Marjorie's eLetter for SUMMER 2011

Summer 2011 E-Letter
By Marjorie Harris


my garden in July. The lilies are about to come out, the Fagus sylvestris 'Roseo-marginata' is spectacular this year (that the multicoloured beech in the centre of the shot).


The summer garden makes me incredibly happy especially after a careful haircut and a ton of removals. Summer has finally arrived and it’s going to get unbelievably hot says our weather guru David Philips (just so we can blame him if it doesn’t). This is not great news. We had a warm winter, bugs and diseases didn’t die off, followed by a wet spring and an onslaught of fungal diseases which are now rampant among our trees and shrubs. I’ve never seen anything like it in all the years I’ve been gardening.

I have a wonderful tree, a Heptacodium miconoides or Seven Sons tree (which I mentioned in my last newsletter). It was its usual lovely self one day and the next it went black with wilt. A call to arbourist Derek Welsh warned me to leave it alone. I stood by for a couple of days and took out my magnifying glass and spotted about a million aphids. This is one tree I have never left alone and true to form, I whacked away at it with my trusty loppers and it ended up looking like this. You have to get behind the affected spots and one whack lead to another. Alas I’m becoming used to the idea that there is almost nothing there instead of a leafy canopy. But it is coming along. And of course I’ll nurse it back to health. Shocking. But there’s some new growth and I believe in this tree. And look how it’s rewarded me:

Heptacodium before

How the eye works in the garden is absolutely fascinating. There are people who are colour blind, people who are plant blind and then there are the garden blind. These people just can’t see plants in a context, and they can’t see a garden as it is presenting itself. Or what it could be.

I meet unhappy garden owners all the time as we go into gardens to fix them up. What’s happened in most cases is a travesty perpetrated on the garden by someone who’s “landscaped” it without providing any vision, doesn’t have any real knowledge about plants and certainly any interest in the brains and the senses of any of the client. What they are really unhappy about is something that’s second rate. Most people know when they’ve got something that isn’t very good but they are not sure how to fix it.

If you are unhappy about your garden, do a couple of very simple things to help it out:

Check the soil. Is it depleted? Does it have a lot of organic matter in it (nice, loose, loamy with good drainage)? Everything depends on your soil. I keep hammering away at this. But if soil is lousy the plants will struggle. To make a healthy garden, remove all the plants and start digging out a good 8 to 18 inches downwards.

Replace crappy soil with good loam (not triple mix which has peat moss) and top with lots of compost. Sounds like a pain, and it is a huge job, but it works. It gives the plants a chance to take purchase in the ground and will affect the soil all around in a good way. If you want to improve the texture of the soil, add gritty horticultural sand.


When a border looks mushy or boring, it needs help. Take all the plants out of a given area (don’t carve out anything too big). Once you get all the plants out, move them around into different positions.

Here’s a section of my own garden before I tore it apart:

this is such a mush of plants and the geraniums were flouncing around to the point of madness

To my eye, only a mother could love this mess. Full of great plants but you really can’t see them. So with my friend Monique doing all the hard work, we pulled out all the smaller perennials. Cleaned up the bulbs and re-organized them. I try to get rid of the pesky Ornithogalum (Star-of-Bethlehem) that I put in 40 years ago (12 then, thousands now), and the few remaining tulips will be shoved over to a whole other area, but as usual I’m torn about the narcissus. I love them but the mess...a conundrum. So indecision means they get put back in an area where the foliage won’t be ruinous to the eye.

Then we pulled out all the serious self seeders: Geranium phaeum ‘Samovar’ moves everywhere. It was not supposed to run, but it does; then there are the daylilies that sneak in, the other rambunctious geraniums, the lovely Carex greyii which looks fantastic with its Sputnik-style seedheads but it moves way too quickly for this garden. So out it goes into the cursed areas where nothing else will grow.

Then we moved plants around and about. Some were given more space and other barely moved a few inches but it was the critical few inches that count.

This is the same area after getting rid of the geraniums and a few more major plants.  Two new salvias were planted; and that very poisonous Castor plant which will give the Artemisia lactiflora 'Ghuize' some competition in height.

Here are some of the plants in this shot:

Sciadopytis ‘Evergreen’ is indeed evergreen and one of my favourite plants; Berberis thunbergii ‘Ring of Fire’ and B.t. ‘Purpurea’. They were cut back seriously and wearing very heavy gloves. Next a perfect Lathyrus vernis; behind it an unusual looking Japanese maple which I bought at Lost Horizons which has a terrific collection of unusual acers of all stripes.

Next is a Salix candida a much underused little tree which has been here for many years but hidden by other plants. Next major plant is a fern leaf beech, Fagus sylvatica ‘Asplenifolia’ and gorgeous as a little (for the moment) standard. It’s one plant I’ll have to watch like a hawk because it grows quickly and can get enormous. I don’t want it to grab my neighbour’s sunlight and I want it to have a very specific volume.

This area is by no means finished and we’ll just keep nudging away at until it looks right. You see it doesn’t take much, but it does take some insight into what you both need and want. I wanted something more tailored, less crowded. I needed to see the ground showing between plants. This is new stage of gardening for me.


Most of us who love clematis are worried about the supply of them. There are fewer and fewer of the species, and even fewer of the big flowered hybrids. It’s because they aren’t easy to grow. A few places such as Garden Import and Lost Horizons have some really interesting ones. But you’ll have to look after what you’ve got. One question was about dividing them.

And here’s what Clematis Maven Christopher Andrew says: Only divide the herbaceous types (they die back in winter) and the non-climbers (C. heracleifolia; C. integrifolia (including newer hybrids: ‘Blue Boy’; ‘Algonuchka’; ‘Inspiration’; ‘Rogouchi’ et al; C. recta and C hexapetala.) All develop into a good clump and can be divided as easily as perennials. You can find them at Lost Horizons for extremely reasonable prices.

You can see videos of me doing various little chores on the Globe and Mail some are shot in my garden and others in the wonderful Fiesta Gardens (200 Christie St Toronto); and I hope you watch the blog. I’ll be attempting to do it weekly.

We still have a couple of places left on the tour to Italy, so I would love it if you could join us.

If you need my services:  email me.


Yours Marjorie



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