Thursday, May 29, 2014

Little Puffs of Smoke


This diminutive perennial is a native plant I have wanted to add to my garden for sometime. This spring I was delighted to finally come across a plant at my favourite local nursery.

All of these photos were taken at the Toronto Botanical Gardens

The feathery seed heads have given this tiny wildflower a couple of common names; one is Old Man's Whiskers and the more common is Prairie Smoke

The proper botanical name is Geum triflorum.

The fern-like foliage is semi-evergreen and turns red, orange or purple in late fall.

Nodding, rose colored blooms appear mid-spring (April to June depending on your location) 
and continue throughout the summer.

The somewhat crazy looking seed heads, which do look rather like puffs of smoke or the silky whiskers on an old man, unfold as the flowers fade.

Geum triflorum: Height: 30 cm, Spread: 40-60 cm. It tolerates most soil types, but like most perennials, it will be happiest in well-drained soil that has been enriched with some organic matter. Full sun is best. Once established Geum triflorum is pretty low maintenance and is very drought tolerant.

 Geum triflorum is one of those plants you just want to reach out and touch!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Daffodils and Tulips

Spring has been a long time coming, but finally there is a reason to take photographs!


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Container Planting: An Interview with the editor of GardenMaking Magazine

I always have big ambitions for my container plantings each year.

Simply beautiful! That sums up my master plan perfectly. 

But somehow my containers always end up being... well, disappointing really. By mid-summer they always look a bit forlorn, which is a long way off from my originally stated goal of "simply beautiful".

Every year I aim to do better, and with that in mind, this spring I have sought out some expert advice. 

Beckie Fox is not only editor-in-cheif at GardenMaking magazine, she is also the author of a book on container gardening: The Potted Garden: Creating a Great Container Garden. 

Who better to turn to for a little bit of sage advice?

In case you aren't already a subscriber, this is GardenMaking magazine. I began by picking the magazine up on newsstands and finally ended up buying a subscription this spring. This is the 2014 summer issue and it is absolutely terrific: jam-packed full of beautiful photographs, interviews and articles (available on news stands now).

I had lots of questions about container gardening for Beckie, so let's dive right in:

A page spread from GardenMaking's special Container Gardening Issue

Q. Can you give me a few tips on how to go about selecting the best container?

A. The options available for containers can certainly be a bit mind-boggling! In terms of design, I think it is good to take a few cues from your house, other structures in the garden and the garden's overall design. But before you get to caught up in choosing the perfect container style and finish, I suggest that you consider two qualities- does the container you're considering allow for good drainage and is it the appropriate size? 

Big containers usually require less daily attention, because they need less frequent watering. They also hold more soil, which helps provide more insulation to your plant's roots in extremes of heat and cold. Small containers can serve a purpose too. Just be prepared to provide them more frequent attention.

A sea of pink Geraniums at a local nursery

Q. I have always added gravel to the bottom of my pots. GardenMaking's special container issue advises just the opposite. Why is that?

A. It is a commonly held belief that placing gravel or broken pot shards over the drainage holes helps to improve drainage, but we hold that just the opposite is true. Both gravel and shards take up valuable space where roots can grow and adds a lot of weight to the container.

Unless a piece of water-permeable landscape cloth is placed over the drainage hole, soil filters down and fills the spaces between the pieces of shard or gravel negating any improvement in drainage.

Instead, I suggest you cut a square of plastic window screen netting larger than the diameter of the drainage hole and place it in the bottom of the pot, over the opening. The piece of screen both keeps the soil in the pot, and allows the water to drain freely.

A page spread from GardenMaking's special Container Gardening Issue

Q. What can I do to give my newly planted containers a great start?

A. Once you have your containers potted up, water them with a transplanter fertilizer to help promote the growth of new roots. If possible, keep them in a shady spot for a day or two before moving them into their permanent location in the garden. If your annuals are leggy, pinch off their tops to force the plants to produce more flower buds and branches.

Q. Can you please give me a few tips on watering my containers?

A. Plants prefer lukewarm water. A jolt of cold water on a hot day can actually damage leaves and roots. It is also important to remember that tap water contains chlorine. If you are using water from the tap, fill your watering cans in advance to give the chlorine a chance to dissipate into the air. An even better solution is to collect rainfall to water your containers.

Also, keep in mind that on very hot days plant may flag in the afternoon, not because they need water, but because they are heat stressed. At these times, if the soil feels moist, wait until the end of the day to see if the plants perk up before reaching for the hose.

I recommend that you avoid watering at night, when moisture on leaves is an invitation for plant fungi to spread their spores.

Mulch your container plantings, as you would your flowerbeds, to help them to maintain moisture.

One last tip: If you are going away for a few days, move as many containers as possible to the coolest, shadiest spot in your yard and place them close together. This slows evaporation, and makes it handier for whomever comes to water.

Martha Washington Geraniums

Q. I am inspired by your special container issue to try my hand at making an alpine container garden. Can you give me a few tips to get me started?

I find that natural materials and wide, shallow containers work best for the miniature landscape of alpine plants. If you want to make your own free-form container Jennifer, I suggest you use hypertufa, which is a mixture of Portland cement, perlite or vermiculite and peat moss.

Then choose a variety of cushion and mat-forming plants, and space them in the container so their dainty attributes can be appreciated. Alpines like well-drained soil, so I recommend that you use a mix of two parts potting soil and one part coarse, gritty sand. Fill your container to the rim and mound it slightly in the centre. This will prevent water from collecting around the crowns of your plants.

Once you get your alpines are planted, mulch the exposed soil with a layer of course sand or pea gravel. Be sure to monitor water carefully-alpines need moisture, but detest soggy conditions. You'll find that true alpines grow slowly, so you shouldn't need to fertiize them more than once or twice a year.

They are very hardy plants, but you may find Jennifer, that your homemade container may need some protection from the freeze-thaw cycles of our Canadian winters.

Q. I love to mix some borderline hardy plants and perennials into my containers. How can I best store these containers over the winter?

A. Jennifer, I have three options to suggest:

Option 1: If the container is large, able to withstand the elements, and if the plants are at least one zone hardier than your area, the likelihood of overwintering your plants outdoors is high. If you can though, it is not a bad idea to move them to an area outdoors that is protected from winter sun and wind. It is also critical to throughly water your containers prior to freezing temperatures, and again in March and April, when they are most prone to thawing and drying out.

Option 2: Move any borderline hardy plants into an unheated garage or shed to increase the survival odds. The plant won't need light because it's dormant, but you should check on it every couple of months to make sure it isn't bone dry. Don't overwater though, as this could cause the plant to rot or break dormancy. When growth resumes in the spring, gradually reintroduce the plant to normal growing conditions outdoors.

Option 3: Find an area where you can sink the plant and its pot into the ground, so the roots will be better insulated (a veggie garden often has unused space in the fall). Then cover the plant with two or three inches of a winter mulch like shredded bark or leaves. In spring, remove the mulch and lift out the container.


Q. How can I best overwinter plants like geraniums and coleus indoors?

A. It is important to start a reverse hardening off process before plants get accustomed to cool fall nights; otherwise they'll struggle with the change in temperature, as well as the different light and humidity levels.

A week or two before the nights start to cool, begin by bringing the plants indoors at night to gradually acclimatize them to lower light conditions and humidity levels. Cut back large plants by two-thirds to make them more manageable, and if desired, treat them with insecticidal soap to discourage pests from hitchhiking indoors.

Put your plants in a cool room with plenty of light. Water them when the soil dries out, and don't fertilize them until late winter.

If you would like to win a copy of GardenMaking magazine’s special “Container Gardening” issue, as well as a copy of their latest issue (Summer 2014, see above), please leave a comment below. If you are not a blogger, and would still like a chance to win, please feel free to leave a brief comment on the Three Dogs in a Garden Facebook page. The contest is open to everyone and will remain open for the next 7 days. Winner to be announced shortly thereafter.

More information and Links:

Garden Making Magazine home page.

About Beckie Fox:

After completing studies in journalism at Michigan State University, Beckie Fox worked as editor for a community newspaper in Etobicoke, Ontario. She then moved on to work as a freelance copy editor for Canadian Living, editing craft and food stories for the magazine. 

Beckie studied horticulture through the University of Guelph and has taught gardening courses at George Brown College and the Toronto Botanical Gardens. An interest in container gardening evolved into a book in 2002: The Potted Garden: Creating a Great Container Garden. 

Presently, Beckie Fox is editor-in-chief and co-owner of GardenMaking magazine. 

She gardens in Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON.

And the Winner is...

To help with the draw for a chance to win a copy of Niki Jabbour's new book: Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 Plans that will change the way you grow your garden I employed the talents of my proudest creation, my son Daniel.

(There were over 20 entries from the blog post on Groundbreaking Food Gardens, as well as one from the Three Dogs in a Garden page on Facebook.)

And the winner is...

Mindy who has the blog named Rindy Mae. Congratulations! Mindy, I will be in touch shortly to get your mailing address.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Preview of the Canadian Cancer Society's Annual Spring Garden Tour

A sure sign that spring has arrived is the start of the garden tour season. One of the first events in the GTA is the Canadian Cancer Society's Annual Spring Garden Tour.

This year the tour moves from affluent neighbourhood of Lorne Park in Mississauga to gardens in area of the Rattray Marsh. Located on the Lake Ontario shoreline, the Rattray Marsh is one of the last remaining lakefront marshes on the western end of Lake Ontario. 

Helen Donato, one of the event's organizers, tells me that the gardens on this year's tour offer a number of interesting water features including a "fabulous waterfall" and an infinity pool that blends seamlessly into a view of Lake Ontario. There is also a garden with many interesting and unusual plants that backs onto the Rattray Marsh.

Liz Primeau, former editor of Canadian Gardening Magazine and author of In Pursuit of Garlic, will be speaking on growing garlic in one of the tour gardens mid-afternoon.

Master gardener Edel Schmidt will be on hand to discuss pruning and to answer any questions you may have.  

Location: Private Garden, Mississauga, ON
When Photographed: End of May
Zone: 6a

Today, I am delighted to give you a preview of one of the private gardens that will be open to the public on this year's tour.

As you will see, the Kent's garden has a gentle informality about it. It is not overly fussy or pretentious, allowing the visitor to feel immediately at ease.

Right off the front walkway there is a small frog pond.

Bleeding Heart, Dicentra spectabillis, 'Alba' (bottom image): Height: 70-90 cm, Spread: 70-90 cm. Part to full shade. Average to moist soil. You can refresh the foliage after it flowers in early spring, but even so, it will go dormant by late summer. Hardy: Zones 2-9.

A path leads from the front door to a little courtyard which must be the perfect place 
to enjoy coffee in the morning . 

When I visited last year at the end of May, Columbines were in bloom throughout the garden.

Columbine are easy to grow from seed. Full sun/part shade. Depending on the cultivar, they are anywhere from 25-70 cm tall. Spread: approx. 25-30 cm. Average to moist soil. Normal, sandy or clay soils all work. USDA Zones 2-9. 

Columbines are relatively short lived, but self-seed well. I think they are indispensable in a May/June garden.

Isn't this a pretty tree?

Golden Chain Tree, Laburnum x watereri 'Vossii': Height: 18 m (15-20 ft) Spread: 15-18 m (15-20 ft). A Golden Chain Tree requires a sheltered, part-shade location and well-drained soil. Young trees have smooth, green-colored bark, which deepens in color with age. The tree's foliage is like a pointed clover leaf and chains of bright yellow, fragrant flowers appear in May or June. Prune after flowering. USDA Zones: 5-7

A grouping of Alliums (most likely 'Purple Sensation')

The branches of a Redbud tree, with its sweet pink flowers, hangs over an arbor in the front garden.

A Lilac (Sorry, not sure of the cultivar.)

Northern Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum pedatum (top left): Part to Full shade. Height: 30-60 cm, Spread:30-60 cm. Moist growing conditions in a variety of soil types. USDA Zones: 2-9 

Sweet Woodruff, Galium odoratum (on the bottom): Is a great groundcover for shady areas if you have ample space for it to spread (often considered invasive). It also makes a wonderful understory for late spring bulbs. Height: 10-20 cm Part shade to full shade. Average to moist growing conditions. Smells like fresh cut hay. USDA Zones: 2-9

Amsonia (Sorry, not sure of the cultivar. Quite possibly Amsonia tabernaemontana?)

Another arbor, this time in the backyard.

Bugelweed: This is a case of "Be careful what you wish for!" Yes, it has pretty blue flowers, but it is a plant can be invasive, especially given the right growing conditions. As you can see, it forms a pretty dense mat of foliage. But if you have a moist, shady spot where it can spread at will, then this might make a great groundcover.

Bugleweed, Ajuga: Full sun, part shade or full shade. Prefers moist growing conditions and will spread a little less vigorously when conditions are on the dry side. Height: 10-15 cm. If you are considering Ajuga, try looking for one of the newer cultivars that is supposedly less invasive like Ajuga genevensis.

You can see a Tricolor Cooper Beech in the distance on the left and up close on the right.

Tricolor Cooper Beech, Fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea Tricolor': Sun/part shade. Height: 12 m (over 40 ft) Spacing: also 12 m (40 ft). Low maintanence. Can live as long as 120 years. Flower: Insignificant

And so ends this little preview. 

For any of you that live in the GTA, the Canadian Cancer Society's Annual Spring Garden Tour represents a great opportunity to support a very worthy cause, while visiting some of Mississauga's finest private gardens. 

P.S. I will have the winner of the book draw up next.

Here are all the details that you need to know to attend:

More information about the Canadian Cancer Society Tour:

Date: Sunday, May 25th
Time: 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
Advance Tickets: $15
Advance Tickets Available at: Battaglia's Lorne Park Marketplace at 1150 Lorne Park Rd.,  Crafted Decor at 232 Queen St. S. in Streetsville, Heritage Fruit Market at 780 Southdown Rd., Impressionable Gifts at 74 Lakeshore E. in Port Credit, and the Canadian Cancer Society at 2227 South Millway in Mississauga.
Day of the Tour Tickets: $20
More Information: or call (905) 608-8411