Friday, March 25, 2016

Fancy Fence Work

We tend think of fencing primarily in terms of its function: it's ability to keep trespassers out while keeping children and pets in. A fence often forms the backdrop for any garden, so I thought it would be interesting to take a look at fencing's potential as a ornamental element in a garden.

There are lots of examples of creative and beautiful fencing in this post. Some require solid carpentry skills, but others like the double picket fence in my opening picture, are more about creativity and invention than they are about advanced skills with a hammer and saw.

This first example is hands-down one of the prettiest traditional fences I have ever seen. The arbor at the entrance is gorgeous too.

If you want something low and geometric, this is bow-tie design is traditional without being too cottage garden.

One drawback for all painted fences is the labor involved in their upkeep. Every three or four years  the picket fence in my own garden needs to be cleaned, sanded and painted. It's hours and hours of work. 

This is a fence that surrounds a country vegetable and herb garden. Notice that it isn't white, but dove-grey. The soft color is less contrasty than it would be, if the fence were bright white.

A few Common Types of Fencing Compared:

• The quality of your fence will depend on the wood you choose. Some types of wood will hold up better over time than others. 
• Wood is perhaps the easiest material for the home DIYer to work with.
• It is subject to rot and may have problems with pests.  
• This is a type of fencing needs periodic maintenance. 
• Wood can be painted or stained to suit your tastes.

Wrought iron is subject to rust and requires regular upkeep. 
Metal is a more expensive option than wood.
• Most of what passes for wrought iron these days is actually a lighter and less expensive form of aluminium, steel, composite or polymer materials.

• Vinyl fencing is pretty maintenance free.
• It is easy to clean.
• Vinyl fencing may be more expensive to install than wood. The cost of maintenance over the long haul however, may be lower than some other types of fencing.
• There are now a greater range of styles and colors to choose from.

• Bamboo is easy to install and cheaper than straight wood fencing.
• Bamboo is subject to rot and needs occasional maintenance.
• There are three types of bamboo fencing: bamboo cane, rolled bamboo and live bamboo.

Chain link:
• Chain link fencing is cheap and durable.
• Although you can add mesh or slats, it is not the best option for privacy.
• Chain link is not exactly the most aesthetically pleasing form of fencing.

I doubt that this fence keeps rabbits out, but it probably deters local deer from nibbling.

In the city, blocking traffic noise is always a goal. The best way to kept street noise out is to go with a solid fence of some kind. 

What makes this fence particularly nice is all the detailing: the strapping on the sides of the fence and the acorn-shaped post toppers.

Before you build a Fence:

• Investigate local by-laws, building codes and zoning ordinances for restrictions on fence style and building materials, height restrictions and rules as to how far the fence must be kept from the property line.

• If you are planning a fence along your home's outer boundaries, have a professional land surveyor come in and do a proper survey that shows the property line, easements and setbacks so you know where you can build legally.

• Confirm with your local building department if you are required to apply for a building permit.

• Have your property marked for underground electrical, plumbing and other service lines.

And now for a few fencing options that are less formal. This split-rail fence is right at home in the countryside.

It doesn't get much more rustic than this. Metal post spikes support standard 4' x 4' poles. The cross pieces are simply long branches.

This gardener and her husband in Uxbridge, ON made the vegetable garden fence themselves. 

"The fence is all cedar, " Carole tells me,"We had the cedar poles which we had collected in clearing some of our property. Then I cut fresh cedar saplings, trimmed the branches and bent them into the pattern I wanted and wired them in place. We each did a section in our workshop, and then we installed them separately."

Rabbits were an issue in this rural setting, so Carole and her husband placed wire fencing discreetly inside the decorative cedar one.

This is a willow wattle fence was made by artist Barbara Guy Long working with a team of assistants. 

The structure is made with cedar posts and willow which is wattled or woven. (You can see more of this garden here: A Willow Garden in the Rolling Hills of Caledon, ON.) 

Many thanks to Barbara's husband filmmaker and editor Garrick Filewod

One really great thing about working with a pliable material like willow is that it is possible to give a fence a fluid, organic shape. 

I love the sweeping curves of this fence that Barbara created for the Belhaven Hospital in Dunbar, Scotland. 

A couple of high-end fence options.

This Bamboo fence would be the perfect option of a Japanese style garden.

In this contemporary garden, the wood has been laid horizontally making for a neat striped effect.

Though we aren't looking to install any new fencing ourselves, the subject will certainly be on my mind when I sand and paint all the pickets on the front fence this spring. The classic white picket suits the house so perfectly, I can't imagine the garden without it.

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Monday, March 21, 2016

A Secret Pond & Waterfall

What makes something special is not always discernible at a quick glance. 
Often it is a feature that discreetly awaits discovery.

This is a nice suburban garden with tidy flowerbeds and wonderful mature trees. The front of the property sits level with the street and the backyard rolls away from the house into to a long, green lawn.

Taking full advantage of the change in elevation, the homeowners have constructed a generous deck 
that overlooks the garden. An attractive screen gives the deck a bit of privacy. 

But what is especially nice about this garden lies partially hidden waiting for the visitor to stumble upon it.  

At the foot of the stone stairway that leads down from the deck, there is a 
charming pond and waterfall.

A pair of Japanese Maples and a Weeping Norway Spruce cascade down over a dark pool of water. 

Picea abies 'Pendula' is a weeping form of Norway Spruce. If staked and supported, it can grow into a 10-15' tree. Plant it in average soil and moisture conditions. Full sun. A Weeping Norway Spruce does best in colder climates and will not do well south of USDA Zone 7. 

Resting on a bed of soft pine needles, a meditation Buddha sits with its legs crossed in a single Lotus position. 

A symbol of peace and calm, the Buddha's eyes are closed. Its thumbs and the finger tips touch forming an oval symbolizing the turning of attention inward.

What an enchanting feature for the garden visitor to come upon!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

In Search of Local History: My Winter Walk-off Challenge

Every year Les of a Tidewater Gardener offers a challenge to bloggers who love photography.

Here's the challenge in a nutshell: On your own two feet, leave the house and share what can be seen within walking (or biking) distance of your home. 

Sadly, last year I missed out on the winter walk-off, so with this year's challenge deadline looming, last Sunday we walked to the old greenhouse up the street.

Before I get to the challenge photos, a little history. The city of Brampton, where I live (the tiny village of Huttonville has been incorporated into the city of Brampton), was once known as the "Flower Town of Canada".

According to legend, Henry Dale, who worked along side his father selling vegetables door to door, helped expand the family business by presenting the lady of the house with a rose he grew himself.

Growing and selling market vegetables had been the way his father Edward made a new life for himself after emigrating from England in 1863, but for young Henry, growing roses was his true passion.

Henry began using the family greenhouses to experiment with methods for producing roses that were uniform in both size and color.

When his father retired, Henry shifted the business away from vegetable production to focus completely on growing flowers.

Before long, his "Canada rose" had an international reputation and the Dale greenhouses had expanded to reach eleven acres under glass.

For years the three hundred foot chimney of the greenhouse complex was the most prominent landmark in Brampton. Each day the company whistle could be heard clear across town, punctuating the start, middle and end of the work day.

Roses were not the company's only speciality. The complex of 140 greenhouses also produced orchids, carnations, lilies, hydrangeas and poinsettias.

Just look at those chrysanthemums!

The chrysanthemum on the left is taller than the men in this old picture. You just don't see flowers like that much anymore!

The Dale Estate flower business weathered the great depression and the Second World War, but in the 1960's and 70's the cost of modernizing the old greenhouses became a huge challenge.

Cheap import cut flowers and the rising fuel costs also took a toll forcing the company to scale back operations in the 70's and eventually close its doors in the 1980's.

Now, the greenhouses I am about to show you are not part of the former estate. The success of the Henry Dale's company lead to the establishment of other similar enterprises.

Based on the style of the adjoining house, I'd say these greenhouses dates from the 1970's or early 80's.They have been sitting empty for years. Local kids seem to have made a game of breaking the glass panes.

This leaning power pole always makes me puts me a bit on edge as I pass by!

The moment humans depart, plants reclaim what was once theirs!

'Round the back, there are piles of industrial waste. They have an odd, eerie beauty.

This chimney was part of the old boiler house.

The oil fired boiler must have heated the complex of greenhouses. 
Did the cost of fuel do this business in as well?

The biggest stock piles of stuff are hidden at the very back.

It's odd how a company that built a city can fall into ruin and be largely forgotten, isn't it?

If you would like to see other Winter Walk-off blog posts, please visit A Tidewater Gardener.

Acknowledgments: Many thanks to the Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives for the use of the historical photographs in this post. Research on the Dale Estate Greenhouses was drawn from the Ontario Heritage Trust website.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Garden in Sun and Shade

Pink flowers litter the path like confetti. It's been raining this June morning and the everything is wet and glossy. 

Wow! Does green every get more vivid than this, I wonder?  

You never know what you'll find when you enter a backyard garden. 

That element of surprise is always exciting...even when the weather is a bit damp and miserable.

The garden I am about to show has a wide, but shallow backyard. Mature trees blur the boundaries of the garden however, making it feel much larger than it is. 

The heavily laden Beauty Bush, with its arching branches of pale pink flowers, is one of the first things that catches your eye. This large shrub takes full advantage of a small break in the tree cover and resides happily in a small pocket of sunshine.

Beauty Bush, Kolkwitzia has a fountain shape with branches that hang in long, sweeping arcs. Plant a Beauty Bush in full sun in average garden soil. This shrub blooms on old wood, so prune it in spring after it flowers. Periodically cut old canes to the ground to renew the shrub. Height: 8-10', Spread: 8-10' USDA Zones: 5-9.

A few of the shade perennials identified:

I haven't noted the hosta, but suffice it to say, they form the foundation of this shady planting.

1. Bloodroot, Sanguinaria 2. Yellow Fumitory or Yellow Corydalis (a long blooming self-seeder) 3. Bleeding heart, Dicentra 4. Goat's Beard, Aruncus dioicus (a young plant, as it is quite small) 5. Violet 6. Heuchera 7. Pulmonaria 8. Lady's Mantle, Alchemilla

A nearby dogwood tree is also covered with small, star-shaped blossoms.

Goat's Beard, Aruncus dioicus is a great, large-sized perennial for any shade garden:

Goat's Beard, Aruncus dioicus has feathery white plumes mid-summer. It has green, ferny foliage, which are quite attractive in its own right.  Full sun or part shade.  Height: 120-180 cm (47-70 inches), Spread: 90-150 cm (35-59 inches.) USDA Zones: 2-9.

A path crosses the length of the backyard and then leads back around to the front of the property. When you reach the front corner of the house, a wooden bench greets your arrival. 

A tree lends privacy to this little courtyard, while a small fountain provides the pleasant ambience of splashing water.

Often when homeowners dispense with the grass at the front of their home, they replace it with a cottage style or natural meadow garden that can seem out of step with the other properties in a suburban neighbourhood. I thought that this more restrained approach to a front garden was a nice alternative.

It's hard to capture a large front yard in a single shot, but what the homeowners have done is terrace the area just in front of the house. A set of steps takes you from the upper terrace down to a garden at street level. 

What I think makes this design approach work:

• This front yard is not a jungle of plants. The garden looks neat enough to fit in with the other front yards and their tidy green lawns. 

• There is great use of open space. Never think that you need to fill every square inch of your garden with plants! Some open space is restful to the eye.  Here a thick layer of mulch creates a path that leads you through the garden.

• Color, texture, shape and height have all been carefully considered. For instance, the soft, grey foliage of a Dianthus sits nicely in front of the spear-shaped foliage of a Bearded Iris. Grey, variegated and burgundy leaves break-up all the green. Low growing plants hide the less-than-attractive feet of the taller plants behind them.

• Imagine the same area without the bench and the metal obelisk. The garden just wouldn't be the same! These two objects really compliment the planting. In contrast with the perennials, the bench is chunky and solid. The obelisk, on the other hand, adds a linear element to the heart of the garden.

• The boxwood hedge that runs down the side and part way across the front of the yard contains the garden like a frame. It also presents a neat and orderly face to the street. 

A closer view of the steps that lead down from the terrace.

Groundcovers and diminutive perennials like perennial geraniums (white flowers) are the perfect choice to fill out the area adjacent to the steps. 

These perennials are so densely packed weeds would have a challenge getting established!

A few of the full sun perennials identified:

1. Ornamental Grass (possibly Northern Sea Oats) 2. Shasta Daisy 3. Penstemon 'Husker Red' 4. Bearded Iris 5. A small daylily like Daylily, 'Happy Returns' 6. Basket of Gold, Aurinia saxatilis  7. Pinks, Dianthus 'Essex Witch'

The rain is really starting to come down as I head back to the shelter and comfort of the warm car. 

A garden that was a pleasant surprise indeed... even on a wet morning in early June!