Tag Archives: ornamental grasses

The Colours of Autumn

October 31st, 2016 | 12 Comments »

I missed the peak of autumn colour this year in the Eastern Townships of Quebec — where colours are as good as (or better than?) any place in North America — because of some trips that took me away from home. So when a friend sent me a photo he took a week or so ago of the hills behind our house, I was delighted.


Our house and boathouse are dwarfed by the hills that rise behind.
Our house and boathouse on Lake Massawippi are dwarfed by the hills that rise behind.


What a spectacle it was. Friends who were in the Townships say they have never seen colour so vibrant, that lasted for such a long time.


My friend took this photo of Lake Massawippi early one morning a week ago.
The same friend took this photo of Lake Massawippi early one morning several weeks ago.


The colour is lasting still. Even though the height of the season is past, marvellous colours are still shouting, ‘hey, look at me.’


What an array of colours! The view looking out over the Big Meadow never fails to excite me.
What an array of colours! The view looking out over the Big Meadow never fails to excite me.


A few days ago, in a brief break from the rain that has been falling (finally!), I took a walk around the garden at Glen Villa. In the Lower Garden, the stephanandra  (Stephanandra incisa ‘Crispa) by the steps to the Lower Garden was a treasure chest of gold, its rich colour enhanced by the tones of the stone wall beside it.


Golden honey colours surround the steps leading to the Lower Garden.
Stephanandra makes a dense, mounding ground cover and is very effective at controlling erosion on slopes.


A random branch of spirea caught my eye, particularly since — tucked unexpectedly behind the leaves — a flower or two was blooming.


All shades of red and orange
Spirea shouldn’t be blooming at this time of year, at least not in Quebec. But the warm weather we’ve experienced recently is tricking shrubs and flowers into second and third flushes of bloom.


A lonely bergenia (Bergenia cordifolia) was blooming as well, but more powerful were the shades of red and green in its leathery leaves.


I can overlook the imperfections in the leaves and see only the range of colours. Can you?
I can overlook the imperfections in the leaves and see only the range of colours. Can you?


An old hydrangea that has been here for fifty years or so was brilliantly dressed. This shrub is one of my favourites — it reminds me of a similar shrub in our garden in Oakville, Ontario where we lived when our children were young.


Pink and creamy white flower heads contrast strongly with orange-toned leaves.
Pink and creamy white flower heads contrast strongly with orange-toned leaves —  who but nature would put these colours together, or make them look so compatible?


On the bank of the lake, plumes of miscanthus were strikingly white against a dark green background. And how to describe the colour of the leaves? Orange caramel? Sticky toffee?


Miscanthus purpurea is not my favourite ornamental grass, but it does make a strong statement when it blows in the wind.
Miscanthus purpurea is not my favourite ornamental grass, but it does make a strong impression when it blows in the wind.


Orange and yellow are the dominant colours now, and the prairie dropseed (Sporabolus heterolepis ) at the Aqueduct combines them in a splendid burnt orange that reminds me of John Keats’ poem about autumn.

The poem opens with familiar words — “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.”  The words and the poem as a whole speak more of mood than colour. Which isn’t surprising — mood is what autumn is all about.  There’s sadness for what is gone and a wistful longing for what is to come. But for me the crisp air and blazing colour make the longing hopeful. When I see the arching prairie dropseed moving in a breeze, like “hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind,” I don’t mind that the air is cooler day by day. I feel happy.


Sporabolus heterolopsis at the Aqueduct makes my heart beat faster.
Sporabolus heterolepis at the Aqueduct makes my heart beat faster.


Keats really captured the spirit of autumn. His lines reverberate and recall seasons past and present, when apples bend the “moss’d cottage-trees/ And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core…”


Keats said it: To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees/ And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
This photo is from 2013. But every year the fruit on these old apple trees is beautiful — and tasty.


Today, as a light rain falls, the black trunk and branches of the linden tree at the end of the Big Meadow (aka, the Big Lawn) offer a startling contrast to the yellow leaves that linger.  Despite the rain and winds, despite the sprinkle of snow and the light frost that greeted me a few morning’s ago, they are hanging on, ripe to the core.


Mellow fruitfulness.
Mellow yellow indeed.


What is autumn like in your part of the world? Does it make you sad or happy? Or both?



The Big Meadow in August

August 25th, 2016 | 19 Comments »
  This summer I've been watching what used to be a manicured lawn turn into a meadow.  Seeing the changes month to month has shown that what pleased me in June ...   [caption id="attachment_4073" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] The view from the driveway gives some idea of the size of the Big Meadow.[/caption]   became even better in July.   [caption id="attachment_4203" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Grasses on the prairie used to be called oceans of grass. Now I know why.[/caption]   I was thrilled. Was the transformation from lawn to meadow going to be as


Home Again — and Happy To Be Here

September 21st, 2015 | 6 Comments »
  What a pleasure it is to return to Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec, after three weeks spent visiting gardens in Scotland and England. Seeing so many amazing places there,  I was worried that my own garden would be a disappointment. It wasn't. It isn't. Yes, I can see dozens of things, large and small, that need attention, but to return to a vegetable garden overflowing with produce and a landscape that never fails to delight makes me glad to be home.   [caption id="attachment_2791" align="aligncenter" width="800"] The shrub border


Winter Interest

January 20th, 2015 | 9 Comments »
When I first began gardening,, I thought that Quebec's winter landscape could offer nothing of interest. Now I realize that I only needed to train my eye to see things differently. Instead of looking to plants for interest, I needed to look for patterns and details. Details like the sun-sparkled fuzz of snow that coated a clump of grass beside the driveway.   [caption id="attachment_1695" align="aligncenter" width="850"] Ordinary grasses are transformed into tiny sculptures when first coated with snow and ice.[/caption]   Patterns like the wavy black line drawn by the not-yet-frozen stream as


Colour in the Garden

October 26th, 2014 | 4 Comments »
It's been raining steadily for the last few days and most trees have lost their leaves. But not all. The linden tree  at the end of the lawn was radiant one day last week, just before the rain began to fall. [caption id="attachment_1318" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] A stormy sky added drama to the scene.[/caption] Colour remains, but you have to look more closely to find it. The hydrangea bushes by the front door don't shout like the linden tree; instead they glow, softly pink. [caption id="attachment_1323" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] The pink tones of


Ornamental grasses, Part 3: What not to do (unless you want a good laugh)

November 17th, 2013 | 3 Comments »
My first attempt to use ornamental grasses was in a section of the garden I call the yin yang. An old resort hotel once stood on the property (to my amazement, I find I haven't written about that... must do so soon. ) In front of the hotel was a low circular stone wall. Horse-drawn carriages would drop guests off at the front door of the inn, then proceed around the circle and head back out the drive. The stone circle is on the left. When we moved into Glen


Ornamental Grasses, Part 2: at the Lake and the Skating Pond

November 5th, 2013 | 12 Comments »
I've been using ornamental grasses for about ten years now, and I've used them in various parts of the garden, including at the aqueduct, which I wrote about last week. One of the first places I put them was on the hill that slopes down to the lake. The plants, ordinary miscanthus sinensis, were a reasonable size when I planted them; now the small clump has grown to cover a large area, as I've divided and spread them out several times. Dividing miscanthus -- a hard day's work. Environmental regulations


Ornamental grasses: Part 1, at the aqueduct

October 27th, 2013 | 4 Comments »
I don't know when ornamental grasses began to gain popularity but I'd say that 20-25 years ago, few gardeners used them regularly. Thanks among others to designers like Piet Oudolf from Holland and James van Sweden and Wolfgang Oehme in the U.S., perennial grasses have become popular staples in many gardens. Their fluidity suits a looser, more naturalistic approach to garden design; in turn this more naturalistic approach reflects a modified view of what gardens are, or can be, and how gardens relate to the landscape around them.I first planted an ornamental


The Aqueduct, Part 3: Planting It

July 15th, 2013 | 4 Comments »
Spring in Quebec comes late. It was mid-May before the ground was dry enough for trucks to cross the lawn. And we needed trucks to complete The Aqueduct. The Aqueduct on April 6. Snow still lingers in shady areas and everything is a mess. The reflecting pool went in -- first concrete blocks, then steel plates to cover them. Inside the pool we added a square box with a perforated bottom. Water would drop into the box and seep out into the pool itself, eliminating splashing and keeping the water in