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?