Monday, February 18, 2019

Jacquie's Summertime Garden, Part 2

Imagine an artist trying to learn how to paint by reading a dry textbook. It would be pretty difficult, don't you think? Sure you could learn a few basics, but without pictures or illustrations, it would be a challenge to fire your imagination enough to confidently put brush to canvas.

Gardening is similar in many ways–you learn by seeing and doing. So when you're pouring through gardening books this winter, keep in mind how much the photographs can be an important learning tool. Teach yourself to look at the pictures with a critical eye. 

Identify similarities in the gardens you like and even those you dislike. Take those observations and consider them in terms of your own space. When you do find a garden you like, try to identify the underlying design principals at work so you can apply them in your own yard. 

Note more than just the flowers that appeal to you. Pay attention to how they are grouped, how the colors are combined and the role that foliage plays in the overall planting.

The garden I am about to show you wasn't created overnight. It was years in the making. A lot of trial and error was at work here, so don't look at the end result and feel intimidated. Learn by example. That's what I always aspire to do.

A Backdrop of Green

Green forms the backdrop for all the other colors in Jacquie Jordan's garden In Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Even though the green is a unifying element, there is great diversity in the shade of green–there's deep forest green of the evergreens, the sharp chartreuse of the deciduous tree on the middle right (above) and the medium green of the lawn. There's also lovely variegation that adds variety to the green elements.


Jacquie has also taken shape into account when she groups plants– both the shape of the plant and the shape of the leaves. There is a widely varied mix of low mounded plants and tall, upright perennials and trees. Contrasting shapes allow the foliage to make its own contribution to the beauty of her garden.


Cottage gardens perennials are planted in a more carefree and natural way than they are in a more traditional flower border (like one you might see in an English manor). Plant height is not stepped up from low plants to tall plants at the centre core of the flowerbeds. Instead, the arrangement of plants is much more casual. In Jacquie's garden, a tall daylily or a bright yellow Rudbeckia is quite at home on the outer edge of a flowerbed. 

Color and its Repetition

As in many cottage-style gardens, Jacquie has uses a wide range of flower colors. These splashes of color add drama and keep the eye moving from one flowerbed to the next.

Such a cacophony of color might easily verge on the chaotic, but Jacquie has cleverly used repetition to help link one flowerbed to the next. Scroll back and look at the way she has used the deep maroon. The color packs a punch and unifies two different areas of the garden.

She's done the same thing with yellow and white. The vast majority of the flowers have a color echo somewhere else on the horizon. There is no odd-man out when it comes to color. 

"Blooms are usually so fleeting, that I usually think of texture and foliage colour first, then the flower colour," says Jacquie. "I'll take a blossom and walk around the garden with it until I find a plant I think it will be happy with, and if everything else works, I'll try it in that space. I'll wait a season and If the bloom absolutely clashes with its neighbours, and I can't live with it, I'll try somewhere else.  It's surprising though, how often colours you never think will be harmonious, actually complement each other. "

Adding Sophistication to a Color Echo

Here you see the combination of a Sedum with deep reddish-purple stems and a Smoke Bush, Cotinus with foliage of the same color. 

The parts of the plant are different, but the color is the same.

Seek out plants with Interesting Features

This spring, try to make a point of selecting plants with more than just their flower in mind. These Sedum that Jacquie has collected are great examples of plants with interesting features: variegation and stem color. 

(Above Left) There are a number of different cultivars of Sedum that have cream or butter-colored variegation (Sedum, Autumn Stonecrop 'Autumn Charm' and Sedum, Autumn Stonecrop 'Frosted Fire' to name just two). 
(Right) This Sedum has flowers with a matching stem color (Sedum 'Matrona' is an example).

Height and another example of Shape

This island flowerbed just wouldn't have the same appeal if it were all low-growing perennials. The raised plant pot, the ornamental grasses and the metal obelisk all add height.

Notice also that the perennials have varying shapes There are low, mounded plants and perennials whose foliage sprays up and out. They are the green equivalent of a fountain.

"The attraction for me is colorful and unusual foliage or flowers, unique shapes and evergreens for year-round interest," says Jacquie.


Have you ever watched a movie trailer and come away feeling like you have already seen the whole movie, or at least all the best parts of it? Why bother lugging to the movie theatre if you already know the whole plot?

The element of surprise is an excellent motivator. In a garden, don't show all your cards at once. Keep a few cards up your sleeve. A garden should reveal itself slowly. When you're walking around Jacquie's garden, the pathways twist and turn. The view is often obstructed by tall plants. You never know what's next. 


Use your garden to express your own unique personality. Here Jacquie has created a moss-covered seat for an old chair.

Don't stress about Plant Placement.

When Jacquie buys a new plant, she'll wander around the garden with it still in its nursery pot looking to find it a home. As with so many things, she experiments. Some things work and others don't. Not every plant finds its perfect home the first time. 

It's also important to remember that plants in nursery pots tend to dry out quickly! Even after you revive them with water, they become stressed and soon enough they'll become pot bound. It's better to chance a mistake than leave the plant in its pot waiting for a decision.

Always remember to take pleasure in what's works and then go back and correct what didn't work. Persistence is your most important ally when it comes to gardening. Even after years of experience, Jacquie will often move plants around. Slowly, over time, your garden will come together.

The Workload

As you can well imagine, maintaining a garden of this size is quite a bit of work, but Jacquie would tell you that it's the "doing" she loves best. 

Weeds aren't the huge issue you might think they'd be in her garden. The mature plants are so tightly packed in that weeds have difficulty gaining a foothold. 

The task that Jacquie finds the most daunting is actually edging the flowerbeds. "I'd finally get the whole garden edged and then I'd have to start over from the beginning to keep it looking good all the time," Jacquie laments.

Tiger lilies with daylilies behind.

The Role of Trees and Shrubs

Jacquie's island-shaped flowerbeds are filled with more than just flowers. There is always a conifer or a few shrubs, and often a small tree. 

She says, "I have trees and shrubs in every bed but it didn't start out that way. I now have Japanese Maples, azaleas, rhododendrons, Berberis, Chamaecyparis of all types, Cotinus, hydrangeas, Pieris, oses and many varieties of Sambucus (some of which look almost like Japanese Maples). Most of my trees and shrubs are trellises for my Clematis."

Flowers or Foliage? I asked Jacquie which she valued most. 

"I think I value flowers and foliage equally but am much more interested in foliage than I used to be. For instance, hostas never used to interest me much, except as a filler, and now I'm crazy about them, " Jacquie says.

Problem Solving

Every garden has its challenges. It's so much easier to work with problem issues rather than fight them. Poor drainage is a concern in Jacquie's garden. I love her solution: a drainage ditch that curves its way whimsically through the garden.

Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate' 

I hope you've enjoyed this two-part series and have found a few ideas that can be put to work in your garden.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Gardening with Emma: Review and Giveaway

Did you have a mentor who inspired your love of gardening? 

For me, it was my Mom. I might have eventually found my way to gardening, but it would likely have been at a point much later in my life. I certainly would not have brought to this new-found hobby the same wealth of knowledge I had under my mother's gentle influence. 

Funnily enough, I don't recall her teaching me a thing. What I do remember was the joy she took in growing flowers.

From the book Gardening with Emma, ©2019, by Emma & Steve Biggs, Photography by Donna Griffith. Published by Storey Publishing. 
Used with permission of the authors and their publisher.

For Emma Biggs, author of the new book Gardening with Emma, a love of growing edibles began with the encouragement of her father Steven. Thirteen-year-old Emma writes in the early pages of her book:

"My Dad used to give me a corner of his garden. After a couple of years, I planted so many tomato and herb plants that he gave me a bigger corner of his garden so I could fit in all my plants. Now I give him a corner of my garden!"

The key thing that has been handed down from parent to child is not so much knowledge, but passion. A love for gardening is inspiring in a way that dry information about how to grow edibles can never be. 

This brings me to what I liked best about Emma's new book. Her enthusiasm for gardening is evident on every single page. And that passion is infectious. Any kid immersed in its pages is bound to be inspired.

For this review, I requested a few page-spreads from the book to show you just how well it was conceived and organized. Practical information and useful tips are interspersed with an abundance of kid-friendly projects and interesting activities that will get children outdoors. Here's just a small sampling:

• Grow a rainbow garden
• Create a beanpole teepee
• Make a miniature garden
• Create a tickle garden
• Grow a flower stand (which is a terrific alternative to a lemonade stand)

Each idea is illustrated with great pictures and humorous cartoon characters kids are sure to love.

From the book Gardening with Emma, ©2019, by Emma & Steve Biggs, Photography by Donna Griffith. Published by Storey Publishing. 
Used with permission of the authors and their publisher.

I sometimes think that important things get lost on the way to adulthood. I marvel at this boy, on the page opposite "U-Pick Slug Control", and know that I am way too squeamish to ever let slugs and snails glide over my clothes and onto my skin. Where did my childhood sense of discovery and adventure go? When did I become such a wimp?

Emma's book is a pleasure to read. She reminds us all to put the fun back into gardening. Every school and public library should have at least one copy of Gardening with Emma.

Usually, when I do a giveaway, I rely on luck to select a winner. In this case, I have decided not to leave things to chance. Instead, a winner will be chosen based on merit. 

To enter the giveaway, please tell us who you hope to mentor with this book; a son or daughter, a niece or nephew, a grandchild or perhaps the kid that lives next door. Tell us why you think this particular child will love Gardening with Emma and/or why you think it is important to encourage a new generation of gardeners. Co-authors Emma and Steve Biggs will select a final winner from all the entries.

Because this book will go to a winner through the mail, we will have to limit entry to readers in Canada and the USA. Please leave a comment below, if you would like to be included in the book draw. The draw will remain open until Sunday, March 2nd. If you are not a blogger, you can enter by leaving a comment on the Three Dogs in a Garden Facebook page (there is an additional link to the Facebook page at the bottom of the blog). You are also welcome to enter by sending me an email (

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About the Author/s

Emma Biggs is a 13-year-old with a passion for gardening. She shares her kid-focused gardening ideas at events, on radio shows and on her blog. Her father, Steven Biggs is a garden writer and blogger who lectures frequently at gardening events across Canada. They can be found online at Emma, Steven and the rest of their family live in Toronto.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

New Perennials for 2019 from Proven Winners

The post I did in 2018 about new perennial introductions by Proven Winners® was very popular with readers. No surprise there–who doesn't like looking at pretty new plants on a grey winter's day?

So I'm repeating that theme with a selection of the new perennials for 2019. On a side note, this is not a sponsored post. I'm simply highlighting a few of the new introductions that happened to catch my eye.

An example of a spring blooming Salvia

An example of a summer blooming Veronica

I have come to love and depend upon both Salvia and Veronica.

With their tall, spiky flowers both plants look quite similar, but Salvia blooms in spring while Veronica flowers in summer (both perennials can be encouraged to rebloom by giving them a light pruning after they finish their first show of flowers).

Salvia and Catmint at Edwards Garden in Toronto.

Salvia with Baptisia and peonies.

Both Salvia and Veronica need full sun. In too much shade, I find they don't perform well. These two perennials seem quite happy in average garden soil with a regular source of water (either by Mother Nature's hand or via the garden hose). If they are stressed by drought, they can develop powdery mildew.

I count on Salvia to fill the void that occurs every spring after tulips are finished. Salvia makes a great companion for Baptisia, Gas Plant (Dictamnus), Blue Star (Amsonia), Catmint (Nepeta), Alliums, peonies and early roses.

This brings me to the new varieties of Salvias that Proven Winners is launching in 2019. The first Salvia caught my interest because of its pale blue color.

Perfect Profusion® Perennial Salvia, Salvia nemorosa has soft, icy-blue flowers in late spring/early summer. This cultivar is purported to be one of Proven Winner's best Salvias for consistent rebloom. It is drought tolerant but blooms better with average moisture. Cut the plant back after flowering to promote rebloom. Full sun. Height:16 - 20 inches (40-50 cm), Spread:16 - 20 inches (40-50 cm). USDA zones: 3-8.

This pinkish cultivar is also quite nice with its dark magenta calyxes:

 Pink Profusion® Perennial Salvia, Salvia nemorosa from Proven Winners.

Pink Profusion® Perennial Salvia, Salvia nemorosa has dark pink flowers that are attractive to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. This plant has a nice rounded shape (see opening image). Cut the plant back after flowering to promote rebloom. Full sun. Average moisture. Height:14 -16 inches (35-40 cm), Spread:16 - 20 inches (40-50 cm). USDA zones: 3-8.

And then there are a couple of medium blue options:

Violet Profusion® Perennial Salvia, Salvia nemorosa from Proven Winners.

Violet Profusion® Perennial Salvia, Salvia nemorosa has fragrant violet-blue flowers that are produced on rosy-purple calyxes. Again this plant has a nice rounded shape. Full sun. Average moisture. Height:14 -16 inches (35-40 cm), Spread:16 - 20 inches. USDA zones: 3-8.

Color Spires® Indiglo Girl Perennial Salvia, Salvia hybrid from Proven Winners.

Color Spires® Indiglo Girl Perennial Salvia, Salvia hybrid has fragrant indigo blue flowers that are held in dark calyxes. It will rebloom if cut back after flowering. Height: 20 - 22 inches (50-55 cm), Spread: 20 - 22 inches (50-55 cm). USDA zones: 3-8.

I have several mauve Veronica in my garden, but I don't have anything this color:

Magic Show® 'Wizard of Ahhs' Spike Speedwell, Veronica hybrid

Magic Show® 'Wizard of Ahhs' Spike Speedwell, Veronica hybrid has violet-blue flowers and dark green foliage. It likes average to moist, enriched, well-drained soil. Shear back after flowering to encourage new blooms. Full sun. Height:18 - 22 inches (45-55 cm), Spread:18 - 22 inches (45-55 cm). USDA zones: 4-8.

Agastache 'Blue Fortune' with Calamintha in the foreground.

I could see Veronica 'Indiglo Girl' working with my favourite Agastache, my lavender colored Phlox or maybe even a Catmint.

Catmint in the front garden.

Next up is a new Catmint. Catmint is yet another plant I have come to treasure. It blooms reliably from June well into the autumn. It has fragrant grey-green foliage and is a magnet for bees.

A shameless plant collector, I already have three different sizes of Catmint in my garden– the classic Catmint, Nepeta racemosa 'Walker's Low' and two dwarf varieties. While I think 'Walker's Low' is the showiest, the dwarf forms are also excellent at the front of a flowerbed. 

Next summer I plan to use one of the dwarf types of Catmint to create a low hedge around the perimeter of two of my four raised beds. The blue flowers and grey-green foliage should have the same effect as a row of lavender (but will be more winter hardy). In the centre of the raised beds, I am thinking of planting roses and/or annuals. 

Two of the flour raised beds in the early spring. In the past, I have used this 
area as nursery beds for other projects. 

The same area about a month later. Two of the four raised beds have a standard 
lilac at the very centre.

One of the raised beds is filled with herbs. The other three are largely empty at the moment.

I would be curious to see how this new Proven Winners cultivar compares to the Catmints already in my collection of plants:

'Cat's Pajamas' Catmint Nepeta hybrid from Proven Winners.

'Cat's Pajamas' Catmint Nepeta hybrid has indigo blue flowers are produced all the way from the soil to the tips of its stems. Rosy purple calyxes extend the color when the blooms are past peak. This long-blooming perennial has a nice compact shape and fragrant foliage. Heat and drought tolerant. Average, well-drained soil with low to average moisture is best. Plants respond well to shearing to promote rebloom. Full sun. Height:12-14 inches (30-35 cm), Spread:18 - 20 inches (45-50 cm). USDA zones: 3-8.

So far everything I have highlighted in this post is meant for full sun. I want to include a few suggestions for shade gardeners. Every year I try to invest in at least one new hosta. These new cultivars might be potential candidates:

Shadowland® Etched Glass Hosta hybrid from Proven Winners.

Shadowland® Etched Glass Hosta has foliage with wide, dark-green margins that contrast nicely with a brilliant yellow centre. The leaves have attractive puckering when the plant is mature. The flower on this hosta is almost white. Moist, well-drained, organically enriched soil is best for this hosta. Part-shade to Shade. Height:18 inches (45 cm), Spread: 36 inches (91 cm). USDA zones: 3-9.

Shadowland® Diamond Lake Hosta hybrid is a large-sized hosta with thick and heavily corrugated blue-green leaves with wavy margins. The flowers are pale lavender in color. As with most hostas, it prefers moist, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Full to part-shade. Height:17 inches (45 cm), Spread: 45 inches (116 cm). USDA zones: 3-9.

One final choice. I have always wanted to have a Japanese Anemone, but they can spread aggressively. I don't care how pretty the flower is–who wants to plant a problem? This new introduction is purported to be better behaved:

 Fall in Love™ Sweetly Japanese Anemone hybrid from Proven Winners.

Fall in Love™ Sweetly Japanese Anemone hybrid has semi-double, rose-pink flowers. For most of the summer, the foliage is a large mound of dark green leaves. In late summer/fall, flowering stems make the plant's growth more upright. Unlike most Japanese Anemones, this new introduction spreads slowly through rhizomes. Average, moist soil will keep this plant happy. Mulch heavily in the fall for the first two seasons to prevent frost heaving. Part-sun to full sun. Resists deer and rabbits. Height: 24 - 30 inches (60 -76 cm), Spread: 20 - 22 inches (50-55 cm). USDA zones: 4-8.

The weather here is rather miserable at the moment, so it's been fun to look at new plants and start to think about spring plans. I can't wait for some warmer weather to arrive!

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