(Well, early for a shade garden in Calgary!) And even better - each patch gets bigger every year!
Chionodoxa and tulipa tarda are bulbs and can be planted in fall. Bergenia is an "evergreen" perennial which means the leaves overwinter (they look a little tatty in spring but are perking up now and will be their beautiful, glossy green selves again soon!)
This is my favourite time of year for the back Shade Garden! Lots of spring blooms happening at the moment. There's pink bergenia, yellow leopard's bane, white anemones, and orange geums. BTW that's a new gate in the back corner - the previous one was old and incredibly ugly so I always cropped it out of pictures. Now you can enjoy a wider view!
To see this garden at other times of the year, click here and scroll down.
This little garden area is actually on the edge of the sunny Adventure Garden, but gets shade until early evening, so I'm never sure whether I should classify it under the Adventure Garden or the Back Shade Garden (which is right next door on the other side of the path). Maybe I should call it something completely different, like the Bird Bath garden?
But anyhoo, it doesn't really matter, does it? The point is, I love it at this time of year with the pink bergenia and yellow leopard's bane in bloom, and the feather reed grass adding lots of contrasting texture. So while this looks like a sunny garden, these are all plants that will do well for you in a fairly shady spot.
If you don't have this plant, plan to get it! It's one of my all-time favourites and super tough in Calgary gardens. Also on Sue's recently posted top 20 list, or check out Blue Stem's excellent description of this plant, with more photos.
Click here and scroll down to see this garden at other times of the year.
Above: frozen leaves still on the Mountain Ash tree in the back shade garden.
I've been meaning to post to tell you that I'm so busy that I don't have much time to post these days... so here I am! When I said "snowed under" I was really thinking about how busy my job is at this time of year, but of course, it applies to the garden as well.
I don't mind the snow, really (the literal stuff!) Although getting it so early was not optimal for the garden as trees and shrubs didn't have time to fully go into dormancy. We got hit with sudden snow and extended cold temperatures in mid-October, so that the leaves still have not fallen from the trees and woody plants. Fortunately, this is a great excuse for not having done any fall clean-up in the yard!!
Above: frozen honeysuckle vine leaves on the new blue arch to England (the veggie garden).
Above: deschampsia cespitosa (tufted hair grass) and physocarpus (ninebark) 'Coppertina' in the front Welcome Garden.
PS. Even when I am busy and the blog is quiet, I still manage to stay fairly active on my Calgary Garden Coach facebook page - check me out there!
Since I just can't get enough colour, I find myself using more and more paint these days - doors, furniture, pots - to add colour to the garden. However, it's important not to overdo it and have some repetition of colour to provide unity rather than visual unrest. I moved my Goldflame spireas to this garden area after I painted the door "rhubarb red" because I knew the colours would go well together. I have plans for more painting this year... stay tuned!
It ain't perfect. Some plants in this area are getting a little crowded, other areas look a little thin because I just extended the garden (area in the bottom centre of the photo) last fall and plants are still small and new there. But this is a reality garden blog so here's the back Shade Garden in early June, for the record. Overall, I'm enjoying this view out of my kitchen window right now!
Plants in bloom include: snowdrop anemone (white blooms, it's a bit of a spreader but so pretty I can't help keeping it); leopard's bane (yellow daisies); bergenia (pink); and geums (orange). There are some iris in there somewhere too but they aren't blooming because they're too crowded - time to thin out this bed a little but I'll wait and enjoy the blooms first!
To see this garden at other times of the year, click here and scroll down.
Above you will see my bergenia patch - actually a little bigger than it needs to be but it's so darn low-maintenance and showy that I can't quite bear to dig any parts of it up! This garden area gets late afternoon sun. It also has:
Note that the bare spot in the top right is due to (another) spruce tree having been removed this last winter! The bareness will be rectified soon as I have planted two lilacs up there instead.
To see this garden area at other times of the year, click here.
I can't let May go by without posting about my favourite plant of the month - bergenia! This is one tough, beautiful plant. It was one of the few perennials left growing in the neglected, overgrown garden I inherited when I moved into my current house - and that says a lot! Also, it
P.S. I have one friend who thinks the flowers are incredibly gaudy (hello Michael, are you reading this?) Personally, that's what I appreciate at this time of year! But I told him to keep the plant for the texture, and cut the flowers for bouquets for his wife since the flowers do well in vases, too!
And in case you're not following the Calgary garden talk on facebook, here is a recent post I linked to about how to water your trees in fall. Basically, stop watering in mid-September . Once deciduous trees have lost their leaves, water once more with a soaker hose under the drip line. Water evergreens in late fall just before the ground freezes as they use water throughout the winter.
And speaking of leaves, here are a few links regarding using fall leaves in the garden. Don't let those valuable leaves go to waste! Rake them onto the garden, add them to the compost bin, or bag them up and make leaf mold!
Now that I'm done the painting I'm trying to finish up last minute garden tasks while there's still time. One main fall task that is always on my September to-do list is to re-edge the border between lawn and garden, as it makes a nice, clean line to look at in the winter times when there's no snow cover (a frequent occurence here in Calgary!) This year I'm also cutting out a bit out of the back lawn to give it a new shape according to the arc-and-tangent design theme I told you about in spring. A defined shape that looks as if it was designed, rather than randomly applied, really does make a huge difference in pulling the garden together!
Here's what this corner looked like before:
The heuchera, columbine, and goat's beard that were blooming here in mid-July are finishing up, and the astilbes and ligularia will blooming soon.
To see what this garden looks like at other times of the year and how it has evolved, click here and scroll down.
Above: The back Shade Garden, viewed from the lawn, is a study in textures with bergenia providing the glossy, paddle-shaped leaves, a 'Sun Power' hosta for a splash of yellow pointier leaves, and several ornamental grasses providing different fine textures - calamagrostis (feather reed grass) 'Karl Foerster' is the green, tall straight one on the left, festuca glauca is the small, cushiony blue one on the bottom right, and deschampsia cespitosa (tufted hair grass) 'Goldstaub' is the feathery one reaching over the retaining wall. They all get backlit in the low, evening light and look gorgeous.
Above: This is the part of the back Shade Garden which is closer to the garage, viewed from the back steps - it is much (much!) shadier and drier. But right now, heuchera, columbine, forget-me-nots and goat's beard are blooming:
To see how this garden area has progressed over time, click here and scroll down.
Also, check back over the next few days as I post pictures of other areas of my garden as well!
Calgary is "lucky" to be near the mountains (read: high elevation and therefore cool nights and a short growing season, not to mention freak snowstorms), as well as the prairies (read: dry and windy.) If you don't garden in Calgary, you may have to see this short clip to believe it!
Above: bergenia, leopard's bane and snowdrop anemone (viewed from the centre of the yard.) Yes, the colours clash, but at this time of year I'm so happy to have colour again that I just don't care! :-)
To see what this garden looks like at other times of the year, click here.
To see pictures of other areas of my garden at this time of year, please see:
Bergenia bridges the border between my sunny Adventure Garden and the back Shade Garden. Here it is with its shade-loving neighbour, sunny yellow leopard's bane.
My back shade garden is directly outside my kitchen window - the picture above was taken from the kitchen sink. In other words I've been staring at this view a lot lately and I can't help scheming and planning what I'm going to do to change/improve it for next year. Here's a look at it in 2010, including what is blooming when:
Above: closer to the garage is deeper, drier shade (background in the top left photo) and there is not a lot happening yet in May. But fritillaria is already blooming there and this year I planted some forget-me-nots so I'm working on more bloom in this area next year. I also have some chionodoxa in the area and should plant more.
Above: by mid-June, much more is happening in the back shade garden. The bergenia is still blooming (did I mention I love bergenia?), the ferns are up, plus tulips, snowdrop anemone, and leopard's bane are blooming. The bare patch in the bottom right of the photo is a pathway that I don't even bother to mulch anymore because the kids are always running up and down, keeping the weeds down for me!
Above: June in the back shade garden also include bleeding heart and dwarf bearded irises blooming. I added the hopscotch stepping stones to the lawn this year and the kids love 'em (so do I!) And I bet you can't even see the chair in the corner of the top left photo above, can you? I'm thinking of painting that chair green this year to help it stand out.
Above: The back shade garden in August. Ligularia, astilbes, hostas, heucheras and ornamental grasses are in bloom. This month I added a variegated dogwood to the right of the birdbath for even more foliage interest. You can see I also painted the trim and I really need to paint that electrical meter on the right hand side of the garage wall (it keeps sticking out of these pictures like a sore thumb!) I also tried growing a clematis tangutica on that trellis but it didn't make it - that spot is super dry and 100% dark shade, being between two large trees and on the north side of the garage. So instead I'm planning to spray paint a decorative metal scroll a fun, bright colour and hang it on that trellis to dress things up in that area year-round! And phew, doesn't the brown and white trim look so much better than that gawd-awful yellow?
Above: in October I've started cutting stuff back and mulching with leaves, but the ornamental grasses and bergenia still look great and the virburnum lentago (nannyberry) and viburnum trilobum (dwarf american cranberry) 'Bailey Compact' shrubs are still adding fall colour. They were new last year and will get bigger and put on a better show in the future.
So, to summarize my to-do list for this garden in 2011:
To see what this garden looked like last year, click here.
If you would like an urban paradise that rejoices the eye and refreshes the spirit, view My Services for consultation details.
Wow! I went away for the week-end and came back to a glorious show of fall colours in Calgary! Not to mention great weather! The cotoneasters (such a common shrub but worth it to have a few just for the blazing reddish-orange fall colours) and mountain ash in my backyard look especially colourful right now.
At this time of year I am truly counting on foliage texture to make the shade garden look interesting. Many shade-loving plants bloom in spring, but right now I still have ligularia 'The Rocket', white and pink astilbes, heuchera and hostas in bloom in this garden.
To see this garden at other times of the year, check out:
At this time of year the ligularia, astilbes and hostas are blooming in the back shade garden. There are also some old-fashioned green heuchera with salmon-pink blooms almost the same colour as the garage door that I LOVE, but they are blooming sparsely this year because I divided and replanted them this past spring. Looking forward to next year to see those again.
Also note a new variegated dogwood to the right of the birdbath in the bottom two pictures. Tee hee, I went shopping last week-end!
And I really must do something about that electrical meter on the garage wall - sticks out like a sore thumb. I'm putting it on the painting to-do list next year.
Previous posts on the back shade garden:
The evening light in this area of the garden is just so great!
In this area the goat's beard is finishing its bloom, and the astilbe, hostas, and heuchera are about to bloom. A martagon lily and columbine are the only ones providing more than foliage colour right now.
I've always said I'm not a lawn person but I must admit that one of the problems of having such a small lawn is that the traffic gets concentrated in such a small area and then the condition of the lawn gets worse faster. The only reason I care at all about the lawn is because it provides a nice border to the garden (ha ha, I know that's backwards)!! So I thought it would be useful to put some stepping stones in.
But why not make them fun? My girls love the new hopscotch stepping stones and even if they didn't, I think they'd be fun for adults too. Every time I cross the backyard I plan to hop!
This patch of bergenia was one of the few things growing in a much-neglected yard when I moved into my house. (I'm pretty sure I didn't plant those tulips, either.) This part of my back shade garden is super low-maintenance and I love it! I can't recommend bergenia enough for a low-maintenance garden.
I've been reflecting on my garden's performance this year - what changes worked this year and what still needs to be changed. So here's another area of my garden. It needs a little help in spots! Thanks to the tree smack dab in the middle of it, plus the shade of the garage and a nearby spruce tree, this area is very dry and extremely dark. There's not a lot of plants that will thrive here and I did want a spot to put some hostas, so I do confess to adding a little extra water to this area once in a while.
The garden immediately beside (to the north of) the garage is in its third year, and the area on the other side of the path is both original (the patch of bergenia was there when I moved in) and brand new (we re-built the wall this summer and everything behind it was planted in September).
The back Shade Garden (year 1-3+)
Early June. Besides the big patch of bergenia, there's some yellow leopard's bane and a lonely red tulip in bloom on the far side of this garden. Eww- check out that ugly retaining wall! I'm so glad we finally replaced that this year.
Late June. Some anemone sylvestris, dwarf bearded iris, orange geums and pink bleeding hearts are now also blooming. The geums have never been very spectacular and I'm considering getting rid of them... As difficult as it is to get rid of a plant, I must try to be ruthless! The bleeding heart is new and I hope it will be bigger next year, but I'm not sure it gets enough light or moisture there. I'll give it another year and then see.
Early September. Astilbe and hostas now in bloom. I sure like that new trellis on the garage wall and I'm hoping to grow a clematis tangutica up there. I know it will grow in shade, but this is very shady shade so it will be a bit of an experiment. I do like how the trellis is framed by the ornamental grass in the top 2 views. But I think I'm going to have to paint that electrical meter blue; it is just too ugly! And in the bottom photo, there are new plants in behind the retaining wall.
Other parts of the garden:
What fun it is to have a whole new garden area to plant from scratch! In my large, established yard with mostly garden and little grass left, I don't get this opportunity very often any more! In fact, I think this area may be the last large-ish area I had left to plant!
The area behind the new retaining wall is very shady on the left, and a little more sunny on the right. What were my plant criteria? I wanted to put in some shrubs around the back to prevent the kids from playing back there - anything that produces berries was preferred (BTW that is more difficult to find in shade plants but made the plant selection easier). I definately wanted something evergreen to look at in the winter, and a wide variety of foliage colours and textures from perennials, of course! Here's what I ended up with:
... and closer up:
The plants are:
There. New shade garden finished (for now). Now I really must concentrate on emptying that compost bin that I said was such a high priority! Planting new stuff is way more fun...
If you are attaching a trellis directly to a wall, leave a space of about 5 cm behind it to make it easier for the vine to grow around and behind the slats. Here you can see the new trellis in my back shade garden is screwed into some pieces of wood which create the desired space. If a trellis is the kind with "legs" that you poke into the ground, then leave the same amount of space but secure the top with a wire or bracket to give some extra support.
Voila! Here's my new trellis with a little clematis tangutica planted at the bottom. I really like the feeling of being "in" a garden, which means that there are not only plants at your feet, but plants growing up the walls of the garden as well, and closing you in. I hope this trellis and vine will help to achieve that in a few years, in a very shady, dry area of the garden where things had been looking a little bare.
Now if only I could camouflage that electrical meter box! I'm thinking of painting it blue...
Whew! Actually, this is not quite done as we still have to get a few bricks cut to fit the wedge-shaped gaps in the top row due to the curve of the wall, and we still have to replace the patio bricks that butt up against the bottom of the wall. Still, it was a big job and this is close enough for me. I have wanted to get this wall done for a long time because it just looked so bad before.
The fact that the wall doesn't look level is mostly an optical illusion due to the fact that the wall angles back into the hill on the right hand side (mostly...). And look at that poor lawn that had a huge pile of soil sitting on it for a couple of weeks! Good thing neither my husband nor me are "lawn people" - it'll grow back eventually.
Now I get to plan what I'm going to plant here - the fun part! Actually I already have a few ideas I'm mulling over but I want to spend some time looking at the wall before I decide. I'll fill you in soon!
Sorry for my sporadic and mostly wordless posts lately! It's busy around my place these days. Work and family are the biggest priority right now as I go back to my "real job" from my summer off and my oldest gears up for Grade 1. Let's just say big changes are afoot not only in the garden!! And if you're hoping for more gardening and design tips, you'll just have to read my blog in the winter or go into the archives!
But back to the wall - we had two days a week or so ago to get a big start on the retaining wall project. Here's what it looked like before we started.
So... how far did we get? Well, it took the first day just to clear the area to get ready to build the *&$% thing (I'm not frustrated, just tired!) Poor hubby had to dig out two tree stumps (the one below is still leftover from our Christmas tree harvest last year):
plus the logs that formed the original retaining wall. Some of those suckers were huge and buried deep, too! And I'm not even going to mention the myriad of existing tree roots we also had to cut through to clear the area. Sometimes an established yard with lots of big trees doesn't seem as desirable as you might think...
Here he is at the end of the first day, poor guy! Does he look tired to you? But for me, I kind of enjoyed watching swinging his axe and pick around and getting all sweaty! Tee hee!
The second day's goal was to lay the foundation for the new brick wall and to get the first row of bricks put down. We didn't quite get that far.... The trouble was we had to dig a trench so that we could lay the bricks flat to figure out exactly where the curves were going to go, but we had to figure out where the curves were going to go so that we could dig and flatten the trench... You get the idea! A bit of a trial-and-error process. I was starting to wonder if we should have called a professional.
But anyway, we sort of got it figured out eventually. I have to live with a few less curves than I originally planned, but at this point, I'm OK with that!
Anyway, the babysitting is used up and now we're slowly getting the rest of the wall done whenever we have a moment or two. We've got 3 1/2 rows of bricks laid now, and the rest should get done this week-end, including backfilling. Then another week-end to fix the patio around the wall, and we'll be done... I hope!! Wish me luck.
Since most perennials bloom for such a short period of time, one of the tricks to perennial gardening is to use lots of plants that look good even when they're not blooming. In this combination above, backlit in the afternoon sun, there is nothing in bloom except a little bit of yellow-flowering sedum in the bottom left corner that found its own way into the garden. But things still look interesting thanks to the different shapes, colours and textures of the plants. The other plants, left to right, are:
calamagrostis (feather reed grass) 'Karl Foerster', dwarf bearded iris, hosta 'Sun Power', festuca glauca (blue fescue), with bergenia behind.
Now, I really must get around to replacing that retaining wall behind the bird bath... as soon as it cools down out there!
Here is my back hill garden at the end of its first season. It stretches across almost the whole width of the backyard and is the widest and deepest bed I've ever designed. It can be viewed almost anywhere in the yard and also the house, so that made it more challenging as well. I spent all last winter planning it.
Overall, I'm pretty happy with it. Only a few tweaks in mind for next year. The left side here is shadey...
... and the right side is in full sun. That makes it hard to do the "repeat plants for unity" thing. I had to try to tie it together more with repeating colours rather than repeating plants. So I ended up with repeating silver and blue foliage (lamb's ears, russian sage, artemesia, blue oat grass and blue fescue), with red foliage (castor bean, elderberry, penstemon, ninebark, sedum matrona) and blue flowers (clouds of self-seeded borage, catmint, russian sage). I also like to have lots of bearded iris throughout the bed because the shape is so stand-out - the ones in more shade bloom less but the leaves still add great texture (it's my favourite "repeat plant"!). And finally, varying heights of things really helped make such a deep bed look interesting too (rather than just having short plants at the front, medium in the middle, tall ones at the back).
While I also love yellow foliage, I kept it mostly out of this garden because there would have been too much going on. There is lots of yellow in my shade garden, though.
This calamagrostis (feather reed grass) was new this spring, so it's a little thin, but I am loving it beside my patch of bergenia. In fact, any ornamental grass would pair well with bergenia, thanks to their contrasting height and texture.
I also like to specifically place ornamental grasses where they will be back lit for part of the day i.e. not up against a building or fence. This one is viewed from the kitchen window and I know I will be even happier I planted it in when I am looking at it in the middle of winter and it will still look great.
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