Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Secret Garden: Part 2, The Shade Garden and Pond


In this, the second in the series of posts on Carole's garden near Uxbridge Ontario, we will take a closer look at the pond and shade gardens.

When Carole and her husband Frank first bought their home, there was nothing more than a natural stream and a low lying, boggy area in the space where the pond is currently located.

Here is a similar view of the pond area as it looks in now. Quite the change!

Carole's husband is not a gardener, but Carole tells me that one of the many ways in which Frank  helps out is to pull her around in a dingy, so she can do some pond gardening.

Along the perimeter of the pond there are moisture loving plants like this pink Astilbe and 
this purple Japanese Iris (below).

A Japanese Iris with blue Veronica in behind and a repeat flowering daylily in the foreground.

Japanese Irises: Japanese Irises need at least 6 hours of sunlight to bloom properly. They also require ample moisture especially up until bloom time. They will also be much healthier plants if the soil is moist throughout the summer. (A heavy mulch of 2-3 inches can help to conserve moisture.) They like a slightly acidic soil that is a rich in organic matter.

This is a "Before" photograph of what was to become the shade garden. Carole tells me:

"I put a shade garden here because there was a grouping of fairly large birch trees, however when we added the top soil to prepare the bed and raise the grade we killed all but one tree. We knew that this would probably happen, but we needed to get the low lying area to drain properly. Luckily our neighbour had a number of young birch saplings which they gave to us. We replanted the birch grove and it has grown up nicely."

Here is a similar view of the shade garden in present day. Again an amazing transformation!

On the perimeter of the birch trees is this part-shade bed where there are Heuchera, Hosta, Astrantia, Astilbe, Solomon's Seal, Lady's Mantle and Sedge grass.

In the shade garden proper, you will see that Carole has done a really nice job of mixing 
leaf shape, size, color and texure.

The shade garden is not without flowers. Carole relates that:

" I like to use etherial plants and bulbs under my hostas so I get an early bloom before the leaves come on the trees and the hostas cover them up. I use dwarf Daffodils, Scilla, Virginia Blue Bells, Sanguinaria canadiensis or Bloodroot (both the native and double varieties). I also mix in Primulas, Pulmonarias, Brunnera and Disporum or Fairy bells. I like to let these naturalize through the garden."

Single and Double Bloodroot or Sanguinaria canadiensis and Sanguinaria canadiensis 'multiplex' respectively: The single form of Bloodroot has 8-16 petals with a golden centre. The double form resembles a waterlily flower. Both have large, round leaves with deep lobes. Bloodroot gets its name from its rhizomes which contain a red juice. They like shade to part-shade and moist soil that is rich in organic matter. In April or early May flower buds appear wrapped protectively inside the leaf, which open as the flower emerges.

In addition, Carole says that:

" I grow all kinds of Hosta, Ligularias, Mudenkia, Percicaria, Astilbe, Snakeroot and daylilies on the fringes of the shade garden."

Throughout the shade garden Carole has added large bottles and oversized glass vases.

As I am sure you can imagine maintaining a garden as large as Carole's must take a lot of work. I asked her if she has any strategies to make the workload easier. Carole replied that in fall:

"I cut all my plants back in fall to 3-4" and clear out any weeds that may have escaped me through the season. This is also when I put down any manure mulch the garden needs.

I also do any rearranging or dividing in fall. It is nice and cool and there are no bugs!

I like to blow the leaves off my shade garden in fall, shred them and put them back around the around the plants. I know that this is extra work, but the leaves break down faster. The shredding also prevents smaller bulbs from being "drowned out", there is less chance of mould developing and it looks nicer."

In spring, Carole advises that:

"I start in the garden as soon as I can. I use a hand trowel, scissors and a long handled claw. I hand dig any perennial weeds (dandelions, grass etc.) that may have come up. Any annual weeds I just claw over. If you do this once a week or at least every two weeks for 4-6 weeks, you will find you have eliminated most of your weeds. You have to be relentless or the weeds can take over.

After that you spend your time deadheading. I do not let my plants go to seed as it makes for a very messy garden and it is harder to keep your plants separated."

I asked Carole for one final bit of advice for those gardeners who still struggle with the reality of gardening in shade. She replied:

"My best advice is to experiment with different plants as not all "shade" is the same and the garden is ever changing."

I have saved the best for last. In the final post in the series, we will visit what I think is Carole's masterpiece: the backyard garden.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Secret Garden: Part 1, The Front Garden and Layout

We are driving down a rough gravel road in what feels like the middle of nowhere, even though in reality, we are not far from the town of Uxbridge, Ontario. 

This is prime farm country, but on this particular stretch of road, trees press in on either side. The only indication that there is a house, let alone a garden, is a roadside address marker and the mouth of a driveway.

The driveway is a long winding one through the trees. There are hints along the edges of the forest that this is a cultivated space, but the view of what is to come is somewhat obstructed.

Suddenly, it seems, the driveway opens into a large clearing. In front of you there is a house sitting high  on a gentle slope. 

And all around you there is a spectacular garden. The descriptive "park-like" springs immediately to mind.

Immediately on your right, there is the grand sweeps of a large perennial flower garden.

As you look to your left there is a pond.

A long path takes you by the pond to a shade garden.

(We'll take a better look at the pond and shade garden in an upcoming post. )

And if you aren't impressed enough already, there is another large garden that awaits 
you at the back of the house.

I asked Carole what first attracted her and her husband to this particular piece of property:

"We liked the mixture of woods and pond, sun and shade, the abundance of water available to water the gardens, and of course, the house."


This enormous garden must have been a tremendous undertaking. I asked Carole to tell me a little bit about its creation:

"The garden is 12 years old. There were no gardens when we arrived, as a matter of fact, we had to bulldoze the front yard just to see what it looked like."

"I brought in 1000 perennial plants with me in 2 gallon pots as I had been collecting perennials for over 30 years. We made a hosta bed in the front yard for the shade plants and a sun garden in the backyard for sun plants. Both gardens required 50 yards of top soil to prepare them."

As with most gardens, Carole's plans evolved over time:

"When we brought the property I envisioned the hosta bed and the pond garden. Most of the other gardens were installed within the past 5 years."

Carole tells me that, with the exception of the driveway, the area around the culverts and the large rock in the parking area, she and her husband did all the landscaping themselves.

Now you may not have a large garden like Carole's, but there is lots of ideas here
which can be an inspiration for any sized garden.

Carole has spaced her plants expertly, giving each plant just enough breathing room that it is not crowded by its neighbours. 

This sounds like it something that is easy enough to do, but it is really tempting to overcrowd a bed when your plants are young and small. Stronger plants will inevitably overtake weaker neighbours. Lack of air good circulation also means that tightly packed plants are also more likely to be susceptible to disease.

In these front beds, Carole has a lovely array of perennials. Let's take a look at a few:

This daisy-like flower makes me think of a shaggy dog! 

Carole tells me that it is an Inula of somekind. Poking around on the internet leads me to conclude that it is an Inula magnifica. Can anyone confirm this?

Inula magnifica: belongs to the Asteraceae (Aster family) and is a fast-growing perennial that can reach a height of 2 metres (6 feet). The leaves of this plant are arranged opposite one another along a stems that have a reddish-brown mark.  Inula magnifica blooms July to August. Full sun.

Blanket flowers, Gaillardia

Carole wasn't sure of the particular cultivar of Penstemon, but I am going to make an educated guess that it is Penstemon 'Elfin Pink'. Carole tells me that she has found it to be very hardy in her Zone 5 garden.

Penstemon 'Elfin Pink': This hybrid Penstemon was developed in Nebraska and chosen for its hardiness and ease of growth. The plant forms a low clump of green foliage and has flowers mid-June in Carole's garden. Its flower is attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. Full sun and average to dry soil. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA Zones 3-9.

I love the combination centred around the vivid orange Butterfly Weed in the foreground: 

Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa: This is a native North American wildflower and the primary source of food for Monarch butterflies. Plants form an upright clump of narrow green leaves with orange or gold flowers in mid-summer. Butterfly weed need dry, well-drained sandy soil and full sun. Remove seed heads if you want to limit its spread. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread 30-45 cm (12-18 inches) Hardy USDA Zones 4-9.

To the right of the orange Butterfly Weed (1) is a bright chartreuse colored foliage plant: Spirea, Orgon 'Mellow Yellow' (2)

Directly behind the Spirea is a daisy Leucanthemum x superbum 'Broadway Lights' (3).

In the foreground is a low mounded Weigela with pink and green foliage that is named 'My Monet' (4).

Aster x frikartii: makes a good cut flower and is attractive to bees and butterflies. Full sun and average water needs. Prune in early summer to promote bushiness. Blooms midsummer to fall. Height: 60-90 cm (24-36 inches), Spread: 45-60 (18-24 inches) USDA Zone: 5-9

Meadowsweet or Queen of the Prairie, Filipendula purpurea Elegans: Plants form a bushy clump with soft pink flowers in early summer. This plant does best in moist, humusy soil in sun with some afternoon shade. Trim flowers after they bloom. Height 75-120 cm (1.5' to 2'), Spread: 75-120 cm (1.5' to 2').USDA Zones: 3-8

More of Carole's garden coming in an upcoming post!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The early beginnings of Great Fall Color

While many perennials in the garden are beginning to look a bit weary, a few plants are just coming into all their glory. 

Helenium is one of them.

I have always had a few Heleniums in my garden, but sadly, I don't think I have ever 
 given them a chance to really shine. Something I'd like to rectify in future!

Helenium in a public park in Brampton

I have come to realize, by way of example, that Heleniums look best planted in large groups in combination with tall grasses or other late blooming perennials. 

In this public space, Helenium looks terrific mixed with Phlox, yellow Rudbeckia, and blue-grey Russian Sage.

Helenium in a public park in Brampton

Sneezeweed or Helenium autumnale is a North American native plant that can often be 
found growing in wild, damp meadows.

Larkwhistle Gardens

As you can see here, many varieties of Helenium are skyscrapers that soar to a considerable height.

Larkwhistle Gardens

Heleniums are happiest in rich moist soil, but they will tolerate a somewhat sandier soil and will even adjust to somewhat dryer conditions once established.

Helenium 'Short 'n' Sassy'

This fall to add to my small collection of Helenium, I am adding a few of newer 
cultivars that are shorter in height. 

Helenium 'Short 'n' Sassy': This compact variety of helenium has orange and gold petals with a deep brown centre. Full sun and moist soil are best. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 40-50 cm (16-20 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.

Helenium autumnale Mariachi 'Fuego': Another compact variety of helenium, 'Fuego' has orange-red petals and a golden halo around a deep, coffee-colored centre. Full sun and moist soil are best. Height: 40-50 cm (16-20 inches), Spread: 50-60 cm (20-30 inches). USDA Zones: 3-9.

I also brought home a piece of a tall yellow Helenium from my Mom's garden. Fingers crossed it takes!

Sedum 'Maestro' is super tall and reaches a height of 60-75 cm (23-29 inches).

Another group of plants that really comes into its own at this time of year are tall Sedums. 

Sedum telephium 'Matrona': This Sedum has sage green foliage with reddish stems and is fairly tall.  Full sun. Height: 60 -70 cm ( 23- 28 inches) Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA Zones: 3-9.

In early June, I usually cut my tall Sedums by a third. I find they produce more, smaller flower heads and flop less as a result.

Propagating Sedums is fairly simple I've found: just stick your June cuttings in damp soil and keep them watered and out of direct sun until they have rooted. What could be easier! New generations of my original Sedum telephium 'Matrona' can be found all over my garden. 

It is also nice to add a few new Sedums to the mix each year. 

Sedum spectabile 'Neon': This Sedum has light green foliage and magenta-pink flowers.  Full sun. Like all Sedums, it is attractive to butterflies. Height: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches) Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA Zones: 2-9

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

So far, I am really liking this low mounding cultivar called 'Pure Joy' that I purchased in the spring of this year.

Sedum 'Pure Joy': has a low, rounded mound of blue-green foliage and pale pink flowers. 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.

Beside soft pink 'Pure Joy' is the Sedum Sunsparkler 'Dazzleberry' (you can see 'Dazzleberry' peaking into the picture on the lower right).

'Dazzleberry' has flopped a bit and has been held up by the surrounding Lamium (it gets lots of sun so perhaps my soil is too rich and causes it to flop). It's purplish grey foliage has made it a perfect companion plant for Penstemon 'Dark Towers' and mauve flowered Veronica 'Eveline' in my front garden.

Sedum Sunsparkler 'Dazzleberry': has purplish grey foliage and raspberry red flowers in fall. 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.

So what do you think?

Are Helenium's outrageous colors too much for your garden? 
What's your experience with tall Sedums?