Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Hardy Hibiscus

Hibiscus moscheutos takes its own sweet time emerging from the ground in the spring, but when its enormous, satiny blooms finally open in late summer, it puts on quite the show. In the production of these impressive blooms, I have no doubt that summer is complicit. There is no way summer is going to fade demurely into fall. She is determined to go out with a flourish.

Hibiscus moscheutos has a bevy common names; Rose Mallows, Swamp Mallow, Dinner-plate Hibiscus and Hardy Hibiscus. Though they look quite tropical, the species forms of Hibiscus moscheutos are a cold-hardy woodland plant native to U.S. and Canada. Here in Ontario, Hibiscus moscheutos are considered to be a native plant at risk, but a few colonies with pale pink flowers can still be found growing in the shoreline marshes of the Carolinian and Great Lakes- St. Lawrence forest regions.

Like other herbaceous perennials, Hibiscus moscheutos has foliage and woody stems that die back to the ground in winter. They are tall, vase-shaped plants that reach an average of two to six feet in height and approximately three feet in width. Though these plants will perform best in areas with long, hot summers, but they are hardy to zones 4 or 5.

The blooms of Hibiscus moscheutos consist of five flat overlapping petals and can reach up to 10-12 inches across. As well as bi-colored flowers, they come in solid shades of lavender, rose, peach, red and white.

Each individual flower opens for just one or two days and fades as soon as it is pollinated. While the flowers are short-lived, a single plant can be covered in flower buds insuring a succession of blooms from mid-summer right up until the first frosts of fall.

A look at the foliage above and below.

Many of the cultivars have matt, medium-green foliage, but there are a few varieties have bronze or eggplant colored foliage. As Hibiscus moscheutos bloom late in the gardening season, cultivars that have this dark attractive foliage come with a definite bonus.

Hibiscus moscheutos do have one drawback– like Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) they can self-sow and become a bit weedy. And the seedlings may not be the same color as the parent. Deadheading spent flowers is one way to limit this problem.

How to Plant

Nurseries tend to showcase hardy Hibiscus in late summer when they are in full flower, but planting them that late in the season doesn't really give Hibiscus moscheutos enough time to get properly established before winter. It is much better to take a few notes now and hold off making your purchase until next spring.

Hibiscus moscheutos do best in moist, rich organic soil. They will however tolerate average garden soil provided that the soil is not allowed to dry out completely. Plant them in full sun in an area that has good air circulation, but is protected from the wind.

When you do your planting, it's a good idea to add some organic material, such as compost, to your soil. A top dressing of bark mulch will help preserve soil moisture and keep your new plant happy. Even so, deep and consistent watering is especially important during that first season.

Ongoing Care

Hibiscus moscheutos are slow to emerge in the spring, and depending on your garden's zone, may not appear until sometime in June.
A layer of compost applied each spring will help encourage that fresh new growth.

Spent flowers can look a bit bedraggled, so deadhead them to keep your hibiscus looking tidy.

Every fall cut back the stems to three or four inches above the ground. In northern garden zones, it's a good idea to protect the crown of the plant with some bark or straw mulch.

Pests and Problems

• Japanese Beetles can be an annoying problem, and if left unchecked, can cause extensive damage to the foliage and flowers. The easiest solution is to knock any Japanese Beetles you find into a large jar or bucket filled with soapy water.

• Sawflies, whiteflies and aphids can also be occasional pests.

• Leaf scorch can occur if the soil is allowed to dry out completely. 

• Hibiscus moscheutos also has some susceptibility to leaf blight, rust and canker.

A few of the Cultivars Available

White Hibiscus x 'Blue River II' has large white flowers and green foliage. Full sun. Height: 120-150 cm (47-59 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Hibiscus 'Plum Crazy' has rose-purple flowers with a dark purple eye. The foliage also has a hint of purple. Full sun. Height: 90-105 cm (35-41 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Hibiscus 'Kopper King' has white flowers with a red eye. The foliage is a deep copper color. Mulch in late fall in zones 4 and 5 for better winter hardiness. Full sun. Height: 90-105 cm (35-41 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Hibiscus 'Kopper King' 

Hibiscus 'Sweet Caroline' has bright pink flowers with darker pink veining and a dark red eye. Full sun. Height: 90-120 cm (36-48 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches). USDA zones: 5-9.

Dwarf Hibiscus 'Luna Red' is a compact variety that has bright green foliage and large red flowers. Plant it in rich, moist garden soil. Mulch in late fall in zones 4 and 5 for better winter hardiness. Full sun.  Height: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 5-9.

Dwarf Hibiscus 'Luna Rose' is similar to 'Luna Red, but has pink flowers.

Dwarf Hibiscus 'Luna White' is yet another compact variety that has white flowers with a large red eye.

Hibiscus 'Kopper King' at the Toronto Botanical Gardens.

Hibiscus 'Kopper King' at the Lucy Maud Montgomery Garden in Norval, Ontario.

There is no denying that these are magnificent flowers make a dramatic end to the summer season.

Up next is a post on the redesign of the Lucy Maud Montgomery Garden in Norval, ON. 
(Lucy Maud was the author of the Anne of Green Gables series of books.)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Gardens of the High Line– Book Review and Giveaway

I love a book that takes you somewhere else; somewhere you dream of going one day, but may never get the opportunity to visit. It's traveling at its most relaxed– no bags to pack, no hotel room to book, no flights to catch.

Gardens of the High Line transports you to New York City and a garden that floats thirty feet in the air. Best of all, you never have to leave the cozy comfort of your favourite chair.

It's been years and years since I last visited New York City. On my first trip, I went with my sister Nancy. My frugal sibling, hoping to save all our spending money for theatre tickets, booked us a room (the size of a large closet) at the downtown YMCA. There were lots of other college students there, but the place was pretty grim.

One morning Nancy wrapped her freshly washed head in a clean towel only to have a giant cockroach crawl out from the folds of the towel onto her forehead. She screamed and everyone came running to see who was being murdered. I still remember their annoyed faces when they found she was screaming about a roach!

Everyday we joined the lineups in Times Square for discount theatre tickets and every night we saw a different show. We shopped at Bloomingdales and Macy's. Best of all, I got to visit the city's big museums and art galleries. It made cockroaches and our grubby accommodation so worth it!

From the book The Gardens of the High Line by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke published by Timber Press. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher.

From the book The Gardens of the High Line by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke published by Timber Press. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher.

If I am ever lucky enough to go to New York City again, I'd love to visit in the fall when the leaves have begun to turn and the air is crisp and fresh. It would be my dream to stroll along the High Line in that magic time just before sunset, when the light is dipped in pure gold.

But until that day, I have this terrific book to take me there anytime I want.

From the book The Gardens of the High Line by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke published by Timber Press. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher.

One of the most amazing things about this garden is that it exists at all.

The story of the High Line begins in the 1930's when an elevated rail line was constructed to carry goods to and from Manhattan's largest industrial district. Things change, and by the 1980's rail transportation had fallen into decline. The last train, carrying three carloads of frozen turkeys, ran in the late 1980's.

Then the High Line sat neglected for nearly two decades. Finally it was slated for demolition.

But something unexpected happened during those twenty years of neglect. Nature reclaimed the space. Wildflowers and grasses sprang up from seeds carried on the wind and dropped by birds. A defunct piece of urban infrastructure had turned into a wild garden in the sky. Robert Hammond writes in the introduction to the book about his first encounter with the derelict mile and a half of elevated railway:

"When I first stepped up on the High Line in 1999, I truly fell in love. What I fell in love with was the tension. It was there in the juxtaposition between the hard and the soft, the wild grasses and the billboards, the industrial relics and the natural landscape, the views of both wild flowers and the Empire State Building. It was ugly and beautiful at the same time. And it's that tension that gives the High Line its power."

Together with Joshua David, he formed Friends of the High Line in 1999 to advocate for the old rail line's preservation and reuse as a public space. They hired photographer Joel Sternfeld to take pictures of the High Line over a period of a year through all four seasons, so that everyone could see that this was a wildscape worthy of being saved. The public fell in love with those images. In 2004, the process of selecting a design team to revitalize the space began.

From the book The Gardens of the High Line by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke published by Timber Press. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher.

The plantings on the High Line were meticulously designed to look natural. The man behind this approach was Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf. Well-known for a naturalistic prairie style of planting, Oudolf writes in the book:

"For me, garden design is not about the plants, it is about emotion, atmosphere, a sense of contemplation."

From the book The Gardens of the High Line by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke published by Timber Press. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher.

From the book The Gardens of the High Line by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke published by Timber Press. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher.

The average soil depth on the elevated High line is just eighteen inches. The walkways and exposed train tracks call to mind the original railroad. The trees and native grasses have the same feel of the untamed wilderness that took root after the track was abandoned. The planting appears wild, but has been carefully considered and maintained.

From the book The Gardens of the High Line by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke published by Timber Press. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher.

What inspiration can a large public space provide for a small home garden like the one you may have? Plenty! It could be a plant combination that captures your imagination or it might be something as simple as introducing a hint of that soft, naturalistic planting style into your own garden.

This fine example of urban revitalization is itself an inspiration. The High Line was once a rusting mass of steel. That it became something else speaks to the power of the imagination.

Someday I'd love to go there, but for now, I will escape into the pages of this book.

This is one of the most beautiful gardening books to cross my desk in recent years. The photography is stunning!! I am extremely grateful to Timber Press for providing a copy of Gardens of the High Line 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 Thursday, August 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 (

Click the link below for a documentary on the creation of the High Line. There also a link to a documentary about Lurie park– another of Piet Oudolf's garden design projects.

Piet Oudolf, Lorraine Ferguson and Rick Drake

About the Authors and Book Designer:

Piet Oudolf is among the world's most innovative garden designers and a leading exponent of a naturalistic or prairie style of planting. Oudolf's extensive work over 30 years of practice includes public and private gardens all over the world. He is best known for his work on the High Line and Battery Park in New York, the Lurie garden in Chicago's Millennium Park and Potters Field in London.

Watch an hour long documentary on the High Line

Watch a 10 minute video on the Oudolf's work on the
 Lurie Garden in Chicago

Rick Darke is a landscape design consultant, author, lecturer and photographer based in Pennsylvania who blends art, ecology, and cultural geography in the creation and conservation of liveable landscapes. His projects include scenic byways, public gardens, corporate landscapes and residential gardens. Drake served on the staff of Longwood Gardens for twenty years. He is recognized as one of the world's leading experts on grasses and their uses in public and private landscapes. 

Lorraine Ferguson is an independent graphic designer who collaborates with artists, curators, architects and authors in the design of books, exhibitions, signage and products for cultural and educational institutions.  

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Natural Shade Garden in Summer

Jamie DeWolf and her husband George reside in what was once the carriage house of a large estate.

The trees on the property tower over the former carriage house. Many of these trees are part of the original forest and have never been cut. Into this very special woodland, Jamie has incorporated both native and shade loving plants.

A few years ago, I paid a visit Jamie's garden in early May. Then I made a return visit to see the garden in July. Gardens change constantly, and it was fascinating to witness the garden's transformation from spring to summer. Plants that were shyly emerging in May were at their glory in July.

Most people focus on the backyard when creating a garden and put a boring lawn at the front of the house. I asked Jamie what inspired her to focus on the big front yard when creating her garden.

"Because the space was so large, and there was so much shade (and deep shade to boot), I decided to enlist professional help and hired a landscape architect, Christopher Campbell. When he arrived with the plan for the front, I could see that it was 90% plants. I could have cried! It was so overwhelming, but after he explained that we "would never get the grass to grow," I understood. We then decided that it would be impossible to plant it all in one year, so we put together a multi-year plan that seemed much less daunting. I think we put in about 10-12 feet per year, "Jamie says.

It's hard to miss the unique front gate.

"The landscape architect designed it for us, and my husband built it. It has become pretty iconic in our neighbourhood to the point of having been on neighbourhood websites," says Jamie.

Jamie's summer garden is lush and green. One of the big reasons is the soil. 

"We compost all summer and fall; garden debris, kitchen clippings and we make mulch from the maple leaves in the fall. Oak leaves take 5 years to break down so those go to the curb for city pick up. I put the compost down every fall—usually as late as early December/late November after all the leaves have fallen. The oaks of course are the last to fall", she tells me.

Enriching the soil and creating the garden worked hand-in-hand right from the onset:

"The first summer I had found a book that described how to make your own rich soil using the ‘lasagna’ method. We overturned the sods in the fall, and layered newspaper and topsoil alternately. After they had sat all winter and early spring, we tilled it all up (only that first year) and planted. This method worked fairly well, although it was a lot of work. With successive plots, and as the garden got bigger, we brought in top soil. I’m guessing in excess of 100 yards over the years."

Jamie says the book Weedless Gardening by Lee Reich helped form the foundation for all her current gardening practices:

• Minimizing soil disruption (preserving natural layering by not rototilling, etc.)

• Protecting the soil surface (mulch)

• Avoiding soil compaction (ergo the stepping stones)

• Composting 

1. Astrantia 2. Yew 3. Sedge, Carex 4. Hardy Geranium 5. Astilbe 6. Purple Flowering Raspberry, Rubus odoratus 

Purple Flowering Raspberry, Rubus odoratus is native of Eastern North America. It is a deciduous shrub with thornless, cane-like stems and purplish-magenta flowers. Cup-shaped, red fruits which are edible, but not particularly delicious, follow the rose-like flowers. Please note that this plant spreads fairly aggressively. Full sun to light shade. Average to moist soil, well-drained soil is best for this plant. Height: 3-6 feet, Spread: 6-12 feet. USDA zones: 3-8.

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.

The garden is almost twenty years old now. A lot can change over such a long period of time.

"Originally I stuck pretty closely to the garden plan I was given, but about 10 years ago I visited Christopher Lloyd’s garden in England (Great Dixter) and was truly inspired. His style was more of a rambling cottage garden– at least that was the impression I had anyway– where plants are left alone to flourish. He also uses height to create interest. Turning a corner always yields a bit of the unexpected. Things were always fluid, but never stodgy. This garden turned everything I knew about garden design on its head. Truly inspirational," she says.

"Initially I planted everything that was on the garden plan given to me, but as plants died, I would run out the next spring and replace themAt one point I moved away from the stock more ‘generic’ plants at places like Sheridan Nurseries and went to more exotic ones that were available from the more specialty nurseries such as Lost Horizons– although some survived, others failed."

"After a few years, I realized there was no point in fighting Mother Nature and there was probably some sort of happy medium. My strategy now has been to see what has done well in certain areas and stick with a good thing. I have tended to favour more native woodland plants such as Solomon’s Seal, Sweet Woodruff, May Apples, ferns, sumac and that sort of thing."

"I have recently discovered a nursery near Hamilton called Northland Nurseries that sells every pot for $5.99. There is such a huge selection there, I can now afford to replace things I really like. I can also venture out into newer plants that I haven’t tried before to see what will happen without any financial repercussions."

1. Canadian Ginger, Asarum canadense 2. Forest Pansy Redbud, Cercis canadensis 'Forest pansy' 3. Sedge, Carex 4. Sedge, Carex 5. Goat's Beard, Aruncus dioicus 6. Japanese Fern, Athyrium 7. Trillium 8. Astilbe 9. Ostrich Fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris.

Jamie and I weren't one hundred percent certain on the identification of these two Carex, but here are two that look very similar:

Sedge Grass, Carex elata Bowles Golden' (shown on the right) has yellowish-green foliage. It is semi-evergreen, moisture-loving grass that likes to find itself on the edge of a pond. It prefers full sun, unless afternoon shade is needed to keep it from drying out. Height: 45-60 cm (18-24 inches), Spread:60-90 cm (24-36 inches). USDA Zones 5-9.

Variegated Japanese Sedge, Carex morrowii, Laiche japonaise 'Ice Dance' is a grass-like perennial that forms a low mound of tufted green leaves edged in white. It likes moist, rich soil and is evergreen in habit (in colder areas it may need to have any foliage scorched by cold trimmed off in the spring).  Height: 20-30 cm (8-12 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.

By this point you've looked through a number of pictures of the garden. How much work would a garden of this size entail? Jamie's answer might surprise you:

"The bulk of the work comes in the fall with raking and composting, and in the spring with cleanup and mulching. Other than that, over the summer there is just light weeding and deadheading for the most part. Like any garden, every 5 or 6 years I will deconstruct a plot and really move things around."

Japanese 'Ghost Fern' has that has upright, silvery-grey-green foliage. It forms a slow spreading clump and likes soil that is rich in organic matter.  The 'Ghost Fern' is more tolerant of soil dryness than other types of Japanese ferns, but it prefers soil that has medium to average moisture. Height: 90-120 cm (36-48 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.

Tatting Fern (on the left) and Christmas Fern (on the right)

Tatting Fern, Athyrium filix-femina has long, narrow fronds that have a rounded pinnae along their mid-ribs. This fern prefers moist soil. Full shade. Height: 15-30 cm (6-12 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA Zones: 3-9.

Christmas Fern, Polystichum acrostichoides forms a low clump of dark-green leathery fronds. It also likes moist, rich soil. Part to full shade. Height: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches), Spread: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches). USDA Zones: 3-9.

Goat's Beard, Aruncus dioicus has feathery white plumes mid-summer. The plant has green ferny foliage, which is quite attractive in its own right. Full sun or part shade. Height: 120-180 cm ( 47-70 inches), Spread: 90-150 cm (35-59 inches.) USDA Zones: 2-9.

What impact does the garden have on the other aspects of daily life and how does Jamie and her husband use the garden? 

"Pretty well everyone I see when I am working out front calls out to say how they love walking by to see what is new or blooming. So the first thing the garden is used for is for our neighbours to enjoy."

"We decided about 6 or 7 years ago to convert one of the beds into a sitting area that we could use to serve meals, and for entertaining, because although everybody else got to enjoy it, we never did! It is a lovely place to have a cocktail, or even dinner for 4. My husband put a small light over the table that comes on along with the other garden lights. It is very magical at night."

Silene 'Clifford Moor' is a nice variegated cultivar with green leaves flecked in cream. Small magenta-pink flowers appear in spring. Silene 'Clifford Moor' prefers sun to light shade. Normal, sandy and clay soil all work well for Silene. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 38-45 cm (15-18 inches) USDA Zones: 5-11

Valerian, Valeriana officinalis

Valerian, Valeriana officinalis is a clumping perennial with ferny, scented leaves, stems, flowers and roots. It is originally from Europe and western Asia, but has escaped gardens and has become naturalized in the northern U.S. and Canada. It is easily grown in average, well-drained soil. This is potentially invasive perennial that freely self-seeds. Full sun to part-shade. Height: 3-5ft, Spread: 2-4 ft. USDA zones: 4-7.

Calycanthus 'Aphrodite' is a bush that Jamie pruned to be a standard.

Sweetshrub, Calycanthus 'Aphrodite' has glossy, deer-resistant foliage and fragrant red flowers in summer. It likes moist, well-drained soil. Height: 1.2-1.8 m (4-6 feet), Spread: 1.8-2.4 m (6-8 feet). USDA Zones: 5-9.

A glimpse of the back garden. 

The white Dogwood on the right is Cornus Chinensis and the pink one (on the left and seen below) is Cornus kousa ‘Satomi’.

Flowering Dogwood, Cornus kousa ‘Satomi’

I always like to ask a gardener about what they've learned and any advice they might have to share. Here's what Jamie had to say:

• Hire a professional! For starters, anyways to get you going.

• Don’t be discouraged. Look for the beauty in textures, different leaf colours and shapes that you had not appreciated previously.

• Go for a vibe of ‘cool’, ‘serene’, ‘ethereal/whimsical’ to achieve the most satisfying results.

• Experiment! It is every bit as fun as the sun.