I arrived one evening last June to find Jacquie in the garden, potting up some plants. She was dressed in rough garden clothes, her silver hair tucked up under a baseball cap.
Barking and circling my legs on sentry duty was her tiny, but mighty dog named Valentine.
Jacquie and Valentine
Valentine gives me a watchful eye
Often, when I photograph a garden, the nervous homeowner will follow me around the property, fidgeting and pulling at the odd weed apologetically. I understand. It's hard having a camera lens pointed at such a personal and private a space and not feel a little self-conscious. The irony is: I never see the weeds! I am there to discover what is special and unique about a garden. There is always something beautiful to be found, if you are observant enough to see it.
Jacquie, on the other hand, wasn't the slightest bit uncomfortable about having her garden photographed. She continued to work away on her potting and left me on my own, free to explore and take pictures to my heart's content.
And if it was beauty I was seeking, it was beauty I found.
Jacquie's garden is in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia on one of the hills that rolls up and away from the Halifax harbour.
The home's front is level with the street, but the backyard falls away from the house in a long, gradual slope. A walkway, deck and set of wooden steps takes you from house's main floor down to the small terrace that you see in these next photographs.
Two perennials with interesting color:
Fleeceflower, Persicaria microcephala 'Red Dragon': is a foliage plant with purplish-maroon colored leaves a silver v-shaped marking. In colder areas, this plant will require some winter protection. Full sun or light shade. Average garden soil is fine, but it likes conditions to be on the moist side. Height: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches). USDA Zones 6-9
Euphorbia griffithii 'Fireglow': forms a bushy, upright mound of foliage with the bonus of fiery orange bracts in early summer. This is supposedly one of the most reliable Euphorbias for Northern garden zones. Note: The milky sap of this plant is irritating to skin, so wear gloves when pruning it. Full sun. Average garden soil should be fine, but this Euphorbia prefers the soil to be on the moist side. Height: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches), Spread: 60-75 cm ( 23-29 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.
A pleasing mix of green textures and shapes. The pale pink groundcover in the foreground is Saxifraga. In front of the Saxifraga on the left is Ornamental Sorrel, Rumex sanguineus var. sanguineus.
Saxifraga: has rosettes of evergreen leaves and sprays of flowers carried in spring. This plant likes light shade and somewhat moist soil with good drainage. Height: 15-25 cm (6-10 inches), Spread: 25-30 cm (10-12 inches) USDA Zones 3-9.
Ornamental Sorrel, Rumex sanguineus var. sanguineus: is a foliage plant that forms a clump of spinach-like leaves. The leaves have interesting maroon colored veining. This plant does get greenish flowers in summer, but they aren't particularly pretty. To rejuvenate the foliage, clip it back after the plant blooms. Clay soil and moist conditions are its preferances. Full sun or light shade. Height: 20-30 cm (8-12 inches), Spread: 20-30 cm (8-12 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.
Geranium 'Rozanne' with Spanish Bluebells in the distance.
Geranium 'Rozanne': is hands down one of the best Cranesbill Geraniums and blooms for an extended period of time. Height: 30-50 cm, Spread: 45-60 cm. Full sun to part shade. Normal, sandy or clay soil are fine. Average to moist soil. USDA Zones: 4-9.
Cushion Spurge, Euphorbia Polychroma in the center bottom of the picture. The spotted leaf to the left is Pulmonaria. The tall yellow daisy is Doronicum orientale.
Cushion Spurge, Euphorbia Polychroma: prefers full sun and somewhat dry conditions. Normal or sandy soil are best. Cut Euphorbia Polychroma back in early summer to keep it neat and compact, but be careful to wear garden gloves as the milky-white sap the plant extrudes can be irritating to skin. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA Zones: 3-9.
You'll notice beautiful clumps of Japanese Forest Grass, Hakonechloa dotted throughout Jacquie's garden. I asked her to tell me about her experience with growing Hakonechloa.
She replied: "I believe the Hakonechloa on the steps is 'All Gold'. It's more golden in the sun, but on the steps, it's a beautiful chartreuse and stays like that all summer: nice and fresh. I love the way it drapes over the stairs and everyone comments on it. Many pieces are now growing in friends' gardens."
"I also have Hakonechloa 'Aureola' in another spot that gets morning shade and afternoon sun. It gets a little dried out by the end of summer. I had a huge 'Aureola' in direct sun and it was beautiful until the heat of summer hit. It looked awful for the rest of the season. I finally moved all of it (all 2'x 2') after many years of arguing with myself, gave away some and put the remainder in part shade."
Jacquie tells me her garden began with the steeply sloping bank just off the back of the house which had become a problem to mow:
"We turned over all the sod, put down soggy newspapers and covered it with topsoil. Then I planted it with shrubs, which looked tiny at the time, but after 30 years or so, you can't see any soil. I've used this method with nearly every garden I've made and it works beautifully. I've planted it immediately and it is an instant garden. I've also used this method in the fall and left it to plant until the following spring. This works even better."
Candelabra Primrose, Primula japonica is a group of woodland plants with fresh green foliage and a crown of flowers in late spring. They prefer moist or wet clay soil that is rich in organic matter. Part Shade. Height: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches), Spread: 25-30 cm (10-12 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9
In the middle foreground, you can see the white flowers of the Pearl Bush, which is the next closeup.
One of the great advantages of laying out a garden on a slope has been the ability to look down on the garden from on high. After the bank was completed, Jacquie found herself looking out her window at the as yet untouched expanse of grass in the backyard:
"I'd sit upstairs by my living room window and plan where to dig the next garden patch. When that project was finished, I'd do the same thing until the whole garden was mostly the way I wanted it."
"At one point I dug a very large garden in front of the upper bank. It had a straight edge, and when I looked from the window, I knew it was totally wrong. It needed to have curves, so I had to rearrange the whole thing. That happened a lot and still does."
Pearl Bush, Exochorda macrantha 'The Bride'
Jacquie: "Very short bloom time, but so beautiful."
Pearl Bush, Exochorda macrantha 'The Bride': is a deciduous shrub that has a height and spread of about 3' to 4'. 'The Bride' has white flowers on arching branches in spring. It can be easily grown in average, well-drained soil, but it prefers a slightly acidic loam that is rich in organic matter. This shrub flowers on old growth, so prune it after it finishes flowering. Full sun to light shade. USDA Zones 5-8.
You'll notice that none of Jacquie's island-shaped flowerbeds are filled with only flowers. There is always a conifer or a few shrubs, and often a small tree, like a Japanese Maple. I asked Jacquie of she used shrubs and trees as a kind of anchor in her flowerbeds.
She replied: 'I have tress and shrubs in every bed for a reason now, but it didn't start out that way. If the beds are fairly flat they become boring to me."
"The attraction for me is colorful and unusual foliage or flowers, unique shapes and evergreens for year round interest. Japanese Maples, Azaleas and Rhodos of course, Berberis, Chamaecyparis of all types, Cotinus, Hydrangeas, Pieris, Roses and many varieties of Sambuccus ( some of which look almost like Japanese Maples) are some of my favourites. Most of my trees and shrubs are trellises for my Clematis."
I love the graphic sweep of this drainage ditch which moves water down the slope of the garden.
A gazing ball with Solomon's Seal just in behind it.
This ends the first post on Jacquie's garden. More up shortly!