gardens by daisy moore
Recollections of 2002
I suffered the blow of my father's death in 2002 and turned to my garden for solace. I did more observing than constructing and discovered new corners of the garden. I will take you on a journey through the seasons in my garden and share with you some of the things I picked up along the way.
To kick off the growing year, I attended a lecture given by garden designer Julie Moir Messervy. She talked about the notion of creating contemplative places in your garden, places that make you feel whole. The Music Garden located at the foot of Spadina in Toronto is one of her creations and I encourage you to go and visit there sometime. It is very nice when a happy memory is conjured up by the surroundings and this will likely happen to you there.
The winter of 2002 was mild and snow-less. Anything marginally hardy would survive the winter. This is always a worry in terms of pest populations since we tend to rely on Mother Nature to freeze the blighters out! I noted that there were not enough evergreen shrubs in my garden. The garden looked barren and uninteresting without snow-cover or greenery and needed some structure. Colour started to show in mid-March in the form of snowdrops and crocus and these lasted longer than usual. The cool, dreadful weather persisted until about mid-May, but the odd thing did happen prior to that.
In mid-April, my bog garden was the first highlight in the garden. The bog garden is a man-made depression in the soil, just like a ditch. This is home to a colony of bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, which gave the most spectacular show you could imagine. A little higher up the bank, where Alice is watering, there is a wood rush, Luzula multiflora, which I would encourage every gardener to have. The flower is beautiful. It's grasslike but early, substantial and unusual. These blooms are followed by blueflag iris, Iris versicolour and marsh marigold, Calthus palustris. This garden pauses for a brief while and then returns in August with Joe-Pye Weed, Eupatorium maculatum and Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis. All of the bog plants I have mentioned are indigenous to the Great Lakes region and it seems that they have established a community. I do little with this area except flood it from time to time to mimic a bog.
The tulip display was grim in the spring of 2002 since many suffered frost injury. I suspect that my tulips will not return with much gusto this coming spring. It may be time to renovate some of my tulip plantations. I've tried a few icicle pansies between bulbs and we'll see how that works out.
I grew grain in my garden for the first time. I planted wheat, oats and barley in all sorts of combinations and all sorts of places to see how it faired in an ornamental setting, to see if it would be worth growing more of. Send the kids out to harvest the wheat and make fresh pancakes! I planted the seed in late May, which was late, so I'll plant in late April/early May this coming year. I still have about 50lbs or each stored in my basement since I could only buy it in 55lb bags. The oats and barley are mixed together and the wheat comes on it's own. It is best to direct seed them or if you scatter them, to thin them. They each need a 2-4 inch berth. Seed them as early as you can. The late summer blooms will thrill you, I think, and they just get better as they turn to bronze and ripen. You'll see the result of this experiment farther on down.
In late May, I made note of the plants in bloom to mark Dad's death. Bleeding heart, lily of the valley, lilac, violets and narcissus were all in the bouquet I made from Mum and Dad's garden.
A surprising area of intrigue and beauty revealed itself in 2002. This bed became more prominent after the construction of the stone wall in 2001. The bed was enlarged to meet the wall and it suddenly became a focal point. I had planted quite a few native plants in this area, in hopes that they would find a home there. Being the third year after planting, they suddenly made their magic in the garden. The show started with Virginia bluebells, Mertensia virginica. I am always surprised by these because they disappear soon after flowering, like a spring ephemeral, and appear to be lost amidst the more rampant growth of oregano, forget-me-knots and periwinkle. The bluebells have the ability to move around a bit, underground, and find room to grow.
This bed has turned out to be ideal for foxglove, Digitalis. This must be the fifth location I've tried. You want a semi-shady spot with a good amount of organic matter in the soil. It needs to be an out of the way spot so that it can seed itself and continue to survive in the garden. This bed has delivered that. There were multiple flower stems lined with large white blossoms with spotted throats.
Nearby was one of the best performers in my garden in 2002. This was the snakeroot, Cimicifuga sp. This is a substantial herbaceous plant, indigenous to the Great Lakes region. The deeply divided foliage is an attractive start, followed by stately ivory flower spikes. The flowers sit on sturdy 4-5 foot stalks The flowers don't require staking, but simply hang unbelievably in the air. You looked through the snakeroot to the rest of the garden.
The next big surprise in the bed was Ironweed, Veronia gigantea. This was its third year and I had almost given up on it. Ironweed produces a crown of purple flowers in late summer. It is a different purple than you traditionally see and it really shines in the garden particularly when partnered with a selection of yellow daisy-like flowers. Gray-headed coneflower, Ratibida pinnata and woodland sunflower, Helianthus divaricatus, are two which I have.
I am blessed with not only two lovely young ladies but lots of yellow daisy-like flowers in my garden. I put them there. There are so many to choose from in the horticultural world. At one point I counted 6 different types in my front garden in Toronto. Mexican hat, Ratibida columnifera, Black eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta, Cup plant, Silphium perfoliatum, Helianthus, Green headed coneflower, Ratibida pinnata and sunflower are what I remember.
Elephant Amaranthus, the burgundy flower in the picture, has made it's home in my garden. It makes a great show with the wispier native meadow plants which surround it. It seeds itself, or has since I've had it. It germinates late, the soil needs to be warm, so I look for it in mid-June. It grows to 4 or 5 feet by August. In my Elora garden, Compass Plant, Silphium laciniatum made a great contribution.. The flowers are oriented like a compass along the flower spike. The shade of yellow on this plant and its relative Cup Plant are like nothing else. Both are native to here and would be happy to make it their home again.
The summer garden in Elora continues to surprise me in its localized tolerance to drought conditions. The combination of Hoary Vervain, Verbena stricta, Fireweed Epilobium angustifolium, Nodding onion Allium cernuum, Butterfly weed, Asclepia tuberosa and Heliopsis sunflower type make a sustained and robust statement during the summer. The Heliopsis are the first to suffer from drought. They come back after you pour a bucket of water on them at dusk. The problem is that you have to do that or they look dreadful. In the spring, I plan on stepping in and removing a good chunk of the sunflowers to give the others some space. The root mass is substantial on these, just like goldenrod and tansy, and they don't mix that well. The garden is bursting at the seams.
In a nearby garden I planted Blue Vervain Verbena hastata, and this appears to be seeding itself into the rock wall and around the bog garden. What joy.
I'm speechless with praise of the stone wall. It was completed the fall before, so it was our first full year with its presence. The upper deck has turned out to be ideal for the popular game of croquet. Croqueting someone else's ball over the wall became a notable threat. It is so nice to look at that we don't want to clutter up the front of it, it's too uneven on the surface to use it as a table, it's a perfect set up for a rock garden.
We took a holiday to Manitoulin Island in July. The presence of stone is inescapable there. Large slabs of limestone stretch along the shores. Added to that, it seems like it rained granite boulders one day. How did they get there? The botanical result is a unique community of plants called an alvar. It is paradise at sunset at the Mississagi Lighthouse campground.
This was the inspiration for a garden I designed and installed during the tail end of the heat of the summer. We had a deadline with an upcoming family visit in late August. The job involved removing the dried up grass (it was a very hot and dry summer), amending the soil thoroughly with peat and compost and adding the water it was lacking. I created little pockets of alvars with limestone slabs, granite pebbles of various sizes and adaptable plants.
I can't wait to see how it winters, to see the bulbs I tucked in and to see it progress. I have gardens dotted about all over now and it's like visiting a group of friends. My gardens are successfully standing the test of time and pleasing their owners. For those in southwestern Ontario, you can contact me if you would like help with your garden.
I like to try new plant combinations and rather a good one occurred in a large bed on the property of King Valley golf course. We had an empty triangle, more purple cone flower than we knew what to do with and nothing extra to spend. We spread out the coneflower and between them planted the annual Verbena bonariensis which grows as tall, if not taller than the coneflower. At the base we had purple zinnias. It was an incredible forest of purple. I will do that again.
I tried to introduce Delphiniums back into my garden. This was their second year and were bursting with buds. As a result of my fiddling, I snapped off the budding flower stalk by trying to stake it. Someone had recommended these fabulous pig-tail stakes and gave me a few. I'm still haunted by the blush of those blue buds. Several callers on my radio show expressed their sympathy that day when I told them what had happened. I won't do that again.
For my birthday, I received not one but two pairs of hedge clippers – heavy and light duty. Heavy duty is what you mostly need, especially in the latter portions of the summer. The garden starts to look ratty and overgrown in places. Trimming out diseased and damaged plants, and there are a lot of them at the wake of a drought, will quite quickly give your garden a lift. I do tend to like hedges as well and nothing spurs you on more than having the tools to maintain them. Topiary is on its way in my garden.
I think that my boxwood hedge has decided it wants to be part of a knot garden. I say this because I don't think it likes to grow with anything but itself. The inner sanctity of the hedge doesn't support ordinary life. It certainly doesn't support roses. This year we scattered the seeds of wheat, oats and barley within the hedge. It spent the summer being a work in progress and looked quite spectacular in the fall. This area was the source of most of the grain I used to make sheaves.
I had the good fortune to attend a day of the International Horticultural Congress at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in August. I heard some of the most remarkable scientific presentations and was exposed to and received a mountain of information. The cutting edge of plant genomics, the world wide effort to study, preserve and propagate medicinal plants, the developments in organic agriculture were just a few of the many topics covered. The advancements in science and knowledge are quite encouraging. There are so many things to know! I have done a lot of reading this year.
Despite a lingering drought, the fall colour was good in the garden. I had heard that red is the big ticket item in the landscape and requires ‘good' conditions to show. Good means moisture. Not having moisture/rain is not typical of our climate and it is worrying when it happens. I hope for a lot of snow in the winter. The leaf volume on the sugar maples was down considerably, so in that regard the red was lessened. Black Walnut trees and oaks more than made up for the decline in leaf volume, but the quality of walnut leaves is poor.
I tend to plant a tree every year and rather a nice ‘collection' of trees has been the result. It's been 12 years since I moved here and a 12 year old tree starts to become a substantial one. The hardwoods I have planted include a native American beech, Fagus grandifolia, sugar maple, red oak and numerous Walnuts planted by the squirrels. The beech struggled through the heat , so I will need to keep an eye on it. It just occurred to me that losing any of these trees would be like losing a friend. The sugar maple has a nasty scar running up one side of the trunk. It should be fine though. The tree is about 20 feet from the bonfire pit, and this isn't a lot if you have a bit of a go with a bonfire. It suffered early in life but has adapted to the situation and the scar is callused over. There were an alarming number of pests and problems with the tree, all at the same time. Many things came for a time but the growing tips always remained strong. The red oak is glistening with health and will start to offer some well needed shade in the summer months.
I planted a Red Bud, Cercis canadensis this year. I bought it in a pot for about $30 in June. It stayed in the pot, in a shady spot by the pond and well watered, until the fall when I finally decided the best home for it. What better reason to change the shape of your garden, than by introducing a red bud and gardening accordingly. We are slightly out of the range of the red bud. It is considered a native tree, but really to the south of here in the Carolinian Region. My mother-in-law has a healthy specimen in Newmarket and it is something to covet. We are in the early stages yet but I will be a bit of a mother hen to it. I have no expectations that it will flower for me this coming spring, but wouldn't that be nice.
My conifers include a Hoopsi Blue spruce. This is the bluer-than-blue type that is highly sought after. I got mine from Peter Tillich from Tillich's nursery in Breslau. He told me that only 2% of the population is the electric blue and he had a bunch of them. I felt honoured to buy a little one. It is and will become an even more remarkable specimen. I have a white pine, impatient to reach adulthood which we need to ‘thin' for heaven's sake. Some plants do seem to like it in my garden.
Butterflies are a big prize in the garden and we get a lot of them when the New England asters Aster novae-angliae, are in bloom. Aster's of course signal the fall garden and the more the merrier. I like to plant the cultivated potted mums and let them ‘naturalize' in the garden. They are never the choice of the butterflies but they do add some much needed colour. I had a lot of fun photographing the monarch in the photo. He was drunk on nectar and idly flapped his wings in hopes that I would go away. They seem to have a birthday in all corners of my garden.
Fruit-bearing plants are a highlight in the fall garden. Rose hips are included in this and those in the photo are the hips on my plain Jane Rugosa Rose. I've been managing this plant by severely cutting it back. It re-grew with vigour and beauty. With that in mind, I cut back my explorer rose, MacKenzie, way back. It has grown into a V-shaped bush that needs taming. The flowers are an extraordinary pink/red/I don't know what to call it, but I want more of them and I want the bugs to stop eating it.
I don't think I ask too much of my garden and it rarely asks too much of me, with the exception of the weeds. My goals for next year's garden are probably too numerous to mention. Top priority goes to mending and rebuilding the gardens affected by road building and house construction. A big new corner of the garden has opened up and the possibilities are daunting. I just can't wait.
"Daisy made my garden dreams come true."
-- R.L., Elora
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© Daisy Moore 2006