Recommended Tools and Supplies

Note : the links included here are not intended to be an endorsement of any particular brand or shopping source, but rather to show you what the tool looks like to aid you in finding one.

This is a handy tool for weeding and touch-up hand edging.  It is sort of J-shaped, with a flat blade.  The flat blade is good for running just below the soil surface to cut off weeds or, as the name implies, running down a crack between paving stones to help evict weeds that have taken up residence there.  It gets used often to neaten up the edge/slice off invading grass anywhere the grass and paths intersect but the intersection is not in need of a full edging with the spade or half-moon edger.

The proper name for this tool is a fishtail weeder, but I call it a weed stick.  It’s a wooden-handled metal rod with a V-shaped flat blade at the end.  You push the rod/blade into the soil at the base of the weed and lever the weed out of the soil.  It is most effective for tap-rooted weeds like dandelion, and works best when the soil is moist.

This is an invaluable tool for pruning the wisterias, the honeysuckle on the iron arbour, and also for deadheading the tall lilac by the chimney.  It is stored in the front, right corner of the garage.  It was originally purchased from Lee Valley Tools.

  • Pantyhose ties

To tie in vines to the chainlink fences or swag chains and to tie plants needing support to stakes, you need soft, stretchy ties that will not cut into the plant and restrict nutrient flow.  You also need something that is not very visible.  The ideal thing is pantyhose ties!  Take a pair of pantyhose – preferably black or  charcoal ( those colors are less visible) and cut the legs across in ~3/4” strips to make a ring.  Cut open the ring and you have the perfect plant tie!

This is one of those things that raises controversy in the gardening community!  There is little doubt that mycorrhizal fungi are necessary and beneficial.  The doubt arises as to the benefit of supplements.  In good, organic soil that is not disturbed often, there is likely a thriving ‘native’ population and no need for supplements.  But, in poor soil or soil that is regularly disturbed or cultivated, supplements can be beneficial. 

The soil here is fairly heavy clay that was badly compacted by the renovation and addition to the house in 1999.  While the soil has noticeably improved over the years since, we still use a supplement when we plant perennials, vegetable, trees and shrubs.

We us the MYKE brand and it is getting hard to come by.  Taylor Nurseries in Milton usually carry it.  Because it’s a living thing, it has a ‘best before’ date – check the date before you buy it to make sure it’s still valid.

  • Half-moon edger and edging spade

These are necessary tools for keeping the grass from growing into the garden.  In the garden’s present configuration, they are only needed to refresh the edge of the rectangular lawn in the backyard, along the edge of the path to the south gate arbour, and across the ends of the path behind the teardrop bed in the front garden.  Some people prefer the half-moon edger and others the narrow, flat-bladed spade.  Use whichever you’re comfortable with.  The spade is also useful for digging smaller planting holes, so that one gets used a lot.

These are essential for working around the roses.  Regular garden gloves, even leather ones, will not prevent rose thorns from penetrating and scratching/stabbing you painfully!  The gauntlets also protect your forearms while the shorter, regular garden gloves will not. Lee Valley Tools sells really good pigskin ones in ladies sizes.  The Bionic brand of rose gauntlets is good as well and come in men’s sizes too.

  • Mulching leaf blower

The main use this tool gets in the garden is to suck up and chop the oak leaves that collect in the south alley in spring; the other very important use is to clear ash leaves and pine needles out of the eavestroughs when the leaves come down in the fall!

  • Water-filled roller

 When the paths need refreshing with new mulch/sand mix, it needs to be packed down firmly after the new material is laid.  We prefer the plastic roller since it won’t rust.  It is stored in the garden shed.

  •  All the usual tools such as:

o   wheelbarrow and wagon,

o   leaf rake, trowels, shovels – both pointed end and flat-bladed are useful to have,

o   secateurs,

o   grass shears – mainly used to clip grass that grows out of reach of the lawn mower against the edges of things like walls, poles or raised bed edges,

o   lawnmower – a reel mower is all that’s needed as there’s not a lot of lawn left,

o   string trimmer – useful for tidying up grass at the brick edging in the front beds.


Weeds to Watch Out For and Remove

  •  European Buckthorn seedlings

 European  Buckthorns are on the Noxious Weeds list for Ontario because they are a host plant for oat rust fungus.  While you may think ‘there’re not a lot of agricultural crops nearby, so it doesn’t matter…’ birds spread the seeds far and wide.  There are many people in the neighbourhood who don’t recognize the plant or realize that it is a noxious weed, so there are many sources  of seeds.  Learn to recognize the seedlings (see pictures on the Noxious Weeds list) and pull them as soon as you see them.

  •  Ash tree seedlings

 The White ash in the backyard is invaluable as a source of shade for the house and leaf mulch for the garden beds, BUT it drops gazillions of seed keys!   In spring most of them germinate!  Learn to recognize them at the seed-leaf stage and pull them then.  Once they get their true leaves, they also get a long, deep taproot that makes them harder to pull.  Even when they are this small they can be difficult to pull, so be alert to the seedlings and yank them as soon as they appear! 

This clover-looking weed is a pest in several areas of the garden, particularly in the front bed in the section shaded by the garage in the afternoon.  Pull any you see any time you pass by that area. 

  • Garlic Mustard weed 

This is a particularly nasty weed because it is aleopathic – it puts chemicals in the soil that kill or weaken other plants growing nearby.  It is a biennial that produces a basal clump of rounded leaves in the first year and, in the second year, produce smaller, more pointed leaves and a flower spike of small, white flowers.  It sets lots and lots of seed.  The seeds can survive for years in the soil so, even if you don’t let any plants set seed, you may still get seedlings from the seed bank in the soil.  Unfortunately, the neighbor to the south has a large colony of them under the large junipers at the end of his driveway, and elsewhere on the property.  So we get lets of seedlings….  They start growing in spring before much else is green, so they are easiest to see then.  Watch for them and remove any you see, particularly the second year plants that will flower and set seed!

2012 To-do List

2012 To-do list 

  •   Late winter/early spring – sand and repaint air conditioner screen.  Use BM (Benjamin Moore) Bonsai  green to match the shed door.   Done
  •   Remove ligularia from west end of oak garden across from ‘wet corner’ and replace with rodgersia that will better tolerate the level of available moisture. Forgot to do this!  Ligularia seems to have died out….
  •   Divide the large blue hosta at the ramp-patio corner.  Replant one chunk in the same spot and place others in the oak garden, near the dead apple tree. Done
  •   Consider removing tree peonies from front bed – replace with…? Gave them a reprieve – not sure for how long….
  •   Consider pruning out some of the old stems of the Harlequin honeysuckle vine on the chainlink fence in the north alley…      Still need to do this….
  •   Prune honeysuckle on iron arbour top to level it out – the garage side is taller…. Removed it entirely and replaced with ‘Emerald Gaiety’ euonymus and ‘Henryi’ clematis
  • Prune 12″-18″ off the top of the Chinese wisteria tree – it is getting too tall and hard to reach with the long-arm pruners.  Trim the side branches as needed to keep a pleasing overall shape once the height has been reduced. Done
  • Begin training/pruning the beautybush in the living room bed to form a tunnel over the path along the back of the house. Done – but will be a work-in-progress for a few years
  • In spring prune the older, woody sage plants on the south side of the driveway to emphasize/display their woody bases – make into quasi-bonsai. Done
  • If the Highbush cranberries by the corner of the garage do not straighten up after the berries fall off in spring, prune back as necessary to allow clear passage along the garage path. Done

Chore schedule

Chore schedule 


Early spring

  •    March
    •   Remove any wisteria seedpods that you missed removing in fall or winter.
    •   Mid-March – move pots of  garlic that were stored in the garage for the winter back out onto the driveway.
  •    April- early May
    •   First week of April – plant pots of peas; choose varieties with different days-to-maturity in order to extend the growing season (days-to-maturity range from low 50s to 70+)  Peas need cool soil to germinate, so plant early.  Soak the peas overnight in water before planting. Ideally, just before planting, drain the water off and toss the seeds with inoculant meant for peas and beans.  Wear protective rubber gloves when working with the peas – the seeds are likely coated in fungicide.  Teepees of 6’ bamboo poles make good supports for the peas.
    • Move any pots of ‘mums that overwintered in the garage out onto the driveway.
    •   Cut back culinary sage in the herb bed on the south side of the driveway.  Cut back to just above the woody growth at the base.
    •   In the front bed, cut back previous year’s Siberian iris foliage as close to the ground as you can without cutting off emerging new foliage.
    •   In the backyard, cut along edge (where grass and path meet) of the rectangular lawn. Pull any grass roots that have encroached on the path.  Use Stakes and string to keep the edge line straight.
    •   As above, cut along the edge of the path to south gate arbour and across ends of mulch path around front teardrop bed with half-moon edger or edging spade.  Pull any encroaching grass or clover roots.  (See related text sections for more details).  Just cut straight down to sever any grass and clover roots that may have started to encroach on the path.  Do not ‘trench edge’ as that will create a hazard for crossing from the path to the grass.  The packed surface of the path and the path material discourages invasion of grass and clover so it’s not difficult to just remove the few encroaching roots to make a crisp-looking transition from grass to path.
    •   Once leaf buds swell enough to be clearly visible, prune hydrangeas in all beds  to control size and shape them as desired.
    •   Once growth buds are visible on the Russian sage in the front beds, cut the plants back to 6” or so.
    •   Note where you might like more spring bulbs next year.
    •   Fertilize lawn with spring formula lawn fertilizer.
    •   Inspect brick edging in front garden.  Remove any grass or weeds that have found their way into the crevices.
    •   Prune potentilla shrubs to remove  at ground level 1/3 of the stems (choose oldest – thickest – stems to remove)
    •   Train new peony growth into the copper-tubing rings..
    •   Cut back ‘Queen Elizabeth’ rose in driveway border when new growth buds appear.
    •   Put rain barrel back in place by the hydro meter, connecting the overflow pipe to the pipe running under the path, and connect the soaker hose to the barrel tap.
    •  Prune off any tip die-back on Angel and Oso Easy roses in the south driveway border and shorten canes by 1/3-1/2 if you wish.
    •   Fertilize all clematises with fertilizer formulated for clematises.
    •   Fertilize roses with rose fertilizer.  Spread ½ bag of composted sheep manure or several shovelfuls of garden compost around the Queen Elizabeth rose in the driveway border.
    •   Also spread compost or sheep manure at the base of the clematises on the south gate arbour.
    •   Do not mow the house side of the front ditch in spring to allow the bulb foliage to ripen so the bulbs will flower the following year.
    •   Remove a number of the ostrich ferns in the wet corner in early spring as you see the fiddleheads arise – they are spreading too fast – keep them confined to the SW corned by removing any that appear more than 4’ or so from the corner.
    •   In mid-late April, clean up the big ‘Paul Farges’ clematis on the fences at the end of the south alley.  Pull stems that have grown over the other side of the fence back to our side.  Strip off smaller stems from the larger ones, leaving a few bare, long, thick, old stems.  Cut some of the stems down, either to the ground or to the top of the chainlink fence.  (See pictures in the South Alley section above.)  Be careful not to cut down the ‘Ramona’ clematis on the chainlink fence just past the Paul Farges.
    • Once the last of the previous year’s oak leaves have fallen from the oak tree, chop the leaves that have accumulated against the south fence with a mulching leaf blower and spread the chopped leaves on the beds under the oak tree.
    •   If you noticed a decline in flowering on the north alley honeysuckles in the previous year, prune out some of the older stems.
    •   The clematises on the copper fence and the top end of the chainlink fence in the north alley can be cut back to the top of the chainlink fence.
    •   Pull any dead Morning Glory stems and foliage off the copper fence at the top of the north alley and off the lattice wall of the back porch lift.  There are too many seedlings – remove all or  the vast majority of them as you see them.  There are enough mature vines of other types now so Morning Glories are not really needed any more.
    • in all beds remove any old perennial stems that were not removed in fall.  Remove dead leaves (and and snails!) from around the hostas, heucheras, and any other perennials with new growth showing at the base.

Late spring (late May-early June

  •   Walk around the garden frequently – preferably daily – watching for ash tree seedling, buckthorn seedlings, wood sorrel, and garlic mustard weed.  Remove any you find.
  •   Inspect brick edging in front garden.  Remove any grass or weeds that have found their way into the crevices.
  •   Cut old-fashioned ‘mums in the driveway/moat border back to 6-8 inches twice before the first of July to make sturdy, bushy plants with lots of flowers.
  •   Snap off seedheads from tulips once the tulip petals drop or, preferably, cut the spent flowerstalk down to its base at soil level, leaving the leaves to feed the bulb.
  •   Plant tomatoes in the south driveway border when soil and air temperatures are suitable – last week of May or first week of June usually.
  • If emerging foliage on the Japanese wisteria hides the flowers, prune off the foliage that is hiding the flowers – see pictures in The Moat Bed section.
  •   Shorten all new wisteria growth to 6-8” as it arises.
  •   Watch for and promptly remove any wisteria root suckers.  Ideally tear the suckers off the underlying roots rather than just pruning them to soil level.
  •   Plant pots of pole beans in late May (soil must be warm or the seeds will rot – don’t plant too early.)  Soak the beans in water overnight before planting.  Ideally, just before planting, drain the water and toss the seeds in innoculant meant for peas and beans.  Wear protective rubber gloves when working with the beans – the seeds are likely coated with fungicide. Use an 8’ teepee of bamboo poles for supports in the pots for the beans – 6’ poles are not tall enough.
  •   Cut back butterfly bushes (front bed, south side of driveway borders, near kitchen window) once new buds are visible.  Cut back to 12-18”.
  •   Mow the house side of the ditch the last week of May or early June when the bulb foliage has died back.
  •   There is an excess of purple coneflowers in the front beds.  Remove some seedling clumps each year to control the numbers.
  •  In 2014 some pest attacked the leaves of Solomon’s Seal.  If this continues to be a problem, the Solomon’s Seal may need to be removed – or at least cut down at the first signs of damage

Summer – all months:

  •   Continue to patrol for weed seedlings, especially wood sorrel in the front beds.
  •   At least once a month, inspect brick edging in front garden.  Remove any grass or weeds that have found their way into the crevices.
  •   Snip off any euonymus stems that reach about deck level in the front porch bed.
  •   Shorten all new wisteria growth to 6-8” as it arises.
  • Train the stems of the euonymus plants flanking the iron arbour in the front bed to grow up the sides of the arbour.  Weave the stems into the cross-pieces of the arbour structure.
  •   Watch for and promptly remove any wisteria root suckers.  Ideally tear the suckers off the underlying roots rather than just pruning them to soil level.
  •   Give the porch bed a thorough soaking with a hose every 10 days or so, especially during drought periods.
  •   Whenever the ‘Silver Mound’ artemesias (in moat bed and various places at the front edge of the large front bed) get taller than 6”, clip then down to 4” with grass shears.
  •   Pull any lily-of-the-valley that reappears in the the garage bed. lawn.  Keep grass in the adjacent grass path mowed short  to discourage the remaining lily-of-the-valley roots in the grass from growing.
  •   Watch out for lily-of-the-valley appearing under the pines in the backyard.  Remove any you see.
  •   Encourage the south alley clematises to climb the bamboo poles to reach the swag chains.
  •   Remove at ground level any lilac root suckers you see.
  • beginning in mid-summer, watch for leaf damage on Solomon’s Seal in the backyard.  Remove any affected stems at the base and discard into the garbage (do not compost them!)

mid-late June:

  •  Prune out 1/3 of the stems of the bridalwreath spireas, Beautybush and mockorange after they finish flowering in June.  Remove the stems at the base, selecting the oldest/biggest for removal each year.  If necessary, also shorten any particularly long remaining stems by 1/3-1/2.
  •   ‘Patty Plum’ poppy by the right side of the arbour will go dormant after flowering.  Remove the yellowed foliage and discard the seedpods to prevent seeding around.
  •   Feverfew in the front beds has served its purpose and now should be removed (and replaced with dwarf candytuft whenever you can find some to plant…)  Pull any feverfew you see.  You can leave the cuttings on the ground as mulch to compost in place as long as they are not in flower and ready to go to seed.
  •   When pea pots have finished producing peas, remove and compost the spent foliage.  Leave the soil in the pots as these pots if you wish to use the pots to plant a display of asters and ‘mums for late summer.
  •   Let a few of the lupin flowerspires set seed and drop to the ground to replace any plants that die out (they tend to be short-lived.)
  •   Deadhead the large lilac by the chimney, being careful not to cut off next year’s flowerbuds which develop at the base of the current year’s flowers.  The long-arm pruners are useful for deadheading the lilac.


  • Order any spring bulbs you may have decided to add to the spring display.  (I usually order on-line from Botanus in B.C. – good quality and good price).  More small bulbs will likely be needed to be added to the ditch plantings in 2011 and 2012.
  •   Remove faded tulip foliage once it can be removed with a gentle tug.
  •   Deadhead Rodgersia in front porch bed as soon as the flowers start to fade.
  •   After the early, large-flowered clematises finish flowering, fertilize again with clematis fertilizer.
  •   Make sure you deadhead the Sanguisorba and Knautia on the south edge of the front bed as they finish flowering, to ensure they don’t seed excessively.
  •   Deadhead Baptisia when it finishes flowering in the bed under the kitchen window.
  •   The Russian sage in various places in the front bed can get large and encroach on paths and the bench.  Do not hesitate to cut back any parts that are interfering with access – it might delay some bloom, but that just extends the season…
  •   Deadhead dwarf goatsbeard in north alley near the back porch, and in the oak bed, near the path leading to the south alley to prevent seeding.
  •   Deadhead the large goatsbeards at the end of the center path under the oak, and in the wet corner if that one wasn’t deadheaded earlier.
  •   Remove seedheads on the Blue Oat Grass in the front bed as soon as they show signs of ripening (turning golden brown).
  • Prune off stem of the mockorange (by the kitchen window) that flowered in the current year.  Also remove any straight root-suckers.   That will control the size of the shrub and encourage better flowering in subsequent years.
  • Watch for signs of Sawfly damage to Solomon’s Seal foliage.  Cut stems of any damaged foliage down to the ground and discard into the garbage (not into the compost bins!)


  •   Deadhead daisies and coneflowers down to next visible flower bud or, if there are no more flower buds on the stem, cut the stem to the ground.  Daisies no longer suit the garden and can be removed completely.
  •   When the pole beans have finished producing, remove and compost spent foliage.  The soil in the pots can also be composted or spread as mulch in the front and driveway beds.
  •    The Russian sage in various places in the front bed can get large and encroach on paths and the bench.  Do not hesitate to cut back any parts that are interfering with easy movement along the paths.
  •   After the hibiscus flowers finish in late August-early September, deadhead the round seed capsules while they’re still green – you want to remove them before they turn brown, dry, split and drop their seeds.
  • If you are growing strawberries in pots, root runners from the current pots into the pots containing the soil from this year’s crop of peas (the peas add nitrogen to the soil – you can also mix in some compost before planting the runners.)  Dip the base of the plantlets at the ends of the runners into softwood rooting hormone, poke a hole in the soil with your finger, place the base of the plantlet into the hole, and firm the soil. At its base.  The runners can be planted quite densely.  Water well.
  • Continue to monitor Solomon’s Seal for Sawfly damage and cut back and discard foliage into the garbage as necessary.


  •   Chop fallen leaves with lawnmower or mulching leaf blower.  (The leaves can also be used whole, although they break down quicker when chopped.) Spread the chopped leaves on all backyard garden beds.
  •   Rake the paths in the woodland areas, raking the pine needles and fallen leaves into the nearby beds.
  •   Fertilize lawn with fall formula lawn fertilizer.
  •   Plant any fall bulbs you may have decided to add to the ditch and elsewhere in the garden.
  •   In late October, do a final inspection of the brick edging in front garden.  Remove any grass or weeds that have found their way into the crevices.
  •   Cut peony foliage (driveway border, front bed) to the ground and discard in the garbage pick-up (not into compost pile).
  •   Cut hibiscus foliage down to 6” and discard into the compost pile.
  • Cut Persicaria polyymorpha (front bed, oak bed, shed bed, under pines, north woodland, patio bed) down to the ground and discard into the compost pile
  • When wisteria leaves drop, remove any seed pods you see.  Brush fallen wisteria leaves off the edging bricks to prevent the rotting leaves staining the bricks.


  •   Keep driveway borders covered with snow when clearing snow from the driveway.
  • Jan. – Feb. order seeds for veggie garden (remember to choose 4-5 different pea varieties based on days-to-maturity, to ensure a long crop season).

Every 3-5 years

  •   Refresh path surfaces with mulch/sand mixture (1/3 concrete sand; 2/3 pine bark mulch – see Paths section of Backyard description, and pack down with water-filled roller. (The paths were last refreshed in spring 2014.)

Every 10 years

  • Get a tetanus shot!  Anyone who ‘plays in the dirt’ needs a tetanus shot.  If you haven’t had one, get one.  And get a booster shot every ten years.

Backyard garden


The backyard is the Green garden – ‘Green’ because the dominant color scheme is green and white, although other colors are also present in lesser amounts.  Because the backyard is very shady, the plants have to be ones that can cope with shady conditions.  White is the most common color of flowers on shade plants.  Far from being monotonous, the color scheme contributes to the cool, serene oasis feel of the backyard.    With the shade from the white ash, red oak and white pines, the temperature in the backyard in summer can be 50C or more cooler in the backyard than in the front – a welcome difference in the heat of the summer! By shading the living room window, the ash tree also reduces the energy needed to cool the house in summer.  In winter, the bare tree branches allow winter sun to warm the living room.  If/when the ash comes down, it would be well worth considering replacing it with another deciduous tall shade tree.

The backyard is a shade/woodland garden and conditions are managed in order to give as natural woodland conditions as possible.  The key component of this approach is that all leaf litter, including pine needles, and plant material are retained and allowed to ‘compost in place’ in the garden beds.  Snails are the main insect pest in the backyard.  While they do benefit from overwintering in the leaf litter, the plants and soil benefit more.  Leaf damage from snails will occur and is tolerated, although as many snails as can be found are hand removed and killed during the garden season.

 The woodland garden, unfortunately, comes with an abundant collection of woodland insect life – namely mosquitoes!  During the summer, they are a major deterrent to working out there unless in a full ‘bug-suit’.  They can also make eating outdoors in the evening very uncomfortable, so we gave up on using the patio for outdoor dining.  The patio furniture essentially became part of the garden with the construction of a planter-bench.  Outdoor recreational/entertaining seating is largely patio chairs and loungers on the back porch, where the mosquitoes are less prolific.  Major garden work in the backyard should be timed to be completed in April-early May before the mosquitoes come out of hibernation, and again after late October when they return to hibernation.  Otherwise, wear bug protection.

Ticks that carry Lyme Disease are starting to move into southern Ontario.   Here in suburbia, deer are not an issue but chipmunks and white footed mice are other carriers of the deer ticks.  We have chipmunks in the garden.  So I’m starting to think about what might need to change in the garden to reduce tick risk (aside from trying to get rid of the chipmunks!)  The first thing that comes to mind is to reduce the number (or size) of bushy perennials and shrubs abutting paths to minimize the number of plants that you brush against when walking along a path.  We removed a couple of big goatsbeards in fall 2015, replacing them with Actaeas set further back from the path.

When/if the ash succumbs to old age and/or Emerald Ash Borer, the light conditions in the backyard will change significantly which will change the range of plants that will grow there.  Over our tenure in the garden, we have planted a number of ‘understory’ trees that may allow the north side of the garden to remain a shade garden in the absence of the ash.  Many of the plantings will tolerate either sun or shade so should survive significantly higher light levels.  As long as the oak tree in the south woodland area survives, that area will remain shady.  Barring disease, there is no reason to expect the oak tree to fail, so it should stand for at least another 50 years, and probably longer!  So, the eventual loss of the ash will have minimal impact on the light and growing conditions south side of the yard.

The components of the backyard garden are:

  •       Paths

The path network, which encompasses both the back and front gardens, serves a number of purposes.

  • It provides structure to the garden space, most notably highlighting the rectangular lawn.
  • It makes it easy to navigate through the garden which makes it possible to be IN the garden when you are in the garden so you are immersed in the garden experience.
  • Since it is possible to make a complete circuit of the garden, front and back, by starting at any point and following where the path leads you, the path network is one of the elements that link the ‘private’ back garden to the ‘public’ front one, making the whole space one coherent garden.
  • Maintenance is facilitated by making it easy to move wheelbarrows, wagons, lawnmowers, and other garden equipment through the garden.  Since it is possible to reach the center of most beds (with the notable exception of the large front bed in places) from the paths without needing to step into the bed, weeding and deadheading are easier, with less risk of damaging plants or compacting the soil.

The paths are 1/3 concrete sand and 2/3 pine bark mulch from Petrie’s.  The pine bark will deteriorate with time.  Every 3-5 years, top up the path material with new mulch and sand.  We usually order 2 cubic yards of pine bark mulch and 1 cubic yard of concrete sand.  Fill the wheelbarrow by adding one shovel full of sand for every two of pine bark.  Dump in small loads along all the garden paths.  Spread with a heavy rake.  Compress flat with a water-filled roller.

In May 2014 we decided to put a firmer base under many of the backyard paths, especially in areas where water accumulates during spring run-off and on slopes were a bit of erosion occurs after heavy rains.  So we used ‘crusher run’ gravel (which packs to a firm surface but is fast-draining) as a base, packed down with the roller, before topping it with the usual pine bark and sand mix to keep the paths’ color blended into the garden.

shed paths right May 19 2014-1Backyerd north fence path-1





Jamie Randy Dexter Cole - Wet corner path May 19 2014-1


south fence path May 20 2014-1

backyard north paths May 20 2014-1

  •  Patio bed

The patio bed is dominated by large, mostly blue,hostaspatio hostas July 3 2014-1-1. and is simple and easy to maintain while being quietly showy.





We added a fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) fringetree June 3 2012in 2010 to provide future shade for this bed in anticipation of the eventual loss of the ash.  Most of the hostas can take some sun but will do better with shade; the fringetree should eventually provide that in the absence of the ash. While the ash is still present, the fringetree will not be getting a lot of light but, so far, the fringetree has grown and flowered well.  It is not a fast-growing tree and will only get to be 15′ or so in any case.  It’s a very pretty small tree that seems to suit the location and is happy there.

When the hostas get very large they should be divided.  One division should be replanted in the same spot.  Other divisions can be placed in the oak garden, the ‘wet corner’ or available space in other beds – or given away or composted.  While it is conceptually simple to divide hostas, the sheer mass of the plants can be an issue.  They should be divided in spring just as the tightly furled spears of the new leaves are 2-3” tall.  Dig out the entire root ball (a crow bar may come in handy at this point!).  Divide the ball into pieces – this is not a delicate task; a hatchet can be useful…  Any chunk with leaf spears and roots attached can be easily transplanted.  Refresh the rootball hole with compost and replant a chunk in the same location.  Plant remaining pieces elsewhere in the garden if there is a need for them, or give them away to other gardeners, or compost them.

The Persicaria polymorpha (large, white-flowered perennial that looks like a shrub by June but dies to the ground each year…) blooms well in shady conditions – there are several in various locations in the backyard – but has a more open habit and blooms a bit later than the one in the front garden.  They require minimal maintenance.  Deadheading can extend the bloom time.  The fading flowers are not attractive so you’ll want to deadhead them.  In the fall, cut the stalks down to the ground and add to the compost pile or put them out for the fall garden waste pick-up by the Town.  By late summer the plant is very large and has been known to blow over and uproot part of itself if there is a very windy day.  If that happens, cut it back, replace the uprooted section into the ground and tamp down.  It will survive!

There are a number of columbine under the clothes-dryer.  They will self-sow is you wait until the seed heads ripen (turn brown) before cutting them down.  The foliage of columbine generally gets ‘ratty’ after the flowers finish so, after sufficient seed has ripened to regenerate the plantings, cut the old foliage to the ground and new, fresh foliage will emerge from the base and remain attractive for the rest of the season.

There are miscellaneous other perennials in the patio area – largely varieties of heuchera, ferns, daylilies and corydalis.  Cut back any unattractive dead foliage in spring. Deadhead daylilies as necessary but otherwise these will need minimal care.  Eventually the daylilies, and perhaps the heuchera, may need dividing but they all should be able to remain in place for a long period of time.

There are a few spring bulbs in this bed, but conditions are not ideal.  The emerging hostas will hide any dying bulb foliage so no effort is required to care for the bulbs.  If you wish to add more spring bulbs, concentrate on the smaller bulbs (e.g. snowdrops, scilla, muscari, winter aconite, miniature daffodils etc.) that do not require full sun conditions.

There is no need to clean up the dead hosta foliage in either fall or spring.  It will feed the soil if left to ‘compost in place’.  Snails may overwinter in it but they can be removed/killed by hand picking whenever you see any.  The hostas in this area are all ones with fairly heavy foliage which is less attractive to snails.  You can also add chopped leaves from the lawn clean-up in the fall to add more organic matter.  Adding a layer of the fallen pine needles is useful as organic matter and also seem to help to deter the snails.

  • Living room bed

The living room bed runs across the back of the house.  It is largely under the overhang of the roof and therefore very dry.  The plants are ones that can handle tough conditions with little extra care.

The bed is bracketed at either end with Bridalwreath spireas (Spiraea prunifolia ).  These big, old-fashioned shrubs are smothered with tiny white flowers on the long, arching branches in June.  The flowers bloom on ‘old wood’ – i.e. woody stems produced in the previous year(s).  Therefore, if you prune these shrubs in late summer, you will cut off next summer’s flowers!  These are NOT shrubs that can/should be pruned into stiff shapes because that will likely prevent the formation of enough ‘old wood’ to allow them to flower well.  In addition, a good part of their attraction is the flowing, arching shape of the branches.  They can get to be very large though so, to control size and maximize flowering potential, after the flowers fade, each year remove 1/3 of the woody stems at ground level, removing the biggest (oldest) stems each year.  That will control the size and completely renew the shrub every three years, while ensuring maximum flower display each year.  If the shrub still gets too big for your taste, you can cut it completely to the ground and let it regrow.  If you cut it back just after the flowers fade, it should still be able to regrow enough new stems to put on a flower show the following summer.

Cole on LR path June 15 2015-1The other large shrub in this bed is Beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis)  – which is what is flowering in the picture to the left.  Like the Bridalwreath spirea, this is an ‘old wood’ bloomer so can/should be pruned in much the same way, although it will not take as kindly to a complete cutting back.  It is best to stick to the 1/3 a year.  It will get taller than the spireas and was, in fact, planted in front of the ‘blank wall’ between the living room and office windows with the intention for it to eventually reach as tall as the roof overhang   At that point, when it blooms in late spring/early summer, it should be a cascade of fragrant pink down that wall!   beautybush and redbud July 1 2012-1By 2011, the beautybush had got large enough, with fairly woody/bare lower stems to make me see the potential to train it to arch over the path to make a tunnel effect. Beginning in spring 2012, I have been attempting to train it into a tunnel effect.  Combined with the arching form of the nearby white redbud, it is beginning to make a nice effect.  (The arch took a bit of a setback in 2013 as a miss-communication with DH resulted in a too-severe pruning of the beautybush.  But it should recover…)

The bed has a number of small bulbs for spring interest, although some of them have petered-out and need to be replaced, although I keep forgetting to do it!  The dying foliage is hidden by the perennials that emerge as the bulbs fade.  The perennials can largely be left to their own devices, needing little care or dividing for many years.  'White Pearl' Nov 8 2010-1The most unusual perennial in the bed is probably ‘White Pearl’ bugbane (Cimicifuga simplex ‘White Pearl’ =Actaea matsumurae ‘White Pearl’), which does not start blooming until early November!

This bed should be covered each fall in a thick layer of chopped leaves (some of the the ash leaves that fall on the lawn) to add organic matter to increase its nutrients and water retention ability.

  •  Rectangular Lawn

The rectangular lawn is one of the most striking features of the garden, partly because most people find it unexpected.SW across the back lawn June 11 2013-1 NW across the lawn June 11 2013-1-1 The path around the lawn highlights it as a separate feature and not just residual space left over from making the garden beds. The expanse of simple green is the serene and calm heart of the woodland garden, contributing greatly to the feel of the space as a cool and peaceful place.

In spring 2015 we decided to put a path between the south end of the lawn and the bed under the oak.  (Previously the path only went around three sides of the lawn.)  The new path makes access to the bed easier and although it makes the lawn a bit smaller, it improves circulation around the garden.  The proportions in this drawing are not totally accurate, but it shows the general layout of the lawn and backyard garden:  (The red Xs indicate where trees were removed – a dead pine and a dying pussy willow on our property and a dead ash on the property to the south of us.)

backyard dynascape plan view updated 2015

The first dusting of snow in December also does a good job of outlining the garden’s layout as shown in these pictures:

backyard south paths Dec 28 2015-1

backyard north paths Dec 28 201-1






Since the grass is shaded by the ash, it is fairly weak.  The only maintenance required in this area is:

  •    Weekly grass mowing.
  •   Fertilize the grass spring and fall.  Top dress and overseed the lawn in either spring or late summer if necessary (see comments below).
  •   Early spring, using an edging spade or half-moon edger, cut a line along the edge of the grass and path (stakes and string can be helpful in keeping the line straight) and remove and grass roots that have invaded the path.
  •   Renew the path material as needed per the instructions under Paths above.

In Spring 2015 it was obvious that the grass was in poorer-that-usual shape due to a combination of compacted soil, too much dog pee(!), and the shade.  We had the soil aerated by one of those machines that remove plugs of soil.  Then we top-dressed end reseeded it.

Men at work June 2 2015-1

That helped a fair bit but we needed to water it more consistently to counteract the dog-applied high nitrogen fertilizer – especially around the tree trunk!  So an additional top-dressing and over-seeding is needed in 2016 – and closer attention to watering to prevent nitrogen burns!  I suspect overseeding will become a fairly regular event.


In the fall when the ash drops its leaves, there are a LOT of leaves!  Front Oct. 12 2010-1All of them should be used in the garden – there should be no leaves put out at the curb for pick-up by the Town.  The woodland garden needs the leaf mulch to stay healthy and thrive.  When the leaves drop, mow the lawn (preferably with a bagger on the mower to easily collect the leaves) and spread the chopped leaves on the backyard garden beds.

Stage 1 – leaf drop:

backyard Oct 28 2014-1

Stage 2 leaves cleared from lawn and added to garden:Backyard Nov 6 2014-1





  • Woodland  north side

The north woodland beds are those bounded by the patio bed on the east, the pines on the west, the chainlink fence on the north and the lawn path on the south.  The beds were created using the ‘lasagna’ method where leaves and miscellaneous organic matter were piled on the grass and all left to rot down for a few months before planting into it.  This approach results in slightly raised beds with rich soil high in organic matter.

There is little maintenance required in these beds.  White corydalis (Corydalis ochroleuca) is a groundcover over much of these beds.  It is almost evergreen as it is one of the first things to green up in spring and one of the last to die off in fall.  It will bloom from early spring to late fall.  It does seed around a lot but is easy to remove (by yanking handfuls of the unwanted plants – they uproot easily) if it appears where you don’t want it.  Watch out for yellow ones that might appear (most are from seeds blown in from the neighbor to the north’s garden…) Remove any yellow ones you see or they will out-compete the white ones.

There are a number of Brunneras, particularly in the beds closest to the pines.  They have pretty forget-me-not blue flowers in spring at the same time as the white redbud tree blooms.  It’s a very pretty combination (see picture below – this is from 2008 so the tree is more substantial now.  Redbuds are not very hardy so there may be winterkill – in spring 2015 there was extensive winterkill that needed to be pruned off.  The tree survived though and, while it did not bloom in 2015, was looking good again by the end of the summer.)  But the brunnera also seed around – and crossbreed freely!  Watch out for seedlings, particularly in the paths closest to the pines.  Remove the seedlings.  The silver ones can be attractive but many are not ‘true’ to their ‘Jack Frost’ parent.  You may want to keep some of the seedlings with attractive foliage.  Some particularly large-leafed very silver seedlings appeared in late 2014 amongst the ‘Branford  Beauty’ ferns to the north of the shed.  The original brunneras there almost completely died out in the brutal winter of 2013/2014.  The very silver, large seedlings thrived in 2015.

backyard Jack Frost seedjing Aug 27 2015-1







The main thing to watch out for in these beds is ash tree seedlings!  Learn to recognize then at the seed-leaf stage and remove them as soon as you see them.  Once they get their true leaves, they rapidly develop a deep tap root and are difficult to remove.  Neglect of tree seedling weeding would soon turn the backyard garden into a forest of ash tree seedlings!  Fortunately, the seedling are easy to recognize and a daily walk around the garden in spring and early summer, keeping an eye out for the seedlings and pulling any you see is all it takes to keep them under control.  Since it’s a pleasure to walk around and see what is developing, the weeding is not an onerous chore.

  • Woodland under the pines

This is a difficult area to garden in (and take pictures of – too dark…) because it is very dry and shady.  It takes a very heavy rain in summer to penetrate the pine tree canopy.  Soaker hoses were used to establish initial plantings but have not been used in a number of years and the last of them were removed in spring 2014.  A few bits of them may appear when you dig in this area since hoses under the pines were gradually been buried by the annual fall ‘needlecast’ when the pines drop their 2-year-old needles each year in late October.  In spring the pines replace those needles with a new growth of needles.

The bank against the fence is particularly dry so finding what will grow there has been a continuing process of trial-and-error.   I first hoped to be able to grow rhododendrons there.  They struggled for several years before I gave up and gave them to the neighbor to the north in exchange for some seedling Japanese maples.  A couple of the  baby Japanese maples have survived for quite a few years but have started to decline in the past two years..  Some blue hostas are hanging on at the top of the bank.  Apparently the green hostas do better than the blue ones in low light so I may replace some of the blue ones with divisions of some of the green ones from elsewhere in the garden to see if they do better than the blue ones in the light conditions of the bank.

A Prosartes trachycarpum (a wild Fairybells) popped up on its own on the side of the bank and has been left to grow – and hopefully spread.  Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is also establishing in a couple of places on the top of the bank, as are some Trillium grandiflorums.  Both of those are spring ephemerals that will disappear after flowering. Solomon’s Seal has been doing well with hostas in a nearby area so I had added more of those along the bank.  It is related to the Fairybells so they both seem adapted to the tough conditions.  Unfortunately, in the past two years Solomon’s Seal has been struck by a nasty leaf miner insect by mid summer, which shreds the leaves and turns them yellow.  At the first signs of it, I now cut all affected stems down to the ground and discard in the garbage (do not compost them!)  I fear that, eventually, all the Solomon’s Seal may need removing from the garden!

In past years I grew Golden Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) in pots on the patio and transplanted it into the bank in the fall.   They survived surprisingly well for a few years, although they struggled to deal with the dry conditions – and nibbling by our small poodle! But, in 2015, they had largely given up the ghost 😦  In 2010 I added a ‘Sum and Substance’ large golden-green hosta near the beginning on the path under the pines on the shed end.  Since a golden path to light up under the pines appeals to me. I added some gold-leafed evergreen euonymus along the fence on the bank  in spring 2011 to see how they do.  I also added a couple of small Japanese maples and a couple of perennials with golden-green foliage, particularly Golden Japanese Forestgrass and bright green heucheras.  The heucheras did not managed to survive more than a year and the other plantings, aside from the golden Full Moon Japanese maple and the S&S hostas, have not done well.

looking into gold corner July 10 2013-1In 2013 I added  ‘Prairie Fire’ and  ‘Golden Shadow’ dogwoods,  Hinoki False Cypress ‘Verdoni’, ‘Golden Dreams’ boxwood for their bright green foliage.  The brutally cold, relatively dry 2013/2014 winter killed the ‘Verdoni’, and the ‘Golden Dreams’.  The dogwoods survived with some damage but have continued to decline since.  Severe cold spells in mid-Feb. 2015 reduced the dogwoods to a few surviving twigs.  So I’ve given up on my golden path!

The areas outside/approaching the golden path area have developed a silvery theme – silver-foliaged plants, green and white or blue and white variegated plants, and white or lilac/lavender-colored flowers carry the silver theme.   Since there was a green and white variegated ‘Wolf Eyes’ dogwood and a blue and creamy white variegated hosta in the gold area, the two color themes seemed to bled well together.Persicaria by pines July 6 2013-1silver to golden path July 25 2013-1  The vast majority of the ‘Jack Frost’ brunnera visible in the pictures above did not survive the winter of 2013/2014.  Since the silvery ‘Branford beauty’ ferns (Athyrium ‘Branford Beauty’) added to the garden in 2013 did survive, more were added to the area where the brunnera died out to continue the silvery theme.  By late summer 2014 a few silvery-leafed brunnera had reappeared in the area – obviously from seed.  The most silver of the seedlings were retained and have, so far, proven to be large, showy plants.  Unfortunately the ‘Wolf Eyes’ variegated dogwood was badly damaged in the winter 2013/2014.  By spring 2016 it died completely which was a significant loss for the look of that area.

The main groundcover under the pines has been Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum).  It is a vigorous spreader and may need to be pulled back off the paths every few years.  You can usually just run a flat-bladed tool, such as a crack weeder, under the shallow roots in spring and then just roll up the mass of plants like a carpet until they are clear of the path.  Unfortunately, much of it died out in the brutal winter of 2013/2014.  Some has returned – either from seed or a few surviving remnants.  I’m still waiting to see if it will recover further or whether I need to find a new groundcover for under there. There are also a number of trilliums and some small bulbs that will appear in spring.  Just leave them alone to flower and spread as they like.  They are all ephemerals that will die to the ground after flowering.

There is, however, some lily-of-the-valley that appears sometimes.  If you see any, remove them as they would soon spread and choke out everything else.  While the flowers are nicely scented, they are otherwise thug plants that are generally unattractive – especially when dying back in late summer.

There is climbing hydrangea on the north fence under the pines. It struggles but is surviving.  Since it can’t use its rootlets on the fence, it needs to be tied in.  It had it’s first flowers in 2015.

There are a number of perennials and shrubs towards the lawn edge of this area.  All of them can be largely left to their own devices, although you may need to prune off branches that start overhanging the path edges.

In fall, after the needlecast in late October, rake the pine needles off the paths and onto the plants under the pines.  The needles make a good mulch and the plants have no problems coming up through them in the spring.  Some of the needles can be used to mulch the patio hosta bed to help discourage snails.

dead pine Dec 17 2015-1In Spring 2015 we noticed that one of the pines on the north side was dead.  There are a couple of relatively spindly ones there.  We suspect in may have died in the winter of 2013/2014 – and we just didn’t notice!  We had it removed in late fall 2015.  Since it was relatively spindly for a number of years, its removal hasn’t changed the garden conditions much in that location.  Since we greatly enjoyed the ‘Wolf Eyes’ variegated dogwood that died on the south end of this area and wanted another one, in spring 2016 we planted one by the stump of the dead pine.  Hopefully the stump will serve as a ‘nurse log’ for the young dogwood, soaking up moisture and releasing nutrients and moisture to aid the dogwood as the pine stump breaks down. mystery-lily-with-wolf-eyes-june-28-2016-1 In the same area a mystery lily appeared in 2015.  As it developed in 2016 it revealed itself as a Martagon lily!  We have no idea where it came from as we’ve never planted one!  We like it though and hope it will seed around.  I do wish, though, that it was a white one instead of pink as white would be a better companion to the variegated dogwood.  I may decide to add a white Martagon  to the area.



  •   Shed area

When/if the shed needs repainting and you want to use the same colors; all colors are Benjamin Moore, Aura exterior latex.  The door has a semi gloss finish; the rest are low luster.  BM 666 Bonsai – door, door plus door and window trim; BM 489 Oak Grove – walls; BM 488 Mountain Lane – top and corner trim.  .

The Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Blushing Bride’ that flank the shed door bloom on both old and new wood so can be pruned in spring without fearing loss of flowers.  They will need to be pruned down to 18-24” in spring or they will get too big for the space.  When they flower in summer, they will continue to flower if deadheaded/flowers cut to bring into the house.

There had been Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) spilling over the log edge of the bed on the north side of the shed.  Most of it did not survive the winter of 2013/2014.  A few ‘Branford Beauty’ ferns were added to the area where the candytuft died.   On the south side of the shed, Marsh Marigolds (Caltha palustris) bloom vivid yellow in spring under the pussy willow tree.  They then go completely dormant for the summer, leaving that area bare.  I have added a few running tiarellas in hopes that they may eventually cover the bare ground after the Marsh Marigolds go dormant.

In the summer 2015 I noticed that the old pusssy willow on the south side of the shed had areas where the wood was rotting.  We decided to have it taken down at the same time as the dead pine was removed.

removing pussy willow Dec 17 2015-1

pussy willow gone Dec 17 2015-1








In 2016 we moved an ‘Empress Wu’ hosta empress-wu-july-15-2016-1to beside the willow stump.  This large hosta should eventually cover most of the bare ground after the Marsh Marigolds go dormant.  The willow stump produces spouts in places so they need to be removed every couple of weeks.

Watch out for garlic mustard weeds and buckthorn tree seedlings.  Both of these are persistent and noxious weed problems and they must be removed as soon as you see them so they don’t have a chance to get established.

There are a number of trees and shrubs around the shed.  As they mature, the shed should increasingly fade into the background of the garden.  Please note that the purple-leafed tree on the north side of the shed, not too far from the fence, with white spring flower clusters followed by red berries is a chokecherry (Prunus virginiana).  The flesh of the fruit is edible – but the seeds are poisonous, as are all other parts of the tree!    In front of the shed on the right is a Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa).  It was moved to that location from a shadier spot.  It is weak and has not recovered well from the move, although it is beginning to get stronger.

As with elsewhere in the garden, minimal clean-up is required in spring and fall as fallen leaves and the previous year’s dead foliage can/should be left to compost in place and feed the woodland soil.  There is a Persicaria polymorpha on the north side of the shed and it can be cut down in the fall as the dead stems can uproot part of the plant when they fall over.  There had been a flowering raspberries (Rubus odoratus) on the north side.  It suckeed and spread too much and has been largely removed.  Any remaining suckers that appear should be removed . There are several hydrangeas in the shed area.  All can/should be pruned to control size in the spring.

The compost heap behind the shed is divided into two piles.  Add material to one pile one year while applying the finished compost from the other to the garden.  In spring the following year, fork the top 6” or so (which will not have composted completely) of the other compost pile into the empty space where the compost that was used in the garden in the prior year was located.  Add new material to this pile this year and apply the finished compost from the other side to the garden.  If you alternate the use of the piles in this way, you will have a ready supply of finished compost with the least work, while always having a place to add new material to be composted.

  •   Woodland South side a.k.a. the oak garden

The young red oak that was a scrawny little thing when we bought this property in 1999 is now quite a substantial tree that will continue to increase in size for a number of years.  It takes oaks in the range of 25 years to mature enough to produce acorns – this one started producing acorns around 2005.  So far, the squirrels diligently harvest the complete crop and all we’ve seen are shell fragments!  Since the shape of the acorns is distinctive between oak species, an intact acorn would be useful to determine exactly which species of red oak this tree is – Northern Red Oak is our best guess, but we’re not completely sure.

Oaks are ‘garden friendly’ large trees because, while they cast substantial shade, their roots do not form dense masses that out-compete anything planted under them for moisture and nutrients.  The leaves, while large, do not form thick mats when they fall so don’t smother plants beneath them.  About 1/3 of the leaves actually stay on the tree through the winter, only dropping off in late winter-early spring when the current year’s growth pushes off the old leaves.  The last leaves to come down in spring tend to accumulate in the south alley.  A spring chore is to suck them up with a mulching leaf-blower and spread the resulting chopped leaves on the south alley beds.  Leaves that fall into the beds under the tree itself are left in place to act as mulch and compost in place.

The oak puts on a surprisingly vivid fall show, best seen through the living room window.  The color starts off slow and then seems to complete the change overnight.  You walk into the living room one morning and it looks like there’s a fire outside – especially if it’s also a brilliantly sunny October day.

Buckthorn seedlings are a problem in this area too, so watch out for those and remove them promptly as soon as they appear.

We’ve been encouraging trilliums to colonize this area.  There are both red ones (in the section closest to the shed) red trilliums May 10 2014-1and white ones (largest colony around the dead apple tree).White trilliums May 10 2014-1  The white ones are most common and are now spreading by both offsets to the underground bulbs and seedlings. It can take 5+ years for the seedlings to bloom.  Be careful not to accidentally weed out the seedlings!  Until they get their first true leaves, they only have one leaf instead of three.  If you find small ‘weeds’ near a mature trillium, they are likely to be seedlings.  Look closely to see if any have three leaves yet which would confirm they are trilliums.  If in doubt, leave them be until the next year!.  In order for the trilliums to thrive, as usual for all the woodland beds, let fallen leaves accumulate undisturbed and rot down naturally.  Do not disturb the soil unnecessarily.  Do not water when they are summer dormant.  If you need to water a new planting in the garden in the summer, spot water that plant instead of putting a sprinkler on the whole bed.  (Soaker hoses were originally used to get these beds established but the last of the hoses were removed in 2014).  The dead apple tree fell over in 2013 and was left in the bed as a ‘nurse log’.   Christmas and Holly ferns were planted near it to provide cover for the trilliums after they go dormant.The dead tree will act to trap moisture and, as it rots, it will feed the plants growing near it.  The reward for allowing the natural accumulation of leaf litter and dead plant material is a thriving colony of trilliums, a beautiful native plant (the floral emblem of Ontario) with a reputation of being difficult to grow.

Across the path from the dead apple tree, there are a couple of hydrangeas.  One is an Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), which blooms on ‘old wood’ (previous years’ growth) so should not be cut back.  If, after the leaf buds start emerging, you can see tip die-back (i.e. the ends of the branches are dead/black), you can cut the dead parts off.  Beside/entangled with the oakleaf hydrangea is a Hydrangea arborescens ‘White Dome’, which blooms on ‘new wood’ (current year’s growth).  This one can/should be cut back quite hard as it can be quite leggy/floppy if left unpruned.  It has lighter colored, less woody stems so it should be easy to distinguish from the oakleaf one.  If you are unsure which is which, wait until some leaves emerge – the oakleaf one, as its name says, has leaves that look like oak leaves.  Leave that one alone and cut the other one back to 18” or so.  There are a couple of other hydrangeas in these beds.  They are ‘new wood’ bloomers and can be cut back (but not too far) or left alone to get bigger.  It may be best to leave them alone until you are sure where they are (easy to find them when they bloom!) and decide how big you want them to get.  That pesky weed Garlic Mustard has managed to get itself established near the oakleaf hydrangea, so keep an eye out for it and remove any you see.

There are a number of spring ephemerals (plants that go dormant after they bloom in early spring) in these beds – spring bulbs, trilliums, Marsh Marigolds, and Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica).  Do not be concerned when these plants appear to ‘die’.  The Bluebells are the most obvious when they’re dying back.  They will return next spring and emerging perennials will quickly hide the dying foliage.  The Bluebells seed around a fair bit and you will probably want to remove some of them from time to time.  When they start going dormant, dig out and compost any excess.  There are also forget-me-nots in a few places in these beds.  They are biennial – produce leaves in year 1 and flowers in May in year 2, set seed and die in July.  When you notice the foliage starts to blacken and look messy, rip it out and discard it.  Seedlings will pop up nearby to flower the next spring – so they can appear to be perennial.

There is a fair bit of Solomon’s Seal in these beds, especially in the area adjacent to the lawn.  It’s a beautiful native plant with pretty dangling white spring flowers.  The arching foliage is attractive all summer and then turns a lovely clear yellow in the fall.  As noted previously, Solomon’s Seal is now being attacked by a leaf-mining insect that destroys the leaves starting in mid-summer.  Cut any damaged stems to the ground and discard them in the garbage (do not compost them!)  When the clumps get too big, sections can be dug out in spring just as the new spears are emerging.  Replant elsewhere in the garden, give it away or compost it as needs dictate.

ash next coor Nov 3 2015-1There is a  Saskatioonberry shrub on the south side at the top end.  It generally does not get enough sun to fruit well but it’s an attractive shrub with nice fall color.  The neighbour’s dead ash across the fence was removed in Fall 2015.  That may possibly increase the light level enough to improve fruiting.  The shrub suckers a fair bit and I remove most of the suckers.

There are a number of columbines through the beds, particularly on the south side nearest the fence.  Once they’ve finished blooming and are starting to look ratty, they can be cut to the ground.  Fresh foliage will regrow from the base.  It is best to let some set seed and scatter the seed since they can be short-lived plants.  The dwarf Korean goatsbeard (Aruncus aethusifolius) at the top near the path along the back of the house has white flower spikes, turning brown in July.  Deadhead them to prevent excessive seeding.  There are a couple of large shrub-like perennials – Persicaria polymorpha – that have white plumes of flowers in summer. Cut the stalks down to the ground in the fall (the tall stems can uproot the plant if they are left in place and get blown over in late fall.)  The rest of the perennials can be largely ignored during the growing season.  In very early spring, remove any woody-looking stalks of prior year’s growth that did not deteriorate over the winter.  There is no need to cut back anything other than the Persicarias in the fall as the woodland garden needs the dead organic matter to produce healthy woodland soil.

So, while the beds around the oak are large and full of plants, they do not require a lot of care or maintenance.

  •   Wet corner

The ‘wet corner’ garden is the southwest corner of the property, bounded by the chainlink property-line fences on the south and west sides, the shed on the north side and the path along the bottom of the oak garden on the east side.  There is a short ornamental iron fence on the path edge – this can be removed if you like.  The fence was originally installed to keep our late-lamented Golden Retriever out of this area which is a muddy bog in spring.  (While she could have easily stepped over the fence, she recognized it as a no-go sign and never crossed over…)  The ‘wet corner’ is the low point of the properties that meet in that corner.  Snow melt and spring rains mean that area is virtually a bog in spring – you cannot dig a hole without it immediately filling with water!  It dries out later in the summer when summer drought arrives.  So, plants in this area need to be able to tolerate both wet feet in winter and spring, and drought in summer.

Ostrich ferns are a perfect fit – too perfect!  There is a spreading mass of them in the corner. ostrich ferns in wet corner June 2014-1 You need to remove some each spring to keep them confined to the corner area or they will spread out to block the path.  There is a large goatsbeard at the back fence, near the ostrich ferns.  It makes a nice combination with the ferns.  The fading flowers become unattractive when they start to turn brown so need to be deadheaded at that point.  Hydrangeas are also doing well on the side closest to the shed.  With the exception of the variegated one (which is marginally hardy and is struggling to survive….), they should be cut back in spring only to control size and remove any dried flowers that remained on the plant all winter. They will bloom on both ‘old’ and ‘new’ wood and will bloom all season if kept deadheaded.   Only remove winter-killed parts of the stems on the variegated one.

kirengeshoma patch Aug 3 2010-1 kirengeshomaAug 3 2010-1An attractive and somewhat unusual plant in the wet corner is the colony of Kirengshomas.  It is a spreading collection of somewhat maple-like foliage that produces tall spires of pale yellow dangling bells in late summer (common name – yellow waxy bells.)

As usual in the woodland garden, let all the leaf litter and previous year’s perennial growth die back and compost in place.  Watch out for Buckthorn seedlings, Garlic Mustard weeds and Wood Sorrel and remove immediately.

Transition spaces; North Alley

North Alley

The north alley garden includes the plants  on and near the copper fence; the vines on the chainlink fence; the beds that run down either side of the path down the center of the alley; and the dogwood tree that marks the end of the north alley beds..  Note that both the south and north alley gates are ‘see through’.  North alley July 4 2014-1The alley gardens are transition spaces between the sunny front garden and the shady back garden.  I wanted the spaces to have a smooth transition.  The gates serve as barriers to keep the dogs confined to the backyard, but allow the visual flow of the garden to continue without too much interruption.  The plantings in the alleys consist of both sun and shade plants, repeating some of the plants that appear in both the larger gardens that they connect.

The bed against the house has very difficult conditions since it is in the ‘rain shadow’ of the roof overhang and is very dry.  The ’Beacon Silver’ Lamium that was the original primary groundcover for that side suffered badly during the dry winter of 2009-2010.  north alley May 25 2013-1White corydalis (Corydalis ochroleuca) has seeded into the area and has taken over as the primary groundcover.  Columbine seeds freely in the bed.  Other perennials include ‘Jack Frost’ brunnera, Solomon’s Seal, and Eupatorium ‘Chocolate’ (which is late to come up in spring but blooms in October for a nice show as the garden season ends.)  Deadhead the ‘Jack Frost’ to limit seeding; deadhead and cut back columbine as described elsewhere in this manual; cut down the old foliage of the Eupatorium in spring along with general clean-up of any tough old foliage stems in the area; the Solomon’s Seal used to need little to no care other than cutting down in spring (or fall if you prefer).  Unfortunately, beginning in 2014 a sawfly pest started attacking the leaves of Solomon’s Seal throughout the garden, starting in this area.  If this continues to be a problem, the Solomon’s Seal may need to be removed – at this point I have been cutting down and discarding into the garbage all the foliage at the first signs of damage.  By the back porch there is a clump of Dwarf Korrean goatsbeard.  It has spikes of white flowers in early summer.  It will seed prolifically if not deadheaded, so be sure to deadhead that one!

The screen air conditioner front view-1around the air conditioner is sufficiently transparent to air flow that it does not interfere with the functioning of the air conditioner.  The screen is resting on 4 paving stones and can be easily lifted and moved out of the way when access to the air conditioner is required.  The original finish north alley June 7 2014-1– stain and several coats of exterior grade verathane – cracked and peeled.  In 2011, we sanded the wooden supports for the screen, and painted them  in the ‘Bonsai’ dark olive green color to match the shed door and window trim.  In 2016 we replaced the air conditioner – and forgot to check the dimensions of the new one before committing to buy it – it is taller than the old one!  taller-ac-oct-6-2016-1So, we need to modify the screen to make it taller….  a winter chore for 2017!


The dogwood tree at the end of the alley appeared to be in a bit too much shade from the ash to bloom really well.  It bloomed best on the side facing the neighbor presumably because it gets more light on that side.  The amount of flowering wood has been increasing each year though.  In 2015 it bloomed really well and we finally realized that the tree just had to reach a degree of maturity before it hit its stride with respect to blooming!patio and dogwood June 22 2015-1  Fall color is a nice purple-red.  As the tree has matured, it has started developing peeling bark – don’t assume peeling bark means the tree is in trouble!  Because there is not much room at the end of the alley, the tree needs to have branches pruned off from time to time to prevent it from blocking passage down the lower end of the alley path.

The narrow bed against the chainlink fence is dominated by columbines, with a mix of other perennials.  Near the patio, the downspout from the eavestrough runs under the path and resurfaces  at the fence.  Since the neighbour’s eavestrough also discharges near there, the area has good moisture so water-loving Astilboides tabularis, looking up the north alley June 11 2013-1which has enormous round leaves (Shieldleaf is its common name…) and spires of fluffy white flowers in July (although the leaves are the main reason to grow it…), thrives there. Since the neighbour’s grass grows right up to the fence, grass can easily invade this bed.  An important part of spring clean-up is to check for grass that has grown under the fence.  Dig out any you see.  Periodically check for grass invasion during the summer and fall as well.  The columbine should be cut down after it has had a chance to ripen and drop some seeds to keep the population of columbine going.  Other than a general clean-up of old stems in the spring, the rest of perennials in this area do not need much care.

The copper fence and chainlink fence have been north alley fence outside July 9 2014-1clothed in clematis and honeysuckle vines.  Until the clematis got established, there were annual  Morning Glories on the copper fence and east end of the chainlink fence.  Now that the clematis are well established, I have been trying to eliminate the Morning glories so have been removing as many seedlings as possible in spring.  The clematises on the fences are all of the Group 3 – hard prune type which can be cut down to 12” or so in the spring – but I just cut them down to the top of the chainlink fence if I cut them down at all.  Originally, ‘Jackmani Superba’ was the primary clematis on the copper fence.  ‘Huldine’ and ‘Betty Corning’ were added over the years.  Both are very vigorous so the three varieties now compete for the space!

north alley clematis July 16 2015-1

Until 2014 there had been a beautiful, very vigorous, white-flowered, ‘Sweet Autumn’ clematis on the section of the fence near the patio.  The brutal winter of 2013/2014 killed it completely!  Some stems of the ‘Harlequin’ honeysuckle that had been smothered by the clematis were still alive so I’m waiting to see how they do before deciding what to plant in the place of the dead clematis.

The other honeysuckle growing on the chainlink fence is a Late Dutch honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) which coordinates nicely with the neighbours’ roses across the fence!.  late Ductch honeysuckle and Becky's roses-1The Dutch honeysuckle is doing well and we added ‘Issai’ kiwi and a male pollinator kiwi in spring 2014.  At this point the maintenance requirement for those are uncertain – I’m waiting to see how well they survive and, how vigorous they will be.

In February 2016 a coyote came over the fence and had a confrontation with our miniature poodle – luckily DH chased it off before any damage was done.  But that prompted us to raise the height of the chainlink fences to 6′ by adding hardware cloth supported by black plastic plumbing pipes.  They may need replacing by something sturdier by – so far at least – have acted as a deterrent to the coyotes as well as supporting the vines that grow on the fence.   An unexpected clematis unknown-clematis-north-alley-july-11-2016-1
popped up on the fence in the summer of 2016 – we assume it is a seedling that reverted to an ancestor, since we didn’t plant it!  The color will work better further down the fence, paired with the honeysuckle, so it is scheduled to be moved in spring 2017.  kiwi-pink-leaves-june-18-2016-1The male pollinator kiwi plant
had nice variegated leaves in 2016.  Maintenance for the kiwis (no fruit produced yet…) is still an open issue.

The path surface in the alley should be refreshed every 3-4 years as with all the garden paths.


Transition spaces; South Sideyard and South Alley Garden

South Sideyard and South Alley

This area consists of two spaces – the south-facing wall of the kitchen and dining rooms, and the narrow alley between the neighbor’s wooden fence and the pantry and office wall of the house.  The arbour and gate divides and links the two spaces.

In mid-late May this area has a colorful lilac-pink floral display consisting of a dwarf lilac (‘Palibin’ ?), ‘Nelly Moser’ (? – not 100% sure of the variety…)  clematis and a large lilac tree/shrub against the chimney South alley gate June 7 2013-1(not seen in this picture ).  If the previous winter has been mild, a pink Clematis montana  joins in the show.  In 2010 we did a major renovation of the vine plantings on the arbour.  Some other early flowering clematises are starting to join the show but have not yet reached maturity so are still small players.  The clematis in the picture grows into the mockorange under the kitchen window.  This clematis should not be cut back in spring.  When the mockorange needs pruning, ideally wait until after the clematis has finished flowering to avoid damaging the current year’s flower display – in late July we usually prune out the mockorange stems that have flowered in the current year, which keeps the mockorange in shape and minimizes damage to the clematis.

On the lattice that encloses the lift tower at the corner of the house, there was another showy clematis, The President’, that bloomed in June. (The color is a more deep blue than in the picture – blue is hard to get an accurate picture of!) It needed little to no pruning and is generally trouble-free.  In 2010, though, it suffered from clematis wilt for the first time ever. Several dry, almost snowless winters followed, causing great drought-stress for the vine.  Since this clematis’ roots are under the roof overhang it is growing in dry conditions at the best of times.  The clematis was barely hanging on by late summer 2013.  After the brutal winter of 2013/2014 only  one weak stem remained.  We replanted ‘The President’ and added ‘Saphyra Indigo’  to both the front and back panels around the front porch lift.  Due to the dry conditions there, these clematises need frequent watering..

The large lilac against the chimney wall produces several root suckers each year.  They are easily identified – they are very straight, bare sticks arising in the root zone.  Remove any you see by cutting them off at ground level.  The lilac is most attractive when kept to a tree form (two main trunks in this case.)  After it blooms in the spring, it should be deadheaded (the long-arm pruners are helpful for this!)  Since next year’s flowerbuds are set early, at the base of where the current year’s flowers are, be careful to not cut too far down the stem when deadheading.  In 2014 the lilac got a severe ‘haircut’ to shorten it as we were concerned that it might provide access to the attic space by raccoons that have been assaulting attic spaces in the neighbourhood!  Some reshaping pruning may need to be done in subsequent years.

The dwarf lilac usually doesn’t get as much deadheading as it should!  In addition to its Spring bloom, it will also produce a few flowers in late summer usually.  This lilac suckers freely and had become a crowed clump.  In late summer 2015 I pruned out under Koreah lilac Dec 14 2015-1many stems to give space for the ‘Beacon Silver’ lamium groundcover to recover, and I added a ‘Magnum’ heuchera for additional (foliage) color.  (see picture from Dec. 2015)  More mamium may need to be planted in 2016 if the remnants do not recover!

A chronic problem in this area is water from the eavestrough near the hydro meter washing out the path all the way through the alley.  We have tried several approaches to breaking the force/slowing it down/controlling it.  What has worked best initially was the rain barrel we installed in spring 2010.  The overflow pipe is directed into another pipe buried and running diagonally across the path, under the left (south) side of the arbour and exiting into an open trench running down the length of the alley between the wooden fence and the clematises on that side.  The drain tap for the rain barrel was attached to a garden hose that ran along the side of the house and connected to a soaker hose running down the house side of the alley.  Setting up and taking town the rain barrell each spring and fall became a bit of a PITA, plus it overflowed a lot.  So in 2015 we replaced the rain barrell by attaching a 4″ perforated drain pipe attached to the downspout with an elbow connector.  The pipe runs through the bed and down to the house site of the gate – so any remaining water can flow into the bed along the house in the alley section.  The pipe is visible when plant foliage has died back but it quickly hidden when the plants start growing in spring.  In the winter we direct the large pipe across the path so the water drains to the grass.  However, it is unsightly and blocks easy access to the gate.  Eventually we’ll probably need to bite the bullet and put in proper buried drainage pipe to carry the water to the front ditch.  That’s not a project we want to undertake at the moment, so we live with the temporary winter fix for now. 

There are a number of perennials in the bed along the house.  They do not need much care other than deadheading as the flowers fade.  There is a nice, deep red, hardy hibiscus that gets quite tall, so should either be pinched back in June or staked for support (there is likely a support stake in the ground…)   There is a Baptisia in the bed which is starting to encroach on the path.  We plan to remove it in 2016 and may replace some of the other perennials with alpine strawberries, which would be left to spread (by seeding) to create an edible groundcover!  The path needs to have the bark mulch/sand topping refreshed every 3-4 years along with the rest of the paths.  And the path should have the intersection with the grass edged in spring as per the discussion under Paths, elsewhere in this manual.

The arbour, and the swag chains down the alley, used to be covered with ‘New Dawn’ roses.  The roses were beautiful but VERY thorny and vigorous!  In 2010 we removed most of the roses and replaced them with clematises.  There was a cane of the rose on the house side that had rounded the corner to grow into the mockorange.  We liked the combination so left that cane of the rose.  However, in 2011, we found the remaining rose cane to be too much work to maintain so removed it in the fall. There may be some growth return from roots still in the ground, so and rose growth that appears should be removed.

In 2010 a number of clematises were planted in the alley with the intent that they will grow up and onto the swag chains.  They were planted with the intention that the color scheme should be pale pink and pale blue on the arbourSouth alley gate July 18 2014-1 in spring to coordinate with the lilac bloom, then to be dark purple and dark red on the arbour, South gate arbour July 18 2014-1shading through pink to white, then shades of blue to dark purple at the far end of the alley.  Gillian Blades south alley June 18 2014-1For specific varieties planted, see list in the south alley section of the plant tag binders.  I have found clematises to be frequently mislabeled.  A number of the clematises turned out to be not what they were supposed to be, but most – fortunately – turned out to be in more-or-less the right color range for their location!

The clematises include all three pruning groups in order to provide a longer season of color.  While it is generally recommended NOT to mix pruning groups, in my experience they all do quite nicely if left more or less unpruned.  I only prune unruly growth or winterkilled bits.  So the maintenance of the clematises in the alley is a bit of a continuing south alley wall July 17 2014-1experiment.  The priority now is to get them tall enough to reach the swag chains – some are still too short.  There are several bamboo canes placed along the alley to give them something to latch onto to climb to the chains.  By 2013 some of the clematises were struggling after a couple of dry winters and hot, dry summers.  But some were doing well – especially ‘Galore’ which lives up to its name by producing flowers galore, making for a very purple alley in July!

At the end of the south alley, on the fence side there has been a VERY vigorous small-flowered clematis – ‘Paul Farges’ a.k.a. ‘Summer Snow’ that blooms in July.  There are conflicting opinions in reputable horticultural sources as to how this one should be pruned to maximize flowers – a lot of sources say to cut it down hard, but some say it blooms best on ‘old wood’.  My experience is that it needs some of the old wood but blooms on both new and old wood.  What I did is in late April, strip off all the small stems, leaving a few of the thicker old stems to provide a framework for the new growth to get started.  I also cut some of the older stems down, either to the ground or to the top of the chainlink fence.  Since the stems grow up and over the fences, in Spring you need to pull a lot of the stems back from the neighbour’s side.  The neighbour has a nice purple Jackmani clematis that grows up and over the fence from their side.  The two clematises mingle and bloom together nicely.

It doesn’t take long for the ‘Paul Farges’ to be densely covered in new growth and you will need to regularly cut back stems in the summer that are growing out over the paths in the area.  In 2010 for the first time, I noticed a fair number of seedling clematis in the areas around the end of the south alley.  By 2015 I was getting concerned about the excessive vigor of this clematis and it is on the ‘remove’ list for 2016!







There is also a ‘Ramona’Ramona June 4 2010-1 clematis that grows on the chainlink fence just past where the ‘Paul Farges’ ends.  That one needs little to no pruning.  The brutal winter of 2013/2014 hit both the clematises hard – much of the old growth died and neither flowered.  ‘Ramona’ may need to be replaced in 2016 as it did not do well in 2015.  .

On the house side at the end of the south alley is a ‘Tricolor’ Rose of Sharon.  (Tricolor because it is one that had three different colors grafted onto one plant.)  The double purple-pink has mostly taken over.Since Rose of Sharon can get to be a large shrub, it would be too big for the space unless it is kept pruned to be a more-or-less 2-dimensional thing grown flat to the house.  Since Rose of Sharon is a ‘new wood’ bloomer, it is easy to prune it in Spring without worrying about loss of flowers.  In Spring, prune out any stems that are growing out towards the path.  Since it is growing near the last support post for the swag chains, and because the flowers look a lot like roses, in 2010 I flipped the long branches of the Rose of Sharon onto the swag chains.  I thought it looked quite attractive so will continue to do that. 

The Rose of Sharon is a vigorous grower, so it is one that gets subjected to the ‘whack it back when it gets in your way’ pruning approach.  Don’t hesitate to cut back stems that are growing towards the path whenever you are walking past, regardless of the time of year.  The nearby ‘Galore’ clematis has begun to overun the Rose of Sharon.  When the clematis finishes blooming, remove the stems that are smothering the Rose of Sharon.

The rest of the plantings in the south alley are easy-care.  There are some potentilla shrubs on the house side that should have 1/3 of the stems removed in spring.  The ferns on the fence side need little to no care other than perhaps tidying up the previous year’s dead foliage in spring.  Deadhead the coneflowers on the house side in summer as the flowers fade.  In spring when the oak tree sheds the leaves it has carried through the winter, the fallen leaves tend to collect in the south alley.  Chop them with a mulching leaf blower and spread the chopped leaves on the beds in the alley.  (If you don’t have a leaf blower, rake the leaves up and chop them with the lawn mower…)

As mentioned in the north alley section of this document, the local coyotes have become a concern re entering the garden.  A friend’s large collie mix that we dog-sit often also started jumping the south fence to play with the dog in the neighbours’ yard.  She also jumped the through the south alley gate to exit our yard!  The combination of those two concerns led us to do two things:

  • we used copper pipes to build an insert into the gate to prevent Inky from jumping out – and coyotes from jumping in!south gate Inky-proofed-1gate insert July 18 2015-1







  • we used chicken wire and poles to raise the height of the fence to deter Inky from jumping into the next yard. Inky fence-1 That has worked well – and we hope it will keep the coyotes out too, so intend to do something similar on the north and west sides in 2016 using wire ‘hardware cloth’ to try to give it a neater look.  We will need to rework or replace the chicken wire barrier in 2016 to improve the appearance!