Monthly Archives: June 2013

Back from Italy!

Just returned from a lovely two weeks in Italy.  For the second year in a row my husband and I stayed at the same Agriturismo in the Emilia Romagna region in central Italy.  It’s called “Podere Prasiano” and it’s run by a lovely couple called Emanuela and Massimo. I’m mentioning it because, besides having fantastic food and a wonderful setting, there is a beautiful garden tended by Emanuela herself.  I’ll post some photos at the end of this so you can see for yourself.

In particular I want to mention Emanuela’s roses.  She has many rose bushes and I’ve rarely seen such beautiful, healthy ones outside of a botanical garden! She also has lots of fruit trees in her orchard and at the top of each row of trees was a rose bush in full bloom, a lovely aesthetic choice.  I couldn’t tell you the names of many of the roses, but the colours range from pink, red and orange, to several different bi-coloured varieties.  I asked her what she feeds them and she told me, “manure and ash”.  She believes in organic gardening so her answer didn’t surprise me, but the results did!  Of course, the climate is very different than here and her roses get at least 8-10 hours of sun at this time of year I would think, so that must help.  I’m not sure that all (or any!) of the varieties she grows would survive a harsh Montreal winter without a lot of protection.  So, what is a poor Canadian gardener to do, who wants to plant roses in her garden?

Fortunately, in the last fifty years, Canadian plant scientists have been breeding hardy hybrids from the species of roses that grew wild in Canada with some of the hybrid teas and floribundas that were imported from elsewhere.  The resulting series of roses, called Explorer, Parkland and Canadian Artists,  have all the hardiness we need as well as disease resistance and ease of maintenance.  I recently read an interesting article on these roses in the summer edition (#14) of ‘Garden Making’ magazine.  I wondered why there were no orange roses in any of the series, and the article answered my question: the red and pink colour genes are the most adaptable to breeding techniques. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other options; newer techniques have enabled development of white, yellow and even multi-coloured hardy roses. The one I’m anxious to try is in the Tom Thomson series, called “Campfire”.

After reading that article and enjoying the beauty of Emanuela’s garden, I’m determined to find a couple of spots (with at least five hours of daily sunlight!) for some new additions to the Tranquil Garden.


Wonderful Shade Gardens

Maidenhair fern, my favourite, planted next to sweet william and heuchera.

Maidenhair fern, my favourite, planted next to sweet william, hosta and heuchera.

I was over at a friend’s newly purchased home the other day helping her decide what to do with her neglected, shady backyard.  I started suggesting plants, starting with hosta and ferns (of course), and she said, “It just sounds so boring!”  I sympathize with my friend, because there are a lot of plants you must give up on when you have a shady garden. Roses, clematis (although I think there are some varieties that will grow in semi-shade), poppies, poenies and many other flowering perennials. However, a shade garden can be a wonderful, welcoming, cool and magical place.

I remember looking at a row of identical hostas planted next to our rented duplex years ago, and thinking, “How ugly and boring is that?!”, and I still hate unimaginative hosta (or any) planting.  Too much of a good thing is just dull. However, since I first noticed (and disliked) hostas  I have grown to appreciate them more and more as the anchors of a shady garden.  The great thing about hosta  is that it comes in almost endless colours and sizes. With so many to choose from your shade garden will be anything but boring.  Mix them with ferns, bleeding hearts, heuchera (another plant that comes in many varieties!), forget-me-nots, vinca minor (aka periwinkle), sweet woodruff, wild ginger (with its shiny round leaves), creeping jenny (yellow leaves), lily-of-the-valley and many others.

As you plan your shade garden, remember to look for a great variation in foliage colours, textures and shapes.  You may not have the extravagant flowering of a sunny garden, but the delicate flowers and wonderful variation in foliage of shade plants can create a quiet, cool oasis you will enjoy all summer.

P.S. I am off to Italy for two weeks tomorrow, so there will be a hiatus in my posting.  I hope to come back with some beautiful Italian garden photos!

‘I’m in the mood for some Alex Cuba.  Here’s a lovely video of him singing, “Si Pero No”. Enjoy!

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Creating a Deck Water Garden

The 2011 version of my deck water feature

Yesterday I set up my container “pond” on my deck so I thought I’d say a few words about the joys of water gardening.  For years I thought longingly of having a pond in my garden but was put off by the work it takes to dig it, line it, set up the pump, plus the expense of the plants and fish to fill it, and then the maintenance…it all seems too much.  My sister, Nora, already cited as a gardening inspiration to me, has a beautiful pond that she dug and set up all by herself many years ago.  So, I know it can be done, and whenever I visit her place I get the old longing back.  My son urges me every year to do it. Dig that pond (he’ll help, he says!)! Maybe some day we will do it, but in the meantime I have my modest little container water feature that gives me lots of joy without all the work. The photo below, with our dog, Abe, drinking, shows my first attempt at a water feature.  I got the grassy plant, (name unknown, but possibly a kind of papyrus) from Nora; it’s a great plant because it loves the water and is very hard to kill. I’ve brought it inside for about 5 winters now, without a problem.  The problem with the ceramic pot in the pic is that it has a hole in the bottom for drainage that I tried to plug, but it always leaked and I gave up.  It’s a lovely container, though, and now it’s full of annuals.  It’s best to buy a big container that has no holes so you don’t have to worry about leakage, or if you have a container you like that is not necessarily meant to be a pot for plants, you can use just about anything (that has no holes!) to make a water ‘feature’. For mine I bought a little pump so that I could keep the water surface moving and make that zen bubbly-water noise.  You don’t want to have still water lying around because mosquitoes will breed on it.

I recently went to a perennial plant sale in the Dorval where I bought two plants the vender told me would work in a pond.  One is called “Golden Dwarf Sweet Flag” Grass, the other is a “Blue Flag” Iris.  They have to be sitting on a shelf in the water, though, so the whole plant is not completely submerged. The papyrus plant, or whatever it is, can be happily submerged in the water, but I have it in a container that has holes in it, so water can flow freely but the earth in which it’s planted doesn’t all escape into the water and make it muddy. It’s also good to have some floating plants in your container, they look lovely.  There are many options at a place like Jasmin, but they ain’t cheap; that’s why I’m glad to put in a plant that I’ve over-wintered and a couple I’ve found cheaply at a perennial sale!  I may add some floating plants if I get up to Jasmin this week. So far I’ve put off the trip because traffic is so bad!

Here is the current version of my deck water container. It's a work in progress.

Here is the current version of my deck water container. It’s a work in progress.

If you want to create a water garden, here’s the process in a nutshell:

1) Obtain a container, without holes, big enough to run a small pump, preferably, so you’re not leaving standing water (encourages mosquitoes). If you’d rather not bother with a pump, make sure you buy some floating plants that grow rapidly and will cover the water so the mosquitoes can’t lay their eggs.

2)Fill your container with water and let stand for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate. Find some bricks or rocks you can arrange inside the container to create shelves of varying heights to hold your potted water plants.

3)Buy a pump, a bit of clear hose (check the diameter your pump will need) and something that you can pump the water through to make a fountain.  Lots of options at the nursery, or possibly you can improvise. My water conduit is a decorative frog that used to be a sprinkler (see photo).

4) Buy some plants and even some goldfish, if you like.  The floating plants you can put in as soon as you get home. The ones in pots need to be placed carefully on the shelves you’ve already arranged.

5) Connect your pump, hose and fountain object and submerge the pump.  Then plug it in and voila!

If this isn’t clear, feel free to ask questions! It’s late and I’ve probably forgotten something.  Hope you enjoy your water garden as much as I enjoy mine.

My first water feature, serving as water bowl for our dear departed dog Abraham. Note the wet area underneath, evidence of leakage!


I recently rediscovered my old Stan Rogers albums. Here he is with “Dark Eyed Molly”.

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