Colour – the Absence of White

My back yard was still covered in snow as of yesterday – or to be more accurate, my back yard was covered in snow again as of yesterday. Spring had teased us with some warm-ish weather for a week or so;  enough that the snow had melted, leaving in its wake swaths of pallid yellow-brown turf and dull grey-brown soil – colour so de-saturated it could hardly be called colour at all. But at least it wasn’t white. Then a weekend of snow and below-freezing temperatures, and the ground was again blanketed in white – I might have called it pretty had we not already had 6 months of it.

Today the spring weather has returned and the snow has all but receded, this time exposing green. Green – the colour of awakening life. It warms us to the core – indeed it’s all the colour we need right now. It signals the beginning of another long-awaited gardening season.

But as the season progresses, gardeners are no longer as enamoured of plain old green; we want bigger colour, brighter colour, and zealously apply it to our gardens without understanding its impact – for good or for bad. What is there to understand you ask? Why is colour any different for gardeners than anybody else? Well, it’s not really – it’s just that we face some unique challenges when employing it.

Working with colour is different for a gardener than for example, a painter.  A painter works with paints and pigments, mixing them in various proportions until the desired colour is attained. A gardener on the other hand, has only what Mother Nature (or the hybridizer) offers. While there are plenty of colours to choose from, it can be a challenge to find a plant in the exact colour we want, have it grow and thrive in the exact location we want and have it bloom at the exact time we want.  And even a novice gardener quickly learns that a flower described as ‘blue’ is rarely blue, but more purple-blue or mauve-pink, and supposedly purple foliage isn’t really purple but rather a dark wine colour.

As well, we can’t control the existing colours in the larger landscape; the colour of our neighbour’s house for example. What if it’s red, or bright blue or yellow? How does one work with that as a backdrop for your garden?

And what about the impact of light? Outside under full sun, light shines at an intensity of 100,000 lux. Inside, directly in front of a sunny window, light intensity is about half that – 50,000 lux, and once you are a few feet further into the interior of a building, light intensity diminishes to as little as 1000 lux. Due to the sheer intensity of it, light has a greater potential to impact colour outdoors than it does indoors.

A garden isn’t a static reality either; it is a dynamic interplay of living, growing things – a vision in flux. So a garden that looks fresh and full of promise in the spring might be an overgrown mess come midsummer. Individual plants also change over the course of a season, or even a day or two – for example the lilac flower shown below is made up of many little florets, each with their own life span; the buds and newly opened florets are rich violet-red, whereas older florets are somewhat faded and will eventually turn brown. As more florets age and fade, the colour of the whole panicle is affected and eventually the appearance of the whole shrub.

Syringa 'Ludwig Spaeth'

So, now that we recognize some of the unique challenges gardeners face when working with colour, let’s see if we can’t find a way of understanding it so we can respond to those challenges.

Over the spring and summer months I’ll be discussing colour theory specifically as it relates to garden design – hope you can join me.

Until next time,
Sue

Say it Again Sue

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

It wasn’t my finest year.

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

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

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

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

Design Process and Principles – A Review

The Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Guiding Principles

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

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

The Planting Plan Revisited

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

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

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

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

Yours,
Sue

How Lovely Are Thy Branches

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

                                                ~ Author Unknown ~
 
 

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

I didn’t always participate in this Christmas container frenzy – mixed evergreen branches billowing over the tops of pretty pots, complete with festive balls and bows. It all seemed a bit artsy-crafty to me. But I had to admit, a tasteful arrangement could enhance the overall appeal of a winter landscape. In time I learned to embrace my ‘inner Martha’, though I soon discovered that arranging evergreen boughs in a winter container required a different skill-set than designing a landscape, a garden, or a summer container arrangement. No this required a florist’s flair, a talent this garden designer is decidedly lacking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just look at these – are they not perfect?

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

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

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

Gardens are Like Kids

They Need a Little Structure 

  

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, maybe not never.

Photos: Sue Gaviller

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

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

Ground Plane – The Garden Floor

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

Mike's back yard winter - resample

Mike's back yard - summer

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

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

Kiftsgate Water Garden. Photo: Marny Estep

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

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

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

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

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

Vertical Plane – The Garden Wall

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

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

Photo: Sue Gaviller

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

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

Photo: Pat Gaviller

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

Photo: Sue Gaviller

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

Photo: Sue Gaviller

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

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

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

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

winter garden structure resamplegarden structure - summer resample

Photos: Sue Gaviller

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

Overhead Plane – The Garden Ceiling

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

Photo: Sue Gaviller

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

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

Photo: Sue Gaviller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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
 

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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.