MIDWINTER NEWSLETTER 2013
2013 is going to bring us all luck. Right. Not that we gardeners need it, of course. When it comes to plants, luck has nothing to do with success. It requires some knowledge, a bit of deftness and patience waiting for plants to fulfill themselves. We all face major confusion how to get to this level of gardening: not perfect, but trying hard to make plants happy. What more could a plantaholic really wish for?
Well, here’s my wish list for gardeners in 2013:
MY FIRST WISH:
Start with thinking about pruning properly. I know I bang on about this, but I’m not seeing people hop to it fast enough. Either learn how to do it properly or hire someone who does know. In our company, we practice what we call bonsai pruning of shrubs and trees. We go at them very very carefully looking at every single branch and seeing if it makes sense (doesn’t cross, isn’t dead) and prune for shape. Shape is everything. This is incredibly fiddly and takes a lot of time but it is so worthwhile at the end.
As I keep harping about pruning, advice from Russell Paige: lie down on the ground under a shrub and get to know the structure from there. Then start whacking away. You look like a complete idiot but you learn a lot.
Dr. Alex Shigo was my first mentor in the pruning world. Many years ago I interviewed him at a conference and described his techniques in one of my books. His work is still the benchmark as far as I am concerned. Check out his web site, buy his books, follow his example: www.shigoandtrees.com. Dr. Shigo died in 2006 but his ideas live on.
He railed against the abuse of city trees, he made us understand what caused girdling roots (really stupid planting techniques), how dangerous it is to cut branches flush against the trunk and what harm is created by leaving stubs. By now, you’d think these lessons would be part of our DNA. But that’s not so. I see incompetent pruning all the time and leaving stubs is the worst one.
You can start pruning some plants soon and here’s a list of shrubs that you should be pruning every year:
Buddleia; Callicarpa; Cercis; shrub-like dogwoods (Cornus); Cotinus; some Hydrangeas (arborescens, paniculata and macrophylla the ones that re-bloom; Physocarpus (P. opulifius ‘Diabolo’ will grow about 20 feet a year if you let them); willows (some like the variegated Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’ (pictured below) need pruning every few weeks to make a shapely form, so keep that in mind when you choose it); Sambucus and Spirea. This is only a partial list of very common plants but sometimes we forget what must be done and when.
Here are ones you can do every few years: Aronia, Corylopsis, Corylus, Cotoneaster, Deutzia, Disanthus, Forsythia, Fothergilla and Hydrangea querifolia and the H. macrophyllavarieties.
MY SECOND WISH:
Really good maintenance. It’s pointless to buy good plants if you don’t maintain them well. They need watering (but not overwatering); composting and a mulch in spring and autumn.
I’m going to put a huge dose of duck compost all over my garden this spring. That’s when it’s easy to throw it around and not be terribly neat. I did it two years ago, mulched last autumn, and now it’s time for another good feeding. The reason I’m doing all of this is that our weather patterns are so crazy—no one knows if it will be a long season, a hot one or even if we will get any rain. I’m planting with hope but being very careful.
MY THIRD WISH:
Great respect for our trees. There is no point in having a street tree if you don’t take some responsibility for it yourself. Assume it’s your problem, never wait for the municipality to do anything right for a tree. They have terrible trimming policies, no watering and maintenance follow-up because of budget cuts. Anyway the trees are our lungs so we should look after them. I look at the silver maple outside my house. It was tagged for death 10 years ago but never removed. Chunks have been hacked out willy-nilly, but I water and compost it regularly so it will probably see me out.
Spot lunkhead pruning? Ask the guys what they are doing and why. They should have a good reason and, if they don’t, report your concern to the forestry department. In Toronto it’s 311.
MY FOURTH WISH:
Try at least one interesting new plant in each season. There are fantastic plants coming into the market and many of them are evergreen. All gardens need another evergreen, I don’t care what size it is. Evergold, ever-variegated, they are ever-amazing.
Or this pale purple Chamaecyparis ‘Heather Bun’ shown at left.
For inspiration, please go to www.whistlinggardens.ca. This nursery-cum-botanical garden is the brainchild of Darren Heimbecker and it’s madly crazy, wonderful and gloriously inspiring. He doesn’t do mail order, you’ll have to go to his nursery in person or hire me and I’ll do it for you, but you have to look at his ideas. He combines evergreens with other woody plants in such an imaginative way. He tries everything and he grows plants very very well.
He came to my garden in early winter. Not a leaf to be seen and identified every plant his eyes lit on. By now, of course, a lot of them are from his nursery, so that was the easy part. And I want to try many more of his plants and anyone who is a plant crazy person will be in seventh heaven just looking at his list. Demand what you like from your local nursery. I keep saying: if we demand them, they will grow the plants we long for.
I’m going to California and will blog from there regularly (PROMISE). This is a much deserved rest, but we’re looking forward to spring and making more magic in gardens around the city. And, I’m hoping we’ll have our new web site devoted to Marjorie Harris Gardens. It will be up in a month or so and we’ll alert you to it. It’s certainly fun looking at material for it.
If you need my services: email me.