27th Jul, 2015


This edition of  the quarterly is in a new format. Our webmistress is on holidays so here it is as a blog:

The Garden July 2015

The Garden July 2015


The garden has been giving a huge amount of pleasure all year. But this summer it has been outperforming itself. This is what I see from my dining room chair of what I thin of as my Designing Chair. It looks perfect. But in the back of the garden us was another story.

I feel like I’ve been in a blanket of water and mud until this past week when, finally, we solved the hydrology of the garden. Well, we think we have. John who works for Marjorie Harris Gardens is very enterprising and I dumped the problem in his hands. I live on a flood plain, have an underground stream running through the property (including the house). I survive on sump pumps. Somehow John has made the French Drains fit in with the loose and romantic sense of the garden. They are surrounded by plants so don’t seem too, too obvious. I’m now waiting for one of those horrendous rainstorms where the rain is so thumpingly hard, it barely stays in the ground, to test all these waterworks. So far two trees have drowned and I solace myself with moving things around. One thing about soggy soil: the plants love it at first. It’s when it continues for months that death occurs. What I had been doing with this part of the garden was adding plants that can cope with lots of water. Grasses, barberries, daylilies, various evergreens and gingkos. A few weeks ago before the holes, the stones and so on it looked like this:

Shot #1

Le Jardin de Refusè before the floods lasted for months

Le Jardin de Refusé before the floods lasted for months


North side of Le Jardin de Refusé after earthworks installed plants moved.

North side of Le Jardin de Refusé after earthworks installed plants movedNow the Jardin de refusé is in a new phase and just as lovely. But I was so overwhelmed with despair that I seriously considered taking out all the plants and just turning this into a muddy bog. But there are huge trees that survived the wet: katsura, tulip tree, Carpinus ‘Fastigiata’ and C. ‘Nana’ and a Liquidambar that loved having wet feet. The latter is the best specimen I’ve seen of this selection (‘Fastigiata); and perennials such as Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’ are growing at a way faster pace than anywhere else in the garden. That’s one to watch and be a little wary of where it’s planted.This scene became almost unbearably and electrifyingly gorgeous the minute I thought I would lose it. I realize we gardeners go to extremes of emotion about our plants. Normally I am of the tough love school of gardening. Nothing affects me, plants come and they go. Well apparently I’m getting to be an old softie with age. I adore this area of the garden, it truly moves my heart.  Loss was going to hurt but  I now have it more or less back again with a few adjustments.

The grasses will sop up a lot of the water and though I did plant a small Japanese maple (A. p. ‘Shiraz’ barely visible among the grasses), it’s not there permanently. And also added Salix candida for a whack of silver among the gold and magenta. It’s another moisture-loving deciduous tree. This is still my Jardin de Refusé and I love it more than ever.

I recount this story because it’s a tale I’ve heard too often this year: death of plants, woe and despair with diseases and weeds. We’ve had two dreadful winters, and in parts of the country such as BC there’s a drought. Nothing seems to be right in the natural world. Things truly are changing.

In this shot you can see a dead tree in the background. It was a 15-year resident In Chiononanthus virginicus; . The slender tree on the right is the liquidambar


We gardeners have to garden defensively. This year I have not used some great plants such as Liriodendron tulipifera ‘Fastigiata’ because they’ve arrived dead or dying from the growers. As a garden designer I don’t get a guarantee so I’ve had to replace trees out of my own pocket (and sometimes my garden) which is not good business. Redbuds: unreliable now in our city. Some came out with the familiar blooms in spring and have lots of leaves; others stumbled and staggered through spring and are just now putting out leaves.

Derek Welsh, my go-to guy on trees, says to leave them alone. Prune them back in August and they will probably be much tougher trees in the future. We have to put up with a little ugliness if we want to keep these plants.   I am, however, not inflicting them on anyone else. And a great looking Serviceberry called ‘Autumn Brilliance’ which we picked by hand in the spring, arrived at the gardens hit by a late frost looking terrible. They will recover but meantime people are not very happy about the way the plants look.

We are going to have to be very very careful about how these go into the winter this year. Perhaps we have to lower our expectations about how perfect our plants should be. Perhaps we have to be more patient with them, they are after all living creatures with individual DNA and we should respect those differences.   Plants are going to have a hard time keeping up with climate change. It may take some species longer than others to adjust, but our job is to help them in the best way we know how: with loving care.


Right now is a great time to do some serious nipping back:

* Cut back perennials that are getting way too tall. They will sulk a bit, and then come back to bloom furiously in autumn.  Asters, mums, most prairie plants and anything that looks out of bounds.

* Lespedeza ‘Gibraltar’ is one of my favourite deciduous shrubs. But boy does it grow: way more vigorously than anyone let on. This is a monster plant and worth the space but watch where you put it. It’s now blotting out a gorgeous Acer palmatum ‘Shaina’ and I’m a tag reader but this is crazy. I should have given it the Chealsea chop in June but failed to do so voilà

* This is a perfect time to prune shrubs. You can take off spring blooms, remove dead stuff. And though you read this all the time—check crossed branches—take it seriously. Down the road it leads to an inarticulate mess.

* Japanese maples respond magnificently to skillful pruning. My place was given a hair cut of such supreme beauty that you cannot see it’s been done. The plants looks the same or better than a few years ago when they were photographed for Gardenista. Monique is a master at this and along with variegated dogwoods, viburnums nothing was safe from her pruners. I can now see through the garden and appreciate the varying layers of colour and density.

*And don’t be afraid to nip out brown spots from evergreens. You may end up with some odd looking Bonsai shapes but the plants will grow and who knows, perhaps be even lovelier.

* I like ground covers a lot but am not mad about Sweet Woodruff. It’s sometimes a bit adorable, but mostly it spreads like a wildfire and looks completely wrong with many of the woodland plants my garden favours. Out with it into deep shade somewhere else. Ditto the endless machinations of lungwort, Pulmonaria officianalis. It seeds. It spreads by rhizomes. It grows in between the roots and branches of other plants. It is indomitable. Therefore it has to be out of my garden. Love love love Pulmonaria ‘Excalibur’ here it is out of bloom and it looks superb. Has never budged from this spot even though that would be fine.

Pulmonaria 'Excalibur'

Pulmonaria ‘Excalibur’



  • If you are having problems with rain or lack of, it’s a good time to water deeply and then add a nice thick layer of mulch to keep the temperature down and weeds at bay. Hand water what counts (newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials). Leave the grass alone (in BC people who water their lawns are called Grassholes)
  • If you’re plagued with rain, digging drains does help the water flow away from plants and gives it a chance to re-distribute itself. But maybe we will be looking for garden umbrellas like the farmers who covered their strawberry crops with plastic trying to save them for a few sunny days and then to market.

Keep thinking up ideas on how we can protect our gardens in these parlous times. Defensive gardening may be one part of the salvation of our gardens.   If you come up with great solutions let me know here. The next newsletter will be in its usual format when the redoubtable Anna gets back from her holidays and we will carry on with signing people up who would like to read this.   Marjorie marjorieharrisgardens.ca   will show what we’ve done in the past. If you would like us to renovate your garden just push the contact me button and I will respond quickly.

3rd May, 2015

May in the Garden

I   complained about the water a few days ago, now with a brisk tidying up of the much, the paths edged nicely and bulbs just popping everywhere. Makes this old heart soar with joy, This morning I was on Niki Jabbour’s radio show this a.m. Tremendous energy and information. Now to go out and admire the garden and see the things about to unfurl: Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’ and the fabulous Stewartia pseudocamillia which is going to be smothered in blooms shortly.

The damage to the evergreens is intense and in most gardens they should be watered this weekend if the soil around them is at all dry.


2015 May 2 garden

27th Apr, 2015

The Spring Flood

Spring always means a rise in ground level water, everybody in the neighbourhood draining into my garden and the usual playground:  Some friends tell me I loe the               flood and could do without it because it’s so much fun slogging around the back garden.  It sure is like being a kid again.  I’ve been messing around with sump pumps and getting people in to help make the whole crazy system work.  There are days when I could do with out it all. Then there are other  days when I can see so much stuff burgeoning albeit slightly under water. Things are getting drier slowly. But it meant we couldn’t put duck compost everywhere so we’ll fling it about later this week

Garden flood April 2015





white crocus purple crocuspurple crocus white crocus


As thought by magic the mud subsided and the crocuses appeared in all their glory. Not ravaged by squirrels these beauties last long enough to feed any passing bee.

Spring is coming slowly into the garden and finally it’s possible to actually do some work.

Listen to me on Fresh Air:    http://www.cbc.ca/freshair/   this morning Sunday April 19 between 8 and 8:30
The perennial I mentioned today is  Lespedeza thunbergii  ‘Gibraltar’   I have a shot of it on my winter newsletter if you’d like to sign up

13th Feb, 2015

Alison Gordon

Our friend Alison Gordon died this week and the shock of it is only beginning to hit.  The depth of the hole she  left in so many people’s lives is hard to describe.

I was a friend, not an intimate but we told each other intimate things. It was always great to park fears and problems with Alison because you knew they were safe with her. What you said would never come back to bite you in the ass. She described the word trustworthy. A woman who loved gossip but knew a whole lot more than she ever passed on..

We went to the opera together for years until we deciced that part of our lives was over. It had become too expensive. Neither of us know a great deal about opera but we had years of fun exploring singers, inane plots and discussing the performances we’d just seen. We both wept at exactly the same spots in La Boheme to hell what anyone else thought.

One of the great gifts she gave friends was her annual New Year’s Day Levee. It was always proceeded by a witty beautifully crafted invitation and no one that I know of ever turned it down. You met everyone you wanted to see in that year. But only if they were funny and smart, really smart. So rooms full of smart, funny politicians, writers, musicians and journalists of every stripe made for a marvellous way to start the year.  It gave a sense of confidence that things weren’t really so bad if all these people, these terrific people could come together.

She stopped doing it a couple of years ago. Going out with a bang, she explained. More like a pang for the rest of us. So she and I decided we would go out for lunch at that time of year. The rallying cry being the same for all our lunches and dinners:  “Let’s treat ourselves the way we deserve to be treated.”

We saw each other last on December 30th hoping it would be a better year to come. We met at Pangea (close to the subway easy to get to) partly because it doesn’t have thumpy music and we could hear each other talk and well, of course, we deserved a treat.  It was also where Noodles used to be. A place we spent way too much time in during its heyday. This set off a waterfall of anecdotes about good and bad behaviour.

I remember there were oysters but not so much the taste as the pre order talk of liking West coast oysters better than East coast. I  had no  idea she was an afficianado . But that was Alison. We didn’t have an organ recital about all our aches and pains it was just not part of the conversation as we hacked our way through lunch (and helped eat each other’s desserts).

If I had known that was going to be the last lunch, the last long talk, the last anecdotes of her times with Desmond her beloved great nephew, I would never have stopped hugging and kissing her. But it was winter and it was cold.

I forgot to tell her a whole bunch of stuff I had meant to. I wanted to ask her more questions about this and that. Much is being made of her work as a baseball writeer and her novels but no one is mentioning her e-mails. They were keepers just like all the rest of her writing. She didn’t toss them off casually. Every word counted and they were moments to savor so of course you’d try to write half decent ones back.

I counted on her to keep me totally informed when out of town which she did with glee especially with political shenanigans. But I  never heard her say a mean word about her friends. She glowed with a pride in them.

She was jaunty. She dressed that way and she had that style in her e mails. The last one she sent just before we left town described one of her scary visits to hospital like a story that belonged to someone else. “But I’m home now with Miss Molly curled up on my bed.

I’ll see you when you get back from California. You are a lucky dog.”

I am. I knew Alison.






It has been the busiest summer of a busy life. We have  installed so many gardens and now things are slowing down and I can take a breath and be in m own garden.

Here we pulled out trees and shrubs and moved things around to such an extend it feels refreshed and new to me. I suspect anyone looking at the pictures of my garden, however, feel like they were seeing the same old thing. But this isn’t true.

dining room combo

Near the house, things were looking ratty so I had the Cornus compressa exchanged for a larger one; the Acer shirasawanum  exchanged for a larger healthier one and those the plant combination is the same, the results are much much better.


Cornus compressa is an interesting plant (that’s it on the left). I like to put it in as many gardens as possible. The catalogues say it will grow to 50cm obviously written by someone who has never grown it.  In my garden sometimes it hits 2.5M (8 ft) and is still growing.

The Japanese maple Acer shirasawanum ‘Aurea’  which we brought from the front garden where it was overshadowed by other plants but shines here. Once all these plants hit their maturity it’s going to be incredible. I’m patient.


I’ve been working on the summer quarterly, a little late but filled with information that is timeless (she said).  If you’d ike to subscribe, please let me know.


And here’s the link to the story on my garden published in Gardeniseta with photographs with the amazing Andreas Trauttmansdorf


If you need help please have a look at www.marjorieharrisgardens.ca   Or being in touch here.


6th Jul, 2014

July in the garden

I was on CBB’s Fresh Air Sunday morning with Karen Gordon which was such a pleasure.

And here’s the link to   GARDENISTA with the superb photos by Andreas Trautttmansdorff


hope you enjoy



3rd Jul, 2014

This Week in the garden

I’LL BE ON CBB’s Fresh Air Sunday morning at 8:30 a.m. with Karen Gorden.

Try and have a listen.

If you missed the story in Gardenista: here’s the link



Wow here’s a link to a story I wrote on the garden for GARDENISTEA

hope you enjoy


13th Jun, 2014

June in the garden

June 11 overall




What a great week in the garden. It started with the great photographer Andreas Trautmansdorff shoot in the garden. He’s doing it for Gardenista the gardening blog everyone seems to be reading these days. The garden looked ravishing and, of course,  Andreas’s magnificent photographs captured the garden that day in those moments. It was a lot of fun for me and brought back the glory days when we shot Canadian gardens for the now defunct Gardening Life magazine.

The garden has been incredible for the last month as it has revealed all the damage from a terrible winter. Things have come into fullness later than usual. Some things died which didn’t surprise me but other things have struggled and managed to live.  I will publish some of my favourite Spring plants and how they looked in this garden. And I’ll let you know when his shots are published.  They will be a treat.


Andreas in action is always a delight to watch. Andreas

5th May, 2014

Spring newsletter

The spring quarterly is going to be sent out today and if you want to receive it and aren’t on our list, hit the contact me and I will forward it to you.

Spring has reluctantly arrived.  The garden has the sound of spring in it:  water being pumped out of the dry well; the famous Annex clay attaching itself to my boots; the birds singing for the soy of seeing the sun. And plants rising about 18 inches a day.  It’s heaven. may5 overall