February 23, 2016

Ecological gardening in Toronto with native plants

Not your typical Toronto garden?



I've been in business as a gardener over the past 12 years and worked in many different types of gardens for as many different types of clients. No two gardens are ever the same just as no two people are identical. (Ok, identical twins excepted. Maybe such gardens belonging to identical twins would be similar?)

We have our strengths, weaknesses, preferences and idiosyncracies. Same with our gardens since they are a reflection of our values. Even having no garden implies a certain set of values.


I work in mainly small to medium-sized gardens in Toronto's central core, more or less, and many sites have similar plantings and designs.The shrubs, trees and perennials are often inherited by the new owners or simply bought at local garden centres. In zone 5 Toronto, I see many common plants like boxwoods, yews, "Emerald" cedars, lilacs, rhodos,  hostas, etc. as I travel to and from job sites I also take care of gardens  which contain these ubiquitous plantings and, not surprisingly,  they are common because such plants are relatively inexpensive, readily available (especially in big box stores during the spring retail rush) and generally easy to maintain. 


Seriously, when was the last time you successfully and willfully killed a hosta?


April is around the corner so likely (hopefully?) I will get a call to return to one garden I've been weeding and watering for several years in Toronto's  Riverdale neighbourhood. I profiled this garden originally in a post titled Another tale of two Toronto gardens A Toronto ecological-based garden: functional or ornamental? Or both? back in August 2014. What I find atypical about this garden, in my limited gardening experiences throughout the city, is the diversity of wildlife I see every visit. The reasons for the presence of birds, insects and other pollinators lie in the type of native plants found here.



Agastache foeniculum Giant hyssop Toronto ecological gardening by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Agastache foeniculum (Giant hyssop)
Toronto ecological gardening 




The plants shown in this post are found in and around the clients' rain garden that was built to collect rainwater from the garage and part of the house's main roof. These pictures were taken last August to give you an idea of what is blooming in late summer. There was so much activity going on with the bees, hoverflies, and butterflies feeding everywhere.

(I also looked after two raised beds containing tomatoes, kale, cucumbers and nasturtiums in case you're worried that food production was not involved. I just don't find pictures of staked vegetables particularly beautiful!)




Blazing star Liatris spicata Toronto native plants by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Blazing star (Liatris spicata)
Toronto native plants 



Are there "problems" found in this garden? Sure, if you define some pest and disease damage as problems: the American plum usually gets leaf curl, we had to remove an American cranberry bush (Viburnum trilobum) due to persistent Viburnum leaf beetle damage and the slugs I don't collect chew up the kale. The owners, though, accept this rather low threshold of damage and don't use herbicides.They see the gardens as part of the larger ecosystem that accepts the reality of "pests" (a human definition). There's a high level of resiliency built into the space, partially accomplished by choosing and planting a large number of different native plant species.

I think resilient gardens are part of the future. For me, they require fewer inputs and maintenance needs while still being beautiful and functional. Xeriscapes and rain gardens are examples of resilient gardens that should be more common in Toronto but are property owners open to the idea?



Common fleabane Erigeron philadelphicus Toronto native plants by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Common fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus)
Toronto native plants 

Hibiscus moscheutos Swamp rose mallow Toronto native plants by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Hibiscus moscheutos (Swamp rose mallow)
Toronto native plants 

Impatiens capensis Spotted Jewelweed Toronto native plants by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Impatiens capensis (Spotted Jewelweed)
Toronto native plants

Lobelia cardinalis Cardinal flower Toronto ecological gardening by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal flower)
Toronto ecological gardening 

Rudbeckia laciniata Great coneflower Toronto ecological gardening by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Rudbeckia laciniata (Great coneflower)
Toronto ecological gardening 

Tall Ironweed Vernonia gigantea Toronto ecological gardening by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Tall Ironweed (Vernonia gigantea )
Toronto ecological gardening 

White wood aster Eurybia divaricatus Toronto ecological gardening by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
White wood aster (Eurybia divaricatus)
Toronto ecological gardening


Blazing star Liatris spicata Toronto ecological gardening by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Blazing star (Liatris spicata)
 Toronto ecological gardening 

Common fleabane Erigeron philadelphicus Toronto ecological gardening by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Common fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus)
Toronto ecological gardening 

Hibiscus moscheutos Swamp rose mallow Toronto ecological gardening by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Hibiscus moscheutos (Swamp rose mallow)
Toronto ecological gardening 

Impatiens capensis Spotted Jewelweed Toronto ecological gardening by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Impatiens capensis (Spotted Jewelweed)
Toronto ecological gardening

Jewelweed Impatiens capensis Toronto ecological gardening by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)
Toronto ecological gardening 

Lobelia siphilitica Great Blue Lobelia Toronto ecological gardening by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
(Lobelia siphilitica) Great Blue Lobelia
 Toronto ecological gardening 

Rudbeckia laciniata Great coneflower Toronto native plants by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
(Rudbeckia laciniata) Great coneflower
Toronto native plants

Tall Ironweed Vernonia gigantea Toronto native plants by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Tall Ironweed (Vernonia gigantea)
Toronto native plants 

Evening primrose Oenothera biennis Toronto ecological gardening by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis)
Toronto ecological gardening 

If you're in the Toronto area, the North American Native Plant Society holds a plant sale every May. Details for 2016 haven't been posted on its website yet so check it out later in spring. (The plants shown in this post were bought at the NANPS sale in the past.) 

It might be worth a visit. Who knows? You may think about your garden and the gardening process in a new light afterwards.




February 12, 2016

Tropical delights at Toronto's Centennial Park Conservatory

Moth orchids, tropical hibiscus and others on display in Etobicoke


Gardening in the dead of a Toronto winter? While others are busy winter sowing or greedily going through seed and bulb catalogues in preparation for spring's arrival, I'm doing a lot of reading and a bit of blogging. The genesis of this post was from a visit to a local Conservatory last winter. I forgot about these pictures and thought they would provide a nice diversion from the current polar conditions currently afflicting us here in zone 5 Toronto. And if you're fortunate and smart enough to live somewhere that's non-glacial at the moment, you can still enjoy these pretty flowers!



White Phalaenopsis Moth Orchids Centennial Park Conservatory by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
White Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchid) 
at the Centennial Park Conservatory 




Growing such beautiful orchids would be a tough task unless you provide the heat and humidity they love. For me, it's much nicer and practical to visit a place that allow these conditions: either warmer and more exotic locales (like Barbados' Orchid World) or a local greenhouse. Luckily, Centennial Park Conservatory can be reached via public transit and I find its orchid collection nicer than the one found at its sister Conservatory at Allan Gardens.


If you're an orchid collector, you'd be a little disappointed with the variety (mainly moth orchids or Phalaenopsis or "Phals") on display but for a winter weary visitor, the orchids and hibiscus and other tropical flowers and plants do lift the spirits. Well, until you have walk outside again and feel the Arctic blasts reminding you that spring here is still far away....



Pink Phalaenopsis Moth Orchid Centennial Park Conservatory by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Pink Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchid) 
at the Centennial Park Conservatory


Purple spotted white Phalaenopsis Moth Orchid Centennial Park Conservatory by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Purple spotted white Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchid) 
at the Centennial Park Conservatory 


White Phalaenopsis Moth Orchid Centennial Park Conservatory by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
White Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchid) 
at the Centennial Park Conservatory 


Pale pink Phalaenopsis Moth Orchid Centennial Park  Conservatory by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Pale pink Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchid) 
at the Centennial Park  Conservatory

Pale purple Phalaenopsis Moth Orchid Centennial Park Conservatory by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Pale purple Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchid)
at the Centennial Park Conservatory


Light purple Phalaenopsis Moth Orchid Centennial Park Conservatory by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Light purple Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchid) 
at the Centennial Park Conservatory 




Light red Phalaenopsis Moth Orchid Centennial Park Conservatory by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Light red Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchid) 
at the Centennial Park Conservatory 


Yellow tropical hibiscus rosa sinensis Centennial Park Conservatory by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Yellow tropical hibiscus ( Hibiscus rosa sinensis
at the Centennial Park Conservatory 


High Heaven tropical hibiscus rosa sinensis Centennial Park Conservatory by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
"High Heaven" tropical hibiscus 
( Hibiscus rosa sinensis )
at the Centennial Park Conservatory



High Heaven double tropical hibiscus rosa sinensis Centennial Park Conservatory by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
"High Heaven" double tropical hibiscus 
( Hibiscus rosa sinensis )
at the Centennial Park Conservatory 



Blushing Peach tropical hibiscus rosa sinensis Centennial Park Conservatory by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
"Blushing Peach" tropical hibiscus 
( Hibiscus rosa sinensis )
at the Centennial Park Conservatory 



Orange Brugmansia Angel's Trumpet Centennial Park Conservatory by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Orange Brugmansia (Angel's Trumpet) 
at the Centennial Park Conservatory 



Bromeliad flower Aechmea fasciata Centennial Park Conservatory by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Bromeliad flower (Aechmea fasciata
at the Centennial Park Conservatory

Centennial Park Conservatory yellow cactus flowers by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Centennial Park Conservatory's
 yellow cactus flowers

February 05, 2016

"Arnold Promise" witch hazel blooms in my Toronto garden

This Toronto witch hazel just keeps on blooming and blooming and....


Hamamelis x intermedia "Old Faithful". How does that sound for a new witch hazel cultivar? Maybe too sexy for horticultural marketing purposes (I mean, we're not selling a version of that blue pill)  but it does describe the blooming regularity of my "Arnold Promise" witch hazel in our backyard since we first planted it around 15 odd years ago.

The 2015-2016 winter in Toronto, so far, has been extremely mild with very little snowfall. I guess this makes up for the bone-crushing cold and wind chills we experienced the past two previous winters. The "spidery" yellow blooms shown here emerged last December and although we've had some very cold days in the minus 15 Celsius or 5 Fahrenheit range, the cold did not persist. Witch hazel flowers are tough anyway, curling up to protect themselves when temperatures drop.


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



"Arnold Promise" is a hybrid cultivar of witch hazels H. japonica and H. mollis. Other cultivars you might see at your local garden center include "Jelena", "Pallida" and "Diane". Do yourself a favour: instead buying yet another hydrangea, lilac, or rhodo, consider plunking this sad looking shrub in your cart. It won't be flowering in May (and nothing sells faster than a plant that's flowering) but rise above the mundane, common and ubiquitous and buy a witch hazel. 

You can do it!

If you prefer a native, the common witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blooms reliably in late fall instead.


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


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


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


Not a great picture above given the time of year and low-rise apartment to the east of us but hopefully you can make out the witch hazel's outline and small yellow flowers. The size is around 10 feet high and 10 feet wide so it does require a bit of space. There are tree forms if you don't like the vase shape but expect to pay "a bit more" 

Last season's leaves stay on all winter, which is a little unusual. In case you're wondering, the bottom row of dormant grasses is made up of Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra). I like staring at this combination in the summer. In winter, not so much.



Arnold Promise witchhazel blooms by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Arnold Promise witchhazel blooms 
  
Of all the shrubs I've planted since inheriting the backyard, this witch hazel has outperformed them all. It gets morning and noon time full sun, average soil and regular watering. Hardy to zone 5, it has zero pests, excellent autumn foliage and reliable late winter blooms.

Oh, by the way, there's a Fothergilla I want to show you...