gardens by daisy moore
Daisy's Own Garden:
Years One and Two
My "current" garden began in 1991. Over the past 6 years it has developed into what is now a feast for all the senses....and it is not finished yet. I only wish that the previous owners were alive to witness the re-emergence of "the garden".
I moved into my house in 1990, in the winter. In March of 1991 the snow finally began to melt and all the intriguing contours and humps started to show what lay beneath. The property had been owned for 50 years by a horticultural couple (they owned the community flower shop) so I anticipated a rather bountiful garden.
To my disappointment, the entire back yard had been plowed and scrapped the previous fall for a new septic bed. All horticultural activities had ceased in 1970 when the elderly gentleman died and his wife could no longer manage the property. The siblings upon selling the house were advised that a new septic system would be needed.
Thus began my love affair with this Elora property.
The property measures 98 feet by 350 feet (3/4 of an acre) bordering the Irvine River portion of the Elora Gorge. The house sits quite close the the road, bordered on both sides with homes; the gorge is at the back of the property. I was advised when buying a home to search for a property that "moved" me. Despite not seeing any vegetative cover, the property had a feel of permanence and history, it was blessed by large sugar maples at the front, large Norway spruce on the side, good light and room to breath.
I was planted between two extremes!
Working in a garden with some history has a tremendous appeal to me. I continue to find remnants of gardens and use patterns during the ever expanding development of the garden. I am always moved when I find a rusted pair of secateurs or an old trowel in a seemingly "untouched" area.
Truly, my predecessors were a lot like me in their gardening activities.
Peonies, irises and phlox have emerged in all sorts of odd locations, probably displaced by the septic bed installation. Some peonies have yet to thrive or flower but I encourage them to again be a part of this new association of plants.
A dense stand of snowdrops was in bloom at the front of the house in mid-March 1991. They have never bloomed that early since. I have yet to make a serious attempt to divide them up and scatter them throughout the front yard. I have discovered that they are slow to spread if left to their own accord. I also see it as rather a shame to disturb such a show.
The back yard stretching from the house out to about 150 feet was completely devoid of any vegetation.
There were remnants of an old pond with a fountain (above) adjacent to the septic bed on the west side. Surrounding this there was a red twigged dogwood, common barberry, and a large clump of miscanthus (ornamental grass).
To the west side, adjacent to the septic bed was an old cement pad and foundation measuring 16 feet by 20 feet. This pad was quite broken up and had been invaded by raspberries.
Beyond the septic bed there was a barn which had housed sheep and in it were several treasures....gates, fencing, lamps etc. Most importantly there was an excellent supply of well rotted manure! Beyond this was a field of 3/4 goldenrod and 1/4 raspberries. There is about a 40 foot deep swath of nature - trees, etc. - which borders the Elora Gorge.
The first thing to emerge on the barren land was mustard. Very quickly I had a field of yellow, almost as if it had been planted. It seems that mustard is always eager to emerge when a bare patch is showing. Dandelion soon followed the mustard.
My neighbour to the west was quick to volunteer to mow the back part of the garden "just to take the heads off". It was of great concern to him that the weeds from my garden would invade his weed-free property.
Management of the vast back portion of the garden in year one was a combination of endless walking with a push mower, the neighbour coming over to "cut the heads off" and a friend lending me a large Toro Groundsmaster. I began to observe when using the walk behind mower, that there were some areas inhabited by a rather different and desirable group of plants:
and many others were making their presence known when mowing had ceased for a moment and they were allowed to mature.
A stand of trembling aspen was creeping out from the natural area immediately adjacent to the gorge. At this stage I realized that there were wonderful possibilities and I was freed from the burden of mowing.
In the "septic" part of the garden I continued to mow the weeds....it actually looked very good from a distance and you would never know that there wasn't a blade of cultured grass amongst it. Native and non-native grasses began to be introduced. Grasses have the ability to thrive under mowed conditions, so it is a natural progression that they would find a home there.
Most of the grasses however, were of a non-desirable kind.....rough bluegrass for example can look very good as long as there is plenty of water. On the down side, it goes dormant easily during the heat of the summer and is extremely slow to start in the spring. It spreads by above ground stolons so tend to look very patchy.
I began to section some areas off, top-dress with some soil and spread some desirable grass seed. The weeds which emerged with the grass seed were quick to be eliminated after the grass was established and mowing began. This patchwork attempt at establishing a lawn has been quite successful.
The first garden project in year one was to re-develop the pond. We discovered an old fountain system which had been destroyed with the digging. It was easily re-connected. We dug around the fountain to make a substantial pond...3.5 feet deep on one side and 1.5 feet deep on the other. For fish to survive over winter on their own, the 3.5 feet depth was needed.
We lined the pond with a poly liner (quite an investment!) and used flat stones to make the edges. We used stones and rocks from around the property to make the pond look natural and for the overflow from the pond to trickle down and gradually make its may to the rest of the property.
The sheep manure was spread over the soil around the pond. A new perennial garden was started, following the contours of the land starting at the pond and following along the property line. The new bed measured approximately 25 feet by 20 feet. The sheep manure mixed into the soil made this garden an immediate success.
The plant material originally introduced was:
In year one, the garden was attractive enough for friends to hold their wedding ceremony. It also attracted the eye of a local journalist who photographed the garden and wrote an article in the local paper. The combination of what existed prior to my arrival which managed to survive through the chaos of septic installation, my efforts and some of the local wildflowers, made year one very encouraging.
In the fall of year one I was given someone's iris collection. The person was moving and couldn't take the irises with them, so I was allowed a chunk of many irises along with other choice plants. I prepared a new bed located adjacent to the pond bed and extending farther along the property line. This bed measured approximately 25 feet by 15 feet.
I did not prepare this bed well enough prior to planting, which I will regret forever. Although there was a smashing display of iris in the spring of year two and three, the pressure of TWITCH GRASS has ultimately destroyed many of the plants. I have tried painting the twitch grass leaves with Round-up but this has not been successful. I have since moved most of the iris to a new, well prepared, bed in hopes that I can save some of the varieties.
In year two the iris bed captured most of my attention. I was not aware of the diversity in colour and blooming time of the bearded iris. Prior to this, I had always thought the purple /blue iris to be fairly common. Those present here however had a colour intensity like I had never seen before. Yellow, baby girl pink, burgundy/black, dark and light blue....all perfect floral specimens.
It can be safely said that planting iris in October is a good idea!
After the irises had finished their bloom, the garden suffered a rather lengthy spell in "lack of loveliness". I had also acquired a collection of lilies which I planted behind the iris. They did not flower soon enough to give a continuous display of colour.
When the lilies did bloom, however, there was an extraordinary display of many different lily varieties. I am always amazed at the vigour, size and intensity of the lily. In this first year of the lily/iris bed, I had four or five varieties of lilies.
They have unfortunately suffered the same fate as the iris collection (the dreaded twitch grass) and a weak orange variety remained. I have not yet tried to move any of the lilies since the orange type have spread happily and do take up a fair space in the bed. As I continue to renovate this bed, I do hope I can find some of the original varieties....however, more than likely, they are long since passed away.
I added lysimachia (gooseneck plant) to this bed, as well as:
I also placed a "peegee" hydrangea between this bed and the original pond bed. My hopes were that these perennials would fill the gap of loveliness between the iris and lilies.
The "back forty" was treated a little differently in year two. We acquired a small Z-50 motor scooter and made a track amongst the goldenrod. We originally mowed the path and kept it low by riding over it (racing actually!) and mowing it from time to time. I noticed that the goldenrod was eliminated very quickly from this section. I have concluded that goldenrod does not withstand mowing or compaction.
Grasses - both desirable and non-desirable - tended to move in along with narrow-leaf plantain, hawkweed and clover. A dandelion, or mustard problem did not emerge.
Making use of the property as a "race track" was an enormous leap ahead from simply mowing the field. You may not choose to establish a race track on your property (ours has now fallen into disuse, as you will see in subsequent years). However, the use pattern of the property should be of primary concern when deciding what to do with your land or how to "landscape" the property.
In the late spring of 1992, my western neighbours (they're the ones with the manicured lawn), asked me if I would mind some trucks using my property to access their back yard. They were having a new septic tank installed. I decided to do the neighbourly thing and say yes: nothing much was going on to be damaged since the trucks could drive over the old cement pad and beyond that there was really nothing except raspberries.....
Well, I regretted that decision afterwards because the cement pad was completely destroyed, requiring almost immediate attention. And, they compacted the soil very badly along their route. I couldn't believe it when I saw a huge, loaded dump truck PARKED near where the rose garden now is.
The neighbours attempted to repair the damage by bringing in crappy, compacted clay and spreading it over their tire marks. To this day the path of the trucks continues to be a haven for weeds.
The soil at this Elora property is excellent. It was well looked after by the previous owners. I didn't actually realize this unlike some foreign matter was brought along, but now I know.....
A formal rose bed
In the late summer of year two I prepared a new bed for roses, about 15 feet by 10 feet. I sprayed the area with Round-up, waited about two weeks, top-dressed with compost and manure, then turned the bed with a tiller. I spaced the roses about 3 feet apart. The rose garden was positioned at the transition area between the main yard and garden (septic area) and the "back forty".
This formal garden was quite unlike anything else on the property -- and quite unlike my regular style of garden! I bordered the rose garden with a boxwood hedge. I purchased small plants (less than 1 gallon pots) due to the cost of the largeish quantity I needed to surround the bed. I spaced them about 8 inches apart. Most of the roses I planted were given to me from other peoples' gardens.
I was trying to mimic a composition I saw at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton. There, they had a yew hedge, tightly clipped, with tall pink roses growing behind them. The roses were climbers and made to climb up frames which looked like large tomato cages. I thought that I could accomplish the same effect, except in miniature, using the boxwood and hybrid tea roses. Most of the roses I planted were given to me from other peoples gardens.
For the next part of the tour of my garden, click here.
"It was a pleasure working with Daisy and her crew, to see my garden transformed into a work of art."
-- M.T., Guelph
For more examples of Daisy's work,
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© Daisy Moore 2006