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Garden with a Winner!™

Taxus cuspidate ‘Nova’ (Nova Japanese Yew)

We have a shade loving evergreen here, a truly rare find. The needles maintain a dark green, fine texture throughout the winter months with fresh soft yellow needles in the spring. This columnar shrub is good in any garden setting. Its versatility allows it to be useful in borders, urban gardens, hedges and mass plantings. The flowers are insignificant but the red berries that arrive in the fall add a nice pop of colour to the landscape as many other garden items are going dormant for the winter. These berries are not meant for human or pet consumption as they are poisonous but do appeal to many songbirds and other wildlife. Songbirds help pollinate and bring joy to any garden. Songbirds use the yew for nesting and shelter also.

Yews are generally slow growers and the ‘Nova’ is no exception; buy mature trees if you need a privacy hedge fast. At full maturity a ‘Nova’ will be around 150-180cm (6 feet) tall and 60-90cm (3 feet) wide, and could live for up to 50 years. The ‘Nova’ is a columnar so it will be growing upright. They are not opposed to some sun, fairly easy to grow and hardy to zone 4. They take well to pruning so shape them as you please but it is suggested to do it in early spring before the new growth arrives.  To maintain a yew keep the roots moist, soil well drained and have patience.

medical fact: Taxol oil is removed from yew bark and is used in chemotherapy treatment for various cancers.


Paeonia ‘Shirley Temple’ (Shirley Temple Peony)

‘Shirley Temple’ is a remarkable, early summer garden specimen. It can also be used in borders, as a cut flower, or in mass plantings. The blooms are massive, delightfully scented and contrast exceptionally well with its dark green, polished foliage. The stems need to be sturdy to support these white, double bloom beauties, and they are, which prevents them from being affected by various weather conditions. The blooms are around from May-June and provide sweets for pollinators and distaste to deer and rabbits. This plant is adaptable to its surroundings, low maintenance, nearly pest free and offers visual enjoyment year after year after year after year- so pick their location wisely.

The most beneficial time to plant the ‘Shirley Temple’ peony is in early fall. The roots will have time to establish nicely before the cold winter months. Do not be disappointed come spring and there are no blooms as the first year they are very unlikely to produce any. Planting peonies is an investment as they are hardy and dependable.  To start things off right spoil them with rich, fertile, well-drained soil and full sun as this could become a lifelong companionship. Moving forward cut them back to ground level in fall after the first frost. Peonies are not an ideal plant to divide and transplanting can be risky business.


  1. Pick out a well-drained area away from other plant roots.
  2. Dig a hole the width and length of the roots and about 30cm (12”) down. Add your compost and place the root on top, eye buds pointing up a couple inches from the soil surface. Be sure to space the plants 60-90cm (24”-36”) apart.
  3. Back-fill around the roots, adding pressure to compact the soil and avoid air pockets.
  4. Gently water and add mulch. Be sure not to over water as the roots can rot.

Shirley you’d like your peonies to thrive so now just sit back and leave them alone :).

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Magical® Fire’

No wand needed to make this magic happen. ‘Magical® Fire’ is a beautiful hydrangea variety with large white blossoms that become various shades of pink and red into the fall months. It holds bright green foliage all season long, July-September, which compliments it’s perfect, delicate, cone-shaped blooms and all they have to offer. This is a sun loving hydrangea that has an upright, compact growth habit. Reaching a maximum height and spread of 90cm (35”)-120cm (50”) this flowering shrub is ideal for borders, hedges, urban spaces and container growing. These sturdy, red stemmed, zone 5 hydrangeas are outstanding in any landscape.

Being from the paniculata genus the ‘Magical® Fire’ hydrangea blooms on new wood. Pruning is not needed but if you feel compelled to do so it save it for the late winter- early spring months. To keep this ‘Magical® Fire’ burning keep the surrounding soil moist, rich and well drained. To adjust bloom colours dabble with the pH levels to enhance this plants ‘claim to flame’, sit back, and enjoy!

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ Fountain Grass

One of the best dwarf fountain grasses out there. ‘Hameln’ thrives in full sun and dry conditions reaching a size of 30-60 cm (1-2’) wide and 60-90 cm (2-3’) tall. It is suitable for zones 4-9, it is clump forming, and well paired with Coreopsis and Sedum varieties. This grass can be divided or transplanted but requires warm soil for success. Do not attempt this is too early or late in the year when there is a risk of the soil temperatures damaging the roots and preventing the plant from establishing itself.

To most effectively display the dramatic foliage and plumage of this dwarf fountain grass use it in borders, containers, mass plantings, courtyards, or in wildlife gardens. It is a lush, green, low grower that will not disappoint. What’s not to like: easy to grow, low maintenance, attracts birds, and is deer resistant. It can be used in fresh arrangements, dried arrangements or kept as your garden décor. Fluffy plumes arrive in July and linger into the fall months when the green foliage turns yellow-gold providing a nice contrast to landscapes through the dark, bland months of the Canadian winters.

Remember: Don’t just go through life, grow through life!


Acer rubrum (Red Maple)

Happy Birthday Canada!

The Acer rubrum is one of the most abundant-common-widespread deciduous trees in eastern and central North America. These beauties can reach heights of 30 m (100’) and a spread of 9-15 m (30-50’) at full maturity with a trunk thickness of up to 60 cm (20”) in diameter. In its youth the trunk hosts a light grey, smooth bark which with age turns rough and uneven and changes to various shades of brown and grey. The leaves can grow fairly large, 5-15 cm (2 -5”), and are dark green on top with a paler grey-green underneath.  The seeds of these red maples are called ‘keys’ and float down like helicopters from the tree tops in the early summer. It is a neat sight to see and can be a real hoot to clean out of the recently opened pool (note sarcasm), a pain in the ‘deck’ (pun intended) and a necessity to clean up as it doesn’t take much for them to begin growing. Red plays a large part in its name and appearance making a grand entrance March-May when small red flowers appear, the twigs and keys are varying shades of red, and the fall finale when the leaves turn to a stunning deep red.

They are tolerant specimens that grow straight up with an oval shaped crown which makes them ideal for using along the street, as a shade tree in your yard or in a park . They have the ability to grow well in zones 3-9 and are cold hardy. They enjoy moist, slightly acidic soil (many naturally grow in wetlands and flood plains). These trees enjoy sun with a side of shade and become nice shade providers themselves. Being a fast growing tree with shallow, widespread roots these trees should be given plenty of room to flourish.

They are not prone to any serious insect or disease problems but keep an eye out for aphids, leafhoppers, borers, scale, caterpillars, verticillium wilt, canker, fungal leaf spot and root rot- any of which can be harmful if not addressed.

A truly Native tree that any Canadian or fellow North American can appreciate!

God keep our land glorious and free . . .

Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum ‘Mariesii’ (Doublefile Viburnum)

A Native to parts of Asia but an easy to grow, zone 5 wonder for the rest of us. This viburnum variety is a sight for sore eyes with lovely lace cap white flowers and dark green leaves. The blooms that blossom in spring (May-June) are stunning and fragrant. What make this deciduous shrub unique are the horizontal branches that provide tiered ‘shelves’ for the blooms to be displayed. It is a rather broad growing shrub as it gets wider than it gets tall. For a shrub like this, 3-3.5 m tall (10-12 ft.) and 3.5-4.5 m wide (12-15 ft.), a fair amount of square footage needs to be allotted for enough room to grow. Not only does it need some space for expansion but a mostly sunny location with partial shade throughout the day.  Whatever soil it encounters is suitable as long as it’s kept moist and well drained.

This shrub is a real crowd pleaser come fall as leaves turn a deep red- purple and the branches become ornamented with red, egg shaped berries. Birds and butterflies love the berries but they are not meant for human consumption as they can cause an upset stomach if ingested.

Pruning is never a requirement with low maintenance plants such as these. But if you so choose to prune to reduce or reshape do it immediately after flowering occurs and blooming ends.

These beauties are stunning no matter where they are placed; as a standalone, in a shrub garden or as a hedge.

BONUS: They appeal to the eyes of many but are generally unappealing to the pest populations.

Clematis ‘Rhapsody’

A stunning purple-blue, dare I say indigo, blooming ‘Queen of the Vine.’ This variety produces a plethora of flowers; the bloom colour intensifies with age and sun. These hardy, indigo show pieces are complimented by a central yellow stamen and bright green foliage.  It is a deciduous, compact grower that climbs trellises, arbours, fences or can enjoy life in a container.

It is a fairly simple variety to grow. They generally grow slow at first, but don’t lose hope, if they like the location they will take off in due time. To get them well situated be sure to provide them with rich, moist soil, sun at the top, shade at the roots (sounds needy but planting low growing plants or placing mulch around the base will suffice) and a well-drained area to feel at home.

Rhapsody is part of the 2nd pruning group of clematis. They can handle a hard pruning in early spring before buds appear or when they are done flowering in the fall. A hard pruning would include cutting the plant to within 30-90cm (1-3ft) from the ground, preferably just above a healthy set of buds. These plants can provide up to three months of beauty. After the first round of buds bloom on the previous year’s growth in June deadhead the plants and prepare for a second round of blooms in late summer on the current year’s new growth.  You can keep it simple as well and yearly just remove dead or damaged growth and let this ‘Queen’ run her domain as she pleases 🙂 .

Dicentra spectabilis – Lamprocapnos spectabilis – Bleeding Heart

I have very fond memories from my childhood with particular reference to my parent’s garden(s). The region of Ontario that I called home didn’t have a particularly great growing season, at least in those days, as the banana belt of southern Ontario. Nevertheless, the perennials that survived the somewhat harsh winters, were always a welcomed surprize come April. One perennial that was always a sure bet, other than the emerging Rhubarb, was Bleeding Heart or eventually as I learned the binomial as Dicentra spectabilis, know called Lamprocapnos spectabilis. Regardless of how this plant is named, it is relentlessly tolerant of less than ideal conditions. It is important to understand that this plant enjoys the coolness of spring weather coupled with a shady, woodland exposure. Think of that particular spot, under a tree or tucked away in the shady corners of the garden, and this will be a perfect home for the bleeding heart. The conditions are not over the top difficult to accomplish, many of my childhood plants grew in rather thick clay with little to no amendments. Ideally however, a very rich, humus soil is preferred and will produce outstanding results. Soils that are higher in organic content or humus, tend to be slightly lower pH or acidic, this is great for the bleeding heart. Additionally, higher organic content soils will hold significantly more moisture than those with less humus. Bleeding hearts love moisture and with sufficient water will produce an abundance of blooms. There really is no need to fertilize as the organic matter will suffice, however, an annual dose of well rotted manure is always a good idea. A word to the wise, do not cultivate around the clump until you see the new spring growth emerging. Many a good plants have been lost to the over ambitious spring gardener who scratches away at all the bare soil available . . . I know, I am certainly one of those myself. The reason being is that the new shoots are extremely tender and succulent, so the slightest interruption with a fork, cultivator or even a hand trowel, will break the shoots.
Bleeding heart can reach a fairly good size over time, up to 1 metre (3 ft) tall and about the same in width. Placement in the landscape/garden therefore should be closer to the rear of the bed. They do make an excellent focal point in the early spring garden, so if planted in combination with other perennials that don’t peek out until later in the season, closer to the front for maximal viewing is just fine.
As the weather warms significantly, the bleeding heart starts to decline rapidly as well if the soil is too wet for an extended period of time. I have found that once the foliage starts to yellow it is best to remove the offending material to avoid leaf spot and other insidious conditions. The roots will remain active for the remainder of the year so don’t be too anxious to move the clump until it has finished flowering and mark the location of the new plant to be sure not to disturb it the following spring. Some of the fringe leafed varieties will re-bloom and re-leaf after being sheared back to the crown. Western varieties are somewhat more tolerant of dry conditions; however, they too succumb to the summer heat. The western fringed leafed bleeding heart tolerates drought conditions better than the rest of the family; it goes by the binomial Dicentra formosa. I have a golden leafed variety in my current front garden, snuggled nicely under a maple tree. This is an excellent variety as it is almost like a punctuation mark in the somewhat shady corner. Ideal also as the deciduous maple has no leaves in the early spring yet provides the much needed shade in the summer.
It is often sold as Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’. It bears a profusion of the standard pink flowers which contrast amazingly well against the yellow foliage. In my rear garden, adjacent to my butterfly garden is the white variety Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Alba’. She seems to be a bit leggier/floppier as the spring expands into early summer. Luckily the delphiniums that grown next to her are well on their way to being giants as her foliage flops and requires attention. The early insects like bumblebees love this plant as she produces sufficient nectar to attract them time and time again.
Many suggest that bleeding hearts are ideal for the woodland garden, whatever you choose to label your work, do not neglect this stalwart standby for the spring garden.

Pieris japonica ‘Valley Valentine’

Japanese Andromeda is a common name that is associated with this shrub as well as many of the varietal offerings of Pieris. Valley Valentine is an appropriate name for this offering as the flowers remind me of little hearts and the colour of course is predominantly red, not to mention that they bloom early in the spring. Perhaps in some mild parts of the country, they may blossom around Valentine’s Day, not a chance in my garden! The Andromeda portion of the name and its association with this plant escapes me. In Greek mythology Andromeda was to be sacrificed to appease the god Poseidon. The name is a latin-ization from the Greek which translates to “be mindful of a man”… it will take me some time to figure this one out.

Pieris prefer to grow in an acidic soil that is rich in humus, organic matter and provides reasonable drainage. Sounds like a tall order but it really is quite simple to develop, if your soil is not acidic. Apply well rotted manure(s) and/or compost into the soil base and dig it in well until it results in a ‘fluffy’ light texture. This porous medium will of course compact once watered so bear this in mind when you position and plant your Pieris. Container grown specimens are my preference as the soil medium has already been managed, so you can replicate it easily in the native soil. Additionally, the root mass is usually very well developed with oodles of smaller, feeder roots to the outside of the soil mass. Personally, I do not disturb

Vally Valentine Bloom

the root mass when I plant, many gardeners suggest this, but I have much better success leaving the root mass as it is. A typical reaction when gardeners realize that the plant requires an acidic condition is to feed with a commercially prepared acid feed. These work remarkably well but amending the soil as I have suggested will give you long lasting results. The plant will not shock into growth too rapidly and once established, you may feed to supplement.

Valley Valentine to my optics, has a tendency to be a little ‘disheveled’ in appearance, unlike its diminutive sisters. This is not at all a negative thing, just an observation and a trigger to remind you to consider the location. Valley Valentine grows to an average of 2.5 M and about 1.5 M wide. As an added bonus, foliage is dense to ground level so facer plants are not necessary in front to hide a bare trunk. You may consider grouping this shrub with other plants that may have coarser foliage, such as a Magnolia, so that the fine foliage of Valley Valentine is accentuated. Should you find that your specimen requires pruning, do so just after flowering, removing the spent floral stalks.

The reason here is that this plant, as all Pieris, produces flower buds for the following season in late summer. You won’t want to diminish the following year’s display by improper pruning time. Pieris should enjoy a good long garden life, many up to 40 years… again a shoulder tap as to where to site the plant for the long term. On that note, Pieris will die if their feet are in standing water so remember to afford good drainage, springs can be very wet afterall. Sun is preferred with some shade during the hottest/sunniest part of the day is ideal, however, they are rather forgiving.

Keep in mind that this species is not a native to North America so a thick mulch is often suggested to help with extending hardiness in colder regions. Parts of this shrub are toxic to animals and as such they receive a noteworthy appellation as being deer-proof. Truth is that the deer will search out other tastier treats before nibbling on Pieris. In that it is toxic, care should be given if planting in location where young children or pets may be tempted to munch. However, having said that, it is to my mind uncommon that plants would be something that children would munch on, but the warning is out there.

Biokovo Cranesbill geranium x cantabrigiense ‘biokovo’

Perhaps one of my favourite “go to” perennials when a reliable, low maintenance ground cover is the requirement. Ages ago I purchased a 10cm pot of this plant basically on a whim as I needed something with light coloured flowers for a darker nook in my garden. The particular garden in question was in a zone 2a (on a good year) so needless to say this plant needed some serious hardiness genes. Since that time, approximately 20 years ago, bits and pieces of this ‘mother’ plant have made their way right across the country finding new homes in almost all the provinces. In the event that you are not convinced that this Cranesbill should have a position in your garden, you may be keen to learn that I have mowed this perennial with the lawnmower several times and she just keeps on producing. Now that is one tough perennial.

The Cranesbill or hardy geranium collection continues to grow with new colours and leaf forms added regularly. Biokovo is actually a hybrid as noted by the “X” in the binomial (botanical name) originally from the mountainous region of eastern Europe. The foliage is quite lobed or deeply serrated and very fragrant when brushed. An extra bonus is that the foliage shows a wonderful carmine red in the fall and in most parts of the country, it is an evergreen. Plants grown in regions with severe winter weather will not see foliage until the very early days of spring. Even at that, Biokovo rebounds very quickly, promising better things to come with its first flush or verdant green foliage. The fact that its growth habit is compact and dense, the mature clumps provide excellent winter harbourage for ladybugs and other beneficial insects in the garden. Additionally, I believe that the somewhat strong aroma general to the entire plant, keeps many of the nasty critters at bay, the slugs never come to visit!

The abundance of soft pink flowers, often blending to white start very early in the season and seem to last right through until the extreme heat of July and August. Thereafter, periodic blooms will appear, but this is the season that she really put out a lot of new growth. Early, consistent and long-term blossoming makes this perennial an excellent pollinator plant, providing a nectar source well before many other plants have had time to bloom. Bumblebees swarm around my clumps. The soil conditions that my plants grow in is rather heavy clay, with significant amendments of course, but still clay. This Cranesbill tolerates the less than ideal soil conditions and I think actually tends to help break the clay up (perhaps just wishful thinking). Planted in a sunny spot will encourage more bloom as well as invite even more bees to the plants. Grown in a shadier spot, the foliage will be smaller but still just as dense as sun grown specimens and the flower stalks will be stretched a bit, not at all displeasing.

Division or reproducing new plants is beyond easy. All of my neighbours on the block have received divisions and are happily dividing theirs for gifting or local club plant sales. Spring or early fall is the optimal time to divide and replant however, as the spirit moves you or a neighbour needs a new plant, Biokovo will endure and root very rapidly.

Ground cover is perhaps the most widely used purpose for this perennial however, she is great in a woodland garden, at the cottage on a dry, sandy slope or even containerized in warmer regions of the country. Whatever the use you choose, this Cranesbill is excellent garden currency, give a little, spread the cheer and trade for something else to add to your collection.