Thursday, June 25, 2009

One Garden Reno Down, Another to Go

The garden reno at my parents' place is done. I'm very happy with the results. More important, my parents are happy and even the neighbours like it. Here's a shot of the final stages of work. I was worried about the soil and had planned to do some heavy amending with compost. When it came time to choose plants it became apparent that most wouldn't mind their soil on the lean side. So instead of amending all the soil I gave each planting hole a heaping trowel full of compost and top dressed the plants. So far, so good. The plants seem happy.

I have always been a casual user of mulch but this garden project has made me a true believer. Mulch is the perfect finishing touch. I chose a black cedar mulch that really makes the plants "pop."

Salvia "Blue Hill" made the cut. I have become a bit of a salvia nut as of late. It's an amazing plant isn't it? So undemanding and yet so giving when it comes to blooms and foliage. Six plants cut a swath across the front of the yard with the hostas as their background. I'm planning to plant a river of daffodils behind the salvia in fall.

Two types of yarrow, "Summer Pastels" and "Cerise Queen," protested vehemently when I planted them. They flopped over so badly I was sure they were dead. But wouldn't you know it that just two days later they were the plants that stood tallest and proudest in the garden...and they were blooming like crazy. I think yarrow will prove to be a good choice.

Interplanted among the yarrow at the back of the border are purple coneflowers. Honestly, I don't think I could plant a sunny garden without including purple coneflowers. They are the perfect flower as far as I'm concerned.

Two Amsonia "Blue Star" anchor either side of the hosta planting. I'm looking forward to their blooms but am even more excited about their brilliant yellow fall colour.

Here's the fun part of planting in other people's gardens: you get to try plants you've always wanted to try. The Kniphofia or Tritoma "Flamenco" is well past its prime this season but I'm already dreaming about the display next spring. I put six plants directly behind the hostas which will hide the faded foliage of the red-hot pokers once the display is done. I'm planning a fall planting of the tallest tulips and alliums I can find and placing them among the "Flamencos." (One great thing about buying plants after their bloom time is the very big discount at the check-out. More than 50% off. Hurray!)

Liatris, like purple coneflowers, are just about perfect. I planted ten plants altogether. Two groups of five plants each add some height at each end of the hosta planting.

Two types of coreopsis are front and centre in the garden. "Moonbeam" is there because of its infamous blooming ability.

I couldn't resist tucking in a Coreopsis "Zagreb" (Zagreb is where my father is from.) I prefer it to "Moonbeam" because its yellow blooms are much more vibrant.

And finally, at the front of the border, there are several triangular groupings of Lavender "Munstead." I planted them with the intention of creating a hedge that will spill onto the sidewalk. Anyone walking by and just slightly brushing the plants will be able to enjoy the astounding fragrance. It will take a few years for the hedge to reach its full potential, but when it does it will be fantabulous!

Doing this garden reno was such a great pleasure. The work was most satisfying. And for a while it distracted me from the fact that my own garden is out of control. Just look at those Jerusalem Artichokes taking over the back yard garden. This part of the garden has been neglected for some time thanks in part to ongoing renovations next door. Those renovations appear to done (finally!!!) and that means it's time to get this spot looking ship shape. Ahh, a gardener's work is never done...and that's a good thing.

(P.S. Thanks to everyone for their plant suggestions. Just about every suggestion made it into the garden. Those that didn't weren't available at the garden centre. I'm still on the look-out for prairie smoke. When I find it, though, it's more likely to end up in my garden.)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Bullfrogs and Foxtails

Bullfrogs don't have anything to do with my garden but I was so pleased with this photo I thought I'd share. My in-laws have a pond at their place and the bullfrogs were out in force, their love songs filling the air.

Back in the garden, the foxtail lilies are beginning their show. I always enjoy photographing them with the birdhouse in the background because it's the perfect excuse to refer to a "room with a view"

There are three flower spikes this year, more than ever before. I have no idea how the plant is multiplying. I leave the flower spike on well into summer, long enough for seed to set and fall to the ground. So maybe it's the seeds. Or maybe something is happening at root level. I'm just not sure.

At eye-level the blooms are astounding. They open from the bottom of the flower stalk up. Now that I'm actually experiencing some great success with these plants, I'm tempted to add a few more colours. The foxtail lilies are definitely a highlight of the spring garden and a sign of the great blooms still to come once summer finally arrives.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Garden Reno: Days Two and Three

I love before and after pictures. They are tangible evidence of results. On Day One of the garden reno there were weeds everywhere. I managed to pull everything behind the giant hostas.

On Day Two I turned my attention to the front of the garden. Here's the start of a three hour weeding session.

This is the end of Day Two.

By the end of Day Three (and another three hours of weeding) the garden was looking ready for planting. Of course it's not ready yet. It'll need compost dug in...a lot of compost.

Here's an alternate angle of the garden at the end of Day Three.

I have pulled a lot of clover, lily of the valley, Star of Bethlehem, countless violets, daylilies, grass of the lawn variety and an ugly ornamental type, and a whole bunch of unidentified weeds that creep and clump. The hostas are staying put. There are numerous clumps of violets that I am leaving for now. There are significant areas of lily of the valley. Some will stay but some have to go. There are two mystery plants that may be goldenrod. They would provide dazzling fall colour. Two enormous stands of daylilies need to be divided but I think I will leave that job until fall. I really can't bear to tear them up just when they are sending up flower stalks. There are two spiderwort plants that are doing very well that will stay in place. Right at the base of the spiderwort, a baby pulmonaria is making a go of it.

So now, as planting day nears, the plant possibilities are running through my head. I need plants that like lean, sandy soil and full sun. I've been toying with yarrow, foxtail lilies, lavender, liatris, california poppy, calamint, and some ornamental grasses of the absolutely gorgeous variety. I'm looking for suggestions so if you have any experience with these conditions please share your ideas.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Garden Renovation Project

This small patch of urban wilderness belongs to my parents. This is the home they bought when they first came to Canada some 40-odd years ago. It's also the former lawn I played on with friends until I was about 10 or 11 years old. Everyone has moved on, of course, but my parents kept the house, renting it out over the years. And over the years, as people came and went, the front lawn has had several incarnations as a garden and/or weed hot spot.

The space is wildly overgrown with weeds, a few choice hostas, and more weeds. Honestly, I was stunned by the sheer volume of weeds. The biggest offender is what I believe to be Star of Bethlehem. While I can see the charm of a small clump of blooms, an entire front lawn full of them can only be characterized as weedy. Their days are numbered because this space is about to experience another incarnation. With a "thumbs up" from my folks, a desperately needed garden makeover is underway.

The garden doesn't have much going for it. The soil is of particular concern. After weeding for three hours today I walked across the soil and sank right into it. I can only compare the experience to walking across a very sandy beach. Dry, sandy soil. And not a worm in sight. Whatever gets planted here will have to appreciate heat and very lean soil. So how bizarre is it that the highlights of the garden are several mature, gorgeous and gigantic hostas? I know they can take drought once established but never expected to see that in full sun. Kudos to the hostas for their adaptability and perseverance. Needless to say, I won't be touching these beauties. They will stay put and I will build the garden around them.

This is the garden after my weeding session today. It's looking better already. Along with the hostas there are several very large clumps of violets. They are obviously very happy where they are so I'm leaving them as is. I am very tempted to get rid of them altogether because of their crazy capacity to spread. Maybe once the rest of the "real" weeds are cleared out, I'll have a better idea about how to deal with the violets. I have several more sessions of weeding ahead me. To beat the tedium, I imagine all the possibilities for what I can plant in each spot formerly occupied by an unwanted plant. I feel very lucky to have a new garden space to work in. I hope I can make it beautiful for all the neighbours to enjoy.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Love Affairs, Old and New

I'm beginning to think that Hellebore "Ivory Prince" may be the longest blooming plant in my garden. Here's "Ivory Prince" as it unfurled on May 1st.

Here's what it looks like today, more than one month later. What's not to love?

The Hellebores are tucked away in a shady section of the backyard where no one ever looks. They are my little secret. Their endurance, however, makes me think they deserve a prominent spot in the front-yard shade garden where they can be enjoyed by everyone. I hope the "Ivory Prince" doesn't mind being relocated.

The irises can't match the staying power of "Ivory Prince." To make matters worse, the iris patch had a dismal spring, producing very few blooms. Sometimes I think they are hardly worth the effort, but then I look down deep into the heart of the bloom and fall in love all over again. The camera caught this iris as it slowly faded from the garden. The sepia-like tones on the petals suggest the iris is bidding the garden a melancholy adieu.

The foxtail lilies could care less about the iris grand finale. They are too busy waiting to take centre stage. I have three spires this year, up from two last year and one the year before. I love it when a plant multiplies. I must share a secret, though. I think foxtail lilies are prettiest when they are about to bloom than when they are actually in bloom. Shh! Don't tell the plants.

Have I ever told you about my love affair with chives? I absolutely adore them. After they bloom in spring, I cut them right back to the ground. Then, they bloom again toward the end of summer.

I thought about moving my chives to the vegetable garden where they might be a better fit thematically. But the vegetables are way at the back of the yard, past the beech tree and two enormous burning bush shrubs. I would never see the chives back there. No, they will have to stay in the perennial border where I can see their cheery, pom-pom blooms from anywhere in the yard.

It wasn't exactly love at first sight between me and the running strawberry bush. I planted this native Ontario ground cover in the Woodland Walk last year and it did nothing. This year it is growing like crazy and just look at what it produced! A tiny bloom that looks just like a child's drawing of a flower. Next to the bloom is what appears to be a tiny red berry. And just like that, a new love affair begins.