Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Natural Forest Garden in Mississauga, ON

I am sure you have either witnessed or heard of this urban scenario: an older neighbourhood in a central area of town becomes a much sought after address.

Modest family homes are torn down and the property is clear-cut to make way for the mega-mansions meant to appeal to those home buyers who can afford a house in a prime location.

The most heartbreaking change to watch in these up and coming neighbourhoods is the loss of mature trees- some of them as old as fifty or one hundred years. For developers, modest fines for clear-cutting land is simply the cost of doing business.

Jamie and George DeWolf live in just such a neighbourhood in the heart of Mississauga.

The Mineola West area of Mississauga has a peaceful forest-like setting and yet is a quick commute from downtown Toronto. In Mineola West, the DeWolf's property is sadly becoming the exception rather than the rule- the house in which they reside is one of the area's original dwellings and was once a carriage house on a large estate.

What is now the back was originally the front of the carriage house. The original doors to the carriage house are now two large windows.

Jamie DeWolf's potting shed. I purposely tried to create a sense of scale, so you could better appreciate the magnificence of these tall trees.

The trees on the property tower over the old carriage house. "I have many native plants and have tried my best to integrate what I have created into the natural surroundings of a very special woodland that is at the heart of this area- many of the trees in our backyard having never been cut," says Jamie.

The forested area at the back of the property is carpeted with white trilliums 
and blue scilla each spring.

Large Flowering Trillium, Trillium grandiflorum are wildflowers native to Ontario. They have white flowers with three petals. The flowers are held aloft on a stem containing a whorl of three leaves. Cultivation of trilliums is slow and requires 7 or more years from seed to flower. The flowers are pollinated by ants, flies and beetles. As the flowers fade, they turn from white to a soft pink. Trilliums require moist, well-drained, sandy soil that is rich in organic matter. Full to part shade. Height: 20-50 cm (7-19 inches) USDA Zones: 4-9.

A small seating area by the back door.

"Other than the trees, there was not a living thing on the property when we bought it in 1999, as it was let go by an elderly lady. We hired Christopher Campbell, a landscape architect to figure out what was best. When Christopher suggested we could have a beautiful woodland garden, I wasn't even familiar with the term!", continues Jamie.

"When he presented a drawing that proposed a lovely labyrinth of pathways filled with shade-loving plants I cried...I just didn't know how to deal with it...especially the endless list of plants that I had never heard of. So, I set out to put in this garden with my husband over the next few years, a few feet at a time."

George DeWolf made the charming front gate.

The front of the house.

Shade can strike fear into the heart of even an experienced gardener.

Armed with a carefully conceived design and plant list, the DeWolf's had a clear vision of what they were working toward. The did all the work themselves a little bit at a time. I asked Jamie about the other challenges she faced.

She replied, "The soil was very acidic due to the oaks and conifers that line the property. Fortunately, we live very close to the lake (Lake Ontario) which provides a 'micro-climate' where it is s bit warmer in winter and we can get away with growing less hardy varieties."

Though there are dashes of color, the predominant palette of the woodland garden that Jamie and George have created is green. If that sounds a bit dull, not the bit of it.

Jamie has skillfully mixed leaf shape and size to create little textural stories. The end effect is soothing and relaxing.


A table and chairs sit in the centre of the front yard, where there is a small pocket of sunshine.

A standout in this area of the garden, partly because of the sheer size of its leaves, 
is a Rodgersia (shown on the left). 

 Silene 'Clifford Moor'

Silene 'Clifford Moor' is a nice variegated cultivar with green leaves flecked in cream. Small magenta-pink flowers appear in spring. Silene 'Clifford Moor' prefers sun to light shade. Normal, sandy and clay soil all work well for Silene. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 38-45 cm (15-18 inches) USDA Zones: 5-11

Bugbane or Cimicifuga (recently reclassified as Actea)

Bugbane, Cimicifuga has ferny foliage and long, bottlebrush-shaped flowers with the most divine fragrance. This plant is native to Eastern North America. Cimicifuga prefers moist, rich soil and some protection from the afternoon sun. Height: 120-150 cm (47-60 inches), Spread: 60-75 cm (23-29 inches).

Pink Rhododendron

When you are creating a large garden, hiring an expert and creating a plan is a great way to go.

"The bones that Christopher had in his drawings and many of the original plants we put in 15 years ago are still intact, but other factors have played a role in the evolution of the garden", says Jamie.

"The change in climate has meant the loss of certain species particularly over the last couple of winters. Tree pruning has opened up the canopy allowing more sunlight."

Athyrium otophorum v. okanum also known as the Auriculate Lady Fern forms a clump of arching triangular leaves.  Full to part shade.  Moist sandy or clay soil are its preferences. Height: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches), Spread:30-45 cm (12-18 inches).

Dwarf Western Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum aleuticum 'Imbricatum'

Bleeding Hearts with an understory of Sweet Woodruff.


Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum

"My own interest in plants has become a hobby and a passion. I have also come to appreciate texture and color more over the years. For instance, I have introduced more grasses", Jamie tells me.

Sources for her inspiration includes Lost Horizons:

"I am always on the lookout for new and interesting varieties beyond the standard fare. Lost Horizon's Nursery and display garden has provided me with inspiration that I can grow more than just impatiens and hostas."

Two types of Solomon's Seal

Dwarf Solomon's Seal, Polygonatum humile (shown on the left) is a dwarf cultivar with dainty white flowers in spring. Plants are slow to establish but are long-lived and low maintenance. Part to full shade. Sandy or clay soil that is on the moist side is best. Note: Harmful if eaten. Height:15-30 cm (6-12 inches), Spread: 30-90 cm. USDA Zones: 5-9

Solomon's Seal, Polygonatum: Depending on the cultivar this shade lover can range from 60-120 cm (23 -47 inches) and can spread to 60-90 cm (23-35 inches). Dangling white flowers appear in May and can be harmful if eaten. Again sandy or clay soil that is on the moist side is best for this perennial. Divide in early fall. USDA Zones: 3-9

Yellow Fairy Bells, Disporum flavens

Yellow Fairy Bells, Disporum flavens is native to Korea. Like Solomon's Seal, they emerge mid-spring with arching stalks of bright green leaves. Lemon yellow flowers will last for up to a couple of weeks. Black berries appear in late summer. Part to full shade and clay soil that is on the moist side are this plants preferences. Height: 70-90 cm ) 27-35 cm, Spread: 40-50 cm (16-20 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.

Black False Hellebore,Veratrum nigrum (shown on the left) has tall black bottlebrush-like spire of star-shaped flowers which have a somewhat unpleasant smell. It likes rich soil, somewhat moist conditions and sun to part shade. All parts of this plant are poisonous if ingested. Height: 1.8 -2.4m (6-8ft), Spread: 60-90 cm ( 24-36 inches) USDA Zones 6-9.

Sedge Grass, Carex elata Bowles Golden' (shown on the right) has yellowish-green foliage. It is semi-evergreen, moisture-loving grass that likes to find itself on the edge of a pond. It prefers full sun unless afternoon shade is needed to keep it from drying out. Height: 45-60 cm (18-24 inches), Spread:60-90 cm (24-36 inches). USDA Zones 5-9.

Primula Sieboldii

I asked Jamie if she had any favourites.

"I love them all", she says," Favourites are huge trees, the Trilliums and carpet of Scilla each spring, the Hellebores, Tree Peonies, the mini Clematis that grows on a natural trellis of Snakeroot and the Filipendula that jumps out of the garden like pink fireworks in July."

A few ideas you can take away from this woodland garden:

Begin with a plan and tackle it bit by bit as time and money permit.

• Don't fight it! Work with the natural surroundings. Add plants to your garden that suit the naturally occurring light and soil conditions.

• Create little textural stories by mixing leaf texture, shape and size.

As Jamie and George's woodland garden proves, gardening in the shade is only limited by your imagination.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Duff & Donna Evers, Part 3: The Woodland & the Gate of Lost Marbles

Digging, weeding, planting, hefting and hauling loads of compost; gardening is often tough physical work! It's not a hobby you would intuitively think would be suited to someone in late middle life or even older.

If you've been following this series of blog posts, you'll know that now by now that Duff and Donna Evers have a very large garden, but what you may not realize is that they are both gardeners in their seventies. 

If Donna could interject right about now, she'd probably tell you that gardening keeps them fit and young at heart. She might even toss in a lighthearted joke about gardening saving them a fortune on a gym membership.

It may be a lot of physical labor, but gardening is also a passion; a love of plants and nature that both she and Duff share. 

In this, the final post of the series on their garden near Halifax Nova Scotia, we are going to look at the little woodland garden to one side of the house, and to the what Donna refers to as the "gate of lost marbles."

I am going to let Donna tell you the story of this part of the garden in her own words:

"This area started out with a cedar hedge between us and our neighbour. There is a path through the hedge for visiting back and forth, by both people and pets."

"On the edge nearest the lawn, we planted a border of rhododendrons. In the area between these plantings, there were native hemlock, maples and poor spruce. Again, we weren't planning to garden in this area. Nature took care of the unsightly spruce, we limbed-up the hemlocks and bought more plants. Another garden to fill."

"Now we needed a way in and out of this garden. Duff built arbours leading into the garden at both ends."

Miss Cleo makes a grand entrance.

"There is also an arbour halfway down the garden and an arbour with a series of window frames that runs along a retaining wall. I love the view of the lake through these 'window frames'. The arbours all support clematis or climbing vines. Clematis flammula is a wonderful scented late bloomer."

Anemone sylvestris

Anemone sylvestris has ferny foliage and white flowers in late spring. Anemone sylvestris looks wonderful in combination with Narcissus or tulips. It also helps disguise the bulb's dying foliage. This plant spreads quite readily. Full sun or light shade and moist to wet conditions are preferred. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches). USDA Zones: 2-9

Donna: "Trillium grandiflorum 'Flore Plenum' was a birthday gift from a gardening friend. I hold my breath every spring until it appears. Then there is mandatory viewing for friends, neighbours and even total strangers."

Donna: "Maiden Hair Fern, Adiantum pedatum is a shade lover, pest-free and looks good with everything. What more could you ask?"

Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum pedatum has arching black stems and fans of green leaflets. The foliage is great in cut flower arrangements. These ferns like rich, moist soil. You may find that they take several years to reach a mature size. Height: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches), Spread: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches). USDA Zones: 2-9.

Donna: "Anemonella thalictroides 'Shoaf's Double'. Just being able to let that trip off your tongue makes you a gardener. It blooms for about a month."

Anemonella thalictroides 'Shoaf's Double' is a plant native to woodlands that bloom in spring. It is easily grown in average, well-drained soil, but its preference is sandy-humusy soil. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 7-15 cm ( 3-6 inches) USDA Zones 4-8

Primula kisoana alba

Donna on the subject of Primula kisoana alba: "I love the pink form too. They spread by runners, but are not invasive."

Primula Sieboldii

Primula Sieboldii is native to eastern Siberia, Manchuria, Korea and Japan where is grows in open woodlands and damp meadows. Primula Sieboldii likes free draining, soil that is rich in organic matter. Sun to light shade. Height: 15-30 cm (6-12 inches), Spread: 30-38 cm (12-15 inches). USDA Zones 4-9

Candelabra Primrose, Primula japonica is a group of woodland plants with fresh green foliage and a crown of flowers in late spring. They prefer part shade and moist or wet clay soil that is rich in organic matter. Height: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches), Spread: 25-30 cm (10-12 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9

In the background is Brunnera 'Jack Frost' with tiny blue flowers.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' has heart-shaped, silver colored leaves that are veined in a bright green. Sprays of blue flowers, which closely resemble forget-me-nots, appear in mid-spring. 'Jack Frost' can take more sun than many other types of Brunnera, but it prefers afternoon shade particularly in hotter gardening zones. Average garden soil is fine, but 'Jack Frost' likes moist conditions. Height: 30-40 cm (12-16 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm ( 12-18 inches). USDA Zones: 2-9.

There is a nice collection of rhododendrons and magnolias in this area of the garden.

Donna: "Magnolia Susan is one of "the girls" from the US National Arboretum. I like it because the blossoms open over several weeks and you always have a combination of dark buds and paler open flowers."

Donna's photo of Magnolia sieboldii 

"It would be difficult to pick a favourite magnolia. Magnolia 'Butterflies' has wonderful upright foliage. Magnolia sieboldii (shown above) is vase-shaped and suitable for a smaller garden. The outward facing blossoms are white with purple centres. In the fall, it has showy red seed pods."

Donna's photo of Magnolia 'Helen'

"We were given a collection of magnolia seedlings, started by a friend with seed crosses from the American Magnolia Society. These seedlings, which are now trees, caused great excitement when they first bloomed. The best of the lot is one we have named Magnolia 'Helen' after our friend's mother. It has caused a stir in the magnolia world. I think our friend would dig it up and take it home if the darn thing wasn't so big. He is working very hard at propagating this beauty."

"This area slopes to what was once an ugly divergent ditch, but is now my favourite spring tonic. Siberian iris, Skunk cabbage and native Interrupted fern fill in later. Right spot, right plant. Over the bridge behind "The gate of Lost Marbles" (no need to ask who has lost their marbles) is a compost area".

"We lifted the idea for the Gate of Lost Marbles right off the internet. The marbles really shine in February on a fresh fall of snow- a bonus we didn't expect. 

"The gate and the fence is covered with a grapevine that does double duty. It hides the compost bins and gives us wonderful grape jelly. A holding bed and a makeshift cold frame are also tucked behind the gate. A Red Haven Peach tree and Rhododendron schlippenbachii have somewhat elevated the status of this necessary, but unsightly part of the garden."

And so we arrive at the end of this three-part series.

What a pleasure it has been to work with Donna Evers to put these posts together. She has put up with endless questions and has always replied to my emails with patience, warmth and a wonderful sense of humour.

Thank you, Donna, from the bottom of my heart!

Missed Part 1? Go back and read it here.
Here's a link to Part 3.