Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Summer's Prettiest Container Plantings


I can't remember a summer when I have come across so many pretty container plantings. Today's post takes a look at some of the creative handiwork of local gardeners.

I'm beginning with several containers from the garden of Wayne and Carolyn Luke in Uxbridge, Ontario. This creative couple makes whimsical birdhouses using reclaimed materials as well as creations in iron, wood and concrete. From a charming little store on their property, they also sell garden artifacts and antiques (find contact information and directions to the store on their website: sunnybank.ca). 

The whole garden is filled with artwork they've made themselves. There is also an array of container plantings including the one you see in the opening photograph.


Carolyn and Luke have a great eye for antiques. This white plant stand, filled with colorful annuals, sits adjacent to the walkway at the front of the house.


Blue-green is a terrific color choice for this metal urn at the side of the house. Filled with petunias, it looks fresh and attractive.


Full sun urn:

1. & 2. Petunia 3. Trailing Verbena, Verbena x hybrida white and mauve. 


One trend I keep seeing over and over again this summer is not just large, but positively huge container plantings like the one you see here.

The rusted metal pot belonged to Carolyn's uncle in Nova Scotia and was once used to tan fishing nets. Now it has a second life as a planter.



Full Sun Container:

1. Canna Lily (tall plant in the previous picture - sorry Carolyn and Luke were uncertain of the variety) 2. Swedish Ivy or Spurflower, Plectranthus forsteri Variegata (houseplant) 3. Ornamental Cabbage 4. Ivy (not shown)

Another antique urn and stand.


There are so many fabulous varieties of Coleus to choose from these days. Who needs flowers when foliage provides this much color?


Part Shade/Full Shade Container Planting: Assorted Coleus flanked by Canna Lilies. The decorative white object in the background is another of Carolyn's vintage finds.

Top Left: Coleus, Solenostemon, 'Campfire' Top right: Coleus, Solenostemon, 'Flame Thrower Spiced Curry' Bottom: Unknown variety

It seems too early for this gardener to use the "f" word, but it has to be said that Coleus's fall colors make it perfect for autumnal container plantings. 


This urn was the dominant feature in a tiny front garden of a older home in Hamilton, Ontario. It's hard to give you a sense of scale, but the black urn on its decorative stand was massive. With its crown of curly branches, it was taller than I am (putting it in around 6')! 

The backdrop is dark and as theatrical as a stage curtain. The surrounding plantings are minimal allowing the huge urn to steal the scene.


Full sun container planting

1. Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia 2. Purple Heart, Setcrsea purpurea (tender perennial or houseplant)  3. Verbena 4. Purple Waffle Plant, Hemigraphis alternata 5. White Geranium 

Container planting in a private garden in Hamilton, Ontario

Another trend I noted gardeners embracing this summer is mixing traditional annuals with houseplants. I have two examples. 


Part Shade to Shade container planting: 
1. Alocasia 'Low Rider' 2. Wandering Jew, Tradescantia albiflora or Zebrina pendula (houseplant)  3. Sweet Potato Vine, Ipomoea batatas 'Blackie' 4. Spider plant, Chlorophytum comosum (houseplant)

Urn at Brockroad Nursery

My second example is an urn I saw at Brock Road Nursery in Guelph, Ontario. I visited the nursery for the first time recently and came away very impressed with the range and quality of the nursery stock. A place definitely worth checking out if you are in the Guelph area!

I really liked this urn with its minimal palette of greens, white and deep chocolaty-mauve.


Part Shade/Full shade urn:
1. Alocasia 'Low Rider' 2. Hosta 'Island Breeze' 3. Caladium spp. 4. Purple Waffle Plant, Hemigraphis alternata 5. Scotch Moss, Sagina subulata 'Aurea' 6. Button Fern, Pellaea rotundifolia 

I asked the nursery for a few tips to keep a container planting like this one looking great all summer long. Here's what they recommend:

• Make sure it is in the proper exposure: Indirect, Low-Medium Light
• Make sure it has adequate moisture: Moist, but not wet.
• Remove any spent leaves or flowers as they occur.

What happens to a container with a mix of perennials and tropical houseplants at the end of the gardening season? Tania at Brock Road Nursery offers some excellent advice how best to repurpose the plantings:

To overwinter this container we will dismantle the planting. We'll plant the perennials in the garden in early fall to give them time to establish before the first frost, repot the houseplants and take them indoors. The urn planter is not easily moved, so it will stay in place throughout the winter. We have it on a stone base, so it will not have moisture from the soil seeping into it. This helps to prevent cracking in winter."


If you are investing in a large ceramic or concrete containers, you want them to last for years. I asked Tania for some general guidelines on seasonal care.

"Caring for containers over the winter depends on the container. Some containers cannot be left in the garden in the winter. If a container is not frost proof, they should be emptied and over-turned or stored in a shed or garage or garage for the winter. "


On to Carrie and David Brandow's garden in Guelph, Ontario. Carrie is a gardener who brings her work home with her: she makes a living growing annuals for the wholesale trade. Her own personal garden showcases the annuals she grows along with a array of perennials, trees and shrubs. David, a blacksmith who makes custom artwork and hand-crafted tools, has created all the metal work you see in the garden.

I promise to show you more of their garden in future posts, but as today's topic is containers, and I am going to focus in on a few of the many containers Carrie has scattered throughout the garden.




Morning Sun/Part Sun:

1. Lantana 'Evita Red' 2. Coleus 'Marble Red' 3. Floss Flower, Ageratum 'High Tide Blue' 4. Nemesia nesia 'Sunshine' (seen below)

A closer look at Floss Flower, Ageratum 'High Tide Blue' &  Nemesia nesia 'Sunshine'


Seen here in the early morning sunlight is one of my favourite containers. It's a large wooden box filled with Coleus and other annuals.




Part shade wooden box container planting:

1. Coleus 'Wasabi' 2. Coleus 'Saturn' 3. Begonia boliviensis 'Bossa Nova Red' 4. Pansy 'Cool Blue Wave' 5. Fuchsia 'Autumnale' 6. Fuchsia 'Marinka' at the sides of the box (not shown)


Isn't this trio of pots terrific? 

That Carrie used three identical pots and repeated the plants creates impact. Together the three containers become one big, bold statement.

The ceramic pots are an attractive mix of minty-green and brunt terra cotta colors.


Full sun container planting:

1. Petunia littletunia 'Purple Blue' 2. Lantana 'Evita Red' 3. Nemesia nesia 'Burgundy' 4. Begonia boliviensis 'Million Kisses' 5. Dwarf Egyptian Grass, Cypress papyrus 6. Alternanthera 'Little Ruby' (dark purple foliage just barely visible at the back of this container)

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I hope you've found some inspiration for your next container planting!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Sowing Seeds in Summer



This is not my white picket fence, but I wish it was!

How pretty are these hollyhocks?




I've tried a few times to grow Hollyhocks from nursery-bought seedlings, but they have never done well. Who knows what's gone wrong? Perhaps it as simple as not having found the perfect spot for them to be happy and prosper. I haven't given up just yet. There is something about failure that brings out the stubborn in me.

I spotted this pretty display of tall, statuesque Hollyhocks when we drove through Uxbridge, Ontario recently. They have given me fresh inspiration to try, try again. This time I am going to grow my hollyhocks from seed. The single form of the flower are said to be more resistant to rust, so those are the seeds I am going to try growing.


Generally we think of spring as the time for sowing seeds, but I have found that summer is the perfect time for starting a range of flowers including. 

Foxgloves are a good example. They're a biennial flower that produce a rosette of green leaves the first summer and tall, stately flowers the following spring. Then they set seed and finish out their life cycle. 

Foxgloves grow naturally on the edge of woodlands, so the conditions they like best are part-shade and rich, well-drained soil. 

Foxglove in my herb garden.

Growing Foxgloves from Seed:

You can find Foxglove plants growing in pots at your local nursery, but the most cost effective way to grow them is from seed. Start Foxglove seeds from mid-May to as late as mid-July. Usually I sow them sometime in July in a small nursery bed. Then in late summer/early fall I move the young seedlings into their final positions in the main garden.

It always amazes me that tiny foxglove seeds produce such large flowers. The seeds are as fine as a grain of sand! If you are sowing your seeds in the garden, begin by turning your soil over and adding some compost. Rake it even. 

Foxglove seeds need light to germinate, so don't bury them! Instead scatter the seed as evenly as you can over the surface of the soil. Gently rake the seeds in making sure not to cover them. Finally water them with a very, very gentle spray. Be patient. Foxglove seeds will take 20-30 days to germinate.


Thin your seedlings as you would a vegetable crop. You'll have less Foxgloves, but they will be larger and stronger plants. In the second year, your Foxgloves will produce flowers, and trust me, they are well worth the wait! 

One caution: Foxgloves are poisonous, so if you have pets that like to nibble in the garden, growing foxgloves is probably not a good idea. (Read more about poisonous plants here.)


Growing Canterbury Bells from Seed:

Canterbury Bells are another biennial that I have successfully grown from seed. They like full sun with light afternoon shade and moist, well-drained soil. 

Sow them in late spring or early in summer (get started right away if you want to plant them this year). Like foxgloves, they need light to germinate, so sow them on the surface of the soil. Keep the soil moist until they germinate 14-21 days later. In the first year, they grow a rosette of leaves and in the following summer, they produce the pretty bells you see here. 

Canterbury Bells grow about 18-36 inches tall. The flowers range in color from pink to white to purple.


Growing Sweet William from Seed from Seed:

Sweet William is a biennial I've admired in other gardens, but haven't grown them myself from seed. I must see if I can remedy that this summer. They like sun, and rich, well-drained soil. (Note: There are also perennial forms of Sweet William as well.)

As with Foxgloves and Canterbury Bells, sow biennial Sweet William in the spring or summer if you want flowers the following year. Prepare the ground by adding some compost and then sow the seeds on the surface of the soil. Cover lightly with soil (about 1/8 inch) and gently give them a good soak. Seeds should take 10-14 days to germinate. If you want to transplant your seedlings, do it in early fall.

Sweet William bloom in late spring/early summer. Colors include white, pink, maroon, purple and bi-colors. The plant grows a low mound of green leaves with flowers on tall, upright stems. In flower they reach a height of about 12-14". 

Hollyhocks at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, ON

Hollyhocks are actually a short-lived perennial, but they act as a biennial. They grow leaves the first year and flower in the second. On average hollyhocks live for two years, but if you deadhead the flowers, the plant may store enough energy to last as long as three years. Cutting them back to the ground in the fall and mulching around the crown may also help extend their life.

Some varieties grow 2'-3', while others can reach a height of as much as 6'. Hollyhocks come in an array of colors that include white, pink, yellow, red, maroon and black. As well as the classic single form that I have shown here, the flowers come in many petaled forms as well.

Hollyhocks at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, ON

How to Plant Hollyhocks Outdoors:

Hollyhocks need full sun and moist, rich well-drained soil. Begin by preparing the planting area by adding some compost or aged animal manure to improve your soil. 

Hollyhocks have large round seeds that should be planted just below the surface of the soil (about 1/4 inch). This best mimics their habit of self-seeding by dropping their seeds to the ground. Keep the soil moist to encourage the seeds to germinate, which usually occurs in 1-2 weeks

Hollyhocks naturally re-seed themselves in the late summer, so I figure that would be the best time to think about planting my seeds. From everything I have read, Hollyhock seedlings don't like to be moved, so I plan to sow them directly along my picket fence. 

Trail garden at the university of Guelph.
Pests & Diseases:

The bad news is that hollyhocks can fall pray to a number of insect pests including Japanese Beetles, sawflies and spider mites.

Hollyhocks are also susceptible to rust and powdery mildew. Usually fungal problems first appear on lower leaves and spreads upward. To avoid issues with rust, plant hollyhocks in an open spot that offers good air circulation. It is also a good idea to avoid splashing the leaves, so water them at ground level.

Lupins in my back garden.

I should also mention that summer is a good time to think about collecting seeds.

The Lupins in my garden have set seed, so I also hope to gather and sow them into a new position in the front garden. Like Hollyhocks, Lupins are a short-lived perennial. I have a feeling the flower would be fuller and more generous if I had moist conditions, but I am happy enough just to have them in my dry garden.

Lupins need a period of cold which mimics winter to germinate. I'll prepare an area in the front garden and sow them sometime in August.


Wish we luck with my latest attempt at growing Hollyhocks! 
(If you've had more success than I have, I'd love to hear any of your tips and tricks!)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

You Love Joe's Garden!


The problem with garden profiles, that you often see in magazines or on garden blogs like this one, is that they capture a garden at single point in time. But gardens are not static things. They change constantly. So in a series of posts that I'll show you over the course of the summer, I have gone back and revisited some of the gardens I photographed previously in the late spring. The hope is to give you a better sense of a garden's evolution over the course of a growing season.

Of all the gardens I have ever featured on this blog, Joe's garden is by far one of the most popular. Based on page views and pins, you love Joe's garden! 

'John Davis' Explorer Rose in June
Early July

In June, Joe's garden is filled with roses. (To get a more complete picture, you can see Joe's June garden here. You can see the garden in early July here.)

In July, the roses begin to rest through the hot, dry days of mid-summer and a wide assortment of perennials take over where the roses have left off. Here is a island flowerbed from the front of the house in late July:


1. Phlox paniculata 'Pink Flame and 'Peppermint Twist' 2. Heuchera  3. Brunnera 'Jack Frost'  4. Pulmonaria  5. Sedum  6. Variegated Phlox  7. Annual Candytuft  8. Hosta

Early July
Echinacea in Late July.
Late July

As well as the flowers, foliage is key factor in the success of any of Joe's plantings. In the background of this picture, the spiky foliage of a bearded iris looks spectacular long after the flowers have finished. 

The combination of blue-green and cream has an echo in the foliage of the hosta in the foreground.


As sunny as a yellow flower might be, the golden foliage of this hosta looks perfect paired with the silver leaves of a (1.) Brunnera 'Jack Frost' and (2.) the tiny purple flowers of perennial Campanula and (3.) annual Canndytuft.


Annual Candytuft, Iberis Umbellata: Height 30-40 cm. Full sun. Flowers range from white to pink and mauve. Annual Candytuft flowers within a couple of months from seed.  It is taller and less compact than its perennial cousin.

Nestled in next to the Candytuft is another great foliage plant Jacob's Ladder 'Stairway to Heaven'. Here is what it might have looked like blooming in spring:


Jacob's Ladder, Polemonium reptans 'Stairway to Heaven' has variegated foliage that is blushed with pink in the cooler days of early spring. The flowers are pale mauve-blue. Afternoon shade and moist conditions suit this plant best. Height: 25-40 cm ( 10-16 inches), Spread: 40-45 cm (16-18 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

Early July
Phlox paniculata 'Bright Eyes' in late July.

In the backyard, Phlox continue to be a important perennial in Joe's July and August garden. 

Phlox paniculata 'Peppermint Twist': Height: 35-45 cm, Spread: 30-40 cm. Full sun. Does equally well in moist or dry soil. Normal, sandy or clay soils are fine. Attractive to butterflies. USDA Zones 4-9.

Phlox paniculata 'Pink Flame' has fragrant medium pink flowers with a dark rose eye. Height : 30-50 cm ( inches), Spread: 30-40 cm. USDA Zones 4-9.


Echinacea 'Southern Belle': has magenta pompom flowers. Does equally well in moist or dry soil. Normal, sandy or clay soils are fine. Attractive to butterflies. Full sun. Height: 50- 90 cm, Spread: 50- 75 cm. USDA Zones 4-9.


Balloon flower, Platycodon grandiflorus is a great perennial to have in any mid-summer garden. This is a tall, upright perennial that has a carrot-like root. The inflated looking flowers pop open like balloons, hence the common name. Colors range from blue to pale pink to 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). USDA Zones: 3-9.

Early July
Early July
Late July

I hope you have found a few new planting ideas in Joe's mid-summer garden.

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