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.


  1. I love so much of what I see planted in this garden. Of course there are some plants I have not learned about which is always helpful and stirs my interest! This is lovely!

  2. What a beautiful garden stroll! The Weeping Redbud, Cercis canadensis 'Ruby Falls' is intriguing for its size and ability to control it. I was given a couple "rooted branches" of Redbud a few years ago and they are stuck in pots because I found they would grow massive. I love the leaves but I have HOA height restrictions on non-native trees & bushes so my fruit trees keep me busy enough with pruning. Blessings & Cheers!

    1. I admire the The Weeping Redbud, Cercis canadensis 'Ruby Falls' too Sheri and am considering it for my own garden.

  3. I love the flow she has achieved... with her curved beds shaping the little bit of lawn into pathways and "meadows"! It is much of the kind of look I want for my own back yard. I also appreciate the mention of the fact that it took her 5 years... I feel like it will be at least that long and longer for us. But the result is so worth it!

    1. You are not alone Kathleen. Gardening is certainly an act of patience. It takes years to get plants to a certain size and to get the flow between one area and another.

  4. Lovely garden tour and fantastic photos, thanks!

  5. Beautiful !! with such ranges of colour and texture that is what I love as well ..
    The weeping aspect of different types of trees, to roses .. perennials .. grasses .. and so on.
    All wonderful assortments that attract the eye on so many different levels.
    I wish I could reach that point in my own garden . Then again each year our gardens keep changing, so maybe one day I will touch that level !


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