Mahogany Splendor Hibiscus, poor man’s Japanese Maple

These spectacular Mahogany Splendor Hibiscus are annuals in my zone 4 to 5 area of Ottawa, but wow, are they gorgeous.  Unlike the colorful hibiscus I posted about recently, these do not have spectacular flowers, but their foliage makes up for that fact.  A few Mahogany Splendor hibiscus were added to the gardens at the hospice I helped plant recently to fill in the bare spots and add color between the immature perennials.  As a result of the diligent watering by the hospice garden team throughout our extremely hot summer these hibiscus (and the rest of the gardens) look spectacular.

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They look much like a Japanese Maple, but are shorter, with the same deep burgundy color and same maple leaf shaped leaves.  Japanese Maples are notoriously expense around here, so these Mahogany Splendor hibiscus have been nicknamed “the poor man’s Japanese Maple”

They are so gorgeous in fact, that I plan to dig them up and bring them inside for the winter so I can put them back in the garden next spring.

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Asters, butterflies and bees, oh my!

Tis the season for asters, butterflies and bees in our zone 4 gardens here in Ottawa.  I am seeing lots in my GARDENS4U clients’ as well as my own gardens. These perennials make a beautiful splash of color in the fall when others have finished showing off.  Growing up to five feet tall, and preferring full sun conditions, their upright, strong stalks are covered in bright green foliage and small pink or purple flowers that the butterflies and bees just love…

 

Asters, butterflies and bees asters, butterflies and bees asters, butterflies and bees

 

Asters are easy to grow, and require little to no maintenance. I cut mine back after flowering, but this is not necessary. They also seem immune to bugs and disease.  If your gardens are lacking color this time of year, consider adding some asters.  The butterflies and bees will thank you!

Encourage kids to discover their green thumbs by planting seeds

Encouraging kids to develop green thumbs is a great outdoor activity, especially for this gardening loving Grandma.  Recently I taught my two oldest grandchildren (1.5 and 4.8 yrs old) the fine (very simple) art of planting seeds.  I filled some large pots with soil and added bamboo trellises shaped like teepees for the plantings to climb on.   I chose pole beans and morning glories to plant as they are both fast growing seeds, perfect for impatient children.  In fact, our seeds sprouted within a few days and in less than three weeks their tendrils had started to climb the teepees…

 

 

A few weeks after that and the beans have climbed up, around and through the teepee shaped trellis, producing purple pole beans.  No sign of the morning glories yet…

 

 

Now, if I could only get the kids to eat the pole beans.  Grandma certainly will…

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I must admit that I have never planted purple pole beans before and did not realize they turn green when they are cooked….

You can entice children to enjoy gardening by getting them their own gloves, tools and watering can. My grandson loves the little “critters” I have on my back deck too…

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It’s all about the (farmland) smell

Recently I drove through a portion of the eastern Ontario countryside from Ottawa to the Cornwall area. I purposely took the back roads to enjoy the beautiful greenery of the local farms along the way. As well as the scenery, believe it or not, I love the smell associated with the farmland. I attribute this to my heritage.

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Beaudette family farmhouse

My maternal grandparents were farmers.  They are long gone from this world, but never from my memories.  The farmhouse they lived in has since been renovated and just a portion part of their land still worked by family members.  Down the road from the farmhouse is the cemetery where these grandparents, as well as both of my own parents, and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins are buried.

The main purpose of this recent (road) trip down memory lane was to clean up the memorial garden in this cemetery.  It was overgrown with weeds and other invasive plants.  Thanks to the help of a friend, an aunt and a cousin, we managed to rid the garden of unwanted greenery.  With a few new perennials added as well as the soil and mulch replenished, it looks much better.  I wish I had thought to take a “before” picture;  this is the “after”…

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Pleasant Valley Cemetery

In between the sweltering hot jobs of weeding and adding the new plants, soil and mulch I took a “cool off” break in the form of an opportunity to meet up with a childhood friend with whom I had recently reconnected with on Facebook.  Isn’t it amazing how you can catch up on 30+ years in an hour?

The scenery and yes, the smell of the farmland too, were added bonuses.

Spring beauties

Wandering through my gardens this past weekend, I found these spring beauties…

Spring is my favourite time of year.  It has arrived a bit late here in Ottawa this year, but has finally arrived. You can see the exciting changes in the gardens daily as the bulbs burst into bloom and the perennials poke through the soil.

 

Today was a good day

Today was a good day for applying a fall fertilizer to lawns.  Why?  Because it is still not too cold out, the grass is no longer growing but still green, and it was drizzling.  At least it was as I finished the five lawns I had to fertilize.  It’s raining harder now, which is also ideal because the rain helps water the fertilizer in.  However, try to avoid fertilizing before a downpour, so your hard work is not washed away.

Today’s conditions were ideal for fall lawn fertilizing.  Most experts will tell you that fall is the most important time to fertilize your lawns.  Fertilizer applied at this time of the year is to strengthen (deepen) the roots, repair the lawn from summer drought/stresses and prepare the lawn for winter, so it is important to get the right product.  These are two I frequently use for fertilizing lawns in the fall…

 

 

Both are pet and kid friendly, safe to walk on immediately after application.  They can be purchased at your local garden centers or DIY (Home Depot, Lowes etc) stores.

Apply the fertilizer as instructed on the bags.  I use a push spreader and apply the fertilizer in two directions to avoid patchiness (as pictured below).  For irregularly shaped lawns, block off the lawn (visually) in squares or rectangles to ensure even distribution of the fertilizer.

 

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Remember, a great looking lawn enhances the appearance of your garden.  We all know I appreciate beautiful gardens.  If you miss/forget any fertilizer applications, don’t miss the fall one!

 

I’m a snob

Ok, I will admit it, I am a snob, a plant snob that is!  Some plants I find just too common and boring.  For example, “Look at that beautiful hosta!” said no one ever.  Or spirea either for that matter, unless you are talking one of the bridal wreath variety, then you may just hear or think that, but only if it is pruned correctly.

So, if that makes me a plant snob, then so be it.  I appear to have developed an aversion to hostas, probably because people have overused them in their gardens.  The only time I enjoy them is in the very early spring when their green spikes are one of the first signs of new growth to emerge from the soil as it thaws out here in the Ottawa area.  In the summer they get eaten by slugs and earwigs, and in the fall they turn mushy and slimy…

 

 

So, what perennials do I prefer over hostas for the edges of my gardens in my GARDENS4U and home gardens?  Here are my choices:

For shady areas I like perennial geraniums.  They are one of the first perennials to green up in the spring, require no maintenance what so ever, and maintain their neat, non-sprawling (most varieties) mounded shape.  They do spread throughout the garden, but are very shallow rooted, so easy to remove.  These geraniums are great for planting under trees, even evergreen trees where nothing else will thrive.

Another good choice for an edging plant in shady areas is lamium.  It is one of my favourites with its variegated leaves, reblooming pale flowers, and tidy habit.

be a plant snob with a lamium border

 

For part shade to part sun locations in the garden, I am loving heucheras these days.  Some varieties tolerate more sun than others, so be sure to read the tags.  By the way, heuchera is pronounced with a hard c.  I will never forget that after I was chastised for mispronouncing it by a 93-year-old client.  Heucheras come in a variety of colors from palest green to bright chartreuse to orangy-brown to reddish brown to deep wine red.  Leaf shapes vary too from smooth and rounded, to almost maple-leaf-like, to curly, lettuce-leaf-like.  They look good all summer, need no fall cleanup or protection, and survive our cold winters with no problem.  A simple tug to remove any crispy leaves in the spring and they are good to go.

become a plant snob with heucheras for borders

My first choice for full sun edging plants are those in the sedum or stonecrop families.  As succulents, sedums and stonecrops are all drought tolerant, thriving in hot, dry areas, especially next to stone walkways where not much else will grow. They too come in a variety of colors and shapes.  These sedums and stonecrops look especially nice when several varieties are planted together.

So, next season think outside of your comfort zone. Become a plant snob by replacing those boring hostas with a little more pizazz!

 

It’s not the temperature

“It’s not the temperature” is a common Canadian phrase, followed by either “it’s the windchill” in the winter, or “it’s the humidity” in the summer.  We Canadians tend to be very weather obsessed.

In this case,  however, I am talking about why I cover the base (crown) of my roses in my gardens…

It’s not just the cold, although it is advisable to choose plants hardy to your area, that affects (kills) the roses. It’s the freeze and thaw cycles very common to Ontario weather that do them in.  The mounded earth helps prevent the rose crowns from heaving out of the ground in these freeze/thaw cycles.  Be sure to use clean soil for this purpose.  I purchase plain garden soil in easy to manage bags to avoid introducing mold, mildew, bacteria or insects and their eggs to the roses.

I counted twenty-two rose crowns to cover in my own gardens, with lots more in my GARDENS4U gardens.

Final garden chores

Well, our beautiful fall weather has come to an end here in Ottawa, so I am closing out my GARDENS4U season with some final garden chores:

  • cut back any perennials that get mushy or moldy (hostas, peonies, tall phlox)  Leave the rest for the birds, rabbits, squirrels etc.
  • mound clean soil (just plain, new soil,  no fertilizer) around the crowns of roses and any other less hardy plants.
  • mulch leaves and spread them around the plants in my gardens.  I will probably have to borrow some leaves from my neighbours or clients to do this as the trees in my yard are predominantly evergreens.
  • take any frost tender potted plants indoors (there are a few I overwinter)
  • put containers that are not cold hardy into the garage (those without drainage holes are especially susceptible to cracking) Store them on a shelf or other spot off the floor.
  • remove any cold sensitive decorations from the garden and store them (not on the floor) in the garage
  • pick any blooms still thriving; the frosty nights will kill them fast

 

 

 

That will probably end my garden posts for a while, I will have to look elsewhere for inspiration…

 

Latest garden project by Gardens4u

.As our fall weather was too nice to start garden cleanups and winter preparation, Gardens4u took on another garden project last week.  This client lives on the same street as two other clients for whom I have recently reconstructed front gardens.  This client wanted a smaller footprint for the new garden with plants that require no maintenance and stay tidy looking all season.  I started by removing all of the existing plants, leaving the large rock as the focal point…

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Gardens4u after the clean out
after the clean out

 

I replanted a ring of groundcover (lamium) around the tree to include the tree in the garden.  I added heuchera in various colors around the perimeter of the garden to define its new edge, including around the outer edges of the rock. Both of these inclusions make it easier for the lawnmower, removing the chore of trimming around the tree and rock.  The large and overgrown clump of Solomon’s seal was dug out from around the rock.  It was overpowering the rock and looked messy.  In its place, I planted three different varieties of ornamental grass.  These were strategically placed around the edges of the rock.  Two tall ones went at the corners closest to the house and a shorter one at the front, outer edge.  This will draw the eye to the rock, making it an integral part of the garden.

New plants included the heuchera, a dwarf shrub rose, a varigated and reblooming weigela, as well as several colorful and long blooming perennials.  I reused a few daylilies, some (a very small portion) of the lamium, and none of the aggressive Solomon’s seal.  Unused plants have been potted up in my ICU (home inventory of plants) for recycling (use in someone else’s gardens).  Grass seed was sprinkled on the bare spots where the garden used to extend to.  The grass seed should be well watered after the past few days of rainy weather.  If the mild weather holds, the grass may even grow before spring.

The end result was a smaller, tidier garden between the rock and the tree.  The client will have to wait until next summer, unfortunately, to fully appreciate the new look…

Gardens4u after pictureGardens4u after picture

 

Unfortunately, this current week looks like our great weather is behind us.  That means Gardens4u will be starting that cleanup and winterizing this morning after it warms up a bit.  Cleanup is not nearly as much fun as designing a new garden project!