The Cascade: A Work in Progress

June 28th, 2016 | 6 Comments »

One of the first areas we added to the garden at Glen Villa was the Cascade. It came about almost by accident, as we were modifying the entry to the house. Doing this meant lowering the driveway by eight feet; as we did, we uncovered a stream hidden underground.

And so the Cascade was born.

Unfortunately I have no photos of the original plantings. Only a few of them remain, one or two hawthorn trees, the spruce that were tiny when planted about 15 years ago, the bridalwreath spirea that drips with blossoms every spring and the staghorn sumac that initially provided wonderful autumn colouring.

 

This view from October 2005 shows colourful sumac and a crumbling stone wall.
This view from October 2005 shows colourful sumac and a very informal stone wall that was replaced last year by a gabion wall.

 

The Cascade was handsome at first. But over the years, the area has proved problematic. The hawthorn trees I loved went from good…

 

This photo from June, 2006 shows the hawthorn with lots of braches, all in full bloom.
This photo from June, 2006 shows a lop-sided hawthorn tree, but one with lots of branches, all in full bloom.

 

to not very…

 

Three years later the hawthorn had fewer branches and very few blooms.
Three years later the hawthorn had fewer branches and very few blooms.

 

to downright disappointing.

 

This photo is from 2014.
This photo is from 2014. Moving the tree during work on the gabion wall that replaced the previous uneven wall didn’t help.

 

Other plants performed in a similar fashion, starting off well and declining from one year to the next. We enriched the soil, we added drainage, we closed our eyes and held our breath. Despite this, plants refused to thrive. A dogwood (Cornus stolonifera ‘Kelsey’s dwarf’) succumbed to the cold; a ninebark (Physocarpus oplifolia ‘Summer Wine’) fell victim to the deer. The dwarf highbush cranberry (Viburnum opulus ‘Compactum’) became bug infested and had to be removed. The Ligularia dentata ‘Britt Marie Crawford simply stopped trying.

 

The bridalwreath spirea is a joy every year.
The viburnum are the small shrubs with posts behind them. We staked the shrubs so they would grow upright rather than fall forward on the slope. The cascading bridalwreath spirea continues to be a joy every spring.

 

 

In desperation I chose plants  that were said to be invasive, like blue lyme grass (Leymus arenarius.)  I read the warnings and rejoiced — a bit of unruly invasiveness would be just fine.

I planted the lyme grass in 2008 and at first it looked wonderful, blue-toned spikes providing a contrast to the fine leaves of spirea and the broad leaves of Ligularia dentata ‘Britt-Marie Crawford.’ When the lady’s mantle bloomed, it was even better.

 

I wanted bands of plants to run horizontally across the central cascade. This combination of plants continued on the other side of the water.
I wanted bands of plants to run horizontally across the central cascade. This combination of plants continued on the other side of the water.

 

But gradually, instead of invading, the lyme grass became sparser.

Not so with the lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) and another invasive plant I decided to try, gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides). They grew and grew, determined to overwhelm the space, if not the world.

 

Gooseneck loosestrife is nice when it blooms but I don't like the yellowish shade of the foliage, particularly when combined with other yellow toned leaves.
Gooseneck loosestrife is nice when it blooms but I don’t like the yellowish shade of the foliage, particularly when combined with other yellow toned leaves.

 

Last summer the plants were full but, to my eye, the area looked messy and lacked structure.

 

Gooseneck loosestrife is nice when it blooms but I don't like the yellowish shade of the foliage, particularly when combined with other yellow toned leaves.
Too much yellow, too little variety. I like the spirea and the spiky iris in the foreground but the plantings felt out of  keeping with the clean architectural lines of the new gabion wall, barely visible on the left.

 

So last fall, we pulled out everything except the spirea, the sumac and the spruce trees. We improved the drainage — again — and added new topsoil and rich compost.

 

A clean slate... My fingers are firmly crossed in hopes that the plants I've chosen will thrive.
A clean slate… My fingers are firmly crossed in hopes that the plants I’ve chosen this time will thrive.

 

And finally, last week I began to replant. Yet again I’ve chosen plants that should do well. I’ve planted in bands that stretch across the central cascade, drawing the eye along the hillside and echoing the long line of the gabion wall that went in last summer.

I chose Weigela ‘Wine and Roses,’ a shrub that has done well elsewhere in the garden, and one that the deer leave alone. I’ve added more of a plant I tried last summer, a small, spreading fleeceflower (Persicaria microcephala ‘Purple Fantasy’) whose leaves are marked with a shade of purple that repeats the colour of the Weigela leaves. I re-organized the darmera peltata whose large, clear green leaves add freshness and light, divided the yellow flag iris into several large clumps.

 

A wayward patch of daisies is blooming among the yellow flag iris, a plant that survived the 2016 makeover.
A wayward patch of daisies is blooming among the yellow flag iris, a plant that survived the 2016 makeover.

 

No photo taken when the plants are small can show what an area will look like after a year or two. For that, you need to use your imagination. Will this selection of plants thrive? Who knows. I’ve set up the right conditions, but I’ve done that before.

So just to be sure, I added one final plant, a perennial geranium called ‘Hocus Pocus.’ If planning doesn’t work, maybe magic will.

 

Geranium pratense 'Hocus Pocus' is a new cultivar. I hope it will cast its magic over the Cascade.
Geranium pratense ‘Hocus Pocus’ is a new cultivar that is much more attractive than it looks here. I hope it will cast its magic over the Cascade.

 

Are there area in your garden that continue to cause problems? What have you done to correct them? And is it working?

 

The Lower Garden

June 23rd, 2016 | 8 Comments »
The heart of this peony glows red. i love it.
The downside of going away in May and June is not being at home. As much as I loved touring some amazing gardens in England and seeing some inspiring outdoor art, I missed being at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec's Eastern Townships, during the peak time for planting and transplanting. Not to worry, though, I've made up for it -- my arms, legs, back and shoulders will attest to that. For the last week or more, I've been practically living outdoors, cleaning up, pruning, planting and transplanting, dividing and moving

Read More...

Lawn to Meadow, Part 1

June 14th, 2016 | 12 Comments »
The mown path provides contrast as well as a place to walk. Once the foliage of the muscari planted under the linden tree has died back, we will cut a circle around the tree to give it pride of place.
  Last year, an unbearable number of Canada geese decided they liked our big lawn. We didn't like them, or what they left behind. Shouting didn't make them go away, running at them was  a joke. But we knew that if our lawn was to be usable, the geese had to go. I asked anyone I could for advice and learned that nothing much seemed to work. A spray used by golf courses did the job for a while but it smelled so bad that no one wanted to outside, which defeated the

Read More...

The Gibberd Garden

June 6th, 2016 | 8 Comments »
A bust of Gibberd by Gerda Rubinstein site is viewed comfortably through a house window.
  Sir Frederick Gibberd was an English architect, landscape designer and town planner. His design for Harlow New Town, generally regarded as the most successful of Britain's post-WWII developments, is his greatest achievement. His garden is his most personal. Located in Essex on the outskirts of the town he designed, the garden is little known and little visited, despite being called by BBC Gardeners' World one of the most important post-war gardens in the country.   [caption id="attachment_4032" align="aligncenter" width="3888"] A bust of Gibberd by Gerda Rubinstein is viewed comfortably

Read More...