This rustic barn board birdhouse, picked up at a local art show, is mounted on a spindle leg with a spike for anchoring. Garden art that is easy to move about the garden is a helpful tool. Over the season it gets repositioned through different beds to fill holes, to support blooms, or to change things up. As above, whether accompanying coreopsis, nasturtiums or snow, this fetching birdhouse is another contrasting contributor for adding whimsy, delight and variety in the garden. And despite the early snow photo above, I do tuck this little fave away for the thick of winter as I want it to last. Read more about garden art by clicking here.
There are many articles on ‘dealing’ with cats in the garden. I may just have really good luck, but I have had cats my entire life and have never had problems with them in the garden. In fact, they have been and are wonderful garden companions. They lay in the sun while I work; they prompt welcome breaks with a rub against my ankles looking for a pet; they romp and play fight to entertain. I will comment that an easy solution for misguided digging in the garden is to dump a bag of play sand in an out of the way spot, just for the cats. Otherwise, I bask in the glory of their presence!
Certainly plants are the best part of the garden, but ornamentation adds interest, surprise, texture, contrast to make the experience even richer. Above are some of my cherished ornamental additions. My gentle mama bird in quiet cream nestles in a part shade bed, often with some rounded stone eggs nearby. Each season she adopts a bit more green smudge from the garden. The romantic dancing couple in rugged concrete seem to twirl amongst the hostas (both of these sculptures are by the amazing Paul Chester, www.paulchester.com). Any fairy that rides a turtle and blows kisses has a home in my garden. And this rusty red sprite has traveled from ground to post to terra cotta pot depending on the year (from another awesome artist, Jean Pierre Schoss, www.dogbitesteel.com). So much personality in crazy hair, dancing arms and curly toes, always makes me smile – and that is the key to garden decoration! Check out more ideas here and here.
Chunks of wood in the garden add texture, contrast and height with a natural, gnarled flare! I am always sad to see an old tree come down, but do my best to recycle the rough and rugged pieces into the garden - be it as stools, tables, or sturdy bases to display treasures like the birdbath or large birdhouse above. Tucked into garden beds, chunks of wood make effective raised pedestals for pots of annuals, and the extra height is perfect for pots of trailing lobelia or fuchsia. They can take a beating, getting richer with weather and age. And the additional adornment of lichen, just melds them into the garden even more.
Is part shade and part sun the same thing? Technically they are different, but only slightly. There are varying definitions for sunlight requirements. I like to use: full sun is 6 or more hours of direct sunlight, part sun is 4-6 hours, part shade is 2-4 hours and shade is less than 2 hours. Often part sun and part shade are grouped together as plants needing 2-6 hours of sunlight. If a plant is labelled part sun, you would know it likes the top of that range, versus part shade preferring the bottom of the range. Shade can be defined as less than 2, or 3 or sometimes 4 hours of sunlight. This can depend on the ‘type’ of sunlight. Morning sun is easier for part shade or shade plants to tolerate, while the more intense midday and afternoon sun is adored by full sun plants like blanket flower. The moisture and fertility level of the soil also plays a role; this is where research on the plant will give you more detail on their preferred conditions. And preferences are just that. In their preferred siting, plants will give you their best performance, but they may perform, just not as well, outside of that siting. Many perennials, such as daylilies and coneflowers, can flex from full sun into part sun, less sunshine just equals fewer blooms. Other perennials like lady’s mantle and coral bells can survive in full sun to shade, with larger, heavier blooming plants that can burn out in full sun, and smaller, leggy plants with few blooms in the shade – again, their best performance is in their preferred location of part shade or part sun.
The best bulb planting advice I can give? Get them in the ground! Please don’t choose a collection of lovely packages and then not plant them – get them in the ground! The reward come spring is exploding cheerful, vivid blooms that brighten everyone’s gardens and spirits. Most bulbs like full sun and good drainage, with big bulbs getting planted 6”-8” deep and small bulbs at 2”-4” deep. The package will provide the details you need including planting depth, bloom time and plant height. Plant bulbs in clusters or drifts, and consider what perennials or shrubs will leaf out to handily cover your browning bulb foliage. A dibber, hand held bulb planter or hand trowel work great for planting smaller bulbs. For larger bulbs or a large quantity of bulbs, I love my ‘planter shovel’ from Lee Valley. Squirrels are not fond of several bulb varieties: daffodils, crocus, hyacinth, alliums, fritillaria, snow drops. Now is the time – I plant spring blooming bulbs around Halloween, preferably when there is a last warmish day but the soil has cooled, and even better if a pending rain is in the forecast. So I am off to the garden with my pail of bulbs! Read more about tulips here and here, and read about alliums here.
September is a good time to edit. Take a meander around your garden and make a few notes… Have you had succession of bloom, do you need to add spring, summer or fall bloomers?
Are there plants that are not thriving in your conditions that should be replaced with a better suited candidate?
With your plants now fully grown, gaps can be better identified than in the spring – are there any spaces that need new life?
Are there plants that have become over grown, and need to be pruned or split?
Are there areas that need colour, texture or vertical additions for contrast or interest?
September is a good time to plant perennials, so you can act on some of your editing thoughts now! Of course, you can also add plants just because there is new beauty that you need to have. My trip to the garden center this week brought home a vivid and velvety ‘salsa red’ coneflower, two luscious hardy hibiscus, a sultry black mondo grass, and a brilliant aralia ‘sun king’.
Little tip – when planting in September, add a jug of water to the bottom on your hole before planting the new perennial, this gives the roots some inspiration to grow deep.
Pungent, spicy, aromatic...culinary herbs bring texture, depth and a whole other world of scent to the garden! When walking my path, with thyme amongst the stepping stones, and mint mixed in the plantings, you need only slightly brush these herbs to release their fragrant rush. Some herbs such as basil, rosemary and dill are annuals, but many herbs like sage, lavender, mint, thyme and lemon balm are perennials – just check the labels for zone information as there are many varieties. The lavender and sage below are over 10 yrs old. You cannot mention mint without a big warning on its invasive quality. Mint needs a well contained bed of its own, or preferably a big pot to keep it contained. Of course culinary herbs make one of the best container gardens. I have herbs in pots, in the veggie garden and mixed in the perennial gardens. For me, culinary herbs make the garden interactive: a caress of rosemary transfers my thoughts to the Mediterranean, a snack of mint or parsley awakens the palate, a leaf of lemon balm refreshes, velvety sage makes me think of holiday dinners, and dill makes me crave dips and pickles!
Take the time for a garden walk about. Spoil your senses: take a deep breath of alyssum, sample a leaf of mint, sprig of parsley or a sweet berry, be soothed by the breeze rustling the grasses, and delight in the blooms and foliage in lush display. During my indulgent walk about, I take note of pleasing plant combinations, or ‘colour bundles’ as I sometimes call them. A simple red begonia sets off rust and green coleus. Blanket flower and rose campion are a 'hot' mix. Creamy white hydrangea is the perfect backdrop to mauve spikes of flowering hosta. Brunnera, bugle weed and bleeding heart encircle smooth pink granite. Plumes of astilbe complement the purple-green bronze of chocolate boneset. Coral bells in palace purple, silky elephant ears, Japanese grass and weigela mix colour and texture to lovely effect. The artful painted fern draws together two coral bells. Two geraniums mingle their happy faces. Yellow loosestrife and bee balm surround a bright birdhouse. There is much thought and work in creating these pockets of beauty, we have to be sure to take the time to relish their show!
There are many ways to create a new garden bed – digging up grass, tarp the area for a season, or lasagna gardening. I am a big fan of lasagna gardening, especially since I avoid the slog of digging up turf. I also believe that grass holds lots of nutrition and supports an ecosystem that can become the base for your new garden. If you are not familiar with lasagna gardening, it is layering on top of existing grass to build a raised bed. The approach can vary depending on your garden bed plans. The easiest approach is to plant shrubs for now, planning to add perennials next year. The shrubs can be planted into the grass, being sure amended soil with no grass roots is used to fill around the new shrubs. If you have old leaves, compost or other organic material, this can be spread on top of the grass. With shrubs now in place, a layer of newspaper (3-4 sheets thick) or cardboard is laid over the grass to cover the entire area of your new bed (leaving a good 3” ring around the new shrubs, where you should remove any grass roots left after planting). There should be no grass roots above newspaper! Edge a good trough around the perimeter – I ‘double edge’, or edge two good rounds. Then top the newspaper with about 3”+ of soil, and then about 3”+ of mulch (I prefer natural shredded cedar mulch). The following year you can dig into the bed to add perennials, amending soil as needed. This same approach can be used without pre-planting the shrubs. It would just be more of a raised bed, adding 12”+ of triple mix on top of the newspaper, which you can then plant perennials as desired. And it is so satisfyingly pleasant to plant in fresh triple mix!
Poppy buds and blooms are captivating, enthralling and absolutely joyous! I can’t take enough photos of the bulging buds, the bursting blooms, the raucous petals open to the sun, and then the fading, dripping blossoms that leave intricate seed pods. Oriental poppies are striking, brilliant…and an indulgence. Their large, furry, pronged leaves have a sprawling habit that takes up real estate hard to justify in a small garden. And after blooming, the fuzzy foliage browns as it moves into unattractive hibernation for next spring’s show. I have tried to under plant with several perennials, with no luck as the poppy foliage has been too vigorous through the spring for other plants to coexist. My best approach has been to plant other perennials around the poppies that grow up to surround and hide the browning foliage. Rudbeckia or yarrow both do well to rise up and embrace the browning leaves in camouflage. Photos above of this year’s crop, and if you missed my more detailed post on poppies, you click this link to read more!
Even though my garden is stuffed full of plants, every year I buy more. Some perennials die out and need replacing; I may expand a bed, add a new bed, or find a little bare spot where I can just ‘tuck something in there’. And so do I add a staple, a favourite, or an experiment? To earn the accolade of being a staple perennial (which I also call work horses), there are two huge criteria: performance, and ease of care. A staple perennial has multiple desirable attributes that provide show and garden structure over the growing season, for example: long bloom time, detailed or changing foliage, funky seed heads, or spectacular colour, which includes shades of green. Ease of care is important for any garden – you need bones that don’t take big work so you can enjoy. Easy care perennials are often drought tolerant, adaptable in siting for sun exposure and soil conditions, and don’t require much if any pruning, deadheading or support. What makes a favourite perennial is another discussion – this is more personal, where we crave a stellar bloom even though it may be short lived, we want a certain clear blue colour, or maybe a remembered fragrance of rose, and we may be willing to do extra work to get it. The best is when a favourite perennial is also a work horse! Below I have included a few photos of perennials blooming in the garden now – some favourites and some staples…
This can be an intense time of year in the garden. The May long weekend is traditionally a ‘garden work’ weekend. Many shrubs want to be pruned before they leaf out, the earth is warm and pliable for transplanting, the nubs of hosta are nosing out of the ground with big clusters begging to be split, and the list goes on. Plus the greenhouses are bursting with goodies. It is easy to get overwhelmed! I list what I want to do (I prefer ‘want to do’ lists vs ‘to do’ lists), prioritize it, and get done what I can. The basic list includes:
- Prune as needed – generally for shrubs, summer and autumn bloomers are pruned early spring, and spring bloomers are pruned right after they bloom
- Clean beds of bulky debris, matted leaves, weeds
- Transplant, add new plants, split as needed
- Add compost or aged manure, top up mulch as needed
I do about half my clean up in the fall, leaving over winter the plants that provide winter interest and food for the birds. I don’t want a mat of leaves on the ground once spring sprouting starts, but I do leave scattered leaves. The best is to use gloved hands to crunch and tear the leaves into pieces. Then let the worms do the work for you, returning nutrients to the soil. If time, I will chop old stems and debris as natural mulch, but do discard any diseased or moldy sections. Annuals can be planted out, however you will need to monitor for frost warnings, and cover to protect them if needed. Everything doesn’t have to be done in one weekend. Instead of this long weekend being a ‘garden work’ weekend, make it a ‘garden joy’ weekend! Above are the larger sections of my garden in spring mode – cleaned of debris but not yet edged or mulched, and some pruning still to finish…
I have a dear gardening Aunt that lives on Vancouver Island – a haven for gardeners! When visiting her last summer, amongst the buffet she prepared was a gorgeous bowl of multi coloured tomatoes. They were of course ripely delicious, resplendent in shades of green, ruby, golden, mahogany and even white. I gushed compliments, and later in the mail received seed packets for each variety – yes, I am spoiled! Much as I love the prospect of starting seeds indoors, I have not (yet) invested in the space, grow lights and shelving units. But for this sampling of indoor growing adventure, I did pick up a tray and peat pellets to position in a sunny window. The dry peat pellets were showered with water, and it was wonderfully satisfying to see them in moments swell to little earthy homes. Then, I tucked the tiny tomato seeds ¼” into these earthy pockets of potential. Now the anticipation of sprouts begins, and the promise of their bursting bounty for mid-August! The varieties I planted included: black cherry, gardener's delight, yellow pear, green grape and snow white.
I love how my glasses fog up when I walk into the greenhouse. The humid air kisses cheeks that are cold from the crisp outdoors. I take long delicious breaths of the earthy greenhouse air that hums with the murmur of green, growing things. And since this is an herb specialty greenhouse, I walk the aisles to gleefully visit romantic lavenders, fresh mints, pungent scented geraniums, spicy basils, aromatic sages, and indulgent rosemary. Everything exudes the most satisfying elixir for the spring fever soul. I have come to Richters greenhouse to buy seeds. Today's seed purchases are my favourite cold weather veggies, to be planted as soon as the soil is workable: lettuces, beets, radishes and peas (pod, snow and snap for my garden). I heartily support buying seeds locally if you can – I am lucky to have renowned Richters just down the road. And if seed shopping gets you into a greenhouse to soak in some glorious green, all the better!
‘Paths’ is such a great word - loaded with symbolism, imagination, suggestion. I think every garden, big or small, should incorporate a garden path. In a small garden, it can be just a few stepping stones leading to a secret mini rock garden, or a wee gravel walkway that takes you to a sitting spot. In larger gardens, pathways invite you in, divide garden areas, and lead to the discovery of the garden. With imagination, paths can easily become a focal point. Materials for a path are almost endless: mulch, gravel, homemade concrete stepping stones, flagstone, paving stones, log slices, bricks, and of course a mix of materials extends the options. Path edgings can also be a creative expression – river rock, mossy logs, collected stones, even glass bottles with necks in the dirt. I love to use step-able plants to soften the walkway, including thyme, ground cover sedums, creeping veronica, or irish moss. Wooly thyme is my favourite, there is no cushier, softer carpet beneath bare toes. Where will your path take you?
Heavy sigh, the battle of invasive plants. Much of my gardening knowledge comes from experience, and I have had my share of experiencing invasive plants. When we moved to our current property, there were no cared for gardens, just one weed bed with aged, gnarly junipers, and one bed with tiger lilies, phlox and perennial sunflowers. Both of the beds were infiltrated with the renowned invasive goutweed (also called bishop’s goutweed or aegopodium). There was also innocent looking, sweet violets growing here and there in the lawn. More than 10 yrs later, despite digging out goutweed with a backhoe, I still find patches. And I pull hundreds of violets from precious garden real estate every year…but after they bloom, because I have to admit still loving the sweet purple blossoms, and I have freckled violets that are pale mauve with deeper mauve speckles – so lovely in spring! Yes, invasives are a love/hate relationship. Invasives can have a purpose – they are splendid to fill tough growing areas like a side hill or alley between houses, but the area needs to be completely contained, and not connected to any other garden beds. I have one contained bed with yellow creeping jenny that is stellar when blooming in late spring. This is not a definitive list, but in my experience, always pay utmost concern to mints, some grasses (ie. ribbon grass, before you buy a grass, ask if it is invasive), some artemisia, plume poppies, cotoneaster, lily of the valley, violets and creeping jenny. Some perennials are meant for part shade or poor soil, and can get rampant when they have more sun or richer soil (ie. lamium, evening primrose or rudbeckia can be aggressive spreaders). If the plant name includes ‘weed’ (ie. gout weed), or the comments include ‘spreads by rhizomes’, then be careful.
Royal purple and golden yellow, ruby red and indigo, white on white with fresh green…so many delicious possibilities! Colour combos are one aspect of designing a garden and can create big impact. If you like playing with paint chips or fabric swatches, then you will love playing with plant combos. You can plan for excitement like the acid green and hot pink below, or the colour wheel appropriateness of yellow and mauve. I often mix different bloom colours of the same perennial, as with the white and tangerine cone flowers pictured above. Colour builds the mood and tone of the garden - hot colours like vivid red, orange and yellow add spice and energy to the garden, while cool colours like soft pink and mauve add calm. Favourite colours always play a role too! How does your garden grow – riotous colour, serenity in green, or a balance of both? Colour combos can strike awe in the garden and it is worth experimenting.
I have been asked why I only use photos from my garden versus the perfection you can find on the internet… I think it is beneficial to see plants and flowers in a natural, 'normal' setting. My garden gets moderate care, I use compost and manure, no commercial fertilizers, no pesticides. I share with the bugs and the bunnies. Yes I could have more abundant, larger, perfect blooms but that is not my style and that is not realistic for many gardeners. My garden photos represent what a ‘regular’ gardener can enjoy. So you will see spent flowers in the background, a weed peeking in the greenery, a slug bite here and there… the real thing baby!
A perfect garden – precisely manicured and controlled – can make me sad. I am sad that new or ‘wanna-be’ gardeners may be intimidated, and avoid gardening thinking this perfection is unattainable. I am sad to see nature constrained, and yearn for freedom for the plants. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate cared for gardens, and the absolute best is a garden that is loved and enjoyed. And if I knew that a manicured garden was an exercise in peace and contentment for its owner, then I don’t feel as sad. Your garden should be your craving, whether that is rows of rustling grasses with a focus on soothing greens and browns, or easy to care for shrubs with multi season interest, a veggie garden with your favourite fresh flavours, or a wild abundance of bloom and green foliage. Gardens are not perfect. They are evolving, adapting, growing, living entities, an extension of your living space, and should be a reflection of your style. Don’t ever feel you have to aspire to perfection – the perfect garden is what you want and need it to be.