Marjorie's eLetter for Midsummer 2010

MID-Summer E-Letter
By Marjorie Harris

2 Clems In central Ontario we've had a heat wave the likes of which most of us are experiencing for the first time. Is it something we'll just have to suck up and get used to? Is this an anomaly? No one seems to know but it sends a lot of messages our way on how we will be gardening in the future.

First of all look to your watering habits. Water is something we have to share with birds and insects so make sure you've got some place for them to drop in for fresh (daily) water. The next is the time of day you water. Birds loves hanging around hoses so I'm always pleased to set one up and have it going even if it’s a little dribble. I'm normally scrupulous about this sort of thing, but I caught myself watering at midday recently because the plants were practically panting. Not good. Evaporation takes so much of the moisture you might as well not bother. Water in the early evening.

The other thing is the kind of system you use. Make sure it's efficient, doesn't drip wastefully and your method is right for the size of your garden. I've done a two-parter for which you can read if you subscribe to the newsletter I write for them every month. And August is on dead-heading. They have some terrific utensils and deliveries are practically instant.

The last but not the least is the kinds of plants you use. Check out their water needs as well as sun and space requirements. If it says moist soil you know you'll be watering it more than a couple of times a week. Moist soil is relatively easy to accomplish in a woodland setting because you've got lots of shade and probably a high humus level. If you haven’t got this, add lots of organic matter in the form of compost, ground up leaves and finely milled composted pine bark. Don’t be putting that woody looking mulch around. It takes too long to break down.

If you've got fully exposed borders or planted areas, if you've got containers (no matter how large), you'll be watering a lot. Get into the habit of doing these parts by hand so you really don't waste water. A big bucket or even one of the watering cans that balance well and are easy to carry (I love Hawes watering cans and have had the same one for 30 years).

Hawes Can

Have a look around the garden at the kind of plant combinations you can see around you. If you don’t like them, once the heat has subsided consider moving things very carefully. I’m a big fan of re-purposing plants and by that I mean moving them to make them more articulate, more aesthetic compositions. I’ll have a whole chapter on this in my new book (see below).

For instance: if you have goldenrod in your garden, put it near asters. This is what happens in nature and they look graceful, perfect in their harmony.

Combining shrubs and perennials: pick one aspect of the shrub you like (the colour of its bloom; one part of the foliage---look closely some have multiple colours and you want to pull one and emphasize it).


Or try two perennials that make a dramatic contrast:


This is a gigantic euphorbia and needs dividing almost every spring to keep it in check but it's worthwhile because of these gorgeous, acid yellow cymes; the allium is enchanting and will seed around though not vigorously.

When I chopped the euphorbia back this summer, I found a really nice little gingko crouched beneath it’s shade and a struggling dwarf pine. I realize again and again, how vigilant you must be to make a garden into a work of art. Big plants must be kept under control. I now know just how enormous this plant can get, so in future I’ll chop it back heavily at the end of June and give it another hair cut in July.

This business of letting plants get way too big, is easily remedied with a good pair of shears. Cut them back so a node (a little growth between stalks) and they will probably flower again. I made the big mistake of not taking the secateurs to some lax sedums, cutting them back at the end of June, and now they’ve fallen apart in the centre. So I‘ve had to brutalize them (chop them back by half) and hope that by September, they’ll be up and flowering again.

In a small garden it’s a mistake to get all sentimental about plants. The controlling hand is a must. If a plant is out of place, it will bug you no end. Move it. Just the slightest shift in position can often re-create a scene into something entirely new. And I’m thinking these days, that no matter how large a shrub, get it out of the wrong spot and into the right place.

But you can’t do this during a heat wave and August isn’t usually a really good time for transplanting. But early September, or a break for a couple of weeks with 20C temps, and you should get going.

Re-evaluate precisely what you can see from the house, then move into the garden and view each border for its sensual good looks. If it’s boring, what colours will bump it up? A hit of silver (artemisias) or gold (Japanese hedge grasses or the golden sumach Rhys typhina ‘Tiger’s Eye’) are often effective.

Transplanting now may not be the best idea, but if you spot a tree or a shrub or anything else has been sitting around in a container or balled-and-burlapped at a nursery, plant it. This idea that August is no time to plant is ridiculous, any living thing is going to do better with personal care than in a nursery or at the wholesalers.

Here’s my coup of the moment. A visitor several months ago said: “Get rid of that lilac. It’s too big, too dense for this little garden.” I was incensed. But the thought nagged at me so this past weekend out it came and in went a standard ninebark (Physocarpus ‘Diabolo’ on a stick). I’ll have to be pruning it regularly but the relief from having a dense, boring lilac dominating the foreground of the garden is relieved by the fact of how much space its demise opened up. And that hit of spectacular colour now backs up a silvery willow that will be fabulous by next summer.

Lilac and Clematis


Gardening, like anything else in life requires a little daring sometimes.

Next newsletter: bulbs.

I have a request for you to consider as a loyal subscribers:

I am working on a new book called The Thrifty Gardener. It will follow up on this year's THRIFTY: living the frugal life with style. I'd love to hear any of your good tips or ideas. I have quite of few in THRIFTY so I’m looking for things that are a little more arcane. So please email me.

If you haven’t got Thrifty, you can order it from me. Signed and sent $28.



If you need my services:  email me.

Yours Marjorie



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