Sunday, April 8, 2018

An Asian-Inspired Garden, Part 2: The Backyard

After chatting with Carina about her garden, one of the things I came away admiring the most was her resourcefulness. When she needed a bridge to span the natural stream in the backyard, she borrowed a neighbour's power tools and made it herself.

Challenges were tackled head-on, and if her initial solution didn't work, she's wasn't discouraged. She simply moved on and adopted a fresh approach.

An overview of the garden as seen from the back of the house.

Many a homeowner would have been defeated by the uneven terrain in Carina's backyard. 

The ground slopes steeply down from the back of the house. In the centre of the yard, a stream divides property in two. On the far side of the stream, the ground shifts again, this time on a sharp incline.

The lawn just behind the back of the house was not fairing well, so Carina got rid of it! Instead, she created a Japanese style rock garden using crushed limestone, pebbles and large boulders.

This view of the shows the sharp incline. 

 The bridge Carina made herself.

A closer look at some of the hosta along the stream bank.

"The back garden has a lot of shade and is boggy from underground springs. Astilbes, Foam flowers (Tiarella), Brunnera, wild gingers, lilies, Bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) thrive in the wet environment, unfortunately so did ferns, Goutweed and Lily-of-the-valley which I completely removed in one area," says Carina.

An old stump is now a host for a variety of plants. 

In this area, a Euonymus adds a splash of yellow. There is also iris, a Bleeding Heart, and if you have eagle eyes, you might even notice a Cobra Lily (edge of the photo middle right).

Carina's hosta's look amazing, so I made a point of asking her how she deals with slugs and snails. "Racoons drank the beer traps I put out," she laughs. 

Her method is quite basic but very effective; she handpicks the slugs from her hosta with a set of tweezers or chopsticks and drops them into a soapy bucket of water. Carina found it to be a quiet task that's therapeutic after a hectic day of nursing.  

A line of Carex and a rocky drainage ditch that flows into the natural stream.

The line of "grass" you see is actually Carex a perennial that has fine, grass-like foliage. I am not sure of the exact cultivar but will give you a reference to one that looks quite similar.

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.

Red Trillium, Trillium erectum is native to North American woodlands and has many common names including Beth root, Stinking Benjamin, Wake-Robin and Indian Balm. This is a long-lived perennial that can live for up to 30 years. In the spring it has chocolate-red blooms that have a somewhat unpleasant scent up close. Trillium erectum likes moist, rich, well-drained soil. Part to full shade. Height: 20-50 cm (8-19 inches), Spread: 22-30 cm (9-12 inches). USDA zones: 4-9. 

False Solomon's Seal, Maianthemum racemosum, syn. Smilacina racemosa

False Solomon's Seal, Maianthemum racemosum, syn. Smilacina racemosa has a number of common names including False Spikenard and False Lili-of-the-Valley. It is native to North American woodlands and has lance-shaped, green leaves. Tiny white flowers are followed by green berries that become red in late summer.  It spreads by creeping rhizomes but is slow to get established and produce a good display. Part-shade to Full Shade. Height: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

Redbud blossoms that have fallen into a birdbath at the back of the property.

I always like to ask gardeners about the wisdom they've gained after years of experience.

"Depending on lot size, grading, the condition of your soil, the amount of sunlight/shade and your budget, planning is important. I did not plan well, so I am speaking from experience after lots of trials and errors made over the years," Carina advises.

"Learn as much as possible about the type of plants you like. This will save you some headaches, time and money. Find out how they grow and spread, how much sun or shade they like, how tall and wide they get and whether they are high or low maintenance. Prepare the soil, water them well and regularly in the early days."

Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum' (left) and Canadian Wild Ginger, Asarum canadense (right)

Two great shade-loving perennials from the far side of the stream:

Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum' has dark green leaves accented with red. Soft yellow and cream flowers appear in mid to late spring. To make the tiny flowers more visible prune the previous season's foliage to the ground in late winter/early spring. New foliage will follow the flowers. Drought tolerant once established. Divide in the fall. Height: 20-30 cm (8-12 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Canadian Wild Ginger, Asarum canadense is native to the woodlands of Eastern north America. It bright green, heart-shaped leaves and insignificant brownish flowers that are largely hidden by the foliage. It will colonize an area and tends to be more vigorous than European Wild Ginger (Asarum europaeum), but is not considered to be invasive. Part to full shade. Sandy or clay soil is fine. Average to moist soil suit this plant best. Height: 10-15 cm ( 4-6 inches), Spread: 15-30 cm (6-12 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

Last year Carina sold her home and garden. She's retired now and wants to be free to do some travelling and hopes to visit family in Malaysia more often. I asked her what she will miss the most about her garden.

"The large lot size afforded a lot of privacy," she laments. "I shall miss being outside with a good book, puttering in the garden, enjoying the birds and the occasional wildlife that visits; as well as the water feature out front."

It must be hard to leave behind a garden that you laboured almost thirty years to create, but Carina isn't looking back, she's moving forward into the next phase of her life.

"Gardening is hard work, but it doesn't feel like work once your garden gets established and it rewards you back," she muses. Based on the lovely garden Carina's managed to create, the rewards have been many.  
Missed part 1? Go back and see Carina's front garden here.

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