Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A Sneak Peek at Through the Garden Gate 2016: A Garden of Woodland Curiousities

There are always a few grand gardens included in the annual Through the Garden Gate tour. Among the no-expense-spared horticultural marvels on this year's garden tour is a rock garden overlooking an outdoor tennis court which has a heated floor should the homeowners get a hankering to play tennis in the depths of a icy Canadian winter.

The people who own these magnificent homes hire the best landscape designers. These are professionals who know their stuff when it comes to plants and garden design. Their work is often masterful and always inspiring.

But the gardens I always look forward to seeing stand out for more reasons than money spent. They're the gardens filled with charming details and stamped by the homeowners' unique personalities. 

The delightful garden of John and Kathy Chris appealed to the plant geek in me. There is a pergola covered with a very old wisteria and a pond surrounded by a profusion of plants including several clematis, rhododendrons, ferns and a Kousa dogwood. Rare and uncommon woodland plants also line either side of the flagstone pathway.

 Golden Full Moon Maple, Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum'

"We bought the house in 1977 and have been improving the garden ever since. Our garden is mostly a shade garden, so it lent itself to woodland plants," Kathy tells me, "We learned along the way that native plants do well. We really enjoy native plants, even if they are native to Japan and other countries."

Shooting Star, Dodecatheon meadia 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.

Arum italicum has dark green leaves marbled with cream. After it blooms in spring, the foliage goes dormant leaving behind a thick spadix which developes bright, orangey-red berries in summer. New leaves emerge in autumn and the foliage remains evergreen in warmer garden zones. All parts of this plant are toxic. Arum italicum is best grown in moist, humus-rich soil. Part-shade to full shade. Height: 30 cm (12 inches), Spread: 30 cm (12 inches). USDA zones: 5-9.

At first Kathy was the gardener, but over the years, John has gotten more involved.

"We have predominantly acid-loving-plants like azaleas, rhododendrons and woodland plants," says John, "We started mulching the soil when we brought our first rhododendrons twenty years ago. The Grow Bark mulch we use is a combination of three equal parts: two year old composted pine bark, peat moss and pine bark fines."

"Last week we put down 4 yards of it on our garden beds," says Kathy.

Japanese Cobra Lily, Arisaema Sikokianum has a brownish-black hooded flower and two leaves splashed with silver. One leaf has three lobes and the other has five. The dark hood has a pure white lining with a rounded spadix at its centre. This plant will sometimes produce seed heads that will ripen to a bright red-orange in the fall. Arisaema can be slow to sprout in the spring and may not sprout until summer, especially if the tuber is newly planted. This plant likes rich, well-drained somewhat sandy soil.  Water regularly in summer. Part-shade. Height:15- 30 cm (6-12 inches), Spread: 15- 30 cm (6-12 inches). USDA zones 4-9.

There is something quite reptilian about the markings on these next two plants. They look like they belong in some primordial rainforest. 

Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty' (on the left) is a rare Asian Mayapple hybrid. When they first appear in spring, the umbrella-like leaves are chartreuse with chocolate spots. In summer, the leaves become greener and the spots lighter. Huge garnet-colored flower clusters hang below the leaves. Part-shade to full shade and rich, moist soil. Harmful if eaten. Height: 45 cm (18 inches), Spread: 60 cm ( 24 inches). USDA zones: 5-9.

Umbrella Plant, Syneilesis palmata 'Kikko' (on the right) originates in Japan and is a rare selection of the umbrella plant. It has green foliage laced with cream veins. Semi-tubular flowers are born on tall stems in summer. This plant likes moist, woodland soil and dappled shade. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 30-38 cm (12-15 inches) USDA zones: 4-9.

Paeonia Japonica, which is John's favourite plant.

Primula Sielboldii

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.

Blue-eyed Mary or Navel Wort, Omphalodes cappadocica 'Starry Eyes' has sprays of blue, star-shaped flowers that have a pale lilac edge. It is a fast-growing plant that will quickly form a carpet under trees. This perennial likes moist, humus-rich soil. Incorporate leaf-mould, compost or pine needles when planting. Light shade to full shade. Height: 15-30 cm (6-12 inches), Spread: 22-30 cm (9-12 inches). USDA zones: 6-9.

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. 
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.

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. This plant likes the dappled shade 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 area 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.

Gentiana acaulis from the front rock garden.

As with all gardens, there is always a little trial and error. "The first Hepatica Kathy planted took five years to bloom after it was moved several times looking for a place it liked," says John.

When you look up Hepatica transsilvanica 'Buis' you'll find the notation "rare plant". Deep mauve-blue flowers appear first and are followed by the lovely green leaves you see here. They like to be quite damp when they are flowering and producing foliage, but less so in late summer.

Crimson Fans, Mukdenia rossii 'Karasuba'

Yellow Fairy Bells, Disporum flavens is native to Korea. This plant emerges 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 is best for this plant. Height: 70-90 cm (27-35 inches) , Spread: 40-50 cm (16-20 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.

I am going to leave the patio area and a small pond as a surprise for those for you lucky enough to visit John and Kathy's garden on the tour this coming weekend.

More about Through the Garden Gate:

Toronto Botanical Garden's 29th annual Through the Garden Gate is one of Canada's largest private garden tours. This year 18 private gardens in the Kingsway area of Toronto will open their gates to garden-lovers. This self-guided tour enables participants to discover the gardens at their own pace following a map and garden guide containing descriptions of the featured gardens. A complimentary shuttle bus is available for participants to "hop on and hop off" along the route.
Dates: Saturday, June 11th and Sunday, June 12th, 2016
Times: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

One-day Pass: Public$45/TBG Members $40
Two-day Pass: Public $ 65/TBG Members $60
Students $25 (with ID, One-day pass only)

HST is included in the ticket price. Tickets are limited and advance purchase is recommended. For more information and to purchase tickets call 416-397-1483. To order them online:click here.


  1. I've always preferred gardens done by the owners themselves. Much more personality and charm.
    Those ones that are "landscaped to death" look too perfect and so "staged as to border on dull. And, I wonder, how do you call it "yours" if all you did was write a check?
    The garden of John and Kathy Chris sounds delightful.

  2. This type of garden I like very much, beautiful shade plants. The Pod. 'Spotty Dotty'is a gem, I bought it last year, it has grown like mad and I discovered yesterday two beautiful flowers under the leaves. I made a note of the Syneilesis palmata 'Kikko', may be I find it here. I think we have the same rich of humus but acid soil.
    This garden sounds wonderful!

  3. What an amazing garden this is, Jennifer!
    I absolutely LOVE that Cobra Lily. I've never heard of them or seen one.
    Thank you so much for sharing here.

  4. Omigosh how I'd love to take that tour!! I really miss the garden tours I used to go on when I lived in Ontario. They don't do many out here. So sad!

  5. Beautiful garden! I also prefer those designed and created by owners. I had so much fun creating mine in France 3 years ago and I must admit that I'm thrilled with it now, especially the rose arbor. Private gardens were open to visitors last week-end. Unfortunately the weather was bad!

  6. Hello Jennifer girl !
    I too would rather see gardens like this one compared to the non-gardener's pro knock off .. too fake and too ridiculous to be considered a home owner's garden.
    Just my take on the subject ? LOL
    This gorgeous intricate woodland garden would be my dream garden .. such detail and love is so apparent .. I could spend so much time here discovering the plants and basking in the wonderful atmosphere .. heaven !
    You took stunning pictures and did it justice ! Well done : )

  7. How lovely! I prefer to see gardens that ordinary people grow, it's easy to throw money at a garden and hire designers....much nicer to produce your own with limited funds and see it grow and mature. I loved the cobra lily, that doesn't look real....gorgeous, as are the peonies. Looking forward to seeing and hearing about the pond.xxx

  8. I do love your new header ... so vibrant!

    These type of 'open gardens' and 'tours' are just great aren't they. Fabulous photo's again.

    All the best Jan


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