Monday, October 5, 2015

Spring Bulbs: Ideas Inspired by the TBG's Spring Planting

We are nearing the end of the gardening season and it's time to think about spring bulbs. Here are a few ideas inspired by plantings at the Toronto Botanical Garden last spring.

Idea: Create an understory by layering a shorter narcissus or daffodil under a taller tulip.

Idea: Stick with a single color and vary the type of bulb.

Idea: Extend your spring display with Alliums that bloom after tulips and daffodils 
have packed it in.

Camassia bloom at the same time as Alliums. They tolerate moist or dry soil conditions and naturalize easily. Camassia is a great option for a wooded or grassy area. Deer do not like them!

Idea: Look beyond the imports and plant a bulb native to North America: Camassia. 

Idea: Plant bulbs in blocks of color. This might look great along on a pathway or at the entrance to your house. 

Idea: If it's drama you're after, there is nothing like the bold mix of red & white and red yellow.

 Idea: Don't get so wrapped up in color choice that you forget to think about form. 

There are tulips with fringed petals, double tulips and parrots tulips to consider. Look for daffodils and Narcissus with double or ruffled trumpets.

Idea: Emerging spring foliage will often form the backdrop for bulbs. Consider the planting area's foliage and chose a bulb color that will compliment it.

I hope this post has given you a few planting ideas for your spring bulbs!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Seeing Seeds: A Book Giveaway

Isn't this a gorgeous book cover? 

It is just one of the amazing images in the new book Seeing Seed, A journey into the world of Seedheads, Pods & Fruit. 

Photographer Robert LLewellyn uses a unique technique known as image stacking to keep every part of his photographs in perfect focus. 

Each image begins with a series of photographs that are taken with a variety of focal points. Then all the photographs are merged and blended together with a special computer software program. The results are photographs with breathtaking clarity and detail. (You can see a great example of image stacking in Robert's photograph of a translucent Honesty seedpodLunaria annua by clicking the link).

All of the Seeing Seed's photographs are on a crisp white background giving them the look of masterful botanical illustrations. 

Meadow Rue seeds in my garden

Allium seeds from my garden

Seeing Seeds is a book you could easily read cover to cover. Certainly author Teri Dunn Chace presents the subject matter in a way that is light and entertaining, as well as informative. 

I think however, that this is a book you are more likely to turn to as a reference and end up finding yourself getting lost in its pages. 

Before you know it, you'll have expanded your knowledge about the way seeds work without feeling the weight of having learned anything. 

Poppy seeds

The book begins with an introductory series of short essays. Seeds vary greatly, yet there are underlying principles and patterns at work. The essays examine the structure and the diversity of forms seeds take, and what seeds do and how they do it. The introduction also examines the way in which seeds fit into the environment as a whole.

Teri Dunn Chace writes,"Everything plants do or can do, every fruit or pod or loose seed, is connected to us and to all living things. There is no autonomy; nothing is entirely solitary. To say we are co-evolutionary with seeds is to gaze at the edge of a mystery. A life force is embedded in everything, not just in seeds." *

* Pg 10. Seeing Seed, A journey into the world of Seedheads, Pods & Fruit by Robert Llewellyn and Teri Dunn Chace, Timber Press, 2015.

As I read on, I couldn't help but feel that seeds have more to teach us than simple botany.

They remind us that nature is intricately connected. Plants do not reproduce in isolation; flowers depend on bees and other insects for pollination, on the birds that eat ripe berries and fruit, on animals that carry seed in their fur and on the wind for dispersal.


The second half of the book highlights 100 representative seeds, fruits and pods. Here you will discover interesting stories and a treasure chest of curiosities.

For instance, did you know that Milkweed flowers have a tiny slits in their sides which will often catch the feet of insects that land to drink the nectar? 

Saddlebags of pollen held by tiny wire-like filaments will often attach themselves as the insect struggles to free itself. Inevitably some insects fail in their escape attempt and perish on the flower.

To make up for any short fall, Milkweed produces a great abundance of delicate, tan-colored seeds. 

Each seed has silky wings that allow them to drift and sail on the wind.

After you read this book, you may find yourself adding plants to your garden for a whole new reason; not for the flowers, but for the ornamental quality of their seeds.

The seeds above may be familiar to you, but have you seen the seeds of Iris domestica or the blackberry lily as it is commonly known? Like daylilies, the small speckled orange flowers of Iris domestica last for a single day. Then the green pods ripen and split to reveal handsome clusters of shiny black seeds that resemble blackberries.

High on my personal list of elegant seeds pods would be that of an old fashioned plant: Lunaria annua. Honesty, Silver Dollars or the Money plant, as it is variously known, forms translucent coin-shaped envelopes to house its seeds. If you tug gently on the small tail at the end of each ripe pod, the protective sides of envelope come away revealing fine brown seeds on a silvery interior shaped like a small coin. (You can see a translucent Silver Dollar here).

For years, my Mom gathered the seeds and used the translucent silver dollars to make dried arrangements she would keep all winter.

Seeds covered with frost in late fall.

I have always thought that seeds have a beauty which rivals that of flowers. This book is sure to convince you of it!

About the Book's Author & Photographer:

Robert Llewellyn has been photographing plants and landscapes for more than forty years. His work has appeared in more than thirty books and includes the books Seeing Flowers and Seeing Trees, which was chosen as one of the best gardening books of the year by The New York Times.
You can see examples of his work on his website:

Teri Dunn Chace is a writer and editor with more than thirty titles in publication including Seeing Flowers (Timber Press, 2014) and How to Eradicate Invasive Plants (Timber Press, 2013). Chace has gardened in a number of climate zones and with a number of soil types. She now lives in upstate New York. To learn more about the book's author, visit her website:

The Book at a Glance:
Book Authors: Robert Llewellyn and Teri Dunn Chace
Publisher: Timber Press
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 284 pp.
Images: 145 color photos

Thomas Allen & Sons has given me a review copy of the new book: Seeing Seed, A journey into the world of Seedheads, Pods & Fruit. I am going to give it away to one lucky reader.

Leave a comment if you would like to be included in the book draw. The draw will remain open for the next 7 days.

If you are not a blogger, you can enter to win on the Three Dogs in a Garden Facebook page. 

Please, please make sure there is a way for me to track down your email address should your name be drawn. ( I still have a copy of Grow Gardeners for draw winner Bonnie Johnson because I have been unable to find an email address for her. Bonnie, if you're out there, please email me!)

Saturday, September 26, 2015

My Troubles with Landscape Cloth: Part 3

Just beyond the back gate, there is a gravel path with landscape fabric underneath. It is one of the first areas we did, and perhaps because we were smart enough to lay a good thick layer of gravel to protect the cloth, it has held up fairly well over the years.

Still, you can see plants creeping in on edges of the pathway and under the concrete bench.

Wanting something softer underfoot in the section of the garden where I have my raised beds, I chose to cover the landscape fabric with natural cedar mulch.

Unfortunately, mulch breaks down quickly making the area the perfect home for weeds.

And it is not just the weeds that are a problem. It's all the prolific self-seeders, like the forget-me-nots and the eggplant-colored geraniums, that I planted in the surrounding flowerbeds.

By mid-summer the forget-me nots and geraniums have self-seeded and the weeds have moved in. 

The result is that I have a real mess on my hands in July and August! I can't tell you how many hours I have spent trying to keep this mulched area weed-free this summer.

The only way I think you could get mulch to work as a covering for landscape cloth is to rake it all up and replace it periodically through the growing season.

Money was tight when we came to doing the gravel courtyard at the back of the garden. We had moved in the year before and already had replaced the furnace, the roof and all the eves troughs.

So when we went shopping for landscape fabric, we favoured price over quality.

Huge mistake!

Compounding the problem, we made the top layer of gravel far too thin.

In areas, like the one under the two boys, the fabric has failed utterly making it easy for the weeds to move in.

With the top layer of gravel removed, you can see 
clearly the sorry state of the cheap cloth underneath. 

We are now looking at the possibility of having to redo the whole area.

If we do decide to move forward next spring, we will have to rake back all the gravel, remove all the old cloth in its ratty state and then lay new cloth.

What a nightmare!

Landscape Cloth: Does it really work?

In my humble opinion, landscape cloth laid correctly deters weeds best in the first few after installation.

Then it wears and seeds take advantage of even the tinniest pin-sized holes.

Even if you rake your gravel routinely, debris quickly builds up on the surface and then breaks down forming the perfect growing medium for sallow rooted weeds like plantain.

The weed Plantain has moved into this area where crushed limestone and flagstone sit on top of landscape fabric.  Plantain (right) can easily withstand drought, so it is quite happy finding a home amongst the flagstones.

The Reasoning against using Landscape Cloth:

• It's not cheap. The rolls of good quality cloth (4' wide by 50' long) we've bought are $30-$40 a roll. Then add in the cost of the pins or fasteners you need to hold the cloth in place. Finally there is the cost of the pea gravel or other surface material to go on top.

• The descriptive name"cloth"or "fabric" makes it sound pretty benign, but in reality, landscape fabric it is a petroleum product. This is a disturbing fact that I learned only recently. I have always prided myself on the use of good organic practices. To think I have unwittingly installed a petroleum product, that could be leaching chemicals into my soil, is frankly horrifying.

• It is time consuming to install and even more time consuming to replace.

But my number one reason against using landscape fabric is that it doesn't work all that well over the long haul

Alternatives to Using Landscape Cloth:

If knowing landscape fabric has a questionable chemical makeup and is a potentially ineffective weed barrier makes you hesitate to use it, what are the alternatives?

Sadly nothing seems to present itself. Corrugated cardboard or thick layers of newsprint are temporary weed blocks at their best.

Truth be told, I find myself in quite a quandary as to how to readdress the areas where we have used landscape fabric.

What to look for when buying Landscape Fabric:

How can you spot poor quality landscape cloth apart from price? It tends to be thin and almost transparent. The fabric weave is uneven. The cheap stuff is guaranteed for 10 years or less. 

Before you purchase this type of product, you have to ask yourself: do I really want to redo all this work ten years from now?

Most good quality landscape fabric has a 20 or 25 year guarantee. It's has a heavy weight and isn't at as transparent. Most importantly the weave has even, uniform quality.

The only drawback to this more dense fabric is that water seems to pass through it more slowly. When I removed the top layer of cedar mulch, I found moss growing on the surface of my landscape fabric.

How to Install Landscape Fabric:

If you are creating a pathway or courtyard, you will be covering the landscape fabric with another material like pea gravel. This top layer should be at least two or three inches in depth to both protect and hide the cloth underneath. To allow for the top covering, you therefore need to begin by digging out the project area to the proper depth.

Once the area is dug out, the ground must be levelled.

Next, prepare the area carefully removing any surface stones that might create holes in your landscape fabric.

Lay out the sections of your landscape fabric. Overlap pieces of fabric by at least 8". (In the how-to article referenced at the end of the post, they actually recommend a full 12" overlap.)

U-shaped pins are generally recommended for holding landscape fabric in place. We have found however, that the standard pins heave terribly when the ground warms each spring. (I trip over old landscape pins that have lifted out of the gravel every spring!)

In our most recent installation we switched to using spikes and washers. We find the 6" galvanized spikes don't heave when the weather warms.

Please make no mistake; these spikes aren't nails. Nails could be potentially dangerous! Spikes aren't as sharp as nails, and they won't rust, because they are galvanized.

U-shaped pins are sold in garden centres along with landscape fabric. Galvanized spikes and appropriately sized washers can be found in any big box hardware section.

Here is one last, but very important tip: landscape fabric tends to lift where two pieces of fabric overlap. 

It is really important to use u-shaped pins or spikes at least every 3" or 4"along any join. This may seem like a bit of overkill, but trust me, the last thing you want to see is an ugly flap of landscape fabric where it has lifted along a join.

So what am I going to do about my sorry looking gravel pathways?

I haven't decided, but I do know that I won't lay any new areas with landscape cloth!

Further Reading:

Read The Myth of Landscape Fabric by Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., Extension Horticulturist and Associate Professor, Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University.

North Coast Gardening: Why I hate Landscape Fabric: An Unfair and Unbalanced Look at Weed Cloth and Professional Tips for Using Landscape Fabric Right by landscape designer Genevieve Schmidt

The Landscape Fabric Weed Barrier Myth by Todd Heft on Big Blog of Gardening.

Lots of people will tell you to put down newspapers are a weed barrier. Before you consider it, read this: Is Newspaper Toxic for my Garden? by Peter Kearney of Cityfood

Garden Prep: How to Make a Bed, with Cardboard by Margaret Roach of the blog A Way to Garden.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Element of Surprise

I have come to love sedums for the element of surprise they add to the autumn garden. 

As the days shorten and the nights grow colder, a sedum's color changes with the advancing season. I delight to find flower buds, which were cream one sunny afternoon, have taken on a peachy tone a few days later. Yet another day, on my way to the back of the garden, I'll discover a pretty pink sedum has deepen into a fiery shade of magenta almost overnight.

Industrious bumble bees seem to tap dance on top of the parachute-shaped flower heads. Wasps love them too, but butterflies seem to prefer the small white flowers of the Joe Pye Weed in another part of the garden.

Frost always seem to strike just as the flowers become their most vibrant. In October, they continue to stand tall amongst the storm of falling leaves, their color having morphed yet again into a mellow reddish brown. 

Even in the dead of winter sedums seem to have a melancholy beauty.

If you look close, you see that each plant lights hundreds of miniature firecrackers each fall.

Sedum spectabile 'Neon': This Sedum has light green foliage and magenta-pink flowers.  Full sun. Height: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches) Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA Zones: 2-9.

Some of my old favourites include Sedum 'Autumn Joy', Sedum 'Autumn Fire' and Sedum 'Matrona'. Making new plants is easy, so I have them scattered throughout the garden in both sun and part shade.

(To make new plants, pinch back your plants in June about 4-5 inches. This will help prevent tall, heavy flowering varieties from flopping and give you lots of cuttings to create new plants. Strip away all the leaves on the bottom half of each cutting. Plant your sedum in pots, or as I do, directly into garden soil out of direct sunlight. Water them well and keep an eye on them to make sure the soil doesn't dry out while the cuttings are establishing roots. Your sedums should root within a couple of weeks.)

Sedum telephium 'Matrona' is one of the taller sedums in my garden. The reddish stems and pink flowers are a great combination. Full sun. Height: 60 -70 cm ( 23- 28 inches) Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA Zones: 3-9.

The deepening color of Sedum telephium 'Matrona'.

I find the mature plants and ones that are in part shade flop the most. Again, pinch them back in early June to avoid this problem.

Every summer I try to add a few new plants. Last year I added these two low growing varieties:

Sedum 'Pure Joy' is a keeper because of its neat mounded shape. Sadly I find it isn't as pretty as others once the flowers start to fade. Grow it in poor to average well-drained soil. Full sun. Height: 20-30 cm (10-12 inches) Spread: 45-50 cm (18-20 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.

Sedum 'Dazzelberry' has really nice purplish-grey foliage. The deep raspberry flowers are amazing, but the flower stems are so fine that I find it flops unattractively. Next year I need to figure out some form of low support for it. Again poor to average well drained soil. Full sun. Height: 15-20 cm (6-8 inches) Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.

This year's additions include:

Sedum 'Class Act' is a recent introduction. 'Class Act' has flowers that are such a vivid shade of magenta they immediately grab your attention. Full sun and average, well drained soil. Height: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm ( 18-23 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.

Sedum 'Class Act' is the deeper raspberry colored sedum.

Sedum 'Lemonjade' has interesting creamy-green colored flowers that take on a peachy tone as they mature. Full sun and average, well drained soil. Height: 40-45 cm (16-18 inches), Spread: 45-70 cm (26-28 inches). USDA Zones: 3-9.

Sedum 'Lemonjade' in front of Sedum 'Matrona'

Sedum telephium 'Munstead Dark Red': This is an older variety that deepens into a dark rose color. It can be floppy in moist, rich soil. Height: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches) Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA Zones: 3-9.

Here I have planted Sedum 'Munstead Dark Red' with my favourite hydrangea 'Little Lime'.

Autumn is all about changing leaf colors, so it is better to think of companion planting in terms of complimentary foliage rather than flowers.   Sedums look great at the feet of tall ornamental grasses, as well as alongside plants like hosta and heuchera.

Sedum 'Autumn Charm' sits above a peach colored heuchera and next to a hosta with a golden leaf. 

Sedum 'Autumn Charm' has this terrific variegated foliage and salmon colored flowers. Full sun and average garden soil. Height: 35-40 cm (14-16 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA Zones: 3-9.

Sedum 'Autumn Charm' peeking in on the left. 'Autumn Fire' on the right with 
'Class Act' in the background.

I end with one of my favourite images. It's a nice reminder that, while the gardening season is coming to close, there is still magic yet to be found.

I know I promised the final entry in the landscape cloth series of posts, but sometimes 
things don't go to plan. I'll have Part 3 up shortly. 
Have yourself a great weekend!