Garden spirit

Gardening thoughts and inspirations

Tag: Biodiversity

Personal slice of the rainbow

Happy New Year! Its 2016 and another gardening season begins. Even though its cold outside, even though our gardens are filled with frosty remnants of last season and the trees and shrubs are bare – we can still garden! What? How is that possible?

Winter is the perfect time to dream and plan our gardens for the coming season. On a cold January afternoon, it is possible to gaze out of our windows and imagine the possibilities of the coming season. We can daydream about planting up that empty bed, dividing that overgrown perennial, moving that shrub just a little more to the left and even ripping out that annoying lilac that only ever has one flower! Whether you are just starting out your garden or if you have been gardening for years, you can dream of the beauty you can create this coming season in your own patch of earth.  Gardeners are such an optimistic bunch….

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Usually around this time of year gardening magazines and articles are filled with the next great trends for gardening.  I have even done this myself with my blog last winter: check it out here  Sometimes its nice to get some inspiration from these lists.

This year though,  I am not going to tell you the must do trends or to plant the perfect new heuchera, or hydrangea or ….hellebore or…well whatever the new hot plant is this year. I am going to tell you to focus on what you want to see in your garden this year. This should always be the most important guide for what we do in our gardens. How can we as gardeners create a garden that is filled with plants and features that we actually like?

Sometimes it is easy getting caught up in what a garden is supposed to look like. What such and such a book tells you should be planted; the right colour scheme to follow; the correct arbor to use. We can often end up with a garden that …well, maybe our neighbor might like. We all want to create a garden that is a thing of beauty but our gardens should really say something about each of us. Every garden reflects its owner. The amazing thing about visiting gardens is enjoying the uniqueness that each garden holds.

Of course, we need to follow some basic design guide posts but gardening should be fun right? How can we add that personal touch that makes our garden our own special place?

It helps to start with a few basics:

  1. Know your site – soil conditions, wet and dry areas, zone, exposure etc. – before jumping in to plant anything.
  2. Plant the right types of plants in the right places. No sun lovers in the shade or vice versa.
  3. Think diversity – Use a mixture of annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees and even tropicals. Diversified plantings encourage healthier, wildlife friendly gardens. Diverse plantings also let us be more creative.
  4. Think about form, texture and structure – not just flowers.
  5. Take the time to think about what you want to use your space for – a cozy seating area, a veggie garden, a flower garden and so on.
  6.  Work out a plan, even if it’s a rough sketch. If you can afford a designer, go for it. If not, just do a rough pencil drawing. It is just for you – no one needs to see it. Plus, you can always change it – this isn’t set in stone.
  7. But most importantly, let your passion and creativity guide you!

 

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This photo is one I took in my garden last week. I love it. The beautiful frost covered ornamental grasses and perennials create a natural piece of art. I sometimes like to go out and stare at this spot during winter – it just gets me excited – which may sound weird to some , but I think every gardener feels this about some part of their garden.  I so liked this picture that I wanted to post it on our company facebook page. But my wife said “I don’t know. Are you sure? That picture looks like the garden is half dead… Its all frozen and when I look at it, it makes me want to go inside and wrap a blanket around myself.”

Oh. Well I never thought of it like that. What is a thing of beauty to me, is maybe not so much to others. Now,  I am not trying to prove anyone right or wrong. But it made me realize – we all have our own version of beauty in the garden. When planning our gardens it is essential to make sure that we are following our heart and what we like. (Of course, taking into consideration those that live with us – a garden full of frosty ornamental grasses might be a bit of an overkill!)

This also reminded me of a short passage in a book by Daniel Hinkley (Winter Ornamentals) that always resonated with me. So, I will just quote it here:

“I once walked with a well know British Gardener and author through his magnificent garden in southern England’s county of Kent. He led me to a specimen of spirea gold flame, brightly glad in orange/red foliage…bright blue and pink hyacinths under planted the pyrotechnics. ‘How do you like my combination?’, my host asked…..I admitted that I did not….my host chuckled contentedly, ‘ But I love it!”.     This underscores the need to follow your own sense of proper colour combinations. ….careful observations of colour and textures in the garden will make apparent your own personal slice of the rainbow.”

Keukenhof Gardens Desktop BackgroundKeukenhof Gardens – Located near Lisse in Holland.

Read, visit gardens, look at pictures on pinterest and houzz, visit garden centres and make notes and observations about what gets you excited, about what kinds of combinations you enjoy. Then start planting and make your own beautiful, personal slice of the rainbow!

Enjoy your garden.

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Planting Tips and Fall plant picks

It is officially fall now, the temperatures have cooled down and our steady west coast rain is back. Our long drought seems like a distant memory now…except if you are noticing your cedar hedge is slowly dying off!!

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Cedars were hit hard with our long dry period this spring and summer. I have seen lots of new cedars that were planted in the spring that just couldn’t make it through the summer with water restrictions. Even mature, established cedars have struggled.

It seems to be the year of replacing cedars! There is not much to be done but to start over. There are a few instances where I have seen newer cedars that have died that were not planted that well, so this does not help them when the stress of a drought hits them. Improper planting can already put your new hedge at risk.

Here are a few planting tips to make sure you are helping your new cedars or any plant for that matter:

  1. Proper planting depth – Always make sure you are planting at the appropriate depth. Measure root balls as you dig. Place the cedar in the hole – check the depth. Your root ball should be level with the surrounding ground. Don’t plant too high  AND don’t plant too deep. High root balls dry out faster and buried trunks will rot and die.
  2. Proper spacing – Make sure you are giving your new hedge the right amount of space to grow. If plants are planted too close together , they will compete for nutrients and crowd each other out in no time.
  3. Amend the soil – Make sure that you are adding some compost and/or fresh soil to the planting holes. Mix it in with the existing soil and place the root ball in the hole. Back fill with new and existing soil.
  4. Add bone meal for good root development.
  5. Water – Make sure you soak the whole root ball before fully covering with soil. Let the water sit and drain away. Then finish back-filling around the root ball with soil. Water again once you have finished planting and set up a specific watering schedule. Write it down so you don’t forget. Try to stick to it. Plants that have taller trees around them will not get as much water from rain , so need to be watered by hand more often. Always check soil moisture by just putting you fingers into the soil. Get to know your soil, and water accordingly.
  6. Mulching – Add a 2 inch layer of mulch around your new plants after planting. Composted bark mulch is a good option. Don’t bury the trunk but have a nice layer to assist in keeping the soil from drying out. This can really help during dry periods.

…..                                ….                                ….                         ….

Fall is also a great time for planting. Why not think about adding some new plants that can add some fall interest to your garden? Why do spring and summer gardens get all the focus? Why do autumn and winter gardens seem to be more of an afterthought?

Sometimes people feel that fall is the time to “shut down” the garden. Put all the tools away, clean up and say goodbye to the season. Then they don’t look out the window until the bulbs start in the spring….How sad!! There is an abundance of interest in the garden at this time of year that can extend the season into December!

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It is a trans-formative time in the garden with beautiful foliage colours, berries and textures. We are lucky on the west coast to have mostly mild falls and winters. But even gardeners in cooler climates can extend the season as well.

A garden isn’t just interesting because of “flowers”. Don’t get me wrong – blooms are beautiful and are a dynamic part of any garden. Although there are some flowering perennials that can extend the season into the fall , we really need to look at plants that have more then just “flowers”. Fall should be a time to explode your garden with striking fall foliage, beautiful berries and fiery fruit, showy seed heads and bodacious bark!

20151001_100058The trick is to look for perennials , shrubs and trees that offer multi-season interest. Flower, form and foliage – this is a good recipe to follow to extend the interest into fall and winter. Plants that hold this triple threat in their arsenal will be sure to extend the time you can enjoy your garden –  Here are a few of my favourites :

  • Trees – Coral bark maple ; Paperbark maple; Dogwoods

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Paperbark maple – Bark

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Paperbark maple – fall colour

  • Shrubs- Summersweet (Clethra); Berberis; Smokebush( cotinus); Burning Bush; Hydrangeas; Ninebark(physocarpus); Fothergilla; Viburnum; Callicarpa (beauty berry); contoneaster

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Hydrangea Limelight and anenome                           Fothergilla – fall colour

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Fothergilla – spring flowers

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Viburnum ‘Brandywine’                                           Beauty berry and sedum

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Contaneaster

  • Perennials- Echinacea; Fall aster; Black eyed susan (rudbeckia); Sedum; Solidago (goldenrod); Russian sage

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Sedum autumn joy                                                           Fall aster

  • Ornamental grasses – Miscanthus; Little Bluestem; Japanese Blood grass; Carex evergold; Molina

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Miscanthus                                                  Little Bluestem, Rudbeckia, sedum

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Japanese Blood grass, carex evergold

Enjoy playing with plants to bring some 4 season interest to your garden. Have fun and get outside!

Rain, rain gone away…

I can’t believe it has been so long since my last post. We had such a mild spring in the Pacific Northwest this year and then summer started early, so work has just been hopping along since February. Now, I finally feel there is time to catch my breath and post again….

The Alaska Mountain Range and the Chulitna River in the Clear Mid Afternoon

Summer Sizzle

We have had warm summer temps that started in May. Then June was incredibly hot. July started the same and only yesterday did we finally get some rain. To west coast standards the rain we had was pretty pathetic. More of a light drizzle. Plants are suffering, lawns are a burnt brown already and its hard to work in the constant heat.

According to the weather network we usually receive on average about 81 mm of rain from June 1st. This year we are at 7.4 mm since June 1st. Forest fires are being fought all over the province. Last week our sky was a hazy fog of smoke from some forest fires burning in our area. The sun was a spooky orange glow from behind the haze and it was actually hard to breathe outside for some people. Many local municipalities have introduced water restrictions and some have put an all out ban on lawn sprinklers due to the low level of our water reservoirs. There was significantly less snow pack this winter and significantly less rain this spring. Our area is experiencing what some people might call a crisis.

Water wise?

I have a client that I do occasional garden maintenance for. He is an older gentleman , and I help out with things he can’t get to. He is a very nice guy and we usually chat when I am there to garden. Of course, we discuss the weather and on my last visit the drought we are experiencing was a topic. I noticed how his lawn is still green. He told me he is only allowed one day a week to water due to water restrictions.  So he was quite proud of having very little browning with 3 months of little rain. He explained – he gets up at 5am and starts in the front. He has quite a large front lawn and has to move the sprinkler 4 times to “hit all parts” of it. He then moves to the back lawn and has 3 moves…one of his proud weapons in his arsenal is a stainless steel impact sprinkler that can shoot up to 40 ft. Wow! I didn’t know what to say. By 9am he has to switch off and his 4 hour water sprinkling job is done. I wonder how much water he uses in that time? How much of it hits his driveway and runs off quickly to the drain in his cul de sac? A few hundred litres? In 4 hours , I would expect even more.

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This years drought has been worse then usual. Some people blame the El Nino weather pattern, others blame climate change. I am not wishing to argue one way or another, or get into a pointless argument on what is causing it. The fact is our region IS experiencing our worst drought ever. I know that the last 3 summers have had long periods of drought. I feel that this is going to be a regular pattern for us. Many other areas in North America have had and are experiencing similar patterns.

A change will do you good!

I feel that we need to change our attitudes towards water use. We need to start learning how to manage our water resources in a more conscious way. I applaud the municipalities that have introduced an all out ban on lawn sprinkling and others that have put restrictions on when people can water.

The lush green lawn and white picket fence were ingrained into our society in the 20th century. The ideal suburban lifestyle. For some reason the white picket fence fell by the wayside but the perfect , golf green looking lawn is still stuck in our psyche of what a home must have.

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I understand the benefits of lawn. I have children that play soccer, badminton and run around our brown/dry lawn all the time. It will come back once the weather cools down and the rain comes again. A little bag of grass seed and some soil for topdressing will help it bounce back. Its not the end of the world.

Using a sprinkler to water a lawn for 4 hrs twice a week is in my opinion unrealistic.  Lawns don’t require endless watering. In times of drought a lawn will turn brown. In times of extreme drought a lawn will go completely dormant. I would argue that 90% of people don’t use their front lawns in an urban environment anyway. They are just there for looks. Should we waste our valuable water resources on cookie cutter parcels of lawn? Just for aesthetics?

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This photo was taken on July 10th at a clients garden. I have watered it 4 times since May. There are drought tolerant alternatives to lawn that also add more biodiversity.

Every drop helps!

My client is of an older generation. He won’t be convinced of reducing his sprinkling efforts. He must keep his lawn green at all costs. His municipality doesn’t have an all out ban yet and until it does he will continue to get up at 5am and start his 4 hour lawn sprinkling routine. I don’t think any argument will stop him. But we must start educating the next generation to understand that our water is not a never ending supply , especially in times of drought. We have to educate everyone to understand that we all must make a sacrifice and compromise. We must reduce wasteful water consumption.

I think that everyone would agree that it is more important to have a water supply that supplies us with drinking water. We may have a brown lawn for a couple of months. But I feel it is worth it. It is worth it for us now and for our future generations. Do you agree?

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Gardening, Nature and the High Line…

“Traditionally, the way plants were organized in parks and gardens reflected a culture that liked to order and discipline nature. Contemporary planting design is not only freer, but also seeks to reflect nature. It also addresses our concerns about how we garden sustainably and in partnership with nature.” – Noel Kingsbury (Planting : A new Perspective 2013)

As we plant and design our gardens in the 21st century , we cannot ignore what is happening around the world in private and public gardens, put to words so eloquently by Noel Kingsbury in the quote above. Sustainability, biodiversity and working with nature are the main guiding lights when we approach gardening today. How can we reduce harmful practices in gardening and also create gardens that become wildlife friendly habitats?

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Our goals are now focused on reducing the amounts of chemical fertilizers used; reducing the amounts of chemical weed control; minimizing the amount of water used; reducing the amount of regularly mown lawns and over trimming of woody plants. The use of long lived perennials and ornamental grasses is a strong step in the right direction for achieving these goals. The convention most used in 20th century garden design is the monocultural block planting. The use of a single shrub, set out and repeated in blocks throughout a garden was mainly to simplify the maintenance costs – especially in public parks. The unfortunate side effect of this kind of planting, is the opposite of biodiversity. These monocultures become more susceptible to frequent outbreaks of pests or diseases. In most cases, this was and is sometimes still dealt with by chemical or pesticide applications. In some cases, annual hard pruning  is done to keep the plants under control. From the 1970’s onward, many ecologically focused garden designers began to promote the use of native species and creating the garden with the idea of biodiversity in mind.

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This gardener (from Australia), looks like he is into natural gardens!

In Germany, many public spaces were designed and developed with a naturalistic, wildlife friendly style. The interest and movement of designing and maintaining gardens this way has grown and evolved through the years. And still continues to evolve.  Some argue that you can’t plant in straight lines if you are favouring a natural style of gardening. But, others will point out that a bird does not mind if a tree is planted in a row or in a group – it will still make its nest in it! The naturalistic planting style continues to grow and evolve as designers and gardeners keep exploring and trying new combinations of plants and finding new ways of working with nature in creating gardens.

Plantings still have to excite people – planting which serves a purpose has to look good too. The new plantings are the opposite of the old tradition of order and tidiness. By designing gardens that are inspired by nature, with wild flowers, ornamental grasses and such, the aesthetic can become quite wild. This is where the fine balance of biodiversity and wild life gardening must also work in conjunction with the gardeners eye for creating something beautiful to look at. This kind of garden is maybe just a little wilder then our grandparents gardens! Homeowners and garden designers alike need to educate themselves and their garden visitors of this. We are creating and planting an ecosystem, a microcosm of nature in our back yard or inside a city park. Finding the balance of this naturalistic planting and a garden pleasing to our eyes  is an exciting challenge.

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Throughout Europe many old industrial sites have been turned into new city parks with this new, bio diverse, naturalistic approach to garden design. This often takes its inspiration from the actual plants that have started to grow wild in these abandoned factories over the years.

This is starting to become a trend in north America too. In 2009 In New York, the designer Piet Oudolf working with an American Landscape architect redeveloped the abandoned High Line Subway. It was an elevated subway line last used in the 1980’s. The planting design took its inspiration from the grasses and wild flowers that had grown spontaneously over the old rail lines. Ornamental grasses are a crucial mix of the naturalistic planting that was designed and installed there. The High Line has been a huge success in bringing nature into the city and has become one of the most visited tourist destinations in New York.

HighLine5_IwanBaan                          “Take a walk on the High Line”, click here to view video

Take a look at this time lapse video,(link above), of a walk on the High Line , it looks like late fall/early winter. But just notice the amount of people there – walking, sitting, taking pictures etc. This garden really proves that people need, love and will use gardens that are inspired by nature. This is a fantastic garden that really creates a distinct natural, atmosphere in a big city. Hopefully the definite success of this project inspires others across North America.