Thursday, March 22, 2018

Creating a Fragrant Garden Season by Season

The older I get, the more artificial fragrances bother me. I dread a walk down the laundry soap isle in the grocery store. The highly perfumed detergents and fabric softeners overwhelm me and put me on edge. I can't wait to flee. The underlying problem is that "fragrance" is a great catchall for many unnamed and somewhat dubious chemical ingredients. No wonder they can be unpleasant!

The natural fragrances I find in the garden do not have the same effect on me at all. I still love it when my fingers end up smelling like roses after I do my deadheading. I don't even mind the white Actea that blooms in the fall and fills the air with the most intense perfume.

Am I alone in this? I'd love to hear about your experiences with fragrance in the comment section.

Here are a few ways to get more out of the fragrant plants in your garden:

• Place fragrant flowers in an area you pass frequently.

• Edge a pathway so visitors will brush by fragrant plants.

• Plant fragrant flowers next to a bench or seating area.

• Many flowers are their most fragrant at night, so plant them near a deck or patio so you can enjoy them on warm summer nights.

Spring has lots to offer in terms of scent. Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for fragrant plants, trees and shrubs:

• Shop for variety as well as type of flower. Daylilies are not usually very fragrant, but my Mom had an old yellow variety that had an amazingly scent. Roses are another great example. Most modern roses have little or no smell. Check the plant tag or descriptives in nursery listings to make sure you are choosing a rose that smells divine!

• Don't forget about aromatic foliage. For example, I love the fresh scent of Ostrich Ferns.

• Herbs have aromatic foliage and sometimes have scented blooms. Lavender is a perfect example.

• Plan beyond spring and try to have at least a few plants in each season that will be fragrant.

Woodland Phlox in my own garden.

Woodland Phlox, Phlox divaricata 'May Breeze' has fragrant, star-shaped white flowers in early spring. Unlike more familiar Phlox paniculata that blooms much later in the summer, this plant has fine, delicate foliage. Phlox divaricata 'May Breeze' slowly spreads to form a small clump. Divide in the fall. Moist soil and part to full shade are this plants preferences. Height: 30-40 cm (12-16 inches), Spread: 30-60 cm ( 12-23 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

The path leading toward my four raised beds. 
Dwarf Korean Lilac tree form, Syringa meyeri 'Palibin' in the near distance.

Fragrant Varieties of Common Lilac, Syringa vulgaris:
White: 'Ellen Willmott', 'Mme. Lemoine', 'Angel White', 'Primrose'
Pink: 'Belle de Nancy', 'Edward J. Gardner'
Lavender: 'Victor Lemoine', 'Katherine Havemeyer', 'Maiden's Blush'
Purple: 'Charles Joly', 'Sensation', 'Congo'
Blue: 'President Gehry', 'President Lincoln'

Other fragrant lilacs:
Dwarf Korean Lilac, Syringa meyeri 'Palibin'

 A young Fringe Tree at Earthbound Gardens on the Bruce Peninsula.

White Fringe Tree, Chionanthus virginicus has showy white flowers that are fragrant. This deciduous tree is easily grown in average, well-drained soil and will reach a height of 20-25 feet. It requires full sun. USDA zones: 3-9.

Peonies at Keppel Croft Garden on the Bruce Peninsula.

Peonies from my own garden.

Not all peonies are fragrant, but many cultivars have a pleasant scent. 

Fragrant pink peonies include: 'Eden's Perfume', 'Sarah Bernhardt', 'Mons Jules Elie', 'Mrs FDR', 'Madame Debatene', 'Myrtle Gentry' and 'Alexander Fleming'
Fragrant white peonies include: 'Festive Maxima', 'Raspberry Sundae' 'Duchesse de Nemours'

Read more about growing peonies here

 More peonies at Keppel Croft Garden. 

Summary List: Late Winter/ Spring

Fragrant Plants for Sun

Annuals: Pansy, Wallflower
Perennials: Creeping or Moss Phlox, Sweet Violet
Bulbs: Hyacinth, Daffodils, some varieties of Tulip, Narcissus
Shrubs & Trees: Viburnum, Fothergilla gardenii, Witch hazel, Star Magnolia, Lilac, Crabapple, Fringe Tree, Japanese Flowering Cherry,

Fragrant Plants for Part Shade/Shade

Perennials: Woodland Phlox, Ostrich Fern, Lily-of-the-Valley (aggressive perennial)
Shrubs & Trees: Winter Daphne, Rhododendron, Azalea, Viburnum, Daphne, Fothergilla (part shade)

Fragrant Herbs for Part Shade and Shade: Sweet Woodruff

Read more about this garden filled with lavender and heather here.

It's summertime and the days are hot and languid. It's the perfect time to sit with a cold drink and enjoy some of the garden's most striking scents.

Lavender likes poor soil with good drainage. Read more about growing Lavender here
Make a lavender sachet here.

For mid-summer fragrance it is hard to beat Oriental Lilies. Plant Oriental Lily bulbs in the spring or fall in full sun.

 Old shrub roses at Earthbound Gardens on the Bruce Peninsula.

Old fashioned shrub rose at Earthbound Gardens.

Sadly fragrance has been bred out of many modern roses. Here are some of the many roses that still have a marvellous fragrance:

Fragrant pink roses: 'Louise Odier', ' The Generous Gardener', 'Madame Isaac Pereire', 'Heritage', 'Souvenir de la Malmaison', 'Harlow Carr' and 'Boscobel'
Fragrant white roses: 'Claire Austin', 'Moondance' and 'Bolero'
Fragrant red roses: 'Mr. Lincoln', 'Munstead Wood', 'Memorial Day'
Fragrant yellow: 'Graham Thomas', 'Honey Perfume', 'Julia Child' and 'Golden Celebration'
Fragrant climbers: 'New Dawn', 'Zephirine Drouhin', 'Madame Alfred Carriere', 'Constance Spry', 'Gertrude Jekyll', 'Buff Beauty' and 'Old Bourbon Rose'

Pinks, Dianthus have a rich, spicy fragrance. Plant them in full sun. 

Summary List: Summer

Fragrant Plants for Sun 

Annuals: Sweet Peas, Stocks, Petunias, Nicotiana, Sweet Alyssum, Moonflower, Heliotrope
Perennials: Oriental Lilies, Daylily, Lavender, Dianthus, Bearded Iris, Peony
Shrubs & Trees: Roses, Mock Orange

Fragrant Plants for Part Shade/Shade

Perennials: Hosta (some cultivars like 'Guacamole' and 'Honeybells' are fragrant)
Shrubs & Trees: Sweetshrub, Bottlebrush Buckeye (lightly fragrant)

Fragrant Herbs for Sun: Thyme, Chamomile, Rosemary, Monarda, Mint, Scented Geranium, Nasturtium, Lavender, Sage, Artemesia

The most fragrant flower in my garden is a shade plant. Read more about growing Actea 
(or Cimicifuga as it was formerly known) here.

It's fall. The days are shorter, but there is some welcome relief from the heat. Summer annuals are often at their fragrant best at this time of year. There are also a few perennials making their own contribution.

Phlox paniculata 'Franz Shubert' at Larkwhistle Garden on the Bruce Peninsula.

I don't find most varieties of Phlox paniculata are all that fragrant, but there are a few that have a light perfume particularly at night:
Phlox paniculata 'Starfire', 'Blue Paradise', 'Rembrant' and 'Franz Shubert'

Phlox paniculata 'Blue Paradise' in Joe's Brampton garden.

Summary List: Late Summer/Fall:  

Fragrant Plants for Sun

Perennials: Agastache, Phlox Paniculata (sun or part shade)
Shrubs & Trees: Butterfly Bush, Sweet Autumn Clematis (vine)

Fragrant Plants Part Shade/Shade

Perennials: Phlox Paniculata, Actea (or Cimicifuga as it was previously known)

There is lots of talk about limiting perfume in the workplace and other public spaces. What are your feelings about fragrance in general? And how do you feel about fragrance in the garden? I am curious to know!

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Collectable Houseplant: Ferns

Fluffy Ruffle Fern or Sword Fern, Nephrolepis exalata likes bright, diffused light 
and soil that is evenly moist.

I have a soft spot for ferns. I like seeing their bright, kelly-green foliage on my window ledge in the winter months when the garden is blanketed by snow. 

Ferns do well for me. They seem to like the morning sunshine that my biggest windowsill affords.

I often move my ferns outdoors in the summer and back inside in the fall. 

All of the ferns in this hanging basket (above) performed well in a shady outdoor spot. The only thing they demanded was regular watering. In the fall, I divided the container planting and potted up the ferns individually for the winter months.  

Birdbath container planting in a private garden in Toronto.

As well as ferns, this post touches briefly on plants that look like ferns, and are commonly referred to as ferns, but aren't actually ferns at all. 

These fern-like plants make nice outdoor container plants too. This birdbath is my favourite example of using one of these non-hardy fern look-a-likes in a outdoor container planting.

Plumosa Fern, Asparagus densiflorus 'Sprengeri' also know as Asparagus Fern is often used by 
florists as a filler in arrangements. It's not a true fern but is actually a member of the lily family.

There are quite an array of indoor ferns you can collect and most of them like similar growing conditions. 

Here are a few basic tips for growing ferns:

Light: Avoid direct sunlight. Ferns like bright, diffused light. They prefer a north-facing windowsill that has indirect light. An east facing window is also good throughout most of the year, but may become too bright in the spring and summer months. With a east-facing situation, it a good idea to move your ferns back a few feet from the window in the summer or install a sheer curtain to help block the hot afternoon rays. 

Water: Ferns like evenly moist soil and regular waterings. Water deeply! I always take my ferns to the sink and give them a really good soak. Most indoor ferns are tropical, so lukewarm water is best.

Soil: Ferns like a good quality, well-drained potting soil.

Temperature: A fern's native habitat will tell you all you need to know about the temperatures it prefers. Ferns from the tropics like temperatures in the 60-70 degree F range (15-21 degrees C) Those from more temperate areas of the world are much more adaptable to a cool spot next to a window.

Humidity: Providing a fern with the humidity it likes can be a challenge. If your house is really dry, you can mist them with lukewarm distilled water. You can also place the fern in a closed terrarium, put it under a cloche or stand it in a water-filled tray of pebbles.
A few ferns that don't mind low humidity include: Boston Fern, Nephrolepis, Button Fern, Pellaea, Rabbit's Foot Fern, Davallia and Staghorn Fern, Platycerium

Ongoing Care: Keep your ferns looking their best by trimming away any brown or damaged fronds. Repot a potbound fern in the spring.

Fertilizer: In the wild, most ferns live on the forest floor where there is shade and plenty of decaying organic matter.  In the spring and summer use a liquid fertilizer (following the label's directions) every couple of weeks. 
Using a fertilizer in the winter months, when the plant is not actively growing, is unnecessary. Excessive fertilization in the winter can actually cause brown, wilted fronds.

Propagation: A large fern can be repotted or you can use the opportunity to divide it. Remove the pot and carefully break the plant into smaller pieces. Replant the divisions and water well.

Pests and Diseases: Possible insect pests include mealy bugs (soft, downy looking insects), spider mites (look for delicate webbing) and scale insects that can form lumpy colonies. 

A few of the Many Types of Indoor Ferns:

Jester's Crown Fern, Nephrolepis obliterata 

Sword Fern or Jester's Crown Fern, Nephrolepis obliterata makes quite a bushy plant and has sword-shaped fronds. In the wild, it can be found growing in the rainforests of Australia and New Guinea.

Tricolor Fern

Tricolor Fern, Pteris aspericaulis 'Tricolor' is another tropical fern that has pretty red stems and new growth that is bronze in color.

Silver Lace Fern, Pteris ensiformis

Silver Lace Fern, Pteris ensiformis (sometimes called Sword or Slender Brake Fern) has delicate, dark green leaves with silvery accents.

Glowstar Fern, Pellaea 'Glowstar'

Glowstar Fern, Pellaea 'Glowstar' has shiny, dark green fronds. It originates in eastern Australia.

Korean Rock Fern, Polystichum tsus-simense

Korean Rock Fern, Polystichum tsus-simense (family dryopteridaceae) has lance-shaped fronds. It is a South Asian fern that grows in shade near water or on rocky faces.  This fern can take a fair bit of shade. 

Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum raddianum likes bright diffused light and evenly moist soil.

Maidenhair Ferns, Adiantum Raddianum have to be one of the prettiest indoor ferns, but they have a reputation for being difficult, so I thought I would add a few extra pointers.

Like most ferns, they like bright, but indirect light. Too much sun and their foliage will scorch. Too little light and they turn yellow. The soil in their pots needs to be kept evenly moist, but not soggy. Neglect to water them and they shrivel in a heart beat. If this happens, cut the fronds off at ground level, water well, and fingers crossed, your Maidenhair Fern will recover.

This is a plant from the Brazilian tropics, so it prefers a consistently warm spot. It's also a fern that craves humidity (see care tips above).

Asparagus densiflorus in a private Toronto garden.

A Few Fern Look-a-Likes:

 The Asparagus "Fern", Asparagus retrofractus with its fine, feathery foliage that makes it look like a fern, but it is actually a member of the Liliaceae family. This houseplant has some definite drawbacks. The fine, needle-like foliage is feathery soft, but the base of the plant's woody stems have fine thorns. Ouch! Asparagus retrofractus also has a way of dropping their fine leaves the moment they get a bit dry. The good news is this plant is very easy to grow provided you water it regularly and give it a spot in a north-facing window.

The Foxtail "Fern", Asparagus densiflorus is very similar to Asparagus retrofractus, but it has foxtail-shaped plumes. The care for both plants is basically the same. 

It you want to take either plant outside for the summer, place them in a lightly shaded place with protection from the afternoon sun. Water them thoroughly and regularly.

Moss Fern, Selaginella

Moss Fern, Selaginella kraussiana 'Aurea' looks like a cross between a moss and a fern, but it is neither. It makes a great understory for taller houseplants or can be potted up all on its own. It likes humidity and moist conditions, so don't let the soil dry out completely. Like ferns, Selaginella is easily scorched by the sun, so give it indirect light. 

A Container Planting using Ferns

I thought that it might be fun to gather a few ferns along with some other houseplants into a container planting. 

Any ceramic container can be turned into a plant pot with a drainage hole. All you need is a drill and a set of tile and glass drill bits (these drill bits can be found at just about any hardware store).

Drilling a drainage hole is fairly easy. There is just one tip: use a small puddle of water on the surface your ceramic dish to keep the container and the drill bit cool.

I used three small ferns along with a Moss Fern, Selaginella and a variegated ivy. The mushrooms are from the Dollar Store (I think the large mushrooms were $2.50 and the little one was just $1).

If you're an indoor gardener who sometimes forgets to water, ferns may not be for you. But if your willing to keep a watchful eye of your plants and have a room with indirect light, ferns might make a nice addition to your collection of houseplants.

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Garden Close to the Heart

I was uncertain how to title this post when the gardener herself gave me the words: a garden close to the heart.

"A garden had always been a dream since I was a little girl," Joanna tells me on the phone. She grew up in Warsaw, Poland where her family lived in a small apartment. After WWII Warsaw had been left in ruins. The new communist authorities that came to power considered moving the Polish capital to another city. Life under communist rule was not easy either. The socialist food distribution system barely functioned and Poles lived with censorship, rules and restrictions.

For her tenth birthday her parents gave her a book filled with beautiful gardens."It must have cost them a fortune," Joanna speculates. She loved her present and the wide open spaces she saw on its pages. For Joanna, gardens came to represent the possibility of a different sort of life.

Years later Joanna found herself with a choice between immigrating to Canada or Australia. Half a world away from her homeland, Australia seemed too far. In the years since her decision to choose Canada, she's had a chance to visit Australia. "It's a beautiful place," she tells me with the slightest hint of regret in her voice. Who could blame her on a cold day in March when there are snow flurries in the air? Canada offered opportunities and the wide open spaces she had dreamt about as a little girl. Plus she knew people here.

At her lovely home in Mississauga, Joanna has created the garden of her childhood imaginings. 

The space has evolved and changed over the years. "My husband's original idea was to create a mystic garden with a number of rooms," Joanna tells me,"He used his creativity to to incorporate some of his own art installations." 

The idea was to have a garden filled with surprises. Many of the original art pieces were made of wood and rope which weathered over time and eventually disintegrated. Joanna opted not to replace them and instead seized the opportunity to take advantage of the increased light and space. She also deepened and expanded the garden's central feature, a stream and pond with a bridge. 

In her garden Joanna has created spots for birds, chipmunks and all the other natural inhabitants. She's even spotted a coyote. The coyotes seemed to disappear for a few years as the housing subdivision expanded, but they've slowly moved back into the neighbourhood. Joanna will often hear them calling to one another when she walks her dogs. She's not worried about her dogs though. They are rescue dogs from overseas that survived a tough life on the streets.

The decayed stumps of some poplar trees make homes for insects and birds.

A view of backyard from the deck.

In the centre of the yard there is a covered deck with table and chairs.

At the back of the property, Joanna has a vegetable garden. "Tomatoes, beans and lettuce greens do the best," she says, "I will have some heating in my greenhouse as of this spring. There are lettuce seeds planted as of two days ago."

Joanna's own pictures of her vegetable garden.

The vegetable garden is a big job, but Joanna has help from friends. In return, she shares some of the garden's bounty.

Here Joanna has used wide pieces of tree bark to hide the flower pots 
and create a display by the shed.

One of the works of art Joanna's husband created.

A beautiful fern from a shady area of the garden.

A view of the generous wood deck at the back of the house.

The central pond and stream was ment to create a cottage or “Muskoka” feeling in the heart of the city. "I sit on the deck often in the summer feeling not that far from "the lake country” of northern Ontario."

Fish and a number of frogs call the pond home.

Another view of the stream. 

Joanna's own picture of her Bearded Iris.

Gratitude is a very important sentiment for Joanna. She feels a close connection to nature and is grateful for the beauty it provides. 

Years later, Joanna still has the gardening book that her parents gave her back in Poland. I am sure her parents would be proud to see the garden their gift inspired.