Friday, August 22, 2014

Two practical ideas for a split-level garden

Large firepit sitting area from designer-retailer JJ deSousa's garden in Portland, OR
Are you stuck with a garden that isn't "on the level" – so sloped, it creates awkward changes in elevation? Want to turn that negative into a positive? Well, our promise to bring back ideas from the Garden Bloggers' Fling in Portland OR begins here with thoughts on that very subject.

On a hot, hot day in July, as I toured the garden of Digs Inside & Out owner-designer JJ deSousa I was quietly (sometimes not so quietly) swearing to myself. It was so full of ideas! One of the biggest was the simple use of space, using raised planes to literally take the garden to the next level.

See how private and spacious deSousa's dining deck feels? Set on the highest plane, it overlooks the garden's far reaches.
Here, you can see how the spaces work together. Imagine if both were on the same level. Wouldn't the closeness make them feel congested? The wall behind the sectional seating actually adds cozy enclosure to the firepit area. And, when entertaining a really big group, there's the chance for either interaction or separation between the two conversation groups. 
I was blown away by JJ deSousa's designer flourishes. This gal knows how to work with a colour theme! More on that in other posts. But the idea of making the most of enforced elevation changes works even with a simpler touch. Look at this garden from Toronto's Beach Garden Tour 2014.

Like many Beach gardens, this garden had sharp slopes at its edges. One of the strategies was to create tiered raised beds on two facing sides – anchored by this elevated water feature beside the garden gate.
Another view of the side beds. (The tree that seems to grow from the top of the light pillar isn't some odd kind of planter.
It's a photographer's error. Mea culpa.)
And here's the best trick. Rather than risk planting the steep back slope, they've turned it into a raised stone patio in the cool shade of overhanging trees. It's a nice focal point from the house, too, drawing the eye to the back of the garden.
What do you think of these solutions? Would do something else instead? I'd love to hear your ideas.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dotty for Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty'

Endearingly polka-dotted and charmingly shaped, the plate-sized leaves of Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty'
Another reason to thank Marie the Gardenbug: she introduced me to this cool plant, known only to me by name before. It's an exotic hybrid cousin of our native may-apple called Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty'. For info on this dramatic family of plants, see this from the Pacific Horticulture Society.

Marie grows it in part shade in a wet, wet area of her garden – in fact, her river swamps it every spring. So, given my dry shade garden, this baby is off-limits to me, except in my most fantastical dreams. But what a beauty, eh? Hardy to USDA Z6, but you might succeed, as Marie does, in a colder zone with reliable snow cover – the overflowing stream is optional.

Hidden beneath the foliage are these attractive flowers. The pale blobs are the "apples" beginning to form.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Giving myself a big bunch of bee balm

A bee's-eye view of scarlet bee balm, Monarda didyma
I need cheering up, after nearly ten days of being seriously under the weather. What could be cheerier than the bold blast of colour that comes from our native North American bee balm (Monarda spp.) and its hybrid cousins – many of which are blooming right now, and some since ![< Oops. See the product of my under-the-weatherness? Meant to write "since midsummer"]

The short story on bee balm is: it's easy to grow, there are species suited to different growing conditions, plus some people consider it a herb as much as an ornamental flower. (I'm using its ornamental qualities as a medicinal tonic for my mood right now. Please think healing thoughts!)

I'm afraid the short story is pretty much all you'll get from me today – except for this big bunch of pictures. For another inspiring look at this flower, head over to Janet Davis's The Paintbox Garden.

At Sarah's country schoolhouse, pale purple Monarda fistulosa is making pretty patterns with phlox and echinacea
Taken last month in the display garden at Joy Creek Nursery near Portland OR – I'll share more from that trip soon. You might be able to figure out the species and cultivar, and you will get growing information, from Joy Creek's online catalog
A compact pink cultivar, also taken at Joy Creek. Monarda is generally hardy from Z4-9, so works in Toronto, too.
Bee balm isn't just for bees. This patch at Oregon's Westwind Farm Studio was a hummingbird magnet.
Plant it, and see who comes to call.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Gardenbug takes leave of 200 clematis

A tantalizing establishing shot of the clematis collection chez Marie
Before she left it all to move to Northern BC, oh!, was I lucky to visit Marie the Gardenbug to wander awestruck through her early-July garden – including her collection of over 200 clematis! Yes, that thought deserves two exclamation marks. If not more.

We can hardly do justice to 200 clematis here, let alone the charming, 11-acre farm near Elora, with its pond, river, rustic bridge and lush borders of perennials, shrubs and trees. Besides, like any gardener after a big downpour whose garden is about to be descended on, Marie bemoaned, "You should've seen it yesterday." But, join me and let's try.

The clematis garden was actually the last garden we visited, but let's start here. Wish I had a better shot of the central walk and cedar arbors, built of local split-rail fencing. This hints at the effect.
Here's the long shot. I'm hoping that Blogger will allow you to click on the image to embiggen it. Do, then come back.
Seventeen years of gardenmaking is a lot to leave behind, and a number of special plants will be moving with Marie and her husband to their new home across the continent. And there are so many that could be called special plants – most specially, clematis of almost every colour, shape and substance. They aren't restricted to the clematis garden, either. Walk around the farmhouse with me.

Right by the entrance are the bell-shaped form of Clematis 'Odoriba'
Dark purple Clematis 'Romantika' contrasts with the golden foliage of a full-moon Japanese maple
The twisty pink petals of non-climbing Clematis integrifolia 'Aljonushka' which Marie calls "a thug." A nice thug to have!
As you turn the first corner, Clematis texensis 'Duchess of Albany' reaches out from a pillar of the porch
On the far side of the house, delicate Clematis 'Marmori' (the Estonian word for "marble')
Just a few of the species and cultivars we met on our circuit, these rambled through shrubs, up pillars, and clambered up supports by Rusty Girl, one of my long-time favourites. Then came the wow of the large, sunny clematis garden – which also featured roses and a long, feathery bed of asparagus. Wow.

Good substance gives Clematis texensis 'Buckland Beauty' that glossy surface
One of the delights of the cedar arbors is the way different clematis mix and mingle like a standing bouquet. Here, bell-shaped Clematis 'Fudo' – a Japanese hybrid with C. texensis parentage – with C. viticella 'Margaret Hunt'.
Many (many!) clematis were ones I'd never seen before, but certainly new to me was this one. Look at the thickness of those tepals, and see how the flowers set in neat pairs. This is a lavender form of Clematis fusca, also called Clematis ianthina.
Not all were rarities. Here are the wonderful old-fashioned white flowers of Clematis 'Huldine' (with friend). Marie encourages you to grow 'Huldine' where you can also appreciate the finely striped reverse of the tepals.
Elegant texensis hybrid Clematis 'Princess Diana' (set noticeably apart from C. 'Prince Charles'), and in the background…
…one of Marie's newer loves, Clematis viorna 'Mrs. Harvey'. I agree. She's a looker.
I asked Marie to ID this profusion, but I suspect we have a blend. One, Marie thinks from my picture, might be the one tongue-twistingly called Clematis 'Sizaia Ptitsa', a member of the integrifolia group. (Perhaps she'll set me straight if it isn't.)
Wish you could see them all! To browse through a bit more of her collection, check out Marie's own blog Gardenbug World, especially here, here and here in 2012, and here and here in 2013.

When I finally asked the secret of her success, Marie shared this. (After you read it, enjoy a last couple of beauties and meet Gardenbug herself.)
Honestly, I don't follow rules. I seldom fertilize clematis. I select varieties quite carefully though, sticking pretty much with Group 3 pruning group, the ones pruned back in early spring (sometimes in the snow even...). Ones that are famous for powdery mildew I avoid – 'Etoile Rose' for example.
I weed and compost around them in late autumn. In spring, I use clips to attach them to structures when they are in early growth. This is a big effort as they grow fast and furiously for several weeks and I can't travel at that time.  Then I keep my eye on them.
There are plants that turn brown or wilt and frustrate at any time... but that does not mean they are dead. Remember the 3-year rule: First year sleep; second year creep; third year (or 4th) leap! It is even true, not just a cute saying. True for many plants, actually.

One main bit of advice is to follow instructions for planting. If they say dig a two foot hole, do so, and fill it as suggested.
For a minuscule plant (called a plug or a "liner"), I suggest leaving it in a pot planted in your garden (or veg garden) for a year or two with a stake to attach it to.
Be attentive to watering all clematis, even in early spring. If allowed to dry out by accident, they may weaken and get mildew from over watering later on. Erratic watering confuses them. Generally, they love sun.
Heading back to the front door, we pass bounteous Clematis viticella 'Jenny' (Cedergren).
And get a load of the unique marbling on Clematis 'Tie Dye' – a neat way to close the collection.
Thank you, Marie! Wishing you, yours and all your special plants a safe journey and a great new beginning. (And thanks to my good friend Lynn for getting me through the garden gate.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Get thee to Buffalo for Garden Walk

The Locke-Irey garden alone (seen here with a hint of Buffalo's many charming streetscapes), will have as many as 4000 visitors over the Garden Walk weekend.
If you'd told us five years ago that we would eagerly visit Buffalo, Buffalo!, as a garden destination, we might have looked at you sideways.

That was before, through Twitter and other social media, we met amazing, hard-core gardeners who are actual Buffalonians. In 2010, the lid was blown off our outdated notions (Fire in North Tonawanda!) by visiting Buffalo on a Fling – a big annual meet-up of garden bloggers – as a preview of their annual Garden Walk, always on the last weekend in July. We immediately fell in love.

A few of the hundreds of Buffalo gardeners who invite you to Garden Walk. Clockwise, from large shot: Jennifer; Claire (showing Sarah the plan for her part-garden/part-art installation); Mike (centre, chatting with Helen and Visit Buffalo Niagara veep Ed Healy); Gordon and Brian; Annabelle and Jim; Dom and Arlan. All graciously gave us a pre-Walk preview.
In 2014, the 20th annual Garden Walk features nearly 400 open gardens. Four hundred! And they're all free to visit on the last weekend in July – this year, July 26 and 27. After visiting just a handful and chatting at length with the gardeners, we once again find ourselves more than happy to live so close to such a stellar gardening city. People in Buffalo are garden crazy. Toronto has a lot to learn from our neighbours to the ever-so-slightly south.

Oh, just another house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
The Buffalo backdrop is really sensational, with its wide streets and planted boulevards, Olmsted-designed park system (he of Central Park fame), clusters of unique neighbourhoods, delightfully idiosyncratic architecture with brightly painted wood houses, and a Frank Lloyd Wright house or few thrown into the mix. Once upon a time, Buffalo was the wealthiest city in the United States, and it still bears that patrician bone structure.

Arlan has opened his garden to the public for 19 of Garden Walk's 20 years, and his miniature moss village is only one of the surprises there. We're also ready to steal his idea for a greenhouse, which we'll share later.
In the gardens, we saw many ingenious solutions for common problems – like Arlan's greenhouse, whose outer wall flips up like an awning to become a roof for sheltered deck seating. Great space-saving idea. Or the ways Jennifer used paint to turn inexpensive plastic pots into something special.

Buffalo isn't perfect by any means. However, it really is more than Toronto thinks it is, and Garden Walk, with the month-long garden festival leading up to it, has helped make it so. You owe it to yourself to think outside of the discount malls and get yourself downtown. Do it during Garden Walk, and you'll want to return. Guaranteed. We certainly do!

Where else would one buy a house, tear it down, and replace it with a garden, accented with art and open to the public – as Mike did? Buffalo, you're our kind of gardening city. P.S. That isn't an eagle, it's an osprey.
These are folk who relax in their gardens, and make them work hard, too. We love Gordon and Brian's tiki bar. But just around the corner by the garage is a whole passel of home-made grow boxes full of peppers and tomatoes.
Jennifer wanted an umbrella stand independent of a dining table. So she drilled a suitable hole in a planter, added a sleeve of tubing to protect the wooden umbrella pole and threaded the sleeve, pot and base together. VoilĂ ! Made for the shade. By the way, she laid every one of those bricks herself. And there are many. Yes, she did.
Over two decades of Garden Walk, Buffalo has developed a culture of gardening and its own style of garden – it's great to see, and you should. So, get thee hence, and let's bring some of that big garden spirit back to Toronto!