Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Garden that wasn't on the Tour


This is the garden that wasn't on the horticultural society's tour. It was across the street from one of the gardens on the tour.

The neat courtyard-style front garden caught my eye first, and like a moth to the flame, it beckoned to me to cross the road. The homeowners were very busy that afternoon, but graciously agreed to let me take pictures.


For those of you looking for inspiration on a small scale, this garden certainly fits the bill. 

The house is made modest two-story home made from local quarried stone. The front yard is tiny. Rather than trying to maneuver a lawn mover around such a tight area, the homeowner decided to dispense with grass altogether, and opted for a circular courtyard of pea gravel instead. 

The plantings next to the house are older and are more mature. The plants on the other rim of the circle are more recently added. 

That is a Climbing Hydrangea right by the front porch. It's a great option to consider 
if you want a vine for part-shade.

Along the front of the house blue-green and variagted Hosta mix in with Ostrich ferns, Heuchera (deep burgundy leaves peaking out from under a Hosta) and  Pulmonaria (the spotted leaf tucked under one of the Hosta). All these plants are great options for part-shade and shade.


Peaking out from under this large hosta is Lady's Mantle, Alchemilla Mollis. 

Lady's Mantle, Alchemilla Mollis has rounded soft textured foliage. Raindrops cling to its leaves and sparkle. Sprays of chartreuse flowers appear in early summer. (This plant is a good self-seeder, so remove the spent flowers if you don't like unwanted seedlings). You will sometimes see Lady's Mantle on lists of plants suggested for shade, but I find it much prefers part-shade rather than full shade. This plant will grow in a variety of soil types and likes conditions on the average to moist side. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA Zones: 2-9.


The pea gravel courtyard at the front of the house extends into a path that leads you around to the backyard. 

This is the first view you see as you turn the corner at the side of the house.


Under the shade of tree, there is a little patio area. The cafe-style chairs and table
gives the area an almost Parisian feel.



Here Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna' sits in front of a yellow Baptisia (unknown cultivar).


Hanging across the yard are strings of Tibetan prayer flags.


 Penstemon 'Husker Red' has foliage that is beet-red in spring and fall and somewhat greener in the summer. Butterflies love the flowers which are such a pale pink they are almost white. Full sun. Normal, sandy or clay soils are all suitable. Average to moist growing conditions. Height 75-90 cm, Spread: 30-45 cm. USDA Zones: 3-9


Pink Peonies bow down to the ground with the weight of their many-petaled flowers. A Miscanthus (ornamental grass) and Ostrich Fern are just in behind them.

The view down the length of the property.

 An old metal bucket is a water feature or container planting in the making.



The back garden is a work in progress. This courtyard area next to 
the fence isn't quite completed.


You'll note that the homeowner has used vivid blue ceramic pots as a recurring theme. It's a smart design decision as it links different areas of the garden into a cohesive whole.

This garden might be small, but it's charming. It is amazing what you find when you are looking for something else!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Made for the Shade: Solomon Seal



Nothing causes a novice gardener anxiety like this simple five-letter-word: SHADE. In the coming months, I hope to highlight a few plants that thrive in shade.

The first plant I'd like to feature is Solomon Seal, Polygonatum.


Solomon Seal is an ugly duckling that quickly transforms into a swan each spring. It emerges from the warming soil with a tight, serpent-like envelope of blue-green foliage.


In the gentle heat of the spring sun, Solomon Seal thrusts forward out of the 
ground gradually releasing its secret stash of leaves.

Jamie DeWolf's woodland garden in Mississauga, ON

When fully open, Solomon Seal's has left its slightly sinister serpentine appearance far behind. 

Solomon Seal in my friend Donna's garden.


Bright green foliage alternate along the length of elegant stems that curve gently. The lance-shaped leaves remain attractive all summer long and then turn golden in fall. 


Spring raindrops bead on the surface of the leaves and sparkle like diamonds.


White bells tipped with green are a wonderful spring bonus. These flowers don't
require any deadheading. They drop to the ground naturally. 

Solomon Seal form a backdrop for hosta in this private Ontario garden

Solomon Seal likes part-shade to full shade. It also likes organic-rich soil.


Jamie DeWolf's garden

I find Solomon Seal is a slow to mature and requires a bit of patience.

My garden is perhaps drier than it would like, so my Solomon Seal hasn't taken off as well as it would have if conditions were more ideal. (It also doesn't help that the dogs flatten it on a regular basis!)

Eventually Solomon Seal will grow into a sizeable vase-shaped clump that is perfect for naturalizing in a woodland setting like the one you see above.

The good news is that once established clumps of Solomon Seal are long-lived and are relatively low maintenance.

Private Garden, Mississauga Ontario

I wanted to show you this front garden because I think the slightly elevated placement of the Solomon Seal shows it off to perfection. ( The Solomon Seal is up near the corner of the garage in front of an ornamental grass.)

A closeup of previous garden

The tiny white flowers of this plant are somewhat understated and so the raised elevation makes it possible to enjoy a better view of them.



When sunlight hits the tiny flowers they glow like a string of tiny twinkle lights.

Here are three basic varieties:

Polygonatum Biflorum is true Solomon Seal

Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum' is a variegated form that has arching reddish colored stems and foliage that is edged with creamy-white. The fragrance of the flowers is lily-like. Height: 50-60 cm (20-23 inches) Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches)

Giant Solomon Seal, Polygonatum biflorum var. commutatum is one of the tallest varieties. Blue-black berries follow the flowers. Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches) Spread: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches).



Foamflower, Tiarella

Companion plants could include Brunnera, Heuchera, Hosta, Ferns, Hellebores and Foamflowers, and Bleeding Hearts.


Solomon Seal is generally started by transplanting the plant's rhizomes rather than by seed.

It may take several years before you would be able to make a plant division for propagation purposes. Its best to divide Solomon Seal in early spring or early fall. 


Plant type: Perennial

Plant size: Depending on the cultivar this shade lover can range from 60-120 cm (23 -47 inches) and can spread to 60-90 cm (23-35 inches)

Shape: Vase-shaped

Flower: white bell-like flowers tipped with green

Bloom period: Early spring

Leaf color: Deer resistant bright green foliage

Light: Part-shade to shade

Growing Conditions: Moist, rich organic soil

Companion Plants: Hosta, Heuchera, Brunnera, Bleeding Heart, Ferns, Hellebores and Foamflower.

Divide: In early spring or early fall

USDA Zones: 3-9

Friday, January 22, 2016

Pretty Views of Ellen Carr's Garden



When photographing a garden I usually take a very documentary approach in an effort to give a true sense of what a garden is really like. Generally, I like to mix wide views with closeups that show-off a plant or flower's best features. 

In this case however, I was off-duty having fun at the Garden Blogger's Fling. I wandered around Ellen Carr's garden like a tourist taking random shots as the mood struck me. So I apologize, it is going to be hard for you to get a full sense of Ellen's garden, but I think that some of my snapshots showing plant combinations are worth sharing.

Here is a general description of the garden:

This property is a large suburban lot. At the front of the house, there are a number of big flowerbeds and the largest thyme lawn I have ever seen. The back of the house overlooks a ravine. All of my photographs of the backyard focus on the patio and terrace right at the back of the house.

Let's take a look around, shall we?


This is a planting from one of the front gardens. Isn't this a stunning combination? I would never have thought to put these colors together, but it really works. 

The Siberian Iris is an unknown cultivar. I am going to make an educated guess that the Alliums in the background are Allium 'Purple Sensation'.


It's this Ligularia in the middle-background that adds the drama to this plant grouping.

Ligularia 'Britt Marie Crawford' is a plant you grow for the foliage and not the flowers. This Ligularia forms a large clump of mahogany leaves with golden-orange flowers in mid-summer. Slugs can be an issue. Part shade to full shade in warm regions. Moist soil is essential. Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches), Spread: 80-90 cm ( 31-35 inches). USDA Zones:3-9.



You can see the thyme lawn just behind this gorgeous peach iris.


Bearded Iris 'Beverly Sills' is one of the most popular peachy-pink tall bearded irises. It has a reputation for being a vigorous grower that blooms heavily mid-season. Full sun. Height: 60-90 cm (24-36 inches), Spread: 90-120 cm (36-48 inches).


Here we have moved to the backyard and the terrace overlooking the ravine.

Sara Katz, a landscape designer who works alongside Ellen in the garden, helped me correctly identify the yellow-green shrub:

Elderberry, Sambucus racemosa 'Lemony Lace' is a deciduous shrub with cutleaf yellow-green foliage. It has white flowers that are followed by red fruit in the fall. It blooms on old wood, so keep that in mind when doing any pruning. Prune it after the shrub flowers. Full sun in northern climates, and light shade, if you live in the southern States. Sambucus racemosa 'Lemony Lace' shrub has the bonus of being deer resistant. Height: 36-60 inches, Spread: 36-72 inches. USDA Zones 3a-7b

Sara also gave me a little background on the role in the garden:

"I am a landscape designer who is more than happy to get her hands dirty working in clients gardens.  I have been working with Ellen in her garden- and she does work alongside me and my crew- for four years."

"In that time we have made many changes to the garden. The last two winters were brutal here and we lost several trees, shrubs and perennials. We lost an Ash to the dreaded Emerald Ash Borer as well."

Sara went on to tell me that the garden presents the challenge of dealing with deer and rabbits:

"I have to wrap young trees in chicken wire for the winter to keep the deer from breaking the trunks while rubbing their antlers on the trees. So our plant choices are restricted to those that deer don't like. Zephyr, the resident Sheltie helps to keep the rabbit population manageable. We also use Plantskyd liberally and find that it is effective (but horribly stinky!)."


This is a closeup look at the Salvia you can see in the previous picture.

Salvia x sylvestris 'May Night' has spiky indigo blue flowers in early summer. Like all Salvias, it is attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. This cultivar will tolerate a range of moisture conditions and soil types. Full sun. Drought tolerant once established. Remove faded flowers to encourage a second flush of flowers. Height: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches) Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches) . USDA Zones: 3-9.




Red Campion or Red Catchfly, Silene dioica (unknown variety) has rosy-red flowers and soft, hairy leaves and stems. The flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies. Full sun. It can be grown in a range of soils, but prefers somewhat moist conditions. Height: 20-60 cm (8-25 inches). Spread: 20-60 cm (8-25 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.


Meadow Rue, Thalictrum aquilegiifolium is another plant I'd like to point out.  

I have Meadow Rue in my own garden and always look forward to its display of pink fireworks in June. (Note: There is also a white cultivar, which I don't have yet.) 

It's a tall plant, but the flower stems are pretty sturdy. I have never had to stake Meadow Rue in my own garden. One particularly nice feature is this plant will flower in part-shade as well as full sun.




Meadow Rue, Thalictrum aquilegiifolium has lacy blue-green foliage and clouds of mauve-pink or white flower mid-spring. Full sun to part shade. This plant is happy in average or clay soil. It likes growing conditions to be on the moist side. Height: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA Zones: 3-9.


A flagstone pathway leads you through the plantings in the terraced area of the garden. 

On one side of the path is Blue Catmint, Nepeta racemosa 'Walker's Low', and on the other side with pink flowers is Lamium a versatile sun, part-shade or full shade groundcover .


Blue Catmint, Nepeta racemosa 'Walker's Low' is a long blooming perennial (if regularly deadheaded) that has a mounded, bushy habit. It has grey-green foliage and blue flowers. Full sun. Height: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm ( 29-35 inches). USDA Zones: 3-9.


One final combination:Yellow False Indigo, Baptisia 'Carolina Moonlight' with Salvia x sylvestris 'May Night' in the background. 

Yellow False Indigo, Baptisia 'Carolina Moonlight' is a recent introduction. It forms a vase-shaped mound of blue-green foliage with canary-yellow flowers mid-spring. Normal, sandy and clay soils all work for this plant. It will also tolerate everything from dry to moist growing conditions. Divide in early spring. Full sun. Height: 120-135 cm (47-53 inches), Spread: 80-90 cm (31-35 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.

Many thanks to Sara for confirming the plant details.

Have a great weekend!


More Information and Links: 

Sara Katz of Wild at Heart Design is a landscape designer, garden coach and garden writer. She is also available for garden club or horticultural society workshops and presentations. 

If you are interested, this year's Garden Blogger's Fling will take place in Minneapolis. The dates are July 14-17th. Find out more.