Friday, March 24, 2017


Hindsight has the benefit of experience and experience is the best of teachers. Looking back to when I began this blog seven years ago, I had no idea where it would take me and what I would learn along the way.

Last weekend my computer crashed totally. Thank God, I had invested in a remote backup six months ago! It took a full day to restore my files. 

After the restoration was complete, I discovered that my software no longer functioned. Another day to find the startup discs and reinstall software like Photoshop. 

Just when I was beginning to feel like things had returned to normal, I was locked out of my email account for most of a day (some weird password issue). And if that wasn't bad enough, suddenly the only sound my iPad seemed capable of generating was static.

So here I am at the end of the work week, and I have very little to show for it.

Seven years of photography and my poor Mac is groaning with the burden of storing it all. I urgently need to find more storage and clean up my archives. Yesterday, I began the process of deleting some image files. It was funny to look back at pictures that I took in the early days of this blog. Some still make me proud, but others are grit-my-teeth-terrible.

I'd love to tell you that I had clear goals when I began this journey, but I didn't. Somehow this blog managed to determine its own direction and I just followed along. 

For the most part, the gardens I feature on this blog aren't grand, historic or famous. Instead they are the gardens that ordinary people have made. If nothing else, this has taught me that everyday people are capable of creating quite extraordinary things.

Experience has been a great teacher when it comes to gardening as well. If I could go back in time, I'd council myself to trust my gut instincts more. Too often I overthink things. Sometimes my first idea is my best idea. 

When I first started making my garden, I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to create. That clearness of vision hasn't stopped me from having doubts, but even when I have gone off on some new tangent, I have always turned around and retraced my steps back to those first ideas. That initial bit of inspiration continues to serve me well. My only mistake has been questioning it.

In hindsight, I rushed into making my garden. I wish I had taken the time to plan a bit more carefully. Instead of guessing how much sunlight each area of the garden received, I should have taken the time to make a drawing of the property and make notes on the actual hours of sun each area got. I think I would have been surprised to discover how much shade the house casts on the front garden in the morning and the true impact that each of the tree canopies had on light.

Small failures have taught me to be more realistic about what I really can grow. Though I love woodland plants that require moist, loamy soil, they're just never going to prosper in my dry summer garden. Over the years I've come to the conclusion that there is no point in wanting what I can't grow. It is so much better to embrace the conditions I actually have.

I have also come to realize more and more that a garden starts with the soil. The successful gardeners I so admire feed their soil with compost and leaf mold. One of the projects I hope to do this spring is an overhaul of the layout of my compost bins.

It would have saved me so much money and heartache if I had created a nursery bed for new plants right from the start. In a large garden it is to easy to lose track of new arrivals and miss a critical watering. The perennials that you get in those four inch pots dry out so darn quickly even after they've been planted in the soil. My success rate with new plants is so much higher when I gather them into that nursery bed where I can keep a eye on them. I let them settle in and mature for a season and then plant them out in their final position in the second year.

Spring seems to have finally arrived. The other day I saw the first bee of the season visiting the snowdrops that have peeked up out of the soil into the cool air. Then yesterday, when I was walking the dogs, I saw a robin sitting at attention on the neighbour's lawn watching for a meal.

The garden is bare and drab, but experience has taught me not to worry. The garden looks barren now, but give it a few weeks. It's all there waiting for the days to get a bit warmer. Soon it will be as lush and green as my memory assures me it will be.

Finally, I want to take this opportunity to say a big thank you.

I owe so much to the generosity of the gardeners who have welcomed me into their private spaces and allowed me to photograph their gardens. Thank you all!

There are times I feel discouraged, especially when it is almost the first of April and there are still pockets of snow on the ground. But then I will write something that gets a good response or I'll take a picture of which I am proud. Blogging forces me to struggle with my sentences and doing regular blog posts keeps me disciplined. Taking photographs only serves to make me look at things more closely.

Thank you to everyone who has visited my blog and left or emailed me kind comments.

Creating this blog has truly been a pleasure.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Tangled Garden

Gardener and entrepreneur are not two words you commonly see used together to describe someone, but both are perfect descriptives for Beverly McClare.

For a short while after finishing university, Beverly operated a café in Wolfville, Nova Scotia before she purchased a fixer-upper that sat on an unremarkable bit of land in nearby Grand-Pré. There Beverly began to grow and dry flowers and herbs that she used to make wreaths, which she sold at area craft shows.

When the recession hit in the 1990's, Beverly had to rethink her business plan and extend her offering beyond decorative crafts. It was a magazine photo of a herb vinegar that again fired her creative side. With that image as inspiration, she could envisage the potential of harvesting her own homegrown herbs and making a range of fine foods that she could sell. She began experimenting with unexpected flavour pairings and created a range of herb vinegars. From there, she went on to make the line of herb jellies, which remain the mainstay of her business to this day.

The new range of products proved to be very successful. That gave Beverly the funds to purchase additional acreage and expanded what she refers to as her "edible landscape." In more recent years the product range has grown to include oils, mustards, herb-infused honey, syrups, salsas, liqueurs and cordials.

Today there are stacks of herb-infused preserves that glow like jewels in the windows of the Tangled Garden Shop. From wooden ceiling beams, bundles of drying flowers and herbs have been hung to dry. In one corner of the shop, there is a cane chair studded with drying chive blossoms. A chalkboard sign reserves this special spot for gnomes, elves and fairies.

From the gardens that now sprawl over four acres, herbs, berries, fresh fruit and vegetables are harvested, prepared and bottled. Each day one hundred bottles of preserves are produced, six jars at a time. The finished preserves are sold not only in the little shop, but also at artisan shows and online.

The extensive garden continued to flourish and Beverly decided to open it to the public for a nominal admission charge. Now thousands of visitors flock to the Tangled Garden each year.

While some plants in the garden are ornamental, the vast majority are harvested for use.

Each area of the garden has its own character and special features. Here the herbs and flowers are planted in a series of raised wooden beds with gravel pathways.

The herb Borage with its pretty blue flowers.

Some of the Annual Herbs include:
Anise, Basil, Borage, Chamomile, Dill, Chervil, Calendula, Tarragon,Mint and Caravay

Perennial Herbs: 
Bee Balm, Chives, Geranium, Fennel, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Lavender, Angelica (biennial) 

Fruits & Berries:
Blackberry, Rhubarb, Currants, Grapes and Quince

Smoke Bush, Cotinus

On either side of a dry stream bed, there are tall ornamental grasses, the pink plumes of Queen of the Prairie, pink Coneflowers and blue Sea Holly, Eryngium with its grey-green foliage. 

Many of these flowers make it into Beverly's dried arrangements.

A dried arrangement in the shop.

Flowers that can be hung to dry include:

Artemisia 'Silver king' (Grey foliage you see here. Warning: this is an invasive plant.)
Sea Holly, Eryngium
Strawflowers, Helichrysum bracteatum
Love-in-the-mist, Nigella (seedheads are wonderfully ornamental)
Statice, Limonium
Love Lies Bleeding, Amaranthus Cruentus
Hydrangea Paniculata
Poppy (seedheads)
Pearly Everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea
Sea Lavender or Limonium latifolium
Honesty, Lunaria annua
Yarrow, Achilla

For further information on hanging flowers to dry, read this post: Simple Techniques for Drying Flowers.

I can't remember ever seeing such tall pink Astilbe. They must love the abundant rain of a wet Nova Scotia spring.

Bee balm, Monarda. The  petals can be pulled from the flower 
and used as a substitute for mint. 

Looking for ways to experiment with flower petals in your cooking? Check out this cookbook.

Lavatera, a very pretty annual flower.

A view of the garden with an Annabelle Hydrangea in the middle distance.

One of the garden's most remarkable features is a flower labyrinth that is 80 feet in diameter. Usually a labyrinth involves some sort of hedge, but here, in an open field with a view of the surrounding countryside, the spirals are floral.  

Drawing visitors toward the centre of the labyrinth is a large metal sculpture.

The "walls" of the labyrinth are a mix of plants including yellow daylilies, blue cornflowers, Lady's Mantle, and Betony (purple flowers).

One of the more recent additions is a unique waterfall where water tumbles down a series of steps.

Making the herb jellies that the Tangled Garden is especially known for, is a slow process. It takes a full day to chop the fresh-picked herbs, make the sweet or savoury juice and bottle the jelly. "The garden is soulful to me," says Beverly,"It gives me back so much more than I give it."

More information and Links:
The Tangled Garden Shop is located in Grand-Pré, Nova Scotia. The garden is open to the public with a $5 admission charge, daily from 10 am to 6pm from April to December. For more details visit the Tangled Garden website.

Watch a short video about Beverly McClare and the Tangled Garden

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Gardener Beware: Invasive Garden Plants, Part 1

Though I loath to admit it, the Goutweed does look rather nice in this island bed.

Not every plant that your find in a nursery or garden centre is well-behaved. Retailers often sell plants that many consider problematic or invasive. 

Why sell them then?

Not everyone would agree on what constitutes a "problem" plant. Based on my own personal struggles, I happen to think that Goutweed, Aegopodium podagraria 'variegatum' is pure evil, but I know at least one friend who thinks that it has nice variegated foliage and likes to have this plant in his garden. 

Goutweed in behind some hostas.

 Sweet Woodruff

 Sweet Woodruff taking over a part-shade garden.

On the other hand, I happen to like the little white stars of Sweet Woodruff, but I know another garden writer who felt the need to write a public service announcement warning gardeners about the this groundcover herb. Certainly, if you bring Sweet Woodruff home and have no idea how it is likely to behave, you can find yourself in a bit of a mess.

For me a problem plant is not just aggressive, it is also a plant that is hard to remove where unwanted. Vigorous perennials like Goutweed can send out roots that spread underground in many directions. Eradicating it can be very difficult. Even if you dig out the main plant, any roots segments you miss are capable of producing a new plant.

Other plants like False Lamium, Lamium galeobdolon 'Florentinum' (read more about different types of Lamium here) send out runners above the ground (similar to those of a strawberry plant) that take root and create new offspring. 

In a somewhat similar fashion some vines, as well as climbing up, will send out runners along the surface of the ground. New plants will naturally layer along the length of the stem.

I personally don't mind some Feverfew, but have to remove many unwanted seedlings.

And then there are the prolific self-seeders! Feverfew, Tanacetum parthenium seeds itself everywhere and can easily crowd out other perennials. The seedlings are easy enough to remove, but if you resent yet another chore, you may find that this plant is a real nuisance.

The best thing a gardener can do is to avoid problems with invasive plants in the first place. Here are a few suggestions to help:

When selecting an unfamiliar plant, ask nursery or garden centre staff for references: "Is this plant aggressive or invasive in any way?" Most well-trained staff will warn you about potential issues.

Bugleweed, Ajuga can easily get out of control in moist soil

• Pay heed to descriptives. A "groundcover" will spread out more or less aggressively to cover a wide area. The Sweet Woodruff, mentioned earlier, can blanket a large shady area. If that's not what you are looking for, try to find an alternative that is "clump-forming." 

Take note of the manner a plant spreads and how quickly it does so. "Spreads by creeping rhizomes" means the plant will travel underground. "Prolific self-seeder" may be an issue, if you dislike removing unwanted seedlings.

• Proper botanical names are an invaluable way to identify plants, but common names do have their uses. If a common name includes the word "weed" (Goutweed is a good example) someone probably gave it that name for a reason.

Creeping Jenny threatening to choke out the herb Sweet Cicely.

The internet is an amazing resource. Before you plant something that is unfamiliar, look it up online. Type something like: "Is Creeping Jenny invasive?" into the search engine of your choice. If you get a long list of results, I'd think twice about planting Creeping Jenny.

Make sure a particular plant doesn't have an invasive plant alert for your region. Some plants are fine in one part of the country, but can be a problem in other regions where growing conditions are very favourable. Again the internet is a great research tool.

• I am a plant collector that loves unusual things, but I have learned the hard way not to take chances. If I've looked the plant up, but still have a few lingering suspicions, I put it in a spot where I can keep an eye on it and remove it if necessary (i.e. my raised nursery bed). It often takes a year or more for a plant to establish itself. If it is going to spread wildly, you may not see it until the third year. Only after a plant passes a probationary period do I put it out in the main garden.

Popular ways to Contain an Aggressive Plant

A few words on some of the common methods for restricting the spread of a plant.

Method 1: Use an aggressive plant in a container planting.

This works, but even so, I advise you to do this with a little caution. Trailing plants like Creeping Jenny look great in a container planting, but keep an eye on it. In a shallow pot, it can cascade right to the ground and take root. 

False Lamium 'Variegatum' trailing out of an urn. Notice it has almost reached the ground. Trim it back and it would be fine for the rest of the gardening season.

I almost had this happen with False Lamium 'Variegatum'. It trails nicely, so planted it in the window box under my kitchen window. A few weeks later, I noticed its yellow flowers had begun to set seed. The little black seeds were in danger of dropping into the garden below, so I trimmed the flowers off. Then a month later, I noticed that the runners, which made such a pleasing cascade over the edges of the window box, had reached down almost 4 ft to the ground and were about to take root. I was both dismayed and impressed with the plants determination to create offspring.

Artemisia 'Silver King'

Method 2: Put an invasive plant into a plant pot and submerge the pot in the ground.

Personally, I have found this doesn't work very well. Trailing plants will skip over the rim of the buried pot and take off into the rest of the garden (I had this happen with Oregano). 

Plants with deep roots can also sneak out the drainage hole in the bottom a buried pot. 

I tried planting Artemisia 'Silver King' in a buried pot only to watch it layer itself into the surrounding garden (layering occurs when an upright stem bends down to the ground and takes root).

Pachysandra covering a large area under a tree.

Method 3: Create a deep edge or trench around an island bed that contains an aggressive plant. This works to a degree, but you would really want to make sure the edge is deep and wide, so an invader can't jump across the divide. The only other worry might the possibility of the the plant self-seeding into other areas.

Method 4: Plant a spreader into a raised bed.

Where there is a botanical will, there is a way. In the picture below, you can see that Gooseneck Loosestrife (white flowers) has spread from the raised bed to the ground below.

I've also heard horror stories where the roots of really vigorous plants like Bamboo have cracked through concrete and escaped into the surrounding landscape.

Bottom line: know what you're planting and how it is likely to behave. 

Too often gardeners are impatient to fill up their flowerbeds and choose a plant that will spread quickly. Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to gardening.

More on the subject of invasive plants, in part two.