum), and, of course, our dramatic Schubertii allium (Allium ‘Schubertii’).

Allium ‘Schubertii’ is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

Pretty pots

I generally avoid container gardening. I am far too unpredictable in my habits (and memory) to consistently keep pots watered, fed and happy. And having so much available space, I’ve never felt pressed to plant in containers.

But I succumbed to temptation when I saw these lovely little things at IKEA this spring.

SKURAR Hanging planter IKEA

At $2.99 for the table-top version (4″), and $4.99 for the hanging one (5″), it was easy to justify 6 of the first and two of the second. I know, I know, I could have bought one nice big one for the same money, but would it have pretty lacey cutouts? Would it??

I’ve got a couple of them planted up for teacher gifts, and the rest are living in my front porch. They make me smile every time I see them, and I haven’t forgotten to water them… yet.

For the hanging pot, I tried a 'Blutopia' Bacopa, 'Peter's Gold' Carpet flower (Bidens ferulifolia), and a Silver Licorice vine (Helichrysum petiolare).

'Tycoon blue' Flossflower (Ageratum houstonianum), a not-yet-bloomed 'Mojave Tangerine' Purslane (Portulaca grandiflora) and a dwarf lemon try out my new IKEA pots. The lemon will likely need more space before long, but we'll see how it goes.

 

 

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