Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A rain garden in Hogg's Hollow

This lush rain garden was on the 2014 Through the Garden Gate tour in Hogg's Hollow
Hogg's Hollow is set in a (surprise!) hollow – a steep-sided ravine – in some places steeper than others. The lucky homeowners who live in this charming setting aren't always so lucky during heavy rains. Water scoots down the sides of the valley and can cause serious drainage problems.

This garden mitigated that situation with a rain garden, which is a deep trough filled with coarse granular material such as gravel and river rocks, often embedded with weeping tile.

It looks pretty cool as a design feature, especially when set off by large boulders, moisture-loving plants (love the large Astilboides tabularis in that first picture) and the perfect piece of artwork.

Rain cascades down the deep slope, and run-off is captured by the rain garden
Two or three cultivars of lungwort (Pulmonaria) thrive in the moist soil at the edges
This lungwort with leaves that are a solid silvery white is possibly Pulmonaria 'Milky Way'
With its forked tips, this looks like the Japanese painted fern (Athyrium nipponicum pictum) called 'Applecourt'

Monday, November 24, 2014

Stop the spread of invasive Phragmites

It has become so common, you might pass invasive Phragmites without recognizing it as a problem
With all the excitement over ornamental grasses, you might not even recognize this towering escapee growing in many of the city's wet spaces as an invasive species. The picture above is of a huge stand of European common reed (Phragmites australis subsp. australis) near the entrance to the Leslie Street Spit. These stems are at least three metres (9+ feet) tall, and wave boldly in the breeze.

Bold is right. For pig-headed invasiveness, this non-native grass has become a problem in the same league as garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), or my particular bugbear dog-strangling vine (Vincetoxicum rossicum).

Complicating matters, there's also a native Phragmites. But, last March, the folks at the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority confirmed that all of the Phragmites on the Spit, which includes Tommy Tompson Park, was the non-native variety. Yes, all of it.

Have you been to the Spit lately? At this time of year, the area around the ponds looks like an ocean of fluffy Phragmites seed heads. They seem to go on forever.

This fact sheet from the Ontario Invasive Species Program helps you tell the difference between the native and non-native species. Generally, when the grass is this tall, it's the alien.

Let's help by practicing citizen science. In Toronto, or anywhere in Ontario, help map the spread by contacting Stop the Invasion. Visit that site for scary details and ways we can do something about it.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Breakfast cereal as a floral design tool

Hmmm. Not sure how I feel about this.
Here's a little Sunday Surprise for you – a novel use for Honeycombs cereal, spotted in a restaurant on a Montreal getaway this weekend. What do you think? Inventive or idiotic?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Star-of-Bethlehem: A little can go a long way

Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) looking dainty among some Hosta 'Golden Tiara'
Sometimes you need plant thugs like the disarmingly pretty Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum). A difficult spot (dry, maple-root-filled and shady, perhaps) might thank you for the toughness that brings on these bright spring flowers. Luckily, their enthusiasm has been held in check by the sandy, dry shade in my neighbour M's garden next door. His aren't the ones pictured here.

But beware, or at least aware, that even a few of these bulbs, given hospitable conditions, might insist they own the place; all of it – dangerous if you live near a wooded area where native plants could be throttled by their exuberant growth. Invasive alien plants and ravines make a bad combo.

With other plants, I've certainly made the error of paying less attention to the second half of the mantra, "right plant, right place." Lots of effort has been expended as I've tried to un-plant space invaders like common daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) and lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis).

Perhaps we should coin a new saying to caution the unwary gardener, "Look before you reap."

Star-of-Bethlehem is in the Asparagaceae family, and has quite a few surprising plant cousins – including Asparagus!
Here it is, nudging its starry way through the landscape. Pretty, for sure. Pretty aggressive, too.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Design tip: Photograph the bare spots and ugly bits

This picture shows me where the white tulips are winding down
As garden bloggers, we're often trying to present only the pretty pictures Рmaking the camera show us off to our best advantage. But as gardeners, we really need to look at the "bad side" of our gardens sometimes, using photographs as record-keepers and an aide-m̩moire.

This spring, I went around my garden taking pictures to remind myself what was planted where, and what wasn't planted anywhere. It was a tremendous help when I came back this fall with bags of bulbs to try to fill the gaps or refuel the dying embers. You think you'll remember, but you don't.

Knowing where the bodies er, bulbs were buried allowed me to interplant in the rights spots among the geraniums.
Look for bare spots. That one in the middle is now filled with promise (and new tulips).
It's good to have an "unposed" shot of the big picture, too. With luck, the new bulbs planted this fall will both fill in the gaps and create more cohesive movement through the garden. Fingers crossed.