December 11, 2017

Not the "Winter Interest" I Had in Mind

Gilding the Hydrangea


Christmas is around the corner, we've just put up the Christmas tree (well, my wife did) and there are seasonal decorations everywhere around the city adding to the festive feel. But I think at least one property owner has gone a little too far in applying the Christmas spirit in the garden. But let's first talk about that old warhorse of a garden design term, "winter interest."

Toronto gardens will look bare until next March aside from the presence of evergreens (boxwoods, yews, and cedars usefully provide the plant "bones" when your garden is denuded) and very early season blooming plants like witch hazel, hellebores, and crocuses which give us much needed colour. How bare depends on how much "clean up" occurs in October and November: one can ignore the garden as it goes into dormancy by leaving all stalks, flowers, berries and leaves alone, in situ. On the other end of the garden maintenance spectrum, you could also remove all leaves and dead material in order for the garden to be "clean and ready for next spring" (words used by a client in the past.) Why a garden is in such dire need to maintain horticultural hygiene has always been a mystery to me. I occasionally remind such clients that a vigorous fall cleanup doesn't occur in nature.

And of course a happy medium can occur by removing some plant material to make your spouse and/or neighbours happy.

By choosing shrubs and trees that have ornamental stem and bark features like vivid colour and interesting texture, horizontal branches, old flowers and berries to catch and contrast against the snow, you can extend the seasonal interest of your little patch of heaven. (I can't help you here if you're a veggie grower.) You can also plant many perennials with dormant leaves and stalks that hold up well under the weight of snow and howling winds (ornamental grasses fit the bill perfectly.) Given winter is easily more than a third of the gardening calendar here in Toronto, that goal may be worthwhile.

"Annabelle" Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle') is very commonly used in Toronto gardens and I've posted many pictures of the shrub in my "fall cleanup" posts recently. In a nutshell, if you grow this shrub, every autumn you face the question: "should I leave all the dormant stalks and flowers [more accurately, the flower balls are "corymbs"] alone for winter?" like this:


Autumn Annabelle Smooth  Hydrangeas by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Autumn "Annabelle" Smooth Hydrangeas 


Or "should I cut the aforementioned stalks hard to the ground?" like this:


Pruned Annabelle Smooth  Hydrangeas by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Pruned "Annabelle" Smooth Hydrangeas 


I think either option is fine going into winter. I do recommend that in the spring, an older Smooth Hydrangea shrub which hasn't been pruned hard in a few years should undergo some sort of rejuvenation pruning to clear out the inevitable dead interior stems and branches. Since "Annabelle"'s flowers are produced on new wood, you won't go through a season without those beloved white pom-poms by doing this.

Now getting back to the Christmas theme, what I don't recommend you do is this, as recently seen in my neighbourhood:


Spray painted Annabelle Hydrangeas by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Spray painted "Annabelle" Hydrangeas 


Spray painted Annabelle Smooth Hydrangeas by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Spray painted "Annabelle" Smooth Hydrangeas 



From a plant health care perspective, spray painting dead flowers shouldn't affect the shrub. You can make the argument that the flowers are going to be pruned away next spring and I'd agree with you. And for all I know, the owner/artist will prune away Hydrangea arborescens "Metallica" (trademark pending) on December 26.

Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I'll leave it up to you to decide on the shrub's artistic merits going into Christmas and the New Year. I think it's gosh-awful ugly.

On this positive note, I wish everyone well wishes over the holidays! And leave the spray painting to poinsettias...


December 02, 2017

The Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show

No Christmas Turkey But This Bird is Just as Succulent


The Allan Gardens Conservatory's annual Christmas Flower Show is never a turkey of a show but the highlight of the Conservatory's year if you're into poinsettias, hanging ornaments, Christmas trees, seasonal floral design, etc.. (I prefer the Spring Flower Show held in March-April since I'm so colour-deprived at that time of the year that forced tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other bulbs provide the greatest therapy.) My work season unofficially ended yesterday and to celebrate, I dropped by to see this year's Christmas Flower Show with camera in hand.

I'm always curious to see what the Show's theme is. One year it was about music, another Show profiled outdoor activities like skating. This year? I'm not sure. No turkeys or geese on the menu; instead, we had this bird for Christmas:




Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show floral peacock by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
 Flower Show floral peacock



Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show floral peacock kalanchoes detail by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show floral peacock with kalanchoe in detail 



Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show floral peacock succulents detail by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show floral peacock with succulents in detail 




Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show floral peacock succulents and kalanchoes detail by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show floral peacock succulents and kalanchoe detail 




Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show floral peacock detail by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show floral peacock feathers in detail 



Orange, pink and yellow aren't your typical Christmas colours (they remind me of a perennial border during high summer) but so what? I imagine the floral designers had a lot of fun arranging all these Kalanchoe, Echeveria and ivy to form this peacock's finery. And coming into the Conservatory on a dull December day, it was great to see some high voltage colours.

Don't worry, Christmas traditionalists, there will be more than enough "green-red-white" combinations in the pictures to follow. 



It's a Christmas Flower Show so where are the Christmas trees and ponisettias? Well, right across from our colourful peacock friend, we had these "trees":




Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show Christmas tree topiary by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show Christmas tree topiary 




Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show Christmas tree by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show Christmas trees 



Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show Christmas tree topiary detail by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show Christmas tree topiary detail




Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show Christmas tree topiary detail red and white kalanchoes by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show Christmas tree topiary detail red and white kalanchoe




Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show Christmas tree topiary Echevieria by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show Christmas tree topiary with kalanchoe and Echevieria




Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show Christmas tree topiary succulents detail by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show Christmas tree topiary succulents detail 



A Flower Show is all about colour so setting up a "normal" Christmas tree like the real or artificial one you put up every December just won't do. The closeups above show how these "trees" were painstakingly put together. It takes an artistic eye to arrange the kalanchoes and Echeveria in that candy cane pattern. And for everything not to fall apart!



You waited patiently for poinsettias so here they are: The good news? Not a flake of glitter was seen anywhere on these poinsettias. Spray-painting poinsettias or plants in general is just plain wrong!




Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show poinsettias massed by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show poinsettias massed 



Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show poinsettias massed with variegated English Ivy by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show poinsettias massed with variegated English Ivy



Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show peach pink poinsettias by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show peach pink poinsettias


Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show poinsettias and succulents by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show poinsettias and succulents



Something new for me in this year's Show is the use of taller poinsettias to create a greater layering effect as shown below. I guess the central stem was staked and leaves pinched off in the greenhouse. This makes for a better picture by filling up the middle layer, bare poinsettia "knees" notwithstanding.




Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show tall poinsettias by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show tall poinsettias



Besides seeing ubiquitous poinsettias during this season, cyclamens, azaleas and ornamental cabbage or kale are also for sale around the city now. I don't think they're hardy for us here in zone 5 Toronto (to be honest I've never tried to see if this is true but I assume most flower show material isn't bred for winter hardiness) but they are staples at this Flower Show every Christmas and provide the filler in the beds located in the separate room of the Conservatory that's kept in temperatures in the teens (Celsius) or 50s in F.




Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show pink cyclamen by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show pink cyclamen



Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show red and white cyclamen and dusty miller by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show red and white cyclamen and Dusty Miller


The Dusty Miller (Jacobaea maritima) tie the azaleas and ivy all together perfectly, like most silver-leaves plants do. Keep this in mind if you revamp your perennial bed next season. 





Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show Fleur En Vogue Purple Persian Cyclamen by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show "Fleur En Vogue Purple" Persian Cyclamen 

You're looking at the underside of these nodding "Fleur En Vogue" Persian cyclamen flowers by design. And the foliage, as usual for cyclamens, is wonderful.



Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show pink cyclamens by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show pink cyclamens



Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show pink azaleas and Asparagus ferns by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas 
Flower Show pink azaleas and Asparagus ferns 


I find the pink azalea flowers combine so well with the Asparagus Fern's (Asparagus aethiopicus) fine foliage, although this colour scheme reminds me more of spring than Christmas.




Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show white ornamental cabbage kale by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show white ornamental cabbage kale 

This green and white ornamental kale is twirling around like a flamenco dancer!



Let's warm things up!



Any visit to the Conservatory means spending time in the two "hot" houses or rooms which are heated and have high humidity all year. You can usually depend on seeing orchids, hibiscus, Abutilon (Indian Mallow), croton, bromeliads and other tropical plants blooming happily away, even with the Arctic winds howling outside during January and February. This Conservatory is truly an oasis in downtown Toronto and provides me and many other visitors a reprieve from the numbing cold and depressing snow and ice during a long Toronto winter.


Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show Phalaenopsis orchids by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show Phalaenopsis moth orchid




Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show Cattleya labiata by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show Cattleya labiata




Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show red tropical hibiscus rosa sinensis by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show red tropical hibiscus Rosa sinensis 




Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show tropical hibiscus rosa sinensis by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show tropical hibiscus Rosa sinensis 




Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show Codiaeum variegatum Croton by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show Codiaeum variegatum (Croton) 




Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show bromeliads and aechmeas by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
 Flower Show bromeliads and aechmeas




Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show bromeliads and reindeer by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas
Flower Show bromeliads and reindeer

One of Rudolph's siblings (since he or she doesn't have a red nose) seems confused about grazing on these bromeliads and Aechmeas.




Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show Blushing Bromeliad Neoregelia carolinae by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory 2017 Christmas Flower Show
Blushing Bromeliad (Neoregelia carolinae)


The common name for this bromeliad makes perfect sense!