Saturday, April 27, 2019

A Visit to Mira's Colorful Garden

In all the years I have written this blog, I don't think I have ever singled out a garden for its use of color–so this is a first. After my visit to Mira's garden, I came away inspired to combine colors in a way I have never considered before. Mira describes her process as "painting with plants." 

By day, Mira is a high school teacher, but in her spare time, she has a passion for gardening. "I have always loved being surrounded by indoor and outdoor plants and rocks- a source of peace, harmony, and creativity," she tells me. 

When we take our stroll around Mira's garden, you will see more than unexpected color combinations. There is also an abundance of unusual and interesting plant choices. Mira describes her garden as a "living art installation." Of course, it wasn't always that way. With overgrown grass, weeds and an abandoned pool, it was pretty much a blank slate when they purchased the property.

Mira's initial focus was the backyard because it was used most often by her family. The derelict swimming pool was one of the first things to go. Other projects added were a deck and water feature. A waterfall and some patio stones were installed with the help of Robin Aggus. 

In terms of plants, Mira began with some must-haves. "I started with the big, structural trees and shrubs because I love their year-round skeletal features– the more twisted, curved or peeling the better. Most of my choices were inspired by things I have seen in other people’s yards over the years, including local garden tours," she says.

The front garden, where we will begin our visit, caught Mira's attention more recently. A tulip tree had been planted in the early days of Mira's focus on big, structural elements for the garden, but had otherwise remained largely untouched. Up until this point in the evolution of her garden, Mira had focused mainly on perennials, trees and shrubs. "I have always avoided roses because they are so labour intensive," Mira recounts. "But the buggers bloom all summer and into the fall, so once the back was mostly filled out, I caved to their charm."

A white Coneflower (Echinacea) with orange Torch Lilies (Kniphofia) right behind it. In the background (on the right) is a pale blue Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro). A Lavender in full bloom features prominently in the raised bed.

We aren't 100% sure of the identity of some of the cultivars, so in such cases, we will give you a reference to a perennial that is quite similar:

Echinacea purpurea 'White Swan' has off-white flowers and a yellow cone. Full sun. Height: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.


Shasta daisies seem to have fallen out of favour for some reason–I'm not sure why. Here's a reference to a shasta daisy similar to the one in Mira's garden:

Leucanthemum x superbum 'Crazy Daisy' has white flowers with finely cut petals and yellow centres. Remove faded flowers to prolong blooming and divide plants every two or three years to keep them vigorous. Attractive to butterflies. Full sun or light shade. Height: 60-70 cm (23-27 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

There are a number of double Coneflowers you can choose from to create a similar look in your space. Here's a reference to one of them:

Echinacea purpurea 'Razzmatazz' has double blooms with a central magenta-pink pom-pom that is encircled by pink petals. Average garden soil and moisture conditions. Full sun. Height: 80-90 cm (31-35 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

Globe Thistle, Echinops ritro 'Vietch's Blue' is a well-behaved garden perennial that has grey-green foliage and round, steel-blue flowers. Bees love this flower in mid-to-late summer. Full sun. Height: 90-100 cm (35-39 inches), spread: 60-75 cm (23-29 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.

The front of the house with its pathways of natural cedar mulch.

This rose is most likely the hybrid Musk rose called 'Ballerina'.

Hybrid Musk rose, Rosa 'Menja'. Source: Palatine Roses in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The biggest challenge with the roses has turned out to be Japanese Beetles. They love certain types of roses!

An overview of the back garden.

As is so often the case, the garden evolved over time without a definitive plan. 

"I started digging out flower beds, one at a time, replacing pure, wormless sand with truckloads of proper soil. The middle bed and wavy outer perimeter beds (I cannot stand straight or square beds) were the first areas I tackled. I filled each successive flower bed with perennials, depending on sun/shade exposure and rotating colours through each week and month," Mira recounts. 

Weeping Larch, Larix decidua 'Pendula' is a moderately fast-growing European Larch with soft green needles that turn a golden color in the fall. This is a deciduous plant that loses its needles in the fall and grows them back every spring. Needs regular watering. Full sun. Height: 2.5 meters (10-12 ft), Spread: 2.5 meters (10-12 ft). USDA zones: 3-6.

I asked Mira about some of the challenges she faced in creating her garden: 

"The biggest challenge was getting the 'feel' of the front and back yard just right in terms of 'visual flow'– the rivers of grass and mulch paths. It took about 5 years to get the scale and curves of the paths perfected from all vantage points and required the assistance of landscape architect Christopher Campbell to get it polished."

Spike Speedwell, Veronica 'Red Fox' has magenta flower spikes in summer. Removing faded flowers will encourage a longer bloom time. Powdery mildew can be an issue if the plant is stressed by drought. Average garden soil. Full sun. Height: 30-40 cm (12-16 inches), spread: 30-35 cm (12-14 inches). USDA zones: 4-8.

 "I have been known to transplant perennials until they could not take it any more. It's often hard to get it right for the 'big picture effect' on the first try," says Mira.

Campanula persicifolia (right) is an easy-to-grow plant that forms a low mound of green leaves. In summer it has bell-shaped flowers that are carried on tall stems.  Normal, sandy or clay soil and average to moist conditions are fine for this plant. Full sun or light shade. Height: 60-90 cm, Spread: 30-50 cm. Zones: USDA 2-9.

Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa: This is a native North American wildflower and a key source of food for Monarch butterflies. Plants form an upright clump of narrow green leaves with orange or gold flowers in mid-summer. Butterfly weed needs dry, well-drained sandy soil and full sun. Remove seed heads if you want to limit its spread. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread 30-45 cm (12-18 inches) Hardy USDA Zones 4-9.

Dense Blazing Star or Prairie Gayfeather, Liatris spicata is native to meadows and marsh margins in Eastern North America. It has mauve flower spikes, which open from the top to the bottom. Plant it in average, well-drained soil that is on the moist side. Full sun. It is deer resistant, but butterflies and bees love it. Full sun. Height: 45-60 cm (18-24 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-24 inches). USDA Zones: 3-10.

Cupid's Dart, Catananche caerulea has tall, papery, purplish-blue flowers over a low clump of narrow grey-green leaves. Cupid's Dart will grow in normal, sandy or clay soil, but requires good drainage. It is drought tolerant once established. While it is a short-lived perennial, Cupid's Dart will often self-sow. If spent flowers are removed, Cupid's Dart will continue to bloom throughout the summer. Pollinators love it! Full sun. Height:45-70 cm (18-27 inches), Spread:25-30 cm (10-12 inches). USDA Zones:4-9.

Here's a perennial that you don't see very often. It's a North American native that grows along streams and ponds:

Stokesia laevis 'Blue Danube' has lavender-blue flowers on a low mound of leathery-green leaves. It prefers somewhat sandy soil and medium to moist growing conditions. Good drainage is essential. Cut the plant back to the basal foliage after it blooms. It is quite tolerant of hot, humid conditions. Full sun. Height: 30-60 cm (12-24 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.

Can you guess what this is? It's a foxglove! I spent quite a bit of time searching out the proper identification of this rare digitalis. It looks a little like Digitalis Davisiana but the colors seems to be more peachy. The tubular flowers also have a distinctive fringe, so I'm thinking they are not Digitalis Laevigata. Here's my best guess (please correct me if I am wrong):

Rusty foxglove, Digitalis ferruginea 'Gelber Herold' also known as 'Yellow Harold' has tall flower spikes of peachy-yellow flowers with rusty-beige veining. This is a biennial that flowers in its second year. Sow seeds on the surface of the soil. Sandy or clay soil is best. Average to moist conditions. Toxic if eaten. Full sun to part-shade. Height: 120-150 cm (47-59 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.
Here's an American seed source: Diane's Flower Seeds. Looking for unusual foxgloves? Here's another source: Plant world Seeds

Hydrangea'Invincibelle Spirit' has magenta-pink flowers that fade to soft beige. 'Invincibelle Spirit' prefers full sun, but will tolerate part shade. It blooms on new wood, so prune in late winter/early spring. Height: 4-5ft inches, Spread: 4-5ft inches. USDA zones: 3-8.

A similar peachy-pink Echinacea:
Echinacea 'Supreme Cantaloupe' has cantaloupe colored ray petals on the outside of the flower with rosy-red ray petals at the centre. Full sun. Height: 55-65 cm (21-25 inches), Spread: 35-40 cm (14-16 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Balloon flower, Platycodon grandiflorus is a nice addition to any mid-summer garden. This is a tall, upright perennial that has a carrot-like root and is very long-lived.  Colors range from blue to pale-pink and white. Depending on the cultivar you choose, Balloon flowers will grow as tall as 60-75 cm (23-29 inches) and spread as much as 30-40 cm (12-16 inches).USDA Zones: 3-9.

Looking from one side of the yard across to the other.

"I am also very much directed by heights/layers, in addition to colours," says Mira.

Bear's Breeches, Acanthus mollis has snapdragon-like flowers and deeply lobed, glossy green leaves. The foliage is evergreen in warmer climates (it is native to the Mediterranean). Acanthus mollis will tolerate a wide range of soils provided there is average moisture and good drainage. In southern gardens where conditions are optimum, this plant can spread aggressively. Full sun. Height: 90-150 cm (35-59 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches). USDA zones 7-9

Acanthus hungaricus is hardier than Acanthus mollis. Again it can spread aggressively given ideal conditions. Height: 90-120 cm, Spread 75-90 cm. USDA zones 6-9.

"I am a bit like a magpie, I love garden bling/artwork and the more rocks, the better!", says Mira.

Weeping Redbud, Cercis canadensis 'Ruby Falls' has lavender blooms before the foliage opens in spring. The glossy, maroon, heart-shaped foliage becomes greener as late spring moves into summer. Deciduous. Needs regular water. Part-shade to full sun. Height: 1.8-2.4 meters (6-8 ft), Spread: 1.5-1.8 meters (5-6 ft). USDA zones: 6-8.

A Mulberry tree (left) and a Horstmann's Recurved Contorted Europen Larch, Larix decidua 'Horstmann's Recurva' (right).

One of the many types of Ginkgos in the garden.

At the back of the yard, there is a bed dedicated to ornamental grasses.

"The grass bed is all about movement, as are many of my beloved Japanese Maples–leaves fluttering in the slightest breeze and raindrops hanging from the delicate leaves like jewels", says Mira.

An array of Heuchera edge this flowerbed. 

One last area of the garden to explore. If we head back in the direction of the house, a flagstone path leads down to a patio area. A carpet of Creeping Thyme is slowly spreading to fill in the spaces between the flagstones.

Adjacent to the pathway is the waterfall that Mira designed and had installed.

 If you look closely, you can make out the figure of a mermaid sunning herself on the rocks. There is also a couple of birds and a few frogs perched on the stones.

I hope you've enjoyed your visit to Mira's garden. I'm sure she'd love to hear what you thought.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

How to Grow Siberian Iris

Siberian Irises are such easy, reliable perennials that I tend to take them a bit for granted. I have three different cultivars in my backyard; an indigo blue, a medium purple and a dark inky-blue. I planted them well before I began this blog and started keeping track of plant tags, so I am sorry but I won't be able to identify them for you. The most striking of the three is the deep navy blue iris my Mom gave me.

The Siberian Irises you find in most gardens are a hybrid of two species iris; Iris sibirica and Iris sanguinea.  The two species plants are found primarily in Central Europe and Asia. They grow in grassy meadows which become flooded by streams that surge with runoff from melting snow every spring.

Siberian Irises bloom in mid-spring to early summer (in my zone 6b garden, that's early to mid-June). To be honest, I find their floral display is a bit brief for my liking (approximately 2 weeks) and their foliage can look a bit messy once they've flowered. On the plus side, Siberian Irises flower early in the gardening season when not much else is blooming. They are also relatively low maintenance. After weighing all these characteristics, I still think Siberian Irises are well worth having in your garden.

 Piper among the irises and self-seeded Sweet Rocket (mauve flower).

A purple iris in my garden.

The Siberian Iris I brought home from my Mom's garden.

Here's a quick list of the growing requirements for Siberian Iris:


Full sun is generally recommended for irises. In my garden, the Siberian Irises get morning sun with light afternoon shade and that seems to suit them just fine. I think this works well because conditions here are on the dry side and they get a break from the scorching sun on hot summer afternoons. In terms of the sunlight levels, it seems to be a delicate balancing act–if there was any more shade, I think my Siberian Irises would struggle to grow and bloom.


Siberian Irises flourish in soil that is rich in organic matter. They also prefer soil that is slightly acidic, they are remarkably adaptable to average garden soil.


Unlike bearded iris, Siberian Irises don't like to have their rhizomes exposed to sunlight. Instead, cover the rhizomes of bare-root plants with one to two inches of soil. If you purchase a Siberian Iris in a pot, the soil in the garden should be level with that in the pot. Place plants 1.5-2 feet apart. Water them and continue to provide water regularly in their first season.


The Canadian Iris Society recommends an application of fertilizer early in the spring that is higher in nitrogen, followed by a balanced fertilizer at the end of the bloom cycle when the plant enters a growth phase.


Fortunately for me, Siberian Irises like moisture in the spring but are adaptable to somewhat drier conditions in the summer. Providing adequate moisture throughout the growing season will, of course, encourage healthier, bigger clumps.
If you top dress with a layer of organic matter, it will help conserve moisture and keep the soil cooler for your irises.


I have yet to experience a pest problem with any of my Siberian Irises. They seem to be much more resistant to disease than my bearded irises. While I have been lucky, Siberian Irises can sometimes fall victim to iris borer.
Adult borers are nocturnal moths that lay their eggs on garden debris in late summer or fall. They hatch into one-inch sized larvae that chew their way into the leaves and eat their way down to the rhizomes. Borer damage is often seen as notched wounds or slimy, wet-looking areas on the foliage. Once they eat their way down to the base of the plant, they begin to hollow their way through the rhizomes. In August, they pupate in the soil and hatch into more adult moths.
To deter this pest, keep the rhizomes of your Siberian iris clear of any debris throughout the growing season.

Transplanting and Dividing

Siberian iris can be left undisturbed for several years. You'll know it's time to divide your clump when fresh growth is less vigorous and there are fewer and fewer flowers.
The time to divide older clumps is right after they flower. Over the years, my Siberian Irises have grown into huge clumps–so big I foolishly put off the hard work of digging them up and dividing them. Last spring I finally transplanted smaller pieces to the perimeter of what I hope will be our new pond.
Clumps can be as small as 2 to 4 fan divisions. Don't let the exposed roots of your divisions dry out while you dig a new hole. Place them in a shallow bucket of water while you're working. When you plant the divisions, the rhizomes should be about an inch below the surface (slightly deeper in sandy soil).
 The time you want to spoil your plants with regular watering is right after you transplant the divisions. It will really help them get re-established in their new spot. Keep in mind that it may take as many as 6-8 weeks for them to settle in, so keep a regular watering regime going well into the summer.

Growing Siberian Iris from Seed

If you would like to grow Siberian Iris from seed, leave a few flowers to mature into seed pods. When the seed heads are ripe (in the early fall), they will open slightly at the top. Shell the seed pods. From here there are different ways to proceed. The easiest method is to sow the seeds directly in the fall. Seeds can also be stored in a cool dry place for the winter. I am going to defer to the experts on the Canadian Iris Society website when it comes to the subject of successful germination because it appears to be quite complicated. Here's a link to their advice.


Siberian Irises come in a wide range of colours; blue, purple, white, yellow, white, orange-brown and warm shades of pink or reddish-purple. Here's a quick look at some irises just to give you an idea of the wide range of colors available:

Iris Sibirica 'High Standard'

Iris Sibirica 'Strawberry Social'

Iris Sibirica 'Ranman'

Iris Sibirica 'Royal Herald'

The Canadian Iris Society has a list of plant sources for both Canada and the US (scroll down a little when you get to the Society's webpage). Most nurseries will offer a limited selection in the spring. Mail-order sources offer the biggest array of plants but sadly, for those of you wanting to plant irises this spring, most of these companies do not ship until the fall.

Companion Plants

Siberian Irises look quite nice in groups of two or three complementary colors. Other companion plants should bloom mid-spring, like full sun to part shade and average to moist soil.

A Siberian Iris (right) combined with a dark blue Salvia (centre foreground), a hardy geranium (lower left corner) and Centaurea hypoleuca 'John Coutts' (see in detail below) at the Royal Botanical Garden in Hamilton. 

Knapweed, Centaurea hypoleuca 'John Coutts' is a clump-forming perennial that has lavender-pink flowers and deeply cut grey-green leaves. It is quite happy in poor to average garden soil (it may require staking in rich soil). Deadhead the flowers to encourage reblooming. Attractive to butterflies. Full sun. Height: 50-60 cm (20-23 inches) Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

An unknown type of Siberian Iris paired with a Ligularia and Allium 'Purple Sensation' 

Top row from left to right:
Hardy Geraniums (Cranesbill) The short, rounded shape of hardy geraniums makes them a nice perennial to grow at the feet of a Siberian Iris. Full sun to part-shade.
Lupins have tall floral spires in shades of pink, lavender, purple, red, maroon and white. They like full sun to light shade and moist, well-drained soil. Read more here.
Columbine is a short-lived perennial that have an array of flower forms and colors. Full sun to light shade. Read more about them here.

Bottom row from left to right:
Hardy Salvias have vertical flower spikes on a bushy clump of grey-green leaves. Full sun and average to moist soil.
Lady's Mantle, Alchemilla mollis has soft green foliage that sparkles with raindrops and sprays of chartreuse flowers. Full sun and average to moist soil.
Peonies have big round blooms that contrast nicely with the smaller flowers of a Siberian Iris. Full sun and soil with average moisture.

Siberian Iris (lower right) with Salvia (spikey navy flower in the middle), Crambe Martinia (lower left) and Knapweed, Centaurea hypoleuca 'John Coutts' (behind the metal bench).

Some gardeners will tell you Fumitory is a nuisance self-seeder, but it is easy to pull out where unwanted. It makes a nice companion at the foot my Siberian Iris.

Plant type: Perennial

Height: 2.5-3.5 ft

Spread: 2-2.5 ft

Flower: blue, purple, white, yellow, brown, orange shades and warm shades of pink or reddish-purple

Bloom period: Spring

Leaf: Silvery blue-green to fresh green

Light: Full sun/ light afternoon shade

Growing conditions: Moist, rich, somewhat acidic soil

Move or Divide: In spring after they flower

Problems: Iris Borer

USDA Zones: 3-8

I think you'll find the Siberian irises are a wonderful addition to the garden mid-spring.

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