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.