Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Out & About Gathering Ideas

Sometimes a flower is so pretty it will stop you in your tracks. Other times its the magic mix of plants or the way they have been incorporated into the surrounding landscape that makes you stop and take notice. 

In this post, I highlight some of the flowers and shrubs that caught my eye during my most recent travels. 

Canterbury Bells in a private garden in Mississauga Ontario.

I have featured Canterbury Bells before, but they are so rarely planted it's worth mentioning them again. The best way to grow this biennial is from seed. Sow the seeds in the early summer of the first year and you will be rewarded with large, bell-shaped flowers the following spring. You can read more about growing Canterbury Bells here.

Columbine, Aquilegia begin to flower just as tulips start to fade. In my own garden, I have a number of varieties of Columbine, but unfortunately most of them are solid shades of pink and purple. When I came across these cheerful looking Columbine in a local garden, I resolved to add some of these brighter bicolored flowers into my existing mix.

Another private garden in Mississauga, Ontario.

Columbine, Aquilegia 'Songbird Mix' have bicolored flowers on a compact plant that reaches just 24-36 inches.

 Carpe Diem Garden in Grey County Ontario.

I have seen an Elderberry, Black Lace Sambucus many times, but I don't think I realized what a stunning shrub it was until I saw it in this garden.

Elderberry, Black Lace Sambucus has finely cut black foliage and large umbels of soft pink flowers. The flowers are followed by reddish-black berries that are edible (elderberry wine and jam are popular uses for these berries) or can be left on the plant for birds and other wildlife. This elderberry can be pruned to keep it compact, but left to its own devices, it creates a sizeable shrub. 'Black Lace' does best in moist soil, but it will tolerate drier conditions. Full sun for best color. Height: 1.8 m- 2.4m (72-96 inches), Spread: 1.8 m- 2.4m (72-96 inches), USDA zones 4-7. 

This is the charming backyard shed of a century home in Mississauga. Planted in among the hosta, ferns and Bleeding Heart is a great little shrub that tolerates part-shade.

Deutzia x lemoinei 'Compacta' has an upright habit and white flowers in spring. Plant it in sun to part-shade in average garden soil that is on the moist side. Prune in spring after flowering. Height: 4-6', Spread: the same. USDA Zones: 4-8. 

Deutzia with a Carex in the foreground and hosta in the background.

Another garden and a second Deutzia surrounded by a nice mix of part-shade/shade plants. Key among them is the Sedge, Carex that you see in the foreground of this image.

Private garden, Mississauga Ontario.

You could achieve a similar look with a number of different varieties of Carex. For instance, Carex morrowii 'Ice Dance' and Carex morrowii 'Ice Ballet' both have green foliage edged in white (the white edges are slightly wider on 'Ice Ballet').

Variegated Japanese Sedge, Carex morrowii 'Ice Ballet' is a grass-like perennial that forms a low mound of arching green leaves edged in white. This plant likes moist, rich soil, but is adaptable to somewhat drier conditions. It's evergreen in habit (in colder areas it may need to have any foliage scorched by cold trimmed off in the spring).  Height: 20-30 cm (8-12 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.

Private garden, Mississauga Ontario.

Another flower you don't see often enough. One of the reasons I like Maltese Cross, Lychnis chalcedonica is the timing of its blooms. The orangey-red flowers appear at a time when there seems to be a bit of a lull in the garden.

Maltese Cross, Lychnis chalcedonica is a tall, upright plant with clusters of orangey-red flowers. It's a perennial that's both reliable and long-lived. Divide in fall. Flowers are attractive to butterflies. Full sun. Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 cm), Spread: 30-45 cm ( 12-18 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.

Niagara Botanical Garden

Continuing to champion old fashioned plants that seem to have fallen out of favour, I want to remind everyone of the delicate beauty of Cornflowers or Bachelor Buttons, Centaurea cyanus

Cornflowers or Bachelor Buttons, Centaurea cyanus are annual flowers that are easy to grow from seed. They like well-drained soil that is poor and somewhat rocky. As well as familiar shades of mauve and blue, there are red, white and reddish-purple flowers. Full sun. Height: 2.5-3 ft, Spread: 35-50 cm (15-20 inches).

Private garden, Mississauga Ontario.

Another shrub, but this time one I haven't seen before. The reddish-brown flowers remind me of pinecones.

Carolina Allspice, Calycanthus floridus has reddish-chocolate colored flowers at the end of leafy branchlets. The flowers have a strawberry-like scent and are are often used in potpourris. The blooms are followed by pear-shaped seed capsules that are also fragrant when crushed. This shrub requires a regular watering schedule especially in extreme heat. Part-shade to full sun and moist soil. Height: 10 ft (grows taller in part-shade), Spread: 8-12 ft. USDA zones 5-10.

Private garden near Uxbridge Ontario.

The yellow-green foliage of two perennials in this shade planting stood out for me.

Sedge,  Carex oshimensis Evercolor 'Everillo' forms a mound of cascading lime-green leaves. This grass-like perennial likes moist, rich soil, but it will tolerate dry shade with occasional watering. Part to full shade. Evergreen. Height:45-50 cm (18-20 inches), Spread: 45-50 cm (18-20 inches). USDA zones: 5-9.

Japanese Spikenard, Aralia cordata 'Sun King' is a fast growing, part-shade foliage plant. As long as it gets a few hours of sun each day, this perennial will have bright gold leaves  In full shade, the foliage turns chartreuse. Tall spikes of white flowers appear in the summer and are followed by purple berries (not edible for humans, but the birds like them). The berries help 'Sun'King' self-sow and naturalize a shady area. This plant prefers well-drained soil with lots of organic matter and average to moist growing conditions. Choose a sheltered location for this plant away from harsh winds. Height: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches). USDA zones:3-9.

I was lucky enough to visit this country property for the second time a few weeks ago. This part of the garden was created within the stone foundation of an old barn. 

Don't these two Barberry shrubs make a lovely couple? 

If you are considering planting a Barberry bush however, proceed with caution. Barberry seems to have experienced a resurgence in popularity, but they have had a long, troubled history.  

Old fashioned varieties of Barberry, Berberis vulgaris were found to harbour wheat rust and ended up being banned from sale in the early 1900's. Since that time, Berberis vulgaris has all but disappeared from home gardens. The alternative Japanese Barberry, Berberis thunbergii  doesn't have the problem with rust, but that is not to say that Japanese Barberry doesn't have issues of its own. Berberis thunbergii can be very invasive and has become a big problem in some areas of the States. I have also read that Japanese Barberry has been linked to increased populations of the ticks that carry Lyme disease. 

Most recently several plant brands have introduced cultivars that are sterile or have reduced fertility. Berberis thunbergii 'Crimson Pygmy' was among the early introductions that produced fewer seeds. Unfortunately those seeds, when open-pollinated, will sometimes produce offspring that have the same invasive tendencies as the wild type of Japanese Barberry.

Here are two new cultivars that are said to be sterile.

Japanese Barberry, Berberis thunbergii 'Concorde' has deep maroon foliage that becomes even more intense in the fall. Small yellow flowers are followed by a few red berries. This variety produces no viable seed, making it a good choice over other varieties. Height: 45-60 cm (18-24 inches) Spread: 45-60 cm (18-24 inches). USDA zones: 4-8.

Japanese Barberry, Berberis thunbergii 'Sunsationis a new compact barberry with golden foliage. Height: 3-4 ft, Spread: 4 ft. USDA zones: 4-8.

Do you have any opinions on the subject of Japanese Barberry? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.

Here you can see the foundation of the old barn more distinctly. The walls and trees provide some shade around the perimeter of the garden, but the area at the centre gets baked by the mid-day sun. Plants like Lavender and California Poppies thrive in these conditions.

Conifers have also been used to great effect in this walled garden (see the low groundcover on the left in the image above and the conifer in behind the chair in the next picture).

One more plant combination from this walled garden.

Not everyone is a fan of Lamb's Ears, but it's hard to beat those velvety-grey leaves. Combined with the golden foliage of a Spirea, the grey leaves are even more striking.

Lamb's Ears, Stachya byzantina forms a dense clump of soft, silver-green leaves. Upright spikes of magenta flowers form in early summer, but can be pruned to maintain a more compact plant. Drought tolerant once established. Divide in spring or fall. Full sun. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches) Spread: 30-60 cm (12-24 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

Japanese Spirea, Spiraea x bumalda 'Lemon Princess' has yellow foliage and clusters of pink flowers. Flowers are sterile or will not come true from seed. Full sun. Height: 2-3 ft, Spread: 2-3 ft. USDA zones: 4-9.

Private garden, Mississauga Ontario.

Hopefully there has been a little something for everyone in this post.

I will end with a little visual reminder that summer is the perfect time to begin to think about ordering a irises and peonies for early fall planting. A few varieties of intermediate bearded iris are certainly going onto my fall wish list.

What's a plant or plant combination that's drawn your attention this summer?


  1. Beautiful selections! I grow Maltese Cross but the hummingbirds love it and the cats love the hummingbirds so my poor plant winds up crushed to the ground every year when it flowers... BTW my neighbour and I both have several of the Elderberry Black Lace variety and the shrubs thrive. Our zone here is 3b. Have a great day Jennifer!

  2. I love Columbine Jennifer and I was surprised seeing these ones of white-blue color. What a variety! I have white-yellow and pink-reddish ones. I will look for such interesting variety. I also noticed that lamb's ears combine very well with other plants.
    Great photos!

  3. I can surely see why these got your attention, Jennifer, especially the Columbine. Absolutely gorgeous! Thank you for sharing these beautiful photographs here.

  4. Love the lamb's ears/Japanese spirea color combination. I also like the sedge grass colors for shade plants. Beautiful photos!

  5. One plant combination I like was a wide swath of the pure orange California poppies with just as wide a swath of snow white alyssum at it's feet. That combination of white and orange was striking. But, knowing what those poppies look like after they bloom, I'm glad it wasn't in my garden :-)
    Another combination I enjoy (it was at the home we just moved from) is the giant blue hosta (can't recall the name) surrounded by golden Hakone grass.


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