Sunday, March 22, 2009

Diary February 2009 - Garden Sculpture

If you look at landscape design through the centuries, statuary has always been an integral part of gardens. Figures, vases and urns occupy prominent positions in gardens or are surprises in small tucked away corners.
I’m a traditionalist in that I usually have 2 urns full of shade-loving plants on my front porch. Every year I try variations on the begonias/coleus theme. I enjoy designing the urns as well as seeing how well they compliment the front door area.

My next door neighbour also does wonderful things with urns and large vases. As with any container, you must be sure to keep the plants well-watered or they wither in a (hot) day if you’re not careful.

On a Garden Tour through Guelph in 2006 or 7, we saw sculpture used as a decorative element in a large country property. Even their urns were very “artsy”.

At The Dunes in P.E.I, owner Peter Jansons, a sculptor and potter himself, has many wonderful statues and urns in his store/restaurant garden. I couldn’t help photographing many of them while on vacation there a few summers ago.

Lastly, I have 3 statues in my garden and a stone bench. All were chosen with great care and I love looking at them, regardless of the season. Here are a few shots taken during different times of the year:

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Diary December 2007 - Designing a townhouse garden

BIG NEWS!!! The newlyweds just bought a house!! My son and his lovely wife purchased a gorgeous townhouse that’s not only great inside but it has a very nice backyard as well. Bonus! There’s already a large wood deck – perfect for relaxing and summer entertaining. The yard is fully fenced but has no landscaping. What an opportunity to design a small garden!
This is a very good exercise for me because I haven’t done any designing in awhile. I used to do it as a hobby business but not for the past 6 years! I needed to check my basic design principles before starting:
1. Determine if there’s to be any Hardscaping – small stone patio? gazebo? shed?
2. Establish a focal point – bench, statue, sundial, bird-bath
3. Select evergreens/broadleaf evergreens
4. Select deciduous trees and shrubs
5. Select perennials and annuals
6. Remember proportion, scale, line and repetition
I estimate the area to be about 20’ wide and 15’ deep. Not a lot of space so I really have to be selective.
Here’s the first idea:
The main plantings would be evergreens. In one corner a blue-green pyramidal Dwarf Swiss Stone Pine (Pinus cembra ‘Nana’), in the other perhaps 3 Emerald cedars (Thuja occidentalis ‘Emerald’). In between, there could be some great shrubs like Marie’s Doublefile Viburnum (Viburnum plicatum ‘Mariesii’),

which have large white flowers in spring on interesting horizontal branches. Some prostrate spreading evergreens in front: Moor-Dense juniper (Juniperus Sabina ‘Moor-Dense’) or Blue Rug Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’). The focal point could be a birdbath, sundial or urn surrounded by daylilies or hydrangea.

A second variation could be a mix of shrubs, perennials, grasses and a wooden bench as the focal point. A common lilac bush (Syringa vulgaris) has lovely, fragrant flowers in the spring as well as good architectural form in winter. Three dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca ‘Conica’) could be the strong evergreen background in winter with perhaps a Globe Blue Spruce (Picea pungens ‘Glauca Globosa’) as the additional conifer. Add some Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), Blue Oat Grass (Helictotrichon sempirvirens) and some bright raspberry pink geraniums and you’ve got a lovely picture from spring until fall.

The last variation could be a soft picture of green and white during spring and summer, exploding into riotous colour in autumn!
Serviceberries (Amelanchier canadensis) and Oakleaf Hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) could provide the backdrop. Both have lovely white flowers in spring and summer and both turn brilliant shades of red, orange and maroon in the fall.

Punctuate the back area with one large Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’) or 3 Feather Reed grasses (Calamagrostis acutiflora ’Karl Forester’) Add some ornamental kale and cabbages (annuals) along with Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’) That would make a terrific summer/autumn background at the back of the yard.

Regardless of plant material, remember to include a focal point such as an urn or a statue.

Well-designed yards provide pleasure for the owners and visitors as well as undeniable re-sale value. Planning always pays off!

Diary November 2007 - Autumn Surprises

This has been an amazing fall! Warm weather right through to the end of October! We’ve had lots of rain too, which has perked the plants back up and certainly made the grass grow again (much to the chagrin of my son and husband - too much mowing!)
I have a terrible confession to make: I hardly made it out to the garden at all after my son’s wedding in July!
We really gussied it up for the wedding but as is typical for me, I lost interest once the big occasion had come and gone. I guess we’d worked so hard on it and then the weather got so hot and dry, I never bothered with the regular Saturday morning garden routine. We experienced an 8-9 week drought this summer and it took its toll. A lot of my newer shrubs did not grow much and I have lots of deadwood on my rugosa roses. Other new plantings disappeared. Trees in the neighborhood are still green, but may colour quickly and then drop their leaves fast if we finally get a cold snap and a frost.
Today was one of those lovely cool, sunny days and I went out to start cutting down the garden. I got a pleasant surprise as I walked through the front yard and back: roses were blooming like crazy, all the grasses had gorgeous plumes and the trees had turned brilliant shades of yellow and orange!
Other unexpected treats: I planted a clematis so that it would “grow into” some pussywillow branches. It didn’t bloom all summer but all of a sudden there was one purple flower “suspended” in the air!

It was a good idea to plant ornamental cabbages in the front yard because they really come into their own in autumn. I’ll have to write down to plant lots more next spring.

Last summer I planted out most of the chrysanthemums from the deck containers. Lots did not come back but the brightest yellow ones sure did!

Roses usually bloom one more time before a killing frost and because the garden is becoming so devoid of flowers, these were extra special to see: my David Austin rose “Mary” and of course “The Fairy” with some silver Artemisia.

Last but not least, the Cleome did exceptionally well this year (I’ve had them fail so many times before). Right now they are 4 feet tall but only have a flower at the very end of the stalk.
Fall is also an excellent time to travel! A few weeks ago we took a vacation to New England. We visited Portland, Maine as well as Cape Cod and Boston.
The large park in the middle of the historical area is called the Boston Commons. They have some terrific public gardens.

Do you remember the 1940’s award-winning children’s story Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey? A special tribute to the story appears in Boston Commons. Look!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Diary October 2007 - Neighbours

The biggest trend in custom home design these days is the Outdoor Room. For many, it has become as important as an indoor one.
A perfect example of how to extend your home outdoors is right next door to me! My wonderful neighbours, Cheryl and Felice, did an excellent job redesigning and redecorating the inside of the house when they first moved in but now (IMHO) their piece de resistance is the back yard. To make an outdoor room a true extension of the house, the same basics of good design must be used: scale, proportion and comfort.
Cheryl and Felice certainly did use these principles. They installed a swimming pool which takes up a good part of the yard but they angled it so it’s not straight back from the house.
Straight back from the pool is an interesting set of columns which add formality to a yard which is otherwise elegantly informal. The trees and shrubs have grown big enough now that they soften the strong white vertical lines

The next step was a cabana/pool house. It has a lovely bar area in front with a sink and frig. In the back is a washroom and shower! It’s meant to keep all the “wet guests” outside so that they don’t drag towels and drippy feet all through the house. Cheryl has decorated the small building with all the right touches including a framed mirror.

I can think of nothing better in the summer than being invited next door for a wonderful dinner al fresco! Not only are the neighbours gracious hosts (and fantastic cooks!) but the setting is magnificent.
The evening usually starts in The CafĂ© with drinks and appetizers. If we’re lucky, Cheryl has made (my favourite!) homemade potato/pesto pizza in the outdoor pizza oven. Yum!!
Conversation and funny stories continue in the comfy outdoor chairs while Felice barbeques.

Then we move to the “Dining Room”. They have a large wooden table with comfy seating for at least 8. A dresser, a mirror and a hanging lamp add to the indoor/outdoor feel.

We’ve stayed long into the night, drinking coffee, eating dessert and finishing off with a glass or two of grappa. And the best part? We just hop over the fence – and we’re home!
Thanks to my fabulous friends for letting me share photos of their beautiful backyard with my readers!

Diary September 2007 - Opa's Garden

This month I’m having my Dad describe his garden and show you some photos. Take it away, Opa!

“Hello! I’m known as Opa to most of my family. I garden in Zone 5A in in Ontario. This is the 7th house we’ve been in.
I have had a front and back garden in each and every one of them. Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve enjoyed digging in the garden, watching how things grow and getting dirt under my fingernails.
I’d like to take you on a little garden tour and tell you about my successes and failures…
For watering purposes I try to use as much rain water as I can. I believe plants prefer it to tap water. It does take me a little longer to do it with watering cans, but if time isn’t a factor it works out great. Around the house I have 5 – 45 gal barrels and one 200 gal container. In one corner of the house there are 2 drums and the container, all hooked up together. For flowers this supply seldom runs dry. Of course for grass I use the sprinkler.

I start most of my annuals from seed. Some I collect, some I purchase. This year I started Zinnias, Daturas, Celosias, Sweet Peas, Dahlias (Figaro and Star Gazer series), Geraniums and tomatoes for myself and my neighbours. I will go into a little more detail about the Geraniums. The seeds I chose were from the William Dam seed catalogue. They were white ones from the Orbit series. I bought 2 packages of seed with 10 seeds in each. As a rule I use “Jiffy 7” peat pellets for germinating all my seeds. On January 23rd I sowed one seed per pellet and in a couple of days, the first signs of growth appeared. Within 5-7 days, I had 19 little geranium plants. On Feb 9th, I replanted them into 4” pots. Then in about 4-5 weeks I pinched the top portion (about 2”) and stuck them into a Vermiculite/Perlite/Potting soil mixture (equal amounts of each.) Once they rooted, I ended up with about 32 geranium plants! I have found the geraniums are kind of slow to get established but the end result has been very good. The flower heads are quite large and tend to grow quite tall.

I had enough white ones for my front and back flower beds. I’ve also had good luck with celosias the past few years. This year I’m going to try collecting the seeds from my own Celosias and Zinnias and see what happens.
As the trees get in my back yard get larger each year, I will have to switch to more shade loving plants.
In the fall of 2005, I was given a small envelope of Golden Clematis Tangutica seeds

Within a month I started about 10 seeds under my grow lights in the basement. Some did not survive, other I gave away, but I planted 3 little plants into my own backyard that spring. One of them really liked its location, I guess, because it’s done extremely well. The other 2 “gave up” and disappeared. The Happy One is over 6’ tall and in mid-August is covered with bright yellow bell-shaped flowers.
I have read this in books and magazine articles and I truly believe it: in one place in your garden, a plant will flourish, but in another it will wither. If you find the right location, you’ve got it made!
In the fall of 2006, I bought a gallon size container of Hydrangea. I planted it where it gets about 4 hours of morning sun and it looks like it just loves it there.
My climbing hydrangea, which I planted 7 years ago on a N-W corner also likes its spot and is doing just fine.
Now a bit about my vegetable garden. For the second year in a row, I have tried what is known as ‘Square Foot Gardening’, based on a book by Mel Bartholomew. You build your garden in a slightly raised bed with a series of 16 one foot squares. Each square can hold a different vegetable, fruit or herb planted in quantities that are practical to use!

By re-planting squares as soon as you harvest, you’ll guarantee a steady crop of vegetables throughout the growing season. Right now I am on my third batch of spinach (Tetragonia New Zealand). I have had very good results with spinach, radishes, different kinds of lettuce, sugar peas and now cucumbers. It’s my first season with cukes. Here’s some advice: use lots of netting because they love to “climb” and watch them closely, because within a matter of days they can change from small to HUGE!

This year I tried to experiment with upside-down planters.

I had cucumbers in one, zucchini in another and cherry tomatoes in a third. Sorry to say, but I have to mark this down as one of my failures: the cukes headed straight to the ground, zucchini started out well but ended up the size of felt markers and the tomatoes? They just didn’t like to be in that position. No more Topsy-Turvy plants for me!”

Thanks for the great Diary, Opa!