Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Garden by Acclaimed Landscape Designer Piet Oudolf


The search for something beautiful to photograph invariably takes me to the Toronto Botanical Garden each fall. 

The Entry Walk Garden by renowned Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf is always at its best at this time of year. No matter how many times I visit, it never fails to inspire me.

In the past, I was never a fan of the contemporary landscape design that I found in large gardens and public spaces. It seemed to rely too much on elaborate hardscaping and modern art pieces for its drama. Plants always seemed relegated to a supporting role.

Part of Piet Oudolf's genius has been to shift the focus back on the plants themselves. A proponent of the naturalistic movement in landscape design, Oudolf is known for incorporating native plants and grasses into gardens reminiscent of wildflower meadows.

The Entry Walk at the Toronto Botanical Garden was Oudolf's first project in Canada.

The commission was not without its challenges. The Entry Walk is not a big space- you can walk its length in a manner of minutes.  Located opposite the main parking lot, it's not ideally situated either.

But the tall grasses and the huge stands of Joe Pye Weed Oudolf has incorporated in the Entry Walk's design have a way of enclosing the space, and despite its awkward location, you feel as though you are in a world apart when you are in the garden.

Let's take a look: 

As you will see in my pictures, a striking silhouette is key consideration in Oudolf's plant selection.

Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium purp. maculatum: Joe Pye Weed can grow to incredible heights and has large rose flower heads in late summer/early autumn. Tough it likes moist or wet, boggy conditions, it still manages to grow well in the Entry Walk's somewhat dryer soil. Full sun or light shade. Height: 210-300 cm (82-117 inches), Spread: 90-120 cm (40-50 inches). Hardy USDA Zones: 3-9 (Note: If you have a smaller garden, you may want to consider Baby Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium dubium 'Baby Joe'.)

A Monarch Butterfly visiting a Joe Pye Weed flower.

There are no identification tags in this part of the garden, but I feel pretty certain this is Meadow Blazing Star or Liatris ligulistylis (not to be confused with more common Liatris spicata). Monarchs really seem to adore this plant!

Liatris ligulistylis: is a perennial native to the Canadian Prairies and blooms in late summer/early fall. Full sun or light shade. Height: Liatris ligulistylis can reach 1.2 to 1.8 m (4-6 ft), Spread: 30-38 cm (12-15 inches). Average to moist soil. Hardy USDA Zones: 3-7.


Perennial Fountain Grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides: has arching green foliage and soft mauve flowers that turn beige as they mature. Full sun or light shade. This is a grass that is adaptable to a range of soil types and will tolerate dry, average or moist growing conditions. Height: 90-120 cm (35-50 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (20-35 inches). Hardy USDA Zones: 5-9

Annual Fountain Grass, Pennisetum setaceum 

Clouds of Russian Sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia and Sea Holly, Eryngium

Russian Sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia: has upright greyish foliage and violet blue flowers in late summer/early fall. Bees adore it. Russian Sage prefers full sun and heat. Average to dry conditions. Height: 90-150 cm ( 35-60 inches) Spread: 60-90 cm (20-35 inches) Hardy USDA Zones: 4-9

Japanese Anemone

Japanese Anemone and Mountain Fleeceflower, Persicaria 

Feathery grasses mix with BurnetSanguisorbia 

Burnet, Sanguisorbia officinallis 'Red Thunder' (Rosaceae)


Sea Lavender or Limonium latifolia

Verbena bonariensis and BurnetSanguisorbia 

Verbena bonariensis: Is a drought tolerant perennial that is usually treated as an annual here in southern Ontario. It is a prolific self-seeder, and for this reason, it is often viewed a problem plant in some parts of the U.S. Butterflies and bees love it! Full sun. Height: 90-120 cm ( 36-48 inches), Spread: 38-45 cm (15-18 inches) USDA Zones 6-10

Verbena bonariensis and Mountain Fleeceflower, Persicaria 

For me the delicate clouds of texture and color in Oudolf's Entry Walk Garden speak to modern design's softer side. There is nothing clean lined or hard edged here.

Unlike a traditional approach to design, individual flowers do not compete for your attention in the gardens that Oudolf creates. Instead there is a harmonious mix of lighter notes. The overall effect feels soft, pretty and playful.

I always come away inspired to loosen my grip on convention and incorporate more of the same feeling in my own garden.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Simple Techniques for Drying Flowers


There was a time when dried floral arrangements were hugely fashionable. Every fall I would make  up bouquets and a dried floral wreath to hang in our bedroom.

Styles change and over the years it became harder and harder to find the raw materials for my wreaths and flowers to make up dried arrangements.

Finally the habit of drying summer flowers faded altogether from the my fall routines.

Then, as luck would have it, I came across bunches of Strawflowers and Statice at the local Farmer's Market this summer. 

The fresh, new-mown-hay smell of the Strawflowers made me feel so nostalgic that I found myself wondering why I had ever stopped drying flowers.

There are a great many types of flowers and plants are suitable for drying. 

Here are just a few: roses, lavender, peonies, amaranthus, celosia, larkspur, Baby's Breath or gypsophia paniculata, hydrangea, German statice or Statice tatarica, Italian statice or Statice latifolium and a wide variety of herbs. 

Like Strawflowers, many of these flowers are actually easy to grow yourself.

Strawflowers, Helichrysum bracteatum: are wildflowers native to Australia. These sun loving flowers are actually short-lived perennials (USDA zones 10-11), but are generally grown as annuals in more northern climate zones. They are easy to grow from seed in any hot, dry site. Height: 30-40 cm (12-18 inches) Spread: 24-30 cm (10-12 inches).

Here in more northern gardening zones where are growing season is shorter, it is a good idea to start seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last spring frost. If you are in a more temperate zone, you can plant seeds outdoors after all danger of frost has passed.

The flower petals of Strawflowers have a dry, papery texture even before they are dried. The stem is quite fleshy in contrast and becomes a bit brittle when dried. (Quite often the Strawflowers heads are cut from the brittle stems and a florist's wire is inserted into the flower head to act as a stem. If you were preparing the dried flowers for sale or if the flowers are to be handled a lot, I would think about replacing the dried stems with florist's wire.)

This is the Statice, Limonium Sinuatum that I saw growing in the field at Butt's Berry & Flower Farm. It too can be grown easily from seed.

Statice, Limonium Sinuatum: There are a number varieties of Statice or Limonium. Limonium Sinuatum is an annual that has papery blooms on stiff green stems. Full sun. Height : 45-60 cm (18-24 inches), Spread: 38-45 cm (15-18 inches).

The best method for drying flowers varies according to the flower. Hanging flowers to dry is one of the easiest methods for drying a wide array of flowers. 

I dried my strawflowers in small bunches along with some white Statice or Limonium Sinuatum. 
While you may find it more of a challenge to find strawflowers to dry, Statice of varying kinds is commonly available most places you buy cut flowers. I have even seen it at my local grocery store in the floral department.

I was able to buy Sea Lavender or Limonium latifolia (seen above on the top right) at a local flower shop and found some pretty purple Gomphrena (seen above on the left) at the grocery store.

To prepare flowers for drying, remove any leaves and simply bind small bunches together with an elastic band. 

Make a bow with some twine and use one of the loops to hang your flower bunches. (Much to my husband's annoyance, I hung my flowers on a couple of the knobs on my kitchen cabinet doors.) 

Any dry place out of direct sunlight will do to hang your flowers. (Keeping them out of the sun is the best way to preserve the flower's color.)

I found it took about a little over a week for my flowers to dry. 

To make a simple arrangement with your dried flowers begin with the filler materials; in this case the feathery Sea Lavender. (You may find your dried Sea Lavender branches will shed some of the tiny blue flowers so choose a smooth surface on which to work. That way you can quickly sweep up any flowers that drop.)

Then fill in your arrangement with the chunkier Statice, Limonium Sinuatum.

Finally add your accents: in this instance, the Strawflowers and purple Gomphrena.

The overall effect of the finished arrangement is soft and delicate. 

I think you will find that drying flowers is a great way to keep a little bit of summer going well into fall.

In this post I'll show you how to make a wreath with dried flowers. You also might be interested in this post featuring projects with dried hydrangeas.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Part 2: The Dinner Plates Dahlias & Flowers for Drying

It's a bit of a hike to the back field at Butt's Berry and Flower Farm where the dinner plate dahlias are grown. Rose Oldham suggests we might even want to take our car and drive out there.

As we crest the hill, the huge field of dahlias comes into view. 

Ahead of us, on the dirt road, we see that one of the summer hands is using a bike 
to make the same trek to the back field.

Suddenly the sun comes out from behind the clouds and it is bright blue sky and dahlias as far as the eye can see!

The dahlias we have come particularly to see are the "Dinner Plates" which, as the name suggests, are blooms the size of a small dinner plate. 

Put just one of these flowers in a vase and you already have a floral arrangement with a big impact.

This striking dinner plate streaked with magenta and maroon caught my eye immediately.

This is Dahlia 'Bristol Stripe'.

In the field there were rows of different shades of pink and lavender.

Dahlia 'Otto's Thrill'

Close-up of Dahlia 'Otto's Thrill'

Though I have always read that taller varieties of dahlias need some sort of support, none of the dahlias were staked. I asked Rose how the get away without staking the flower-heavy dinner plates.

"We plant our dahlias close together; about 12" apart. In tight rows, the dahlias seem to hold one another up. Another thing we do is to hill the young plants up with the tractor. I think this has to help as well", she replied.

Now you at home may not have a tractor, but you can still hill up taller dahlias to give them added support.

 Dahlia 'Cafe au Lait' is a creamy mix of pink and pale peach.

Opposite the row of hot pink Dahlia 'Otto's Thrill' is a line of creamy-yellow flowers striped with red.

 Dahlia 'Lady Darlene'

 Dahlia 'Lady Darlene'

The flower petals swirl up from the centre like flames.

The field also boasts every hot color from tangerine to red.


If you want to grow dahlias, here is some brief pointers for storing them over winter in a northern garden zone:

To overwinter the tubers, wait until frost has blackened the foliage and then dig deep beneath the clump. Lift the tubers carefully avoiding any possible damage to the neck near the crown. Each mother tuber can yield as many as 10 more tubers by autumn.

Use a sharp knife to slice the young tubers from the crown. Discard the "mother" along with any baby tubers showing signs of damage. Bring the tubers indoors and wash the soil from the tubers. Allow them to dry for 24 hours. Use a permanent marker to label the tubers for easy identification in spring. Place them in cardboard box and fill it with dry wood shavings or sawdust. Store your tubers in a dry place that stays above freezing temperatures for the winter. (A cold cellar or heated garage will work well. A basement may be too warm. )

Dahlias are not all that is grown on the farm.

 When we first arrived family patriarch Ross Oldham was setting off to pick 
the last of this summer's strawberries.

There are also pumpkins and a variety of vegetables.

 One final crop that I have yet to touch on are flowers that are perfect for drying, like these maroon strawflowers:

They have a fresh, new-mown-hay scent, hence the common name "Strawflower". More about 
Strawflowers in an upcoming post.

Everlasting flower or Statice (botanical name Limonium) is an old-fashioned annual
 that you simply hang to dry.

Have you ever seen these rather wacky looking flowers before? 

 These are an annual called Amaranthus Cruentus.

These similar, but pendulous flowers have the common name 'Love Lies Bleeding'. The botanical name is Amaranthus caudatus.

Amaranthus caudatus: A Victorian favourite, Amaranthus caudatus is great in fresh and dried floral arrangements. It is an annual flower that requires full sun and is quite happy in rather poor soil. As a seedling it likes moist conditions, but the mature plant is quite drought tolerant. Height can be as much as 3-5 feet. One word of warning: Amaranthus caudatus is quite the self-seeder and is considered invasive in some places. To avoid problems, harvest your Amaranthus caudatus before it drops its seed. Otherwise you may be weeding it endlessly next spring!

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not also point out that the farm also produces 
gorgeous delphinium each June.

More Information and Links:

Butt's Berry & Flower Farm

5838 5th Line
Rockwood, Ontario
(519) 856-0270

Delphinium, dahlias, and a variety of other flowers are grown on the farm. Orders for special events such as weddings are welcome.
There is no catalogue at this time, but dahlia tubers are available for purchase each spring. 
The farm also produces a wide range of vegetables, pumpkins and berries.

Visit the Butt's Berry& Flower Farm Facebook page.