The front garden is the ‘public’ face of the garden so is planned/designed to be showy from the street and the top of the driveway and front porch where visitors arrive. Since the front garden is in pretty much full sun, it is also where flowering plants grow best, so it is the most colorful part of the garden as well. The color scheme is based on cool tones, predominately white, pink, blue and the cooler shades of red, including some vivid cool reds and purples in clematis
The south bank beside the driveway is currently in transition to a ‘hot’ bed – i.e. where the ‘hotter’ colors like orange and red are being added. Since the backyard does not have enough sun for fruit and vegetables, they are grown in large pots on the driveway, which works surprisingly well
- Structures – iron, brass, and concrete
The arbour was custom-made to my design by an iron craftsman (now retired) from Milton. He also custom-made the other iron structures in the bed for me. Because of their size and weight, the arbour and the 8’ tall tuteur (obelisk) are set in concrete, so cannot be readily moved.
The smaller tuteurs flanking the concrete bench in front of the white cedar are only pinned in place by the upside-down J-shaped stakes over the bottom horizontal bars. If you wish to move/remove those tuteurs, remove the stakes and then the tuteurs can be easily relocated.
The concrete bench is one that normally comes apart in three pieces (top and two legs) but, after the original top was removed and broken by vandals, we cemented the replacement top onto the legs to make it more difficult for any subsequent vandals! (Vandalism is not a usual problem in this neighbourhood….)
The brass hemispherical sundial is cemented to a large, flat stone to provide stability. The stone was then covered in soil. It was originally planted with wooly thyme but that has largely died out as various other plantings spread or seeded into the space. . So, if you want to relocate the sundial (which is correctly positioned to tell the time…), first clear plants away from the base to find the stone. Once the stone is excavated, it will be possible to move the sundial.
If you’re a subsequent homeowner reading this, we’ve probably removed the odd, scattered iron frames that provided walking support for me (I am disabled) to aid in weeding and deadheading in the front bed. If we did not remove them, they should be removed if you have no need for them.
- Brick edging
Another important element in the ‘look’ of the garden is the brick edging around the garden beds, mainly in the front garden. I installed the edging myself so it’s a bit uneven in places I’m afraid. The brick edging replaced ‘trench edging’, which had become onerous to maintain. The bricks are laid on top of 4-6” of packed limestone screenings. There is an aluminum strip between the bricks and the grass – this metal strip is essential to prevent the grass from growing between the bricks and into the garden beds.
The bricks can be used as a mowing edge – i.e. run the wheels on the lawnmower on them on the garden side when mowing the grass.
It is still possible for grass to creep over – or seed into – the gap between the bricks and the metal edge. It is also possible for garden plants and weeds to seed into this space, or between the bricks. Ideally, use a string-trimmer periodically to keep the grass from getting tall at the interface between the lawn and the metal edge. When mowing the grass or weeding and deadheading in the garden, keep watch for grass or weeds/seedlings appearing in the spaces between the bricks or between bricks and edging. Remove the invaders promptly! If need be, lift a brick or two out of place in order to get access to the growth to be removed. (Grass is particularly dangerous; if it gets established, it can ruin the garden because it can be so difficult to get rid of – especially couch-grass.) Replace the brick(s) removed and re-level them.
- Driveway borders
The driveway borders include the ‘pretty in pink’ border on the north side, running from the garage to the street; the narrow bed below the front porch; and the ‘herb bed’ on the bank on the south side of the driveway.
The ‘pretty in pink’ border in the north side of the driveway (right side (in photo above…) is so named because the dominant color is pink.
In June, the dominant pink is from peonies; in July and August it is from hardy hibiscuses.
The most spectacular flowers in the border are probably the ‘Disco Belle’ hardy hibiscuses which bloom in July-August. Elsewhere, in the main front bed, there are more of these as well as deeper pink ones and red ones that will bloom into September – and sometimes into October. Note the small pink flowers on the outer edge of the hibiscus clump in the picture to the right above. They are ‘Pink Beauty’ potentilla shrubs. They are the backbone of the pink border. There are several of them along the border – although in recent years they have struggled and there are fewer of them now. I have replanted a couple to replace ones lost. They are late to leaf out in spring – late May – but then bloom continuously into the fall while the perennials around them cycle in and out of bloom.
Other key plants in the pink border include tulips in spring (the ‘Ivory Floradale’ ones start off yellow to harmonize with some ‘botanical’ (i.e. wild form) yellow and white small tulips, but then fade to an ivory-white to color coordinate with the later ‘Angelique’ and ‘Queen of the Night’ tulips which begin the pink theme for the year), peonies for June, ‘Queen Elizabeth’ rose from June to frost, purple coneflowers, and mums for August into October. So there’s always something of interest going on in this border with pink being the common thread from spring to fall.
Key maintenance issues in the north border are:
- Control couch grass that has invaded the top end from where it meets the path to the iron arbour down to the Queen Elizabeth rose. The grass seeded itself into the crack between the asphalt driveway and the concrete curb and then snuck into the bed behind. We have tried everything to get rid of it, including digging up the bed, and using Round-up herbicide (which is now prohibited). It still came back! So now we’re in a war of attrition – check the bed regularly and pull any grass you see. It ‘hides’ in the midst of chive and bulb foliage so you usually end up pulling some of that too. But it is more important to keep the couch grass under control than to worry about losing the chives or bulbs. In 2016 we added several mid-sized blue hostas into the area where the couchgrass grows. Couchgrass will not grow in shade and I have had success controlling it in other areas by using hostas to shade it out. This area may be too sunny, hot, and dry for the hostas to survive there but I thought it was worth trying them to see if they can help control the couchgrass there…. In 2017 there was considerably less couchgrass than has been usual – whether that was due to the hostas (which seemed to survive OK), the regular pulling out of the grass in previous years, or to the vigor of the patch of old-fashioned white mums in the area we’re not sure but are thankful for less couchgrass and hope 2018 will have less as well!
- Potentilla shrubs – In early spring, before they leaf out, remove at ground level 1/3 of the stems of the potentillas (Remove the oldest – thickest – stems). That will control their size and rejuvenate them to ensure maximum flower production.
- In the fall, cut back hibiscus foliage to 6”. The hibiscus new growth does not appear the following year until late May or early June. The 6” stems tell you were they are so you don’t accidentally dig them up next spring! In late summer, deadhead the round seed capsules before they brown and split, dropping seed. Note that there are autumn crocuses that come up under the hibiscuses so, when cutting down the hibiscuses, try to avoid cutting town the crocuses too.
- Peonies – in the spring when new growth starts, train the new growth into the copper (now aged to brown) peony rings – to avoid the plants flopping on the ground when the weight of the flowers gets too heavy. By 2017 some of the peony clumps were getting too large and extending beyond the reach of the rings, so we divided the clumps to make them smaller and gave the excess away to friends and neighbours. I made the peony rings from flexible copper tubing and copper pipes after getting fed up with the standard flimsy wire rings available in garden centers. The copper rings can be left in the ground for the winter. In June, deadhead the flowers as they fade. In the fall, cut faded foliage to the ground and discard in the garbage pick-up (not the compost pile behind the shed) as the foliage can be a source of botrytis infection.
- Chrysanthemums – In the fall of 2013 we dug out the purple and pink asters that were at the bottom end of the bed and in the ‘teardrop’ bed. The asters at the end of the driveway were replaced in spring 2014 with ‘Dark Pink’ Mammoth Mums (which were out-competed by the large hosta and have now disappeared!) and a ‘Dreamweaver’ mum was also added a short distance up from it. The ‘Dreamweaver’ is a fast grower and spreading. It may need some editing in spring to control its size. The flowers are unattractive once they’ve finished blooming so need deadheading promptly given their highly visible place in the border! At the top end of the driveway border (near the path to the iron arbour) is a patch of white old-fashioned mums, given to us by a neighbour a number of years ago. The white flowers change attractively to pink as they fade. These mums will flop if not cut back several times during the summer. In early summer, cut them back to 6-8” twice to keep them short and bushy. Stop cutting them back come July to allow them to set flower buds. After they finish blooming, the foliage should be left standing for the winter to aid in winter survival of the Mums – cut the dead foliage back in spring after new growth appears at the base. There were also some old-fashioned pink mums – given to us by another neighbour – in several places in the ‘moat’ bed along the ditch. They started blooming in July but continued to bloom late into the fall. They were somewhat less floppy than the white ones (plus they could lean on other plants in the border for support!) I tended to forget where they are until they started blooming! So, they got cut down in spring but missed out on the early summer pinching back to promote bushiness. Unfortunately, they didn’t appear in 2017 so may be lost to the garden.
- Tulips – The tulips in the bed have been coming back and multiplying for years. It is very important to let the foliage ‘ripen’ (i.e. completely die back) in order to feed the bulbs and have flowers return the next year. The foliage should not be removed until it comes loose with only a gentle tug. That usually means it stays until early July. The perennials in the bed are dense enough that they hide the dying bulb foliage quite effectively. You do need, however, to snap off the developing seed head that appears as the flower petals drop. If seeds form, it weakens the bulb. You do not need to remove seedheads from the miniature tulips – those ones will seed around and multiply if left alone.
- Daisies and coneflowers – deadhead as the flowers fade – cut them down to just above the next visible flower bud on the stem; if there are no other visible flower buds on the stem, cut it to the ground. Daisies flowers are remarkably ugly when they fade so deadheading is a necessity! I have been reducing the number of daisies in the garden over time because deadheading them can be a PITA. The coneflowers seed around easily so need deadheading to control that. By 2017 most of the daisies were gone in the driveway border although a few remain in the front bed.
- Queen Elizabeth rose – This is a tall, beautiful, scented, continuous-blooming, disease resistant rose. It is quite hardy and, in our experience, does not need winter protection other than what it gets from snow piled on the border from winter driveway clearing. In spring when new growth becomes visible, cut out any dead wood and the remainder can be cut down to 14-16”, cutting above visible new growth buds. In 2013 we started experimenting with trying to turn the rose into a tree form. We removed thin stems, leaving a couple of the older, very woody stems. The top growth on these stems was cut back a bit to try to get it to bush out a bit. On the whole, the experiment was a so-so success so we’ve gone back to a more usual pruning back in spring on all live stems.
- Hydrangea – There is a ‘White Moth’ hydrangea shrub near the street end of the bed, behind the pink mums. In spring prune it back to 18” or so to control size. There is a ‘Pilu’ clematis growing into the hydrangea and, from there, into the Chinese wisteria. The clematis could be cut back at the same time as the hydrangea if desired but I want it to climb into the wisteria so have only been trimming off and winterkilled bits. There is also a ‘Bombshell’ hydrangea in this border. It is fairly weak and spindly still so I prune the weakest floppy stems back in spring, attempting to develop a stronger woody framework.
The bed on the south side of the driveway is on a steep bank. While the soil is fairly heavy clay, the steep slope means it is fairly well drained. Because the bed faces south, it is gets lots of hot sun. In combination with the dry conditions, because of the ease for water to drain away, grass will not grow there. We initially replaced the dead grass with drought-tolerant herbs (e.g. sage, thyme, oregano) and gradually expanded the plantings as we found things that can take the hot, dry conditions.
Angel roses – seed-grown miniature China roses – occupy an increasing amount of the east end of the bed. These roses flower non-stop from June until late fall in shades of pink. The flowers are followed by tiny, vivid red hips that provide striking color well into winter. The roses do not require winter protection. In spring once the new leaf buds become visible, prune off any tip die-back and, if you wish, shorten the canes by 1/3-1/2, although they can be left alone if you prefer taller plants.
The birds love the hips in winter. But that means they can spread the seeds around! You sometimes see roses pop up in other places, obviously the product of birds’ seed dispersal. I generally remove these random seedlings when I see them.
A number of years ago we planted an odd little shrubby (non climbing) clematis (C. stans – ?) near the little roses. It blooms in late summer with blue tubular flowers that were very nice in 2017. Like any Group 3 clematis, it can be cut down in spring.
Since 2009 I have been working towards making this bed a ‘hot’ color bed that will shade from the pink of the Angel roses, through peachy colors, to golds and oranges, to rusty reds at the end closest to the house. So, the plantings are in transition as I experiment with finding what will grow there and have the desired color. In summer 2013 we planted a ‘Midnight Marvel’ hardy hibiscus in a big pot on the driveway, grouped with a pot of rusty-orange mums that had survived the winter in a pot in the garage, and a deep red mum, all arranged on the driveway in front of the dark ninebark shrub in the bed on the south side of the driveway. We liked the combination a lot so planted the hibiscus in the bed at the end of September. In 2014 I added a ‘Tigertail’ mum which has flowers in various peachy and rusty shades that go well with the theme of the bed. The red and bronze Mammoth Mums we continued to grow in pots (stored in the garage for the winter) as I was still unsure whether they are suitable for the area- in 2017 we discarded all the mums that were growing in pots and stored in the garage for the winter. The Midnight Marvel hibiscus continues to return but is still not vigorous so its longterm survival there is still an open question. If the hibiscus survives in this location (!), it should be maintained as per instructions for other hardy hibiscuses in the garden – i.e. cut back to 6″ in the fall so there is enough stem remaining to mark where it is given its late regrowth in spring, and deadhead seedpods in summer to prevent seeding around. The Tigertail mums turn a somewhat disappointing clear yellow as they age, rather than retaining their attractive mix of bronzy colors. A ‘Niobe’ clematis planted to grow into the ninebark has been disappointing so far. So, this area remains in flux as I continue to experiment!
Ordinary culinary sage provides important gray-green foliage to balance the hotter colors. It also produces nice spires of blue flowers in early summer – deadhead as they fade… The sage is almost evergreen and the leaves can be harvested for cooking all year round.
We usually plant garlic and tomatoes in this bed each year, alternating the location of each between the mid section and close to the house, to limit the build-up of diseases.
Since the driveway is the sunniest spot in the garden and the rest of the garden is devoted to ornamentals, we grow fruits and vegetables in big pots on the driveway. Peas and beans do especially well. Use 8’ bamboo poles if you grow pole beans – 6’ is not tall enough for beans, although 6’ poles are fine for peas.
Baby carrots, green onions and lettuce also do well in pots and can be grown in deep window-box type pots.
Strawberries also can do well, although they don’t produce large crops. We decided in 2014 to give up on growing the large strawberries in pots in favor of increasing the number of small alpine strawberries grown in the ground in the main front bed. But I’ll leave the instructions here for growing the strawberries in pots in case any future owner – or reader of this material – is interested…. If you grow strawberries in pots, harvest the runners in August and plant them in new pots. Write the year on the pots. Store all the pots in the garage for the winter. In mid-March, bring all the pots back out to the driveway, water them and give them a dose of slow-release perennial fertilizer. In August, harvest runners again to start new pots, then discard into the compost the oldest pots (i.e. you will then have the pots with the current season’s runners and those from the previous year.) Strawberries produce the most fruit in their second and third years and then decline. Growing them in pots makes it easy to keep them at peak production.
The narrow bed between the front porch and the driveway contains variegated ‘Emerald Gaiety’ euonymus – a shrub that will climb, and Rodgersia aesculifolia. For years there was a beautiful ‘Vyvyan Pennell’ clematis on the lattice at the end of the porch. Unfortunately it suffered badly from snails in 2012 and died out. In 2015 I added a ‘The President’ and a ‘Indigo’ clematis pairing on the lattice panels by the lift at the end of the porch. Hopefully they will survive for a few years to add the blue back to this area. ‘Indigo is a non-climber so needs tying in to the lattice. In 2017 their performance was mediocre so I’m not sure whether they will be longterm survivors there.
The euonymus is evergreen, so looks good in winter too. It will send out long stems that will attempt to climb above the porch deck – and under the deck covering! Periodically over the growing season, snip off any stems that rise above the deck level.
The Rodgersia flowers in July. The large, shapely leaves are ornamental on their own so deadhead the flowers as soon as they start to fade. The Rodgersia will die to the ground in November. The dead leaves can be left in place to provide organic matter for the soil in this bed. The soil is poor there because it is very dry due to the overhang of the roof and it is also very compacted from the construction work when the house was renovated. When the Rodgersia dies back, it opens space to put snow when clearing the driveway in winter.
Since this bed is under the overhang of the porch roof, rain rarely reaches the bed in summer. Especially during drought periods, give this bed a good soak with the hose every week or so.
- Moat Bed
The ‘moat’ bed – so called because it runs along the top of the ditch by the roadside – is an extension of the driveway border. It shapes the remaining front lawn into a grassy path. The path is an attractive feature even in early spring and late fall when the rest of the garden is in its brown stage. The grass/soil on the garden side of the ditch has been subsiding for unknown reasons in the past couple of years, exposing the metal grass barrier that also supports the brick edging. In spring 2016 we lifted the sod along the front edge, added soil, packed it down and replaced the sod. That improved the situation considerably but there are still area where the metal edge is exposed around the big front bed. It appears that the edging was heaved by frost a few winters ago. To hide it again probably requires adding soil to the area and relaying sod, or digging up the bricks and edging and relaying them deeper. The work required for either option does not appeal to us at this point so we will live with the remaining exposed edging, trying to obscure it during the growing reason by trying to get plants to grow down over the edge.
The moat bed contains two of the most spectacular plants in the garden – wisteria trees (woody vines trained by pruning and support posts to grow as free-standing ‘trees’). The young Japanese wisteria at the north end bloomed for the first time in spring 2012 (at five years in the garden). It was then promptly blown down in a windstorm! Fortunately, it wasn’t damaged and we were able to get it upright again with the help of two angle-iron stakes and metal tie-rods.
The Japanese wisteria flowers a bit later than the Chinese wisteria that has been blooming well since 2007. The Chinese one also has a less showy repeat bloom in July if kept pruned. The Japanese one will only bloom once each year. Since the Japanese wisteria flowers a bit later, the leaves have emerged and can obscure the flowers. You may have to prune off foliage in order to display the flowers well
The above pictures from May 26-27 2015 show the Japanese wisteria ‘tree’ before and after pruning to better display the flowers.
Since the Japanese wisteria flowers display dangling beneath the leaves while the Chinese wisteria flowers mostly before the leaves emerge, that leads to different pruning/shaping approaches for the two. The Japanese one will display best when encouraged to grow horizontally or in horizontal tiers, leaving good clearance between the flowers and the ground. The Chinese one displays well when kept to a rounded, twiggy growth from top to near ground level. This picture (from 2013 when both wisteria bloomed well), with the Japanese one in the foreground and the Chinese one just finishing blooming in the background illustrates the different pruning approaches.
Wisterias are outstandingly beautiful plants when they flower. BUT they need diligent care or they can turn into monsters! DO NOT neglect the wisterias! They are almost impossible to get rid of (there are 1000+ year old ones in Japan and China…). It is far easier to properly maintain them than to risk neglecting them. Maintaining them, fortunately, is simple:
- All new curly/whippy new growth should be pinched back to 6” or so from its point of origin. This can be virtually a daily task in spring and early summer when they are growing fast. A long-arm pruner makes it easy to reach the top of the tree. Do not let the trees get taller than can be reached with the long-arm pruner. (If you are a subsequent homeowner, we probably left the pruner for you – check the garage in the front corner on the right side.) The pruners can be purchased at Lee Valley Tools in Burlington or through their on-line store.
- Watch for root suckers and remove them as soon as you see them. Most will appear near the base of the trees but they can appear anywhere in a 15-20’ – or more – radius of the trees. When you mow the grass, inspect the areas near the trees for root suckers. Ideally you want to remove the suckers by tearing them off the underlying root to remove the bud-wood from the root. If it’s too difficult to dig down, cut off the sucker close to the ground. More suckers will likely arise from the same location when the sucker is cut off rather than torn off the root.
- Do not allow any of the root suckers to grow into the main tree or form another tree. The Chinese wisteria in particular is a grafted plant so the root suckers are likely a wild form which may never flower or take decades to mature enough to do so. As the Chinese wisteria has aged, its root sucker production has dropped substantially. For the last several years it has only produced one or two a year. The younger Japanese wisteria is still producing a lot of suckers, so needs to be checked for them every week or two.. Remove them promptly by twisting and pulling or digging as necessary to try to remove as much of the base budwood as possible.
- When the tree is bare of leaves, remove any seed pods you see (it’s almost impossible to find them on the Chinese wisteria until the leaves drop in the fall.) You do not want to have to deal with removing seedlings! The seedpods will explode and fling seeds around the garden on the first warm day of spring unless they are removed! No not neglect this chore!
- If the trees get too big or you want to shape them, prune them in very early spring before they leaf out or flower. But that will also prompt an outburst of new growth that will need rigorous, regular pruning to control!
When the leaves fall in autumn, brush the fallen leaves off the edging bricks so the decaying leaves do not stain the bricks.
Properly cared for, the wisterias are spectacular; neglected, they are a nightmare!
Sadly the brutal winter of 2013/2014 killed off all the overwintering flowerbuds so there were no flowers on the wisteria trees in 2014 although the trees themselves survived just fine. The winter 2014/2015 was not as bad but still had some brutal temperatures. The Japanese wisteria’s flowerbuds survived reasonably well so it put on a good show. The Chinese one only produced a few spring flowers but it produced a decent summer rebloom, indicating it was vigorously rebuilding flowering wood.
The winter of 2015-2016 had wildly fluctuating temperatures that went from very mild to very cold with high windchills from one day to the next. There was a lot of winterkill on the Chinese wisteria. The Japanese wisteria survived better but did not flower. There was only a few flowers on the Chinese one. The Chinese one had got taller than we’d prefer so we took the opportunity to cut that one back fairly hard in June to control its size and let it regrow healthy new stems. The white ‘Henryi’ clematis that grows into the Chinsese wisteria ended up getting cut back hard too, but by late summer it was back producing a few flowers and the wisteria had produced lots of new growth (and the occasional summer flower).
The winter of 2016/2017 was another one with highly variable temperatures and windchills. Combined with the heavy pruning we gave the Chinese wisteria in 2016, this seemed to be the cause of the odd results we got from the Chinese wisteria in 2017 – it bloomed – but the foliage emerged at the same time, so we ended up pruning off some of the foliage like we do on the Japanese wisteria to make the flowers were more visible.
As I write this in January 2018, we are having another winter with yo-yo temperatures so it’s hard to guess how the wisteria will perform this spring!
There are several hardy hibiscuses in the moat bed bed – one on either side of the Chinese wisteria. Remember to leave 6” or so of stems when you cut them down in the fall, so you’ll know where they are in spring when you think they’re never going to show up!
I had been attempted to grow clematises into both wisteria trees to provide flowers when the wisteria is not in bloom. Clematis don’t like root competition so have been slow to grow in these conditions. Clematis have fragile, easily broken stems, so be careful not to break them when you’re working around the wisterias. The ‘Henryi’ clematis in the Chinese wisteria is growing and flowering well but the ones I’ve tried with the Japanese wisteria have not succeeded so I have given up on trying to grow clematis into that one.
There are several ‘Pink Beauty’ potentilla shrubs in this bed, to continue the backbone of the ‘pretty in pink’ driveway border. They should be pruned in the same way – i.e. remove 1/3 of the stems at ground level each spring, choosing the oldest (thickest) stems to remove.
There is an ‘Emerald Gaiety’ euonymus at the north end of the bed to provide an evergreen interest and to provide continuity between this bed and the front porch plantings. There is orange-scented thyme around it, underplanted with early spring crocuses (do not accidentally remove the crocuses – the bulb foliage looks a bit like grass when it appears!) When checking for root suckers from the Japanese wisteria, look for ones that may be hiding under the dense foliage of the euonymus!
There are several perennials in the bed, most of which continue the pink theme of the driveway border. The main one that needs care other than deadheading and general clean-up in spring of the prior year’s dead foliage, is the ‘Silver Mound’ artemesia (Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Nana’). It will flop open from the center and look messy if it is allowed to grow more than about 6” tall. Every time it gets taller than that, clip it back with grass shears to about 4”.
In Fall 2010 we added a number of early spring bulbs to the grass bank of the ditch on the house side of the ditch. To make a good show that looks random/natural, additional bulbs should have been planted there in fall for the following 2-3 years – but I forgot to plant more! So the spring display is less prolific that I hoped for but, hopefully, enough of them will spread naturally by seed or offset – or maybe I’ll remember to add more…. (We did remember to add a few more in fall 2016….) Also, the grass on that side should not be mowed until the bulb foliage has ripened and died back – that will mean not mowing there until the end of May.
Where the moat bed meets the north side of the driveway border, couchgrass had been creeping into the bed from the ditch, following the edge of the concrete curb. In 2013 I added a good-sized division of one of the big blue hostas from the backyard (‘Elegans’ maybe….?) to try to shade out the couchgrass (it won’t grow in shade.) There was been no sign of the couchgrass since. The hosta is doing well, and its flowers are surprisingly showy making it an all-round nice addition to the area! Aside from deadheading the flowers and cleaning up dead foliage in the spring, the hosta requires no maintenance and should effectively control couchgrass in this area. The hosta has worked so well there, I planted a matching one on the other side of the driveway in Spring 2016. Unfortunately, we had a very hot, dry summer and the transplanted hosta disappeared on the other side.
- Small ‘teardrop’ bed
This small bed fits into the space created as the driveway turns towards the garage. The ‘teardrop’ bed makes possible a more rounded shape for the main front bed and a smoother flow for the grass path that leads across the front of the front yard garden. The path at the back of this small bed is bark mulch, which keeps the focus on the sweep of green grass leading around the main bed. There is no grass barrier between the grass path and the ends of the bark path at the back of the ‘teardrop’ bed. To keep the grass (and clover) from invading the bark path, cut along the interface with the edging spade and remove and invading roots. Do not ‘trench’ edge. In this small space, it is easy to just cut with the spade and pull and invading roots every month or so during the growing season.
Originally the bed featured a large white shrub rose as the dominant planting. It was a beautiful rose but, unfortunately, the Japanese Beetles loved it! They are VERY gross insects, both as adults when they attack roses and other plants and in their larval stage when they are the white grubs that are responsible for killing large patches of lawn. So, in 2010, we replaced the rose with a ‘The Swan’ Hydrangea paniculata. This hydrangea has fabulous enormous white petals on conical-shaped flowerheads. It takes several years though for enough sturdy wood to develop a strong framework. It should be pruned in spring to shape it and control size. My intention is to keep it limbed fairly high to allow room for the perennials to fill in under it. There are also several clematises planted with it and they should be encouraged to climb into the shrub to provide additional interest.
There were several smaller Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) plants in this bed, but they started to creep under the brick edging on the bark path side of the bed. We dug most out but but they continue to reappear and need to be removed whenever they do!
There were Angel roses under the big white rose. We removed them when we removed the white rose. Because the Angel roses grow easily from seed, there may be seeding appear for the next few years from seeds/hips already in the soil. Remove any seedlings that appear.
·There had been a number of purple coneflowers and purples asters, both of which were spreading to aggressively. The asters were removed in fall 2013 and the coneflowers in spring 2014. They were replaced by several varieties of purple-leafed heuchersas and a sedum ‘Matrona’ relocated from elsewhere in the garden where it had been suffering from too much shade. I have also been underplanting the nearby Chinese wisteria with purple-leafed heucheras so the ones in this bed nicely coordinate with the ones under the wisteria. Aside from deadheading the heuchera flowers (if you want to – I may leave them up to see what seedlings I might get….) the heucheras should require little maintenance other than dead foliage clean-up in spring and division if/when the crowns lift out of the soil – this is not a problem I have experienced but is one that is often mentioned for heucheras.
- Garage bed
This bed is narrow and shaded by the roof overhang and the garage wall. Because of the shade and the downspout from the eavestrough, the soil has reasonable moisture levels. Since this bed is part of the backdrop to the main front bed, I wanted to keep the bed fairy simple, but also interesting because it has relatively high visibility. The grass path it borders is a well-traveled route to the backyard. We initially tried growing highbush cranberries, but it was too shady for most of them to flower or fruit well. So we removed them all, except the clump closest to the driveway. That clump flowers and fruited reasonably well. The fruit makes a nice picture with the arbour and heptacodium in the fall (see picture under the Structures section above….) and the fruit remains to add color to the scene for much of the winter. Unfortunately the highbush cranberry clump was killed to the ground last winter (winter 2015-2016) and I have yet to decide what – if anything – I’ll replace it with. We did plant a big ‘Magnum’ heuchera near where the cranberry died but the area should have some height added – maybe a clematis on an obelisk….?
We replaced the other cranberries originall along that wall with a mix of hydrangeas (‘Little Lamb’, ‘White Dome’, ‘White Moth’), several clematis (‘Nike’, ‘Polish Spirit’ – although I’m not at all sure that they are the varieties they are supposed to be!), a holly clump and several perennials. The hydrangeas are all ‘new wood’ blooming types. Since they bloom on the current year’s growth, they can be cut back fairly hard in spring. ‘White Dome’ can actually be cut to the ground, although I usually just cut it down to 8”-10″ or so, leaving a few buds to get a quick start on growth. Its stems are a pale beige and don’t look as woody in spring as the other varieties, so it is easy to tell which is which. The hydrangeas do not need deadheading and ‘Little Lamb’ in particular should not be deadheaded as the faded flowers will turn an intense pink in fall. ‘White Moth’ is very vigorous and has showy flowers over a long period from mid-summer into fall. In Spring, cut it down by about half in height and prune off any stems growing toward the path. In summer, any growth reaching too far out into the path can be snipped off as you pass. (My general pruning rule for anything growing near a path is – if it’s in my way, whack it back!)
The holly at the back end of the garage wall was badly damaged by the brutal 2013/2014 winter so we decided to remove it, along with a lot of the lily of the valley under it, and plant hostas (sourced from divisions of plants in the backyard), with Bowman’s Root (Gillenia trifoliata) in its place. That looks like it will be a nice combination with minimal maintenance other than deadheading and spring foliage clean-up.
Garlic mustard weeds have been a chronic problem near where the holly was and will likely continue to appear there. They are easiest to remove in spring when they are small and more visible before the perennials appear to hide them.
The has been lily of the valley growing under the shrubs along the garage wall. The roots of the lily of the valley are a very dense mass, jammed up behind the metal grass barrier at the front face of the brick edging along the bed We dug out as much of the LOV that was under the holly as we could before planting the hostas. The LOV has been sending roots under the barrier for a number of years now. The resulting plants appear in the grass path and get mowed down. There is more LOV that has spread around the corner and grows under the Bridalwreath spirea there. I periodically rip some of it out to keep it somewhat under control!
The clematises along the garage wall should be encouraged to grow into the shrubs and onto the copper and wood tripod near the back of the garage. All the clematises are Group 3 type, which can be cut back hard in spring – but I prefer to leave them largely alone. I only cut back any bits that are too messy or are showing a lot of bare stems (which hasn’t happened yet…). I find they flower just as well, if not better, when they are left largely unpruned. The copper and wood tripod for the clematis by the holly can be easily removed if you wish. There are three rebar post pounded into the ground; the copper pipes were slid over the posts. So, to remove the tripod, lift the copper pipes up off the rebar posts, knock the posts sideways to loosen them and wiggle them out of the ground.
There are a number of perennials mixed in under the shrubs. There is a nice filipendula near the holly. It sometimes gets mildewed in late summer if it is dry. The mildew is unsightly, but doesn’t kill the plant. If it gets too unattractive, cut the filipendula down; it will return.
There had been a wooden edging make from 4x4s at the base of the hydrangeas. By 2016 it was rotting. A neighbour gave us a number of mid-sized blue hostas. We removed the wood and replaced it with a line of hostas. Hopefully they will fill in to creat a continuous edging in 2017.
At the back of the garage there is a nice Bridalwreath spirea. All the Bridalwreath spireas (there are two more in the backyard) need to be pruned after they finish flowering. When they finish flowering, remove 1/3 of the stems at the base. Choose the oldest (thickest) stems to remove. These spireas bloom on ‘old wood’ (growth made in previous years) so, if you prune them in early spring, you’ll prune off this year’s flowers and, if you prune them in late summer, you’ll prune off next year’s flowers! So, only prune them just after the flowers finish in late June. Taking 1/3 of the stems out at the base will control their size while still allowing them to keep their natural, graceful arching shape. These are not plants that will look good – or flower well – if pruned to geometric shapes. If the spireas still get bigger than you want, you can cut them down completely at the end of June every 3-4 years or so and allow them to regrow.
Under and around the spirea there are some Boltonia asteroides, which look like white asters and bloom in late summer. I find them a bit weedy and have been gradually removing them. I planted some variegated hostas under the spireas in 2015. The hostas had been growing in pots at the foot of the front steps and were over-wintered in the garage. I am not very happy with the color combination so may eventually remove them.
- Main Front bed
The big, main bed is a key component of the showy, ‘public’ face of the garden. The center path with the iron arbour entrance and cement bench at the end (see picture in Structure section above…) is highly visible and accessible to guests arriving at the top of the driveway. It is common for guests to take a detour to wander through the garden…. (The picture to the left is an old one now; plantings and structures have been added and/or changed, but the fundamental layout is still the same.) The path/arbour is also somewhat aligned with the dining room window and the driveway borders are also clearly visible from the dining room. The porchlift at the south end of the front porch also provides an elevated view down through the arbour and path that I enjoy every day when using the lift. A subsequent owner (if they do not replace this house with a larger one) would likely remove the lift. That end of the porch, with the deck extended to cover the lift shaft, would make an ideal garden-viewing seating area.
The picture below was taken in the spring of 2010. While this bed was one of the first beds started when we began gardening here in 2000, much of it has yet to mature and plantings remain in transition. The spring-flowering ornamental trees, in particular, have been slow to get big enough to make their presence felt, other than briefly in spring. The trees (Serviceberry -,Amelanchier canadensis, ‘Randy’ and ‘Susan’ magnolias, and a Wayfaring tree – Viburnum lantana) are ranged to the back of the bed. The Serviceberry is outside the bed itself to split the grass path into one arm going around the back of the bed and the other leading to the north alley. Since the trees are to the back (north side) of the bed, they will not be a significant factor causing shade, so the rest of the plantings in the bed are full-sun plants.
In September, the heptacodium tree on the east side (road side) of the white cedar at the back of the bed provides a striking floral display. The bees and butterflies love it. It vibrates with bees! The Monarch butterflies, which gather near here before continuing their migration to their winter home in Mexico, also are attracted to the tree. While we normally have a lot of Monarchs in the Fall, 2010 was an outstanding year for them. 2017 was also an outstanding year for the monarchs feeding on the tree. If you are a subsequent owner here considering which plants you want to keep, I highly recommend keeping this one!
There are a number of flowering shrubs in this bed – white potentilla, a variegated weigela on the southeast section which partners with the variegated daphne ‘Carol Mackie’ on the northwest section, a pearlbush (Exochorda x macrantha ‘The Bride’ – I planted a tiny Exochorda ‘Snow Day’ too but it seems to have disappeared!), two tree peonies and a couple of hydrangeas added in 2010. The weigelia has a companion clematis to climb into it. If the weigela ever gets large enough that you need to control its size, ideally, take the approach of removing 1/3 of the oldest/thickest growth at the base, shortening other stems by 1/3 as necessary. Prune after flowering is finished.
‘The Bride’ pearlbush languished for several years, doing nothing much at all, but started putting on a nice show Spring 2010. It looked particularly good because the Wayfaring tree was flowering at the same time in the background. As an early spring bloomer, if the pearlbush needs pruning, the pruning should be done after the flowers are finished.
By 2017 the daphne ‘Carol Mackie’ had got to an enormous size and was starting to smother other plants. We cut it back hard in late summer. Since these shrubs have a reputation for dying suddenly, it will be interesting to see in 2018 whether it survives the rough cutting back we did in 2017!
There used to be a big butterfly bush in the southeast section of the front bed that made an impressive mound by mid-summer. Unfortunately, the brutal winter of 2013/2014 killed it completely! We dug it out (BIG job!) and replaced it with ‘Borealis’ and ‘Berry Blue’ haskap (Lonicera caerulea) shrubs with alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca ‘Ruegen’) seeded underneath them. It will take several years before they start fruiting. At this point, I’m still not sure what, if any, maintenance the haskap shrubs will require. One of them is quite healthy while the other looks to be fading away. Since two varieties are needed for cross-pollination, I’m not sure whether they will be worth keeping longterm. Fraises de Bois (Fragaria vesca – European wild strawberries) are a runnerless strawberry that produces flowers and small fruits all season. There are a number of these plants already present in the front bed (and elsewhere in the garden) They seed around, but not aggressively. Randy loves wild-strawberry jam and harvests any ripe fruit he sees (the birds usually steal most of it!) and freezes them until he has enough to make a small batch of jam.
The tree peonies are showy in bloom – a couple of feet from the arbour on either side of the center path. But the flowers don’t last long and the leaves tend to get diseased and unattractive by mid-summer. When that happens, I remove the leaves, being careful not to damage the developing flower buds which will blossom the next year. I’m considering removing the tree peonies altogether, although I’m not sure yet what I’ll replace them with.
Perennials provide most of the color in this bed. The colors are all in the cooler range – white, blue, cool pinks and cooler reds. Self-seeding ‘filler’ plants are important to the ‘no bare ground’ look of this bed. Feverfew had been the is the dominant filler plant that also served other purposes, particularly by acting as a mulch when the faded plants were ripped out and left on the ground to decompose. However, they became too much work so I have gradually been replacing them with various purple-leafed heucheras, the small strawberries,, and letting some tall bellflowers and low-growing Veronica seed around..
Some perennials seed around undesirably so it is important to deadhead to prevent unwanted seedlings. At the south side of the front bed, to the right of the arbour, there is a nice succession of pink-toned plants that need deadheading to prevent excessive seeding. ‘Patty’s Plum’ poppy was a beautiful plant that overlapped with, and is followed by, Burnet (Sanguisorba menziesii), which is followed by Knautia macedonica, Unfortunately ‘Patty’s Plum’ did not return in 2015.
Purple coneflowers and hardy hibiscuses follow in the bloom sequence. All of these will seed a bit too much if left to their own devices, so should be deadheaded as they fade. All the hibiscuses in the garden (front bed, driveway border, ‘moat’ bed and south sideyard) need their round seed capsules removed. Deadhead the seed capsules before after they start losing their green color/before they turn brown and split, dropping their seeds.
Behind the knautia there is a blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens), which makes an attractive combination of color and texture. However, I am deeply suspicious of grasses’ ability to seed around. While seedheads are considered a desirable feature for winter interest on ornamental grasses, I always remove the seedheads on this grass before they can ripen (turn golden brown).
The earliest version of this front bed had a lot of Shasta daisies in it, especially ‘Becky’ variety, which is a nice, sturdy one that doesn’t flop open when the flowers get too heavy or after a heavy rain. BUT daisy flowers are very ugly as they start to fade! So they require prompt attention to deadheading. I have been gradually reducing the number of daisies in the bed, and may eliminate them entirely.
Purple coneflowers have started to seed around a bit too much. Goldfinches like the seeds so sometimes we neglect the deadheading a bit – and pay for it by having too many seedlings around. We need to edit down the number of clumps in spring.
Phlox ‘David’ is a nice, disease-resistant phlox that makes beautiful large clumps of long-lasting white flowers in mid-late summer. Deadheading this one extends its bloom season into late summer by encouraging the development of secondary flowerbuds. ‘David’ does seed around a fair bit too so I’ve been removing some of those seedling clumps. To keep the look of the white, later summer flowers I have been experimenting with replacing some ‘David’ with small white-flowering hydrangeas – e.g. a ‘Bombshell’ tucked into the driveway border and a ‘Bobo’ in the front bed along the side path leading towards the Japanese wisteria. The hydrangeas are new wood bloomers so can be pruned in spring to shape them and, in the case of ‘Bombshell’, build a stronger framework of old wood to support the weight of the flowers. Neither hydrangea performed particularly well in 2015, 2016 or 2017 so it may be too dry for them in this bed.
There are several nice Siberian irises in the front bed, especially near/along the side-path that leads towards the moat bed. Deadhead when they finish flowering. Leave the foliage stand for the winter – it will dry to a tawny brown. In spring, cut the dried foliage off as close to the ground as you can without cutting off the emerging new foliage. If the clumps are getting too large or congested, divide them in spring.
There had been a prostrate form of Veronica lining the center path. It has pretty blue flowers in spring – and then flopped open and looked ratty – plus it seeded around aggressively! Most of it was removed and replaced with purple leafed heucheras beginning in 2013. Most of the heucheras along the path disappeared although others in this bed have done well. But seedling clumps of the veronica are still popping up throughout the bed and can/should be removed when they appear.
In addition to the peonies in the driveway border, there are a number of them in the front bed. The double and semi-double ones need peony ring supports. There are single peonies near the edges of the paths. They do not need supports. They also tend to drop their petals cleanly, so are less in need of deadheading. Since they are easier to care for than the more common doubles and semi-doubles, I am strongly tempted to replace some of the others with singles – but they are hard to find, not to mention expensive! All peony foliage should be removed in the fall and discarded in the Town garden waste pick-up, not into the compost.
Persicaria polymorpha is a beautiful perennial that can look like a shrub by the time it blooms 6’ tall in mid June at the back of the main bed by the magnolia trees. There are a number of them in the backyard garden as well and are important contributors to the sense of continuity between the front and back gardens. In the greater shade of the backyard, they flower later and are shorter with a looser growth habit. But they are striking plants in both places, although their upright, flower-laden habit in the front garden is the showiest. If they are deadheaded as the flowers fade, they will produce a small amount of rebloom.
There was a nice blue Baptisia near the intersection of the center path and the path that leads towards the moat bed. Unfortunately it just got too large so was dug out in 2014 – a major job as the roots go very deep and are very woody! If new growth reappears from roots that were accidentally left behind, it should be removed.
Lupins are another perennial in the front bed with pretty blue flowers. They tend to be short-lived, so I let some set seed to make sure I always have a few near the edge of the bed about halfway along on the garage side.
Near the lupins is a nice large clump of Veronicastrum. There is another clump near the arbour on the right side. They have a long bloom season from early July, well into August. Their candelabra-like flowers, even as they start to fade, make striking combinations with a number of plants, particularly Russian Sage and hardy hibiscus. They need little attention other than cutting down and discarding to the compost when the flowers finally finish for the season. If the clump gets too big, I just dig out and discard the excess.
There are a number of hardy hibiscuses in this bed, as you can see from the picture above. I have been adding deep red ones for the past several years. All of them are maintained in the same way as the ones in the driveway border (i.e. late to appear in spring so leave 6” of stem to mark their spot when cutting back in fall; remove the round seed capsules in late July/early August so they don’t have a chance to seed around.) A couple of the red ones can get a bit tall and leggy – you can pinch the top growth out in mid June to keep them shorter if you wish.
In 2010 we planted a couple of hydrangeas in the front bed but only the ones at the back where they get shade from the garage and the soil stays moister have done well. they are ‘Tuff Stuff’ and ‘Let’s Dance, Starlight. ’. They flower on ‘old wood’ early and later on ‘new wood’, so if they need pruning to control size, it should be done after the first flush of flowers.
There were several clumps of ‘Brookside’ perennial geraniums in the front bed. They were pretty in bloom but seeded around a lot so were removed. Seedlings still appear and should be removed. There is also a ‘Rozanne’ geranium at the base of the ‘Randy’ magnolia on the garage side of the bed. That geranium should be allowed to spread its flowerstems around that area. It will continue to bloom well into the fall, and does not seem to seed around.
There are other perennials in this bed, not specifically discussed here. The tags in the binder can help you identify them. As a general rule, deadhead as the flowers fade, cut any particularly ‘woody’-looking stems down in the fall but leave the rest of the foliage to compost in place over the winter.
There are bulbs, both smaller ones as well as larger tulips, which appear in spring. The smaller bulbs’ foliage will disappear without attention. As with elsewhere in the garden, leave the tulip foliage to die completely before removing it – if it can be removed with just a gentle tug, it is safe to remove it.
Wear gloves when working in the garden. There are not many things that are dangerous but it’s always best to be safe. The gasplant (Dictamnus albus), a white-flowered perennial used to be located on the right side of the side path leading towards the garage. The sap from it can cause irritation if it comes in contact with your skin so it was removed in 2015. In case any of it comes back from roots, be wary working in that area.. Rose gauntlets are essential for working around the roses and are useful as general gardening gloves.
The iron arbour was first covered in honeysuckle and a couple of clematises. The honeysuckle originated as cuttings we took from a vine outside a store in Niagara-on the-Lake. I wasn’t sure exactly which variety it is but I strongly suspected it was ‘Hall’s’ honeysuckle’. In warmer areas it is considered invasive but it’s less of a problem here. It is very vigorous, with pretty, scented pale yellow flowers.
Because of the vigor of the honeysuckle vine, we kept it clipped closely to within 4-6” of the arbour structure. My intent now is to have the arbour covered in green, looking a bit like an arch carved through a green (flowering) hedge. In 2012 we decided it was time to replace the honeysuckle with something less vigorous. I decided to aim for an evergreen covering of the arbour, so decided to try growing ‘Emerald Gaiety’ euonymus and training it up the arbour as a vine rather than leaving it as a short shrub as it is elsewhere in the front garden. It will take quite a few years and a fair bit of training-in to cover the arbour, but I think it will be attractive. To add interest, I paired the euonymus with ‘Henryi’ clematis. The white flowers coordinate well with the euonymus and the clematis should cover the arbour reasonably quickly to provide cover while the euonymus is still growing in. We removed the other clematises when we dug out the honeysuckle. But what appears to be a ‘Niobe’ came back. It is quite attractive – but is, sadly, prone to wilt! Any wilted parts should be cut down and discarded in the garbage.
Replacement plants – one pair on each side:
Clematis doing well, but a long way to go before the arbour fills in….! By the end of 2015 the euonymus had grown about 3′ up the arbour sides. By late 2017 some stems had reached the top of the arch. It will obviously take quite a few more years before it can be trained to completely cover the structure. Keep training the stems to the arbour structure regularly through the growing season by weaving them through the cross-bars.