Marjorie's eLetter for Winter 2010

Winter 2010 E-Letter
the winter garden
By Marjorie Harris

Left: The Winter Garden  last year; Right: this year you can see how much stuff has been moved around.

The early winter garden has the sensuality and look of an art nouveau painting. Lots of movement in the grasses, which have been seriously split up this year. But the real beauties are the evergreens, most of them fairly small and exquisitely ornamental. They shine. They aren't difficult to grow, but you've got to have them in the right spots. Most of them like well-drained soil; a lot of them hate the wind. Any with creamy edges need some shade. Place them so they're scattered throughout the garden with the over-all structure foremost in your mind. In an open space, combine them with ornamental grasses to emphasize stillness and movement. But they make superb background plants, creating a 'moment' under a shrub or tree, producing a pattern that gives a garden a whole new look.


Here are a few of my favourite evergreens:

Thuja plicata 'Whipcord' Thuja plicata 'Whipcord' is one that will be available next year in some of the better nurseries, such as Fiesta Gardens (200 Christie St., Toronto). This plant has behaved so well I'd love to see it more often. With its soft texture, you can't help touching it as you pass by. It can reach to 3 ft. tall, but I don't hold out much hope for that. I'm happy with its 16-inch height in a semi-shaded spot where I can gaze at it all winter long.










Chamaecyperis obtusa 'Confucius'

Chamaecyperis obtusa 'Confucius' is a new delight this year. It will get bigger than than most dwarf hinoki cypresses, has a conical shape and turns a bit orange in winter. It might grow up to 10 ft., but I'm just hoping for at least 5 ft., given that it has a good position at the central axis of my garden.

























Picea orientalis 'Skylands'

Picea orientalis 'Skylands' will grow much larger than the other evergreens in this garden and has the shape of a magnificent sculpture. It stays this way all winter long. I love this tree as a specimen standing on its own -- the pine cones are stunning. It might get up to 50 ft. (but not in my lifetime).













I'll be adding more and more evergreens next year because they give just about the best bang possible for the nursery dollar. They come in such as a range of sizes and colours; combine well with grasses (improves them actually) andwith hellebores and arums, liriopes and ferns. The shapes are as amazing as the colour range. I'm not a huge fan of the really contorted monsters you see in some gardens, but the smaller ones are becoming a tiny bit of an obsession (oops, I feel the collecting bug coming on).

The Christmas Tree:

Choose one that hasn't had all the lower branches removed. You can use them in your house décor or in containers. And don't get rid of it after the season is over. Whack off branches and lean them against broad-leaf evergreens such as rhododendrons that are exposed to the burning March sun. They afford great protection and look good. And if you can saw up the trunk, place the chunks throughout the garden to provide habitats for insects in the spring.

Winter Containers:

When you are making up your winter containers, make sure you remove some of the soil if it comes up to the lip of the top. If the soil gets wet and freezes, the expansion can harm the container itself. Combine living plants, such as the little evergreens you can pick up cheaply at local corner stores, with your own live plants if you haven't gotten around to finding a final resting place for them (hellebores are fantastic for this.) Add a few cones, some brightly coloured twigs and greenery. and you've got a simple and easy combination which looks pleasant and doesn't cost the earth.

I'm a big advocate of fairy lights because they always look enchanting at night. Even with the lights on all through the garden, tossing in a few extra during the winter gives me a thrill. I want light to keep back the darkness. No electric outlet? Try the new strings of solar light, (I have a newsletter with them suggesting gifts for gardeners as well).

Indoor Plants:

What's really exciting this year are the new cultivars of Amaryllis. I was completely knocked out by the ones I saw in the catalogue and couldn't resist ordering three each of the smaller, new acidy-green ones called 'Green Dragon,' 'Lemon Sorbet' and, just for a contrast, 'Amalfi,' a new Sonota amaryllis 24 in subtle peachy rose. Since I'm not going to be keeping them after they bloom, I've set them in attractive bowls amidst stones, shells and beach glass, anything I could find sitting about. They can bloom their heads off and when they're finished, off they go into the compost -- a short and divinely glorious life. I haven't got the room for storage, nor the patience to grow them again. I'm enjoying the change that comes with each day.


Amaryllis 'Green Dragon' photographed by Kelly Flye

Here's a shot of Amaryllis 'Green Dragon' photographed by Kelly Flye in snowy Muskoka. This makes me even more excited about growing such gorgeous plant.

If you are going to plant up these huge bulbs, use orchid soil because it's filled with rich additives which will help the plants grow very quickly. Don't leave a lot of soil around the bulbs, just enough to keep moisture in once they've started sprouting. Hold off watering until you see the stems start to emerge, put the pot in a sunny spot and start watering. You'll have some sort of bloom in about six weeks. What a cheery plant to have around the house in the gloomiest part of winter.

Gifts for Gardeners:

Consider a membership or membership extension to your local botanical garden. All of these gardens across the country do a fantastic job of bringing us new ideas, lovely things to see and great events.
Go to and you'll find a number of gifts I've suggested for gardeners there.

I'll have a list of books that I've seen this year that I think are good. And I promise to start blogging again regularly. I was in Paris for a couple of weeks and it's thrown me off my usual routines.

Have a wonderful holiday season. Keep looking at all the treasure out in your garden and take lots of pictures so you can see what to mprove for next year's viewing.


If you need my services:  email me.

Yours Marjorie



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