Soon……..but not quite yet.

Yesterday morning my sister-in-law, who lives in a part of the country 3 full climate zones warmer than here, sent me this photo – I suspect it was one of those email jokes making the rounds.

I'm so excited I wet my plants

I chuckled, and got a little excited myself. I bet you did too. Then I looked out the window. Tiny snowflakes were falling from dreary grey skies. If like me, you garden under the Chinook arch…………..well, keep your pants on fellow gardeners; it’s too early to get excited or start panting, I mean planting.

I know the ground feels soft and spongy, but it’s only surface thaw; a foot or so down it’s likely still frozen – and even when the ground is completely defrosted, it won’t be ready yet. Working the ground when it’s soggy will only result in damaged soil structure.

I know we’ve had our hearts warmed by robin song and our skin warmed by double-digit daytime temperatures. Indeed local garden centres are beginning to stock plant material. So go. Go do some plant shopping if you must, but don’t plant anything yet; you don’t want to get caught with your plants down when temperatures plummet again (and they will, at least once more). Of course there are some smarty-plants that would manage just fine under these circumstances, but the blast of cold just when a plant is trying to establish itself will temporarily arrest the process – you might as well just wait until the soil has warmed up a bit and there’s less likelihood of further frosty weather.

I know you are looking expectantly around your gardens, giddy at the thought of green sprouts poking through, but you must resist the urge to tromp around on thawing soil – it will cause more compaction of our already heavy clay soil. Try to do only what’s necessary; cut down the grasses you’ve left up for winter appeal as soon as you see new growth, remove any rotting rhizomes in your iris clumps and remove dead foliage that you weren’t able to get to before the snow came. The rest can wait – for just a bit longer.

So keep your rakes, shovels, trowels and other planty-removers in the garden shed for now – gardening season is almost here.

But not quite yet.

Sue

 

 

 

How Design Savvy Are You? The Answers.

Good morning class. This morning we’ll be taking up last month’s quiz (if you haven’t completed the quiz yet, stop reading, go do it and come back later).

So how did y’all do? Not as good as you thought you would…….or should? Wondering where you went wrong? Well let’s have a look…………….

QUESTION 1. The procedural steps for effectively designing a residential landscape are:

a) First determine what kind of outdoor spaces you require (e.g. patio, planting beds, pathways etc.). Then choose the best place to locate each of them. Next, give form and shape to these spaces. Finally add plant material where applicable.

If you’ve been to one of my design lectures or read the design series on this blog, or even January’s review, you should have it well implanted in your brain by now, that landscaping is primarily about manipulating space, not arranging plants – indeed the definition my own design instructor/mentor drilled into my head was this: “Landscaping means making the best use of the available space in the most practical and pleasing way.”  Designing the plantings comes much later – it is the final part of the process.

QUESTION 2. The Designer’s mantra is:

d) Form follows function.

‘Form follows function’ of course means that the functionality of a space must come first, before its form is considered, but it also means that the shape or form of a landscape space is often dictated, at least to some degree, by its function. I had an ‘aha’ experience regarding this many years ago when trying to redesign my front walkway – our front yard is quite wide and the walkway starts well over to one side then curves up to the front door. My biggest objection is that the walkway bifurcates the yard in lop-sided fashion – it’s too far to one side, which creates imbalance. I knew that moving it a little towards the centre, to the 2/3’s mark, would create more pleasing proportions, but I was having trouble giving the walkway pleasing form. Also constraining my design options was a big ‘ol island bed that spanned a good part of the larger side of the yard.

One morning while there was still snow on the ground I noticed a set of human footprints going up the front walkway, up the steps, back down, then angling across the lawn on the other side of the walk, and right through the aforementioned island bed. That’s rude, I thought. It’s one thing to traverse someone’s lawn, but who walks right through what is clearly a garden?  Maybe it was the newspaper delivery person? The mailperson? Or maybe someone delivering flyers? Fortunately a few days later I was able to catch the culprit during commission of the crime. It was our letter carrier and as she tromped through the garden, I stuck my head out the door and made my request as nicely as possible (considering I was annoyed I had to say anything at all). “Can I ask you to please not walk through there,” I requested. She looked at me puzzled. “Well where would you like me to walk?” she replied, slightly put-off. “Uh, on the sidewalk?” I responded incredulously.  For a few days after that I didn’t see any more footprints through there, but it wasn’t long before I noticed them again.  Grrrrrr.

Of course using the sidewalk when approaching the house was the most obvious route, but given the width of the lot and the positioning of the sidewalk, it was indeed quicker to walk back down across the lawn when going the other way – so I understood the temptation to choose this route.  I knew however, that once a path was worn everybody would use it – I really didn’t want that much foot traffic on the lawn, and none at all through the bed. I also knew I didn’t want to be that crazy lady who hollered at everyone who stepped on her lawn, or worse, put up a tacky ‘Keep off the Grass’ sign. This required a design solution. Hmmm. Maybe I could plant a line of thorny shrubs along the walkway to keep people on it. No, that would look goofy. How about putting a fence around the front yard so the only way on or off it was via the sidewalk? No, I didn’t want to fence in the front yard. So I thought to myself, if that’s the direction people want to walk, don’t fight it – work with it.  Aha – I had the answer to my design conundrum! I could make the walkway more functional by making it two-directional. Of course I’d also have to get rid of the island bed, which I was happy to do since it disrupted landscape unity. Before I knew it, I had completely redesigned my front yard (well on paper at least – the planting beds have all been redone, but budget constraints have prevented us from re-doing the walkway). So you see, what started with addressing a functional issue became a wholesale re-forming of my front yard landscape – indeed form follows function.

Improving the function of the sidewalk, also improved its form and afforded me the opportunity to redesign the whole front yard.

Improving the function of the sidewalk, also improved its form and afforded me the opportunity to redesign the whole front yard.

QUESTION 3. When experimenting with design lines, remember to:

c) Ensure all design lines intersect at an angle of 90 degrees or more.

Option a) is incorrect because complexity is the antithesis of good garden design – simplicity is the goal and is best attained using long purposeful design lines rather than short tentative lines. Option b) is incorrect because the aim is to maintain continuity of design theme rather than vary it. This doesn’t mean that a curvilinear design can’t benefit from the odd straight line, or a rectilinear design can’t include a single arc or circle for dominance, it just means don’t deviate from your chosen design theme more than once or twice – again, the key is simplicity. Option c) is correct; if design lines intersect at less than 90 degrees, acute angles are formed – and y’all know how much I dislike acute angles. Functionally these spaces are unusable and difficult to maintain (try fitting a lawn mower into one of those little pointy spaces).  Visually they are awkward. They’re the first feature I notice in a design – do we really want an awkward unusable space to be what first draws the eye? No of course not. And yet, they are blatantly applied by many who should know better – even when entirely avoidable. Alright, alright, I’m done my little tirade – I know acute angles can’t always be avoided, but at least try okay?

acute angles edit

Left: Acute angles are formed when design lines meet at less than 90 degrees. Right: Acute angles are avoided because design lines intersect at 90 degree angles. This results in spaces that are more functional and usable, as well as more attractive.

QUESTION 4. Unity through interconnection can be achieved by:

d) All of the above.

underplanting

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi underplants an entire bed in this client’s garden. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Making sure all landscape spaces are connected generates continuity and good flow from one space to another, which in turn creates unity.

Sorry fellow gardeners – an interconnected, unified landscape necessarily means no island beds. Capiche?

As well, underplanting an entire area with a single type of groundcover connects the plants within a planting composition, hence further unifying it.

QUESTION 5. When grouping plant material it is important to:

d) None of the above.

The most obvious answer here seems to be ‘Always use odd numbers’, but the word ‘always’ makes the statement incorrect. There are times when arranging plants in odd-numbered groupings isn’t necessary, for example when plants are massed in groups of more than 7 or 8, the eye can no longer differentiate between even and odd numbers so it ceases to be of any significance.

This corner planting of daylilies is large enough that the eye cannot discern whether it consists of odd or even numbers. Photo: Sue Gaviller

This corner planting of daylilies is large enough that the eye cannot discern whether it consists of odd or even numbers. Photo: Sue Gaviller

QUESTION 6. In order for a landscape element to be dominant, it must be larger.

b) False

An element can be dominant because it is larger, but it can also express dominance in its unique form, its coarse texture and/or its bright colour – the key is it must differ significantly from surrounding elements. A hard (non-living) feature will also stand out as a focal point.

QUESTION 7. Symmetrical designs are more balanced than asymmetrical designs.

b) False

Symmetry is by definition balanced, but not necessarily more balanced. An asymmetrical design can be just as balanced if the weight is perceived to be equally distributed; for example, a tree planted on one side of the landscape can be balanced by two or three large shrubs on the other side – the visual weight of the smaller elements together approximates that of the larger element. Think of it this way: little Johnny and his grandpa are at the park trying to play on the teeter-totter, but to no avail – invariably Grandpa ends up sitting on the ground while Johnny is perched up high on the other end wailing “Let me down.” Along comes Johnny’s big brother Jimmy and hops up on the seat with his brother. Their combined weight is close enough to Grandpa’s that the teeter-totter can now move up and down in its intended fashion – balance.

QUESTION 8.  Reducing the number of different plants in your garden composition will create unity.

a) True

Reducing or limiting the number of different plants in your garden will allow for repetition, thereby creating unity (this of course means you can’t have one of everything). Many years ago, in one small area of my garden, I had all this going on……………..

variety-resample

Photos: Sue Gaviller

It was indeed one of everything and it was visual chaos, so………..bit by bit I simplified. I removed this and that until I had reduced enough that I was able to repeat some plant material. The result was a much more unified composition………………..

Simplicity-resample

Photos: Sue Gaviller

QUESTION 9.   Planting a weeping standard on either side of an entrance creates a nice frame, inviting the viewer through.

b) False

No, no, no, weeping standards don’t make good frames – these are unique features that invite the eye to move upwards along the standard then down along the weeping branches. Placed on either side of a view or entrance the two unique forms will cause the eye to move up and down, and back and forth between them rather than viewing through them. So what does make a good frame? Plants with strong upright growth habit make the best frames – columnar forms, pyramids or vases (especially narrow ones) and even some grafted standards (those whose ‘standards’ are taller in relation to the grafted portion).

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Weeping Caragana has lovely bronze bark that looks very attractive against the dark brown house, but they don’t work well to frame the entrance. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Upright forms like juniper or cedar create a more effective frame. Photo: Sue Gaviller

QUESTION 10.   Coarse textured plants and fine textured plants should be present in equal numbers to balance a garden composition.

b) False

fine, medium and coarse texture

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Coarse texture is dominant to fine texture, which means less of it is required to achieve balance. Generally speaking, fine texture should outweigh coarse texture by at least 3 to 1 – this is a loose guideline depending on how large or small a plant’s leaves are relative to surrounding plants. A good rule of thumb is: the larger a plant’s component parts the fewer are needed to balance finer texture.

For example, in the photo to the right, rhododendron leaves appear coarse when seen next to the diminutive leaves of kinnickinnick, but much less so compared to the larger leaves of the hosta. Therefore I have planted only one hosta, three rhododendrons and a whole mass of kinnickinnick.

QUESTION  11.   What is the song I allude to in The Form of Things to Come – Part 2

While writing about the bottom heavy presentation of pyramidal forms I found myself singing a Queen song – now can you guess? That’s right,  ‘Fat Bottom Girls’ (check out this youtube video of some ‘Disney babes’ strut to Freddie’s vocals – too funny).

Well that’s all for today boys and girls – class dismissed!

Til next time,
Sue

 

 

 

Let’s Talk About the 3 R’s

We all know the importance of the 3 r’s – readin’, ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic. No not those 3 r’s. Reduce, re-use, and recycle? No not those either. I’m referring to the 3r’s of romance – Rubies, Roses and Red Wine. Ah yes, those 3 r’s. Today is Valentine’s Day, so let’s talk about………..

Rubies

They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but I don’t think I agree. Men get to have dog as best friend – I’d rather have a dog than diamonds. I guess I’m just not that into diamonds, or any jewelry for that matter. I’ve never been the kind of gal who surreptitiously points out to my husband around anniversaries, Christmas, Valentine’s Day etc., the beautiful expensive pieces showcased in jewelry store windows, in the hope that one might find its way into a box with my name on it. Indeed the jewelry he’s given me over the years, has had sentiment as big as (or bigger than) the price tag. So it is with rubies – they have sentimental value for me much more than monetary value. There is of course, a story here…………..

The first year we were dating, my husband gave me a single red rose for Valentine’s Day, along with a charming card with some amorous message in it (which I really can’t remember). I do however remember how he signed it; Happy Valentine’s Day, Love Len………and in brackets he wrote, “Sorry I couldn’t find any rubies.” The reference to the sparkling red gemstones was from a story we’d read – about a couple who out of necessity, held their nuptials out on the range, exchanging their impromptu but heartfelt vows on horseback. The gentleman (okay he was more of a rogue) had no ring to give his new bride, so he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small handful of rubies. He gently placed them in his wife’s hand, and with a twinkle in his eye said, “Every woman should get rubies on her wedding day.”

Oh be still my beating heart. The mention of rubies (clearly a symbol of commitment) in this first Valentine’s card seemed strangely farsighted given the early stage of our courtship. It was also weirdly incongruous coming from a man who fervently fought tradition. Seems he’d been pierced by cupid’s arrow, though he didn’t know it at the time – he didn’t stand a chance.

And so it was that several years later, on another February 14th (after a year or so of cohabiting, during which time he discovered that everything he feared about marriage and commitment had already come to pass………..and he’d survived), I came home to find on the kitchen table: a dozen red roses, a card, and a bottle of Sebastiani Cabernet (our wine savvy in those years, was as limited as our budget). The message inside the card was sweet and romantic, but again the only detail I remember was how it was signed; Happy Valentine’s Day, Love Len………and in brackets, “This time it comes with the promise of rubies.” The rest as they say is history, but my wedding band is indeed adorned with several rubies.

Roses

“I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds ’round my neck.” ~ Emma Goldman ~

For me, as a horticulturist and garden designer, a bouquet of roses (or a bouquet of anything) is akin to the gift of jewelry. Nothing warms my heart more than a big bunch of flowers, whether from a friend, a dinner guest, my sons, or in particular, my husband. While he’s often given me roses for Valentine’s Day, he’s also been known to defy convention (surprise, surprise) and purposefully buy a very different type of arrangement; “Everyone gets roses for Valentine’s Day,” he’ll say. “You deserve something special.” Nice sentiment. But honestly, either works for me – I love the thoughtful break from tradition, but I can’t deny I also love the traditional dozen red roses; their softly scented, velvety petals just ooze romance. Unfortunately though, they don’t always have a lot of staying power – the trick is to make a good selection when buying them. Here’s a great list of what to look for: How to Buy Roses.

Roses have different meanings for different people – for my sister and her husband, exchanging a single long stem red rose was an essential part of their wedding ceremony. It was a gesture the groom requested as a way of honouring his mom who had passed away many years earlier. In the years since her death, a pretty red rose-bush which grew alongside the driveway of his childhood home, and had bloomed profusely under his mother’s care, had long since stopped blooming. But in the months leading up to their wedding, it burst into bloom – to them it was a sure sign that their upcoming marriage had his mother’s soundest blessing.

Red Wine

In the early years, red wine was our beverage of choice. I don’t mean it was the only liquid we drank – we didn’t drink it in the morning instead of coffee, or fill water bottles with it to go on a hike or to the gym – I just mean if we were going to indulge in a ‘fermented beverage’, we were likely to choose an Old World red; maybe a Burgundy or a Bordeaux blend.

Red wine has played a part in many of our celebrations over the years – anniversaries, birthdays, just-because-days, but the one that comes to mind is an early spring hike along the river below Elbow falls, many years ago. Len carried a knapsack in those days, the contents of which always intrigued me – his wallet, cigarettes, herbal tea, other ‘herbals’, a paperback or two (usually sci-fi), sometimes a magazine (Esquire or Omni), snack food of some kind, a Swiss army knife, a windbreaker, and anything else he thought he might need on a given day. This day he added: a loaf of still-warm French bread, a brick of cheese, and a bottle of red wine.

We walked along the river a ways and found a warm sunny rock to picnic on. We tore pieces of fresh bread off the loaf, cut cheese with the knife he carried in his pack, and drank wine out of plastic cups. It was the perfect picnic, and a fine way to enjoy a bottle of red – soaking up the warm spring sun, until concern we might get caught in rush hour traffic urged us to head back into the city.

The Three B’s

It would be unfair and insensitive if I didn’t take a moment to acknowledge the 3 B’s: Broken-hearted, Between-loves and By-choice Single – if one of these describes your current situation, you might decide to boycott Valentine’s Day altogether. I don’t blame you – we’ve all been there, or will be, at some point in our lives. I know someone who was dumped on Valentine’s Day – by text, after paying for dinner at an expensive restaurant. Honey you can definitely pass on Valentine’s Day for a while.

If truth be told I wasn’t very lucky in love before I met my husband – of course in retrospect I realize that some of it had more to do with bad choices than bad luck. But oddly enough I never disliked Valentine’s Day; maybe the memories from my childhood gave it meaning beyond the syrupy romance that greeting card companies, diamond merchants and chocolatiers thrust upon us.

I remember in grade school we’d make pretty Valentine crafts – heart-shape cards made with red and pink construction paper, lacy white doilies, and glitter paint. And on Valentine’s afternoon, we’d have a class party – with snacks and games and the ritual exchange of simple valentine’s cards where no one got left out. There were treats that our Mom’s had baked – cupcakes with pink icing and candy hearts or heart-shaped cookies with red sprinkles. And each child would go home with a little gift bag filled with red cinnamon hearts, red and white jelly beans and ju-jube hearts, and red foil-wrapped chocolate hearts. To this day I still make up bags-full-of-goodies for my two grown sons.

It’s more than that though. Valentine’s Day is about the promise of something – if not rubies, then perhaps future romantic possibilities, and if not that then most surely, spring. Yes my friends, spring – it’s around this time every year that the fog of winter hibernation begins to lift; the days are noticeably longer, the sun perceptibly warmer, and spring becomes more than a distant probability. It has become a promise. The promise of spring, to a child, or a gardener, a grieving grown-up, or a happy lover, is something to celebrate – indeed it feels very much like hope.

So to everyone – married or single, happy or sad, young, old and everything in between, breathe deeply the air of promise…….and have a very Happy Valentine’s Day.

Sue

How Design Savvy Are You?

 

Good morning class. Today I have surprise for you – a quiz! That’s right, a quiz.

No wait, don’t go – it’ll be fun! Don’t you want to test your design savvy? No one but you will ever know if you had to cheat by going back through previous posts, or checking out last month’s review (that should’ve been a clue that a quiz was coming). And no one but you will ever know how well you did or didn’t do, or how many times you had to rewrite to say you got a perfect score. So be a sport, take this little quiz. You know you wanna.

Say it Again Sue

Happy New Year fellow gardeners! It’s a week or two into 2014 and I’d like to bid a fond farewell to 2013. Let me rephrase that. I’m so glad to see the arse-end of the year 2013!

It wasn’t my finest year.

Like many of you, I made some New Year’s Resolutions. Most are pretty straightforward; return to healthier eating, lose some weight, get more exercise, spend less time in front of my computer screen, blah, blah, blah. Challenging as it may be to abide by such resolutions, if I can commit to them for even a few weeks, perhaps these lifestyle changes will become re-established in my daily repertoire of healthy behaviours – they say it takes only 21 days to form a habit.

However, not all of my avowed changes are quite so straightforward; be more organized, procrastinate less – qualities that just aren’t part of my make-up……….supposedly one can learn though. I’ve also decided that from now on I will try to think before speaking. Yikes! How does one possibly remember to catch oneself each time the mouth opens to speak; to always first consider: is what I’m about to say necessary, or useful? Will I come on too strong, or too loud, is this a ‘think’ or a ‘say’, will I be oversharing or heaven forbid, repeating myself?

I was advised once, by a well-meaning person of course, that I have an annoying habit of repeating myself. Not entirely untrue I guess. In my defense though, experience has taught me that some people need to hear things several times before they get it. And as a design instructor and lecturer I also know that some things merit repeating – whether within the same address or at a later date as a review. It’s what good teachers do. For example, since this blog’s inception I have thrown oodles of design advice at you – do you remember all of it? Not likely. Do you remember exactly where to find whatever information you might want to revisit? Probably not. Repeating myself would be helpful here no? Perhaps a review to help you navigate both the design process and this site – all my design advice in a tidy little bundle with links to the applicable posts where you’ll find the information you seek.

You’re welcome! It’s what good teachers do.

Design Process and Principles – A Review

The Process

The first thing I want to reiterate, and this can’t be overstated, is that design is primarily about organizing and arranging space, not plants. The same way a house must first be properly designed and built before it can be furnished, so the outline of a garden or landscape must first be planned before plants are considered. The functionality of any given space should be the designer’s chief concern, followed by its form – hence the designer’s mantra ‘form follows function’. The design process then, looks like this (click on the red text to go to corresponding post):

Phase 1 – FUNCTIONAL DRAWINGS: one must first determine what one want or needs; for example, garden beds, a deck or patio, walkway, lawn, fireplace etc., and then decide where each will be situated. Various possible locations for each element can be explored before deciding on the best placement for your particular needs.

Phase 2 – CONCEPT DRAWINGS: once you know what you want and where you want it, you can give form to your garden beds, patio, walkway and other garden elements. Remember your design concept can consist of:

As you play with various design lines, there are some Key Things to Remember:

  • Maintain Continuity
  • Avoid acute angles
  • Use design lines to guide planting

Phase 3 – Planting Plan: when your landscape or garden outline has been conceptualized, plants can then be considered. However, before one can effectively arrange plant material, some governing principles must first be understood – we’ll return to the Planting Plan later.

The Guiding Principles

Although designing a garden or landscape requires both creativity and knowledge, anybody can learn how to improve their own gardens with the help of a few guidelines or Design Principles. These principles, as applied to landscape design are:

  1. UNITY – a sense of oneness and harmony in the garden, achieved through:
    • Repetition – repeating elements throughout a composition.
    • Dominance – one element or group of elements is given emphasis
    • Unity of Three – arranging elements in groups of three (or odd numbers)
    • Interconnection – physically connecting all landscape spaces
  2. BALANCE – perceived equilibrium in a garden or landscape composition. Balance can be Symmetrical or Asymmetrical.
  3. MOVEMENT – visual motion throughout a composition
  4. SCALE – size of landscape elements in relation to their surroundings
  5. PROPORTION – size of landscape elements in relation to each other

The Planting Plan Revisited

With a rudimentary understanding of design principles you’ll now be in a better position to choose and arrange plant material, but there are still procedural steps to follow:

  1. FUNCTION – determine if there are functional roles like shade or privacy that you need plants to play.
  2. AESTHETICS – plants provide visual appeal from their physical traits:
  • Colour
    • Gardeners looove colour don’t we? I have touched only lightly on the effective use of colour in the garden. Colour theory is a big topic and I’m still trying to decide how I want to approach it – how much information will be enough, without being too much…………..see I’m already adhering to one of my resolutions; I’m thinking before speaking, er writing.

Well my friends that ‘wraps up’ my review – a little New Year’s gift for you. Keep this post handy for future reference – design advice is just a click away.

You’re welcome! It’s what good teachers do.

Yours,
Sue

How Lovely Are Thy Branches

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are thy branches.
Not only green when summer’s here
But in the coldest time of year.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are thy branches.

                                                ~ Author Unknown ~
 

Nothing says Yuletide quite like evergreen boughs, whether still on the tree, or as part of some other seasonal ornamentation. Almost every home at this time of year has the requisite evergreen wreath, swag, garland, or container arrangement – I myself dabble only in the latter; the seasonal container.

I didn’t always participate in this Christmas container frenzy – mixed evergreen branches billowing over the tops of pretty pots, complete with festive balls and bows. It all seemed a bit artsy-crafty to me. But I had to admit, a tasteful arrangement could enhance the overall winter appeal of a garden or landscape, and after a while I could no longer deny my ‘inner Martha’.  I soon discovered though, that arranging evergreen boughs in a ceramic pot, wrought iron urn or other such vessel, required a different skill-set than designing a garden or landscape, or even a summer container arrangement. This required a florist’s flair, and while I know numerous designers who have this talent, I’m not one of them.

My early attempts weren’t particularly spectacular – spruce and juniper branches harvested from trees and shrubs in my garden, with a few dogwood stems sprinkled in. They were a bit drab actually – not surprising since many spruce and juniper species tend to lose colour saturation in our very cold winters, becoming dark and dull. In containers their presentation is therefore lacklustre. Pine however, stays delightfully green, cedar too – I tried those, but apparently any old pine or cedar won’t do. My garden gatherings of stiff upright mugo pine branches and sprigs of Emerald Green cedar just didn’t do the trick. Something with a more draping habit was needed.

Eventually, about the 23rd of December one year, knowing we’d be entertaining family the following night, I decided I should really purchase some suitable greenery. I live only a few minutes away from several greenhouses, so off I went in search of greener greens. Fortunately, since it was so close to Christmas, everything was discounted – selection was limited by this time though. There was still some fir to be had, and one scruffy bundle of pine. A gentlemanly sales attendant scrounged up a few cedar boughs for me. I needed something taller and stiffer as well, for height and structure. All that was left was some twiggy huckleberry branches. This would have to do I guess – they were tawny-hued so would add a bit of colour. I plopped my greenhouse finds into my containers, fussed with them a bit, then fussed some more. The end result was…………..well, acceptable.

I continued with these last-minute arrangements for a number of years – they were attractive enough, but I certainly wouldn’t say I’d found my calling. And no festive balls or bows – this was definitely still too Martha Stewart for me.

I guess we must have had mild autumn temperatures that extended well into December, or maybe very timely Chinooks, because in all those years I whipped up my eleventh-hour Christmas containers, not once was the soil in my ceramic pots frozen………until last year. This was the year I decided to shop early for Christmas greens so I’d have lots to choose from. I was like a kid in a candy store. Beautiful bunches of fir and hemlock, soft pine, lacy cedar and elegant cypress, rich red dogwood stems, pretty berried branches and crisp white birch branches – I bought it all, hundreds of dollars worth.

The plants from my summer arrangements were still in the pots, covered in snow (winter had come early) and had to be removed before I could do my holiday arrangement. “No problem,” I thought, “I’ll get my trowel and quickly pop out the dead plants.”  Clunk.  Metal hit ice.  Hmmm.  “No problem,” I thought,  “I’ll get some warm water and melt the frozen soil and then with my trowel pop out the dead plants.” Scrape, scrape, scrape – the warm water thawed enough soil for me to remove about a teaspoonful. More warm water, more scraping, another teaspoonful of soil removed. This was not going to work. Hmmm. “No problem,” I thought. I went inside and got my blow-dryer. “I’ll blow hot air on the frozen soil to melt it and then with my trowel I’ll pop out the dead plants.” Whirrrrr. Whirrrrr. Whirrrrr. There I was sitting on my front steps, in sub-zero temperatures, bundled up like a snow-suited child, attempting to melt a huge block of ice-soil with a blow-dryer. The neighbours must have had a good chuckle at the sight.  Unfortunately, the hot air wasn’t making any difference. My hands were freezing. Feeling foolish and very frustrated, I gave up and went inside.

“How’s it going out there?” asked my husband as I came in the front door. The look on my face answered his question. Not well. What was I going to do with all the beautiful greenery I’d purchased? There was no way those pots were coming inside to thaw – they were way too heavy. When I first bought them I was concerned that, being such pretty pots, someone might walk off with them – so I filled the bottom half with sand and gravel. Nope, nobody was going to move those babies – ever.

“I have an idea” Hubby said. I didn’t want to hear his idea. I wanted to pout, throw a hissy-fit even. But I remembered what I’d always told my kids when they were young and something would go wrong. “You need to get out of flip-out mode and get into problem-solving mode,” I’d chirp. So I listened to my husband’s idea. We had some reasonably attractive plastic pots on the back patio – they were painted black but finished to look like burnished bronze. While the soil in these pots was also frozen solid, they weren’t so heavy and could easily be carried inside to thaw. It was a good idea; better than anything I had come up with.

It took at least 2 days for the soil in the plastic pots to thaw, but once it was workable I went to work poking the myriad of branches into the soil – first the birch branches, for height and structure, then the bendy cedar and cypress boughs which would drape over the edges, then the slightly stiffer fir and hemlock branches, and finally the dogwood stems and red-berried branches for colour……..but still no festive balls or bows.

We carried the two pots outside and placed them in front of the unusable ceramic pots. They looked pretty impressive……………impressively large anyways – so large that the evergreen boughs impeded access somewhat to the front door. I guess I had purchased considerably more container ingredients than I needed.

This year I got smart – I made sure I removed the summer arrangements from my containers well before freeze-up. I also removed about a third of the soil so I could add fresh topsoil in which to arrange my evergreens and accoutrements.

A few weeks ago I espied some pretty potted arrangements when driving by a large department store (which I shall not name because I don’t want to give them free advertising). What caught my eye in these holiday arrangements was, I’m embarrassed to say, the beautiful copper-coloured festive balls and bows. I couldn’t stop thinking about these lovely rich-hued ornaments and visualizing how pretty they’d look in my earthy-coloured ceramic pots against the café-au-lait colour of my house and the chocolatey colour of my front door and wrought iron railings. So I went back and bought them.

Originally the idea was to take everything out of the store-bought plastic pots and rearrange in my own pots. However, the plastic pots fit nicely into the mouth of my tear-drop-shaped containers – so there they stayed. I know, I know, for a garden designer this was shamefully lazy, cheating even. It never pays to cheat though, because the next day all the evergreens in one of the store-bought arrangements had turned brown, despite watering as directed. I returned it to the store-which-won’t-be-named, and to their credit, they happily exchanged it for one that still looked alive.

The weather turned nasty a day or two later and my holiday arrangements were soon covered in snow – it was very pretty and Christmassy, but the evergreen boughs turned suspiciously crispy in the frigid cold. I had a feeling they wouldn’t look so good when the temperatures rose again with the next Chinook. Indeed when the Arctic front blew out and a Chinook blew in, my evergreens became everbrown. Sigh. It was now past the middle of December and I was running out of time……..and patience. I brought the pots inside and tried to pull out the dead stuff – they wouldn’t budge. I examined the centre of the arrangements to see what was holding everything so tight – it was florist’s foam ……..very frozen florist’s foam. Sigh.

After a day or two the foam thawed. I poked some fresh pine branches and cedar boughs into it and some reddish twiggy things from an indoor vase which I bundled together to add height. My backyard containers hadn’t been cleaned out yet and still housed clumps of coppery sedge (Carex comans ‘Bronco’) – it was dead but still had some colour and made a pretty addition to my Christmas arrangement. A few sprigs of blue spruce, the copper ornaments from the store-bought pots, and my holiday containers were done. It was night-time when I placed my newly created evergreen arrangements into the ceramic pots – from what I could see in the dark they looked okay; better than the prearranged ones I’d purchased and certainly better than any of my previous attempts.

The following morning, seeing that it had snowed over night, I offered to relieve Hubbie of front-walk-shoveling duty.  My new Christmas containers were dusted in snow. The now white-capped copper ornaments sparkled in the sun.  As I moved down the walkway piling snow this way and that, I looked back towards the house and noticed that from this vantage point the utilitarian black plastic pots were visible above the ceramic pots. “That looks tacky,” I said to myself. Thinking I hadn’t placed them properly, I attempted to adjust them, but to no avail. I guess the fit wasn’t as good as I thought when I first popped them in there. Sigh. My work was still not done.

I considered my options and determined they were limited. The foam was frozen again so I couldn’t just poke more drapey branches in. I thought about taking the foam out of the plastic pots and placing the whole arrangement right inside the ceramic pots, but one of the chunks of foam had split in half when I was manhandling it trying to remove dead evergreens. I was afraid without the pot to hold the foam together that everything might fall apart. So……….I decided my best option was to drill holes through the side of the pot into the frozen foam and stick more evergreen boughs in the holes. My husband brought me his battery operated drill and showed me how to use it. Bzzzz. Bzzzz. Bzzzz. There I was again, sitting on my front steps, in sub-zero temperatures, bundled up like a snow-suited child, this time drilling holes into my pots – more entertainment for my neighbours I’m sure. I didn’t last long in the cold though, so I brought the pots inside and finished my drilling and poking in the basement. I soon became very adept with the drill, exchanging drill bits from small (to puncture the pot) to large (to fit branches in) with a few quick flicks of the wrist. That’s right, this girly girl was using power tools. For some reason Hubbie found this very amusing, attractive even.

So in the end I did create some not-too-bad looking Christmas arrangements…………………..

Christmas container - RChristmas container - LMy latest container attempts  – I don’t have the flair of a florist, but aren’t the colours pretty?                 Photos: Sue Gaviller

So now that y’all know what not to do when creating your Christmas arrangements, it’s only fair I provide some examples of really well done containers. Deborah Silver, owner of Detroit Garden Works, creates stunning arrangements and shares some of her secrets on her blog Dirt Simple (check out her 3-part tutorial: Sticking It: A Foam Story, The Center Of Interest: A Short Story and The Details: A Story Board).

Just look at these – are they not perfect?

DS Containers 2Photo: Dirt Simple
DS Containers 3Photo: Dirt Simple
DS Containers 5Photo: Dirt Simple
DS Containers 6Photo: Dirt Simple

Well folks it’s December 22nd and despite my best attempts, it seems that my Christmas containers are once again last-minute – but this time they come with festive balls and bows.

 Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Night,
Sue

Gardens are Like Kids

They Need a Little Structure 

  

Last month, a reader posted a comment recommending a couple of articles she thought might interest me – one written by author/garden designer Rory Stuart and another by garden photographer Charles Hawes. Both were discussing issues related to garden photography and both gentlemen brought up the point that gardeners seem to want their gardens viewed (and photographed) only when they look their finest.

Rory Stuart writes, “Gardens are always hymns to time, and gardeners the leading choristers – “if only you had been here last week”, or “come again next week and they’ll all be out.”

Charles Hawes concurs, “Garden owners want their gardens to be seen at their best and are hungry for praise…………….the garden can never be praised enough and yet such praise never satisfies the owner.”

It got me thinking – why this need to apologize for the state of our gardens, even when complimented?  If a garden is well designed, shouldn’t it look good all the time, and the gardener always feel good about his/her creation? In our harsh prairie/foothills climate, our gardens are perpetually one weather calamity away from near-destruction – late spring frosts, spring flooding, crazy hailstorms, early fall frosts, Chinooks, too-long winters, too-cold winters, too-warm winters with little or no snow. We must approach garden design in such a way that we can be pleased with our creations – no matter the season, or the weather.

I find myself apologizing on behalf of my front gardens much more than those in the back. The gardens in my front yard were created before ‘Sue-the-gardener’ became ‘Sue-the-designer’, and though I’ve spent the better part of the last decade editing and correcting design faults, these gardens still lack overall structure. My back yard on the other hand, always looks appealing, always photographable – I don’t mean to suggest that it can compete with the great gardens of the world (the kind Mr. Hawes and Mr. Stuart would be referring to)…………of course it can’t. It’s a simple low-maintenance residential landscape, designed to withstand the rambunctious play of boys and dogs. Though it looks different at various times of the year it never looks better. The design consistently fulfills its purpose with grace and elegance – even after a hailstorm. And I never feel the need to say, “Oh you should have seen it last week when such-and-such was blooming.”

Okay, maybe not never.

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Two large adjoining arcs produce an uncomplicated but voluptuous curvilinear design. Low-maintenance shrub plantings highlight the design lines creating this attractive four-season view out my back window. Photos: Sue Gaviller

So what is good design? If you’ve been reading and following this blog you’ve learned the basic design process and the principles that guide it. Putting it all into practice – first on paper and then in your own garden – should yield some positive results. However, although a design is rendered on paper in two-dimensional plan view, a good designer must envision the end result in 3D. The garden in ‘real space’ is a three-dimensional entity. It has a floor and walls and often a ceiling – paying attention to both the floor plan (Concept/Layout Plan), and the wall and window treatments (tree, shrubs and spaces between them), will help you focus on creating a solid skeletal structure that can stand up to scrutiny………and the weather.

Ground Plane – The Garden Floor

Good garden structure starts on the ground with your design lines, i.e. the shape of all your garden elements, including hard surfaces like patios and walkways and soft surfaces like planting beds and turf. Design lines must be strong in order to contribute to the strength of the overall picture – this means longer lines, fewer lines, and fewer directional changes, i.e zigs and zags, wiggles and waves. For some reason, gardeners assume simple means boring when really the simpler the line the stronger the design. (Check out Good Lines Mean Good Designs Part 1 and Part 2 for more info on design lines).

Mike's back yard winter - resample

Mike's back yard - summer

This backyard belonging to garden designer Mike Palmer, demonstrates lovely lines – indeed the strength of the design is in its simplicity, and affords the yard year-long beauty. Photos: Mike Palmer.

Hardscapes in particular are bold design delineators and will emphasize good (and bad) design lines. I find it very frustrating when clients contract my services after a poorly designed patio or walkway is already in place – there is only so much I can do with plants to mitigate poor hardscape design. These hard surfaces should therefore be carefully planned and constructed.

Kiftsgate Water Garden. Photo: Marny Estep

A concrete border and step-stone slabs emphasize the clean contemporary lines of a water feature at Kiftsgate Court gardens. Photo: Marny Estep

The garden floor also consists of living material; groundcovers and other low-growing perennials/shrubs – think of this as the ‘carpet’. Some landscapes have few, if any design lines – for example, a small front yard which is entirely planted and has no lawn or hardscaping, save a straight walkway.  In the absence of design lines, plants alone must define the space, with flattish areas of groundcover and low growing plants serving as the ‘floor’.

In any case, keep in mind that whatever role plants play in your floor plan, herbaceous perennials die down at the end of the season so can no longer play their role. Make sure you include woody plant material, some of it evergreen, to provide year-long carpeting.

Low growing evergreens like dwarf mugo pine, kinnickinnick and Rhododendron make good 4-season floor coverings. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Low growing evergreens like dwarf mugo pine, kinnickinnick and Rhododendron make good 4-season floor coverings. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Vertical Plane – The Garden Wall

The vertical plane refers to upright elements in the garden, both walls and furnishings. Garden walls can be hardscapes, softscapes, or a combination thereof. Furnishings may be single accents (plants or focal points) or larger groupings of plants.

A hardscape wall is an actual wall – perhaps a courtyard wall, retaining wall, raised planter or fence. As with ground-plane hard surfaces, vertical hardscapes can be strong spatial definers, accentuating both good design and not-so-good – so remember simplicity is key.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A low concrete wall outlines a simple rectangle, creating a very strong design. Linear plantings further strengthen the lines. Photo: Pat Gaviller

The role of garden wall can also be filled by plant material. These living walls can be quite variable in their effect – tall grasses suggest a softer kind of partition compared to the more sturdy presentation of woody shrubs, and a random shrub planting is less structured than the unyielding solidity of a clipped hedge. There are low walls, counter-height walls and full floor-to-ceiling walls, the function of which will determine how full, or how formal you want your wall to be, and what it will consist of.

Photo: Pat Gaviller

Grasses and daylilies softly delineate a property line with low iron railings and stone pillars providing more rigid structure. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Evergreens, grasses and barberries contribute good structure to this landscape and provide a casual but effective wall between properties. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A clipped Cotoneaster hedge forms a casual, but very solid partition along a client’s property line. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Perfectly trimmed hedges, upright evergreens, lattuce fence panels and brick walls provide formal sturcutre in the vertical plance while th wlow parterres [rovide the flooring in this old world courtyard. Photo: Evelyn Steinberg.

Perfectly trimmed hedges, upright evergreens, lattice fence panels and a brick wall provide formal walls in this old world courtyard. Note that here the low hedges or parterres provide flooring rather than walls. Photo: Evelyn Steinberg.

Plant material used for walls and accents should consist largely of trees and shrubs – while perennials can provide some structure during the growing season, trees and shrubs afford much heartier structure and offer their woody presence year round. As well plants that are grouped or massed will be more visually substantive. A mix then, of herbaceous perennials and woody ornamentals, grouped plantings and single accents, will ensure year-long interest and good garden structure.

winter garden structure resamplegarden structure - summer resample

Photos: Sue Gaviller

This client’s garden presents good structure year round – trees, shrubs, a Cotoneaster hedge atop a concrete wall, and tall grasses occupy the vertical plane and spreading junipers carpet the ground. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Overhead Plane – The Garden Ceiling

The garden ceiling is provided by overhead features like pergolas and arbours and by the branches of canopy trees. While a ceiling isn’t necessary for good garden structure it does complete a space and create more human scale – by capping the spatial height, vertical scale is reduced to more human proportions. This results in an intimate space that is cool and quiet by day and warm and cozy by night.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A cool, quiet path beneath the trees at Reader Rock Gardens. Photo: Sue Gaviller

An overhead presence also allows us to walk through to another space as though crossing a threshold – makes for some extra drama in the garden.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

An arbour and canopied walkway provide a graceful entrance to Countryside Garden Centre . Photo: Sue Gaviller

In addition, the garden ceiling can provide protection from the elements; shade for our delicate skin and a ‘hail helmet’ for our delicate perennials – Hosta after a hailstorm looks like coleslaw.

Coarse textures perennilas like HPsta and Bergenia are prone tp haol dmamge. Situating them beneathe a canopy tree proveds some proteciont. Photo: Sue GAviller

Coarse-textured perennials like Hosta and Bergenia are prone to hail damage. Situating them beneath a canopy tree offers some protection. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Earlier this week, as I was returning from a walk with Princess Pepper, I noted that my front gardens aren’t looking too bad, even in these barren winter months – deciduous shrubs, evergreens and ornamental grasses bring form, texture and subtle colour to the composition. More importantly they bring the garden some much-needed structure.

So the next time you find yourself impatient for the next wave of colour in your garden, or woefully observing how much better it looked last week, ask yourself, “What’s missing here?” Maybe it just needs a little structure.

Y’all stay warm,
Sue
 
 
© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What Would Georgia Think?

A year ago, in honour of Georgia O’Keeffe’s 125th birthday, I published a post dedicated to ‘the flower’ – a lighthearted romp through the sex life of a plant. While Georgia herself never admitted to deliberately eroticizing flowers, it has oft been assumed that her floral paintings allude to human external sex organs. However, her aim was simply to make manifest that which is often taken for granted – in this case the collection of details that comprise a flower. There is an undeniable, intrinsic sensuality to a plant’s reproductive parts; lush velvety petals, silky filaments and fuzzy anthers, tubular style and bulbous stigma – is it any surprise then that this would be apparent in Georgia’s work? She just painted what she saw.

If I could paint I would paint like Georgia. But alas painting is not my forte – I can slap paint on a wall if necessary, and as a child I could stick my chubby little hands in a jar of paint, smear it all over a piece of paper and say “Look Mommy, art!”, but that’s the extent of my painting ability. However, I do believe that it is ‘delighting in the details’ that fuels my design work, and more recently, my (attempted) photography. Years ago I attended a garden photography workshop with renowned garden photographer, Allan Mandell. One of the first things he taught was that everything is significant to the camera – details the eye overlooks, a photograph exposes. At the time, he was referring to unwanted details – a garden hose, gum wrapper, spent bloom or dead leaf, that mar our photographic images, but it obviously refers to the beautiful, interesting details as well.

So today, as another tribute to Ms. O’Keeffe, I offer you my own ‘floral paintings’. Not real paintings of course, but digital paintings. If you’re familiar with Photoshop, you know that it includes various paintbrush tools that allow one to alter the appearance of a photo with a series of ‘brushstrokes’ (mouse strokes?), so it resembles a painting – maybe a watercolour, or oil, or pastel, charcoal, ink, wax crayon etc..  I’ve chosen to leave some areas of the photos untouched in order to accentuate certain details – stamens or carpels, maybe a ruffle or petal edge, a droplet of water, or even an entire blossom. The result is a bit of a hybrid but my hope is that you too may ‘delight in the details’.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Paeonia tenuifolia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

peony

Paeonia ‘Unknown Soldier’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Iris germanica. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Malus  'Kelseyi'

Malus ‘Kelsey’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus triloba multiplex. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus triloba multiplex. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Hemerocallis 'Chicago Antique Tapestry'. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Hemerocallis ‘Chicago Antique Tapestry’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Bleeding heart resampled 2

Lamprocapnos spectabilis. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus'. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

 

Rosa 'Morden Sunrise'. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rosa ‘Morden Sunrise’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

siberian iris 2

Iris sibirica ‘Roanoke’s Choice’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Perusing this morning’s edition of Swerve magazine, I discovered an article exploring the legitimacy of digitally produced art – this is timely, I thought. Calgary freelance journalist and travel blogger Kim Gray poses the question, “Is digital art real art?” and discovers there’s more support for this ‘art form’ than one might gather. The consensus it seems, is that digitally created art does have validity – it is indeed a creative process, but with a different medium and using different tools. Traditional art on the other hand is seen as perhaps having more ‘soul’ since it involves actually getting one’s hands dirty.

I can live with that.

But I can’t help wondering………………………….“What would Georgia think?”

Artistically yours,
Sue

© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Top Twenty Plant Picks for 2013

It snowed yesterday – the third snowfall of the season. It’s beginning to accumulate now since night-time temperatures are consistently falling below freezing, and my Rhododendron leaves have curled under which indicates the ground has frozen. So I think it’s safe to say no one in this neck of the woods will be doing anymore planting, transplanting or plant shopping this year.  It’s time then, to put my Weekly Plant Pick page to bed for the winter. Not to worry though, I’ve put all 20 picks here in one post for your easy reference. And I’ve included a few notes at the end of the post regarding any noteworthy changes in performance over the course of the season.

For some of you, especially those who garden in more hospitable climate zones, these plant choices may seem a little ordinary, pedestrian even. But for those of us who garden north of the 5oth parallel, on windswept prairie or Chinook-challenged foothills, plants must be tough as well as beautiful. And for me, plants must be more than just showy bloomers – they must also be tidy growers with handsome foliage, and outstanding performers throughout the season. Only when these criteria are met does a plant have a chance of making it onto this annual list. So ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for…………..

Sue’s Top Twenty Plant Picks of 2013

Sunday May 26th – Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’

Berberis thunbergii 'Rose Glow' resample

Photos: Top – Pat Gaviller. Bottom – Sue Gaviller

In the year 2002, the Japanese barberry returned from decades of banishment – new cultivars had been developed that were rust resistant, hence weren’t alternate hosts for the devastating Wheat Rust (a disease of cereal crops).

This was thrilling news to gardeners and landscapers, and of course we all bought any number of these new cultivars for our gardens and our client’s gardens. We soon discovered (though some of us are still in denial), that here on the prairies, many of these barberries have proven to be less-than-stellar performers – some years suffering significant winter dieback, and often appearing……….well, kinda scraggly.

A few of them however, have shown themselves to be consistently hardy – robust even. One of these is the cultivar ‘Rose Glow’. Not only is it hardier than any other barberry I’ve grown (both in my own garden and clients’), it is quite stunning, with lovely arching branches and deep purple-red foliage. What is most unusual about it though is the colour of the new growth – mottled pink and white, giving it a truly rich textured appearance.

Rose Glow barberry will reach about 1 metre in height and almost as wide. While it is somewhat shade tolerant, the best colour is achieved in full sun.

So if you’ve all but given up on barberries, and haven’t yet tried this one, I highly recommend it – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Sunday June 2nd – Clematis alpina ‘Constance’

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Like all Alpine clematis, the cultivar ‘Constance’ is an early-flowering vine that flowers on old wood. Belonging to Pruning Group ‘A’, which happily means little or no pruning, Clematis alpina need only be pruned to keep them within their allotted space, to remove deadwood, or to tidy them up. Other than that just let them do their thing.

Constance is a particularly vigorous grower that can cover several large fence panels within a few short years.  A beautiful soft magenta, the flowers are large, nodding and very plentiful. Alpine clematis are happy in lean soil, full sun or partial shade, and are quite drought tolerant.

With so little work required for such amazing results, one of these lovely vines should be in everyone’s yard!

Sunday June 9th – Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Well what did you expect? Did you really think I could get through the month of June without choosing a lilac as a weekly plant pick? If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know how enamoured I am of sweet-scented Syringa – and the air is positively thick right now with the heady aroma of numerous species in this genus.

A very unique cultivar of S. vulgaris, ‘Sensation’ boasts the only bi-colour blossom – wine purple florets, edged in white. A tidy grower with minimal suckering, it’s also very fragrant, and the characteristic dark green, heart-shaped leaves provide excellent colour and textural contrast throughout the season.

Sensation lilac reaches an approximate height of 3 metres and a spread of about 2 metres. Like all lilacs it is cold hardy, drought tolerant and relatively disease free.

With so much going for it, why not try one? You know you wanna.

Monday June 17th – Picea abies ‘Nidiformis’

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Bird’s nest spruce is a dwarf cultivar of Norway spruce. Low growing with a flat top and slight depression in the centre, it somewhat resembles a bird’s nest (hence the name). Tiny needles emerge lime green, providing stunning contrast to the dark green older growth. New growth is very soft which creates a lovely drape to the young branches – they will stiffen as the season progresses.

Picea abies ‘Nidiformis’ is a good substitute for spreading junipers when space is tight as it is a slow grower – eventual size is variable and depends on which literature ones reads: anywhere from 2 to 6 feet in height, and 3 to 8 feet in width.

OSU website states: “1′ tall by 2′ wide at 10 years, and 2′ tall by 3′ wide at 20 years of age”. This is consistent with my own experience, for example; the specimens in the above photos are about a foot high and a little more than 2 feet wide – they were planted in a client’s yard about 7 years ago and would’ve already been a few years old in pot. The largest specimen I’ve seen here is about 3 feet tall, 5 feet wide and is many decades old.

Drought tolerant and cold hardy ( to zone 3), this beautiful dwarf conifer can also be used as a single specimen or feature – if you don’t mind waiting a few years for it to fulfil its role. It is well worth the wait!

Sunday June 23 – Rhododendron ‘Mikkeli’

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Growing rhododendrons in a semi-arid, zone 3 climate such as ours may seem counter-intuitive, but the beautiful St. Michael rhododendron has been growing in my garden, and those of several clients, for the better part of the last decade. Now for those of you who live in warmer, moister climes, you may not be aware of the ‘rhodo envy’ some Calgary gardeners feel – we really wish we could grow ‘em like you do, but alas no. So please don’t scoff at this week’s Plant Pick offering.

Rhododendron ‘Mikkeli’ is a large leaf or elepidote variety, belonging to the Marjatta Hybrid group – a very cold-hardy class of rhododendrons which are bred for Northern gardens. There are numerous cultivars in this group, but Mikkeli is the cultivar of choice for my local designs because it flowers very late.

This means the flower buds break dormancy later than most, hence are less prone to late frosts. Despite this of course, almost every spring the buds still get hit with late cold spells, so this is only the second or third year mine have actually flowered.

Why then you ask, has this shrub earned a place on this page? Well it’s not all about the flowers y’know. The big leathery leaves and exotic appearance provide considerable design value – rhodos are particularly appropriate for Asian inspired designs and woodland gardens. And when Rhododendron ‘Mikkeli’ does bloom, the flowers are indeed spectacular – bright pink buds open to soft pink flowers, eventually fading to white. Bushy when young, it can become a little leggy with age – periodic pruning is required to maintain attractive form.

So if you a have a somewhat moist, protected spot in morning sun or dappled shade, preferably with a little snow cover during the coldest winter months, why not satisfy that ‘rhodo envy’ with Rhododendron ‘Mikkeli’.

Sunday June 30 – Iris sibirica ‘Roanoke’s Choice’

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Siberian iris is a cold hardy, reliable perennial with fine grass-like foliage and an upright growth habit. Roanoke’s Choice is a spectacular cultivar with velvety, lilac mauve blossoms that are larger than typical Siberian iris. Tall and elegant, this cultivar is tolerant of both shade and full sun, but will be happiest in lots of morning sun, shaded from the hot late afternoon sun, and provided average moisture.

I used Iris sibirica ‘Roanoke’s Choice’ in a client’s Asian-inspired design a number of years ago, but until this year I had never managed to catch them blooming. Visiting this client last week, I was treated to these lovely Siberian irises in bloom, and what a treat it was.  As I walked into her backyard, Roanoke’s Choice was the first thing I caught sight of and I have to say it took my breath away – its statuesque form, as well as the colour and texture of the blooms. Beautiful.

Siberian iris is a superb addition to the mixed perennial border, a woodland garden, or an Asian inspired design. It is lovely when massed, but can also make a stunning statement on its own, especially this particular cultivar – indeed if I had one Siberian Iris to choose from this would be the one. And that’s high praise coming from a picky designer.

July 7th 2013 – Rosa ‘Morden Sunrise’

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

As a child growing up in Southern Ontario, I witnessed both my Mother and my Grandmother tend hybrid tea roses. I was never really a fan – they seemed to be all flower and no form. I have to admit though, the flowers were exquisite – I was especially fond of one known as the ‘Peace Rose’, a huge silky blossom that changed from soft yellow to pale peach, to ivory-white, and often displayed a combination of all three. And the scent was heavenly – like peaches and citrus.

So when I first laid eyes on the beautiful Rosa ‘Morden Sunrise’, my first thought was, “It reminds me a bit of the Peace Rose.” While Morden Sunrise of course isn’t a tea rose (they require some work to grow here), its soft colour blend of peachy pink and creamy yellow, and its fruity fragrance, always elicits a little nostalgia for me.

A bushy shrub rose, it has glossy dark green foliage which provides a stunning backdrop for the many delicate blossoms. And like all of the Parkland series of roses, Morden Sunrise is cold hardy, disease resistant and has a tidy compact form. So what’s not to like?

‘Peace’ be with you!

July 15th 2013 – Hemerocallis ‘Stella de Oro’

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Ya gotta love Stella right? I know she’s a commoner and she gets around a little, but she’s bright and cheery and oh-so-reliable. Mine are simply spectacular right now – dozens of sunny gold 2½ inch blooms greet me each morning. Despite the huge number of blooms and the intensity of their color, she really doesn’t look garish – I suspect her equally dense, very dark green foliage, helps to mitigate her loud presentation.

Stella looks beautiful growing alongside other bright flowers like Rosa ‘Winnipeg Parks’ (itself a pick from last year) and Campanula carpatica, and looks especially lovely paired with variegated green/white foliage plants.

She just has so much going for her! A reblooming dwarf variety, drought resistant, disease resistant and cold hardy, Stella fits in just about anywhere. She’s happiest in a sunny border but can tolerate considerable amounts of shade. And her handsome arching foliage is rich, dark green and very dense, making her a valuable addition to the mixed border before and after blooming.

No wonder she’s been deemed the world’s most popular daylily!

July 21st 2013 – Heuchera ‘Pinot Gris’

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

A warm summer evening calls for a glass of good wine on the patio – Saturday night was one such evening. I sipped my Poplar Grove Pinot Gris and closed my eyes, a well deserved rest after a hot afternoon working in the garden. When I opened my eyes the soft evening sun had illuminated the pale pink inflorescence of the Heuchera in one of my patio containers – fittingly a cultivar named ‘Pinot Gris’.

This beautiful H. villosa hybrid has been steadily earning its place on this page ever since the spring – after pulling out several of said cultivar from last year’s containers, I realized they’d actually survived the winter in each of the three containers I’d planted them in. Okay these are keepers I thought, and popped them back in the containers to be part of this year’s arrangements.

Sometime later in the season I witnessed this Heuchera cultivar stand up very well in one of our very nasty hailstorms.  And being native to the Southeastern United States, it’s also been right at home in the intermittent heat and humidity we’ve been experiencing this summer.

The beautiful foliage of Heuchera ‘Pinot Gris’, much like the wine after which it is named, varies from amber to copper to shades of light rose, and warm olive. The tiny peach-pink flowers are borne along many upright stems and contrast nicely with the large leaves. A truly stunning Heuchera cultivar – yup it’s a keeper.

July 28th 2013 – Hemerocallis ‘Starling’

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Yes that’s right – another daylily has made its way onto my plant picks page. No surprise really, considering these near-perfect perennials are stars of the midsummer border.

Hemerocallis ‘Starling’ is a fine example of a tetraploid daylily, meaning it has four complete sets of chromosomes compared to the normal two (diploid). Like all tetraploids, Starling demonstrates marked vegetative vigour – foliage, stems and flowers are stronger and sturdier than their diploid counterparts.

The colour of this cultivar is quite dramatic – dark, warm, chocolate-red petals and sepals with a darker eye-zone and golden-yellow throat. It’s one of the most reliable daylilies in my collection – even in those rare years when for reasons unknown, some daylilies don’t bloom, ‘darling Starling’ has never failed me. This year is no exception – it’s putting on an incredible show……….and it will bloom for many weeks.

So if you happen upon this cultivar in your nursery travels, snap one up – they’re real beauties.

August 4th 2013 – Thymus citriodorus ‘Doone Valley’

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Many years ago my husband bought a pot of lemon thyme for his herb garden. When it started blooming I asked him if he’d mind if I moved it to my perennial garden – it was just so darn pretty. He was fine with this……………….until he wanted to harvest it – at which point I whined that he’d leave a big hole in its place. I promised to buy him another for his herb garden – which I did. The following year when it started blooming I asked if he’d mind if I ‘borrowed’ this one too. He chuckled, knowing he wouldn’t get to harvest it either.

Doone Valley lemon thyme is no ordinary lemon thyme – it has the characteristic strong lemon scent and flavour but is far more ornamental than the species. Mat forming, green and gold variegated foliage spreads nicely but isn’t invasive. It blooms later than most ornamental thymes, gracing the garden with pretty mauve-pink hues from mid July to mid August. Winter hardy, and both drought and shade tolerant, it asks only for a little snow cover – since it’s mostly evergreen,  in drier winters it may suffer some winterkill (though it will regenerate from the roots).

Many years later I now have several large masses of this lovely groundcover – enough that we can actually harvest some for culinary purposes without leaving empty spaces in my perennial garden!

August 12th 2013 – Hosta ‘Guacamole’

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

When I first started gardening, purchasing perennials meant buying small specimens – mostly in 4” pots. Over the years though, much larger specimens have become available – ornamental grasses, peonies and hostas for example, can now be purchased in 5 gallon pots.

There’s nothing more satisfying than planting that big beautiful Hosta in your garden and bang – instant appeal. Except the following season, those big beautiful hostas come up with a whimper instead of a bang – this is because the climate where they are grown is vastly different from the climate where they eventually find a home; our crazy Calgary climate.

Of course the plants do increase in size each year, but rarely do they have the robust leaf size they presented with at time of purchase. However Hosta ‘Guacamole’ has performed exceptionally well in all the designs I’ve used it in, coming back bigger and better every year, right from the get go. It is well named – indeed the colour of avocado flesh, edged in darker bluish-green. In a few short years it will reach 2 feet in height with a 3 foot spread and even in very moist soil, I’ve seen very little evidence of slug activity. Like all hostas, they are susceptible to damage from hail – situating them beneath a tree will ensure they don’t get too beat up during the several hailstorms we invariably get every summer.

Hosta ‘Guacamole’ – a stunning addition to your shade garden.

August 19th 2013 – Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Avalanche’

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Last year about this time I featured Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ as a weekly plant pick. Equally impressive is the cultivar ‘Avalanche’. Though not quite as tall as Karl Foerster, the inflorescence is very robust, creating a solid-looking bushy column about four feet in height.

The foliage is variegated cream and green and the inflorescence is soft green with a hint of pink, turning to the characteristic straw gold as the season progresses.  Calamagrostis  acutiflora ‘Avalanche’ is happiest in full sun but will also tolerate some shade.

Avalanche reed grass is cold hardy, drought tolerant and a stately addition to any garden!

August 27th 2013 – Hydrangea arborescens  ‘Annabelle’

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

There was a time when I actually didn’t like these bright white beauties – I think I deemed them somewhat pedestrian. However, I’ve since changed my mind – late-blooming white flowers are decidedly refreshing in the late summer border. The huge, dazzling white flowerheads of Annabelle hydrangea, together with the large lush green leaves, invigorate a garden at this time of year – a time when our gardens are beginning to look a little tired.

Maturing to a height and spread of about a metre, this vigorous shrub looks exceptional when grouped, or on its own as a single specimen. And since they bloom on the current season’s wood, they are reliable bloomers.

Annabelle will perform well in a wide range of conditions but prefers morning sun and afternoon shade. Hardy to zone 3, she will brighten up even the weariest of gardens!

September 5th 2013 – Echinacea purpurea ‘Ruby Star’

Photo: Sue Gaviller

I am late posting this week’s plant pick – if you read my latest post you’ll know why.

Echinacea purpurea or Purple coneflower is a wildflower native to Eastern North America. The species grows quite well here, but many of its cultivars aren’t always stellar performers in our climate. There are of course a number of exceptions and Ruby Star is one of them. I have found her to be a consistently strong grower, beginning her bloom in late July and continuing well into the fall.

The blooms are darker than the species and a more intense fuchsia pink, with the characteristic mahogany coloured centre ‘cone’. Strong upright stems of the same dark red complete the picture. About 2 feet tall, she’ll love your sunny border and needs only whatever water falls in the form of rain. Even after 3 weeks with no appreciable rain, she still looks strong and healthy.

Indeed she is a ‘Star’ – why not let her brighten a spot on your garden.

September 10th 2013 – Heliopsis helianthoides

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Some might think this an unremarkable plant, undeserving of a place on this page – after all it’s just an ordinary yellow daisy-like flower.  But every year, from late July, through the month of August and well into September, this hearty perennial makes its presence known in a very big way – with its brilliant gold flowers and its large stature.

Heliopsis helianthoides (false sunflower) provides a splash of intense colour when it is much-needed in the late summer border, and as it continues blooming, fits in well with the colour palette of warm fall hues.

So big and bright is this plant that you’ll want to limit yourself to only one or two of them – too many could appear garish.

Cold hardy and drought tolerant it requires very little attention save a little deadheading to prolong its bloom. It thrives in full sun but can also tolerate a little shade and will reach a robust size of four feet tall and at least as wide

Bring a little sunshine into your garden with Heliopsis helianthoides.

September 17th 2013 – Heuchera ‘Prince’

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

I used this Heuchera for the first time several years ago in a client’s containers – they’d started out as small plants in small pots but very quickly grew to dominate the arrangements.

Heuchera make fabulous container plants, providing big bold texture, but it can be expensive to buy them as specimens that are large enough to provide immediate visual punch. So instead of buying plants every year, I decided to try popping the various Heuchera cultivars in the ground at the end of the season to over-winter and use again the following year. While they all survived the winter quite nicely, they were still pretty small when it came time to plant the containers, and it took them too long to reach any appreciable size.  So I ended up having to purchase again anyway……………except for the cultivar ‘Prince’ that is. Since many of the leaves had remained evergreen through the winter, they already had a head start, and true to their performance that first year, the plants doubled in size in their containers within a couple of weeks.

Heuchera ‘Prince’ has large shiny leaves that are richly coloured, emerging purple-red, darkening to purple-black, then fading to bronze-green as they mature. And the purple/pink undersides are intermittently visible due to the lovely ruffled edges, creating beautiful colour contrast and layers of textural interest.

This cultivar will grow to at least 18 inches wide, about 12 inches tall (foliage), and has the characteristic spikes of baby’s-breath-like flowers that aren’t particularly showy, but do provide nice contrast. While best foliage colour will be achieved in part to full sun, this plant is also shade tolerant – drought tolerant too, once established.

Heuchera ‘Prince’ – a real ‘prince’ of a plant!

September 23, 2013 – Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Last year I wrote about another ninebark – the cultivar ‘Summer Wine’.  The parentage of Summer Wine includes an older dark-leaved cultivar called ‘Diabolo’.

According to the OSU landscape plant database, Diabolo was a German introduction, discovered in 1968. It was found growing in a field of green-leaved ninebarks in the municipality of Ellerbek, and selected for its unusual dark red foliage. The patent name is ‘Monlo’ but the trademark name, currently owned by Monrovia Nursery, is ‘Diabolo’, from the Greek word diabollos and Latin diabolus, both meaning devil – so named because of the very dark colour of the leaves.

In my own design practice, this cultivar fell out of favour for a number of years – I found it to be untidy in its growth habit and prone to powdery mildew and aphid infestation. I have since discovered that this is only the case when it isn’t given enough sun. Diabolo requires full sun, and I mean full sun. Client’s whose yards afford them all-day-sun exposure, have big bushy disease-free specimens. Note too, that richer, more saturated colour is achieved in full sun.

Depending on a number of weather factors, Diabolo ninebark can be late to leaf out in the spring, but the payback is it’s also very late to lose leaves in the fall, contributing beautiful dark purple/red foliage colour well into November. As well it provides considerable textural value with its large trilobate leaves.

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’ will grow 2 to 3 metres tall and wide. In its first year it requires lots of water to get established but after that will be very drought tolerant. Feel free to prune this shrub quite hard in the spring resulting in a flush of fresh new growth.

Diabolo ninebark – a devilishly attractive shrub!

October 1st, 2013 – Symphoricarpos doorenbosii  ‘Amethyst’

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

At this time of year, perennials and annuals are winding down their bloom display – soon the leaves will begin to parade their fiery fall colours. Many plants, particularly trees and shrubs, have already begun to present some late-season colour in their fruit – berries and hips, in red, burgundy, orange and dark purple. Rare it is though, to see ornamental fruit in shades of pink. However, Symphoricarpos doorenbosii  ‘Amethyst’, the purple coralberry, exhibits just that hue – and in abundance I might add.

This hardy shrub was originally developed for use in floral arrangements, requiring a plant that would produce large numbers of berries along each stem – you can be assured then, that Amethyst will provide a hearty display.

Fruiting occurs on new wood, so regular pruning to remove older wood will ensure peak production. Of course in our climate, there are years when ripening is slow, so some years will produce better crops than others.

During the growing season, this shrub will take a back seat to other showier plants, but its attractive arching branches and medium fine-textured foliage provide a nice backdrop. The flowers are small and inconspicuous, but are nonetheless quite pretty.

Purple coralberry matures to a height and spread of 1–1.5 metres, adapting to a wide range of soil and climate conditions, including dry shade and full sun. Plant in groups for best effect.

Amethyst – a bright jewel for the late summer and fall garden.

October 8th 2013 – Cornus alba ‘Aurea’ (Prairie Fire Golden Dogwood)

Cornus alba 'Aurea' 2 resample

Photos: Sue Gaviller

This is one of my all time favourite plants – in fact I’m not sure why I haven’t featured it on this page long before now. Perhaps I’m just so accustomed to its beauty and reliability that I take it for granted.

Cornus alba ‘Aurea’ is a big, bright, bushy dogwood with intense lime-green to gold leaves. It is fast-growing, reaching full size in two or three years, and adapts well to many climactic conditions; sun or shade, moist or dry. Like all dogwoods, it responds well to hard pruning, subsequently rewarding the gardener with a flush of fresh new growth.

At 5-6 feet in height and width this bright beauty can make quite a statement in the landscape, pairing well with wine-coloured shrubs like Summer Wine ninebark, or even the dark green foliage of common lilac. With blood-red bark for winter colour and pretty white spring flowers (which give way to pretty white berries in the fall), this is a true four-season shrub. Some years, if it doesn’t get too cold too early, the leaves will turn fiery red in late fall.

A fine finish to the gardening season, Prairie Fire Golden Dogwood is my final plant pick of the year.

And In the End

In retrospect, a few comments on this year’s picks:

Rhododendron ‘Mikkeli’ – lost a lot of leaves in August as it often does later in the season (three-year old leaves yellow and drop), but was markedly worse this year during August’s heat and diminished rainfall. I gave my clients’ larger specimens a good pruning so they’ll bush out next year.

Iris sibirica ‘Roanoke’s Choice’ – foliage got a little floppy after blooming in shadier sites but stayed strong and upright where it got more sun.

Rosa ‘Morden Sunrise’ – still blooming magnificently in a client’s yard until October. This particular yard is full sun and somewhat protected.

Heuchera ‘Pinot Gris’ and ‘Prince’ – leaves are still alive under the snow and so far have perked right up each time the snow melts and they get sun on their leaves. Pinot Gris bloomed right up until the first heavy snowfall when the weight of the snow snapped all the flower stems.

And a few updates from 2012 picks………

Campanula portenschlagianaall 7 of mine survived the winter, but did best where they got some snow cover. Those in drier spots almost didn’t make it – same for those under very heavy snow cover.

Echinacea ‘Tangerine Dream’ – both fared well over the winter and bloomed nicely. Plants not huge but definitely bigger than last year.

Viburnum dentatum ‘J.N. Select’ – overwintered very nicely with no dieback whatsoever. One bloomed and both grew a little over the course of this year. Weren’t very happy during the dry heat of August so will move them to a slightly shadier, moister spot next year. Gorgeous fall colour this year.

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ – suffered significant winterkill this year due to last fall’s very early and very sudden temperature drop, but came back beautifully with very lush new growth.

Well folks there you have it, another gardening season come and gone. It was a good year, despite getting off to a rough start (late frost, hail, and devastating floods). Winter has come too early again, but we did have a lovely fall. Hope ya’ll are keeping warm.

Til next time,
Sue
 

© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Messy Mingling or Outmoded Massing?

A day or two ago I was sitting at my desk mulling over which of several blog-posts-in-progress I would work on, when a colleague emailed me a link to the latest post on thinkinGardens. Happy for the distraction, I clicked on the link. If you’ve ever visited this website you know the articles are always thought-provoking and articulately presented – indeed the contributing writers are the intelligentsia of garden design.

This particular post was Part 1 of an arranged discourse, a debate if you will, between Thomas Rainer and Noel Kingsbury, discussing mass planting vs. intermingled planting and which represented the more sound ecology, thus the better design choice. I’d certainly been aware of an apparent paradigm shift – from Piet Oudolf’s compositions of huge single-species drifts, to the new intermingled compositions now being espoused by same designer – but I never really gave it much thought. While I know, as a designer, that it’s important to stay abreast of current trends, I’ve always been of the opinion that good horticulture and good design are timeless and don’t depend on adherence to design trends.

However, after reading Thomas Rainer’s opening argument (excerpted from a previous post he’d published in August), I decided I oughta take this matter more seriously. Judging by the ensuing comments, some of which were very long and impassioned, I figured this must be some really important stuff being discussed here – I’d better jump on one of these bandwagons lest I get left behind. Thing is, I’m not much of a wagon jumper. I’m more of a fence sitter. I know, I know, there’s some old adage that sitting on the fence means having one foot in Heaven and one in Hades – I believe what it really means though, is that I see both sides of the story. Initially I was going to leave a comment with my own thoughts on the matter, but the comment thread was already long and cumbersome. Besides, who am I to argue with, or agree with, or even comment on, the ideas put forward by these big garden thinkers. But comment I will…………..

Thomas presented a very balanced argument in his article, and I found myself nodding in agreement throughout the eloquently written piece. He suggested that both aesthetics – mass planting and intermingled planting – can have a place in good garden design, since both are seen in nature. And I agree – I think. I am fortunate to live only a few blocks from Nose Hill Park, a huge expanse of natural mixed-prairie grassland. I thought about the masses of native Rosa woodsii, Elaeagnus commutata and Symphoricarpos occidentalis growing in the ravines or along the slopes, and snorted at the thought that anything might intermingle within their dense colonies – a clear-cut case of nature’s mass planting. On another hillside nearby, numerous native grasses, as well as Campanula rotundifolia, Gallairdia aristia, Erigeron caespitosus, Linum lewisii and many other native species, comfortably intermingle. So I guess I must be in Thomas’s not-one-nor-the-other-but-both camp.

I called my sister, hoping she would have some photos to illustrate these points – though not a horticulturist by profession, she has a profound interest in native plants and certainly knows them better than I. We talked about nature’s areas of seeming monoculture and the more we talked the more evident it became that things are not necessarily as they appear – that the forest of evergreens we see along the drive into the mountains may appear to be a single type of tree, but in fact more likely consists of spruce, fir and hemlock. Or that colonizing shrubs like our numerous native rose species may obscure, but not necessarily exclude, smaller flora. Or that it’s possible for the aforementioned roses to coexist in an intermingling relationship with some other equally effective competitor, say Cornus sericea. I remembered a recent post about a cross-Canada road trip, in which I wrote: “I am fascinated by the changing ecosystems or ‘biomes’ as we move from west to east – from Grassland to Parkland to Boreal Forest………..as gardeners, landscape designers and horticulturists, we can take many lessons from the natural rock formations and forestation that Mother Nature presents – the way she mass plants her trees and understory, the large areas of perceived monoculture masking the plant diversity that lies therein. Indeed this should be our template.” Hmmm.

Pat started going through her photos as we spoke – she’ll jump at any excuse to do so. A while later she sent a few to me in an email:

“Hi Sue”, she wrote. “Here is one example of both – in my mind. I don’t think Mother Nature likes to be pinned down………

As the snow recedes high in the mountain meadows, one of the first flowers to appear, especially in avalanche tracts, is the yellow glacier lily – Erythronium grandiflorum. They are quite beautiful en masse and I think they are a great example of a mass planting. However if you look closely, you can see a few small white flowers in amongst them. They are the other herald of spring in the mountains (and most everywhere in Canada for that matter) – the ‘spring beauty’, in this case the Western Spring Beauty, Claytonia lanceolata. This small white flower also emerges as the snow melts and it too can be found en masse, but here is found ‘intermingling’ in a mass planting of glacier lilies………if one looks closely enough.”

Nicely put Sis – thanks.

 

Erythronium grandiflorum

Looking up the avalanche tract towards the mountain top, a mass of Erythronium grandiflorum in the forefront. Photo: Pat Gaviller

A closer view reveals bits of white amid the yellow. Photo: Pat GAviller

A closer view reveals bits of white amid the yellow. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Zoomed in further ones sees that Claytonia lanceolata grows amongst the Erythronium grandiflorum. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Zoomed in further ones sees that Claytonia lanceolata grows amongst the Erythronium grandiflorum. Photo: Pat Gaviller

evergreen mass

A quick glance might suggest this mass of evergreens is all one type of tree, but the greenery on the mountainside includes western red cedar, western white pine, lodgepole pine, western hemlock, interior Douglas fir, western larch & hybrid white spruce (Picea glauca x engelmannii).
Photo: Pat Gaviller

Alpine meadows are a classic example of plants intermingling in nature. Here one lone Anemone occidentalis blooms alongside Claytonia lanceolata and emerging Antennaria lanata foliage.Photo: Pat Gaviller

Alpine meadows are a classic example of plants intermingling in nature. Here a lone clump of Anemone occidentalis blooms alongside Claytonia lanceolata and emerging Antennaria lanata foliage.
Photo: Pat Gaviller

Today I returned to thinkinGardens to read Noel Kingsbury’s response. He too made some valid points, one of which was the very thing my sister and I had discussed relating to monoculture – that “often what appears to be monocultures are not”.

So does this mean then, that I’ve switched camps – that I’ve now bought into Mr. Kingsbury’s intermingling perspective? Maybe. Well, no not really. It’s true one would be hard pressed to find a true monoculture in nature. But mass planting doesn’t equal monoculture – there are mass plantings in nature, and intermingled plantings………..and intermingled mass plantings, and massed intermingled plantings. How’s that for sitting on the fence? But there’s more.

Rainer also points out the potential for chaotic and badly executed compositions when using an intermingled approach, and both writers acknowledged the need for informed plant choices if this approach is to succeed. This is of course key – one must know and understand the growth and reproductive habits of any given plant, lest some garden residents crowd others, or shade them, or outcompete them in some way or another. Come to think of it there are plants that would absolutely not fit into an intermingled planting scheme – they would very quickly dominate the composition and begin to mass themselves regardless of the designer’s intent…….and it would be completely unnatural to insist that they do otherwise. Noel speaks of ‘managing competition’ and admits that it “requires plant knowledge and experience”. But why, if creating a natural ecosystem is the goal, would ‘managing competition’ even need mention. The bottom line is, the old mass-planting design model and the new intermingling approach both require harnessing nature, which is fine, but obviously neither can claim to be a completely natural design strategy. Which is more natural?  Who knows?  And does it really matter?

So I guess I’m with Thomas here. This where I often stand on many issues – in the middle, on balanced ground. And to be fair, even Noel admitted there was a place for ‘moments of massing’ within an intermingled design. Maybe the two are more in agreement than it first seemed.

I read through the comments made in response to both Rainer’s and Kingsbury’s articles and there were other interesting viewpoints as well, for example, and I’m paraphrasing:

  • garden design doesn’t need to perfectly imitate nature’s design.
  • it doesn’t matter if you mass or intermingle as long as native plants are used.
  • we are losing species at an alarming rate and garden design must be part of the solution to this.
  • what we do in our gardens isn’t going save the planet, the bigger picture is more important.

I agree, in part, with all of these positions – no, our garden designs don’t need to be completely ‘natural’, yes native plant material should comprise a portion of our garden compositions, yes species loss is a concern and should be taken into account when choosing plants, particularly to ensure that pollinators are encouraged, and no the fate of the planet isn’t going to be played out in the garden. Our responsibility as gardeners and garden designers is to create healthy, sustainable ecosystems that are functional and aesthetically pleasing (this is indubitably subjective).

For me, nothing has changed. I’ve always used a mixed approach, with much of the massing occurring as groundcover to create a sort of ‘negative space’, and the larger plants occupying the positive space – some intermingled, some massed. I’ve never used mass plantings to the extent Piet Oudolf did (though I have to admit I find the huge masses of colour and texture to be breathtaking), and I don’t intend to use exclusively intermingled plantings just because it’s the latest trend. I will continue to design the way I always have, deciding to plant what, where and how many based on the site, the plant and my client’s needs. To me this is good design.

Now go mingle or mass or whatever it is you do………

Til next time,
Sue

© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.