February 04, 2017

Formal Hedges Have Straight Edges (or Should Anyway)

A Cabbagetown, Toronto Front Garden Makeover


What comes to mind when you think of a hedge (the horticultural and not financial type)? Likely a "living fence" that separates two functional spaces like this one along the Sacred Way near Beijing


The Sacred Way near Beijing China by garden muses--not another Toronto gardening blog
Hedges, willows and paving along 
the Sacred Way near Beijing, China


The hedges on both sides of the path are ramrod straight. level, plumb and run for hundreds of metres. They direct visitors onward without creating mystery or curiosity. That's the message our lazy reptilian tourist brains want: stay on the path and you should be rewarded. Rectangular hedges (especially made up of broad-leaved evergreens) are usually boring and utilitarian because that's their job.


A hedge could also serve as "living backdrop" like this clipped yew hedge found below at the Royal Botanical Gardens located nearby in Burlington, Ontario. It's an opaque curtain (or wall, if you prefer) and since you can't see through it, you're forced to see the green Hershey Kisses plopped in the Knot Garden in front of it. By enclosing the small space, you're eyes are directed to the topiary instead. The hedge could have been a rendered concrete wall (green-coloured of course) and the latter would still have performed the same function.



The Laking Knot Garden at the Royal Botanical Garden by garden muses--not another Toronto gardening blog
The Laking Knot Garden at the Royal Botanical Garden 


A client in Toronto's downtown Cabbagetown neighbourhood recently asked me to transplant some boxwoods which didn't survive the previous winter. The Buxus hedge is "U" shaped with a backdrop of hortensia (Hydrangea macrophylla) and, together, they loosely frame this very typical postage-sized inner city front garden that's about 15' x 20', With most formal picture frames, though, you expect to and should see clearly right angled corners. That's what our lazy brains expect and if they (corners) are absent or obscured, a mystery is created when one shouldn't have occurred. And, to me, green rectangular blocks are not about mystery.


Toronto Cabbagetown front garden makeover before by Paul Jung Gardening Services
Toronto Cabbagetown front 
garden makeover before



Toronto Cabbagetown front garden makeover before Paul Jung Gardening Services
Toronto Cabbagetown front 
garden makeover before



Toronto Cabbagetown garden makeover before by Paul Jung Gardening Services Inc
Toronto Cabbagetown 
garden makeover before 

Ignore the mundane hosta that's collapsing and entering into dormancy (the "before" pictures were taken in late autumn) and try to find the outline of the short boxwood hedge running down the front path, along the sidewalk and up the neighbours path. It's hard to see, right?  Where's the strong sense of enclosure?



Toronto Cabbagetown garden makeover before by Paul Jung Gardening Services
Toronto Cabbagetown
garden makeover before 



Cabbagetown Toronto front garden makeover before by Paul Jung Gardening Services
Cabbagetown Toronto front 
garden makeover before 



Cabbagetown Toronto front garden makeover before Paul Jung Gardening Services
Cabbagetown Toronto 
front garden makeover 


The new design:


The two mature and beautiful clumps of ornamental grass (to be specific, Japanese Forest Grass or Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola') are preventing us seeing the hedge's corners. For the sake of the formal garden design requested by the client, I:

  • uprooted and transplanted the grasses elsewhere
  • chose new perennials with light blue, white and pink flowers like Amsonia "Blue Ice", "David" summer phlox, and "Ivoty Prince" hellebores planted in groups
  • replaced 3 dead boxwoods to re-stablish the hedge


Cabbagetown Toronto front garden makeover after by Paul Jung Gardening Services
Cabbagetown Toronto front garden makeover after 



Cabbagetown Toronto front garden makeover after Paul Jung Gardening Services
Cabbagetown Toronto front garden makeover after 

It will take a few years to re-establish the hedge but the "bones" have re-surfaced, as it were.



Are you sick of formal hedges?


It's hard for me to write about hedges without recalling this collection of plants below:


Unusual concave hedge by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Unusual Toronto concave hedge

Many years ago, I worked for a client in a different Toronto neighbourhood and nearby would see, basically, "garbage" trees lovingly pruned and whimsically sculpted (see the fine attributes of Siberian Elm here).

If there's an iron law I've discovered over the years when it comes to plant care, it's this: the way a plant is pruned by or on behalf of the owner always reflects his or her personality and values.

I won't speculate on what drives such behaviour with garden shears (this would be a great story) but merely want to show you a hedge with no/few discernible straight edges.


Unusual Siberian Elm hedge by garden muses--not another Toronto gardening blog
Unusual Toronto Siberian Elm hedge 



Freeform hedge by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Freeform Toronto hedge

Now, this is a hedge that's mysterious!

January 21, 2017

They Really Do Sleep, Creep, and Leap! Perennials in a Toronto Garden

Occasionally, a gardening cliché is true


If you've been gardening long enough, you've come across your share of horticultural rules of thumb, proverbs, observations, truisms, etc.. Nuggets of horticultural wisdom like "choose the right plant for the right space", "feed the soil, not the plant" and "plant a fifty-five cent plant in a five dollar hole" (amen) are good pieces of advice. I wish I'd listen to these adages as a new gardener many years ago--it would have saved me a ton of heartache (and cash) by preventing many of the plants I bought from inexplicably perishing or taking over the entire bed. But this is just tuition paid by a newbie gardener so "chin up", to use another idiom.



New Danforth Greektown perennial garden by Garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
New Danforth Greektown perennial garden


Speaking of idioms. another horticultural saying came to my mind when I last visited a garden I designed about three years ago in Toronto's Greektown neighbourhood (a.k.a. "The Danforth" area).

(The installation is profiled in my blog post titled A new garden in the Danforth/Greektown area of Toronto: a case study.)

I usually tidy up this backyard garden in the spring and fall so it's interesting to see if the original plants I planted have thrived or not. Even after researching what the "correct" plant should be based on existing site conditions and the garden owner's preferences, whether the newly transplanted perennial, shrub or tree actually lives is a bit of crap shoot. Things just fade away, occasionally, even with adequate cultural conditions and plant care. The plant warranty honoured by the garden centre is there for such tragedies.

Transplanting not only involves the "right plant, right place" adage but also, when spacing out the proposed holes, imaging how the mature size of whatever you're plopping in (remember, "five dollar hole") will look in five years and beyond (this is especially true for trees but some homeowners ignore this, to the future benefit of tree trimming companies.) For herbaceous perennials, it's been said, one should expect them to "sleep" during the first year after transplanting. "creep" during year two and, fingers crossed, "leap!" in year three and beyond.

But what does this saying mean?

It's not unusual for newly planted perennials to simply "sit" in the garden. They've likely experienced some transplant shock from being displaced out of the cozy confines of the greenhouse straight into your garden but I also suspect they're using more food energy (carbohydrates) in establishing new roots and not necessarily concerned about pumping out new leaves or flowers for our enjoyment.

That's my best guess anyway.

Nevertheless, I'm delighted to report that sleeping, creeping and leaping definitely have occurred in this perennial garden over the past three years!


East view:


I've broken up the "garden in progress" pictures into three views to make things easier to follow.

Below is the set looking east showing how the newly transplanted perennials and "Seiryu" cut-leaf Japanese maple are doing since 2014. (The two two columnar European Hornbeams (Carpinus betulus "Columnaris" ) were planted in 2015.)



the danforth new garden design after by garden muses--not another Toronto gardening blog
The Danforth new garden design after




Honorine Jobert Japanese anemone x hybrida by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
"Honorine Jobert" Japanese Anemone
(Anemone x hybrida) and friends



New Greektown Toronto perennial garden by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
New Greektown Toronto perennial garden 


If you're wondering out loud "holy cow, that's a lot of green!", you're absolutely right. The client wanted perennials and trees with green foliage and white flowers. That's it. Whether the monochromatic colour scheme is tranquil or boring is, of course, determined through the eyes of the beholder. I personally find it calming and quasi-formal without the need for boxwoods, yews and other evergreens clipped within an inch of their lives. The different foliage shapes give enough contrasting visual interest to prevent one from falling asleep in the garden (although there are worse experiences in life.)


North view:




the danforth garden design before by garden muses--not another Toronto gardening blog
The Danforth garden design before 



the danforth garden design after by garden muses--not another Toronto gardening blog
The Danforth garden design after 



New Danforth backyard by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
New Danforth backyard year two


Greektown Toronto garden design after by garden muses--not another Toronto gardening blog
Greektown Toronto garden design after 



North-east view:




the danforth Toronto garden design before  by garden muses--not another Toronto gardening blog
The Danforth Toronto garden design before  



the danforth Toronto garden design after  by garden muses--not another Toronto gardening blog
The Danforth Toronto garden design after  


Monochromatic green garden design Danforth backyard by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Monochromatic green garden design Danforth backyard 


Greektown Toronto new perennial garden by garden muses not another Toronto gardening blog
Greektown Toronto new perennial garden 


I find the "sleep, creep and leap" rhyme is useful to manage the expectations of impatient gardeners and, importantly for me, impatient clients. On the other hand, "sleep, creep and weep" is just as educational to the gardener. I'll readily admit I've planted trendy and "must-have" (i.e., expensive) perennials and shrubs as dictated by some marketing guy or gal only to experience the silly plant sulking and disappearing after a few years.

As I mentioned earlier, gardening is a bit of a crap shoot at times but we still dig, hope and smile if we're successful.

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 blooms 



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


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 flower



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



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" witch hazel blooms



Arnold Promise witchhazel buds and blooms by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
"Arnold Promise" witch hazel buds and bloom



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




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
"Arnold Promise" witch hazel in my Toronto garden



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" Hamamelis x intermedia fall foliage 



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



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.


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