Weaving Your Garden – the Importance of Plant Texture

Over the last year or so I’ve talked much about form, texture and colour, both as they relate to individual plants, and in the garden as a whole – indeed these traits are the means by which plants relate visually to each other. When I wrapped up my 6-part series on Plant Form, I promised future detailed coverage on texture and colour in the garden. Today then I’ll begin the discussion on texture.

Where plant form gives a garden its structure, I believe it is plant texture that gives a garden its sensuality. Even the descriptors we use – words like velvety, satiny, ruffled, rough, fuzzy, lacy, delicate, succulent, leathery, strappy – denote a certain sensuality.

Foliage exhibits many different textures, creating a rich layered tableau in this client's front yard garden. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Foliage exhibits many different textures, creating a rich layered tableau in this client’s front yard garden. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Lacy leaves and delicate, satiny flowers give the common bleeding heart very alluring texture. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Lacy leaves and delicate, satiny flowers give the common bleeding heart very alluring texture. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Velvety and ruffled, it is the texture as much as the colour of Hemerocallis 'Strutter's Ball' that afford it its luxurious appearance. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Velvety and ruffled, it is the texture as much as the colour of Hemerocallis ‘Strutter’s Ball’ that afford it its luxurious appearance. Photo: Sue Gaviller

So what exactly is plant texture? The word texture comes from the Latin word texere which means “to weave”. If we look at gardening as the weaving of a giant tapestry, we begin to understand why texture is such an important consideration in garden design – it makes a significant contribution to the overall picture. As a designer I use the word texture in referring to a) the size, shape and arrangement of a plant’s component parts, i.e. fine texture vs. coarse texture or b) the visual and tactile characteristics of a plant surface, i.e. rough vs. smooth.

Coarse-textured Syringa vulgaris foliage (left) has a smooth leathery surface, fine-textured Picea abies 'Nidiformis' (bottom) has nubby-looking new growth, and Juniperus horizontalis 'Blue Chip' (middle) and Juniperus Sabina 'Calgary Carpet' (top) are both fine-textured and feathery. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Coarse-textured Syringa vulgaris foliage (left) has a smooth leathery surface, fine-textured Picea abies ‘Nidiformis’ (bottom) has nubby-looking new growth, and Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’ (middle) and Juniperus Sabina ‘Calgary Carpet’ (top) are both fine-textured and feathery. Photo: Sue Gaviller

So let’s take a closer look……..

Fine Texture

This casual composition would appear quite messy if it weren't for the very large leaves of Rogersia. Photo: Marny Estep

This casual composition would appear quite messy if it weren’t for the very large leaves of Rogersia.
Photo: Marny Estep

Plants with smaller individual parts (small or very narrow leaves) that are spaced closely together, are considered fine textured. These plants are important for building volume in the garden as well as setting the stage for coarse textured plants.

While fine texture should predominate in a composition, periodic interruptions with coarser texture are needed or the garden can appear busy – untidy even. I experienced this many years ago when I drove up to our house one summer afternoon and noted that a large area of the garden looked decidedly unkempt.

Approaching the offending composition, I tried to determine why it looked so messy – nothing was in need of deadheading, nothing was flopping over and it wasn’t particularly crowded. So I did what all gardeners do – took out some stuff, added some stuff, added some more stuff, yadda, yadda, yadda, more trial and error planting decisions, none of which solved the problem………until I planted some Heuchera. Its big bold leaves seemed to be just what was needed, and while I likely intuited that it was the textural contrast of large leaves with the airier texture of yarrow, spirea and juniper, I certainly couldn’t have articulated that ‘too much fine texture with no coarse texture to punctuate’ was the problem. In fact it really wasn’t until I began to study design that I figured it out – one of those light-bulb moments while listening to my design instructor discuss texture.

It’s important to note that small leaves or flowers which are very tightly packed result in visual weightiness. For example spruce needles, though fine and narrow, are very closely spaced and very rigid, hence the plant appears heavy. Cedar and juniper are also fine-textured, but the foliage is much more open thus appears airy and weightless. Making this distinction will help you effectively balance and contrast lightness and weight when choosing and placing fine textured plants in your garden.

evergreen texture

While all evergreens exhibit fine texture, very tightly spaced, rigid needles like those of Pinus mugo (bottom) and Picea pungens ‘Globosa’ (top) result in a weightier presentation than the lighter feathery foliage of Juniperus chinensis ‘Mint Julep’ (right). Photo: Sue Gaviller

Coarse Texture

Plants with large individual parts spaced further apart are coarse textured. They have a dramatic, almost tropical appearance which draws the eye and gives it a place to rest – this grounds and unifies a composition. Coarse texture is dominant to fine texture and should therefore be used more sparingly – too much of it creates competition for dominance, which in turn can cause visual unrest.

Hosta, daylily and kinnickinnick

Large lush leaves of Hosta ‘Zounds’ unify and ground a tangle of kinnickinnick and daylily foliage. The understated toad sculpture plays a supporting role. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Unfortunately, many plants with very large leaves are susceptible to damage from hail, wind and frequently, slugs. It is therefore important to situate them appropriately – protected by a fence, tree or building and in conditions that are moist enough for the plant to thrive but not so wet that slugs also thrive.

Large leaves, lovely as they are, can be reduced to tatters from hailstorms and slugs. Photo: Diana Lane

Large leaves, lovely as they are, can be reduced to tatters from hailstorms and slugs.
Photo: Diana Lane

Rhododendron seems coarse in relation to the red-leaved Berberis thunbrgiss 'Cherry Bomb', but much finer relative to Hosta 'Sum and Substance'.Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rhododendron seems coarse in relation to the tiny red leaves of Berberis thunbergii ‘Cherry Bomb‘, but much finer relative to the much larger leaves of the Hosta.
Photo: Pat Gaviller

Texture is of course relative; for example, rhododendron foliage may appear coarse next to periwinkle or kinnickinnick, but seem much less so beside Hosta. The key here is contrast – if every plant has leaves and/or flowers of similar size, monotony will result. Instead, a variety of textures; fine, medium, coarse and in-between, will ensure an exciting, balanced composition – the coarser the texture, the less you use.

The flowers and foliage of Gypsophylis repens ‘Rosea’ are very fine textured, whereas Iris leaves and blooms exhibit much coarser texture – the result textural contrast paints a lovely picture. Photo: Cathy Gaviller

The flowers and foliage of Gypsophila repens ‘Rosea’ are very fine textured, whereas Iris leaves and blooms exhibit much coarser texture – the resulting textural contrast paints a lovely picture. Photo: Cathy Gaviller

Keep in mind too that foliage consisting of more than one colour – variegated, veined, mottled etc., will appear finer textured. This is especially evident if the variegations are small and closely spaced, and less so if larger blocks of colour make up the variegations, for example a green Hosta with white or cream margins.

bicolour foliage resize

The large leaves of Heucherella ‘Berry Fizz’(left), Tiarella ‘Crow Feather’ (right) and Aegopodium podagraria (bottom) appear more finely textured than they actually are, due to their bicolour pattern. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Hosta and Lamiastrium resize

Lamiastrum galeobdolon ‘Herman’s Pride’ and Hosta spnote how the very busy variegation affects the perceived texture of the finer textured plant, but the big blocky variegations of the larger hosta leaves only slightly affect its coarseness. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Now go outside and take a look at your garden composition – is there something you don’t like about it? Instead of just throwing more plant material at it this season, examine it from the perspective of contrasting and balancing fine texture, coarse texture and in-between texture – maybe you just need to rethink it.

Join me for more sensuous plant talk in my next post as I take a look at surface texture.

Til Then,

© 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.

Weekly Plant Pick

Just a quick note to let y’all know my Weekly Plant Pick page, which was on hiatus for the winter and early spring, has been re-activated as of a few weeks ago. At the beginning of each week (either Sunday or Monday), I’ll profile a tree, shrub or perennial that I’m particularly impressed with. For a plant to merit a spot on the Plant Picks page, it must offer season-long appeal (even when not in bloom), exceptional hardiness, easy care, etc.

So head on over there and see what I’ve got for you.


Pretty in Pink

Everything’s popping up pink along city boulevards, in parks and front yards – the first of the spring-flowering shrubs are strutting their stuff.  These pretty ladies are various species of the Prunus genus, a large genus that includes peaches, plums, cherries, apricots and almonds. In Calgary, the current explosion of pink blossoms comes from 3 different species.

Prunus tomentosa is first on the scene, with pale pink flowers that present before the leaves.  Commonly known as Nanking Cherry, this medium to large shrub is native to China, Korea and the Himalayas. It has been cultivated in North America since early last century, providing a drought tolerant, cold hardy (Zone 2) shrub that grows to a height and spread of 2–3 metres. It produces small tart cherries that are excellent for jams and jellies.

Prunus tomentosa

Pale pink Prunus tomentosa is a common sight on city boulevards. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus triloba multiplex, the double-flowering plum, is by far the showiest of the three, its large double pastel-pink blossoms like cotton-balls along the many arching stems. A very vigorous grower, reaching 2–3 metres tall and wide, it will benefit from periodic pruning to remove any crossed or rubbing branches. This variety is sterile and doesn’t produce fruit.

Prunus triloba multiplex. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus triloba multiplex. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus tenella (Russian almond) is a smallish shrub with an upright vase shape and narrow green leaves that appear at the same time as the medium pink flowers. It’s compact and tidy, reaching only about 1 metre in height and spread. Very fragrant too, it is much underutilized in the urban landscape.

Prunus tinella. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus tenella. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Despite their similar appearance when seen from a distance, these three shrubs have very different blossoms. Left – Prunus tomentosa. Middle – Prunus tenella. Right – Prunus triloba multiplex.  Photos: Sue Gaviller

Despite their similar appearance when seen from a distance, these three shrubs have very different blossoms. Left – Prunus tomentosa. Middle – Prunus tenella. Right – Prunus triloba multiplex.
Photos: Sue Gaviller

Design Value

Many designers eschew the use of these shrubs because they’re ‘old fashioned’. It’s true they are, but they still have design value. They’re right at home in a Naturalistic garden and are especially useful in Asian-inspired or Colonial style gardens – and they’re reliably floriferous too.

A naturalistic planting of grasses, pine and double flowering plum in a local park.  Photo:Sue Gaviller

A naturalistic planting of grasses, pine and double flowering plum in a local park.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus tomentosa is lovely in front of the Asian inspired fence I designed for a client. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus tomentosa is lovely in front of an Asian-inspired fence I designed for a client. Photo: Sue Gaviller

When finished blooming, their design worth is more as a backdrop than a showpiece. Nanking cherry and flowering plum both have a lovely natural vase shape, as well as dark green, medium-coarse leaves which provide nice contrast to other brighter plants. Russian almond is much finer textured with lighter green leaves – together with its very upright branches, also provides good contrast in the landscape. And as woodies, they all offer much-desired structure to our gardens.

Perhaps it’s time to rethink these old-fashioned beauties – charm and grace come with age you know.

Til next time,

A Nice Pair

………Of plants that is.  (Well what did you think I meant?)

Now that winter is here to stay,  I thought I’d take this opportunity to profile some ‘pretty plant pairs’ that caught my eye this year, and why it is they look so great together. I actually started writing this post months ago. Each plant pair I profiled had a clever name and was followed with the subheading ‘Why This Works’. However after visiting a favourite blog, Christina Salwitz’s personalgardencoach.com, I discovered that I’d been beaten to the post (no pun intended). Christina has just co-authored a beautiful book on plant combinations and shared a couple of sample pages in her Aug. 1st blog post. Like me, she’s given her combos clever names, like ‘Strawberries and Chocolate’, and after each one has a subtitle ‘Why This Works’.

Wow – really? Yes really. I guess great minds think alike.

Anyway my first thought was to abandon the idea altogether, but I decided to go ahead and just rework my format. Besides they’re really very different approaches – Christina’s is a fabulous ‘how-to’ book on creating artful foliage combinations. Mine is a more casual read, a haphazard ‘see how pretty these look together’ approach. I’ll still tell you why they work though – sans the subtitle. And I’m keeping my cutesy names……….

Courtin’ Couples

Stella and Karl

When combining plants, it’s important to consider contrast and/or repetition of colour, form and texture. Hemerocallis ‘Stella d’Oro’ and Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ make a subtle but effective combo, for a couple of reasons  –  Stella’s strappy  foliage is a broader version of Karl’s grassy foliage and the same dark green, so provides repetition.

Hemerocallis 'Stella d'Oro' and Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’

Hemerocallis ‘Stella d’Oro’ and Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’. Photo: Pat Gaviller

As well, in early summer when the grass sends up its vertical inflorescence, the soft arching form of the daylilies contrasts beautifully with the upright form of the grasses. As the grass turns to gold in late summer, it will echo the colour of Stella’s blooms. The two look striking together as a linear planting along the fence and will become more so as they both mature.

Stella and………….another Karl?

Hemerocallis 'Stella d'Oro' and Campanula carpatica v. turbinata ‘Karl Foerster’

Hemerocallis ‘Stella d’Oro’ and Campanula carpatica v. turbinata ‘Karl Foerster’. Photo: Pat Gaviller

That’s right Stella is cheating on Karl – with another of the same name. Here she’s seen with Campanula carpatica var. turbinata ‘Karl Foerster’, bred by famed Swedish hybridizer Karl Foerster, who of course also bred the aforementioned grassy Karl.

This Campanula cultivar is used extensively in Europe, but can be difficult to obtain here – I special ordered mine years ago. No matter, C. carpatica ‘Deep Blue Clips’ will do quite nicely.

The key to this combo is the colour contrast, as well the contrasting forms – the fountain shape of Hemerocallis arches nicely over the rounded mound of Campanula. Nice pair eh?

Stella and Ruby

Tsk, tsk – Stella you do get around don’t you! This time she’s with Berberis thunbergii ‘Ruby Carousel’ – a stunning combination. Stella’s bright gold blooms contrast beautifully with the barberry’s dark wine-coloured foliage as well as the texture, and her arching form repeats the form of Ruby’s horizontal arching branches.

Hemerocallis ‘Stella d'Oro' and Berberis thunbergii ‘Ruby Carousel’

Hemerocallis ‘Stella d’Oro’ and Berberis thunbergii ‘Ruby Carousel’. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Okay enough of Stella’s tawdry affairs – let’s move on to something more appetizing.


Palatable Pairs

Guacamole and Plum Pudding

Hosta 'Guacamole' and Heuchera 'Plum Pudding'

Hosta ‘Guacamole’ and Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Guacamole & Plum Pudding? Blech! That sounds decidedly unpalatable – sure looks pretty though doesn’t it?  The contrast in hue is lovely, and since Hosta ‘Guacamole’ and Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’ are both foliage perennials, this colour combo is offered on the menu all season long.

Though both are very coarse-textured (large leaves), there’s still textural contrast because the Hosta leaves are so much larger, and their leaf shape differs significantly.


Peaches and Salmon

Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’ and Begonia ‘Nonstop Salmon’

Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’ and Begonia ‘Nonstop Salmon’.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

C’mon now, peaches and salmon? That sounds awful too. However it looks quite delicious – the muted coral-rose leaves of Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’ are a lovely foil for the bright coral-red blooms of Begonia ‘Nonstop Salmon’.

The contrast of slightly fuzzy Heuchera foliage with the waxy surface of Begonia leaves, also contributes to the success of this container combo.

As well, the lobed foliage of both nicely echo each other.


Peaches and Cream

Now that sounds yummy – like summer brunch on the patio.

These two foliage plants display understated colour contrast because they are both muted hues.  Variegated foliage like that of Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker’ always makes an eye-catching backdrop for warm colours like this Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’.

Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’ and Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker

Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’ and Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker. Photo: Sue Gaviller

While one might think that the two-toned colouring of each would make for a ‘too busy’ picture, it really doesn’t. The veining of the Heuchera leaves presents quite differently from the dogwood variegation so they don’t compete visually with one another. In fact they make a truly scrumptious pair.


Berries and Cream

Sorbus decora berries and Cornus alba 'Cream Cracker'

Sorbus decora berries and Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker’.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Mmmm, this too sounds tasty. The berries from a client’s Sorbus decora were so plentiful that they hung down into the Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker’ below. As I said of the previous pair, variegated foliage is an excellent foil for warm colours. Here the effect is even more stunning because the berries are also very bright against the more muted tones of the dogwood foliage.

The Cornus leaf petioles are the same plum-red as that of both the Sorbus leaf petioles and the peduncle/pedicels of the berries, hence providing subtle repetition.

As well, the peachy pink colour of the changing leaves is a lovely contrast to the berries – tasty indeed!


Opposites Attract

Red-violet and Yellow-green

Red-violet and Yellow-green, as seen in this pairing of Paeonia ‘Morning Lilac’ and Spiraea bumalda ‘Goldmound’, are opposite each other on the colour wheel. Using these complementary colours together makes a dramatic, eye-catching combination – generous amounts of basic green foliage should therefore be included to soften the high contrast.

Paeonia ‘Morning Lilac’ and Spiraea bumalda 'Goldmound'

Paeonia ‘Morning Lilac’ and Spiraea bumalda ‘Goldmound’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Blue and Orange

Hemerocallis fulva (tawny daylily) and blue Delphinium

Hemerocallis fulva (tawny daylily) and blue Delphinium.
Photos: Sue Gaviller

Another complementary pairing, Hemerocallis fulva (tawny daylily) and two different shades of blue Delphinium team up to create a really outstanding combo.

In addition to the beautifully contrasting colours, the fountain-like form of Hemerocallis contrasts nicely with the very upright growth habit of Delphinium.


Seasonal Fare

When choosing plant material, don’t forget to consider those many barren winter months. This twosome – Picea pungens var. glauca (Colorado blue spruce) and Prunus mackii (Amur cherry) – provides striking colour contrast throughout the off-season when little colour is present in our gardens and landscapes. The colour combo is effective because the blue-green of the spruce needles and the red-orange of the cherry bark are opposites, or complements.

Picea pungens var. glauca and Prunus mackii.

Picea pungens var. glauca and Prunus mackii. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Light and Dark

Just as opposite colours create high contrast, so does the combination of light and dark. This dark wine-coloured Hemerocallis ‘Purple d’Oro’ is gorgeous next to bright white Leucanthemum superbum. The sunny yellow daisy centres pick up on the lemon yellow throat of the daylily offering some nice repetition too.

Leucanthemum  superbum and Hemerocallis ‘Purple d'Oro'

Leucanthemum superbum and Hemerocallis ‘Purple d’Oro’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sun and Stars

Heliopsis helianthoides and Liatris spicata.

Heliopsis helianthoides and Liatris spicata. Photo: See Gaviller

False sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) and blazing star (Liatris spicata) make a dazzling duo.

Their successful partnership is due in part to the colour contrast, but also because of their textural differences – feathery spikes of mauve stars pair beautifully with the bright rays of sunny gold.

A casual pairing with real visual punch.


Take a Walk on the Wild Side

A Woodland Pair

Actaea rubra and Matteuccia struthiopteris

Actaea rubra and Matteuccia struthiopteris. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Using native plants in our garden compositions can create a setting that looks very natural, as if Mother Nature herself planned it.

In this woodland pairing, the rich red berries and dark green toothed foliage of Actaea rubra (red baneberry) look striking with the light green, lacy fronds of Matteuccia  struthiopteris (ostrich fern).

(Please note that all parts of Actaea are poisonous, especially the berries, hence the common name ‘baneberry’.)


Mother Knows Best

Sometimes Mother Nature does indeed put things together in the most charming way, as with this delightful duet – Aquilegia canadensis and Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens. Each of these wildflowers offers unique form that complements the other, and the very visible yellow stamens of the columbine nicely repeat the colour of the lady’s slipper. Couldn’t have done better myself!

Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens and Aquilegia canadensis

Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens and Aquilegia canadensis. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Threesome Anyone?

When I first espied this colourful combo from a block or so away, I noticed only the purple Salvia nemerosa ‘May Night’ and the bright yellow-green Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ but as I approached, camera in hand, I realized that a pink peony had flopped down to join them. I wanted to push it out of the way but then decided I quite liked this little trio – the plump pink peony was a pretty addition to the spiky sage and creeping groundcover, and actually softened the intense colour contrast between the two.

Salvia nemerosa ‘May Night’, Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ and Paeonia sp.

Salvia nemerosa ‘May Night’, Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ and Paeonia sp. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Whenever I go clothes shopping, before I buy that must-have new sweater, I ask myself “what have I got to wear this with?” Remember this the next time you’re out plant shopping – before you buy that must-have new shrub or perennial, ask yourself “what have I got to pair this with?”

And be sure to check out Christina’s book.

Stay warm,
© 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 of Twenty Twelve

Bet you can’t say that ten times really fast. Top twenty of twenty twelve, twop twenty of twenty telve, top tenty……….oh never mind.

Okay so what’s this all about?

If you’ve visited this blog before, you may have had occasion to visit my Weekly Plant Picks page. Each weekend during gardening season, I profiled a tree, shrub or perennial that had impressed me that week – usually several traits about a particular plant earned its place on the page. After 20 entries though, it has become a tad cumbersome, and since the season is officially over in our part of the world, I’m disassembling the page until spring.

If you’re new to this blog, or just never got around to viewing the Plant Pick page, or would like to be able to reference this information in the future – this post’s for you.  And be sure to check out the updates at the end of the post.

So without further ado here is, in chronological order ………

Sue’s Top 20 of 2012

June 3rd – Syringa hyacinthiflora ‘Pocahontas’

Syringa hyacinthiflora ‘Pocahontas’ – still alive and now blooming after a winter spent in a 2 gallon pot.

So how does this pathetic looking specimen merit my first Weekly Plant Pick? Well there’s more to this gal than meets the eye. I bought it on sale late August 2011, put it on my patio and thought little about it til that October when I noticed the leaves were dry and crunchy – oh yeah maybe I should plant that thing (if it’s even alive) or at least give it some water. I gave it a drink and again ignored it (it’s the end of the season, I’m tired and I just don’t feel like digging in the dirt anymore). Fast forward – April of this year and time to get rid of this dead thing in a pot on my patio. Except it’s not dead – the branches are still supple and the buds are fat and fleshy. In fact not a single branch tip had suffered winterkill – wow this thing is hardy! Now she’s planted (more like popped in the ground and ignored again) and despite her very small stature, she’s now blooming. Not the big robust blooms of her future self, but blooms nonetheless. From these baby blooms emanates a heavenly scent.

Pocahontas will grow 2 -3 metres tall and wide, and like all of the hyacinthiflora hybrids, will flower a little earlier than most lilacs. These hybrids are one of the most fragrant of all the lilacs and have the same lush dark green heart-shaped leaf as the common lilac.

So what do I see in this small specimen? Not what is, but what will be – I expect she won’t disappoint.


June 10th – Malus baccata ‘Rosthern’ (Rosthern Columnar Crab)

Top Left – Malus baccata ‘Rosthern’ flowers. Photo: Pat Gaviller
Bottom Left – Vase shaped when young and maturing to oval form Photo: Cathy Gaviller
Top Right – a robin perches in the bronze coloured branches. Photo: Cathy Gaviller
Bottom Right – small ornamental fruit. Photo: Pat Gaviller

A profusion of white flowers in early spring, good fall colour, beautiful bronze bark and pretty reddish gold ornamental fruit (loved by birds), make this a lovely four season tree – a true specimen. In addition, its upright growth habit makes it a more appropriate choice for small yards than the wide-spreading selections typical of the genus.

As the name suggests this cultivar of the Siberian crab was developed in Rosthern Saskatchewan in the early 1970’s. It is often confused with the much earlier American introduction ‘Columnaris’ which is highly susceptible to fire blight – Rosthern on the other hand, has excellent resistance.

I use these trees often in designs – for their year-long interest, compact form and their cold and chinook hardiness. They never fail to impress!

June 17th – Syringa vulgaris  ‘Ludwig Spaeth’

Syringa vulgaris ‘Ludwig Spaeth’. Photos: Sue Gaviller

This older cultivar has lots going for it. The colour is stunning, with dark red-violet buds opening to slightly lighter florets. The growth habit is fairly tidy and the blossoms are large and luscious. As well, Ludwig Spaeth is a very early bloomer, beginning about the same time as the early flowering crabs and continuing to offer colourful blooms for longer than most other S. vulgaris cultivars.

Like all of the species, the leaves are rich dark green providing season long contrast to lighter coloured foliage in the garden.

My only criticism is that the scent is a little too subtle for me – while it has the classic lilac fragrance, one must be up very close to experience it.

All in all, a lovely shrub for the spacious border.

June 24th – Dianthus ‘Neon Star’

Dianthus ‘Neon Star’. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Intense magenta blooms cover the rich blue foliage on this neatly mounding perennial. In our climate, Dianthus ‘Neon Star’ begins blooming early to mid June and continues for most of the summer.

It grows 6”- 8” high and will spread into a tidy clump 12”- 18” wide. When finished blooming, the lovely steel-blue foliage still offers colour in the late summer garden.

What else could one possibly ask of a perennial?

July 1st – Paeonia ‘Morning Lilac’

Paeonia ‘Morning Lilac’. Photos: Sue Gaviller

This lovely peony belongs to a group called Itoh Peonies or Intersectionals. They are a cross between the tree peony which is a woody plant and the more common herbaceous peony. This cross has given us the best of both – the huge papery blooms of the tree peony, in a smaller more compact plant. In fact they are more compact than their herbaceous parent.

Morning Lilac earned a place in the top 5 plants evaluated in the 2011 Perennial Trials at the Calgary Zoo. I put a couple of these in a client’s yard last year – not only did they make it through the winter, they doubled in size and are covered in big beautiful blooms. I’ve never seen either of the parent species perform so well in their first year. A colleague of mine who lives west of city, planted 5 of them on her very exposed piece of windswept land and she reports they too are covered in the characteristic pointy buds, which will soon be gorgeous blooms.

These plants are a little pricey but they are worth every penny and continue to come down in price. There are numerous cultivars in a wide range of colours – why not give one try? You’ll be glad you did.

July 8th – Rosa ‘Winnipeg Parks’

Rosa ‘Winnipeg Parks’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

This is one you’ll either love or hate. When the blooms first open they are a super-saturated, almost fluorescent, cherry red. After a day or two they calm down a bit to a lovely hot pink. When I planted a trio of these last year my first thought was ‘What have I done? This is just garish’. However, it wasn’t long before I decided I actually liked them – they were bright to be sure, but they worked well with the soft purples of the various neighbouring Campanula species, and there was plenty of green around to quiet their rather loud presentation.

If you can get past the intensity of the flower colour, Winnipeg Parks has lots to offer – the blooms are full and velvety with just a hint of fragrance. The leaves are a beautiful bronze-tipped green and the growth habit is very compact – about 2 ½ feet tall and wide. It looks like a classic tea rose but is really a hardy shrub rose, one of the Parkland series developed in Morden Manitoba – very hardy and disease resistant. Try it – you might like it!

July 15thScabiosa caucasica ‘Ultra Violet’

Scabiosa caucasica ‘Ultra Violet’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The pincushion flower is a reliable, long blooming perennial – this particular cultivar has proven to be extremely hardy in my garden, with some of the leaves even remaining evergreen through the last 3 winters. The flowers are intense dark purple (the darkest I’ve seen in a pincushion flower), with lighter centres.

The foliage too, is deeper green than other Scabiosa cultivars. ‘Ultra Violet’ is tidy and well-behaved in full or part sun, grows 12 to 18 inches tall/wide, and will bloom from early summer through to fall. One of my favourite perennials – too bad the squirrels agree.

July 22nd – Campanula portenschlagiana

Campanula portenschlagiana. Photo: Marg Gaviller

These little beauties must be the florists’ best kept secret. I see them in decorative pots around Easter and Mother’s Day at grocery store florists or the indoor section of nurseries, but I’ve never seen them in a greenhouse perennial department, at least not here.

What many gardeners may not know is that the Dalmatian Bellflower is a hardy perennial in our climate. It forms spreading mounds (12-24 inches) of deep mauve bells and will bloom continually from early to late summer.

I was thrilled when I first found Campanula portenschlagiana in a little ceramic Easter egg at my local grocery. I’d actually discovered it years before in a plant encyclopedia but had given up ever finding it here – nobody I asked about it had ever heard of the Dalmatian Bellflower. Obviously now they have, and so have you!


July 29th – Heucherella ‘Berry Fizz’

Heucherella ‘Berry Fizz’. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Heucherella is an intergeneric hybrid between Heuchera and Tiarella. ‘Berry Fizz’ has shiny dark purple-bronze foliage heavily splashed with pink. The sprays of tiny orchid-pink flowers are a lovely contrast to the large maple shaped leaves.

It’s equally happy in sun or shade, though will appreciate a little extra moisture in full sun. In full shade it holds its colour remarkably well, better than most in fact.

Heucherella ‘Berry Fizz’ will grow 10 -12 inches tall (a little taller when in bloom), 14 -16 inches wide and is especially striking in containers.


August 5th – Echinacea ‘Tangerine Dream’

Echinacea ‘Tangerine Dream’. Photo: Pat Gaviller

I’ll be honest – this plant shouldn’t really be featured on this page……….yet. It’s debatably hardy here, but I’m hoping its ‘less than stellar’ overwintering of the last two years has more to do with the weird winters we’ve had than its hardiness. I am just so smitten with this coneflower – the colour is as the name promises; a bright tangerine orange.

I’m not so easily won over though, that a pretty colour is enough – this Echinacea has much more to offer than just its stunning colour. Each individual bloom lasts and lasts and lasts – at least 3 weeks, maybe more, and there are lots of them, on thick sturdy 30” stems. The foliage is dark green and the flowers have a distinct honey scent.

I bought a couple of Echinacea ‘Tangerine Dream’ two years ago – only one of them survived, but it is growing, albeit slowly. This coneflower will grow a fair bit in the first season it’s planted so I’m actually willing to use it as an annual if that’s the best I can do. However, I’ve heard it said that the key to getting these babies to survive our winters is to prevent them from flowering in their first year – quite a conundrum eh?

August 19thViburnum dentatum ‘J.N. Select’ (Red Feather Arrowwood)

Viburnum dentatum ‘J.N. Select’.
Photos: Sue Gaviller

I chose this plant after seeing how well it held up to golf ball size hail last weekend. We’d also had a vicious hail storm several weeks before – smaller hailstones, but hard driving hail for at least 30 minutes. Again this Viburnum didn’t suffer a single shredded leaf – remarkable. But that’s not all……..

The shiny serrate leaves are red in the spring, turning to mid green with distinctive red edges and aging to bright green – the new growth continues to be red throughout the growing season giving a two toned effect. The pretty white flowers, typical of the genus, appear in early summer and are followed by blue-black berries in the fall. Red fall foliage rounds out this 3-season shrub – the berries hold on into the early winter, extending the ornamental value to almost 4 seasons.

Hardy to zone three, this shrub should reach 8 to 10 feet tall and wide (according to Johnson’s Nurseries who bred this selection). It is currently under review with the Alberta Government Woody Evaluation Trials at test sites across the province, so mature height and spread in our climate has not yet been assessed. In my own garden…….well I guess we’ll see over the next few years. For now, I’m happy with its bushy upright growth habit and lovely shiny green/red foliage.

August 26th – Heuchera ‘Berry Smoothie’

Top – spring foliage. Photo courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries.
Bottom – midsummer foliage. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Large luscious leaves emerge bright berry pink in the spring, darkening somewhat in the heat of the summer, but otherwise maintaining good colour throughout the season. Soft pink flowers add an airy dimension to their summer appeal.

This Heuchera has both H. americana and H. villosa parentage, giving it the best of both – the cold hardiness of the former and heat tolerance of the latter. In addition Berry Smoothie’s H. villosa heritage is responsible for its large, slightly fuzzy leaves and stems, and its fast growth habit.

Mine have survived two winters, countless rabbit attacks and several nasty hail storms – still look pretty good considering. Berry Smoothie is a great garden addition, providing colour from early spring through late fall.

 September 2ndPhysocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’.
Photos: Sue Gaviller

Ninebarks have received a bad name of late – ‘scraggly and buggy’ I hear from fellow gardeners. The problem is, if they’re not situated in full sun (and I mean full sun all day long), they will in fact become leggy and infested with aphids. But plant Summer Wine in full sun and it will shine – literally. Rich, wine-coloured glossy foliage lasts well into late fall long after many other shrubs have lost their leaves. Pretty pale pink flowers are followed by rust coloured seed capsules. The branches of older growth are gray and peeling, but new growth is dark purplish red providing winter interest as well.

In its first year this ninebark will complain in full sun if not kept watered, which leads gardeners (and suppliers) to believe that they in fact like a bit of shade. However in subsequent years Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ will be very drought tolerant and thrive in hot dry conditions – just what a prairie landscape needs. So give a ninebark another chance – if you give it what it needs, Summer Wine won’t let you down.

September 9th – Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker’

Top – early fall colour. Photo: Sue Gaviller
Bottom – Photo: Pat Gaviller

Cream Cracker dogwood is a ‘sport’ of the mottled dogwood, Cornus alba ‘Gouchaultii’. A sport refers to a spontaneous bud mutation resulting in a shoot that differs morphologically from the rest of the plant. When these shoots present a desirable characteristic, they are often then cultivated to create new cultivars. Indeed many new plant cultivars arise from this phenomenon.

Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker’ has a dwarf habit and green/gold variegation on new growth, fading to green and butter cream on older growth. In early fall the cream coloured margins turn peach/pink. Purple stems round out this cultivar’s 4-season appeal.

The only drawback is availability – when first introduced they were readily available here and I used them in many clients’ designs, but in the last couple of years I’ve had trouble sourcing them. My suppliers tell me it’s because they are unreliably hardy in our climate. This hasn’t been my experience, and they’ve been deemed a recommended plant for our area in the Alberta Government Woody Evaluation Trials. Granted they can take a few years to really establish themselves, suffering significant winter dieback in the first couple of years, but I’ve discovered that once they get established they are proving to be quite robust.

Let’s hope the nurseries here can be convinced that Cream Cracker dogwood is worth another try.

September 16th – Ocimum basilicum ‘Cinnamon’

Ocimum basilicum ‘Cinnamon’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

It’s 3PM and I just realize I haven’t eaten anything since this morning’s granola. Feeling a little peckish and not wanting to ‘spoil my dinner’, I opt for toast and tomatoes. My husband grows awesome heritage tomatoes, several of which he harvested earlier in the day. As my knife slices through the meaty, juicy flesh of a perfectly ripe Black Krim, I decide I want a few fresh basil leaves. Hubby grows numerous types of basil – I choose Cinnamon for its large flat leaves, perfect for layering atop sliced tomatoes.

I bite into my late summer lunch and…………..WOW! Flavour explosion!

If you’ve never grown this flavourful basil, I highly recommend it. I find it somewhat like Thai basil (which we also grow and is my favourite), but with less licorice notes. Cinnamon basil has earned a place on this page because it is also very beautiful – a tall bushy basil with dark purple stems and pale mauve flowers with showy purple bracts. Grown in pots it has sufficient ornamental value to adorn my patio, emitting a spicy aroma that supposedly wards off mosquitoes.

For more information on Cinnamon basil check out this post by Ramona Werst on the Herb Companion’s IN THE HERB GARDEN.

September 23rd – Hemerocallis ‘Hot Embers’

Hemerocallis ‘Hot Embers’. I took this photo a few days ago after a much needed watering. Today this daylily is still blooming and has several more buds waiting to open. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The garden is tired, dry and leaf-littered. Little by little, garden foliage is losing vigour as perennials prepare for winter dormancy. Why then, is a summer perennial gracing this page? Well……..because it’s still blooming. That’s right it’s September 23rd and this daylily still has buds and blooms.

Hemerocallis ‘Hot Embers’ belongs to a select group of daylilies called Trophytaker® Daylilies. In order for a daylily to receive this designation it must meet numerous criteria: Beauty, Hardiness, Fast Clumping, Extended Bloom (minimum 42 days), Superior Foliage and Pest/Disease Resistance.

Extended bloom indeed! ‘Hot Embers’ daylily has been blooming in my back garden since July 25th!

September 30th – Syringa patula ‘Miss Kim’

Syringa patula ‘Miss Kim’ fall foliage.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

A lilac? Really? At this time of year? I know, I know, I promised no more lilacs, but this lilac is different – I’ve chosen this particular lilac because it has striking fall colour. The foliage turns a beautiful dark purple/red – a stunning contrast to the red, orange and yellow foliage that many other plants exhibit in the fall.

Miss Kim lilac offers other awesome attributes as well – dwarf compact habit, good drought tolerance and winter hardiness. Of course, during lilac season she also has pretty, very fragrant blooms, but that’s not why she’s here today – it’s all about the fall foliage colour. Gorgeous!

October 7th – Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’

Top – early summer inflorescence.
Bottom – late summer/fall inflorescence.
Photos: Sue Gaviller

It’s at this time of year that the reed grasses come into their full glory – stately upright masses of feathery gold. When the grassy inflorescence first emerges in early to mid summer, it is soft green with a touch of pink. With age it becomes more tan coloured, and finally a rich gold which is particularly showy against the very blue autumn sky.

Karl Foerster is a fool-proof perennial – very hardy here in our zone 3 climate and drought tolerant too. In fact once established they actually prefer lean, dry soil. I made the mistake of giving supplemental water in their second year – they’d been really thirsty in the first year I planted them, so I assumed they were water-loving.

As well, they seemed to fall over all the time (so I gave them more water thinking this was why they were so floppy). When I mentioned to a colleague that I thought reed grasses had a sloppy growth habit, she suggested maybe they were getting too much water – they never got watered after that, even though they’re in a very dry spot. Now they stand up straight and tall.

In the late summer and fall these beauties can be seen from blocks away, especially large stands of them. They bring real elegance to the late summer border and continue to provide interest well into the winter. Matures to about 3 feet wide and 4 to 5 feet tall. A real showpiece!

October 14 – Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’

Top – Flowers and fruit. Photos courtesy of Wikipedia
Bottom – Fall colour. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Viburnum trilobum is at its best in the fall. The species itself presents tawny red fall colour, but Bailey Compact, a cultivar of the American highbush cranberry, turns bright fuchsia red – very showy. Its dense foliage and dwarf upright growth habit make it an appealing addition to the urban landscape. The large trilobate leaves also bring some coarser texture to our gardens, contrasting nicely with finer textured shrubs. Pretty white flowers in the spring and red berries in late summer/fall ensure this shrub has something beautiful to offer all season.

October 21

Today will be my last Plant Pick til next spring. It’s getting harder to find plant material worthy of this page as there’s just so much less of it around. So for my closing pick of 2012 I present…..

Malus ‘Rosy Glo’

This small weeping standard is an outstanding specimen tree – very hardy and offers beautiful four-season interest: Bright pink spring blossoms, bluish purple foliage, plum-red bark, striking weeping form, stunning fall foliage and pretty ornamental apples. Need I say more?

Left – spring blossoms. Right – October colour with dusting of early snow. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Left – brillant orange November colour. Right – pretty ornamental fruit. Photos: Sue Gaviller


Looking back on this year’s plant picks, I felt it necessary to add a few updates.

Dianthus ‘Neon Star’continued blooming well into September, as did Scabiosa caucasica ‘Ultra Violet’. They were stopped short when we had early snow that stuck around for longer than is usual for this time of year. When it did melt after a week or so, Campanula portenschlagiana still had a few blooms on it and remarkably Hemerocallis ‘Hot Embers’ was still trying to bloom – I didn’t let it of course, so as not to compromise its ability to get through what could be a very long cold winter (if you read between the lines there you might detect a perceptible whine).

Paeonia ‘Morning Lilac’ has been put through another test for toughness – remember that colleague of mine who put 5 of them in her large exposed acreage garden? Well, she watered them in for the winter – gave them a nice long deep drink, and then realized the hose had been attached to the hot water faucet. Don’t laugh. I remember when my youngest was a toddler, he asked for a drink of water – I turned on the tap, filled his cup and gave it to him. When he shrieked and dumped it all down the front of his onesie, I realized the water had still been hot from when I’d just previously run it. OMG! I was beside myself with guilt, but he was a tough little guy and luckily the water hadn’t been hot enough to scald him. Lesson learned.

Anyways, last I heard the peonies actually survived the hot water treatment – I’ll be sure to check back with her next spring to see how they fared.

Viburnum dentatum ‘J.N. Select’ continued to do well, except they really didn’t appreciate the dry windy weather we had late in the season. Supplemental watering was required during this time, but my hope is this was only because it was their first year. Perhaps they’ll prove to be more tolerant of dry windy conditions once they’re firmly established.

Heuchera ‘Berry Smoothie’ and Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ are continuing to hold their deep rich foliage colour – at least they were until the snow started falling again.

Well that’s about it – nothing else new to report. It was a good year all in all. Not without its disappointments mind you, like golf ball size hail, and of course winter has come way too early. For the most part though I’m pretty happy with the garden’s performance. How about you?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon,
© 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. 

Barking up the Wrong Tree

They say dog is man’s best friend – well how about dogwood is gardener’s best friend? I don’t mean the graceful dogwood trees, Cornus kousa or Cornus florida  – I wish I could say I was referring to them, but sadly no, we can’t grow these lovely trees in our zone 3, chinook-challenged climate. We can however, grow some splendid cultivars of our native Cornus sericea (red osier dogwood), and the closely related Cornus alba (Tatarian dogwood). I recall a recent quip from an out-of-province industry professional in reference to these…….he snorted, “That’s a dogwood? Where I come from dogwoods are trees.” Yeah, yeah, I know – we’re horticulturally deprived here. But no need to feel sorry for ourselves – the dogwood shrubs I speak of, though not as ornamental in flower, have special characteristics that set them apart from their arboreal counterparts. Not only are they extremely hardy in our fierce climate, they have a beauty all their own and offer it up year round.

Let’s take a walk through the seasons and see what these dogwoods have to offer

Winter Bark

Both species have colourful bark which is very showy in winter. C. sericea has dark red bark, C. alba has brighter red bark, and each have numerous cultivars presenting additional bark colours of green, yellow, coral and purple-black.  Indeed it is this trait that makes dogwood so desirable in Northern climes – our winters are long and it provides a bright spot in a dreary landscape. The branches are often used in seasonal container arrangements as well, since they hold their colour well when cut.

Cornus sericea (red osier dogwood) lines the banks of the Bow River, its massive root system preventing erosion, and its colourful stems brightening the winter landscape. Photo: Pat Gaviller

The pliable branches are also useful for various crafts – basketweaving for example. Dream catchers too, were traditionally made of red osier dogwood, which some considered to be sacred.

Colourful bark makes dogwood branches useful in other landscape applications – the detail in the viewing window on the left is made from dogwood which I harvested from one of my very mature Cornus sericea ‘Flavirimea’. I then had my friend and colleague, Greg Booth of Sawback Developments, fashion this Japanese-style gate for a client. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Since it is the younger branches that are the most colourful, keeping old branches pruned out will ensure good bark colour. Very old, untidy specimens can be ‘rejuvenated’ by pruning them to the ground. Your efforts will be rewarded with lush new growth the following year.

Spring Flowers and Summer Berries

All of the C. Sericea and C. Alba cultivars have delicate white flowers in spring. Some years they flower abundantly, other years more sporadically, and while the blooms can’t compete visually with those of Malus or Syringa, they are nonetheless suitably pretty. In late summer these pretty white flowers become pretty white berries, which are especially attractive against the changing foliage colour.

Dogwood berries provide food for many species of birds – too numerous to list here. Suffice it to say that if you want to attract birds to your yard, include a native dogwood or two in your plan.

Dogwood flowers, though not particularly showy, still have ornamental value in the landscape. Left: Cornus sericea. Photo: Pat Gaviller. Right: Cornus alba ‘Aurea’. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Cornus sericea: small white flower clusters become cream-coloured berries – stunning against the red fall foliage. Photos: Pat Gaviller

Foliage Colour All Season Long

Cornus sericea and Cornus alba contribute both texture and colour to the garden. Texturally they are medium-coarse – these coarser textures are desirable for providing moments of emphasis and contrast in the landscape. As for colour, there is increasing variety in available foliage colours – bright gold, bronze-green, variegated green and gold, variegated green and white, and of course basic green. With all these colours to choose from, the lowly dogwood shrub can make a real splash in your garden.

Cornus alba ‘Aurea’ has intense bright golden foliage – a real standout. Here it contrasts beautifully with the dark green of Syringa vulgaris and the rich wine-coloured Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’. With colour like this who needs flowers? Photo: Sue Gaviller

Cornus alba ‘Strawberry Daiquiri’ (left) has very white leaf margins and strawberry coloured bark, while Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker’ has butter cream variegation and dark purple-red bark. Such yummy names aren’t they? Photos: Sue Gaviller

Cornus sericea ‘Silver & Gold’ has green and cream variegated leaves and bright yellow bark – an attractive addition to the landscape any time of year. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Dogwoods also have brilliant fall foliage colour – the red-barked cultivars turn varying shades of red, the yellow-barked cultivars turn golden and the variegated cultivars turn shades of peach, pink or orange.  These Cornus shrub species really do have something to offer in all four seasons – few plants have such versatility.

The bright red fall foliage of this small compact dogwood (which I suspect is Cornus sericea ‘Farrow’) looks stunning against the backdrop of a richly stained fence and the limestone boulder in the foreground. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker’ in late summer, just beginning to show its fall colours. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Size Matters

C. sericea and C. alba species are quite large – 2 to 3 meters height and spread. This is great if you have lots of room, but if not, there are many cultivars bred specifically for the smaller yard. Cornus sericea ‘Farrow’ (Arctic Fire dogwood) is a compact bushy cultivar with lush green leaves and intense red stems, reaching about 1 meter tall and wide. Cornus sericea ‘Kelseyi’ is a cute little dwarf variety growing only about ½ metre. For variegated cultivars, the very pretty Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker’ is a great choice for small yards with a height and spread of about 1 metre.

This client’s Northwest Calgary yard was one of the first designs in which I used Cornus alba ‘Cream Cracker’. I’ve been very happy with its performance – very little winterkill, bushy compact growth habit and beautiful warm variegated foliage has made it a great choice. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Dogwoods aren’t  picky about where you put them – I have 12 or 13 of them in my yard, numerous cultivars of both species, placed in every conceivable growing condition – shade, semi-shade, full sun, moist, dry, sheltered, exposed and several combinations thereof. I can’t say any particular specimen is doing markedly better than others – the one in full sun with supplemental water from the downspout has perhaps grown the fastest, but on the whole they’re all pretty happy.

So you see there’s a dogwood for everyone, for every site, and for every season. Indeed they are a gardener’s best friend.

Thank y’all for reading,
© 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.

Holy H. Batman!

That’s ‘H’ for Heuchera – you know that indispensable foliage plant that comes in every colour of the rainbow?

I believe a garden plant should carry its weight throughout the season, from early spring through late fall – in other words they must be more than just a pretty face, I mean flower.  Plants with attractive foliage are the key here and Heuchera rules this realm – what other plant has leaves that can bring the same intensity of colour as flowers, and in a huge range of hues?

So let’s take a closer look at this genus of fabulous foliage perennials.

Foliage Favourites

There are more than 50 species in this genus, all or most of which are North American natives, and a few of which figure prominently in Heuchera breeding programs: H. americana, H. villosa, H. micrantha, H. sanguinea, H. cylindrica, and H. pubescens.  Each of these species brings unique characteristics to the table. Hence, countless crosses and back crosses have resulted in enormous variety in terms of leaf colour (pink, purple, plum, peach, lime, orange), leaf size (some are huge) and leaf shape (scalloped, pointy, curled, ruffled). I’m not even going to try to walk you through all of this – the folks at Terra Nova Nurseries, responsible for much of the current hybridizing craze, can show you so much better than I. Do check out their website. Be prepared though: if you garden in Calgary, you may experience a little ‘inner whine’ when you view some of the stunning images of their beautiful plants – we can’t grow’em like that here………sigh.

Charles Oliver of The Primrose Path and France’s Thierry Delabroye have also made significant contributions to the vast selection of new Heuchera cultivars.

The frenzied hybridizing that has produced hundreds of new cultivars since 1990, began with the discovery of Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ – originally determined to be a variant of H. micrantha, but later argued to be of H. villosa stock. It was awarded the Perennial Plant Association’s Plant of the Year in 1991 – since then of course, far superior dark-leaved cultivars have been developed, as well as many other unimaginable colours.

Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’. Photo: Marny Estep

Dark and rich foliage colours. Clockwise from top left: Heuchera ‘Berry Smoothie’ (late summer colour), Heuchera ‘Frosted Violet’, Heuchera ‘Plum Royale’, Heuchera ‘Bressingham Bronze’ and Heuchera ‘Prince’. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Warm and Bright foliage colours. Clockwise from top left: Heuchera ‘Pinot Gris’, Heuchera ‘Mahogany’, Heuchera ‘Berry Smoothie’ (early summer colour), Heuchera ‘Tiramisu’ and Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Flowers Too

Heuchera ‘Bressingham Hybrid’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Flower characteristics have also been the focus of various breeding programs – in fact well before Heuchera was deemed a desirable foliage perennial, Alan Bloom of Blooms of Bressingham had been working to improve the original coral bells, with their racemes of tiny, coral-coloured bells (Heuchera sanguinea). He began selecting for larger, brighter coloured florets. ‘Bressingham Hybrid’ was one of his early successes followed by numerous others –  ‘Red Spangles’, ‘Rosemary Bloom’ and ‘Bridget Bloom’ to name a few.

Some Like it Hot

In the early years, Heuchera was marketed as a shade perennial – indeed many nurseries still display it in their Shade Perennials section. However, many cultivars actually present better colour in half, if not full sun.

How much sun or shade a particular cultivar can tolerate is partly determined by geography – our prairie summers are generally hot and fairly dry, but not nearly as hot and dry as Las Vegas. So a Heuchera planted in full sun in Calgary may do just fine, but could fry in the hot sun of the Mojave Desert.

In addition, the particular species of Heuchera will determine its heat and sun tolerance, as well as its cold hardiness. Species that are native to subtropical regions will be more tolerant of high heat and humidity, even thriving in such conditions. Heuchera villosa, a native of the subtropical southeastern United States, is one such species. Heuchera americana on the other hand, is native to more northern climes hence prefers cooler drier conditions.

Some Have it All

It used to be that you could purchase Heuchera with colourful foliage and nondescript flowers, or you could buy Heuchera with brightly coloured flowers and pretty, but nondescript, foliage. However, with complex hybridizing using numerous parent species, it’s now possible to have both – showy foliage and showy flowers. Terra Nova’s City Series boasts some great examples of this.  And of course the hybrids will retain the climactic preferences of their parentage, so if there is villosa, americana and pubescens species in their make-up, they will be drought tolerant, heat & humidity tolerant and cold hardy. Indeed some really do have it all!

Left: Heuchera ‘Havana’ from Terra Nova’s City Series has bright lime green foliage and large, plentiful, bright coral-pink florets. Photo: Sue Gaviller
Right: Heuchera ‘Cherries Jubilee’, also from Terra Nova Nurseries, has dark burgundy foliage and bright coral-red flowers. Photo: Pat Gaviller

…….And Then Some

Heuchera is parent to one of the few instances of intergeneric hybridization in horticulture – it has been crossed with Tiarella to produce the lovely Heucherella.  Because Tiarella is a true shade plant, adding this to the mix means better colour retention in shady locations. Case in point : Heucherella ‘Berry Fizz’, a relatively new introduction which I used in some shade containers for a client – the pink-splashed purple leaves maintained good colour saturation all season.

Heucherella ‘Berry Fizz’ with Heuchera ‘Havana’ make a lovely container arrangement in this client’s shady front entryway. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Design Value

The upshot of all this is that the hardy Heuchera has (or should) become an indispensible addition to gardens around the globe, and for good reason. If we look at it in light of our recent discussions on Unity, we see that this perennial, because of its colourful foliage, can provide colour repetition all season long, not just when in bloom. Even if we’re using one of the early hybrids grown just for its flowers, these Heuchera can still provide an extended period of colour repetition because they’re very long blooming – cultivars chosen for flowers alone are most effective when massed so the impact is more significant.

This mass of Heuchera flowers makes a lovely early summer statement. Photo: Pat Gaviller

As well, the decidedly coarse texture of this genus is useful for creating moments of emphasis or dominance – keep in mind though, that because the overall plant size isn’t very large, dominance is better achieved using a small group rather than a single specimen. The landscape-size selections, like Terra Nova’s Marmalade Series are the only cultivars large enough to be dominant on their own. Utilizing Heuchera in containers is another way they can contribute to dominance in the landscape, i.e. a focal point. Bear in mind too, especially with the brightly hued foliage selections, that you don’t want to go overboard with this perennial – too much bright colour or coarse texture can create competition for dominance which results in visual tension.

Heuchera can bring real pizzaz to container plantings – just imagine any one of these beautiful arrangements as a stunning focal point in your garden. Photos courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries.

Well, what else can I say – what else is there to say? This fabulous foliage perennial speaks for itself – why not let a Heuchera talk to you?

Til next time,
© 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.

A Midsummer’s Daydream

If you could dream up the perfect perennial what would be on your wish list?

How about big beautiful blooms? Check.

Long blooming? Check.

Enormous selection of bloom colours, bloom-times, sizes etc.? Yes indeed.

Easy care? Definitely.

Tidy growth habit? For sure.

Handsome foliage? Yes please!

Anything else? Let’s see……..how about sweet but subtle fragrance? Yes definitely!

If only we could conjure up such a plant…..but alas it’s only a dream. Well maybe not; that dream plant sounds decidedly like Hemerocallis, the daylily – in fact this perennial has oft been called the ‘perfect perennial’. Hard to believe then, that there are those who claim not to like daylilies, scornfully referring to them as ‘ditch lilies’. Ouch, what a derisive term for such a beautiful, useful, reliable perennial!  As a designer, in a difficult climate, I can’t imagine the midsummer border without them. Some are even fragrant.  And they have few enemies, except for maybe hail but don’t get me started on that (I have yet to fully assess the damage from Sunday night’s storm). Granted, the daylily dissenters are likely referring to the tawny daylily, Hemerocallis fulva, that ubiquitous orange thing found in many a tired garden – but even it has its place.

Daylilies Reader Rock Garden resize

Hemerocallis fulva – that old garden variety daylily – can make a stunning statement when used effectively. Left: tawny daylilies line the sidewalk leading to Reader Rock Garden. Photo: Pat Gaviller. Right: beautifully paired with blue Delphinium. Photo: Sue Gaviller

This summer has been exceptional for Hemerocallis, at least in my own garden, which is home to numerous spectacular cultivars – every single plant is loaded with blooms.  But let’s revisit our wish list and see whether this ‘perfect perennial’ meets all of our expectations.

Big Beautiful Blooms

Generally speaking, daylilies are a large-flowered perennial – even the smaller cultivars have relatively big blooms compared to other perennials. Because the blooms are large, and profuse, the colour impact is significant, especially the brighter-hued selections. So don’t go wild with too many different colours blooming at once.

Strutter's Ball Daylily 2 resize

Hemerocallis ‘Strutter’s Ball’ is a big beefy daylily and can hold its own even when surrounded by mostly woody plant material. The velvety magenta flowers are huge and very showy.
Photos: Sue Gaviller

Hemerocallis ‘Purple Bicolour’ – a rather simplistic name for a stunningly unique cultivar. The soft rose-pink petals and sepals, and the wine-purple eye zone, merit a more exciting moniker. How about ‘Wine and Roses’ – a much more fitting name don’t you think? Photos: Sue Gaviller

Long Blooming

While each individual flower opens for only a day, there are so many buds on each branched scape that a single plant can bloom for weeks. And since there are early, mid-season, and late bloomers, daylily season is pretty much all summer long. As well, there are an increasing number of reblooming varieties that can rebloom several times throughout the summer.

‘Stella d’Oro’ was the first ever reblooming daylily cultivar. Her reliable bloom habit and dwarf form have made her a favourite of both gardeners and landscape professionals. Photo: Pat Gaviller.

Another reblooming cultivar, ‘Little Grapette’ is a dwarf selection. Though the blooms are smaller, they are profuse and richly coloured, so provide significant colour impact. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Enormous selection

Daylilies were once dismissed as pedestrian plants unsuitable for the sophisticated garden, but early in the last century they made a come-back with the introduction of new colours. This daylily renaissance marked the beginning of a new era in Hemerocallis hybridization, with cultivars now numbering in the tens of thousands – over 60,000 registered cultivars now exist! Breeding programs have produced a mind-boggling variety of colours – reds, oranges, yellows, golds, pinks, peaches, dark wines and purple-reds, near-whites and bicolours. Some have ruffled edges, some are fragrant, some dwarf and some huge. Early bloomers, mid-season bloomers, late bloomers and rebloomers……well you get the picture.

Much of the breeding has concentrated on producing new tetraploids – this refers to the number of chromosomes; 44 for a tetraploid, 33 for a triploid and 22 for a diploid. Those extra chromosomes result in stouter scapes and sturdier petals and sepals – thick and almost rubbery compared to the papery thin petals and sepals of non-tetraploids.

Chicago Antique Tapestry resize

Hemerocallis ‘Chicago Antique Tapestry’ – a rare find, this tetraploid is a really classy cultivar. Huge, ruffled and mildly fragrant blooms – a real stunner. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Another tetraploid, Hemerocallis ‘Starling’ is a regal addition to the midsummer border, pairing well with the above mentioned ‘Chicago Antique Tapestry’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Hemerocallis ‘Kitten’s Paw’ is bright peachy pink – a lovely tetraploid with characteristic sturdy scapes and firm petals. Photo: Cathy Gaviller

Ruffled, spicy orange Hemerocallis ‘Hot Embers’ – another stand-out tetraploid. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Easy Care

Daylilies aren’t fussy plants – they’ll be happy just about any place you put them. From zone 1 to zone 11, in sun or light shade, moist or dry, clay or sand, they will perform. They are sufficiently drought tolerant to be a staple in our semi-arid climate, but they will appreciate a little extra water when in heavy bloom.  Deadheading every day will keep the plants looking fresh – luckily this is an easy task as the spent blooms snap off easily. I can deadhead all of my 20+ plants in a matter of minutes. Hemerocallis is for the most part pest and disease free and requires dividing only occasionally. I’d call that pretty easy care.

Tidy Growth Habit

I’ve never owned a daylily that required staking or tying of any kind. Even the very tall cultivars like ‘Tetrina’s Daughter’ or ‘Autumn Minaret’ stand up nicely on stiff stems, despite being bloom laden.

Handsome Foliage

Hemerocallis has wide strap-shaped leaves that arch gracefully, so the plant has design value even when not in bloom. They are ideal for underplanting trees or focal points, edging around planting beds, massing, and filling in difficult areas.

Grassy daylily foliage makes a nice underplanting, lending visual support to the bird bath. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A swath of dwarf reblooming Hemerocallis ‘Stella d’Oro’ is an effective way to plant a difficult space like this long narrow bed. When not blooming the arching daylily foliage still provides a simple elegant line. Photo: Pat Gaviller.

Sweet Subtle Fragrance

Many daylilies have a very pretty scent – some more so than others. It’s not overpowering, but if you’re standing or sitting nearby you’ll get a light bouquet on the nose.

Hemerocallis ‘Mary Reed’ is a dwarf cultivar with pretty mauve-pink blooms and a delicate scent. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Hemerocallis ‘Ivory Edges’ is by far the most fragrant daylily in my garden – strikingly beautiful as well. Photo: Sue Gaviller

When I awoke yesterday morning I peeked out the window to survey the devastation wrought by the previous night’s hail storm. Miraculously, what first caught my eye was cheerful daylily blooms – they seemed to be wishing me a beautiful day. How apt, since the word Hemerocallis comes from the Greek words hemera, meaning ‘day’ and kalos, meaning ‘beautiful’. May your day be beautiful – Hemerocallis!

Thanks for visiting – y’all come back now.
© 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.

Curtain Call – Farewell to Sweet Syringa

So y’all know how much I love lilacs. Well I’m sad to say they are nearing the end of their bloom period, so I wanted to give you a look at the closing act before the curtain is drawn on another season.  I know, enough with the lilacs already – I assure you though, today will be my last post on this loveliest of blossoms (at least for this year) and I promise to keep it short.

Syringa reticulata – Japanese Tree Lilac

These gorgeous, very late bloomers have been flowering for a week or so in our part of the world. They weren’t in bloom for my June lilac post but they are so utterly stunning this year, that I had to bring them to your attention. The Japanese tree lilac is the last of the lilacs to bloom and has some unique characteristics not shared by others in the genus:

  • They are a true tree, as opposed to a large shrub that gardeners prune into a tree ‘shape’ and labour to maintain.
  • The bark is a dark chocolate-brown with very noticeable lenticels.
  • The flowers are borne in panicles like all other Syringa species but have much finer texture, their feathery appearance in striking contrast to the large shiny leaves.
  • The scent isn’t recognizably lilac; it’s hard to describe, but if you get a whiff of something sweet and a bit spicy, like vanilla with a hint of anise, look around – there’s likely a tree lilac in the vicinity. Their bright white blooms make them easy to spot.
  • There is even a variegated cultivar which blooms later still (mine is just coming into bloom now) – ‘Golden Eclipse’ has large green and gold leaves.

Intense white blooms cover this compact tree. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Soft fluffy blooms, dark green foliage and richly textured, chocolate-coloured bark make the Japanese tree lilac a must-have in the urban landscape. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Full feathery plumes light up a sapphire sky. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Syringa reticulata, with its honey-sweet scent is a favourite of bees and butterflies. Photo: Cathy Gaviller

Syringa reticulata 'Golden Eclipse' is a very hardy variegated cultivar - leaves on new growth emerge dark green splashed with lime and older growth has bright green and gold variegation. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Syringa reticulata ‘Golden Eclipse’ is a very hardy variegated cultivar – leaves on new growth emerge dark green splashed with lime and older growth has bright green and gold variegation. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sum it all up and you have a great specimen tree – a tree with four season interest. The Japanese tree lilac has real design value and in my opinion is greatly underutilized in the landscape. It’s perfect for use as a dominant feature – for its elegant form (particularly if multistem), its colour (especially Golden Eclipse) and its coarse texture.

Syringa reticulata is a worthy closing act to a truly fine show that began 6 weeks ago – the lilac show.

So say goodbye to sweet Syringa – may their scent be with you.

© 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.

Father’s Day Plant Pick

Syringa vulgaris  ‘Ludwig Spaeth’

Syringa vulgaris ‘Ludwig Spaeth’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

After my last post extolling the virtue of lilacs, it should come as no surprise that my plant pick for this past week was a lilac. This handsome fella was also featured in that post. Why so enamoured am I? Well for one, the colour – intense, dark red-violet buds open to gorgeous, slightly softer hued florets. As well, Ludwig Spaeth is a very early bloomer – in my garden the first florets open up about the time the earliest of the flowering crabs are blooming. The blossoms are still going strong several weeks later when the blue oat grasses are sending up their arched inflorescence. And they will still offer robust splashes of colour well after most other cultivars of this species have faded.

The only deficiency is that the scent is so reserved – while it has the classic lilac aroma, one must have the nose buried right in it to experience it. Now as you know, the scent of lilacs makes me positively giddy, weak in the knees even, so the lack of fulsome fragrance was a bit of a disappointment for me. And this is precisely why I’ve chosen Mr. Spaeth as my Father’s Day Plant Pick – for my husband, father of my children, who loathes the smell of lilacs – this one’s for you.

To Dad’s Everywhere, Happy Father’s Day!