Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Top Perennials Part 2 (of many)

Garden Tours are beneficial for many reasons but my favourites are that you get to (legally) snoop in a stranger's garden and you usually pick up the names of some wonderful new plants to try!

This was how I discovered Dictamnus albus. My friend and I saw it for the very first time on a Toronto garden tour. We asked the volunteer if she knew what it was and she said it was a Gas Plant. Weird name, we thought.

Here's what Heritage Perennials http://www.perennials.com/plants/dictamnus-albus.html says about it:

"...Not often seen in gardens, the Gas Plant is slow to establish, but very long lived. Plants form a bushy, upright clump of lemon-scented, glossy green leaves. Spikes of spidery-looking white flowers appear in early summer, rather showy in effect, and worthwhile for cutting. On still days a match held below the spike will ignite a burst of methane gas. Attractive to butterflies. Clumps resent being disturbed, once established."

It's true that it takes a while for them to grow tall and strong but once there, they never disappear. I have had mine for over 20 years. It's a lovely plant and I look forward to seeing it come up every June near my arbour.

Brunnera 'Jack Frost' was a plant I coveted when it first became popular. All the nurseries charged an exorbitant fee for a small 4" pot of 'Jack Frost' when garden columnists and garden magazines described it as THE plant to buy that year! So I waited and waited and finally purchased it last year, whereas many of my gardening friends have had it forever. It is a beauty with its variegated leaves and Forget-Me-Not type blue flowers.

Again I quote from Heritage Perennials http://www.perennials.com/plants/brunnera-macrophylla-jack-frost.html

"...A superb introduction, forming a clump of heart-shaped silver leaves, delicately veined with mint green. Sprays of bright blue Forget-me-not flowers appear in mid to late spring. This is a choice collector's plant, but an easy-to-grow perennial that performs well in all but the driest of shady conditions. Excellent for the woodland garden. ‘Jack Frost’ handles more direct sun that most other variegated types of Brunnera, though in hot-summer regions some afternoon shade is recommended to prevent leaf scorch. Selected as the 2012 Perennial Plant of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association."

Another favourite that comes up beautifully year after year is Platycodon grandiflorus the Balloon Flower. They show up late so I have to be careful not to plant an annual on top of them! But I know now exactly where they are.

Last year they bloomed and bloomed for over 6 weeks. I guess they like their partially shady location. Before they bloom, they look like balloons about to pop. And when they open, they are such an intense shade of purple/blue!

Heritage Perennials http://www.perennials.com/plants/platycodon-grandiflorus-fuji-blue.html says:

"...Balloon Flowers are summer-blooming cousins to the more familiar Bellflowers. Plants form a mound of green foliage, bearing inflated buds that open into star-shaped violet-blue blossoms. This medium-height selection is great for the border, or in mixed containers. Especially good for cutting. Because they come up very late in the spring, consider planting tulips or daffodils beside the clump to mark the location. Division is seldom necessary, and not always very successful because of the carrot-like root."

My one and only small complaint about Balloon flowers is that they need to be staked. But that's a very small complaint.

If you add these three plants to your garden this summer, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Top Perennials Part 1 (of many)

As you probably know by now, I am a Flower gardener not a veggie gardener. When we moved to this large property about 25 years ago, I envisioned endless beds of shrub/perennial combinations changing beautifully with the seasons.
Well…….. let's just say I have learned a LOT since we got here! Achieving this type of look involves a lot more than choosing favourite flowers and planting them close to each other. In previous posts I have talked about how important design is for a lovely landscape. This is most definitely true.
Design = good bones. The plants are the "makeup" and embellishments. But they are definitely the "fun" part!

There is certainly a lot to be learned about the plants themselves. I have experimented with many, many flowers and have had varying success with them. I wish I'd kept better records as to what I purchased and why a particular plant didn't thrive.

But I do know that some flowers prove reliable despite lack of experience and even neglect. Here are some that have never let me down. Part One of this series features the Columbine.

Aquilegia (Columbine, Granny's Bonnet) is a lovely spring flower that is known for its spurred petals.

I have had a number of columbines that have bloomed every year since we moved in. My favourite is a pure white one which grows about 18-22"( depending on the season's rainfall). It's in a front yard bed beside a wonderful small shrub called a Slender Deutzia, which coincidentally blooms at the same time. The Aquilegia blooms are long lasting and deceivingly fragile-looking. The stalks are strong and it even makes an excellent cut flower.

While on vacation last summer, I photographed two lovely columbines growing beside an old house.

I am not even sure anymore how I got the original plant, but one of the most interesting Columbines that I have is the self-seeding Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadansis). They pop up in different spots every year. They are very unique, growing 3 - 3 1/2' tall and being a strong red colour with a yellow inside.

Last spring I bought 3 pots of a new Columbine and planted them near the linden tree and rabbit statue.
Their official name is Aquilegia Clementine Rose (plant marker says: Clematis-flowered Columbine). "A unique series of Columbine, featuring fluffy double flowers that resemble a small Clematis bloom, held upfacing on stems, well above the lacy green foliage mound."
I am looking forward to seeing how they bloom this coming spring.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Garden Art

Here in Ontario it's unseasonably warm today - +13C! I think we broke a record. All the snow has melted for now…until the next big storm comes in from the American Midwest or East. If you feel the urge to get "out there", go for it!!

But for most of us, it will still be an indoor day. I've always said that winter is a great time for planning. Bloggers are used to taking pictures of their gardens but beginner gardeners should also consider this as an excellent form of records keeping.

Without foliage or snow, it's easy to see bare areas of garden beds, especially if you do not cut down your perennials for winter. Could a small statue or birdbath add interest for next spring and summer? If your property is big, perhaps it's time to invest in a bigger sculptural piece that would provide a major focal point.

Where can you find garden art? These days you can shop online, at local garden centres and nurseries, on Kijiji and e-Bay. Local artisan tours could provide interesting and unusual pieces as well.

Here are some of my own garden sculptures as well as interesting shots of garden art I have taken over the years.

When I was searching for my first "quality" garden sculpture, a friend recommended that I try a small garden centre just outside of Kitchener. I had great luck!
When I first stopped by, I found a lovely statue of a little girl feeding birds from seeds in her apron. The tag said her name was "Elaine". She has remained for 20 something years in a border near the deck. She looks great in summer and winter, and since I placed her on a stone slab, she has never cracked or broken, even though she remains outside every winter.

Next season I went back and found a delightful rabbit and fish. I do lug these guys into the garage each fall, because I would hate it if they cracked.

Somehow statues of herons always look graceful and distinctive in the garden. The first 2 birds are from a wonderful store on Prince Edward Island called the Dunes and the gold ones are in my friend Sheila's garden.

My neighbour has put a large clock on display as well some formal white columns at the back of the garden.

Sheila has a wonderful lady with "interesting" hair!

….as well as a very elegant moss-y Lady near the front entrance

Some statuary is downright scary!

Not all art has to be vertical statues. Decorative Tiles are very interesting.

And if your property is vast, emphasize the point with a large……wolf!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Garden Design in a Snowy Landscape

I've talked about how important the many facets of garden design are during the seasons. Never is this more important than in winter, if your part of the world experiences snow and ice.
When perennial beds and lawns are white with snow, it's hardscape structures, conifers, grasses, tree
trunks and shrub branches that provide focal points.

The black bench stands out crisply under recent fallen snow as do the junipers, Viburnum 'Mariesii' and trunk of the Linden tree.

The Euonymus bush does not lose its leaves over winter. It catches the snow nicely. The pussywillow shrubs have lost their leaves, of course, but are strong vertical accents against the white. Elaine is knee deep in the white stuff.

The evergreen yews in the front are thick and heavy, so the snow stays on top of them like a hat.

The gold grasses still rustle against the Mugho pine and the sedum 'Autumn Joy' looks like lollipops.

Here Miscanthus sinensis and the Burning Bush are covered with a feather-light snow.

The strong Pin Oak and the vertical lines of the obelisk provide a focal point at the back of the yard.

Colour on white really stands out - here you see red berries on the Burning Bush.

Evergreens are the best snow catchers!

Even the deck steps provide interest.

So, when planning your garden, remember: many plants die and disappear over the winter but certain ones stay. And if you combine those with some hardscaping, your garden will look good even in a season when you can't be out there, getting your hands dirty  :)