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.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Pleasures of June (1)

My garden is at its best in June. At the beginning of the month, it looked like this  - still predominantly shades of green, but lush compared with the two photos that began my previous post.

From this angle, only the dark purple flowers of Aquilegia 'Black Barlow' stand out against the leafy backdrop, but in the top centre it is just possible to make out a mound of Geum rivale 'Leonard's Variety' with its sprays of small, brick-red  flowers on dark, wiry stems.

I've become quite fond of these little plants and am gradually acquiring more. They make a neat clump of ruffled green leaves with the flowers springing up overhead like little parasols. More recent introductions look outward rather than down. My current favourite is Geum 'Cosmopolitan', a pretty, ruffled bi-colour.

 I was curious to see how a new-to-me geranium, a hybrid of G. renardii called 'Terre Franche' (or by some suppliers 'Terre France') differed from its parent. The flowers are darker, a saturated purple with beet-red veins.

A canopy of leaves hides Arisaema triphyllum's strange flowers. I keep it in a pot so that I can raise it high enough to see the blooms without getting down on my knees. It's inclined to spread beyond its allotted space, which is another reason to keep it confined.

 Clematis 'Miss Bateman', always reliable, had produced scores of fat buds that opened in mid-May and continued generously into early June.

A couple of very different plants, both with soft grey foliage, also bloomed early in the month. Rosa glauca is now a giant in the front garden and will have to be selectively pruned after flowering to prevent it from elbowing its way into its neighbours. First, though, I'll enjoy the combination of that foliage with its starry little pink-and-white flowers. It is impervious to the diseases that affect more modern roses, and will shine again with bright red rosehips come fall.

In a corner of the back garden, tiny Oxalis adenophylla 'Ilone Hecker' is creating a similar combination way down at ground level, where it is tucked among tufts of black mondo grass. I'm hoping it will bulk up but it doesn't seem to have any of the spreading tendencies of many of its relatives; quite the contrary.

Last but not least, to my delight, a Roscoea humeana that sulked for two years has finally deigned to produce a couple of flowers, revealing that it is the variant pale yellow form, 'Lutea'. The bloom-time was brief, but at least I now know it is settling in and I can hope for a better display in future years.

Saturday, 17 June 2017


May went by so fast with not a lot happening in the garden. Thanks to the cold spring, many plants were a couple of weeks behind their usual emerging and/or flowering time. It was only when I compared mid-April with mid-May that I could could reassure myself of some progress.
Back garden mid-April

Back garden mid-May
Most of the growth was foliage, but some of that was handsome enough to compensate for the delayed flowering. Among the most attractive leaves were those on Dicentra spectabilis 'Valentine', a particularly nice bleeding heart,

 Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum)

 a little Spirea, whose name I can't remember,

and young leaves of Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty'.

 In the sunnier spots were more contrasting leaf textures: Phlox 'Starfire'

and Paeonia obovata 'Alba' 

My little willows are always a pleasure with their downy silver foliage,

and this year Salix helvetica surprised me with an array of curious bristly flowers.

 My largest shade garden also had some interesting foliage contrasts. 

In the background are two favourites: Hydrangea serrata 'Kumasaki' with Hosta 'American Halo' at its feet.
Hydrangea 'Kumasaki'
Hosta 'American Halo'
Once May got well underway, a host of plants suddenly caught up and flowered.
Royal Azalea, (Rhododendron schlippenbachii), my one and only rhodo had a flurry of sugar pink blooms.

Underneath it I've planted Tiarella 'Spring Symphony' whose altogether different flowers are the exact same shades.

This Tiarella has a reputation for spreading enthusiastically, but so far that's all right with me in this very shady bed. 
A delicate Epimedium that I'd planted near these two not only disagreed with them, but struggled to be noticed. I moved it against the dark grey wall in the back garden which gives it the kind of backdrop it needs and, yes, I did notice it more in its new location.

Another modest plant in similar colours is Fritillaria affinis. I keep hoping it will spread, but so far, I only get this one slender stem every year..

More showy neighbours were waiting in the wings. Around mid-May, bleeding hearts, both white and red, unfurled strings of their strange little flowers,

Paeonia mlokosewitchii, commonly known as "Molly the Witch", opened and shone in any shaft of sunlight,

and even my still-tiny Enkianthus 'Red Bells' surprised me with a few shy flowers, partially hidden by the leaves.

Brunnera 'Langtrees', which is primarily a foliage plant, produced its annual sprinkling of forget-me-not blue flowers,

while its whiter cousin 'Jack Frost was more sparing.

Meanwhile, on the more vibrant front, my favourite tulip 'Ballerina' was at its elegant best.

I'll be moving it now that I've installed a friend's Disanthus cercidifolius over its head, throwing it suddenly into too much shade. The Disanthus gives much-needed height to that side of the front garden.

I love the shape of its leaves and am looking forward to their brilliant fall colours. Meanwhile 'Ballerina will be moved further forward in to more sunlight.

The Disanthus also complements and contrasts in leaf shape and colour with the Cornus alternifolia 'Argentea' that faces it across the front path.

Right at the end of the month, Rosa pimpinellifolia, always my first rose to bloom, suddenly covered itself with arching sprays of strongly-scented, pale yellow flowers that instantly attracted every bee in the neighbourhood.