Monday, October 17, 2016

The Tiniest Flowers Blooming

Blooming in my garden is the most diminutive of flowers.

These petite purple fireworks are Japanese Ornamental Onions or Allium thunbergii. Native to Japan, Korea and Coastal China, Allium thunbergii can often be found growing at the edge of a woodland. The hollow, grass-like foliage has a mild oniony smell, but does not have any culinary uses.

Allium thunbergii likes really well-drained soil and full sun. Bulbs may be planted in the spring or fall. (I was gifted a few bulbs from a friend. Thanks Donna!) Seeds are best sown in the spring. 

The cultivar Allium thunbergii 'Ozawa' has mauve-purple flowers that are slightly larger than the species. Allium thunbergii 'Alba' has white flowers with yellow anthers and a green centre.

It's hard to get a sense of scale from these closeup shots, so I placed a red apple in front of the flowers. 

That's Piper reaching for what he figures is a ball. His long nose gives you a sense of how small these flowers really are. 

Allium thunbergii reach only 6-12 inches in height and form a clump of about the same size.

Allium thunbergii are prized for being the last of the ornamental onions to flower (anywhere from September to November depending on your garden zone. USDA hardiness zones 4-9). 

Even frost and snow are not a problem for these tiny flowers!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Ten Ideas to Steal for your Garden Next Spring

Located on a quiet, tree lined road near Campbellville, Ontario is a large country garden that has been twelve years in the making. The prospect of landscaping such a sizeable property might have intimidated many homeowners, but Mary-Anne Poole tackled the project bit by bit as time and money permitted. 

Under the tall evergreens at the front of the house, she planted shade loving hostas in a series of island beds. Along the arc of the driveway Mary-Anne created a part-shade garden using a mix of plants including Heuchera, Tiarella and Japanese Ferns.

In the sunny backyard, she designed a deep flowerbed that has grown in size over the years. It now runs the entire length of one side of the yard and across the back of the property. One of the nicest features of the wide, sunny border is a waterfall and pond framed by a rustic arbor.

Here are 10 great ideas from Mary-Anne's garden that can scaled down to be suit any sized property:

1. Hint to a hidden destination. From mystery springs curiosity. When an outdoor space is revealed in a single glance, you remove the element of surprise and the delight at discovery that inevitably follows. A degree of mystery draws visitors to explore a garden with the hidden promise of what lies ahead.

In case you are wondering, the purple flowers seen in the previous picture are Lupins.

2. Create an interesting border to accentuate the pleasing curves of your flowerbeds. To edge her garden, Mary-Anne laid down a ribbon of landscape cloth and covered it with beach pebbles and a line of grey boulders.

The blue flowers in the previous image are Campanula.

Succulents and Cactus mingle together here. 
Good drainage is key to getting these plants to overwinter.

3. Plant a conversation piece! Capture the interest of garden visitors with an unexpected or unusual plant. Most people are curious about the cactus in Mary-Anne's garden but, surprisingly enough, some varieties of cactus can overwinter here in Southern Ontario. 

Mary-Anne's collection of succulents and cacti are quite exposed to the harshness 
of the elements in an island bed in the centre of the lawn.

Succulents & cactus mixed together.

Ostrich Ferns, Matteuccia struthiopteris

4. Go Native! When you choose a plant native to your area, you increase the chances it will be successful in your garden.

The Ostrich Ferns that are incorporated into the plantings around Mary-Anne's pond are native to Southern Ontario. Not only is this fern beautiful in dappled shade, it is also well adapted to the growing conditions of her garden.

Ostrich Ferns, Matteuccia struthiopteris, by the pond.

5. Don't forget to consider the appeal of pleasant sounds. A great garden appeals to all the senses. One of the first things you notice about Mary-Anne's garden is the abundance of bird song. Birdhouses sit on top of tall posts, and feeders hang in almost every tree.

6. Don't leave visitors standing on the lawn admiring your garden from a polite distance. Invite them in to experience your garden more intimately by incorporating a pathway. If your yard isn't this large, use a short series of stepping stones tucked into one of the corners of the garden.

7. When it comes to adding color in shade or part-shade, think beyond flowers. If you have full shade, look for hostas that have an interesting variegation or leaf color. In the partly shaded flowerbed along the driveway, Mary-Anne has incorporated a mix of Heuchera and Tiarella to make the garden colorful.

The plants with the dark burgundy foliage are Heuchera. Tiarella have the green leaves with dark veining. In spring, Tiarella have the bonus of lovely, soft white flowers.

8. Play up texture with contrast. Here the chartreuse flowers of Lady's Mantle, Alchemilla seems all the more delicate with a backdrop of small grey rocks and pebbles.

Wisteria vines provide the leafy canopy that covers the rustic structure.

9. Accentuate a focal point or key feature by framing it with an arbor. Here, rough timber and driftwood have been used to create the arbor that leads visitors to a pond in the centre of the backyard garden. 

10. Install a pond! A garden should be a place to reconnect with nature and nothing attracts birds, frogs and other creatures to your garden like a pond!

I hope you have found a few ideas that will inspire your plans for next spring!

More Information and Links:

I originally wrote about Mary-Anne Poole's garden for the Niagara Escarpment Views Magazine. You can read the full  2016 spring issue online. The article on Mary-Anne's garden, along with additional pictures, is also available in pdf form here.

Wreath Project Featured on the Better Homes & Gardens Website

My pistachio nut wreath has been featured along with 9 other wreaths that were made using unexpected materials in creative ways. Check them out here: Better Homes & Gardens

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Thanksgiving Basket

A few years ago, we began what has become a tradition of eating our Thanksgiving meal outdoors in the late afternoon. The break in our usual dinner routine adds to the holiday feel and I love having meals in the garden. Yes, it can be a bit chilly here in Southern Ontario in October, but we put on warm coats and we light a fire. Hot, homemade food to tastes even better on a cool fall day!

This year I thought I would add to the festivities with a few decorative touches. Two things spurred me on. One: Last weekend I came across a wire basket that I forgot I even had. Two: I had a small container planting of mixed herbs that had served me well all summer, but had become pot bound and needed attention. 

Eventually I plan to harvest and dry a few of the herbs from the overgrown container. Others I will plant out in the garden. But for the short run, I thought I'd mix a few herbs with a some ornamental cabbages to make an arrangement for our Thanksgiving table.

Coconut liner (on the left) and sheet moss (on the right)

If you want to make your own arrangement, you may not have a wire basket with a readymade burlap liner like mine, but any wire basket could be made to suit. To line your wire basket, you could always use a square of burlap cut to fit. Alternatively you could line the basket with sheet moss (from a craft store) or use a coconut liner (from a nursery or garden centre).

The burlap interior of my wire basket was pretty porous, so before I filled it with potting soil I added a big square of landscape cloth (from the garden centre). On the very bottom of the basket, I placed a second rectangle of cloth just to make sure the bottom of my arrangement was going to stay dry. If you are really concerned that the bottom of the basket might get wet, you could always use some black plastic to line the interior instead of cloth (I'd cut up a heavy duty garbage bag if I was using this option).

I placed the black landscape cloth inside, trimmed it to fit, and then added some potting soil. In hindsight, I wished I had added the soil first and then did my trimming. The way I did it, the black liner ended up being just a bit short. I'll know better next time.

Just a quick side note on this great little tool. If you pot up lots of containers, a scoop like this makes the job so much easier! I picked my potting scoop at a local garden centre, but I notice that similar scoops are readily available online. 

Before I started, I watered everything and set the plants aside for a few minutes to drain.

As well as the herbs I had from the overgrown container, I bought a few ornamental cabbages, a bag of white pumpkins and two pots of sage from the local Farmer's Market. One was a golden sage (above on the left) and the other was tri-color sage (above on the right).

To hold the white pumpkin in place I attached a flower pic from the craft store. To do this I placed a generous dab of glue on the bottom centre of my white pumpkin and inserted flower pic into the hot glue. Then it was just a matter of holding the pic in place for a few seconds until the glue set.

Here's a full breakdown of what I used: 

1. One ornamental cabbage with a white centre 2. Tri-color Sage 3. Three grey ornamental cabbages with purple accents 4. Thyme 5. Oregano 6. Golden Sage 7. Variegated Lemon Thyme

A view of the far side of the basket.

Because I plan to use this as a table centre piece, I worked from both sides to put the basket together. No matter where your guests are sitting at the table, you want the basket to look good!

I don't know about you but, whenever I pot up something, I always get potting soil where I don't want it! To clean up my mess, I use a dollar store spray bottle filled with water and a piece of paper towel.

As a final touch, I added a little metal banner that is topped with a tiny bird. 

Here's the completed project. A similar basket or pot might even make a nice hostess gift.

Again, this isn't meant to be a longterm container planting. After the long weekend, I'll plant most of the herbs into the garden.


When I was finished the basket I still had some sage, rosemary, thyme and a couple of ornamental cabbages leftover, so I decided to use then to give one of the containers on the front porch a fall update.

Here's a full breakdown of what I used: 

1. Sage 2. Rosemary 3. Thyme 4. Oregano 5. Ivy 6. Variegated Lemon Thyme 7. Ornamental Cabbage

With the exception of the cabbages and the ivy, everything is a herb. Most herbs are pretty cold tolerant, so they work well in fall container plantings. (The ceramic pot is tall, so I thought the long trailing stems of the ivy would be a nice "spiller". There are also a few Dogwood branches at the back of the pot.)

The final touch was a little rusty birdhouse I picked up at a craft show for $5.

This little winged piggy greets all our visitors. In the fall, I put pumpkins or acorns in his outstretched arms. At Christmas time, it's usually pinecones.

If you're celebrating Thanksgiving this coming weekend, I hope you and your family 
have a lovely holiday!

Monday, September 26, 2016

How not to Transplant a Peony

I've worked my shovel in a wide circle around the peony, and the root ball feels as though it has begun to give, so I pry down gently on the shovel. I shift position a few more times and pry down again. There seems to be a gradual upward movement...and then there is a horrible "crrrack". 

Have you ever heard the sound that ice on a frozen lake makes when it shifts and then cracks? This noise was just as ominous!

"That can't be good," I say to myself. This is the third peony I've attempted to move this afternoon, but the others were small and things went well. This last peony, on the other hand, was at least three years old. When I bought it I had no idea where I wanted to place it in the garden, so I had unceremoniously dumped it in my nursery bed. 

Despite the lack of thought I gave to its placement, the peony thrived and grew into shrub-like proportions. This spring the fragrance of the fluffy white blooms was just lovely. 

I should have moved it last fall, but life somehow got in the way. Now I was paying for the delay. 

The white peony flowers blooming last spring.

When I finally unearthed the full root ball, the extent of the damage was readily apparent. More than a few of the large, carrot-like roots had snapped in two.

"I bet this is why peonies have a reputation for not liking to be moved," I think feeling discouraged. With their deep root system, it's a certainly a bit of struggle to transplant a mature peony without causing some damage.

One of my peonies. Sorry don't know the specific cultivar.

Fall is the perfect time to be thinking about peonies. It's not only a great time to move them (if you dare), it's also the perfect to plant them. 

Why is fall better than spring? 

Peonies bloom early in the gardening season, so planting them in spring may shock them out of flowering that year. The weather in fall is cooler and rain is generally more plentiful minimizing the stress of planting or transplanting them. 

Peonies at the front of our house.

Peonies in my own garden

Peonies in my own garden

A Few Peony Basics:

• Peonies can take a few years to develop and mature, but a gardener's patience is rewarded with a long-lived plant. Some peonies have been known to live for as much as a hundred years!

• Peonies like full sun (a minimum of 6 hrs of sun) and a bit of shelter from the wind. Though they are fairly adaptable, they prefer rich, well-drained soil that has a neutral pH.

• Unlike many other perennials, peonies don't need to be routinely divided.

• Peonies make wonderful cut flowers.

Peony 'Miss America' at the Oshawa Botanical Gardens.

Types of Peonies:

Herbaceous peonies appear in spring and die back to the ground in late fall. Lactiflora is the species parent found in most nurseries. Lactiflora peonies can be recognized by the presence of sidebuds. Hybrid peonies, which are a cross of two species parents, produce only one bloom per stem.

Itoh or Intersectional peonies are a cross between a herbaceous peony and a tree peony. These peonies have the leaf form of tree peonies on a rounded plant that dies back to the ground in winter.

Tree Peonies are actually a woody shrub that can reach 4-7 feet in height and 4-5 feet wide. They grow slowly and it may take 5-10 years for them to reach their mature size. 

An ideal spot for a tree peony would be a sheltered location. They like morning sun and a little bit of dappled shade during the hottest hours of the day. Find more information on Tree Peonies in this blog post.

A bouquet of my peonies.

How to plant a Bare-root Peony:

Peonies are easy to grow provided you get them off to a good start. Peonies planted in the fall should be in the ground and settled before the first frost (September or October depending on your garden's zone). A healthy peony root has three to five reddish-green eyes, which are the starting points of next spring's growth. This crown of buds should be no more than two inches below the surface of the soil. If you plant them too deep, your peony may stubbornly refuse to bloom for several years.

As I've discovered, peonies aren't easy to move, so choose your location carefully. A mature herbaceous peony is like a small shrub ( 2.5' tall by 3' wide is the average), so keep that in mind and give it lots of room to grow.

To plant your peony, dig a hole that is generous enough to accommodate your bare-root plant. Before you back fill the hole enrich sandy or clay soils with some compost and/or a cup of bone meal.

Peony 'Burning Bright' from the Oshawa Botanical Gardens

Peony removed from its pot. 
This is Peony 'Claire de Lune' which is a single cream colored peony.

How to plant a Potted Peony:

Potted peonies can usually be found at your local nursery for planting in spring and early summer. I have too many peonies as it is, but that didn't stop me from buying this Paeonia 'Claire de Lune' when I saw it last spring. It's a single, cream colored peony.

Dig a planting hole that is a least twice the size of the pot in width and depth. Place some dirt back in the bottom of the hole. This will allow your peony's roots to grow out into loose soil. Take your peony out of its pot and place it in the planting hole. 

Generally the top of the soil in the potted plant should be level with the top of the soil in the planting hole. In this case, my "Claire de Lune' peony was sitting high in its nursery pot with some of the root and a few new buds or "eyes" exposed. This crown of buds should actually be two inches below the surface of the soil, so I had to make adjustments when I planted my peony. It is recommended to amend your planting soil with some compost and a handful of bone meal when you back fill.

Peony 'Firebelle' at the Oshawa Botanical Gardens.

Once established peonies are fairly drought tolerantbut during the first growing season it is important not to let your peony get too dry. When you notice your newly planted peony could use some moisture, water it deeply. Try to avoid getting water on the foliage as it will encourage fungus.

Peonies don't need a lot of pampering, but they do benefit from regular applications of fertilizer and a top dressing of mulch.

This fall powdery mildew is a problem on my peonies, which have become 
stressed by the really dry summer.

Pests and Diseases:
If any peony stems collapse or spots appear on the foliage, remove the effected leaves to help stop the spread of the infection. 

Fungal spores can over winter on old foliage, so a fall cleanup of old peony foliage is a good practice to adopt.

Peonies and Ants:

Ants are attracted to the nectar on peony buds, but they don't harm the flowers. If you are worried about bringing ants into the house along with your cut flowers, you can always pick the flowers just before the buds open (optimum timing: the buds should be showing some color and should be soft when given a gentle squeeze).

When I bring flowers into the house I usually submerge my peonies in a bucket of cold water first and rinse the ants off.

Peonies in a private garden in Caledon, ON (see more of this garden here)

Care in Spring:

Many traditional peonies have big heavy flowers with stems that are too weak to support them. Before the foliage fully emerges in the spring, place a three-legged metal ring into position to help the support the flowers that will come later. The foliage will grow up through the ring and should conceal the support.

If you mulch your garden in the spring, do not put mulch over the crown. Mulching around the plant however will control weeds and will help the soil retain moisture.

Care in Fall:

In September, cut the foliage to the ground and remove it to prevent the spread of any disease or fungus. Compost the leaves if they are disease free.

Blossom Hill Nursery

Peony Cultivars: There are so many to choose from!

A couple of years ago I visited Blossom Hill Nursery, which specializes in growing peonies. To get an idea of range of cultivars available, visit these posts: Blossom Hill Nursery, Part 1, Blossom Hill Nursery, Part 2.

Peonies at the Oshawa Botanical Garden.

Peony 'Bright Knight' at the Oshawa Botanical Garden.

Peonies at the Oshawa Botanical Garden.

Companion Plants:

Peonies are often grown together in the same way that hybrid tea roses are grouped into traditional flowerbeds. Peonies certainly look nice clustered together and after they finish flowering, the foliage continues to hold up fairly well through the rest of growing season. There is only drawback to this type of planting scheme: peonies bloom for such a brief period of time and then you are left with a rather nondescript expanse of green for the rest of the summer.

I much prefer it when peonies are mixed in with other perennials. Here are just a few ideas to get you inspired:

Peonies + Catmint, Nepeta at the Toronto Botanical Garden

Peonies + Catmint, Nepeta at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Blue star, Amsonia 'Blue Ice' looks terrific sitting in front of white or pink peonies.

Peonies + perennial Salvia at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt' + purple Alliums at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Peonies and roses from my garden.

Unfortunately it make take at least a growing season for the white peony I transplanted to recover, but I feel confident that it will eventually flower again. Peonies may have soft, pretty flowers, but they are very tough, resilient perennials.