Monthly Archives: May 2014


This is a mystery tree that has grown up in the middle of my lilac!

This is a mystery tree that has grown up in the middle of my lilac!

My son, Travis, recently commented on a post I wrote about looking at weeds in a new light and seeing how they can be useful.   He made me see how much the garden has to teach us.

The first thing you learn in the garden is that there can be no transformation without work.  It’s not miraculous, no matter how it may seem.  If you’re not working towards a certain goal, the garden will simply transform itself in whatever way it chooses, usually following the “survival of the fittest” rule. That’s called going back to nature and it’s beautiful in its own way.  However, as gardeners, we’re usually aiming to shape a space to suit our vision and our taste and to make it  a reflection of ourselves.

I’ve been thinking about this because I’m in the process of transforming the front yard, from a boring, scruffy-looking lawn to an extension of the Tranquil Garden, and I’m amazed at how obliging the space is turning out to be.  I was unsure when I started this project last year whether the soil was going to be decent enough, after years of neglect and with the maple tree monopolizing all the nutrients and water, to support a variety of plants.  So far, it has!  Everything I’ve planted this year appears to be thriving.  It’s gratifying to say the least.  I have a lot more plants to put in before I’m done, but I’m much more excited about it now that I see the changes I’ve made so far.

Maidenhair fern and bird bath

Maidenhair fern and bird bath

I thought about this project for many years before I finally decided to turn thought into action.  Admittedly, it took a few days of hard work last year to get the grass smothered with the lasagna method,  but in retrospect I can’t believe I put it off for so long.  It was more than worth the effort (thanks again to Ginny and Maureen, I haven’t forgotten your invaluable help!); and now, every time I dig up and/or divide another plant to fill out the front, I’m more aware of how much that small effort will reward me with future beauty. That thought alone gives me the drive to get to work.

So, whether you’re much of a gardener or not, I encourage you to do some work towards some kind of transformation in your life.  Whatever effort it may cost you will be repaid tenfold in experience, improvement, or some other type of gain you may or may not even be able to imagine right now.  For us middle-agers, it’s easy to think that we are who we are, now and forever.  Can’t teach an old dog…etc.  I am glad to report that it’s not true. New habits can be made, old ones broken.  Even tiny changes in your life can give you new spark, new enthusiasm.  If you don’t believe me, plant a flower.

White Iris an bachelor's buttons

White Iris and bachelor’s buttons


The Garden Palette

White astilbe by a pond

White astilbe by a pond

I’ve been filling in the front yard with divided plants from the Tranquil Garden (aka the backyard) and it struck me that I feel like a painter with a blank canvas in front of me and the plants are my paint palette.  Since I use exclusively perennials in my garden (I buy annuals only for the  planters), I find it useful to use a broad palette of foliage shades, shapes and textures.  Especially in a shade garden (my front yard gets less than four hours of sun per day), this is very important.  Often the flowers produced by shade plants are less dramatic than those from sun-loving plants.  This doesn’t mean that a shade garden has to be boring.  Think of the shapes available!  Plants like fern, hosta, heuchera, ladies’ mantle, some day-lilies, creeping jenny, bleeding heart all have strikingly different foliage from each other and are great for shade or semi-shade.  Heuchera (commonly known as ‘coral bells’) for example, comes in an enormous variety of colours.   I have at least six different hybrids and that’s only the tip of the iceberg; there are at least 37 according to Wiki. Astilbe is another one that has a lot of hybrids.  Many different coloured flowers and foliage is available, although they’ll produce more flowers with a bit more sun.

The mottled leaves of heuchera are what make them interesting

The mottled leaves of heuchera are what make it interesting (note the bronze one on the right and the green one on the left.) Behind, there is also European ginger with its distinctive round leaves.

My favourite bed in the Tranquil Garden is the one under my lilac tree, which is a semi-shaded area. It gets enough sun to support day lilies, some irises, lavender, sweet william, etc, but mostly I’ve planted ferns, hostas, bleeding hearts, heuchera, astilbe, and forget-me-nots.  The variety of the foliage and the splash of colour here and there is captivating.  I get enormous pleasure from looking at that bed.

Forget-me-nots are real self-sowers, so you have to watch that, and do some dead-heading if you want to contain them.   I love them so much that I have a hard time tearing them out, but that’s just me.  There are plenty of others in the list above that don’t have that tendency, so your choices for a shade bed are quite extensive.

New additions to my garden: heucherella Alabama sunrise and Miss Muffet Caladium

New additions to my garden: heucherella ‘Alabama sunrise ‘ (right) and ‘Miss Muffet’ Caladium

Seat-of-your-pants Gardening

This is what I hope to see again this year!

This is what I hope to see again this year!

Are you a planner?  I read a lot of gardening articles about people who have a “ten-year plan” for their gardens.  I have trouble planning what I’m going to do this year, let alone ten years from now.  I find it admirable, but I’m totally uninterested in gardening within that kind of framework.  I do plan for the next week, and I often have a hazy plan in the back of my mind (sometimes for years) for major work like my  garden wall, but as for writing things down and/or designing things on paper, I’m hopeless.

I’ve often questioned my way of working, because some gardening tasks are better planned out ahead of time, according to the experts.  For instance, when transplanting some bushes, such as roses, digging down around the plant a couple of weeks ahead is supposed to be good for it, because it gets the roots started on a growth spurt that will make them accept the new site better.  I know this theoretically, but I’ve never tried it that way.  Normally,  I walk out to the backyard, glance around to see what appeals to me, decide that a plant would thrive much better over there, and start digging.  I don’t remember having many significant failures working my way, which is why  I haven’t disciplined myself to work any other.  I tend to think twice or three times before I transplant rose bushes though, since it’s a big, arduous job.  Most ordinary plants aren’t quite so fussy, so planning ahead isn’t necessary.  It’s important to note, however, that transplanting is best done in cooler weather, like spring or fall.  Heat stresses out most plants and they can fail for lack of water more easily in mid-summer.  To that extent, I plan;  I plan not to work really hard in the garden during the hottest months of the year!

After a couple of days of summer-like heat, we’re back to spring temperatures, but the sun is shining and it’s wonderful out in the Tranquil Garden.  On the subject of transplanting, I divided some hostas, bachelor’s buttons and perennial geranium and planted them out front.  Many plants will be needed to fill in where I smothered the front lawn last year.  If I don’t want to go broke, I have to take advantage of the enthusiasm of some of the perennials in my backyard. I have one very generous ‘single’ rose that makes babies (that doesn’t sound quite right does it??) every year and I’m thinking of digging a couple of them up to fill in some gaps.  That’s how I acquired the “mother” plant, from my sister’s generous rose.  It’s not a very glamourous rose, but it has interesting purplish-grey foliage and very pretty “single”*  flowers.

If you’re needing to transplant a rose bush, here’s what seems to be a good description.  It doesn’t mention digging down two weeks ahead, I’m glad to note!

Hope you’re enjoying this wonderful gardening weather as much as I am.  It’s such bliss after the long, cold winter and early spring we’ve had.

*Editor’s note: “single” blooms are the type with only a single ring of petals around the centre.

Here’s one of my favourite songwriters, Ron Sexsmith, singing his song, “Believe it when I See it” (kind of how we felt about spring coming this year!).

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Eye of the Beholder

Yellow and orange daffodils

Going to give on tulips and only plant daffodils from now on. The squirrels hate them!

I was walking down the street yesterday, checking out people’s front yards, and musing to myself: “What makes a flower desirable?”  So many perfectly lovely flowers are looked at as scourges by many, if not most, gardeners.  I’m talking about the ones we call weeds: dandelions, goutweed, creeping charlie, etc. On the other hand, some people leave dandelions in their lawns, since they look rather bright and lovely in the spring and the bees love them.  Some people plant goutweed in their gardens because it makes a very reliable ground cover (very reliable!).  Others probably don’t even notice creeping charlie, it’s so small and blends in very well with other similar looking plants, plus it has a pretty little purple flower.  Eventually, though, creeping charlie will creep all around everything, creating an unsightly mess and choking other plants.  I guess that’s the trouble with a lot of lovely looking plants, they are way too much of a good thing.  If you don’t control them, your neighbours won’t appreciate the seeds that get transplanted to their yard, or the runners that come out from your side of the fence and your own yard will be a big old mess.

I think the reason I ponder the issue of plant desirability is to keep things in perspective.  As someone’s mother said once, “There are no bad plants, only ones I haven’t discovered a use for yet.”  For someone who loves dandelion greens, the more would be the merrier!  They’re welcome to come forage in my backyard anytime!  For those who want to keep their yards simple and easy, goutweed would do the trick in many cases.  I need to ponder a bit more to find a use for creeping charlie…but at least it’s easy to yank out.

Keeping things in perspective helps you not get too stressed about the state of your garden.  Some plants will always come back, no use in getting frustrated.  As long as you pull some out every year, you can keep a balance that works.  Mulching keeps the worst of the weeds at bay, and also keeps your soil moist.  Focus on the plants you want to nurture and develop selective blindness towards the ones that insist on popping back where they’re not wanted.  There are only so many hours in the day and only so much energy to expend.  Use some of those hours for the pure enjoyment of being in your own tranquil garden.

Here’s something to help you keep your cool about weeds and pretty much anything else that bugs you!  Bill Evans with his trio playing Waltz for Debby. (Sorry about the ad beforehand, but this rendition is a delight!)

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My Yellow Primrose

My Yellow Primrose


Some of my new babies!


Pansies and oxalis


This convincingly blue primrose is actually purple.

Those of you who live in my neck of the woods (which includes most of Canada, for the present purpose) have experienced the worst spring in living memory, right?  So, today’s weather feels absolutely glorious.  Even the high winds couldn’t dampen my enjoyment of the warm sun on my back, the freedom of being out in jeans and a tee-shirt, the joy of pulling out weeds and planting my new babies in fresh soil.

As I mentioned in my last post, I went on a bit of a spree at Jasmin last week and today I planted wild bleeding heart and heuchera in the front yard, as well as my new yellow and purple primroses (not the doubles, they were too expensive!) in an east-facing (as instructed by Garden Making mag!) site in the back yard. Yesterday I potted my new yellow hibiscus (I think yellow may be taking over as my new favourite flower colour) and put together a planter with lavender and white pansies, oxalis, and an ornamental oregano, which I discovered for the first time.  I need to fill out the bare spots in the pot, but the effect is still lovely. Okay, the photo I took is not that impressive, but I have high hopes for this arrangement.

I read about using oxalis in planters just recently (Garden Making mag again, I believe) and I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before.  It’s one of my favourite house plants, although mine neither thrives nor dies.  My sister, Nora, whom I’ve spoken about often as a wonderful gardener, was the inheritor of my mother’s green thumb for houseplants, too, and  has a couple of  oxalis in her indoor collection that are always abundant and blooming. Oxalis has several fine attributes; it comes with either green or purple foliage; it has triangular-shaped leaves that are very ornamental; it tolerates drought (it may shrivel temporarily but as soon as it’s watered it starts new shoots) and it’s a very generous bloomer with lovely little pinky white flowers.  The only thing to be careful of is over-watering, which can cause a sort of stem-rot that I’ve noticed before.  Since I’ve never tried growing them outside, I’ll be watching for that on rainy days.


Shopping for flowers!

The deck after a rain shower

The deck after a rain shower

Well, I didn’t make it to Jasmin by the end of April, so I missed using my 40$ off coupon and on top of it I forgot the 20$ coupon at home when I went today. Oh, well.  I still had a great time picking and choosing flowers for my garden.  I bought quite a few shade plants for the front yard, which I’ve decided is not going to be just ground cover.  I suddenly thought, nope, it’s going to be hostas, heuchera, and bleeding hearts, amongst other things.  I will make it a garden of earthly delights and it will be the envy of all who pass.  That’s the ambitious plan for now, anyway.

Next week I’m planning a trip to my colleague, Ginny’s garden to help her with whatever jobs she has on the agenda.  I’ve been wanting to see her garden forever.  The orchestra is off this week, so time to get some serious gardening done.

I’m excited to have a hibiscus for my deck!  It’s a gorgeous yellow one.  It will be given a place of honour and a home in my handsomest pot.  I just hope it will last until after “all threat of frost has passed”, which is usually around the 24th but this year with the winter we’ve had, who knows? I will remember to bring it in if the weather goes chilly.  (Please, please!)  Tomorrow we’re expecting rain, but I intend to do some gardening anyway. I have to get some things in the ground and some grass seed spread around.  I also have a plentiful crop of dandelions to dig up.  It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday, right? Time to cash in some “Help Mom” coupons!

One of the clematis that's growing up from below the deck.  They seem to like it there.

One of the clematis that’s growing up from below the deck. They seem to like it there.