Category Archives: Planting

Exploring Two Special English Gardens (and the Gardeners behind them)

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

This week I had the pleasure of doing my first in-person presentation in almost three years to the Peterborough Horticultural Society on some very special south England gardens that my husband and I were able to visit in May 2022.

National Garden Scheme

I also talked about the amazing UK National Garden Scheme (NGS), where gardeners open their private gardens on specific days during the year to raise funds for primarily health charities. Since many people had never heard of the NGS, I thought I’d share with a wider audience with my blog for this month.

Screen capture from NGS website

The NGS gives access to over 3,500 exceptional private gardens in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands, which in turn raise impressive amounts of money for nursing and health charities through admissions, teas and cake. And it’s not just about seeing beautiful gardens – there is a strong focus on physical and mental health benefits of gardens too. They also support other charities doing amazing work in gardens, and provide health and grant bursaries to help community gardening projects. You can read more here.

How I wish we could start something similar here in Canada (or Ontario, or Peterborough)! Imagine all the good that could happen just from sharing our gardens with people. I’ll have to think more about this.

So we managed to see two very special private gardens (that both open for the NGS as well) and get to meet the gardeners behind the garden, which is always my favourite thing to do when I visit to a garden. I want to understand the inspiration, the goals and objectives, and the plans for the future…because we all know our gardens are ever evolving places.

Waterperry Gardens

Waterperry Gardens (east of Oxford in Oxfordshire) has a long legacy and an amazing history as one of the few horticultural schools for women (from 1943 to 1971) – run by two outstanding women – Beatrix Havergal and her partner Avice Sanders.

Photo courtesy of Waterperry Gardens

It’s an 80 acre estate with 8 acres of formal gardens, and is famous for the herbaceous border. This is what it looked like May 2022 when we visited, and how it looks now (fall 2022, photo courtesy of Head Gardener Pat Havers, who I was lucky enough to meet in person in probably the busiest time of the year!) I love this blog written about her in 2017.

You know you’re a hard core gardener when your Mum takes you to work in a wheelbarrow!

Photo courtesy of Pat Havers

Pat grew up in the gardens as her mother worked there, and has been working there herself for the past 20 years -10 years as Head Gardener.

“Living in the village it was every little girl’s dream to have this haven on their doorstep”, says Pat. “I would spend hours running through the beds and asking all the gardeners questions about their work. This soon caught Miss Havergal’s eye and I became the youngest student of hers at just the age of 4. My guess is perhaps she did this to keep me out of trouble.

Her passion for the gardens were evident in everything she said. I found out about her favourite quiet space (down by the River Thame), and the incredible legacy established by Havergal and Sanders, that continues to this day in terms of courses, plant identification tags, and garden design.

This garden is the Formal Garden/Silent Garden, where people are encouraged to turn off the phones and just enjoy the beautiful knot garden, sculptures, and seasonal changes.

St Timothee Garden

Just a bit further east near Maidenhead in Berkshire is St Timothee, a spectacular 2 acre private country garden planted for year-round interest with a variety of different colour-themed borders, each featuring a wide range of hardy perennials, shrubs and ornamental grasses.

The garden artist at work here is Sarah Pajwani, and I love her approach to gardening (similar to my own), and especially her focus on making her gardens appealing all year round, including those winter months. While England obviously doesn’t have the harsh winters we have here, her focus is on maintaining structure and colour in the garden.

photo courtesy of Sarah Pajwani

An overgrown field area when she moved in (2006), Sarah created a design rationale with the help of professional landscapers, but then set about filling her garden with plants of her choice, border by border. She definitely loves her purples and pinks, but also has a few ‘hot’ borders with lovely reds, oranges and yellows.

There are so many lovely aspects to her gardens, including a large pond, wild meadow, potting shed, and formal parterre garden. While we were there in May, her photos of her winter garden are amazing, designed to have year round interest that’s easy to manage.

Sarah’s garden received national recognition in 2021, being recognized by The English Garden magazine as the National Winner for favourite garden. A garden not to be missed if you are in the area!

This excellent garden blog shows the beauty of the St Timothee Garden in wintertime, when it’s one of the first to open for the NGS.

While we did enjoy seeing many of the ‘signature’ ‘must see’ gardens on our English trip – like Sissinghurst, Hidcote, Kiftsgate Court Gardens, and Great Dixter – it was these private gardens – where we had the opportunity to meet the gardeners – that were the highlight of our trip. So if you’re in the UK, be sure to check out the NGS website for what gardens are open while you are there – they have a great interface to help you – either by week or by arrangement.

(Special thanks to the magic of Twitter for connecting me to Ontario gardener Lynette, who connected me to master gardener Nicki in Sussex, who helped me find these very special gardens and gardeners. You will both be on my list of gardens to see next time I’m in your area.)

Native Plant Gardening for Birds, Bees & Butterflies

by MJ Parker, Master Gardener

I recently downloaded “Native Plant Gardening for Birds, Bees & Butterflies” from my local library. This book was a fabulous find for me because I am currently planning a buffer area by the water in our new place. Going through this book reminded me of when I was a kid with a new Sears or Eaton’s catalogue – always an exciting event – something only people of a certain age will remember.

Book cover

The book was written by an entomologist, Jaret C. Daniels, currently living in Florida but the area covered by the book is the upper Midwest which is roughly parallel to us here. I have ordered plants from Minnesota before with no problems and some of the plants I currently grow are in the book.About 1/4 of the book is devoted to why we should plant gardens for birds, bees and butterflies. He does a brief summary on a number of topics about the actual mechanics.

False Indigo (Baptisia australis)

Most of the book, however, was a precis of individual plants roughly divided into sun, shade, and bog. Each plant started with a picture, then a summary of what it would attract and ended with specific location and cultivar tips. And this plant section was the part that I found extremely interesting and helpful.

New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus)

So what I did was I sat down with a pen and paper over a number of days and compiled a list of what would work for me and plants I wanted to get. I ended up with a comprehensive list of plants, some I had forgotten to bring from the old place and some completely new to me.

And to date I have already placed 2 seed orders for some of the things on my list.

The Golden Glow Has Got To Go

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Last year around this time I wrote a blog about reclaiming a garden bed from the dreaded ditch lily (Hemerocallis fulva), now considered an invasive species by many organizations including Ontario Parks and the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the U. S. National Park Service. If you’ve ever struggled with this plant you know what I mean.

The other plant growing in our large Lakefield garden when we moved in (more than 20 years ago) is what I was told was called an ‘outhouse plant‘. I eventually learned that the Latin name for this plant (also called golden glow or tall coneflower) was Rudbeckia laciniata “Hortensia”.

Rudbeckia laciniata “Hortensia” or Outhouse Plant, circa 2005 in my garden

It’s a cultivar of our native Rudbeckia laciniata, also known as Cut Leaf Coneflower or Green Headed Coneflower, which has a lovely simple daisylike flower (whereas the Hortesia cultivar is a double ‘puffy’ flower).

Our lovely R. laciniata elsewhere in the garden. It will do better (and flop less) if it’s in a garden bed with other tall and native plants.

The outhouse plant was pleasant enough so I let them grow for years in what I call our ‘back 40’, meaning our naturalized garden area at the back of the property, behind the cedar rail fence. Yes they were tall and gangly, and fell over in thunderstorms. Yes they spread, but they gave the prolific Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) and New England Asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) a run for their money in August/September. And hey, I had more than enough to deal with in the rest of my more organized garden!

However, as I started to learn more about both native (and invasive) plants over the years I realized that I might have a problem. The outhouse plant isn’t a huge problem per se, as it can be controlled through digging, Chelsea chop etc., but its double shape means that it offers minimal benefit as food for our pollinators. And I wanted plants that not only look beautiful but have an ecological benefit. So I sat in my hammock and pondered.

Sitting in my hammock contemplating the outhouse plant’s fate
(he’s watching on the right)

As a result of winter sowing (first time this past winter – highly recommend!) I have lots of new native plant seedlings, including some of the ones I featured in my May blog – A Few of My Favourite Native Plants – Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum Virginicum), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and Green Headed Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata). I certainly have lots of the native Rudbeckia, as well as Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), Giant Ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), and Purple Giant Hyssop (Agastache scrophulariifolia).

So the clearing of the outhouse plant began in earnest last week, and by the end of two afternoons I had an area to work with.

The initial chop of material
Then removal of the actual plants and roots

Definitely not light work, but not too difficult either compared to other plants. The area is now clear, and I’ll be putting in Green Headed Coneflower (the native), Boneset, Giant Ironweed, and Purple Giant Hyssop. They can all tolerate a little competition (a good thing for native plants, especially tall ones) and basic soils.

If I have space I might even mix in some shorter plants like native Bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera) and Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) in at the front as they can tolerate dry conditions. The area is mostly sunny all day. Unfortunately my beloved Cardinal Flower and Turtlehead are too dry for this location.

We’ll see how this experiment works and check back in with you all on another blog. If it works we’ll expand into another area of outhouse plant that I recently cut down, but haven’t removed yet…a work in progress. There are only so many hours in my (still working part time) day. And I still need to get that Canada Ggoldenrod under control…but that’s another story…

Planting Trees

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

Image Courtesy of pixabay.com

Peter Wohlleben in his well-know book, The Hidden Life of Trees, describes how trees are like families, continually communicating and supporting one another. Trees improve soil and water conservation, moderate climate, increase the wildlife habitat, reduce stress and improve health.

It is imperative we continue to increase the tree canopy in our ever-growing cities.  This became more important after the recent storm that whipped through Southern Ontario and took out so many beautiful trees.

There are many factors to consider when planting a tree and it is easy to make mistakes.  I learned this the hard way this past month when I was able to literally pull a 9-year-old tree out of the ground.  Believe me, I am no incredible hulk!  I made many mistakes when planting that tree; the picture shows it was planted too deep, the roots girdled around the original root ball and by amending the dug hole with compost the tree likely resisted growing roots into the surrounding clay soil.

Image Courtesy of Author

Do your research and purchase a tree that is suitable for your yard conditions: 

  • How much sun and shade you receive each day?
  • What type of soil do you have?  
  • Would you prefer a large tree or one that is smaller and more suitable to an urban setting? 
  • What growing zone do you live in? (Check out this Zone Map if you are unsure)
  • Are you looking for a tree that will attract pollinators?   

I would suggest you consider planting a native tree. Trees that occur naturally in our surrounding area are better adapted to local climate and soil conditions and more resistant to disease. Oak trees are a powerhouse for feeding birds and attracting pollinators and insects, however, they are quite large.  A smaller tree to consider would be an Eastern Redbud or a Fall Witch Hazel.

Here is an article from Landscape Ontario with suggested native trees to consider.

HOLE DEPTH

In well-drained soils, the planting hole width should be two to three times the diameter of the root ball and only as deep as the root ball.  Widening the planting hole produces a hole with a greater volume of loose cultivated soil that allows rapid root growth.  This way roots gain access to a greater volume of loosened soil.  Do not plant the tree’s root flare below the ground.  The root flare should be within the top 5 cm of the soil surface.  Use a brush to find the top of the root flare which is where the structural roots begin.

SOIL AMENDMENT

Remove any grass roots, weeds, rocks or other debris from the planting hole. It used to be believed that you should fill the hole with an organic amendment such as compost, however, recent research has found that this doesn’t improve root development or tree growth and can sometimes be detrimental to tree performance and survival.  It is best to backfill in layers and lightly tamp and water to eliminate air pockets.  Additions of mulch and compost can be surface applied in future years to supplied much needed nutrients.

CREATING A BERM

It is wise to build a 10 cm high berm of soil extending 15 to 20 cm around the periphery of the root ball.  It should be firmed and is intended to keep water from flowing away.

MULCH

Apply mulch such as leaf litter or untreated wood chips evenly at the base of the tree.  It will help to reduce evaporation and suppress weeds.  Be sure to pull the mulch about 15 cm away from the base of the trunk.  The depth should be between 5 to 10 cm. I often see trees planted with mulch piled like a volcano.  This does not allow the water to penetrate to the roots and can also cause damage and disease to the trunk of the tree.

STABILIZATION

Only stake the tree if the roots will not support its height or if it is exposed to high winds. If a tree must be staked, place stakes no higher than 1/3 the height of the tree. Stake the tree loosely so it can move naturally in the wind. This movement will help to increase the tree’s stability.  The staking material should not constrict or rub against the bark of your plant. Remove stakes after roots have established, no longer than one growing season.

LASTLY

Remove all plant identification tags and any trunk protection or packaging material.

Supplemental watering is recommended the first 2-years after planting your tree. A sprinkle with the hose for a couple of minutes does more damage than good as this does not provide enough water to penetrate deep into the soil.  Newly planted trees must be watered regularly until frost.  Also, if water is pooling around the tree, cut back on the watering.

Do not be tempted to add additional fertilizer at this point.  Mineral imbalances can occur and cause more vegetative growth than root growth.

Do not prune the tree beyond removing any dead, diseased or damaged branches.

For further information, check out this Tree Planting Guide from Landscape Ontario.

A Few of My Favourite Native Plants

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

I’ve been gardening for more than 25 years and, like many of you, thrill at the opportunity to discover new plants for my gardens. Over the past few years these have been mostly native plants, as I learn about all the benefits that they bring – here’s just a few examples of why native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and trees do so much more than just add beauty to the landscape:

  • They support birds, pollinators and wildlife – native gardens attract birds and butterflies and provide habitat and food for native pollinators
  • They increase biodiversity – native plants increase garden health and resilience, and help contribute to a broader effect to nurture and sustain living landscapes
  • They’re tough and low maintenance – because they’re adapted to grow in their native range, locally native plants tend to thrive with little to no care and conserve one of our most precious resources – water
  • They help you save money AND create a healthier environment for people – native plants don’t require expensive fertilizers and chemicals, or toxic pesticides and herbicides
  • They help with climate change – no lawn mower costs or exhaust! and long lived native trees help store carbon dioxide
  • They make gardening easier – if you select the right native plants for your garden, you don’t have to modify or amend your soil

I’m just going to share three favourite native plants in my garden, with hopes that you may consider them for yours.

Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum Virginicum)

Culver’s Root offers a strong upright, architectural accent to any perennial garden that attracts attention from both people and pollinators!! It can reach heights of 5 feet if it’s happy (although mine hasn’t achieved that yet) and the spikes of white flowers open from the bottom up in mid-summer. It has finely toothed leaves that are lanceolate and occur in a whorl of 3 to 8 leaflets. The inflorescence has several wand-like flowering spikes that resemble an elegant candelabra.

Culver’s Root grows in zones 3-8, in full sun to part shade but it does like moist, well-drained soil. The seeds are so tiny that they should be directly sown on the soil surface in fall or in the spring – I’ve tried winter sowing some this year so we’ll see how that goes.

The plant really has no other synonyms; apparently the name was derived from a Dr. Coulvert, a late 17th to early 18th century pioneer physician who found laxative properties in the plant. More information here.

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

Who doesn’t love bright red flowers in the garden? For those who say native plants can’t be showy I give you this amazing example to disprove that theory. Named for its scarlet red flowers, its tubular flowers are a magnet and important nectar source for hummingbirds and swallowtail butterflies.

Like Culver’s Root the flowering spikes open from the bottom to top and bloom for several weeks. They grow best in moist, rich soils in full sun to partial shade.

I’ve only had my plants for two seasons but I understand that the parent plants will not persist after a few years, so it’s important to either let it go to seed (so it reseeds naturally) or collect seed – this is another plant where I am trying out winter sowing (native plants are a great choice for this propagation method). While many sites will tell you it needs a really moist site mine have done fine, although I do keep the plants well watered in drier times. More information here.

Green Headed Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata)

Also commonly called Cut Leaved (or Cut Leaf) Coneflower, this is the straight species, not to be confused with the double cultivar many of us have in our rural gardens (often called the Outhouse Plant – or Rudbeckia laciniata “Golden Glow”).

Not a small plant (it grows 4 to 5 feet tall in my garden), it clumps and spread by rhizomes so only one to consider if you have the space! Its bright yellow, daisy-like drooping flowers with green centre disks (which can be about 3 inches across) bloom later in the summer season. It prefers moist soil, but grows well in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. In nature it is often found in woods, meadows, streambanks, and roadside ditches.

The Cherokee natives call this plant Sochan and the spring basal leaves are a traditional Cherokee food. Butterflies are attracted to nectar from the blooms and songbirds, especially American Goldfinches, eat the seed in the fall. It is moderately deer resistant. More information here.

So I hope you’ll take the opportunity to seek out native plants to add to your garden, finding ones that are native to your region and appropriate to your conditions. Happy Gardening!!

Why Do We Garden?

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” Audrey Hepburn

If you’re like me, you love to garden. Time in my garden provides me with joy on so many levels — emotional, physical, social, creative — and connects me with the outdoors and the environment. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down, one of the silver linings is that we’ve seen a renewed interest in gardening and its benefits, whether you’re working in a large garden or a few containers on your balcony. So I thought I would explore some of the top reasons I think we garden.

Physical and Emotional Health

Gardening is physical. As a low to medium impact exercise that requires both strength and stretching, you’ll see increased muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness over time, as well as improved sleep and diet (if you grow your own produce). On the emotional side, gardening reduces stress, anxiety, and depression and improves self esteem.

It’s good for the mind — gardening calms me down and helps me be more patient with myself and those I interact with on a daily basis. It gives me time to contemplate as I go about my tasks, up to my elbows in soil. Even weeding is cathartic, pulling out those little terrors by the root!

Just visiting gardens helps to calm the mind, bringing a sense of contentment and tranquility from looking at beautiful landscapes, flowers, or just colour and texture.

Building Relationships

While gardening can be a solo activity (some of my favourite moments are just by myself in my green oasis), it’s also a fabulous way to connect with people, whether they be family or strangers!

Teaching people how to nurture a living thing and to be responsible for a little bit of the environment is a lesson and gift we can share with others. Gardening knowledge is shared through generations — I love hearing about plants handed down from grandparents, or children working with their parents to grow seeds for the first time. It’s a great way to pass on critical life lessons — about patience as plants and vegetables grow, responsibility as they look after their care, and loss when flowers die at the end of a season.

Beyond family, gardening helps us connect with the broader community. Whether you plant too many tomatoes or zucchinis and end up giving them away to neighbours, or participate in a community garden plot, gardening can be a very social activity and a chance to learn from, and share your bounty, with others.

Learning Life Values

Gardening teaches you important life values like patience, determination, caring, and hard work. It also makes you very humble as you realize that there is always something new to learn. You need to observe the seasons and the weather, and this puts you in contact with the natural world. I love that I can get dirty and do this very physical activity, working with seeds and plants and seeing growth in all I do.

Growing Your Own Food

Gardening provides benefits for your wallet, your nutrition, and reduces your environmental footprint. By growing your own food (either from seeds or small plants), your food is automatically more sustainable simply because you are doing it onsite or in a community garden. If you control the ‘inputs’ and do it well, you can save a lot of money.

But ultimately there is nothing more rewarding than planting and maintaining your own vegetable garden and harvesting (and sharing) your results. And we all know how much better homegrown produce tastes versus conventional produce at the grocery store. If you have too much produce, then you can just share the love with others!

Connecting With Nature

I think this is one of the best reasons why people have a garden — the sunshine on your face, hands in the dirt, and feeling connected to nature. The garden is so much more than just plants and flowers — it’s the birds, the bugs, the bees, the spiders, the snakes and all the small mammals. I feel like I am establishing a little ecosystem in my own garden and that I am trying to give back for all the benefits that I receive.

Working in the garden also gives you that sense of wonder, accomplishment, and reward. To grow plants is to give life. It keeps you busy but reminds you to be one with the earth. To see the results of something growing from seed to six feet tall is just incredible.

Exploring Creativity

I find gardening to be an incredibly creative activity. Finding the right plant for the right spot, mixing colours, and making sure there is interest for every season — these are real challenges. I’ve spent much of the past few years learning about new plants to consider in my garden, especially natives.

Helping The Environment

Finally, gardening is so important for our planet. Even though we create our gardens (so they are human made) they do represent natural environments, with trees and shrubs and plants that are all taking in carbon and releasing oxygen. The plant roots stabilize the soil and filter water, and the plants themselves support our pollinators.

We live in a symbiotic relationship with our gardens. We give back by planting and maintaining them, but we receive so much more from them than we give.

Why do you garden?

Dreams of Spring Gardens

By Emma Murphy, Peterborough Master Gardener

It’s really cold out. I mean REALLY cold. -25 degrees Celsius cold. With lots of snow. And wind. And ice. So it’s got me dreaming of springtime and things that are green and not white.

So indulge me while I research and share with you some of my favourite English gardens in southern England that we plan to visit later this spring. Hoping things improve to celebrate my aunt’s 95th birthday and fulfill a long held dream to visit England in late springtime. While I’m planting many more natives in my messy “English-style” garden, I’m still fascinated with the diversity, structure, and composition of more formal English gardens.

Here’s my top 5 ‘not to be missed South England gardens” – there are (of course) more on our list but these are the key ones. Some of these may be familiar to you, and some not…

Hoping that these profiles help ease the January blues. Since I’ve haven’t been there yet these are photos taken by others. If you have been lucky enough to visit these gardens please share your photos in the comments.

1. Great Dixter House and Gardens, Rye, East Sussex

Great Dixter is an historic house, a garden, a centre of education, and a place of pilgrimage for horticulturists from across the world. Certainly it’s the one garden that has the highest reputation with overseas visitors.

Surprisingly, it’s maintained this reputation for many decades, even through a change of hands. Initially famous through its owner Christopher Lloyd (1921-2006) – who lived in the half-timbered fifteenth-century house all his life – Lloyd (or “Christo” as he was known) was not only a gifted and artistic gardener but a prolific and knowledgeable writer whose articles and books inspired a generation of gardeners.

Today, the gardens are managed by the Great Dixter Charitable Trust and Fergus Garrett, who became head gardener in 1992. I was lucky enough to hear him speak at a Toronto Master Gardeners’ Technical Update a few years ago.

The two gardeners had a creative working relationship, both loving plants and their combinations, and even though Lloyd is gone more than 50,000 visitors a year find Great Dixter as vibrant a garden as ever, and full of things to learn from.

This is an ‘arts and crafts’ style garden, with topiary, a long border, an orchard and a wild flower meadow. The planting is profuse, yet structured, and has featured many bold experiments of form, colour and combination.

On the grounds are three 18th-century oast houses, under a common roof, and a 15th-century barn. Find out more here.

2. Sissinghurst Castle Gardens, Sissinghurst, Kent

Located in beautiful Kent, Sissinghurst Castle Garden was created by poet and writer Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson, author and diplomat in 1930 and developed over 30 years with some notable head gardeners.

Designated Grade I on Historic England’s register of historic parks and gardens, it’s among the most famous gardens in England. They transformed a farmstead of “squalor and slovenly disorder” into one of the world’s most influential gardens.

Following her death in 1962, the estate was donated to the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty. It is one of the Trust’s most popular properties, with more than 200,000 visitors each year (and I hope to be one of them!).

There are a number of specialty gardens, including the Rose Garden, the (famous) White Garden, the South Cottage Garden, the Herb Garden, the Nuttery, the Lime Walk (Spring Garden), the Delos Garden (Mediterranean garden), Moat Walk, the Orchard, and the Purple Border. Learn more here.

3. Hidcote Gardens, Hidcot Bartim, Gloucestershire

Hidcote is a world-famous garden located in the north Cotswolds (not far from [the original] Stratford-upon-Avon). Created by the talented horticulturist Major Lawrence Johnston (and inspired by the work of designers Alfred Parsons and Gertrude Jekyll), yew, holly and beech hedges define a series of outdoor garden rooms – the Circle, the Fuchsia garden , the Bathing Pool Garden, the Red Borders and the steps up to the two gazebos. The outbreak of the Great War (1914 – 1918) in which Lawrence fought, suspended progress.

You might recognize the narrow-leaved lavender, Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’, and Penstemon ‘Hidcote Pink’, as developed by Johnston. Many of the plants found growing in the garden were collected from Johnston’s many plant-hunting trips to faraway places so it will be the perfect source for gardening inspiration. More history here.

4. Gravetye Manor, East Grinstead, Sussex

Created in 1885 at the former home of William Robinson, who championed naturalistic planting, the site today is a prestigious hotel, but visitors can still enjoy the gardens which are curated and cared for by Tom Coward (who trained with Fergus Garrett at Great Dixter).

An oasis of calm with over 35 acres of beautiful grounds, Robinson created a landscape that celebrates nature rather than controls it. He also introduced the idea of the modern mixed border and popularized common place items such as secateurs and hose pipes. In many ways Robinson created modern gardening as we know it.

Some of his most influential books include The Wild Garden and The English Flower Garden, which remains the bestselling gardening book ever printed. He also ran several gardening journals such as The Garden and Garden Illustrated.

Robinson made Gravetye “the paradigm in which house, garden, fields, and forest are united in a pastoral work of art as quintessentially English as a painting by Constable,” wrote landscape designer Elizabeth Barlow Rogers. Some ideas on how to create the Gravetye look here.

5. Wisley Gardens, Wisley, Surrey

Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Garden Wisley is operated by the RHS and is a beautiful garden with romantic half-timbered Tudor-style buildings. Unlike many English gardens, the soil is mainly acid sand which is poor in nutrients and fast draining.

There is a canal designed by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, a rock garden, formal and walled gardens by Lanning Roper, a country garden by Penelope Hobhouse and long borders by Piet Oudolf.

Then there are long herbaceous borders, the alpine gardens, the model gardens, soft fruit garden, rose-garden, summer garden, winter garden and woodland garden, a fruit field, glasshouses and an arboretum.

This garden is home to some of the largest plant collections anywhere in the world, with constantly evolving planting schemes to inspire visitors. In June 2021, Hilltop – The Home of Gardening Science opened at Wisley so I’m looking forward to exploring this impressive exhibition space and three beautiful new gardens.

Well that’s it for this blog – I hope you feel inspired to explore gardens wherever you live or travel – they are so many incredible gardens here in Canada and the U.S. alone. Even if we can’t travel much at the moment, many gardens have developed virtual visits, presentations, and videos so you can explore that way until we can move more freely. One of my favourites is the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia, which I hope to visit in person in the future. Check it out here.

I leave you with a photo of my messy Lakefield “English garden” from last summer, my hardworking husband and our 2021 new greenhouse and dreams of springtime.

Regenerative Agriculture and the Garden

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener

Regenerative Agriculture describes soil management practices that help to reverse climate change while rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil.  Through photosynthesis, plants remove carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil. In addition to carbon sequestration, practices that increase soil organic matter also increase biodiversity both above and below the soil surface, while increasing water holding capacity and improving soil structure helping to reverse soil loss. 

Carbon cycle diagram with nature farm landscape illustration

While the movement was initially geared towards farmers, more and more gardeners, particularly those involved with the growing of annual crops, have adopted some of these principles recognizing the benefit for both the garden and the environment.   In fact, many of the practices have been employed by gardeners for years without realizing how the benefits for the environment.

Regenerative Agriculture aims to:

  • generate/build soils, increase soil fertility and health;
  • increase water percolation and water retention;
  • increase biodiversity, ecosystem health and plant resiliency;
  • increase carbon sequestration thereby helping to cleanse the atmosphere of excess CO2.

Specific Practices include:

  1. No-till/minimum tillage. Tillage breaks up soil and destroys soil structure. Tillage greatly increases soil erosion and releases carbon sequestered in the soil.  A secondary effect is soil capping and slaking that can plug soil spaces reducing water percolation creating  more water runoff and soil loss.

Conversely, no-till/minimum tillage, enhances soil aggregation, water infiltration and retention, and carbon sequestration. Some soils benefit from interim ripping to break apart hardpans which can increase root zones, improved soil structure and carbon sequestration. At a low level, chiseling in some beds may have similar positive effects.  Cracking the soil slightly allows amendments such as compost to infiltrate the soil without damaging it.  A broadfork can be a very effective tool here.

Lasagna gardening or Charles Dowding’s No Till Gardening Methods are good examples of these practices.  One can put away the roto-tiller and get a broadfork instead.

Fall garden after upper stalks have been removed leaving plant crowns and roots

2. Increase soil fertility biologically through application of cover crops,crop rotations, compost, and animal manures.  These increase the soil organic matter and restore the plant/soil biome which promotes the cycling of essential soil nutrients. Increased organic matter (OM) enhances soil structure, increases porosity which increases water infiltration and drainage.  Increased OM also stores and supplies micronutrients and enhances soil microbial populations. A tip for annual beds; When removing the plant in the fall, only remove the portion above ground.  Leave the root ball in the ground to decompose over winter.

3. Build biological ecosystem diversity with inoculation of soils with composts or compost extracts to restore soil microbial community population and functionality. Restore soil system energy through full-time planting of inter- crop plantings, multispecies cover crops, and borders planted for bee habitat and other beneficial insects.

Increased organic matter means more friable soil.  Friable soil means deep roots; increased biological activity mean more nutrients released for plant use and microbial diversity means less disease.  The result is healthy, vigorous plants that need less watering, less additional feeding/supplementation and less treatment for disease while sequestering carbon at the same time.  That is a win win!

“Earth is what we all have in common” Wendell Berry

Resources:

https://www.csuchico.edu/regenerativeagriculture/ra101-section/ra101-definitions.shtml

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20211020-carbon-farming-a-better-use-for-half-earths-land

Ditch Lilies – a Cautionary Tale

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Once upon a time there was a gardener who wanted something that grew quickly to screen a neighbour’s unsightly yard and house addition. She noticed that the ‘ditch lilies’ that surrounded her front yard tree (already there when she moved in) seemed to be pretty vigorous, so she planted a row of them between the yards, along with some small bridal wreath spirea (Spirae aprunifolia).

What she didn’t realize was that she had unleashed a horrible monster into her garden, one that quickly engulfed any other plants, sucked all the moisture out of the soil, and eventually killed most of those spirea.

Yes that gardener was me, many years ago, before I knew better and before I became a master gardener. So this year I knew I had to finally tackle the monster, remove all these plants, and reclaim this garden area. I knew how much work it would be (it took me three weekends this spring), but I got it done. Here’s my story…

Even though you see it growing in ditches around the province, Hemerocallis fulva (aka ditch lily, tawny daylily, orange daylily, tiger lily) is native to China, Japan and Korea and was introduced to North America in the early 19th century. They spread via seed and a network of tuberous roots, and can reproduce and proliferate from a small fragment left behind during removal. In 2020 the Ontario Invasive Plant Council added this plant to their invasives list, and their Grow Me Instead Guides offer some native alternatives to consider.

Screen capture from the Grow Me Instead Guide on Hemerocallis fulva

Garden bed, spring 2021

So this was my garden bed in May this year – just waiting to burst out and take over, again. Every single one of these plants had to be dug and lifted, making critically sure to get every last bulb. These photos show how many bulblets can be on just one stem – it was quite overwhelming to think of the job ahead.

All the plants that were dug out were put in black plastic garbage bags and left out in the hot sun beside our barn for a month. At last count I used 45 garbage bags, and they were a slog to carry as they were heavy!! Eventually they went to our rural dump, where the hot composting they do should ensure their demise.

Bit by bit, over three weekends, I got them all out. It was beneficial to have a dry spring, as it made digging them out a little easier. But still a workout!

Once everything was cleared out, I weeded the soil for anything else. All that remained were my tulips and a few hardy perennials that had been gasping for air for more than a decade.

Getting there.
Ready for a fresh load of soil.

With a fresh load of soil on top and a final check for bulblets done (and knowing that I would have missed a few), I put in some new plants, aiming for 50 percent native plants (those marked with a *). The area has both sun and shade spots so I needed to be careful with my choices.

For sun, Echinacea*, Gray-headed coneflower* (Ratibida pinnata), summer phlox (Phlox paniculata), American Witch Hazel* (Hamamelis virginiana), New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), Sedums, Switch grass* (Panicum virgatum), Lesser catmint (Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta), Black-eyed Susans* (Rudbeckia hirta), lupins, Giant fleeceflower (Persicaria polymorpha), Cyclindrical Blazing Star* (Liatris cylindracea)[once I can convince the bunnies to stop eating it – see green covers], and Virginia Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum).

For part shade/shade, Mourning Widow Geranium (Geranium phaeum), Purple Flowering Raspberry* (Rubus odoratus), hostas, Sensitive Fern* (Onoclea sensibilis), Virginia Waterleaf* (Hydrophyllum virginianum), Columbine (Aquilegia), Starry False Solomon’s Seal* (Maianthemum stellatum), Buttonbush* (Cephalanthus occidentalis), Zig-zag goldenrod* (Solidago flexicaulis) and Berry Bladder fern* (Cystopteris bulbifera). Also the infamous Outhouse Plant (Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Hortensia’), to be replaced with something else next year. Any suggestions for fast growing native shrubs that can handle part share welcome!

The garden bed needs time to fill in, so we’ll see what it looks like next year. In August I went back into the bed and sure enough, there were new ditch lilies growing in a few places. Remember it only takes one bulblet for them to grow. But half an hour later they were all gone as well.

I suspect I will on alert for the odd ditch lily plant showing up for the next few years, but I’m really proud to have removed this nasty invasive plant from my garden and rejuvenated it with native plants. And my two lovely sugar maple trees are glad for some more breathing room.

NOTE: The orange, single flower Hemerocallis fulva is the only daylily currently listed as invasive. It is a diploid daylily. Most cultivated daylilies are triploid and do not spread invasively like the ditch lily.

Lending Insects a Helping Hand in our Gardens

By Laura Gardner, Master Gardener in Training

When some of us think of insects, it is common for them to be thought of in a negative light. Some of our earliest childhood memories include being stung, bitten, or just plain scared by the sight of them. I can remember running screaming from an outhouse at a provincial park when I was about five years old. What was so scary? It was the sight of a Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) hanging in its web in the stall. Fortunately, the experience didn’t make me fear or dislike spiders and as a gardener I know how beneficial they are to have around. While some insects certainly do deserve our scorn— invasive species such as the LDD moth (Lymantria dispar dispar); Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis); Japanese Beetle (Popillia japonica), etc.—by and large, the majority of insects are harmless and beneficial. Not long ago, I saw a couple—perhaps grandparents, out for a walk with their grandson. One of them was urging the young boy to stomp on an ant on the pavement, calling out “Get it! Get it!” It was disheartening to see. It is experiences like this that call for a shift in our thinking about insects.

Bumblebee (Bombus sp.) on False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides)

I recently got a sneak preview of a book by British entomologist Dave Goulson called Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse (Harper Collins). It is to be published this Fall (September 2021). The copy I reviewed was an e-book proof and so page numbers referred to here may change in the final published copy. Goulson’s work is primarily focused on bumblebees and as the founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in the UK, he is dedicated to reversing the decline of them. He is also known for his work that was instrumental in influencing the European Union’s decision to ban neonicotinoids in 2013. Goulson wrote this book in an effort to bring more public attention to the recent and rapid decline of global insect populations—which are critical for our planet’s survival. He also explores the chief causes of insect declines such as habitat fragmentation, industrial farming practices, pesticides, climate change, and non-native insect diseases (p. 71) and provides suggestions for readers that can help support insects—especially gardeners.

Bumblebee (Bombus sp.) on Sweet Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)

Here are a few highlights from the book:

Goulson refers to a phenomenon called “Shifting Baseline Syndrome” where humans tend to only see their current world as “normal” and are unable to detect changes over time. Humans also tend to have something called “personal amnesia” in which they downplay the extent of change (p. 64-65). With these points in mind, it is no wonder that most people would not know that insect populations have recently declined by as much as 75% (p. 50) and that there have been parallel declines in populations of insectivorous birds (p. 58). One bird that I remember as a child that I haven’t seen since is the Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna). This species is one of those that depends on insects in its diet.

One concern that the author has is the level of human awareness of the existence of the natural world. It is important to learn the names of plants and animals—otherwise they cease to exist. If they don’t exist, their importance can’t be recognized. Astonishingly, in 2007, some of the words eliminated from the Oxford Junior Dictionary included words such as acorn, fern, moss, clover, kingfisher, otter, among others (p. 225).

87% of all plant species require pollination in order to flower, produce fruit/seeds, and ensure perpetuation of the species. This includes 75% of all agricultural crops (p. 26). Most of this is performed by insects and a large part is performed by those other than bees—flies, ants, beetles, wasps, moths and butterflies. A world without insects means that we would need to subsist mainly on cereal crops as these can be wind-pollinated. I can’t imagine going without fruits such as strawberries, apples, cherries, raspberries, and even my morning coffee (p. 26).

Insects are not only important pollinators, but they assist in the development of healthy soils. Not only do they help to aerate soil, they are valuable decomposers of organic matter—participating in a process along with bacteria that help make nutrients more available to plants (p. 29, 31).  As biological control agents, predatory insects such as Lady Bugs (Coccinellidae spp.), Lacewings (Chrysopidae spp.), Ground Beetles (Carabidae spp.), Wasps (Vespidae spp.), etc., can help us reduce the need for pesticides.

Blue Mud Dauber (Chalybion californicum) on Swamp Milkweed (Syriaca incarnata)

What can we do to help?

Despite the current state, Goulson is optimistic that insect declines can be stabilized or reversed because they are generally good at reproducing—we just need to support them better (p. 216). Here are some ideas:

  1. Learn how to identify the difference between harmful and beneficial insects. The majority (95%) are the latter.
  2. Reduce or avoid the use of pesticides and give beneficial predatory insects a chance to take care of the problem first (p. 277). Even so-called organic treatments such as diatomaceous earth, BTK, horticultural oils, etc. need thoughtful consideration before use as they can harm harmful as well as beneficial insects.
  3. Learn how to differentiate between irreversible and cosmetic damage in your plants. Accept that plants are meant to be food sources for insects and some imperfections and damage is ok. Give up growing ornamental plants that are persistently defoliated by certain insects (e.g. Asiatic Lilies).
  4. Incorporate a wide range of native plants that flower throughout the season in your garden to attract beneficial insects. One of the best late flowering perennials is New England Aster (Symphyotrychum novae-angliae). It provides a valued food source for migrating Monarch butterflies. Some of the best food sources for insects are early flowering trees such as Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.), Maple (Acer spp.), and Crabapple (Malus spp.).
  5. When using mulch in flower beds, leave some soil exposed so that ground nesting bees can have easy access. Some solitary wasps such as Mud Daubers (Sphecidae spp.) also need easy access to bare soil in order to glean material to build their nests.
  6. Reduce lawn and use the space for more plants. Reduce mowing of the lawn that exists. Allow a corner of your garden to “grow wild” and “get messy.”  (p. 277).
  7. Choose native plants over “nativars.” A nativar is a cultivated variation of a native plant. Some are supportive of pollinators but many are sterile or lack pollen and therefore are unable to provide food. The ones that are most likely to be the least supportive will have features such as double blooms, different leaf colours, etc. Reduce planting of ornamental annuals like Petunias, Begonias, Pansies, etc. because of their tendency to have no pollen or nectar (p. 233). That being said, some of these plants can still be enjoyed.
  8. Choose a range of plants that support the broadest number of insect species. While Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) are in the limelight as being supportive of Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus), compared to some other plants, they only support 12 Butterfly and Moth species (Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home). Goldenrods (Solidago spp) support 115 different species. Some, like Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) can be aggressive in small gardens but there are more restrained types such as Blue-Stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia), and Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis).
  9. Avoid aggressive fall and spring clean-up of leaves and hollow, dead stems. Doug Tallamy describes the practice of waiting 7-10 consecutive days of 10 degree C. temperatures for insects to emerge as myth as many insects emerge at different periods throughout the season. For example, Io (Automeris io) and Luna Moth (Actius luna) emerge around mid May (Tallamy, Leaf Litter: Love it and Leave it).
  10. Recognize that commercially produced “Bee Hotels” can become populated by non-native bees such as European Orchard Bee (Osmia cornuta), Horned-Face Bee (Osmia cornifrons), and Blue Mason Bee (Osmia coerulescens) as well as native bees (p. 135). If used, periodically clean them so as to reduce mites and fungi that can be harmful to the bees.
  11. Reconsider taking up beekeeping as a hobby. The European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) threatens native bees because they take the lion’s share of available plant pollen (p. 139). It is also not a good strategy to rely on one species for pollination in case something happens to that species (p. 33).
  12. Raise awareness and share your knowledge with family and friends. You can convince others that insects need our help if they realize they themselves will be personally impacted by their decline (p. 216).

Selected Resources

Holm, Heather. Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants (Pollination Press, 2014).

Tallamy, Doug. Bringing Nature Home: How you can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants (Timber Press, 2009).

Tallamy, Doug. Leaf Litter: Love it and Leave it. April 2021. Online: https://tinyurl.com/4jphhnbc

Walliser, Jessica. Attracting Beneficial Bugs to your Garden: a Natural Approach to Pest Control (Timber Press, 2013).

Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Visit https://xerces.org/publications to view and download a wide range of factsheets and other guidance documents concerning beneficial insects, native plant lists, pesticides, habitat construction, and more.

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar (Danaus plexippus) on Swamp Milkweed (Syriaca incarnata)