Monday, 26 February 2018

A New Year but a Slow Start

A combination of factors has kept me from recording any changes in the garden since 2018 began. They comprised a brief winter break in Mexico, followed by a bad head cold that kept me indoors, followed by snow that buried much of the backyard.

Only my little metal cat seemed to shrug it off.

  The snow is still around, but in spite of it, the usual harbingers of spring are showing their determination to bloom. I covered most of the hellebores during the nights that the temperature dropped below 0ÂșC, but when I uncovered them today, several had blooms already pushing at their prison walls.

Frilly Kitty
 Peppermint Ice

Cherry Blossom

The stems of Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation were smothered by the snow, but as it begins to melt they are struggling to stand upright once again.

Some of the crocus are doing the same.

Gipsy Girl

Cyclamen coum along the side of the house also got flattened and is having a harder time to getting up again.

 My Daphne has some broken twigs, but most of the other woody plants held up well under their burden. Skimmia 'Magic Marlot' even looked extra pretty.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

November doldrums

We were away for all of October, travelling in Indonesia (see my travel blog), and returned to find the garden preparing itself for winter.

With the exception of a few blue spires of monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii'), foliage colours of green, russet, gold and silver dominate the backyard.
A new acquisition this year, Cotinus 'Young Lady', a compact form of smokebush, is among the clearest golds, with dark red slowly seeping out between the veins.

Similar colouring infuses a native currant in a corner of the vegetable garden, although more of it has already deepened to red.

In front of the house, Disanthus cercidifolius, which looked so vibrant at the end of September... now a scrawl of bare branches above the dying foliage around its base.

Not all is in decline however. This is the moment for Mahonia 'Winter Sun' to shine. Its buds are already bursting with the promise of winter flowers that will lure Anna's hummingbirds to join the juncos and chickadees who are enlivening the garden every day as they hunt for bugs and seeds among the debris.

Clematis seedheads

By October the garden is in decline. Even so, there are some bright sparks if you look closely, and sparks is a good way to describe the spiralling seedheads of my various clematis. I have quite a few of these as it's hard not to like a vine that flowers so generously and then offers a wholly different aspect in fall.
'Gravetye Beauty' flowers late, so its last crimson blooms glow alongside bright green seedheads that remind me a little of kitchen pot scrubbers.

'Willy', on the other hand, flowered in late spring and has taken all summer to manufacture these feathery tufts, accented here by a green fly that I didn't notice at the time.

'Huldine' produces small explosions of gold, tipped with chocolate.

C.ochroleuca, a miniature sprawler, has a spidery look.

And C. recta, which I've pictured in previous years with cobalt blue seeds, this year has begun with pale yellow ones, each with a squirrel tail of pure white

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Seeing Red

In spring and early summer, the garden is awash in blues, pinks and purples, but with the hotter days of August and into September, just when everything else begins to look tired, along come some hot colours to match the weather and draw attention away from their faded companions.

  Lobelia cardinalis 'Victoria' with scarlet flowers on tall dark chocolate stems is the most striking, and draws a lot of visits from hummingbirds.

Right beside it is Helenium 'Rubinswerg', which has clumped up nicely in only a year. It has more orange in it, and I haven't quite decided whether it complements or clashes with the lobelia.

Off in a shady corner, Hydrangea serrata 'Beni' is still putting on a show. As the season progresses, more red and purple tones will seep into its leaves.

In a back corner, Rodgersia aesculifolia 'Maurice Mason' has a single frond of a more dusky red. This is a plant that has been reluctant to bloom. I'll give it a good top-dressing this fall, but if it doesn't reward me with more flowers next year, it's on borrowed time.

Out in front of the house, my recent acquisition of Disanthus cercidifolius has a few crimson leaves etched with gold, anticipating its eventual autumn blaze. Since this is its first year here, I'm looking forward to the coming show.

I now have an urge to put more reds into the mix at this time of year and would welcome any suggestions.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

A Season of Birds (and a Butterfly)

(I wrote this post back in August, but couldn't get my video files to load. I think they are functioning now. Even if they're not, at least the still photos are on record.)

It's been a good year for birds.  I first hung my home-made chickadee nesting tube two years ago, and although a pair has investigated it every spring, this is the first year they've settled in and raised a family.

Hummingbirds have been frequent visitors too - ever since the roses began to bloom. The chickadees weren't happy when one came too close.

After the babies left the nest, I took down the tube to investigate and extracted the little cup made, as far as I can tell, out of the wood shavings I supplied, plus spiderwebs and cat hair.

More recently, sparrows have arrived to enjoy seedheads and the last of the blueberries. One little guy sat on my windowsill as I worked and gazed at me longingly.  Or maybe it was just his reflection he was admiring.

Bush tits are also coming for seeds, especially on my 10-foot tall lovage plant. They are very quick to take off in a flurry of tiny wings if they sense any nearby movement, so I've been unable to get a clear photograph.

Most of the butterflies I see are cabbage whites, but for a few days a swallowtail was a regular visitor to Daphne 'Eternal Fragrance'. Like the bush tits, it was always on the move and I had to discard a lot of photos with only the tip of a wing in the frame before I got lucky.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

July doldrums

July is one of the least rewarding months for me in this garden. After giving a dazzling display in June, the roses and a lot of perennials have called it quits, and hotter days are making a lot of foliage lose that bright, fresh colour it had a few weeks back. While I wait for late-blooming plants to take over, I'm trying to focus on little pockets of interest rather than look at the big picture. 'Gran's Favourite', a cottage pink that's aptly named now that I am actually a grandmother, is one such pretty gem. The blue foliage softens a flower that I think I'd find too gaudy otherwise.

At the other end of the spectrum are the milk-chocolate spires of  Digitalis parviflora. There's certainly nothing shouty about these, but they attract attention just for being unusual. Brown is a common enough colour in autumn leaves, but quite rare in summer flowers.

Behind them, are the mint-green flower buds on Sedum 'Autumn Joy', one of those year-round reliable plants that never looks tired or chewed or diseased. There are newer varieties of Sedum with purple leaves or bigger, brighter flowers, but so far I haven't found any of them to have the combination of substance and airiness that distinguishes 'Autumn Joy'.

Clover generally conjures up a picture of little white pompons sprinkled over grass, but I have two that are excellent perennials, although this year I didn't catch either of them at their best with my camera. Still, they're attractive even as the flowers begin to fade. One is Trifolium ochroleucum, which looks like a giant version of the common creeper. It forms a large clump that this year has needed a bit of support not to flop. The flowers start out pale yellow, and bleach to white before gradually turning brown.

Even better is its cousin T. rubens, with more elongated, bright magenta flowerheads. Earlier in its development, the foliage is infused with a deep purple that complements the pink-and-white- striped flowers of Rosa Mundi just behind it.

Allium 'Ozawa' is another pink, looking surprisingly comfortable with a few red potentilla flowers snaking through it.

Away from all of these, I'm trying to establish a group of hot reds and oranges to suit the height of summer. Some of the newer Echinaceas thrive in full sun and have a long bloom time

 Early-blooming Hydrangea serrata 'Beni' glows in dappled shade. 'Beni' is becoming a fast favourite of mine with its fascinating flowers that start out so pure white that you wonder if you've got the right plant since"Beni" is the Japanese word for "red". By the beginning of July, only the true flowers at the centre have remained white, while their surrounding bracts have turned bright pink.

Then, around the time that the Echinacea blooms at the end of the month, 'Beni' decides to live up to its name and really puts on a grand finale.

As I write this, I'm realizing how many hydrangeas I seem to have acquired. Fortunately the serrata types are all quite small. By comparison, oakleaf hydrangea 'Sikes Dwarf' has decided to be not-so-dwarf and is going to get a severe pruning when it finishes flowering.

It's lovely, but it is taking up more than its fair share of space in this small garden.
That reminds me of another plant that is looking lovely now and does remain compact.  Lysimachia ephemerum is a well-mannered loosestrife that has none of the invasive habits of its relatives. It forms a clump of tall free-standing bluish leaves topped by wands of palest grey flowers.

In fact the petals are white, but the dark centres and stamens influence the overall effect.

Bees love it, butterflies love it and I love it. The association with its pushy cousins is the only reason I can think of for why it's not more widely planted.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Goodbye to Grass

This is the year that Michael decided his June project would be to convert our sidewalk strip of grass to raised beds and pavers. He took it slowly, a little on every dry day but it seemed to me that progress was quite swift.

He began by replacing the grass along the curb with some zigzag pavers we'd acquired.

Then he measured the dimensions of the beds and outlined them with landscape ties. 

We didn't have enough zigzag bricks to do all of the paving so we bought some square pavers from a local supplier to create the rest of the paths.

Once the beds were ready, I started to move some of the overflow from the garden into the new quarters. In fall, when they will cope better with the move, I'll add some more plants that I no longer want in their original positions. Meanwhile, we're putting our lawnmower in the annual neighbourhood garage sale.