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Garden with a Winner!™

January 20, 2019- Rock On!

Perhaps one of the most commonly made errors in developing a new garden or rearranging an existing one is the use of rock(s) in the design. For a time, one could see gigantic boulders placed, I suppose strategically, in many front gardens, typically with either some statuary or a lamppost associated with it. Don’t misunderstand me, there is nothing inappropriate or distasteful in having a large rock in the landscape, however, it must be positioned as it would have been in nature.

To my way of thinking, a rounded granite boulder is out of place entirely unless your landscape is reflective of glacial deposits on the Canadian Shield.

Of the more useful rock types to incorporate into a landscape are the limestone and other sedimentary layered rocks, they offer a myriad of uses. This category of rock is typically in layers and can be more on the horizontal lines than vertical, many with weathered pockets excellent for planting. This lateral nature also makes it easier to stack the stone in such a manner to raise the height of the planting space without the bed looking like a volcano in the middle of your yard.

It is important to look at the stone(s) before placing them into the landscape as each one will have a bottom and a top, a front and a back. Avoiding the rules of nature and placing a stone upside down or back to the front will certainly give an artificial look to the finished project.

Some rocks are foundational while others exhibit characteristics and qualities that make them outstanding, these are the specimens that you use as the focal points. It isn’t necessary to show the entire rock in the design either, have you seen that in nature and found it appealing? Many, if not most rocks are buried below the soil with only the weathered, character portion visible, this is what you want to create in your design. Often simply one very well placed rock will convey exactly what you would like, take for example the classic Japanese gardens. Rock shopping or collecting is much like vehicle selection, we all have individual wants, needs, desires, so there is no fool proof methodology. Many retail garden centres and landscape lots will have large bins of rocks for you to look at. Don’t be shy and rumble your way through until you find just the right one, this may afford you some strange looks in process.

Wild collecting rocks is much more time consuming yet, if you have a property outside the city or access to land with permission, it can be lot of fun. Furthermore, the size of your l will cause limitations on how many rocks you collect. Make the day into a rock on picnic, a bottle of your favourite wine or beverages, snacks and treats and enjoy searching for the perfect rock to start your new garden.

January 6, 2019- Hens and Chicks

Latin comes in very handy when you are dealing with horticulture as the correct ‘bi-nomials’ or plant names are in Latin. Having taken Latin, a dead language, in high school, never did I think that I would actually come to appreciate what I learned let alone actually use it. The reason that I am telling you this is that Hens and Chicks have the proper terminology of “sempervivum”. Semper meaning always and vivum, the masculine form for life, so translates to always alive. Does it get any better than that?

Today’s current trending towards succulents may well not be a coincidence, most of the plants that one sees on the market are not winter hardy in Canada, or for that matter any region of North America that gets winter. Sempervivum however, is the perfect suggestion for a succulent look outdoors in Canada. The trade name Sunvivor™ is a collection of sun tolerant and sun loving perennials for here. Sempervivum, or Hens and Chicks stand at the front of the row in my opinion for trustworthy, reliable and basically fail safe. Understanding that this group of plants will clump and produce offsets from the parent rosette is another benefit for certain. Look closely at the varieties that you are considering because there is considerable variation in leaf form, density of rosette and leaf edges. Some leaf edges will have what appear to be thorns while others exhibit fuzziness. Don’t be fooled by the current colour of the foliage as these characters are know to change under certain climate conditions. Some varieties have a distinct red border on each leaf, while others will have colour down the centre of each leaf. Many sempervivum will change colour in the fall or as the weather cools down, a time that many will also through a bloom stalk. The flowering stalks of these plants can appear quite odd as they grow rather tall in comparison to the dwarf rosette. Depending on variety, you can have pink to white flowers from mid summer through fall. If you are wanting to produce more plants, it is a good idea to remove the flower stalks early on so that all that energy goes to enlarging the rosette and the offsets.

Plants that endure lower light conditions tend to flatten their foliage out so as to offer more surface area to photosynthesize. Generally speaking, in lower light conditions the clumps are sparse, the offsets rather puny and the overall look of the clump is weak.

I suggest considering a mixture of sempervivum so that you may mix and max over time in your garden and as well have even more variety to trade with the neighbours.

Just a sample of the Sunvivors™ offered are: Silver King; Lavender and Old Lace; Purple Beauty; Forest Frost; Red Rubin; Jade Rose; Red cobweb. Take a look online and start making a list, you will not be disappointed.

December 23, 2018- Planning for Spring

It really is ok to actually stop gardening and do a little dreaming! Come this time of the year, my illicit wounds, foibles and aches seem to subside and my waistline increases. This is a season of celebration with loved ones and a recounting of all the blessings bestowed on us over the past year. Many of our close friends like to garden, so the conversations inevitably dissolve or evolve into chatter about the various successes and the odd failures of the past season. Indeed, social functions with gardeners can be somewhat of a challenge for non-gardeners or spouses of, most of us rattle off a raft of Latin binomials with deepest sincerity, dramatize (much like fishermen) the size of a particular blossoms or new something or other in our garden. This sharing, boasting and best of all, learning is healthy for all who garden, we love to share ideas and plans for the season ahead. As this is the season of gift giving, the gardeners in your life will truly appreciate literature, subscriptions, gift cards and of course catalogues within the realm of horticulture/gardening/design.

One great source for the planning process is the Willowbrook Nurseries website virtual catalogue. When I make the time and am in the mood for settling into my ‘plans’ for the following season, this is my go-to resource. The images are accurate and not photo shopped or disproportional, so you can get a decent sense of what the plant will be. Initially I review my landscape (gardens front and rear) and sensibly determine if I really need or for that matter, have room for any additional larger shrubs or trees. That is the hard part, if you are being honest with yourself. Ok, skip that part after a good thorough glean through the images, just in case I might change my mind, or a neighbour is looking for something special. Ah, now the perennials, and there is a treasure trove of images, all which conjure up grand combinations and vistas for my, oh yes, tiny gardens. Darn, maybe I should rip out that section and add a new bed over there. Ah yes as sugar plums dance in their heads indeed.

The fun of it all is that using a virtual catalogue and perhaps your IPad or pencil and paper handy, you can connive, conceive and collect all the ‘have to have’ plants. The listing is alphabetical or if you wish you can simply type in the name or type of plant it is that you think will be nice, similar to making a list and checking it twice. The brief descriptions are written in plain English and get to the essentials straight away. It is important that you read this information so that you have some idea of what your choice will perform like.

Willowbrook is a wholesale nursery which means that this massive business supplies your local garden centre or box store. I suggest that you use the online references to stimulate ideas, help you decide what to purchase next season or to make suggestions to your retail outlet, garden centre what they should get for you.

Naturally there are a great many resources online that you can reference and add to your dream packages, just be cautious and learn what part of the country they supply and cater to.

Wishing you all a festive holiday season. Enjoy the break that the winter months offer. May you and your loved ones enjoy good health and a successful year ahead. Happy New Year!

December 9, 2018- Living Christmas Tree

The holiday season brings a different sense for the garden centres and nurseries. Hustle and bustle of the spring season ebbs into a much more reasonable pace with great gifting ideas around every corner. The Christmas tree is a tradition for a great many people in Canada and of late, living trees as opposed to cut/harvested trees. It is important to keep in mind however, that the tree farms which produce an abundance of carefully sheared and modelled trees for the season, typically are on marginal lands. Often, the tree farm business is secondary or adjunct to the property owners’ primary purpose. Hilly and rocky lands that don’t lend themselves easily to cultivation for grain or hay crops, steep inclines and awkward, small pastures are likely to be used. There is absolutely nothing wrong with selecting a harvested tree for the holiday season, but in many regions of the country the option of purchasing a living Christmas tree exists.

Living Christmas trees provide the purchaser with the opportunity to expand their landscape after filling the purpose of a Christmas tree indoors. As delightfully environmental as this may sound, the actual results are often less than desired because there is a lot of work and planning ahead of time to ensure survivability. Right off the bat if you want to keep a tree indoors for several weeks to span the holidays, don’t consider a living tree. The optimum time that a living specimen should be in warm, room temperatures is three to five days. Subjecting an outdoor tree that has already instituted dormancy to room temperatures is a huge shock with needle drop being the most obvious symptom. Similar to cut trees, the living tree should not be near heat sources like furnace vents or electric heating panels.

Usually, nurseries and garden centers offer evergreen or coniferous trees in containers just like in the summer months or in balled and burlap fashion. The balled and burlap style will require a delicate hand throughout as the root mass is contained in the soil ball, it requires moisture but if rough handled the ball will break. Damage to the root system under these circumstances is not good at all! A good idea is to keep your tree, either ball and burlap style or (preferred) containerized in the garage or a very cool location until just before you want to decorate it. Understand that the tree will need water, so a solid drainage tray underneath is essential. A containerized tree may be sold to you in a plastic container or a fibre pot each requiring slightly different amounts of moisture.

Knowing where the tree will eventually get planted in the garden is wise and perhaps have the hole already dug earlier in the season. The soil that is removed from making the planting hole could be stored in the garage or some such place where it will not freeze. The planting hole could be covered with a sheet of plywood or similar cover to keep the snow from filling it in. Naturally in warmer regions of the country this step can be over looked. It is those of us in zones 6 and below who still attempt to have live Christmas trees who need take heed. It is not considered a good idea to use a soil mix or bagged soil as filler when it comes time to plant as it tends to be too light.

So,let’s get to the planting portion of this exercise to really get you thinking. I will assume that you have pre-dug the planting hole and have some cold but not frozen native soil in the garage. After the three to five days of being in the heat of the home, move your specimen tree to the garage or similar cool/cold location in protection. The slower the cool down the better as well the converse is true when bringing the tree indoors initially, slowly wins the race. On a suitably fine day for planting your living tree, remove the cover from the planting hole and if the container is fibre, slice the sides to allow for moisture to drain and the roots to eventually penetrate. If the container is plastic, the rot mass should pull out in one piece.  Gently place the contents or the fibre pot into the hole and back fill with the saved soil. Water is essential to settle everything into place. If you have a balled and burlap specimen, untie the top knot that encircles the trunk and very gently place the entire works into the hole, the burlap will eventually decompose. In the spring, it is a good idea to feed with a high phosphorus feed to encourage rapid root growth. You can expect to see some tip burn from the abuse this poor tree has endured even if you have applied an anti-desiccant such as Wilt Pruf or additionally protected the tree with a burlap sun shield.

You will never really know how a living Christmas tree is going to work for you until you try it. Even under the most adverse of conditions, there may be some life in the plant with a good solid pruning, it could come back. An excellent lesson for the young ones in your family to celebrate the season.

November 25, 2018- For the Birds

I have heard the term ‘birdscaping’ used recently and to say the least this peaked my interest. We are all, or should all, be very cognizant of the other creatures who call our urban landscape home. This past season I enlarged my pollinator garden, refreshed the water feature and installed several new shrubs all with the intent of inviting my animal, insect and bird neighbours. Perhaps as I progress towards the golden or bronze years, I do pay more attention to the wildlife. After dressing the garden for winter it came to my attention that there really wasn’t enough winter food for my remaining feathered friends. The Nanny berry is pretty well stripped already, it’s only November! Mountain Ash is still holding lots of berries, but the early frost snap has them, well let’s say, fermented. Have you ever seen Cedar Waxwings that have imbibed in the libations offered from “ice wine Mountain Ash”? It is hilarious as the poor things gobble down what is anticipated as a hearty meal only to succumb to the rigours of alcohol taken in excess. Flight patterns are not the least normal nor are their movements. I notice a few birds regurgitate the “red devil cocktails”, shake their heads, fluff their feathers and proceed on the flight of shame back to their nest. Safe to say that Mountain Ash berries should not be the only source of food for the birds in the early winter garden.

Plants that may bring a nutritious and less harmful food source for the birds could be Elderberry and of course Holly. In some regions of the country, dogwoods also provide a nutritious snack for migrating feathered friends.

Check with your local nursery or plant supplier for the most suitable trees and or shrubs for the birds of your region. The local birders will have oodles of ideas that dovetail perfectly with what provision of seeds and feeds are most appropriate for your part of the country.

It is very important to realize that once you provide a food source, no matter what it is, that you are consistent. Bird feeders must be kept stocked for the entire season as the birds depend on this source; same goes for plant materials. When considering bird feed for your part of the country, check carefully as there are a great many to chose from. You would be wise to consult with an agency such as the Canadian Wildlife Federation or your local birder community for what is best and most nutritious for the species of birds in your region.

My intention is to plant additional fall fruiting species in my rear gardens next spring so as to attract and keep as many species of birds as I can. In the mean time, my feeders are cleaned, filled and ready for action. The next issue will be convincing the drunken Cedar Waxwings that the sunflower seeds are better for them than the ice wine berries of the Mountain Ash.