13th Apr, 2014


I was on Fresh Air this morning with the wonderful Mary Ito who makes everything feel fresh.  We discussed the incredible damage our canopy was slammed by the winter ice storms which hit especially hard here in Southern Ontario.


I called my arbourist, Derek Welsh (Authentic Tree Care) about the surrounding damage our trees are suffering right now. He says:  “Get the damaged wood from all the storms out of the garden as quickly and safely as possible.  The trees are starting to wake up and they’ll want to heal themselves. Give them all the help you can.”


You can do this by whacking away at the timber yourself, but it’s really safer to hire a certified Arbourist.  Don’t hire Fly by Night Tree Guys.  There are too many idiots wandering up and down trees doing more damage than good.  Be very careful. Don’t believe a lot of bafflegab (taking on more than you really need) and get them to quote in stages.


Chores you can do yourself:

* If you see shrubs and trees with stubs, remove them.  Really bad clumsy arbourists leave these things sticking out and they are ripe for bugs and diseases to enter.  Plus the tree wastes energy trying to make a collar around these things.

*A good cut is a thing of beauty:  it should not be flush against the trunk or branch the same thing happens tree can’t heal itself. It should be a slight distance away from trunk or branch and it should form a natural collar with the plant.

* Derek recommends that you do not try to do this with very old tree like big old red maples and beech trees.  Wait and do as little pruning to them as possible.  Obviously someone has to take out dead stuff but wait to do that until they leaf out. He says he’s even holding off on cedars right now because they are going brown. It’s a tricky year so don’t beat yourself up with it.


In fact, hold off a lot of the normal pruning you’d do right now because we have no idea what kind of damage there’s been. I’d prune my Japanese maples any old time but I’m giving them a few more weeks and then I’ll take out the dead stuff, twigs and branches that are crossing or don’t look good.

But don’t over nip and tuck—any plant can die of a thousand cuts.

I always go for a refresher to Shigoandtrees.com   Alex Shigo is my hero of all things to do with trees.  Very wise man he was and if you hire an arbourist who doesn’t know his work find another one.  He is the Tree God no doubt.

So if you wait a week or two and see how things are:

* Don’t hack away at maples or birches, they tend to run sap like crazy and look awful.        Could also attract bugs

* Never cut flat against the branch or trunk.

* NEVER leave a stub.

Make sure you get a certified arbourist. There are so many gardeny scams and this is one of the big ones. These guys come around doing cheap work and they are wrecking our trees.

All the trees we had pruned properly last year had no damage whatsoever.

Try not to get at your trees and shrubs by standing on wet or soggy soil.  If you must do this because you it’s absolutely necessary:  get boards to stand on so it doesn’t compact the soil.


You can cut back the ugly look of grasses right now. There are warm season and cold season grasses and if you can remember which is which, good luck. I just whack them all back before they start growing or you’ll take the tips off.


We’re spreading around yards and yards of compost right now. Duck is my preferred but whatever it is make sure it’s well composted, doesn’t smell and isn’t frozen. It should be well screened.  We do this now because it’s easy and we’re not disturbing plans and it will feed them as the soil thaws out.


If you can’t resist the lure of  a completely cleaned and sharpened pair of secateurs, do the following:

ROSES:  Take out all the dead stuff, put compost around and later on plant some garden beside them

FRUIT TREES  do now in in early spring

Hibiscus  cut out the winter kill when buds start swelling.   Don’t let it seed over the entire neighbourhood please


SHRUBS  such as forsythia and lilac, wait until  after they’ve bloomed.

VINES:  cut Clematis back unless they bloom in spring.

Wisteria  whack it back like crazy for shape.  Then be prepared to cut it back in summer as well.



Go at your pruning this year with extra care.   Always use really clean tools.  Never stand on soggy soil, use wood slats to distribute your weight.


I’m working on a spring newsletter if you’d like to sign up. Go to contact me and I’ll get it to you.

It seems an impossible length of time since I’ve been on this blog. Somehow I managed to be in Paris and came back to winter; and then we went to California and came back to winter. So now Spring is arriving in such a stealthy manner it has made us all anxious.

During these periods I made the decision  not to go on any more tours. I love to travel so if I’m going anywhere it will be with my beloved husband. My days of touring groups of people are over.  Unless, of course, I change my mind.

I will be on CBC’S  Fresh Air   with Mary Ito Sunday April 13, 2014  between 7:30 and 8 a.m.

I’ll post notes about pruning tomorrow a.m.  We had a very lively discussion.

I have a piece in Zoomer magazine about my favourite gardens.






This is the long long connector for my Globe and Mail column last week. It also has the videos we’ve been making on there as well.  They are fun and fun to do.


Here are links to the videos themselves:







3rd Aug, 2013

Water in the Garden

I was on CBC’s FRESH AIR this morning and promised  a fresh new shot of my garden which is here.  The one thing I cannot get is the depth, the layering and the constant sense that is changes minute by minute.   A perfect morning to watch the light coming into the garden.

Aug 2013 overall

29th Jun, 2013

All that plastic grass

The horror happened on our street this week.  Truck after truck carted away trees, hostas, shrubs and soil.  All gone.  Then more trucks rolled in with herbicides to spray the ground, truckloads of screening was dumped and then  thumped into place with heavy duty machinery.  The final insult was ugly looking unreal all-plastic grass.  It’s awful, terrible, dreadful.

We neighbours stood around gobsmacked and upset.  There was not a damn thing we could do. The owners of this plastic hell can do whatever they want with their property. The trees were of small enough caliper that they didn’t need a permit for removal. And no one cares about that other stuff.  It’s legal and we can just mind our own business.

But what no one has taken into account  is how this is going to change the ecology in our area.  We live on underground streams from the  Taddlecreek system which runs through downtown Toronto.  This water eventually ends up in Lake Ontario.  What we dump on our gardens will end up there too.  We are on a flood plain which means the ground water rises dramatically  in a year like this one and floods everyone’s garden.

Well this stuff plastic stuff is supposed to be permeable but when you see them pounding limestone screening into the ground, what comes to mind is cement.  The water that would normally rise and then fall is going to tumble into the gardens on either side  of this awful green horror.  What’s there for birds in this wasteland?  Where will the millions of  animals that make up the soil go? It will have the smell of death about it forever.  Nothing will change.

I understand it when put plastic grass (and there some good products) in a small area, say around a swimming pool.  But to completely destroy an entire yard for plastic is unconscionable.  You can bet this home owner will get a leaf blower to remove any offending bits of nature which might stray on to his property.  Why isn’t there something we can do about it?  It’s all perfectly legal.


7th Jun, 2013

spring videos

Here’s a remarkable blooming in the garden this week.  It’s gorgeous. And the house and garden are ready for their close up.

june 7 overall

I am doing set of new videos for the Globe and Mail and here are the first ones we a few weeks ago. They do a terrific job editing them and we loved being at the Toronto Botanical Garden to shoot them.






We will be adding  more to the current repertoire in a few weeks and but if you follow either of these links you’ll see what we’re doing.

And on Saturday June  8th there will be an architectural tour going through our house and (I hope) admiring our wonderful garden room and perhaps looking at the garden. If you are interested you can a discount as follows (use the promotional codes below):


What having a tour going through our house has meant is much fixing of stuff, repainting, re oiling, moving of things. It’s gorgeous now and of course the garden is glorious. A friend who  was at The Chelsea Garden Show this year said “This is what the really good gardens look like this year.” Well this garden has looked like this for many years. Maybe the world will catch up:  you can create beauty when you create an ecologically sound garden.



18th May, 2013

Xeriscape gardens


acer moonrising

This  is my latest beauty, not a xeriscape plant of course.  It’s Acer shirasawnum ‘Moonrise’ and the  touches of red on the palmate leaves are echoed in the red tulips which I’d forgotten I’d planted last fall. Nature the great designer, serendipity for the rest of us.




In this Saturday’s Globe I’ve got the cover story on Xeriscape Gardens. It’s a terrific take out and I’m thrilled with the design.

Sunday morning I’ll be on CBC’s Fresh Air with Karen Gordon talking about the pitfalls of trendy gardening.  Spring has indeed sprung.

On Wed. May 22 I will be giving a talk called “Let’s Stop Making Ugly Gardens” for the Whitby in Bloom Series:   7:30 p.m. at  Brooklin United Church, 18 Cassels Road East. Brooklin.  Come and say hello.

It’s astounding the difference a day or two makes at this time of year. It’s like having a teenage kid who has a growth spurt: they are crashing and bashing about.

I had given up in despair but this is the difference a couple of days has made:

2013 Early April


Flood and mess to:




2013 later in April


masses of bulbs, in the background there’s a Corylopis pauciflora  that’s going to bloom its head off like crazy this year.

It’s still muddy but I don’t care. With all the moisture some of the moisture  is being returned to the water table. It’s was dead dry back there last year.


It’s a good time  winkle out all those weeds and also and excellent time to learn how to identify them.  The following is a quote from Scott’s:

There are two main types of weeds: broadleaf and grassy. Or, you may hear them referred to as monocots (broadleaf) and dicots (grassy). An example of a broadleaf weed would be a dandelion and an example of a grassy weed would be crabgrass. Each type has certain control methods that should be followed to keep them out of an established lawn.

Basically, any plant growing in the lawn that does not resemble grass is a broadleaf weed. Examples of broadleaf weeds are dandelions and thistle.

A few weeds can be pulled up by hand, but many will grow right back because of their deep tap root. It may appear that the entire weed was pulled out, but the tap root simply breaks and what is left in the soil will just sprout new weed growth above the soil.

The best defense against weeds is a thick lawn that is properly cared for and never scalped by mowing. A thick lawn will choke out weeds and never allow them a place to establish in the lawn. This can be established by mowing your lawn high and giving it proper feedings so that it grows thick and fills in bare spots.

Grassy weeds are tough, aggressive plants that thrive on stressed areas of your yard. Dried out lawns, thin patches, sun-scorched areas are inviting spots for grassy weeds. Grassy weeds are often invasive species and spread thousands of seed during their lifespan. The common ones you’ll see in lawns are crabgrass, goosegrass, and dallisgrass.

Scotts EcoSense® Weed B Gon® gets right inside the cell structure of weeds, which causes them to dry up, turn black, shrivel and die, without harming the rest of your lawn.

End of quote:  I’ve never tried any weed killer because all my gardening is organic. But if you are panicked, try it in a small dose to see if it works for you and doesn’t leave an unsightly hole.

Right now I’m just grateful that the gardening season has started again.  And I’ll be back in the Globe and Mail again this year. And we have some wonderful old client and great new clients who want us to work on their gardens.  Yeaaa for spring.

15th Feb, 2013

California Life 2

It’s an astounding day: full of sun and more people around than usual because it’s the beginning of the long weekend here: Monday is Presidents’ Day. More people on the beach than we’ve seen since we got here. That means a few dozen today and maybe more tomorrow.
It’s always amazing here: we cook and eat to the sound of the waves rolling in down below. Every evening there is a magnificent sunset which I can post on FaceBook but apparently not on here. And each evening a young surfer bobs around on the waves until the sun sets and he goes off home until tomorrow.
I love the sameness, yet difference of light and the smells that linger in the air through each long day. From the sun rising on the mountains behind us to the sunset skimming across the water in front. we are incredibly lucky to have found this bit of paradise.
It’s like being in a small European town: everyone says “Good day” in one way or another and we have met people on the street who know about our books or have just seen us around. It’s a kind of warmth we have in our own neighbourhood at home.
We’ve even been to a cocktail party or two. And down here that means a banquet of food as well as lots of wine and talk. The big difference is that we all stand about watching the sun go down. A few days ago we were looking for a flash of green. But it won’t happen until there’s an atmospheric conversion a flash of green comes like an explosion when the water is warmer than the air, or vice versa. So we learned at the cocktail party.
Doesn’t matter we wait for it each evening and it becomes a Caneletto out there or a wild impressionistic painting. It is full of glory

9th Feb, 2013

California living 1

We are here in what can only be described as Paradise: on the ocean, with a sandy beach stretching as far as the eye can see in either direction. The dolphins were out in full force today and the occasional pelican swooped in to peer around.

It’s perfect, or is it? There are no more shells at least not this week. It seems only a few years ago when big storms as we had yesterday lashed these shores, the ocean would give up its treasures to all of those trawling for them on the beach. Today is a very low tide and yet there are no shells, few stones. I swear in the past you’d see people dragging bags of them away to edge, mulch and otherwise adorn their gardens.
I asked a beach volunteer and she thought there was little being fetched up from the sea but even if you could find stones and shells, you can’t take them away anymore. I wonder if the people marching up and down know this.


The sunsets are astounding. But the wonders never cease. What I have seen this week:
A young man walking a wire set up between two palm trees
A chap practising his new equipment for hang gliding. All he needs is a cliff he said.
A surfer with a sail working it back and forth in the wild winds with dophins mucking about all around.
It’s a wondrous place with much more to come maybe a plant or two.