Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Garden with a Grand River View


I think it was all the pops of vivid orange and red that caught my eye as we drove by: the trumpet vine on the side of the house, the bright geraniums in terra cotta pots and the Mountain Ash berries in the distance. 

Even though we had a full day already planned, I resolved to come back to the garden in the early evening and ask if I could take some pictures.


The house which overlooks the Grand River in the small town of Fergus, Ontario was built by a carriage maker in the 1890's. The present homeowners lovingly renovated and updated their historic home over the course of a several years.

As you will see in the next few shots, the property rolls gently down to the river gorge. Locally quarried stone was used to terrace the slope and to make a stairway that leads down from the house at street level.





On the first terrace, a lovely walled garden was created. 

At the far end of the garden a trellised wall helps disguise the neighbour's garage. Incorporated into the plantings are peonies, Rudbeckia, sedum, daylilies and Butterfly Bush. 

A closer look at the Rudbeckia and Butterfly Bushes.

Here there are several Spirea bushes (pink flowers) interplanted with Sedum
 and Lamium (the purple flowers at ground level). 

That is a Trumpet Vine on the side of the house.

Another staircase leads down from the walled garden to the yard at the back of the house. 



A dashed line of stones leads to the back door and to the formal garden 
which you will see in upcoming photographs.


Lady's Mantle, alchemilla mollis: is a great foliage plant whose velvety leaves always manage to catch water droplets in the most beautiful way. Lady's Mantle has sprays of chartreuse flowers in early summer. Cut back the plant after it flowers to rejuvenate the foliage and keep the plant looking tidy.
Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA Zones: 2-9

This was my favourite part of the garden. 

To the left of a stone walkway that runs through the centre of a large, rectangular formal garden, there a central diamond-shaped flowerbed framed at each corner with a triangular shaped bed. 


On the right there were a series of rectangular beds for vegetables and herbs. The more I see examples of this mixed planting style, the more I admire it when fruit, flowers, vegetables and herbs are all mixed in together. 

Pretty and productive seem to compliment one another so perfectly.

Campanula punctata (on the left). Be warned: Clumps can spread vigorously! If you like the look of this plant, Campanula persicifolia is a similar, but much less aggressive option.


The homeowner was in the midst of revamping her flowerbeds, but even so, they looked 
wonderful in the warm light of late evening.

A tall Oriental lily is surrounded with blue perennial Cornflowers or 
Mountain Bluet, Centaurea montana.

Mountain Bluet, Centaurea montana: has soft greyish-green foliage and blue flowers in early summer. Full sun or light shade. It will grow in most soil types and will tolerate both dry and moist conditions. Cut back hard after it first flowers to rejuvenate the foliage and encourage new flowers. This plant can self-seed prolifically. Height: 45-60 cm (18-24 in), Spread: 38-45 cm (15-18 inches). USDA Zones: 2-9



A view to the back of the house.

Tomatoes in the foreground with Oregano, Lamb's Ears and magenta colored Phlox in behind.

A tall ornamental grass on the left and Oregano in flower on the right.



Just behind the formal garden is a large outbuilding that has been renovated and made 
into a guesthouse.

Obedient Plant, Physostegia virginiana

Obedient Plant, Physostegia virginiana: produces showy flower spikes in colors of white, pink or purple. It grows in most soil types and can become invasive. Plant it with caution and only in an area where it can't run wild. Sun to part shade. Height; 60-90 cm ( 24-36 in), Spread 18+ cm ( 45+ inches). USDA Zones: 3-10.

This is a large patch of Oregano in the foreground.


Purple Loosestrife 

Astilbe on the right.

A set of stone sets leads down to the banks of the Grand River. 
Geraniums in pots add a dash of bright color.

Under the broad limbs of mature trees, the riverbank area is quite shady. The plantings here incorporate an interesting mix of hosta, Periwinkle, Astilbe and some sedum for late summer color.



One really hot summer nights, the homeowners sometimes sleep in the guesthouse where the  
bedroom has a nice view of the Grand River.


Just outside the guesthouse is a generous patio area with chairs and a picnic bench.


Unfortunately the homeowner was unsure of the name for this beautiful Clematis.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

My Spring Wish List: Seed Starting


Yesterday it was -16 degrees Celsius and the wind made it feel even colder. I shouldn't complain- at least we didn't get touched by any of the snow spring storms that struck the East coast of Canada. My enterprising brother in Halifax, Nova Scotia made an igloo in the backyard and he and his 4 year old son camped out for a night inside it. 

With the exception of a few stubborn patches, our snow is almost gone. The garden emerging from under the blanket of white snow looks brown and exhausted. What we need now is some warmth and a bit to rain to bring around that miraculous transformation to fresh shades of green.

To usher in the official arrival of spring, my first order of seeds arrived in the mail last week. 

Annual seedlings available at local nurseries tend to be limited to traditional favourites. Last year I found that starting my own flowers from seed opened up the possibility of growing so many more interesting and unusual types of annuals.

So... what flower seeds did I order?


I have been growing biennial foxgloves every spring for a few years now. This year I thought I'd try Sutton's Apricot which are a soft peachy-pink color.


Verbena bonariensis seeds have proved hard to find at local nurseries. So this year I mail ordered some.

In my Zone 6 garden, these are an annual, but Verbena bonariensis are a tender perennial in zones 7-10. 

Verbena bonariensis like sun and moist, well-drained soil. Sprout time: 10-30 days. Sow 6-10 weeks before planting out after frost. Plant height: 4'. Seed depth: 1/16 inch. Sprout time:10-30 days.  Sow 6-8 weeks before planting out after frost. 


I've always grown the more standard orange varieties of Calendula. These yellow Calendula from Select Seeds looked like an interesting alternative.

Calendula 'Kablouna Lemon' , calendula officinalis (annual) have a crested centre and a halo of lemon colored petals. Seed depth: 1/4 inch. Sprout time: 5-14 days.  Sow 4-6 weeks indoors before planting out after last frost or direct sow outdoors in early spring.


I also ordered these ruffled Cosmos just for a change of pace:

Cosmos 'Rose Bonbon', Cosmos bipinnatus (annual) are a compact plants with double pink cosmos. Seed depth: 1/8-1/4 inch. Sprout time: 3-10 days.  Sow 4-5 weeks indoors before planting out after last frost.

Cosmos 'Snowpuff', Cosmos bipinnatus (annual) with double white flowers. Seed depth: 1/8-1/4 inch. Sprout time: 3-10 days.  Sow 4-5 weeks indoors before planting out after last frost.



Nigella, Love-in-the-mist 'Persian Red': I grew the more common blue and white Nigella last year and thought some rose flowers might mix in nicely. Seed depth1/16 inch. Sprout time: 7-14 days. Sow direct in early spring.

Lavatera 'Pink Blush' : I thought I'd try this soft pink variety. Lavatera gets quite tall ( 2.5-3 ft) and fairly bushy. It likes sun and lots of water. Lavatera is best planted in rich, well-drained soil. Seed depth:1/16 inch. Sprout time:10-40 days. Sow indoors 6-10 weeks before planting out after frost.


Have you noticed? Frilly flowers seems to be a recurring theme in my seed choices. 

I've always loved double poppies, so I picked up some Peony Poppy seeds from Floribunda Seeds when I was at Canada Blooms. Seed depth:1/16 inch. Sow directly in early spring. Poppies don't like to be transplanted. Full sun. 

If you like the shaggy lilac colored poppies (seen above) that I photographed in Joe's garden here is a link to similar poppies offered by Select Seeds.


Even though they are reputed to be prolific self-seeders, I want to try my hand at growing annual Candytuft. 

Annual Candytuft, Iberis Umbellata: Height 30-40 cm. Full sun. Flowers range from white to pink and mauve. These plants are taller and less compact to their more familiar white flowering perennial cousins.


Here are a few seed starting basics (lessons I've learned the hard way!):

Read the information on the back of your seed packets as soon as you get them so you can plan properly. For example, some seeds need a period of cold to germinate. It will be a little late to discover this important information like this later in the spring when the weather is already warm.

Pay heed to planting depths: Remember you are not burying treasure, you are sowing seed. Each seed type will have a recommended planting depth. Some seeds, like the foxgloves I ordered, are teeny-tiny and should be sown directly onto the surface of the soil. On the other hand, the Lavatera I will be planting needs to be planted at a depth of 1/4", while the love-in-the Mist needs a depth of 1/16" of an inch.

Sow your seed thinly: I have a bad habit of over sowing and that only produces weak, spindly seedlings. Try to sow thinly, and if like me you tend to get carried away, thin out the seedlings to give them room and better air circulation.

Annual Rubeckia I grew last year from seed

Some types of annuals hate to be moved: Last year I planted sunflowers and rudbeckia in a nursery bed with the grand plan to move them into their final positions in the garden when they got big enough. 
But when they were transplanted, the sunflowers and rudbeckia wilted immediately, and though they eventually recovered, they sulked for days. I am thinking of starting them in plug trays, where I figure I have a greater chance of creating firm root ball that will make transplanting less stressful for the young plants. Perhaps you have a better method?

I am looking forward to getting my seeds started. Now if only the weather would co-operate!


Friday, March 20, 2015

More Ideas for the Narrow Space Between Suburban Homes

Private garden, Mississauga ON

Happy first day of spring! In today's post, I have ten ideas for that long, awkward space 
between suburban homes.

Private garden, Mississauga ON

1. Create with a striking entrance to entice friendly visitors. A pretty gate also creates a bit of a mystery by blocking the view to the back garden.

Private garden, Toronto, ON

2. Add decorative details to your gate like a door bell, a welcome sign or a wrought 
iron wall decoration.



3. Keep it neat and choose low maintenance plants. Who wants to try to manoeuvre a lawn mower in the tight area at the side of a house?

The box hedge lining this path probably needs no more than a trim once or twice a year.


4. Choose plants that will look good throughout the seasons.


The small scale conifer and hostas (assuming you can keep the slugs at bay) in this example are going to look great from spring into fall. The two also mix to create a lovely texture story.

Private garden, Toronto, ON

5. Create a path that is both attractive and comfortable to walk on. This even walkway will make it easy to roll bikes, wheelbarrows and recycling bins in and out of the backyard.

Private garden, Burlington, ON

This is one of my all time favourite pathways. I love the mix of flat stones and large pebbles.


Private garden, Mississauga ON

In this example, reddish colored pine mulch contrasts nicely with the grey bricks.

Private garden, Toronto, ON

6. Make sure the view in the distance is attractive. 

Who wouldn't want to enter this back garden just to get a closer look at that pink Beauty Bush?

Private garden, Mississauga ON

Here the view is to a less glamourous utility shed, but it everything is still tidy and presentable.

7. There is usually walls or fencing between suburban homes. 

Attach a trellis and take advantage of this vertical space to grow something beautiful. If you are lucky enough to have sun, try a honeysuckle, clematis or a climbing rose.

Private garden, Mississauga ON

Private Garden, Brampton, ON

Private Garden, Brampton, ON

If you have a shady wall and lots of room, a Climbing Hydrangea like the 
one seen above might be nice.

Private Garden, Brampton, ON

8. Even a chain link fence can be dressed up with hanging baskets.

Private garden, Mississauga ON

In this instance, the path accommodates differing elevations and an 
entrance at the side of the house.

Private garden, Mississauga ON

9. The area at the between houses is usually quite shady, so select plants that will thrive in shade or part shade. 

In this garden hostas, ferns, Bleeding Heart, Periwinkle have all been incorporated. 


Aren't the textural leaves of this hosta amazing?


10. Hang a decorative ornament to embellish a plain Jane fence. This faux window also brings the flowers up to eye level where you can appreciate them best.


Have a wonderful weekend!