Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Nasturtiums still going strong in October

Call this salt and pepper: peppery-tasting nasturtiums in one of our grandmother's saltware jugs
It's feeling kinda frosty outside, but some plants are still chugging along – even those fleshy ones you'd think would be susceptible to chilling. Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum) for one. They're the biggest-bang-for-buck annuals in my garden, and I always have room for them. Although sometimes they've show a perverse singlemindedness about the colour orange. Instantly forgiven.

What's growin' on in your garden this October?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Every garden needs more dinosaurs

Dippy the Diplodocus outside Pittsburg's Carnegie Institute near Schenley Plaza. You might
be forgiven for thinking (as I did) this was a Brontosaurus aka Apatosaurus. Nope, it's notasaurus.
But we're right in thinking it's a grand addition to the gardens.
These large-scaley critters make common-garden lions and angels seem positively, well, prehistoric. Wouldn't you love to have one? Now fess up. You're among friends here. [UPDATE: Forgot to link to this adorable site from the Royal Ontario Museum, found when researching dino IDs. Cute, eh?]

A T-Rex with a technicolour dreamcoat of foliage and flowers in Ava Davidson's Pittsburg garden. As we were here with busloads of avid photographers at the Garden Writers Symposium, this "dino solo" shot required patience and a quick shutter finger. Dino was possibly the subject of more selfies than Rob Ford. Doesn't that gorgeous slate roof look like dino hide, too?
But who needs to go large? A diminutive (and, of course, colour-coordinated) Pterodactyl hiding in the Floramagoria garden.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Garden Design Tips from Garden Walks : A Convertible Greenhouse

Convertible, moving-wall greenhouse, with back wall open for summer. 

In Buffalo this summer, while Helen and I toured the city's must-see Garden Walk, I became deliriously envious (I mean, inspired) of a design solution for convertible greenhouse. Buffalo gardeners Arlan and Dom had transformed their greenhouse into four-season use. A greenhouse that doesn't turn into the fiery gates of hell in the summer? So smart! What they designed (and constructed themselves) is a greenhouse attached to the back of the house, and enclosed for the winter. So far, so good: typical greenhouse. But in spring, the magic happens, when the entire back wall pivots upward on a hinge into a horizontal position, and held up by pillars. The wall then serves as a summer patio roof, (with fabric shading), and the fully open wall lets fresh air flow into a now open-air greenhouse.

Great tip: Wild strawberries in the gaps of the stone steps leading from the terrace. Arlan says they mostly "provide the squirrels with a buffet".
The terrace, protected with leafy arbours, is a shady and restful oasis. Wide stone steps take you out to the main garden.
Some greenhouse plants, (like this burrows tail sedum that made me gasp), remain inside the greenhouse winter and summer.

Classical fountain sculpture looks towards the terrace. 

This thirty-two year old gardenia, standard bay trees, and a small orange tree all summer outside on the shady terrace.
The icing on the cake of this tour was a viewing of the remarkable scale model of their entire house and garden, including all its structures, especially the greenhouse. A beatiful overview, in intricate precision. Mind-blowing, really, is the only word for it.

Scale model of the historical house and garden shows the greenhouse construction. 
The only thing now is for me to somehow reproduce this ingenious greenhouse. Maybe, one day.

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?