Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Perennial Matchmaker: Book Review and Giveaway

Magic happens when perennials are beautifully combined. Some gardeners just seem to have the creative knack for mixing plants to create pretty combinations, but the vast majority of us need a little help and that's where Nancy J. Ondra's latest book The Perennial Matchmaker comes in. 

This is a book whose practical tips and methods for creating plant pairings move beyond replicating pretty pictures. Drool-worthy pictures of plant combinations are all well and good, but if the plants pictured don't grow well in your garden, or aren't readily available to you, the inspiration is somewhat useless. 

The matchmaking process begins with a plant that is successful for you and builds out from there. Before you can begin to find the perfect partner for a plant, Nan suggests you need to identify a key feature you want to play up. It could be the color of the flower, the color of the foliage or any other attribute that you want to accentuate.

A combination from the book The Perennial Matchmaker: Allium Globemaster with Geranium macrorrhizum. (c) 2016 Nancy J. Ondra. Used with the permission of the publisher Rodale Books.

The Perennial Matchmaker showcases 80 popular perennials. There is a basic profile of each plant  
focusing on its key characteristics with notes on suggested partnerships based on color, shape and texture, and seasonal features. 

Of course when choosing the perfect partner not all the considerations are purely aesthetic. Some benefits are more practical. For instance, with alliums like the ones pictured above, Nan suggests that low mounded plants can help to disguise the yellowing foliage of alliums whose flowers have faded. 

Each perennial chapter also includes a handy list of potential "Bloom Buddies" that are likely to flower at the same time. 

Nancy's book offers the novice gardener ready-to-go ideas in of photographs of perennial partners and Nan's "Top 10 Perennial Pairings." For the more experienced gardener, there are chapters on how to find inspiration, tips for working with color, ideas for to adding seasonal interest and even ways of extending plant combinations beyond simply mixing perennials.

I must confess that my views on this book are not entirely unbiased. I, along with many other photographers and bloggers, contributed images to the book. It may surprise you to know that the photographs are my one minor disappointment with the book. There is some gorgeous photography in The Perennial Matchmaker, but most of the images are small. 

I have a feeling that the small photographs are intensional. I think Nan does not want readers limited to copying combinations they see in pictures. She wants to arm her readers with the tools and ideas necessary to create their own magical combinations.

I have a copy of The Perennial Matchmaker that I am going to give away in a draw. If you would like to enter, please leave a comment below. For this draw, I will have to limit a winner to North America. The draw will remain open for the next seven days.

More Information and Links:

About the author: Nancy J. Ondra is the author of more than a dozen books on gardening. As well as more than thirty years of gardening experience, she has owned and operated a rare plant nursery. Nan writes about Hayefield, her four acre property County Pennsylvania, on the blog As well as The Perennial Matchmaker, Nan has a second book, Container Theme Gardensthat is newly released this spring.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Marnie's Garden: Part 1

What is a garden? A friend who has been trying to come to grips with a large property has been mulling over this very question and suggested that the definition of the word "garden" might be an excellent subject for one of my blog posts.

The garden I am about to show you is in the wild, forested countryside. What differentiates this land from the larger landscape that surrounds it? What makes it a garden?

Bee Balm, Monarda and Evening Primrose in front of Marnie's house.

The country road that leads you to Marnie Wright's property is dotted with homes, but her remote little house is what some might describe as being "in the middle of nowhere." I had to wonder what drew Marnie to this particular piece of land.

"Why this property? Thirty-five years ago I was not a gardener beyond growing vegetables and there was adequate room for that on this piece of property", she tells me, "I was more taken with the 93 acres as a whole-with its' streams and its' beaver ponds, high rocky ridges and deep gorges. It was beautiful and I saw the potential for cross country skiing and hiking. It also had a small outbuilding suitable as a stable for the horses I wanted and a low area at the back of the field that had the potential for a pond."

Bee Balm, Monarda which is a magnet for hummingbirds.

Begonias and pansies spill from a window box.

Marnie Wright

What makes this piece of the Muskoka countryside a garden? The gardener herself! A garden is a landscape with a human hand at work. It's the human element that makes the distinction. A gardener is many things; a governing force, a creative visionary and even an editor. 

Describing the garden as a whole Marnie says:

"All told I guess the garden covers about 2 acres (I include the big swimming pond in this). It slowly developed over the years one bed at a time. My vegetable garden was soon overtaken with perennials, so I would dig another garden elsewhere. This went on for years, the perennials taking precedence over the vegetables."

Managing a sizeable garden like this singlehandedly is no small feat. I had to wonder how Marnie balanced the need to maintain some sort of order, while giving the garden the freedom to be, in essence, itself.

"I deal with the control issue by not stressing about tidiness too much," says Marnie, "I do my best to keep the weeds somewhat under control. The front of the beds and the paths get the most attention as they are viewed with closer inspection. I like to put plants close together, and enjoy it when they lean over and mingle with their neighbours. I am easy with self-seeders as often the best color combinations come about by accident. The garden is surrounded by a weedy field and it will never be pristine, so I don't worry too much- I just enjoy the riot of color."

The pathway to the garage.

The side door to Marnie's house.

The garden along the driveway.

 What challenges did the soil on the property present Marnie?

"The soil is clay and poorly drained with rushes, twitch grass, sphagnum moss, and tag alder as native plant material", she says, "Over the years I have added loads of compost and manure from my two horses, as well as imported topsoil for certain flowerbeds to raise them up and improve drainage."

In the centre of Marnie's garden, there is a delightful water feature which is made up of three ponds connected by streams and waterfalls. Amazingly, this extensive series of streams and ponds are the result of the single-handed efforts of the gardener herself.

"I'm proud of the ponds. It was an immense amount of work for one person, especially the gathering of the rocks from around the property. I've had people say that I'm so lucky to have a natural watercourse through the garden, so I guess I did a good job," Marnie says.


Most of the perennials you see in these pictures were grown from seed. Marnie loves making container plantings, so she also grows her own annuals and keeps plants like dahlias and begonias from year to year.

"For many years I grew my perennials from seed allowing me to grow plants rarely offered by nurseries," she tells me, "My enthusiasm for certain plants soon leads to becoming a collector- I had to have them all! Hostas, daylilies, epimediums, amsonia, heucheras, sedums, and gentians have all had their day as my latest obsession."

The personality of the gardener is evident in the choices she has made. Marnie tells me:

"Early on in the garden's development, I chose to focus on summer and fall plants as opposed to spring bloomers simply because it is not enjoyable to be swarmed by blackflies while out in the garden (I wear a bug jacket). But that being said, the garden sure has a lot of spring plants. Being a collector, I just cannot say no to a plant if I like it, regardless of when it flowers. And if I like it a lot...well, passion takes over. I am collecting again: primulas, epimediums, daffodils, peonies, pulsatilla, anemones, hepaticas."

Daylily 'Jolyene Nicole' has pink petals with rose veining, a gold eye and a lime-green throat. This daylily blooms mid-summer and has evergreen foliage (depending on your gardening zone). Height:35-50 cm (14-20 inches), Spread:45-60cm (18-24 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

Daylily 'Space Wars' and Marnie's collection of spent daylily flowers.

Daylily 'Space Wars' has pink flowers with a red eye and a yellow throat. It starts blooming mid-summer and will often repeat bloom. Full sun. Height:65-70 cm (25-27 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (24-35 inches). USDA zones:2-9.

Container plantings are scattered throughout the garden.

"I have a lot of containers because I like designing them and enjoy the summer-long color. They can be moved about where help is needed. The containers add an architectural element to the garden-especially the large ones," says Marnie.

"The garden is full of color, which I love, and large enough that I can have large clumps repeated here and there. I grow a lot of annuals and tropicals throughout the garden."

Many would find caring for such a large garden to be a daunting task, but not Marnie.

"My garden is a huge amount of work for one person, but most of the time it doesn't feel like a burden. I am much happier outside. I enjoy having new projects to work on: straw bale gardening, my greenhouses, garden art (this year it's cobblestones in concrete)."

Daylily 'Midsummer Nightingale' has burgundy flowers with a yellow throat. Full sun. Height:75-80 cm (30-32 inches), Spread: 50-60 cm (20-36 inches) USDA zones: 3-9.

Wandering around Marnie's garden is pure delight. The garden is chock full of nooks and crannies that can't be seen at one glance. Along the way, there are lots of treasures awaiting discovery.

One of the really nice things about Marnie's garden is the way it fits seamlessly into the landscape. The shift from the tended garden to the untended countryside is softly blurred allowing the garden to sit comfortably in its surroundings.

Defining a garden as a landscape with a human hand at work means that the role a gardener plays comes with great responsibility. We may think we own a piece of property, but in reality, we are just temporary caretakers. How we care for the land, what chemicals we use or don't use along the way can have a long-lasting effect on the health of the plants and animals that reside there. What native plants we allow to remain and what exotic plants we add can likewise have a huge impact.

Given its impact on the environment, gardening is so much more than just a hobby.

Here's a link to Part 2.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Spring Ephemerals

Spring ephemerals are plants on a mission. They awake, leaf out, bloom and set seed all before the heat of summer begins to settle in. Then they quietly slip back into a long slumber to wait for the following spring. 

It's hard not to feel a twinge of panic when ephemeral plants appear to be withering away each summer. Rest assured that the tubers, rhizomes and roots of these plants are tucked safely away underground, where they are resting in the cool shade of perennials that follow them. Their brief appearance has provided enough nutrients to keep them going until they next awake.

Let's take a look at a few of them:

Trilliums are one example of a spring ephemeral.

Trilliums growing in David Tomlinson's garden, Merlin's Hollow.

Large Flowering Trillium, Trillium grandiflorum is a wildflower native to Ontario. They have white flowers with three petals which are held aloft on a stem containing a whorl of three leaves. Their flowers are pollenated by ants, flies and beetles. 
Trilliums are spring ephemerals that require patience. They can take up to 7 years to go from seed to flower. As the flowers fade, they turn from white to a soft pink. Trilliums require moist, well-drained, slightly sandy soil that is rich in organic matter. Full to part shade. Height: 20-50 cm (7-19 inches) USDA Zones: 4-9.

Trillium luteum in the garden of Marion Jarvie, Thornhill, ON.

The leaves petals and sepals of Trillium luteum also come in groups of three. The flower has three erect yellow petals with three greenish sepals. They also have a faint lemon scent. 

Trillium luteum in the garden of Marion Jarvie, Thornhill, ON.

Trillium luteum is a clump forming plant with underground rhizomes that will gradually increase in size and spread slowly. The hosta-like foliage will die to the ground by mid-summer, especially if the soil is on the dry side. Plant this trillium in rich, moist, humus soil. Part-shade to full shade. Height: 20-50 cm (7-19 inches) Spread: 30-45 cm (12- 18 inches) USDA Zones: 4-8.

This is Bloodroot that I brought home last summer from my Mom's garden. I love the way the flowers emerge wrapped up in leafy grey-green arms. This plant gets its name from the bright reddish-orange sap it exudes when it has been cut.

Up the street from where I live there is a huge colony of Bloodroot and blue Scilla that has colonized a damp wooded area. The carpet of tiny blue and white flowers is the most marvellous sight each May.

Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis has white, daisy-like flowers and deeply scalloped, grey-green leaves. As the flower blooms, the leaves unfurl. The flowers open in the sunlight and close at night. Over time Bloodroot can spread and make large colonies. Bloodroot is best grown in rich, well-drained soil. Part-shade to full shade. height: 10-15 cm (4-6 inches) Spread: 15-20 cm (6-8 inches) USDA Zones: 3-8.

Single vs Double Bloodroot

There is a double form of Bloodroot as well. Double Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis f. multplex has sterile flowers and blooms longer than the native single Bloodroot.

Trout Lily, Erythronium americanum

There is a wild patch of tiny Erythronium in the vacant lot next door to our house. I have noted that the little colony appears to bloom sporadically. This is probably because it takes four to five years for Erythronium to go from seed to flower. The corms of these wildflowers are small and crocus-like in comparison with the larger sausage-sized corms of modern hybrids.

Trout Lily, Erythronium americanum derives its name from its fleshy, mottled foliage. They have bell-shaped flowers in May. Erythronium americanum has bulb-like offsets that are easy to break off and plant.

These are the larger hybrids blooming in my garden. Erythronium 'Pagoda' is a more vigorous plant than its wild cousin. It is literally twice the size of the little wildflowers.

Erythronium 'Pagoda' has bright green, fleshy leaves with maroon markings. The leaves disappear shorty after the plant finishes flowering. Like their wild relatives, these hybrids like rich soil and a cool, damp spot in dappled shade. USDA Zones: 4-9.

Rue anemone or Wood Anemone, Anemonella thalictroides is native to the eastern part of North America. It has delicate white flowers and pretty green leaves. Like so many spring ephemerals, this plant likes the dappled shade of deciduous trees and rich, loamy soil that is slightly moist. They bloom for a period of about six weeks and then the plant goes dormant especially if the areas where it is planted is hot and dry. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 7-15 cm ( 3-6 inches). USDA Zones 5-9.

Dutchman's Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria: The common name Dutchman's Breeches refers the the distinctive shape of the white flowers. This plant has lovely, grey-green, fern-like foliage (which rabbits dislike). It can be grown in average, well drained soil, but Dutchman's Breeches much prefers rich, loamy soil that is slightly moist. Dry soil will cause the plant to go dormant more quickly. Part to full shade. Height: (6-12 inches), Spread: (6-12 inches). USDA Zones: 3-7.

Virginia Blue Bells, Mertensia virginica are one of my favourite spring flowers. I love the mix of the pinkish flower buds and the baby-blue flowers. They like rich, loamy soil and part-shade. Once established they are pretty tolerant of dry conditions in summer. Virginia Blue Bells will naturalize in a woodland setting by self-seeding. If you want to divide them, do it in the fall. Height: 30-60 cm, Spread: 30-45 cm. USDA Zones: 2-9.

Shooting Star, Dodecatheon pulchellum in the garden of Marion Jarvie, Thornhill, ON.

Trust expert plantswoman Marion Jarvie to have something super cool like this Shooting Star, Dodecatheon meadia in her Thornhill, Ontario garden. When I visited last May, they seemed very happy on the outer edge of her garden pond.

Shooting Stars are a native North American wildflower. They have a low rosette of long narrow leaves and flowers on long, slender stems. The petals of the flower flare back giving the plant its common name. Fading flowers are replaced by fruit that dry into a woody seed pod each fall.

Shooting Star, Dodecatheon meadia 'alba' is a short-lived perennial that takes a year or so to flower. Typically they put on their best display in year three and then they disappear. Plant it in rich, moist soil. Full sun to part-shade. Height: 20-30 cm ( 8-12 inches), Spread: 15-20 cm (6-8 inches). USDA Zones: 2-9.

Shooting Star, Dodecatheon meadia in the garden of Marion Jarvie, Thornhill, ON.

Caring for your Spring Ephemerals: 

Spring ephemerals are woodland plants, so its best to choose a spot that offers dappled sunlight in spring and shade in summer. These plants like well-drained, slightly acidic soil, mulched with shredded leaves.

These plants have evolved to take advantage of warming soil and plentiful spring rain. Though they like spring moisture, they are quite drought tolerant once they enter their summer dormancy. To conserve moisture mulch in fall with shredded leaves. Fertilizer applied just as the flower buds appear can encourage a longer, better display of flowers.

Plant spring ephemerals in amongst other plants that will fill in as spring warms into summer. Hostas and ferns are two good choices.

One of the biggest challenges with spring ephemerals is to remember where they are planted once they go dormant. It's a good idea to find a way to mark their location, so you don't disturb these lovely spring beauties.

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Sunday, April 17, 2016

The New Sleeping Arrangements

I had forgotten what it was like to have a puppy in the house!

In the last few months there have been many times when it has felt like every sentence 
I utter has begun with the name Piper.

Piper stop that!

Piper drop that!

Piper stop digging that hole in my garden!

And when the inevitable puddles have appeared on the floor, the reprimand has often shortened a long, drawn-out growl of frustration: PIPERrrrrrr!

Interestingly, there has been a subtle shift in the order of things in the last few weeks. 

Piper still looks up to his big buddy....

 but he has grown by leaps and bounds.

Piper's a big boy now!

When the old dog snaps with impatience, Piper talks back.

And then there is the curiosity of the new sleeping arrangements. 

Piper has claimed the most comfortable bed for his own and amazingly Scrap, who claimed it previously, has let him do so.

Is relinquishing the comfy beds some act of kindness on Scrap's behalf?

Or has Scrap somehow acknowledging the dawn of a new, younger pack leader?

There is just one final curiosity about the new sleeping arrangements that I'd love to have answered: 

How is this comfortable?