Garden spirit

Gardening thoughts and inspirations

Tag: Perennials

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!

Get outside!

I recently attended a Horticultural Trade show. There were a number of workshops offered at the show and I signed up for a full day course focused on landscape design.

One of the speakers was a landscape architect from Vermont, Julie Messervy. She has her own landscape design company that works all over the east coast of the States. She talked about her design process and shared her philosophy for creating dynamic outdoor spaces. Julie also has a motto – ” Get outside!”. She has designed some amazing , interactive children’s gardens and her passion for connecting children with nature was very inspiring.

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Photo courtesy of Julie Messervy Design Studio

At the start of the workshop, she guided us in a small exercise to discuss with each other our most exciting garden experience. It could be a specific place and/or what we felt a garden needed to create a great experience. Each table of about 8 people , (there were about 50 people in total there) got to share these experiences which we then summarized and shared with everyone at the workshop. A few people had specific gardens that they felt ticked all the right boxes for their great garden experience. But many people also had chosen certain aspects of a garden design which they felt would always have to be present for their great garden experience. Here were the main points that were brought up :

  • Water – every single group said that there had to be some form of water in the garden. From a reflective pond to a stream or waterfall.
  • The Senses – there needed to be aspects of the garden that stimulated the senses which included fragrance, texture, dynamic colours, and again the sound of water.
  • Surprises – a great garden experience must include something surprising and unexpected. A garden that suddenly opens up to a spectacular view. Or a hidden, secret garden in someones back yard.
  • Wildlife – A garden that has great bio-diversity that can attract all kinds of wildlife.
  • Sustainability – A garden that is designed and maintained with a thought to sustainable management. The right plant in the right place, water wise plantings, composting debris etc.

These were just a few of the points that kept repeating through all the group discussions. One person at my table said that they remember going to the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden in Vancouver as a little girl. She said that she still remembers the experience and that it was the moment when she knew she wanted to work in the landscaping industry. People also listed  gardens from Europe, the States and also Buchart gardens in Victoria. Some designers had a favourite design they had done.

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But out of the discussions, it became clear that each ‘great experience’ connected with us on a deeper level, something that was hard to articulate. It created a very strong memory in some people. There is a certain check list that a great garden can follow, but in the end if there is not a deeper emotional connection, the experience is missing something. This is obviously very personal for everyone. What would your great garden experience be? A specific place? Or a time of year? What aspects of a garden are necessary for you to have a great experience?

This summer I went on a holiday to Victoria with my family. We ended up going to a place called Government House. This is the office and official home of the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia.  It used to be a private residence that had a vast, estate like property. By the time BC joined Canada in 1871, it turned into the Lieutenant Governors’ residence. The original gardens were designed in 1911 and had large renovations in the sixties and seventies. Due to government cutbacks in the 1980’s,  a staff of 17 gardeners was reduced to one. Today, Government House has a large garden that is open to the public.

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When we were there this August, my family and I had a chance to explore the grounds on a beautiful, late summer evening. When we arrived we found  a classical concert being played on a small stage. An audience was spread out on the lawn on blankets and chairs. These concerts happen throughout the summer. As we walked through the garden , the beautiful music kept drifting in and out of earshot – a mysterious soundtrack that echoed through the garden. We saw some deer in the orchard , munching on some fallen apples. There was also a group of people practicing Tai-Chi on the lawn. In the rose garden there was a university student sketching some of the roses and my children ended up playing tag on one of the lawns too.

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I enjoyed all the amazing plants and mature trees. There are some beautiful perennial borders, rockery plantings, 2 immaculately maintained formal rose gardens, ponds, and some very big old trees that give the garden a sense of history.

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After exploring the garden as the sun was setting, I realized that this place ticked all my boxes for a great garden experience. There were some stunning combinations of drought tolerant perennials and ornamental grasses; ponds and waterfalls; large, mature trees and evergreens; big views; and very little annuals! I also realized that for me, a great garden must be used. There were people strolling around the paths, an outdoor concert being played , and my children laughing and running around the lawns. A garden has to be a place that people can enjoy the space for different activities. It can’t be static, like an old painting.

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I felt the gardens were beautifully maintained and wondered how much staff they had maintaining the grounds today. There was certainly a lot of love and passion that went into these gardens. What made this garden even greater was that I found out that the garden is maintained by volunteers from the community!! Almost 200 people that live nearby in Victoria donate a minimum of 4 hrs a week of their time. They are called “The friends of the Government House Gardens Society”. It was established in the early nineties, to help enhance and maintain the neglected gardens. Obviously, there is some great management of this huge, volunteer workforce as the garden looked amazing. This group continues to maintain the grounds today and also implements updated designs and plantings. There were newer, drought tolerant perennial plantings that were dynamic and exciting. This is not a garden stuck in the past. All the volunteers must enjoy gardening and must love this garden because I really had a sense that I was in a special place. A space that is passionately cared for by this inspiring group of volunteers.

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The Government House gardens are open to the public from dawn till dusk and there is ample free parking. If you are ever in Victoria, please visit the gardens there. It may not become a great garden experience for you but I can promise you that you will not be disappointed.