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?