The glorious autumn we’re having is making up for the difficult summer.
To celebrate: an AUTUMN NEWSLETTER

Visit the CBC online to read my recent advice about bulbs:
It’s time to plant your spring bulbs — A pro’s advice for ensuring the prettiest, earliest blooms post-winter

Let me know if you need help.  I can answer questions and I can always consult with you with a personal visit or photographs.

The back garden gets more satisfying all the time. What you can see here:

L to R:  ‘Hanna Matoi’ (pink foliage); Athyriium ‘Ghost’; Thujopsis dolobrata ‘Nana’; Hostas: ‘Showtime’, ‘On Stage’ and ‘Liberty’; Sciadopitys verticillata  and this one is a golden sport which holds its colour beautifully.


Summer brought killer heat to Toronto.  We could see trees and shrubs frying before our eyes.  In this kind of summer, a plant can be fine one day and the next day look like crap.  Constant vigilance is at the core of summer gardening. At no other time are the plants so vulnerable as to how we manage them.  Keep them hydrated by hand if you have to. This might help to keep plants from crisping out, or having major needle fall.


Alas the weird storms with pounding rain that rolls right off the soil followed by weeks of drought are probably going to be our new normal.  If we don’t adjust to climate change we are going to lose what we love most about our gardens:  the sight of magical life popping up year round.

We are definitely going to have to rethink watering which is going to become more and more of a luxury.  I wait with bated breath for water restrictions. In Ireland, there was no watering of gardens until the end of August.  In our newly hot clime, this would speak of doom.

I am shocked at people who ignore the health of their city trees.  There are no budgets for watering most of these public trees and merely putting three or four buckets of water on them a couple of times a week will help save our stressed-out urban forests. Why this is not a law is beyond me.  So get out there and set a good example for your neighbours.   Those trees keep our cities clean, the air in better fettle and lower the temperature of our houses. As we go into winter make sure you see that they are deeply watered.

Here’s my experience with a city tree:  Last year the city cut down the old silver maple and I had them install a Kentucky Coffee Tree. This year we can barely sit on our front porch it’s so insanely hot. And, until the KCT develops its magnificent canopy, I’ve got cheap fake bamboo screens trying to help cool the house. A/C, alas, is running way more than we want.

I have always been the watering system for this garden. Except for a brief period in the 1980s when I experimented with a buried leaky hose system. It was not for me. I was still in heavy-duty planting mode and I kept tearing the pipes apart with my shovel.  I abandoned it years ago.

Today’s low flow drip systems are way more sophisticated and efficient. My garden  is very complex:  there’s no grass, there are more than 150 trees and shrubs in a very small area but there is also little disease and few bad insects—a pretty healthy place.

A low flow system is what Karen Wielonda installed for me.  The garden is divided into four zones in the back and one for the front.  This has meant 1 meter has three zones on it and the other two each have one.  There is a central hose in each zone, running from this are two kinds of heads:  one is a dripper—a slow drip to the base of each shrub and tree; or a pop up head which acts like a sprinkler to water several perennials at the same time. But the important thing is that it’s getting to the plants under the rain shadow their foliage will inevitably will form—something we always forget about big perennials, shrubs and trees.This simple method means it’s getting to the place where the water is urgently needed.

When I told a friend I had installed a watering system, she said “You will love it.  I felt like I got my life back again once we put one in.”  We shall see. I have always had the attitude that I am in better touch with my plants by watering each and every one of them personally. It does give me a chance to communicate with them and check how each one is doing. So I always feel as though I’m in control (an illusion I realize) and it makes me feel good.  But what with an aging body and hauling heavy hoses all over the place getting to be more and more onerous, I might adjust eventually.

If you are in the Toronto area, you can contact Karen Wielonda   Her work is meticulous and she’s a lovely person.

Front before the pruning

Front after the pruning

Deadheading and Pruning

It’s a tad too late to say:  cut back perennials such as sedums and asters if you want them to be more under control. Put this in your calendar for July next year.  But you can make sure your plants look really handsome by never leaving the house without secateurs in hand. Nip and snip your way through the garden keeping things in bound.

If your Japanese maples are looking frazzled, do a little careful pruning. If you can stand lying on the ground beneath them you’ll see where to cut.  Carry on shaping and pruning and do not be intimidated by their beauty. They are not horrendously fussy. They can live in large containers and a few of them will even survive in the sun (Acer palmatum ‘Shaina’;  A. p. ‘Crimson Queen’ and A. p. ‘Tamukeyama’ for three) but most are happier in a combination of light shade and no direct intense noon or late afternoon sun.

It’s impossible to have too many Japanese maples in any garden. I like them as a strong contrast to the perennials of late summer (phloxes, lespedeza, asters).  These fluffy soft plants stand up well next the structural qualities of most Japanese maples.

Since we put way too many grasses in our gardens, to keep them from looking like the proverbial hayfield, put them near a Japanese maple and you’ve got a great relationship.  I tuck them in with evergreens, with hellebores (a favourite combo), with hostas (the big majestic ones).

Don’t do an early spring pruning on Japanese maples, wait until summer and carry on through autumn.  If you see one on sale and it doesn’t look too pathetic, buy it. They are very forgiving.  Re-plant in a much larger container than the one it comes in.  Use fantastic soil and lots of compost. This measure is to give them a chance to put some heft on the root system. If there’s about six weeks away from hard frost, find a good protected spot in the garden.  Decent well-drained soil is all they ask for preferably out of the wind and then add a huge lashing of mulch (but not near the trunk of the tree).  Next year you will have a real treat.  If winter is imminent, leave them in a well-mulched container in a shed or somewhere they won’t freeze to death.

I will do my best to get out another newsletter for winter and then carry on seasonally. Pass this along and let us know who else wants it. Meantime, keep on enoying and photographing your garden.  Always be looking at and it will tell you many of its secrets.

The last rose of this year:   Rosa ‘White Licorice’   absolutely gorgeous for months.

Stop and listen to the garden, it will always have something fresh to reveal.
Yours Marjorie Harris