Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Winter Urns and Window Box

Let's forget, for now at least, the bags of miniature iris bulbs sitting under the kitchen table waiting to be planted. And the two dozen daffodil bulbs. Not to mention the three dozen or so pass-along yellow iris rhizomes I brought home from my mother's garden today. They'll all get planted really soon...I promise. For this week, though, springtime plantings are on hold in order to give the house and garden a festive makeover before the arrival of the snow.

In the past I've had a local landscaper design my urns. I wanted a "wow" factor I could never seem to achieve. This year I'm determined to deliver the "wow" all on my own. The two pictures above are of an urn on my backyard deck. The yew came from backyard clippings. Fir boughs, cedar branches and bright red dogwood twigs were collected in the country at my in-laws' place. I added a few dogwood branches from my Cornus Alba "Elegantissima" as well. My newly sheared euonymus provided plenty of leathery evergreen leaves with bright orange fruit pods. The red "berries" and white branches are from previous urn designs. I kept them figuring they could be reused some day (today! yay!)

The second backyard urn features the same material as the first but arranged in a slightly different way. The cedar and euonymus are more dominant along the front of the urn creating a "skirt" effect. I also added several dried astilbe blooms from the garden. I didn't think the stems would be sturdy enough to stick into the ground but they were.

There are more of the same materials in the window box with one exception: I found some juniper clippings put out by a neighbour for trash collection and just had to have them.

I'm very happy with the designs. I think they have good height and beautiful colour contrasts. There is a fullness to the urns and window box that was lacking in my earliest efforts (the reason I got a pro to help in the first place.) I can't help but be extremely pleased that these designs didn't cost me a cent! Materials for urns can be crazy expensive! You can bet I'll be poking around neighbours' yards for clippings in the future. Finally, I'm happy I can say "I did that! It's an original design by me!" Funny how I found a creative outlet in some branches nobody wanted.

So things are looking a little more festive around these parts. The question remains: what do you think? Have I delivered the "wow?"

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Euonymus Epiphany

Euonymus shrubs like the gnarly, twisted and sprawling mess growing in my front yard have never been a favourite of mine. Most of the evergreen varieties I have seen tend to be...well... gnarly, twisted and sprawling. In all honesty, euonymus was ugly to me. I ranked it second only to goutweed as a most hated plant. But recently I came to see the error of my ways. I realized that I had been judging this plant far too harshly. It was time to make amends.

I recently attended a City Shade Gardening seminar presented by horticulturalist extraordinaire Marion Jarvie at the Toronto Botanical Garden. It was most enjoyable and I took home lots of practical advice that I've already started to implement. It was during one of the lectures that I had a euonymus epiphany. The lecture featured images of some very lovely euonymous clipped into large topiary balls or towers. Marion mentioned that euonymus is sometimes criticized for being an unattractive shrub, but...and this is where it hit me....

it's not the plant that's bad...it's the gardener.

At that moment I was sure Marion knew my secret euonymus shame. How could I have allowed my shrub to get so out of control? How could I have neglected it for 11 long years only to turn around and blame it for being undesirable? I knew I had to act. Something had to be done. So I went out and bought some loppers (amazing what you can do with proper garden tools) and I got to work. It didn't take long to prune the euonymus back to a shadow of its former self.

By the time the pruning was done, the euonymus stood only about a foot high. It looked absolutely wonderful. Now I find myself looking forward to spring when it will start putting on some new growth. I hated this plant for so many years that I blinded myself to its many charms: leathery and glossy evergreen foliage, creamy springtime blooms, bright green new foliage and colourful fruit in fall.

Friday, November 13, 2009

New Fall Favourite: Fothergilla Gardenii

Every year when autumn rolls around I inevitably go on and on about the amazing, blazing colour my burning bush produces. It deserves all the praise I give it. The red foliage is outstanding and I can't imagine my garden without it. This year, the burning bush did not disappoint but its fall foliage spectacle has been over for at least a week.

Enter Dwarf Forthergilla or Fothergilla Gardenii. The two shrubs I purchased earlier this year have been more than happy to step into the spotlight now that the burning bush has made its exit. The fothergilla is not nearly as in-your-face as the euonymous alatus. The colours are far more subtle and each leaf provides several shades of yellow, orange and sometimes red. The best way I can describe the overall effect is by comparing it to a camp fire: the shrubs glow warmly while featuring occasional hot spots to make things interesting. Perfect for the ever cooler and shorter days of November.

The shrubs are growing very happily in a fairly shady section of the woodland walk. At only about one foot tall, they have a lot of growing to do which means many more and better fall foliage displays. In a few weeks, once they have dropped their leaves, the countdown to spring begins. It will only be a few short months before the fothergillas are back with their fragrant, bottle-brush blooms. I'm happy to have extended the fall foliage show in the garden. And I'm happy to be discovering plants that provide multiple seasons of interest. Obsessive research through an ever growing pile of garden books and hours of surfing garden sites is really starting to pay off.