Lessons from Butchart Gardens and the Pacific Northwest


I can see snow-covered Mt. Rainier from my sister's deck. Last night a rainbow bridged the Puget Sound which flows around Fox Island at the southern end of the sound. The landscape here is lush and green. Dogwoods, foxgloves and rhododendrons are still in full bloom. This temperate rain forest receives more rain than ours but I see many of the same woodland plants that we grow. I study each garden for new ideas.

The next day we head for Vancouver Island. As the clouds clear the Victoria Clipper pulls into the harbor. The Empress Hotel's landscaping is picture perfect. Purple rhododendron, hosta, and hellebore grow under the white Kousa dogwood trees. Late afternoon sun backlights each leaf. Gingko trees and weeping birch frame the Parliament building. The lights come on and outline each gable and tower. Still exploring the city later I look at my watch. It's after 10pm and still light. I forget we are closer to the land of the midnight sun at this latitude.

Visiting gardens is always the highlight of all my trips.  Butchart Gardens, a National Historic site of Canada, is a prime example of quarry restoration. Huge 100 year old poplar trees with gnarled trunks frame the famous sunken garden. Throughout the perfectly manicured lawns perennial beds grow oriental poppy, Japanese iris, Asian lily, hosta, black mondo grass, black-eyed susan, and lady's mantle. This kind of perfection comes with a price. We saw several gardeners raking and deadheading while several others cleaned around the stone border with pastry brushes.

Victoria is famous for its hanging baskets. At Butchart Gardens several hundred hand from every arbor, trellis, pergola and shepherd's hook. Mixed baskets of long blooming annuals and perennials are started early in the greenhouse then brought out in full bloom. One of my favorites featured peach-toned tuberous begonias, trailing sapphire lobelia, bacopa and coral calibrachoa. I was drawn to the dozens of hanging fuchsias and a rainbow of begonias planted with columbine, ferns and gold acorus grasses.

It must be fun to plant up the large pots that decorate the grounds. Even the wooden recycling receptacles have mixed planting on the top. Several noteworthy pots were planted with orange flowering maples paired with blue Mexican poppies and a variegated geranium. Another we liked contained a striking Electric Pink cordyline, coral petunia, calibroachoa and Bonfire begonia.

Fragrant flowers entice the senses and are planted everywhere. Strolling through the garden, vanilla scented heliotrope greet you. Spice-scented stock is planted nose high atop rock walls. Mrs. Butchart started this tradition and the garden strives to have something fragrant blooming every season of the year.

The roses were just starting to open. Many of them originated in England and Australia. The Queen's Pink peony Golden Jubilee was honored with decorative flags hung from the light posts. Flanked my tall gorgeous blue delphiniums it was quite a sight.

If it was early for the roses, the peony did not disappoint. I have never seen so many in one place. This climate is perfect for their culture. I had a hard time deciding which was my favorite. Double deep burgundy flowers grew alongside soft peach and bright pink ones. A cool white one paired well with Bridal Veil spirea. A soft peach variety looked great with the darker orange oriental poppies.

Always on the lookout for planting ideas, the endless vignettes were inspiring. The many different garden rooms in this garden allowed for countless combinations. One that caught my eye paired a purple smoke bush with coral verbascum and the variegated iris pallida. The blue flowers of the iris contrasted perfectly with the coral flowers and burgundy foliage of the other two plants.

I saw this garden in a new light on this visit. It was spectacular. Next week I'll recount my visit to Abkhazi Garden outside Victoria.



Tips for Vegetables, Pests and Plants with Bad Behaviors


Summer is officially almost here although we all know it actually starts on Memorial Day weekend. What fun stuff should we be doing in the garden? What problems should I be on the lookout for? What troublemakers should I avoid planting?

June is a busy time for plants. Some are just finishing up early spring flowering like rhododendrons, azaleas. camellias, lilac and wisteria. Prune off spent flowers and shape plants if needed. Other plants are just beginning to flower and would like a dose of organic fertilizer to really perform well.

Plant corn, lettuce and basil continuously to keep a steady supply. Speaking of basil, if yours died recently showing brown spots or streaks up the stem,  fusarium wilt, caused by a fungus, is the culprit. Carried by either the soil that affected basil plants have been grown in or by seed from an infected basil plant it's a common problem. There is no remedy for fusarium wilt. Destroy infected plants and do not plant basil or other mint plants in that area for 2-3 years.

Night time temperatures should be consistently above 50 degrees for basil. As long as you provide it with a hot, sunny location and plenty of water, it's among the easiest of herbs to grow in the garden or in a container. Steady, slow growth is the key to good taste, so amend the soil with compost and forgo the fertilizer. Basil contains the most oils when harvested before the flowers occur. The best way to delay flowering, as well as to encourage branching and new growth, is to harvest regularly by snipping of the end of the branches.

The best time to harvest is midmorning, right after the dew has dried, but before the afternoon sun bakes out the oils. At some point later in the summer, flowering will begin in earnest. Then it's time to harvest the entire crop, as flavor will go downhill soon afterward.

Insects are having a field day at this time of year, too. Put out wet rolled newspaper at night to collect earwigs in the morning. If you see notches on your rose leaves, it's the work of leaf cutter bees. These guys are beneficial and will go away shortly.

If your rose leaves look like lace then you have the dreaded rose slug. I have a friend who's rose shrubs were really hit by these. It's discouraging when you had visions of huge fragrant bouquets on every table. What to do?

The rose slug is actually the larvae of a wasp called a sawfly. Because they may have 6 generations per year they can do a lot of damage to your roses. Early detection is key. Start scouting for sawfly larvae in early May when they can be hand picked or washed from the leaves with a strong spray. If needed, spray the leaves with neem oil while the larvae are still small. Conventional insecticides are toxic to bees and kill the good bugs too.

During the winter they pupate in the soil and removing a couple of inches will help with controlling their numbers. Even cultivating the soil at any time will break up the cocoons.

Finally, think twice before planting rampant growers that are hard to control unless you use a deep edging that will keep them confined where you want. There's nothing wrong with a plant that spreads out in the right places, but let it overgrow that area and it quickly wears out its welcome.

Plants like chameleon plant ( Houttunyia cordata) , lamium, it's close relative lamiastrum and hypericum are  great plants in areas that are not close to your other planting beds. The deceptively delicate looking and impossible to ever get rid of Japanese anemone falls into this category also. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Plan ahead.

Get out and enjoy your garden. The best way to nip problems in the bud is to walk around your garden with a beverage of some kind and just look.

 



Container Planting 101


A tree in full bloom is a breathtaking sight. A flowering shrub covered with fragrant blossoms is awe inspiring, too, but it's a spectacular group of plants in a great container that never fails to get my attention.

I love container gardening. Whether combining edibles with flowering plants or succulents with lots of color in an interesting container, I can never have enough in my garden. I nestle them along paths, stage them on the deck and admire them everywhere I see them in nurseries, magazine articles and other gardens.

You can grow anything in a container.  Herbs and other edibles, fragrant flowers to attract beneficial insects, California natives or even plants that glow in the moonlight.

There's a spot on my deck that I see right outside my kitchen window. In the spring I grow red tulips to contrast against the green shrubs in the background.  They're a beautiful sight. This year I didn't have much of a display as the squirrels decided they loved them, too. Now I'm yearning for that bright red spot of color to brighten my view.

[ I'm putting together a container with a thriller, fillers and spillers featuring vivid red and contrasting purple with some  pink, white and gray to cool and complete the vignette. Here's how I went about putting together this mixed container.

I started with a classic color scheme, combining a primary color with a secondary color- red with purple. Can't go wrong with that. But then I saw this empty beautiful teal blue glazed pot in a corner of my transplant area and decided that maybe a mixed color container would echo that English garden look. So much for a planned color scheme. When it gets down to it whatever looks good to you is the perfect combination.

I've chosen plants that have the same light requirements. A container in full shade might have a Japanese painted fern as the focal point, a burgundy oxalis triangularis as filler and Kenilworth ivy to spill over the sides. A container of sun-loving natives could combine one of the new colors of mimulus or monkey flower with a lewisia and an Emerald Carpet manzanita to spill over the edge.

Opposite colors that always look good together are red and green, the Christmas colors, yellow and purple, the Easter egg colors or orange and blue, the sunset colors. Mix them with a color next door on the color wheel or white or gray to blend everything together.

My thriller ( the tallest plant ) is a vivid red nicotiana. I loosen each root ball with my trusty kitchen fork that I often use for this purpose as it's easier to control  than a larger garden claw. Depending on how root bound the plant is, don't be afraid to score or scratch the outer and bottom tangled roots. If you don't your plant may never really grow into the surrounding soil.  

My pot will be seen from the front only so I'll position this plant toward the back. If your container will be seen from all sides then start in the middle and work out to the edges. Make sure there is some fresh soil between each root ball and also around the sides of your container.

I use a good quality potting soil and work in some control release fertilizer before planting. I'll water everything in to settle the soil after planting with a dilute solution of fertilizer like Maxsea 3-20-20 Blossom Booster because the extra phosphorus will encourage rooting and also the next round of flowers in my container.

Sometimes, I put just one plant in each pot. A specimen like a bold hosta or Japanese maple doesn't need any help to make a statement. Ditto for the All-Gold Japanese Forest grass, hydrangeas and roses. You can stage several pots to make a dramatic composition. A short but showy plant can be elevated up off the ground at eye level if placed on a plant stand or overturned clay pot. Smaller plants grouped at the front can hide what's behind if needed.

When planting mixed containers never use more than three plants colors, two is sometimes enough.  That doesn't count green, unless it's lime.  Skimpy pots are a miss, pack the plants so the pots are full when you're done.  You want the pots to look good right away.  Big pots, at least 16" across are dramatic and make a nice contrast to matching smaller ones.

Be sure to have the children plant up containers of their own. Plants that appeal to their senses are always a big hit.   Soft, touchable plants like lambs ears and artemisia 'Powis Castle', or fragrant plants like chocolate cosmos and scented geraniums are easy to grow. Or plant up a pizza container with bell pepper, cherry tomato, basil and oregano.

Another idea is to plant up a salsa container with tomatillo, cilantro, jalapeno peppers and tomatoes. Harvest some onions and garlic from the garden and a lime from the potted lime tree you have growing on the patio and you'll have delicious salsa on no time.

The ideas for great container gardens are endless. Try a new combination this year.
 



Down the Garden Path


You can be led down the garden path, get off the beaten path or take the path less traveled. Everywhere are references to paths in literature and philosophy. Paths make a garden more interesting, too. Simply by changing the shape of your path or the materials underfoot or adding a focal point at a bend, yours can change the look of your whole garden. Consider some of these ideas to update your path.

On my recent excursions to Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park, Filoli Garden in Woodside and our own Hidden Gardens of Bonny Doon, I fell in love with some of the wonderful paths that I found underfoot.

Every garden path begs you to wonder where does it lead? It's the journey as well as the destination that makes it so alluring. As you walk, the garden should slowly reveal surprises, maybe architectural accent plants appear, a wonderful scent greets you, a distant view opens up or drifts of colorful flowers at the edge beckons you to stop and enjoy the scene.

In the front yard you want a solid path directing visitors from a parking area to the front door. It should be wide enough to accommodate two people walking side by side with interesting views along the way like low walls or plant materials to create a sense of enclosure. You want a person to feel they are walking through a defined space and although you may alter the direction of the entry walk to make it more interesting the purpose of the path is to find the front entry area.

But what about all those other paths that wind around the house and in the back garden? Here's where you can get creative.

Paths can be designed to slow people down. Plan pauses along the way- a widening here, a sitting bench nestled beside a bird feeder there,  a beautiful piece of garden art next to a tree with interesting bark or a view of distant mountains. You can route them in ways that direct your sight toward beautiful things and away from compost piles and trash cans. Good paths have entries easy to see and pull you in.
 
When I design a path in a garden I think about how it will fit into the rest of the landscape and the look of the house. Flagstone, brick or pavers are great for paths you're likely to travel on barefoot. You can soften the path's look by planting low groundcovers between pavers. Allow at least 2" of soil between flagstone or pavers and amend the soil so it won't pack down with foot traffic before planting.  

Bark or gravel looks great for natural looking paths and a gently curving path invites you to stroll among the plants. If it leads you to a small circular patio all the better.

How wide should you make an informal path? If you want to soften the edge with low plants, allow 3 1/2 to 4 feet. Small grasses, aromatic herbs, fragrant flowers and colorful foliage plants look natural beside a path.

I've seen articles about creating a garden path in a weekend if you're starting from scratch. You can update one of your existing paths easily, too, in about the same time.

An interesting path I encountered once was created from materials found onsite. Old untreated redwood timbers were cut and installed at an angle every 6 ft or so along a packed decomposed granite path. In between were small pieces of flagstone connected with bands of 2" Mexican black pebbles. The look was interesting and inexpensive to achieve.

Look around your own yard for found items that would give your path that personal touch. Old bricks and broken concrete will find new life and you'll save the expense of having to haul it away.


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