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.

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

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.
 

Weaving Your Garden, Part 2 – More Textural Treats

The difference between a well textured garden and one that is not, is much like the difference I see when I view my garden with my glasses on……….and with them off.

Contrary to my optometrist’s recommendation, I don’t usually wear glasses during my day-to-day activities – except for television viewing and driving. So it is that every time I climb aboard my little red wagon (station wagon that is), the first thing I do is don my specs, and immediately I notice my garden leap out at me.

When I observe my garden without my glasses, I see colour, I see form, I even see contrasting fine and coarse textures – but there is very little depth or detail. However, when bespectacled, I see the finer details; layers of shadow and light, rough texture, smooth texture, shiny surfaces, matte surfaces, ruffles and ridges, creases and edges – a well textured garden. A sensuous garden even.

To achieve this end one must learn to see and appreciate the assorted textural treats that each plant brings to the garden party. As we view the various parts of a plant (leaves, flowers, bark etc.), we subconsciously imagine how they might be experienced by our other senses; how they might feel to the touch – soft, smooth, buttery, waxy, fuzzy; how they might smell, or even taste, and in so doing our visual experience is enhanced.

Rosa 'Morden Sunrise'. Petals of finest silk against leaves of rich embossed leather – oh so touchable. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rosa ‘Morden Sunrise’. Petals of finest silk against leaves of rich embossed leather – oh so touchable.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Glossy dark green foliage sets the stage for this single red peony – petals like layers of mouth-watering buttercream icing and stamens of mac n' cheese look good enough to eat. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Glossy dark green foliage sets the stage for this single red peony – petals like layers of mouth-watering buttercream icing and stamens of mac n’ cheese look good enough to eat. Photo: Sue Gaviller

All plants, and all of their constituent parts, have texture – some of course more interesting than others. For many plants it is the foliage that has the most notable texture, others it is their bark, or their seedheads, their flowers, or even specific parts of their flowers that provide the textural appeal.

The inflorescence of Spiraea douglasii appears fuzzy, but closer inspection reveals that it is many tiny protruding stamens creating the fuzzy-looking texture. Photo: Pat Gaviller

The inflorescence of Spiraea douglasii appears fuzzy, but closer inspection reveals that it is many tiny protruding stamens creating the fuzzy-looking texture. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Plant textures play off each other and their surroundings, offering layers of subtle beauty and visual depth.

Birch Bark

The richly textured bark of this stunning multistem paper birch contrasts and compliments the surrounding textures – the brick chimney, the siding on the house, and the underplanting of yellow daylilies.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

In my last post I discussed the importance of using fine texture to build volume, and coarse texture for contrast and emphasis. In this post I’ll look more closely at the visual and tactile characteristics of plant surfaces.

Rough or Smooth?

Plant surfaces can be either rough or smooth. In attempting to provide basic definitions for rough texture and smooth texture, I’ve found myself stalled – every time I start to formulate a definition I realize it isn’t as simple as the designer-speak I spout off to my students in design class. The simple definition for rough plant texture is anything with an irregular surface – this means the presence of fine hairs, scales, thorns, lumps or any other protuberance. Smooth texture is of course just the opposite – a regular surface with no protrusions.

However let’s look at a Hosta leaf – a classic example of smooth texture. But many Hosta leaves have very conspicuous veining, producing a somewhat puckered appearance. The leaf surface is still considered smooth – there are no actual protuberances, but perceptually the surface could be described as irregular.

Photo: Pat Gaviller

Huge conspicuously veined Hosta leaves have a puckered appearance. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Soft furry Salix salicola. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The foliage of the polar bear willow (Salix salicola) on the other hand, is covered with many tiny hairs, resulting in a uniformly fuzzy surface – indeed it begs to be caressed.

Some would argue that the words ‘rough texture’ couldn’t possibly describe these leaves that look and feel so soft and downy.

So you see my conundrum here?

Well it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that you recognize the basic textural differences between rough and smooth, and understand how the eye experiences them – light is refracted and reflected, or in laymen’s terms, bent and bounced off, surfaces that are irregular, differently than smooth surfaces. This creates changes in perceived colour as well as subtle areas of light and dark.

Shiny vs. Matte

Smooth texture is further categorized as either shiny or matte. Shiny surfaces reflect light, thus attract more attention – just ask a child. Conversely, matte surfaces absorb light and tend to blend more into their background.

Photo: Pat Gaviller

Bergenia cordifolia, with its coarse texture and glossy leaf surface, makes a great feature plant. Photo: Pat Gaviller

We can keep this in mind when fashioning areas of emphasis or dominance in a garden composition; for example, foliage features – while coarse texture will be the initial determinant of a plant’s dominance, a plant with leaves that are both large and shiny will be a real standout.

Russian olive and Amur cherry

Rough vs. Smooth – Left: Elaeagnus angustifolia – deep vertical fissures in the bark create unique striated texture. Right: Prunus mackii – the bark surface is shiny and the leaf surface is matte . Photos: Pat Gaviller

Bear in mind that too many plants with shiny leaf surfaces, can be both distracting and disunifying – particularly if the leaves are large. In my last post I mentioned that planting Heuchera in my garden had provided some visual relief from the excess of fine texture. What I didn’t mention was that after deciding the big glossy Heuchera leaves were indeed a welcome addition, I made the typical ‘the-only-thing-better-than-a-good-thing-is-more-of-a-good-thing’ mistake, and added a whole bunch more plants with big shiny leaves – eventually creating a bed that consisted almost entirely of coarse, shiny texture. During the course of my design study, as I began to understand the role of texture in my own garden, I surmised that ‘too much coarse texture’ had now supplanted the ‘too much fine texture’ scenario, but it was a while later before I figured out that all those shiny surfaces had amplified the problem.

P1040259

Hosta, Rhododendron and Arctostaphylos – note the contrasting surface textures. Photo: Sue Gaviller

As always, contrast and balance are key – be sure to include plants with smooth matte surfaces, some shiny surfaces, fuzzy, wrinkled, spiny, furrowed……..

Mother Nature often brings her own contrasting textures to the party in a single plant; for example, foliage may have a glossy surface, and flowers have a lustreless surface, sometimes with a bit of nap, like velvet or nubuck.

Purple Pavement Rose

The glossy pinnate leaves of Rosa ‘Purple Pavement’ contrast beautifully with the softly sueded surface of the blooms. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prickly Pear Cactus

A study in textural contrast: Prickly Pear Cactus has dangerously spiny foliage, but delicate papery blooms. Photo: Pat Gaviller

On the Edge

Variations in surface edges also impact textural appearance – smooth surfaces with edges that are ruffled, serrated, fringed etc. will seem more irregular, and finer textured as well. Keep this in mind when using plants that exhibit these characteristics.

The large leaves of Heuchera 'Prince' are smooth with an intense sheen, but the ruffled edges cause the surface to appear more irregular. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The large leaves of Heuchera ‘Prince’ are smooth with an intense sheen, but the ruffled edges cause the surface to appear more irregular. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The feathery edges of Viburnum dentatum foliage perceptually alters their surface texture. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The jagged leaf edges of Viburnum dentatum perceptually alter their surface texture.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

As Time Goes By

Plant texture changes as a plant goes through its seasonal cycles and its life cycle – new growth may be smooth and shiny and older growth, duller or rougher. The formation of deadheads, seedheads or berries adds a new textural dimension as the season progresses.  Leaving these to develop may be desirable for visual effect, but depending on the plant, sometimes removal is better. And of course when woody plants enter winter dormancy, most will lose their leaves, exposing their textural bones.

Elaeagnus angustifolia

Elaeagnus angustifolia presents many unique textures – stems, petioles and pedicels appear silver and fuzzy, bark on young branches is shiny mahogany brown and mature bark on the trunk is rough and fissured, as seen in the photo earlier in this post. Edible berries form in late summer. Photo: Sue Gaviller.

Much of this bed is edged with Ajuga reptans 'Catlin's Giant', a lovely creeping groundcover with large glossy dark leaves and pretty blu flowers. Here the flowers gave faded so should be removed so the leaf texture can be enjoyed.

Much of this bed is edged with Ajuga reptans ‘Catlin’s Giant’, a lovely creeping groundcover with large, glossy, wine-coloured leaves and pretty blue flowers. Here the faded flowers obscure the beautiful foliage – I’ll need to deadhead so the leaf texture can be enjoyed. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Bark and branches provide textural interest during long winter months. From left: Betula pendula, Picea pungens var. glauca and Prunus mackii. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Bark and branches provide textural interest during long winter months. From left: Betula pendula, Picea pungens var. glauca and Prunus mackii. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Texture in the garden has so much more impact than we realize – as I examine my own garden I recognize there are still areas that could benefit from some ‘texturizing’. As I wrap up this post I recognize there is still more I could add, like why have certain plants evolved with particular texture – Mother Nature has her reasons you know. But alas that will have to be the subject of another post.

So when you shop for new plant material, or play with what you already have, take note of what each has brought to the party before adjusting or expanding the menu.

Bon Appétit,
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.

Weaving Your Garden – the Importance of Plant Texture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s take a closer look……..

Fine Texture

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

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

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

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

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

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

evergreen texture

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

Coarse Texture

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

Hosta, daylily and kinnickinnick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bicolour foliage resize

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

Hosta and Lamiastrium resize

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

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

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

Til Then,
Sue

© 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.

Maggie and Miss Sue

Maggie lived in a big nest in a tall tree. Every night she snuggled up in the nest with her family – Mom, Dad, Brother and Sister. Every morning when her mom and dad headed out to find food for the family, Maggie and her brother and sister would go to Miss Sue’s garden.

“You’ll be safe here,” her mother said. “Stay on the fence and bask in the sun, and if the sun gets too hot you can take cover under the bushes. And you can drink or cool off in that big bowl of water.” Maggie thought this was a fine place to spend her days.

The three young birds had barely fledged so couldn’t really fly yet, except to scramble back up onto the fence from the ground or the nearby bird bath. They weren’t allowed to venture very far from the fence – not until they could fly well enough to flee from danger. So they were content to sit there quietly on the fence, the three of them perched side by side, until their parents returned.

Well……….maybe not very quietly.

Miss Sue was awakened at sun-up to a loud ruckus just outside her bedroom window. “Magpies,” she muttered, “they’re so loud and obnoxious. What on earth are they squawking about so early in the morning and why are they right outside my window?” She rolled over, pulling her pillow over her head and tried to find her way back to slumber. Nope, not happening.

Miss Sue thought about the first time she’d ever seen a magpie – she had just come West on the train and would be staying with a friend of one of her travelling companions. They were met at the train station by a nice-looking, though humourless, young man with a huge moustache. He drove them to his home just east of the city, where they could stay until they made other arrangements. As they drove along the country road, Miss Sue noticed a menacing cloud in the distance – not dark and grey like a thunderhead, but dirty brown.

“What is that?” she asked.

“Sandstorm,” replied Mr. Mustache matter-of-factly. “Better hope we don’t get caught in it,” he continued, only slightly less matter-of-factly. Miss Sue decided she didn’t much like Mr. Mustache and hoped she and her friends would find other lodging before too long. She stared out at the gathering dust clouds. A twiggy, barrel-shaped object tumbled across the road, then a few more. “Tumbleweed,” said Mustache, as if reading her thoughts.

Seriously? Sandstorms? And tumbleweed?  “I guess this really is the Wild West,” she mused. She half expected to see Hoss and Little Joe riding along the road.

A flash of cobalt blue caught her eye – a large black and white bird with a shiny blue tail alit on a fence post. “What a beautiful bird,” she thought aloud.

“That’s a magpie – they’re nothing but noisy scavengers,” snorted you-know-who. There were no magpies where Miss Sue came from. She thought they were beautiful, despite Mr. Mustache’s proclamation.

A few minutes later they arrived at their destination – a large country home apparently rented by six fellows who were quite the partiers. Miss Sue stayed there for a week or so but remembers very little – every day was pretty much a party at the big house. She did however learn to despise magpies, and in the several decades since, has never seen another sandstorm.

More squawking jolted Miss Sue back to the present. “Why don’t they shut up,” she growled.

“What’s wrong?” asked her husband.

“Stupid magpies woke me up,” she answered, but he’d already fallen back asleep. Her mind wandered again – this time to a conversation with a couple of family members. By this time she’d become an avid gardener and regularly shooed the beasty birds from her pretty bird-bath. “This isn’t for you,” she’d scold them, “It’s for nice birds.”

Her sister and brother-in-law once witnessed this – they were both biologists involved with wildlife rehabilitation. “You wouldn’t feel that way if you’d ever hand-raised a magpie,” one of them commented.

“Have you ever seen a baby magpie?” the other asked.  “They’re really cute! You would love them if you’d seen their babies, and how well their parents take care of them.”

Miss Sue scoffed at the memory. “Fat chance,” she thought, before finally falling back asleep.

But then she hadn’t met Maggie yet.

Maggie sat on the fence and watched her mom and dad fly off, their big beautiful wings and long graceful tails glossy black and opalescent blue. “One day I will be beautiful like them,” she thought, “and I will soar high in the sky.” She peered down at her fluffy black breast and snow-white tummy, wishing her soft downy covering would be replaced by real feathers. She looked around at the stump of a thing that would one day be a tail and willed it to elongate. It did not. It was still a stub. She sighed, “When will I ever grow up?” Maggie closed her eyes and dozed in the morning sun.

She awoke from her nap to the familiar sound of her parents’ voices – they’d returned with food. “C’mon kids. Breakfast!” cried Mom. The little birds hopped down off the fence, through the shrubs and flowers, and onto the lawn where their parents awaited with their gourmet loot.

“Me first,” said Brother.

“No me,” yelped Sister.

“I want some,” cried Maggie. Magpie youth are very vocal at feeding time.

There was plenty for everyone though.

Miss Sue opened her eyes and looked at her clock – 9:00AM. Pleased that she’d managed to get a little more shut-eye after dawn’s rude awakening, she felt slightly less annoyed at the boisterous magpie-song outside her window.

Her husband was already up. “Want coffee?” he asked. That was really a rhetorical question on any given morning.

“Yes thanks,” she replied. A beautiful morning in late May, Miss Sue decided to sit out on the front porch with her coffee. This was her favourite time of year – the transition between spring and summer, with its aromas of fresh-cut grass, Mayday and apple-blossom, even the sun itself seemed to have a scent. She took a deep breath, basking in the anticipation of a new garden season, and then began the visual scan of her front garden that was part of her morning ritual. First to the left, then the right, looking for the daily changes that mark the seasonal evolution of a garden, her eyes rested on three little black and white balls of fluff sitting atop her fence – the fence just feet from her bedroom window.

“Well hello there cutie-pies,” she cooed.  “Are you the source of all that noise?” Remembering her sister’s words about baby magpies, she smiled, “I guess sis was right.” Miss Sue thought these little birds were just about the cutest thing she’d ever seen.

Two of the fledglings sidled away from the voice, but the other one, the smallest of the three, seemed to like the sound of it – it appeared to recognize that Miss Sue was friendly, unthreatening. She looked straight at Miss Sue and Miss Sue looked straight back at her, and in that moment………….well let’s just say Miss Sue was smitten with these little black and white babes – especially the littlest one, whom she affectionately named Maggie.

Every morning Maggie sat on the fence eagerly waiting for Miss Sue to come out and play – well really just to sit on the front step and drink her coffee, but to Maggie, seeing Miss Sue there made everything seem right. The world was a safe place when Miss Sue was around. She would shoo away the neighbourhood cats who tried to stalk the little birds. She’d remind the little lad next door when he chased after the baby birds trying to pet them, that it just frightened them.

One day Miss Sue was chatting with a neighbour, gushing about the little birds and how cute they were. Maggie overheard snippets of the conversation. “They’ll grow up to be nasty birds like all magpies – they should all be shot,” she heard the other woman say. Maggie hoped Miss Sue wouldn’t be swayed by these words. It never occurred to her that everyone wouldn’t be as enamoured of her as Miss Sue was. She worried that maybe the world wasn’t such a safe place after all, with so many hating her kind.

Miss Sue finished her conversation and returned to her perch on the front step. She looked at Maggie and said, “Don’t worry girl, I’ve still got your back.” Maggie was relieved to know that Miss Sue was still her friend. She was troubled though.

That night, as her mom was tucking her into bed, Maggie asked, “Mommy why do people hate us?”

Mother Magpie’s heart sank – she had hoped her children would never have to know fear or hatred. “They hate us because they don’t understand us,” she replied. “They think we’re just noisy scavengers.” Mother Magpie continued, “I guess we are kind of a raucous bunch, especially our teenagers, but that’s just the way God made us. Humans forget that their own teenagers are also very noisy, with their loud music and boisterous manner. All humans are pretty noisy for that matter – all those things on wheels with loud engines; kind of hypocritical when you think about it.”

“We’re so much more than just noise makers though,” she went on. “Our proud ancestors once rode the backs of the great buffalo, keeping them clean of pesky ticks. In fact our diet consisted almost entirely of these blood-sucking insects.” Maggie thought this sounded disgusting. She much preferred the thought of yummy bread crusts and apple cores. But she listened intently as her mother spoke of the near extinction of the buffalo and how resourceful her ancestors had been in moving from a specialist diet to that of a generalist.

“What’s a specialist diet?” asked Maggie.

“It means we were picky eaters,” her father quipped winking at his mate – Father Magpie liked to add his two-cents-worth.

“What’s a generalist?” continued Maggie.

Mother Magpie opened her beak to answer but Pops beat her to it. “It means we’ll eat any old crap now,” he snorted. Maggie giggled at her father’s words. Trust Mr. Magpie to inject a little levity into even the most serious discussions.

Maggie felt better, though she was surprised to learn that grasshoppers, cutworms and other insects were still the current diet of many of her relatives – she didn’t envy them. Her mom had said this meant they were very important to farmers and gardeners – like Miss Sue. Maggie felt very proud to be a magpie and drifted off to sleep dreaming of a great adventure riding the buffalo.

Miss Sue found the antics of the three fledglings most entertaining. She watched as the two larger ones became more adept at flying, venturing a little further from the fence, to the roof of the neighbour’s house or the nearby green ash tree. The little one tried heroically to fly but invariably ended up on the ground, where she’d manoeuvre about with a hop-hop, toddle-toddle, flutter-flutter, flop……………..hop-hop, toddle-toddle, flutter-flutter, flop.

Curiosity would often lead her further from the fence than she was supposed to go. Her parents would come back with food and squawk at Maggie. Miss Sue imagined they were chastising the little bird for not being where she was supposed to be. Maggie reminded Miss Sue of herself when she was young – precocious and wanting to grow up so much faster than was possible, or even healthy.

It got her into loads of trouble.

Maggie was bored. Sister and Brother were now able to fly – they were good little birds and never went far, but it still meant she had no one to keep her company most of the time. Maggie wanted to be a good bird like her siblings – indeed she tried very hard to be a good girl, but left to her own devices, she would wander off in search of something interesting.  “Maggie!” her parents would scold, “You’re to stay close to the fence where it’s safe, until you’re able to fly.”

“But when will that be?” she whined.

“Soon enough my child, soon enough,” her mother assured her. But nothing ever happened soon enough for Maggie. She wanted, indeed had always wanted, to be a grown-up – to do grown up things and have grown up adventures.

One day, as Maggie sat on the fence waiting for something exciting to happen, she noticed a beautiful Swallowtail butterfly flitting around the garden. As it neared her, she thought to herself, “What a pretty creature. I wonder where it’s going.” Maggie tried to launch herself into flight to follow it, but as usual she toppled to the ground. She hopped along after it trying to keep up, but after a while she lost it and ceased her pursuit.

Maggie peered around and realized that nothing looked familiar – she couldn’t see the cranberry bushes or the pink peonies or even the bright white daisies which always served as a beacon to guide her back to her sunny perch on the fence. Instead Maggie found herself in a shady damp place with dark leafy plants like periwinkle and Rhododendron. She was a little frightened and wished she had heeded her mother’s warnings about venturing too far from the fence.

“How will I ever get home?” Maggie thought. She decided to stay put among the Rhodos and wait. She really missed her mom and dad, and her brother and sister.

After what seemed an eternity, Maggie heard the faint sounds of her mother calling in the distance. The voice got closer. “Maggie!” her mother called with a mix of urgency and annoyance. “Where are you?”

When at last Maggie could see her mother’s shadowy figure through the bushes, she tumbled out from her hiding spot. “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy,” she cried. “I missed you soooo much,” and she began rushing towards her mother – hop-hop, toddle-toddle, flutter-flutter, flop, hop-hop, toddle-toddle, flutter-flutter, flop as fast as her little legs and wings could take her.

Mrs. Magpie was both relieved and furious – she had been so worried. But watching her daughter’s frantic approach, she couldn’t bring herself to be angry. All she could do was raise her great big wing and let Maggie collapse into her motherly embrace.  “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy,” Maggie repeated. “I missed you soooo much.”

From her bedroom window, Miss Sue watched this little drama unfold – she didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  Maggie’s frenzied attempt to reach her mother was comical to be sure, but the ensuing ‘mother and child reunion’ was one of the most poignant moments she’d ever witnessed. It reminded her of the time she momentarily lost sight of her pre-schooler in a department store. She’d taken her eyes off him for mere seconds to check a price tag on a piece of clothing – and he was gone. Since he was of course much shorter than the racks of clothing, Miss Sue couldn’t see him and he couldn’t see her – indeed it must have seemed rather like a maze to him. Frantically searching and calling his name for what seemed like hours, but in reality was only a minute or so, she finally saw him peek out from behind one of the racks.

“Yeah Mom?” he’d answered, wide-eyed but not scared. Miss Sue scooped him up in her arms and held him tightly, crying and laughing and scolding all at the same time. Yes Miss Sue knew exactly what Mother Magpie had experienced while looking for Maggie. (Perhaps I anthropomorphize a little here).

A week or so later, Miss Sue was inside having lunch when she heard the familiar sound of magpies squawking. Assuming it was feeding time, or that Maggie had gotten herself into trouble again, Miss Sue just smiled and ignored the noise coming from her front yard. The squawking got louder and more urgent until Miss Sue eventually got up and went outside to see what the ruckus was. She looked around but saw only Maggie sitting on the edge of the bird bath.

“What is it girl?” she asked, scanning the yard to see if perhaps a cat was stalking the young bird. Maggie started squawking again until Miss Sue looked right at her.

She seemed to be saying, “Miss Sue, Miss Sue, look at me. Look what I can do,” and she fluttered her wings a little. Then with great will and determination Maggie lifted herself off the bird bath, flapping her wings ferociously, and flew all the way to the other side of the yard into the neighbour’s tree. Miss Sue beamed with pride much like she had witnessing her children take their first tentative steps.

“Atta girl Maggie,” she said softly. “You can fly!”

She saw very little of the young magpies after this – they were all able to accompany their parents on their food-finding missions now. Sometimes as Miss Sue walked or drove down her street, she would see the noisy family of five – three adolescent birds still clamoring for food from their very patient parents. She’d smile a bittersweet smile and feel blessed to have had the chance to see these three babes grow into young adults.

On a cool, late fall afternoon, as Miss Sue was putting her garden to bed for the winter,  a large magpie flew down and elegantly alit on the fence – in the exact spot she had first seen Maggie.  Miss Sue knew intuitively it was Maggie and she knew the beautiful bird she’d watched grow up, had come to say goodbye. Maggie looked at Miss Sue and let out a little gurgle and a soft squawk. Then she took wing. Miss Sue watched Maggie fly off, her big beautiful wings and long graceful tail glossy black and opalescent blue.

“I’ve still got your back girl,” she whispered, and went inside.

~   The End   ~

Maggie. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

This story was based on my experiences with a trio of fledgling magpies that spent the better part of a summer perched on my garden fence.

Enjoy! 
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.

Pretty in Pink

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

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

Prunus tomentosa

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

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

Prunus triloba multiplex. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus triloba multiplex. Photo: Sue Gaviller

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

Prunus tinella. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus tenella. Photo: Sue Gaviller

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

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

Design Value

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Til next time,
Sue