This newsletter is now quarterly because I found the weight of a monthly newsletter just too much of a burden. I went about my 10-hour /7-day-a-week work life feeling guilty all the time because I wasn’t making that deadline. If things slow down next year, I’ll step up the number of newsletters. It’s very hard for an old time freelance writer like myself to write for free. And there’s so much blather on the Internet, I feel embarrassed adding more unless I’ve got something to say.
I do think of the people who subscribe as interested in what goes on here, therefore I’ll carry on this way for the time being. On another personal note, I’m travelling this week to the Amalfi Coast; next month I go to Paris for six weeks; and California in February. Then in April to my dream trip of going to Great Dixter and learning from to the great Fergus Garrett (Christopher Lloyd’s successor—look at it on www.marjorieharris.com ).
Onwards into the garden. Here’s my latest plant crush: it’s in riotous bloom right now and it will be the subject of the last column of the year in the Globe and Mail:
Lespedeza thunbergii‘Gibraltar’ Z.6/ 6 ft tall.
It’s one of those plants whose shining glory is in September and October. In spring, however, you look at this dead stick and wonder what on earth it could be. In our climate, it dies right back to the ground. Mark it, cut back any remaining wood stalks, and it will very quietly grow all summer. I’ve got it next to a container with a combination of plants so striking, I’ll do exactly the same next year.
The weird looking plant sticking straight up is Amicia zygomeris which I bought from Jeff Mason (www.masonhousegardens.com) this spring. He has the very best collection of annuals that I’ve seen anywhere, and this is enchanting. Crazy looking seeds, long tall stalks, set it beside a path where it can be admired. Right now with the lespedeza blooming furiously in the background, it is absolutely magnificent.
The other outstanding annual bloomer is Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’
This is a prime balcony garden plant which just keeps on giving: it will bloom until frost whacks it down. If I harden it off and bring it into the house it will bloom all winter.
If you are ready to put your plants to bed, you should not ignore the following:
- Water all the trees and shrubs heavily; make sure any evergreens are watered especially deep. The latter transpire all winter and will suck the life out of themselves if they get dried out.
- Do a last clip of the grass and if you need to re-seed, use compost. I see mowers and blowers re-seeding with peat moss. Dopey practice. Actually dumb, because peat moss is a sterile medium that will wick moisture out of the soil. Compost will feed the grass.
- Look after your containers. Make sure they are on chocks or something to keep them off the ground for the winter. Water will drain properly and they won’t crack if you’ve got them planted up. And mulch them as you would any other plants.
Most gardeners couldn’t care less about what’s in or out, trendy or not, popular or not. Alas, I am guilty of something equally egregious. A friend at a nursery pointed out “There’s a Rhamnus ‘Fineline’, that plant you like so much.”
“I’m off it.” I replied “I used it a lot two years ago.” And if that isn’t snobby-trendy I don’t know what is. Sometimes I get thrown off plants because they just don’t behave themselves properly. A couple of bad seasons (which is what happened to this plant), and I’m reluctant to use it again.
But most of the time, I get thrown off plants when they are overused. Look around at what’s happened to hydrangeas. Every landscaper’s wet dream because they are almost unkillable. So instead of planting one great specimen, or a small collection, they’ll plant 20 all of the same kind. Observe what’s happening to Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ and H. m. ‘All Gold’. Unusual a few years ago; almost a cliché today.
I’ve slowed down using all these plants because I don’t want to date the garden. Each one should look timeless as well as having a modern feeling.
Resist the urge to merely throw things at a space problem. If you have a nice sweep of shade, don’t stick in ten hostas of the same ilk. Start a collection, use them like paints in a box—contrasting colours and textures. Always make them work with other plants.
The laziness of planting plans from designers and landscapers never fails to astound me. I got a cry of pain from a reader who’d just spent a whack of money on a garden re-design but felt it was just the same-old/same-old plant list. As indeed it was. It looked exactly like the same combination of plants the designer was doing 15 years ago—little more than a churned-out list of never-fail plants. It didn’t take us long to tweak it on paper with a list of plants that go much better with the colour of brick on her house and will make her much happier. If you are ever faced with this situation, get a second opinion or crack open the books and do some research.
The designer/landscaper never-fail list of plants: Hydrangeas masses of them; dozens of Vinca minor; sweeps of Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ and Echinacea spp; Rose of Sharon (which I’ll explain later); Sorbaria sorbifolia (False Spirea). I can give you more but you get my drift: plants that spread, that are guaranteed not to croak the first year, and are inexpensive.
Here’s one I see landscaper/gardeners use with impunity but have no idea of what the plant will do: Northern Sea Oats, Chasmanthium latifolium. It has intensely dramatic seeds but they produce millions of babies. Unless you’ve got someone who will pick off each one of them, don’t plant it in your garden. Stick it in a pot, admire and never let seeds fall in the soil.
I offended a lot of people with a Globe and Mail column rant on Hibiscus syriacus (Rose of Sharon) but my point was that this hardy plant spills seeds everywhere every day. They are light enough to float on the wind. If you plant it everyone in the ‘hood will have it soon. Given the short time it blooms is this really worth it? Most designer/landscapers have no idea what a bully this plant is and how big it gets because if they actually knew what it does why would they foist it off on unwitting clients? Why? Because it’s cheap and it’s iron-clad hardy.
There are so many wonderful plants now in nurseries that it’s heartbreaking to see the same old/same old. But what’s happening to Haks shouldn’t happen to such a good plant. It’s now popping up as the grass of choice in massed quantities. This is a plant that gets extremely plump, has a wiry root system that’s hell to divide and is such a visually demanding plant, it must be used judiciously. If it’s going to be an edger, please not fifty feet of it.
End of rant. I wouldn’t go on and on about what other professionals are doing if I thought these were unusual happenings. But I swear our work is about fifty per cent fixing up other professionals’ dreadful errors.
Here’s one we see way too often:
This is a hugely expensive Amelanchier canadensis (Serviceberry) that was doing nothing in a client’s garden. It was just planted badly, or so we thought until we started digging: a $300 tree had been shoved into almost pure sand still in its burlap/wire cage prison. Moving it was hell. We prepped a huge area with lots of good soil/compost and replanted it at the right level (only slightly proud, not plopped by machine into an inadequate hole). This is cheating the client so badly, it hurts. It does a disservice to the plant and to the work we love.
But you have to be very careful if you are planting anywhere near a house, a driveway, a swimming pool. It’s a lot easier to bury detritus then it is to lug it away and amend the soil properly.
It’s becoming more and more apparent to me why nothing in gardening is guaranteed.
Much about gardening is a crap shoot. In spite of being at the mercy is climate change, crazy planting techniques, and mislabeled plants, take a chance. Make something new. If it doesn’t work out, try something else. We’re in this for the long run, not just curb appeal.
It’s a great time to plant trees, but only if you can find healthy specimens. Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale or cheap. You always get what you pay for in gardening.
- Dig a really wide hole and make it as deep as the root system.
- Try to use as much local soil as possible but if you are unsure about how good the soil is, add compost to the hole. I don’t normally like to do this, preferring to only top dress (add it to the top of the soil), but I’m seeing so much crappy soil these days, best to be safe.
- Plant the tree so that it rises just barely above the surface of the soil. The flare should be obvious, planting too deeply will inhibit proper growth.
- Add as much compost as possible to the surface, make sure it isn’t touching the trunk. Mulch deeply as well and then add a bit more compost so it looks pretty.
This has been a year when you can’t win: Trees are either under-watered or over-watered.
There have been insanely hot days with such high UV rays that canopies of trees and shrubs have been frying. So if you have a frizzled looking Japanese maple or dogwood tree, hang in there, it might recover.
Here’s what happened to a glorious Cornus controversa ‘Argentea’ when it was flooded out in my own garden:
But it is coming back slowly so I’m going to trust that it will eventually be okay:
I’m always on the hunt for recipes that might work. I’ll try anything and here are two recent additions to the recipe collection:
- 1 tsp Neem oil
- 1 tsp Diatomaceous Earth
- 2-3 drops dish soap
- 3/4 litre very warm water. Mix well & shake to keep in suspension.
- Spray on all sides of leaves.
- Mix new batch with each application repeat every 2 -3 weeks.
I haven’t tried it but the Lily Guy says IT WORKS.
Deer Remedy :
My friends Ted Johnston and Tim Hunter swear by this one. They now have gorgeous garden beds uneaten by the local Bambis.
In a regular blender:
- one egg
- one tablespoon cayenne
- one tablespoon chopped garlic (buy it already chopped in a jar at the grocery store)
- water to one inch from top
Use a funnel to pour it into an empty four litre vinegar bottle (will hold up to three batches at once).
Make a small hole in the top of the vinegar bottle with a Phillips screw driver.
Shake the liquid over plants the deer like. If garlic blocks the hole, bang the top with your hand; if it still plugs, make the hole a bit bigger.
Re-apply after a heavy rain.
If this newsletter is too long, let me know. If there are copy errors, I know you’ll let me know. I can’t edit my own stuff. Thanks to Monique for a first read.
I will be back to you in the winter. I have changed my email address to: firstname.lastname@example.org and by the time I get back from Italy the conversion from Rogers to Bell will be complete. I know, from the frying pan to the fire. But even a letter to members of the Board of Rogers couldn’t rouse them enough to provide better service.
I hope you have a brilliantly colourful autumn.
If you need my services: email me.
Yours Marjorie 2013;Autumn