I wish I was virtuous and could say that I only support the locally-owned garden centres with my gardening dollar. But I can't!
I would say that where to shop depends on the time of year, your gardening experience, and what you're looking for. Here are a few comments to help you decide:
Garden centre: will generally have the most varied selection, well-organized and easy to find things, staff that can answer questions. Plus, the plants are kept in a greenhouse so are less likely to be stressed (see below). If you are an avid collector, the smaller garden centres will often carry more specialty and hard-to-find plants.
Big box stores: are usually cheaper but generally carry only the most popular plants (which is probably a good thing for the relatively new gardener), are typically not well-organized and... try to find someone to answer a question!! I find plants are quite healthy in early spring (i.e. May) when shipments first start coming in. Later in the summer, after the plants have been sitting in makeshift shelters on a parking lot and have been "cared" for by untrained staff, they're not such a great deal. However, if you happen to drop in right after a shipment has come in, you can still luck out.
Since I work full-time and have a young family, I don't have much time to shop around much. I got all of my perennials in early May this year from Canadian Tire and Superstore because they're close to my house and I happened to need other things from those stores (to be honest those other things were probably excuses shop for plants). Canadian Tire carries some Alberta-grown perennials (look for the blue pots) so I feel like I'm still shopping somewhat locally.
This type of phlox has evergreen needly leaves that benefit from being covered by some spruce branches in the winter, or else the plant experiences quite a bit of die back. But cut off the dead stuff in spring and it bounces back anyway.
Cranesbills are great groundcovers for sun or partial shade. This blue one was in the long-neglected garden when I moved into my current house, a testament to its toughness. Geraniums come in flower colours of white, blue, pink, mauve and purple.
They bloom in late June and last for several weeks; some varieties will bloom all summer if you deadhead them.
I think this variety might be 'Johnson's blue'. It is getting too big for this spot in the rock garden and isn't flowering much any more, so next spring I am going to dig it up and spread some pieces around the front garden, where I need to fill some space.
I have these daisies in several spots in my garden - I don't know what variety they are. They reseed quite freely (but are easy to get rid if they're in the wrong spot) so I keep spreading them around. They bloom pretty much all summer, although they have the most blooms right now. Deadheading them will mean more flowers right until fall (and also less seeds). They sometimes look ragged in the heat of summer so I cut them way back into the foliage, and they bounce back with more blooms in a few weeks.
They're about 3 ft tall in flower, but don't need staking. They're not classified as drought tolerant but I don't give them any extra water and they do all right (if I cut them back).
It is probably going to look like this for another month or two before we get around to finishing it! That's the way things go these days...
The big kids had a sleepover at my parents' the other night, so I set hubby to work setting up the rain barrels. Yes, the rains of June are over and we may not get more for a month, but better late than never!
It was a big pain because our old house has eavestroughs in a size and shape that is no longer available (we have this problem any time we try to do anything around the house - nothing is standard any more). So those nice downspout diverter kits you can get won't work here.
Our solution was a flexible downspout extender from Lee Valley. When the rain barrel is full, we simply unhook the flexi-pipe from the barrel and stick it into a drain pipe hidden behind, which extends out away from the house. Yes, we have to do it manually but it's probably only for one month a year (June, when we get the most rain).
Extra note: I purposely designed this fence so you can't see the ugly rainbarrel from inside the backyard!
This gas meter was an eyesore from the south patio, a small, intimate patio where the picnic table is. Of couse, I couldn't put something in front of it that would permanently block it, or the meter reader would not be impressed. This was my solution.
Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster' is a narrow, tall ornamental grass. I cut it down in April, and by now (end of June), it is tall enough to screen the meter but it is flexible enough to be brushed aside. With Calgary springs, that means really only a couple of eat-outside days before the meter is covered.
In my other shady areas, I try to plant drought-tolerant shade plants, which doesn't leave a lot of options. This spot north of the garage is the one spot I baby - I have some moisture-loving plants, and give it extra water (it's quite dry because of the mountain ash tree roots).
Here are the plants I have in this spot:
columbine (in a spot that gets a little dappled sun)
yellow creeping jenny
I always sow my seeds randomly within a square area, rather than neat little rows. I like the patchwork look and it is a better use of space. Thinning the plants is a pleasure since I get to make gourmet salads of the little baby plants - in this case several colours of lettuce and baby spinach. Yum!
When I first started gardening, I almost hated to cut flowers to bring into the house, because I didn't want to lessen the garden display. But now I have reached that critical amount of plants where you'll never even notice a few flowers missing here and there.
My almost-5-year-old loves to make "posies" so we go around the garden and I help her cut whatever she likes - almost. There's a few things I still can't bear to cut (giant alliums come to mind) so I tell her they're special to me and she's fine with that.
She chose all these flowers, and I attempted to arrange them for her. The bouquet includes siberian iris, bleeding heart, sweet rocket, daisies, leopard's bane, iceland poppy, cornflower, snow-in-summer, chives, anemone sylvestris and... a few blades of grass (regular, not ornamental)!!
This plant was passed along to me from a neighbour, so I don't know the variety. Pretty though, non? Siberian iris also come in many other shades of purple, blue, white and yellow. 'Caesar's brother' (below) is a common, purple variety that is very reliable in zone 3.
The grassy leaves look great all summer and add a spikey texture to the garden. They need at least several hours of full sun, but are not drought tolerant so I give them some afternoon shade to help them along. Too much shade and they won't bloom. They need to be divided every 5 years or so.
These are actually quite ridiculous plants because the flowers get so big and heavy that they flop right over if you don't stake them. But other than that, they are very low maintenance- they live practically forever and don't need dividing. I just put a peony ring (wire rings with stakes) around each one and leave it there - doesn't look pretty in the winter but maybe someday when I have more time (...?) I'll remove them in the off-season. They should be deadheaded after blooming just to keep them looking tidy.
Peonies are drought tolerant and like full sun. The crown should be planted just below soil level or else it won't bloom. I've also found sometimes they don't bloom for a year after being moved. But they're worth the wait.
You're not supposed to compost peony leaves in the fall because they're susceptible to botrytis and other pathogens.
This variety is the earliest to bloom of the large, purple alliums, plus it survives the winter reliably and even self-seeds. It's about 75 cm tall and I leave the dried seed heads standing all summer because they still look good. You could also save them for dried flower arrangements.
Plant these in fall (from bulbs) in full sun. You can see a relative, chives, just starting to bloom in the background here and I like how they echo each other.
This plant I inherited with my first house, and I brought some with me here. I am gradually dividing it and spreading it around the front and side garden for a great "repeat" plant. The flowers don't last very long, but the foliage looks great all season.
This particular old-fashioned variety has a beautiful fragrance, too. For more information on taking care of bearded iris, click here.
It was growing like a weed in the existing, neglected garden when I moved into this house, and since it can obviously take care of itself and the flowers smell great, I let it stay. It is a very old-fashioned flower, which is another thing I like about it. It spreads by seed and root, but not invasively.
Some people consider this plant a weed. It does look pretty scraggly after it finishes blooming so I always cut it back. It also is prone to powdery mildew.
Anyway, I like to bring the flowers into the house because they smell so nice, and I leave a few to go to seed. Monet had the white-flowered variety all over his garden, so I figure who can argue with that? I even started a few white-flowered plants from seed this year and am trying them on the back hill. Not sure if they will bloom this year, though.
This little evergreen perennial blooms for a long time with cute little pink pom-poms. Deadheading it will keep it blooming even longer. It's only about 20 cm tall in bloom. These are perfect in rock gardens as they like sun and well-drained soil.
Cover it up with a few spruce branches in winter to protect the leaves (although sometimes I don't bother and it comes through ok).
This one is outside a basement window. We had our basement renovated last fall and the guys passed a lot of stuff through this window and trampled all over this plant. It doesn't seem to have minded at all!!
But it's tough and heat and drought tolerant, plus my favourite colour, so how could I say no?
It's about 75 cm tall and generally needs some staking, although I haven't got around to staking this one yet and it's OK. Cut it back hard after it finishes blooming, or else it will get floppy. It often reblooms for me.
A couple days of at least a little sun (after 2 weeks of rain and hail!!), and some things are finally just starting to bloom. Unfortunately (for the garden, not me) I am going on holidays for a week, so I snapped a few close-ups of the rare and lonely blooms. These are all plants that will still be blooming when I get back, so I'll try to get better pics later. Below are:
perennial cornflower/bachelor's button, purple sensation allium and iceland poppies, johnny jump-ups, sea thrift and cranesbill. (Also starting to bloom but not shown is snow-in-summer.)
I'm still experimenting with what will grow on the south side of my house under the eaves. This is a side garden that only the neighbours really see so I only want plants that can pretty much take care of themselves.
After 2 weeks of almost constant rain, you can see it's still dry under the eaves. Few plants will grow here. There's an echinops (globe thistle) growing on the far side, and amazingly, some large-flowered hybrid clematis on the trellis are doing OK. I do give them a little extra water from the rain barrels when I remember. I've also grown sunflowers here successfully.
Large bearded iris and hollyhocks in the past haven't made it. This year I stuck in a transplant of some blue centaurea (perennial bachelor's button) on the right just to fill the space. But something with a little more contrast against the house would be nicer... Might have to go back to sunflowers next year.
The hostas often get decimated because they have such broad, tender leaves, but most of mine are in full shade and are just starting to appear so they are unscathed. This one gets a little more sun and has already leafed out so sustained a little damage, but I've seen much worse.
If any plant is damaged, remove only the very shredded leaves, as less damaged ones can still feed the plant. A few hot days and everything will recover (except later in the season, hostas don't recover so well as their growth slows right down in summer).
Thank goodness for sun today.
These pretty little nodding flowers are slowly spreading around my garden, and I'm letting them. This one appeared a few years ago at the base of my front steps. It's only about 1 ft tall when in flower so I let it stay. They spread by roots and seed, but are not invasive. Deadhead them if you want to prevent self-seeding.
All of mine are in partial shade and seem quite happy with no extra care. I've read they need moisture but I've never babied mine with extra water and they're fine.
Speaking of views from inside the house, it's time to be honest. Instead of just posting cropped photos of each plant as it blooms, it's time to give you a sense of what my garden really looks like. Please be kind - remember it is in progress and I have kids!
Anyway, I couldn't take pictures of anything else today since it was pouring rain AGAIN this morning. This is so honest I didn't even go outside to move the tricycle out of the way (and it was raining too hard...) Here are the views from the living room (front yard) , kitchen and sunroom (backyard), respectively:
Thinking of getting rid of a little more lawn? Besides some of the reasons I've discussed before, people like to improve their garden to make their house look nicer from the street. But often, a garden around the perimeter of your house can only be enjoyed by you from outside - what about inside?
This house on my street just finished adding the garden in the front by the sidewalk. While I'm not crazy about the rocks, and I question the fern in a west-facing unshaded garden, I like the general idea!! If you're going to add some new garden space, why not put it where you can also see it from inside the house.
The bench also adds a friendly and inviting touch.
For a few of my views, click here.
Everyone's complaining about the rain. Yes, I still have a few more wheelbarrow loads of compost to move around, and I'd like to get it done before going on holidays, but planting is done and no major flooding is expected, so I'm happy! It would be nice if temperatures were a little warmer...
One thing about being a gardener is that you start to keep track of weather patterns from year to year. It always rains a lot in June - I was expecting this! Hence the mad rush to get all my planting done before now. So far in June, Calgary has received 47 millimetres of rain, compared to the average rainfall for the month of 79.8 millimetres, and the 247.6 millimetres that fell during the floods of June 2005, according to Environment Canada. This is nothing!!
Well hello, pretty little thing! I planted these bluebells as bare bulbs 2 springs ago. The first year I thought they died as they didn't come up. Last year I got leaves, and this year they are finally flowering!! They're about 20 cm high right now. I think they're neat because the buds start pink and then open blue, making the plant look like it has multi-coloured flowers.
They go dormant after they bloom so I planted them around some hostas, which are only just now starting to come up. That way, I get spring flowers and foliage before the hostas appear, then when the bluebells go dormant, the hostas take over. Perfect partners.
These also like moist shade, just like hostas. If you want to move some around, it's best to mark the spot in spring (so you can find them later) and move them in fall. They seem to take a while to get established.
The leaves get about 10 cm high and the flowers in spring are taller. This one is just starting to bloom - you can see lots of healthy buds on it. They bloom for several weeks and then the flowers and stems should be cut off when finished.
This poor plant is lonely because it's blooming in an area all by itself right now - when my Mom gave it to me I just plunked it in an empty spot. I think this fall I will split it and move some beside the bergenia in the back garden, and the bleeding heart in the front, both of which are still blooming right now and will make nice partners for my lonely leopard's bane.
This plant needs at least partial shade and is not drought tolerant.
First, let me explain that I didn't BUY all of them, many of the pots were old ones that I re-used to start my seedlings, bareroot perennials and bulbs in this spring. A few were also gifts.
But still, that's a lot of plastic for what I claim to be a very environmentally-friendly hobby!
Anyway, any that aren't recyclable, I wash and save for next year. Fortunately, almost all of them are now, except the little black 4- and 6-packs for seedlings. Some places are even starting to use biodegradable plant pots - let's hope we see more of those in the future. I also save a good selection of sizes for all my little babies that I will start next spring.
The rest also get washed and, fortunately, my recycling company takes them. I'm feeling slightly less guilty.
One problem with being a garden coach is that you only give tips, advice and designs, but don't do the actual makeover work yourself. Therefore, besides my own ongoing garden makeover, I don't have any pictures to show of my work!
My brother and his wife have asked me to help them with their front yard again, so I will be taking photos of each stage of the makeover and posting tips along with them. Keep in mind we both have young families and summer holidays coming up, so it is going to be a slow process!
Oh the suspense!
Keep checking back over the summer for more posts in this category.
Ack! Just got back to my office at my "real job" and have 6 new e-mails from people wanting a consult. Thanks for the referrals, Melanie!
Will call you all this week-end if I'm not totally overwhelmed. No seriously, it's going to rain so I won't be gardening - I should have time! Ha ha.
My mother-in-law has complained about slugs for years, but I've never had a noticable problem until this year. With all our recent rain, I can go out in the garden every morning and find ten or more without even trying (if I pick up a rock I can find ten more).
I once heard Jim Hole say that having slugs means you have a good garden! Lucky me. I guess after amending the soil for several years (I've been in this house for 4 years now), the slugs have finally found me. Healthy soil makes for healthy plants but also healthy slugs.
Anyway, what to do? Here are some options that I am going to try this year:
Spread some more crushed egg shells around the garden - I collect them year-round in a coffee tin under the sink and when it gets full I let the kids go out and toss them around (key spots are strawberries, veggie patch and moist, shade garden). Diatomaceous earth is another option. Both these things will slow the slugs down as they get cut up crawling over something sharp.
Make slug hunting part of my regular routine - they are easy to find in the morning under rocks and soaker hoses. You can either stab 'em, squish 'em or drown them in a pail of salty water. I can't wait till the kids are old enough so I can pay them to do this!
Put down some slug traps baited with beer.
***Slug bait is attractive and very poisonous to dogs and cats. I don't even know if they sell it anymore... I hope not.
It survived in an obviously neglected garden for years, plus it is growing under a spruce tree - wow.
Clematis macropetala, alpina and tangutica are all tough, spring-flowering clematis that don't die back and don't need to be planted against a house foundation to survive (unlike some of the larger-flowered hybrids). They only need to be pruned to tidy them up or to prevent them from taking over a trellis.
Give them some sun, fertilize in spring with a little compost and bonemeal, and that's about it. Low maintenance, drought tolerant.
OK, I didn't make fun of the plastic swan pots, but this is where I draw the line. It's time to be a little snobby and opinionated.
This person at least did a decent job of spacing out their new perennials to allow for the mature size of the plant.
honestly, who thinks these tags help the garden look nice? I know people want to keep them for the information they have, but puh-lease get a notebook, folder or even a ziploc bag to keep these tags in (and tell your significant other why you are keeping them so he/she doesn't think they're garbage and throw them out -trust me).
I just received my newsletter from David Suzuki's Nature Challenge. Of course, this time of year, it has all kinds of information on getting your lawn and garden off drugs - something that I also talk about here! Check it out.
It also has a contest to win a garden gnome that looks like David Suzuki (or just a visit from one? I'm not entirely sure.) Anyway, I've never had a desire for a garden gnome before but this is one gnome that I want to have in my garden!! How cool would that be? I'm going for it...
When I read his first book, The Botany of Desire, I was hooked on Michael Pollan. The basic premise of this book and a major theme in the rest of them, is that from a plant's-eye view, humans are not really in charge of nature like we think we are. Even in the garden, where we select the flowers, fruit and vegetables that we want to grow. Actually, we are more like the bees, attracted by a plant's beauty, colours, patterns, flavour and/or fragrance, and compelled to propogate that plant. Then he uses this idea to discuss gardening, the history of various plants, industrial vs. organic. vs. local food and more in his other books. It's fascinating stuff (and I've posted links to his writing before).
Well, I didn't put it as eloquently as Michael Pollan, so check this out. It's a brief summary of some of the themes covered in The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I'm currently reading. The discussion below is also interesting.
In keeping with my low-maintenance, sustainable philosophy, I only grow hardy shrub roses. The less hardy tea roses are beautiful but I just can't be bothered. Hardy shrub roses will make it through the winter in zone 3 with no extra care.
However, some years they will experience quite a bit of tip kill. And if they don't, you'll want to thin them out occasionally to keep them healthy.
People are always afraid to prune roses, but it's not hard. Here are a couple tips:
Always cut just above an outward facing bud. That bud is going to grow into a new branch, so you want it to grow towards the outside of the plant, not cross over the inside.
Remove any crossing branches.
Remove any weak, thin branches to direct more energy into the stronger ones.
Actually, that's not quite true, I don't hate lawns. They serve a purpose - they can be walked and played on. And they can be maintained organically. And they don't have to be watered all summer if people would just learn to accept a brown lawn for a few months.
But I hate when people do this! A certain house in my neighbourhood does this every spring - throws synthetic fertilizer (I bet it's also weed & feed, the worst kind!) all over their lawn, sidewalk and nearby street. Grrr. What about the poor fishies who live downstream of our sewer system, where this fertilizer will inevitably end up?
And not totally unrelated, what is with the compulsion to trim the edge of the lawn beside the sidewalk with a gas-guzzling power tool so that you can have a perfect, vertical edge? Seems pointless to me.
Last year was the year of the lily. It is one of my favourite flowers. I ordered a bunch of bulbs over the winter in my feverish, flower-deprived winter planning, then I saw a bag of bulbs in Costco in early spring, and couldn't resist buying more.
I spread them all around the garden and can't wait to see them really do their thing this year. However, I ran out of steam planting last spring, and just stuck the last few in a pot because I didn't know where else to put them. I was going to transplant them in the fall but by that time I was tired (6 months pregnant) so just didn't bother.
Anyway, this one spent the winter in a terra cotta pot on the patio. And it's coming back!! Amazing! Gardening is always full of surprises!!
This is obviously related to cushion spurge, but is a smaller, spreading plant with very fine leaves. I put it in my front garden, a little ways away from the cushion spurge, for a repetition of the beautiful chartreuse colour in spring.
I begged a little piece of this off a friend last year, and you can see it is already spreading. Some sources say it is very invasive, so I will have to keep an eye on it. I wouldn't recommend it for a low-maintenance garden. But it is going to look so pretty beside the red-leafed sedum I just put in!! Plus, I want easy-to-grow ground covers in this particular area.
Hmm, I hope I don't regret it, but so far I don't.
But actually, that's the point. You should plant what you like. If you like plastic swan pots, then go for it. This is the yard of an older couple in my neighbourhood, and while the garden style is certainly not trendy, they seem happy with it.
It's actually kind of cute - the pots move around occasionally. Sometimes they're lined up tip-to-tail beside the driveway, sometimes they're swimming in a circle on the lawn. Not my style, but cute.
Anyway, my point is, as a garden coach, I listen to what you like and not only help you accomplish it in your garden, but also maintain or improve it. This is different from a landscape designer who will come up with a complete design and/or install it for you, but then you may have no idea how to take care of it, or be afraid to change something in a year or two. Whether or not you spend big bucks on a professionally installed landscape, you still need to know a thing or two to keep it looking good year after year.