Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Small Garden with the Blue Twig Sculpture

When it comes to design, this is a garden that gets it right in so many ways. 

It's all the little touches that make this front entrance so welcoming. There is even a pretty wreath on the door.

The yews and most of objects on either side of the front door are balanced symmetrical (the two black sconces, the two rectangular planter boxes filled with annuals), but there is just enough asymmetry to keep things interesting (the concrete fruit basket on a stand and large final on the porch).  

It's natural to want to dispense with the bother of mowing a lawn when your front yard is as small as this one. The challenge in replacing the grass is to make the plantings looks just as tidy and presentable as a lawn. 

Over the years I have seen as many unfortunate attempts at replacing a front lawn with a garden as I have seen success stories. It's hard to get it right. (I must see if I can do a post on the subject!) 

In this instance, the plantings have been keep somewhat formal. In the foreground, a box hedge frames a low expanse of pachysandra. Shading the pachysandra are a row (only one is visible in this photograph) of Ivory Silk Tree Lilac, Syringa reticulata 'Ivory Silk'. This is a fairly compact tree that has fragrant, creamy-white flowers in late spring or early summer. (Height: 20 ft, Spread: 14 ft. USDA zones:3-7).

To the right of the door is a novel sculpture that was created with can of blue spray paint.

Before we head into the backyard, let's stop to admire these pretty container plantings.

1. Pink Begonias 2. Impatiens 3. Purple Heart, Setcrsea purpurea (tender perennial or houseplant) 4. Coleus 5. Lobelia

The shady area at the side of the house has been kept low maintenance with a simple concrete walkway and a neat row of shade lovers that include hosta, Bleeding Heart (Dicentra), Solomon Seal (Polygonatum), Japanese Ferns (Anthyrium) and Ostrich Ferns (Matteuccia).

As you move down the walkway and get closer to the backyard, growing conditions get a bit sunnier allowing for plants like the clematis that you see in the next images.

If you have a small garden, be on the lookout this spring for some of these newer varieties of clematis that reach a height of just four to six feet.

At the back of the house, a pergola shades the stone patio from the hot afternoon sun.

The homeowner has a gift for composing perfect little vignettes.

In the backyard, the fence has been stained charcoal, which sets off the fresh 
green of the plantings very nicely. 

1. Boxwood frames the flowerbed 2. Two fragrant lavender plants 3. A round boxwood 4. Making its way up the fence is a Climbing Hydrangea 5. Columnar Copper Beech

Hosta are planted right behind the birdbath.

Columnar Copper Beech

In a small garden, a columnar tree is a great way to add privacy over and above the separation that a simple fence provides. The growth of a columnar tree is narrow and upright, so you have privacy without the shade that a tree with a wider canopy would generate. 

Container plantings throughout the space add nice hits of color.

Plants here include: Japanese Maple, Hosta, a Hydrangea, Alliums, Solomon Seal 
Columnar Copper Beech and Climbing Hydrangea

In my humble opinion, there is no such thing as a low maintenance garden– just to water the containers in this garden each day would take a couple of hours, but with proper attention in the spring, I think most people would find the workload here very manageable. 

Spring Chores: Certainly you'd want to add a top dressing of leaf mold or compost each spring to keep the plants happy and healthy. The planting is fairly dense, so any weeds would have lots of competition. A generous covering of mulch would reduce the need to do any weeding even further. Other chores might include regular pruning, a bit of deadheading and of course you'd have to water when the garden gets really dry. All and all, the upkeep on a garden like this could be easily managed.

A pebble courtyard gives the garden a European feel. Blue fabric cushions and large blue pots make the garden feel fresh even on a hot day.

 Wouldn't this be the perfect place to spend a summer's afternoon?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Two Members of the Large & Extended Family Campanulaceae

Campanula persicifolia in a private garden in Campbellville, Ontario

"A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and returns home to find it." 
–George Moore

Every family has its share of colorful characters. The family Campanulaceae is a large, extended family of plants that includes annuals, biennials and perennials. Two outstanding members of this clan that, as a gardener, you may want to get to know better are Bellflowers (Campanula persicifolia) and Balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus). 

Together these two perennials can give you an extended period of bloom that will see you through most of the gardening season. Campanula persicifolia begins to flower quite early in the summer. Then, just as these Bellflowers finish their first flush of blooms, many varieties of Platycodon grandiflorus will begin to flower and will continue to do so well into the late summer or early fall.

Campanula persicifolia

In my garden, Campanula persicifolia begins to flower in the early to middle part of June. It's a time when many other summer perennials are still in a growth phase and have yet to bloom. It's nice to have the delicate white and mauve bells as a companion to the first of my roses, peonies and early flowering clematis.

To flower well, Campanula persicifolia requires full sun, good drainage and moderate soil moisture

Campanula persicifolia are an easy-to-grow plant that forms a low mound of green leaves. This perennial has bell-shaped flowers that are carried on tall stems.  Normal, sandy or clay soil and average to moist conditions are fine for this plant. Full sun or light shade. Height: 60-90 cm, Spread: 30-50 cm. Zones: USDA 2-9.

Campanula persicifolia grouped in a private garden in Campbellville, Ontario

Campanula persiifolia are a bit of a tricky plant to place in a flower border. When they're not in flower, they're just a low mound of evergreen leaves. They don't become tall until the stems that carry the flowers appear. After the spent flowers are deadheaded, the plant is back to being a low rosette of green leaves. As it's short for a much longer time than it is tall, I've always placed Campanula persiifolia near the front of my flowerbeds.

One thing I haven't done, which would be nice to do if you have a larger garden, is to group Campanula persiifolia in a mass planting like the one you see above. Large groupings are always more impressive than just one or two isolated plants.

Just a quick mention– As well as tall Campanula persicifolia, you can also find more dwarf varieties with very similar flowers (like the one you see here on the upper left)

Campanula carpatica 'Blue Chips' has large, mauve-blue flowers. This perennial forms a low mound which makes it a perfect choice for edging or rock gardens. When deadheaded regularly, it will bloom repeatedly from early summer into fall. Campanula carpatica likes good drainage, but is adaptable to a variety of soils and moisture conditions. Divide every few years in spring or fall. Full sun or part shade. Height: 15-30 cm (6-12 inches), Spread: 20-30 cm (8-12 inches). Zones: USDA 2-9.

Campanula carpatica 'White Chips' has cup-shaped, white flowers on a low, mounded cushion of green leaves. Full sun or part shade. Height: 15-30 cm (6-12 inches), Spread: 20-30 cm (8-12 inches). Zones: USDA 2-9.

Balloon flower, Platycodon grandiflorus is a nice addition to any mid-summer garden. This is a tall, upright perennial has a carrot-like root and is very long-lived.  Colors range from blue to pale-pink and white. Depending on the cultivar you choose, Balloon flowers will grow as tall as 60-75 cm (23-29 inches) and spread as much as 30-40 cm (12-16 inches). Not deer-resistant. USDA Zones: 3-9.

Platycodon grandiflorus

I love the opening to this excellent article by Barbara Pleasant for the National Gardening Association (in the USA):

"If plants were like movies, Balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) would be one of those critical successes that nobody goes to see until word of mouth gives it a boost. Balloon flower, also known as Chinese Bellflower, has been racking up great reviews for more than 50 years, yet it's still not found in many gardens."

So true! Platycodon grandiflorus is a terrific, easy-to-grow perennial that should be planted in gardens more often.

The flower buds that look a bit like hot air balloons give Platycodon grandiflorus its common name: Balloon Flower. One of the reasons I really like this plant is its late bloom time. In my garden, it starts blooming at the end of July, and with a little deadheading, continues to flower into the fall. The two bluish-purple cultivars I grow provide a welcome infusion of cool color when most of the plants flowering in my garden seem to be hot colors. 

In spring, it's one of the last perennials to emerge from the ground– in fact I find you really have to be careful not to forget it's there and over plant it with something else (Tip: leaving the old plant stems through the winter is a good reminder of the plant's location)

The growth habit of this perennial is more upright than that of Campanula persicifolia. This narrow profile makes Platycodon grandiflorus a good choice for a small garden. To grow well, Balloon flowers like full sun or light shade. They're a perennial that's slow to establish, but Balloon flowers are long-lived and don't require regular division like so many perennials.

This is not a plant without its fair share of problems. The large blooms tend to make the plant top-heavy giving Balloon flowers a tendency to flop. I've always staked my plants, but recently I read somewhere that pinching the plant back in June will make it shorter and more sturdy. I think I may try this next summer and see how it goes.

Varieties of Balloon flower vary in flower size and color and overall plant size. The very popular 'Fuji' series are among the tallest cultivars and produce blue, pink and white flowers.

A few of the single blue cultivars have been rated in a study conducted by the Chicago Botanic Garden (Judged for their growth habits, upright stems, floral displays and hardiness):

'Sentimental Blue' has bluish-purple flowers from early July through to early Sept. Short at just 12" in height. Overall rating: Good

'Baby Blue' has 3 inch, lavender-blue flowers on a shortish plant (20 inches in height). It blooms from early July through to late August. Overall rating: Good

'Astra Blue' has large (3.5 inch), lavender-blue flowers from early July through to early Sept. It typically grows 22 inches in height. Overall rating: Good

'Fuji Blue' has bluish-purple flowers from early July through to early Sept. It's a tall cultivar at 40 inches in height. Overall rating: Good

As well as blue, you can find cultivars with white or pink flowers. A few of the whites available as rated in a the same study are:

'Fairy Snow' aren't pure-white. The flowers are veined with blueish-lavender. It's shortest at 22 inches in height. It flowers from late June into September. Overall rating: Fair

'Fuji White' blooms mid-July to early Sept. 40 inches in height. Overall rating: Good

'Hakone White' has blue veins that fade away as the flowers open. It tends to have more open flowers during its bloom time than 'Fairy Snow'. It's tallest at 43 inches in height. Blooms mid-July to early Sept. Overall rating: Good

A couple of the Pinks:

'Fuji Pink' has 3 inch, pale-pink flowers from early July through to Sept. It reaches 38 inches in height. Overall rating: Good

'Shell Pink' has pale-pink flowers that are half an inch larger than 'Fuji Pink' on a shorter plant (25 inches in height). Overall rating: Fair

A few years back I added the double form of Balloon flower to my garden: 

Balloon flower, Platycodon grandiflorus 'Hakone Blue' has single or clusters of double, cup-shaped blue-purple flowers that are two or three inches across. This is a tall, upright perennial that likes full sun or light shade. Height: 45-60 cm (18-24 inches), Spread: 45-50 cm (18-20 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

The rock garden at Dalhousie University's Agricultural Campus in Truro, Nova Scotia. 

I first admired this dwarf form of Platycodon grandiflorus in the rock garden at the Dalhousie University's Agricultural Campus in Truro, Nova Scotia (see more of this amazing rock garden here, here and here). Last summer, I finally tracked a plant down and added it to my own garden.

Platycodon grandiflorus 'Sentimental Blue' is a dwarf selection with purple flowers. Height: 15-20 cm (6-8 inches), Spread: 20-30 cm (8-12 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

Other than their tendency to flop, there is one other minor downside to Platycodon grandiflorus that I can think of– the spent flowers are a bit unsightly unless you deadhead the plant religiously. 

Still I think the plant's benefits far outweigh its faults. In late summer, I always appreciate those starry blooms.

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Just two of the terrific perennials from a large and complex family of plants!


The weedy look-alike– Creeping Bellflower, Campanula rapunculoides
As I said in my introduction– Every family has its share of colorful characters and not all of them are good characters. Creeping Bellflower, Campanula rapunculoides, which is native to south-east Europe and Asia Minor, has become a problem weed here in North America. It has purple flowers that are all on one side of the stem and open from the bottom of the stem upward. This is an invasive plant that can produce up to 15,000 seeds. It also has tuberous roots that spread underground. If you find it in your garden, remove it immediately or it will become a huge problem! Don't use a trowel to do the digging, use a shovel. You need to get right down and get all the carrot-like roots. If you miss even a small part of the root, the problem will be back before you know it!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Making the most of Shade through the Seasons: A visit to Marnie's Country Shade Garden

Marnie's shade garden is one of the first things you see when you turn off the gravel road. It's right off the long driveway tucked under a cluster of pine trees. 

Marnie started her shade garden back in the early nineties when she had several dump truck loads of compost delivered and then spread to create the long borders that frame the outside edges of the garden.

"There was no design thoughts whatsoever in choosing the spot," Marnie recounts, "The shade garden was just an unused area of the property down by the road. My sister loved hostas and got me interested in them. So I started collecting. I didn't really think about mood or feeling. I just started planting things that appealed to me."

Marnie lives in the countryside not far from the town of Bracebridge, Ontario, which makes her garden zone 4a. In winter, it can get pretty cold (By way of example, this coming Sunday will be a bone-chilling -18 Celsius). Spring, which arrives sometime in May, brings rain and lots of black flies (Marnie wears a bug suit). Summers can be hot and dry. 

I asked Marnie about soil moisture– another key consideration in any shady garden.

"Most of the area has average moisture, but there is a swale that fills with water after a rain and takes a while to drain. That is where the big Damera and the Filipendula rubra are planted," she says.

You can get a good idea of the size of this first featured plant in the pervious image (middle foreground). 

Umbrella Plant or Indian Rhubarb, Darmera peltata has leafless flower stems that emerge in the spring, with clusters of white or soft pink flowers. The large, lobed leaves are cupped and can reach almost 24 inches across. This is a plant native to mountain stream banks and woodlands from southwestern Oregon to northern California. It needs moist, clay soil and some protection from the sun (i.e. shade/part-shade). Darmera peltata plant prefers cooler climates and does not do well in southern parts of the States. Divide this perennial's rhizomes in the fall. Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches), Spread: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

"The white pines were there at the beginning, but are a lot bigger now. Some are starting to die back for some reason and the canopy is not as dense. I can see this area not being a shade garden ten years from now," says Marnie.

Marnie: "With my hands, I gently rake up the pine needles on the beds and spread them over the paths– lovely and soft to walk on."

Over the years, Marnie's shade garden evolved to cover a fairly large area. Hostas still form the backbone of the plantings, but there are lots of other unique and unusual perennials, many of which Marnie has grown from seed. 

Hopefully, you now have a general picture of what Marnie's shade garden is like. Now, with a mix of pictures taken by Marnie herself, and some I took during a summer visit, we'll follow the seasonal shifts in this part of the property from early spring through to the fall. (Go make yourself a coffee and settle in. This is a long post even by my standards! LOL)

A pink variety of Pulmonaria. Photo by Marnie Wright. 


As the days warm and spring rains arrive, the the plants in the shade garden begin to emerge. "Spring here is very wet and I have to slosh around in my bog boots well into June some years. I have loads of color in spring with ephemerals and then the peonies," Marnie tells me.

Marnie's Spring Plant List for Shade:
Hellebores, Primulas, Pulmonaria, Epimediums, Brunnera, Hepaticas, Darmera peltata, Dicentra spectabilis (Bleeding Heart), Glaucidium palmatum (Japanese Wood Poppy), Peony obovata (Species Peony), Chrysogonum virginianum, Stylophorum diphyllum (Native Wood Poppy), Phlox divaricata (Woodland Phlox), Azaleas, Anemonella thalictroides, Mertensia virginica (Virginia Bluebells), Erythronium, Tiarella, Chrysogonum virginianum (Golden Star), Diphylleia cymosa

 The Hellebore on the left is an unnamed seedling. The one on the right is Hellebore 'Banana Cream Pie'. Photos by Marnie Wright.  

 Drumstick Primula. Photo by Marnie Wright. 

Wild Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis (on the left) and Woodland Phlox, Phlox divaricata (on the right). Photos by Marnie Wright.

Photo by Marnie Wright.

Marnie has taken some lovely pictures of her spring garden, but this is one is my favourite. 

I love, love the mixture of textures and colors here; the contrast of the big, bold blue-green hosta with the smaller chartreuse hosta in the foreground, the coral leaves of the Heuchera mixing with all the greens, the little cloud of purple Phlox divaricata and the dots of hot pink provided by the Candelabra primula. Pure shade garden magic (and something to aspire to in my own garden)!

Photo by Marnie Wright.

Candelabra Primrose, Primula japonica is a group of woodland plants with fresh green foliage and a crown of flowers in late spring. They prefer part-shade and moist or wet clay soil that is rich in organic matter. Height: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches), Spread: 25-30 cm (10-12 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9

With a mix of colorful blooms, Pulmonaria is an early spring standout.
Photo by Marnie Wright. 

The purple stems of this plant caught my eye when I was in Marnie's garden in July. They're a great reminder that more than flowers can be a source of color. 

Here's what this native plant looked like earlier in the spring.

Golden Star, Chrysogonum virginianum is a lovely native ground cover. It forms a low spreading mound of green leaves, but does not run rampant. In spring, it has yellow, star-shaped flowers. This plant likes moist, sandy or clay soil. Part-shade to full shade. Height: 15-20 cm (6-8 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA zones: 5-9.


It's July and the boggy areas of the garden have dried out. Everywhere in Marnie's expansive garden there are flowers (see the main garden here and here). Under the pines, the shade garden is a welcome respite from the heat of summer.

Marnie's Summer Plant List for Shade:
Angelica gigas, Thalictrums, Hosta, Japanese Ferns, Maidenhair Fern, Glade Mallow, Napaea dioica (Glade Mallow), Astilbe, Heuchera.


So often shade is viewed as a hinderance– an unfavourable growing condition that a gardener must struggle to overcome. So I asked Marnie for some advice: how might a gardener best use plants to make a shade garden just as attractive as a garden in full sun? 

Marnie had a number of really great tips:

• First, you have to be thankful for the wonderful greens that form the backbone of the shade garden. Enjoy how lush the shade garden is, and how restful and soothing a place it can be. Take advantage of leaf form, texture and variations in green coloring. Then use these green plants as a backdrop and as a contrast to the flowering plants that will grow in shade.

• Take note of the degrees of shade and research which plants can tolerate deep shade and which like a bit more sun. Plant accordingly.

• Be thoughtful of bloom time and plant for all-season interest.

• Plants with subtle colors can benefit from being planted in larger groupings or planted closer to a pathway where they can be observed in detail. 

• If a perennial is tall, and I like it, I will even plant it up closer to a path or edge of a bed where I can enjoy it better. 

Meadow Rue, Thalictrum 

False Hydrangea, Deinanthe is native to cool, moist regions of China. Large hydrangea-like leaves arise from woody rhizomes in the spring. In June or July clusters of nodding, cup-shaped blooms stand above the foliage. This plant likes moist, humus-rich soil. It needs full shade and protection from strong winds. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 60-75 cm (24-30 inches). USDA zones: 5-7.

Astrantia flowers in among the hosta. You can read more about Astrantia here.

Japanese Ferns.

You can see the plant featured next in the left foreground.

Marnie grew this impressive looking plant from seed.

Glade Mallow, Napaea dioica is an endangered native plant that is found on riverbanks, lake margins and on floodplains from Ohio to Illinois and Minnesota. In mid-summer it has white flowers that open in the daylight and close each night. This native has flowers that are both male and female on separate plants. Grow them in clumps to insure cross pollination. Schizocarpic fruit appears on the female plants in late summer.  They like a sheltered location in moist, loamy soil. Full sun to part shade. Height: 4-8 ft, Spread: 2-3 ft . USDA zones: 3-8. 

On the left is Solomon Seal, mixed with the pink flowers of Pink Cow Parsley, Chaerophyllum. You can read more about Solomon Seal herePhotos by Marnie Wright.

Photo by Marnie Wright.


It's September and though the afternoons are still pleasant, the nights have begun to get cool. "I enjoy the way the colours change as plants die back, which is a bit of an unusual way of looking at garden plants. I don't cut anything down in the fall. The hostas, the Damera, the Bergenia (has red-colored foliage in part-shade) all contribute great fall color," says Marnie.

Marnie's Fall Plant List:
Heuchera (fall-colored foliage), Cimicifuga, Paeonia obovata (attractive seed heads in fall), Tricyrtis hirta (Toad Lily), Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Diphylleia cymosa (Umbrella Leaf), Ligularia, Gentiana asclepiadea (Willow Gentian), Gentiana andrewsii (Bottle Gentian which can flower into October), Thalictrum rochebrunianum, Angelica gigas (colorful through September and has attractive seedheads), Mukdenia rossii (a groundcover with good fall color).

The plants with the yellow flowers are Ligularia. The tall maroon flowers 
are Angelica gigas. Photo by Marnie Wright.

1. Brunnera 'Jack Frost' 2. Cimicifuga 3. Hosta (unknown cultivar) 4. Astilbe 5. Heuchera villosa (specific cultivar unknown ) 6. Heucherella 'Sweet Tea'

Who needs flowers when you have foliage like this? Black Cohosh, Cimicifuga

The flowers of Black Cohosh, Cimicifuga. Words can not describe how incredibly fragrant these flower are. Photo by Marnie Wright.

Toad Lily, Tricyrtis hirta. Photo by Marnie Wright.

Photo by Marnie Wright.

Devil's-bit Scabious, Succisa pratensis is a member of the honeysuckle family. The wild form of this plant is often found in damp meadows in Britain and Ireland where blooms in late summer and fall. It has herbal uses and has been used as a remedy for everything from eczema to syphilis and the plague. It has obovate leaves and a pale mauve flower on a long stem. Loved by butterflies and bees. Part-shade. Can self-seed generously. Height: 60 cm, Spread: 30-40 cm. USDA zones: 5a-9b.

Apart from flowers, Marnie suggests shade gardeners consider interesting seeds and seed pods as sources for color and interest: "The blue seeds are red stems on the Diphylleia cymosa or the red seeds on Jack-in-the-pulpit are great examples", she says.

Umbrella leaf, Diphylleia cymosa

Umbrella leaf, Diphylleia cymosa is another North American native. It has small, white flowers which transform into the amazing berries you see here. The large, round, umbrella-like leaves give the plant its common name. Diphylleia cymosa likes moist, rich soil. Part-shade to full shade. Height: 60-90 cm (24-36 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (24-36 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Paeonia obovata Photo by Marnie Wright.

Japanese Forest Peony, Paeonia obovata is a wild species of herbaceous peony that is native to Siberia, China and Japan. As you can see, it has amazing seedpods in the fall. The somewhat plain, single flowers are white or rose-purple. By late summer, the pods have begun to split revealing shiny blue-black seeds in amongst the bright-red seeds that have remained infertile. This peony likes rich, somewhat moist soil and part shade. Do not remove spent flowers, if you want these attractive seed pods. Peonies are long-lived and do not need to be divided. Height: 30-60 cm (12-24 inches), Spread: 30-60 cm (12-24 inches). USDA zones 5-8.

The golden hues of fading Solomon Seal, Polygonatum. Photo by Marnie Wright.

Hopefully more experienced gardeners have found a few new plants to try in this post, but if you happen to be a more novice shade gardener, where should you even begin to create a garden like this one? Marnie recommends you don't over think things. She suggests starting simply:

"Begin with a collection of a plant you like. For instance, I have a lot of different varieties of ferns interspersed with hostas. The contrast of their leaf forms is pleasing. Mostly, don't stress! Green is the best color of all– so just go nuts with that palette and use color where you can. Have fun!"

Have fun! A simple, but terrific bit of advice. Gardening should always be a joy, not a chore.

Many thanks to Marnie for allowing me to use the images and the assistance
 she gave me in putting this post together!

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