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.


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!"