Monday, October 24, 2016

Favourite Ornamental Grasses: Part 1

I am a sucker for a clearance sale. 

Back in early July, I worked my way into a throng of bargain hunters encircling a big cart of closeout plants at my local Loblaw garden centre. The big attraction? The $1.99 price tag!

The selection of perennials on the clearance cart was telling. Almost everything was an ornamental grass of some kind. Why had spring shoppers passed on these plants?

I think the answer is simple: an ornamental grass in a small nursery pot is profoundly unsexy. Shoppers are more attracted to plants with blooms (even I fall pray to this). There is just one problem with a purchase based on this criteria. If you buy only nursery plants in bloom, your garden will be full of June flowers with little to provide interest come late summer and fall. 

Choosing plants based on bloom overlooks the hidden potential that ornamental grasses have in spades! In the golden light of mid to late August, the magic begins and continues well into winter.

Annual Fountain Grass in a Brampton Civic park.

Annual Fountain Grass in a Brampton Civic park.

Switch Grass, Panicum virgatum

Korean Feather Reed Grass, Calamagrostis brachytricha at the TBG.

A mix of perennials and grasses at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Marion Jarvie's garden in Thornhill, Ontario.

Switch Grass, Panicum virgatum at the TBG.

Even into winter ornamental grasses have a haunting beauty.

Korean Feather Reed Grass, Calamagrostis brachytricha

An ornamental grass makes a neutral backdrop for Rudbeckia 
seed heads at the TBG. 

The other reason I think that grasses get left behind at the nursery, is that gardeners still have difficulty knowing how to use them. Ornamental grasses have really surged in popularity in recent years, but some of us still struggle to incorporate them in with other perennials (myself included).

I was looking through my library of pictures for this post, when I happened upon this garden. Seeing it again with fresh eyes (originally photographed it in 2014) I was reminded how cleverly this gardener used ornamental grasses. They are dotted in amongst the flowers all through the garden. Short grasses are down front, while taller grasses work like small shrubs.

See more of this garden here.

In June, the clumps of ornamental grasses are somewhat understated, but by late summer I bet they steal the show!

Rideau Woodland Ramble Nursery Display Garden

Punctuating a mixed flowerbed with grasses is just one way to go. Massing grasses together is yet another approach.

Two different varieties of Miscanthus grass at the Rideau 
Woodland Ramble Nursery Display Garden.

Large clumps of Miscanthus at the Terra Nursery Display Garden

Terra Nursery Display Garden

One final set of inspirations as to uses of ornamental grasses. Think of them as shrubs and mix them in with perennials, other shrubs and conifers. The result is very textural.

A variegated Miscanthus at the Lost Horizons Nursery Display Garden

A Miscanthus works like a shrub in the this corner planting.

Marion Jarvie's garden in Thornhill, Ontario.

Marion Jarvie's garden in Thornhill, Ontario.

In part 2, we'll take a closer look at some of my favourite ornamental grasses.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Tiniest Flowers Blooming

Blooming in my garden is the most diminutive of flowers.

These petite purple fireworks are Japanese Ornamental Onions or Allium thunbergii. Native to Japan, Korea and Coastal China, Allium thunbergii can often be found growing at the edge of a woodland. The hollow, grass-like foliage has a mild oniony smell, but does not have any culinary uses.

Allium thunbergii likes really well-drained soil and full sun. Bulbs may be planted in the spring or fall. (I was gifted a few bulbs from a friend. Thanks Donna!) Seeds are best sown in the spring. 

The cultivar Allium thunbergii 'Ozawa' has mauve-purple flowers that are slightly larger than the species. Allium thunbergii 'Alba' has white flowers with yellow anthers and a green centre.

It's hard to get a sense of scale from these closeup shots, so I placed a red apple in front of the flowers. 

That's Piper reaching for what he figures is a ball. His long nose gives you a sense of how small these flowers really are. 

Allium thunbergii reach only 6-12 inches in height and form a clump of about the same size.

Allium thunbergii are prized for being the last of the ornamental onions to flower (anywhere from September to November depending on your garden zone. USDA hardiness zones 4-9). 

Even frost and snow are not a problem for these tiny flowers!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Ten Ideas to Steal for your Garden Next Spring

Located on a quiet, tree lined road near Campbellville, Ontario is a large country garden that has been twelve years in the making. The prospect of landscaping such a sizeable property might have intimidated many homeowners, but Mary-Anne Poole tackled the project bit by bit as time and money permitted. 

Under the tall evergreens at the front of the house, she planted shade loving hostas in a series of island beds. Along the arc of the driveway Mary-Anne created a part-shade garden using a mix of plants including Heuchera, Tiarella and Japanese Ferns.

In the sunny backyard, she designed a deep flowerbed that has grown in size over the years. It now runs the entire length of one side of the yard and across the back of the property. One of the nicest features of the wide, sunny border is a waterfall and pond framed by a rustic arbor.

Here are 10 great ideas from Mary-Anne's garden that can scaled down to be suit any sized property:

1. Hint to a hidden destination. From mystery springs curiosity. When an outdoor space is revealed in a single glance, you remove the element of surprise and the delight at discovery that inevitably follows. A degree of mystery draws visitors to explore a garden with the hidden promise of what lies ahead.

In case you are wondering, the purple flowers seen in the previous picture are Lupins.

2. Create an interesting border to accentuate the pleasing curves of your flowerbeds. To edge her garden, Mary-Anne laid down a ribbon of landscape cloth and covered it with beach pebbles and a line of grey boulders.

The blue flowers in the previous image are Campanula.

Succulents and Cactus mingle together here. 
Good drainage is key to getting these plants to overwinter.

3. Plant a conversation piece! Capture the interest of garden visitors with an unexpected or unusual plant. Most people are curious about the cactus in Mary-Anne's garden but, surprisingly enough, some varieties of cactus can overwinter here in Southern Ontario. 

Mary-Anne's collection of succulents and cacti are quite exposed to the harshness 
of the elements in an island bed in the centre of the lawn.

Succulents & cactus mixed together.

Ostrich Ferns, Matteuccia struthiopteris

4. Go Native! When you choose a plant native to your area, you increase the chances it will be successful in your garden.

The Ostrich Ferns that are incorporated into the plantings around Mary-Anne's pond are native to Southern Ontario. Not only is this fern beautiful in dappled shade, it is also well adapted to the growing conditions of her garden.

Ostrich Ferns, Matteuccia struthiopteris, by the pond.

5. Don't forget to consider the appeal of pleasant sounds. A great garden appeals to all the senses. One of the first things you notice about Mary-Anne's garden is the abundance of bird song. Birdhouses sit on top of tall posts, and feeders hang in almost every tree.

6. Don't leave visitors standing on the lawn admiring your garden from a polite distance. Invite them in to experience your garden more intimately by incorporating a pathway. If your yard isn't this large, use a short series of stepping stones tucked into one of the corners of the garden.

7. When it comes to adding color in shade or part-shade, think beyond flowers. If you have full shade, look for hostas that have an interesting variegation or leaf color. In the partly shaded flowerbed along the driveway, Mary-Anne has incorporated a mix of Heuchera and Tiarella to make the garden colorful.

The plants with the dark burgundy foliage are Heuchera. Tiarella have the green leaves with dark veining. In spring, Tiarella have the bonus of lovely, soft white flowers.

8. Play up texture with contrast. Here the chartreuse flowers of Lady's Mantle, Alchemilla seems all the more delicate with a backdrop of small grey rocks and pebbles.

Wisteria vines provide the leafy canopy that covers the rustic structure.

9. Accentuate a focal point or key feature by framing it with an arbor. Here, rough timber and driftwood have been used to create the arbor that leads visitors to a pond in the centre of the backyard garden. 

10. Install a pond! A garden should be a place to reconnect with nature and nothing attracts birds, frogs and other creatures to your garden like a pond!

I hope you have found a few ideas that will inspire your plans for next spring!

More Information and Links:

I originally wrote about Mary-Anne Poole's garden for the Niagara Escarpment Views Magazine. You can read the full  2016 spring issue online. The article on Mary-Anne's garden, along with additional pictures, is also available in pdf form here.

Wreath Project Featured on the Better Homes & Gardens Website

My pistachio nut wreath has been featured along with 9 other wreaths that were made using unexpected materials in creative ways. Check them out here: Better Homes & Gardens

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Thanksgiving Basket

A few years ago, we began what has become a tradition of eating our Thanksgiving meal outdoors in the late afternoon. The break in our usual dinner routine adds to the holiday feel and I love having meals in the garden. Yes, it can be a bit chilly here in Southern Ontario in October, but we put on warm coats and we light a fire. Hot, homemade food to tastes even better on a cool fall day!

This year I thought I would add to the festivities with a few decorative touches. Two things spurred me on. One: Last weekend I came across a wire basket that I forgot I even had. Two: I had a small container planting of mixed herbs that had served me well all summer, but had become pot bound and needed attention. 

Eventually I plan to harvest and dry a few of the herbs from the overgrown container. Others I will plant out in the garden. But for the short run, I thought I'd mix a few herbs with a some ornamental cabbages to make an arrangement for our Thanksgiving table.

Coconut liner (on the left) and sheet moss (on the right)

If you want to make your own arrangement, you may not have a wire basket with a readymade burlap liner like mine, but any wire basket could be made to suit. To line your wire basket, you could always use a square of burlap cut to fit. Alternatively you could line the basket with sheet moss (from a craft store) or use a coconut liner (from a nursery or garden centre).

The burlap interior of my wire basket was pretty porous, so before I filled it with potting soil I added a big square of landscape cloth (from the garden centre). On the very bottom of the basket, I placed a second rectangle of cloth just to make sure the bottom of my arrangement was going to stay dry. If you are really concerned that the bottom of the basket might get wet, you could always use some black plastic to line the interior instead of cloth (I'd cut up a heavy duty garbage bag if I was using this option).

I placed the black landscape cloth inside, trimmed it to fit, and then added some potting soil. In hindsight, I wished I had added the soil first and then did my trimming. The way I did it, the black liner ended up being just a bit short. I'll know better next time.

Just a quick side note on this great little tool. If you pot up lots of containers, a scoop like this makes the job so much easier! I picked my potting scoop at a local garden centre, but I notice that similar scoops are readily available online. 

Before I started, I watered everything and set the plants aside for a few minutes to drain.

As well as the herbs I had from the overgrown container, I bought a few ornamental cabbages, a bag of white pumpkins and two pots of sage from the local Farmer's Market. One was a golden sage (above on the left) and the other was tri-color sage (above on the right).

To hold the white pumpkin in place I attached a flower pic from the craft store. To do this I placed a generous dab of glue on the bottom centre of my white pumpkin and inserted flower pic into the hot glue. Then it was just a matter of holding the pic in place for a few seconds until the glue set.

Here's a full breakdown of what I used: 

1. One ornamental cabbage with a white centre 2. Tri-color Sage 3. Three grey ornamental cabbages with purple accents 4. Thyme 5. Oregano 6. Golden Sage 7. Variegated Lemon Thyme

A view of the far side of the basket.

Because I plan to use this as a table centre piece, I worked from both sides to put the basket together. No matter where your guests are sitting at the table, you want the basket to look good!

I don't know about you but, whenever I pot up something, I always get potting soil where I don't want it! To clean up my mess, I use a dollar store spray bottle filled with water and a piece of paper towel.

As a final touch, I added a little metal banner that is topped with a tiny bird. 

Here's the completed project. A similar basket or pot might even make a nice hostess gift.

Again, this isn't meant to be a longterm container planting. After the long weekend, I'll plant most of the herbs into the garden.


When I was finished the basket I still had some sage, rosemary, thyme and a couple of ornamental cabbages leftover, so I decided to use then to give one of the containers on the front porch a fall update.

Here's a full breakdown of what I used: 

1. Sage 2. Rosemary 3. Thyme 4. Oregano 5. Ivy 6. Variegated Lemon Thyme 7. Ornamental Cabbage

With the exception of the cabbages and the ivy, everything is a herb. Most herbs are pretty cold tolerant, so they work well in fall container plantings. (The ceramic pot is tall, so I thought the long trailing stems of the ivy would be a nice "spiller". There are also a few Dogwood branches at the back of the pot.)

The final touch was a little rusty birdhouse I picked up at a craft show for $5.

This little winged piggy greets all our visitors. In the fall, I put pumpkins or acorns in his outstretched arms. At Christmas time, it's usually pinecones.

If you're celebrating Thanksgiving this coming weekend, I hope you and your family 
have a lovely holiday!