Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What's making you sneeze? Giant ragweed

These are the insignificant-looking flowers that cause so much misery in late-summer hay-fever season
You're probably blaming the wrong guy. The culprits behind all that sneezing aren't those pretty yellow flowers in late-summer bloom. They're ones you might not even pay attention to – despite the fact that one of them grows really, really tall under the radar. Giant ragweed has the botanical name Ambrosia trifida. And though the species name perhaps refers to its 3-lobed leaves, this annual weed can appropriately grow in large, triffid-like stands up to 4 m. (13 ft.) tall in a single season. 

The ragweeds go to show that just because a plant is a native doesn't mean that it's desirable. I love the subtitle of this article, "Revenge of a native" from which I swipe this eye-watering fact:
A single ragweed plant can produce up to a billion pollen grains, and it is estimated that more than 10 million pounds of ragweed pollen are produced annually in the U.S.
Goldenrod (Solidago) – in the background of this shot – is much showier, therefore, more noticeable than the sneakily inconspicuous ragweed in front. As they bloom at the same time, goldenrod often gets falsely accused of causing hay fever.
Giant ragweed and its shorter cousin common ragweed (Ambrosia artimesiifolia) produce a prodigious amount of airborne pollen in August and September. Goldenrod, on the other hand, has pollen too heavy to be carried by wind, and their flowers must be insect-pollinated. Bees and butterflies love them. All three are members of the enormous aster family (Compositae).
Here's just one of the huge stands of giant ragweed seen in Taylor Creek Park this morning. You might find some growing in sunny back alleys or along fences. Get out your hankies! Then catch them before they set next year's seeds.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Floramagoria and the art of planting a rainbow

The rain brought out the rainbow in this mosaic rug by Clare Dohna – in the garden fittingly called Floramagoria
Who knows at what stage this glorious mosaic came in this Portland garden's planning and design? (A rhetorical question, as garden designer Laura Crockett and owners Craig Quirk and Larry Neill likely know quite well.) I've seen some call the garden's rambunctious planting palette "chaotic," albeit in a complimentary way. To me, they seem lifted from this rainbow right here. Whichever came first, a piece of art can be a liberating source of colour inspiration for a garden. See if you agree.

Okay, scroll back and forth between this picture and the one above. See the similarities?
This is an edited colour scheme, but one that touches on all spokes of the colour wheel. A rainbow, indeed.
The mosaic rug in situ. Lots of trumpets (big brugs to bogs of carnivores) blast out the colour theme. Bold and beautiful.
The same colours get a lifestyle spin on the patio. Those banquettes looked fetching, but I was too busy snapping pics to sit, despite the rain. (Luckily, there are no shots of me wearing my oh-so-chic garbage bag.)
See how consistently the garden and living spaces work together?
And here? Those colour-matched pots and plants are a small stroke of genius.
Restrained echoes of the colour scheme appear elsewhere in the garden. Otherwise, it might be too much of a good thing. In fact, the colours gradually intensify as you walk toward the patio from the drive, and one secret corner is a cool haven of green. ("Rainbows" happen there, too, floating from a bubble machine high in the huge sequoia that anchors that space.)
Perhaps you have a favourite piece of art or fabric that could send you in unexpected colour directions when it comes to your garden. Get it! Take a picture, and run it though a colour palette generator such as the one at You might find combos that work strange wonders.

I noticed this back in May. One of our mother's colour sketches resurfaced as I was cleaning out a filing cabinet. She'd done it years ago – yet I saw that its colour companion was blooming in my planters at that moment: the 'Prinses Irene' tulips I love so well. Is this the start of something new?

Trust the artist's eye. They might suggest something you'd not considered yet. Will you try it?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Two practical ideas for a split-level garden

Large firepit sitting area from designer-retailer JJ deSousa's garden in Portland, OR
Are you stuck with a garden that isn't "on the level" – so sloped, it creates awkward changes in elevation? Want to turn that negative into a positive? Well, our promise to bring back ideas from the Garden Bloggers' Fling in Portland OR begins here with thoughts on that very subject.

On a hot, hot day in July, as I toured the garden of Digs Inside & Out owner-designer JJ deSousa I was quietly (sometimes not so quietly) swearing to myself. It was so full of ideas! One of the biggest was the simple use of space, using raised planes to literally take the garden to the next level.

See how private and spacious deSousa's dining deck feels? Set on the highest plane, it overlooks the garden's far reaches.
Here, you can see how the spaces work together. Imagine if both were on the same level. Wouldn't the closeness make them feel congested? The wall behind the sectional seating actually adds cozy enclosure to the firepit area. And, when entertaining a really big group, there's the chance for either interaction or separation between the two conversation groups. 
I was blown away by JJ deSousa's designer flourishes. This gal knows how to work with a colour theme! More on that in other posts. But the idea of making the most of enforced elevation changes works even with a simpler touch. Look at this garden from Toronto's Beach Garden Tour 2014.

Like many Beach gardens, this garden had sharp slopes at its edges. One of the strategies was to create tiered raised beds on two facing sides – anchored by this elevated water feature beside the garden gate.
Another view of the side beds. (The tree that seems to grow from the top of the light pillar isn't some odd kind of planter.
It's a photographer's error. Mea culpa.)
And here's the best trick. Rather than risk planting the steep back slope, they've turned it into a raised stone patio in the cool shade of overhanging trees. It's a nice focal point from the house, too, drawing the eye to the back of the garden.
What do you think of these solutions? Would do something else instead? I'd love to hear your ideas.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dotty for Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty'

Endearingly polka-dotted and charmingly shaped, the plate-sized leaves of Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty'
Another reason to thank Marie the Gardenbug: she introduced me to this cool plant, known only to me by name before. It's an exotic hybrid cousin of our native may-apple called Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty'. For info on this dramatic family of plants, see this from the Pacific Horticulture Society.

Marie grows it in part shade in a wet, wet area of her garden – in fact, her river swamps it every spring. So, given my dry shade garden, this baby is off-limits to me, except in my most fantastical dreams. But what a beauty, eh? Hardy to USDA Z6, but you might succeed, as Marie does, in a colder zone with reliable snow cover – the overflowing stream is optional.

Hidden beneath the foliage are these attractive flowers. The pale blobs are the "apples" beginning to form.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Giving myself a big bunch of bee balm

A bee's-eye view of scarlet bee balm, Monarda didyma
I need cheering up, after nearly ten days of being seriously under the weather. What could be cheerier than the bold blast of colour that comes from our native North American bee balm (Monarda spp.) and its hybrid cousins – many of which are blooming right now, and some since ![< Oops. See the product of my under-the-weatherness? Meant to write "since midsummer"]

The short story on bee balm is: it's easy to grow, there are species suited to different growing conditions, plus some people consider it a herb as much as an ornamental flower. (I'm using its ornamental qualities as a medicinal tonic for my mood right now. Please think healing thoughts!)

I'm afraid the short story is pretty much all you'll get from me today – except for this big bunch of pictures. For another inspiring look at this flower, head over to Janet Davis's The Paintbox Garden.

At Sarah's country schoolhouse, pale purple Monarda fistulosa is making pretty patterns with phlox and echinacea
Taken last month in the display garden at Joy Creek Nursery near Portland OR – I'll share more from that trip soon. You might be able to figure out the species and cultivar, and you will get growing information, from Joy Creek's online catalog
A compact pink cultivar, also taken at Joy Creek. Monarda is generally hardy from Z4-9, so works in Toronto, too.
Bee balm isn't just for bees. This patch at Oregon's Westwind Farm Studio was a hummingbird magnet.
Plant it, and see who comes to call.