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 appeal of a winter landscape. In time I learned to embrace my ‘inner Martha’, though I soon discovered that arranging evergreen boughs in a winter container required a different skill-set than designing a landscape, a garden, or a summer container arrangement. No this required a florist’s flair, a talent this garden designer is decidedly lacking.

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 – which also meant of course, that selection was limited. 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 too, for height and structure. All that was left was some twiggy, tawny-hued huckleberry branches – this would have to do I guess. 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 and throw a hissy-fit. 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 more rigid 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. Perhaps I’d purchased 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 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.

Fall Back

The words ‘fall back’ can mean to recede, withdraw or retreat – like what happens to our gardens at this time of year. Fall back is also a catchy phrase we use to remind ourselves which way to adjust our clocks when moving from daylight time to standard time. Either way my friends, gardening season is over – the autumnal equinox officially ushered in fall on September 22nd, and in less than 2 weeks it will be time to turn our clocks back. For me, this ‘turning of the clocks’, more than any other temporal landmark, signals winter’s imminent approach; when we’ll trade our garden gloves for ski gloves, and hot toddies by the fire will replace chilled wine on the patio.

We could choose to lament the passing of another garden season, or we could celebrate what’s still beautiful in our gardens, while it’s there. If you find there’s little or no beauty left in your garden, you might want to consider adding some plant material specifically for fall colour – late or long blooming perennials, foliage that changes or intensifies its colour, plants with ornamental fruit and of course some evergreen material to set it all off.

Let’s take a walk along our city streets to see what autumn splendour we can find.

Trees

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Mountain ash turns intense shades of tawny red.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Among the most dramatic fall colour displays is the mountain ash, with foliage hues of orange, red and mahogany, and bright red or orange berries.

The American mountain ash (Sorbus americana) and showy mountain ash (Sorbus decora) have big clusters of true red berries, which are very showy.

The European mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia) has smaller berries that are more orange and is one of the last trees to turn colour in the fall.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sorbus americana beginning to change colour. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A make-shift swing hangs from the branches of colourful mountain ash. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A make-shift swing hangs from the branches of a colourful mountain ash. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Many species of Malus (apple, crabapple) also have excellent fall colour, for example;  the small weeping ‘Rosy Glo’ turns brilliant orange, and the stately ‘Pink Spires’ turns flaming red. Others display more golden tones which contrast beautifully with the red fruit.

Malus 'Rosy Glo'

Malus ‘Rosy Glo’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Malus sp.

Malus sp. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Malus sp 2

Malus sp. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Betula (birch) too, present shades of gold, and Acer, the maple genus, includes some of the best fall colour specimens – unfortunately the gorgeous sugar maple, that king of autumn foliage, isn’t hardy here in the prairies. However, Acer ginnala (Amur maple) does well here and has fabulous fall colour. Its growth habit can be somewhat untidy when grown as a tree – it is therefore in my opinion, best grown as a large shrub.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Acer ginnala. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Aesculus

Aesculus glabra – several young specimens in various stages of autumn colour change. Photo: Pat Gaviller

There are of course many other trees with colourful fall foliage: Aesculus glabra (Ohio Buckeye) produces stunning orange fall colour, as does Amelanchier grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ (Autumn Brilliance serviceberry).

Larix (larch) and Populus (aspen/poplar) turn golden-yellow, and the foliage of Crataegus  (hawthorn) changes to yellow, amber, orange or burgundy in the fall – the display is short-lived, but they also set pretty fruit.

The berries of Crataegus sp. are quite decorative. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The berries of Crataegus sp. are quite decorative. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Shrubs

There are countless shrubs that offer fine fall colour. Currently the most obvious is the ubiquitous Cotoneaster – I must admit I have a love-hate relationship with this shrub. What I don’t like is that I’ve inherited it – a hedge and 2 shrubs, positioned such that they require weekly pruning. Cotoneaster is prone to pests and disease (aphids, oyster shell scale, fire blight, twig blight), and the constant pruning makes it that much more susceptible. If mine had been situated differently, with more elbow room to reach their natural spread, I’d happily accept their presence in my yard. So why don’t I just remove them you ask? Well, the two shrubs are on city property and the hedge is a monster – I can’t even image the herculean effort required to remove it, or the impact it would have on the gardens. So I’m kinda stuck with all of them.

But I digress. Cotoneaster isn’t all bad – I love that it leafs out early in the spring, with dark green glossy leaves. I love that it attracts many species of birds, and I love the vibrant autumn foliage.

Brilliant hues of Cotoneaster lucidus foliage are a spectacular contrast to the silvery leaves of Elaeagnus angustifolia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Brilliant hues of Cotoneaster lucidus foliage are a spectacular contrast to the silvery leaves of Elaeagnus angustifolia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

orange patio umbrella

Bright orange Cotoneaster foliage echoes the colour of the patio umbrella. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Viburnum trilobum berries

Viburnum trilobum. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Most species of Viburnum (nannyberry, highbush cranberry, arrowwood) also provide rich autumn colour (attractive fruit too), and the normally unassuming Euonymus alatus (burning bush) becomes show-stopping fuchsia-red in the fall. Many Cornus (dogwood) species turn various shades of red, contrasting nicely with the white berries and Spiraea (spirea) takes on fiery orange-red tones. There are even a couple of lilacs that display colourful fall foliage – Syringa patula ‘Miss Kim’ being the most notable.

Cornus sericea

Cornus sericea. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Cornus alba 'Aurea' fall foliage.

Cornus alba ‘Aurea’ fall foliage. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Spiraea japonica

Spiraea japonica ‘Macrophylla’ exhibits beautiful shades of orange, red and purple in its fall foliage.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

The orange-red autumn foliage of Spiraea japonica 'Gold Flame' is set off beautifully by the steely blue of the spruce. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The orange-red autumn foliage of Spiraea japonica ‘Gold Flame’ is set off beautifully by the steely blue of the spruce. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Some shrubs have no appreciable fall foliage colour to offer, instead providing a punch of colour with their fruit. Hippophae rhamnoides (Sea Buckthorn) has gorgeous orange fruit, Sambucus racemosa (red elder) produces beautiful red berries, Symphoricarpos doorenbosii  ‘Amethyst’ (coralberry) has pretty pink berries and many roses produce very showy hips.

Hippophae rhamnoides

Hippophae rhamnoides berries. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sambucus racemosa berries.

Sambucus racemosa berries. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rosa ‘Scabrosa’ produces huge cherry-red hips. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rosa ‘Scabrosa’ produces huge cherry-red hips. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Perennials

Although herbaceous perennials by definition, die back at the end of the season, some have foliage that changes or intensifies its colour first. For example Paeonia (peony) foliage often takes on reddish tones, as does Bergenia (elephant ears), particularly the cultivar ‘Bressingham Ruby’. Arctostaphylos uva ursi (kinnickinnick), an evergreen groundcover, turns mahogany-coloured in the fall, and Ajuga reptans (bugleweed), which is semi-evergreen, intensifies its already dark hue, taking on a rich opalescence with fall’s cooler nights. Many Heuchera cultivars are also still colourful, again their foliage assuming darker, richer tones.

Peony fall foliage. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Peony fall foliage. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Heuchera 'Pinot Gris' foliage displays more prominent veining in the fall. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Heuchera ‘Pinot Gris’ still looking beautiful, its autumn foliage displaying very prominent veining. Photo: Sue Gaviller

There are even a few perennials still blooming – some are season-long bloomers; for example in my own garden, Geranium cinereum ‘Ballerina’ (Ballerina cranesbill) has a few stray blooms, as do Campanula portenschlagiana (Dalmatian bellflower) and Dianthus ‘Neon Star’ (Neon Star pinks), both profiled in a post from last year, Top Twenty of Twenty Twelve. There are also late bloomers that offer fall colour – Aster, Anemone hupehensis (Japanese anemone), Hylotelephium telephium (tall stonecrop) and Chrysanthemum (mums) to name a few. Even my Eutrochium purpureum (formerly Eupatorium purpureum and better known as Joe Pye Weed) still has a hint of colour.

Aster novae-angliae  ‘Alma Potschke'. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Aster novae-angliae ‘Alma Potschke’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Aster novae-angliae  'Purple Dome'. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Aster novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Hylotelephium telephium  'Autumn Joy'. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Hylotelephium telephium ‘Autumn Joy’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Ornamental grasses look stunning at this time of year – tall Calamagrostis cultivars (reed grass), with their straw-coloured inflorescence, nicely complement other autumn hues, and blue grasses like Helictotrichon sempervirens (blue oat grass) and Festuca glauca (blue fescue) offer cool contrast.

Calamagrostis 'Avalanche' beautifully complements Cotoneaster (left) and Viburnum trilobum 'Bailey Compact' (middle. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Calamagrostis ‘Avalanche’ beautifully complements Cotoneaster (left) and Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’ (middle). Photo: Sue Gaviller

Blades of Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah' grass turn bright red in autumn. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Blades of Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ turn rich red in autumn. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Autumn can be a beautiful time in the garden – for most plants it’s their last hurrah before winter sets in. Be sure to include some of these colourful fall plants in your garden composition – it will take the sting out of summer’s end.

Happy fall y’all,
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.

Respect Your Elders

What do a licorice-flavored liqueur, a potent anti-viral and a natural fabric dye have in common? Care to venture a guess?  No?  Well the answer is they’re all derived from Elderberries. The very versatile Sambucus, a genus of large, flowering shrubs, has many other uses as well, not the least of which is its ornamental value.

black elderberries

Sambucus nigra berries. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The berries are also used in jams, jellies and wine, the flowers are used in cosmetics, the hollow stems can be fashioned into musical instruments, and the dried leaves can be used as an insecticide. All parts of the plant, including the stems, bark, leaves and roots, are poisonous. The berries too, are reputed to have some toxicity to humans – if eaten raw. When cooked however, the toxins break down making the berries quite edible.

The real value to the horticulturist and the garden designer though, is ornamental. In our zone 3 climate, there are three species of Sambucus commonly used in the landscape: S. nigra (European black elder), S. canadensis (American elder), and S. racemosa (red elder). All have mid-green, compound leaves of medium to medium-coarse texture. Delicate white flower clusters appear in early summer, developing into very showy fruit later in the season – particularly the red-berried S. racemosa. In addition, the mature bark is quite interesting; reddish-brown with distinct vertical stripes.

red elderberries

Sambucus racemosa berries. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Mature Sambucus bark. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Of greater note is the number of cultivars that have been developed from these three species – bred for colourful foliage, unique leaf texture, and flower colour.

More Colourful Foliage

In addition to the basic green of the species, gold, purple and variegated foliage colours are also available. One of the earlier gold-leaf introductions was Sambucus canadensis ‘Aurea’, a very intense yellow-green selection – hardy and robust. Numerous other golden cultivars are also available: S. racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’,  S. racemosa ‘Plumosa Aurea’ and S. racemosa ‘Goldenlocks’ to name a few.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sambucus canadensis ‘Aurea’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

There are also variegated cultivars, though I see fewer of them at local nurseries – in my own experience they are less reliably hardy, which may explain their inconsistent availability. Sambucus nigra ‘Madonna’ is usually available, and relatively hardy in our prairie climate – winter dieback can be a problem but re-growth is quite significant during the season. This cultivar has beautiful butter-yellow/green variegation on new leaves, turning to creamy white and green as they mature.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sambucus nigra ‘Madonna’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The original Purple variety, S. nigra ‘Purpurea’, had foliage that emerged purple but faded to bronze-green as the season progressed. This was followed by the almost identical ‘Guincho Purple’, which didn’t hold its colour very well either. The real breakthrough in purple foliage occurred with the introduction of ‘Black Beauty’, bred to maintain its dark, rich purple colour throughout the season. Indeed it does, and it’s also a very vigorous grower – especially widthwise, so give it some elbow room (unless you don’t mind pruning constantly). Most intense colour is achieved in full sun, with somewhat less saturated colour in shadier locations.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

More Textural Interest

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sambucus nigra ‘Laciniata’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Many Sambucus cultivars also exhibit fine lacy-looking texture. While all elders have compound leaves (which in itself provides textural interest), the cut-leaf selections have finely dissected individual leaflets, providing very unique textural appeal.

Sambucus nigra ‘Laciniata’, a green variety, was the earliest of these lace-leaf elders, but breeders went on to select for this characteristic in coloured cultivars as well.

The aforementioned gold cultivars, S. racemosa ‘Sutherand Gold’, S. racemosa ‘Plumosa Aurea’ and S. racemosa ‘Goldenlocks’ are fine examples of both bright colour and lacy texture. Another is the recent dark leaf introduction, S. nigra ‘Black Lace’.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sambucus racemosa ‘Plumosa Aurea’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Black Lace Elder

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

More Flower Power

As if beautiful foliage colour and texture weren’t enough, a few of these lovelies also have stunning flower colour. While most elders produce the characteristic creamy white panicles, S. nigra ‘Black Lace’ and S. nigra ‘Black Beauty’ have exquisite pink flowers – a striking contrast to the dark foliage.

Sambucus nigra 'Black Beauty'. Photo: Alison Pike, Alison's Garden

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’. Photo: Alison Pike, Alison’s Garden

Sambucus nigra 'Black Lace'. Photo: Amanda Slater

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’. Photo: Amanda Slater

 More than Just a Pretty Face

The horticultural importance of Sambucus species goes beyond their design value. Their roots are deep and very dense so they’re useful for stabilizing slopes and controlling erosion – even along stream banks.  To top it all off they provide food and cover for many birds – hummingbirds especially enjoy the nectar from the flowers.

So my gardening friends, show a little respect – your elders have much to offer.

Respectfully 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.
 

Princess Pepper’s Adventure – Part 3 The Conclusion

We sat at the red light for what seemed like hours, sweltering in the heat, holding our breath and praying that the Little Red Wagon would hang on for just a few minutes longer. Miraculously she did – the temperature gauge needle was still in the red zone, the engine light was still on, but the Little Red Wagon (heretofore referred to as the LRW) kept ticking. The traffic light finally turned green, we pulled through the intersection and started increasing speed – little by little the needle moved back towards normal temperature range. Whew!

We knew this was only a temporary reprieve and we couldn’t continue with the 2 hour drive north to Georgian Bay. A few kilometres up the road, my husband noticed a Napa Autoclinic – on the opposite side of the road of course. Not knowing how far we’d have to go before there would be an exit, he made a U-turn right there on the highway – yeah I know it’s illegal, not to mention dangerous, but desperate times call for desperate measures and luckily there was no oncoming traffic.

While hubby went in to beg the mechanics for a spot in their queue, Pepper and I got out of the car and sought shade under some large canopy trees beside the parking lot. The heat was almost unbearable, even in the shade, especially after having been in the car with the heat blasting. A few minutes later, my husband came out and informed me they were able to look at the car right away. Thankfully the waiting room was air-conditioned. A fellow that looked like Bruce Dern (albeit younger and leaner) was sitting in the waiting room and informed us there was a cold water dispenser in the corner. We retrieved Pepper’s dish from the car and gave her some water, which she drank eagerly……………then promptly started vomiting, all over the carpet runner. “I’m so sorry”, I apologized.

“No worries,” a young mechanic assured me. “I’ll just clean it with the power washer,” and he yanked up the carpet and took it out to the shop.

“Could this day get any worse?” my husband lamented.

I was terrified that Pepper was suffering from heat stroke, knowing that vomiting was one of the early symptoms.  I text-messaged my sister, the vet (also the bride-to-be). Were there any other tell-tale signs, Dr. Pat wanted to know.  I responded that no there weren’t, and she seemed to be settling now that she was out of the heat – lying down, calm but alert. I remembered that in the winter, if she ate snow on an empty stomach, she’d immediately throw up. It occurred to me that the water we’d given her was likely very cold and perhaps the cause of Pepper’s stomach woes. Dr. Pat suspected this was likely the case, but recommended we monitor her closely for the next little while. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before Pepper was behaving quite normally again, sniffing at everything in the waiting room, including ‘Bruce Dern’ – luckily he was a dog-lover and didn’t mind.

I too was feeling cooler and calmer, though I was really concerned about the LRW – what had I done to her when I let her roll down a hill and into a big ‘ol rock? Anxiously awaiting word about her condition, we saw one of the mechanics from the shop open the glass door into the reception area. For a second I felt like I was watching a TV show where the surgeon, still clad in his OR scrubs, enters the waiting room and viewers try to determine from his expression whether the news is good or bad. The mechanic nonchalantly got a drink of water, apparently unaware of our expectant stares – when he finally looked our way he said, “Oh, didn’t they tell you?”

“Tell us what?” we asked in unison. The mechanic went on to explain that as a result of the previous day’s impact, the radiator had been pushed back such that it was in contact with the cooling fan wires, and literally fried the wires. The workaround was to replace the wires and re-route them so they were no longer in contact with the radiator. There were several guys in the waiting room at this point and they all nodded enthusiastically, agreeing that yes this explanation and the ensuing fix, made sense. Now all we had to do was wait for the bill – the trip was already costing more than we’d budgeted (it never occurred to us how very expensive gas would get the further we got from Alberta).

Meanwhile ‘Bruce Dern’ kept the mood light with his entertaining stories. The remaining water in Pepper’s bowl had warmed to room temperature and she was able to drink it and keep it all down. A few minutes later we saw the LRW drive out of the shop and into the parking lot. Hubby suggested we offer the staff some of the fresh fruit we’d picked up earlier. While he paid the bill (which was very affordable), I went to the car and retrieved the basket of juicy peaches – remarkably, they were still acceptably cool. So with peaches and smiles all ‘round, the friendly helpful staff at the Autoclinic of Flamborough, in Millgrove Ontario, wished us well, and we were off.

“That was relatively painless,” I thought to myself, as we continued our drive north. We had been lucky………….in so many ways. It seems the ‘road-trip gods’ were smiling upon us – but not without first having a little fun with us. We made good time after that, until we were about 45 minutes from our destination. Road construction had reduced the two lane highway to one lane. Since southbound traffic was much heavier than northbound traffic, we were stopped for ten minutes, maybe more, while oncoming traffic was allowed through – idling in traffic on a scorching hot day, obsessively watching the temperature gauge.  But she held steady, even with the air conditioning on.

When we finally reached the shores of Georgian Bay, I wanted to laugh, cry, jump for joy………..but it was still too damn hot. It was good to be here though, where we would finally stay in one place for more than a day or two. Dad had ordered Chinese food in honour of our arrival. We ate, drank, laughed and had those amazing butter tarts for dessert. Then we recounted our tale – it was the first of many times the tale would be told.

Dad, AKA Dr. Ed, checked out my various scrapes and bumps and marveled that I hadn’t been more seriously hurt. He and his wife were most gracious hosts. They had gone to extraordinary efforts – to host my sister’s wedding, as well as housing numerous out-of-towners. We stayed in one of the spare rooms on the lower level of their walk-out home. The shore was less than 100 feet away and we could hear the sound of the waves and see the moonlit path across the water from our window. I was reminded how much I missed living on the water. Pepper on the other hand was wary of this great big ‘water dish’, but she was happy for the very plush wall-to-wall carpet throughout the house – she settled in so well that at times I forgot she was there.

The stifling heat finally lifted the day before the wedding, making the rehearsal comfortable and uncomplicated. That evening, at the rehearsal dinner, was the first time since arriving in town that I’d seen many of my family members. My brothers and step-brothers and nephews are all big strong guys – delighted as I was to see them, their big bear hugs usually elicited an “ow” from me. I was still pretty sore. The day of the wedding dawned warm and breezy, the blue of the sky matched only by its reflection in the water – a lovely backdrop for a lovely wedding. The only small glitch was when Princess Ellen, the flower girl, didn’t want to walk through the ‘archway’ created by the branches of two birch trees. She stood there shaking her head, lower lip quivering, the way only a 3-yr-old can do.

“I don’t want to be a flower girl” she said softly but matter-of-factly.

“Okay do you want to go this way instead?” I asked gently. She nodded shyly and acquiesced. I led her around the trees and over wobbly rocks in my high(ish) heels.

Later the Best Man remarked “I love how you gave her options, none of which was No!” Yesiree, I haven’t parented a preschooler for many years, but I still know how to do the dance.

Wedding reception and dinner, brunch the next day at my Moms’, family visits in the afternoon, one last dinner with my Dad and Step-mom, and the whirlwind visit to my hometown was over. It had been a great few days, but we were ready to get back on the road again – even Princess Pepper was eager.

The morning of our departure was cold, cloudy and threatening thunderstorms – the princess hates thunderstorms. We said our goodbyes and headed up the Bruce Peninsula to Tobermory where we would catch a ferry – this route shaves about 6 hours of driving time off the trip and since we were already part way up the peninsula, we could take the back roads up to Wiarton before catching the main highway north. About ten minutes into our journey, it started to rain; just a sprinkle at first and then the heavens let loose a torrential downpour so heavy we couldn’t see. I had forgotten how very heavy the rain can fall here. The road was winding and my memories of driving it in my youth were pretty vague – at least it was paved now. Fortunately there were no other cars on the road so we slowed down to a crawl lest we miss a curve and drive into the bay. There was intense thunder and lightning – a deafening clap of thunder cracked so close overhead that I was sure the car had been hit by lightning. I turned around to check on the dog. She was sitting up, panting, her eyes glazed over. For a while she remained in that near catatonic (dogatonic?) state, but eventually she lay down again and went to sleep. She was handling the storm much better than I’d expected, indeed better than she did at home – I guess the car was refuge for her even in a thunderstorm.

When we reached the docks at Tobermory, the rain had stopped. Despite the drive being slower than anticipated, we were still early enough to be third in line to board – there are times when my husband’s incessant need to be early comes in handy. The ferry wasn’t due in for another hour so we parked the car in line and went into the visitor centre. I desperately had to pee, but when I entered the building the lights were all out, there were people milling about and a sign on the women’s washroom that said ‘Out of Order’. I approached some ‘official-looking’ personnel and asked what the deal was. I was informed that a lighting strike had taken out the power and they had only back-up water, which was almost depleted. I asked if there was somewhere else that might have facilities I could use, but was advised that the whole town was affected. One of the fellows assured me that the washrooms on the ferry would be available because it had its own water supply. “Yeah, I don’t think I can wait that long,” I said to myself. He must have read the panic in my face because he gave in and permitted me to use the washroom – providing it would only be, er, a ‘light flush’. I assured him it would be and thanked him profusely.

With that minor emergency out of the way we went back to the car and got the dog to take her for a stroll along the docks. I gazed wistfully out onto the water, remembering for the umpteenth time how very much I missed living on Georgian Bay. Across the harbour was a marina with a rustic-looking restaurant. The sign read ‘Italian Restaurant and Espresso Bar’. “What a lovely little place to have lunch,” I thought. Pepper too gazed out onto the water – she saw some ducks and thought, “What a lovely little lunch!”

Tobermory

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A while later, a loud horn blew – the ferry was docking. We headed back to the car in preparation for boarding. Once on board, we settled into some deck chairs near the stern – dogs weren’t allowed inside. Pepper laid down quietly beside us, but started fidgeting when water that had pooled on the deck started flowing towards her – seems we’d chosen the one spot on the ferry where there wasn’t a drainage hole to prevent water from accumulating.  We moved to the other side of the boat where it was drier.  The rest of the ferry ride was uneventful. In fact the rest of the whole trip was without incident – after a short day one, we stayed in Sault Ste. Marie, day two started with several hours of driving through thick soupy fog and ended about 16 hours later getting briefly lost in Winnipeg. But we took it all in stride – we were seasoned ‘road trippers’ now, even the Princess, who was much more relaxed throughout the drive home. The last day of driving seemed to go on forever. It was steaming hot through the prairies again, and we made fewer stops – we just wanted to get home.

Near dusk and still very warm, we pulled into Calgary. Driving up to the bungalow we call home, I noted the garden looked tired and dry – we’d asked our sons to water the pots and the vegetable garden but assumed everything else would be fine. There had been no rain during the whole time we were gone and a few of the shrubs I’d planted earlier in the year were really struggling. We unpacked and fed Pepper – she’d already made herself right at home and flopped down on the floor in one of her favourite spots. Since there was no food in the house we decided we’d have one last ‘road meal’ – while my husband went to pick up ‘Chicken on the Way’ I went outside and gave my thirsty plants a little water.

The next morning I awoke, yawned and stretched luxuriously – it was good to wake up in our own bed. I got up, made coffee and found some granola to have for breakfast. Cup of coffee in hand I headed out to the back yard to survey the gardens. The plants that were so wilted the night before had perked up considerably since watering. I leaned on the fence adjacent to the vegetable garden and inhaled the scent of oregano, basil and arugula, the warmth of the late summer sun allowing them to release their aromatic oils. The oregano was in bloom and abuzz with bumblebees, honeybees and various solitary bees. A Fire-rim Tortoiseshell joined them. True to its kind the butterfly flitted madly about never staying in one place for very long – it reminded me of the road trip we’d just returned from. The butterfly alit on a cluster of oregano blooms, staying put just long enough for me to snap a few photos.

Fire-rim Tortoiseshell. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Fire-rim Tortoiseshell. Photo: Sue Gaviller

My husband opened the gate to the garden looking to see if any of his tomatoes were ready for harvest. He found three – three perfectly formed, perfectly ripe Romas. Again it brought to mind the three of us – man, woman and dog, arriving safely home from a long journey. Hubby picked the three tomatoes and we headed back inside. Pepper was basking in the sun on the lawn – as I walked past her she lifted her head and looked at me. “It’s good to be home isn’t it girl?” I said. She laid her head back down and with a deep contented sigh closed her eyes again.

Yes it was very good to be home.

Princess Pepper

Princess Pepper. Photo: Pat Gaviller

~    The End   ~

Happy trails,
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.

Princess Pepper’s Adventure – Part 2

“What happened?” my husband asked hurrying toward me.

“The car was in neutral and the emergency brake wasn’t on and it rolled and I tried to catch it and stop it but I couldn’t and I fell,” I blurted out as if it were all one word.

“Are you okay?” he asked, putting his arms around me.

“I think so,” I replied, as he quickly surveyed my wounds.

“We need to get these cleaned up. There’s a washroom inside,” he said, motioning me towards the building.

“But the dog,” I protested.

“I’ll go check on the dog,” he assured. I can’t remember the exact sequence of events after that. I was still in shock as I entered the building and found the women’s washroom – hubby had obviously apprised the staff of the situation immediately because a young lady followed me in there with a first aid kit.

“I have this,” she said, handing me something – peroxide maybe, or rubbing alcohol.  “And this,” she added. I read the label – chlorhexidine.

“Yeah that’ll be good,” I said and started spritzing it on my many lacerations – left shoulder, left side of left leg, right side of right leg, right shoulder, between my shoulders, top of both feet. Ouch, ouch, ouch – can you say road rash?

The back of my head was throbbing. I reached behind to touch the spot – only a little blood.  I asked the young woman if she’d mind having a look. “Of course,” she said and examined my head. “There are a few big bumps, one has just slightly broken the skin,” she reported. I dabbed some peroxide on this.

“Thank-you so much for your help,” I said.

“Oh no problem,” she replied.

Another woman, a little older than the first, poked her head in the washroom. “Are you alright?” she inquired. “Can I get you anything?” I think she might have even asked me if I wanted a glass of wine, though perhaps I only imagined that. I mean it is a winery.

“No, this young lady’s been very helpful,” I answered looking towards the younger one. “What’s your name?” I asked her.

“I’m Caitlin,” she said. “And this is Christina,” she added, referring to the woman who’d just arrived on the scene.

“Well thank you both so much,” I said.

Hubby must have seen the party going on in the women’s room and figured it was safe to enter. “How you making out?” he asked.

“Well I think that’s as clean as I’m going to get things for now,” I replied.

“Let’s get you back to the hotel,” he said. On the way back to the car he advised me that Pepper was fine and the car was fine – the damage appeared to be only cosmetic.

A mile or so down the road I realized I didn’t have my keys – I would’ve had them in my hand when I started my sprint towards the rolling car and obviously had dropped them. The keys to everything in my life were on that key ring – I didn’t want to wait and go back later lest they never be found, so we turned around. It didn’t take long for us to conclude that the keys weren’t in the parking lot because it was still empty. It was at this point I realized how very fortunate it was that it had been a slow day at the winery and there weren’t other cars, or God forbid people, in the parking lot to share in my little drama.

I went inside to see if maybe my keys had already been found. From behind the bar in the tasting room Christina looked up and said, “Oh I have your keys.”

“Oh thank you,” I responded, relieved. “Where were they?”

“In the parking lot,” she replied. She reiterated her concern for my wellbeing, asking again if I was okay, or if I needed anything. I assured her I would be fine.

Caitlin and Shane I think his name was, the assistant winemaker, were near the front doors as I was leaving. Both asked if I was okay and if there was anything they could do. “Don’t worry about the rock,” Shane assured me. I assumed he was being facetious because I really hadn’t given any thought to the wall of large boulders my car had hit. All I could think was “It’s a really big rock. I think it’ll be okay.” It occurred to me later that since they’d obviously visited the scene of the accident when they retrieved my car keys, the point of impact had already been assessed – maybe there was in fact damage to the rock. It never occurred to me, that in a fight between a compact wagon and a huge boulder, that the boulder wouldn’t win. Maybe Shane’s absolution was genuine – if so, I was grateful and promised myself I’d make a point of checking into it.

Driving back to the hotel, the magnitude of what I’d just experienced –  indeed the proverbial bullet I’d just dodged – began to sink in. I started to sob; sobs of gratitude that the outcome had not been worse, sobs of foolishness for the dim-witted mistake I’d made. My husband kept saying he was sorry and that he felt so bad. I realized he thought it was his fault – he didn’t know I’d started the car again after he’d parked it, and that I was the one who’d stupidly left it in neutral and didn’t apply the emergency brake. I enlightened him.

“Everybody makes mistakes,” he responded. “Don’t beat yourself up. I’m just happy you’re okay.”

We stopped at a pharmacy and he went in to get Epsom salts and antibiotic ointment. After what seemed like an endless drive, we were finally back at our hotel. I ran a hot bath and dumped the Epsom salts in. Wincing, I lowered myself into the tub. I realized my whole right side hurt – I hadn’t noticed the large abrasion extending from waist to knee on my right side as it had been underneath my tank top and chino capri’s. The fabric wasn’t torn at all on the outside but had scraped against my skin so hard that it tore the skin and there was fabric lodged in the wounds. The bruising would come later.

After soaking for a bit, the stinging subsided and I was able to thoroughly clean my ‘ow-ies’. Hubby helped me put ointment on the wounds I couldn’t reach, and assessed me for concussion. We decided I didn’t have one – I’d be seeing my Dad, a retired GP, the next day so would have him check everything out.

“Do you feel well enough to go out for dinner?” he asked. “Or do you want to order in?” We had reservations at a lovely Italian restaurant – another place we’d been to on our honeymoon many years ago.  I decided we should go out – it was a beautiful evening in Niagara-on-the-Lake, I was happy to be alive, and our sweet Peppydawg, around whom this whole trip revolved, was completely fine. Celebration was in order, albeit low-key.

We parked the car near the restaurant and took Dawg for a walk before settling her in the car. Clippety-clop, clippety-clop, clippety-clop; we heard the sound of hoofbeats nearby – a horse-drawn cart showing tourists around the charming historic town made its way down the street. Princess Pepper started prancing, much like she does when she sees another dog. In fact I’m pretty sure she thought the horse was a dog – a really big dog that smelled really good. “No Peppy. It’s not play time,” I said and we continued on with our walk. Then with Peppy curled up in the back seat of the Little Red Wagon, we had a wonderful dinner on the patio – carrot ginger soup, rack of lamb, wild rice and seasonal veggies. And of course wine.

Later that night, lying in bed, sleep eluded me – I couldn’t lie on my left side because my left leg and shoulder hurt. I couldn’t lie on my right side because my right hip hurt. I couldn’t lie on my back because the back of my head hurt, even against the soft pillow. How on earth did I manage to get banged up on both sides of my body and the back of my head – maybe I rolled while being dragged, or when I let go? I thanked God that I wasn’t hurt any worse, and that my dog was okay and my Little Red Wagon was mostly okay. The last thing I remember before falling asleep was thinking, “It’s gonna really hurt squeezing into my Spanx on Saturday.”

The next morning I awoke feeling not-too-bad – tender still, but functional. After breakfast in the hotel (taking turns of course so Pepper wouldn’t be left alone) we packed up to head North to my hometown. We had a few stops to make on the way – most important was those butter tarts! Pulling into the parking lot of the little marketplace, I noticed a beautiful hedge of Hibiscus edging the pavement. I suspect from the size of the huge blooms, that it was likely H. moscheutos – I believe it’s actually a woody perennial, which unfortunately isn’t hardy in Alberta.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

The blooms on this plant are described as ‘dinner plate’ sized which is no exaggeration  they are indeed strikingly large, and range in colour from white to pink to red. Gorgeous aren’t they?

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Anyway, we bought a dozen butter tarts, scrumptious looking things that were purported to be the best in the country – I would reserve judgement until I sunk my teeth into one. I am a connoisseur of several things, butter tarts being one of them.  We also picked up fresh Niagara peaches, nectarines and corn-on-the-cob.

Since our vineyard visits had been cut short the day before, we stopped at a couple of wineries too. Thirty Bench Winery was our first stop – again too hot to leave doggie, but given how sore I was, I was happy to stay put in the car…………until I heard a very loud blam. I was sure it was gunfire. Maybe the winery was being robbed at gunpoint. I heard another gunshot, this time further afield, then another in a yet a different spot. There were other people in the parking lot, some obviously worked there. None of them seemed alarmed. Maybe it’s just a car backfiring, I thought. But I kept hearing it – sometimes deafeningly close and sometimes much further off. The dog was starting to freak out. I didn’t want her to associate the car with anything fearful (the car was our last bastion of freedom), so I decided to take her for a short walk. I checked to make sure I had put the emergency brake on, then I checked again…………and again. I took a few photos – a very pretty place, though more rustic than the wineries we’d visited the day before.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A few minutes later we met Hubby back at the car and I told him about the gunshot noise that had Princess Pepper quite unsettled. “Those are bird cannons,” he informed me. “They use them to scare the birds away so they don’t eat all the fruit.” Okay that makes more sense than a vineyard robbery.

Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Just down the road a bit was Hidden Bench Vineyard – it was the last winery we’d be able to visit in Niagara wine country, at least on this trip.

We parked in the shade right beside the vines – close enough that without even leaving the car, I could get some macro shots of the clusters of Pinot Noir grapes in various stages of Véraison (this is a fancy word viticulturists use for ‘beginning to ripen’).

At this point we weren’t too far from Peninsula Ridge – I wanted to pop in to say thank-you again for the help and concern the staff had shown me the day before.  Christina was busy in the tasting room but as soon as she saw me she stopped what she was doing. “Hello my dear,” she said. “How are you feeling today? We’ve all been thinking about you and hoping you’re okay,” she continued. I told her I was a little battered and bruised but all in all felt pretty lucky it hadn’t been any worse. The staff I’d met the day before weren’t there so I asked Christina to please pass along my thanks to them as well.

As I walked to the car, I looked around and noted how beautiful the grounds and vineyards looked under the very blue sky. I took a few pictures, remembering that it was photographing these very things that got me into trouble in the first place – the irony of it wasn’t lost on me.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Heading east back to Hamilton before turning to head north, we made a few stops in the city. Somewhere along a main thoroughfare in Hamilton, we noticed the air conditioning had stopped working. Hubby looked at the temperature gauge. “The car is over-heating,” he exclaimed, turning the AC off and the heat on. “This will help dissipate the heat from the engine,” he explained. Okay great, it’s a zillion degrees out and we have the heat on, we’re in stop-and-go traffic so even with the windows wide open there’s no breeze. Now I won’t say my husband was perfectly calm at this point but I will say this: he excels in crisis management of this sort – indeed it saved our life on at least one occasion, so I’ve learned not to argue with him.

“We have to get out of here and onto the highway,” he said. Of course we hit every possible red light and the temperature needle was inching dangerously close to the red zone. Thankfully we made it to the highway and with faster speeds the temperature began to normalize. We hoped maybe this overheating thing was just an anomaly – it was blistering hot out and the car had been idling off and on in city traffic. It could happen right?

We turned the heat off, but didn’t dare turn the AC back on. As we approached Clappison’s Corners we noticed that traffic had slowed despite the green light. No, please no, not now. Yes sir, somebody up ahead was moving a house and the sign read ‘Wide Load. Do not pass’. As traffic slowed to a crawl, the car rapidly began heating up again. We turned the heat on again and groaned, as all around us big semi-trucks were congregating, creating a mammoth heat sink. I was starting to worry about the dog – she doesn’t do well in the heat and it was ridiculously hot in the car. She was panting and obviously stressed.

Finally the wide load cleared the intersection…………..just as the traffic light turned red. As if in answer to the red light, the temperature gauge jumped into the red zone, past the red zone, right off the charts. The engine light came on.

“That’s it,” my husband declared. “We’re toast.”

……………TO BE CONTINUED…………..

Stay tuned,
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.

Princess Pepper’s Adventure

On the morning of August 16th 1993, my sister and I and my two boys, then aged 2 and 8, boarded our Olds Cutlass station wagon (affectionately known as the Gutless Cutlass), to make the long journey from Calgary to Southern Ontario. Fitting then, that exactly 20 years later, August 16th 2013, I hopped aboard our Ford Focus station wagon (AKA the Little Red Wagon), this time with my husband and our old dog Pepper, and set out on that same road trip.

What on earth were we thinking you may ask, making the 6500 km round trip with a geriatric dog? Well here’s the thing: Pepper is – how can I say this – ‘special’. Leaving her with friends, or boarding her at a kennel so hubby and I could fly back to my sister’s wedding, would be the easiest option for most dogs………but not Princess Pepper. In her old age she has developed severe separation anxiety and wouldn’t be happy away from us for so long (and this is understating things considerably).

Oh the things we do for our dogs.

In the weeks leading up to our road trip, I began to feel increasing trepidation about it: how was our sweet and very sensitive old pooch going to manage the long, long, long days in the car? She loves car rides but this was going to be the ‘Mother of all Car Rides’. One of my boys expressed similar concern: “Mom, I’m worried about Pepper,” he said. “I think she might die on your trip.” Now before you fret that there’s a sad ending here, let me just say – we all lived to tell the tale…………

I’ve always loved this particular drive, gruelling as it is – it’s a fascinating affirmation of how vast and variable our huge country is. And with my husband doing the lion’s share of the driving, I am free to gaze out the window and appreciate the spectacular scenery – even through the rugged plains of Saskatchewan, which contrary to popular opinion, I actually find quite beautiful in its austereness. I think knowing how many mouths are fed by the endless fields of grain, adds to its beauty.

I am fascinated by the changing ecosystems or ‘biomes’ as we move from west to east – from Grassland to Parkland to Boreal Forest. And the Canadian Shield displays intriguing variation in rock colour and texture – sometimes rusty-brown with vertical striations, sometimes smooth and pink and sometimes grey and jagged. 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. Of course you don’t have to make a long sojourn to find this inspiration – just go visit the closest natural area. For example, here in Calgary, we have Nose Hill Park and Fish Creek Park right within the city limits.

As we drive on, occasionally we get a whiff of some pungent odour – we assume if we’re driving through farmland that it’s likely cow manure, or maybe rotting vegetation if we’re passing through boggy areas. We close the windows, only to find the odour gets stronger. Somewhere in Northern Ontario we figure out that the smell isn’t coming from outside – it’s coming from inside the car. Turns out what we’re smelling is dog breath – when Pepper starts panting, she has doggie halitosis. Seems the princess is in need of a dental, or at least a really good teeth-brushing. We soon learn that when we smell that smell, it means she is hot, or thirsty, or agitated………or awake. Mostly she just hunkers down in the back seat and sleeps – when she wakes up she seems confused as to why we’re still in the car. Frequent stops allow for her to stretch her legs, have a drink and a pee – us too, though I’m the only one who actually requires ‘facilities’.

For three days we drive – we make it to Winnipeg the first night after a 14 hour drive, and to Sault Ste. Marie the second night after a ridiculous 17 hours of driving. The third day is easy by comparison – we actually have time to have breakfast in the hotel dining room and I even have a few minutes to take some photos of the beautiful hotel gardens; a lovely courtyard with mammoth Hostas, delicate ferns and crisp white Hydrangeas.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Ostrich Fern and Hosta ‘Frances Williams’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A lovely pairing – Large white flowerheads of Annabelle Hydrangea echo the bright white variegations of Hosta sp. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Then it’s off to Hamilton. Coming down the 400 we get stuck in weekend traffic, and it is smokin’ hot out. In fact it was sweltering hot throughout the entire drive across four provinces – thankfully the Little Red Wagon has very efficient air conditioning.

Arriving in Hamilton early evening we have time to freshen up at the hotel and take Pepper for a walk around the very funky neighbourhood where our hotel is located. Later, when it’s finally cool enough that we can leave Dawg in the car (the one place she’s quite comfortable without us), we are able to have a proper dinner at a real restaurant – ‘road food’ when one is trying to eat healthy means not eating much at all.

Hubby wants to take me to a place he’d discovered when in town several weeks prior – a great little restaurant called Earth to Table Bread Bar. If you’re ever in Hamilton I highly recommend this popular spot – the food is awesome and their philosophy and practice of sourcing the best ingredients from local producers, as well as their own farm, means everything is fresh and flavourful. Our meal is made all the more entertaining by our flirtatious young waiter.

Next day is a flurry of whirlwind visits – first stop is the Royal Botanical Gardens, which allows dogs on the grounds providing they are leashed.  We have some time to tour the gardens before our scheduled lunch, though not enough to really take in all that is there – this would require at least a full day, which sadly we didn’t have. I snap a few photos. The sun is strong and the lighting harsh. I’m hot, Pepper is bored and looking for trouble, and though hubby is being extraordinarily patient, I don’t have the patience to fuss with camera settings to adjust for lighting conditions. I’m all too happy to abort my photo mission and head to the cool of the Gardens’ Café where we meet for a lovely lunch with my husband’s sisters. The visit is of course too short, but we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that this is indeed a whirlwind trip.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Beautiful stone sculptures from Zimbabwe are featured in the sculpture gardens. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Spent bloom of Echinacea ‘White Swan’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

The Scented Garden flaunts a magnificent tiered fountain. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Container on pillar 2

A fluted container brimming with yellow million bells sits atop a stone pillar in the Scented Garden.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Trumpet vine on the Pergola Walk. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Next it’s off to my sister’s in Dundas to see her handsome new home and get a feel for the property so I can design her gardens. Princess Pepper is delighted to cavort with her dog and roll around in the grass. Princess Ellen my adorable 3-year-old niece, is delighted to show off her many talents; like ‘cooking’ plastic hot dogs and corn-on-the-cob, swinging on her swing (“Auntie Sue, look what I can do”), or telling outrageous stories – her mother looks at her sideways and says, “Honey are you sure that really happened?” Soooo cute. The visit is again way too short, but we’ll see them again in a few days – we’re here for a wedding and there are numerous family gatherings still to come.

Finally we’re off to beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake where we plan to decompress for a few days before family festivities begin. Passing through several small towns along the way, we start imagining where we might settle should we decide to move to this part of the country. It isn’t the first time we’ve fantasized about this – it’s beautiful country here. It’s wine country here – and garden country extraordinaire. Why wouldn’t we want to live here? We pass by a covered produce stand – the sign outside boasts fresh Niagara fruit and vegetables as well as ‘Canada’s Best Butter Tart’. Mmmm, butter tarts – we decide we’ll definitely stop by here on our way back out of town.

Arriving in Niagara-on-the-Lake we check into our hotel, a block from the shores of Lake Ontario, and let the serene stillness of our cool room wash over us, shedding the stress of the long hot drive. The hotel staff are impeccably professional, yet casually unpretentious. And they love Pepper – when we walk through the lobby we are greeted warmly and cordially, but Princess Pepper is effused and gushed over.

We walk down to the beach. Pepper ventures to the water’s edge intending to drink, but a small wave laps up against the shore and startles her. Again she goes to drink. Another small wave and………..well, she’s a skittish thing and gives up – clearly this big ‘water bowl’ isn’t a safe place to drink from. She’s happy to walk alongside us though as we stroll beside the water.

It’s very warm here, even with the moderating influence of the lake. We wait until sundown before we head out for dinner – it should be cool enough then for Pepper to stay in the car. The back seat of the Little Red Wagon has become her safe haven during the trip – indeed it is her home away from home.  We park the car close by and she obligingly curls up in the back seat (or the front passenger seat, or even the driver’s seat) and lets us dine. We choose a place that seems oddly familiar – my husband remembers that in fact we had dined at this exact restaurant when we honeymooned here 24 years ago. How romantic.

The following day I head to the shopping district (I needed to purchase another dress or two since I’d packed only what I’d wear to the wedding and a bunch of schlub wear for travelling in, completely overlooking that there would be a few other events I might want to dress up for). The walk from the hotel takes me through a residential area with many pretty gardens, a beautiful park with various mixed shrub, perennial and annual plantings, and of course the streets are all beautifully planted with stunning displays of annuals. I’m on a shopping mission, but I knew I’d want to snap some photos, so made sure I slipped my camera ‘round my neck before setting out.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rose of Sharon is a common sight in the Niagara region, and much of Southern Ontario, at this time of year. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Hosta Hillside – two types of Hosta adorn a sloped boulevard. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Much of what grows here is also hardy in Alberta, but I also see numerous trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses that we can’t grow – some I recognize from growing up in Southern Ontario, some I feel like I should know but can’t quite put my finger on, and others I really don’t know at all.

My horticulture and landscape design training has taken place entirely in Alberta, so I feel somewhat out of my element here. Evidently, if moving to this part of the country is in my future, I’ll have to expand my mental horticultural database and upgrade my plant ID skills.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Lime green Coleus and wax begonia provide a colourful underplanting for weeping cypress and variegated Brugmansia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Acer palmatum, Hosta sp. and Bergenia cordifolia make a lovely trio. Photo: Sue Gaviller

foliage planting

Another lovely combo – fountain grass, coleus and sweet potato vine present great color and texture contrast. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Brightly variegated Canna lily foliage is a stunning backdrop for the bright coral-red flowers and shiny foliage of this wax begonia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

In the afternoon, we head out to visit some wineries – my husband has been charged with the duty of choosing and purchasing wine for the wedding. The first vineyard we visit is Tawse – voted Canadian Winery of the Year 3 years in a row by the now defunct Wine Access magazine. It’s blistering hot out, too hot for puppydawg to stay in the car, so hubby heads into the winery and Pepper and I take a walk around the stunningly landscaped grounds – truly they’ve spared no expense here.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Variegated ornamental grass pairs beautifully with Rudbeckia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A sunny border of Echinacea, Sedum, Rudbeckia, Calamagrostis and other ornamental grasses.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

As I photograph the beautiful gardens, I hear ‘Baaaah’ from down the hill and over the fence – a small flock of sheep canters up to a covered enclosure, likely seeking shade. Princess Pepper is utterly enchanted – she trots back and forth at the end of her long lead, tail up, ears perked and looking as exuberant and energetic as she did in her puppyhood. I don’t know if her response was predatory or playful, but she really wanted to get to those sheep. Eventually the tugging at the end of her leash makes it difficult to take photos so I reel her in, “Peppy down” I command gently. “Peppy down” I say, a little less gently. She does so, begrudgingly, and I manage to snap a few more shots.

Tawse plantings 2

Photo: Sue Gaviller

The Courtyard, as seen from the tasting room, Photo: Sue Gaviller

The Courtyard, as seen from the tasting room. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A classical fountain in the gardens at Peninsula Ridge. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A classical fountain in the gardens at Peninsula Ridge.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Next stop is Peninsula Ridge – makers of some of the finest Chardonnay in the country. We find a shady spot beneath a beautiful multistem birch, but it’s still too hot to leave Pepper for any longer than a few minutes. While Hubby buys wine, I stay with the dog. Even in the shade with the windows wide open it’s really hot – worried that pooch might overheat, I start the car, put it in neutral and let the air conditioning run for a minute or two. With the car cooled off a bit, I decide I can leave Peppy long enough to take a few photos. I stroll around the empty parking lot and snap some shots of the gardens and vineyards.

Perovskia atriplicifolia and Rudbeckia. Photo: Su Gaviller

Perovskia atriplicifolia and Rudbeckia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

View overlooking the vineyard at Peninsula Ridge. Photo: Sue Gaviller

View overlooking the vineyard at Peninsula Ridge. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The next few minutes are a blur, but it goes something like this: I saw a red station wagon on the move heading down the hill, about 50 feet away from me. It took me a few seconds to a) realize the car was mine b) realize why it was moving (I’d thoughtlessly left it in neutral, apparently on an imperceptible slope) and c) determine that its trajectory appeared to be down the sloped driveway potentially into the path of oncoming cars. My only thought was, “My dog is in that car!” and I took off after it. I haven’t sprinted like that since I ran the 50 yard dash in high school – in fact I didn’t think I still had it in me, but I caught up to that car and grabbed the post between the front and back windows, hoping to reach in and pull the emergency brake. Alas the car was moving too fast and I lost my footing. I was dragged for several feet before realizing I had to let go. I remember distinctly the sensation of my left shoulder scraping along the pavement and thinking it odd that when the back of my head hit the ground, it bounced a few times, rather like a basket ball.

Now I don’t know if perhaps I put sufficient drag (pardon the pun) on one side of the car so as to actually affect its trajectory, or if some divine intervention had just occurred, but as I pulled myself up, I saw the car change course, slowing its movement slightly and head towards a low wall of large rocks. It came to rest with a thud – no, a very loud crunch.

This photo was taken seconds before my little 'mishap'. Photo: Sue Gaviller

This was the last photo I took before my ‘little mishap’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

I start running towards the car, fearing the worst – my sandal has broken and my feet are bleeding so I can only hobble. Oddly my first thought is “There goes my pretty pink pedicure.” When I reach the car I’m barely able to open the driver seat door due to the damage the impact has caused the front end. Pepper is still lying quietly in the back seat, but sits up when she hears the loud noise the car door makes as I force it open. She looks at me quizzically as if to ask “Mom, what was that?” She appears to be unharmed. Unfortunately I can’t say the same about myself. Shaking, hyperventilating and still in shock I try to reach my husband on his cell phone. No answer. I begin limping up the hill towards the winery just as he exits the building. He looks at me, puzzled.

“We have a problem,”  I announce.

……………TO BE CONTINUED…………..

Stay tuned,
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.