Monday, March 19, 2018

Collectable Houseplant: Ferns

Fluffy Ruffle Fern or Sword Fern, Nephrolepis exalata likes bright, diffused light 
and soil that is evenly moist.

I have a soft spot for ferns. I like seeing their bright, kelly-green foliage on my window ledge in the winter months when the garden is blanketed by snow. 

Ferns do well for me. They seem to like the morning sunshine that my biggest windowsill affords.

I often move my ferns outdoors in the summer and back inside in the fall. 

All of the ferns in this hanging basket (above) performed well in a shady outdoor spot. The only thing they demanded was regular watering. In the fall, I divided the container planting and potted up the ferns individually for the winter months.  

Birdbath container planting in a private garden in Toronto.

As well as ferns, this post touches briefly on plants that look like ferns, and are commonly referred to as ferns, but aren't actually ferns at all. 

These fern-like plants make nice outdoor container plants too. This birdbath is my favourite example of using one of these non-hardy fern look-a-likes in a outdoor container planting.

Plumosa Fern, Asparagus densiflorus 'Sprengeri' also know as Asparagus Fern is often used by 
florists as a filler in arrangements. It's not a true fern but is actually a member of the lily family.

There are quite an array of indoor ferns you can collect and most of them like similar growing conditions. 

Here are a few basic tips for growing ferns:

Light: Avoid direct sunlight. Ferns like bright, diffused light. They prefer a north-facing windowsill that has indirect light. An east facing window is also good throughout most of the year, but may become too bright in the spring and summer months. With a east-facing situation, it a good idea to move your ferns back a few feet from the window in the summer or install a sheer curtain to help block the hot afternoon rays. 

Water: Ferns like evenly moist soil and regular waterings. Water deeply! I always take my ferns to the sink and give them a really good soak. Most indoor ferns are tropical, so lukewarm water is best.

Soil: Ferns like a good quality, well-drained potting soil.

Temperature: A fern's native habitat will tell you all you need to know about the temperatures it prefers. Ferns from the tropics like temperatures in the 60-70 degree F range (15-21 degrees C) Those from more temperate areas of the world are much more adaptable to a cool spot next to a window.

Humidity: Providing a fern with the humidity it likes can be a challenge. If your house is really dry, you can mist them with lukewarm distilled water. You can also place the fern in a closed terrarium, put it under a cloche or stand it in a water-filled tray of pebbles.
A few ferns that don't mind low humidity include: Boston Fern, Nephrolepis, Button Fern, Pellaea, Rabbit's Foot Fern, Davallia and Staghorn Fern, Platycerium

Ongoing Care: Keep your ferns looking their best by trimming away any brown or damaged fronds. Repot a potbound fern in the spring.

Fertilizer: In the wild, most ferns live on the forest floor where there is shade and plenty of decaying organic matter.  In the spring and summer use a liquid fertilizer (following the label's directions) every couple of weeks. 
Using a fertilizer in the winter months, when the plant is not actively growing, is unnecessary. Excessive fertilization in the winter can actually cause brown, wilted fronds.

Propagation: A large fern can be repotted or you can use the opportunity to divide it. Remove the pot and carefully break the plant into smaller pieces. Replant the divisions and water well.

Pests and Diseases: Possible insect pests include mealy bugs (soft, downy looking insects), spider mites (look for delicate webbing) and scale insects that can form lumpy colonies. 

A few of the Many Types of Indoor Ferns:

Jester's Crown Fern, Nephrolepis obliterata 

Sword Fern or Jester's Crown Fern, Nephrolepis obliterata makes quite a bushy plant and has sword-shaped fronds. In the wild, it can be found growing in the rainforests of Australia and New Guinea.

Tricolor Fern

Tricolor Fern, Pteris aspericaulis 'Tricolor' is another tropical fern that has pretty red stems and new growth that is bronze in color.

Silver Lace Fern, Pteris ensiformis

Silver Lace Fern, Pteris ensiformis (sometimes called Sword or Slender Brake Fern) has delicate, dark green leaves with silvery accents.

Glowstar Fern, Pellaea 'Glowstar'

Glowstar Fern, Pellaea 'Glowstar' has shiny, dark green fronds. It originates in eastern Australia.

Korean Rock Fern, Polystichum tsus-simense

Korean Rock Fern, Polystichum tsus-simense (family dryopteridaceae) has lance-shaped fronds. It is a South Asian fern that grows in shade near water or on rocky faces.  This fern can take a fair bit of shade. 

Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum raddianum likes bright diffused light and evenly moist soil.

Maidenhair Ferns, Adiantum Raddianum have to be one of the prettiest indoor ferns, but they have a reputation for being difficult, so I thought I would add a few extra pointers.

Like most ferns, they like bright, but indirect light. Too much sun and their foliage will scorch. Too little light and they turn yellow. The soil in their pots needs to be kept evenly moist, but not soggy. Neglect to water them and they shrivel in a heart beat. If this happens, cut the fronds off at ground level, water well, and fingers crossed, your Maidenhair Fern will recover.

This is a plant from the Brazilian tropics, so it prefers a consistently warm spot. It's also a fern that craves humidity (see care tips above).

Asparagus densiflorus in a private Toronto garden.

A Few Fern Look-a-Likes:

 The Asparagus "Fern", Asparagus retrofractus with its fine, feathery foliage that makes it look like a fern, but it is actually a member of the Liliaceae family. This houseplant has some definite drawbacks. The fine, needle-like foliage is feathery soft, but the base of the plant's woody stems have fine thorns. Ouch! Asparagus retrofractus also has a way of dropping their fine leaves the moment they get a bit dry. The good news is this plant is very easy to grow provided you water it regularly and give it a spot in a north-facing window.

The Foxtail "Fern", Asparagus densiflorus is very similar to Asparagus retrofractus, but it has foxtail-shaped plumes. The care for both plants is basically the same. 

It you want to take either plant outside for the summer, place them in a lightly shaded place with protection from the afternoon sun. Water them thoroughly and regularly.

Moss Fern, Selaginella

Moss Fern, Selaginella kraussiana 'Aurea' looks like a cross between a moss and a fern, but it is neither. It makes a great understory for taller houseplants or can be potted up all on its own. It likes humidity and moist conditions, so don't let the soil dry out completely. Like ferns, Selaginella is easily scorched by the sun, so give it indirect light. 

A Container Planting using Ferns

I thought that it might be fun to gather a few ferns along with some other houseplants into a container planting. 

Any ceramic container can be turned into a plant pot with a drainage hole. All you need is a drill and a set of tile and glass drill bits (these drill bits can be found at just about any hardware store).

Drilling a drainage hole is fairly easy. There is just one tip: use a small puddle of water on the surface your ceramic dish to keep the container and the drill bit cool.

I used three small ferns along with a Moss Fern, Selaginella and a variegated ivy. The mushrooms are from the Dollar Store (I think the large mushrooms were $2.50 and the little one was just $1).

If you're an indoor gardener who sometimes forgets to water, ferns may not be for you. But if your willing to keep a watchful eye of your plants and have a room with indirect light, ferns might make a nice addition to your collection of houseplants.

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Garden Close to the Heart

I was uncertain how to title this post when the gardener herself gave me the words: a garden close to the heart.

"A garden had always been a dream since I was a little girl," Joanna tells me on the phone. She grew up in Warsaw, Poland where her family lived in a small apartment. After WWII Warsaw had been left in ruins. The new communist authorities that came to power considered moving the Polish capital to another city. Life under communist rule was not easy either. The socialist food distribution system barely functioned and Poles lived with censorship, rules and restrictions.

For her tenth birthday her parents gave her a book filled with beautiful gardens."It must have cost them a fortune," Joanna speculates. She loved her present and the wide open spaces she saw on its pages. For Joanna, gardens came to represent the possibility of a different sort of life.

Years later Joanna found herself with a choice between immigrating to Canada or Australia. Half a world away from her homeland, Australia seemed too far. In the years since her decision to choose Canada, she's had a chance to visit Australia. "It's a beautiful place," she tells me with the slightest hint of regret in her voice. Who could blame her on a cold day in March when there are snow flurries in the air? Canada offered opportunities and the wide open spaces she had dreamt about as a little girl. Plus she knew people here.

At her lovely home in Mississauga, Joanna has created the garden of her childhood imaginings. 

The space has evolved and changed over the years. "My husband's original idea was to create a mystic garden with a number of rooms," Joanna tells me,"He used his creativity to to incorporate some of his own art installations." 

The idea was to have a garden filled with surprises. Many of the original art pieces were made of wood and rope which weathered over time and eventually disintegrated. Joanna opted not to replace them and instead seized the opportunity to take advantage of the increased light and space. She also deepened and expanded the garden's central feature, a stream and pond with a bridge. 

In her garden Joanna has created spots for birds, chipmunks and all the other natural inhabitants. She's even spotted a coyote. The coyotes seemed to disappear for a few years as the housing subdivision expanded, but they've slowly moved back into the neighbourhood. Joanna will often hear them calling to one another when she walks her dogs. She's not worried about her dogs though. They are rescue dogs from overseas that survived a tough life on the streets.

The decayed stumps of some poplar trees make homes for insects and birds.

A view of backyard from the deck.

In the centre of the yard there is a covered deck with table and chairs.

At the back of the property, Joanna has a vegetable garden. "Tomatoes, beans and lettuce greens do the best," she says, "I will have some heating in my greenhouse as of this spring. There are lettuce seeds planted as of two days ago."

Joanna's own pictures of her vegetable garden.

The vegetable garden is a big job, but Joanna has help from friends. In return, she shares some of the garden's bounty.

Here Joanna has used wide pieces of tree bark to hide the flower pots 
and create a display by the shed.

One of the works of art Joanna's husband created.

A beautiful fern from a shady area of the garden.

A view of the generous wood deck at the back of the house.

The central pond and stream was ment to create a cottage or “Muskoka” feeling in the heart of the city. "I sit on the deck often in the summer feeling not that far from "the lake country” of northern Ontario."

Fish and a number of frogs call the pond home.

Another view of the stream. 

Joanna's own picture of her Bearded Iris.

Gratitude is a very important sentiment for Joanna. She feels a close connection to nature and is grateful for the beauty it provides. 

Years later, Joanna still has the gardening book that her parents gave her back in Poland. I am sure her parents would be proud to see the garden their gift inspired.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Book Giveaway: The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing your Small Yard

“Urban and suburban aren’t so different anymore," writes author Susan Morrison in her new book The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing your Small Garden. And it’s so true! Suburban houses are about the same size, but the lots that they sit on seem to be getting more and more modest in size. A "small" urban garden no longer refers to the outdoor spaces offered in townhouses, condos, and apartments. Tiny backyards are the new normal even in the suburbs.

Susan is a landscape designer with a long, successful career, so it's no surprise that the focus of her book is garden design. It is is a practical, “less is more” approach to gardening that links the design of a garden to the lifestyles of the people who will be using and enjoying it.

This book is aimed primarily at young professionals juggling careers, kids and busy lives. The goal is to get the most out of an outdoor space with least amount of effort.

From the book The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing your Small Yard by Susan Morrison published by Timber Press in 2018. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher.

When it comes to gardens, bigger isn't always better at any rate. A small garden requires fewer plants and less time to design, install and maintain.

Susan's new book aims to help homeowners make the best use of every square foot of space. When she tallies up her less is more approach to design, there are actually a lot of pluses:

• Less space, more enjoyment
• Less effort, more beauty
• Less maintenance, more relaxation
• Less gardening-by-the-numbers, more YOU.

From the book The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing your Small Yard by Susan Morrison published by Timber Press in 2018. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher.

I found another review that broke the book down into chapters really helpful, so I thought that I’d take a similar approach:

Chapter 1 poses the questions that will help you match the design of your landscape to your lifestyle: What time of the day and in what seasons are you likely to use the garden? Who will be using the garden? Chapter one also guides you through the process of making allowances in the design for children, guests and even the family pet.

Chapter 2 tackles a variety of possible design approaches.

Chapter 3 helps homeowners use a small space to its best advantage. Growing vertical, creating an illusion of space and the debate of lawn/no lawn are some of the issues covered.

Chapter 4 addresses sensory elements. Topics covered include attracting wildlife to the garden, including scent, adding color and the relaxing sound of water to the garden.

Chapter 5 looks briefly at a variety of different hardscaping options.

Chapter 6 touches on plants that will make a garden attractive and yet keep it low maintenance: plants with four seasons of interest, dwarf shrubs, long-blooming plants and easy perennials.

Chapter 7 helps you add in personal touches that give a garden style.

From the book The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing your Small Yard by Susan Morrison published by Timber Press in 2018. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher.

This book is represents a modern, realistic approach to gardening where the lifestyle and design intersect to create outdoor spaces that are suited to a family’s needs. In short: gardens that don’t involve a ton of traditional gardening.

I closed the book wondering if this is the way of the future?

My own garden is old-school cottage garden. It’s pretty, but it’s high maintenance. As I set the book down, I began to feel a bit like a dinosaur...but then I paused to reconsider.

The thing I am most passionate about as a gardener is nature and the outdoors, not the labour. Every family deserves a private haven where they can  enjoy being outdoors. If Susan Morrison's less is more approach means that more people are doing just that, then we are actually on the same page. After all, reconnecting with nature is were a passion for gardening is often born.

The Less is More Garden is filled with the wisdom honed from Susan's experience as a designer, lots of practical advice and stylish examples of her less is more approach. There may come a time in the not so distant future when my creaking back and rickety knees see me trading in my high maintenance plot for a garden that is much smaller, but hopefully just as beautiful.

Thanks to Timber Press for providing a copy of The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing your Small Garden for me to give away. Because this book will go to a winner through the mail, we will have to limit entry to readers in Canada and the USA. 

Please leave a comment below, if you would like to be included in the book draw. The draw will remain open until Saturday, March 31stIf you are not a blogger, you can enter by leaving a comment on the Three Dogs in a Garden Facebook page (there is an additional link to the Facebook page at the bottom of the blog). You are also welcome to enter by sending me an email (

About the Author:

Susan Morrison is a nationally recognized landscape designer and authority on small-space garden design. She has shared her strategies on the PBS series Growing a Greener World and in publications such as Fine Gardening. Morrison has also served as editor-in-chief of The Designer, a digital magazine produced by the Association of Professional Landscape Designers.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

An Art Collector's Garden

with photography by Maggie Sale

There was a time when art collections were displayed in grand homes, and were a sign of wealth and privilege, but with the advent of the internet, the popularity of artist run co-ops and studio tours, works of art have never been more accessible or affordable for the average person.

At her home in Guelph, Ontario, Maggie Sale has gathered a collection of artwork that she displays in her large suburban garden.

"Having an English background, combined with artistic family members, and having travelled throughout the UK and other places where there are beautiful gardens, I have always appreciated art in the garden. I guess it was inevitable that I would find my own pieces, but never set to become an art collector!," she says.  

Maggie is an accomplished photographer and world traveler whose adventures have taken her to far off places like Iceland, Morocco, Spain, Istanbul and Jordan. Last fall Maggie and her husband Julian visited Peru. Then in February, they toured parts of Sri Lanka for sixteen days.

If you have a moment, pop over and take a look at the image galleries that chronicle some of Maggie's travels. From her recent trip to Peru, there are stunning views of Machu Picchu, a 15th century Inca citadel situated on a mountain range almost eight thousand feet above sea level.  There are also images of ancient temples and crumbling palaces, elephants and other exotic creatures from her most recent visit to Sri Lanka.

Maggie's collection of artwork began with a purchase for the couple's English summer home.

"The first piece was purchased in England for our 1850's stone and slate cottage which had a small walled garden. At that time we moved from Toronto, where we had a very small townhouse garden, with no art, to a larger home in Guelph. I began to acquire additional artwork for the cottage and pieces for the garden of our new house," says Maggie.

Both Maggie's passion for photography and her travels have been a great sources of inspiration.

"Travelling certainly helps you appreciate other countries, their culture and uniqueness," she says,"Photography takes this a step further, where you are developing your "eye", searching for interesting subject matter and compositions, whether in natural or man-made environments, or in large or small scale."

"I think there is no doubt that both travel and my photography have influenced my own creativity, which in turn has had a spill-over effect into the garden, an important but more recently developed aspect of my life. Colour, form and texture in the garden and the way plants are grouped, are all influenced by developing ones "eye" just as it does in photography." 

While the focus of this post is art in the garden, I would hate to miss the opportunity to draw your attention to the beauty of the garden itself. 

A carpet of groundcovers, which hug the earth, and low-growing, mounded perennials keep the front garden looking every bit as tidy and presentable as a lawn. This is not to say that the garden is flat by any means. Groups of taller perennials create an gently undulating landscape of hills and valleys.

Even without a ton of flowers, there is still lots of color. In the foreground of Maggie's photograph (above) Creeping Thyme and Silvermound, Artemisia schmidtiana add a hint of blue-green. A couple of burgundy colored Heuchera add warm color into the mix. Yellow springs from the Angelina Stonecrop, Sedum rupestre 'Angelina'.

One clever design trick is the flagstone pathway that links the front yard with the boulevard garden. Even though the sidewalk divides the overall garden into these two distinct areas, the path joins them into a unified whole.

This post looks primarily on the front garden, which I haven't featured before, but you can take a tour of the back garden here.

In this photograph, Maggie has captured a tapestry of shade loving perennials. 

1. Ostrich Fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris 2. Fern-leaf Bleeding Heart, Dicentra 3. Hosta 4. Golden Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea' 5. Japanese Fern, Athyrium niponicum 6. Autumn Fern, Dryopteris erythrosora 7. Miniature Hosta 8. Lamium 9. Hosta

How to choose an Artwork

For most people, artwork represents a bit of an investment. If your spending money, you don't want to get it wrong. Where do you even begin to choose a piece of art? 

Choose artwork that speak to you on a personal level. This makes it impossible to go wrong. 

"As soon as I saw this piece of art, I knew it was the right accent for my rock garden at the front of the house," says Maggie.

"It is visible from the sidewalk and sits on top of a slight berm where it's circular form draws attention. It was made by an artist (unknown to me) in the Ottawa region and was bought from an art gallery in Eden Mills, near Guelph. The slate layers remind me of slate buildings and walls in the UK. The metal has now taken on a lovely rusty patina."

A couple of Tips on Choosing Artwork for the Garden:

• Think about where you want to place a piece of art when your making your choice. A large sculpture makes an excellent garden focal point. By its very nature, the location of a smaller work of art is likely to be somewhat obscured by foliage and flowers. A small sculpture is often a nice surprise that you happen upon as you stroll through the garden. 

• Ignore the rule that says you ought to choose small artwork for a small garden. Depending on the piece, one large sculpture in a small garden can be quite stunning.

• Another rule suggests that artwork you choose should be in keeping with the style of your home. To me this is a little like matching a painting to the color of the sofa. With the right placement, a contemporary piece can look terrific in the garden of a more traditional home and vice versa.

• The impact an artwork will have is somewhat determined by scale. A large sculpture makes a big statement. A small sculpture speaks quietly.

1. Mountain Bluet, Centaurea montana 2. Dwarf Bearded Iris 3. Arabis or Rock cress 4. Heuchera 5. Snow-in-summer, Cerastium tomentosum 6. Sweet Woodruff, Galium odoratum 7. Dwarf Bearded Iris

This is a photograph of the front of the house a little later in the summer. Daylilies, Echinacea and Russian Sage (not shown) are a few of the perennials that add mid-summer color.

Like any garden ornament, a work of art can be something unexpected you happen upon.

"This was the first Shona sculpture from Zimbabwe that we acquired," says Maggie, "It was bought for our cottage from a local art gallery owner, who was a friend of my mother. It introduced me to a beautiful style of African art that I didn't know before." 

"When we sold our cottage 3 years ago, we brought the sculpture and a couple of other pieces of garden art back to Guelph. This small sculpture, almost hidden until you stand in front of the small rock garden in the backyard, complements the plantings and existing rocks perfectly - a happy coincidence!"

A few Tips for Displaying Artwork in a Garden Setting:

• Less is more. Too much visual clutter diminishes the impact of each piece. Don't ask artwork to compete for the attention of garden visitors.

•Aim for contrast to help a sculpture stand out in the landscape. For example, place light objects against a dark background of foliage and set a dark artwork in front of bright flowers and foliage.

• One of the biggest trends in interior design is an eclectic mix that mixes traditional and contemporary furniture and accessories. There is nothing to say that the same approach won't work in a garden setting. Go ahead and mix different types of artwork (example a traditional figure with a modern sculpture). Just be sure to give each piece enough space to shine.

Artwork need not be big or grand to be meaningful. It can be something as small as a single poppy. 

"The red ceramic poppy was a gift to my husband Julian from my brother in England," explains Maggie.

"The poppy is a remembrance of Julian's uncle who died in the second world war. It was one of the red poppies that were part of an art installation at the Tower of London in 2014 to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war (the poppies numbered over 880,000 - one for every British service person who died in WW1). The poppies were sold afterwards to the public to raise funds for service charities."

Family members have added their own unique genius to Maggie's collection.

"The cedar driftwood was picked up by my in-law's many, many years ago on one of their frequent fishing trips to Georgian Bay," says Maggie.

"Our son Jayce, who creates art out of found objects, used a piece of red metal (resembling a moth), which he found when the house next door to his home in Vancouver was demolished, to make the piece that fits perfectly into the top part of the driftwood."

The ceramic owl that now presides over this planting is another of the pieces Maggie brought back to Canada when she and Julian sold their property in England a few years ago.

"Every year there was a pottery festival at one of the stately homes near our cottage in Cumbria in the north west of England. Simon Griffiths was a artist who had many birds, animals etc. in his stall there. They were so life-like that I knew it would be a wonderful garden ornament for our cottage, so we bought the Tawny Owl. When we sold the cottage, we brought it back to Canada. We found a post in a local wood and erected it in our garden here," Maggie recounts.

This last piece of artwork owes its inspiration from a place far from Canada.

"We lost a large locust tree in a storm a few years ago which resulted in a corner opening up. I decided it was an ideal place to put a larger statement piece of art. The swirling black stone sculpture made by Sylvester Samanyanga, an artist from the Shona tribe of the indigenous people of Zimbabwe, was bought last summer at an outdoor art gallery near Peterborough called ZimArt's Rice Lake GalleryIt makes a nice focal point in the back garden."says Maggie.

To close this post, I asked Maggie to make a few suggestions for someone looking to start a collection of their own:

• Start small and local

• Go on a garden tour to see what other gardeners are doing with plantings and art. 

• Visit local public gardens and art galleries for a broader picture. 

• Take a studio art tour and learn about and visit local artists - you might find the perfect piece right on your doorstep! 

• Expand your search with the internet, if you are travelling.

• Above all, be patient and enjoy your search! It might take some time to find the right piece(s). Art collections grow with time and can't really be achieved in a hurry - but they are worth the wait!

Great advice to be sure!

 Many thanks to Maggie for sharing her art collection and garden
through this lovely series of photographs.

About the Photographer: 

Maggie Sale is originally from England and has lived in Canada for over 40 years with her husband Julian. Most of her photography is done outdoors, and often involves travel, which she loves. Maggie is a life member of the Etobicoke Camera Club, a member of the Grand River Imaging and Photographic Society and the Canadian Association for Photographic Art. Her photographs have been published in magazines and books in Canada, the USA and UK. Maggie is also a member of the Guelph Horticultural Society and is a committee member and photographer for the Guelph Annual Garden Tour. Her website is