Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Taking Notes on Late Summer Color at Larkwhistle Gardens

When I was but a young thing, with not much more than dreams of my very own garden, I turned to books to teach and inspire me. 

Of those books, some of the most influential were the ones written by Patrick Lima, with beautiful photographs by his partner John Scanlan. Their garden, located in the northwestern corner of the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, was everything I hoped to create myself one day.

When I was finally able to visit the garden I had studied in books for years, I was not disappointed. The garden was every bit as amazing as it had appeared in the glossy pages of my books. 

Recently, we were able to return for a second visit to the garden Patrick Lima and John Scanlan have named 'Larkwhistle'.

Although I have now been gardening for years, I think that I still have lots to learn. I find that there are always plants that I have forgotten about or otherwise overlooked. And I am always delighted to discover perennials that I have never attempted to grow myself. Color combinations still leap out and surprise me. 

The plan of Larkwhistle Garden from the book The Art of Perennial Gardening by Patrick Lima, 
Photographs by John Scanlan, Published by Firefly Books in 2000. 

So, come along with me and take a stroll down the soft, sandy paths of Larkwhistle. It is late summer, a time when many perennials have faded, yet there is lots of color here. Let's take a look and see what is in bloom.

The three tall perennials in a row just inside the front gate are Mullein. Two varieties of Mullein are grown at Larkwhistle, Verbascum olympicum (Greek Mullein) and Verbascum bombyciferum (Turkish Mullein). 

Mulleins are a biennials plants, which produce leafy rosettes in the first year, and flowering stalks in the second year. Verbascum olympicum is the branching Greek relative of the North American native Verbascum thapsus, which can often be seen growing in fields of wild flowers. The second variety of mullein, Verbascum bombyciferum is thickly coated with downy wool and has clear yellow flowers. Both mulleins prefer sun and light, sandy soil.

At Larkwhistle, the mulleins are left to self-seed. Patrick Lima writes that the spent flower stalks are a winter favourite with chickadees. In spring, the young seedlings are lifted from wherever they have happened to have appear and are transplanted towards the back of the flower borders.

When it comes to color, sedums are indispensable at this time of year.

Opposite the sedums and just beyond the pond are these pretty lilies.

Hummingbirds were going wild for these 'Black Beauty' Lilies. 

Now, we will turn and head into the main garden.

Just as you enter the garden, there is a garden bench. Behind it is a mixed planting that includes navy-colored Monkshood, Aconitum and white Phlox, Phlox paniculata 'David', yellow daylilies and tall yellow-orange Helenium.

Opposite the bench is a cluster of Torch Lilies (Kniphofia). Torch lilies, which have elongated heads of tubular flowers, are listed as hardy to Zone 6, yet they survive the harsh winters of the Bruce Peninsula. Patrick Lima writes that the secret of getting them to over-winter is to plant the lilies in light, sandy soil that provides good drainage. As an extra measure, he also suggests that in fall you bunch the spent leaves to make a sheltering tent. Then, a light soil is heaped over the crowns, and leaf mulch is placed around (not over) the tuft of tied foliage.

False Mallow, Sidalcea 'Party Girl'

Did you notice the tall perennial just behind the False Mallow? It is Helenium or Sneezeweed. I have found that this North American native is a great upright plant in my own late summer garden. They prefer rich moist earth and sun, but it will tolerate light shade.

I was blown away by this zinnia and when I got home I was kicking myself for not remembering to go back and ask its name. A little research online leads me to believe that it is Zinnia 'Purple Prince'. The magenta colored flowers were an impressive 3" or 4" inches in circumference.

We are now going to head down another pathway at the top of the garden to see what is in flower there.

Another hummingbird magnet is scarlet Crocosmias. Though Crocosmia is native to South Africa, they can actually be made to over-winter in a northern garden if they are given good drainage and a generous topping of mulch. Grown from spring-planted corms, Crocosmia require sun and light, sandy soil. Interesting to note, is the fact that deer apparently dislike the taste of them.  

You can always depend on phlox for great, late summer color.

Phlox blossoms float on the surface of a small pond.

Right beside the phlox are soft blue Globe Thistles, Echinops ritro. Globe thistles like full sun (although I have a plant that puts up with light shade).

Just opposite the Globe Thistles are Sea Holly, 'Eryngium planum'. I made the mistake of planting one in light shade and can tell you from disappointing results, that it is a plant that will only be happy if planted in full sun. 

This post is getting a bit long and so we will head into the garden's core in my next post.


  1. Beautiful! I enjoyed my virtual stroll through the garden and can't wait to see some more. Your picture of the hummingbird is amazing! Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Gorgeous...this garden is fabulous!!! Love that magnificent zinnia also!!! Have a beautiful day!

  3. How beautiful! Incredible! So many combinations to admire! Your photographs are excellent! Thank you so much!!!

  4. Amazing there are still so many blooms late mid-summer over there. Torch lillies has just start to bloom here as I passsed our local museum last weekend.

  5. Very impressive! And so inspiring! Glad you finally got to see the garden you've read so much about.

  6. Just a beautiful place and totally packed. Now I don't feel so greedy trying to pack in all of my plants. I guess it takes the perspective of seeing someone else do this to keep layering. I must find a place for the globe thistle, just striking!


  7. I am a gardener but not a blogger, just a lurker from time to time.I peek into your blog to get my 'Upper Canadian' fix and today was wonderful. Patrick Lima was also my inspiration when I began gardening. I have never been to Larkwhistle but it is on my 'To Do List'.After your post today I am making plans for next year.Thank you so much.

    Donna in Nova Scotia

  8. Thank you for the tour. Your images of this lovely garden are wonderful. I really like the hummer you captured, but never saw one at a lily. I will have to make sure to get to Larkwhistle someday, you really have made me want to take the trip.

  9. Thank you for this wonderful post. I found it very inspiring as many of my favorite plants (some of which I do not have in my current garden) were highlighted. Your photos are incredible! I used to buy many garden books too for inspiration and today, going through your post, I felt like I had just bought a new book! Many combinations that I want to try!

  10. Oh boy. I have a book by one of these guys, which mentions Larkwhistle. I was intrigued by the photos in the book. So wonderful to read this post. I have only been able to skim it so far and look forward to really delving into it later today.

    You should write your own book! Your photos are so professional.

  11. It's so nice to tour other people's gardens. I'm getting fed up with the weeds in my own garden lately and looking at beautiful photos makes me feel so much better! The sneezeweed looks like something I might like. I'm having trouble with our wind, keeping some of the larger perennials upright.

  12. I have long wanted to visit Larkwhistle so appreciate the tour,love all the paths crowded so beautifully with mid summer flowers. . I have been considering helenium and good to know how well it does in your garden and at Larkwhistle..

  13. Wow! Such a riot of colors this late in summer. I love the gardens and the mix of plantings.Just Beautiful. Makes me drool with envy. LOL!

  14. Just back for a second look! I like the way you framed the globe thistle in front of the pink phlox. Great photos.

  15. You've captured this garden beautifully. I can't imagine such a lush garden this time of year! There is a little weed growing in someone's grass that I see when walking the dog...I'd like to photograph it soon. Your thistle photo reminds me of it. Beautiful captures, as always ;)

  16. This garden is incredible, but I am a pragmatist and want to know how they keep it all watered and what kind of soil they have. My globe thistle has been invaded by a galloping herd of verbena bona. and a tomato plant. This fall it's getting more space! Your photos remind me of how beautiful it can be if given room to grow and shine.

  17. Thank you for your comments everyone. I always enjoy reading your thoughts.

    If you are thinking of making a visit to this quintessential Canadain garden, the good news is that Larkwhistle is open to the public. Admission is a nominal charge of $3. There are also cards with John Scanlan's photography and seeds for sale at the front gate.

    Check out this link for further information: Larkwhistle Garden. While you are in the area, be sure to check out some of the many other beautiful gardens on the Grey-Bruce Peninsula. To get a more information and a map of these rural gardens chick here.

    Donna, I am so glad that you left a comment. There is no rule, that I know of anyway, that you have to be a blogger to comment. Feel free to lurk as often as you like. I hope you are able to tick Larkwhistle garden of your list of "things to do" next summer. One of these days, I hope to feature a garden from my home province of Nova Scotia. There is no upper Canadian snobbery anywhere in this gardener.

    Casa Mariposa, Larkwhistle is in the middle of the countryside. There is no city water available at the turn of a tap. I would imagine that there is nothing more than well water and rainwater collected in the garden's ponds with which to water the flowers. The soil is sandy, which really helps with drainage, but I imagine that they have had to augment it a good deal with homemade mulch to improve its quality.

  18. Simply stunning! I would absolutely love to call such a garden my own. Your pictures are gorgeous and the one with the hummingbird was outstanding! It was nice to see a couple of SA plants features in this glorious garden.

  19. I wish my gardens were so full and lush AND colorful!! What a dream. I can't get over how tall those Verbascum are..wow.

  20. Loved this - I am always bemused at my perpetual 'struggle' to create the cottage garden effect on a clay based soil. I see the profusion of others' cottage plants and think "Is it just that they have better soil?" There are no gaps, no soil showing and they never seem to be eaten by slugs or snails? I have dug every kind of soil improver into my ground and have some good effects, but I am am still awaiting the magical day when it will seem like 'ease' and profusion of plants will naturally crowd in and give that pretty 'clumped' cottage garden feel?


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