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Garden with a Winner!™

December 31, 2017- Educational Photography

This month is a great time to photograph your landscape/garden. Although typically lacking colour and pizzazz during the winter months, the images will give you a clear picture of what foundation plantings could be enhanced. Which shrubs to prune, what clump to move and locate where and so on. Just because your garden is asleep doesn’t mean that the work of the gardener is over.


December 24, 2017- This Is Your Garden

Planning your garden be it a brand-new endeavor or just “fixing” a spot here and there can offer a great deal of satisfaction particularly during the winter months. Naturally, there are landscape principles which, so many folks take as gospel, and unfortunately, their creativity becomes stifled. My personal approach is to design from the heart not the head. This approach is neither correct or incorrect, but it has served me well for a good many years. One fundamental is to understand that this is your landscape, garden or project and should not be driven by what the neighbours may think. As with most creative endeavors, the landscape is a continuous work in progress so don’t allow yourself to get bogged down with deadlines or unrealistic completion dates, typically self-imposed. Having said all that, one must also realize that when working with others, particularly contractors, certain deadlines must be adhered to.

I typically start the process with a theme… be it colour, scent, texture, geographic influence or just plain old whimsy. Once I am satisfied with my overall theme the next step is to set out what is commonly referred to as “the bones” of the project. In the event that the bones already exist, some modifications, pruning or repositioning may be required. Bones can be living specimens such as permanent trees, hedges, larger plants as well, fences, specimen boulders, storage sheds, gazebos and the like. One method that works well is to observe the garden or the space that is to be the garden, in the winter. Deciduous trees will be bare, evergreens marking even a more obvious pattern of shadows and textures and the palette as it were, is relatively blank. This should help you to start mentally dressing the bones with whatever plants work within your theme.

This is a good time to take a breath, reassess and remember that you are not designing a magazine cover. As silly as it may sound, “plants will grow”, a very important fundamental to remember when adding specimen after specimen to the design (draw in pencil, it’s easier to remove plants that way!). Budget can be a rather effective control measure for this potential runaway aspect. Many, many professionally designed and installed landscapes that I have witnessed are hopelessly overplanted I suspect so that the client can see a “finished” creation immediately after completion. Those who would fall into this trap find themselves removing plants within a very short period of time. Gardens should be designed to be an extension of the home or at the very least, organized so that the overall landscape is functional and suits your lifestyle. If your family enjoys barbequing and dining out of doors, the landscape should accommodate not only this aspect but also the view or vista from the gathering area, patio or outdoor room.

Scent is most often overlooked when cobbling together the plans for your garden. A great many perennials offer not only showy flowers and foliage but offer an array of scents that can perfume the air from morning until early evening. Lavender is one very obvious selection from the aromatic arena with the many varieties available, selection can be overwhelming. Munstead and Hidcote Blue are two very reliable selections providing excellent growth habit and flowers even in less than perfect conditions.

Above all, delight in what you plan and accomplish this year remembering that this is your garden and there is always next year. Happy New Year.

December 10, 2017- Living Christmas Trees

The concept of a real living Christmas tree is rather enticing for many people, and it makes good sense for most of the country. Planning, as with many things, is the key to success with this imitative. If you live in a more moderate part of Canada, let’s say most of British Columbia and southern Ontario, a living, containerized tree is well worth the effort. Ultimately, the selected evergreen will become part of your landscape so establish a location for the tree initially. When the soil is still workable, prepare a hole and keep the soil that you remove in a frost-free area, perhaps the garage. Garden centers and retail nurseries will have oodles of evergreens to select from, including spruce, pine and balsam fir. Personally, I prefer to select the containerized tree from an outdoor location so that it has been already subjected to lower temperatures. Often times however, this option is not available, so I resort to the indoor selections. Keep in mind that your perfect specimen will undergo rather distasteful conditions indoors, so if at all possible, select a location in your home that is cooler and away from direct heat sources. Initially, leave your tree in the garage or some location that mimics the condition that it came from. Moving a seasonally hardened specimen indoors immediately can cause excessive needle drop and generally reduces the lifespan of the tree. You could consider moving your tree to the garage for the daytime and back indoors, near the garage or cool area for the nighttime. The same process is used in reverse when it comes time to plant the tree outdoors. The tree will require a gradual reduction in temperature before it is planted in its new permanent home.

As this specimen is a living entity water is an absolute must and unfortunately the cause of the demise of many holiday trees. Overwatering actually kills more plants than a drier situation so be cautious and only water when the soil feels dry to the touch. Another potential hazard is the type of lights and decorations placed on the living specimen. LED lights are by far the best as they emit extremely low heat values yet give a nice display.

Planting your living Christmas tree makes for a wonderful family event once the weather is cooperating. Gather the clan and set about to plant your new specimen. As the soil that you removed earlier in the season is not frozen it will be easy to use now. If your tree was purchased in a fibre pot, remove the lip to soil level and cut the entire bottom away. This process helps to ensure that the rootball or mass is undisturbed when you install it into the prepared hole. In the event that your plant was in a plastic nursery container, remove the pot carefully so as to keep the root mass intact. Place the tree in the hole so that the original soil level of the container is even with the ground. Backfill approximately 50% with the stored soil from the garage and water the installation well. Fill the remainder of the hole with soil, form a collar or moat of soil around the plant and water again freely. The soil will sooner or later freeze with this reservoir of water ready for the spring thaw. Many gardeners will wrap their tree with burlap to prevent wind and sun damage and often apply a spray of WiltPruf® or similar anti-desiccant to slow down transpiration. Well worth the little bit of extra planning and the results are very rewarding.


November 26, 2017- Get Ready, Set, Snow

It is not uncommon for “plant folk” to push the boundaries of hardiness zones to the absolute possible limits, then take a few more steps. I am guilty as charged on this count as most frequently I disregard hardiness under the philosophy that want and desire trump sensibility. If you are a gardener like this, there are a few minor adjustments that need to be applied in order to secure hardiness. An age-old discussion within the green industry from the professional to homeowners, is the winter protection of evergreen shrubs. Naturally the decision to cover up or not depends on which region of the country the landscape is in and the plants themselves. Many gardeners wrap all the evergreen shrubs in their landscape as soon as the temperature drops while others do nothing at all. Which is correct or is there a correct?

Consider that the burlap shrouds adorning many evergreens is neither a fashion statement nor a protection against the cold. The purpose of a burlap cover is to protect the plant from the sun, yes the sun. The evergreen will be in dormancy once the ground has sufficiently frozen, however once the sun grows in strength, the foliage may start to function. The all to common sun scald or sun damage that appears on many shrubs is not because the weather has been unusually cold but rather bright and sunny. Moisture that is stored in the leaves will be used up in no time and with the plant’s inability to draw moisture from the frozen soil, the brown desiccation is the result. Understanding this significant point, if a burlap or fabric cover is considered, it can be applied once the soil is frozen. Under no circumstances is any form of plastic covering acceptable! Plastics and fabrics that do not breathe will heat up the air spaces within when the sun is shining. This unusual warmth, even a few degrees, may trigger the plant to activate. Wind barriers away from the dormant plants can be fabricated using plastic just not the winter covering.

Watering the evergreen shrubs heavily before freeze up is also an excellent final task before the hose is drained for the winter. This reservoir of moisture of course will freeze when the soil does and will remain so until spring thaw. The moisture that is so desperately needed first thing in the spring as the sunlight strengthens, will be available immediately. The combination of a burlap or fabric sun shield and the water reservoir may help extend the limits of your hardiness zone.

Hybrid Tea, floribunda and polyantha roses require some attention as well as winter temperatures drop. These roses have been grafted onto a durable, hardy rootstalk well before they are offered for sale. The conspicuous “knuckle” or graft union is the result of this union and also the most vulnerable part of the plant. In regions where the temperatures drop well in the -20C, roses demand winter protection. One of the most reliable ways to ensure overwintering is simply hill soil up around the rose as high up the stems as you can. Some gardeners in colder climates will also form a collar of cardboard or any other material and place that around each rose plant. Some will fill the collar with dried leaves if they haven’t composted them yet while others will fill the collar with dry peat moss, wood shavings and even fibreglass insultation. The Styrofoam canisters one finds in the late fall in garden centres are less than ideal in my opinion. Should you choose to use this method, cut the bottom out of the container and use it as a collar. Keep in mind that stems that are left above the protected area will freeze and require removal in the spring. Many gardeners will prune their roses back in the late fall, early winter so that all stems can be protected from the extremes. Roses are un-hilled, cleaned up and pruned in the spring, that process will be dealt with closer to the appropriate season.

November 12, 2017- Late Fall Pruning- Butterfly Bush Buddleia davidii

Another successful year in the garden is usually punctuated by an abundance of new, healthy growth on perennials and shrubs. In many cases, shrubs such as Buddleia may have outdone themselves and require pruning to maintain shape and size. Buddleia davidii is a summer bloomer and often will push blossoms well into late summer and fall. This is your indicator that pruning should not occur until well after flowering. The correct timing depends on your region of the country, relative to climate conditions. Basically, prune the shrub once the temperatures have dropped sufficiently so that no new growth is encouraged to start. November, for the most of Canada, is ideal, as the weather isn’t to miserable for you to be outside pruning, yet the shrub is already entering dormancy.

Buddleia will blossom on the new wood therefore a ‘hard’ pruning in the late fall or very early spring will result in more new wood and typically larger flowers. The term hard pruning is rather a matter of opinion but generally speaking, you can remove the growth down to about 30 cm (12”) from the soil surface. Timid or perhaps first-time pruners, may opt to leave more top growth, however, the results the following season will help make the pruning decision easier for the following year. Understanding that sunlight should reach all portions of the shrub should dictate that leaving larger, heavy wood particularly towards the centre of the plant is not a good idea. In the event that the shrub is quite mature and hasn’t been pruned for some time, you may choose to pace the pruning over a couple of seasons. Initially, remove the heaviest wood to within 30cm (12”) of the soil leaving the next largest branches until the following year. This scheduled removal will not harm the shrub and will maintain some semblance of shape and size to balance your landscape. Personally, I prefer to “re-work” the shrub by removing all the old wood on a mature specimen and in the following season(s) shape the shrub to suit my landscape.

Buddleia is often cited as a “deer resistant” shrub (if there really is such a thing) and a tremendous attractant for butterflies and other nectar seeking creatures. As this shrub may provide blooms well into late autumn, don’t be too anxious to begin pruning as these creatures may depend on it as a food source. This is one shrub that is known to over produce, so when deciding where to plant your Buddleia consider that they can grow easily up to 3.5M (10ft) in one season with a girth of roughly the same. Foundation planting in the landscape is definitely out, unless you chose dwarf varieties. It is important to plant your Buddleia(s) in a sunny location with ample room for them to spread out. The current emphasis on attracting pollinators to your landscape as well as other beneficial creatures has leveraged a strong demand for Buddleia for commercial as well as home landscapes, so make your choices and purchases early  in the season to avoid disappointment.

Many varieties of Buddleia exist, with new introduction occurring annually One variety that I think is great is Lo and Behold® a marvellous dwarf member of the Butterfly Bush family. This specimen mounds to approximately 1M (3ft) and will spreads to roughly the same; a great addition for the smaller, urban garden. Tutti-Frutti is a gorgeous pink Buddleia that tends to grow a little taller and compliments the deep blue of Lo and Behold beautifully. Look for the varieties “White Profusion”,” Royal Red”and “Navaho Blue” to add to your collection of easily grown and maintained shrubs.