June 27, 2011

Green is a Colour Too, in Dappled Shade

Shade gardening in Toronto

There are days when I question why I gave up cubicle life in exchange for the joys of self-employment (wild income fluctuations, bugs, humidity, client "relations", etc.) But imagine enjoying your lunch surrounded by a setting like this on a bi-weekly basis. Such doubts rarely enter my mind here.

The clients' backyard is embraced by 100 feet plus high red oaks so the shade is never deep and oppressive as it is under, say, a Norway maple. Gardening and entertaining activities are very enjoyable due to this type of dappled shade. Certainly made my ham sandwich more delicious today.

Dappled shade garden with Japanese forest grass, Rodgersia, Halcyon hostas by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Under dappled shade, enjoying my lunch
The particular part of the garden in the picture consists of a waterfall feature surrounded by classic shade tolerant perennials and shrubs. We have two types of Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra "Albostriata" and "Aureola", left and right respectively), Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum), "Halcyon" hosta, Rodgersia aesculifolia, and "Arnold Promise" witchhazel (Hamamelis x intermedia "Arnold Promise")  in the back.

I think we have a beautiful composition with contrasting foliage (linear vs. broad vs. palmate) and a soothing green palette that's easy on the eyes. With the trickling of the fountain on this warm late June day, it was hard to leave, albeit only temporarily.

Hakone grass Halcyon hosta rodgersia in shade by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Hakone grass, "Halcyon" hosta,
astilbes and Rodgersia in the shade 

June 08, 2011

A Low(er) Maintenance Toronto Garden Bed

Do you have full sun and lousy grass in Toronto?

I often get asked about how to make a client's front lawn nice, weedless, and green (again) with minimum effort and cost. I try to answer diplomatically that these are contradictory goals. The homeowner must either put in the effort to (a) re-seed or re-sod; b) fertilize and apply weed killer regularly;  and c) mow or pay a "mo-blow-and go" landscape professional a living wage to do so.

Uncomfortable silence usually ensues.

If I'm lucky and have good karma for the day, I might meet someone/couple who sees past a brown and patchy monoculture (a.k.a. failing turf) and envisions a design that is much more more interesting and ecologically sustainable.

New garden bed with lamb's ears, salvia, coreopsis, oriental poppy by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Promising bed, not-so-promising lawn

The little (6' long by 3' wide kidney-shaped) bed above was cut out of a thin patchwork of turf. The front area of this client's house faces south looking onto a quiet street. Although the site is in full sun, the lawn is not lush and full as there is no sprinkler system involved with a poor, compacted, and infertile soil profile. With the client's input, I chose perennials and a shrub which appreciate the southern aspect and drier conditons. These include Papaver orientale "Allegro", Stachys byzantina, Caryopteris x clandonensis "Worcester Gold", Perovskia atriplicifolia, and Cotinus coggygria "Young Lady." The soil was profusely amended with homemade compost and bagged triple mix and topped with a 2" layer of mulch.

The client planted orange tulips and purple alliums last fall which have finished blooming now. We'll have a sequence of continuous blooming from April to September with minimal watering and weeding and no fertilizing. Lastly, there are plans to enlarge this bed in the future!

June 03, 2011

Don't Fence Me In! (or "Scared Straight", Horticulturally.)

Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation taking a hard line towards flower pickers?

Yes, I know...I've been neglecting you, gentle reader, as it's been a month since my last post. Weeding, transplanting, and pruning almost daily (when it hasn't been raining) for my clients makes the time fly by. Finally, we're experiencing sunny and warm weather in late May and early June. This is truly one of my favourite times of the year to be outside. We know that the humidex readings of over 35 will be arriving soon so let's savour days like today.

Speaking of today, I had no reason not to take pictures and write this post since the flowers are blooming so vividly around the corner.  Paul Kane House has what I believe is the only English perennial border (or a reasonable facsimile) downtown. 

 Here's what is blooming right now:

Purple Sensation alliums at Paul Kane House gardens by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Love those fuzzy pom-poms!

"Purple Sensation" alliums give vertical interest.  I've seen them used with great effect planted in and among "Sum and Substance" hosta. The hostas' chartreuse leaf colour and broad shape contrasts very well with the alliums' vertical nature and fine mauve inflorescences. In this bed, they contrasted nicely with the hot yet fragile-looking poppy flowers.

llium hollandicum "Purple Sensation" and  "Sum and Substance" hosta by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Allium hollandicum "Purple Sensation"
and  "Sum and Substance" hosta 

Allegro Oriental poppy bloom at Paul Kane House gardens by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Allegro Oriental poppy bloom 
at Paul Kane House gardens 

A closeup of an Oriental poppy flower and hairy buds (This may be the cultivar "Allegro.") Yes, I can hear the whining about perennial poppies going dormant after a two week show but really, how can you not love the red-orange crepe-like petals and that dark hypnotic eyeball of a centre? And those buds! Since we're all consenting adults, am I the only one who sees them as, ummm, testicular and labial simultaneously? Yeah, maybe it's just me.

Papaver orientale Allegro Oriental poppy bloom detail by garden muses-not another gardening blog
Papaver orientale "Allegro"
Oriental poppy bloom detail 

Papaver orientale Allegro Oriental poppy blooms by garden muses-not another gardening blog
Papaver orientale "Allegro"
Oriental poppy blooms

Purple German bearded iris at Paul Kane House gardens by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
A perennial best appreciated in someone else's garden

I'm not a fan of bearded irises and prefer Siberian ones instead but I'll admit, these big blooms are eye-catching. The flower shape just doesn't do anything for me but I appreciate the purple and yellow contrast. A herbaceous peony bud is about to open to the left, sans ant/s.

Paul Kane House perennial bed showing summer phlox, oriental poppy, caramel heuchera, german iris by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Early summer blooms in a perennial bed

Here's a shot taken from the side looking up/down the bed. The lower left clump is summer phlox (Phlox paniculata), cultivar unknown. To the right, a mass planting of "Caramel" heuchera gives a nice mellow contrast to the poppy fireworks. The back of the bed is a yew hedge which is the classic backdrop for this high maintenance English border. Other perennials in the bloom sequence are false lupin, peony, catmint, hardy geranium, and hollyhock. You might think you're in Great Dixter until you see this...

Caramel heuchera behind metal barrier at Paul Kane House gardens by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Nobody knows the troubles I've seen...

We are in downtown Toronto and the perceived threat of plant injury, theft, and overall mayhem is so high that the city's bureaucrats/garden cops have expensed this lovely partition to keep out ne'er-do-wells. It's all good and well to lean over and look but forget about actually smelling or touching a flower or leaf. If you cross your eyes and think positive thoughts, you might even make the barrier go away! Well, maybe not.

Paul Kane House garden bed facing west showing empty lot for new condo by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Looking west on Wellesley St. E., 
with the parcel of land behind "condo ready!"

I'm not out to be overly critical because I realize that these plants are nicer than the typical euonymous and Emerald cedar combos inflicted upon us and deserve to be protected in the urban environment. But this reality still doesn't make the fencing any less unattractive or minimizes the city's message: don't feed the plants!