Sunday, April 29, 2018

10+ Ideas to Borrow for your Garden This Spring (Keppel Croft Garden Part 2)


Visiting other gardens has become one of my great passions. My resources for travel are limited, but I don't need to travel to distant shores to just see stunning gardens. They are right in my own backyard so to speak. It never ceases to amaze me what other gardeners have managed to create.

There is nothing like seeing a plant in a garden setting to give you a true sense of how it grows, what shape it takes and how it mixes in with other plants. And you're bound to come home from your visit with a lots of ideas and projects in mind. I certainly came home from our trip to Bill and Dawn's garden on the Bruce Peninsula with lots of ideas, many of which I'd love to share with you today.


Idea 1: Make your own artwork. 

You don't have to be an 'artist'. A little creativity is all you need. 

Throughout Keppel Croft, you'll find examples of Bill's handiwork. "Not wanting to waste extra concrete, I poured it into waxed juice containers. When I peeled off the wax cardboard, I noticed a neat folded design on the bottom of the concrete blocks. Then I had a 'light bulb idea' to make the blocks into a miniature sculpture by setting them into fine, local beach gravel," says Bill.


The tall sculpture you see on the right was inspired by travels to Asia.

"This sculpture celebrates a week my daughter and I spent touring South Korea a few years back. We admired all the pagodas there. I bought a book of Korean culture in a folk museum in Seoul," Bill recounts.

"The finial represents a lotus blossom, which in turn represents the Buddha. It sits in a prominent spot in the rock garden. The tier overhangs make perfect sheltered nest bases for wasps."


Idea 2: Frame a view. 

Here the path directs the eye, while two upright shapes (Bill's sculpture and the tall, columnar evergreen) create a frame that funnels your attention toward the distant view. There is a hint of what is to come, but plantings on either side obscures a complete understanding of what lies ahead. 

A sense of mystery is always a great draw for the curious garden visitor.

Bill and Dawn have a large country property, but you can use this design trick in any sized garden.  Find an existing frame and make use of it or create a brand new one. Here's an example of using an existing frame:

Open the gate to your backyard. Think of the gate as the sides of your frame. Now take in the view. What is at the centre of your line of site? If its not something interesting, make a change. Add a bench or an attractive object like an urn filled with flowers.  

And here's an example of how you might go about creating a brand new frame:


Create a doorway from one area of your garden to another with a wooden arbor. 

The pathway channels your attention while the sides of the wooden arbor frames the view you see. 
Here the plantings and the two teal pots partly obscures the full landscape and create that all important sense of mystery. 


Idea 3: Repeat a color without using the exact same plant.

Blue-green is a color seen both in the low evergreen in the foreground and the blue spruce trees in the distance. The type of plant is different, but the color is the same. 

Red is also repeated in the Barberry shrub in the middle foreground on the right and also in the distance. The shrub is the same, but the cultivars are different.

Repetition helps unify the garden into a cohesive whole.


Idea 4: Start a collection. 

As any collector will tell you, it's fun to have a focus and a mission when you're shopping. To start a collection choose a plant that speaks to you. It could be absolutely anything you love: minature hostas, roses, clematis, heuchera, native plants or maybe even different types of iris. Search out and grow all the examples of that plant you can possibly find.

Over the years Bill and Dawn have gathered a terrific collection of peonies that they have scattered throughout their country property. The use of a single plant unifies a big space. And when all those peonies are all in bloom, they make a dramatic statement.

A nice play of texture and leaf color.

Idea 5: Play up the contrast of color and texture. 

As any experienced gardener will tell you, flowers come and go, but foliage is around for the long haul. This spring, make a point of choosing at least one plant for its foliage and not its flower.


Idea 6: Make use of found metal machine parts and decorate metal objects. 

Here an old machine part is hung on a wall and a metal butterfly has been set into a concrete stepping stone. 


You may remember the notes on Bill's unique way to edge his flowerbeds from part 1. He's used that same basic technique to do something fun in a nondescript expanse of lawn.


Idea 7: Make a swirl in the grass.

Again Bill's made use of concrete and stones to create this swirl in the lawn. If you don't want to go to  the bother of laying forms and mixing concrete, you could use a simple line of bricks or small pavers to create something similar.



Idea 8: Make your own stepping stones.

"These stepping stones were formed from an old piece of lawn edging in the shape of a circle. Bits and pieces were set in the concrete and stamps were used for letters," says Bill.

 Here's a link to one of the many Youtube how-to stepping stone videos. Be sure to wear gloves and use safety glasses and dust mask when working with concrete.


Idea 9: Make a hypertufa plant pot.

"The planted (landscaped) pots are placed about the garden in strategic spots to create focal points.
This particular trough was made using a hypertufa mixture over a huge soup pot which someone donated to the cause. It has been used several times and was reinforced with hardware cloth during construction," says Bill 

Hypertufa is a mix of peat moss, perlite and Portland cement (do not use pre-mixed concrete or mortar). Here's a link for a full how-to from Fine Gardening magazine



Idea 10: Take advantage of unique and interesting natural objects you found in your garden or in your travels.

"The troughs are wonderful place to showcase 'special' rocks. This rock has a hole in it", says Bill, "Some have crevices in them which hold tiny rock plants such as Sempervivums, Sedum and Draba."



Idea 11: Create a grouping of plant curiosities. 

Hardy succulents and textural groundcovers can be so odd and intruiging! Display them in a container where they'll get noticed or elevate them up closer to eye level in a birdbath planter. 

Here's a link to making a birdbath planter.




Idea 12: Make an inukshuk or an inunnguaq.

In the snow covered regions of northern Canada everything can look the same. Inukshuks served many purposes. They were used a as a point of reference for navigation and as a signpost to mark a good hunting or fishing spots. Inukshuks often marked a cache of food and were sometimes used as animal blinds when hunting for caribou. Women would case caribou toward the inukshuks where the hunters lay hidden with bows and arrows.

In its simplest form, an inukshuk can be an upright stone. Balance was key to making a these stone markers. No mortar or glue hold the stacked stones together. Each stone supports the one above and below it. 

Stones piled up to look like a human figure are called inunnguaq and have a more spiritual significance. After they were married, Bill and Dawn spent a number of years living in the Eastern Arctic. An inunnguaq now stands on the edge of their garden and looks out onto a field of wild flowers and grasses and the forest beyond.


I hope you have enjoyed these two posts on Keppel Croft Garden. 

If your lucky enough to find yourself exploring the Bruce Peninsula this summer, I am sure Bill and Dawn would be happy to welcome you to their garden.


You might even want to buy a little souvenir of your visit. I know I did.

For directions, hours of operation and other details check out the garden's listing on the Rural Gardens of Grey-Bruce website. You can also visit the garden's website for more information.

A reminder that there are a couple of special events this summer:

June 21, 2018
Summer Solstice celebrated at Keppel Henge. The event is attended by the Bruce County Astronomical Society and several Tai Chi clubs that come with picnics and exercise in the gardens before the Summer Solstice observation in the Henge. The celebration usually includes a presentation about the solstice and there are often special telescopes brought along for sharing a view of the sun! "We always cross our fingers and hope for a sunny day," says Dawn.

July 14th, 2018, 10am - 4pm, Admission $3
Art in the Garden features forty plus artists and artisans with creations for sale. There will also be plant sales and live music.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Moss or Creeping Phlox

Phlox subulata 'Emerald Blue' in Carina Wong's front garden.

Creeping Phlox always makes me nostalgic for my mother's garden. Mom had great swaths of Phlox subulata 'Emerald Blue' in her rock garden at the front of our house. Those dense mounds of lavender flowers were always spectacular each May alongside white Arabis, dwarf bearded iris and sunny-yellow Basket of Gold, Aurinia saxatilis 'Compacta'.

Mom always referred to Phlox subulata as Creeping Phlox, but Moss Phlox seems to be the common name I hear more frequently these days.  Phlox subulata flowers for a number of weeks in early spring and forms a low mound of green, needle-like foliage.  The star-shaped flowers have five petal-like lobes that are notched on the outside edge.

The native form of Phlox subulata can be found on rocky, sandy slopes and open woodlands in Michigan, Ontario and in a large area that runs from New York south to Tennessee. Modern cultivars come in an array of colors including pinks, reds, purples, white and white striped with hot pink.

Moss Phlox is fairly adaptable to a variety of soil types, but the soil must be well-drained. I can't stress this enough. Nothing will kill your Moss Phlox quicker than cold, soggy soil in the wintertime. If your soil isn't free-draining, amend it with fine pebbles, sand and organic material.

Moss Phlox prefers evenly moist conditions, so water young plants until they are established. Even after Moss phlox has settled in, it still may need a supplemental watering during periods of prolonged drought.

Full sun will produce the best show of flowers. In southern gardening zones however, Moss Phlox will appreciate a little respite from the heat of the afternoon sun.

 Phlox subulata 'Emerald Blue' in the garden of Marion Jarvie in Thornhill, ON.

A cushion of lavender-pink flowers in Marion Jarvie's garden.

Here pink Moss Phlox mixes with white Arabis in the gravelly soil of the rock garden at the Agricultural Campus of Dalhousie University in Truro, N.S.

The somewhat messy appearance of Phlox subulata after it flowers.

Ongoing Care


After the spring flowers fade and turn brown in late spring, Phlox subulata can look a bit scruffy and untidy. Give your plant a light haircut to remove the spent flowers and promote fresh foliage. If you're lucky, you might even see a little bit of reblooming.

After a few years, the plant's stems can become woody and will produce fewer and fewer flowers. To stimulate fresh growth and more springtime blooms, cut the stems back by half.

If you want to divide your Moss Phlox, do it in early spring just after they have finished flowering.


Cultivars to Collect


In the pictures below, one cultivar may seem pretty much like any other with the exception of the flower color. There are differences however: 

Some cultivars grow more quickly than others. The needle-like foliage can also be finer and more dense on some cultivars. Finally the flowers vary in size. When you do your shopping, you'll note these distinctions much better than you will in my pictures.

Phlox subulata 'Emerald Blue' is a popular cultivar for all the right reasons and is a great one to start with.


Phlox subulata 'Violet Pinwheels' has intense violet-purple flowers in early spring. Plant in full sun. Average, well-drained soil. Height: 10-15 cm (4-6 inches), Spread 60-90 cm (23-35 inches). USDA zones:3-9.


 Phlox subulata 'Red Wings' has hot pink flowers with a deep magenta eye. Plant in full sun. Average, well-drained soil. Height: 10-15 cm (4-6 inches), Spread 30-60 cm (12-24 inches). USDA zones:3-9.

Phlox subulata 'Pink Emerald' has pink flowers with a hot pink eye. Plant in full sun. Average, well-drained soil. Height: 15-20 cm (6-8 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA zones:3-9.


Phlox subulata 'Purple Beauty' has magenta flowers with a purple flash at the flower centre. Plant in full sun. Average, well-drained soil. Height: 15-20 cm (6-8 inches), Spread 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA zones:3-9.


Phlox subulata 'Crimson Beauty' rose-pink flowers with a magenta flash at the flower centre. Plant in full sun. Average, well-drained soil. Height: 10-15 cm (4-6 inches), Spread 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA zones:3-9.


Phlox subulata 'Emerald Blue' soft lavender colored flowers with a purple flash at the flower centre. Plant in full sun. Average, well-drained soil. Height: 15-20 cm (4-6 inches), Spread 30-60 cm (12-24 inches). USDA zones:3-9.


Phlox subulata 'White Delight' has large white star-shaped flowers in April or May. Full sun. Average, well-drained soil. Height: 15-20 cm (6-8 inches), Spread: 30-60 cm (12-24 inches). USDA zones:3-9.

Other white cultivars: 'Cotton Candy', 'Early White', 'Spring white'


Phlox subulata 'Candy Stripe' has masses of white flowers with a hot pink down the centre of the petal. Full sun. Average, well-drained soil. Height: 20 cm (8 inches), Spread 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA zones:3-9.

Several types of Moss Phlox in the private garden of Marion Jarvie.

Companion Planting


Moss Phlox is most often used in rockeries where it fits in well with other alpine and rock garden plants. 

Its low carpet of blooms also makes a great understory for daffodils and tulips. It can also look terrific planted alongside early flowering hellebores. 



Plant type: Perennial

Height: 4-8 inches (10-20 cm)

Spread: 12-24 inches (30-60 cm)

Flower: Star-shaped flowers in a variety of colors

Bloom period: Early spring

Leaf: Green, needle-like foliage

Light: Full sun

Soil: Average, but must be well-drained

Moisture conditions: Prefers evenly moist, but free-drained soil

Divide: In spring after flowering

Deer Resistant: Somewhat deer resistant, but rabbits will eat this plant

Problems: Leaf miners, mites and caterpillars can be an issue. Other issues include rust, mildew, blight and stem canker

USDA Zones: 3-9

Sunday, April 22, 2018

A Visit to Keppel Croft Garden: Part 1


The Bruce Peninsula is a thumb-shaped jut of land that lies between Georgian Bay and Lake Huron. It is a place of breathtaking views, rugged cliffs and dense forests that are home to some of the oldest trees in the eastern half of North America. The summers are short, hot and often dry. The winds that sweep across the Great Lakes make the winters long and cold. 

In this picturesque, but somewhat inhospitable place, Dawn and Bill Loney chose to make a home and create a garden.

"For a number of years we lived in the Eastern Arctic where all our gardening was done in juice cans," laughs Dawn Loney. "The serendipitous purchase of our farm at Big Bay in 1977 allowed us to contemplate gardening on a larger scale. The original garden included a bank of lilacs, several old apple trees, a clump of rhubarb, two blue columbines and a tulip. Little did we know that we would be gardening on a prehistoric beach with a skim of topsoil over three metres of gravel."

"Bill is the garden's guiding spirit at Keppel Croft Gardens," says Dawn. "He's a self-taught gardener whose interest became a hobby, which in turn became a passion, and then an obsession!" 

Dawn, herself, was no stranger to gardening having grown up in New Zealand where her parents kept an extensive garden. "Every year Bill and I, and the gardens, get older and, we hope, more interesting!" she jokes.

The old farmhouse with its red door beacons you in the distance.

From the first of May through to Thanksgiving, Keppel Croft has a steady stream of visitors. We arrived on a warm, sunny afternoon in late June. Once you park your car in the shade, you're free to wander the property at your leisure.

Dawn and Bill are very welcoming hosts: "Throughout the summer we are happy to host weddings, annual family picnics and other celebrations. Don’t forget to pack your picnic and enjoy staying a little longer in the gardens."


Dawn says there was never any a grand, overall vision for the gardens. 

"Most parts of the garden began after some thought, discussions and sometimes some sketches on the back of an envelope or in Bill's garden idea book. We originally planted close to the house because we wanted to be able to find things in the long grass!"

In prehistoric times, the Bruce Peninsula lay under a shallow warm sea. Over millions of years sand, silt, clay and lime-rich organic material became compressed into layers of rock. Gardening on an ancient shingle beach makes a pick axe Bill's gardening tool of choice.

"After realizing that conventional plantings are impossible in most places in the garden, Bill perfected a planting technique which has been quite successful. He begins by digging a hole with his pick axe then everything is sieved into a wheelbarrow. The stones are collected in buckets and the soil amended before being put back in the planting hole."


"The surprise garden was made on top of a large square of carpet placed over our septic bed," says Dawn.


Today, Keppel Croft Gardens stretches over four acres and includes perennial borders, a rockery, xeriscape, zen and woodland gardens. 

"There are several ponds as well as numerous art installations. Our collection of lilacs is growing with additions each year. Among plans for this gardening season, Bill hopes to complete the dry stream, which is a project that has taken several years already. We also hope to renovate the iris beds and the old vegetable garden which got overshadowed by trees," says Dawn.




In June, the peonies are at their ruffled best. Over the years Bill has built an impressive collection.

"Peonies- so stalwart! They'll will be blooming when I am long gone," says Bill. "Nothing eats them! They provide three season's of interest; colourful spring shoots then glorious, perfumed blossoms followed by attractive seed heads and colourful autumn foliage. They're no worry in the winter either."


Centranthus ruber 'Albus' (see profile below)

Gorgeous Oriental Poppy.


A shady bench.


"Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus rubra) red, white or various shades in between...It's a prolific self-seeder that thrives in the hot, dry location with poor, stoney soil. It doesn't like to be transplanted, especially when its older," says Bill.


Jupiter's Beard or Red Valerian, Centranthus ruber is a short-lived perennial that has fragrant pinkish-red flowers. Removing faded flowers will encourage them to bloom all summer long. It likes hot, dry sites and poor soil. The flowers are also attractive to butterflies. Height: 30-90 cm (12-35 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA zones 4-9.

Centranthus ruber 'Albus' is the white flowering form. The small star-shaped clusters of flowers are again fragrant.



Two visitors relaxing and enjoying the view. 


Traditional flowerbeds will often have a band of bare earth on the outer edge. It makes the tangle of a traditional cottage garden look neat and contained, but bare earth is often an open invitation to weeds. At Keppel Croft, Bill takes a more novel approach:

"The mowing strips around the beds keep us and the other grass mowers sane. To create them, I dig a trench with a spade that is 5 to 7 cm deep. Then I set thin, pliable wood form along the outer edges. A piece of 2 x 6 is placed at the ends to keep the form upright and restrict excess concrete from escaping. Next I pour in a layer of concrete, lay down a piece of reinforcing material and pour another layer of concrete. Finally I set palm sized flat rocks in the surface and there you have it!"

 "To create the pebble mulch, I use a layer of wet newspaper over the ground, then a sheet of plastic and cover the whole thing with a layer of gravel. Pronto, a long lasting inorganic mulch! You only weed and water the holes in which the plants are located. There's just one drawback. No one ever explained an easy way to remove autumn debris without raking off the gravel."

Plume Poppy, Macleaya cordata 

Plume Poppy, Macleaya cordata in its fall colors.

Plume Poppy, Macleaya cordata is a somewhat controversial perennial. It's a tall, statuesque perennial that has gorgeous foliage and panicles of tiny white blooms that are the plant's namesake "plumes." In the fall, the leaves take on the most amazing shades of yellow and orange. The down side is that Plume Poppy is an aggressive plant that spreads by rhizomes and by seed. It has proven to be a problem in warmer parts of the United States and is considered a noxious weed in Hawaii.

It's a plant that's tempted me for years, so I asked Bill for his opinion. "Wouldn't be without it," he tells me. "When in flower it has Victorian wallpaper colours. It spreads by roots and seeds but is controllable ...except you never want to tear it out."

Bill's endorsement and those colors make it very tempting. Just remember, if you'd like to grow this perennial, you'll have to work to keep it in check.

A pretty sundial in the near distance.


Pinks, Dianthus


Peonies, Jupiter's Beard and a couple of wicker seats under an old apple tree.



"How I wished for a stone barn foundation or an old silo, but our barn foundation still has a working barn resting on it," says Bill. 

"This folly was built using an old stone wall construction technique making use of forms. Many of the stones were collected, often a few at a time, in a dry stream bed at the back of the farm. It took several years with the help of WWOOFers (short for Woldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) to complete the construction. The folly is now taking on a life of its own and, with time, it should improve in appearance with weathering."


There is more of the garden to see, but I think I will have to leave that for a Part 2.



Don't forget that Keppel Croft is a garden you can visit yourself this summer! 

For directions, hours of operation and other details check out the garden's listing on the Rural Gardens of Grey-Bruce website. You can also visit the garden's website for more information.

There are a couple of special events this summer:

June 21, 2018
Summer Solstice celebrated at Keppel Henge. The event is attended by the Bruce County Astronomical Society and several Tai Chi clubs that come with picnics and exercise in the gardens before the Summer Solstice observation in the Henge. The celebration usually includes a presentation about the solstice and there are often special telescopes brought along for sharing a view of the sun! "We always cross our fingers and hope for a sunny day," says Dawn.

July 14th, 2018, 10am - 4pm, Admission $3
Art in the Garden features forty plus artists and artisans with creations for sale. There will also be plant sales and live music.