December 29, 2013

A Visit to Flower Harbor Park, West Lake, Hangzhou

A school of carp and a lonely peacock...

Hmmm, gardening in Toronto as 2013 ends? Not a pretty picture with many trees severely damaged due to the recent ice storm. (An estimated 20% of Toronto's tree canopy was destroyed.) Temperatures are also expected to plummet this week to lows of minus 15-20 degrees Celsius. 

And it's only the beginning of January!

I retrieved some pictures from a warmer time in July 2012 for you from our family's trip to China. This post covers part of a day visiting the Flower Harbor Park, a scenic attraction near the southwest part of West Lake (Xi Hu) area near Hangzhou, China.

Flower Harbor Park West Lake Hangzhou lotus bud by garden muses-a Toronto gardening blog
Flower Harbor Park, West Lake, Hangzhou lotus bud 

December 22, 2013

Reflections on 2013

Some muses from the past 12 months (notes to myself, in no particular order):

  • don't bother growing cannas with the intention of overwintering them. Yes, you did cut the stalks off but were too busy lazy to dry the tubers, break open the bag of perlite and store them in the basement. Accept them as annuals.

  • 2014 could be year to shovel prune the three purple leaf sandcherry (Prunus x cistena) standards in the backyard that are afflicted with scale, rust, sawflies, etc. and bloom for a week. Discuss with your beloved.

  • don't accept business (a new client) referred to you by said potential client's ("PC") previous gardener ("PG"). It's very likely that PC hasn't let go of PG, emotionally, and will never really accept you. This makes for a doomed relationship. Sometimes, your best customer works for your competitor.

  • always carry anti-histamines with you as the severity of an allergic reaction from a yellow jacket sting is exponentially related to the distance of the nearest pharmacy.

  • you're still a "U-OH"! (an unrepentant ornamental horticulturist). You prefer big blowsy blooms, bold in-your-face foliage and deeply furrowed bark over a row of vegetables. Square foot gardening doesn't get the blood pumping for you.

  • the viburnum leaf beetle is here to stay in and around Toronto; therefore, the arrowwood viburnums (V. dentatum) in your backyard are losing their appeal, real fast.

  • Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra cultivars) should be in every garden. It's just a  matter of time.

  • you realize, once again, that you can't work in an office again full-time and that your c.v. is increasingly, if not already, useless. As an entrepreneur, you feel that this is perfectly normal and expected.

  • The overuse of Emerald cedars (Thuja occidentalis "Smaragd"), "Emerald Gaiety" euonymus and Hicks yews (Taxus x media "Hicksii") around Toronto is alarming. Several yards of retina-burning red dyed mulch added by landscape "professionals" complete the transformation.

  • Logically, plants are just plants. They're often bought and planted and, for many unexplained reasons, they also die. This is the rational view but gardeners are humans, ruled by emotion. Gardens are extremely emotion-laden places. Something to think about before making a comment about a client's ancient forsythia or bridal wreath spireaea that hasn't been pruned since, perhaps, the 1980s.

  • you've met some of the most incredibly nice, thoughtful and wise people in the world: my clients.

Well, that's all I can think of at the moment as I peer out of my living room, marvelling the front yard's silver maple currently ice laden due to the freezing rain wreaking havoc to southern Ontario.

I wish you a Merry Christmas, if you celebrate, and a Happy New Year to everyone.

May your gardens and other gardeners continue to inspire you next year.

By Paul Jung, author of "garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog" Google Google Find us on Google+

December 14, 2013

The Lingering Garden in Suzhou, China

Classical Chinese garden design at Liu Yuan

The funny thing with the frigid windchill and impending snow storm is that I'm out of "garden mode."  I'll have to stretch my definition of  "gardening"  for readers over the next 5 (!) months until spring, mercifully, returns to us in Toronto. Which could occur in April 2014, maybe. 


It's good to keep the cold weather in perspective because, if we're completely honest, we tend to moan and gripe about the humidity, heat and bugs assaulting Toronto gardeners in July and August. As a mental exercise, then, see if you can warm up a little by reading this post.

My family visited parts of China in July 2012, eventually ending up in my wife's ancestral village. I posted about our visits to the Summer Palace and Ming Tombs near Beijing  previously under these posts:  "Toronto gardeners need some warmth!" and "Garden muses visits Beijing in July". Now if you ever visited China in July, you darn know well it's hot and humid. No different when we visited Suzhou on the same trip.

Suzhou (pronounced "Sue-Joe") is about 100 km from Shanghai (see this map) and is a major commercial city of about 6 million, give or take a million, in China's Jiangsu province. It's famous for its canals and gardens, or so our tour guide advised us; therefore, off we went to visit the Lingering Garden or Liu Yuan. Although the heat was stifling (around 40 Celsius or upper 90s Fahrenheit humidex), it was an extraordinary experience to see classical Chinese garden design first hand.

Hao Pu Pavilion Lingering Garden Suzhou by garden muses-Toronto gardening blog
Hao Pu Pavilion in the Lingering Garden, Suzhou 

December 09, 2013

Saying goodbye to a Toronto garden

(An open letter to two former gardening clients)

Dear Sue and Doug:

As 2013 draws to a close, I'm reflecting on the "highs and lows" gardening-wise over the year. I wasn't surprised to hear that you decided to move, downsize and spend more time travelling. Still, I'll miss spending time in your garden.

I think we first met about 8 years ago when I was gardening at the church (Islington United Church) and you must have got my number from Rosemary. You'd asked me to, first, put down a short fieldstone path around some perennial beds and towards the back pergola. Then, over time, the garden enchanted me.

Of course, over the years, we:

  • fretted over the possibility/likelihood of the oakleaf hydrangeas blooming on old or new wood (still a mystery to me, they do what they want to do)
"Sum and Substance" hosta and oakleaf hydrangeas by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
"Sum and Substance" hosta and oakleaf hydrangeas

  • resigned to seeing the slug and snails wreaking havoc with the hostas
  • tried to tame to wild and woolly trumpet vine
  • complained about the condition of the front lawn
  • marvelled at the Paper Birch's beauty
  • laughed at how the Pagoda dogwood grew from a sapling near the compost bin, likely introduced through a bird dropping!

After my last visit before your move, I realized that I would miss the garden more than I thought.

I think a garden gives back to the gardener in many ways, dividends that enrich the soul and psyche (to mix metaphors.) I always found your garden to be restful and even idyllic with the pond gurgling away. Yes, it was visually nice to look at, with the iris and peonies blooming in the spring and later with the monkshood and bugbane tying up the year. And, although I'll miss the weeding and fussing about the garden, deadheading here and there, I'll really miss my experiences with you both: sharing time over coffee, talking about the kids and grandkids, and even commiserating about aches and pains due to aging!

Thank you for providing a space for me to develop and implement my creative thoughts about garden design and, much more importantly, showing me how to be a better person, with your kindness and generosity, in and outside the garden.

By Paul Jung, author of "garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog" Google Google Find us on Google+ Find us on Google+

December 02, 2013

Allan Gardens Conservatory Christmas Flower Show 2013

Get your poinsettia fix in downtown Toronto

Poinsettias seem to me the ultimate decoration plant: you buy one or several for a month or so and then chuck them out soon after December 25. I suppose one could nurse them along the rest of the year (I've seen a few very forlorn-looking examples occasionally behind the windows of barber shops, convenience stores, etc.) but the logic escapes me.

Better to enjoy them, en masse, within the cozy confines of the Allan Gardens Conservatory during its seasonal Christmas Flower Show.

I made a visit just after the place opened at 10 this morning. Nice and quiet, as usual.

Here are some highlights if you can't make the trek downtown to Jarvis and Carlton (poor excuse if you live in Toronto!)

Allan Gardens Conservatory Christmas Flower Show 2013 piano by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory Christmas Flower Show 2013 piano

November 29, 2013

Toronto Music Garden: Brown Friday

Can dormant ornamental grasses be...ummm...ornamental?

The American shopping phenomenon called "Black Friday" has been rearing its lovely commercial head in Toronto with greater frequency and intensity recently. For those few not in the know, the last Friday in November in the Great White North is just that: the last Friday in November. But for more than a few of our American brothers and sisters, Black Friday means donning on the protective gear and joining the masses at the Wal-Marts (brawl anyone?) to get, apparently, ridiculous deals on made in China widgets.

Hey, I love a deal as much as the next guy but lining up in the cold at 5:00 a.m. for widgets doesn't do it for me. So the celebrate Black Friday, garden muses-style, I visited a place far, far away from the madding crowds: the Toronto Music Garden.

To my half-dozen readers, I present Brown Friday!

Toronto Music Garden winter ornamental grasses Courante section by garden muses-a Toronto gardening blog
Toronto Music Garden winter
ornamental grasses Courante section

November 24, 2013

Some visiting Toronto Blue Jays

And I didn't even have peanuts....

Not much to show you in my garden right now as we in zone 5/6 Toronto are heading into a long and dreary winter. As a reminder, we got a taste of snow yesterday with some intense but short-lived flurries.

I was out of the house but my wife and kids had these two visitors: Blue Jays or Cyanocitta cristata. I'm not a birder so I can't tell you a whole lot about this noisy pair that chilled out on the Wayfaring tree (Viburnum lantana) in the back, other than their human namesakes comprise our city's perennially (well, since 1993) sub-par baseball team.

They make a pretty pair, don't they?

Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata by garden muses-a Toronto gardening blog
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata

November 11, 2013

The fleeting beauty of autumn Japanese maples

Some Acer palmatum cultivars I love (there are so many!)

Lovers of Japanese maples notice when the foliage just switches in autumn to almost electric colours: crimson, scarlet, gold, and tangerine, among others. The fall foliage doesn't last too long before strong November winds here in zone 5/6 Toronto strip them off branches.

Acer palmatum  "Bloodgood" is the most commonly found cultivar in many gardens, almost to the point of being overused. When you see dozens of 3 or 5 gallon containers of these plants stranded at big box stores, half-dead by August, you kind of weep. (But some deals were amazing.)

I'm still busy with fall garden work so I took the following pictures to, at and from work. I'll try to add more but it's getting very late in the season!

Acer palmatum Bloodgood Japanese maple autumn colour by garden muses-a Toronto gardening blog
Acer palmatum "Bloodgood" Japanese maple's autumn colour 

October 28, 2013

Common witch hazel not common at all!

Hamamelis virginiana in a very urban Toronto setting

I think maybe 3 out of 100 people who walk by  a grouping of common witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) in a downtown Toronto "parkette" (teeny tiny park/green space) would notice the flowers on display now. And even this number is optimistic. But as your intrepid shrub freak, I gladly took these pictures of this very late blooming shrub on display. It was kind of risky, standing on a subway air grate, with the pungent and distinctive smell of pot wafting from some locals enjoying the sunny and chilly afternoon (and eyeing me suspiciously as I admired the witch hazel). H. virginiana's flowers are not as fragrant, to me, as my "Arnold Promise" witch hazel in February and the scent of marijuana didn't help matters.

Ahh, downtown gardening at its finest!

Witch hazels really get you coming and going, blooming when very little else is (shrub-wise). If I had the space, I would fill it up with members of the Hamamelidaceae family.

H. virginiana is a native species to the Toronto area as well (and most of eastern North America) and, unfortunately, not common at all in most residential landscapes. It takes a more refined sense of horticultural taste to appreciate their understated beauty compared to a mass of "Knock Out" roses. 

Here's H. virginiana in bloom in Toronto, with November around the corner:

Hamamelis virginiana Witch hazel late fall blooms and seed capsules by garden muses-a Toronto gardening blog
Hamamelis virginiana Witch hazel late fall blooms and seed capsules

Hamamelis virginiana Witch hazel late fall blooms by garden muses-a Toronto gardening blog
Hamamelis virginiana Witch hazel late fall blooms

Hamamelis virginiana Witch hazel late fall blooms foliage by garden muses-a Toronto gardening blog
Hamamelis virginiana Witch hazel late fall blooms and foliage 

Hamamelis virginiana Witch hazel late fall flowers foliage against blue sky by garden muses-a Toronto gardening blog
Hamamelis virginiana Witch hazel late fall flowers
and foliage against a brilliant blue sky 

If this makes me a plant snob, I'm cool with that!

By Paul Jung, author of "garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog"
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October 21, 2013

Allan Gardens Conservatory Chrysanthemum Show 2013

Mum's the word!

Well, it was very quiet in the Conservatory during my visit this afternoon. The staff tend to ignore you anyway and no one bothered me as I was clicking away taking these pictures of the current fall flower show.

According to the Conservatory's Facebook page, there are over 100 varieties of mums at the show. Here are a few examples I photographed.

I really must read up on the history of chrysanthemums being hybridized over the centuries in China. The flowers just remind me of a bad tasting tea!

So....bring yer mum to see the mums!

Allan Gardens Conservatory Chrysanthemum Show 2013 fall mums by garden muses-a Toronto gardening blog
Allan Gardens Conservatory Chrysanthemum Show 2013 fall mums 

October 16, 2013

Lake Muskoka fall colours

More Thanksgiving memories from a visit to the cottage

The Canadian Thanksgiving holiday came a little later this year but the foliage "up north" from Toronto (about a 2 hour drive) was still beautiful as ever. Our family dinner was atypical (Korean pork bone soup and sushi) but delicious! I had no luck with the fishing but with these colours, I couldn't really complain:

Muskoka fall colours boathouse by garden muses--a Toronto gardening blog
A typical lake Muskoka autumn morning

October 11, 2013

Fall foliage fetish!

Some fall colours in October

Maybe fetish isn't the right word but alliteration ruled the day when it came to titling this post.

Readers might assume that since I rarely post about veggies that growing them isn't very interesting to me: and they're right! I just don't find growing heirloom tomatoes, for example, terribly exciting (and apparently this was a lousy summer for such crops.) 

I guess I'm an unreformed ornamentalist (nice blog name, by the way!) when it comes to things horticultural.

And in the fall, shrubs and trees become extremely ornamental!

Here are some examples (more to come!)--photos taken on my way home from a client visit:

Arnold Promise witch hazel Hamamelis x intermedia fall foliage by garden muses-a Toronto gardening blog
"Arnold Promise" witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) fall foliage

September 21, 2013

Some fall blooming perennials (no Rudbeckia here!)

Extend your Toronto garden's seasonal interest by growing these perennials

The start of autumn is just around the corner but these perennials apparently haven't received the memo and are blooming profusely around zone 5-6 Toronto right now. Some are common as nails (e.g. Sedum) but others perhaps are new to you and worth your consideration to extend your garden's interest as long as possible. I took these pictures coming from a client's house around her neighbourhood:

It really is such nice time of the year. Temperature and humidity are at more civilized levels for working outside and the tree leaves are just starting to change.

Serenade Japanese anemone x hybrida Fall blooming perennials Garden muses--a Toronto gardening blog
"Serenade" Japanese anemone x hybrida 

Sedum Autumn Joy Fall blooming perennials Garden muses--a Toronto gardening blog
Sedum "Autumn Joy" 

September Charm Japanese anemone x hybrida Fall blooming perennials Garden muses--a Toronto gardening blog
"September Charm" Japanese anemone x hybrida

Toad lily Tricyrtis hirta detail Fall blooming perennials Garden muses--a Toronto gardening blog
Toad lily (Tricyrtis hirta) blooms in detail 

Yellow sneezeweed Helenium autumnale Fall blooming perennials Garden muses--a Toronto gardening blog
Yellow sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)

Autumn crocus Colchicum autumnale Fall blooming perennials Garden muses--a Toronto gardening blog
Autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale)

Honorine Jobert Japanese anemone x hybrida  Fall blooming perennials Garden muses--a Toronto gardening blog
"Honorine Jobert" Japanese anemone x hybrida 

Honorine Jobert Japanese anemone x hybrida detail Fall blooming perennials Garden muses--a Toronto gardening blog
"Honorine Jobert" Japanese anemone x hybrida blooms
behind some switch grass seedheads

September Charm Japanese anemone x hybrida detail Fall blooming perennials Garden muses--a Toronto gardening blog
"September Charm" Japanese anemone
(Anemone x hybrida "September Charm" bloom in detail

Turtlehead Chelone obliqua Fall blooming perennials Garden muses--a Toronto gardening blog
Turtlehead (Chelone obliqua)
You can see some very happy turtles!

Actaea Cimicifuga simplex Brunette Snakeroot bugbane fall flowers by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog.
Cimicifuga simplex ‘Brunette’
(Black Bugbane/Snakeroot)

Aconitum carmichaelii arendsii Autumn monkshood by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Aconitum carmichaelii arendsii
(Autumn monkshood)

By Paul Jung, author of "garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog"
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September 14, 2013

A Tale of Two Toronto Gardens

An Ecological and Formal Garden: And Never the Twain Shall Meet?

First, let me apologize for the lack of posts lately, dear reader. I've been (still) very busy at work, weeding and pruning here and there for my clients across Toronto. Most of the tasks are mundane but some of the settings are not. By coincidence, I tended two gardens back to back and wanted to share the stark differences I discovered between the two.

The first one is completely ecological in philosophy and practice. The owner has chosen only native perennial and shrubs in the design (aside from two veggie beds) and will not use pesticides at all. These are non-negotiable!

Some highlights showing the biodiversity and visual interest on a sunny late summer's day:

Cardinal Flower Lobelia cardinalis ecological gardening by garden muses-a Toronto gardening blog
Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) in a rain garden

August 13, 2013

Lovers of bedding plants: get thee to James Gardens!

They're here for a good time, not a long time....

My client Dale lives near James Gardens in west-end Toronto. I've profiled/critiqued the use of annuals before in a post titled "Toronto's James Gardens, in Technicolor" and was curious to see what this year's annual beds would be like. 

If you like drifts of hot colours, you'd be happy here. I just feel sad that all these annuals will be trashed in a couple of months when frost arrives. (I admit my bias towards perennials and shrubs.)

 I do understand that the city has to give visitors and/or taxpayers a reason to visit and value for tax dollars: a big wow factor. And all these beds keep a small army of gardeners employed seasonally with watering, weeding, etc.

What's also noteworthy: I didn't see many pollinators!

Here are some pictures from my very brief visit before seeing Dale:

James Gardens annuals layers late summer by garden muses- a Toronto gardening blog
James Gardens annuals layers late summer by
garden muses- a Toronto gardening blog

July 29, 2013

A shade garden in Toronto

Why I love Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra "Aureola")

It's been a topsy-turvy kind of summer so far in Toronto. We're experiencing cooler temperatures now, mercifully, after being blasted with humidex readings of over 40 over most of a week. Not very comfortable working conditions!

So when you're able to work in the shade during a heatwave and the scene looks like this below, it's really not too bad.

I first posted about this shade garden in a post titled "Green is a colour too, in dappled shade" and work here once a month. It just gets better and prettier as time moves on.

This client absolutely loves H.m "Aureola" and why not? I'm using it more in my designs and there are more than few cultivars to choose from like "All Gold", "Albostriata", "Nicolas" and "Sunny Delight." 

Criticisms? Mild ones at best:  this grass is slow to form substantial clumps, a little pricey (but then again, didn't you blow a wad of cash buying all those annuals back in May?) and does best in part-sun (gets bleached-out, I find, in full sun) but the form always is a winner. 

Want to soften a hard line of interlocking paving or really make a garden bed curve more curvey? Try massing Hakonechloa.

The site is under some majestic red oaks so the shade is light and dappled. Soil is "clayey" with some amendments over the years.

Hakonechloa macra "Albostriata" on the left, "Aureola" on the right by garden muses-a Toronto gardening blog
Hakonechloa macra "Albostriata" on the left, "Aureola" on the right

July 09, 2013

The Naples Botanical Garden: Some Like It Hot!

A Toronto gardener's visit to a Florida botanical garden (in the summer!)

My family and I recently spent a much-deserved week's vacation in Bonita Springs, Florida which is located on the Gulf Coast side of Florida between Fort Myers to the north and Naples to the south. We did the silly touristy things like outlet mall shopping, getting used to larger restaurant portions and collecting shells on the beach. 

(By the way, "Happy Fourth" seems to be the way of wishing someone a Happy Fourth of July around here. Something tells me that if I wished a fellow Canadian a "Happy First" on Canada Day, I'd likely get a blank look.)

Anyway, back to gardening...

Of course, being on vacation, I didn't do any but I managed to find a few hours to visit a near botanical garden in Naples called, well, the Naples Botanical Garden

Here are some pictures on the way from the parking lot and outside the admissions office to give you a taste of things to come:

Naples Botanical Garden entrance walkway by garden muses-a Toronto gardening blog
What "houseplants" do you recognize?

June 16, 2013

My beloved children

Father's Day in the garden: reflections

I always grumble and mumble that Father's Day is given short shrift compared to Mother's Day. Now, before you mothers (mine included) send me a gift of variegated goutweed, this thought disappears quickly when my kids give me their annual recognition of the work and effort I've expended in raising them to be good responsible Canadian citizens: the proverbial hand-crafted Father's Day card made in school.

I do love them! (Kids and cards.)

They are at such a wonderful age (10 and 13), expressing beauty and attitude...which, naturally, brings me to our garden.

June 11, 2013

A non-gardening Lake Muskoka weekend

What does this post have to do with Toronto gardening? 

Not much but this gardener needed some serious rest and relaxation after working almost non-stop this spring. Now, many of you readers would likely prefer sticking a hot poker in your eye over the finer sport of angling. That's ok, we all have different interests besides plants and gardens. My wife is a golf PHREAK and knows better to ask me to join her over 18 holes. Not that I hate golf but inevitably I would hold up play by trying to identify this tree or that shrub.

So it was with great anticipation that we left Toronto this past weekend to my sister and brother-in-law's cottage near Gravenhurst, ON for a few days. Here are some pictures taken at dawn (you can enjoy them without being tormented by the mosquitoes!):

Lake Muskoka summer morning by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
A typical beautiful Muskoka summer morning

Summer morning Lake Muskoka by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
My favourite fishing spot just to the right, shh!

You can compare the summer pictures near the dock to the autumn colours here in a previous post titled "Down by the Muskoka lakeside"

I caught a few smallmouth bass (all catch and release until the end of the month for this area) but the bite wasn't really on since they (the fish) are in spawning mode and not interested in feeding.

Here's a small...smallmouth bass fooled somehow by a plastic worm:

Lake Muskoka smallmouth bass by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Don't worry, he/she was released immediately afterwards!

Thanks for indulging me by reading this non-gardening post. I've been so busy since April that the last thing I want to post about is a garden!

Just kidding.....

By Paul Jung, author of "garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog" Google Google Find us on Google+ Find us on Google+

April 24, 2013

Toronto spring cleanup yields hellebore love

Spring 2013: it's finally here (I think)

Sorry for not posting lately but I've been busy doing spring garden cleanups for new and old clients for the past several weeks. Temperatures are finally increasing so that it feels like spring in Toronto, although not as warm as last year. 

I took the following pictures after cleaning up last autumn's debris from a client's backyard the other day. Maybe you'll feel inspired to plunk down some bucks for a few hellebores in your garden after viewing this post?

The new varieties of H. hybridus under the "Winter Jewels" and "Gold Collection" trademarks are so nice!

The "hot" hellebore this spring is "Ivory Prince",  it was all over the place at Canada Blooms last month.

"Pink Frost" Hellebore spring blooms by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
"Pink Frost" Hellebore

April 06, 2013

Allan Gardens Conservatory Easter Flower Show 2013: part two

You want hydrangeas? I'll give you hydrangeas!

Allan Gardens Conservatory Easter Flower Show pink blue hydrangeas by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog

Easter has come and gone but there's still a chance to take in some nice colour in a city currently awash in brown. During my last visit to the Allan Gardens Conservatory Easter Flower Show, most of the hydrangeas were still not fully opened so I came back and took some better pictures.

I prefer the lacecap varieties over the big mophead types (more subtle and I like plants blooming on the horizontal plane.) Some of my clients receive these hydrangeas for Easter and then plunk them in the ground outside after the blooms fade. I'm surprised that some of them overwinter successfully but they never thrive and flower as much as the "real" Hydrangea macrophyllas.

I hope you enjoy these big balls of colour!

March 29, 2013

Happy 2nd Birthday to "garden muses"!

This Toronto gardening blog turns 2!

A big wet kiss goes out to all my readers who, I hope, have enjoyed reading my "garden muses" blog as much as I've writing it over the past year. If you're not open to the kiss, then enjoy a piece of my birthday muffin vicariously:

Happy birthday muffin for garden muses: Toronto gardening blog's second birthday!
Two years and counting....

Keep visiting: I really don't know where my posts will take me!

By Paul Jung, author of "garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog" Google Google Find us on Google+ Find us on Google+

March 27, 2013

Allan Gardens Conservatory 2013 Easter Flower Show | part one

Well, at least it's blooming here in Toronto!

Inside of course. 

Winter is sloooowly leaving us and we may reach double digit (Celsius) temperatures next week. I'm seeing a flood of florist mophead hydrangeas in supermarkets and  hardware stores in blue, pink, white and variations. Easter is around the corner so Easter lilies are ubiquitous as well. Outside, tips of tulips, crocus and daffodils are poking up.

The Allan Gardens Conservatory in Toronto exhibits five types of flower shows each year, free of charge. Since the focus is on plants (annuals and tropicals) and not interlocking brick or McMansion boulder arrangements, I wonder why anyone would rather go to Canada Blooms than this inner-city horticultural jewel. True, the area is kind of sketchy (nice Harveys down the street, wink!) and the city staff don't make eye contact with you but you're there for the plants, not to be accosted by hot tub and hot sauce salespeople.

I digress.

During my visit today, the mass plantings of tender hydrangeas and Easter lilies were not fully in bloom yet so I'll have to go back in a week or so. In the meantime, please enjoy these pictures of  hydrangeas, daffodils, cyclamen and a blooming rhodo.

Wishing you a happy Easter for those who celebrate (and a good long weekend for those who don't!)

Allan Gardens Conservatory Easter Flower Show 2013 blue hydrangeas variegated ivy by garden muses: Toronto gardening blog
Variegated lacecaps, blue mopheads and variegated English ivy

March 24, 2013

Orchid Fever | book review | Eric Hansen

A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust, and Lunacy

Book cover of Eric Hansen's "Orchid Fever" from

There is something distinctive about the sight and sound of a human body falling from the rain forest canopy (p.  4.)

After reading this first sentence of Eric Hansen’s Orchid Fever: A Horticultural Tale of Love. Lust, and Lunacy,  you get the feeling that this book isn’t just a “how-to” instruction manual on orchid identification and care. Orchid Fever does go over how growers look after their prized possessions  but Hansen is much more interested on how orchids affect collectors, growers, judges, “smugglers”, and seemingly normal people in bizarre, humourous, and, at times, tragic ways. In other words, how “orchid people” inevitably get the fever.

March 16, 2013

Toronto gardeners in the zone

Plant hardiness zones can answer the question "Will this plant survive in my garden?"

You’re in the garden center and see this plant that is begging to jump on your cart. You know that there’s a little label stuck somewhere in or on the pot outlining the plant’s common name,  botanical name (who cares!), and whether it “likes” sun, shade, or something in between. Then you see something along the lines that your new baby is “recommended for zone 6/5/4/3” and you wonder “what is this zone nonsense?”

To help growers of crops and ornamental plants, American Canadian agricultural authorities have divided and colour-coded the country up into climatic zones in which certain plants are assumed to be able to survive. Here's the Canadian plant hardiness map produced by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada:

Canadian plant hardiness zones map
Plant Hardiness Zones of Canada

Survival factors include the area’s  historical (typical) minimum winter temperatures, number of warm days per year, number of sunshine hours per year, soil type, volume and persistence of snow cover, and wind velocity and direction.  A plant’s “hardiness” (ability to survive) is then given a zone designation and corresponding number and map location  in  which experts believe a certain plant should survive in. The higher the number, the higher the minimum winter temperatures (and conversely, the lower the zone, the lower the expected minimum winter temperatures.)

The Toronto area is rated, using the Canadian system, in the 6 zone (American zone 5) so you should feel secure buying and planting perennials, shrubs and trees with a rating of 5 or lower. (Most annuals, herbs and vegetables we grow in the GTA don’t have a zone rating or a rating that is 8 or higher. This means that they will not survive a typical Toronto outside.)

Well, so what?

Remember that these zones were created by plant scientists (i.e. humans) so they’re really best guesses about a plant’s survival in a specific geographic area, all things being equal. Of course, all things not being equal, don’t be shocked that a perennial labeled for zone 4 doesn’t make through a particularly harsh winter or that a “tender” plant somehow does. A deep and persistent layer of snow really “pushes” the zone higher for many perennials and shrubs in our area.

Zone designations are not perfect (because the folks who dream them up are not, just saying) but instead give you a good, quick and easy to understand (hopefully) indication whether that expensive and trendy plant you just need to buy before your neighbor does will likely live and thrive. Zones are more like probabilities not absolutes.

For me, it’s better to think of growing plants in Toronto (or your particular area) within a range of zones that can be taken advantage of (“pushing the zone”) if you want to work extra in creating “less harsh” growing conditions by covering plants up for the winter, growing them along a south facing wall for us in the northern hemisphere or covering them with an extra deep layer of leaves in the fall to act as a protective mulch. Or you can be conservative, not get involved with all this pampering, and stick with plants with 3 or 4 designations. Boring, yes, but less heartache and pain on the credit card.

Toronto gardeners love to push the zone, earning bragging rights, and occasionally pushing back against their Vancouver/Victoria cousins. You can too but just remember that when it comes to a number on a label called the “hardiness zone”, plants will die (and thrive), zones be damned!