December 29, 2011

Where's the snow?!

All Toronto gardeners want for Christmas is........decent snow cover!

My garden is desperately in need of the "white" mulch.

We normally think of mulch as some shredded bark-like material (not red, I trust!) that is thrown loosely on the garden's surface. Other mulches include shredded leaves, chipped bark, straw, pea gravel and compost.

Benefits include:
  • suppressing weeds from germinating, reducing our weeding efforts
  • keeping the soil temperature relatively stable
  • reducing transpiration and, thus, watering
  • finishing off the garden's appearance (aesthetics)
But there's a type of mulch which is equally important to have in the Toronto area that boosts your plants' chances of surviving brutally cold winds and is free! 


A thick and persistent layer of snow insulates the frozen soil and keeps it frozen. A cycle of freeze and thaw can kill many marginally-hardy plants in our area as the crowns (tops) of perennials are exposed and often plants are heaved out several inches. (I've lost coral bells (Huechera) due to this process.)

We haven't had a significant amount of snow in Toronto yet which is a driver's dream but a gardener's curse. A good foot of the white stuff will let me sleep better (but my back will undoubtedly complain after tackling the driveway!)

December 24, 2011

Happy holidays!

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas or the holiday of your choice this season and a prosperous and healthy 2012!

November 28, 2011

Their gardens, my babies?

Who are the parents of a new garden?

It's late November in Toronto. We haven't had snow yet and most of the leaves have fallen or melted on the perennials. If you're a student of tree bark or (dormant) plant structure, this may be an interesting time (and will be for the next 4 months or so.)  For me, there isn't very much to look at in the garden. The glorious blaze of colours we had up to several weeks ago is replaced with bare limbs and stems. On the positive side, pruning strategies are more obvious for the shrubs and trees in the backyard, I guess!

Work is slowing down for the year so now is the time to evaluate the business' financials for trends. It's been another good year, considering the lingering effects of a recession. I've met quite a few clients from my Paul Jung Gardening Services website this year and look forward to meeting more next year as the business grows. I've also been privileged to maintain gardens for outstanding customers again who are really more like friends. Working in their gardens (many have been profiled in this blog) over the years has been a treat.

A new client, C., said something that I found very interesting and profound. She asserted that (a), the new garden I installed for her below doesn't really "belong" to her. Yes, of course, it's part of her property but she felt that my imprint on it via plant selection and placement (with her consultation) made it mine, somehow. And (b), the more time I maintained it, the more it became my garden. I was initially perplexed by her observation but upon further reflection, maybe she was on to something.

Here are the before and after shots:

Front yard before new design showing overgrown evergreens by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Not much interest going on with the evergreens and sedum
Front yard after new design with new weigela, blueberry, moss phlox by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
We have more seasonal interest with some flowering shrubs and perennials

This wasn't a complex makeover. For her front garden, I removed most of the overgrown "foundation" plants like junipers and euonymus that were sheared into balls/vases/disks. They were replaced with perennials and shrubs she had in the back (e.g., 3 yellow variegated weigela, sedum, maiden grass, moss phlox) that now offer multi-season interest. Several dozen allium bulbs will start the show next spring. We now have the beginnings of something special, it is hoped.

Will this front garden ever be mine as C. believes? And what if she moves? Will the new owners know or care of its genesis? I always have a fond connection with the gardens I design, install and maintain. What started as a jungle or horticultural wasteland became a blank canvas then became a work of art and science, or, to mix metaphors, became my baby. And as anyone who has the experience of raising babies (I have two older babies) will tell you that it is a work in progress, the end results may never reach perfection even with the requisite amount of love and discipline.

Still, this never stops some of us from having them.

November 14, 2011

Female ginkgos: the fairer sex?

Reasons why male ginkgo trees are ( or should be) planted in Toronto landscapes

ginkgo biloba yellow fall colour at paul kane house paul jung toronto organic ecological gardening services
A gingko in its fall glory

I couldn't let fall pass us by without taking some pictures of one of my favourite trees, the ginkgo! Yes, I know the leaves literally all drop overnight on some trees but that bright clean lemon yellow against a clear sky is something special. Here's a younger female specimen located in the Paul Kane House park nearby (profiled in a previous post.) Usually, the sex of a tree isn't noteworthy or relevant but the ginkgo female will make herself known (explanation to follow.) Throughout the year, this small gal is rather plain but right now, she's positively glowing!

Yorkville Townhall Square with fall Ginkgo bilobas boxwood and yews by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
A herd of ginkgos!

Ginkgo biloba is considered the ultimate city street tree as it is reportedly immune to pollution, soil structure and pH, pests, etc. This feature certainly was considered when plants were chosen for the Yorkville Townhall Square. There are 46 (!) ginkgos among the yew hedges and boxwood balls in giant pots as described here. The site is between a public library (Yorkville branch) and a condo and sits on top of an underground garage. It's a nice quiet place to have lunch, except when the firetrucks are summoned. (The fire station is right beside the library!)

fall gingko biloba leaf and fruit allan gardens paul jung toronto organic ecological gardening services
The uniquely shaped leaf and smelly culprit
Ginkgos are ancient gymnosperms with seeds surrounded by a fleshy seed coat. The species is also unique for its bilobed leaves with dichotomous venation. The seed coat at maturity is soft and smells like rancid butter, dog excrement, or vomit; however, the actual seed is boiled and considered a delicacy by the Chinese and Japanese. I always put a few prepared ginkgo seeds in my pork bone and bean curd soup. (They have a mild nutty flavour after cooking.) To learn everything about ginkgos, visit The Ginkgo Pages

Mature ginkgo biloba in the fall at Allan Gardens by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Look out below and be careful where you step!

This is my first ginkgo that I identified about 8 years ago and I'm always fond of it. It is located in Toronto's Allan Gardens and is about 100 feet in height, I guess. I was off work looking after my second child, he must have been only about 6 months old or so. I would often take him in his stroller visiting the greenhouses, the gardens and mature trees. One day I must have passed by this tree and noticed the unmistakable smell of poo following me. Oh no! I checked the bottom of my shoes and the stroller's wheels but they seem to be clean. My son's diaper was dry too. But that smell was pervasive!

I eventually learned about the ginkgo in my plant i.d. classes and made the connection. I took both kids to the tree when it wasn't "fruiting" and described my earlier experience. They found it hilarious that I stepped in "it", "it" being the seed covering. I told them that this old ginkgo would likely remain long after I left this mortal coil as it was a survivor. (And it would continue dropping hundreds or thousands of sweet smelling fruits every fall!) They couldn't make out the word "ginkgo" so I said it rhymed with "stinko", which caused further merriment.

To this day, they call it the "stinko" tree.

Which reminds me, I need to wash my shoes...

November 08, 2011

Garden muses' Toronto garden in the fall

Fall colour in a downtown city garden (mine)

My posts usually deal with OPG (other people's gardens) since OPG are usually neat, manicured, tidy; at least, well looked after by myself or the homeowner. These adjectives, alas, don't apply to my garden which is part nursery and part trial garden. It's kind of like the cobbler's kids and their shoes.

But the missus and I do love our little patch of paradise right downtown, even with the lack of privacy and two (!) monstrous Tree(s?) of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) dispensing their seeds everywhere. And the suckers...ugh! Through careful site analysis, bubble diagrams outlining functionalities, and the well-executed master plan (i.e., buying what looked nice at the nurseries and plonking them where there was room), garden muses and his muse have wrought Sissinghurst out of Sanford and Son, to mix metaphors.

Well, not exactly Sissinghurst or another paragon of a fine garden, but a yard that is showing its best right now. There is little emphasis on flowers because of the squirrels (who love to decapitate any bud exactly 2 days before bloom) and the surrounding houses (which provide us with precisely 3.289 hours of direct sunlight a day). I prefer woody shrubs and small trees anyway for structure, shade, and fall colour as these pictures show.

ukigumo Japanese maple and other shrubs in autumn by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
I really do love my "Ukigumo" but I love them all!

Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum cv) are nice enough the rest of the year but during autumn they really shine. This shot shows a yellow "Ukigumo" behind a seedling Eastern Redbud, a small potted "Bloodgood" to its right, and then a coral pink "Butterfly". At the top, from left to right, we have an "Arnold Promise" witchhazel, "Summer Snowflake" Doublefile Viburnum, and "Onondaga" Sargent Viburnum. In the lower left corner is a "Grace" smokebush which oddly has been disappointing in the fall colour department this year. The "Halcyon" hosta in the lower right area hasn't turned an orange-yellow yet but will, soon enough.

Seiryu and Crimson Queen Japanese maples in autumn by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Acer palmatum "Crimson Queen" and "Seiryu" among an "Onodaga" viburnum

Here's a look from the opposite view. Other Japanese maples in this view include "Crimson Queen" in the lower left corner and an orangey "Seiryu"in the centre. Yes, there is actually a path somewhere leading to the garage. Now you can appreciate the lack of privacy concern with the apartment next to us in the background. At least there's a nice show if anyone bothered looking out.

katsuratree and kousa dogwood in autumn by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Cornus kousa on the left hasn't turned colour yet but the Katsuratree has

Not the best picture I can manage but the colours are/will be nice anyway. From left, there's a Kousa Dogwood which is slowly turning red and purple, a Pagoda Dogwood that's lost most of its leaves already but you can still make out its horizontal branching, a "baby" Katsuratree with its mellow-yellow foliage, and a rather large Arrowwood Viburnum at the right. There's yellow peeking behind from a neighbour's serviceberry and the trunk of the aforementioned Ailanthus. I won't discuss the white lattice so don't ask.

Rudbeckia and doublefile viburnum in autumn by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Everyone likes Rudbeckia or that's what I read

I love perennials, I really do! And to prove it, here's a shot of the Rudbeckia that's still holding up well in front of another doublefile viburnum (a cultivar called "Popcorn"), more Arrowwood Viburnum, some solomon seal and astilbe, and the orange "Seiryu" Japanese maple. There was once a gravel path on the left side leading from the patio to the garage but somehow over the years my two children have displaced a ton of crushed granite. 

I mean, really, where did it go?

October 30, 2011

An elegant solution to "What the #@%! am I going to do with those downspouts now?"

Creating a new rain garden and dry stream bed in Toronto

There's a new mandatory downspout disconnection bylaw  in Toronto enacted to "reduce the amount of stormwater entering the sewer system,...reducing the risk of basement flooding and releasing polluted rainwater into local waterways." Good intentions but what's a homeowner to do?

My client Christine modified this new regulation last year with my help. Originally her downspout ran away about 5' from her house's back wall and on to the lawn. This served the purpose of shedding rainwater from the roof's eaves (gutters) away from the foundation but posed hassles of a) tripping over the piece of ugly aluminum and b) not being able to run the mower over this area.

Dry stream bed with river rock, boulders and flagstone bridge by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Can you find the downspout?

We discussed the idea of a soak pit by which the rainwater would be sent via a buried pipe to a leaching area. The excavated area would be covered with sod after being backfilled in order to prevent problems a) and b) noted above. But maintenance would be required periodically since the eaves often have leaves and spruce needles that inevitably would be sent to the pit and impede the percolation of precipitation.

Dry stream bed rain garden hiding disconnected downspout by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
My idea of a rain garden: sure beats looking at more lawn!

Another possible solution was a dry stream or river bed that receives the rainwater at grade and percolates it through the soil profile away from the house. This picture shows the finished area of about 5' long by 3' wide that connects a central circular bed (at the bottom) and the bed adjacent to the house's wall. 

I dug out a U-shaped trench increasing slightly in depth away from the house, lined the bottom with landscape fabric to prevent the surrounding soil mixing with the hardscape, added successfive layers of 3/4" drainage rock and various sizes of river rock and pea gravel. 

A rectangularish piece of random flagstone placed flush with the lawn provides a flat and safe "bridge" to cross. 

I added  (from the upper left clockwise) Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), Variegated Broad-Leaved Sedge (Carex siderosticha ‘Variegata’), Siberian Iris (Iris sibirica ‘Caesar’s Brother’), Lady Fern (hidden by a yew branch lower right), and finally a "Crimson Queen" Japanese Maple that was languishing in deep shade in another part of the garden. The plants softened the hardscape and alluded to water-loving reeds.

Related to this post because we're in the same garden, I couldn't resist showing you an autumn beauty in a peaceful corner below. (You can see the same view in the summer in this post titled "A moment of rest in a Toronto garden".) 

Blooming White Pearl bugbane in front of cedar zen privacy screen and bench by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Cedar privacy panel and bench lets you enjoy the 
blooming Snakeroots in peace and quiet
"White Pearl" Snakeroot (Cimicifuga syn. Actaea matsumurae "White Pearl") thrives in this area's partial shade. The white flowers don't have a scent that I noticed but getting blooms at this time of the year from a pest-resistant perennial is such a bonus. The cedar fence panel I constructed earlier makes a nice backdrop in this quiet corner of the client's garden.

October 20, 2011

wind + ornamental grasses = kinesis

Toronto Music Garden in its fall glory

When the wind picks up at this time of the year, I always think of ornamental grasses. They evoke waves on land and show the wind's kinetic energy pulsing, pushing and pulling. Gardens around the city are changing towards new forms previously hidden or distracted by foliage and, forgive me, flowers. Senescence comes to mind, a word more descriptive than dormancy. 

Grasses like feather reed grass  (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) in the fall show the inevitable sleep that descends on us all after a season of push and pull.

swaying in the wind at Toronto Music Garden by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) 
in motion

Layers and waves of ornamental grasses and perennials in autumn Toronto Music Garden by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Pennisetum , Miscanthus, et al: all texture, wave after wave

I visited the Toronto Music Garden earlier this past summer in a post called "Toronto Music Garden with the kids" when a greater emphasis was found with flowers. In the courante section of the garden, grasses and other sun-worshipping perennials spiral along the path towards the maypole at the top. Right now, I love this layer of purple coneflower seedheads, plumes from the fountain and maiden grasses, spires of the butterfly bush and Russian sages. No hot designer colours, just a repetition of a plant forms that makes for superb garden design.

What's around the bend? I suspect more Pennisetum, Miscanthus, Chasmanthium, and Panicum willing to embrace and caress you while you hear the rustling with each gust.

Ornamental grasses bordering path up Courante section of Toronto Music Garden by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Ornamental grasses provide a tactile experience

Why wouldn't you want to proceed?

October 15, 2011

Many reasons to give thanks in Lake Muskoka

Lake Muskoka's beautiful fall colours

What a difference a week makes when it comes to the weather! Last weekend was Thanksgiving holiday in Canada and my family visited my sister and her family at their new cottage near Gravenhurst, Ontario which is about a 2 hour drive from Toronto. The weather was incredible! Sunny and remarkably warm (25 degrees Celsius or into the 70s F.)  The leaves were also changing colours so I had to show some pics Linda took.

Beautiful still water on Lake Muskoka Thanksgiving 2011 by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Sunrise calm

Me fishing with fall colours Lake Muskoka Thanksgiving 2011 by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Fishing on a mirror

There was absolutely no wind at sunrise as these pictures show. I'm an avid fisherman and took every opportunity to wet my line. You might even think I photoshopped myself into this picture but the lake surface was truly a mirror. It was pure bliss to have a coffee on the dock and meditate in silence. No jet skis, bugs, or party revellers; rather the only fireworks were the maples and oaks lining the shore.

Yellow brown green beech leaves on same tree near Lake Muskoka Thanksgiving 2011 by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Tri-colour beech, in a way

With the sky a pristine blue, we often looked overhead to really appreciate the changing colour of the trees. I think this is a cool shot showing three different colours in the same beech tree's canopy. 

Nature always surprises me with its random beauty although one could argue that the tree is simply withdrawing as much energy as possible from its leaves before they fall. 

What we perceive as beautiful colours of crimson, gold, violet, magenta, etc., are strictly unintended byproducts of the tree's evolution. But who really cares when you see such beauty?

October 02, 2011

Maybe you do need a scoop of vanilla ice cream...

Fresh Toronto Cornus kousa fruits in the raw!

As my mama used to say, "life's not a bowl of cherries" or a Chinese variation like "you can't always expect to eat the last haw gow." Life's not always smooth and plentiful but occasionally you do and should enjoy nature's bounty. The warty looking fruit in the bowl are some ripe Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa) berries I picked surreptiously as the shrubs were, technically, on private property. I find plant junkies like myself often play fast and loose with concepts like trespassing and vandalism. I even had a reply ready if someone stopped and asked me what I was doing: helping myself to the urban harvest!

Ripe cornus kousa chinese dogwood fruit in a bowl with spoon by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Mmmm, but what about those warts?

Now, I wasn't going to eat them although they are edible in a quasi custardy-mealy way.  (Ice cream would go a long way.)  I didn't collect them for a reason as transient as consumption but rather to germinate the seeds. After mashing the pulpy fruits in my fingers, extracting the seeds and scrubbing off the pulp, I planted them in small pots so they can stratify over winter in the garage. According to a trusted source, C. kousa seeds are relatively easy to germinate and don't go through double dormancy like the viburnums I try to propagate via seeds. I'll let you know next spring how things progress.

September 24, 2011

Summer's end at High Park

Spending an afternoon at Grenadier Pond

During the last days of summer, we had some sunny and gorgeous weather in Toronto. While we see a lot of green tree canopies, there are other unmistakable signs of autumn around us. The oaks and maples in High Park have not turned crimson and violet yet but the goldenrods are in full force.

High Park goldenrods in bloom by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Goldenrods exploding

I took the kids for a nice walk along one of the park's many trails starting at the north end. Our intention was to wind up at the southern boundary at the bottom of Grenadier Pond. We saw many other folks enjoying the sunny beautiful weather having picnics, fishing and good old fashioned loitering.

Bullrushes and lily pads at north end of Grenadier Pond by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
The north end of Grenadier Pond

It's hard to believe that a very busy highway (the Gardiner Expressway) is about a kilometer due south of this location. You can imagine the view from the houses behind the cattails. The perfect example of borrowed scenery. I seriously regretted not bringing my fishing rod as this is bass heaven! (For those inclined, fishing is allowed from shore. There are pike, bullheads and panfish to be caught, although eating your catch isn't advisable.)

Unidentified weed flower detail in High Park by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Highly ornamental, for a "weed"

I don't know what attracted me to this flower. Obviously, it wasn't about the colour. I mean, a green flower?These were weeds growing among the naturalized goldenrods, asters and gray dogwood. Perhaps I didn't expect a green rosette and my brain was trying to fill in the centre with another colour. "Cabbagey" is the made up word that crosses my mind. I find the structure and symmetry intriguing.

September 16, 2011

Second place peeps!

You like really like me!

I'm gonna toot my own horn so if you're not into reading about self-congratulatory slaps on the back, just exit. (But this is gardening related so it could be illuminating or humourous at the very least.) If you read my earlier post about entering in the Canadian National Exhibition's Patio Planters competition last month, you might have concluded that the planter I submitted on behalf of the Riverdale Horticultural Society had very little chance of winning. And as it turned out, it didn't!

Second prize ribbon Canadian National Exhibition 2011 patio planter competition by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
No, I didn't steal this!

But I did garner second place, to my surprise and shock. As a reminder, the planter had no flowers (now, how can that be?) and didn't follow the "thriller-filler-spiller in Maniller" formula you read about in better gardening magazines. Given the resounding passive support (i.e., silence) given to me by the other members of the garden club, I can only conclude that they all "got it" or are mortified that the RHS' good name is attached to the container. Nevertheless, I thought that you, gentle reader, should hear the good news straight from the source.

I shall keep the ribbon and rosette in a safe spot to remind me that it wasn't all a dream. The kids think the prize is very cool and have absconded it and pinned it on their stuffed domo toys I got them at the Ex on Labour Day. I'm very proud of the result although, truth be told, the first place winner container was a trifle monochromatic, a sleep-inducing green on green on green creation.

Yes, that was the smell of sour grapes in the air.

September 11, 2011

Anemone x hybrida "September Charm": Awww, they didn't name this after me?

I'm in love with a Japanese anemone called "September Charm"

She's charming indeed! Fall-flowering anemones or Japanese windflowers (Anemone x hybrida) shine this time of the year. The little clump shown below is a cultivar called "September Charm" that does its thing reliably every August and September under an oak tree at my clients A and M's garden. I love recommending these fall bloomers (varieties include the classic "Honorine Jobert" and "Queen Charlotte") for their height, transparency and lightness.

September Charm Japanese anemone in a dappled shade garden by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Anemone x hybrida "September Charm"

The cute flowers are a bonus to me, even after they become seedheads left for winter interest. Everything about this plant is graceful, refined, and classy. (You can accuse me for being anthropomorphic, there's more to come!)

Anemones tend to prefer moist and fertile soil to allow them to "run" but this clump is well-behaved because it shares this bed with the spring blooming snowdrop anemone (Anemone sylvestris). 

It's like a death match between variegated goutweed vs. spearmint (true thugs!) but more refined. Yes, gardeners have a little bloodlust at times!

If the title of the post is a little cryptic, let me explain. My birthday is on the 18th and my wife will be the first to tell anyone that I'm her "September Charm", gag! Well wishes to fellow Virgos and Snakes among you!

A bee feeding on a September Charm Japanese anemone flower by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
A hungry visitor on a Japanese anemone flower

August 30, 2011

Worth the wait: Oakleaf hydrangeas in bloom!

Oakleaf hydrangeas in bloom in a Toronto shade garden

It's late August now in Toronto and things seem to on hold in the garden. Temperatures, humidity and mosquitoes have mercifully dropped to more humane levels for working outside. My clients S. and D. often have a coffee while enjoying views like this one in their backyard. This oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) has annually confounded me and S. due to its reluctance to bloom on new or old wood. We accepted with chagrin that the shrub would provide a fine fall show of deeply lobed plum/wine/russet-coloured leaves and interesting winter peeling bark, which it did unfailingly. Maybe it took a terrible spring (remember the rain/snow/sleet in April?) and that torrid week of plus 40 humidex to spur this fellow to bloom.

Who knows? 

oakleaf hydrangea sum and substance hosta against white paper birch by garden muses: a toronto gardening blog
Varying texture and form with hostas and oakleaf hydrangeas

We are simply enjoying the heavy cone-shaped panicles and the contrast between the shrub's leaves with those of the in-your-face "Sum and Substance" hosta. The paper birch in the back doesn't hurt the composition either.

This shot was taken two weeks ago and when I returned yesterday, the blooms already faded to tan and brown. The large sterile cream-coloured sepals have a light pink blush while the inconsipicuous fertile flowers are set in the background. We'll probably leave them on over winter for further interest. The snow should clump on them nicely.

oakleaf hydrangea flowers in detail by garden muses: a toronto gardening blog
Oakleaf hydrangea detail of flowers

 I find oakleafs need a little more protection in our zone compared to H. macrophylla  and H. paniculata and bloom less-reliably; nevertheless, they definitely merit a spot. You'll likely find cultivars like "Alice", "Snowflake" or "Pee Wee" in better stocked nurseries. I remember seeing a grove of 6 feet plus high oakleafs covered in blooms at the Columbus (OH) Zoo and Aquarium several years ago. I know Columbus is a couple of zones warmer (5b) than us but we should give this hydrangea a try more often. You might be pleasantly surprised or shocked when (if?) they bloom.

August 17, 2011

Let's All Go to the Ex (and see my planter)

One Toronto gardener's very amateur attempt at container gardening

I joined the Riverdale Horticultural Society earlier this year and was asked/begged if I wanted to enter a container in this year's Ontario Horticultural Association's Patio Planters competition at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE). I thought, "what the hay", why not submit something that is guaranteed an honorable mention and could land the top prize of $100. Subversive little me would really love to play with the judges' sense of design so I created the container you see below.

If you know a little about me, I absolutely hate axial symmetry, especially in containers. Asymmetry all the way baby! Thus, I loaded the lower left side with the Golden Japanese Forest Grass and thrust the energy diagonally to the "Jade Princess" Ornamental Millet flower in the upper right quadrant. The croton and "Pewter Veil" Heuchera provide an unsettling contrast to the limes of the grasses. I chose the Tricolor St. John's Wort to the lower right as it has a touch of hot pink to upset the viewer more  add more visual tension.

I had no input about the container as it was loaned by the RHS but I think it is perfect. The conventional thinking is to throw in a "thriller", "filler", and "spiller" for a "perfect" container, design-wise. You might expect, therefore, a canna or lantana standard for height, maybe zonal geraniums and coleus as blocking material, and perhaps potato vines as trailers. (I can see it in my mind too!) The black urn practically begs for such an arrangement so what did I do? Created a disconnect between the viewer's expectation of what this wannabe cast-iron urn should hold versus what it actually does contain.

I would love to see what the other 3 competitor patio planters look like but I'm out of town during judging. But if you are in the Direct Energy Building during August 19-26 during the first week the Ex is open and are horticulturally inclined, take a peek.

I suggest you look at my planter, though, before you visit the food building.

August 15, 2011

A Moment of Rest in a Toronto Garden

Ideas for a shady spot to rest, reflect and not see your neighbour's dump of a backyard!

Every garden needs a spot of repose, a place to actually sit, rest, look and listen. My client C. has a small garden which I had re-designed about five years ago and the space is evolving into something special and unique. We addressed the poor drainage, mediocre soil and marginal privacy concerns over time to create a lush and quiet zone that also has a dry stream bed to handle a downspout's flow and a very large and hyper-efficient composter. It's been a successful match of form and function!

Zen cedar bench and cedar privacy screen in a quiet corner by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
An inviting place to relax, meditate and contemplate

A back corner offered views of a neighbour's messy backyard and little privacy. We didn't want anything as ugly as a panel of board on board fencing and a plastic patio chair as part of a solution for a place for private rest. As the above picture tries to show, I decided on utilizing strongly horizontal elements from the Japanese garden style by creating a wooden screen made from stained 1 by 1s. This offered subtle privacy without the need for a wall.  It also gives you a "prize" for scanning all around the garden in the form of a focal point. (Note: three Emerald cedars planted in this full shade corner do not constitute a winning prize.) Pea gravel underneath complements the naturalism in the shady back.

Plan view of zen cedar bench by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Top view of a cedar zen bench 

Here's a detail of the bench I built (!) made from cedar 2 by 4s and 4 by 4s. (Sorry, I haven't figured out avoiding the over-exposure of some pics but I think you can extrapolate the rest of the bench.) 

A coating of semi-transparent stain and 3 coats of urethane were applied, with sanding in between. No metal brackets or mortises and tenons were used: instead, I drilled pocket holes using the Kreg jig and exterior screws to connect the legs and side pieces.  

The dimensions are roughly 48" long by 18" tall by 18" wide to provide ample seating for one or two.  While I am definitely not a carpenter, it was a very interesting project to complete from concept, assembly, and client presentation. Just don't ask me to make another one. 

(A huge thanks to a good friend, the "Man with All the Tools", Trace, for helping out with the final finishing!)

August 09, 2011

The "municipal" style of planting and garden design?

James Gardens in Toronto: you better like annuals coming here!

Today's post is more rant than muse so, with this caveat...

Mass of yellow and blue annuals James Garden kidney shaped bed by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
The archetypical municipal bedding arrangement,
 just missing the cannas in the middle

Near my client D's place is James Gardens in Etobicoke (west-end Toronto) which I try to visit after work. I'm curious to see the large beds in the park and garden areas, their condition and types of plantings. Inevitably, I always think/ask about: a) how many thousands of annuals are planted and b) the small army of seasonal staff in charge of planting, deadheading, and removing the plants once we get hard killing frost in early winter.

James Garden  triangular annual bed with catharathus by garden muses: a Toronto gardening  blog
Flying in formation

These photos are examples of what I call the "municipal" style of plant design within an overall landscape design style perhaps labelled as picturesque. (If Capability Brown was around, he'd contract out the placement of some moats, lakes, hills, and a few cows in the park.) 

We have row upon row of annuals in military order designed en masse to attract your eyes from a distance. 

Imagine deadheading and preening these beds to ensure the public is presented with a neat, tidy, and highly controlled garden style.

James Garden mass of orange zinnias, yellow rudbeckia, purple salvia, lavender ageratum by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
I'm getting dizzy...

Perhaps it's no surprise that I became visually fatigued/ overwhelmed/ bored with the beds in very short order because you can see everything in a few glances from a distance. Take the detail of the bed above. Every plant is blooming its pretty little head off and by focussing all your energy on the blooms, your eyes never get a rest. It's like a neon sign that's on all the time, day and night. Maybe you were drawn to it originally but discovered how quickly you lost interest.

August 05, 2011

Freaking floriferous! (Yes, I admit, Rose of Sharons look nice right now)

Someone in Toronto loves her Rose of Sharon right now!

Hibiscus syriacus lavender chiffon Rose of Sharon shrub loaded with blooms by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
This is why we grow it (for 2 weeks a year)!

I worked at my client Dale's garden today and was astounded to see her Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) in full bloom. This is a double flowering variety called "Lavender Chiffon" and the shrub is absolutely loaded with flowers. You may not see it clearly but I "trussed" up the stems to prevent the top-heavy shrub from sprawling and to try to achieve a pseudo-standard look. Not exactly a Horticulture 101 best practice but the client is happy.

Bees were everywhere which will mean dozens of seedlings next spring. It's a small price to pay for such fleeting beauty.

Hibiscus syriacus lavender chiffon Rose of Sharon flower detail by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Detail of "Lavender Chiffon" Rose of Sharon flower

I took several closeups of the different (to me) double flower type and this one seems a good example. Like the perennial Hibiscus or rosemallow, the petals have that crepe or chiffon texture.

D. found several "shiny metallic-green bugs" congregating and damaging a few flowers so I quickly introduced her to the Japanese beetle and gave her advice of disposing them between her fingers or under foot. 

Who has time for soapy water for these devils?