Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Dipladenia is Mandevilla is pretty nice plant

Who'd bother planting geraniums (Pelargonium) in planter boxes, when you could get a show-stopping display like this one at a Leaside pub. These are Mandevilla. And, in fact, so are dipladenias.
Not till after I got a Dipladenia 'Rio' to trial, from Toronto Fling sponsor Fernlea, did I learn the difference between Dipladenia and Mandevilla. There isn't one! They're all Mandevilla now, according to the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. Oh, you darned taxonomists. Bless your hearts.

For some time, I've meant to write about my success with the hot pink 'Rio' Dipladenia (Dipladenia is a synonym for Mandevilla sanderi). Then, the other day, the above display of one of its big Mandevilla cousins halted me in my tracks. Wow. Makes typical planter combos look pretty paltry.

But given that my 'Rio' had to put up with one-fourth of the sunshine, compared with these, I'm impressed, and would grow it again. For a showy flower, it's remarkably easy care. Heat? Drought? No problem. They're also said to stand up to cold, but we haven't put that to the test this summer. They only thing they don't like is soggy feet – because they grow from a tuber. Who knew?

Here's a closeup of what we typically think of as Mandevilla, a vining tropical plant with trumpet-shaped flowers and large, crinkled, shiny leaves. (Ignore the weed on the left that has inserted itself into the planter box.)
And here's my Dipladenia 'Rio', now reclassed as Mandevilla sanderi. In general terms, dipladenias are shrubbier and more compact than the plant people differentiate as Mandevilla. They also have smaller, pointier leaves, without the crinkles. (Don't know why there's resistance to the name change, even from experienced garden writers and the industry. Oh well.) They say my dipladenias can be over-wintered indoors. But given my record with houseplants, I'll take the advice of Mr. Subjunctive – my resource for all things houseplanty – and resist. See Note 4 on his post about a surprising plant relative.
So in a nutshell: Mandevillas are big and vining; dipladenias are small and shrubby, and don't begin to produce vining shoots until late in the season (mine are doing that now). But they're both great plants that we should use more often. And they're both Mandevilla. So say we all. I guess.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Preserving our garden heritage at Parkwood Estate

Fellow Toronto Fling organizers Veronica Sliva and Lorraine Flanigan on our scouting mission to Parkwood Estate
With Mr. TG reading Roch Carrier's Montcalm and Wolfe, I'm reminded how little Canadians know (or care) about the history of their own country. That goes for local history, too. How many Torontonians give a second thought to the history of General Motors, with roots a stone's throw away in Oshawa, planted by R.S. (Sam) McLaughlin? (Read his story at that link when you have time. While probably ghost-written in his voice, it's fascinating. A shorter, less colourful, version here.)

McLaughlin became a fabulously well-to-do auto baron. His Parkwood Estate in Oshawa is now a national historic site and a stop on the Via Rail Canada's Garden Route. Parkwood was most welcoming as we planned the Toronto Garden Bloggers Fling, and we were happy to draw attention to this too-little-known garden. It opened my eyes further to the struggles of historic gardens.

And it leads me to think that Canada needs a nationwide charitable organization like America's Garden Conservancy to help preserve gardens like this. Till then, Parkwood funds itself as best it can, in ways such as memberships, donations, sponsorships and special programs like the upcoming Chair Affair garden benefit evening on Sept. 24, 2015. (It's also a popular set for film and TV. You'd be surprised how often.) Come see what we saw – and then think about coming to see for yourself.

One of my favourite bits of Parkwood is actually indoors: trompe l'oeil murals in almost every room, by Canadian artists Frederick Challener and Frederick Haines. Sadly, indoor photos were nixed for us, so I've borrowed from Parkwood's mansion interiors page. There are many more, and I wish Parkwood could capitalize on them as reproductions for their shop. The photo policy must have differed four years ago – this from 2011 on the Design Guy University blog gives a peek at Parkwood's great interiors. (He follows up with a post on Parkwood's gardens, which you might like to peruse. Later!)
A bevvy of bloggers heads for luncheon, generously sponsored by Parkwood and their official caterer Jubilee Group. We'd sent a specific headgear challenge to our Flingers this year. Had I not been hauling around prizes for our draw, awarding tickets, and figuring out where to announce the winners, you might have seen more photos of their prize-worthy results. My sister Sarah, who was Vanna White for the drawing, cleverly cut out her floral adornments from paint chips.
Special mention to Danger Garden's Loree for her Agavenator! (I caught up with her later in Oshawa's Peony Garden.)
We lunched in the Tea House at the far end of the fountain. Remember that this was once someone's back yard – a very wealthy someone. Parkwood is one of Canada's last grand estates, and these days who is wealthy enough to maintain it as it once was? Over its first three decades, the 1910s to 1930s, the gardens were created by the most prominent designers of their time. Parkwood helped lend vintage allure for us by dressing their garden staff as gardeners of the era. In fact, one of their special programs lets you experience the life of a grand estate gardener for a day. (In case that link doesn't stay live, here's my favourite image from the slideshow, with a group of pre-1930 Parkwood staff right out of Downtown Abbey.) 
Parkwood arranged a couple of volunteers to roam around in authentic vintage duds for our day. The always-dapper Brian Malcolm (right), Parkwood's executive director, with Oshawa Mayor John Henry (in red), who wore vintage-2015 attire. 

This is a throwback from the launch of the 2011 Peony Festival – gorgeous peonies on the other side of that link – allowing me to show the Poseidon fountain, with its spitty Canada geese, and these lovely volunteers. They make it easy to picture the socialites who might have swanned (or Canada goosed?) around the grounds in its heyday.
The Italian Garden, with its beautiful trelliswork, was designed in the 1920s by the husband-wife duo Dunnington-Grubb, founders of Sheridan Nurseries. Apparently, in McLaughlin's time, planters ran along the tops of the trellises to disguise the view of the hospital, which was shorter in those days. Note the Victorian carpet planting in the foreground. 
Parkwood arranged interpretive stations for us throughout the grounds, including a demo of how they create the geometric patterns of carpet beds. I'd never paused to think about how it was done before. Planting styles go in and out of fashion, so preservation of an estate like Parkwood means ensuring that such techniques stay alive. Plant selection overall here tends toward older varieties that might have been contemporary with the McLaughlin tenure. 
The terrace today. Still with lovely bones, and a favourite spot for wedding photos, but there's an "after the parade passes by" quality here when compared to the image below. Granted, it was early June after a long, cold spring, so freshly planted annuals hadn't had the time or the weather to look their best.
The considerably more lushly planted terrace as the McLaughlins might have seen it. I wonder what those kooky topiaries are? McLaughlin owned racehorses, so perhaps…? But when a stately home no longer has a stately owner, and needs money to keep its electrical panel up to date, frills like topiary might have to wait. We saw the result of one restored greenhouse, and I'm glad to see that Parkwood has received a grant to keep that momentum going. 
We were grateful to costumed staff with trays of lemonade in the heat of the early afternoon. 
And here I am sneaking in a picture of myself, with the poppies in the perennial border from June 2011. 
Admission to the gardens at Parkwood Estate is free. There's a small cost for tours of the mansion. Do go inside, and see if it makes you want garden murals on all your walls, like it did me.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

How do you look at a collector's garden?

A shady entrance to the garden of plantswoman Marion Jarvie
Marion Jarvie's seasonal open gardens are a bit of an event among Toronto-area garden aficionados. But, although I'd seen pictures and even taken a class from Marion at the Toronto Botanical Garden, I'd never actually visited until we took the Toronto Fling bloggers there, the week after her May open garden (next will be Sept. 26 and 27, 2015).

Oddly, this is a garden that people seem to either praise or disparage. Why such opposite responses? It's a question I mulled over during our visit – and what I thought about as I edited my pictures.

Marion Jarvie is often called a "plantswoman" – as I do in my opening caption – which most dictionaries define as a woman who loves and knows a lot about plants. We were about to discover that Jarvie's "love" is expressed as a collection. An extensive one. Like hers, my garden is a bit of a living lab, where specimens I get a crush on are put out to sink or swim. But mine is tiny; about as big as Jarvie's entryway. This is a large suburban lot. And it's jam packed with diversity.
Brilliant sunshine at midday is the most unforgiving time to photograph any garden. But a first look at midday in a garden like this is overwhelming. It's essentially a botanical garden on a small scale. And I think that's why people fall into the two opposing camps about it. If you had a garden design mixing board with two sliders, the one labelled "Plants" here would be dialled all the way up to 11. Or 12. Or, heck, 13 or 14. The one labelled "Design" would be somewhere around 7. 
Pam Penick of Digging has the right idea above, zooming in for a closeup. As I reviewed my pictures, I started using the crop feature more and more – trimming the edges with square shots or "golden" crops. It's sort of like archetypal movie director in an old film does, narrowing the view between a frame of thumbs and forefingers. 
With so much to look at, the narrower field helps reduce the "whelm." 
So how should you look at a collector's garden? Maybe a mini botanical garden is like a room in a museum. You wouldn't judge the museum collection by standing back and looking at the whole room. You'd step up to the display cases.
And you'd take a closer look at the specimens. You might even admire how they're arranged.
Sometimes, you might take a step back to look at a single display case.
Or maybe a step or two. But then what? Look at the left of this shot, then look below.
Although a collection is seen as a group of things, it starts with a passion for the individuality of each object. Perhaps a collector's garden is best viewed this way. Rather than looking at the garden and expecting our eye to move across or around it, this type of garden invites our focus to move in and out  – less wide angle, more zoom lens.
A collector doesn't just want a plant to fulfill a design shape, colour or texture. They want to fall in love with it. Specifics matter. When you're lucky, both wants align. What do you think? Does this makes sense to you?
Through the archway, you can see a row of plants still in nursery pots ready to be planted – something a blogger (I wish I could give you proper credit – shout out if it was you) once called "ladies in waiting." I'd love to come back to take a closer look, and under more ideal light conditions. Luckily, I can.
Should we judge a collector's garden by the same criteria as one that's more designerly? Thoughts?

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Formal gardens don't have to be stuffy

The formal herb garden at Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens (with Savvy Gardening gals Amy and Tara)
The act of garden making is an attempt to impose a human's sense of order on the natural world. Even a native garden or, the latest trend, the messy, bedhead garden (a trend that I've been following for years), actively assembles things and organizes them according to the gardener's likes or artistry or whims. Formal or classical gardens may take this to extremes – but they don't have to.

Clipped hedges, topiary, symmetrical beds, or stone paving can be the principal players in a garden. Or they can simply act like the satin ribbon that ties up a casual posy. Here are five gardens from the Toronto Garden Bloggers Fling 2015 that do "formal" in different, sometimes surprising, ways.

(Speaking of garden making, I caught Garden Making magazine editor Beckie Fox at the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens. You'll see the second garden we profile here also in the latest issue No. 23 of her magazine.)
In this photo and one above, see how the clipped hedging and symmetrical plan frame the over-spilling herbs that tumble together in the beds. You can do this on a small scale, too, using formal paths to contain or define your own bedhead garden.  Think how it works in fashion. Ripped jeans move from messy to pulled together if worn with a Chanel jacket. 
Rose gardens are formal in two ways: they're a collection, and they're laid out in a formal plan. Here's the one at Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens and School of Horticulture (get an overhead view at the school's website) and the NPBG and school superintendent Charles Hunter. If you visit the Niagara Region, do go see this excellent botanical garden.
You expect a botanical garden to have at least one garden that's formal. But how does that work for regular folk? This garden created by its owner in Niagara-on-the-Lake shows how formality can be scaled down to fit a residential site.
How about that? This view at the end of a rectangular lawn has all the classical elements: symmetry, stonework, statuary, clipped boxwood parterres, a limited colour palette, and, and, and…. (Zip over to Garden Making to see it all from the opposite end.) While much of it might seem to be be lifted right off the Acropolis, the gardener has kept it in scale with his property, and tied it to his home by using the same colours and materials. 
This might not be your garden style. But, even if it isn't, wouldn't it be charming to sit here for an afternoon with a cup of tea or glass of wine, imagining what you'd plant in those box squares instead of the white peonies? The simplicity of lines and colours – and the openness between the house and summer house – saves it from feeling overly ornate or fussy.
Back in Toronto's Forest Hill, we have formal on a tinier scale – that gorgeous greenhouse and the row of stepping stones leading to a circle of boxwood balls. Any shaping that takes a plant away from its natural growth pattern is a nod to formality. Even this quirky clippery. Do you have garden beds that might be anchored by a single formal shape?
How about the other Forest Hill garden we saw? While formal in layout, the mould is broken by their choice of plants. In one rectangular bed, grasses are used the way boxwood hedges might have been, to contain an exuberance of alliums. In the other, a tufty "lawn" is made of interplanted sedges and Eco-Lawn. This is like that Chanel jacket we talked about, but made of denim – or burlap. Think about how you might turn a tradition on its ear through plant selection.
Finally, the wonderful Knot Garden at the Toronto Botanical Garden, with its whorls and curlicues. As they say at their link, they've taken the traditional practice of pruning and given it an "abstract, contemporary twist." Other gardens that do this in their own way are Veddw in Wales and Piet Oudolf's private garden at Hummelo (which fellow Torontonian, writer and blogger Tony Spencer captures on The New Perennialist). How might you put a fresh spin on a formal technique?
Why not shake up the formal dice and give them a toss? You might come up with an unexpected win.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Texture in the garden, Niagara-on-the-Lake

We didn't know what to expect behind the gate of The Green Room
Once I stepped across the threshold, one word jumped into my brain: Texture! Say it slowly, say it often: Texture, texture, texture. When your garden is (mostly) green-on-green, contrasting textures, like all these delicious whorls, fringes and planes, can can be as strong as contrasting colours.

The Green Room – though really less monochromatic than a duochromatic (yes, apparently it's a word) green and burgundy – acts as an anteroom to the main garden and living space. And while this lakeside garden in Niagara-on-the-Lake is lust-afterable on many levels, let's focus on textures here.

Theatrical, the Green Room certainly is. Dramatic in its simplicity. Green Japanese maples rather than the more typical, showier reds, catch the light to resemble green fountains against the dark, wavy foliage of Hinoki false cypress hedging. How different the texture of that hedge would be if they'd used regular cedars. Rustic basketry skirts the base of each tree – yet it somehow echoes the visual texture of the ladder-back of the classic bench.
You get a closer look at the ruffled hedging texture here, along with the smoother, formal plane of the clipped boxwood and the soft velvet of the grass. (As an aside, keep your eye out for that lamp, repeated throughout the garden.)
We transition to the next space through this intricate (much photographed) gate. Trying to describe it is playing with my head a bit, so forgive me if I ramble like an idiot. But I love how all the subjects from nature, ones that would be highly textured themselves – sticks and leaves, feathers and fur – are rendered in hard, smooth metal. Yet the matte surface gives it all a soft glow. There, now. Have I done your head in, too?
While you're thinking about texture, think how a reflective surface like a pool is both smooth in itself, and a mirror to both reflect and transform other textures in the garden. Like this amazing moon wall of tumbled stone. Squint your eyes and try to picture the same wall in a different material. Would it work as well in rectangular brick? Discuss.
I've seen stone like this washed up on Great Lakes pebble beaches. It's a fitting material to use on a grassy terrace overlooking Lake Ontario (and Fort Niagara). With the rounded stones, the nubbled surface of the wall and steps manages to seem both soft and hard. The metal bench reminds me of that amazing sculptured gate. And there's that lamp again.
Now we are back in the pool court. Roundness shows up here in both the stones and in cushions shaped like checkers pieces. The checkerboard paving irons out the colours of the stonework. Everything makes me want to touch it. 
Here's the moon wall and pool again. Just because. The checkered paving sits on the same plane as the water surface. Smooth on smooth on smashing.
Now I couldn't imagine having a property like the one we've been looking at. But it doesn't mean I can't take away ideas – like this from another, equally spectacular garden in Niagara-on-the-Lake – such as thinking more about the textures of plants and materials, and how to mix them in my garden. Share your tips in the comments. I'd love to hear them.