Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Garden of Author & Humorist David Hobson, Part 2

In this, the second post on David Hobson's garden, I'd like to focus in on the design and layout and highlight a few more of the standout plants. 

For any readers who missed Part 1, David Hobson is an author and newspaper columnist who gardens in Waterloo, Ontario. The home he shares with his lovely wife sits on an average-sized suburban lot, but there are so many distinct areas of visual interest that the limitations of its boundaries aren't the thing that you notice. As with any well-designed outdoor space, the garden reveals itself slowly with one discovery after another. A brick path, that starts at the side gate, branches in several directions at the back of the house. Follow the main path down one side of the yard and you might find yourself in the vegetable garden at the very back of the property. Turn down a short offshoot and you'll find yourself standing on a small lawn surrounded by flowerbeds on all sides. Cross the grass and another branch of the pathway takes you to a patio area, the deck and small pond. It's a great example of how clever design can influence the way you experience a garden. 

In so many of the backyards I visit, the garden skirts the perimeter of the property and the lawn is the empty void in the centre. This approach always feels a bit forced and unnatural. In David's garden, the flowerbeds not only skirt the perimeter of the backyard, but they also curve into the central core of this outdoor space. The lawn is no longer an isolated monoculture. It feels integrated into the overall layout of the garden.

When it came to creating his garden, David was quite resourceful.

"It evolved in general with some planning of the elements. It's a bit of a budget three-R garden –as materials became available, I incorporated them, such as using old barn-board for the fence and a chance opportunity to reclaim bricks for the patios. I used scavenged rocks wherever I found them. The first liner for the pond was a piece of a terrible aqua blue swimming pool liner. Everything else I built," he says.

Occasionally David will use potted plants to fill the empty spaces left by early bloomers, but often container plantings end up in the garden simply because he has potted up too many plants.

Tenets of traditional garden design recommend groupings of three to five perennials for maximum visual impact. That may be all well and good if you have an English manor house and acres of land. On the other hand, if you are a plant collector like David, with a typical suburban lot, you have to rethink such old-fashioned principals.

In David's modest backyard, there just isn't room for multiples. Most of the time, he's lucky to find room for just one of everything. You might think that mixing a wide range of individual plants would have the potential to make the garden seem a bit disjointed and higgledy-piggledy. In actuality, David's one-of-a-kind approach works quite nicely.  Repeated colors, shapes and textures help the whole garden hang together very nicely.

A nodding Allium (sorry, not sure of the specific type).

Staghorn Sumac, Rhus typhina 'Bailtiger' Tiger Eyes is a dwarf Sumac cultivar. Staghorn Sumacs are named for the reddish-brown hairs that cover their young branches much like the velvet that covers the antlers of a male deer. The great thing about this Sumac is there is minimal suckering (unlike the species Rhus typhina). This shrub can be grown in well-drained, average garden soil. Long, odd-pinnate leaves are bright yellow-green when they emerge and turn shades of yellow, orange and red in the fall. Female flowers produce showy pyramidal fruiting clusters that become bright red in the fall. Full sun or light shade. Height: 3-6ft, Spread: 3-6ft. USDA zones: 4-8.


Reference to a similar Globe Thistle:
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.


An evergreen hedge separates the prettier parts of the garden from the more practical area used for growing vegetables. If you walk through the arbour (see above) you'll find a modest greenhouse, tomatoes and a wide range of other edibles.

The yellow Yarrow. A similar phlox might be 'Laura' or 'Purple Flame'

"I've had this common yellow yarrow–say that ten times quickly– so long I'm beginning to think I planted it in a previous life", David jokes. "There are numerous colors of yarrow available in all sizes and they are one of the easiest perennials to grow. Yarrow requires full to part sun, good drainage and little to no fertilizer. Once established they are drought tolerant," says David.

Sempervivum requires very little soil so they are quite at home on this hypertufa "straw" hat.

One of the most whimsical of odd-ball container plantings in David's garden are these straw hats. They are made using hypertufa (a mixture of peat moss, perlite (or vermiculite) and Portland cement).

"The thing to remember here is you have to have plants that survive without much moisture. Hens and chicks, little sedums; they do fine," says David.

Watch a video about David's unique container plantings.

To make this obelisk David repurposed the boom from an old teak windsurfer. 
The metal rings are barrel hoops. 

"I knocked this together from old barrel hoops. the beauty of an obelisk is it can be out in the open and you can view the plants from all sides," says David.

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.

"Veronica are neat and tidy plants that are beautiful in or out of flower. They are carefree and easy-to-grow perennials preferring mainly full sun. Butterflies and hummingbirds love them too. They are commonly known as Speedwell," David advises.

Weigela 'My Monet' is a dwarf shrub that has green and white foliage which changes according to light exposure. To encourage a pinkish tinge to the foliage, plant this shrub it in full sun. 'My Monet' prefers well-drained soil but is adaptable to a variety of soils. Average moisture conditions. Slow growth rate. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), spread: 45-60 cm (18-24 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Lilies of all types are great to have in the garden for mid-summer color.

In the distance, an Amur Maple, that can reach a height of 18 ft and spread of 10 ft, 
creates a shady corner.

Curiosity draws author and humorist David Hobson out into his garden. 

"What I really enjoy is going out into my garden each day and discovering something new. It might be a new plant coming into bloom; it could be an insect, or it might be a bird," he says.

Ligularia and an Astrantia

This original take on a "boxwood ball" os mone of the garden's many novelties. To make it, David placed a pot of annual flowers in a hollowed out depression at the top of the clipped box.  

One of the nicest spots to sit and relax is right at the back of the house. There is the pleasant sound of water and the dark reflective surface of the pond. 

The thick carpet of chartreuse moss and the firey-red color of the Red Fountain Grass are a stunning example of how to use texture and color in a garden. 

Scotch Moss, Sagina subulata 'Aurea' has chartreuse to yellow moss-like foliage and tiny white flowers in the spring. Tolerates moderate foot traffic and is often used among flagstones in pathways. Scotch moss requires well-drained moist soil and may require regular watering. Full to part-sun. Height: 1 inch. USDA zones: 4-8.

Red Fountain Grass, Pennisetum on a carpet of Scotch Moss, Sagina subulata 'Aurea'.

Swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata is native to most of the U.S. and Eastern Canada. Though it is found in swamps and wet meadows, is adaptable to average, well-drained garden soil. This plant has a tall, slender, vase-like shape and pinkish-magenta flowers that have a faint vanilla fragrance. The one thing this plant does not like is over-fertilization which can inhibit flowering. Swamp milkweed is easily grown from seed. Once mature, it has a deep taproot that makes it difficult to move. Swamp milkweed does have one drawback. It can be a rather prolific self-seeder. It likes full sun, but I have also grown it in light shade.  Height: 4-6 ft, Spread: 2-3 ft. USDA zones: 3-9.

Blood Grass, Imperata cylindrica 

I am going to end with another of David's videos–this one about long-blooming perennials. Enjoy!


  1. So many beautiful plants and creative ideas! Absolutely LOVE that Red Fountain Grass on the Scotch Moss--just stunning. And the background of evergreens and shrubs really anchors the borders. Thanks for you wonderful photos and for sharing them with us!

    1. I think the red fountain grass and scotch moss are an amazing combination too Karen. The moss was as dense as a carpet! I am busy trying to figure out an area in my own garden to try growing some of this moss.

    2. What a joy on the rainy day in Springfield,VA to get a post of my most famous gardener. David is a creative source and his garden is a feast of ideas for any gardener. He has given names of his plants and have shared how he collects and turn trash into treasures. Thank you David for allowing us to peek into your happy place.

  2. Delightful and lots of great tips!


Apologies, comments are disabled at this time.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.