Monthly Archives: August 2013

Phase One Complete!

I’m excited to show you the “after pictures” of Phase 1 of my project.  Before I go any further I want to thank Virginia, my colleague in music and in gardening,  for her amazing help yesterday. I definitely recommend doing this kind of project with a friend.  It’s more fun and of course, proceeds much more quickly. It also helps if that friend has a bit more experience with hardscaping than I do!

The sod lining the sidewalk has been removed

The sod next to the sidewalk has been removed in preparation for laying the stones.

The first photo shows the work site after Virginia and I removed the sod that lined the front walk so we could lay down the first row of stones.  This was probably the hardest part, actually. The sod was hard packed and riddled with roots from the tree and grass. The upside of that hard packed soil is that it will make a good base for the rock wall we built.  As you can see, we decided to make our wall in a U shape to soften all the hard lines in its surroundings; the sidewalk, the front walk, and the steps up to the house are all straight, rigid lines. I thought of the snow removal vehicules when we indented the wall by about a foot from the sidewalk and left the corners with ample room for them to maneuver, I hope!

The next photo shows the first two rows of stones we laid.  We lay down geo-textile under the stones and right up to the sidewalk. We didn’t use the bio-degradable stuff for this area since I want it to inhibit growth for the foreseeable future, both under the wall and between the wall and the sidewalk. We lay down cedar mulch to hide the geo-textile.

First row of stones laid

First 2 rows of stones laidI don’t want anything growing there unless I decide to plant something later.  I have no plans to do so, but who knows? It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind, right?(That’s my hubby, Dave, with his bicycle.)

We shaped the soil under the rocks so that the wall would slant into the earth, not away from it.  Each stone had to be studied as we lay it to make sure that it was indeed sloping the right way. As Virginia said, choosing the stones was a bit like doing a puzzle.  We didn’t have a ton of stones to choose from but we managed to find the right ones to make the wall fit together.  The rocks are not uniform either in shape or colour, so it was a challenge and the effect is certainly rustic, but I like it. I love the idea of re-using material from the land.  The flat stones came from Dave’s brother’s farm in Ontario and the rounder ones came from a construction site near Virginia’s place in Terrebonne.  The builders were going to get rid of them, so she helped herself! You can pay a lot for stones at a building supply store, so I’m grateful for the donations.

After the wall was built we lay the bio-degradable geo-textile (ordered from Lee Valley) and tucked that well under the wall, then back filled the area with new soil that I ordered in bulk from Jasmin. It’s hard to tell exactly but I think we put at least a 4 inch depth of soil in the area between the tree and the wall. We tried to grade the area a bit so the slope toward the house will not be as steep as it was. Virginia brought a wheel barrow with two wheels made of tough plastic that works really well for carrying soil, etc.  It’s more stable than a one-wheeled wheelbarrow, like the one I picked out of the garbage a few years ago and that now has a flat tire.  I was very happy she brought hers!

That’s what we accomplished yesterday and were we ever happy with our day’s work!  You’d think I would sleep like a baby, but no such luck.  It took me awhile to fall asleep and then I awoke at 4,  completely bright and bushy-tailed.

The last photo shows the completed work, including a layer of mulch I laid onto the soil today to impede weed growth and to keep the soil from blowing away until I get to planting.  My plan is to put in some ground cover this fall along with some other shallow-rooted perennials.

Ta-da!  The finished raised garden bed which completes Phase One of "Tranquil Garden, the Front yard Project".

Ta-da! The finished raised garden bed which completes Phase One of “Tranquil Garden, the Front yard Project”.

In the spring I’ll dig some deeper holes to plant other things, such as hosta and ferns.  I hope by then the grass underneath will be completely dead and starting to compost.

It was great to spend the day working hard with an enthusiastic friend and having the warm glow of accomplishment when it was over.  Even without flowers, it’s a big improvement.  I’m not sure how much more I’ll get done before winter, and I’ll no doubt be doing more pondering and head-scratching as I figure out how to put in the rock garden.  That will be a job! Anybody feel like pitching in??

Time to relax and listen to music. Here’s “Make our Garden Grow” by Bernstein from “Candide”.  Jerry Hadley and Renée Fleming. It gets a bit loud and over-the-top at the end but I love the beginning of this song.

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Neighbourhood Gardens

Cosmos and Anemone in glorious profusion

Cosmos and Anemone in glorious profusion

Before I start my big garden project tomorrow, I thought I’d share a few photos I’ve taken of a couple of neighbourhood gardens. The first two are of the side yard up the street that I mentioned in my previous post. The cosmos are splendid in both photos. In the first one you can see Japanese anemone behind the cosmos, but the photo doesn’t do them justice; they are among my favourites at this time of year; in the second you can see the phlox in the background, which is bi-coloured, white and pink.

Cosmos and phlox

Cosmos and phlox

The other garden I wanted to share is in a park on Somerled and Hampton, just up the street from me.  The gardener in charge, whoever s/he is,  has a wonderful eye, a great knowledge of plants and excellent taste. All summer this particular bed has been a pleasure to look at, but now it’s spectacular. The highlights are the “dinner plate” hibiscus flowers that you can see in clumps along the front, but if you look at the bed as a whole, the colours and sizes of the plants are so balanced that they create a work of art.  Beyond the garden bed the trees are also planted symmetrically, which adds to the whole effect.  In the spring the smaller trees are covered in gorgeous pink flowers. As much as I deplore the city’s difficulties with their budget, etc., I’m glad they’re still allocating money to make the parks this beautiful!

Neighbourhood park

Somerled park, with a stunning garden bed

Garden Project: “Before” Pictures

The front yard, grass sparse, trees large and thirsty

The front yard: grass sparse, trees large and thirsty.

Here are the promised “Before” pictures of my front yard.  Tomorrow, with help from a friend and fellow gardener (thanks, Virginia!),and possibly from my champion digger husband, Dave, I’ll start work on my biggest garden project to date, including a small stone wall and maybe a rock garden. After some initial pondering and head-scratching, I’m confident we’ll come up with a plan.  In the back of my mind I’ve been planning this for years, so it’s not quite as off-the-cuff as all that.  I’ve never been one to sit down with paper and pencil to map out garden beds, etc., so this is just business as usual for me.  The reason I’ve been putting off this project for years, though, is that it doesn’t seem as logical to do it bit by bit the way I’ve always gardened in the backyard.  I’ve always wanted to get rid of the grass in the front so I avoided over-seeding it or encouraging the grass in any way.  As a result, the lawn is brownish and sparse and the earth is hard-packed. I told my daughter, Erica, that I wanted to get rid of the grass, and her reaction was, “Why??”, which made me re-examine the reasons.  Having gone through this in my head many times, I can lay them out for you now.

  1. No more mowing
  2. Planting possibilities will be more interesting and more beautiful
  3. More variety is better for the ecosystem
  4. Curb appeal
  5. The shade in the front yard combined with the maple tree makes it difficult to grow a lush lawn.

I’m not quite as determined to get rid of the grass in the backyard as I once was, however, because it does provide coolness, a nice surface to walk on between the beds and I like the look of it, when it’s kept short and tidy. But, if the mood strikes me, at any point I can lift out another area of sod and replace it with another garden bed.

I’m inspired by the lovely side yard of a neighbour up the street who planted a wide variety of plants that bloom at various times throughout the summer, including tulips, lilies, day lilies, roses, peonies, etc, culminating in the riot of colour (mostly pink, white and purple) and foliage that is there now in the shape of cosmos, Japanese anemone and phlox. Cosmos work amazingly well for that because they’re annuals that self-sow freely and don’t get in the way until August, just when you want something to take the place of the July flowering plants.  It is a bit wild, but gorgeous. I’m not planning to have such tall plants in my front yard, but it works well for a side yard.  It shows what you can do when you get rid of a lawn!

My tentative plan is to cover the existing lawn with bio-degradable geo-textile (I’ve never worked with it before, so, fingers crossed), which should kill the grass by springtime; cover that with a thick layer of new earth, then a layer of mulch to discourage weeds from growing before I can get things planted. I’m planning a low dry-stone wall along the sidewalk and front walk, back-filled with the new earth, and possibly a rock garden on the slope(s). Because of the root system of the maple, I will probably have to stick with mostly shallow-rooted plants for ground cover. For the same reason, a rock garden seems logical, since most alpine plants are low growing and hardy, although they are also sun-loving so the best place for the rock garden will be the slope down to the lane way on the right and behind the maple tree as you’re facing the house (see photo below).

I’ll write a new post after our first day of work on the project so you can see our progress.  Part of me is feeling a little daunted, especially my lower back. Wish us luck!



Front yard

View of maple tree that consumes most of the nutrients in the soil!



Garden Report: successes and failures

Another success is this Joe-Pye weed, a native plant that does indeed attract bees, as advertised!

Another success is this tall Joe-Pye weed, a native plant that does indeed attract bees, as advertised!

Although the summer is far from over (I keep telling myself), I’m already looking at what plantings worked and what didn’t.  It’s educational to keep at least a mental note of these successes and failures so the next time I’m tempted to buy, say, another fabulous rose bush, I’ll just slap my hand. In a previous post, I mentioned that I was wildly inspired to buy new rose bushes after spending time in Italy.  Although the bushes I ended up planting are not dead, they are not thriving either.  All of them were badly attacked by blackspot, and one was almost completely defoliated.  It reminded me that blackspot is the reason I stopped buying roses. The three that were already in my garden seem to be almost immune to the disease, but previous roses that eventually died or were tossed out, were always getting that dratted scourge.  Well, the jury’s still out on these three, but let’s say they aren’t a roaring success.

On the plus side, I planted creeping thyme,  lavender, creeping jenny, and

This appropriately named "blanket flower", planted this year, is definitely asserting itself! The rose beside it, however, is barely visible.  (sad face)

This appropriately named “Blanket Flower”, planted this year, is definitely asserting itself! The rose beside it, however, is barely visible.

day lilies at the side of the house and they’ve all done extremely well.  I almost never water that side so anything I plant there has to be drought-tolerant.  I succeeded in snuffing out much of the grass there, except for some that is growing up through the ground cover phlox, so my goal of eliminating grass on my property is closer to realization.

Next area to tackle is the front garden, which is (I’ve mentioned it before), an eyesore and an embarrassment.  I want to rid myself of the lawn, and put in a different dependable (low-maintenance) ground cover instead, as well as some more drought-tolerant plants that will thrive in shade without much care.  It’s quite a challenge, but I’m pumping myself up for it!  Next holiday (i.e., next week) I’ll be building stone walls and covering grass up with newspaper, compost and mulch.  I can’t wait to see the transformation! I will post some before-and-after pictures.

Just for fun: some Magic Flute! Papagana-Papagano…

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Weeding Therapy

A caladium peaks its new leaves through some ferns and impatiens in one of my planters.

A caladium peaks its new leaves through some ferns and impatiens in one of my planters.

If you were to ask me what my favourite part of gardening is, I might not mention weeding, but it really is a therapeutic practice.  While I’m pulling out unwelcome guests, I know I’m also making room for the plants I want to encourage, and making the garden look neat, tidy and beautiful. Also, when I get down there on ground level I see things I miss when I’m gazing over the whole view from my deck.  For instance, in moving aside a plant that has grown too big I see there’s another one under there that I once had high hopes for, but is now losing the battle.  Part of “weeding” is keeping robust growers reined in so that others get a stab at survival.  Dividing plants in the fall is one way to keep them from getting too big and encroaching on their neighbours (it’s also a great way to get free plants and healthy for the mother plant); but through the summer, pulling out new shoots from spreading plants or cutting off a few leaves to give the shorter plants underneath more sun are quick ways to keep things in balance.

Weeding is therapy.  It gives your hands something to do, calms the mind, and is sort of mesmerizing and zen-like. Plus there’s the aromatherapy feature, free of charge! The results are deeply satisfying too. I never leave the garden in a bad mood, and usually I’m in a better mood than when I started.  I guess that’s the reason I keep gardening!

As a postscript, I’ll add that I went to the Jardins Botaniques de Montréal on Monday to visit the Mosaiculture exhibit.  It’s outstanding. The sculptures made with plants are beautiful and some are amazing. It’s definitely worth the price of admission.  Highly recommended.  I’m including one photo I took there.

Here is the "Farmer planting a tree" from the Mosaiculture Exhibit at Jardins Botaniques de Montréal,

Here is the “Farmer planting a tree” from the Mosaiculture Exhibit at Jardins Botaniques de Montréal,







Also, enjoy the 1st movement of Bach’s First Suite for Cello played by Mischa Maisky. This is for you, Annabelle! And don’t skip the ad at the beginning of the video!

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