Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Garden In Between

Not everyone has the land available to create a grand entrance to their back garden.

If you live in a suburban community, it is very likely that there are two narrow alleyways that lie between your home and that of your nearest neighbours. These awkward strips of property present the gardener with a number of challenges. With high walls on either side, they can feel down right claustrophobic. Lack of sunlight can limit plant choices and there are often things like downspouts and air conditioning units that need to be disguised.

Still, these seemingly small and inauspicious alleyways, are in fact areas worthy of some careful consideration, because they also serve as gateways in and out of the back garden.

These homeowners in Mississauga, Ontario have created a beautiful entrance to their back garden with a pathway that has a casual, woodland feel to it. 

Fine cedar mulch was used to create the central path that lies between the two homes. 

Here is a closer look. Hosta, Ostrich fern and Spirea add some height to the plantings. Periwinkle (purple flowers) and Lamium serve as groundcovers.

This is the alleyway on the other side of the same property that leads back around to the front of the house.

This is second home, also in Mississauga, with more formal approach to their backyard entrance. 

The plantings included hosta, euonymus, heuchera, and this variegated Solmon's Seal above (Polgonatum odoratum 'Variegatum').

The pathway curves around the side of the house and passes under a large arbor. 

The arbor creates a doorway to the backyard patio. (This view is from the patio looking back toward the alleyway. I believe that the vine on the arbor is a Wisteria.)

Yet another creative homeowner has made a small courtyard with a winding path of flagstones.

The plantings includes ferns and a nice mix of hosta.

Private garden, Mississauga Ontario

Not all spaces between suburban homes are narrow and poorly lit. In this final example, these homeowners have taken advantage of lots of sunlight to make a small formal kitchen garden.

Lilacs in Bloom

What texture didn't I throw on top of this image!

Let's see:

There is a leafy, green texture of my own making (soft light blending mode), then KK_Pourvous texture (vivid light at 21% opacity), Warm Sun in greyscale (soft light at 70% opacity) and finally I added a green texture of my own making ( soft light at 100% opacity).

Today I am participating in Kim Klassen's Texture Tuesdays, as well as Lisa Gordon's Creative Exchange. To see other beautiful photographs, please click the links.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Two Plants with Great Foliage

For years, I hesitated on adding Euphorbia to my garden, because I read somewhere that certain varieties were invasive. I am weary from battles with uncontrollable invaders and always hesitant to add new or unknown plants that could prove to be problematic. 

Then some glossy gardening magazine shots and a recommendation of Euphorbia polychroma from Canadian gardening celebrity Marjorie Harris made me reconsider. 

So, I bought a few varieties of Euphorbia to try in my own garden.

The first is Euphorbia polychroma 'First Blush'. It is nicely compact (30-40 cm) and has pretty white and green foliage, with a hint of pink. This is the third year for it in the garden and I love its variegation when mixed in with other sun loving perennials. 

This spring, it is looking a bit worse for ware after our particularly long winter, but I am hoping it will come along as soon as the weather warms a bit more.

The second plant is Euphorbia poly 'Bonfire' and it has quickly become a favorite. The plant is a chameleon: emerging foliage in spring is yellow, orange and lime with burgundy undertones.

Then, brackets of tiny yellow flowers tipped with orangy-red appear in late May. 

In fall, the leaves turn a beautiful shade of crimson. 

'Bonfire' has a neat, mounded shape and is nicely compact at 40 cm tall. Mine is in full sun, but 'Bonfire' can apparently take part shade.

New to the garden this spring, is Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow', which I had made note of after reading a few recommendations on blog posts. I hope to find a sunny spot for it in the front garden.

The next plant that I recommend for interesting foliage actually has a flower, but I grow it because I love its soft, feathery leaves and wacky looking seed heads. Pasque flower 'Pulsatilla' or wind flower is a plant I first admired in my mother's garden when I was home (Nova Scotia). 

Here is a seed head in late spring.

A rather weird looking seed head in fall. It is almost a bit creepy isn't it?

The foliage and flower stems are soft and feathery.

I now have a plum and a red colored plant. (There is also a white variety, but I lost mine and have to replace it). I have had mine for two or three years now and can tell you they make a nice dense mound, perfect for the front of a sunny border.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

An Update: What has been happening in my Garden

I tend to be an eager gardener who favours the final few weeks of April to get a jump start on work in the garden. The weather is usually a bit cold, but the chill in the air usually means there are no black flies or mosquitoes to torture me. I also find that most perennials, which are still dormant at the end of April, are to sleepy to notice when I up and move them to a new bed.

This spring was so wet and miserably cold however, I was simply unable to get any kind of a head start on gardening. When the weather finally did warm up, I must confess I felt a bit overwhelmed by all the work that suddenly needed doing. For the first day or so, I wandered around the yard like a lost soul, trying to figure out where to begin.

The daffodils opened up and then it started to rain...

It rained for days. I fell behind even further.

The garden soaked up the rain and plumped out into a lush green jungle.

In the shadow of mature trees, most of the back garden lies in dappled shade. The main border along the right side of the yard is some 5 to 10 feet deep (shrubs at the back, perennials in the foreground).

In the past, I used to start work at the front of the bed. Attempting to add a bit of order and a nice crisp edge always seemed so gratifying. The problem was that, as you can see from the photograph above, by the time I could get to the back of the border, the plants had filled in so much that heading into the flower bed was a bit like setting out on safari.

I am proud to say that this year I mended my errant ways and started at the back of the flower bed.

The rain brought out the tulips and quickly did in my Double Flowering Almond (below).

The ferns were more than happy with the wet weather.

The Circle Garden at the very back of the yard is, at this moment, a sea of Forget-me-nots.

On the long weekend, we worked like fiends on the new raised vegetable beds; digging out sod and laying down weed mat for the paths. The weather on Saturday was good, but on Sunday and Monday, it alternated between hot, humid and raining.  We were both exhausted at the end of each day. (This post is already too long and so I will tackle the subject of the vegetable garden in the coming days.)

For today, I end as I started, with a handful of blooms from our crabapple tree.

Apple Blossoms

Delicate blossoms are often short lived. A heavy downpour can often send petals fluttering to the ground. So when I saw that my Crabapple had come into flower on the weekend, I picked a few branches and grabbed the camera.

 Today I am participating in Kim Klassen's Texture Tuesdays, as well as Lisa Gordon's Creative Exchange. To see other beautiful photographs, please click the links.

To create these images, I added three textures on top of my original photograph: Kim Klassen's Yesteryear Texure (soft light at 50% opacity), KK_PourVous (soft light) and a green, leafy texture of my own making (also soft light blending mode).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Toad Prince and the Fountain: A Cautionary DYI Tale

It all started with a clearance urn and base.

I turned to my husband, who was standing next to me with that vague, glassy-eyed look of boredom that he always wears whenever I drag him into the garden center. "You know that would make a great fountain! And look its only $50!"

To be honest, my husband could care less whether our garden had a fountain or not, but he is a good sport, who is always willing to take on a project if it will make me happy. I had been hunting for a fountain for a long time and never had seen one that I both liked and could afford. Here were the makings of the fountain of my dreams and even better, they were on sale!

So, we bought the urn and base that fall, but did not get to the project until the following spring (last year).

After twenty-five years of togetherness, we have pretty much mapped out a working method for DIY projects. I am the "creative visionary". In other words, I come up with the wacky plan.

My husband does the practical stuff- he is the true genius that figures out how to turn my vision into reality. This is not to say it all runs smoothly! Sometimes my ideas clash with simple practicality and other times his working methods don't meet the demands of my aesthetics.

To put it plainly, more often than not, we argue our way through the project "development". The arguments are different than outright fighting though. We simply argue back and forth, until the workings of the project are insinc with my original idea.

Here is how we turned the urn into a fountain.

1. In addition to the urn and base, we purchased a decorative bud to create a water spout. We also had to purchase a concrete stand to raise the bud up out of the urn. (Total cost: Around $50)

2.The inside of the concrete urn was not waterproof, so we bought a concrete sealer at a big box store. (Cost : $25) It took several coats to finish the urn, decorative bud and base.

3. Next, we bought an inexpensive 3' x 3' child's plastic sandbox to make a reservoir for the water.

4. In the center of the sandbox/reservoir, we made a support for the weight of the concrete urn by adding two concrete building blocks (those we had on hand).

5. We filled the reservoir with water and submerged the 500 gph pump into the water. (Pump cost: $150) To the pump we attached a length of plastic pipe. (Cost $15)

6. Then, we laid two heavy metal screens (again, from a big box store) over the filled reservoir. (That's another $30) We pulled the end of the plastic pipe up through a hole in the metal screen.

7. The urn's base was placed in the center of the metal screens.

8. The plastic pipe was then pulled up through the hollow urn base. From there, the pipe was fed up through urn and the bud's concrete support stand. Finally, the pipe was feed up through to the top of the bud. A small metal spigot was placed at the end of the pipe.

9. We disguised the metal screen with a covering of river rock and to placed a border of grey bricks to keep the rocks in place (No cost here. All were on hand.)

10. The only thing left to do then was to turn on the pump.

The water flows out of the bud, off the edge of the urn and back down into the reservoir.

Now, even if you are not a math whiz, you probably have calculated that my bargain fountain hasn't proved to be all that inexpensive. In fact, it turned into a pricy undertaking. The original $50 urn and base made a great fountain, but it was not exactly the great bargain I was hoping for.

Still, it looks pretty in the little courtyard as you enter the back garden. The pleasant and relaxing sound of flowing water are wonderfully soothing. Wildlife likes it too.  I found this little toad enjoying the coolness of the fountain on one hot, sunny day last summer.

In the end, this is a cautionary tale: DYI projects can end up costing way more than you think they will. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Merlin's Hollow, Aurora Ontario

When David Tomlinson first married, he promised his new bride he would create a beautiful garden for her. It was not until some years later, when they immigrated to Canada, and bought a house in Aurora, Ontario that he was able to fulfil his promise to her.

On their 3/4 of an acre, David set out to design series of gardens within a garden. First, he enclosed the property within a high cedar hedge. Then, he used more cedar hedges and a series of arched garden gates to partition the property into four distinct garden rooms: a Perennial Flower Garden, a Fragrant Garden (with a thyme lawn), a Rock and Water Garden (with a stream and pond), and a Winter Garden (with a formal knot garden). He named the garden he had created Merlin's Hollow.

1. Cedar Hedges   2. Sculpture   3. Long Arch   4. Herbs   5. Thyme Lawn   6. Gazebo   7. Fern Walk  8. Butterfly log pile   9. Dry bed   10. Compost   11. Acid Bed   12. Bog bed   13. Alpine bed   14. Frog pond  15. Stream   16. Snake Hibernacleum   17. Future aviaries   18. Woodland bed   19. Cold frames   20. Bat box   21. Bird house   22. Bird feeder   23. Deck vegetable garden   24. Mason bee box   25. Snag tree   26. Butterfly box   27. Lady bug box   28. Robin shelf

A landscape architect by trade, David designed each garden so that it would have its own distinct character. He included bog and woodland beds, a fern walk, an alpine garden, heritage shrub roses, and raised beds with stone walls. David also incorporated features that would encourage wildlife and insects to take up residence in the garden. He added a stream and pond, birdhouses and feeders, a bat box, Mason bee box and a snake hibernacleum ( provides garden snakes with a cool, dry place to shelter from weather extremes).

An avid collector, David Tomlinson's garden includes over 1500 different varieties of plants, many of them rare and unusual. Most impressive is the fact that he grew most of these plants himself from seed.

On the day of our visit, I took so many pictures that I am likely to try your patience by asking you to look at them all. So in this post, I have decided to concentrate on two of the gardens: the Perennial Garden, which is to the front and right of the house, and the Rock and Water Garden, which is at the back of the house.

A gravel path leads past the house and through a wooden arch into the Perennial Garden. The path sweeps around the perimeter of the garden and leads you past the expansive perennial borders. Tulips and daffodils were planted throughout.


The Perennial Garden also had a lovely assortment of different Primula.

Now, we are going to turn to the right and enter the Rock and Water Garden.

Primula polyantha

Spring Pea, 'Lathyrus vernus'

Spring Pea, 'Lathyrus vernus'

Double Bloodroot, 'Sanguinaria canadensis "Multiplex'

Checkered Lily, 'Fritillaria affinis'

Above left: Water cascades down a waterfall into the pond. Above right: a yellow-colored Asian Marsh Marigold dips down into the water of the pond. Above: The bridge over the little stream that runs into the pond.

The vivid, blue wooden bench by the pond. You can see white Iris Bucharica in the lower left foreground and patches of blue Brunnera macrophylla and pink lungwort to the right of the bench.

Iris Bucharica

Grape Hyacinth 'Muscari armeniacum'


Primula denticulata

Each year, Merlin's Hollow is open to the public, free of charge, on the 2nd Saturday in May, the 2nd Saturday in June, the1st Saturday in July and 2nd Sunday in July. If you would like the address and driving directions, please feel free to email me.