Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Looking Back and Moving Forward (Part 1)

Recently, I was working through my photo archives trying to organize things better, when I came across this image from a couple of years ago. 

I remembered that when I had originally posted this picture another blogger, who is not a gardener, remarked that she thought it was one of the nicest shots I had ever taken.

It may be pretty, but it is a picture of Goutweed. I remember thinking at the time: Great! I've have taken the perfect portrait of my most bitter enemy.

You see, I used to think of my garden as a battleground. It was me going head to head with Mother Nature and struggling for control. 

It was me waging war on invading weeds. 

Dreaded Japanese Beetles: one of us was going to have to die and it wasn't going to be me!

Goutweed was a problem I inherited when we moved in to this house. I managed to eliminate most of it, but sneaky plant that it is, Goutweed likes to hide out at the base of small shrubs. 

Two summers ago, I noticed a few Goutweed sprouts lurking at the feet of one of my more thorny roses. Reluctant to get in among the thorns, I put off dealing with them. 

And then I got busy. 

Before you knew it Goutweed was popping up all throughout the bed.

Last spring, I ripped out almost everything in that corner of the garden in an effort to eradicate it once and for all. 

But at a certain point, I was in danger of killing some of my well established shrubs, like this Weigela, just to get rid of it. 

And the bed looked pretty bare for most of the early summer. It was like having a run in your stockings: an ugy hole that looks dreadful no matter how dressed up you are.

Of course, it wasn't all bad. 

In the space that opened up, I added a few new plants like this perennial Bachelor's Button, Centuara montana 'Amethyst Snow'.

and this Dwarf Calamint, Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta which ended up becoming my favourite new perennial of 2012.

But just when I thought I had finally won out, I noticed a few goutweed leaves at the base of this hydrangea standard and tucked away under a pink spirea.

Perhaps this development might have been bearable, but Goutweed wasn't my only problem. There was also Lily of the Valley and this pretty pink invasive (above) in the back garden.

How crazy do I really want to make myself? I began to wonder.

Is it ever okay to wave the flag of surrender?

Make no mistake, I wasn't just looking for an excuse to take the easy way out. 

I just wasn't happy gardening in a war zone any more.

Over the course of the summer, I began to adopt a new perspective on gardening. What brought about this change of view? It was a video clip from Monty Don's tour of Italian Gardens that the Sage Butterfly had posted in one of her book reviews. As Monty strolled around the beautifully romantic garden called Ninfa, he made reference to a gardener "working in partnership with nature".

I honestly felt a sudden sense of sudden relief. 

The war was finally over! Gardening was a partnership, not a battleground.

I will deal with the Goutweed as best I can, and that is all I can hope for. So my roses may have a few holes chewed in their leaves. Oh well! 

Imperfect will just have to do.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Winning Essay #3: Wyoming, 1996

Back in November, I sponsored an essay contest. The best entries submitted had a chance to win one of my handcrafted bracelets. Today, I am delighted to share the third of those winning entries with you.

Laurrie's garden is quite different from mine, and that is exactly why I like it. Her blog My weeds are very sorry...they promise not to do it again always offers an original, witty and sometimes funny perspective on gardening.

I was thrilled when Laurrie took up my essay challenge. In her email Laurrie told me:

" I wrote this 16 years ago. It is my own writing, and in fact my own experience exactly as it occurred.
Not about gardening, although there is a grand landscape. It's about keeping perspective in even the most solemn moments. Not humorous, just mildly amusing. Actually it was hysterically funny to us as it happened, but that was then, and we needed to laugh."

It is my great honour to share Laurrie's very touching essay with you here.

Wyoming 1996 
by Laurrie Sostman

I had prepared meaningful words to say, but none are said. A strong breeze blows. The sun spreads a strange golden light over everything, making my scripted ceremony seem ridiculous. Instead, I simply step forward and open the box and dump out the contents.

The breeze picks up the chunky grit and scatters it. Pebbly bits patter over the stones, while the finer grey ashes swirl away in puffs down the slope.

The boys are silent behind me, one standing off to the side with his hands in his jeans, the other holding the reins of our horses, who stand in a threesome sleeping after the long climb up the mountain. They will carry us back down through the lodgepole pines, and past the sandstone towers, and across the grassy, yellow hay meadows at the bottom.

We will ride down as three, never four again, no longer the perfect nuclear family of capable parents, handsome sons, with a smug entitlement to life's bounty--- horseback rides in the mountains, gin and tonics on the porch, hockey games, noisy family bustle, plans, futures.

Now his ashes are gone, and we are three. I turn, and hug my youngest son. He says nothing, but allows me a long embrace without squirming, an awkward gift of empathy from a thirteen year old. I turn to the other, standing with the horses, and kiss his clenched jaw, its feel hard, not yet ready to shave, but no longer soft or smooth.

Then I sit down on the rocky ground, and look out over the scene their father will see forever: the steep dip of the creek valley below pulling everything down into a green crevice, where the tin roofs of the barns shoot back twinkles of sun rays. The brown undulating hills, and the yellow hayfields, rising up from the other side of the valley into stony plateaus, then giving way to high open meadows far away.

The stern black pines reaching down from the forest at the top of the mountain, a few pines here and there sent down as an advance to pull the edge of the meadow blanket up to the forest. And far beyond, the distant Big Horn peaks with their snowy tops, like white haired old men keeping the wild splendor below them in check with the remote authority.

I think about how this vast scene must have looked to the Crow, and to the Lakota who displaced them, and to the ranchers who chased them all out, and then abandoned it themselves, run off by hard times.  Did they think they'd be able to come back to this ridge forever? Did they give it their own sacred meaning, or at least claim it to be specially theirs?

I'm oddly comforted by the impermanence of human touch on this land, having just committed my own most precious investment to the swirl of history, and the jumble of geography and air, and weather that has already carried what I loved down the slope.

Without a word I get up, turn to where the horses are, and we remount. The horses, having concluded as a group that the reason for the long, hot drag up the mountain this morning was so that they could nap fully saddled at the top of a windy ridge, refuse to move. We kick their sides, making dusty whumping sounds. We jerk their heads up, and whack their hindquarters. They doze aggressively, and won't move.

The solemn, silent, private moments just passed deteriorate into an increasingly antic scene of flailing arms, whapping boots, and an utter inability to achieve our exit with dignity. The three of us have not said a word for hours on this entire ride, and the whole time on the ridge, but now the mountain air booms with an adolescent bellow:

"Stupid, bung-hole, chickenhead horses! Fucking cement mixers. Move!"

With that, the horses mill unhelpfully, drift a little downslope, and stop again. Our ceremony concluded, the moment marked, we descend the ridge in balky fits and starts, with barking exhortations to "move it, lunchmeat" coaxing us down the trail.

The breeze riffles the tops of the lodgepoles as we go down. In its feathery low sigh, I hear a faint, husky, paternal laugh just before the wind dances away over the tops of the trees out to the plains to the east.

More Information and Links:

Visit Laurrie's Blog here: My weeds are very sorry...they promise not to do it again

Friday, March 22, 2013

Outsmarted by a Plant! (L is for Lamium)

I thought that I was so darn clever.

Every spring I find myself wishing I had a bit more money for annuals to use in my container plantings. 

It is especially nice to have trailing plants like ivy or potato vine spilling over the rims of my hanging baskets and urns. But viny annuals tend to be expensive, and I can never afford enough to do a proper job.

Then last spring, I saw a number of baskets and containers like the one above that made use of :
False Lamium 'Variegatum' or Lamium galeobdolon ' Florentinum'

"Lord knows I have plenty of that darned stuff! I am forever ripping it out of the garden." I grumbled to myself. 

The False Lamium 'Variegatum' in my garden isn't my own. It's my neighbour's. Each spring it creeps under our shared fence and then spreads like wildfire through the back of my flowerbeds. 

I tear it out, but it always comes back the moment my back is turned. Despite its attractive variegated leaves, I've grown to hate it on sight !

False Lamium 'Variegatum' spreads in two ways. It has diminutive yellow flowers that end up dropping little seeds that look like a grains of black pepper. 

Even more importantly, the plant sends out runners that settle to the ground and root a few inches or feet away from the mother plant. (Think strawberry plants and you pretty much have it pictured.)

Despite my negative feelings about False Lamium, I found myself admiring the pleasing way it spilled over the top of plant pots. 

At least in a pot it was contained and therefore prevented from spreading everywhere, right? 


I got started in this folly by ripping out some plants from my flowerbed and planting them in the window box under my kitchen window. I was so happy with the effect that I pulled out a few more plants and added them into the boxes that hang along the fence just inside the back gate. 

Then I stood back and admired my handwork. Who could argue with free container plants, I thought smugly.

A week or so later I noticed with horror, that the False Lamium by the kitchen window had begun to set seed before the plants had even finished flowering. The little black seeds were in danger of dropping into the garden under the window. 

I got out my scissors and brutally snipped off all the flowers. Disaster averted.

But then a couple of months later, I noticed that the runners which made such a pleasing cascade over the edges of the boxes had reached down almost 4 ft to the ground and were in danger of taking root. I was both dismayed and impressed with the plants determination to create offspring.

It seems where there is a botanical will, there is a way.

As I am sure it is in many of your own garden's, Lamium maculatum is a staple groundcover in my backyard. I have it everywhere- in the shade, and even in the sun (although it prefers a little shade). I find that the most common mauve colored plant is the best proformer and self-seeds everywhere.

Did you know that there are a few other varieties apart from this good old dependable one?

 Lamium maculatum 'Shell Pink' for instance, has pretty, soft pink flowers.

I also have this one, Lamium maculatum 'Aureum' which has heart-shaped chartreuse leaves. 

This Lamium seems to be a bit less robust than the more common variety and prefers half-shade in my experience.

This is probably my favourite Lamium. I like those light silver-green leaves as a goundcover in front of hosta. 

Similar in appearance, Lamium maculatum 'White Nancy' has white flowers. 

'Pink Pewter' had soft pink flowers.

I also really like this other variety of False Lamium, Lamium galeobdolon 'Herman's Pride'. 

It makes a well-behaved, attractive upright plant with somewhat unimportant yellow flowers in early summer. 

What is great about this plant is the silver-green foliage and the fact it likes shade.

Lamium galeobdolon 'Herman's Pride' even tolerates drought.

This is a variety of Lamium that I added to the garden last summer: Lamium maculatum 'Anne Greenway'.

Here it is in a container planting.

For now, I have left the False Lamium, Lamium galeobdolon ' Florentinum' in my container plantings. 

Am I arrogant to think that I can keep it in check? Ask me again how clever an idea this was in the spring, and I may be regretting it immensely. 

As for the rest of the Lamiums I have showcased in this post, I couldn't imagine a shade garden without them!

Have a great weekend everyone!

My garden alphabet so far: 'A' is for Astilbe, 'B' is for ButterflyThree 'C's, 'D' is for DelphiniumThe Letters 'E' and 'F' , 'G' is for Geranium , 'H' is for Hollyhocks, 'I' is for Iris, I have skipped 'J'  and 'K' for now, as I want to do a bit more photography, and today we have 'L' is for Lamium.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

My Favourite Moment at Canada Blooms

The big garden show in Toronto called Canada Blooms is like a spring life raft 
at the end of our long Canadian winter. 

Here is my favourite moment of discovery from the show.

Table top display by Quince Flowers
660 Queen Street East,
Riverside in East Toronto
(416) 594-1414

And the Winner is....

I had my daughter-in-law Hanna help me out with the book draw for a copy of the book of animal stories titled Unlikely Friendships, 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom.

 And the winner is... Kacky (her blog is named Vivero's Garden)! Congratulations Kacky! I will be in touch shortly to get your mailing address. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Garden in the Shade (Part 2)

In my last post, we finished off at the entrance to the one sunny pocket in the backyard garden. 

Let's head under the arbor and look around.

Before we move away to explore the rest of the garden, I wanted to show you this 
pretty, little Japanese birdbath.

I also want to point out the interesting way the gardener has managed to combine rock of different scales both in this bright, sunny corner and in other areas of the garden. 

On the left, she has created a dry stream bed using river rock with a flagstone edging. 

On the right, she has mixed flagstone with pea gravel to create a path. Pea gravel has a nice crunch under foot, but flagstone is easier to walk on. Assorted groundcovers soften and blend the edges of the path into the rest of the plantings.

And speaking of groundcovers...I like Creeping Jenny, but I always stress over its aggressive spread. This gardener obviously does not share my worry, because as you will notice, she has it planted throughout the garden. 

It does make an interesting textural matt under this Japanese Maple doesn't it?

She had this Black Bamboo, Phyllostachys nigra planted in a partially buried pot (initially slow to spread, but be warned, it can also be invasive)

I love the skirt of ornamental grass that hides the pot.

Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'

Moving to the left, we enter an area of half-shade with dappled sunlight.

Among the flowering plants and shrubs are pink Astilbe and a number of hydrangeas. 

As you can imagine, she waters both frequently!

 In terms of foliage plants, the homeowner has planted a variety of hosta, heuchera and variegated Jacob's Ladder (see lower right corner two photos back). 

There are also Ostrich Ferns toward the back of this flowerbed.

In the far corner of the garden, there are a number of mature trees and full shade conditions. Added to the combination of hosta and heuchera, there is a Japanese Painted Fern, Athyrium niponicum var. pictum on the left. 

I am going to make a wild guess that the perennial on the right is a Heuchera,'Southern Comfort'.

Always pretty for shade: Siberian Bugloss, Brunnera macrophylla, 'Jack Frost'

I thought this was a fun idea. Hanging from the tree branches are several birdcages 
with plant pots inside.

No room for a full-sized pond? Check this out! This pond was no bigger than a bucket. 

I messed up this shot a little and missed the last word expressed in the sentiment on the 
little pebbles in the foreground. 

The rocks say, "Hello, have a nice day!" I pass that sentiment on to you.