Saturday, December 28, 2013

Icy Winter - Evergreens Covered With Ice

I've heard of these storms, but never once experienced it like us Torontonians have in the past week.
Courtesy of TBG's Paul Zammit

Every where icy branches and hangers have fallen off tree limbs and reeked havoc on electrical lines. Causing blackouts and severe damage. Right during the peak of Christmas celebrations.

Although, beautiful to photograph, not when heavy icy weight is causing damage to horticulture.

When you see branches of evergreens weighed down with ice like this, be sure not to damage the branches further, but support them. Either with a stick wedged beneath for added support, or with twine/roping to give them sling support.

Knock off any large icicles forming on thin, weak branches. With time and weight, small branches will crack under the pressure.
If the weather turns and begins to melt the snow, let nature take its course. Just knock off unwanted icicles that reform over night. Also brush off any added snow. Come spring a good pruning job will enable the plant to regain a healthy form.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Christmas Outdoor Container - How To DIY

I've had several requests to break down the steps in making one of these outdoor arrangements for planters.

Here, I have made one with a silhouette tree in the background. I have a lot of black iron accents at my home. I enjoy using this, since after Christmas, the iron evergreen really pops out during the snowy winter months ahead.
This is a square container. Note, when using a square container, you generally need to have more material to fill the corners.
First - use sandy, or sandy soil to fill your container. It's far more dense, more forgiving when you have to insert and re-insert your greens. Plus it freezes into a solid block, once the sand is moist and the temps dip below -5. You can use potting soil, but generally it's too light and cannot weigh down the pot well enough during windy conditions. Stick with sand if you can.

Second - arrange your focal points. Those that give height and attention to your design. Here I chose birch stems with varying heights and an iron tree silhouette. The great aspect of sand is it holds birch stems really well.

Fun evergreen tree silhouette.

From far left: BC Cedar, Green Boxwood, red-twig dogwood stems & white pine. I find these to be the staple greens I use most often. They hold their colour well through winter. They are widely available and aren't as expensive as some of the other greens out there. 
 Tools needed:
  • Sharp pair of pruners
  • Working gloves that aren't cumbersome
  • Saw to cut the birch stems down to size (or buy already cut)
I begin by layering one green at a time. Start with white pine. It has bulkier stems that are harder to insert after the container is full of material. Begin with taller (longer) pieces to go around the birch stems and weeping, shorter stems to line the base. This develops a 'skirt' which flows over the container edge. Be sure to tuck each stem in well and leave about a 6 inch end to insert well enough.
Here is a coin phrase when it comes to containers. "You need a) a filler, b) then a spiller, then c) a thriller." Will get to that in a minute..
Can't say enough about fresh cuts. ANGLE them, making sharp points. a) they insert better this way and b) once the stem is in contact with moist sand, a fresh cut will continue to draw moisture up the stem. Making your design last longer.
Depending on the quality of white pine you find, many of the stems will look like this. With the bulky nature of the stem at the base, you can't shove this in the container without it looking...poorly.

Cut in sections. Leaving long lengthy shoots for the centre of your design. Mid length for bulk and small lengths for filler and spill overs.

Here I used about a half a bundle, working with tall bits, and shorter bits to fill in the spaces evenly. I didn't fill it entirely, not yet. More to fill in.

Next is BC Cedar. This adds texture, richer green colour and some really great spill over effect.

This is where lots of folks go wrong. Like the white pine, cut back your cedar fronds like this. Depending on the size of container, of course. Some container sizes require the full length, but for the container size demonstrated here, I was able to cut the fronds in 3. Cutting these boughs allows you to work easily with the material without it getting too bulky and floppy.

Insert them between the white pine. So that stems and cut ends are not visible.

You can't even tell this is only a third of the cedar bough.
This creates a layered effect and it adds bulk and texture for a fuller look. The tips and good looking bits should be at the top of the planter, by the birch stems. While the smaller, more gnarly bits get tucked under the white pine bits.

Green boxwood is next. I love this! Oregonia is another variegated form as well. It's lovely too. This really adds luster and shine to the design and again bulk. A little goes a long way. And just like the white pine and cedar, cut this back to smaller bits and arrange accordingly. HINT: when you buy these bundles, look for a lot of stems at the base of the bundle (by the elastic). You'll get more longer bits that way. Many more stems for designing length.

There - again, I used only a half a bundle of each green for this planter.

Now the fun bits. Here is where colour is key. I use red-twig dogwood stems for height and colour variation.

Insert where you need colour contrast and height.

Accessorize: a) ornaments you skewer onto to stems, b) cones, c) coconut husks, d) rattan balls.... you name it, you can get accents on sticks these days at your local garden centre nursery, craft store or dollar store.  I tend to favour more natural accents, but everyone to each his own.

I purchased these artificial berries years ago and reuse them year to year. Great investment.

Tuck in your pieces where you want them to go and you're done. With accents, usually odd numbers work best in combinations. With the amount of greens mentioned above, I made these two containers for about $70 retail in materials. The good thing: I bought reusable accents, birch and the containers will last year to year. Those costs will be avoided for next year's designs.

Be sure to water til freeze-up. When mild breaks in weather occur, give them another drink. I even heap a bit of snow now again and let it melt towards the back of the container. Works just as well. Will last until March.

Enjoy! And Merry Christmas, everyone! xo

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Photo of the Month: November 2013

Nippon Daisy (Nipponanthemum nipponicum)
The Nippon Daisy can be temperamental here in zone 5a-6b. It's a late bloomer and has evergreen herbaceous foliage. A delight to see still flowering in early November.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Autumn Clean Up - To Cut Back Or Not

Having worked tending gardens for a while now, I still ponder the pros and cons of a thorough Autumn clean-up.  I sit on the fence regarding this. So does my backyard for now.

Viewing my townhouse garden yesterday, I noticed, I was the ONLY one (within my block of units) that hadn't removed nearly every leaf fallen to the ground. I can't help but worry about this - no seed heads for birds, no winter textural interest. I pride myself when a bird perches on a Rudbeckia or Echinacea seed head.

Having a Gleditsia (Honey Locust) shading much of my garden, I get a lot of tiny leaf litter everywhere. Most of it I compost, but not all of it.
I have colleagues, friends and complete strangers asking me what my opinion is regarding cutting back perennials. Cleaning up beds for the last time before winter yesterday, I had a member of the public stop and ask what to cut back. The conversation ended up being quite lengthy and we both ended it with laughter and a further appreciation of gardening.

Looking over the fence, my tidy neighbours have done a great job winterizing their garden.

The other neighbour has removed every leaf and perennial bit possible. (So grateful for tidy neighbours!) I look like the mess maker.
Personally, I have seen the benefits of perennial leafy matter dying and creating a litter layer that insulates plants. Yet I am reminded of the pain in seeing grasses and plants like Perovskia having been weighed down by winds and snow, eventually blowing over snowy areas of the garden and litter walkways..etc. It looks unsightly and ends up becoming more work in the spring. On the other hand, leafy matter like Hosta leaves whither and make a mushy layer that slugs adore. Slug prevention is key to having healthy, hole free foliage.

So here, instead - I've made a list of perennials I would cut back and others I would leave.

Cut Back:
Airy, loose Grasses
(or any plant that seeds itself everywhere, or goes mushy and unsightly)

Leave Alone:
Upright Grasses
Evergreen Grasses
Ground Covers like: Vinca, Hedera, Lamium...
(or any sturdy plant that has evergreen foliage, or growth that remains upright and can withstand snow)

Before and after. My compromise. I've left anything that still looks alright. Hard to believe it's a month away til Christmas!

I can't imagine removing any perennial that still looks this good.

Perennial fall colours are key to keep interest. A little leaf litter will compost down by April.

The best advice I can give when it comes to fall clean up, is not cutting back everything. Decide first:
  • What plants require litter layer so they can properly overwinter. 
  • If you don't know which plants die back to mush, wait til heavy frosts wilt down foliage.
  • Clean up now anything that looks like it may be too much work to do in the spring. 
  • Determine what may cause insect problems next summer. 
  • Leave any plant that gives you interest overwinter. Think of birds, and textures you would like to see in the bleakness of February. 

* Yet, do remember: cutting back perennials in autumn can make you forget where they are come spring. If necessary divisions or renovations of the beds are planned for spring, leaving evidence behind can make life easier for you come job time.

Sad time of year...but at least I can enjoy what's left.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Natural Outdoor Winter (Container) Urn Design

Frosty nights and cold days damage what ever is left of fall planters. Right now, garden centres and florists are fully stocked with evergreen boughs and accents. Time to get designing, and get your planters ready before the soil is too frozen solid to work. Selection is usually best by the end of November, so don't miss out. If you're worried it's too early, don't - you can always store the boughs in a garage or shed until you design closer to Christmas. However, be forewarned regarding your soil. It may be too frozen to work or empty.

Here are two natural winter urn inserts:
Here I used a mixture of birch stems, dogwood, white pine, western cedar, douglas fir, oregonia, magnolia, seeded eucalyptus, glittered rattan balls, glittered seed pods, birch lollies, and pine cones.

I enjoy using white tipped pine cones with birch stems. It blends in nicely with each other and looks even better with snow.

The container here is a 10" fibre pot filled with sand. Sturdy, easy to pop into any existing decorative container.
Please check out my other designs!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Photo of the Month - October 2013

It's a bit late, but better late than never.

I couldn't decide on which photo. So here are both. Two late bloomers left in my gardens.

Eupatorium rugosum "Chocolate"

Geranium Maverick Salmon

Monday, October 28, 2013

Overwintering Dusty Miller - Senecio cineraria

Here in zone 5a-6b, by fluke this Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria) over-wintered last year. This time, I prefer to make sure it happens again.

The main reason I believe it overwintered last year was because of the snow coverage we had and the fact that there was a good layer of leaf matter that was never removed. This year it has the added benefit of deep roots and companion plants (coleus) which will be left to die back to the ground. Acting as an insulation barrier.
Both the fern leaf cultivars ('Silverdust')...
...and broad leaf ('New Look') cultivars flower:

Yet, here in Ontario, they don't flower their first season. Only when they develop...

...woody stems (the second year woody growth).

Add lots of leafy matter. Water regularly. Don't let it dry out. Up till heavy frosts. Heap with snow overwinter. Avoid salt.  Next year watch to see new life emerges from the woody stems and trim back to a tidy shape.


Monday, October 14, 2013

A Grateful Gardener

Even though the gardening season is coming to an end; in reflection of this Thanks Giving season, there are plenty of things a gardener should be grateful for this time of year.

1. Critters and beneficial insects that help break down litter and organic matter for great compost come spring.

2. Leafy matter, filled with nutrient rich materials - receiving it for FREE! With a little effort, we can reclaim it for beneficial use in the garden!

3. Late season flowering. Reminds me of abundant life - even in harsh conditions!

4. Fruit of Harvest: Many colours, textures, foods for us and wildlife - not to mention winter interest.

5. Colourful Fall Foliage. Just when you think the plant has given its all... A display of fall colour finishes up the growing season with a spectacular show.

Autumn Chrysanthemum Show at Centennial Greenhouse

What are you thankful for?  Wishing everyone a blessed Thanks Giving season! xo

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