Sunday, February 28, 2016

A Garden as Theatre

A vase of white peonies dress up the trellised seating area

Generally I am not a huge fan of perimeter planting where the garden follows its way around the outer edge of a piece of property. 

It not that there is anything wrong with this type of layout. It's just that there are so many other more interesting and creative approaches to garden design.

The garden I am about to show you would be an exception to this point of view. Here the well executed perimeter planting seems to work in perfect concert with the formal style of the design. 

The fenced-in area between the house and garage.

This garden is a side yard rather than a backyard, but the same approach could easily be taken in a backyard.

Between the house and garage is a private walkway that the owner has transformed into narrow courtyard complete with a patio table and chairs. 

The walkway leads you around the back of the garage to a seating area with a large overhead trellis. 

It is from this vantage point that you get your first glimpse of the garden that stretches out in front of you. Here is a very rough plan of the garden:

Sitting comfortably in the wicker chairs and looking out at the flowers in bloom, listening to the water splash in the fountain, watching the bees flit amongst the flowers seems almost like a bit of garden theatre. 

Certainly, watching the coming and goings of insects and birds must provide hours of relaxing entertainment.

And after you have sipped your morning coffee and want to stroll into the garden to better appreciate what's in bloom, there is a path the leads you all the way around the garden.

These first two images were taken in May when pink tulips were flowering. Clematis vines have just started to make their way up a number of supports that run the length of the fence.

Here we are in June. 

The Clematis have come on strong and are almost hiding the wood fence. There is even a Clematis flower or two.

Gorgeous pink peonies have replaced the tulips.

Opposite the peonies there are more pink flowers. This time it is the tall spires of pink Lupins.

Briefly on growing Lupins:

Lupins do best in well-drained, slightly acidic soil that is on the moist side. They will tolerate average or sandy soil, but dislike clay soil. Plant them in full sun. 
Lupins will sometimes fail to come back a second year, so to maintain the vigour of your Lupin deadhead it once it flowers to prevent it from going to seed. 

Growing Lupins from Seed:
If you want to grow lupins from seed, direct sow them into the ground in the fall. Lupins sown in spring will need cold stratification (a short period of time simulating cold, wintery conditions. Put lupin seeds in a ziplock bag and place them in the refrigerator for approximately 7 days).  Just before you sow them, soak them overnight in lukewarm water. Sow the seed shallowly (about 1/8" deep).

Lupins have long, fragile taproots that don't take kindly to being transplanted. For this reason, it is a good idea to grow them in peat pots.

The pathway leads all the way back to the cool comfort of the shade.

In the corner, there is a small terra cotta fireplace for cool evenings.

Here warm June days have also brought out the first pink roses which climb their way up
 the trellis supports of the seating area.

One of the things I like best about this garden's design is that it's laid out in a way that really enhances the owner's ability to enjoy her garden. 

And isn't pleasure what gardening should be all about?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Amsonia in bloom at the Toronto Botanical Gardens

I first got to know many of my favourite perennials in my mother's garden when I was a young girl. 

Bluestar, Amsonia is a plant I was not familiar with until we moved to our present home in Huttonville a little over fifteen years ago. Since that time I have come to appreciate Amsonia for its starry spring flowers and the marvellous color of its fall foliage.

Amsonia in my front garden

My garden

In my garden, a well-established clump of Amsonia has a place next to a Baptisia. Occasionally, one will bloom without waiting for the other, but most years, they work together to put on a fine display. 

I have come to love this mix of sky blue and deep indigo flowers. 

The second place I have Amsonia is just inside the white picket fence. Here it blooms alongside a Gas Plant, Dictamus albus. 

Here are a few other combinations from the Toronto Botanical Gardens: Bluestar, A. tabernaemontana + Baptisia 'Purple Smoke'

 Bluestar, A. tabernaemontana + Purple Alliums at the Toronto Botanical Gardens

Bluestar, A. tabernaemontana + Salvia at the Toronto Botanical Gardens

Toronto Botanical Gardens

Bluestars are slow growers that take years to reach a decent size. The good news is they are long-lived perennials that prove to be well worth the wait. When mature, Amsonia form broad, mounded plants that take a fair bit of space, so keep that in mind when you bring a little potted plant home from the nursery. 

Unlike many other perennials that die back at the centre of a clump after a few years, Bluestars have strong, uniform growth.

When cut, the stems of Amsonia exudes a milky sap that I find it a bit irritating when it comes in contact with my sensitive skin. So I wear gloves when I cut it down in the late fall. One great thing about this white sap is that it makes the plant unattractive to insects, deer and rabbits

Moving or dividing established Bluestars can be a challenge as they have a woody rootstock that can be hard to dig up.

Toronto Botanical Gardens

After flowering, the foliage stays attractive throughout the summer and provides nice textural interest. In the fall many species become a vibrant gold when grown in sunny, warm locations.

My garden

The seedpods on my Bluestars are long pods that open as the seeds mature. 

I am always slow to get around to cutting the plants down in fall, but so far I haven't experienced any problems with prolific self-seeding.

Amsonia ciliata 'Spring Skies'

Varieties of Blue Stars, Amsonia to watch for:

Arkansas or Threadleaf Bluestar, Amsonia hubrichtii is native to the southern USA. It has soft feathery leaves that resemble a bottle brush. The plant forms a billowy mass that is quite shrub-like. Amsinia hubrichtii has pale blue flowers in spring. This plant is happy in well-drained average to poor soil. Full sun or very light shade.  Height: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches). 

Willowleaf Bluestar, Amsonia tabernaemontana is native to Eastern North America. It has slender, willow-like foliage and light blue star-shaped flowers in spring (blooms approximately for 3-6 weeks). This plant performs well in a range of soil types, but prefers average to moist growing conditions. Full sun or light shade. Height: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches). Hardy to zone 3.

Amsonia illustris is native to southeastern North America. The leaf shape is similar to A. tabernaemontana, but is shiny and leather-like.

Amsonia ciliata is a low growing type of Amsonia that has pale blue flowers. When planted in full sun, its fine foliage turns amber in the fall. 

The Hybrids:

Amsonia 'Blue Ice' has foliage like A. tabernaemontana, but on a more compact plant. Dark blue buds open to soft blue flowers in early spring. This hybrid blooms for 4-6 weeks. Height: 35-40 cm (14-16 inches) Spread: 45-60 (14-18 inches).

Amsonia 'Seaford Skies' has fine, pale blue flowers and bright yellow foliage in the fall. Height: 35-45 cm (14-18 inches) Spread: 45-60 (14-18 inches).

Amsonia ciliata 'Spring Skies' another compact variety that has willow-like leaves and blue buds that open into soft blue flowers. Height: 45-60 (14-16 inches), Spread: 45-60 (14-16 inches).

Plant type: Perennial

Height: Depending on the cultivar: 35-90 cm (14- 35 inches)

Spread: Depending on the cultivar: 45-90 cm (18-35 inches)

Flower: Shades of blue (sometimes the flowers fade to near white when they mature in full sun).

Bloom period: Early to mid-spring

Leaf: Provides great fall color.

Light: Sun or very light shade

Growing from seed requires cold stratification.

Companion Plants: Baptisia, Alliums, Salvias, Columbine, Geraniums, Peonies, Iris to name but a few.

Divide: Blue star has a woody rootstock that makes division a challenge. Divide in early spring before new growth starts. Propagate by stem cuttings in early summer.

Notes: Amsonia has a milky sap that makes it unattractive to deer and rabbits.

Problems: Virtually problem free!

USDA Zones: 4-9 with the exception of A. tabernaemontana, which is hardy only to Zone 3

Friday, February 19, 2016

Me and my new little Buddy

At first I didn't know what to think of him.

Seemingly out of nowhere, this little creature up and appeared.

The old dog and I already had a routine worked out.

I mean, whose ball did he think it was anyway?

 And he was always causing trouble!

More than once I had to give him a piece of my mind!

But even I had to admit, he was pretty darned loveable.

There's just one problem.

He hogs the entire bed!

How am I ever supposed going to get some decent rest now?

 Have a nice weekend everyone!