January 14, 2017

The "Promise" behind "Arnold Promise"

Why this witch hazel (or any other witch hazel) should be in your garden


I admit I'm a lazy gardener when it comes to looking after my own little downtown Toronto garden. I compare it to the "cobbler's children have no shoes" adage: after a long and hot day weeding in a client's garden, not surprisingly doing the same in my backyard isn't appealing. As my garden has evolved over the 20 years, certain plants have consistently proven themselves by handling my benign neglect with aplomb (that is, not dying.)  I'm sure you have your "winners" as well: it could be a peony transplanted from your parents' place or a houseplant that's travelled with you from your university days. They just keep plugging along with a bit of care.




Hamamelis x intermedia Arnold Promise witch hazel blooms by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog



Hamamelis x intermedia Arnold Promise witch hazel spring blooms by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog


For me, such a plant includes a witch hazel ( Hamamelis x intermedia "Arnold Promise" to be botanically exact) planted in the backyard garden about two decades ago. These late-winter blooming witch hazels of the Hamamelis x intermedia nomenclature are hybrids between Japanese witch hazel (H. japonica) and Chinese witch hazel (H. mollis).  (Other cultivars to consider include "Jelena", "Diane", "Pallida" and "Primavera".)

Over the years, "AP"  has bloomed faithfully every late winter here in Toronto (in some years as early as January, others March), putting out dozens of these yellow spidery and faintly fragrant flowers. Would other owners of these very early spring flowering shrubs not consider it strange sniffing these bizarre-looking flowers, standing in the snow, during a winter thaw? Not at all!


Arnold Promise Hamamelis x intermedia witch hazel flower by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog



Arnold Promise Hamamelis x intermedia witch hazel spring blooms by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog



These thin strap-like petals are much tougher than they look. Because the blooms occur in late winter, a cold snap inevitably occurs (consistent frost-free days and nights won't occur until May here in zone 5 Toronto). These witch hazel flowers handle the sub-zero temperatures by "shrivelling" up with the petals retracting, only to open up again with warmer days without any apparent damage. I think this is cool for any shrub!




Arnold Promise witch hazel blooms by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog



Arnold Promise witchhazel buds and blooms by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog



Arnold Promise witchhazel blooms by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog




Below is the "Arnold Promise" in our yard from last February. You may notice it's still holding on to its leaves from the previous season, which is a little unusual for most shrubs. Witch hazels are medium sized plants and can get to about 15' tall and 15' wide at maturity. I consider them to be slow to medium growers (annual growth rate) with an irregular branching structure or habit. I'd plant them in naturalized or informal settings like rain gardens or in part-shade gardens. Consider them a classic understory shrub planted with barrenwort, ferns, and other shady characters.



Arnold Promise witch hazel in my Toronto garden by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog



My witch hazel receives full sun until early afternoon, after which it is in the shadow cast by our neighbour's apartment. Since the plant is established, rootball-wise, regular watering isn't critical but young witch hazels prefer regular irrigation and loamy soil. I still need to water deeply during extended high heat periods which Toronto experienced last summer. Summer foliage consists of broad and clean green leaves with no mildew, rusts or holes, which is truly a blessing!

Witch hazels are hardy to zone 5 but I'd avoid planting them in exposed sites or xeriscapes. Think of an "understory" environment for a happier Hamamelis.

[Want to learn more about this shrub? Here's an excellent link from Missouri Botanical Garden: Hamamelis × intermedia 'Arnold Promise']

The fall foliage is also another wonderful attribute for this shrub that offers 3 plus season's worth of interest. These two pictures below are from a client's witch hazel. The leaves seem to be on fire!


Arnold Promise Hamamelis x intermedia fall foliage by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog



Arnold Promise witch hazel Hamamelis x intermedia fall foliage by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog



I'd  describe scientifically my witch hazel's autumn colour as "intense tangerine" or "over ripe pumpkin orange." It combines sublimely with the golden and crimson fall foliage displays from the neighbouring Japanese maples and katsura trees.

I've lost many plants over the years due to verticillum wilt, scale, and viburnum leaf beetle just name a few reasons (painful to recall!) but this witch hazel is as horticulturally bullet-proof as they come. It hasn't been pestered by insects or diseases at all so I avoid all that spraying nonsense or seeing a prized (i.e., expensive) Japanese maple dying within weeks,

If you're looking for a shrub that's different from the run of the mill lilacs, hydrangeas, rhododendrons, etc. flooding your local garden centre's shelves this spring, I strongly suggest a witch hazel (if you can find one!). It's likely that you'll experience some sticker shock paying for a forlorn-looking stick in a container but planting a witch hazel is always a horticultural act of faith it seems. 

In the meantime. my "Arnold Promise" witch hazel currently slumbering in the backyard will offer more mini-explosions of fragrant ripped-crepe paper petals soon and keep its promise that a Toronto spring isn't too far off.


January 08, 2017

One of this (shrub), one of that....

A few perennials massed together can make all the difference


May and June are usually the months I create new gardens. Clients are anxious to change things and by then the garden centres have the plants available to make these changes a reality. It's early January (Happy New Year, by the way) so while May 2017 seems like an eternity away for us here in Toronto (it is, horticulturally), maybe this post can give you some ideas if you're thinking of revamping or tinkering with your existing gardens.

Rita and Bev, the homeowners, wanted something (or, to use their words, "anything!") done with the two garden beds which faced a) the backyard patio where they like to dine and have drinks and b) the front street. The new plants I put in and simple design executed last summer aren't earth-shattering or revolutionary--I just wanted to show you a common "before" scenarios I often see and  "low(er) maintenance" solutions which work here in hardiness zone 5 Toronto.


Looking at the backyard garden:




Dorset Park Scarborough back yard garden makeover before Paul Jung Gardening Services Toronto
Dorset Park Scarborough back yard garden makeover before 

This side garden bed in the backyard has some pluses and minuses going for it. The soil is workable and the garden faces west and south so receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. We consider this a "full sun" exposure so there are lots of flowering plants to choose from which will happily bloom their heads off throughout the spring and summer.

On the downside, the neighbour's garage dominates the view. (At least the vinyl siding is new, clean and absent of any four letter words!) You're looking at the garden from the patio so you can imagine there's not too much visually to get excited about during your morning coffee or evening cocktails.



Dorset Park Scarborough back yard garden makeover before by Paul Jung Gardening Services Toronto
Dorset Park Scarborough back yard garden makeover before



Dorset Park Scarborough Toronto back yard garden makeover before Paul Jung Gardening Services
Dorset Park Scarborough back yard garden makeover before

If you think you see different shrubs, you're right! There's a potluck of a Rose of Sharon, Burning Bush, Spiraea and a Honeysuckle bushes. One saving grace is that these shrubs do screen the garage side a little but that's about it. Weeds normally take over by summer in this small 15' long bed.

Many new gardeners and homeowners make this design mistake: they plant either: a) a large number of one type (genus) of perennial or shrub (not usually trees due to space) or b) different varieties of the same genus.

When I was a newbie gardener, I bought and planted dozens of hostas (one of each of course.) My garden didn't have a plan, much less a concept, so you can imagine the hodgepodge of plants either all looking the same (boring to the eyes) or plants grouped together which didn't share the same preferred growing conditions (painful on the wallet).


Looking at the front garden:


Rita and Bev readily admitted there was no curb appeal for the front garden but the greatest advantage, for me, was the lack of "foundation" plants: ancient, huge, and overgrown junipers, yews, cedars, "Bridal Wreath" Spiraeas which usually block the entire front lower facade of the house. I see these "foundation plants" in many older neighbourhoods. You may have seen them too: often they're sheared onto meatballs, giant thimbles, ottomans or divans. 

Dealing with these monsters (especially their rootballs) may have involved chainsaws and a backhoe so I was relieved not to have dealt with this!

The site is in part sun as there's a huge oak tree providing shade (you can see its reflection on the front windows). The soil, again, is workable (i.e., not filled with construction debris) but the only plants in the bed were some Solomon Seal,  ornamental alliums, a Rose of Sharon seedling planted by Rita's mom and "Cousin It", a forlorn looking Alberta Spruce which was not happy in the shade. (He's right dead centre in the picture below.)



Scarborough Dorset Park front yard garden makeover before Paul Jung Gardening Services Toronto
Scarborough Dorset Park front yard garden makeover before


A solution for the back garden:




Dorset Park Scarborough back yard garden makeover after by Paul Jung Gardening Services Toronto
Dorset Park Scarborough back yard garden makeover after

Yes, I know you're thinking/shouting/screaming "But I can still see the bloody garage wall!" and you'd be correct. We couldn't nail or screw in trellises to screen the view (not good for the vinyl and it's not the clients' property) so any screening had to be done on our side of the property line.

I had proposed planting three Serviceberry shrubs at the back of the bed but the garden centre did not have any in stock so the plan is buy them this spring.

So what did put in, plant-wise?

Rita and Bev wanted colour and lots of it so I chose perennials which bloomed sequentially from May-October ( I also suggested planting bulbs to provide colour from March to April.) These include very common workhorses (to mix metaphors) like:



which offer a lot while not expecting a lot (besides regular watering during the first few years as the roots get established.)

The extra alliums from the front garden were transplanted in the back. They'll thrive with the full sun and not languish in the shade.

A thin 2-3" layer of untreated (undyed) cedar mulch was applied to reduce watering and weeds from getting established.

However, you can see how the garage wall still dominates the view below:


Dorset Park Scarborough back yard garden makeover after Paul Jung Gardening Services Toronto
Dorset Park Scarborough back yard garden makeover after 


The three mid-sized Serviceberry ( Amelanchier spp.) shrubs (native to Southern Ontario and wildlife magnets) proposed to be planted should break things up a little visually. I also suggested getting 3 or 4 black-coloured aluminum obelisks as an alternative and have a perennial flowering vine like a clematis growing up to provide some vertical interest. The horizontal plane is unfortunately still greatly exaggerated by the vinyl siding pattern. We need "vertical breaks" put in as soon as possible since it's almost impossible not to notice how flat and horizontal things are.


Dorset Park Scarborough Toronto back yard garden makeover after Paul Jung Gardening Services
Dorset Park Scarborough back yard garden makeover after


And a solution for the front garden:




Scarborough Dorset Park front yard garden makeover after by Paul Jung Gardening Services Toronto
Dorset Park Scarborough front yard garden makeover after 

For the front part-shade garden, I chose some of my favourite "shady suspects" like:



Alas, the Rose of Sharon sapling couldn't be removed as it was planted by Rita's mom and she visits occasionally!

I worked in several bags of composted manure and, again, applied a thin layer of mulch to help get these baby perennials established.

I anticipate, in a few years, the front garden should "put on a nice show" or, at least, looking a heck of a lot better than before.



Scarborough Dorset Park front yard garden makeover after Paul Jung Gardening Services Toronto
Dorset Park Scarborough front yard garden makeover after



Dorset Park Scarborough front yard garden makeover after by Paul Jung Gardening Services Toronto
Dorset Park Scarborough front yard garden makeover after 

The gap along the house front wall (above, right) will be filled with "Superba" Chinese Astilbe. (It was not in stock at the time these plants were bought.) I love this particular astilbe for its very tall pink flowers (plumes). The anticipated height of the anemones and astilbes should soften the severity of the front brickwork and establish some layering effect with the foliage.

The existing Solomon Seal clumps which bookend the front garden fit in well. The poor Alberta Spruce (see the before picture above) didn't belong so I "shovel-pruned" it.


Dorset Park Scarborough front yard garden makeover after Paul Jung Gardening Services Toronto
Dorset Park Scarborough front yard garden makeover after 


Often, when you're creating a new garden, it's not a case of  "less is more" but "more of less"-- a greater quantity of fewer types of plants. Planting based on the "one of this, one of that" principle yields an overall look and feel that's disjointed or disconcerting. So unless you're a rabid plant collector or creating your own arborteum or botanical garden (kudos, I'm jealous!), try planting a greater number of fewer varieties.

Or, as my old landscape design instructor chided us eons ago, "use the principles of unity, massing and repetition!"

December 17, 2016

Fine gardening? Well, not really...

Bracondale Hill, Toronto back yard and driveway cleanup 


As you, dear reader, may know, I work tirelessly (!) as a gardener during Toronto's non-winter season of about 7 months (which partly explains the low number of blog posts over said 7 months). I'm a "corporate refugee" who escaped the cubicle farms over twelve years ago, went back to school, graduated for a third time and decided to hang out my own shingle. Sounds glamorous and inspirational, right? I gave myself the smug title of "professional gardener" (whatever that means) with visions of working in beautiful and artistic settings, spending time in idyllic landscapes, modern Arcadias, deadheading here, smelling sweet scents there.

That idealism lasted about a week or so.

But this blast of reality was a good thing, Clients are paying me to do things they'd rather not do themselves. (Weeding is high on that list, from my experience. Ironically, many landscape maintenance companies also avoid weeding.) Their reasons aren't important--they're just looking for value for their hard earned dollars.

This thought crossed my mind when I found these "before and after" pictures of a cleanup I did several months ago. I forgot about this small project of weeding a gravel driveway and backyard patio. It wasn't because it was particularly nasty, painful or demanding to do (took a few hours); instead, maybe the absence of nice perennials, shrubs and trees (in other words, non-weeds) made this more of "property maintenance" job and less about "landscape gardening."



Toronto gardening services Hillcrest backyard cleanup before Paul Jung
Toronto gardening services 
Hillcrest backyard cleanup before 


Toronto gardening services Hillcrest backyard cleanup after Paul Jung
Toronto gardening services 
Hillcrest backyard cleanup after

Did I go back to school to become a "horticultural custodian"? (The term "plant janitor" I've come across is a little too condescending for me). Is this truly gardening when, ummm, there's no garden? Am I wasting my horticultural knowledge and skills? Do I dare eat a peach?


I mulled over these existential questions for a minute, remembered the daily fear and loathing I felt entering the toxic office environment from a lifetime ago and then noticed that I really did a great job for these clients!


Toronto gardening services Hillcrest backyard cleanup before by Paul Jung
Toronto gardening services 
Hillcrest backyard cleanup before 


Toronto gardening services Hillcrest backyard cleanup after by Paul Jung
Toronto gardening services 
Hillcrest backyard cleanup after


Toronto gardening services Hillcrest backyard cleanup before Paul Jung
Toronto gardening services 
Hillcrest backyard cleanup before 


Toronto gardening services Hillcrest back yard cleanup after by Paul Jung
Toronto gardening services 
Hillcrest back yard cleanup after 


And now we go to the backyard patio:


Toronto gardening services Bracondale Hill back yard cleanup before by Paul Jung
Toronto gardening services 
Bracondale Hill back yard cleanup before 


Toronto gardening services Bracondale Hill back yard cleanup after by Paul Jung
Toronto gardening services 
Bracondale Hill back yard cleanup after 


Toronto gardening services Bracondale Hill back yard cleanup before Paul Jung
Toronto gardening services 
Bracondale Hill back yard cleanup before 


Toronto gardening services Bracondale Hill back yard cleanup after Paul Jung
Toronto gardening services 
Bracondale Hill back yard cleanup after



Toronto gardening services Bracondale Hill backyard cleanup before by Paul Jung
Toronto gardening services 
Bracondale Hill backyard cleanup before 



Toronto gardening services Bracondale Hill backyard cleanup after by Paul Jung
Toronto gardening services 
Bracondale Hill backyard cleanup after 


While these pictures won't grace the covers of "better" garden magazines (who publishes magazines anymore?), I'm proud of my effort and attention to detail. And, just as important, I was paid immediately by a happy customer upon completion.



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