Monday, 18 June 2007

TBG's Annual Garden Tour

This past weekend (June 16-17, 2007) I had the pleasure of volunteering at the Toronto Botanical Garden’s (TBG) 20th annual garden tour. Through the Garden Gate: Wychwood Park & Davenport Ridge provided access to over 20 private gardens, as well as the grounds of Spadina House.

I volunteered on Saturday, and was stationed as a host at 57 Hillcrest Drive, just west of Christie and north of Davenport. The front and side garden (this corner lot used to be two addresses) are beautiful examples of sunny English borders—roses and clematis twining through the wooden fence, with peonies, spirea, rununculus, and other assorted species spilling blooms everywhere. A surprise hit with visitors was an annual penstemon from the President’s Choice cut flower collection (yes, from Loblaws). Also eliciting cries of “what’s that?” where two specimens of Sambucus (cutleaf elder) that resemble a lime-coloured Japanese maple, a variegated Japanese maple (that resembled a variegated dogwood), and the largest goatsbeard anyone had ever seen. Also not to be missed was a stunning container planting by the front door—a Boston fern was surrounded by a ring of dark Alocasia, followed by a layer of white fibrous begonias, finished off with loads of ivy spilling over the planter.

The back garden was quite a different story from the front—it was a shaded contemporary retreat that looked like it stepped from the pages of House and Home or Canadian Style at Home. Honey locusts provided an overhead canopy (with a large variety of mature trees blocking neighbouring views). A large concrete patio area held a set of dark brown wicker-like outdoor furniture. Almost all of the ground level planting consisted of 6” of mulch topped by a creeping/low euonymus. The homeowner shared that she had created this garden retreat because of her dog—in the previous garden (presumably, a more traditional one matching the front and side yard) her puppy constantly tracked mud into the house and his galloping (he’s not a small dog) damaged the plants. With the euonymus as a groundcover there is no mud and the dog can’t really do any damage.

Interestingly, garden visitors were impressed with the rare specimens and excellent cultivation of the sunny English garden, but it was the contemporary back garden space that caused them to say “wow!”. I’m not sure if it was because one felt like one was walking into the pages of a design magazine, or if this truly is the most pleasing aesthetic. As a voracious plant collector I know I will never have a space like the back garden (I just can’t get excited about a monoculture), so I think I’ll strive to borrow the best ideas from the front garden.

Plans are no doubt already underway for 2008’s TBG garden tour. Watch for details next spring.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Moving Peonies in Spring

Spring is NOT the time to move herbaceous peonies, fall is. However, sometimes, as with a childhood friend of mine, things like digging around the foundation of your house for repairs aren't scheduled around the best time to move plants. She emailed and asked for help--the advice I gave is posted below.

The good news is that peonies are generally very hardy plants. The bad news is that they should really only be moved in the fall and moving them now is really going to stress them. Your goal will be to minimize the shock (no, there isn't any valium for plants, unfortunately).

Take a good look at how high the soil comes on the plants now--you'll see that it just covers the roots. When you transplant them, you're going to want to put them exactly as deep. If you plant them too deep they won't bloom, and in a couple years you'll be lifting them and planting them at the proper depth.

Take all of the flower buds off now. You don't want the plant to waste its energy on producing flowers that likely won't have time to open anyway. Flower production takes a lot of energy and you want the plants to devote all their energy to strong roots. I know it's hard to snip off blooms, but you have to think long-term survival, not short term.

When you are ready to move the plants make sure that you have their new home ready (hole all dug, earth loosened up. FULL sun location). Dig up the plants and as much of the root as possible, being careful not to dislodge the root ball (i.e. you don't want the earth to all fall off the roots, if possible. The soil should be moist but not muddy).

If the plants are really big and you want to divide them, now is the time. Take a big sharp knife (I've even used a saw) and slice up the root ball vertically. Make sure there's still a substantial chunk of root with each section you plant (i.e. don't try and get 15 plants out of one--dividing in 2 or 4 is likely the most you'll get from each plant).

Pop the plants right intheir new home--keeping in mind the planting depth, as mentioned above. Water them really well (there's a term in gardening called "mudding in"--it means doing a first watering until the earth is literally mud). Step around the edge of the plant to dislodge any air bubbles and ensure that the roots all have contact with the earth. Mulch over the surface is beneficial.

Water when the top inch of soil is dry. Water thoroughly but not too often (one thorough watering a week is better than 5 dribbles throughout the week). Monitor closely during heat spells as they will likely need more water, especially during the first month or so.