Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Lucy Maud Montgomery Garden– A Children's Garden of the Senses

Anne of Green Gables, written by Lucy Maud Montgomery and published in 1908, is the charming story of red-haired orphan named Anne Shirley. The backdrop for the classic children's book is picturesque Prince Edward Island, where the author herself grew up. In the novel, the gregarious Anne Shirley is adopted by Marilla and Mathew Cuthbert, a brother and sister who share the running of a small farm named Green Gables. A review at the time proclaimed the book "radiated happiness and optimism."

Movie stills from the Anne of Green Gables a film produced and directed by Kevin Sullivan in 1985 for the CBC.

It is very tempting to associate an author with the story and characters he or she creates, but in the diaries she kept from an early age, Lucy Maud described her own life as one "filled with shadows."

One of Lucy Maud's earliest memories was touching her small hand to the cold cheek of her mother as she lay in her coffin. After his twenty-three year old wife died of tuberculosis, Lucy Maud's grief-stricken father abandoned his two year old daughter to the care of her maternal grandparents. He moved to western Canada where he remarried and started a second family of children. Though an attempt was made to include Lucy Maud in this new household, she clashed with her father's second wife. In the end, Lucy Maud returned to Prince Edward Island and her aging grandparents.

Black and white photograph of Montgomery in front of her house in Norval dated September 18, 1932 Reference Code: F1075 Archives of Ontario, I0001763

In those days, marriage or teaching were a girl's main life choices. For a time, Lucy Maud taught in village schools in Belmont and Lower Bedeque, PEI, but after the death of her grandfather, she dutifully returned home to care for her grandmother. 

Writing was always a great solace for Lucy Maud. She wrote in her journals, "I cannot remember a time when I was not writing, or when I did not mean to be an author. To write has always been my central purpose around which every effort and hope and ambition has grouped itself." In 1908, Anne of Green Gables was published and was an instant success. 

Her grandmother passed away in 1911, and Lucy Maud was finally free to marry the Reverend Ewan MacDonald, to whom she had been secretly engaged to for five years. She was then 35 years old.

Sadly, marriage did not prove to be the escape from a lonely life that Lucy Maud had hoped. Shortly after taking up the ministry at the Presbyterian churches in Norval and a nearby Glen Williams, her husband Ewan began to suffer from recurring attacks of what was viewed at the time to be “religious melancholia." Convinced that he would be doomed to damnation for his mortal sins, Ewan was unable to sleep or to preach properly. He repeatedly tried to kill himself in a series of car accidents.

Keeping her husband's mental illness a secret from the congregations became a constant source of anxiety for Lucy Maud. Eventually it was necessary to have Ewan committed to a sanatorium. Hoping to avoid the scrutiny of a small town life, Lucy Maud moved to Toronto and a house which she called "Journey's End".

For years, it was thought that Lucy Maud Montgomery died of congestive heart failure at the age of 67. The need to maintain family secrets eased over time and in recent years Montgomery's granddaughter Kate MacDonald Butler spoke openly about the possibility that a deeply depressed Montgomery took her own life with a prescription drug overdose.

Montgomery managed to keep the long shadows of her depression a secret from the world until the posthumous publication of her journals in 1985. Her loyal readers were shocked to discover the deep sadness that pervaded the private life of their beloved author.

The house where Montgomery lived can still be seen in present day Norval. 

Yellow Rudbeckia and blue Russian Sage in the foreground.

Flowers were one of the few pleasures in Montgomery's life. In Norval, she had a kitchen garden where she grew lettuces, radishes, peas, carrots and herbs. After her writing and housework were complete, she often spent spring evenings working with gloved hands in her flower garden.

It seems only fitting a garden in honour of the famous children's book author has children at its heart. Located adjacent to the public school in the small village of Norval, the Garden of the Senses uses plants and other design elements to stimulate the senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. Designed by Eileen Foley, Landscape Architect, OALA CSLA, the garden features a woodland trail, log bridge, an analemmatic sundial, children's vegetable garden, butterfly and bird garden. 

Yellow Rudbeckia and several varieties of Echinacea.

A mix of shrubs, different ornamental grasses, Rudbeckia and Echinacea.

The Spiral Garden leads visitors to a sundial at the centre of a gravel pathway. Here, the tall grasses that sway in the wind and late summer flowers are meant to appeal to senses of sight and sound.

A few different varieties of Echinacea and a Maidenhair Grass, Miscanthus sinensis behind.

Switch grass, Panicum virgatum with Russian Sage in the distance.

Rudbeckia and a white Echinacea.

Yellow Rudbeckia and Northern Sea Oat Grass, Chasmanthium latifolium

The limestone patio and analemmatic sundial. The surrounding plantings appeal to our sense of touch and include soft foliage like Lamb's Ears.

An analemmatic sundial reveals the changing pattern made by the Sun in the sky as seen over a period of a year.

Lamb's Ears, Stachys byzantina has wonderful velvety-grey foliage.

Hydrangea paniculata

Daylily 'Frans Hals'

Hemerocallis 'Frans Hals' has golden yellow and rusty-orange flowers. Full sun.  Height: 55-60 cm (21-23 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.

 The Scent Garden features two adjoining semi-circles and incorporates fragrant plants like lavender. 

 The bell from the town's original school.

I am not sure of the exact identity of this Veronica, so I will give you reference to one that is similar:

Veronica spicata 'Royal Candles' has spikes of bright blue flowers and a medium green leaves. Remove spent blooms to encourage a second round of flowers in late summer. Full sun or light shade.
Height: 20-30 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.

A large pavilion provides shelter from the elements. 

A pond-less waterfall is a great option for a children's garden.

A Butterfly Bush

Raised beds in the children's vegetable and herb garden.


Colorful birdhouses and a bench from which to observe the birds 
making nests and raising their young.

The school children must have such fun in this garden. 

Despite her husband's illness, Lucy Maud wrote in her journal, "I never loved any place so well except Cavendish (her home in Prince Edward Island)". I think Lucy Maud Montgomery would be proud to know that she has inspired something else that children would love. 

More Information and Links:

Visiting the garden is free to the public. Here's a link to the Garden of the Senses website.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Hardy Hibiscus

Hibiscus moscheutos takes its own sweet time emerging from the ground in the spring, but when its enormous, satiny blooms finally open in late summer, it puts on quite the show. In the production of these impressive blooms, I have no doubt that summer is complicit. There is no way summer is going to fade demurely into fall. She is determined to go out with a flourish.

Hibiscus moscheutos has a bevvy common names; Rose Mallows, Swamp Mallow, Dinner-plate Hibiscus and Hardy Hibiscus. Though they look quite tropical, the species forms of Hibiscus moscheutos are a cold-hardy woodland plant native to U.S. and Canada. Here in Ontario, Hibiscus moscheutos are considered to be a native plant at risk, but a few colonies with pale pink flowers can still be found growing in the shoreline marshes of the Carolinian and Great Lakes/St. Lawrence River forest regions.

Like other herbaceous perennials, Hibiscus moscheutos has foliage and woody stems that die back to the ground in winter. They are tall, vase-shaped plants that reach an average of two to six feet in height and approximately three feet in width. Though these plants will perform best in areas with long, hot summers, they are hardy to zones 4 or 5.

The blooms of Hibiscus moscheutos consist of five flat overlapping petals and can reach up to 10-12 inches across. As well as bi-colored flowers, they come in solid shades of lavender, rose, peach, red and white.

Each individual flower opens for just one or two days and fades as soon as it is pollinated. While the flowers are short-lived, a single plant can be covered in flower buds ensuring a succession of blooms from mid-summer right up until the first frosts of fall.

A look at the foliage above and below.

Many of the cultivars have matt, medium-green foliage, but there are a few varieties have bronze or eggplant colored foliage. As Hibiscus moscheutos bloom late in the gardening season, cultivars that have this dark attractive foliage come with a definite bonus.

Hibiscus moscheutos do have one drawback– like Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) they can self-sow and become a bit weedy. And the seedlings may not be the same color as the parent. Deadheading spent flowers is one way to limit this problem.

How to Plant

Nurseries tend to showcase hardy Hibiscus in late summer when they are in full flower, but planting them that late in the season doesn't really give Hibiscus moscheutos enough time to get properly established before winter. It is much better to take a few notes now and hold off making your purchase until next spring.

Hibiscus moscheutos do best in moist, rich organic soil. They will, however, tolerate average garden soil provided that the soil is not allowed to dry out completely. Plant them in full sun in an area that has good air circulation, but is protected from the wind.

When you do your planting, it's a good idea to add some organic material, such as compost, to your soil. A top-dressing of bark mulch will help preserve soil moisture and keep your new plant happy. Even so, deep and consistent watering is especially important during that first season.

Ongoing Care

Hibiscus moscheutos are slow to emerge in the spring, and depending on your garden's zone, may not appear until sometime in June. 
A layer of compost applied each spring will help encourage that fresh new growth.

Spent flowers can look a bit bedraggled, so deadhead them to keep your hibiscus looking tidy.

Every fall cut back the stems to three or four inches above the ground. In northern garden zones, it's a good idea to protect the crown of the plant with some bark or straw mulch.

Pests and Problems

• Japanese Beetles can be an annoying problem, and if left unchecked, can cause extensive damage to the foliage and flowers. The easiest solution is to knock any Japanese Beetles you find into a large jar or bucket filled with soapy water.

• Sawflies, whiteflies and aphids can also be occasional pests.

• Leaf scorch can occur if the soil is allowed to dry out completely. 

• Hibiscus moscheutos also has some susceptibility to leaf blight, rust and canker.

A few of the Cultivars Available

White Hibiscus x 'Blue River II' has large white flowers and green foliage. Full sun. Height: 120-150 cm (47-59 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Hibiscus 'Plum Crazy' has rose-purple flowers with a dark purple eye. The foliage also has a hint of purple. Full sun. Height: 90-105 cm (35-41 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Hibiscus 'Kopper King' has white flowers with a red eye. The foliage is a deep copper color. Mulch in late fall in zones 4 and 5 for better winter hardiness. Full sun. Height: 90-105 cm (35-41 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Hibiscus 'Kopper King' 

Hibiscus 'Sweet Caroline' has bright pink flowers with darker pink veining and a dark red eye. Full sun. Height: 90-120 cm (36-48 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches). USDA zones: 5-9.

Dwarf Hibiscus 'Luna Red' is a compact variety that has bright green foliage and large red flowers. Plant it in rich, moist garden soil. Mulch in late fall in zones 4 and 5 for better winter hardiness. Full sun.  Height: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 5-9.

Dwarf Hibiscus 'Luna Rose' is similar to 'Luna Red, but has pink flowers.

Dwarf Hibiscus 'Luna White' is yet another compact variety that has white flowers with a large red eye.

Hibiscus 'Kopper King' at the Toronto Botanical Gardens.

Hibiscus 'Kopper King' at the Lucy Maud Montgomery Garden in Norval, Ontario.

There is no denying that these are magnificent flowers make a dramatic end to the summer season.

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Gardens of the High Line– Book Review and Giveaway

I love a book that takes you somewhere else; somewhere you dream of going one day, but may never get the opportunity to visit. It's traveling at its most relaxed– no bags to pack, no hotel room to book, no flights to catch.

Gardens of the High Line transports you to New York City and a garden that floats thirty feet in the air. Best of all, you never have to leave the cozy comfort of your favourite chair.

It's been years and years since I last visited New York City. On my first trip, I went with my sister Nancy. My frugal sibling, hoping to save all our spending money for theatre tickets, booked us a room (the size of a large closet) at the downtown YMCA. There were lots of other college students there, but the place was pretty grim.

One morning Nancy wrapped her freshly washed head in a clean towel only to have a giant cockroach crawl out from the folds of the towel onto her forehead. She screamed and everyone came running to see who was being murdered. I still remember their annoyed faces when they found she was screaming about a roach!

Everyday we joined the lineups in Times Square for discount theatre tickets and every night we saw a different show. We shopped at Bloomingdales and Macy's. Best of all, I got to visit the city's big museums and art galleries. It made cockroaches and our grubby accommodation so worth it!

From the book The Gardens of the High Line by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke published by Timber Press. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher.

From the book The Gardens of the High Line by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke published by Timber Press. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher.

If I am ever lucky enough to go to New York City again, I'd love to visit in the fall when the leaves have begun to turn and the air is crisp and fresh. It would be my dream to stroll along the High Line in that magic time just before sunset, when the light is dipped in pure gold.

But until that day, I have this terrific book to take me there anytime I want.

From the book The Gardens of the High Line by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke published by Timber Press. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher.

One of the most amazing things about this garden is that it exists at all.

The story of the High Line begins in the 1930's when an elevated rail line was constructed to carry goods to and from Manhattan's largest industrial district. Things change, and by the 1980's rail transportation had fallen into decline. The last train, carrying three carloads of frozen turkeys, ran in the late 1980's.

Then the High Line sat neglected for nearly two decades. Finally it was slated for demolition.

But something unexpected happened during those twenty years of neglect. Nature reclaimed the space. Wildflowers and grasses sprang up from seeds carried on the wind and dropped by birds. A defunct piece of urban infrastructure had turned into a wild garden in the sky. Robert Hammond writes in the introduction to the book about his first encounter with the derelict mile and a half of elevated railway:

"When I first stepped up on the High Line in 1999, I truly fell in love. What I fell in love with was the tension. It was there in the juxtaposition between the hard and the soft, the wild grasses and the billboards, the industrial relics and the natural landscape, the views of both wild flowers and the Empire State Building. It was ugly and beautiful at the same time. And it's that tension that gives the High Line its power."

Together with Joshua David, he formed Friends of the High Line in 1999 to advocate for the old rail line's preservation and reuse as a public space. They hired photographer Joel Sternfeld to take pictures of the High Line over a period of a year through all four seasons, so that everyone could see that this was a wildscape worthy of being saved. The public fell in love with those images. In 2004, the process of selecting a design team to revitalize the space began.

From the book The Gardens of the High Line by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke published by Timber Press. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher.

The plantings on the High Line were meticulously designed to look natural. The man behind this approach was Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf. Well-known for a naturalistic prairie style of planting, Oudolf writes in the book:

"For me, garden design is not about the plants, it is about emotion, atmosphere, a sense of contemplation."

From the book The Gardens of the High Line by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke published by Timber Press. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher.

From the book The Gardens of the High Line by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke published by Timber Press. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher.

The average soil depth on the elevated High line is just eighteen inches. The walkways and exposed train tracks call to mind the original railroad. The trees and native grasses have the same feel of the untamed wilderness that took root after the track was abandoned. The planting appears wild, but has been carefully considered and maintained.

From the book The Gardens of the High Line by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke published by Timber Press. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher.

What inspiration can a large public space provide for a small home garden like the one you may have? Plenty! It could be a plant combination that captures your imagination or it might be something as simple as introducing a hint of that soft, naturalistic planting style into your own garden.

This fine example of urban revitalization is itself an inspiration. The High Line was once a rusting mass of steel. That it became something else speaks to the power of the imagination.

Someday I'd love to go there, but for now, I will escape into the pages of this book.

This is one of the most beautiful gardening books to cross my desk in recent years. The photography is stunning!! I am extremely grateful to Timber Press for providing a copy of Gardens of the High Line for me to give away. Because this book will go to a winner through the mail, we will have to limit entry to readers in Canada and the USA. 

Please leave a comment below, if you would like to be included in the book draw. The draw will remain open until Thursday, August 31stIf you are not a blogger, you can enter by leaving a comment on the Three Dogs in a Garden Facebook page (there is an additional link to the Facebook page at the bottom of the blog). You are also welcome to enter by sending me an email (

Click the link below for a documentary on the creation of the High Line. There also a link to a documentary about Lurie park– another of Piet Oudolf's garden design projects.

Piet Oudolf, Lorraine Ferguson and Rick Drake

About the Authors and Book Designer:

Piet Oudolf is among the world's most innovative garden designers and a leading exponent of a naturalistic or prairie style of planting. Oudolf's extensive work over 30 years of practice includes public and private gardens all over the world. He is best known for his work on the High Line and Battery Park in New York, the Lurie garden in Chicago's Millennium Park and Potters Field in London.

Watch an hour long documentary on the High Line

Watch a 10 minute video on the Oudolf's work on the
 Lurie Garden in Chicago

Rick Darke is a landscape design consultant, author, lecturer and photographer based in Pennsylvania who blends art, ecology, and cultural geography in the creation and conservation of liveable landscapes. His projects include scenic byways, public gardens, corporate landscapes and residential gardens. Drake served on the staff of Longwood Gardens for twenty years. He is recognized as one of the world's leading experts on grasses and their uses in public and private landscapes. 

Lorraine Ferguson is an independent graphic designer who collaborates with artists, curators, architects and authors in the design of books, exhibitions, signage and products for cultural and educational institutions.