Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Boboli and the need to control

The Boboli Garden, probably the best known garden in Florence, reminds us that our tendency to associate  gardens with flowers is a relatively new. Before the nineteenth century, gardening was mostly about putting order in nature, according to classical notions of the ideal landscape. For us nature is at its best when left alone; for them it was at its best when completely under control.  It is an approach that does produce beautiful spaces as shown in the Boboli  but, in the end, our need for total control of nature might be our downfall.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Terracotta pots

What is more quintessential to the Italian garden than the terracotta pot? The problem with terracotta is, of course, that a solid frost will break the pot. Dropping it will have the same effect. What I found particularly interesting in the Giardino dei simplici was to see how these pots are maintained and repaired.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Il Giardino dei Simplici

Recently, we visited the Botanical Garden in  Florence, Italy - il giardino dei simplici. The simplici, simples in English (or in French for that matter), are the medicinal plants that were considered effective on their own. They do not have to be mixed with others to form a compound. The use of that name for the garden and the reference to medicinal plants suggest how old this garden is. In fact it was established on December 1st, 1545.

Nowadays there is still a large section given over to medicinal and culinary plants, but ornamental plants are also prominent. There were not many blooms at this time of the year. The most noticeable were some paperwhite daffodils (Narcissus papyraceus), the kind we force indoors, but which here have naturalized in the garden.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Gloriosa Daisy

I suppose the name Gloriosa Daisy might make a botanist cringe but, for the gardener, it is a handy designation. These are not daisies, but Rudbeckia that have been hybridized and have finally settled into a big yellow/orange daisy, about two feet tall (60 cm) and biennial. Its flowers, however, are quite unpredictable, and there is a great deal of diversity, both in the colour and the markings on the flowers.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Annual poppies - 2015

Every summer we grow various annual poppies. Some of the seeds are bought, but mostly they are collected in the garden the previous summer. As the plants hybridize on their own, the flowers we end up with can be quite different from year to year. Some can be absent one year and reappear the next. This was the case this year for Papaver somniferum var. paeoniiflorum which came up everywhere while we had few of them last year.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Pots on the move

It is self evident that an important advantage of growing plants in pots is that they can be moved around. In every garden, there are spots which, at  least part of the time, are drab, if not boring. Pots are very useful to deal with such spots. Moving them to various places allows you not only to brighten a dull corner, but also to see your own garden in a completely different light.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Eyes bigger than stomach

I was walking by the pond when I noticed that a goldfish had died and was floating among the water plants. I bent down to pick it up with the intentiion of putting it on the compost heap but, as I got closer, the dead fish quickly sank back down into the water!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Plant Portrait - Strawberry Spinach

I am growing this vegetable for the first time this year.  It is supposed to be an heirloom vegetable that has been grown for centuries . Although it is called spinach, it is, in fact, a chard (Chenopodium capitatum).

Strawberry Spinach

Friday, July 24, 2015

Echo of Miss Havisham

You, no doubt, remember Miss Havisham in Dickens' Great Expectations. The day she was to be married Miss Havisham learned she had been jilted by the man she loved, so she decided to spend the rest of her life in her wedding gown, never changing a thing in the house, including the wedding breakfast table holding the decaying wedding cake. There is a garden in our area that makes me think of Miss Havisham. That garden was built on a grand scale and is very attractive in its faded  grandeur.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Blue and Yellow

Continuing my review of plants by the colour of what is in bloom, I have decided to cover yellow and blue together, in the way I recently did for red and white. I begin with what I consider the best plant I became acquainted with last year,  the half-hardy annual: Calceolaria mexicana. You simply collect seeds in the fall and plant them the next spring, a few weeks before the last frost.

Calceolaria mexicana

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Red & White

I continue with my series on blooming by colors. In my last post I did the pinks. I decided this week to lump the reds and the whites together.  Here are some of the plants blooming red or white just now.

Rose Dortmund

Saturday, July 4, 2015


I thought I would do a few posts on what is in bloom just now, selecting plants by colour. I am starting with pink. Because so far we have had a relatively cool (as well as very wet) summer, many of the things that normally would have finished blooming some time ago (for instance, peonies) are still looking good. Here are a few examples of what is in bloom in pink at Roche Fleurie. Of course, roses make up the majority of the pink blooms.

John Davis rose

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The In & Out Game

This post is not about cats wanting in, then wanting out, then wanting in again, but about plants that leap the garden wall. Because we are in the middle of a wild area where numerous animals might be interested in the garden and especially its plants (deer, hares, skunks - their specialty is digging up looking for grubs - groundhogs, etc...) the garden is all fenced in. There is a strong contrast between the inside, where plants face little competition, and the outside where it is the jungle. Not only are there plants that sneak in from the outside - as is to be expected, weeds will  seed themselves in, but, more surprising, are garden plants that move outside the fence to settle, sometimes very successfully among the weeds. I suppose, like William Kent, they "leaped the fence, and saw that all nature was a garden".

A billion buttercups eager to leap the fence and get into the garden

Friday, June 19, 2015

Green Shapes

We tend to give more importance to colours than to shape and texture. However, if you reduce colours to a single one - green - shapes and textures become a lot more noticeable as well as more significant and easy to appreciate.
The contrast of shape and texture is more obvious in the early part of the gardening season, before the "actual" colours take center stage, and we start ignoring the backdrop for the garden. In these pictures taken in late spring, the various greens are more distinct and fresh. I try to illustrate the play of shape and texture, without the diversion created by various colours.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Between a cold frame and a green house

For the last few years, my friend Tony Barton has tried to come up with a design for something like a greenhouse or cold frame, in order to extend the gardening season. He wanted it to be inexpensive and simple to build as well as portable. After experimenting for a while, he eventually came up with this hoop house which answers all his requirements.

Hoop house

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Chokecherry blooms as cut flowers

Beth of Plant Posting began her last post with a beautiful photo of chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), one of our very common native shrubs in North America. As Wikipedia says, the natural range of  chokecherry is "most of the continent, except for the far north and far south" so it is not difficult to find chokecherry outside urban areas. The "cherries" it produces are edible but, unless quite ripe, are very astringent. They make your mouth pucker the moment you bite into one. They do make a nice wine though. I have known this shrub for most of my life, but only this year I have realized how nice the bloom is in flower arrangements.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Unwlecome in the Cold Frame

In our climate, cold frames are useful, but not as much as they are in places with milder climates. If they are in the sun, you cannot leave plants in them in winter, because temperatures in the frames can fluctuate enormously. They stay buried in ice and snow for most of the winter. However they are especially handy in spring.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Unexpected Invader

We are all familiar with foreign plants that do too well when they are brought to a new continent. It is the case of our native fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) in the UK, and of the numerous European plants (often medicinal in origin) such as plantain (Plantago major) and coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) which are completely entrenched in North America.
Sometimes though, a foreign plant will grow or only manage to survive, but it then becomes invasive in some circumstances. It seems to be the case with the cowslip.

Cowslip (Primula veris)

Friday, May 8, 2015


The acronym NARGS stands for the North American Rock Garden Society. This year the General Annual Meeting of the Society is in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The meetings include among other things visits to some of the best local gardens. Here are three beautiful gardens I visited today with the group.

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Vocal Spring

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Ten days ago we were under snow.   Now many of the flowering plants that bloggers from warmer climates have been describing in the last month have rushed into bloom here too. However,  if blooms are important markers of the changing seasons, here and at this time of the year, they are not the most obvious.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Pruning currant and gooseberry bushes

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We had a very sunny, warm day, yesterday, and I took this opportunity to prune currant and gooseberry bushes. 

Pink currant Champagne

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Wintering Roses - The Canadian Way

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Because the earth bulges at the Equator and is flattened at the Poles, the halfway point between the Equator and the North Pole is actually 16.2 kilometres north of the 45th parallel. This means that the garden here is just about at that halfway point. It also means that we are roughly at the same latitude as Grenoble, Turin, Simferopol in Crimea, Xinjiang in China, Hokkaidō in Japan, Michigan and Wisconsin in the United States. However, our climate here in Ontario and that of the two northern states is, to say the least, very different from that of Grenoble or Turin. Only now is the last snow  melting as you can see below.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Sitting in the Garden

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My last post was on pots.  In this one I thought I would move on to benches. Here is a collection of bench pictures taken in various gardens in the last few years.  These give some ideas of where to place benches to ensure they are comfortable and look attractive.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Large pots

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Inspired by the pot collections in one of Sophie's last posts, I thought I would also do a number on pots. However, looking at the pictures I put together, it appears that my post will be mostly about empty pots!
Pots, especially large ones, do not have to be filled with plants to be effective in the garden. They create a sense of scale. They provide interesting contrasts in shapes, and they especially act as focal points. The black pot in the flower bed in the picture below does all of these things.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Record Keeping in the Garden

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Reading one of Angie's previous posts on record keeping in the garden and her mention of Beth's Lesson Learned, I thought I would describe my own record keeping system for the garden. Describing that system might offer an opportunity to improve it, in other words to learn some lessons of my own.

Crocuses ( crop from last year)

Thursday, March 5, 2015


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Although it plays an important role in how a garden looks, edging is not often given much attention. Simultaneously, edging holds the garden together and delineates its various sections: the lawn, the garden beds, the paths. I had a look at my garden pictures to find examples of various styles of edging in order to assess them from a practical and an aesthetic point of view. Here is what I found.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Nature's Calendar

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We all have some idea of what the last frost date is in our area. Over time a lot of data has been accumulated, because gardeners have paid a great deal of attention to the last frost date. Numerous lists will tell you what that date is for your area. However, these dates are based on averages and only give you an general idea of what to expect. The last frost date  not only varies from year to year, but with global warming it is estimated to have advanced from 5 to 10 days over the last 50 years.  So how are we to decide when to move our tomato or  begonia plants outside? I think it is best to follow nature's calendar.

When can you move tender plants out in the Spring?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Wild Gardening

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A few years back, visiting the Agawa Canyon in northern Ontario, I saw some very attractive flower beds where garden flowers and native plants were growing together beautifully. It was a particularly good example of what Gertrude Jekyll calls "wild gardening," and I wanted to do something similar.

Wild and cultivated plants at the Agawa Canyon

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Short or Long Days

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I have just read about the effect of day length on blooming.  This might be very useful to know in the garden. Here is what I learned. 

Not surprisingly, plants have a biological clock that tells them when to start blooming. When we reach a certain number of daylight hours, a particular plant starts to bloom. I thought this internal clock triggered plants to bloom when days were getting longer, but in fact some plants are triggered to bloom when days are shorter. We all know about poinsettia that initiate flowers only when the days are short (shorter than 10 hours), but did you know that cosmos react in a similar way?

Facultative short day plant

Friday, February 6, 2015

More Stonecrops

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As I said in my previous post, stonecrops are difficult to identify because the taxonomy keeps changing, and many are very similar.  Another difficulty in identifying them from their appearance is that whether they grow in full sun and in some shade, or whether you are in spring or in mid-summer, they can look very different and change colour entirely as you can see from these two views of the same plant.

(Sedum) Phedimus spurius

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Vagaries of Names

With the Internet, common names of plants have taken on a new dimension. We all know that some plants have various common names, and that some common names (like Dusty Miller) are used to describe a multitude of different plants. However, we and our gardening acquaintances are usually familiar with the one or two common names out of several that can be used. With the Internet, you are in contact with gardeners who live very far from you, and you realize that some of them actually use these names you read about but have never heard anyone use.  

Are these common poppies, corn poppies, corn roses, field poppies, Flanders poppies, Shirley poppies or all of the above?

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Unless we garden in very small areas, we all have "wild" parts of the garden where we expect plants to be able to take care of themselves and compete with the local vegetation. Plants  that can be relied on to do so will be different for each of us, depending on local conditions. I have tried in this post to list some of the ones that can put up with our poor alkaline soil, which tends to be on the dry side in summer and is always wet (when not flooded) in winter.

One of the most interesting of these is the Grecian Foxglove, Digitalis lanata.

 Grecian Foxglove

Friday, January 9, 2015


I have mentioned that the garden is on an alvar. However, I have never properly explained what an alvar is.

Wikipedia describes it as: " a biological environment based on a limestone plain with thin or no soil and, as a result, sparse grassland vegetation. Often flooded in the spring, and affected by drought in midsummer."

Here is what part of the alvar looks like at Roche fleurie. As you can see on the right, a stone pavement, just about as smooth as a concrete floor, which is crisscrossed by crevasses such as the one on the left.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

One's Treasure is someone else's weed

Rereading Margery Fish, a garden writer most active in the 1960s, I was struck how plants can behave differently from one garden to the next. Plants she describes as invasive are not so here, and some I finds invasive she does not. As she puts it: "one can only speak from one's own experience in the gardens one knows". Lysimachia Clethroides, with its shepherd's crook white flowers, was a menace in our previous garden, but M. Fish finds it does not spread much.

Lysimachia Clethroides and Morning Glory