May 22, 2018

Spring Time in a Riverdale Ecological Garden

Gardening with Native Plants in Toronto: Spring Can Be Beautiful, Just Don't Expect Lilacs


What a spring it has been so far! Like last year, we've seen ornamental Flowering cherries, crabapples, magnolias and others display their glorious and short-lived blooms. Of course, tulips, daffodils and other seasonal bulbs offer their much-needed colour too, notwithstanding squirrel vandalism. But what if you don't want such traditional trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs in your garden? Could it be beautiful too in the spring?

A garden I visit weekly to look after shows you that the answer is a resounding "yes!"



Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) spring flowers in a Riverdale ecological garden by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
spring flowers in a Riverdale
ecological garden

I'd describe the philosophy behind this garden's plant choice and maintenance as "ecological" as the clients want a variety of insects and birds while choosing perennials and shrubs native to southern Ontario only. There's no use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, mainly due to the absence of a lawn.


White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) spring flower in a Riverdale ecological garden by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)
spring flower in a
Riverdale ecological garden

I've profiled this garden many times in my blog's history (search "ecological garden"). It's one of my favourite gardens to work in due to omission: the plants here are simply absent for the most part in all the other gardens I maintain. So from purely a maintenance aspect, I find it very interesting to see how the garden changes from April to November. Buddha knows, I can look at mophead hydrangeas and boxwoods so many times before boredom ensues.



Wood violet (Viola odorata) spring flowers in a Riverdale ecological garden by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Wood violet (Viola odorata) spring flowers
in a Riverdale ecological garden

In May, many shrubs and perennials in this Riverdale garden offer their nectar and pollen to hungry pollinators. In high summer, the frenzy of activity peaks when other perennials like asters, Ironweed, and coneflowers are covered with hoverflies, many species of bees, moths and butterflies.


American Plum (Prunus americana) spring flowers in a Riverdale ecological garden by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
American Plum (Prunus americana)
spring flowers in a
Riverdale ecological garden

Canadian wild ginger (Asarum canadense) in a Riverdale ecological garden by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Canadian wild ginger (Asarum canadense)
in a Riverdale ecological garden


It's not only flowers which are attractive now. Like any "great" garden (well, to me), foliage plays an equally important part. Several clumps of Canadian Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) like the one above have really established themselves over the past few years. The soft richly-veined new leaves are very ornamental. They remind me of Siberian Bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla). 


Canadian wild ginger (Asarum canadense) leaf detail in a Riverdale ecological garden by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Canadian wild ginger
(Asarum canadense)
leaf detail in a Riverdale
ecological garden

Golden currant (Ribes aureum) spring flowers in a Riverdale ecological garden by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Golden currant (Ribes aureum)
spring flowers in a
Riverdale ecological garden

Mertensia virginica (Virginia Bluebells) spring flowers in a Riverdale ecological garden by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Mertensia virginica (Virginia Bluebells)
spring flowers in a
Riverdale ecological garden 

Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum) spring flowers in a Riverdale ecological garden by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum)
spring flowers in a
Riverdale ecological garden


These nodding flowers will turn into "smoke" later. The fuzzy flower reminds me more of a Dr.Seuss character than anything else!


Prunus americana American Plum spring flowers in a Riverdale ecological garden by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Prunus americana (American Plum)
spring flowers in a
Riverdale ecological garden


I'm mildly irritated when I read or hear the claim that using native plant species will automatically and magically mean much lower maintenance requirements (no pests, dieases, etc.) All I can say is "it depends." While the great majority of plants in this garden don't need fussing about, this Plum is the exception. It suckers everywhere and is very prone to scale, leaf curl and blight damage so parts of the tree look crispy later. The clients spray a mixture of horticultural oil mixed with a fungicide to control the damage to acceptable levels. If it was up to me, this plum would be replaced with a Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) but...it's not up to me!

Red baneberry (Actaea rubra) spring flowers in a Riverdale ecological garden by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Red baneberry (Actaea rubra)
spring flowers in a
Riverdale ecological garden


Another shady character above. The globular flowers will produce brilliant red berries in autumn. Perhaps I should collect them and try to germinate them?



Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Autumn Brilliance') spring blooms in a Riverdale ecological garden by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Serviceberry
(Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Autumn Brilliance')
spring blooms in a
Riverdale ecological garden


Sharp-eyed readers will look at the above and ask: "if native species are only found in this garden, why is a tree-form Serviceberry (Amelanchier) cultivar here?" That's a great question and I don't have an answer. If it's any consolation, there are three medium sized multi-stemmed Serviceberry shrubs nearby which fruit profusely (I enjoy a few ripe berries before the robins and squirrels beat me to them in July.)

And, yes, the fall colour is excellent on this small tree!


Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Autumn Brilliance') spring flowers in a Riverdale ecological garden by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Serviceberry
(Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Autumn Brilliance')
spring flowers in a
Riverdale ecological garden


Trillium grandiflorum (White Trillium) spring flower in a Riverdale ecological garden by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Trillium grandiflorum (White Trillium)
spring flower in a
Riverdale ecological garden



Our provincial flower above in full bloom. We're trying to establish a colony under a cherry tree but it'll take time.

Below is a closeup from a clump of Wood violets. They can be "weedy" but since there's no lawn here, that's never an issue. The two patches of violets always die back (go dormant) in August's heat but recover nicely in the fall with fresh foliage.



Viola odorata Wood violet spring flowers in a Riverdale ecological garden by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Viola odorata (Wood violet)
spring flowers in a
Riverdale ecological garden






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