Friday, 16 August 2019

The Highlights of Summer

Now that the garden is approaching maturity, I find I have less to write about that I haven't covered in previous years. As a result, I'm only now gathering a few images from the last months that have struck me as worth a second, or even a third, look.

I've always enjoyed the brief but glamorous display of an unnamed red peony that predates our arrival. I moved it a few years back into more sun and more recently planted two Ranunculus 'Flore Pleno' beside it. The contrasting forms and colours made it a winning combination in late May.

Even after the peony was spent, the little white buttons of the Ranunculus kept on sparkling well into June.

A new bulb for me this year was Allium atropurpureum, actually darker than it looks in my photo. I've planted it around Salix lapponum, whose silver foliage sets off the wine-red flowers. I like the effect enough to plan on buying more of it.

Disporum 'Night Heron' was too small and innocuous to make much of an impact last year, but this year it has grown to more than a metre. It's a subtle addition to the shady back of the garden, but the  the drooping cream bells and unusual pleated leaves with their inky overtones are worth lingering to appreciate.

Anemone 'Wild Swan' goes from strength to strength. The crisp white face of the flowers brings a reminder of spring into the middle of summer, and the surprise of their lavender reverse is a nice bonus.

It seems to remain compact where it has more space and stretches readily to compete with other perennials when they crowd in around it. Here it's competing with a blue monkshood, purple Monarda 'Donnerwolke' and the dark brown leaves of self-seeding Angelica gigas 'Vicar's Mead'

Clematis 'Durandii' has never been better than this year. The buds looked like little snakeheads as they threaded their way through my oak leaf hydrangea,

... and the flower display was spectacular.

Tucked away in the shade, Roscoea cautleyoides 'Alba' has only produced a single flower stem in the several years I've had it, but it too has rewarded me this year with several of its strange, fragile flowers. It disappears so completely in winter that I have to mark its place with the top ring of a broken clay pot or I'm likely to trample it to death during early spring clean-up.

A year cannot go by without a mention of the roses. Their flowers opened early, before the end of May, and they faded quickly, but what they lacked in longevity they made up for in wealth of bloom.

Rosa pimpinellifolia
'Rosa Mundi'
'Ghislaine de FĂ©ligonde'

A special mention this year for Rosa 'Bill Forsyth', named by me for the man who bred it and who gave me a plant that I later passed on to Free Spirit Nursery, who gave me back a young specimen this year. It has the blue-grey foliage of its parent Rosa glauca, but a larger, more vibrant pink flower. Bill is no longer with us, but I hope his rose will keep alive the memory of a quiet, modest man whose gardening skills and knowledge were legendary among those of us who value such things.

'Bill Forsyth'

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Sliding into May

What happened to April? All growth was on hold, as the unusually warm weather of March returned to cooler temperatures.  Exceptions were the old pear tree,

 and the espaliered apples.

We've long since given up expecting anything edible from the pear, but we keep it for the structure it gives to the garden. The apples, on the other hand, gave us a basket full of fruit last year and look set to do the same this year.,

Once May began, everything moved ahead once more. In the front garden, Royal Azalea (Rhododendron schlippenbachii, for those who like a tongue-twister) opened its candy floss pink flowers that team so nicely with the crisp green foliage.

Shortly after, came the Ballerina tulips.  I'm not a big fan of orange, but these sultry beauties are so elegant on  their tall stems and blend so well with the surrounding greenery that I keep buying more.

Now I have a young Enkianthus 'Red Bells' to keep them company.

The flowers on both come later than the azalea and die away before they can clash with some other soft pink shades that follow on the surrounding plants.
Across the sidewalk a few plants in my boulevard beds are doing better than expected. Centaurea 'Amethyst in Snow' is possibly going to get too vigorous as it loves the dry, poor soil there.

Meanwhile on the other side of the house, shade-lovers are demanding attention in their subtle way. Arisaema ringens is outgrowing its pot, but still managing a good show. 

You can see where I've cut away a few leaves so that the curious flowers are easier to see.
Close beside it is Disporum 'Night Heron', which is now tall enough to be noticeable. It's a graceful plant, surprisingly striking with its contrast of small, pale green flowers and dark-stained foliage.

At the right side of that image are more dark leaves on Hydrangea 'Kumasaka'.

And further along, the buds of Allium siculum rising through the speckled leaves of Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty' complete the green and purple composition.

Hosta 'American Halo' under the pear tree is unfurling too. Its leaves bring an echo of pale sunshine to another shady area. 

 The other excitement of May was the appearance of a raccoon in broad daylight, making her way through the garden from front to back several times. I managed a blurry photo of her on one of her return journeys through the next door yard.

We realized that she was transferring her babies away from the house across the street, having a sixth sense of what was about to happen there.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

March Marches In

March was such an unusually warm and sunny month that I couldn't chain myself to the computer to record the awakening of the early perennials, so here I am doing it in May.

Corylopsis pauciflora is always reliable and a much more graceful harbinger of spring than the ubiquitous Forsythia

In the shade at its feet, barely visible as a dark blur in the above photo, is Hellebore 'Harlequin Gem', now starting to become a substantial plant. Its inky blooms contrast well with the Corylopsis above it.

Of course, many of the hellebores were pushing through the last of the snow in February. Since I've recorded them in detail in previous years, I'm just going to add one more this time.
'Peppermint Ice' is always an eye catcher.

 This year a white self-sown seedling has bloomed beside it and I like the contrast.

Meanwhile, across the garden Salix gracilistyla 'Melanocarpa' is flourishing.

'Melanocarpa' means black berry but it's the young catkins that are black (with red tips.) As they age they turn, like many of us, to silver-grey. Both stages contrast well with the reddish stems.

Narcissus 'Jack Snipe' has now taken over  from 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation' ".  The flowers are pretty and shapely but it's beginning to be more work, as it multiplies fast and the clumps are getting too large for their allotted space.

Added to that, the foliage hangs around afterwards looking increasingly shabby, and you can't cut it back because it's feeding next year's flowers. Last year I tried my usual trick of planting a perennial that will emerge and screen the collapsing leaves, but so far it's not working: the perennial I chose is still dormant!
Time for a re-think.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

February Snow

After two weeks of warm sunshine and blue skies in Mexico, it was a shock to return to snow in Vancouver, even though it did look pretty.

 By mid-February I'm normally enjoying the display of small bulbs like snowdrops, snow crocus and winter aconites, but of course they are all buried.

There's one exception. The ever-reliable Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation' is living up to its name and boldly pushing its cheerful yellow flowers up through the sugary crust, reminding me to order more and spread them around to enjoy at this low point in the year.


Sunday, 20 January 2019


The first days of the new year saw me cutting back dying perennial stalks and seedheads, and raking dead leaves from around some of the shrubs. We are urged to let the leaves remain on the ground to rot and add more nutrients to the soil, but I have several problems with that. 
The most significant one is thanks to the city arborists who years ago planted a sycamore maple  in front of my house. Every fall it sheds a gazillion winged seeds into my garden where they cluster in the crowns of tender plants like hellebores and peonies.

 If I don't remove them, every one will sprout and have to be hand-pulled, often breaking off the tiny new buds of the perennials.

Then there is the number of slugs that shelter and lay eggs under the carpet of leaves. Finally, there is the disease factor. My roses are healthy, but they will only stay that way if I ensure that any lurking blackspot spores on fallen leaves are not there to infect new foliage.

Besides, early ephemerals are already pushing their way up and I'd like to make their progress towards bloom as easy as possible. Leaf blades of snowdrops and snow crocus are already above ground, but winter aconites are always the first to open their cheery little flowers.

Hellebores are in bud and some are even opening their flowers.
'Cherry Blossom' is ahead of the others, and 'Frilly Kitty' has one open flower.

But 'Rachel' and 'Pink Frost' are not far behind.

Elsewhere, I find pleasure in small moments, like a briefly blue sky behind the seedpods on Stewartia pseudocamellia.

Or a ray of sunlight catching the trunk of Acer griseum, the paperbark maple.

Or even the mustard-yellow young stems and buds of Swiss willow (Salix helvetica),

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Last Leaves

In comes November  - and in comes the rain. 
There was a last burst of glory just before month's end, mostly leaves but with a few late flowers adding contrast.

Always proving its worth at this time of year, Fothergilla 'Mount Airy' kept getting more vibrant every day.

Oakleaf hydrangea 'Sikes Dwarf' beside it wasn't quite able to meet the challenge but had its own brooding beauty.

Silvery lavender foliage in the background chimed in with a more restful note.

Silver Vein Creeper (Parthenocissus henryana) continues its transformation from gold to red. It's really too rampant for this small garden but fortunately it is quite tolerant of drastic pruning. I want to keep it as scribbles of colour like this, rather than a solid sheet.

Corylopsis pauciflora has already set buds for its early spring display, but it is also a show-off now with its bright golden foliage. It needs pruning to a more graceful shape, which I will try to do while it is dormant.

Although I like a lot of the ornamental grasses, I think they look better en masse in larger gardens than mine. However, I do enjoy the airy presence of a mosquito grass, Bouteloua 'Blonde Ambition'. In the ground it would be lost among bolder plants, but raised in an urn it catches the low sun's rays when most of its companions have receded into the shadows.

Thanks to our warm and sunny October, the fall display in the front garden has never been better.
Royal azalea (Rhododendron schlippenbachii) has been particularly colourful, darkening from a soft, blush pink ...

... to a stronger hue.

Under its feet, some Heuchera are enjoying the cooler weather.

This area is gradually getting better, although there are still gaps where I'd like to find the right companions.

I'm hoping that Enkianthus 'Red Bells', a fairly new addition, will eventually fill the foreground, where its golden fall foliage is already making a modest contribution.

Back in spring I posted a photo of its delicate little flowers that look like red lily-of-the-valley. 

Behind it in the upper photo are the russet leaves of Japanese maple 'Waterfall', which looked better a week earlier, when it was still echoing the Royal Azalea foliage

Giving some height to this bed, Disanthus cercidifolius also colours well.  Although its leaves don't last long on the branches, they dapple the ground under the maple and make bright splashes among the remaining greens of low-growing ground-huggers.

To my surprise, an unknown pink peony that I installed without much hope in the dry, depleted soil of the roadside beds appears to be thriving and is also adding to the fall display. I'm already curious to know how successfully it will flower next year.

There are nevertheless some failures. I knew the front was a challenge for being shaded most of the year and then subject to hot sun in the middle of summer, but I thought good old Sedum 'Autumn Joy' could be relied upon to cope. This year showed me the uneven results.
On the east side it has been fine.

On the shadier west side, where sun is blocked by both the street tree and now my spreading silver dogwood, the results are less successful. The peony whose foliage is visible in the foreground has already gone to a more suitable home and the Sedum is about to follow.