Friday, June 14, 2019

What's Blooming This Week

How was spring in your part of the world?

Here in Southern Ontario, we've had a really cold spring. On the long weekend in May, the traditional date when it is finally safe to plant out tender annuals, my husband and I were working outside in our winter jackets. On the plus side, we weren't tortured by the blackflies that also mark the beginning of the gardening season.

While the cool weather has continued well into June, there has been plenty of rain. The garden has absolutely loved it. Everything is well behind the norm, but there's already so much is in bloom, it is hard to choose a few things to highlight.

If I frequently show Piper perched on top of the wooden bridge, it is because the bridge is his favourite vantage point to watch for hawks and turkey vultures in the sky above. When he spots one of these large birds, he chases them up and down the central pathway barking madly all the way.

The pansies have loved the cool weather!

Euphorbia polychroma 'Bonfire' has green foliage when it first emerges in the spring. The leaves quickly turn into a mix of burgundy and green. The "flowers" are actually bright orange and yellow bracts. In fall, the deep burgundy color seems to intensify and the plant becomes magical when covered with frost crystals. Full sun and normal or sandy, dry soil. This Euphorbia has a milky sap that is irritating to the skin, so it's a good idea to wear gloves when you are doing any pruning. Height: 25-30 cm ( 10-12 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.

Pagoda Dogwood 'Golden Shadows' has distinctive horizontal branching and beautiful variegated foliage. In the spring, it has lacey white flowers followed by berries that the birds love. It thrives in light shade. Mature Height:15-20 ft, Spread:20-30 ft. USDA zones: 3-8.

A Geum with a name torn from the pages of a romance novel!

Geum 'Flames of Passion' has small, semi-double scarlet flowers held aloft by wiry dark stems. The repeat flowering of this Geum is considered to be a new and exciting breakthrough. Its small size makes it perfect for the front of a border. Full sun. Height: 40-50 cm (16-20 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA zones: 5-9.

Geranium macrorrhizum 'W. Ingwersen's Variety' has pale pink flowers. The slow spreading mound of fragrant green leaves makes this perennial a nice groundcover. It's drought tolerant and can handle both sun and shade. Height: 25-30 cm (10-12 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.

I have waited two years for these flowers!

Dictamnus albus var. purpureus forms a bushy, upright clump of bright green leaves. It has tall spires of pink flowers striped with mauve in late May/early June. The plant gets its common name from a tiny amount of methane gas its flowers produce. A lighted match will flair if held near the flowers. This plant is very slow to establish. Average soil is fine. Full sun. Height: 60-90 cm ( 23-35 inches), Spread 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA Zones: 2-9.

Geranium maculatum 'Chatto' or 'Beth Chatto' has lavender flowers and is one of the first hardy geraniums to bloom in early summer. Cut the whole plant back hard after the first show of flowers to encourage fresh growth. Full sun or part shade. Height: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

There is just Piper now. Sadly, we lost Scrap back in February. Scrap was 14 when he passed away rather suddenly. Needless to say, we miss him dearly.

'Boomerang' Lilac blooms in the spring and then again after a short rest through the heat of summer in the late summer/fall. On the negative side, it does require deadheading after that first flush of flowers. Very fragrant. Full sun. Height: 4-5 ft, Spread: 4-5 ft. USDA zones:3-7.


Self-seeded Sweet Rocket

For you shade gardeners:

1. Geranium phaeum var phaeum 'Samobor' 2. Geranium macrorrhizum 'W. Ingwersen's Variety' 3. Heuchera 4. Hosta 'Joy Ride' 5. Dicentra spectabilis 'Gold Heart'

'Joy Ride' has wavy foliage that is a wonderful powdery, blue-green color ('Joy Ride' does become a bit greener as the season progresses). Light lavender flowers appear mid-summer. Part-shade to full shade. Height: 40-45 cm (16-18 inches), Spread: 90 cm ( 35 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

Piper kicking up his heels.

Next week we hope to use some vacation time to finish digging out the stream and pond. So stay tuned for updates on that project. 

There is also an overgrown rose with monstrous thorns that desperately needs to be pruned (which is why I keep putting it off). I also want to seed my thyme lawn. 

Things always take so much longer than you think they will!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Beautiful Garden of Liz Primeau

To be honest, I was a little nervous about visiting Liz Primeau's garden. She's someone I looked up to and admired for years, so there was a lot of expectations when it came to seeing her garden for the first time. 

Liz Primeau was the founding editor of Canadian Gardening magazine and the former host of Canadian Gardening Television on HGTV. She's the author of three books; Front Gardens: Growing More than Grass, In Pursuit of Garlic: An Intimate Look at the Divinely Odorous Bulb and My Natural History: The Evolution of a Gardener. When it comes to gardening in Canada, she has been very influential.

But what would her own private, very personal, outdoor space be like?

Of course, the nervous anticipation I felt on the prospect of visiting the home of a gardening hero was all in my own head and had everything to do with me, and nothing to do with Liz Primeau. We demand a lot from the heroes in our lives–a little unfairly I think. 

As I pulled into a shady spot at the side of the road, it seemed important to feel that my admiration had not been misplaced. At its very core, I simply didn't want to be wrong.

Any apprehension I felt disappeared the moment I saw the rainbow of tulips blooming in the front garden. The colors were somewhat grouped, but the overall effect was a riot of spring color. 

And not surprisingly, there was not a blade of grass in sight.

At one time, much further back in history, an expanse of green lawn was a sign of wealth. It meant you could afford a team of gardeners to hand cut a field of grass. Push mowers and then the invention of gas and electric movers made it possible for anyone, not just the wealthy upper classes, to have a nice lawn. 

Still, the prestige of owning a well-manicured lawn persisted well into the last century. The dream after the Second World War was to have a family, a car in the driveway and house in the suburbs with a beautiful lawn. It took years for someone to question this prescription for a happy life.

After she and her husband bought a property in Mississauga, the first thing Liz Primeau created was a backyard garden. She filled it with summertime flowers and native plants. 

The front yard was a different story. Like every other house in the neighbourhood, it had a lawn which her husband mowed every Sunday. While the backyard was a healthy and diverse ecosystem that attracted a host of insects, birds and animals, the front yard was a monoculture, that by enlarge, bees, butterflies and other wild creatures seemed to avoid.

The final straw that made Liz Primeau take radical action was an infestation of white grubs that were leaving ugly bald patches in the grass. A lawn company advised a liberal application of malathion to bring them under control. Instead, she transformed the front yard into yet more garden.

In the present day, this may not seem like a particularly radical thing to do, but twenty-seven years ago, I am sure it raised more than a few of the neighbour's eyebrows.

Many years later the front yard continues to be a mix of perennials, trees and shrubs. The structure that you see above sits at the intersection of a few of the pathways that crisscross the garden. At first, I thought that it was made of twisted branches, but as I got closer, I realized it was a metal artwork. 

Up near the house, in the shade of a large evergreen, you can see the hint of a wooden bench through the greenery.

Cushion Spurge, Euphorbia Polychroma prefers full sun and somewhat dry conditions. Normal or sandy soil is best. Cut Euphorbia Polychroma back hard in early summer to keep it neat, compact and prevent unwanted seedlings. Euphorbia Polychroma extrudes a milky-white sap that can be irritating to the skin, so wear garden gloves anytime while pruning. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA Zones: 3-9.

Growing rhododendrons successfully given Ontario's harsh winters and dry summers is not an impossible feat, but it does require knowledge of their particular preferences. I was certainly impressed with the beauty of the pale lavender and hot pink flowers.

An unknown variety of Dwarf Bearded Iris and Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea'

The first view of the backyard as you round the corner of the house.

As I strolled around the garden in the morning sunshine, I was struck by a number of things. One was Liz Primeau's use of native plants. While they continue to grow in popularity, native plants are still somewhat under appreciated.

A mix of shade lovers that include hosta, Ostrich Ferns and Canadian Wild Ginger.

Canadian Wild Ginger, Asarum canadense is native to the woodlands of Eastern North America. It has bright green, heart-shaped leaves with insignificant brownish flowers that are largely hidden by the foliage. Although it will colonize an area and tends to be more vigorous than European Wild Ginger (Asarum europaeum), it 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.

Ostrich Ferns, Matteuccia struthiopteris are native ferns that are easily grown in average, medium to damp soil. They are happiest however, in rich soil with constant moisture. They spread by underground rhizomes and can form dense colonies when grown in favourable conditions. Ostrich Ferns prefer a cooler climate and don't fare well in the hot, humid summers of the southern States. Part shade to full shade. Height: 3-6 ft, Spread: 5-8 ft. USDA Zones: 3-7.

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. Their flowers are pollinated by ants, flies and beetles. 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.

The dominant feature of the backyard is a gazebo. It's painted a sophisticated charcoal color that blends into its surroundings, but it also has a flashy, orangey-red door that demands your attention. That push and pull make this traditional structure modern and edgy.

There are two styles of pathways in this part of the backyard. On the right, the path is made of rounded pea gravel, and on the left, there are big slabs of flagstone leading to the gazebo. Same material; different scale. If the same stone had been used, I think it would have been much less interesting. 

Another thing I'd like to point out is the relatively flat areas of the backyard that are dominated by groundcovers. Without these areas of quiet order, the garden could have looked like a messy jungle. The open areas of thyme and the Creeping Jenny offers breathing room and a break from the natural chaos that is a cottage garden.

Another thing I noticed in Liz Primeau's garden was a certain frugality in her repetition of plants. Certainly, she repeats these plants because she likes them, and of course, there is a cost saving in using plants you already have to make more plants, but I think there is more at work here than personal preference and the need to save money. 

On a design level, the repetition of flowers, like the dwarf bearded iris you see above, links one part of the garden to another. Repeated elements aren't a shortcoming, they're an asset that unifies the front and backyards.

Even without many flowers, there is a nice mix of colors and texture in the foliage here.

Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum' is a variegated form that has arching reddish colored stems and foliage that is edged with creamy-white. The fragrance of the flowers is lily-like. Height: 50-60 cm (20-23 inches) Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches)

Well, I hope you enjoyed this tour as much as I did. Thinking things over, I see Liz Primeau's subtle influence in my preference to garden organically, in my use of native plants, and in my own front garden, where there is not a single blade of grass. And for that, I am grateful.