Monday, August 15, 2011

Some Pics of my Cottage Garden

Just for fun, I'm posting some pics of my cottage garden because some readers have asked (southern Ontario, Canada, Zone 5b). It's very full and very closely-planted, but there are gravel paths separating the beds. It's a square garden set out in four quadrants with a 3-foot wide border all the way around. It's filled with all the romantic flora I love – roses, perennials, flowering shrubs and herbs like sage, lavender and creeping thyme which is creepy enough to pop up in the walkways.

This was uncultivated farmland when we bought it. There was never a house or garden here, and the garden grew out of pasture and meadow that I am forever trying to tame. But you can't tame the wild, as it turns out. You can only make lemonade and convince yourself there is beauty in the chaos. When we put a stop the neighbour's cows pasturing on our land, trees began to grow in the meadows and wild places beyond the garden wall and are now thriving.

I began building the stone wall at the back of the garden about 20 years ago. It's just the rubble stone I pulled out of the garden beds. Every spadeful of soil dug out of the beds required effort to get these rocks out and each bed became empty pits because of it – at least 18" deep. I bought a lot of black earth, manure and peat moss to mix with the original clay. But I got a garden out of it as well as a garden wall nearly 4' high,. built over five summers.

I love the "Regal" lily  (right) and one day I'll plant several and have them poke up through a bed of lavender like sentinels. The key to doing that sort of thing is not to shadow the surrounding soil of the lily. The lily dies back to the ground completely and all but disappears in fall. The new growth needs sun.

 There are lots of old roses in the garden, but of the hardier varieties like damasks, albas, centifiolias, gallicas and musk. I can't grow the bourbons or noisettes here, sadly, as they are too tender for my garden.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen

...go out in the mid-day sun, according to Noel Coward.

It's 32 Celsius in the shade today and expected to be this hot for the next several days. The word "sultry" comes to mind. It's a steamy, clothes-clinging, thirst-quenching, wish-I-had-a-pool kind of day, but I suffer through it. I sit on the floor of  the cedar forest, mosquito repellent, suntan lotion, water, and a bundle of large green garbage bags scattered around me. I'm scooping up decades worth of cedar droppings. So far, the garden has taken 36 green garbage bags filled with this natural cedar mulch. By my reckoning another 20 will do it.

This is natural cedar mulch, the real McCoy, not the cedar bark chips gardeners pay a fortune for in the nurseries. And it's not that awful stuff that's been dyed a bright unnatural salmon-red color ... the color that clashes terribly with most flowers when it's not making those flowers invisible. Nope. This is the good stuff and a wonderful gift from nature. Natural. 

Mulch. Gotta love it. 

Trees and Meditation

The forest offers so much more than mulch. It lifts ones' spirits. We think better. Things become clearer. Things that don't matter, no longer matter. A betrayal that once ripped at the soul no longer hurts.  We breathe in life, eliminating all that's negative, to simply enjoy the good and positive things this short moment on earth has to offer, to accept change gracefully and move on. I'm so grateful for this forest and the mystical energy within.

We don't spend enough time with ourselves in our fast-paced existences, time to smell the roses, to walk in the country or to enjoy the beauty that surrounds us. And those moments alone in nature, thinking, meditating, asking for guidance in prayers to loved ones who have passed and then getting those answers are so freeing. Surround yourself with people you love and who truly love you. Be happy in life. Embrace it and cherish it. I wish that for everyone.

It's all about the trees, apparently. According to a study conducted by the University of Illinois, led by Prof Frances Kuo, "Nature calms people and it also helps them rejuvenate."  And according to Tree Canada, "The psychological impact of trees on people’s moods, emotions and enjoyment of their surroundings may in fact be one of the greatest benefits urban forests provide."

I also read some research about oxygen effects of plant life. The closer one is to nature, the cleaner the air, the purer the oxygen levels and the better one feels. So get out there, readers. Take that country walk, that hike through a conservation area, National Park, or botanic garden. Remove yourselves from the concrete jungle at least one day per week for a little rejuvenation and breathe in life.

Trees. Gotta love 'em.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Little Rose Rustling

A Mystery Rose: R. Roxburghii

A couple of years ago I was driving down our country lane and noticed a wild rose clamoring up a tree in a thicket, some canes ten feet or more in length. It appeared to be spreading by its roots. Since it was partly on someone's land and partly roadside I asked the farmer, if I might dig up a few "extensions" to see if they took. They didn't, the ground was rock hard and I wasn't able to get much in the way of root. But this year I took some cuttings ... hopeful.

I went through my ridiculously large collection of rose books, and searched online and it appears to be an undiscovered rose. Couldn't find anything that exactly matches this rose. It closely resembles Rosa roxburghii, but it has narrow/ish pointed leaves, seven to a leaflet. It blooms singularly and/or in clusters of two or three. The blooms are very double and a little shaggy, measuring approximately 1-1/2 inches in diameter, too small for a R. roxburghii. Its very sweet scent, bloom size and appearance reminds me of old roses, but it's not a traditional old rose. The stem is woody and reddish, two thorns just below the leaflets, which is actually typical of R. roxburghii. But it doesn't all fit. The leaf shape and the number of leaves per leaflet is wrong, although I understand not all R. roxburghii leaflets have seven leaves. They can have as many as fourteen.

It probably is a roxburghii type, but I'd love to know for certain.

Rose found in an Ontario, Canada location. Zone 5B

If anyone has any thoughts on this rose, I'd love to read your comments.

Update August 14th 2012,
I'm still interested in knowing the answer to this if anyone knows. 


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What is Rose Proliferation?

...of Mutants, Cold Springs, Genetic Predisposition and Roses

by Lorraine Syratt ©2009 -2011

Some garden roses are prone to proliferation which turns a beautiful flower ugly in its center. Rose proliferation isn't a killer and it can avoided.

The reason for rose proliferation is not fully understood. The effect is usually noticed when a rose bud tries to form within a bloom that has already opened. Often, a stem with unfurling leaves could grow out through the flower with the bud at the end of it. It's a freakish event for the rose lover.

Proliferation in roses has been known for centuries. Botanists of the 18th century called these new buds "childings," due to the symbolism of the mutation.

Rose Virus

Some rosarians believe rose proliferaton is a viral disease that occurs in only certain varieties of roses, but it has been known to happen in all rose types. Old or antique roses are particularly susceptible to the disease.

Rose Genetic Mutation

Rosarians also believe it could be a genetic error or mutation in the reproductive parts of the rose. Not all the flowers on the single rose plant infected may be suffering from proliferation. It could only affect a few or as many as 50% of the flowers.

Spontaneous Rose Proliferation

Rose proliferation can be random. It can happen one year and not the next. This is thought to be a spontaneous genetic mutation as the blooms develop. Rose gardeners argue that it could be due to weather patterns. Hence the randomness. Late frosts in spring after the rose is beginning to unfurl it's leaves and buds can result in proliferation.

In roses that only bloom once in spring, this can be very disappointing to the gardener. But for roses with repeat-flowering habits, the second-flush of flowers is often free of proliferation.

Rose Choices to Avoid Proliferation

While the reason for rose proliferation is still not known for certain, it is known that cold springs and too much nitrogen in the soil can cause problems with both the number of flowers as well as the health of the flower.

Proliferation is a known effect from sudden cold temperatures. Gardeners in colder gardening zones who have proliferation in their roses, should consider planting only the hardiest roses. As more roses are added to the garden, repeat-flowering roses should be considered, including shrub roses and Explorer roses. Avoid any rose that has the word "prolifera" in its name or heritage.

While old or antique roses are known to be hardy, some varieties, especially the gallicas are prone to proliferation. These roses are thought to be predisposed genetically.

 Saving the First Rose Blooms

Proliferation isn't harmful to the rose. It's not being attacked by fungus or insects and it won't die from it. But with roses that only flower once in spring with no repeats, it can be very disheartening. A careful watch can ensure a satisfactory result.

When signs of proliferation appear on the bush, it is best to remove the affected flowers immediately. While the mutations will not destroy the plant, they will divert energy from the remaining healthy flower buds. The spring rose flush could be saved.

Note the roses in the garden that appear to be genetically predisposed to proliferation and give them a later spring pruning, just before the leaves and buds unfurl.

The photos in this article are of the sorry old roses in my own garden. I failed to follow my suggestions. Next year ....

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Down the Primrose Path to the Polyanthus: A Little History of a Little Flower

by Lorraine Syratt ©2010

© Copyright Albert Bridge
licensed for reuse under this
Creative Commons License.
In old England, farmhands and cottage gardeners often collected pretty flora and fauna from the wild to be planted out in their gardens. And the wild yellow primrose of England's mossy woodlands was no exception. The plants were so loved by the cottage gardeners, they took to breeding them, creating numerous varieties. By the 16th century, primroses were being produced with double flowers, thanks to the breeding done by those lowly cottagers.

As trade with other countries grew, so did the movement of plants. And some time in those early days, a pink primrose appeared from the faraway land of Turkey. It was known to early gardeners as "Turkie Purple." Until then, primroses were only bred in cream and yellow shades.

With the pink primula, breeders began to toy with crossing the plant with the cowslip and the result of this cross was the polyanthus. The polyanthus is available today world wide, and in numerous vivid colors and flowering types. It's a cheery plant that will add a bright spot to a dark corner of the garden.

The polyanthus is used to best effect in a woodland garden or a shady location, and is a perfect plant to line a shady path. It is a small plant, only growing to about 10" at most, and it grows best in a zone 4 garden or higher.
Photo by Sue Welsh

Good nurseries and nursery catalogs will have a variety of named polyanthus plants or seeds available. But an online search may reveal specialty nurseries that deal primarily in primroses and polyanthus or woodland plants in general. These specialty nurseries are valuable to gardeners who collect certain varieties of plants. The polyanthus is a plant worth collecting for its range in color variations – a sparkling flower in the garden, even on a dreary day. And it's a beautiful, albeit less-than-subtle choice for growing en masse in a romantic woodland garden or adding even more color to the cottage garden.

To learn how to grow and care for primula and polyanthus, good reference articles are found at  The Garden Helper and the UK site, Countryside Helper. It is illegal these days to remove or transplant primula from the wild in the United Kingdom.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Three Weeping and Cascading Plants for the Romantic Garden

by Lorraine Syratt ©2009

Some roses, vines, and even shrubs will weep and cascade over lawns, flower beds and arbors. The effect from only one or two plants with this growing attribute can be beautiful in the romantic or cottage garden adding a sense of movement to the design.

Wisteria at Grey's Court, Henley, Oxon.
© Copyright Nick Macneill
licensed under this Creative Commons Licence

A less than hardy weeping and cascading plant might include the fragrant vine, wisteria. The large flower racemes have the appearance of grapes on the vine. This plant needs a very strong support. The gardener will need a little patience – waiting a few years before the first flowers appear. Wisteria is traditionally grown on strong arbors, or  supports around a door entrance. It grows best in garden zone 6 or higher.

Laburnum tunnel, Hill House
© Copyright Derek Harper
licensed under this Creative Commons Licence.

Laburnum Walks

Another zone 6 cascading plant is the tree-like shrub, laburnum. This shrub has long pinnacles of yellow flowers in spring. It is a common addition to English gardens, often used in design to create a traditional laburnum walk. The laburnum walk is a long path under an arbor tunnel with laburnum planted near the base of each supporting post. As the visitor passes through the tunnel, her only vision is that of the yellow flowers of the plant weeping through the overhanging posts that cross the path. Wisteria can also be used in this manner. It's a stunning effect.

As beautiful as this plant is, it's also poisonous if ingested. The Poison Garden has a terrific article on the harmful nature of this plant. It should be planted with consideration.

William Baffin Rose Photo © Copyright Lorraine Syratt
Climbing and Rambling Roses

Most roses known as climbers and ramblers will cascade if not tied to their supports too strictly. For the cascade and weeping appearance, it may only be a case of letting the upper canes and some of the side-shoots fall loosely without being tied in. One of my favorites yet to be planted includes Blush Rambler ... so pretty. A climbing rose like the Explorer rose, William Baffin, is easily left as a stand-alone rose in the lawn without any support whatsoever. The upper canes will weep and cascade over the lower canes creating a large mass of deep pink flowers, as wide and as  tall the long canes will grow. I've seen this in a southern Ontario town and it looked like a small flowering tree about 15' tall and wide. Wish I took a picture.

The list of climbing roses is long, and the plants themselves are easily found in online rose catalogs. Rambling Roses for the Romantic Garden will offer more information.

 There are many choices in weeping and cascading plants, and it isn't difficult to find only one or two plants that will work for the gardener's location, adding a little garden romance to the landscape.

Monday, April 25, 2011

How to Grow Ferns in Your Woodland Garden

by Lorraine Syratt ©2010

In the 19th century,  ferns were extremely popular as indoor plants, often holding a place of honor in the conservatory. But they were also popular in the woodland garden, and that popularity has returned. Anyone can grow ferns as long as the plants are given a good start.

Fern Dell at Brodsworth Hall, UK
© Copyright Richard Croft
and licensed for reuse under this
Creative Commons License.
Hardy garden ferns require a cool, rich humus for soil. They need a moist, but well-drained location. Like most garden plants, ferns don't like their roots sitting in water, so to attain a consistent moisture level in the soil, consider adding leaf-mold, well-rotted manure, and peat moss. These materials break down nicely in the soil to turn it into a rich humus that will retain the moisture level necessary for ferns to do well. If the soil is heavy clay, it may not drain well, so the addition of sand may help.

Ferns prefer dappled shade rather than the deep shade found directly beneath trees. And it's unwise to plant ferns along the drip line of tree branches. These areas may get too wet and may not drain fast enough. For the same reason, planting ferns against the wall of a house or shed is undesirable.
Ferns photo © Copyright Dannie Calder
licensed for reuse under this
Creative Commons License.
Ferns are best planted when they are dormant in early spring or late fall. If transplanting native ferns or transplanting ferns from one part of the garden to another, dig them up carefully, keeping as much soil around the root ball as possible. This is most important with the evergreen varieties. Place the transplant at the same planting level where it was before moving it. Ferns can be difficult to transplant, but careful digging and re-planting will ensure good results. A little sprinkling of bone-meal over the top of the soil after planting will give the ferns a good fresh start.                                                                                  

A fern's distinctive fronds make it an excellent choice to add interesting fauna to a semi-shady flower border. The fronds also add contrast to an indoor flower arrangement – perfect for a cutting garden.

Once settled in the ground, ferns don't require a lot of fuss and bother. But like all plants, they need a healthy beginning in a soil suitable to its needs.

And for further reading, some books ...


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Creating a Woodland Garden: Romantic Gardening in Forests

If you are blessed with a woodland, or even a stand of trees in  space large enough to be called a wooded area, you have an opportunity to make that area of the garden into something verging on romanticism ... a woodland garden. But it does take some work.

Forest Floor Preparation

The floor of the woodland garden should be tidied up and cleared of noxious weeds, prickly hawthorn and anything else that offers little in the way of preservation or visual appeal. Keep fallen tree trunks and let them gather lichen. They could become homes for little forest creatures. Keep or grow ferns in your woodland garden. Add similar plants that might spread and grow naturally in the woodland. The ground beneath the tree canopy doesn't have to be perfectly manicured. The goal is simply to open up the space a little.

 A Woodland Walk
           © Copyright Ann Cook and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License                  

Follow the local bi-laws or methods for the removal of garden debris from your property. Burning, of course, is not advisable anywhere today. 

Woodland Path

Make a winding path through the woodland. This path will have to be cleared of vegetation, but with a winding path, it's easy to work around that. Add a bench at the midway point. It could be anything from a Victorian twig bench to a traditional park bench. The bench offers the visitor a place to sit, listen to the noises in the woodland and simply commune with nature.

Woodland Plants: Choosing and Placing

The next step in creating a woodland garden is to bring in more plant material to add a little color to the forest floor. Plants that thrive in shade or even dappled shade are best, but it's also important to place those plants so they appear natural in the environment. In other words, using a huge number of different varieties of plants won't look natural. A better understated plan is to pick only a few varieties of plants and plant them in large groups. And better still, choose plants that spread on their own and allow them to do as they please, spreading naturally, offering drifts of color and interest.

A Woodland Walk at Powis Castle, Great Britain
© Copyright Jeremy Bolwell and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License

In early spring, the forest floor is more open to the sun as the leaves have not yet unfurled on the trees. With that in mind, areas of the forest floor could be a mass of  scilla, tulips or bluebells, all of which will do well in this dappled sunshine. Encourage wild violets to spread to help create a flowery mead among the trees. For the summer months, flowering hostas, astilbe, primroses, foxgloves are among the numerous shade-tolerant perennials from which to choose.

The woodland garden is  a place for quiet walks and contemplation, unsullied by the bright visuals of mixed borders and rose arbors. It's appeal is the natural environment itself.

 A More Stylized Woodland Garden
© Copyright Trevor Rickard and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Now that winter has shed her thick layers of white woolies here along Lake Ontario's northern border, the tulips are tuliping and the crocus is ... well ... croaking (they'll be finished soon). In my garden, the lilacs' leaves are starting to plump out and the tree canopy in the western forest is changing its hue with each passing day. I love the frenzy of spring, the urgency of it, everything happening so quickly.

Now I can see the garden again. Still brown and skeletal, but also green with promise, like the irises pushing desperately out of the soil.  Here, April's a good time to transplant perennials and roses, before they show signs of growth or coming out of dormancy. I do a lot of transplanting in April, never satisfied with the previous season's show and I have the winter to consider all the possibilities for the following growing season. We get black flies in this neck of the woods, so it puts garden work on the back burner from about  late April to mid-May most years. For me, the earlier I get into the garden, the better. For the most part, it's raking and removing winter's die-back.

Later in May, the garden is full of color and scent. The lilacs will be in full bloom, along with all the other spring shrubs and flowers. And it's also a great time to visit a lilac festival.

Right now I look out over bare branches. It's almost hard to believe that in just a few weeks, the garden will be awake and fully dressed for the cotillion.

And soon ... the iris.
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