Saturday, November 17, 2007

There Are Worse Things That Could Happen To A Garden...

...but seeing a block garage, concrete walkways, and a brick wall replace views of the open sky and plots of fertile soil is nevertheless pretty bad. Back in September, my neighbours undertook a massive backyard construction project. They built a large house addition and an even bigger garage. Today, whatever bit of their backyard lawn was left disappeared under poured concrete. All of their "improvements" come right up to the property line. The full extent of the impact (ie. devastation) on my garden is now crystal clear.

Because so much work happened on or near the property line, the work crews trampled on just about everything. Just a few months ago the liatris, globe thistle, purple coneflowers, veronica, iris, helenium and foxtail lily thrived here. But there's nothing left to prove it. Everything has been trampled out of existence. I'm sure all the plants are just fine and cozy in the warm earth -- but seeing all evidence of them obliterated makes me nervous nonetheless. Another concern is that the soil has been so compacted by sturdy workboots that it may as well be concrete. I'll have to turn the soil and let winter break it up a bit. But without knowing exactly where some of my favourite plants are, that too makes me nervous.

Here's the new view from the backyard deck. The horror! That has got to change. Anyone have any great suggestions for a hedge that will grow fast and tall? In an effort to stay positive I will say that we will have an unprecedented level of privacy for a city backyard. The tree hides most of the wall but I don't know if the tree will make it. The needles on the bottom branches have almost all turned brown. And I'm beginning to see more and more brown inching its way upward to the top of the tree. Bad things happen when you cut off HALF of a trees root system to make way for an addition. I spent a good part of my afternoon looking at the work that's been done next door. Much of that time was spent shaking my head in disbelief and slapping my forehead in exasperation. How could city planners and engineers allow this?

And then I noticed the astilbe. It brought me to my senses. While I am upset about what has happened, I think I would be more upset if the garden weren't looking so darn beautiful right now. In my last post, I was oohing and ahhing over red. But just look at how golden the astilbe look. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. In the past I cut the flower heads off as soon as they finished blooming. I won't do that again because they look absolutely stunning (click on any of the images for a closer-look). I've never thought of myself as a fan of yellow...that is changing.

I also noticed how the astilbe provides a beautiful backdrop for the Bloodgood Japanese Maple. It's only about three feet tall right now. Looking around the neighbourhood I see mature Japanese Maples and they simply take my breath away. Everything from their form to their colour is quite simply perfection. It will be just a joy to see this tree grow to maturity. The anticipation makes me feel like a kid on Christmas morning.

Even my mushy hosta is looking pretty darn good right now. It really brightens the shady side of the garden. So despite the awfulness of the construction zone next door, it's the beauty of the garden that won me over today. It's the beauty of the garden that convinced me that all of the neighbours' "improvements" can be further improved upon through the careful placement of shrubs, trees, bulbs and perennials. Spring will mean a whole new start in the garden. Perhaps one of the worst things to happen in my garden will turn out to be one of the best.

What's the worst thing that ever happened to your garden?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Seeing Red

The garden is awash in red this month. I enjoy the fringe benefits of this ivy that grows up the side of my neighbour's house. During the summer, it does a fine job of hiding the massive brick facade but this is the climber at its best.

The ivy is lovely and practical but when it comes to the colour red, nothing beats the burning bush. This picture simply doesn't do it justice. I planted two of them years ago without any knowledge of their fiery fall display. What a stroke of garden luck. I couldn't have guessed how much I would come to love them. They have been feeding my desire for more red in the garden for about eight or nine years now.

My passion for red was one of the reasons I chose to add a serviceberry to the garden this year. All the garden magazines and books promised that serviceberries provide a great fall display of yellow, orange and red. I have not been disappointed. I do have one concern about this shrub. During an open gardens tour last month, a gardener told me that he twice tried to plant serviceberries and twice he gave up. The reason: raccoons. He said the raccoons love the berries so much they climb all over the shrubs. The branches break because of the raccoons' weight or through sheer brute force as they tug on the branches to reach the berries. I had more broken branches this summer than I care to remember. I'll have to think of a way to outwit these masked bandits, but that is probably a fool's mission.

I have also added a number of new shrubs to the garden. All of them, including this Silveredge Dogwood, prominently feature the colour red. With the dogwood the branches are the star attraction. This shrub will become the wall of my first ever garden room. I'm tired of restricting my plantings to the outer edges of the yard. So I'm starting to carve deeper into the moddle of the lawn to build garden rooms. Whether I will succeed in creating these secret garden spaces remains to be seen. Also doing their bit to help: an llex "Jack Dandy" with his partner Ilex verticillata "Red Sprite." The berries are astounding. I have also planted a black chokeberry featuring blue berries and, what else, red hot foliage. The best part: I found all the plants listed at 50-75% off. A red-tag sale made for a gardener who loves seeing red.